Sunday, 17 February 2013

Chili-Glazed Salmon

February 2013

SmartCooks.  'Chili-Glazed Salmon' was the dinner antidote to the week and weekend from hell, thanks to a nasty stomach bug that led to the 'hell' designation.  

It was bad enough for me to miss the opportunity to roast n' toast Kim Novak on February 13 and Valentine's on the 14th.  A belated 'here's lookin' at 'em'.  

I also missed the final weekend of Winterlude.  I should feel bad about it except I've never been very keen on skating in -30ish wind chill weather with wind gusts of 45 km and above.  Brrrr.  

Clearly, I'm in a minority in the 'brave-the-weather-no-matter-what' category.  As the photo attests, there were throngs of people up to the challenge.  They must be from hardier stock than I am -- and I've lived here for decades now.  But then again, I also would never have trained or signed up for the 130-km ultra cycle-run "Actif Epica" marathon in Manitoba this weekend. Double brrr. 

The return to the land of an interesting, healthy, fast dinner somehow led to buying a couple of small salmon fillets and finding a Southern US recipe -- profiled by Oprah a few years back -- for 'Chili-Glazed Salmon with Braised Collards.  (You'll notice no recipe for the braised collards... all I can say is I tried 'em and I did not like 'em ... at all ... so no coupling of the two for me.)

A word about the 'Chili-glazed' part of the recipe

There are a range of choices for the chili part of this recipe.  Some recipes suggested a Thai/Asian sweet chili sauce (homemade or bought), while others simply say 'chili powder'.  I chose the latter, opting for the lower calories. 

I happened to have 'ancho chili powder' on hand.  The description on the package told me that it consists of ground dried poblano chili peppers from the Central Mexico region of Puebla.  The powder is known for adding a zing to food, but is on the very mild side as far as chili peppers go.  Definitely up my alley ...

I upped the lime juice/zest slightly from the original recipe and thought I achieved the right 'mild zing' palate balance I sought. I siphoned a little 'Jim Beam' bourbon from hubby's bourbon collection and made the sauce very quickly.  Then, it was 8 minutes under the broiler to produce a perfectly cooked salmon dinner.  You can add a small salad, or a green vegetable (kale, collards!, swiss chard, broccoli....), rice/quinoa, or whatever.  It's an easy, satisfying and fortifying return to normal and the start of yet another work week.  


Chili-Glazed Salmon

¼ cup honey 
1.5 T bourbon
2 T ancho chili powder
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp lime juice
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets


In a small bowl, combine honey, bourbon, ancho chili powder, ginger, salt, pepper, lime zest and lime juice.

Place oven rack about 6 inches from broiler. Preheat broiler. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place salmon fillets, skin side down, on foil. Spoon mixture over salmon. Broil until glaze is bubbling and salmon is no longer opaque in the center, about 8 minutes.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Celebrating Chinese New Year with Hot and Sour Soup

February 2013

SmartCooks here.  Every time I grumble about not being able to find ingredients in Ottawa for my latest culinary venture ... well, try Charlottetown.  In Ottawa, I tell myself I just don't know where to look (and then I go on an expedition) but in Charlottetown, well... variety is bleak. 

But I persevered this week to enjoy flavourful Chinese Hot and Sour Soup as a tribute to Chinese New Year (year of the snake).  It was worth the search effort and gives me a mission other than work.  

Brief Observations on the Ottawa-Charlottetown Living Experiences

Charlottetown is a beautiful city (especially in the summer) but it's a bit grim in the winter like the blizzard raging this weekend that I avoided by taking the last plane off the Island Friday night.  Photo below could be either the reality in Charlottetown or Ottawa! 
But to date it's proven impossible to find much organic produce in my searches around Charlottetown (other than PEI potatoes) or staples like dried mushrooms, bamboo shoots, or black vinegar.  I've resorted to packing heat in my suitcase every week -- chiles, Sriracha, Asian sprouts to name a few ... and stocking the kitchen with 'imported' goods.  Not that there's much time to cook given the hours I'm working these weeks .... but that's a tale for another day.    

Kevin's Closet Cooking Blog 

Given the weather in both my cities, I developed a craving for homemade "Hot and Sour Soup".  The craving was prompted by a post I received from Kevin's 'Closet Cooking', a Toronto-based lad who is a prolific food blogger and e-recipe book publisher.  He describes himself as a software engineer by day and a cook by night.  I swear he must research, cook, photograph and post 10 hours a night... his passion and obsession with 'never again eating a boring meal' is evident through his busy, colourful blog.  

For Chinese New Year, he posted a tempting array of dishes ranging from lemon or orange chicken, Kung Pao, Dan Dan Mian to the one below on "Chinese Hot and Sour Soup".  For the most part, the recipes are part of clean eating.  I adapt them to suit taste... last night, for example, I cooked a version of his "Lemon-Honey Chicken" but tripled the sauce to spoon over noodles.  He's worth checking out.  

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup Ingredients 

I found many variations of this soup on line, both vegetarian or made with pork or chicken.  I opted for tofu and pork exactly as recommended by Kevin's Closet Cooking.  

Finding the dried mushrooms can be challenging.  Luckily, I have a variety of dried mushrooms on hand, the result of an Internet buy gone wild on my part. If it's too difficult to find the exact type listed below, most supermarkets now carry packages of 'gourmet' or even shiitake dried mushrooms that will work.  

The recipe calls for dried wood ear, black and lily bud dried mushrooms.  Lily bud dried mushrooms may be the most difficult to find in our part of the world.  They are the unopened flower buds of orange and yellow day lilies and are also known as golden needles.  They are very popular with Buddhists and in other vegetarian cuisine due to their distinctive, earthy flavour.  Before adding to a dish or soup, they just need to be soaked in warm water for 20-30 minutes.  Trim soaked buds of any hard stem tips and then shred or cut across in halves.

Bamboo shoots can also be a challenge to find.  Bloblaws is a write off, at least the shambly store in my neighbourhood.  I eventually found them at the Asian Supercentre in the East end of the world. Strange they are so hard to find given their popularity for centuries in Asian cuisine.  The canned variety lacks the flavour of fresh produce but for this soup, they did the trick quite nicely.

Once the shopping expedition is done, assembling the soup is simple.  The photo from a delightful food site called Wandering Chopsticks most of the ingredients. Enjoy and check out Kevin's Closet Cooking site.  

Chinese Hot and Sour Soup Recipe
  • 6 dried tree ear mushrooms (also known as wood ear mushrooms)
  • 6 dried black mushrooms
  • 8 dried lily buds (otherwise known as golden needles)
  • 1/2 cup bamboo shoots
  • 3 T unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T Chinese black vinegar
  • 4 T light soy sauce (or Tamari) 
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 2 T water
  • 1 T oil
  • 4 ounces pork loin (optional), 
  • cooked and shredded
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
  • 1 package tofu, cut into small pieces
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 tsp white pepper, ground
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp chili oil or to taste
  • 1 T chili sauce or to taste
  • 4 green onions sliced

Soak the dried tree ear and black mushrooms in boiling water until softened, about 20 minutes, and shred them. Soak the dried lily buds in warm water until softened, about 20 minutes, and shred them. Cover the bamboo shoots in water, bring to a boil, drain and shred.

Mix the vinegars, soy sauce, salt and sugar in a bowl. Mix the cornstarch into the water in a bowl.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the pork, tree ear and black mushrooms, lily buds and bamboo shoots and saute for a minute.  Add the broth and tofu and bring to a boil.  When boiling, add the vinegar mixture and the cornstarch mixture and stir until it thickens.

Pour the eggs into the soup in a thin stream while stirring the soup. Stir in the peppers, oils and chili sauce.  Serve garnished with green onions.  

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Jerusalem: A Cookbook

February 3, 2013

SmartCooks here.  Rarely does a book review get me to jump in the car and and search out the book.  That is until I read several reviews of a new cookbook called "Jerusalem: A Cookbook".  I bought the last copy at Chapters in Ottawa (thank goodness for on-line searches of which stores have copies).  I'm still reading it, and intend to cook my way through most of the vegetables and some meat recipes over the next six months or so. 

Jerusalem:  A Cookbook is informative, thoughtful, and accessible for many audiences and cooking levels.  I am learning so much about Middle Eastern cuisine and getting to cook with some of my favourite vegetables and herbs -- za'atar, tahini, fresh lemon juice, plenty of herbs, eggplant.  At the same time, I'm learning tons about the history and culture of Jerusalem.  The pictures of the city, people and the food are simply stunning. 

The cookbook is written by two London-based Israeli chefs  -- Yotam Ottolengthi and Sami Tamimi -- who make it their mission to acquaint readers with the wonderful flavours of Jerusalem’s cuisine and culture.  Reading the cookbook is as much an adventure for me as cooking from it.  Yotam and Sami were both born in the same year (1968) in Jerusalem but grew up in different parts of the city:  Yotam in the Jewish west portion of the city; Sami in the Arab east.  

The two met not in Jerusalem but in London, UK, where a friendship led to a business partnership.  At last count, they now run five take-out restaurants – the famous deli-style Ottolenghi, and one fine-dining UK theatre district restaurant called NOPI.  They have written other cookbooks that celebrate the cuisine of their hometown (e.g., "Plenty: Vigrant Vegetable Recipes" in 2011 and "Ottolenghi: The Cookbook") in 2008.

This current book includes a brief history of Jerusalem, memories of the food cuisine and 120 recipes.  Each recipe starts with notes about the origins of the dish or suggestions for preparation, or background on ingredients like eggplant. 

The authors intersperse recipes with personal memories.  I had to chuckle at their description of playing in the 'rare' (for them) Jerusalem snowfall. (Oh that I could capture their enthusiasm for snow!)  They recognize that some of the ingredients -- like za'atar, saffron, arak, barberries, Jerusalem artichokes -- may be difficult to find in some areas in the western world and therefore offer alternatives.  Personally, my suggestion is to search out the key ingredients on an shopping expedition and it will save time later when cooking some of the recipes. 

Here's one recipe below -- Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak -- that has been featured in many of the reviews I read.  I tried it as it seemed a perfect antidote to the Ottawa and Charlottetown weather of late.  It made me think of spring with its fresh ingredients like fennel and citrus (clementines).  

The recipe is an invention of the authors and calls for Arak, an anise-flavoured liqueur that comes from Beirut, Lebanon.  Ouzo or Pernod has can be substituted for Arak.  I opted for Pernod.

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak 
(4 people) 


6 T Arak (or ouzo or Pernod)
4 T olive oil
3 T freshly squeezed orange juice
3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T whole-grain mustard
3 T light brown sugar 
1.5 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 medium fennel bulbs, cut lengthwise and into quarters
1 2 lb organic or free-range chicken, divided into 8 pieces OR a mixture of chicken breasts and thighs, skin on
4 clementines, unpeeled, sliced thin
1 T fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
Parsley, for garnish


In a large bowl, whisk together Arak (or Ouzo or Pernod), olive oil, orange and lemon juices, mustard, brown sugar and salt.  Season with pepper to taste.  

Add fennel, chicken, clementine slices, thyme and crushed fennel seeds.  Turn several times to coat.  If time allows, marinate chicken for a few hours or preferably overnight. If not, at least 30 minutes.  

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Transfer all ingredients, including marinade, to a large roasting pan.  Chicken should be skin-side up.  Roast until chicken is browned and cooked through, 35-45 minutes for a whole chicken (less if pieces).  Remove from the oven.

Lift chicken, fennel and clementines from pan and arrange on a serving platter.  Cover and keep warm.  

Pour cooking liquid into a small saucepan.  Place on medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then simmer until sauce is reduced and it reduces to about 1/3 cup.  Degrease using a spoon if fat rises from top of sauce.

Pour the heated sauce over chicken.  Garnish with parsley and serve.