Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mexican Pork, Rice & Beans

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust 

Sometimes “value” shopping can get you into trouble, especially if it’s food and you don’t have a “normal” family of four. I usually buy several meat items when they're on sale and then promptly freeze them. My freezer is starting to look like my mother's. A place where things go to be forgotten (but with far more recent dates than in hers).

I found myself in that position the other day. I forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner the other night. So down to the freezer I went. and at 5pm I was standing in front of the nuclear oven defrosting 2 lbs of pork loin chops. Finally, a use for that thing other than reheating leftovers.

The whole package was only $5. But I hated the thought of only using some of it and perhaps wasting the rest. I was to be away for a few days and it probably wouldn’t get around to using it.

Just before the rice went in.
So I had to cook all of it. But what to make that would last in the fridge and still be something I would want to eat? My pantry been getting pretty bare recently. This month has been one filled with design work as opposed to delicious meals. I have to work on that and re-stock...

Scrounging around the pantry I found a few ingredients that I could throw together with pork. Black beans, corn, rice, some tomato sauce I “put up” in July and chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Things were shaping up, and sounding pretty Mexican.

I am always amazed at how even a partially empty pantry can lead you on a road to discovery if you only can see the possibilities. That’s the trick.

So that’s what happened. What also happened was dinner for four to six, with very little effort. Kind of like a Latin risotto, with “stuff” in it. Delicious stuff. Great food for the soul sucking greyness we call winter weather in Nova Scotia.

Use that nuclear oven to reheat any leftovers to steamy hot when you enjoy it again.

After adding the brand and corn heat through.
Mexican Pork, Rice & Beans
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4-6
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lg onion, halved and sliced
2 lg garlic cloves
2 lbs pork loin, cubed
2 cups plain tomato sauce
2 cup chicken stock*
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, diced
1 cup long grain white rice
2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 can corn kernels
1 can black beans, rinsed
hot sauce, optional

Sauté the onions and garlic on medium high in the oil until softened and slightly browned. Add the cubed pork, sprinkle with salt and pepper and let cook until browned as well.

Add the tomato sauce, stock, chopped chipotle peppers, cumin, thyme and oregano. You can add more chipotles if you wish. Bring to a boil over medium low heat.

Add the rice, stir well and cover. Let cook for 15 minutes, until the rice is nearly done. Stir the pot occasionally to ensure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add more stock if required, but you probably won’t need it because you want the end result to be fairly dry.

Add the drained black beans and corn. Bring to a simmer and heat through. Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with hot sauce at the table.

* If you wish, for a more complex flavour use half white wine and half chicken stock.


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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hand Rolled Pasta - you can do it!

I seriously love to cook... I love the idea of making whatever is in the fridge into something. – Bradley Cooper 

Pici with beef, onion, mucshroom and carrot râgù.
And not just the fridge, but pantry, too! I usually make homemade pasta with regular white flour, but have always wanted to make just a semolina flour version. It's supposed to be "stiffer" and more like dried pasta you buy. It has more of that "al dente" bite.

I now have the chance. I bought some semolina #1 flour at Mid-East Foods at the corner of Agricola and North in Halifax on the weekend. Now all I have to do is find the time to do it. I may even try to roll it by hand and cut into linguini.

I imagine that will take a fair amount of elbow grease, but to inspire myself I'm posting about a hand rolled pasta that doesn't require a rolling pin and board. Traditionally from Tuscany, pici is a wonderful way to make an unusual pasta even if you don’t have a pasta roller.

Just add enough water to bring
the dough together.
Each piece is lovingly rolled by hand into a tube that is thinner than a regular pencil, much thinner if you have the drive to do it. Each piece has varying thickness along its length. That’s part of its charm. Very rustic.

I said “lovingly” in the paragraph above because these noodles take time to make. You roll small pieces of dough (with your palms and a flat surface) two to three times, or more. 

These are a substantial noodle, and as such demand a substantial sauce with lots of flavour. Think râgù with beef and vegetables, or with duck or boar. That’s what these noodles demand. Something with guts.

Now “guts” doesn’t mean it has to be chunky, just with loads of flavour. Maybe make a porcini mushroom or a garlicky spicy sauce. I would shy away from “delicate” sauces like vodka sauce or lobster. Although delicious, they would be overwhelmed.

This recipe would be great fun if you were having friends over for a cooking party. That way you could share the workload. The first time I rolled the noodles it took me 1/2 hour. Second roll was quicker. I should have done a third. Each time they get thinner and keep their shape better.

Traditionally this dough has no eggs, but I find that they add an elasticity (therefore easier to roll) that wouldn’t be there without their inclusion.

After 10 minutes. I could have kneaded it a bit longer...
Even though these noodles take time, they are certainly worth the effort to serve something with the look and taste of the Italian countryside.

Hand Rolled Pasta (pici)
Serves 4
2 cups flour
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup water (just enough to bring the dough together into a mass)

Mix the salt and flour together. Then add the ingredients and bring together with a fork. Knead the resulting dough for 10 minutes or until quite smooth. Wrap the dough and let it rest for 30 minutes. 

Roll walnut sized pieces into long tubes. Keep the remaining dough wrapped.
After the dough has rested take a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll with your hands on the counter or a large cutting board into a long tube. The piece should stretch to at least 14 inches long. Each time the dough rests is tends to shrink and get fatter that what you had rolled.

This is the first rolling. Note the varying thicknesses. Second roll with help that out.
Let rest for another 30 minutes. Roll each piece again. It should be able to stretch to 20+ inches. If the dough is too long to handle, cut it in half. You will note by now you’re getting an understanding of how the dough reacts.

This is after the second roll. Each time it's easier to make each piece longer and more even.
Let the dough rest again. Just before cooking roll each piece again if desired. You’re looking for noodles that are about half as thick as a pencil.

Boil in salted water for 10 minutes. It takes that long for the noodles to thoroughly cook. 

Serve with any chunky country-style sauce or ragout. I understand they are also served tossed with breadcrumbs just by themselves with no sauce.


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homestyle Bacon Corn Chowder

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. – Doug Larson


My last post was for a bread to sop up chowder or soup broth. I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t supply you with a recipe to use it. So here it is. And it’s one of my best.

Childhood memories will flood your mind when you lean over the pot and inhale…deeply. And believe me, you will do that. This recipe is “the melting pot of homey memories.”

Corn was just about at its peak in Nova Scotia when I made this in September. This recipe uses three ears. Fresh corn in chowder is always the way to go, not creamed corn. Creamed corn is gross. 

Pretty simple ingredients. Serves 4 as a main course,
or 8 as a starter.
Does anyone actually seek out cans of creamed corn to eat? Would you admit to it? I find it too “gloopy.”

Now, whole canned kernels are an entirely different matter. They’re almost as good as fresh. And they’re relatively inexpensive, too. So since it’s January, head to the canned veggie aisle of the grocery.

Add bacon (3/4 of a pound!) and some onion and you’re half way there. Is there any way this couldn’t be good?

The real way to thicken a chowder—or chowdah if you’re from New England like some of my relatives—is with potato. The potato is cooked until it starts to disintegrate a little into the water. The starch and potato thickens the liquid and gives it that mouthful body we all love so much.

My chowders are finished off with evaporated milk. For some reason it seems to work better, and taste better, than regular milk or cream. It adds a richness that just isn’t there without it.

This recipe is easy, easy, easy. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being high) it’s got to be 2. If you can peel, dice and slice you can make an excellent, comforting chowder. It's perfect for those rainy, miserable days when you need a warm hug from the kitchen.

Knowing how to make corn chowder is a kitchen necessity. It’s one of those basics you assume everyone knows how to make. But that’s not necessarily the case.

So now it’s memorialized, or more accurately, in a place where we can all find it for next time!

Homestyle Bacon Corn Chowder
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 20 min  |  Serves 4-8
300 g bacon
1 medium onion
3 medium potatoes
3 large ears corn
2 cans (370 ml) evaporated milk
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp cracked black pepper
salt, to taste

Slice the bacon into 1/2 wide pieces. Fry in a stock pot until slightly brown and the fat has rendered out. Remove the bacon to a dish, leaving behind about 1 tbsp of the fat.

Chop the onion and sauté in the bacon fat until slightly browned.

Peel and dice the potatoes into 1/2" cubes and add to the pot. Then add water to about 1" above the level of the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the potatoes are pierced easily with a fork.

Remove the kernels from the corn by slicing down the sides of the cobs with a sharp knife. This is best done in a cookie sheet to catch the Kernels. Add them to the pot. Then add the bacon back in.

Add both cans of evaporated milk and the pepper and bring the chowder to a simmer. Let the corn simmer for about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the butter. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Serve with white bread or rolls to dip in the chowder liquid as you eat.


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Friday, January 24, 2014

Milk Bread for “Chowdah”

The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure. – Joseph Campbell 

Forgive me. My loaf is lop-sided because I didn't level the dough out
as well as I should have before 2nd rise.

Let’s face it, the weather’s turned to winter again. Big blizzard here the day before yesterday. I would imagine, like me, most people started their day with shovel in hand.

When you go to bed...
I would also imagine that many people turned to tried and true hearty favourites for dinner last night. One class of those go-to cold weather foods is often soups, chowders or stews. Things with a lot of broth or creamy liquid.

When I was young my mom and dad used to put some wonderful dishes like that on the table. I didn’t think they were wonderful at the time. Luckily with age comes appreciation.

Corn chowder, fish or lobster, ham and potato, and of course Maritime down-home beef stew.

Just as common on the table was some sort of hearty bread or rolls to help you sop up all those juices. It was a "must."

And what you find in the AM.
Oddly, you really can’t use just any bread for "sopping." Pre-sliced from the store usually doesn’t have enough body to stand up to getting wet. You sop up all those delicious juices and then your bread falls apart. That sucks.

That’s where this recipe comes in. This is not a light, fluffy bread. It’s heavy. Perfect for bringing to the table for chowder.

Although excellent sliced and toasted or for sandwiches as well, it’s born to be dunked. It may sound odd to use powdered milk, but it works. If you’re looking for a bread recipe for a “chowdah” night, give this a try. At two loaves it makes quite a lot.

You can mix before bed and deal with it before work, or mix just before you go out the door. The mixing can get a bit messy, so if you have any children hanging around enlist their aid. They’ll love it!

These loaves are not shaped, so they end up being a bit flat on top and therefore square. Great for sandwiches...

Before 2nd rise in 5x9 pans. 8x4 will make taller loaves.
Milk Bread for “Chowdah”
Prep: 10 min  |  Raises: overnight  |  Yield 2 loaves
6 cups flour
1 cup powdered skim milk
1 tbsp yeast
2-3/4 cup water, 110°F
2 tsp salt

Mix all of the ingredients, except for the water, together in a large bowl. Add the water and mix with a spoon. Then get in there with your hands. It will be sticky and wet. Squeeze the dough with your hands for about 5 minutes. It will not get smooth.

Cover with plastic and a towel and let rise for 6-8 hours. Oil the top to minimize sticking to the plastic. Go to work, to bed, or shopping for the day.

Turn the risen bread out onto a lightly floured board. Knead for 1-2 minutes with a little more flour. Cut in half. No need to shape.

Place each half in well oiled 4x8 or 5x9 loaf pans, cut side up. Press the dough out to get into the corners. Let rise for a further 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 425°F and bake for 35 minutes. The loaves will sound hollow when tapped and be quite brown on top. Turn out onto a rack and let cool.


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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Roasted Garlic Cream Chicken

I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning how to sail my ship. – Louisa May Alcott

The cure for winter blahs? Maybe...

This recipe is the love child of the famous “40 cloves of garlic chicken.” That’s a recipe where you either stuff 40 cloves inside, or around, a chicken and then roast it. Tasty stuff.

If you like roasted garlic, you’ll love this recipe. It’s not quite the same but pretty close. They’re more “braised” than roasted, but make one heck of a delicious sauce.

With the crappy weather we’re having today, tons of garlic may just be what the doctor ordered. There’s something homey about a deep, rich, garlicky sauce that just cannot be beat. It’s heart-warming and spirits-lifting. Heavy garlic recipes are really meant for snowy days.

Don’t be afraid of the amount of garlic. Yes, it’s a lot, but it transforms as it cooks and makes the most amazing end result. Is there such a thing as too much garlic?

Garlic has to be one of my favourite, of not my most favourite, ingredient. We actually stuck some in the ground a year ago in the fall. Each individual clove will make a full head. They need to over-winter to grow best. But sadly the slugs, or something, found them. Disappointing.

As far as recipes go, this really can’t be easier. The only thing it does take is a little time, but most of that is baking. So it’s not like you’re watching a pot.

Although perfect for a family dinner I would hazard a guess this is “fancy” enough for company, too. That sauce is really something to die for.

Brandy, cream and garlic. Can’t argue with that!

Note: for a side dish I made snow peas and sweet onion. It was a great quick side dish. Slice a sweet onion and toss with frozen snow peas in a bowl. Microwave for 4 minutes, drain and toss with butter, salt and pepper. Mmmm...

Roasted Garlic Cream Chicken
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 1.75 h  |  Serves 4
7-8 chicken things, bone in skin on
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
1/2 cup brandy
1 tsp oregano
salt, to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
1 cup whipping cream

Peel all the cloves from two whole heads of garlic. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Heat an oven-proof skillet to medium high and fry the chicken until browned. Season it with salt and pepper as it cooks. Start bone side down. Fat will render out. Turn the chicken and brown the skin side.

Once the chicken is browned, pour off all the fat except for 2 tablespoons.

Nestle the garlic around the chicken, pour in the brandy and sprinkle the chicken with the oregano. Wrap the pan tightly with foil (or use a cover if it’s oven-proof).

Place the pan in the oven and bake for 1.5 hours. Then remove the pan and set the chicken aside, keeping it warm while you make the sauce.

Place the pan juices, garlic and cream in a blender or food processor. Pulse until the garlic is puréed. Take care to not “whip” the cream too much, but it will thicken. Don’t worry.

Pour the sauce back into the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook until reduced slightly and is a little thickened. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.

Spoon some sauce onto individual plates, top with two thighs per person and then drizzle with some more of the sauce. Serve.


Feel free to comment. I'll always try to respond. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is that you credit me and share a link back to the original.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage

These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. – Abraham Lincoln

I’m not about to get into the broader themes of equality. I could, but I won’t...right now. I’m talking today about egalitarian eating, serving a vegetarian main dish at home, and to start, taking a vegetarian out to a restaurant.

This past weekend we took our friend – who my spouse was staying with last school term – out for dinner. It was a thank you for all her help to us. A small one for all she did, but a thank you none-the-less.

It's tricky to go out eating with a vegetarian. Short of going to a vegetarian restaurant, great choices for the non-meaters can be hit or miss. Luckily we found a fantastic place in The Cellar, on Clyde Street in Halifax. Go. There. This. Weekend. But make reservations.

If your pasta dough isn't smooth after kneading don't worry.
The 30 minute "sit" does miraculous things.
Besides several fantastic vegetarian starters they also had squash ravioli. Nothing beats squash ravioli with sage, not even meat dishes. It is the most wonderful combination of flavours. 

Every Italian restaurant worth its salt will have either squash or pumpkin ravioli on the menu in the fall/winter. Most good restaurants vary their menus by the season to offer diners the best in available ingredients.

How to pick a dry squash, maybe...
I love dry squash. Mushy squash is, well, gross. Dry squash is fluffy, light and soaks up butter like it was born to it.

Here's an interesting tidbit for people who dislike "wet" squash as much as I do. I think I have found out the secret to picking a dry squash out of the pile at the market.

The secret is kind of obvious. You lift the squash and compare how heavy ones of similar size feel. I was doing this at the store to get the biggest one for the least amount of money. They sell squash by the pound (most times) and you’re buying a lot of water. I was being cheap.

I have tried other techniques: pressing my fingernail into the skin to see if it dents easily, tapping for a hollow sound, etc. But my new technique makes so much sense. A lighter squash will have less water content. Less water content means drier flesh. This technique has worked so far...

Making homemade pasta
Don't be intimidated by making your own pasta. It is really quite easy. Ravioli is a little more time intensive but the work is worth it. All you really need is a hand crank pasta roller, although you can roll it by hand. In Halifax the only place I was able to find one was at Stokes in Dartmouth Crossing. They’re about $29.98. Go and get one. You should have one. It’s great fun on wintry weekends, and sadly we’ll be having more of them before spring.

Homemade pasta cooks in minutes. As such everything that goes into a filling needs to be cooked beforehand. (There is an egg used for binder, but the usual four minutes cooking time is enough.)

Another important tip about ravioli is that you have to make sure they are well sealed on all four sides. If not you will have a terrible, disappointing mess when they cook. I usually pinch them together again just before cooking.

One last note. If you’ve never had fried sage you have no idea what you have been missing. A simple fried sage butter sauce is the perfect complement to these fall ravioli or even plain pasta. Two ingredients, and superb.

I added mushrooms to the sage/butter sauce to make it a little more filling, but that is all. Do yourself a culinary favour and make homemade ravioli soon. If you don't eat them all they can be frozen separately and then bagged very easily.

Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage
Prep: 1 hour  |  Cook: 3-4 minutes  |  Makes 24 ravioli
Pasta dough:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup milk + 1 tbsp
3/4 cup cooked squash
140 g soft goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan (optional)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cracked black  pepper
3/4 cup butter
150 g crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup sage leaves
cracked black pepper

Mix together the egg and milk in a small dish. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour with a fork.

Continue to mix with your hands until a ball is formed. If necessary add a slight bit more milk but err on the dry, rather than wet, side.

Place the dough on a board and knead for about 5-8 minutes until relatively smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 30 minutes. You can also let it rest longer in the refrigerator.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Mix together the squash, goat cheese egg, salt and pepper. It should be fairly dry and a spoonful will keep its shape. If not, add the parmesan. Set aside.

After the dough has rested cut into four equal pieces. Roll each piece out to a thin sheet. (On my pasta machine I have seven settings. I roll to one from the thinnest – 6.) Roll all four pieces of dough.

Lay one sheet on the counter. It should be about 2-1/2 feet long. Place a rounded dessert spoonful of filling at each end of the dough about 1/2” from the edge. Place 10 more spoonfuls along the dough at equal intervals.

If your filling isn’t equally spaced adjust the balls so they are. Dampen all the pasta showing around the filling with water. Take a second sheet and place over the fillings. Firmly press down between the filling trying to push out as much air as possible. (Air will make them explode when cooking.)

After the top sheet is well adhered to the bottom trim the outer edges and ends with a sharp knife. Then cut down between each ball of filling. This will make 12 ravioli.

Repeat with the remaining sheets of pasta. Place the finished ravioli on a lightly dusted surface or a piece of plastic wrap or tin foil. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect. That is part of their charm.

Make the sauce by melting the butter in a frying pan. Coarsely chop the sage leaves. Chop the mushrooms and add to the butter. Once the mushrooms start to soften add the sage leaves and let cook until the mushrooms have browned and the sage has darkened. Do not let the sage burn. Season with pepper.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the ravioli and let cook for 4 minutes. Drain and serve with the mushroom/sage/butter sauce.

These ravioli are on the large side. An appetizer serving is usually three or four ravioli; an entrée is six to eight.


Feel free to comment. I'll always try to respond. If you like this post, feel free to share it. All I ask is that you credit me and share a link back to the original.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rainy weather? Mushroom, Bacon & Ale Soup

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi 

Mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, cream...and beer. Beer on the side too, of you wish!

Interesting weather we're having lately. Last week started in a deep freeze, and now we're above 0°C even over night. Great weather for colds and flu, or at least being susceptible to them. And today it's rain.

On occasions like this there’s nothing that hits the spot quite like soup. This soup will lift your spirits regardless of the weather. It’s basically a cream of mushroom, but with additions.

This soup got my “tingle of approval. “ I think I’ve mentioned that phenomenon before. I have this strange thing that happens whenever I first taste something that my taste buds bleieve is really good. It’s kind of like a cross between a shiver and the hair standing up on your neck. 

It’s the “tingle.” I don’t get it often, and when I do it means a lot.

500 g of mushrooms seems like a lot when they go in the
pot, but they reduce a great deal when fried.
This recipe started off as an ordinary enough mushroom soup. What came out of the pot was something quite different. It’s amazing what happens when you just keep adding things... within reason.

The first addition was lots of bacon. I wanted this soup to be filling so meat was in order. I’ve often rendered fat from a couple slices of bacon for cream of mushroom soup. It gives you something to fry the mushrooms in, plus some flavour complexity.

I also had a couple tomatoes on the counter. Had to use them.

Where I really took a chance was with the beer. I was a little apprehensive when it went in, but all worry evaporated (with a little of the alcohol content) when it all came together.

In fact, if you didn’t know it, you would never guess this soup had a whole bottle of beer in it. Mushrooms and beer seem to be made for each other.

Another less than usual step was thickening the soup with grated bread. A few days ago I had made ciabatta rolls. One was left over. It was just enough to use for that purpose, and make some croutons.

Thickening with bread is a medieval technique. In fact there were many recipes for “bread sauces,” many of which used cream and spices mid with the stale crumbs. It was an economical way to use up leftover bread. 

I will be using this technique again. It’s not only resourceful, but adds an excellent body to soup, which often can be unsubstantial.

This time I used a beer by Rickard's® called Oakhouse. It's not too bad. Next time I think I go "whole hog" and use a Guinness!

All in all, this soup turned out better than good. Not too bad for a basic cream of mushroom soup that seemed to take on a life of its own.

If you try this soup, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find it in your pot more than once!

Simmering for 20 minutes breaks down the tomatoes and
melds all the flavours together.
Mushroom, Bacon & Ale Soup
Prep: 6 min  |  Cook: 30 min  |  Serves 4-6
250 g naturally smoked bacon
500g white mushrooms
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
341 ml ale (1 bottle of your favourite)
1 cup beef broth
1 cup grated stale country bread
3/4 tsp thyme
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
370 ml evaporated milk (1-1/2 cups)
olive oil
optional: grated parmesan or gruyere cheese

Cut the bacon into 1” wide pieces. Fry in a heavy bottomed soup pot until the fat renders out and the bacon has begun to brown. Remove the meat to a dish, leaving the fat behind. (All of it.)

Slice the mushrooms in four pieces. Add to the fat and cook for about 3 minutes. Then add the onion and garlic and sauté until the mushrooms begin to brown.

Add the chopped tomato, beer and broth. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Then stir in the grated bread. The soup should thicken up instantly.

Stir in the thyme, pepper and salt and let cook for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes have completely broken down.

Stir in the evaporated milk and bring the soup back to steaming. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust if desired.

Serve with croutons pan fried with olive oil, and grated cheese if you wish.


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Saturday, January 11, 2014

20 Minute Shrimp with Vermouth Cream Sauce

There is more to life than increasing its speed. – Mahatma Gandhi 

Fast, and amazingly delicious.

That’s usually true, except when it comes to dinner, and then speed can be your friend. Not so much in the eating (take your time) but in the preparation. This is one of those recipes that you can have on the table in far less than half an hour.

This recipe combines succulent shrimp with the intense flavour of tomato and vermouth. It's a wonderful combination. Vermouth is a perfect complement to seafood, as if you didn't know…

This is my homemade vermouth.
Vermouth is a fortified wine that has been infused with herbs and/or roots. Wine has been infused with herbs for millennia. The word for vermouth originates from 13th century German. What we consider present day vermouth was first produced around the late 18th century in Italy and France. 

I have made my own, if you’re interested. The recipe is here. It was pretty good.

Vermouth was marketed initially as a medicinal drink in the 19th century. With an alcohol content hovering at 18% one can see why it would make someone feel “better!” It wasn’t until later in the 1800s that it was used in many classic cocktails like the martini.

Wine is used as the base for vermouth. Each manufacturer adds additional alcohol (sometimes in the form of aquavit) and their own special mixtures of herbs, roots, and barks. Yum...

Vermouth is sold in two main types: sweet (red) and dry (white). Vermouth is an excellent substitute for white wine in cooking and is particularly good with seafood, as well as chicken and pork. When the alcohol is cooked away the flavour of the herbs remain.

Simmer and reduce the sauce before adding the shrimp.
Shrimp Linguine with Vermouth Cream Sauce
Let the sauce reduce before adding the shrimp.
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 10 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb shrimp (454 g)
1 lb linguine (454 g)*
1/4 cup butter
1 small onion, cut in half and sliced very thin
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomato halves
1/4 cup vermouth (white)
1/4 cup tomato purée
1-1/2 cups whipping cream (plus extra, see recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan

Bring water to a boil for the pasta. Cook according to package directions.

Only add the shrimp shortly before serving.
They only take minutes to cook.
Heat butter in a sauté pan. Cook onion and garlic until beginning to brown. Add the vermouth, tomato purée and cream and let cook until thickened. It should be a little thicker than you think it should be. 

As the sun-dried tomatoes cook in the sauce it will take on a bright creamy orange colour.

Add the shrimp and cook until just through – no more than 5 minutes. They should just be pink. That may be even less than 5 minutes. Any more time and shrimp become tough.

Liquid will come out of the shrimp as they cook. If the sauce is still too thick you can thin it with a little more cream.

Serve the shrimp and sauce on the hot drained pasta with grated parmesan.

* Depending on how many people you are serving, and how many shrimp you like, you may want to adjust this to a lesser amount.


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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Old-fashioned Yellow Cake

I have very old-fashioned tastes. – Jerry Hall 

Me, too. It’s not that I don’t like “modern” versions of food. I guess it’s just that all the old country-style recipes really bring back memories to me. For the most part, very good ones.

This cake is one. It’s like what grandmothers (or in my case my Great Aunts) everywhere used to make – if your grandmother didn’t pull out a Betty Crocker box. It’s a classic, sturdy, delicious cake that takes to frosting like a duck to water.

It’s funny how what you appreciate changes as you age. It can be aspects of relationships, your work, your play or even your food. What was unimportant evolves to take on significant meaning in your life. You appreciate the small things. That’s what life is all about.

I grew up in the country. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich so as much food as we could was made at home – dinners, cookies, donuts, pies and cakes. It was the “store-bought” stuff that was the treat. It was “special.” Homemade was boring.

That’s done a complete 180° turn. Who in their right mind would pass up a homemade baked good? There’s no comparison.

Perhaps that is why I am the way I am today, making as much food as I possibly can. It goes a long way in explaining my (almost) obsession with making things myself. It also gives me a sense of accomplishment, and more money in my wallet. We would all like that.

There’s three aspects to food: the taste, nutrition and bonding. We should never underestimate the latter.

Convenience food has taken much of the taste (and nutrition) out of what “real” food used to be. It also has sucked part of the good feeling out of mealtime and its preparation. Tell me who who wistfully remembers the days when the family sat around the “science oven” waiting for dinner to come to the table.

I venture not too many. Who remembers pulling the plastic wrap off a TV dinner as a warm family memory? Making food together brings us closer, whatever form your family takes.

Of course cake is a big part of those memories. We not only use it as a dessert but also as a way to mark milestones in life like birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. So knowing a down-home classic for a cake is a really good thing. 

This is called “yellow cake” because, well, it’s yellow. That means the egg yolks are included. Another old standard is “white” cake, using no yolks and beaten whites which makes it very airy. Of course there are others including hybrids, but those are the two biggies.

Cakes also come in two basic preparations. One beats the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, which adds air to the cake. The other “creams” the butter and sugar together so is more dense. This is the latter.

Don’t be afraid of cake. If you follow the recipe you should have no problems. I know, sometimes cakes can be spectacular failures. I’ve had my share. But it’s usually when I start fiddling with a recipe. I’ve tested this one for you.

This cake would make a great celebration cake, or even cut up and used in a trifle. It can be made square, or in a tube pan, or sliced into layers and tarted up to your heart’s desire. It’s up to you.

I made mine in a rectangular bundt pan. Whatever pan or pans you use will affect baking time. But it’s easy to tell when a cake is done. 1. it pulls away slightly from the pan edges, and  2. a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

So begin to appreciate the small things in life. Go make a cake and bake some memories!

Old-fashioned Yellow Cake
Prep: 15 min  |  Bake: 30-60 min, depending on pans
3/4 cup butter, softened
1-3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour either two 9” layer cake pans, a 9x13 baking pan, a tube pan or a bundt pan and set aside. (see below for baking time)

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until creamed. It will not get “fluffy.” Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one.

Sift together the baking powder, salt and flour. (Personally, I hardly ever do this. If you’re lazy like me, add the baking powder and salt to the batter and beat in. Then proceed as follows.)

Add 1 cup of the flour to the batter and beat in. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula. Then add 1/2 cup of milk. repeat this procedure two more times until all the flour and milk are incorporated. Then beat in the vanilla.

Pour the batter into your chosen pan and bake for between 30-60 minutes, depending on the pan you are using. Layer pans will take less time, a tube or bundt pan much longer.

Start checking with a toothpick or cake tester needle when the centre looks set and doesn’t jiggle. When done, the tester will come out clean.

Test “dead centre,” as that is the last place the batter cooks.

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Then turn out. Frost or not. It’s up to you!


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