Hot weather comfort food

August 21, 2009


At long last, the heat and humidity has come to Toronto. We’ve had an amazingly summery week and I’ve loved every single minute of it. Seriously. You don’t hear me complaining about the heat – I even cycled to work and played tennis. I just love it!

The only downside to the hot weather is having to cook in a steamy kitchen. No fun. So, I took my dinner prep outdoors.

Pictured above is a yummy cauliflower curry that we sopped up with grilled naan bread. Once the curry was done I threw in some extra charcoal and grilled a few  lamb chops, too. It was a fantastic dinner if I do say so myself.

How do you beat the heat?  Do you order in, subsist on salads or what?

Curried Cauliflower over Charcoal:

Combine a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with two tablespoons of mild, medium or hot curry paste and a tablespoon of minced ginger. Add a little extra cumin if you like. Cut up a small head of cauliflower and stir the florets and a handful of golden raisins into the mixture. (If you don’t live with Martin who is allergic to legumes, add some drained, rinsed chickpeas, too). Cook, stirring often, on the hot barbecue until the juices are thickened and the cauliflower is fork tender. Stir in chopped fresh mint or coriander and season, if necessary, with salt and pepper.

Soft shell crab

June 1, 2009


I spent part of my youth living in Vancouver. On Saturday mornings, my mom and I would often head down to the Steveston docks where the fishermen sold their catch. Among the many wonderful things we’d bring home were long, gangly Alaskan king crab legs that we steamed and ate like lobster with drawn garlic butter. Other times we got saucer-shaped Dungeness crabs that we steamed and shelled before forming the meat into crab cakes that we pan-fried and served with tartar sauce. Delish!

Despite my love of crab, until last weekend I had never tasted soft shell crab. Martin brought some home to serve at a dinner party we hosted and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to prepare – no shells to crack, no cut fingers, no splashy juices on the cupboards!

Here’s what Martin did:

He snipped off the front of each crab behind the eyes. Then he dipped each one into beaten egg before dredging it in flour and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then he tossed the crabs into a shallow pool of canola oil, heated almost until it was smoking. He browned the crabs on both sides and we ate them – shells, guts and all – with sliced watermelon. Easiest. Appetizer. Ever!

Since our party, I’ve done a little investigating and I can tell you a few more facts about soft shell crab:

  • They are usually blue crabs and the season lasts from May to July.
  • As the crabs grow larger at this time of year, their shells cannot expand so they molt their exterior and have a soft covering for a few days as their new shell develops; that’s why you can eat them whole.
  • The best soft shell crab comes from Chesapeake Bay but there are edible soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
  • The crabs should be kept alive until cooking so buy them packed in straw covered ice so that they are very cold but never frozen.

Although it didn’t bother most of us to eat the entire soft shell crab, eating them innards and all freaked two of our guests out. And I can imagine that some of you are grossed out that we cut into them while still alive. Are we barbarians? Or, could you prepare and eat a soft shell crab, too?

PS: If you’re hungry for more info about soft shell crabs, you can check out this story in last week’s Washington Post; however, you may need a subscription to view it.

Get ready for doughnut day: June 1

May 29, 2009

donutsI love any excuse to eat something delicious so I was very happy to discover that next Monday, June 1st will be doughnut day!

Although this calendar observance is an American tradition that dates back to World War One when Salvation Army volunteers cooked up doughnuts in foxholes to cheer American army troops, I’m embracing this sticky tradition in the name of Canada. After all, we have a long tradition of being not only excellent doughnut makers, but also voracious consumers of classic Tim Horton’s Donuts, Ottawa Beaver Tails and Canada’s Wonderland Funnel Cakes. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Canadians are the highest per capita doughnut consumers in the world. And, not surprisingly, we’re also the country with the most doughnut shops per capita, too.

Although this easy access to doughnuts is a comfort to me and many other Canadians, I have to say that the ultimate doughnut experience is not found in a doughnut shop but at home where you can fry up the dough, glaze the golden little ‘O’s a few minutes later and then gobble up the doughnuts while they’re still warm. In my opinion, that’s what it means to be a happy Canuck!

How often do you eat a doughnut? I eat them only once or twice a year but when I do, it’s always a happy day!

If you’d like to try your hand at making doughnuts in honour of Doughnut Day, here’s a recipe I developed for last year’s Bakefest Recipe Booklet. I hate to brag, but I think it’s one of the best classic doughnut recipes you’ll find!

Classic Glazed Donuts

1 pkg (8 g) Fleishmann’s Traditional Yeast
1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water, about 115ºF (47ºC)
1 tsp (5 mL) Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 Naturegg Omega 3 Shell Egg, beaten
1/4 cup (60 mL) Lactantia Unsalted Butter, melted
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour (approx.)
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/4 cup (60mL) granulated sugar
6 cups (1.5 L) Mazola 100 % Pure Canola or Corn Oil

1/4 cup (60 mL) Bee Hive Golden Corn Syrup
1/4 cup (60 mL) warm water
1 1/3 cups (325 mL) icing sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) Lactantia Unsalted Butter, melted
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla

1. Dough: Blend the yeast with the warm water and syrup; let stand for 2 minutes. Whisk the milk with the egg and melted butter. Reserve. Meanwhile, place the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor. With the motor running, blend in the yeast and milk mixtures just until the dough begins to form a ball.

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2 to 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle with additional flour, if necessary, to prevent sticking. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough; cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until 1/2–inch (1 cm) thick. Cut donut shapes using a 3 1/2-inch (8 cm) donut cutter (or a large and a small round cookie cutter). Re-roll the scraps once to make additional donuts (cut any remaining dough into donut holes). Cover donuts with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

4. Glaze: Blend the corn syrup, water, butter, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth. Reserve.

5. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven until it reaches at least 325ºF (160ºC) but doesn’t exceed 350ºF (180ºC). Gently lower 3 donuts at a time into the oil; fry for 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden. Lift from hot oil and dip into glaze. Coat all over and transfer to a rack set over a baking tray to cool. Makes 8 donuts, plus donut holes.

Caipirinha: The perfect summertime cocktail

May 27, 2009

CaipirinhaLooking for the perfect drink for summer? Look no further than the citrus-y, sweet caipirinha (pronounced kai-per-een-yah), a signature drink for Brazil’s Carnivale where revelers really need something to help them cool down after hours of dancing in the hot sun!

While articles like this one in the Chicago Sun Times talk about caipirinha variations made with raspberry and other flavours, I see no reason to reinvent an already fantastic drink that’s easy to make. There are four ingredients in a classic caipirinha: fresh limes, fruit sugar, crushed ice and cachaça (pronounced ka-shah-sah), which is made from sugar cane and tastes similar to white rum.

Want to make one right now? Follow these easy steps:

1. Cut half a lime into four pieces. Place in a cocktail shaker or sturdy glass. Sprinkle over 2 tbsp (30 mL) sugar and muddle the limes using a wooden cocktail muddler or a wooden spoon until the mixture is juicy and a lot of the sugar has dissolved.
2. Pour in two shots of cachaça and stir well. Transfer to a double old-fashioned glass and top with enough crushed ice to fill the glass. Stir before serving.

By the way, my friend and professional food photographer Tracy Cox took the photo for today’s post. After this shot was taken, she and I and Sabrina took these very drinks outside to our Test Kitchen patio and toasted the sunshine on Victoria Day Monday. After all, if you’re working on a holiday, there should be some perks, right? You can see more of Tracy’s work on her website.

Pasta making

May 25, 2009

pastaA few weeks ago, the folks from KitchenAid sent me a pasta maker to try out. While I’m always happy to have a reason to make fresh pasta, I was a bit amused. Their offer  proves what short memories large organizations have. You see, the PR person who approached me to try this machine obviously didn’t know that I used to sell this very apparatus on The Shopping Channel. She was, as the saying goes, “preaching to the converted.”

I was tempted to tell her my history with this gadget but I really didn’t want to  underline that I’m pretty much a dinosaur who has been in this business far longer than most people can remember. Besides, I love a plate of fresh saffron and lime noodles dressed lightly with olive oil (or butter) and garnished with a halo of whisper-thin curls of shaved pecorino cheese, so I got over myself and headed to the kitchen instead.

Here’s the recipe so you can enjoy a bowl of these noodles, too.

Saffron-Lime Fresh Pasta
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
3 eggs
2 tsp (10 mL) finely grated lime zest
¼ tsp (1 mL) saffron threads
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

Place flour in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Using a fork, beat eggs with lime, saffron and salt. Add the eggs to the bowl and mix using a dough hook until a soft dough forms.

Knead dough using the dough hook for 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Knead into a ball and cover with plastic wrap; let rest for 20 minutes. Divide dough into 3 pieces to make handling easier; cover.
Flatten each piece of dough with your hand or a rolling pin; dust with flour. Feed through the widest setting of the pasta attachment rollers 3 times, lightly flouring after each pass through the machine.

Set machine to next narrowest setting; run dough through once. Repeat, running dough through rollers until next-to-finest setting is reached. Cut the dough in half if it becomes too long to handle easily. Lightly flour dough; run through finest setting. Repeat with remaining portions of dough.

Hang the rolled dough over a pasta rack (you can make one by balancing a clean broomstick between two chairs) until leathery but not dry about 20 minutes.

Change setting from rolling to cutting position. Cut pasta into 10 – to 12-in (25 to 30 cm) lengths. Feed each length through the cutter.

To cook: add noodles in lots of salted, boiling water and boil for 2 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and toss with extra virgin olive oil or butter to coat. Season to taste.

Photo credit: Tracy Cox


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