Thursday, August 29, 2013

Curried Chicken Thighs

I was feeling like chicken when I headed for the store.  Oddly, they had no bone in skin on chicken breasts so I bought thighs instead.  Thigh meat has more flavour, but isn't as nice a texture. I set my basmati rice on to cook and sprinkled a teaspoon of flour over the meat.  I salted and seared the meat all around Then removed it from the pan.  

I diced a shallot and sweated it in the pan.  Then I added three tablespoons of curry powder to the shallot and cooked it briefly. (3 was too many, 1 or 2 would be better)  I diced a stick of celery and added it to the pan. Some frozen peas and frozen peppers went in to use them up.  I added half a can of coconut milk and boiled it down by half then added the meat to finish cooking.  The pineapple chunks went in last.  When all was hot, serve over rice.

Spicy and lots of flavour, delicious!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spaghetti with side salad

The sauce was defrosted but I did boil the pasta and grate the parmesan! The sauce was leftover from my last batch. The salad is the fresh star of this meal.  I should have put it in the foreground but didn't think of it.  The salad contains cucumber, red and yellow cherry tomatoes and chives from the garden. Feta cheese and black olives from the grocer. Some salt and pepper and a little olive oil drizzled over the top and some rice vinegar (or lemon juice) to brighten it up. Toss and enjoy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Food Marketing - it keeps you fat and poor

Quality Foods has a feature in their stores I absolutely loved. My Daily Special.  The way it worked: go to Daily Special machine and scan items till you find one with the biggest discount. Scan loyalty card and when you go through the tills it gives your Daily Special on up to four of the selected item. That encouraged me to shop every day, which was fine since I don't freeze meat any more. I was able to buy a bag of cookies for $1 off, every day!

I have been struggling to keep my weight from going up and changing supermarkets has had an unexpected benefit. I can't get a daily special on cookies and snacks so I don't eat them.  Suddenly my weight is stabilizing and I think maybe going down. Those Daily Special cookies were making me fat! Not only that but I spend much less on food now. I have to keep fresh baking available but I can whip up a batch of cookies in flash at this point, so it's not a big chore.

That's when a good deal isn't so good in the long run. If it keeps you over buying and over eating, it's bad for you.

Salisbury Steak

I was in a red meat mood but the steaks were all pricey.  The ground beef was reasonably priced so I bought a small package.  I also grabbed a few mushrooms for the gravy.  I like this kind of meal, especially on a cool day like today. 

Tim brought us some beans from his garden, unfortunately he waited till they were large and tough to pick them. I tried a bite of one and the shell had become all fibrous.  I broke open the pod and the beans were barely formed.  I opened a few more and the story only worsened.  The beans were too small to eat and the pods were too tough to eat.  No beans for dinner, I turfed them all.

I needed a last minute replacement for the beans and Fern wouldn't accept frozen peas.  I grabbed Tim's fresh cucumber and some red and yellow cherry tomatoes. I also picked a bit of Thai Basil, which has a gingery basil taste.

The ground beef had very little fat, so not much flavour.  I caramelized a shallot and added it to the meat with salt, mixed pepper, an egg and the secret ingredient, oatmeal flakes.  I didn't have bread crumbs and I wanted something to absorb and hold the fat and moisture in the meat. Oatmeal flakes seemed like a good substitute for bread and they worked great.

I browned the sliced mushrooms first then removed them from the pan and added a teaspoon of flour and more oil. I let that cook for a minute then I added about a half cup of chicken stock and the same of white wine.  I brought this to a fast boil and reduced it from soup to sauce, then added the mushrooms back in.  A few drops of Worcestershire Sauce, salt, black pepper.

I did the baked potatoes in the microwave. Finishing them on the BBQ in foil with butter and chives really tops up the flavour, but I didn't do that. I just nuked 'em. Despite the mound of sour cream, fresh chives and bacon bits, I could taste the lack of love and care in cooking the potatoes. They were good but they weren't special. Next time, take the extra minute to finish them on the BBQ. The flavour is worth it.

I cut up the cucumber for a salad along with some red and yellow cherry tomatoes. I chopped up some fresh Thai Basil and added that with some salt and mixed pepper. I drizzled olive and rice oil over the salad followed by white balsamic vinegar. Toss and serve.

I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner but Fern wasn't quite as enthusiastic.  I think he found it just too heavy after a big lunch. He did say everything was good and he cleaned his plate of every drop of sauce so I think he liked it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cajun Chicken with White Wine Mushroom Cream Sauce

I felt like chicken today so I picked up a couple of breasts, boned and seasoned them with 

Cajun Rub

2 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp paprika 
1 1/2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground mustard

1/8 tsp ground cloves

Then I sprayed them with a little oil and cooked them on the BBQ for 25 minutes.  White rice, Fern likes it that way so it's certainly easy! Corn on the cob I boiled in a big pot.  I finally figured out how to cook them in the husk and pull them out clean as a whistle but it's fiddly and not really worth the extra effort.

I caramelized the mushrooms first, in oil and a little butter, then took them out of the pan.  I added some oil and a teaspoon of flour to the pan which and cooked the raw taste off. Next I thinned the flour with chicken stock, then white wine.  I reduced the wine before adding some milk. We use 1% milk so the sauce wasn't rich and creamy but it tasted terrific! The milk in it was enough to temper the cayenne in the Cajun Rub. Next I added the mushrooms back in and a little salt and pepper. I was tempted to add some herbs but decided to let the wine and mushrooms shine instead. 

It was a good decision, the sauce was wonderful. The chicken, moist and delicious. My plating isn't improving much but I'm close to increasing the complexity of my plates which will force better plating. The sauce flavoured my rice so this was the first time I didn't use soy sauce. I loved it!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Greek Pork Tenderloin

Pork was in the back of my mind when I went off to the store, it didn't take long to settle on a nice tenderloin. As soon as I got home I cut it into 1.5 inch sections and put it in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, a few cloves of garlic, fresh chopped oregano, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It marinated for about an hour before I cooked it on the BBQ, turning frequently so it didn't scorch.  

The rice was half chicken stock, half water, salt, pepper, garlic powder, xv olive oil, fresh chives and parsley. The vegetables were red and yellow tomatoes with a yellow pepper, salt, black pepper and fresh Thai Basil. (has a gingery taste)

Fern commented several times during dinner how good it all was.  I don't usually hit a home run on all three plate components.  I guess that means I'm getting better at cooking. Since I've been feeding myself for 40 years, it's about time!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cajun Chicken of Rice with Corn on the Cob

I was in the mood for chicken so I found a nice breast pair at Safeway. Corn on the cob is finally available so we're having it again.  I decided to just make rice and have no sauce since I didn't have the energy or interest to make one.  I seasoned the breasts with 

Cajun Spice Rub

2 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp paprika 
1 1/2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp ground cloves

I did the breasts on the BBQ and the rice and corn in the microwave.  The corn I left in it's skins and let the sensor in the microwave decide when it was done.  They could have taken another minute but they were cooked and tasted good. To get the cob out of the hot shell, cut the end off at or above the last row of kernels.  Squeeze the cob from the top and it should slide cleanly out of the husk.

Between the juice from the breast and butter from the corn, the rice had plenty of flavour of it's own. The chicken was a little over salted but still tasted good. Corn on the cob tasted just like it should. A simple but good feed.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sole with Almonds

I had fish in mind when I left for the store.  I passed through Save On and they had sole and snapper fresh.  Safeway did too so I bought some sole there.  Local corn on the cob is finally coming into stores here so I got 3 of those. That's an overcooked artichoke with some garlic butter. These were the second on the plant and not great. I'll have to work on those artichokes some more I think.

The sole is floured and fried in plenty of oil.  I made a lemon sauce with a roux of butter and flour and chicken stock with salt and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I plated the sauce under the fish this time and the flour soaked it up so there wasn't really enough on the plate.  At least the almonds stayed crunchy on top.  

I wouldn't flour the sole again, it didn't help. The artichokes were way overdone so I think I leached the flavour out of them.  Too bad.  The mashed potatoes came out fine and the corn on the cob was sweet and delicious. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roast Pork

We were finally having a rainy day and I was in the mood for pork so I was pleased to find a nice roast at Save On Foods.  The fat layer had been trimmed off and it was packaged up in the $5 bin.  I selected the largest one, .93kg, which was an excellent price for such well trimmed meat.

As soon as I got home I put the roast in a brine of 3 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp mollasses and one tbsp sugar. I peeled potatoes and tossed them with oil them set them in the roasting pan.  I laid 3 bay leaves, two sprigs of rosemary and one of thyme on the roast, inserted the meat thermometer and put it all in the oven at 325ºF for about an hour and a half.

I thought I still had broccoli in the fridge but found it empty when I got home.  Carrots and peas will do. The pork is garnished with Fern's Quebecois Ketchup.  Absolutely  delicious.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lime Squares

These were supposed to be lemon squares but when I got home I discovered the last piece of fruit was a lime, not a lemon.  So I made lime squares. This recipe is from The Joy of Cooking with a little embellishment from me. I made these lemon squares when Andree first arrived and they were really good, easy to make, but had one little thing I didn't like.  The egg filling fell after the squares were taken from the oven. 

Notice these squares have not fallen, the filling is flat from the edges to the centre. This is the first time I modified the chemistry of a recipe to make it better. After the filling fell flat the first time I wondered if I could use something to stabilize the egg so it won't fall. Cream of Tartar performs that function in egg whites so I decided to try it here. 

Lime Squares

1 cup flour
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Mix and press into bottom of parchment lined 8x8 or 9x9 pan. Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes. While the crust is browning mix:

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 slightly beaten eggs
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp grated lime peel
1/2 tsp Cream of Tartar

Pour into hot crust and put back in the oven for 25 minutes. Let cool and dust with icing sugar.

Even more yummy than the last batch!

Southwest Chicken

Today I tried chicken from Mitchell's. They only sell boneless breasts or whole birds so I took three breasts. I salted, seasoned and brushed them with oil then put them in 350ºF  oven for 20 minutes.

Southwest Seasoning

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

Ordinary basmati white rice, I put soy sauce on mine after serving.  The greek salad was fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and chives from the garden, along with some black olives and feta cheese. A drizzle of olive oil and white wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and black pepper.

Despite the simplicity, everyone commented more than usual on how good everything tasted. This whole meal can be put on the table in under an hour without breaking a sweat. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Peanut Butter Banana Bread

Over ripe bananas were on special so I bought four. While I was getting everything ready to start baking I realized I was out of walnuts. I didn't have time to go to the store so I looked for something else. I didn't have anything else. Peanut butter! Banana and peanut butter go great together! So I put 1/4 cup of peanut butter in the batter and thoroughly mixed it in. I baked it for an hour and ten minutes.

The result wasn't as good as I had imagined. The extra fat in the peanut butter overwhelmed the sugar and banana in the recipe.  At first I thought, don't make that again! But later it occurred to me that maybe it just needed extra sugar. I think I'll try this again but next time I'll add 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar to the batter and tasting it.  It might take up to 1/4 cup of brown sugar to tame the peanut butter but I don't want it to get too sweet either. With all that in mind, here is the easiest and best banana bread recipe I've tried.

Banana Bread

4 ripe bananas - mashed
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup peanut butter
brown sugar 

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix wet ingredients, then dry.  Line loaf pan with parchment, lightly spray with oil, add batter and bake 1 hour or until a toothpick in center is clean of batter, crumbs ok. It finishes baking outside the oven, so if it's perfect when it comes out of the oven, it will be dry by the time it's cooled. I had to bake an extra 10 minutes with the peanut butter.

I just tried it with brown sugar on top and it's much better so baking it in should work. Up to about 1/4 cup of brown sugar I estimate.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Prawns and Pasta

It's the hottest day of the year, 27ºC(81ºF)! Blistering for the BC coast. Needless to say no one was pining for a huge hot meal heavy with meat. I proposed  prawns and pasta to Andree and she said, "That was good! I'd like that!" So dinner would be easy to make!

I decided to use another jar of Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Tomato Basil Sauce. It's difficult to make a sauce that tastes better than this one. I've done it, but it's hard. So on a hot day a jar of really good ready made is ideal. I did have to cook the prawns so there was a little more than opening a jar to this meal, but not much.

I diced a large shallot from the garden. (small onion would do) Smashed and diced two cloves of garlic and put them in an oiled pan to sweat.  I buy frozen raw prawns which always come with the tail on.  I don't like having to pick things off my plate, eat with my fingers and discard the tail...somewhere. Prawn tails are fine in an appetizer but in an entree make everything on the plate edible. Hold a knife sharp side up and press the dull side down across the end of the meat just above the tail, then pull the meat away from the tail. When all the prawns are cleaned, season them with a little salt and put them in the pan with the onion and garlic. When the first side of the prawns becomes opaque, turn them over and do the other side.  Before the prawns are cooked right through take them out of the pan.

I put three one cup servings of Barilla rotini pasta in boiling salted water. I put the jar of sauce in the prawn pan and put it back on medium heat. When the pasta is two minutes from being done put the prawns into the sauce to finish cooking.  Serve the sauce over the pasta and top with fresh grated parmesan.

This is a delicious meal and all the ingredients can be on hand all the time so it can be quickly thrown together for unexpected guests.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Angus Beef Tenderloin

I felt like a nice piece of beef for dinner and I haven't had Angus tenderloin since last year.  So I found a pack of 3 fillets and picked up a small tub of sour cream for the baked potato. I cooked the potato in the microwave then wrapped it in foil with butter, salt and chives and put it in the BBQ to finish. The broccoli was steamed and finished in the pot with olive oil. I did the tenderloins on the BBQ in 2x2x2x2 minutes to get crossed grill marks on the top and bottom. I also stood the fillets on each side for a minute to fully cook the sides.

The steaks were perfect! The broccoli wasn't overcooked and the potato is nearly impossible to ruin. I bought the beef at Save On Foods and it wasn't quite as good as I was expecting.  Next time I'll buy from Mitchell's, they always have great meat.

Fern spoke to the meat manager at Quality Foods about my experience and me not wanting to shop there again. He said every organization makes mistakes, I shouldn't judge the store over one mistake.

Let's take a look at my experience with Quality Foods since it opened.  At first, almost everything was wonderful with one exception. Pie crust is one thing they have never been able to make. Anything in a pie crust at Quality Foods will be a disappointment. So no pies or tarts from QF.

Then I picked up some ham for sandwiches and it tasted fishy. I just can't imagine how a fishy taste gets on shaved ham in the deli case. So I didn't buy deli meat there any more.

I didn't feel like baking one day so I picked up a pack of doughnuts along with dinner.  That evening when I bit into one of the doughnuts I was shocked at how dry it was. Even worse was the flavour. The worst tasting Vanilla I've ever tried.  It had that dirty burned taste of exceptionally cheap vanilla extract. Together these two defects made the doughnuts inedible. I took them back to the store right to the bakery and told the baker how awful this product was.  She laughed and said, "It's not our fault, we don't make them."
"We buy them frozen, thaw them and put them out for sale.", she said proudly.
"That's even worse!" I said in exasperation.
"Not only can you not make good doughnuts, you can't even buy good doughnuts!", which finally wiped the grin off her face.

I stormed out of the store stopping at the service desk to tell them what had transpired and warn them that the bakery is going to bring the store down with the terrible products they offer. 

Then I realized that milk was significantly cheaper at Save On for the same product. So that's another product category I don't buy at QF.

That brings me to the rotten pork from the meat department.  I don't know how a meat department or butcher shop operates. I've never worked in one.  Even so, I don't believe that me being sold rotten meat was the result of a single mistake.  I think a whole range of procedures had to be broken for that to happen.  

Between fishy deli meat, dried out poor quality baking, expensive dairy products and rotting meat, I don't think they have safe food handling at Quality Foods. I'm afraid I'll get sick if I eat food they have handled.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pork Souvlaki

Mitchell's puts together a good souvlaki.  I like the pork but they also do chicken. Paired with rice and a salad it makes a wonderful easy meal. The rice I made using half chicken stock half water with a little salt.  When it was cooked I added fresh chopped chives and parsley. I did the souvlaki on the BBQ, medium heat about 8 minutes total cooking time.

Greek Salad

red onion
black olives
feta cheese
lemon juice
black pepper
olive oil

When I look at that list of ingredients I am amazed I have all that stuff on hand without having to plan it! I used a cucumber from the garden.  The cherry tomatoes came off the vine, into the salad. A slice of red onion diced up.  Fresh chives and parsley with some black olives cut in half.  I used a little more than half the juice of a lemon and maybe a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Some salt and plenty of black pepper. Break up the feta cheese and toss everything.

Andree and Fern loved the pork, the rice and the salad. 3 home runs on one plate! I'm getting to be not such a bad cook after all! Mitchell's seasoned the pork so that's keeping my head from exploding.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Chicken Thighs with Caesar Salad

I sure miss Quality Foods for the way they organize the meat department. I don't miss the meat they sell. It's been a week since I bought black and green rotting pork at Quality Foods and I still feel nauseous when I think of going back in the store. I don't know if I'll ever be able to shop their again, even if I wanted to.

I'm used to buying bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts at QF which I bone myself and use the bones to make stock and the skins fried for dog treats. Mitchell's has only whole chickens or boneless breasts. That doesn't help me. Save On foods pre-packages everything so you can't tell what you're buying. They have bone in, skin on chicken breasts in packages of far too many for $11. Every package is $11. There are no single packages or smaller packages.  Clearly, Save On foods does not want to sell chicken to families of less than 5 or 6 people. I REALLY don't understand why they do this but I won't argue, I'll just go elsewhere.

Safeway doesn't sell bone in, skin on breasts at all.  Last week I bought boneless breasts from Safeway and they were so small that at least half the meat was left on the bones. Really! At least that explains why their boneless breasts are so expensive, they throw more than half the meat away. That left me with no where to shop.  So I went back to Save On and bought a small package of bone in, skin on chicken thighs. At least they're the tastiest part of the bird.

Chicken Marinade

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp molasses
1/2 tsp ground ginger
dash of rice vinegar
mixed ground pepper

Soak the chicken in the marinade till ready to put in a hot frying pan.

Caesar Salad

1 egg yolk
1/2 cup oil

Whisk 2 tsp oil at a time into the egg yolk till all oil is added, mayonnaise is the result. To that add:

2 cloves garlic crushed and chopped
anchovy fillet - I use a couple drops Chinese Oyster or Fish Sauce instead - to get that umami flavour
Worcestershire Sauce - a few drops
lemon - juice from half
black pepper - plenty

Cut some dry bread up into croutons and fry them in some oil, salt and pepper, let cool.

Tear a head of Romaine up into bite size pieces. Toss the lettuce in the dressing to coat.  Add the croutons and toss.  Add 1/2 cup grated parmesan, toss and serve.

The salad was what a Caesar should be and everyone loved the chicken. I was surprised at how well the chicken was received because I didn't use a recipe, I just went by my own experience. It sounds like I know what I'm doing when I say it like that, so I'll stop now.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Honey Mustard Pork Chop

I bought chops from Michell's this time and was pleasantly surprised at getting three beautifully butchered chops for under $5. I prepared mashed potatoes with broccoli and carrots done in the steamer. Before the broccoli was done I drained them and added extra virgin olive oil to the pot on medium low heat.

Honey Mustard Sauce

1 part Dijon Mustard
3 parts Honey

The pork I seasoned with salt and mixed pepper and cooked it in a frying pan.  In the last few minutes of cooking the chops I brushed them with Honey Mustard Sauce on both sides and cooked the flavour in a few moments. 

The pork was a little over done but tasted great. I think Fern missed his ketchup so this won't become a staple, just an occasional treat for me.

First Green Eggs!

My Ameraucana chickens laid their first eggs weeks earlier than expected.  They are very small. My browns are extra huge. Most people expect two yolks in my eggs, but I've never had a double. The chickens eat as much as they want so they lay huge eggs. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lemon Squares

Fern's sister is staying with us for her summer vacation.  She likes lemon treats and last year I found a Lemon Snap recipe for her of which I made several batches.  I thought they were ok, but I also knew there had to be much better recipes around. I looked in my Joy of Cooking and for the first time I couldn't find a type of recipe. Joy of Cooking has no lemon cookie recipe. It does have a lemon square recipe that sounded interesting. Line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with parchment and spray with a little oil on it.

Lemon Squares

1 cup flour
1/4 cup confectioner's or icing sugar
1/2 cup melted butter

Combine ingredients, press into the bottom of the pan to form an even layer.  Bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes.  While that's baking mix

1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 slightly beaten eggs
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp grated lemon peel
(1/2 cup flaked coconut - optional - I hate flaked coconut so would never add it.)

pour onto hot baked crust and bake 25 minutes more. Let cool completely before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares. These are really delicious.  Not too sweet. Not too heavy. A really nice light dessert. The filling was thicker out of the oven but fell as it cooled.  Next time I'm going to try adding a little cream of tartar to the recipe to see if it will stabilize the egg so it doesn't fall. When I experiment like that I'm always prepared to toss the result in the garbage if it doesn't work. I never experiment on guests.