Month: October 2012

Therapy

What IS it about going to your favourite restaurant?  It is more than the food or wine list which, in my case, is epic.  No, it is the ability of the experience to assure you that everything is right in the world.  It is a feeling I cherish, and only recently have begun to question. Somehow it presses a “reset” button on my emotional outlook.  The next morning I wake up (maybe a little hungover, but) with a smile. These dinners are not just meals. They are truly about “dining”. And delight in the senses. My eyes are busy between plates and faces. My ears pick up bits of conversations and music.  The iPod’s playlist always says something about the mood in the kitchen. Is tonight an indie night or are we really listening to rap- the words blurred by the general din of guests? My nose is often in a glass, discovering a new wine find. And of course, as far as touch and taste- textures and flavours never disappoint.

I am an oyster snob. I only like them if they are exceptionally good. Otherwise, I’m happy to let my dining company enjoy them. It isn’t that I’m worried about getting sick – I just don’t like them enough to eat oysters that are “ok”.  I have to admit I almost ordered more, for the first time, ever. We ate wild Beausoleils hand-picked by divers. They were too good to dress with anything. Mmmm. Sorry the photo is so fuzzy –  I refused to use a flash.

Wild Beausoeils

I have a love/ hate relationship with “inventive” cuisine, often finding it contrived without being particularly good. But when it is done well, it makes me giggle (ok, not always obviously). Last night “Buffalo Mozzarella di Bufala” had me grinning like a fool. Deep fried balls of good mozzarella that were breaded in cornflake crumbs in a pool of buffalo-wing sauce with blue cheese and garnished with thin slices of celery. I heard that stupid “angel” music in my head! My mouth is watering as I write.

Buffalo mozzarella di Buffalo

Pumpkin Pie soft serve…Before

…and AFTER

The final word goes to what we drank with our soft serve. Dessert wines and I don’t often go in the same sentence. But maybe I’m turning a corner. We tasted, for the very first time, a Mistelle. A what?  Imagine Port, less sweet, and less hot.  in fact, I read after that mistelles are fresh grape juice which the fermentation process has been stopped by the addition of alcohol. Mistelle is a fortified wine, and the most well known examples are Pineau des Charentes and Floc de Gascogne. Learn something new every day.

To all my friends who are part of my favourite restaurant, who always look happy to see me and take a few minutes when they are in a service rush to say “hi”, thank you for reminding me what it is all about.  Life is good.

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So WHAT if I promised myself not to buy any more cookbooks? Clearly, this doesn’t count!

“Jerusalem by” Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi is FINALLY available. I’ve made almost every recipe in “Plenty”, Ottolenghi’s vegetarian book, and have been eagerly awaiting this new collection of yum.

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Ottolenghi and his partner (in food, not life, well, you know what I mean – food is life but anyhow) , return to their native city of Jerusalem and its unique culinary identity and roots to explore and expand on the magic that makes their recipes so revolutionary.

Jewish Ottolenghi and Palestinian Tamimi  shared a city but didn’t know each other until they met in London.   After they each (independently) left Jerusalem and lived in Tel Aviv for a bit,In 1997, both men moved to London—again, independently. Ottolenghi was planning to pursue a Ph.D., but before enrolling at university, he signed up for a course at Le Cordon Bleu just to prove to himself that he wasn’t cut out life as a chef.  He found a job as a pastry chef at Baker & Spice, where he met Tamimi. Tamimi was making a name for himself by adding a Middle Eastern spin to English standards. Perhaps it was their mutual ‘huh” over bland, beige food that helped them bond, but whatever it was, THANK YOU!

I had the pleasure of eating at Nopi, the fabulous Ottolenghi restaurant in London and delight in recreating some of the flavour profiles at home.

“Plenty” has been my favourite book for a while. It is rare that a few days go by without my flipping through the book and either craving something, or getting serious inspiration.

“Jerusalem” captures that city’s colours, smells and tastes. It features 120 recipes from their cross-cultural perspectives.

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From lamb-stuffed quince with pomegranate and cilantro to tonight’s dinner featuring swiss chard with tahini, yogourt and buttered pine nuts and sweet potatoes with fresh figs IT LOOKS GREAT and I can’t wait to work my way through it!

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Sweet Potatoes with Fresh Figs

This is Sami’s mom’s Fattouch recipe – enjoy!

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Na’ama’s Fattoush

SERVES 6

scant 1 cup / 200 g Greek yogurt and ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp / 200 ml whole milk, or 1 2/3 cups / 400 ml buttermilk (replacing both yogurt and milk)

2 large stale Turkish flatbread or naan (9 oz /250 g in total)

3 large tomatoes (13 oz /380 g in total), cut into 2/3-inch / 1.5cm dice

3 oz / 100 g radishes, thinly sliced

3 Lebanese or mini cucumbers (9 oz / 250 g in total), peeled and chopped into 2/3-inch / 1.5cm dice

2 green onions, thinly sliced

½ oz / 15 g fresh mint

scant 1 oz / 25 g flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1 tbsp dried mint

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil, plus extra to drizzle

2 tbsp cider or white wine vinegar

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp sumac or more to taste, to garnish

Arab salad, chopped salad, Israeli salad—whatever you choose to call it, there is no escaping it. Wherever you go in the city, at any time of the day, a Jerusalemite is most likely to have a plate of freshly chopped vegetables—tomato, cucumber, and onion, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice—served next to whatever else they are having. It’s a local affliction, quite seriously. Friends visiting us in London always complain of feeling they ate “unhealthily” because there wasn’t a fresh salad served with every meal.

There are plenty of unique variations on the chopped salad but one of the most popular is fattoush, an Arab salad that uses grilled or fried leftover pita. Other possible additions include peppers, radishes, lettuce, chile, mint, parsley, cilantro, allspice, cinnamon, and sumac. Each cook, each family, each community has their own variation. A small bone of contention is the size of the dice. Some advocate the tiniest of pieces, only inch / 3 mm wide, others like them coarser, up to ¾ inch / 2 cm wide. The one thing that there is no arguing over is that the key lies in the quality of the vegetables. They must be fresh, ripe, and flavorsome, with many hours in the sun behind them.

This fabulous salad is probably Sami’s mother’s creation; Sami can’t recall anyone else in the neighborhood making it. She called it fattoush, which is only true to the extent that it includes chopped vegetables and bread. She added a kind of homemade buttermilk and didn’t fry her bread, which makes it terribly comforting.

Try to get small cucumbers for this as for any other fresh salad. They are worlds apart from the large ones we normally get in most supermarkets. You can skip the fermentation stage and use only buttermilk instead of the combination of milk and yogurt.

If using yogurt and milk, start at least 3 hours and up to a day in advance by placing both in a bowl. Whisk well and leave in a cool place or in the fridge until bubbles form on the surface. What you get is a kind of homemade buttermilk, but less sour.

Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add your fermented yogurt mixture or commercial buttermilk, followed by the rest of the ingredients, mix well, and leave for 10 minutes for all the flavors to combine.

Spoon the fattoush into serving bowls, drizzle with some olive oil, and garnish generously with sumac.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi; Hardcover, 320 pages. Ten Speed Press (October 16, 2012),

ISBN-10: 1607743949.

No, “Extra Virginity” by Tom Mueller is NOT the “Fifty Shades of Grey” for Foodies.

But it IS an incredibly compelling book that is changing the way I taste and buy olive oil. My “go to” favourite is from Chateau D’Estoublon.

It is hand-picked, cold pressed from a single varietal and worth every penny (and that is a big pile of pennies.) My taste buds know that it is delicious. It tastes of sunshine, grass, and artichokes. But after a morning of reading I now know why so many other oils taste like… oil, while others are the elixir of the gods.

My lazy Sunday read has reminded me that there is great food writing that recognizes how process, whether it be growing, cooking or eating can be life(style) changing.

Listening to “Blood, Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton on several long car trips this summer transported me to Italy. The Interstate signs disappeared as I saw and smelled the kitchens described in the book. Once back home, Gabrielle’s gritty voice inspired me to (unsuccessfully) grow puntarelle in my garden this summer. While the actual plant grew perfectly well, I was faced with an impossible reality – I had no clue how to harvest the plant and force it to produce the crunchy shoots that make this variety of chicory so deliciously irreplaceable. I sautéed the bitter leaves and they were…ok. If anyone has any clue, please let me know – I have the seeds safely stored in case I try again next year.

Another few hundred miles led me to listen to “The School of Essential Ingredients” by Erica Bauermeister.  It is a story about life, people, and the magic of food. The book follows the lives of eight students who meet weekly for a cooking class. That doesn’t sound promising, I know, but soon you see that each student is looking for more than recipes, and they are taught by a woman who is complicated enough to understand the power of food.

My bedside reading this week is “52 Loaves, a Half-Baked Adventure” by William Alexander.  In his own words, it is “My take on the six-thousand-year-old staple of life, 52 Loaves explores the nature of obsession, the meditative quality of ritual, the futility of trying to re-create something perfect, our deep connection to the earth, and the mysterious instinct that makes every person on the planet, no matter their culture or society, respond to the aroma of baking bread.”  For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I’m a “breadie” and this book is right up my alley.

Enough writing for now, I’m eager to learn more about the “sublime and scandalous world of olive oil”.  I will share my knowledge in the days to come.  In the meantime, here is an image of how food and words sometimes don’t work.

Unexcelled? Even my spell-check is shaking its head; and why the American spelling of “Flavour”?

New York City: What I “get” vs. “huh?”

I Get:

  • The Yonah Shimmel Knishery  on the lower east side is still here, and busy, and delicious. So what if the guy serving never heard of “schmaltz” (rendered chicken fat that is the magic ingredient) before working here.

Yonah Shimmer Knish Bakery

  • The crazy woman carrying 6 bags up the middle of the street yelling in a Chinese dialect may or may not have a phone up to her ear, and there may or may not be someone on the other end.
  • It is normal to walk 20 blocks in 4″ heels.
  • “Ling Kee” ONLY sells jerky, it won’t kill you, and is delicious.

Really, they only sell one thing. Jerky.

  • If you whisper “Hermes” or “Coach” on Canal Street, you get swarmed with offers to visit an alley to buy watches and purses.
  • The traffic.
  • That some street vendors make hotdogs into flowers and other weird and wonderful things on sticks.

    Putting the standard wiener vendor to shame.

  • That it is normal for my daughter to say “oh, there’s a rat” as we drive at night.
  • Even that Dean and Deluca manages to charge $2 bucks a rugelach. Singular. More to follow on that topic in another post.

    Why are these rugelach SO good?

Now for the “Huh”

What is with New York’s preoccupation with brunch on the weekend?

Sunday I can understand walking blocks and only seeing menus for that wonderful lazy meal. French toast, eggs, pancakes. The morning-after-drinking-far-too-much food. But folks, you pride yourself on being THE city, and every decent foodie haunt below 20th street is lined up for AT LEAST an hour for eggs? Isn’t everyone in a RUSH here? I have shopping to do, and people to watch. I need downtown lunch, now! No dessert, thanks. I won’t make it 10 feet without a store, cart or truck selling cupcakes.

Move over chestnut man and pretzel guy, this is the “new” thing

But that is a whole other silly story.

The “Famous” Blue Glass

I’m sure we have all asked someone for a recipe, and the answer is something like “well, it is a bit of this and a pinch of that”. In the case of my family, recipes are often given in terms of a “blue glass” as in, add one blue glass of oil, mix until ready, and bake until done. Um, forgive me, but, how big is that famous glass??

I am including my favourite blue glass recipes. I have translated the blue glass into more conventional measures after trying out a few likely glasses, but the baking times are still a bit wacky. I always have to bake them longer than the recipe (and common practice) suggests.

 

 

 

APPLE CAKE

4 large apples, peeled, halved, cored and sliced

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 ½ cups sugar (I only use 1 1/2)

3 cups flour

1 tbs. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

4 eggs

1/2 cup oil

3/4 cup orange juice

2 ½  tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a tube pan.

Combine apples, cinnamon, and a bit of sugar and set aside. (Do not add all the sugar here!)

Combine rest of ingredients and beat until smooth ( I usually beat the eggs, sugar, oil and juice and add the dry ingredients to that)

Pour half of batter into greased tube pan

Spread half the batter, then half of the apples, then the rest of batter, then rest of apples

Sprinkle with walnuts, cinnamon and sugar (use your blue glass here, folks. You know how much is right)

Bake at  350 until toothpick comes out clean about 1 and a half hours. (Usually more)

You can broil at end to brown apples

When cool sprinkle with icing sugar if you like.  Cool and remove from pan.

I fully understand that baking is all about chemistry. So can someone please explain why these “blue glass” recipes come out differently every single time I make them. An you say “ghost of the blue glass?”

The following story about Aunt Rosie’s Honey Cake was written by my incredibly talented mother, Helen. Enjoy.

My Aunt Rosie’s Honey Cake

My Aunt Rosie’s honey cake was the colour of damp mahogany.  My Aunt Rosie’s honey cake was the dark, heavy, sweet of buckwheat honey, spun by big, black bees drunk out of their stingers with the intensity of sensuously, perfumed pollen, particular only to Buckwheat, Prince of Grains.

My Aunt Rosie’s linoleum kitchen floor, week-end scrubbed, waxed and protected with fresh newspapers laid out always in perfect rectangular alignment, one next to one, had the subtle smell of strange, wonderful, unaccustomed spices and flavours taking me with the first whiff, from my home on Gerrard Street, into foreign and far-away tents and bazaars.  The protecting newsprint absorbed, retained and echoed the many-layered aromas of green onions, honey, herring, garlic, oil and poppy seeds, and deliciously masked the institutional Johnson’s floor wax under the comic section of Friday’s Toronto Star.

My Aunt Rosie’s long salt-and-pepper hair was always pinned with shiny combs into a tight, beautiful, strangely regal and no-nonsense bun.  She meant business when she mixed, tasted, oiled and lined with brown grocery-bag paper, her two, narrow, cast-iron cake tins and her empty coffee cans, that she rotated into and out of the hot aromatic oven.  The cakes seemed to bake forever, rising here and falling there, taking on character, baking-in that mahogany richness and exquisitely perfuming the universe with the smell of burning buckwheat honey, baking and sticking as it bubbled and overflowed onto the bottom rack of the big, black, iron oven.

We never, ever, left Aunt Rosie’s house without first refusing, and then helplessly accepting, thank goodness, a waxed-paper-under-brown-paper-and-two-rubber-bands-wrapped honey cake, to savour at home in the east end of town, where a buckwheat honey and damp, dark, heavy-as-a-brick mahogany cake was definitely big-time exotica.

Just remembering my Aunt Rosie’s honey cakes, each one seriously sinking in the middle under the over-the-limit load of moist golden coconut strands seriously sprinkled on top, evokes instantly for me, a shiny black-and-white snapshot of childhood so vivid, so clear, it must have been stored in the deep freeze of consciousness—perfect, intact, silent—waiting, waiting just to be seen and smelled and tasted once again.

At the bottom left of this picture, I can make out a little round face of a little round girl around six, sleepy, smiling, inhaling still, memories of sweetness, all hugged-out, feeling favoured, secure, and knowing for sure that heaven is near, in a waxed-paper-under-brown-paper-and-two-rubber-bands-wrapped warm, heavy, honey cake parcel, protected and hugged close, close to her heart.

The ghost made this one fall a bit…BOO.

And now, the recipe, typed as I heard it:

Grease a loaf tin and line with parchment (or just use a silicone loaf pan). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix:

½ lb. melted buckwheat honey (no crystals)

2 eggs

1 cup sugar

Less than 1 cup strong coffee

¼ cup oil

Sift in:

Less than 2 cups flour

1 pinch salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

Stir until mixed. Pour into pan. Top with shredded coconut if you like.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, and then 30 minutes at 300 degrees. Mine usually need longer…