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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does it have to be HOT??? ..... Take Two: Indian Style Fish Curry with Yogurt

This is a really comforting, mildly spiced Indian style curry. You can adjust the hotness factor by reducing the chili powder to only 1/2 tsp. If you are really a softie, make it 1/4 tsp but just don't remove it. It adds flavor also!

For the fish, you need to use a firm white fish, like hammour, halibut, cod, or grouper. You could also use prawns for this recipe.

If you don't like fish, and you want to use chicken or beef or lamb, that's cool too.
  • Chicken (thighs or cubes): you will need to cover and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Beef or lamb (cubes), you will need to cover and simmer for at least 2 hours, until the meat is tender.
Indian Style Fish Curry with Yogurt
Makes 4 Servings

Drizzle of Vegetable Oil
2 Large Onions, chopped
2 tbsp Ginger- Garlic Paste (or 1 tbsp each minced garlic and ginger)
1 tsp Red Chili Powder (for iron mouth- up to 3 tsp; for softie- 1/4tsp)
4 tsp Coriander, ground
2 tsp Cumin, ground
1 tsp Cardamom, ground
1 tsp Tumeric, ground
¼ tsp Cloves, ground
1 tsp Garam Masala
½ cup Plain Yogurt
1 can (14 ounces) of Tomatoes, Diced
800 grams Fish, cut into cubes (or chicken, or meat...see above)
Salt and Pepper
Toasted Sliced Almonds
Chopped Cilantro Leaves

In a large pan, sautee the onion and ginger-garlic paste with the oil until the onions are soft (5-6 minutes).

Add all the spices (could it be easier?), yogurt, and tomatoes. Stir to combine, and let the mixture come up to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about 15 minutes to get the flavours to come together. At this point, if the sauce is too thick, add a little water. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon without being too thick.

Season the fish cubes with salt and pepper and add them into the simmering sauce. Cover and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until the fish is cooked.

Serve with rice, and garnish with toasted almonds and chopped cilantro. You could omit the nuts, but you would miss the nice "crunch" factor. If you are allergic to nuts, but still want the crunch, try slicing some onions really thin, then deep frying them until crispy. Yum Yum!!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Does it have to be HOT???

When one hears the word curry, one would associate the words hot, spicy, burning, mouth searing, scorching, heart burning pain. Well, most of us anyway. Even those of us that do like a little spice in our lives find many of the curries in the world leave our mouths hot and bothered.

It’s a widespread misconception that all curries are hot…spicy hot. Perhaps it’s the color of curry—generally flame red, mustard yellow, vibrant orange, or muted green. Perhaps it’s the overpowering aroma that tickles our noses. Perhaps it’s because each of us surely has had an awful past experience with some kind of dish called curry.

Regardless of where this idea comes from, today in my kitchen, I am going to prove the curry skeptics wrong. You CAN enjoy a curry without setting your mouth on fire and without paying a visit to our friend, the porcelain pony. So curry.... here we come!

First, what is curry? We think of it as a spicy, saucy dish, usually served with rice or noodles to mop it up. Many origins of curry come to mind… Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, and the lesser known Jamaican and Carribean curries. But the common factor which comes to the forefront is SPICY. I am not here to deny curry’s spiciness, but spice and hot do not necessarily go hand in hand.

There are many flavourful spices included in curries around the world which do not increase the mouth burning intensity of the dish. In fact, a majority of the spices included in a curry recipe do not impact the dish’s hotness factor and you can make a milder version of any curry by reducing (but not altogether eliminating) the chilies and pepper. This misconception that all curries are hot is the main reason why it took me so long to make curry in my kitchen. But, after a little bit of travel, talk with friends, and tasting mishaps and epiphanies, I came to discover this heart warming meld of flavors and spices that is curry.

The talk of spices leads to the second reason why it took me so long to make a curry at my house... the sheer number of spices and ingredients in a curry recipe! It's a long and hard to decipher list in some cases (especially Indian curries), and leads one to believe that the assembly of the dish would be just as long and difficult. But, go ahead! Buy the spices and try one curry, and I am sure that you will be as amazed as I was to find that the ensuing recipe is easy and the end result divine!

Now enough talking. I am dying for something tasty and comforting. A dish that will excite my tastebuds without sacrificing my mouth or the lining of my stomach….Let’s go to the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

T is for Tartine

Nutella & Caramelized Banana Tartine

If you are going to bake bread, then you had better understand the concept of tartine.

Definition: tar·tine (tär-tēn') - A French open-faced sandwich, especially one with a rich or fancy spread. [French, from Old French, diminutive of tarte, tart.]
From: The New Food Lover's Companion, 3rd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, published by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

Well that's all fine and good, but what does that mean exactly? For me, it means the perfect balance of bread and spread. There are really an infinite number of possibilities, but I really believe that simplicity reigns in this case.

In its simplest of forms, a tartine could be composed of a slice of bread and butter (salted, of course). A little more intriguing would see the bread spread with Nutella. For a more worldly touch? Add Vegemite. As comfort food? Add PB & J. For a sophisticated feel? Add fig jam, crumbled blue cheese, walnuts, and a drizzle of honey.

A piece of bread can transport you to any place in the world, at any time of day, without a lot of effort. It is a medium by which to communicate flavors, bring back memories, and convey feelings.

Here are some of my all time favorites (in no particular order):

  • Nutella
  • Nutella with Caramelized Banana (slice the banana, sprinkle with sugar, and torch it!! or, broil it until caramelized)
  • Butter & Good Quality Shaved Dark Chocolate (shave it with a potato peeler or grate it)
  • Butter & Jam (I love St Dalfour Jamswhich are all natural, sugar free, meaning only natural sweetness!)
  • Cream Cheese, Thin Shaved Red Onion, Smoked Salmon (topped with caviar anyone??)
  • Grilled Chicken & Mango Chutney
  • Grainy Mustard & Emmental Cheese
  • Sliced Crisp Red Apple & Sharp Cheddar
  • Fig Jam, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey Drizzle
The question now is: When does it become a sandwich??? Well, duh, when you add another slice of bread!

So why not? Why not rid ourselves of this confusing, half sandwich ''tartine" (a.k.a. "open faced sandwich) and give in to the conventional sandwich?

After much deliberation, here is my conclusion (and please, feel free to drawn your own)… as the tartine is a French term, and the French are known for richness and moderation, two slices of bread warrants more spread, more filling, and more calories to maintain the same balance of flavor and texture as the tartine while maintaining the svelte French figure (reference the book, French Women Don't Get Fat). Therefore, one slice is better. I mean, you have to remember also, we are not talking about your typical white sandwich bread here. We are talking about a thick slice of freshly baked, rustic country bread. With two slices, how would you fit it into your mouth? Let's go try....

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Understanding the Loaf

I would not call myself a baker. Baking requires patience, precision, and time. Now, I am not implying that I don’t have these attributes, but when one must compare the adrenaline rush attained from cooking versus baking, cooking surely takes the cake (pardon the pun…).

Picture right: Mill Loaf

Cooking is accommodating, allowing for creativity, the odd mess up, and the chance for recovery. Taste, adjust, taste, adjust… this is the cooking mantra. Of course, you do require a basic understanding of ingredients and flavor and perhaps a little technique, but a little goes a long way in cooking. Understanding just a few methods and ingredients and playing around with them could satisfy you for weeks on end in the kitchen.
Having said that, today is a day for baking. In general, I bake very little because I don’t like to use recipes, and baking requires a recipe. Like most people, I don’t fully understand the chemistry behind baking, and therefore, cannot even hope to “create” a baked good, or even severely alter a recipe, without affecting the results. However, one baked good which does intrigue me and feed my creativity is BREAD!

My History with Bread
Even before the days of fad diets like Atkins and South Beach, I haven't always been interested in bread. Having grown up in Canada, my bread repertoire as a child consisted of sandwich bread (white and whole wheat) and what the supermarket called “French bread”--- this spongy, soft, white loaf which really has no resemblance at all to the bread available in France.
After travelling and marrying (indeed, a French), I have discovered the real bread, a complement to every dinner table in Europe. It is certainly not the spongy white mess that I remember, but a hearty, rustic loaf, perfectly browned on the outside, and with a beautiful texture and crumb on the inside. Made of white, wheat, rye, corn… it doesn’t matter. The results are beautiful, and thus, my journey to bake bread began.

My Bread Journey
Only a few months ago, I began this journey to bake a great loaf of bread. And I don't mean the perfectly uniform, square, bread machine loaf. I am referring to the rustic, country loaf, baked in the village boulangerie, the smell of which drifts into the thick morning air and guides a population of inhabitants to purchase it every day.
First, I tried the way I had learned in hotel school, using active dry yeast in warm water, letting it bubble, and mixing it in to the flour. Already trying to “do my own thing,” I altered the recipe to use 100% Whole Wheat Flour, and ended up with a loaf as dense as a brick and with a prominent yeasty aftertaste. Not good….

Take two: After watching my in-laws make bread with dried bread yeast, just chucking it into the bowl with the flour, I decided to try this method at home (again, with 100% whole wheat since apparently I didn’t learn anything from my first attempt). The result? Better, but still dense and yeasty. After multiple attempts, I arrived at a loaf which could pass as bread, but did not satisfy the craving for that crunchy crust and soft, textured crumb.

Then it happened. For Christmas, my forgiving husband (anxious for me to learn the tricks of the skilled boulanger so that he could reap the benefits) gifted a beautiful book to me called The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard, containing bread recipes, explanations of the science of bread, and bread technique. Admittedly, this book was seriously intimidating at first. In fact, for almost one month after receiving this book, I continued on my old bread ways, convinced that the recipes were far too complex, calling for ingredients that I had never heard of or didn’t know where to buy. Natural Leaven? Fresh Yeast? Malted Grains? Barm? The recipes were written in percentages also, as if I was going to calculate what percentage of ingredients I was going to use!! Right! Like I don’t have a day job!
But, I gave in to the “pressures” of my husband, who wanted to be sure that I liked his gift, and wanted to taste the results. So, over the following six days, I cultured my own leaven, which I came to find is a simple mix of flour and water which ferments naturally with relatively little work. Dan Lepard also adds a few other ingredients (yogurt and raisins) which he deems create a nice leaven but as I didn’t have those items in my kitchen at the time, I did without. Seeing my mixture activate as the days passed was enough to get me interested in the bread it could produce. And boy did it produce! I followed the Mill Loaf Recipe, using a mixture of white, whole wheat, and rye flour and had my first taste of real bread success! Great texture, no yeasty taste, and beautiful crust.

Since that first successful loaf, I have made many others, all inspired by this great book The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. And I have come to understand why percentages matter (they allow me to be creative by giving me boundaries by which to play with), the difference between flours (no wonder 100% whole wheat didn't work out for the amateur!), how steam creates a crisp outer crust, and how a little time and patience really pays off in the bread world. Best of all, I have learned that bread can be an outlet for my creativity just as cooking can. Because, bread is like a blank slate which I can decorate any way I like! So, off I go to bake some bread!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Food for Pleasure

Some would say that the main goal of food is to provide energy, nutrition, and stamina, but for me, the primary goal is pleasure. Barely have I eaten the last bite of my breakfast, when I am already thinking about what I am going to make for lunch. When I go to the gym (which I do primarily so that I can eat more later), I love to watch Food TV, while other gym goers scorn at the thought of watching food when they are undoubtedly trying to rid it from their minds and bodies.

At the bookstore, I could spend hours sitting on the floor of the cooking aisle, flipping through pages upon pages of pictures and recipes, and dreaming of how my kitchen can transport me across the world and back in an evening.

Of course, I love to dine out, but the pure satisfaction of creating a meal which can bring both myself and my loved ones pleasure, far exceeds the satisfaction attained from eating out at even the finest of restaurants.

The only problem is... there are never enough meals in the day to experience it all!