About two weeks ago I walked out on a pier that stretches into Lake Ontario. That pier runs parallel to another one, one that crops out from the edge of the neighbourhood where I grew up. It was a grey and windy day, with cotton batting clouds to almost the horizon, but you could still see Toronto from this shore. There was a queue of steamships, the kind my father used to sail, anchored in deeper water; they were waiting for their turn up the canal, or for a pilot to board, or something like that. The pier doesn't look that long until you've made it to its end — at which point you'll find a park bench, a collection of boulders, and a life preserver on a stand. 

Ships on Lake Ontario | Tara O'Brady

Over the last two months, I finished my book. Recipes, headnotes, and photos, sent off into the world (really to the offices of my publisher). We've worked through one round of edits, the design is well underway, and in just less than seven months from now, it will be in bookstores. Then it will really, no-turning-back-now out in the world. 

Very soon I'll be able to share more, including, fingers crossed, a peek at the cover (!!) and some of the nitty gritty about what you'll find inside.

It's funny. A friend told me recently that she thought I'd been quiet about the book, and I was speechless; flabbergasted even. (As an aside, flabbergasted is such a fine word.) From my perspective, I've lived and breathed this book for the last year or so. I've often heard it said that writing a book is like having a child, like the delivery part — the effort, the stress, the worry and then the relief and reward. For me, writing a book was like having a child. Not being in labor, but when the baby is home and you're tasked with the care of it. The Book was on my mind always, even when I was away from it. I went to it first thing in the morning, and put it to bed each night. Some nights, I went to bed with it, quite literally sleeping with a stack of pages on the nightstand. 

Pistachio-lemon Israeli Couscous | Tara O'Brady

Now it's a Sunday afternoon and I'm reconstructing our dining room. When I was in the depths of the book I found it more productive if I could write right beside the kitchen instead of working upstairs. Even if I wasn't cooking from the manuscript, cooking while writing kept me in the proper mindset . So this table, intended to seat eight, currently seats a monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, external hard drive, a stack of notebooks, another of books, my camera, its battery, a bottle of Tylenol, a pile of receipts, and a tin of cookies a friend sent me from Paris. 

One of the books in said stack, fittingly enough, is David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. Since that book came out, it's not made it to my bookshelf, but rather has spent its days on this table or in my kitchen, since I've been using it so much. In the first week, we made David's croque-monsieurs twice, with lots of mustard and cornichons on the plate, and a salad of bitter greens to join them. Then I made two of his tapenades —the artichoke with rosemary and the green olive with almonds — for summer afternoon snacking, then, when the basil and vegetables were plentiful in our weekly CSA box, his soupe au pistou made quick work of the bounty. Now that the weather is cooling I'm eyeing the scalloped potatoes with blue cheese and roasted garlic and the roast lamb with braised vegetables and salsa verde. 

I have such faith in his recipes that the first time I made the dish that follows, I went for a double batch. It's a bowl of fat couscous studded with nuts and fruit, including preserved lemons. We had it warm with a roasted chicken and some green beans, then the next day I had it at room temperature with bronzed slices of halloumi. It was filling without too much heft, fragrant and refreshing with fruit. The pinch of cinnamon provided an elusive, purring sort of backnote of spice that was especially effective.

This is such a useful book, full of the kind of recipes my family and I adore, including unexpected additions like caramel pork ribs, meatballs with sriracha, and naan stuffed with Laughing Cow cheese. And I've not even gotten started with the desserts (why hello, coffee cème brulée and carrot cake). 

My Paris Kitchen is beautiful. Ed Anderson's photography is stunning; he conveys the beauty of Paris as artfully as he does the food. Then there are David's essays; longer passages that give context to the recipes, and offer a glimpse into his past experiences and his present days. He is sharply funny, charming, and so damn knowledgeable. This is the kind of book you want to spend some time with.

Speaking of spending time, I've missed this. It's good to be back, and it's good to see you.

 

LEMON-PISTACHIO ISRAELI COUSCOUS

Recipe by David Lebovitz, from his book My Paris Kitchen. (Copyright 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House. All rights reserved). The recipe and method as they are in the book, with my notes below. As David says in the headnote, orzo is a good substitute for the Israeli couscous. 

SERVES 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1/2 cup (30 g) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons salted or unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (80 g) diced dried fruit (any combination of cherries, cranberries, apricots, prunes, or raisins)
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) unsalted (shelled) pistachios, very coarsely chopped (almost whole)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cups (225 g) Israeli couscous or another small round pasta
  • Freshly ground black pepper

METHOD

Trim the stem end from the lemon and cut it into quarters. Scoop out the pulp and press it through a strainer into a bowl to extract the juices; discard the pulp. Finely dice the preserved lemon rind and add it to the bowl along with the parsley, butter, dried fruit, pistachios, salt, and cinnamon.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook according to the package instructions. Drain the couscous and add it to the bowl, stirring until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are well mixed. Season with pepper and serve.

 

NOTES (from Tara)

  • The same weekend I made this salad, my good friends Adam and Tamara catered an event with a salad of couscous with grapes and pine nuts. So inspired , I used diced red seedless grapes instead of the dried fruit, adding them once the couscous had cooled to warmish room temperature. 
  • I went a bit generous with the herbs, using a mix of (mostly) parsley and cilantro — probably using about 3/4 cup (45 g) chopped herbs in total. 
  • I bashed the few pistachios left in the jar  to a powder in a mortar and pestle as garnish.
  • To serve, I layered the couscous with about 9 oz ( 255 g) halloumi, which had been cut into 1/4-inch slices and fried in a medium-hot nonstick pan until they were golden on both sides. 
  • If you don't have preserved lemons, this quick version from Mark Bittman is quite good and only takes a few hours of sitting at room temperature. The ratio of lemons to salt and sugar is 1 : 1 teaspoon : 2 teaspoons, so you can do as many or as few lemons as you'd like. If using these lemons, simply mince the flesh and peel very finely and add them, along with accumulated juices, to the bowl in Step 1.
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It's a repeat declaration, but I'm crazy for baked beans. They needn't always be homemade; I am sufficiently happy with tinned. To me, their ketchup-y sweetness is camping trips and student days and breakfast at Debenhams's restaurant with Gigi when I was fourteen years old.

Lately, I've made room for another bean. Bubbling Bacon Butter Beans from Adam Perry Lang's Charred and Scruffed. Sean and I had them for yesterday's lunch, most likely one of the remaining few outside this year. 

bubbling bacon butter beans by tara o'brady

The bean business started the day before, only because it suited my schedule, not because of the recipe's need. In a big pot there was a fry of bacon, shallot and sage, and let's recognize that the smell of frying sage is the finest harbinger of later autumn. I use a lot of herbs year round, but lean most heavily on sage when on those pages towards the end of the calendar.

The large limas took a tumble into the mix with chicken stock, while chopped tomatoes were in a pan with oregano and bacon of their own; the latter cooked until their juice was mostly gone, until they crackled and concentrated. This intense slurry went in with the beans, then the whole went into the oven.

Perry Lang explains he prefers "butter beans" as a name over lima beans, since buttery best evokes the mashed-potato-fluff of the limas. Dried, they are discrete, flattish oblongs, which is to say they're the prototype for skipping stones. Cooked, limas swell impressively, to a shape like two plump offset rounds joined at the middle. They are firm, yet soothingly tender, and absorb flavours like nobody's business. Here they sop up the surrounding goodness, with a subtle nuttiness of their own.

I finished our beans with a stirring-through of chopped kale then drips of parsley, chive, chili and lemon made into a quick dressing. The fried egg was gilding the lily for certain, but an embellishment I'd also repeat.

What we ended up with was a deeply-satisfying bowlful, spoons at times mild and others with capricious sting. The herbs, dried and fresh, long-cooked and just-added, skimmed across each bite, plinking first then sinking into something deeper. I liked how the egg yolk further enriched the broth, the fat and acid made for each other, and the resonant savouriness of the combination.

bubbling bacon butter beans by tara o'brady

Charred and Scruffed  is a one to read, not only for grilling, not only for cooking meat, but for anyone interested in cooking, full stop. Perry Lang is keen on details, taking advantage of every opportunity to build flavour and texture. He encourages observation and the active participation in process. His techniques are innovative and, what's more, profoundly useful. I turn to it as often for reference as I do for recipes.

The garage roof is getting new shingles, and one of the roofers smokes those skinny cigarillos. On the back deck a day ago the wind was picking up for a storm, and carried the music from their radio and the scent of the tobacco.

Beans, bacon, eggs, singalong and smoke. I'd repeat that, too

 

BUBBLING BACON BUTTER BEANS (with kale and an egg)

Excerpted from Charred & Scruffed:  Bold new techniques for explosive flavor on and off the grill by Adam Perry Lang (Artisan Books, 2012).

Serves 6 to 8

Butter beans are just another name for lima beans, especially in the South. But I tend to think more sensually, and I have always felt that when they are cooked just right, these beans achieve a state of melty smoothness that is best described by the word "buttery." In the process of cooking, they throw off starch—just like Arborio rice does in risotto. The result is velvety creaminess. My recommendation for these beans is "Serve with anything," because they go with everything. But I could also say, "Serve with nothing else," because they are satisfying all by themselves and quite irresistible when you take them from the fire -- steaming, bubbling, and fragrant. — APL

INGREDIENTS

  •  3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
  •  6 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut into ¼-inch-wide strips
  •  ½ cup finely chopped shallots
  •  4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled, plus 1 tablespoon grated garlic (use a Microplane) or garlic mashed to paste
  •  1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  •  2 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  •  4 cups cooked butter beans or two 15-ounce jars or cans butter beans, drained, rinsed if canned
  •  1 cup Pomi diced tomatoes (or other Tetra Pak tomatoes), drained
  •  1 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  1/4 cup finely diced prosciutto fat (or additional bacon)
  •  Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  •  White wine vinegar

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until it sizzles when a piece of bacon is added. Add the rest of the bacon, the shallots, crushed garlic, and sage and cook, stirring, until the shallots are just translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the beans, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes, then add the grated garlic and oregano and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated and the tomatoes are crackling.

Stir the tomatoes into the bean mixture, along with the prosciutto fat. Season with salt and pepper and pour into a 2-quart casserole or baking dish.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the beans are velvety and creamy. If the beans start to look dry, add a splash of water.

Stir the parsley into the beans, adjust the acidity with white wine vinegar as necessary, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Serve, or keep warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Notes from me (Tara):

  • I cook the bacon alone for a few minutes before adding the shallot, so it takes on some colour. That's my preference when it comes to bacon, but might not be be yours.
  • I daresay they could be made vegetarian with vegetable broth instead of stock, and using fire-roasted tomatoes for the needed smokiness.  
  • To make the dish as pictured, coarsely chop a few handfuls stemmed Tuscan kale or baby kale and stir into the hot beans right before serving. Plunk a fried egg on top. As mentioned above, I use Perry Lang's herb dressing to season at the end.
  • Toast! How could I forget toast? Eat these on toast. 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is an unglamourous, unoriginal statement to declare I adore baked beans. But I do.  

Since I have a habit of imaging our conversations as dramas in my head, I can hear you saying "those aren't beans, Tara. Those are lentils." And maybe then you'll tilt your head to one side and pat me on my hand in a kind, but vaguely pitying manner. You might cluck your tongue in a soft "tsk, tsk" as what a shame it is that I've obviously lost any and all of my marbles over this holiday and new year season. 

You may even put up the kettle for some tea. You're really very nice to me.

However, please have faith in my madness, because look at that -  right there, lentils that look like baked beans. 

These brilliant beauties are from Frédéric Morin and David McMillian, and the book they wrote with Meredith Erickson, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Morin and McMillian are behind the Montreal-based restaurant Joe Beef, and two other establishments - Liverpool House and McKiernan Lunchonette. The book is more than a cookbook, more of a treatise, a perspective on food and quality of life. That said, it's not mired down by overly-saccharine missives, but instead kept buoyant by bravado and enthusiasm, as evidenced by the included history lesson of eating in their city, a pullout insert of the most majestic smörgåsbord, and a romantic dissertation on train travel.

I flipped through the book for a few minutes one day, then spent a solid two luxurious hours reading it at the kitchen table the next, from beginning to end, while munching a chewy baguette with a smear of sinus-clearing mustard and wafery slices of salty ham. That was a fine morning, and this is a fine book. It's been on a whole whack of "Best of" lists for the year, with good reason.

Recipe origin given it's due, let's return to the lentils.  

These lentils run all the same bases as baked beans - a humming balance of acid, fat, sugar, salt and bite (an equation cribbed from Morin and the pages of the book, I should say). The mathematics make sense, and are brought to best potential in a lidded pot. While the sludgy pleasure of baked beans is nothing new, the substitution of lentils in the place of the beans changes the effect entirely. The stewy, starchy charm is kept, but the flat density of the lentils shift and slip across the spoon, and make for a less claustrophobic bite. While not light per se, the lentils have a looseness, an almost hearty delicacy (which makes no sense, I know). 

It's a home run. 

Of all the ways one can enjoy a bean that's been baked these lentils can play quite admirably; alongside a golden-crisp sausage, or with cabbage that's been lightly braised, or as a part of a Full English Breakfast (the plate in the back). I've nicked some inspiration from the last, by grilling some bread on a cast iron pan, letting it catch and scorch in places, topped the toast with lentils and a frizzled-edged fried egg with the yolk left runny, and then spooned more beans atop that. It's that hearty, glorious fare that works well with coffee, morning, noon, evening and latest night. 

The flavours are pretty much the regulars: fat and smoke from bacon, a low sweetness from browned onions and garlic, aromatic roundness from maple syrup, mustard's heat boosted by vinegar's twang. The structure upon which all the other ingredients play upon is, funnily, the ketchup - the combination of tomato and vinegar and sugar - is what gathers everything together. Which is to say it's like a curving, hunched backbone to the dish, as one looks when hunkered over a bowl at the table. 

After a quick sauté on the stove and a longer stay in the oven, you are rewarded with a ruddy mix of lentils; it is awfully orange, here and there rusty brown with bacon and a single garnish of a dusky bay leaf. There's a comforting calm to the monochromatic scheme, but it's not fancy-pants stuff. If you'd rather, close our eyes and then grab your fork, or maybe grab the fork first, that might be easier. Either way, make these, eat them, and be happy. 

******

There's a superstition that lentils are eaten on the new year because they resemble coins and this bodes well for prosperous days ahead. While I'm three days overdue in my wishes to you, the lapse does not diminish the sincerity of the sentiment. I hope your days have been brightly merry, and nothing but best wishes to you and yours for this year to come.

A quick mention, Donny Tsang invited me to chat about the photographs I take. If you'd like to read the interview, it's at Great Food Photos. Thanks so much Donny for the kindness!

Lentils Like Baked Beans

From The Art of Living According to Joe Beef. "This great side dish has a bit of a Quebecois-lumberjack-in-Bollywood taste. It is red lentils cooked like dal, seasoned like baked beans. It is a pork chop's best friend or will mate with a hefty breakfast."

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups (500 millilitres) red lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 4 cups (1 litre) water
  • 1/4 cup (60 millilitres) ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus more as needed
  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil
  • 2 tablespoons Colman's mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper, plus more as needed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

In oven proof pot with lid, fry bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.  

Add the lentils, water, ketchup, maple syrup, oil, mustard, vinegar, pepper and bay leaf. Stir well and season with salt. Bring to a boil.  Cover, place in oven, and bake for 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender.

Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper, maple syrup, and vinegar. Serve hot now or later.

Serves 4.

Notes from Tara:

  • When it comes to lentils, they need a good wash - a quick rinse in a sieve doesn't always do the job. I cover them with water in a bowl, give them a swish with my hand, strain, and repeat, until the water is no longer cloudy.
  • The bacon I had was rather thick cut, and so produced a good amount of fat. As a result, I didn't use the full 2 tablespoons of oil. I also squirreled away a few of the bits of crisp bacon before adding the lentils, reserving them to add at the table.
  • I used some homemade ketchup, which has things like celery seed, clove, mace, allspice, cinnamon, chili flakes in it; for those so inclined, you could make up a sachet of these spices and steep them into the liquid for the baking. I've not tried it, so fair warning. Sounds like a nice idea though.
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If I had shown you the collected plates of our last week or so, it would have made for the most boring slideshow in the history of the world. It's been pretty much one word, four syllables, at almost every meal. 

Asparagus. Daily. There's been no complaints.

There it's been, with oozy-yolked dipper eggs to start the day, shaved into emerald-edged ribbons as a lunch salad, stir-fried with ginger, sesame and soy for dinner. When baking a cake left me with egg yolks left over, I took it as a sign and lickety-split made a herb-specked, lemon-heavy Hollandaise to drag our stalks through.

I was tempted to tell you the way I've liked it best, but it's not much of a recipe. Just a knob of butter melted in a heavy skillet and allowed to begin to brown, then stopped from going overboard by a scant pour of olive oil. In goes trimmed asparagus and another scant pour - water this time - quickly simmering/steaming the stalks to tender-crisp and setting their colour at its brightest. Once the water's bubbled away, the asparagus goes off the heat and onto a plate. There's salt and pepper to finish, along with a squeeze of lemon, an extra drop of oil and broad, lacy shavings of Parmesan. No trick to that. 

And so instead, I thought I'd tell you about a dish that has a bit more going on but shares the same quick time from counter to table. It may not be my full-stop favourite, but it's up there and gaining a following. 

It starts with a winner of a sauce - David Lebovitz's sauce gribiche. Like he says, it's one of those keep-it-in-your-back-pocket recipes that makes something kind of spectacular out of a few everyday ingredients. It's French in lineage, a loose sauce-meets-vinaigrette, with an emulsification of (cooked!) egg yolk and mustard to start, a good measure of olive oil, chopped egg, capers, cornichons and herbs. 

That was where I was heading. Then, thumbing through Canal House Cooking Volume No. 3 - the winter and spring edition from last year - I was reminded of their take on the iceberg wedge; sharp, crunchy radicchio garnished with hard-boiled eggs, scallion and crisp pancetta. It's gorgeous. Their vinaigrette and garnish shares a lot of qualities with sauce gribiche, and that's when I decided to change course and take the best from both.

This vinaigrette ends up eggier than his sauce gribiche, and the cornichons are swapped out for the fresh pungency of scallion - that's the Canal House influence at work. My only original contribution was to fleck the dressing with dried red pepper flakes, which spark here and there.

We ate it at lunch yesterday with nothing else necessary than a slice of toasted granary bread as raft for the spears. The crumb opened up to the spiky, supple dressing, and the crust afforded the dish substantial chew. Use the last of your bread for sopping up all the extra bits and dregs of dressing - be greedy with the bread, I say.

One note on the asparagus itself; you can prepare it however you prefer, but can we talk about matters of size? Go straight for the thicker stalks, the kind that almost require a fork and knife when eating with anyone aside from the closest of company. Dainty, they are not, those sturdy ones.

The fat, juicy stalks really have the most flavour, and it's their fleshy sweetness that stands up to the piquancy of this dressing best. If those spindly stems we often see are thought of as pencil-thin, the sort you'll want here are more the magic-marker variety. 

As with a traditional sauce gribiche, this vinaigrette would be happy to pal around with some boiled new potatoes or a nice bit of fish. Or, to tweak the Canal House example, I'd like it this over grilled wedges of radicchio at the next barbeque. I've got ideas of blanched green beans when they're around.

That said, I've not tried any of those suggestions. We've only gone so far as asparagus and stopped quite stubbornly there. For right now, in this asparagus season that is so quickly passing, that's far enough for me.

IMG_27252

ASPARAGUS WITH HARD-BOILED EGG VINAIGRETTE

Adapted from from Canal House Cooking and David Lebovitz, with thanks.

INGREDIENTS

  • Kosher salt
  • 2 scallions, white and light green parts separated and finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 capers, rinsed and dried
  • Approximately 1/8 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • 1 handful of fresh, flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound thick asparagus, peeled if needed, trimmed and cooked to your liking

METHOD

In a small bowl, pinch together 1/8 teaspoon salt with the white part of the sliced scallions. Once the scallion begins to release some juice, stir in the red wine vinegar and set aside.

Separate the egg yolks from the hard boiled eggs. Place one egg yolk in a medium bowl. Chop the other egg yolk and egg whites separately, and keep both aside for later.

Mix the Dijon mustard into whole egg yolk until smooth. Using the back of a spoon or fork, beat in 1/3 cup of the olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Once emulsified, stir in the vinegar and white scallions. 

Add the reserved egg whites to the sauce, along with the capers, the chili flakes and most of the parsley. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. It'll be quite kicky. If the sauce seems too thick, loosen with the extra olive oil. 

To serve, arrange the cooked asparagus on a plate. Spoon over the sauce, then garnish with the chopped egg yolk, reserved parsley and scallion greens. 

Serves 2.

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earlier

It is difficult to come up with something original to say about Heidi Swanson, when she's such an original herself. It's even harder when everyone else is talking about her, and her fantastic new book, Super Natural Every Day, as they should be.

Nonetheless I'll add my voice to the chorus of deserved cheers and say, "wow Heidi, well done."

Like it was for countless others, Heidi's site, 101 Cookbooks, was one of the first food blogs I read. Her photographs were what caught my attention - the simple, honest styling, the softness of light - but it was her that kept me reading. And cooking. There's a laundry list of recipes from 101 Cookbooks that are part of my family's routine. Like the images she captures, the food Heidi creates is beautifully direct. There isn't a lot of extraneous fuss for the sake of fanciness; if she suggests an ingredient or method, you can be well-assured there's good reason behind it.

It is this thoughtful approach to cooking that is so appealing about Heidi; it's as obvious in her meals as it is in the words she chooses to describe them. Her tone is gentle and welcoming, convivial while instructive. 

Super Natural Every Day carries on as the elegant extension of Heidi's site, and follows up her highly-acclaimed book Super Natural Cooking. For those unfamiliar with Heidi's food philosophy, she promotes a vegetarian, whole-foods kitchen, with a detailed emphasis on unrefined sweeteners, whole grains, and conscientious choices of fats. That said, Heidi isn't one to sermonize; she lives her life, cooks her food and tells you about it. It's accessible, easy cooking that is delicious first and foremost, full stop, without asterisk or side note - the fact that it's good for you is an added bonus.

The book is an obviously personal one. Heidi shares favourite recipes from her repertoire alongside evocative photographs of her day to day. There's an intimacy to her voice that brings you into her kitchen, and her notes on each dish show an unmistakable familiarity that only comes from a heartfelt enthusiasm. Heidi moves easily between influences - there's dukkah, harissa and gribiche in here, tinto de verano and macaroon tarts. The flavours are varied and celebrated, like the well-worn bits and pieces of a treasured scrapbook, and her recipes are testaments to her affection for them.

One dish that I think serves as great example to Heidi's style is her Little Quinoa Patties. A seemingly humble collection of ingredients, quinoa, eggs, and breadcrumbs, are punctuated by fresh onion, chives, garlic and a grating of cheese. Pan-fried until crusted and golden the cakes get unexpectedly gutsy; the exterior deeply caramelizes, especially where the onion catches, and turn aromatically nutty. The interior is soft and bouncy, with the curlicues (Heidi's word) of quinoa still sweet and mild. She suggests them hot or cold as a snack. We ate ours with poached eggs and broccoli sprouts on a rain-sodden afternoon. 

After the plates were scraped clean and the kettle was put up for tea, someone said to me "I would eat that every day."

You couldn't hope for higher praise. I'll say it again, Heidi, well done.

(p.s. and happy birthday today, too!)

*******

I've been having to sit on my hands to keep from telling you all about UPPERCASE Issue #9 - it's the food issue! That's right, page upon beautiful page full of stories on all aspects of food and garden. It's going to be good.

In the Kitchen column I'll be talking about honey, offering up a recipe for Butter Roasted Walnuts with Thyme Infused Honey and chitchatting about honey varietals.

On top of that, I'm terribly excited to tell you that I was also granted the opportunity to talk with Heidi Swanson, Carrie and Andrew Purcell and Aran Goyoaga to discuss food photography and styling. In the interviews we explore their varied approaches and perspectives when it comes to photographing food; their answers are both educational and inspiring. I can't wait for you to see it and I can't thank them enough for taking part.

UPPERCASE #9 will be out in the coming weeks. It's available here online, or check the magazine's website for your local stockist.

*******

Late breaking, and just added, the folks at Saveur magazine were exceptionally nice in asking a few questions as part of their "Sites We Love" series. I'm in better company than I could dream, and thank them for their kindness. If you'd like to see the interview, it's now live.

puddled

LITTLE QUINOA PATTIES

From the book Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, 2011).

Anytime I have leftover cooked quinoa, I make these little patties. They are good hot or cold and are well suited to fighting afternoon hunger pangs. It's a bit of a stretch, but they could be described as a (very) distant cousin of arancini, Italy's beloved deep-fried risotto balls. In contrast, these are pan-fried in a touch of oil, and smushed flat in the pan to get as much surface browning as possible. I'm including my basic version, but often times I'll add a handful of very finely chopped this-or-that: broccoli, asparagus, or cauliflower, depending on the season. They're great on their own, slathered with ripe avocado or drizzled with hot sauce. - HS

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 1/2 cups / 12 oz / 340 g cooked quinoa, at room temperature
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup / .5 oz / 15 g freshly grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup / 3.5 oz / 100 g whole grain bread crumbs, plus more if needed
  • Water, if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or clarified butter

METHOD

Combine the quinoa, eggs, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the chives, onion, cheese, and garlic. Add the bread crumbs, stir, and let sit for a few minutes sot that the crumbs can absorb some of the moisture. At this point, you should have a mixture you can easily form in to twelve 1-inch / 2.5 cm thick patties. I err on the very moist side because it makes for a  not-overly-dry patty, but you can add a mroe bread crumbs, a bit at a time, to firm up the mixture, if need be. Conversely, a bit more beaten egg or water can be used to moisten the mixture.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-pow heat, add 6 patties, if they'll fit with some room between each, cover, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until the bottoms are deeply browned. Carefully flip the patties with a spatula and cook the second sides for 7 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the skillet and cool on a wire rack while you cook the remaining patties.

Alternatively, the quinoa mixture keeps nicely in the refrigerator for a few days; you can cook the patties to order, if you prefer.

Makes 12 little patties.

A note from Tara:

  • If it's your thing, I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the uncooked quinoa mixture. I think some fresh chili would work too. 
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glimpse

Once Molly (Wizenberg) wrote of wanting "pâte brisée for a pillow", and it was a statement so perfectly, poetically apt that it's stuck with me. With ardent hope she doesn't mind the tug at her coattails, I submit that if a puff of pastry is where you'd lay your head, with a bed of onions beneath, you just might desire the layers of a potato gratin for bedclothes.

I see that my addition stretches her neat metaphor into something excessive in it's total carbohydrate intake, but the sentiment holds true - potato gratin and an Alsatian Onion Tart hit very much the same notes of butter, cream and those marvelous, golden flavours brought about in baking. A good potato gratin has a gentle crisp at its top, a smoothly-set layering of potato and cream underneath, where the neat strata of each ingredient may be appreciated by the eye, but is hardly so to the tooth.

This gratin comes by way of David Tanis, from his latest book The Heart of the Artichoke, and it is my idea of what a gratin should be. Too often we're offered watery, weepy versions, where the potatoes are wholly undercooked or are gravely underseasoned. Tanis's gratin is as simple as simple can be, held only to the essential ingredients and arranged in unvarnished, glorious harmony.

Actually, this whole book is my idea of what a cookery book should be. There's an easy conversation to be found on his pages that appeals - the tone is that of reading the words of a friend, a very smart, very talented friend, but a friend all the same. The recipes are arranged in seasonal menus with notes on cooking and gentle suggestion of technique. His tastes are varied, so you'll find jalapeno pancakes, black sticky rice pudding with coconut cream, and roast suckling pig (not all together).

Look at me go on. I've been distracted completely from what we're supposed to be talking about. Let's just say it's a really good book and leave it at that.

This potato gratin. We had this over the weekend, the Jansson's Temptation variation (that's fun to say), if we're getting into details. It was a long weekend; a statutory holiday in some parts of Canada. Such lazy days are the ideal setting to potato gratin, as they do take time. Not to make or eat, but to let them cook slowly and languidly so that they reach the velvety standard we're all hoping for.

This won't let those hopes down. It's the gratin to end them all, with my special fondness tied to the Jansson's as said. The onion sweetens the cream slightly, and the anchovies mitigates all with a profound salinity. Eaten the next morning, warmed moderately with a poached egg and a salad of the most peppery, bitterest greens you can find, it's exceptional.

******

In nice bit of news, Sheri and Shari kindly invited me to visit their marvelous site this joy+ride. We had a chat about winter and cooking, and there's lots of photographs to share. If you'd like to take a look, here it is. You'll note I talk about Tanis there, so sharing this recipe today felt right.

Thank you dear ones for having me.

******

CLASSIC POTATO GRATIN

From the book The Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis, (Thomas Allen and Sons, 2010).

A good gratin is probably the only thing you can serve at any dinner table that everybody will love. Of all the versions, I prefer this tradition French-style gratin, made simply with potatoes, cream and butter.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds baking potatoes (use medium russet, Bintje, or German Butterball)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus a little more for the baking dish
  • 2 1/2 cups organic heavy cream, or as needed

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Peel the potatoes and put them in a bowl of cold water. Smear a baking dish thickly with butter. My favorite gratin dish is a circular pan 14 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep. If you don't have a large dish, make 2 smaller gratins. Just make sure the dish is not too deep.

To assemble the gratin, place a cutting board on the counter between the bowl of potatoes and the baking dish. Using a mandoline, if you have one, slice a few potatoes at a time, as thin as possible. Quickly lay the potato slices in the bottom of the pan, overlapping them to make one layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Slice a few more potatoes and make another layer. Continue in this fashion, seasoning each layer, until all the potatoes are used.

Pour the cream over the potatoes and tilt the pan to distribute it well. With your hand, push down on the top layer to even out the pile. The cream should just barely cover the potatoes. Add a little more if necessary. Dot the surface with the butter, then cover the dish tightly with foil and put it in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil and return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes or so to brown the top of the gratin. Let the gratin rest fot 10 minutes before serving. (The gratin can also be cooled and left at room temperature for several hours, and reheated in a moderate oven.)

{GRATIN VARIATIONS}

Obviously, there are many other delicious ways to make a gratin. For a good cheesy version, sprinkle an assertive cheese, such as a Swiss Gruyère or Raclette, or even Fontina, between each layer of potatoes. You'll need about 2 cups of grated cheese.

There's a Swedish version of the dish called Jansson's Temptation, which calls for anchoivies and onions and is excellent for breakfast or lunch. To make a good approximation of Jannson's, I mix 1 large onion, sliced thin, with about 12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and roughly chopped, and divide the mixture among the layers. Bake as for the classic gratin.

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january crunch

It's the new year. We're one week in and I'm still getting my footing. The bang of fireworks at midnight seven days ago acted as my starter's pistol - the get-go for the clipping pace the days have taken. 

I don't know if I can still wish you a happy year, there must be an expiry date on the phrase, just as I don't know if I should be this bouncy over a January salad.

But I am. Smitten with radishes and celery and apple. And I do wish you grand times ahead.

What started me on salads was when we slipped away to Montreal way back in November - even though their first snow had fallen and our cheeks were rusty with the bite of a sharp wind, leafy, green and perky salads were often the unexpected boon at mealtimes. Some peppery, some mild, with shaved fennel and Grana Padano, or a humble jumble of tiny greens in a film of dressing with pickled shallot. In the morning, served with our eggs, there were last September's tomatoes dried and preserved in oil.

The last night was one where the sidewalks were slick with ice and I (firmly) held a gentlemanly arm to maintain my footing. Finally tucked into the warm restaurant, I was playing that game where you scout the menu by taking inventory of the plates of others when I saw a salad -  a tangle of mixed cabbages and carrot, nothing more than a coleslaw really - and it was, somehow, exactly what I wanted. 

It made sense, really, that in the winter we need some crunch to enliven both our palate and spirits. It is no news that I am a fan of comfort food; braises and slow roasts are often my favourite meals. Against those rich, unctuous gravies and stews a salad brings all that the dish is not - the piquancy of vinegar and punch of freshness resets the taste buds and brightens the meal through contrast. Each becomes essential in the enjoyment of the other.

And while we might not think of it, cold winters, those bitterly frosty days, are dry. Skin is chapped, lips are chapped, hair is flyaway and frizzy. I find myself, a person not usually one to keep a carafe by the bed, stumbling awkwardly and squintingly into the kitchen to gulp down glasses of water in the morning. A salad gives a meal an aspect of watery crunch, which is to say it refreshes without the stumbling and the stubbed toes.

The salad we have here is a more recent entry into our canon, inspired by the collected lessons of our trip. I'll offer it up in terms as one should offer to a friend, without quantities or much by way of specification. The salad is best because of its combination. There is a balance of the different sorts of crispness between the supple celery and the assertive radish; the apple falls between the two.

My only true instruction is to slice everything, save the parsley of course, as thinly as you can muster. Shaved wafer thin is where I'd aim, as the textures and flavours seem at their best as such, with it all coming off as ravishingly addicting. Wet, but not sodden, and that sounds funny I know. 

With baguette and butter it makes for an ideal lunch, only gaining in appeal when eaten indoors, at the table, by the window, with a snowy landscape on the other side.

IMG_03332

RADISH, CELERY AND APPLE SALAD

Ingredients

  • A bunch of radishes, sliced thin
  • An apple, something crisp and sweet, sliced thin
  • A stalk of celery, sliced thin
  • A generous handful of flat-leafed parsley, stems removed
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • Mild honey
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

In a medium bowl, toss together the radishes, apple, celery and parsley. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice, a fine drizzle of honey, and a larger splash of olive oil. Toss gently, so that everything is well coated, then add a sprinkle of sea salt and a good grind of pepper. Toss again and taste for seasoning. 

Serves 2, I'd say.

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