Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Tops.

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but every so often I’ll fervently dedicate myself to a show. Right now that’s Top Chef Canada, and Monday nights I’m at my friend Adele’s watching it. That’s at least until I leave  for tree planting camp anyways, where my only entertainment will be the planters themselves. Luckily, they’re usually quite an amusing bunch.
While in the woods, I’ll have to get my Top Chef fix by re-enacting some of the quick-fire eliminations (go find me a bowl of spiky artichokes to peel, STAT!) and assign myself intense challenges each week. For example, “You must cook a dinner for eighty people using only tea, pickles, white chocolate and cumin. You have twenty minutes, the clock starts NOW.” I’ll finish in 19 minutes and 55 seconds, then find the tree planter who looks most like head judge Mark McEwan and get him to berate my final dish. Even if he hates my cumin-dusted chai-infused pickled chocolate soufflé it won’t matter, because his only other option is to go hunting for a meaty squirrel. I’ll therefore win every challenge, and Mark McEwan will lose all of his power.
Because it’s a show about food, and because we can’t manage to do anything without eating, we’ve turned our Monday Top Chef nights into potlucks. The first week I made dolmades, and last week decided on this recipe from Ottolenghi, a restaurant in London and one of my favourite places to eat. Adele described it as “autumnal,” and she was quite right.  It looks like October itself. But with the snow still lingering and spring vegetables not quite here, I figured yams with fresh herbs, pecans, and citrus-maple vinaigrette would work. Next time I’d add feta, too. The cookbook suggests serving this hot with Christmas dinner or cold with a summer picnic, or you could also just make the dressing and toss it with a green salad. It’s so very versatile, JUST LIKE A TOP CHEF.  Go Connie!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stones.

Today, for the first time, I took on crème pâtissière. It’s not difficult to make, but I was worried I would err in one way or another and make our day at the bakery even worse. Aviv, dressing himself at 3:45am, accidentally wore an entirely green outfit to work - shirt, pants, and shoes – and while hilarious, this somehow turned him into the Tall Israeli Leprechaun of Bad Luck. Nothing life-altering happened, but a multitude of medium-sized troubles made the day last forever.
I didn’t want to add to his cursed luck by butchering a recipe, so while Aviv was out delivering bread I set myself up with the makings of crème pâtissière: a dozen egg yolks, sugar, milk, flour, and two very splendid vanilla beans. I triple-checked the recipe and measured everything carefully, then split open the curled black pods to scrape out their seeds. Whisked into milk and spinning on the surface, they reminded me of the Milky Way; black galaxies set against a bright white sky. Had Aviv walked in at that moment he would have found me bent over the stove, watching my pot with an odd kind of intensity. Turns out I really love watching vanilla-studded milk boil, and really really love making crème pâtissière. You start with just a few things, follow a recipe, and are rewarded with smooth, pale-yellow joy.
If you’d like to stargaze over your own pot, Martha’s got a recipe here.