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.

An easy appetizer for the weekend

March 20, 2008

Naan toast

I mentioned our scotch-tasting party in Monday’s post. Although Martin had the meal figured out in advance, we realized — just before our guests arrived — that we hadn’t thought about appetizers. Given that people were coming mid-afternoon to drink scotch, it seemed imperative to offer a substantial nosh that could sop up the booze and help our guests stay standing for dinner.

Enter my trusted supply of make-ahead caramelized onions. Since time was short and our menu featured lamb curry, coconut-zucchini curry and basmati rice, I picked up a few packages of Naan bread at the grocery store, covered it in a thick swath of thawed caramelized onions and a generous amount of shredded extra old cheddar cheese. I cranked the oven to 400F (200C) and popped in my concoction. Voila! I had a hearty appetizer prepared in less than 20 minutes (fortunately, I live close to the store!).

So, if this weekend you find yourself needing an appetizer to appease your Easter feasters while they await the ham and scalloped potatoes, feel free to fall back on this easy idea. You’ll find the directions for making caramelized onions in my original post.

Tell me about the instant appetizer that saved the day when you needed a last-minute offering for guests by replying in the comments section below.

High altitude bread baking

March 14, 2008

One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the interaction I have with my readers (In fact, it was a craving for more contact with the outside world that led me to begin this blog in the first place, so feel free to comment and ask questions as often as you like!)

As you may have noted, there’s a ‘?’ icon on the right hand side of each page of this blog. If you’ve never clicked on it, you might not know that it opens up an email form so that you can ask me a question. While some people have used this feature to ask for clarification or more info about something I’ve posted, every once in a while I get a question that I think deserves to be shared with more people. A question recently posed by Joyce from Saskatchewan fell into this category.

Joyce wrote:
I live in southwest Saskatchewan on the prairies. One of my sons moved to Calgary. When we visit I take my bread-making machine, as they love fresh bread. They live in the southwest part of the city up by the top of the Olympic ski jump. The bread that I make here is twice the size of what turns out there. Could the altitude – I think they are about 1500 feet higher there than we are here – make a difference? If so do you have any suggestions? Thanks.

The answer is that yes, altitude can greatly affect your kitchen activities. According to Susan Purdy, an expert on high altitude cooking:

“As the elevation rises, three major factors may cause a recipe to need adjustment in ingredients, cooking times, and/or temperatures. The higher in elevation you go:
1. The lower the boiling point of water
2. The faster liquids (and moisture in general) evaporate
3. The more quickly leavening gases expand”

Needless to say, moisture and leavening are both important when baking bread so elevation is certainly causing havoc with Joyce’s baking. Since the yeast is acting more quickly at a higher elevation, it sounds like the bread machine is allowing the bread to over-expand and then it is falling before the machine starts to bake. So, Joyce and other high altitude bakers, if your bread machine won’t allow you to cut back on the rising time, you may need to pull your dough out and shape by hand and bake the bread in the oven before it has a chance to over proof and fall.

The best source I’ve found for overall advice on high altitude cooking is Susan Purdy’s book called Pie in the Sky. She also has excellent info posted in an article at Epicurious. For advice specific to cake and cookie baking you can also check out the Crisco website for free.

Thanks again for your question Joyce!