Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Little Golf And A Lot Of Meat

For the last five years, three of my friends and I have spent a weekend at my parents' cottage in the late summer. Ostensibly this weekend is a golf weekend, and we do actually play golf, but it's mostly an opportunity to hang out, relax, and eat LOTS OF MEAT.

The four of us all know how to cook to some degree or another, but with Rob in charge of buying the meat, and because he gets it at the St. Lawrence Market, we always end up with a bit of an extravaganza on our hands.

Here is an exerpt from the e-mail thread going back and forth the day we left.

Hello all,

Our meat is procured. The total bill came to $192 for:
1. 2 4lb chickens and 1 slab of bacon ($31)
2. 1 lb smoked wild salmon ($24)
3. tub of cream cheese ($7)
4. wedge of apple smoked cheddar ($6)
5. 4 1lb USDA Prime Delmonico steaks ($85)
6. 100 pepperettes ($34)
7. dozen bagels ($5)

We shall eat like kings -- bloated, constipated kings.

Keep in mind, this food is for two days (Friday evening to Sunday afternoon). Oh, Mylanta...

Over the last couple of years, we have streamlined the meals somewhat. We found that cooking a full fry-up breakfast in the morning, though tasty, took up too much time when we had to make an 8:00am (or 7:30am, DAVE...) tee-off. In addition, we would drive everyone in the surrounding cottages crazy with the smells of bacon and coffee at 7am. Mmmmm.... bacon and coffee... So, with an eye for speed, breakfasts are now bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. Oh, and the requisite Breakfast Caesar. Gotta have your vitamins.

Lunches are mostly easy meals that can be cooked on the grill. Fire GOOOOOOD. This past year, I made up some of my Stuffed Mozza Burgers, which we ate with relish. Among other things. Ah, I kill me. These lunches are a very laid-back process. As we have just finished playing a round of golf, and as we are all in our 30s (though Dave won't be for next year's trip, heh), and most importantly, since we are ON VACATION, a little bit of sitting around doing absolutely nothing is a welcome part of the day.

Then there's the snacks.

Did I mention the snacks? The core snacking ingredient of every one of our golf weekends are pepperettes from the St. Lawrence Market. We got a hundred of them. No, really, one hundred. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, pepperettes are small, dry, pepperoni sausages that come mild or hot. We normally get fifty of each. For some reason, they just seem to go really well with beer. In addition to the meat snacks, there's the Hickory Sticks, the Clodhoppers, and other random goodies.
Dinners are the main culinary focus of the weekend. Saturday dinner is normally more of a production than Friday's, as we all drive up after work on Friday, and we're still getting settled in.

This year, Rob outdid himself with the meat purchasing. Upon his arrival, he presented us with four, 16 oz., USDA Prime steaks. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. We grilled those bad boys up, cooked a huge pot of mashed garlic potatoes (half of a 7 lb. bag) with chunks of crispy bacon in it and did up a big pile of vegetables in tinfoil right on the grill. Nice. That was without question the best steak I have ever eaten. There are no pictures of the steak dinner, because as soon as they came off the BBQ, we inhaled them. It wasn't pretty.
The pictures you see are Saturday's dinner - Beer Can Chicken. This was Rob's brainchild, so I guess he gets the credit, seeing as he bought the meat, prepared the meat, and cooked the meat, while almost burning himself several times. The Food Network's version of the recipe for this can be found here, though it's really not that difficult.

Take a whole (not too big) chicken, remove the giblets, pat the outside dry. Rub the chicken with a little oil, then rub the chicken inside and out with your favourite dry spice rub. Then take a can of beer, empty out about half of the beer(I find the best way to do this is drink it :-{>), then set the bird down on top of the can. Cook on the grill , or in the oven at 190C (375F) until the juice runs clear when stabbed with a sharp knife (about 1 - 1 1/4 hours).

We cooked two 4-lb chickens in the oven, as the BBQ wasn't big enough. The tricky part in all of this was to move the birds around in the oven without knocking them off of their precarious beer can perches (please refer to picture #2). Rob eventually had to wrap the oven mitts in aluminum foil so that he could actually handle the birds without knocking off any of the spice rub. Ingenious, really.
The menu for Saturday dinner looked like this:

Beer Can Chicken
Grilled Mixed Vegetables in tinfoil (onion, green onion, red and orange bell pepper, radishes, garlic cloves, butter, salt, pepper, ground chipotle pepper)
Sauteed Mushrooms
Roasted Asparagus
Mashed Garlic Potatoes with Crispy Bacon

What a weekend. All I could think about on the way home was, "I think I'll have a salad".

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mmmmm... Brownies

OK, so I've been away for a while. Partly due to a crazy summer schedule, and of course, partly due to apathy, but I'm back now. No, really.
Although I didn't get too ambitious in the kitchen over the summer, one of my few culinary exploits concerned chocolate. And cheesecake. And more chocolate.

The recipe is a result of the World Nutella Day event I participated in back in February, and is courtesy of Mary at AlpineBerry. It can be found here.

The family summer party/picnic/softball game was once again held at my parents cottage, and of course, I was expected to contribute something tasty to dinner. It's always a challenge for me to come up with something interesting (and different from past years' contributions), and that will survive the hour-and-a-half drive north.

In the past, I have made some spicy samosas or other similar appetizers, but this year I thought that I would make a dessert. Enter the brownies.

These are not only brownies, they are CHEESECAKE brownies. And they're not only cheesecake brownies, they're NUTELLA cheesecake brownies. The bottom half is a nice chocolatey brownie mixture, which includes a few healthy dollops of Nutella. Mmmmm... Nutella... The top layer is a chocolate cheesecake concoction, which also contains - you guessed it - a few healthy dollops of Nutella. Then, as if that wasn't enough, I topped the incredibly decadent, and really quite evil, brownies with some shaved white chocolate.

The only problem with making two pans of evil cheesecake brownies, is that after bringing one of the pans to the cottage party, I was still left with a whole pan for myself.

Now, I can hear you saying, "but Ian, how can that possibly be a problem?" While I realize that most of you would welcome this kind of 'problem', I've been on kind of a weight-loss kick just lately. I've found that eating a whole pan of brownies by oneself (while immensely satisfying), is really not conducive to actually LOSING weight. Lots of extra sit-ups were required. Now... I say 'required', but not really 'performed'. There's a hitch in that plan somewhere... hmmmm...

So, as I mentioned before, the summer was a bit slow for me cooking-wise, but I'm back at it and will try to post more often than once a month. Cheers!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Walk In The Woods

Once again, it all came down to momentum. Most of my really good walks take place after I get off the streetcar on my way home from work, and this time was no different.I just felt like walking. I had no plan, no destination picked out, so because I was facing east when I got off the streetcar, that was the way I went. I walked along Queen St. until I got to Glen Manor Drive. One of the best things about Glen Manor, besides being in a fairly swanky neighbourhood, is that there is a series of parks and nature trails leading from Queen St. all the way north to Kingston Rd. This is where I headed.As I walked up the path, I was struck by how quiet is was. Here I was, not a hundred feet from the bustle of Queen St., and all I could hear were birds and the barking of a few dogs.Having passed through the first little park, I crossed Glen Manor Drive, and walked up into the second park, which among other things is apparently a very popular dog park, as there were several people out with their canine companions running around (the dogs that is) and enjoying the late afternoon sun. Halfway up is my favourite feature of this particular park - the wooden foot bridge. There is really nothing special about this bridge, but as a child I remember thinking that it was so cool to see something like this smack in the middle of an otherwise bustling urban neighbourhood. Of course, I didn't phrase it in my mind quite like that at the time. It was more like, "Cool... a wooden bridge...".On through park number two, and I arrived at the most interesting part of this trek; the nature trail. This is less of a park, and more of a path through a wooded ravine. When I was in high school, this was a popular spot to come to hang out, or have a smoke, or whatever, with a fair expectation of privacy. I was happy to see that there was a small brook running beside the path, and it actually looked clean and didn't have any crap floating in it. Always a bonus.It had been years since I'd walked through here, and once again I was struck by the sense of stillness and apart-ness from the surrounding city. I could just see the tops of the houses through the trees at the top of each side of the ravine, yet could not hear any street noise.Occasionally, I would pass someone walking their dog, or who was just out for a walk, and we'd nod or say "hi" as we passed, but for the most part, I was alone in the woods. That sounds a lot scarier than I meant it, considering that it was 6:30pm, and still essentially broad daylight. As I crossed the foot bridge, I saw what I can only describe as a gnarly tree. "That tree is totally gnarly" I thought, and so I had to get a picture of it.On my way up and out of the ravine, I stopped to turn around and look back at the path. I stood there at the top of the stairs, and just enjoyed the view. I find it amazing that there are still places like this in the city, when sometimes it seems that undeveloped natural land in the city of Toronto is becoming a thing of the past.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aaarghhh - And I Mean That.

It's now 9:45pm on Sunday of a long weekend, and I'm in the office. I've been here since 9:00am, and I'm starting to feel a little crispy around the edges. My department has been working on a hyper-important yet still very silly project all weekend, and now I've had enough.

I'm tired, I ate WAY too much catered food, and I'm tempted to find a quiet corner in the nice air-conditioned computer room and catch a few ZZZZs.

They tell us that we'll out of here before midnight, but I really don't think THAT's gonna happen...

Despite the witty name of this Blogsite, I'm trying my best NOT to gallumph around the office like a grumpy grizzly bear that's been woken up from hibernation two months early. Ahhh... hibernation...

Speaking of the catered food, we got a bunch of potstickers and salad and submarine sandwiches and stuff for lunch. All very tasty, but the problem was that we didn't get lunch until about 1:30pm, and then dinner arrived (lots and lots and lots and lots of pizza) at about 5:30pm. It felt like I was eating solidly for about five hours straight. Did you know that you can get broccoli on a pizza? I mean, I knew that, but had never actually seen it. It just looks wrong somehow.

Oh, great. Now I'm babbling.

I don't think I'll have to come in tomorrow (holiday Monday), but again, at this point in the evening all bets are off. Thank god for taxi chits - at least my ride home is taken care of.

Whenever that may be.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gadgets & Toys Part I - Salad Dressing Cruet

At a miniscule 25¢, this is definitely one of the better bargains I have ever got from a yard sale.

Over the last year, I have been making a concerted effort to both drop some weight and to cut down on my spending. One of the easiest ways I found to do both of these things was to stop buying commercially produced salad dressing. Even the ones that claim to be 'Low Fat' or 'Calorie-Wise', still seemed to have quite a lot of fat and calories. I think I've said this before, but it's worth repeating - nothing ruins the good intentions of a nice green salad like a splat of creamy high-cal dressing.

Since I got the sweet baby pictured above, I have been making my own balsamic dressing. It's really easy. I know, I know, it's possible to make dressing without a Good Seasons salad dressing beaker, but I know I never did. It's foolproof. Well, as much as anything's foolproof. The lines on the side indicate where to fill each ingredient to, then you shake to mix it up. Um, after firmly snapping the lid on. Don't ask.

My favourite combination so far has been extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, water, a splootch of honey-dijon mustard and some fresh-ground pepper.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Ready, Set, Cook! #34: Feeling A Little Chicken

...or maybe I was just feeling a little flaky.

The feature ingredients in this month's edition of Ready, Set, Cook! hosted by Anne at Cooking With Anne are:

* Chicken Breasts
* Onions
* Sour Cream

The rules for the event can be found here.

I approached this challenge a little diiferently from past editions, in that I didn't create the recipe before going to the grocery store for the ingredients. I decided to go to the grocery store, and just wait for something to catch my attention.

I was actually out for a walk after getting off the streetcar on my way home from work, and as I passed the ValuMart on Queen St. East, I remembered about the event, and that posts were due by Tuesday (which is tomorrow, as I write this).

As I wandered through the produce department, I decided that I wanted to incorporate puff pastry or something similar into the recipe. So after grabbing some nice-looking produce (mushrooms, onions, new potatoes), I was heading towards the meat department to find some chicken, when I noticed that they had Montreal Smoked Meat on special in the deli department. Smoked Meat is one of my favourite foods, though I don't eat it that much. It's the moderately fatty meat in addition to the spices that makes it good, you see. I made an exception this time, as it is second only to bacon on my Favourite Foods list. It's a large list, and the thing is that because of this blog it just keeps getting larger. The challenge is making sure my waistline doesn't.

So, the Smoked Meat was in, and I found some nice chicken breasts to go with it. Along with the onions and the sour cream that are the other theme ingredients, I decided to add mushrooms and some chopped cubanelle pepper. Not to mention the chili sauce that I seem to be using in everything I cook lately.

Despite making an entire chicken casserole, I decided not to bake all six shells as I would just have to eat them, and it's easier to store leftover casserole than it is to store leftover pastry.

These are some tasty sandwiches, or pastries, or whatever, but my point is THEY TASTE GOOD. I highly recommend them. Here's the recipe that I used:

Flaky-Bakey Chicken Sammies
Makes lots

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut up into bite-sized pieces
100g (4oz) Montreal Smoked Meat, chopped up
2 medium onions, chopped
3 large white mushrooms, sliced
3 tbsp light sour cream
juice & zest of one lime
2 tbsp honey mustard
1 good-sized splootch sriracha chili sauce (or any hot chili sauce)
salt & pepper
1/4 C water
3 frozen patty shells

450g (1 lb) small whole new potatoes - I had about eight of them
2 green onions, chopped
light sour cream
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Place the frozen patty shells on a baking tray, and bake for 18-20 minutes.
Remove from oven. With a fork, cut out removable tops and save to use as lids, and let cool on a rack.

Reduce oven heat to 375F.
Place the rest of the first group of ingredients into a medium-sized casserole dish, and gently mix to combine.
Bake at 375F for about 60 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, place the potatoes into a medium-sized saucepan and just cover the potatoes with water. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and tip the lid. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through and soft.

When chicken casserole is ready, spoon a healthy amount into each shell, and place lid on top. Cut an 'X' into the top of each potato and pinch the sides slightly. Top potatoes with a small dollop of sour cream and chopped green onions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Blog Party #21: Currying Favour - or - Hold On, I'm Cumin

Bite-sized beauties and Turtle Punch, too!
When I saw the post announcing this Blog Party event, I was excited because this gave me a chance to try out a couple of things I'd been considering lately. Namely, Chicken Wings and specifically, some spicy spicy sauce I've been working on. Plus, it gave me an excuse to mess around with my standard potato salad recipe that was becoming a bit tired. The theme of this month's event is: Picnic Food!

I was originally planning to make a bunch of different stuff for this event, but due to time and budget constraints, I settled on two dishes and one cocktail. Nothing says 'Picnic Food' to me like potato salad and cold chicken, so I made Spicy Chicken Drumettes and Devilled Potato Salad with Turtle Punch (it's much like Rabbit Punch, but not quite as fast :-{>).

You would think that it would be easy to find raw chicken wings at any grocery store, but NOOOOOO.... I had to go to three different places before I found a single tray of about a dozen chicken drumettes. Of course, it was the Grocery Palace, where I should have gone in the first place. Oh, well. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday night and the meat counters were all half-empty. Or maybe.... maybe it was an evil conspiracy to prevent me from cooking tasty food for this event. Or maybe I've just been drinking too much Turtle Punch.

Over the last little while I have developed a taste for cumin, and have been putting it in pretty much everything I cook. For the wings, I wanted to make a really good coating, so I decided to make a masala from cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, asafoetida and kosher salt. Here's how I did it:

Killer Curry Masala

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp kosher salt

In a dry skillet, over high heat, dry-roast all ingredients for 30 seconds to a minute until the coriander seeds start to darken, and the cumin seeds start to pop. You will really be able to smell the fantastic aroma.
Remove from skillet and whiz to a powder in a spice grinder.

*NOTE: Dry-roasting the spices is very important. You COULD just mix everything together and grind them up, but you wouldn't get the same depth of flavour, or great aroma.


OK, back to the chicken.

To make these drumettes easier to handle, I cut off the knobby end of the bone and pressed the rest of the meat down, leaving a ball of chicken meat with the bone sticking out. Then, flour, egg wash, then tossed in the masala and breadcrumbs and baked in the oven at 400F for about 45 minutes. They may look blackened, but the meat was still moist, and the coating was nice and crispy (and darn tasty).

Ah, potatoes. I love potatoes. I could eat potatoes at every meal. For this meal, I wanted to combine two of my favourite party/picnic foods: potato salad and devilled eggs. I started off by hard-boiling some eggs, and boiling and mashing a medium-sized Yukon Gold potato. While the eggs were cooling, I fried up a couple of pieces of crispy peppered bacon, cut them into square pieces and set them aside. To the potatoes, I added some fearsome sriracha chili sauce (ah yeah, that's good lovin'), then some of the masala, a chopped green onion, some grainy mustard, a little mayo, a little butter, some crushed garlic, and a splash of Worchestershire Sauce. Mix until smoooooth. I peeled the hard-boiled eggs, and cut them in half. I removed the yolks and added them to the potato mixture, and roughly mixed them in.

So. The egg halves made a perfect little serving vessel for the mashed potato salad, and with a piece of bacon added in, and a slice of cocktail olive to top it all off, there you have Devilled Potato Salad.

What's that? The punch? I haven't explained the punch, you say? Alright, alright, I'm getting to it.

I find it more difficult to invent cocktails than food recipes. I don't know why. Maybe it's the fact that while I was in university, I would concoct various libations that only I seemed to find tasty. I mean, really. Homemade red wine mixed with Diet Pepsi should work, shouldn't it? It certainly worked for me at New Year's Eve 1989.... people tell me. But I digress. Here's the formula.
Turtle Punch
Makes one pitcher of punch

1 pot of tea, cooled (I think it's Orange Pekoe)
2 C citrus drink
2 C peach drink
2 C rye whiskey
1 C sherry (I ran out of rye)
1/2 C sugar (trust me on this one)

Stir to combine, and chill in fridge.
Serve in frosty glass, and top with chunks of Turtles ice cream bar on a toothpick.

A big thank you to Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness for doing such a great job organizing this event.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Best Of Blogs 2006 - I'm a finalist!

Hey Kids!

Just found out that The Gallumphing Gourmand is one of eight finalists at the 2006 Best of Blogs Awards in the Best Food, Wine and Cooking Blog category. How cool is that? Click the link above to place your vote (it would be cool if you would vote for me, hint hint) until midnight Friday April 13, 2007.

Thank you to everyone who enjoys my blog, it's been fun to do.

Here are links to some of the posts I had the most fun with from the past year:

Large Chef At Home - March 14, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #4: Easter Brunch - April 12, 2006

Food Fit For A King - June 14, 2006

Ready, Set, Cook #20: Bite-Sized Bacon Bundles - Booya! - October 30, 2006

World Nutella Day 2007 - Nutella Sugar Stars - January 31, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Large Salads and Small Pork Chops

In an effort to both eat healthier and to save some cash, I have been making a concerted effort lately to bring my lunch to work with me every day.Also, because I have better things to think about in the morning, and because my brain is still in low gear until my first coffee of the day, I tend to make the same thing pretty much every morning - a big salad and a little pork chop.

I decided recently that I should really get on this whole 'losing weight' thing, and a friend suggested that a good way to do that would be to go vegetarian. Now, I don't have anything against vegetarians or vegetarianism, it's just not a choice that I would make for myself. To be honest, I like meat way too much to do that. To even consider living without steaks or chops or burgers, the mind boggles. Not to mention bacon. Ahhh, bacon. But I'm getting a little off-track here.

As a child of the '70s and '80s, the phrase "You may not" is not one of my favourites. My instinctive response is "Don't tell me what to do", and then nothing gets done. However, I've had to rethink my whole decision-making process as it applies to menu creation, and cooking healthy meals. I've found that if I take "You may not" and change it to "I don't want to", things tend to work a bit better. I could spout some inspirational rhetoric right now, but I just find that if I truly want to do something (or not do something), then I can make it happen.

So, although the veggie route is not one I will be taking, I have been making a concerted effort to increase my vegetable intake at every meal, to make sure that I eat my leafy greens, and also to reduce the amount of meat eaten in a day. All it takes to do this, is a little preparation when I get home from the grocery store.

If I buy a large package of ground beef, then before it goes into the freezer I divide the meat up into three- or four-ounce portions. With chicken legs and pork chops, I wrap them all individually. My old system, which was to cook a bunch of food and then "save some for later", never really worked that well. It used to be "OK, I guess I'll thaw the entire pound of ground beef, because I don't feel like trying to saw through it when it's frozen." Then of course, I would just end up eating the whole thing. Not good.

Since I started this blog over a year ago now, and since I've taken a more active interest in cooking, I've found that several things I used to buy pre-made are really easy (and cheaper) to make myself. Take salad dressing. Nothing ruins the good intentions of a nice green leafy salad like some creamy, high-cal dressing. All you need is oil, balsamic vinegar and water, and you've got salad dressing. Oh yes, and a funky vintage Good Seasons salad dressing cruet with measuring lines on the side. Heh. Found it at a yard sale for a quarter. I use it all the time, it's one of my favourite kitchen gadgets. I just add the vinegar to the line, add the water to the next line, then fill with oil. Add a little fresh ground pepper, and a small splootch of honey-dijon mustard, et viola! A tasty balsamic vinaigrette.

The salad is assembled as follows:

Gallumphing Gourmand's Tasty Lunchbox Salad
serves 1

* Red leaf lettuce
* one plum tomato, chopped
* two green onions, chopped
* two radishes, chopped
* 1/4 green pepper, chopped
* three or four medium mushrooms, chopped
* small squirt of balsamic vinaigrette
* one small grilled pork chop, sliced

It's taken some adjustment to go from standard food court grub like rice-and-two-items combos or large pastrami sandwiches to eating the salad every day. But I find that after a few weeks of doing this, I've gotten used to it. And now that I've started to incorporate actual exercise into my daily routine, I'm starting to feel the results, if not actually see them yet. I look forward to the salad, because it makes me feel good.

Monday, March 05, 2007

WCC #14: A Salad By Any Other Name...

...would still taste like salad. Unless, of course, you use gelatin to make that particular salad. For this edition of Weekend Cookbook Challenge, I decided to take a bit of a retro approach to the Salad theme.

I dug out my vintage Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks (Copyright 1963), and selected the volume entitled Lunches and Brunches. The clever subtitle is "Luscious lunches, best brunches". Whoever thought that one up MUST have been getting paid the big bucks.

This entry is based on the 'Make-ahead Luncheon' found on Page 13 of Lunches and Brunches. I say 'based on', because I didn't make the entire menu suggested for this luncheon. What I did make was:

Chilled Tomato Juice
Ham & Swiss Roll-ups
Devilled Eggs

and the pièce de résistance:
Confetti Relish Mold

Sounds so good, you can almost taste it, hmmmmm?

The devilled eggs are pretty self-explanatory, and the ham & swiss roll-ups are just that - a piece of cooked ham, a piece of swiss cheese, some grainy mustard, a little wasabi, and ROLL UP. The recipe calls for horseradish, but I don't have any, and wasabi is basically horseradish on crack anyway, so I used (a tiny bit of) the wasabi.

The Confetti Relish Mold was the fun part. For all you fine people who are just dying to make a gelatin-mold salad, here's the recipe as printed in the book:

Confetti Relish Mold
serves 6

2 beef bouillon cubes
1 3-oz package of lemon-flavoured gelatin
1 C boiling water
2 tbsp tarragon vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 C dairy sour cream
(as opposed to library sour cream, maybe?)
1/2 C chopped unpared cucumber
(I peeled it anyway)
1/2 C finely chopped green pepper
1/4 C sliced radishes
2 tbsp sliced green onions

Dissolve bouillon cubes and gelatin in boiling water. Add vinegar and salt. Chill until mixture is partially set.
Add sour cream, beat smooth. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into a 3-cup mold. Chill until mixture is firm.

OK, that was what the book said. This is what I actually did. I made a few common-sense (to my mind, anyway) substitutions. Instead of boiling water and bouillon cubes, I just used Campbell's Beef Broth, and instead of tarragon vinegar, I used white wine vinegar with 1/2 tsp of tarragon leaves. Oh yes, instead of the dairy (!) sour cream, I used plain yogurt.After boiling the broth, dissolving the gelatin (lemon-flavoured Jell-O), and adding the vinegar and salt, I put the saucepan into the fridge for about an hour. I then added the yogurt, and used electric beaters to 'beat until smooth'. I then added the rest of the stuff, stirred to combine everything, then poured the mixture into five individual little glass bowls. I don't have a jelly mold, and since I don't plan to ever make this again, I didn't think that there was any point to buying one. Since I had several of the little suckers, I decided to experiment a little bit. I put two of them into the freezer, and the other three went into the fridge.

I really wasn't sure how long they would take to set properly, but after three hours, they seemed fine. The book provides helpful tips for turning out a jelly mold:

Loosen edges with top of knife. Place platter over mold; invert. Wring towel out of hot water; lay over mold. Lift off mold.

Whaddaya know, it worked. I don't know why the beef flavour was included, because the lemon completely overpowered it. The jelly tasted about how you'd expect: creamy lemon jello with crunchy bits in it. Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad.

A big thank you to Tami at Running With Tweezers for running this event, it's always fun to look through the old cookbooks.

Success Is A Dish Best Served With Relish

Or mustard.

As a follow-up to my last post, and the deep-fryer meltdown incident, here is my second attempt at Mashed Potato Poppers.Thanks to a comment from Vicki, this time I didn't add any butter or cream to the potatoes before I deep-fried them. They turned out perfectly. Well, they turned out how I expected them to turn out, which I guess is pretty much the same thing.

The recipe is pretty simple. I'll run it down for you.

Mashed Potato Poppers

4 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp garlic powder
(I didn't have any fresh garlic on hand or I would've use that instead)
salt and pepper
1 good-sized gloop of Worchestershire Sauce
(pardon the technical jargon)
1 small gloop of Tabasco (to taste)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Form into 1-inch balls and deep-fry 6-8 at a time (depending on the size of the deep-fry unit) for about 4 minutes.
Remove from oil and place on paper towels to blot some of the oil.
Serve with mustard or whatever tickles your fancy.

I don't know about you, but my fancy is fairly ticklish, so in addition to the mustard, I tried mayo, wasabi, hot sauce, Nutella (why not), and peanut butter. All turned out to be acceptable choices, but I guess the mustard is my favourite.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Blog Party #19: Take Comfort

Ahhh... Comfort Food. It's always fun to cook comfort food. It's not about nutrition (necessarily) or presentation or culinary genius, it's about making a big pile of stuff that tastes great and make you feel good. A big thank you to Stephanie at Dispensing Happiness for organizing this cool event.

The outline for this event can be found here, but the basic idea is to take your favourite comfort foods, and turn them into appetizers. This includes at least one appetizer and one cocktail.

For the purposes of this event, my favourite comfort foods are: Rice-A-Roni, mashed potatoes and hot dogs. In addition, I thought that I would whip up a cocktail that I invented (I'm pretty sure) called a Flux Capacitor. Mmmm... tasty...

Of course, the challenge was to figure out how to convert what I would normally eat out of a really big bowl into bite-sized appetizer-type finger foods. I have to admit that I agonized over this for a while before settling on a couple of ideas.
First of all, for the Rice-A-Roni, I normally add a couple of eggs to the pan when I add the water and the oh-so-tasty flavour packet, and it ends up looking like a rice frittata. So, I thought that I would just cut up the frittata and serve it on small pieces of toast with a piece of smoky bacon, and a little bit of grainy mustard. And thus, the Bacon 'n Egg Rice-A-Roni Canapé was born.

Secondly, I love hot dogs. I especially love to pack everything I can possibly think of on the top. So, I got out my package of handy-dandy bamboo skewers, and proceeded to de-construct the hotdog by skewering a combination of: green bell pepper, wiener pieces, cubes of mozzerella, sliced mushrooms, black olives and red bell peppers. Served with a dip made from grainy mustard, a little mayo, Worcestershire sauce, Louisiana Hot Sauce, some lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper. Voilà, a Weenie-Kabob!

For the third apetizer, I ran into some problems with the execution of my idea. My original thought was to make up some nice, creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes, roll them into balls, coat with breadcrumbs, and deep-fry them for a couple of minutes. This would theoretically produce crispy golden balls of tasty potato. Hmmmm.... It should have worked... but it didn't. I made up the potato balls and rolled them in breadcrumbs, but when I submerged them into the hot oil, all they did was disintegrate into a sloppy mess. Crap. So, I decided that since the potato was already fully cooked, that I would simply roll the balls in the breadcrumbs and call them done. And call them Potato Poppers. Not bad at all, especially with the (yes, you guessed it) mustard dip.
Now for the beverage portion of evening. As I mentioned before, I made a Flux Capacitor. "But Ian," I hear you say, "what is a Flux Capacitor?"

I'm glad you asked.

The name comes from one of my all-time favourite movies - Back To The Future. The drink is made with one part Ouzo to two parts Sprite. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and some lime peel, and you've got one tasty cocktail. Plus, as an added bonus, when you drop the toothpick with the cherry and lime peel into the drink, it starts to fizz up quite a bit, and the cherry bounces up and down in the glass. Very cool effect. I have two reasons why I call this drink a Flux Capacitor. First, if you drink several of them, it will really Flux you up. Plus, again directly quoting the movie, "the Flux Capacitor... which is what makes time travel possible..." By this I mean, Time Flies When You're Semi-Concious. And it even tastes good. The Ouzo tastes like licorice, and has a pretty intense flavour. But, when mixed with the Sprite, which tastes like lemon-lime, the licorice flavour still comes through, but the intensity is muted somewhat. Now, this can be viewed as either a good or a bad thing. Both for the same reason - because the cocktail goes down real easy.

I will add a link to the event round-up when it's posted on Saturday.....


....and here it is!

After some technical difficulties, the round-up for this event can be found here. Check it out!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

World Nutella Day 2007 - Nutella Sugar Stars

If at first you don't succeed... try changing the recipe.My participation in this event can be chalked up to coincidence and good timing. Nutella is one of my favourite things in the world, and I have been looking for a tasty way of incorporating it into a recipe, and I finally found one.

After my first unsatisfying experience making sugar cookies back before Christmas, I wanted another crack at them, so I adjusted the recipe slightly by adding a bit more flour and reducing the cooking time from 10 minutes to 6 minutes (and didn't roll the dough quite so thin), and they turned out beautifully. Buoyed by this success, I decided to tweak the recipe further by replacing the almond extract with orange extract, and adding chocolate. Ahhh chocolate. For my first attempt I used cocoa powder, which was good, but I thought that Nutella would be an ideal addition and would add another dimension of flavour to the cookies. So I did. Unfortunately, the cocoa and Nutella completely clobbered the orange flavouring, so I left it out the next time.Not only did I add Nutella into the cookie dough, but sandwiched two cookies together using more Nutella as the filling.

And it was good. Oh my, was it good.

All of this brings me back to the fact that at that point I still didn't know about this event, and just happened to be talking to my friend Rob from Hungry in Hogtown. When I mentioned that I had just made some Nutella cookies, he said, "Oh, are they for the World Nutella Day event?" I promptly replied, "They are now!" Click the picture on the right to view the World Nutella Day website, and the event wrap-up on February 7.

What a great idea for an event. Despite knowing a few lost souls who actually dislike Nutella, and for whom I have nothing but pity, everyone I know who likes Nutella, LOVES Nutella. In my opinion it has supplanted ambrosia as the Food of The Gods. One of my favourite things in the world is a thick layer of Nutella and raspberry jam on warm whole wheat toast. Pure joy.

Chocolate Sugar Stars
makes about 8 dozen

1 C granulated sugar
1 C softened butter
1/3 C cream cheese, softened
½ tsp salt
1 tsp orange extract
½ tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk (reserve white)
2¼ C all-purpose flour
¼ C cocoa powder
1 big (OK, huge) spoonful of Nutella (about 2 tbsp)
colored decorative sugar (I used white for these ones)
more Nutella for spreading

In large bowl cream together the sugar, butter and cream cheese.
Add the salt, extracts, egg yolk, cocoa powder and Nutella; blend well.
Stir in flour until well blended. Chill dough for 2 hours.
Pre-heat oven to 350F/180C.
On lightly floured surface, roll out dough one-third at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with lightly floured cookie cutter (I used a star-shaped one). Place 1 inch apart on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Leave cookie plain, or brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for about 6-7 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks.
After the cookies have cooled completely, thinly (or thickly) spread some Nutella on one cookie, then cover with another, sugar sides out. Press together lightly so that the cookies adhere. Chill in the fridge in a sealed container until ready to serve.

Friday, January 26, 2007

RSC#23: Maple Pork Roast with Raisins and Dark Chocolate

Pork and chocolate. Two of my favourite things, yet they are not normally used in the same recipes. For last week's Ready, Set, Cook! event, instead of the normal three feature ingredients, Anne provided a selection of five ingredients, from which the participants could choose two or three for their recipe. The five ingredients were: salmon, maple, pork, tomatoes and chocolate. As soon as I saw that, I knew that I had to try making something with both pork AND chocolate, because no-one else likely would and because I love a challenge. Now, I did a bit of searching on the internet for any recipes that used these two ingredients because I didn't want to blindly throw something together if it was just going to taste like crap. You see, from past experience, I have come to realize that there are some combinations of ingredients that just don't work. At this point I will reference my teenaged experiments with omelettes, and just what was possible to mix with eggs in a fry pan. Keep in mind here that I was around fourteen and had no finesse in the kitchen, and when I say "omelette", I mean I cracked a couple of eggs into a pan and threw some other stuff in with them. There was no whisking, or blending or even measuring (although that's not necessarily a bad thing), but I found that the combination that I hated most was eggs and chocolate. Looking back, I'm still not sure why this didn't work, but it sucked sure enough.

I wanted to avoid that this time.

I found a neat recipe for a sauce that involved red wine vinegar, sugar, raisins and dark chocolate. The best part was that this sauce was meant to be used with meat, and in this case, pork. I think that the secret to this sauce was that there really wasn't that much chocolate in it, that it wasn't a 'chocolate sauce'. It was a very nice reduction using chocolate for a flavouring rather than a base. It worked really well with the roast I cooked, and I will definitely be keeping this recipe on file.

The recipe I originally created can be found here in the wrap-up for Ready, Set, Cook #23. As normally happens, it got modified slightly when I actually attempted it. The recipe I actually used can be found below.First of all, I bought a cheap pork shoulder roast for about six bucks from the grocery store a few blocks from my house, along with some red wine vinegar and some maple syrup. I already had the raisins and the chocolate from my recent cookie-baking explosion from before Christmas. The original recipe also called for roasted pine nuts, and I went to the trouble of buying some, but when I cooked the roast, I completely forgot about them and left them out. Didn't really make much of a difference, as the pork was unbelievably tasty even so, but it irked me to have forgotten.

I cooked the meat in my handy-dandy cast-iron dutch oven (I love my dutch oven), with the veggies, the chicken broth, the wine and the maple syrup. I was expecting more of a maple-y taste from the roast, but I guess it got overpowered by the wine. As you can see from the picture above, the meat came out beautifully. It was falling off the bone, and was easily shredded with two forks. While the meat was resting (before I shredded it), I made the sauce.

I have to mention here that boiling vinegar is not one of my favourite smells. In fact, it is probably one of my least favourite food-related smells, along with boiling beer (that's a story for another day), and frying liver. My mother would always try to fool my brother and I by cooking bacon with it, but we knew, oh we knew... waitaminnit... where was I?... oh yes, the boiling vinegar. I DON'T LIKE THE SMELL.

The dark chocolate (I used chopped-up dark chocolate chips) melted nicely into the sugar-vinegar mixture, and gave it a rich taste that I really liked. The raisins also added some more depth of flavour, and a bit of texture, and of course raisins always go well with pork.

This is a good recipe, and one that I will actually consider cooking for other people. I have somewhat of an eclectic palate, and as some of my friends are not as culinarily adventurous as I am, I have to take this into consideration when I say "Try this!".

Maple Pork Roast with raisins and dark chocolate
Preparation time less than 30 mins
Cooking time over 2 hours
Serves 6

2 tbsp olive oil
1½ kg (3 lbs) pork shoulder roast
2 medium onions, sliced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 C red wine
1 C chicken stock
½ C maple syrup
salt and freshly ground black pepper

¾ C red wine vinegar
¼ C sugar
2 tbsp dark chocolate, chopped
½ C raisins
enough rice for 6 people

Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
Place a large saucepan, or dutch oven on high heat.
When very hot add the olive oil and brown the roast on all sides. Remove the roast from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion and stir on heat for a minute until the onion is slightly golden.
Add the roast back into the pot, then add the sliced carrot, red wine, chicken stock and maple syrup, and bring to the boil.
Season with salt and pepper, cover, and place in the pre-heated oven.
Cook for 2 – 2.5 hours, until the meat is tender and falling apart, basting every 20-30 minutes. Make sure the liquid does not completely boil away, adding some more chicken stock or wine if necessary.
While the meat is cooking, place the red wine vinegar and the sugar in a small saucepan, stir till the sugar dissolves and then boil for two minutes.
Add the chopped chocolate, stir it, add the raisins and then set aside to allow the raisins to plump up in the liquid.
When the meat is cooked, shred with two forks and add the chocolate/raisin/vinegar mixture.
Serve with rice.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

WCC #13: Coconut Chicken Curry

When I decided to participate in this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, I felt a bit daunted. The theme this time around is to cook a recipe from a recently acquired cookbook, and the one I acquired most recently is The Joy of Cooking - the 75th Anniversary Edition. Which has 4500 recipes in it. This thing is huge, and to work my way through it will take quite a while. Not that I'm complaining.I got it for Christmas from my parents, and I had been meaning to leaf through it anyway, but to choose just one recipe out of so many would take forever, so I took a shortcut. The old 'recipe lottery' approach. I closed my eyes, flipped open the book at random, and dropped a finger to the open page. Why not? My finger dropped on the recipe for "Coconut Chicken Curry" on page 431. Yum. I am a big fan of curry, but have not actually cooked many curry dishes, so this seemed an ideal choice.

This is really a pretty straightforward recipe, but of course it required a trip to the Grocery Palace for supplies, and to the Bulk Barn for a can of coconut milk, which I don't normally stock in my pantry.

One change I made to the recipe was to make my own curry powder. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of 'curry powder' but I thought instead that I would try out another new kitchen gadget acquired at Christmas (also from my parents); a really cool stone mortar and pestle. I took a tablespoon of cumin seeds and a tablespoon of coriander seeds, placed them on a baking sheet and cooked them for a few minutes at 400F until they darkened a couple of shades. Then, I removed the tray from the oven, placed the seeds into the mortar along with a teaspoon of asafoetida, and bashed it good. So aromatic, especially with the asafoetida, which smells like a combination of garlic and onion, although a bit more pungent.

Everything else was a breeze. Some of you may be thinking that this was perhaps not much of a 'challenge' for the Weekend Cookbook Challenge, but it was nice to cook something that didn't have me tearing my hair out for a change. And the payoff was that I ended up with enough tasty chicken for two more meals.

Coconut Chicken Curry
from The Joy of Cooking – 75th Anniversary Edition

2 lbs chicken thighs or breasts
salt & pepper
2 tbsp oil
1 C chopped onions
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
½ C peas, thawed (if frozen)
2 green onions, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed and minced (I used 4)
1½ C (or 1 can) unsweetened coconut milk
½ C golden raisins
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp salt

Heat oil in large skillet. Add chicken and brown on both sides. Remove from pan.
Add onions, carrot, peas, green onions, jalapeno, ginger and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the coconut milk, raisins, curry powder and salt, and bring to a boil.
Add the chicken, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes for breasts, or 25 minutes for thighs, or until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked.
Serve with rice.