Crostini Dinner

The food: mushroom and caponata crostini

Now that my two university student sons have returned to their out of town schools for the winter term, the house is calmer and quieter, I only need go grocery shopping 3 or 4 times a week instead of every day, and mealtimes are simpler and more peaceful.

Take the satisfying and filling adult dinner I made this week that consisted of two kinds of crostini, and nothing else. Making good on a promise I made to cook up some caponata at home after eating a tasty version of the dish at Sardinia Enoteca in South Beach, I starting by sautéing some celery, onions and sweet yellow peppers in a large pot.

To those vegetables, I added cubed roasted eggplant, chopped cooked artichoke hearts, black olives, capers, strained tomatoes, a handful of raisins, some herbs and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and made enough caponata to feed E and me for a week in various guises.

To balance off the virtuous healthiness of the caponata, I made some mushroom crostini to go along with, using portobello and cremini mushrooms  combined with a mellow, melty blue cheese ( I used a Quebec blue cheese called Ermite from Fromagerie L’Abbaye St. Benoit) and some Madeira wine, and finished with a sprinkling of a sweet and tart Lemon Vincotto Vinegar that my sister had given me for Christmas.

The caponata was vibrant and fresh-tasting, the mushrooms rich and earthy, and the two kinds of crostini together made a dinner just right for two grownups living in a temporarily empty nest.

Caponata

2 stalks celery, washed and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
2-3 small Japanese eggplants, trimmed and cubed
olive oil
2 c. strained tomatoes
handful black olives
1/2 c. dry red wine
2 T. capers
5-6 artichoke hearts (canned, in a jar, or cooked), chopped
1/2 c. seedless sultana raisins
1 tsp. each of dried basil and oregano
2 T. balsamic vinegar

1. Sauté celery, onion and pepper in 1-2 T. olive oil in large casserole pot until vegetables are softened.
2. Toss eggplant cubes with 1 T olive oil, roast in 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, turning once, until browned.
2. Add roasted eggplant, tomatoes, olives, capers, artichoke hearts, raisins, wine, vinegar and herbs to vegetables in large pot, stir to combine, and simmer 15 – 30 minutes to mingle flavours and burn off alcohol. Serve warm over toasted bread slices
(use a rustic style baguette), warm temperature as a vegetable side dish or as a pasta sauce mixed with a short pasta like fusilli, topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Mushroom Crostini

2 c. sliced portobello mushroom caps
2 c. sliced cremini mushrooms
2 T. olive oil
1/4 c. Madeira
4-6 oz. mellow blue cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 c.)
fresh thyme leaves, about 1 T.
lemon vincotto vinegar
Bread slices cut from a rustic style baguette, toasted in the oven on a rack until brown (about 5 minutes at 350 degrees)

1. Sauté mushrooms in olive oil in a skillet over high heat until browned on both sides.
2. Add Madeira and let boil up to cook mushrooms further.
3. When madeira has been reduced by half, remove pan from heat, and stir in cheese until it melts (1-2 minutes). Stir in fresh thyme leaves, serve over toasted baguette slices, drizzle small amount of lemon vincotto vinegar over top of each slice and add ground black pepper to taste.

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Hybrid Vigour

The food: Roasted Vegetables with Boeuf Bourguignon Sauce

The story:

I’ve been meaning to try Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon recipe since I saw it lovingly recreated in the movie Julie and Julia. Last week, inspired by the cold winter weather, I finally did.

I had read that the recipe is more complicated than it needs to be because it is based on restaurant cooking techniques rather than home cooking ones, and when I followed it with some degree of faithfulness – I reduced the quantities and left out the bacon and garlic, but employed Child’s methods – some of the steps did seem unnecessary, so I left them out of my adaptation of the recipe, below.

But my biggest beef (sorry, I couldn’t resist) was that the recipe did not call for any vegetables in the stew beyond the sliced carrots and onions that acted as aromatics in the sauce, and the mushrooms and pearl onions that are meant to be cooked separately. My idea of a great beef stew consists of a ratio of root vegetables to beef of about 4:1, served over rice (mmm, multiple starches), all topped with the deep, dark concentrated sauce. My brainwave for how to achieve that this time around? I’d roast all my favorite vegetables, then pour the boeuf bourguignon over – in effect, I’d make Roast Vegetables with Boeuf Bourguignon Sauce.

I went a little overboard with my selection of vegetables – to organic baby carrots and turnips that I picked up at the Wychwood Farmers’ Market, I added pearl onions, Portobello mushroom chunks, Yukon Gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, and fennel from the supermarket. But when I placed a selection of the roast vegetables over some steamed rice and poured a ladleful of the boeuf bourguignon over top, I feasted on the best beef stew I’ve ever eaten.

If you feel like buying a bunch of different vegetables and devoting 4+ hours to following the recipe, you can feast too.

Roasted Vegetables with Boeuf Bourguignon Sauce Recipe
(adapted from Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 lb. stew beef
2 – 3 T. olive oil
1/2 sliced carrot
1/2 sliced cooking onion
salt and pepper
1 T. flour
2 c. red wine
1 1/2 c. canned beef broth
1 T. tomato paste
1 t. dried thyme leaves
Crumbled bay leaf
1 t. dried rosemary

For vegetables:

2-3 T. olive oil
olive oil cooking spray
Assorted vegetables of your choice, choose from the following list, to make about 6-8 cups uncooked (they shrink when cooked):
blanched and peeled pearl onions
butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2″ chunks
sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 2″ chunks
white turnip, peeled and sliced
whole baby carrots
Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped into 1″ chunks
fennel bulb (stalks, core and fronds removed), halved and sliced thinly
Portobello mushrooms, stems removed, and cut into 1″ chunks

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Dry the stewing beef in paper towels. Saute it in hot oil, a few pieces at a time, in a large oven-proof casserole, until nicely browned on all sides. Remove beef to a dish with a slotted spoon and set aside.
3. In same pan and in same fat, brown sliced carrot and onions.
4. Add beef back to pan. Sprinkle on salt, pepper, and flour and toss to coat.
5. Set casserole, uncovered, in middle position of preheated oven for 8 minutes, tossing after 4 minutes.
6. Remove casserole from oven and turn oven heat down to 325 degrees.
7. Stir in wine, beef broth, tomato paste and herbs. Bring to simmer on top of stove. Then cover the casserole and set in lower third of oven. Cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 325 degrees. The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
8. Remove casserole from oven and raise temperature to 425 degrees again. (The oven is getting a good workout the day you make this.)
9. Place vegetables to be roasted into one or two roasting pans that have been sprayed with cooking spray, and drizzle oil over them. Place in oven.
10. Check consistency of boeuf bourguignon sauce. If not as thick as you’d like, remove beef and cooked vegetables with slotted spoon and reserve in bowl, then cook down sauce over medium heat until reduced to a pleasing thickness. Add beef and cooked vegetables back in.
11. Check roasting vegetables at 10-15 minute intervals, turning those that are browned on only one side, and removing any that are done (browned on two sides) to a separate platter. All should be done within 30-40 minutes.
12. When all vegetables are done, arrange an attractive assortment of vegetables in dish (preferably over hot steamed rice), and top with a ladleful or two of heated boeuf bourguignon sauce.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Delicacies from Delica Kitchen

The food: baked goods from Delica Kitchen

Baby banana bran bread with dark chocolate chips from Delica Kitchen

The story:

It’s been bitterly cold – or as I like to say, fucking freezing – in Toronto lately, which means bakery treats are in order, as often as possible.

Lucky for me, a new artisanal bakery shop has opened up at 1140 Yonge Street (south of St. Clair) called Delica Kitchen. The shop is a pretty, clean, modern-looking small space, all white tile, classy font signage, and black counters, behind which stand friendly black-clad servers, ready to ladle out soups, grill and serve sandwiches and hand over baked goods. All the items at Delica – there are also salads, and vegetable sides – can be eaten in at the tiny counter or more likely, out, at home or office. Or in my case, out at my home office.

On a recent disgustingly cold afternoon of the type that makes me wonder for the thousandth time how anyone human could ever have thought that Canada was actually habitable, I ran into the shop and picked up three bakery items for sampling at home.

A strawberry jammie

First up was a strawberry jammie ($2.50) which is billed as a kind of baked jelly donut, but seemed to me more like a scone with spots of jam tucked inside and drizzled over top. I found it tasty and satisfying in the layered, bready way of scones, though I would have preferred more jam.

A Delica Kitchen Oreo

Next, I tried a Delica Kitchen Oreo ($1.25) which it amused me to photograph in the blue dish above as if it will soon be featured in an animated film, talking. The crisp cookie layers tasted of deep, dark, high quality chocolate, and the icing layer was a super sweet and rich hit of vanilla icing.

The last morsel on my dessert plate (naturally I tried bits of all three together) was a slice of Hyacinth’s Best Banana Bread. Whoever Hyacinth is, she favours a dry (in a good way) and not too sweet (I liked that about it too) form of banana bread that mingles a toasted bran flavour with the sophisticated taste of dark chocolate (bittersweet?) chips. This was my favorite of Delica’s baked items and made a good antidote, taken with a cup of hot milky Earl Grey tea, to the dreadful weather outdoors.

Delica Kitchen  on Urbanspoon

Gluten free Chinese food, Part II

The food: homemade gluten-free lemon chicken

The story:

Inspired by a successful gluten-free experience at P.F. Chang’s , I decided to try making a version of Chinese-style lemon chicken at home.

I looked up recipes for lemon chicken trying to find one to adapt to my purposes, but most featured a heavier batter than the dusting of cornstarch that appeared to be what P.F. Chang’s had used.

When I thought about it, P.F. Chang’s lemon chicken actually looked more like tori karaage, the Japanese version of fried chicken (and one of my favorite restaurant dishes) than like anything else, so I decided to prepare my gluten-free version in the style of tori karaage, and serve it with a lemon sauce.

I marinated the boneless chicken in wheat-free tamari and ginger, coated it in cornstarch, pan-fried it in a little oil, served it over a lemony sauce with some steamed broccoli, et voila! Another gluten free menu staple is born – chez multicultural nous, anyway.

Gluten Free Lemon Chicken, Tori Karaage Style

For the lemon sauce:

1 T. cornstarch, dissolved in small amount of cold water
1 c. chicken broth
juice of 1 lemon
3 T. brown sugar
3 T. liquid honey
1 tsp. minced ginger

Put chicken broth, lemon juice, brown sugar, honey and ginger into skillet or pan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat down to a simmer. Stir in cornstarch mixture and simmer 2-3 minutes until thick and syrupy. Keep warm.

For the chicken:

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch by 1/2 inch chunks
2 T. gluten-free soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
about 1/2 c. cornstarch
2 – 3 T. oil for frying
2 T. toasted sesame seeds

1. Mix chicken pieces, tamari, ginger and sesame oil and marinate for 20-30 minutes.
2. Spread cornstarch on dinner plate and roll chicken pieces in cornstarch until coated. Place chicken pieces on another dinner plate.
3. Heat oil on medium high heat in a large skillet until a piece of coated chicken sizzles when added, then add more pieces to fill pan without crowding.
4. Saute chicken pieces, turning a few times, until browned all over and cooked through.
5. Wipe out pan and saute remaining chicken in same manner.
6. To serve, spoon warm sauce into dish, place chicken pieces over top, and add steamed broccoli, if desired. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 2.