December 20, 2012

A Taste of Italy

I haven't indulged myself in gushing about my trip to Italy (yet). It was just a couple of months, and a few windchill weeks back. But in looking through my food photos of the country...I came across this from the market in Florence. Sigh...bellissimo.

A Little Tagine Does the Heart Good

This is the season of cinnamon. And ginger…of savoury and sweet…of warmth.

I made this again last week for my friends. And they seemed to love it. I think the power of these spices is perfect for this time of year, in this cold and wintry landscape, even though tagine comes from a hot part of the world. Tagine is one of those impressive dishes that is just a lovely, spicy stew - you can make it with anything - I've written about lamb tagine before. And this one made of chicken is a lovely, lovely recipe that will wrap up all these flavours and senses and feed you well.

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds – adapted from
serves 4 - but I did scale it up successfully 

1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp black pepper
1 ¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
3-lb chicken in pieces (I’ve used bone-in thighs and boneless thighs – both worked)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, halved, then sliced ¼ inch thick (although I don't think a white onion would be remiss)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh cilantro
5 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ cups water
2 tbsp mild honey
3 inch stick of cinnamon
½ cup dried Turkish apricots, separated into halves (that is, the hard way – slice them open and through)
1/3 whole blanched almonds

Stir together the ground cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, pepper, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tbsp oil in a large bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat well. This smells so amazing…

Heat butter and 1 tbsp oil in base of a skillet, uncovered, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Brown half the chicken pieces, skin sides down, turning over once, 8 to 12 minutes.

Transfer to a plate.

Brown the rest of the chicken adding any spice mixture left in bowl.

If you’re doing a lot of chicken (I doubled the recipe last time) keep an eye on the smoke and burning at the bottom of the pan…I would recommend stopping at the halfway point and starting again with a clean pan and oil…you’ll need the fond at the bottom of the pan later and you don't want it to be burnt as it melds with the sauce in the pan…

Add onion and remaining 1/4 tsp salt to pan and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes.

Tie cilantro and parsley into a bundle with kitchen string and add to tagine along with 1/2 cup water, chicken, and any juices accumulated on plate. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 30 minutes.

While chicken cooks, bring honey, remaining cup water, cinnamon stick, and apricots to a boil in a  heavy saucepan, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until apricots are very tender (add more water if necessary). Once apricots are tender, simmer until liquid is reduced to a glaze, 10 to 15 minutes.

I never came close to running dry...and never quite achieved the "glaze" they talk about...but I'll try this again...and if you try and succeed, can you let me know?

Heat a small skillet and cook the whole almonds, keeping a close eye, until just golden, 1 to 2 minutes. The recipe calls for this to be done in a 1/4 cup of olive oil. But I did them in a dry skillet - as I said...keep a close eye.

Ten minutes before chicken is done, add apricot mixture to the chicken. Discard herbs and cinnamon stick. When you serve the dish, sprinkle the top with the almonds and some more chopped parsley. I served this with rice – but green beans, or a simple salad, or couscous, quinoa would be great too.

December 15, 2012

Basil Pesto

Yesterday I spent the day in the kitchen - my cocoon of warmth and beautiful smells and comfort.

I was prepping for a dinner party for people who hadn’t been to our kitchen, who hadn’t sat at our family table – people I wanted to bring into our home and enjoy a meal.

Oblivious to the news, I had checked the twitter headlines in the morning…a teacher shot somewhere like Connecticut…oh…you know…sadly, it’s the States…I got on with what I had to do.

Ironically, when you’re cooking on deadline, surrounded by piles of vegetables and meat and spices and herbs, you don’t tend to eat yourself. I finally sat down for a bite at about 2pm.

That’s when I pulled out the computer to catch up on what the world was up to…that’s when I discovered the world had shuddered to a stop – that a very, very disturbed young man had ended his life by taking the lives of so many others, in a little place called Newtown, and with the added shock and horror that he took little ones, and those who care for them every day, with him.

With all the other shootings that have happened my shoulders have slumped in despair and I’ve said nothing will change…this won’t change anything.

But I’ve had it. Enough. Effect change people – I would like to see a cultural turn of mind away from the gun…and I wonder if it can happen.

One of my favourite journalism people Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute has some interesting stats for journalists who are covering this tragedy. But they’re good for everyone to absorb – it gives us all some context.

In the New Yorker Jill Lepore wrote, "There is no solace to be found, not in the crushing, aching sympathy felt by everyone on hearing the story, not in the candlelit vigils, not in the agony of the President, who, during a press conference, winced, and was nearly overcome. This is the face of a nation undone."

It will take some time to wrestle our souls and minds into understanding the horrible nexus where an obsessive gun culture meets mental illness that fuels horrible, horrible anger.


I will write about what we ate last night – a lovely recipe for tagine (yes, another) and a beautiful lasagna, I’ve written about before. But not now.

Now I need to write about something basic – a backbone to cooking that is magical.

Basil Pesto – adapted from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen

I love Mollie’s book – it was my first cookbook when all this food thing started – I particularly love Mollie’s drawings.

The first time I made this I didn’t have a food processor. I crushed everything in a bowl pretending to be the mortar, and the bottom of a glass pretending to be the pestle (yup it’s pronounced pessel). It was excruciating.

It was the reason I bought a food processor. The first recipe I made in it was the pesto. I put in the ingredients, I pressed 'on'. After a few seconds I pressed 'off'. I just stood there looking at it in the bowl, I pressed 'stunned'.

I lost that food processor in a breakup with a boyfriend. And with the loss of the appliance went my memory of this recipe. Because I wasn’t going back to the bowl mortar and glass pestle.The pesto had to wait.

Well, thanks to my credit card company I scored another food processor on reward points a couple of weeks ago.

And then in need of a vegetarian dish for last night, karma created the perfect reason to make pesto again. So the first recipe I made in my new processor was, once again, pesto.

This makes 2 1/2 – 3 cups (although when I cut it in half yesterday I yielded only one cup of pesto – which was fine as that’s what I needed)

3 cups of packed fresh basil leaves (no stems)
3-4 garlic cloves
¼ - ½ tsp salt
¾ cup grated parmesan cheese (no, the fresh kind…)
¼ cup pulverized (I used pine nuts, but I think any nut would do)
½ cup olive oil

These are optional add-ons:
½ cup packed fresh parsley
¼ cup melted butter
freshly-ground black pepper

So, given my new love of the food processor…pull out either your food processor or even your blender – you can make basil smoothies later.

This is so easy it’s stupid.

Put the ingredients in the bowl with the steel blade fitted, put on the lid, hit 'on'…and let it whirr away until you have a uniform paste.(I stopped it a few seconds in to push down the stuff that had crawled up the sides of the bowl.)

The smell and look of this magical mixture will blow your senses. You can mix with cooked pasta – to taste. (Be careful with pesto – I find it’s one of those beautiful ingredients that can become too much too fast…so consider yourself warned.)

Or you can freeze it - put some in an ice cube tray - then you'll have portion sizes ready to go rather than a big green block.

 If you make this, please let me know. Share it with your family and friends – food is a form of love. And most of all people – peace.

December 06, 2012

Pickled Turnips

I have been carrying around this recipe stored on my shopping list app on my phone. It feels very vulnerable there. I am terrified of deleting it...I must give it some measure of posterity here. It deserves it.

This is another recipe for Pickled Turnips with Beets. And it’s courtesy of Sam at the Armenian Kitchen. I’ve written about the AK before in my screed on routine. It’s a bit of a Toronto institution for those who come from east of Yonge St. – and for those with a taste for homemade hummus to die for – and baba ghanoush - and shawarma – and kabobs…all made there.

As my friend’s friend said…east of Yonge…not as far east as Pickering…you know…the middle east…

The pickled turnips come with every meal. They’re brought to the table on a saucer – and it’s a fight for survival from then on…Steve and I wolf them down like people finding an oasis in the desert.
Last time we were there, Sam brought us a takeout container for the rest of our hummus and baba ghanoush and tabbouleh…oh I forgot the tabbouleh!... and I asked him why all the people around us were leaving the turnips untouched. “Are they crazy?” I asked, apparently very loudly…. Steve and Sam jumped a little…

It’s a food crime.

Which tells you I’m not adult enough yet to accept that people might not like everything I like. I refuse to accept it…so…there.

I posted a recipe before that I gleaned from several sources in a vain attempt to match these…but they don’t come close.

Sam took pity on me when I explained how I was making them – and he gave me the recipe…and we tried it…we’ve tried it three times now and the fourth batch will be ready this weekend.
Let me know if you give these a try. And if you can get to the Armenian Kitchen – it’s in a dingy Scarborough strip mall on Victoria Park Ave – between Eglinton and Lawrence Ave.

Sam just smiled and wagged his finger at me when I asked for the hummus was worth a shot.

Armenian Kitchen's Pickled Turnips

1 cup white vinegar
5 cups cold water
2 tbsp sea salt
1 good sized beet
5-6 smallish turnips (we found the smaller turnips better)

Mix the vinegar and water with the salt and stir until salt is dissolved.
Scrub the beet and turnips and trim their ends. No peeling required.

Finely chop the beet. Set aside.

Chop the turnip into bit-sized slices about ¼ inch thick. Set aside.

Keep the beets and turnips separate.

In a very clean jar (Sam didn’t say you had to sterilize it, but make sure it’s very clean) layer in the turnip slices until they’re just under halfway up the jar.

Add a layer of beets.

Layer in the rest of the turnip. And finish with a layer of beets. Weigh it down if you can.

Pour the water mixture into the jar, filling it.

Sam was very precise about this part – do not touch the inside of the jar with your hands at this point.

Lay plastic wrap over the neck of the jar, and screw on the lid.

Set aside for two weeks. “Two weeks! Not one! Not like my wife who will sneak in before the two weeks is over. Two. Weeks,” Sam said…And when Sam says…two weeks…he means two weeks.
…which for us is this weekend. It’s like Christmas...