August 25, 2010

Abra cadabra, hey pesto!

You know I made that rosemary pesto a while ago, yeah? It was good, but holy crap powerful.

Fortunately, my 2010 herb garden also features a couple of robustly healthy basil plants who have been enjoying our lovely hot dry July and August. And basil + pine nuts + parmesan cheese + garlic = pesto.

And Rouxbe has this rockin' recipe for pesto, and the video that goes with it (which I think you have to be a member to watch the whole thing) shows two ways of making it: by hand, and in a food processor.

I made it by hand, with my mezzaluna knife, to get the flavour layering promised in the video. And you know what? I got it. It tastes extraordinary.

I used two cloves of garlic, and asiago instead of pecorino and parmigiana-reggiano, because that's what I had on had. But otherwise I followed the recipe.

I may never buy commercially prepared pesto ever again. And I'm going to need lots more basil plants next summer. Lots more.

July 29, 2010

Gordon Ramsay

Not from my collection!
Since it seems I'm going to be subjected to yet another iteration of Gordon Ramsay bitching people out about food, I thought I'd put a few thoughts about him and his shows down on paper. Er... electrons.

My introduction to Chef Ramsay (whom I'm going to call Gordon, because it's my blog and I can) was on the UK version of Kitchen Nightmares. It was an interesting peek into the world of food-and-beverage, the simple and yet complex business of running a restaurant in the face of economic realities, food trends and fashion, and the changing face of the British dining-out culture. It was a reality check, and one that many of the restaurant owners desperately needed. It very ably illustrated some basic rules of restaurateuring: have a vision, and stick with it; keep up with trends and fashions, lest you stagnate; use the best, freshest ingredients, and forge relationships with the people who provide them. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who can compensate for your lack of expertise; if you're a chef, do the cooking and let someone else manage front of house; if you're not a cook, stay out of the kitchen. Have a clear structure of command. Consider what message it sends to let the staff drink in the bar after their shift or on their days off.

So many lessons, for both the restaurateurs and the viewers. But what was really remarkable about that show was that it came across very clearly that Gordon cared about the restaurants he was trying to save, about their owners, about their staff. Having had one of his own restaurants fail, he was well able to spot where people were going wrong, and - more importantly - suggest simple, workable ways to turn those things around. Whittle the menu down to something manageable, get rid of the bought-in menu items, use cheaper ingredients to reduce food costs while still making them into something delicious and remarkable, fire the incompetent/indifferent/unskilled chef and hire a good one, train kitchen and/or front of house staff properly, get rid of the 1970's decor along with the 1970's menu items, find something you're good at and make that a feature. Many of the owners Gordon worked with were in debt up to their ears and facing bankruptcy if they couldn't figure a way to turn business around, and Gordon knew what that was like. So he cared. He wanted to help them get back on their feet, to make a go of a business they'd poured their heart and soul into, and he was prepared to do anything to make that happen, including making people angry and making them cry if that's what it took to make them see the light. He insulted their food, he criticised their business practices. He even swore sometimes.

But only sometimes. No, really. Only sometimes. And, memorably, when one of the lady owners objected ("there's no need for that sort of language, Gordon!"), he changed his tack.

And the show was such a success that what could be more natural but that he should do Kitchen Nightmares in the USA? And since it's America, and everyone knows Americans like their reality television confrontatational, loud, and belligerent, the participants, in addition to having failing restaurants, were also arrogant and argumentative, bellicose with Gordon, and generating a truly dysfunctional dynamic among the staff and - sometimes - the patrons. Thus, only the Sweary Gordon would do, because the only way to act and react to the participants was with colourful abuse. He may have singlehandedly popularized the word "wanker" in the USA (though I don't know that it's actually popular, but a heck of a lot more Americans know what it means, now).

And then, what to my horrified eyes should appear, but Hell's Kitchen, in which would-be-professional-chefs subject themselves to forced infighting and systematic and ritualistic humiliation, as a short-cut to an executive chef post at a Desirable Restaurant somewhere in the world. Sweary Gordon is in sweary evidence and swears like a cranky, gratuitously sweary thing. When a team wins a challenge, and the reward is spending a day hanging with Chef Ramsay, they invariably remark that they didn't realize he could be so much fun, so relaxed, so different, outside the kitchen. And I invariably roll my eyes and think "it's his television face, you idiots", because nobody in the world could be such a prick as the Sweary Gordon, all the time, and still be (a) married, (b) in business, or (c) alive, given how many people around him carry sharp pointy objects around as part of their work.

Personally, I don't much care for reality TV of the competitive variety; I don't care to watch people have hissy fits at each other, all in the name of winning lots of money or prestige. And thus, I don't much care for Hell's Kitchen. However, Gordon Ramsay is an ex-schoolmate of my Beloved's (they weren't close, and aren't in touch), and thus anything Gordon gets a chance in our house. (We don't have any of his kitchenware, though. And one look at his cookbook had me backing away: too complex, too pretentious, too reliant on obscure ingredients, to be really enjoyable for someone like me.)

And thus we come to MasterChef USA, in which passionate amateur chefs compete to be the first American Master Chef (a title whose significance, purpose, and cachet I am unclear on as yet). The first show aired on Tuesday, and we're still at the 'audition' stage, in which those who made it through the first round (video audition, presumably), show up and make their specialty dish for the panel of three judges, who taste and then either award them the symbolic apron - the cooking equivalent to Idol's ticket to Hollywood - or destroy both the dish and its cook's dreams with a few well-chosen words. ("I encourage you to continue to date chefs, because you're never going to be one" was among the most searing dismissals from this week, but I'm sure the guy who opened the show by making Beer Cheese soup was also shattered to hear Gordon say "that has to be the most disgusting soup I ever tasted in my life".)

So far my money is on the female physician whose inspiration and talisman is her mother's book of family recipes, and the young father who had to put his dreams of culinary school on hold in order to provide for his family. Oh, and the Korean guy who, according to Gordon, "moves like a chef, and cooks like one too". They are my front runners.

I hope they have Mentor Gordon on tap for this show. I don't think I can stand much more of Gratuitously Sweary Gordon.

July 21, 2010

Grass-fed beef

Look at those t-bones!We ate the first of our organic, grass-fed beef tonight. T-bone steak. Grilled. With grilled asparagus. And salad.

Thawed the steaks in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Air-dried overnight. Seasoned with salt and pepper only. Grilled to rare, and served with aforementioned sides.

The beef was tender, juicy, and both more intensely and more delicately flavoured, if that makes sense. (The intensity might be because of the meat being on the bone; we usually eat boneless steaks, and it's been yonks since I ate a T-bone.) The sirloin side of the steak was delicious and tender and flavoursome and wonderful. And the tenderloin side was like a little slice of heaven.

Big steak? Or small plate.Grass-fed beef. A bargain at $6 per pound, for the variety we got. And oh, so worth it.

Also, grilled asparagus? Best ever way to eat asparagus.

On a related note, but not to do with this evening's meal, grilled pineapple actually is a little slice of heaven. Cut the top and bottom off a whole fresh pineapple. Take the outer layer off so that there are no brown bits in the flesh. Slice into 1-inch thick slabs. Season with a little salt and pepper if desired (no, really). Grill until just juicy and tender. Let cool, and then cut into chunks, being sure to discard the hard core. While still warm, top with a bit of good quality vanilla ice cream (or similar), and enjoy.

July 18, 2010

The Joy of Herbs

Grow Your Own Garnish!I may have mentioned that I have a little bit of a herb garden on my deck. I've already made rosemary pesto from one of my pots, and we've have numerous salads from our tiny lettuce garden. Haven't come up with anything yet for the fresh oregano, but I'm sure I will. And it hasn't really produced much yet, either, so I'm content to wait until it does.

The basil plants have recovered from their neglected early days and are now robustly green and healthy, which is all the invitation I need, really. Had some bocconcini in the fridge, so got a few grape tomatoes to go with, chiffonaded some of my lovely basil leaves, drizzled olive oil and balsamic vinegar over top, and seasoned with the trusty ol' S&P. Voila, Caprese salad, after a fashion.

The most impressive plants at the moment, though, are the mint ones. I have one from last year and one from this year (because I forgot about the one from last year), and just in the last week or two the sun has finally come out, it's been hot and summery, and the mint has exploded in joyous celebration. And because they're spearmint, they're perfect for mojitos. So that's what we did tonight. Pitchers of mojitos. I won't post the recipe because the one I followed was for drinks by the glass, so we faked it, and also the internets are groaning under the weight of all the different mojito recipes out there.

They do all have the same basics, though: rum (golden or white), fresh lime juice, sugar syrup, mint, muddled in a glass, topped up with ice and then club soda, and a straw if you're the kind of person who has straws at home.

Yes, you can buy basil and mint - and everything else - at the store, but it's sure nice not to have to.

July 11, 2010

Success: Creole Potato Salad

This potato salad involved a lot of chopping, and thus gives a novice chef plenty of opportunity to practice her knife skills on potatoes, onions, celery, peppers and eggs. One of the earliest lessons at Rouxbe Online Video Cooking School is on knife skills, and the words that stuck with me from that one are to the effect that, when your knife is in motion, you need to keep your eyes on the area between your knuckles (never fingertips) and the blade of your knife. And indeed, you look away at your peril, as I reminded myself today.  Ow ow ow friggin' ow.

'Nuff said. On to the recipe. I had new potatoes hanging about, so decided to make a potato salad because I haven't made one in forever. And I don't think I've ever made one with new potatoes. New red potatoes, no less, because red potatoes are my favourite. The picture? Oh, the picture is of IKEA's Charm egg slicer, which enabled me to chop the egg for my salad, without actually needing a knife. Charm, indeed. I'm very glad I spent that $1.99.

Creole Potato Salad

This is a great make-ahead salad, as extra time chilling in the refrigerator helps the flavors sink into the potatoes. (From Simply Recipes)


  • 2 pounds Yukon gold or new potatoes, scrubbed clean (peel on or off, your choice), cut in 1 to 2-inch chunks
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup Creole mustard
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (less or more to taste)
  • Salt
  • Cajun seasoning, for garnish


  1. Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with cold water by an inch. (If you haven't already hard boiled the eggs, you can boil the eggs with the potatoes.) Bring to a boil and add about a teaspoon of salt. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes. Drain in a colander.
  2. While you are boiling the potatoes, mix the sugar, vinegar, mayonnaise and mustard in with the celery, peppers and onion in a large bowl.
  3. While the potatoes are still warm, gently mix them in with the dressing. Stirring them in while warm will allow the potatoes to soak in the seasonings better.
  4. Gently fold the chopped hard boiled eggs into the potato mixture until well combined. Taste the potato salad and add salt to taste. Put the salad in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.
Serve chilled, garnished with paprika or Cajun seasoning.

Serves 6-8.

If you don't have creole mustard (as I didn't), you can make your own. The internets have several recipes for this. I chose this one for its brevity. Link

Creole Mustard

6 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce or hot sauce

Mix all together.  Yields 1/4 cup.

(Though come to think of it, I used regular yellow mustard, not Dijon. Must change that for next time.) This makes a boatload of dressing, let me say, and I worried that it would be too much. And it might have been, but then again, I had slightly less than two full pounds of spuds by the time I'd washed and trimmed 'em, so maybe that made a difference. However, the hot potatoes do in fact absorb the dressing, and it was a heck of a lot less gloopy after an hour or two in the fridge than it was when it went in.  And I didn't have any Cajun seasoning, so had to settle for Tex-Mex, but I'm not sure it makes any difference; you don't use that much of it.

I call this one a success because S liked it. And so did I. Also, it makes a LOT if there's just two of you, so I've got a lot of leftovers. Think I'll take them to work, to share, because much as I like it, I'll weary of it before I can finish all that.

July 9, 2010

I'm a Culinary Student now!

I did it. I enrolled in culinary school. Quit my job, reconciled my husband to the temporary loss of income, and committed the next two years of my life to becoming a professional chef.

Okay, not really. But I did buy a year's membership to the Rouxbe Online Video Cooking School. My 14-day free trial ended today, and in the last two weeks, I have viewed 67% of the online video cooking lessons, achieved an average 95% on the related quizzes, and learned absolutely heaps, starting with how to test a pan for appropriate heat before adding either oil or food, to how to choose and hone knives, to how to use those knives to cut absolutely anything, safely. Food safety, how to cook eggs, steaks, poultry, vegetables. How to steam, how to pan-fry, how to braise, how to roast. How to make stock and broth, and what is the difference between the two, anyway (stock is made from bones; broth is made from meat on the bone).

It's fascinating. And really inspiring. I have hardly had any occasion to use any of the stuff I've learned, yet (except for last weekend's direct application of the technique on "How to Segment Citrus Fruit"), but I have learned heaps, and I'm quite excited to start trying some stuff. My Beloved is going to some NHRA event in Seattle on Sunday, so I'm hoping to be trying my hand at some bread, if it's not too hot out to have the oven on. 

July 4, 2010

Experimenting: It's what's for dinner!

There are a few recipes the Beloved and I have been antsy to try, and this weekend - well, today - was our chance! Our football team was playing an away game today, so we had our football friends D&D over for a barbecue. And, like my mother always does, I pulled out the "try ASAP" file and plucked out a few recipes. (What? Doesn't everyone experiment on company? Why else have anyone over?)

Full story and a couple of pictures after the jump.

June 30, 2010

Cooking is Fun-damental

Yon Saucy Wench's comment to my last post, to the effect that "what's key with cooking... is to play around, have fun, and figure out what works for you" flicked on a light bulb for me. It made me realize that, though I have had enjoyable cooking experiences, the words 'cooking' and 'fun' aren't an immediate association in my brain. I know plenty of people who love to cook, but I've never been one of them. The world - heck, the television - is full of people who are passionate about food, about cooking, but I've never been one of them, either.

And yet I love to eat, and I love good food. So why should I be less than enthusiastic about cooking? Where did that come from? Full navel-gazing after the jump. :)

June 27, 2010

Culinary School - Your Way

This newfound interest of mine, in food and cooking, has brought me up short on a couple of occasions. The more I learn, it seems, the more I realize I have to learn. I thought I'd learned most of the basics from my mom, my friends, and in school, but with the preponderance of cooking shows and websites, I realize that, although I know a good deal more than some people, I know a good deal less than I'd like to.

This video, for instance - Gordon Ramsay making perfect scrambled eggs - was an absolute revelation.

I've made those scrambled eggs on several occasions now, for different people, and they get rave reviews every time. Who knew it could be so easy? I'd been doing pretty much everything wrong up to that point: blending the eggs, adding milk and salt and pepper and cheese and goodness knows what else before cooking, using too-high heat, cooking the eggs too fast... you name it, I did it wrong. And I was never happy with my scrammelacks, as my dad calls them.

I have good quality knives, cutting boards, appliances, and cookware, but without the knowledge and skills to back it up, it all feels like so much window dressing, akin to having good quality skis and poles and boots and a matching ski suit, before you've even taken a lesson: unnecessary and possibly a bit pretentious. I don't want to be a professional chef, but I sure would like to know what they know, cook like they cook, with confidence and creativity. I don't have the time, the money, the passion, to go to culinary school, so some other strategy is clearly required.

Reading cooking and foodie blogs has taught me a bit. (Serious Eats has a series of how-to's and knife skills that have helped.) Cooking shows help, too, though some of them are more focused on what not to do than what to do. The How to Cook Everything app for iPhone is also wicked cool.

But the most helpful thing I've found thus far? Online Video Cooking School. I found a link and a video on one of the blogs I read included a reference and a link to's lesson on how to heat a stainless steel pan properly to ensure the food doesn't stick, and a commenter mentioned that the whole (subscription only) site is amazing useful and worth the subscription fee, so I had a look. And then I signed up for the 14-day free trial. And I've been absorbing the lessons - on eggs, on bread, on equipment - all weekend. The bread one was so inspiring I actually bought yeast and bread flour today, with the intention of trying my hand at baguettes. There are more than 60 lessons, plus practice recipes and video recipes. The videos are compatible with iPad and iPhone, which is nice for those of us who commute from time to time.

I'm quite impressed, and considering buying a subscription when my free trial expires in 12 more days.

June 23, 2010

It's here! And it fits. Phew.

Freezer BeforeHere's how my freezer looked last night, after I did a hasty review and rearrangement of the contents ("Coffee? What's this doing in here? Rossana would be horrified! Oh, man, did you know we had all these burgers? Good thing we have all these burger buns, too! And wow, we need to eat this shrimp at some point..."). This was necessary because I got an email advising that my Freezer Pack was available for pickup. I confess to being concerned about the amount of available space, because that there doesn't look like much, and the door was already pretty full. Still, deep breath.

30 lbs of beefSo today after work, I went to pick it up. And it's a doddle! The farmer asked me if I needed any help getting this to my car, but heck, I swing heavier weights than this around at the gym. (Well, OK, I don't swing the 40 lb kettlebell. But I do lift it!) And looking at this, I was pretty sure it would fit in the available freezer space.

Roasts and SteaksGot it home, and broke into the package, and here's what I got:
  • 2 x Top Round Roast
  • 1 x Bottom Round Roast
  • 1 x Chuck Steak Roast
  • 1 x Sirloin Tip Steak Roast
  • 2 x T-bone Steaks
  • 2 x Rib Steaks
  • 1 x Sirloin Steak
  • 2 x Stewing Beef (approx 1 lb)
  • 9 x Ground Beef (approx 1 lb)
Stewing beef and ground beefI weighed it all and wrote the weights on, because that's the only thing the butcher didn't think to do (and wrote it in both pounds and kilos, because I'm Canadian and that's how we roll), and took photos, and then stuffed it all into the freezer. And it all fit, as you see.

Freezer AfterYay! We have a fair amount of beef (and other things) that needs to be eaten before we get into these butcher-paper packages. I'm told - by someone whose brother used to raise beef cows - that organic beef has a stronger taste than commercially-produced beef. I'll be sure to let you know.

Where's the Beef?

My beef is ready. The 30 pounds of roasts, steaks, cubed, and minced beef I ordered in April is now ready for pickup. I have to pick it up today, after work.

I let my beloved talk me out of buying a chest freezer to accommodate this purchase. I hope I don't live to regret that. We haven't eaten nearly as much of our fridge contents as we intended, over the last couple of months. The weather has been crappy, so grillin' hasn't been on the agenda pretty much at all, which hasn't helped. There is space in the freezer, yes there is. I'm just not sure there's 30 lbs of space.

Time to start planning some more meals. Must call the beloved, tell him to defrost some chicken for tonight. Tandoori chicken on the grill. Yummeroo.

June 1, 2010


Isn't it crazy, the things that prompt us to do other things? Here's today's for-instance: last night we had chili for dinner (we're eating from our freezer! Yay for us!), and I made Baking Powder Biscuits to go along with them. The baking powder lives in the "baking supplies" basket in the pantry, and to get to it I had to dig down to the bottom, past vanilla extract (of which I have a lot, for someone who doesn't bake) and food colouring (ditto) and two boxes of paper baking cups, of muffin/cupcake size, and one box of the mini size. What I thought I was going to do with the latter, I have no idea, and I'm almost ashamed to admit that I'm not quite sure how long I've had any of them.

"I should use these," I said to my Beloved. "Do you like muffins?" (Fifteen years together and I still don't know this. Every day is a fresh adventure.)

"I like savoury ones. Cheese, cornbread, that kind of thing," he said, to my complete unsurprise.

So I think I'm going to try these on him, but I was wondering if you had any savoury muffin recipes to share. Especially a good one for cornbread muffins, 'cos we still have another container of chili in the freezer.

May 27, 2010

Cheese, please!

This is what reading foodie blogs does, you see; it points up your every ignorance and inadequacy in all things kitcheny. At first, I lapped up the tips and tricks and knife skills demonstrations along with the recipes - that's the stuff I came for, after all. But this last week has been full of food-storage revelations.

First there was that clear-out of the pantry cupboard that unearthed canned goods that were on the Ark.

And then I learned that I had been storing my potatoes and onions wrong. All my adult life.

And then yesterday I learned that I'm storing my cheese wrong, too. Mind you, so is everyone else I know. And everyone I buy it from. But, dude. There's a special paper for cheese storage. Who knew? I've only ever seen paper-wrapped cheese in specialty cheese shops. In England. Where apparently they have a better class of cheese-eater.

May 24, 2010

In this corner...!

Did you know you're not supposed to store your potatoes and onions together? Neither did I! I learned that this week, from one of the food blogs I've started following. And of course I can't find the article now. Though the internet is replete with references to this very kitchen tip, so if you don't believe me, just look it up.

I told my Beloved this, and he just looked at me and said, "Why not? Do they fight?"

See why I married him?

Which makes the real story - they make each other sprout - kind of boring, really. But still true. I immediately separated my onions and my spuds, and I shall hope for unsprouted, firm spuds and tearjerkers for the rest of my life.

Lazy Long Weekend Sunday Food Activities

So, hot on the heels of yesterday's chef-guided tour of Granville Island Public Market, I was super-stoked to go to the inaugural 2010 session of the local farmer's market. I pumped up my bike tires on Saturday afternoon, put the panniers on the bike rack, and readied for adventure!

The market opened at 10 a.m., but when I showed up at about 11:00, having taken a full three or four minutes to ride there, there were a few stragglers still setting up. It started at the corner of Bayview and 7th Avenue, trickled down that block and through the parking area next to the Steveston Hotel, and up and across the footpath to the parking lot for the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site. I got through it all pretty quickly, I'm sorry to say, because in amongst the handmade jewellery, jams and jellies, coffee trucks, homemade soaps, masseurs, and artisan breads, there wasn't a lot of what I was looking for: produce. Turns out the big growers won't be there until next time, which is two weeks from now. *le sigh*

Once home again, I attacked the never-ending task that is keeping the kitchen counters clear and clean. I opened up the pantry cupboard to put the new hot sauces away, only to discover that there was no room for them on the shelf entirely dedicated to hot sauces. I brought this to Beloved's attention, and he decided to cull the hot sauces. He emptied that shelf, and I wiped it clean (let's not do things halfway, after all!). And since the shelf below - the one with all the horrible brown mucky spreads on it - was quite dirty itself, I moved those bottles to the clean, empty shelf, and wiped it off, too. And in removing the shelf to wipe it down, I discovered that something on the top shelf had expired, and leaked all down the back wall of the cupboard. (I know! Ew, right?)

On further investigation, the culprit/victim was identified as a can of artichoke hearts whose age could not be determined, due to the lack of date coding on the can. I could only say with certainty that it had been purchased some time within the last fifteen years. (And now I'm not so sure. Ew again.)

So then I had to pull all the pantry contents and remove the shelves and clean them and the back wall, before I could put them back and reload the cupboard. And while I was at it, I might as well weed out anything that we for sure were never going to eat. And I'm almost ashamed to say how many cans of food I threw out. In fact, if my pantry cupboard were not now lovely and organized and easy to find things in, I might not cop to TWENTY FOUR cans of things varying from Weight Watchers Lentil Soup to tomato sauce (which cans were bulging, and thus spat at me when pierced) to canned shrimp (which, omigosh the pong!) to canned pumpkin to vegetable curry (which had solidified because of all the potato in it).

Yes, I actually opened all these cans, dumped the contents down my garburetor (I love my garburetor), rinsed and flattened the cans, and put them in the recycling.

Beloved was aghast at the dates on some of the cans. The date on the lentil soup was 1995, which means I bought it several years before that (probably in 1991, when I was on WW). That was the big winner. Second runner up was something dated 1997, and third runner up was dated 1999. He could hardly contain his horror when, at one point, I mused that I was pretty sure I had bought a certain item after we were married. "Is that the criterion for deciding whether to keep things or not? God save me!"

Like I've ever poisoned him yet, in fifteen years of marriage. Sheesh. Ya big baby.


We are still working our way through the contents of the freezer, in preparation for getting our 30 lbs of organic beef at the end of June, and so yesterday we thawed a package of "Ground Meat for Kebabs", which was left over from a dinner last year sometime. (Shh!) It turned out to be just the meat - a mixture of ground beef, pork, and lamb - without any of the seasonings added, so my Beloved changed the game plan from Indian kebabs to Lela's Famous Burgers, based on a Google search for a recipe and an innate trust of Gordon Ramsay's cooking. (This recipe is surprisingly simple, for a Ramsay recipe, I thought. No obscure ingredients, no twelve-step cooking process to ready one ingredient, no bizarre instructions, no pretentious presentation.)

I don't know what the burgers taste like when they're plain beef, but this blend of beef, pork, and lamb was brilliant. We had grilled veggies (red and yellow peppers, green beans, white onion, celery) with it, and it was all the dinner I needed, especially after the Sausage Sampler starter. Which was really just one lamb sausage and one chorizo sausage, that we bought at Tenderland Meats on Granville Island on Saturday, with a variety of mustards and relishes. Verdict: their chorizo sausage is good, and their lamb sausage is outstanding.

May 23, 2010

Food Tourism for a Saturday Morning

Almost as soon as I joined Groupon, there was a deal on a chef-guided tour of the Granville Island Public Market. Which seemed providential, given my new interest in eating healthy, fresh, local, and organic-where-not-prohibitively-pricey food. I jumped at it, my Beloved proved surprising willing, and this weekend we redeemed those groupons and had our tour.

There's a tour every morning, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and range from a minimum of two people to a maximum of eight. Larger groups get more chef guides. We were lucky enough to get a private tour - just us and our chef guide, Rossana. Not that I don't enjoy meeting new people, but it was nice to be able to skip over the history of Granville Island and the Public Market that might have been of interest to tourists but was old news to a local like me who remembers when it opened and used to visit regularly. We also didn't have to accommodate anyone's allergies or aversions, which made Rossana's job easier and our tour very personal. Rossana was a delight; bright, personable, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic, and delighted to discover that we (a) have no allergies and (b) enjoy spice.

Lots more pictures and links after the jump. 

May 17, 2010

Success: Lentils with Garlic and Tomatoes

Having a husband who travels a lot for business means that I'm on my own for dinner a fair bit. And while cooking for two can sometimes feel like more work than I want to put out, dinner for one often feels even moreso. I have been known - rather, the Old Me has been known - to eat popcorn and pepperoni for dinner when left to my own devices.

But since I resolved to cook more of what I eat, I look upon solo dinners as opportunities to eat the things I love but don't often get for dinner when he's around. Things like broccoli, and cauliflower.

I also see them as an opportunity to experiment with things. I come by this naturally; my mother's dinner parties are all large-scale food experiments. But my Beloved is usually an unwilling participant in such things, because a single ingredient has the power to ruin everything for him, and he's highly suspicious, so is reluctant to try new things lest they contain an undetectable trace of something he definitely or possibly doesn't like. And if he's around when I'm working an unfamiliar (to him, or me, or both of us) ingredient or method, he's torn between fleeing the scene and hovering worriedly in case... well, I don't know what the "in case" is there.

I've already mentioned his aversions to certain fresh fruits and vegetables. Another thing I'm not entirely sure will really fly with him is Meatless Meals. He could have a massive feed, as at pot luck dinners, and still be unsatisfied because "there was no meat", and therefore it didn't count as dinner. I'm not even joking. This has really happened.

So, lentils. He likes pappadums, those savoury Indian lentil crackers. But beyond that, I don't know if he's ever tried them.  And so naturally I waited until he was gone, to try making them myself, from a recipe I got from my friend Kammy, who says it's a big favourite at her house.
Lentils with Garlic & Tomatoes

4 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound tomatoes (1 large or 2 smaller ones), chopped
1 cup dried lentils, picked over, washed & drained
3/4 to 1 teaspooon salt (I used sea salt)
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Heat the oil over medium flame. When hot, put in the garlic. Stir & fry until garlic browns lightly. Add tomatoes & cook for about 5 minutes or until tomatoes turn into a paste. Add lentils and 2-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat, & simmer gently for 1/2 hour. Add salt & lemon juice; stir to mix.

I found that these took nearly an hour to cook, rather than the half-hour suggested, but that may be because I turned the heat down too low to start, and then couldn't find a gentle simmer in my element's dial; the mix was either flat calm or bubbling merrily. However, bubbling merrily seems to be the right thing.

Kammy didn't mention how she serves these, though I would imagine it'd be great over rice. I had mine with toasted Naan bread that needed eating up.  Tomorrow's lunch will be the same.

For dessert, just because I bought groceries today, I had fresh (California) strawberries with a shot of Starbucks' vanilla syrup (yes, the kind for flavouring coffee), and a quenelle of thick, rich, 11% MF Greek yogurt.

And it never occurred to me to take a picture of any of it. Whoops!

May 16, 2010

New tools

No, I don't have a cookbook stand yet. However, I mentioned it to my Beloved, and he (I think) agreed to pick me up one when he's in England in September. (I'll be on a cruise to Alaska with my girlfriends from high school.)

Last weekend, we made that Indian feast, and discovered that we needed a sauté pan in a size between our go-to nonstick huge vat of a frying pan and our karahi pan. (Gratuitous images, because I can.)
So this weekend we went to our favourite kitchen shop, Gourmet Warehouse, to see what we could do about that. They were having their first annual "We Never Have a Sale Sale", so of course we could have done a lot of damage to the credit card were it not for the store being so crowded. Made it hard to get near things sometimes. But we did come away with this lovely sauté pan.
Lovely, right? I know. This means I have the right pan in which to make that risotto I'm so keen to try. :)

We also added one more decent knife to the block. Which means I can cut pretty much anything now. Fear me.

May 13, 2010

Shiny. Want.

This new resolve to cook more is making me shop more. For food, yes, but also for kitcheny things. Like, last week I had to get new canisters in which to store the lentils, couscous, and quinoa I bought. (IKEA is marvelous for these things. I love my DROPPAR series canisters. [My local IKEA has more of the line available than the website does.])

What with cooking two recipes from the same cookbook on Sunday night and wrestling to keep it out of the mess but in a readable place, and the thinkage associated with "where would I put an iPad to keep it accessible but safe while I cooked", it occurred to me that there was a single solution for both print cookbooks and iPads, and it didn't necessarily involve installing anything on anything or buying parts or assembling things. Shopping, yes. Handymanning, no.

I speak, of course, of the cookbook stand. The right cookbook stand holds your book open, holds it up off the counter so it doesn't get (terribly) wet or dirty, possibly even protects the open pages, and possibly even looks good doing it.

I've had a few of the wrong kind of cookbook stand in my life. The beanbag lap desk, for instance. Good for height and adjustability. Bad for resistance to spills of anything other than water. Thank goodness the lap desk was a fifty-cent garage sale find.

Or the acrylic cookbook stand, which turns out to be a boring old piece of impossible-to-store, too-ugly-to-display plastic whose base limits its usefulness to a limited range of cookbook sizes. It's no match for your Encyclopedia of Cooking, I can tell you firsthand. Also, you can't turn the page without taking the book out to do it. Which is OK if your whole recipe is on a single page, but not all of my cookbooks are like that. Also, if you, for instance. Forget that it's on top of your fridge because that's the only place you could find big enough to stash it, and knock it to the floor from a height of six feet? It will break. Or at least a piece will break off it. And if you store it on your fridge, you'll have to clean it every time you use it, because the plastic attracts dust like candy does fat kids.

The cookbook stand I want is the kind you could put your hardcover Joy of Cooking on and leave it there, because it's solid and strong and nice to look at. It's got a pedestal base for minimal footprint, and it elevates the cookbook at least a couple of inches off whatever surface it's on. It doesn't melt or burn, and wipes off with a damp cloth. It's made of cast iron and looks a lot like this one, from Robert The store is in Chipping Campden, the village my sister-in-law lives in, and we drop in for a drool every time we're in the UK. The Beloved is going to the UK in September; I could get him to pick one up. Except that it does weigh several pounds, and might be a strain on the luggage allowance. And, you know, it's only May right now.

I did find this one on, which is quite similar in some ways and is about two-thirds the price (allowing for the GBP/USD/CAD exchange rates, and not factoring in shipping). And it's pretty. And it has those weight things to keep the right page in the cookbook. It's not angle-adjustable like the Robert Welch, and I'm not sure how important that is.

I think either of these items would hold a single recipe card, a magazine, any softcover cookbook, pretty much any hardcover cookbook no matter how thick, and an iPad with equal flair and aplomb.

What do you use to keep your cookbooks/mags/iPad safe while you're working from a recipe? Or do you even bother?

May 12, 2010

Chocolate Cobbler?

Golly Moses, this sounds delicious! My Granny's Chocolate Cobbler, from Tasty Kitchen.

Yes, I know it doesn't quite sound "healthy". Even though the ingredients are all pretty standard kitchen staples. But I still say it sounds delish.

And it's reminding me of a long-ago dessert my mom used to make, called Half-Hour Pudding, which was also self-saucing. I might have to dig that recipe out some day. Some day when we have company over for dinner, because My Beloved is not a dessert man. (Standard response to the offer of dessert is, "I'll have a dessert beer".)

He doesn't read books, and he doesn't like dessert. Which makes him a bit of a mutant in my family. I don't think I knew either of these things before I married him, oddly.

May 11, 2010

I thought of a use for an iPad!

I've been in the "but what would I use it for?" camp since the iPad was launched earlier this year. Because I have an iPhone (on which I already read books) and I have a laptop (on which I do everything else), so... what would I use an iPad for?

And I finally thought of something. For cooking! Let me 'splain.

I have an iPhone app called "How to Cook Everything". It's an interactive cookbook thing based on the cookbook(s) of the same name by chef Mark Bittman, who I'd never heard of before My Beloved showed me this app. This app is also available for iPad.

I have begun tracking recipes that people send me or that I find online, in Evernote. Which is online and also an app for the iPhone. And iPad.

Now, an iPhone is a pretty teeny screen to be reading recipes from, especially since you need both hands for cooking and don't usually have a spare clean one for picking things up to read them. And a laptop... well, it takes up counter space, and I don't have a lot of that to spare. But an iPad... that's about the right size. And you can zoom to make the text bigger so you can read it from across the room. So all that's needed is a way of getting it up off the counter to (a) keep it out of harm's way, and (b) make it visible from a distance, and bammo, there's a fantastic application for an iPad in my house.

I was telling My Beloved this in the car this very morning. And today, on one of the cooking blogs I follow, they posted a picture of the very situation I was visualizing! Pegboard isn't my first choice, but some kind of a wall-mount situation (or even a strongly magnetic one, for use on the fridge) is pretty much what I had in mind.

So, that's one possibility for the next time I have a few hundred dollars spare. Beloved is dead keen to get one, so maybe I could try this theory out on his first. :)

May 10, 2010

Success: Beef Tenderloin with Black Cumin Curry, with Long Green Beans and New Potatoes in Mustard Seed Curry

Both of these recipes are from Vij's: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, our favourite Indian cookbook from one of the best Indian restaurants anywhere (which happens to be in Vancouver). We've made the beef tenderloin part before, but on that occasion the black cumin curry was disastrous because the very first ingredient - the black cumin seeds - were rancid. But we didn't know that until we tasted the resultant curry sauce and found it inedibly bitter. So this time we stuck with green cumin seeds and roasted them first. But I digress!

Recipes and more photos after the jump!

May 4, 2010

Success: Beef and Bean Chili

Had a really great workout tonight, and came home to a dinner I've been looking forward to since I made it on Sunday.

A fresh green salad for a crisp counterpoint to the spice of the chili, a bed of wild rice to complement the protein of the beans, and a little sour cream and cheese to cool some of the jalapeño heat. It turned out really well, if I do say so myself (and I do). I needn't have been so afraid of the heat, really; it's nothing like as hot as I feared it would be. Next time I'd put in all the chili powder and both jalapeños.

It was fantastic to be sitting down to a fresh, healthy, homemade dinner (that wasn't pasta with sauce from a jar) within 20 minutes of getting home, and that includes the time it took me to unpack the gym bag and change out of work clothes into hangin' out at home clothes. Most of the prep time was spent tearing lettuce. Sweet.

I'm going to have to start making my own salad dressings, I think, because I just read the label and discovered that sugar is the second ingredient (after water) of my favourite salad dressing, Litehouse Poppyseed dressing. I'm sad, because I really like it. But it also contains ingredients that violate the rule "don't eat food that contains ingredients you can't imagine growing in nature". So when the current supply is gone, it's gone. *sigh*

May 3, 2010

Success: Tuna-Stuffed Peppers

I got this recipe from my friend Sietske, and given how much canned seafood I have in my pantry (holy cow what am I gonna do with all that salmon and crab and shrimp?), this was a great idea for a solo dinner (and a solo lunch tomorrow!).
Tuna-stuffed Red Peppers
1 red bell pepper per person, cored and deveined.
1 pepper, diced finely (I usually use yellow, for contrast with the red container peppers)
1 can of tuna, drained
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tbs of mixed Italian dried herbs
50g of salad cheese, diced (nondescript white cheese, related to feta so I guess that would work too)

Stuff pepper, put in tray, cover with aluminum foil, shove in oven preheated to 200 Celsius, bake for 40 minutes, take foil away after 20. Make risotto while peppers are in oven. I guess you could serve rice or pasta with it too, but risotto goes really well!
I used standard-issue Italian Seasoning and Kraft's four-cheese Italian Blend, but next time I make these, I'll throw some feta in the mix too. Depending on the size of your peppers, this could make anywhere from two to four stuffed peppers. I have a bit of leftover filling, as you see. Maybe I'll throw a little dressing on it and have it on a lettuce salad. Must remember to pack some parsley to counteract the onion breath, though.

Rather than mess about with tin foil, I used my tiny lidded roasting pan. (It doesn't get out enough, really.) And I didn't make risotto. (Because I don't know how. Yet. It's on my to-learn list, because it see it everywhere: cooking shows, menus, and this recipe! Makes me feel like I'm missing out on something.) I made wild rice instead. And it turned out really purple. Apparently I didn't rinse it enough, because I'm sure it's not supposed to end up a uniform colour, right?

Notes to self for future occasions: use feta or similarly strong cheese. A little more cheese wouldn't hurt, either. Buy some new Italian Seasoning, 'cos the stuff you have has lost its potency. Add salt and pepper to the mix, too. And figure out the rinsing of the wild rice thing, because dang, that's a lot of purple on a plate. (Should have toned it down with some green leaves.)

Thanks, Sietske!

May 2, 2010

Experiment with Chili

It occurred to me as I was cleaning up from making this chili that it's been a very long time since I (or we) made a vat of either chili or pasta sauce - anything involving multiple cans of anything. We used to do this regularly, and always had either chili or pasta sauce or both in the freezer. I don't remember when that stopped. Or even the last time I made chili. But I did today, and this one took five cans of various things.

This started off as "Beef and Bean Chili", a recipe submitted by a fellow SparkPeople user, and involved cooking pinto beans from dry for a day before making the chili. I don't know what part of the world that user lives in, but at the grocery store I went to that week, I couldn't even find canned pinto beans, let alone dry ones. So, because the Beloved was with me, and hadn't entirely bought into the whole idea of pinto beans anyway, and was chivvying me along as he does when he's bored, I ended up with canned beans. These ones, in fact:

Romano beans were as close as I could find to pinto beans. Maybe they're the same thing; who knows? These looked like the Googled image of pinto beans on my phone. :)

The recipe called for chopped onion and garlic, ground beef, chili powder and two jalapeños, chopped parsley, a 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, and salt to taste. Which didn't sound very interesting to me, honestly. So to this I added some chopped up mushrooms that needed eating, a yellow pepper ditto, a couple of stalks of celery sliced up, and about half a cup of chopped zucchini (which I like and I hope the Beloved doesn't even notice, because he could do with the veggies). And because of the added volume of stuff, I added a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, and a 14 oz can, and a little can of tomato paste for thickening. And I might have sloshed in a bit of red wine, just because it was sitting out. (What?) I also halved the quantity of both chili powder and jalapeño (which I chopped up, though the recipe didn't specify what to do with it), and it's still nice and spicy.

I started cooking it about two hours ago, and here's how it looks now, after simmering a little:

Oh, and that pot? That's my (okay, our) Le Creuset Oval French Oven, and it's possibly the best piece of cookware I've had, ever. Nothing sticks to than enamel inside. Yes it weighs a ton, but it's gorgeous and useful and easy to clean up, so it's pretty much win-win-win for me. Also, making chili? Really lets you practice your knife skills. And I need even more practice.

We're off out for dinner tonight, so this will be my dinner on Tuesday and Thursday, when I need something quick and satisfying after the gym. I'll serve it over rice, with sour cream and cheese to help cut the fire. At least, that's the plan.

May 1, 2010

New Horizons in the Grocery Store

I shopped in an aisle of the grocery store I'd never been in before, today. The organic bulk section. I bought red and green lentils, more couscous, and quinoa there.

If my Beloved had been there, he'd have been asking slightly panicky questions about what I was planning to do with those things. Fortunately he didn't feel the need to come, because he's going to be out of town this week anyway, so had no stake in the groceries this week.

I had a super-healthy cartful today: lots of fresh fruit and veggies (how many kinds of onion does one household need? All of them!), a bit of bulk stuff, and some yogurt and some cheese. It was so nice to shop according to my list and preferences and be done in half the time it takes when Himself comes with. When he comes with, he's always hurrying me out of the produce section, and then likes to go up and down all the inside aisles, where the fizzy drinks, chips (crisps), crackers, and other snack foods are kept. (I know I'm no saint where food is concerned, but if I never drank another Coke or Sprite (diet or regular) or ate another potato chip, I honestly would never miss it. And I hate spending money on such garbage, and I resent that it takes up space in my pantry.)

Planning meals is always easier when Himself is out of town. I'm planning to try at least one, maybe two, of the meatless meal ideas I recently harvested from my LiveJournal friends. Starting with tuna-stuffed red peppers, because in cleaning out the fridge today (before shopping, for a change), I discovered that I have four red peppers, and two each of yellow and orange, that need eating. :)

April 29, 2010

What can you do with a picky eater?

I was kind of a picky eater as a child, I admit it. I didn't like onions or mushrooms, particularly, and the trauma associated with green beans, yellow beans, and peas (which were always canned, until they were available frozen) took the better part of forty years to get over. I mean it; it's really only within the last twelve months that I've approached green beans with anything other than fear and loathing, and even then, I'll only speak to fresh ones. I don't even know if they still make canned green beans. I hope not.

I liked roast pork, but not pork chops (though that might have had something to do with the mushroom-soup sauce my mother insisted on overcooking them in), and I liked everything to do with beef - including liver - except the tongue roast my mother tried to slide in under the radar that one time. I liked lamb any way I could get it, but didn't like any kind of fish except salmon. And we ate a lot of bland, baked white fish (cod, halibut, sole) because my dad had an ulcer, and we were still 30 years away from identifying heliobacter pylori as the cause for all the pain, and were still treating them with bland food and milk to drink.

But that was all when I was a kid. I grew up, and so did my tastebuds, and I learned to appreciate the onion's contribution to flavour, the mushroom's fantastic adaptability and variety, and even the taste and texture of a properly cooked fresh green bean. I like all kinds of things now that I didn't then. Exceptions include kidney (as in steak and kidney pie), canned or frozen beans or peas, and bland white fish. I kind of fell in love the first time I tasted broccoli; I was fifteen, and at a friend's house for dinner. And I fell in love again with cauliflower.

Fifteen years ago or so, I fell in love with another human. And I married him. And I slowly discovered that I'd married an eater whose pickiness put my own childhood aversions in the shade. I am reminded of this because I've been surfing cooking websites, finding recipes that sound fantastic to me, but that contain one or more ingredients that would put My Beloved right off his feed. The first to fall were broccoli and cauliflower, followed quickly by Brussels sprouts; any kind of chicken on the bone, other than wings; any chicken other than breast meat; turkey in all its forms, unless it's Christmas dinner, and then only the one meal; any kind of squash, summer or winter; cucumbers; pretty much all fruit unless it's in a fruit salad or over ice cream; goat's milk and its products; avocado in any form except inside a California roll; spinach, unless it's in things like lasagna; eggs unless it's breakfast time; chickpeas... the list grows every time I whip something new on him.

Between his vegetable aversions and my previous aversion to beans, the only green non-leafy vegetable we agreed on, for several years, was asparagus.Which can be horribly expensive, even in season.

He surprised me last night by actually liking the couscous we had with dinner. I'm not sure he's ever had it before, but it turned out well, and he said he enjoyed it. Thank goodness that's one for the "like" list; it makes up for the nose-wrinkling about the chicken thighs (which were at least boneless and skinless anyway). He ate the chicken because he thought I'd be upset if he didn't (I think he confused me with his mother for a minute there), but even though the one thigh he ate was tiny, he didn't want to finish the last one.

April 28, 2010

Success: Chicken with Rosemary Vegetables

I am not an imaginative cook. I quite often don't even know what I have in the fridge, the freezer, the pantry, and even if I did, I've never been the kind of person who can pull up a mental picture of the contents of those food storage areas, and think "well, if I pick up some couscous and some rosemary, there's an awesome dinner in the offing!" To stretch my cooking chops outside my half-dozen easy peasy quickie meals, I need some guidance, some suggestions, a list, a recipe, and preferably a photograph to show me what's possible.

Shortly after I resolved to cook more of our meals, there was a post on Lifehacker about, whose mandate seemed to suit mine admirably. So I subscribed, and I read and saved all the daily emails, and today I finally used one of the recipes. To wit: Chicken with Rosemary Vegetables.

All I needed to buy was the couscous and the fresh rosemary (note to self: plant some!); I even had a suitable bottle of red plonk at home. Whole Foods didn't have "instant couscous" so I bought their ordinary (bulk) couscous, and it might as well have been instant. (Is there anything in the world easier to make than couscous? It's brilliantly simple.) I also used boneless/skinless thighs, because that's what we had in the freezer.  It was quick, it was tasty (even though I forgot to season the chicken with salt and pepper, because S was bustling about, distracting me), and there's enough left over for lunch.

And so it begins

In early 2010, the (not very original) realization dawned on me that, if I wanted to be more in control of what I eat, that I need to cook more of it.

At about the same time, I read (in rapid succession) three of Michael Pollan's books: The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Food Rules, which opened my eyes to a number of things, and stiffened my resolve to be more in control of what goes in my mouth. (I highly recommend all these books, by the way.)

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a freezer pack (30 lbs) of pastured, grass-fed beef from a local farm. I also researched pastured chicken (for meat and for and eggs) and pork, and found a local market where I can get them. We'll get the beef at the end of June, and we'll get a couple of pounds each of various kinds of steaks and roasts, plus a few pounds of ground beef and a few of cubed beef. My husband, Simon, is looking forward to steaks on the barbecue. Here's hoping the weather is good.

Anyway, my plan for this blog is to document our process, narratively and photographically. Comments, feedback, recommendations and commiseration all welcome.