Thursday, December 4, 2008

Beer bread for small apartments

I’ve done it. I’ve finally found a name for this blog: La Cuisinette.

Now that I’ve fully moved into the new apartment, I’m realizing that what we have is not quite a kitchen, and not quite a closet either. It’s something in between, like a kitchenette. The kitchen is small, but I can live with it. I need to get a few things, like a good knife and maybe a few more shelves. But usually, as long as I’ve done the dishes, there’s room to make anything.

I’ve had my fair share of awkward kitchens anyway. I had an apartment on Dumoulin Street, in Winnipeg, where the oven worked only occasionally. One evening, in January, I started make bread, when I realized, just as I was about to slide the loaf into the oven that the oven wasn’t working. So I covered the loaf with tea towels and I dashed to my neighbour, Matthieu’s. The mad dash in Winnipeg’s -35 degrees killed the loaf instantly.

My friend Emma and I rented a room in Mexico City two winters ago, in an apartment owed by two older ladies, a 60 year old retired school teacher, Teresa, and her mother, Margarita, who was in her nineties. It was a tight fit. Margarita loved to have her late night snack (at about 7 o’clock) at the kitchen table, which butted up against the kitchen sink.

Almost every morning during those 6 months, I woke up early, when there was still room in the kitchen, and made myself some porridge. Then I’d grab a fresh orange juice at a kiosk near the bus stop. I would hold on tight to that juice as the bus bombed its way down the Tlalpan highway, all the way to university.

In our Mexican kitchen, Teresa taught me to make flan, something I have never been able to recreate back in Canada.

Last night, in my new Montreal kitchen(ette), marked my first misadventure in this apartment. We ordered sushi and watched an Eddie Murphy movie. I got up to get ice cream and came back with an unfortunate, tepid, blueberry froth. The freezer doesn’t work anymore. We’ll have to thaw it today, and see what to do.

There are quite a few more kitchens in my history of kitchens, and they’ve all had their ups and downs. And I’m sure there will be many more. But the point is, I’m a student, and even when I’m not a student, I’ll probably live in these sorts of apartments for a while. I’ve learned to cook in kitchens that are less than perfect, and I know that I’ve managed to make great food. In a way, my blog reflects that. All the recipes I post were first tried in a less than perfect cuisinette.

Today, I have a recipe that honours all students in small kitchens. It’s a quick, easy bread, and its only yeast (and liquid) is a bottle of beer. You don’t even have to knead it, for pete’s sake. So if you’re a student without even a kitchen counter, you can still make this bread.

It’s also very adaptable. There is always cheese in it, but you can use whatever cheese you like. Or whatever cheese you have in your fridge. And you can add onions or herbs, or whatever you might fancy. Or whatever you have in your fridge.

Apartment beer bread
Adapted from a recipe in the Globe and Mail, by Lucy Waverman (March 2008)

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 of: chopped herbs of your choice OR/AND chopped onions or scallions
1 cup grated cheese
1 12 oz. bottle of beer
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except beer and mustard. Add last two ingredients, and mix well with spoon or your hands, making sure the mustard and all the flour has been well incorporated. Transfer to a greased bread pan, smooth top of loaf with a damp hand. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Chai Tea and Piracy

I’ve got a little catching up to do this weekend. It’s Friday morning, and it’s going to take me a few hours before I really get the ball rolling on my work. So I’m going to start my day right, with Nutella toast and a nice cup of chai tea. The radio’s on, and after breakfast I’ll clean up. Then, I’ll probably make some cookies, and then, then I’ll get started. But my day starts with this cup of chai, a recipe from my aunt.

I had entirely forgotten about this recipe, but I remembered it last week. With the cold comes a tastes for warm spiciness. During the past few days, I’ve kept a pot of it on the stove, perpetually warming, ready. It’s warm, sweet and spicy, perfect for a cold apartment, and it’s better than any tea bag. I’ll tell you why: There’s something a little witchy about it, when you throw pinches of this and handfuls of that into a big pot of simmering aroma that fills up the place. As well, with tea bags, you can’t know or decide what goes into your chai. So if you’re partial to cardamom, double it. The original recipe called for sugar, but I prefer honey for this. I have reason to believe this tea will be a staple for me this winter.

Chai Tea
Adapted from a recipe from my Aunt Hélène

3 tbsp loose black tea
1 cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
6 whole cloves
2 pieces whole cardamom pods
6 whole black peppercorns
6 cups hot water
1 ½ to 2 cups milk
1/3 cup honey
Bring all ingredients except the milk and honey to a boil, lower heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Reduce heat, add milk and honey, reheat until very hot, but avoid boiling. Adjust sweetness if needed. Serve, with or without straining.

This week
Somali pirates are changing the economic life in port towns along the Gulf of Aden, where they inject their criminal fortunes into local businesses. Entrepreneurs and restaurant owners have seized an opportunity, setting up shop as caterers for the crews of highjacked cargo ships. They offer a range of "western style food" , including grilled fish and pasta, that will please the palate of the kidnappees.
Click here for an article by the AP.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Appetite Well Deserved

I spent last weekend on a farm in the Eastern Townships. I went there, officially, to conduct some interviews for an article on the new generation of agriculture. Unofficially, I went to Caroline Poirier and Sébastien Alix’s farm for a change of pace.

On Friday, I plucked and gutted chickens, and on Saturday, I hauled bales down barn stairs and stacked them along the walls. I also rolled several hundred feet of irrigation pipes. I got guts under my fingernails, dust in my lungs and scratches on my arms. In other words, I spent the weekend working up an appetite.

Caroline, 24, and Sébastien, 32, raise lamb, laying hens, meat poultry and cultivate 3 acres of vegetables for CSA boxes they sell to costumers in the Sherbrooke area. They also happen to be raising a 18 month year-old boy, Rémi, and are expecting a second child in December. They have, to say the least, their hands full. And they have an absolutely lovely, very busy life.

I may be a city girl these days, spending afternoons in coffee shops with my laptop in Montreal’s Mile End, but I grew up on a sheep farm in Manitoba. The time I spent in the Eastern Townships was not very different from what I did on weekends as a teenager.

I’ve come to miss that "good day’s work", the kind of work that means that food being grows right in front of your eyes, in your garden and your pasture. With that kind of work comes a kind of eating that is completely unlike having coffee and a pastry while you type on your laptop in the Mile End. It’s a kind of eating that is well deserved, that satisfies a hunger built up while you were working at making the very food that ends up on the table.

So, today I have a recipe for a lamb and eggplant casserole that Sébastien’s dad, André, brought to the farm for us to eat on Friday night. Admittedly, the eggplants were not Caroline and Sébastien’s, but the lamb certainly was. The casserole was quick to make, André told me, easy to thrown into the oven while you’re cleaning yourself up after your day’s work.

The ingredient amounts are pretty flexible, depending on the liquidity of your tomatoes. The best tomatoes to use, of course, are home canned tomatoes from your very own garden.

André’s lamb and eggplant casserole

2 medium onions, diced
4-6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 lbs ground lamb
2 pint jars of canned tomatoes
2 medium-large eggplants, sliced into half-inch rounds
olive oil
1 cup (or more!) grated old cheddar (the more flavourful, the better)

In a large frying pan, brown the onions, garlic and lamb. Add the tomatoes (liquid included), and simmer at a low heat for an hour or so, until it thickens and the flavours mix. Meanwhile, sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and let sit in a strainer over the sink to let the bitter juices out for half an hour. Then, rince the eggplant and pat dry. Fry the slices in a second frying pan until lightly golden. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.

In a casserole, make two or three layers, alternating between the lamb and the eggplant, as with a lasagna. The last layer should be lamb, topped off with the grated cheddar. Bake uncovered in the oven for half an hour to 45 minutes, or until cheese in bubbly and golden.

This Week

This week, I am posting the first installement of my friend Salvatore Ciolfi's Montreal restaurant review. Sal is the Montrealer that will tell me about any restaurant that I need to visit in the town.

Sal's Restaurant Review: Beijing
by Salvatore Ciolfi

Given the large Chinese population in Montreal, it's always been a bit of a surprise to see how small and unimpressive Chinatown is. I mean compared in size, scale and fun to those in Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal's few blocks worth of China-themed businesses looks a touch on the pathetic if a Chinatown didn't exist, and one was quickly thrown together to appease people. This is especially noticeable when you visit Vancouver's, which is so all consuming, you can easily forget you're in North America. All that said, there are a few restaurant gems in Chi-town, and one may have the city's best Hot and Sour soup: Restaurant Beijing.

A lot of Montrealers, particularly those who like cheap late night meals, will probably tell you that "VIP" is the area's best resto, but I'd argue that real foodies would be much more at home in Beijing's clean, bright room, and certainly more at ease with their fresh ingredients and menu. And besides, Beijing does stay open until 3am, so it's not like they're slouching in the post-booze world of early morning dining. Plus, it's a family style restaurant, which means one thing: lazy susans! Automatic bonus points if you ask me.

Recently, the Montreal Gazette featured the restaurant's aforementioned Hot and Sour concoction, and a recent visit was enough to justify the coverage. Spicy but not overpowering, the soup had just enough vinegar to give it a tangy, full-bodied flavor. Shrimp, tofu, egg whites and various Chinese vegetables give it a hearty feel, even if in the end, it's a fairly light soup that’s surprisingly good at opening up your taste buds. Traditionally, this is a Sichuan specialty, but here they also use barbecued pork to give it a Beijing regional touch.

The rest of the extensive menu is equally versatile, with numerous regional variations on traditional Sichuan dishes available. Our group opted for a serving of the “Thai style seafood chow mein,” which is a spicy, and colorful rethink of “Cantonese chow mein” featuring shrimp, crab and enough fresh basil to fool this Italo-Canadian into thinking he was back at his mother’s house. Confusing, but delicious all the same. All five of us agreed that we’d order this one again if we had the chance.

Equally great was the “Chicken with ginger and green onions,” a seemingly simple dish that packs a lot of subtle flavor (unless you happen to bite directly into a piece of ginger, as I did. There is nothing subtle about biting directly into a piece of ginger). The only minor misstep of the night was our third choice, “Sweet and Sour Pork,” which like most other dishes in the sweet and sour world, comes covered in a sugary, bright red sauce. The pork was a tad on the chewy side, and though the accompanying peppers and pineapple were fresh and tasty, the dish was a bit of a disappointment. Of course, it could just be that everything else we had was so great, that it just suffered in comparison. I’d be willing to bet that it’s still better than similar offerings at other restaurants.

All told, one large bowl of soup, a mountain of steamed rice, and three plentiful dishes was enough to feed five people, and it only ran us $58. A great deal if I’ve ever had one, and further proof for this Montrealer that there’s only one VIP in Chinatown, and that’s Beijing.

For the enterprising, here’s Beijing's “Hot and Sour Soup” recipe:

3 1/2 cups chicken broth
260 grams firm tofu, diced into half-inch cubes
12 small shrimps (50 grams)
50 grams barbecued pork strip, diced (available in Chinatown)
25 grams shredded Chinese radish (comes in a can; also available in Chinatown)
25 grams wood ear fungus (available in Chinatown; these come dried and must be moistened in cold water overnight until soft)
25 grams of bamboo shoots, diced (comes in a can; available at most grocery stores)
25 grams mushroom strips (these come dried and must be moistened overnight in cold water until soft)
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
2 teaspoons (10 mL) sugar
2 teaspoons (10 mL) white vinegar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons (10 mL) light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) chili oil
pinch of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon (2 mL) cornstarch dissolved in one tablespoon
(15 mL) of water
1 egg white

Make sure all ingredients are ready beforehand. The secret to this recipe's success is to work quickly.

Quickly steam tofu, shrimp, barbecued pork, radish, wood ear fungus, bamboo strips and mushroom strips in a steamer over boiling water. Set aside.

Pour chicken broth into a very hot wok. Once the broth reaches a boil, add steamed ingredients. Using a wooden spoon, stir together quickly.

Add salt, sugar and vinegar. Stir together quickly.
Add soy sauces. Stir together quickly.
Add sesame oil. Stir together quickly.
Add chili oil and black pepper. Stir together quickly.
Add cornstarch. Stir together quickly.
At the very last moment, add one egg white. Stir together quickly. Serve immediately
Serves four.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Blueberry birthday

I don’t know why I am reminded of blueberries so late in the year. Maybe it’s because it’s such a beautiful day in Montreal. I spent part of the afternoon in the park. I sat on a bench to knit for awhile. No jacket. Just me, my knitting needles and hot peppermint tea.

On the way home from the park, I thought of my blueberry-yogurt pancakes, and how wonderful and fluffy they are. I still have blueberries in the freezer, so I’m not completely out of season in telling you about them. I bought two litres of farmed blueberries in August at Marché Jean-Talon , and I’ve been throwing a handful of them in breakfasts here and there. But the best blueberry breakfast is my blueberry-yogurt pancake.

Maybe I thought of these pancakes because today is my Papa’s birthday, and if I were in Manitoba, I would most definitely be making them for him.

So for Papa’s birthday, a recipe for blueberry-yogurt pancakes. The ground flax isn’t absolutely necessary, but it adds a nice nutty taste

Blueberry-yogurt pancakes

1 cup flour (I normally use half white, half whole-wheat)
1 tablespoon ground flax
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
½ cup milk
½ plain yogurt (or not so plain yogurt! Berry or vanilla flavoured yogurt is nice too.)
2 tablespoons vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
3/4 cup blueberries
butter for grilling

Combine dry ingredient. In a separate bowl, whisk together liquid ingredients. Pour liquids into dry ingredients and mix until all flour pockets have disappeared. Melt a tablespoon of butter on a frying pan or a pancake griddle before pouring pancakes. Flip pancakes when top starts to bubble. Makes 2 servings.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A First Step

I’m sitting at the kitchen table with a glass of wine, scribbling in a notebook, and deciding what name to give my new blog.

The Thymes? The Garlic Press? No, no. This is strange; I’m having wine and cheese, apparently.

By the time I post this, I will have decided on a name for my blog. I’m just being very meticulous, I guess. I want this blog to be about food, yes, but about food in every way. There will be recipes, of course, but that won’t be all.

I want to write about food as life.

Food as life, because it can tell you about everything. Food is politics. Food is social. It is art, culture, and subsistence. It is agriculture and economy. The most important thing is, food is on all of our tables. When it’s not, we are certainly scratching our heads, thinking about how to get it on there.

So, food is everything, and I’m awfully excited about that. But there will be recipes, too...I promise.

I still haven’t thought of a name for my blog, though. That’s ok, I’ve made the first step.

This Week

Check out this link to Michael Pollen’s article in the New York Times Magazine. It’s an open letter to the next American President on food and agriculture policy.