Saturday, July 12, 2014

Maple-Sriracha Grilled Trout or Salmon

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. – Harry S. Truman

Get your grill on this weekend.

No, I haven’t fell off the face of the earth, but it has been a while since my last post. I have a bunch of recipes stocked up to post, too. I just don’t seem to have it in me during this heat to get around to writing.

It’s glorious in Nova Scotia this weekend. Supposed to be approaching 30°C in many parts under wide open blue skies. Don’t get me wrong, I love the warm weather, but when it’s about 28° in the house at bed time it doesn’t make for good sleeping. 

BBQ grill pan, made from 5 layers of foil. Cheap!
So I’ve been tired and lazy. Or at least that’s my excuse. We’re in the process of installing ceiling fans. That might help...some.

One thing you can do to keep the inside temperature low(er) is to prepare as much food as you can outside, on the grill. It saves you turning on that blasted oven and heating the house up even more. 

You can cook a myriad of things on the grill besides steaks, sausage and hamburgers. But so many alternatives are either fragile or small. It sucks to have things fall apart or slip down onto the coals or flame.

That’s where tin foil comes in. No, you do not need to invest in a barbecue grill pan. Simply make a temporary baking sheet out of 4 layers of foil, roll up a rim, and you’re ready to go.

I love salmon and trout, and they’re two that benefit from using a grill pan. They fall apart the moment they start to cook. Nearly impossible to get off in one piece. 

So this is a recipe you really should try. Make no mistake. This is good stuff. Very good stuff. And simple and fast too, if you think 12 minutes is fast.

This recipe is also a bit unusual – at least the salad is. It’s raw swiss chard. Before you go “yuck,” consider it also has maple syrup dressing. Maple syrup makes everything good.

The weather is amazing, you should be outside with a cold beer or icy drink, and it’s too hot to cook inside. The perfect “storm” for a fantastic outdoor recipe!

Maple-Sriracha Grilled Trout
Marinade: 15 min  |  Grill: 12 min  |  Serves 4-6
2 large trout fillets, or salmon
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp soy
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sriracha sauce
2 tsp veg oil
foil pan

Mix together all the ingredients except the fish in a small bowl. This is your glazing sauce.

Place the fillets, skin side down, on a foil pan big enough to accommodate them without overlapping. Brush with the glazing sauce and sprinkle with cracked black pepper. Let sit for 15 minutes on the counter. 

If you don’t have a foil pan, you can make one by folding 4 or 5 layers of aluminum foil onto itself and then folding up the edges to catch drips. (Easy and cheap.)

Heat the grill to 400°F. Place the foil pan directly on the grate, close the lid and cook for about 12 min. Baste twice while the fish cooks.

Test the fish for doneness with a fork. If the fish flakes easily and is opaque it is done. Don’t over-cook.

Swiss Chard salad
1 bunch chard, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 medium cucumber, sliced
3 tbsp pine nuts
3 tbsp oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
generous pinch of salt & pepper

Combine the dressing ingredients in a small jar and shake well. Combine the vegetables and pine nuts in a bowl, pour over the dressing and toss well.


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Basic Pulled Pork

Variety is the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour. – William Cowper

Summer is almost upon us, starting here in Nova Scotia 9:02am on Saturday. So let the outdoor feasting begin!

You may not think of pulled pork right away as a barbecue staple, but it most certainly should be  backyard staple for you this season. It’s unbelievably useful, and doesn’t have to be done on the barbecue, so can be made any time of the year.

But there’s upsides and downsides to everything. The upside is that a 2, 3 or 4 kg piece of pork makes quite a lot. The downside is that it makes quite a lot. If you’re not feeding a crew you will have leftovers. So what can you do with it?

Most think of pulled pork as barbecue flavoured, sometimes made with the introduction of barbecue sauce after it is cooked, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A basic recipe, without barbecue sauce, gives you the tender strands you want, without a specific flavour. So you can add different spices to it later as you want.

Liquid should come half-way up the meat.
Here’s some uses for pulled pork you may not think of: in quesadillas or enchiladas, mixed with macaroni and cheese, in Cajun rice and beans, on pizza, in Asian stir fries and even with salads. You can see by the list that BBQ sauce wouldn't always be desirable.

Most important for success is the cut of meat you use. One of the best is pork shoulder (called pork butt in the USA). It has lots of in-muscle fat and connective tissues that render down during the slow cooking process. This is what makes the meat so tender. You cannot make pulled pork with a lean cut. You just can’t.

Another, sometimes overlooked factor, is the introduction of acid into the braising liquid. It helps tenderize. I used pineapple juice, but any acidic juice could be used. You could even use beer. The FDA gives pineapples an acid pH ranking of approximately 3.35 to 4.1, so any liquid that’s somewhat acid will do the trick.

I added smokey barbecue sauce, cumin and more oregano to my pulled pork after it was cooked. Delicious!

And yes, I still have leftovers...

Test by pulling with a fork.
Basic Pulled Pork
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook: 2+ hours
2kg pork shoulder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chilli powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
pineapple juice, or other light acid
2 tsp dried oregano
6 garlic cloves, whole peeled
1 medium red onion, sliced

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Remove the skin and majority of fat from the pork shoulder and discard.

Mix together the chilli, salt and pepper and rub the mixture into the surface of the meat. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and sear the meat on all sides.

Add just enough pineapple juice to come half way up the side of the pork. Sprinkle with oregano and nestle in the garlic and onion. Bring to a simmer, cover, and place in the oven for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, test the meat by trying to pull it apart with two forks. If there is resistance continue to cook for half hour intervals until it does. The meat will be falling off the bone. My 2Kg took 2 hours. Larger cuts will take longer.

After the pork is done, remove from the pot, let cool and pull into long strands with forks or your fingers. 

Reduce the remaining liquid, garlic and onion in the pot by half on top of the stove. Add the shredded pork and let cook until nearly dry.


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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Spam. The kind you eat and the kind you don’t.

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. – W. C. Fields

If you have a blog you’re going to dine on spam. Sometimes lots of spam. I get spam on a regular basis. Alas, but none to eat.

Did you know that “Spam” the product is SPiced hAM, first introduced by Hormel Foods in 1937? It’s supposedly good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mmmm... It’s never touched my lips. It does make one wonder what the folks who make Spam actually think of the word being used for junk.

But back to my spam. I thought I would share with you this week’s platter. Who do they think they’re fooling? Idiots. I know that it is automatically generated, but please. If you’re going to spam me at least have the courtesy to spell correctly –  or make sense. My “real” comments do, for the most part! 

I have to say Blogger’s spam filter is pretty good. I’ve only had a few slip through in my years of blogging. I know there’s ways to lessen getting it, but then what would I read?

So without further ado, here’s a few. I thought you might enjoy them. A link to actual Spam (meat?) recipes follows at the very bottom. Incorrect spelling is from cut and paste.

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Hello! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any problems with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing many months of hard work due to no data backup. Do you have any solutions to prevent hackers? Here is my blog post; meet new people online...

But now, if you want to dine on spam that’s more filling take a look here. There seems to be a preponderance of “sushi” spam recipes. Kind of turns one off their breakfast (lunch or dinner), but lots of fun none the less.


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seared hoisin tofu with radish & bok choy

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever. – Thomas Aquinas

Does plastic-wrapped tofu ever go bad? I found a package in the refrigerator that I had forgotten a long, long time ago.

Never one to shy away from an “experiment,” I decided to use it. It looked fine, and smelled fine. Tofu, by its very nature, is a fermented product, so I felt fairly safe.

Now I don’t advocate ignoring “best by” dates on food, but did you know that many expiration dates have nothing to do with food safety.

It can be confusing. Here’s a quick break down by the language used on packaging. But don’t take my word as gospel. If you have any worries, listen to your inner alarm.

Use-By / Best By / Best Before Date
These terms are usually found on shelf-stable products like mustard and peanut butter. This date is the manufacturer’s date when the product begins to loose “peak” freshness when unopened. 

It has nothing to do with it being spoiled. Products dated this way may begin to loose colour, texture, etc., after this time. By examining the product you can easily tell if it’s bad.

And fermented products, even after being opened, are an entirely different ball of wax. Fish sauce, kimchi and the like can last a very, very long time. Very, very long.

Sell-By Date
This is used on perishable items like meats, fish and dairy. It’s for stores to know how long to display an item. After that time it starts to look a little ratty. 

Expires On Date
This is a date that has been legislated for safety by the government. Use it before the date or toss it. Buh-bye.

Of course, use common sense when eating food that you’ve had for a while. But there are many resources to find out how long foods will last. Google is your friend.

The tofu looked fine, smelled fine and tasted fine. And I lived to tell the tale. Actually this recipe was one of the better tofu dishes I’ve ever had.

Seared hoisin tofu with radish & bok choy
Time: 15 min  |  Serves 2 or 4
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 Thai bird eye chillies, diced
1 lb extra firm tofu
1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
2 tbsp hoisin
1 tbsp soy sauce
4 baby bok choy
1/2 cup sliced radish (or daikon)
1 bunch green onion
1 tsp five spice powder
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a wide skillet with the garlic and chilli. Sauté for a minute or two. Don’t burn the garlic. Remove the garlic and chilli and set aside.*

While the garlic and chilli is infusing the oil, slice the tofu in half and then into 8 pieces. Add the tofu and brown well on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while it is cooking.

While the tofu browns, pull the bok choy apart into individual leaves, thinly slice the radishes and chop the green onions. Set aside. Mix together the water, hoisin and soy. For a deeper flavour you can also add a couple teaspoons of fish sauce.

After the tofu is browned, add the hoisin mixture. Let the mixture evaporate until it thickens and coats the tofu on both sides. Do not let the sauce disappear completely, just thicken. Remove the tofu to a plate.

Add the bok choy, radish and green onion. Sprinkle with the five spice powder and some salt and pepper. Cook until the bok choy leaves have wilted slightly.

Serve with a dollop of additional hoisin on each plate.

* I left my garlic and chilli in the pan, but it’s very easy to burn when cooking the tofu. So it’s easier to remove them and add back with the bok choy.


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Friday, June 6, 2014

The Small Garden: Update 1

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson

This is the main garden, with the tasty things that deer like to nibble.
Hence, the fence. (I'm a poet and don't know it.)

It’s been a while again, I know... Hopefully this will assuage my guilty conscience. And what better way to do it than to talk about what’s growing in our small garden. Our veggie garden.

Whoever plants a seed shows faith in tomorrow. If we had no hope we would plant no seeds. Nurturing takes time, like a garden, and the benefits of your spent love and devotion might not be immediately evident. But day by day the seeds you plant will grow, until you reap the harvest.

Left, radishes that need thinning; right, peas starting their reach for the sky.

Planting a garden, physically or metaphorically, is a balm for the soul, and not strictly in a religious sense. The attention we pay to what or who we care about will come back to us ten-fold. To grow we must nurture, ourselves and others.

But back to plants... You might say that you don’t have room. Hogwash. If you have a sun-lit patio you have room.

This is the other smaller bed, containing herbs in the front and
veggies in the back. They have just started to sprout.
Luckily here in the country we have a little actual ground. Not much, but enough. This is the second year we have put seed to soil here, and will apply last year’s lessons to this year’s garden. My spouse and I planted our patch 13 days ago today. There has been activity, plus a couple light frosts.

So what did we put in? I will forget some things so bear with me.

Kale, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, radishes, rainbow chard, salad greens, peas, beans, pumpkin and squash. I am forgetting a couple.

We also have a perennial herb bed consisting of sage, chives, two thymes and oregano. For tender plants we put in Italian parsley, cilantro and rosemary. Tarragon and basil will follow in a couple weeks. There is nothing better than running outside to gather enough basil for a pesto. Nothing.

We have several fruits growing. What you see above is unripe
haskap berries. We also have blueberries, raspberries and
blackberries. Some grapes are on trellises as well.
If you think about what we've planted you can understand when I say that last summer the only thing I bought at the store was meat, eggs and dairy. I usually make my own bread.

Growing your own vegetables is not a difficult thing to do, and it is not too late. I know friends who are just thinking now is the time to plant. Some don’t until after the Strawberry moon (the full moon of June 12-13), after which all risk of frost is supposed to be past.

I’ve looked at the 2-week forecast. We’re hovering around 10°+ overnight. So I’m glad we didn’t wait. As it was, I knew we were planting later than my father ever did. I could even hear his voice.

Since we planted, there were two instances when we had to cover the squash, pumpkin and tomato plants to protect them from frost, but they came through.

If you don’t want to start seed, now is the time to get to the garden centre. There are tons of plant “sets” probably further along than anything in our garden. So if you’re willing to shell out the cash, you can insta-garden this year.

Regardless of how you do it, you should really take part in your own food security. The cost of a few packets of seeds (or some plants) is far surpassed by the bounty you will harvest.

Back left is the herb bed. We haven;'t invested a lot of real estate for the
amount of food we get. We did cut back on the tomatoes this year.
Last year I was running out of ideas to deal with them.

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Friday, May 30, 2014

The Psychology of Piña Colada Pudding

Since I was 19, I've always gone where there was a reason to be. Maybe I'll be lucky and there'll be a reason to go somewhere tropical for a while. – Feist

An interesting thought. I believe she means we should always choose the most sensical place for us to be and then go there. I suppose it also could laterally mean we find ourselves where we are because of our past choices.

That thought makes my head hurt a little. I have been dividing my time between city and country for several months. My erratic posting bears testament to that fact. It’s a bit difficult to cook and post when not in my own kitchen. Right now I need to be in two places, for vastly different reasons.

Desire: I love my clients and work, and it dictates I am in the city; my spouse is working in the city, as well. Duty: I love my mother, and she needs me at home in the country. She has done so very much for me. Now it’s time to "man up." I hate that term... but it's appropriate.

Life is like a can of coconut cream... hard on top, and
watery below. Take from that what you will.
So I guess I am where I need to be. It’s just that it’s two places – neither of them tropical. It’s kind of like being a tightrope walker, with no safety net.

There’s a thousand tautologies to blame one's life on at any given time. Two of my gag-inducing favourites? “Life is what happens to you when you’re not paying attention,” and “life is what you make it.” It’s a shame that for most of us life is more a situation of just treading water.

So much has changed with regard to how I view the world since we lost Henry (our Bouvier) last October. It’s like I’m living an entirely different life now, and in many ways I am. Having gone through significant change several times, I find life resembles chapters in a book. I’m old enough now to look back and see it is not a continuum, and nothing is certain. You play a character in different story lines.

How I find myself in this current fiction is my own doing, except for Henry dying. That was a cruel joke. So what’s to be done? Who knows... soldier on, I guess, and go where I need to be. "Every day is a new beginning." (gag...)

At least I can partly accommodate the “tropical” part, by making pudding. I’ll deal with the piña coladas in drink form later in the season, on the back deck. It’s a bit too cold to contemplate that yet.

So coconut, pineapple and rum just might be the solution to all of life's woes. Luckily this pudding is easy to make. In fact, this is probably the easiest pudding I have ever made. 

This would be really nice squirted inside a donut as filling, in tarts, or maybe even a pie. For tarts or a pie I would probably firm the texture up a bit by adding another tablespoon of flour. If it gets too thick you can always thin it with rum!

This stuff will not last long in the refrigerator. In fact it’s even a little difficult to keep in the refrigerator long enough to set completely. Try it. Then you’ll know what I mean.

Pass me another pudding. And sorry for the armchair psychology.

Piña Colada Pudding
Prep: 15 min  |  Refrigerate: 1 hour  |  6 servings
19 fl. oz. unsweetened coconut cream (unsweetened)
14 fl. oz. crushed pineapple, drained
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup light cream
1 tbsp butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt
1 to 2 tbsp rum (or 1 tsp rum flavouring)
optional: whipped cream

Combine the brown sugar and eggs in a medium-sized sauce pan and beat with a hand-held mixer until thickened and light in colour.

Beat in the flour first, then the cream, melted butter and salt. Then add the coconut milk.

Place the pot on the stove over medium high heat. Using a whisk, stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil, taking care that it doesn't "catch" on the bottom of the pan. 

Once the mixture is boiling, continue to cook for a further minute, whisking vigorously. Then add the drained pineapple and rum.

Remove from the heat and pour into six ramekins. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap, taking care to press the plastic onto the surface. This helps prevent a skin from forming.

Chill the pudding for at least an hour. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.


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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lamb and Artichoke Ragù

If you don't think every day is a good day, just try missing one. – Cavett Robert

The finished dish. Very filling.

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been over two weeks since my last post...

I do have to apologize. It’s been far too long since I wrote. 17 days. This is by far and away the longest time between posts since I started this blog over three years ago. To make it even worse I had promised you a recipe using the artichokes I made in the last post.

Well, here it is – albeit very, very late.

I’m not sure what happened. I’ve been quite busy with what puts food on the table, and at the end of the day all I want to do is veg in front of the TV. I’ve also been splitting my time between my two “offices” which makes cooking, gardening (insert activity here...) much more difficult. I am both a country and city mouse.

You know, I even haven’t had time to go to the grocery store on a regular basis. I know, first world problems. But it does make it more difficult to think up and cook interesting food, let alone write about it. Although I have pulled out a few cool ideas from my pantry.

The weather this spring hasn’t helped either. I really have to think to remember one that has been this cold for so long. And we’re expecting a risk of frost again tonight. Those tomato plants don't cover themselves...

I also am allergic to wild pear blossoms. They have been in full bloom for over a week. A hazy head certainly doesn’t help to inspire activity either. But I hope to have turned a corner. I have to. Crappy meals don’t help the waist line, and it sucks to fit into fewer and fewer of my clothes.

Ready for the low simmer. Note the scant amount of liquid.
These posts are therapeutic for me in many ways, as well. I know some close to me just don’t get that, but so be it. I will do what brings me a modicum of happiness. This does.

We have put in our country vegetable garden for the second year. We’ve also built some raised stone beds to extend our “arable” land. There will be updates and wisdom from all that to impart over the next months.

So, anyway, I hope you can all forgive me for my dereliction of posting. But back to the topic at hand... What did I do with those artichokes?

My last post was Mother’s Day (can you believe it!!) and I was cooking my Mom dinner. I didn’t want to make anything too complex, but at the same time it needed to be special. This recipe did the trick. I found some ground lamb that was on sale. Bonus!

Except for the artichokes, this (nearly) one-pot-wonder was very easy to make. If you can watch a pot simmer you can do this recipe. The flavours were unexpectedly complex. Mint tends to do that.

So if you’re brave enough to tackle artichokes you should try this dinner. It certainly makes enough for four (six in a pinch). If you wish, round out the meal with a salad. Maybe something with tomato wedges, black olives, balsamic vinaigrette and oregano.

I’m writing this early in the morning, and am making myself hungry. Perhaps I should check my cupboards for something for breakfast...

I made the basic sauce at home (with the artichokes) and then took
it over to my mothers, cooked the pasta and heated it through.
Lamb and Artichoke Ragù
Prep: 2 hours (see*)  |  Cook: 1 hour  |  Serves 4-6
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lg carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 pounds ground lamb
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh mint (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tbsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 whole lemon, halved
6 tbsp red wine
6 baby artichokes, roasted*
penne for 4-6 people
1 tbsp butter

*The artichokes can be roasted the day before and refrigerated until ready to use. See my last post for easy, detailed instructions.

My mother recently bought a new propane stove.
It's very photogenic.
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Sauté the onion, carrot and garlic until slightly browned. Add the ground lamb and continue to cook until no longer pink.

Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaves, mint, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper, and lemon halves. Pour in the red wine. Bring to a simmer and cover.

Let cook for 45 minutes to an hour. If the pot looks too dry (it should have very little liquid) add a little water. Make sure the contents doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn! Remove the bay leaves.

Chop the roasted artichokes into bite-sized pieces. While the sauce is simmering, cook the penne one minute short of al dente. Drain and add to the pot.

Stir in the chopped artichokes and continue to simmer until heated through and some of the liquid has been absorbed into the pasta.

Serve with warm crusty bread.


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