Eating fancy at home

Cynthia Stone
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I was invited to try offerings from some of Newfoundland and Labrador's best chefs last week at a competition and special event in support of Canada's Olympians and Paralympians. What a thrill!

My colleague Karl Wells, kept you all well informed of the goings-on, so I will leave it to your justifiably jealous imaginations how good the food tasted.

Everyday Kitchen -

I was invited to try offerings from some of Newfoundland and Labrador's best chefs last week at a competition and special event in support of Canada's Olympians and Paralympians. What a thrill!

My colleague Karl Wells, kept you all well informed of the goings-on, so I will leave it to your justifiably jealous imaginations how good the food tasted.

Is there anything like a meal at a fancy restaurant or eating at the table of a wonderful cook to inspire us in our own kitchens?

We can't ever reproduce the results of a professionally trained chef, but we sure as heck can tart up our meals now and then. One exotic or unusual ingredient, a taste combination borrowed from another culture, or maybe an old Newfoundland recipe reserved for a special occasion - what's stopping us from pushing the kitchen envelope every now and again at least?

Today is about being a little more adventurous, but don't stop reading even if you are an inexperienced or timid cook. These dishes are exactly what you might need to take a step on the culinary road less travelled - at least in our everyday kitchens.

Crabby muffins

Let's start with one of those special ingredients. Before you start complaining that crab is way too pricey, let me tell you: a fairly modest quantity makes the tastiest, most elegant brunch you can imagine. This recipe doesn't call for cheese - a common add to this kind of mixture. I think the crab pulls its weight without help. Why not treat your family tomorrow morning? Count on one full muffin per person, although it won't be easy to stop there.

4 English muffins, halved

butter or margarine

1 cup or 2 cans crab meat, drained and picked over to remove any bits of shell

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (seeds in if you really like heat)

1 green onion, finely chopped

1 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing)

1 tsp. lemon juice

few dashes Worcestershire sauce, to taste

freshly ground black pepper

Toast the muffin halves lightly in the oven or in the toaster and butter them; set aside. Lightly combine crab, jalapeno pepper, onion and parsley. Whisk together mayonnaise, juice, and Worcestershire and stir gently into crab mixture. Divide among muffin halves, spreading the mixture to the edges and smoothing the surfaces.

Sprinkle pepper on top and broil until golden and bubbling hot.

Pork Balchao

Now let's visit another country for an exotic taste experience. This recipe is not difficult at all, although you might think the spice combination is a bit fussy. It is so worth it. I love Indian food and this is unusual even in that culture. I am told by friends that pork is more common in the western part of the country, and the sweet and sour flavours in this dish are the trademark of that region. Don't be tempted to substitute any of the spices. If you're giving in to the desire to stretch, then do it all the way.

2 lbs. lean pork, roast or chops, cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes

1/2 tsp. each garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, salt and pepper (for the rub)

4 tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)

1 large onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

3-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated or minced

3 tbsp. tomato paste

1 tsp. each red chili flakes (or 4 dried red chilies), cinnamon and chili powder

2 tsp. cumin seeds

20 black peppercorns

6 whole cloves

2 tsp. turmeric

3/4 cup chicken broth or water

2 tsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. cider vinegar

1/2 tsp. salt (maybe a little more if not using broth)

handful chopped fresh cilantro

Dry pork with paper towels. Combine garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, salt and pepper and rub briskly into cubed pork. Place in a sealed bag and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight. In a large pan, brown pork in small batches, using about half the vegetable oil. Place in a baking dish. Add a little more of the oil to the pan and fry onion until brown and soft; stir in garlic and ginger and cook a little longer, just until fragrant.

Add to meat. Fry tomato paste in pan until dark and quite dry - stir constantly. Add that to the pork mixture. In a coffee or spice grinder, finely grind the chili flakes, cumin seeds, peppercorns and cloves. Add remaining oil to pan and fry the ground spices, along with turmeric, until fragrant. Stir in chicken broth, sugar, vinegar and salt and pour over meat mixture - scrape every bit out of the pan. Stir to combine. Cover and bake at 275 F for about 1 hour or until pork is very tender. Serve with cilantro on top. Rice or potatoes are equally good on the side.

Blueberry grunt

The chefs last week served blueberries and partridgeberries innovatively - not to mention caribou, salt fish and salmon - to showcase the spectacular flavours indigenous to Newfoundland and Labrador. We have every right to be proud. Southern cooks don't know what a good blueberry is, so I hope you have some in the freezer for this traditional recipe that I would serve to the most discriminating palate. I have taken a couple of liberties with my mother's version. The wine bumps up the flavour like crazy, and using some jam and some whole berries really improves the texture of the jammy base.

1 large jar (about 2 cups) blueberry jam - homemade or best quality store-bought

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 cup blueberry or other fruit wine (or white wine or water)

juice and zest of 1 small lemon

4 cups frozen blueberries, thawed, or fresh

Biscuit Topping:

3/4 cup buttermilk

1-1/2 tsp. vanilla

6 tbsp. butter or margarine, melted and cooled a little

2-1/4 cups flour

1-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sugar (divided)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Combine jam, sugar, cinnamon, wine, juice and zest in a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Stir in blueberries and place mixture over low heat on top of the stove. For the biscuits, whisk together buttermilk and vanilla; stir in melted butter. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all but 2 tbsp. of the sugar. Add to buttermilk mixture. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened - do not overmix or biscuits will be tough. Drop 12 biscuits into blueberry mixture. Place a tea towel over the pot and cover tightly - the towel keeps condensed water from raining onto your fluffy biscuits.

Cook over low to medium-low heat - you are looking for a gentle simmer - for 20 minutes or until a tester in the middle of a biscuit comes out clean. Combine remaining 2 tbsp. sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle on top of biscuits just before serving - with canned cream, of course.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 5970, St. John's, NL, A1C 5X7.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, St. John's

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