Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tacos de papa



Tacos de papa is Spanish for “potato tacos” (not French for “Dad’s tacos”). I decided to make this as our first meal in San Antonio, to detox a bit from all the unhealthy food we’d had on the road and to eat something with a little Tex-Mex influence. It was presented on The Kitchn as an “easy weeknight dinner”. Easy, sure, but weeknight? Good thing we were still on vacation. Granted, I always have a leisurely pace in the kitchen (especially when it’s not really my kitchen, as is the case in our rental apartment), but what with all the chopping and cooking, it took almost two hours – and that’s with store-bought tortillas and no poblano peppers! It was really good, though, so I’ll keep the recipe, but it’s not what I’ll make if I’m in a hurry.

10 fresh corn tortillas
2 large red-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut in ½-inch cubes
4 ½ Tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chopped onion
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 ear white corn, stripped of kernels
2 scallions, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
fresh cilantro, to taste (or some ground cumin if you dislike cilantro)
1 lime
fresh avocado, diced



In a skillet, pour 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, add the potatoes and fry them until crispy and brown on the outside and cooked inside.

While the potatoes are cooking, pour the remaining 1 Tbsp of the olive oil to another skillet and cook the onions, garlic, celery, bell pepper, and corn. Add salt and pepper to taste; juice the lime, add it to the skillet and cook on low for 5 minutes. Stir well.



Heat a large skillet or griddle and warm up the tortillas on each side, about 5 minutes per side (warming them helps to soften them).

To assemble the tacos, place some potato on the tortilla, then the veg/lime mixture, and top with scallion, cilantro, and avocado.

As a bonus: did you know that to prevent an avocado from browning, storing it with a red onion (or leftover shallots, in my case) works better than lemon juice or tight wrapping?

Monday, August 30, 2010

San Antonio Tidbits

Since our arrival in San Antonio, we have been able to try some of the local cuisine. Or, to be more specific, some chain restaurants that are non-existent in Quebec (we’ll get around to the local Tex-Mex restaurants, don’t worry). We also noticed some differences in everyday things, like all the delicious gourmet candy available at the corner store (some of it was Latino, but a lot was actually Asian, for some reason). We saw a Double-Down sandwich at a KFC in Kentucky (up until then, those sandwiches had been the stuff of legends to me – legends as in “unverified accuracy”, not “legen-wait for it-dary”). Even brand-name chips have different flavours, like limón (good, but I prefer our good old ketchup flavour).



We had burgers at Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Just before I left Montreal, I learned that a location is supposed to open in the Old Port. It’s recently beat out all the other fast-food burger chains in a consumer-vote face-off on A Hamburger Today (below is a chart of the participants, filled out right before the winner was declared). Five Guys makes good burgers, grilled when you order them and topped with everything you want, but they are definitely in the fast-food end of the spectrum. Their fries are ridiculously good and plentiful, though. I must mention that they serve free bulk peanuts in the restaurants, with the weird warning not to remove them from the premises for fear of allergens. So... it’s okay as long as they’re still on the premises, next to the food?



We also tried Chipotle. This chain is technically fast food, in the literal sense – it’s prepared quickly. But it’s healthy: most of the meat is naturally raised (fed a vegetarian diet without hormones or antibiotics, and pasture-raised when possible), vegetables and legumes are from local family farms and organic when possible (and fresh – I believe only the corn is frozen during off seasons), and they were trying out soft tortilla shells made with a 3,500-year-old recipe. The guacamole is awesome; I had a pork burrito which I loved (and I can’t believe I ate the whole thing); the Engineer had a chicken burrito and declared himself thoroughly satisfied. We heartily approve of the place and will definitely be back.

I’ll quickly mention Sugarbakers, which is not a chain. It’s a cafe and bakery where they serve breakfast and lunches, but I went in there lured by the (what else) red velvet cupcake. It was really good, and the highlight of my day.



(On a side note, San Antonio is the only place so far where I’ve seen sunscreen with an SPF this high... I came here with an SPF 75, and it’s done a good job so far, but I shudder to think that this might become the norm for the fair-skinned like me!)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last taste of Montreal

The Engineer and I did a bit of a “goodbye tour” of Montreal in the early summer. We do plan on coming back to Montreal every summer, so it wasn’t like our last meals ever in town, but there were a few places we just had to visit one more time before we left. We used the takeout counter at Schwartz’s for some smoked meat sandwiches with fries and Cott’s black cherry soda (and we bought a jar of steak spice, of course!). We also had one of Amelio’s white pizzas, which are the best in Montreal (and I just now realized that Amelio’s has a second location, in Outremont, so hopefully the quality is there too).



We also had two Itsi Bitsi cupcakes: Caribbean Chocolate (which was supposed to have mango icing, but it tasted more like an orangesicle) and Turkish Delight with Raspberry frosting. The latter was good, but neither one was really great.



The consistently great cake/cupcake shop is Cocoa Locale. I tasted the chili brownie. I’d been waiting for a while to have Reema’s brownie – you see, Cocoa Locale’s menu changes daily, but unless you call ahead, you just don’t know what the day’s offerings will be. I had already tasted the Olive et Gourmando brownie, which is widely accepted as the best in town, but I disagree: it’s small, very light brown, is more fudge than cake and is overpriced. I make better brownies at home. But Reema’s brownie... Now there’s the best commercial brownie in Montreal. It’s dark brown, made with Valrhona chocolate, frosted and dusted with red pepper flakes. It’s rich, but not too much, and the heat of the pepper is a nice touch. I’m really glad I got to taste it before I left.


Maison Kam Fung

This restaurant review has been languishing on my hard drive for longer than I care to admit. I wanted to go to this restaurant a second time and try more dishes, because I had liked it so much. But somehow, I never found the time (or the right group of people, since dim sum pretty much requires a group). But I’ve decided that this is doing no one any favours, especially since the place I used to talk about (Lotté Furama) had closed after the quality became questionable. So, even though this is dated, here’s my review.

Maison Kam Fung, “hidden” on the top floor of a mall in Chinatown, is known for its dim sum lunch – which is the best I’ve had in Montreal. You have to wait a while to get seats, but the restaurant is quite big, so the turnover is good and a table usually frees up within 20 minutes.

Before our group was all seated, we already had our first dish served on the table by the eager waitress: peanut dumplings, which had some pork, shrimps and coriander. We had to intercept someone later to get glasses of water, but after that, refills came easily. The carts rolling past the tables are each more appetizing than the next. We had a vegetarian noodle dish, some shrimp rice noodles, delicious steamed pork buns (I had been fantasizing about those for a long time), fried dumplings, vegetables, eggrolls, steamed rice in a lotus leaf, fried shrimp, fried squid... It’s like every cart has something new, but you eventually get too full to keep trying new dishes. And for dessert, there were delicious red bean dumplings, coconut-stuffed bread and egg custard-filled flaky tarts.

We had an absolutely excellent meal, ate until we were stuffed, and it only cost about $15 per person, including taxes and tip. I’m looking forward to going back to Maison Kam Fung next time I have the chance.

Spatule

« Spatule » est un mot-valise qui a bien des sens en cuisine! Le mot semble simple, pourtant, mais j’ai cinq types différents de spatules, avec des utilisations différentes bien sûr! L’usage du mot est bien ancré, et on peut trouver le sens précis sans difficulté selon le contexte, c’est vrai, mais j’aimerais qu’on puisse avoir des mots différents pour désigner des ustensiles à utilisations si variées... Ce serait logique, il me semble.

Peanut Butter Popcorn

If you’re like me, you probably have a bag of stale instant popcorn in the back of your pantry. It’s not so far expired that it would make you sick, but it’s definitely past its prime. You want to get rid of it; throwing it away would be a waste, but you might want to “enhance” it a bit before you eat it. Enter: peanut butter popcorn (adapted from a recipe I found as part of a peanut butter feature on The Kitchn). It’s soft and gooey, unlike crunchy caramel popcorn, and easy to make, too. It keeps overnight (and gets gooier), but is best eaten the day it is made. It’s very rich, though, so don’t make a habit of it!

1 bag popcorn, popped
fine salt
½ cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup peanut butter (ideally without added sugar)
½ tsp vanilla

Pour the popcorn into an oversized mixing bowl to cool, being careful to leave any unpopped kernels in the bag (coated with peanut butter caramel, the unpopped kernels are a serious tooth hazard). Lightly salt the popcorn to taste.

Mix the honey and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it simmer for a couple minutes, then remove from the heat and add the peanut butter. Stir vigorously until all the peanut butter is melted, then mix in the vanilla.

Immediately pour the peanut butter caramel over the popcorn and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon until it's all coated. Once it's mixed, you can transfer it to a serving bowl. Cover tightly after it's cooled.

Big green salad with chicken, dates and various other things



This is a recipe that I first tried months ago; I ended up not posting about it, because it felt so simple that it wasn’t really worth a recipe. I’m starting to see, however, that it was exactly what I needed at the time, and it fits my current circumstances because it is good and filling while being easy and highly adaptable. The idea for this came from The Kitchn. It’s for a green salad that the original poster made with lettuce, chicken, dates, smoked almonds and goat cheese. I used lettuce, chicken, chickpeas and dates, but some lactose-free goat cheese would have been lovely in there too, and maybe some roasted pecans. You can make this salad with whatever you have on hand – but I do recommend using the dates, they were a great touch. The quantities below are only indicative, so you can adjust them (this would make almost 10 servings, but I rarely make anything with more than 4), and feel free to substitute at will (anything here is optional, and the list is not exhaustive). You can of course make this salad without nuts or animals products if you so wish.

1 head romaine lettuce, shredded
1 head red-leaf lettuce, shredded
1 small head red cabbage, shredded very fine
1 small endive, chopped OR 1 fennel bulb, finely shaved
6 shallots OR ½ red onion, finely chopped
1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped in quarters
1 cup smoked salted almonds OR roasted pecans, roughly chopped
1 12-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and well drained
1 12-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and well drained
4 oz lactose-free goat cheese or smoked goat cheese, crumbled
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
avocado, cubed
cooked chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

Dressing
3 Tbsp light vinegar, like rice vinegar or Champagne vinegar
½ cup light oil, like very light olive or safflower oil

Mix the greens and cabbage in a large bowl. Toss with the finely chopped shallots or red onion, dates, almonds, and legumes. Toss with the goat cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and avocado.

Whisk the vinegar and oil together until emulsified, then pour over the salad mix and toss.

Salade d'orge au poulet, vinaigrette à la framboise

C’est une autre recette tirée de Coup de Pouce, sûrement la dernière pour un certain temps car je n’ai pas encore pu faire suivre les numéros de mon abonnement aux États-Unis (mais pour savoir pourquoi cette recette n’est pas en ligne sur le site web du magazine, fouillez-moi). C’est une recette très simple, que j’ai trafiquée un peu ce soir-là pour faire plutôt des poitrines de poulet avec une salade d’orge sans brocoli en accompagnement. On peut aussi en faire une salade verte et y incorporer le poulet, au goût.

1 c. à soupe de beurre
1 c. à soupe d’huile végétale
2 poitrines de poulet désossées, la peau et le gras enlevé
3 tasses d’eau
1 tasse d’orge perlé (ou mondé, doubler alors le temps de cuisson)
2 bouquets de brocoli (facultatif)
½ tasse de canneberges séchées
½ tasse de noix de Grenoble grillées, hachées
1 pincée de sel
3 c. à soupe d’huile d’olive
2 c. à soupe de vinaigre de framboise
1 échalote, hachée
1 c. à soupe de menthe fraîche, hachée
1 pincée de sucre
1 pincée de sel
1 pincée de poivre noir du moulin

Dans un poêlon, faire fondre le beurre avec l’huile à feu moyen. Ajouter les poitrines de poulet et cuire pendant environ 10 minutes ou jusqu’à ce qu’elles soient dorées et aient perdu leur teinte rosée à l’intérieur (les retourner à la mi-cuisson). Couper le poulet en lanières et réserver.

Entre-temps, dans une casserole, porter l’eau à ébullition. Ajouter l’orge et mélanger. Réduire à feu moyen, couvrir et laisser mijoter pendant 30 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que le liquide soit presque complètement absorbé. Ajouter le brocoli et cuire pendant 3 minutes ou jusqu’à ce qu’il soit tendre, mais encore croquant. Ajouter les canneberges et poursuivre la cuisson pendant 1 minute. Retirer du feu et laisser reposer pendant 5 minutes ou jusqu’à ce que le liquide soit complètement absorbé.

Pour faire la vinaigrette, mélanger l’huile d’olive, le vinaigre de framboise, l’échalote, la menthe, le sucre, le sel et le poivre jusqu’à ce que la vinaigrette soit homogène.

Au moment de servir, mettre la préparation d’orge dans un grand bol. Ajouter le poulet réservé, les noix de Grenoble et le sel. Verser la vinaigrette et mélanger pour bien enrober les ingrédients. Répartir la salade sur un lit de feuilles de laitue Boston, si désiré.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Coconut Sorbet - Plain, Basil and Saffron



Not too long before we moved, I finally indulged my cravings for homemade coconut sorbet. I found a recipe on Baking Bites (adapted from The Vegan Scoop) and used it as a base, even though I’ve now tweaked it. I call it coconut sorbet rather than ice cream, because it does not contain any dairy (though it does have the consistency of ice cream, just like Tofutti does). I also split the batch in three in order to try out the basil coconut sorbet I’d been dreaming of as well as the saffron coconut ice cream I stumbled upon at some point since.

Well, I’ve decided to modify the “standard” recipe by using neither shredded coconut (which, in my opinion, ruined the consistency) nor vanilla (which ruined the color and overpowered the coconut taste). I winged it on the two variations (basil and saffron), though I had the good sense to use neither shredded coconut nor vanilla in those. I do not recommend that you make these at the same time, especially if you only have one ice cream maker (I made them at the same time because I wanted to do it all before I packed up the ice cream maker and I was impatient). I used two 400-ml cans of coconut milk, for a total of about 1 quart of sorbet, but you do have a little leeway here if your cans have a different size.

Personally, the basil and saffron variations were my favourite, while the Engineer preferred the “plain” and the saffron flavours. This means I’ll definitely be making all three of them again! They were delicious, and a great alternative to grocery-store flavours.

800 ml (2 cans, approx 3 ¼ cups) coconut milk
2 Tbsp arrowroot starch
¾ cup sugar
1 handful fresh basil leaves (optional)
½ tsp saffron threads (optional)



In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup of the coconut milk with arrowroot starch. Whisk well to combine.

In a medium saucepan, combine the rest of the coconut milk with the sugar. Throw in the basil OR the saffron, if using. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, until mixture comes to a boil. Stir in arrowroot starch and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, until thickened. Remove from heat. Strain out the basil leaves, if using.




Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours or overnight.



Freeze coconut ice cream base in an ice cream making, following the manufacturers’ directions. Transfer to a freezer-safe container and chill until ready to serve.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Filets de porc aux pommes sur pilaf de quinoa



J’ai pris cette recette dans un Coup de Pouce et je l’ai faite avant le déménagement. C’était vraiment très bon! J’ai utilisé du quinoa rouge et du quinoa blanc parce que je voulais finir mes réserves, mais utilisez ce que vous voulez. La texture et le goût du feta chaud était particulièrement intrigants pour moi, car j’en avais toujours mangé froid. Il n’y a pas beaucoup de feta dans la recette, alors les Lactaid ont largement suffit, mais on pourrait en mettre davantage si on veut (et omettre les noix aussi). Par contre, il a fallu que je fasse cuire le porc environ le double du temps demandé dans la recette. Je ne pense pas que mon feu était trop bas, car le quinoa au fond a un peu brûlé. Attendez-vous donc à allonger le temps de cuisson indiqué ici au besoin, ou encore mieux, mettez votre poêlon au four pour cette étape.

1 ½ lb filets de porc
¾ c. à thé de poivre noir du moulin
½ c. à thé de sel
1 c. à soupe d’huile végétale
1 oignon rouge, haché
1 pomme pelée, coupée en dés
1 tasse de quinoa rincé et égoutté
2 tasses de bouillon de poulet réduit en sel
2 carottes râpées
¾ tasse de canneberges séchées
½ tasse de noix de Grenoble hachées
½ tasse de fromage feta émietté

Parsemer les filets de porc de ½ c. à thé du poivre et de ¼ c. à thé du sel. Dans un grand poêlon, chauffer l’huile à feu moyen-vif. Ajouter les filets de porc et les faire dorer de tous les côtés pendant environ 4 minutes. Retirer du poêlon.



Dans le poêlon, ajouter l’oignon rouge et la pomme et cuire, en brassant, pendant 5 minutes ou jusqu’à ce qu’ils aient ramolli. Ajouter le quinoa et cuire, en brassant, pendant 1 minute.



Ajouter le bouillon, les carottes, les canneberges et le reste du poivre et du sel, et bien mélanger.



Déposer les filets de porc sur la préparation de quinoa, couvrir et porter à ébullition. Réduire à feu moyen-doux et laisser mijoter pendant environ 15 minutes (ou mettre au four préchauffé à 350 °F) ou jusqu’à ce que le porc soit encore légèrement rosé à l’intérieur, que le liquide soit absorbé et que le quinoa soit tendre. Retirer les filets de porc du poêlon. Laisser reposer la préparation de quinoa à couvert pendant 2 minutes.



Couper les filets de porc en tranches fines. Ajouter les noix de Grenoble et le fromage feta à la préparation de quinoa et mélanger. Servir les tranches de porc sur le pilaf de quinoa.

Papaya

This past weekend, the Engineer and I attended a wedding in Toronto: the Legal Chef married E., and it was truly a beautiful wedding. As an unexpected bonus, I even got my own garter back! The Legal Chef, who had been the best man for the Engineer and me, had caught it at our wedding and just never gave it back; it turns out E. wore it as her something borrowed and something blue for her wedding. This time, it was the Actor who caught it – I’ll lend it back to him someday if his future fiancée wants it, but in the meantime, I’m hanging on to it! (My grandmother made it for me, so it has sentimental value.)

I feel I must make a quick restaurant review, because the Engineer and I had a late lunch and, by chance, picked a restaurant that I absolutely loved. It’s called Papaya, on Yonge Street. I had the best mango salad of my life! Most restaurants, when they advertize mango, give you something that’s straight from the freezer (and very starchy), or underripe. But this, my friends, was a bowl full of pieces of perfectly fresh and ripe mango, mixed with a little bell pepper, red onion, mint leaves and lime and topped with roasted peanuts. It was absolutely delicious, and I would have it again for any meal or as a snack. Too bad I’m not within walking distance of that place! The Engineer had pineapple fried rice with shrimp and chicken that thoroughly satisfied him (he couldn’t believe he ate the whole thing). I also had dessert: coconut sticky rice with mango (mango overdose, I know, but it just looked so good!). It was a beautifully presented plate of black rice, with the promised coconut milk drizzled around it and pieces of mango. I really loved it, but the Engineer found the black rice too crunchy.

The menu is pretty big and varied, with mostly Thai dishes, but a few other Asian specialties sprinkled throughout; prices are very reasonable. If you’re ever in the area, don’t miss it! It’s on my list of places to visit again next time I’m in Toronto.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rhubarb Pie - or, how Molly Wizenberg saved this spring's rhubarb



I know I’m really (really) late posting this, and I’m not really doing you any favours unless you happen to have 1 ½ lb of rhubarb in your freezer, but I HAVE to share this rhubarb pie recipe. It’s just rhubarb, no strawberries or anything. But first things first.

I have a bunch of recipes bookmarked to try (maybe 50 online links, plus books). I hadn’t had the chance to try all the rhubarb recipes I wanted to last spring, and the last of my frozen rhubarb had been sacrificed to the Engineer’s strawberry rhubarb pie (it was worth it, though). So I ended up trying two more this year. The first was a rhubarb cobbler. The recipe was intriguing, because the dough called for hard-boiled eggs yolks as an ingredient, along with a real vanilla bean; the cobbler itself looked simple and delicious. So I made this recipe first, but it really didn’t turn out well.








The dough never rose (considering the amount of baking powder called for, I’m not quite sure what happened there), the rhubarb wasn’t sweetened enough (½ cup sugar for 2 lbs of rhubarb, really?), and there was way too much water released during cooking. So I won’t be making that one again, even though the recipe itself has potential (it actually reminds me of another one I made years ago with a lot of different spices – maybe I’ll dig that one up next year).

Then, there was a rhubarb pie recipe on Orangette (not this year’s rhubarb recipe, but it’s timeless). And man, was that fantastic. The pie was beautiful, it held together perfectly, and it tasted absolutely wonderful. That recipe is a definite keeper. I knew I could count on Molly Wizenberg!

1 recipe Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
6 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
2 ½ to 3 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1 ½ lbs fresh rhubarb, washed, trimmed, and chopped into ½-inch slices
1 Tbsp unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450 °F, and position a rack in the lower third of the oven.

On a lightly floured surface, roll one disk of pâte brisée into a circle about 12 inches in diameter. Gently fit the round of pastry dough into a 9-inch pie plate, pressing it up smoothly along the sides. Trim away excess pastry from the rim. Slip the pie plate into the refrigerator for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.

In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and orange zest, whisking to mix completely. Remove the pie plate from the refrigerator, and sprinkle ¼ of the sugar mixture over the pastry in the bottom of the pie plate. Heap the chopped rhubarb on top of the mixture. Distribute the rest of the sugar mixture evenly over the rhubarb; it may seem like a lot, but don’t be tempted to skimp. Cut the butter into a few small pieces, and disperse them over the filling.





On a lightly floured surface, roll the second disk of pastry dough into a circle 11-12 inches in diameter. Gently lay the round of dough atop the prepared pie, trimming away excess and then pinching and crimping along the edges to seal the top and bottom crusts together. With a sharp paring knife, gently cut three or four slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.



Place the pie plate on a baking sheet (for ease of transport), and slide it into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 °F. Continue to bake for another 40 minutes to 55 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden and the filling is bubbling up gently through the slits in the top crust. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cold, with lactose-free vanilla ice cream or a substitute.


Cooking Tips

This post doesn’t have any recipes. I just want to give a few tips on how you can improve your cooking quickly and easily. I believe the number one thing is this: use the best ingredients you can buy. It’s simple, yet people often don’t do it. I also recommend always reading through the recipe before attempting it: make sure you have all the ingredients and all the kitchenware called for; look up any words or techniques that you don’t understand (you can even watch some very instructive videos online). Keep in mind that some recipes just don’t work, so try to use ones from reputable chefs (by reputable, I mean whose recipes are known to work as written), and if you got it online, read the users’ comments to improve the recipe if necessary.

Let me first direct you to a post written by David Lebovitz on his blog: 10 easy ways to improve your cooking. I’ll summarize them here, but I urge you to read the explanations he gives (I won’t crib his entire post, you know!): 1) use fresh herbs; 2) upgrade your oils; 3) use shallots – lots and lots of shallots; 4) keep a good amount of decent semisweet or bittersweet chocolate on hand; 5) salt; 6) try lentilles de Puy; 7) rethink your vinegar; 8) try whole-wheat pasta; 9) wine; and 10) get some decent cookware. I couldn’t agree more with the latter tip: once you have the proper tool for the job, everything is so much easier and more enjoyable!

Of course, picking good fruits and vegetables is important: not too ripe, not blemished, not moulding or wilting. Ideally, buy what’s in season. You can look up specific tips for any item, of course, because picking a melon is not like picking bananas. Also, picking potatoes depends on the use intended for them. Here’s a tip for picking your avocados: gently press them with a fingertip. If it yields no more than your forehead, it isn’t ripe enough; if it yields like your cheek, it’s too ripe. The right consistency would be similar to the tip of your nose (you can also buy hard avocados and let them ripen a few days on your kitchen counter). Similarly, you can use the finger test to determine if your steak is done!

One can also make the case for buying organic produce. While it won’t make the food taste better, it is arguably better for one’s health – but it’s more expensive than its non-organic counterpart. I’d like to take a moment here to mention Whole Foods, which many refer to as Whole Paycheck because of the cost of shopping there. Here’s a link where people discuss it – I especially like the 11th comment, by A. (not me) and the response in the 12th comment, by faith. Basically, while shopping at Whole Foods can be expensive, you have to keep in mind that you are usually either buying organic food (which is more expensive than its non-organic counterpart at any grocery store) or gourmet items (that many grocery stores don’t even carry). And Whole Foods is more health-conscious, as it doesn’t carry junk food or food with nasty additives (the store even takes care to print on both sides of the receipt to avoid wasting paper!). Of course, if you stick to the staples, you could even save money at Whole Foods.

While we’re on the topic of money, here’s an article on The Kitchn that summarizes the 25 best tips of 2009 for frugal cooking and shopping – and it doesn’t even mention freeganism! I think this goes hand-in-hand with 10 tips for reducing food waste. I don’t like being wasteful, period, but with food, it really is like throwing money away. If you have a reclaimed freight center near you, you can also save money by shopping right.

Once you have quality ingredients, it’s important to store them properly, too. Mushrooms, for example, do better in a paper bag than in the plastic containers in which they are often packaged. Any pantry staples that are going to be around for a while (different types of flour, rice, spices, etc.) should be stored in sealed containers, to prevent infestations of grain beetles and other pests. Spices are also better off stored away from heat and direct sunlight.

Another important step, even though it doesn’t affect the quality of the food directly, is learning to pronounce words correctly. Here’s a list of 10 words that are often mispronounced, along with the right way to pronounce them. My personal pet peeve is bruschetta – it’s an Italian word and the “ch” is a hard sound, like “k”. It’s been around long enough that people should know how to pronounce it by now, but the guy in last spring’s Delissio ad still didn’t.

As far as the actual cooking goes, there are different tips and tricks you learn along the way. Some are neat tricks, though very specific and not absolutely essential (like how to keep a graham cracker crust from getting soggy), others should be basic knowledge and a tutorial is essential (like a visual guide to the difference between soft, firm and stiff peaks when whipping cream or egg whites). Here’s a crash course in kitchen basics, though the web in general is a great place to find videos and tutorials on just about anything. You’ll also get better with the ingredients themselves as you gain experience, allowing you to work with them optimally or make (successful) substitutions when necessary. For example, here’s a quick tip on the differences between the functions of baking powder and baking soda in recipes. In a nutshell, the baking soda needs something acidic in order to work, but the baking powder already contains the acid it needs. So while the two have similar functions, they are not interchangeable.

Even if you’ve been cooking for a long time, you might still learn something new or change your way of doing something. For example, I always used to crack eggs on the corner of the counter (or the bowl or the pan); the reasoning behind it is that the sharp edge cracks the shell more easily than something dull. I found out, however, that breaking open the eggs on the flat of the counter helps keep the inner membrane intact, resulting in fewer eggshell pieces falling in the bowl with the egg! So I now break open my eggs on the flat side of the counter – it’s counterintuitive, but it works.

Finally, for those of you who like to host brunch (and still sleep in), Smitten Kitchen has some great tips and recipes. And one tip from a professional chef I’ve met: warm the plates before serving dinner. The food stays warmer, which makes the meal better.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Histoire de langue

Chaque année, les experts québécois sonnent l’alarme en clamant que le nombre de gens dont la langue maternelle est le français diminue dans la province (et surtout dans la métropole). Bien que ce soit vrai, c’est toujours présenté comme une catastrophe nationale qui équivaudrait à dire que les gens parlent de moins en moins français (voire de plus en plus anglais). Mais ce n’est pas aussi simple : en effet, grâce à la loi 101, les enfants des immigrants doivent, pour la quasi-totalité, fréquenter l’école en français. Donc, bien que de plus en plus de personnes viennent d’une famille dont la langue maternelle n’est pas le français (ni l’anglais, d’ailleurs), le nombre de personnes parlant français continue de croître, car les enfants sont, pour la grande majorité, éduqués en français; ils parlent français avec leurs amis et finissent souvent par travailler en français en grandissant. Marie-Claude Lortie a écrit un bel article à ce sujet. Et Alain Dubuc explique bien que le français est la langue d’usage de plus en plus de gens. Moi, je fais juste m’indigner contre ces gens qui partent en peur chaque année sans se donner la peine de comprendre la situation.

Cela dit, je trouve absolument ridicule et indéfendable la situation de gens (souvent anglophones, mais pas exclusivement) qui viennent s’installer au Québec et qui, des années plus tard (que ce soit 5 ans ou 50 ans), sont toujours incapables converser en français. Je vous donne le lien vers un article génial écrit par Émilie Dubreuil à ce sujet. Qu’on me comprenne: je ne fais pas référence aux allophones qui viennent d’arriver au Québec, ni aux touristes qui ne font que passer. Je ne fais pas non plus référence aux gens qui font un effort pour parler français, même s’ils ne maîtrisent pas la langue comme ils le voudraient. C’est vrai que le français est une langue difficile. Je suis tout à fait consciente qu’à Montréal, il est possible de passer une bonne partie de sa vie sans avoir besoin du français et même sans en entendre, selon les médias et les quartiers qu’on choisit. Et je suis vraiment fière de la diversité linguistique et culturelle de Montréal et d’autres villes du genre. Cependant, il me semble normal que quand on choisit de s’établir à un endroit où la langue officielle est le français, on apprenne le français, même s’il y a moyen de se débrouiller autrement. Cela ne veut pas dire qu’il faut nécessairement le parler à la maison si ce n’est pas notre langue maternelle, car il n’est pas ici question de nier sa propre langue ou sa culture, mais je crois qu’il faut faire un effort pour comprendre le français et se faire comprendre en français. Sinon, je trouve que c’est faire preuve d’indifférence à la culture du Québec. Voilà.

Clearing a few things up - with humour

Like anyone else, I sometimes make typos when I write. It happens to the best of us when we don’t have enough time to properly proofread. Some people, however, constantly make the same mistakes because they don’t really understand what it is they are writing (like confusing “effect” and “affect”, “accept” and “except”, or “it’s” and “its”). The Oatmeal has some funny posters integrating great mnemonic devices to help people avoid 10 common spelling mistakes and to help them tame apostrophes.

On a similar note, here’s a list of common misconceptions that are worth clearing up (like how the reason Christopher Columbus had so much trouble drumming up support for his expedition wasn’t because Europeans thought the Earth was flat, and the Great Wall of China is not visible from space).

I also want to share a link to a very interesting video of all the nuclear explosions (tests and otherwise) that happened between 1945 and 1998: there were 2,053 (!) and they are time-scaled over the course of 15 minutes, with different shades according to which country is responsible. It’s really scary stuff (even though only 2 explosions have been detonated offensively). I didn’t realize there had been so many – it all seems incredibly reckless on the part of these various governments. And it doesn’t include the recent North Korean tests, of course...

Finally, here’s an interesting read: Erica Goldson’s graduating speech as valedictorian, in which she deconstructs the logic of the educational system as we know it in North America. It’s making the rounds mostly because it’s unexpected – after all, valedictorians usually thank the system for getting them where they are, while Ms. Goldson now realizes that this system is flawed and that perhaps she regrets strict memorizing versus actual learning. I’d have to say that I agree with her on that point.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Vermontfest 2010

About a month ago, we had the 2010 edition of Vermontfest. Do you think we brought enough games for the weekend?



Darwin got to run around on a 50-foot leash in a big field; he also had the option of swimming the pond, but was not at all keen to do so.


video

The Engineer made a tomato and mozzarella tart from Baking Illustrated, which was a success. I made a chickpea salad with lemon and parmesan as well as a potato, green bean and basil salad. We also had hummus and veggies, of course.





I had made cheese crackers based on the cheese straw recipe, but they were not as successful as the chocolate chip cookies I had made last time (I didn’t have the time to make them this year, but I’ll certainly put them on my priority list next year). I also made banana bread that was eaten on the first morning; I meant to post the recipe, and I will eventually, but not until our things have made their way to Texas and I have unpacked the cookbooks. Jen had brought fresh blueberry muffins, bran muffins and cornbread made with real corn!



The Legal Chef made cinnamon buns on the second morning, and they were delicious.




We also split duties for a pasta dinner: this time, I made my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce (I doubled the recipe and used two burners to cook it in a roasting pan, i.e. the container the Actor obstinately called his lobster pot), while the Legal Chef used his Kitchen Aid pasta attachment (on Jen’s Kitchen Aid stand mixer) to make the spaghetti, so it all went much more smoothly than last time. We even cobbled together a rack to hang the strands until we cooked them. The Legal Chef had also made focaccia with Peter Reinhart’s recipe, and it was absolutely delicious.





We also had the traditional turkey dinner, with roasted vegetables (Jen was the chef and I was the sous-chef, while the other girls went shopping and the guys had an unforgettable bachelor party for the Legal Chef’s upcoming wedding to E.); Rob made a great gravy to go with the turkey, and Jen also made a salad with a modified Caesar dressing (without fish) that was divine. I also discovered Sierra Mist.



The wildlife was less spectacular than last year, but we did get to see this guy.



The 12 of us had a wonderful time, and we look forward to repeating the experience next summer.