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.