Something like mujadara, only French, kind of.

Oh, Meatless Monday. If you fell on any other day, I would have a much easier time. Around 2:00 this afternoon, I was pretty sure we were pretty much going to have grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner. But the thing about having a food blog is that at least a couple of times each week one must make an effort to eat something interesting, or, at the very least, to pretend that she hasn’t been eating an inordinate number of sandwiches, because eating only sandwiches won’t help anyone out of any rut.

And I am in a rut.

This happens every so often, usually during the longest-feeling part of a season when I really just don’t feel like eating whatever’s in season any longer. At the start of winter I cannot get enough root vegetables; by the end of February, the rose in my cheeks isn’t the brisk arctic air but too goddamn many beets. There will be radishes soon, and asparagus, and pea shoots, and peppery little leaves of watercress. I have never been particularly patient.Also I don’t like the cold, and I am bored with my puffy jacket, and all my boots need to be resoled. Whine, whine, whine. It’s possible that I am laying blame for my rut on the weather and the root vegetables when the problem is me. Nick has indicated that’s likely the case, and that I am a malcontent at my worst, and contrary much of the time. I maintain that I’m charming and delightful, but he did not nod in agreement.

So because we cannot live off of grilled cheese alone, winter vegetables will have to do for now. And why not coax the best out of them?

I first heard about mujadara from Orangette. For the uninitiated, mujadara is a simple dish of rice and lentils bound by the rich sweetness of deeply caramelized onions. Made from pantry staples, it’s comfort food for a dark grey day, and the constant sizzle of onions for close to an hour is soothing, and you can eat it with a side of greens dressed in a squish of lemon and it’s really very nice.

But why stop there? Why not pull out that celery and those carrots that have been languishing in the crisper? Why not add a touch of smoke, a pinch of vigour? Yes. Pinçage. Let’s do that. Here’s a variation on the mujadara theme, a twist that will placate those dull feelings until the first tips of asparagus finally grace your plate.

Rice and lentils with pinçage

(Serves four, or six as a side dish.)

  • 1 1/2 cup basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium pot, combine rice, lentils, bay leaf, one tablespoon of olive oil, and one teaspoon of salt with four cups cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered.

Meanwhile, heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, and apple, and cook until onions turn translucent. Turn heat down to medium, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes to an hour, however long it takes your ingredients to turn golden and soft. Add salt once veggies begin to brown. I let mine go until they’re barely recognizable as their former selves, until they are dark and black in bits and they smell sweet and faintly smokey.

Add the garlic and the tomato paste, allowing it to dry to the bottom of the pan but not to burn. Keep it moving, tossing the veggies to coat in the sauce. When you’ve reached this point, you’ve got a pinçage (although technically a real pinçage wouldn’t have apples in it … technically, shmechnically).

When the bottom of the pan looks pretty dry, add rice and lentil mixture (removing bay leaf). Pour about a cup of water into the pan to deglaze. Doing this will release the flavour of your pinçage into the rice, coating it saucily.

Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and canneloni.

Oh, this week! I don’t know where it’s gone, and I have two modes and two modes only these past seven days: frantic disorganization and head-bobbing lethargy, neither of which has proven to be particularly sustainable. My arthritis is flaring up again, this time with insistence, and Nick’s always talking about his diabetes, and I’m always telling him how much fibre is in things and we both feel 800-years-old.

Also, if the weird loop of incongruous music in my head is any indication, my internal DJ is totally high (when did that song from Aladdin get mashed up with The Beach Boys and why has either crossed my mind?), and I know we must have eaten something Monday and Tuesday, but I can’t figure out what it was. And the mountains are dark behind a scattered mist and the temperature has dropped and there are rumours of snow, even after I snapped photos of little white buds in a patch of dirt in front of a building around the corner just this past Saturday when we were running around having adventures in light jackets.


Anyway. I made yogurt cheese because the yogurt I like was on sale. (Given my current state of mind, that’s as good a transition as any.) I told you about yogurt cheese a long while back – it comes from this wonderful blog. At first it was a perfectly good spread for bagels, but now is so much more.

This would be best if you made it with hand-rolled sheets of fresh pasta. Second best is store-bought sheets of fresh pasta, which is what I used. Third would be those hard canneloni tubes you get in a box in the dry pasta aisle, but I have never been able to handle those without crushing them like so many taco shells. It’ll take about five sheets, each one cut in half so that it is roughly 4″x3″ (those Olivieri ones will work just fine).

And don’t just cheat and use ricotta. With the yogurt and the lemon and the salmon together, the filling is bright and flavourful. The night before you plan to make this, empty a large container of yogurt (750mL) into a strainer lined with cheesecloth. Tie up the edges, and hang it over the sink overnight (with a bowl underneath to catch  the whey, which is a fantastic addition to soups and bread). Instructions with photos are here. You’ll end up with a little over a cup, maybe a cup and a half, and it should be the consistency of crumbly cream cheese. Refrigerate the stuff until you’re ready to use it.

Smoked salmon canneloni with yogurt cheese

(Serves four.)

Pasta

  • 5 sheets fresh pasta, 8″x6″ (approximately)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 leek, 1″ thick, white and light-green part only, chopped
  • 1 batch yogurt cheese (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup smoked salmon, flaked and packed
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten

Sauce

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. When bubbling, add leek and garlic. Cook for one minute, until garlic is fragrant and leek has brightened in colour. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mush together yogurt cheese, smoked salmon, and lemon zest and juice. Use a fork – the best mushing is usually done with a fork. Pour buttery garlicky leeks into the bowl, and add parsley, salt, and pepper, stir, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed. When you like what you’re tasting, stir in the egg. Set aside.

Ready pasta for rolling according to package instructions. For store-bought fresh pasta, you may need to soak it for a couple of minutes in cold water. Trim to about 4″x3″.

Bring light cream to just a simmer. Remove from heat. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic, and cook until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes. Once the tomatoes begin to burble and steam, reduce heat to medium and carefully stir in cream, slowly and in a steady stream, stirring until fully incorporated. Remove from heat.

Coat the bottom of a glass or enameled 9″x13″ baking dish with a thin layer of sauce.

Scoop 1/4 cup filling into the centre of each piece of pasta. Roll into loose cylinders, and place side by side into the pan. Once you have run out of room on the first layer, coat the tops with sauce, and continue laying rolls in a second layer. Coat the whole thing with remaining sauce, then cover with aluminum foil.

Bake covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and cook uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.

I served the pasta over a bed of wilted chard, which turned out to be a nice way to balance the flavours of the dish, the earthiness of the greens tempering the acidity and smoke of the pasta. It would also go nicely with salad.

Salmon ‘n Bannock.

Salmon ‘n Bannock is a restaurant on Broadway between Granville and Oak (a longish stretch, but I can never remember the smaller streets in between), and it’s been there about a year and the whole time I have wanted to go, but for whatever reason had not. Salmon ‘n Bannock promised wild local salmon and game, and bannock, which is something I have loved since I was a kid.

My parents had friends, one of whom was aboriginal, who introduced us to bannock, that gloriously fried bread spread with jam or golden syrup. I was hooked. But when they moved away, so did my bannock connection. I tried making it a few times, but as the years passed, I forgot what it tasted like and it never turned out good enough to trigger any sort of nostalgia. The bannock at Salmon ‘n Bannock was a little more refined than I remember, but tasted just about the same.

We finally went because there was chatter about the place on the Twitters last week, and suddenly I remembered how badly I wanted to go.

We went with Paul, which worked out excellently, as we were able to try a good selection of things from the menu.

The first thing we tried after the bannock was the arctic prosciutto roll, which came stuffed with asparagus and Oka cheese. If I had one complaint about the place, it’s that the food wasn’t entirely seasonal, but generally that’s only of concern to me. We were delighted these. The prosciutto was made from muskox, and the Oka was creamy. It was a salty little bite, but a good one.

We tried the clam fritters and sockeye lox with cream cheese next, and both were delicious. I didn’t expect the clam fritters to look the way they did, but was pleased because one fritter offered four bites. They were soft, gently fried, and served with a caper-filled tartar sauce. Always a good thing. And the lox was so good I forsook my original entree, which would have been the bison tenderloin, in favour of a club sandwich with more smokey salmon.

Paul had the seafood stew, which was filled with clams, scallops, and salmon, and Nick had the seared duck breast, because Nick always has the seared duck breast.

The food was simple, but expertly crafted. There were a few items on the menu that I’d like to go back to try – the deer stew was one, and I’d love to see how they prepare their salmon fillets. In the spring, they offer fiddleheads for a price that makes me wonder why I would ever buy them and make them at home.

I was thoroughly pleased with this place, from the menu, which was small but full of good stuff, to the prices, which were more than reasonable. The service was helpful and friendly, but not intrusive. And they serve Lucky Lager, which tickled the two-thirds of our party that dined in plaid flannel and baseball caps. All in all, a delightful dinner, and a place we’d all go back to. If you’re in Vancouver, give it a try.

Salmon ‘n Bannock
#7 – 1128 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
604.568.8971

Beet risotto.

Last year we didn’t do much about Valentine’s Day because we’d just gotten Molly the Cat and felt an urgency to be home with our cute little ball of fur. I don’t think we’ve ever done much about Valentine’s Day; the sentiment is nice but I feel sort of silly about it. It’s just the two of us all the time, you know?

We’ll go out later this week, when the restaurants are quiet and we’re not surrounded by moon-eyed couples sitting on the same side of the booth, which makes me irrationally angry, which is the opposite of how you’re supposed to feel on February 14. Seriously – can’t they hear each other chew when they sit like that, and doesn’t that just shoot the romance right in the foot?

But I do like a good theme. So tonight, even if we weren’t celebrating, we did recognize the day, and Meatless Monday, with a plate of lusty, blood-red risotto. It was both virtuous and decadent, with its vegetable stock and beets and butter and Manchego cheese, and it came together in the 30 minutes Nick spent tidying the kitchen. Add a little red wine on the side, and there’s no better way I can think of to spend a Monday Valentine’s Day.

Beet risotto with Manchego

  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. butter, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 medium beet, peeled and finely shredded
  • 3 to 4 cups warm vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley

Heat stock until boiling, then reduce heat and maintain a gentle simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat, heat oil and melt the first tablespoon of butter with the red chili flakes. Add onions and garlic, and cook for two to three minutes, until onions are translucent. Add paprika and rice to pan, stirring for about a minute, or until rice grains turn opaque. Add the wine.

Add shredded beets, and cook until wine has been completely absorbed.

Add one cup of the warm vegetable stock, stirring frequently until liquid is mostly absorbed. Repeat with an additional cup of stock, and then repeat again with one to two more cups as needed. Test your rice for tenderness – if it is al denté, great. If it isn’t, just pour in a little bit more stock, as needed, and let it absorb into the rice. I almost always need the full four cups of stock.

When rice is ready, stir in butter and Manchego cheese. Taste, and adjust seasonings quickly, as needed. Stir in parsley, and serve hot, with additional Parmesan cheese and a light sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley.

And Happy Valentine’s Day. However you did or did not celebrate it, I hope you had a lovely evening and ate something you really liked, in the company of someone you really like, whether it was you alone or with someone else.

 

Today I went downtown to try and get a spot on a new Food Network show.

For the past few weeks on Food Network Canada, they’ve been advertising a new show called Recipe to Riches. There was an open casting call, but you could apply ahead of time for a spot, and I got one. They liked my recipe for tamale pie, and I was invited to come in for 7:30 a.m. I picked an outfit and made the dish twice, once for practice and the second time for the show. I brought Nick, and my parents came too.

I spent most of the morning in two waiting rooms, the first for pre-registered applicants, and the second for plating, mic-fitting, and the final queue. There I got to chat with a lot of really interesting people, some who’d flown from the Island or from other western provinces just for the audition. Their dishes ranged from brownies to tomato tarts to chicken pot pie, and each was nervous and excited and just really glad to be there. Always a lady, I forgot I was wearing a dress and mooned them all twice when I bent over. Thankfully, it was a full-bum-underwear kind of day.

After three and a half hours, my dish was heated and I got to plate. It smelled good, but I was nervous about the spiciness of the dish; I began to worry that there was something wrong with my tongue, because I like everything with so much zing. It was too late to fret heavily over it, and I was asked to talk about my dish on camera. I assembled my dish and was given directions, and then waited a little bit more. It was my first time auditioning for something, and I wasn’t sure what to do. People kept saying “just be yourself,” probably because they don’t know how annoying I can be.

I talked to someone in the hallway before the set, and she told me they were only going to see 80 people that day, despite the large number of applicants and walk-ins. I felt special.

I helped wheel the cart carrying my dish down to the set and was shown where to stand. I was given my cue, and when they called me I presented my dish to the three judges, one of whom was Laura Calder who’s cooking show I like. She said she liked my shoes. I felt special. She liked my dish, and the other judges liked it as well, but it was too spicy and they thought it would be more marketable as a vegetarian dish. “Refine the spice and try again next year,” they told me, and I was disappointed (oh, delusions of grandeur – why always so seductive?!) but their feedback was useful and I will come back next year, wiser and with an even better recipe. I am grateful that they called me to try out this year, and had fun just being there.

So, there you go. I tried something new today, and if nothing but a new dish comes out of it I still think it was worthwhile. So, stay tuned. I’m going to get right to work on a less fiery, more vegetably tamale pie, and then I’m going to tell you all about it. And, of course, I’ll try again for a spot next year. In the meantime, if you’ve got suggestions for the new version of the dish, let me know. And good luck to you if you’re planning to attend the Toronto or Montreal auditions! I want to know if you go, and how it went!

And for now, don’t worry. I’m not sulking or crying or being unpleasant except for the comfort eating. If you need me, I’ll be sitting around in my footie pajamas watching cooking shows with the cat.

Bacon.

You know when you finally do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time but for whatever reason you kept not getting around to it, and then when you finally do get around to it you feel so silly for having waited all that time?

For me, the thing was bacon. Homemade bacon, which I always knew you could do but put off because for some reason the thought of finding curing salt was rather daunting, even though I knew you could buy it literally three blocks from my apartment. I don’t know. I think I figured once I had the pink salt, I’d have to commit, and then what if I wasted my money and half a kilo of pork belly? There was a lot to consider, and the threat of failure and food poisoning put me off.

Then a couple of weeks ago the director at work told me about a butcher shop that her French cooking teacher recommended and I went there to buy something else, and there, in its fatty, rosy glory, I found just over two pounds of local pork belly, just the right amount to make my first batch of bacon. I found a Michael Rhulman recipe, and bought my pink salt, and in about ten minutes I had done everything I’d need to do to the meat to make it bacon. After that, it would need seven days, and to be mostly left alone.

I feel silly for having waited all this time.

The result was impressive, meatier than regular bacon and not as salty, with a pronounced garlickyness that was thrilling – garlic and bacon go almost as well together as bacon and cheese. I cut it thick, about an eighth of an inch (my parents have a meat slicer they let me use … *mental note: add meat slicer to wish list*), but it would last longer in thinner strips (some of us never learned when to say no).

Bacon might just be a gateway charcuterie. One cannot simply stop at a slab of cured pork belly; there’s pancetta to think about, and guanciale, and corned beef, and sausage … I already have plans to convert a wine fridge I got as a wedding gift to a climate-controlled curing chest, and even though our apartment is already crowded with kitchen tools and the hydro bill grew exponentially with the addition of the deep-freeze, Nick is okay with this – he stopped just short of encouraging me. For him: salumi.

I’m asking for Charcuterie for Valentine’s Day, which we don’t usually celebrate but neither of us has a greater love than cured or smoked meats – I am not exaggerating when I say Nick would trade me for my weight in bressaeola, and I’d happily swap him for a lifetime’s supply of jamón ibérico de bellota – and I can’t quit now.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Big plans, no direction: story of my life. Have you done this before? Have you cured, smoked, dried, or otherwise preserved meat and made it more wonderful with salt and spices and air? Have you done it at home? Can you teach me? At this point I fear nothing, not food poisoning or living in an apartment that smells like a delicatessen, and there’s no going back to store-bought bacon.

And if you haven’t made bacon at home? Don’t wait any longer. Start your first batch today.

Paprika roast chicken, again.

When speaking of this site, Nick and I call it Bloggy, affectionately as it is a large part of our existence. “Will it go on Bloggy?” Nick asks when dinner is good. Well, today is Bloggy’s second birthday. We celebrated with an update to the roast chicken I wrote about in my very first post. It’s strange, but this week has felt just as long as it did the first time I wrote, and just as much now as then, we both felt that spicy roast chicken would solve all our problems and be just the thing to help us move into another seven days. Chicken’s magical the way it does that, isn’t it? Well, maybe not, considering the part wine plays.

In two years, my paprika roast chicken has undergone some changes. I’ve streamlined the process and added butter, so now you simply slather the chicken in a paste of spices and butter, and roast it with a bit of white wine for 90 minutes in a 425°F oven. The last part is because of Ina Garten, who roasts her chickens in a similar way, and who is right about how to do things quite a lot of the time.

To roast a chicken in this way is to save yourself steps, time, and fussing; the result is a meal that makes itself (save for a couple rounds of basting when you’re passing through the kitchen to refill your wine glass – if you’re like me, in 90 minutes you will do this three or four times and if it’s the weekend you may need to open a second bottle but that’s okay because you’re cooking and cooking is art).

Paprika roast chicken

  • 1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 lbs.
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. sweet paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Let chicken rest at room temperature for an hour. Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a small bowl, combine butter or oil, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Mush together with a fork until the mixture forms a paste.

Using your hands, slather the paste all over the chicken, sliding your fingers under the skin to rub the paste into the breast, legs, and thighs. Wash your hands, then truss the chicken, folding the wing tips behind the bird, and place it into a roasting pan. Pour wine into the bottom of the pan. Optionally, you could throw in some chopped carrots or onions at this point. Sweet potatoes would also be lovely.

Roast the chicken for 90 minutes (or 18 minutes per pound), until the juices run clear when you cut into the spot between the leg and thigh. Baste periodically, adding additional wine or water as needed to moisten the bottom of the pan.

Remove from oven and tent with tin foil. Let rest 20 minutes before serving. You can make a spicy, luscious gravy by tossing a handful of flour into the pan drippings and stirring in a bit of milk or cream. If there are leftovers they are wonderful in pozole, and the carcass makes a glorious stock.