Thursday, 22 December 2011

Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Gratin: Hearty and Heartwarming, and Mildly Healthy

Made this little number the other night to serve with pork tenderloin. It was a really good, cozy dish...but I gotta say off the top that it was a bit of a multi-pronged, significant-pot-dirtying kind of dish. But it was so bubbly and cheesy and a little bit crispy that I had to share (also, it's oddly delicious cold, right out of the casserole dish, say, this morning or something). Just block off a bit of time and the inclination and a layered dish of healthful ingredients with lots of cheese will be your reward. Serve it with something that's easy and no-fuss.

Chard, de-stemmed.
It's so pretty, the red, no?
I'm totally avoiding apologizing for not posting more in the last month, because I fear that my apologies for not posting will become less and less meaningful the more often I write them. So, I'll spare you. I think about posting in the blog a lot. Like, daily. But what good does that do for anyone. Diddly squat. But I digress.

Chard is nice in this dish, but it would also work with spinach, or kale. As for the sweet potato element, one could easily replace that with regular potatoes, if one wished. One can do many things of one's own choosing, really.

Without further ado...(remember, I said it was a bit of a pot-dirtying recipe)...

Swiss Chard and Sweet Potato Gratin
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, www.smittenkitchen.com

1 bunch of chard, de-stemmed, with stalks       (chard is a beautiful thing - and the stalks are just as good as the leaves - so slice them right out of the leaf, and then dice them.  Then I just pulled apart the leaves into big chunks.)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of milk
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
1 cup of grated cheese      (the original recipe called for Gruyere, and though at one point I hope to be the kind of woman who just has Gruyere in her fridge, I'm not there yet. I used a combo of old cheddar and parmesan.)
1 pound or so of sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch slices
a big sprig of thyme, or rosemary       (feel free to use dried, but don't skip it, it's a good addition)
salt, pepper
butter or oil for frying chard

First, deal with the chard. Saute the onion in a some butter or oil, until it's softened - about 5 minutes or so. Then throw in the diced chard stalks, and saute those for a few minutes to soften. Then in go the leaves, until they are thoroughly wilted and cooked down. Now this is an important step - you need to squeeze this chard action as dry as you possible can. Just use your hands. And do it longer than you think you need to - the gratin will be too wet if you don't. Having said that, it will be wet because of delicious things like melting cheese and butter, so, you know.

Without natural light, I have no game when it comes
to taking pictures.  
Heat the 1 cup of milk in a small pot with the big sprig of thyme or rosemary in it, and the minced garlic. Don't let it boil, just heat it up nice.  In a medium-sized pan, melt your tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Once it's melted, add in your tablespoon of flour, and whisking the shit out of it to avoid lumpiness. You just made a roux! Congratulate yourself. Then slowly pour the heated milk (remove the sprig if you used one) into the butter and flour (I mean the roux!) and continue whisking over low heat, and remove once you've got a mildly runny pasty kind of texture. Okay, that's done.

Now get a deep baking dish. The recipe asks for a 9 X 13 baking dish but I'll be honest with you, I have no conceptual idea what size that actually is. I just used a big-ish, round, deep pyrex dish. Preheat your over to 400 degrees F. Layer half the sweet potatoes on the bottom, then 1/3 of the cheese, and then half the greens. Salt and pepper it up, then pour half your milky roux over all that. Repeat the process, and finish with the last third of the cheese.

Soooo good. Seriously, so good. It's an ultimate winter dish.


Pop her in the oven for about an hour, covering with foil if you're getting concerned about advanced browning of the top of the gratin. Let it sit for ten minutes before dishing it up. It's really fantastic, and worth the effort. A very special side dish.  

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Pulled Pork: I Know, I Know, Another Pulled Pork Recipe...

I feel like everyone is a little pulled porked out, and it seems there's a recipe for it around every corner of the internet, but I swear, this one is totally worth it. It is the recipe of a genius woman who writes a genius blog called Homesick Texan (www.homesicktexan.blogspot.com), who posts recipes for all kinds of fantastic dishes like this one, or Dr. Pepper Peanut Brittle, or Spicy Buttermilk Onion Rings. All amazing. Check her shit out, for reals.

So, anyway, this pulled pork. The photos are pretty crappy, I'll admit. But it was so so so good that I'm not going to wait to make it again to post the recipe. But oh, I'll make it again. You just watch me.

But listen. This pork recipe requires a bit of forethought, and a bit of effort. Like, you make your own dry rub, and then you make your own barbecue sauce. I know, right?  It's kind of some work. I give you my full permission (because you of course need my permission to do things) to use a store-bought rub (but try and find one that's not chock-a-block with MSG and sodium - although, I kind of love MSG and sodium, so even then do your worst) and a store-bought sauce. The real breakthrough in this dish isn't really, to me, about the rub and the sauce - though goddamn they are good. It's the fact that you buy a honking piece of bone-in pork shoulder, which is the cheapest thing ever, and you rub it with the dry rub, and you stick it in the oven for eight hours, or so, maybe seven and a half, maybe eight and a half, whatever works, because YOU CAN'T MESS IT UP. I promise, it will always be good.


Frankly, I don't think this needs a caption.


Pulled Pork with Coffee Chipotle Rub and Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
From Homesick Texan (www.homesicktexan.blogspot.com)


Pulled Pork


4 - 6 pound pork shoulder, bone-in
dry rub (recipe follows)
barbecue sauce (recipe follows)


Rub the pork shoulder all over with the dry rub. Make sure you get into every nook and cranny. Ideally, you do this step the day/night before you are going to be cooking the pork, which gives the rub a chance to really dig in. But, do what you can with the time that you have. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate once you've completed the rubbing process.  


Take the pork out of the fridge, remove the plastic wrap and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees celsius. Put your pork in a deep roasting pan, and pop her in the oven for a max of about 2 hours a pound. Your pork is going to be in there for a while, so this is perfect for a lazy Sunday or one of those days when you're "working from home". Don't be concerned by how dark the pork looks - it's just the super dark rub intensifying and taking on an even deeper colour as it roasts. 


When you think you've left the pork in for long enough, take it out of the oven and poke around a tiny bit- if the meat is shredding and basically falling apart before your eyes when prodded, it's done. Don't pull it apart anymore at this point, though - let it rest, very loosely covered in foil, for about an hour. At this point, hopefully your sauce of choice (but seriously, it's nice to make your own sauce if you can swing it) is heating on the stove. After the pork is rested, pull it apart (it is an EXTREMELY satisfying task). Then toss with as much warmed barbecue sauce as your heart desires. Some people like their pork super saucy, some like it on the drier side. It's nice to toss with some sauce, and then serve some on the side for those that like more. I didn't do that last time though - I just dropped the whole pot of sauce into the pork and I don't think anyone was disappointed.         


Dry Rub


Pork and biscuits!
Ugh, this photo is a bit painfully lit. Apologies.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup of finely ground dark coffee      (I used instant coffee - don't judge me)
1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons allspice         (I didn't have allspice, didn't use it, and didn't miss it)



Mix all the dry rub ingredients together in a bowl. This made enough for waaaay more than one pork shoulder, in fact, I've used it for two and I still have some leftover. I bet it would taste hella good on chicken, or maybe even lamb? Go crazy.


Barbecue Sauce


1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 half a medium onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup yellow, ball-park style mustard
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup brewed coffee           (I added a mug of instant coffee - see above re judging)
2 chipotles peppers in adobo sauce, chopped          (just use the two peppers - those babies are h-o-t - and the rest of the can will keep in the fridge for a while)
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
Salt and black pepper to taste



Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan. Add in the onion, and cook until it becomes translucent, about five minutes or so. Add the garlic and let it mingle with the onion. Add the rest of the ingredients, and turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about a half an hour, and then either transfer to a blender and blend, obviously, or use a hand blender. It will keep for about a week in your fridge, but I found that I used the whole kit and caboodle in order to properly smother the pulled pork once it was done.


So there you have it, a three-pronged recipe for your reading and eating pleasure. Have I mentioned yet how ridiculously cheap pork shoulder is? Well, let me tell you:  it's ridiculously cheap. So it's perfect for feeding a crowd. I like to serve it with biscuits, some kind of cold salad (potato salad, coleslaw, etc.), and collard greens (and there's a li'l recipe for those on this here blog!). To minimize the amount of work in the recipe, you could totally break it down in parts...make the rub one day, make the sauce another, and then cook the pork on the day you want to serve. You won't regret the time you spend on it. Promise.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts: Perfect Little Bites of Nutty Goodness

Should I bother apologizing for the delay in posts, or does it just seem insincere now? I promise, I's been busy. But I think about posting all the time. Pinkie swear.

These were really delicious, and massively easy. The recipe is from a gorgeous cookbook called Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I was going to title this post 'Dorie Greenspan's Nuts' but it felt disrespectful. I have a feeling from her cookbook that she's a really nice person and I didn't want her to think I was making fun of her.

Hot nuts.
Basically you beat an egg white lightly, toss in a couple of cups of nuts until they're coated with the egg white, and then add a few teaspoons of spices and a significant amount of sugar. I think it's an excellent nibble to serve before dinner, and it would also make a nice little gift, given that the holiday season is fast approaching.

The nice thing is you can switch up the spices however you please - you could make these with curry powder, smoked paprika, or ground chipotle and cumin and cinnamon, which is what I did. The original recipe asked for predominantly chili powder, but I wasn't feeling that. Point is you can put any kind of combo in there, as long as you stay with things that work well together and try and stay with the amounts called for. You want them sweet, and spicy, but not in a punch-you-in-the-face kinda way.

Nuts that have pretty much cooled down.


Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts
Pretty much lifted entirely from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan (who seems like a really nice person)

1/2 cup sugar      
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white, beaten
2 cups of whole or halved nuts         (I used cashews, almonds, peanuts, and walnuts - killer combo - but  seriously use whatever you happen to have)

Preheat the over to 300 degrees Farenheit. Measure and mix together the sugar and spices in a small bowl. I know it's a bit fussy with the teaspoons and the half teaspoons and whatnot, but there are times when measuring with those wee spoons makes me feel quite dainty - which I can get into. Again, feel free to mix and match your spices based on your tastes. In the original recipe, Greenspan uses chili powder but it's too evocative of actual chili for me so I veered into chipotle territory. I did not regret it.

If I could live in a permanent state of dinner party
attendance I think I'd be really happy.
In a larger bowl (that will fit all your nuts - God there are just so many jokes here), beat the egg white lightly, so it gets a bit separated and loosey-goosey. Toss the nuts into the egg and stir to coat. Then add the sugar and spices, and make sure everybody's evenly covered. Place the nuts on a single layer on a cookie sheet with a little lip. The nuts will mos def stick to the pan, so put down a layer of parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray before you lay them down. Really make sure they're in a single layer, as you want them to cook evenly.

Bake them for 30 to 35 minutes, until they're browned and the coating looks to be completely dried. Transfer the nuts to a cutting board, breaking them up as necessary. Let them cool completely, then serve as a little snack or a nibble before dinner. I'm really into these little nibbles before dinner.




Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bacon, Olive, and Sharp Cheddar Bread: Don't Freak Out! No Kneading, No Yeast!

Okay, so before you tune out this entire post due to the fact that it's a bread recipe, let me assure you that it's more like the savoury equivalent of banana bread in terms of difficulty level. Laura Calder, whose recipe this is, calls it an 'aperitif cake', which she can do because she lived in Paris for a while and she's quite stylish and all that. I feel a bit ridiculous calling it an 'aperitif cake', so we move forward identifying it as bread. Fine with you?

Resting bread.  Can you guess which loaf has bacon in it?
I'll just tell you.  The one on the right.  The better-looking one.
Obviously.

This loaf ruled. Calder suggests you serve it before a dinner party, something to tide people over before the meal. I love this idea. It's very sophisticated. Very French. But you can serve this any old time - I think it would be a nice snack, and would also be a punchy little breakfast bread. Or be all Paris (pronounced Par-eeh) and serve it as an aperitif (pronounced a-pear-a-teef - just kidding, I know y'all know how to pronounce that).

And again, the best thing about this is how hella easy it is to make. No intimidating bread-like elements like kneading or yeast, or special paddle attachments for your special stand-mixer. Just a couple of bowls and a loaf pan (or two loaf pans, if you're me - I did one with bacon and one without - guess which one was better).

Bacon, Olive, and Sharp Cheddar Bread
This is a recipe of the aforementioned Laura Calder, whose website is at www.lauracalder.ca

I brought these to a meeting.
Yes, I had a meeting where I was required to bring snacks.  
1 and a half cups flour
1 and a half teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup, plus another tablespoon butter, melted
a big handful of chopped green olives         (you could use black olives, but I think the green lends the whole loaf more of a consistent earth-tone kinda thing)
6 slices of bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch squares and fried/broiled         (Calder's recipe called for four slices, but that's such a joke - use 6)
1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese         (you could also use Gruyere, parm, asiago - anything that is grate-able and has a nice strong, sharp taste)
a pinch of salt         (but seriously, go easy - you've got bacon, cheese, and olives in there - a lot of salt action already)
2 tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary         (this was a nice addition, but totally not necessary)

So here's the drill:  preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a loaf pan, and then throw a tablespoon of flour in there and shake the pan around, so the flour covers the butter. Your pan has now been buttered and floured.  

Mix the flour, baking powder, and ground pepper together in a mixing bowl. Beat the eggs lightly, then add them into the flour, mixing all with a wooden spoon. Then stir in the melted butter. Don't over-mix, just stir until everything is incorporated. Now add the cooked and chopped bacon, chopped olives, and grated cheese. Again, just try to evenly distribute, not more than that. Overworked batter is no good.

Spoon the batter into the loaf pan, and stick her in the oven for about 45 minutes. You'll know it's ready when it's slightly browned on the top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  

Let me tell you, making this bread kind of made me feel like some kind of pioneer.

Let it cool slightly, and then remove it from the pan. Slice it up. And then definitely follow Calder's instructions, which are to 'serve with drinks'. I mean, unless it's breakfast.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Tomatillo Salsa

So, seasoned food bloggers tell me that busting out of the gates with a pretty consistent posting schedule and then all of a sudden barely ever posting is the easiest way to have a food blog that nobody reads. I am batting a thousand on this front, and for this, dear reader(s), I apologize.

I've been cooking a fair bit, it's not that (though that also happens sometimes)...I just can't seem to find the chunk of time in conjunction with the chunk of energy and the chunk of forethought (i.e. remembering to photograph the freakin' dish before it's eaten) that must come together to write a post. I also have always had a sneaking suspicion that I am actually a very lazy person who has spent my whole life willing myself to be un-lazy but really is the ultimate laziest, and therefore chunk of time + chunk of energy + chunk of forethought is much harder to come by for people like me. But these deep, internal insecurities have nothing to do with tomatillo salsa, do they? Let's move on to that then, shall we?

Look!  A different cutting board!
Lovely tomatillos, which it turns out, come in many colours.
This is a pretty delicious little number. Tomatillos are a fairly new thing for me, in that I didn't even really know what they were until about a year ago. But boy, am I glad that I've made their acquaintance.  They resemble small, unripened tomatoes (though again, this time they were all multi-coloured, so, not always green), but for the fact that they come ensconced in a papery husk. Once you rub off the husk, they have a sticky, kinda sappy thing going on that you have to wash off. They're hardy little guys, these tomatillos, and full of tang and pep. Perfect for salsa.  And salsa?  Salsa is perfect with so many things:  nacho chips, scrambled eggs, enchiladas, tacos, etc., etc.

Tomatillos, post-husking, post-washing weird sticky sap off.
Tomatillo Salsa


Tomatillos, 2 pounds or so, halved or quartered        (this recipe is definitely a set of loose guidelines as opposed to a firm set of directions - even more so than usual I mean - so basically just go and grab some tomatillos and proceed - I used a small brown bag that was about halfway full)
Cilantro, a big handful, roughly chopped
Juice of 2 or 3 limes
1 small onion, halved or quartered
2 jalapenos, split in half        (if you like things spicy, keep the seeds and ribs in the jalapenos - if you're a wimp, scrape out everything that's inside the jalapeno - that's where all the heat is)
Garlic, 2 cloves, peeled and smashed
1 cup of water, approximately       (start with 1 cup, then add more if you find it's not liquidy enough for you)
1-2 tsp of salt      (don't be afraid to put a lot of salt in, but taste as you go so you don't wreck everything)


My particular desired consistency.
Okay, so get ready for these very complicated instructions. Put everything in a pot, and bring it to a boil. Your water should pretty much cover the ingredients in the pot, so everything is almost entirely submerged. Leave it boiling, squishing everything down into the pot, until everything is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Get your hand blender (I think these are an amazing kitchen tool - super low maintenance and small and easy to store), and blend everything up, to your desired consistency. You could of course use a regular blender, if you like to make things difficult for yourself.

Once it cooled, I served it with nacho chips. But not before I put it into an empty salsa jar that I had hanging around in the cupboard. Made my salsa seem totally legit.

Too legit, too legit to...you know the rest.
Wait, should that be 'Two legit'?  I just remembered the hand motions.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Onion Soup: Onion-y, Beer-y, Fall-y Goodness

Fall is the absolute best, in my opinion. Best clothes, best natural light, best attitude, and definitely the best time to cook. You're still revelling in summer's bounty, but it's cool enough that the idea of turning on the stove isn't repulsive. Fall comes and I want to roast, braise, and cook the crap out of everything.  Including onions. Is there a more delicious thing to do with an onion than to cook it forever, concentrating and caramelizing its wonderful flavour? I think not.  

Getting to this point was not pretty. I positively gush tears
while chopping onions. And not in a hot way.
This soup is all about the power of the mighty onion. However, slicing onions is, I find, quite painful. You need about five cups of thinly sliced onions for this soup, and I know there are 25 great little tricks you can do to prevent the painful tearing up that occurs when slicing an onion, but I swear to God I have tried every single one of them and nothing works. They just don't.  Lighting a candle, putting your onion in the freezer first, making sure your knife is super sharp, chewing gum, wearing a mask (which is ridiculous)...anyway, it's just the way it is. A little bit of pain for a lot of reward.

I adapted this recipe from a couple of places:  one, www.smittenkitchen.com, and another recipe I saw on the Food Network Canada website, by that exceedingly eager and effeminate guy, Ricardo - you know him? Anyway, you can find it at www.foodnetwork.ca, by searching for Onion Soup with Beer.



Onion Soup

5 cups of regular old white onions, sliced thinly as shown in the photos above
1 tbsp butter, for frying onions
1 tbsp oil, for frying onions
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups of beef stock       (Don't worry about doing something crazy like making your own beef stock. But, do worry about buying the good store-bought stuff. And read the ingredients:  a lot of powdered beef stock crystals have MSG in them - and while, frankly, I'm pretty okay with eating MSG when I decide to indulge in ma-po tofu and moo shu pork and the like, I'm not really okay with it sneaking into my stock. So, have a look, and try a few kinds to see which kind you like best.)
1 big can of dark-ish beer     (I used Boddington's, because it was in the fridge - any beer that's not like say, a Coors Light, would probably work.)
2 tbsp of dijon mustard

To top off the soup:

Baguette slices, toasted      (I used one slice of toasted bread per bowl.)
A couple of handfuls of grated cheese, to melt on top of the toasted baguette slices     (I used a combination of sharp cheddar and parmesan - gruyere is the most killer cheese to use in this situation, but I just didn't have it in me to make a trip to the store just for gruyere. I advise you to just use any strong flavoured, hard cheese that is grate-able.)

So, you need to cook the pants off these onions. You melt your butter and your oil in a nice, big, heavy Dutch oven/soup pot. In go the onions, over pretty low heat (we're talking a 3 or so). Give the onions a stir to get them coated with the butter and oil, and then plop on your pot lid and don't do a thing for 15 minutes. Once that time has elapsed, come back, uncover the onions and turn up the heat to medium. Keep them over medium heat, stirring every few minutes for about 45 minutes. Did you just gasp? I know, it seems like a long time, but this step is so so so so crucial to this soup. Remember, they're just onions. So you need to really give them some time to make them sing.

Once about an hour has elapsed since the onions met the stovetop, they should have turned a deeper brown, and there should be lots of brown bits on the bottom of your pot. Add your stock and can of beer, stirring everything up well and ensuring that you get all those lovely browned bits up off the bottom. They add lots of flavour. Then stir in the mustard. Bring to a boil, and taste for salt, adding some depending on how salty your stock was. Add pepper. Bring the soup down to a simmer and let it go for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Please sir, can I have some more?

I didn't have ovenproof bowls (I know, I just need to run to the nearest Salvation Army, Goodwill, grandmother's basement, etc., for a set of french onion soup bowls) so I toasted up some baguette slices. Once they were toasted, I put the grated cheese on top and ran the toast under the broiler again until the cheese melted. I placed a cheesy baguette toast on top of the soup in each bowl. The best is if you push that piece of cheesy bread right down into the soup, and let it get all soggy and incorporated.

I served this with more bread and a green salad with lots of fresh parsley in it (herbs are great in salads, just as their own ingredient - especially ones like flat leaf parsley, cilantro, basil). It should also be noted that this soup is sooooo dirt cheap to make. It's great to throw together when you realize you've nothing else in your fridge but onions and cheese. Also, if all you've got is stale bread, break that up and stir it in to the finished soup. They could have eaten this in Dickens' time, for God's sake! It also manages to taste hearty and light at the same time, and was perfect for a September night's dinner on the porch.

Makes about 4 or 5 servings.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Seared Steak Salad: The Art Of Eating Alone

Check out this new natural light!
Sorry about the long delay between posts...I've recently begun living in sin with my boyfriend, and moving houses basically took over my whole life. We kind of moved in stages and I only had two plates, one pan, etc., for about 2 weeks, anyway, this is all totally boring and needless to say I haven't been doing much cooking. But the new kitchen is unpacked, and it's my new favourite place in the world. This is not an exaggeration.

So, we had eaten the remainder of the leftover take-out and yesterday I needed to get my cook on:  I wanted to make something salad-y but still hearty, and I was eating alone.

Ah, the often derided solo eating experience. Here's the thing with eating alone:  it always irks me when people say 'I would never bother going to any trouble just to cook for myself'. Who better to go to the trouble for? I actually make a point of going to a ton of trouble to cook for myself - I know that's due in large part to the fact that I love cooking, and not everyone does, but it's also because I think it's lame to settle for a bowl of cereal or some crappy KD (unless you've got a hankering for just that, in which case, no judgment) just because you happen to be flying solo. Step up, loners! Let's make ourselves something nice, yeah? Let's not succumb to the outdated and closed-minded view that eating HAS to be a social occasion - and man, it's so great when it is - but instead, let's admit that there's also something very private and wonderful about sitting alone with something you've taken good care to make for yourself. No chatting, no passing of salt, no distractions. Just you and your nourishment.



So, after that brief rant, we arrive at the recipe. I bought a perfect little striploin today. Because some days, my body is like 'Feed me red meat' - and I happily oblige. Oh - and another added benefit of cooking for one is you can splurge a bit on the ingredients...the steak I bought, which was a perfect serving for one, was a whopping $4. Actually, now that I think about it, that had to be wrong. Oh well.



Wood on wood: the weird thing about a butcher block
counter is you never want to chop on it. So, I guess it's all
just aesthetics. Right? 
Seared Steak with Zucchini and Parmesan

Striploin steak, enough for one
1 small zucchini, cut into chunks
Some thinly sliced red onion      (to take some of the bite out of raw red onion, I usually soak it, after slicing, in a small bowl with cold water - I have no idea the science behind it but the onion mellows out and becomes way less harsh)
A handful of halved cherry tomatoes
Parmesan shavings, as much as you want      (the easiest way to achieve 'shaved' parmesan is with a vegetable peeler)
Green leaf lettuce
1 tsp of butter, for frying
1 tsp of neutral oil, for frying

For the dressing:
Juice of half a lemon - it'll be about 1 tbsp worth
1/2 teaspoon of minced fresh rosemary     (you can also use thyme, or oregano, or any strong, woodsy type herb)
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp of dijon mustard, the smooth kind
A splash of white balsamic vinegar      (I added this after I tasted the dressing and was like 'whoa, easy rosemary', and the whole thing needed a bit of a pick-up - worked like a charm)
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make the dressing, place all the ingredients in a small jar and give it a good shake. Taste, and fix it up/readjust to your taste.

Who needs company with this hot salad joining you?
Okay, here is a super important step when you're frying a steak. Take it out of the fridge at least an hour before you cook it. It needs to come to room temperature before it hits the max heat you are about to subject it to. This is kind of a crucial step - don't skip it. You'll notice the difference. Once it's rested at room temperature for a while, salt and pepper one side, aggressively. Use more than you think you should be using. It'll give it a wicked, salty and peppery crust kinda thing.

Crank your heat up to high, and add your butter and oil to a sturdy pan (ideally cast iron, but any good solid pan will do). Once your pan is nice and hot, place the steak in the pan, salt and pepper side down. Salt and pepper the other side now, and then don't touch it. Let it sear on one side for about 3-4 minutes, and then flip it over, and let it go for another 2 minutes, for rare to medium rare, longer if you like it cooked more thoroughly. Once it's had its time, take it out of the pan and let it sit and rest for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, once you've flipped your steak that one time, you'll want to throw in your chunked up zucchini, and let it brown up a bit while the steak does its second 2-minute or so side - the zucchini will hang out a bit longer than the steak, for a total of about 5 minutes. Which is great, because the steak needs to rest while the zucchini finishes up. Once your steak is rested, slice it very thinly, against the grain. Place the sliced steak on the lettuce, along with your halved cherry tomatoes, the zucchini, the red onion you have diligently soaked in cold water, and the delightful parmesan shavings.

The whole thing will take you about 15 minutes of active cooking. You show me someone who doesn't have 15 minutes to cook themselves something nice, and I'll show you a liar.

Last step:  pour the dressing over the salad, toss it up a wee bit, and eat.  Alone and happy.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Corn On The Cob With Mayo and Parmesan: Yeah, You Heard Me.

This dish makes me lose my mind it tastes so good. It's hard, sometimes, for me to eat corn like a normal person anymore...you know, with a bit of butter, salt and pepper, everybody's happy. Ever since a friend in high school* introduced this style of eating corn to me, it's been hard to not make it this way every time. But I remember I used to be okay with corn the old fashioned way.

Unsullied corn.
Let me take you back to a time when life was simple, when kids were kids and the living was easy; let me take you back to camp. Those that know me well know that in an odd twist, I spent a couple of weeks every summer from ages 8 to 13 at a Mennonite camp called Silver Lake. I had a best friend who was Mennonite, and basically just did everything she did, including attending church and camp with her Menno peeps. I didn't really retain very much info of the religious sort over those years, but man, did I ever love camp. And eating at camp was thrilling! People would serve you something different, every meal, and you could have seconds if you wanted, and there were always condiments around, and oh man, I was always super happy at camp.

Anyway, one day each camp session, we had corn on the cob for dinner. Only corn! It was the BEST THING EVER. There would be huge cauldrons of just-boiled cobs, and you could have as many as you wanted.  I think I usually topped out at about 6. No joke. And they had huge hunks of butter that they tied up in new J-cloths, you know the blue kind? You took the J-cloth wrapped butter, and smooshed it all over your corn. The butter seeped through the J-Cloth fabric just right, and you had full coverage with little mess. Genius.

A three-ingredient "meal"!
But I digress. This corn, right here before you, is not about camp, or simplicity. This corn is about adulthood, and always wanting more, and never being satisfied. This corn is about sullying what is already a delicious piece of food and making it even more delicious, just because you can. Corn is in its prime right now, it's so yellow and peachy and healthy and just begging to be buried under mayonnaise and parmesan. You feel me?

Corn with Mayonnaise and Parmesan

If you're serving this as a side dish, you can get away with one cob per person. I usually do it camp-styles and eat 2 cobs (not 6, I swear) as my dinner and that's it. No salad, no protein, nothing. All corn.

2 ears corn on the cob       (a couple of notes on buying corn:  don't be a jerk and shuck the corn in the store to see if your cob is perfect - once a cob is shucked, and the corn comes into direct contact with the air, it starts to oxidize, and dry out, and get less sweet, and get less delicious. Buy from a place that you trust and accept the fact that you might get a bad cob every now and then - and leave the shucking until right before the cooking. And try and cook your corn as soon after buying it as you can, the fresher the better.) 
2 tbsp or so of mayonnaise      (okay and the craziest thing? I don't even really like mayonnaise - but for some strange reason, it doesn't seem to matter in this recipe. So don't be dissuaded if you're like me and aren't really a mayo person. Make it anyway, see for yourself.)
2 tbsp or so of grated parmesan cheese       (use the good stuff, if you can. Although, having said that, the first few times I had it at my friend's place in high school, they used the grated "cheese" in a can, and it sure did the trick. So really, when I'm giving you a recipe that involves slathering mayo on corn, I should just shut up and let you use whatever quality of parm you'd like.)
Freshly ground pepper

Eat this by yourself, or with someone who loves you unconditionally.

Place the freshly-shucked corn cobs in boiling water, and boil until they get super bright yellow and you can really start to smell it. Should take about 8 minutes. Pull them out of the water and let cool enough that you can handle the corn without burning your fingers. You want the corn actually fairly cool, so the mayo doesn't get melty. Slather a thin (but not too thin) layer of mayo all over the ear of corn, and then sprinkle with the parmesan so that it coats it entirely, and sticks to the mayo. Then, calmly dig in to this delightful, raunchy dish.

*The same friend also introduced me to guacamole, god bless her.  Her Dad was Mexican, and they ate some really good food in their house. I'm so thankful I didn't have to wait longer than the age of 14 to understand this corn, and the power of mashed avocados, cilantro, and lime.



Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cobb Salad: Bob Cobb's Lasting Legacy

I have no idea if this salad's supposed creator, Bob Cobb (seriously!) was trying to be rebellious when he came up with this dish, or if he just had a tendency toward fatty, luscious ingredients like bacon, avocado, and blue cheese. Was he all 'Salad? I'll show you tree-huggers a salad! I'm going to put everything that will make you fat (if not eaten in moderation) in this salad, and call it a salad, and it'll be a big middle finger to the whole salad world!'

Or maybe it came about because he truly did stumble into his kitchen in the middle of the night, after a big night out* (it was 1937, Hollywood, those parties must have been off the chain**) and throw a bunch of leftovers into a bowl, with miraculous results (this is what the internet says). Who cares though. This salad is super delicious and easy and perfect for summer. I know I've been saying things are perfect for summer a lot lately. Well maybe not with the mac and cheese. But it's always true when I say it. I never lie. About food.

Thanks, Bob Cobb.
Cobb Salad
Serves 5 or so

3 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, poached    (see below for ingredients for poaching liquid and instructions on how to poach - poaching is wicked)
5 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
2 large avocados, sliced into thick slivers
2 large tomatoes, sliced into thick slivers      (oh man tomatoes are just hitting their stride here in Toronto - and there are few things better than a tomato that's grown nearby and actually tastes like an actual tomato, eh?)
Blue cheese, crumbled     (as I've said before, I truly feel like it's judgmental to tell you how much cheese to use - but I used about 3/4 of one of those blue triangle packages, just to give you a gauge)
Bacon, about a half pack, fried up and cut into kind of 1-inch pieces, ish
Romaine lettuce, sliced thinly, either one super big head of it, or two smaller ones

For the dressing:

Liquored-up friends digging in.
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup of olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp of dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to your taste

For the poaching liquid:

about 2 cups of chicken stock   (I used a bouillon cube - which I do often - I find homemade chicken stock to be quite arduous and certainly not summertime friendly)
3 bay leaves
a small palmful of whole black peppercorns
a small palmful of coriander seeds
a small palmful of celery seeds
a small palmful of salt
OR, INSTEAD OF ALL THAT:
a pan of water     (honestly, water is just fine - the other goodies I put in just added another layer of flavour but will not make or break this dish)

For the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small jar that will hold them and give them a good vigorous shake. Taste to see if it's working for you and set aside for now.

To poach the chicken, put your chicken in a pan with either the stock and ingredients or water, and bring to a boil. The liquid should cover your chicken breasts, in a single layer in your pan, by about an inch. Once it comes to a boil, turn things down to a simmer and let it go gently like that for about ten minutes. Turn off the heat after 10 or so, cover the pan, and let it sit in the hot water for another 15 minutes. It should be lovely, moist, and fully cooked through by that point. Chop the chicken into chunks and reserve it. You can do this a day in advance if you'd like. I sure did.

It would be kind of funny to serve a cobb salad just like this.
Now, this is all about assembly. A good, big platter is essential, as this is family-style and really pretty and impressive to bring out to some liquored-up pals waiting at your picnic table (oh, is that just at my place?).  Everything gets distributed on top of the shredded lettuce, and don't forget the blue cheese as I almost did.  Drizzle it all with the dressing and let people help themselves.

You can make every component of this dish well in advance and then simply arrange it on the platter when you're ready for dinner. Wait until the last minute to slice the avocados though, as they'll brown quickly.

*I added in the 'big night out' part, to make Bob Cobb sound like more a wild man. This detail is unconfirmed.

**There were no 'off the chain' parties in the '30's, it was the Depression, okay? But if there were, Bob Cobb would have totally been invited.



Monday, 1 August 2011

Summer Mac 'N Cheese: An Ode to Me Ma

It's my Mom's birthday today, so I thought I'd make a classic dish of hers, and then write a bit about just how much I friggin' love her.

So, she's funny. And she laughs A TON. Often, in the summer when the windows are open, driving up to the house you can hear her laugh before you see her. She is empathetic, and compassionate, and generous. I mean generous in an almost criminal way. Do you know people like this? People that will give until they're too tired to stand if it's necessary? That's my Mom.

She's feisty as all get out, but she also has a knack for fighting the right battles, the really righteous battles, the ones that matter. Her whole (groundbreaking) career was predicated on helping women who look after children in their homes, so that they in turn could provide better care for kids. Also, she once boycotted a local dry-cleaner because they charged way more to launder a women's 'blouse' than they did for a men's 'shirt'. She was PISSED. She's never been back.

She is low-maintenance and doesn't get bogged down with all the upkeep-y junk that so many women are so dug into. She's pretty and vivacious and she taught me that having perfect make-up or hair really didn't (or at least shouldn't) make much of a difference.

The food she cooks is simple and delicious. She makes a mean soup and can do fantastic things with dried mushrooms. I have the most wonderful taste memory of a meal she used to cook when we were kids:  baked chicken breast with boiled onions and white rice, all smothered in a most delightful Campbell's mushroom soup sauce. Sure, it was an all-white meal, and sure, there were little to no vitamins and nutrients in it, but I swear, it tasted amazing. Her lobster rolls are also famous throughout Ottawa town. And her yorkshire pudding? Hold the phone.

Everyone should have panko at their house. Not to be bossy, but it's just a better breadcrumb.
This mac and cheese, a classic recipe of my mother's, is a good way to make a dent in an abundant crop of summer tomatoes (which we had, and my parents still have, every year thanks to my also awesome Dad's keen tomato-planting skills). It's a lovely, creamy mish-mash that gets nice and brightened by the addition of all that red summer fruit. It's also great if you have a bunch of cheese ends hanging in your fridge that are too small to have much of an impact all on their lonesome.

Just as an aside, when I called my mother to ask her for the recipe, she laughed like it was the most hilarious thing a person could ever ask her. Once she could get a full sentence out, through the laughing, she told me she 'oh, god, I mix some butter and flour together, and add milk, a fair bit, I guess, and then I add a bunch of whatever cheese I have, and then I boil macaroni, kind of to al dente, but I mean, whatever, and then I add the macaroni to the cheese, layering the whole thing with tomatoes, and then I bake it with some breadcrumbs until it's bubbly and browned'. A joyful, warming, straightforward recipe, just like its creator.
The tomatoes get a bit crinkly and warmed but still keep
their shape and some texture. So damn good.

Macaroni and Cheese with Fresh Tomato


1 big pat of butter
2 tbsp (or so) of white all-purpose flour
2 cups (or so) of milk
2 cups (or so) of cheese, shredded or crumbled accordingly      (I used a pretty dynamite combo of old cheddar, goat cheese, and blue cheese - my Mom says that blue cheese is one you don't want to leave out, and I wholeheartedly agree)
500 grams (or about half a regular-sized bag) of pasta      (so, traditionally one would go with elbow macaroni, but I saw the little baby seashells you see in the photo above and I couldn't resist. The key is to go with a pasta shape that has a few nooks and crannies for the sauce to slide into)
3 large tomatoes, sliced thickly
1/4 cup or so of breadcrumbs    (I always use panko now, which is a traditional Japanese style of breadcrumb - it's a bit less pulverized than typical 'Italian' breadcrumbs, and therefore has a bit more heft, while still being delicate and getting nice and crunchy when given the opportunity to broil)


First things first, put a pot of water, heavily salted, on to boil. When it comes to a rolling boil, add in the pasta of your choosing and cook until it's just about done, but not totally done.  It will continue to cook once it gets mixed up in the cheese sauce and goes into the oven. Speaking of ovens, preheat yours to 350 degrees Farenheit.

So, the butter, flour, and milk are all going to get together to make a roux. This is the white, binding sauce that often shows up in mac n' cheese, and some lasagnas. Melt the butter in a big enough pot that will hold the roux, the cheese, and the pasta once it's ready. Once the butter is melted, add in 1 tablespoon of flour, and whisk it in.  Do your best to avoid lumps. And by 'do your best to avoid lumps' I mean, really, you don't want lumps.  Once you've got the first bit of flour incorporated, add in your second tablespoon and keep whisking away.

Serious whisking action.
The photo at right shows some serious whisking action. Once the flour is all incorporated, start by adding in about a cup of milk, and continue whisking. Add milk until you get a consistency that coats the back of a wooden spoon, but is still nice and loose, about 2 cups. Add in all of the cheese, and stir it up well. At this point, you have cheese sauce - which could also be ladled over broccoli or cauliflower, and so on. A multi-purpose recipe! So, drain your pasta, and add the pasta into the pot with the cheese sauce mixing everything up together.

Now, the layering. I used a cast iron pan (which I am obsessed with, they're just so hefty and powerful feeling), and put a layer of the pasta and cheese mix in first, then a layer of sliced tomatoes, then another layer of the rest of the pasta, then the rest of the sliced tomatoes. I had a bit of extra sauce, so I poured some on top (which was not really a show of restraint, but whatevah), and then sprinkled the panko on top of the whole shebang.  I popped it into my handily pre-heated oven for about a half an hour, and then I broiled it for about 5 minutes to brown the top. So, so good. This recipe would serve between 4 to 6 people.

Happy birthday Mom. You are, in my humble opinion, simply the best broad in the whole wide world.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Collard Greens: A Side To Soak Up Some Good Ol' Southern Grease

I catered a party on Friday night, for the first time evah. It was a sit-down dinner for a friend and some of her work colleagues, and she wanted it to be a southern barbecue theme. I cooked up some pulled pork with a coffee chipotle rub and a tangy, tomato-based barbecue sauce, and some barbecued chicken with a marinating and basting sauce of, well, a shitload of butter, Worchestershire sauce, and lemon juice. I also did a vinaigrette-based potato salad, a creamier coleslaw, biscuits, hush puppies, and, wait for it, one green dish, the collards. To finish, I made some pecan brownies and the BEST brittle ever, Dr. Pepper peanut brittle. Oh my God, it was kill-ER. That one was definitely blog-worthy, but I'm going to wait until a nice, cooler day to make it again. I cooked the brittle last Thursday. Do you remember last Thursday? When it was so ridonculously hot that the sweat produced by getting up from the couch to get a glass of water required a cold shower rinse-off? Do you realize that I was standing over a pot of boiling sugar and butter with a candy thermometer on that Hades-like day?

Oh, the sacrifice!

Collard greens, pre-living daylights being cooked out of them.
Anyway, the greens. I've cooked collard greens a few times before, but I liked these the best. I'm pretty sure it's because I cooked the living daylights out of them, but no matter, it worked. They were a really wicked complement to the rest of the dinner, and I almost put the leftovers into my purse (in a container, obviously) when I left the party. But I checked myself, as I thought professional, seasoned caterers, such as myself, aren't supposed to take the leftovers back to their place.

Oh, the restraint!

Braised Collard Greens with Celery

1 big bunch of collard greens, tough stems removed and leaves sliced finely into ribbons   (this exact dish could also be made with kale, or chard, or even mustard greens - you might think spinach would also work, but it just won't - you really want to cook this for a while, and spinach will just not last that long - you could do a modified, quick saute with the same ingredients save for the chicken stock, but I'd leave the braising for the sturdier greens. Just, if I were you.)
1 large onion, sliced finely
3 cloves of garlic, minced
5 celery stalks, sliced finely on the diagonal     (I added the celery as a means of bulking up what I thought wouldn't be enough greens to feed everyone, but it ended up tasting really good, so I think you should do it too)
2 cups-ish of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
A pat of butter or other neutral oil - I used soya    (you could also just use olive oil if it's what you have hanging about)

Saute the onion in the butter or oil, for a fairly long while. About 20 or 30 minutes, over medium heat, should do it. You're basically caramelizing the onion, to add a really robust first layer of flavour. Then add in your garlic, and saute it with the onions for about a minute or two. Toss in the ribboned collard greens, and the thinly sliced celery. Give it a good shake in the pan, and then add in about a cup of chicken stock. You want there to be a nice amount of liquid, this will really bump up the flavour and also make for almost a creamy consistency once it's finished. I cooked these for probably about two hours, over medium-low heat, adding more chicken stock as necessary. By the end, you don't want too much liquid left, but give them lots of time in lots of stock, and they'll get extremely delicious, trust. It takes a bit of time, but it's a low-maintenance dish. You don't have to stand over the stove the whole time, by any means.

Collards and celery, bathing together in stock. Ew, that sounds gross.
A lot of people toss in some kind of animal action to their collards:  ham, bacon, pancetta, smoked turkey. Feel free to do that here. I exercised restraint again here (amazing!) and just let the vegetables do the talking. There was more than enough lily-gilding in this particular meal. 

This will serve about 5 or 6 people as a side dish. If you're like me and you serve a zillion sides, it'll serve even more. Also, I forgot to take a picture of the finished bowl of collards, likely due to the fact that I was in a panicked state trying to figure out how to tell if a hush puppy was done or not and fending off hot oil splatters. But the dinner was a total success!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Orzo Salad: Mildly Greek, Strongly Delicious

I'm not a huge fan of pasta salad. And I'm about to say something even more controversial here:  I'm not a huge fan of pasta, period. I know, that's crazy talk to a lot of people. But here's the thing - I always want more sauce, or more of what's on the pasta, than I want the pasta itself. Same with pizza. More toppings, less dough. Mind you, I've never made pasta from scratch, which I know makes a huge difference, and I have had some pretty ridiculously tasty pasta dishes in restaurants (I'm thinking of a major splurge at a place on College, involving gnocchi and lobster and probably 1.5 pounds of butter.  Now that.  That I would eat again). Also, I wasn't born in Italy, so maybe I just don't get it. Shocking, I know, what with all the freckles and fair skin.

Having said all that, I have a bit of a thing for orzo, the little rice-shaped beads of pasta. Orzo is cute-looking, cooks in no time, and really works well with others. And it makes for a really delicious, fresh salad when paired with some roasted vegetables, feta and olives.

I forgot to add the fresh basil prior to consumption. So sue me.

Do not leave me alone with this pan of vegetables.
As an aside, I eat roasted vegetables like candy. Not to be all holier than thou, because I also eat actual candy like candy (and potato chips? Shut the door), but I seriously can knock back vegetables, especially those that are a touch caramelized, and salted and peppered assertively, like it's going out of style.

Orzo Salad with Feta and Olives

A panful of roasted vegetables - I chopped up (in big chunks) half a big zucchini, a yellow pepper, a handful of mushrooms, and some green onions cut in 2-inch or so lengths     (you could also use eggplant, any other kind of pepper, red or white onion, any kind of squash, tomatoes - roasted tomatoes are crazy delicious, asparagus, the list goes on)
olive oil and salt and pepper to coat vegetables
1 cup of shelled, cooked edamame beans
1 cup of orzo
1/2 cup of crumbled feta
a handful of pitted black olives, chopped up a bit, optional
1/2 can of chopped artichoke hearts
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp or so of white balsamic vinegar (or apple cider, or regular balsamic)
juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Plop your chopped vegetables onto a sheet pan, and toss with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper. The best instrument for this is your very clean hands. Put the oiled, salted and peppered pan of veg in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or so, shaking them up once or twice during cooking.

In the meantime, briefly cook your shelled edamame beans in boiling water. Drain and reserve. Use the same pot and put your water on to cook the orzo. Once it's come to a rolling boil, put a good whack of salt in the water. The water should taste salty. This is your one chance to actually season the pasta itself, so don't miss out on this fantastic opportunity. Cook the orzo for about 8 to 10 minutes, tasting as you go. Once it's ready, strain it and place in a big bowl, and add the edamame.

The edamame aspect is definitely the least Greek thing
happening here.
Once the vegetables are ready, place them in the same bowl as the orzo and edamame. Throw in the pitted, roughly chopped olives, the feta, and the artichoke hearts. Taste it at this point. It might be olive oil-y enough for you, in which case feel no obligation to add more, but do what you feel. Add your vinegar as well, and add salt and pepper to your taste. Squeeze your lemon juice over the whole shebang, and mix it up well. Serve with fresh basil on top.

Makes about 4 servings. This salad keeps really well and is a perfect lunchable.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Gussied up Gazpacho: A Delicious Cold Soup, If Cold Soup Doesn't Weird You Out.

So, this isn't really a recipe, so much as it is an enhancement of a purchased product. Let me explain.  Cooking in the summer heat can be excruciatingly painful. Especially if you're like me and don't have that newfangled contraption they call "air conditioning". Hot times means cutting corners in the kitchen, sometimes...and this little ditty is definitely a corner-cutter.

(As I'm writing this I'm almost embarrassed that I'm putting it up here...)

Listen. Buy yourself a jar of pre-made gazpacho. I like Sunflower Kitchen. Pour it into a large bowl. Dice up a yellow pepper, half an english cucumber, a tomato (don't worry about seeding or peeling), and an avocado. Thinly slice a green onion. Chop up a whole whack of basil leaves. Add all these ingredients into your bowl with the gazpacho. Stir it all up well, and add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Put it in the fridge, and really chill the shit out of it. Like, it will taste so much better super cold than it will taste medium cold. And if cold soup does indeed weird you out, feel free to wait patiently for the next delicious recipe I put up here.

Many corners were cut in the making of this soup.
If you are so inclined, before serving add in some cooled, cooked shrimp. You could also throw in some corn (fresh or canned). It is the ultimate thing to make when you decide to have people over for dinner on a blistering hot workday at the last minute. It's super refreshing and easy as pie. Although that saying never made sense to me. Pie is quite hard to make.

This "recipe" makes about four hearty servings.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Avocado and Chorizo Dip: This Dip Will Win You Friends.

That is, if you're in the business of winning friends.

This dip requires very little exposition:  it's just really good, everyone likes it, I make it constantly, and it's been on repeat on my playlist for years and years. It's rich but bright tasting, and the chorizo lends a wicked smoky kick to what is otherwise a riff on guacamole. It's the kind of thing that people take a bite of and then stop the conversation to figure out what in god's name (should I be capitalizing the 'G'?) the delicious dip is.

Just what in God's name is in this dip? See below.
Avocado and Chorizo Dip

one link of chorizo sausage, diced
2 avocadoes, diced
1 large tomato, seeded and diced       (seeding sounds more complicated than it is, and it's also necessary to do because otherwise the dip will get too liquidy...I just chop up the tomato into quarters, or eighths if it's quite big, and scoop out the seeds in the middle with my impeccably clean fingers, usually into the sink)
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
1/4 cup of diced red onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper or green chile, minced, or add some dashes of hot sauce to taste
2 tbsp of red wine vinegar      (you can also use balsamic vinegar in place of the red wine if that's what's hanging around your place)
Juice of 1 big lime     (add more if you think the dip needs more zing)
A good glug of olive oil
Salt to taste

Dip being scooped by freckled hand, from bowl resting on wrinkled sarong
that I use for a tablecloth when I want to get fancy. Like, really fancy.
Preheat the oven to broil, and place the diced chorizo in a single layer on a sheet pan. Run it under the broiler for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes, until it gets browned and crispy. Remove from the pan and place it on a plate lined with paper towels. Blot the chorizo with the paper towel to remove the excess grease.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the avocado, tomato, cilantro, red onion, garlic, jalapeno or chile pepper, vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and salt to taste. Be gentle with the mixture, as you want to maintain the nice dice on the avocado without mushing it up.

Add in the blotted, crispy, delicious chorizo that you have already eaten a significant amount of, and mix that in. This is best after sitting at room temperature for about a half an hour, to give the flavours a chance to mingle. Serve with tortilla chips. Makes a bowl that will serve about 4 as a snack or hors d'oeuvres. And if you double the recipe, nothing bad will happen.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Nicoise Salad: Get Your Ahi On.

This is a true showstopper of a meal, perfect for a summer evening. There are two keys to this meal, that cannot be compromised.  The first is the ahi tuna, also referred to as sushi-grade. Meaning it's the good stuff. You can buy it from the fishmonger (and the guy who sold me this fish was so adorably earnest and sooooo into fish it almost made me emotional) and eat it right out of your hands, raw as anything, if you wish. But that creates kind of a grotesque image. My point is you can't cheap out here, if you want to do something a bit fantastic. Having said that, this salad will totally work with a good quality canned tuna, preferably the kind packed in olive oil...it just won't be as good as with the fresh stuff. It'll be something different.

The second key to success in this endeavour is you need to get yourself a really big, shallow platter. It's truly a beautiful salad, and you need something nice to serve it on. I purchased my big blue platter at a specialty store near my house, called Dollarama. It was a dollar. It's plastic. But it's perfect for this. Have you ever been to the Dollarama at Queen and O'hara, in Parkdale? It kicks ass. It's pretty much where all my dishes are from. No joke.

Salad ingredients, getting ready for their big debut.
The big debut.
Okay, so there's a bit of a splurge on the tuna. But you won't actually need that much, because you slice the tuna quite thin and you can stretch it. Plus, there is a lot going on in this salad, including other substantial ingredients like potatoes and hard-boiled eggs. I used just over a pound of tuna for 3 people, and I had another full serving (at least) left over. So a pound for four people will be perfect, certainly.

Instead of using anchovies directly in the salad, I put a significant hit of anchovy paste in the dressing. If you have good anchovies by all means use them. I just wasn't sure if all my dinner guests would be down, so I snuck in that flavour via the dressing.
The other most excellent part of this dish, besides its killer flavour, is you can make all of the components ahead of time, so all you have to do once guests arrive is sear the tuna, which takes about five minutes, max.

Nicoise Salad

1 pound of ahi tuna
1 tbsp of oil, for frying tuna     (don't use olive oil for this, stick with canola, or soya, or even peanut would probably be a good option)
1 pound of small new potatoes, or cut up large new potatoes, red or white
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced into quarters       (I hard-boil my eggs in the following fashion:  place eggs in cold water, turn the heat up to max, let them boil at full throttle for a minute or two, and then take them off the heat - leave them in that water, with a lid on the pot, for about 20 minutes - presto, perfect hard-boiled eggs with little fuss and no gross grey ring around the yolk that you get when you boil them too long)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 handfuls of snap peas, or asparagus, or green beans, cooked briefly      (cook them for only a couple of minutes, and then pull them off the heat and either run cold water over them or place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the vibrant green colour)
2 handfuls of olives of your choosing - black are more traditional, but who cares, use what kind you like
Arugula to lay everything on top of, and also to eat
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:
juice of 1 lemon     (don't be weird and use the lemon juice from a bottle - just...don't)
1 tsp of dijon mustard
2 tbsp of chives, snipped or minced finely     (measuring chives seems ridiculous, just put a good palmful in there)
1-2 tbsp of anchovy paste     (this is an awesome ingredient, and provides body and a certain salty je ne sais quoi - oy - to dressings, don't be afraid to use a fairly heavy hand with it - I promise you it will not taste fishy in any way)
4-5 tbsp of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

To assemble the salad, lay the arugula down on your platter. As you can see from the photo, I tried to get a bit creative in the presentation, and I think, frankly, I did a pretty great job. I just sort of went around the perimeter of the platter and placed half of each ingredient across the platter from each other, saving the middle for the tuna, who should not share centre stage.

To sear the tuna, take it out of the fridge about 15 minutes before go time, to let it warm up a bit. A cast iron pan is ideal for this but not necessary. Heat up the oil on max heat, and wait until the oil is hot hot hot before you put that tuna in there. The point is to get a really nice sear, and you can't do that if you jump the gun and put the tuna in a medium-hot pan. Salt and pepper both sides of your tuna. Once it's in the pan, leave it be for about three minutes or so. I think an overcooked piece of tuna is a heinous thing, so really watch your timing here. Flip her over, and leave it for another two minutes, max. Take it off the heat, wait a few minutes, and slice her up thinly. It should be bright pink and basically raw in the middle, with a nice sear on both sides.

To make the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small jar and shake it up. Then, and this is an important, often ignored step, taste it. It's really quite amazing what you can learn if you just taste things! Add more lemon if it needs brightening, more anchovy paste if you want the flavour to be deeper, more oil if it needs to loosen up a bit.

Lay your tuna on the arugula in the middle of the platter, and pour the dressing over the tuna and all of the other ingredients. Provide a pair of tongs, and let the guests serve themselves. This is really a stunner, and so low-maintenance if you have some peeps over.

Seriously, how hot does that tuna look.