Sunday, December 2, 2007

Weekend Food Porn

Lots and lots of cooking since I got back from Toronto! I think I felt deprived, with no kitchen and limited access to home-cooked food for three days. Saturday night, we had a long-planned and once-postponed dinner here with our friends K and K (hereafter known as K squared, not to be confused with P squared. Come on guys, you have to stop meeting guys with the same initial as you. Help a girl out here) who are both total food and drink hedonists, possibly even more so than we are. What to serve people who adore food? This is the eternal question. I've been working on this menu for weeks.

In the end, after considering all manner of foofy and fancy dishes, I kept things pretty simple, cooked seasonal foods that I've made before and enjoyed, and put my heart into it. Judging from the reactions around the table, it worked. We had a fabulous, comforting, talk and laughter-filled evening.

We began with slices of whole wheat baguette layered with a slice of brie, popped in the oven to toast the bread and melt the brie, then topped with a confiture of sweet onions, sun-dried tomatoes, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and plenty of black pepper. It's an adaptation of an Epicurious recipe I made a few months ago which, while tasty, felt a little unbalanced to me. The white wine called for in the recipe overwhelmed all the other flavours, and it wasn't nearly sweet enough - also, it called for dried apricots, which didn't seem to fit in with the onions and tomatoes, to me. So I left them out, subbed balsamic for the wine, and added more sugar. This one's a keeper. It makes a bunch, too, so you can have it with all your best friends, or eat it all yourself over a week if you're into that sort of thing. (P.S. It's surprisingly good on plain buttered toast.)

So the crostini were devoured with a beer (for the boys) or a raspberry-vodka-and-gingerale (for the girls). We chatted in the living room for a bit, then moseyed on over to the dining table and had some carrot and cumin soup. It was seriously simple and really, really tasty - five ingredients, very little hassle, big taste. The two keys to the soup are to grate the carrots so they break down reasonably quickly and can be nicely pureed with no graininess, and to adjust with a little sugar and lime juice if you find the carrots you had were a tad bitter. This is one of those soups where the quality of the ingredients really shines through. Cumin is such a warm and savoury spice, you can't help but feel comforted by it.

Two courses down: on to the main attraction, which of course involved animal flesh. K the male works as a butcher, so this was fairly intimidating, but I settled on a cut of meat that has never let me down: the frenched pork loin roast, with bones. It's simple to cook - I rubbed it with oil and herbes de Provence, tossed it onto a bed of potato and sweet potato chunks in an enamel roasting pan, and threw it in the oven. It's easy to carve (just cut between the bones - instant serving size! The number of people should equal the number of bones) and contains both lighter and darker meats, which is awesome. The richer dark meat is less abundant than the drier inner loin, which is a nice balance. Pan juices are a fine gravy, but a fruity chutney or grainy mustard would be lovely as accompaniment too.

I finished off the main course with some simply wilted red swiss chard with butter and garlic. Braised or wilted greens are still one of my favourite things, and they're a bit unexpected as well, which is kind of fun at a dinner party.

I should mention here that with the main course, we drank a 1998 Chateau La Croix Fourney St-Emilion Grand Cru that K squared very generously brought over and gifted to us. I think it might have paired better with a beef dish, but it was delicious and complex as a Bordeaux should be. We are spoiled.

Dessert, after much conversation and a good long wait, was my old standby, the Best Cocoa Brownies (or, as P squared have dubbed them, the brownies that I must bring along on every camping trip). I did a sort of fancy thing where I cut them into triangles instead of squares, because if slightly underbaked they really do resemble nothing so much as a good flourless chocolate cake. I meant to buy some good vanilla bean ice cream to serve with them, or at least sift some cocoa over them. I plead two glasses of wine and some vodka. They were amazing anyway - so good the boys had seconds. A round of ginger mint tea settled us down and we migrated back to the couches very well satisfied indeed.

It's bedtime for the cook, so tomorrow I'll tell you about today's adventures in lentils and applesauce cake. Sleep tight, and may you dream of brownies.

Sun-dried tomato and onion jam

1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated and chopped
2 tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup packed golden brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (supermarket quality is fine)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil over low heat; add onions and sugar and cook slowly until onions are well softened, about 25 minutes. Add tomatoes and vinegar and season to taste. Bring up the leat to medium-low and simmer until jam is thick and liquid is mostly evaoprated (jam will thicken further as it cools). Pour into a bowl and allow to cool. Serve a room temperature for best flavour, on crostini or crackers, with cheese.

Carrot Cumin Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 large sweet onion, diced
4 large carrots, peeled and grated
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
sugar as needed
fresh lime juice to taste
salt to taste

Saute onion in oil over medium heat until softened. Add cumin and cook one minute; add carrots and stock; simmer until carrots are completely soft. Puree with immersion or stand blender; adjust seasonings with sugar, salt, lime juice to taste. Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

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