Caramelizing fennel

October 2, 2009


You know you’re a spoiled, urban eater when you’re just sick to death of eating fennel in all the usual ways. Shaved with oranges in a walnut vinaigrette – ho hum. Braised with cumin seed – yawn. So, what’s left when you get to this point? Turns out caramelizing makes fennel all fresh and new again!

Here’s how I made it:

1. Slice the fennel into long, thin strips. Melt enough butter with an equal amount of vegetable oil to just cover the bottom of a skillet. Add the fennel and season with salt and pepper; stir in a minced clove of garlic and 1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme leaves.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes or until softened. Remove the lid and increase the heat to medium-high.
3. Sprinkle over a little sugar (about 1/2 tsp/2 mL for a large fennel bulb) and cook, stirring, until golden. Splash in a couple of tablespoons of dry sherry and stir to scrape up the brown bits. Add a teaspoon of cider vinegar and taste; adjust the cider vinegar and salt and pepper as needed.

I served my caramelized fennel as part of a vegetarian plate but it would be great with pan-seared Alaskan cod or slathered over a white pizza, too.

What’s your favourite way to eat fennel?

Topline Trends: Granny appreciation

March 17, 2009

grannyI often write here about trends that are happening in North America, but today I’m wistfully looking across the Atlantic at the UK and wishing that a trend I’ve noted there will become more influential here.

I’m talking about Granny cuisine. Not only does Waitrose Food Illustrated have a “Guest Granny” column where they showcase an older woman and ask her for cooking tips and advice, but other Grannies get the credit they deserve in the UK, as well. (Check out the Green Grannies video below).

Is there hope for us? On the one hand, I’m not so sure. We continue to revere food scientists who strive to make food with fewer calories or more densely packed nutrients than they should have naturally. And then there’s the way so many of us fawn over potty-mouthed food network stars who talk way more than they cook.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Just over a week ago, I attended an event to promote the ethnic culinary uses of peanuts at the Astor Center in Manhattan where Suvir Saran, chef of Devi, was one of the cooking demonstrators. Saran acknowledges that his cooking is anything but cutting edge. Instead of trying to thrill people with molecular gastronomy and other novel approaches to cooking, he proudly proclaims that he depends on the “gastronomy of the great grandmother’s of India” for his culinary inspiration. Go Suvir!

My own grandmothers influenced me greatly in the kitchen and taught me the basics that helped me to be confident enough to pursue cooking as a career. There’s no doubt in my mind that I might not be where I am today without Grannies.

What about you? Do you have any of your Granny’s recipes or another older person you can call on for cooking advice?

And, before I sign off: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I hope you have the luck of the Irish with you all day long!

How to control a kitchen fire

December 10, 2008

NB to Monday’s post:  In what can only be deemed to be uncanny timing, my friend Ann Davidson’s EMT husband Dan Monk sent a video to me yesterday; however, the note advised that I read the following before watching the video:

“This is a dramatic video (30-second, very short) about how to deal with a common kitchen fire…oil in a frying pan. At the Fire Fighting Training school, they would demonstrate this with a deep-fat fryer set on the fire field.

An instructor would don a fire suit and — using an 8-oz. cup at the end of a 10-ft. pole — toss water onto the grease fire. The results got the attention of the students. The water, being heavier than oil, sinks to the bottom where it instantly becomes superheated. The explosive force of the steam blows the burning oil up and out.

On the open field, it became a 30-ft. high fireball that resembled a nuclear blast. Inside the confines of a kitchen, the fireball hits the ceiling and fills the entire room. Also, do not throw sugar or flour on a grease fire. One cup of either creates the explosive force of two sticks of dynamite.

This is a powerful message. Watch the video and don’t forget what you see. Tell your whole family about this video. Or better yet, send this to them.”

Now on to the video Dan sent that offers tips for getting a stovetop fire under control even if you don’t have a fire extinguisher handy:

Hanging out with Ferran Adria

October 9, 2008

Martin Kouprie, my chef sprocket hubby, spent time yesterday with molecular gastronomy guru Ferran Adria. In the morning they hung out at The Cookbook Store together while Feran signed copies of his book for an event held last night at the University of Toronto to promote Feran’s new book: A Day in the Life of El Bulli. Although Martin’s cooking is anything but high tech (he likes to say that he could have cooked as well in 1928 with the equipment and ingredients that were commonly available then as he does in his fancy schmancy restaurant kitchen) yet he found himself agreeing with Ferran Adria when he said “cooks need to learn how to taste before they learn how to cook.” I have to say that I agree as well. People with well developed palates know what will delight your taste buds. And, once you have that skill, it doesn’t matter if your tools are high tech or low tech. Great tasting ice cream can be made in a salt packed, hand turned ice cream maker or by using a canister of liquid nitrogen but only if the flavours are combined skillfully in the first place.

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.