Week five: corn muffins

I never thought I could be so excited about something with such simple ingredients. It had been a while since I had sent out one of my who-wants-to-eat emails, so I opened up my baking cupboard to see if I could throw something together without a run to Sobey’s in the snow. I had basic muffin ingredients and some cornmeal so I decided on a simple corn muffin recipe that I found in The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook (published by Simon and Schuster in 2009). This was a gift from my friend Susan who figured the only way to shut me up about my trip to New York and vanilla cupcakes was to buy me this cookbook and be done with it. I’ve had it for over a year and I’ve made the vanilla cupcakes numerous times, but never used the book for anything else. The corn muffins were pretty exciting for something I thought would be kind of boring, so now I’ll take some time to see what else Magnolia has to offer, besides what all the tourists line up for.

1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease well 9 cups of a 12-cup muffin tin. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients, making a well in the centre. Stir in the liquid ingredients until just combined, being careful not to overmix. The batter may be lumpy. Fill the muffin cups about three-quarters full. Bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden or a cake tester inserted into centre of muffin comes out with moist crumbs attached. Do not overbake.

This is a recipe you could really drag your ass out of bed for in the morning. Perfect for a breakfast or brunch or for baking after yoga class, like I did. See? They’re the kind of muffins that turn you into that person who wants to make muffins after yoga class. After you’ve finished rolling your eyes at yourself, you’ll marvel at how lovely and dark golden their edges are and how nice they taste just out of the oven with butter and strawberry jelly and a cup of tea.

An improvised strudel…

Wow. I just said ‘improvised strudel’. So when I wrote about the roast chicken dinner I was cheating a little. It wasn’t a new recipe, but I felt it was my duty to share with the world the magic of slabs of bacon on a chicken. Now that I’ve hopefully set a few people on the right path, I’ll write about the dessert that followed supper, which was in fact a new recipe. When chicken time came I was scrambling a little for a dessert idea. I was supposed to trek through the snow to the grocery store to find ingredients for something new, but the afternoon snow turned into a mini-blizzard so I poked around in my freezer to see what I could find. What turned up was leftover phyllo pastry and some frozen berries. My dad is a champion berry picker (not kidding, he has trophies. Ok, kidding) so my deepfreeze is usually stogged with perfect, wild, pesticide-free blueberries, partridgeberries and bakeapples. Blueberries, lingonberries and cloudberries to those of you reading who might be from away. I thought of my friend Darka who’s from Slovenia who makes gorgeous berry strudels, and this is what I came up with. I’m pretty sure the filling could be used for crisps and pies. Will let you know.

1 cup partridgeberries (thawed if frozen)
1 cup blueberries (thawed if frozen)
1 granny smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar (1/2 cup for a slightly sweeter filling, if you’re afraid of the tartness of the partridgeberries. Don’t be scared)
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional, but if you’re prepping the filling in advance, this will prevent the apples from turning brown)
2 heaping tablespoons of sour cream. 3 if you’re feeling saucy.

I layered a few phyllo sheets brushed with melted butter, spread the filling, and a few more sheets layered on top, again, each individual sheet brushed with butter. Don’t use margarine, that would just be silly.

Phyllo is notorious for a being a huge pain in the ass. Because it’s so painfully thin, it dries out quickly so it needs to be covered at all times with a damp tea towel. You will curse, there may be tears, but when you get into the rhythm of it, you will feel like a rockstar.

I sprinkled it with sugar and cinnamon (making sure the top layer was generously slathered with the last of the melted butter), baked it somewhere around 350 until it was a lovely golden brown (half hour maybe?) and served it warm with ice cream. And none of this low-fat silliness. Full on French vanilla double churned stuff. Sweet and tart and light. Next time I’d like to try it with a homemade pastry. If it’s too snowy to get to the store for phyllo, that is.

A busy week four

Chinese food on Friday and a roast chicken dinner just two days later for two of my best girlfriends. I love a roast dinner more than anything. Being a Newfoundlander and Labradorian I was raised on traditional boiled dinner every Sunday…root vegetables boiled in a pot with salt beef and maybe some dressing, peas pudding and a chicken or some other roast meat to go with it. Shamefully, this is something I have never made. It just seems to me it’s something mom or nan or dad does. But a roast dinner is something I do quite a bit. For friends or just for myself…keeps well in the fridge, usually tastes better the next day, and a full roast chicken dinner will yield five good helpings and a couple of sandwiches, depending on how hungry your company is. One of the most delicious meals you can make, and one that usually impresses with very little effort.

Toss some root vegetables (I used potatoes, parsnips and carrots) with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Put them in a roasting pan and tackle the chicken (figuratively of course, unless you have live chickens in your backyard, in which case, good on you, I wish I could kill a chicken). I used to throw out that gross little bag of giblets that only dads or pops eat as a weird sort of appetizer to the main meal. That is until Nigel Slater taught me to use them to make gravy. He wasn’t at my house for tea or anything, I read it in one of his cookbooks. Anyways, put the giblets in a pot of water with some onions, carrots, a bay leaf, boil it on the stove for the duration of the meal prep and poof-a stock for gravy. You too can fall in love with giblets! Place the chicken in the roaster with the veg and stuff it with some garlic cloves, rosemary stalks, and a lemon cut in a few chunky pieces…give them a squeeze when you put them in the cavity to release some of the juice. Put some garlic cloves and rosemary under the skin of the chicken, drizzle the whole thing with olive oil and salt and pepper and (you’re not done yet) cover every inch of the chicken in slices of bacon. Bacon really does make everything better and what it does to the drippings for the gravy is something that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Cover the roaster (foil is fine over a deepish pan if you don’t a have a roaster with a cover) and cook everything for about an hour on 375 and then uncovered for another half hour or so until everything is nice and crispy and golden. I’ll usually baste a couple of times during cooking and maybe give the veg a bit of a stir so they brown up evenly. For the gravy I’ll toss in a bouillon cube, drippings and a dash or two of worcestershire sauce before I thicken the whole thing with a bit of cornstarch. Dressing on the side (stuffing for those of you not from Newfoundland and Labrador) if you like, but not necessary if you’re pressed for time. A really nice meal and a great excuse to drink a bottle of wine on a Sunday afternoon.

Friday night Chinese food…

Not two completely new recipes this week, admittedly. I’d tried the Cantonese lemon chicken a few years back and arsed it up so I thought another crack at it would be nice. The Chinese vegetables I’d never tried before and this choice was inspired by my friend Lisa. We were living in Cow Head this past summer with not a whole lot of fresh produce to be found. Her sister flew in from Toronto for a visit and brought with her some Chinese greens, fresh from a market in Toronto. Lisa prepared a feast for us, the likes of which I’m sure Cow Head hadn’t seen until then. So with Lisa in mind I decided to make a dish that was somewhat similar, bracing myself for what Sobey’s had to offer on a Friday evening. Bok choy! And Chinese broccoli! Okay, it was Swiss chard. It was green, I got excited. I grew up in Labrador and didn’t know what real garlic was until I was eighteen. Lisa, if you’re reading this, it’s the only excuse I have. Anyways, apparently you can stir fry Swiss chard in garlic and oil, so there you have it, it can work. It did work! Both these recipes came from one of my kitchen bibles, The Essential Asian Cookbook, published by Whitecap Books in 1997.

Chinese Vegetables

500 g (1lb) Chinese green vegetables (or, uh…Swiss chard)
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Wash Chinese greens. Remove any tough leaves and trim stems. Chop greens into three equal portions. Add the greens to the pan of boiling water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until just tender but still crisp. Use tongs to remove greens from the pan, drain well and place on a heated serving platter. heat the peanut oil in a small pan and cook the garlic briefly. Add the oyster sauce, sugar, water and sesame oil and bring to the boil. Pour over the greens and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Note: Use choy sum, bok choy or Chinese broccoli (not Swiss chard. Does not resemble Chinese broccoli in any way unless you grew up in Labrador and had no idea what an avocado was until that time you went to France when you were sixteen and thought it was so weird that a fruit could be greasy).

Cantonese Lemon Chicken

500 g (1 lb) chicken breast fillets
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons dry sherry
3 teaspoons cornflour
1/2 cup cornflour, extra
2 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
oil, for deep-frying

Lemon sauce:

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (not concentrate…that’s why I arsed it up last time)
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon dry sherry
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 tablespoon water, extra
4 spring onions, very finely sliced

Cut the chicken into long strips, about 1 cm (1/2 inch) wide, and then set aside. Combine the egg, water, soy sauce, sherry and cornflour in a small bowl and mix until smooth. Pour the egg mixture over the chicken, mixing well, and then set aside for 10 minutes. Sift the extra cornflour and plain flour together onto a plate. Roll each piece of chicken in the flour, coating each piece evenly, and shake off excess. Place the chicken in a single layer on a plate ready to be fried.

Heat the oil for deep-frying in a wok or pan. It is hot enough to use when a cube of bread turns brown in it in 30 seconds. Carefully lower about four pieces of chicken into the oil and cook until golden brown. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Let the chicken stand while preparing the sauce.

To make the lemon sauce, combine the lemon juice, water, sugar and sherry in a small pan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Stir the cornflour into the extra tablespoon water and mix to a smooth paste; add it to the lemon juice mixture, stirring constantly until the sauce boils and thickens. Set the sauce aside.

Just before serving, reheat the oil in the wok to very hot; add all the chicken pieces and fry for 2 minutes until very crisp and a rich golden brown. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain well on paper towels. Pile the chicken onto a serving plate, drizzle over the sauce, sprinkle with spring onion and serve immediately.

Note: The first frying can be done several hours in advance.

Everything generally went according to plan.  I like my lemon chicken very saucy so I doubled the batch of lemon sauce, probably could have tripled it.  There wasn’t really any drizzling, we just tossed the cooked chicken in with the sauce and gave it a stir.  We decided not to double fry the chicken mostly because we knew we couldn’t really duplicate the fast and furious skills of true Chinese cooking without a gas stove.  I lament the fact that I don’t have one every time I cook Chinese or Thai.  The little red kitchen doesn’t have one and neither does the little green kitchen at my friend Melanie’s place, where we cooked our Friday night Chinese.  Everything’s meant to be done so quickly, but there was no proper gas stove, no proper wok and we were tired after a long week.  But the wine was good and so was the company.  The meal was fantastic.  And while I work on my Chinese cooking skills (something I think takes years to perfect),  the greens may be a little overdone, the chicken may not be furiously double-fried, but the eating will be very, very good.

Week three: A leg of lamb supper

My first attempt at a roast leg of lamb. My first attempt at lamb, period. Shocking. I was suitably terrified because I had four very dear friends coming over so I asked for advice from everyone I knew who ate lamb, watched all those silly videos on youtube, took a deep breath and the result was more than pleasing. The Boursin mashed potatoes didn’t hurt either.

I never believed it would be so easy, but you really can throw it all in a roasting pan. I trimmed a bit of meat off the end of the leg…for looks, and to make it easier for carving at the table, so they say. But mostly to make a nice stock for the gravy, really. I tossed the leg meat (that sounds weird) in a pot of water with some bay leaves and got to work on the lamb. I cut lots of little slits all around the leg and rubbed the whole thing with fresh lemon juice, olive oil, worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard. Tucked cloves of garlic and sprigs of rosemary into the slits and placed the leg of lamb in a roaster on a bed of carrots and parsnips, gave everything a drizzle of olive oil and red wine and crossed my fingers. About forty-five minutes on 425 then another hour and fifteen on 375. We maybe could have cut back the cooking time but one friend who came to the roast supper is preggers and we were going for meat that was well done. As it turned out, it didn’t seem to matter. The leg carved up beautifully and the veggies were all roasty and golden and had soaked up all the flavour of everything.

I could have thrown the potatoes in the roaster as well, but I had a package of Boursin herb and garlic cheese in my fridge and decided to experiment a little. Peeled and boiled ten or so organic red potatoes, then mashed them with a half of a stick of butter, salt and pepper, some milk, and half the package of Boursin. I thought about it for three seconds and realized that I’d probably end up eating the other half on toast for breakfast so I tossed the rest in. Creamy and smooth and garlicky and perfect.

I added a bouillon cube and a (very generous) slosh of red wine to the stock, thickened it with a bit of cornstarch and we were ready to eat. Didi brought a jar of her mom’s homemade apple mint jelly to top everything off.

Relief. And plans in the making for leg of lamb number two. One Sunday a month might be nice.