A colleague at work has just abandoned we cubicle rats for a month to vacation in the hot Italian sun. She has spent the past two weeks reminding others of this fact; and although I keenly do the same when it’s my turn to escape abroad, I’m no less aggrieved and envious when left behind. But why be jealous, really? Sure, Frommer’s says nice things about it; but Italy isn’t all Sistine chapels, olive-skinned supermodels, or linguine heavenly enough to make Julia Roberts swoon. And I’m sure that more people die on wobbly Vespas in Rome than of bee stings here in Canada. So there.
Ok, this isn’t working. I’m obviously in denial. Admittedly, Italy has been on my bucket list for a while, even if my mother tells me it was noisy, dirty and full of pigeons and creepy men who stare. That sounds pretty much like where I live now, or at least no worse. Give me the Vespas. Give me the green pastures, luscious grapes hanging heavily from the vine, warm bread dipped in olive oil, or an impassioned, heart-wrenching Italian aria. Heck, give me lice from sleeping on a dirty hammock, if it means getting to bask in the Mediterranean sun for even one afternoon.
Apparently I’m in need of a holiday and thankfully I have one approaching…though not to Italy. While waiting for my credit card travel points to slowly accumulate enough to cross an ocean, I’ll travel in the meantime by other means: Tonight I made this Italian-inspired dish with pan-roasted chicken, kalamata olives and roasted cherry tomatoes, I savoured a glass of red wine, and listed to Verdi’s La Forza Del Destino while yearning desperately for another continent.
This afternoon I went for a long walk around the lake and by kilometre six I was so ravenous with hunger that all I could think about was Italian chicken piccata and a cold Perrier. Despite how the name sounds to those that speak the Romance Languages, this dish isn’t spicy or piquant at all – piccata actually refers to the way the meat is prepared: sauteed and served in a sauce of butter, lemon, spices and parsley. This dish can be made with chicken or veal, though my preference is the former; and it uses four of my favourite ingredients in the pan sauce that accompanies it: freshly-squeezed lemon juice, cilantro, wine and capers. When all four are used together in one recipe, the aroma makes me delirious and misty-eyed. It is really that good, I swear. The other great thing about this dish is the heavy whacking involved in the preparation of the meat, to flatten it out before dredging it in batter. A perfect way to blow off steam, pounding the cutlets can be done with either a meat tenderizer, rolling pin or heavy Ayn Rand novel. Continue reading
If I were asked what my favourite meal of all time is, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to tell you that it is chicken tagine. The taste alone is sublime and the exotic aroma from the spices lingers in my house for days after cooking and brings me back, each time that I walk in the door, to the labyrinthine medieval alleys and stalls of Marrakech souks. To further reminisce during the meal, I’ll usually bake some home-made pita bread and put out small, decorated tagine dishes of olives or apricots as well.
During my travels in Morocco, whether eating under a starry sky with the Bedouins in the Sahara, or crisping on a sunny rooftop patio restaurant, or basking in the unrivalled sensual delirium of the Marrakech Night Market, I dined on lamb or chicken tagine at least once daily – sometimes more. There is no other comparison to this meal. Continue reading
Whether its from the temperature getting colder and the air damper, or the stress of Christmas approaching, over the past 3 days I’ve been fighting off some bug. Today in particular has been the kind of day where I would have liked nothing more than to vegetate on the couch watching re-runs of Chuck and eating soup. Normally when I’m sick I gravitate to the traditional Chicken Noodle Soup, but today I felt like a variation that included a bit more kick to it – Chipotle peppers. I had a few of these peppers ziplocked in the freezer from the last time I made this recipe a few months ago. Normally they come 8-10 in a can and as each recipe usually only calls for 2 at a time, this is a good way to store them until needed. This soup delivers a nice balance of heartiness (from the corn, chicken and zucchini), zip/kick (chipotle-style) and tartness from the limes making it the perfect fall or winter meal, or when in need of a pick-me-up. Continue reading
This green curry dish is the most popular Thai meal after Phad Thai – but watch out, it’s spicy!
I first learned to make it at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School during my stay in Thailand, where it became my inaugural meal using coconut milk. Before this I had never really given it a chance. My earliest memory of a coconut (cue the flashback harp music) is from a trip to Florida when I was really young, where my dad broke open a coconut that had washed up on the beach and handed my brother and I pieces to examine and nibble on. I remember the clear liquid on the inside tasting foul and then subsequently I was turned off everything ‘coconut’ for a few decades, however undeserved.
I’ve since learned that coconut milk isn’t actually the liquid inside of a coconut, as I had been led to believe; and many years after my Florida trip I realized that the liquid deserved another chance. After all, I had the same initial reaction to coffee and alcohol and look where I am now. During our stay in a rural Thai village, on a particularly sweltering day, our host father poked holes in a coconut he picked from his yard and handed us straws for drinking. Parched from the heat, I found this makeshift umbrella drink refreshing and vowed thereafter to conquer all of my other childhood food aversions.
Actual coconut milk, if ever the question is asked on Jeopardy, is made by squeezing the grated flesh of a coconut with a bit of hot water. The resulting rich, creamy liquid looks much like cow’s milk…and it is a vital ingredient in the making of most curry dishes, including this one. Continue reading
There are a lot of great peanut-satay products that one can buy, normally found somewhere in the asian food section of the grocery store. But I find it just as easy to make my own with an ingredient that is found in almost every cupboard – peanut butter.
1 pound skinless boneless chicken, either cubed or sliced into 1 inch x 3 inch pieces
1/3 cup peanut butter, store bought or home-made
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tbsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp curry powder or paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
Red Chilli flakes, depending on taste (or 1 finely chopped chilli pepper if you are brave)
1 tbsp plain white yogourt or milk
1/2 tsp salt
1. Cut chicken into pieces, as above. Mix remaining ingredients in medium bowl – the hot water will melt the peanut butter into a creamy liquid consistency.
2. Set oven to broil.
3. Immerse the chicken into the peanut butter mixture to cover each piece well and then line the coated chicken in an oiled pan or cookie sheet. Reserve 1/4 cup of the mixture for a second coating later on.
4. Broil the chicken for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and brush chicken with remaining mixture, then cook for another 5 minutes. Serve on a bed of jasmine or basmati rice. Sprinkle with chilli flakes if desired.
Daniel first introduced me to this recipe a few years ago and it’s been on my “Mike’s Favourite List” ever since. Watching him prepare this meal was the first time I had ever been privy to a slowly cooked meal (defined to me as: a meal that takes over an hour to prepare and doesn’t come out of a can). That being said, it is time-intensive only in the sense that the chicken needs to marinate overnight in a heavenly concoction that smells so good you’ll drool in your sleep and have nocturnal visions of a sun-kissed mediterranean beach.
Chicken Marbella calls for an unusual cast of characters, like capers, olives, half a head of garlic, plums and brown sugar, something that a child might dream up if given free reign in the kitchen. But what a combination! My friend Nathalie dropped off frozen chanterelle mushrooms a few weeks ago, so I made wild mushroom risotto as a side dish. If you have leftovers (unlikely), this meal tastes even better the next day.