Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tried and true

I like to gush about recipe books (see my review of Falling Cloudberries, below). In fact, a funny things happens; I develop crushes on recipe books. Certainly, there’s a lot of courting going on at the cookbook store where I work on weekends. I spend a lot of time flirting with David Tanis, Jamie Oliver, Rose Carrarini. Someday, when I can afford to, I might just take them home.

That being said, I have stayed true to an old faithful. Joy of Cooking is, it has to be said, an essential. Faults, it’s got. I’ll admit that. Faults such as ambrosia salad, a sturdy belief in shortening, and far too many jellied... well, jellied everything.

I suspect editions older than mine have a how-to section on tying a bow in your hair and serving your husband a martini when he gets home from the office.

But, despite its flaws, Joy of Cooking is solid, like a good advice grandmother, always there when you need her most.

This morning, when I failed twice to poach an egg, I ran to Rombauer and Becker for a refresher lesson.

Later, when I had decided to do something about an old, mushy banana, I flipped to the B’s in the index. After all, a banana bread recipes that’s been in print since 1931 in unlikely to fail.
Also, my lovely friend Emma makes killer oatmeal cookies, and they’re Joy of Cooking as well.
So there.

Here’s lunch, a successful poached egg (the key is in the vortex, folks) on asparagus with mizithra cheese.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Prairie sky and dirty fingernails

Toronto is nice. People are friendly in the streets. There are hundreds of thoughtful parks in every neighbourhood. Precisely 99 public libraries are scattered through every part of town. Toronto is where I need to be, for dozens of reasons. Good reasons, like love and journalism.

But my heart isn’t in Toronto, with all this concrete and all these condos. It’s somewhere in the prairies, covered in garden dirt and watching the sun to set in an immense summer sky.

I don’t mean to sound so tragic. Toronto’s a great town. I just keep having to do little things that get my fingernails dirty, like scratching dogs behind the ears. It makes me feel better, closer to where I’m from.

Balcony gardens will also keep my fingernails dirty and my heart light. Friday, I seeded some spinach and arugula. June 12th was certainly late to seed greens, but with a balcony on the 16th floor, there’s be plenty of shade and cool breeze.

Smoked goldeye tartare
Just for one last dose of tragedy: I can’t make this anymore, because there is no goldeye in Ontario, as far I can tell. Goldeye is only found in freshwater lakes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, making this a perfect prairie recipe, just so I can indulge in another dose of nostalgia, if I may.

The meat of 2 smoked goldeye fish, stripped of bones and cut into 1 cm cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
1 small jar (110 ml) capers, drained
1/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
The juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Serve on wheat crackers or thinly sliced bread.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A book to curl up on the couch with

The first line in Tessa Kiros’ cookbook, Falling Cloudberries, is a perfect prelude:
"My mother’s name is Sirpa Tuula Kerttu Peiponein.
My father’s name is George"

Kiros wrote her recipes like a memoir, rich with family history and wisps of childhood nostalgia. Falling Cloudberries is divided into regional chapters, recounting recipes from her family, her friends, and from many countries and kitchens she has known through her life. With a Finnish mother, a Greek-Cypriot father, an Italian husband, a childhood spent in South Africa, and years working in restaurants across the world, the author fills her book with solid, time-tested and heartfelt recipes.

A sampling of the recipes I’ve been reading, curled up on the couch, no where near the kitchen:

-From Finland: Herrings marinated in vinegar with dill and allspice
-From Greece: Pork with celery in egg and lemon sauce
-From Cyprus: Filo with poached pears and rose petals, pistachio praline and vanilla ice
-From South Africa: Lemon vanilla jam (She suggests it be served with simple sponge cake
and mascarpone cheese. Sold!)
-From Italy: Arugula, parmesean, and pommegranate salad with balsamic vinegar

The recipes read like travel fiction. I love this book.

The bowl of lemons next to the book doesn’t look like much, but I’m just using them as weight to press out the juice in salted chili peppers for Chiles in olive oil, simple, no-fuss recipe that Kiros brought back from Cyprus. It’ll be ready to photograph tonight, and I will update my blog with my (anticipated) success. This recipe works especially well for me because I can never use up all my chilis before they go bad ( I often have to dry them). I’m afraid I’m a bit of a spice wimp.

Chilies in olive oil
Adapted from a recipe in Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries

40 or so fresh red chiles
a good amount of salt
1 ½ cups olive oil

Slice the chiles into thin disks (1/16 of an inch). Kiros suggests using kitchen gloves, but I didn’t. I was very, very careful not to rub my eyes. Remove as many seeds as you can by putting the cut chilies in a colander and sharply tapping the edge of the sink. Leaving the chilies in the colander, generously sprinkle with salt. Place the colander over a bowl, and cover the chilies with saran-wrap, then place something heavy about the saran-wrap to press the juice out (a bowlful of lemons, for instance...).

Let the chilies sit like this for 24 hours. Squeeze the excess moisture and salt out of them, and place them in a sterilized jar. Make sure the chilies are covered in oil, or else they will spoil. After a few days, the oil will be ready to use (in marinades, on pasta, salads, etc...). Store in cool cupboard.

And a few hours later...