October 14, 2008

Fall Mishmash

Can you believe we’ve been in Edmonton for more than six weeks? And that it’s been more than a month that you’ve been reading about my culinary adventures?

Crazy. Although the time has flown by, it also feels like we’ve been out West a lot longer than that. It’s hard to believe how quickly we settled into our new lives.

I guess we have settled in some ways, and not as much in others. I’ve grown used to the routine of going to the market down the street every Saturday, but it still feels weird to have a real job. I’m used to looking out the window to our view of tall office buildings and the edge of pyramid-shaped city hall, but I also miss being near the ocean.

We’re really happy in Edmonton. I guess it’s just the bigger life changes that take longer to adjust to. I’ve found myself thinking more and more lately about very adult things like saving up for a house, paying taxes, having kids, what kind of career I really want … it’s strange to have these thoughts, since in many ways I still feel like a kid myself.

Whenever I start thinking too seriously about things like this, my mind usually drifts back to food. I think about all the great recipes I want to make, and I feel much more comforted.

So, amid all of our recent activity, here are some of the dishes I’ve been whipping up in the kitchen that haven’t been posted yet (recipes below):

Lemony couscous with chickpeas

This is a winner of a dish. If you like chickpeas and lemon, you’ll love it. Since they’re two of my favourite foods, it was made for me. It’s also a cinch to make, so it’s easy for a potluck if you need to bring something vegetarian. I’ve made it several times and it always turns out well. This time I only used scallions instead of fresh herbs, but it’s excellent with the herbs as well.

Provencal Winter Squash Gratin

The perfect dish for autumn. Good ol’ Deborah Madison once again. I looked through the winter squash recipes in her cookbook for a recent potluck and settled on this one since I wanted something with no cheese in it. It is delicious and very simple. The end result is perfectly caramelized on the outside and deliciously soft on the inside, with plenty of garlic flavour. Our potluck guests certainly enjoyed it.

More Sandwiches

The sandwich train is still rolling. And will be for at least five or six more weeks. Can you believe it? At this rate, I will still be making supper from this book when my firstborn is trying to raise money for college.

The sandwiches, however, continue to please. Highlights have included Grilled Onions on Toast with Romesco Sauce, Fried Green Tomato Sandwich, Mozzarella with Olive Paste and Roasted Peppers, Open-Faced Sandwich with Blue Cheese, Pears, and Roasted Nuts (J missed that one and he’s lucky cause he hates blue cheese), and Grilled Cheddar on Rye with Onion. As you can tell they are all over the map. We are still in the cheese sandwich section, but this week is all grilled cheese. Classic and comfy, found in kitchens all over North America. I’m even making tomato soup to go with them. Aw, shucks.

Braised Chard with Cilantro

I learned how to like cooked greens a few summers ago when J and I started getting bags of produce from a community supported agriculture farm once a week. During June and into July, some weeks would be almost all greens with a few garlic scapes thrown in. I couldn’t avoid them, so I cooked them and started to enjoy them.

I could go on and on about this recipe for chard. After I first ate it I was constantly craving the leftovers in the fridge. With only a few simple ingredients, it’s rich and soft and I’m already dreaming about pairing it with some white beans and maybe a side of cornbread. Yuuuummmm….

Fried Egg Cookies

We had half a jar of lemon curd in the fridge that had been sitting there since we moved here. (We were so obsessed with the stuff that we bought some at the Charlottetown market to take with us to Alberta). I was trying to find a way to use it, so I flipped through Nigella Lawson’s books and found this recipe, which I remembered reading before. (Yes, I have a habit of reading cookbooks, especially the pretty photo-filled kind like Nigella’s all are.) The cookies were not very hard to make, although the roll-them-into-balls part always seems like one step too many to me. And maybe it’s because I chilled the dough overnight and didn’t let it soften enough, but it was quite stiff and didn’t flatten very well when I had to make a thumbprint in the tops for the lemon curd to go in.

All in all these were a disappointment. They tasted good but I would prefer them on a cookie platter where I could eat them with some other kinds of cookies. I expected them to be more buttery and crunchy, kind of like shortbread, but they were really crumbly and kind of dry. Perhaps a keeper for the Christmas cookie swap, but not otherwise.

Lemony Couscous with Chickpeas from Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers

Serves 4 to 6

Time: 20 minutes

1 ½ cups couscous

½ teaspoon salt

2 ½ cups boiling water

2 lemons

¼ cup olive oil

1 14-ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped black olives (I’ve made it many times without these and it is still delicious)

One or more:

2 tablespoons minced fresh dill

½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

½ cup finely chopped scallions

½ cup minced fresh mint

½ cup chopped toasted almonds

Put the couscous and salt in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Grate the lemon peels and juice the lemons. Stir together the lemon zest, ¼ cup of juice, and the olive oil.

Fluff the couscous with a fork, separating any lumps. Add the chickpeas, olives, the lemon and oil mixture, and the herbs and toss well. Add more salt to taste. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Top with the toasted almonds just before serving.

Provencal Winter Squash Gratin from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Serves 4 to 6

2 to 2 ½ pounds butternut squash

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ cup chopped parsley

Salt and freshly milled pepper

3 tablespoons flour

Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325 and oil a shallow earthenware baking dish (I just used glass). Peel the squash and cut it into even-sized cubes, from 1/3 inch to 1 inch. Toss it with the garlic, parsley, and a bit of salt and pepper. Add the flour and toss again until the pieces are coated lightly, letting the excess fall to the bottom. Pile the squash into the dish and drizzle oil generously over the top. Bake, uncovered, until the squash is browned and tender when pierced with a knife, about 2 hours. When served, the individual pieces will collapse into a puree.

Braised Chard with Cilantro

Serves 4

Don’t be put off by the long cooking time – in the end the flavour goes far beyond what’s possible with a cursory blanching. A few spoonfuls suffice for a serving, or you can use this effectively as a seasoning for rice or lentils.

2 large bunches chard, about 2 pounds, leaves sliced into 1-inch-wide ribbons

1 ½ cups of the chard stems, trimmed and diced

1 onion, finely diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

1/3 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika

1 garlic clove pounded with 1 teaspoon salt (use a mortar and pestle if you have one, if not you could probably just add these ingredients separately)

Salt and freshly milled pepper

Place all the ingredients in a wide, heavy pot with a few pinches salt. Add ½ cup water, cover tightly, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes. Check once or twice to make sure there’s enough moisture. If anything is sticking, add a few tablespoons water. When done, taste for salt and season with pepper. The chard should be silky and very fragrant.

Fried Green Tomato Sandwich

I don’t usually see green tomatoes in the grocery store, but I bought these at the market here. By the time I made the sandwich they had turned a pale pink, but it worked well anyway.

For two sandwiches, slice 2 large green tomatoes (we found one was plenty) about ¼ inch thick. Dip them into cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper, then fry them in a thin layer of vegetable oil over medium-high heat on both sides until golden and tender but not mushy. Toast 2 sourdough rolls or squares of foccacia, halved (we just used two crusty sandwich rolls), then spread with garlic mayonnaise (or just use regular). Add thinly sliced feta or fresh mozzarella, the tomatoes, and a final layer of greens, such as watercress, arugula, or a few large basil leaves (we just used regular lettuce). Top with the second slice of bread, then cut in half and serve.

Just make sure you use a nice firm bread and toast it, because man oh man this is one messy sandwich. It drips all over the place.

Grilled Cheddar on Rye with Onion

Use light or dark rye bread and a good aged cheddar. Slice a small tomato into rounds and a small onion into thin wedges. Saute the onion in 2 teaspoons olive oil until golden, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Build the sandwich this way: bread, a thin covering of cheese, the tomato, onion, another covering of cheese, and a second slice of bread. Cook in a frying pan over moderate heat on both sides in butter or olive oil, until the cheese is melted and the bread is golden.

Lemon Gems (her kids call them Fried Egg Cookies)

from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
scant 1/4 cup ground almonds
2 Tbsp cornstarch
6-7 Tbsp lemon curd

2 baking sheets, lined with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, beat the shortening, butter, and sugar together, then add the egg yolk, lemon juice, zest, & salt. Gently fold in the flour in two additions, then the ground almonds and cornstarch. Take care not to be too heavy-handed, as rigorous blending will make the dough very sticky. It veers towards that anyway, so when all's combined, put the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.

Form into balls the size of cherry tomatoes and place the balls 1 inch apart on your prepared baking sheets. Make an indentation with your thumb in each biscuit, and then cook for 20-25 minutes. They should appear golden and firm.

As soon as they come out of the oven, fill each cookie with a scant 1/2 teaspoon of lemon curd.

When they're all filled, transfer them to wire racks to cool.

Makes about 40.

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