Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Saturday was just one of those days. Friday had been fine, but by not visiting the butcher's early, I was in a real bind. I hoped they'd have something called "pork butt shoulder roast", and having seen pictures of it -- I thought they might.

We usually call on the butcher by around 10 in the morning. The store-front's in a fancy 80's mini-mall, and always well lit. The butcher's a friendly guy who, after I asked for "3 pounds of pork butt shoulder roast" gladly walked me to the fridge section and pointed to a well-wrapped package. I picked one up. It weighted 1.795KG, which to my addled brain seemed about the right weight. It also had a bone in the middle of it - so I guess this was a "bone-in pork butt shoulder roast". It didn't look round, or very much like a Sunday roast; but I'm not the type to question the experts, at least not in their shop so close to the knives.

I bought it - along with other ingredients for my menu of the week.

Conscious of the time, we got home by 11, and everything was put away by around 11:30; so I dug right in. Onions and garlic are always at my house. The recipe called for 1 large onion, I used up 3 smaller ones who were waiting in the pantry. Unwrapping them always makes me cry, but a few minutes under the knife leaves the onions fanned out and reduced to bits. Six cloves of garlic were then smashed and disrobed by the same chef's knife. I found that very therapudic, although I doubt the garlic would agree.

The serrano chiles were frosty, but I ignored their attitude. I quartered 2 lenthwise, scraped out the seeds and diced them fine. The recipe calls for picked jalapeno peppers - but I don't like pickled peppers and I'm a spice-wimp, so the choice of a lower-heat chile made sense to me. I dumped the onion, garlic and chiles into a 4 cup measure. To this I added the rest of the spice ingredients, pausing only a minute to open a new can of tomato paste with an unwilling can opener. It squeeled displeasure throughout the process, but it was a small can and I didn't give the can opener any options.

With everything in the 4 cup measure, I brought out the big guns: my emersion blender. After finding an outlet (it was cowering behind dirty dishes and my kitchen-aid mixer), I powered it up and worked over the sauce ingredients. It took a while to get everything smoothed out, but near the end the sauce began looking more and more like barbeque sauce. Smelled like it too.

When it was done, I wiped off the emersion blender, unplugged it and rinsed the business end before putting it away. After unwrapping the pork butt shoulder roast from its cellophane container, I put the meat into a deep pot. I then poured in the sauce and filled the now-empty 4 cup measure with water, scraped the remaining bits of sauce off the sides into the water, and added that to the pot as well. I put the heat on full, and turned it down to a simmer only after the sauce began to boil. I set the timer to 2 hours and moved on.

My next project was spagetti sauce. This is one of my old favorites and I'd run out last week. I like this sauce because it freezes well, and because it has meat in it. But that's another story.

When the timer screamed at me the meat was still resistant to being pulled apart. I let it cook for another 3/4 of an hour, but by then I was out of time, so I pulled the pork mess off the burner and allowed it to cool. It was later put in the fridge by a helper who shall remain nameless.

The next morning I took out the congealed mass. It looked very ... orange. I put the pot back on the heat, allowing it to slowly rise up to the boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer. After about an hour on simmer the meat pulled easily from the bone, so I took the pot off the heat and let it sit.

It was almost an hour later when I came back and checked - the sauce was warm, but I could touch the meat without burning myself; so I got out a big bowl and tried to pull the meat out with a meat-fork. It fell apart back into the sauce. Using a spoon and the meat fork I managed to fish out most of the bits of meat from the sauce.

I poured the sauce into a sauce pan and returned it to the heat to reduce.

The meat came apart easily. I used my fingers. I had tried using 2 forks, but it just got messy. The tines kept getting tangled up and scaping the plate, so they and I went our separate ways. I discarded the inner fat and the bones, and set the meat aside.

It was another hour before the sauce was reduced, and even then not to the 3/4 the recipe suggested. Throwing caution to the wind, I added the sauce to the meat in the bowl and stired it in. I served it on toast - open faced for me, as a sandwich for the other. We both found it sweet, but good and very filling.

The remaining meat and sauce went into a baggie, got labeled and thrown into the freezer for later. Next time I'll try using more chiles or maybe some adobe chipotle paste to give it more of a kick. I'll also give myself more time to make the recipe all in one go.

Pulled pork sandwiches
Serves 4-6
Time: 15 minutes preparation, 3+ hours cooking
Inspired by Simply Recipes Pulled pork sandwich recipe. This hot sandwich comes with its own terrific sauce. It takes time to make, but should be convertable to a crockpot recipe with relative ease.

The original recipe called for 1 pickled jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped, 2 teaspoons of Chipotle chile powder, 1 Tbsp tomato paste, and 1/4 cup light brown sugar. I found this recipe too sweet and so have modified it to try and make it more spicy. This is best served on thick-crusted bread rather than toast or hamburger buns, otherwise the sauce will make the bread really soggy. The meat and sauce store well. I'm going to try freezing the leftovers and will report back to see how they taste after thawing. I've left the original ingredients in the recipe (along with some notes) as I know a few readers will prefer things sweet to spicy.

* 1 large onion, chopped
* 6 garlic cloves, peeled
* 2 serrano chile peppers, seeded and chopped (to taste)
or 1 picked jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (original recipe)
* 1 tablespoon of Adobe Chipotle paste
or 1 tablespoon tomato paste (original recipe)
2 teaspoons of Chipotle chile powder
* 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
* 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
* 1 teaspoon paprika
* 1/3 cup ketchup
* 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
* 1/8 cup light brown sugar
or 1/4 cup light brown sugar (original recipe)
* 1 bay leaf

* 3 lbs of pork butt shoulder roast, trimmed of excess fat
* Hamburger buns

1. Puree the first 11 ingredients until smooth.
2. In a deep pot, put the pork butt shoulder roast, bay leaf, sauce and 4 cups of water.
3. Bring the pot to a boil.
4. Turn it down to simmer. Keep simmering for 2 hours.
5. Remove from the heat and alow to cool.
6. When cool, remove the pork from the sauce. Shred it into small pieces and set aside.
7. Reduce the sauce by 3/4s.
8. Add the meat back into the sauce and allow the meat to heat through (about 2-3 minutes). Stir often.
9. Remove the bay leaf.
10. Top hamburger buns with about 1 cup of the meat mixture each. Add additional sauce if possible.
11. Serve while hot.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Barbecued Lemon Trout

This entry first appeared on Recipe Maven (LJ).
Entry: When I first met the fish - it was two frozen trout fillets and, while it had good color - it was frigid and almost without promise. A day or so in the dark and coolness of my fridge made the trout relent, and it was far more malleable when I got home. I didn't want any evidence - so no photos were taken.

By then, however, the lemon and the lime were barely on talking terms and had to be gotten rid of. They were hiding behind two bread heels that were no better than the citrus. Obviously they had to go too. Pepper is a great one for conspiracies - so there was no way I was going to leave him out of this. But the trout alone wasn't enough - it needed a sidekick, and in the summer a mixed salad is always available for any nefarious plot.

The trout took a bath and lost its packaging quickly enough, and, after toweling it off, I set it on a plate to rest. The microplaner made quick work of the lemon's peel, and after a quick squeeze over my fingers - the lemon wasn't keeping any secrets. The lemon juice made the trout wet and bitter - it was starting to cook before my very eyes. But I wasn't done yet. On the counter, watching the whole affair - the lime began to sweat; but I left it there, knowing it would perform better under stress. Naturally pepper had to get into it - a sprinkling of ground pepper atop the zest and lemon juice was hardly visible, but everyone would know its presence later.

The Box Grater changed the bread heels forever. No longer heels, they were now fresh bread crumbs. They were sprinkled over the trout so I couldn't see it cooking anymore. About the time I went out and lit the gas grill the lime had stopped sweating, and the trout looked presentable. The trout went onto the gas grill (skin side down) with a hiss and a whiff of steam, but the lemon and the pepper kept it fragrant and the bread crumbs were already soaking up most of juice and the smell.

Back inside I wiped away the scene of the crime and dug out my trusty salad spinner - all in front of the lime.
A large red bell pepper fell to my chef's knife and I gutted it and discarded the ends. Next came the lettuce. Romaine leaves - bright green and vibrant; I cut them into bite-sized pieces and stacked them all in my salad spinner. After a good rinsing I spun them dry and dumped them into my salad bowl. The bell pepper and romaine lettuce were already well entangled. Three tablespoons of mixed beans (with as little of the bean liquid as possible) fell into the center of the salad. To it I added 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 1 of olive oil, and of course ground pepper. Now everything gleamed in a shine that only oil can provide. I stirred the mixed salad up quickly and put it in the fridge to get better acquainted.

Outside the fish was steaming, but not quite done when I checked on it (the edges flaked easily when poked with a fork, but the middle was still pretty wet). So I closed the lid and went away for 10 minutes. When I came back the fish was a nice even pink and the edges a bit charred. I quickly pulled the fish off the grill and turned off the gas. Back in the house I finally dealt with that lime. I rolled it around first, giving it a good workout before I diced it into eighths.

I plated the fish with a 1/2 lime splayed atop the fish. I filled the rest of the plate with the mixed salad and beans. It was a simple meal without regrets. I did it once, and I'd do it again.

Makes 2 servings.
* 1 lemon
* 1 lime
* 2 trout fillets, deboned but with skin
* 2 pieces bread, heels preferred
* 2 teaspoons pepper, freshly ground

* 1 tablespoon olive oil
* 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
* 3 tablespoons mixed beans, from a can
* 3 cups romaine lettuce, washed and diced
* 1 red bell pepper, gutted, washed and diced

1. Wash the fish and pat dry.
2. Zest the lemon atop the fish.
3. Squeeze the lemon's juice atop the fish.
4. Sprinkle ground pepper atop the fish.
5. Grate the bread into bread crumbs and sprinkle atop the fish.
6. Place on a hot barbeque (preferably covered)
7. Cook until the center is done (about 20 minutes). Do not flip.
8. Wash the salad and mix all the ingredients together.
9. Dice the lime and add it atop the fish.
10. Serve 1/2 trout and 1/2 salad.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Menu for the Week of November 10th, 2007


LunchPulled pork sandwiches.

DinnerTortellini & Bolonaise Pasta sauce.
SundayBreakfastFruit Pancakes & cut up melon & banana.

LunchSoup & 1/2 chicken sandwich.

DinnerMeatloaf & spinach salad with pear dressing, blue cheese & walnuts.
MondayBreakfastWW toast, PB & low-sugar jam, light juice, banana.

LunchOnigiri (tuna) with chicken tender & cut up vegetables, yogurt & flax seed.

DinnerSauteed chicken breasts and steamed vegetables.
TuesdayBreakfast3/4 cup whole grain cereal, skim milk, banana.

LunchRaman Soup, fruit & crackers.

DinnerIndian lentil soup.
WednesdayBreakfastWW toast, PB & low-sugar jam, light juice, banana.

LunchTuesday's leftovers, crackers, fruit.

DinnerSpinach salad with pear dressing, blue cheese & walnuts with baked lemon-pepper fish.
ThursdayBreakfastHard boiled egg, 1 pc ww toast, butter, light juice, banana.

LunchWednesday's leftovers. fruit, yogurt & flax seed.

DinnerGrilled Cheeseburgers on whole wheat (all dressed - lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers).
FridayBreakfastOatmeal & fruit, light juice.

LunchMini-burgers, cut up vegetables, yogurt & flax seed.

DinnerBeef stew with red wine & potatoes (Pax Tharda).

This week is, perhaps, a bit overly planned. I've never successfully planned 5 dinners in a row (without making severe modifications), let alone lunch and breakfast; but this week I figured I'd give it a try. New recipes are linked; old one's aren't.

My weekly to-do list in the kitchen is as follows:
  • Friday (Nov 9): Make Pulled pork sandwiches, start the chicken broth in the crock pot.
  • Saturday: Make the pasta sauce & bake a pear & peach cobbler. Move the broth to the fridge to cool.
  • Sunday: Make mealtloaf & 2x onigiri (tuna). Skim the broth & freeze (some in containers, some in ice-cube trays).
  • Monday: Pack chciken soup broth & cook up extra chicken for lunch.
  • Tuesday: Prep Friday's dinner for the crock pot
  • Friday: Bake something for dinner/desert.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Leek, Potato & Carrot Soup

This is a simple soup with a gentle onion flavor. Adding a spiced cheese on top makes it much more spicy - but you could just as easily add a drop of hot salsa or hot sauce for the same effect. Such spiciness is always optional. The soup stores well, but cannot be frozen unless it is first pureed (otherwise the potatoes develop an odd texture when they thaw).

Peeling vegetables is never a favorite chore. I lug the vegetables, a pot, and a bag into the living room, sit before the TV and start peeling the vegetables into the bag. That way I can watch something interesting and (hopefully) not cut my fingers by trying to peel too quickly.

I doubled this recipe (or tried to, you'll see) so I peeled 12 carrots (6 for the recipe, 6 for eating) and 6 medium-sized potatoes. It...took a while. Once everything was naked, I returned to the kitchen. There the veggies got a good wash, and I beheaded the leeks. I cut their bottoms off, then sliced the stalk into quarters that didn't quite cut through the bulb at the end. By fanning out the layers of the stalk under running water I was able to get rid of most of the sand. I repeated the process three times (just to make sure).

I took the fresh-made chicken broth out of the fridge and skimmed its fat off. Then I measured the amount I had. I needed eight cups, I had six. Dang. Looking at the recipe, I mentally calculated the amounts of carrots and potatoes I'd need for six cups of broth.

The extra potatoes I put in a bowl and covered them with water. Guess I'm having smashed potatoes tomorrow.

Then I began chopping. Were it not for my worrying about my finger-tips - dicing vegetables would be almost as boring as peeling them. But the proximity of a sharp knife to my very fragile flesh always keeps me alert. My knife-skills are fair and I was able to complete the chopping in about 10 minutes. More than 1/2 the carrots were put in Tupperware with enough water to cover them. They went into the fridge for snacks for the week.

I poured the olive oil into the pot and turned on the heat. While it warmed up, I cleaned up my chopping board, rinsed my knife and brought all my ingredients to the stove. I let a drop of water fall from my finger-tips into the pan. No sizzle? Not warm enough yet. I busied about, swept my kitchen floor and wandered out to see what was on TV.

When the water sizzled I added the vegetables to the pot all at once. I stirred them to coat them with the hot oil and help in the cooking. When the leeks were mostly transparent, I added the salt and pepper and stirred again. Then I poured in the broth, covered the pot, set the timer, and walked away.

I came back when the timer screamed at me. I stirred the pot, tasted the broth (hot!), and adjusted the seasoning. The vegetables were soft - so it was ready to serve.

I ladled it into bowls and threw a sprinkling of Gouda jalapeño cheese on top. Delicious.

Leek, potato & carrot soup
Serves: 4 people.
Preparation: 15 minutes.
Cooking: 20-30 minutes.
Equipment: Peeler, vegetable knife, cutting board, soup pot, ladle, wooden spoon.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, green discarded, well washed, and diced finely
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cups broth, I use chicken
pepper, freshly ground, to taste
salt, to taste
1/4 cup cheese, preferably spicy (optional)

  1. Place the olive oil in the bottom of a deep soup pot, and place it on a warm burner.
  2. Test the olive oil to see if its hot. When the olive oil spits as a drop of water touches it - it's ready.
  3. Add the diced vegetables and stir until the leeks become mostly transparent (about 3 minutes).
  4. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine.
  5. Add the chicken broth and cover for up to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat if it starts to excessively steam or if the cover jumps.
  6. Check that the carrots and potatoes are easily crushable (they mash well with a fork or between two spoons). If the carrots and potatoes are not yet soft, cover for another 10 minutes and check again. Soup should be gently boiling. If not, increase the heat.
  7. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings.
  8. Serve with a sprinkling of cheese on top.
Note: Originally this recipe was posted with 2 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper and 1 of salt. As commenters rightly pointed out -- this is a lot of pepper. I've modified the recipe so that seasoning is now to taste.

Menu for the week of October 20th, 2007

My menu plan for the week this week is pretty basic; with cold weather (supposedly) setting in I'm still pretty focused on soups and hot meals. I'll use the barbecue until it's too cold to stand outside with the food.
SaturdayVilla Souvlaki.
SundayLeek, potato & carrot soup
MondayBucher's block steak with smashed herb potatoes and steamed green beans
BBQ chicken breasts with barley risotto
WednesdaySoba noodles, stir fried vegetables, chicken & peanut sauce
ThursdayWhole wheat tortellini & marinara sauce
FridayCurry Lentil Soup

My favorite lunch is soup and sandwich. Naturally this takes a bit more preparation than I'm use to, so Saturday I'll make broth from the roast chicken I'll buy and Sunday I'll turn it into soup. The leftovers of that (and the leftovers of last Friday's stew) will give me the soup -- and the remainder of the chicken and butcher's block steak will give me the sandwiches that I crave.

Monday's meal sounds impressive - but with the help of a gas barbecue - it's quick and easy. Smashed = mashed in my books.

Barley risotto is one of those elegant recipes that always tastes good and looks even better. It's got a nutty flavor that I'm coming to prefer over the Italian rice-based risotto which is more classic.

Wednesday's recipe doesn't really have a name -- it's more a list of ingredients; but it's tasty none-the less. I use soba noodles because they're made from buckwheat (more fiber, better taste and interesting texture to hold the sauce).

The tortellini is store-bought and frozen. I saw it Saturday and had to try it. The sauce is the last of my home-made marinara sauce (made a month ago and kept frozen). The combination makes a nice, quick evening dinner.

La Commensale has a whole line of soups available. They're about twice the price of a good can of soup, fresher -- and with less salt (although they still have more salt than homemade). We enjoy them as they are relatively healthy vegetarian ready-to-eat meals.

Monday, October 22, 2007

He hates cooking but needs to love it

This Metafilter post came up this morning in my blogroll. It's incredible how often I hear, read, or am told about this situation.

You never need to love cooking, but it does help. A lot of folks cook every night for themselves and their loved ones. I can't believe they all love it; I love to cook but there are nights I really don't want to do it (and some nights I wimp out and order in, insist we go out, or prepare a ready-made not-from-scratch meal).

I really don't think there's a right or a wrong way to go about it; but here's the advice I typically hand out.

1. Get a cookbook.
There's thousands out there - but you want something that you can actually use. Something for beginners. Googling a bit on the topic of "beginner" and "cookbook" should net some good results. Go to your local store and start with the basics - ignore any of the specialty books that focus on just one type of cooking (baking, broiling, grilling, etc) or one type of flavor (Chinese, Greek, Italian...).

If there's a cookbook store in your city, start there. The clerks can often help you find a good book to start with. You want something that will teach you the basic techniques and vocabulary. Neither of which should be complicated.

2. Read it.
You can skim over the recipes - but read all the bits in between. Find a few recipes you'd like to try and mark them somehow.

3. Make a list.
Of what you've got in your pantry.
Of what you'd like to try to make from the cookbook.
Of what you need to buy.

4. Go shopping.
Take your list!

5. Do it.
This is the hard part. If you've selected a simple recipe - you should be fine, but actually starting a meal is hard. Fight the inertia!

Cooking from scratch is not difficult, it can be time-consuming, and is always rewarding. If you cook extra - you can freeze the leftovers and have them either for lunch or supper later. It's usually cheaper than buying both lunch and supper every day and healthier too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Menu for the week of October 13th

My menu plan isn't all that planned out this week.
SaturdayGreek (take out).
Sunday3-Amigos (Dining out)
MondayVinni Gambini (Dining out)
Roast Chateaubriand, steamed green beans, baked potato, and salad with red wine vinaigrette
WednesdayChicken & bean fajitas
ThursdayMarinated butcher's block steak with smashed rosemary potatoes
FridayRed wine and beef stew with vegetables

Tuesday's meal is easy, if not quick. The secret is to start with a good piece of meat and a lot of time. I usually cover it with low-salt steak spice and put some garlic and red wine in the pan beneath. Then I throw it in the oven with some potatoes and let it cook. I had friends over, so I wanted something tasty but simple for dinner (which gave me time to clean my apartment and chase down the dust-bunnies!).

Wednesday's meal is a staple for me. I rarely go by a recipe anymore (as I already have my taco seasonings combined in a bottle on my shelf). This recipe works well with either fresh cooked chicken or leftovers, and freezes well. I tend to make extra and bag it. That way I can thaw the ingredients, and then add the filling to the salsa, cheese, and sour cream inside a warm tortilla.

Thursday's meal is another staple. The marinade is mostly red wine, some fresh herbs and garlic. Typically I marinade the steak overnight. Smashed potatoes are what I call baked potatoes that I then turn into a rough form of mash with herbbed butter.

Friday more people are coming in, so I'll make an old favorite of a stew in the crockpot.

Vinnie Gambini's (a review)

Vinnie Gambinis
Montreal Marche Centrale, Quebec
951 Cremazie O
Montreal, Quebec H4N 2M5
Tel: 514.387.8464

Vinnie Gambinis is a posh-looking Italian restaurant with high-backed booths, comfortable chairs and dark wood decor. Our party of four was seated near the bar, and the waitress immediately mixed a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for us.

Service was polite and prompt. Fresh bread came on-demand from the kitchen and the waitress regularly asked if we wanted more bread before we could ask ourselves.

I started with their hearty minestrone soup. It had large chunks of winter vegetables, beans and corn floating in a rich tomato broth. My friends had the beef and barley and made very appreciative noises as they ate it.

I chose the Ravioli d'Aragosta é Grancchio (>Lobster and crab stuffed ravioli with madagascan peppercorns, garlic, sun dried tomatoes and brandy in a rosé sauce) . The peppercorns were soft and delectable, the sauce had a haunting flavor of garlic below the rich cream and brandy tastes. The Ravioli was a bit clumped near the top and the sauce was thick on the pasta, but each ravioli has a good bite of lobster and crab visible inside as small chunks and not paste.

My partner had Spaghettini con Ragu di Carne (Spaghetti with meat sauce) and meatballs. The three meatballs were huge and seated artfully around a mounded bowl of spaghettini. The sauce was thick and had flecks of color that belied its otherwise smooth taste.

My friends had the Pollo Pavorotti (Lightly floured chicken fillet sauteed with prociutto, shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes, in a marsala sauce) and the Pollo Lombardi (Stuffed chicken fillet with sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese in a demi-glaze sauce). Both enjoyed their meals and all were suitably impressed with the quantity and quality.

This is not the first time I've eaten there, and I confess I was impressed with the decor of the restaurant and the style shown in their service and menu. They serve their Romano cheese out of a hollowed-out half wheel of Pecorino Romano cheese. And are free with offering both the cheese and the pepper.

Overall it was a highly enjoyable event with good food and great service.

Prices: $20-30 entree's
Table D'hote: $18-30
Reservations available, but not required.
No children's menu.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Weekly Menu (October 1/2007)

I spent Thursday carefully flipping through How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman; and so most of these recipes come from his book (HTCE). Page numbers are cited. This menu may seem a bit more involved; in truth it should take me about the same amount of time to prep the meals as most of my meals have always been a main dish + salad or steamed veggies.
SaturdayRotisserie Chicken (take out) and strawberry rhubarb pie.
SundayMixed summer greens + goat cheese salad with spiced nuts(*) HTCE 96
Linguine with fresh tomato & Parmesan cheese HTCE 131
MondayCommensal soup (lentil curry) & whole wheat baguette.
Corn and bean pancakes with maranara sauce, steamed green beans
Chicken parmigiana and mixed salad with spicy nuts (*) HTCE 38
ThursdayStir-fried soba noodles with leftover chicken HTCE 171
FridayEnchiladas and green salad (5 for dinner)

* HTCE p 17
Monday's soup is store-bought, fresh from the deli section. It's got a pretty limited shelf life and is lower sodium than most tinned soups.
I know Tuesday's meal sounds fancy, but really it's leftovers. The bean & corn pancakes and the marinara sauce was made (and frozen) some time ago.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chicken fried rice (attempt #1)

Tonight was an attempt, and while it was easy, and did taste good, it was also really mild. We like things a little more spicy, so there will be an attempt #2.

I made about 6 cups of long grain brown rice (after cooking) in the rice steamer; it takes a bit longer, but I'm guaranteed to have good rice. In addition, I cooked the rice in homemade chicken broth - just to add a bit of flavour.

After the rice had cooled, I finely diced a teaspoon of garlic, two teaspoon of ginger, and 1/2 a very small onion (yes, we have no scallions). Then I gathered the soy sauce and the egg-replacement together around a hot pan with a bit of oil in the bottom. I already had 2 cups of diced Easy Asian Chicken leftovers, 1 cup of peas, and 1 cup of corn; both freshly thawed.

With the oil hot, I added the ginger, garlic and onion to the pan. I stirred the ingredients until the onions were just starting to become opaque and the garlic was fragrant. Then I took the rice and carefully dribbled it into the pan, a bit at a time; being careful to break up clumps as they occurred. Once all in and well mixed with the ginger, garlic and onion, I mounded the rice up and made a dent in the middle. Into this I poured two lightly-beaten eggs. I then stirred the rice to get the eggs to mix well as they cooked.

I added the chicken, peas and corn, and finely two tablespoons of soy sauce. I mixed again until the rice changed color, and served it hot.

It was a bit bland. I don't want to add more soy sauce (as I'm trying to watch my salt intake), so next time I'll try the Weight Watcher's version of this recipe.

Original recipe by Mark Bittman.

Fried rice with egg (modification - Chicken fried rice with Peas and Corn)
Taken from How To Cook Everything, p212. Lightly modified.
3 tablespoonspeanut (preferred) or other oil
1 teaspoongarlic, minced
1 teaspoonginger, fresh peeled & minced
2 tablespoonsscallions, chopped
3-4 cupsrice, cooked
2eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoonssoy sauce

salt and ground pepper, to taste
  1. Place the oil in a large skillet, and turn the heat to high
  2. Once hot (about a minute later), add the garlic, ginger and scallion and cook, stiring constantly, for a minute
  3. Turn the heat down and add the rice,a bit at a time, elimanting lumps
  4. Stir frequently for about 3 minutes to mix well
  5. Mound the rice and make a hole in the mound.
  6. Pour the eggs into the hole.
  7. Stir slowly to scramble the eggs and mix them into the rice
    Add the soy sauce, chicken, and thawed vegetables.
  8. Stir to mix.
  9. Serve hot.

Easy asian chicken parts

This recipe is a real crowd-pleaser; and so easy it's a story unto itself. I served it last night to a bunch of hungry friends, and while I do have leftovers - it was not for want of trying to finish it all.

I usually serve this dish with a loaf of fresh multi-grain bread and a big bowl of romaine or mixed salad with a simple vinaigrette.

Admittedly, this dish tastes best if marinated overnight, but even a one-hour bath in the marinade will give the chicken the flavor it deserves. Using some of the marinade as a basting liquid will help crisp your chicken and provide additional flavor. I originally found this recipe on RecipeZaar. Posted by Kittencal, I really haven't modified it much as I've found it to be very tasty and the amount of marinade is good for a lot more than 10 drumsticks (but you'll need a really big bag or pan, and you'll want to rotate things soaking in the marinade regularly; about once every 2-3 hours). For an even darker color on the chicken skin you can use dark soy sauce; but that just adds a lot of salty flavor along with the coloration.

Leftover marinade keeps well in the fridge for about a week. If you add it to sour-cream you get a really interesting-flavored dip that tastes good with vegetables.

I've never tried baking this dish as I prefer the light charring you get when you cook chicken on the barbecue.

1/2 cupsoy sauce, light or low sodium if desired
2/3 cuplemon juice, fresh squeezed
1/2 cuphoney
1/2 cupsesame oil, light
4 tablespoonsgarlic, crushed & finely diced
42 tablespoonsginger, crushed & finely diced
4 teaspoonschili flakes, additional to taste

black pepper, to taste
4green onions, chopped
10chicken drumsticks or thighs

  1. In a bowl whisk together the first 8 ingredients.
  2. Add the green onions to the mix.
  3. Place the chicken drumsticks in a large resealable bag.
  4. Pour a little over half the marinade on top and seal bag; remove as much air as possible from the bag.
  5. Turn and shake the bag to coat the chicken evenly with marinade.
  6. Refrigerate for up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.
  7. Cover the remaining marinade and keep in the fridge.
  8. Set grill to medium heat.
  9. Remove the chicken and discard the marinade.
  10. Place the chicken on the grill (if using a barbecue) or on a baking sheet (the oven must be preheated to 375 degrees C).
  11. Grill, turning chicken until crispy and golden brown and the chicken is thoroughly cooked. (In the oven, cook for 10 minutes, then turn. Parts are done when the meat registers 160 degrees C - about 20 minutes).
  12. If grilling, baste the chicken with the remaining marinade several times during the cooking. This will make the skin more crisp and provide a lot more flavour.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A sour dinner story (with a happy ending)

It was late. I got home and fell asleep on the couch, but when I woke up - I still had to make dinner and do the dishes. I was feeling pretty sour and it showed.

The chicken was completely thawed and downright weepy in its own wrapping. I didn't care and rinsed it throughly under cold water. It was pretty slimy, but still fresh. I slammed it onto a clean plate, where my attentions seemed to just make it weep a bit more. I ignored it.

Leeks and I just don't know each other well; and maybe this was not the best way to introduce ourselves. They were cold and hard from the fridge. I got rid of their tough green leaves, leaving the whites to chill on the chopping block. Once quartered and rinsed, they were starting to open up, despite my sour mood.

I could still tell there was some dirt yet undiscovered amongst their many layers. Another rinse or two made sure I had the whole story.

I quartered the quarters and then began the laborious process of dicing them as finely as my chef's knife would allow. As the cutting board got full, I put the remains of my work into a small bowl to one side. As I went the leaks began to weep a bit, making them clingy. They clung to the knife, so I scraped them off. When they clung to my hands - I used the knife to scrape them off again. They sat in the bowl, resentful. I worked over all chunks, bringing them down to size. By the time I was done, my arms were tired.

With them set aside, I took out the butter and cut two portions of roughly 2 tablespoons each from the block. The butter was soft and willing. I threw one portion casually into a hot pan, and it danced with joy. I added the leaks once the butter was exhausted, and stired them both briskly around the pan until the butter and the leaks merged into one.

I let them sit in the hot pan for 5 minutes or so while I did dishes.

My chicken broth was so uptight it had gelled, so I was unable to measure it exactly - but ended up dumping a cup into the leaks, rather than the 1/2 cup that the recipe called for. The heat made it relax, and it began to mix with the leaks without my forcing the issue. To that I added a big pinch of thyme, some freshly ground pepper and some salt. The herbs mixed with the broth made a heavenly scent that almost covered the strong oniony smell of the leaks.

To this I added a few shots of lemon juice, just to sour the mood. The chicken went in atop the bed of wilted leaks, and sat proudly there, no longer weeping. I dumped their water into the pan and closed the lid.

Ten minutes later the chicken were truely steamed. I took them out and set them on a clean plate beside the stove to cool down. I then pulled all the sauce out of the pan and beat it into submission. The smooth pale yellow sauce that resulted definitely showed the presence of lemon, but it smelled of thyme, pepper and leak.

The sauce (and a good helping of white wine) went back into the pan, and the chicken were carefully covered. The heat went up and I covered the pan once more to bring everyone back up to temperature.

I served it with steamed peas (microwaved with a bit of water), and brown rice. The rice was bland in comparison, but the sauce was delicious. So much so, I'm having this version of lemony chicken for lunch.

Lemony chicken
Recipe by Mark Bittman.
4 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, washed and well diced
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon thyme
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and black pepper, to taste
parsley, minced fresh (garnish)

  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until softened (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add the stock and thyme.
  4. Bring the dish to a boil and allow it to bubble for a minute, or two.
  5. Ad the chicken.
  6. Turn the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the meat is just cooked through (about 5 to 6 minutes).
  7. Remove the chicken and keep warm.
  8. Turn the heat to high and cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until 3/4 of a cup remains (about 10 minutes).
  9. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the lemon juice.
  10. Add the remaining butter slowly, stirring all the while.
  11. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the sauce to heat through.
  12. Serve over rice.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekly menu (Sept 22/07)

An odd week, it already started out with me changing my menu to better fit my moon on the weekend. I didn't want to cook - not at all. So, while the dinners were still tasty, they weren't very healthy.
SaturdayHamburgers and romaine salad
SundayFried chicken, bbq wings, and french fries
MondayChicken in lemon sauce, steamed green beans and polenta
TuesdaySteak sandwiches with mixed green salad
WednesdayEasy Asian Chicken legs & thighs. Mixed salad.
ThursdayMaranara sauce on bean & corn pancakes with mixed green salad.
FridayPea soup (from frozen) and baked biscuits

I know Thursday's meal sounds fancy, but really it's leftovers. I had the bean & corn pancakes last week and the maranara sauce was made (and frozen) some time ago.

Reusable bags

Whenever we go shopping, we try to bring all our cloth bags and avoid using the plastic ones as much as possible. Even when we have enough cloth bags - we still run into the same problem.

* If it's got lots of little pieces (nuts, grapes, lettuce that will shred if you look at it funny, etc)
* Frozen goods (that aren't really frozen any longer)
* Roast chicken (that's just waiting to spill its goodness into the trunk when we take that hard left onto the highway.

How are we supposed to gather and organize this stuff so that it will come home safe and sound?

I buy nuts by the pound. I'd have to bring a container and make sure the store doesn't mind weighing an identical container and resetting their scale. Either that or I'm paying for my container every time. If I brought a container, wouldn't the store be worried about some kind of cross-contamination from my container to the bins, or worse - I get sick and try to sue them?

Vegetables and fruits. With some (cellery, broccoli, cauliflower, and the like) I can forgo the plastic bag. Even things I use to group in bags to make check-out easier - I can manage without the bag. But what about grapes, cherries, or fragile fruit? Lettuce, burried in my cart, just leaves a mess. And smaller stuff (garlic, ginger, kiwi, ...) runs the risk of actually falling out of the cart because the item is smaller than the cart's mesh.

Frozen goods and roast chicken are just messy. We have some (very large) recycled bags that are more plastic than cloth. We can use these to contain messy foods - but it seems such a waste as the item is typically dwarfed by the bag designed to hold 4 2L pop bottles and 2 bags of sandwhich bread.

Some stores are offering a 5 cent discount when you bring your own bags. Honestly I don't think about it. Using, washing, and remembering to bring these bags is a habit me and mine want to foster for reasons other than the cash discount. And if stores were serious about it - they'd charge for their plastic bags and make the cloth bags more readibly available.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Making Meatloaf

Friends were coming for six and it was already 4 o'clock. The house was a disaster, and dinner called. So I pulled out Marc Bittman's How to Cook Everything. I have my own recipe for meatloaf, but this one looked interesting. One thing's for sure - I really need a food chopper; doing this by hand took a lot more time than I had.

1 cup plain bread crumbs
1 cup milk
2 pound lean ground beef
2 pound lean ground pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Parmesan cheese, fresh grated
1/2 cup parsley, fresh and minced
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 medium onion, minced
1 small carrot, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons sage, fresh ground
salt and black pepper, to taste
6 slices bacon

Makes 3 loaves.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Or, if like mine - your oven is slow, preheat to 425 F.
  2. Soak the breadcrumbs in the milk until the milk is absorbed; about 5 minutes.
  3. Mix all the ingredients (except the bacon) together in a large dish. I use my hands; it doesn't feel very pleasant, but it does guarantee a good mix.
  4. Shape roughly into a loaf. Place atop a rack and place the rack in a roasting pan. This allows the rendered juices to gather below the loaf, making for a slightly dryer meatloaf that doesn't need to be toweled down before it can be served.
  5. Lay 2 slices of bacon atop each loaf.
  6. Bake for 45-60 minutes (or longer), basting occasionally with rendered pan juices.
  7. When done, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf reads 160 F.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A dinner tale gone terribly wrong.

I got home and I was exhausted. Traffic was bad on the main routes I typically take. The bus ride is pleasant enough (especially with a good book), but I've developped walking the 30 minutes from the transfer station to home. The walk, especially Thursday in the surprisingly pleasant but warm weather, did me in.

I barely noticed the masses of people walking in the opposite direction, all with a mildly annoyed and purplexed look. The route is typically not croweded at all; yet yesterday I had to dodge people. Half the road is closed to traffic as they finish resurfacing it, and even that looked busy with foot traffic.

It took some time to figure it out. It was no-car day and the train was free - so many people took the train to work. Unfortunately the train broke down and its passengers were given two options: wait for the next train (about 45 minutes), or walk to the subway (about 30 minutes). It was a clear, sunny and warm day - so many walked.

Many of the confused people I passed were saying this like "if I just keep going west, they said I'd see the metro" and "It's just a few blocks more." The walk, according to Google maps, is just under 3KM. While it's not a long walk, it is not easy on those of us unuse to such exhersion. And with road work all along that strip, catching a cab as they walked west was not going to be busy. Every bus that passed me was packed so full the driver had to open the back doors to
let people out.

So I got home with a pleasant tale to tell, but no urge at all to actually cook. We raided the piggy-bank and ordered pizza from Nico's along the back river. It's pretty plain - medium thick fresh pizza dough, spicy and pleasant tomato sauce, good pepperoni and a slathering of mozarella cheese over the top and baked to perfection. There's no dough balls (like there use to be) to keep the top from touching the cheese, but the edge crust is plenty thick and chewy
without being bland.

I didn't make it - so there was neither drama, nor action, in its arrival (other than the rush to the door when the bell rang, and the scampering for change); but it was a welcome treat regardless.

Tonight it's meatloaf - so back to the trials and tribulation of home cooking. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Menu of the Week (Sept 14/07)

After a weekend out, and an empty fridge - I am shopping late this week.
SaturdayDinner out.
MondayRigatoni & Marinara sauce, romaine and red pepper salad with red wine vinaigrette.
TuesdayMontreal butcher's block steak, steamed corn and pilaf-style barley.
WednesdayHerb-roasted chicken cutlets, steamed green beans & bean & corn pancakes.
ThursdayChicken in lemon sauce, steamed green beans & polenta.
FridayBasic meatloaf, steamed vegetables (from frozen).

I was out of the house on Saturday and returned late on Sunday night; so that's my excuse for buying take-out and eating it at home. Even though there's lots to choose from in regards to restaurants, sometimes the big chains are the most convenient (if not the most healthy).

Monday's dinner is super-simple, mostly because I make homemade marinara sauce and then freeze it. So it's just a matter of under-cooking the pasta, thawing the sauce, and making the salad for a nice meal that's really quick.

Admittedly, Tuesday's meal is no more difficult. Montreal steak is, in its barest essence, a steak with several tablespoons of Montreal steak spice rubbed into it. I add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce and then throw it on the barbecue. The vegetables go onto the barbecue too - in their own little foil packet on the cold side of the barbecue to steam beside the meat. They are both done at about the same time.

The other three recipes (and the pilaf-style barley from Tuesday) are all new to me. I'm slowly trying out recipes from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. So far I've greatly enjoyed not only his prose, but his recipes too. I'll let you know how the recipes fair their taste tests this week. :)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Something simple for five.

Another dinner-time story.

Tonight was a game night; which meant four friends plus my SO and myself for dinner. Typically I "say" I only spend about $5 a head for such a meal. The ground rules are simple. Bring food to supplement the meal, or give me $5 to cover the cost of your portion. I gave up costing out these meals when I realized that I wanted to cook elegant food.

But tonight I opted for something simple: Monterey Jack cheese with Jalapeños and steak sandwiches with homemade tomato & bell pepper soup.

First, the bread.
She was tired from being fresh yesterday, and didn't really react until I cut and tore her wide open. Only then did the reminder of her tantalizing fresh smell fill the air. She was crusty to begin with, but now the crust was thickening and she was hard to cut. I tried to sweeten her up with a light coat of grainy mustard; the yellow and brown seeds glowed on her pearly-white insides.

Then I covered half of her with a luscious white blanket of sliced Monterey Jack Cheese. This was, however, a sultry blanket that had pockets of Jalapeño in it. I could tell it was a good match at once as the blanket completely hid her smell and the bread seemed to snuggle-down under its weight.

The steak was read with envy. Cut thin, I knew it was going to shrink on me. In fact, I was depending on it. I threw the steak into a hot grill pan, flavored slightly with a thin spray of olive oil, and proceeded to ignore it as the steak hissed and spat at me. When the spitting got too much I put a cover on it and waited until the steak started to weep before finally giving it my attention.

I turned it and the weeping continued. When it was evenly gray in color, and the pans high points had given a pleasant set of stripes to its hide, I introduced it to the cheese. They immediately bonded and stuck together throughout the meal.

The bread and the steak didn't get along quite so well. I popped the whole sandwich into a hot oven for 10 minutes and left the ingredients to get better acquainted.

On another burner there was a pot filled with a soup I'd beaten into submission some time ago. It was cold, clumping together, and sluggish. But I knew where it had come from and what it was made of. The heat slowly warmed it to a fragrance that was familiar and subtle. Tomatoes, fresh from the season, pared with sweet red bell peppers and red onion, melded together into a thick soup.

By the time the soup was boiling, dinner was ready.
The only regret was that I had not made more.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A dinner time story (No-loaf Meatloaf)

This recipe originated from Sandi Richard's Cooking for the Rushed recipe of the same name. My version's different - less sweet, more sassy. Her site has more information about her books, and a few of her recipes can be found on the Food Newtork website.

By the time I got home the ground beef was still giving me the cold shoulder. I took it out of the frige and slammed it on the counter. I can't help reacting to its temperment that way - but I knew it wouldn't help.

I dug out my roasting pan and set my oven to 400 F; it's a little slow and the dial's going - but the oven is an old friend, so I adjust the heat up just to cover it's failures. I lined the bottom of the roasting pan with tin foil for easy cleanup, then used some extra virgin olive oil in an atomizer to spray the grill so things wouldn't stick. I suppose non-stick spray would be better, but olive oil and I go way back, and we work well together - so why change now?

I carefully lined up the other ingredients and equipment for tonight's dish: corn flakes, homemade salsa, Worchestershire sauce, 2 cloves of garlic (peeled), egg whites, the pepper grinder, a good knife, and a spatula.

Ignoring the temperment of the ground beef, I took it out of its wrap and threw it into my big pirex bowl. Homemade, the salsa is a bit biting, but I'm use to her sass. 1/2 a cup covered the ground beef nicely.

The recipe calls for garlic powder, but I grabbed fresh and slammed it into submission before dicing it fine and throwing it into the bowl with the beef. I added a tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce for the class he always brings to a dish, then jammed my fingers into the still chilly beef and began working everything together. Spoons and spatulas are fine, but there's nothing like a massage to make ingredients relax and start mixing. That, an egg white, and about 1/2 a cup of a ground up corn flakes will bind any unreasonable mess into a whole.

Once everyone was well mixed, I divided them up into four. Using my hands (still) I rolled the mix into four (roughly) equal-sized balls. Then, one at a time, I flattened the balls into rough loaf-shapes.

The loaf-shapes went onto the roasting pan's grill.

Back to my bowl I added another 1/2 cup of salsa, 1 tablespoon of worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of cayanne pepper. I mixed this together with the spatula, careful to scrape the sides and get everything together. Then layered it like a blanket over the loaves. Then the roasting pan went into the hot oven.

Feeling lazy, I dumped 2 cups of frozen green beens into a casserole dish and added 1/2 cup of water. I covered it and set it in the microwave. Then I set the alarm to scream at me in 45 minutes. When it screamed - I came in and turned the microwave on high, and set the time again for 5 minutes. Then I walked away so I wouldn't hear the green beans cry.

When the timer screamed again, dinner was ready. The meatloaf was a bit too hot for me (next time I'll cut back on the cayanne pepper - she's just too much for me to handle), but good none-the less.

Made a nice dinner for 2 with enough leftovers for two meatloaf sandwiches (upon which I loaded some sultry Montaray jack cheese with jalapenos).

1 pound ground beef, lean
1 cup corn flakes, ground
1 cup salsa, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, divided
1 egg white
fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 clove garlic, smashed and diced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, to taste)
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  2. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with foil and spray its grill with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Mix together the beef, ground corn flakes, 1/2 cup salsa, 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce, egg white, pepper and garlic.
  4. Shape into 4 loaves and place them on the grill.
  5. In the same bowl, mix the last of the salsa, Worchestershire sauce and the cayenne pepper together.
  6. Spread the mixture over top of the loaves.
  7. Bake the loaves for 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is over 160 F.
Serve with steamed green beans, a nob of butter, and some more ground black pepper.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Menu of the Week (Sept 8/07)

I make my menus during the week and shop on Saturday mornings. This puts me out of sync with Menu Plan Monday from Organization Junkie; but I get by. My main method of cooking during the summer months is the barbecue. The links in the menu below lead to recipes on Snacksby.
SaturdayFeta & homemade pesto stuffed chicken breasts with steamed vegetables from frozen.
SundayFresh lemon-pepper barbecued rainbow trout fillet with new potatoes and steamed vegetables from frozen.
MondaySouthwestern steak, corn and black bean wraps.
TuesdayLean No-Loaf Meatloaf and mixed romaine salad.
WednesdayGrilled steak & cheese sandwich on multi grain bread with homemade tomato and bell pepper soup.
ThursdayChicken breast dijon and steamed vegetables from frozen.
FridayDinner out.