4.28.2011

Things that are good

I’ve been trying to write for a while. I’ll be honest. I’ve started and scratched out an embarassing number of entries. Some emotions or experiences are tricky to put into words. A long weekend spent in Amherstburg drinking fabulous wine and margaritas out of mason jars, eating great food and laughing with my family. Reading a wonderful book in bed with a cup of fresh coffee beside me, the sun rising. A Tuesday off work to putz around the city. A short work week. Steel cut oats with frozen sour cherries and shredded, unsweetened coconut. Going out with co-workers. Believing in the good in people.

What have you been up to lately? Dear readers, I’ve missed you.

I haven’t been cooking much lately (gasp.) Pasta with an egg and homemade lemon artichoke pesto, quick red lentil soups and a crustless quiche with Gruy√®re and cremini mushrooms. I've been loving meals that come together easily but that are still big on flavour; subtle hints of anything need not apply.

At the same time, some of these things -- notably the quiche -- have been a bit heavier than I'm accustomed to. Unintentionally, I gravitate more toward vegetable-laden dishes full of pulses and fresh ingredients where animal products appear secondary instead of taking a starring role. Every once in a while I cook up something a little indulgent. It's great, but I'm happy to be back to lighter fare.

These meals have been both satisfying and nourishing, and I'm glad for it.

A red lentil vindaloo with potatoes and green beans, served on brown rice.




An enormous chopped green salad with French lentils. Have I told you how much I love French lentils? Well, a lot. I would happily sit and eat an entire bowl of them, tossed with a red wine vinaigrette and garnished with a bit of goat cheese and possibly a hardboiled egg.



And an amazing lemon tart. Umm...a different kind of satisfying and nourishing, really. I don’t have pictures because it was devoured too quickly over the long weekend. This makes me sad, but then again, I tend to think it was a bit of a clever move on my part. It’s just an excuse to bake another one, no?

Lemon Tart of My Dreams
(Barely) adapted from Elana’s Pantry and Laura Calder

Yields about 8 slices

1.5 C almond meal
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp sugar

1/4 C vegetable or neutral tasting oil
1 tsp real vanilla extract

2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar*
2/3 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

To make the crust, combine the first four ingredients (dry ingredients.) Whisk to thoroughly combine. Make a well and slowly add the vanilla and the oil. Continue  to whisk until absorbed. Pre-heat the oven to 325F. Grease a 9.5" ovensafe pie plate and add the almond "batter", smoothing with your hands if necessary to even it out. Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly browned.

To make the filling, blend the eggs, yolks and sugar together until emulsified. Slowly whisk in sour cream and lemon juice; it will yield quite a thin filling. Once the crust is finished cooking, fill with the lemon mixture and bake at 325F for 30-35 minutes until set. Refrigerate and cool for at least two hours. Serve chilled.

*Despite the amount of sugar, this recipe yields quite a tart pie. If you prefer a sweeter lemon tart, I would up the sugar to a full cup or even 1.25 cups.

4.19.2011

Two steps forward, three steps back

This weekend, I pulled out my heavy winter sweaters. I settled down on the couch with a hot mug of chai tea and hung out with Canadian Living as the snow and hail came down. I listened to David Gray and made a pot of soup. I thought about granola and forgot about the dishes. It's the kind of chill that digs deep into your bones and makes you lunge for a blanket, turn up the heat, sport layers. And it was the kind of weekend that begged for comfort food.

I've eaten potatoes all my life, but the best I've ever had while were I was in Florida. I know I wax on about the state entirely too often, but I can't be held accountable for how many wonderful qualities it possesses. It seems particularly geeky to admit that whenever I glance over and find a piece of fruit has come from Florida -- especially Plant City -- I smile a little and think about eating the season's first strawberries in the car in front of the produce stand. I think about the time I found a fully intact conch shell that had washed ashore one overcast day, wind whipping against my ears. And I think about the potatoes.



Now, maybe you've eaten fresh potatoes. So have I. But there is something supremely earthy tasting about Florida potatoes. They are delicious. They are wonderful boiled and tossed in melted butter and salt, or even eaten plain. They are excellent with salsa and avocado. I remember sitting down to a particularly good meal one night -- ribs smothered in sauce, green beans and potatoes -- and thinking, this is amazing. It was wonderful.

These potatoes are not those potatoes, but I like them just fine. Canada yields some pretty great potatoes, too. Here's the idea: you cut up about half a pound of red-skinned new potatoes, and you toss them in a little olive oil, just enough so they don't stick. You throw them into a cast iron pan with some coarse sea salt and a couple cloves of fresh, smashed garlic, and you roast the whole thing for about an hour, until the flesh gives in and grows tender. You might want to flip them halfway through cooking time. At this point, you can smash them and continue roasting, or you can remove them from the oven and toss them into this harmonious blend of olive oil, lemon juice, dill, and capers. It's the perfect thing for April, I think, some kind of cure.

It's simple and relatively hands-off, something that comes together easily. It would be nice with a bit of smoked fish and some mixed greens, or tossed into a green salad. How do you like to eat your potatoes?





Potatoes with Lemon and Capers, or "Rockstar Potatoes"

Serves 3-4

1lb red new potatoes, about 3-4 medium-sized
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
Sea salt
Olive oil

1.5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1-2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1/8 tsp dried dill
1 tbsp capers, well rinsed and finely chopped*
Sea salt

Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Rinse your potatoes well and dry completely. Half them. Toss in a little olive oil, about 1 tsp -- just enough to coat. Place with the flesh side facing down on a 10-inch cast iron (ideal) or other oven-safe skillet, salt generously, and add the smashed garlic, whole, to the pan. Roast for 1 hour, until the flesh becomes tender.

While the potatoes roast, make the vinaigrette. Combine the lemon juice with the herbs and capers, and salt to taste. This is important as the salt will not properly mingle once the olive oil has been added. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify. When the potatoes are ready, toss thoroughly with the vinaigrette and let stand for five minutes to allow the potatoes to absorb the dressing. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or eat as a cold potato salad.

*The photographs feature the capers whole, but I would chop them finely next time to ensure all of the flavours are thoroughly combined.

4.05.2011

She doesn't take it lying down

So March happened.

I believe I spent half of it perched on the couch with a hot mug of tea and entirely too much television, but at any rate. It's April now; spring has officially and unofficially arrived. I'm back to drinking chilled wines, dreaming about long and lazy patio days and contemplating my next big haircut. I think it's clear by now that I have my priorities straight.



In all earnest, I've been thinking about other things, too, like getting back to writing and organizing my apartment properly, about efficiency and productivity. The thing is, I always seem to have so much time when I'm not preoccupied with trying to fill it. I get around to doing the dishes. I read my library books. I make my lunch in the evening and pick out my clothes. When I'm busy trying to do things -- really do things -- I end up doing next to nothing, squandering my time. As Henry Brooks Adams once said, "Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit." I don't know about you, but there seems to be this constant push and pull in my life between my tendency to micromanage and my desire for spontaneity and freedom. Do we just "let it be" as Lenon insisted or do we worry ourselves into circles hoping we can muster up control?


Or, in the end, maybe we sit around drinking that lovely chilled wine and make fish tacos on a Monday night after a long day at work. Maybe we wish we were surrounded by good people, but feel as though we are. The emails, they wait. The plans wait. There are people you can't wait to talk to. And then there is this: the quiet stillness and silence of waiting, of postponing, and there is the loudness of life as you take a bite of your dinner and smile, and wonder to yourself: where has life gone?

Grilled Salmon Tacos with Apple-Cucumber Salsa
Adapted from Food & Wine and We Are Not Martha
Yields about 4-5 tacos


These tacos are really lovely. To save time the night of and for best flavour, prepare the salsa ahead of time (ie. the night before.)

4-5 corn tortillas

2 tbsp mayonnaise
Lime juice

1/2 lb Atlantic salmon
1 tbsp chili powder
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced
Zest of 1 lime
Sea salt
Grapeseed oil

1/2 English cucumber
1/2 red bell pepper
1/4 cup red onion
Generous handful fresh cilantro
1 tsp sugar
1.5 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 fresh jalapeno
Sea salt

Avocado

Combine chili powder, chipotle pepper, a generous pinch of sea salt, and lime zest and smother salmon. Let stand for about 20 minutes to allow the flavours to mingle.

In the meantime, prepare the salsa. Using a spoon, carve our the seeds from the cucumber and finely dice. Slice, trim and wash the bell pepper, and finely dice. Finely dice the red onion, and chop up the cilantro. Mix to combine using a wooden spoon. In a separate bowl, combine vinegar with sugar and a generous pinch of salt, and whisk together. Pour over your diced vegetables and toss thoroughly to ensure even coating. Set aside.

Add mayonnaise to a small bowl. Thin to desired consistency using lime juice.

Before cooking the salmon, heat corn tortillas in a dry skillet or by baking at about 300F for 5-7 minutes, and keep warm using paper towels or aluminum foil.

To cook salmon, drizzle grapeseed oil over a grill pan and bring to high heat. Add salmon and cook until almost flaky, about 3 minutes per side (this will depend on thickness of salmon.) Once cooked through, flake using a fork.

To serve, mash avocado on a corn tortilla and top with salmon. Add salsa and line with lime-mayonnaise drizzle.
 
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