November 2008

A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash
By Lou Seibert Pappas
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast 2008, hardcover, $17.95; 96 pages

I never warmed much to squash as a kid, and aside from pumpkin pie, I don’t know too many kids who jump for joy when they see squash on the table.

Unless there were great lashings of sugar and spice involved, squash, particularly winter squash, always tasted, well, too squashy to me when I was little.

That was then. As my picky palate matured, I began to open up to an expanded  world of wonderful flavours. I always liked pumpkin pie, but I was amazed to discover I liked pumpkin soup even better.  And when a dear friend introduced me to kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin), I found I liked this sweetly delicate vegetable almost as much as I used to like candy.

And now, of course, there’s the added bonus of knowing just how nutritious these brightly coloured vegetables are: Winter squash is bursting with beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, dietary fibre, omega-3 fatty acids and various B vitamins.

But how many times can you serve squash if you only ever bake it with a little butter and perhaps some brown sugar or maple syrup? This book rides to the rescue.

Lou Seibert Pappas has written more than 50 cookbooks, many of them themed collections of recipes focusing on one food, such as this one.

Pappas offers a great introduction to the wide variety of both summer and winter squash, gives us a rundown on the history of squash, and offers hints on buying, storing and cooking the vegetables. Summer squash, in the form of zucchini and other tender-skinned varieties, has enjoyed a long love affair with foodies, but aside from pumpkin and acorn squash, most winter varieties aren’t as familiar to us, as witness my introduction only a few years ago to the sweet seductions of kabocha.

But with more people interested in locally grown produce, and more small growers willing to try heirloom varieties such as delicata, sweet dumpling  and mini-hubbards, they are becoming more widely available. All the squashes I’ve just mentioned I found at a lovely farm in Agassiz recently.

Squash can be baked or steamed and served as a side dish. Or it can be cooked until soft, pureed in a blender or processor and used in cakes, muffins, cookies, pies, soups, souffles and salads. Pappas has recipes for all these in her book. Here’s one featuring the kabocha, my favourite squash. Pappas suggests serving this hearty soup with crusty sourdough bread and an arugula and goat cheese salad. You can substitute butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, if you like.

Moroccan Meatball, Chard and Kabocha Squash Soup

1 lb. ground lamb or ground beef
3 tbsps. cornstarch
1 large egg
3 tbsps. minced fresh cilantro
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 clove garlic, minced

1 bunch Swiss chard (about 12 oz.)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 stalk fennel or celery, chopped
2 tsps. grated peeled fresh ginger
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground black pepper
1 ½ quarts beef broth
2 cups diced kabocha squash (3/8-inch dice)
5 tbsps. tomato paste
6 red or yellow plum (Roma) tomatoes, sliced
Salt to taste
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

To make meatballs, in a bowl, combine the lamb, cornstarch, egg, cilantro, allspice and garlic and mix lightly. Shape into 3/4-inch meatballs.

Remove the ribs from the Swiss chard and slice thinly crosswise. Chop the leaves separately; set aside. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add chard ribs, onion, carrot, and fennel or celery and saute until limp (about 5 minutes). Add ginger, allspice, cumin, pepper, broth, squash and tomato paste; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully drop meatballs into hot broth. Add chard leaves and tomatoes. Simmer for 5-6 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and meatballs are cooked through. Season to taste with salt.

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with cilantro and serve immediately. Serves 6 to 8.

– From A Harvest of Pumpkins and Squash

The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book
By Elizabeth Baird & The Canadian Living Test Kitchen
Published by Transcontinental Books, 2008 hardcover $34.95; 352 pages

Maybe it’s our long cold winters, when it makes sense to get cozy in the kitchen and bake something sweet and satisfying for those we love. Or maybe it’s a Canadian rite of passage to learn  to bake that first batch of cookies under the tutelage of a parent or other relative. Whatever the reason, Canadians are among the world’s most skilled and talented bakers, says Elizabeth Baird, the venerable face of Canada’s most reputable recipe source, Canadian Living.

Baird notes that when the French want to impress with a spetacular dessert, they go to the boulangerie where beautifully crafted, always fresh, French pastries make the most difficult part of providing dessert the act of choosing what to have. It’s an expected thing, and with even the smallest French village boasting at least one boulangerie, someone who bakes at home is a bit of an oddity.

It’s just the opposite here. If you must buy dessert, it is with apologies that you didn’t have time to make anything yourself. The first impulse when the thought of something sweet comes up is to go to the kichen and pull out the fresh eggs and butter and other ingredients and a favourite source for fool-proof recipes has been Canadian Living, the magazine and the many books they’ve produced over the years.

This book consolidates and updates many of the “tested till perfect” recipes that have become favourites with bakers plus adds new ones to reflect contemporary tastes and interests. There’s also a good introduction to all the elements of baking, from various types of ingredients to basic equipment to substitutions when you don’t have what a recipe calls for. A baker’s glossary at the back of the book explains the differences between “beat”, “blend” and “fold” and reveals the mysteries of tempering and macerating.

Many of the recipes offer variations and among the many tempting titles are these: Hot Fudge Banana Bundt Cake, Dark and Dangerous Triple Chocolate Cookies and Walnut Mocha Torte. There are plenty of savouries here too: Roast Garlic and Goat Cheese Strudel, Stilton and Walnut Biscuits, mini-Camembert Cheesecakes topped with crispy prosciutto. And a range of quick and yeast breads offer everything from Rum Raisin Loaf to Buttermilk Scones to Potato Rosemary Focaccia.

So be warned: Resistance is futile. Let’s get baking! Here’s a recipe from the book.

Lemon Shimmer Cheesecake

This beautiful tart is something you might see in a Parisian boulangerie. It’s a stunner. I could not find lemon social tea cookies, so used an alternative lemon cookie. Graham or vanilla wafer crumbs would work well, too. Also, double wrapping the springform pan with foil might be a good idea, as taking the pan in and out of the water, as called for in the recipe, may rip the foil and allow water to enter.

23 lemon social tea cookies
½ cup melted butter

2 pkg. (each 8 oz/250 g) cream cheese, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 eggs
1 ¾ cup sour cream

Lemon topping
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. grated lemon rind
½ cup lemon juice

Grease bottom of a 9-inch springform pan; line side with parchment paper. Centre pan on large square of heavy-duty foil; bring foil up and press to side of pan. Set aside.

Lemon topping: In heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering water, whisk together eggs, egg yolks, sugar and lemon rind and juice; cook until thick enough to mound on a spoon, about 10 minutes. Place plastic wrap directly on surface; refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 1 day.)

Crust: In food processor, crush cookies to make 1 ½ cups coarse crumbs; pulse in butter until moistened. Press onto bottom of prepared pan; bake in centre of 325 F oven until firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Let cool.

Filling: In bowl, beat cream cheese with sugar; beat in lemonade concentrate and lemon rind. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in ¾ cup of the sour cream. Scrape over baked crust; smooth top. Set pan in larger shallow pan; pour in enough hot water to come 1 inch up side of springform pan. Bake in centre of 325 F oven until edge is set but centre is still jiggly, about 1 hour. Remove pan from water bath; let cool on rack for 5 minutes.

In bowl, whisk remaining sour cream until smooth; spread over cake. Return to water bath; bake until top is set, about 5 minutes; Turn off oven; let stand in oven for 1 hour. Transfer springform pan to rack and remove foil; let cool for 5 minutes. Run knife between edge of cake and paper; let cool.
Whisk lemon topping until smooth; spread over cake. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. (Make ahead: Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes 12-16 servings.

– From The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book

Art of the Slow Cooker
By Andrew Schloss
Published by Chronicle/Raincoast, 2008 soft cover, $27.95; 216 pages

The operative word here is “art.” Schloss is bound and determined to undo some misconceptions about slow cookery.

He winces when someone describes this scene: Throw everything into the pot, plug it in and leave for the day. No, no, no, he cautions. You get what you put in and if the results when you come home are less than spectacular, there’s a reason.

“Slow cooking is easy, but it’s not effortless, and the more you take heed of both its strengths and its limitations, the more artful your efforts will be,” he says.

The primary advantage of a slow cooker is that it will cook your food for hours without fear of scorching or overheating. The big downside is that it will not brown or sear any of your ingredients and and by not browning first in a skillet, you lose the “brown bits”, the caramelized essence of meats and vegetables, that add such huge flavour and aroma — succulence, Schloss calls it — to the finished product.

A few more hard and fast rules from Schloss for successful slow cooking:

Use minimal liquid ingredients, unless you want soup;
Never use water because it will leach flavour. Use broth, juice, wine – anything that will add flavour;
Except for hot peppers which amplify painfully during slow cooking (add at the end, he says), season with gusto. Whole herbs and spices are better than ground because their flavour tends to cook out in the first hour, he says.

Schloss also says some foods do better in the cooker than others. He avoids slow cooking chicken breasts, beef fillets, pork chops or any other cut of meat that doesn’t have enough internal fat and connective tissue to simmer all day without falling apart. Fibrous root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and beets do well in the cooker, while very moist vegetables such as spinach or zucchini should not be added until near the end. Schloss also said he had little success slow-cooking  whole grains such as brown rice, wheat berries and quinoa . The only exception, he says, is barley which makes a wonderful risotto, creamy, tender and yet with a nice bite to the grains.

Here’s his recipe. The finished dish, he says, is “like a savory pudding, overflowing with rich dairy textures, cheesy aromas and meaty chunks of mushrooms.” Serve it as a first course or alongside roast meat or poultry.

Mushroom-Barley Risotto

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
8 medium white mushrooms, trimmed and cut into slices
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 cups pearl barley
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken or mushroom broth
1 salt
¼ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled (¼ cup)
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup cream or half-and-half
1 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms and saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and barley and saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add wine and stir until almost completely absorbed. Transfer to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Add broth, salt, pepper, dried porcini, and rosemary to the slow cooker and stir to moisten the barley. Cover crock with a folded towel and top with lid. Cook for 3 to 4 hours on high, until barley is tender. Stir in Parmesan, cream and parsley and fluff with fork until the cheese melts and the barley is moistened. Serve immediately. Serves 6-8.

Variations: Use a combination of Romano and Parmesan instead of all Parmesan, or replace half the cream with 2 oz. of creamy fresh chevre.

– From Art of the Slow Cooker

Gordon Ramsay: Cooking for Friends
By Gordon Ramsay
Published by HarperCollins, 2008 hardcover $34.95; 274 pages

The growly and often foul-mouthed stickler for restaurant perfection shows a much softer side in this appealing book.

Chef, restaurant owner and Food Network celebrity, Gordon Ramsay is a hard-working and highly opinionated culinary superstar who recharges himself with relaxed family dinners as often as his hectic schedule permits.

In the book’s introduction, Ramsay admits: “I can’t sit at home with my feet up, reading the newspaper.”
But, he adds, “I am beginning to learn about being calm.”

Still, the critic in him never sleeps. After describing how his wife and four children are all eager participants in the family’s meal time, he notes that the emphasis in his home’s kitchen is always on the freshest and best ingredients available. That means regular trips to the farmer’s market for fresh produce, fresh meats and time in the kitchen for home-made sauces and stocks.

Having said that, he works himself into a fine lather against British cookery icon Delia Smith. Ramsay says he gave away all the Smith cookbooks in his collection when he discovered a recipe in one of them that called for canned mince. “Where’s the feel-good factor in that sort of compromise? It just gives the wrong message.” Well, Ramsay may burst an artery when he sees that Smith’s latest book is all recipes based on packaged ingredients, not a “how to cook” book, but a “how to cook when you’re busy” book, “cheats” she calls them on her website.

This little anti-Delia tantrum is vintage Ramsay and shows how seriously he wants to be taken about standards. It  also serves as a little warning about the recipes that follow. Ramsay takes off his chef’s gear in this book and focuses on many classic English dishes, often with a contemporary twist. None are very complicated and most are solid, hearty dishes, soups, stews, pastas, pies and roasts that promise savoury eating. There’s Alnwick Soup made with smoked ham hocks, onions, carrots, celery and potatoes, humble ingredients that are difficult to screw up but deliver fantastic flavour during cooking. Or a Broccoli, Stilton and Pear Soup that’s easy, easy, easy yet elegant enough for company. Or Walnut, Celery, Chicory and Apple Salad with a dressing of mayonnaise and yogurt, a simple take on the classic Waldorf.

But other recipes demand such things as conger eels, marrow, crayfish, quail’s eggs, pork intestines, duck eggs, black pudding and Branston pickle (mmmm, imagine that; an English jarred pickled relish by Crosse and Blackwell, according to Wikipedia . . . no home-made, Gordon? ), ingredients that might not be so widely available here.

In keeping with Ramsay’s theme of cooking fresh and in season, here’s his recipe for apple salad. No chicory? Use any salad green with an assertive flavour, such as radicchio or belgian endive. Turn it into a main course by adding chunks of left-over roast chicken or turkey, he suggests.

Walnut, Celery and Chicory and Apple Salad

2 heads chicory
4 celery stalks
2 medium apples
Squeeze of lemon juice
Handful of toasted walnut halves, chopped

3 tbsps. mayonnaise
2 tbsps. natural or Greek yogurt
½ tsp. celery salt
1 tbsp. lemon juice

First, prepare dressing by combining all ingredients in a bowl and seasoning with black pepper to taste.
Trim off bases of chicory and separate leaves. Scatter a few leaves over each serving plate. Trim and roughly chop celery and include any leaves, then place in a bowl. Core and thinly slice the apples, add to the celery and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent discolouring. Add half the walnuts and toss well. Divide among the serving plates and scatter the remaining walnuts over the top. Either drizzle the dressing over the salad or serve in individual dipping bowls on the side. Serves 4.

– From Gordon Ramsay: Cooking for Friends

Great Chefs Cook Vegan
by Linda Long
Published by Gibbs Smith/Raincoast, 2008 hardcover $38.95; 272 pages

If I were to be reincarnated as a vegetable, I would like to be a fava bean, hiding inside that little stem, living inside a velvet room.” – Todd English

There’s something about the above quote from the devilishly handsome Todd English that sums up what this book is all about.

Vegan, it seems, has definitely gone upscale here, a velvet room of eating where chefs wax poetic on the beauties of carrots, lift the humble potato to dazzling heights and shape zucchini slices into jewel boxes almost too pretty to eat.

And though these are top American chefs contributing full dinner menus to Linda Long’s book, two have a B.C. connection: Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, two New York City culinary superstars who are opening restaurants in Vancouver, Boulud in the former Lumiere and Vongerichten in the new Shangri-La hotel.

Long, herself a long-time vegan, deliberately sought out high-end restaurants with full menus, identified herself as a vegan and asked for dishes that contained no animal products. She was dazzled by what was offered and even her non-vegan dinner mates were astonished at what can be done by just visiting the produce section.

A book was the inevitable outcome and all 25 chefs she approached happily complied with her requests for full menus (one for breakfast), producing spectacular appetizers, main courses and desserts that stretch the boundaries of divine eating.

Mind you, these are the creme of chefs who have access to a much wider array of ingredients than the average cook and who have a supporting cast of prep cooks able to produce dishes that might include five, six, even seven sub-recipes.

Take for example Phoenix, Ariz. chef Bradford Thompson’s recipe for Baby Beet Salad with Pistachio Vinaigrette and Chickpea Fritters. It has seven components: the baby beets, the vinaigrette, beet chips, borscht coulis, pickled onions, the fritters and a garnish of shaved pistachios, bibb lettuce and cumin seeds. In all, it calls for more than 25 ingredients, daunting for those of us who freak at anything listing more than six or seven ingredients.

What the book does illustrate is that vegan cooking is possible on a grand scale, and to be fair, there are recipes here that look to be fairly quick to put together. Some of sub-recipes can be pulled out and used in less extravagant preparations too, such as Boulud’s Black Mosto Oil (part of his recipe for those gorgeous zucchini jewel boxes), a concoction of dried olives, olive oil, Tabasco and balsamic vinegar that would be terrific brushed  on simple grilled vegetables or rustic bruschetta.

I’m an omnivore, meaning I love to eat most things, including meat, but my eating has changed over the years to reflect a growing awareness of the vegetable kingdom. Having a vegetarian meal isn’t so extraordinary anymore, and red meat appears on our plates only on special occasions.

But I’ve always thought of vegan cuisine as too “out there”, something that could never satisfy a foodie’s palate. This book has changed my mind. Especially when there’s a possibility Todd English might be the fava bean on my plate. Yum!

Here’s an easy recipe from the book created by Bon Appetit magazine’s Executive Chef Cat Cora. Although it’s intended as a cold salad, it would be delicious served warm, too. Cora serves this  alongside vegetable kebabs spiked with a spicy key lime sauce.

Curried Cauliflower with Currants and Pine Nuts

¼ cup plus 2 tbsps. rice wine vinegar
1 ½ tbsps. granulated sugar
2 tsps. Madras curry powder or garam masala
¼ tsp. sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup olive oil

2 lbs. cauliflower crowns
2 tbsps. kosher salt (or use sea salt)
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup dried currants
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
1 small red onion, chopped
Cilantro leaves

To make dressing: in large bowl, mix rice wine vinegar and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in curry powder, salt and pepper. Very slowly, drizzle the olive oil and whisk into the vinegar mixture until incorporated. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired; set dressing aside.

To make cauliflower: Blanch cauliflower in boiling salted water. Drain and add pine nuts, currants, sunflower seeds and onion. Pour dressing over salad, tossing lightly to mix thoroughly. Chill for 1 to 2 hours before serving. Garnish with cilantro leaves when ready to serve. Serves 6 to 8.

From Great Chefs Cook Vegan