Anyone who spends time in a kitchen can tell you there are a few things they use to cook that they can’t live without. It might be a particular pan or a Silpat or even cooking range. For me, it’s my chef knife, my Dutch oven & my trusty wooden spatula.
Getting my chef knife was a big deal to me. As I wrote in A Bit About A foodNURD, I was afraid of knives when I first started cooking. I would insist on using, essentially, a steak knife to do all the prep work. Years later, I have graduated to the Big Girl Knife and I love it. It gives me a sense of confidence in the kitchen: I can wield this thing and get the work done. (It also reminds me not to get too big for my britches with its sharpness. I have a scar on my left index finger from the time I was carelessly, quickly chopping rosemary with it. Whoops. It served as a good reminder and I haven’t sliced myself since.) It’s so important to get a knife you like: it will make your time in the kitchen simpler and more enjoyable. I encourage you to do some research and see what might work for you!
The Dutch oven was a present to myself before the foodNURDling arrived. I’d wanted one for some time: I had a slow cooker (which nearly made this list, but lost out to the oven) and I had pans I could get hot enough to get a good sear, but not the all-in-one glory of the Dutch oven. Soups, stews, sauces, chilis…you name it, it goes in here. (Though, for the sake of transparency, J is the resident chili maker and it is goooooooooooooooooooood.) It is a solid beast – I have the 8L – of enameled cast iron which allows me to make large batches of all sorts of things from Mexican pot roast tacos to chicken cacciatore to Thai red curry mussels. It holds heat beautifully (watch out for the hot handles! Ouch!) and it ain’t bad to look at either.
She’s so pretty.
Finally, there is the trusty, ancient wooden spatula. I’ve had it forever and it shows. Useful in almost every dish cooked in the kitchen from scrambling feta-laden eggs to flipping roasted potatoes, it is the all-purpose, unsung, unsexy but entirely necessary tool. It’s the workhorse. It’s starting to wear down from use but I won’t give up on it until it becomes a dangerous nub. We have other, similar spatulas but I prefer this one.
So what about you? What are your prized kitchen gizmos and gadgets?
A couple of months ago, a friend started tweeting pics of quick & easy dishes she was making from Michael Symon’s book, “5 in 5.” She is a busy mom of two small fries who loves to cook and we tend to gravitate toward the same kinds of food. When her pictures started to appear, it piqued my interest and I ordered the book for myself after she swore I’d like it.
I’m now a little obsessed.
I am blowing through this cookbook at breakneck speed. True to her word, the book contains 120 recipes that can be done in a pretty short amount of time, none of which require a lot of ingredients. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve made from chicken satay to the ridiculously addictive caramelized banana sundaes (frigid weather be damned!). A particularly hearty yet simple dish is the turkey & avocado melt which can be thrown together in about ten minutes flat. The crunch of the bread, the smoothness of the avocado, the decadence of the earthy gruyère and the sharpness of the Dijon make for a satisfying sandwich. Try it: I guarantee you’ll be hooked.
8 slices sourdough/any bread you like, thick-cut
1 lb turkey, thinly sliced
1 avocado, thinly sliced
4 slices gruyère
2 tb Dijon mustard (approximately. You may need more.)
2-3 tb mayo
Kosher salt & pepper
1. Preheat a pan or griddle to a medium heat.
2. Lay out the slices of bread and spread the Dijon on each piece.
3. On four pieces of bread, layer the turkey, then avocado. Sprinkle with salt & papper.
4. Layer on the gruyère and the second piece of bread.
5. Spread mayo on both outer sides of the sandwich and place on the pan/griddle, cooking until golden brown on both sides & the cheese has melted.
By request, here is a great Pad Thai recipe. Don’t be intimidated: it’s really not too difficult. It’s going to require a bunch of ingredients, but the steps are not complicated. If you can have everything ready, so much the better as once you get cooking, things go quickly. I ended up making this dish twice in a week it was so yummy. Feel free to add more veggies if you want more crunch, or more chili powder if you want it to have more heat (or omit it entirely if you want no heat at all!). You can make it vegetarian by replacing the chicken with tofu or add shrimp for some extra protein: any way you make it, it’s going to taste great.
1 lb boneless chicken breasts, sliced as thinly as possible
1 pkg 5mm rice noodles
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 ts cornstarch
1/2 c soy sauce
1/3 c brown sugar
1/3c fish sauce
2 tb tamarind paste
1/4 ts white pepper
1/2 tb chili powder
1 tb vegetable oil
4 c bean sprouts
1/2 c crushed peanuts
6 green onions, sliced
1 c fresh cilantro
4 lime wedges, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl, stir the cornstarch and soy sauce together. Add the chicken, stir to coat and put in the fridge while you get everything else ready.
2. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package. Be sure to stir the noodles every few minutes so they don’t stick together. Drain and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamarind, fish sauce, brown sugar, white pepper and chili powder until thoroughly combined.
4. Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Then toss in the chicken and its marinade. Cook for roughly 7 minutes.
5. Remove the chicken from your pan and add the eggs, stirring them constantly so they scramble. Once done, add the chicken back to the pan. Cook both the eggs and chicken together for 1 minute.
6. Add the noodles and sauce to your pan. Using two utensils, toss all the ingredients together so they are thoroughly combined. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the bean sprouts and repeat.
7. Divide the Pad Thai among four bowls. Garnish with peanuts, cilantro and a lime wedge.
I am always looking for new ways to incorporate grains and veggies into our diets. This recipe appeared in an issue of Bon Appetit magazine and I thought it had excellent potential. Yes, the dressing has mayo but it’s only one tablespoon for an entire head of cauliflower and a pile of barley.
A lot of people don’t seem to care for cauliflower that much (“It smells like feet!” a friend once exclaimed), but I’ve always liked it. It’s especially nice here with little caramelized spots lending some sweetness to each floret. You can most definitely do this salad ahead of time and it’s even better the next day. I made mine without the beans as none of those goes over particularly well in our house, but I have no doubt they could work in the salad. Instead, I doubled the amount of barley.
Serves 4 with lots of leftovers.
1/2 c pearled barley
1 tb lemon zest
3 tb lemon juice
1 tb mayo
1 ts Dijon mustard
6 tb extra virgin olive oil
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 15-oz can of corona, gigante or butter beans
1/2 c fresh parsley, chopped
2 tb fresh tarragon, chopped
salt & pepper
1. Place barley and 1.5 cups of water (or broth) in a large saucepan with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 25-30 minutes. Set ‘er aside.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice, mayo, Dijon mustard and 5tb of olive oil until the mixture emulsifies.
3. Heat a large pan to medium and add the remaining oil. Toss in the cauliflower and season with salt and pepper. Turn the florets over occasionally and cook roughly 10 minutes, until you start to see brown spots appearing. Add in 2tb of water, cover and steam for two more minutes.
4. Transfer the cauliflower to a large bowl. Add half of the parsley and tarragon, barley and dressing. (If you’re using the beans, this is when you would add them.) Stir to coat everything thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.
5. Divide the salad among 4 bowls. Garnish with lemon zest and the rest of the herbs.
I love throwing dinner parties, big or small. Feeding family and friends is one of my great joys in life. Sometimes I stick to the well-worn (good) advice and make what I know; sometimes I opt to cook a brand new dish or two. Something outside my comfort zone but that I still feel confident I can pull off. Either way, there is grocery shopping involved and sometimes I end up with a whole bag of spice or a package of herbs that I’m not likely to use again any time soon. Enter: Chef Butler, a neat start up company that offers themed, monthly dry ingredient boxes that. Every month showcases three courses from different cuisine: Thai, Indian, Jamaican…it goes on. Each box contains pre-portioned spices and sauces that you might not have in your cupboard as well as three detailed recipe cards with instructions. Enclosed in the Thai box with which I cooked were recipes for a spicy cucumber salad, classic Pad Thai and fried bananas. While it’s true I had things like soya sauce and chili powder in the house, I definitely didn’t have tamarind or just the right size of noodle.
While three courses for a regular weeknight dinner might be a bit much and the dishes are a bit labour intensive, Chef Butler does take out some of the prep work with the portioned out sauce ingredients. Just cut open the packages and mix! The dishes – especially the Pad Thai – were a hit and, in fact, the Pad Thai was so good I made it again a couple of days later using the recipe provided.
So if you’re looking for a service to take some work out of your next dinner party or just want to try something new while cooking with friends, head on over to Chef Butler and see what they have in store! They ship anywhere in Canada and while they are based in Toronto, do not charge shipping fees. They are always testing out new recipes, looking to expand their horizons and yours!
Of the many popular cuisines of the world, I am admittedly uneducated about Greek cuisine. I can tell you the basics, but beyond that I am sadly ignorant. A little while ago I came across a great Greek-centric blog, Kalofagas – Greek Food & Beyond. I had the chance to chat with Peter Minaki, the man behind the food, about his passion and his wonderful new cookbook, Everything Mediterranean. Over espresso-boosted drinks, Peter told me about having to fend for himself in the kitchen when his parents would go on vacation to Greece and that while barbecuing was all well and good, it got repetitive after a while. He started experimenting with Greek classics and discovered he had a real talent for it.
Fast forward to the 2000′s and Peter is ready for a change from the world of finance. His blog is already up and running with a solid following. He gives up his job in 2011 to cook Greek food full-time. He begins to set up supper clubs for 30-60 guests per event in the GTA that become increasingly popular and lo and behold, a cookbook publisher comes calling! Over a summer, he and his partner test and draft a few versions of 300+ recipes and Everything Mediterranean is born.
The book is a thorough and detailed journey through Greek cuisine ranging from the popular dishes (souvlaki, moussaka, grilled octopus, baklava) to the less obvious pistachio-crusted halibut, bianko, pastourma pie and, a dish that aroused my curiosity, feta cheesecake. Each recipe has an easy, step-by-step guide and, should you want it, nutritional information. I made the slow-cooked pork chops in white wine and they came out fabulously. I’m told the maple-crusted lamb and olive oil fries are must-tries. Meanwhile, that feta cheesecake is calling to me…
Would you like to get your own copy of Peter’s book? Check it out over on Amazon! It would make a great Christmas gift for the foodies on your list!
Baby, it’s getting cold outside. What’s better than warming up with a spicy, sweet, comforting bowl of soup (perhaps accompanied by a glass of wine a cheese muffin)? This recipe is courtesy of Bon Appétit and it was a cinch to make. Chop, sauté, stir, blend. Ta da!
1/4 c butter
1lb carrots, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
kosher salt and black pepper
2 c low-sodium chicken/vegetable broth
1 13oz can coconut milk
2 tb Thai chile sauce
handful cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions and season with salt and pepper. Stirring often, cook until the carrots have softened, roughly 15-20 minutes.
2. Add the coconut milk, broth and chile sauce. Bring the whole concoction to a boil then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Stir occasionally. The liquid should have reduced some and the vegetables should be quite soft.
3. Let the soup cool a bit, then pureé until smooth. (You can use a standing blender, but I just used my hand blender…carefully.) Add a little water if you feel the soup needs to be thinned out.
4. Season with more salt, pepper and/or chile sauce if you like. Split into the bowls and top with cilantro if you’re using it.
Carrot Coconut Soup