Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cookbook Review: Giada's Kitchen

I love Giada de Laurentiis! I've been a fan of her shows on the Food Network and the recipes I've tried from her shows have always turned out fabulously for me, so when I saw that she had a new cookbook coming out I was totally stoked and knew I'd have to get my hands on a copy. My good blogfriend Karen recently gifted me with Giada's Family Dinners, which I have read through but haven't tried cooking from yet - sorry Karen, but I guarantee you it's on my to-do list! (Previous dishes blogged about here are Giada's Ravioli Caprese and her salmon & tomatoes.)

So, today Giada's Kitchen comes to your friendly neighbourhood bookshelves. Subtitled "New Italian Favourites," the flap states that Giada "takes us down a new path, sharing her love of food with clean, vibrant, simple flavors and bursts of bright colors that look as beautiful on the plate as they are delicious." In the introduction, Giada tells us that through her exploration of every type of Italian cooking imaginable, her own style has been evolving, and the recipes in this book have been inspired by her culinary journeys.

For the purposes of this review, I made two dishes from this volume. I had planned on making one more, the Spicey Calamari Stew on page 48, but my local overpriced grocery store was out of squid. So, I stuck with two dishes: Fregola Salad with Citrus and Red Onion (page 81; I used orzo as I couldn't find fregola at the store - which is owned by a huge Italian family and sells all kinds of other Italian specialty foods, just no fregola) and Beef Roast with Spicey Parsley Tomato Sauce (page 140; my dad supplied the roast, which was buffalo).

Both dishes were super easy to make, and as Giada promises in the intro, contain "clean, vibrant, simple flavors" and indeed have "bursts of bright colors." A traditional roast beef meal can be heavy with starchy potatoes and lots of gravy, and this version was so much lighter and much more interesting. I'm not the hugest fan of the typical roast beef dinner - never have been; once or twice a year is fine, but every week (as was often the case when I was growing up) was way too much for me. The roast recipe piqued my interest because it was paired with this simple sauce made from tomatoes roasted with the beef.

I will admit here that I've never made the perfect roast beef - probably because I don't make it at all, so I don't get the practice. In last night's case, I overcooked the buffalo way too much and I was annoyed with myself . Even though I cooked it for the recommended amount of time for its weight, and despite the fact that it was still frozen in the middle, it still was dry and almost flavourless. But the sauce was great! And the orzo salad paired well with with meat dish and was itself very fresh and light, so all was not lost.

For dessert, I served a hazelnut pie, but that's a post for another time (soon!).

The verdict: yes, this book is worth it and it totally delivers, based on my two experiments from it. The styling is amazing and all of the recipes appear to be easy and quick, and I am so looking forward to trying more from this book - and from Giada's Family Dinners, too.

Full Flickr set here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Magazine Monday #9: Braised Beef Ribs

Strange things are tickling my fancy these days. I think this is because I'm in a period of recovery after 2.5 years of being quite ill (for those of you who don't know, I live with something called Major Depressive Disorder, along with BPD, and dysthymia). Now that my brain seems to be able to handle more and now that I seem to have more energy and enthusiasm about life, I feel inspired to do new things in the kitchen. When I got the October issue of Bon Appetit (the one with the controversial, yucky cover), I saw a recipe in there for these braised beef short ribs and thought they looked easy enough to make. I'd never prepared beef ribs before and this seemed like a cool challenge to take on.

My local overpriced grocery store sells beef back ribs that were actually reasonably priced - but they also looked like something Fred Flintstone might munch on while at the drive in, so I had the butcher halve the package for me. For $10 I got 4.5lbs of beef ribs, which I didn't think was that bad. I borrowed some wine from my SIL, who makes her own, and I was set.

Nothing can be simpler than sticking a bunch of ingredients into a slow cooker and forgetting about the whole thing for 8 hours - and that's exactly what I did.

My dad came over for dinner to help me try out this new dish. He's a bit of a fat freak, so to keep him calm I strained off a bunch of the fat before he arrived, and I'll save it for another use (I have something in mind to make from Fat).

The verdict: It looked great, as you can see from the pictures. The flavour was OK, but you had to look really hard to find much meat. There was some, and it was succulent, but frankly, not my cup of tea. The meat was tasty, but I don't want that much work to actually get at it. I served the ribs with nugget potatoes and roasted asparagus, and that was very good.

The recipe for the dish can be found here. I accidentally bought back ribs instead of short ribs, and I'm not sure what the difference would have been. Ah well. It was a nice change and a good challenge, but I'm not sure I'll be keeping this recipe around.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sweet 100

Cakespy had this on her site yesterday, and I thought I'd give it a go here, even though I created my own list after doing the Omnivore's 100.

1) Copy this list into your site, including the instructions!
2) Bold all of the sweets you've eaten!
3) Cross out any of them that you'd never ever eat.
4) Consider anything that is not bold or crossed out your "To Do" List.
5) Optional: Post a comment here linking to your results

  1. Red Velvet Cake
  2. Princess Torte
  3. Whoopie Pie
  4. Apple Pie either topped or baked with sharp cheddar
  5. Beignet
  6. Baklava
  7. Black and white cookie
  8. Seven Layer Bar (also known as the Magic Bar or Hello Dolly bars)
  9. Fried Fruit pie (sometimes called hand pies)
  10. Kringle
  11. Just-fried (still hot) doughnut
  12. Scone with clotted cream
  13. Betty, Grunt, Slump, Buckle or Pandowdy
  14. Halvah
  15. Macarons
  16. Banana pudding with nilla wafers
  17. Bubble tea (with tapioca "pearls")
  18. Dixie Cup
  19. Rice Krispie treats
  20. Alfajores
  21. Blondies
  22. Croquembouche
  23. Girl Scout cookies
  24. Moon cake
  25. Candy Apple
  26. Baked Alaska
  27. Brooklyn Egg Cream
  28. Nanaimo bar
  29. Baba au rhum
  30. King Cake
  31. Sachertorte
  32. Pavlova
  33. Tres Leches Cake
  34. Trifle
  35. Shoofly Pie
  36. Key Lime Pie (made with real key lime)
  37. Panna Cotta
  38. New York Cheesecake
  39. Napoleon / mille-fueille
  40. Russian Tea Cake / Mexican Wedding Cake
  41. Anzac biscuits
  42. Pizzelle
  43. Kolache
  44. Buckeyes
  45. Malasadas
  46. Moon Pie
  47. Dutch baby
  48. Boston Cream Pie
  49. Homemade chocolate chip cookies
  50. Pralines
  51. Gooey butter cake
  52. Rusks
  53. Daifuku
  54. Green tea cake or cookies
  55. Cupcakes from a cupcake shop
  56. Crème brûlée
  57. Some sort of deep fried fair food (twinkie, candy bar, cupcake)
  58. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting
  59. Jelly Roll
  60. Pop Tarts
  61. Charlotte Russe
  62. An "upside down" dessert (Pineapple upside down cake or Tarte Tatin)
  63. Hummingbird Cake
  64. Jell-O from a mold
  65. Black forest cake
  66. Mock Apple Pie (Ritz Cracker Pie)
  67. Kulfi
  68. Linzer torte
  69. Churro
  70. Stollen
  71. Angel Food Cake
  72. Mincemeat pie
  73. Concha
  74. Opera Cake
  75. Sfogliatelle / Lobster tail
  76. Pain au chocolat
  77. A piece of Gingerbread House
  78. Cassata
  79. Cannoli
  80. Rainbow cookies
  81. Religieuse
  82. Petits fours
  83. Chocolate Souffle
  84. Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)
  85. Rugelach
  86. Hamenstashen
  87. Homemade marshmallows
  88. Rigo Janci
  89. Pie or cake made with candy bar flavors (Snickers pie, Reeses pie, etc)
  90. Divinity
  91. Coke or Cola cake
  92. Gateau Basque
  93. S'mores
  94. Figgy Pudding
  95. Bananas foster or other flaming dessert
  96. Joe Froggers
  97. Sables
  98. Millionaire's Shortbread
  99. Animal crackers
  100. Basbousa
Total: 58

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Pizza Casserole

It's casserole season - thank God! Fall is here, it's cooled off, and the oven can safely come on without heating up the house past 30C. I love a good casserole, but don't make too many. I'm not sure why; they're just not my cup of tea. But when I saw this post by Megan of Megan's Munchies, my tastebuds were tickled. Something about it really appealed to me, and last night I made this for dinner.

The original recipe came from here. This meal was ludicrously easy to make and simply delicious. I'm not the biggest fan of pepperoni - I'll eat it in a pinch if I have to, but there are other pizza toppings I like a lot more - so I used my favourite toppings: black forest ham, feta cheese, and olives. Since I won't touch KD with a ten-foot pole, I used instead Annie's shells & cheddar, which is on sale right now at my local overpriced grocery store. The recipe also stipulated one 14oz tin of pizza sauce; I used one 7.5oz tin and it was plenty. I would mix the cheese into the pasta first and add the sauce after, just because in my case I had lumps of cheese mix throughout. But, we live and learn, right?

This pan will probably provide me with four meals in total, which is always nice. I might even freeze some of it. In the end, a totally awesome supper! Thanks Megan and Lisa!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brown Sugar Shortbread

As I said in yesterday's review of the new Canadian Living baking cookbook, I made this shortbread recipe, though the dough was iffy. But when the premiere cooking magazine in the country hands you a dud recipe, what can you do but attempt to make it into batch of truffles? Such is life in the baking biz.

Brown Sugar Shortbread with Chocolate and Hazelnut Decor, adapted from The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt


1/4 cup good quality, real chocolate - either chips or a bar
3/4 cups chopped toasted hazelnuts (guess what I used)

1. Preheat oven to 300F and line two cookie sheets with parchment or silicone liners, or grease well.
2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture in two additions. Knead gently until you get a smooth dough. (Note: my dough didn't come together at all and there seemed to be inadequate liquid to absorb the dry ingredients, so I added 1 - 2 tbsp cold milk until the dough did come together and could be rolled out.) Divide in half; shape into rectangles. Wrap and refrigerate until chilled. Alternately, stick in the freezer until chilled - 10 minutes or so.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness. Cut shapes. Place on cookie sheets and bake for about 20 minutes, or until slightly darker on the bottoms. Cool.

To decorate, melt the chocolate over a bain marie. Either pipe the chocolate onto the cookies, drizzle it, or dab it with the back of a spoon. Dip into nuts. Allow to set.

Honestly, I didn't think these were sweet enough, so if I make these again, I might up the sugar amount to a full 1 cup. I realize this is more of a dry ingredient this recipe didn't seem to need, but adding the milk was a good call and wasn't detrimental at all to the finished product, so adding more isn't a problem.

So, they turned out to be quite darling in the end, and I was quite happy with the results! It was a great way to spend a wet, cold, autumn afternoon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cookbook Review: The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book

This is the second of four cookbooks I'll be reviewing this fall. As you might have guessed, I'm a bit of a cookbook junkie; I seem to collect them like bad habits. I am also a huge fan of Canadian Living Magazine, which I subscribe to and look forward to getting every month, so I was super excited to see that the fine people at CL were coming out with a baking book this fall.

Released today, The Complete Canadian Living Baking Book contains seven chapters covering specific categories of baking: Cookies, Bars, & Squares, Cakes, Pies & Pastries, Yeast Breads, Quick Breads, Spoon Desserts, and Sauces & Garnishes. There are a host of tips, techniques, and helpful information for your typical home baker. The recipes use commonly found ingredients and utilize basic baking equipment, and the food photography is up to the magazine's usual high standards.

Though I couldn't wait to rip open the parcel and devour this cookbook page by page, it's position on my limited shelf space is precarious. This is a gorgeous book, no doubt (although I thought it could have benefited from having a lot more photos in it, actually), but I was disappointed.

First, many of these recipes come from Canadian Living issues I've already seen. In fact, I've already made many of them. Remember the soft pretzels of this post, and why I couldn't figure out why the recipe is no longer available on CL's web site? Well, this book answers that: the recipe is now in the cookbook, available for you to buy at $34.95. As I went through my recipe binder yesterday, I recognized even more of the pictures and recipes I cut out from the magazine and saved in my collection. So, I was disappointed that there didn't seem to be anything new in this book for me to sink my teeth into.

Which brings me to my second point: the recipes I hadn't seen before weren't all that exciting. This is a basic cookbook for your typical home baker, and I am beyond basic and not a typical home baker. This cookbook is too basic for me - and I'm not being a snob or a braggart; I'm just a trained, experienced, professional baker who needs more of a challenge than what the recipes in this book had to offer.

I made two recipes from this volume, the Crusty Crown Loaf on page 218, and the Brown Sugar Shortbread found on page 61. The loaf turned out to be bland and, to my palate, had a strange flavour - probably because of the high olive oil content. The cookies turned out OK after I had to add some milk to the dough because it wouldn't come together at all. In the end, I rolled these out and cut leaf shapes, but that is a post for the future (come back tomorrow!). I have, however, made far tastier shortbreads in my life.

So, if you're a beginning home baker with a small repertoire, then this would be an excellent book for you to get the basics down. If you're a more experienced baker and looking for something to challenge you, I don't think this is the book for you. If you are either and you've been getting the magazine for a few years and still have old copies hanging around or have clipped out some of the recipes that have tickled your fancy, this book might be slightly redundant. I am leaning towards re-gifting it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Magazine Monday # 8: Shrimp in Ginger Butter Sauce

Ivonne is back from holidays, so Magazine Monday is back too!

Tonight's edition features one of my favourite things, shrimp. I always have frozen, zipper back shrimp around the house. They became a staple when I was on Weight Watchers a few years ago, as they are low in fat and high in protein. Oh, the shrimp dishes I made as I shrank! After kicking WW (long story), I kept the shrimp around. They aren't terribly expensive and as a single gal one 1lb bag goes a long way.

As I've mentioned before, I have a subscription to Gourmet, which I really enjoy. They have a monthly segment featuring dinners for one or two and in the September 2008 issue, the Shrimp in Ginger Butter Sauce recipe caught my eye. The ingredients were simple and on hand, and the method was easy, too.

This recipe is a keeper! I substituted some dry white wine for the sherry, and I served the shrimp with yellow beans and carrots from my own garden that I sauteed with some olive oil and garlic. The ginger butter sauce was a perfect compliment to the shrimp, but also tasted great with the veggies. And you can never go wrong with cilantro, in my books. The entire meal was delish!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Abundance of Apples

Along with picking hazelnuts last Monday, I also picked myself about 15lbs of pretty much organic apples from C&R's trees. Because they are unsprayed, many were quite wormy, but I managed to get enough to see me through the winter.

I'm not the hugest fan of apple sauce, so I didn't make any, but I did slice and freeze apples that can be used in all kinds of other baking, so I am pretty stoked.

I think these are Macintosh apples, but am not entirely sure. I am sure that they are juicy, and simultaneously tart and sweet.

In order to freeze the apples, first I cored them and cut them in half. I then put them in a bowl of cold water with about 1/4 cup lemon juice. This is a trick I learned in culinary school, where we frequently needed to hand-slice large amounts of apples for whatever it was we were baking. As we sliced, we put the apples in a bowl of lemon water, and the citric acid in the lemon juice helps to slow down the browning that occurs when apple flesh meats air. It doesn't completely stop the browning, but it does reduce it.

After that, I sliced the apples and put them in freezer bags in four- and two-cup batches, making sure to label the bags and press out any air left in the bag. I got 26 cups of apples out of this little endeavour! Excellent haul, if I do say so myself. I am now set: I have hazelnuts, apples, and blueberries nicely packaged and frozen for my winter baking needs. And, the apples and hazelnuts were local and organic to boot. The blueberries are from BC, which is local enough for me.

Incidentally, the local overpriced grocery store is still out of lemon juice, so I borrowed some from my roommate who got a bottle before the shortage. I have no idea when we'll see lemon juice back on the shelves, but I do hope it's soon. They are selling lemons for 79 cents each and I think that's pretty much akin to highway robbery.

Friday, September 19, 2008

101 Uses for a Roast Chicken #9: Mexican Chicken Salad

I have a feeling this is going to be a long series...

Anyway, I concocted this for my dinner tonight, wanting to do something different with your average, every day chicken salad. And it was yummy!

Mexican Chicken Salad

1 1/2 cups roast chicken meat, diced
1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp light mayo
1 tbsp light sour cream
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp fajita or taco seasoning mix

Combine ingredients.

I made a sandwich with this using my fabulous sour cream polenta bread, and the combination was great.

Use whatever veggies work for you; I just used what I had on hand.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

"What To Do With A..." #1

I'm going to start a new series here on the old food blog, entitled "What To Do With A..." [insert ingredient]. If you're like me and you have a decently stocked pantry, sometimes you end up with things you're not sure what to do with. I have a tin of smoked oysters kicking around that I'm not entirely sure how to use. Usually, I put them on crackers with cream cheese, but I want to be more creative than that!

In today's inaugural installment, a typical, common pantry item will be used: a can of tuna. Also, you may have a can of white beans hovering in the margins of your cupboards. This recipe uses both, and I make it regularly at work. Since this recipe was procured from the internet and isn't a top secret concoction like borscht or the Russian lasagne, I feel it's OK to share it with you. Just don't tell my boss.

Tuna, Cannellini, and Tomato Salad (this is the shop's version and it makes a lot, so I would halve it if you're just making it at home)

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans tuna packed in water, drained
4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 cup diced red onion

- mix these together in a large bowl


2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp minced fresh basil or mint
4 tsp each red wine vinegar and lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

- whisk together and gently mix into the tuna/bean/tomatoes. Marinate over night. Serve.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Decorating Genius: Tom Selleck Takes the Cake!

I have to thank Cakespy for planting the following image in my mind, which, I can tell you, has been very difficult to get rid of! All day I thought of this cake!

The blog from which this cake came is Alicia Policia, and the original post is here.

This is pretty brilliant. I mean, take a well-known TV character with some...ah...unique characteristics and pipe his image on a cake in icing, accentuating said "unique characteristics" - which would otherwise be completely gross anywhere near food!

Hair and food. The twain should never meet - except in the world of cake decorating!

Man, now I've seen it all!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going Nuts

No, I have not posted on the wrong blog and this post should not be over at I'm Listening! My SIL's parents, C&R, have a hazelnut tree in their yard, and the bears have been feasting on it regularly, much to the detriment of the poor tree.

I live in bear country, and I love my bears. And because I love bears, I like to do my part to minimize bear attractants, because bear attractants are bad for bears. Yes, bears to get a good feed at a time when they badly need it, but having compost and unattended fruit and nut trees and other stuff like that around only increases the chances of bear-human contact, and that never is good for bears. All it takes is one idiot who doesn't pick his apples or who puts his veggie trimmings into an outdoor, unbearproof composter to call the wildlife officer and that bear will be dead - guaranteed. It happens all the time out here, and it's a damn shame.

So, really, a hazelnut tree positively groaning with ripe hazelnuts sitting there providing bears a midnight snack is actually not a good thing for the bear or the tree. It is, however, a great thing for a baker on a budget, as I am. I offered divest C&R of their hazelnuts and they were totally agreeable. Yesterday, I spent a couple hours on a ladder picking hazelnuts in the autumnal heat.

Hazelnuts grow in clusters of 4 - 6 and are encased in a husk, similar to corn husks. These husks are sticky, I found out quickly, and I hate sticky hands! I also hate ladders. I refused to go higher than the third step, so there were a lot of nuts left on the tree higher up after I'd finished. I also hate insects, and since C&R don't spray the tree at all, there were spiders and ants all over the frakking place. Many of the encased nuts had spiders inside the husks, and I can tell you that I left those nuts for the bears.

I came away with a very generous haul nonetheless. When I got home, I then wondered what I needed to do with the raw, unshelled nuts. Did they require drying or further ripening? I searched on the net and couldn't find any definitive information. After tasting a few nuts, I decided that they were ripe enough, and this evening I spent about three hours cracking nuts. This was after making a special trip downtown to the kitchen store to purchase an expensive nutcracker (nothing comes cheap at this particular store, let me tell you). Three hours, two ruined fingernails and two sore hands later, I might have cracked open half of the nuts. They seemed quite high in oil, yet I didn't want to get into extracting the oil - too much effort for probably not enough gain. Instead, into the oven they went.

At about 300F I roasted the hazelnuts for approximately 20 minutes, moving the nuts around every few minutes so they would toast evenly. As they heated up, the house was filled with a positively heady aroma. I had initially thought I'd keep some of the nuts completely raw, but after toasting them I decided against this because they just smelled so amazing. And they tasted way better; raw, they were waxy and, though slightly sweet, not as intensely flavoured.

So, after all that work, my net quantity of nuts was...wait for it...maybe three cups. And like I said, that was about half of what I picked yesterday, so this is going to be a multi-evening project. But I am one happy baker and cannot wait to start using these in the kitchen!

I also picked around 15lbs of apples from one of C&R's many apple trees yesterday, but that is a post for another time.

Book Review: Fat

The flap reads: "For all of history, minus the last thirty years, fat has been at the center of human diets and cultures. When scientists theorized a link between saturated fat and heart disease, industry, media, and government joined forces to label fat a greasy killer, best avoided. But according to Jennifer McLagan, not only is our fat phobia overwrought, it also hasn't benefited us in any way. Instead, it has driven us into the arms of trans fats and refined carbohydrates, and fostered punitive, dreary attitudes toward food - that wellspring of life and pleasure."

This book intrigued me when I first heard about it. A product of the low-fat diet craze and a culture that reveres skinniness, I wondered what kind of alternative information Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes might contain. As it turns out, quite a bit, but as I read through the introduction, I realized that the information wasn't new to me. Having read Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, which blew my mind with its very alternative information, the idea that animal fat in all its forms, and even offal for that matter, is actually healthy was something already on my radar. However, after reading Nourishing Traditions, I wasn't quite convinced that I should start indulging in lard and suet and tallow. But McLagan's Fat, in addition to containing a lot of very useful scientific information about the different types of fatty acids and their breakdowns - all in layman's terms - has convinced me that there is value in something I usually throw out: the drippings from my roast chickens and the fat left in the pan after I fry up some bacon.

McLagan spends a lot of time explaining how and why fat has been maligned in the past few decades, and also goes into detail about how fat works in baking, cooking, and on our tongues. Fat is flavour, and as animal fats have disappeared from our diets, so has a significant amount of flavour. This book is also full of recipes using the star ingredients of her four chapters, butter, lard, poultry fat, and beef and lamb fats. Every page has some tidbit of fatty information, either a quote or some trivia or a historical anecdote.

As for the recipes...I'm going to have a hard time finding a family meal in here that my dad will touch with a ten foot pole, though he will be thrilled to hear there is a steak and kidney pie recipe. I was happy to see a recipe for Cornish Pasties, something I love and have always wanted to make. Now I have some motivation. The recipes run the gamut from desserts to salad dressings, soups and fancy stuff like fois gras (something, though the author endorses, I still do not). There is even a popcorn recipe with a sweet and salty butter coating in the butter chapter that appeals to me, and who doesn't love shortbread?

In this day and age, where everyone strives for sustainability our food systems, it makes perfect sense to me to do as our ancestors did and use all parts of the animal - fats in particular. When you think about it, how processed are the vegetable oils (other than olive) we use daily? Pretty processed. As Fallon's book points out, McLagan makes the case in Fat that our current obesity epidemic is actually caused by these very refined vegetable oils and our overly refined carbohydrates - not natural animal fats, which had been used for thousands of years by the people who came before us.

That's two books with the same message. Perhaps it's time for me to listen.

McLagan also has a book called Bones, which I'll now be on the lookout for.

Monday, September 15, 2008

101 Uses for a Roasted Chicken #8: Quesadillas

I made this dish the other night, after snagging a whole chicken on sale at my local overpriced grocery store. And just so you can see how gorgeous a home-roasted chicken can be, I decided to include in this post a picture of one of my own roasted birds. When I roast, I season the chicken with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and I usually sprinkle on some garlic powder. But you can do all kinds of things with whole chickens. I often stuff the cavity with a handful of peeled garlic cloves and some fresh herbs, which makes for a stunning gravy. You can roast a chicken with lemon, which is also very tasty. The possibilities are endless!

As for the quesadillas, the possibilities are just as endless as they can be made with a variety of cheeses, veggies, and meats. In this case, here is what I used:

chopped mushrooms
sliced onions
sliced red peppers (also on sale at my local overpriced grocery store)
some taco seasoning mix
about 1/2 cup shredded roast chicken meat
about 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 large flaxseed tortilla
a few tbsp chopped cilantro
salsa & sour cream to serve

Saute the veggies until they are tender and have released all their water. Add the taco seasoning and chicken and mix thoroughly. Spread this mixture on one half of the tortilla and top with cilantro and cheese. Fold over the tortilla and grill in a hot frying pan until the cheese melts, the tortilla is toasty, and the quesadilla is hot through. I served this with a caesar salad.

Easy as sin, healthy, quick, and tasty!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Camping Grub

I'm back from my camping trip, and just starting to catch up on things. I have a lot to do, so in the meantime, allow me to show you a simple breakfast I made on our first morning. If you've ever camped, you know that even a simple breakfast like bacon and eggs can taste like ambrosia when cooked over a camp stove and eaten in the great outdoors!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

101 Uses for a Roasted Chicken #7: Chicken & Tortellini Soup

I totally enjoy making my own chicken stock, as mentioned here and here. It's super easy and helps get the very most out of a roasted chicken. I always freeze my chicken carcasses, along with the legs and wings with meat still on them, to make the stock, and I vary my aromatics. This time, I used carrots fresh from my garden, onions, several cloves of garlic, peppercorns, and salt. You can also use lemon, which I frequently do, and any left over parsley or cilantro stems, or other tasty veggies you may have kicking around.

I have gotten used to making my stock in my slow cooker because then I don't have to worry about leaving my stove on if I go out. It works great. It usually fits two carcasses and about 2L of water, plus the veggies.

One thing I am also doing with my stock now is letting it sit in the fridge over night so that the fat solidifies at the top of the stock and can be skimmed off quite easily for a nearly fat-free soup. From there, you just heat up the stock on the stove, and add to it whatever you want in your soup. Voila!

For the chicken & tortellini soup, I used:

2L homemade chicken stock
meat from the 2 leftover roasted chickens
basil, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves fresh garlic, grated into the stock
carrots and wax beans from my garden
2 onions
1 cup white wine
1L jar of tomatoes I canned
1 package (350g) cheese tortellini (my overpriced grocery store only had small ravioli for a decent price, so that's what I used)

After skimming the stock of the fat, I brought it to a boil and added the veggies. I added the tortellini. 10 minutes later, I had dinner. I froze the leftovers in batches so I can have meals whenever I need them now.

Easy peasy!

Honestly, I never buy canned soup anymore. Too much sodium, too much crap. This is so much better - homemade, healthy, nourishing, and delicious.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie?

I don't think you can ever have too many chocolate chip cookie recipes. I've made so many different ones I can't even recall them all, but some have been totally wicked and some have been OK, but in the end, I've never met a chocolate chip cookie I've never liked. In fact, I've never met any chocolate chip cookie dough I haven't liked either.

So, in July the food blogosphere was abuzz with a lot of hoopla around this New York Times article and accompanying chocolate chip cookie recipe, touting this particular cookie to be "perfect." The secret: chilling the cookie dough overnight, or for at least 24 hours. The article tells why: this resting time allows "the dough and other ingredients to fully soak up the liquid — in this case, the eggs — in order to get a drier and firmer dough, which bakes to a better consistency.” Furthermore, "A long hydration time is important because eggs, unlike, say, water, are gelatinous and slow-moving... Making matters worse, the butter coats the flour, acting...'like border patrol guards,' preventing the liquid from getting through to the dry ingredients. The extra time in the fridge dispatches that problem."

Before reading this article, I theorized that the chilling time a) allowed the gluten sufficient rest after mixing and b) allowed the sugar to develop flavour, as it would in bread dough risen in the fridge. But, the article explains the science behind this method far better than I ever could.

So, of course, after hearing all the buzz, I had to try this recipe myself. I remained faithful to the recipe apart from a few things. First, I don't see the point in using both cake flour and bread flour. Not every home baker is going to have a variety of flours on hand like I do, and I don't even have cake flour around because I don't use it often enough, and what's the point of combining a low-gluten flour with a high-gluten flour when all purpose flour is a perfectly decent mid-gluten flour? Second, I did not put the sea salt on top of the cookies before they baked. I just plain forgot. 24 hours will do that to you. I also didn't turn my chocolate chips upside down so their flat sides were up; I thought that was ridiculous! Additionally, I made my cookies far smaller than the generous golf-ball size stipulated by the recipe.

If the dough was anything to go by, these were going to be outrageously good cookies. And sample the dough I did...and did, and did...

While I was not as adventurous with this recipe as my good blogpal Cakespy was, I was totally happy with the results. When they came out of the oven, my cookies were beautifully pale golden brown and were the perfect combination of crisp and chewy.

Will I chill again? Probably. Though I tend to be more of an instant gratification kind of baker, I think the waiting was worth it. But then again, I'm sure this cookie would be just dandy baked off immediately rather than sticking it in the freezer overnight. Or, I could just as happily eat the dough right out of the bowl, couldn't I?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Restaurant Review: Main Street Diner

Yeah, nothing works up a bigger appetite than waiting in a huge, long line-up to get your passport done - which is exactly what I did at the end of August. Luckily, it didn't take as long as I'd anticipated, so I actually had a free afternoon. My dad and I decided to take a trip to Nelson's Save-On Foods to do some grocery shopping, but I was starving so we did lunch first. My choice: The Main Street Diner.

I love this place. Back when I was a kid, it was called Milly's, and a trip to Nelson was never complete without a meal there. Milly's is where I had my first taste of Greek food: avgolemono soup, souvlaki, and feta cheese. My favourite in those days was the Baja Melt, which is pita smothered in salsa, shrimp, cheese, and served with sour cream. It seemed to exotic and it was such a treat to go there.

Even though the name has been changed for a while now, I still refer to Main Street as Milly's, and the menu is very similar, too. The melts are still there as are the Greek favourites. And the food is still awesome. My dad doens't understand why I like it so much because he thinks it's a bit plain, but the Main Street is consistently good and besides, I like it for sentimental reasons!

Apart from the Greek stuff and melts, the Main Street's impressive menu also includes a large selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads, fish & chips, and seafood. My favourite, as I mention in my review of Rossland's Sunshine Cafe, is the club house, but Main Street does a fantastic seafood club. After my annoying passport clinic experience, I was hungry and this sandwich fit the bill. My dad, who'd waited at my work for me to finish at the passport clinic, had a Greek salad (no olives) because he'd been snacking while waiting for me.

My sandwich was astounding. Piled very high with shrimp salad, crab salad, black forest ham, lettuce and tomato, and accentuated with seafood sauce, it was hard to get my mouth around, and the bread was barely able to contain all the filling. It was excellent. The Main Street does good fries, too - nice and chunky ones, and of course I had those (other side choices are coleslaw or cottage cheese). The restaurant still serves its food on the same dark brown, heavy stoneware dishes, too, which is nice to see.

As I said above, the menu is large and everything I've had off of it previously has been great. These include the calamari, the regular club house, the oyster burger, the avgolemono soup, and their Khalua cheesecake. Their daily soups have also been delicious when I've had them. Their portions are ample and their prices are fair. My sandwich was $14.95, for instance. Lunch for my dad and me came to just under $30. I sent my compliments to the kitchen and left pretty happy - not to mention full!

Monday, September 08, 2008

No-Knead Bread

My good blogfriend Karen inspired me to try this recipe after producing an excellent result herself. When she told me she was making a no-knead bread, I assumed she was making a batter bread, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this is no batter bread (I have nothing against batter breads per se; I'm just not a huge fan).

Karen's result was so gorgeous I had to try it, too. In fact, I've now tried it twice, once with white flour (bread flour, actually) and once with 100% whole wheat flour.

The recipe originally appeared in the New York Times, and I highly recommend you read the accompanying article because it gives you the scientific reason - in layman's terms - why this method of breakmaking works so well. Basically, you mix the dry ingredients with water and let the dough sit for a minimum of 18 hours. The gluten develops itself in this time, rather than being developed by kneading. Also, you bake this loaf in an oven-proof pot, or Dutch Oven, as this mimicks the conditions created in a commercial steam-injected oven. I've actually baked a loaf of bread in my KitchenAid cast iron Dutch Oven before, the Kazakh Family Loaf, and I had a great result.

The first time I made this recipe, I added some dried herb mixture to the dough and some parmesan cheese to the top. I had to add more water than the recipe called for because the initial amount wasn't enough to incorporate all the dry ingredients. I got an absolutely stunning result, and I couldn't wait to try this recipe again. Luckily, my dad needed bread and since I regularly make him 100% whole wheat bread (he hates white flour, though I notice he loved my pizza pretzels just fine) I offered to make it for him using this new method.

To the 100% whole wheat, though, I did add 1/4 tsp of gluten, because whole wheat flour is naturally low in gluten, and since the more gluten the better when it comes to bread baking, I thought a bit extra wouldn't hurt at all. And it didn't. Again, I got a fabulous loaf, though shorter and more dense. My dad was pretty happy.

The crust on both loaves was superb, and since there is a high water percentage in this recipe, the crumb was tight and the bread's texture was light and spongey and contained many lovely air bubbles.

All around, a fantastic recipe that even your kids can make, and it takes so little effort and comes out so beautifully, you'll never want to buy store-bought bread again. Trust me.

Thank you Karen!

Also, my fellow foodblogger the Underground Baker, did a post here (scroll way down) closer to when the recipe was first published. Her loaves are stunning, too.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dove Chocolate Review

I was pleased recently to discover that there are some blogs out there devoted to chocolate. One of my favourites is Choklit, in which Amanda reviews all kinds of chocolate bars. Another one is Jim's Chocolate Mission. I was totally excited to find blogs whose contents specifically revolve around chocolate because, in case you didn't know, I'm a total chocoholic. To unabashedly steal an idea, I have decided to do a chocolate review of my own.

This past winter, I saw a new product on the shelves around here: Dove chocolate. I didn't quite know what to think when I saw it because I always associate the brand name Dove with soaps and other toiletries. Turns out this is ridiculous, although that was the natural connection my brain made at the time. The Dovebar has, according to this page on their web site, been around for quite some time, and Dove's parent company happens to be Mars - Mars of Mars Bar fame.

I only got around to buying my first Dove bar just over a month ago; the cost was a little high, but one day I decided to splurge.

Man...the instant I bit into it, I couldn't believe I didn't try this earlier! It was heavenly. It was the Dusk bar, which is milk chocolate with a hint of dark, and I suddenly felt as if all the cares in the world were far and distant from my mind. The flavour was smooth, and more milky than my favourite milk chocolate bar, Cadbury's Dairy Milk. But it was the texture that got me: this was almost like eating truffle filling - ganache. The chocolate was so incredibly silky on my tongue I almost felt I'd melt along with it.

Since this, I've had the 71% dark, and though the mouthfeel was still satiny, I didn't think it was as flavourful as the dusk bar. I've also had the regular dark chocolate bar, and it sent shivers up my spine the same way the Dusk did.

So, now Dove goes to the top of my favourites list, along with the Dairy Milk, and Green & Black's dark chocolate with mint filling. Unfortunately, Dove isn't available everywhere around here; I've only seen it at Shoppers Drug Mart and Wally World. Hopefully it'll catch on other places, too!


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