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. :)