30 April 2014

There is a season, churn, churn, churn

Leave your food processors and stand mixers unplugged and make butter the hard way.  Be humbled and astounded by the mere fact of butter.

Make your own creamy pale yellow butter.  The bonus prize is all that lovely buttermilk.

The big piles of snow shoveled and plowed over the last few months have reduced themselves to piles of dirt, grit, gravel, chunks of asphalt, Tim Horton's cups, and unpaired mittens.  Forget the disappearing snow or the fact that we're getting more days above freezing than below.  Fog is the hope and promise of spring, don't let anyone ever tell you it's gloomy.  

Sure, there's still snow in the woods and a chance of flurries in the forecast, but it's been over a week since we've been able to see the sun through all the fog.  Gulls are mostly seen in pairs.  The crab boats are busy.  The garlic and rhubarb are emerging.  Moose-on-the-road reports have increased suddenly.  These are the most reliable signs of spring in this corner of the world.

A sure sign of spring: gulls are most commonly seen in pairs right now.

We had one actual nearly-warm and almost-sunny day in April.  Since then, no matter how cold it's been, we refuse to have more winter.  Joggers are out in shorts, people have stopped scraping their windshields, last year's popsicles have finally sold out of the stores.. if you don't believe this craziness, Little Red Chicken can confirm it.  Between the defiance-induced cold exposure and the population-level sugar high that comes with that mythical chocolate-egg-laying rabbit, we're giddily unhinged this time of year.  

There was a bit of Newfoundland silliness last week on twitter, starting with a quip about a butter-throwing local prison gang.  Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine a proper gang in Newfoundland's prison system.  Calling themselves the St. John's Mob makes it almost, well, cute.  I know they're probably feeling serious as all get out but it's all difficult to take seriously when their serious riot was negotiated to an end, reportedly, by the provision of two cigarettes*.  That's not even one cigarette per gang member.

*proof, perhaps, that no good can come of the no-smoking-in-prisons-rule... if inmates are willing to riot for two cigarettes, causing nearly $100,000 of damage, maybe there's a better solution to workplace health & safety issues, because, butter or not, it doesn't sound like safety increased.  

Here's something: two news stories I came across have referenced the butter throwing.  One story reports butter, another story reports margarine.  As though they are interchangeable.

Here's something else: when someone in Newfoundland says "butter", unless you ask for clarification, it is impossible to know whether they mean butter or they mean margarine.  Mind-boggling-ly, it's as though it makes no difference.

I'm not even going to waste blog space to debate the relative merits of butter and margarine.  There is nothing good about margarine (unless you have an allergy to butter or you are vegan).  Butter is superior in every way.  No contest, no question.

So I got to thinking about this unhappy state of things, where butter and margarine stand as equals.  There is something completely mucked up about our relationship to food if we treat these as two sides of the same coin.  They aren't even the same currency.  Have we become so distant from our food that we just shrug and say, "butter, magarine... whatever"?  Probably not you, dear lovely food-friendly readers, but nonetheless, I propose this exercise in getting up close and personal with our food:  this week, make some butter.

In fact, leave your food processors and stand mixers unplugged and make butter the hard way, so you can be humbled and astounded by the mere fact of butter.

How to Make Butter in 2 Easy Steps

 (+ 1 Demanding and Time-Consuming Step)

Putting a whisk ball or marble or other food safe object in your jar
means you are getting more work done with every shake.  We haven't
conducted the proper scientific experiment, but we think it makes the
 butter making more efficient.

1.  Fill a jar 1/2 to 2/3 full of whipping cream.

2.  Tighten the lid so it won't leak out.

3.  Shake it until it turns into butter.

It's that easy, even the hard way.**

**okay, you aren't quite done because you have to strain off the buttermilk, then wash and salt (optional) the butter...

We cultured our cream first by inoculating it with yogurt whey and letting it sit out on the counter overnight.  This is a completely unnecessary step for getting butter, but it will make the butter european-y in taste (tangy rather than sweet) and it prolongs the shelf-life.  Don't get hung up on shelf life though; you will use the butter before it goes off.

(Get a load of how clever this was:  we put some plain yogurt with active bacteria in a gold mesh coffee drip filter over our jar of cream and swished the jar around once in a while during the evening, then left the set-up overnight.  In the morning: cultured cream in the jar + yogurt cheese in the filter.  Use yogurt cheese like you would use cream cheese.)

Put your cream in the jar, screw the lid on tightly, and start to shake.  

After a bit of shaking, the whole jar will be white and full.

Keep shaking.  Take turns shaking.  If you have miniature humans in your house, particularly competitive ones, give them each a jar and see who gets to butter first.

Like any of us, you're a busy person.  You haven't got time to stand around your kitchen all day, shaking a jar of cream.  Especially a jar you are still handling with some skepticism.

So don't stand in your kitchen.  Take your jar of cream with you when you walk the dogs.

Miss Bella is a bit skeptical about whether this walk is actually for her benefit.

Shake the butter while you're running errands. 

Another sure sign of spring: potholes.  Take advantage of the plow-ravaged,
bumpy roads... seriously, take that jar of cream-turning-to-butter everywhere.
Just keep shaking.

If nothing seems to be happening, carefully unscrew the lid and put some sort of clean object in the jar.  Something that will move through the thick cream to amplify the effects of shaking.  (Fefe Noir has essentially zero patience, so we stole the wire ball with a counter weight out of our fancy whisk and dropped it in the jar.  Fefe is convinced this made the difference between getting butter and not.  I think we would have ended up with butter anyway, just not as quickly.)

If you are still waiting for the butter magic to happen, fire up Netflix and shake your jar while you watch Julie & Julia.  (How is it possible we'd never watched this before?).  What better movie for butter making?

Eventually, the thick whiteness will begin to tinge with yellow and start
to clump up.

For a long time, you will have a jar completely filled with white.  Then you'll think maybe you're seeing a tinge of yellow and some large air pockets.  You'll think that alternatively you may be losing your mind.  Then you'll notice a definite change of colour and it will feel more liquid again.  Then, in what will seem like a sudden shift, you will have butter.  Clumps of lovely pale yellow butter sitting in buttermilk.

Congratulations, you performed a miracle.  You made your own butter.

Then, all of a sudden, it's butter.  I don't know if Julia Child would approve
of such rustic pursuits as actually making it yourself, but she obviously
approved of butter.
The rest of it now is really tying up the loose ends.  The butter making has already happened.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and drain the buttermilk from the butter.  Pour the buttermilk into clean containers and store in the fridge until you use it.  

Strain the buttermilk into a container for storing.  There are a million ways to
use it, and it's very difficult to buy genuine buttermilk in supermarkets.

Gently knead the butter to press out all the milk solids.  If you want to salt the butter, knead in about 1/2 tsp of salt per pound of butter... or more or less to taste.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Wash the butter by kneading it in the ice water, draining out the liquid and refilling with clean water, until the water is no longer milky.  Put it in a lidded container or wrap it in waxed paper or otherwise store it like you would store butter.

Washing the butter in ice water keeps it from melting from the heat of
your hands.

Use the butter before it goes rancid (a week or so if unsalted, a bit longer salted, quite a bit longer cultured, salted or not).  Never mind the shelf life, you made this butter, use this an excuse to butter everything until it's gone.


Where are my days?
Where are my nights?
Where is the springtime?
I wanna fly, I wanna fly, I wanna fly.
~ John(athan) Denver Seagull... ;)

Make your own butter (optional culturing) on Punk Domestics

18 April 2014

Worth Its Salt Fish

The classic pairing of salt cod and parsnip... turned pub grub.

The classic coupling of salt cod and parsnip becomes a variation on the much-loved meal of fish & chips.

Seed-Crusted Salt Fish with Parsnip & Carrot Chips

for the fish:

salted cod, center loin section, skinned (for each person, a piece about the size of a pack of cards, give or take)
all-purpose flour
egg, beaten
about 1/4 c. each sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (hulled) for every 2-3 pieces of fish

for the chips:

1 carrot per person
2 parsnips per person
ice cubes

oil for frying (peanut and/or sunflower)

for the vinaigrette/ dipping sauce:

1 small shallot
a generous pinch of salt
4 anchovy fillets
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 c. good olive oil


Soak the salt cod in a large bowl of cold water.  Change the water twice a day (more if you think about it more often).  You may have heard that you can speed up the removal of excess salt by boiling the fish, which is true, but it will fall apart... that's okay for fish cakes or brandade, but you want to keep this fish intact; take the time for a cold soak.


Drain the salt fish and let it sit in a colander or sieve to drain and allow the surface to dry somewhat.

Cut your carrots and parsnips into long, thin sticks (about 5-6 mm wide; closer to an allumette than a julienne).  You want them to be fairly even, but don't get bent out of shape about it; a little variation is good, it means your food will look hand-made.  Anything really badly misshapen can be fed to your dogs as treats.  Put the cut vegetables in a bowl of ice water (mostly ice), and let them sit long enough to curl up a bit.

Cut the carrots and parsnips into sticks, a bit thinner than a snacking carrot stick, but thicker than a julienne.  Soaking them in ice water will give them a bit of a curl. 

Now is a good time to make your vinaigrette.  This will make way more than you need for your salt fish but don't worry about leftovers, you'll use them (salad dressing, drizzle for lamb chops, mixed into lean ground meat for burgers, sauce for steamed or poached fish, dip for fresh bread...). 

Roughly mince the shallot.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and use the blade or handle of your knife to press or grind the shallot into a paste on your chopping board.  (If you have a mortar and pestle, feel free to use that fancy high-tech equipment instead.)  Roughly cut anchovy and then work the fish into the shallot paste.  Scrape the paste into a small mixing bowl and whisk in remaining ingredients.  I like vinaigrette to remain separated so I don't whisk to emulsification, just enough to combine well (it looks nicer if you don't mind stirring it up every time you use it).  Let sit at room temperature until serving, allowing the flavours to mingle.


Crusting the salt cod with pumpkin and
sunflower seeds is messy, but definitely
worth the effort.
Drain your carrots and parsnips.  

Get out three shallow bowls and a plate.  Line them up on your counter.  Put flour in the first bowl, beat an egg in the second bowl and mix the seeds in the third bowl.

For deep frying, you need the oil deep enough to submerge your food, but you also need to leave a 3-5 cm gap at the top of the pan to accommodate the volume of your food and some bubbling-up.  Choose a pan with this in mind (also paying attention to how much oil you have).  

Heat oil over medium to med-high heat.  The oil is hot when you can see long streaks in it and when bubbles rise up swiftly but not vigorously when you press a wooden spoon handle against the bottom of the pan.  If you refuse to fry without a thermometer, aim for about 365-370F.

Working in batches as necessary, gently lower your carrots and parsnips into the oil and cook until they are a light golden brown (about 6-8 minutes).  (Don't over do it, these are going back in the oil just before eating.) Remove and let them drain in a metal sieve over a heat-proof bowl or spread across brown paper.

While the carrot-parsnip-fries are cooking, crust your fish.  Dredge in flour, then coat with egg.  Let the excess egg drip off, then press the fish firmly into the seeds.  Crust all sides with as much seed as will stick.  Lay flat on the plate.  Crusting the fish is messy and your fingers will feel gross from being stuck with egg and seeds.  If you have someone willing to help, delegate this job to them and be prepared with a bunch of encouraging things to say.  (Don't forget to check your fries once in a while.)

While the carrots and parsnips are draining, cook your fish.  Submerge in the hot oil and cook until the seed crust looks well toasted, about 4 minutes.  Remove to a metal sieve over a heat-proof bowl or drain on brown paper.

While the fish is draining, return the carrots and parsnips to the oil for about 2 minutes.  The golden brown colour should intensify.  Remove to drain.   Salt while they are still piping-hot and toss to coat.


I am convinced that fish and chips is a meal best shared from a common plate and eaten with your fingers. So cover your table with a few layers of newspaper (lots of layers for this meal, see note) and tip the fries and fish onto the surface.  Whisk your vinaigrette and serve on the side for dipping or use a spoon to drizzle over the fish & chips.

(If you decide to serve on individual plates, put a couple of layers of newsprint or brown paper on the plate.)


Salt cod does not taste like fresh cod.  It has more presence.  This fish is fantastically delicious with the earthy crunchy seed crust matching the intensity of the fish... but if you are expecting something like fresh or frozen cod, you'll be too surprised to fully appreciate the dish.

The carrots and parsnips are sweet and punchy with flavour, but oily.  Totally moreish, but be sure to have a thick layer of paper under them.  


A few years ago, an issue of La Cucina Italiana had a recipe for a seed-crusted salt cod appetizer.  There seemed to be a million different kinds of seeds that we didn't have in the house at the time.  We didn't have salt cod in the house either... it's possible I still thought salt cod was only good for fishcakes then. 

But I loved the idea of it.  I've been thinking about that fish for three years.

Salt cod has a particular cultural importance here in Newfoundland (I might bore you with the history another time, but not now), and you can buy it anywhere.  It's for sale in grocery stores, road side fish trucks, vegetable stands... I've even seen salt cod for sale at gas stations and craft shows.  When we first moved here I couldn't understand why anyone would purposefully choose salted fish over fresh or frozen cod.  It took me a ridiculously long time to overcome my baseless mainlander snobbery around salt fish, but I'm glad I did.

Here's the thing about salt cod: it's not fresh cod.  You can't expect to use them same way.  It's not a choice of salted or fresh, you pick the one you need for the task at hand.  Salt cod is dense and concentrated, and even well-soaked, it bites back; but that's precisely the beauty of it, not the problem.  Making that psychological leap changed everything.   

A couple weeks ago, Fefe Noir heard a radio program mentioning that Romans traditionally paired salt cod with parsnip.  You know that lovely feeling of epiphany, that moment when suddenly everything seems to make sense?  It was like that.  Salty and intense fish matched with the ethereal sweetness of winter parsnip... of course.  Which brings us the second plate in our fish and chips project.

1 April 2014

Leftover Lentils Breakfast Pizza

Part salad, part sandwich, part eggs and toast... hard to pin down, but entirely moreish.

(This is a Free Style entry into the Lentil Recipe Revelations Challenge: keep reading to find out how to help us win!)

Use up leftovers from the fridge to make this protein-packed breakfast pizza.  Makes a good breakfast, a great lunch, or a really fantastic post-workout snack.

Smoky Lentil & Egg Breakfast Pizza

1/2 c. canned green lentils*, rinsed and drained
1/2 med yellow or white onion*, minced
1 small fresh pepper, minced (hot or sweet, whichever you prefer at breakfast/brunch/post-workout-snack hour; we used jalapeno)
7 cm (~2.5 inches) section of chorizo , diced
1/3 c. crumbled feta or queso fresco (use queso fresco if you have it, it's difficult to come by here so we used feta)
2 lemon wedges**
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp smoked hot paprika
2 small naan bread or 2 greek pita
olive oil for drizzling
2 handfuls of leafy greens such as arugula, turnip green, spinach or kale
2 eggs

*a good way to use leftovers from the rice & lentil cakes with dal recipe
** might be leftover from your dinner party bar...

Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

The cooked or canned lentils, the smoked paprika and the lemon wedges
are MUSTS.  Pretty much anything else can be swapped for something
else in your fridge or pantry.  I just can't put The Moose Curry Experience
guarantee behind it.
In a bowl, mix together lentils, onion, pepper, chorizo and cheese.  Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture, season with salt and smoked paprika, and toss to distribute. (If your chorizo is pre-cooked, you can stop here and have a lovely salad.)

Place naan or pita on baking sheet.  Drizzle bread with a reasonable but generous amount of olive oil, then USE YOUR CLEAN HANDS to spread the oil evenly over the bread.  Don't wash your hands yet.  Use your oil-covered hands to transfer the leafy greens from your prep board and spread them on the bread (this leaves some oil on the greens, but not too much).  Don't wash up yet... no need to waste the oil, rub what's left into your hands as a moisturizer!

Spoon half the lentil mixture onto each bread, leaving the center free of lentils.

Carefully crack an egg into the middle of each bread (your lentil mixture is acting like a wall to keep it in place... pretty clever, eh?). Sprinkle the egg with more smoked paprika to garnish.

Transfer to oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 350F.  Bake for 22 minutes (in our oven this does a thick but still runny egg... cook more or less depending how you like your eggs). 

Serve on a plate and eat at the table, or transfer to a cutting board and eat standing up at the counter.

22 minutes at 350F gives you a hot, thick and runny yolk, just the way you should like it.  If you don't like a runny yolk (ahem, caribougrrl...) leave it in for longer, or maybe just take advantage of uneven heat in your oven and eat the more-cooked one.

Makes 2 pizzas.  Serves 4 for snacks, 2 for brunch, or 1 really hungry person any time of day.


We left you with some strange leftover ingredients the night of your Reconstructed Dal and Rice dinner party. I mean, who uses just half an onion? Part of a can of green lentils? What are you supposed to do with that?  Breakfast pizza, that's what.

So you had too much fun and stayed up too late, that's okay.  You probably woke up feeling anxious for no apparent reason... maybe you dragged your over-tired self out for a run jog speedwalk long, sluggish dog walk just to prove you hadn't really overdone it.

Anyway, you're likely hungry and looking at a bunch of bits and pieces of stuff in the fridge that don't seem to go together.  Maybe you focused so much on having everything for the party, you forgot to plan anything specific for the next day.

No problem.  This is so easy, you can make it before your first cup of coffee.   (Er, during your first cup of coffee anyway.)  Make a pot of coffee.  Take the lazy way out and stream a gentle but happy Songza playlist.  And make this salad-sandwich-eggs&toast-leftover-lentils pizza-like-thing.  

(If you managed the faster than a sluggish dog walk activity, the cooking time is exactly right for stretching.)  

I promise you won't be sorry.


Now for the shameless self-promotion. If you like this recipe, please say so! Part of the contest criteria is how well received the lentil recipes are. Leave us a comment on this page*** telling us how delicious the meal looks. Go to the Canadian Lentils Facebook Page and "like", "share", and/or comment on our recipe. Go there anyway, as it's your best source right now to find inspiration for what to do with lentils.

***there seem to be problems leaving comments from iProducts... I am still trying to figure out how to fix this, but in the meantime, feel free to leave a comment on the Canadian Lentils Facebook post!