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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eet Moar Feesh


I'm not ready for this. Not ready for fall. Fall in Vancouver starts cold and sunny, and slowly sinks into an endless wall of water until May. Fuck.

So I'm trying to eat as much summer food as possible while the getting is good. And although I used canned salmon for this dish, the veggies involved and the compote are fresh summer goodness. And if you could get your hands on some fresh salmon, that would be even better:

Salmon Cakes with fresh Tomato Compote
makes 8 cakes

2 cans pink salmon, or whole fresh salmon (head and tail removed), poached and skinned
1 tbsp capers
juice and zest of 1 lemon, medium size
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tbsp whole mayonnaise
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


1 egg
breading (traditional or panko)

Combine all fish cake ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly, set aside. Prepare the dredge, in three separate bowls, place flour, 1 beaten egg, and panko or traditional breading. Form balls about 2" wide from the cake mixture and dip the cakes in the flour, egg, then bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

While the cakes are cooling, make the compote:

2 medium vine or 8 cherry or strawberry tomatoes, finely chopped
2 small shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Take a few good glugs of grapeseed or canola or other high smoke point oil and heat over medium-high heat in a deep pan. Place the cakes 2-4 at a time in the pan until golden brown. Flip once. Transfer to paper towel and let rest for 5 mins.

When ready to serve, place 1 tbsp of compote on each cake.

Delicious and filling. Would make a great appetizer, or place on a healthy bed of greens for lunch.

In other news, I stepped on Stella's back leg:

It's the top one, her left one, and she is not letting me forget it. She's limping around the house as soon as she knows I'm watching. Sometimes she just extends her hurt leg and sticks it in my lap as if to say "dooooo something!" Poor Stellie. Don't worry it's not broken. I've checked it out. It's just I'm a pretty big person compared to her and her leetle leggle got squished under my lax weight. Oops.

So you have literally days left to get out and enjoy the sun. Go. Go go go go go. Eat some fish while you're out there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sorry, I can't talk right now, I'm eating my feelings

I took a poll on facebook and asked folks what their favorite comfort food was, and I got the usual answers: mac and cheese, homemade; soup; Shepard's pie; mashed potatoes; pasta. All starchy, all hot, all filling.

I got to thinking about comfort food and what it does for us. It seems very visceral and pure to me: you feel lousy, and when you feel bad you feel empty. Naturally you try to fill that hole with something warm and cottony and soft hoping it will make you feel better. Is there something biological at work here as well? I did some googling and it turns out yes, there is. Some of it is conditioning - we crave the foods we were given to soothe us as children - and some of it is science; we feel happier when our stomachs are full, and nothing makes us feel fuller faster than fat and starch. But there is also a psychological component as well: A recent study suggests a strong link between comfort foods and the comfort we get from loved ones; in fact, simply thinking of comfort foods can make us feel significantly less lonely. Hmmmm.

I have felt like a pretty big bucket of shit lately, and for no real reason. Perhaps a little mix of everything, but one thing is for sure: I don't like feeling this way. So I thought I would make something to cheer myself up. I made a list of all the things I like to eat when I feel blue: pasta, cheese, bread, seafood (I know, I don't know why either), ice cream, cake, hot dogs. I chose a dish that incorporated the most of these varied ingredients, Lobster Mac and Cheese (from scratch):

Lobster Mac and Cheese for when you're Feeling Blue

2 cups elbow macaroni
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups milk
2 cups grated fontina cheese
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
3 tbsp lobster broth
1 tsp tabasco sauce
1/4 grated nutmeg
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 cup cooked lobster meat, cut into 1" chunks
1/3 cup minced chives
2 green onions, chopped thinly

If you are using fresh lobster, saute in a pan with butter until cooked through. Set aside.

Heat oven to 375. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until halfway done, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly until smooth. Whisk in milk and stir until sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses (leaving a little out), broth, tabasco, nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Add pasta to cheese sauce. Stir in half each of the lobster, chives and scallions.

Transfer the mixture to a 9x9 baking dish and sprinkle with the leftover cheese, lobster, chives and scallions. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 1/2 hour.

This was absolutely delicious and absolutely comforting, although not at all comforting for my pocketbook: this is the most expensive dish I have ever made on Crass Cuisine. Cheese and lobster are not cheap. But totally worth it, because it made me feel better. Life is too short to feel shitty without a real reason!

Comfort is a feeling that means many different things to many different people, and that could not be more true of the following men:

I can truly say I've found a group that's even more disturbing than the adult male virgins of yore: adult men who own Real Dolls. More specifically: adult men who have extreme difficulty forming human relationships and who have chosen to have relationships with silicon women instead. Something you need to see to believe. A link to the first part of the BBC documentary "Guys and Dolls" here. Please watch all five and have your mind blown.

One sec:


I need 5 hot showers after seeing these men, (particularly Everard, something about him makes me want to go to the doctor and get myself sewn up) Same question posed here that was posted in the virgin post: How does this shit happen? What?

I don't want to be cruel, but as I knew would happen, I've become just as fascinated by these men as I have with the adult male virgins, for one simple reason: I don't understand the lack of self-awareness it takes to get to this place. As was the same problem with virgin squared, these men (with the possible exception of Davecat) seem to feel awfully sorry for themselves. They are quite willing to whine, but they are not really willing to admit, confess, or cede that they are at least equally as culpable as the live women who reject them for their rejected state. It does make sense to me, because it's a form of self-preservation. But also? It's lazy and selfish and emotionally immature. If we don't interact with other humans, we no longer have the necessity for self-improvement. A silicon woman cannot talk back, she can't object, she can't be anything other than exactly what the damaged man who owns her wants her to be. Therefore, it's easier and more satisfying to the ego to pursue this option. Also? It's tantamount to abandoning participation in the human race because it's too hard. To which I say: Too fucking bad.

All of us have self-esteem issues. We have body image problems and strange habits and bad smells and are repellant in some way. One of the processes of getting along in the world is learning how to deal with our faults and the faults of others; this requires compromise, willingness to change, acceptance of self and the understanding that being questioned and challenged is good, not bad. I feel like these men and the virgins before them refuse to be challenged, refuse to do things any other way but theirs, and then complain when it doesn't go the way they think it should. Children can get away with this, but not adults.

But ultimately, a man having a silicon girlfriend or wife is none of my business and it's not hurting anyone. So fuck on, you batshit crazy diamonds.

So why do we watch? Because it's amazing. Because it makes me feel a million times better about me. For all my faults, I'm not fucking a plastic dude in my parents basement. And that, my friends, is very comforting.

PS I got the word 'culpable' from watching reruns of Law and Order. A lot.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bloomin' Good

Nads and I share a mutual love of farmers markets and grey cats. Her farmers market in Kits is sliiiiiightly better than mine in the West End, so I asked her if she ever came across any zucchini flowers, to pick some up and I would pay her back. She kindly got me some this weekend, and asked me what I was going to do with them. My answer? FRY THOSE MUTHAFUCKAAAAS!

Battered, pan-fried zucchini blossoms are something holy and worth pondering. Their delicate taste makes me feel like I'm on some sun-drenched patio in Tuscany, having a light snack before going off to pick wild lavender to make soap. In this fantasy I'm also a size two with waist-length flowy raven hair. Hey, it's my mind. It can wander at will even to the ridiculous.

Zucchini blossoms are very fragile, so if possible use them the same day you buy them. If they need to sit, put them in a glass of water to keep them inflated. Wash them, split the petals apart to expose the pistil, and cut it out. Set aside to dry. Make a simple batter of flour, one egg and some water to make a paste that resembles heavy cream. Soak the blossoms in the batter. Put a skillet on medium-high heat and glug a good few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the pan. When hot, use a fork to drop the battered blooms into the pan. Fry until golden, flip once, when done transfer to a plate and sprinkle with fresh sea salt. Devour hot!

The fried batter is a delicious salty counterpart to the sweet flowers. Oh yeah.

Nads and I started talking about grey cats after we both had run-ins with a neighbourhood beast near our office that for months we referred to as "Grey Beauty". We thought it was a girl kitty. One day I was walking by with a friend and saw Grey Beauty, and told him all about the cat (yes, his eyes glazed over). His owner was in the yard and explained that actually she was a he, and he had been named by her young grandson. The grandson had been told he could name him anything he liked, and he decided to name him Spidey Mike. SPIDEY MIKE!!!!!

God bless that kid for giving this cat the greatest name in the history of cat names. Here is Spidey Mike this morning on his verandah, having a sunbath:

I want to come back as a cat. A cat who gets to eat fried zucchini blossoms.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sweatin' like a whore in church on Sunday

It's hot as balls in Vancouver in August. I'm not complaining, I love the heat. It makes Stella pretty grouchy though. It makes her make this face:

What is the difference between this face and her regular face? You have to be a master of subtlety to see it. Or, you have to live with this creature full time. This face is ever so slightly bitchier than her usual face. And a few degrees away from her really mad face. Clearly this is a subject of tremendous import to you.

Anyhoo, the heat. We had our book club meeting on a particularly vicious day, and as this installment was a potluck, I decided to make grilled watermelon, mint and feta salad.

A more elegant version of this salad uses halloumi, but I couldn't find any. It grills a little more nicely, whereas feta is chunkier, messier, but no less delicious. For the cheese novice, feta is the closest in taste to halloumi.

I don't know of any fruit that is more cooling than watermelon. Its high water content, sweet pink flesh and cool texture make it a summer favorite almost the whole world wide, and certainly in areas where it is grown. It's huge in the South (and you know how I feel about the South).

Grilled Watermelon Salad

1 mini watermelon
1/2 container of sliced feta
1 bunch fresh mint
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and pepper to taste

(I used my George Foreman grill for this, but you can use a grill pan, a BBQ, or a regular pan). Slice and grill the feta in batches, slice, cool and set aside. Slice the mini watermelon into bite-size chunks, place in bowl. Finely chop mint, add to bowl with watermelon. Add cheese, lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Toss together thoroughly, serve.

You can also refrigerate this salad to make it extra cool.

Ahhhh. Fresh cool salad on a hot day. Beats all.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pie Days of Summer, Vol. 3 (with a scone bonus)

One of the things I love about going home is that mum and I usually stop at one of the local farms to buy fresh produce, flowers, eggs. These are sold at a little stand tucked into the bush that you can pull into and turn your car around in. All items are sold on the honor system: Take what you want, read the price, and leave the money in a metal box. This is what farm eggs look like:

Double yolker, oh my God:

While home I also picked what felt like 10 lbs of red currants. Mum has two bushes, and I picked for what felt like forever, and only got part way through one bush. It's hard to keep up with this shit. I took some home with me in my suitcase, and made scones as soon as I got home:

Red Currant Scones
3 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup fresh red currants or cranberries
1 egg
about 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400. Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture using fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in currants or cranberries. Break egg into a measuring cup for liquids and beat well. Add enough milk to egg to make 3/4 cup, and stir to blend with egg.

Add milk/egg mixture to dry ingredients; stir gently with a fork until particles cling together. Mixture will be crumbly. Form a ball of dough and hand press into an oval about 1/2 inch thick. Cut with a knife into rounds or use a glass. Place on a cookie sheet, bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden.

Recipe courtesy of Kitchen Sketches

They were very tasty. Fresh currants are tart so if you don't like sour things add a little extra sugar. I wondered how they would be in a pie, so I made one:

Blueberry and Red Currant Pie

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup ice water
1 cup cold butter

By now you are used to my recipe for pie crusts, but I've learned a few things along the way that I hope will help: Cut in cold butter and mush with fingertips (or in a food processor, but I like to kick it old school and women made pies long before there were food processors on the scene). and mix with the ice water added bit by bit until the dough just sticks together. Any more moist and it will get to gloppy. Divide dough in two, cover each round in plastic wrap, and leave in the fridge for 1/2 hour to 24 hours.

My fridge is really cold, so I need my dough to warm up a bit before I roll it out. Once it becomes warm enough that you can just see your fingerprint in it, flour a surface and roll out the dough until a round is formed. Don't worry if it begins to split, you can patch it up in the pan. Place into pie pan and patch as needed. Form around the edge. Put in filling:

1 1/2 lbs blueberries
1/2 lb red currants, picked clean
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp corn starch

Mix filling together and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Once the filling is in the shell, roll out the second round of dough and cut with a knife to form a lattice.

Brush the top of the lattice and edges of shell with the yolk of one egg and sprinkle sugar on top. Cook for 40 minutes at 400. Leave on the countertop or windowsill to cool overnight, just like in the movies.

Nothing is like pie really. It's becoming a real art form for me. I love them. I try very hard not to eat them. I almost always take them to work or to other people's houses. One piece is the most I will allow myself.

And berries grown by your mama taste extra fantastic :)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Crass Cuisine's mama has a birthday

During my vacation I went home to see my mama for her birthday, cook for her and hang out on her property, on which she grows an amazing amount of food. A short list includes:

Red currants
Fuckload of herbs
The list goes on....

I'm lucky in that my mum and I, although we are opposites in almost every way, are the greatest of friends and really enjoy each others' company. It must be strange for her to look at this creature who doesn't resemble her in the slightest, puttering around in her kitchen, swearing and generally being a pig, and wonder, exactly, how she gave birth to it.

I turn into a complete 8 year old when I go home. I run into her bedroom while she's getting ready, poke her, and run out. She has a hall filled with photos of me from a kid until now, which is sort of a timeline of how I got increasingly weirder-looking. Whatevs. 

I made ma a three-course meal for her birthday, which needed to be very specific, because as I've mentioned before she has major food allergies, so it needed to be carefully planned. And it worked! She didn't get sick from my cooking!

We started with stuffed peppers, the recipe can be found here. Because of ma's food allergies, I've used goat feta, and scrapped the egg and yoghurt. It still works well, it's just not as creamy. Also, because they didn't have any Anaheim chiles in the sticks, we used a Poblano pepper, which works very well:

Next, because you can buy spot prawns right off the boat, we had them at the very end of the season:

Sauteed Garlic Spot Prawns
1 lb, about 24 prawns, fresh or frozen (fresh obv better)
glug of olive oil, to taste
2 jalepenos
5 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp fresh chopped flatleaf parsley
white wine, to deglaze
sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to season

Peel and devein the prawns. Heat the oil to high and add the prawns. Sautee until they begin to release their juices and turn almost pink. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until all pink. Finish with white wine, using to deglaze. Serve immediately, garnished with thyme.

Spot prawns are mum and I's favorite thing ever.

The grand finale:

Maple Seared Scallops with Kalamata Ragout
16 large scallops, fresh if you can get them
4 tbsp high-quality maple syrup
1 shallot, diced
1/2 can or equal-sized container of Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 tbsp chives
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
salt and white pepper to taste
1 tbsp olive oil

For the Ragout:
Heat a small saute pan on medium-high heat. Coat the pan with the olive oil and saute the diced shallot for a few minutes. Add the olives, chives, lemon juice and a glug of olive oil to the pan at the same time. Saute all together until they begin to blend, reduce heat to minimum and keep warm until the scallops are ready.

For the Scallops:
In a small bowl coat the scallops with the maple syrup and season with salt and white pepper. Heat a non-stick pan to a high heat, coat the pan with oil and add the scallops to the pan and sear or both sides until browned (about one minute). Flip onto first side, add a little more oil to cook into the scallops, and cook until all white. Serve immediately by removing from heat, plating and adding the ragout on top.

I accompanied mine with simple steamed asparagus with a little balsamic vinegar on top:

Mmmmmm, summer seafood. Here's the path to ma's flower portion of the garden that you wish you were in right now:

We aren't as different as we think we are. I was making fun of her and then left the room. She called after me:




(recipes with my modifications courtesy of Saveur, the Vancouver Sun, and The Dirty Apron Cooking School, respectively).