Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Omigod! Frozen herbs!

I noticed the frozen herbs from President's Choice being advertised around Christmas time but, at first, wasn't able to find them, and then, didn't bother looking. This weekend I bought some and I am so very looking forward to the expanded repetoire of recipes now available to me since I have "fresh herbs" on hand at all times. I bought dill and basil, the two herbs I use the most. They also carry cilantro, though I've never cooked with it myself.

Anyway, I used my new found kitchen powerhouse in a Baked Ziti (pasta) dish. Instead of using crushed tomatoes, I used a can of whole tomatoes (something that I ALWAYS have on hand in my pantry) which I simply pureed in the can before hand. My sous-chef, Chad, was on hand to tell me that he thought I shouldn't cover the dish and, instead, let some of the water evaporate. I'm glad I agreed with him. It turned out AMAZING and, between Gabriel, Chad, and I, there were no left-overs. We all agreed that this recipe could benefit from the addition of meat, so next time, I will try this with some cooked Italian sausage added in.

Baked Ziti

Shopping List:
• vegetable oil
• cloves of garlic
• red pepper flake
• 796 mL can of crushed tomatoes
• ziti or penne pasta
• kosher salt
• 35% cream
• Parmesan cheese
• fresh basil
• pepper
• mozzarella cheese
• Italian sausage (2) (optional)

Place in a cold skillet:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ tsp red pepper flake, crushed

Heat skillet over medium-high until contents become fragrant and begin to foam.

1 796 mL (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
½ tsp kosher salt
340 g ziti or penne pasta

Bring contents to a simmer.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Reduce the heat and cook, stirring often, until pasta is al dente and liquid is mostly absorbed/evaporated (approximately 15 minutes).

Stir in:
½ cup cream
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh basil, diced fine
pepper to taste

(Optional: Add 2 Italian sausages, removed from casings and cooked.)

If skillet is not oven-proof, transfer pasta to a casserole dish. Top with 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded.

Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes, until cheese melts and browns.

Original source: America's Test Kitchen - Skillet Baked Ziti

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Left over rice? No problem!

Everyone almost always has leftovers when they eat rice. Whether you made it at home or ordered it with some Chinese food, there's usually a cup or two left over afterward. Sure you can refrigerate it and reheat it later, but then it's even more bland than it was initially. My solution: rice pudding! Since I discovered this stove-top recipe, I make a point of making sure I always have left over rice!

Rice Pudding

Shopping List:
• cooked white rice
• milk
• sugar
• raisins
• salt
• butter
• egg (1)
• vanilla extract
• cinnamon (optional)
• nutmeg (optional)

Combine in a heavy saucepan:
1 1/2 cups cooked rice (short grain sticky rice works best)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp table salt

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes thick and creamy (approximately 15-20 minutes).

Whisk together 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg and stir into the rice mixture.

Add 1/3 cup raisins and cook for 2 minutes.

Add 1 tbsp butter and 1/2 tsp vanilla and stir until butter is melted.

Sprinkle with cinnamon or nutmeg if desired.

Serves 4.

Original source: Rice Pudding Recipes

Friday, April 17, 2009

Zombie Jesus Day Wrap-up

Without a doubt, I would have to say that this was the most successful dinner I've pulled off yet. The food was all ready on time and I wasn't running around the kitchen trying to get things together at the last minute. It's partially thanks to the menu I chose, but it's also due, in part, to my time management skills. Do as much as you can ahead of time and then you can actually greet your guests when they arrive.

The day before:
- I started my "No Knead" bread dough and let it rise overnight
- I baked the pecan tarts and prepared the pudding eggs

The morning of:
- I baked the lemon tower cake and the breads

The afternoon of:
- I scored the ham and started it cooking

An hour before:
- I finished the ham
- Chad peeled and diced the sweet potatoes
- I roasted the asparagus (it kept well in the toaster oven on "warm")
- Gabriel prepared the salad
- I cooked the sweet potatoes (done in 10 minutes thanks to the pressure cooker)

The ham was incredible! We chose a pre-cooked (always choose a pre-cooked ham), 7.635 kg (that's 16.83 lbs for you imperialists) shank cut of ham. There were so many left overs that I sent doggie bags home with each of the diners! I would definitely do a ham again, as it was much less work than a turkey and much more yummy. There's also the added benefit of a pre-dinner snack when you remove the rind from the ham (tastes like bacon).

Once I've typed up the ham recipe, I'll post it. In the mean time, here is the chocolate pudding egg recipe I promised.

Jell-O Pudding Eggs

Shopping List:
• Jello-O Instant Pudding (chocolate or vanilla)
• butter or margarine
• boiling water
• Baker's semi-sweet chocolate (8 squares)
• Baker's white chocolate (4 squares)
• icing sugar

Place 1 package of Jell-O Instant Pudding in a large bowl with 1/3 cup softened butter.

Add 1/3 cup boiling water to the bowl and stir until butter is completely melted and mixture is well blended.

Gradually add in 3 cups icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition and until the mixture forms a ball.

Shape small tablespoonfuls of the mixture into small egg shapes and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until eggs are firm.

Heat 8 Baker's semi-sweet chocolate squares in a double boiler or in the microwave until almost melted. Stir until completely smooth.

Dip eggs into the melted semi-sweet chocolate and completely cover. Place on waxed paper or on draining rack.

Melt 4 Baker's white chocolate squares in squeeze container and drizzle over top.

Allow eggs to cool and harden.

Original Source: Kraft Canada - JELL-O Pudding Eggs

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Slow cooker chicken

Anyone who owns a slow cooker knows what a lifesaver it is in terms of the time it saves you to make dinner. Just put your food in in the morning, turn it on, come back 8 hours later and . . . voila! you have dinner. But is that really dinner? Just because the chicken is cooked through, doesn't mean its tasty. I like to take an extra 5 minutes in the morning to add a flavour base. The result is infinitely better.

Disclaimer: I use a 3 quart slow cooker which really does effect how what I'm about to describe turns out.

In the pot goes: 2 carrots, 2 stalks of celery and 1 onion, all cleaned and cut up into chunks (no need to peel). I also dump a tablespoon or two of whole black peppercorns.

Next goes the chicken. Something new I've discovered is wrapping the chicken in a single layer of cheese cloth before cooking it. It keeps the chicken in tack and makes it easier to serve. I only started doing this when I discoverd Dollar Store cheese cloth -- otherwise this is an excessively expensive habit.

All slow cookers required some liquid (NEVER run a slow cooker dry!), so why not add some flavour while you're at it? 1 can of vegetable or chicken broth is all you need to get things started.

Because of the size of my slow cooker, everything just barely fits and, after 8 hours, I have a chicken that has been boiling away in flavourful liquid all day. As a result, I not only have tonights dinner but I have tomorrow night's dinner as well: Wonderfully flavoured chicken stock which is perfect for chicken soup! Waste not, want not!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Apparently Perfect Scrambled Eggs

Gabriel just sent me this. It's Gordon Ramsey (of Hell's Kitchen fame), at home, cooking what he calls "the perfect scrambled egg." This is not quite how I like to do it, but I feel he's hit on some important themes:

  1. DON'T overcook the egg. If you overcook a scrambled egg, you're going to end up with water on your plate and some really dry, unpalatable eggs. And don't tell me you've never noticed this phenomenon - if so, you probably eat your eggs before they've had a chance to visably seperate, that's all. Golden rule: If it's done in the pan, it'll be overdone on the plate.
  2. Don't whisk the eggs. You want to keep some of that previously existing structure. It'll help give you scrambled eggs instead of mushy eggs.
  3. Don't season the eggs until afterward. If you really must, add the salt just before you start heating the eggs. NaCl does nasty things to eggs.
  4. Ramsey uses butter and creme fraiche - I use a smaller bit of butter and cream, but the point is: Scrambling plain eggs does not great scrambled eggs make. (I could take or leave the chives.)

I will be posting my marginally famous Jell-O (Chocolate) Pudding Egg recipe soon. Something to look forward to. It will be one of my many desserts in my yummy Easter dinner. Here's the menu:
  • Baked ham with mustard glaze
  • Roasted asparagus
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Homemade, no-knead bread
  • Mixed green salad with Italian dressing
  • Lemon Tower Cake
  • Jell-O pudding eggs
  • Pecan tarts

Monday, April 6, 2009

My first attempt at a dry curry

I'm a big fan of Indian cuisine and my favourite dish of all time is the potato and mushroom curry from the Modern Indian Buffet (any Hamiltonians will have been there at least once). It seems silly for me to go to a buffet just to enjoy one dish so I'm endeavouring to reproduce it at home. Sunday night was my first attempt. It turned out alright – it had the heat but not the spice. I'll let you know what I did and I would appreciate any and all suggestions as to what I was missing. Gabriel and I both think we forgot the ginger. What else?

Step 1: I prep'ed 4 red-skinned waxy potatoes, 1 medium onion, 4 cloves garlic and 250 g of mushrooms.

Step 2: I sautéed the onion in 2 tbsp oil until soft and translucent. Next I added the mushrooms and cooked them until they gave up their liquid and reduced in size.

Step 2a: While the mushrooms were cooking, I started cooking the cubed potatoes in the microwave for 4 minutes.

Step 3: I added the spices (1 ½ tbsp curry powder, 1 tsp chili powder, and a dash of crushed red pepper flake), the potatoes and 1 cup of water. I stirred the mixture to evenly distribute the spices, put on a lid and let the potatoes finish cooking for about 5 minutes.

Step 4: I removed the lid, added a dash of garam masala, and let the remaining water evaporate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Curried Split Pea Soup and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

I'd had the bag of split peas sitting in my cupboard for months and my stock of homemade chicken stock was sufficiently large (thank goodness we bought a deep freeze a month ago!) so I decided to finally get around to making some homemade pea soup.

I used Alton Brown's Curried Split Pea Soup recipe. There's not much to report on this endevour. It went over well but I'm not 100% sure I'd make it again. Gabriel claims it was too salty but both Chad and I were of the opinion that it wasn't. Dinner was saved by my delicious garlic butter cheese biscuits. I will blog about them another day (I must leave you in suspense of something) but I have to say that they taste really good and quite close to the all-you-can-eat Red Lobster biscuits.

Dessert was chocolate chip biscotti served with vanilla ice cream. Yum yum. Easy to make and definitely a great accompaniment for coffee or tea.

Chocolate Chip Biscotti

Shopping List:
• white sugar
• salted butter
• eggs (2)
• vanilla extract
• chocolate chips
• AP flour
• cocoa powder
• baking powder
• table salt

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cream 1 cup sugar with ¼ cup butter, softened until light and fluffy. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, beating to combine. Add 1 tbsp vanilla extract.

In a second medium bowl, whisk together:
2 cups AP flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
pinch table salt

Slowing add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips.

Shape the dough into a 1 inch deep rectangular loaf on a Silicon baking mat on a baking sheet.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove loaf from oven and cut into ½ - 1 inch thick slices as soon as it is cool enough to handle.

Rearrange slices, sides up, on the baking mat and bake again for approximately 10-15 minutes, until the cookies dry and brown slightly.

Flip the cookies over and bake for another 5 minutes.

Cool and enjoy with espresso covered ice cream.

Original Source: Chef at Home - Chocolate Chip Biscotti