22 September 2012

Pickled jalepenos

My friend Jennifer gave me a whack of jalepeno peppers and since there was no chance of eating them all anytime soon, I decided to give the pickling a go.

I used a very basic pickling recipe and from a pound got two small and three medium-sized jars. More than enough to get anyone throught the winter.

Here's the recipe:
  • 1 pound jalepenos
  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 tbsp pickling salt.
Slice the jalepenos into rounds and pack them into hot, cleaned jars.  Put the other ingredients together in a pot on the stove and simmer for about five minutes. Pour the hot brine over the peppers, clean the rims, and seal the jars.

Process in a canner or huge pot of boiling water for 10 minutes.

You're done.

03 September 2012

I am smokin' hot

I planted my first real vegetable garden this year. Started slow with just a few things but one of the most vibrant producers has been the cayenne pepper plants. And what is there to do with dozens of bright red peppers other than brew up some hot sauce? So I did.

The recipe is quite simple:

1 dozen cayenne peppers
2 heads of garlic
3/4 cup of vinegar
salt (which I just realized I forgot)

I had a lot of cayenne peppers and some little loco peppers that I also grew, so threw a few of those in the mix, and made 4x the recipe.

First cut off the stem, slit, and remove the seeds of each pepper. Please do this with gloves. And don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth while you're doing the deed. The burn is fierce.

The traditional Tobasco Sauce has "aged" peppers but who's got time for that. So I figured I'd deepen the flavour by roasting the peppers a bit. I used my favourite Mexican style of dry roasting on the comal, but you can do it by broiling them in the oven until the skin turns a bit black. Some people suggest taking the skins off after the roasting but seriously, that's a bunch of fiddling around that takes up time I'll never get back. So I just tossed them, the garlic (which I also roasted but there's no need to), and the vinegar into the blender and wazzed it all up.

Once it's all lovely and liquidized, simmer the mix on the stove for about 20 minutes. At this point, the whole kitchen, if not house, will start smelling like hot sauce. There may be some burning eyes. It's all for a good cause.

Once the simmering of the flavours is done, run the whole thing through a sieve to clear out the pulp, seeds, and skin.

This, I would say is the time to add the salt, if you're not too busy forgetting to do it like I was.

You need to prepare some jars to put this lovely concotion in. I didn't have any traditional style bottles so I used small jam jars (125 ml each). They need to be washed out with boiling water and new lids prepared in boiling water. Once that's all ready, pour the sauce in, seal and you're ready to go with some smokin' hot sauce!

22 May 2012

Back in the saddle

Work has been busy. Life has been busy. What hasn't been busy is the kitchen. Well I had a day off today and had wanted to make this recipe that had been sitting on my desk for weeks, months even.  It really couldn't be easier: make some guacamole, pan fry a few scallops. I added the sauteed fiddleheads because it's the end of fiddlehead season and I hadn't had any yet. Yumm.

07 April 2012

Fish and chips and mushy peas

It is without question the cheats version of this meal, but after a tiring day at the office, it was just what the doctor ordered!  Here, I baked PC Blue Menu Haddock fillets on a foil lined tray with a bit of cooking spray on the foil and a bit on the fish, at a high heat for 13 or so minutes.  I then flipped it over, sprayed a bit more spray and cooked for another 13 or so minutes.  CRISPY!  The fries are McCain's brand low-fat fries, which are delightful in the oven when cooked for a bit.  They get super crispy and make an awesome base for chili fries, if you are ever in the mood.  And some peas mushed up with a fork with half a wedge of laughing cow light for creaminess.

Delightful, fast, virtually no clean up, and decent on the WW points.  I think you could complain, but I am not listening for all the crunching!

20 February 2012

Meringues with a kick

The pasilla chile softening on the comal is a traditional start to a Mexican meal. And next the next step, perhaps, would be grilling tomatoes, onions, and garlic to make the perfect base for a savoury sauce. Well not in this case. This was the start of dessert for last night's dinner. Part 1 of the pudding was to be chocolate-chile ice cream.

Next step is creating a chile and cream infusion as the base to the ice cream. Just steep the softened chile in the cream.  Then you waz it up in a blender, then strain out the bits of chile (which if  you've blended it well, there shouldn't be much of).

While that's all going on, there was chocolate being chopped. Using the good stuff makes a big difference. Then the chile infusion gets mixed together with this lovely chocolate and is well on its way to becoming the custard base for the ice cream.

Add the chile-chocolate-cream mixture to a bowl full of egg yolks and sugar. Now you're ready for cooking the custard.

The custard has to thicken over a double boiler so there's a bit of arm-building whisking action involved. Although it's a lot less arduous than say, making mayonnaise.  And because there's no shortage of steps in this ice cream making process, once it's all up to the right temperature and thickened up, then the custard has to be cooled. So stick it in an ice bath and whisk some more.

At this point, I was wondering if this whole process was ever going to end, but having an array of delicious ingredients, I cracked on with it. A little vanilla, some heavy cream, and a bit of chocolate liquer. Then into the ice cream maker it all goes.

Once this final step is complete, it can go into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to harden up and for the flavours to really marry together.

And since the ice cream only used the egg yolks, and I don't like to waste, I thought I'd try my hand at making some meringues. Last weekend I made a pavlova, which was very delicious but the meringue base was not quite right. So this time, I used the basic recipe for the Joy of Cooking. The trick to the nice stiff peaks: cream of tartar. Conveniently I had some in the pantry, so stiff ones all around.

My initial dessert plan had been to have the chocolate-chile ice cream with grilled pineapple, which I still made, but with the meringues (which I have to say came out pretty freaking perfectly), it was perhaps one of the best desserts I've ever put together. I gave myself quite a few pats on the back.

And, I'm also happy to report, J and our dinner guests enjoyed it. And that's reallly what all the time and effort is about, seeing the clean plates in front of everyone.

12 February 2012

Cheesy cakes

It was my brother's birthday recently and his wife threw a party for him tonight and asked my mom to make the birthday cake. Well with 18 people on the guest list, my mother felt one cake wasn't going to be enough so called and asked if I'd make a second one. Sure, I said.

But cakes are not my forte. Not to mention, we don't really have a decent cake tin in the house to bake one in. But I do have a springform pan, that I essentially bought to make one of my favourites:  chipotle chocolate chili cake. But apparently said pans are also good for cheesecake. I've never made one but thought now might be the time.

Luckily our cat Bean was diligent in waking us up this morning because for reasons unknown, there was actually sleeping in (a change from the usual wake-up-at-dawn-whether-you-want-to-or-not situation that generally occurs on the weekends.). As this whole proceeding would take a bit of time, Bean's insistence on our waking up was actually quite helpful as I had a noon curling game.

I used the classic cheesecake recipe from Canadian Living. Not too many complicated ingredients but really, no shortage of dairy items. So I put it all together, nestled it in its bain marie to cook and shuffled off to curling. J was good enough to finish watching it and take it out the oven. And when I returned, I chopped up some strawberries and mixed in a little sugar and white balsamic vinegar for some maceration action and headed out to the birthday party.

My niece Nikki says it's the best cheesecake she'd ever had in her life. 'Nuff said. A good day!

06 February 2012

New York adventures

I was recently in New York for a legal technology conference and took the opportunity to visit for a day or so with my friend Chris, who is a man about town with the foodstuffs on offer in the Big Apple. He lives in Brooklyn and picked me up at the airport (making me feel like a movie star), because he is awesome. Soon after dropping off my gear at his place, we headed for the subway for a wild ride to our first stop on my New York food adventure: Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Delicious dogs accompanied by disco fries and white birch beer (which I'm going to describe as a cross between wintergreen Life Savers and root beer - so not sure I'll ever order it again).

Very delicious, all natural etc. I had the classic NYC dog with sweet and sour onions and mustard. In the back is Chris' pickle dog. The food was great and I was particularly amused by the nine-year-old-going-on-25 little girl who sat beside me. She was interested in my opinions regarding the food and the beverages. Obviously I'm so very pretty and smart that everything I said to her needed to be repeated with great gravitas to her father. There is no doubt that I am a role model on the hot dog eating front, send your children.

 After hot dogs, we ambled around a bit to the Ample Hills Creamery for some of the best ice cream I've ever had. And I have had a lot of ice cream. I was tempted by the Mexican hot chocolate because I'm that way but in the end chose the salted crack caramel. Fantastic. The best part is that you get to make a very informed decision on what you're going to order because they let you try everything in the place, especially on a late January day when it's not exactly lineups around the corner in there. Not to mention, the store is crazy cute.
Now there are few things I enjoy more than street food and in Toronto, we do not have a good variety, so non-stationary food vendors were on the agenda as well. For dinner (before contra dancing!), Chris hunted down the Kimchi Taco Truck, which combined my love of food on the go with Mexican flair. Now in Manhattan, we grabbed our bags of deliciousness and walked up to Union Square to eat on a park bench on a very warm January night. I had a combo of the grilled Korean bbq short rib taco and the pulled chicken taco. Woah! Those short rib tacos were out of this world!!

The next day Chris invited me to join him and a group of friends for dim sum at a local Brooklyn restaurant (which I can't remember the name of) and it too was spectacular. We arrived early in order to get a table, which when we left through a horde of waiting and hungry diners, I understood. There were about eight of us, so we ordered many delicious things to share. It's a good number of people because it lets you try many things but you don't have to have a lot of anything. So a couple of dishes stood out, one was chicken feet, which was the only thing I was not brave enough to eat but was the choice of the birthday boy for whom we were gathered to celebrate. While the feet were not my favourite dish of the weekend, they did come out as the best photo.

I did however take a chance on the jellyfish dish as I'd never eaten it and all the rest of the food was pretty excellent so I figured this was as good a time as any. It was tasty although the texture was a bit more rubbery than I enjoy. There was also some octopus mixed in with the dish and it was all good.

So overall, probably my best-ever dim sum experience. And it was followed by a bit of Chinese new year celebrations on the street, which were enjoyable and left me with glittery bits in my hair until well into the following morning when I finally got to bed!

I left Chris on Sunday afternoon and headed to Midtown to check into the hotel and get into a work state of mind. That night I met a lawyer friend and some of her colleagues and ended up having a really fun time dancing the entire night away. Her flight was delayed and my plans for a swishy Mexican place in Chelsea didn't work out but my favourite Times Square-area standby Virgil's barbecue was called up to the plate and didn't disappoint. From the gang who had never eaten bbq before, there were smiles all around. That's the way they roll at Virgil's. Good, solid bbq that you just can't get in Toronto.

After dinner there was much dancing and carousing and when we finally got back to our hotel in the 3:30 a.m. range, my companions were hungry. So off to Ray's Pizza for some pie. Not the greatest but it hit the spot and allowed us the chance to have a meaningful conversation about health care policy with a lovely man from Seattle.

On the Monday night, I went out with one of my fellow editors and her sisters who had come down for a little r&r. We ended up at a tapas restaurant near 42nd and 8th. Nothing spectacular but a big selection of tapas and a very enjoyable variety of sangrias. A fun night out with new people, can't beat that! (bad pic taken with ye olde BlackBerry). The hit of the evening, I would hazard, were the dates wrapped in bacon. They just work.

Over the course of the next few days, ate quite a bit just around the hotel. The usual oatemeal for breakfast at the Astro Diner at 55th and 6th, which I always try to do when I'm at this conference. Had an excellent Chipotle burrito bowl (fast and convenient) and tried this odd French restaurant/sushi bar mashup Rue 57 again and had a fairly spectacular chicken pot pie.

Now all over Manhattan are these halal food carts that serve up gyros and chicken and the like. Apparently the one that is at the corner of 53rd and 6th is the most awesome. There is always a line up there, particularly late at night on the weekends after the bars close. It's quite a sight. So as I was wrapping up the trip, I decided to have my final lunch at the cart. It is a giant plate of happiness (with a Diet Coke) for $7. Underneath all that delicious white sauce there's a mouthwatering blend of lamb gyros, chicken, rice and salad. Enough food to keep you going for the whole day. Just bring breath mints because there's a big garlic punch.

So long and thanks for all the eats!

22 January 2012

BBQ Beef Sandwiches.

I have finally gotten a slow cooker to add to my kitchen and have had some mixed results. But tonight was a home run!

I made BBQ beef sandwiches from the Americas Test Kitchen slow cooker magazine. The recipe was great. You just cook off some onion, add some spices, mix in some ketchup, mustard, and brown sugar, and cook until thick. Put a bit in the bottom of the slow cooker, top with the meat, and cook for hours until tender. It was good and something I haven't had in ages. (So of course I overindulged!!)

Yum! Since G cannot eat cabbage, we made a carrot slaw that was really nice, though a bit too cuminy. I put mine on top of my sandwich, and it was fantastic.

It's been a great year so far and I am following WW and exercising regularly. I even have started meditating! It's important to me to find some peace this year. It's a big birthday year and I am feeling some pressure, I am not going to lie. So it's all in my hands!

And the pressure cooker is pretty cool. I got a cheapie small one that doesn't have an auto turn off. It's a little bit of a downer not to have the auto turnoff, but at the same time, it's a great little cooker and most everything we have made in it has been good.

And as an aside, we bought some duck confit at Sausage Partners this weekend and are going to make a pasta with it this week! Yummy! I love love love duck confit so can't wait! (How many points are in confit?!)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

15 January 2012

Ahhhh... My roots are showing!

When you miss your family and you can't hop a flight home, cooking a family favourite is the best way to reconnect with your peeps...

So it was with a twinge of homesickness but an ocean of happiness that I embarked on my all-time most favourite meal, chicken fried steak with french fries and gravy.  Oh yeah, it's not healthy, but not everything needs to be.  It is delicious, and I have to say that it was probably the best I've ever made!  

Chicken fried steak may be a bit better known now (I mean, it made it's way into a joke on the Big Bang Theory), but it's not something that I make very often.  I would say in my entire life, I've probably only made it half a dozen times.  You take tenderized meat (if you can buy it tenderized, all the better) and you flour, milk/egg, flour and then cook it in a little bit of oil.  The coating gets flaky and delicious.  You take the remaining oil and make gravy.  You then add some french fries and a little bit of yummy corn, and then there you go.

It was really fantastic.  I took my time with it, which made a big difference, and I made oven fries which cut down a little bit on the overall messiness.  But as I stood in front of my stove in my new kitchen/dining room stirring the gravy to make it thick, I really felt a connection to my roots.  I thought of my mom and grandma, both of whom I can see in my minds eye standing in front of the stove, stirring the gravy, feeding their family and it made me really happy to be making this for my family.  

15 days into 2012 and I have no complaints... it's been a really different year, but it's quite fun and I look forward to seeing what else rolls this way!

05 January 2012

Feel good food

I realized tonight that making a good meal, or at least one that I enjoy eating, makes me feel good about myself. So tonight's dinner was feel good food. I wll say that there's nothing bad about a meal that starts with this:

That is a bowl of delicious spices and chopped parsley that got turned into some beautiful beef kebabs that we had with a bit of rice, some Bick's pickles and some pickled beets that I whipped together just before Christmas. Here's the recipe. The flavours really hit the spot with me.

Ground beef kebabs
  • 1 pound of ground beef (or lamb if you're feeling so inclined)
  • 2/3 cup of chopped parsley
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
Get 6 to 8 skewers. If you're using bamboo ones, soak them in water. Basically put all the ingredients together in bowl and mix them up making sure the parsley and onion is all evenly distributed.  Then make 6 to 8 evenly sized balls. Go fire up the bbq. Take each ball roll it into a bit of a cylinder then put a skewer through it. Mold the meat onto the skewer by squeezing it a bit. Pop them on a med-heat bbq and cook for about 12 minutes turning them occasionally.

Take 'em off and serve right away with rice, pickles, and even some yogurt dip if you like.


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