30 January 2011

Gung hei fat choy! Salt & Pepper Squid with Garlic and Chillies

Every time I go for dim sum I hope the trolley offers salt and pepper squid. Golden and crunchy, spiky and salty I could probably devour a basket all on my own.

The other day I found the same dish on local Vietnamese restaurant's menu. I ordered it and, yes, it was pretty much the same dish as wheels by me, nestled betwixt and between steamers of siu mai and har gao.

This got me wondering of the dish's provenance and if it was simply by a happenstance of abundant regional coastlines or if it was manufactured to appeal to Western palates. The similarities, down to the sautéed chilli garlic was simply...uncanny.

Authenticity of salt and pepper squid is neither here nor there. I set out to replicate the dish and I think I did a fairly good job of it.

I think, at its heart, it is a non-recipe recipe: squid rings and tentacles dusted in a peppered flour and cornflour mixture, deep fried for a couple of minutes and then tossed in lightly sauteed in a sweet and slightly sour mix of garlic and chillies. I suppose using Thai sweet garlic chilli sauce may put a few noses out of joint, but really all that means is more for the rest of us.

Salt and Pepper Squid with Garlic and Chillies
Serves 1-3, depending if a main or starter

0.5tsp Sichuan pepper (see notes for substitution ideas)
1Tbsp all purpose flour
1Tbsp cornstarch (cornflour)
250g (0.5lb) squid, cleaned, sliced into 0.5cm (0.25") rings and pieces, patted dry (one squid)
Flavourless oil, for frying
1 shallot, minced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 chilli pepper, minced
0.5tsp chinese black vinegar (see notes for substitution ideas)
0.5tsp sweet chilli-garlic sauce
Lettuce leaves (bibb or iceberg)

Toast Sichuan peppercorn in a skillet until their fragrant oils have released. Let cool for a minute or two and then crush or pound lightly.

Mix together wheat and corn flours with the crushed Sichuan pepper. Set aside.

Heat a few inches of oil in a high-sided pot until it shimmers and an inserted wooden skewer (or wooden spoon handle) bubbles when inserted.

While the oil heats, dredge the squid pieces in the spiced flour mixture and set aside.

When the oil is ready, fry the squid in batches, for about two minutes. The rings will not take on much colour, but perhaps a few golden speckles. Remove to drain on paper towels, hitting each batch with a pinch of salt while still hot with oil.

Continue frying the squid, ensuring the oil's temperature is maintained, and adding more, if necessary.

When all the squid is cooked, put a frypan on a medium flame and add a spoon or two of the frying oil. Add the shallot, garlic and chilli and saute for about a minute, or until the garlic has scented the air and the shallots begin to wilt. Add the vinegar and chilli sauce and stir well. Tip in the fried squid and coat.

Test a piece and balance flavours to taste.

Serve hot on a bed of lettuce

- If you don't have Sichuan pepper, you can use black pepper or chilli pepper, but change the quantities to suit your spice tolerance; you won't need to toast black or chilli pepper.
- You can use red or white wine vinegar with a bit of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce instead of black vinegar. The flavour will be different, but still perfectly good.
- This recipe is easily doubled, if you want.


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23 January 2011

Milk chocolate pecan toffee cookies

A couple of years ago I heard about Blue Monday.

No, not
the very fabulous song by New Order that hit the charts back in the day, but what feels to me like very suspect "research" to pinpoint when "we" are at our psychological low points.

Heh...I guess I was right to be suspect. When I did my own fleeting research, I found
this probably-soon-to-be-removed Wikipedia article, claiming it was part of SkyTravel's PR campaign three years ago.

Regardless, the past two weeks proved to be quite trying for a number of people in my real and virtual circles. Broken hearts, work-related stresses, multiple deaths and multiple hosptilisations (for those of you who wish to read the exbf's adventure in emerg,
click this. Remember, it's only funny because he's alive). There were days my heart ached when I checked my voicemail, email, replies, direct messages and message via my Twitter account.

I do what I can to help: do this and that to help ease their burden, offer an ear, shoulder or point of view, offer comfort food.

Comfort cookies, to be precise.

Everyone who bakes chocolate chip cookies has at least one recipe in hand. I probably have serveral dozen in my collection, but Anna Olson's chocolate chip cookies is one of the two I return to over and over again. In its original format it produces a reasonable number (24) of delicious, buttery, chewy cookies, which with a minor tweak can turn into a reasonable number (24) of delicious, buttery, crisp cookies.

When comfort and restoration are calle for, sometimes chocolate chips need a little additional help. Thankfully, chopped pecans and toffee bits stepped in to do their part to add extra butteryness and crunch to the chocolaty chewy cookies.

I'm not so egotistical to claim these cookies will make your life easier and solve all your problems. Simply, they just may make you feel better...and isn't that what a good cookie should do?

Chocolate Chip, Toffee and Pecan Cookies
Adapted from Anna Olson's Chocolate Chip Cookies in Sugar

Yield three dozen, depending upon the size of your cookie spoon

280g (2c) all purpose flour
1dspn (2tsp) corn starch
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.5tsp salt
170g (0.75c) softened butter
200g (1c) brown sugar
50g (0.25c) sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
135g (1c) milk chocolate chips or buttons
50g (0.5c) chopped pecans
40g (0.33c) toffee bits

Preheat oven to 350F/180C. Line cookie trays with parchment.

Sift together flour, cornstarch, bicarb and salt. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars until smooth. Mix in vanilla and eggs. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix in the flour mixture in two batches. Scrape down the sides again, before folding in the chocolate, toffee and nuts.

Drop by tablespoonful onto the prepared cookie sheet, slightly pressing the tops. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden and the bottoms are slighly brown and easily lift from the tray.

Cool on the tray for a few minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.

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16 January 2011

Happy Birthday Edna: Cabbage Rolls

Regular readers know I take January 15 aside to remember my friend Edna Staebler, a remarkable person in my life. She was kind and sweet with an effervecent charm. Although best known in foodish circles as a cookbook writer, she also wrote about the lives of regular Canadians.

When I trawled through her recipes in search of this year's Day That Really Schmecks tribute I stumbled upon Pam Noonan's Cabbage Rolls in
More Food That Really Schmecks.

Cabbage rolls are ubiquitous here in Waterloo Region. Meat and rice-filled parcelled up in cabbage leaves, served usually with a sweetish tomato sauce or a more savoury brown sauce is common place here, thanks to our German and Mennonite roots. Local diners and country restaurants feature them and the festhallen prepare thousands of them during Oktoberfest.

What struck me about the recipe was its provenance. According to its précis the recipe was born of Pam's fatigue of rice-heavy, moisture-light cabbage rolls. When creating her own, she drew upon her Trinidadian roots, adding a touch of heat and earthiness to the mix.

'How Canadian,' I thought.

This is a land of immigrants. They bring flavours, techniques and ideas with them and adapt what they know to what they have on hand. Others taste and experience and adapt further to better suit their palates and ideas.

That is what happened to the humble cabbage roll.

In its original form, the recipe is prepared via 10 hours in the slow cooker. I procrastinate and am impatient. Since ten hours is more than eight hours too long, one of the changes I made was to snug everything into my 6.5L Dutch oven and pop it into a medium oven for an hour and a half, letting the the pot blurble, uncovered for the last 30 minutes so the sauce can caramelise.

As I've never made cabbage rolls before I stuck pretty close to the original recipe, changing a couple of things here and there to reflect what I had on hand and to better suit my palate. The next time I make them--and I will as I've a few ideas I want to play with--I will make more changes, perhaps reflecting some of my own culinary influences and ideas. Nevertheless, the cabbage rolls were tasty--the meat filling was firm and the sauce was a nice blend of savoury and sweet.

Served with mashed sweet potato and a vinegary cucumber and red onion salad (as suggested in one of my queries), it was a meal Edna would have been happy to eat.

If you are interested in Edna's books, please visit my Amazon estore.

Cabbage Rolls
adapted from Edna Staebler's Pam Noonan's Cabbage Rolls from More Food That Really Schmecks

Yield: 30 cabbage rolls.

For the sauce
1 796ml (28oz) can diced tomatoes
125ml (0.5c) tomato ketchup
60ml (0.25c) vinegar
60ml (0.25c) prepared mustard
60ml (0.25c) barbecue sauce
100g (0.5c) brown sugar
1dspn (2tsp) tabasco sauce
0.5tsp garlic powder
1tsp onion powder
0.5tsp black pepper

For the meat filling
1tsp black pepper
0.5tsp salt
0.25tsp ground cumin
0.5tsp dried tarragon
a spoon or two of favourless oil, for frying
1 onion, cut in a small dice
2 celery ribs, cut in a small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5kg (3lbs) lean ground beef
0.5c rice, parboiled
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp tabasco sauce
1.5Tbsp soy sauce

30 Savoy or green cabbage leaves (two heads, depending upon the cabbage's size)

For the sauce:
Bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil, then turn the hob down and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and balance flavours to taste. Turn off heat and let cool. Purée mixuture until smooth. Set aside.

For the cabbage leaves:
Set a pot of water to boil. Remove thickest part of the main stem with a few quick slices with a sharp knife. Fill a mixing bowl with iced water, to about the half-fill mark. Blanch the leaves, in batches, by boiling them for a minut or two, or until the leaves wilt, then plunge the leaves into the ice water to stop cooking. When all the leaves are done.
drain in a collander and set aside.

For the meat filling:
Mix the salt, pepper, cumin and taragon. Divid mixture in half and set aside.

Add celery, onions and oil to a cold pan and turn the heat to medium. Sauté, occasionally stirring until the onions are transluscent. Add the garlic and half the spice mix and stir until the garlic releases its scent. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

In a bowl, add the cooled onion mixture to the meat, as well as the rice, eggs, tobasco sauce, soy sauce, remaining spices and half a cup of the tomato sauce. Mix well.

To check seasoning, heat the pan and add about a half teaspoon of the meat mixture to the pan and fry until cooked. Taste with a bit of sauce and balance flavours to taste.

To Asssemble:

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Bundle two tablespoons' worth of filling into each leaf.

Spread a couple of spoons' worth of sauce onto the bottom of a 6-7L Dutch oven. Snug one layer of cabbage rolls into the pot. Sparingly spoon sauce over the cabbage rolls, then fit the next layer of rolls on top and spoon sauce again. Continue until all the cabbage rolls are in the pot and pour the rest of the sauce over the top.

Lid the pot and place in the preheated oven for an hour. Remove the lid and return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes (90 minutes cooking time in total).


I'm a quill for hire!

09 January 2011

Sauteed Cabbage, Potatoes and Bacon

Savoy cabbages make me smile.

I can't help it. There's something about those deeply lined leaves and their crinkled edges. There's also something to be said about the colour: graded blue-green tones with stark palid veining that remind me of pine trees' boughs laidened with snow.

There's also a bit of whimsy there and I can't help but to see if Peter Rabbit is hopping about the grocery store bins and shelves.

I can't resist but bring one home with me.

I know not everyone likes cabbage. Too many heads have found their way, boiled into a sulphurous and somewhat slimy end.

I suppose if that was my first introduction to cabbage, I'd feel the same way. But it wasn't. My first (and still, to this day), favourite way to have cabbage is as cabbage thoren: a dry stirfry made with black mustard and fresh coconut. No, I don't have a recipe--it's one that I want to get from my Dear Little Cardamummy. When I do--and when I adapt it to be my own--I'll post it.

It's not slimy or overcooked. There's no pungent smell. It yields slightly to the tooth but retains some colour and crispness. The mellowed green flavour is what cabbage, when treated with a bit of tenderness, should taste like. Or at least I think so.

When I bring home a curly green head of Savoy cabbage, there are few things more satisfying to me than this all-in-one dish of cabbage, potatoes and bacon. Last night's leftover potato gets cubed and sauteed in bacon fat and tumbled with slightly steamed cabbage. It's pretty much a non recipe-recipe--the quantities aren't written in stone, and the flavours can be changed to suit your taste with the addition of caraway, butter or even a bit of cream.

Cabbage, potatoes and bacon
Serves 4-6 as a main course, more as a side dish.

100g (3-4 rashers) bacon, chopped
olive oil
1 onion, slivered from pole to pole
2 garlic cloves, minced

450g (1lb) boiled Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed into 1cm dice (2 good-sized potatoes)
450g (1lb) cabbage (Savoy or white), cored and shredded
3-4 Tbsp water

a few drops of white vinegar

Frizzle bacon in oil, until half-cooked. Add onions, garlic as well as a good pinch or two of pepper and one of salt. Fry until the bacon is cooked and has rendered its fat. Remove mixture to a bowl, leaving as much fat in the pan as possible.

Fry potatoes in batches until tinged with gold, adding the crisped potatoes to the bacon mixture.

Tip the shredded greens into the pot and saute for a minute or two. Add water and vinegar and a pinch of salt. Lid the pot, letting the veg steam for a few minutes until the colour is vibrant, but the leaves are still crisp.

Return the bacon, onions and potatoes to the pan and stir well. Balance flavours to taste.


I'm a quill for hire!

03 January 2011

Banana muffins with nut streusel topping

Here in Canada, New Year's Day pretty much marks the end of what's essentially a month-long modern Bacchanalian feast with meats and wines and cakes and whiskys and shortbreads and brandies and trifles and punches and loaves and cheeses and chocolates. Lots of food, lots of frivolity and lots of leftovers.

Chances are on 1 January (and 2 January and 3 January), fridges and pantries are still filled with leftover feasts and edible presents...I do my best to get through it but some foods end up teetering close to their best-by dates.

So I looked about my fridge and counters to see what needs to be used up and what I can do with them. This year it was bananas and eggnog. Not wanting banana pudding, or a bread and butter pudding, these muffins are what came out of my oven. It was a happy accident and an experiment of "what happens when I mix all of these things together."

If you don't have any eggnog, just substitute milk or yoghurt instead (and add an extra tablespoon of sugar to the mix).

These muffins aren't cakes in waiting. They are hearty and toothsome and not overly sweet like some shop-bought monstrosities. For those who are thinking of changing their diet to something a bit more "healthy," well...it uses whole wheat flour to help your ease yourself into your newfound dietary asceticism.

Truth be told, I find little eggnoggy taste remains in the finished muffin, but a friend tells me there is a feint aroma. Personally, I think it's the nutmeg, but who am I to argue?

Banana Muffins with Nut Streusel Topping
Yield 12

For the streusel topping
25g (2Tbsp) soft butter
35g (0.25c) all purpose flour
50g (0.25c) brown sugar
25g (0.25c) chopped pecans, walnuts, almonds or other nuts
0.5tsp ground nutmeg

For the muffins
175g (1.25c) all purpose flour
75g (0.5c) whole wheat flour
1dspn (2tsp) baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
0.25tsp cinnamon
0.5tsp ground nutmeg
0.5tsp salt
225g (1c) mashed bananas (approx 2 large)
130g (0.66c) sugar
180ml (0.75c) eggnog
1 egg, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla
1tsp rum or brandy or their extracts (optional)
30ml (2Tbsp) flavourless oil
45ml (3Tbsp) melted butter

For the streusel topping:
Mash together all streusel ingredients into a crumbly mixture. Set aside.

For the muffins:
Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line a 12-bun muffin pan with papers.

Seive together flours, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt. Set aside.

Mix together the bananas and sugar until the sugar melts into the fruit. Stir in eggnog, egg, flavourings, oil and butter until well mixed.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.

Divide into the prepared muffin bowls (the batter will nearly fill each bowl) and top with the steusel mixture. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until an inserted tester comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing muffins to a cooling rack.

I'm a quill for hire!