Monthly Archives: March 2019

Grainews: First We Eat: Saying Farewell with Apple Crepes

Grainews

I learned recently that my culinary mentor, Madeleine Kamman, died in July 2018. At the time, the event went unnoticed. But when I got word, the news flattened me.

Madeleine was the tigress who taught me to trust my palate, who set my benchmarks. She valued methods, flavour principles, terroir, the ineffable link between place and taste. Her intensive hands-on cooking classes, market tours and restaurant outings in France did more to make a discerning cook out of me than the formal classes and apprenticeship that preceded it. Her seven books, among them The Making of a Cook, occupy prime real estate in my library.

She was a fierce feminist, a historian, Michelin-trained. Her high standards and remarkable palate were prized by her protégés, but viewed warily by some of her male counterparts. Her schools – in France, the Napa Valley, Boston – were attended by chefs looking to benefit from her grad-school-level master classes.

On the trip to France in 1985 to attend her cooking school in Annecy, indelible memories formed. Madeleine in the market, her nose crinkling as she examined a cluster of berries. Madeleine showing me how to butterfly a veal loin, caramelize fruit, reduce a sauce. Madeleine peering at my nine-month-old son in the high-spring sunlight, telling me that ratatouille was an ideal food for a child his age. Madeleine in a Chanel suit, chastising her coterie of North American students – me among them – for our informal clothing, totally unsuitable, she insisted, for the elite restaurants where we were to dine.

When I was not in class, my then-husband and I wandered the narrow streets in the old quarter, across footbridges, beside canals and creeks. We found the crepe maker’s cart beneath a plane tree.

He ladled a spoonful of batter onto a metal disc and smoothed it, flipped it, then folded the crispy circle in half, then quarters that he secured in a parchment round. From a steaming small pot, he scooped fat apple slices. Another pot held chocolate ganache, and a ceramic bowl was heaped with whipped cream.

He handed the first paper-wrapped cone to my husband, the cream and chocolate tangled skeins across the cinnamon-flecked apples. Thirty seconds later, a second cone materialized. We sat down on the bench, licked chocolate and cream from our hands, tucked warm apple into our son’s mouth, and bit into the crepes, leaning out past our knees as you do when things are messy and juicy and drippy in a good, cheerful, street-foodish kind of way.

In deep winter, those apple crepes make the most of the slim pickings we have on the fruit shelves in the prairies. I think of the unquenchable Madeleine every time I make them. So first we eat, and then we mourn her passing.

Buckwheat Crepes with Apples

Adapt this by using pears instead of apples, peaches in summer, with dried fruit as you fancy. The crepes will keep a week in the fridge. Batter: about 20 8” crepes. Filling: about 8 crepes.

Buckwheat crepe batter:

½ c. all-purpose flour

2 T. buckwheat flour

3 eggs

1 c. milk

¼ c. melted butter

salt to taste

additional butter for the pan

Stir together the flours, then whisk in the eggs. Slowly stir in the milk, then strain. Rest the batter for 30 minutes. Whisk in the butter and salt. Heat an 8” cast iron or well-seasoned sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a bit of butter, melt it, then ladle 1 T. batter into the pan. Swirl to spread it. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate. Repeat. Stack crepes on the plate.

Ganache:

¼ c. chopped dark chocolate (I like Lindt)

¼ c. whipping cream

Melt on medium power in the microwave, stirring once or twice, about 3 minutes. Stir well, adding more cream if too thick.

Apple filling:

2 c. apple cider

½ c. sugar

1 c. water

1 lemon, orange or lime, zest and juice

2 whole star anise

1 tsp. whole allspice

2 slices fresh ginger root

1 stick cinnamon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 tsp. peppercorns

8 whole cloves

4-6 apples, peeled and sliced

¼ c. dried sour cherries or cranberries

Combine all ingredients except the fruit in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer until the syrup has acquired flavour and spice. Strain, discarding the solids. Add the fruit, cover with parchment paper and a snug lid, and gently cook on medium heat until tender, about 20 minutes, depending on degree of ripeness. Remove the fruit, and reduce the liquid’s volume to about ½ cup, of syrup consistency.

To serve, spoon the fruit into each crepe. Top with syrup and ganache. Garnish with whipped cream or ice cream. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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Grainews: First We Eat: Spaghetti Easterns

Grainews

It’s a wintry morning in Calgary, where I am visiting my son and his partner. We are bundled up, standing in line. Even though the chinook is blowing in, the morning is raw, and I am grateful I didn’t make any assumptions and underdress. It’s still deepfreeze prairie winter.

The restaurant’s door opens at 11 AM sharp, and the thirty people in front of us are quickly ushered to benches, chairs and stools. My son reassures me that it won’t be long, that the turnover is fast. I’ve been here before, even though neither my son nor I like line-ups.

When I peer in through the front windows a few minutes later, bowls and plates already sit in front of several happy diners. Chopsticks and spoons are deployed. I can’t hear the sound effects, but I can imagine them, because I have made those noises myself – slurping, sighing, lip-smacking, the noises deserved by good food.

When I return to our spot in the queue, we pass the time by discussing Tampopo, Juzo Itami’s famous “Spaghetti Eastern” movie about a noodle maker in Japan. This wildly funny 1986 movie sendup of “spaghetti Westerns” involves a stranger who rides into town (in a truck), then sticks around to help a widow learn to make better noodles for her shop.

My appetite is stoked by the time my son’s name is called. We’ve waited outside maybe forty minutes; this restaurant, Shiki Menya, serves ramen, pale yellow wheat noodles and the broth-style soup that contains them. A line forms outside its door every day because the noodles and broth are not only scrumptious, but hand-made. Daily. When they run out, the door closes. We sit; we consult; we order. Soon it’s us who are smacking our lips, sighing and slurping. Then we leave, so others can do the same.

At home, I dig around in my library and online, reading up on the noodles and its eponymous broth, then head to the kitchen, curious to see if I can reproduce the textures and flavours that made me so happy.

The short answer: yes, and no. Intrepid home cooks can approximate ramen’s slick texture by adding baked baking soda to an egg noodle dough, but trust me, some things really are best left to the specialists. Best to make the stock and buy the noodles: readymade ramen – not the dry packaged kind with a little packet of salty seasoning that sustains university students on a tight budget, but fresh ramen – or fat wheat udon or Shanghai noodles, or even soba (buckwheat noodles), any of which are usually available at grocery stores. In a real pinch, spaghetti will work.

Ramen’s rich broth is often made from pork bones, but miso, chicken or fish stock can be used as well. What else shows up in the bowl? Char siu (braised or barbecued pork belly). Negi (Spring onion). Soft tamago (soft-boiled egg). Menma (fermented bamboo shoots). Mustard greens, pea shoots, micro-greens, spinach. Aromatic sesame seeds or oil, peanuts or cashews. The whole, extraordinarily greater than the sum of its modest parts, is enough to make a grown woman go weak in the knees. So first we eat, and then we decide if we should have more.

Dee’s Eastern Noodle Soup

Chinese char siu is pork roasted with a tangy, often-sweet sauce. The Japanese version is pork belly too, braised or roasted. Why pork belly? Fat content, which translates into lusciousness in eating. Use this braised version in your own “spaghetti eastern” bowls of ramen.

Braise:

2 lb. pork belly

6 c. pork stock or chicken stock

1 c. soy sauce

1 c. sake

¼ c. brown sugar

2 onions, coarsely chopped

1 head garlic, peeled and bruised

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2″ ginger, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

 

Soup broth and flavourings:

Pork braising liquid

Soy sauce

miso

chili paste

Aromatic sesame oil

 

Garnishes:

Sliced broiled char siu

Negi (spring onion), minced

Soft tamago (soft-boiled egg)

Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)

Mushrooms, raw or sautéed

Mustard greens, pea shoots, micro-greens, spinach

Toasted peanuts

Corn

Cooked wheat noodles (ramen, udon, Shanghai) or soba (buckwheat noodles)

Set oven at 300 F. Roll pork belly into a cylinder, tie with kitchen twine and set aside. Combine all braising ingredients in a heavy pot and bring to the boil. Add the pork, then reduce to a simmer. Cover the contents snugly with a piece of parchment paper, then with a lid. Cook in oven for 3-4 hours, or until tender. Leave cooked pork in liquid overnight in fridge. Next day, remove the pork belly from the liquid and slice. Sauté or broil each slice for a yummy nice caramel-edged effect, or reheat the slices in some of the broth.

To make the soup, heat the braising liquid, then add flavourings, garnishes and cooked noodles to suit appetite and palate. Serve immediately.

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Grainews: First We Eat: Fish on the FLatland

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We didn’t eat much fish when I was a kid, just the occasional trout my grandfather reeled in from the North Saskatchewan River, and East Coast cod on Fridays. Not until we arrived on Vancouver Island did I learn to love fish, especially West Coast sockeye salmon, although the act of fishing struck me as boring. “A good excuse for doing nothing,” I heard my grandfather describe it in later years. By then I’d begun to appreciate why a hardworking dryland farmer might appreciate the opportunity to sit quietly on the bank of a river and watch the fishing line play out across the water.

We have more choices these days, even if we don’t go fishing. Fishermen bring whitefish, pike, walleye and pickerel to market from northern lakes, and Saskatchewan’s Diefenbaker Lake is home to Wild West’s farmed steelhead.

Farming fish is an ancient practise – symbiotic, low intensity, low impact – that originated when carp or tilapia swam in flooded Asian rice fields and Aztec canals. “There is rice in the fields, fish in the water,” read a line carved on a Thai stone tablet 700 years ago.

This ancient idea feels contemporary, and necessary. In a time when one in ten people around the globe faces chronic hunger, in a time when wild fish stocks are poisoned or depleted, farming fish simply make sense. But not just farming fish: farming in a closed-loop system: as described by the Oxford dictionary, aquaponics is “a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically [in sand, gravel or liquid], which in turn purify the water.”

In the late 1980s, Lethbridge College became interested in aquaponics, and in past decades, a number of prairie businesses have dipped their lines into the aquaponics business as well: Greenview Aqua-Farm, founded in 1994 near Delacoeur, Alberta, by several Chinese-Canadians longing to re-create their childhoods; in 2007, near Nobleford, Alberta, Klaas Dentoom’s Current Prairie Fisherman Corp. began farming tilapia; Mark McNaughton has been raising tilapia in a converted hog barn at MDM Aqua Farms, east of Three Hills, since 2000; and around 2010, Leo Josephson, a retired teacher, set up an aquaponics farm west of Saskatoon, selling the resulting tilapia and tomatoes at local farmers’ markets. “Fish farming isn’t so different from conventional farming,” Mark told me back in 2012, “just in a different medium.”

Among the most recent are Aqua Terra Farms in Okotoks, and Deepwater Farms in southeast Calgary. Deepwater’s water and fish waste from tanks of Australian barramundi sustain crops of arugula, watercress, kale, pac choi and mizuna, which appear on Calgarian restaurant menus. In late November 2018, Deepwater’s owners launched a crowdfunding campaign to expand the urban farm and increase production, with a goal of making fish and greens available to the public as well.

It’s a good thing. I still don’t eat enough fish, no matter how often the food cops nag about fish’s high perch on the food nutrient ladder. Having more local sources will make it easier. Now that the fish are biting, first we eat, then we can sit down to a neighbourly chat.

Roasted Steelhead or Tilapia with Walnut Sauce

Based loosely on muhammara, a classic Turkish relish, this sauce has migrated throughout the Middle East. It’s dynamite on nearly any type of roasted or grilled fish, grilled meats, or as a resplendent solo star appetizer. Make extra to use the next day on simple grilled bread. From my book, Foodshed: An Edible Alberta Alphabet (TouchWood Editions, 2012).

Serves 4

Sauce:

¼ lb. walnut halves

¼ c. diced tomato

2 T. pomegranate molasses

1 t. toasted and ground cumin

1 T. honey

1/2 t. sumac, optional

1 lemon, juice and zest

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ c. olive oil

2 T. walnut oil

4 T. minced cilantro

salt and hot chili flakes to taste

 

1 1/2 lb. steelhead or tilapia fillets

olive oil for drizzling

salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the walnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool thoroughly, then chop with a knife. Stir together all the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 450 F. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet with a lip. Lightly oil and season the fish. Roast uncovered until the fish is just cooked through, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remove from heat, garnish with sauce and serve.

 

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Grainews: First We Eat: Reclaiming Our Peasant Heritage

Grainews

Yesterday I walked home from morning coffee at my neighbour Sharon’s house, my passage closely observed by a leggy Black Angus calf. She bounced up to the barbed wire fence, her head high as she gave my dog and me the once-over. Jake stopped in his tracks, uncertain what this til-now-predictable creature was up to. “Nothing,” I told him. “She’s just curious. Like you. Let’s go home.”

At home, a pot of beef stock simmered, made from bones harvested from that calf’s cousin, and I had plans for some chuck and round, the meat also harvested from my neighbour’s herd – a pot of beef stew, enriched with a generous glug of decent red wine

Beef stew made with red wine was the essence of subsistence cooking for French farmers who were perhaps foragers, perhaps cattle farmers, perhaps grape growers or vinters. But call that same stew by its true name – boeuf Bourgignon – and serve it in a bistro or fancy white-tablecloth resto, and what was simple peasant fare is appropriated – and priced to match – for the upscale diner who perhaps can’t cook it for herself.

The whole idea of stew sounds unremarkable, I agree. It can be. I have eaten my share of beef stew tough enough to go walkabout in the pasture, with glue-y characterless gravy. But it’s just as easy to make a great stew as to make that boring pedestrian plain-Jane-do-we-have-to-eat-this-stuff-again version. So what rescues beef stew from ignominy? What makes it a yum-worthy dish?

Just a couple things: good ingredients and good technique.

Get good beef. Get some bones, too. Make stock: simmer it for at least 12 hours. It is essential. Yes, you can use canned or packaged stock, and yes, you could get away with making beef stew with chicken stock. But at a price. That beefy bubbling potful of liquid covering oven-browned beef bones and caramelized vegetables is the heart of the dish. While the stew simmers, the house will fill with layers of flavour, and the finished dish will taste rich, incredibly beefy and unctuous. Definitely yum-worthy.

The wine needs to be good enough to drink, but I would never pour a name brand fancy-ass bottle of Pinot Noir or Burgundy or Cab Sauv into my stew pot. I would use an entire bottle – cheap and cheerful Chilean Merlot, for instance – saving a single glass for myself as the pot simmers.

As to technique, use a couple pans. Sauté the bacon, onions and garlic, transfer them to a heavy pot, then pat the beef dry. Working in small batches, salt it, brown it well, deglaze the pan with some of that wine, and pour the whole shooting match into the pot. Add the rest of the bottle and a few ladles of stock. Cover. Simmer until tender. Peek and stir from time to time. It really is that simple.

Put some spuds and root veg into the oven to roast. Fry some wild or cultivated mushrooms and add them to the pot at the last minute. Sit down, fill your glasses. First we eat, then we thank the cook, the calf, the farmer.

Boeuf Bourgignon

You can add a dab of tomato paste to the pot, but I prefer the unadulterated flavour of wine and beef stock. Serve with roasted potatoes and root vegetables and a simple salad with a sharp vinaigrette. Serves 8

6-8 slices bacon, chopped

2 heads garlic, sliced

2 onions, chopped

olive oil for the pan

3-5 lb.  stewing meat, cubed and patted dry

salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

1 bottle red wine

4 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced

1 t. dried thyme

1 t. dried basil

4-6 c. beef stock

sliced mushrooms (rehydrated dried wild or fresh cultivated)

oil or butter and garlic (for the mushrooms)

minced fresh parsley

Fry the bacon until almost crisp, add the garlic and onions, and cook for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a brazier or heavy ovenproof casserole. Re-heat the sauté pan, add a drizzle of oil, and enough beef to almost cover the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the meat as it browns. Transfer the browned meat to the pot, add a splash of wine to the sauté pan, deglaze it, and tip the scrapings and liquid into the pot. Cook the meat in multiple batches to avoid crowding the pan, repeating until all the meat is browned and in the pot. Add the rest of the wine, herbs, and enough stock to cover everything nicely. Bring to a boil, cover with parchment and a lid, and cook on low for several hours, until tender.

When the meat is done, simmer uncovered until the sauce thickens. Sauté the mushrooms with oil or butter and garlic, and stir into the pot. Serve garnished with parsley.

 

 

 

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