Category Archives: FOOD & RECIPES

COVID COMFORT FOOD

Posted: July 1, 2020

It is a bit strange that I am busier than ever when not allowed to do anything, but that seems to be the case. Jim has me working on the TorontoART section for this website and getting my input on the “shopping cart” that he keeps assuring me he is working on for the website as well.

I have also been collaborating with him on a course he designed when he and Janice had the cooking school The Chef Upstairs. It was called College Survival and it was an introductory cooking course for young people. I have had several emails asking me to do something like that as many people are cooped up inside and it’s a good time to move forward on personal pursuits.

So all that business is in the works and I am playing hooky from all of it to write a quick post on Covid Comfort food. I just thought I would put down a few thoughts from a meal I made for the little group I am now cooking for every day.

It has turned into a pretty good routine. A couple just down the dock I don’t think have ever cooked before. They are wealthy Germans.  Their routine before Covid 19 was to just go out to lunch, go out to dinner and much of the time go to a local bakery and coffee place for breakfast. The only appliance I have seen them use in their huge trawler is the fridge and the corkscrew but they told me they recently bought a coffee maker. They seem like nice folks but are just coming from a very different world. So they have an online grocery delivery service that they order online what I tell them we need. The grocery service buys the stuff, puts it all in a pull cart and brings to the dock to En Plein Air and I put away the food components other than some breakfast things and things like toilet paper and the two other couples just take away their respective bits.  The German couple pay for all of it and I make the breakfasts, lunches and dinners for Ciara and me, this older couple Malcolm and Martha and this German couple.

Malcolm and Martha order and pay for a case of wine each week and four bottles come our way and to the other couple each week and Malcolm and Martha have the last four. So our food costs are covered, our wine is supplied and all I have to do is the cooking – suits me!

A couple of times we have all eaten together while social distancing but most of the time Cierra just drops off the meals and we all eat separately.  I don’t know if I will ever really get to know the Germans, Gerhard and Gabrielle as they are pretty quiet and even more private. About all I know is they own, or once owned, a jam company and are generous.

In contrast I am really getting to know Malcolm and Martha and they are pretty cool Americans. They have a few more miles on them than I but they have been miles that have not been wasted. That may be the trick to life. I am rambling a bit here but you will see  their names come up again as  for me at sixty six, to spend time with someone like Malcolm who is almost old enough to be my dad  and not just my chronological senior but still able to be (by a far margin) my mental senior – well that’s something.

 

Now “comfort food” means a lot of different things and its really whatever meals or tastes we have in our memories from when we were kids for the most part. A safe time in a safe place with our folks who made simple, easy to prepare, and often inexpensive dishes usually from rote, and always adapted for the tastes of the various members of the family. Depending on what their cultural origin, those meals were usually ones that had been passed down from their parents and adapted to current tastes.

The French are damb good at it – all bistro food is comfort food. Steak frites, cassoulet, or the French Canadian tortiere – the list goes on and the mouth waters. But the French version of comfort food to do well still takes more effort than the average person is willing to muster.

The Italians are the ones who just do it without thinking. Almost every fancy Italian recipe has a simple rustic version that takes little skill, and as long as the ingredients are fresh can hold up against the most sophisticated dishes.  I will come back to fresh in a minute.

But for some of us, while we love all sorts of comfort food, the Brits have it nailed in their pub grub. Shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, well you get the idea. Now for those of you who have not been to the U.K. in the last couple of decades the real trend is the GastroPub. These are the places that the likes of Jamie Oliver got their start. They typically will do a modern take on a traditional dish.  I was in Scotland about ten years ago and in one pub the most popular thing on the menu was a Grand Marnier infused Haggis. Now if you can take on Haggis and win popularity you deserve to have a museum named after you.

So comfort food at a time like this is not only appropriate because it is a familiar thing in unfamiliar times but it also often uses food products that are readily available and ones that are easy to keep in a cold cellar for a long period of time. Just a nod to you hoarders out there.

Today many of us are returning to locally grown (200 km or 100 mile) produce. That means in most cases seasonally produced produce.

This is probably the place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE # 3. SHOP FRESH, LOCAL & SEASONAL.

So the shopping fresh part everyone gets. The most basic of meals when made with super fresh ingredients blow away something that has “ripened” in the back of a truck over a longer period of time.

The shopping local is a good goal and one I try to live by, but it is tough, particularly if you are in a northern climate.  A few generations ago, if you were living in Europe or the northern half of North America no one thought of having bananas in the winter. It is even more extreme for those who live in even more northern climates – for those who have not noticed, the banana growing season in Norway is REALLY SHORT.   LOL.

So before refrigeration and inexpensive transportation were popular, if you were eating locally grown, it meant you were eating seasonally grown food and you start with the first harvest or unheated greenhouse harvest in the spring, gorge away all summer and put a few extra kilos on your gut and by fall would be preserving like mad and putting away root vegetables to survive on through the winter. So in winter you would have marmalade but no oranges and jam but no strawberries.  Most of us were not keen on the food habits of farmers in Victorian times so these ideas, while good ones to try to adhere to, are not realistic for most of us who value a good, well balanced, nutritionally correct diet today. So we buy fresh when we can, local when we available and buy the other imported bits as needed.

I have found that Covid 19 has made me think a bit more about these issues, partially because of shopping less often to reduce our exposure. Now that we have the arrangement  with the German couple it doesn’t matter as much but before that I was pretty spooked about the way we had to shop – flying through the store with a mask and gloves and not looking at whether the tomato was ripe or wizened and then trying to eat the fresh, very perishable produce first, and the longer life produce later in the week. It is the same with people who head off for an across the ocean sail – you can’t order a pizza when mid-Atlantic.

So If you are shopping every eight or ten or twelve days what does that look like?

Well, you buy some yellow bananas for now, some green bananas for later and some apples for the last few days of it.  Similarly, on veggies it’s the fresh green beans or French beans for the next few days, the broccoli after that and the Brussels sprouts, and potatoes for the last few days of the period. The wine you drink all the way through.

So back to comfort food.

The dinner I just made is my version of the British pub meal: Bangers and Mash. For those who don’t know it, the dish is simply bangers (sausages) with mashed potatoes. Like most dishes of this kind they would often have some other bits added based on what the cook had on hand around the kitchen.

There are essentially five things you will be working on with this dish – the sausages, mash, caramelized onions, and two other veggies.

I am going to break down how I do them in a small space on a boat, using very few pots and utensils as I know from experience many of my readers here are in the same boat, well not actually the same boat or they would be here with me but in a small kitchen space at least.

Sausages – I like to just put a little olive oil in a big pot, and after heating it up get some color going on the sausages. This is all about the visual, not about cooking them. Once we get some colour on them so they look like a sausage should, we can put them aside. We will actually cook them later.

Mash – Traditionally this was mashed potatoes of course. Most of us have eaten enough mashed potatoes in our lifetime that we don’t want to go back there. So here are the variations to consider.

The first, is a little more rustic a version – smashed potatoes. Just clean up some potatoes (brush under running water) then rough cut them up into pieces. Don’t peal the skins. Use whatever you have – russets, Yukon gold, baking etc.) Put them in the pot you just used for the sausages with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. When they are soft enough that they are getting close to falling apart, drain them and with them back in the same pot mash them up with a big spoon or fork or whatever you have for the job. Add some chives, parsley, lemon thyme or other herbs you have with some salt and pepper and a bit of olive oil and see how it tastes. You might want to add some butter, or more olive oil or more pepper etc. Some will also like to add some garlic.

Now I don’t do this smashed potato thing often. I will usually do the same approach but use sweet potatoes instead.  Sometimes I will leave the skins on but more often I will peal them when using sweet potatoes before cutting them up and throwing them in the pot to boil. With the sweet potatoes I also really like to focus my herb additions on just chopped rosemary and butter and olive oil as it just comes together as such a nice mash and mashup of flavours.

But last night I didn’t do either of these things for the mash. I occasionally visit Janice and Jim and on those occasions, we drink a lot and cook a lot and one dish that blew me away that Janice just nails is what she calls rutabaga puff. She works from a pretty precise recipe and likes to use a mixer to really get the rutabaga nice and puffy – not as much as a mouse but in that direction. I don’t have the room for a mixer so used a little hand blender so what I am setting out here is my “street version” of her “white tablecloth” dish.

Start with a large rutabaga, wherever you shop just get one of the big ones (about 1.5 kilo or 3 pounds)– use a peeler to get that waxy skin off then cut it up into chunks that are two or three centimetre cubes (one inch) and then give them the same boiling treatment as I described for their potato and sweet potato cousins.  Then after draining, do your mashing, or blending routine to try to get this down to a nice fine consistency and add a couple of tablespoons of unsalted to butter,  a little salt, pepper, olive oil etc. to taste.  If you find it still has too much rutabaga attitude in taste then you need to add some maple syrup if you have it and brown sugar if you don’t. Something like a tablespoon or two.

If you have the time and interest a small handful of walnuts in a pan with low heat  with some brown sugar, or maple syrup to put on top of that rutabaga mixture when serving will really amp up this humble little root vegetable.

So if you have learned anything here it is that you can make a mash with whatever root vegetables you have – parsnips, turnips, carrots etc. These are all things that you can easily and inexpensively buy, and readily store for a long while. By a long while I mean find some cold dark place in your home and they will keep pretty well for months if needed.  Not a bad staple for your pandemic pantry.

 

Caramelized onions

On a cruise ship I worked on I went for an extended period of time being the guy who (with a few other tasks) just caramelized onions. You might think it is because I was pretty good at it. Wrong – I had inadvertently attracted the attention of a server who had not entirely completed her relationship with the chef I reported to. Cutting up twenty or thirty onions in a big pot at a time is a something I still cry over.

So get a couple of medium size yellow onions or cooking onions or ideally nice sweet Vidalia’s, pull off their skin, cut them in half and cut off the stem. I like to cut them on the length to get long stringy bits, and this is rustic cutting – big pieces, not little chopping. Then throw them in the pot that the mash was in, as you have transferred the mash to another container and cleaned the pot. Put in a glug of olive oil and sprinkle with some pepper and crank up the heat and start stirring to keep those onions moving.

After a couple of minutes when the onions are looking a bit translucent but also getting some color from the heat and the stirring, cover, turn down the heat and watch them and give them a stir pretty regularly. You are trying to get to something that is beyond translucent, has a nice bit of juice and softness, and brown colour but is not burned.

It is at about this point when you taste them that you realize you should have done this with four onions, they are so good!

Transfer to something to keep them warm in.

Mushrooms

If you have button mushroom just do them whole but if they are ones with a diameter bigger than three or four centimeters (1.5 to 2 inches) cut on the length through the stem then cut in half through the stem as well so you have quartered them. Some people are in the camp of just brushing mushrooms but because I worked on a ship the protocol was to always really wash things well, and then wash them again, so that’s what I do. The sautéing process with mushrooms is easy. A couple little dabs of butter (15 ml) in the pot and some gentle heat for a while will do the job. After they are colouring and softening and the pot is not looking as wet with the moisture that has come out of the mushrooms, add a small puddle of white wine and swish around while they continue to sauté on very low heat.

Green Beans/ Broccoli/ Brussels Sprouts

You need to have something green on the plate for the visuals and in your stomach for all sorts of reasons, so clean up one of  the pots you have been using, chose a couple of these vegetable options and get your steamer pot going to add something green to the plate. Sometimes its nice to do fancier veggies but with sausages and mash and caramelized onions on the plate you need to keep the green component simple here.

Putting it all together.

At one point you will need to come back to your sausages. They look great but they have not really been cooked so you should now put just a pencil  or markers thickness of water in another pot – yes oh my god a second pot,  and bring that to a simmer and poach those sausages. No one likes a dry sausage so poaching them after giving them some colour is a great way to go. If on the other hand you have some pretty fat-laden sausages and you just like to grill them, particularly if you have an outdoor grill, then go for it.

Plate up your rutabaga or other mash, and if you have it – that walnut and brown sugar mixture on top, put a sausage on the plate with lots of caramelized onions on top, get those mushrooms and your green steamed vegetables  to accompany them on the plate and tuck in.

 

Vegetarian Option

If you have any vegetarians in your group this is a great dish. Replace the button mushrooms with a second green vegetable and substitute sautéed large slices of portobello mushrooms for the sausages. Just remember with those big portobellos that before cutting them into generous slices (2cm or ¾ inch) to spoon out those little brown “gills” or fuzz, then wash and sauté as above. I find it pretty cool that large beefy mushrooms like portobellos have a lot of protein, almost as much as chicken.

I think eventually we will all be vegetarians. Some of us still like our meat and poultry and seafood but I am really cutting back on the portion those products make up on the plate.

 

So that’s it. I often double the size of the recipe of the sausages, mash, onions and mushrooms and on the second day just steam more green vegetables for a fast second meal.

See I told you this would be a more happy post!

I am going to try to always post on the first of the month, starting today so people will know that even if I have done other posts one will appear then. Wow – am I getting organized!

Django

P.S. the image below is a sample of the masks Janice has been making for their local hospital. She had a goal of taking them a lot each week but I think about half have made it off to friends. I just received three for me and three smaller ones for Ciara this week. Now I’m stylin.

POISSONS DE TERRE DOUX

Posted: April 3, 2019

When I sat down to write this post the focus was going to be about the Tortierre recipe that my Odie always made and the Tortierre recipe that Jims Nana did and I was going to compare the two. Well that may appear at some point in the future and it is a nice comparison of those two meat pies but in starting to write it, what became clear is that I really wanted to get down some thoughts on the life my Odie had. It was tough and colourful and spaned a time in history and a part of the world that saw a lot of change.

For those of you who have read all my posts, you will know that I was only marginally better as a grandson as I was as a son. But with that said my Odie did mean a lot to me and I did spend more time with her before she passed a few years ago.

Before I even get into this story I should comment on the title of this piece. For those who do not read French, Poissons de Terre Doux means Sweet Land Fish in English, and for those who do read French, yes that says poisons de terre doux, which is a pretty strange combination of words but stick with me here and it will all be explained in this piece.

So where do I start – well much of how my fathers family evolved flowed from the first world war and was then exaggerated by the second world war.

My Odie was born in 1899 and had two boys, and one daughter, my dad being born in 1919. She was from a little village in Brittany as was the man (my grandfather) she would eventually marry was also from there.

So at the beginning of the first world war my grandad went off to war, survived and came back. But having seen more of the world than just his village decided to not be a fisherman like his father, as he had seen how difficult and at times dangerous a life it could be.  He chose instead to be a chocolatier.  After trying to get an apprenticeship in Rennes and then Brussels he ended up in Paris working for a master chocolatier who was a bit of an old-world version of that trade. Among the other components of the trade he learned the art of making chocolate molds and distinguished himself from the other apprentices in this aspect. When he returned to his little port town to set up shop, it was a fortuitous time as his father who was retiring from fishing was able to let him use the front of his building which his parents  had used as a fish store. It was a very rough space and of course, smelled of fish.

When he (my great grandfather) would come home with the days catch, it was my great grandmother who would then sell the fish that day in the store while he cleaned up the boat and geared up for the following day. By selling in the store they always got a better price than selling at the dock and he was able to retire, unlike most fisherman who would essentially fish till they died.

So the way my Odie tells it, she and my grandad cleaned up the old fish store and geared up to open the chocolate shop. But there was a problem. The village was very controlled by the few merchants in the town and there was a law that this space could only be used as a fish store. The town had very few stores and had laws that protected the boulangerie from having competition, the patisserie, the fresh grocer, etc. So while the only chocolate that was being sold was a very small selection in a small store that was a dry goods and hardware store that also sold sweaters and boots, this store (my great grandparents store) could only be used to sell fish.

Now when Odie tells the story she gets very worked up at this point talking about her husband, buckling down and working for over a month on doing new chocolate molds – all  in the shape of various local fish. Some were very small at less than 10 cm (4 inches) but many more like 30 to 40 cm (16-20 inches) and a few that were over a meter in length (40 inches). I wont go into the details that Odie would tell about his exact designs with fish scales and other details but she was very proud of what he produced.

While he was working on this Odie and some friends were working away on cleaning up the store and trying to get rid of the fishy smell. My grandmother was  pregnant with her third child at the time. She would get quite graphic in her details of the fish smell often overwhelming her and the sickness that would ensue. I will spare you those details. During this time my great grandfather the retired fisherman was talking to locals to get them onside with the idea of the chocolate shop. During this time he was also making the new sign for the business.

When they opened as Poissons de Terre Doux, there was very little opposition, but lots of snickers regarding the name.

The business did well and my father, his brother, and sister had a very good life growing up there. This happy story might end there but World War II intervened.

When we look back at history it is easy to identify the Third Reich as being “bad” and all other countries they took over as being “good”.  The reality is that in several countries – Holland, France, and others – there were a number of people who, tired of war from less than a generation before, wanted peace – at almost all costs, and while not welcoming the German occupation, looked at it as the lesser evil.  Apparently my uncle who was a few years older than my dad was in that group and was part of the French administration controlled by the Germans and as he was an early supporter became quite senior in that puppet regime.  My grandparents and my aunt and my dad never spoke to him again. This was because they were so ashamed of his decision but also because after a few years and the liberation of France he died. Its not clear if he died at the hands of the Germans or the Allies or the French Resistance.  If he had come back to the village in Brittany he had grown up in he might have died at the hands of his relatives!

My father was too young to be involved in the war but wanting to help, worked most of the time with his mom at the chocolate shop while his dad and sister did some work in the shop but both also spent their time in minor roles in the French Resistance. It was a classic tragedy of siblings or children and parents on different sides of political conflict.

At the end of the war, my father was recommended by several respected local people in his town for a position in the government and almost instantly was swept up in the French Diplomatic Service in a very junior administrative role. The succession of governments, ideas and the various swings in perspective meant that many senior people were dismissed based on their history and very junior people like my father rose through the ranks not by merit but by not being affiliated with any group or party.  And that is how my father found himself in his 30’s in a middle ranking position with the French Embassy in Ottawa, Canada in the early 1950’s and eventually met a nice French Canadian girl – my mom.

So I have been off on this bit of historical drama but need to bring you back to the story of the chocolate shop. In the 1950s my grandfather, grandmother and my aunt ran the shop until my aunt died of cancer and then a few years later my grandfather passed away as well. My Odie moved back into the flat above the store and rented the storefront to a company selling local handicrafts and antiques to tourists.

For years I have been trying to track down a photograph of the store, but a few years ago, a good friend saw some chocolate molds and photographed them for me. They had been purchased for props for the film “Chocolate” set a long distance away from Brittany but the molds bore the stamp of my grandfather. I have been able to get a few photos of those molds, but these are all the medium-sized ones up to about 30 cm (12 inches) – I have never seen any of the really large ones. I can’t imagine what a one-meter (over a yard)  chocolate fish would be like!

 

19cm chocolate fish mold 1

 

 

 

YEAR END 2018 RESPONSES TO EMAILS

Posted: December 23, 2018

Well, it’s interesting that over the last year we have had many more people reading multiple posts and spending longer on the website but fewer emails. Remember if you want to find me just send me an email at djangobisou@bell.net.

So there were a few emails that covered the same issues so I am going to write a bit longer an explanation on just two topics covered in these two typical emails.

  1. I am a novice cook and am liking the cooking posts but I am seeing a guy who says that your not a trained chef so I should ignore your food postings. Also, what do you think of cookbooks and any you would recommend?

These are good questions. So first, the easy one – on the issue of cookbooks, I have been working on a post on that very topic so watch for it. The simple answer is that like music there is a full range out there and you need to find which author appeals to you best. Today there are so many good cookbooks its overwhelming.  But watch for that full-on post on the topic. I have a number of posts that I want to do and Jim has some topics for me so it won’t be until late 2019 I expect.

The second part of your question regarding my credentials is also pretty straightforward but deserves a longer explanation. I didn’t go to chef school, which when I was young didn’t matter as much because there were some pretty awesome apprentice programs. I didn’t do that either, nor did I work under a really good chef. I just worked in a food factory (the food prep area of a cruise ship) and didn’t know anything about what I was making. I could have been putting bolts on a car in an assembly line and know about as much about cooking. That was the early days of working on the cruise lines. After a while, I started to get a better idea of what real cooking was but it was still largely as a contributor or the master of only one small component. I went for over a month where almost all I did was prepare and caramelize onions. Another time I was doing shoestring potatoes.

So while doing those things I wasn’t learning to be a cook or a chef but just doing the repetitive exercise that today a robot would do. What did happen however was that occasionally when onshore my shipmates would expect me to cook some meals as I worked in the kitchen on the ship so I would make something that was a direct extension of something I had been doing. Some would ask about the calorie count or glutin etc. and I had no idea. When I first started using a conventional residential stove I learned I needed to set a temperature and preheat it which was bizarre to me. Most of my tasks had been to prepare something as shown, put it in oven thirteen, for example, press the preset timer button and then get the next batch ready to go in when the first batch was ready. I had no idea for example what the temperature was or whether we were roasting or baking something. I was just a human-robot.

Over time I learned to cook but most of that came over time as I developed an interest in cooking and started to get to do more interesting things in the kitchen. But I don’t want to exaggerate it – I was never trained, but have lots of hours in on a bunch of basic kitchen tasks. Later when I needed to cook to live and I genuinely started to put it all together, but even then it was all trial and error working of a core skill I might have. If you have looked at my posts and read about cooking for Marc and Lotte and family in The Netherlands,  I  was a pretty amateur cook overall but could nail a few key things and had what superficially looked like immense knowledge. The big thing for me was to learn new measures. When making hollandaise sauce at home you measure in tablespoons and teaspoons, not in liters!

So your boyfriend is right – I am not an educated chef. Or a trained chef. Or even a trained cook. I am just a guy who is discovering fun things in the kitchen and like Jim, we share some ideas like two characters who have just discovered camping for the first time and are sharing some things that seasoned campers would laugh at and see as self – evident. Jim went back to a local college culinary program when he retired in his 40’s but didn’t spend a lot of time learning to cook. His main interest at the time was the financial aspects of the food industry and restaurants. Even when he started his cooking school he wasn’t the guy teaching the classes or making the food, he was running the business and hired the culinary talent.

So just think of me on the same journey as you in the kitchen. On some things, I might be a bit ahead of you or you a bit ahead of me. It’s not a competition. It’s all good.

 

  1. Django you seem to be pretty focused on the past, and I don’t see a lot of present or future in your posts. What’s that about?”

Ah, well this is probably the most important part of what we are doing with this website, so I am going to chose my words carefully so I don’t upset Jim and you should get a mug of coffee to reflect on this as you read if its before noon, and a glass of wine if its after 6 pm and its your choice in the middle.

If you read the ABOUT section or have read many of my posts you probably know that Jim and I both have the same neurological issues. You probably also know that Jim decided to do this website for several reasons.

The first was to get me “back on my feet” and doing something positive.

But an equally important second reason was for he and I to work together with the idea that my deep stress, anxiety, etc. which is probably at the root of my problem will be reduced if I get a bit of structure in my life and have a future I am confident about. The other side of that symbiotic relationship I have with Jim is that he is learning to be a lot more like what I have been – living in the moment. Jim has never lived fully in the moment. The two other tenses – past and future tend to dominate and the present is only the tool on the way to using the experience of the past to change the future. Most people who are (mis)wired this way are successful as it’s a winning formula for achieving things, but not a winning formula in life. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that he doesn’t enjoy himself in the present it’s just the mix is pretty slanted to the past and especially to the future. So he is working on being more like me to truly live in the moment.

And the third reason he wanted to do this website is that  a person who has been focused on the future who learns that his neurological system may well let him down means that the future may not be quite what you thought it was going to be. To be blunt, having an episode where you are looking at a screen and can’t remember what the words mean, or having the right half of your body not function for an hour scared the hell out of him. His parents both had dementia and he watched the slow motion process of them losing their minds. Yikes!

To that end, I have actually been working on a draft that I am not happy with quite yet called:   “Becoming comfortable with the notion of losing your mind” which really explains more of this.

But the point here is that he wants to have these posts to tell the stories and document the memories that are important to him, things and people and experiences and emotions that are important to him and Janice so that he will have some reference point to who he was as things start to go. So some of the things you are reading about here are important parts of his life, some are just fun stories of friends lives and some are just ramblings. But they are all important to him, and some to Janice and/or me as well. Sorry to go all heavy on you but that is what we are really doing here.

With that said I expect that you will see more present creeping into the pieces as Jim is starting to spend some time in that (present) dimension and he is the one who feeds me ideas for posts.

————————————————————————–

So that’s it for my responses to the emails.  As we come up to the end of the year I am not really a “new years resolutions” guy but we are living in very ominous times and as I have never been as future-focused as Jim (well the truth is I have never thought about the future until linking up with Jim again) here is what I see for 2019:

  1. Putin will continue his aggression and Trump will be one of several leaders to not respond
  2. Trump will trigger a massive economic recession through foreign and trade policy
  3. Theresa May will continue to grapple with a stupid party and an even more stupid Parliament
  4. Janice and Jim will go to Russia, and the Baltics and Scandanavia for a trip
  5. I will get my new captain and hopefully continue to do well in my improved life.

So the first three are sad but predictable, the fourth one is interesting and the fifth one, of course, is the only one that matters. LOL!  I am pretty pumped about getting my new captain and once she is on board (literally and figurately) I will post some details.

Enjoy the holiday season and see you on the other side.

Django

A Limited View of The Future

A Limited View of The Future

 

MOTHERS DAY 2018

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2018

So what is special about mothers day- you have to ask? We may not all have had fathers but we all have had mothers. They are the ones who traditionally made the family a unit, and in bad families were the ones who held it together.

The notion of “Mothers Day” I have always found a bit strange, however. There should be an acknowledgment of these wonderful creatures but it almost cheapens it to make it just one day.

I am not going to go on about my mom. She was a good mom and I loved her and I regret that for too many years I was just thinking about my own life, not coming home to visit. I think about this a fair bit, but I can’t change it, I can only remember her and my dad and try to learn from my experience of not being a better kid.

What I am going to do is tell you about a poem Jim wrote. He is not the best poet as you know but I particularly like this one. It’s about his Nana. Like me, he had a great relationship with his paternal grandmother. Her real name was Hannah but Nana is what he called her. During those years in high school when most of us were somewhat alienated from our parents and vice/versa the relationship we had with an aunt or uncle, grandparent or even an older cousin is what got some of us through. They can bring a perspective that may not be the same as ours but might be somewhat different than our parents – and they bring it with love and no expectations.

So during his late years in elementary school and through high school, Jim and his dad would drive up the Ottawa valley from their home in Ottawa one evening a week to a little village where his Nanas house was. This hadn’t been her lifetime house or even a place she had lived in for a substantial time. It was a house that she had bought in later life just to get back to living in a smaller community, having a garden and being out with nature. It would be followed by the reality of having to move into an apartment in Ottawa closer to Jim’s parents but for about a decade, she enjoyed her small-town life in her little place, where she could walk to the village shops for groceries, or the post office or to get her hair done.

So on Tuesday nights from May until September Jim and his dad would drive there. Jim’s dad would usually work on repairs of some kind, while Jim would cut the grass, and do some weeding in the garden. They would all then have dinner together and before it was too late in the evening (as Jim would have to go to school the next day to fail Math, Science or French) Jim and his dad would drive back to Ottawa.  Sometimes he would complain about it as he would miss something that a bunch of us were doing, or a TV show he wanted to see but for the most part he looked forward to his Tuesday nights both for seeing his Nana and for having some time with his dad that was not focused on how badly he was doing in school or what mischief he had gotten into that week.

This is his poem and as I said above I do like this one as it reminds me of times with my grandmother. Jim has really been opening up over the last few years and I think he is better for it.

 

NANA’S TUESDAY NIGHT

Every Tuesday night,

My dad and I would drive

To the country to see my Nana.

 

I would cut the grass,

Dad would repair something

Or weed the garden.

 

Nana would make us dinner

Of fresh vegetables and meat,

Roast potatoes and pie.

 

I never liked

Beets, green beans or brussels sprouts,

Except at my Nanas.

 

My Nana is gone, my dad is gone,

But as often as I can

I eat beets, Green beans, and brussels sprouts.

 

So that’s the poem. He is getting better at this poetry business I think.  I don’t yet have a picture of Jim with his Nana but I am trying to track one down.  I do have her recipe for apple pie and a picture of Janice and the first pie she made for Jim when they were living at their first apartment in Kingston. Janice had finished her program in fashion design and was working as a fashion designer at that point and Jim was doing graduate work in Urban Planning and Development.

 

 

NANAS CLASSIC APPLE PIE RECIPE

Jim’s Nana seemed to like to work with really big pie plates – about 30cm so almost one foot. For some of us, that is just one big unwieldy pie, especially if you are working in a small space like the galley of an old boat like mine so I have scaled the recipe he gave me down to a 23 cm size (9 inches) pie.  Even when I am making a pie for a larger group I prefer to make two smaller ones and then do one as a bit of a variation in look or taste or to make one as a pie and a few tarts as well.

Ingredient list: Pastry – 2 pieces as its double crust for the 9-inch pie if you are buying pastry.

Of course nothing duplicates a pastry you make yourself. If you have not done so before this adds quite a bit to the exercise so for the first time I would just buy the dough. Once you are comfortable with making pies move on to making the pastry yourself. Most recipes for dough don’t really tell the story  of the tricks or rules to make a good pie crust but one that I really like is https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/pie-crust-101

 

Pie Filling

Peeled & sliced apples 5 cups            (1.25L)

Sugar *                             3/4  cup       (175 ml)

Flour                                 1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Cinnamon                        1/2 tsp          ( 2 ml)

Lemon Juice                    1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Butter (unsalted)           1 tbsp           (15 ml) cut cold butter into little pieces to distribute

Egg                                    1 egg                      for eggwash

*  Now I have tried to make this faithfully to the original recipe but Jim tells me that pretty regularly his Nana would claim to be low in sugar and would “substitute” with some rum or with a fruit liqueur or with maple syrup. His recollection, however, is that there actually was no substitution just “supplement” of these items at times. I have experimented with each of the products and found that up to a half tablespoon of rum or up to a full tablespoon of maple syrup or liqueur such as  Grand Marnier can add some sweetness and depth to the flavour.

 

To make the pie:

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (425f)

2. Line the pie plate with the lower pastry piece

3. mix the cut apple slices, flour and sugar*, lemon juice and cinnamon then gently pour the mixture onto the                   pastry

4. put the little butter pieces around the top of the mixture

5. drizzle the rum/ liqueur etc. around the mixture if substituting/ supplementing

6. cover with the top crust, then seal and pinch (flute) the edges

7. You need to put in a few slits for the steam to be released. Jim would chatter on about how his Nana would not just cut little slits for the pie to release steam but instead would do a little shape – a few slits to look like a conifer tree or a little rabbit or acorn.

8. a little brushing of an egg wash and a bit of a sugar sprinkle and its ready for the oven for 30 minutes then watch it for the next five to ten minutes after that to take the crust to the way you like it.

 

While some weeks Jims Nana would do cookies or cake, most weeks it would be a pie dessert and Jim, who has a whole mouthful of sweet teeth would tell me about the one that week – Wild Blueberry Pie, Maple Syrup Pie, Buttertart Pie, Fresh Rasberry Pie ….

Come to think of it, on the vegetable front today he does eat a lot of brussels sprouts, and green beans and even more beets than the average person.

And I would be remiss to not wish Janice a happy mothers day. She got cheated out of experiencing her mother during her adult years as her mom passed when Janice was in her early twenties.  I think she is making up for that missing experience by being so good a mom to Jade and Jason.

 

 

 

 

LIFE LESSON: HOW TO MAKE FRIES FOR A BELGIAN

Posted Aug 4, 2016

In some of the upcoming posts I will be diving into the crazy life I took on when I left Walter, so before we head down that much more serious rabbit hole, I thought I might stay up in a lighter place and talk about some of the cooking I did for Walter and his guests.

Every Tuesday (there were only a couple exceptions to this timing) Walter would have a small dinner party. Sometimes it would be eight or ten but was usually only four to six guests. They were not always exclusively Belgian guests but they were almost exclusively people based in Brussels for their work so had caught the “fries addiction”.

Some stereotypes exist for a reason. Regardless of what else I would be serving for a meal, the assumption was that there would be some fries on the table, like cutlery or table linens, and a chef who could not impress in this regard was at best a cook, and certainly not a chef. The first time I tried to do fries for one of Walters dinners there were a lot of raised eyebrows. Everything else could be fabulous but without the fries – well, what a letdown.

Jim related to me a similar problem from the cooking school he and Janice had (see the Links We Like).  There would be times where an extended family would come for a private evening where the focus was a traditional holiday or occasion and the culinary focus was to be a dish that was “just like grandmas”. Invariably Grandma would be at the dinner. The chef would be provided with the recipe a few days before the event and sometimes a terrine or plater from the grandma in question to make the dish seem to be just the same.

The first few times it was a disaster. Grandmas recipe might call for a teaspoon of rum and her practice had been to put in half a cup! Beyond this it was also politically incorrect for the dish to be as good as Grandmas – that would be a blasphemy!

So what became the standard practice was for the house chef to simply say “ I would love the opportunity to interpret and do a variation on this wonderful recipe” which let grandma off the hook if it was better than hers,  as everyone could rave about it but still say its not as good as hers and the chef could be sure a great meal would be produced and enjoyed.

My experience with Walters guests was much the same. I couldn’t live up to the expectations for the Belgian fries, so I did roasted (not fried) home fries, with lots of different dips and it was always a hit.

What follows is the most popular dish and variations on the meals I would do at Walters. We would usually have some canapes and champagne or prosecco as the guests would arrive, a soup or appetizer starter then roll into the entre with the vegetables, followed by a homemade ice cream with homemade biscuits or biscotti for dessert with espresso. While there were many variations and different dishes served over the few months I was there, a very popular one was the pork tenderloin so that’s what I have described here. The home fries were the only constant for every dinner party!

    HERB ENCRUSTED ROAST PORK TENDERLOIN & HOME FRIES 

Working at Walters was quite a treat for me. The kitchen was not always rocking like a boat, had lots of counter space, many specialty appliances and lots of refrigeration. These, of course, were all things that I had not experienced for a while, as most yachts, even large ones, don’t dedicate a lot of space to the kitchen.

Pork Tenderloin, Veal Tenderloin  or Beef Tenderloin

All three of these meats work and depending on the size of your guest list, and of your budget, each of them has their merits. So if it’s a dinner for two I would do a smaller pork tenderloin, or if a group of four, then two pork loins, but if it’s a group of six or more going to the loin of beef or veal is often the better route. Some guests also have issues with pork which will also help you decide which meat to use. In general, there are cuts of beef I like better so most of the time when doing this recipe I would go with the pork even if it involves multiple tenderloins if there is a larger group.

  1. Trim off any excess fat, wash the loin, and dry completely with a paper towel.
  2. rub with olive oil, or go 4.
  3.  coat with herbs. This can take on many forms and depends on your taste. In general, I always like to use fresh herbs for my cooking but for this kind of treatment I prefer dried herbs with two exceptions. Finely chopping a sprig or two of fresh Rosemary per pork tenderloin, and a couple sprigs of Tyme as well is a great route to go. or If like me you are functioning in a small kitchen most of the time you can use a premixed type– eg Italian (usually with oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil, but some have garlic and other herbs) or Herbs de Provence –(which adds to the Italian mix several other components: savory, marjoram, and lavender) but ultimately you are the one in control and may choose to go heavy on one type or another. Once the herbs are on make sure you rub again with oil as you want the herbs to be soaking up that oil and sticking to the meat.  As you do the dish more often you will also experiment with specific tastes – finely chopped garlic (two or three cloves per tenderloin), or going exclusively with thyme mixed with the zest of one lemon per tenderloin. When doing this one I would often grill slices of lemon and use them as a garnish on the finished dish with their grilled mushy juices adding flavour to the pork pieces.
  4. an alternative to rubbing with oil then adding the herbs is to put the herbs in a small bowl dry, then just add enough oil to make a paste of the oil and herb mixture and then put this on the meat. When you are familiar with it, the technique works well but usually results in a much more robust coating of herbs than the other way.                                                                     Pre-Coating: I have found that when working with beef, after coating with herbs, having it sit, covered in the fridge for several hours or even overnight before bringing it out and having sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes (while your range pre-heats) before cooking is really worthwhile. But unless it is preferable for dinner scheduling this pre-coating and sitting time is not as beneficial with pork tenderloin. In some kitchen settings I would just roast directly on a roasting pan and turn it after about fifteen minutes  but I prefer to cook the loins on a rack off the floor of the roasting pan and to then pour as much water as  possible into the pan below the rack leaving at least one centimeter (1/2 inch) between the water and the  rack.   This helps keep the oven area moist as well as giving more air circulation around the roast. The outer surface of the meat will still crisp up, but the effect is to have an even moister final product than otherwise. It also makes cleaning up that roasting pan a breeze.
  5. Place pork tenderloin or multiple tenderloins in a preheated oven at 175c (350f) for about 50 minutes.  Now oven temperatures are an interesting thing. The higher you go up, of course, the shorter a time needed. So if you are in a scramble time-wise you could preheat to 204c (400f) and just go for about 30 minutes, or to 260c (500f) and shave it down to about 20 minutes.                                                                                                                  So why, with so many options did I start with the suggestion of 175c (350f) for 50 minutes? Well because: most of us are the only person working in the kitchen; are not serving just this one component; are working with        equipment that is not perfectly tuned and prefer to make the whole process more forgiving. When a piece of        meat that has been cooking at 175c (350f) for something like 45 minutes to an hour is removed from the oven it continues to cook but not much, while a piece that was cooking at 260c (500f) that is removed will continue to  cook while resting, making the judgment of serving time much more difficult. Many home cooks or                        recreational  chefs don’t have exceptional equipment and a variety of products are not recommended for oven    use at really high temperatures. This is particularly true of non-stick finishes that will often top out at a                 recommended 175c(350f).                                                                                                                                                           Working with a beef tenderloin is a bit different both because of the dimension of the loin as well as the proper cooked point to be achieved. A typical time for the beef will be 45 to 60 minutes at 425f.
  6. Time, of course, is just the starting point – the real test is the internal temperature of the tenderloin. If you have a thermometer or your range is equipped with a probe, you are trying to get the internal temperature of the pork tenderloin to about 65c (150f ) or a little lower for the beef loin to 60-62c (140-145f)
  7. A lot is often made about “resting” and there is no question that the meat will benefit from a ten minute resting time (particularly the beef) but the reality is that you don’t need to build this into your time. Just get it out of the oven and work away on your final prep, serving the various components etc. For most of us mere mortals that takes about ten minutes.
  8. Cut into slices at a thickness you like – eg 1 cm or 3/8 inch. In general, cutting it in thinner slices is more formal and wider is more casual. Then layer/stagger a serving on the plate, much like toppled dominoes.
  9. You can accompany the dish with gravy but the herbs and the roasting produce a nice product without it and an easy one to add is a chutney, mint jelly or hot pepper jelly on the side for the pork, and a chutney, or horseradish for beef loin.

Roast Home Fries

This is a foolproof, dead easy recipe that can be dressed up or down as needed. On most occasions, I like to work with white potatoes, not the yellow fleshy ones but all of this is personal preference. I also don’t remove the skin so part of the exercise begins at the market in choosing nice looking potatoes. I don’t go by weight – but by the size of nice looking potatoes available and that will tell me how many I need per person. A typical one that is about 8 to 10 cm (3-4inches) long is enough for each person but you will want to do some extra as the taste of these encourages gluttony.

  1. give them a good scrub under running water with a brush then cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each of those in thirds, again lengthways. This will yield a total of six long pieces per potato with a profile (if viewed from the end) of a triangle.
  2. put the pieces in a stock pot to just covered with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the burner and let sit for five minutes. Check the potato pieces with a fork – you don’t want them to go soft.
  3. drain and let sit out of the water to dry for a few minutes.
  4. place in a large bowl, add a glug (a “glug” I have found to be about a tablespoon but can be up to two tablespoons) of olive oil, whatever amount of salt and pepper you are liking and turn over lightly with a big spoon– we’re not trying to beat up the potato slices, just to get them covered with oil and seasoning.  Using Canola Oil or a vegetable oil instead of olive oil will get them a bit crisper if that is how you like them. I will usually use Canola oil if its available for this reason.
  5. put the seasoned potato slices on whatever you have – parchment paper or Silpat on top of a baking sheet, or sometimes I will put them on a rack on top of a baking sheet. It all works.
  6. these will then go into the same oven you are cooking your meat in but depending on the thickness of the pieces it will often take less time than the meat so you will manage the timing of when they come out based on how they are looking.

Turn them at the midpoint or when you see one side getting a good roast patina. When they are ready,  get them out, cover with foil until the other components of the meal are ready.

Variation – you can do a much more elegant looking product (and save yourself a step) by cutting the pieces thinner and not parboiling them in the boiling water first. If they are cut thin enough  (eg  I cm or less than 3/8 inch) you can just oil and season them and put them straight in the oven.

Other Vegetables

I really love roast vegetables but with the meat being roasted and the fries being a big roasted item I would usually just steam some brussels sprouts, or broccoli or some nice heirloom carrots or slice up some fresh tomatoes to compliment.

Dips for the Roast Homefries

So this is where I really solved the problem of Walters guests – the fries snobs. While they were allowed to like the home fries because they were sufficiently different than what they were familiar with, setting out a number of dips put it into the category of “better than expected”. Yes, I put out a conventional aioli, but also put out tomato salsa, maple syrup, an orange roulade or jelly, a mixture of Dijon and mayonnaise etc.

Walters kitchen was also an example of Djangos Kitchen Rule #2 – “work with the tools you have”. Walters kitchen had lots of counter space so I was not restricted. It also had lots of specialty tools on hand – a deep fryer, a rice maker, an ice cream maker, both a large and small blender, air fryer, panini maker, pressure cooker, so I was certainly spoiled in comparison with my usual kitchen situation. But my point is this – often a specialty appliance can be used in many ways. A rice maker is also a great tool for making tapioca or rice pudding. An ice cream maker is not just for making deserts – use it to make a nice palette-cleansing sorbet which adds some elegance between courses.

Even major appliances are often not appreciated unless, like me, you are coming from a small kitchen on a boat. That second oven or warming drawer set at about 160f is great for warming plates or keeping various cooked foods warm.

One of the biggest things I notice with kitchens on land is the abundance of refrigeration and freezer space. Use them. A nice salad can be made ahead and sit in that huge fridge. That cavernous freezer is great for buying meat on sale, freezing and having on hand. No, you can’t keep it there forever, and yes, it is better to work with fresh, but for most people buying the better cut of meat on sale and freezing it is a very good approach. You will also find that many time-consuming recipes may lend themselves to making the second batch and freezing.

 

 

So this little culinary diversion has kept us from getting back to the story of what my life with Amy and Justin was like. Stay tuned, it will be my next post.

MAKING RISOTTO WITH KIDS

Posted: Aug 24, 2015

No, I don’t mean risotto with a side of kids but working with kids to prepare Risotto!

For those of you who have been following along this is an extension of my last post “1990’s: DJANGO STARTS TO GET IT TOGETHER”, where I was working for a family during the summer of 1993 in the Netherlands and enjoyed teaching their kids to cook.  So if your not into cooking or are a good cook already and won’t learn much from this than go do something else. The rest of you – follow me.

Most kids, especially by the time they are teenagers, are quite astute and if they are interested in a topic will grasp ideas and instructions very well. I have never had any kids and not spent a lot of time with them other than that summer in 1993 but I was really impressed. Intelligent ideas, inquisitive perspective, a steely sense of right and wrong – we should all be more like teenagers!

I know that Janice and Jim had a lot of fun doing the cooking school they had,  and one course that Jim and his chef designed was “College Survival”.  The idea was to cover in the space of five evening classes, a quick course in equipment, hygiene, and cooking techniques. Their experience with Risotto and young people was much like what mine had been.  We have compared notes and some of my future entries here will shamelessly borrow on their experience with their cooking school as well.   Time for a little plug – check out the link to the cooking school in the LINKS WE LOVE section.

The amount of time I have spent in North America in the last couple of decades has been limited but I think that pizza, mac and cheese, and burgers are still the staples of teenage diets there. European kids like pizza as well but really enjoy a variety of pasta dishes and sauces and risotto is a pretty popular one with them.

One of the things I love about this dish is that you can mix it up so much. We all think of using Arborio, but there are other kinds of rice that are fat, starchy and medium grain that will also get you that creamy texture: try Carnaroli, Roma, Vialone, Violone Nano and Maratelli.

What works so well with kids is that you can also put one “sous chef” on the rice and stock mixture while another is working on the prep of the toppings or ingredients.

 

But it all starts with the stock. At the end of this piece I have included some detail on preparing a good stock. I have worked in big kitchen operations on cruise ships that resemble food factories and in small little kitchens on private yachts with limited counter space and even less fridge space and after doing this for a few decades a few rules keep floating to the surface.

This is probably a good place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE #1 – IF A COMPONENT FOR  A COURSE IS AVAILABLE THAT IS VIRTUALLY AS GOOD AS YOUR OWN, BUY IT AND SPEND YOUR TIME AND ENERGY ON SOMETHING THAT WILL MAKE THE DISH SPECIAL.

Ok so that may not be the epiphany of the century but too often we spend our time trying to see if we can make a component of a dish ourselves that takes a lot of time and energy to not really be appreciated by the guest. You need to find the sweet spot in each recipe that combines the efficiency of buying something prepared vs. the taste and quality of the result. The cost factor of course comes into this little equation as well. Most people who make phyllo pastry or puff pastry the first time will quickly realize that unless they are doing it all the time or for a large group – just buy it frozen at the grocery store and focus on what you are doing with it.

So if you are living in a place with great grocery or specialty stores available and have limited space go buy your vegetable, chicken or beef stock. If it’s not readily available or you have the time and interest go to the bottom of this piece and work away on producing a good stock. Personally, I do both. When I have the time I will produce a great stock and it will be the basis for a great risotto, and other times I will have some that I made at an earlier point in the freezer to pull out but sometimes it just doesn’t work out to make it and I will buy the stock. One of the benefits of buying the stock is that you can now focus your attention and limited time on more interesting components to add to the risotto or sit on top.  On the rare occasion I have lived on land and had a conventional kitchen, I have found freezing your homemade stock a great way to go, but most of the time my freezer space on a boat has been pretty precious.

Whichever way you go you will have to choose one of those three types of stock and the choice will come down to matching the stock with the protein or vegetable that will be the feature of the risotto: we will make a butternut squash risotto with a vegetable stock, a seafood risotto with a fish stock, a beef risotto with a veal stock and a duck risotto with a chicken stock, for example. Otherwise, the flavours just become jumbled. Of course, vegetarians are going to use a vegetable stock for everything.

So once we have our stock, here is what we are going to do to prepare the Risotto.

The grocery list is below the ingredients.

Before getting going on anything, turn the kids on to kitchen hygiene. Get them to wash up before handling food, and every time they have handled raw meat or fish, and get the utensils or plates that have touched those raw products into a designated area or sink or dishwasher for clean up later. They won’t know if you don’t teach them and getting them into good habits first thing is the way to go.

I like to set up two large stock pots. One will be for our finished Risotto and one is for the stock.

  1. get started by peeling and chopping fairly fine the onion, garlic, and the celery
  2. Put your stock into the first stock pot and put on a low- medium heat. We are really just preheating or warming this stock, not trying to boil it. The only purpose this stock pot is for is heating the vegetable, beef or fish stock so if any of my explanation is not clear – everything else is being added to the other pot
  3. Preheat the second large stock pot (or if don’t have two you could use a saute pan or fry pan) to medium-low heat
  4. add the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to this second pot and about 15 ml of the butter
  5. add the finely chopped shallots or onion, the celery and garlic and sauté in the second pot, for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s better to do them at a lower temperature but have some control of the exercise, especially when working with kids or teenagers.
  6. get the rice into the second pot and saute for two to four minutes. Make sure you stir the rice at this point
  7. this is where I would typically add a glass (cup) or two of white wine, and once it’s largely absorbed or evaporated off you can move to the next step.
  8. So from this point, you have a wonderful task available for your sous-chef (child or teenager). Have them ladle (about a half cup size ladle) one scoop of stock into the rice mixture and stir to help the stock be absorbed by the rice. When it is largely absorbed into the rice give it another ladle full and continue with this process until all the stock has been added. This process is going to take about twenty or thirty minutes or more.
  9. Meanwhile, during this process of adding the stock to the rice mixture, you or your other sous chef can work on the other components that will either be added to the dish or sit on top.   (see comments below)
  10.  when the stock is all added and absorbed the rice should be al dente, just chewy to the bite, you can also decide if you would like to add another half cup of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc for example). It’s not usually done if you added it earlier but if you did not put in earlier it does add to the flavor and sweetness to put some in at this point. If you are poor the way I have been for most of my life I would not put it in earlier as much of it evaporates and putting in half a cup at this point gives a nice flavour.
  11. at this point its time to add our unsalted butter and Reggiano Parmigiano cheese and any of our mixtures we are mixing in. (See comments below)
  12. then plate up with your toppings and serve in heated bowls.

Common additions to put into the risotto are: grape tomatoes cut in half, asparagus cut at two cm (three-quarters of an inch)  lengths, mushrooms sliced or ripped and sauteed, chicken or pork cut into bite size pieces and grilled.

Common toppings are: Sauteed portobello mushroom slices, grilled jumbo shrimp or prawns, sautéed or grilled scallops, boiled or steamed lobster tails, boneless skinless chicken breasts or duck grilled and sliced on top.

Sometimes when we would go shopping together Isa and Tess would really get into it and be looking for different flavours and textures and when their older siblings would go shopping for us the envelope would really get pushed (anchovies and capers, sundried tomatoes and spicy meatballs, grilled squid with strips of grilled fennel) but it was a great way to include the older ones who had little interest in cooking but extensive interest in eating. I was successful at getting Luna to plant a potted herb garden on the back deck of the boat with Italian parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary and one or more of these would regularly find their way into the food we would make. Lars ended up quite pleased with himself when we made pesto near the end of the season with the fruits of our basil plant that was looking more like a small tree!

A Note on Salt: traditional risotto recipes will have salt added through this process and will use salted butter. Today the appetite for salt is considerably reduced from the past and as there is already salt in the cheese most of the time I will wait until the end to see if we are going to add any salt to the dish. It’s easy to put it in later and impossible to take it out!

If you are going to add pepper you would usually use a white pepper.

GROCERY LIST (for risotto as a main course for six)

  • 1 liter organic stock, such as chicken, fish, vegetable – or make your own – see below
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Five or six shoots of celery (about half a stock)
  • 100 g Parmesan cheese (3.5 oz) – when grated it turns into about half a cup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • unsalted butter
  • 400 g risotto rice (14 oz)
  • dry white wine or vermouth (optional)

THE CHEATS

As we go forward with more recipes you will learn that I love to share “cheats” or tips that largely come from commercial applications of food prep or just from my experience working in small spaces with future meals in mind.

Some of these relate to logistics and planning. In a commercial context, a chef or a cook is always thinking of the second or third day of the components of a meal.   A roast chicken or turkey the first day becomes chicken sandwiches or chicken soup the second day and also becomes the basis for our chicken stock. So whenever you are having a chicken, turkey or fish build in the leftovers and time to prepare your stock.

Another great cheat with making risotto is to have more ingredients on hand and to do some arancini balls that you can freeze for a future meal. At a future post, I will go through a recipe for Arancini balls.

 

MAKING BEEF, VEGETABLE AND FISH STOCK

The core of a good soup, sauce or risotto is a good stock, whether beef, vegetable or fish.

Always rinse chicken and fish bones in cold water to wash off blood and reduce impurities in your stock. It is important to use fresh bones.

A stock or broth is a semi-clear, thin liquid flavoured by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, fish and their bones, and from vegetables and seasonings.

 

Beef Bones-There are two different types of stocks for beef.  A white stock can be made from beef or veal bones. Cooking the bones without browning them first will make a white stock. Browning the bones in the oven on the stove top before cooling them will make a brown stock.

 

Chicken and Fish – Remember to wash chicken or fish really well in cold water before beginning.

 

 

Mirepoix– Aromatic vegetables are the second most important ingredient in flavouring a stock. The basic flavouring for mirepoix is carrots, celery, and onions. Other ingredients that can be added to a mirepoix are vegetables such as mushrooms and tomatoes. Tomato products provide both flavour and acid to a stock. It can also provide some colour that might be undesirable in some stocks. When making a white veal stock, we would not add a tomato product.

 

You can adjust the combination of vegetables in a mirepoix to get a desired flavour or colour for your stock. For example, increase the amount of carrots and your stock will become darker. Increase the amount of onions and celery and the stock will be lighter.

Note: Your vegetable stock will take on the flavours of the vegetables used so choose the ratio of vegetables wisely so your vegetable stocks flavour will complement the dish.

The size of the vegetables is also an important factor when cooking a stock. A beef or veal stock need to be cooked for several hours and the longer it is cooked the darker the stock.

  • Chicken stock need only be cooked for one hour or so to extract all the marrow and nutrients from the bones. A fish stock can be made in 30-45 minutes.
  • Vegetable stock can be made in 15-30 minutes. It is important to note that vegetable stocks were not part of classical French cuisine. The increase in demand for vegetable stocks has arisen from the increase in vegetarians. Making a good and consistent vegetable stock comes from practice.

 

Scraps-meat scraps can be added to a stock to provide additional flavour provided the scrapes are low in fat, clean, wholesome and appropriate for the stock being made. For instance, you should only use beef or veal scrapes when making a beef or veal stock. When making a vegetable stock, caution should be used in the amounts of strongly flavoured vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. These vegetables each have a strong flavour and will overpower the stock if too much is used.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash will make a stock cloudy.

 

Seasoning and Spices-Salt is usually not added when making a stock, however, using a slight amount will help to extract marrow and flavouring from the bones. Herbs and spices should be used only slightly. You can either put the herbs and spices in the mix and then get them out with a fine strainer but if you like your stock to be a bit more dense and you are using a more course strainer you should put the collection of seasonings and spices in sachet or cheesecloth bag tied up so that it infuses the stock but can then be easily pulled out later. It is also a way that you can see how the flavor is evolving as you are preparing your stock and pull the little sachet or cheesecloth bag out part way through the process. Common herbs and spices used when making a stock are, black peppercorns, thyme, basil, parsley stems, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, apples, star anise, and cinnamon.  The combination and amount of seasoning is based on the type and amount of stock being prepared.

 

RECIPES

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brown bones (do not burn) in a roasting pan. When brown, add tomato paste to bones and mirepoix to roasting pan. Continue to roast for an additional 10 minutes. Add bones and browned mirepoix to large stock pot. Cover bones with cold water. Add all the other ingredients to the stock pot and bring to a boil. Deglaze the roasting pan with red wine and add to stockpot. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for three to four hours. The longer you cook the stock, the darker it will become. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock will keep for up to three or four days.  If you have freezer space it is great to freeze some for future use.

Brown Stock-Beef Stock

5-6 kg (10-12 lbs)  Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water

Mirepoix:

500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Note: After the stock has been strained add cold water over the bones again and cook for an hour. This mixture is called a remoulage or remi. It is a weak brown stock but is excellent as a starter for your next brown stock.

 

White Stock-Chicken or Veal

5-6 kg  (10-12 lbs) Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water

Mirepoix:

500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Rinse chicken bones in cold water. Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for one hour to one and a half hours. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. or 500 g Onion chopped medium dice

8 oz. or 250 g Carrots chopped medium dice

8 oz or 250 g Celery chopped medium dice

1 Tomato roughly chopped in ¼’s

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. Strain stock. Keep in the fridge for 3- 4 days or freeze.

 

Note: For a mushroom risotto stock add mushroom stems to the stock for flavour.