Recipes


It was minus 30C during my most recent trip home, and that is most certainly mac ‘n cheese weather.

2014-01-02 13.23.10Mac ‘n cheese has had a renaissance these past years, and with it a plethora of recipes have surfaced.  I’ve tried a few of them – all delicious in their own right – and I think that I’ve come up with a nicely balanced one that has the right mix of gooey-ness, cheesiness, and saltiness.  This is not what you ate on Sunday nights in your dorm room.  That said, I will always have a special place in my heart for the fluorescent orange mystery powder and fossilized macaroni that mixed together so beautifully, and that tasted so good.  If cooking is ever to be demystified, I guess the simple preparation of Kraft Dinner is as good a way as any.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups of macaroni
  • 1 glug of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon dry mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 big clove of garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1½ cups of panko
  • 2-2½ cups 2% milk
  • 1 handful of pancetta slices, chopped thin and short.
  • 2½ cups grated cheddar cheese (smokey if you can find it)

INSTRUCTIONS

Start by setting your oven to 375F.

Then, boil the 2 cups of macaroni in well-salted water, until tender.  Strain them, put them in a bowl, pour in a glug of olive oil, (just enough to coat the macaroni) and then mix around until the pasta is covered.  This will keep them from sticking together. Set aside.

Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a bowl.  Next, melt your butter in a frying pan at medium heat, cook your minced garlic for 20 seconds or so (making sure not to burn it), and then mix in the flour mixture until well combined (2-3 minutes).  You’re looking for a thick paste, but not a dry one.  This is like a kind of hoser roux.  Add your milk and the pancetta slices to the mixture, and stir constantly until the sauce is thick and consistent (make sure to break up those clumps).  This should take about 8-10 minutes.  I would recommend you leave the sauce a little loose (i.e., not too thick)- you may need the extra moisture to ensure that the cheese melts properly, and you can always evaporate the extra liquid.

At this point, still at medium heat, add your cheese 1/3 at a time, making sure that each batch melts down properly (though a few clumps of delicious cheese never hurt anyone).  Carefully, give the mixture a taste, and adjust the seasoning if required.

Pour the lake of cheesy goodness into your bowl of macaroni, add in 1 cup of panko, and mix everything together properly.  Pour the whole combination into a casserole dish, cover everything with the remaining cup of panko, add a few sprinkles of paprika for colour, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

Let it cool for at least 10-15 minutes because your mac ‘n cheese will be lava-hot.  Also, letting it cool will allow the flavours develop (this tastes good reheated the next day, too).  I recommend using a big spoon to ladle this bad boy onto your plate…and don’t be shy about seconds.

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For years, my culinary white whale was the beloved Tarte Tatin.  It’s especially regrettable to be unable to make a pie with such an interesting provenance – the Hotel Tatin and the hands of the Tatin sisters.

tarte tatin

I can imagine the Tatin sisters rolling in their grave as I fumbled and flubbled the recipe.  For some reason, every time I tried to make this delicious pie, the caramel never really came together properly, the apples were always “meh”, and the crust was never quite good enough.  Well, I am glad to report that after research and much trial (and much error…) I have a successful recipe, though it is a twist on the original.

This is slightly more work than a traditional Tarte Tatin, and arguably lacks the original’s rustic appeal, but I find the final product prettier and more appealing.  Also, once you have the crust down, you can use it for any number of French-style tartes.

EQUIPMENT

  • Rolling Pin
  • 9″ tarte dish with a removable base
  • Large frying pan (large enough to cook the 7-8 apples) with a lid (if possible)
  • Oven mitts

INGREDIENTS

CRUST

  • 125g of chilled, unsalted butter (do yourself a favour and buy the more expensive butter)
  • 220g of all purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
  • 40g of sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1-2 tablespoons of cold milk

FILLING

  • 7-8 Granny Smith Apples (NB:  The apples will shrink, so use more than you think you’ll need.  At worst, you can just gorge on the left-overs).
  • 1 cup of sugar (though you can use 3/4 cups if want it slightly less sweet)
  • 1 stick/120g of butter

INSTRUCTIONS

CRUST:

Start by making your crust, which may take a little longer is easy once you get the hand of it.

Mix together your flour and sugar evenly.  Chop up your cold butter into pea-sized blocks, and then work the blocks into the flour-sugar mixture until you get a sandy consistency (this usually takes about 3-4 minutes).

Mix together your egg and milk, and whisk the two together until the blended.  Make a well in the sandy flour-sugar-butter (referenced above), pour in 2/3 of the the egg-milk mixture, and mix together the two with a fork.  it will eventually get lumpy and you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and use your hands to gently kneed everything together just until you get a consistent dough.  If the dough is still dry/crumbly, add some more of the egg-milk mixture.  You’re shooting for something moist but not sticky.

Shape your dough in a round, flat mound, wrap in plastic wrap, and then place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, roll out your dough to about the thickness of two quarters/a one pound coin.  Make sure that the dough sheet is larger than the diametre of the pie dish.  If your dough is a little sticky, dust just enough flour on it to prevent it from sticking to the table.  Lay the dough into the pie dish, tuck in the corners,  and work the dough up the sides of the dish.  Ideally, the dough should rise higher than the sides of the dish (by about 5mm) because the dough will shrink a bit during cooking.

Poke holes with a fork in the dough at the bottom of the pie dish and then put the crust in a fridge for another 30 minutes.  Turn on your oven and heat to 400F.

After your crust has chilled for 30 minutes or so, take it out, put in some baking/pie weights in the middle, and bake blind for 10-12 minutes.  Carefully remove the pie weights and continue to bake for another 10 or so minutes (i.e., until the crust is baked right through).  Remove the crust from the oven, trim the sides to make them uniform (this is a great trick, and another reason to have high sides on your pie crust), and keep it at hand because its almost magic time.

FILLING:

Ok…so the crust was a pain, but the filling is easy and satisfying.  Core and peel your apples, and cut them into quarters.  Do not cut the apples any smaller, or risk them dissolving away.  Heat your frying pan to medium heat and melt the butter completely.  Take the pan off the heat, mix in all of the sugar until dissolved (if you can’t get it 100% dissolved, don’t worry).

Place the apples in the pan with the curved side down, turn up the heat to high or medium-high (i.e., as high as possible without burning the caramel), and then let your apples bubble and caramelize away.  Keep an eye on the apples, however, to avoid having the caramel burn.  I also like to cover the pan for the first 6-8 minutes to make sure the apples get cooked.  Continue to cook until you have a nice, golden caramel covering your apples (about 12-14 minutes).  They should be like amber jewels.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:

Once you have removed the crust from the oven, and the apples are ready, delicately arrange the caramelized apples in the crust, and then carefully pour the caramelized syrup over the apples.  Wait for the molten hot syrup to cool, bust out the vanilla ice cream, and eat your face off!

Living in downtown (University and Dundas) Toronto is like living on the moon: It is grey, the concrete makes it rock-like, and there’s very little in the way of atmosphere. This is not to say that there’s no cachet. Indeed, I relish the neighbourhoods that add spice to the otherwise uninteresting corporate epicentre. One of those neighbourhoods is Chinatown, where I got the General Tso Chicken
spices and inspiration for this well loved staple of Chinese cooking: General Tso Chicken.

This dish is also known as General Tsao, General Taso, General Toa, General Cho, General Gau, General Ching, General Kung and General Tseng (according to Eileen Yin-Fei Lo in The Chinese Kitchen, at 416). No matter what it’s called, it is rightly a popular addition to any Chinese restaurant’s menu and a crackerjack head turner at a dinner party. The versions I have here is adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s incredibly second oeuvre, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province – a book I highly recommend for anyone interesting in Chinese cooking, culture, folklore and foodlore. Here’s what you’ll need to make her “Changsha version”

INGREDIENTS

Peanut oil for deep/shallow frying

Bowl 1 (chicken and marinade)
12oz. of boned chicken thigh, skin on, and chopped into bite sized morcels
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, but if you’re using dark try cutting it with ½ tablespoon of water or chicken stock)
4 tablespoons of potato flour (rice flour will do in a pinch)
1 egg yolk

Bowl 2 (chillies)
8 dried red chillies, seeds removed and chopped up (roughly should do the trick)

Bowl 3 (ginger)
1½ tablespoons of ginger, chopped finely

Bowl 4 (tomato paste)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Bowl 5 (sauce)
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, it’s as you like)
3½ tablespoon of stock
2 teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar (if you’re unable to find this type of vinegar, you can cheat and use balsamic vinegar)
2 teaspoons of white sugar
½ teaspoon of potato flour

Bowl 6 (scallions)
3 scallions (green part only) sliced

1. First, mix together the ingredients of your marinade (bowl 1) and put in your chicken to soak up all the lovely flavour.

2. While you chicken is enjoying its bath, put enough peanut oil in a sturdy pot and heat it up to 180-200C (350-400F). (NB: I usually find that this requires too much expensive peanut oil, so I actually heat up a baby finger’s-worth of peanut oil in a frying pan and shallow fry the chicken. It doesn’t seem to mind.)

3. While your peanut oil is heating up, you can prepare your bowls of goods.

4. Once the oil is at the appropriate temperature, take your chicken out of the marinade and deep fry it until golden and crispy. Set it aside. (NB: My cheater’s shortcut of shallow frying in a frying pan, of course, affects the crispiness of the chicken as it reduces the oil temperature, so I try to split the difference and do small batches at a time).

Now, for the big show.

5. Put in 1-2 tablespoons of oil in your frying pan/wok and heat on medium-high heat. Add your chopped dried chillies (Bowl 2) and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds, making sure they don’t burn.

6. Next, add your ginger (Bowl 3) to the frying pan/wok and stir fry for about 1 minute or just long enough for the ginger to begin to release its delicious fragrance. Again, be careful not to burn it.

7. Add your tomato paste (Bowl 4)

8. Now, add your sauce (Bowl 5) to the frying pan/wok and mix it up, combining all the ingredients. Add your deep/shallow fried chicken and coat it well with the sauce. Throw in the scallions, mix them into your sauce, and then turn out the mixture into a bowl. Serve immediately.

This is really a great dish, and leftovers (a rare occurrence in my house, I assure you) can be used for a great lunch bento. This is truly a fabulous recipe, and so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it before.

I recently got my Toronto Public Library Card, and have gone hog wild borrowing recipe books. On the top of my list were some Chinese cookbooks I’ve been meaning to check out, but haven’t seen at my local book stores. One such book, entitled The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo was near the top of my list. After flipping through the book, I came across Mah Paw Dau Fu, a Sichuan classic Mah Paw Do Fu
that I knew under its Japanese moniker, “Mabo Dofu”.The version in Yin-Fei Lo’s book is slightly sweeter than the Japanese version my wife loves to make (in fact, I’m glad to say that it’s her signature dish) and reminded me of a kind of Chinese BBQ sauce, but with an Asian twist. When I sat down to make it tonight, I didn’t have any tofu, so I tweaked the recipe a bit and replaced the tofu with eggplant. Here is my version of Mah Paw Dau Fu. I made it in a frying pan, for which I’m sure I’ll be branded heretic by Chinese cooking purists.

INGREDIENTS

SAUCE
1 1/3 cup of Chicken Stock (homemade, please!)
3½ teaspoons of soy sauce
3 teaspoons of white vinegar (or Chinese rice wine vinegar, if you can get your hands on it)
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of ketchup (this is quite a sweet dish, so feel free to reduce this ketchup to 1/8 cup)
2 tablespoons of cornstarch (in a pinch, you can use rice flour)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil

EGGPLANT
1 large eggplant (two or three handfuls worth) chopped up in bigg’ish bite sized pieces
¼ cup of vegetable oil

BOWL 1
2 teaspoons of minced ginger
3 red Thai chillies, finely chopped

BOWL 2
2 teaspoons of minced garlic

BOWL 3
½ pound of lean ground pork

BOWL 4
2 tablespoons of Chili Sauce

CONDIMENTS
½ cup of scallions

RECIPE
1. First off, chop up your eggplant, rinse the pieces lightly in water, put the pieces in a bowl, and salt them. Let them sit in the bowl for about 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish. The salt will draw out the bitterness of the eggplant, as well as the water. While that’s going on, set up your rice cooker and chop up the ingredients in all of your bowls. I use the bowl method because it is really the simplest way to plan your work (and then work your plan).

2. After your eggplant has sat in the salt for 20 minutes, rinse it down, drain off any liquid, and pat the eggplant dry – this will prevent the oil from “spitting” at you when you fry the eggplants. Next, heat up a frying pan to medium-high, and put in your vegetable oil. Once the oil begins to look hazy and hot (even a bit smoky is ok), carefully toss in a pan-full of eggplant and fry them until they are golden. Repeat as often as required. Remember not to crowd your eggplant pieces; this will steam them more than fry them. Once you’ve fried all your eggplant pieces, set them aside in a bowl (and keep them warm, if you can).

3. Clean out your frying pan, turn down the heat slightly, and put in the peanut oil (mmm….I love that smell). Once the oil is hot (but not too hot, you don’t want to burn your ingredients) toss in the Bowl 1 ingredients (ginger and chilli) for 1 minute to soften them up.

4. Next, throw in the contents of Bowl 2 (garlic) and fry for 30 seconds. Then, toss in your pork (Bowl 3) and break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once the pork is cooked and no longer pink, add the chilli sauce (Bowl 4) and combine it will with the contents of the pan. Now, add the eggplant, mix it up, turn up the heat to medium-high, and dump in your lovely sauce. Let the sauce simmer for about 3-5 minutes – just long enough to heat up and thicken to your liking.

5. Pour out the lovely mah paw dau fu into a large bowl, sprinkle with your scallions, and serve immediately with your rice.

One of the great things about Yin-Fei Lo’s book is how she compliments some of her recipes with the stories behind the dishes. The story of mah paw dau fu is interesting. According to legend, a woman with pockmarked skin started up a restaurant and served the dish to her customers. She did not, however, name the dish but the somewhat insensitive customers decided to name it after her: “the pockmarked grand-mother’s tofu”. It is truly a testament to the deliciousness of this dish that despite such an unpalatable name it should be as popular as it is.

A few weeks ago I went to visit my parents to check out their newly renovated backyard. The weather was wonderful, and I wanted to bake a nice desert with seasonal fruits to enjoy in the comfort of their new digs. At the time, cherries were the order of the day, and so I bought a few boxes and found this recipe for a cherry tart from The Silver Spoon.

The more I use the Silver Spoon, the more I realize that the recipes are sometimes difficult to work with. Most of them are articulated in one long, dense paragraph, leaving it up to the reader to parse out each step. Consequently, I’ve decided to break down the steps in to more user-friendly steps. But first, here’s what you’ll need for this pie:

Ingredients – Crust
1 fresh egg
2 fresh egg yolks (one for the crust, the other to glaze the crust)
1/4 cup of sugar (superfine, if you can get your hands on it)
Rind of 1/2 a lemon (if you don’t have a lemon, buy one! It is well worth having the rind)
2/3 cup of butter (diced and soften – leaving it at room temperature for 20 minutes should do it)
1 ¾ cups of all-purpose flour (sifted)

Ingredients – Filling
1 cup of milk
½ teaspoon of high quality vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour (sifted)
1 ½ cups of butter
1 ½ cups of black cherries, pits out
3 tablespoons of brandy (2 for the pie and the other for you!)

Step 1: Making the Crust
Begin by making the crust. In a large bowl, beat the salt, egg, one of the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon rind with an electric mixer. Once the ingredients are well incorporated, gradually beat in the butter. Once the butter is properly mixed in, stir in the sifted flour and mix. You now have the base for your dough. It should be supple but not sticky.  If you find it is too sticky, add a bit more flour.

Next, take your lovely lemon-scented dough and kneed it lovingly for a few minutes. Then, shape it into a ball and put it in the fridge for half an hour.

Step 2: Making the Filling
While your dough is in the fridge, take your milk and mix in the vanilla extract. As vanilla extracts can vary in quality and intensity, give the milk-extract mix a taste to see if you want to add any more vanilla. The purpose of the vanilla is not to be overpowering, but only to add a nice background flavour and highlight the cherries. Heat up the mixture, but don’t let it boil. Set it aside for now.

With your electric mixer, beat together the 2 egg yolks, sugar, and flour.

Slowly add the warm milk to the egg-sugar-flour mixture, and mix constantly as you do so. Now, take this mixture and put it into a pan. Bring it to a boil over low heat and continuously stir until the mixture thickens up. You’ll know when it’s thick enough when you get a custard-like texture. Be careful not to dry out the custard, but if you do the liquid from the cherries (which you will eventually add) should rehydrate an otherwise dry custard. Once you’ve got your custard texture, add the butter. This will give your custard a nice sheen. Remove the custard from the pan, put it in a bowl, and let it cool.

Step 3: Preparing the Cherries
Add your cherries, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of brandy to a pan and bring to a boil over low heat. Let it simmer for approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir your cherry mixture from time to time, to make sure every inch gets a chance to absorb the brandy and sugar.

While you’re mixing your cherries, pre-heat your oven to 200°C (400°F).

Step 4: Preparing the Crust & Loading Up the Tart
Butter a tart pan and set it aside for now. Then, remove your dough from the refrigerator, and roll out 2/3 of it. The crust should be large enough to fit comfortably into your tart pan. I found this dough to be unruly and difficult to work with (it crumbled quite easily), but be patient because I can assure you its well worth the trouble.

Take your rolled dough and place it in the tart pan. Next, pour your custard into the dough-lined tart pan, and spread it out evenly. Now, put in your cherries and spread them along the top of the custard.

Take the rest of your unused dough, and roll it out to be large enough to comfortably cover your tart. Place the dough over the tart, seal the tart along the edges, and cut a hole in the centre of the dough. Finally, brush the remaining egg yolk over your tart and put it in the oven for 45 minutes.

If all goes well, you will be left with a beautiful, golden crust, and a juicy cherry centre. This is a fabulous desert and quite straight forward. It goes very well with vanilla ice cream. Bonne appétit!

No sooner have I returned from Japan that I am thrown into my Bar (i.e., law licensing) exams. The last one is on June 7. After that, and following a trip back to Montreal, it’ll be full speed ahead with the blog and some of the lovely recipe books I got in Japan. Stay tuned!

For the past few months my friend Jannes has been talking about his love of Chinese food and his new passion for Chinese cooking. Now, for the vast majority of us who have never been to China, our idea of Chinese cooking is limited to chicken balls, cherry sauces, and spring rolls. Consequently, it was a pleasure when Jannes invited me down to learn how to cook some more traditional Sichuan dishes. During our cooking  
clinic, I was put in charge of a dish called Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers (yu xiang rou si) – a mind-blowingly delicious dish that I can hardly wait to make again.

The recipe is from a book called Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, an authority on Chinese cooking in the West. I can honestly say that the result is fabulous – as is the cultural and culinary explanations that precede every recipe in her excellent book – however I found her writing to be imprecise and the instructions sloppy. The key to cooking this recipe (and most Chinese dishes, I imagine) is mise-en-place; you need to have your little bowls of seasoning and ingredients waiting to be tossed into the wok. Dunlop’s book, however, does not break down its instructions into the contents of each bowl. Rather, it is a mishmash of sometimes confusing directives.

In my humble opinion, my instructions on the dish are clearer, though I cannot claim to improve upon what is an incredible recipe.

Here’s what you need for this recipe (serves 3):

75ml of cooking oil (groundnut or peanut oil, or corn oil)

300g of lean pork, cut into thin 3mm x 3mm x 3cm slivers (“julienne” them)

Marinade
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of potato flour (potato starch is a decent substitute)
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine (if you don’t have any, use sherry)

Sauce
1½ teaspoons of white sugar
1½ teaspoons of Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do)
¾ teaspoons of light soy sauce
½ teaspoons of salt
¾ teaspoon of potato flour (again, potato starch will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons of stock (chicken) or water

Bowl 1
2 tablespoons of chilli paste

Bowl 2
2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger

Bowl 3
75g of bamboo shoots
1 handful of cloud-ear mushrooms

Bowl 4
1 spring onion, chopped

Ok…get to work. First, chop up your meat, make the marinade, and then combine the two. Make sure to thoroughly coat your meat and let your it marinade for at least 30 minutes. If you have a rice cooker (if you don’t, buy one!) you can start making the rice.

Next, take your cloud-ear mushrooms (which will likely be dehydrated) and soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes. While the mushroom are hydrating, boil some more salted water and blanch the bamboo shoots for about a minute or so. Rinse them in cold water and then julienne them in slices similar in size to the pork.

Now, get to work preparing the contents of the other bowls, which should be self explanatory. Once the mushroom are ready, chop off any hard, nubby bits, and then slice them into strips the size of the pork and bamboo shots.

You should now be locked and loaded – which is good because the next step will be fast and furious. Season your wok (if you don’t your meat will stick) and heat up the 75ml of oil over high heat.

Once the oil is nice and hot, throw in your marinating meat and cook until the pieces are white on all sides (about 1-2 minutes). Then, keeping your wok over the heat, push your meat to one side of the wok and tilt the wok at about 30° so that the oil pools opposite the meat. Put your chilli paste into the oil (but not the meat). Mix up your paste/oil mix until well incorporated in the oil (about 30 seconds) and try not to let any meat drop into it.

Next, add the garlic and ginger in the chilli-oil mix until you can smell them.

This is the home stretch. Level your wok and rest it on the heating element. Throw in the bamboo shoots and cloud-ear mushrooms, and fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the sauce and mix quickly, then toss in the spring onions. Mix for about 10-20 seconds and serve immediately.

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