Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Apple Pie

This is a two day affair for me.  First day I make the pie filling and next day I make the pie. Find a neighbour with an apple tree or go buy some if you have to.  Usually older apple trees fruit goes begging and it's usually tart and perfect for pie. I stole 8 medium apples from the tree down the alley. The $12 StarFrit Apple Peeler made short work of peeling the apples.

With all the apples peeled and sliced in a pot add:

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 tbsp butter

Stir it all together and turn the heat on to medium. The apples need to partially cook and their liquid should come off and form a thick sauce. Don't stir too much or the apples will break. Stir to little they'll burn.  When the apples are about half cooked take off the heat and let cool.

Pie Crust

I use the recipe on the Tenderflake Lard package adapted to make 1 pie at a time. Pie crust is simple. Small pieces of lard covered flour are rolled out flat making layers of lard and flour which will bake into a flaky crust. The dough:

1 3/4 cup flour
2/3 cup lard
pinch salt

I use a pastry cutter to cut the lard into the flour till it is small pieces the size of oatmeal. If it's cut too small, the pastry will be hard.  If it's too big, it won't form a dough. When I had a uniform mix I got to the wet components.  In a separate small bowl I whisked an egg so it's thoroughly broken up.  Pour 1/3 of the egg into a measuring cup.  Add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar to the measuring cup and fill it to 1/3 cup with cold water. Pour that mixture around the dry ingredients and mix with a fork.  Keep mixing and breaking up the big wet globs till there is a uniform dough, no dry flour left. If some flour is left, try to make a ball with the dough.  If it forms a big ball, throw out the extra flour. Else sprinkle a few drops of water around, mix well and try to ball again.  After I made a few pies I started to recognize when things were ready. When I had a ball of dough I put it in the bowl, covered with a cloth and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.  It rolls better chilled.

To roll out the dough I pull the portable dishwasher out into the kitchen, the top is just the right size to hold a flour bin and role a pie crust. This is the portable dishwasher's only redeeming virtue.  Flour the work surface and put just over half the dough on it.  Drop more flour on dough and flatten it. Start rolling the dough and adding more flour as needed. Roll it out till it's at least an inch wider than the pie plate on all sides.  Use a pastry scraper or cleaver to lift the dough from the board all around.  Lay the rolling pin on the dough and pick the dough up onto the pin. Roll the pin back rolling the dough onto the pin.  Lay the pin over the pie plate and roll the dough into the plate. Press the dough into the plate all around and prick with a fork all around to prevent bubbling. Add the filling.

Roll the top from the second half of the dough.  Wet the rim of the dough in the plate with the egg left from the start. Place the top on and press all around with a fork. Use the pastry scraper or a knife to cut the extra dough off all around the pie. Brush the rest of the egg over the top of the pie so it will brown. Prick the top with a fork a few times to let steam out. Bake in the center of a 400º oven for 20 minutes then turn the heat down to 350º for another 20 minutes. Cool completely and serve topped with thinly sliced cheddar cheese or ice cream. Yum.

This makes an adult tasting pie, for children I would add 1/4 cup brown sugar to the apple filling. Beware, that's untried! It will probably work but you never know, eh?

Lemon Snaps

I can't seem to make these fast enough.  This batch is for Andree to take back to Montreal with her tomorrow. I have gone the extra mile and put a lemon and a half in to make sure I have 1/4 cup of lemon juice. It's worth it, they come out crisper and brighter tasting. Here's the recipe:

Lemon Snaps

In a bowl combine:

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
3/8 cup oil (hint, there are 8 ounces in a cup)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball of dough. Form into balls and flatten with a fork on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes at 350º. Makes 12 to 24 cookies depending on size.

Southwest Chicken with Risotto and Greek Salad

It's late August and everyone has more tomatoes and cucumbers than they can use, us included. Greek Salad is the best way I know to use up these seasonal delectables. Chicken again and I'm going to pound it as everyone seems to like flattened bird. Andree has never tried my risotto so that completes the plate.

I put 3/4 cup Arborio rice, 3/4 cup chicken stock and a pinch of salt in the microwave (Panasonic Genius has Rice preset) to cook. I could have done it on the stove but that requires more attention and I'm not convinced it makes better rice. That is half the amount of liquid but I will be finishing the rice in a frying pan on the stove.

Next I put a breast on a sheet of plastic wrap and folded it over.  I pounded each breast flat to less than half an inch thick. I seasoned both sides with my Southwest Rub and sprayed them with oil.

Southwest Spice Rub

2 tbsp  chili powder
2 tbsp paprika
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp  brown sugar
2 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp cayenne (optional, but it really helps)

I cooked the chicken on the BBQ on medium low heat. 2 minutes, rotate, 2 minutes, turn over, 2 minutes rotate, 2 minutes and they're done. This time I left them in one position a bit longer and got good grill marks.

The Greek Salad consisted of cucumber, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, chives, black olives, feta cheese, oil (1/3 xv olive), salt, pepper and juice of half a lemon. Amounts will vary but if you have a pool of oil and lemon juice at the bottom of the bowl, you have too much dressing.

When the rice was done in the microwave I took it out and fluffed it with a fork. For the Risotto I grated about a loosely packed cup of parmesan. A tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and almost 1/4 cup of butter. When the butter was melted I put in the rice and enough chicken stock to thoroughly wet everything and stir the rice to thicken the sauce.  Next I added the parmesan cheese and stirred it in.  I added a little chicken stock till it had a smooth creamy consistency and plated it next to the chicken. I put the salad on the plate with the chicken and risotto but this was a mistake.  Even though the salad was not overdressed, the dressing still ran into the chicken and risotto. A small bowl on the plate or beside would have been much better.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Garlic Oregano Pork Chop

A nice pork chop on the BBQ tonight.  I marinated them for half an hour in garlic, oregano, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I'm getting better at it, this time there was no pink but they were still moist.  Mashed potatoes as usual.  The carrots I put in the steamer  when I started the potatoes, when they were half done I put the beans in.  When they were almost done I took the steamer off and ran it under cold water to stop the cooking. When the meat was done I took it off the BBQ and put it on warm plates to rest.  I emptied the water out of the steam pot and put some oil and XV olive oil it and heated it up.  In went the beans and carrots, tossing them till they were warmed up. Then I plated the potatoes and vegetables and managed to get some chives from the garden while calling everyone in for dinner.
The vegetables are light years better than microwaved. The pork chop was good but it would have been better if I'd added a little dijon mustard. Next time.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Garlic Prawn Stir Fry

I went off to the market looking for a light meal.  Cleaned, shelled, tail on white tiger prawns were on sale for $1.49/100gm so I thought that would be nice and ordered about 400gms for 3 people and two spoiled dogs. Not having to clean the prawns is treat enough for me but I bought enough we'll all have our fill. I picked up some mushrooms too.

I got out an onion, carrot and stick of celery from the fridge. I got a green pepper from the garden along with some green and black beans. A clove of garlic for the prawns and put the rice on. I diced half the onion and chopped the other half. The carrot I sliced up as well as the celery. I diced the green pepper fairly small and trimmed the beans. I have learned it's better to finish prep work before starting cooking, every tastes better.

I started with the pan on medium high heat and browned the diced onion.  When they were golden I took them out of the pan and put the carrots in.  I let them cook for a minute then put the celery in with them. When they were sweated I took them out of the pan.  More oil and in went the garlic nicely minced.  On top of the garlic all the prawns.  I made sure every prawn was mostly cooked on both sides and took them out of the pan.  Next I did the mushrooms with lots more oil.  I got a nice sear on them then took them out.  Finally the green pepper got sweated and the beans turned color. Some sesame oil and everything back in the pan.

A splash of chicken stock and sprinkle a little flour over everything then turn it over.  Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and keep turning the food. I sprinkled a little rice vinegar over all and tasted. Delicious. I plated the rice and the stir fry beside it. Fern said he wasn't very hungry but it was so good he ate the whole plate.

My First Scratch Chocolate Cake

I've never made a chocolate cake from scratch so it was time I took a stab at it. I dug this recipe up on called Moist Chocolate Cake.  I'm not quite convinced.  Here is the recipe:

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (or substitute by putting 1 tbsp white vinegar in a cup then filling the rest up with milk; let stand 5 minutes until thickened)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (or 2 tsp instant coffee in 1 cup boiling water)

Bake at 350º for 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.  Mine was sticky first time so I gave it another 5 minutes and it came out clean.  The cake was really a disappointment, not really chocolaty or moist. It stuck to the pan and crumbled a bit taking it out.

The icing was a bit of a disappointment. Here are the instructions:

1 cup milk
5 tbsp flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
(1/4 cup coco powder) I added, it wasn't enough

combine flour, milk heat to thick batter then add vanilla and cool.

In a mixer whisk the butter and sugar to light and fluffy. Here is where I went wrong, I added the roux all at once instead of a little at a time while it whipped. Mine just went kind of runny. Well, we ate it all so it couldn't have been that bad.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Snapper with Lemon Sauce

It wasn't long ago that I had never cooked fresh fish, now it is a regular part of our diet. Snapper again but it is a local fish, has big easy to find bones and a light taste that is easy to spice up. It is important to use fresh fish as frozen fish will be mushy and a bit fishy tasting. There is no secret to cooking fish but there are a few helpful hints.

Some fish skin tastes really good if it's fried crispy. Snapper isn't one of them.  The skin is fishy tasting and quite unpleasant.  There is often a little skin left on a snapper fillet so look it over and slice off anything suspicious.  Also watch out for fish scales, they aren't a pleasant surprise in the middle of dinner. I use a pair of needle nose pliers to pull the bones out through my fingers, check carefully to get them all. Small fillets that I can flip over easily I leave whole, larger ones I cut in half. I usually use my Snapper Rub but Southwest or Cajun Rubs work well too.

Snapper Rub

1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cayenne
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp cumin

Mashed potatoes and microwaved vegetables but at least I made a lemon sauce!

Lemon Sauce

1 tbsp flour
1-2 tbsp oil
1/4 cup chicken stock
half a lemon, juiced
pinch of salt

Combine oil and flour into a paste and cook slightly over medium high heat.  Remove from heat and whisk in chicken stock, lemon juice and salt. Adjust amount of stock to make a smooth sauce. I served the sauce over the fish and the broccoli. Wonderful!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Irresistible Baklava

I accused Andree of getting Fern smoking again and in retaliation I was sending her home fat! Turns out he had been sneaking smokes for a while. Probably since he fell out of the cherry tree and broke his rib. Ok, his smoking isn't your fault, but I'm sending you home fat anyway. This is my first volley, it came out as good as the first time. Baklava  is easy but you have to work quickly.  This time I used a spray bottle to dampen a dish towel, put the filo on the towel and another dampened towel on top.  Periodically while working I sprayed more water on the top towel and once on the filo when I forgot to cover it.  I got a drop of water on a corner of the filo and it turned into a glob. Don't get the stuff wet, but keep it humid. Working quickly this time I managed to keep the filo moist so it didn't break apart right up to the last piece. The secret is don't be pretty, be fast. This time I had a little too much honey and it wasn't an improvement so stick close to the recipe. Otherwise, it's delicious!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ginger Beef with Green Beans

Roast beef left over from the other night made it's final appearance tonight thinly sliced in a garlic ginger sauce. Yum. Green beans are the first from the garden and Fern said he wanted them cooked separately, not with the beef. So I steamed the beans for a few minutes then ran them under cold water to stop them cooking. I diced up an onion and made two piles, then cleaned and sliced 7 medium mushrooms. I peeled my ginger and diced up a green pepper from the garden, first one of those I've used too.

I put my rice on to cook and started the onions in both frying pans.  I cooked the onions to golden in both pans then took the bean pan off the heat.  Continuing with the beef pan I took the onions out and put in the mushrooms.  When they had a good sear I took them out and put in the green pepper. Once it had sweated out nicely I added the ginger and garlic crushed and diced, waited a minute and took everything out of the pan.

A tablespoon of flour and enough oil to make a thin paste of it in the center of the pan.  Cook the flour taste off then add chicken or beef stock till it's a pan of sauce (a whisk helps here). Add a few drops of sesame oil and soy sauce to taste. Add the meat and coat thoroughly.  Add the sweated vegetables and mix.  Put the bean pan back on the heat and when it's hot add the beans.  Toss the beans on the heat till they are ready to serve. Plate the rice and ginger beef over it.  Put the beans on the side and call everyone to dinner.

A really tasty dinner fresh from the garden, at least in part.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pierrette's Spaghetti

My partner Fernand's sister Andree is staying with us so I thought it would be nice to make their mother's spaghetti sauce for dinner.  I went to the store and picked up about a pound and a half of angus ground beef and a half pound of ground pork. I already had a can of tomato sauce, usually Hunts, and the secret sauce, a can of Aylmer tomato soup.  Only Aylmer will do so if you can't find it you can't make this recipe, a different brand may not be appealing.

You'll also need:

2 cloves of garlic
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stick celery
1 green pepper
7 medium mushrooms
1 bay leaf
1 chunk italian parmesan grated over the plate
optional tbsp fresh chopped oregano

I sliced the mushrooms and diced everything up nice and small starting with the onion which I fried till golden then added the carrots, next the celery, then the green pepper and finally the garlic.  When they were all sweated I took them out of the pan, added some oil and started frying the sliced mushrooms. When they were done I took them out of the pan and added the meat in with a little salt.  I used fairly high heat to get a sear on all the ground meat. When the meat was cooked I added the sweated vegetables back in and put  the two cans of sauce and soup into the pot. I brought that to a simmer and let it go for half an hour. Ten minutes before dinner time I put the pasta on. I've started using Barilla, it definitely tastes better than anything else I've tried. Of course fresh is best, but Pierrette never made pasta.

Chocolate Nut Fudge with Vanilla Ice Cream

This afternoon I made chocolate fudge, it's a really simple and fairly easy sweet to make. Line a square pan with parchment paper and spray or wipe with a little vegetable oil. In a pot on medium+ heat put:

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup coco powder
1 cup milk

Don't worry about the lumps of coco as they'll melt out as it boils.  Stir it so it doesn't stick to the bottom  until it reaches boiling then let it go on it's own.  Use a candy thermometer and cook to 113º-115ºC or 235º-240ºF.  When the fudge reaches the correct temperature add 3 tbsp of butter and 1 tsp of vanilla extract, 1/4 cup chopped deluxe nuts and take off the heat.  Stir the fudge constantly to prevent sugar crystals from forming until it cools enough to  lose it's sheen. Pour into pan and let cool for as many hours as you can resist digging into it. Mine still comes out a bit crumbly but I poured it sooner this time and that seems to have helped.

If you don't have an ice cream maker you should consider getting one because it's so simple to make great Vanilla Ice Cream.

2 cups whipping cream
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean seeded

If I don't use a vanilla bean I use 1.5 tsp extract.  Combine all ingredients, blend, fill and start ice cream maker.  It takes about 40 minutes in my machine and when it was ready I got it in the freezer right away. A couple of pieces of fudge on fresh Vanilla ice cream is one of the nicest ways to end a summer evening.

Slow Roast Beef On A Cool Summer Evening

It was time for red meat again and we haven't had roast beef for a while so I bought a small sirloin tip roast.  There weren't any Angus roasts so I had to settle for regular, I'll have to season it well to get the most flavor out of it. We have been receiving cucumbers from everyone lately, seems this good weather is creating a bumper crop.  Greek salad is a great way to use up cucumber. I found a jar of artichoke hearts in the fridge and decided to bump up the salad with those.

I seasoned the roast with my Beef Rub, seared it all round, inserted the thermometer and put it in the center of the oven at 250ºF. Turnips diced up and boiled, mashed potatoes and frozen peas round out the plate. I don't even know where to begin to turn this plate into a composed dish so it's suburban standard plating again. Everything was delicious but we've all been here before so no need to go on about it.

The salad was a little different.  I cut all the tough fibrous leaves off the artichoke hearts, sliced black olives in half and all the cherry tomatoes as well.  Chunks of cucumber, diced red onion and crumbled feta cheese fill out the salad.  For the dressing I whisked up a tsp of xv olive oil, 2 tsp vegetable oil, 2 tsp lemon juice, salt and mixed ground pepper. Toss the salad in the dressing and serve. Fresh, bright and delicious the salad was not left behind at the end of the meal. It was nice not to have to wade through lettuce for a change too.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Jello Chocolate Pudding - pimped

My partner said, "Why don't you make some chocolate pudding and put those raspberries on top?"
"Sounds like a good plan!", up to the kitchen I flew!

I quickly mixed up the chocolate pudding, I wonder if there is anyone who 'can't' make jello pudding?  Anyway I tossed the berries in a sieve to bounce any bugs off and put them in a bowl with half the amount of icing sugar and mixed till the icing sugar was dissolved into a glaze on the berries. I thought dark red berries on chocolate pudding isn't exactly going to look dramatic. It needs whipped cream. I whipped up the cream with the immersion blender and added some icing sugar and vanilla. Next a layer of whipped cream over the chocolate pudding.  Raspberries on the cream and topped with more whipped cream.  Finally I put a couple of tarragon leaves on top for a nice liquorice garnish.

It turned into a pretty respectable dessert. If I had added a little crunch it would have been perfect.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

BBQ Dijon Pork Chop

With a guest from Montreal I had to do meat and potatoes sooner or later, eh? I used course grained Maille mustard this time. An immersion mixer to blend the garlic, salt, pepper, mustard and a dash of white wine vinegar down into a smoother sauce. I coated the chops and let them marinate on the counter for half an hour.

I got the potatoes on and prepped the carrots and broccoli.  I did the vegetables in the microwave again. It keeps winning because one choice is; partly steam vegetables, douse to stop cooking, finish frying in second pan or choice 2; press Vegetables, Fresh, Start.  Easy keeps beating better tasting, for now. I find it's more getting into the habit than the extra work.

I did the pork chops on the BBQ in the standard over the heat, 2 minutes, rotate, 2 minutes, turn over, 2 minutes, rotate, 2 minutes then move off the heat to finish roasting. That gives nice grill marks but doesn't burn the edges. At one point a blob of mustard fell down onto the flame spreader and started to burn.  I moved the chop over to the other side till the blob was finished immolation.

My plating looks a little better because I took the time to arrange the broccoli florets and carrots.  I just noticed I forgot the chives. No one mentioned it. That's homemade French Canadian ketchup on the chop and it's absolutely delicious. I'll make it this fall. This was a really nice easy meal to prepare and eat.

Lemon Snaps

My partner's sister is visiting us again.  For her first couple of visits there was a particularly good lemon cookie at the grocery store that she really enjoyed. They stopped carrying them after a couple of years and she does miss them so I thought I might try to make some.  Nothing in any of my cookbooks and when I googled for lemon cookie I hit a lot of coconut and soft chewy recipes that sounded revolting. (I don't like dried coconut) One of them was a lemon snap but the recipe didn't sound appealing, however I next searched for lemon snap and found this recipe on  It was for at least 2 dozen cookies but I didn't want to make that many in a trial batch so I halved the recipe as I wrote it down. I needn't have worried, these cookies are rich, crunchy and delicious.

1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
3/8 cup oil (hint, there are 8 ounces in a cup)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the lemon I used one lemon and zested it entirely first then juiced it. I was probably a little short on the zest and definitely at least a quarter ounce short on the juice but I hoped that it would be enough.  I put everything in a bowl in that order, stirred it with a fork then balled up the dough and flattened with the fork.  Bake at 350ºF for 12 minutes or until golden on edges and ridges. Makes one dozen.

They were amazing, crunchy, lemony with hints of vanilla.  "The best cookies you've ever made!" declared my partner.  I wouldn't go that far but they sure were good.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Soft Tacos with Salsa and Guacamole

What to do with one New Zealand strip loin and 3 people for dinner. The steaks come in packages of three and I don't want another one left over.  The meat counter didn't have 2 other strip loins of identical  quality and a special price. I can't give two people one kind of steak and the third another kind.  I looked down at the ground beef.  I could grind up the steak and mix it with other meat! I bought the smallest package of ground pork for $1.61 and the smallest pack of ground bison for about $7. That put my protein cost at $4 per person, well within my budget. I also picked up some sour cream, a ripe avocado, lemons, limes, a jalapeno pepper and soft tacos (these are Ancient Grain tacos, quite nice).

When I got home I went straight to work.  Make the salsa first, it doesn't mind sitting.


3 tomatoes
1 jalapeno
1 slice sweet onion
1 tablespoon chives (optional)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 tsp cumin (or more)
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
1 lime juiced

Finely dice tomatoes, jalapeno (seeds and membranes are hottest, leave out for less heat), onion, chives and parsley.  Add the lime juice  salt, pepper and cumin. Taste, need salt, pepper or lime juice? Add more taste again. It occurred to me while writing this that I could have taken some zest from the limes and added them to boost the lime flavor, an idea for next time.

Taco Filling

1 lb ground meat (or a bit more)
1 tsp salt (less if taco seasoning has salt)
4 tbsp taco seasoning (or more)

Time to start the meat, I have a meat grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer so I got it out and ground up the steak. That's the second or third time I've used the meat grinder, which came as an extra with something else. I thought I'd never use it. Anyway, to the steak I added the ground pork and bison and mixed them up.  I spread the taco seasoning over the meat and worked it in thoroughly.

The 10 inch saute pan should be large enough, get it hot, add some oil and add the meat.  I broke up the  balls and kept the heat medium high till there was no raw meat. Then I turned it down fairly low and covered it so the juices would mix with the taco seasoning and hopefully carry the flavor back into the meat.


1 ripe avocado (if it's firm it's not ready)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sour cream
1 lime juiced

I used a potato masher on the avocado but I suppose a ricer would work well or even a fork if it's the only thing available. Get all the lumps out of the avocado then add the other ingredients, mix and taste. Enough salt, sour cream and lime? Adjust if necessary.

I still had 10 minutes till dinner time so I went to the garden and got some lettuce leaves.  I washed, dried and julienned the leaves.  Lay leaves atop one another, roll up from side, cut 1/8 inch slices off end. Perfect ribbons of lettuce uncurl. I added thin slices of cucumber, xv olive oil, regular oil, red balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and mixed it up with my hand.

Finally, grate some extra old cheddar and put some soft tacos in the oven to warm up.  Take the lid off the meat and if it's too wet turn up the heat for a minute to dry it out.  Plate a taco, add meat to center, spread some grated cheese over the meat and roll up the shell. Spread salsa over the taco. Guacamole over the salsa and grated cheese over the guacamole.  A dollop of sour cream and a handful of salad beside the tacos round out the plate. It tastes as good as it looks.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


If only I'd known as a kid that candy can be made at home.... In theory caramel isn't difficult to make. In practice it's seems a little harder.  I used a cup of sugar, a cup of whipping cream and a quarter cup of butter.  That was too much butter though, an eighth of a cup would have done it. The secret is not to stir it, supposedly. Combine ingredients in a pot and heat to boiling without stirring.  Boil to over 115ºC, I think this got to 117ºC when I took it off the heat and stirred in some vanilla extract. I set the bowl in the sink with cold water to cool the caramel down.  I poured it out onto a silicon mat to cool.

It tastes great but about a quarter of it is grainy, the rest has excellent consistency.  I think next time I'll pour the vanilla extract in before taking it off the heat.  Then take it off the heat and put in cold sink water then pour it onto pad without stirring it at all. It's easy enough to try again when I have a few minutes and low blood sugar.

Dijon Pork Chop with new potatoes

A nice pork chop for dinner tonight, simple and fast.  First I diced up the new potatoes and got them on the burner in salted water.  Next I peeled and julienned a couple of carrots and put them in microwave dish with the frozen peas.  A splash of water and some salt and into the microwave, but don't start it yet.

I got out about two tablespoons of Maille Dijon mustard and minced a clove of garlic into it.  I added some salt and pepper, mixed it up and slathered both pork chops.  A pan with too much oil heated up and when it was at least sizzling hot I laid the chops in it.  The pan self adjusted the oil level by splattering it out everywhere near and far. Once the chops were seared on both sides I turned the heat down a bit so the outside wouldn't char before the center was cooked. About now I started the microwave and ducked outside to get some chives and lettuce from the garden.

I kept turning the chops so they cooked evenly and didn't burn while I drained the potatoes and added lots of butter.  I scissored the chives directly into the potato pot and tossed it a bit.  The vegetables were done so I drained them and added some butter, salt and pepper. The chops were firm so I put them on the warmed plates to rest.  I put a dot of xv olive oil in a small mixing bowl and a bit more vegetable oil.  I added about a third as much red balsamic vinegar as oil, a little salt and pepper.   Then I whisked it up and quickly tore the lettuce into it and tossed it with my hands.  I had the bowls ready so I plated the salad and quickly washed my hands.  That was easy.

I plated the chop, potatoes and vegetables and put the salad on the side of the plate for transport. I guess it kind of works there. I was tempted to put some homemade ketchup on the chop as usual but I wanted to see if my mustard sauce stood on it's own. We sat down to eat.

The chop was absolutely delicious, the best I've ever done. I rang all the other bells on the plate too so it was a really good feed. It only took me about an hour start to finish to make the meal so it is well worth the trouble. I'm finding we both eat all of a small salad like this where a large salad sometimes goes untouched. It's small enough to be part of the main dish so we eat it together or as the last bite. Anyway, it works, we eat more salad this way.

Ginger Prawns with Broccoli

This dinner celebrates my partners 35 years of sobriety so it had to be good, different and on time since he had a meeting to get to.  I went to the store with chicken or fish in mind.  I quickly decided the chicken wasn't interesting and we had snapper a couple of days ago.  I looked over the Angus tenderloin and rib steaks but we had strip loin the day before.  So back to the fish counter and I decided to take prawns that were on special.  Raw with shells on, so they very reasonably priced but would take lots of work.  We had prawns and pasta a few days ago so I couldn't do that again.   A typical thing about prawn dishes is you get 6 prawns or 8 prawns or 10 prawns.  They are always counted out like precious stones.  This dish will have so many prawns there will be no need to count. The fish monger handed me a bag weighing 453 grams, one gram less than a pound of prawns.

Back to the vegetable department to complete the dish.  It will be ginger with broccoli, red peppers for color and sweetness and  mushrooms because he likes them. First thing I did when I got home was look up how to clean prawns.  Last time I peeled the swimmers off and held the tail with a knife while pulling the meat out.  Slow and time consuming. The pros use the tine of a fork and pinch the tail with their fingers.  I got out a fork, inserted a tine under the shell at center back and pulled. It came off fairly well. A bit of experimenting showed the best way was to slide under 3 back segments then rotate the tine up and away from the prawn to pull half the shell off.  Then pinch the tail between finger tips and pull the meat away from the tail. It took just under 15 minutes to shell the pound of prawns this way then it was easy to use the paring knife to cut out and rinse off the digestive tract. Maybe another 5 minutes.

I put white rice on to cook and precooked the broccoli, then ran it under cold water in a colander to stop the cooking. I diced an onion and put it in a large frying pan on medium high heat to brown.  I wanted nice caramelized onions to season the pan.  When they were done I took them out, added more oil and dumped in the prawns and finely chopped garlic.  When they were barely done I took them out and put them with the onions.  Next was to sweat the red pepper and fry the mushrooms. I put them in together in the pan and added a splash of chicken stock to get the mushrooms going and give a base flavor. When the mushrooms were almost done I added the prawns, onions and broccoli back in.  Tossed it all with some soy sauce and when it was almost done added the grated ginger root. Quickly finish cooking, plate the rice and the prawn stir fry over or beside the rice.

We dug in and Fern quickly said it's really good.  I tasted a prawn, perfectly done with a nice garlic and ginger flavor. The whole dish was delicious. Taking the care to cook each ingredient perfectly then finishing them together makes a huge difference in the taste of the final product. While I was shelling the prawns I thought if I had started earlier I could use the shells to make a little stock for the pan instead of chicken stock. It might have been just a little better if I had, but it was still the best prawn dish I have ever produced.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Panna Cotta with Agar Instead of Gelatin

I found both our local health food stores sell agar but only one had some in stock.  A 50gm bag for $6.50 is competitive with what I could get on the internet so I bought some to try it out. A teaspoon of agar will set a cup of liquid.  All that it requires is heating the mixture above the melting point of agar, 50ºC or 122ºF, once it's all melted then cool it below the melting point and it sets. I used a glass dessert bowl for a mold and I didn't use oil or butter in it.

I measured a quarter cup milk and filled to a cup with whipping cream.  About a quarter cup sugar should be plenty but add less and taste then add more to your own tastes.  Then I added a teaspoon of agar and put it on the burner.  As soon as the mixture boiled I took it off the heat and added half a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and poured it into the molds.  Since there was just two small dishes I put them in the freezer to cool down faster. That worked great, they were ready in no time.

I ran a knife around the sides of the mold and turned out the panna cotta. It plopped out in one firm piece, nice. I topped it with some failed raspberry gelatin candy for flavor and took a bite.  The agar sets  much firmer than gelatin and gelatin has a smoother mouth feel. I doubt most people would be able to tell the difference between the two. So if I have lots of time I would use gelatin and if I'm pressed for time I'd use agar. Also, agar is technically fiber so if you need more fiber in your diet then use agar.

On a side note I found the health food store had a one pound bag of gelatin for $10 and the grocery store only sells boxes of twelve two teaspoon packets for $6.50.  Needless to say I'll be shopping at the health food store more often.

Refreshing Crab and Prawn Salad Dinner

It was the hottest day of the year and neither of us felt like a hot meal.  "I could make that crab salad again?"
"That was good!"
I trotted off to the grocery store. Raw tiger prawns were on sale too so I bought 10 of those for one salad and a small package of imitation crab meat. I like the taste of crab but not the shell or the price.  I like the taste of imitation crab and the price and texture are acceptable so I don't mind using it at all. My total protein costs for all three salads was less than $4.

I initially said potato salad but on the way to the store I thought, couscous! So I bought some of that too. Somehow I managed to buy imitation crab and forget the avocado.  Good thing we have a local grocer on the way home. Fern had picked up green peppers and cucumbers at the farmers market so I didn't need much.

I bought bulk couscous but I wasn't sure if it was the quick cook or long steam type.  Popular opinion favored quick cook in western countries so it was probably that but I did a test.  The instructions said use 1:3 couscous to water and boil till thick.  Boiling till thick doesn't sound like a good recipe for anything but glue. I put 1/3 cup couscous in a pot with 1 cup water, brought it to a boil and set it aside for 5 minutes.  It was soupy.  I added 1/3 cup boiling chicken stock and another 1/3 cup couscous and waited another 5 minutes. It was perfect.  So the instructions should say 1 part couscous to 2 parts boiling water or stock, let stand 5 minutes. I set the couscous aside to cool.

In winter I would make the crab and avocado salad with alfalfa sprouts but since we have a garden of fresh lettuce I decided to do a chiffonade of lettuce. To do that just roll up the lettuce leaves from the side and take 1/8 inch, 3 mm slices off the end which fall into beautiful ribbons. For color and crunch I used carrot thins and cucumber strips. Also some fresh green pepper for sweet crunch.

I first shelled (including tails), cleaned (take dark line out, it's prawn poop) and cooked the prawns in butter and fresh garlic then put them aside to cool. I juiced a lemon and started cutting the avocado.  I sliced it in half lengthwise and took out the stone then sliced a grid into the flesh and scooped out the pieces with a spoon. As soon as I had the avocado out of it's skin I poured the lemon juice over it to prevent it turning black. I also chopped up some chives for all three dishes.

I broke the imitation crab up so there were no lumps, they don't improve the mouth feel. Added the lettuce chiffonade, some chives and half the carrot thins.  Then I added some extra virgin olive oil and rice oil and some salt and mixed pepper. I use just over half rice oil because I find pure olive oil overwhelms all the other flavors. I tossed it all with the avocado.

The prawn salad contained chives, green pepper, cucumber, carrot, olive/rice oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The couscous I used olive/rice oil, parsley, chives, salt and the juice of one lime. It wasn't enough so I used half a lemon also and that did the trick.  I stirred that together and plated it.  I plated the crab salad over the couscous as I intended them to be eaten together and shrimp salad was on the side.

I poured the poured the lemon/lime juice and oil directly on the salad which prevented me from mixing it up and tasting it first.  I think next time I'll make the dressing for each salad in a separate bowl so I can get it right before it goes on the food.

It was all fresh, light and bright tasting.  I couldn't finish all my couscous and I left a little of each salad for the dogs.  They licked the plates clean so I would say that's the final word, it was plate licking good.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Snapper and Brownies, not on the same plate

I used my Snapper Rub and served it with mashed potatoes and corn on the cob.  I forgot to photograph it but it looked a lot like a piece of fish and some potatoes, with corn in a side dish soaking in butter. It tasted great though, I've learned to use lots of spice rub to get really good flavor. If I can taste the cumin on the fish I've used enough. I think a hilarious side note, both dogs have figured out how to eat corn off the cob, if we hold it for them. We're so proud.

My Walmart Brownies proved themselves again.  I cooked them 5 minutes longer this time and now they don't fall apart when I cut them.  I've always served them without frosting because I don't really need the extra sugar and fat.  This time I decided to dress them up a bit and see what they're like.

I took about a third of a cup of butter and creamed it smooth.  Then I added an ounce or two of coco powder and creamed it followed by a an ounce or two of icing sugar.  Finally I dribbled a little vanilla extract into it and beat it in.  I spread it over the top of the brownies and cut off a piece to try it.  I had barely enough sugar to overcome the bitterness of the chocolate which made it adult delicious. The butter brought out the flavor in brownie so much it was like tasting them for the first time. From now on, I don't need the extra sugar and fat, but I'm going to have it anyway.  I also made vanilla ice cream but that is just 1 cup milk, 2 cups whipping cream, 1/4 cup sugar and a 1-3 tsp vanilla extract and put it in your handy machine.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cajun Chicken with Caesar Salad

Despite the dated look this salad and chicken combo really delivers taste and satisfaction.  If I work quickly I can put this together in under 45 minutes start to finish. The whole recipe is detailed here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Moose and Beef Ravioli with Garden Salad

I had some left over moose roast and also some beef roast so I decided to grind it all up and take a stab at ravioli again. I had about 1 1/2 cups of ground meat so I added a cup of grated parmesan and one egg along with some Beef Rub since that is what both had been cooked with.

For the pasta this time I tried 2/3 cup of flour, one large egg, 1/2 tsp oil and a pinch of salt. I poured the wet ingredients into a well in the center of the flour and used a fork to stir in the flour.  Once all the flour was picked up the dough was still a bit sticky.  I floured the counter and the dough and worked the flour into the dough.  I kept adding flour till the dough was no longer sticky then I put it in the fridge for half an hour.

The sauce was an onion diced and browned then mushrooms sliced and browned.  Then I sweated a green pepper and stick of celery diced up and a couple of garlic cloves smashed and chopped.  Finally I added four tomatoes diced and let it simmer.  The pasta was still too wet so I added more flour and worked it till it was the right consistency.  It rolled really well through numbers 1 to 6 on the pasta machine but when I tried to do the last rolling on number 7 the pasta became thin as filo and tore everywhere.  This is what slowed me down so much, next time I'll stop at number 6.

Even with the torn pasta I still managed to get enough ravioli's made for dinner so I put them all in a pot of boiling water. I let them cook for 3 or 4 minutes then strained them.  The egg kept the filling inside even on ones that broke open, so that was nice. It took an hour longer to make the raviolis than planned so the sauce was over cooked by the time we ate it.  It was still good but not great.  The raviolis were good but the filling could have stood a bit more spice rub.

The salad was just a few lettuce leaves shredded with some parmesan grated over top then tossed with a vinaigrette of 1 tbsp oil, 1 tsp white balsamic vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper. I have noticed that a simple salad like this is almost as satisfying as a complex salad that takes much longer to prepare. For a daily meal this is probably the way to go.  I'll spend time on a salad when I want it to be a feature of the meal like a Greek salad.

Fresh pasta is so much better than ready made that it's worth the effort.  It gets easier each time but it's still labor intensive and takes time. A small simple salad every day is much better than a big salad every two weeks. Also a small salad isn't a challenge to slog through after a plate of pasta. Learning to cook is slowly changing the way we eat as well as what we eat.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pork Chop and Corn on the Cob

It was a fish or pork day and there wasn't anything interesting at the fish counter.  A couple of pork chops were on special and corn on the cob is everywhere right now so we might as well indulge while we can.  Mashed potatoes and a little salad to round it out.

I got the potatoes on and corn cut in half and put in a pot.  I used to cook the corn whole but that takes an enormous pot so cutting them is much more efficient. The pork chop I seasoned with salt and mixed pepper corns then chopped garlic with a little golden oregano. Then I took a dollop of Dijon mustard, mixed it with the garlic and oregano and spread it over the chop. I did both sides and put the chops on the BBQ on high heat.  3 minutes then rotate, 3 minutes turn over, 3 minutes rotate 3 minutes and put in the center off the fire to finish cooking.

The salad was just a few lettuce leaves gathered from the garden, a few chives and some parsley chopped up with the last slices of the english cucumber. For the vinaigrette a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar. Salt,  pepper and parmesan.

I plated the chops with a little parsley, chives and parmesan on top to try to tie it all together.  I burned mine a little on that one side but it tasted great. Corn with lots of butter and a little salt takes me back to my childhood. That simple fresh salad is really nice, why didn't I always do that? Store bought lettuce doesn't taste as good, that's why. Well I guess the plating isn't that bad since I actually have the different dishes on different plates, it all sort of makes sense. Probably won't get me that Michelin star though.

Southwest Chicken on Zucchini and Mushrooms

It was time for chicken again and I was in a Southwest mood. We both felt like a light meal so I thought just chicken, potatoes and a little salad.  I got the chicken on the BBQ and potatoes on the stove then I washed and tore up some lettuce into the spinner.  For dressing I started with about a tablespoon of oil. I use 60/40 rice oil/olive oil because I find pure extra virgin olive oil too strong a flavor. To that I added about 1 1/2 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar, a little salt and some pepper. Whisked that up and tossed the lettuce in it.  My grocery store only has Tosca white balsamic vinegar which I find a little too sweet.  I'll look for a more expensive brand first and if that's not better I'll try a cheaper one.  About ten percent of the time I like the cheaper one best.

The dressing was a bit single note so I decided to add some parmesan cheese.  I also realized that I would be standing around for 15 minutes with nothing to do while things cooked so I decided to make zucchini and mushrooms as well. I put a couple of plates in the oven to warm while a frying pan heated on the stove.  I quickly sliced up a zucchini a little thicker than an eighth of an inch and put it in the pan with a little butter and salt.  I had it on heat 7/10 and as soon as I had good color I turned them over. When they were done I took them out of the pan and put in the mushrooms. When they had a good sear both sides I put back the zucchini, tossed and turned the heat down to 1. I mashed the potatoes and got the chicken off the BBQ then shredded some parmesan for the salad.

I tossed the parmesan in the salad and tasted it, much better. I got the plates out and dolloped mashed potato on both. I decided to plate the chicken on top of the zucchini mushroom combo so I dished the veggies, sliced the chicken and placed it atop the zucchini mushrooms. It looked a little better than the photo seems to show or maybe it was the smell wafting up that made my mouth water.  In any case, the juice from the chicken carried the Southwest spice down to the vegetables and the flavor was amazing. The mashed potatoes were good as always even though I forgot the chives. Maybe just a little sauce or a little crunch is all that separates this dish from a restaurant meal prepared by a team of chefs. The salad was fresh and delicious and took about 2 minutes to prepare so I'll do that again.

The plating is a lot better because the vegetables were cooked to go with the chicken, by chance at first but I finished them knowing how they would be plated. If I had something with a little crunch sprinkled over the chicken and mashed potatoes to tie them together this would have been a sophisticated dish. I had no time to make an addition so I'll have to work faster to take things up to that next level. That's what I like about cooking, I never run out of things to learn.