Sunday, 1 December 2013

Weeknight Dinners When You Commute to Siberia

If you know me in real life, or follow me on Facebook or Twitter at all, you'll know that I currently have a reasonably hideous commute to my current co-op position that takes about 4 hours a day. Add on even the vaguest desire to go to the gym and I'm not home much before 7:45 most nights. D cooks some nights, but over four years of me doing most of the cooking is a hard habit to break and as I've said before, part of my purpose on this planet is to feed people (even if it's just D & I). What all of this means is that I'm always on the lookout for easy recipes that I can get on the table in less than half an hour and, crucially, that convert well to leftovers for lunch the next day.

I've liked Mark Bittman since Simon & Schuster published his book FOOD MATTERS, the first book that really got me thinking about where our food comes from and why we consume what we do. But it's his FOOD MATTERS COOKBOOK that's been a real game changer for me. There are a lot of excellent recipes in that book, particularly for pasta (my wheelhouse) that can be turned around pretty quickly. Still, D remains skeptical of Bittman because of his VB6 sitting menacingly on our coffee table and the fact that a Bittman book usually means I'm about to attempt to change the way we eat. More on that as we get closer to the New Year...

What I really like Mark Bittman for, alongside his NYT colleague Melissa Clark, is that if I have an ingredient that I need to use, he'll usually have a recipe for something interesting and easy that incorporates it. So when I was digging around in the freezer last week trying to find a place for gelato (a girl has her priorities), I deemed it high time that the pork tenderloin taking up valuable freezer real estate made it's way onto our table. Check my Instapaper archive for Bittman and pork and voila: Stir-Fried Pork and Pineapple!

To start, my usual caveats and substitutions:
-The recipe calls for 8oz of pork shoulder or loin. You're probably never going to find half a pound of pork shoulder in your standard grocery store and you may have difficulty finding a tenderloin that small too. But fear not, either halve it and freeze for next time (being sure to clearly label your freezer bag, including weight and date) OR double the recipe. My tenderloin was probably closer to 2 pounds, but having already thawed it I was sort of committed to a quadrupled recipe.
-Don't fret about his instructions on how to cut the pork. As long as it's cut evenly (so it cooks evenly), you'll be fine. 
-However much you increase the pork, increase the marinade by that much too. That said, make a little less than the increased sauce. I quadrupled the sauce and it was way too much, plus I ended up using almost half a bottle of rice vinegar in the process.
-Unless it's easy to find, skip the fungus. This has the added benefit of cutting down your time to the table in half.
-If you do skip the fungus, you might want another veggie in there, and to be honest, I think any Chinese green would do nicely.
-He says thinly slice the ginger, I say only do that if you really like a mouthful of ginger. Otherwise, I think you get the same flavour impact from mincing it.

Really, the whole thing couldn't be easier. Get the pork in the marinade, chop the rest of the stir fry ingredients while it sits for a few minutes, cook through the pork, warm through the pineapple, and toss on rice. It also reheats beautifully the next morning.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sunday Dinner

I grew up in a household where Sunday featured a big meal, either brunch at the Winter Club or a roast for lunch or dinner. Any of my siblings in town were expected to attend, which I only understand now how torturous it must have been to be expected in a jacket and tie for brunch on a Sunday at noon. Like good WASPs, meat and two veg on a Sunday were important to my family and are to this day.

It's taken a long time before I could think about continuing that tradition in Toronto. When I lived alone, Sunday was just another day and I didn't have the facilities, nor confidence, to attempt such a meal. Then when D and I moved in together, Sunday became the night we ate at his mother's, as we continue to do. What I've noticed, among my friends, is that regardless of how old we are, we continue to go to our families on Sundays, rather than them coming to us. As I say, I think part of that is that many people don't have the space to attempt such a gathering. And it's certainly easier, one less meal to plan and a way to see your family to boot.

In her excellent cookbook How to Eat, Nigella Lawson says of Sunday lunch, "One of the silent, inner promises I made myself on having children was to provide a home that made a reassuring, all-comers-welcome tradition of Sunday lunch. It hasn't materialised quite yet, but very few of my generation lead meat-and-two-veg lives any more,". I believe part of why I was put on this earth was to feed people and the idea of having an open invitation on Sundays, particularly for people who don't have family local, intrigues and delights me (D may have a different opinion...). But until we have our own family and Sunday's become more flexible, I'll be thrilled to open my kitchen up on the occasional Sunday to friends.

Last Sunday afforded just such an opportunity, and I knew it needed to be roast beef. The brilliant thing about roast beef is that it takes no effort and not really that much time. I picked up our roast late Sunday morning, thanks to a sale at Loblaws, and had plenty of time to get it on the table for dinner at 5:30. Nigella rubs with dry mustard, but we just used salt and pepper and called it good. The most important beef tip is to make sure you give yourself time to let it rest (about twenty minutes), which is useful particularly if you have a small oven like we do. Important tools here are a sharp carving knife and a cutting board with a gutter to catch the juices. Nigella says English mustard is non-negotiable, so that was a given, plus some horseradish.

The gravy was truly spectacular and I regret that I cannot reproduce the recipe for you here (see this for why) and Nigella doesn't have the recipe posted. But just to taunt you, what's great about this recipe is that you can make it hours ahead of time, and all you have to do before serving is add the beef drippings and heat it up.

Roast potatoes hardly require a recipe, but I recommend you follow Nigella's. Duck or goose fat is easier to find than you might think, either tinned or fresh. Certainly ask your butcher, as it will make ALL the difference. The key here is to not be afraid to get the fat smoking hot. It will be terrifying when you toss the potatoes in, but the results will be delicious. Semolina is well worth the addition too and a bag lasts forever.

It's just as well the Yorkshire pudding recipe isn't available because it flopped on me, and not for the first time. A consult with my mother suggests I didn't get the fat hot enough (our tiny oven created a bit of a staging issue, and it was a race to the finish). My father always used the Joy of Cooking recipe with success, so I would recommend that instead.

But apart from the gravy, I think the piece de resistance was the cauliflower cheese. I just used regular 5 year old cheddar and it was delicious. This too can be made ahead of time and tossed into the oven at the last minute.

My original vision for the evening featured a luscious pudding, but once again I was struck by Nigella's wise words, "Traditionalists will insist on a sturdy pie or crumble for pudding, but really, after all that carbohydrate, have you got room? I am immensely greedy, but I don't like the invasive and uncomfortable feeling of bloatedness that can make you regret eating much more than a hangover can ever make you regret drinking,". Her suggestion was lemon ice-cream, so I just bought a pint of some of Ed's Real Scoop Lemon Gelato, a pint of blackberries, and called it good. It was really refreshing, actually, and I had milk-chocolate digestives to go with the tea.

What's your Sunday tradition?

Chez RosenBum Sunday Dinner
Cheese Straws
Roast Beef (How to Eat)
The Gravy (How to Eat)
Roast Potatoes (How to Eat)
Yorkshire Pudding (Joy of Cooking)
Cauliflower Cheese (Feast)
Lemon Gelato and Berries
Port and Sherry

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Crisp: Summer in a Casserole Dish

Let's get the excuses over with. I'm back at school, D is TAing, and life Chez RosenBum has been more than a little hectic. But we're still cooking and eating, so here we go...

It feels like summer has been so long to come this year. Aside from one crazy hot day a couple of weeks ago, it's felt mostly Spring-like since the end of April. I'm ok with this, as one is if one lives in a house without air conditioning, but it made me forget what fresh fruits and vegetables we have to look forward to. We had stewed rhubarb at D's mom's the other week and I remembered how long it's been since I've made a crisp.

We wrote about crisps with our Sweet Spot column (RIP), but that was in the fall, so we were talking apple crisps. Now, you can obviously buy apples in the summer, but with so many other summer fruits, why would you? D's mom very kindly sent me over some of her rhubarb and I supplemented it with some rhubarb and strawberries from St. Lawrence Market.

Before I go into the recipe, let me say a few thing about crisps:
-They are forgiving. Once you add some sugar to mostly unappetizing fruit (such as not very sweet strawberries) and bake it, almost anything will be delicious. D's mom had sent over rhubarb days before I had time to make the crisp, so I chopped it up and mixed it with sugar and it sat in the fridge quite happily for a few days.
-The topping can be whatever you want it to be. I've already played around with the Joy of Cooking recipe, but you could make further tweaks.
-If you use juicier fruit (like rhubarb or a berry), you might want to add cornstarch or tapioca to help seize up the filling a bit if you're concerned about a runny crisp. I always forget and it's always delicious anyways.
-Use whatever dish you have. Casserole dish? Fab. Individual ramekins? Adorable!
-To accompany a crisp, my first choice is Liberte's Méditerranée Vanilla Yogurt, but you can use whatever you've got. You could use ice cream. Or nothing. Or just plain whipping cream because that's all you have in the fridge and it will STILL taste amazing.

And now the recipe! This is based on the Joy of Cooking's 'Apple or Fruit Crisp' recipe, but less and less every time I make it.

Chez RosenBum's Super Casual Sunday Morning Rhubarb and Strawberry Crisp
1) Pick your dish, first, as that will mostly dictate your quantities. My go-to is a 1.4L CorningWare casserole dish and quantities below reflect that. No need to grease first.
2) Crank up the oven to 375F.
3) Chop up a handful of rhubarb stalks (maybe 7 or 8?) into smallish chunks. Toss them into the casserole dish with about 1/2 cup of white sugar. This is something to taste, I'm afraid, and you'll figure out what qty you're happiest with over time. You basically want the rhubarb coated in sugar as it can be quite sour, especially early in the season.
4) Chop up as many strawberries as you need to fill up the casserole dish. I used about 2/3s of a basket. Given the sugar you've added to the rhubarb, you likely don't need to add more sugar even to sour berries, but it's your call.
5) In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup oats. Depending on your preference, you can mix up the proportions, but you want 1 1/2 cups of topping. I think particularly you could halve the brown sugar and double the oats.
6) Chop 3/4 of a stick of cold butter (salted, unsalted, doesn't really matter) and with your hands or a pastry fork, work it into the topping. The JOC advises that you're aiming for 'crumbs' here, but I think as long as it's uniformly divided, the butter can be a bit chunky. It's going to melt anyways. Sprinkle the topping on the fruit. I'm working on experimenting with how much I can cut down on the butter. At 3/4 of a stick, I think there's still room to decrease.
7) Toss your crisp into the oven on a tray and start checking it at 30 minutes (the JOC says 50-55 minutes, so it really depends on your oven). You want it to be golden and bubbly. The tray comes in handy if you have a little spillover. It will have shrunk considerably, height wise, and that's ok.
8) Let it cool slightly and serve with your choice of dairy.  Less gluttonous people might get multiple servings out of this, but we get four (basically two breakfast's worth). Enjoy!

And speaking of sugar, fat, and salt, I'm just finishing Michael Moss' amazing Salt, Sugar, Fat and boy oh boy do I have opinions. More on those later this week.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Addicted to Noodles

We (I) cook a lot here Chez RosenBum, as you know. We've got some favourites that pop up a couple of times a month, but we also like to experiment with new recipes. What often happens with new recipes is that I read about a food, or try something in a restaurant, and get obsessed with replicating it.

A couple of weeks back, I started reading a blog that reviews restaurants (mostly Asian) in Southern California. Random, I know. Anyways, one of the dishes mentioned was dan dan/dandan noodles, and I needed to eat them. After an afternoon spent trying to find restaurants in Toronto that serve them (not our Hakka place, sadly), I moved on to trying to find a recipe. Having never actually eaten them before, I was basing my recipe requirements on what sounded tasty and do-able at home. I ended up discovering that America's Test Kitchen had a recipe, but of course ATK won't let you access their recipes without a membership. I have no issue with paying for content, and had been contemplating an ATK membership, but I wanted these noodles NOW. Luckily, someone has (probably illegally) posted the recipe on, and it can be found here.

We're lucky that we live in a neighbourhood with a huge Chinese population, thus our No Frills has lots of speciality ingredients that might be hard to find elsewhere. Over the years we've amassed a pretty broad collection of Asian sauces, so I didn't have to buy anything extra for those, but I did really want fresh noodles. Fortunately, No Frills had options, and I opted for the thing that looked tastiest. The recipe calls for chinese rice wine or dry sherry, but I just used the Harvey's Bristol Cream I had on the bar cart. Otherwise, it's a really simple recipe that came together in less than 30 minutes.

And it's DELICIOUS. Everything I ever wanted in a noodle dish. I had a huge bowl and was beyond jealous that David got to eat the leftovers.

Now this was on Saturday. Last night, I needed to make dinner, and all I could think about was dan dan noodles, so I made them again. This is the first time that I have ever made a recipe twice in one week. I was shopping at our IGA instead of No Frills, so used fresh linguine instead of Chinese noodles. I also used the full amount of chicken broth (I only used 1 cup on Saturday) and it made for a saucier sauce. I think I liked it better that way.

What was the last thing that you made that was so delicious you immediately needed to make it again?

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Single Food

Well, that was quite an...(checks calendar)...eight months. I do NOT know how that happened. I cannot even count the number of times we've made a lovely meal, taken pictures, I've written a post in my head and then...never did anything about it. But life has settled somewhat, for now anyways, and I've missed having a space to talk about our cooking (RIP SweetSpot). I daren't commit to anything resembling a schedule, but I'd like to think you can expect to see recipes, reviews of cookbooks and other food related books, and other things that I find interesting in the world of food.

When I was a single gal, lo those years ago, many a bad night would finish with the punchline, "and then I ate an entire box of macaroni and cheese". Almost 5 years later, I'll still make macaroni and cheese, but it's usually of the homemade baked variety for big BBQs and comfort dinners. Now, it doesn't happen very often, but I am occasionally left with a night at home with no-one to feed but myself. And I'll admit, my first thought is always to have a box of Kraft Dinner. I often talk myself out of it though, as I really try to avoid processed food as much as possible, and that cheese powder is almost certainly the definition of processed food. To get to the new punchline, it was in making dinner for D and I last week that I discovered my new single girl food. It's just as easy as a box of KD but contains far less crap, and I can assure you is just as delicious.

Behold: Cacio e Pepe.

The only unusual thing you need is Pecorino Romano, and if they have it at my IGA, I can promise you can find it almost anywhere. Scheffler's Deli at the St. Lawrence Market has great Pecorino Romano, and it's cheaper than the piece I buy at the store. Once you've bought a piece, it will last for several meals, and since it's a hard cheese you have a little more breathing room when it comes to using it. The only part that's any work is grating the cheese and that takes about 30 seconds, depending on your grating device (note to self: buy new box grater with smaller holes).

The thing I particularly like about this recipe is that it's super easy to cut down to a smaller portion. I'm a recipe follower to the enth degree and I find it very difficult to improvise around these types of thing. It's always hard to know how to cut down a recipe involving a sauce, especially. This though, you basically cut down by 6ths or 8ths, depending on your appetite, and it's easy peasy.

To make it even easier, I would recommend:
-use spaghetti if you have it, but any long and thin pasta will do (I particularly like it with fettuccine)
-putting out your measuring cup for the pasta water when you put the pasta in, as I am forever forgetting to scoop out some water before I drain my pasta
-grating more cheese than you think you need and leaving out your cheese and grating equipment just in case you need more
-using less pepper than you think you need, as it can quickly become overwhelming - better to need more than have a dish ruined
-if you forget the butter, it's no big thing

But I'm curious, what's your single food?