Archive for March 18th, 2008

Having been a student and a freelancer for much of my marriage, I’ve also tended to be the chef. I’ve been home more often, and preparing the evening meal helps to divide my working day from my personal time. Besides, while I enjoy the creativity of cooking, I have a pronounced distaste for washing dishes while my partner doesn’t mind the task and dislikes cooking, so the division of labor is a natural one (although I probably take unfair advantage by dirtying more pots than I would if I had to clean them myself) . And, like any domestic chef, I’ve developed my own repertoire of specialties – most of them hearty peasant dishes, which I’ve always found has more possibilities than haute cuisine.

The one I’ve been making the longest is lasagna As made by most people, lasagna is protein and carbohydrate-heavy, and mine is no exception, with three cheeses (in the current incarnation, Chevrai, fresh Parmesan, and Swiss) and lean turkey forming the layers between whole wheat pasta. To round off the meal, I had snap peas and basil leaves, along with a heaping mound of shredded spinach, and season with garlic and basil.

Another long-time favorite is sweet potato pie. It starts with a crust of semolina, barley and shredded carrots. Within the crust, I place a mixture of sweet potato, honey, lemon, HP sauce Parmesan, and cashews rather than the usual pecan – a habit begun because of the high cost of pecans but continued in our latter days of relative affluence because of the smoother taste. On top of this mixture, I place a layer of wheat germ, and whatever cheese is at hand on top of that. I often serve it with sausages and roast potato, but it can easily be a vegetarian meal by itself.

Then there’s my Greek meal. It begins with saganaki, or kefaloteri cheese rolled in egg and semolina, fried with constant flipping in olive oil, and served with a capful of lemon juice. On the side, I do whole wheat pita bread baked in an oven – never fried! — and spread with either butter or humous. The main course is dolmathes (grape vine leaves stuffed with meat, cheese, rice and sometimes a bit of carrot, as my whimsy takes me, and topped with an egg lemon or pesto sauce), potatoes roasted in butter, lemon juice and dill, spanakopita (spinach, feta cheese, and spices wrapped in phyllo pastry), and – just for contrast – unadorned peas and corn. Ideally, the meal is served with retsina, the rotgut resinous wine that you either adore or hate at first sip (I adored).

A couple of years ago, I added a meal based on Spanish tapas I’d enjoyed at the now closed El Patio restaurant at the edge of Vancouver’s Yaletown district. The main dish, which has deviated so far from its origins that I no longer have a name for it) consists of shredded ham and a mixture composed of equal amounts of semolina and Parmesan, as well as rosemary, garlic, and a hearty splash of red wine. I knead this mixture into small balls, which I coat with pesto or fine herb sauce, then bake in the oven. I serve the dish with potat bravas, or diced potato baked or fried in olive oil until just short of crispy, then baked for another ten minutes with a mixture of tomato sauce and mustard with paprika and cayenne pepper.

These aren’t all my special meals. In homage to my ancestry, I used to do a mean Yorkshire pudding, although I haven’t made it for a while. I also do a risotto, three bean chile, meat loaf, and turkey fillet in a lemon-honey sauce, all with my own original touches. However, the four described in detail are the ones I’m proudest of, and most likely to serve to a guest or bring along to a potluck. I’m very far from an expert chef, but, with these four meals, I’ve improvised enough to make them distinctly mine.

Read Full Post »