Friday, August 31, 2012

Batch of links

- Remember how much I liked Green? Well, last weekend the Engineer and I went to the original location (a building dating from the 1800’s) and tried more dishes, which were great, but what really made my day was the soft serve ice cream. It was vegan, so lactose-free, a natural strawberry-banana flavor, served in a cone that tasted like my childhood. It was absolutely fabulous! I think I hadn’t had soft serve ice cream in at least 10 years, 8 of which were because it always has lactose. It made my day and it was worth bypassing the delicious-looking cupcakes. I also loved the location downtown, as they have a garden in front with things like tomatoes, peppers and herbs, and even a citrus tree and a fig tree!

- Our August outing was to go see the bats fly out from under the I-35 bridge. The turnout varies each night, and that night was a little underwhelming (though it was worth it just to see the F.I.S.H. all lit up). However, the guide let us know about Bracken Bat Flight, a place near Natural Bridge Caverns that is believed to have the largest concentration of mammals on Earth. There are so many bats there that she says it can take over 4 hours for them to fly out of the cave! Then raptors come out to catch bats, which are themselves eating their own weight in insects each night. Our outing was free, while the Bracken one is $25 per person, but we’d definitely go at some point (maybe next summer, when the bats come back from their migration).

- Bon Appétit magazine came up with its 10 best new restaurants of 2012. I’m now fantasizing about dinner at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco…

- To make goat cheese softer and more spreadable, just mix it with a spoonful or two of milk. That way, those of you in Quebec could get Damafro’s garlic and herb lactose-free goat cheese, Natrel’s lactose-free milk, and have yourselves a spread for toasted baguette. How I envy you…

- I first heard of bokashi in The Globe and Mail on June 13th, 2012 (in an article by Jay Lindsay titled “A better way to compost?”, which I can’t find online). Here’s an excerpt: “Bokashi is based on an ancient Japanese practice that ferments food waste by covering it with a mix of micro-organisms that suppress its smell and eventually produce soil. Bokashi is not widely used in the United States, but its practitioners think it should be.” The upside is that it allows you to compost meat, dairy and oils, which isn’t possible with mainstream North American methods; this makes it particularly attractive to food establishments where sorting the waste is too time-consuming. It’s a two-step process, though, the second of which requires you to bury the waste in your yard before it turns to compost you can use for gardening. However, the whole process seems relatively quick, perhaps as little as a few months. Bokashi was recently featured on The Kitchn, which lists places you can buy kits in the States. User comments mention that it was a drag having to chop down the food into little pieces and having to drain the compost often, but apparently covering the compost with old potting soil was enough to finish the process, hence eliminating the need for digging in a backyard. This makes the method attractive to city dwellers (as well as homeowners who don’t feel like breaking out the shovel too often), and with two bins of bokashi on rotation, a household might be able to produce compost year-round. This would also solve my main problem, which is that I don’t produce enough brown matter to offset all the green matter I’d like to compost. I’m currently in the process of growing tomato plants, in the hopes of eventually having a garden; I’ll definitely keep this method in mind when I’m ready to start composting!

- Have you ever wondered how farmers set prices for their produce and products at farmers’ markets? This excellent article by Mike Madison explains it (found via The Kitchn).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Green cardigan

Sorry about the radio silence over the past week. It seemed like I just didn’t have anything to post. I made a very simple, delicious dessert that was basically white chocolate yogurt swirled with matcha and served with chopped mango. Unfortunately, I served it in bowls, not glasses, so it really wasn’t photogenic. I also made a chocolate almond torte from a recipe in Coup de Pouce (not on their website). It had the unusual addition of balsamic vinegar and was very pretty, but had a chemical aftertaste I can only describe as “straight from the grocery-store”. I had no idea I could reproduce that taste in my kitchen, but in any event, it is not something I want to eat again. And finally, I made little meringues with white chocolate pastry cream, again from Coup de Pouce without an online recipe; while the white chocolate pastry cream was delicious, it turns out it’s too humid in San Antonio for proper meringues, even though I let them rest in the oven with the door closed overnight. San Antonio is known for being hot and sunny this time of year, and it hardly ever rains, but for whatever reason, it’s still humid (especially in the morning, when I walk Darwin – my hair looks like I touched a Van der Graaf generator). I’m really not sure when would be a good time to make meringues here, but I don’t remember dealing with this problem in Montreal, so it’s quite frustrating. It’s not like we’re wanting in the dessert department, though, as the Engineer has been making cookies (most notably a double chocolate cookie, plus the best peanut butter cookies I’ve ever had – I’m eating one right now and typing one-handed).

So anyway, I’ve had an insatiable urge to knit lately. I’ve been pinning dozens of patterns, but here’s one I started over the summer and finished recently, a nice cardigan with raglan sleeves. The pattern was originally a featherweight cardigan from Knitbot, which I made with a heavier yarn. I found it via, and Katie Jejune made it with a bantamweight yarn in a lovely shade of green. I immediately got it in my head that it would go beautifully with my green and white strapless tunic, so I looked around and finally settled on yarn from See Jayne Knit Yarns on Etsy. I chose a 100% superwash merino yarn (100 g for 400 yards) in the lovely shade called Green Tea (though The Lettuce Lesson would have been beautiful, too). This yarn was soft and truly a pleasure to work with, so I might be ordering from that shop again.

I ended up making the same modifications to the pattern as Katie Jejune had done, because they made a lot of sense: make the front border a bit longer by picking up every stitch along the edge, and make the sleeves shorter. I made mine elbow-length, because I realized that if they were just a little longer, as the original pattern suggested, I would always end up pushing the sleeves up, which would stretch them out and be impractical to boot. I also made the cardigan longer. I had ordered 4 skeins of yarn to make the large size on 4 mm needles, but I only needed a few dozen yards of the last skein. So 3 skeins should be sufficient to anyone attempting it, and I recommend this nifty trick Katie Jejune used: knit the cardigan body and border first, then use your kitchen scale to divide the remaining yarn in two equal amounts for the sleeves! It’s genius. I love the end result, and I’m looking forward to cooler temperatures so that I can wear it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Souper rapide d'inspiration asiatique

Parfois, on cherche une recette rapide, sans trop d’ingrédients, qui ne demandera pas trop d’efforts. Peut-être qu’on ne se rend même pas compte de ces critères en faisant le menu de la semaine, mais en observant les plats choisis depuis un certaine temps, ça devient clair. Et même qu’il y a une inspiration asiatique chaque semaine. J’ai fait une salade de chou et de carottes avec sauce aux arachides et un laksa aux légumes; ni l’un ni l’autre n’ont vraiment connu de succès. Par contre, j’ai aussi fait des escalopes de porc au pesto. Le pesto, c’est d’inspiration italienne, c’est vrai, mais les escalopes étaient panées dans du panko, alors voilà le côté asiatique. C’était simple comme tout et vraiment savoureux. J’ai tiré la recette du magazine À bon verre, bonne table du printemps 2012.

La recette suivante donne 4 petites portions. Pour un repas léger, j’ai servi cela avec une salade : salade fattoush sans pita le premier soir, et salade de roquette avec vinaigrette au thé vert (¼ tasse de vinaigre de riz, ½ tasse d’huile de pépins de raisin, ¼ c. à thé de gingembre râpé et 1 c. à thé de matcha; encore là, c’est vaguement asiatique) le deuxième soir. Pour un repas un peu plus costaud, je recommanderai un féculent, comme de la purée de pommes de terre ou un risotto.

6 à 8 minces escalopes de porc ou minces côtelettes de longe désossées, environ 500 g (1 lb)
1½ tasse de chapelure panko
½ à ¾ tasse de pesto maison ou de pesto de qualité du commerce
1 c. à soupe de beurre (facultatif)
1 c. à soupe d’huile d’olive (facultatif)

Débarrasser les escalopes de leur gras. Si leur épaisseur est supérieure à 5 mm (¼ po), étaler une grande feuille de pellicule plastique sur une planche à découper. Mettre 2 escalopes sur la pellicule plastique, en les espaçant généreusement. Les couvrir d’une autre feuille de pellicule. Avec un maillet à viande ou le fond d’une poêle en fonte, aplanir les escalopes pour qu’elles aient une épaisseur uniforme. Répéter avec les escalopes restantes.

Étaler la chapelure dans une assiette peu profonde, juste assez grande pour contenir 1 escalope. Remuer le pesto et en étaler environ 1 c. à thé comble sur1 escalope. (La quantité de pesto requise dépend de la taille de l’escalope.) Étaler le pesto jusqu’aux bords de la tranche. Coucher la surface recouverte de pesto dans la chapelure et appuyer fermement dessus. Étaler la même quantité de pesto sur l’autre côté de l’escalope. Retourner l’escalope et la presser dans la chapelure. Prélever l’escalope et saupoudrer de chapelure les surfaces qui n’en sont pas recouvertes. Mettre l’escalope sur une grille. Répéter avec les escalopes restantes, en redistribuant la chapelure dans l’assiette et en en rajoutant au besoin. Les escalopes peuvent être cuites immédiatement, mais la chapelure sera plus croustillante si on la laisse préalablement sécher 30 minutes.

Préchauffer le four à 375 °F. Disposer les escalopes sur une grille placée sur une grande plaque à pâtisserie. Il faudra peut-être 2 plaques à pâtisserie. Pour des escalopes plus croustillantes, les enduire d’un peu d’aérosol de cuisson ou les badigeonner très légèrement d’huile (ce que je n’ai pas fait). Mettre les plaques, sans les couvrir, sur la grille inférieure du four et laisser cuire les escalopes jusqu’à ce qu’elles soient dorées et croustillantes, de 25 à 30 minutes. Ne pas les retourner.

(Si vous le voulez, vous pouvez plutôt faire frire les escalopes. Chauffer dans une grande poêle sur feu moyen 1 c. à soupe de beurre et la même quantité d’huile. Y faire dorer2 ou 3 escalopes, de 3 à 5 minutes par côté. Si la chapelure devient brun foncé par endroit, réduire la chaleur. Mettre les escalopes dans une assiette et les garder dans un four chaud. Répéter avec les escalopes restantes, en ajoutant au besoin de l’huile et du beurre.)

Tarte aux pêches à la crème sure

Je me suis gâtée. J’avais une recette de tarte aux pêches à la crème sure que je n’avais pas faite depuis très longtemps, car je n’étais pas encore intolérante au lactose quand je l’ai trouvée. Et je ne sais plus où je l’ai trouvée; sûrement dans un magazine du genre de la LCBO, mais je ne pourrais plus en être certaine. Toujours est-il que maintenant que j’ai de la crème sure sans lactose, de source éthique en plus, et que c’est la saison des pêches, il fallait absolument que je refasse cette tarte. Et elle était absolument délicieuse! Je suis enchantée d’avoir « récupéré » cette recette, et l’Ingénieur a beaucoup apprécié lui aussi.

Pour la croûte, j’ai essayé la « nouvelle » recette d’America’s Test Kitchen. Elle n’est pas si neuve que ça, datant quand même de 2007, mais les auteurs considèrent que c’est une version améliorée par rapport à celle publiée dans Baking Illustrated. L’ingrédient secret? De la vodka! La croûte était très bonne, même que l’Ingénieur a spécifiquement dit qu’elle était à son goût. La recette ci-dessous donne assez de pâte pour une croûte à tarte de 9 pouces, mais vous pouvez bien sûr la doubler si vous faites une tarte à double croûte.

Pour la croûte
1 ¼ tasse (¾ tasse + ½ tasse) de farine tout-usage
½ c. à thé de sel
1 c. à soupe de sucre
6 c. à soupe de beurre
¼ tasse de shortening
2 c. à soupe d’eau glacée
2 c. à soupe de vodka glacée

Dans un robot culinaire, mélanger ¾ tasse de farine, le sel et le sucre jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient combinés. Ajouter le beurre et le shortening et mélanger jusqu’à ce que la pâte devienne homogène et commence à coller en morceaux inégaux, environ 15 secondes (la pâte ressemblera à du fromage caillé, et il ne devrait pas rester de farine non enrobée). Racler le contenant avec une spatule et redistribuer la pâte de façon égale autour de la lame. Ajouter la ½ tasse de farine restante et combiner jusqu’à ce que la pâte soit répartie de façon égale dans le contenant et émiettée, soit 4 à 6 impulsions rapides. Vider le mélange dans un bol.

Verser l’eau et la vodka sur le mélange de façon égale. Avec une spatule en caoutchouc, mélanger doucement en appuyant sur la pâte jusqu’à ce qu’elle soit légèrement collante. Former un disque avec la pâte et l’envelopper de pellicule plastique. Réfrigérer au moins 45 minutes ou jusqu’à 2 jours.

Avec un rouleau à pâte, étaler la pâte sur un comptoir fariné et la transférer dans une assiette à tarte de 9 pouces (j’ai utilisé une assiette en pyrex).

Pour la tarte
1 tasse de crème sure sans lactose
zeste d’un citron, râpé
½ tasse de sucre granulé
1 c. à thé de vanille
½ c. à thé de gingembre moulu
1 pincée de sel
2 jaunes d’œufs, battus
2 c. à soupe de farine tout-usage
2 ½ tasses de pêches pelées et coupées en morceaux
1 abaisse de pâte à tarte

Chauffer le four à 425 °F et placer la grille à la position la plus basse.

Dans un bol, mélanger la crème sure, le zeste de citron, le sucre, la vanille, le gingembre, le sel et les jaunes d’œufs. Dans un autre bol, saupoudrer la farine sur les pêches et mélanger. Empiler les pêches sur le fond de tarte. Étaler le mélange de crème sure sur les pêches.

Faire cuire au four 15 minutes, puis réduire la chaleur à 350 °F et faire cuire de 25 è 35 minutes de plus, ou jusqu’à ce que le dessus soit bien doré.

Servir tiède ou froide.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Batch of links

- We’ve heard all about how this year’s drought has affected crops, corn in particular, and will be bringing up food prices in the coming months. According to Time, however, there is an upside to the heat: certain crops like peaches, watermelons, cantaloupes and beets will taste sweeter; onions and garlic will be more pungent; peppers will be spicier; and bitter compounds will be more concentrated in crops like fennel, carrots and dill. So here’s to tastier food!

- Julia Child was all over the news this week, as she would have celebrated her 100th birthday. Here’s a link that was a bit different from the rest: the mistakes she made while cooking and how she handled them, like the broken layer cake, the messed-up omelet and the dropped rack of lamb. As she reminds us, you can’t learn how to cook without making mistakes. And while we’re at it, here’s what she had to say about her iconic kitchen, on Architectural Digest.

- Would you eat 3D printed meat - schmeat? On the one hand, I totally support what this would mean from an ethical point of view: no animal has to suffer or die for me to have a steak. And I think this technology would be wonderful if applied to regenerative medicine. However, I still think it doesn’t sound appetizing at all, even wrong on some levels. Maybe I’ve seen too many Star Trek characters complain about the food that comes out of replicators…

- Two weeks ago, I shared a link to help you tell if your knives are sharp enough. Here’s a follow-up, to help you hone and stone your knives properly. On a side note, for those of you in the Montreal area, I’ve heard nothing but good things about L’Émouleur, on Laurier West, a store that sells quality knives (going so far as to make sure you try them before buying them), sharpens them and gives classes on how to sharpen them properly.

- Apparently, there’s an official Cookie Monster cookie recipe, but it’s for sugar cookies. Am I the only one who remembers him eating chocolate chip cookies?

- Another reason not to use the self-cleaning function on your electric oven. Ours is built-in, and the repairman told us not to use that function or we’d risk damaging the wood on the wall. . Not to mention all the fumes that are toxic to small pets… and to bigger ones without proper ventilation. I just line the bottom with tin foil, which makes cleanup much easier.

- Someone made Le Creuset Dutch oven rings!

- Have you ever wondered about the etiquette of telling your hosts they’re about to give you food poisoning? It’s a delicate subject, but in the example given (you see meat go unrefrigerated for several hours), many commenters on The Kitchn came up with a tactful solution: kindly offer to put that in the fridge to help the hosts.

- Almonds apparently have fewer calories than we thought Really, at this point, I’m just surprised that scientists don’t have a fool-proof way of knowing how many calories are in our food!

- Another surprise this week: not only are oven temperatures not set in stone, they’re also somewhat arbitrary. This will be quite a shock for my friend the Legal Chef, who’s a stickler for following the recipe exactly.

- Finally, I read this article on personalized pricing. I was aware of the practice, because I’ve noticed our grocery store doing it. We always use the same card to pay (not even a loyalty card), and we get coupons based on products we might be interested in. For example, they know that someone in our household is lactose-intolerant and will occasionally give us catalinas for lactose-free products. I think that’s perfectly fine; as a matter of fact, I like that these companies will know what my favorite brands and products are. What bothered me was learning about the (relatively new and not-yet widespread) practice of modifying the price of an item based on your buying history. But anyway, this then led me to an article about how Target has this down to such a precise science that they can know when a shopper is pregnant, even before she’s told her family, based on what she’s buying (fewer scented products, more lotion). Target does this to use customer-specific advertising and get the shopper to buy a lot more stuff there, then develop store loyalty. “One Target employee […] provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fattoush Salad

I realize now that I haven’t really mentioned fattoush salads on this blog much. I first had one at Le Petit Alep, one of my favorite restaurants in Montreal, Quebec. They also have a wonderful version at Captain Joe’s in Whitmore Lake, Michigan (I know the name of the restaurant doesn’t sound promising, but they have a wide selection of Mediterranean dishes, and it’s my favorite place to stop on our road trips). So anyway, when Bon Appétit published a recipe last spring, I knew I had to make it. I couldn’t find sumac in stores, so I ended up buying it online, and it turns out that’s what really makes the salad. It gives it a super tart taste that you couldn’t achieve with only lemon juice or vinegar. The recipe also calls for pomegranate molasses, to add to the tartness. I could only get half the amount of fresh mint, because it’s a really hot summer here and my mint wilted, but I’d love to have more in the salad. I also don’t have normal pita, as all I could find under the name “pita” was more of a flatbread – I did bookmark a pita recipe, though, so maybe I’ll make my own next time. This fattoush salad recipe is great, though, and I look forward to making it again. It’s the perfect summer dish! As always, I assemble the salad only before serving it; the recipe below makes 6 generous servings, more if you use it as a side dish.

For the dressing
4 tsp. ground sumac, soaked in 4 tsp. warm water for 15 minutes
3 Tbsp. (or more) fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. (or more) pomegranate molasses
2 small garlic cloves, minced (I grated mine)
2 tsp. (or more) white wine vinegar
½ tsp. dried mint
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil (I only used ½ cup)
Kosher salt

For the salad
2 8-inch-diameter pita breads, halved, toasted until golden brown, broken into bite-size pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
3 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped, or 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb. Persian cucumbers, or one 1-lb. English hothouse cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
6 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Little Gem or baby romaine lettuces, or 1 small head romaine lettuce, trimmed, cut crosswise into ¾-inch strips
2 cups (loosely packed) flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 cups purslane leaves or additional ¾-inch-strips romaine lettuce (I used mesclun)
1 cup fresh mint leaves
Ground sumac (optional)

To make the dressing, combine sumac with soaking liquid, 3 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses, garlic, 2 tsp. vinegar, and dried mint in a small bowl. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly, until well blended. Season with salt; add more lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and vinegar to taste, if desired.

Place pita pieces in a medium bowl; pour oil over and toss to coat. Season pita to taste with salt. (I skipped this, because it seemed pointless with my “pita” flatbread, but I would have done it with regular pita. The recipe says that the oil keeps the pita from getting soggy after coming in contact with the salad dressing.)

Mix tomatoes and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add ¾of dressing; toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed. Season with salt. Add pita; toss once. Sprinkle sumac over, if desired. Serve immediately.

*Update: I forgot to mention that if you’re in the Montreal area and are looking for these ingredients, go to Jean Talon Market. Olive & Épices will have sumac, and La Dépense has pomegranate molasses. Various stands will have all that produce, too.*

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vegan Lasagna

I made a vegan lasagna, and it was the best I’ve ever made. Granted, it was only my second, and I’ll be making a lasagna Bolognese soon, but still. It was fantastic. And it was easier than the first one I made, because the dry pasta went right into the dish without being precooked. I used a recipe I found on The Kitchn when they reviewed a vegetarian cookbook, and I adapted it for my kitchen. Its only flaw is that the consistency is a bit soft and it doesn’t hold together quite like I’d want. But it’s really good, and even better on the second day. The Engineer and I both agree that it does taste, and feel, like it has dairy and perhaps even meat in it, so you omnivores out there won’t be missing out. I think it’s the nutritional yeast that helps give it a cheese-like flavor here, and the two kinds of tofu end up feeling like ricotta.

I used store-bought tomato sauce, because I didn’t really have the time to make my own; I recommend something with a bit of flavor, like garlic and herbs, instead of plain tomato. I used 5 oz. of spinach instead of the full 10 oz., but given how much it wilts when it’s heated, 10 oz. would be fine, too. I also used homemade pesto instead of fresh basil, for more flavor. My pesto had garlic and parmesan (so I realized only too late that my dish wasn’t actually vegan – oops!), but plain pesto would be fine too. I was also pleased to see that there’s another brand besides Tofutti in the dairy-free cream cheese niche; I used Follow Your Heart this time (and I used mozzarella-style vegan cheese by Galaxy Nutritional). I suspect that the dish I used is slightly smaller than what the recipe calls for, because I ran out of room and had to improvise the last layer. Don’t let this stop you, as there’s room for some interpretation here.

I served it with a green salad and a dressing made with ½ cup lactose-free sour cream, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, 3 Tbsp. maple syrup, 2 Tbsp. chives, salt and pepper. It was good, but I’d reduce the amount of maple syrup next time, and perhaps make less of the dressing altogether. You can also use your favorite vegan dressing.

For the filling
2 tsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbsp.)
1 10-oz. bag fresh baby spinach (or a bit less if you want)
2 12-oz. packages firm tofu, drained
1 8-oz. package vegan cream cheese
½ cup pesto (or chopped fresh basil)
¼ cup nutritional yeast

For the lasagna
5 ½ cups tomato sauce (with something like garlic, herbs or mushrooms, ideally)
12 uncooked whole-wheat lasagna noodles
12 oz. vegan Italian sausage links, cut into thin rounds, or vegan sausage crumbles, broken apart
1 cup shredded vegan mozzarella cheese (3 oz.)

Preheat oven to 375 °F.

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions and garlic in oil 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted. Transfer to bowl of food processor. Add tofu, cream cheese, basil, and nutritional yeast, and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread one-quarter of tomato sauce on bottom of 13x9-inch baking dish. Cover with 4 or 5 noodles, then half of filling, and ladle on another one-quarter of sauce. Repeat layer of noodles and remaining filling. Spread sausage evenly over top, and top with one-quarter of sauce. Finish with final layer of noodles and remaining sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover with foil, and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, or until noodles are tender and topping is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Beer-Brined Chicken Breasts

I had a bottle of beer that had been sitting around the fridge (sealed!), since the chili with chocolate, so I decided it was about time I used it up in something. I ended up making a recipe inspired by these blackened beer-brined chicken breasts. They looked wonderful, but I didn’t blacken mine, because it’s just too hot out to go stand over the grill. I halved the recipe and used skinless, boneless chicken breasts and baked them in the oven instead. I thought the result was quite good, but too salty for my taste, though the Engineer really liked the salt just as it was. I served the dish with orzo tossed with homemade pesto.

2 cups apple cider
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup kosher salt (I would use less, but the Engineer wouldn’t change this amount)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp. whole peppercorns
1 tsp. whole cloves
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
2 12-oz. bottles dark or amber beer
2 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. chili powder (I used Korean pepper)
1 tsp. cayenne (optional)

Combine the cider, sugar, salt, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, and cloves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir just until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and let to cool to room temperature.
Lay the chicken breasts, skin-side down, in a shallow glass or ceramic (not metal) baking dish. Stir the beer into the cider mixture, then pour over the chicken. Cover and refrigerate the chicken for 4 to 8 hours.

When ready to grill, heat a gas or charcoal grill to to high heat (about 450 °F). Meanwhile, transfer the chicken from the brine to a clean plate and let it rest, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes to take the chill off. Melt butter and stir in chili powder and cayenne.

Brush half the chili butter over the skin on each chicken breast and lay the breasts skin-side down on the grill. Cover and let cook undisturbed for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken breasts, taking care not to tear the skin, and brush with the remaining chili butter.

Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Check the chicken for doneness, and if necessary, continue cooking in 5 minute increments until it has finished cooking. The chicken is done when the interior reaches 165 °F, its juices run clear, and the inside is no longer pink.

Tend the chicken breasts with aluminum foil and let them rest 10 minutes before carving. The bones should pull away cleanly from the underside of the breasts with a little pressure. Slice the breasts into thin pieces and serve.

(Again, you can choose to cook the chicken in the oven instead; I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I baked at 350 °F for 40 minutes, brushing them with the butter mixture once before putting them in the oven and again after 20 minutes.)

Sandwichs à la tartinade aux petits pois et à l'ail rôti

Excusez ma courte absence, j’ai été quelque peu occupée cette semaine. J’ai quand même pris le temps de faire un dîner végétalien pour sortir de ma routine un peu, soit ce sandwich tiré de Coup de Pouce. J’ai adapté la recette un peu, car j’ai trouvé la tartinade un peu trop liquide telle que faite à l’origine. J’ai aussi omis le fromage, mais on pourrait utiliser du fromage sans lactose pour un dîner végétarien. J’ai fait une demi-recette et, pour mon deuxième sandwich, j’ai fait griller le pain, ce qui était une bonne idée. La recette ci-dessous donne 4 portions.

2 grosses gousses d’ail, non pelées
1 c. à thé d’huile d’olive
12 oz de petits pois ou de haricots de soja (edamame) surgelés
2 à 4 c. à soupe de jus de citron
½ c. à thé de sel
½ c. à thé de cumin
1/3 tasse de persil italien haché
8 tranches de pain multigrain
1 tomate mûre coupée en tranches
4 tranches de cheddar ou de suisse sans lactose (facultatif)
germes de luzerne ou autres pousses (facultatif, mais recommandé)

Préchauffer le four à 425 °F. Mettre les gousses d'ail sur une feuille de papier aluminium et arroser de l'huile. Fermer le papier d’aluminium de manière à former un paquet. Cuire pendant 15 minutes ou jusqu'à ce que l'ail soit tendre. Laisser refroidir.

Entre-temps, dans une petite casserole d'eau bouillante salée, cuire les petits pois pendant environ 3 minutes ou jusqu'à ce qu'ils soient tendres. Égoutter et passer sous l'eau froide. Ouvrir et presser les gousses d'ail rôti au-dessus du récipient du robot culinaire. Ajouter les petits pois, 2 c. à soupe du jus de citron, le sel et le cumin et mélanger jusqu'à ce que la garniture soit lisse. Ajouter le reste du jus de citron si la texture n’est pas assez lisse. Mettre la garniture dans un petit bol, ajouter le persil et mélanger. (Vous pouvez préparer la garniture à l'avance et la mettre dans un contenant hermétique. Elle se conservera jusqu'à 2 jours au réfrigérateur.)

Au moment de servir, étendre la garniture aux haricots de soja sur la moitié des tranches de pain. Garnir de la tomate, du fromage et de germes de luzerne, si désiré. Couvrir du reste des tranches de pain.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Batch of links - School lunches

When I was in elementary school, my mother made my lunches, so I ate well. I did have friends who ate at the cafeteria, though, and I remember a lot of meals like hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and spaghetti, with ice cream for dessert. After elementary, my schools didn’t even have cafeterias, though one did have a food truck that only sold burgers, corn dogs and the like. Not what you’d call healthy or balanced! Recently, though, there’s been a public backlash against the poor quality of many school lunches.

I can’t talk about the subject without immediately bringing up Jamie Oliver, who famously pioneered a return to nutritious meals in British schools, starting with his show Jamie’s School Dinners in 2005. This eventually led to the nation-wide Feed Me Better movement. It was a hard road, and there is still a lot of progress to be made, but he has managed to get the government to spend more money on school lunches and to ban, or at least reduce, the junk food available in schools. Kids’ test scores even improved after a year! In 2010, he took the concept across the pond with Jamie’s Food Revolution. I remember seeing an episode and being appalled at how few students could correctly identify fruits and vegetables or tell you where butter comes from. The States have shown even more resistance to healthy changes than Britain, unfortunately, despite parallel movements by the likes of Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move campaign with its healthy school lunch component.

The first time I saw actual pictures, though, was on an anonymous teacher’s blog, where she posted the day’s school lunch along with her comments (gallery of images here, cleverly titled Fed Up With Lunch). Those are really unappetizing, and I can’t imagine having to eat that every day! There is in fact a vegetable quota to maintain, but since lobbyists have made pizza a vegetable because of a schmear of tomato paste, one can legitimately wonder how many actual vegetables are in school lunches. (For the record, tomatoes are technically fruits. Moreover, while it is possible to make a healthy pizza, for example one with a thin whole-grain crust, lots of veggies and a little cheese, this is a far cry from what is being served in school cafeterias. A serving of vegetables is widely regarded as being half a cup.)

There’s also Martha Payne, who started her blog when she was nine years old to document her school lunches and offer her comments – which, in all fairness, were constructive criticism. She got media attention, including Jamie Oliver’s endorsement, which got her over a million hits in a single day! Her school council asked her to stop blogging, because it was reflecting badly on them, but had to backpedal and allow her to continue given the overwhelming amount of public support in her favor. There has been some improvement in her school lunches, too, so she now focuses on readers’ submissions of lunches from schools in other places, as well as support of charities that provide school lunches in impoverished countries.

Other individuals have had success, albeit on a smaller scale. For example, there’s Roxanne Klein, a raw vegan chef, who has successfully changed the lunch menu at her daughters’ schools. Sometimes, it was a matter of cooking dishes herself, convincing parents to pay an extra dollar a day to go organic as well as finding a vegetarian caterer who could make meals approved by kids, staff and parents alike. Other times, it was as simple as taking the kids to her garden and teaching them the difference between a fat white grocery store strawberry and a small red local strawberry in season to ensure not only that they would never go back, but also that they would willingly eat healthy food.

This is in part a matter of budget, of course, but I think the budget itself reflects the values of a given society. In Sweden, for example, school lunches are much more generous (photo gallery here – there’s a lot of gravy, but overall, lunches are more appetizing and contain more vegetables than in the United States).
France seems to have the issue under control, as you can see in this CBS video. Paris schools have a budget of $5-6 dollars a day per child; it’s about half that in a small town further south, but even then the meals are balanced and, in some cases, better than what the students get at home.

Let’s forget one moment about the pleasure and social aspects of eating. When one realizes that not only are students performing better at school when they have nutritious lunches, but that it also protects their long-term health and that of their family, with repercussions well into adulthood, I have trouble understanding why leaders aren’t just cutting the bullshit and getting together to do what’s best for the society at large. Put your money where your mouth is, quite literally.

Friday, August 03, 2012


I’d been meaning to make panzanella (which is basically an Italian bread salad with tomatoes and herbs) for a while, but especially recently, after tasting the great panzanella at Nora Gray. Tomatoes are in season, too, so it’s the perfect time for this dish. I already had one recipe bookmarked, but it was a tomato-squash panzanella, and I really didn’t feel like squash right then. So I made this version by America’s Test Kitchen. I was surprised that there was no garlic, but the panzanella was really good! If you do want garlic, I’d recommend rubbing a clove on the cubed bread before baking it, or pehaps grating a clove into the oil when you toss it with the bread. This recipe serves 4, but it should be served immediately; it can easily be halved.

6 cups rustic Italian or French bread , cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (½ to 1 lb.)
½ cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 ½ lbs. tomatoes , cored, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces (make sure they are in season)
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cucumber , peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced thin
1 shallot , sliced thin
¼ cup chopped fresh basil

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 °F. Toss bread pieces with 2 Tbsp. oil and ¼ tsp. salt; arrange bread in single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread pieces until just starting to turn light golden, 15 to 20 minutes (10 minutes was enough for me), stirring halfway through. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Gently toss tomatoes and ½ tsp. salt in large bowl. Transfer to colander and set over bowl; set aside to drain for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Whisk remaining 6 Tbsp. oil, vinegar, and ¼ tsp. pepper into reserved tomato juices. Add bread pieces, toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Add tomatoes, cucumber, shallot, and basil to bowl with bread pieces and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Spiced Chicken with Chickpea and Cucumber Salad

This one is something to write home about. It’s a super easy meal to assemble and is definitely quick enough to be put together on a weeknight. The salad was very tasty, and the spice mix on the chicken made it more than the sum of its parts. Altogether, this meal was absolutely fabulous, and both the Engineer and I give it two solid thumbs up. Note that I used boneless, skinless upper chicken thighs and cooked them in a pan, as it was more convenient for me, but you can adapt this to your taste and your grilling abilities. This recipe makes 4 servings, as always, though I’d consider making more of the salad.

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed
½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
½ cup torn basil leaves
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
kosher salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds (I used a mix of white and black)
2 tsp. paprika
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2 ½ lbs.)

In a medium bowl, toss the chickpeas, cucumber, basil, and shallot with the oil, vinegar, and ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Heat grill to medium. In a small bowl, combine the sesame seeds, paprika, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Sprinkle the chicken with the sesame seed mixture, pressing gently to help it adhere. Grill, covered, until cooked through, 9 to 10 minutes per side. Serve with the chickpea salad.

Batch of links

- For those of you who would like some ideas for quick and easy 3-ingredient recipes that are perfect for summer: here are 53 of them over at Real Simple, from appetizers to desserts. (Readers also submit theirs here.)

- There’s a relatively new movement to get restaurants (or chefs or recipes) SPE-certified. SPE stands for sanitas per escam – health through food. This certification/consultant service is designed to “enhance the nutritional quality of the meals, without compromising the taste”. This means that not only are meals created to have less fat and fewer calories than many of their traditional counterparts, but also that they have conceived to maximize the nutrition you get out of them – like adding vitamin C to help you get more iron out of plant-based foods, such as in a salad of spinach with strawberries. It’s the food equivalent of LEED-certified buildings, basically.

- Five ways to tell if your knives are sharp enough. (Hint: they probably aren’t. I should learn how to sharpen mine properly!)

- Jamie Oliver will be collaborating with Montreal chef Derek Dammann to open a new restaurant, Maison Publique. This makes me much happier than Gordon Ramsay’s ill-fated adventure on Laurier, though I was saddened to learn in the same article that DNA had closed its doors. DNA was a molecular restaurant where I had hoped to go someday, but I guess chef Dammann decided it was time to move on. According to several posts on Chowhound, people who had reservations there were surprised to get a simple phone call or email saying they wouldn’t be honored.

- Excellent article on Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle, in Time magazine (unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to read the full content). I talked about Chipotle before, calling it ethical fast food – and relatively healthy, to boot. Not to mention delicious! I was most surprised to learn in this article that only about 30% of the chain’s customers know about the ethical side of it, whereas for me, that’s what’s most remarkable about it and that’s the reason I went there in the first place.

- Unfortunately, I don’t have a link to share here, because the LCBO doesn’t have its Food & Drink articles on its website for whatever reason… But the Summer 2012 issue had a really interesting article on citrus. Did you know that there are only three kinds of citrus in the wild? They are citron, pomelo and mandarin (pomelo is apparently so rare that my word processor thinks it’s a typo). I learned that “crossing a pomelo with a mandarin creates an orange. That orange crossed with a citron becomes a lemon. Cross that lemon with a citron, and voilà – a lime.” I always thought that oranges and lemons could grow in the wild, and somehow assumed that the huge pomelo must be a cross. Shows how wrong I was!

- Scientists have isolated a molecule that kills the bacteria that causes tooth decay and cavities; it’s been dubbed Keep 32. They plan to add this molecule to mouthwash and have it on the market in 14 to 18 months. I’ll be first in line to buy it!

- It’s now a proven scientific fact: Pop music really is louder and really does all sound the same, compared to several decades ago. It’s nice to have actual data to support what many have complained about.

- Have you ever wondered how much it would cost to be a superhero? Well, some people actually sat down and did the research. It turns out that it would cost almost $683 million dollars to be Batman (as per the Christopher Nolan films), and a whopping $1,613 billion dollars to be Iron Man (again, as per the movies)! No wonder Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are multi-millionaires. It would appear that this, along with being an orphan, is a prerequisite to become a superhero (assuming you don’t have any superpowers).

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Shirley Temple Cupcakes

We got new neighbors recently, so I decided to make cupcakes to welcome them. The next on my list were these Shirley Temple cupcakes. My father used to make us Shirley Temples as a treat on weekends when Dear Sister and I were growing up, and it used to be one of my favorite drinks (to be honest, I’m still really partial to it). But since I’ve tried to reduce my sugar intake in general, I had Stirrings’ real grenadine, as opposed to the thick artificial HFCS stuff, and some dry Izze Esque lemon-lime soda as opposed to Sprite (it was too dry for my taste, really). And no maraschino cherries, even though I’d like to get a jar of the real stuff. So in the end, my cupcakes did not taste like Shirley Temples, and I was disappointed. But it’s my fault. I decided not to tell the Engineer what flavor they were, just that it was a new cupcake recipe. Since he didn’t have my expectations, he just enjoyed them for what they were and proclaimed them to be some of the best I’ve ever made!

Note that these cupcakes happen to be vegan (I hadn’t even planned on that when I was making them), and I used my vegan cream cheese frosting instead of the recipe suggested. For the frosting, I tried a new brand of food coloring, Sauer’s, because I have a lot of it on hand after buying it in bulk after the last shortage. It was liquid, but the color was really intense! That being said, what I would actually recommend for frosting is gel food coloring. My friend Jen says that Americolor is her favorite brand, as Wilton tastes horrible. And if you make these cupcakes to get the Shirley Temple flavor, I’m actually going to recommend that you get the artificial grenadine and soda (unless you can find something like a Sprite Throwback or cane-sweetened Sierra Mist instead of HFCS soda, then use that). Also, this recipe makes 15 cupcakes, and I found the ingredients inconvenient to scale down; if you want, you could make 12 cupcakes and one big ramekin cake baked longer.

For the cupcakes
1 1/3 cup flour (I always use white whole wheat flour)
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup lemon-lime soda
½ cup grenadine
1 tsp. vinegar (cider, white wine, or white will all work)
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil

For the frosting
½ cup Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, softened
½ cup vegan margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon juice (lime would be great here too)
3 ½ to 4 cups confectioners’ sugar (the 1 lb package, basically), sifted
a few drops of red food coloring (optional)
15 maraschino cherries with stems

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners (15 in all).

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, and stir to combine.

In a large bowl, whisk together soda, grenadine, and vinegar. Let stand for a few minutes, then add sugar and canola oil and whisk until frothy.

Add flour mixture to liquid. Stir together just to combine fully; do not overmix. Spoon batter into cupcake liners, filling half way (they will rise a lot). Bake for 17 minutes. Let cool completely.

In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese and margarine until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon juice and beat to combine. Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating to incorporate fully. Continue adding powdered sugar until taste and consistency are as desired – you may need more or less 3 cups of sugar, and you may need to add more lemon juice to achieve the desired flavor. Add a few drops of red food coloring, if using, to get the desired hue.

Frost the cooled cupcakes. Top with a maraschino cherry. Cupcakes can be refrigerated, but they survived well at room temperature here.