Friday, 31 August 2012

Leftover Pork Chop Stir Fry

Oh Happy Day! After thirty long years, I have finally found a recipe that does justice to a leftover pork chop. I grew up in a family of seven, so I learnt how to cook always having enough to feed seven people and enough for seconds. I just never figured out how to downsize my portions when it became just the ladygirls and I. And now my little chickadees have flown the coop, so there are always, always leftovers no matter what I make for dinner. It's hard to cook for just two people. Pork chops always seem to come in packs of four and for some strange reason, steaks always seem to come in packs of three. We never get to the bottom of a bag of potatoes without the eyes growing up out of the bag like some scary gargoyle monster. My cheese gets mouldy before I'm halfway through it, and my carrots turn to slime in the bag in no time it seems. My fridge is a frightening place. And it just isn't economical to buy potatoes in smaller quantities. Four loose potatoes cost as much as a ten pound bag. It's depressing is what it is. The grocery store is a constant reminder that I miss my big family and I sure as hell miss my girls at the dinner table. I can see why lonely people just get take-out most of the time.

Luckily enough though, I have two great co-workers, Kyle and Colin and they are forced to eat my leftovers. I'm sure more often than they'd like. They are my guinea pigs to try out new recipes on and they decide what goes on the blog. They both gave a thumbs up on today's leftover recipe and said it was most definitely blog worthy! So here we go friends, let's make a pork chop stir fry.

You'll need:
2 or more pork chops. I used thick cut boneless loins which I barbecued with a seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic powder and seasoning salt. But I think any leftover pork chop will do. And you could also use steak or chicken or shrimp in this recipe too. It's a stir fry, so anything goes.
3 tablespoons of sesame oil. (This is pretty critical because of the flavour)
1 sliced onion
3 minced garlic cloves
stir fry vegetables. I used carrots, celery, snow peas, mushrooms and bean sprouts. But broccoli and cauliflower would be the dandy too. Just use whatever you like and whatever you have.

For the sauce:
1/4 cup of honey
1/2 cup of soy sauce
1 knob or about a tablespoon of minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon of red chili flakes
2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds to sprinkle on just when you serve.

Slice up all of your vegetables and your meat. Make it pretty like you would see in a restaurant because people love that.
Saute the onion in the sesame oil just until it softens and add your garlic. Don't go too high on the heat or you'll burn the garlic. And burnt garlic is a bitter tasting meal destroyer.  Add the mushrooms and let them brown up a bit. Then add your meat. Now add the other vegetables one by one with the ones that take longer to cook first. So carrots first and then celery a couple of minutes later. Cover the pan for a few minutes to let the veggies steam. Then add your snow peas and put your bean sprouts in last. This whole process takes only about ten minutes. Stir often since it is a stir fry. :)

In a small saucepan, make your sauce. Just put the honey, soy sauce, ginger and pepper flakes in and let in all slowly melt and stirring as you go. When it just comes up to the simmer, pout it all into your stir fry. Put the lid back on the pan and let everything steam until it's too your liking. Some people like a vegetable with a good bit of crunch in it, while others prefer a softer texture. So you make the call. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds on just before you serve it.

If you like, you can serve this with any kind of Asian noodle. I don't serve it with any kind of carbohydrate at all because it's delicious just in itself. But don't serve it with rice. And here is the reason why: Colin really enjoyed the stir fry and he said it was better than his mom's because she always serves rice with hers. And I asked him why he didn't like that and he said "Rice just doesn't belong with stir fry." So there you have it. And Colin is a guy, so he knows what's up. I trust his word. And I'm pretty sure I haven't ever served stir fry with rice. Although I can't really, truly be sure. Enjoy! Leftovers never tasted this good!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Roasted Chickpea Snack

One of the best weeks of the year just passed: Shark Week. It’s a great television event, because sharks are super cool. They like eating, and I like eating! And sharks, much like myself, never say no to eating something if it’s put in front of them. But sometimes that can just be gluttonous. So here is a guilt-free recipe for roasted chickpeas. They are high in protein, high in fiber, full of flavor, easy, and inexpensive. They make a great alternative to potato chips, pretzels, and other carb-astrophic snacks that tempt us during TV watching. Make a batch of these, turn on Discovery, and have yourself a feeding frenzy!

-       1 can of chickpeas
-       Olive oil (about two tablespoons)
-       Salt
-       Pepper
-       Cayenne
-       Garlic powder

Delicious roasted television snack!
First, turn your oven way up to about 425 and let it preheat. Meanwhile, drain the can of chickpeas and rinse them under cool water to get rid of the starchy liquid. Pat the peas dry with paper towel. In a bowl, toss them with the olive oil and seasonings. Go with your instincts on the cayenne. You don’t have to use it at all, or you can use a ton and make them spicy like I did (in fact, I sprinkled extra over top of them just before putting them in the oven).

Next, roll the peas out on to a baking sheet. It helps if you put tinfoil underneath because the oil and spices will be wreaking havoc beneath the chickpeas. Let them roast in the oven for about forty minutes. You can roast them longer if you want them to be really crunchy, or a bit less if you want a soft centre. You’re all done! Serve them up and go crazy.


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Vegetarian Lasagna

I’m still on an autumnal cooking kick. It went down to nine degrees last night, I had to put socks on and everything! But I was struck with another recipe inspiration on the weekend, I was thinking about what I could do with some of the squash I had leftover from the soup, and I decided to try to make a vegetarian lasagna with it.

This recipe is all about taking your time. It’s definitely a “Sunday” meal, or an “I work from home” meal, because all in all you’re in it for about two hours. To me, that is a delight, because I love cooking. But if you don’t find cooking as zen as I do, then just take a deep breath and try to enjoy the process.

This is what you’ll need:
  • Lasagna noodles
  • Half of a butternut squash (cubed)
  • About 4 cups of spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Asiago cheese
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 2 ½ cups of milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

The first thing you’ll want to do is preheat your oven to 400°. For extra flavour, we are going to roast the squash. On a baking sheet, spread out your squash cubes flavoured with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then roast until golden and soft (about 30 minutes). Now, if you were looking to cut corners here, you could microwave or steam your squash, which would shave some time off your prep. But roasting does add extra flavour, so that’s what I recommend.

Once your squash is roasting, the second step is to prepare the spinach layer. In a frying pan, add a little olive oil. Add your onions and garlic, and cook them slowly. In fact, we are going to caramelize these onions, so you want them on a low-med heat for a good 15-20 minutes. Once they are golden and soft (there is a theme here), add in your spinach. This will wilt down to about 2 cups with the onion. Set aside.

Let’s get the béchamel sauce ready now. You may also want to get that pasta to the boil. At least start the water. And for the love of God, salt your water. This flavours the pasta and there is no reason not to. Your pasta water should taste like the sea.

Back to the béchamel. Now, you already know how to make a roux, because you learned how to do that in chicken potpie. So in a saucepan, melt your butter and then add your flour. Stir that around to cook the flour a bit then add your milk. Whisk your little heart out! To flavour this sauce, add salt and pepper to taste, and since we are using fall flavours, I added nutmeg to my béchamel. I have whole nutmeg nuts, so I grated it freshly into the sauce (I know, what a show-off, right?) but you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. If you are using fresh grated nutmeg, do go easy on it as it is much more flavourful than the pre-ground variety. Taste that sauce- delicious? Great. It will thicken when you leave it to gently simmer for five minutes. Just give it a whisk here and there. Now we’ll do the squash.

I realise this is a lot of steps, but it will come together for you, I promise. Keep in mind that once things are done, they can just sit to the side to wait. So, there’s no stress! In a mixing bowl, add your squash with about two heaping tablespoons of ricotta. You want this to be the texture of baby food. Mix well with fork and taste. The trick here is that if all your layers taste good, the whole thing will taste good. So, be like Gordon Ramsey and taste everything. This layer would benefit from a little more nutmeg, plus the salt and pepper. Turn down your oven to 375°.

We have all our fillings done now, so it’s time for the last step, which is cooking the pasta. Your pasta noodles only need 7-9 minutes in boiling water. Not unlike macaroni andcheese, if you cook your noodles completely before they bake in the lasagna, they’ll be nothing but pure mush by the time all is said and done. A little on the firm side is ideal.

All right, it’s time to assemble! I sprayed my pan with some PAM, which I hoped would help with clean up. That is yet to be determined, but I’m sure it can’t be a bad idea. First, coat the bottom of your dish with the béchamel sauce. Layer in the bottom noodles and then spread half the squash mixture evenly across it. Spread on some of the béchamel. Layer a few more noodles on, then half your spinach mixture, plus a good-sized handful of Asiago cheese. More béchamel. Repeat these steps until you run out of fillings. Top with another layer of noodles, the final bit of béchamel, Asiago and some Parmesan. Cover with tinfoil and bake at 375° for 25 minutes. Remove the tinfoil and bake for 25 more minutes. I would suggest throwing the broiler on for the last 5 minutes to get nice colour on the top. I didn’t do this and it’s looking a little pale in the photos.

Serve this up with a side salad and you’ve got yourself a meal! Enjoy! 

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Coconut Shrimp and Rice

I love quiet Saturday evenings when nobody is around and I can try out new recipes. And tonight I had a swing and a miss. So I'm thankful nobody was around to witness my disgrace. And it was all due to my own stupidity and for breaking my own rules. I've been trying to beat it into the heads of my ladygirls forever to lay out all of their ingredients first, before they begin to cook. I went so far as to tell them that only a common fool would have to run out for a lemon in the middle of a recipe.

Well today, some kind of lazy devil got into my soul. I read my recipe and went to lay out all the ingredients and I didn't have everything. I just did not want to go to the store under any circumstances today either since there was a big carrot festival going on in town and I couldn't bear the thought of the road detours and the traffic. So I went one worse than not laying out my ingredients. I attempted to substitute! Shame on me and slap my wrist because I know better. And I especially know how to substitute if I must, and what flavour marries well with what. I didn't even do that much right because my larder was empty! And the biggest rule of all that I broke was to not use the freshest ingredients possible. I should be tarred and feathered just for that alone.

So I used frozen shrimp that I knew on sight I wouldn't enjoy because they were in the freezer too long. Strike One! The recipe called for freshly chopped cilantro (my favourite food on earth) and fresh limes. I had neither, so I used that cilantro in the tube (ugh!) and lemon instead of lime. Strike Two! And the silliest error of all is that the recipe called for canned tomatoes. Me, being the queen of tomato canning, was all out, so I used a fresh tomato. Duh! Strike Three and you're outta the kitchen!

The problem is that I really wanted to eat that exact thing for dinner. So I threw it all in the garbage and went to the store and bought the ingredients and started over. This time I used beautiful, big, fresh jumbo shrimp. I followed the recipe exactly except I added some fresh Thai basil leaves because I love them. I served it over steamed rice and I can honestly say I will use this recipe often. It was bloody delicious once I got my act together and stopped being a lazy sloth! So let's cook, and let's do it properly this time!

You'll need:
Steamed rice enough to serve however many people you have. For two people, I use 1 cup of rice to 2 1/2 cups of broth.
Olive oil enough to just coat a skillet (about 1/3 cup or just less)
1 finely chopped onion ( I used a red onion on the 2nd try)
3 large cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons of coriander
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of cayenne powder (or less if you don't like the heat)
1/8 teaspoon of turmeric
1 can of drained chopped tomatoes (for God sake, don't use a fresh one or you'll be left with only the skin)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 pounds of good shrimp
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro (a key ingredient!)
2 limes
a few fresh Thai basil leaves (my own idea!)

Saute the onion in the oil for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and let it sweat for a couple more minutes. Add the spices and stir it all around until everything is coated. Add the water and the tomatoes and coconut milk. Also the basil leaves. Bring it up to a simmer for about 8 minutes until the flavours develop and add the shrimp and the salt. Let it simmer for only about 5 minutes till the shrimp turn pink and flip the shrimp over. Let it simmer for a few more minutes.  Add the lime juice and the chopped cilantro. Stir it all around and serve it over your steamed rice. This is more prep than cooking. It's fast, easy and delicious. The one thing this recipe taught me well is that if you're not committed, either pull yourself together or call out for pizza! Cheers!

Butternut Squash Soup

            I love the change of seasons so much. August is when I really start to feel it, because the nights get cooler, Football Season starts and all the lovely fall clothes come into the stores. That is my favourite part, because by the end of August I’m sick to death of sundresses and sandals, I just want to put on gorgeous sweaters and coats and boots and feel like I really have an OUTFIT together. And the colours of fall! Jewel tones abound, and I really love that too.

This isn’t a fashion blog though, so I’ll stop talking about all of that. The other main thing that is great about fall is that I feel like I can really cook again, a.k.a use my stove and oven without turning my house into a sauna. So, just the other day in Loblaws, my two loves of food and jewel tones came together when I saw something I had never seen before, purple peppers! Heirloom organic purple peppers that is, and at $5.99/lb, I felt they were quite a steal! Well at least worth the money. They were a lovely eggplant colour, aubergine, if you will, and I was delighted I looked around to see if anyone could join in on my joy. No one could though. The only other people around were a mother and her two little boys, and they were concentrating on which celery to buy, so I was left alone in my love affair with the purple peppers. But that, of course, is when inspiration hit. I felt it was time for a good old-fashioned fall meal. Butternut squash soup, roasted purple pepper salad with goat cheese, and some cherries and chocolate for dessert. Jewel tones for all!
Let’s start with our soup. Chop up a butternut squash into small cubes, removing the skin. I’ll tell you a secret- Loblaws sells them like this already. Sure, it’s $2.99 instead of $0.79, but I promise you that it is worth it, unless you are particularly skilled with large knives. The squash rolls around on the cutting board and it’s extremely tough to cut. Plus it takes about ten hours to get all the peel off, so I don’t really recommend it. Just don’t be chintzy and buy the pre-cut one and tell yourself you’re worth it. You’ve just spent $5.99 on peppers anyway. The rest of the ingredients are:
  • Squash (but you already knew that)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp of butter or bacon fat
  • 2 tbsp of cumin powder
  • 1 cup of milk
  • Chicken stock (enough to cover the squash, about 2 cups)

If you are going to way of bacon fat, you can actually just fry some bacon in your pot and save it to sprinkle on top later. Or you can save your bacon fat in the freezer and use it for flavour in times such as this. You can also use cream instead of milk if you prefer it. I promise, it is much richer and more delicious like that, but I was trying to be healthy because as I have about 17 weddings to attend in the next months and I can’t afford to buy new dresses because I can’t fit in the old ones (because I spend exorbitant amounts of money on food).

Here’s how you make the soup: Put your butter in the pot and add your onion. Allow your onion to soften and then add your squash. Season with the cumin, then salt and pepper to taste. Pour in your chicken stock and then bring it to a boil. Cover and simmer until the squash has softened, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn on your barbecue or broiler and place your peppers on the grill. Char each side until the skin is blackened, about 10 minutes per side. Once they’re black, put them in a Tupperware and leave them covered for about 10 more minutes. This makes the skin come off easily. Peel them and then julienne them, removing the seeds and other bits you won’t want to eat.

Time to deal with that soup. Once the squash is soft, take out your handheld blender, or pour it in a food processor. What doesn’t work particularly well is a blender, as my father and I once found out the hard way. Puree your soup until it is smooth, and then add your milk or cream. Give that a stir and taste the soup. Add any other seasonings you may need.

I realise this looks like squid or something here. 
Now let’s plate. Put some mixed greens down on a plate. On top, place your roasted peppers with crumbled goat cheese on top. You can mix a salad dressing up, or for this, you can drizzle with just olive oil too. Your soup can go in bowl and you can garnish this in a number of ways. If you’ve done the bacon thing, chop up your bacon and crumble that on top, with a dollop of sour cream (this is not of the 17 weddings in two months diet). If you want something lighter, drizzle a little olive oil on top.
For dessert, just put out some nice dark chocolate, I opted for one with chili powder in it, and some cherries. Serve with a nice red; my favourite is the Ravenswood Shiraz. Plus, I love the design on the bottle.  This meal, plus a blanket on the couch with a good book, and you have yourself a very nice fall evening! 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Julia Child's Caesar Salad

Mothers have a secret little alarm that goes off in their head when their children are too quiet. I was tidying around the house and doing laundry one Saturday morning back in the early nineties, when I was deafened by the silence in my house. I panicked and dropped everything to go see what the ladygirls could possibly be up to. I found the two of them in the family room absolutely riveted to a program on the television.

I glanced over to see what they were watching, and it was a Julia Child cooking show on the PBS. My girls were cooking show junkies long before the FoodNetwork was ever invented. Julia was in the middle of preparing some sort of stew, so I sat down to watch also. The girls were very young at the time, so I can only imagine Sesame Street ended and they stayed tuned as Julia Child came on. As she was cooking away, she had a big glass of red wine she was sipping on. She would pour some wine into the pot and then a big glass for herself, talking and instructing all the while. This was my kind of chef! As the show progressed, I noticed that Julia developed a flush on her face from the wine, and then suddenly, the button on the breast of her blouse popped open and her Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra was clearly visible! She seemed not to notice, and just kept cooking away. Her voice grew louder and she became more animated with every sip she took. Suddenly tufts of hair were bobbing around as she was bouncing around the kitchen and talking in an almost sing song voice! Bailey and Kelly still sat motionless, almost as if in a trance. They were clearly in love. I couldn't help but mention that Julia was three sheets to the wind by the time the show ended, but none of us cared. She was absolutely adorable. We never missed an episode of her show for years after that.

Julia was our cooking role model and trying out her recipes became our favourite pastime. So today, in honour of her 100th birthday, here is her Caesar Salad recipe which is the only one I ever use. Happy Birthday Lovely Lady!

1 head of romaine lettuce
2 large cloves of garlic
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 cups of homemade toasted croutons
2 eggs
Juice of a lemon
a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan. the best you can afford.

Wash and dry the romaine. Tear into pieces, discarding the tough rib portions.Place the torn lettuce into your salad bowl and cover with damp paper towels and refrigerate.
For the croutons:
Slice bread into 3/8 inch size cubes and toast them off in the oven.
Mince and mash the garlic with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Strain into a small frying pan, pressing the oil out of the garlic. Heat over medium heat and add the toasted croutons when hot. Stir them around for a minute or two coating them with the oil. Drain on paper towels.
For the eggs:
Pierce the large end of the eggs with a push pin or a needle and lower them into a pan of boiling water. Boil for exactly one minute and remove and set aside.
To assemble the salad:
Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil over the romaine and toss to coat the leaves nicely. Sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of salt, several grinds of pepper and toss again. Squeeze on the lemon juice, add 6 drops of Worcestershire, break in the eggs and toss to blend.Taste a leaf and correct the seasoning. Toss briefly with the cheese and finally with the croutons. Serve it up. (This recipe does not include anchovies, but I usually add them because I like them. I mash up about 6 anchovies with a bit of olive oil and toss them around just before I add the cheese.)
I have a strong hunch that Julia would enjoy a lovely glass of wine with this salad. So I'm going to make it for dinner tonight and raise my glass in a toast to the most inspirational chef of all time! Cheers!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Huevos Rancheros

Guess what I had to do this weekend? A fitting for a bridal dress. Not MY bridal dress (clearly), someone has actually chosen me as her Maid of Honour, ha! People actually like me! But it is exciting and I love a reason to dress up, so I'm pretty happy about that. I'll be sure to put up my mini-sandwich recipe when it comes time for the shower, because everyone loves a triangle sandwich. 

What a lovely dinner!
So what did I want to eat for dinner the night before the fitting? A huge bowl of shrimp Alfredo pasta, of course! But I didn’t. I exercised restraint (read: I had no satisfactorily delicious pasta in the house, only healthy brown rice pasta, and that’s no fun at all!) and instead thought perhaps I ought to make something with a vegetable. I made fish tacos the other night for dinner, so I had a lot of southwestern flavours in my fridge, including chipotles. Chipotle peppers are delicious, but usually a recipe calls for only one, so what a pain in the ass it is to have to open the can of about 20 when you only need one. Since I may have the touch of the food hoarding, I always save the can in the fridge in hopes within the week I will make something else with chipotle. (I always save my leftovers despite the fact I hardly ever eat them because I also have food safety OCD paranoia and I’m convinced that if they live in my fridge for longer than a day I will get food poisoned and die. This is also the reason I cook the shit out of chicken and it’s almost always as dry as a bone when I serve it.)  ANYWAY. Usually I have chipotles in the fridge until the can turns green and strange smell emanates from the fridge and I have to search all around for the source of it. But that will not be the case this week, because we are going to use them in this recipe.

This is the baked bean mixture for layering in a too-small pan.
Huevos Rancheros are a Mexican (or Tex-Mex, possibly) version of an egg breakfast. You can find them in any diner worth its salt in California, Arizona and New Mexico. I rarely see them up here in Canada. Each restaurant and family usually has their own take on them as well. For me, although I delight in a calorie-rich breakfast as much as the next person, they would be a little much for breakfast. Plus who wants to go through that kind of prep first thing in the morning? Not I. So, this is one of those breakfast-for-dinner types of things. Here’s what you need:

Bean mixture with cheese on the tortilla.
  • Flour tortillas (2/person)
  • Eggs (2/person)
  • Those damn chipotles (again, only 1)
  • Can of refried beans
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Grated cheese (About a cup, Monterey Jack is nice)
  • 1 diced tomato
  • Sour cream and salsa to taste
  • Fresh cilantro

First thing you need to do is preheat your oven to 375°. In a frying pan, sauté your shallot and garlic. When they are soft and fragrant, add the can of beans and your chopped chipotle. As you can see in the picture, I used a pan that too small, so ideally you won’t do that. I always do that. I’m always trying to stuff ten pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag. Mummy used to scold me all the time when I lived at home and made pasta because I would try to use the smallest pot and make these massive amounts of spaghetti for myself. It’s like I feel I’m on a pan ration or something. But you probably don’t feel like that, you’ll be sensible enough to use the right size of pan. I also can’t judge spatial distances properly, which may have more with my inability to drive than my inability to pick the right pan, but who really knows.

Frying the egg, still on a pan ration. 
When your beans are blended, get out your baking sheet and put a tortilla on it. Spread the bean mixture all about and top with about a third of your cheese. Layer on the next tortilla and do the same thing. Now, most of the recipes I’ve looked at have about 4 tortillas, but I only used two because at some point you have to draw the line on carbohydrates. If you want though, go to hell with it and use four tortillas. No one is judging you. 

Once you’ve topped the second tortilla, pop it in your oven. In a frying pan, another one or the same one such as I did, fry up your eggs on the bottom, but don’t flip them. You’ll note that in the photo, I only have one egg. This is because I THOUGHT I had two eggs in the house, but I actually did not. (This is probably symbolic, I can’t let anyone in emotionally… Only one egg... Shells… I’m sure Sylvia Plath could do something literary with that.) One egg will do just fine for me anyway (but when will I learn to take out all the ingredients BEFORE I start cooking like Mummy says?!)

When your egg is cooked on the bottom, slide it out of your pan and onto the tortillas in the oven. Finish cooking the egg in the oven by baking it for about 5-7 minutes. Pull it out, top with last bit of grated cheese, the diced tomato, cilantro and the salsa and sour cream. Avocadoes at this point would be a great option as well, since they may be the most delicious things on earth. You can serve it with a side salad and sliced like a pizza. Or you can be like me and eat it like a great big pancake. Either way, enjoy! 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Give Yer Head a Shake!

I hadn't intended to write a blog today but I was just sitting here minding my own business and listening to some nice Chuck Mangione music I downloaded on iTunes, when all of a sudden, I was assaulted with the images I saw on FoodNetwork. I have it on mute, so possibly this type of thing goes on all the time, and it just didn't hit me until the sound was off. The show is about food trucks, but I can lump it in with Triple D since I've been secretly bothered by it too lately. No offence to that nice fellow with the spiked platinum hair.

I perchance, happened to glance up at the screen and they were serving up a hot dog with an egg on top and hollandaise sauce on top of that. That's the last straw for me. The food truck shows irk me the most of all because they aren't just serving fat and junk and calories, they are preaching gluttony. Straight up. They have no relation to skill or technique at all. I've seen episodes where they wrap a wiener in bacon and deep fry it, then add the mayonnaise based condiments on top of that. They have sexy bitches serving up french fries topped with ten thousand calories worth of fat. It's just all about fat served on top of fat. Gross.

Who is responsible? Or rather irresponsible for airing these programs? The FoodNetwork was supposed to be a role model and inspire home chefs to really learn the techniques and blow the socks off their family and friends. Or so I thought. The chef that inspired me most was poor, now deceased Anthony Sedlak. How I miss him. Such skill he had. And don't get me wrong, Ina Garden is my role model. She uses butter just as I do. But Ina has a focus and doesn't ever fill up a plate with slop and garbage and call it supper. If she's making hot dogs, then dogs it is. Beautifully packaged and ready for a sexy, fun filled day at the beach with Jeffrey. And if Ina is making Eggs Benedict, you can bet she'll serve them perfectly poached on a lovely breakfast tray with the Sunday paper and hot coffee for Jeffrey's breakfast in bed. BUT INA WOULD NEVER SERVE JEFFREY A HOT DOG WITH AN EGG ON TOP!

I'm sure the FoodNetwork is raking in money hand over fist and trying to widen their viewership, so they have taken on shows that appeal to a wider range audience. But please! Responsibility and health should come first. Please Foodnetwork, Don't let people think it's okay to chow down ten thousand calories and 400 grams of fat in one meal! If anybody read Kelly's blog yesterday about Deli Supper, remember how she said that meal was served on Special Treat days? Kelly never knew this, but the reason that meal was a special treat was that there is virtually no nutritional value in that meal at all. It just tastes really delicious. And hence, a special treat. But don't anybody tell my LadyGirls that! Deli supper promises made them behave well all day! Haha. So you know what I'm saying. Right?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Deli Supper

Comfort food is different for everyone. Sometimes it's warm meal on a rainy day, sometimes it's simple flavours that just you don't have to think too hard about, and sometimes it's a meal that has so many memories that it just brings you right back. Sometimes, like today, it's all three. One of my all-time favourite comfort foods is potato pancakes. It's easy and delicious and makes me feel thirteen again.

I decided to make potato pancakes and deli supper for Brycie because he has not yet experienced it and I knew a little meat'n'potatoes would be right up his alley. When I propositioned "deli supper," the first thing he said was, "Well what is it?" and I said, "Hot potato cakes with meat sandwiches." Nothing wrong with that, he said. And he's right.

Our Mumma used to make deli supper for us on special treat days when we were kids and it was always just the best thing ever. Having just finished a wonderful family weekend in Hunstville, I came home alone to Kingston thinking, "I want to taste family food." And that's what the potato pancakes are.

Ingredients are dead simple and cheap, too. You most likely already have all of it in your cupboards. You need potatoes (I bought about ten yukon golds so I could make them again later this week), a white onion, an egg, some flour, butter, salt, and pepper.
Grating the bejeesus out of the potatoes.
Grate your potatoes with a cheese grater. Originally Bryce and I had an assembly line process where I would peel and he would grate, but I realized right away that peeling a yukon gold isn't even necessary. Their skin is delicate and you won't even notice it. But for goodness sake, don't grate your fingers by accident! Or you'll swear off the potato pancakes forever and that won't be any good. You could probably use a food processor, but that's not how I learned it. Make more mix than you think you'll eat because the leftovers heat up nicely and whoever you make these for will mow more than you think (they're that good).

Hot potato
Once your pan is hot, spoon in the mix - I usually do two or three at a time. Don't overcrowd the pan or they won't brown. One heaping tablespoon makes one large pancake, so use that as your guide. Today I grated three small-medium potatoes and I had about 8 pancakes at the end, so it makes quite a bit.

Smash down the scoops with a spatula and let them brown on the one side, about two minutes. Flip, brown the other side, and then transfer to a plate in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the rest. God help you if you don't season them with a little salt as soon as they come out of the pan.

Serve them with a little butter and a dollop of sour cream. Bryce wanted ketchup but I said no because that's not the way we ate them as kids, and I also refuse to stock ketchup in the house because it grosses me out.

For the full deli experience, serve the pancakes with hot Montreal smoked meat sandwiches on rye bread with swiss cheese and mustard.

I hadn't eaten these little wonders in about six years, since before I left home. One bite and I was right back in Momma's arms again! Some tastes just don't change. It feels good to be home, even when you're not.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Jarring Tomatoes

Well here we are almost to the middle of August already. Where did the summer go? Soon the leaves will turn and pots of chili and stews will replace grilled steaks and cheeseburgers. I just got back from vacation and went down to take a look at the garden. The tomatoes are flourishing and will be ready to harvest in another four or five weeks. I had a false sense of hope back in June when Sasha, Bailey's Golden Retriever gave chase to our newly adopted stray cat through the tomato garden. Mario nearly had a cow and convinced me that the tomato plants were ruined. As much I as enjoy a nice tomato from the garden, I don't look forward to all the work required to bring them in and can them. So I was secretly proud of Sasha on that day.

But it was not to be. If anything, the trampling of the tomato garden encouraged growth and I can see we have a bumper crop this year. Italian families have a tradition where every September, Tomato Day is declared in the family and all family members are called in to help. And unless you want to swim with the fishes, you'd best show up and be prepared to work. I have no such luxury. Mario picks them and carries the bushels to the stove and I put them all to the jars and store them for the winter. So it takes us at least a week to complete the task. Thank God we both drink wine and love Pink Floyd, so we relax into it and enjoy the music and make a good time of it. Sometimes I boss my music onto the play list too. Dionne Warwick and Petula Clark and the like. :)

Italians make sauce with their tomatoes, but I don't like to back myself into a corner like that. I keep them neutral so I have a lot of choices down the road like jambalaya, chili, tomato soup, bisque, omelets and so on. Plus making tons and tons of sauce is so much more work. If I need a sauce, then I can make it as I need it. And don't feel like you can't jar tomatoes if you don't have a garden! Buy a few baskets of locally grown tomatoes in mid-September when they're at their ripest and jar them up. You will thank me for this suggestion in late January when its minus 30 degrees and a blizzard outside and you can just open a jar and enjoy a burst of summer!

Buy lots and lots of Mason jars. I use the large and the small ones and then I can select whichever size I need according to my recipe. A small jar will hold about 5 tomatoes and the large will hold 8 or 9. Boil the jars and the lids for at least 15 minutes to sterilise them. Lay out some clean tea towels on a very clean counter top and use tongs to remove the jars and lids from the water. Place the jars upside down on the tea towels and also the lids. Don't touch them again after they've been sterilised.
Now bring some big pots of water to the boil and drop your tomatoes into the water. Within a minute or two, the skin will break open. Remove them from the water with tongs and put them into a large strainer or a big bowl. Do this in batches or you will surely become depressed and overwhelmed. I do about 40 tomatoes at a time. When they are cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut them into wedges. Now take one jar at a time and fill with the tomatoes. I wouldn't have to tell you that you have clean hands, and smoosh them tightly into the jar. Put a teaspoon of salt at the top of the jar with a teaspoon of white vinegar, and place the seal top and ring on the jar tightening as much as you can.

Now some lucky people have proper canning pots. Most likely they own food processors and deep fryers too. I own none of the above, so I use my big turkey soup pot for the next step. Place as many jars as you can in a standing up position into the pot and add enough water to cover all the jars and about an inch above the tops. Put a dinner plate on top of the jars and a brick or a rock or a weight on top of that so the jars don't float all around and bob up and down during the boiling process. For God sake, don't use your good china plate either. Cover and boil the canned tomatoes for 25 minutes and turn off the heat. Let everything cool down enough to handle so you can remove your jars. Let them cool on the counter overnight and store them for the winter. This is a lot of work, but it's fun work and imagine how proud you'll be to serve a recipe with tomatoes you jarred yourself! Well, let's be honest. This puts you on Goddess level!

This is how they look in the jar. And this is what homemade tomato soup with tomatoes you jarred yourself looks like! I'll teach you the recipe in the next blog.