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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sexy Yeast

The crust bursting and crackling - sharp shards splinter in my eye. Steam wafting like some second rate ghost, hovering and dissipating but sensual and seductive. I want her. Want to sink my teeth into her like a lover and feel her pale soft flesh in the moistness of my mouth - to waver between her coying voluptuousness and the sharp prick of her lusty crust.

This summer, I set out to capture her or, if not, one of her sisters, but was beatened down by self-doubt. Could I have her? Could I fashion her form - from frail and loose powder into a dome, golden and snapping?

I captured the yeast from the air and sealed it into a mason jar, feeding and nursing it, never sure if I was breeding a colony of yeast or hissing bacteria. After ten days of tending to my aloof patient, I took the plunge, dipping the metal measuring cup into the sticky, clinging liquid that drapped and drooled on the sides of the bowl.

There is something incredibly seductive about a loaf of fresh, warm, crackling, luscious sourdough. The crust crackles and splinters, accompanied by the glorious crunch of the bite. The revealed centre is moist and gives up a bit of a fight before yielding to the pull.

Aside from the pure pleasure of eating, is the visceral reaction I have to my yeast colony. Breadmaking is tactile and vigorous and tempermental and alive. When I feel low, my starter languishes and my loaves struggle to rise. I've taken a proofing loaf on car rides and to a friend's house. I commune with it every morning and watch it wake up and dance. It's not an ingredient, it's a relationship.

Last summer's mission was to tame the mighty Coquitlam sourdough. To take what is hovering in the air and make it do some delicious work. Yeast lives all around us; the magic of sourdough is to capture these little lovelies, give them a warm pad to party in and feed the darlings some food everyday.

I captured and started my sourdough colony by mixing 1/2 cup warm tap water to 1/2 part unbleached white flour. Every 24 hours, I dumped half of this mixture away and replaced it with 1/4 cup water and 1/4 flour. The little yeasties toyed with me for the first three days - there was nary a sign of life. But...on the 4th day, I spied some bubbles. On I fed. After 10 days, I had a healthy, sour, living colony of my own Coquitlam Yeast - San Fran can suck it.

If you live in or near Coquitlam and would like to start baking sourdough, email me and I will be happy to share some of my starter with you.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

I love farmers

...their bounty, that is.

Cattle farmers are kind of hot. What with their ropin' and hat tippin' and skin patina'd by the open sky...ahem....where was I?

There is a certain romanticism to the idea of a cowboy on the range raising honest food the old fashioned way. It is no wonder that meeting the people who produce my food also happens to make my food taste better because I know where it has come from and can ask questions about how it was raised and the conditions by which it was slaughtered.

I want to meet and know the people who produce what I eat. I want to know the hands that sow, harvest, and husband the food. Food is precious and so are the people who produce it.

It does not hurt, of course, that when we can look the person who produce our food in the eye, it also means that our food is fresher and travelled a shorter distance to reach our table

Coquitlam has a thriving little farmer's market that hops with fresh baked goods, organic greens, farm fresh eggs and a rugged cowboy.

Glenn and I picked up a 1/4 of a cow today from the market from Redl's Home-Grown Beef. Their commitment is to raise their "cattle in an environment that is respectful of the land and of the animal." The Redl family's business continues to run cattle "the old fashioned way: a cowboy, his horse and his dog." Their beef is free from growth promotants, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibioics, animal by-products and feed additives, and spend their time grazing on grasses.

Oh, and did I mention that it is deliciously beefy? It tastes...wait for beef. The flavour is full-bodied and robust. We grilled our sirloin steaks naked and topped it with some salt and pepper when it came off the grill and that's it...beef heaven. The meat was sweeter because we know the animal had had a decent life and did not suffer needlessly to feed the industrial beef model.

As our girls dug into their meat, they thanked the animal more than once. Thanks to the animal and the people who help bring it to our table.

Our market fresh menu today:

Fresh fava beans (yum!), marinated sweet peppers and farm veg over our own harvest of rocket (a rocking, nutty, big flavoured green)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A farewell dinner

Glenn's sister and her two kids have been visiting us from Fort St. John. The house has been rumbling with giggles, brilliant ideas of fancy and the occasion tear. Cousins play as enthusiastically as friends but with the added element of blood and genetics.

When they see each other, they pick up where they last left off; the emotions and the play are just as intense and just as unrestrained. Our kids are half Chinese and dark haired; their cousins are blond and blue eyed; they live 1200 kms apart and see each other once a year, and yet their lives connect through the ties of family and history.

Food also brings people together. It helps if the food is delicious but it's really the words and the sentiments shared over a table of food that grounds us all.

Jenn and the kids are leaving for the long drive back home tomorrow; we ate together and feasted on the bonds that connect us. Tomorrow we say good-bye but the meal will feed us until we see each other again.


Salade Nicoise
Verdict: don't mess with Julia

Sage Parmesan Shortbread
2 C flour
1 C butter
1/2 C parmesan cheese
20 julienned sage leaves
1 teaspoon salt

Work ingredients together until dough just comes together.
Roll into 1.5 in diameter log within parchment paper.
Chill for 30 minutes until firm.
Slice into 1/4 inch cookies and bake at 400 F on parchment for about 15 min or until golden brown.

Verdict: holy yumminess...melt in your mouth butteriness in a little bite.

Roasted Peppers and Carmelized Onion Galette
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen's galette recipe)

Do not touch the recipe for the pastry! It is easy to put together, light and flaky and not as obscenely fatty as puff pastry.

For the fillings, I used what I had on hand; I think the key is to ensure that your filling does not have any extra moisture which will render the pastry a soppy mess. Roasted or marinated vegetables work particularly well.

Roast one red and one yellow sweet pepper over a gas flame until blackened.
Sweat in covered bowl then remove blackened skin.
Remove seeds and white membrane and slice thinly.
Marinate overnight with 1/2 sliced red onion, 1/4 C oil, 1/4 C red wine vinegar (great as a filling for sandwiches or wraps with hummus)
Gently fry one sliced onion in 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat for about 15 minutes until golden and carmelized.
Roll out dough to 13 inch round.
Spread carmelized onions, leaving a 2 inch perimeter.
Top with peppers, sans marinade.
Top with feta cheese.
Fold outside edge over filling, leaving the centre open
Brush pastry with egg wash.
Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes or until golden brown

Verdict: this was a hit with the family; I'd chiffonade some basil and sprinkle on top right before serving for that fresh-in-mouth feel. The richness of the pastry and the unctuousness of the filling makes this an unapologetic vegetarian meal that even the most unabashed carnivore will appreciate.

Roasted Potato and Spinach Galette
Dough prep as above...don't mess with this one!
Slice new potatoes 1/4 in thick; toss with oil and 10 sage leaves, chiffonade.
Bake 375 F for about 20 minutes until golden brown
Squeeze all the juice from a package of defrosted chopped spinach.
Spread spinach onto rolled out dough, leaving a 2 in perimeter
Top with Parmesan cheese and then potato rounds, top with more parm.
Fold edge of dough over filling, leaving centre opened.
Brush dough with egg wash.
Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes until golden brown.

Verdict: a robust and delicious galette filling - hide the spinach under the potato for some iron incognito for the kidlets.
Verdict II:  I've made this several times now and this combo is a winner too:  roasted potato, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, blue cheese, zucchini, topped with a light sprinkling of cheddar or mozza.

Peanut Butter Hoisin Noodle Salad

Cook 1 package of thick noodles or linguini according to package instructions - I found Farkay Noodles at Thrifty's that have a hearty al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Saute some minced garlic; turn off heat.  Add equal parts  peanut butter and hoisin.
Add 1/2 part seasoned rice wine vinegar, and a bit of sesame seed oil (take it easy here; a little goes a long way).
Add enough warm water to reach a dressing consistency (add chili sauce if you like it hot)
Mix noodles with enough dressing to cover - if the dressing is too thick, add some more vinegar. Fingers are made for tossing. This can be made ahead.
Top with julienned vegetables that are in season and on hand.
Drizzle with more dressing before serving and garnish with black sesame seeds or peanuts or fried onions or get the picture.

Verdict: a old standby with all the ingredients of a salad roll; julienned carrots, cucumbers, peppers, cilantro and thinly sliced green onions would have been awesome here I think.

Eating the Words

The idea of blogging about the food I'm cooking has been simmering long and slow for years. Today, I do it. My food is honest, fast and furious. I resent the recipe and I cook with instinct. This has lead to disaster and epiphany. I want to blog about food because, aside from my family, it makes up my foundation. When I am stressed or bored or angry, I cook.

This blog also marks our attempts to cook and eat honest food. Most recently, Glenn and I listened to a CBC Ideas podcast called Have Your Meat and Eat It Too. More than any other, this podcast really changed the way we thought about our food. Glenn and I have long toyed with the idea of eating locally and organically and even with vegetarianism, but the ideas always seemed intellectual and abstract until this podcast.

The factory model of meat production accounts for over 51% of all greenhouse emissions. More important than how we travel and what car we drive is what type of meat and how much of it we choose to eat. On average, Americans (and I can only assume Canadians are not as different from our southern cousins as we'd like to think) eat..wait for it...150 times the amount of chicken they did 50 years ago.

More visceral is the ethical question of how the factory model treats the meat before it becomes meat. The conditions under which cows, pigs and chickens are farmed go against everything we know to be right. I will not gore you with the details but do give the podcast a listen. It is enlightening and empowering.

So, what is a meat-loving foodie to do? We resolve to eat meat only as a treat and the meat we eat will be honestly grown.

This is our attempt to document our new food adventure.