Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Another blog bites the dust. Such is life. not for any horrible reason, or really any reason at all. I just wasn't writing, so i"m putting the blog out of its misery. or my misery.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen" Masaharu Morimoto

Part two of the gifts that change the way I cook. And eat, come to think of it!

I can’t correctly carve a turkey – or any other fowl – for love nor money. When I’m done, the board looks like some feral animal stole a cooked turkey and went to town. And yet I recall Christmas dinners where dad had not just white meat sliced and in perfect order on the serving plate, but dark meat as well. Given a big enough turkey, you can carve slices off a thigh. And he did. And it was a thing of beauty.

I have tried carving watching a video of how to do it. I’ve tried with a step-by-step magazine open right in front of me. I think I even tried one year after talking to dad on the phone whilst the turkey was resting under foil. Nothing worked, and dad had a theory: my knives suck.

I figured that was a real possibility, as most of my knives were a sort of mish-mash of different things I’d picked up here and there. Here being Canadian Tire, there being Wal-Mart. And sometimes I’d grab something from a garage sale, or something a friend was getting rid of.

So I went to Home Hardware and bought a knife. And it helped. I did manage to get one or two nice looking slices, but that was it. And that was only after I’d take the breast off the bird altogether and sliced it that way. Very frustrating! Little did I know that all that was about to change.

Last year, at Christmas, The Boy bought me an entire set (minus a cleaver, which I have no use for) of Paderno knives, all housed in a bamboo butcher’s block. And The Man took them to a knife shop and had them sharpened. I’d never had that done before. The most I’d ever done was sharpen them at home with a weird curved device that was supposed to sharpen knives “more efficient that a professional”. Poor grammar aside, they should have said more efficiently and less effectively.

These knives have changed my life; I am purposely seeking out recipes that require lots of chopping, slicing and dicing. Soup, stew, Jambalaya, Shrimp Étoufée…if I get to use my new knives I am happy. I even went so far as to buy a Henkel knife ….wallet? Holder? Whatever the case thing is that lets your knives travel with you. I NEEDED it because I cook at the apartment with The Boy, but I also get to cook at the house with The Man. Not willing to risk hurting my knives, so they now have a proper travelling kit. Ok, maybe wanted it is more appropriate than needed. Still, it’s a great thing to have.

Have I carved a turkey yet? Nope, but I have a frozen roasting chicken that The Boy bought from the farm he gets eggs from. That thing might as well be a turkey, it is so big. And not from being force fed, or fed with growth hormones either. It pecked its way around a regular farmyard living a normal life. I figure if I’m going to be an omnivore I’d rather source my meat from something other than a factory farm. All I need now is someone to share a cow with me. And maybe a pig or two!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Gratest Gift

Yes, I know, every gift our kids give us is perfect, wonderful, the best gift ever. But we all know the truth: kids are kids, and sometimes gifts just get…dusty.

Both kids have done exceedingly astoundingly well at times. The Girl once bought me a dress: not only does it fit, I really like it. It is something I would have chosen myself. Our styles are quite different, so I was pretty impressed. I don’t have that ability to look outside of what appeals to me and see what would work for someone else, but she has it in spades.

Today, however, I am going to talk to you about the first of two gifts – received years apart – from The Boy that changed my life.

Years ago – more than five, at least – he bought me a really good quality parmesan cheese grater. For reasons I no longer understand, at that time I didn’t buy actual Parmesan. It was either (I am having a hard time saying this, let alone believing I did this), the Kraft green cardboard container of grated something, or if I had the money a small tub of grated something. And this was despite baking for a deli, and having access to not just Parmesan but Asiago, Pecorino Romano and various other hard grating cheeses.

Having freshly grated good quality parmesan on good pasta was like being introduced to an entirely new type of food. It wasn’t merely pasta with poor quality cheese and then pasta with good quality cheese it was more the change that happens when you are older and you have your first home made Mac’n Cheese after a life time noodles from a box with powdered cheese.

The sharpness brought out flavours in the sauce I had made that I’d never noticed before. Its saltiness balanced the sweetness of the tomatoes. I think I even heard the pasta sing a little bit when the cheese floated onto it.

I still have that grater. And that baby is going with me when I get married: The Boy will have to get one of his own. In fact I think I will add to my parmesan grating tools. The grater I have makes quite fine shreds, which I love, but I’d like to be able to have something that grates a bit bigger. And a hard cheese shaver, to make those paper thin slices of parmesan that appear on really excellent quality Caesar Salads.

Now I’m off to buy ingredients for Serious Eats’ Mac n Cheese with black beans and chipotle.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Well, at least we ate together.

A bunch of us all had supper together on the weekend, and as it wasn't ready when he got there, The Boy ended up helping. He's quite the cook, as it happens. Anyway; he mentioned that he would like to have a supper where he and I cook together. Woot! Cooking, and with my baby. Two wonderful things in one.

A co-worker gave me some chemical-free smoked sausage, and I had a lot of fantastic stock from the remains of the previously mentioned family supper (The Boy bought four roaster chickens from some Hutterites. And let me tell you, they are truly roasters. They looked like small turkeys), so Jambalaya seemed like a good call.

I bought the shrimp and chicken and tomatoes (tomatoes because we were making creole, not cajun jambalaya) and various other things on the way home. And when I got home...The Boy was asleep. Drat.

I said I'd get the mise-en-place done, and then get him. I got a vague grunt in reply. When I was ready to start the cooking, I went and talked to him again. And again, he gave me a vague grunt. At least, I think it was him, as all I could see was a lumpy duvet. Not even a little shock of hair was showing.

I ended up making the meal on my own. Well, partly. I cooked on my own but I had intelligent and lively companionship as The Man was over for supper. He even ran next door for a package of buns when it became apparent the meal was going to be a wee bit hotter than I thought it would be! Too hot for me, in the end, but fine for both Man and Boy. Here's what it looked like, more or less:

The recipe:
1.5 pounds cubed chicken. I used thighs, for better flavour but breast meat would be fine.

1 pound uncooked, peeled deveinded shrimp

1 pound sliced smoked sausage. Andouille, Chorizo, Kilebasa, what ever you like to eat, and can deal with heat-wise.

3 cups stock. I used chicken, but I know some people use water. If you've bought unshelled shrimp and have all day long you could make stock from the shells once they're off. Or...just go buy stock. There are some good choices out there.

2 tins (7.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 onion, medium dice
1 stalk celery, medium dice
1 green pepper, medium dice
3 cloves garlic, fine dice
thyme, cayenne pepper, paprika, 1 tsp each.
2 Bay leaves
salt and pepper
1 cup rice
oil for browning

Brown the sliced sausage in the oil. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving oil and scrapings behind. Brown the chicken, with some salt and pepper and more oil if needed. Remove that too. Cook the onion, pepper and celery for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic, cook an additional minute. Add the stock, tomatoes, rice, spices, meat and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and simmer for thirty minutes.

Add the shrimp, and let it poach until it is pink through, about ten minutes. SErve it up! I also added (to my regret) a pinch of pepper flakes. So if you want it too spicy for me but ok for most people do that too.

I still have some lovely stock left over, but with a storm on the way, I see a soupy weekend in my future!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What a MIghty Fine Man.

Thanksgiving has been and gone, and it was delightful. I'm big on Thanksgiving and family. In fact, I think I cried more my fist Thanksgiving alone than I did my first Christmas alone!

This year was a good year, lots, if not all of my family and LOTS of food. Food I didn't have to make! Well, except dessert that is. I'll be making pie at Thanksgiving until I'm in my grave. Hopefully!

Sidenote: in my family you it's either pumpkin pie, or pumpkin pumpkin pie. What's the difference? Pumpkin pumpkin pie is actually made with pumpkins. Pumpkin pie is made with any squash except pumpkin. Banana, butternut, acorn. Just some type of winter squash. The weird naming started with making "winter squash pie" and listening to The Boy try to convince a friend that it was totally pumpkin pie, just without the pumpkins. His friend distrusted the lack of orange he was familiar with, and I think he wasn't even sure there WERE other types of squash out there! So as both my babies grew older, if they wanted to know what was in the pie they would ask if it was pumpkin pumpkin pie, or the more usual pumpkin (aka winter squash) pie. There, Sidenote over.

This year I made the best pumpkin pie filling I've ever made. And you know how? Because someone else did the hard stuff. I usually halve the squash and roast it. And even with lots of processing, the texture isn't always perfect. This time, I had a headache on Saturday morning, and while I was trying to get rid of it, The Man (well, I can't call him The Boy now, can I?) peeled, cored, cubed and boiled the squash. I HATE that part of the whole procedure, and by the time I was feeling better it was all over. No, I didn't plan it that way. I don't hate it THAT much; calling in sick to avoid peeling and cubing? Who would do that?

When I was ready to make the pie, I put the now-cooled squash through a food mill. Twice. Once with the large disc, and once with the fine. And then (because I couldn't just leave it at that) when I'd mixed in all the other ingredients I put everything through a triple strainer. Perfection. Creamy pumpkiny spicy goodness.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rather Fail with Honour than Succeed by Fraud

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. A situation at work started the train of thought, but in the last two years I’ve witnessed similar incidents a number of times, both personal and professional. I’m talking about honour. I know; it’s one of those things that we don’t seem to talk about, along with duty and respect and common courtesy. Recently I’ve even heard (first hand as well so it’s not just unsubstantiated rumour) people boast about not keeping their word. A verbal agreement that they’ve reneged on, to their benefit, and they’re proud of it! What happened to the days when one’s word was one’s bond? And defended, vigorously? Or perhaps that is what is not real? Maybe it’s just fiction that portrays an earlier time where one’s word meant something, and fiction has conned me yet again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Basket 'o Biscuits

After my last post, I found myself thinking about biscuits. I make a decent biscuit. Maybe not even that - more of an okay biscuit. And I'm not terribly consistent. I decided it was time to work on being able to make very good - or even excellent - biscuits without having to deal with hits and misses. And I got there. Where, however, is there? What am I looking for? Glad you asked. Well for starters there is height. I really don’t like a flat biscuit. I once had one (that’s had one, not MADE and had) that was so flat I couldn’t even slice it in have to slather it in butter. Quel domage! So I wanted them to rise well. I never used to read the best before date on baking powder, because I made so many scones and pancakes and so on for both family and the business that I just never thought about it. I’m glad that I decided to do that. I only buy the little containers and I’d purchased the one I had when we moved, September of 2011. I should have read the label when I bought it: best before date was already past when I made my purchase! So the first thing to do – along with buying some buttermilk – was to get some new and active baking powder.
Along with height I prefer to have certain straightness to my biscuits. I’ve taken many a tray of b’s out of the oven to find half of them leaning like little eatable towers of Pisa. So I wanted them to be able to rise high and evenly. Turns out there is a small trick to that: knuckling. I don’t imagine that’s what it is actually called, but making a small indentation in the middle helps them rise evenly. I’ve been given baking tips and tricks that work and tips and tricks that don’t. This one does. Backwards as it may seem, while I struggle with good biscuits, I’m great with puff pastry and croissant. When I have the time and inclination, that is! It turns out that the best way to get tender flaky biscuits is similar to achieving tender flaky croissants. Similar, not the same! Don’t worry, I’m not about to give you some long drawn out directions for biscuits that take away the beautiful ease and simplicity of biscuit making. The main changes that ended up making the difference were temperature and mixing. For temperature, instead of using chilled butter I sliced the butter, and then froze the slices. And I measure out the buttermilk and put that in the freezer too. Not long enough to freeze: I only put it in there when I decided to make biscuit batch 2.2. I sliced 7 ounces of butter fairly thinly and put them on a parchment lined plate in the freezer. Then I measure 1 ½ cups of buttermilk and put that in the freezer too. THEN I started getting bowls and so on ready. I made a double recipe this time, as I was making biscuits to go with rotisserie chicken for four, and needed to have some leftover for The Boy to snack on later in the evening. I should have made a triple batch, so everyone could snack on them later. ‘Cept me. I prefer mine hot out of the oven. Anyway, I digress. Just thought I’d mention that you’ll get more than six out of this recipe, should you try it. Four cups of flour in a fairly large bowl, four teaspoons of baking powder and one teaspoon each of baking soda and salt. I whisked them together. Not something I normally do, but then again, I was having problems with my “normal” method! So I did as recommended and fluffed them up. Fluffing being my term, not any of the recipes I was looking at. Next I took the moderately frozen butter out and tossed them in the flour before I started cutting it in. I have fond memories of mum using knives to blend butter or shortening into flour, and have done it myself on occasion. Good memories, but I always just use the pastry knife thingy now. Still easy to make sure you don’t over process, and nowhere near as tiring! When the blend looked like tiny peas, I made a well in the centre and poured in the buttermilk.
And here’s where things changed from my usual method. Instead of mixing it until it was a smooth cohesive dough I used a spatula and folded it until it was a barely together crumbly shaggy dough. Then I put it on a floured board. I sort of squeezed it together and patted it down. It was still really messy, and pieces were falling off. I put those on top, and folded a third into the middle from the right and a third into the middle from the left. And then I sort of patted it out again, using my hands, not a rolling pin. There were crumbs from the bowl, and one or two from the edges. I put those on top and did the folding again. This time it was a bit smoother. Another fold, and smoother still. In the end I did the fold five times. When I’d done the 5th fold I used a rolling pin and rolled it out to 1 inch thickness. I used a two inch circular cutter. Next time I will just use a very sharp knife or pizza cutter and make squares. The ones made from the re-rolled bits after the first round were truly not as good as the rest. I put them in a 425F oven, middle rack for the second tray. First tray was one rack lower and the bottoms cooked too quickly so I moved them up one for the second tray. Oh yeah, one other thing: brush the tops lightly with buttermilk! Phew. Almost forgot that, and it made a difference to the final outcome. Those without weren't as aesthetically appealling. In the end they were exactly what I wanted. And despite making them to take over to La Maison for a roast chicken side dish, I confess to eating a number of them (a number that will never be revealed) hot out of the oven, slathered with butter and dripping with honey. And they were good. Very good. How good? The Boy LEFT HIS COMPUTER GAME to come out and cover a fair few with butter and honey before going back to his gaming buddies. Now THAT’S a biscuit!