Friday, August 1, 2014

Ginger Rhubarb Cordial, for summer patio fun

Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability. – Sam Keen

We are most definitely in the depths of summer, so some laziness must be called for. Speaking of laziness, here’s one I’ve been keeping in the hopper for quite a while, and I apologize. I made this about a month ago.

You can probably still find rhubarb in the vegetable department of the grocery – most certainly in the freezer section. You may even be able to rustle up enough from your back yard, if you haven’t let your rhubarb go to seed.

Rhubarb is an easy-to-grow backyard plant. Many homes in city, town and country have a small patch somewhere. Some patches are decades old.

There’s even ornamental rhubarbs that can make quite a dramatic statement in the flower border. I wouldn’t recommend using an ornamental rhubarb for this recipe. Probably would be very dangerous. They’re relatives to garden rhubarb, not siblings.

Speaking of danger, there is one about the garden-variety rhubarb, too. Never eat the leaves. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which in larger doses is poisonous. This means pets, too, so if fido or fluffy develop a penchant for rhubarb leaves call the vet (just to be safe).

I have posted a recipe for rhubarb liqueur in the past (2011), but this is for a cordial syrup. So for all you tea-totalers, you can easily add summer sparkle to soda and ice. 

If you’ve had a particularly stressful day or week, serve over ice with gin or vodka and soda.

You may want to double the recipe. It’s pretty good stuff...

Ginger Rhubarb Cordial
Prep: 10 min  |  Total time: 30 min  |  Yield: about 700ml
1-3/4 lbs rhubarb stalks (weigh them)
1-1/4 cups white sugar
1-1/4 cups water
1 lemon, zest and juice
3” piece of ginger, sliced
2 tsp citric acid

Wash and trim the ends off the rhubarb stalks and then cut into 1” pieces. Place in a pot with a well-fitting lid. You don’t want the liquid to evaporate away. Then add the sugar and water.

Cut the zest from the lemon and add to the pot, then squeeze in the juice. Don’t worry about seeds as the mixture will be strained later... Slice the unpeeled ginger into strips and add to the pot.

Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to medium and let cook for 10 minutes.

After cooking stir to ensure all the rhubarb is mushy and broken up. Stir in the citric acid and let sit until cool enough to handle. The citric acid extends shelf life.

Place a sieve lined with doubled cheesecloth over a mixing bowl. Squeeze the rhubarb through the sieve, pressing down to extract as much juice as possible. 

If you’re over-zealous and some rhubarb pulp makes its way into the strained liquid you can re-strain or leave it. It will add some “texture” to your drinks (like orange juice with pulp...).

Discard the remaining solids. Pour the juice into a sterilized bottle and refrigerate. Use as you desire in mixed drinks with soda or tonic. 

The cordial will safely last for one week, refrigerated.


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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Japanese Beef Bowl

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

Looks tasty, yes?

Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best. We have quite a few in North America, most often filed mentally under the term “mom’s kitchen.” You know, family food.

Sometimes, though, you just crave something a little exotic. Now to those of Asian descent this won’t seem very unusual, but to those of us who subsist on boiled potatoes and the like mirin is quite an exciting introduction.

This may be Japanese “family food.” I’m not sure. The signature characteristic of family food is that it is filling, and easy to prepare. That’s the case with this dish. Super simple, super delicious, and super fast.

I have a real reluctance to turn on the stove during the heat of summer. So anything I can do to reduce the amount of heat it throws into my home is appreciated. 

We still have to eat, and we should still eat well. But at this date (nearly the end of July) we’re probably getting a little tired of abandoning the kitchen for the barbecue. Or at least we are looking for a little diversity between chops, burgers and hot dogs.

If you time everything right you can have this dinner on the table in the length of time it takes to cook rice.

Japanese Beef Bowl
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 15 min  |  Serves 2
1-1/4 cup beef broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin (rice wine)
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
1 lb lean beef, sliced thin
sliced green onions
cooked white rice

To slice the beef more easily, partially pre-freeze until fairly firm. Then slice with a sharp knife. Set aside.

*** To ensure tender beef slice against the grain.

Bring broth, soy sauce, mirin, onion, sugar, ginger and garlic (and chilli if using) to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat to medium let cook until the volume is reduced to almost half. It should start to look a little syrupy.

Mix the cornstarch with a teaspoon of water and stir into the broth. Then add the onions and cook until they are tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the beef slices and cook until just barely done, about 1-2 minutes. 

Serve over white rice with the green onion sprinkled on top.

If beef isn’t your thing, you can substitute thin slices of chicken breast.


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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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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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