30 May, 2010

Maintaining the Idea of Spring

Biba Caggiano taught me how to make risotto when I was 19. It was summer break during university. In between multiple jobs to save for tuition I found the time to watch PBS on Saturday afternoon. "Biba's Italian Kitchen" was always on. So I would sit in my Dad's office, taking notes, and watching Biba on a 12 inch screen.

When I went back to school and suddenly found myself alone in a basement suite, craving something more than a hearty salad I always turned to risotto. It was the comfort food that got me through my last year of university, in between thesis writing, working, and running a muffin business.

People are always so scared of risotto.  I blame the recipes for this.  Read a recipe for risotto and it is enough to scare off anyone - they are always so wordy and make it sound complex.  But risotto is not complex. Nor does it require endless stirring.

Tonight we returned home from a weekend away, visiting family.  We stopped at Edgar Farms on the way home for Asparagus Fest.  There was a break in the rain and snow, so it worked out perfectly. We caught up with Doug, Elna, Keri, and Randy of Edgar Farms. We chatted with Wade and John. We ate, we pet animals, we jumped in puddles, and we definitely grabbed some asparagus. First from the field and then my mother-in-law treated us to a few bundles to take home (awfully generous of her since she also babysat for us last night!)

When we walked in the door at 6, everyone was exhausted from a busy weekend and an afternoon outside.  To be honest, I was real tempted to give in to Hubby's request for the pizza man delivery. Then I decided we needed to eat more asparagus, but we also needed something warming. Something to fill our bellies but still feel light enough to remind us that it is indeed still spring. Risotto! Lemon Asparagus Risotto to be specific.

I'm not going to give you a recipe. Risotto, I think, is more of a basic technique than a recipe. Now, I've never served to an Italian grandmother, so mine could totally suck.  But we all love it. In fact, risotto is the only way The Monster will eat rice. So, don't be scared, here is my technique for risotto.

1. Finely dice a small/medium onion. Toss in a tall sided frying pan with a generous swig of olive oil or knob of butter. or both. Sweat them out on medium heat.
2. While the onion is cooking mince a couple of cloves of garlic. Add to onions and stir.
3. Immediately add your Arborio rice (available in most grocery stores and definitely in an Italian market). I use about a handful a person. Stir in and get the rice coated with the oil/butter.
4. If you happen to have wine in the house, pour a generous slosh of it in the pan and let it reduce. No wine? So what.
5. Once your wine has reduced, if you've used it, start adding in hot chicken stock, veggie stock, or water.  Yes, I think it is okay to use water, you will just have to season really well at the end. Add in the liquid about a ladle at a time.  Stir well before and after each addition.
6. Add a ladle of liquid every few minutes or so. The goal is to have the liquid be absorbed slowly. So when it looks like you have little liquid, add more. After about 15 minutes, start tasting. Risotto should have a bit of "tooth" to it. In other words, you don't want it mushy, but it should be creamier than regular rice.
7. When it reaches the right consistency, turn off the heat. Stir in some more olive oil or butter - whichever one you used with the onions - another good swig or knob. Also stir in some cheese - parmesan, manchego, asiago - a grated hard cheese is my preference. Serve immediately.

Tonight I also stirred in some asparagus that I blanched for a bit and some lemon zest. Another night I might stir in roasted butternut squash, or sauteed mushrooms, or maybe peppers and zucchinis. Cook's choice. I just recommend that you cook the veggies separately so they don't get overdone or mushy in the cooking rice.

Okay, now that I've written that out it does seem wordy and complex. Trust me, it's not.

After a quiet evening of movie watching we then had a pre-bed snack with the girls.  I also picked up some rhubarb at Edgar Farms so I made this lovely Rhubarb Upside Down Cake.

27 May, 2010

An Abundance of Limes

On a gorgeous weekend not too long ago, Hubby and I indulged in quite a few gin and tonics. We've discovered a new-to-us gin and are rather obsessed with it. The first time I saw it in our local wine store I asked the purveyor what it was good for, meaning martinis or G&T? His response, "Making Babies!"

Well, I can't attest to that at all - she says as she raises another gin and tonic - but I can say that it makes about the finest drink I've had. Aside from those Negronis. If we ever get some heat again the Old Raj is coming back out.

I will, however, need to buy more limes. You see, we got a little gung ho that one warm weekend and bought about a dozen limes. No, we aren't that big of drinkers. We merely forgot we already had them. Yes, we were sober when we were at the store.

With an abundance of limes and a convenient container filled with egg yolks it really did seem that the only option was to make ice cream. Gin and tonic ice cream? Hmm, not too bad of a concept, but my brain could not figure out how to capture the necessary balance of taste with the custard base. Browsing through the books, I came across a recipe for Margarita Ice Cream in Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer.

Um yeah, sign me up. 

This recipe did not disappoint. I was worried it would be too eggy, but all that lime juice really cuts the richness. Overall it is refreshing without being cloying. Smooth but somehow a bit light. It isn't a Margarita - which would have also been a most excellent use for our extra limes - but the hint of tequila is amazing. I did cut back on the amount of alcohol because I knew the girls would be having some ice cream If you swapped out the tequila for a generous splash of vodka you would simply get something akin to Key Lime Pie ice cream.  Hmmm, there might be a frozen pie idea there...

This is the second ice cream recipe I've made with sweetened condensed milk. I must admit, I'm rather fond of it.  I wonder what David Lebovitz would say? It creates a silkiness to the ice cream without overly sweetening it. I'm always afraid it will be too sweet, but it really works well.

Now, I wonder how good this ice cream will taste with the snow we're expecting? Yes, snow. Don't talk to me about it.

Margarita Ice Cream
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer)

1 1/2 cups whipping cream
6 large egg yolks
300 mL tin of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup tequila
splash of Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier
Juice of 6 limes and zest of 1

1. Heat the cream in a heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk it into egg yolks, off the heat.  Once combined, pour back into the saucepan and cook it, stirring, until thickened.  It should coat the back of the spoon.
2. Pour the custard into a clean bowl and let it cool slightly.  Stir in the condensed milk, alcohol, lime juice, and zest. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap and chill for 4 hours at a minimum.
3. Churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Enjoy.

23 May, 2010

Birthday Dinner

It's my birthday and I'll cook if I want to.

After last week's miss of a good Sunday dinner, I cooked dinner tonight, even though it was my birthday. Oh, and I also was the one who got out of bed with the girls in the morning too. And cleaned up after dinner.  Let the record state that I only wanted to cook dinner.

Dinner tonight was a simple roast chicken. I adore roast chicken. It is about one of the easiest things you can make. I mean that, it is so damn easy.

1. Take chicken out of plastic.
2. Rinse chicken under cold water and pat dry.
3. Fill chicken cavity with garlic, fresh herbs of any variety, and fruit (lemon, apple, grapefruit - cut in quarters).
4. Drizzle chicken with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, or a spice blend.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes per pound in a 350 degree F (preheated oven).
6. When the leg moves freely and the juices run clear when the skin is pierced near the wing the chicken is done. Let rest for 20 minutes. Eat.

Tonight I roasted my chicken with garlic, rosemary, and a grapefruit. (We're out of lemons.) And I rubbed the skin with an Ethiopian Berbere spice blend that Aimee gave me. Oh, yum. Served with a pile of Gull Valley tomatoes tossed with Fairwinds Farm Goat Feta and the first of the Edgar Farms asparagus it was an easy, tasty, and ridiculously local dinner.

Good food aside, it is my birthday, so cake was necessary.  Hubby was willing to bake a simple chocolate cake, but I convinced him to pick up something at the market today. A Caramel Chocolate Tart from The Bakery at the Calgary Farmer's Market. Love the Wacky Cake, Hubby, but that tart was definitely better.

So the drama of split milk and singing Happy Birthday later, we finished the night with the first backyard fire of the season. 

Now that's a Sunday dinner!

16 May, 2010

Best intentions

Woohoo! We had some hot, sunny weather this weekend. That called for doing almost nothing. Okay, I did little while Hubby worked hard to get the swing set completed.

Grandma was down for visit yesterday, so we sat in the sunshine enjoying a cocktail or two and visiting in between pushes on the swings and loads of "Watch me, ______!" I browsed cookbooks and finally made my current obsession, a Negroni.

And, as far as cooking goes, making a cocktail was about as far as I got. Grandma took us out for dinner last night. Tonight I got home from an afternoon meeting ridiculously late.  Hubby had already ordered pizza, so the planned steak and ice cream were shot down. Oh, and I should clarify that by making the cocktail I actually mean I told Hubby what to do from the comfort of my chair in the backyard.

What? I took my first walk yesterday in 4 months, I earned the rest. And the drink.


Lemon or grapefruit

1. Mix together equal parts of each alcohol. Serve with a twist of lemon or, my preference, pink grapefruit.

(PS  That David Rocco book is surprisingly pretty good to read, and inspiring.)

14 May, 2010

Birthday Treats

It was Smilosaurus' birthday yesterday. This daredevil, evil genius child of mine is now 2. I'm not at all prepared for it. I don't have a baby any more and that's kind of tough to accept. The only thing that keeps me going is the fact that she is an itty bitty thing, and the thought of cakes on birthdays.

We'd initially planned a low key day.  I was at a conference for work, running into doppelgangers of ex boyfriends and nervously parking behind Ferraris. Hubby was lost in a pile of wood and hardware, putting together our new swing set. But on the way home from work I felt like we simply needed a cake for dinner. 

This cake needed to be more than a carrier for icing. Yes, icing is really the best part, but I was actually craving cake and I was hoping to make the girls like it for once. Knowing that I'd preemptively bought cream so I could make ice cream this weekend I decided I would make a simple butter cake and serve it with cream.  Nothing fancy, but just the right amount of pomp befitting a two year old.

So I turned to a classic recipe in this house, one I've made a half dozen times in the year or so since I've had the recipe. Lemon Glazed Butter Cake comes from a treasured Gourmet before they folded. And yes, the girls helped me make the cake. Is it wrong that that kid had to make her own cake? Maybe.  But in my defense, she wanted to.

In my world, one of the best flavour combos is lemon and white chocolate. So I served our cake with white chocolate cream.

The Monster loved the cake so much she ate two pieces and left most of the cream of the side. And Smilosaurus merely played with her cake, rubbing it into her dirty, bare legs as if it was lotion.  So, I think she liked it too. Happy Birthday Baby Girl!

White Chocolate Cream

4 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Place chopped chocolate in a sturdy bowl.  Heat 1/2 cup cream on the stove or in the microwave until hot, but not scalding.  Pour over chocolate and stir immediately. Chocolate should melt with stirring.  If it doesn't, heat, in bowl, over a small pot of simmering water until melted. Let cool until room temperature.
2. When the chocolate mixture is cool, whip remaining cream with a sturdy whisk and bowl or an electric mixer. Whip until it starts to fluff up and the beaters/whisk leave marks in the cream. Slowly whisk/beat in the chocolate cream, beat until the cream reaches the desired whipped cream consistency.  Serve immediately. Alternatively, you can refrigerate it for a white chocolate mousse.

09 May, 2010

Sunday Dinners

After spending a week away from my family at a Quilt Conference all I wanted to do last week was cook dinner and sit down with my family.  I wanted to chaos of an almost 2 year old emptying her plate on her stylish Marimekko placemat. I wanted Hubby and I to try and talk about renovations, family, and playground sizes over two children screaming, "Mega, mega, mega!" I wanted to have the 'what animals can you kill to eat?' discussion again, and again. And on top of that, I wanted a little kitchen time to set-up this crazy thing called The Family Dinner.

Despite the fact that we have two overly energetic kids it is extremely important that we sit down to dinner together every night.  Yup, every night.  Our kids are too young for the near constant drain on our gas tank as we chauffeur them to a million activities, and lord help us if we become those parents anyway. When we sit down we are there to stay, until every last bite is eaten by every single person. And then you must be asked to be excused before you even think about a foot straying from the table.

It may seem old fashioned to be strict about these dinner time rules, but in the end it makes dinner less stressful and far more consistent in the long run. As an added bonus, it means our kids are quite used to and more than able to sit in a restaurant without being too crazy and disruptive to other patrons, for at least an hour. 

Reminder - our kids are about to be 2 and 4. And no, they aren't angels, far from it. But we've got dinnertime almost settled. You take your victories where you can as a parent.

So I am starting a new feature on Backseat Gourmet. Sunday Dinner. For many of us, Sunday might be the only day of the week where everyone is actually home at the same time. Or at least the only day where that might be possible. So every Sunday, or most at least, I will share some Sunday dinner inspiration.

It was awfully convenient then, that a new crop of cookbooks arrived last weekend. With a cup of tea I settled in for some browsing.  At the top of the stack was Rose Reisman's Family Favourites. I've had some of her cookbooks in the past and never got too excited by them. This one, however, immediately grabbed me because of her emphasis on the family dinner.  And then 40 pages of discussion on healthy eating, cooking with the family, and shopping tips.

Flipping through the book I can say that I wasn't overly excited by the dessert section - yes, of course I went there first - but the vegetable side dishes and soups had me very, very interested. So I picked up mint and goat cheese at the market.

The first recipe I made was mashed potatoes with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes. I wanted this to be so good, and maybe it could have been.  But I didn't have Yukon Golds and I now disagree with the recipe in adding the chopped tomatoes before you mash. So, mine were dry, but still tasty.

But the Molasses-Coated Carrots with Mint? Holy hell, these were good. Flavourful and refreshing, without the overpowering taste of any one ingredient. I used the regular old organic carrots that I can find at this time of year, but cut smaller and adjusted the cooking time. Carrots deluxe, but still fresh with that carrot taste. An instant classic in my books. And it will certainly be making regular appearances at our house, Sunday or not.

Molasses-Coated Carrots with Fresh Mint
Serves 6
Excerpted with permission from Rose Reisman's Family Favourites
Published by Whitecap Books 2010

1 lb thin carrots (about 6 inches long), peeled and trimmed
2 Tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp sherry wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

1. Place the carrots in a large saucepan or skillet. Cover with water and boil for 10 minutes or until just tender. Drain well and return to the saucepan.
2. Whisk together the molasses, vinegar and olive oil in a small bowl. Add to the carrots and saute over high heat for 5 minutes or until the sauce is heated through and the carrots are coated. Place on a platter, garnish with fresh mint and serve.

04 May, 2010

Taste Adventure - Eggplant

If the kid asks you what an eggplant is and in her prettiest voice ever asks you to buy it - pleeeease? - then you buy it. Then hope like hell she'll actually eat it.

Eggplant isn't something I tend to cook. Although I quite like it, Hubby hates it, so I often don't bother. But when The Monster spied it at the market a few weeks back and asked for it I jumped at the chance. Plus, Hubby was going to be out of town.

Because eggplant is not on the usual dinner repertoire in our house I stood there for a minute trying to decide what else I might need to make dinner. Along came Pierre.  Literally. He appeared and we started talking eggplant. After a few minutes we parted with promises of him sending me his recipe for ratatouille. 

Pierre's recipe is a technique more than anything. When I make ratatouille I tend to chop up all my veggies, toss them with some olive oil, herbs, and a load of fresh tomatoes. Into the oven on high heat. And done. Pierre's technique was to chop up onion, cover them with canned tomatoes in a baking dish, and bake for a 10 minutes. Then top with eggplant and our other veggies. Throw in some rosemary and a secret ingredient or two and let it all bake together. I think the term he used was Blap! it together.

It was fantastic. I loved this method of cooking, I loved the ratatouille - rich, tummy warming, and flavourful. And the girls? Not so much.

The Monster refused to eat anything but the peppers, even after her one bite and reminder that this indeed was the eggplant she asked for. And Smilosaurus took this occasion to string together her first 4 word sentence, "I don't like that!"

Any other eggplant suggestions out there? I'm not willing to give up yet.