Saturday, July 21, 2012

roasted summer vegetables with italian sausage and fried haloumi. or on loss and life

So I don't see my parents nearly enough. We don't see eye to eye, we are entirely different creatures it seems. City vs. country, Baby boomer vs X gen, morning person vs. night owl, food-obsessed vs. food-repressed, what have you.

I feel things deeply. So much so it is does sometimes interrupt my daily life. I miss childhood. I miss family vacations. I miss being part of a family unit, a family unit that includes my parents. I miss thinking my mother is the smartest person in the world.

My parents stopped by for dinner tonight. I originally thought they would just be passing by after an afternoon wedding shower, and would be full of appetizers and only briefly here. Then they were hungry and I had an hour to cook. And I threw something together, and it was great. I've never cooked sausages before. I'VE NEVER COOKED SAUSAGES BEFORE. That sounds ridiculous, but it's true. As a "post-recovering-vegetarian" the world of meat is something I have barely explored. Last time I was visiting them I picked up some lovely housemade sausages from the butchers down the street. Today when I got home from work, thinking it would be just me, I looked at the contents of my fridge and thought...zucchini, pepper, onion, corn, green beans, swiss chard???? Zucchini, pepper, onion, corn, green beans, swiss chard. Maybe a saute? I have some lovely tomatoes. Organic baby romas. Hmmmm I could roast that. But no parm? OH! I have Haloumi! Even better. Then I called to check in on their ETA and it was later than expected and they were HUNGRY. So - add in sweet italian sausage. Still many options on how to cook this.

Well - I roasted the tomatoes, zucch, pepper, red onion, garlic (at 450). Threw in the green beans in the last 10 mins. Browned the sausage for about 10-15 mins, then added in some water and the juices from the veg. Cooked another 15-20 mins? Basting with the delicious juices.

Fry the haloumi, then sprinkle on thyme, and a squeeze of lemon. Toss the cooling veg into the sausage pan at the end. And it turned out fabulous. That "sauce" was only lacking in bread to mop it up. Next time I would definitely add some fresh chopped basil, or fennel seeds during roasting, just to tie into the sausage.

I also made some super cute mini sour cherry and rhubarb crisps. Oh and I did all this in just over an hour. With no idea of when the actual serving time would be. But it all worked out.

Then we ate. And caught up.

Then my mother said "Come sit next to me on the couch, I have some bad news." And she showed me a card she got in the mail. ME c/o her address. It was a card (a stock card, with a stock printed letter), letting us know my grandmother had died. 2 weeks ago. With "no service planned, perhaps something in a year or so, for immediate family only". for immediate family only. The same thing my aunt said to me on the phone when my grandfather died two years ago. To clarify, this is my fathers side of the family. He died when I was 2. I was fairly close with them as a child, seeing them at holidays, spending a few days here and there with them in the summers. I have nice memories of my grandmother. I would go stay with them for a week in the summers. We would play board games (Scotland Yard), play/work in her gardens, go see a movie. I would wander the trails and hills near their Bluffside home with my half sister and similarly-aged relatives. She was, as they said, "A soft-spoken, kind, gentle and patient woman." But in the last decade or so we haven't really talked. This has been at points an issue of contention between my mother and I, who feels it is my responsibility to keep in touch with them. But I feel that I have tried (probably not as hard as I should have). I have written them letters (not many its true, but a few), letting them know I want to reconnect, learn more about my father, be in their lives more. With no response. Sometimes they sent a random christmas card with minimal greeting. The last time I saw them (or any of that side of the family, including my half sister) was maybe 6 years ago. I suppose part of me "lost" them awhile ago, let it go. And part of me is ok with it. But there's a part that mourns for lost opportunities, the way that time can erode bonds, the way that life sometimes separates us more than it brings us together. Sometimes.

I know this is a very messy, very personal post. I wanted to write how I felt, how I feel. To get it out but also to remember it. I don't feel like uploading pictures right now. I'll try to edit asap.

Friday, July 20, 2012

culinary perfection - hear me when i come

For the first time I can ever remember, I cooked something that was *perfect* - I would not change a thing. I am at peace, full of bliss, ecstatically satisfied.

I often eat in front of my computer (woe is me, yadda yadda, the joys of living a solo existence). Tonight I sat down here, with blaring dubstep/drumstep on. I took a bite. I turned down the music. I took another bite. I got up, left the room, went to the living room where things are quiet and calm and rather bland. I took another bite, I closed my eyes, I tried to eat slowly. Culinary bliss.

I swear this is not hyperbole. If I ever made this again - which I want to do (for obvious reasons), but don't want to do (because I don't think I can ever recreate the experience, nor do I want to diminish its meaning) - I wouldn't change a thing. I VERY rarely feel that way about anything I make. And that's ok too. That's part of what I love about cooking; it's a process, a journey of constant learning, like life. That's part of why I keep this (and my other less-organized) cooking journals. So I can adapt, alter, strive for that perfect balance, without ever reaching it. This was so perfectly expressive of its ingredients. It's like - I just finished a wine course (WSET Advanced level, and by "just" I mean 2 months ago but I'm still waiting for my results) - and when judging a wine's quality part of it is it's balance, but part is also its ability to express that particular grape or regions character. This pasta reminds me of that. Because yes, it was sweet, tangy, earthy, fresh, creamy, toothsome, meaty. The combination of browned (slightly accidentally overcooked) garlic, browned (slightly accidentally overcooked) butter, and chewy/crispy balsamic carmelized shallots, with the sauteed morels and shiitakes was like...heaven... like (I imagine) fresh truffles would be. Combined with the sweet crunchy corn and sweet creamy creme fraiche, with bursts of fresh, grassy parsley...well, its the best thing I ever ate.

I know its a bit unsavoury to post about something that is pretty much identical to another blogger's recipe. However, I *LOVE* Her writing, photography, realness, approach to parenting, stream-of-consciousness style writing. Its all so beautiful. And I've been dreaming about making this dish ever since I first came across it. No matter that corn + pasta sounded so strange to me at first. In fact, it was this blog that first prompted me to make creme fraiche (so easy, SOOOO delicious!)

My chopping and prepping was done with this ragga mix on (god I love king of the bongo). I went to Skrillex last week and it. was. sick. LOVING the reggae/dubstep thing he's got going on. Wow, there's a lot of love in the this post. I think that's a good thing :)

I could have feasted on just the sauteed shallots/garlic/mushrooms.

The pasta almost seemed superfluous. But tied everything together.

And now I'm making raspberry jam.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

pretty lights and a pound of pits, or skrillex and sour cherries

Sour Cherries!!! First time I've ever managed to get them before the season is gone!!! First time I've even really seen them in Toronto (obviously I have fairly poor eyesight). For my trial run, I bought one pound today (for 4.99) at my local veg store, literally downstairs from my apartment. I'm going to try to look around for them a bit more, as I feel that may be a bit expensive. My work schedule is pretty packed for the next week, and they only last for two weeks, so that may or may not happen. Having read, as usual, a fair bit online about sour cherries, pitting sour cherries, sour cherry recipes, etc I decided to use the chopstick method: remove the stem, push the chopstick (thinner end) through the stem end, popping the pit out the bottom. Reading about pitting cherries (especially the softer sour cherries) had filled me with dread, and impatience, and reluctance. However, it was super quick and easy!

I put on some Pretty Lights since I'm going to see him and Skrillex next weekend at Fort York in Toronto. I saw Pretty Lights open for Nero last summer and it was...unexpectedly amazing! I've never REALLY been into hip hop before (don't get me wrong, I do like old school tribe called quest, and the roots, and probably anything else along those lines, and I'm not saying that PL is hip hop by any means) but this was like some great mash-up of hip hop, rock, dub, electro, trance, psy, etc etc, that really got me dancing. So....I put on some Pretty Lights (new track for me, not my favourite, gotta say I'm partial to High School Art Class, Hot Like Sauce, and I know the Truth. ) I suppose I do sometimes question their use/mash up of other tracks, but I find it quite danceable. And great for cherry pitting. Which took all of 4 minutes 39 seconds apparently.

Now what to do with the cherries? I only pitted them because there is apparently a one-minute expiry date on their freshness, and even leaving them in the fridge overnight can result in armageddon. So now I guess I'll freeze them - even though I have imminent plans for jam, infused bourbon, maybe a pie a cake a crisp a clafouti, Sour cherry soup? and perhaps some sort of quinoa or wheatberry salad or pickles??? Lots of plans for sour cherries (and despite my preconceptions, they're pretty tasty for just eating), so I'll keep squirreling them away for now. Also, there are apparently a bunch of things to do with cherry pits, so i'm keeping those too. Nevermind, I threw them in a mini mason jar with some vodka. And I cracked a few open and ate the noyeaux inside...crossing my fingers i don't die of cyanide poisoning.

No good pics! I pitted them too quickly. Maybe next time :)

Also: as part of this being my own keeping-track-journal, I want to write some potential unusual flavour combinations to try, inspired by my re-re-reading of ONE OF MY FAVOURITE BOOKS EVER - The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. More about this book in an upcoming post. For now (note to self): sweet corn!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Rhubarb pickles, or, wouldn't I rather be at the beach?

What do other people do when it's 43 degrees (C) with the humidex???
Boil giant pots of water, and smaller pots of vinegar??? Then stand next to them in your tiny, non-air-conditioned, minimal air-flow kitchen for an hour chopping and mixing and measuring???

It seems crazy to me....but I know there are lots of you out there (Probably not many of you dance around to minimal techno while doing so?). That's part of the reason I don't often post to this blog. I spend so much time reading sometimes seems pointless to add more recipes that are almost always riffing off of other people. Anyway, that said, I've always figured this blog is more for me to keep track of ratios and things (rather than my stained, crinkled, losing-its-pages, kitchen journal).

And today I made pickled rhubarb. Couldn't find the recipe I used last year (re: losing-its-pages kitchen journal), so I thought I should keep track of it somewhere I can't lose it for next time. I like to do small batch pickling so I can try different versions and make more based on what I like/don't like. I also rarely eat the pickles (or jams or other preserves I make). Sometimes I question this - am I being wasteful? I do give some away, and *cross my fingers* they are eaten by the giftees. Mostly I just enjoy the process. I don't have a lot of hobbies. Cooking, preserving, reading about food, dreaming about food - these are my hobbies. I also occasionally like taking pictures of food, and i'm sure my facebook friends are getting bored of seeing the few I do post there.

I somewhat followed this recipe from food in jars writer Marisa McClellan, via the Serious Eats series "In a pickle." I did reduce the amount of sugar, as I prefer things very tart, we'll see how that turns out. Also changed the spices based on my memory (and the remnants of last year's jar). This time around I did do a boiling water bath, rather than making fridge pickles. I'm hoping they stay crisp!

Rhubarb Pickles

3 1/2 pint jars
Enough rhubarb to fill said jars (I made a sample piece first to size the rest against).

Boil jars 10 mins.

Put lids and rings in boiled water, with the heat turned off.

Boil Brine:
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (original recipe called for one cup)
1/2 tsp sugar

To each jar I added:
1/2 dried chili
1/4 tsp of mustard seeds - heaping
1/4 tsp of coriander seeds - scant
1/4 tsp of peppercorns - scant
one jar also got ONE clove.

Remove jars from boiling water bath.
Fill with spices. Fill with rhubarb. Ladle over brine. Put on lids and turn rings *just* finger tight.

Take a picture in case the stalks lose their vibrant colour in the water bath.

Process jars 10 minutes.

Take another picture, happy they are still pink :) But sigh because the pretty pink brine boils up out of the jars all over your white dish towel, because you didn't leave enough head space.

So far this year in rhubarb I've also made:

Rhubarb Wheat Beer Jam (using Shocktop beer, I want to try a batch using Fruili strawberry flavoured wheat beer)

Rhubarb Syrup (I refused to throw out the strained rhubarb mush, so I kept it and ate it on yogurt. I'm so proud of myself for actually eating it all! I'm going to make another batch. Of course, I haven't used any of the syrup yet. I'm thinking cocktails, but I'm more of a beer/wine girl).

Oh and a rhubarb cake, a la Smitten Kitchen. I'm not much of a baker, and I don't really like sweet things, but I'm trying to really make the most of seasonal produce (eating more of it fresh, rather than preserving it for later), and I do love rhubarb. I brought this into work and it got devoured pretty quickly.

Don't worry, I have gotten lots of beach time in this year too!