Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Shrinking Violets Need Not Apply

Stinkin' Pizza

On the drive to work the other day, I was catching up on my feed reading with my iPhone (as passengers are wont to do) and came across a post on Mark Bittman’s new slog (that’s salon/blog to the newbs) about a dare he threw down to Ed Schneider to make a ramp pizza.

At the precise moment I was reading it, the Everyman happened to ask me what I was reading about, but when I told him he seemed non-plussed (though I was extremely intrigued) so I knew I’d have to file this one away for some future solo supper.  Of course, ramp season only lasts for so long, so I knew it would have to be sooner rather than later.

Several days later an opportunity presented itself, so the morning of I mixed up a batch of plain pizza dough using my handy dandy Bittman app.  That night, I started by following Ed’s general instructions by separating ramp leaves from the bulbs and sautéing them individually in a little beurre noisette.  I had rummaged around in our fridge and freezer for other things to put on the pizza and came across some errant artichoke pesto cubes, so once the ramps were cooked I melted the pesto into them too.  To finish the stinky, vegetal sauce I thwacked in a dollop of creme fraiche, then set to work trying to spread the mess onto half a ball of pizza dough.  Once it was mostly dressed, I showered it profusely with shredded mozzarella and tried to artfully snap the pie off my pizza peel with a flick of the wrist.  Let’s just say that part’s a work in progress.

A good while later the dough had reached my desired degree of doneness in the meekness of a 500* oven, and the ramp greens had acquired occasional spots of char as I had hoped for, so I fished it out and set to work cutting and munching it.

It would certainly have been better if I’d had a blazing hot pizza oven that could cook a proper pie in closer to 2 minutes than the 20 or so this one took, but otherwise, the flavours worked astonishingly well together.  Make no mistake though, this is not a pie for people who are on the fence about ramps, because even with the pesto and creme fraiche to temper them this is clearly a dish where their funky, pungent flavour is the primary star.

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Feels Like Home To Me

Sweet 'N Tasty

It’s funny how nostalgia sneaks up on you sometimes.

For instance, the other day I was completely overtaken by the urge to eat cinnamon toast.

Cinnamon toast, which is similar in concept to that cereal of the same name, only less disgusting and preservative-laden, is a foodstuff that has not crossed my lips in nigh on 20 years.  Not only that, but I hadn’t even given it a second thought since I was little, when I used to eat it all the time; being second only to a heavily slathered piece of peanut butter toast in my young mind’s library of deliciousness.

But, for whatever reason it was on my mind, so of course I had to relent and revisit it.

Over the years there have been several nostalgic foods of my childhood that I’ve returned to and found wanting, most recently the saccharine pastry known as Jos Louis, but my cinnamon toast (unsurprisingly) stood the test of time.  After savouring the first few bites, I couldn’t get enough, and have indulgently returned to it several more times since then.

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Not Too Late To The Party

Leaves Of Plenty

Though it’s not yet May, this year I’ve often worried that I might have missed the window for Ontario ramps and wild fiddleheads.

With a warmer than normal March and April, these edible delicacies have been popping up much earlier than usual, which leaves me without farmer’s markets to buy them from, since all of the markets in my area don’t start up until mid May or June.  Last year we found them at The Cheese Boutique several times, but given my tendency to grossly overspend every time I cross their threshold, I wasn’t keen on the idea of heading over there just to get a couple pounds of ramps.

But then, on the way home from the Green Living Show yesterday, the serendipitous happened.

As I was walking along Dundas West, huddled against the wind and the rain, I noticed a lone sandwich board announcing a grand opening.  It turns out that Provenance Regional Cuisine has rented out some space in the existing Palmerston Cafe and is now a mini pop-up style grocery store.  I walked in to investigate, but since the Everyman and I were about to hurry off to a Cowbell brunch, I only made the most cursory glance of the products on offer.  Promising the counter staff that I would return, several hours later the Everyman and I did.

And what a bounty we found.  Not only is the place gorgeously curated, but it finally offers a place to buy local, sustainable meat that’s only a 3 minute walk from our house, as opposed to the 20 minute jaunt it takes me to get to The Healthy Butcher.  After a few minutes I managed to procure a bundle of ramps, as well as some homemade crostini, dried cranberry beans, sweet potato flour and more.  With the ramps firmly in hand, all that was left was to devise how to use them. (more…)

How To Cook Everything: App Style

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time surely knows how much I am a fan of Mark Bittman.

But (full disclosure time) I’ve never really cooked many of his recipes, if only because I don’t generally use recipes.  You probably wouldn’t know considering how many recipes I publish on this website, but 9 times out of 10 I’m just throwing stuff together off the top of my head and trying to write recipes after the fact as best as possible from memory.  As a sidebar on my recipes, you may also have noticed that I never tell anyone to season their food with salt and pepper, which is because I assume that’s a given and you’ll season it to your liking (just sayin’).

The reason I like Bittman is because he does keep things simple, and because the intros to his podcasts are oh-so-hilarious (seriously, you must watch them!)

So, when I heard that How To Cook Everything was coming to the iPhone as an app, it only took me 2.5 seconds to download the thing and start messing around with it.  For the introductory price of $1.99 (I know, I sound like some sort of corny infomercial) it really is quite the steal.  I read somewhere that the app encompasses all 2000+ recipes from the book, which in a sense seems like a terrible marketing idea, but could also be considered very shrewd.  For people who don’t already have the book, you’re potentially losing the customer base, but for ones like me who have the book but are lazy and like flashy, shiny things, we’ll buy it even though we already own the book anyway.

I test drove the app while making a few dinners last week, and it proved to be quite the workhorse.  On Wednesday night I made a version of pad Thai (though not the exact same as the one published as the NY Times Minimalist recently) that was only passable moreso because I had to make so many substitutions than owing to the character of his recipe.  To test it again a few days later, I made one of his streamlined tagines for Friday night supper.  One of the features of the app that I loved outright was the linkage within recipes to other variations on that theme.  Also, the easier to digest screen by screen separation of instructions make any challenge seem much less daunting.  Though I’ve since decided to leave pad Thai to professionals, we were quite taken with the chicken and chickpea tagine served alongside homemade wholewheat pita bread and will definitely be making it again.

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And He Made It All By Himself!

Roasted Tomato Soup

As I’ve mentioned before, I do 99% of the cooking at home.

But several years ago, I got fed up with this arrangement and inferred that the Everyman should cook at least one of our meals a week.

Don’t get me wrong.  Out of the 21 meals we typically eat weekly, I wouldn’t say I prepare all of them.  On the occasional night that I don’t feel like cooking, the Everyman will suggest ordering in rather than cooking anything himself.  Then there are times when we go out to dinner or brunch, at least one of which generally happens once or twice a month.  I don’t go out of my way to cook things for lunches, but I am the one who packs up all of the leftovers with extras in the morning.  To put it simply, I do quite a bit and sometimes the balance seems more than a little unfair.

For a while the Everyman was cooking dinner on a fairly regular basis, and we even christened Thursdays as “survive the Everyman’s cooking” nights, since he’s such a fan of Survivor.  But for the last 9 months or so he’s been taking night school, so these survival dinners fell by the wayside and were more often than not replaced by a suggestion of takeout.  Obviously, not the ideal situation for either of our health or waistlines, not to mention takeout can get boring really fast.

As of this week, the Everyman is finished with his night school courses, so I was only too eager to chide him into returning to this weekly slot in the kitchen.  After a few gentle prods he obliged, so I give you the inaugural meal from “survive the Everyman’s cooking” 2010: roasted tomato and garlic soup!

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Turning Over A Greener Leaf

Sweetish Slaw

Here at Foodie And The Everyman, we’re always trying to find new ways to incorporate more healthy and environmentally responsible meals into our life.

Being virtuous ain’t easy though, and after a tough day at the office, mostly I just want to inhale a cupcake or a juicy steak.  Unfortunately, one can’t live on cake or steak alone, so every now and then I need to boost my vegetable intake to compensate for one too many edible indiscretions.

As part of that, I’ve recently adopted the idea of participating in Meatless Mondays at home.

Normally, my concept of meat-free eating is firmly rooted in either a tofu preparation, one of my hand-rolled vegetable pastas or occasionally a hearty soup.  And since the Everyman is allergic to nuts and won’t eat eggs or seafood, I am somewhat limited in the options available to me, so it seemed important to expand the vegetarian repertoire.  That it would be good for our health and also the planet are somewhat of an added bonus.

However, for the inaugural Meatless Monday, I had no tofu in the house, and I’d already packed pasta leftovers for our lunches, which meant that another pasta meal was out of the question.  Thus our first Meatless Monday supper would require a slightly more elegant solution.  After brainstorming for a little bit, I decided to concoct a veggie burger with homemade buns, mashed white beans, flax seed and piri piri sauce for a little bit of kick.  Once mixed together and grilled, the patties proved tender and delicious, if a little sloppy to eat.  Next time I’ll most definitely have to experiment with other ingredients to make the patties firmer.

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Shepherd, Meet Cottage Pie

Mega Pie

When I was a child, shepherd’s pie was one of several dishes that my dad could make relatively cheaply and easily, so it was one we had fairly often.

I’m not sure what it was about shepherd’s pie exactly, but for years I’ve mercilessly decried its very existence.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was likely the whole frozen pea/carrot/corn blend that caused me to hate it with a passion, because I’ve had too long and varied a love affair with mashed potatoes for them to be the cause.

That negative connotation stuck with me even after all of these years, and though the Everyman is quite a fan of shepherd’s pie (categorizing it as one of those dishes he never craves but whenever he ingests it he wonders why he doesn’t eat it more often) I have never so much as considered making one.

But, then I concocted that delectable chicken pot pie recipe.  And it got me thinking – why limit a shepherd’s pie filling to that sad, sloppy mess of frozen veggies and ground beef?  Having just recovered from a bout of food poisoning (where the only things I could ingest were mashed potatoes or peanut butter on toast) I had a gigantic bowl of creamy buttermilk mash left over but no semblance of a plan for what to do with it.

Before I knew it I was mentally mapping out a shepherd’s/cottage pie hybrid that had the filling of a chicken pot pie, but was topped with pillowy mash instead of golden puff pastry.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that having all that mash on top meant I should omit the chunks of potatoes from the filling and replace them with something else.  My pot pie recipe typically consists of a carrot, celery, pearl onion and potato blend, and having nothing else in the house I opted to just beef up the other quantities.  To make the hybrid version that much more complete though, next time I would replace the potatoes with those ubiquitous frozen peas and corn instead.

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Dippity Do

Roasted Carrot Dip

My mother in law is the queen of the newspaper recipe.

Because they often have 3 of the 4 local papers in the house, it’s not unusual to find her kitchen at home or at the cottage littered with clippings of recipes she is longing to try.  She’s pretty open minded, but definitely has a soft spot for Lucy Waverman’s weekly column.  Generally speaking, I don’t usually find recipes for my kind of food in the paper (with the exception of Bittman, that is) so you can imagine my surprise when we all (myself included) immediately fell in love with a dip she’d cribbed from the paper over Christmas.

If I’m not mistaken, the original recipe was also a Waverman, but I can’t confirm because I’ve been unable to find it online.  The recipe in question was for a rather festive roasted red pepper and artichoke tapenade, made unique by the fact that it didn’t actually contain any olives.  I know, it’s technically not a tapenade without them, but I kind of think of it along the same lines as the universe basterdizing hummus.  At any rate, this tapenade was SO good that all of us spending Christmas at the cottage were hooked and slurping it up like crack.  Since then, I’ve regularly made it twice a month in 3 cup batches and find it as a welcome addition to a lunch basket.

However, while recently peeling and turning a 5 pound bag of carrots into sticks, I started to wonder what would happen if I started messing around with the proportions of veg in the recipe.  Before I knew it, I was steaming a handful of carrot sticks and collecting the rest of the ingredients I wanted to play with on the counter.  By the time I was done, the recipe bore little resemblance to the original, but still had the same raw, sweetly pungent bite that the roasted pepper variety had.  The lovely thing about the dip is that it gets better and better the longer it sits, as the flavours have time to meld.

Foodie’s Roasted Carrot Dip

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Nobody Is Perfect All Of The Time

Crappy Upside Down Cake

It’s a fact of life that sometimes what we do (make, are, etc) is mediocre.

Not everything can be fireworks, after all.  If it were, imagine how jacked up on adrenaline or excitement your body would constantly be.

Of course, that statement can apply to the act of cooking, too.

Though I don’t spend much time blogging about my kitchen failures, believe me, even I occasionally have them.  I’ve decided I should make an effort to talk about them a little more, if only to illustrate that it’s ok to be wrong sometimes.  When something goes sideways in the kitchen, I don’t think of it as a problem, I look at it as an opportunity to improve my methods and technique for next time.

It amazes me how often people choose not to cook because they are afraid to fail.  But really, that’s just a self defeating attitude.  If you never try, you’ll never grow and gain the experience necessary to make yourself a better cook.  You don’t need fancy tools, artisanal ingredients or an expensive culinary education to make great food (though having quality products to start does improve the end result).  Thomas Keller is arguably one of the best chefs in America, and he never went to cooking school.  In fact, he’s been known to say that he believes practice is one of the fundamentals for making a good cook.  If the end result is at least edible, you’ve won half the battle right there.  Only if your mistake is really really really bad (which is pretty rare) you won’t be able to eat it.  At that point, you just need to dust yourself off, analyze the situation to determine what went wrong and consider how you can do better the next time.

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Turning Winter Into Spring (Or Why I Would Never Survive On The Atkins Diet)

Combining The Seasons

Firstly, I apologize for having such a one track mind lately, but I’ve really, really, really been enjoying messing around with the new pasta maker.  Heaven knows I already loved pasta a great deal before I started to make my own, so fresh made has only managed to amplify that passion further.

The other night I intended to finish the rest of a batch of semolina dough by trying my hand at ravioli, so I’d carefully rolled out sheets and set them aside as we waited for someone to pick up a set of keys.  I hadn’t wanted to start cooking on the off chance that we’d be sitting down to dinner just as they decided to show up, so I’d only started my prep. Of course, the visitor ended up being late, and staying much longer than expected, so by the time I got back to the pasta, most of the edges and ends were dried out and brittle.  Lesson number one with pasta; always cover the dough when you’re not working on it.  Since we’d been waiting so long to eat neither of us wanted to wait any more, so we ended up getting some takeout that night instead.  Not that it mattered at that point, because I was significantly non-plussed by the whole situation.

After we were sated, I decided to try and salvage what was left of the supple dough and work it into a pasta for the following day’s lunch.  I had a rather large bag of frozen chunks of braised oxtail in the freezer that wasn’t getting used as quickly as I would’ve liked, but given that my grocer had delivered a 5 pound bag of oxtail when I’d ordered them and I’d braised the whole lot because it sounded just as easy to do 1 pound as 5, it was understandable.  Nonetheless, I knew oxtail would form the base of the sauce.  Peering around in the fridge, I also came across the flesh of a roasted acorn squash I’d been meaning to use, and some leftover fennel fronds.  Rooting around a little bit more, I unearthed a jar of pickled ramps from last spring that astonishingly had not been opened yet.  Grabbing a tub of creme fraiche for good measure, I started tossing all of the disparate ingredients together into a pan to warm up.  In the time that it took for the sauce to heat and come together, I cut the pasta dough into rough noodles, and dunked them into the pot of boiling water.  After their quick bath, I retrieved them and tossed in the pan with the sauce.  Adding a sprinkling of chopped pickled ramps and fennel fronds to the top, I portioned it up for lunch and put it away.

The next day at lunch, as I took the first bite I marvelled at the clever combination of bi-seasonal ingredients.  Standing in for winter was the oxtail and acorn squash, giving body to an otherwise lightened dish.  The fennel fronds and ramps practically sung of springtime and the creme fraiche managed to tie everything together.  It probably wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve ever made in my life, but at the time in that moment, with the warm sun beaming down on me through my office window, it was pretty damn fantastic.

I would suggest you try just such a combination to help usher in spring.

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Chicken Pot Pie (In The Sky!)

Fillicious

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Toronto during the last 7 days, with temperatures ranging from 14 to 19 throughout the week.

It’s been so warm in fact, that it’s had many people decrying the arrival of spring.  I for one am sceptical on that front.  Not that it matters much to me anyway, since I’ll be departing on a tropical vacation soon.  Nonetheless, it’s certainly not enough to get me planting out of doors or packing away the winter boots just yet.

One thing it was able to inspire me to do though, was to create a pot pie.  Even if winter might not be quite over, it’s pretty clear that we’re getting to the tail end of it, which means heavier, heartier fare is becoming less and less desired or appropriate as each week moves on.  That being said, as far as I could remember, I don’t think I had ever made a pot pie before, though I’ve certainly made my fair share of chicken stews with dumplings, which are pretty much just pot pie filling without the vessel.  It seemed almost ludicrous to me that I had never bothered to make one, since chicken pot pie rates up there as one of my most favourite foods, but also one I don’t eat very often.  For the record, I can’t even recall the last time I had one before this, which seemed like reason enough to follow through with it.  Fortuitously, I’d received an email recipe from Chow recently that sounded like just the ticket, so I planned to work on it when I got home that night.

Of course, as I read through the recipe I realized I was missing several things; peas and pre-roasted chicken being the most noticeable exceptions.  I wasn’t ready to let go of the idea though, so I went rogue.  Instead of adding the peas, I just increased the carrots, celery and potato all to a cup.  For the chicken I opted to take the liquid that you’re supposed to simmer the chicken in, substitute buttermilk into it so that it would keep the meat moist and tender and poach boneless, skinless chicken thighs in it until they were cooked through.  Once everything was cooked and creamy, I assembled the pie as directed and topped it with a yummy puff pastry lid.  45 minutes later, I was in pot pie heaven.

The Everyman was so fond of the pot pie that he went back for thirds that night, and then proceeded to request it in his lunch bag every single day until it was all gone.  I’d say it was a winner.  Unfortunately, since he also asked me to keep this one in the regular rotation, I imagine it’s possible that I’ll be in the kitchen sweating my arse off over some pot pie filling this summer.

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One Upping Rusty And Jerome…

The R&J

As I’ve surely mentioned here many times before, I’m a huge fan of breakfast.

Unfortunately, the Everyman is not, and mostly prefers to eat his first meal of the day around noon-ish on the weekend, which typically leaves us at a frustratingly inedible impasse.  Due to our differing opinions on the matter we don’t go out for brunch all that often, either.  Our first few visits to The Hoof Cafe when it opened were a noticeable exception, but that was mainly because the Everyman trusts Grant and also knew he could get un-breakfasty items if it came down to it (and it often does).  After we went to Cowbell brunch for my birthday, the Everyman was visibly smitten with the Rusty and Jerome I ‘d ordered (pictured above in its combo plate of apple pear compote-topped waffle, meatloaf, beans and sausage, bacon, toast and eggy glory) and beermosas too, but the simple fact is no matter how good the food is (and it IS fan-freakin-tastic) some days you just don’t want to travel across town to eat.  We’ve returned for brunch several times since then, but I still occasionally get intolerable cravings for breakfast that won’t quit in the interim.

One such yen hit me with full force just the other day.  Being that it was the middle of the week, it was unlikely that I would have the chance to go out for brunch the following day, so I contemplated the next best option; breakfast for dinner!  Growing up, I had a friend whose dad would make breakfast for dinner one day a week, and whether it was pancakes, waffles or eggs I always loved eating dinner at their house on that day.  We never really did anything like that in my home, so dinnerfast felt a little bit foreign and strangely like luxury.

After rummaging around in the fridge and finding the remnants of a carton of buttermilk, I began searching the internest for a decent buttermilk pancake recipe.  My gaze immediately gravitated towards this, but was also enticed by this, too.  Knowing the Everyman as well as I do, I was certain that if he chose the buttermilk pear option I’d have to find a suitable side dish to go with it to counter the sweetness, since he’s not a great lover of sweet breakfasts especially.  As I wracked my brain over possible complements, out of nowhere an idea came to me.  Why not make a salty hash with his favourite meat (prosciutto)?

Once I ran the options by him, he immediately began salivating over the potential of what we began referring to as who hash (a la The Grinch).  When we arrived home from work I mixed up the pear pancake batter so that it could rest, and began grating potatoes and onions and dicing prosciutto.  The whole meal came together quickly, and before I knew it I was serving up a beautiful puffy pancake that resembled an upside down cake with a side of crispy, crusty prosciutto speckled hash.

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Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name?

Complete

During the past few months I’ve become increasingly entranced by the idea of making my own pasta.

While achieving ribbony, hand cut noodles has been a work in progress, I’ve slowly but surely become more proficient, bit by flour-covered bit.

As such, I’ve been on the market for some form of pasta machine, but ever since my snafu with the stand mixer pasta attachment, I haven’t been in much of a hurry.  I’ve also been told they can be quite expensive, so I didn’t want to plunk down any cold, hard cash until I was absolutely certain it wasn’t just a passing fancy.  In the interim, pastas have been made with some regularity in our household by using the old fashioned method of rolling pin plus sharp knife.  Rustic for sure, but still extremely satisfying when compared next to your standard out of the box fare.

So, while the Everyman and I were out shopping for our upcoming trip, it occurred to me to stop into a housewares store to check if they happened to sell pasta makers.  In the first store I was out of luck, but ducking into the second as we headed towards the exit, not only did I find a pasta maker, but it was the last one, and a floor model at that, so for all intents and purposes it was a steal.  The only catch was that it didn’t come packaged, which meant that a) there was no manual, and b) it took the clerk 20 minutes to try and figure out what the SKU was so they could enter it into the cash register.  But, for a mere $20 I certainly wasn’t complaining.

Semolina Dough

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