Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Canapes

Here is an easy and delicious appetizer you can make for your guests. Just like Bailey described in her Roasted Red Pepper Soup blog, char off a couple of sweet red peppers. The easiest way to do this is to put them on a cookie sheet under your broiler. Or you can char them on the barbecue. I once tried to char them right on the element on the stove top because I saw that on a cooking show. But what a bloody mess and I don't recommend that method because peppers release a lot of moisture and that all drains down into the area beneath your element and beyond. And I had no idea just how many nooks and cranny's there are to a stove until I tried it that way. But I did discover that the entire top of the stove lifts up. I can't tell you how sorry I was to discover this. Years and years of uncertainty lies in this domain. Better to buy a new stove than to clean this up. But now I'm just being a buzzkill. Do it on the cookie sheet under the broiler and I'll say no more about it.

Rotate them around until they are charred on all sides. Put them into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until they are cooled down enough to handle. At least half an hour. Then the skin should easily peel off. Cut off the tops and discard all the seeds and slice them into 1/4 inch slices. Put the slices into an ovenproof dish and pour about 1/2 cup of olive oil over them and add 5 cloves of chopped garlic. They can just sit in the oil until 30 minutes before you're ready to serve them. Whenever you get a minute in the meantime, slice a baguette into 1/2 inch slices and toast them under the broiler and flip them and toast the other side. Just to golden brown.

Preheat the oven to 450 and slice or crumble some goat cheese over the red pepper mixture. Grind lots of freshly ground pepper over the lot of it.  Roast this off for about 20 minutes and at the last minute, turn on the broiler just to brown the cheese. Keep an eye on it and pull it out of the oven when the cheese starts to turn golden.It's goat cheese, so it won't go golden brown like a pizza. Just watch it doesn't burn.  Boom. Done. Don't let your guests touch the dish because it'll be so darn hot! They can just spoon this over the canape (that's foodspeak for those little toasts you made) and munch away. Sometimes the easiest things to make are the most delicious things to eat! And that's what I like! Enjoy. You'll make this one often!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Habanero and Prickly Pear Glaze

One time I tried to make Mummy’s Cornish hen recipe, but like I fool I bought a fruit compote instead of  fruit jelly! So it didn’t turn into a glaze at all. It sat clumpy on the hens and didn’t even really melt. Also, at that point in my life I didn’t have a roasting pan, so I just sat the hens into a corningware. Little did I know that keeping the bottom flat against the dish caused it to steam rather than roast, and nothing crisped up at all. So Cornish Hens are my Everst of food and tonight I think I peaked!

It began as usual with a trip to Farm Boy. And what did I see in the produce aisle but PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS FRUIT. This is huge, y’all. I instantly remembered a childhood field trip back when we lived in Arizona. The school took us to a state park and taught us survival skills for the desert and whatnot, and apparently survival skill number one is learning about the cactus fruit and how to eat it. That day, we all got to taste it and drink prickly pear juice. I haven’t taste it since. That was about eighteen years ago. So naturally today I had to buy them!

Next up I saw habanero peppers, which are scary but also awesome (not unlike a majestic Great White). Originally I was thinking that this was the makings for a perfect pork tenderloin glaze (or even some sort of savoury donut, hmm?!) But
Glaze thickening away
I saw me some hens in the meat area and had to give it a go.

I also bought a jar of red pepper jelly to act as the base of the glaze, because the fruit and peppers don’t have enough sugar to thicken on their own, obvi. So, you should definitely follow the roasting instructions from the previous hen post, but if you’re feeling spicy, here’s how to habanero glaze it up:

Start by melting the jar of red pepper jelly over medium heat. I also added some honey because Mummy does. Next, slice up your habanero peppers but beware. These are the hottest of the hot. I tasted a tiny sliver on its own just to see, and my mouth ignited. So what I did was slice up the peppers but remove most of the seeds (where the real heat is) so that it was a more mild heat from the flesh itself. I think I used only about three peppers, and it was plenty spicy.

Beauty hen!
Next, work with your prickly pears. Slice off the two ends and then cut it in half lengthwise. You will see a very distinct skin and fruit inside. Peel the skin off. It is very easy. Now, the seeds are edible so you can pretty much eat the fruit right away at this stage. If that’s intimidating, puree and strain the fruit to have a jazzy juice for cocktails and such. For the glaze, just chop them into small chunks and throw them into the jelly.

I also added a bit of balsamic vinegar more for a nice colour than anything else. Baste your hens every ten or fifteen minutes, and you’ll be good to go! Drizzle the rest of the glaze over the hens before serving, but do not pour the slices of habanero pepper over the hens or you’ll run everyone out of town. Discard them like a dirty bay leaf and enjoy your taste of the southwest!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Grilled Shrimp and Scallop Kabobs

I know you've heard me do nothing but complain about our horrible Canadian winters. And it's true. The older I get, the less tolerant of them I become. That's why so many Canadian Seniors bail out and head to Florida and warmer climates during the winter months. Snowbirds they call them. BUT, you've never heard me talk about how mad with excitement we become on the first nice day of Spring! Now "nice" being relative. Today the sun came out and the temperature went up to 5 degrees Celsius. Not very warm if you live in nice parts of the world, but a veritable heatwave for us! There was a lady in the nail salon wearing white jeans today. Not to be too judgy, but it really is too soon for that. But who am I to say since I selected a pastel pink called Cotton Candy to have my nails painted in? And as I drove through town, all the guys in town were wearing muscle shirts and flip flops. Again, too much too soon since there is still snow on the ground, and plenty of it! But it is right to say that we all have the Spring Fever and I practically burst out through the front door this morning to be a part of this beautiful day!

And when I got to the grocery store, I was practically skipping through the aisles to find spring food to make for dinner. No more pots of stew or soup or chili for this girl! Before I left the house, I checked the propane tank to make sure nothing was going to spoil the grilled food I planned to eat today. Sadly, there was no fresh shrimp available today, which I kind of had my heart set on. Not to be daunted, I got fresh scallops and since I've been eating frozen everything all winter, frozen shrimp would have to do. In the produce section, I found some amazing looking sweet red peppers from Mexico and also the happiest looking jalapeno pepper I ever saw, which practically jumped into my cart saying "take me home and make something delicious out of me!" Okay. Let's make some grilled seafood!

Depending on how many people you're serving, you'll need:
Jumbo fresh raw shrimp if you can get it. (or frozen jumbo if you live in the tundra like me) Plan on 3 or 4 shrimp per person.
Fresh scallops. 3 per person should do it
Bamboo skewers
And for the marinade:
4 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 chopped jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup of olive oil
juice and zest of 1 lemon and 1 lime
1 good splash of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne
lots of freshly ground pepper
Put everything into a ziplock bag and marinate in the fridge for 5 or 6 hours

Soak your skewers in water for 30 minutes and thread all the seafood on
Grill on Medium High heat just until the shrimp turns pink and the scallops are golden brown. Turn them often so they don't burn.
I served this with rice pilaf and roasted red pepper and goat cheese canapes. I'll make a separate blog for the canapes so you don't get too bored with me! Happy Spring friends!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Roasted Pepper Soup

Finished Product

Well, I have a treat for you today! I whipped up a roasted pepper soup, and was it ever delicious. Sometimes I cannot even get over my own self and my talent in the kitchen! Hhahah, okay I’m just kidding. But I saw a job posting for Campbell’s Soup as a recipe developer the other day, and I was quite tempted to apply, despite having no professional culinary experience whatsoever.

But enough about me! On to the soup. Often, because I shop for one person, I have several things ready to go bad any second in my fridge and then I have to scramble to think of something to make which uses all of those ingredients. Usually this ends with a stir-fry or stew of some variety.  Today however, I was feeling particularly creative and decided that a soup would be the way to go.

Charred peppers- pre peeling
Start by roasting four peppers (it is the WORST when peppers go to waste since they are $5,000,000.00/pound) under your broiler or on the barbecue. You are looking for blackened skin- the more charred the better. This won’t make the peppers taste burnt, but it will make them very easy to peel, something you are going to have to do for this soup. While they roast, sauté a few strips of bacon in the pot for flavour. If you don’t have bacon, then don’t do that. But if you happen to keep bacon fat in your freezer, put some of that in the pot. This is all optional; olive oil in the pan will work as well. But remember I was trying to use up ingredients. Bacon just adds a depth of flavour and your can crumble it on the soup when the time comes as a garnish. Or you can just eat the strips while standing up in your kitchen as though they are candy.

Your house will smell like you made tacos, and your family will be so excited, and
 then you'll say, "Ha! No, it is healthy soup!" And you'll laugh and laugh and laugh.

When the peppers are out, put them in a sealed container for a few minutes to steam them and further make the skin easier to peel. Now sauté a chopped onion in that bacon fat or olive oil, (so take the bacon out, if you haven’t already) plus a few cloves of garlic. Add your peppers after they are peeled and sliced. We are going to puree the soup, so nothing has to look attractive at this point. Add a tablespoon of cumin, coriander and a little chilli powder to taste. Also add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer in chicken stock for about twenty minutes, puree and add a cup or so of cream. Top with goat cheese (because goat cheese and peppers are like the head cheerleader and quarterback of the football team of food) and a little of the bacon, if you didn’t eat every strip of it already. I hope you enjoy this! 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Crab Cakes

You know what the best thing about Baltimore is? The Wire. The second best thing is probably these crab cakes. (Full disclosure: I’ve never actually been to Baltimore. But I would very much like to go one day. Until then, crab cakes and Michael K. Williams will have to do.)

Anyway. I really love crab cakes, and I order them almost any time I see them on a menu. For me, they are one of those “restaurant foods”, the type of thing you almost never make at home, because it’s hard to recreate. But I love a challenge, and when my 80 year old Newfie grandmother asked me for a good recipe for her to make at home, I felt I could certainly deliver by finding something doable in a home kitchen.

A quick Google search delivered “Pride of Baltimore” crab cakes from Food and Wine. I stuck to this recipe pretty closely, but I used olive oil instead of grapeseed oil (have you seen the price of grapeseed oil?). Not only that, I’m not sure really who would be proud to serve a crab cake without a healthy dose of Old Bay in it, so I added a teaspoon or so of that. Also, my grandmother may have saltines around, but I certainly do not. I used Panko. Ha! So I guess I really stuck to this recipe quite loosely. Here’s my version:

.     1 cup mayonnaise
.     1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
.     1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
.     Cayenne pepper
.     1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
.     Fine sea salt
.     1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
.     1 cup Panko crumbs
.     1 large egg, lightly beaten (I used 1 egg, but I would actually recommend using 2)
.     1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
.     1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
.     1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
.     1 tablespoon Old Bay

1. In a medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the lemon juice and season with cayenne and Old Bay. Transfer 1/2 cup of the mayonnaise to a small bowl and reserve. Using the flat side of a chef's knife, mash the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Whisk the garlic paste into the medium bowl of mayonnaise, then transfer the aioli to a serving bowl.

2. In a large bowl, gently mix the crabmeat with the Panko, egg, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and the reserved 1/2 cup of mayonnaise. Shape the mixture into six 1-inch-thick crab cakes and transfer to a wax paper-lined plate. Refrigerate until firm, at least 20 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet. Add the crab cakes and cook over moderate heat until golden on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Carefully flip the crab cakes, then transfer them to the oven and bake until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer the crab cakes to plates and serve with the garlic aioli.

This was quite a delicious recipe, and one that is easy enough to re-create at home. Now just get your hands on the entire box set of The Wire and settle in for an evening with McNulty and crew! Jameson not included. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Maple Caramel Apple Slices with Fleur de Sel

Toasting our 100th blog (or: The most shameless selfie I have ever taken)
       Does anyone else miss the brazen and cavalier attitude of your youth? Maybe that’s a maudlin way to start our 100th (!) blog, but it’s true!  Or, maybe it’s an appropriate theme for our centennial post.

The reason I bring this up is that I tried not once, not twice, but three times yesterday to make caramel sauce. Now, I am not trying to say that I’m some sort of culinary genius who expects to get these things right on her first try every time, but thrice over for me is unusual. And not just because I get discouraged and give up on things quickly. This was particularly disturbing because I have actually made caramel sauce before. And I did this with no recipe, when I was about 22 years old, and I just had it in my mind that it was sugar and butter. So I made it. It was great. Not only did I make it purely from my mind’s eye, but also I made it in the kitchen of my old apartment-if you could even call it that. It was more of a room with this side panel they called a kitchen.

This apartment was hilarious. The kitchen was about ten feet long, but only about a foot wide. Every appliance was from the original build (1954) and functioned at any given moment somewhere between 30%-50% effectiveness. For example, the freezer was built into the fridge and had completely iced over- so much so that if someone wanted ice for their drink, I used to get out a screwdriver and hammer and chisel chunks off the ever-growing ice floe that was my refrigeration unit. The stovetop worked, but the oven I turned on exactly once, which promptly filled my entire apartment with smoke, luckily (but rather frighteningly) not setting off the smoke alarm. After several days the place aired out and no longer smelled like burning asbestos.
What a nice spring treat!

It was with this set up that I haughtily made caramel off the top of my head one evening. Now, what went wrong yesterday? I can tell you. I knew I wanted to film myself doing it, and therefore wanted it to be perfect on the first try (seeing as I have yet to understand how to edit videos). Being now cautious at the age of 27, I thought perhaps I should Google a recipe and make it like that. But both recipes I tried to use started me with a “wet” caramel, meaning you need to boil off the water before the sugar starts to caramelize. My advice? This is silly. Let us be bold- “dry” caramel is where it’s at. Just concentrate. Focus on what you are doing, be mindful, and take a lesson from our youth (and Nike)- just do it.

These apples are a special spring treat. Pretty and easy, it’s the kind of thing you can whip up (because almost everyone has apples, sugar, and butter in the house) at the last minute if you need to make a quickie dessert. Start by slicing your apples. I like Granny Smith, and the tartness goes well in this recipe. Here is a very important step (the kind you cannot skip). Squeeze lemon juice over your apple slices when you cut them. This prevents them from going brown- and no one would want these pretty slices to get brown. Set aside. Now, it’s time for the caramel.

Put a large frying pan on the stove and spread a layer of sugar in it- not too thick. Turn your heat on medium high. If you watch the video, you’ll see I say, “Let the butter melt”. But by butter I mean sugar. But I was focused on what I was doing, and not the narration of what I was doing, so sorry about that. You’ll see with your eyes though that clearly it is sugar that’s melting. Let it get a nice caramel colour, and just before it begins to burn (QUICKLY- pay attention) add a hunk of butter. Stir. Add cream. There you have it- no need to overthink anything here, people.

Happy Spring!
Now dip your slices in the caramel (let it cool slightly, and you may want to do two coats). Once the slices are dipped, go back and sprinkle a little fleur de sel on each. Don’t do this while the caramel is too hot, you don’t want the salt to dissolve, you want it to look like sprinkles. Set on wax paper and chill. Serve on something pretty. Enjoy and happy eating! Thank you all so much for your support of us- we can’t wait to serve you 100 more recipes!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Skinny Dinner: Spaghetti Squash

True story: I once had a cashier at Loblaws ask me what my butternut squash was, so that she could ring it through. Be that as it may, I certainly did not expect to ever come across a mythical spaghetti squash in my local backwater Loblaws even though I’ve heard wonderful things about them. Farm Boy to the rescue again! I found one there and gave it a try tonight, and it was a success. Here’s how you can try it too.

Looks like spaghetti! Awesome!
The first thing you have to do is cook your squash. Squash, as Bailey has rightfully pointed out many times, is terribly annoying to cut when it’s raw. So just cook the bastard whole. Put a few puncture holes into its skin so it doesn’t explode in the oven, and then set him in a baking dish with a bit of water in the bottom. Bake it at 375 for about an hour, and then set it aside and let it cool.

When it’s cool enough to touch, cut it in half. You’ll see that it already looks startling like spaghetti inside. Scoop away the seeds and fibrous membrane from the centre, and then use a fork to shred the flesh into “noodles.” It’s pretty straightforward – the squash basically falls into long thin pieces on its own.

Meanwhile, on the stove, heat a drizzle of olive oil and sautee some minced garlic. You can add whatever veggies you like here, but I used cabbage and grape tomatoes. Spinach and mushrooms would be nice, maybe some yellow onion. You can use whatever you have. Sautee the veg until they carmelized and soft, and then stir in your noodle flesh of the squash. The squash really just needs to be heated through since it’s already cooked.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Put it on a plate and top with a sliced chicken breast and a little crumble of goatcheese. You now have a delicious meal that feels sumptuous but has no carbs and lots of protein. I'm not usually one to worry about calories, as I'm what they call a "good eater." But it’s almost bikini season, y’all! Get your game face on.

So good! And not a carb in sight.
Oh, and also: beware that the “noodles” have a slight crunch to them. They’re not undercooked, it’s just that you’re not, in fact, eating noodles - you're eating a vegetable. But just pretend it’s Asian ramen and you’ll be fine. Enjoy! 

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Beef Burritos

Here is part 2 of Kelly's birthday menu. I made the pozole and I thought it tasted pretty delicious. But I also made burritos, and this a great way to feed a big crowd. And I'm not so sure they are authentic Mexican, but they're tasty and filling and easy. And that's my way of cooking! I'd much rather have everything prepared in advance so I can visit with my company. (and of course have drinks with them!)

The main part of cooking in this recipe is your beef. I used a whole eye of round. About 2 kilos and this fed 22 people. Use a smaller piece of meat if you are serving less people. But these freeze well, so you can easily reheat them in the microwave for a mid week dinner or lunch, so make lots of them. But for sure use eye of round because it shreds so beautifully for this recipe.

To season your meat, make a spice blend of:
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tsp of coriander
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of pepper
Rub this all over the meat and wrap it in 2 layers of heavy duty tin foil. Be sure that everything is tight and nothing can get in or out. Place it in a roast pan and fill the pan up halfway with water. Put the lid on and roast it at 300 degrees for about 3 hours. Low and slow is the name of the game.

Pour the water out of the pan and unwrap the meat after it's done. Let it cool down a bit and shred it with 2 forks. We need Bailey to insert a video here on how to do that, but really it's easy. Just take your forks and start pulling at the meat in opposite directions. You'll get the hang of it in no time. Discard any fatty bits.

Put it all in a big bowl and add a large can of enchilada sauce. Or make your own by adding some chili powder and cumin to a large can of tomato sauce. You can also add in some heat at the point. Some chopped jalapeno pepper, diced chilies or some hot sauce. Or all of the above. Mix it all together with your hands so everything gets moistened. Taste it and see if you want to add anything.

For the assembly, buy the larger size tortillas. About 3 bags or 30 of them.
You also need:
shredded cheese. For a crowd you needs lots of it, so I buy the big economy sized bag of already shredded TexMex (because I'm as lazy as the devil when it comes to grating tons of cheese) or you can grate your own.
2 large cans of refried beans (I like the refried black bean)
I also like rice just for the fun of it. You can just make a package of Mexican flavoured rice while the beef is roasting or make your own and add about a tablespoon of your spice blend that you put on the roast.

To assemble them, put a dollop of refried beans, about 3 tablspoons of beef (I use my hands to do this) some cheese and some rice into a pile in the middle of the tortilla. Roll them up. (Another video required here) Make sure to tuck the ends in. I don't have the vocabulary to really describe this, so I hope you know what a burrito looks like.

But here is my big secret to keeping them moist: Spray some water all over your pan and pack them tightly together. Then spray them again with water when the pan is full. Top them with more grated cheese and seal the pan tightly with tin foil. Bake at 325 for about 25 - 30 minutes. I use those disposable aluminium pans  because they hold a lot of them (you'll need 2 of these pans for this many burritos) and you can take them visiting without having to say goodbye to your best roasting pan. Such as I did when I brought these to my sister's house 8 years ago. I'm glad she continues to enjoy my best roaster though. (which was given to me by my mother!)

Serve these with salsa, sour cream and guacamole. Guacamole recipe to follow soon. Enjoy my friends!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Bunny Cake

Here comes Peter Cottontail! Easter is coming up soon and I can already tell my LadyGirls are getting excited for it! And since Kelly posted her Cheeky Devil Eggs today, I can't resist sharing our Bunny Cake tradition with you. I have made this cake every Easter for the girls since they were born. The whole idea is to just have as much fun with it as you possibly can. Let your kids help decorate it and have a say in what they'd like to put on it when you go shopping for the treats. I promise you they will look forward to it every year and I have a strong suspicion that Bailey and Kelly will make this cake for their own kids at Easter in the years to come. Just to give you an idea, here is one we made 25 years ago when my sister and brother in law came to visit us in Phoenix with their son Tyson.
Hahah, yes that's the LadyGirls and their cousin!

I always try to make my gourmet best for dinner at Easter and always have desserts for the grownups too. But this is a day for us to enjoy the delight of children, so let's have some fun!
You only need a cake mix of your choice, some icing homemade or store bought (kids don't care), some candy and a huge imagination!
Bake the cake in two round pans until they're finished and let them cool completely.
On a big platter or foil lined cookie sheet, set one full round cake leaving enough room at the top for the ears. This will be the same size as your centre cake. With the second cake, carve out the shape of the ears on each side. Just as you see in the photo, and the portion left in the centre of the cake will become the bow tie of the bunny. Here's a photo of last year's cake so you get the idea.
Do you see it? We'll add a video of this when we bake this year's cake.
Now start having a little bit of fun! Use food colouring to make your icing any colour you like. Line up your cake portions and make sure everything has icing. This takes a bit of patience, so you do this and to keep the little ones busy, have them start sorting out the candy decorations. (They will eat half at this stage, so buy lots!) I like to use those gel icings, but you can use whatever strikes your fancy. Licorice strings for whiskers are fun. Jelly beans, smarties, skittles. Lifesavers, anything bright and fun to make him the happiest Peter Cottontail you ever saw works! Chiclets for teeth are mandatory though!

The only rule of thumb for this recipe is to make it age appropriate. So no candy that a small child could choke on. Keep it strictly to gel icing decoration until they are 3 or 4 and able to munch without danger. And that's it for this blog. Have fun with this one! I'll be back soon with more Easter ideas!