Thursday, February 14, 2013

lessons learned (annual sicky soup post)

I learned a lesson. That lesson was not, as I expected: how to break down a chicken into parts, but instead: perhaps I'd rather not learn how to break down a chicken into parts.

This year I am not, as of yet, sick. My man has been sick the past few days. One of our best friends has been sick the past few days. I suppose you could say my two men are sick. Meaning I'm likely to get sick shortly too. So, I thought: "I've never made a chicken noodle soup from scratch before" and "Perhaps this is a good time to practice breaking down a whole chicken" and "whole chickens are cheaper by weight than pieces, and it will give us an assortment of white and dark meat." I like to learn basic fundamentals. I like to fancy myself a future chef. But chopping up that chicken made me a bit shaky, more than a little squeamish, and quite sad. Oh, and I burnt the onions while I was wrestling with it. So much for my cheffy dreams. Not to say I'll never do it again, but it certainly made me think about where my comfort line is.

As I so often do, I started with a recipe from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen. I like her ideas of browning the chicken and onions first to add more depth of flavour. Many of the other recipes I looked at just put everything in the pot and brought to a boil. Her stock looks more rich and comforting. Some recipes do call for roasting first, which could also be nice, but more time/dirty dish intensive, and I wanted to try to Deb's way this time.

Because my onions blackened instead of browned because I took too long with the chicken, and because it was more difficult browning the chicken in my pile of blackened onions, I would perhaps start with the chicken parts next time. Brown those in oil (5-10 minutes), then remove, brown the onions (5-10 minutes), add the chicken back in, and then the water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. I also added a bit more water because I'd like some extra stock. I'm thinking about chicken pot pie lately too. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and skim off foam. Then I decided I should also throw in a bit of inner celery stalks and leaves and my carrot peelings, so the extra stock itself would be more flavourful for other uses.

I let this simmer for about an hour then took the chicken out to cool (I meant to do this after 30 minutes but time got away from me). After removing the meat from the bones I decided to add the bones back into the simmering pot and let it reduce further. Having read a lot about the benefits of bone broths, I'd love to have the extra immune boost. In the future if I wanted to do an hours long simmer, I would omit the salt at the beginning


Its 8 hour later, the stock has been simmering away all day. I've added more water periodically, along with a splash of cider vinegar to help draw the minerals out of the bones.

To finish the soup I brought another smaller pot of water to a boil, and used this to cooked chopped celery, carrots and parsnips for ~10 minutes, 2 of each. I removed the vegetables and cooked some egg noodles in the same pot (about 2 handfuls). To serve, I mixed this water about equally with strained stock, added enough vegetables and chicken for one portion, then ladled it over one portion of noodles.

Keeping things separate like this means my noodles won't become waterlogged overnight, and I can control the portioning properly, ensuring everyone gets equal amounts of deliciousness.

I just finished eating (while laughing along to the latest episode of Parks and Recreation) and now I feel soothed, comforted, fulfilled and happy. After eating this soup today, along with one green juice (kale, apple, parsley, cucumber, celery, ginger, lemon), one beet/carrot/cabbage/ginger juice, and a snack of kimchi, I feel like my energy is through the roof. I am seriously reconsidering my earlier feelings about never buying a whole chicken again. In fact, having refreshed my memory on the benefits of bone broths this afternoon while it was cooking, I'd like to make this at least once a month. If nothing else it means I get the back which is great for adding body and gelatin to the stock. I can't wait to give some to my sickies tomorrow, when it should taste even better. Bring on the immune boost!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

fun with fermentation - or - it's not purple drank

Whenever I say fun with flags fermentation it makes me giggle. If you watch Big Bang Theory you know what I'm talking about. If you don't....well, then I guess you're not a nerd. Quick post today! I'm trying to start thinking of different formats to post in. Along with all my ramble-y, personal, trying to make connections to larger issues posts, and in accordance with my desire to post more frequently, I'll try to some shorter posts. Today's is the start of a 2, 3, 4??? week (depending on how long the fermentation takes) documentation of my sauerkraut adventure.

Two days ago, while simmering chicken broth for 9 hours (part of an upcoming post), I also thinly sliced about 3/4 of a purple cabbage. Hacking it in half was half the battle.

Once it was all sliced into a bowl I tossed it with 1-1.5 tbsps of coarse sea salt.

Then I alternately massaged it (with my hands, a good forearm workout I must say) and pounded it (with a wooden dowel-shaped rolling pin I use for such sadism) every once in awhile for the next few hours. I let it sit overnight, and in the morning packed it (tightly) into a jar and topped it with the liquid that had formed. Setting aside one whole leaf, to use as a "lid" to push everything under the brine is such a great idea!

I'll check on it everyday to make sure it's still submerged (I've talked about why before here).

Last night it looked like "purple drank" - a sugar/colouring/flavour concoction our cooks used to make once in awhile.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ubiquitous roasted squash salad

Its winter. Kind of. It feels more like spring or autumn the past few days, but we have had some cold days. It may not be a popular opinion, but I hope we have more. I want to cook and eat "winter foods" - roasted and braised things, comforting and warming things. I want to spend time on my couch, in my bed, snuggled up and cozy. I want to spend time in my kitchen, spending the day making staples like a batch of brown rice, or beans, or vegetable stock. I need to do this now, before the sunshine pulls me outside to play, before the freshness and beautiful simplicity of summer produce makes me want to eat less "doctored" or transformed foods. I crave the months of cold, snowy, dark time to rest and rejuvenate, to nourish myself and my friends and family, to be quiet. Without that time, and our winters have been getting more and more mild over the past few years, I never feel quite ready for spring. The past few days have been warm - around 6 degrees Celsius (yes that counts are "warm" in Canadian winter). Today its rainy and 11. I still didn't leave the house, instead hibernating on my day off, cooking and lazing about watching movies.

When it has been cold in the last month, I've roasted vegetables. I did brussel sprouts and potatoes with lemon and thyme. Delicata and acorn squashes tossed in balsamic with cumin, chili powder and rosemary. Next up I'm thinking cabbage, inspired by this and this and the half head of savoy and full red cabbage in my fridge. I've also been salivating over Molly's braised savoy cabbage for about a year now, and Nigel Slater's cabbage recipes in Tender are making me swoon (and maybe some dumplings, pierogies, a cabbage galette?). It seems that I just want to eat cabbage lately, and mushrooms. I'm fickle I suppose because a month ago it was all squash and brussels.

Anyway, the boy has been taking an active interest in my blog, and food blogging in general lately. He's after me to post about a salad that I made with the roasted delicata squash. He's also after me to make it again, so he can eat it and I can photograph it. Although there are so many similar squash salads out there lately, I'm sure you can picture it. He says it is the best salad he's ever eaten, and uses it as an example of an original recipe I could post about. I say its just an amalgamation of a bunch of recipes I've seen, but I suppose that is the case with most of what I cook. I get an idea for something I want to make, then search around trying to find a recipe that confirms it/explains a process. I usually end up just reading 5-10 recipes and following a method - perhaps this is a luxury of a mostly-vegetarian, non-baker.

Its supposed to get cold again this week, perhaps there is more roasted squash in my our future.

Spicy Roasted Squash Salad with Pomegranates, Feta, Kale, Parsley, and Sprouts

For the roasted squash:

1-2 delicata squashes (I often cook larger quantities of things than I want for just one meal, perhaps because I bring dinners/lunches/snacks to work. Cook as much squash as you like/will eat.) Halved, seeds removed (and saved to also roast), sliced into 3/4 inch half-moons
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
cumin (to taste, maybe a 1/2 tsp per squash)
chili powder (mine is spicy, probably a 1/2 tsp per squash)
leaves from a sprig of rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper

Roast at 375 F 30-40 minutes, flipping halfway through, until browned and tender.
Eat immediately, or reserve for later use.

I had in my head, and on my To Cook list for awhile, and idea for a roasted squash salad, with wheatberries or farro, arugula, feta and pomegranate. Instead I've done a few all vegetables reincarnations. One night a friend stopped by for dinner, after a day of bubbly and movies with the boy. There was some carrot soup in the fridge, with a side salad of kale, pomegranate, feta, squash, and a little extra balsamic and olive oil. One time I brought a work dinner of roasted squash with radicchio and parsley, with tahini and roasted brussels sprouts and potatoes with horseradish creme fraiche. One time I added quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and radish sprouts.

Like most, this "recipe" is obviously quite flexible, while being easy, healthy, and delicious. I do on occasion find squash to be a bit sweet for my liking, so the addition of smoky cumin, spicy chili, and fresh parsley help to lift it up. And pairing it with bitter radicchio is nice as well, if you're into that kind of thing.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

adventures in fermentation, part deux

So I made kimchi. I started October 20th, and left it for about a month and a half to ferment on my counter. I used tips from Well Preserved (LOVE this site!) and (mostly) followed the recipe from Tigress's Kimchi Primer. I decreased the proportions, and used what I had on hand. This meant white cabbage instead of savoy or napa, white radishes instead of daikon, and some carrot. I also added scallions, ginger, garlic, and Korean chili powder. There is a bit of a discrepancy between the salt:water brine ratios used by Tigress (1/4 cup salt - approx. 60 ml - to 1 quart - or 4 cups - water) and Joel (6.5 tbsps - approx. 90 ml to 3 quarts water) at Well Preserved . I usually trust Joel on all issues preserving related, but I figured I would follow Tigress's recipe since I was using her procedure. If anything it should just mean the higher salt:water ratio would make my kimchi saltier and take longer to ferment.

I'm not sure why Tigress advocates a two day process, but I did as well, and I'm pleased with the results. I left the water to sit overnight (for the chlorine to evaporate) then mixed the brine. A good way to do this is to bring a small amount of the water to a boil, add the salt to dissolve, then add the remaining reserved cool water to bring it back down to room temperature. I covered the prepared vegetables (thinly sliced for the roots, large squares for the cabbage) with the brine overnight. The next day drain the vegetables, reserving the brine, add the aromatics, then pack into jars/fermenting crocks/bowls and cover with brine. The important thing is to keep everything submerged. This prevents air contact, creating an anaerobic environment which prevents "bad" bacteria from growing. The salt content prevents bad anaerobic bacteria (such as botulism) from forming before the lactobacteria start creating an acidic environment. Tigress says that as long as you stir once a day, pushing anything floating back into the brine, you should be ok. I don't have a crock so I used a deep bowl, with another smaller bowl set on top to keep things from floating too much. Over this I placed a clean kitchen towel. I stirred every day. For about a month. Then I transferred the kimchi into a large swing lid jar, sealed it and left it on the counter for another 2 weeks. I still stirred everyday, and by this point (end of November) it was quite cold in my kitchen, but this is when I started to see the white scum (a harmless yeast) forming on top sometimes. I just scooped it and any affected vegetables out. I also tasted the kimchi every few days to see whether it had my desired level of sourness. At first it was very salty, but over time this decreased as fermentation progressed. When it was to my taste, I put it in the fridge.

I did find I needed to add more Korean chili powder (probably at least 2 tbsps more, in addition to the 2 tbsps I started with) and its still wasn't spicy. Then I added some brine from my fermented hot peppers, and it still was not really spicy enough. Overall however, I was very happy with the results, and would follow the same process again. It was easy, low maintenance, and has given me a food that helps build healthy gut bacteria. I've been meaning to post about the process, but I haven't really used the kimchi yet, other than stealing a few little pieces once in awhile, something I did more often when it was on the counter instead of tucked away in the fridge. But I've had a recipe in mind for awhile and the other night I finally actually cooked it. And it was delicious! And the most exciting part is I cooked it in the "new" cast iron pan I got for Christmas, that my mother found at a garage sale!!! I got some nice action shots and now I'm finally motivated to post about it.

Orangette's Kimchi Fried Rice

I, naturally, made some changes, although slight. I cooked a bunch of brown basmati rice a couple of days before, so I had that, but only about 2-3 cups leftover. I still used 4 pieces of bacon though lol. And maybe 1.5 cups of kimchi (which I do wish was spicier). Next time I would reduce the amount of bacon if I was reducing the rest because it was a bit overpowering and I really wanted funky kimchi taste.

I also added some diced carrots, and scrambled an or two egg on one side of the pan after adding the kimchi and letting that brown. One of my foodie weaknesses is an aversion to runny yolk (I know, I know!) and I like the extra heartiness of the egg in the rice itself.

Since the recipe is already linked, I'll just say the process I used:

Add bacon lardons (quite uncouth ones I must say) to cold pan and slowly bring to medium heat. Once this is mostly crisp add 1 diced carrot, cook another minute or two, then the kimchi. Let this wilt a bit and brown. Push everything over to one side (my pan is large enough to do so) and add the beaten egg. Once this is mostly set, break it up and add the rice. Turn up the heat, and cook, pushing down on the rice, until it is brown and crispy. Since it was the first time using a cast iron pan I hadn't seasoned myself, I wasn't sure how it would work. Molly says hers usually sticks, but not to use a non-stick because of the high heat. Mine turned out awesome. I took the time to comment on Molly's post before digging in, but the boy, who normally waits, said "no way, I'm eating it NOW!"

Next use for my kimchi - either kimchi tofu soup, or trying to recreate a kimchi and mung dal soup I had the only time I was courageous enough to venture out for Korean food.

I'm having some issues with my computer and uploading pictures, so I'm going to post this now, and add them later hopefully *fingers crossed*

Sunday, December 23, 2012

and so this is least my toenails look pretty

Today's post was supposed to be all nice and nostaligic and well, Christmasy. I don't much care about Christmas anymore, to be honest. But I still bake cookies. I don't buy people presents, I don't do much in terms of decorations (although this year, it being S and I's first Christmas, we did do a little Charlie Brown tree). I do bake cookies. I always make my favourite of my grandmother's cookie arsenal, jam jams. Last year I also made her "nut cups" for my my mom (her favourite). I usually do some gingersnaps, this crazy shortbread+caramel+chocolate bar (also called "million dollar shortbread" because its so indulgent, according to the recipe. With a POUND of butter it'd better be). And sometimes some random experiment of minty something I don't often like.

So, long explanation short, I meant to post some lovely, poignant thing about baking my grandmothers classics, making my mom's favourite christmas treats for her, in lieu of a real present. Instead I find myself wanting to fling these stupid nut cups at the walls (how on EARTH did I tolerate making these last year.....oh ya....maybe a blog about it will help me next year). Its basically a cream cheese/butter/flour crust. That parts not such a big deal, once you decide the wooden spoon, then beaters, aren't working and lugging down the food processor is a better idea. Then you make some semblance of a butter tart filling. But tighter. Just eggs, brown sugar, a touch of vanilla, and some nuts. Pecans and walnuts in this case. Roll out the dough (a bit of time in the fridge helps, its pretty soft). Cut into rounds (I use mason jar lids and they fit the mini tart pans well). Fill and bake at 300F for 20-25 minutes. I took off to do some much needed yoga. But after 20 minutes when I was so rudely interrupted, I tried to remove one.... and, put them back for another 5minutes. It still didn't much matter. I even used my new non- stick, 12 mini tart pan, and chanced it on an old non-non-stick one my mom gave me last year after I told her of my escapades. I was worried about that pan, but I imagined she had gotten it from my grandmother so it was fitting. In the end it seems not to have made much difference. The filling solidifies on top, and trying to get it out of the pan makes it crack. The filling inside stays oozy and slips out everywhere while the tart shells crack. They do taste good, but they don't look perfect, or even pretty. Something I for some reason cannot tolerate today. Instead, I painted my toenails. At least they look nice now. I really am in a mood where I need to appreciate the little things. I keep looking at them for reassurance.

As I sit here, contemplating my anger and frustration, so many emotions come up. I don't know if I can post this. I think I may have talked about my grandmother before. She was the matriarch of our family. The reason we got together, aunts and uncles and cousins. We don't do it anymore. Now its just me and my parents. Is that why I don't really care so much about Christmas anymore? Don't get me wrong, I do love the opportunity to spend some much needed time with my family. But its just the three of us. We all have too much stuff, don't need presents, and we'd rather just spend the time together. I told a co-worker that the other day, I don't think she understood so much. Something about the idea of no presents got her down. I guess....I don't necessarily believe in the Christian view I was brought up with, and I certainly don't believe in the capitalist view I was inevitably brought up to. And I miss my larger family time. I miss the big gathering of people I only saw on holidays. And being incapable of recreating my grandmother's nut cups, makes me feel incapable overall, and miss her, which makes me feel a bit nutty myself.

I suppose I just wanted to make something for my mother, from her mother. And make it right. But I suppose I also need to learn I can't do that, as much as I would like to. Its hard to believe that holidays are still this difficult, 2 years later. But they are.

in the pan

the mess after taking them out

So after abandoning the project the other day, I put the remaining dough and filling in the fridge. Today I'm trying frantically to get them done before I have to go home tomorrow. I think I may be filling the shells too much, and should really listen (read?) when my grandmother wrote 2/3 full. Just 2/3 Sarah! It seems like not enough, especially since they are already mini tarts. But it rises up and overflows and sticks to the edges and maybe that is what makes it so hard to get them out. Also, maybe actually cooking them a little less so the top has less time crackle. And, finally, I had to make another little batch of filling, and I added a touch of corn syrup (like I remember from making butter tarts in the past). Not much. Say a tbsp or less for a 1/3 batch of filling. All these things seemed to have helped a bit. And I guess I'm just in a mood today where I can tolerate imperfect looking cookies. I'm heading home tomorrow, with my boy. It'll be the first time meeting the parents. I'm excited about taking this step, and nervous. I hope they all love each other as much as I love them. Merry Christmas/whatever you are celebrating!!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

catching up, part three - hallowe'en

We carved pumpkins. And made pumpkin soup - following a recipe from Heidi at 101cookbooks - with brown rice, toasted pumpkin seeds, parsley and scalliions. We used the "decorative" pumpkin from Thanksgiving. And we ate it with roasted kale and beet salad, based on Sarah B's recipe at My New Roots (Have I mentioned that I adore her site, her life, and look up to her a LOT, as another Sarah B from Ontario who dreams about someday being a cook and doing a holistic nutrition degree?)

S. had never carved a pumpkin before (!), but I think he did a great job.

It was my first time carving in a couple years, and for the last decade I have mostly carved OM symbols. Not faces. Don't ask.

The soup was delicious, we ate it all week for lunches and felt so nourished. It was bright, the colour sunny and uplifting, the texture rich and fulfilling, leaving us satisfied and full, yet knowing we'd put great, healthy food in our bellies.

And I got my lover on the roasted kale chip train. Meaning that last week he made me dinner (while I read my book - lucky girl!). It was roasted kale and potatoes, with spicy Italian sausage and romesco sauce. Did I mention I'm lucky?

catching up, part two - birthday adventures

Let's be honest, I tend to think of any activity within a two week period surrounding my birthday, as a birthday-related event. So there were quite a few noteworthy birthday celebrations that I want to post about.

A few days before, also before Thanksgiving-prep-madness began, we took a day off to explore the Scarborough Bluffs. It turns out that my manfriend lives just a few blocks up the street from where my grandparents used to live. I spent some good times there as a child, running around and exploring the Bluffs, working in the garden and playing games with my grandmother. I've lost touch with that side of my family in the past few years (my biological father's family). My grandmother passed away a few months ago, and I saw this as an opportunity to revisit the places I remember from my childhood time with them, as well as seeing my lover's neighbourhood for the first time. It was an amazing and emotional day, beautiful and sunny, feeling more like late summer than impending fall. We saw lots of wildlife wandering down to the base of the Bluffs.

And some vibrant fall colours

We ended up climbing the Bluffs (what I thought was a path turned out to be...a precarious and adrenaline-filled climb, and I was in flip flops). I can't even find the words to describe that experience. There was a point where I didn't think I could make it up any further. And I had no idea how to get back down. I was almost crying (I'm scared of heights). My partner had to shimmy over and try to boost me up. There was a point when I finally got to the top, lied in the grass shaking with fear and adrenaline and exhilaration, when S. was slipping in the mud, barely able to make it up, and I had to try to help him. If at any point, one of us had fallen...I don't even want to think about it. Yet, it was an amazing sense of accomplishment. And I wanted to do it again.

After, we went and saw my grandparents old house...something which didn't give me closure by any means, but which brought back happy memories. Of my grandmother's lovely rose garden in the front yard, the smell of being in the garage with my grandfather, of his shelves and shelves (and shelves) of old jazz records in the basement, of sitting in the living room watching torrents of rain water pouring down the steeply hilled road outside. I wish I had seen them more in recent years, but I've come to terms with that. I'm just glad I had the times with them that I did.

Later that day, we went out for dinner, then dancing.

And then later still, a week or so after my birthday, there were flowers, and an official birthday dinner out.

The dinner was at Union, an adorable little restaurant that focuses on rustic, farm-to-table cuisine, like the one I hope to have myself one day. I got all dressed up. We sat at the chef's rail. We had an amazing charcuterie board. I snuck a picture of the kitchen when no one was watching. S. convinced me to get the steak frites, instead of the vegetarian polenta with greens dish (which he said was not expensive enough). I was disappointed. Still, I'd go back just for that charcuterie plate!


All in all it was a lovely birthday (week+). And now I'm 32. And so excited for the year ahead!