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kitchen experiments

It has been an exceedingly warm winter this year.  Well, it has been warm for the past week.  Before that it was -40 degrees Celsius.  I have the memory bank of a meerkat, apparently.  More importantly, I have reason to participate in the futile art of complaining about the weather: I had really been enjoying the deep freeze, which I know can be hard to imagine by some, but there is something rather magical about it – at those temperatures, the air gets really clear and crisp; it’s blindingly sunny, and I get to walk on the frozen river that winds through our city and enjoy the pristine cleanliness of the crunchy snow underfoot.  Now that it has warmed up to a balmy 0 degrees Celsius, things have turned a sloppy brown-grey, and my winterized body finds this turn of events rather difficult to reconcile.  However do you mean, Old Man Winter, to be raining in January?  To wear a coat or not wear a coat?  Why am I only wearing one pair of pants?  Oh, such deep life questions.  With my blood thickened to withstand the temperatures preferred by polar bears, this warm muck feels completely oppressive.  Moreover, since there are still plenty of winter months left in the calendar, and it is bound to grow cold again, I feel caught between two worlds: one arm in my parka’s sleeve and the other bare, pale, exposed to the damp winter air, and somehow, not goosebumped.

So, with our apartment windows thrown open, it’s only natural that I start to cook like I live in Los Angeles.

Last spring I was lucky enough to visit LA for a few days.  It was a pilgrimage of sorts, as I spent most of my time taking yoga classes and meandering through Whole Foods.  I washed my innards in cold-pressed juices, paid homage to my intestinal microbiome with sautéed kale and brown rice that had been blessed with gratitude, and otherwise revelled in a kingdom of fresh, bright fruits and vegetables that promised everlasting happiness through puritanical gut euphoria.  Exceeding though my efforts were, alas, the crux: my soul had been stained with the darkness of skepticism for too long to really be washed clean.  Still, I like to pretend it’s possible sometimes.

So with this unseasonably warm winter weather, I decided to try making a quinoa pizza crust.  Being the ultimate triptych of gluten-free, vegan (well, at least it was supposed to be), and made with LOCAL quinoa (oh my), it was to be the ultimate remembrance of the previous’ spring journey.

Sweet joy!

Also, I happened to have all the ingredients (or most of them) at home.

Also, it turned out decently well, luckily – because I used the recipe from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir, who also lives in a mostly wintry place (Iceland) and somehow manages the positively miraculous achievement of eating a plant-based diet in a country known for its fermented shark.

The original recipe was vegan, and asked for vegan cheese and cream cheese.  As I am not vegan, and prefer to use things I have on hand instead of buying more, I used dairy cheese and goat cheese mixed with a little sour cream to replace the vegan options, respectively.  

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset

Zucchini goat cheese pizza with a quinoa crust
(adapted from Raw: Recipes for a modern vegetarian lifestyle, by Solla Eiríksdóttir)

makes 1 pizza

For the crust:
¾ cup (115 g) quinoa, uncooked
½ tsp sea salt flakes
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
¼ cup (20 g) grated cheddar cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
½ cup goat cheese
¼ cup sour cream
½ zucchini, very thinly sliced
Hemp seeds (for sprinkling)
Olive oil (for drizzling)

Soak the quinoa overnight in water, covered.  The next day, drain the quinoa and blend it with ¼ cup water, salt, garlic, pepper, and oregano, until it is smooth.  Pour the batter into a bowl and stir in the cheese and oil.

Put a 9” tart ring on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and pour the batter into the ring.  Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for about 20 minutes, and then remove.  Wearing oven mitts, cover the crust with another baking sheet, and flip the baking sheets over with the crust between them.  It is a daring maneuver; I recommend that one be even-tempered and emotionally stable for this.  Bake on the second sheet for another 5-10 minutes.

Remove the crust from the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F.  Mix together the goat cheese and sour cream, and spread it over the crust.  Lay out the zucchini slices, and bake for another 10 minutes.  Right before serving, sprinkle over some hemp seeds and olive oil.  Slice and eat while wearing shorts.

This makes one pizza, but I think if you double the recipe you could forgo the tart ring situation and have enough batter to spread across an entire baking sheet to make a rectangular pizza crust.  

The next time I make this, I think I’d like to make a dessert pizza!  Imagine: remove the oregano and garlic from the crust, bake as usual, and then top it with whipped cream, berries, and chocolate shavings.  With this pizza base, you could have a whole meal of pizzas!  I don’t see how this can be wrong.

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Bread was among one of the first things I ever baked, and it was a strange, mysterious and incredibly rewarding experience.  Watching the yeast dissolve and grow foamy in sugary water, then the springy aliveness of the dough – it was all so new and exciting.  Enamoured with my new hobby, I even wrote a short story about breadmaking for a high school English assignment, about which my teacher said, “This is very sensual” – a comment that surprised my logical, rational outlook of myself, but I didn’t know much then (I still don’t).

From that first basic white loaf I branched out into making whole wheat bread, rye, pita breads, bagels, challah…but of course the next big step in any self-proclaimed serious baker’s repertoire is sourdough.  The promise of Real Bread flavour, the beautifully uneven holes that are revealed upon slicing – these rewards demand planning and patience, qualities that apparently our fast-paced lives lack regard for.  Feeling somewhat ready for the challenge, my first dalliance into sourdough was over eight years ago with a wild yeast starter made with organic raisins (I don’t think I could find organic ones then, it still wasn’t that common), flour and water.  The lumpy potion sat in a Mason jar on the kitchen table for a week, eyed suspiciously by my roommates.  After a week, not even a blip of a bubble came out of it, and I was crushed; looking back now I see that the whole thing was a misguided and overly ambitious endeavour to be made in the dead middle of a Canadian winter in the suburbs of a university town.  Brokenhearted, I went back to the relative dependability of store-bought dried yeast, but the shadows of sourdoughs unrealized haunted me.

This fall, I decided that it was about time that I shook off the emotional distress of the past, and pep-talked myself into feeling that I was finally mature enough to take care of a sourdough starter.  To leave nothing to chance, I used a recipe from the Tassajara Bread Book (by Edward Espe Brown) that called for a small amount of dried yeast.  From my research I knew that eventually wild yeast would inoculate the starter and the flavour would come to represent the local microflora of the Canadian prairies, but for now I was satisfied with a generic Sourdough Baby.

Luckily, the Sourdough Baby began showing signs of life right away!  The first loaves where a miracle, and so were the second and third.  It has been a joy and delight to use and feed my new pet.  For the past few weeks, Baby and I have been getting to know eachother: every time I make up a fresh batch of dough, I learn more about Baby’s preferences, such as warmer temperatures, a pre-ferment without any salt to get the carbon dioxide production going, which pans it likes to be baked in to give the most volume, a regular feeding schedule.  I am very proud to say that I haven’t bought bread for many weeks now, as Baby and I are getting used to eachother’s rhythms.

I foresee a happy life together.

sourdough rising

It would appear that I like to variate on a theme.

After all the jollies I got from making raw veggie seaweed wraps, I decided to try another version, but this time make it a little heartier.

I give you peanut butter chicken spinach seaweed wraps.

peanut butter chicken seaweed wrap

Yeah.  Yeah!

The rice is instant brown rice (sacrilege!) mixed with a little mayonnaise to help it to stick together.  Thin slices of cucumbers are layered over, and a good crop of baby spinach is weighed down with chicken breast tossed in peanut sauce before it is all rolled into one delicious tube of awesome.  The first time I made this, it really came in handy as car food when my friend graciously did me a favour and drove to the edge of the city to deliver a back-up pair of glasses to Longer Hollow Legs when he broke his at a music festival (he was taking photos, which you can see here)!

Peanut butter sauce

The peanut butter sauce is made like this: put two huge dollops of natural peanut butter in a cereal bowl.  Add a light splash of tamari/soy sauce, and a light splash and a half of rice vinegar.  Add a few good shakes of fish sauce.  Add a heaping spoonful of white or brown sugar.  Add a splash of water, and mix it all together.  If it feels a little thick, add more water.  A few drops of sesame oil won’t hurt it either.  This will make about a cup of sauce, but I recommend making lots, because it is so so good.

Maybe the dairy is clouding my brain, but I don’t think I’ll ever buy ice cream from the grocery store again.

It is so easy and so gratifying to make ice cream from scratch – I think it’s one of the great secret pleasures of life.  And you don’t need an ice cream maker.

Last year was my first attempt at making ice cream, and it turned out wonderfully!  It spawned the great realization that homemade ice cream means that the sky is the limits in terms of flavour combinations; for instance, you can add booze to your ice cream, which you would never find at the supermarket (at least not real booze, maybe booze flavour).  That first recipe was pretty classic: cream, sugar, egg yolks, a vanilla bean, lots of stirring and time.

However, version 2.0 offers an even easier way to make ice cream – moreover, it doesn’t include egg yolks, so it takes less time, and you don’t end up with a bunch of egg whites you have to creatively deal with.

I was inspired to make a cardamom-flavoured batch, as there is a local restaurant that pairs cardamom ice cream with a chocolate torte on their menu, and it is divine.

Homemade cardamom ice cream 2.0

300 ml whipping (35%) cream
half of a 400 g can of sweetened condensed milk
10 green cardamom pods

Gently heat the cream in a small saucepan.  Just before it starts to boil, take it off the heat and add the cardamom pods.  Cover, and let it steep for 30 minutes.  Strain the cardamom out and stir in the condensed milk.  Put the ice cream mix into a container you would like to freeze the ice cream in, cover, and place it in the fridge for 8-24 hours to get it as cold as possible before putting in the freezer.  Then, and this is crucial, put it in the freezer.  I didn’t bother stirring the ice cream during the freezing process, and it turned out smooth and silky.

homemade cardamom ice cream

This base recipe of cream and condensed milk is an excellent starting point for all sorts of flavours: I think next I’ll try adding a big spoonful of Nutella to make a chocolate-hazelnut version – hubba bubba!

The cardamom ice cream paired wonderfully with an espresso, a new library book, and a lazy afternoon.

cardamom ice cream + espresso

 

I’m not sure what’s sexier: a laser thermometer, or cooking food without reaching a boiling temperature.  Hm….

The other week I tried cooking chicken breast using the sous vide method – that is, under vacuum.  If food is under vacuum, then the cooking temperature doesn’t have to be as high for the food to cook.  The result is usually more tender and juicy, but what I was really interested in was not overheating my humid and non-air-conditioned apartment in the summer by making dinner.

As this was my first foray into vacuum cooking, I decided to keep things basic by cooking boneless, skinless chicken breast that had been lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and vegetable oil.  I placed individual boobs into Ziploc bags, made sure to squeeze as much air out as possible (partially submerging the bags in water helps with this, as the water pushes the air out) and dropped the bags in a water bath around 60 degrees C.

Checking the water temperature every half hour or so and maintaining a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees C, the chicken steeped for 80 minutes.  They emerged tender and ready!

checking temperature on sous-vide chicken
I threw together a quick sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar, grated ginger and garlic, rice vinegar, corn starch and green onions.  Grilled broccolini and asparagus rounded it out.

Ta DA!

sous-vide chicken breast dinner
Delicious as it was, I’m not sure if poaching the chicken would have yielded a similar, equally pleasing result.  I suppose the next step will be to do an experiment and see.  In the meantime, I’m going to test the temperature of the water in my bathtub with my laser thermometer.

growing lettuce in a box

We are attempting to grow organic baby salad mix from seed in an old wooden drawer that has been propped up on our apartment window sill.  So far, little tendrils have shot up!  Here’s to hoping that they continue to flourish so we can have some truly local salads this summer!

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