Thursday, December 24, 2009

Nothing Says "I Love You" Like Hollandaise Sauce

...With profound apologies to all the vegans out there.
Hollandaise sauce has always been one of those recipes that I've been dying to make. Having grown up eating mostly Indian food, I've always had a fascination with continental foods. At Christmas time, we always made Eggs Benedict, and after trying to make a hollandaise at home, I now realize that the endeavor is a labour of love.
Hollandaise is a emulsification of the yolk of eggs, butter, and vinegar, with pepper and lemon sometimes adding spice and tang. It is a French sauce, and was made as early as 1651 by Francois Pierre La Varenne in his groundbreaking book Le Cuisinier Francois. However, the sauce mimics a Dutch sauce, hence the "holland" in hollandaise. It is considered one of the 5 mother sauces in French cooking.
Last Saturday, I made hollandaise sauce with artichokes, and stuffed pasta shells for an early holiday dinner for The Mixmaster. I altered an Epi recipe, and came up with what you see below. A few notes: Feel free to add a squirt or two of extra lemon for tartness; I found with the vinegar that my recipe was tart enough. Also, I used black pepper. All the recipes I found beg you to use white. But what's wrong with a little colour? I liked the flecks throughout the sauce. And finally, when rewarming the sauce, be sure to do so on low heat. Separated hollandaise can really be a downer at one's otherwise festive holiday brunch...

Recipe (for 1 1/2 cups):

2 tablespoons pure white vinegar
3 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
3 large egg yolks (preferably free run)
2 sticks butter (1 cup), unsalted, cut into 1 tablespoons pieces and softened
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional, if you like it very tart)

  • Boil vinegar, 2 T water, salt, and black pepper in medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, until reduced to about 2 tablespoons (this happens quickly).
  • Remove from heat and add additional tablespoon of water.
  • Whisk in yolks and cook over very low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened (be careful not to scramble yolks). I had the heat at about 2-3 on my stove.
  • Whisk in butter one piece at a time, you may lift pan occasionally to cool sauce.
  • If adding lemon juice, do so after the pan is removed from heat. Also add salt, to taste.
* The egg yolks will not be fully cooked in this recipe, just so you know.

I hope you all have a lovely holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Croissants and Alphonsoes goes Vegetarian (!?)

Well, I'd been putting off writing this post for a while. But I'd figured that when you write a food blog, it might be a good idea to let people know that you're no longer gonna be taste-testing steaks at Tati Bistro on Harbord Street. It's been about 6 weeks since I've eaten meat like beef and chicken and pork, and I'm phasing fish out of my diet (which is a bit harder, I'll tell ya).
What would make a grrl who loved cutting into the occasional steak give up all meats? Well, about six weeks back, I saw a small animal get killed by a car on my street. I know it seems trivial, but in that moment, I was reminded of life, death, and animal suffering in a way that I'd forgotten for years. I'd been a vegetarian through most of high school and my undergrad. Remembering my reasons for abstaining from meat, or at least cutting back was quite easy.
This last weekend I went home to visit my folks in Montreal. And as my dad is vegetarian, I ate much amazing, Gujarati meatless meals. My parents are going to California to visit my aunt for the holidays, so we had our holiday gathering two weeks early. And while my family has had a healthy sense of skepticism when it comes to my new eating habits, My younger sister and her boyfriend both bought me two lovely books that I'm very excited to read. The Moosewood empire has expanded to prepared food and cookbooks, from a restaurant in Ithaca, NY. Their website can be found here. My sister bought me one of their new books, and said that she'd give me one of their others that she doesn't really use. And the present that I'm really excited about is this book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It has been the hot new book in animal rights and criticism. I can't wait to crack into it.
Last week, The Mixmaster gave me yet another birthday surprise, an evening at the Bata Shoe Museum and a dinner at Vegetarian Haven. We shared the Tofu Drumsticks, which were served with a sweet and sour sauce, and I had the seitan cutlets, which was a sizzling plate. We shared a small blueberry tartlet that is easily the best vegan dessert I've ever had, and tofu ice cream. It was a sinful dinner.
So, no trying out foods with meat in it. But I might get friends to try them, and I'll still report on food culture that has to do with meat dishes. It's not like I'm just gonna be reviewing Fresh over and over now...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Sexiest Cake Ever

Yesterday was my birthday, and The Mixmaster threw me a martini and tapas party. She did most of the cooking, making deviled eggs, feta-stuffed cherry tomatoes, and baguette pieces topped with melted brie and fig. We had home made hummus and roasted red pepper and eggplant dips, and I spiced my own olives. Family and friends brought fresh figs, cupcakes, and a variety of cheeses. It was downright decadent.
The piece de resistance of the entire evening was a "Persian Love Cake;" a gorgeous, lemon and cardamom-spiced chiffon cake with rosewater whipped cream on it that was showered with sugared rose petals and pistachios. Basically orientalism on a plate, and hopefully something that will kick start my interest in the new dissertation chapter I'm writing.
I'd made the cake the day before, and after cooling it, put it on plates and wrapped it with plastic and left it at room temperature. You can find the recipe for the cake here. I'd made a few adjustments to the Epi recipe. I increased the batter by 50%, to make a 3 layer cake. On the website, other patrons had said that the recipe made a small cake, and I had to make sure all my guests were fed. I also powdered the cardamom in my mortar and pestle, because I didn't like the idea of people biting into whole cardamom seeds. And I used slightly less rosewater, so the taste wasn't overpowering (as few of my guests don't like rosewater). You should note that even with the third layer there was too much whipped cream left over, so I'd say that whipping 2 1/4 cups double cream would be fine.
One of my sisters said that the cake "looked like a cloud," and the sugared rose petals were divine. Now that I know how to do it, I might sugar other flowers. Oh, and for those of you who are looking for organic roses for this recipe, they can be found in Toronto at Wholefoods (just don't expect the rest of the bunch to last longer than a day...). I only ended up needing one rose for the recipe.
Would I make my own birthday cake every year? Well what with all the cleaning, cooking, and then spending an hour turning into my diva self, maybe next year Betty Crocker is in order? Kidding, kidding!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mozzarella di Bufala

After a long sunday of walking around the Colesseo and checking out churches, The Mixmaster and I found ourselves nearing dinnertime with no place to eat. While perched on a ledge at the Colesseo, surrounded by tourists, I peered into one of our guidebooks and found the perfect place. A pizzeria in Testaccio, the same neighbourhood where we partied with hundreds of queer Italians at Gorgeous I Am the night before. We dragged our tired legs and our growling bellies onto the metro system, and made our way to Pizza Remo (44 Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice).
...Only to find it closed, as many restaurants were, on this, the holy day. By now we were very hungry and my hypoglycemic self was getting a little concerned. Luckily, we found a mercato just around the corner, and decided to shop for a little picnic dinner. We were blown away by the affordable prices, particularly of the cheeses and the wines. The Mixmaster was shocked that chunks of parmigiana half the length of her arm were 1/4 of what they would cost in Toronto. We picked up two bottles of wine, one for about 3 euros, a frizzante (sparkling wine) called Primo Amore by Zonin, some salami and panna (bread) to last a few days, and then, I saw it: mozzarella di bufala. I couldn't wait to get it back to the hotel to try it.
The Campania region of Italy is famous for mozzarella di bufala, or fresh, buffalo mozzarella. These are several theories about the introduction of the water buffalo to the region, and many believe that Arab traders brought them to Italy from the Middle East. Our mozzarella di bufala came refrigerated in a bag with clear-ish fluid. It had a lightly salty taste, and was creamy, and very easy to cut. You could scoop it with a spoon even, and yes, it seemed to be perishable. It was very white, and it melted on the tongue; you barely had to chew it.
We got back to the hotel and made sandwiches of the salty, sliced salami and the mozzarella and we cut some apples. Despite her name, after a glass or two of Primo Amore, The Mixmaster got a little tipsy. Hey, it's just another night in Italy: watching news in a language we didn't understand, resting our tired feet, eating the best salami and mozzarella sandwiches known to humans, and getting drunk on frizzante.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Cornettos, Cornettos, Cornettos!

Well, having already touched on and analyzed the espresso, I thought I'd move onto the other half of the typical Italian breakfast, the cornetto. The word cornetto translates to what we call a croissant, and I'll tell you, I was thrilled to be given the license to eat one or more a day. Cornettos in Italy mostly aren't as light or flaky as some of the better ones I've had at places such as Pain Perdu here in Toronto or in some of the better boulangeries in Montreal, so I suppose less butter is used and the dough and cold butter are folded over into one another less in the process of making it. At good pasticcerias (pastry or cake shops) the variety of cornettos was often astounding. I didn't take any pictures within pasticcerias for fear of looking like a tourist (as if The Mixmaster's backpack and my map didn't give us away), but they often contained long, gleaming glass cases filled with every type of pastry imaginable: little tartlets fill with custard and topped with fresh fruit, these cunning little shell-like things that appeared to be filled with custard, and cakes, cakes, cakes.

On the average day in Rome, The Mixmaster would sleep in a little and take her time getting dressed, while I would shower more quickly and pop down to Squisito for my morning cappuccino. Then I would walk over to the corner of Via Merulana and Via dei Statuto where there was a lovely pasticceria (if I bought our cornettos from there, they were about 30 euro cents cheaper than if I got them from Squisito, and the selection was much better; we paid about 80 euro cents or about 1.50$ per cornetto). I went to the slightly stern woman at the cash, paid for our cornettos, then went and served myself at the counter. They were apricot jam-filled, custard-filled, chocolate-filled wonders, they were topped with apple slices or powdered sugar or chocolate crumbs; I'm getting nostalgic just thinking about it. The Mixmaster and I would eat our lovely pastries on the train to Pompei, or in a piazza as a mid morning snack, or in our hotel room, while we planned our day's excursions.
One little caveat: er, after several days of indulgence in white flour pasta and white flour cornettos, the average health conscious North American might wish that they had packed their psyllium husk along with their Gravol and Pepto Bismol. Apparently I hadn't been thinking! Because I didn't know what sort of help I'd get at the local pharmacia if I went in and said, "Mi scusi signore, vorrei Metamucil, per favore" (excuse me sir, I'd like Metamucil, please)!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Espresso, Plantations, Sambo Imagery, and Colonization in Reverse

The Mixmaster and I just got back from Italy, and yes, it was lovely. Everything I dreamed it would be. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting on my trip, and places to eat (and places not to, of course) in Bella Italia. But I thought I'd begin my discussion of my whirlwind 8 days there with that quintessential Italian drink, espresso.
On day 2 of our trip, the first full day in Rome, I headed down to Squisito (the cafe just below our hotel) on Via Merulana and had my first cappuccino. We here in North America really drink coffee-flavoured steamed milk. The Starbucks "venti" is a travesty! The average cappuccino in Italy is about half the size of a regular ceramic coffee cup, and is drunk in a few minutes while chatting with the barista at the bar. Or, in my case, smiling shyly, and saying "Grazie, Signore," when I leave. The cappuccinos at Squisito (which translates to delicious in English), were 90 euro cents, and were frothy, not overly bitter, and creamy. The milk seemed to be full fat, which made for a silkier tasting beverage. And on offer was a dusting of premium quality sweetened cocoa powder. The baristas could even make heart shapes when pouring the frothed milk into the cup. You might want to check out this website to learn about all things espresso.

Espresso beans, sugar, cocoa: these are all goods that come from countries of the south (either the Caribbean, South and Central America or Africa). Edward Said, writer of the pivotal Orientalism, writes that European orientalists saw the East as a place of rejuventation, as a place where raw energy could come from that could invigorate the West. But we cannot forget the actual imported raw materials, that are turned into such highly prized food and other luxury goods made in Europe (this expands too to the highly regarded fashion industry, in which Egyptian cotton is a prized staple).

This is an image of the sugar packets at Squisito. I quickly snapped a photo, and brought one home with me, for my research. Racist imagery of black people (and others) in food is not new, of course. We here in Canada and the US have seen smiling black people feeding us everything from table syrup to rice (I'm thinking of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben respectively). And the less critical among up might say, "What of it? It's just a happy man in a hat!" without knowing of the history of caricatures of blacks. And they're always happy. If "moca" man wasn't smiling, we'd have to think of the conditions on his sugar plantation, Italy's (albeit limited) past forays into imperialism in such places as Libya, and our espresso might start to taste a little bitter on the tongue.
But one of the most exciting things I found in Italy was the scores of people of colour! I had thought that The Mixmaster and I would be stared at, and possibly experience racism in Italy, but Rome had more people of colour than Montreal, easily. There were sushi restaurants, and "Cinese food" (sic) places, and it made me think of a poem I read for one of my comps, Colonization in Reverse by Louise Bennett, in which the poet speaks of how the Empire "strikes back". I'm including a few stanzas here (the full poem is available online):

Wat a joyful news, miss Mattie,
I feel like me heart gwine burs
Jamaica people colonizin
Englan in Reverse

By de hundred, by de tousan
From country and from town,
By de ship-load, by de plane load
Jamica is Englan boun.

Dem a pour out a Jamaica,
Everybody future plan
Is fe get a big-time job
An settle in de mother lan.

What an islan! What a people!
Man an woman, old an young
Jus a pack dem bag an baggage
An turn history upside dung!

Yes, struggling African Italians, and Asian Italians might find it hard to challenge the hegemony of Italy's history and culture, but they speak back to the narrative of the Dolce Vita and make it their own, by adding "Cinese" food to the menu, or lapsing into Hindi when selling Venetian masks (as one vendor did with us). The Venetian South Asian we spoke with spoke Italian, some English, and Hindi. And it got me to thinking about what his life might be like. Similar to what mine was in Montreal, I guess, a riot of multiple languages and cuisines. Colonization in Reverse, indeed.
God, I wish I wasn't so jet lagged...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Croissants and Alphonsoes does Italy

Well, in two short days, The Mixmaster and I will be leaving for bella Italia! I have about a million things to do before my trip, including figuring out what a "Farfalle con pomodorino fresco, rucola e mozzarella" is, because I'll be eating it, if all goes according to plan, along with two other courses, with bottled water and wine at a "menu fissi" (fixed menu), in Florence. A few things I've learned about Italian dining, and will be careful of in my 9 days there are:
  • Espresso bars charge about triple if you sit down. If you're not tired, and just need a quick caffeine fix, getting your espresso at the bar is a better option. Oh, and tipping is a must (where isn't it?).
  • Italian restos often tack on hidden charges, often even charging for tap water, and bread baskets. Being smart about the bill and asking if what the cost of everything is is a good idea.
  • Always be certain to clarify what size of an item you want. If you want a small slice of pizza, ask for a "piccolo," or you may pay more than you want.
Some things I'm dying to experience are the Trevi fountain in Rome, seeing David's naughty bits, eating a "bagna" boiled beef sandwich in Mercato Centrale in Florence, and going to Naples, the birthplace of the margherita pizza (a pizza with the colours of the Italian flag, for you nationalists out there...). And also sitting in cafes, writing postcards. Maybe going to St Peter's Square, and thumbing my nose at the Pope.
My goal is to record as much of my culinary experiences as I can, and report back. And hopefully, I'll have more to say than "Era squisito!" (That was delicious!).
Hope all of you out there have a lovely week and a half.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Food Memory, and Two Indian Salads

A few weeks ago I had made a minor Indian feast, and thought that a katchoombar, or onion salad, might go well with it. I whipped one up quickly. The interesting thing is, I've never been given the recipe. No one ever said to me, "You take half an onion..." and so on.
This got me thinking of all the things that I know how to cook, some of which I've still not made yet, just by watching my Mom do so for years. Food memory, I call it. Just this last year, I made stuffing from scratch for the first time, because the memory of being in my parents' kitchen, holiday season after holiday season, watching my Mom do so had practically coded the recipe into my DNA. I also moved to Toronto with her homemade chicken soup recipe embedded in my brain. And food memory continues on as an adult. I now know how to make an Anglo-Indian curry, having watched the Mixmaster do so over and over.
The thing about food memory is that it is not static, it is fluid, it adapts with the times, and tastes. I've tweaked a recipe or two, made them healthier, or modified them. And another thing about food memory is that it is meant for sharing. So my mom's raita recipe is happily passed along to a friend, who can pass it along to another friend.
Finally, here are two simple Indian salad recipes, a Raita and a Katchoombar. The recipes are imprecise because, as with many food memory items, you just eyeball as you go along. Though if you have any serious concerns, please do write a comment. The raita is often used as a supplement for very fiery dishes to cool the tongue, just so you know.

Take 1/3 of an english cucumber. Peel and grate. Discard peels and take grated bits and squeeze out water; place in a small bowl. Take about 1/2 to 1/3 of a tub of yoghurt, place in a bowl, and beat with a fork until smooth. Add cucumber, salt to taste, and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste. Mix well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Take half of a white onion and cut into thin slices. Place in a small serving bowl. Add 1/3 of a grated carrot. Mix. Add a good long squeeze of apple cider vinegar. Add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Mix with a fork. Can be made an hour or two before serving.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Sunday Trip To The Best Croissants in Town

I've been working quite intensely at a summer job the last few weeks, so when I have the odd day off, it's much appreciated. A week or two ago, the Mixmaster and I made this lovely wilted greens dish, along with a whole wheat meat sauce and spinach lasagna. The escarole is a rather quick dish to make, and substitutions can be made; I didn't have a red onion, so I used white, and while eating it, I mused at how lovely a scattering of toasting of pine nuts would taste over it.
Last week, I yet again had one day off on Sunday, and thought heading over to Pain Perdu for their mouth watering croissants would be great. I've heard that Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East) has a pretty good croissant too, but for my money, PP's croissants are the best in town. As you bite into one, a small shower of pastry flakes will dust your shirt, as they should. It tastes mildly of butter and bread and yeast and nothing else. No preservatives. The croissants are obviously lovingly and meticulously made over the course of a day, by folding chilled butter and dough mixture over and over, quite patiently. Don't believe how time consuming croissant making is? Watch this long-ish video, and you'll get the drift...

Pain Perdu's croissants are perfect to grab for a stroll down St. Clair West, and there's even a little bench outside PP, for you to sit down and people watch while eating your pastry. And if plain croissants are a little ennuyeux for you, try some of their other viennoiserie.
Croissants were said to have been created in 1686 in a rather interesting and mythic story. As the story goes, a baker working late in Budapest, Hungary heard an alarming noise and alerted the city officials. It seems that the Turkish army was tunneling under the cities walls, and this lone baker saved the day. He was asked if he wanted anything, and all he asked is that he could make a special pastry to commemorate the occasion- in the shape of the Islamic crescent.
Neat little tale, eh? Too bad it's all a zenophobic myth. There's no documented proof of the thwarted invasion in history books, and croissants recipes were first found in France around 1850.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cooking 101- Bruschetta

Well, this "back to school" time of year is a perfect moment to start what will be a regular, recurring feature here at Croissants and Alphonsoes, and that is the basic, essential recipe for those just starting out in the kitchen, or those intimidated by lengthy recipes and lengthier lists of ingredients. Cooking 101 will hopefully teach you some simple recipes you can try and add to your repertoire, while still being interesting to advanced chefs.
This is a recipe that is adapted from Bonnie Stern's Heartsmart Cooking For Family and Friends. I've simplified some of the steps, and I encourage you to take liberties with the recipe. For example, after making the dish once, I would just grab a handful of basil and estimate 2 tablespoons. And of course salt and pepper can just be added to taste. I've also experimented with cutting the baguette lengthwise into longer pieces, to make a more filling appetizer.
The roasting of the garlic and tomatoes brings a very full and rich flavour to the dish. It may seem like a heck of a lot of garlic, but by roasting it the flavour mellows, and the garlic almost becomes sweet. This dish would be great for drinks with friends; add a few store bought dips, some olives, breadsticks and a bottle of wine or two, and you have a nice little spread!

Recipe (makes 20 pieces)
Roasted Tomato Topping
8 plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
1 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 heads garlic
2 T fresh basil
2 T balsamic vinegar
Grilled bread
20 slices French baguette, about 1/2 inch thick
1 t olive oil

  • Preheat oven at a temperature of 400F. Place tomato wedges, cut side up, on baking sheet lined with parchment paper (so the tomatoes don't stick). Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cut top quarter off the garlic heads. Wrap heads in foil.
  • Roast tomatoes and garlic in oven until tomatoes are slightly browned on the bottom and the garlic is squeezable. In my oven, this took 35 minutes; times may vary oven to oven. Remove and let cool.
  • Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a mixing bowl. Squeeze garlic from heads and chop; add to bowl. Add chopped basil and vinegar. Mix well. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Remove some water from topping if too liquidy.
  • Arrange bread slices on baking sheet. Brush with olive oil. Turn up heat in oven to broil, and broil bread for one minute watching them carefully. They burn easily. Remove from oven.
  • Add topping to bread pieces and serve.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cookery Books Versus Cookbooks

I stopped by the Cookbook Store here in Toronto, and found this section of used cookbooks that I'd never seen before (it's right opposite the cash register). It was by looking through this section that I bought my very first cookery book.
As you can see by the picture, it's by Madhur Jaffrey, a well-known Indian food chef. It was published in 1982; I bought it for $10.00, and it was in mint condition. Ah, cookery books. According to the Merriam Webster Online, the term "cookery book" is chiefly a British term, and dates back to 1639. The word "cookery" dates back to the 14th century and is "the art or practice of cooking". Nowadays, we have a plethora of cookbooks on the market, and this got me thinking about the difference between the two, or maybe a dichotomy that can be found in food culture today.
Cookbooks are often written by celebrity chefs. They sometimes have witty exclamations and catch phrases, to brand their recipes, their cookbook, and their cable tv show. For example, they might yell something like "Boom!" every time they toss seasoning into a pan. Or they might call extra virgin olive oil "evoo". Did that really need an acronym? Who doesn't like saying extra virgin olive oil. It's practically an onomatopoeia.
Cookery books, on the other hand, have been passed down by your mamma or auntie. They might be written in Italian or Armenian or Punjabi, and you will have the darndest time figuring out what the recipes say. Cookery books call for butter. Lots of butter. And cream. And yes, cookery books will put you on Lipitor if you're not careful.
One thing I've noticed about cookbook authors recently, is that a core group of them are getting hotter and hotter. Now, I must say, Jaffrey has quite a striking picture on the back of the cookery book I bought, but do you ever get the feeling that some cookbook authors are Calvin Klein models in their spare time? And yes, I'm looking the way of a certain chef from the Mediterranean. Sure the food looks good, but who can concentrate with all those winning smiles and all that tanned skin?
Cookery books might require you to buy a kitchen scale. It might require you to do things you've never done before, maybe push your skills as a chef. Cookbooks sell a lifestyle. People who buy a Jaime Oliver book often want to be the type of people who buy Jaime Oliver books.
So far, my adventures with Jaffrey have gone quite well. I made a lemony, coriandery chicken dish that had a curry that was heaven. And she does interesting things with raitas (yoghurt salads). Her trick is to beat the yoghurt with a fork so it's smooth and silky.
If you're searching for cookery books you might raid family's bookshelves (if they'll let you), or go here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nimbu Pani

The heat wave (or what passed for one) here in Toronto last week, combined with monsoon rains, got the Mixmaster and I thinking of cool, tasty summer drinks that were easy on the budget. This is a recipe that we've tested several times. "Nimbu Pani" translates to lime water in English, as in India the drink is usually made with small yellow limes. You can substitute either fruit, lemon or lime, to make the drink. It is usually made and drunk in the afternoon. It might seem a bit odd to add salt to a sweet drink, but the combination of dissolved sugar and salt in water helps to re-balance one's electrolytes, especially in a country where temperatures sometimes reach 40 degrees C. While we're heading for temps in the low twenties dehydration might not be an issue, but the combination of salty and sweet can be quite nice. There are three options for the fluid of the "pani," depending if you want fizz or not; be sure to try all three.

Recipe (for one drink):

1 lemon (4 T juice)
3 t white sugar
smigden of salt (optional)
250ml water/half water, half club soda/club soda
a few grinds of black pepper (optional)
mint leaves or a slice of lemon for garnish

Roll lemon against a cutting board, and cut it in half; juice and remove seeds. Take 4 Tablespoons of the juice and mix it with the white sugar until dissolved. Add the fluid. Add the smidgen of salt and mix again. Add the black pepper and give a quick stir. Garnish with mint leaves or a slice of lemon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

In Crustum Veritas (In Bread, The Truth), Part 1

So, my first blog post got me thinking about baguettes in Toronto. Perhaps I was a bit harsh, after all, there are several French bakeries scattered around the city. So, I decided to test and rate some of the more popular baguettes. I'm probably going to stay away from grocery store varieties (though I've heard that quintessential Montrealais bakers Premiere Moisson are now serving their baguettes at Toronto area Metro stores).
There are a few things that one should know about a good French baguette. It should be very hard and crusty on the outside, and on the inside should have very soft doughy bread, with medium-large air holes. A good baguette should be a serious time commitment; none of this easy-chew Dempsters stuff. It should be a workout for your teeth and your jaws. It should "snap" when you break it apart, and it should have a mild flavour to it.
You should finish your baguette on the day that you buy it, as the bread is only meant to last one day. Most bakeries throw out their day olds, as you can't sell a second day baguette. If you do have leftovers, put it in a tight plastic bag (a Ziploc Freezer Bag would work), and put it in the fridge. It will probably lose its lovely crust, but c'est la vie.

Contestant 1:Pain Perdu
This baguette was on the economical side; it only cost $2.20. Pain Perdu is found at 736 St Clair Ave. West near Christie Street, and has been at that location for 5 years. Their baguette was dappled a white and fawn colour, and had several slashes on it. It had the satisfying snap of a good baguette, a hard, mostly golden crust, and the insides were soft and filled with air pockets. One criticism that I do have, lovely as it was, is that it was a little on the small side; though the length was fine, the width was a little over an inch in some places. The taste is a little on the mild side; I kept wondering if there was adequate salt in it. But overall, it's a solid stick, and tastes fabulous with butter. If you're in the St Clair West area, do make the trip to this bakery, because the grocery stores in the neighbourhood won't do you any favours in the French bread department. Check out their website for the times that they're open. Overall rating: 8.5 Nostalgia for Montreal Factor: 9

Monday, August 10, 2009

Khumun Dhokla, or Spilling Gujarati Culinary Secrets Like Coins From a Purse

So, I had guests of the familial kind this past weekend. After the cleaning, and the hiding of what needed to be hid, I got down to the decision of what to make to eat. My family is from the western part of India, a state called Gujarat, so I thought that making a "traditional" snack might be a good option. This recipe is my mom's, and I was rather nervous at having her taste and critique it, but I guess it passed the test. A good dhokla is spongy, spicy, and a juxtaposition of varied tastes: the bitterness of the mustard seeds, the freshness of the coriander leaves, and the ginger and green chili taste of the dhokla.
You'll need steamer set up for cooking the dhokla (which I guess can best be described as a savoury, spicy cake, which is sometimes served to guests as an appetizer). I use a big pot, filled with 3/4 of an inch of water, and three small steel bowls (found at Gerrard India Bazaar, or most Indian housewares stores) also half filled with water, to balance the pans. Use handle-less cake pans that fit in the stock pot, and can be removed easily with a strong set of tongs.


for Dhokla(two 8 inch pans):
2 cups chick pea flour (besan)
1/4 cup wheat germ (sugi)
3 1/2 t grated ginger
3 t chopped small green chilies
1 1/4 t salt
1/2 t tumeric
3 heaping T yoghurt
a little more than 3/4 C of water
oil for greasing 2 cake pans
a little less than 2 T of Eno (unusual, yes, but it's needed to make it rise. Buy the unflavoured one, of course)

for Turka and topping:
2 1/2 T oil, canola or sunflower
1 t fenugreek seeds
3 t mustard seeds
1 1/2 t shredded coconut, unsweetened (or to taste)
1T chopped fresh coriander leaves (or to taste)

The Batter:
  • Mix all ingredients for the dhokla. The batter should be a little thicker than cake batter. Stir well.
  • Let stand for 10 minutes.
  • Grease cake pans with an oil like canola or sunflower (olive oil and Indian cooking are a no go).
  • Pour the batter into the pans. Assemble the steamer and set flame to boil. Just before putting pan in, add Eno to the first pan you're going to steam (less than 1 T), stir well, and steam, with the lid covered, for 10-12 minutes.
  • You can check the done-ness with a toothpick.
  • Repeat Eno mixing and steaming with next pan.
  • Remove dhokla from pans and cut into squares. Serve on a plate or tray.
Turka (Spice fry) and Dressing:
  • Heat oil in a pan (that you have a lid to). Add fenugreek seeds and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add mustard seeds and cover. The seeds will pop, which could get a little dangerous. When they have all popped, remove them from the flame, and pour over dhokla.
  • Dress the dhokla with coconut and fresh coriander.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cooking Music, and Hello

Everything I do I do to music. So when it comes time to cook a meal, I can't function unless the stereo is on and a favorite CD is playing. In the last year, this station, here in Toronto, has been my standard for whatever I'm making, whether it's a shepherd's pie, sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, or one of my mom's Gujarati recipes. Everything is better with jazz.
Some other great CDs that I listen to that are smooth and mellow and great to cook to are:
  • Feist- The Remainder (2007). My honey and I used to listen to this CD non-stop early 2008 when making brunches and getting ready to go to Grapefruit Moon. Every time I hear "1234," I crave scrambled eggs.
  • zaki ibrahim- Eclectica (episodes in purple) (2008). zaki is a Toronto area artist, who sometimes sings in French! How cool is that?
  • Anything and everything Sade. Enough said.
The trick to good cooking music, in my opinion, is that it is soothing after a long day, it has a nice melody, and it's upifting. It may be just me, but cooking to Radiohead... a little depressing. And it might be time to put your loud, poppy albums, like the Cure away, at least for the time being. You might also try Francophonie, like Edith Piaf, or maybe some fado.


Lastly, I'd like to say welcome to my blog. It took me a good long while to think of a suitable name, one that encompassed all that I want to do. My first forays into blog-naming either erased my south asian identity, or highlighted it in an essentializing way. Having grown up in Montreal in a south asian family, I was raised to enjoy everything from croissants to creton to chicken curry to daal. I hope my name attempts to cover multiple diasporic longings; for both the recipes of my grandparents, and for a really good baguette (which I've sadly yet to find in Toronto).

I'll be covering all sorts of topics, from restaurant reviews, to "cooking school basics" for people just starting out in the kitchen, to food culture and politics. I hope to be having "culinary adventures". There are many things I've always been dying to make. Like Baklava. And Bibim bap. And Yorkshire pudding. Hopefully this blog will give me the venue to do so. This is kinda exciting...