Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in a Pie Shell

This recipe was a fridge-clearing miracle. Make a basic pie-crust and pre-bake it to 70% doneness. You want the base to include sautéed,  finely diced:  onions, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms, dried-thyme, etc. Add the leftover meat of your choice (brisket, Italian sausage, Christmas-turkey, etc.) and thicken the whole mixture with a roux. There should be enough to fill 2/3 of the pie. Let this cool and stiffen while you make the next layer. Otherwise, pouring the hot mixture into a recently cooked shell will make for a soggy pie. For a topping, use leftover mashed-potatoes... but as we did not have these, I just made a speedy sweet-potato mash with butter and a dash of maple. Fill the remaining 1/3 of the pie and put a little more on to get  the "rounded" look. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes more. If you're not dead tired and over-partied at this point, you may consider making a gratin or cheesy topping for the pie. A few parsley-sprigs wouldn't hurt your detox-mission either. Serve wedges of this dish with seasonal greens.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner

Claire MatlockChristmas Eve in our house is an extravagant event where extended relatives come over to eat, drink and compete to win the annual talent show. While cooking for a crowd is often a cause for stress amongst party hosts, it's important to remember that everyone will enjoy the gathering more if the cook is calm and not isolated to solitary confinement in the kitchen. Obviously, I love cooking, and having been deprived of such pleasures for the past few months of university, I was more than glad to roll up my sleeves and pipe some sweetened ricotta into canolli shells. On top of this, Christmas Eve is a time when my parents generously omit any ingredient-budget, making the night truly one of indulgence. Bonus was the spanking new kitchen in my parent's new condo. Although I knew our old suburban kitchen like the back of my hand, this new set-up is beautiful and features far better appliances. Anticipating the search for every spoon and spice in the new drawers and cupboards meant not biting off more than I could chew, as is a common mistake for food-enthusiasts this time of year.

If you like to keep things simple, there are a ton of ways to "cut corners" and make your taste-buds fly without doing the dirty work. (Buy the canolli shells pre-made from a good Italian grocer, buy gourmet crackers and bread instead of baking them, spike any pre-made ingredients with citrus zest to "wake-up" the flavour, etc). On top of this, 60% of this meal was made the day before Christmas Eve, really taking the pressure off the night of the party. For dishes like the brisket, the overnight treatment helped to tenderize the meat and let the sauce soak in, while letting the fat congeal in the refrigerator for easy removal in the morning. In fact, I was able to Crossfit for 2 hours at noon - testament to the "make it all the day before" theory. This is the 3rd year I've tackled Christmas dinner and it gets easier every year. Above all, I've learned to keep it simple. Pick two of three intricate dishes you want to make and let the rest be old-faithfuls or no-brainers. Everyone will be too busy looking at your show-stopper carrot pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting to notice that you just threw some smoked salmon on a cracker with some tangy sauce and dill sprigs.

Without further adieu, the 2012 Christmas Eve menu:

Appetizers: Cheesy spinach dip served gooey hot with crackers and bread for dipping, smoked salmon on rye with dill and lime cream, goat cheese "truffles" rolled in pistachios, apricots or grapes

Mains: Lucy Waverman's Brisket with meat purchased from Charles' Meats at the farmer's market, roast potatoes with thyme and rosemary, pear and yam soup, wild-mushroom puffed-pastry pies, favourite meatballs, greens with maple vinaigrette dressing

Desserts: Pineaple carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, Italian cannoli, sticky toffee date cake, fruit platter with persimmons and pomegranates, mom's cookie tower


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Eve Prep

Batter mixing... mushroom dicing...soup-making...meat roasting....pastry rollin'...

Christmas-Eve dinner is underway!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Student Snack

Layer: Peanut butter, excellent bacon (different than mediocre bacon, in that it's excellent), bananas and strawberry jam between bread toasted in bacon fat. Drink with whatever is left in the bottle. Dedicated to my lovely roommate.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

10 Min-estrone

Play on words. Fancy. Alright. Down to business. Firstly, ignore grammar. Olive oil, fry carrots, celery and onions, add tomatoes and broth, add pasta, swiss-chard and beans to that order, done.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Roast Duck, Jerusalem Artichoke Gratin, Kale Toss and Pomegranate Salad

 If you're willing to sacrifice yield for flavour, duck is a fantastic alternative to the usual roasting bird. I flavoured Harold the duck (okay, didn't actually name him...) with orange, anise, rosemary  cloves and other winter-y spices. Make sure to save the drippings for other dishes where a spoon of a high smoking-point fat is of use. I coated the salad's spelt bread croutons in duck fat and spices and toasted them on a baking sheet. Also, don't let excess duck skin go to waste when you can roast it and slice it for a topping where bacon would be used.

The Jerusalem artichoke gratin was split with half potatoes to lend the starchy softens that pairs so well with a creamy sauce and cheesy topping. The kale was done up with caramelized onions and re-hydrated dried cranberries to combat the leaf's bitterness. The salad was a mix of lettuce, pea-sprouts, pomegranate seeds, apples and spinach. I dressed it with a maple vinaigrette  given the season. Most of the ingredients for this dinner were acquired from the local farmer's market...a treat to buy local after having eaten generic school food for a few months.



Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saucy Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage

Pork shoulder is a fantastic cut of meat to transform this time of year. It's fantastically cheap to buy and will take care of itself in a crockpot or dutch oven if you get it started in morning. I threw a 1.5 lb chunk in a slow-cooker around noon with a cup of apple cider, cloves, cardamom, brown sugar, salt, and a little molasses. By 6pm it shredded beautifully and separated from it's own, self-basting fat with the twirl of a fork. Reduce the sauce in a pan until it's glossy and thick and throw in the chunks of meat. Let it sit a few minutes to absorb and then serve over a mashed winter starch (potatoes, celeriac, turnip, rutabaga  carrots, etc) and a winter-y green like savoy. The melt-in-your-mouth threads of meat oozed sauce when bitten into.
The men of the family loved this one.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Home for the Holidays

Having completed the first semester of military university, I arrived home for the holidays to the picture you see on the right. Italian Christmas baking is always an ordeal in our family. Mom made her usual, revered chocolate chip cookies, but also filbert biscotti drizzled in chocolate, damn-good sugar cookies and shortbread. On my personal list will be some twists on the old classics. Half the fun of Christmas baking is the flipping through of magazines and cookbooks, drooling over the elaborate recipes too intricate or expensive to attempt the remainder of the year. Tis' the season for pine nuts, puffed-pastry, minced-meat, rosemary and orange, dark chocolate (80% + !), etc. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thanksgiving Feast

Never did I appreciate Thanksgiving to the extent that I did this past weekend. Family and friends know that I spent the past two months undergoing orientation/bootcamp into the Canadian Forces, and my new university, RMC. After leaving campus for the long weekend, we made a B-Line for cottage country and spent the long weekend sleeping, eating and sleeping some more. Making Thanksgiving dinner with my mom was the first time I was able to cook in a while! Peeling vegetables, mashing potatoes, straining gravy and carving turkey were all more enjoyable after a length of culinary deprivation. Of course, pumpkin pie and vanilla bean ice-cream were on the menu. No recipes or cooking tips this time! Although, if I may suggest... I highly recommend adding dried fruits and nuts to your stuffing, along with the turkey giblets and reserved juices. And the brussels sprouts are best roasted and tossed in browned butter. And the rutabaga or turnip could use a dash of maple syrup...but I'll stop there. This is merely a mini update (more posts to come) and wishes that your Thanksgiving was tasty, spent in good company and enjoyed between naps.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Bit of Tail


Oxtail is such a wonderful cut of meat! It's a shame that many people overlook this "oddbit." If you're not opposed to a little animal fat in your diet and are comfortable with making slow-cooking dishes like pulled pork, oxtail is a breeze! Beef oxtail is most traditional, but I've also spotted some different animal tails in the ethnic stores around town. To be clear, "ox" in the oxtail sense no longer refers to those tails of castrated cattle... it's just you're regular t-bone-steak cow's tail. It's quite popular in Caribbean and Mediterranean cuisine - two cultures which really value their animals from nose to tail. Oxtail responds very well to braising or roasting and it's nearly impossible for your results to be dry or bland. I like cooking with cuts of meat such as this because of three reasons:

1. They are cheap
2. They soak of flavour like a charm
3. People are pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoy the. Hmm, maybe because it's still a part of the cow? Merely 30 inches away from your favourite Sirloin cut...

For this "Salty Oxtail Stew," I roasted the tail chunks in the oven for 40 minutes with no seasoning. I transfered them to a stockpot with carrots, onions, celery, 1 crushed tomato, fennel seeds and a healthy dose of salt. Usually I will season a stock at the end of it's cooking time, but I wanted the seasoning to permeate this long-cooking meat all the way to the bone, vs. just on the outside. I let everything simmer for about 3 hours. I removed the almost cooked tails from the pot, threw them in the oven with more salt to roast again and develop that fatty crust we all love so much. About another 30 minutes. To the stock I added zucchini, peas and some dried red lentils (for my mom, the veggie). Garnish with some chopped, salty olives and a fennel frawn.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"Guess the price! Lower...lower...think subterranean"

Everybody loves a good adventure in Toronto's Chinatown. My friend Naomi can attest to the fact that I flipped out more than a dozen times, marvelling at dirt-cheap copper bake-wear, or bamboo steamers, or gargantuan mortar and pestles, or spring-form pans for $5. If you're like me and take pleasure in sighting rare breeds of mushrooms, dried shell-fish and vegetables and fruits whose name you've never heard of, then walk the few blocks where Dundas meets Spadina. After we braved a torrential downpour outside, Naomi and I sought refuge in our favourite dumpling house (also dirt-cheap). Despite the missing sake, greasy noodles and pork & chive dumplings were almost as good as the company. Everybody needs a friend with whom they can enjoy dirty tacos on a 2nd floor "restaurant," sympathize over delicious photos of food and discuss the sanctity of pastrami on rye. But we have our boundaries. She won't do steak tar-tar and I won't listen to more than 10 minutes of her ramblings on Marx's Communist Manifesto. One thing is certain - deliciousness is never lost in translation.

Proper Fuel

Summer is hot. Ice cream is tasty.

While I could theoretically dive into 3 scoops of chocolate-chip-cookie-dough at the general-store in cottage country (okay, not theoretically) at some point, one needs to fuel them self with proper food. Our fridge is flooded with farm produce: zucchini, napa cabbage, green onions, fresh herbs, etc. This was a super-lazy lunch which consisted of throwing everything in a frying pan with an inch of boiling water at the bottom. Simmer. Season with salt, pepper, fresh basil and toss on some grilled sardines. Technique = 2/10. Nutritional Value = 10/10.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Strawberry and Brie Toastie

Stop. Look. Stop.
Oozy, buttery, decadent, sweet, crispy...
This brilliant idea spontaneously came to me upon opening the refrigerator and assessing my options for lunch. I can't even begin to... tell you... how good.... stop. Just make it. Trust me. Local bread, butter, pan, brie cheese and local strawberry jam. Fry it for a few minutes on each side. You won't be disappointed.
Revelations such as this make me proud to have the twisted mind of a ravenous student, craving foie gra one minute and fruit-loops the next. If your mission is to go full throttle on the struggling-student scale, this sammie ought to be made at 2am - a fervent procrastination method, accompanying large quantities of fermented beverages.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Early Summer Salad

When you find yourself taking refuge in air-conditioned rooms, flocking to the nearest beach, or constructing elaborate shade-imparting devices, sweating the curdling-properties of a sabayon in the kitchen is not your first choice.
Our bountiful farm-share - courtesy of Angie Koch - is making my job a lot easier. Salads are a favourite go-to meal for a variety of reasons: easy to prepare, minimal heat involved, they are light, they clear out the fridge and they are delicious!
For this one, I quickly blanched de-stemmed, chopped swiss-chard and garlic scapes, tossed them with thinly sliced hakerai turnips, apples, and cooked beets and marinated everything in a sweet mustard, olive oil and cider vinegar dressing for several hours. The acid in the dressing prevents the fresh fruit and veg from browning and helps soften the tougher ingredients. Don't add salt until right before serving, so as not to draw the water out of the crisp vegetables.
*You might want to add the beets right before serving as well, so as not to turn the whole dish a fluorescent pink. ... Nobody seemed to mind though, as we were too busy discussing the intricacies of  floaty toys.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Gift Idea: Cheap Student Edition

Last weekend, some pals and I celebrated a lovely lady's birthday! When it comes to gift giving, true friends expect two things: A) A "non-gift" because your shared friendship is beyond material worth and B) To be blown away by whatever you get them, because your friendship has spanned years, countries, boyfriends, etc. No doubt, you can relate to this dilemma. Solution: if you like to cook and happen to run a cooking blog, make them a spread of delightful finger-foods accompanied by fruity cocktails.

My Saturday night menu included: pesto/asparagus puff-pastry triangles, mini blue cheese/caramelized onion/crimini tarts, thai rice wraps with sweet and sour peanut sauce, a spring salad and eggs "mimosa." It wasn't exactly the "Food & Wine, September issue" of combinations, but it was fuss-free and tasty. Despite a few years of kitchen wisdom, webisodes and a newspaper article, I still get nervous serving my edible creations to groups of people. I'll convince myself that whatever I prepared was in fact mediocre, and everyone thus far has been humouring me.Which brings me to my third point. C) Good friends will vocalize any crap you feed them (literally and figuratively). They'll like the lemon/berry cocktails but won't palate that text message read aloud...

Happy Birthday to a friend who knows when to brew another pot of coffee and add insult to injury with chocolate cake and ice-cream. Much love and best wishes on this 18th year of awesome.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment

This weekend, a friend of mine got a head start on a photography project for school. We had some fun in the kitchen photographing fresh produce bought the same morning at the farmer's market. Asparagus, fiddleheads, radishes, celeriac and salmon were all on the menu. I'm still amazed with how lovely the photos turned out. Who knew a sprig of dill could look so amazing?! It was interesting working with food from a different perspective. As a cook, I tend to focus predominantly on flavour. Seasoning, tenderness and quality ingredients are my game. If it looks nice on the plate for the 8 seconds before my brother eats it...that's a bonus! Vicky on the other hand was concerned with things like lighting, exposure and depth. She was a pro at telling me how to hold a knife for the camera, how to turn the veggies so they looked textured and interesting and how to light the food so it looked delicious to the audience. We used a lot of butter and oil to keep each component of the dish glossy and "fresh" looking. All in all, we had a delicious lunch and I couldn't be happier with the photos. Talented friends are a blessing.