Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fig Pinwheels
I found this recipe at a freinds, quickly wrote down the ingredients without the preparation notes. Cannot remember the name of the book, but it was all cookies with nice snaps. I changed the recipe a bit, because really, why soak dried fruit in juice when you can soak it in scotch. This recipe needs a night for the dough to "set" in the fridge. It will make the slicing of the pinwheels so much easier.
Here's a break down.
Day one: make fig paste and dough. If you can time it right, roll out and fill the dough that day evening.
Day two: Slice cookies and bake.
(ok, I took 3 days to finally get the finished cookies, but that is only because I didn't have the prep notes)

Fig Filling

1 ¾ cup dried figs, stemmed
1 cup dates, seeded
1 cup scotch
1 cup orange juice

Cookie dough

1 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

Make the filling. Soak the figs and dates in the scotch and orange juice overnight. Puree the mixture in the food processor until it forms a paste. Reserve.
Make the cookie dough. Cream the butter and sugars together in a mixer on medium speed. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Stir the flour, salt and baking soda in a bowl with a whisk to combine well. Add to the creamed butter mixture a cup at a time, blending briefly between each addition. Divide the dough in half, wrap each in plastic wrap and press into a rectangular brick. Cool in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours, until well chilled.
Make the cookies. Dust the counter with flour. Roll one of the bricks out into a rectangular shape about ¼ of an inch thick, using a little more flour for dusting if necessary. The finished dough should be approximately 14” long by 8” wide. Trim the edges so that the corners approximate 90 degree angles. Spread the reserved fig paste evenly over the surface of the sheet of dough. Leave a small amount of dough showing on all the edges as the fig paste should expand as the dough is rolled.
Roll the dough into a log.Using a spatula to help you lift the back edge, (the long edge), and roll it gently towards you, not pressing hard but also trying to not create a gap in the rolled log. Wrap the rolled dough in plastic wrap and chill for 6 hours, or overnight.
Bake the cookies. Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the logs into ¼ inch slices using a sharp, thin-bladed paring knife and place the rounds on parchment lined cookie sheets. I use the tip of the paring knife and my fingers to gently press the cookies into rounds, (the cutting often pushes them a little flat). Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling. Makes about 40 cookies, (I think, I haven’t counted them yet and we have eaten tons already)

Sunday, December 17, 2006


(For legal reasons this rant is a metaphor for a character in Moby Dick)

I have followed the rise and fall of a certain cafe over the years, and I think it demonstrates the problems of getting too big and not giving a flying f$@#.

A long time ago there was a cafe that took an idea that some believe came out of Seattle, (I would beg to differ), and marketed it to a larger audience...the perfect cup of coffee, idealized in an espresso. They did a pretty good job of it for awhile. No matter which cafe under the same name made the coffee, no matter who was tamping the espresso or steaming the milk, you could get a consistently decent espresso, (note "decent", not perfect).
Over a few years, probably about five, the consistency started to falter, then stagger until it became the anemic, flaccid cup o' joe we find everywhere.

(Perhaps this joe is Capt’ Ahab. I never liked the character.)

What went wrong?
I can state the obvious. Recently they moved to automated machines, but the coffee had already turned to shite before that. They had too many staff members, with such a high turnover that they just couldn’t learn from those who had perfected that ideal espresso. Perhaps the buyers bought a slightly less than best quality bean to make that .04% margin that equates tons of money.

Or maybe they just lost the love.

What love? You ask.

Every espresso maker (or barista or what ever the hell they are called), should have to physically restrain themselves from licking that thick, dense caramel foam from every espresso they so carefully extract from those finely ground oily but not too slick beans. They should wish that they could partake in every cup that they send off into the world because it is so dam good. If they don’t, then the coffee is crap.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The Vanilla Bean War

It was the most exotic of locations, especially at Christmas. Tana Toraja, in Sulawasi, Indonesia is hot, lush and stormy. Much like my temper regarding the loss of the most exquisite vanilla beans I have ever seen.
I get pissed just thinking about it, and it’s been eleven years since my man and I fought about the vanilla beans. Let me stress, we don’t fight much, and if we do it’s about housework, as I’m a bit of a slob.
It was a busy market day. The early morning sky was a freshly washed robin egg blue. The water buffalo, a prized animal of the region, had been scrubbed within an inch of their lives. With charcoal hides glinting in the sun, their boys walked proudly beside them, gently convincing the buffalo to display their fine physique by tugging the rings in their nostrils. Wire haired pigs, their feet tied to bamboo poles, swayed upside down, keeping time to the men bearing them. Piglets, also upside down, were strapped into open bamboo briefcase like contraptions, and swung as such with each stride of the owner. Stacks of bitter greens, jugs of palm wine, carved boxes, chairs, tables, toiletries….all were tottering in various stalls along the wide, well trampled path. A cacophony assaulted the senses; the chatter of people, the bellow of animals and the air thick and ticklish with smells both good and bad.
And then, the chocolate velvet scent of vanilla. Even now I can feel it on my tongue, my nose, my throat. A gentle memory I can’t quite sink my teeth into.
Following the vanilla path with the conviction of the blind, I walked into a dark, wood walled stall, filled with furniture. I thought ‘this can’t be the place’, but my nose told me otherwise. Sure enough, in a wooden bowl was a fistful of vanilla pods tied together with string. I had never seen or heard of vanilla looking like this. It was crusted with what looked like delicate sugar crystals. The beans were as soft lambskin leather and the aroma made my knees weak. I asked how much and the vendor said “ten dollars American”. In that part of the world it was an extravagant amount of money. I said I’d take them, and that’s when it started.
Being firmly escorted out of the stall, protesting, our argument ensued. He said; they were expensive, I hadn’t bartered, Christmas was coming. The list went on. I was not to buy them, period.
I am no shrinking violet, but for some reason I demurred. Maybe it was the Christmas thing. Perhaps I thought he would sneak back and get them. I gave him every chance to. He never did.
I don’t have many regrets in life; there was the time my gorgeous blond friend wanted me to go away with him for a weekend, there was the extra twenty grand I should held out for when I sold my business, and there was that beautiful, fragrant, twine bound bundle of vanilla beans.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


VIJ’S Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine
By Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala

This is not a restaurant review!
That said, one can’t help but have great expectations of the book based on the wonderful dining experience created by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala.

Vij’s has been an institution of sorts in Vancouver, BC since 1994, when it was in a tiny venue near the corner of Granville and Broadway. The little restaurant became incredibly popular even though customers had to line up outside. We would all happily wait in the cool misty drizzle while Vikram Vij brought out steaming cups of chai and little nibbles to keep us content and warm. It wasn’t long before they had to move to their present location just a few blocks south off Granville.

Their philosophy is to keep the spices and cooking techniques Indian while using local meats, seafood and produce. This makes most of the ingredients easy to find. A few of the spices may be a little more difficult to locate, but in most cases it does not deter from recreating the recipes.

The book is lovely to look at. The recipes rest on linen tinted pages, with photographs scattered throughout. Of all the photographs in the book, it was the more modest sized snapshots that captured the feel of the recipes and restaurant.

I enjoyed the Preface to this book more than most cookbooks. Vij tells the story of the restaurant’s life, from inception to maturity, and it reads much like a good curry tastes. From modest but hopeful beginnings, it is a tale of dedication, family, hard work, and romantic love, all mingled together. It is a good story.

The recipes are no more than moderately difficult, and many are dead easy. Some are time consuming, often because some element of the recipe has to marinate or cook for extended periods. The food is innovative, creative and tastes wonderful, but….in some cases it tastes, well, a bit thin. Indian food is all about layering flavours. In a few of the recipes tested it was as if a layer were missing. For those who have not dined at Vij’s, the point will be moot because the recipes do taste good. Some are just not as good as they could be. The Prawns in Coconut and Saffron Curry seemed literally too thin, as if there was just too much water in the recipe. But then, it really wasn’t such a problem to quickly convert to soup bowls and finish it up as such.

There is a nice mix of quick recipes, such as Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion Curry, that takes about 20 minutes to prepare, start to finish, (and is a wonderful combination of tangy heat from the yogurt and cayenne), to slow cooked meats like the Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry. I would have liked to have had an easy-to-read breakdown of preparation times so that menu planning would have been a little simpler.

Vij’s is a wonderful cookbook, and it is also the sum of many things: the romantic roots of family, love, and fulfilling dreams. Even though there are a few recipes that are less than perfect, the others make up for it. Try these two to see for yourself.

Eggplant, Tomato and Green Onion Curry
7 oz. green onions, (about 8 stalks)
1 cup plain yogurt, stirred
1 tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon (ground) turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 ½ teaspoons salt
1 eggplant, skin on, in 1 inch cubes, (I used Japanese eggplant)
2 cups chopped tomatoes, (2 large)
½ cup canola oil

Wash green onions. Chop white parts in rounds ¼ inch long. Remove and discard the hollow green parts. Chop the remaining green parts in rounds ¾ inch long. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Add eggplant, tomatoes and onions and stir well to make sure vegetables are well covered in the curry mixture.
In a shallow heavy pan, heat oil on medium-high heat for 45 seconds. Pour curry into the pan and stir well. Sauté for about 3 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through the cooking. Turn off the heat and stir once more. Remove the lid if you are not going to serve the curry immediately, or the eggplant will become too mushy.

To Serve
Ladle curry into six bowls or plates. If serving with another curry, serve this one in a bowl, so that it doesn’t “run” on the plate.

Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry
2 tablespoons ghee, or butter
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 lb. onion, finely chopped, (2 large)
10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup pureed fresh tomatoes, (2 large)
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
1½ tablespoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon, (ground) turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 ½ tablespoon Mexican chili powder
1 whole piece cinnamon bark (about 32 inches long)
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock, fat skimmed off
½ cup red wine
2 ½ beef short ribs, bone removed and excess fat trimmed (each rib about 7 oz. raw)

In a large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, melt ghee on medium to high heat. (If using butter, melt on low heat and increase the heat to medium after adding the cooking oil.) Add oil and cumin seeds. Allow seeds to sizzle for 30 seconds, then add onions. Sauté onions 8 to 10 minutes, or until brown. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is golden brown and onions are a darker brown, about 3 minutes. The darker you sauté the onions without letting them burn, the richer the onion flavour will be in this curry.
Reduce the heat to low and add tomatoes, fenugreek, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, chili and cinnamon bark. Stir well, then increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring regularly, until ghee/oil separates from the tomatoes, about 10 minutes. Stir in stock and red wine and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until ghee/oil separates from the stock and rises to the top.
Add short ribs and stir well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally.

To Serve
Place one short rib in each bowl. Ladle curry equally among the bowls, pouring it over the short ribs.

Can you find the asafoetida
  • ?
  • Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Cookbook Reviews
    Watch for my upcoming book cookbook reviews. I am just waiting for the publishers permission to include some recipes.
    The first review will be Vij's Elelgant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala. Review number two will be The Improvisation Cook by Sally Schneider.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    A Couple of Curries

    Here is a photograph of some more curries I made last night from Vij's Elegant Inspired Indian Cuisine. Starting in the top left hand corner: Eggplant Tomato and Green Onion Curry, Beef Short Ribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry, Chapatti and Prawns in Coconut and Saffron Curry.
    I substituted a mixture of halibut and prawns instead of straight prawns because the halibut cheeks just looked too good to resist. I forgot to take the photo until after we had eaten - hence the silly way all the food has been pushed into the corners of the dishes.

    I feel obligated to talk a little about the chapatti. I used a chapatti flour and the finished flatbread looked nice, puffed beautifully during the cooking process, but the texture didn't seem perfect - a little grainy in a mealy kind of way. I will try another batch soon, and think I will substite 25% of the chapatti flour with all purpose flour. Has anyone else noticed this tendancy with the chapatti flour chapattis? Perhaps my chapatti flour is old?

    I'm reading, cooking and sampling again tonight, but from a different book. Details tomorrow. Goodnight!

    Friday, December 01, 2006

    I am crazy busy, so haven't been able to post.
    Yesterday I made Portebello Mushrooms in Porcini Cream Curry, Beef Shortribs in Cinnamon and Red-Wine Curry, Cilantro Mint Chicken Curry, Grilled Coconut Kale and Chapattis. It was so exhasting to actually follow the recipes exactly how they were written, (they are from Vij's Indian Cuisine, a recently published cookbook).
    I started cooking the Shortribs around 3pm, the rest of dinner around 5. We didn't eat till 9:30. Normally, cooking that many dishes would be an afterthought. I cannot remember a time when I have HAD to follow a recipe. Usually I look at the ingredients, take into consideration the nationality of the dish for cooking techniques, then put it all together. I add whatever seems lacking, or take out what seems not quite right.
    But why follow the recipe so closely, you ask?
    Well, you will just have to wait and see.

    And thank you to those who came by to help me eat all that food!