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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Garlic Bread Jamboree

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Garlic Bread Jamboree

Do you love garlic? Because I do. It’s pretty dang amazing. I send my regrets to anyone who has an allergy to garlic. My condolences. I don’t know what I would do, besides pout a lot. I grew up with my mother worshiping garlic on a daily basis, it could cure anything and often did. Her theory was that if the whole family ate garlic then garlic breath wouldn’t be a problem. She did tend to overdo it with the raw garlic sometimes. But, man, if you complained that you had a cold coming on, she’d dose you up good and the sniffles would disappear. She would actually eat multiple cloves of raw garlic on toast with a bit of olive oil. Yeah, I’d just blow her a goodnight kiss from across the room to be safe.

Roasted garlic is a thing of beauty, and a sweet mellow way to enjoy Allium Sativum (that’s MR. Garlic to you). But today, I want to introduce you to TOASTED garlic. It’s half way between the spark of raw and the lush sugar of roasted. It’s a quick and easy way to take the bite out of the beast.

Separate the cloves, but leave the skin on, toss them in a hot dry pan and shake them around until there are touches of black on every side. Let them cool down a bit, then skin and dice the cloves. This can be used as a substitute for raw garlic in any recipe where you want to tone down the garlickiness or a sub for roasted garlic if you don’t have an extra 45 minutes.

One of the fastest ways to enjoy the toasty loveliness is to mix it up with some softened unsalted butter, freshly grated parmesan cheese and salt to taste. Slather it on the crustiest bread you can find, give it a fresh grind of black pepper and slide it under the broiler for about 10 minutes until it is golden and bubbly.

The best dance partner for this crusty loaf is a saucy tomato of a dish like spaghetti and meatballs, or chicken with a tomato pesto sauce on polenta. Dang, shouldn’t write this on an empty stomach. Good thing I’m making some tomorrow to go with lasagna!

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Tomato Time

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Tomato TimeThe most common reaction, when I tell someone (who isn’t in the restaurant biz) that my husband is a chef, is a loud intake of breath, then an exclamation of “Aren’t you lucky!”, or some similar sentiment. I see the glint in their eyes as they picture me arriving home to a spotless kitchen filled with bubbling pots, a table set with fine china and my husband putting the finishing touches on an artistically arranged salad. I have to resist the urge to yell in their face, in my best Borat voice, “NOT!”

People, please. Stop for a moment and let reality sink in, like teeth sinking into a thick slab of warm fresh brioche. He works nights, minimum five, maximum seven. So, the most meals we will have together in a week is four (his metabolism can only handle two meals a day, plus snacks). Given that he slaves over a hot stove/cold cutting board for at least  twelve, but maybe more like sixteen, hours a day how many times do you think he’s woken up early and jumped out of bed just to create a multi-course rose-in-the-vase breakfast-in-bed for his loving wife? Approximately, no wait , PRECISELY, zero.

I’m not saying he NEVER cooks at home, I would classify it more as hardly ever. I’m not bitter about it. I accepted it a long time ago. Besides, I like cooking on the weekends, and of course we like to support our local restaurants. The upside is now that he’s added the owner slash to his “chef” title if I want to be fed by him I can mosey down and belly up. Of course, I still have to pay, no free rides, baby. But, when I play my cards right and bat my eyelashes fast enough I might get an extra course  or a sample of a new dish.

The point is, when he does fire up the tongs at home I try to kick back, relax and enjoy every moment. The smartest move I made this year was the charcoal grill I got him for his birthday, which led to a lovely summer of BBQ’ed deliciousness (I just had to supply the potato salad and the limeade). So, when he brought home a paper bag filled with Sun Gold tomatoes from Stoney Paradise Farms, I had visions of sweet tomato-y recipes dancing in my head. Sometimes when you have such a lovely ingredient to work with, especially at the tail end of the season, it is hard to commit to just one dish.

My dilemma was solved when the Executive Chef of the house took dinner by the reins and put his Junior Chef to work. I was demoted to photographer and documentarian. Since our boy-named-sous(chef) is a carboholic (he’s addicted to carbohol!), pasta was an easy choice. While I have a shelf with a varied selection of dried pastas, the boys decided to make some from scratch.

Now, there are not many things I enjoy watching more than an expert practice his craft, but I can say that watching said expert share his knowledge with the next generation definitely tops it. The big rough hands marked with scars and burns wearing a battered wedding band, guiding the cute little hands in kneading the pasta dough is on the top of my list for things that make me go *sigh*.

While Exec Chef demonstrated his wicked knife skills on the folded pasta dough, Jr. Chef ran out to our basil plant in the backyard for a fresh herbaceous touch for  the dish. The sauce was just the tomatoes with olive oil, butter, basil and some Parmigiano-Reggiano.

It’s the simple dishes that make the best use of extraordinary ingredients and it’s sharing the simple pleasures that make the best memories.

Caesar Seizure

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Caesar Seizure

When I met my husband, he was not yet the Executive Chef I know and love today. He was an apprentice line cook at a semi-veggie restaurant in our provincial capital. I loved taking my friends and family on Wednesday nights to sample his latest dish that he had created for their weekly appetizer special. My best gal, Lassette, STILL talks about the corn broth with cheese filled raviolis, even though it was over a (gulp) decade ago that she sampled it.

One of my favourite things about those days was when my boyfriend (tee hee) would call me at the end of his shift to see if he could bring me anything. Most nights I would reply with,”Oh, you know what I want, baby.” And he did, and he would deliver. He’d come home, I’d hear his key in the lock and cross the room to the door before he even had it open. I’d give him a kiss hello (if I remembered) and grab the bag from his hand. I’d already have our only mixing bowl out on the counter with utensils nearby. The first container held fresh, crisp romaine leaves that almost filled the bowl. Next, a smaller container chockfull of house made croutons, that started their life cycle as focaccia bread and then where blessed with copious quantities of garlic and olive oil. After that came the dressing (two containers if I was extra lucky), thick, creamy golden goodness to be scraped out over the leaves and croutons. Then I tossed it all together gently, to spread the dressing around in order to delicately coat each leaf and crispy cube of golden bread. Finally, the last container holding freshly grated Romano cheese was sprinkled over the slick surface.

Forgoing plates, and armed with forks, we’d take the single step to the couch and eat directly from the bowl. Those were the good old days, before we had a car, a kid or a clue. I think of those days fondly, and when I get to reminiscing, I am usually seized with a craving for that Caesar Salad of yore. Fortunately, the restaurant published a cookbook with their Caesar Salad dressing recipe. It’s pretty much the only way I can get my Chefs to eat salad without complaint (or conversation, we are all to busy enjoying). I usually add chicken to make it the full meal deal.

The croutons themselves are snacktastic. I don’t make them from focaccia, I use either sourdough (left over from making French Toast) or Italian (the bottom half only, the top gets used for garlic bread). I’ll freeze the cubed bread if I’m not using right away and let it fully thaw before letting them soak in olive oil flavoured with garlic, salt and pepper. I tend to snack on them while making the dressing, just the ugly ones of course.

I have the ingredients for the dressing memorized: roasted garlic, fresh garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, dijon mustard, capers, anchovies, salt and pepper. The roasted garlic is easy to do: cut off the tops of two whole heads, place it in the centre of a square of aluminum foil, douse it in olive oil and s&p liberally, pop it in the oven at 450 for 45 minutes (I love the symmetry of those numbers). I measure everything else by taste. Once the roasted garlic is ready it goes into the blender (well, right now I’ve been using my immersion blender, apparently I wore my pastel yellow Kitchenaid blender out). Half a lemon gets its juice squozen in (yes it’s a new word, feel free to use it), one large, or two small sliced cloves of fresh garlic, a nice pile of parmesan falls gently from the grater, a squidge (second vocab word of the day) of dijon mustard, five or six capers,one single anchovy (oops, suddenly not vegetarian), a few grinds of pepper, a generous pinch of kosher salt and a splash of olive oil. Then the blending/tasting/blending/tasting begins! The quantities are never exact because the flavours change with the season, or the brand. Somtimes I use oil packed capers and anchovies, sometimes salt packed. This changes the intensity of the flavour and the impact to the dressing. Lemons can be sweeter or drier, garlic can be subtle or strong. This is where the tasting comes in.

Once the first round of all the ingredients are in and all blended together, a tiny spoon drops a taste on your tongue. Whatever ingredient you can taste individually doesn’t need to be increased. So, just keep adding more of everything you don’t taste until it’s a beautifully balanced blend of all the players. The best way to tell when you’re done is when you just start eating, rather than tasting, the dressing (you just may be too hungry to care, but that’s fine). Leftover dressing makes a great dip for carrot sticks or croutons the next day. Just kidding about the croutons, they wouldn’t last more than a day around my house!

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