Originally published March 17, 2014.
The single most important decision in making porridge is the style of oats you choose to cook. For my breakfast, the only acceptable style is steel-cut, sometimes called Scottish or Irish oats.
Why Quick Oats and Minutes Oats are The Worst. Quick oats and minute oats produce porridge with a nauseating texture. The grains are rolled and cut fine so that they cook quickly, but the oatmeal has a gluey mouthfeel. My theory is that the extensive processing produces a very fine oat-dust, and as soon as this oat-dust is hydrated, it becomes a thick paste. Whatever the cause, porridge made from quick oats subtly sticks to the back of the mouth, triggering a … Continue reading.
Originally published March 16, 2014.
Soda bread is plain quick bread, bread made with a chemical leavener like baking soda instead of yeast.
You’ve no doubt heard of Irish soda bread. The two defining characteristics of the national bread of Erin are 1) the inclusion of lesser parts of the wheat berry, such as the germ and husk, and 2) the use of buttermilk.
One way that my soda bread differs from true old-school Irish soda bread is the inclusion of such luxuries as butter, eggs, and honey. This is emphatically not traditional, but it makes for a moist, delicious bread. Picture a fine cornbread, only instead of corn meal there are coarse bits of wheat germ. The wheat germ … Continue reading.
Risotto is a traditional northern Italian dish of short-grain rice cooked in broth and finished with butter and grated hard cheese, usually parmigianno. The “ris” in the name refers to the rice, so “barley risotto” is sort of an oxymoron. There happens to be an Italian word for barley cooked in the same style as risotto: orzotto.
Anyways, this morning I prepared a squash and barley risotto on Global Edmonton and promised to post the recipe here. This is a dish we do at Elm Catering throughout the autumn, a re-imagining of the traditional risotto using some local fall ingredients. It would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps in lieu of mash potatoes.
You can use … Continue reading.
The first several times I cooked Canadian quinoa I was a bit disappointed. Sure, it had a remarkable flavour, but it was much stickier than the South American stuff I had had before: sticky to the point of stodginess.
Eventually I remembered a lesson I learned from a guy in my culinary class. He was from Mumbai. Our instructor was talking about the importance of rinsing basmati rice before cooking it to remove excess starch from the surface of the grains. Once removing this powdery starch you can combine the rice with 1.5 times its volume, then cover and steam in the usual manner. The preliminary rinsing makes for lighter, fluffier pilafs. The Bombayite scoffed, and when prodded he said … Continue reading.
I consider this post a sort of addendum to The Story of the Buffalo. I suggest having a gander at that post before reading this one.
Red Fife wheat has received a lot of attention in our part of the world. It is a heritage or heirloom wheat, touted as the first cultivar to be grown successfully on the Canadian prairies. It is not genetically modified, and since it is not industrially grown, it is often organic. There are many compelling reasons to grow, purchase, mill, and cook with Red Fife wheat. It is, however, romanticized to a hilarious degree.
We all know that the buffalo was the basis of prairie life before European arrival. It remained an … Continue reading.
I’m strongly considering printing and laminating the above photo so I can carry it in my wallet and periodically offer it as evidence.
I’ll start at the beginning. In some ways I hate quinoa. Not quinoa the food, but quinoa the fad. Like açaí berries, quinoa is a “super food” promoted by nutritionists as if everything that your body needs to be healthy could not possibly be grown in the province in which you live, but needs to come from the canopy of the Amazon rainforest, or an Andean plateau.
On the other hand, from a strictly gastronomical point of view I really like quinoa. It’s tasty: it has a nutty flavour, sometimes verging on peanut butter, often with a … Continue reading.
There is something miraculous about baked beans, or “brown beans,” as I know them. You take legumes that usually disintegrate when overcooked, and by adding a special blend of ingredients, you can suddenly stew them almost indefinitely without compromising their shape and texture. There are in fact three magic ingredients in this potion:
- acids, usually in the form of tomato, mustard, or vinegar, “make the cell-wall hemicelluloses [in the beans] more stable and less dissolvable”;
- sugar, in the form of molasses, maple syrup or, um, sugar, “helps reinforce cell-wall structure and slows the swelling of the starch granules”;
- calcium, usually in the form of molasses and brown sugar, “cross-links and reinforces cell-wall pectins”.
Since these ingredients prevent … Continue reading.
Last year I wrote that ham hocks are only consumed in one of two ways in my house: either slowly roasted so that they have glassy crackling, or simmered so that their intense, smoky, porky essence can be collected in a broth.
This ham-hock broth is the distilled essence of eastern Canada, and the foundation of split-pea soup.
Once you have simmered the ham hock and collected the broth, here are some thoughts on making split-pea soup.
After extensive cooking the ham hock itself has very little flavour and seasoning, but it still makes for a good garnish.
I use yellow split-peas, because the green ones look like baby poo once they’re cooked.
Split-peas have very intense thickening power. In … Continue reading.
Cornbread has developed a regional connotation in North America: the mere mention of the dish awakens borrowed images of the American south. I resent this, because I know that my dad ate cornbread growing up in eastern Ontario. They called it johnnycake, which is a very old, eastern North American term derived (we think) from “journey cake,” referring to the dry bread’s portability.
The bulk of the transcendent cornmeal we made this fall was baked into cornbread and consumed with butter and maple syrup. Below is my go-to recipe. It makes a moist bread (mostly on account of the several types of fat in the recipe: full-fat milk and buttermilk, sour cream, canola oil…) with a fine texture and … Continue reading.
My bid for Bartlett’s: “Culinary invention has two mothers: scarcity and excess.”
I think everybody understands how scarcity can encourage adventurous eating. We often say that the first man to eat a lobster, or an oyster, was a brave one, indeed. But it’s when you find yourself with an overwhelming surfeit of food that you can start doing really interesting things. The first person to press grapes to make wine must have had a lot of grapes, more than he could have eaten before they started rotting. And the first person to distill wine to make brandy must have had an awful lot of awful wine.
I wrote earlier in the fall of our bountiful corn harvest, and of … Continue reading.