"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hot Food in the Summertime

So it's officially summer now, and though I haven't posted much since spring, it doesn't mean I haven't been cooking. No, that activity is relentless -- every morning shortly after breakfast I start thinking about dinner -- shopping for it, defrosting, prepping, cooking. My family seems never to be prepared to start sharing preferences that early in the day, but I need to start planning long before anyone has an appetite for it. Including me.

Some of the culinary highlights of the last couple months:
  • We got a waffle iron! I splurged on the Breville when it went on sale, and against my husband's wishes for another appliance in the kitchen. It's been a huge hit though, and even he's sold on it. Highlights include making four big waffles at a time, a well to hold all the inevitable excess spillage, a non-stick, easy-clean surface, and a timer that lets you go off and do other things, like stare morosely into your coffee, while you wait for them to be done. Oh, and waffles are a great way to use up buttermilk you bought for other recipes. These are now in the Saturday morning breakfast rotation, and one of these days I will get around to experimenting with savory waffles for dinner. Blue corn waffles with chicken in gravy sounds really appealing to me.
  • I figured out that my smoothie maker can be put to even better use if I skip the kale and add booze! After drinking what was essentially a delicious sugary glass of half-melted peach sorbet and alcohol at a waterside bar, my friend Sam and I experimented with making frozen Bellinis at home. Mixing frozen peaches (and some strawberries if you like) with peach liqueur in the Magic Bullet, and topping with inexpensive local sparkling wine makes for two very happy moms on the back deck on a Friday afternoon.
  • Spatchcocking isn't only fun to say! It's also the best way I have learned to get a roasted chicken on the table that is (a) not half-raw and (b) is done before bedtime. I have my butcher remove the backbone (and save it in my frozen chicken parts bag destined for stock) and I rub that sucker with lots of rosemary and garlic in olive oil. Crisp on the stove, put the skillet in the oven with something heavy pressing it down, and in less than an hour we have crispy but juicy roast chicken. I like to serve with lemon wedges and a little pan gravy. 
  • I don't hate fennel if it's roasted and/or sliced super thin in a slaw. And it's really nice to continue the theme and serve with Pernod-orange juice cocktails over lots of ice.
  • Fish schnitzel (sole filets crusted in panko and pan fried) is a surefire way to get even Lucas to eat fish with enthusiasm. I served with tiny cheese ravioli in brown butter sauce, carrots, and salad. The kids dipped in ketchup, while the grownups got a little brown butter-white wine-lemon-caper sauce, though I did catch Mr. Gateau hitting the ketchup on seconds.
  • File under everything is better with bacon -- creamy fresh corn soup with bacon and some swirls of pesto.
  • Grilling season is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year. No fuss, no muss. Extra points when we eat outside and just sweep the crumbs onto the ground. I've been doing a lot of pork tenderloins, which take to all kinds of seasoning very well and cook quickly while staying moist, and chicken skewers, generally either in a malai kebab yogurt marinade or a red wine-olive oil-garlic marinade.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Before and After

 I rarely take pictures while I'm cooking (so kudos to all those bloggers who do step-by-step tutorials), mostly because I'm up to my elbows and don't want to make more of a mess than I'm already making. But I happened to have these photo pairs and glancing back at them made me so happy.

This first pair is a lovely lemony meatball from Ottolenghi. I loved how orange that egg looked with the meat and seasonings. These were really delicious -- very light and juicy. I made a quick substitution of frozen edamame for the fava beans called for, and that made this a very simple weeknight dish. However, it ended up only somewhere on the mid-level of the Lucas Thumb Scale. I did much better subsequently with an adaptation of a kofte dish that was served with a tahini-yogurt sauce and a sauce of roasted peppers and pomegranate molasses over pita with caramelized onions.

The set below is a fabulous slow-roasted pork shoulder I did after reading a very enjoyable romantic comedy called Out to Lunch by Stacey Ballis. The novel is about a caterer who is mourning the death of her best friend and business partner while trying to pursue a romantic life, and it's peppered with delicious-sounding food. I was pleased when I reached the end of the book to find a collection of recipes for the dishes described. This pork sounded so good, and it was. After cooking it over all those vegetables, including fennel, the vegetables and pan juices are blended to make a delicious sauce. I served it with another dish from the book, a fennel-green apple-green cabbage slaw with a ginger soy dressing. This one got unanimous thumbs up. I wish I'd gone for an even bigger pork shoulder, because I could have eaten those leftovers for a week straight if I'd had them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Spring Forward

A rainbow of eggs. Putting the extra "u" in colour.
I would like to begin today's update with a little rant. Probably the six people reading this have already heard me go off about this numerous times, but I shall not let that dissuade me. I promise, it will be relevant later on, when we start talking about the food.

So, basically it's this. There are a lot of expectations and assumptions about how kids should and will eat (as there are with any subject touching on kids and parenting). They essentially break down into two camps. First, there are those who expect kids to be very limited eaters who will turn their noses up at anything more challenging than a French fry. These are the people who will say "Don't tell me your kids actually ate that!" when shown something more flavorful than a plate of plain chicken. In the opposing camp are those who insist that back in their day, or in France, or in a household that isn't frightfully dominated by bratty children, kids should eat whatever is put before them or go hungry. This is the "This is dinner! If you don't like it, the kitchen is closed!" school of thought, and it's home to the subcategory of people who insist that their two year old's favorite food is octopus, that their child begged for more natto at the sushi restaurant, and who can't conceive that a child might not be a fervent fan of shaved Brussels sprouts. Extra points if your kid has no idea what a Dorito tastes like. All sides in this are just off-base. Some kids are extremely limited, some are very adventurous, but most of them are a mixture and there is no one-size solution that will fit all kids, even within a single family.

To tell you the truth, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was certain I was going to have a little gourmet. Tasting new, exciting, and exotic foods was a favorite pastime when I was a kid. I couldn't wait to visit my father at his office, because in addition to being allowed to play with the Xerox machine and hang out while he and his colleagues ended the day with a bourbon in the office, my dad would take me out to interesting restaurants so I could try new things. I became a sushi fanatic when I was nine, and this was in the 1970s when sushi was still an exotic and expensive treat. To this day, he and I like to meet up for a fancy sushi lunch (my mom is not a fan) and enjoy the tradition of our "Father-Daughter Bonding Lunches." I ate all kinds of spice when I was pregnant and nursing, to make sure that my son got exposed to those flavors. I went into labor the morning after a spicy Thai dinner.

The kid turned out to eat nothing. Despite the volumes of homemade baby food, feeding him off my plate, and taking him to a variety of restaurants, the only foods he'd eat with gusto were the tried-and-true beige kid foods. (In fact, though he's gotten much broader in his eating now, in his early teens, he still will not eat a single fruit.) And his brothers were little better. It was very disappointing for me, because I wanted to share this love of food in all its varieties with my kids (and if I'm honest, enjoy a little of the bragging rights), but I look around the family and see plenty of people on both sides who didn't make peace with vegetables until they were in their 20s. It was a very good lesson in how you can have all kinds of notions about what kind of kids you're going to have and what kind of parent you will be, and it all flies out the window when you are faced with your real-life child.

Nor did the commonly-offered advice work, to let the kids help cook so they'll take an interest in what they're eating. My kids all love helping in the kitchen, and Lucas in particular is very keen to gain independence in that realm (he makes killer scrambled eggs with cream). But they're quite content to help chop and measure and stir and then eat nothing of the finished dish. 

This all probably explains why I vacillate so much about, on the one hand, dedicating myself to finding dishes everyone in the family will want to eat, and then on the other hand feeling like I should just make what I want to make and let the kids manage through it. So far this spring I've gone on wild swings from one end of the spectrum to the other, but with some interesting surprises along the way.

Here's an example of a kid-focused dish that also happened to be delicious and got the boys involved in the kitchen. We amped up our usual quick weeknight Spaghetti Carbonara by making it with rainbow spaghetti. This preparation requires a high tolerance of food coloring, but you can't argue with the results. (It was actually brighter until I remembered that for the egg sauce to work correctly, the pasta needed to be piping hot, so I stuck it back in the boiling water briefly, which grayed it out a little.)
I can't believe it's not boeuf bourgignon!
We did pretty well with a vegan take on a classic family favorite, beef stew. Isa Chandra Moskowitz's recipe for a stew with seitan sausage is one of the best stew recipes I've found -- the sauce is the silkiest and most balanced in flavor I've ever made. The seitan was flavored with smoked paprika and fennel seeds, and the stew also contained little potatoes and carrots. We served it with a little heirloom tomato salad, a loaf of homemade artisan no-knead bread from a batch of dough Teen Gateau mixed up and stored in the fridge (a revelation -- we are now having home-baked crusty loaves whenever we feel like it) with some garlic confit I store in the fridge for sipping. The kids have been pretty willing to eat these seitan experiments. I think the familiar flavorings coupled with the meaty texture have made it fairly easy for them to adjust.

Devilled eggs a la Lucas.
Easter came along, and with it the culinary moment I yearn for each year -- turning the hardboiled colored Easter eggs (at top) into delicious devilled eggs. I've taken to combining these with our Passover celebrations, which also require hardboiled eggs, thus bringing our family's Jewish side together with its WASP side. Martinis or Manhattans are perfect with these, though this year we went for chilled rose. Lucas had helped me make these last year, and had taken a few exploratory nibbles. This year, after we peeled them together (you can see a few splotches of leftover color), Lucas made the rest of the dish, with me adding seasonings to his specifications. The result was super creamy, and mild but with a well-seasoned tang. And here is where the kids managed to surprise me -- they have all suddenly become big devilled egg fans, and we polished them off in no time. So there you go -- kids, they evolve in their tastes after all.

Meat and potatoes, plus optional veg.
 After a first course of those eggs, we sat down to a spring menu from Bon Appetit that typified my attempts to make dishes that at least contain something the kids might want to pick out and eat, while still incorporating flavors and ingredients I want to eat. I didn't even try making the suggested carrot tart with ricotta and puff pastry (though I really want to next time we have a bigger crowd), but the other dishes worked well. Lucas helped with the shopping but couldn't sustain a lot of interest in seeing the cooking through (a little noted stumbling block to the "just let them help" suggestion). The main dish was duck breast seasoned just with salt and pepper and cooked in a pan until crispy-skinned, then finished in the oven, placed on top of a salad of kale and thinly-sliced radishes and turnips in an oil and vinegar dressing. I spooned the pan juices over the salad as well, and served with a strong mustard sauce on the side. The side dish was Yukon gold potatoes, first steamed and smashed, and then pan-fried until crispy with leeks and thinly-sliced garlic, dressed with lemon zest and juice and a little olive oil. The adults ate both dishes with gusto -- and I discovered that I might actually like turnips when they're paper-thin and tossed with oil and vinegar -- and the kids ate duck and potatoes and seemed satisfied. The greens should have included mustard greens, but I couldn't find any. If I make this again, I think I will try to wilt the greens a little more before serving, and really, there is no good reason I can think of that the recipe didn't suggest using the rendered duck fat in the potato dish.

Beans 'n' greens, you can't beat 'em.
 The leftover salad, though, did furnish me with a very good lunch. I was going to restart my warm weather smoothie habit, but wasn't really in the mood for fruity and sweet. I had half a can of pinto beans in the fridge left over from making the seitan sausage, which I heated up with a little vegetable stock, a spoonful of oil from my garlic confit jar, and a pinch each of kosher salt and hot smoked paprika. I poured this with the delicious cooking liquid over the salad, which hadn't softened much after another day and a half in the fridge, and enjoyed the strong flavors and good mix of textures.

In addition to some very lavish tea dinners recently (I have finally FINALLY depleted most of the leftovers), we also hosted a couple of gatherings. One evening we had a sort of pan-Mediterranean dinner party, which I really should write up separately because the cooking was quite fun and the leftovers were epic. The other was an afternoon tea at our place so we could get our friends with a newborn out of their house without the pressure of having to deal with a sit-down dinner. It was a beautiful day, and the kids had no school for the end of the Easter long weekend, so we all got on our bikes and rode to Granville Island along the Seaside bike route. The kids assisted in choosing some cheese and charcuterie (Teen Gateau is a fan of Manchego, while Lucas took a keen interest in the cured meats and really wanted to try the smoked bison -- next time). We added condiments, including one of my jars of Boozy Cherries, some grapes, apples, and dried apricots, a loaf of artisan bread fresh out of the oven, halvah, toffee-chocolate-covered matzah with pistachios and Maldon salt, and of course a platter of remaining devilled eggs. The food was all delicious, of course, but most scrumptious was the little baby we all got to pass around the table.

Finally, I wish to share what the inside of my cabinets looked like for about ten minutes after my husband and I did a little spring cleaning while the kids were visiting their grandparents. These are the containers in which the Tea Dinners reside. We also reworked our pantry and spice cabinets, and transferred our dry goods into sealed glass and plastic containers because I have the Fear of Bugs. I got to justify my obsessive saving of old peanut butter jars and bust out my label maker, which made for about a fine a weekend as a girl could ask for. Also, we discovered that we have enough tea to last us until the turn of the century, so please, people, never give us the gift of tea if you are coming to visit. We might just make you take some home with you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

All Hail Seitan!

Greetings, puny humans! After another fallow period of barely managing to rouse myself enough to put the basic requirements of Spaghetti Bolognese and chicken with rice on the table, I got off my tush and started cooking again. And in so doing, I dedicated myself to a new lord and master, Seitan.

This is the point where all gluten-intolerant readers should look away.

Seitan, for all you non-hippies out there, is a vegetarian protein made of wheat gluten. It has a meaty texture, and like tofu is very good at taking on whatever flavors you season or sauce it with. It turns up in vegetarian versions of Chinese meat dishes, like the marvelous dim sum at the Vegetarian Dim Sum House in New York's Chinatown, where Mr. Gateau and I enjoyed many a fabulous brunch during his vegetarian days.

I'd eaten seitan before, but I never tried to make it. However, once I started reading vegan cookbooks, I became convinced I should give it a try. Turns out, it's extremely easy to make and is both versatile and delicious.

Using a recipe in Veganomicon co-author Terry Hope Romero's Vegan Eats World, I made a batch of Five-Spice Seitan, which mixed up in a snap and was fun to work with. Essentially, the seitan is made by kneading together a vital wheat gluten and chickpea flour dry mix with a seasoned broth, which quickly becomes a spongy dough. The dough is shaped into small loaves or cutlets, and then steamed or baked. Once cooked, the seitan can be sliced as desired and incorporated into dishes. 

Sticky, sweet perfection.

I took three seitan cutlets, cubed and cooked them in a sweet Chinese barbecue sauce. Right there I could have stopped and stuffed my face with the bits for days -- they tasted just like bits of barbecued spare ribs -- but instead I made a batch of fluffy bun dough and created a vegan version of Char Siu Bao, everyone's favorite dim sum treat. Lucas got in on the act and helped me stuff the seitan mixture into the dough rounds, which we then steamed. These were a huge success, and even more exciting was that there was extra seitan filling left over, which I hoarded for myself the next day.

One sad leftover bun, happily consumed for breakfast.
To round out the meal, I also made the spectacular New York Times version of Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles using very thick Shanghai noodles that were about three feet long (hijinks ensued), plus a milder take on Ma Po Tofu (also modified from Vegan Eat World) with shiitake mushrooms and peas, served with rice. With a dollop of chili-garlic paste added, it was perfect and made excellent leftovers.

Tea dinner. Teapot missing.

After the vegan Chinese feast, I had one Five-Spice Seitan cutlet left over, so I decided to experiment with it the next day when organized a Pan-Asian Tea Dinner. Along with the leftover tofu and noodles, I made chicken satay for the kids (they will eat pretty much anything on a stick) and prepared the seitan the same way -- marinated in a coconut curry bath, then put under the broiler and served with homemade spicy peanut sauce and a little cucumber salad. The seitan got a little too dried out, so I would probably handle it a little more carefully in the future, but it was perfect in a satay, and looked just like beef. I also took a stab at making Japanese egg tamago, which is the kids' favorite. They said it was delicious and tasted just right, though I'm sure my technique could use some practice. A platter of pineapple "boats" rounded out the meal, and the whole thing won a double thumbs up.

Tempeh fingers.
The VB6 experiment has also gotten me testing out tempeh. I don't think I love it as much as tofu and seitan, partly because it's a little dry, and partly for the slightly sour flavor, but it does fry up nicely. I haven't had much luck yet finding unflavored blocks of it, so have been using pre-seasoned strips and the occasional burger. But I did make a nice Thai-inspired salad out of it -- I dressed dark greens with a mixture of my spicy peanut sauce and a little extra lime juice and rice vinegar, then topped with lightly fried strips of coconut curry tempeh. It was quick and very flavorful, and I got the hit of protein I tend to crave. I do hope I can find some plain tempeh to play with, because I've read several recipes for maple tempeh "bacon" that sound like they'd be very welcome at brunchtime.

Next up: I get my Middle Eastern on!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In Which I Visit Veganland

Readers of this blog will know that since I assumed daily responsibility for cooking actual dinners I have found myself in an off-and-on struggle to perk things up. With the kids having relatively limited repertoires, I've sometimes had a hard time thinking of things to cook that will be nutritious, tasty, acceptable on the Lucas Thumb Scale, and not too difficult or tedious to cook. It's a process.

At the same time, I've also been trying to get my own diet into a new place that helps me get more fit without forcing myself to go against my usual tastes and food interests. While Weight Watchers worked very well for me during the years after I'd given birth, I am emphatically not a Dieter. I've had good experiences in the Land of Low Carb (as a former employee of Atkins Nutritionals, I suppose that's a good thing) but this time when I tried to move back in that direction, I was feeling less inspired than usual.

One of my favorite food writers is Mark Bittman, whose "How to Cook Everything" books have been constant resources for me over the years. He has come to espouse a lower-animal product diet he sums up as "Vegan Before 6" or "VB6" -- eat vegan during the day until 6pm, and then incorporate whatever animal products you like for your last meal of the day. This seemed appealing to me in a way it never had before. Perhaps the flexitarian safety valve made me feel it was doable (plus Bittman's sensible recognition that sometimes you need to pass over the quinoa in favor of a bag of chips or a candy bar). I'm also living in a city that is very vegetarian-friendly, and where a majority of our friends are mostly vegetarian with the occasional pescatarian tendency. Plus, Vancouver is a city boasting of beautiful produce and access to global ingredients that make it easy to explore a zillion and one ways of cooking plant products.

I'd never actually looked at a vegan cookbook, so my friend Nicky kindly let me borrow a few of hers. I was immediately smitten with Isa Chandra Moskowitz of The Post Punk Kitchen. Her recipes are delicious, unfussy, smartly written, and infused with a New York-GenX spirit that feels right at home for me. So far everything I've made from her books Veganomicon and Vegan With a Vengeance has been a huge success.

So what is this bacon-loving, rare-steak-craving, sushi-addict eating? Well, avocados, a/k/a vegan lard, for one thing. While I could probably stuff a few whole ones down my gullet in a sitting, I'm trying to show restraint and eat them half at a time. My favorite way is laid on a slice of garlic-rubbed sourdough toast, and sprinkled with lemon juice and Maldon sea salt. Sometimes I will make a second slice of toast topped with my other new staple -- tahini. This is made even more fantastic by spreading a thin layer of Marmite underneath it, which adds a tang of salty yeastiness to the unctuousness of the sesame paste. This makes a fantastic lunch, and I'll add a little cherry tomato salad, green salad, or fruit salad to the plate to complete the meal. I've also tried avocado on a toasted bagel as a substitute for our usual lox and cream cheese on Sunday mornings, and that has been satisfying enough that I don't pine for the lox. I have even made a very satisfying vegan take on the BLAT by frying up thin slices of smoked tofu brushed with a little maple syrup and using them with the avocado (I didn't have any ripe tomato, but would add it if I had it) on toasted sourdough.

Lunch is served.

 I was somewhat terrified of vegan baking, and I haven't yet attempted a cake (so no final conclusions here) but I have discovered that at least with some things, eggs, milk, and butter are less necessary than I'd thought. I've made terrific buckwheat-blueberry pancakes using almond milk and applesauce in lieu of milk and eggs (plus vanilla and cinnamon) that distracted me even from the presence of bacon on the table during the last two Saturday pancake breakfasts. I made absolutely killer chocolate-chocolate chip-walnut cookies from Veganomicon that used almond milk, canola oil instead of butter, and ground flaxseed in place of eggs, and they're easily one of the quickest and most delectable cookies I've ever made.

The devil is obviously a vegan.

The real test was, of course, whether I could cook anything that the kids would be willing to eat. Tofu to the rescue! They are pretty good with tofu, and have eaten with gusto a vegan stir-fried noodles with plain and smoked tofu dish on several occasions. I cooked a tofu tikka masala, substituting coconut milk for cream and using tofu where my kids have previous had chicken. From Veganomicon I made a very easy and flavorful dish of lentils flavored with tamarind, and served it all with basmati rice. It went so well that nobody complained when I offered the leftovers for dinner the next night.

A surprise thumbs up on the Lucas Scale was achieved when I attempted "cheesy" vegan kale chips. Kale chips, as everyone knows, are complete crack, but they are totally irresistible when prepared with a paste of cashews, lemon, garlic, coconut oil, mustard, and that umami delivery system, nutritional yeast. My only regret is that I can't produce more than one bunch of kale's worth at a time, due to limited space in my oven.

So have I been West Coast brainwashed? When I tell you that I have also been RUNNING. Sometimes at 7am IN THE RAIN you will probably conclude that I have indeed. But I am really enjoying both the running and the new explorations in cooking, and I feel good. I still identify as an omnivore, and do not intend at this point to forego all kinds of eating experiences (animal and vegetable) when they present themselves, but I'm very happy to make daily visits to Veganland.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Family Dinner Continues Apace

Greetings Earthlings! I am pleased to report that my family has not yet starved to death under my care. In fact, I have hit on some dinners that have gotten the much-sought Lucas Two Thumbs Up rating.

The first thing that has happened is that Lucas started art classes at the amazing Arts Umbrella, which offers high-quality visual and performing arts instruction to children from preschool through high school. The school is located on Vancouver's famous Granville Island, which is packed full of art studios, galleries, restaurants, and the amazing Public Market, where I now spend a couple of hours every Friday busting our food budget for the week while Lucas takes his mixed media class. Even with the best of intentions, I can't help but return home with bags stuffed with endless varieties of delicious goodies -- lately I can't resist the pyramids of neatly stacked strawberries and blueberries, the multicolored bunches of kale, and the huge variety of grains, spices, and other nifty ingredients at the Grainry. And I never fail to stop by Oyama Sausage Co., whose massive selection of creative sausages made from local high quality meats has become the center of our Friday dinner. I can't even bring myself to look at their full selection of charcuterie, pate, and cheese, or I might never leave.

Sausages with herbed couscous, stewed zucchini, and fruit plate. 

Yes, Friday night is Sausage Night. Each week, I select three or four varieties (this is hard! they have dozens and dozens, and the selections change daily) and as soon as I get home I pop them into the oven while I put away all the produce and other tasty bits, and put together some simple and quick side dishes (couscous is a favorite). I've started cutting up a little fruit plate for Lucas and Baby Gateau, so at least they get some plant matter into them.

This week we sampled Toulouse pork sausage (mild and perfect for kids), Chicken with Preserved Lemon (a little dry, but tasty), Elk with Huckleberry (gamey in a good way), and Pork with Prune (delicious, but deemed "too fruity" by the kids). Others we've tried have included Duck with Truffle, Smokey Bison (Lucas's favorite), Pork with Red Wine and Herbs (fantastic), and Japanese Chicken (kids raved).

Ham night.
Another gift that kept on giving was the procurement of a spiral-sliced ham from Costco when we ventured across the border to Bellingham, WA. They have most of the stuff we're used to getting at the Vancouver Costco, but some of our favorite American products can only be found if we drive down to Washington State. Fortunately, I now know where to go when I run out of the supply of A-1 Steak Sauce my mother brought me when I whined that what they sell under that label in Canada is a totally different product.

The ham, cooked with a simple maple glaze, served us for umpteen meals. The first night, I served it with mashed sweet potatoes and a green salad, but everyone clamored for "regular" potatoes, so I made that the next night too. The ham showed up in school lunch sandwiches, in cold cut platters at home, and finally its bone and last scraps of meat produced a phenomenal French Canadian Pea Soup with yellow split peas.

My bella chicken.
And my crowning achievement was the Julia Child-inspired roasting of a chicken. I took a midweek trip to Granville Island to obtain a haggis for our cousin's Robert Burns Day party, and while at the butcher purchased a huge chicken. The last time I had tried to roast a chicken was a complete disaster -- it would not cook through, and only later did I realized that both my meat thermometer and the temperature gauge on the oven were busted. I have remedied that with an oven thermometer and a new meat thermometer and all is well.

French chef-type roast chicken is not a set-it-and-forget-it project. You have to baste and turn that bastard every 10-15 minutes, but boy is it worth it. It came out succulent, with a well-seasoned, brown and crisp skin and gorgeous drippings for a gravy. I roasted some potatoes in a dish alongside it and served a bowl of my favorite flash-fried kale with lemon, and it was a truly fine meal. It was big enough to give us a second night of roast chicken, plus its carcass tipped the balance and allowed me to clear out my freezer stash of chicken bits and vegetable trimmings to make the best chicken stock I ever made, following Gabrielle Hamilton's instructions in the Prune cookbook. I'd added a few extra drumsticks to the pot, and the meat from those later went into a batch of chicken tacos, while about the stock is what made that pea soup so rich and delicious.

But the very best part of all about my weekly trips to Granville Island may not be the delectable things coming out of the kitchen. It's that I have a little extra time to myself. After all the shopping is done, I settle myself down in a cafe or, better yet if I'm not driving, a bar and treat myself to something nice. Last week, the lovely bartender at the Liberty Distillery made me their delicious take on an Old Fashioned -- white whiskey with orange gomme syrup, bitters, lemon, and star anise. It was lovely, and I quite relaxed as I sipped it, while admiring the ruby red strawberries and opalescent black kale spilling out of my bags around me. It was a perfect start to the weekend.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tools of the Trade

I am about the farthest thing from an equipment geek, kitchen or otherwise. I like my tools to be decent quality and to perform their stated purpose well. I am also a fan of tools that can be used for many things -- for example, I use rimmed baking sheets for practically everything, and when I knit, I nearly always do it on circular needles. I just don't have the budget or storage space for a lot of highly specialized, high-end equipment, plus I tend to the skeptical when people start raving that only a certain brand of [whatever] can do the job.

Once in a while I do run into a gadget with a single use that I think is brilliant. Those metal lemon squeezers that are bright yellow (or green for limes). That avocado gadget that has a cutting blade on one end, a pit remover in the middle, and a slicer at the other end -- genius!

But I recently acquired two new pieces of equipment that have given me that "where have you been all my life?" giddiness. Here is credit where credit is due.

Silicone baking mats. Those rimmed baking sheets of mine get a serious workout. I do a lot of roasting and broiling in them, and I've had night after night of big sheets protruding from the sink as I try to soak the stuck-on crud off them. I've used rolls and rolls of parchment paper, which then takes up most of the space in the kitchen compost bin. Also, truth be told, for some reason, buttering cookie sheets is one of my least favorite kitchen tasks. Enter the silicone baking sheets. I did a big salmon filet with teriyaki sauce on one the other night, and the whole thing slid right off, skin and all. No scrubbing fish skin and burnt sugar off the pan for days. I just plop the sheet in the baking pan and that's all the prep I need to do. Looking forward to expanding my collection of these to fit all my pans.

Aeropress coffee maker. I know it's the era of the coffee geek, but though I love a good cup of strong, rich coffee (I tend to drink espresso, often with a little condensed milk stirred in), the last thing I have any interest in is delving into the terroir my beans were grown in, searching out the most perfect grind (or the most expensive, high-tech grinder to achieve it), or studying the ideal water temperature, pouring method, or filtration system. I've tried a number of methods -- basic drip coffeemaker (too big since I'm the only coffee drinker in the house), espresso maker (bulky and fiddly), Keurig (wasteful and too limited), French press (too muddy), and Chemex (charming to look at but hard to keep hot enough). Also, in the mornings, the kitchen tends to be in a bit of chaos, with three kids getting breakfast, school lunches being made, and usually whatever didn't fit into the dishwasher the night before still sitting there forlornly in the sink. Someone had mentioned an Aeropress in conversation, and a coffee geek I know chimed in and raved about it. I knew nothing about it, so I looked it up and was intrigued -- smooth and rich espresso using a small, inexpensive, easy-to-clean handheld device and hot water from the kettle. It was worth a shot.

It's amazing. The device is essentially a large syringe with a filter cap on one end that takes little circles of filter paper (they can be rinsed and reused, if you want). You put in a measure of coffee, pour hot water up to a line, stir briefly, and then press the syringe plunger down slowly over a waiting cup. You can drink it as espresso or add more hot water (or milk) as desired. Cleanup is ejecting the coffee and filter and rinsing the works under the running tap, the end. It's super quick and easy, and makes incredibly rich and smooth coffee out of even indifferent (and variously ground) beans.

I may be about to put the espresso maker into deep storage, which means I will achieve the Holy Grail of MORE COUNTERSPACE.