January 28, 2013

Blueberry Pancakes with Pear Compote and Cardamom Whipped Cream

This is my last week before I leave the fair city of Toronto for greener pastures. I know, I already went through this whole goodbye Toronto thing last April. But that was a temporary departure. This time it's for good. 

Leaving a fulfilling job in a city that I love is no easy task. But a few months ago, I made the decision to follow my heart in the eastwardly direction it kept persistently pointing to: towards love, farming, the ocean, and hopefully a whole lot more cooking and blogging. 

But leaving means goodbyes, which I do not like. And this past weekend, I went up north to hang out with some beloved friends whom I will miss dearly. Thankfully, I got distracted from the woes of leaving by their 16-month old daughter filling up the weekend with smiles and laughter. And I can't decide which is better, the fact that my friends got me completely addicted to Girls, or that they introduced me to my new favourite flavour pairing: pear and cardamom.

First we had it on blueberry pancakes in the form of pear compote and cardamom whipped cream, which sent us all to the moon. And then they even concocted a luscious homemade pear soda served with generous dollops of the cardamom-perfumed cream. 

Along with blowing my mind with the fabulous pear-cardamom flavour combo, their little girl made my heart positively melt with this most fantastic fashion pairing ever: moo leg warmers and moccasins. 

And here is the little beauty, munching on delicious blueberry pancakes.

I am completely in love with this tiny lady who, like her mom and dad, is full of life and pizazz. The weekend filled me up with joy and I left feeling a little braver facing my very last week in Toronto and the mountain of goodbyes ahead. Thanks team JJ & M <3


For the blueberry pancakes, you really need to go straight to the master and I recommend this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

For the pear compote, simply chop up some pears (skins on or off, your choice) and add sugar or maple syrup to taste, along with a few tablespoonfuls of water. Cook over medium heat until the pears have dissolved into a soft and delicious pear sauce. You may need to add a little more water as they cook.

For the cardamom whipped cream, my friends used freshly ground cardamom seeds which infused the air with goodness and made the whipped cream sing. Simply crush about 7 cardamom pods, discard the husks, and either crush the seeds in a mortar and pestle with a couple teaspoons of sugar or mill them in a coffee grinder. Mix into whipped heavy cream. Sweeten to taste.


January 20, 2013

Wild sockeye salmon poached in green tea

I've had salmon on the brain lately. And not in a good way. 

In case you haven't heard, the FDA is on the brink of approving the first ever genetically engineered (GE) animal for human consumption: a supersized salmon with growth hormone genes inserted into its DNA, making it grow twice as fast as conventional salmon. This new franken-salmon won't be labeled, so we'll have no way of differentiating it from conventional salmon at the grocery store. Thankfully, the FDA is required to consider public opinion before making an approval. So if enough of us speak up, we have the power to stop this. If you only sign one petition this week, please make it be this one from Avaaz. As I write this, the petition has gathered 717,823 signatures. Let's get it to 1 million, please share it on your facebook page and tweet it. Or even better, call the White House directly (202) 456-1111 and tell President Obama you don't want to eat genetically engineered salmon.

As always, when I feel discouraged about this crazy world we're living in, I console myself with food. And this weekend, I really needed to knock my own socks off and get happy about salmon again. So here's what I made: wild sockeye salmon poached in green tea, served on a broccoli ginger fritter with a poached egg and miso hollandaise. 

My dear food-loving and miso-obsessed friend Steven (aka Jojo) came over and happily gobbled this up with me. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon brunch.

It was especially a pleasure eating this dish since I don't eat salmon very often. The high price of wild sockeye salmon and the fact that stocks in some areas are depleted and at risk keeps it in the category of "very occasional treats" for me, and I don't really eat any other type of salmon since most salmon that is readily available for sale is farmed. Fox News (of all places!) actually had a great explanation of why to avoid farmed salmon in its article entitled 7 Foods You Should Never Eat. Here's a little excerpt:
Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT... There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.
Why are we humans so obsessed with tampering with what nature already makes perfectly? What is UP with us?! 

Before we get to the actual recipe, my GE rant is still not quite done, so please bear with me. Because what really frustrates me is that the big money biotech PR machine is getting its panties all in a knot right now to get the public onboard this whole GE salmon thing. But let's be clear about a few things, and just debunk some of the myths that they are spreading out there before we make a giant mistake.

MYTH #1 - GE salmon is perfectly safe for humans to eat
Nobody knows for sure whether GE salmon is safe to eat in the long term because the only studies to substantiate this claim come from the company that created them. They stand to make millions in profits. These studies are not independent science and the government has done no safety studies of its own. To say that the FDA's decision will be science-based is a farce. Especially given that the FDA has ex-Monsanto executives at its helm and an embarrassing little habit of ignoring its own scientists' warnings and concerns. 

MYTH #2 - GE salmon will feed the world
The idea that GE salmon will "feed the world" as the biotech industry claims, is naive and misleading. Fish farming, whether genetically engineered or not, is generally not very sustainable. In 2006, the aquaculture industry consumed almost 90% of small prey fish such as sardines, anchovies, and herring captured worldwide. These small fish are a major food source for marine wildlife, as well as the number one protein source for many cultures around the world. In fact, these smaller fish are in many instances the best fish for all of us to be consuming since they are lower on the food chain and contain less mercury and toxic chemical than larger fish species. According to Food and Water Watch, GE salmon will require about 5 times as much feed as non-GE salmon, thus accelerating the decline of available fish in lower-income countries.

MYTH #3 - GE salmon will be contained and will not escape into the wild
Scientists say that even if only a few of these GE salmon accidentally escape into the wild, within 40 generations wild fish stocks could be decimated. As in, extinct. As it stands now, hundreds of thousands of farmed salmon escape into the wild each year. And even AquaBounty, the company that developed and patented this GE salmon, admits that "no single containment measure can be assured of 100% effectiveness."AquaBounty claims that the GE salmon will be sterile and therefore in the case of an escape, unable to reproduce and intermix with wild fish. Sounds reassuring at first, but upon further investigation, it turns out the company's batch testing only needs to show an above 95% sterility rate, meaning hundreds of thousands of fertile eggs will be able to slip by unnoticed. In fact, AquaBounty's plan is to test only 200 eggs per batch of 100,000 to 200,000 eggs, so they'll only actually be testing 1% of the eggs. Even the FDA has called AquaBounty's claim to raise only sterile fish "potentially misleading". 

And now my rant is done, because I need to go to bed, so I leave you in peace dear reader, to go forth and poach some delicious (and hopefully not farmed) salmon. And if you want to know more about the dangers behind GE fish, this is a great starting place

My mom used to often poach fish to tender, melt-in-your-mouth perfection but I had never done it myself. Which is weird since it's probably the easiest, quickest, and healthiest way to cook fish.

Here's what you'll need for this recipe:
3 cups strong green tea (I threw in a few whole cloves and star anise, for the heck of it. But you can throw in whatever is fragrant and inspires you: lemon, honey, mint, or even sake would be mmm nice)
1 fillet of fresh wild salmon (cut in sizes that will fit your saucepan)

Bring the tea to a gentle boil in a small to medium saucepan and drop in the salmon, skin and all. Cook for about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. It can cook very fast so watch it carefully as it is best to err on the side of undercooking rather than overcooking. If it is undercooked, you can always throw it in for an extra minute or two. My mom would always allow the very centre of the fish stay bright red, almost raw. Julia Child explains poaching as follows: “Fish is done when the flesh has turned from translucent to opaque and, rather than feeling squashy to the touch like raw fish, it feels lightly springy. It should still be juicy. Fish that is resistant and flaky is overdone – too bad!”

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Will make 4 to 5 medium-sized fritters

1 small to medium broccoli (3 cups chopped)
1 large egg
1/2 cup flour (I used a gluten-free mix of rice & tapioca flours)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 green onions, finely chopped 
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying

Steam your chopped broccoli for a good 6 to 7 minutes. It should be tender but not mushy, and still maintain its vibrant green colour. (I made the mistake of undercooking the broccoli the first time I made these, but the fritters will be better if the broccoli is well cooked, though still green, and finely chopped). Drain the broccoli, cool it slightly, and chop it very finely into small pieces.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg and ginger, garlic, green onions, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl mix the flour and baking powder together. Mix the flour into the egg mixture until uniform and add the broccoli. Mix fully.

Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a large skillet and when the oil is hot, drop about 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet and flatten to about 1/2 inch thick. Even if it doesn't look like it, the batter will hold together, don't worry. Once it is golden, flip over the fritter and cook the other side for about 2 minutes or until crispy and golden. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 cup white miso (if it is a soy-based miso, be sure to get the non-GMO or organic stuff)
2 tbsp tapioca flour (or organic / non-GMO cornstarch)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1 3/4 cup water (or vegetable broth)
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry up the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until golden and soft. Add the garlic and 1 of the 2 tbsps of butter. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the miso and stir well. Add 3/4 cup water and stir until uniform. Remove from heat and blend with a hand blender until smooth. Return to medium heat and mix in 1 more cup of water. In a small bowl, take about 1/2 cup of your sauce and stir in the tapioca flour / cornstarch until dissolved. Whisk in the egg yolk and add the lemon juice. Mix well and pour this into the saucepan while whisking vigorously. Add the last tbsp of butter. Continue whisking and cooking the sauce for a few more minutes until the hollandaise has thickened. Remove from heat and pour through a fine mesh strainer to obtain a silky smooth sauce.

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil about 6 cups of water and 2 teaspoons of vinegar. Gently crack the eggs into the water. Turn off the heat and cover. Let the eggs sit for about 4 to 5 minutes, depending on how soft you want the yolks. Remove with a slotted spoon.

I sprinkled broccoli microgreens on my plate (very easy to grow! click here), placed a fritter in the middle, gently pulled apart some salmon to lay on top, added my poached egg, and drenched the whole thing with miso hollandaise. Topped if off with a few more microgreens and voila.