Sunday, February 26, 2006

Persian cooking 101

Entertaining is one of life's little pleasures - at least one of my life's pleasures. It is a great opportunity to connect with friends or family, and, at the same time, discover a new cuisine. Last night, the theme was Persian cuisine. Quite a culinary adventure.

All day, effluves of onions, saffron, roasting meat and pomegranates wafted through the apartment, transporting us far, far away from our Toronto 15th floor chez-nous.

A few weeks ago, we devised the menu over afternoon tea and a dinner with our friend Hamiid, who is Persian. His advice was precious and instrumental to last night dinner's success.

The menu consisted of kashk e-bademjan (an eggplant terrine with whey) served with Persian bread; fesenjan (pomegranate and walnut sauce) with roasted chicken, saffron rice and steamed green beans with pistachios; and almond-saffron brittle with vanilla ice cream.

Planning the menu was a great learning opportunity - I am glad to report that my Persian food vocabulary is quite good after reading all those Persian recipe books - cooking the food was a truly a fun venture and, most importantly, sharing that food with good friends was a pure pleasure.

Nush-e Jan!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Paper Chef #15 - Beets, Limes, Pears and Aprhodisiacs

I did it! This is my first Paper Chef event!

This 15th edition is hosted by Magic Tofu, at Slurp & Burp, and I cannot wait to see what exciting dishes other food bloggers have created.

M. and I enjoy going to The Big Carrot's Thursday night (free) lectures, and the one that was given last Thursday was appropriately named Beat the winter blues and boost your libido. Humm... interesting.

At that lecture, we learned that, really, sexual energy is "residual" energy your body is left with after moving you through the day, running around, digesting the (not always good-for-you and easy to digest) food you eat, etc. Jeanne Marie Martin, who gave the lecture, focussed on foods that fuel your body with a lot of energy (so that you have some "leftover energy" at the end of the day, which you can use in lusty ways if you so decide). At the top of her list were whole grains, dried beans - especially the darker coloured ones, garlic, ginger, "green foods", and bee products.

So, when the ingredients for the Paper Chef came out, I knew I must use black beans in my dishes. Then I thought... mmm... black bean salsa and chips. Beet chips. Okay. Now I had the beets and aphrodisiacs covered. I still needed to include the pears and the limes. I decided to include them in the salsa recipe (which then became a black bean, pear and lime salad).

My Paper Chef entry fits two of the categories proposed by Magic Tofu: Paper Chef Super Saver (my recipe cost a lot less than $10 and there was enough for 4 people), and Paper Chef Indiana Jones (I had never deep fried anything, much less beets).

As for the results, I would say they were satisfying. The salad was very nice (but lacked a bit of pear flavour). Due to my inexperience, the chips were a bit disappointing (the oil was not hot enough, so the beets and potatoes soaked up a lot of oil and were not very crunchy). I am not sure I will make chips again at home, but I'll definitely work at improving the salad.

Black bean, pear and lime salad with beet and potato chips

For the chips

1 large beet
2 medium-sized potatoes
Oil for deep-frying
Sea salt

Bring oil to 350 F. While the oil is warming up, thinly slice the beet and potatoes, using a mandoline. Add the chips a few at a time and fry until they are crispy and the potatoes are brown. I noticed that they were ready when the oil stopped bubbling. Strain and place on absorbing paper and sprinkle with salt.

For the salad

1 cup of dried black beans, soaked for 12 hours and cooked until tender.
2 Bosc pears
2 limes
1 large clove of garlic
1 tbsp of ginger juice (made from a 2-in piece of fresh ginger, grated and then squeezed)
A splash of cider vinegar
A good pinch of cayenne
A few tablespoons of olive oil
A few thin slices of red onion
A handful of chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the beans, red onion, cilantro and 1 pear, chopped, in a large bowl. Add half a lime in thin, quartered slices.
Purée together: one chopped pear (peeled and cored), the flesh of half a lime, the juice of one lime, the garlic, cider vinegar, cayenne and olive oil. Adjust taste and consistency by adding more lime juice, vinegar or oil. You will get a very creamy looking dressing.
Pour the dressing over the beans, toss, and adjust seasoning.
Serve with the chips.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!!!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

An appetite for... roasted chicken

After Nigella... Nigel. Slater.

Thanks to Heather, at Champagneminimalist Foodie, I have discovered him!

This roasted chicken is the first one I have tried from Appetite. And it certainly is not the last one.

Wonderfully simple. Nice golden and crispy skin, tender and flavourful meat... what more can you ask for?

Roast chicken

1 chicken, preferably organic or naturally raised
1 bulb of garlic, cut in half
1 lemon, cut in half
Butter, salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place the chicken in an oven-proof dish and pat it with butter. Place the garlic and half a lemon in the cavity. Squeeze the second lemon half on the chicken and place it back in the cavity. Salt and pepper liberally. Place in the oven. Calculate 30 minutes of baking per pound of chicken. Reduce heat to 350 F if the skin browns too quickly.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A cozy dinner for 3

On a wintery night, our friend Hamiid came over for dinner last night.

We indulged in crostini, bourbon-pomegranate molasses braised ribs and a strawberry-apple white cake, a menu that yields maximum results for minimum effort.

We first sipped a Saint Émilion 1986 that was given to Hamiid by one of his dear friends a few years ago. Unfortunately, my limited wine knowledge prevents me from being to comment fully on the wine. However, I can say that it was nice and that both M and I felt honored that Hamiid had decided to share that special bottle with us.

Two different kinds of crostini accompanied that wine: sardines and roasted red peppers, and duck rillettes with onion-maple syrup confit. The rillettes were a souvenir we had bought in Lac Brôme when we visited the Eastern Townships two years ago, while the onion confit comes from La Galerie gourmande in Deschambault. Yum!

I had bought braising ribs at Fresh from the Farm, curious to see what all the fuss is about. I must say that the bourbon pomegranate molasses braised ribs that Stacey made over at Just Braise were worth it. However, her recipe calls for a two-hour cooking time, which was really not long enough last night. We ended up eating after waiting for three hours, and the meat was not quite tender yet. A fourth hour of baking would have been in order - but we were too ravenous! Basmati rice and steamed broccoli rounded out the meal.

Finally, we had a simple warm-milk cake with strawberries and apples. Had my fridge freezer not been quite so full, I would have bought vanilla ice cream to go along with the cake. Oh well...

Bourbon-Molasses Beef Short Ribs

4 short ribs (Find ones with a good fat-meat ratio)
1 Tbl butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 jalepeño pepper, chopped (if a little spice is desired)
3 bay leaves
¼ tsp thyme
¼ cup bourbon
1 Tbl tomato paste
1-½ cups water
1 Tbl soy sauce
2 anchovy filets
seeds of ½ a pomegranate (optional)
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses (or regular molasses)
fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. In an oven safe pot, or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Cover both sides of the short ribs with an ample amount of pepper and brown the ribs (about 3 minutes each side). In the braise process this initial quick heat process locks the juices inside the meat. Remove the ribs and place on a separate plate.

Add the garlic, carrot, celery, onion, jalepeño and anchovies. Sauté for 5 minutes.

Add bay leaves, thyme, bourbon, tomato paste, water, soy sauce and (optional) pomegranate seeds. Return ribs to pot, cover tightly and place in oven on center rack. Cook for 2 hours.

Once removed from the oven the sauce will have thickened and the aroma will be overwhelmingly delicious. Add pomegranate or regular molasses, stir and serve.

Notes to self:
1. This is Stacey's exact recipe.
2. We did not really see the difference the bourbon made to how the sauce tasted. I guess we'll have to try the recipe again without the bourbon and compare...
3. Definitely needs more than two hours of baking.
4. Somehow, the leftovers were not great. If planning to make this in advance, do not add the molasses until you are ready to serve.

Warm-milk cake with strawberries and apples

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup scalded milk
1 tbsp butter

2 cups quartered strawberries
3 apples, peeled and chopped
A bit of sugar

Preheat oven to 350F.

Place the fruit in a lightly buttered pan, and sprinkle with sugar.

Beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is foamy and the sugar has dissolved.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt and pour over the egg-sugar mixture. Stir well.

Melt the butter in the warm milk and pour over the other mixture, stirring vigorously.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the centre is completely cooked.

Notes to self:

1. I have a tendency to undercook my cakes, so the centre was still raw when I took the cake out of the oven.
2. Fruit is optional, and interchangeable in that recipe.