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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Garlic Rosemary Roasted Heirloom Carrots

You might remember that I am often wont to making one overarching flavour theme to an entire meal.

One typical way of achieving this is to make a very concentrated, flavour-infused, butter or oil.

Some sliced garlic, some fresh rosemary, sautéed in some olive oil and very small amount of butter.

After only a few minutes the oil is extremely flavourful. And could be used for any variety of applications.

We're going to slather it on some heirloom carrots.

I like heirloom carrots.  The wife loves them. 
Plus they're just delightful looking.

These particular ones were a little knobby and dishevelled-looking, but they were organic farmer's market heirloom carrots, so what do you expect?

Slice these as nicely as their gnarled, misshapen appearances allow.

And then arrange them on a baking sheet with as much space between them as possible.

About five or ten minutes before they're fully baked, take them out and toss them in the garlic-rosemary oil and throw on a pinch of salt and a generous dash of freshly ground pepper.

Then throw them back in the oven for the remaining five or ten minutes.

Crispy and full of flavour.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Organic Lemon Syrup

For some reason I don't quite understand (oh, I'm sure it has to do with supply stock, demand interest, commodity trading, the global market... you know, capitalist machinations...) Lemons are always cheap.

Even in the dead of winter in cold, cold Canada, we can buy a bag of organic lemons for like $2; and not small bags, either.

Anyway, the other day we were at our favourite market and they were selling some particularly good-looking lemons, for particularly cheap, so I decided to try something I had been wanting to do for a while.

Make a lemon simple syrup.

For the uninitiated, simple syrups are basically just dissolved sugar mixtures.  They are certainly simple when compared to the disease we have had over the last half a century - of making so many refined, highly-concentrated, overly-saccharine syrups.  I don't even want to know what kind of industrial and chemical processes need to happen in order to make high-fructose corn syrup.

So, you could take a refined sugar, like white granulated sugar, and melt it in a pan with water, and technically you'd have a simple syrup.  But... "if you're going to build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?"

So, we're going to make some organic cane sugar simple syrup, infused with organic lemon.


If you're curious as to the 'why' of this, here are some of the uses we had planned:
First and foremost it was to be used in mixology endeavours.  We love a good whiskey sour (bourbon has become one of my favourite mixology foundations) and this makes those so much easier to make.  Secondly, just add a bit to any water and you've got instant (and delicious) lemonade.  Thirdly, you can drizzle a very small amount, or mix with some oil and vinegar, for a quick and dirty salad dressing.  Fourthly, this would be a great glazing material for meats like pork, chicken, or fish, just lightly brush some on periodically while roasting.  I'm sure there are many other uses, but those are just some of the ones we were most excited for.

Anyway, on to the syrup!

First, the copious amounts of lemons.

All of these lemons were less than $5.  And they were organic.  Crazy.  It makes me think I should always incorporate lemons in my culinary forays.

These are thoroughly cleaned, because (as you'll see later) we're going to be using a fair bit of the rind.

Next, the sugar.

For this we splurged and bought, what I think IMHO, is the best choice for this sort of thing, some organic cane sugar.

Firstly, this entire package gets put into a large saucepan with a small amount of water (for you purists, yes I did use purified water).  The ratio for simple syrups is typically anywhere between 1:1 and 2:1 sugar to water.  We went a little closer to the 2:1 sugar to water side.  This is after all, meant to be a very concentrated concoction.

Now, if you're familiar with 'cooking' sugar, you'll know that now's the time to bring out your candy thermometer.  It's actually a very sensitive procedure.  Not to scare you off from trying this, it is quite easy, just be sure not to underestimate the accuracy of measuring the temperature.  A few degrees is enough to change your syrup from a liquid to a gum, or even a hard (like Werther's hard) candy.

So just watch that thermometer.

In fact, candy thermometers all have a handy little clip with which to fasten it directly to your saucepan so it is constantly immersed and reading.  Adjust the height on it so the conductive (metal part on the bottom) is fully under the solution, but as far away from the pan (sides and bottom) as possible.

Around 230° Fahrenheit (110°C) is the magic number here.

So just keep watching that meter until it hits that number (or close to it).

While that is cooking (on medium heat), we began the time-consuming but also kind of fun task of juicing and zesting a shit tonne of lemons.


We don't have a juicer.  I've never understood the need for one.  My shitty hand-powered juicer works just fine and arguably just as quickly as any monstrous appliance which would take up room in my kitchen.

Sure it takes a while when you're juicing large quantities of fruit, but how often am I doing that?  Not very often is the answer.

Still it only took about ten minutes for the wife and I to juice and zest all of those lemons.

We were careful to press most of the pulp as diligently as possible, and in the end we ended up with quite a bit of juice.

We only chose to zest those lemons with the most attractive and shiny peel, but also arrived at much zest.

When all was said and done, there was a good amount of both juice and zest for our purposes.

The 'leftovers' - the discarded pulp, skin and extra zest we put in the slow cooker to simmer for days in the hopes of making a lemon oil.  We'll talk about that in another post, however.  ;)

By this time the syrup was ready.


Doesn't that look good?

Because we were hoping for a very runny syrup (the hope was to pour this stuff), but because we were also planning on adding lemon juice (effectively thinning this mixture) we actually went with pretty much exactly 230° for the end point. Before the addition of the juice, it was a little thick (still runny, but... viscous...)  Once it's reached this temperature it's fine to take it off the heat, it's not going to affect the consistency.

Anyway, we carefully poured this into a large liquid measure:

And then started to strain the juice in.

Because this was going to sit in the fridge for some time (potentially months), we added a fair bit of zest just as-is and whole.  This would infuse the syrup with a deep lemony flavour above and beyond what the juice alone could do.

When everything was all nicely mixed together,

We carefully (with a funnel) poured this into a cute, self-sealing, bottle.

The saucepan in this pic is not there for any particular reason other than I didn't want to clean up sticky syrup off my butcher's block.  ;)

Although you can buy these cool 'Grolsch-style' bottles new from kitchen stores (and I think Crate and Barrel sells a variety) I have a few (and this particular bottle is one) recycled ones - originally from sparkling water bottles.  ;)

When all finished, I have to say, it looks quite attractive!

Beautiful golden colour with gorgeous flecks of yellow peel curls.  I was really quite proud of this.

I still have some of this in my fridge almost 3 months later (although it is almost used up).  It is still great.  I admit that sometimes I strain out the zest bits - especially when I use this to make a beverage - but for the most part this is so convenient and makes a lot of things really easy.

And I feel really good about using it in place of other sweeteners because I know it is wholly organic, and made from purified water.

It is really great to have on hand, and I've become so accustomed to having it in the fridge I think I'll have to make another batch when this one is gone!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quick Vegan Bean Burritos

I was a little drunk one night, and really busy with some very important gaming, but I managed to take a (somewhat terrible) photograph of this meal I whipped up in less than 15 minutes.

It's quick, it's entirely vegan, and it's actually really good for you.  Maybe a little high in carbs (I said I was a little inebriated, after all), but really quite healthy.

I don't need to go into a lot of details, but one question I am asked often (if not the most often), is can I 'give examples of quick, healthy, vegan meals?'

Well this one is a staple of mine, and I make some sort of variation of this meal roughly once a week.

Essentially, I just chop some white onion, sweat it for a few minutes in a touch of vegetable oil, add a lot of minced garlic, and a diced chilli or two, and then add in a can of "beans in tomato sauce".  Heat that up and then sprinkle in some freshly crushed cumin seeds, a dash of oregano, and a touch of salt. 

It can take as little as ten minutes from start to finish if you do it right.

Pair it with some flour tortillas (literally just flour and water), and maybe a side of hot sauce (chillies and vinegar), and it is absolutely delicious, and immensely satisfying.

Sorry about the quality of this one...

Of course you could just dump a can of beans into a pot, heat, and then serve, but it really doesn't take long to add the 'good' stuff.

Some variations I often do include adding refried pinto beans (in addition to a nice beany taste, they make the entire mixture nice and uniform as well), add some other veggies like tomatoes or peppers, making the navy beans from scratch (bagged vs. canned), or using a different legume (or legumes) entirely, such as lentils, or chick peas.

Anyway, the purpose of this was just to provide one really simple example of a relatively decent vegan meal (throw in a salad and it's a perfectly balanced meal), that was really fast and dead simple to make.

Also super tasty.  And if you do use the tortillas, also kinda fun.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hearts of Romaine (De-constructed Caesar) Salad

"Hearts of Romaine Salad" is basically just a lazy way of doing up a Caesar Salad.

Myself, because I am a minimalist who dislikes pretension, I prefer that to the more obtrusive "De-Constructed" wording.

Actually, I tend to like 'de-constructed' dishes.  When executed well, they can be a delightfully novel way of preparing something common or everyday.  But they can be taken a little too far, and can ofttimes impose an over-inflated sense of value or allure to -what is at its heart (let us not forget) - something common.

The wording 'de-constructed' has always struck me negatively... basically you're admitting that it should have been something that the person knows and recognizes, but you're choosing to not fully assemble it.

So, with 'de-constructed caesar salad' I'm going to prefer to call it "Hearts of Romaine Salad" instead.  To me, that just sounds more honest.  It is a salad made with the romaine hearts still intact.



I've considered myself somewhat of a caesar salad aficionado over the years.  The vast majority of the ones I make for myself are simple, often just romaine lettuce and some light dressing.  However, once in a while I pull out all the stops and go crazy making an absolutely perfect caesar.

Some of these not-so-regular tricks include bacon (or some other, more pretentious analogue if you'd prefer: pancetta, guanciale, lardons, etc.) and copious amounts of garlic.  You can cook up the garlic on its own and then throw it in, or - what I prefer doing - slicing open some cloves and rubbing the salad bowl(s) with the wet garlic juice.  Top it off with some high-quality parmigiano reggiano and black pepper, and you can't go wrong.

So, here are some pics:

Choosing a good, fresh, organic head of Romaine is of course beyond mentioning.  Thoroughly washed and neatly trimmed, these hearts just got loosely placed in a large pasta bowl:

Even though I have a very nice pepper mill, I sometimes choose to go for a level of coarseness that can only be achieved by grinding the peppercorns yourself.

So these tellicherry peppercorns I would describe as being very coarsely ground.  Don't skimp on the black peppercorns in a caesar... they are absolutely essential!

After a very small amount of prep, these salads can sit for a short time until you're ready to eat.

See?  Super easy.  And pretty lazy.

I WILL say that there is something a bit more appetizing about seeing salad this way.  It seems a bit more inviting and elegant.  I know that that is just perception though.

Served with a fine light red (that's a pinot noir there), it's actually quite lovely.

And when dressed and ready to eat, looks delicious:

Yes it is easy to prepare and make this way, but it does mean that - when eating - a little more effort is required.  The wife took a more individualistic approach, eating each heart by itself kind of thing, but I just took a minute to cut them all up with a knife and fork.  It made it look less pretty, but it meant that everything was much more evenly distributed.

A small comment on dressing.  The best ones in my opinion are those with a very heavy garlic quotient.  A bit of lemon is good, and even a hint of anchovy is great.  Every Caesar I had in Europe actually had real anchovies in it (not just chopped, or as pieces in the dressing, but the full fish).  But garlic all the way... that is important.  And even though the bacon is an irregular extravagance here, I will say that it is crucial to not skimp on the dressing.  Sure there are some passable 'light' caesar dressings, and vinaigrettes, but nothing can compare to the creamy and thick ones.  Just accept that there's going to be some fat in your salad dressing, and make it delicious.

Anyway, this particular dressing is a 'garlic lover's' organic dressing.  Very thick and very, very, very garlicky.  It's my favourite.