Thursday, March 30, 2006

Pork Chop Adventures Part II: Top of the Chops

Pork chops are one of my 'happy' foods. If I'm in a bad mood, cooking a pork chop for dinner will make me feel better. Of course, I don't need to be in a bad mood to have an excuse to make pork chops, such as last night.

My first instinct with pork chops is the shake-n-bake approach, but since I had already tried that recently, I thought that I would throw caution to the winds and try something new.

With no real plan in mind, I started grabbing stuff out of the fridge and just started to cook. When I opened the fridge, the first thing I saw was the big pile of fresh rosemary and the balsamic syrup I had left over from the Parmesan Cream recipe. I'd been trying to figure out what to do with the syrup, and this seemed as good an idea as any. Everything else was based around those two things.

After a flurry of chopping, dicing and simmering, this was the result:

CĂ´telette de Porc Gallumphante avec Rotini
(It sounds more impressive than "Gallumphing Porkchop with Rotini")

1 boneless pork chop
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, stem removed & chopped
¼ C fresh parsley, chopped
½ tsp basil
1 C cremini mushrooms, diced
½ C onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
chicken stock
balsamic syrup (find recipe here)
1 plum tomato, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
sesame seeds

* Heat a little oil in a skillet. Add rosemary, parsley, mushrooms, onion & basil. Drizzle a little bit of the balsamic syrup over the top, add some pepper and stir to combine.
* Saute over medium-high heat until onions are slightly translucent.
* Make some space in the middle of the pan, add the pork chop and spoon some of the mixture over the top.
* Reduce the heat to medium, and cook until the pork chop is just about cooked through, turning once.
* Add tomato, garlic and enough chicken stock to just cover the chop. Sprinkle a small handful of sesame seeds over the top.
* Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, occasionally spooning some of the mixture over the top of the chop.
* Meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water on to boil. When water is boiling, add rotini and cook until pasta is al dente.
* To serve, place the pasta and the chop on a plate, and spoon the sauce over both.

The chop turned out pretty well. The fresh herbs added a nice flavour to the meat, and the taste of the sesame seeds was a really nice addition as well. Even if the chop was maybe a little over-cooked, simmering it in the chicken stock kept it tasting moist, and that was good enough for me. The next time I make this, or try something similar, I won't cook the chop for quite as long before adding the stock and simmering.

Stay tuned, more Pork Chop Adventures to come....

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Recipe Collection Meme

I love church book sales!
I got tagged last week by my friend Rob at Hungry In Hogtown, and I had taken some pictures of my modest mound of cookbooks, when I found out about a giant book sale happening at a church in my area. So, off I toddled with the thought "oboyoboyoboyoboyoboy..." rattling around in my head, and about $20 in my pocket ready to plunder and pillage the cookbook table. Well, I made out like a bandit. You'll notice the large red book on the right side of the picture. That's the Culinary Arts Institute Cookbook, containing a stunning 4400 recipes. One dollar. Then there's the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook. Also one dollar. I ended up with fourteen various cookbooks for a total of $10! My 'to do' list has just multiplied exponentially.

On that note, here we go...

Where do you obtain the recipes you prepare?
Right now it's about even between the internet, and my cookbooks. I've found quite a few neat recipes on the Food Network website, on, and various other sites. I also get several of the recipes I use from my mother, from food I remember eating as a child.

How often do you cook a new recipe?
I try to cook a new recipe at least once a week, free time and budget permitting. Occasionally, I get on a bit of a roll, and cook several new things all at once, then take a break for a while.

Where do you store your favourite recipes?
I have a binder that I've started recently. It's organized in categories for the most part - Appetizers, Condiments & Spices, Main Courses, Desserts, etc., although there is a section at the back for Miscellaneous New Recipes. Most of these are also stored on my home computer, so if the page gets covered in gravy or hollandaise sauce or a balsamic vinegar explosion, I can just print out a fresh copy.

How large is your recipe pile? Is it organized? How?
Aside from my cookbooks, I have thirty-two recipes on my computer in the aptly named "recipes" folder. This is organized much like my binder (see above).

What is the oldest recipe in your to try pile?
Oboy. Not sure, but I think it's a recipe for marinated pot roast I got from my mother, that was clipped from a newspaper.

Are you really ever going to make all those recipes in your to try pile?
As it stands right now, probably not. Y'know, unless I win the lottery and have a LOT more free time to work with. It'll be fun trying, though.

Do you follow a recipe exactly or modify as you go?
As much as possible, I like to attempt a recipe "as is" the first time I attempt it. After that, all bets are off.

What is one new recipe that you're scared to try?
I really can't think of any recipe I'm scared to try. There are several that I'm simply ill-equipped to try in terms of kitchen gadgets, etc., like making homemade sausages. My relative inexperience in the kitchen makes me more or less fearless when it comes to new recipes.

Tag at least one new food blogger for this meme ("new" as in only blogging a few months)
I've only been doing this myself for a few months, so I really don't know any other 'newbies'.

Tag at least one food blogger you visit regularly but never interacted with:
Well, there aren't really any sites that I visit regularly that I haven't interacted with at all, but I haven't actually left any comments for MM at Mana Makan - The Feast Crusade. She has left some very nice comments on my blog, and I've responded, but I haven't actually left any comments on her site. I feel shame now.

Tag at least one food blogger you constantly visit and leave comments:
That would be my friends Rob and Rachel at Hungry In Hogtown. This is my favourite food blog. Rob has such a bent sense of humour, it's just too bad he doesn't golf as well as he cooks. Oh, I'm gonna get it for that one.
Another one of my favourites is Michelle at Je Mange La Ville. The quantity of material on that site is staggering. She's a cooking machine. And she, and her sig.oth. jwa both have a very enjoyable writing style. I got an excellent recipe for perogies from JMLV.

Tag anyone else you want:
I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kalyn's Kitchen. My first blogger event was her 'cheese sandwich blog' thingumawhatsit. This site is a constant source of inspiration for me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Breakfast

Christmas is such a magical time of year. I have so many fond memories of past Christmases with my family - gifts exchanged, happy faces, but most of all, the FOOD!

Within the last ten years, a new tradition has been established in our family with respect to Christmas morning breakfast. My mother found a recipe for a wonderful casserole designed to be prepared the night before, and then popped into the oven when you get up, saving you from having to worry too much about food when there are more important things (I can't believe I'm saying this) to be done. The name of the dish, as I received it, is "The Christmas Morning Wife-Saver". However, I think I'll just refer to it as "Breakfast Casserole".

One of the good things about this casserole are the ingredients - peameal bacon, cheese, eggs, bread, onion, pepper and cornflakes. What says "breakfast" more than that? And, all in one place.

First of all, here's the recipe. It's dead simple. This version of the recipe is slightly different from the version I got from my Mom, as I used whatever was in the fridge, rather than buying stuff I didn't really need just because it was in the recipe.

Breakfast Casserole
Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry everyone is

About 16 slices of Wheat 'N Oats bread, crusts removed
8 slices of Canadian Back Bacon, or whatever you need to cover the bread
2 C cheddar cheese, grated
2 C mozzarella cheese, grated
6 eggs
3 C cold milk
1 healthy dollop of Dijon mustard
1 large shallot, minced
1 C red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 dash Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
heavy pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
125g (¼ lb) butter
crushed corn flakes

A note on substitutions -
* The original recipe called for White Bread. I didn't have any, but I did have a whole loaf of the Wheat 'N Oats.
* You can use sliced ham if you can't find back bacon, but I really recommend using the back bacon - it just tastes better.
* The original recipe calls for 8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese (or enough to cover the bacon. Again, I didn't have any, so I just grated up the marble cheese and the mozza that I had in the fridge. I find that grated cheese tends to melt better.
* The original recipe called for 1 tsp of dry mustard, but you guessed it, I didn't have any, so I used Dijon.
* The original recipe called for only ¼ C of both onion and green pepper, but I really like both of those things, so I increased the quantities somewhat.

1) Place eight pieces of the bread in a lightly greased 9"x13" glass baking dish, or however many you need to completely cover the bottom of the dish.
2) Cover bread with slices of back bacon.
3) Completely cover the bacon with the grated cheese mixture, then cover that with the remaining bread to make it like a sandwich.
4) In a bowl, beat eggs, salt and pepper.
5) To the egg mixture, add the mustard, shallot, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and milk. Mix together, then pour over the bread, making sure that every bit of the bread gets hit with the egg mixture.
6) Cover, and let stand in the refrigerator overnight.
7) In the morning, preheat the oven to 350F.
8) Melt the butter. Pour over the top of the casserole, then cover with the corn flakes.
9) Bake, uncovered for 1 hour. Let stand 10 min. before serving.

The best part about making this dish is the aroma that permeates the kitchen and the whole house while it's cooking. It's such a happy smell. I popped the dish in the oven this morning, and within 15 minutes, I was flashing back to Christmas morning. Seriously. I was.

Although the directions say to chill the casserole in the fridge overnight, I think in a pinch, 2-3 hours will do nicely. Here's what the sweet baby looked like when I took it out of the fridge this morning, before I put the butter and cornflakes on top.
Notice how the bread has soaked up most of the egg mixture. Mmmmmm....egg mixture....

This was definitely a breeze to make, and now I have breakfasts for about a week. Some nice sliced tomato goes really well with this dish, too. Give it a try, you know you waaaaaanna.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Large Chef At Home

Savoury ice cream. Not something you run into every day. I saw this recipe being prepared on the Food Network on a show called Chef At Home with Michael Smith. He also has a show called Chef At Large, hence the witty title of my post.

While this might look like a picture of ice cream with chocolate sauce, it is in fact Parmesan Cream with Balsamic Honey Syrup. Here's the recipe.

Parmesan Cream with Balsamic Honey Syrup

For the Parmesan Cream:
* 1 C of 35% whipping cream
* 1½ C of grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

For the Balsamic Syrup:
* 2 C balsamic vinegar
* ½ C honey

For the Parmesan Cream:
Heat cream with vanilla and rosemary. Turn heat down, cover and let infuse for about 10 minutes. Pluck out the rosemary and stir in the cheese until it is thoroughly mixed. Pour into a bowl. Put in fridge to set.

For the Balsamic Syrup:
Pour into a saucepan and reduce by two thirds, until it reaches a thick syrup-like consistency. Refrigerate until cool. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.

These are some deceptively simple-looking directions. The whole premise of the show is that chef Smith is whipping up some dinner for his family, and (apparently) kind of wings it without using recipes. I had my work cut out for me.

I had no problem making the parmesan cream, but it was when I started on the balsamic syrup that the adventure started. Come along with me, won't you?

The entire preparation of the balsamic syrup is expressed in one sentence. I wasn't entirely sure what was involved with "reducing", so I checked the (online) dictionary. This is what I found: The food dictionary defines "reduce" as "Culinarily, to boil a liquid (usually stock, wine or a sauce mixture) rapidly until the volume is reduced by evaporation, thereby thickening the consistency and intensifying the flavor. Such a mixture is sometimes referred to as a reduction." Hmm. Boil rapidly, eh? I can do that. So, I poured the balsamic and the honey into a saucepan, covered it, and turned on the heat to full, intending to reduce the heat to half when the liquid reached the boil.

I puttered around for a few minutes, and as I was pondering my next move, I was thinking to myself "I wonder how long it takes for balsamic vinegar to reach the boil?". Well, as I thought the word "boil" - it did. I saw some steam starting to escape, so I removed the lid just in time to witness a balsamic volcano that boiled over onto and all over my stovetop. Yikes. There was smoke everywhere. I quickly turned off the burner, and turned on the range hood fan to full. One of the disadvantages of living in a basement apartment is that the ventilation is not wonderful. Anyway, after I got the kitchen largely de-smoked and the stovetop cleaned off somewhat, I put the pot back on a different burner and turned the heat on to half.

And waited.

It took about twenty minutes for the concoction to reduce enough for me to call it 'done', and remove it from the heat. The consistency was fairly thick at this point, and I figured that when it cooled it would be even thicker.

I let the parmesan cream and the balsamic syrup chill in the fridge overnight, and when I got up this morning, everything looked peachy. Despite the fact that eating parmesan cream for breakfast is probably not wisest dietary move I could make, I had to try it. It was delicious, but it took me a few spoonfuls before I got past the "It looks like ice cream, but it doesn't TASTE like ice cream" factor. I'm glad I made this, but I'm not sure whether this would be something I would make on a regular basis. Although, now that I have about a cup of the balsamic syrup already made, making the parm cream itself was a breeze by comparison.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Night 2006

Last night, some friends of mine held their annual Oscar Night party. Recently, at their annual Superbowl party, I volunteered to provide the food for last night's wingding, and I came up with a menu that I thought would keep everyone happy.
I didn't want to get too fancy, yet I wanted to impress, so I chose pierogies, chicken quesadillas, a really nice recipe for seared tuna loin, and Death By Chocolate which I had made for previous parties and was a request from several of the partygoers.

I had made the Death By Chocolate, the quesadillas and the pierogies at least once before, but I had never made the tuna recipe, so I was a little nervous about that one.

I'll start with the pierogies, as I have mostly covered my misadventures in a former post. As related in "Happiness Is A Warm Pierogi", that first batch came out perfectly, or certainly as well as could be expected for a first attempt. This gave me confidence going into the second attempt, and yet, the best laid plans and all that... well, the result was some tasty, yet remarkably ugly-looking pierogies. First of all, I doubled the recipe, and ended up making about 100 of the suckers over the course of a Friday evening about a week ago. However, since I didn't need all of them right away, I decided cook up about half of them, and to freeze the rest for the party. What I didn't know, was that I should have laid out the pierogies on a cookie sheet in the freezer and actually let them freeze before putting them in the Ziploc baggie. This finally did occur to me when the second batch was ready for the freezer, but by that point the first bag was a solid pierogi log. Yeesh. I made an initial attempt to separate them, but all I ended up doing was breaking some of them in pieces. So I decided to just leave them, and worry about it when the time came to cook them. So, just to recap, Bag 1 contained a big log comprised of about 36 pierogies, and Bag 2 contained about 17 individually frozen pierogies.

When the time came to boil them up, I had placed Bag 1 in the fridge overnight to attempt to loosen the log somewhat, and it actually worked - to a point. I managed to get most of the pierogies saparated, except for a few that were completely fused together, and several that just fell apart. No matter, I still had about 40 viable pierogies, so from there I was cruising. I boiled them all up, and placed them in a sealed container to be fried up at my friends' place. Done and done.

The tuna loin seemed deceptively easy to prepare. The recipe was courtesy of Alton Brown from his show Good Eats. It involves marinading the tuna overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, honey and wasabi, then rolling the tuna in sesame seeds, and cooking it in a very hot pan for about 30 seconds per side. The idea is to sear the outside of the tuna, and leave it rare through the middle. Simple, right? Well, the marinading went according to plan, but I over-cooked the tuna just slightly. OK, I cooked the tuna right through. It didn't end up mattering that much, as it still tasted amazing and everyone seemed to like it, but I was disappointed with myself.

The quesadillas, on the other hand, turned out beautifully. The recipe is adapted from one I found in the Toronto Sun newspaper of all places, in an insert concerning Superbowl snacks. This recipe is just the way I like them - really simple, and really tasty. Here's the recipe:

Ian's Three Cheese Chicken Quesadillas
Makes 16-24 wedges

* 8 8-inch tortillas
* 500 g (1 lb.) chicken breasts
* 150g (5 oz) marble cheese, grated
* 150g (5 oz) mozzarella cheese, grated
* 150g (5 oz) smoked gouda cheese, grated
* 1/2 a large onion, sliced
* Honey mustard
* Crushed chili flakes
* Vegetable oil
* Freshly ground pepper

1) Place four of the tortillas on a large baking tray, and spread some mustard on each one.
2) Fry onions with a sprinkling of the chili flakes in a skillet with a little oil until golden brown. Drain and set aside.
3) Brown chicken in skillet until cooked through. Shred with two forks and set aside.
4) Divide the cheese, onions and chicken evenly between the four tortillas. Season with pepper to taste.
5) Cover each with the remaining tortillas and gently press them together.
6) Heat some oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the quesadillas one at a time to the skillet and cook until tortillas are a crispy golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 1 - 1½ minutes per side.
7) Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Cut each quesadilla into four or six wedges, and serve with guacamole and sour cream.

Now for the dessert. I got the recipe for Death By Chocolate from my mother - thanks, Mom! As I stated above, I have made this many times, always to rave reviews. And it's so simple to make. Very little actual cooking is involved, the tricky part is in the assembly. Here we go.

Death By Chocolate

* 2 packages (4 envelopes) Dream Whip, or other whipped dessert topping
* 2 packages Oetker Double Chocolate Mousse
* 1 large Chocolate Brownie mix (I used Double Chocolate Supreme)
* 4 Skor chocolate bars, crushed
* 1 225g bag of Chocolate Clodhoppers, crushed
* 1 225g bag of Vanilla Clodhoppers, crushed
* 1/3C liqueur (I used Amarula, but have used Kahlua, Frangelico, etc.)
* 2 C + 2 C cold milk (for the Dream Whip and chocolate mousse)

1) Prepare the Dream Whip, the chocolate mousse and the brownies as per package instructions.
2) When the brownies come out of the oven, prick all over with a fork and pour the liqueur over the top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes to let the liqueur soak in.
3) Mix together the crushed Skor bars and clodhoppers in a bowl.
4) Break up the brownies with a fork, making a loose pile.
5) Assemble the dessert in layers in a trifle bowl (or other large dessert bowl) as follows:
* Half of the brownies
* Half of the chocolate mousse
* Half of the Chocolate bar mixture
* Half of the Dream Whip
Repeat, and top with shaved semi-sweet chocolate OR chocolate chips

It should look something like this:

*NOTE* A trifle bowl, as called for in the recipe, is narrow with high sides, but the bowl I used is shallower with a wider bottom, so I had to adjust the quantities somewhat. One batch of brownies just won't stretch far enough for two separate layers, so if you're planning to use a bowl with a wider bottom, I would suggest making 2 batches of brownies, and using one for each layer. Same with the candy bars. The original recipe called for only 8 Skor bars, but I found that that was insufficient for two good-sized layers.

This dessert is something else, and if you're jonesing for your chocolate fix, I can't think of a better way to get it.

The food all went over very well, and although I spent my entire Sunday in the kitchen and was beat by the end of the party, I was happy with the results. More importantly, so were my friends.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I'm Nutty For Pork Chops

Necessity, once again, is the mother of invention.

When I bought some nice butterfly-cut pork chops the last time I was at the Grocery Palace (ah, the Grocery Palace....), I had intended to cook them shake-n-bake style with breadcrumbs or cornflakes or something. So, tonight, I decided to have the pork chops for dinner and defrosted them, then started to look around for something to coat them with. Alas, no breadcrumbs, no cereal, what IS a hungry lad to do?

I then remembered that I had a bag of pecans that I had bought at the bulk food store last week and decided that that sounded like a tasty alternative. So, I put a couple of handfuls of the pecans in the food processor, pulse pulse pulse, and I had a nice pile of crushed pecans. I put the pecans into a Ziploc baggie, added a little brown sugar, some fresh ground pepper and some garlic powder and shook the bag to combine the ingredients. I then made an egg-wash for the chops from one egg and a little milk. I coated each chop in the egg mixture, then put it in the baggie, sealed it, then shake shake shake, I coated the chops in the pecan mixture. Then into the oven at 375°F (about 190°C) for 40 minutes.

After the chops went in the oven, since I was in full-on cooking mode anyway, I thought that I would attempt a recipe I'd been meaning to try for a while - Celery Root Puree. I'd never had it before, but I'd been assured that it tastes similar to mashed potatoes, so how bad could it be? I got the idea for this from my friend Rob, but he got the recipe from here. It turned out beautifully and I'm going to be making it again for sure. I had briefly toyed with the idea of just mashing the mixture instead of blending it in the food processor. I'm really glad that I didn't, as the texture was lovely and smooth, and it was suprisingly light-tasting. Of course, since I was just cooking for me, I halved the recipe because, as much as I like it, I really didn't want three pounds of it to deal with afterwards.

Since I had gone to the trouble of making the yummy chops and the very creamy puree, a salad seemed like a good idea, too. So, I threw one together with some romaine lettuce, some baby spinach and whatever fell under my hands when I reached into the fridge - mushrooms, tomato, shallots, orange pepper and some freshly grated parmesan that I picked up this morning from Chris's Cheesemongers at the St. Lawrence Market here in Toronto.

I do love shopping at the Market, but Saturday morning is not the ideal time to go. Well, unless you like huge crowds of people.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

From Yucky To Yummy In One Easy Step

OK, it's officially winter, 'cause I have a bad cold. There's nothing like a head cold to make you feel yucky, and what do you eat when you feel yucky? Soup!

I got home from work last night, and for some reason the only thing that was going through my head was " want some soooooup....". I didn't have any instant soup mix in the cupboard, but I did have some chicken stock, so I decided to wing it and try to concoct something resembling soup from ingredients on hand. I'd never done this before, but I figured that if I screwed it up too badly, I'd just throw in a couple of eggs and call it Scrambled Egg Surprise. That turned out not to be necessary this time, but I'll have you know that I am the master at making Scrambled Egg Surprise.

I started by chopping up two large shallots and frying them in a little oil. After they had been frying for a couple of minutes, I chopped up a portobello mushroom and a plum tomato and threw those in, too. For seasoning I added some freshly ground pepper, about a teaspoon of dried rosemary, some basil, some paprika and some garlic powder. Gotta have the garlic powder. When this mixture looked like it had been cooked enough, I poured in about half of a cup of cream and two cups of chicken stock. These measurements are approximate, as I didn't really measure anything, but it sounds better than "I put in some cream and then I put in some chicken stock." I brought it to a boil, then lowered the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for a while. I tasted it, and decided that it still needed something, so I added more fresh ground pepper, and some oregano. At this point I was unsure as to how long to let it simmer, but upon tasting again, I decided that it was fine and declared it done. This was mostly because I just wanted to eat it. A little grated parmesan mixed in and some oatbran toast completed the picture.

And what a picture. Me sitting on the couch, wrapped in a large comforter, gleefully dunking the toast in the soup and watching CSI. Joy.