Sunday, 24 February 2013

Jambalaya

Thank God for Hank Williams and iTunes! I had a lot of dental work done yesterday and I really wanted to lay an extra beating down on myself and have a great big pity party last night. And who better to listen to for hurtin' songs than Hank Williams right? Hahah I know you're thinking "who the hell would pay to download Hank Williams songs?" Well I also pay for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass songs too, so that's proof that I cannot be dragged out of the 1960's! But the point of the story is that while I was listening to Hank, the song Jambalaya came on, and I practically jumped out of my chair for the excitement. How could I have forgotten all about one of my favourite dishes of all time? The self pity party ended right then and there and I set about doing a pantry inventory to make sure I had all of the ingredients.

This is a fast and easy dinner that you can make through the week. Since I'm making it for Sunday dinner, I'm going to add chicken, shrimp and sausage, but you can use either chicken or shrimp if you prefer. Mario makes his own sausage so I always have it on hand, but you can use any sausage you like. Most people use Andouille.

The spice blend is the key to the flavour here. You can buy Emeril Legasse's Bayou Blast, but it's expensive so I always make my own. You can make it and just store it in a jar for future use. But be smarter than me and label that jar with Creole Seasoning. I make a lot of different spice blends and put them in a jar and forget to label them. So I've made Asian inspired dishes that taste exactly like Mexican dishes and so on. Really a disaster!

So for the spice blend, you'll need:
3 tablespoons of paprika
2 tablespoons of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of onion powder
1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon of dried oregano
1 tablespoon of dried thyme
This makes about a cup of spice blend and you only will use a couple of tablespoons for the recipe.
Notice how I omitted salt? You can add a tablespoon if you like, but I don't add it because I use my own jarred tomatoes which contain salt and if you use canned chicken broth, that's pretty salty too. So I leave it out and if I need salt at the end, I season it then. Just put it all in a jar and put the lid on and shake it up. Now label it!

For the Jambalaya, you need:
12 or so peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 pound of boneless, skinless chicken, breast or thighs or both cut into bite size chunks
Sliced sausage of whatever you like, about a cup
1 1/2 tablespoons of your spice blend
a splash of olive oil to saute the vegetables
1 small finely chopped onion
1 green bell pepper chopped
3 stalks of chopped celery
Tomatoes. You can use fresh if you like. Chop about 3 of them. Or you can use canned as well. 1 small can.
4 cloves of chopped garlic
2 bay leaves (which you will remove at the end)
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
a splash of hot sauce (depends on how hot you want it!)
3/4 cup of long grain rice
2 1/2 cups of chicken broth

Saute your onion, green pepper and celery in the olive oil for about 5 minutes and add the garlic.
Add the chicken and sausage and a tablespoon of the spice blend. Stir it around for a minute or two to brown the chicken. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce and rice. Stir all that around and let the rice pick up some flavour from the spices, a minute or two and add the chicken broth. Bring it up to a boil and reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes with the lid on. Stir it every so often so it all doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

While this is simmering, add that other 1/2 tablespoon of the spice blend to the raw shrimp and let it absorb the flavour. Add it in to the pot and stir it around and let it simmer for about another 5- 8 minutes or until your shrimp are pink and cooked Leave the lid off for this and let the broth thicken. Don't cook them too long or they'll get tough.  Serve it with some nice, crusty bread.


That's it! Very easy and very delicious. This is a great one to bring for lunch the next day because it even tastes better the next day when you re-heat it. If you don't like spicy heat, omit the hot sauce altogether.
I'm so excited for you to try this one! I should go to the dentist more often!

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Cold Caprese Pasta Salad

Are you ever, like, sick to death of eating everything? (Sorry for the Valley Girl there, I felt like a 17 year old saying such a thing.) Sometimes I feel like I get into this rut of eating the same stuff over and over and then I’m so bored of it I can’t get motivated to eat. I’ve been feeling that way all week. It doesn’t help that last weekend I had an amazing foodie weekend, with my dad’s homemade cheeseburgers on Friday, Mummy’s Pozole for Kelly’s birthday on Saturday, and then a great dining out experience at a restaurant in Toronto on Sunday, which included some great company as well.

Looking around my own kitchen today was not inspiring. So, this forced me to go to Loblaws and wander around for about an hour trying to get inspired. I ended up just craving something fresh and light, whilst tasting delicious. My go-to recipe for that is Caprese salad, but we all know that’s a bit played out. (Yet, not played out enough to be ironically retro, so therefore it is not suited for our blog.) I also love pasta because it’s so easy, but I could not get into a sauce for pasta. I was literally just standing in Cheese and Olive eating free samples of smoked Gouda when inspiration hit- I would make a cold Caprese pasta salad. (Just for your information, the delicatessen employees will start to give you cut-eye if you eat more than three free samples of cheese.)

This recipe is totally easy, so easy, in fact, I’m not sure it technically qualifies as a recipe at all (I’m having “Late Night Bacon” flashbacks here). Boil pasta (angel hair is my preference for cold salads, anything else gets too clumped together like pottery or something when it’s cold) and then rinse under cold water. Chop up some tomatoes (buy heirloom so it at least looks like you put some thought into if you’re serving this to other people); stir in some Bocconcini pearls and chiffonade some basil. Top with olive oil, salt and pepper, and let the flavours of the ingredients do the talking. So simple and so delicious.

This basil chiffonade is now our very first LadyGirls’ Table video! Now, do not judge the video quality- it’s our first try! But it does make your visits a little more spiffy, doesn’t it? More to come soon!

video

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Pozole

Kelly celebrated her 25th birthday this weekend and I wanted to make her and her friends a fabulous dinner. But before we get to that, I have to digress for a minute to tell you where I got the inspiration for this meal. I've mentioned my friend Sandra Jayne and her Four Kings restaurant in San Antonio before. Oh but I didn't tell you the half of it! To really understand what I'm talking about, you have to look at the Four Kings facebook page. Every Monday morning, they post the menu for the upcoming week. A soup of the day and a sandwich of the day. And if that isn't sexy enough, they tell you what's in the dessert case! And that's not all - they also post an inspirational message every day that encourages you to be the best person you can be on each and every day. I live for these posts. I'm not kidding you. One day the post was later than usual coming and I had the selfish audacity to go on their wall and ask for it! Oh sure I know they had to prepare for 300 lunches and get ready to open, but I really can't settle in to my day until I get my Four Kings fix! Hahah and sometimes Mario calls me at work to see what I want for supper and I always say "I want Four Kings for supper." He knows that means I'm coming home to make dinner and it's going to be something I saw on their page and decided to try to copy it the best I could from the description. Here is an example of a daily special (hope you don't mind I'm quoting you here Sandra) "Medium rare black angus sirloin roast on a pretzel roll dressed with horseradish cream and roasted red pepper, thinly sliced red onion, garden fresh tomato sliced, chopped cornichons, baby spinach and colby jack cheese." Whoa! I don't have to tell you they make all of their own bread. Where do you get the talent to think up all of these marvellous creations, and then describe them in salacious detail like that? And just to tantalize your taste buds and raise the bar another notch, they post PHOTOS of their decadent desserts! Food porn is what it is. Sexy doesn't begin to describe it.

But what really inspires me the most is their daily soups. Just one example - white bean, tomato and basil. And I've learned they must have their best sellers because the one that caught my eye was the pozole verde which comes up every week or so. I didn't know what that was so I decided to do a thorough investigation on the internet. I decided to try the pozole rojo or the red version for my first attempt at this. I learned this is a celebration dish in Mexico. And having made it, I can see why. It took hours and hours. Next time I make it, I'll find something meaningful to do with the 3 1/2 hours it takes to make the broth instead of pacing the floors and worrying about how it will taste! And it doesn't come together until the very end, so don't be discouraged. I nearly threw it in the garbage several times before I got to that stage. Now to make the authentic version of this, they boil a whole pig's head. Well that's just the kind of thing that Mario gets in trouble for all the time around here, so no way I was going to make the authentic version! And also my LadyGirls are not pork lovers at the best of times, so I had to walk a fine line here. Bailey once said to me "I just don't dig on the swine mummy." So pork isn't usually on the menu when they come home. I decided to meet this recipe halfway. I got some pork neck bones and a 2 pound shoulder roast. It turned out to taste just wonderful and everybody loved it. So do the head if you like. But it isn't necessary either.

Also this soup has toppings your guests add themselves. Like the Vietnamese Pho. Awesome. And it begs the question - which came first, the Pozole or the Pho? Who cares? They're both amazing.

You'll need:
7 or 8 dried chilies de arbol
4 or 5 dried ancho chilies
4 or 5 dried guajillo chilies
1 head of garlic
Salt to taste
2 pound pork shoulder roast cut into 4 or 5 smaller chunks
2 pound of pork neck bones
1 tablespoons of cumin
vegetable oil
1 chopped onion
1 box of chicken broth (I had to use beef broth because I thought I had chicken, but no. I'm old and can't read soup boxes anymore apparently)
1 tablespoon of dried Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
2 large cans of hominy

And for the toppings:
1 thinly sliced sweet onion
2 limes (cut into wedges to squirt into the soup)
Chopped cilantro
Thinly sliced radishes
Thinly sliced cabbage
Hot sauce
Sliced avocado
More oregano to sprinkle


We'll start with the broth and it takes about 3-4 hours. Use your big soup pot.
Saute the chopped onion in the vegetable oil for about 5 minutes and add 7 or 8 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Add the neck bones and the meat and the cumin and let it brown up for a few minutes.
Add the box of soup broth and about 12 cups of water. I just filled up my Kool Aid jug and poured that in. You need a lot of broth for this soup because it tastes so amazing that people will ask for seconds.
Add the oregano and the bay leaf. Bring it up to the boil and then turn down the heat and let it simmer away with the lid on for about 3 hours. When the meat is fork tender and starts to shred, strain it all into another big pot so you just have the liquid broth. I used a fine strainer to make sure all the bits were out so my girls didn't freak out on me.
When the meat has cooled enough to pick through it, pull out all the good stuff and it should shred between your fingers and add it back to the broth and throw away all the other stuff that looks too ugly and gross to put in the pot. Be sure to throw away your bay leaf too. They are not edible as far as I know because every single recipe in the world tells you to throw away the bay leaf. Now that's your broth done so far and we're going to come back to it in a minute.

While your broth is simmering happily away during that 3 hour window, do your chilies. You need to cut the tops off them all and slice them open and scrape out all the seeds. Boil some water in a pot and take it off the heat once it boils. Add the chilies and put the lid on the pot and let them sit for half an hour to rehydrate. Then put them all in the blender or food processor with 3 cloves of garlic, a teaspoon of salt and about 1/2 - 3/4 of a cup of the liquid and puree them until smooth. (this is the rojo or red part of your soup). Strain this mixture through a fine sieve and discard the solids keeping only the smooth puree.



Now back to the soup. Add the 2 cans of drained and rinsed hominy to the broth with the meat and add 3/4 cup of the chili puree. More if you want more heat or less if you don't. I found it to be too mild with 3/4 of a cup so I'll add more next time. Bring this back up to the boil and reduce the heat and simmer it uncovered for about half an hour. Now I need to give you a warning here. If you have never smelled hominy simmering in a broth before (such as me), you are going to experience a sort of blissful state where you feel at one with God. I never wanted that aroma to end and I will never forget it. It was more amazing than orange blossoms in bloom which was my previous favourite scent. That will be your first clue of what's to come because when I tasted it, I nearly fell on the floor for the flavour. That's all I will say. You have to make your own to see what I'm talking about!

I refrigerated my soup overnight to let the flavours develop and served it the next day. I like to do that with meaty soups so I can scrape off the solidified fat that rises to the top of the pot. Just reheat it slowly and let it simmer for half an hour.  Prepare all of your toppings just before you serve it and let your guests add their own condiments. I think I did Kelly justice with her birthday dinner and she deserves the very best since she is my baby LadyGirl! Enjoy friends!



Friday, 8 February 2013

Southern Cornbread

           Today is a snow day and that is so exciting. Even for me, despite the fact I work from home and rarely leave my house anyway. (Well I do leave the house, I’m not some kind of shut-in. I just don’t HAVE to leave the house if I don’t want to.)

Anyway. Snow days are exciting and fun and they feel like a perfect excuse to not really work, but instead just lounge around and watch shows and eat. Which is exactly what I’ve been doing today. But I did have it in my mind to do a little cooking today, and I wanted to use my cast-iron skillet, which I haven’t used yet. (You may remember the skillet from Seasoning Your Staples

So, today I ventured out to the plaza, which was definitely treacherous. But, I was on a mission for cornbread supplies, and that is what guided my car into the Loblaws parking lot. And by “parking lot” I really mean giant snowdrift with cars strewn about in no obvious order.

I should mention at this point that I was also starving. None of the food in my house was appealing to me, so I decided I would just get something in Loblaws. By the time I arrived, I was so hungry and stressed that I just opted for a small package of potato wedges. Which I proceeded to eat immediately as I moseyed through the produce section.

Now, you would not expect to come across someone you know on a snow day such as this in the Loblaws. You would certainly not expect to come across a personal trainer that you happen to know. Absolutely, never in a million years, would you expect to come across said personal trainer whilst eating a free chocolate dipped strawberry sample and holding a fried potato wedge in the other hand. 

In case this is so far out of the realm of possibility for you that you cannot imagine how this might feel, let me take a moment to explain the feeling for you. It is akin to running into your ex on house cleaning day. You know, that day where you are about to scrub your bathtub, but you realize you’re out of the damn Vim. So you hop over to Shoppers, in your cleaning garb, hair undone, possibly last night’s mascara on your face, where you decide that you might as well grab other various embarrassing pharmacy items to go with that Vim. As you head to the checkout (up the family planning aisle, no doubt) you run into your ex, who is buying family planning products and looking very handsome. At this point, you attempt to drop the most mortifying items in your arms behind the Magic Bags and desperately try to smooth those sticking up bits of hair down.

He, of course, knowing how perfectly awkward you are, enjoys this sight and tells you how great it is to see you. You also say how great it is to see him, despite the fact you know perfectly well that if he is, in fact, looking at products in the family planning aisle, he is not wallowing in self pity on his couch every night, dialling your number and hanging up, drinking rye, and consulting a Ouija board on whether you miss him or not. Which is of course what you want your ex to be doing after you breakup.  Which is why this situation in Shoppers is not fun. Nor is it great to see him. You leave Shoppers vowing to never leave the house without makeup on again.

Oh. That’s never happened to you either? Well anyway. The situation was embarrassing, but not embarrassing enough to prevent me from eating a free sample of cheese when I came across it. My cashier was of course confused when she rang through the empty wedges box (which, I might add, I did not actually break the seal of. Instead, I pulled the wedges out through the sides of the box, one by one, because in my mind, I was going to make it home with those wedges to eat in the comfort of my own home at some point.) Mercifully, the cashier through the box in the garbage at her station, rather than making me bring home the empty box as a reminder of my chagrin.

On a cold day such as this though, I sometimes feel like cooking a summer meal, to make me forget that in reality it is -25 outside and pounding snow. For dinner, I’m making trout with cornbread and coleslaw. I’m using a recipe I saw on Southern Cooking classics and giving a slight adaptation of my own. (Mostly that I could not find self-raising cornmeal mix, so I’m using standard cornmeal with some baking soda thrown in. Surely this will suffice.)

Start with one and a half cups of your cornmeal (or cornmeal mix, if you can find such a thing) and a half-cup of flour. Add baking soda if it’s not self-raising. (I think. This is verging on baking and we all know how I feel about that.) Mix in a can of cream-style corn, a small tub of sour cream, 3 eggs and some chopped cilantro. I also would add chopped jalapenos if you want a little spice. I threw in a bit of sugar, salt and smoked paprika too. Why not?

Using your cast iron skillet, pre-heat your oven to 450° and once it’s heated, throw in your skillet for five minutes. Then I used some butter to grease the skillet, if you have extra butter that can only add to the deliciousness. Top with some cheddar cheese. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until golden and it pulls away from side of the pan. It was incredibly moist, no doubt from the creamed corn and sour cream.

My trout recipe basically consists of lime, cilantro, garlic powder, salt and pepper. You can find the full recipe here. With the easy-peasy coleslaw (read: pre-prepared salad mix and dressing) you have a delightful summer meal that will chase your snow blues away!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Cream of Asparagus Soup

We Canadians adore complaining about the weather. In fact it's our national pastime. And I guess we have a right to. God blessed us with so much! We have the best beer in the world. The best hockey teams. And our landscape is glorious, bordering on two oceans with the beautiful Rocky Mountains, the Canadian Shield and our gorgeous Atlantic provinces just to name a few. But I cannot tell you how badly our winters suck! Today it is minus 30 degrees outside. And the only good thing about it is that its too cold to snow. So no shovelling today. We take our small victories where we can get them! And the winter drags on forever and ever. With Mario away in his Motherland for a few weeks, I had nobody to complain to this morning. So I had to take action on my own to find a way to chase these winter blues away. And how better to do that than to make a nice, steaming pot of soup? But not just any soup. I wanted no reminders in my bowl that it's cold enough out there for flesh to freeze in 30 seconds. I wanted a soup that reminds me that spring will come eventually. And what is the best thing about spring? Asparagus!

So let's make some spring tasting soup! You'll need:
1 finely diced onion
2 stalks of celery
1 big bunch of asparagus
1/4 cup of butter
2 cups of chicken stock (If you use canned, watch your salt when you go to season) You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable stock and it will be just as delicious!
1 1/2 cups of milk or cream. I use half and half. Half the glory and half the calories of cream!
salt and freshly ground pepper to season.
Chopped parsley if you have any. I didn't and of course I wasn't about to venture out in the cold to get some.

Start by snapping your asparagus. Take each spear and bend it until it snaps in two. It will naturally break at the point where the tough part ends and the tender part begins. You should do this every time you prepare asparagus. Throw away the tough bottom portion. You can't use it for anything ever.
Now cut off all the tips and put them aside. They'll be the garnish.
Cut the remaining stems into 1/2 inch pieces.
Chop your onion and celery. Saute it in the butter on Med heat for about 5 minutes and add your chopped asparagus and stir that around for a minute or two. Add your chicken stock. Cover it and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Puree the mixture with an immersion blender or a regular blender until its very smooth.
Now here is a key part to the soup. WHISK in your cream. If you don't own a whisk and you've come this far on the blog, it's time to invest in one! They are available at any dollar store (Kelly!).
Bring it up just to a simmer where it starts to bubble, but for God sake, don't boil it!
Just before you add your cream, boil your tips in a separate pot in salted water for 5 minutes and drain them.
Season your soup with lots of freshly ground pepper and taste it for salt. It won't need much. Add a few tips on the top of each bowl when you serve it. And there you have it. A nice tasty bowl of spring in the dead of winter! Happy shovelling friends!