Sunday, November 29, 2009

La Comida at the Commodore

Behold! Vancouver's best venue to see live music: The Commodore Ballroom. We've all seen some fantastic shows here, but did you also know that it is a fantastic place to grab dinner? It's true. My beau and I have now done this twice, and nothing says "living the swanky life" like ordering a meal in that beautiful space, indulging, and then sitting back to enjoy the tunes. It's kind of like what dinner theatre would be if it all ended up tasteful and appealing instead of creepy. What's more, the meal is incentive to come early and get a good place to sit.

"Sure," you're saying, "but who wants to eat onions rings and nachos for dinner?" Well, lots of us, but that's not the point. The point is that their menu is pretty impressive! Lots of good stuff for the carnivores, and for us flex-i-tarians we ordered the following:

1. A local wild-mushroom and corn ragout on "brioche perdu" (which is toast. delicious toast.) in a mild cream sauce. YUMMY! $10. No joke.

2. Pan-seared gnocchi with sage, spiced pumpkin, pine nuts and arugula. Personally I feel the texture of the arugula interfered with the overall experience of this dish, so it doesn't get full points, but still! Very good. $11.

In sum, don't forget to include dinner at the Commodore as part of your next concert experience. A treat for so many of your senses.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brazilian Seafood Stew

We're officially in the rainy season here, which means I'm officially in the soup season too. And pretty much in coconut milk season year round, so this stew recipe, modified from Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh cookbook, is a regular go-to for me.

My dear friend Amanda was coming cover for dinner and a Christmas knit session (one project down, 600 or so to go), but I knew we were heading to the Whip for cask ales first. (Have you been yet? Sundays at 4:00, the perfect weekend ender.) I needed a one-dish wonder we could whip up (no pun intended) as soon as we got home.

I actually confused two recipes in my head when I was grocery shopping (I also adore James Barber's One-Pot Wonders, and his recipe for 20-minute bouillabaisse), so I picked up a pound of mushrooms. It's not in the Bon Appetit version, but I threw them in. I also left out the required shrimp and upped the fish portion (basa fillets in my case). I'm pretty sure prawns (unless they're local spot prawns) are one of the no-gos on the Sea Choice list, but now I don't know about Basa. Gah, so much to think about.

I also upped the lime juice and added a bit of sugar at the end, giving it a little more sweet/sour kick.

Either way, this recipe rocks. Amanda and I had it done in about 20 minutes flat, prep and all. All right, maybe 25. But we had two (and a half) Whip pints to keep us moving.

Brazilian Seafood Stew recipe
adapted from Fast Easy Fresh, Bon Appetit

4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 2 fresh limes (about 4 tbsp)

2 pounds white fish fillets (Basa, in my case), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell peppers
1 lb mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
2 cups chopped tomatoes (I use canned in the winter. Winter tomatoes, IMHO, suck.)
3/4 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onions
3 tbsp sugar

Whisk 2 tablespoons oil and lime juice in large bowl. Add fish and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper; stir to coat. Let stand 15 minutes.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, garlic and crushed red pepper; sauté 5 minutes. Mix in tomatoes, coconut milk, half of cilantro and half of green onions. Add fish with marinade. Simmer until fish is just opaque in center, about 5 minutes. Season stew with sugar, salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and green onions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spiced Pumpkin Cake & Muffins (check out the new spelling!)

Anicka, I await a taste of your apricot gift bread with great anticipation! And as far as uses for buttermilk go, my mom taught me a good one: just blend it up with some fresh mango and you have a divine, no-hassle mango lassi. I love it served on ice.

Now to the main purpose of my post - pumpkin! I've never been a big pumpkin pie fan and so I have underrated the use of pumpkin in baking. Then I found this delicious recipe on Epicurious for Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake which I made for Vince's birthday. (I wish I had a more authentic pic!)

I'm a big chocolate (or cheesecake) fan and, like Claire, most cakes don't appeal to me but I was pleasantly surprised by this one. I've decided that my big complaint about cake is that they are too often dry. This one is moist & rich with flavour. I'd make it with less sugar in the icing next time - and less icing in general, but other than that it gets full thumbs up.

The really exciting thing, though, was that I modified the recipe the following morning with some of the leftover ingredients to make some killer muffins. I used whole wheat pastry flour, at least 1/2 the sugar and less oil too for a healthier and very tasty breakfast treat! As long as you stick to combining similar proportions of wet & dry ingredients, it seems like a really flexible recipe.

Apricot Almond "gift" bread

A day of freelance work had me itching for baking, so I used my new iPhone ap from Epicurious to figure out what to make. And ta-da: Apricot Almond Gift bread! A good excuse to test out what I might give to people for (spoiler alert, friends) wee gifts this Christmas.

The recipe is pretty simple, though I was surprised how stiff the dough was. It more "plops" rather than pours into the mini pans I opted to use again.

Since these were just for me (they're freezer bound for future brunches) I didn't bother to ice them, though I think I will next time for festiveness. (I'm planning to use the lemon juice-based version found on the lebkucken). I also cut down the requested 1 cup of sugar to 3/4 of a cup, and went for the buttermilk instead of the apricot nectar...though I'm considering the latter in round two.

And we have a winner! Tasty and moist, loaded with apricots. I might consider adding raisins or dates next time for a little more fruit kick - or crystalized ginger! Yes!

Now I have to have Claire over to drink the rest of my buttermilk. Or go back to this Ultimate Buttermilk repository before it's too late.

Apricot Almond Gift Bread
adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1 cup dried apricots (moist-style)
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) blanched almonds
  • 1/3 cup canola or light olive oil
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup apricot nectar or buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing (optional)
  • 2/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons milk, water, or fruit juice (or as needed)
  • Pan Preparation: Butter the pan(s) or spray with butter-flavor nonstick vegetable spray and dust with flour. Tap out the excess flour.

Make bread:
Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake large loaf 60 to 65 minutes, baby loaves 40 to 45 minutes. Prepare pan(s) as directed.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and wheat germ. If using a food processor, add the apricots and a generous tablespoon of the flour mixture to the bowl and pulse until the fruit is cut into small (1/4-inch) bits. Or, cut up the apricots with oiled kitchen shears or an oiled knife. Scrape the apricot bits into the bowl with the flour. Chop the nuts and add them to the dry ingredients.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, egg, nectar or buttermilk, and extracts. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the oil-egg mixture. Whisk or stir just to blend well; don't over mix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan(s), filling them about two-thirds full. Bake 60 to 65 minutes for a large loaf, 40 to 45 minutes for small loaves (or for the time indicated for your altitude in the chart), or until the bread is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan(s) on a wire rack.

Make icing:
To make the optional icing, whisk together the sugar and liquid in a small bowl until thick and smooth. When the bread is completely cooled, drizzle the icing over the top; it will harden as it dries.