Saturday, 27 September 2014

German Inspired Pork Roast Dinner

We're coming up to October already, and that makes me think of Oktoberfest and beer and sausage and schnitzel and all things like that. Fun! But even better, Mother Nature has her Autumn on, and that spells flavour! Not to mention the glorious beauty on the landscape.  In my Farm Share basket this week, I was given red potatoes, leeks, purple cabbage, celery root and a bag of Macintosh red apples. And since I'm in the mood for all things German, let's go ahead and use them all in a German fusion dinner. I had a nice pork roast in the freezer, so we'll use that as our main. So if you want to stay with me for this one, we're making Honey Dijon glazed pork roast with a port reduction, home made apple sauce, braised purple cabbage with leeks and caraway seed and red potato-celery root mashed.

Now normally I make a shopping list of everything you'll need for a recipe, but I'm going to break it down to each component of this meal, and you'll be in charge of making your master list because I don't want to miss anything - or worse, have you decide that this is too much trouble. Because it isn't. It's an easy and delicious meal to make. And special too, so you can really show off with this one!

For the applesauce you'll need:
3 apples, peeled and cut into small chunks
3/4 cup of water
a splash of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Throw it all in a saucepan and bring it up to a boil. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove the lid and keep simmering until all the liquid has dissolved. Set aside for dinner time.

For the Pork Roast:
Slather it with Honey Dijon mustard. Or mix a tablespoon of Dijon and a teaspoon of honey and use that.
Fresh or dried rosemary to season (about 1/2 of dried or a teaspoon of chopped fresh)
1/2 tsp of dried thyme or 1 sprig of fresh, peeled off the stem
Course salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven, reduce the heat to 325 degrees and add a cup of water to the roast pan and put it back in the oven and roast for 35 minutes per pound. Remove from oven. And we'll come back to this. Keep an eye on it and add more water if need be so your honey mustard doesn't scorch and ruin the whole meal.

For the cabbage braise:
4 leeks, thoroughly rinsed and just use the white and light green parts, sliced
1/2 head of sliced purple cabbage
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp caraway seed
a splash of apple cider vinegar
1 cup of vegetable or chicken broth
You could also add some apples to this, but I made the applesauce, so no need since we're not running an apple orchard here.
This takes about an hour, so plan it around when your roast will be ready. Use a heavy pot or Dutch Oven for this.
Saute the leeks in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, just until they're soft and not browned. Add the splash of apple cider vinegar, the caraway and the sliced cabbage and cover the pot. Let it simmer for about 8 minutes until the cabbage wilts.
Add the broth and cover and let it simmer for about an hour until the cabbage softens. Just before you serve, take the lid off and let the liquid evaporate.

For the potatoes:
1 peeled and chopped into 1 inch chunks celery root
4 red potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup of cream or half and half.
 Add it gradually and don't use all if your mash is tight enough. Or use more butter and cream if you're cooking for a gang. Double the potatoes and celery root.
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of horseradish
Boil the potatoes and celery root in the same pot in salted water for about 20 minutes until they're soft and easily pierced with a fork. Drain and add the butter, cream and salt and pepper and horseradish. Mash with a mixer or a potato masher. Keep warm.

For the Port reduction:
Remove the roast from the pan and let it rest. Deglaze the pan on the stovetop with about 1/2 cup of port or red or white wine. Let it reduce by half and add 2 cups of chicken or beef broth. Whisk it all around at a hard boil for a few minutes and reduce the heat to medium. Now we're going to make a slurry which is just 1/2 cup of warm water and 2 tablespoons of flour. Stir the flour into the water with a fork so you have no lumps. And now whisk your slurry into the gravy a bit at a time and stop when you decide it's thick enough. So let it simmer for a minute after adding each ration and see where you are after it comes up to the boil. Get it? Hard to explain by typing. But you'll see how it thickens after each addition of slurry.

Now to plate:
Put the cabbage on a platter and slice and lay your roast on top of that and put your potato mash on the other half of the plate. Serve with the applesauce and gravy on the side.

Mother Nature can be one cruel and unrelenting bitch in the middle of January, but in October at least, we can't help but celebrate her! Enjoy the fall my friends!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Now I've already told you about my talented friend and chef Sandra Mason. And I mentioned that she had just opened a soup and sandwich shop just outside of San Antonio. It's called Four Kings. And not to name drop, but I'm naming dropping big time right now because her lovely restaurant was just voted Best Sandwich in San Antonio! And if you didn't read my blog where I mentioned Sandra, let me just tell you how proud I am to be her friend, and also that I can't settle in to my day until she posts the inspirational Four Kings message on their Facebook page every day. She sets my bar high in both a culinary and also a moral standard kind of way. I am inspired by her and I love her.

Four Kings posted a photo yesterday of their take out dinner special this week and I couldn't focus on my job for the rest of the day. It was called King Ranch Chicken Casserole. I had never heard of it, but I wanted to jump on a plane right then and there and abandon my life to eat that casserole in San Antonio! So I Googled the recipe as I am wont to do. And Holy Moly! It's damn popular in Texas. There were lots of recipes for it. Now I need to tell you that I am not Rachel Ray, and I don't care if I put a meal on the table in 30 minutes. Cooking is not a race against the clock. It should be a joy. And the more time I spend in the kitchen, the better for me. So supper is ready when it's ready.

BUT, most of those recipes called for a can of cream of chicken soup and a can of cream of mushroom soup. I kind of gave up soup casseroles back in my 20s. But I clearly think that must be just plain snobbery since this was the best food I ever tasted in my life. I'm going to make this again, but with a roux and a broth, just to compare. But since this was a mid-week meal and I was pretty damn excited to make it, I went with the soup idea. I'll come in and edit if the roux tastes any better. And if I had cooked and leftover chicken lying around, Rachel would be proud of me because it would have been a 30 minute meal. But I had to cook the chicken first. So not. But you could be more organized and do it in 30. Rev up your taste buds and let's make the Sandra Mason Special!

You'll need:
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 3 cups of cooked chicken
1 chopped onion
1 red pepper chopped (or green bell)
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
Canola oil just to sauté
1 can of cream of chicken soup (you don't even know how hard it was for me to type that)
1 can of cream of mushroom soup (my fingers are nearly seizing up now)
1 can of chopped tomatoes (thank God I had my own jarred to alleviate the soup thing)
1 can of chopped green chilies
2 teaspoons of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder (or more if you like it hot)
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of coriander
1 package of 6 inch tortillas cut into 1 inch pieces
1 package of grated cheddar or Tex Mex cheese

To cook off the chicken breasts, I seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin and chili powder and baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Let them rest while you make the casserole. Then shred or cut into bite sized pieces and add in before you assemble.

For the sauce, soften the onion and pepper for about 5 minutes. Don't let it brown. Just soften and add the garlic. Add everything else except the tortillas and stir and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken and mix it in. Taste for seasoning and add anything you like if needed.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 casserole dish and layer the bottom with 1/3 of the tortilla. Then 1/3 of the chicken mixture, and 1/3 of the cheese. And do this 3 times. And believe it or not, everything gets used and fits perfectly into the dish! That helps my OCD a lot! Bake on a cookie sheet in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes after you take it out of the oven. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did my friends. Thank you Sandra Jayne Mason for being the best example of a human being that God ever blessed us with!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Rosewater Marshmallows

Occasionally, disaster befalls us in the kitchen. For me, less occasionally than most, because I am a master chef and an insane perfectionist with a profound fear of failure. Also, I am aware of my weaknesses, (lack of attention to detail, deep desire for instant gratification, inability to measure things exactly) and so I avoid things I will likely fail at (read: baking).  But every now and then, Pinterest or some other source of food porn sucks me in, and I tempt fate by trying something new, something uncharted, and usually, something completely frivolous.

Nothing is more frivolous than a marshmallow. It is so frivolous, in fact, that it has become a symbol for frivolity. It is a post-modern adaptation of itself. Structure-less, colourless, flavourless unless burned to shit by open flames and jammed between graham wafer and chocolate, the marshmallow is so humble it is existence-less, nearly.

There is an important thing to note here, however. Pinterest is the Internet’s narcissism widget-producing machine; the online version of parents who tell their tone-deaf child that they have a beautiful voice pre-American Idol attempt. Nothing is humble on Pinterest. Just check out “Fall Décor” and find glitter-dipped pumpkins, raffia-wrapped pillar candles, and DIY pumpkin-spice/all natural/health increasing/super sexy massage oil. Pinterest is hell bent on us gluing, gemming, and jazzing our way to craft-nirvana.

So, you can understand why, when I came across a recipe for Champagne-Rosewater marshmallows, I felt compelled to try. I found a copy of an old Bon Appetit, and found their recipe as well. A quick scan of the recipe revealed very little baking (I must admit, at this stage, I missed the candy thermometer requirement). I was tricked, you see. I looked at the beautiful picture, the rose petals scattered about, (what is it with women and scattered rose petals? Why does this woo us so?) and I thought to myself, “Why, I like champagne. I like rosewater. I have both in the house. I can do this,” and I heard my mother’s voice in the back of my head saying, “Yes, sweetie. You CAN do anything you try!” (Luckily, my family has at least saved me from any kind of singing-related national chagrin.)

Now, as I said, I am well aware of my personal weaknesses, and the main issue I have with baking is not reading the whole recipe first. My mother has told me to do this approximately 28,798,374 times in my life, but that old instant gratification thing tends to get me. Not this time though! This time I read the whole recipe. Seriously, I did. Just a bit quickly, is all. But I got myself a candy thermometer, and some gelatin, and I decide to mallow the shit out of those marshes.

Ingredients from Bon Appetit:
  •  Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  •  ½ cup powdered sugar, divided, plus more for dusting
  • ½ ounce unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon rose water or orange-flower water
  • 1 drop red or orange food coloring (optional)

At first, everything was coming along swimmingly. I pre-measured my various sugars. I prepped the gelatin. I whipped the egg whites. My first hiccup was at Step 2. 

Bring sugar and ½ cup water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and brushing down sides with a wet pastry brush. Boil sugar mixture, without stirring, until thermometer registers 250°, 8–10 minutes.”

Well, all right then. I can do that. But let’s remember that there are in fact two sugars in this recipe. Powdered, and granular. Not one sugar, TWO sugars. (Sorry, that was a bit of a Canadiana joke.) I was puzzled. Do they mean put both in the pot with the water? I decided they must. So I dumped both sugars in and moved on. I also made a mental note to contact Bon Appetit and chide them for their lack of clarity by recipe creators.

Now, I’m feeling like a bit of a scientist. I’ve got thermometers in pots, I’m measuring carefully, and I’m noting my progress. I was secretly laughing at my Grade 11 Chemistry teacher, who clearly just could not see my raw talent for chemistry when he gave me that final 65%. How could I be expected to succeed with 20-year-old Bunsen burners and a lackluster lab partner? Impossible.  

So I reach the 250° mark, and stir in the gelatin. I review the recipe again, and this time read the final sentence, “Dust tops of marshmallow with remaining ¼ cup powdered sugar. Turn out of pan and cut into 1” pieces; dust with more powdered sugar.” Oh. Oh dear. Ermmm… would that be that ¼ cup of sugar I dumped in the pot? Right. So, in retrospect, maybe that was clear.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “Too late now. Onwards.” What’s the worst that can happen, right? Maybe they’ll just taste extra sweet. So I move forward with the recipe, but you, beloved reader, are thinking to yourself right now, “But NO, Bailey! This is CHEMISTRY. You have to do it PROPERLY.”

And you would be right. But, at that moment, I was more preoccupied with EVERYTHING being sticky. Everything. My countertops are sticky.  My mixer is sticky. My steering wheel is sticky. Everything. This is now causing me to get a bit of a tension knot in my shoulder and I’m feeling pissed off with the whole project now.

I then move to the final steps. Beat the sugar/gelatin/egg mixture until it triples in volume. I was concerned when this volume increase never happened, but the real dread set in when I went to wash the (brand new) candy thermometer, which had a sticker that read, “Remove before use”. (Whoops- it has since been removed, after first use).

Now, they cool for four hours, or overnight. I obviously could not possibly wait for an overnight, so four hours go by, and in no way do they resemble anything mallow-like. The texture is beyond sticky. When I try to get it out of the pan, the bottom reveals a clear, pink, raw-chicken resembling semi-solid.

It becomes clear to me that I was indeed lucky to be granted that 65% by Mr. Hamilton. I also realize I’ve become the #nailedit meme. And maybe, on a snowy, chilly, winter’s afternoon in February, enough cabin-fevered boredom will set in that I will attempt this again. But for now, I’ll stick to my fly-by-night pasta sauces.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash and Pear Soup

Looks like I'm in a bad situation now. Not only am I inundated with vegetables from my Farm Share baskets, but now the fruit is coming in off the trees! It's too much! Souping and jarring and blanching and freezing is taking over my life. I glanced into my kitchen this morning and there just happened to be a butternut squash sitting on the counter alongside 2 pears. So I decided I was going to marry them! It turned out to be wonderfully delicious and so easy. So let's make some soup!

You'll need:
1 good sized Butternut Squash
2 pears, peeled and diced
1 chopped onion
chicken or vegetable broth - about 3 cups
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups of cream or half and half

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Split the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. I always have a hard time cutting squash, so I put it in the microwave for a minute first and that makes the job easier. Put a tablespoon of butter into the center of each half and sprinkle them with salt, pepper, nutmeg (go easy) and allspice. Bake for an hour until they're soft. Your house will smell heavenly! Remove from the oven and let them cool down.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a big soup pot and sauté the onions and pears for about 5 minutes until they're soft. Season with salt and pepper and a bit more allspice. Scoop out the squash halves into your sauté being sure to get all the melted butter into the pot as well. Add enough broth to cover and simmer for about 20 - 30 minutes until the pears are soft. Puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. Whisk in your cream and bring up just to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and add salt or pepper if needed. And that's it. Delish! Garnish with a bit of fresh coriander and a swirl of good quality olive oil.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Adobo Chicken Because It's A Sexy Kind of Day

Well now, I have to tell you that today was one of the better days I've had lately. I went to the beauty parlour to get my hair done, and when my stylist Catarina appeared, she was totally done over into a ten years younger and hotter version of her young self! She had darkened her hair to nearly black with an ombre of purple at the bottom. And she had some sexy bangs going on too. I have never been more jealous and old feeling in my life. And I told her so. So she suggested we do just one purple streak on my (old lady head) and if I wasn't comfortable with it, we could erase it at once. So I agreed wholeheartedly to that! Long story short, I practically danced out of that salon with the sexiest purple streak in my hair there ever was! I'm more than thrilled and feeling very hip. And that got me to thinking about how fortunate I am to have so many hip and groovy friends. Thanks to my LadyGirls of course! And I'm so grateful for their friendship.

But through Kelly, I had the very good fortune to attend a wedding with her in Mexico last year. Such a beautiful wedding (Sabrina and Nate), I met possibly the coolest, hippest gentleman that ever walked the planet Earth. I could go on and on. But suffice to say, I am blessed to call him a friend now. Phil. My friend Phil. So we'll make some Filipino style Adobo Chicken and we'll make this for our hip and cultured friends every chance we get!

You'll need:
Chicken thighs. Plan on 2 per person
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 finely diced shallot
salt and pepper as we go along
5 cloves of minced garlic
4 bay leaves
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons of fish sauce
a handful of peppercorns
a dash of cayenne pepper depending if you like a bit of heat
a splash of oil to brown the chicken. Use whatever you like. I used vegetable oil.
green onion or scallion to garnish
rice - steamed or however you like it. I like pilaf. I cup of long grain rice will feel about 4 people. Use 2 1/2 cups of liquid for each cup of rice.

Marinade the chicken in the soy sauce, vinegar, fish sauce, shallot, garlic and a dash of salt and freshly ground pepper for an hour or two.
Make your rice when you're about to make the chicken.

Brown the chicken for about 5 minutes per side in the oil until golden brown, remove and set aside. Add the marinade and simmer until reduced by half. Put the chicken back in the pot and add the broth, bay leaves and peppercorns and cayenne pepper. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes and uncover and simmer for about 10 more minutes. Taste for seasoning. It should be tart, so add a bit more vinegar if need be.
You should be good for salt and pepper, but add if you like.

Serve with whatever you like. Salad or any vegetable. Doesn't matter because this dish is a tribute to all the cool people you know. So serve what they would like. Cheers hip people and those with purple hair!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Blue Cheese Dip with Firecracker Shrimp

Notice how I didn't give the shrimp top billing on this recipe? The shrimp are awesome, but you could actually jar and sell, and in fact, get rich off this blue cheese dip. Consider it to be your next flavour vessel for anything on the planet that can be dipped. I was searching for shrimp recipes because I found a good sale on them, and loaded up. And I found a Firecracker Shrimp recipe that caught my eye.(from Andrew Zimmern) And just as a side note, they suggested a blue cheese dip. The shrimp were blah, so I've modified the recipe. But the blue cheese dip was heaven! So let's plan up the best snack there ever was.

You'll need for the dip:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon of finely chopped dill
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
$4.00 worth of good quality blue cheese, So a small chunk of it. I don't know how to measure cheese!

And for the shrimp:
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder
1 bag of frozen shrimp, shelled, deveined and thawed
1 cup of cornstarch (or more. I needed more.)
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup of hot sauce (I used Frank's)
1/4 cup of melted butter
Celery to serve as a side. Or Carrots. Or whatever you like. Or an assortment of veggies.

To make the dip, put everything into the food processor and blend it up. The End.

For the shrimp, beat the egg, and whisk in the buttermilk, jalapeno and cayenne and add the shrimp and cover and refrigerate for an hour at least.

Heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Or since I don't own a thermometer, I heated the oil on med-hi heat until a bit of the corn starch thrown in the pot showed a boiling action.

Melt the butter and mix in the hot sauce in a separate saucepan .

Take the shrimp with your tongs and dredge in the corn starch and fry in the oil for a couple of minutes. It goes really fast. Remove from the oil and set to paper towels to drain. Salt it and when they're all fried, add to the hot sauce and flip it around for a few seconds and serve. Seems like no trouble to make at all. And it wasn't! Easy and Delish. Like I like! Enjoy friends.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Chicken Arepas or Reina Pepiada Arepas

Not to sound like Andy Williams, but - Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be? This story has many beginnings. I have a very deep interest in South American flavours and cooking. I've been researching recipes for years. I also love Central American flavours, and most of all Mexican cooking. But living in rural Canada, I cannot obtain the ingredients. So I dream. BUT since I live in the vegetable capital of Canada, I'm very fortunate that we have migrant workers all during the season, and since we're in the Harvest season now, even more visitors to our little town. So our stores go to the trouble to stock their local ingredients. And after a ten year search, I found some P.A.N.! That's pre-cooked corn flour! It was better than winning the lottery for me. Finally, I could try to make Arepas. This is a cornbread that is popular in South America. Argentina and Ecuador especially. It's a disk like bread that you slice almost open and stuff with a multitude of different ingredients. Another beginning to my story is that I've never been to South America, and poverty dictates that I most likely never will. So I like to soak up their culture looking at photos of their landscape and art and food online. But you can't really know if you're absorbing it or not since you don't taste the flavours and savour the aroma in the streets. Hope for the best I guess.

So with my treasured P.A.N. I set about to make a recipe. Now here I go off the track again. I searched the internet and settled on a few different versions and combined them into one. I'm quite lazy about lard, so I used Canola oil and so on. And I have a stray cat issue in my backyard, and the violence and general grossness of it prohibits me from going out to grill. I should have though since I nearly burned the house down doing the bread in the oven. Oh let's not beat around the bush. It took me nearly three hours to buck up a chicken sandwich. The house was filled with thick smoke from top to bottom. I worry that not one of 4 smoke alarms went off since Mario complained of burning eyes from the smoke. My kitchen pretty much looked like a corn bomb exploded in it. I felt really discouraged and I will most certainly have to clean the oven tomorrow.

But that's not the story. The story is that only once in a Blue Moon do you find a recipe on the internet that literally hits it out of the ballpark as far as authenticity goes. I haven't had one like this since my Pozole Roja recipe. I've now learned that if a recipe takes hours and hours to make and has a ton of ingredients in it, you can't miss. If you're pacing the floors with worry and thinking you're going to have to dump it and call out for pizza, you've usually got a winner! And do you know why that is? It's because if you stick with it through thick and thin, your love is going to shine through when it hits the table. And that's what happened in my kitchen tonight. So let's roll with some Pure Love! This recipe was adapted from Julie Loria from the internet.

For the filling you'll need:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 onion sliced
salt and freshly ground pepper

1 ripe chopped avocado
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno finely chopped
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped red or yellow pepper
the other half of that onion, but finely chopped
2 green onions sliced
juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper to season

For the Arepas
3 cups of warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
3 cups of P.A.N. - or pre cooked cornmeal
2 tablespoons of canola oil or vegetable shortening melted. (I used Canola oil)

Boil the chicken breasts with the 1/2 sliced onion and salt and pepper for about 20 minutes until it's fully cooked and let it cool completely.
Mash the avocado, mayonnaise and vinegar together and add all the other ingredients. Let it chill and shred and add the chicken when it's cooled down. Season with salt and pepper and more vinegar to make it slightly tart. Keep in the fridge until you're ready to serve.

Now to the Arepas. I thought I would never try this recipe ever again until I tasted them. This undertaking is not for the faint of heart. But here is where I will help you out. Do Not Attempt to bake these in the oven. They must be crispy on the outside and the recipe dictates that you brown them in the frying pan and put them on the direct rack on the oven. Epic Fail. Seal them in the fry pan and for God's Sakes - Grill Them! The oil drips out of them and causes a God Almighty Disaster of smoke and disbelief! And now I know why everybody has an outside stove in South America.

Stir the 3 cups of warm water with the salt until the salt dissolves. Slowly add the 3 cups of cornmeal stirring with a wooden spoon. Make sure you have no lumps and let the dough sit aside for 5 minutes. Just enough time to pour a fresh drink since you'll be sweating now from the work of that. Add the canola oil or lard and mix it all in. Preheat your grill and a frying pan to medium heat with a bit of oil in it. Divide the dough into 6 portions and flatten each one out into 1 inch thick patties. Fry for 3 or 4 minutes and flip. They need to be golden brown. Set aside and then put them on the grill on low heat. Don't let them scorch. Keep flipping, but they need to be crispy on the outside. About 15 minutes in all. Let them cool and slice them 3/4 open to a Pita Pocket like state and stuff with your filling.

Lots of work, but off the charts for authentic flavour. This recipe has one of two places - Either you're trying to get your mind off your troubles, or you've found the sexiest Latin lover ever in life and you're looking for him to put a ring on it. Either way, you win. Cheers my friends!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Good Ol' Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese holds a very dear place in my heart. It was my dad's favourite meal, so we ate it often growing up. And because we were pretty poor, it was a good and cheap way to feed five kids. Hahah except we always had it with a side of mashed potatoes and buttered bread. So maybe not the healthiest meal. But everybody left the table full and happy, and that's all that counted back in the day. And my dad hated spice of any kind. As most dads did back then. So my mom just boiled the noodles and layered them in a casserole dish with grated mild cheddar and topped it with smashed up saltines and baked it off. The End. No flavour at all. But thank God, Heinz had invented ketchup by then, and nobody took advantage of that more than I did!

Mac & cheese was the first dinner I ever learned to cook as a child so I could help my mom out and have supper ready by the time she got home from work. And it's been a staple on my dinner table my whole life because I learned it's something that kids really love, so I could be sure my LadyGirls weren't going to bed hungry. And like any of my recipes, it's evolved over the years as the girls got older and more adventurous with their taste buds. So the idea of mac & cheese in my mind, is that the pasta is the back beat of the dish and the cheese is the tempo. Like any pasta dish really. The sauce is the star of the show. And cheese on a platter with a nice bottle of red wine is lovely, but it really can't stand alone in a sauce. It needs enhancing. So I add a bit of spice and this and that to jazz it up.

All good, creamy mac & cheese recipes start with a classic Béchamel sauce and you whisk in your cheese and your macaroni noodles. And now you have a difficult choice to make. You can eat it at this stage and it's sumptuous and delicious. Or you can sprinkle some bread crumbs or Panko or even smashed Ritz crackers and bake it off. I'll give you the baked off version, but by all means, feel free to break away before the bake off stage and you won't be disappointed!

You'll need to boil some elbow macaroni in salted boiling water. Depending on how much you want, use 2 or 3 cups of dried pasta.

For the sauce:
1/3 cup melted butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
2 1/2 cups of half and half or milk
3 cups of cheese. Use what you like. I used extra old white cheddar and Gruyere. (This ain't momma's mac & cheese) but you can use cheddar and parmesan. The cheese is your call since this is your signature mac & cheese. You can grate it if you like. I hate grating cheese, so I chop it into bite sized pieces.

For the topping:
Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs or Panko or smashed crackers. Mix it all together and sprinkle it over the top.

Preheat the oven to 350 if you're planning to bake this.
Boil the macaroni until still slightly firm to the bite. About 10-12 minutes and drain it well.

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour using medium heat. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne and Dijon and whisk for 3 or 4 minutes until it turns golden. Add the cream and whisk until it just comes up to the boil. It should be pretty thick by now. If it isn't, keep whisking and let it simmer for a few minutes till it thickens up. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheese. It doesn't have to melt completely. About half melted is fine. And the macaroni and stir it all together.

You could eat it now. Or you can forge ahead with me.

Pour it all into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle the top with your topping. Bake it for 30 minutes until the topping is golden brown. Let it rest for 10 minutes before you serve it. And that's it! Serve it with anything or just have it on its own. Hahah I don't use ketchup on it anymore. (Now I use hot sauce!) Enjoy friends.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Last Supper

Now it's no secret that I love football. I more than love it because it puts me in the same room as my beloved sister every Sunday for 17 weeks in a row. More than that even because then we have the playoffs. And have I ever mentioned that her and I are each other's biggest fan? We only need to make eye contact most of the time and we're both running to two different bathrooms because our middle aged bladders turned their backs on us a few years ago. So we bet on Proline and every pool we can get into, we make money every year, but mostly we laugh our heads off. And that happens to agree with my soul very much! BUT- that puts me out of the house every Sunday for about five months of the year. Thank God my LadyGirls have moved out and have lives of their own. But there is no big Sunday roast dinner for my partner. And really, that's his loss because he is not a football fan. So tonight I made a major meal to say goodbye. I'll be back in February!

I roasted a sirloin. Served it on a bed of mashed potatoes, along with some roasted corn on the cob and roasted golden beets. And topped it with sautéed mushrooms with shallot, garlic and jalapeno. And because I love all the flavours of Mexico, I put my own flavour spin on it all. I'll break it all down into each item, and you'll have to make your grocery list on the overall picture.

First thing you want to do is to chop the top off a whole head of garlic and put it in a piece of tin foil. Add some olive oil and salt and pepper and seal it and roast it off at 350 degrees for about half an hour. Put it aside and forget about it. You'll be squeezing this into your mashed potatoes later.

For the roast:
Use a sirloin tip and pre heat the oven to 375 degrees. Season it with salt, pepper, cumin, coriander and chili powder. Just sprinkle a goodly amount and don't worry about measurement. Roast it off at 20 minutes per pound uncovered in a shallow baking dish. Take it out of the oven and cover with tin foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

So you'll plan out your vegetables based on the timing of your meat. The mashed potatoes will take about 20 minutes. The beets will be about 15 minutes and the corn will be about 30 minutes. And 20 minutes for the mushrooms.

For the corn:
Cover a cookie sheet in tin foil and break the corn cobs into 3 inch pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt, pepper and whatever seasoning you like. I used cumin, coriander and chili powder to marry the flavour with the meat, but you could use a bit of seasoning salt or whatever you like on your corn. Put this in the oven 20 minutes before you're going to take the meat out.

For the beets:
Peel and chop into 1 inch pieces and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and 1/2 a teaspoon of dried thyme. Add to the cookie sheet with the corn 10 or 15 minutes before you plan to remove your meat, making sure the pieces aren't too crowded or touching each other.

For the potatoes:
Boil the potatoes (use however many your need) in salted boiling water until they're tender (about 20 minutes). Drain and using an electric mixer, squeeze in your garlic, a goodly amount of butter and milk or cream and salt and pepper to season. Mix until smooth. Cover and set aside.

For the mushroom sauté:
Slice about 15 mushrooms. Finely dice 2 shallots. Finely chop 4 cloves of garlic and 1 jalapeno pepper. Melt some olive oil and butter in a fry pan. Add ingredients and season with salt, pepper, cumin and coriander. Saute until golden and add a squeeze of lime juice just before serving.

To assemble:
Smear the mashed potatoes on a platter. Top with sliced beef, Circle with the corn and roasted golden beets. Add the mushrooms to the top of all.
Easy and delicious my friends! And it really tells a story of how much you care before you go on your football sojourn for the next five months. And really, if you can't beat them, you really ought to join them! Cheers friends!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Braised beef short ribs

Here's a good one to perfect as we approach fall. It's a nice hearty meal to keep you warm all winter! Braised beef short ribs are just delightful and it took me two tries but I finally did it right. 

I actually wanted to do it with oxtail, but wouldn't you know, after seeing it for weeks at Farm Boy, the ONE day I go to get some, they're out! And no short ribs. I had to call a couple different butchers but I found some. Looking at the ribs, get more than you think you need because they shrink up quite a bit when they cook. For two of us, I got four ribs and that was only just barely enough (also they are so good that you'll want extra for leftovers!).

Get two bottles of red wine (or three, obvs, since you're going to drink while you cook at eat). In a large stock pot, reduce two of the bottles by boiling until they're at half the original volume. Meanwhile, lightly flour your ribs and sear them in a hot pan (dutch oven is perfect here). When they're seared on all sides, set them aside. 

Then do a rough chop of some shallots, garlic, carrots, leeks, onion, and celery. Put them into the skillet that the ribs were in and sautee until softened.  Throw in a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme. Add the ribs back in on top of the veggies and pour the reduced wine over top. It'll probably come about halfway up the ribs. Add beef stock until the ribs are just covered completely and stuff the dutch oven into the oven at 350 degrees for a good three and a half hours, at least. 

Next thing: remove the dutch oven, take out the ribs (careful you don't pull all the meat off the bone!) and set aside to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into a stock pot and boil to reduce. All the braised veggies might be lovely to keep as a side dish, but you can also throw them out if they're mush. I threw mine out and made creamy mashed potatoes and blanched heirloom carrots with maple syrup instead. 

When the braising liquid is reduced to about 1 and 3/4 cups, stir in a tablespoon of butter and it will be syrupy and shiny. Serve the ribs on top of a mound of potatoes and a few carrots and pour over the sauce.

That's all! Soooo good. And if you have a man in your life, they will be putty in your hands! Muahahaha. 
Happy fall, y'all!