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Posts Tagged ‘Stews’

Have you ever put down a menu to take a few minutes and look at what everyone else in the restaurant is eating?  Have you been caught?

I have no shame of checking out what other people are eating – it quite often influences what I end up ordering.  I try not to make it overly obvious but there is the occasional awkward exchange when I lock my gaze a little longer than normal on someones plate.

Frustrated with finding good websites and blogs about food?

I find that so many searches bring me to large commercial sites or places whose focus is to sell me something (which is fine when I am looking to buy) – sometimes I just want to read about food, cooking and mutual passions.

We have found a cure to both ills!  Foodgawker.

Bloggers submit their own photos which link to their own blogs.  The home page has almost 100 high quality (ok DAZZLING) images which link to individual blogs/ articles on those recipes.  You can search by topic (or ingredient) and visually gaze hundreds of blogs in moments to determine which to visit.

While this may not seem entirely novel at first, take a closer look.  Search for salad and visually scan hundreds of results to see something the resembles your desired dinner this evening.

Not all of the links are recipes – however it’s a quick jump to Epicurious (or another similar site) and an easy search to finding something similar to your visual inspiration.

Check out this fantastic site – we’d love some links to your personal faves in the comments section!

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My mother told me that she learned this from her mother and that it was food from the Great Depression – I’m not sure it dates that far back but it is certainly in the spirit of affordable comfort food that warms the soul and can be made on a shoestring.  I made it for Dana this week to comfort her as her back is rather sore:

Tomato Soup Macaroni - mm mm good

Tomato Soup Macaroni - mm mm good

It’s an easy dish.  Melt some butter, cook down some onions.  Add salt, a bit of pepper.  Add anything else at your own risk (I used panko, herbs and chilli’s above).  Stir in 1 (or several) cans of Campbell’s tomato soup (or equivelent).  Add a small bit of milk if you’d like – don’t add more than a tablespoon or two per can.  Cook noodles, al dente or less.  Mix them all together in an oven proof pan and bake for a while (comfort food is arbitrary – this can be a few minutes or up to 30).  If you topped with cheese or bread, brown under broiler.

You can use spgahetti or macaroni – if you use macaroni make sure to give a really good stir to get the sauce to fill the pockets in the noodles.   I leave my onions cut thin and left in whole rings – the more onions the better (when people grew their own this was a cheaper filling than pasta or the canned soup).  I eat it with hot sauce and generous glass(es) of milk.

This is one of a very few of my absolute favorite comfort foods and it reminds me so much of my parents and grandparents – we still eat it together from time to time.

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Dana is the resident salad expert here – though I’ve been trying my hand at it recently with some mixed results.

Salad - Yummy in the tummy....who knew?

Salad - yummy in the tummy....who knew?

The simple salad above has some pretty strong flavours – fortunately we are not afraid of going bold with a few flavours.  This was baby spinach, toasted peanut, shaved Spanish onion, feta, chili flakes, salt, pepper and dried oregano.  Place the herbs on the tomatoes (and goodness please do not put them in the fridge – more on that later :)) and let them all hang out for a while – 30 minutes is the minimum before tossing.  This is one more flavour than described in the $6 kitchen makeover post and there are no fresh herbs – but it is an example of more of less flavours.

The nuts add a crunch and the spinach is strong enough to withstand and compliment it’s friends in the bowl with a great texture to boot.  This isn’t one for the faint of heart but is a hearty accompaniment to a heart meal such as roasted chicken or grilled red meat.

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There is a lot of money being made in the industry of teaching and enabling people to become better cooks.   Cookbooks, the Food Network and thousands of tools and gadgets.  This isn’t meant as a complaint so much as an observation – there is a lot of excitement around food and so many ways to learn more about cooking and eating than ever before and I think all of that is very exciting.

In a world where one can spend almost $20 for a piece of rubber to peel garlic (and, yes, I own one :)) there is a simple must-have in your kitchen – especially if you are from a place which goes through any type of winter.

There was a time (and I still suffer from it on occasion) that  I cook with far too many ingredients.  We have an exceptionally small kitchen that keeps us from acquiring too many gadgets.  A good cutting board, a few knives and my trusty peeler and I’m mostly happy.

Michael Smith (I know I’m quoting a TV chef) changed my cooking for the better with a few simple rules – one of them being that you could through as much of any ingredient that you wish to as long as you had 5 or fewer flavours in the pot.  His sage advice came shortly after I had cooked a pasta dish with more than 20 flavours including an almost whole bulb of garlic (I was nervous – one of my first dates and my first time cooking for Dana).  I am thankful she thought it was cute (and that she liked garlic) and it wasn’t entirely bad – it was just one large giant overloading pot of a thousand tastes which, in effect, became one.  Chef Smith’s understanding was (and is) far greater than mine and I have learned that less is indeed more – the pallet can discern 3 or 4 separate layers of flavour and simplicity can taste deeper than an overwhelming slam dunk of a Heinz 57 mash-up.

Let’s explore this another way – I know what a rum and Coke tastes like and I know it tastes different from a rum and Pepsi.  If I mixed rum with Coke, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale I’m not sure I’d know the difference compared to a rum with Pepsi, Doctor Pepper, Orange Crush, 7 Up and Ginger Ale.  Perhaps I’ll test this theory out some time – for now I’m willing to trust my best guess.  Less can indeed be more.

When you use fewer ingredients, you can use much more of each flavour than you would think possible.  When using a small amount of different flavours, be bold and don’t hold back.  If your ingredients are fresh and seasonal, all the better – which brings us back to where we started – how to overhaul your cooking for less than $6 a week…

Seasonal eating in Canada can be difficult if trying to eat somewhat local and fresh.  Cellar-ed apples, squash and many root vegetables can survive through the winter a long time and preserving certainly cuts into the glut of the cold, dark days of winter but eventually cravings for variety and that “summer fresh” taste that you get in August beacon.  Fruit and veg trucked from 2,000 kilometers or more can be hit and miss and moving that far South is a little extreme.  What’s a boy to do?

Fresh herbs transform your cooking.

Fresh herbs transform your cooking.

We keep a Tupperware with 3-4 fresh bunches of herbs int he fridge at all times.  They last a week or two (we put a damp paper towel in with them) and they are available on a whim.  We stock the typical – basil, sage, rosemary, parsley and experiment with whatever you can find – marjoram, oregano and anything we can buy.  They are available on a whim and when topping a familiar dish, added at the last minute or used in roasting, they add a divine and earthy fresh touch.

Instant freshness - even in winter

Instant freshness - even in winter

We tend to add leafy herbs (such as basil, oregano or sage) late in cooking (very close to serving) while the more hearty (things that look closer to evergreens such as rosemary and thyme) make good company for roasting or slow cooking soups (of course you can add those at the end as well such as topping roasted beets fresh out of the oven).  There are other options of course – frying sage leaves crisp make a great accompaniment to pan fried fish (cook 15 or 20 leaves in a bit of oil or bacon fat for a party of two).

Chives - not just for dip or baked potatoes any more!

Chives - not just for dip or baked potatoes any more!

If using herbs as one of very few ingredients, pile them on heavier than you feel comfortable – less ingredients allow you to use more of them.  If you don’t have a locker full of fresh leaves in your fridge, explore the local grocery store (many places buy them from local greenhouses though they tend to transport well compared to vegetables which are often shipped unripened).

Let us know your favorites or what you use them for and enjoy fresh food year round!

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Two posts for the price of one today – this one’s just a link.  I loved the name of this site – it is exactly what it says it is (recipes for your broke ass):

Broke Ass Gourmet.

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If you have not seen me rant about Alinea yet, this may not make a whole lot of impact.  Alinea was a pilgrimage to me – a stunning discovery of art meeting science meeting food meeting passion meeting holly crap I can’t believe someone can cook something like that.  I like to think that I was dignified and sophisticated – the real truth is I was likely mumbling

“OMIGAWDTHISISTHECRAZIESTTHINGIHAVEEVERHADAND
IAMSOHAPPYTHATICANTBELEIVEHOWAWESOMETHISIS!” 

Something like that (likely with a bit of swearing).

The recipe book reminds me of the home instructions for building your own full sized Eiffel Tower. 

I have now been schooled by a 5-year old and a 9-year old:

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This is the first of many posts on tomatoes.  My parents, Dana and I canned 8 bushels worth of sauce this year (around 180 mason jars full over a weekend).  One of my all-time favourite foods is a toasted tomato sandwich.   It was a tomato that made me cry at Alinea.  They are simply one of my perfect foods.

We are getting ready to go to a friends house for New Years – two of us will be doing the cooking.  I’m in charge of the supporting cast – cheese, homemade butterscotch canned from the summer, my own raspberry-jalapeno jam and the tomatoes.

My cousin gave my father and I tomatoes for Christmas two years ago.  These were special tomatoes – otherworldly, canned in olive oil and tasted like heaven.  They had the flavour of the sun, richness of herbs and garlic and yet they just looked like sun dried tomatoes in oil.  Cachelle works with some of the best chefs in the city as a wedding planner and one had introduced her to these.  We were told they were typically ghastly expensive (these had been gifted to her when the chef heard of our tomato crush).  I swore I’d figure out how to make them.

Roasting tomatoes sounds like a simple task.  The following recipe takes patience and time.  The recipe is based on a combination of sources – those tomatoes, a recipe from A Year In My Kitchen, Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection and my own love of tomatoes.  Here’s what you need:

Lots of tomatoes – I prefer to use small cherry or the cherry heirloom types if you can find them these days.
Salt
Pepper
Garlic
Basil (Fresh)
Lovely olive oil – this is an optional step.  If you use this, be very selective.

Cut your tomatoes – if using cherry tomatoes, it is fine to have them in halves.  Lie on a cookie sheet.  One of the advantage (other than taste), is that cherry tomatoes will allow you to have only the skin contact the cookie sheet – this will make sticking unlikely and make the tomatoes easier to lift at the end.  The skins contain much of the tomato flavour (with the most coming from the actual vine).  If using larger tomatoes, cut them in wedges.  Skin down is important as it will make removing them from the tray and cleaning easier later on.  Yes I am emphasizing skin down.

Spread salt, sugar and pepper.  Use equal parts salt and sugar; pepper is up to you (though most use half to three-quarters).  I find that fine sea salt works best as it allows you to create an equal ratio easily.

Finely dice the garlic.  Spread it like you would coarse salt.  Try to have each piece of tomato contact garlic.  This is easiest if you have laid the tomatoes out touching each other.

Chop the Basil – I like most of the pieces to be about half to full size of my tomato tops.  Place basil on each piece of tomato.  If you miss a few, that’s fine – 80%+ should be your target though.  Gently push the basil in to the tomato.  You want to have as much contact as possible with the basil and the tomato – this will help infuse the flavour of the basil and of the garlic (since it’s now between the basil and the juicy red flesh).

Turn your oven on as low as possible – our oven only goes to 100 Celsius/ 200 Fahrenheit.  They key here is slow.  Place cookie sheet inside.  I open the stove every 10-15 minutes to let more heat out.  It’s not the greenest cooking method which is one of the reasons I cook as many as possible at a single time.

Cook until shrivelled.  They will take 3-4 hours, more depending on how often you open the doors.  Your garlic may turn green in the process (I believe that is from the acidity of the tomatoes – garlic cloves will typically turn green with an acid as you will learn when pickling them).  The longer you cook them the more intense the flavours will become – don’t be afraid if your pile of tomatoes shrivel to a cup or less – you’ll be surprised how far the intense flavour will travel.  Remove from oven and let cool.

Remove the basil and garlic – they have done all they can and the flavour has travelled to the tomato.  This can be messy and your tomatoes will turn pulpy in your hand.  I like to place them in a mason jar as I remove the herb and garlic.  Take care to remove as much as you can – a few remnants won’t hurt you but you’ll note that much of the basil has the texture of green tea and the bitterness to go with it.

Avoid placing these in the fridge – if you can eat them same day, all the better.  A tomato will lose a large amount of it’s natural sugar when chilled – it’s less apparent after roasting however the cold will still alter the taste.

I like to cover the tomatoes with good olive oil for 12 hours or so.  This will infuse the flavour across all tomatoes (including the ones that missed the garlic or herb) and add the earthy tones of olive oil.

Drain well when you are prepared to eat – I use the olive oil in the same dish – roast potatoes with it, put a dash in mashed potatoes along with an equal amount of butter to flavour your mash, add to a salad dressing or use as you wish.  I haven’t tried it with bread as it may be a little acidic – but perhaps an idea for a later date.  It does make a great addition to your typical mashed potato however (cut with even parts butter).  This tomato-oil will round out the rest of your meal and add a unique richness to your meal.

Enjoy!

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