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Braised Pork Stew

27 Jan

Because I just can’t stop buying cookbooks, Michael Smith’s latest, Family Meals, has appeared on my shelf. I’ve always liked Smith: he was my gateway into cooking fish for the first time and his recipes (while sometimes a bit short on the salt for my taste) never fail me. I like his philosophy that a recipe is simply somewhere to start, a thing to be played with, an idea upon which to expound. I feel the same way: when I come across a new recipe, I’ll generally leave the fundamentals alone but will alter things like seasoning and heat levels to suit my taste.

This particular book has some fantastic slow cooker recipes and quite a few vegetarian recipes that look enticing. I tried out the slow-cooked pork shoulder stew this weekend it’s a keeper. We added a few dashes of hot sauce to our bowls but kept it out of the main pot to avoid burning foodNURDling’s little tongue. It’s a simple recipe that doesn’t have a ton of ingredients. It’s hearty, filling and healthy. This recipe also makes a TON so you will definitely have leftovers. Cook once, eat many times. Works for me.

Serves 4

Ingredients

3lb pork shoulder, halved
salt & pepper
2 tb vegetable oil
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 ts dried thyme and/or rosemary
2 ts salt
7c water
1c white wine (or, if you don’t want to use alcohol, skip it and add 8 cups of water instead of splitting it)

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 300F.
2. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan (a Dutch oven is perfect) to medium-high heat. Add the oil and watch for it become shimmery. Season the pork generously with salt & pepper and the two pieces of pork to the pan, searing on all sides until nicely browned.
3. Add in the celery, potatoes, carrots, onions, herbs, salt and liquid. Bring to a simmer. Cover with  a tightly-fitting lid and place in the oven for 3-4 hours.
4. Remove the pot from the oven. The pork will now be fork-tender; shred or cube the meat. Serve and enjoy!

Turkey & Avocado Melts

17 Mar

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.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

Authentic Greek…and Beyond

13 Dec

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!

Portobello, Walnut & Goat Cheese Salad

23 Aug

As I mentioned in my last post, I received a copy of refresh for my birthday. I have been making my way through it, greatly enjoying the results. After a particularly meat-heavy dinner on Tuesday, I thought it would be a good idea to eat a little lighter the next night. I was craving crunch and when I saw the portobello & walnut salad I knew it would work for me. As I often do, I made a couple of changes to suit my tastes but it was a good jumping off point. It came together in 15 minutes – including prep time – which is a big bonus on top of it being a healthy vegetarian option. (To make it vegan, just omit the cheese.)

Serves 2.

Ingredients

4 portobellos, cleaned & sliced
1/2 c cherry tomatoes, scored on the top
1/2 c walnut pieces
2 tb extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greens
2 tb balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
4 c greens
2 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

1. Heat the olive oil in a pan to medium. Toss in the mushrooms and the vinegar. Sauté until the mushrooms soften, roughly 5 minutes. Season with a little salt and pepper.
2. Add in the walnuts and scored tomatoes. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes start to split.
3. Split the greens over two plates & drizzle with olive oil. Place the cooked mushrooms, walnuts and tomatoes over the greens and top with crumbled goat cheese.

p, w & c salad

Curried Chick Pea Rice Bowl

7 Aug

I received the cookbook refresh for my birthday and I’ve been debating what healthy, vegan recipe to make first. The book contains a variety of recipes from breakfast through dessert, sauces, shakes and more. Finally settling on the Energy Rice Bowl, I set to work prepping the curried garbanzo filling. (side note: I really wanted to name our dog “Garbanzo.” J was having none of it. Buzzkill.)  I adapted the recipes a bit to utilize what I had on hand also to my taste but it’s essentially the same. It’s filling, it’s healthy, it’s vegan and it’s great. Once the prep is done, you toss everything in a pan and in less than 10 minutes, dinner is ready.  Hard to argue with that!

Serves 4.

Ingredients

2 tb extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled & finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced (remove the seeds if you want less heat)
5 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tb cumin
1 tb salt
1 tb turmeric
1 tb oregano
4 c cooked chick peas, rinsed
1/2 c tomato paste
2 c cooked rice
1/2 English cucumber, peeled & diced
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 green onions or 1/2 red onion, finely diced
4 tb tahini
drizzle of Sriracha

Directions

1. Heat the oil over medium-low heat in a sauce pan. Add the vegetables and spices and cook until soft.
2. Mash the chick peas and toss into the pan with the tomato paste. Stir together and cook until heated through.

Cooking away...

Cooking away…

3. Serve over rice and top with cucumber, tomato and diced onion. Drizzle with tahini and Sriracha.

curried banzo 2

The Art of Reading The Art of Eating

31 May

M.F.K. Fisher’s tome, The Art of Eating is an absolute classic. A compilation of the author’s five best-known works, Eating is made up of five works: Serve It Forth, Consider the Oyster,How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets. This particular edition is the 50th anniversary and it was great to be able to read all these wonderful, evocative, fascinating, funny, sad and drool-inducing books all in one place. Each book is different, consisting of a variety of writing styles and themes. Some feature short essays on different food-related topics (oysters, dinner at her favourite restaurant, eating in medieval times, cabbage, etc.), while another relates the story of cooking during the very difficult years of World War II. I have read and enjoyed snippets of Fisher’s writing before but I am now totally hooked on it. The books made me want to rush into the kitchen or out to the restaurants but, most importantly, they made me appreciate food on a deeper level.

As a side note, I found that it is best to mind the following steps before, during or after embarking upon reading this massive collection of work:

Step 1: find yourself a comfortable spot. Perhaps curled up on the couch, listening to the rain or basking in the sunshine. You’re going to be there for a while. If at all possible, have a glass of wine handy. (Perhaps keeping the bottle nearby would be for the best.)
Step 2: position yourself near a food source. This might be near your kitchen, in a coffee shop, in a restaurant. Any or all will work.
Step 3: cancel your plans for the night, unless they involve dinner. And wine.
Step 4: book your ticket to France now. You’re going to want to go.

NYT Project: Malaysian-Inspired Pork Stew

13 Feb

Winter has finally hit our fair city. We’ve lucked out this winter, being spoiled with double-digit temperatures and little snow. The last few days, however, have brought with them a cold front and even some actual snow! Since winter decided to show up, I decided to combat the chills with some Malaysian-inspired pork stew from the NYT Cookbook.

The aromas from this lovely dish permeated the house as they simmered away on the stove for an hour or so. The spicy rub for the pork was balanced out nicely with the coconut milk and the herb and lime juice garnish. Lots of great texture and taste in this one. An instant classic at our place.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

Spice Rub

3 tb minced garlic
3 tb curry powder
2 tb ground cumin
1 tb paprika
1 tb cayenne pepper (less if you don’t want a lot of heat)

2 pounds boneless Boston butt or picnic shoulders, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stew

5 tb olive oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
3 tb minced fresh ginger
3 plum tomatoes, cored & diced
¼ c soy sauce
1-1/2 c unsweetened coconut milk
1 c dry white wine

Garnish

¼ c roughly chopped basil¼ cup roughly chopped mint
¼ c roughly chopped cilantro
½ c roughly chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
1 lime, juiced
5 dashes hot sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

1. In a large bowl, mix together the spice rub ingredients.
2. Pat the cubed pork dry with a paper towel, season with salt & pepper and then put in the bowl with the rub. Toss to coat.

Pork's been all rubbed up....

3. Heat 3tb oil in a heavy-bottomed pan til the oil shimmers but does not smoke. Add in the meat in an even layer and brown on all sides, roughly 10 minutes. (You may need to do the meat in batches in order to avoid overcrowding your pan.)   Remove the meat from pan and place on a platter.
4.  Heat the remaining 2tb of oil to medium heat. Toss in the onions and sauté for 13-15 minutes.
5. Add in the ginger & tomatoes. Stir and cook 2 minutes.

Onions, tomatoes & ginger into the pan...

6. Add the pork back into the pan along with the soy sauce, wine & coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer and skim off any fat that comes to the surface.

Everyone into the pool!

7. Cover and lower heat. Simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
9. When the pork is tender, serve on a bed of rice and top with the garnish as listed above.

Garnish of fresh herbs, peanuts, hot sauce & brown sugar.

Faceplant-inducing.

What comprises the soul of a chef?

31 Jan

What elevates the every day cook into an amazing chef? Is it technical prowess? Creativity? Passion? Stubbornness? A combination of any or all of these? What drives a person to seek perfection in plate after plate and how do they maintain that focus and drive? These are the questions Michael Ruhlman seeks to answer in his book,  Soul of a Chef. This is the third book in his “Chef” series and maybe the most in depth. In his previous two books,The Making of a Chef and Reach of a Chef , Ruhlman explores the world of professional cooking, starting with enrolling in and observing students at the Culinary Institute of America and eventually speaking with established chefs. But in Soul, Ruhlman attempts to determine what qualities define a great chef and what is the road one must take to achieve greatness.

Soul begins with Ruhlman observing 10 chefs who are partaking in the Certified Master Chef’s (CMC) exam. This is a gruelling, week-long exam that tests the chefs’ technical abilities. It focuses on technique and execution and is so difficult that the pass rate is well below 50%. Ruhlman documents the rapidly changing mental health of the chefs as well as their motives for taking the test in  the first place. Some do it for a bump in pay; some for the challenge; some for the pedigree apparently associated with it. It is a controversial test in the food world, however, as it is taken by so few – and passed by even fewer – that its relevance is questionable. It assumes that the only measure of a chef is a technical one, but is that the only factor? Is it even the most important one?

The middle of the book is spent with a now-famous chef, Michael Symon. Symon has just opened Lola, helping to give Cleveland some foodie credibility. Symon is a gregarious, affable guy who clearly loves to cook and runs a loud, chaotically-organized kitchen. The appearance of his food may not be 5-star, but no matter: the flavours are outstanding. Ruhlman explores the idea of perfection in taste and experience being more important than exacting technical standards being met.

Finally, the last third of the book follows Ruhlman as he travels across the country to the Napa Valley where Thomas Keller is blowing minds and making people fall in love with his food at The French Laundry. Keller is not a professionally trained chef, but he produces some of the most technically accomplished, striking plates of any chef in the world. He cooks from the heart and his technical skill is almost unparalleled.

Ruhlman examines all three aspects of success in cooking (skill, heart and a combination thereof) and it leads him to conclude that there is no one thing that constitutes a great chef. To be truly great requires myriad factors working in harmony.  I’m a big fan of Ruhlman’s books as he delivers an honest, in-depth look at the culinary world without getting too lost in the details and without being sycophantic. I’d highly recommend picking up any of his books for a fun, interesting read!

Cinnamon Apple Streusel Muffins

2 Jan

I love baking muffins. They’re hard to mess up (unless you’re Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels and making “Chinese Fighting Muffins”) and you can make a zillion different kinds.  The first time I made these fantastic muffins, it was for the Hot Biscuit’s annual birthday brunch a couple of years ago. I brought two batches over to her place and they were a big hit – so much so that few were left for the birthday girl herself to have later! I have been making them ever since and I have to fight the temptation to eat them all myself.

I have tinkered with the streusel topping ratios just a bit from the original, which can be found in the Bite Me cookbook. They suggest 1/4 cup of melted butter, but I tend to use a little bit more. I find the streusel can bit a bit dry and not form the crumbly texture desired with the 1/4 cup. I would suggest starting with 1/4 c ready to go but have a bit more on hand in case you need it.

Makes 12.

Ingredients

Batter

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 ts baking soda
1/2 ts kosher salt
1/2 ts cinnamon
2 c peeled, diced Granny Smith apples
1 1/2 c brown sugar
1 c buttermilk
1/2 c vegetable oil
1 egg
1 ts vanilla

Topping

1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c  all-purpose flour
1/4 ts cinnamon
1/4 c melted butter (plus a little extra, if needed)

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Coat a muffin tin with cooking spray and then dust flour over the cups. Shake off any extra flour.
2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and apples. Toss gently.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, buttermilk, vegetable oil, egg and vanilla together.  Gently stir into the dry mix.
4. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin, diving equally.
5. Mix together the brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and stir with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle on top of the muffin batter.
6. Bake for 23-25 minutes. (To test if they are ready, insert a toothpick or knife into the muffin. If it comes out clean, you’re good to go.)
7. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Or to your mouth.

NYT Project: Shredded Brussels Sprouts w/ Bacon & Pine Nuts

19 Dec

Brussels sprouts were the bane of my existence as a child. The mere mention of them would send me into fits of eye-rolling, gagging and desperate complaining with the hope of being spared from their inherent repulsiveness.  My parents would insist that they liked them and I could only assume that they were either a) blatantly lying or b) insane.

Fast forward twenty years and I find myself at the market, buying a pint of Brussels sprouts voluntarily. What has gotten in to me? It started back in the summer with reports of a friend making absolutely delectable Brussels sprouts for a group of eight or so. So the story goes, people were actually fighting (cordially…but still) over the last few sprouts. After verifying this story and hearing said people swear up and down that they were great, I began to rethink my stance. If all those people – most of whom hated Brussels sprouts as kids – liked them now, maybe it was time to give them another chance. Flipping through the NYT cookbook, I came across a recipe that looked easy and, importantly, included bacon. Bacon makes everything better, as far as I can tell.

This recipe does require you to do a few steps, but if you have a food processor, it is well worth using it! Alternatively, if you have Brussels sprouts large enough, you could shred them on a box grater. Just watch your fingers!

They look so harmless!

Serves 2.

Ingredients

1 pint Brussels sprouts
3 strips bacon, diced
1/4 c pine nuts
3 scallions, finely sliced
1/4 ts nutmeg
salt & pepper

Directions

1. Trim the Brussels sprouts. If you have time/desire to, you can core them as well but it’s not necessary. In batches, shred in the food processor.
2.  Fry the diced bacon until crispy, roughly 10 minutes. When cooked, remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
3.  Add the pine nuts to the pan with the bacon fat and cook over a medium-low heat until the pine nuts have turned a light brown. (2-3 minutes.)
4. Add the sprouts, scallions and nutmeg. Cook until the sprouts are done, roughly 6-8 minutes. They should be bright green.
5. Stir in the bacon pieces and season with plenty of salt and pepper. (Make sure you taste, though, as the bacon is salty, too.)

Looks great, tastes better.

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