Saturday, 26 May 2012

Greek Salad and Pork Kebobs

Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. brings me back to the years I spent living in Arizona. Long weekends were so special, always dedicated to fun and family and food. I remember going out the lake for picnics in 110 degree weather, and coming home gloriously exhausted and sunburned and full of delicious food, listening to Luckenbach Texas on the radio and thinking that life couldn't get any better.
I love my American friend's sense of dedication to family and playtime and really enjoying life. It's not just Thanksgiving weekend that menu planning and pie baking and decorating the house takes place. In my neighbourhood, every single house proudly displayed an American Flag on the Fourth of July. And we all brought a picnic and a blanket out to the high school footba
ll field to watch the fireworks. Imagine 200 families all having a picnic in one spot, playing catch and sharing their fabulous food and good times! I am tearing up just for the joy of the memories!
Here's a favourite dinner of mine that can easily be packed up and barbequed at the beach, or just enjoyed in your own backyard. Greek salad, barbequed pork kebobs and grilled corn on the cob! Hello summer!
Let's start with the salad. You'll need:
2 cucumbers peeled and diced into 1 inch sized chunks.
3 large tomatoes cut into same size chunks, or a container of cherry tomatoes if you prefer.
1/2 red onion thinly sliced
A couple of handfuls of good kalamata olives
A nice sized chunk of greek feta cheese
and for the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
a good splash of balsamic vinegar
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
Put all of your vegetables into a bowl and whisk your dressing up and pour it over the salad. Crumble your feta over the salad and stir it all up. You can make this ahead of time. Just cover and chill until you're ready to serve.
For the pork kebobs you'll need:
A small pork roast.(about 1 to 2 pounds) Don't use tenderloin because it's too dry. But try to find a lean cut of pork.
Cut it all up into 1 or 1 1/2 inch sized chunks and put the meat into a large ziplock freezer bag.
For the marinade:
1/2 cup of olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
the juice of 2 lemons
One whole head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 sweet onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon of salt and a generous grinding of pepper
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
Whisk up the marinade and pour it over the meat. Smoosh it all around so all the meat is surrounded. Seal and put it in the fridge. Overnight will produce the best results, but at least 6 hours.
Soak your sticks for at least half an hour and thread the meat on them when you're ready to barbeque. They don't take long to cook. Only about 15 minutes on medium heat.
When you put the meat on the grill, brush some olive oil on however many cobs of corn you want and put them on the grill too. Don't put butter on them while they're on the grill because they'll scorch, but by all means, make a nice herb butter for spreading on them when you serve them. Use whatever you like. I like to mash the butter with either cilantro or parsley or even tarragon. Whatever speaks to me from the herb garden is what I use. Mash it into the butter and then refridgerate it to let the butter get hard.
Serve the meat with some tzatziki sauce on the side (use a good store bought one since it's your weekend too and you want to have some fun!) and some sliced pita bread. Some people like to put the meat in the bread, so just cut the pitas in half is fine.
This meal is meant to be consumed outside, al fresco style. It should be against the law not to, so be organized for outdoor dining. In fact, I don't even know if it would taste as good if you were to eat it inside on a beautiful summer day. And I'm not one to boss about wine since it's a matter of personal taste, but this meal really does lend itself to one of those lovely, dry rose wines that are so popular now. No white will stand up to the flavours. Try a nice Pinot Noir! Enjoy!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Comfort Food

Some days are good, some days are hard. C’est la vie, non? So what’s a girl to do when you’ve had a hard day/week/year? My personal preference is to pour a nice glass of wine, open up a great cookbook (or blog!) and find something that fits the definition of comfort food. (I realise that there are bloggers on this site who may disagree, at least with the cooking part… ahem, Kelly…)

What is comfort food? There are so many different types, and for me each person in my life provides a different recipe. In fact, sometimes if it weren’t for the person cooking it, I probably wouldn’t eat. (My grandmother’s roast, cooked far past well-done, comes to mind.)

True comfort food probably isn’t really even cooked by you, for you. It’s made for you with great love and tenderness, and without becoming melodramatic, you can taste it in the food. Take for example Auntie Jo’s spaghetti sauce. I have tried to re-create it, my mother has tried to re-create it, and it cannot be done. Only Jo can make this sauce. It’s as simple as that.  It’s probably also the only food I would actually consider drinking a glass of milk with. I hate milk, and yet somehow it just goes well with this meal.

Comfort food from my mum and dad are totally different. For me, my mum’s comfort food is chicken potpie, her chilli or, bizarrely, caprese salad. Salad has no place in comfort food, I know, but at least this salad is full of cheese. From my dad, it’s definitely cheeseburgers. Or store-bought tortellini with store-bought alfredo sauce, heated up in the microwave. This was every other Friday night of my childhood, and it was fantastic.

Being a big girl now, I occasionally have to cook myself comfort food. Or, in other scenarios, cook it for others. I always fall back to pasta when I need something stick-to-your-ribs style. Lately, I’ve been into making homemade macaroni and cheese, and I promise that when you do this, you’ll never go back to Kraft Dinner.

This is super easy and flexible, you can make it as fancy or simple as you want, and you can go around knowing that if something happens one day and you need to comfort someone, you can do it with this recipe.

You need:
Pancetta (President’s Choice has a great pre-chopped option, but smoked bacon works in a pinch too)
2-3 cheeses like cheddar, Asiago, Havarti, etc. Grate about 2 cups of a variety of them
¼ cup panko breads crumbs
Equal parts fat and flour (some from the pancetta, then a bit of butter)
½ - 1 cup of cream
1 can of tomatoes
Little scoop of smoked paprika
Little scoop of dry mustard powder
Little bit of garlic powder or onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste, plus a little extra salt for your pasta water
Macaroni noodles, of course. I’d say about half a bag for 4 people

Take none of those amounts too seriously. I never measure anything; these are guesses from my head. Just try those amounts and adjust as you go.

Start by getting your pasta water boiling. Always salt this water, it flavours your pasta and is an important step. You’re making this to comfort someone, so don’t cut corners! The water should taste like the sea, and about 2 tbsp of salt at least.

In the meantime, grate the cheeses and render the fat from the pancetta in another pot. Rendering fat means cook the pancetta slowly enough that the fat starts to come out in the pot. We aren’t going to drain this fat; we need it for flavour and to make the roux. (You remember how to do that, don’t you? You learned how in Chicken Potpie.)

Keep an eye on that pasta, you really don’t want to cook it all the way through. Cook it about half way, with a fair amount of bite still left. While I think about that, grease a baking dish or several ramekins and heat your oven to 375°. Drain your pasta and concentrate on the cheese sauce now.

Macaroni and Cheese... In a ramekin, because I'm fresh like that.
Cheese sauce is too easy to handle- I can’t believe how long I had been making cheese sauce from a package, when all it takes it a couple steps. Start with your roux- you’ve got some fat from the pancetta in the pot, now add a scoop of butter and equal parts flour. We’re talking about 2 tbsps each here. (For a better lesson on roux, visit Chicken Potpie) Stir that up and let the raw flour taste cook off.

At this point, add you canned tomatoes, almost all the cheese (save a handful for the topping) and the dried spices. Also add the cream. Stir until thickened. Taste your sauce and see if it needs anything. No? Perf! Add it to the pasta and dump that into your ramekins or baking dish. Almost done!

Finally, top your dish with the rest of the cheese, panko, a sprinkle of paprika and maybe even some Parmesan. Bake in the oven for twenty minutes, and then throw the broiler on for two minutes. Keep an eye on it with the broiler… I always forget about things and burn the arse off the top of my food. For a long time I didn’t have a toaster, I just broiled my toast in the oven. I ate burnt toast almost every day for a year.

Wait until you taste this… You can also do white cheeses with lobster instead of pancetta, you can do a smoky bacon with Gouda and Havarti; the options are endless! And never be shy about adding more chilli powder or hot sauce.

It’s time to banish Kraft Dinner from your diet. 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Sole Not Meuniere

Well don't I feel like the horse's ass. I have spent my whole life lecturing my daughters on the importance of having a well stocked pantry. And I have actually told them that only a common fool would be caught without a fresh lemon in their fridge. So tonight I set about making a rice pilaf and Sole Meuniere. Except I discovered too late that I didn't have a lemon! Ugh! So embarrassed and of course, ashamed of myself!
My sole was already dredging itself in the seasoned flour, and the pilaf was 5 minutes away from perfect. So I had to make a quick decision - use the bottled lemon juice (shame on me!) or think fast on my feet and use the two limes I had on hand. Since I got my first (small!) tattoo this weekend, I decided to think young and hip and do the sexy thing with my sole. I went with the limes. And not to dis the old school French cuisine recipe of classic Sole Meuniere, I think I can give them a run for their money with what I came up with.
I melted about 1/3 cup of butter in the skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. And to this I added the grated zest of 2 limes. Since I had some fresh ginger and that marries perfectly with lime, I added a tablespoon of it grated into the butter and oil. Now that I was on a roll, I gave a squirt of a couple of tablespoons of sweet chili sauce into the mix. My sole was dredged in flour season with salt and pepper. When the fry pan was sizzling with happiness, I put the filets in and fried them for about 3 minutes on each side until they were golden and crispy. Then I added the juice of one of the limes to the mix. And I topped them with chopped, fresh cilantro and the rest of the lime juice when I served them. The meal was just delicious! I was not the least bit ashamed of it and I think I'll call it Tattoo Sole from now on!
If you wanted to do a classic, French style Sole Meuniere, you would of course need a lemon. Still dredge your sole in the seasoned flour. Still melt the butter and the olive oil but add the zest of your lemon and the juice of half of it. Fry it exactly the same and to serve it, squeeze the rest of the lemon juice on it and top it with chopped parsley. It's very delicious and classic. It seems boring in comparison to my invented recipe, but it's not. It's been around for a hundred years for a good reason. It's awesome. So much so in fact, that I think I may force my daughters to name my grandchildren Parsley and Cilantro and Lemon and Lime. Much in the style of Gwyneth Paltrow with Apple. Not! At least give a child a running chance out of the gate!
Rice Pilaf is such a fresh and delicious side with any kind of fish, that I think I'll share that with you now too. Don't fence yourself in with the vegetables. I use whatever I have in the fridge that I want to use up. The secret is to use long grain par boiled rice. I buy it by the forty pound bag. For the love of God don't use that 5 minute rice by Uncle Ben. Don't buy it ever. I couldn't be more serious about this. Melt about 1/4 cup of butter in your saucepan. (Make sure it has a tight fitting lid). Saute about 1/2 cup each of whatever vegetables you're using. Tonight I used celery, red pepper and green onion. But you can use carrots, onions, green pepper or just whatever you like or have around. Be sure to chop them very small since you don't want chunks and this isn't a stew. Add 1 measured cup of rice and let it toast around with the veg for a minute or two. Then add 2 cups of chicken broth and bring it up to a boil. Immediately cover it and reduce the heat to a simmer and let it simmer for 25 minutes. Lift the lid really fast and have a quick peak at it. If the liquid is almost gone, turn off the heat, stir it and put the lid back on. Now fry the fish. Don't worry, the rice will stay plenty hot to serve. You can season the rice with salt and pepper if you like, but I never do because I love the flavours to just jump out on their own. The secret is to make sure the rice is just simmering but the heat is not so hot that your liquid will boil out before the rice is cooked. It takes a bit of practice. But less heat is better than too much. Always start your fish when the rice is pretty much done. This is a very easy and fast dinner to prepare and cook but it speaks volumes in flavour. It can be a quick middle of the week dinner, or an elegant dinner for company coming too! Enjoy!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Beef Stew

I can't determine if it's because it's spring, or menopause or stress that has made me fall in love with thyme this week. Maybe it's the aromomatic effect it has. It's very soothing and the aroma it gives off tells the world there is something very serious going on in the pot. And a true chef would strike me dead for saying this, but I really think dried thyme is just as effective as fresh since it's one of those herbs where a little goes a long way. I certainly wouldn't put it fresh into a salad and I would use it very sparingly in a soup because it can overwhelm in no time. Thyme is best used in poultry dishes and stews in my experience.
Last night I roasted a chicken and I used fresh thyme in the cavity of the bird and sprinkled just a little dried thyme over the skin mostly to flavour my drippings. And just because I enjoyed the aroma so much, I decided to use some in my beef stew tonight. What an amazing change it made in the flavour of a stew that I've been making for years and years now without it. I am going to make a simmering pot pourri using aromatic herbs just to change my mood. I make a citrus and cinnamon concoction often to erase fish odors in the kitchen. But now I'm going to invent one just for the soothing and calming effect it will have on my nerves. But I haven't invented it yet. So I'll share it when I do.
But the beef stew was delicious and easy so I'll share that recipe with you now.
You'll need:
1 pound of stewing beef
red wine
beef broth
1 onion
2 potatoes
2 carrots
3 stalks celery
sliced mushrooms
and any root veg such as turnips or whatever you like. I don't like any root vegetables so I don't put any in my stew.
salt, pepper, fresh or dried thyme, 2 bay leafs
vegetable oil
Heat a big pot with about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Brown the stewing beef and add 2 tablespoons of flour and add at least a half a bottle of decent red wine (or more unless you intend to drink some while you cook) and about 3 cups of beef broth. It will seem like a lot of liquid and your meat will seem miniscule in comparison, but trust me on this. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and add the 2 bay leaves. Put the cover on the pot and simmer for at least 2 hours. 3 hours is even better. If you're using fresh thyme, add 3 sprigs of it now.
Peel and chop your potatoes and slice your carrots and celery.
Saute your onion (sliced) in some butter and when they get soft, add your sliced mushrooms and let them brown. Use about 3 tablespoons of butter.
Add your chopped vegetables and 1 Tsp of dried thyme if you decide to use dried, into to the beef pot about 45 minutes before you're going to serve. Add the onions and mushrooms along with the butter in the pan about ten minutes after you add your vegetables. Let it all simmer with the cover on the pot until everything is fork tender. (Which means you can very easily stab a potato chunk with a fork without any resistance). Have a taste and add salt and pepper to your taste. Remove the bay leaves before you serve and slice a loaf of French bread to serve with it. If your liquid becomes too thick at any time, add more beef broth. This a recipe that you can really adapt to your own style. Add chopped garlic to the onion and mushrooms saute if you like. Use only the vegetables that you like.  You can even add a splash of sour cream at the end if you like a more stroganoff consistency. It's just really delicious and hearty and will really calm you down if you're a nervous wreck such as I am this week. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Shrimp Tacos

I'll tell you who I just can't stand to watch on Foodnetwork are those two smug sisters - Greta and the other one whose name I never bothered to remember. The premise of their show is sort of like a throwdown where they go up against a fat laden unhealthy recipe with their own healthy modified version. In theory, it seems like a pretty good idea. The problem is the way they go about it. They tend to go right into the heart of midwest American for their public flogging. Then they'll choose a lovely, kindly grandmotherly type with a fried chicken recipe that's been in the family for 4 generations, and pleasing the townsfolk for miles around at every country fair and wedding and church supper for 50 years now.
Here's where the trouble starts for me. They sachet through what is obviously a very urban grocery store in their designer clothing and high heels, literally tearing a strip off the poor old woman, accusing her of frying the chicken like she has a diabolical plot to murder everyone in the town with fat grams. They get home to their own kitchen and start making that fried chicken healthy and fit to eat. Of course the first thing they're going to do is axe the frying of the chicken, and choosing to bake it instead. Hello dummies! The people at Shake and Bake got all over that 50 years ago. Hence the difference between Fried Chicken and Baked Chicken! So they add a few generic spices to their corn flake crumbs, coming up with a coating that probably very closely resembles Shake and Bake, and they bake it off.
Now on to the skinning alive of the kindly grandmother. They have all the townsfolk gather to taste the two chicken recipes and of course their healthy version wins on every episode. I can't imagine anybody ever thinking that baked chicken tastes better than good old fried chicken, so I already know the results are fixed. But these two smug bitches can't just let it go at that. They have a go at the poor, bewildered grandma, lecturing her on the dangers of cholesteral and so on. They want to smack her all over with her own spatula. They would like to tar and feather her for her own stupidity. They wish her dead. You can tell. They are so very superior in so many ways. It doesn't seem to matter that not one of the taste testers from the heartland look to be overweight or suffering from any kind of health issue. And it doesn't seem to be relevent that the population of these towns can pretty much eat whatever they want because they are working class and they need the calories to sustain them throughout their workday.
What bothers me most is the redundancy of the program. They target the fried food eaters of the hardest working people in America. Why not take their baked, superior version of fried chicken to the corporate offices of KFC, and get them to switch their recipe? This would save all the inner city people that don't burn any calories in the course of a day other than the energy it takes to digest their junk food. Just a thought! All this talk of fried food reminds me of my shrimp tacos. Probably the best tasting food you'll ever eat!
You'll need:
A pack of the small soft torillas
2 pounds of large, peeled and deveined shrimp
2 limes
vegetable oil for frying
the batter ingredients which I'll list in a minute
stuff to put inside the taco. I like fresh cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sliced avacados, sour cream, lime juice and a splash of hot sauce. But you decide what you like and use that. The shrimp is the star of the show here.
For the batter:
1 1/2 cups of flour
1/2 rice flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tst pepper
1 bottle of beer
Cut each shrimp into 2 or 3 pieces (bite size chunks) and squeeze some lime juice over them.
For the batter, mix all the ingredients in a bowl with a whisk and then add the beer last, whisking it in. Add more beer if it's too thick. But it should be thick enough to coat the shrimp and not run off it. Whisk until smooth and let it sit for about half an hour for the flavours to come alive.
Using a big pot or a big frying pan, pour in the oil until it's 2 inches deep and heat it on medium high heat.
Dry off the shrimp and add it into the batter. Using a tong, remove one chunk at a time and add to the oil. Make sure not to crowd the pan. You don't want them to touch each other. Just fry them for a couple of minutes until they are crispy and golden brown. Put them on paper towl to drain the excess oil and salt them. While the shrimp are frying, wrap your tortillas in tin foil and heat them in the oven on 325 for a few minutes to warm them. Serve it up! This doesn't have to be just a taco recipe. You can make these shrimp as a delicious appetizer too and serve with a dip. I dare those two evil sisters to come to my kitchen and try to clean this recipe up. I'll smite them with my mighty oven mitt!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Steak Diane

I just got home from my family doctor and got away with a just a small lecture about the need to eat healthy and exercise and so on. So I will resolve to do that because I adore my doctor and I feel very much that she cares about my health a great deal! Thank God I swore off my annual Mother's Day Family Feast two years ago. I always ate KFC just once a year on Mother's Day, but the whole experience had been going south on me for quite a number of years before that.
There was the one year that I was all alone and all of my family was out of town. So I drove down to the drive through window in the pouring rain, and just as the KFC employee handed out my lonely person feast for one, it got dropped between the window and my car. Damn. So I had to pull out of the line and off to the side to wait for another meal. I got home and ate it all up and just as I was flattening down all the packaging and containers to hide from myself for the guilt I felt from my gluttinous feast, an infommercial came on the television selling ab rollers to flatten the stomach. I ordered one up with my credit card immediately! In the interim, waiting for the delivery, I threw caution to the wind and ate everything in sight. When I finally got the little delivery notice in my mailbox six weeks later, I couldn't wait to go straight to the post office to pick it up. Six pack abs, here I come! Unfortunately, there had been a freak accident that very day where a truck unloading at the beer store across the road lost its brakes and rolled across the street and into the post office, smashing it to smithereens and all things that lay within. Goodbye ab roller and hello next size up jeans. By the time the replacement arrived, I had lost my motivation for the six pack abs. Story of my life.
The final nail in the coffin came two years ago when I drove down to that same dreaded KFC to get my annual lonely girl feast and when I came up to the voicebox to order my meal. I was greeted with the voice of a surly, ignorant savage of a teenaged boy who greets me with this "Waddya want". Excuse me? "I said waddya want". I meekly ordered my usual dinner and I got "Ya well, we got no chicken cooked, so it'll be half an hour". I asked if I should wait in the line or pull out to the side and he said "I don't care where ya go. If ya want chicken, ya gotta wait somewhere." I don't abide rudeness under any circumstances and my blood was boiling so I just said "Why don't you take your chicken and shove it up your ass you goddamn punk." and I drove away vowing never to ingest that crap KFC again as long as I live. I literally shook with rage and fear and anxiety for days afterward. So now on Mother's Day every year, I make my own lovely dinner, named for me alone! And I buy the very best bottle of burgundy I can afford to sip on since I no longer have to get in the car on Mother's Day.
You'll need:
1  6 oz filet mignon for each person sharing the meal
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons of butter
3 shallots
1 lemon
fresh chives chopped
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons of brandy
finely chopped parsley
a small splash of cream
mince your shallots, juice your lemon, chop your chives and your parsley
Season your steaks with salt and freshly ground pepper (a mixed peppercorn blend is awesome here!)
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a heavy skillet on Med heat. Add the steaks and cook for 3 minutes per side for Medium Rare. Remove them from the pan.
Whisk into the pan drippings the other 2 tablespoons of the butter and the dijon, add the shallots and saute for just a minute or two, add a tablespoon of the lemon juice and the chives and the worcesteshire sauce. Keep whisking and add the brandy and the splash of cream. Pour this mixture over the steaks and garnish with the parsley. I like to serve this with asparagus and baby carrots. Happy Mother's Day all you beautiful ladies! Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Chiffonades and granitas and responsiblity!

This is not my blog of the day and I'm waiting for inspiration to write that. But I was just watching a bit of Triple D on Foodnetwork and it dawned on me that I should put out a public warning at once. We can't be careful enough when it comes to throwing foodie terms around and speaking in Foodnetwork like it's our second language. Or worse, our Mother Tongue! Along with freedom comes responsibility. And we have to take that burden seriously. It just dawned on me that we are an inspiration to all expectant mothers. Think of wannabe foodie Gwyneth Paltrow naming her daughter Apple. And what in the name of God would prevent Rachel Ray from naming her firstborn Chiffonade? Or Granita?
Back in the day, when my children were born, we all took our inspiration from soap opera characters. So of course we had our Lukes and our Lauras and Colbys and Phoebes and so on. And then we had a resurgence of biblical names, so hello Noah, Matthew, Rebekah, and Rachel. I came from the plain Jane 50's of Debbies and Nancys and Stevens and Bills. So just a word to the wise, if you're expecting a grandchild, or you know somebody who has one on the way and they are planning to name that child Fricassee or Julienne, for the love of all that is just and holy, intiate a name intervention!! Nobody wants to face a future of having 5 Mashed Potatoes on the attendence list of the 2017 kindergarten class!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Chicken Enchiladas

I live in what is supposed to be the Vegetable Growing Capital of Canada. And I believe it too because between now and September, every morning I walk out my door I will be greeted with the beautiful bouquet of whatever crop is ready to harvest. It still gives me a thrill every time I open a window and my house is instantly fragranced with the aroma of fresh celery! Although living in such splendor is not without its hazards either. One time I was coming up the highway into town behind a truck loaded with onions, and with the skins blowing off the back of the load, I was faced with zero visibility. Worse than a blizzard or a duststorm by far. And if a carrot truck loses its load on the road, it can be more slippery than black ice! Still, in all, the benefits far outweigh the hazzards, and I am never without inspiration when it comes to preparing vegetables.
But this blog isn't about vegetables. It was just my preamble to start everybody thinking about our crops and to remember that those vegetables don't just jump out of the field and on to our store shelves themselves. Today, as I was driving through town, I saw a small crowd gathered in a circle around the cenotaph at the city hall. There were veterans in their dress uniforms and members of The Lion's Club in their vests and badges and a small group of others. At first I thought it was a prayer group. But the vibe was more festive than that. And this town loves a little celebration. We'd go to the opening of an envelope if it gave us a chance to gather in commeraderie. Then I spotted the little flags that the people were holding and waving. Ah of course! Today is Cinco de Mayo! At first I was excited, but upon closer scrutiny, I saw the flags were faded and shabby and the crowd was far too small to mark such a historic day. It was a bit sad and I teared up because this town I live in would be nothing if it weren't for our migrant workers and the sacrifice their families make back home so we can have beautiful, fresh vegetables all throughout Canada, and indeed the world. So God Bless our migrant workers and their families, and God Bless Mexico!
Today's recipe is a tribute to them! Although I'm sure they would think my version of their national cuisine is no closer to authentic than the Chinese Food we order on the phone. Or the fresh seafood that my Portuguese partner scoffs at as being fresh since we live 2,000 miles away from the nearest ocean! In any case, this one is a crowd pleaser and I've seen a whole tray of them disappear in less than a minute at Superbowl parties.
You'll need:
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
chili powder (lots!)
salt & pepper
12 tortillas or more if you want to make extra
2 cups of grated cheese. Your choice. I like Monterrey Jack
1 can of chopped green chilies
2 cans of tomato sauce
1 can of black beans
1 tablespoon of chopped chipotles (canned)
Sour cream, salsa and guacamole to garnish.
Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander and chili powder and bake them on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.
While they're baking, grate your cheese. You can cheat with this step and buy the tex mex already shredded cheese in the bag if you just got paid and have lots of extra money. Open up all your other cans of ingredients. Pour both cans of your tomato sauce into a large bowl and add 2 generous tablespoons of chili powder and mix it all up.
When the chicken is finished baking, let it sit for a few minutes to relax and then chop it into bite size chunks. Start a new large bowl and put all the chicken in it. Set your oven to 325. Add just a bit more than half of your cheese, the can of green chilies, 1 or 2 tablespoons of chopped chipotle (this is damn spicy so know your boundaries here). The black beans are optional. You could use refried beans or pinto bean or skip the beans altogether. I like the texture of the black beans. Add only about 1/2 the can (rinse them first). Add about 1/2 cup of your seasoned tomato sauce to moisten and mix all this up well.
Pour a ladle full of your tomato sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish making sure the whole bottom is covered. This prevents your tortillas from sticking to the bottom the pan. Pretty genious actually.
Now take each tortilla shell and place about 2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto it and roll it up like a burrito. Be sure your ends are tucked in. You want it to be a parcel with no escape holes. Use your math skills and eyeball to make sure you have enough mixture to go into each tortilla. You want to not have any leftover tortillas or mixture once the pan is full or else you fail! Hahah Kidding!
As you fill each tortilla, place it into the pan and then next one butts right up tight to it and so on. These things need to steam all snuggled up together, so don't leave any space between them. Keep this up until the pan is full and you've used up your ingredients. Now pour all the rest of the seasoned tomato sauce over the whole pan and sprinke the rest of your cheese over the top of  everything. Seal the pan tightly with tin foil and bake for about half an hour on 325. Remove the tin foil right before serving. Serve with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. And just out of respect, make your condiments resemble the Flag of Mexico!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Spring Risotto

Spring Risotto with wild mushrooms and fiddleheads

Risotto is one of my all time favourite things to make. I learned my original recipe from Jamie Oliver's Italy cookbook and I’ve never looked back. Risotto is one of those foods that feels completely indulgent and guilt inducing, but really isn’t that unhealthy at all. Despite being totally creamy and delicious, it has no dairy to it (besides a little butter, but we’ll get to that later). If you ever go to a restaurant and there is cream in the risotto, walk away. That chef is a liar. They are likely not to be trusted to use quality ingredients or take the time to create something wonderful.

Risotto’s creaminess comes from all the stirring you will do. This gently brings the starch out of the rice and creates the creaminess that we all love so much. Now, I should say that risotto is a slow-burn… it is, in fact, somewhat of a commitment to make. Anyone who says that you can just whip a risotto together in twenty minutes is a fool and has probably never made it. So, ignore them and do be prepared to spend about an hour making this. (I hear that collective gasp- an hour! No, this ain’t no Rachel Ray 30 Minute Meal here, this is a labour of love.) However, that being said, I did just make myself a risotto on a Friday after work (full disclosure: I work from home), but I love cooking on a Friday night, mostly because I love drinking wine on a Friday night. And I promise you- there is no better meal to drink wine while you cook to than a risotto. (And yes, I am the type of person to make an individual serving of risotto for oneself- my self-absorption/indulgence knows no bounds).

The only other think to consider when making risotto is your ingredients. A few ingredients are absolute must-haves: You must have Arborio rice, you must have fresh onion and you definitely want at least one fresh herb in the fray. After that, there are a couple of negotiables. Ideally, you will also have fresh garlic, fresh lemons, homemade chicken stock (see Soups for that recipe) and Parmesan Reggiano to grate freshly. In the world that is not a Food Network set kitchen, you can also make do with that pre-chopped garlic, store bought lemon juice (although I really don’t recommend it- lemons are 2 for a $1.29), store bought stock and-shame!- pre-grated parmesan. Your white wine matters only if you plan on drinking the rest of the bottle, which I often do.

With ingredients, especially in risotto, you get what you put in. Keep that in mind- you have ALL DAY Sunday to get your ass to Loblaws and buy some fresh lemons. So do it.

Onwards to the recipe then. After your basic white risotto, you can put almost anything you want in it. Today, I cried out with joy when I saw Fiddleheads in the store. Two things signify “spring” to me: the new LCBO “Early Summer” Food and Drink Magazine, and fiddleheads. Having my handy iPhone (can we get a sponsorship payment here?) in the store, I quickly Googled “fiddlehead risotto”. Lo and behold, I found this little number:
It just so happens I was planning on putting mushrooms in my risotto, so this worked well.

Basic risotto for 2 people, you’ll need:

-       1 cup Arborio rice
-       1 cup white wine
-       2 tbsp olive oil
-       6-8 cups of stock (if you were feeding vegetarians, this can be vegetable stock)
-       1 large onion, chopped
-       6-8 cloves of garlic (this is a matter of taste, really. I love garlic, so I go to hell with it)
-       1 bay leaf
-       Parmesan cheese
-       Splash of lemon juice (1 juicy lemon)

That’s about it. Then, you can add whatever you like to it. For this one, I used:

-       15 fiddleheads (okay I didn’t use that many, but if you were 2 people you would)
-       Handful of mushrooms (not button ones- try to be a bit exciting, you can get wild mushrooms blends for sale and they are great)
-       Several sprigs of thyme
-       3 tbsp of butter

To start, put on some music. I can’t stop playing Santigold’s Master of My Make Believe. You are committing to about an hour in the kitchen, so make the most of it. Remember that wine you need? Pour yourself a glass of it. If cooking isn’t your thing (as it is mine), take a deep breath and try to enjoy yourself. This is worth it.

First things first- risotto is mostly about timing. Take the time to prep all your ingredients. Chop your onion and garlic. Chop your mushrooms quite roughly and also the fiddleheads, but save a few to keep whole for your “plating”. (Oh yes y’all- you are going to “plate” this meal!) You also need to take your stock and put it on a small pot on medium heat. It needs to be hot when you add it to the risotto. Finally, preheat your oven to 375°.

In a large pot, add your olive oil and then sauté your onions on a med-high heat. You don’t want any colour on the onions; just get them nice and soft. Then add your garlic and sauté that a bit. Now add your rice and toast it in the pot a little. The next part is the best part- if you are on a date, find an excuse to get your date in the kitchen for this part. You are going to blow some minds here. Get your wine and pour it in to deglaze the pot. It smells incredible, the sound is dramatic and you look like a total professional.

Here comes the serious part now. You need to start stirring. Give that a good stir and then put your chopped mushrooms and all the fiddleheads on a tray. Chop up some butter in chunks and put that on the vegetables. Add your thyme, some salt and pepper. Fire that into the oven for a little roasting. Like this: 

Chopped mushrooms and fiddleheads with butter, thyme and seasoning

Forget about that now and think only of stirring.

This stage will need to be repeated several times. When the rice has started to absorb all the liquid (first it is the wine, after that it becomes the stock), you need to add more hot stock. Add about a cup at a time, and stir your ass off! As soon as it gets thick again, add more stock. Keep your heat at about a 6 or 7. If you go higher than that, you risk having the liquid cook faster than the rice can absorb. And stir! At some point, take a break to get out your plates. They need to be at the ready for the rice when it’s done.

Your rice will start to look done- it becomes about twice its size and more opaque. Want to know the best way to tell if it’s done? Taste it. You want the rice to still have a bit of a bite to it, but definitely not crunchy. While you’re at it, check your seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We are probably at about 30 minutes of stirring here. Your vegetables won’t need that long to roast though- especially not fiddleheads. Give them 15-20 minutes and call it a day.

Your rice is soft? The vegetables roasted? Perfect. Stir in all the chopped vegetables to the rice. Keep the whole ones aside. Add the juice of your lemon, chopped fresh parsley if you have it, and the Parmesan. Dish it out in bowls or plates in an attractive way (we’re plating here, people!) Finally, top each dish with some whole fiddleheads or mushrooms. Serve immediately, this isn’t a meal that should sit around for very long.

Final Plating
Voila! You’ve done it- your risotto will be amazing. And once you perfect this, I promise you will be a risotto snob. You’ll be the type of person who really can’t abide any kind of pre-made risotto, and you’ll make yourself single size servings on a Friday night.

- Bailey

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

What a day of thunderstorms and hail we've had! I was without internet for hours and nearly pacing the floors. How we've come to embrace our technology and all the gadgets we carry around the way we carried around our lipstick and smokes back in the day. No cellphones and laptops and iPads and such back then. Not even cab money. A tube of lipstick was all you needed because if you found yourself stranded, you'd colour up your lips and sit on the curb and smoke until somebody came along to rescue you. Well those days are long gone now. Who knew smoking and red dye were bad for your health? And we certainly didn't even imagine that anything you might eat would come back to haunt you! And actually, my youth came before fast food and trans fats and carcinogens and additives. So what your mom put on the table most likely didn't cause cancer inasmuch as it gave you an appetite for creamy, delicious fat and certainly made you chubby if you ate too much of it.
So in the eighties, everything came to a sudden halt. Nouvelle Cuisine was the order of the day. Organic wasn't invented yet. But certainly, smaller portions, less animal fat, exercise became de rigeur, smoking was becoming banned in restaurants (but still allowed in crowded bars) and we took a step toward nationwide health. We had become a human population of unhealthy and obese people and cancer had reached epidemic proportions. And saving ourselves from our destructive ways became the agenda of every doctor, politician, educator and whoever else could jump on the health bandwagon. So my question is: After nearly thirty years of education and a strive to improve, why are we becoming more obese and unhealthy than ever before? Many experts blame the fast food industry and our need for the grab and go mentality that has such a hold on us. And I don't minimize that opinion at all. But I also think that healthy food habits begin in the home. I believe that families need to find the time every day to sit to a table that has been set with a plate and a fork and a knife and a napkin. The meal on the table can be healthy and delicious and portion controlled. And it can be prepared in the same amount of time that it would take to drive through a take out window. And it would cost much less.
This post isn't about anything gourmet at all. I started out making my pot pie with leftover chicken or turkey, but it is such a favourite and so quick and easy, that now I buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and make it just for its own self. It's delicious and it's not on the Jenny Craig menu I'm sure. But kids and grownups alike love it and it's certainly better for you than anything from a drive-thru window.
You'll need:
A frozen deep dish pie shell. (you could make your own pastry, but I have a full time career and I prefer to leave the pastry making up to the experts at the Tenderflake pastry company. And they offer one with no transfats)
Leftover chicken or turkey or I just buy 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts and bake them off
2 peeled and sliced carrots
2 sliced celery stalks
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
salt & pepper
1 teaspoon of celery seed (optional)
If you're using fresh chicken, place your breasts on a cookie sheet (I line it with tin foil because I'm lazy that way) and sprinkle with salt and pepper and celery seed. Bake in the oven at 350 for 25 minutes. Skip this step if you're using leftover poultry.
Preheat the oven to 350. And take your pastry shells out of the box and let them thaw. It doesn't take long.
Microwave your carrots and celery in the same bowl for 5 minutes.
While the vegetables are in the microwave, melt your butter in a pot and add your flour. (This is called a roux by chefs, but it will seem like a glob in the pot if you haven't done this before) Whisk it around for a minute or two on medium heat and add just a splash of chicken stock to loosen it up a bit. But keep whisking it all the while. You need to keep it to heat to toast the flour. If you're not patient with this, your sauce will taste like raw flour. (Ew.) When it starts to golden up in colour, add your chicken stock and keep on whisking. It will get think instantly. Then add your milk and some salt and pepper and another dash of celery seed. This all seems pretty frantic because flour makes the action happen fast! Don't be afraid. As soon as it gets as thick as soup, take if off the heat. If it gets too thick, just add another splash of stock. the whisk is your best friend at this stage. Phew. That's the worst of it over now. Chop up your chicken into bite size chunks and add it to your sauce. Also add your carrots and celery. Ditch the whisk now and use a big spoon to mix it all together so the sauce coats all the chicken and veg. Taste it and add seasoning if you think you need it. Pour all the mixture into one of the pie shells. Wet your finger with some water and run it around the outside rim of the pastry and do the same with the remaining shell. Then flip the empty shell onto the top of the pie. Still in its tinfoil plate that it comes with, pinch it down onto the bottom shell and then pull off the tin plate and you'll be left with the top shell of the pie. Cut some slits into it with a sharp pointed knife. I like to make a pretty pattern, but that's just because I enjoy a flower shape in any form! The idea is to let the steam escape from the pie so your sauce doesn't turn to some kind of yucky tea in there. And for sure, you want to bake this on a cookie sheet in case it bubbles out and you'll end up with it all over the bottom of your stove. Bake it on 350 for about 35 or 40 minutes or until your pie gets golden.
This all seems very dramatic and a lot of trouble, but in fact it only takes about ten minutes. And it's easy and fun to make! It is imperative that you let it sit for 10 minutes before you serve it after it comes out of the oven so it can set up inside or you'll have nothing but steam and vegetables on the plate. And I might just tell you that your family will go wild for it and you'll probably end up making it once a week for thirty years like I have been doing. And just for a test, ask them one time "Do you want McDonalds tonight or chicken pot pie?" I think you'll know the answer after you serve this just one time!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Cream of Tomato Soup

I'm trying to think of lighter foods this week because my partner is back to work now and that means dinner doesn't take place until around 9:00 pm. So I have the time to make slow roasted Sunday dinners, but who wants to eat a big heavy meal so close to bedtime? Most of the meals I cook are off the top of my head, but once in a while, I hit one out of the ball park. So I try to write my recipe down for the really good stuff I make. The problem is that I'm such a disorganized person and I usually jot it down on a scrap of paper or the envelope of a hydro bill or something and I have a habit of stuffing it all into the space between the fridge and the microwave.
So today I went to find my tomato soup recipe and I've come to realize that I don't put titles to these heavenly edibles. I seem to just write down my grocery shopping list and leave it at that. And I'm not exaggerating when I say there are literally hundreds of these odd scraps of paper. The one thing I do know as I sort through the mess are the meals I cooked on Sundays, and only during NFL season because I wrote down my betting picks on the other side of the shopping list. I've been pretty lucky with my football bets in the past, so I might just save these lists and bet the same teams again this year! And I see I even wrote out 12 team selections on a visa bill. I hope I at least remembered to make a payment that month!
So, as best I can remember, here is my tomato soup recipe. Pair it up with a grilled cheese or a panini and you have a hearty and delicious meal! And just a tip, use smoked gouda and sourdough bread for that grilled cheese just to let people know there is a new sheriff in town!
1 onion finely chopped
1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of chopped garlic
5 large chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
a handful of chopped fresh basil - and keep some extra for the garnish
3 cups of chicken stock. Homemade if you have it!
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 cup of cream or half and half
In a soup pot, saute the onions and carrot in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they're soft and after about 10 minutes, add the chopped garlic and saute for another couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil and the chicken stock and about a tablespoon of salt and the pepper and simmer it without the cover on for about half an hour or until everything is very soft and tender. Puree it with an immersion blender and then push it through a fine sieve to get rid of the pulp and seeds. Put it back to the heat on Med and whisk in the cream. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve it garnished with some fresh basil or croutons.
I'm pretty sure that's how it goes. You can tinker with this one easily by adding a bit of other herbs you like too. Tomatoes love to be tickled with herbs!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Leftover Steak Salad

I was thinking I might share my recipe for my beef bourgignon or possibly my great big Chateaubriand recipe today. But it's May 1 and I have to go see my family doctor in 7 days to get my annual lecture about my cholesteral issues. And that's no joke. So we better lay off the hard stuff until after that. So here is a lovely and light (and I pray to God - Healthy) salad that I love to make when I have leftover steak. Which I should not be eating of course. But I could leave the beef off my portion and it would be just as delicious.
You'll need:
3 limes (juice only)
3 tablespoons of soy sauce (low sodium of course!)
3 tablespoons of canola oil
3 tablespoons of demerrara or brown sugar
3 gloves of minced garlic
2 teaspoons of minced ginger
1 generous teaspoon of red curry paste
a container of those mixed spring greens (organic is best)
2 very thinly sliced shallots
1/2 cup or a little more of cilantro leaves
1 cup of sliced fresh basil leaves (I love the Thai basil for this one)
Mix up all of your ingredients not including the greens, basil and cilantro with a whisk in a small bowl.
Thinly slice your leftover steak.
Toss all of your salad greens with 3/4 of the dressing. Arrange your steak slices over the greens and pour the remaining dressing over the steak.
That's all there is to this one. It's just bursting with flavour and I'm pretty sure it's healthy too because you don't even need any salt or pepper! If I don't get in too much trouble at the doctor's appointment, I'm coming bursting out of the gates with some not so heart healthy stuff soon!