Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pulled Pork Sliders - Part 2 and Blue Cheese Coleslaw

has been a busy, busy week and I had a great time with our friends last night.  Lots of food, lots of wine, lots of good times.  The Pulled Pork Sliders were a great hit, and I just realized I still needed to tell you all what to do with your pork after it marinated with the spice rub over night.

Well, it is pretty simple.  Put it a slowcooker, set on low, and go to bed.  Yep, that`s pretty much it.  Ok....I add in a small bottle of a porter beer to the slowcooker (the one we used came in a stubby and was called Black Irish Plain Porter), but anyone will do.  A chocolate porter works very nicely or even a Guinness.  It is best, but not essential, to flip the pork over once during cooking.

And when you wake up, this is what you will have waiting for you:

Drain the pork well - as you can see on the plate above, there will be a lot of fat in the liquid in the slow cooker and you do not want that.  I use two forks to shred or pull the pork, removing any skin or visible fat as I go.

Drain any liquid from the slow cooker - you definitely want to keep this to moisten the pork.  I usually pour it into a gravy separator to separate out the fat from the delicious brown liquid that is a marriage of pork and porter.

Add back in the de-fatted liquid from the cooker, and then the BBQ sauce (about half a cup at a time), seasoning with salt and pepper as you go.

What you will end up with looks something like this:

Serve the pork on large or small buns.  You can top with coleslaw or serve it on the side.

Here`s a great recipe for Blue Cheese Coleslaw, that started as a Bobby Flay recipe, and then went through the Sandra mill.  It also works very well as a potato salad dressing with a few small changes.

Blue Cheese Coleslaw

1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tbsp  Dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 package coleslaw mix
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled - you can add more if you like


Combine all ingredients in a very large bowl. Stir well to coat. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pulled Pork Sliders - Part 1 (Spice Rub and BBQ Sauce)

Every summer I seem to be taken over by a particular dish or a particular ingredient and it ends up becoming a central focus of whatever we are eating either at home, camping or at the cottage. Last year was the summer of blue cheese. It made its way into everything from coleslaw, to potato salad (I'll post that baby one day soon - it is awesome) to topping our steaks.

The summer of 2010 was the summer of pulled pork for us. I tried recipe after recipe trying to find the perfect combination for us. I found I prefer a good bbq sauce the vinegar sauce that many recipes called for, and that also rubbing the meat with spices and letting it sit over night added dimension to the tastes. Once we ate the Beer Bistro pulled pork sandwhich (It is one of the best in Toronto), we also started adding a chocolate porter beer to our slow cooker instead of a bit of water.

So the recipes that follow are a compendium of recipes pulled from here and there, adjusted for my tastes and ingredients removed in favour of friends with certain allergies (like garlic). 


3-4 lb. pork shoulder or other well marbled cut

Spice Rub 

1 tablespoon mild paprika 
2 teaspoons light brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika 
1/2 teaspoon celery salt 
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt (optional) 
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
1/2 teaspoon onion powder 
1/4 teaspoon salt 

Combine the mild paprika, brown sugar, hot paprika, celery salt, garlic salt (if using), dry mustard, pepper, onion powder, and salt in a bowl and toss with your fingers to mix. Rub the spice mixture onto the pork shoulder on all sides, then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 3 hours, preferably 8, or even overnight if possible.

BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 medium-size onion, minced 
1 clove garlic, minced (ommitted for this recipe) 
1/2 cup ketchup 
1/2 cup tomato sauce 
3 tablespoons cider vinegar, or more to taste 
3 tablespoons soy sauce 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1 teaspoon of your favorite hot sauce, or more to taste 
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke, or 2 tablespoons meat drippings 
2 tablespoons molasses 
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, or more to taste 
2 tablespoons prepared mustard of your choice 
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
Salt to taste 

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion (and garlic if using) and cook until softened but not brown, about 4 minutes.

Stir in the ketchup, tomato sauce, cider vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, hot sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, black pepper. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little water.

Remove the barbecue sauce from the heat and addi salt to taste and more cider vinegar, hot sauce, and/or brown sugar if needed; the sauce should be highly seasoned. I find this combination to be perfect for our tastes - it is tangy and has zing but T-Rex doesn't complain that it is too spicy (too spicy?!?! whose kid is he really...can't be mine....)

Transfer the barbecue sauce to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature. The sauce will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for several weeks.

To be continued tomorrow when the pork is ready to be cooked.  Pictures to follow.....

Monday, November 22, 2010

Recipe Test: White-ish Hummous Perfected

After several attempts and tests, I have finally arrived at a recipe for a "white hummous" for my holiday party table.  As with the other hummous recipes I have posted, I am using the term hummous very loosely.  In fact, this one really has no relation to hummous at all.  And it really isn`t white either.  Actually it is kind of caramel coloured.  Oh well.  My first attempt made use of organic canned white kidney beans. I found the resulting texture way too mushy and smooth, and I was looking for something a bit more rustic. In my second and third attempts I used dried white kidney beans, which I soaked over night and then cooked in lots of water for what seemed like an eternity the next day.

Dry beans do tend to expand to about 3 times their original size once soaked, so you need to factor this in when measuring out your beans to soak and cook. Basically, this means planning that about 1 cup of dried beans will yield about 3 cups cooked beans, 2 cups of dried beans will yield approximately 6 cups of cooked beans and so on....

Before soaking the dried beans, I recommend placing them in a colander, so you can sort through them and remove any tiny pebbles or other miscellaneous debris, and then rinse under cold water. You then need to soak most beans in three times their volume of cold water for 6-7 hours before cooking.

Once the beans have soaked, drain and rinse them, and add 2-3 times the volume of the beans in cooking water to the pot. Bring the water to a slow boil and let cook for approximately 60-90 minutes or until the beans are tender. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the beans you are using.

One important thing to note is to NOT add salt to the beans while you are cooking them, as this will cause the beans to harden. Also don’t add any acidic acid ingredients (such as tomatoes, vinegar or wine) until the beans have cooked through and are soft. Once your beans are cooked, you can cook with them right away or freeze them for future use.

White Hummous with Caramelized Onions & Thyme

1.5 cups cooked white kidney beans
1/4 cup chicken stock
2-3 spigs of thyme, pulled and finely chopped (rosemary is nice here also)
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large cooking onion
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a small to medium sized frying pan over medium-high heat. Peel, half and thinly slice onion. Add olive oil to the pan. When a drop of water sizzles when dropped onto the pan, add onions and stir to coat with the oil. Add a pinch of salt to the cooking onions, as salt can aid to draw the moisture out of the onions and cause it to evaporate, thus speeding the caramelization process.

Continue to cook onions, stirring frequently, watching the onions become softer and their colour become browner. This is a good thing. Brown stuff = flavour. Add in cloves of garlic and continue cooking. If onions and garlic start to stick to the pan, reduce heat slightly and add in a few drops of water. Continue cooking until onions are very reduced in size and quite brown and crispy but not burnt. Remove from pan, and set aside to cool slightly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine kidney beans, thyme, chicken stock and caramelized onions. Process until all ingredients are combined and desired texture is reached, approximately 1-2 minutes.

Serve with pita chips, lavash or whatever other cracker you have on hand. Enjoy!

Recipe Test: Chicken Skewers with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

Well I am back!  My knee is feeling a bit better though it is a lovely colour of black, blue and purple and I have felt the pressure of being on my feet quit a bit this past weekend partaking my annual pre-Black Friday shopping trip to Grove City, PA.  Ice, Aleve and a glass of nice white wine will help ease my pain LOL.  I always knew that I would suffer for fashion, but I didn't realize until recently that I would suffer for the sake of cooking also!  The show must go on and I do have a party to prepare for and I do not like serving un-tried recipes to friends.  

This recipe is kind of a combination of two different chicken skewer recipes I found on http://www.epicurious.com/ which is one of my favourite sites to find new recipes ideas on.  As usual, I ended up taking what I like from one recipe, combining it with what I like from another and then throwing a bit of "Sandra" into the mix for interest sake.  I really like the flavours of balsamic vinegar, rosemary, figs and black olives together.  If you threw in blue cheese, I probably would be the happiest camper around to be honest.  

Chicken Skewers with Rosemary & Balsamic Vinegar

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips for skewering
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 3-4 sprigs of rosemary (2-3 tbsp)
  • 4 tbsp. fig preserves (I used President's Choice Fig & Black Olive Tapenade)

Cut each chicken breast half lengthwise or on an angle into 6 thin strips. Thread each strip completely onto 1 skewer, leaving at least 1/2 inch of skewer exposed at 1 end. Divide skewers between two 15x10x2-inch glass baking dishes, stacking skewers if necessary.  Pour oil into bowl. Whisk in next 5 ingredients. Pour marinade over chicken. Marinate 1 hour at room temperature, turning often, or cover and chill overnight if possible.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Remove skewers from marinade and arrange on 2 large rimmed baking sheets; reserve marinade. Bake chicken until just cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to platter.

While chicken is cooking transfer reserved marinade to medium saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced in half, about 15 minutes. Cool marinade slightly and strain if desired.  Brush reduced marinade over chicken right before serving.  Garnish with additional rosemary sprigs if desired.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Recipe Test: Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa

This recipe is once again courtesy of BH&G Appetizer magazine, where I also found the beet hummous recipe.  Their recipes seem to be well tested and consistent, which is very good, so I find myself only changing a few things here or there for personal preference.

The only complaint I have with BH&G recipes is their reliance on canned ingredients. The beet hummous recipe called for canned or pickled beets.  Huh?  The roasted ones were soooo much better.  In this case, the orginal tropical fruit salsa recipe called for fresh or frozen papaya (you can get frozen?) and canned pineapple.  Blech.  Reminds me of my mother-in-laws ham with pineapple circles, maraschino cherries and cloves.  Shiiiiiiiver.

Anyway, the shrimp recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of Jamaican Jerk seasoning.  Jerk pork is one of my favourite things to eat, and living in multi-cultural Toronto, I live withing 10 minutes of probably 6 or 7 jerk places.  The ones people talk about in Toronto are The Real Jerk (Queen East), Albert's (St. Clair & Vaughan), Orlandos (Old Weston Road and St. Clair) and my favourite...Mr. Jerk.  But you HAVE to go to the Mr. Jerk in the strip mall at Lawrence and Keele Street not the one on Eglinton.  In my opinion it is the best in the city.

The only commercially produced Jerk I love is  Bakayawd Jerk Seasoning. To me, it is on par with what we get at Mr. Jerk.  It is made by Charlie Cheung, the husband of my friend Lauren, whom I worked with for years.  Small batches and kick-ass flavour!  Others like Grace or Walkers Wood but only Bakayawd really works for our house.  Anything else is inferior.

For those not familiar, "jerk" refers to both a spice rub and a particular cooking technique.  Everyone who makes jerk spice has their own recipe, but generally, jerk is based on a combination of allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves, cinnamon, scallion, nutmeg, thyme, garlic and salt and pepper.  Jerk spice can be applied as a dry or wet rub for many different types of meats, including goat, chicken, pork, fish and shellfish.

The cooking technique of "jerking", has evolved over time from using pit fires to old oil barrel halves as the container, which remain one of the most popular cooking methods for jerk in Jamaica. Most jerk in Jamaica is no longer cooked in the traditional method in pit fires and is grilled over hardwood charcoal in a steel drum jerk pan.

Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit

2 pounds large frozen peeled shrimp (up to you whether or not to remove the tails)
1 tablespoon Jamaican jerk seasoning of your choice
1 small fresh papaya, seeded and chopped (I substituted a mango as I HATE papaya) about 1 cup
1 cup fresh pineapple, chopped
1/4 cup roasted red pepper
1/4 cup sliced green onion (about 2 onions)
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic (optional)

Thaw shrimp.  Rinse and pat shrimp dry with paper towels.  Place shrimp in a resealable plastic bag.  Add jerk seasoning.  Seal bag and turn to coat.  Marinate for minimum 30 minutes or longer if you can.

For salsa, in a bowl, combine chopped mango, pineapple, roasted pepper, green onions, lime peel, lime juice and cilantro.  Cover and chill until ready to serve (can be made several hours ahead).

When ready to serve, sautee shrimp in a hot skillet with a small amount of oil until the shrimp turns pink and the tales start to curl, approximately 2 minutes.  Serve in a martini glass, with salsa as the base, topped with shrimp, and then a bit more salsa for colour.

Alternavitely, thread shrimp on skewers to cook (wear gloves so that the habanero pepper does not get absorbed into your skin....trust me on this one).   Grill shrimp for 1-2 minutes per side until they turn pink and tails curl.  Serve on a platter on skewers with salsa sprinkled over top.


Recipe Test: Cousin Ann's Cheesy Artichoke Squares

I am always in search of vegetarian options for appetizers and this is a great one that my friend James's cousin Ann has made for us a few times.  Just for the sake of something different, I decided to swap out the 2 cups grated cheddar cheese the recipe called for, for an equal amount of swiss cheese.  Gruyere would be good too.  Or Gouda.  I know Parmesan is great with artichokes, but I have a friend who is highly allergic so it is not an option.  Otherwise the ingredients are as we've had previously, though I did modify the directions slightly.

I admit I have a hard time working through anyone's recipe without changing things slightly.  I am like the lawyers I work with who immediately pick up a red pen before they can start even reading a document and they just HAVE to change something.  Ok....I admit....I do the exact same thing.  Except it is a pencil - red pens are too grade school.  I can't review a marketing ad or memo without a pencil in my hand.  Guess the same thing applies to recipes.  In fact, now I am wondering how the addition of crisped proscuitto or pancetta might add to the recipe...hmmmm.....next time.  For now, vegetarian, garlic free and no parmesan or goat!!

What I also like about this recipe is that it is the kind of recipe it is easy to always have all the ingredients on had for, so you can just throw it together to take to someone's house following an impromptu invite or for make it quickly for unexpected guests, as it can be served hot or at room temperature.  To date, this dish  is extremely easy and is always popular at parties.  Cousin Ann is constantly asked for the recipe.

Artichoke Squares:

2 small jars marinated artichoke hearts (or 1 large jar),
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped (unless Ann Marie is coming over)
4 eggs well beaten
1/4 c dry bread crumbs (I used panko which I prefer to regular bread crumbs)
1/2 tsp salt
a couple of grinds of black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried basil
2-3 drops hot sauce to taste (I used my beloved Marie Sharpe's from Belize)
2 cups grated cheese (cheddar, gruyere, swiss...all work well)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray the inside of a small lasagne sized pan (8x 11) with with non-stick spray.  Drain marinated artichokes, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.  Chop artichokes into small pieces.  Add reserved artichoke liquid to a heated skillet.  Add onions (and garlic if using) and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  In a mixing bowl, beat eggs well, stir in onion/garlic mix, breadcrumbs, salt, oregano, hot sauce and pepper.  Add in half of cheese and all the chopped artichokes.  Pour mix into pan and spread out evenly.  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes.  Cool slightly and cut into squares.  Serve either hot or at room temperature.  Makes 24 squares.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Recipe Test: On haitus for a few days

I had hoped to be blogging today about my wonderful meat-based appetizers that I planned to test, but instead I am sitting on my butt with a very badly injured knee.  I can barely stand or walk, let alone cook so I have to stay off it for a few days to let the swelling go down.  I am a bit concerned as I can barely put pressure on my knee and the swelling is over the knee-cap even though the bad scrape I got when I fell is below my knee.  Ice and advil is the recipe of today LOL.

Hopefully I'll be back with good stuff in a few days.  Please, please, please.....


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Edamame Hummous - Success is mine!

So after a bit of re-jigging I have a successful recipe for Edamame Hummous.  It has a bit of heat to it, thanks to the wasabi but I like it.  This dip has the flavours and balance I was searching for.

Edamame Hummous

2 cups frozen shelled edamame beans
1 clove garlic puree
2 green onions, chopped - white parts only
1/2 tsp. grated lime zest
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger or ginger puree
1 tsp wasabi
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cook edamame according to package directions.  Drain well.  Reserving some edamame for garnish, put remaining beans in a food processor with garlic, green onions, lime zest, mayonnaise, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and wasabi.  Puree until smooth, scraping down sides of food processor bowl several times.

Scrape dip into serving bowl and garnish with reserved edamame, sesame seeds.  Serve with rice crackers, baked wonton wrappers or vegetables.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Recipe Test: White Hummous and Edamame Hummous

So, as is the case in every test kitchen, some recipes sing and some just tank.  Neither of the ones I tested tonight sang to me exactly the way I hoped they would.  The White Hummous was a bit cloying and kind of bland.  I think that qualifies as "tank". I am thinking that white beans from a can do not work well in this preparation, so I am going to go back to the drawing board on this one and cook them from dried next time and see how that works.  Also, believe it or not a grocery store in downtown Toronto did not have fresh rosemary today, so I had to settle for dried from my pantry to test with.  The results were "meh" at best.  But I will try it again, with better ingredients and hope it flies.

The Edamame Hummous recipe, however, has potential.  But I made so many modifications to the base recipe I started with to tweak the flavours to what I wanted to taste that I am not sure that I managed to catch all the changes in the right proportions.  So, I will go back to the drawing board on this one and try it again.  I think I will trust my instincts on this one and substitute sesame oil for the tahini (sesame paste), substitute wasabi for the crushed red pepper the recipe calls for (explain that one please!), add less lemon (or maybe substitute lime? lemongrass?), and add more ginger.  I am thinking a small amount of Thai fish sauce might be interesting also, as it adds depth to an Asian dish in much the same manner as anchovies to for Italian, but you have to be careful because it is strong and can be overpowering.

We shall see what the hungry Compliance Officers at my work have to say about tonight's experiments.  Worst case, I end up with a "duo" of dips in the Xmas colours of red and green.  The beet hummous got a resounding "yes" from across the board today.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Recipe Test: Roasted Beet Hummous

One of the first things I’ve decided I must research for the Xmas Open House is some new takes on dips, mostly because dips and spreads that are not mayonnaise-based do tend to hold well on the table of an open house and lend themselves to being served on an assortment of vessels. Given the variety of dietary issues I have to consider among my guests, I will have to give some thought to said vessels, but chances are the selection will include items such as traditional crackers, gluten-free crackers, cucumber slices and maybe some kind of baked vegetable chip? Suggstions? Also, you can generally make them about a week ahead and store well sealed in your fridge until a few hours before party time.

So as a starting point for the recipe test, I have decided to do a trio of hummous. There is just something I like about saying a “trio” of this or a “trio” of that. Sounds chic before I even lift a finger, LOL. Given that we are in the midst of the holiday season, and it IS a holiday party, I decided to see if I could stretch my culinary concept of hummous a bit and come up something in seasonal colours (white, red and green) to keep things festive.

I have also enlisted some help in my test kitchen. He is an up and coming chef with the most serious knife skills any soon to be 10 year old could possess. He has a palate that I find quite intriguing and discerning for someone so young...his favourite things to eat include unagi, roasted beets, salmon and apparently my ribs. Sadly he hasn`t completely given McDonalds the heave-ho but I have faith. And he certainly has embraced the one food rule I have in my house - try it before you say you don`t like it. 

Tonight, the first recipe to be tested will be the “red” in the traditional Christmas trinity - represented by a beet hummous. When I went to get beets this weekend, the red ones looked old, so I opted for some beautiful golden ones just for practice. I`ll find some nice red ones for the holidays.

One of my favourite tricks for hummous and bean spreads if I am using canned beans is to reserve the canning liquid, and use it as a substitute for oil in the recipe. It can basically eliminate the need to add oil and unnecessary fat in an otherwise healthy dip. Generally, once I’ve drained the canned beans I do rinse them, as I often find that adding back in some of the canning liquid can completely eliminate the need for further salting.

The below recipe started with the inspiration from this season`s BH&G Appetizers Magazine. It called for cannellini beans and a can of cooked beets. Talk about blech and boring. I made a modification to the recipe to use lentils, and I roasted 3 very large yellow beets in the oven yesterday to make the most of their natural sugars. Otherwise, the recipe is very good and the outcome was earthy but the taste of the beets shone through. T-Rex was quite surprised to learn he ate `horseradish` but was relieved to hear that no actual horses were hurt in the making of the radish.... :-)

Roasted Beet Hummous:

1 can green lentils, drained and liquid reserved
1 bunch beets, peeled and quartered, then roasted and cooled
1/4 cup tahini
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup reserved lentil canning liquid
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (optional)

In a food processor, combine lentils, beets, tahini, lemon juice, horseradish, garlic and puree until smooth. Add in reserved lentil canning liquid to aid in processing until hummous reaches the smoothness and thickness you like. I used the whole 1/4 cup. Scraping down sides of the processor bowl, add in parsley if desired and process to combine. Recipe will keep for about a week at this point, or maybe longer.

I`ll take this into work tomorrow for my second group of food tasters to comment on (Compliance Officers are really well behaved and very nice, especially when you feed them).

The second colour to be tested will be “white” (porobably tomorrow) so I have decided to use white kidney beans as my base. I know that rosemary, sage, thyme and basil work well with white beans, but in an effort to avoid duplication of flavours with my Butternut Squash Crostini, I am going to focus on just rosemary, mostly because I love the smell but also because it looks a bit like pine branches, and will hopefully liven up the otherwise dull white beans.

The Holiday Season Approaches

It suddenly dawned on me yesterday that is it less than a month to my now annual Holiday Open House.  The first year, we had quite a few friends over and kept the menu fairly simple and friends brought much of what was served.  Last year, I decided I need to make a full turkey dinner for 20.  This year, I want to take it to the next level but in a completely different direction.  With that in mind, I've decided to have a cocktail and appetizer event (I like the name `Dinnoire`) and have invited a number of friends from diverse groups.

As such, the month of November will be dedicated mostly to posts regarding me testing out new recipes for menu items leading up to my party on Dec. 4.  Hopefully that will give any friends and readers ample opportunity to learn from my mistakes and come away with some new and interesting ideas for this holiday season.

I also have a number of dietary issues that I have to build solutions for when constructing my menus.  Serious allergies I need to consider are: peanut, parmesan, asiago and feta cheese, garlic and gluten (luckily both individuals have sensitivity and not an allergy).  I also have a vegetarian and a border-line vegetarian to consider.   Dislikes of some are onions and green peppers.

Yesterday afternoon I flipped through my recipes, a couple of new magazines that I purchased at Costco (food hoarder's mecca), some recipe books that are all old favourites, and I consulted a few blogs that I have been following lately.

So here is the list of what I plan to test over the next month (some of these I have recipes for some I still have to hunt down and modify or come up with myself):

Smoked Salmon with Capers, Red Onion, Dill and Mustard Vinaigrette (many have had this already)
Tandoori Chicken Skewers (recipe required)
Mini Lamb Shawarma (from one of the mags)
Pulled Pork Sliders (our recipe)
Jamaican Jerk Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa (made with my friend Lauren`s husband`s awesome jerk)
Trio of Hummous - Edamame, Beet and White Bean and Rosemary (making these up)
Stuffed Baby Potatoes (need ideas here)
Stuffed Wanton Crips (thanks Big Girls Small Kitchens for this idea)
Avocado Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes
Stuffed Mushrooms of Some Variety (ideas again)
Endive Spears with.....who knows what (ideas accepted once again)
Flatbread Pizzas (I make a huge variety of these already)
Crostini - Butternut Squash & Sage, Onion and Gruyere and Roasted Cherry Tomato with Basil

I also plan on doing a cheese tray with probably 5 cheeses.  Need a few more substantial vegetarian ideas still.

So wish me luck!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guest Blog: Om's Lasagna

There are less than a handful of dishes that I make, that I can say are better than the owner of this blog. Probably 3 at the most. One of those is lasagna. It is also one of my favourite foods. I would think that I would include a small piece with my death row dinner. Again, my sister Jane was my mentor for this.

4 Cloves garlic
2 jars pasata
Basil (fresh is best)
Sprinkle of nutmeg
3-4 Cloves
Meatballs (see below)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Add olive oil to pot, with chopped garlic, sautee until brown.  Add all other ingredients, and bring to a slow boil.  Reduce heat to low, and add salt to taste.  Simmer for 2-3 hours.

1/2 lb of lean ground beef
1/4 lb of ground pork, as lean or not as you like it
1/4 lb of ground veal
1 egg and/or or panko bread crumbs

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix together. You really should use your hands. You just can't get a good mix using a spoon or fork. Some people prefer to use an egg to keep the meatballs from crumbling, but the panko bread crumbs add a nice flavour and texture. Once mixed well, roll into small balls. The diameter should be no more than 1/2". It goes much faster when the T-Rex volunteers to help. He is very good at it. Must having something to do with his tiny hands.

Now, you are ready to assemble the lasagna:

You can have as many layers as you have ingredients, but 4 layers of pasta is about right, especially when you use think noodles:

Layer 1 - Sauce
Layer 2 - Pasta (cover the sauce completely, with only a little bit of overlap)
Layer 3 - Sauce
Layer 4 - Pasta
Layer 5 - Meatballs
Layer 6 - Pasta
Layer 7 - Ricotta cheese
Layer 8 - Pasta
Layer 9 - Sauce

Cover with foil, and place in a preheated over (350). Cook for 1 hour.
Remove tinfoil, and add sliced buffalo mozzerella (thank you Sandra for that change), and put back in oven, uncovered, for 5-10 minutes. Watch carefully, when it has melted, turn on the broiler for 2-4 minutes. When mozzerella starts to brown, remove, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Guest Blog: Om's Homemade Pasta

When I was 22, my parents moved back north, and left their apartment for me, my sister, her roommate, and my future brother-in-law. Up to this point in my life, my cooking experience was basically limited to anything quick. Dinner time growing up was more about conversation (and with five kids, a lot of arguing), and food was just there to eat. Not that my Mom didn't put together a good meal, but we almost had a set weekly menu. It would be changed up, having chilli on Monday this week, and Thursday the week following, but hardly inspiring. And even though we lived on a farm for a number of years, with two acres of garden -which seemed twice as big when we had to weed it- veggies are hard to like when you boil all the flavour away. I only lived with my sister for another year, but I have to credit her for igniting a passion for not only enjoying food, but preparing it as well.

I always thought that I made a pretty good pasta sauce, but now when I look back, it was JUST passable. It was my Mom's recipe, and called for tomato sauce, ground beef, tomato paste, and garlic salt. Yes, I said garlic salt. I think later on, she sprung for some oregano, but only if it was on sale. It was shortly after my sister moved back in that she gave me my first lesson in making fresh pasta and sauce, and the importance in the ingredients used. She had the benefit of being able to bring home each weekend from her future in-laws, home made pasata. But of all the things she introduced me to, making pasta was by far the best.

When I moved in with a buddy of mine, my sister gave me a housewarming gift of a pasta maker. It was over 20 years ago, and I still have it, and it still works perfectly. This week, I was asked to make lasagna, which means bringing out the machine. Making pasta really is easy, but it takes time, and it makes a mess. All that you need is eggs, olive oil, flour, and counter space. Fortunately, we have a new table come island in our kitchen now that is a perfect work surface.

To make a good pasta, you need to get a feel for the texture and density of the dough. The only way to learn is to work with someone while they make it, or trial and error. I have never measured what is needed, outside of the number of eggs to start with. Obviously, the more pasta you require, the more eggs needed. We have 2 lasagna pans, one purchased recently when we were allowed to once again enter a Costco. Twenty dollars for an enamel coated cast iron pan, branded by Wolfgang Puck. An excellent deal we couldn't pass up. Even though this pan was slightly smaller than the one I already have, I started with my standard of 6 eggs. This allows extra if you have tears in the sheets, or if you just want to make enough for a lunch during the week.

Homemade Pasta:
Add six eggs to a large bowl
Beat mercilessly
Add small amounts of flour (of your choice), and stir in with a fork
Keep adding flour and stiring until the dough starts to crumble.
Remove from bowl, and knead for 10 minutes
Wrap in a clean dish towel and let rest for 10 minutes
Slice the dough into pieces about 1/2" thick
Adjust the pasta maker at the widest setting
Feed each slice through, fold in half, and feed it through 2 or 3 more times.
As you feed it, stretch gently, careful not to tear
Adjust the maker one setting and repeat above. I like to feed it through twice at each setting.
My maker has 7 settings. For most pasta's, 6 is what I find the best thickness, and perfect for lasagna noodles.

You can let the pasta dry to use later, or, my preference, use it immediately.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Carrot and Ginger Soup with Indian Spices

 I had my second delivery of organic produce on Thursday.  Again the delivery box was full of produce from the United States!  Again, nothing against my friends south of the border, but I am starting to think that I'd rather buy something from a local farmer, organic or not, rather than have my broccoli shipped from California!

So in my box was another bag of carrots and some organic onions.  As I have said before, cold weather makes me think of soup, but it also makes me think of spices.  Some of my favourite flavours and smells are the ones associated with the spices used in Indian cooking.  

Usually I just make Carrot and Ginger Soup but today I thought I would take a slightly different twist on an old favourite and combine my need to use produce, with my cold weather hankering for soup with interesting spice combinations. Hence today's Carrot and Ginger Soup with Indian Spices.   

Spices play a very important role in Indian cuisine and were originally used in Indian cooking to not only for purposes of seasoning, but also to preserve food as refrigeration did not exist. I imagine also that the spices served to mask any unpleasant flavours or odours of "well aged" meats.  Also, many serve as the basis for home remedies and are used for medicinal purposes.

There are a couple of tips I have learned when it comes to using Indian spices that I will pass along.  First, whenever possible, use the seeds or whole spices and grind your own blends or masalas as they are called.  Second, for maximum flavour, toast the spices lightly in a neutral oil to release the flavours before use. However, in a pinch no one is going to die or lose an eye if you don't grind your own or toast them, so just do what you have time for - it is just cooking after all.  No need to be so serious.  Just to prove my point (if even only to mysel), I am just going to throw caution to the wind and toss all the ingredients into the slow cooker (except no oil will be needed) and put it on low while I enjoy a leisurely nap this afternoon.

Carrot and Ginger Soup with Indian Spices

2 teaspoon coriander seeds (or ground coriander)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil (or other neutral oil - not olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder or paste (preferably Madras)
2 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger or ginger puree
1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 bag (2 lbs) carrots, peeled, and cut into chunks (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime peel
1 carton chicken broth or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
Plain yogurt and chopped cilantro (for garnish)
Note:  I found that the carrots weren't as sweet as I expected so I added 2 tbsp of agave nectar to take the edge off and add to the natural sugars that seemed to be missing from the carrots.)

I accidentally also added 1 tsp of pureed garlic, thinking that the jar I selected out of the fridge was ginger.  Duh!  I am sure it will be fine.

Option 1:

Toss all ingredients in a slow cooker, turn low for 3-4 hours and go have a nap.  When carrots cooked and are very tender, cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth.  Return soup to pot. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick. Stir in lime juice; season with salt and pepper.

Option 2 for the more industrious:

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.  Add coriander and mustard seeds and toast until fragrant and the mustard seeds start to "pop" (about 2 minutes).  Grind coriander and mustard in a spice mill to a fine powder.  A mortar and pestle will also work but you might not get such a fine grind.  Alternatively, you can just use spices that are purchased already ground.

In a large pot, add carrots, onions, ginger, lime zest and all spices.  Add carton of broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until carrots are tender, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree in blender until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add more broth by 1/4 cupfuls if too thick. Stir in lime juice; season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with yogurt, fresh cilantro and serve.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Southwestern Tortilla Soup with Chicken

Well it is official.  We had snow in Toronto on Sunday.  Now, it didn't snow much or snow for long, but snow is definitely snow, and that signals the beginning of serious soup season for me.  There is definitely something soothing and comforting about eating a bowl of hot soup on a cold day, especially on a Saturday or Sunday for lunch.  I admit I have a bit of a thing about soup as a main course for dinner, even with sandwiches, but I find that concept easier to digest (haHa!) than the whole breakfast for dinner thing.  That one I do not think I will ever truly understand.  Why would you want bacon, eggs and pancakes for dinner...that one just escapes me.  Anyway...tonight is soup for dinner.

Food historians seem to agree that the origin of the word "soup" comes from "sop" and relates to the concept of soaking, or sopping, up.   Soup is probably as old as the history of cooking itself and has evolved in both sedentary and nomadic cultures, rich and poor cultures, and is the meal of the healthy as well as the sick.  Soup = comfort.

I do love all kinds of soup...Minestrone is a family favourite, esp with T-Rex and the Teen.  I like Chinese Hot'n'sour Soup (one of the few ways I like tofu) and I make a really nice Asian inspired Carrot with Ginger.  I like fish chowders - both  New England and Boston style.  And I like cold soup in the summer, like Gazpacho from Spain or a Purred Cucumber Soup with Yogurt.  I even made a cold soup a few summers ago with watermelon.  I have yet to try making Borscht, but maybe that can be a project for another weekend..  And French Onion soup, Vichyssoise...oh and Boulibase....mmmm.  I haven`t made that one in a while either.  Basically what I am saying is that the combinations are endless, and well... I love soup.

So today`s soup is my quickie version of Southwestern Tortilla Soup with Chicken.  When I say quickie in this context what I mean is quick to put together with few ingredients.  This soup can be made on the stove top with equally good results, but I do like the concept of just putting a few ingredients in my slow cooker and walking away for several hours to come back to a wonderful lunch, or leaving for work and coming home to dinner ready made.

Southwestern Tortilla Soup with Chicken

1 large chicken breast (I put mine in frozen)
1 jar of your favourite salsa (I used Presidents Choice No-name Medium Salsa)
1 carton chicken or vegetable stock
1 can creamed corn (This is the secret ingredient, trust me!)
half a can of black beans or kidney beans
6-8 corn flour tortillas
Your choice of toppings:  avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, etc.


Combine all ingredients, except tortillas, in the slow cooker and stir.  Set to high if you want lunch within a few hours, or low for all day cooking.  That`s it.  If you have a can of green chiles that is a nice addition or even a chipotle.  As our kids were eating this, we went just as is.

Before serving, using a knife or scissors (a la Nigella) cut tortillas into long strips.  Toast under the broiler or in a toaster oven until crispy.

To serve, place a pile of tortilla strips in the bottom of a large soup bowl.  Ladle hot soup over top.  Sprinkle with your favourite toppings and serve.