Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Not your average grilled cheese - Proscuitto Croque-Monsieur with Fig Jam

My pregnancy is coming along, normal as can be. At six months, my belly is starting to expand, although, sadly, not enough for people to take notice and give me their seat on the bus. Also, it was recently confirmed that we’re having a baby boy! We would have been happy either way, but at least now I know what kind of clothes to knit (although I have to confess a twinge of disappointment that I won’t get to make any of the adorable little dresses I’ve seen – oh well, maybe next time!)

This is supposed to become a kaftan, eventually...

Paprika loves to play with my needles and yarn!

I keep being asked whether I’ve been having any cravings, but I have to say no, not really. Nothing weird, at any rate – none of those strange combinations you keep hearing about. Just the usual hankering for a spoonful of peanut butter mid-afternoon, or a chocolate rush late evening, but that’s normal for me. A few of the food restrictions surrounding pregnancy have been driving me crazy, though. Some days, I would kill for a sunny-side-up egg with a lovely runny yolk. But even partially raw eggs are apparently off-limits. So for another three months, it’s well-cooked scrambled eggs for brunch. Yet another thing that’s dumb about the Twilight saga, in which a pregnant Bella scarfs down sunny-side-ups like they were popcorn. (And yes, I read the Twilight books, because I wanted to see for myself if they were as bad as they were rumoured to be. They were, on a lot of levels. Although I did kind of enjoy bits of the final book, where there was at least an attempt at world-building.)

The most annoying restriction, however, has got to be the one banishing deli meats and charcuterie, for fear of listeria, salmonella, and other lovely bacteria that I’m more than willing to brave on a regular day, but which my baby is not quite equipped to handle just yet. I’ve been a sandwich girl since forever. Lunch, for me, equals a sandwich. Pregnancy has already taken delicious smoked salmon away from me (oh, how I long for a poached egg with a side of lox!), but what am I supposed to do without my proscuitto, saucisson, country ham, mortadella, and pâté? Switch to tuna, you say? Sorry, that’s on the “not recommended” list (because of mercury levels).

I’m actually exaggerating. In reality, deli meats are okay as long as they’re cooked and served still steaming, as this kills the bacteria. So a pepperoni pizza is fine (thank God, because pizza was my go-to food in the beginning). So is a panini, provided it’s heated through. But since cold cuts don’t keep very long in the fridge (again, on a normal day, I wouldn’t think twice about eating week-old ham, but I’m playing it safe these days), and I don’t feel like going to the deli everyday to ask for two slices of proscuitto, I’ve pretty much gotten into the habit of having grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

I don’t fuss much for these sandwiches: I just toss some cheese shavings (good cheese, though – I can treat myself to that much, at least) between two slices of whole wheat bread, heat up the panini grill, and that’s that. Quick, simple, fairly healthy – and safe.

But the other day, when I brunched with friends at the Passé Composé café, where I had never been before, I was reminded of just how delicious and decadent a grilled cheese can be. Because, for the first time in a long time, I was served an honest-to-goodness, proper, true blue croque-monsieur.

In France and Belgium, a traditional croque-monsieur is made with square sandwich bread, ham, and gruyère or emmental cheese. The bread is generously buttered on the outside, then pan-fried until it’s golden brown, and the cheese inside is melted. The most basic version stops there. I’ve often seen the sandwich then topped with more cheese and cooked au gratin. You can also top it with a fried egg (why do eggs keep popping into my writing today?) and call it a croque-madame. And, well, endless variations abound from there on, but that’s the gist of it. From what I understand, grilled cheese can also be made in this manner (minus the ham), but grilled cheese can also come out of a panini machine, or the oven; not so for a croque-monsieur, at least not in my book.

I’ve stopped ordering croque-monsieur in Montreal cafés, because I’m never sure what I’m going to get. I’ve gotten paninis. I’ve been served giant stuffed baguette melts. I’ve been presented with sad, open-faced English muffins topped with dry ham and barely melted cheese. The general consensus seems to be that, if it has ham and cheese in it, you can call it a croque-monsieur and thereby hope to appeal to French tourists looking for familiar comfort food. I’m not French, nor am I a tourist. So I stopped. If I want a baguette melt, I’ll ask for it, damn it.

But at Passé Composé, the sandwiches were the real deal. They were called grilled cheese, and they had non-traditional ingredients, like portobello mushrooms and goat cheese, but they were undeniably prepared as croque-monsieurs. And boy, were they good. So good that I dragged Laurent in to try them the week after, and then tried to recreate one of them at home. For dinner, because this is definitely worthy of dinner.

I feel rather silly giving a recipe for a sandwich. Just goes to show how much I love this one. For the cheese, I used Chèvre Noir, a two-year-old goat cheddar cheese that has impressive flavour for such a relatively young cheese, and a current favourite of mine. And I confess, I used bottled balsamic glaze. Balsamic reduction is like jam and preserves for me: I know how to do them, I just don’t have the patience.

Proscuitto Croque-Monsieur with Fig Jam

Serves one

2 slices good quality bread, preferably a day old (walnut bread works great here)
2 tbsp fig jam
2 slices proscuitto
Sharp cheddar cheese, sliced or shaved (amount depends on the surface of your bread)
1 tsp balsamic glaze
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Spread the fig jam on both slices of bread. Garnish one slices of bread with half the cheese and the proscuitto, drizzle on the balsamic glaze, garnish with the remaining cheese, and top with the second slice of bread.

Heat a skillet over just-above-medium heat. Generously brush both sides of your sandwich with butter. Fry in skillet, turning over once, until cheese is melted and both sides are golden-to-dark brown (about 4 minutes per side). Serve immediately with an arugula salad on the side.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Don't look, taste! - Fesenjoon

Why is it that so often, the dishes I love are the least photogenic? Maybe it’s because I never have been very good at presentation, so I instinctively have more affinity with stew than with molecular cuisine, with crumbles than with triple-layer cakes. Still, don’t be fooled by today’s dish’s dowdy appearance. It may look brown and wintery, but it’s actually lighter than it looks, and popping with vibrant flavours.

Fesenjoon, or fesenjan, is a traditional Persian khoresht. As explained in New Persian Cooking, “the nearest equivalent [of a khoresht] would be a casserole, a rich dish with plenty of sauce.” Until recently, I knew next to nothing about Persian food. But then I started taking an art class which happened to be taught and mostly attended by Persians. We talked about doing a potluck, and unfortunately never did, but hearing them talk about their native cuisine piqued my interest. From what I gathered, there seemed to be a lot of spices and deep flavours.

Fesenjoon is traditionally made with duck, but I’ve only ever had it with chicken. The meat is simmered with a mixture of ground walnuts and pomegranate paste/juice/syrup. It’s unclear from the main recipe I used how the chicken should be cut. Another recipe I came across called for cubed chicken. At the Persian restaurant Yas, where we celebrated fellow blogger Evelyne’s birthday a few weeks back, I ordered this same dish, and the meat was indeed cubed. But because I like to cook things on the bone when possible, I opted to cut the whole chicken into ten pieces, and reserved the wings for future use.

Fesenjoon’s appeal clearly lies in the unique combination of walnuts and pomegranate. One recipe called for pomegranate syrup, another for pomegranate paste. Unsure where to find either, I used POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, and compensated for the amounts of sugar and liquid. The first time I made fesenjoon, I thought the flavours were a bit muted, but having never eaten this dish, it was hard to judge. Trying it in a restaurant helped a lot, and my second attempt was much more successful, in my opinion. Adding lemon juice seemed like it would be overkill, given that pomegranate is quite tart in itself, but it actually brought the dish together. Served with chelo, plain Persian rice, it’s a meal that is rich, but not too heavy. 

Adapted from Jila Dana-Haeri and Sharzad Ghorashian’s New Persian Cooking

Serves 6

3 tbsp canola oil
One whole chicken, skin removed, cut into 10 pieces
2 medium onions, diced
One 473 ml (16 oz) bottle  POM wonderful 100% pomegranate juice
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
Juice of one lemon

250g (9 oz) shelled walnuts
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a food processor, grind the walnuts finely. Reserve.

Heat oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken pieces on all sides, then remove from pan. Add onions to the pan, and cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally.

Deglaze with pomegranate juice. Stir in sugar, salt, lemon juice, and ground walnuts. Return chicken to pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover pan and simmer for 40-50 minutes, until chicken is tender and beginning to fall off the bone.

Remove chicken from pan and raise heat back to medium-high. Reduce sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens and turns chocolate brown. Return chicken to pan, coat in sauce, and heat through. Pepper to taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve with chelo (Persian buttery white rice).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Kitchen Confidential - Vichyssoise

Well, now… Just when I thought I was feeling better, pregnancy nausea returned to strike with a vengeance the other day. I was perfectly fine, I’d had breakfast and everything, when BAM – my stomach lurched, and I had to lie down for 30 minutes before it felt safe to move again. During those really bad bouts, the only thing that really helps me is Petit Écolier cookies, those buttery French cookies with a slab of dark chocolate superposed on top. I’ve tried substituting them with fruit, cereal bars, sweet yogurt – nothing else does the trick. Pity they don’t travel well, or I’d take them with me everywhere. As things stand, they have a permanent spot on my countertop. I’m beginning to think there’s more to my love of chocolate than simple gustative pleasure: it’s like I’m wired to turn to it in times of distress, both physical and psychological. Wait, that sounds unhealthy… Oh well, frankly, I don’t care, especially not these days!

Anyways, let’s get back to books, shall we? I read today’s book quite a long time ago. Actually, I devoured it in under two days, if I recall. It’s a classic of its kind, a book I remember my mother reading when it came out (although I can’t be certain she actually liked it – in fact, with all the swear words, I’m pretty sure she didn’t). Its author is one of the most outspoken personalities in the food world, and apparently a fan of our fair city of Montreal (the episode of The Layover he filmed in Montreal last summer coincidentally airs tonight on the Travel+Escape channel  or you can do what everyone else in town did months ago and see it online. I’m talking, of course, about Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.

The book chronicles Bourdain’s discovery of the pleasures of food, his entry into the professional culinary world, and the inner workings and dirty little secrets of the restaurant industry. Through anecdotes, revelations, and advice (both for the home cook and the wannabe pro), he paints a picture which I would sum up in one expression: larger-than-life. From a chef who has sex with a customer (a new bride, no less!) behind his restaurant to “Adam the psychotic bread baker” whose magic dough makes chefs overlook his frightening behaviour, Kitchen Confidential is full of outrageous characters and situations, giving an almost circus-like atmosphere to the whole restaurant universe. Add to that Bourdain’s own, shall we say, strong personality, and you’ve got one hell of a ride. Say what you will, it’s an entertaining read on just about every level.

As I mentioned briefly in a previous book post, Bourdain’s bravado sometimes comes dangerously close to being a turn-off. His credo, he makes clear from the start, is to call it the way he sees it, others’ opinions be damned. Most of the time, it pays off, especially when he balances it out with self-deprecation. But sometimes, it almost comes off as posing, or worse, as self-importance and accompanying disdain for others, for the very people whom he believes look down on him:

My naked contempt for vegetarians, sauce-on-the-siders, the ‘lactose intolerant’ and the cooking of the Ewok-like Emeril Lagasse is not going to get me my own show on the Food Network. I don’t think I’ll be going on ski weekends with André Soltner anytime soon or getting a back rub from that hunky Bobby Flay. Eric Ripert won’t be calling me for ideas on tomorrow’s fish special. But I’m simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I’ve seen it.

As I’ve said before, there are ways of telling it like it is without drawing attention to the fact that you’re telling it like it is, and this isn’t one of them. It’s rather evocative that Bourdain began his love affair with food through sheer spite and provocation: when, on a family trip to France, his parents, tired of hearing him whine about the weird food and order steak haché with ketchup in the land of haute cuisine, left him in the car while they enjoy a luxury meal, he decided to become an even more daring foodie than they are, just to “show them.” Then again, he’s not the only one to have made a life-altering decision out of temporary spite. It’s no worse than having it happen by accident, or through emulation. Any catalyst for what turns out to be true passion is okay by me.

Overall, though, Bourdain still comes off as genuine most of the time, and some of his grouchy rants had me laughing out loud, even when he was being overly harsh – especially when he was being overly harsh, in fact. He is at his best when his political incorrectness is delivered in stride, with neither apologies nor exaggerated “look at me” stylistic acrobatics.

No, scratch that. Bourdain is at his true best when he lets his love of food shine through – and there is absolutely no doubt that this love is real and strong. For all his irascibility and apparent self-destructive tendencies (I caught him on The Colbert Report a while after having read the book and was surprised by how healthy he looked, given his description of his lifestyle – perhaps he’s made some changes in the past decade), the man also clearly loves life, and he devours it every chance he gets – sometimes to great excess, as he unreservedly admits. And his exhilaration is contagious. Ultimately, isn’t that one of the things we look for in a chef memoir or any chef’s book: a renewal of our appetite not just for food, but for life?

There’s description of a lot of different kinds of food in Kitchen Confidential, and not all of it is good – the food, not the description. The infamous, oft-quoted chapter where Bourdain explains how food is managed and recycled in restaurants might make you a little queasy, not to mention afraid (as if my pregnant self didn’t have enough to worry about regarding food safety). Overall, though, most of the food passages are about the experience of enjoying food, rather than the food itself: see for example Bourdain’s epic supper in a Tokyo sushi bar. There is decadence in every line, but the focus is more on the ecstasy of the experience, rather than the texture and flavour or the fish.

The same focus is evident in the opening description of the soup that started it all: a vichyssoise. “I remember everything about the experience: the way our waiter ladled it from a silver tureen into my bowl, the crunch of tiny chopped chives he spooned on as garnish, the rich, creamy taste of leek and potato, the pleasurable shock, the surprise that it was cold.

For a long time, the only cold soup I was even aware of was the gazpacho – and if I recall, I had my first taste in Barcelona, and it was indeed a mini-revelation. Then I discovered cold squash soup. Vichyssoise came later. I personally find it a bit heavy for regular fare, but it’s worth making it with real cream, as the richness is part of the experience. And yes, the crunchy chive garnish is an absolute must.

This is a very bare-bones recipe. I’ve seen versions with celery and parsley, but I like to keep the flavours clean in this soup – of course, it helps that I love leeks.

Adapted from Rosario Buonassisi’s Les soupes du monde entier
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp butter
1 onion, sliced
4 leeks, white part only, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise
2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock
250 to 375 ml (1 to 1 1/2 cup) heavy cream, cold
Chopped fresh chives, for garnish
Salt and pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and the leeks, season with salt, and sweat until soft, stirring often and making sure not to brown the vegetables. Add the potatoes and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, until everything is tender. Adjust seasoning and let cool to room temperature.

Purée with a mixer or in a blender until perfectly smooth, and transfer to a tureen or large bowl. Stir in the cold cream, adding the amount necessary to obtain the texture you seek. Adjust seasoning again. Chill in the refrigerator until very cold, at least two hours. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with chives, and serve immediately.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You know what they say about bunnies, right?

Ok guys, I think it’s time for me to come clean about why it’s been so quiet around here. I mentioned that I haven’t been very interested in food, that I was working on something big… Pretty vague explanations, I know, but the truth is, I’ve been rather afraid to post about it. I worry something might go wrong, and then I’d have to deal with the “public” fallout on top of having to handle my own grief. But on the other hand, it’s such great news that not a day has gone by that I haven’t wanted to shout it from the rooftops. So today, I’m indulging and sharing.

I’m pregnant!

We found out in February. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was still a shock (if that makes any sense), and it took me a while to really believe it. Every time I took a blood test, I breathed a sigh of relief when it confirmed my pregnancy. There was no reason behind this, as I thankfully have no bad medical history, it’s just that it felt so unreal. When we caught our first glimpse of the baby (the Squid, as I’ve been calling him) at 10 weeks, I could hardly wrap my brain around the fact that this little creature was really in there, kicking around. Even now, at four months, I sometimes still wonder if this is really happening.

Which is silly, really, because I’ve been having all the symptoms. Extreme fatigue was the first: I literally slept 10 hours a day whenever I could. Then came the dreaded “morning sickness,” which in my case manifested itself in the form of continuous nausea and food aversions. For someone who loves to cook and eat, you can imagine how unpleasant that was. I quickly relinquished the kitchen to Laurent, as the smell of food cooking, particularly onions and garlic, had become intolerable to me. The first few days, he made me whatever he felt like, but then it became apparent that I was no longer able to eat normally: I picked at my plate, forcing myself to swallow enough to keep myself alive and the really bad nausea at bay (which would strike whenever my stomach was empty), but not enjoying my meal in the least. So Laurent switched strategies and began calling me every day before leaving work, to ask me what I wanted to eat – or rather, what I felt I would be able to tolerate.

Which turned out to be pretty sad stuff. I think it’s fair to say that I’m a decently adventurous eater on a regular day: I’ll try most things at least once, I have no qualms about eating offal or “exotic” meats, and I love experimenting with hot and spicy dishes. But now, I was requesting the blandest food available, preferably carbs: mashed potatoes, white rice, plain pizza… Red meat was too fibrous, fish was too flaky, cooked vegetables were too mushy and raw ones too vegetabley. White meat was ok, especially if it was fried and served with ketchup. Fortunately, I could still keep down dairy products, and practically lived on them for weeks. That and fruit, and cookies. It wasn’t about cravings, it was about figuring out the one thing that didn’t make me wrinkle my nose in disgust at that particular moment.

This explains my continued absence from all your lovely blogs, these past few weeks. As delicious as I know they are, reading about food was simply not how I wanted to spend my time – not when I was in a state where the peak of gastronomy, in my mind, was a can of fruit salad.

And, of course, once my appetite did start to return, there were all the other restrictions to take into account. When I was younger, I used to think the only restrictions for pregnant women were no cigarettes and no alcohol. And indeed, that was pretty much the case for our mothers – and I know for a fact the European ones weren’t all that strict about the no alcohol part. Not so today. I eventually got to a place where I felt like I could have handled eating sushi, with its clean, pure flavours (especially after seeing the wonderful documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi), but raw fish and meat are now a big no-no, along with their smoked counterparts (so no more smoked salmon or proscuitto crudo, unless they’re cooked). And I see no point in eating well-done red meat (I like my steaks blue and my lamb bloody), so that’s basically off the menu, unless it’s ground. Certain fish such as tuna and mackerel are also forbidden, as are deli meats and pâtés, which means I can’t even make myself a normal sandwich. No more soft-boiled or sunny-side-up eggs, either. Oh, and no chocolate mousse, or tiramisu, or homemade ice cream, or anything that contains raw eggs. It adds up, doesn’t it?

Given that I’ve always had a very devil-may-care attitude about general food safety, and that I’m lucky enough not to have any food allergies, it bugs me to have to be “that girl” in restaurants for a few months. The one who asks questions like “Is your grilled cheese made with pasteurized cheddar?”, “Is that cheesecake baked?”, “Do you put the duck jambon on the pizza before or after you put it in the oven?”, and “Can I have the sticky toffee pudding without the ice cream?”. I can’t wait to start showing, so that people will know that I’m not picky or paranoid, I’m just pregnant.

Laurent tells me I’m being overly cautious, that I’m just going to end up miserable and malnourished, which can’t be good for the baby. Maybe so, but just try eating something after you’ve read that there’s a slight chance it might permanently hurt your baby. Those Norwegian eggs Benedict will turn sour in your mouth. You can’t unlearn that information. Which means I probably should’ve stayed away from the Internet in the first place…

But finally, last week, I started really feeling better. First, I had a new spring in my step, an urge to actually do something other than lie on the couch and knit baby clothes. Then, I started cooking again. Simple things, at first. And when I went to bed one night thinking about the elaborate goat curry I wanted to make the next day, I knew I was back to normal. With my appetite back, it’s not so bad working around the restrictions and thinking of meal ideas.

So, there you have it. There are a lot of changes in the future, and I look forward to them all. And I’m happy to be able to post about it here as of now!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Daring Bakers' March Challenge - Dutch Crunch Bread

Sara and Erica of Baking JDs were our March 2012 Daring Baker hostesses! Sara & Erica challenged us to make Dutch Crunch bread, a delicious sandwich bread with a unique, crunchy topping. Sara and Erica also challenged us to create a one of a kind sandwich with our bread!

If I had to name types of food that I absolutely could not do without (we’re talking on an ordinary, day-to-day, basic-nutritional-needs-taken-care-of basis, not a desert island scenario), I would have to go for chocolate and bread, with cheese close behind (if I had to survive on a desert island, I’d probably go for black beans, or some other kind of legume). Chocolate is just essential to my well-being – and, according to this New York Times article, it might actually not be as bad for the waistline as you may think, quite the opposite in fact! And I tend to rely on homemade sandwiches for lunch, which makes bread an absolute necessity. Even at the peak of the Atkins craze, I knew I would never be able to go without bread.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I was pretty much raised on what my family calls “American bread”: you know, the white, milky, somewhat sweet, super soft, practically crustless slices that melt in your mouth and barely require chewing. When I visited my Belgian grandmother during the summer, she always had rather heartier bread at the table, and had to literally force me to eat the crust. She would cut it into bite-sized pieces and put jam on every piece, to make it go down easier, but it still felt like I was chewing jam-laden cardboard. I’m pretty sure the bread itself was actually perfectly good: I just wasn’t used to it.

Well, since then, I’ve diversified my tastes in bread. My ideal bread is probably something with a super crisp crust and a cool, white crumb (I’m totally picturing Chad Robertson’s bread right now), but I’ve also learned to appreciate chewier bread such as fougasse, along with hearty whole wheat and fragrant sourdough. But, while I’ve definitely weaned myself off “American bread,” part of me still salivates in front of a pillowy, milk-based roll.

So this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge was kind of a revelation for me. I had never, not once, heard of Dutch crunch bread, also known as tiger bread. It’s apparently a staple of the San Francisco Bay area. The concept reminded me of Japanese melon bread (melonpan): the bread is baked covered with a layer of something else. In the case of melonpan, it’s cookie dough; with tiger bread, it’s rice flour paste.

I made the regular, white flour based bread. The process was no more difficult than making any other bread, and I was satisfied with the final look of my tiger bread: the top layer was nice and crackled, as it should be. Apparently, Paprika the cat also approved.

But as I sat munching on my chicken salad sandwich (made with leftover shredded chicken, diced celery, mayonnaise, and celery salt – not the most photogenic mixture, but so good!), I was struck with the perfect contrast of textures: the soft dough and crunchy topping made for an absolute delight. The crust was crispy and crackly, something even my child self would have loved. It would’ve made a great transition bread.

A small tip: after a day of storage in a paper bag, the topping had lost some of its crisp. But a few minutes in a low-heat oven brought the crunch right back.

My thanks to Sara and Erica for this cool challenge! Please take a look at the challenge recipes if you’re interested in discovering the charms of Dutch crunch bread for yourselves, and take a look at the Daring Bakers’ blog roll while you’re there!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daring Cooks' March Challenge - Braises

The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.

I have a confession to make: food is not on my mind these days. At all. I’m working on something kind of big and very time consuming right now, and I just have little energy for the kitchen. I’ll get back to it eventually, hopefully sooner than later, but for now I need to prioritize.

Having said that… you don’t stay in grad school for years and years without having an enduring, compulsory urge to do your homework. You may do it sloppily at times, you may hand it in late – but your inner neurosis compels you to do it, no matter what. At least, that’s how it is for me. And the Daring Kitchen challenges are kind of like homework to me: fun homework, most of the time, but still something I feel I have to do. On the rare times I’ve missed a challenge altogether, I’ve felt awful. And so, I squeezed this one in.

It helped that this month’s challenge was particularly delicious. I’m a long-time fan of the braising technique. Take an oft-maligned cut of meat, simmer it for hours, and end up with something tender, flavourful, and irresistibly comforting: that’s braising. Our hostess gave us many recipes, each more alluring than the next, but I knew right away which one I wanted to try: pork belly with caramel miso sauce.

There’s something about miso that enriches every recipe you can integrate it in. We love it around here: in soups, in salad dressing, in sauces… But I had never tried pairing it with caramel, and was very intrigued by what the result would be. And pork belly is just amazing. It’s a very trendy cut of meat in restaurant these days, but still relatively difficult to find fresh, outside of Asian supermarkets (other stores tend to carry a salt-preserved version, which doesn’t work with many recipes). Usually, I slow-roast it with dry heat, slice it, and use it in ramen, or sandwiches. But I had no doubt it would lend itself well to braising. I also learned that adding acids to the braising liquid, such as citrus or vinegar, helps break down the tough meat fibres and make the meat more tender.

Everything went well, except when the time came to cut the pork belly into large cubes and pan-fry them before coating them in sauce. This should have solved one of the only problems with braises and stews: they are not typically photogenic. Often, you end up with a shapeless blob, covered in sauce. Here, I should have ended up with pretty, golden little cubes, artfully arranged upon my plate – if only I had used a better pan. My old non-stick pan is getting on in years, and it stuck, which kind of ruined the presentation.

But no matter: it tasted great. The sweet-and-salty combination of miso and caramel was amazing, and the pillowy chunks of rich pork melted in our mouths. I definitely recommend trying out this recipe.

My thanks to Carol for this challenge! Please check out the Daring Kitchen to look at all the challenge recipes, and go through the Daring Cooks’ blog roll to see what everyone else braised this month!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daring Bakers' February Challenge - Quick breads

The Daring Bakers’ February 2012 host was – Lis! Lis stepped in last minute and challenged us to create a quick bread we could call our own. She supplied us with a base recipe and shared some recipes she loves from various websites and encouraged us to build upon them and create new flavor profiles.

I’ve been feeling under the weather these past couple of weeks. Nothing serious at all, but one of the consequences is that I have been completely uninterested in food. I’ve been completely absent from the kitchen, picking at my dinner plate in spite of Laurent’s efforts to make me something I would enjoy, and generally not being myself. It’s finally starting to get better, though – just in time for this month’s Daring Bakers’ challenge!

It helped that quick breads are really easy to make. They are breads which require no yeast, and rise in the oven thanks to baking powder and baking soda. Our hostess, Lis, had to put this challenge together at the last minute, but she managed to find a bunch of fun recipes. However, in my convalescent state, I was not in the mood for anything adventurous. Normally, I would have gone straight for the cheddar, green onions and asagio beer batter bread, but the thought of beer and cheese somehow turned my stomach under the circumstances.

So, once again, I turned to my old friend chocolate. Even when I’m feeling sick, I still love it.

Back when I was a teenager living with my parents, we would often visit Pâtisserie de Gascogne, a local bakery. They had the most delicious pastries… One of my favourite treats was a slice of moist chocolate quick bread, so rich with cocoa flavour it was almost overpowering.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to recreate it. The recipe I followed wasn’t nearly heavy enough on the chocolate. But drizzling it with syrup kept it nice and moist, and it was still a very acceptable treat. Only problem is, I forgot to take a picture until it was already half-eaten. Oh well, you get the idea.

Thank you Lis, for putting together this challenge under pressure! Please check out the Daring Kitchen for the challenge recipes, and look at g to see what everyone else whipped up this month!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Daring Cooks' February Challenge - Röstis

The Daring Cooks’ February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lis and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!

My apologies, I’m posting late again. I actually completed this month’s DC challenge weeks ago, but I was extremely busy yesterday and the day before, preparing and giving a conference, so I had to postpone this post.

Sooooo… “Patties,” you say? Not the most difficult challenge, nor the most aesthetic. But sometimes, the Daring Kitchen challenges are about creativity and simple technique, not complexity. Not that I was particularly creative: I made röstis.

What can I say, there’s something about crispy potatoes that I find irresistible. French fries, oven-roasted potatoes, latkes… Their presence on the table always brings a smile to my face. I’d never made röstis, although I’d had them. It turns out their preparation is very similar to latkes, except they are thinner and aren’t deep-fried. Other than that, they’re basically shredded potato patties.

We made one giant rösti, which we cut into wedges and ate the way we usually eat latkes: with smoked salmon and crème fraîche. Delicious! Crispy potatoes triumph again!

And that’s really all I’ve got for you this month. My thanks to Audax for this tasty challenge! Please check out the Daring Kitchen to look at the challenge recipes, as well as the Daring Cooks’ blog roll to see what everyone else cooked up this month!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blood, Bones, & Butter - Marrow Bones

Back to book reviews, and today’s book is a good one: Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones, & Butter. As you may know, I'm not very up-to-date on chef culture. I know who most of the culinary stars are, but I'm usually very late in finding out about them, and I had never heard of Ms. Hamilton (although, having read her book and eaten her food, I’m glad I know who she is now). So I delved into the book with no particular expectations, apart from cautious optimism due to the glowing reviews the book has received.

The first chapter describes an almost idyllic childhood memory, with Gabrielle's parents having their annual lamb roast party at their rural home, with the entire neighbourhood invited. I allowed myself to dream a little, having never really known that type of universe (our family parties took place in restaurants, sometimes small manors when the occasion was really big, but we certainly never had whole lambs roasting over pit fires). But the nostalgia doesn’t last long, as Hamilton quickly jumps into the dissolution of her family, and having to survive on her own at a young age.

When the book began to delve into cooking, drugs, and rock 'n roll (not so much sex), I worried a little. I have nothing against bad boy or bad girl narrators, but if it's overdone, the author can end up looking like a poseur, especially in this type of profession-based memoir. For example, while I thoroughly enjoyed Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (another book on my review list), sometimes I rolled my eyes at some of his over-the-top descriptions of how badass chefs are, and a few passages which were clearly meant to provoke (admittedly, the whole book was meant to provoke, but some pages are heavier-handed than others). Don't get me wrong, I think Bourdain is a very genuine person, who tells it like it is; but surely there are ways of telling it like it is without purposefully drawing attention to the fact that you are telling it like it is?

Gabrielle Hamilton accomplishes just that. Although segments of her life were definitely tough, and that she had to be equally tough in order to get through it and come out on top, she doesn't flaunt her “cred.” There is a humility, and even a vulnerability which pervades this book. Sure, sometimes she gets a little nasty, as in this passage where she rags on farmer’s market hipsters:

“There’s always the girl with the bicycle, wandering along from stall to stall with two apples, a bouquet of lavender, and one bell pepper in the basket of her bicycle. A teeming throng of New Yorkers tries to push past her to get to the vegetables for sale, but she shifts her ass from side to side, admiring the way her purchases are artfully arranged for all to see in the basket of her bike, and she holds up the whole process. And I struggle, as well, with the self-referential new kind of farmer, aglow with his own righteousness, setting up his cute booth at the market each morning, with a bouquet of wildflowers and a few artfully stacked boxes of honeycomb and a fifteen-dollar jar of bee pollen. And from what I’ve seen, that guy behind the table, with his checkered tablecloth and his boutique line of pickled artichoke hearts in their jar with their prissy label packed just so, he wants to talk to Miss Bicycle, to Miss I’ve-spent-four-hours-here-this-morning-to-buy-these-three-cucumbers. He gets off on it. I stopped going to the farmer’s market years ago when some hipster chick in sparkly barrettes and perfectly styled ‘farmer’ clothes came screeching at me ‘DON’T TOUCH THE PEAS!’”

Harsh, yes. But also spot-on and elegantly written, with impressive flow – besides, not everyone can be as sunny as Julia Child. Somehow, Hamilton’s criticisms always seem justified, whether she’s ranting about her clueless landlord, or wishing bear-related death on a group of stoned camp counsellors who accidentally let thirty lobsters drown. Similarly, she makes you long to meet the people she admires – and they are numerous (albeit less effectively entertaining, which is why they don’t get a quote in this post. Hey, I never said I couldn’t pander to the masses.).

There are many striking passages, such as her scary account of the food catering business (which I unfortunately read while we were making wedding preparations), and her enthusiastic description of her travels in Europe, particularly Italy. And while food, glorious, unpretentious food, is a huge part of the story, it shares the limelight with a plethora of other topics, as Hamilton explores her inexplicably strained relationship with her mother, her fertile marriage to a man despite the fact that she identifies as a lesbian, and her stint in a university writing program. There is a lot of insight in this book, and a lot of soul.

The book doesn’t contain any recipes, but it did inspire me to make something. Hamilton’s highest praises are usually reserved for well-made dishes using simple ingredients – nothing high concept or fussy. This is clearly reflected in the food she serves at her restaurant. Among other things, she mentions that her mother, an excellent but frugal cook, used to make her and her siblings eat marrow bones, and that she grew up to love them.

I, for my part, have always loved marrow bones. When I was a child, it was always a treat when my mother made osso bucco. The meat by itself was succulent, but somehow my mother succeeded in getting me to consider the marrow not as something vile, which I suppose would be most children’s first reaction (and a significant number of North American adults, from what I’ve seen), but as a luxury. I would scoop up the soft, rich, glistening matter and savour it with relish. Then I would eye my parents’ plates, hoping that love for their only child would move them to give me their bones – and it often did.

But you don’t have to splurge on veal shanks to enjoy marrow. Despite marrow’s luxurious aura, meatless veal bones are dirt cheap, and easy to prepare. Also, a little marrow goes a long way, so you will soon find yourself sated and happy.

Roasted Marrow Bones
from Mark Bitterman’s Salted

Serves 3-4 as a substantial appetizer

12 veal marrow bones
Four handfuls of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Coarse salt, preferably sel gris (from l’Île de Noirmoutier if possible)
Plain white bread, thinly sliced and lightly toasted on one side

Preheat oven to 230ºC (450ºF).

Place the bones, marrow side up, on a baking sheet. Roast until the there is a visible film of melted marrow on the baking sheet, and the marrow begins to sink in the center of the bones and feels quite tender when you poke it with a knife, about 30 minutes depending on the size of the bones. Keep an eye on them toward the end of the process, as you don’t want the marrow to completely melt.

To serve, arrange the bones on a plate, with parsley and salt on the side. To eat, scoop the marrow from the bones, spread it over slices of bread, and sprinkle with parsley and salt.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Daring Bakers' January Challenge - Scones

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host.. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

I had a dual reaction when I saw this month’s DB challenge. The first was “Yaaaay, easy challenge!” The second was “Nooooo, more biscuits!”

Don’t get me wrong, I love scones/biscuits. So much so that I’ve made quite a lot of them in recent months. I made big, cheddar-and-chives scones for a party. I made tiny biscuits for Christmas. I made a cheese-and-bacon version of those same tiny biscuits for New Year’s – and, since we were supposed to join a large crowd for the occasion, I made close to 150 of them. Except we ended up not going, because I was sick. I gave a third of the biscuits to my in-laws, and forced another third onto some friends who innocently passed by a few days later. Part of the remaining third is still in our freezer. So I was understandably not too jazzed about making more of these things.

But a challenge is a challenge! And our host, Audax, put so much work into this deceptively simple one that I would’ve felt bad playing hooky. Scones are one of the easiest baked goods out there: there are few ingredients, no beating eggs, no creaming butter, and minimal kneading. In fact, the less you handle the dough, the better. So it’s the little things that make the difference between an acceptable biscuit, and a great one. And Audax did a great job at reuniting all the tips that can help.

Another cool thing about scones is that they are very versatile. We actually don’t eat a lot of breakfast or tea pastries, so I usually make savoury scones. On the day I decided to do the challenge, I had planned to make a spicy Thai soup for dinner. So, in order to end up with a somewhat coherent meal (as opposed to the weird Italian-Indian-Thai combos I sometimes wind up with), I experimented with shiitake scones.

I really wasn’t sure whether it would work. I followed the basic recipe, adding 1/2 cup of finely chopped rehydrated shiitake mushrooms and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. I kept the dough wetter than I usually do, too. When I was making huge batches of biscuits, I would use the food processor, but given that this was a fairly small load (8-9 medium scones), I mixed it by hand, using my fingers to incorporate the butter.

I did kind of a bad job rolling out the dough, so I got an uneven rise on some of the scones. But rise they did, and the crumb was light and fluffy. The flavour itself was decent, although it could have used more salt. I had actually contemplated putting soy sauce into the dough, but had decided against it; although I’m still very curious as to what would have happened. Overall, though, I doubt shiitake scones will be the next big Asian side dish... They were okay, but I would prefer a bowl of rice or some noodles any day.

The scone below was made from my last scraps, which I stacked. It looks freaky, but it was practically as good as the others.

Thanks, Audax, for a cool challenge! Please check out the challenge recipes at the Daring Kitchen (link to be updated as soon as the recipes go up), and take a look at the Daring Bakers’ blog roll to see what everyone else whipped up!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year / Têt / Oshogatsu / *insert other appellations* everyone!

Happy Year of the Dragon to everyone!

I've been trying to figure out if I know any dragons, but apart from a distant cousin or two, I can't think of one. The only dragons I regularly encounter are the ones I slay in Skyrim these days (some of which are, incomprehensibly, easier to kill than frost trolls, and even some types of bandits).

I can hear you: "Why are you rambling about a video game, this is a food blog! Where's the food?!" Well, I did make food. Because, as much as I generally dislike regular New Year (I don't know why, I can never completely get in the spirit of it, maybe because Christmas is so much better), I love Têt. Not that we ever celebrated it in a huge way. I actually have a fairly large number of Vietnamese and half-Vietnamese relatives, but they're scattered all over the world, so I've never gathered around a food-laden table with them. I can't recall my mother ever making traditional dishes for the occasion, although I'm sure she made a special effort on that day. Regardless, I just like it.

Of course, with just the two of us, making a whole array of dishes isn't really an option, and Têt crept up on me this year, so there was no time to put a crowd together. So, last night, I just made Vietnamese caramelized ribs, and Japanese shiruko (sweet azuki bean soup).

"What, no pictures? No recipe?" Sorry, not this time. I'd made the ribs before, but this time they came out too salty and very unphotogenic, albeit still good. The shiruko was fine, but desperately needs some fine-tuning, and looked too watery. So, call me picky, but they were not blog-worthy.

I'll be back with a real post later. I just wanted to highlight the New Year and wish a lot of happiness and joy to all of you!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Honeymoon, pt.2 - Prune

And now we come back to our not-so-recent-anymore trip to New York. As mentioned previously, I didn't have a lot of restaurants on my list of destinations, so a lot of the time we just drifted along and stepped in whatever place looked good; after all, there is no shortage of restaurants in NY. But there was one place, apart from Momofuku, that I absolutely wanted to visit: Prune.

It started, as it often does for me, with a book. Having read stratospheric praise for Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir Blood, Bones, & Butter, I bought it soon after if came out. I’ll review it in my next post, but for now, suffice it to say that I absolutely loved it. I was dying to know what kind of food was made by the woman who had written this book. So, the day after we arrived in NYC, I dragged Laurent to the East Village for lunch, where we got lost and wandered around for a while before finally locating the tiny restaurant. As we examined the bright room, with its fuschia barstools and old mirrors, I couldn’t help but think of Hamilton’s description of the place when she first saw it: abandoned, cockroach-infested, covered in rat droppings, and packed with rotting food. I promptly put the passage out of my mind, as the place bore no remaining trace of its former filth, and who wants to be thinking about rat poop right before a meal?

I want to take a minute here to describe my state of mind on that first visit. It was a warm, sunny October day. There was a light breeze. I was wearing my favourite black polka dot skirt, the one that swishes around my legs in a way that makes me feel like a girl. And I was just married, and honeymooning in one of my favourite cities in the world. Most likely all these wonderful things influenced how I perceived my meal. But I’m thinking the food had something to do with it, too.

I confess, I didn’t even take pictures that first time. I didn’t feel like being a food blogger, I just wanted to enjoy myself. Descriptions of the dishes probably won’t do them justice, because they were so very simple. For starters, we split a half-avocado filled with olive oil and sprinkled with Maldon salt. Was it something anyone could have whipped up at home? Sure. But the avocado was perfectly ripe, and the olive oil was fragrant. Next, I had a shaved celery salad with a thick slice of blue cheese on the side, while Laurent had a coddled egg with wild mushrooms. Again, nothing fancy. But everything was just right, from my salad’s vinaigrette to the texture of Laurent’s egg. I could feel the love in the food, and that’s not something that happens very often.

We ended up coming back for lunch again a few days later. This time, we took pictures. Also, we were hungrier, so we ordered more food. We started with a chicken noodle soup with cracklings and matzo balls, which was fragrant and warming.

Next, I couldn’t resist ordering something which is mentioned in Hamilton’s book: an egg-on-a-roll. Apparently, she lived on these during her early years in the city, and I myself have eaten my share of these classic deli sandwiches. With crispy bacon, runny yolks, and a side of cold noodles, it was pure comfort food.

Laurent had a burger and fries. The meat was cooked rare, as requested, and was satisfyingly juicy.

Finally, we splurged on dessert: a poached peach with caramelized pecans and crème anglaise for Laurent, and fresh figs with lemon cream for me. Both were light and nicely cleansed our palates, but Laurent’s choice won, I have to admit.

Was this a pure act of fangirlism? Probably. Then again, so was our trip to Momofuku. But in both cases, the quality of the food spoke for itself, despite the absence of frills. Sometimes, you have to put cynicism aside and just recognize that there are cases where a good reputation is well deserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Daring Cooks' January Challenge - Tamales

Maranda of Jolts & Jollies was our January 2012 Daring Cooks hostess with the mostess! Maranda challenged us to make traditional Mexican Tamales as our first challenge of the year!

You may have noticed I skipped out on the last couple of Daring Kitchen challenges. Up until then, I had only skipped one challenge (the croquembouche one, which I still intend to make someday). But toward the end of 2011, there was just too much going on, and I was barely cooking at all. However, with the new year, I was ready to get back on track and get back to the kitchen.

I’ll just announce is right now so that you won’t be shocked when you get to the end of this post: it was a disaster.

I love Mexican food, but had never eaten, let alone made tamales. I wasn’t even sure what they were. Basically, they consist of a filling wrapped inside a corn flour dough, which is itself wrapped inside a rehydrated corn husk, then steamed. Sounded easy enough.

Up until two weeks ago, I had a pack of corn husks in my pantry, purchased on a whim at a Mexican grocery store, in one of those “Oooh, I wonder what I could do with this?” moments. They had lingered there for months, until I was seized by a rabid need to clean up the clutter that had seemingly taken over every shelf, cupboard, and drawer of the apartment, and began moving stuff around and clearing out spaces. In my enthusiasm, I chucked out the corn husks, in one of those “The hell with it, I’m never going to use this” moments. It figures that this month’s challenge called for corn husks.

Too lazy to go out and buy a new package, I decided to use parchment paper instead. In that same spirit of laziness, I opted for the proposed vegan filling, even though I made the very non-vegan lard-infused dough. Assembling the tamales was easy enough, and I used my Asian bamboo baskets for the steaming.

But when the tamales were cooked, I tasted a tiny piece of the dough, and decided I didn’t care for it much. Something about the texture, the way it came apart, and also something about the flavour... Keep in mind that I had never had tamales before, and therefore had no reference. I only knew that I wasn’t wild about what I had made. While doing some research (even when I’m lazy, I still do research, because I am a flaming geek), I found that some people liked to reheat their tamales by frying them. In my book, frying makes everything better, and crispy seemed like a better option than the crumbly, wet-yet-dry texture I had obtained. Into the oiled skillet they went.

Having lovingly stacked and photographed the tamales, Laurent and I dug in. Then stopped. Then looked at each other.

“I’ll make us something else,” I said matter-of-factly, and got up to look for those homemade gyoza I knew were in the freezer.

I now knew what the problem was. It wasn’t the recipe, it wasn’t even my technique. My masa (corn) mix had gone bad. It gave off that horrible stale, bitter, rancid aftertaste. It’s strange, because I made corn tortillas not that long ago, and they were fine; it’s hard to imagine the mix could have gone so bad so quickly. I should have noticed it while making the dough, the smell should have tipped me off. For some reason, it hadn’t. At the very least, I should have noticed it when tasting the dough right out of the steamer, but maybe the steam had temporarily masked the taste. Or maybe I was just distracted.

While I was cooking the gyoza, Laurent had fun salvaging the filling by picking it out of the tamales. He even took pictures.

So, not a particularly glorious start to the year. Obviously, this was completely my fault. But I think I’m going to order tamales from a restaurant before attempting to make them again. And, obviously, I’m going to buy a new bag of masa mix.

My thanks to Maranda for a great challenge idea, and my apologies for screwing it up so badly. If you want to look at real tamales, please look at the Daring Cooks’ blog roll. And if you want to make your own, check out the challenge recipes. Just make sure your masa mix is fresh.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year - Schmaltz, Gribenes, and Almost Kosher Chowder

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you celebrated to your heart's content! Me, well... We were supposed to go out into the countryside, like last year, but I got sick. Nothing serious, but I was not up to frolicking in the snow, or even driving over to the chalet. So we just stayed in, and Laurent made us cacio e pepe spaghetti for dinner - not quite typical for a New Year's feast, but it was exactly the comfort food I needed.

My cold took a long time to heal, but yesterday I was finally up to cooking. Again, I veered toward comfort food, and made chowder. However, once again, it wasn't quite traditional.

I call this chowder "almost kosher" because it contains no pork. It does, however, contain dairy and chicken, so the title of fully kosher is out the window. But that doesn't really matter, since there is not an ounce of Jewish blood in me. So why did I substitute the pork? Simply because I had a lot of schmaltz to use.

(One needs to be very careful when opening what looks like a jar of jam in our house, because they usually contain something else.)

Why did I have schmaltz on hand? Well, it all started several month's ago, when I read David Sax's Save the Deli. I'll post more extensively about this book later, but suffice it to say the author went on a North American tour of Jewish delis, ate a heck of a lot of pastrami and chicken soup, and schmaltz is inevitably mentioned on every other page. Schmaltz, you're probably aware, is rendered chicken fat, and can replace most oils and fats in cooking. I was intrigued by how this influenced the taste of preparations; duck fat makes a big difference, so what of schmaltz?

Unfortunately, I had no idea where to find schmaltz. But since we were already regularly buying whole chickens, boning them, and saving the carcasses to make stock, I took it one step further, and started putting aside all the chicken skin and fat, and saving it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer. Then, when the bag was full, and I had over three pounds of fatty scraps, I rendered it, using the method indicated in Jennifer MacLagan's Fat. Thus, I ended up with two full cups of beautiful schmaltz, and a cup full of gribenes, which are basically chicken cracklings: the crispy bits of skin left over from the rendering process. I usually don't eat the skin off roast chicken, but this was something else: so crispy and delicious! We put them in soups, salads, and even just nibbled on them.

So, the gribenes were easy to dispose of, but for some reason we've been slow to use the schmaltz. Like I said, it can replace butter in most recipes, but we were so overloaded with leftovers (ours and other people's) that we didn't cook for several days. And when we did, they weren't really the kind of recipes where the substitution would be made.

So when I decided to make chowder, I was determined to use the stuff. I drew inspiration from a recipe by Jamie Oliver, but used schmaltz instead of pork fat, and the remaining gribenes instead of bacon. I also adapted the broth-to-dairy ratio. Obviously fresh corn would have been best, but in this season, canned corn had to do. And I used Nordic shrimp, for a local touch.

There was definitely a subtle difference in flavour: less smoky than if I had used bacon, but still more gamey than if I had used butter. I wouldn't say any version is flat-out better than the others, but it's nice to have options. Either way, this soup is a very flavourful and easy meal for a lazy weekday.

Schmaltz and Gribenes

450 g (1 pound) or more of chicken fat and skin

Cut the chicken skin in small pieces. Place them in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat, and let the fat melt, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to grow crispy. This can take several hours (between two and four).

Alternately, if you are rendering a large amount of fat, put the chicken skin in a Dutch oven and place in an oven preheated to 120ºC (250ºF). Bake until skin begins to grow crispy, which will take several hours.

In both cases, when the skin is just getting crispy and brown, drain out the rendered fat and strain it through a cheesecloth into a heatproof container. Return the skin to the pan and cook over medium low heat until it is very crispy golden brown. Strain the remaining fat through the cheesecloth, and place the skin on paper towels to absorb the fat.

Store the schmaltz in a clean airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Store the gribenes similarly, and consume them within a couple of days. You should obtain approximately 1 cup of schmaltz for every pound (450g) of chicken skin.

Almost Kosher Chowder
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Serves 4-6

2 tbsp schmaltz
One leek, cut in half lengthwise and sliced crosswise
450g (1 pound) of potatoes (approximately 3 large), peeled and cubed
500 ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
500 ml (2 cups) milk
375 ml (1 1/2 cup) canned or frozen corn
225 g (1/2 pound) Nordic shrimp, fresh or frozen and thawed
250 ml (1 cup) heavy cream

For garnish:
Fresh dill
Fresh red chili pepper, seeded and chopped

In a large saucepan, melt the schmaltz over medium heat. Add the leek and potatoes, and cook, stirring often, until leek is soft. Add the broth and milk, along with the shrimp and corn, and simmer for 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender and soup is somewhat thickened. Reduce heat, stir in the cream, and continue cooking until heated through.

Divide in bowls and top with garnish just before serving.