Sunday, June 21, 2015

Orzo Salad

First off let me say that I love orzo, the little grain shaped pasta that got it's start mostly in soups and then graduated to other usage. The name actually means "barley" in Italian and it is also sometimes referred as risoni which translates to "big rice".  I cook it like regular pasta but apparently it can be prepared in a similar manner as risotto, sauteed then slow cooked in liquid in which case the finished dish is called orzatto, I will likely give this a try in the winter.

Orzo is quick, around eight minutes to al dente, versatile and holds well which is always an asset. For years I used it as a side dish, just tossed with some butter, cheese and some herb like basil or Italian parsley, as an addition to soups and of course in pasta salads. Now pasta salads have a bit of a bad reputation in the foodie world for some reason but in the summer I like them because I can make a large batch and use it a couple of times during the week without heating up the house. I also do this with potato salad, Greek salad and coleslaw, without dressing the last two, so that I can just quickly cook some protein and dinner can be ready in fifteen minutes or so.

We are off today for a combined family father's day BBQ, along with watching the Canadian women's soccer play their round of 16 match against Switzerland, at friend's home and I volunteered to bring starch. We are having leg of lamb as the main so I thought "Hey, let's make an orzo salad" because to me orzo has always been "Greek pasta", though I'm not sure why except it is often found in Greek restaurants here in Vancouver baked with lamb in tomato sauce, a dish known as youvetsi. I woke up this morning and looked at what I had to make the salad, went to work and came up with something I thought would work based on what I had in house, plus the fact that some allergies/picky eaters meant I couldn't use nuts or tomatoes, two items I would normally use in an orzo salad. Also I knew there was going to be a Greek salad on the menu so I wanted to eliminate olives and feta and go easy on the peppers, challenge accepted.

I cooked the orzo al dente and then tossed it still hot with goat cheese and a lemony vinaigrette, the standard vinaigrette ratio is three parts oil to one part vinegar but I figured the creaminess of the orzo and goat cheese needed more citrus so I made a large batch of vinaigrette at 3:1 and then took 1/2 cup and added the juice of one lemon, whisked it and tossed the still hot orzo/cheese combo in the vinaigrette. Meanwhile I chopped a head of broccoli into bite size pieces and tossed it with a chopped red pepper, four cloves of finely sliced garlic, salt and pepper and then drizzled it with olive oil and roasted for 12 minutes at 425 degrees. When the broccoli/pepper combo was done I tossed it with the orzo along with some chopped scallion and minced Italian parsley and left it on the counter.

Twenty minutes later I went back to taste and it was amazing, the flavours worked so well, the creamy pasta/cheese with the raw scallion/parsley and the earthy taste of the roasted veg and garlic. This is definitely a keeper, served room temperature is better than chilled so if you make ahead give yourself time to let the salad warm up, better still make it an hour before dinner.

Anyway, here's the recipe, remember cooking is art so measurements are as close as I remember but not 100% accurate.

New Orzo Salad

  • 500 grams Orzo
  • 100 grams goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup vinaigrette (3:1 oil:vinegar, a touch of Dijon and salt whisked)
  • juice of one lemon
  • one big head of broccoli, cut into florets, stem cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 red pepper, bite sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion, green part only
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • some olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Add the juice of one lemon to vinaigrette and whisk.

Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, taste at about 7 minutes and expect it to take about 8, drain pasta and toss with goat cheese and vinaigrette. It's always important to check pasta while cooking it, the times are just general estimates

Toss the garlic, red pepper and broccoli in enough olive oil to coat, don't drown it, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and cook for 10-12 minutes in the 425 oven, stirring once or twice. The broccoli should be browned aroud the edges and the garlic browned but not burnt.

Toss roasted veg, parsley and scallions with pasta and let sit for 30-60 minutes to reach room temperature and serve. If you make ahead refrigerate and then take it out 60 minutes before service to allow it to come to room temperature.

I have a little bit of this reserved so I can try it for lunch with leftover grilled chicken some time this week, I have a good feeling about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

North of the 49th

It is 9:33pm as I write this.

It is still light enough outside that I just came in from reading on the front porch without the assistance of any artificial light.

I know I'll hate it in December when it's dark at 4pm, but right now it's awesome.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

La Donald is running for President ......... Seriously

So Donald Trump, the comb over that walks like a man, has announced his candidacy for President . Well technically Donald has announced his intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 but you know what I mean, in fact he's even printed the buttons, because we all know you can't be taken seriously as a candidate unless you have buttons.

There are a bunch of problems with Trump's campaign starting with the fact that while he is a "bad hair" billionaire he's also given a bunch of folks haircuts on the way there.

Trump has declared corporate bankruptcy four different times and while some will vigorously defend Chapter 11 as "just sound business" there are many others that feel four times is a tad excessive. Still one of the more interesting sidelines of Trump's announcement is that as a candidate he will have to file a detailed financial disclosure which means people will finally get a good luck at how much he is really worth . During his announcement speech, wildly cheered by actors making $50 each to do so, Donald brandished a one page net worth summary that placed his personal worth at $8.7 billion, more than double Forbes magazines estimate of $4.1 billion, but really we aren't here to quibble over a measly $4.6B discrepancy, suffice to say La Donald is, as he said, "really, really rich".

Getting past Trump's questionable business ethics the two biggest issues I have are that he has never held office, I mean never, and that may be a bit of an issue, but still running the country is much like running a business and he's had great success there, notwithstanding those four bankruptcies of course. Still Schwarzenegger had no experience before he was elected Governor of California and we all know how ell that turned out, though really Arnie was no worse than the previous Republican Governors . However in today's vast and varied political landscape maybe the board room philosophy can work.

But the biggest problem with Trump is that he's a big fat liar . I know that's often not an uncommon flaw among politicians but Donald is, to take his own phrase, a "really, really big liar". Since his announcement the disclaimers have been coming out of the woodwork, CBS news launched a piece detailing Trump's problems with the truth using data gathered by and while it may have come as a surprise to some the lies had already been well documented over the years by the excellent site, a site maintained by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper which regularly judges the merits of American broadcaster and politicians statements and grades them on a scale that goes from "True" to "Pants on Fire". As you can see the site has researched some nineteen different statements by Trump over the years, two reached the giddy heights of "Mostly True" while thirteen fell under the "False" or "Pants on Fire" rating.

Now I don't honestly think Donald Trump has any chance to win the Republican nomination but the concept of severely right wing billionaires actually running for office rather than just bankrolling the Republican party does change the dynamics a bit. In the mean time the Koch brothers will still be able to toss one of these guys at the electorate in 2016, and they all have better hair than Donald.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Easiest Move Ever

We moved, it didn't cost me a dime and it was almost painless.

Okay we didn't move, barring a lottery win we are unlikely to move until daughter leaves home and I can downsize. The Vancouver real estate market is the second most expensive in the world, behind Hong Kong but ahead of London, New York and San Francisco so I won't ever be buying but we had the good fortune to find a reasonable rental in a fabulous area and we've been here for almost 14 years. Our landlord is neglectfully benevolent, meaning it might take longer for the dryer to get fixed but the rent increases are also irregular. Rent increases in Vancouver are limited to 2.5% per year and can't be applied retroactively so the years in which my landlord forgets to raise the rent save us all the way down the line, as a result I now pay roughly 20-25% below market value for our 2 bedroom suite on the main floor of a character house in one of the city's more desirable neighbourhoods.

Last month I got an email from my landlord saying he had commissioned a painting firm to paint all three of his rental properties, one is on the same block as ours while the other is three blocks away. Landlord apologized in advance for any inconvenience and assured me this was not a precursor to selling the house, which I knew anyway because our lovely little character house will meet the wrecking ball hours after it is eventually sold, the same fate as 750 homes have already this year in Vancouver but that's another story. A week or so later a sign went up on the lawn and a day or two after that the painter knocked on the door to explain his schedule and advise me when the outdoor plants would have to be moved etc., I asked him what the new colour would be and he said landlord hadn't specified and did I have a choice, in fact I did. Our house has always been referred to as "the purple house" and I enquired if he could come close to matching the original which was a deep indigo hue. he brought out his colour samples and between us we came up with something really close, the painter was very happy as he said "I like to see these older houses stay with their character colours".

We have been blessed with a sensational month weather wise, as opposed to the past few years when the sixth month of the calendar year was generally referred to as "Junuary" for it's wet, cool conditions. The result was the house was totally finished in about a week with minimal inconvenience and I must say it looks great. Given my druthers I'd have preferred new carpet and stainless steel appliances rather than a paint job but it does make my neighbours happy, in truth the old girl had become a little drab. The painting crew moved down the block and I figured that was it until this past Tuesday when I had a knock on the door and answered to see our mailman on the top step with a wry smile on his face. I asked if he had something he needed signed but he just handed me the mail and said "You know you screwed up the address, right ?". In fact I did not know but when I checked he was in fact correct, when putting the numbers back on the house our painters had become confused and moved our house three blocks east, our actual address is 853.

I thought about leaving it, but we changed it back.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An ode to apricots, and some Sauvignon Blanc

Okay enough of the self analysis, it's time to talk about food and in particular apricots.

I love apricots although I know many consider them to be the red headed bastard step child of the peach family, and in fact they are related to peaches, but I actually rank the two on a par as my favourite stone fruits. Apricots are also hella good for you with whacks of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants, in fact if all the stuff on this page is true you better stock up before they are declared the next superfood. We are in the middle of Californian apricot season and as the harvest moves north through Washington and the Okanagan we will have fresh apricots available until August, and then that's it, there is no import market for fresh apricots that I know of.

Apricots are great on their own, made into jam, baked in tarts etc. but my two preferred uses are :

1) Grilled

2) Apricot Salsa

The first method is dead easy, and works great with peaches as well, but is best if you are old school as I am and use a wood/charcoal burning grill. Since the grill retains heat for 15-20 minutes after the protein has come off why not use that heat to make dessert. I will just halve ripe apricots, rub the cut side with some neutral oil and slap them on the still warm grill. If the grill gods are with you by the time dinner is over you will have warmed, juicy, slightly charred apricots that can go with some vanilla ice cream, or yoghurt if you want a buzzkill, with maybe a bit of berry coulis and dessert is served. It's not fool proof, sometimes they burn but if so you can cook them down on the stovetop with some sugar and water and have a nice "charred apricot puree" to bring to your next hipster foodie gathering.

The second method is my fave though and was the result of some overly aggressive apricot purchasing in the Okanagan 7-8 years ago. Home for a week I was faced with a decision of what to do with all the apricots, decided to make salsa, and was happy I did. Because apricots are not as sweet as peaches they balance better with a little heat so I just chopped up some red onion, a jalapeno, a couple of cloves of garlic, some coarse sea salt, Italian parsley and a bit of vegetable oil and pureed the whole thing. The result is a slightly sweet condiment that gets a back end heat from the onion and chile and is tremendous with pork, chicken or salmon.

For years I ate the stuff alone as wife was not a sweet and savory person at all and daughter thought it looked weird and, since "Mom doesn't have to eat it so why should I", passed on it. Two weeks ago I grabbed a couple of pounds of apricots at market and made up a batch of salsa to go with pork tenderloin the next night, the salsa is always better the second day as the flavours get comfortable with each other. As I was prepping the pork I put out some salsa on the table then continued cooking. When dinner hit the table daughter  immediately asked "what is the sauce", I told her it was apricot salsa and she heaped some on her plate. I reminded her that she hadn't liked it in the past but she replied that "I might have pinky tasted it while I was setting the table" and proceeded to ravage it con gusto . Since then I've had to make a second batch and last night we learned that it not only was great with the salmon but made the boiled new potatoes taste much better as well.

Here's the recipe, such as it is, for apricot salsa: (please note this isn't a professional cooking blog so my recipes aren't really that accurate on proportions sometimes, cooking is art ... baking is science)

5-6 apricots, stones removed, cut in quarters
1/4 medium red onion chopped
1 mid sized hot pepper, your choice, diced
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons Italian parsley chopped (you can use cilantro if you want to ruin the dish)
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tablespoon neutral oil

Toss it all into a processor, blender or use a hand blender and process until it's a coarse puree, you want some definable texture. Try it with white meats or rich fish, particularly off the grill or pulled pork. I suppose it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks but that seems unlikely in my house, I'm almost sure I saw daughter put some on toast this morning.

A quick wine note as well, with the salmon last night I had a really nice, inexpensive, Sauvignon Blanc from Chiile.

Now in the past I've often found Chilean SB to be lacking in substance but last night's bottle was very good. The wine is from Carmen and is part of their Wave Series of wines that are supposed to be dedicated to the ocean .........whatever the hell that means, and while I haven't tried the Right Wave Pinot Noir I can certainly recommend the Left Wave Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is medium bodied and favours the citrus, gooseberry aspects of the grape, not as assertive as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and more fruit forward than Loire Valley it has a crisp entry, good mouth feel and a nice long finish. It will be a solid addition to the summer bbq season wine rack, it's widely available and retails for $11.49, which after tax equals a million dollars .......... just kidding, all in with deposit a bottle will set you back $13.30.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Putting my toe back in the water

So I'm going to try and start blogging again. If you can endure this little explanatory post I promise to try and keep things lighter as we move forward after today.

My life has changed radically in the past 20 months, none of it for the better, but I think it's time to start writing again. The tone may change as I'm not going to limit myself to food, wine and sports, I may get a little political on occasion but I will continue to write about things that matter to me. Except for the occasions when I just write about things that just strike my whimsy .

As a background, and a bit of catharsis, my wife and partner of over 30 years was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV colon cancer in November of 2012. The cancer was already metastatic, meaning it had spread to other organs and she was very sick but hope, stupid hope, springs eternal and when she responded so positively to the first chemo cocktail we began to believe that she might beat the odds.

She didn't.

The first chemo cocktail ran it's course, the second didn't really have any positive results and my wife passed away in April of 2014, leaving me a widower and a single parent of a fifteen year old daughter. The end came astonishingly fast as my wife was in great spirits, and seemingly decent health, in mid February and dead seven weeks later, so I didn't really have time to process . I ran hard on adrenaline for a few months, spending most of my energy trying to ensure our daughter was not going to fall apart . 

With the fall came a return to school and some semblance of normalcy for daughter and a new job for me. I made the decision to return to management, taking over running lunch at a very good bistro, the money wasn't as good but I would be able to be home by 6pm and be there for daughter, plus the restaurant was great and I enjoyed the change . There was another hitch in October when my mother passed away, but she had been suffering from full blown dementia for a number of years so in some ways it was a blessing. It certainly didn't help my frame of mind but I pushed through and settled into a solid routine, then just before the new year the great little bistro closed it's doors due to partnership disputes among other things.

I am still committed to working days but I have decided to abandon front line restaurant service/management and am currently searching for what I want to be when I grow up, all the while beginning to deal with the reality that I am suffering from depression. Counselling is helping but it's not easy, although at least it's not hard to identify the reason for my condition . The good thing is that I have plenty of time to write, the bad thing is that I have a great deal of difficulty getting motivated to do anything.

So there it is, some back story and a commitment to return to the blogosphere. I'm sure my followers are long gone, if not great but the blog has always been for myself anyway. I'm going to try and post a minimum of twice weekly so be prepared.