Monday, 19 January 2015

Broccoli: A Week in Leftovers

I am not quite sure what happened to last week. I did cook. We did eat. I did think about writing those things down. It didn't happen. Still, not wanting to let perfect become the enemy of the good, let's see what we ate.

We had leftovers of the Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake for lunch (delish!) and for dinner I made Cream of Broccoli soup from the Joy of Cooking. If I had to recommend one desert island cookbook, it would be the JOC. There are basic recipes for just about anything you can think of, so it's a great jumping off point. The recipe calls for celery, but as I had none and didn't want to go back to the store, I used leeks instead. I doubled the recipe and it fed us lunch for the rest of the week. If you're nervous about cream, use a little at a time until you're happy with the level of creaminess. I grated Gruyere cheese on top as a garnish (delicious and melty) and served a Paratha (frozen, from No Frills) on the side.

Cream of Broccoli soup for lunch, so that worked out nicely if I do say so myself. In hunting for the lone frozen Paratha in the freezer the night before, I found a frozen flank steak and took it out to thaw. One of my favourite things to do with flank steak is Beef and Broccoli (are you sensing a theme?), so we had that. Fortunately, we only required from the store more broccoli.

Beef and Broccoli - My notes:
-Flank steaks are often heavier than a pound, and it's not really something you ask your butcher to...butcher, so aim for a 2 pounder and freeze the rest (label your ziploc with the contents and date).
-If the meat is still a smidgen frozen, it will be easier to slice very thinly.
-This doesn't seem like much marinade, but it's fine.
-I never have Chinese rice wine. I sometimes have sherry, so I'll use that, otherwise I use a combination of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce.
-I never have Chinese black vinegar. I always have balsamic.
-My instincts screamed this is not a sufficient way to steam broccoli. It totally is. Go with it.
-I use canola or sunflower oil as my high heat cooking oil, but you could use peanut too. 2015 is the year I learn the difference between oils!
-I tend to use a wok-ish pan for this dish, which isn't large enough to allow for the meat to spread over just one layer. Don't sweat it. Give it 30 seconds, toss, 30 seconds, and so on until the meat is no longer pink. These are thin strips, so they cook fast.
-D likes extra soy to add at the end, but that's very much to taste.
-We serve with white rice. I love brown rice, but it tends to take more time to cook than this recipe allows. Still, I think brown rice has more texture and flavour, so if you can time it right, by all means use brown. You could also use udon, soba, or rice noodles.

I love it when a plan comes together! I had beef and broccoli for lunch, David had soup, and then beef and broccoli for dinner since I was out.

More soup! And frankly, this is the moment when your interest in any particular leftover wanes, so it was just as well we finished the soup. Given that it was a Friday and it had been A. Week. We decided to have Chinese food for dinner. Might we recommend Danforth Dragon?

We were out of soup at this point but I wanted to keep the streak going so I made another one! Melissa Clark is a big part of the NYT Cooking team now, but I first read about her cookbook Cook It Now and instantly had to have it. It's arranged by month and since she's in New York, it really does match the season and sense of what you might want to eat at different times of year. The recipe for 'Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions' is for February, but given none of the ingredients are hard to find any time of year, it makes for a really wonderful and filling soup.

Fragrant Lentil Rice Soup with Spinach and Crispy Onions - My notes
-Ignore the implied order of cooking and make the onions while the soup does it's final 30 minute simmer. Her method for charring the onions seems fussy, but it does work, so stick with it.
-Speaking of onions, do them all in one go. My tip for preventing onion tears? Wear contact lenses, if you have them.
-DO use the spinach but you can pass on the mint and the lime wedges.
-Another thing I love about this book is she offers her own notes at the end of the recipe, and among them are that the soup itself is really more stew-y, so add more broth if you like a thinner soup. As well, she suggests just stirring the leftover onions into the leftover soup.
-She recommends homemade paratha (and gives a recipe), but I've never been brave enough to try. We buy frozen from No Frills and they are delish.

We had Sian's Famous Lazy Eggs Benny for breakfast (recipe coming soon) before we started, gulp, moving our stuff to my mother-in-laws. For a variety of reasons, we've decided to take her up on her generous offer to live there while we figure out our next move. Given that my MIL is a fantastic, albeit slightly sparer than I, cook, it'll be interesting to see how the cooking shakes out. I've already declared my intention to unpack my favourite small kitchen appliances.

And that brings us to today. I've got an amazing Ragu Bolognese on, which I can't wait to tell you about tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Mise en Casserole

Sometimes, a food blog really just speaks to where you're at, and this month that's Smitten Kitchen. Almost every recipe she's posted the month has had me at the grocery store within a day or two to make it. Yesterday's was no different. Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake? Mushrooms? Yes. Marsala? Yes. Pasta bake? Yes and another very emphatic yes.

I'm trying to get better about my mise en place (Anthony Bourdain declares it his religion). A big part of that is reading the recipe carefully, from start to finish, so you can determine what needs to be prepped when. With this recipe, you can get the pasta going, and while the water is boiling and the pasta cooking, prep everything else. And for the reverse, it took me 5 minutes to hand wash all the pots and kitchen tools I used while the casserole cooked, leaving me 20 minutes to read my book.

My notes:
-Sadly, I do not own anything resembling a stovetop-to-oven dish of the required size, so there was no one-pot action going on here.
-Loblaw/No Frills sells a 254g package of sliced mushrooms (I paid $1.99). You'll need 340 grams here, so I bought two packets and used them all (to avoid the aforementioned rotting crisper drawer).
-The thing about mushrooms is they suck up any oil or butter you have in the pan the second they touch it. Don't be alarmed. Just keep an eye on them and after not too long they'll start to sweat their own liquid.
-Marsala is a must on my bar cart, because it's useful in so many recipes and brings so much flavour. The LCBO has three types shelved in the fortified wine section, all under $15. If you buy a bottle, it'll last, so don't be shy.
-I started buying bouillon cubes. Then I bought pre-made chicken broth. Then I discovered Better Than Bouillon. You can buy a large container of the chicken or beef at Costco for about $5. I've seen the other varietals in various grocery stores. My tip here is to pull 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water out before you drain it and add the bouillon to that, as the hot water will help it dissolve and the pasta water already has flavour.
-I actually think you could add spinach or kale to this, folding in shredded greens as you mix the pasta and sauce in the dish. 
-As I've mentioned previously, 3 tbsps is not enough parsley for me to pull the trigger. We didn't miss it.
-If you don't already, start building in cooling time to your cooking time. There's little less unpleasant, eating wise, than burning your mouth on the first bite.
-For D and I, this fed us dinner with enough for leftovers for lunch. If you want it to feed more than four people, I'd recommend cooking a protein like chicken or pork to go on the side, as well as the salad she mentions.

(A quick note on my food photography: I am no food stylist or photographer. That said, I am hoping to work on improving the photos you see here. As it gets lighter later that will be easier, as it's currently pitch dark when I make dinner.)

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Pantry Cooking: The Freezer, the depths of despair

I can't write you a post about last night's dinner because all I did was binge read a new mystery series on the couch while it was prepared. Of the two of us, D has a stable of recipes he cooks from while I'm the one more likely to veer all over the place. One of his specialties is Fettuccine Alfredo and I had requested it even before I indulged in my carbonara. I can't say much about the making of it, as I prefer the remain in the dark about the quantity of butter and cream, but it is based on this version by Michael Smith. What I can say is that it doesn't keep, so make only as much as you intend to eat. I microwaved the leftovers for my lunch and the oil from the butter separated in a most unappealing manner.

Lunch is going to be interesting, because D and I have never both been home during the day for any prolonged period of time. There are people, like my sister, who are proponents of the idea that lunch should be one's main meal with dinner as something lighter. But even with the time now to do that, I'm not sure it appeals. I can't get excited about soups and stews before noon, somehow. Still, with two adults home for three meals a day, we will need to be more organized about keeping the pantry and fridge stocked. Given our impending move,  I'd also like to deplete the pantry of some of it's longer term residents, the specialty ingredients that I bought for a specific recipe or things like brown rice which I seem to buy every time I intend to make it because I can never remember if I've got enough.

Then there's the freezer. We all have the best intentions when it comes to our freezers. We'll stock them with essentials! Double the recipe and freeze the rest! And yet somehow it just turns into a freezer burned jumble of unidentifiable Ziploc bags and yoghurt tubs that all eventually end up in the trash anyways. I'd very much like to empty our freezer organically before we move, and not by way of the green bin, so knowing D would require lunch (and not separated fettuccine), I thawed some pizza dough.

I do genuinely believe that pizza dough is worth keeping in the freezer, particularly if you mark it as such and keep it near the front. We use Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe from Bon Appetit. It makes six balls of dough, which in turn make six pizzas. For just the two of us, D and I would make two pizzas with leftovers, so short of a huge pizza party, you'll end up with extra dough. It freezes well, although when cooked from frozen the dough is a little denser.

As for pizza toppings, a well stocked fridge should provide all you need (short of the mozzarella, which is harder to keep around for long periods of time). Instead of a tomato sauce, I made a quick mixture of cherry tomatoes, chopped olives, and chopped pepperoni with a little olive oil. You could add roasted red peppers or artichokes in here if you had them around. I had some fresh mozzarella from Costco as well, so that went on top. Three minutes in a 500 degree oven, spin, and another 3 minutes and you've got a pretty decent pizza on the table, although this one won't be winning any beauty contests (or food photo contests).

Useful kitchen appliances:
-We keep our pizza stone in the oven all the time, as it helps regulate the temperature. Plus, we can never remember to take it out when it's cool and don't remember until the oven has warmed up again. You certainly don't need a pizza stone, but it makes for a deliciously crispy crust.
-I have a big wooden board for rolling out dough that is invaluable for baking. It lives under the sink most of the time, but makes bigger projects like this a snap.

-On top of the pizza stone, we use one of those pizza pans with the holes. I spray it with canola oil before the dough goes on to make it extra easy to slide the pizza off.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Single Food - Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

Guys, life is hard right now. I've actually taken to reading the obituaries in the Globe and Mail for the inevitable person who died way too young to remind myself that it could be worse. And obviously even the quickest glance at any news outlet affirms that (Paris, etc). Still, the self-pity party force is strong here, and there's only one cure: pasta.

I was on my own for dinner last night and having already declared my intentions to not leave the house, I had a somewhat limited pantry at my disposal. Of course, the purpose of the well-stocked pantry (of which I am a fervent believer), is that you will always have sufficient ingredients to make something delicious. All I wanted in the world was spaghetti alla carbonara and, with some modifications, I was able to make it happen.

Nigella's recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara from Feast has one of my favourite headnotes ever. It is reproduced in part on her website.
 Yes, I know a whole pack of spaghetti is far too much for two, but I want that whole panful lugged back to the bedroom.  No namby-pamby mimsy little plated arrangement.  So you'll have leftovers?  Just work up an appetite for them later.
So we'll blow right past the fact that instead of eating this romantically in bed, I ate it alone in sweats on the couch and focus on how delicious and easy it is.

My notes:
-I had no pancetta, but I did have bacon. Since bacon is greasier, I didn't cook it in olive oil.
-I had no vermouth, so I used Prosecco instead. Totally worked.
-I had no double cream (or what Canadians would call whipping cream), so I used half-and-half instead. Honestly, I didn't notice a discernible difference.
-I had no spaghetti, so I used bucatini. Totally acceptable swap.
-My digital scale has met some terrible tragedy rendering it virtually useless, so I eyeballed a lot of the qtys here. It worked out, but see below my pitch for a digital scale.
-I regularly forget to reserve pasta water, so if a recipe calls for it, I try to put a measuring cup somewhere obvious (like on top of my oven mitts or in the strainer), so I don't forget to grab some water first.
-Insert standard disclaimer about people who shouldn't eat raw eggs. Assuming you can, don't be nervous about the last step. As long as you take it off the heat, it'll all come together without scrambling.
-Nigella's note in Feast says it can serve two (or four, less excessively). I halved the recipe for one and it was a lot, although I did eat it all (I'm not ashamed). That said, you could comfortably halve it for two people, particularly if you served something else along-side it.

(Sorry, not sorry)

Useful kitchen appliances:
-I will be replacing my digital scale posthaste, as it's indispensable for cookbooks like Nigella's that use weights rather than cups etc. It's also far superior for baking, where relying on weights is much more consistent.
-A kitchen can't have enough sets of tongs. In this case, a set of rubber edged ones would be useful if you're using a non-stick pan so you don't scratch it.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Do as I say, Not as I do - Chicken Noodle Soup

If a Winnipeg girl tells you it's cold outside, it's bloody cold outside. Although she'll start muttering about Winnipeg being a dry cold and at least it's sunny all the time. And not only was it cold, but it was a tough day too, with the realities of being a grown up feeling at times agonizing and insurmountable. So naturally, when I saw Smitten Kitchen's recipe for her 'Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup' I needed to eat it. Today.

Before I tell you about it, I wanted to talk quickly about my goal in writing here. In the long term, I'd like to talk about food in the grander scheme of things, including food policy, food security, and books. But right now, I just want to tell you about what I'm cooking, and how to make it work in your kitchen. I'll always use other people's recipes, so think of me as a recipe tester, making stupid mistakes and testing products and appliances so you don't have to. I'll only tell you about things that are delicious and worth recreating yourself, and hopefully tell you how to make it easier.

Back to the soup. I had planned to get it started earlier, but a last minute lunch with a friend had me at the grocery store at 3pm. Our local butcher had no chicken backs, necks, or other bones. Deb (of says you can use 4 lbs of chicken wings instead, but that's a lot of wings and, well, I chickened out and bought half as much. Which was dumb, because chicken wings are really not that expensive. At that point, I should have abandoned the project until I had time to go to St. Lawrence Market for the proper carcass bits, but like I said, I needed this soup today. In the end, it was truly delicious and exactly as soul fulfilling as hoped, but not without pitfalls along the way.

My notes:
-If you can't get backs/necks and don't have carcasses in your freezer (as Nigella says you should), just buy the chicken wings. In bulk they aren't that expensive and the flavour is well worth it.
-I've decided that I'd rather spend a bit more money not to waste food, and as a result I've started buying carrots and celery in bulk (which is to say, individually) as needed. Three large carrots and three celery stalks cost me $2, but there's no extras moldering in my crisper drawer.
-Speaking of moldering, how many tiny cans of tomato paste have you bought, used a tbsp of, and thrown away? Buy tomato paste in tubes, my friends. It lasts longer and is only marginally more expensive.
-Three leeks cost me $4.49. They come in bunches and I only needed one. If you have no further leek needs, consider skipping them and use shallots or onions instead.
-Unless you're planning on leaving the broth in the slow-cooker all day, don't bother. I tried her slow-cooker method and it just can't get the temperature up as quickly as you want for satisfying results. I ended up moving it to the stock pot early and it was a pain. I wish I'd started it there. We would also have eaten two hours earlier.
-I accidentally only bought two chicken breasts instead of three. It was plenty of meat.
-Be conservative on how much noodle you use in direct correlation to how much broth you end up with. I cooked my broth down pretty aggressively to get the flavour I wanted, but the requisite amount of noodles ended up sucking all of the broth up. Delicious, yes. Soup, not so much. 
-Unless you have another immediate need for parsley, don't bother buying it. It'll just melt into a puddle of green mush in your fridge.
-Build some time for the soup to cool into your timeline, otherwise there's going to be a lot of burnt tongues.

Seriously though, this is a gorgeous recipe and well worth making. My pot of soup actually looked like the pictures and tasted like a dream.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Begin as you mean to proceed

I finished my MBA on December 5th, but between job interviews, a three week trip to Winnipeg, and another trip to Pennsylvania, today was the first day of the rest of my life. I don't have a job (yet) and  we are being forced out of our apartment by our landlords, so I have no idea where I'll be in two months. I'm trying to treat job hunting like a job that involves me sitting at the computer from 9-5 but, well, we've still got to eat. And on zero salaries right now, we have to be a little bit bit frugal (this is not in my nature).

For dinner last night, we had Pinch of Yum's Hoisin Pork with Noodles. I'd made it once before, and it was a big hit, and somehow seemed ideal for a cold night after a long day of trying to get myself organized.

A couple of notes:
-She says the prep time is 15 minutes. This is a lie, as it includes an "overnight or for at least several hours" marinate. It's totally hidden in the second step and a quick glance at the recipe will miss it. That said, I marinated for 30 minutes this time and it was still delicious.
-This is a very sweet sauce, and go figure as it's got 2 tbsps of honey, 1 tbsp of sugar, and 3 tbsps of hoisin sauce. I think you could easily cut those quantities in half if they make you nervous.
-I skipped both the hot pepper and the peanut butter. Still delicious.
-My grocery store is inconsistent in their sliced pork selection, so this time I got 'Pork Loin Rib Chops Boneless' at $13.21/kg. It worked out to about $7 of pork, which I sliced myself.
-I think the amount of leftover sauce after marinating will depend on how long you marinate, that said, both times I've had lots extra. We're sauce people, so a quick internet search revealed if you bring your marinade to a boil for a few minutes, you'll be good to use it as a sauce.
-Test your rice noodles before you drain them. I'm paranoid about overcooked noodles, but rice noodles seem to take longer than advertised.
-I think cucumber and bean sprouts would also be great veggies to add here.

Useful kitchen appliances:
-For mincing garlic and ginger, I rely on my Chopper Grinder. It's small, efficient, and easy to clean after use.
-You can live without a food processor, truly, particularly if you have a Chopper Grinder, but this Cuisinart Food Processor makes tasks like grating carrots super quick (and you're far less likely to grate a finger).

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Summertime Dinner Party, No Ovens Required

It's summer! You've got a deck that was made for entertaining, right? But maybe it's so hot that you can't fathom turning on the stove. Maybe you kind of already blew your budget for the week. And maybe you're kind of over your standard BBQ fare. Never fear though, I've got your back. Here's the menu:

Cocktail Hour
New-School French Onion Dip with chips and crudites (from Food52)

First Course
Pan-Roasted Radish and Anchovy Crostini (from Melissa Clark/NYT)

Main Course
Fish Cakes and Tartare-Style Sauce (from BBC Good Food)
Broccoli Slaw (from Smitten Kitchen)
Israeli Couscous

Ice Cream!

The beauty of this menu is that it the work happens either way in advance or right before you serve. Here's how that might shake out:
Prep the onion dip and chop crudites. This can be done in two parts, but caramelizing the onions should happen a few hours before the party starts.
Prep the fish cakes and tartar sauce. The fishcake mix and the sauce can go into the fridge into you're ready to fry.
Prep the broccoli slaw. This can be completed 100% and tossed in the fridge until it's time to eat.

Once the onions have cooled, it takes 5 minutes to prep the dip, but this can be easily waiting for your guests. This is your chance to sit down and enjoy a drink (I like to ask guests to bring a signature cocktail). The first course takes 10-15 minutes to put together, so as the dip bowl is getting empty, excuse yourself to the kitchen (don't forget the bread needs toasting). Once you've served the Crostini, you can comfortably relax with your guests until you're ready to eat the main course (which will take about 20 minutes to plate, so your call). Start the couscous first, then get the oil heating to fry the fishcakes. Depending on how many you made and how big your frying pan is, you may need to do two batches. The couscous should be done just as the fishcakes are done.

Some Recipe Notes
-French Onion Dip - once the onions have cooled, consider chopping them up a bit, otherwise the strings can be a bit unwieldy when it comes to chip dipping
-Crostini - if you only plan to make 8 crostini, consider halving the amount of butter and oil for the sauce, otherwise you'll end up with more then you can manage - the recipe as it is yields about a baguettes worth of sauce, so consider increasing your radish quantities accordingly
-Fish Cakes - we cooked the fish on the grill, which is just to say that I don't think it matters HOW you cook your fish (or if you cook it in milk) -  we used a cookie cutter to shape the cakes to a uniform size, which makes cooking them a lot easier - we use vegetable oil for frying, but you may have a preferred oil, just don't use olive oil as it will be too heavy
-Tartar sauce - consider doubling the recipe, we had 9 fish cakes and really only enough sauce for 6
-Broccoli slaw - as long as your broccoli is bite sized, it doesn't matter how it's chopped - this recipe yields more than you realize, so for four people the recipe as written is plenty
-Israeli couscous - look, you don't need to serve Israeli couscous per say, but I do think it's really important to provide a carb or starch if you're drinking a lot
-Ice Cream - I'd just march everyone to the local ice cream parlour or frozen yogurt-erie, it was a lot of food, so you'll probably need a walk