Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sunchoke Chips

The past few days have been spent packing up boxes, preparing for the 'next step'--whatever that might be--and spending enough time with the people that matter to soak in their presence, before I say goodbye. I have also been exploring Montreal, finally getting to know the city that I have lived in for three years, yet never knew anything about. Between my packed cookware and my time away from home, all of this also means that there is not much to report here. There is one thing, however, that I absolutely must tell you about. Last Thursday, after walking home from my last exam (ever) I came home and did what everyone does when they finish their last exam; I made chips.

Not just any type of chip, but sunchoke chips. I had bought the sunchokes at the on-campus market a few days before and combined with my newly acquired mandoline, I knew that they had to turn into chips. I feel like I have been seeing sunchokes everywhere recently, but after doing a bit of research on them, I only found out that they are a great source of inulin, despite the common name Jerusalem Artichoke they are neither from Jerusalem nor are they related to artichokes and they are actually a tuber produced beneath the ground by a variety of sunflower. I can't seem to figure out which season is best for them, although I did read that they can withstand hardy winters, which makes a whole lot of sense considering I bought these in springtime in Montreal.

Regardless of when they're at they're peak, sunchokes always have a deliciously earthy and subtly sweet flavor. Roasting or pureeing them into soup really showcases these flavors, but once these are fried into chips takes a bit of the nuanced flavor is lost. Not all of it however, and they're unique flavor and texture is something surprisingly addictive and tasty. If I were to make a comparison, these remind me of Terra chips, more toothsome and hearty than a potato chip, but they satisfy the craving just as well. You could serve these with a lemon aioli or other dip of your choice, but I chose to eat them as-is with a sprinkle of salt. I wanted to keep it simple; packing, change and moving on are all complicated, eating chips shouldn't have to be.

Sunchoke Chips

6 large sunchokes (aka. Jerusalem Artichokes, Topinambour)
2 cups frying oil
sea salt, for sprinkling

1) Scrub the Jerusalem artichokes clean. Slice thinly with a mandoline, slightly thinner than 1/8."
2) Meanwhile heat up the oil to 375 degrees, most people use a thermometer, I gauged based on how fast my chips were frying.
3) Add the sliced sunchokes in batches, frying until just golden with a slightly orange hue, 4-5 minutes (this may vary depending on the size of your slices, so keep your eye on them and adjust accordingly).
4) Using a spider take out your chips and place on paper towels to drain. Sprinkle immediately with salt. Continue with the remainders, transferring the drained chips to a bowl as you go.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chocolate Pretzel Pie

There are some food combinations that just make sense, and others that make me wonder about people's mental states. Doritos and peanut butter? No thank you. Orange jello and vanilla pudding? Ditto. I shouldn't be so quick to judge because I enjoy certain things that most people would have the same reaction to: I dip cookies in water, peanut butter and cream cheese do go well together, and although I haven't tried it yet, I wholeheartedly believe that a french fry dipped in a milkshake must be pretty good. I guess everyone has their own tastes and preferences when it comes to bizarre flavor combinations, but some more unusual hybrids always garner cheers and a few "oh my god, I love those." It seems, that chocolate and pretzels actually are meant to be. A modern classic, I wouldn't call this combination weird, so much as unexpected. It is my belief that the success of this pairing just proves that these two are a match made in heaven; crunchy, smooth, sweet and salty, together they offer every possible type of texture and flavor you could want. The combination is ridiculously satisfying and dangerously addictive, it hits the spot no matter what you're craving.
chocolate pretzel pie
This pie takes the chocolate covered pretzel to another level. I usually steer clear of recipes like this one, knowing that the beauty of a food is often in its simplicity. The way I see it, why mess with the chocolate covered pretzel when it is perfect as-is? However, something about this recipe inspired me. Maybe because I had already had it at the restaurant in New York where it was created, so I knew how good it would be. Maybe because I am scared of tempering chocolate so I would never make my own chocolate-covered pretzels. Whatever it was, this pie was good enough to make twice so far, and I have no doubt that a third time is on the way.
chocolate pretzel pie
Despite a pretzel crust and a pretzel layer in the ganache, this pie has a much higher chocolate to pretzel ratio than the classic. Chocolate lovers will love this. I, however, don't love chocolate that much. What I love is the contrast of flavors and textures, so the second time I made this I increased the pretzel layer in the ganache.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fennel Apple Slaw

I think there should be some sort of equation to define how much I miss barbecues; in October, they are recent memory, but the excitement of apples, squash and fall vegetables quickly pushes those thoughts out of my mind. Come April, however, despite the abundance of fava beans, asparagus and artichokes, all I seem to be thinking about are barbecues. Not the southern kind, but the kind you have in your backyard where the smell of smoke imbues your hair and your clothes. Better yet, the type of barbecue that imparts deep smoky flavor and delicious char marks to whatever graces its red-hot grill. My desire for a good barbecue has only increased as the sun has been shining and rooftops have provided an increasingly attractive alternative to the library.
fennel and apple slaw
The idea for this slaw came to me after having a similar one at Liverpool House, a great Montreal restaurant. This slaw doesn't make up for the missing hot dogs or charred steaks, but it's bold enough to remind me that those things are not so far off. With each bite I took, I re-imagined it, piled on top of a burger, as a side salad for grilled salmon, and...oh, the possibilities. Then again, I ate it as-is and could not have been happier. Unfortunately, considering how many people absolutely hate fennel, I am certain that this recipe will be of no interest to many. However, for the sake of experimentation I had my friend taste this slaw and raw fennel. She was beyond disgusted by the raw fennel but loved the slaw, telling me that the licoricey flavor of the fennel doesn't stand out once it is mixed with apples and a lovely dressing.
fennel and apple slaw
I still taste the fresh fennel in this recipe, but then again I love the taste of it and so I seek its poignant flavor in every bite. The sweet tartness of the apples is an ideal counterpart to the crunchy fennel, adding notable sweetness and fruitiness.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red Lentil and Eggplant Curry

This weekend was one of those perfect ones that tears you away from reality and life; where you find yourself plunked on a rooftop in the middle of the city pretending you're in a different world, but knowing that eventually real life and obligations will prevail. But while you're sitting on that rooftop surrounded by friends, laughing (and maybe crying) you let yourself forget about any responsibilities or tasks that may be looming. This isn't pretend, in those glorious hours you actually believe that against all odds, despite what everyone told you, 'real life' is just an accumulation of fabulous moments like these.

Then of course, I looked at my agenda and immediately gave up on any illusions of freedom and fantasy. So, I got to it. However, a true victim of senioritis, instead of working on that paper or studying for that exam, I headed to my kitchen and got to work. Oddly enough, I almost wish that this curry had taken me longer to make, justifying just a wee bit more procrastination. However, for anyone who is taking life a little more seriously right now, rest assured dinner will be ready in 45 minutes. It's also going to taste like take out, feel homemade and hit the spot.

I saw this recipe over at 101 Cookbooks a little while ago and have been dying to make it ever since. So I did, but aside from the red lentils and coconut milk--which, by the way, are a match made in heaven--my recipe is nothing like Heidi's.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Addictions/Moroccan Chicken

Ok, so I am willing to admit that I have a little bit of a problem. Actually, I would rather call it an addiction, it seems more clinical and legitimate that way. I am addicted to buying spices. Now as an avid cook this isn't inherently a bad thing, but considering I don't know what to do with at least half of the spices that are currently decorating my fridge...well, yeah, you get it. You see, what happens is that I go to the store to get a spice or seasoning for a recipe I am making (the sane way to slowly build a collection). Then, while I am there I decide that I absolutely need a few others because I once saw a recipe that called for them and certainly I am going to want to buy them someday anyhow. Needless to say those recipes are nowhere to be found, but the spices still haunt me, calling my name, begging to be used.

My guilt about my addiction was the motivation behind this Moroccan chicken stew. I wanted a dish that made abundant use of my spice collection, but that also promised a deeply satisfying meal. I mean I may be a little nuts sometimes, but I am not going to throw together a whole bunch of spices and call it dinner, right? So after thinking, browsing and brainstorming, I finally decided that a Moroccan 'tagine' would be the perfect solution. This recipe was not made in a tagine and I can't promise you that it is authentically Moroccan in any way. However, I can assure you that the savory mix of cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander and cayenne pepper created a richness and depth of flavor that we just don't find in North American food. Authentic or not, the flavors were authentically fantastic.

This dish is the ideal combination of sweet, savory and spicy. Chicken thighs are left to rest in dry spice mix overnight and then braised until they are so tender that they seem like an entirely separate being than the sawdusty chicken cutlets that so often plague our meals.