Monday, 30 December 2013

Bailey's Blue Cheese Sauce (with a side of Jaded Embitterment)

There are two types of people in this world- people who go out for New Year’s Eve, and people who do not. I am quite firmly the latter. I have attempted to be the former several times, namely last year, when I went to the Lakeshore in Toronto and saw a band. The band, Dwayne Gretzky, was awesome. My company was also amazing. I left at 12:30 and made it home without a DUI. Had it been any other night of the year, it would have been a perfect night.

But of course, it wasn’t any other night of the year. It was New Year’s Eve, so an awesome night isn’t enough. Are you really going to bring in the new year with just an awesome night?! You can’t do that. You fail at life if you do that. Your night has to be super perfect awesome, obviously. Your one true secret love must reveal himself to you, kiss you at midnight, and tell you how all along he knew how truly incredible you are, and in fact he didn’t love that other girl the whole time you’ve been secretly pining for him, because this is actually a teen movie and of course later in the night at 5 a.m. while you eat breakfast together swooning, Simple Minds will come on and then you’ll dance in the diner together much to the dismay of every other broken hearted girl in the diner, who will enviously promise herself that next year, HER night will end as perfectly as yours.

But of course, that will not happen this year. You know what will happen? That guy will show up with his girlfriend to the bar you paid $745,393.00 to get into, you’ll get drunk and cry in a corner at midnight, your text to your back-burner booty call won’t go through because EVERYONE texts their back-burner booty call at approximately 1:34 am when they realize life is not a Richard Curtis movie, and then you won’t be able to find a cab to save your life. If you live in the frigid north like I do, you’ll wait in a diner out of desperation until 5 a.m. surrounded by incredibly intoxicated people, reeking of desperation, until you see some obnoxiously in love couple get up and dance to an 80’s power ballad playing on the radio. At which point you’ll cry again and promise yourself next year will be different.

You know what? It can be. I realize the previous two paragraphs painted a picture of me as an embittered, sad, and lonely spinster, naysaying what could possibly be the most fun night of the year (whilst simultaneously chagrining my grade 10 English teacher with my grammatical errors). But I’m here to present a second option: Staying In. Much loved by crazy cat ladies and jaded 28 year olds alike; the old-fashioned Staying In presents a night of nostalgia-filled board games, drinking champagne that did not cost you half your tuition, and the opportunity to take advantage of that eHarmony free communication weekend, where you can meet other like-minded people who also enjoy staying in on the biggest party night of the year.

If you stay in, perhaps you will invite other human companions over to partake in the rejection of this pressure-cooker of a night, and then you may also want to feed them. If you decide Albert Burneko’s poached lobster tails are not for you (although I urge you to try them at some point), perhaps you’ll opt for the easier, if not cliché, red meat varietal.

Should you happen to go for this, you’ll want to jazz it up a little with something special. Nothing is better with red meat than blue cheese and great red wine. So, here’s a nifty little sauce that you can serve with your meal that will provide some acknowledgment to your guests that this is, in fact, The Most Special Night EVER.

Start with a finely chopped shallot in about a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan. The jury is still out on whether or not to make a roux for this sauce, so I’ll leave it up to you. If you like a thicker sauce, also add a tablespoon of flour to the shallot and butter and stir that around until it gets golden. Now add a splash of sherry and reduce it by half. Add a cup of cream (real cream, don’t chintz and go with milk. The resolution diet starts the next day.) Bring the cream just to a boil and then turn down your heat. Finally, crumble in a cup of blue cheese and whisk until it melts into the cream. Finish with salt, pepper and the juice of one lemon.

Enjoy your evening whatever you do- but if you can’t get a cab at 3:00 a.m., don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Happy 2014!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Coquilles St Jacques

Are you ready for another one of my retro, oldie but goodie recipes? This is another one where there are dozens of variations, so experiment around with it until it's to your own liking, and then you'll have a treasured family recipe of your own! And because it's French, there seems to be a rivalry as to whether the a la Parisienne or the Provencal recipe is superior. I'm not sure which this one leans to, and I try to stay neutral in their culinary squabbles! And further to that, they would be appalled to know that I often serve this as a main with a rice pilaf and asparagus! But in fact, to stay true to the recipe, you would serve it as an appetizer, and in a shell shaped ovenproof dish. Since I've been breaking all the rules my whole life, I'll blaze my own trail here too and serve it as a main. Especially since I can't find my shell shaped dishes.

And this is another one of my recipes where we go in stages. First we are going to poach our scallops in a wine based bouillon. Then sauté our mushrooms and shallot. And then on to the sauce. At that point you would assemble in your shell shaped dishes and broil them for a minute or two just to brown the tops. So it's easy and fast and makes for a wonderful hot appetizer for special dinner parties.

For the bouillon you'll need:
half an onion sliced
1 stalk of sliced celery
1 bay leaf
1/2 a lemon sliced
1 cup of white wine
about 10 or 12 peppercorns
1 pound of scallops, washed and dried, and remove that little muscle on the side of them. Cut them into bite size pieces if you get the jumbo size.

For the rest you'll need:
1/2 cup of butter
1 finely diced shallot
1 pound of sliced mushrooms
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 small sprig of fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/4 cup of flour
a pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup of half and half cream
1 cup of grated gruyere cheese
a little splash more of white wine
chopped parsley (which you won't see in this photo since I forgot to get some)
1/2 cup of bread crumbs

Prepare your bouillon and let it come up to the simmer for a few minutes. Add your scallops. If you don't have enough liquid to cover the scallops, add a bit of water to cover. Let them simmer for 10 or 12 minutes until they are white. Remove the scallops and set aside. Strain the liquid through a sieve and reserve. You need 1/2 a cup of it.

Melt all but 2 tablespoons of your butter and add the shallot and let it soften. Add your garlic and let it sauté just for a minute or two and add your mushrooms and thyme. Saute until your mushrooms are golden brown. Take it off the heat and add the flour and stir it around for a minute and add that little splash of wine to deglaze your pan, scraping up all the bits on the pan. Put it back on the heat and whisk in the cream and let it thicken. Whisk in your reserved bouillon (1/2 a cup) and let it come up to the simmer. Remove from the heat and add half of your grated cheese. When it melts, gently fold your scallops in. Season with salt and pepper. Now here is where you would divide the mixture into your shell dishes set out on a cookie sheet. Melt your 2 tablespoons of butter and stir into your breadcrumbs. Sprinkle some of the breadcrumbs onto the top of each dish and then the remainder of your cheese. Put them under the broiler just for a few minutes (watch it like a hawk here!) until the cheese is melted and golden brown. Et Voila! Serve it up and enjoy my friends! This recipe is a dinosaur, just like me, but oh so delicious!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Eggplant Parmigiana

Isn't life funny? Four and a half years ago, I was working as a waitress in a corporate box store restaurant (which shall remain nameless) that "specializes" in kitschy, mostly frozen Italian fare. Their claim to fame was unlimited salad and bread, so you can imagine the kind of clientele that sauntered up to the trough. The place made me viscerally hate pasta and wedding soup, and don't even get me started on chicken parm.

Today, I work in a fine dining independently-owned Italian bistro. It's elegant, modern, and serves many fine wines. We have a chef, and a sous-chef. It's impeccably clean. The only thing they keep in the freezer is homemade gelato. And they don't serve chicken parm.

They do serve melanzane alla parmigiana though (eggplant parm, y'all) and it's one of the most delicious things you could possibly enjoy for $8 (or $12 if you aren't staff). I decided to recreate it at home, with pretty good results. I still recommend you go to Casa and try theirs though - it's a smidge better than mine, and you might run into Dan Aykroyd or Doug Gilmour.

First, the ingredients:
- One large eggplant will feed two people with a little left over
- Italian style breadcrumbs. Make your own with parsley and romano cheese if you want, but you can buy them pre-prepped.
- Two eggs
- Milk
- Buffalo mozzarella. The good stuff. Don't be cheap.
- Tomato sauce. Again, make your own if you're Giada Di Laurentiis but if it's just a Tuesday, buy the jar.
- Olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees while you slice your eggplant. There are a few ways to structure an eggplant parm, but this is the best one I've encountered: lop off the top and the bum of the eggplant and then slice it lengthwise into very thin sheets. Like, eighth of an inch. Leave the skin, it's fine.

Lay out the slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast it in the oven for about fifteen minutes until it starts to turn golden brown. This is a very important step, because eggplant is very bitter and sinewy if it's not cooked through.

When roasted, leave the sheets aside to cool. Slice your buffalo mozz into sticks about a half inch in diameter. Meanwhile, beat two eggs with a quarter cup of milk and pour the bread crumbs into a pan or dish. When your eggplant slices are cool, dip them into the egg mixture and then into the breadcrumbs, thoroughly coating all sides. Place the stick of mozz at the top of the eggplant slice, and then roll it up like a yoga mat around the cheese, tucking the end underneath. Set it into a casserole dish. Repeat it with all the eggplant and cheese until you have a bunch of little roll-ups of eggplant and cheese in your casserole dish.

Spoon some tomato sauce overtop of the rolls. Not too much, or it will make the breadcrumbs soggy. Place into the 400 degree oven for about 20-30 mins or until the cheese is sufficiently melted. If you love cheese, put a little extra mozz on top for the last five minutes in the oven.

Serve the eggplant rollups alongside some green salad and a glass of red wine. Excellent vegetarian winter meal. Hearty and easy!
In the pan, ready to eat! 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Good Karma Shrimp

The beautiful shrimp.
I have had an incredibly wonderful week. Like, of all the 1, 448 weeks I’ve lived, this is surely a Top 10.

There are several reasons for this, but it mostly has to do with the Hopes and Dreams contest I’m in, put on by CBC Radio One’s “All in A Day” show.

Most people in Ottawa know me as an advocate for women’s rights and safety in our community. But when All in A Day offered listeners a chance to tell them about a secret dream, I jumped at it. I told them that I would like to have a cooking show. As you know, the LadyGirls love to write this blog, but I’d love to showcase our recipes on television. Often, many of my blog posts come from the script I narrate to my dog as I prepare dinner (you never get too old to make-believe you’re on TV!)

My entry submission photo, courtesy of LadyGirl Kelly
The best part of this opportunity is that this is all part of CBC Ottawa’s holiday charity drive "Day Of Giving", where they raise money for a local charity, Shepherds of Good Hope. As one of the finalists, I have until midnight on Sunday, November 24th to raise as much money as I can for the Shepherds of Good Hope. CBC’s All in A Day top fundraiser will have their dreams come true- meaning for me, I’ll finally be behind the camera sharing our recipes with people!

What is truly incredible is the amount of support I've received from friends and family in this experience. I am so grateful for all the wonderfully philanthropic people I have in my life.

Shepherds does amazing work in our community. Just the other day, I was talking to a close friend of mine who slept outside for a night to raise money for another organization, and I asked him how it was. He pointed out an important fact- for him, it was just one night. He had a sleeping bag, a tent, and knew that in the morning, he would be eating a catered breakfast. Obviously, that’s not the experience of the city’s homeless. He thought the key to understanding was the concept of, and I agree, hopelessness. Shepherd’s provides Ottawa’s homeless with hope- and the secure knowledge that they have somewhere to go when times get tough. In reading some of their client stories, this was quote was particularly poignant and really resonanted with me:

I clearly think I' a chef already
Suddenly, it was Christmas Eve.  Martin asked me if I knew what was happening tonight and I shrugged my shoulders.  There in the darkness of the parking lot were burning barrels and I could hear carols being sung by a choir all bundled up for winter chill of the evening.  It was Christmas Eve Mass for the homeless complete with a huge manger scene.  I found my way across the street and stood mesmerized. Someone handed me a cup of hot chocolate and I listened to what the man in the robes was saying about not losing hope.  It was as if he was talking just to me.  I was in this crowd of the poor and the homeless together.  I heard what he said and I believed.”

So many stories start out with people who have lives much like mine or yours. But one thing can happen where it all falls apart. When I reflect on the experience of the clients of Shep’s, I can’t help but think, “That could so easily be me.” It could be any of us. 

Please consider donating to the Hopes and Dreams contest. It’s a win-win: You give, CBC gives. You win with good karma, and the Shepherds of Good Hope really wins. Please click here to make an online donation.

So here’s a lovely recipe for your holiday season.

I made this shrimp as an appetizer for our Thanksgiving meal at my father’s house. It’s taken basically directly from this recipe, and I hardly changed a thing. You need:
  •        package of frozen shrimp (ideally with no shells or tails, but if your father was the one to do the grocery shopping, cleaning frozen shrimp shells with your sisters is a fantastic bonding experience)
  •         3 tablespoons soy sauce
  •        2 tablespoons chili sauce
  •        2 teaspoons sesame oil
  •       2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  •       1 teaspoon sugar
  •        2 tablespoons olive oil
  •       4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  •        1 pinch freshly-ground black pepper
  •       1 scallion, thinly sliced

 Mix all the ingredients, with the exception of the shrimp and the oil together. You can let this sit for as long as you need to. When you’re basically ready to eat (because this comes together quickly) fire up a big pan and get it nice and hot with the oil in it. Toss the shrimp with the sauce in a bowl and put into the hot pan. Sauté until the shrimp is pink, and serve immediately.

Season with love, warmth and hope for a year full of blessings.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Cream of Mushroom Soup

 When I say to you that I have mushrooms growing in my house, I am neither exaggerating nor joking. I legitimately have enough of a leakage problem that some rather ambitious agaricus bisporus have sprouted up near my balcony door.

I am horrified by this. HORRIFIED. What does it say about someone to have mushrooms growing INSIDE their home? Please don’t judge me. I keep a very clean home, really. I know you must have visions now of me living like someone out of Hoarders, just pleading with the counsellors to let me keep just my favourite 27 cats, but it isn’t like that.

I am now waiting for my homebuilder to come and deal with this under the warranty, but in the meantime, being someone who doesn’t let a little fungi get her down, I decided to make a beautiful wild mushroom soup.

(NB: This soup was not crafted from the very mushrooms invading my home. Do not eat wild mushrooms, ever. Especially ones hearty enough to take root in a cement floor. Unless you enjoy visits to the emergency room with potentially lethal consequences.)

Start with some chopped mushrooms, I used cremini. One package of them should be fine. In a big pot, add some finely chopped leeks and sauté in butter until soft. Add a few cloves of sliced garlic and let that get soft. Then deglaze your pan with about a cup of sherry and reduce by half.

Now add your chopped mushrooms, some fresh thyme with the leaves picked, and enough chicken stock to cover the mushrooms. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes, until everything is soft.

Puree the mixture with your hand held blender, and then add a cup of cream. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring up just to the boil again and serve nice and hot. Preferably in a home without poisonous spores filling the air.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Devils on Horseback

Let’s talk about hipsters. Fans of irony, clothing created ethically without ethics and, perhaps ironically, being like every single one of their very individual friends. (Internet, do not email me if I’ve misused the word “irony” here. If Alanis didn’t care, neither do I.)

My best friend and I once had a discussion about whether or not we were hipsters. (My best friend is definitively not. She wears J. Crew every single day.) I was having a harder time identifying myself. I did have that U-Back dress from American Apparel, but on the other hand I shopped at the Gap just as regularly. I like to listen to Bon Iver (maybe that’s too mainstream to be hipster now), but I also have Women and Song vol. 1 on regular play (this may make me a middle-aged woman, but “Good Mother” is just SUCH a kick-ass song). I read Vice magazine, and Glamour. We concluded I was just shy of hipsterdom.

But I appreciate irony like everyone else, and I am a particular fan of Instagramming my food in Kelvin or Walden, and so perhaps in my late twenties, I am entering that dreaded “aging hipster” phase, which basically terrifies me. Luckily I live in the suburbs, so I think I’m safe (although I do have lots of room to brew my own beer). Anyway, who cares about all this hipster business when the 70’s had some awesome food trends? I think we should bring them back, in a totally ironic and fresh way.

Here on TLGT, (that is awesome, I should hashtag us- #TLGT) we appreciate the classics. Our Vichyssoise recipe would be an excellent example of this.  So what if that recipe came from the day when you had your husband’s boss for dinner? It’s still fresh and delightful. You know what else is goddamn delightful? Devils on Horseback. Dates, blue cheese, bacon (but I used prosciutto, because we know how I feel about bacon) and a nice, boozy sauce. What could be better? Nothing.

Preheat your oven to 350°. Start by slicing your dates in half and stuffing them with blue cheese- I used a nice sheep’s milk Stilton, and that was fabulous, but you could do anything. Ideally, you want a fairly salty cheese, to go with the sweetness of the dates. Wrap it in prosciutto, because we are re-vamping classics, so something has to be fresh and new. Pop those in the oven for ten minutes.

Now, cognac is the traditional pairing, but they don’t sell that at the Wine Rack, they only sell $10.00 sherry there, so that’s what we are going to use. Don’t drink it though! Just simmer it down in a pan with a little sugar until it reduces and forms a nice, sticky glaze.

Plate your little devils in a fresh way- but I kept the 70’s toothpicks for a little hit of kitsch. Drizzle with the sherry glaze. These are probably ironic enough to bring to the next hipster Ugly Sweater party that you go to, and you can all sit around and play Scruples while you eat the Devils!

Editor’s Note: I may have listened to “Good Mother” 828 times while writing this blog.  

Friday, 25 October 2013

Red Velvet Cake (Special Guest Blogger!)

I'm a new member of the blog, Diane's sister. I only rear my head now because I don't cook, at least nothing more then what a box of Shake 'N Bake offers or Hamburger Helper. But God love my family and my husband of 28 years, they never complain, they are happy to have a meal in front of them. 

I also don't bake; I find it more hateful than cooking. The whole general idea of the kitchen and everything in is not something that interests me. However this one night, this one crazy night, I was reading a People magazine and I saw a Cake Boss recipe for a red velvet cake.... from scratch. I'm not even sure why I lingered on the page; normally I would have flipped it in disgust because why would I ever bake a cake, especially from scratch? I think the fact that it was a "red velvet" cake caught my eye. They seem to be really in style and sexy these days and since I like to stay hip and cool, I lingered. And then I thought, "Why Joanne, WHY can't you attempt something like this?"

And the non-baker in me responded, "I'll tell you why you silly bi-atch, because you don't own a mixer, cake pans or one single ingredient required for the mix". I wasn't going to be deterred. I tore the page from the magazine and threw it to the floor, determined it would happen. And then it became Bailey's birthday a few weeks later and I had to commit. And so I forged ahead to the grocery store with my list in hand. Visiting the baking aisle of the grocery store was like Jacques Cousteau visiting uncharted waters in the South Pacific. It was foreign and it was scary. I caught a premix for a red velvet cake out of the corner of my eye and I reached for it and stopped myself. NO, I was going to do this... and guess what, it turned out magnificent!! And P.S.- I borrowed my mother's cake pans and mixer but have since bought my own. So here's what you need.

1 1/4 c vegetable shortening
2 c sugar (it says additional for parchment, but I did not get parchment, I had to draw the line)
1 tbsp unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder (I used no name, it was fine)
4 1/2 tsp red gel food colour (I could not find the gel, I used liquid)
3 c cake flour
1 1/4 tsp fine sea salt (not sure why sea salt, but I didn't question the boss)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 tsp white vinegar
3 extra large eggs
1 1/4 c buttermilk
Your favourite cream cheese frosting (I used Betty Crocker and thanked the Cake Boss I didn't have to make the icing from scratch too!)

1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (9x2 in) round cake pans and set aside.
2. Beat shortening and next 8 ingredients in a large bowl (make sure it's LARGE!) with electric mixer on low speed until blended and then on medium-low for 1 min. Add eggs individually, beating one minute after each egg. (Prepare for the mix to fly all over the kitchen as mine did... it gets better when the buttermilk goes in)
Add the buttermilk in 2 portions, beating just until blended.
3. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until cake begins to pull away from the sides.
4. Cool cakes on a wire rack for an hour... and this is where it says to put them on parchment paper, which I did not do, I threw them on a plate and iced it up!! If I could do this at the age of 50 with no baking experience, anyone can. So give it a try!!!