28 February 2014

Be My, Be My Dutch Baby

In these northern climates, we really should be taking a cue from the south and use Mardi Gras as an excuse to fend off the dregs of winter with beads, sequins and feathers.  Instead, we will sit at home with our pancakes. 

Rather than the usual humdrum stack of hotcakes, the least we can do is add some excitement and make one uber-impressive big puffy pancake.

Dutch Baby Pancake with Spiced Apples

Dutch baby is a lot like an enormous Yorkshire pudding. The pancake itself is not overy sweet, and the ginger and black pepper give the apples a surprising but pleasant heat... a perfect counter to the sweet and slight tart of the apples. Nevermind how good it tastes though, the wow factor when you pull it out of the oven will make you feel like you didn't work hard enough for it.

for the pancake:

In the spirit of Fat Tuesday, use up some of the good stuff.
4 eggs
1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c. (scant) whole wheat flour
1 c. milk
4 tsp local honey
1 tbsp lard or butter

for the apple topping:
2 or 3 med-sized apples*
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tbsp butter or lard

*we used Spartan apples; by this time of year almost any apple picked last fall, particularly if it wasn't stored well, is more of a cooking apple than an eating apple... use a tart apple for best results

When the dutch baby is done, it's puffed up all over and golden brown.  It will collapse as it begins to cool, don't worry about that.  Just make sure everyone's in the kitchen to see it emerge from the oven.

Pre-heat oven to 425F.  Put a cold cast iron skillet in the oven during the pre-heat so that the pan is good and hot when it's time to cook the dutch baby.

Put eggs, flour, milk and honey in a blender (in that order).  Blend on a low-ish speed to combine, then on a not-quite-high speed for 30-45 seconds.  Let sit at room temp while the oven finishes heating. 

When the oven is hot, open it and drop the lard onto the pan, quickly close the door.  Whiz the batter in the blender again to mix.  By now the lard should be melted.  Working quickly, open the oven and pull out the rack with the pan, pour the batter into the hot fat, push the rack back in, and close the door.  Turn the oven down to 400F and cook for 20-25 minutes.  DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN until at least 20 minutes has passed. 

Tart apples sweetened with a touch of honey are a good complement to
the heat of the ginger and pepper.
When you put the pancakes in the oven, get the apples started.  Toss the apple with lemon juice as you slice.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat, add apples and toss to coat, let cook 2 minutes.  Add spices, toss to coat, and cook until the apples soften, about 6 minutes, stirring occassionally.  Drizzle with honey, put a lid on the skillet and turn the heat down low to finish cooking (about 3-5 minutes).  Stir just before serving.

The pancake is done when it is puffed up high (including the center) and is golden brown. If you peek at it at 20 minutes and it's not done, close the door quickly and wait for 3-5 minutes longer.

To serve: Spoon apple mixture over dutch baby and sprinkle with icing sugar, to taste.

Mimic the outdoors inside: icing sugar creates a bit of snowfall on the apple-topped dutch baby.

Newfoundland is a quirky place. I don't mean that disparagingly, it's just the way of things. One of it's quirks is around Mardi Gras.  Every year, people dress up in costumes and converge on George Street in St. John's for a big outdoor street party.  Lots of dancing, lots of drinking, prizes for the best costumes... sounds not so strange for a Mardi Gras event, right?  Except it's in October.  The part of October more commonly known as Hallowe'en.  By which, I mean the weekend closest to (so, also, never on an actual Tuesday).

Maybe that's because it's still warm enough in October to mill around outdoors with a plastic cup of booze in your hands, dressed in a costume of questionable decorum? (Though that still doesn't explain calling it Mardi Gras).  The real Fat Tuesday, on the other hand, occurs in the worst part of winter... right when the rest of the civilized northern hemisphere is starting to believe spring will actually happen sometime soon; but we know it won't, not here.  That same trick of the Atlantic Ocean which keeps Newfoundland warm-ish through October pulls a fast one in March and does not let us shake winter off for a good long time yet. 

Having watched the entire available library of Treme while stuck indoors so much over the last few months, Fefe Noir and I have, admittedly, developed a little bit of New-Orleans-style-Mardi-Gras envy.  What we NEED this time of year is a big old silly street party, a way to defy the bleak outlook.  Fight the winter with beads, sequins, feathers and outdoor dancing. 

Realistically, we will stay in... but maybe we'll get all dressed up and listen to some marching band jazz while we eat our pancakes.

12 February 2014

A Band-Aid Solution for Winter (but a solution nonetheless)

Not for the feint of heart: two of the most dangerous foods in existence* together in one dish.  Yeah, okay, the danger might be abstract for most of us, but the magic of peanut butter with shrimp is very tangible.

*peanuts and shellfish, just ask any grade-schooler...

Shrimp Tacos
Roast garlic and peppers in a dry cast iron skillet, turning
regularly for even cooking.

for the peanut salsa:

10 cloves garlic
10 dried arbol chilies
1 dried pasilla chili
4 dried morita chilies
6 black peppercorns
1 star of star anise (broken up)
1/2 c. natural peanut butter (the ingredients should read: peanuts; avoid anything with a longer list)
4 tbsp cider vinegar
salt to taste
2 tbsp water

for the shrimp:

1-2 fresh serrano peppers (optionally roasted, see instructions)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp avocado oil
2 trays** of Labrador ice shrimp*** 
1/4 fresh lemon

**$5-worth, locally. I forgot to weigh it before we ate it.  Let's just say cook enough for the number of people you are serving and adjust the peppers and garlic to taste.

***also known as coldwater shrimp, north atlantic shrimp, northern shrimp, northern prawn, or salad shrimp... they're the really little ones.  If you don't have a local salad shrimp fishery, substitute with your most sustainable shrimp or prawn option.

A note for Newfoundlanders about the dried peppers:  I have no idea where you can buy these other than ordering them through the miracle of the internet.  I buy them at Mexican groceries when I'm in Ontario visiting family (a large portion of my return luggage is always dedicated to food).  Dried peppers are very light and travel well, so keep your eyes out when you're away.  In the meantime, the whole long red dried chili peppers are a good substitute for arbol chilies.  I have heard a rumour recently that chipotle peppers in adobo sauce can now be purchased at the Dominion on Stavanger Drive in town... having never tried them, I don't know how they would do, but could work as a substitute for the other peppers which lend a subtle smoky flavour to the salsa (probably use fewer peppers, but taste as you go).

Make the peanut sauce: Roast garlic (and, optionally, fresh hot peppers for the shrimp) by putting separated cloves, leaving the paper on, in a dry cast iron skillet over med-high heat.  Turn garlic periodically to roast evenly.  It's alright to let it get singed; the garlic is done once it's soft.  If you are doing fresh peppers for your shrimp, let the pepper singe and blister before removing from the pan. 

While the garlic is roasting, toss the dried peppers, peppercorns and star anise into the pan.  Once the peppers are hot and limp, but before they burn, remove all the dried spices and put into a heat-proof bowl.  Pour boiling water over them to cover and weigh the peppers down with a plate or bowl to keep them submerged.  Let them soak for at least 20 minutes.

Pour off the liquid and reserve (this will be nicely scented with the star anise and peppercorn).  If you want a scorching hot sauce, scrape the seeds and flesh from the pepper skins with a flat knife.  If you want a less hot sauce, run the soaked pepper and spices through a food mill to separate the seeds and skin from the flesh.  I used the seeds from the pasilla and morita peppers but not from the arbol (I'm a middle kid thus prone to compromise.  Fefe would have used all the seeds.).  Squeeze the now cool roasted garlic from it's paper and mash in a mixing bowl with the pepper.  Use the reserved liquid to thin the pepper and garlic paste to an applesauce-like consistency.

Refrigerate leftover peanut sauce: you can use it on snack crackers or sandwiches (particularly good with cucumbers), or thin it a bit more and use it as a dipping sauce for raw vegetables or fried plantain.
Add the peanut butter and half the vinegar and stir to combine.  Taste the sauce and add more vinegar and salt to taste... you want an acidic and salty sauce, but not overwhelmed by either.  Thin with water (or more reserved liquid from the soaked peppers) to desired consistency.  For use in tacos you want it to be easily spreadable, but not pour-able.  The sauce will thicken if refrigerated, so cover and leave at room temperature until serving. 

Sautee the shrimp:  Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high, erring on the high side.  Soften the garlic and serrano peppers (roasted or fresh) in the oil then add shrimp.  Toss frequently until just cooked.  Remove pan from heat, squeeze lemon over shrimp and toss to coat. 

Serve in hand made corn tortillas.  Spread with peanut salsa, then fill with shredded cabbage and shrimp.


February is always a difficult month, but we are in the midst of what I believe is the stupidest winter ever.  Now it's snowing so you can't see across the road.  Now it's so cold that every time someone moves outside, it sounds like rubbing stryofoam.  Now it's rainy and the snow is gone and your socks are wet.  Now there's a deep freeze.  Now it's rainy again.  Wait, no, it's ice pellets.  Snow.  Ice.  Rain.  One day, muddy footprints tracked across the kitchen floor.  The next day, half an hour of removing compacted snow balls from between the dogs' toes, just so that they'll agree to walk the final three steps to the house and come in.

And we should be so lucky if there's only 6 weeks left to it.  I know I'm a week and a half past Groundhog's Day already, but really, if winter is behind us in 6 weeks from now, I'll eat a tin of vienna sausages.

February is that weird month too, where it's too early to open the last jar of bakeapples or cook the end of the rhubarb in the freezer, but it's too late to expect cabbages to still be bright green.  Every week, more and more of the outer leaves are pulled back to trim the wilted bits and we seem, by now, to be down to pale cabbage core.  But never mind, that cabbage inside is still crunchy and sweet.

For those of us not flocking down south for a winter holiday in the sun and surf, February is a good month to pretend.  Make a pitcher of margaritas, put on a sundress under your cozy sweaters, stuff your wool-socked feet into sandals, and feast on shrimp tacos with peanut sauce****.  It's just like being in Baja*****. 

****you know, unless you have those fatal allergies

*****don't argue with me on this:  I've never been to Baja (I may have never been further south than Put-In-Bay, Ohio, actually) but I need to imagine I can recreate it in my drafty old house so I don't go completely insane this year...

Peanut Salsa on Punk Domestics