Sunday, 23 September 2012

Shrimp and Lemon Risotto

It was a lazy, grey afternoon. The kind of bleh weather that calls for a little plate of sunlight to brighten it up. I had wanted to try making risotto on my own ever since my risotto-fairy had demonstrated her skills at the stove, and I had the perfect flavor combination for the cloudy day: shrimps and lemons. There is something about nice big shrimps cooked with garlic and lemon that screams Mediterranean beach to me. Who would turn down an evening at the beach?

I'll be honest: I was terrified to try risotto again, even if I'd had an expert demonstrating her technique right under my nose. I had the V-Wonder read the recipe from David Rocco's "Made in Italy", and she gave it her seal of approval. That gave me a certain amount of confidence: if my expert said the recipe sounded good, I trusted her. I prepared all my ingredients in advance (because let's face it, a risotto needs to be looked after rather closely), got to work and gave this recipe my full attention.

1 pound large shrimps, peeled
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lemons, zested and juiced
4 cups vegetable or fish stock
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Heat up a frying pan, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic. Fry the garlic for 1 or 2 minutes, until lightly browned. Add the shrimp and lemon juice and toss the shrimp until they turn pink. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove and discard the garlic.

Put the stock in a medium pan and keep it at a gentle simmer. Pour 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, and on medium heat, sauté the onion until soft. Be careful not to brown the onion.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, add the rice and stir so that all the grains of rice are coated in oil. Cook until the rice becomes translucent.

Add the wine and let it get fully absorbed by the rice, stirring constantly. Take a ladle-full of stock and add to the rice with a good pinch of salt. Stir to mix, and cook, stirring, until all the stock is absorbed. Continue to add stock, one ladle at the time until the rice is al dente and creamy, 16 to 18 minutes.

Just before you add the final ladle of stock, add the shrimps with the lemon juice.

Let the shrimps and risotto finish cooking, so that the flavors blend together. Take the rice off the heat, add the lemon zest, butter, Parmigiano, pepper and parsley and mix well. Serve immediately.

I was so proud of how this risotto turned out! It had the perfect, rich creaminess I was aiming for. I suppose that once you've seen it done right, it's not that hard to pull off! I also tasted the rice periodically, to make sure the texture was what I was looking for: firm, but not crunchy, with lots of rich creaminess.

Obviously, lemon and shrimp are a match made in Heaven (or in this case, on the Amalfi coast... which is pretty damn close to Heaven in my book). The texture of the risotto and the firmness of the shrimps makes for a great bite, and the color of the final dish was the exact shade of Italian sunlight a rainy afternoon required. A nice cold glass of Suave white wine worked perfectly with this risotto's bright taste.

Thanks for showing me how to make a great risotto, V-Wonder! I can't wait to try other variations!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Wicked Korma

As I have mentioned, my birthday was a few days ago. I did not really feel like having a party. I wanted to spend a quiet day at home doing some of the stuff I love best: talking shit with my girl Véronique and cooking. I took care of whipping up an awesome dessert, and she showed up with a bag full of ingredients with which to make the actual dinner.

Reproducing her cooking is usually tricky, because she is an intuitive cook who doesn't really measure ingredients, but I got lucky this time, because she based this korma on a recipe she dug out from an online food forum.

I have my own korma recipe which I make from time to time; this one is very different, and while both are tremendously tasty, I could not pick a favorite between the two. My recipe's sauce is not as thick, and the chewy chickpeas give it a very different feel than the much thicker sauce V whipped up. I guess my recipe is more dainty, and her's more hearty. When you think about it, that's actually very representative of our respective styles... I am keeping both preciously!

Here is how to make Véronique's wicked korma, for 4 people. She used beef when she cooked it for my birthday, and it was wonderful, but chicken is the traditional meat used in a korma.

1 1/2 pound stewing beef or chicken breasts
1 heaped tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup thick plain yogurt (preferably Balkan)
2 dried red chilli
2 finely chopped onions
1 tablespoon ghee
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 pinch of ground white pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 (14 ounce) can coconut cream
Sea salt, to taste
2 heaped tablespoons ground almonds
1 large handful raisins
Finely chopped cilantro leaves, to garnish
1/2 lemon, juiced

Cut the meat into bite sized chunks. Mix the meat with the ginger, garlic and yogurt.

Cover and marinade for 12 hours or in the fridge overnight. Blend the chopped onion and red chilies with an immersion blender (add a little water if you need to). Blend until smooth. Heat the ghee in a pan. Add the ground coriander, ground white pepper, turmeric and garam masala and stir fry for about 1 minute over a low heat.

Turn up the heat, add the onion and chili paste and stir fry for 10 minutes. Add the meat and the marinade and continue to stir fry for another 10 minutes.

Add the coconut cream and enough water to just cover the meat and bring to a boil, stirring until the coconut is dissolved. Stir in the ground almonds and raisins. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender (45 minutes to 1 hour for beef, 30 to 40 minutes for chicken).

Remove from heat, add lemon juice and salt to taste. Mix well. Serve sprinkled with the chopped cilantro leaves.

As usual with the V-Wonder's cooking, the quantities are approximate because she eyeballs everything. Taste your sauce and adjust the seasoning until you taste-buds are happy! My taste-buds were certainly utterly satisfied: rich, creamy spicy curry goodness tends to have that effect on me.

The texture of the sauce, from the onions being pureed instead of simply being chopped, was amazing, and it is a trick I will certainly use next time I make some curry! Also, using coconut CREAM is crucial to get the desired thick... well... creaminess. In a regular can of coconut milk, the "cream" is the thick blob that floats at the top of the can. You can buy whole cans of that rich stuff: fat, but delicious!

Thanks again for the wonderful birthday dinner, V! Much love! xx

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Dark Chocolate and Goat Cheese Brownies

I have a life-long love story with goat cheese. Tangy, creamy, luxurious... When I went to France, I ate like a pig and came back to Montreal with an extra 10 pounds, most of which was probably goat cheese... I had found out that goat cheese drizzled with honey on fresh baguette was insanely delicious, and I abused this knowledge until my waistband was uncomfortably tight. Goat cheese lends itself beautifully to sweet-salty flavor combinations because it is tangy, but not too sharp. Honey, but also maple syrup and dark chocolate can be very good friends to the creamy wonder.

The past few weeks have been completely draining: I finally had time off from work, and it was my birthday. I wanted dessert pretty badly. And it had to have goat cheese in it, as this delicious, heavenly dairy never fails to take me back to the gorgeous, lavender-fragrant French country side where I first discovered its magic.

Yup, I turned twenty-eight last Wednesday! The number is a bit surreal to write down, mostly because I feel crazier now than I did ten years ago. People who say you'll calm down as you get older may be full of it, because it seems to me that the older I get, the more insane and radical I become. Albeit, in a very different way from when I was 17... and not just because my liver seems to have aged prematurely.

I think about a lot of things very differently than I did when I first slathered some Manic Panic in my mane (as would anyone who learned a thing or two over a decade), but my need to speak my mind, stand up for what I believe in and not let myself be swallowed up by society's expectations is stronger now than it was then.

I still adore Jello Biafra and I still think few things are cooler than Mohawks and studded leather jackets, but now I understand the point of retirement plans and of the police force, and I firmly believe that compassion and respect for your fellow human being is the golden rule to feeling better about the world. At the end of the day, I don't think I have changed so much as I have learned and grown. I guess that's the point: learning to be yourself every day of your life.

As much as I think of this evolution in a good way, I occasionally get mixed feelings about it. The pressure to fit in as you get closer to 30 can be pretty intense ("When are you getting married? When are you gonna have a baby? When are you gonna buy a house? Don't you think you have enough tattoos?"... I feel like throwing punches every time I hear those questions), and staying true to your colors can be exhausting. It's easy to be tempted by the idea of getting in line just so people will leave you be or take you seriously.

Such thoughts were another reason why I craved a rich and delicious dessert that would put me in a sugar-coma so I could get some rest and feel less weird about my birthday. When I saw this recipe in Nadia G.'s "Cookin' for Trouble", I started drooling on the book. I usually bake cupcakes for birthdays, but I was too obsessed with the idea of goat-cheese on a brownie to even think about my usual favorite dessert. I invited my best friend over, we got ourselves some bubbles, and here is what we made:

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup chopped unsweetened dark chocolate
2 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup creamy goat cheese, room temperature

Heat a double-boiler over medium heat. Add 1 cup of butter and the dark chocolate to the top pan and stir until the chocolate has melted.

Take it off the heat and let cool slightly. Whisk in 2 cups of brown sugar and 3 eggs. With a wooden spoon, fold in the walnuts (if using), all-purpose flour and sea salt. In a large mixing bowl, combine the goat cheese, 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1 egg. Blend using an electric beater at low speed.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 by 13-inch baking dish with parchemin paper. Pour the brownie batter into the baking dish, then evenly disperse spoonfuls of the goat cheese mixture over the batter.

With a knife, score the surface into a pattern (I suck at that, as you can see). Bake for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool the baking dish on a pan. Cut into bars, remove from the baking dish and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or 2. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge, with parchemin paper between the layers of brownies.

Trust me, this tastes just as rich and decadent as it looks. The goat cheese is creamy, and gives just enough of a salty kick to balance the intense sweetness of the dark chocolate (and all that butter). We enjoyed these as a knock-out dessert to follow my dearest Véronique's curry, along with our champagne. I could not have wished for a more perfect dessert for the occasion.

I cut the brownies into 8 large squares, but you can obviously cut them up to whatever size fits your appetite. I am also not insane about walnuts, so I skipped them, but I am sure they give this recipe a very nice crunch. The brownies tasted even better chilled overnight: the texture became dense, almost fudgey. I had half a piece with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream: holy cow, it was awesome!

If you ever feel conflicted about life or about your birthday, these are a very good antidote! They are also perfect for hardcore chocolate cravings. I am lucky to have enjoyed them with my boyfriend and my best friend, two people that make my life wonderful. They also made my birthday evening really great. I raise my glass of milk and my brownies to them! xx

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Boeuf Bourguignon or I Have the Paris Blues Again

My Paris-fever came back with a vengeance recently, thanks to my boyfriend getting me hooked on "Spiral", an awesome French cop show. Watching people chase criminals around the world's most beautiful city, stopping to eat a croissant every once in a while, had me longingly flipping through my bistro cookbooks while listening to Jacques Brel (cliché, I know, but so awesome).

While there is a plan to take a trip to the City of Light in the works for next year, I wanted a piece of my Paris. NOW. So I decided to make boeuf bourguignon.

I had read Julia Child's version, but despite having the week off from work, I did not want to spend quite that much time preparing dinner. I also wanted a recipe that did not involve frying bacon in butter... Luckily for me, Linda Danniberg's "Paris Bistro Cooking" offered a traditional, yet non-heart-attack-inducing version of the famous recipe. It still requires a bit of work, so you might want to save it for weekends, when you can take your time.

As the name says, this stew of beef braised in red wine comes from the Burgundy region of France. It started out as a peasant dish, but it has become a standard of French cuisine. Let's face it: when a dish is as hearty, filling and tasty, it ought to be a classic. This makes 4 to 6 helpings, and it's ridiculously easy to pull off.

1 1/2 pound stewing beef, cut into large cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons cognac
1 tablespoon butter
2 small onions, cut into wedges
3 or 4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 medium carrots, cut into sticks
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 cups red wine, preferably Burgundy (or Chianti, if you can't find Burgundy)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 pound button mushrooms (if using slightly bigger mushrooms, like cremini, half or quarter them depending on their size)
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig each of parsley and thyme and 1 bay leaf, tied in a square of cheesecloth)
Sea salt and ground pepper

Brown the meat in the oil in a heavy-bottomed casserole.

Drain off the fat. Add the cognac and ignite carefully. When the flames subside, remove the meat. Add the butter to the casserole and brown the onions, garlic and carrots over medium-high heat.

Sprinkle in the flour, stirring well. Add the wine and water and stir in the tomato paste, mushrooms, bouquet garni and the salt and pepper, scrapping the bottom and sides of the pan to loosen the browned meat juices.

Return the meat to the casserole, bring to a boil. Cover and lower the heat; simmer for about 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Skim off any surface fat and remove the bouquet garni.

Serve with steamed or boiled potatoes and buttered peas.

I must confess that one of the things that I find truly awesome about a recipe like boeuf bourguignon is that it offers me an opportunity to legitimately set something on fire in my kitchen... The flame was not really impressive, but the smell was incredible! Actually, my kitchen smelled awesome for the whole 2 hours of stewing. Sweet torture...

Julia Child called this the best beef dish ever. I don't agree with her all that often, but boeuf bourguignon really is an amazing dish. The meat is sweet and tender from stewing in wine, and the veggies are wonderfully flavored. It should be subtly seasoned, but not too sharp: add a teaspoon of dried thyme and be generous with freshly ground black pepper if you want to heighten the flavors, but be careful not to over do it. A full-bodied red wine goes well with boeuf bourguignon, such as the Burgundy used for cooking, but a Chianti or Merlot will also be a wonderful match.

Some bulk stores sell bouquet garni pre-made, but if you are making them at home, I suggest you buy some fresh parley and thyme, prepare a bunch of bouquet garni and put the ones you are not using in a sealable bag in the freezer. You'll be happy to have them handy the next time you make a stew or hearty pasta sauce.

While my Paris blues will never really be cured, eating a nice helping of this lovely traditional dish while watching "Amélie" did make them easier to deal with. The blues can never really take hold of a person with a full stomach...

Friday, 7 September 2012

Dad's BBQ Eggplant

I envy my dad very much for having a vegetable patch behind his house. It's one of my dreams to have a garden where I can grow veggies, herbs and flowers. I am actually seriously looking into starting a vertical vegetable patch on my balcony next spring (I will keep you guys posted about that), because seeing the gorgeous home-grown tomatoes makes my mouth water. I am also really eager to know the satisfaction of eating a meal made from produce I have grown and nurtured myself. After all, isn't the best way to avoid pesticides and genetically modified crap simply to grow our own food? I say hurray for urban gardening!

Dad shared a recipe he tried on his fresh garden eggplants with me. He told me how much his girlfriend and him enjoyed it, and I couldn't wait to give it a shot. I mean: eggplant + garlic + grilling? Omnomnom!

This recipe makes a lovely vegetarian main course that you can serve with quinoa or rice for a light, healthy meal. You can also use the thick eggplant slices for veggie burgers, or to stuff wraps and sandwiches. And of course, carnivores can use it as a tasty side to their barbecued meat!

1 large eggplant, sliced in 1 to 2 cm slices
Sea salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Provençal herbs
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 pinch Cayenne (or to taste)

Sweat the eggplant by salting the slices and letting them sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Rinse the slices and pat them dry with paper towels. In a bowl, mix the other ingredients and brush both sides of the slices with the mixture.

Let the eggplant “marinate” in the mixture for 30 minutes. On a barbecue or grilling pan, grill the slices on medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes on both sides until they are tender.

Baste the slices occasionally with the leftover marinade. You can also cook the eggplant in the oven, preheated to 400 degrees, on the lower rack for 10 minutes.

You can add a bit of cumin and oregano to your marinade if you want to, but the basic recipe is super-tasty and the tender eggplant has an amazing texture from the grilling. Along with my grilled portobello, this is another gorgeous vegetarian BBQ idea that you can enjoy all year long! Hopefully, next year, I'll be testing it on balcony-grown eggplant!

Thanks for the yummy recipe, dad!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Mustard and Beer Pork Roast

It had to happen sooner or later : full-leg pants came back out of my dresser, the comforter went back on the bed and the craving for hearty dinners and soups has been nagging at my appetite. Summer is not gone yet, but it’s on its last few miles, and while I intend to make the most of it, the cooler evenings are now calling for warmer, richer fares.

Last winter, my darling friend Véronique took over my kitchen and demonstrated her risotto-fairy gift, and also made a delicious pork tenderloin, roasted with some Dijon mustard and beer. The V-Wonder’s way is all about eye-balling and writing nothing down, so it took a bit of reconstruction, but I was able to build a recipe inspired by her improvisation, adapted for a 2-pound roast.

Mustard is definitely pork’s best friend: the piquant condiment complements the meat’s sweetness oh-so well. Add a bit of garlic, tarragon and the sparkly taste of beer, and how can you go wrong? Obviously, only Dijon mustard will work here! No blinding yellow substitute accepted. As for the beer, choose a blond or red seasoned beer that has a crisp taste, with no overwhelming bitterness.

1 2-pound boneless pork loin roast
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dry tarragon
1 teaspoon dry rosemary
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 bottle blonde or red beer (I used Unibroue's Blonde de Chambly)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pat the roast dry with paper towels, pierce the meat in several places with a fork, and sprinkle with some seas salt and freshly cracked black pepper. In a bowl, mix the Dijon mustard, the herbs, garlic and 1/4 of the beer.

Place the roast, fat-side down, in a Dutchoven or roasting pan and rub the roast with the paste. Pour the rest of the beer around the pork (the meat should be sitting in about 1/2-inch of beer).

Place in the oven, uncovered, and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, flipping the roast over halfway through. Use a meat thermometer to check the meat’s temperature: 160 degrees means medium, and 170 means well done. Once the meat is done, remove from the oven, cover loosely with foil and let sit for 5 to 20 minutes, then slice and serve. Drizzle the meat with the mustard sauce from the cooking pot.

Pair this roast with some mashed potatoes to get an awesome twist on a traditional stick-to-your-rib Sunday dinner. Deceptively simple, but very homey and delicious! You can let the roast sit in the mustard rub for a few hours before cooking, but that's not a necessary step. However, letting the roast sit a while after it's cooked is essential: giving the meat a break between cooking and being sliced allows the juices to spread through the entire roast, as opposed to being concentrated in the middle. You'll get a much juicier piece of pork than if it goes straight from roasting pan to plate.

You could also use the same seasoning for a beef roast; just remember that both types of meat need to roast for 20 minutes per pound! Adjust your cooking time accordingly, and do get a meat thermometer! Taking a bet as to whether your roast will be undercooked or overcooked is not the kind of gambling I condone...

Don’t be daunted by roasts like I used to be: once they are nicely rubbed, they literally cook themselves, and the leftover meat will supply you in sandwich filling for your next 3 lunches! It’s much better to roast a big piece of meat and use what’s left than buying terribly salty sandwich meat from the grocery store. Not to mention more economical. Get some pre-sliced Swiss cheese or Jalsberg, crusty bread, a tomato and some mayo, and you can easily whip up a tastier sandwich than most delis (and save yourself from sodium-induced dehydration at the same time).