If Yan Could Cook. . .

Archive for October 2008

Pork Tenderloin and Spinach Pastry; La Paryse

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A memory of making spanakopita: my then-boyfriend was playing a video game in our then-one-room apartment. I was rambling, talking to myself loudly, uncertain of everything I was doing. Maybe I should do it like this, or this? That seems like too much…well, maybe just too much of that…do you think there’s too much? How do I…this shape…sealing it here…oh, this one won’t work…crap, I don’t have one of those, what do you think I should use instead?

Occasionally he’d answer, but mostly he sat in silence. This is what I remember: standing still, for a moment, with a neon pink plastic bowl filled with spinach and feta in my arms, looking at his broad, unresponsive back. Did he find my frenetic yammering annoying, I wondered, or was he able to tune it out?

On Saturday afternoon, quietly rolling pork tenderloin in puff pastry, stainless steel bowl of dry rub on hand, I was suddenly glad to be alone in my large, ramshackle kitchen. A new place of only good memories.

Photo by John-Paul Lobos.

I went to a pot luck on Saturday. I intended to slow roast a pork shoulder, bake some white bread, and smother it all in something sweet and sticky, but I ran out of time (letting yeast sit, letting pork fall to pieces in a cooler oven). Instead, I bought two pork tenderloin, which was not nearly as expensive as I had been led to believe. I trimmed the fat minimally; in retrospect, I don’t think it was necessary.

Dried oregano, cayenne, paprika, cumin, and salt was mixed in a bowl, and then rubbed dry onto each piece of meat. The meat was seared on all sides, in hardly any oil, on medium-high heat. I chopped up some fresh spinach and shallots and wilted them together, and pureed some chipotle peppers with brown sugar and tomato paste (if it isn’t obvious, I was trying to use up some leftover ingredients). Puff pastry was rolled out in two large rectangles to a 1/2 inch layer (next time, and ho boy will there ever be a next time, I would use less and roll thinner) and spread with the chipotle mixture, as a pizza with tomato sauce. One tenderloin and half the spinach mixture were laid together on each piece, and then rolled up together, closing the pastry along one edge. Brushed with egg wash (raw egg beaten) and then diagonal slits with a steak knife to let steam out.

After fifteen minutes at 425 degrees F, and then another twenty at 375, the pork was so tender you could split it easily with a plastic spoon. As the potluck was hosted by a lazy dishwasher, that is actually what I was using. The finished product felt somewhat experimental to me; there are a lot of things I intend to change next time, not least of which are aesthetic.

On Friday night, I was taken to La Paryse, a self-proclaimed “snack bar” at 302 Ontario E. We arrived at five and were seated right away, and then a line promptly formed behind us that went out the door and around the corner.

Best. Hamburger. Ever.

And I don’t say that in my usual, contemplative way. I did not chew slowly with my head tilted to one side, saying, “Hmm, this is good, what’s in it?” I have no idea what was in it, and I don’t remember the individual flavours and textures. I was not comparing it to all other hamburgers I’ve eaten – all other hamburgers were obliterated, as though they had never happened. I had no thoughts beyond “best hamburger ever”. Completely blindsided by pleasure.

The milkshakes, too, were a dreamily perfect thickness, and they give you just slightly more than you would want (which is how much milkshake you should always get). The poutine was less impressive, using a mixture of curled and shredded mozzarella instead of curds, and quickly limp fries not ideal for gravy sopping, but by then I didn’t care. My companion laughed at my eyes-to-the-heavens visceral reaction and at how he had to lug my happily comatose body along the street afterward, but hell, that is living.

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Written by skimfu

October 27, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Four Breakfasts

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Twice this week I have been surprised with the need to make someone breakfast (not in the picked-you-up-at-the-bar way; those guys I throw out in the night. Ho!). The first time, I fried some bacon chopped into mulch, drained off most of the fat, and then added finely chopped shallots and green onions, because they were what I had on hand. Beaten eggs and then micrograted strong white cheddar went into the pan next, and then the whole thing went into the oven. The result was, for a fridge-cleaning omelette, actually quite good. My companion swooned. Of course, in classic form, I grabbed the pan handle with my bare hand and ended up with six separate large blistering burns on my fingers and palm. Half an hour later I was gently, lovingly washing the same beautiful pan, sighing over the way the omelette had slid out in one motion, with no resistence. My cookware abuses me, but I love it anyway. It’s not a healthy relationship.

The second time, more pressed for time, I threw about 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in the blender, along with a handful of ice, several dollops of peach yogurt, and about 1/2 cup of the mixed tropical juice in my fridge. Again, a pleasant impromtu start to the day.

Photo by Laura D’Alessandro. My. Doesn’t food look beautiful in sunlight?

On Sunday, there was a much more planned breakfast. I again used this recipe, doubled to make about 18 pancakes for six people. Still in awe of my new 12″ Calphalon: I could make three 1/4 cup batter pancakes at once, with ease, with equal cooking times and perfectly even browning. I’ve had more trouble making two pancakes on an actual double-element flattop. If anyone tells you a bad cook (or carpenter) blames his tools, I say: you’d be surprised at what better tools can do.

Accompanying it was an apple and pear compote (stainless steel! Oh, how you caramel differently!). One gala and two spartan apples, and two Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced, a dab of butter, a heaping of brown sugar and a touch of white, cinnamon, and lemon zest. I didn’t make enough for the amount of pancakes; next time I would double the amount of fruit.

I also gave this recipe for buttermilk biscuits a go, but I couldn’t make it work. I had to add way more buttermilk and handle it incessantly to get a reasonable dough, and the resulting biscuits were doughy and…whatever the opposite of buttery is – dry? Not crumbly? I think they would be okay with jam and additional butter, though; in that spirit, I brought them over to Phil and Laura’s at about 7:15 in the morning. That is really the only acceptable reason to show up at someone’s home before eight a.m. – to bring them baked goods.

This week I trained at Savate four days in a row, going to both my university’s club and another. People at the other gym take the sport more seriously; there was a conversation where people related their various successes and failures with calorie-counting, and I just stood by silently, mulling on my dorky hedonist ways. Weighing out produce? The pros and cons of popcorn? What does this have to do with landing my foot on the bridge of someone’s nose?

Later, standing in a corner store, I had this thought: does every candy bar make you a worse fighter? And, well – yes, it probably does. And I knew I could never do what they do. When I think of it as a choice (candy bar vs. better fighter) it isn’t so much that I choose the candy bar, it’s that it doesn’t compute. My brain replies: false dichotomy! Let’s have it all!

Later still, feeling sick off of a huge styrofoam plate of some truly heinous Chinese food, vegetables gliding down the slight gradient of the table in their slick cornstarchy goo, I had this thought: okay, it’s not that I eat too much, it’s that I live badly. This is the real choice, a choice I can believe in: Cheetos, or getting to cook my steak in butter instead of olive oil? American processed “grilled” cheese in a campus cafeteria, or getting to smother my pasta sauces in cream? A week of vile vending-machine plasticky chocolate, or one Friday with the best, bottomless milkshakes in town? I could never give up bad junk food to be a different shape, to be slimmer, to run a little faster. I think – I hope – I can give it up for better junk food, for deeper pleasures.

Written by skimfu

October 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Salmon-Potato Patties with Chipotle; Spinach-Tomato-Shallot Rice

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Nothing makes you feel more inadequate than grad school applications. Stretching your accomplishments, giving them false titles, jamming them into inappropriate categories, rooting through everything you have ever done and finding it pitifully brief. Endless pages of blank text fields. I’m applying in creative writing, so there is the added esteem-crushing task of selecting a portfolio. Reading my life’s work, all I want to do is throw up my hands and yell, “It’s all terrible!”

As an act of sanity retention, I spent a day cooking and going to kitchen surplus stores. One of them had a graveyard of used industrial appliances, arranged haphazardly as in an attic or garage. Excitedly dragging the person I was with behind me, I marveled over the surreal sight of salamanders and table fridges and deep-fryers and broilers and deli cases and monolithic silver microwaves and plate warmers and flat tops and grills all crammed together in one place. “I think I’ve had a nightmare like this,” I said.

The $10 nonstick pan I bought in first year, and the one I kept as a damages settlement after an ex-boyfriend moved out, were both starting to fall to pieces. Their paper-thin bottoms were as warped as though I used them to beat rocks, with coating flaking off the peaks.

I went home yesterday with the Calphalon Contemporary 10″ + 12″ set, as well as an anonymous stainless steel with a thick, intruder-knocking-out base. In celebration (and justification) I made dinner for my old roommates in the apartment where they still live, traveling across town with a pan and several Tupperware containers on my back.

[photos]

This was the first meal I can really say I made up – where I went entirely on intuition with no sense of how it would turn out. The truth is that it was a little bit busy; it had that excessively-trendy restaurant feel to it, where they have crammed too many flavours into one dish. Reasonably concordant flavours, but too many. At the same time – it might have been the tastiest, most complex and exotic thing I’ve ever made.

At home, singing merrily with that new-consumer glow, I chopped up two bunches of green onions, two large vine tomatoes, and shallots (very fine), pureed some chipotle peppers in oil, and peeled and boiled three large white-flesh potatoes. At their place, I mixed the mashed potatoes with a can of boneless, skinless red sockeye, as well as the green onions and one egg. These were rolled into balls and flattened, then briefly baked (5-10 minutes, 350 degrees) in the oven, until the tops changed colour just slightly.

The shallots were cooked in butter, adding red wine (this smelled ridiculously good), spinach, and tomatoes in turn. The plates were layered as follows: white rice, shallot-spinach-tomato mix, two salmon-potato patties, a dollop of chipotle, and then crushed pecans and dried cranberries. I really don’t know what should have been omitted. The pecans and cranberries are the obvious choice, but I liked their surprising, occasional notes.

My hosts supplied brownies and apple pie. Afterward, I stopped in at another friend’s birthday, and I’m pretty sure it’s the only time in my life I have refused cake. Oof.

Written by skimfu

October 19, 2008 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Fish

Aromatherapy

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Today, feeling low, I put a loaf of bacon, potatoes, and onions in the oven. Not because I wanted to eat it, but because I wanted to smell it. Aromatherapy. Sandalwood and boysenberry and white musk might comfort some people; I need crackling fat.

Now I don’t know what to do with it.

Written by skimfu

October 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Pot Roast with Vegetables, Cheddar-Brie Mac and Cheese

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This past summer, I would ride my bike to work at six a.m., biking down the center of silent, empty streets, before the sun came out and began roasting people in their clothes. At the same time, there was that early-morning drugged feeling of lugging your body around before it is ready.

I had forgotten that the city sleeps in on weekends. Biking yesterday at nine a.m., I was the only one in the world, with all the crisp October sunlight to myself. If only I had known this sooner. Already the air is cold enough to strip the skin from your hands, leave your mouth raw.

Last week was a saga of sick. Four days in bed, while responsibilities rush and pile against the door like an avalanche; I made and ate a lot of congee. All you do is boil rice in nine or ten times the amount of water you would normally use to cook it (because there is no risk of burning it to the bottom, you don’t have to pay it any attention) until you get a pasty porridge. I use a mixture of regular white rice and extra-glutenous white rice (“sticky”), for better texture. With shrimp, bok-choy, white pepper, and green onions, it is perfect for eating on the couch with a box of tissues and a blanket pulled up to your ears.

This week, my dinner party hiatus ended. I asked people what they wanted – the only answers I got were “bacon” and “pasta”.

When I added the brie into the sauce, my wallet twinged with waste and remorse; when I tasted it, my knees buckled. Friends, if you ever doubt I love you, remember this night: when I tried to make your hearts stop with cream and butter and cheese and bacon.


The roast (inside round) went in the center of a casserole pot. It was surrounded by three carrots, a handful of white-fleshed potatoes, and half a large yellow onion, all chopped into large cubes, as well as a few whole cloves of garlic. This went in the oven at 400 degrees F for twenty minutes, until there were noticeable juices at the bottom. I pulled it out and loaded it with thyme, two bay leaves, a mashed beef bullion cube, and enough white wine and water to cover. On top of that went tinfoil and the lid of the dish, then into the oven at 325 degrees F for another hour. Once it came out, it was drained and carved; the broth I saved for future soupage.

For the mac and cheese, I used a roux of butter (1/2 stick) and white flour, working in about a 1/3 cup of cream. I froze a block of strong white cheddar, grated it with my “micrograter” zester, and added it in, stirring until smooth. I cut the rind off a wedge of brie, broke it up into chunks, and tossed those in too – they melted in smoothly without resistance. I thinned it out with a little wine and water, always stirring.

I dried out three pieces of bread and then ground them in the blender for crumbs. Five strips of bacon were baked in the oven on parchment paper and chopped into bits. The sauce, crumbs, and bacon were stirred into enough hot rigatoni for six people, with chives for garnish.

Edit: Forgive the platings; the food was getting cold.

Written by skimfu

October 6, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Beef, Pasta, Pork