Underground dining

September 30, 2008

An illegal dining trend is on the rise in cities such as Boston, Seattle and Toronto. Underground dining establishments that avoid the overhead traditional restaurateurs carry are on the rise. Word of mouth promotion lures diners to private homes where they’re served chef-prepared meals. The movement is causing health inspectors anxiety and sort of annoying people like me who watch their spouses work hard to make a living in the restaurant business.

Perhaps my affiliation with the food service world limits my objectivity, but I see no reason to go to unregulated, uninspected private homes to pay $100 plus per person to eat a chef-prepared meal when there are so many fine restaurants that pay taxes, rent and legal wages offering great dining experiences in these same cities.

What do you think? Am I a square curmudgeon who’s out of touch with the times or would you also prefer to eat in place that has properly marked emergency exits?

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Worth Replacing: Food processor

September 29, 2008

During the last several weeks as I’ve been working to perfect my butter tart recipe, it occurred to me how much use and value I’ve derived from my food processor. This workhorse is 13 years old and, until three years ago when I moved my test kitchen out of my house to its own location, this very unit was used both for personal cooking and recipe testing. The way I figure it, that makes this food processor’s age about 25 years old in domestic use terms.

I was surprised last spring during a recipe tasting for the Bakefest booklet that appears this time each year in Homemaker’s magazine to discover that a food processor isn’t considered a kitchen essential by everyone. In fact, more people at our tasting did not own a food processor than did. I was shocked since I truly would run out tomorrow and buy a new food processor if this one quit working tonight.

What’s the attraction, you ask? Although expensive as an initial investment, my food processor has paid for itself in pizza delivery savings alone. In about the same amount of time that it takes for the pizza guy to arrive carrying a $20 pizza, I can make the dough and shred best quality cheese in my food processor; roll and dress the pizza base and bake up a bubbling pie. I’ve estimated that the cost of the ingredients to make a 12-inch (30–cm) pepperoni and mushroom pizza using my food processor is less than $5. That means that each time I make pizza using my food processor instead of ordering it in that I save $15. Needless to say, if you like pizza (and we do!), it doesn’t take long for a food processor to pay for itself.

I also view my food processor as essential for making flaky pastry; I have warm hands which are great for kneading bread dough but not as well-suited for making pie and tart crust. Since I started making my pie dough in the food processor the quality of my pastry has gone up exponentially.

Do you have a food processor? If not, do you wish you had one? And, if you do have a food processor, what do you use it for most often?


Daring Bakers: Lavash mezze party

September 27, 2008

After several months of hardcore, pastry-school-worthy Daring Baker’s challenges such as Danish, Éclairs and Opera Cake, this month’s savoury, flat bread challenge felt like a vacation! Our wise and esteemed hosts were Natalie from Gluten A Go Go and Shellyfish from Musings in the Fishbowl and featured a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

This challenge was a wonderfully on-trend choice since discussion about the Mediterranean diet has been on TV as well in national magazines such as Eating Well and this article carried by Reuters that reviewed 12 international studies concerned with that diet.

So, as Hurricane Ike left a ravished Texas in his wake and was causing lashes of rain to lick my windows all the way up here in Toronto, I spent an afternoon creating a mezze feast that featured this lavash. That evening I sat down with my son Oliver and our family friend Brian to enjoy a Mediterranean diet-inspired platter of sunshine flavoured roasted tomatoes, organic kalamata olives and Greek sheep and goat cheese. We scooped up these morsels with shards of the crisp lavash. It was a lovely, easy-to-enjoy meal.

If you’d like to duplicate my mezze party, all you need to do is to hit the Waldorf School’s Village Market for olives, cheese, tomatoes and basil; roast the tomatoes; then make Peter’s lavash.

Here’s how I prepared the tomatoes:

• Halve roma tomatoes lengthwise.
• Remove and discard seeds.
• Place tomatoes in a bowl and drizzle with just enough extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to coat lightly.
• Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
• Add a couple of minced garlic cloves and toss to combine.
• Spread tomatoes, cut side up, on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.
• Spoon any liquid in the bowl into the tomatoes.
• Roast for 2 hours at 250°F (125°C).
• Cool to room temperature.
• Chop tomatoes and toss with basil chiffonade and more salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil to taste.


Watching the pumpkin turn orange

September 26, 2008

Wow! Looking back over this week’s posts, I see that I’ve turned into a grocery concierge or something. Fortunately, your wallets are safe with today’s post since it’s all about my pumpkin.

That’s right. This crop has produced a singular fruit. As in one lone pumpkin. Oliver and I planted a lot of pumpkin seeds and transferred three sturdy plants out to the garden in spring but alas, only one plant survived (and thrived) and it only produced one pumpkin. But what a pumpkin it is – behold its long faced future jack-o-lantern’s beauty!

Who could ask for more? Certainly not I!

Now I just need to keep it safe until Halloween. Any advice? Should we leave the pumpkin on the vine? Or, should I cut it off and put it in the cold cellar? Your advice is appreciated.


Best buttertart quest update

September 25, 2008

I have been busy, busy, busy, gentle readers (you rough ones can read on, too).

In the last three weeks I’ve sampled over a dozen buttertarts made by commercial and independent bakeries, read scores of buttertart recipes and made countless batches of pastry in my home kitchen. (And yes, I know that the people who remember my Perfectionista Annonymous post from a few weeks ago are shaking their heads. I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I’ve become obsessed. I have made some progress: my kitchen is kind of sticky and I’m doing okay with that fact so I’m on the right track, right?). My freezer door is bulging, my ears are ringing from all the sugar and I may have early stage scurvy symptoms but I am still energized and ready to fulfill my sugar gilt destiny.

Above is the latest iteration in my quest for THE PERFECT BUTTERTART recipe. It isn’t quite there yet. I’m happy with the crust: flaky, tender and just savoury enough to offset a sweet filling nicely. The perfect filling continues to elude me. I had a filling several tests ago that had the perfect texture but not the perfect flavour. The current one is a little too runny and a bit too tangy (I added lemon juice to balance sweetness and went a bit far. I chalk the impulse up to scurvy related cravings).

I feel success is imminent so stay tuned! I hope to unveil my quintessential buttertart in the next week or two. Cross your fingers and wish me luck.


Justifying cake for breakfast

September 24, 2008

Last night O and I watched Monday’s Heroes season 3 debut on our PVR and all I could think about during the episode was sweets – the craving still hasn’t subsided. In fact, all I wanted for breakfast this morning was cake. And not just a small piece but a big honking wedge.

Call them muffins, tea loaves or quick breads, cake for breakfast isn’t really all that unusual. In fact, I think that Bill Cosby was completely correct when he pointed out that chocolate cake contains eggs, milk and flour – the very same ingredients in many other balanced breakfast favourites.

And, depending on your sleep habits, having cake for breakfast could be considered just a very, very late dessert.

Excluding muffins and other permissible breakfast cakes, have you ever tucked into a wedge of black forest cake or a square of cream cheese frosted carrot cake for breakfast?

I’ll admit that in my 42 years I‘ve raised a cake-laden fork to my lips on more than a few morning occasions. I don’t indulge in early day cake often, but when I do, it’s always a good day.


How to roast a chicken

September 23, 2008

One of the joys of September is that besides sending the kids back to school (no more camp fees!), you go back to using the oven again. One of our favourite Sunday meals is roasted chicken. Nothing is cozier than the great smell of roasting chicken in your house!

Although I serve roasted chicken a million different ways, I always make it using the same method. If you want to try your hand at roasting a chicken this weekend, I hope you’ll print out my step-by-step instructions and give my method a whirl:

1. I prefer open pan roasting for creating a juicy, tender, evenly golden brown roasted chicken so I use a rimmed baking sheet as my roasting pan.
2. Rinse the chicken inside and out with cold running water then pat dry with paper towel.
3. Brush chicken skin lightly with oil and season all over with salt and pepper. Lately I’ve been using salish smoked salt to add deep rich flavour to the bird.
4. Fill the large cavity with a halved lemon, a few cloves of garlic, a peeled, quartered onion and some fresh herb sprigs.
5. Truss the legs together using butcher’s twine. (One clever person I know thought using an elastic band was a good idea but I strongly caution against using one. After all, they evacuate neighbourhoods when there’s a tire fire since burning rubber is TOXIC.)
6. Place the prepared chicken on a rack in the rimmed baking sheet. If you are roasting more than one chicken, make sure there is an inch or two of space around each bird.
7. Wash all cutting boards, your hands, tools and other surfaces that come into contact with the raw chicken and its juices thoroughly in hot water using antibacterial soap.
8. Roast the chicken in a preheated 375 °F (190 °C) oven for about 1.5 hours or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thigh of the bird registers 185°F (85°C).
9. Before carving, let the hot-from-the-oven chicken rest on a cutting board for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the juices to recirculate throughout the meat.