Friday, April 17, 2009

Cookbook Friday: The Gourmet Cookbook

I'm a bit behind in my blogging lately -- all I can say is that it's been busy, both work-wise, and life-wise, and I haven't had a chance to spend much time in the kitchen.

Fortunately that changed on the weekend, when I made something I've wanted to try for a while: beef short ribs. I turned to The Gourmet Cookbook, which has more than 1,000 recipes for anything and everything, and selected their recipe for Korean short ribs -- also known as kalbi. I've had kalbi in restaurants before and when done right it's fantastic: the sweet and savoury sauce clinging to tender ribs that fall off the bone.

Looking at the title you'd think all the recipes in Gourmet are fussy, but they're not. Sure, it's the first cookbook I reach for when I'm having friends for dinner but that doesn't mean it's a special-occasion-only resource. Most of the recipes are very easy to follow and not intimidating in the least.

The Korean short ribs recipe is the perfect example of this. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter and the ribs turned out well. They didn't burn, but developed a nice caramelized exterior without going dry.

As a note, I didn't refrigerate the ribs in sugar for four hours before marinating. I added the sugar in with the rest of the marinade ingredients, scored the beef, and marinated for two hours. That was enough to keep the rib meat moist through the cooking process.

Korean Short Ribs
4.5 lbs meaty beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2.5-inch pieces by the butcher
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Score the meaty side of each short rib.

Stir together sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger and pepper in small bowl. Spoon marinade over ribs, spreading it with your fingers to coat them evenly. Refrigerate, covered, turning ribs once, for two hours.

Preheat broiler. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Broil ribs on rack of broiler pan about 6 inches away from heat, turning once and rotating pan once or twice, until ribs are dark caramel-brown but still slightly pink inside, about 15 minutes total. If ribs begin to turn black, move pan farther away from heat and continue cooking.

Let ribs stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Ruth Reichl, Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Monday, April 13, 2009

South American picadillo

I've never made picadillo before but this South American dish is the essence of comfort food. It's basically a blend of seasoned ground beef, sauteed peppers, onion and garlic, and diced tomatoes.

According to Bon Appetit, the source for the recipe, there are variations on the dish depending on what country you're in. I stuck pretty close to the cookbook version, which included frozen peas in the mix. I eliminated the capers, not because I have a problem with capers, I just didn't feel like their briny, pungent flavour in this dish.

The recipe recommended serving the picadillo with rice, black beans, and a side of warm corn tortillas. Wanting to use what I already had in the house I opted to simply serve the beef dish over some pre-cooked brown rice. Though I didn't have black beans or corn tortillas in my pantry, I can see how both would work as sides.

This is an easy, no-fail recipe for a Monday night when you don't feel like going to too much trouble in the kitchen. There's not a lot of chopping, and you can easily halve or double the recipe based on how many people you're serving. I like to have leftovers for the next day's lunch so I often make 4 servings' worth.

South American picadillo

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 14.5-oz can beef broth
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup drained capers.

Heat oil on a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell peppers, and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Add beef, cumin and cayenne; saute until beef is brown, breaking up with back of fork, about 8 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes, broth, peas, and capers, if using.

Simmer until picadillo is thick, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Recipe: Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh, Wiley, 2008

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4



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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Impressed by Rowe Farms' meats

While shopping at the St. Lawrence Market this morning the Rowe Farms booth caught my eye -- located in the North Market's northwest corner, the Guelph, Ont.-based meat purveyors boast conscientiously-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free products.

Given that I don't include that much meat in my diet, I don't mind paying top dollar to ensure that what animal products I do eat are of higher quality. And it seemed clear from checking out what was on offer that these were indeed better meats than what I typically buy from the grocery store. The skin on the chicken thighs was white, not that weird yellowish tinge you sometimes see; the pork loin chops a uniform pale pink.

I bought two of the pork loin chops, a package of the thighs, four Italian sausages, and a pound of extra-lean ground beef. For that, I paid $30. Yes, probably almost double what I might have paid at a grocery store, but as I said before, for the amount of meat I eat it's worth it.

Tonight, I cooked one of the pork chops, using a recipe from Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh. And I can honestly say it tasted delicious. The knife cut through the chop without any effort, and it was juicy and moist inside, not dry! If this is what I can come to expect from Rowe Farms, I think I've found my new butcher!

I've included the original recipe, which is slightly different -- it calls for a 12-oz pork tenderloin, but you can easily sub chops. If you pound the chop to 1/2 inch thickness, as I did, it'll only take about 3 minutes per side to cook.

Pork medallions with chili-maple sauce

1 12-oz pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 green onion chopped

Cut tenderloin crosswise into six slices. Using meat mallet or rolling pin, pound medallions between sheets of plastic wrap to 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and five-spice powder.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Add pork; cook until brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Add next three ingredients to skillet. Boil until reduced to scant 1/4 cup, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over pork, sprinkle with green onion.

2 servings

Courtesy Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh, Barbara Fairchild, Wiley, 2008.



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Friday, April 10, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Weekend Cooking

Whether you like Ricardo or not, it's hard to argue with success in the kitchen and I've had good luck with the few recipes I've tried from the ebullient Quebecois chef.

I like that on his Food Network program, Ricardo often visits local farms and businesses both to educate and promote local purveyors. He's not the first chef-TV host to do it, but I always appreciate that extra effort to show that his dishes rely not only on his skills in the kitchen but quality ingredients to start with.

One of the first Ricardo recipes I tried was a pearl barley risotto with fresh spring asparagus. I like making risotto with barley from time to time, as it's creamy without being gummy (as arborio rice can sometimes be).

That recipe was from his self-titled magazine, but I've since bought his cookbook, Weekend Cooking, and it's filled with inspirational ideas for mains, desserts, brunch fare, and veggie sides. I purchased a chunk of sashimi-grade tuna just so I could make his Semi-Cooked Tuna Steak with almonds and mashed ginger butternut squash and it was to die for. The tuna was coated in egg and a mixture of ground almonds and ground ginger, then seared just to cook the outside, with the inside left bright pink. Between that and the vibrant gold of the mashed butternut squash it was one of the prettiest dishes I've ever made.

Also, his maple-glazed bok choy is one of my veggie staples. When I feel like a dinner of healthy greens, but don't feel like salad, I'll cook this up. It takes no time at all and though it's probably meant as a side dish I cook enough to make it my main course, with some rice.

Maple-Glazed Bok Choy

1 large bok choy, or 4 small ones, 6 oz each
1 tbsp non-toasted sesame oil*
1 garlic clove, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 green onions, chopped

Cut bok choy into 1 inch slices, diagonally.

In wok or large skillet, heat oil. Stir-fry bok choy with garlic for about five minutes over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Add soy sauce, maple syrup, and green onions. Continue cooking over high heat for about three minutes. Season to taste.

Serves 4 (or one if it's your main course!)

*Toasted sesame oil has more flavour than non-toasted. If you don't have non-toasted sesame oil, you can replace it by one-third toasted sesame oil and two-thirds peanut or canola oil. To get 1 tbsp non-toasted sesame oil, use 1 tsp toasted sesame oil mixed with 2 tsp peanut or canola oil.



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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not your average sandwich

Lately I've been obsessed with sandwiches. Not your ordinary fare: PB&J or a flimsy slice of ham slapped between two pieces of stale bread.

No. I'm talking quality 'wiches, the kind you might find on the menu at 'wichcraft, Tom Colicchio's popular chain of gourmet sandwich shops. My sister and I stopped in there for a quick bite when we were in NYC last fall, and we were both impressed with the quality of their breads, spreads, and ingredient combinations.

I had goat cheese, avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress on multigrain bread, while Barb had grilled cheddar, smoked ham, pear & mustard on cranberry-pecan bread. Both amazing, although next time I'd get one of the warm sandwiches.

More recently, I was brunching at Le petit dejeuner with my parents, and rather than go for traditional breakfast fare I chose their Apple and Brie Panino, which featured Mutsu apple, Brie cheese, and Dijon mustard between slices of quality bread, crisped to perfection in a panini press. It got me thinking about making my own gourmet sandwiches at home and I've done up a few in recent days.

One was a sandwich take on my favourite summer salad, the Caprese salad. I took Mozzarella di Bufala and sliced it up with some heirloom tomato, and fresh basil leaves, drizzling over some fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of Maldon salt and pepper on slices of ciabatta bread. To add an extra dimension of flavour, before heating it I laid a few strips of Prosciutto di Parma with the other ingredients.

Eventually I may invest in a panini press but I was easily able to cook the sandwich in my fry pan. I pressed down on the bread with a heavy canister (but you could also just use a spatula or your hands to press the bread down). A couple minutes on each side was all it took to get the mozzarella melting. It was just as good as either of my restaurant gourmet sandwiches, maybe even better!

I also did a Brie and apple sandwich recently, using Ida Red apple instead of Mutsu, and substituting my Double C spicy mustard from Kozlik's. A little extra heat went nicely with the creamy cheese.

Tonight I did more tomato and mozzarella, adding a thick slather of black olive tapenade to my bread before toasting it. As a spread I think I actually prefer it to mustard.

Now that I've rediscovered my love for sandwiches -- good ones -- I imagine I'll keep trying new flavour combos, maybe taking a cue from 'wichcraft, maybe striking out with my own original concoctions.

I notice Bon Appetit has a gallery of their top heated sandwiches -- check them out, they look fantastic.



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Friday, April 3, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Home Made

With a lovely, market-fresh cod fillet in my fridge I turned to the pages of Tana Ramsay's Home Made for a recipe. She had two: grilled cod with home-made red pesto, and spaghetti with cod in a chili, garlic and white wine sauce. When I read her note on the latter recipe, that it's "a good supper for a lazy night," my mind was made up.

While Tana's husband, world-famous Chef Gordon Ramsay, is known for his Michelin-starred restaurants and fancy fare, Tana Ramsay's cookbooks are all about family-friendly cooking. But family-friendly works for single girls like me who work 9-5 five days a week because the concept is the same: like the busy mother-of-four, I don't want to mess around with complicated instructions and mile-long ingredients lists on my weeknights. Save the fussing for the weekend, when it's a Friday night and I'm dead-tired, I want something easy and fast.

The Ramsays are a health-conscious family so the recipes in Home Made are generally quite healthy. Not diet recipes or low-fat fare per se, but wholesome. There are a lot of seafood dishes, for example Rosemary-infused Monkfish, Sea bass with vine tomatoes, olives and capers, and Scallops with parsley and lemon vinaigrette. There are also a number of hearty soups -- I made the Sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil before my interview with Ms. Ramsay and it was a perfect winter dish.

With spring approaching I imagine I'll be making lots more from Home Made, including Balsamic lamb salad, Cucumber pappardelle with dill, and Spring greens with nutmeg butter.

Of course I want to make everything in the section entitled Chocolate. I'd like to try the Chocolate and beetroot cake because the combination sounds odd (Tana assures us it works!). As well, the Chocolate souffle cake with cherries and mascarpone sounds sinful, and how can you go wrong with Chocolate Malteser ice cream?!

Back to my supper tonight though. The last time I mixed seafood and pasta was when I went through a Seafood Fettuccini phase back in college. For a time, if I was out in a restaurant and that was on the menu I'd order it. But I always remember it being so heavy and when I finished eating it I always felt bloated. Happy, but bloated. The spaghetti and cod dish was the complete opposite. No cream sauce to weigh things down, just a refreshing mix of heat from the chili flakes, pungency from the garlic, and some fruity olive oil and fresh lemon zest and juice for brightness. It was about as light as a pasta dish gets, but also managed to fill me up.

Spaghetti with cod in a chili, garlic and white wine sauce

300g/11oz haddock or cod
4 slices of stale bread
2 tbsp olive oil
500g/1lb 2 oz dried spaghetti
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 tsp dried chili flakes
splash of white wine
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and black pepper

Cut the fish into 4 even-sized pieces to make the cooking times the samd.

Put the bread into a food processor and whiz until you have fairly coarse but even breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, tip in the breadcrumbs and allow them to toast until crisp and golden.

You need to be quite organized and have all your ingredients to hand now. Place the pasta on to cook in a large pan of salted boiling water as instructed on the packet. Season the fish.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and add the garlic, chili flakes, and wine. Add the fish and lemon zest. Allow the wine mixture to come to the boil, turn the pieces of fish over and reduce the heat so that the wine is just simmering. After about 1 minute take out the fish using a slotted spoon and put to one side. The fish should be just cooked.

Let the wine mixture simmer for another 3 minutes or so until it has reduced by about one-third. Add a ladle of the pasta water to this.

Drain the pasta, once ready, and add it to the wine in the pan. Increase the heat until it is bubbling again, then add the fish and sprinkle in the parsley. Gently flake the fish throughout the pasta, add the lemon juice and toss throughly.

Serve in warm pasta bowls, adding a little more parsley on top and a scattering of the golden breadcrumbs as desired.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Courtesy Home Made, Tana Ramsay, HarperCollins, 2008.



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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Foodie experiences: Brooklyn's Diner, and Astier in Paris

I was tickled to read a New York Times blog post by Mark Bittman about a restaurant I visited while in Paris in 2007, Restaurant Astier, and its wonderful communal cheese platter. This table-sized tray of dozens of cheeses -- each one stinkier and/or moldier than the last -- was one of my food highlights while in France.

A selection of cheeses at a Paris market

The way it works is this -- the cost of the cheese is worked into the prix fixe price, and the platter is passed around from table to table, generally at the end of the meal. I remember eyeing it enviously as servers brought it from one set of happy diners to the next, hoping that it would be my turn next. Finally it arrived and I joyously cut into a wedge of fuzz-topped chevre, a silky Brie, and several others, the names of which fail me now. All I remember is that despite having finished a filling meal, I couldn't get enough.

If you're ever in Paris, I highly recommend Astier for this experience alone.

This is the second time in the past few weeks I've read about a place I've been fortunate enough to frequent on my travels -- in the recent issue of Saveur, its list of 12 Restaurants That Matter (in the U.S) included the sister establishment to Diner, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Though I haven't been to Marlow & Sons, which sits right next door to Diner, eating at the latter was an amazing experience.

My sister and I outside Diner in Brooklyn

The Marlow & Sons forerunner occupies an old Kullman dining car, and you can choose to sit in one of the booths or sidle up to the bar to nosh (which is what my sister and I did). The menu of the day is scrawled on the back of a piece of receipt paper, and it's all about what's seasonal and local. Both our meals were delicious, and I'd make the trip to the hip and happening Williamsburg to dine there again in a heartbeat.