Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Inspiration: A whole chicken

I love the farmer's markets around Edmonton. They are happy places for me, where, like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, I wander through the booths, picking up well-loved classics (giant bouquets of kale) and anything new (hello, tiny baby corn). This time of year, the markets are bursting with abundance and we spend the large majority of our grocery bill there.

I recently read an article about chicken processing (terrifying) and the lives of poor chickens who end up naked and wrapped in plastic in the supermarket. My new commitment, therefore, is to exclusively by chicken from local farmers who treat the birds in a humane way. It's been tough, because chicken, especially those plastic-wrapped pieces, are considerably more expensive at the farmer's market. My solution - buy whole chickens!

Did you know...that the first evidence of domesticated fowl comes from India? Some evidence suggests that the chicken was first bred to be a fighting animal, not a food animal. In Egypt, fowl appear as early as the 18th dynasty...I wonder if there are any hieroglyphic panels depicting chickens? I do know they appear on Corinthian and Greek pottery, as well as, perhaps, in said pottery. Let's just say, the Gallus gallus domesticus has been around for a good long time.

File:Persian Cock.jpg
The Persian version of the chicken 

The question then becomes...what to do with my whole gallus' (galli)? Roasting is classic and delicious method, but it's summer (for a little longer, at least), and the searing heat of the oven escapes its metal confines and turns our 7th floor apartment into a sweltering hot cauldron if left on for long periods of time. I have therefore been exploring methods to cook a whole chicken on the best of summer cooking appliance: ye olde BBQ.

Enter Beer Can Chicken (or, as my sweetie so elegantly calls it, sodomy chicken). Beer can chicken is a simple concept with delicious results - you take a can of liquid, usually beer, and insert it in the cavity of the chicken. You then place the can-stuffed chicken onto indirect heat of the BBQ and let cook for 45 min to an hour, rotating occasionally.

I used a bottle of some kind of beer I found in the back of the fridge, since the type doesn't really matter - in fact, the liquid doesn't matter. I wouldn't use water, but you could use almost anything else (lemonade, gingerale, tea, juice). I also used a combo of my favourite spices as a dry rub for the chicken. It also helps to have this handy device, shown above, with a drip tray, but it is not necessary. I will warn you, however, that buying this device may lead to your fiance calling out from the kitchen "honey, where should I put the sodomy device?" Not something one ever wants to hear from the kitchen, methinks.

The result of the liquid inside, the dry rub, and the searing heat outside, is one tender, juicy chicken. I served mine with homemade yam fries and the aforementioned fresh baby corn, lightly fried with peas. Bring on the galli!!

Beer Can Chicken a la Kisha

1 3-4 lb chicken, excess fat trimmed (farmer's market chickens do taste better)
3 Tbsp dry rub (mine is cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and sea salt)
1 can light beer, minus a good solid swig

Turn on half of your bbq to high heat. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry. Sprinkle dry rub liberally inside and out and give the outside a good rub to spread the spices around. Open the can of beer and take a good swig so there is about an inch of room at the top. If using a device, place can in the center and put the chicken on the metal rack. If not using a device, place the can on a tray and gently pull the chicken over the can, so the legs are resting on the tray. The tray is strictly to make the travel to the BBQ easier and can be discarded for cooking. Transfer the chicken to the part of the BBQ that is not turned on, so you can cook the chicken over indirect heat. Reduce the heat on the burners to medium-high. Cook until the temperature of the breast is 180 degrees (45 min to 1 hour), turning at least once during the process. Remove from heat and let stand, can intact, for ten minutes. Remove the can, carve, and serve!

Try gingerale as a liquid and five spice powder as a rub, or lemonade with tuscan herbs (oregano, thyme, red chili flake) as a rub.

Also, you can use this method in the oven. Remove the top rack and place the chicken on the bottom rack on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 1 hour or until the juices run clear and the internal temperature of the breast meat reaches 180 degrees.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Inspiration: Fennel

As spring slowly threatens the grip of winter in the North, I begin to crave fresh produce after a long season of beets, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes. New growth is only just beginning here, so I must look elsewhere to satisfy my desire for a flavour to inspire my palate as I await the first tastes of spring. My preseason inspiration is a bulb that is more associated with autumn, where its sharp anise flavour is tempered by the heat of the oven, creating sweet roasted silkiness. But fennel, in its raw form, is the perfect foil for a tired palate. Texturally, it is crisp even when sliced thin (which, FYI, is the key to enjoying raw fennel), and the flavour is strong but sweet and lively.

Delicious Fennel!

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)has a long literary history, appearing in early myths about Prometheus, and apparently the Bacchanalian wands of Dionysus were from the giant fennel - make of that what you will, giant fennel wands and all. Fennel is probably most common in Mediterranean cooking, although the flavour also shows up in cuisines in India, the Middle East, and China, primarily in seed form. The seed is excellent for digestion and is used in India to cleanse the palate after a meal.

The inspiration for this fennel apple salad was a need for something crisp and fresh. I combined the anise-y sweetness of fennel with tart apples (Granny Smith, in this iteration), a nutty crunch of almonds (walnuts work brilliantly also), the sweetness of bright red bell pepper, and the sharpness of apple cider-mustard dressing. Toss with some farmer's market mixed greens (arugula is another good choice) and you have a light, bright, delicious salad.

Farmer's market lettuce, organic apple, almonds.

First, select a bulb of fennel that is white, with no brown spots, and crisp-looking. Be wary of any part that looks dried out - this likely indicates it is old and won't be as flavourful. If it does have fronds on top, you can use the herby parts in the salad. To prepare the fennel, cut off the green tops and split the bulb into quarters. If if it is a large bulb (fits into two hands, not one), only  use half for this salad. Take out the core at the base of the bulb and slice as thinly as you can, using a sharp knife. If you have a mandolin (the kitchen tool, not the musical instrument) and are not terrified of slicing off the tips of your fingers with it (like I am), it is probably the ideal tool for this job. 

Cut the apple in half and one half into quarters. Eat or store the other half as you like. Take out the core of the apple and slice the apple width-wise into thin pieces.

Take half a red pepper, remove the seeds, and cut into two pieces lengthwise. Slice thinly width-wise so the pepper mimics the apple. When you are done, the fennel, apple, and red pepper should look similar in shape and thinness. 

For the dressing, add equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar into a glass jar with a tight lid or into a Magic Bullet (my absolute favourite kitchen appliance - and no, they aren't paying me to say that!!). To the bullet, add honey, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. You can fiddle with the amounts but I have general guidelines below. A good addition to the dressing would be dill (dried or fresh) and parsley. Shake or blend and use a piece of the lettuce to taste. I like my dressing heavy on the tang of vinegar, but not everyone shares my taste.

The magic of the Bullet

Add the lettuce, fennel, apple, and nuts to a large bowl, drizzle the dressing over the mix, and toss thoroughly. Plate and serve with crusty bread and your favourite fish dish. And voila, a happy palate!

The final result - I got fancy with the apple. Thanks to  my fiance Casey for the photos :)

1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 granny smith apple, preferably organic
1/2 red pepper
3 tbsp almonds or walnuts
4-5 cups organic greens

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unrefined apple cider vinegar
1 tsp mustard (I used grainy - you can use any but neon kind you put on hotdogs)
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste
optional: dill or parsley (fresh or dried)

Quarter fennel and apple, remove cores, and slice as thinly as possible, width-wise. Cut the half of the pepper into two pieces lengthwise and also slice width-wise.  Combine vegetables with lettuce and nuts in a large bowl. Place all dressing ingredients in a glass jar with a tight lid or a Magic Bullet/blender and combine. Drizzle dressing over other ingredients and toss thoroughly to combine.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Inspiration: Pumpkin

To begin, let me get this out of the way. I am not a baker - I can make delicious baked goods, but I get frustrated by the process. Don't even ask me to make pastry - it remains the bane of my culinary existence. It is finicky, occasionally fussy, and when it comes down to it, I am not always excited to eat the results. When given the choice, I'll choose something savoury over something sweet 99 times out of 100. Put a cupcake and a butter croissant in front of me, and invariably I will choose the croissant (unless, perhaps, it is a carrot cupcake). I might be one of the few people in the world who really doesn't care for cake, unless it is filled with carrots or some other moist pulpy substance.

Yummy pumpkin (photo courtesy flickr user solyanka)

Which brings me to this week's inspiration - the sweet, earthy pumpkin. Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo and other varieties) is technically a fruit, as are many other culturally ascribed vegetables (zucchini, other squashes, and cucumber to name a few). It was first domesticated in Mexico approximately 8000-9000 years, with a few seeds found in archaeological contexts from this period. Along with other squashes, pumpkin was an important part of the fall harvest, hence the current emphasis on squash and pumpkin around Thanksgiving. And that's my lecture for this post.

Pureed pumpkin in my favourite flower measuring cups from Pier 1 Imports
Most of us associate pumpkin with what is, in my opinion, one of the best desserts on the entire planet - pumpkin pie - but it transforms many dry baked goods into something utterly sublime. It is wonderful in savoury treatments as well (a future post will include my recipe for an unusual chili that will change your perceptions of pumpkin), but today my focus is pumpkin in sweet treatments. Pumpkin imparts a distinct savoury flavour to a baked good, coupled with the spices that highlight the unique flavours of pumpkin, such as in the pumpkin loaf that is the result of today's pumpkin inspiration.

 I haven't yet discovered a satisfactory way to create a non-dairy pumpkin pie (stay tuned for my attempts at a pumpkin coconut pie), so I have to be satisfied with other applications of squash for now. Loaves are known for their dense texture, making them a perfect vehicle for an ingredient such as pumpkin. The following recipe is a compilation of several recipes and my own dietary restrictions. The recipe, currently low-fat and dairy-free, could easily be made vegan by substituting 1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 2 tbsp water per egg. With the texture of the pumpkin, a gluten-free flour mix could be substituted for the flour to make a gluten-free loaf (I have not tried this, but will do so as soon as my celiac sister comes to visit!).

Here's how to create a healthy, tasty pumpkin loaf:

Use a whisk to mix flour, sugar (I used organic cane sugar), spices except the ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Feel free to play with the spices - I enjoy a very spicy loaf. You can see from the photo (taken by my talented fiance) that I take great delight in using Mason jars to store dry goods.

Whisk together the eggs(or flax eggs if using), oil, maple syrup, applesauce, almond milk, vanilla, and fresh ginger. I used a measuring up as opposed to dirtying another bowl. Stir in the pumpkin.

Using a rubber spatula, mix the ingredients until there is no flour visible, being sure to scrape the bottom. Don't over mix - otherwise the loaf will be tough (and no one likes a tough loaf!). Gently fold in the chocolate chips or nuts (or both!). Pour the batter into a buttered or parchment lined loaf pan and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees, or until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out clean. Be sure to put it on a rack in the middle of the oven so you don't make the mistake I did and have it stick to the top oven burner (oops!).

Leave the loaf in the pan for AT LEAST 20 minutes. Run a knife around the outside, put a plate over the loaf pan, and invert it. If the loaf doesn't slide out easily, leave it a little longer. If it doesn't come out on the second (or third, or fourth), just have at it with a knife. It all tastes the same. Eat warm, cold, plain, with butter, for breakfast, and wherever else you like to enjoy deliciousness

I dare you to eat just one piece...

Here's the full recipe:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated from the whole nut
pinch allspice
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup almond milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2-1 cup chocolate chips, chopped walnuts or pecans, or a combination

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Inspiration: Wild Mushrooms

I love grocery shopping. I am a grocery shopaholic the way some women are shoe shopaholics. I revel in the process of browsing the shelves of various ethnic grocery store aisles, discovering new ingredients and inspirations. A few days ago, I ended up at a large Asian supermarket to stock up on my favourite snack - roasted wasabi seaweed snacks. Wandering around, a sale sign caught my eye (as per usual). On sale this week were beech mushrooms, a type I have seen on cooking shows but never had a chance to cook with myself. They are small, brown, and sold in a clump. Conveniently, they were placed next to two other delicious mushrooms: portabello and oyster. I gathered up three containers of deliciousness and brought them home. My original intention was to make mushroom rosemary tarts for a gathering, but after I was downed by a brutal headache, I was left with a fridge full of mushrooms and only two people to feed.

The insipiration

What, pray tell, is a kitchen goddess to do?

After perusing the other ingredients in the fridge, I caught sight of some chicken thighs. There are two things chicken tights are ideal for: first, grilling. It has been a very mild winter, but I wasn't quite in the mood to fire up the grill, so I turned to the second option: braising. To the internets I went and uncovered a recipe for braised chicken thighs with mushrooms from, BAM!, Mr. Emeril Lagasse. His recipe called for button mushrooms, but with the rosemary garlic flavour profile of the recipe, I thought my three mushrooms would bring good flavour and distinct textures in the stew. Besides, any mushroom recipe is better with anything other than button mushrooms.

As an aside, when researching links for this blog entry, I discovered that the latin name for beech (shimeji) mushrooms is the utterly un-pronouncable Hypsizygus tessellatus. My two years of Latin in undergrad did not prepare me to decipher tricky names of fungal growths. A mycologist would have better luck.

I made the recipe with a few Kisha modifications - one thing you will learn about me is I can't keep to a recipe (a very bad habit in baking) - and it turned out warm, earthy, with just a hint of cayenne heat. Served over brown rice with roasted asparagus on the side, it was a perfect February Sunday dinner. I had leftover gravy and rice, which I will be mixing together for our lunches tomorrow.

Slicing onions for the braising liquid
Browning the chicken - an important step that adds lots of flavour.

The final product

Parsley for the final touches and a hit of freshness

Dinner time!

Chicken Thighs Braised in Earthy Mushroom Gravy

Adapted from: Braised Chicken Thighs with Button Mushrooms (original recipe here),
Ingredients: (Serves 4)
  •  1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 4 chicken thighs (I used bone in, skin on, but would remove the skin next time)
  • 1 tablespoon Essence
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 package beech mushrooms, bottom cut off and stems pulled apart
  • 1 portabello mushroom cap, cubed
  • 8 oz oyster mushrooms, stems sliced and caps roughly torn
  • 1 cup sliced yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste/sauce
  • 2 cups dark chicken stock**
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 4 cups steamed brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Set a Dutch over medium-high heat and add the oil. Season the chicken thighs with the Essence, salt and pepper. Place the chicken, skin side down in the pan and sear until golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and sear on the second side for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the butter and mushrooms. Saute the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and cook, stirring often to make a light brown roux, about 4 to 5 minutes (this gets sticky fast, but don't worry, the stock is coming to pick up all the delicious flavours that stick to the bottom of the pan). Add the tomato paste, stock** and rosemary to the pan, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side down and cook the chicken for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken over and cook until the meat is very tender, about 30 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and taste. I found that I needed to add additional salt with my homemade chicken stock. Serve the chicken over rice.
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

**I make stock from all of my vegetable ends/peels that I accumulate in the freezer (onion ends, carrot peels, celery tops) and the leftover carcass from roast chicken that I also freeze if I don't make it immediately. This time I had some purple carrot peels from farmer's market carrots, so my stock turned purple. It was tasty though! **

If you made it this far, I'd appreciate your feedback This is my first food blog entry and constructive criticism is welcomed. K3F4CWGWRUS2