Thursday, 15 June 2017

Shrimp and Avocado Salad

My mother owned this white denim, L.A. Gear jean jacket in 1989. It was lined with graffiti print fabric on the inside, had L.A. Gear written in pink, carpet-like script on the back, and had blue jewels instead of buttons. It is the jacket that Coachella dreams of. I would do just about anything to get that jacket back and wear again. (If you want to see the jacket, find it here.)

She was basically the Kim Kardashian West of the 80's. There was the jean jacket, and there was this salad. She served this shrimp and avocado salad IN an avocado shell. This was before avocados were A Thing, when avocado toast was just a twinkle in the eye of all of us Millennial toddlers. This was obviously WAY before lattes in avocado shells, and my mum was on the cutting edge of all of this.

Do you remember your parents' dinner parties growing up? The few stolen hours before you got sent outside or to the basement to play, when you always felt more grown up that you usually did? I remember that. I remember how thrilling that day was, the drama of the cleaning, the meal prepping, the extra fun plans to entertain the children after everyone ate.

And my mum's parties were so elegant. The first dinner party I remember was when I was about five. Picture Arizona in 1990, all bleached pine and glass; silk and sequins. We had this dining room set that had peach chairs, which matched the southwest print on the couch, and we had teal accents to make that peach pop. My mum would fold the linen napkins into beautiful fans, which would stand up on the terra cotta plates on our big glass dining room table. I remember thinking that our table looked like a magazine set.

The first course at this dinner party was vichyssoise obviously, because this was Phoenix, and it was 1990, and what else would you serve besides a cold and delicious soup? The second course was this shrimp salad, and it blew my mind. When my mum brought out the plates with the baby shrimp tucked in with the avocado into their little DIY bowls, I was convinced my mother was a Demi-God, that no other homemaker could rival this level of creativity and innovation.

Of course, there was this other woman, and her name was Betty Crocker, and she did know her shit too. But she didn’t matter to a five year old Bailey Reid, only my mum did, and only my mother would think to put the avocado salad IN the avocado shell.

I thought of it again this week, because there was a heat wave and i couldn’t bring myself to turn my oven on. I revamped this recipe only slightly, to make it just a bit more new millennium than 1989, but if you want to go full 80’s, skip the ring and pop this back in the shell. (Or is the shell more 2017 now, and the ring is like, totally 2013? I don’t know. Forever 21 sells the wardrobe for 1995’s 90210 now, so I don’t really know what’s cool anymore.)

Here’s what you need:
  • 1 bag baby shrimp, pre cooked, tails off and shelled. To serve 2 people, I would use ¼ of the bag. (Don’t try to update this, some things are just right as they are)
  • Avocado (½ per person)
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt (or mayo, if you want the 80’s version)
  • ¼ cup diced cucumber
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of Old Bay

All you do is mix your ingredients in a bowl, and then chill. Plate it how you feel… but be warned that popping it back into the shell may result in a love of bleached pine and stucco walls.

Being part of my parents’ dinner parties as a child are some of the best memories I have. But I couldn't tell you what the rest of that particular meal was. I can only remember this super fresh salad on a plate, how delicious it was, and how beautiful my mum looked in that L.A. Gear jacket.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Summer Salad

Inspiration is a funny thing. I think whether you’re a painter, a writer, an architect, a musician, or any of those creative types, you recognize that when inspiration strikes, you’ve got to grab a hold of it.

Cooking is no different. Without question, those chefs you see on Chef’s Table, or Mind of a Chef, or even something as bougie as MasterChef (don’t tell Gordon Ramsey I called MasterChef “bougie”), are artists. You can’t get one Michelin, let alone three Michelin stars, without being a creative genius. But I think that sometimes, as home chefs, we don’t take advantage of inspiration when it strikes because we think, “Well, I’m not Ferran Adrià. I’m not David Chang, or René Redzepi. I’ll just stick to this recipe, because who am I to improve on it?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, because I just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Yes, yes, cue the eye rolls. Kelly (also known as Sister) had plenty of them when she saw I had taken it out of the library. (Public libraries are an institution. Support yours as much as you can.) But honestly, I enjoyed the read. It wasn’t great literature by any means, Bridget Jones’ Diary probably has more to offer in terms of prose, but it did give me a few great ideas, and it definitely made me feel more confident in trying, and failing, at creative ventures.

Foodie-ism, while an exciting cultural movement I’m proud to be a part of, has placed an inordinate amount of pressure on all of us to produce gourmet food on the regular. This is not a food culture that embraces experimentation, and by extension, failure. Have you been to a potluck lately? Jesus. It’s full of Thai mussels, and roasted figs with burrata, and scallops with whiskey. Long gone are the days of Jell-O salad and tuna casserole. You can’t even have mac and cheese anymore without lobster and béchamel. And honestly, I’m not complaining. If you want to spend $88.00 on scallops for your kid’s soccer barbecue, you do you. YOLO, right? Fuck sustainability. Fuck staying in the black on your bank account. Those other parents always bring gluten-free, ethically-raised, organic, local lamb sausage with homemade kefir yogurt tzatziki. Fuck those Joneses, am I right? You gotta keep up.

So, okay, don’t experiment on kid soccer potluck barbecue day if you’re going to spend half the rent on scallops.

But do experiment.

The kitchen is not meant to be nearly as much pressure as it is for so many people. It bums me out so hard when people say, “I hate cooking.” Food is a blessing! Enjoy it. Making food is meditative. It’s time of your day that you dedicate entirely to the nourishment of your body, and if you’re a particularly lucky person, to the nourishment of your family’s bodies. That’s worth enjoying every minute of, even if chopping garlic is the most annoying thing you can think of. 

In that vein, if you try, if you make things up, you are bound to fail. Failure, in the kitchen, is disappointing, no doubt. I’ve had epic failures in the kitchen before. I’ve had vague failures in the kitchen before- once, when I had the goods to make a cheese sauce, but no pasta beside lasagne bars, I attempted a lime pickle cheese lasagne roll up. They were truly awful. Lime pickle is not meant to be spread amongst pasta and doused with cheese sauce. This is not what lime pickle was made for, and it was not an exciting fusion discovery. It was a failure and it was truly disgusting and I ate as much as I could. I ate the majority of it, because: 1. I do not waste food, and cheese in particular is expensive and 2. Perhaps most importantly, I needed to understand where I failed. What went so wrong? I learned a few lessons by choking down that dinner. These include:
·      When using ingredients you’ve never used before, taste them first
·      Sometimes, tradition works
·      Cheese doesn’t actually make EVERYTHING better
·      Chunks of pickled lime rind are harder to chew than you might imagine

There you have it. A lesson on failure. You can probably find some great Instagram or Pinterest graphics to back up these lessons of failure. You know, something along the lines of, “Your comfort zone ends where discovery begins,” or some such drivel.

On the flipside (and we are getting to the recipe now friends, it’s coming, there is one that goes with this post), sometimes you try something different and it totally fucking works and you convince yourself you belong on some bougie cooking competition show like MasterChef and you are quite certain you are the Queen of your own domain and the next time you go to a potluck you are going to outshine the fuck out of those Joneses. That would be like when I made this delicious summer salad last week.

The inspiration to cook (see, I’m tying this all together, albeit in long form journalism type of way) struck me as I was driving home from the cottage. I’d spent a weekend in various levels of Canadian debauchery, and I was ready to resume a semi-healthy lifestyle when I arrived home. Not until I in fact, ARRIVED home, though. On the way home I stopped at a chip wagon and had a poutine and Pogo. One step at a time, after all.

I was struck by the desire to cook something awesome, but nothing came to mind. As Elizabeth Gilbert insists, however, this is no time to give up. At this point, the answer is to seek inspiration. Nothing inspires me quite like the LCBO Food & Drink magazine, so I started flipping through that. Some of their recipes are pure silliness, like lavender cheesecake and roasted figs with burrata (ha! Okay, totally kidding, obviously I’m making that as soon as the burrata goes on sale around the way) but sometimes they list something that I can make. And I especially love it when I have most of the things they list.

The recipe I was most inspired by was the “Arugula Salad with Lentils, Squash, and Smoked Almonds.” I had most of the things already, so I just needed to fill in a few blanks. This was the best part; I could add my own spin to this delicious salad.

When I first started cooking, I would panic if I didn’t have every ingredient exactly as the recipe called for. But now I take that as an opportunity to make the recipe my own. Same as when I love the idea of a recipe, but I’m not crazy about some of the ingredients (I really hate ham. And ham is ALWAYS in things.) So now if I’m not keen on a flavour, or if I know something will be hard to find, I replace it. You can go two ways when you experiment. You can pick a flavour that’s very close, or you can try something totally different.

At the end of the day, it probably won’t be AWFUL. And more than likely, it will be successful.

So the recipe now:

1 cup (250 mL) French green lentils (Du Puy)
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
3 cups (750 mL) sliced peeled squash pieces, about ¼ inch (5 mm) thick
Curried Yogurt Dressing (recipe follows)
1 cup (250 mL) chopped radicchio
1 cup (250 mL) hickory smoked salted almonds, coarsely chopped
­⅓ cup (80 mL) dried cherries
4 cups (1 L) baby arugula

Heat 2 tbsp (30 mL) canola oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add 2 tsp (10 mL) grated ginger and 1 tbsp (15 mL) Madras curry paste; sauté for 1 minute or until spices are fragrant. Remove from heat. Let cool. Whisk in 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh lemon juice and ⅓ cup (80 mL) plain yogurt (ideally 4% MF); season with salt to taste.

1 cup (250 mL) green lentils (Du Puy No Name)
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
3 cups (750 mL) sliced peeled squash pieces, about ¼ inch (5 mm) thick
Curried Yogurt Dressing
1 cup (250 mL) chopped radicchio
1 cup  toasted walnuts
4 cups (1 L) baby arugula
3 tbsp goat cheese (sliced)
Chopped mint (garnish)

Heat 2 tbsp (30 mL) canola oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add 2 tsp (10 mL) grated ginger and 1 tbsp (15 mL) Madras curry paste any curry paste/curry spice/ curry blend of your own making after searching three stores for Madras paste; sauté for 1 minute or until spices are fragrant. Remove from heat. Let cool. Whisk in 1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh lemon lime juice and ⅓ cup (80 mL) plain coconut milk yogurt; season with salt to taste.

The Madras curry paste was a slight disappointment. But I moved on after a second store and decided I could make those flavours up myself. Guess what? It was still delicious. And majorly pretty. And frankly, inspired, if I do say so myself!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Husk Hot Sauce: An Attempt

Things I Googled while attempting to make my own hot sauce: 

"What kind of mould is dangerous?"

"Is eating mould like eating mushrooms you find in the wild?"

"What is penicillin?"

"Is Sean Brock married?"

"Does vinegar kill mould?"

"What can go wrong with fermentation?"

As you all know, we’ve been into extremely slow food lately. The latest experiment in this new hobby was Sean Brock’s Husk Hot Sauce. Kell gave me his Heritage book for my birthday and it’s pretty much been like my Bible ever since.
I have no idea why bladder support also follows me on Twitter.

The hot sauce was like an amazing science experiment. Firstly, it took four months to complete, which may as well have been four years to me. I was. SO. Goddamn. Excited. To try it.

Except, of course, a week into it, I noticed a bit of mould on the top. This panicked me.

I was then required to tweet directly at Sean Brock and ask his advice.

Having Sean Brock respond to my tweets after I’ve watched the Senegal episode of Mind of a Chef 46 times is even better than that time Taye Diggs followed me on Twitter. (Seriously, it was better.)

ANYWAY. I asked Sean Brock what to do about this mould dilemma. “No worries,” he said! “Mould protects it. Just remove it carefully before the vinegar step.”

“Just do it carefully,” is possibly the most terrifying sentence in the English language, akin only to, “Use your best judgment.” What if you are like me, and you do things neither carefully nor with good (let alone best) judgment? If you’re talking about carrying groceries or choosing a life companion, I feel like there’s some wiggle room there. You break a couple eggs, you break a couple hearts, and it’s all good, right? But, like, if you’re talking about removing mould from food that is four months old and people are going to the ingest said food and go to work the next day, that is a whole different situation. That’s like, life and death, or at least life and intestinal health.

Stressful. Very stressful.

A Brief History of How to Make Husk Hot Sauce*:

  • Mince 5 pounds of peppers in your food processor
  • Mix with 5 tablespoons of kosher salt.
  • Ferment for two months.
  • Mix with 1 gallon of white vinegar
  • Ferment for 2 months
  • Blend
  • Serve

*Proper recipe here.

Here’s the good news: It totally worked! Four months later, I’m thoroughly enjoying my hot sauce and totally have not poisoned anyone.

The bad news? It’s not quite where I want it to be. As those of us north of the 49th know, Charleston Hots are not particularly easy to find here. I used a blend of jalapenos, scotch bonnets and various other peppers instead. This resulted in 2 things:
Check that Blendtec product placement
  1. My sauce was not a gorgeous red as Husk’s is, it was a strange taupe (taupe is polite)
  2. Being somewhat fearful of the punch scotch bonnets could pack, I opted for less of them and therefore have not nearly the heat I want. 

This, dear readers, is a blog about learnings. Key learnings. And the very first key learning of any kitchen is that nothing you do within the confines of your stove, fridge, and the four walls that contain them is a failure. Recipes, particularly the ones you don’t write yourself, are meant to get you going in the right direction, not to teleport you to the destination. Tweaks are always the most crucial part of any recipe, which is why your cookbook should always have a pencil right next to it.

What did I learn here? Number one: Go big or go home. Never mind that quasi-pepper jalapeno foolishness. When I begin the next fermentation (with an aim to give it as Halloween presents) I’ll use primarily scotch bonnets. Unless I get some Charleston Hots, which may mean Sean Brock and I are living happily ever after on a large farm on Wadmalaw Island, or it may mean I used the Internet to source them.

Second key takeaway: I didn’t use enough salt. I’m pretty sure that was a contributing factor to the mould issue, and beyond that, I’m pretty sure I was hesitant with the salt because I didn’t properly measure the pepper and there were various moving parts I wasn’t sure about.

You know what though? It’s still pretty damn delicious. And I made it. And I can make tiny jars of it and wrap a twine bow around them and make twee labels on my printer and get away with giving a nearly free item as a gift because I made that shit, you know?

Bottom line, if you want something awesome to do this summer, watch Mind of a Chef and make hot sauce.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Harissa Spiced Roasted Cauliflower Dip

Does anyone else feel like cauliflower is the YouTube Child Star of the produce world?

Let’s consider. For years, cauliflower was just living its life. Quietly. Humbly. Jazzed up with a cheese sauce now and then for Thanksgiving, cauliflower was content to be steamed, roasted, and microwaved even. Cauliflower was likely very happy then. It probably reflects on the simpler days, when it was occasionally passed over for broccoli, eggplant maybe, asparagus in spring. It could still go to the mall without being recognized sometimes.

But the Stage Mother of the food world couldn’t allow broccoli to live a simple life. That Stage Mother (vegans, it seems) realized the cauliflower could be catapulted into a higher-achieving performance than its humble side dish beginnings. They pushed cauliflower and compared it to other foods, made cauliflower practice over and over, tarted it up and hyped it to their friends. They forced it to become buffalo wings, macaroni, kung pao chicken and, perhaps most unfairly, steak

Cauliflower briefly flourished in the limelight. Unaware of its own potential to become a meat-like substance, cauliflower pushed its limits, working harder, and becoming more and more achingly desperate for approval. It may have been the cauliflower alfredo sauce where it finally cracked. Realizing it was not meant to become a cream-based sauce of garlic and parmesan, cauliflower bucked. Like most head-shaving, wig-wearing, drug-imbibing public meltdowns, the discourse on cauliflower’s denouement was savage.

Prices spiked. As nearly every past star of The Mickey Mouse Club knows, selling out is the worst thing you can do to your fan base. The disavowal of cauliflower was immediate. Think pieces on the price of cauliflower emerged. Several reasons were considered, not unlike how the new boyfriend or girlfriend of a child star is often blamed for their downfall. Climate change became the Yoko to cauliflower’s John.  The price of cauliflower was used to forecast everything from the Canadian dollar to the apocalypse. It was, as it were, The Day the Music Died.

You can’t call it a comeback, but it seems the price of cauliflower has regulated. It’s still given some love from vegans, but most people have moved on to the new flavour of the month, Aquafaba (chickpea water, for us laypeople.) Cauliflower has had the meltdown, done the time in rehab, and is now promoting its new Buddhist, clean-living lifestyle. The unauthorized biography is soon to come. Before it falls off the map completely, only to be featured on ironic t-shirts by hipsters in 20 years, who will have very little memory of the Great Cauliflower Meltdown of 2015, allow me to present an excellent recipe that celebrates cauliflower’s beauty, as cauliflower. It’s not a stand-in here; it’s the main event.

You need:
  • 1 head of cauliflower, chopped roughly
  • ¼ cup of olive oil, plus a little more for roasting
  • ¼ cup of tahini
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp of Harissa spice (depending on how spicy you like things- you can find this in Bulk Barn if you have trouble getting your hands on it)

Start by coating your cauliflower with a little olive oil and covering it with the harissa spice blend.

Roast it at 375 for 40 minutes or until soft and golden. Dump the cauliflower, with the olive oil and spices into a blender. Add ¼ cup of olive oil and the tahini to the blender. Pulse until it’s the consistency of hummus.

This is an amazing dip to serve with crackers, pita, or a nice crudité. Let cauliflower be cauliflower. You can still #cleaneating, #vegan and #eatclean this all you want.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Baked Salmon

Well hello again. It's been a while since I posted a recipe. That's because I don't have a stove where I live now so I only get a chance to cook anymore when I can mooch off other people's ovens. And as you know, Easter is our Big Thing! So I drove up to Ottawa and my LadyGirls and I got to lay out an Epic Meal for our friends as we love to do every year. We always try to come up with a meal plan that will interest everybody that I have the pleasure to see just once a year. Being the mom, I get to boss the menu. For now. Sooner or later I'll lose that power since Bailey and Kelly are forces in their own right now when it comes to menu planning! But this year, I planned the whole menu around my very special and dear friend Erica. I met her at the dinner last year and our two souls found each other. It was magical. Like two lost souls that have drifted apart for a millennium and had a coming together. I will love her always. A smart, compassionate and fearless woman. If you want to know more about her, you can follow her on Twitter @wickdchiq or read her fabulous blog on health and beauty called Not in My Colour. She is a stylist extraordinaire and I'm blessed to call her my friend! But I digress. I asked Erica if there was anything she'd like to see on the dinner table this year and she said she'd like to see lamb and fish. Done girlfriend!

So onto the menu plan. We were expecting around 20 people this year. We wanted a sort of international flavour. So the appetizer was Hummus and Baba Ghanoush and tasty things built around a sort of Middle Eastern idea. Dinner was buffet style consisting of Harissa boneless leg of lamb roast and baked spicy salmon, Costa Rican rice and beans, scalloped potatoes, tabbouleh, roasted root vegetables and bread. Pretty yummy and easy to prepare. Haha so much so that we were ready for the guests hours before they arrived so my LadyGirls and I got to play hairdo and makeup games and frolic and have some mother/daughter fun! Most of the items on the buffet have the recipes already posted on this blog. But here is the salmon.

Now keep in mind that what I really wanted to do was a whole baked fresh fish. A Caribbean style spicy whole fish. But that was in my dreams since I live two thousand miles away from any ocean. And after an exhaustive search, we had to settle on a piece of salmon from the grocery store. I was ashamed of my life I tell you! I hoped that the other items on the table would make up for the lack of a jazzy fish. But it actually turned out to be a favourite of everybody. And the beauty is that you can use this spice rub on any fish you like.

So let's do this! One hour before you serve the dinner, squeeze the juice of a lime all over a whole fillet of salmon (or whatever fish you're using.) Leave the skin on. Or if you're using a whole fish, squeeze the lime inside the cavity and make slits in the flesh and squeeze the lime all over that.
Let that stand for 30 minutes.
Now for the rub:
1 Tablespoon of medium curry powder
1 Tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 Tablespoon of allspice
1 Tablespoon of ground ginger
1 Tablespoon of salt
1 Tablespoon of freshly ground pepper
1 Teaspoon of cayenne pepper. or 2 if you love it spicy.
Now this will be enough spice mix to keep in a jar and used for other occasions. You only need to use 2 tablespoons or so if it. It's not a blackening seasoning. It's just for flavour. So try it with 2 tablespoons, or use 3 if you have a whole fillet.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and rub the spice mix all over the fish. Bake it for about 30 minutes uncovered. Or grill it if you're lucky enough to have a grill! That would even be better. But we had to bake due to fire laws at Bailey's condo. Give it a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro or parsley before serving. Easy and delicious. This will probably become your Go To fish rub from now on! Cheers friends!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Homemade Sourdough Co-blog

My sister wasn’t lying when she said bread baking is a labour of love. Sometime around 15 days or so ago—could be more, certainly not less—I went over to her kitchen bubbling over with anticipation (that’s a sourdough starter pun, for y’all uninitiated). “It’s sourdough day!” I texted her first thing in the morning. Of course, I was a little disappointed when I realized our first “sourdough day” consisted of adding some flour to some water, stirring it, and then watching approximately 19
This was days and days ago it seems
episodes of ER. However. We persevered.

Well rather, Bailey persevered. She dutifully fed the starter every day. She took its photo, tended to its temperature, sniffed it often, and generally cared for it with at least as much attention as one would give a newborn. After a week, it was “sourdough day” again.

Unfortunately, we picked a weeknight for baking and I made the grave error of getting the sponge going at 5:30 in the afternoon. By 9:30, after what in hindsight seems like the most grievously hasty leavening ever attempted, we thought we’d just give it a go and throw it in the oven.


If you don’t know what that is, you’re not ready to make bread. You’re probably not even ready for the starter. You need to go read Pollan’s book. 

So we fed the starter again, cooed to it, coaxed it, and decided to wait until a Sunday for our next attempt so that we could truly devote an entire day to the process.

Unfortunately, we read ever so slightly too late that the sponge should sit overnight, and that even after that, there are at least six hours between making dough and turning on the oven. So we were thwarted on Sunday night, and instead let our shaped boules sit in the fridge until Monday.

Which is probably for the best. At this point, we had been working on the bread for about thirteen hours straight, not including starter cultivation of course. Every bowl Bailey owned was either filled with starter, a back-up sponge, a water float test, rising boules, or some other manner of living, breathing, goddamn finicky business. Our flour was long gone. Like addicts, we shook the last of the white powder from the crevices of the bag. “Just another gram or two is all we need,” our inner monologues hissed with the fervor of the obsessed.

And so finally, after a seemingly interminable wait, we were able to finally put the loaves into a blazing 500 degree oven and await the next bout of dejection in a long and bitter process.

And yet……

It smelled like bread at the end. It had a crispy and golden exterior like bread. A noticeable crumb, and even a pleasantly toothsome texture. This, by God, was really bread. “So we will keep the starter?” We asked ourselves. “Let’s not throw it out after all.”

There must be something to the bread thing. Stay tuned.
Pain for le pain.