Friday, October 25, 2013

Ugly Pizzas

My friend Vanessa may have created a monster by introducing me to the 101 Tastes of Ottawa List from Ottawa Magazine. I don't plan to try the whole list (I'm not going to pay for a whole meal at The Whalesbone Oyster House on the off-chance that they will serve browned butter, which I can make at home.) and a lot of it is stupid (Kale?!) but it's a handy guide for narrowing down a lot of things to those worth trying.

Meanwhile, my friend Lucia recently gifted me some smoked ricotta that her parents brought back from Italy.

Sooooo delicious.
Number 92 on the 101 Tastes list is Pingue's Prosciutto (not from Ottawa, but whatever) that can be purchased at a great deli/butcher/grocer/baker called The Piggy Market in Westboro.

I don't know about you, but to me ingredients as delicious as these scream "Pizza!"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tri tip with chimichurri

I was feeling like a little something fancy on Friday night and decided Argentinian-inspired was the name of the game when I saw a tri tip steak at the butcher. I've had steak with chimichurri in the back of my mind as a possibility for a while now.

I couldn't find a recipe that worked for me, so I took what I know about Argentinian flavours (I know some but not all of the things) and went with it. I made a rub for the meat from garlic, salt, thyme, cumin, pepper, and oregano and my own rendition of chimichurri to top it.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Apple & Cranberry Breakfast Quinoa

Since the weather's gotten colder I've been digging hot breakfast. This happens every year.

Last year I was all about the cream wheat, but since I found pantry moths in mine a few weeks back I've sort of lost my appetite for it. I love oatmeal, but I love oatmeal buried in brown sugar and milk - great as a treat but not the healthiest way to start the day. Enter: quinoa.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mexican corn

Corn season has wrapped up, but the off-season stuff has gotten a lot better in the past few years, and darnit, I'm not ready to stop using the barbecue yet.

I've had a recipe like this one kicking around for a while and had been meaning to try it, but I like to use corn as a healthy starch with summery meals, and slathering mayo, sour cream, and cheese all over corn does not seem like the healthiest way to serve it. And is it really Mexican? I don't actually know.

What it is for sure is really, really good.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Easy White Chili

Chili is a fall/winter staple, of course, but it's good to have a variety to mix things up. I've been making white chili in the slow cooker for the past few years, but last night I decided to throw something similar together on the stove. Matt took a bite and declared it the best white chili I've made, so I figured I'd better write down what I did while I still remember.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Baked green tomatoes

Another depressingly short growing season has come to an end in Ottawa, but there is an upside: green tomatoes. When the weather is good I can't bring myself to pick them (since I only get a few red ones over the summer), but once all hope of that has been abandoned I'm ready for them.

Come to me, pretties...
I love the American south. The people are damn friendly and the food is damn good. I especially love fried green tomatoes with house- or home-made pimento cheese. I've even found somewhere you can get them in Ottawa.

Unfortunately I do not possess the metabolism required to eat as many fried green tomatoes as I'd like without consequences, so I've been trying for for a couple of years to come up with a healthy but still delicious approximation.

That day has come.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

#kitchncure Day 3: Gadgets and appliances

Gadgets and appliances. They are not my biggest problem - but there was room to improve because I know that a lot of the stuff I have I've been keeping out of guilt.

First up: drawers. They were already divided, roughly, into small stuff, big stuff, bigger stuff, and stuff under the stove. (I know, the cookie sheet on top of the "under stove" pile looks bad... but its purpose in life is to catch drippings under smoking meat, so don't fear.)


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

#kitchncure Day 2: Pantry edition

I saw the topic for day two of #kitchncure: the pantry. I let out a deep breath. As great as I felt about the fridge and freezer, I was hoping for a reprieve before we dove into dry goods. Because... well...

Dry stuff and counter stuff.     Spice cupboard.     Oils, sauces, vinegars, baking stuff.

Monday, September 30, 2013

#kitchncure Day 1: Fridge and Freezer Edition

You know how when you spend time traveling, things start to slip? Well, I've been home for something like three weekends since the beginning of May, and one of the things that's slipped is the kitchen. Cleaning it out and up has become a big job. The Kitchn Cure 2013 is just what the doctor ordered.

It's an online autumn group clean-up. It goes like this: you take "before" shots of your kitchen, especially problem areas. Each day this week The Kitchn e-mails you a "to-do" for the kitchen and you set aside about an hour to do it, then you photograph it and share for bragging rights.

I'm in for anything that will turn this job into bite-sized chunks. So I'm in.

Today's job was de-clutter and clean the fridge and freezer. Hoo boy.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Quick and easy: Eggs baked in marinara

It's cold in Ottawa. I finally turned on the furnace just to bump it back up to 20 degrees in the house. Coming from Southwest Ontario turning on the furnace in September seems crazy, but there you go. Brrr.

At any rate, yogurt was not going to cut it for breakfast this morning. I thought back to my favourite brunch when I lived in Windsor: eggs diablo at Rino's Kitchen and Ale House, and decided that the morning is a perfectly acceptable time to eat baked eggs - normally a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

I've tried to simplify this recipe further by putting the tomatoes and ingredients straight into the oven to heat up rather than starting with a sauce, but it's just not the same.

There are a ton of variations you can do with this. Want it spicy? Add sliced hot peppers or extra chili flakes to the sauce. Want it cheesy? Add some goat's cheese or ricotta. You can top the finished product with feta or shaved Parmesan... but keep it simple. Overdoing it with a marinara sauce is never a good idea.

This is great served with crusty bread, slightly stale pitas (or, you know, fresh, but I sort of like it with stale ones), or toast. I scale this recipe up and down with no problems.

Monday, September 9, 2013

CORN! bread, cakes, and muffins.

Sometimes there's something you eat for your whole life and it gives you a great "goes with lots of things!" recipe. One of my mom's standby recipes when we were growing up was a quick version of chili that she always served with cornmeal muffins. The cornmeal muffins are quite simple, so there are all sorts of things you can do with them! The base recipe is:
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/3 cup salad oil
1 egg
(It's all ones and threes, so I've had it memorized for years.) Whisk the dry, whisk the wet, stir them together until they're combined, then put the batter into greased or sprayed muffin tins and bake at 425F for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown on top!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eggplant Steakwiches

Glorious, glorious summer is upon us, and with it all of the delicious things that grow. Since my mom produced this recipe for eggplant "steaks" from Chatelaine magazine years ago it has been my favourite summer recipe, and it makes either a great meatless main dish or (with smaller eggplant slices) a fancy side. Maybe with meat steaks!

Come to think of it, you could also serve them as a warm salad course, assuming you've got a main to follow it. 'Cause it's fancy for a salad.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Take it easy: Grilled mahi-mahi and pineapple with potato wedges.

I've been missing, I know. I was finishing the coursework for my MA (done!) and got so busy I didn't even have enough time to procrastinate. Of course that isn't the same as saying I didn't have time to cook. My fellow MA candidates often asked how I could cook so often when it takes so much time. And oh, can it ever, but there are a lot of quick meals out there, too. Memorize a couple and keep the ingredients on hand and excuses to reach for prepackaged stuff start to disappear.

Pre-tossing. Fish is on the bottom..
Last night we were a bit rushed because we wanted to see Silver Linings Playbook (So good, by the way. See it!) and needed to squish dinner in there. Enter grilled mahi-mahi and pineapple.

I can't remember exactly how this became a staple meal for us, but I think it has something to do with a fish taco recipe that used very similar seasonings to my favourite grilled pineapple marinade: cilantro, garlic, and chiles (or crushed red pepper) chopped together, then mixed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss it over fish and pineapple. If there's some extra pineapple juice I add that, too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On why our notion of "creepy" in food is all messed up.

A friend shared this article with me, on how North American attitudes toward offal illustrate a possibly disturbing trend in our attitude toward food. The whole article is worth reading but the following parts were my favourites:

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pan-Seared Octopus with Bean Salad

We were just away for the weekend and I spent today decompressing. It was the perfect day to try a new ingredient.

Enter: octopus.

This year we went to Nashville for New Years Eve and while we were there we made sure to visit City House in hopes of trying their crispy octopus. We had no luck getting the octopus (but lots of luck getting delicious appetizers) so I have been looking for something similar to try at home.

I had one of those cylindrical frozen, pre-cleaned packs of octopus tentacles in the freezer and I've been waiting for a chance to use it and decided today was the day. I thawed it to commit myself and went on the hunt for a recipe.

I found this recipe on SBS Food. It looked promising, so I made a few changes and got to work.

The octopus is braised first, then seared and served atop a lovely white bean salad. The suggested braising time is 45 minutes but cooked it for twice as long before reaching a tenderness I could work with, so leave yourself some time.

Seared on the bean salad.
Because the braise took so long for me I'd be interested to try this again either with fresh octopus to see if it takes less time or in a slow cooker to get things very tender and maybe infuse more of the flavours from the braise into the meat.

Since it's going to be seared I don't see why you couldn't braise ahead of time then heated through during the searing process when you're ready to eat.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mardi Gras! Shrimp etouffee.

I love holidays that give me a reason for theme cooking. A few years ago I made this recipe for shrimp etouffee for Mardi Gras, and it's one of those meals that you think back on and look for excuses to repeat - so this year I made it again. Other than being typically generous with the onions and garlic (it's how I roll) and opting for store-bought Worcestershire (though I did make the Creole seasoning), I wouldn't change a thing.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Matt's Favourite Fish Curry.

I made this quite a while ago and did not take photos of the various steps but am posting it because of requests for the recipe. Years ago I received Vikram Vij's Vij's Elegant and Inspired Cooking, the cookbook for his not-quite-authentic Vancouver Indian restaurant. We've made a smattering of the recipes from this book (and the follow-up, Vij's at Home: Relax, Honey) most of which have been good and a few of which have been really excellent.

I made this a few times in June 2010 and yes, it's excellent. So excellent in fact that in December 2012 Matt said to me, "Hey, why don't you make that fish curry?"

You have to understand the number of dishes I've made that could be described as "that fish curry" to understand the multitude of emotions this made me feel, but with a little investigation we were able to narrow it down to a few from the Vij's cookbook and I've now labeled the recipe as Matt's favourite when I made it again in January.

The recipe calls for halibut and that's how I made it the first time, but it's equally good (and much cheaper) when made with haddock, tilapia loins or even basa. Basically any firm white fish should do just fine.

I've modified this recipe quite a bit in order to reduce the oil. It's probably not quite as good, but the difference isn't that big.

Charcuterie: Makin' Bacon

After a busy week it's always good to get a weekend food project going to wind down. This morning I got started on a ratio bread loaf (more on that later) and tonight I did something very important, my friends. Very important, indeed.

I started. Making. Bacon.

While in Detroit last weekend we were able to visit Butcher-Packer, which, if you've done any digging around with regards to charcuterie supplies (and who hasn't?), is the place from which everyone seems to order their stuff. I picked up what will probably amount to a few years' supply of pink charcuterie salt - essential for goodies like bacon, corned beef and the Glass Onion's chicken liver paté (the recipe from which I learned pink charcuterie salt exists). I also grabbed some DC cure #2 for dry sausages, which means I am stocked up for awesome.

Armed with my new goodies and a recipe once again from Ruhlman's Charcuterie it was time to make something of this:

Hello, lovely.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Goat's Milk and Rosemary Biscuits for Two

I'm home (where I'm from, not where I live) for the weekend to attend a friend's wedding and stayed with  my parents last night and for breakfast this morning. They keep goat's milk in the fridge for Dad and Mom has a huge rosemary plant. (It's getting close to three feet across.) Most importantly (since they ate their regular breakfasts and I was on my own) I have a recipe for biscuits for two that is really easy to customize.

Knowing all this, it was off to the races.

These are perfect with some partridgeberry preserves or whatever strikes your fancy. It's supposed to be for two, but the second one is looking pretty tempting. (Just saying.)

I haven't tried, but I'm sure you could scale this up with no problems.

The most dramatic biscuit photo ever taken.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On the Cheap: Chamchi Kimchi Jjigae

I just couldn't wait any more and I broke into my kimchi tonight. First of all, it's good. Much better than the store bought stuff I'd been eating before. Second, I made it into soup that costs almost nothing. Rejoice!

A friend (the one who's getting the small jar of kimchi) passed along this website to me: a recipe for kimchi jjigae, or spicy kimchi stew. I made it a few weeks ago with the last of my store-bought kimchi and squid. She's since told me that her favourite incarnation of the stew is chamchi kimchi jjigae, made with canned tuna. I was skeptical, but curious. I'm not always a fan of canned tuna.

I was making my skeptical face as I surveyed that can of tuna, that's for sure.
It's a simple recipe. The only ingredients not  pictured here are one medium yellow onion, four green onions and hot pepper flakes.

I like things burn-your-face hot, but you could cut back on the pepper flakes or use more mild kimchi. You could also cut back on the gochujang, but that will change the taste along with reducing the spice.

And this is super cheap, since it's basically cabbage and canned tuna soup. But it's very tasty. Serve it with steamed rice topped with scallions and gaeran jim (Korean steamed eggs) to round out the meal.

On the Cheap: Dumpling/Egg Drop Soup

As a student, I will be so bold as to say that some of us are foodies and Mr. Noodles just isn't going to cut it. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy cheap, fast (though not instant), nutritious, Asian-themed soup. I do all the time.

This isn't really a recipe for this type of soup so much as a way to go about approaching it. I eat dumpling or egg drop soup at least once a week during any given semester following a "what I have on hand" model. It goes a little something like this:

Monday, January 28, 2013

Comfort: Duck crumb mac 'n cheese.

I don't know what it's been like where you are, but we just got over a cold snap. A real cold snap. Brr.

Last Thursday I had intentions of visiting Gatineau's Festibiere d'Hiver, but I was just so tired of being cold, plus I had duck prosciutto sitting in my fridge, screaming to be used. Next year, Festibiere.

It was time to mac 'n cheese.

I've baked a few mac 'n cheeses in my time, but my favourite recipe base borrows heavily from Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes. I do this because he starts off with crisping pancetta in the roasting/baking dish. I couldn't see why this wouldn't work with duck - and so in it went.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Offal Good: Split Pea and Pig's Ear Soup

I just made the best split pea soup I've ever had.

I started to appreciate split pea soup after moving to Ottawa where there's an honest-to-goodness winter (as opposed to in my hometown, Windsor). I hadn't made it since last spring, though, when I was employing smoked trotters to give the soup a good, smoky taste.

Thus I was intrigued when I was thumbing through The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail over the summer and saw a recipe for split pea and pig's ear soup. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for pig's ears. Today at the Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal, I found them.

Pig's ears, tails and tongues. You'll have to wait to see what happens to the last two.
I couldn't remember exactly what I needed for the rest of the recipe, but I had it in my head that it was fairly simple (split pea soup usually is) with stuff I'd have around the house. This was not the case. I got home, opened my book and found that I would need either pre-made ham stock (it's on my to-do list) or a ham bone to make the soup as Fergus intended.

It was time to wing it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Charcuterie: Duck Prosciutto

One of the things that I arbitrarily decided to do with my life this year was get into some level of at-home curing and preserving of meat (and other things... but meat is most enticing.)

To help me along, I have another 2012 birthday gift: Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. (With a foreward by Thomas Keller, so you know it's legit.)

I am slowly reading this book, which I think is important so that I don't, you know, poison myself, but I will admit that after getting through the stuff about general salt curing I jumped ahead in the book because I had cheated and peeked. And that meant I knew that I had a recipe for duck prosciutto.

This was the brand of duck breast that I purchased. They run something along the lines of $30/kg as is, so I didn't want to go all fancy and spend half again as much on a Magret duck breast and then ruin it - though my next one, oh. It will be Magret.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fermentation Fun: Kimchi

Late last year I made salt-preserved key limes, which made me feel a bit like a mad scientist. A patient mad scientist. (They take a month to ferment properly.)

Ever since then I've been chipping away at my store-bought kimchi so that I'd have an excuse to make my own. Because fermentation - as the title would lead you to believe - is fun.

I used David Chang's Momofuku cookbook for my kimchi. It's one of the simplest recipes in the book, which I use more often for inspiration, general cooking rules/tips and food stories because many of the recipes, while gorgeous and intriguing, are also complex and designed to produce impractically large quantities.

This recipe helpfully explains why making your own kimchi (or my salt-preserved limes) won't make you sick. In case you are also curious, the key is that lots of salt will kill off all non-helpful (and I assume unfriendly) bacteria except for the lactic acid producing (friendly) ones, which do the actual fermentation.

Basically: Salt is magic.

Whilst picking up Burmese supplies I also picked up a kimchi essential, and easily one of the more gross looking ingredients I've ever used, salted jarred shrimp. They look like little krill, eyes and all, except that whoever was designing the product thought to themselves, "What would make these little white shrimp look better? How about fluorescent pink food colouring!" They were wrong. But as some sort of seafood seems to be standard and these little fellas will keep between recipes, so now I own a jar.

I also had to buy a pound of Korean chili powder because apparently there's not sufficient demand for anything smaller from Ottawatons to stock it in the store.

Way too much chili powder, just enough nappa, ten year supply disturbing pink shrimp.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Offal Good: Stuffed Lamb Hearts

I received Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating for my birthday last year and have been enthusiastically cooking from it whenever the ingredients present themselves ever since. The recipes are wonderful: simple, unpretentious and delicious - every one that I've tried.

As the name implies, this book emphasizes eating the whole animal - offal (the bits that used to be cut off and tossed by butchers, such as organs, tongues, etc.)

This concept is appealing to me for a few reasons: the first is ethical. I think that recognizing where my food comes from is important, and I think that it's important to use as much of the animal as possible. (Just to me. I'm not evangelical on this.) The second is that we ate very little offal in my home growing up (though, as I've mentioned, there was no shortage of home cooked food, a la my mom) and that means that offal presents a whole range of new cooking and tasting experiences for me. The third and final reason is that offal takes care and skill to prepare, but if you're willing to teach yourself to do it you can be rewarded with unique, rewarding food experiences.

As an added bonus, offal is awfully cheap.

Excerpt: The Importance of Rabbits

An excerpt from the beautiful French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. This is an important lesson that I try my best to take to heart whenever I'm cooking meat - and deciding which meat to cook.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Burmese Shrimp Curry

I received Naomi Duguid's cookbook Burma: Rivers of Flavor for Christmas and finally got a chance to break into it tonight. 

I fell in love with Burmese food on our first trip to Rangoon Restaurant. Favourite dishes include the mohinga (fish noodle soup) and green tea leaf salad, and if you're in Ottawa I strongly recommend giving the place a shot. There are two recipes in the book for mohinga, but unfortunately I haven't been able to stock my kitchen with the more obscure ingredients for Burmese cuisine, so I decided to start simple and small until I can, with a shrimp curry. As an added bonus the leftovers can be used to make a cold, spicy shrimp soup the next day.

The only other Burmese food I've ever cooked was a duck egg curry. It was straightforward and easy to achieve authentic flavour - very forgiving, so I was interested to see if the recipes in this book followed suit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Girl Who Blogged Anything

I told myself I'd come back to blogging this year - writing every day is good for you. Or at least it is for me. So here I am.

There are a few things I'm passionate about, but two that never stress me are cooking and food. When I'm taking on a cooking challenge of some sort - tackling an ingredient I've never cooked, never tasted or both, or trying a brand new technique - it's stretching boundaries, not building stress. It's therapeutic. And since I'm back at school for the last semester of my MA a little therapeutic is just what I need.

None of this is to say that I'm trained in, well, anything to do with food. Unless you count growing up in a home where your mom cooked everything from scratch, or where your dad brought home game meats for you to try. You could count having a friend who, in spite of being a vegetarian and even trying her hand at vegan in the past, has never been able to say "No" to steamed tripe at a dim sum restaurant and needs someone to split it with when you go out for lunch. You could count growing up with pet ducks and the choices that having something so delicious as a pet eventually forces you to make. (More on that another time.)

All of the above have been formative experiences for me in my food and cooking life. What they've taught me is to never be afraid of food. So while I've never taken a knife class, I've also never looked at a recipe and thought to myself "I couldn't do that." Sure, I've tried and failed, but I never look at a new recipe with fear. There's nothing to be afraid of when it comes to cooking, only opportunities to learn.

In 2012 I made the decision to start toying around with charcuterie in 2013, but when 2013 rolled 'round the first challenge I took on was ending my two-year war with bread - and won. I've successfully produced pizza dough and naan from scratch. They were even good. Tonight I finally made it to a butcher for a duck breast, brought it home, sat down with a pair of tweezers and removed the remaining feather stumps (Honestly, you'd think for $30+/kg they could take out the feather stumps. On the other hand maybe I could have left them.) and it's now nestled away in salt for the next 24 hours, before I hang it up in my basement to cure and (hopefully) yield my very first duck prosciutto.

So now seems as good a time as ever to start chronicling this journey. To spice things up a little more my ongoing challenges include cooking offal well and mastering some arts of French cooking.