Thursday, August 28, 2014

Potato, Cabbage & Bacon Bake

This serves four as a main course, or six as a side dish.

½ lb bacon, cut into lardons
½ head small cabbage (either green or Savoy), halved & sliced
1 medium yellow onion, halved & sliced
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled & sliced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
100 g cheese of your choice
½ c low-sodium chicken stock

In Dutch oven, brown bacon over medium heat until the fat becomes foamy.  Remove bacon to paper towel to drain.  Discard all but 1 T bacon fat.

In the bacon fat over medium-low heat, cook the cabbage and onion, covered, until its volume has decreased approx 50%.  Season well with salt & pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Butter an 8 X 8 pan well.  Cover the bottom of the pan with the potato slices from one of the potatoes, overlapping slightly as needed.  Season with salt & pepper.  Sprinkle with half the thyme, half the bacon, half the cabbage/onion mixture, and half the cheese.  Repeat.  Pour chicken stock over all.

Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on full power for 5 minutes.  Remove plastic wrap, replace with foil, and bake for one hour.  After an hour, remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Allow to rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes before cutting & serving.


Monday, August 4, 2014

My Ambrosia: Braised Lamb Shanks

My maternal grandmother, who lived to the ripe old age of 103, always referred to oxtail stew as her ‘ambrosia’, aka Food of the Gods.  While her oxtail stew was excellent, braised lamb shanks are the pinnacle for me.  The rich, sticky sauce is so complex and full of flavour, it’s difficult to believe it’s near-effortless.

It was that grandmother who introduced us to lamb shanks at their cottage in Reddington Shores, Florida.  We had never heard of lamb shanks, it simply wasn’t a cut that was readily available in our area in the 70s.  My entire family (all of them lamb lovers) were bowled over with how good they were, and a few years later, we began seeing them in supermarkets here.

Unfortunately, lamb shanks (along with oxtails) are no longer the steal they used to be.  Now that these and other off-prime cuts have become en vogue, the demand has skyrocketed.  We may not eat these as often as we’d like, but when we do it’s always the same conclusion: ambrosia.  Thanks, Grandma S!     

3 lamb shanks
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 t vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c tomato paste
2 c (approx) low-sodium chicken stock
1 T chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 t dried & crumbled)
1 bay leaf

Season lamb shanks with salt & pepper. 

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, brown the lamb shanks in 1 t of the vegetable oil.  Remove lamb shanks to a plate, lower the heat to medium low and add the remaining vegetable oil to pan, if needed.  Add onion, cooking slowly, until all the brown bits (fond) have been picked up by the onion.  Add the garlic, cooking for another minute or two.  Put the shanks back into the pan, and add remaining ingredients.

Bring to a boil, then cover & cook on stove top at a medium simmer for two hours, turning shanks over at half time .  Remove shanks to plate (meat should be fall-off-the-bone tender), cover with foil, and keep warm in a low oven.

Bring the juices to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-high, and continue cooking until the volume is reduced by half.  Spoon the juices over the shanks, and serve.

Excellent made a day ahead, too.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thai Shrimp & Scallop Soup

Every time I taste Thai food, I’m always surprised that it still tastes incredibly exotic to me.  It’s freshness, pungency, heat, and flavour combinations are far removed from the temperate-climate food most Anglo Canadians were raised on.

This restorative soup is a perfect example of how you can create authentic tastes without having to buy specialty products.  Lemon grass and lime leaves are easily replaced by lemon slices and lime zest.  No coconut milk?  Try using evaporated milk; the end results are very similar.  

You can also use 2/3 lb shrimp instead of the shrimp and scallop combination if you wish.

3-1/2 c low-sodium chicken stock
2 thin slices lemon
Zest of half a lime
1 T slivered garlic
1 T slivered ginger
½ t sugar
2 t fish sauce
1/8 to ¼ t hot pepper flakes
1/3 lb cleaned shell-on shrimp
1/3 lb bay scallops
1 green onion, cut in half lengthwise then cut into 1” pieces
Handful grape tomatoes, quartered (optional)
1/2 c coconut milk (or evaporated milk)
Juice of half a lime
Chopped cilantro (optional)

Shell shrimp, reserving shells & tails.  In a medium saucepan, combine chicken stock and shrimp shells.  Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer for five minutes.  Remove shells from stock.  Add the lemon slices, lime zest, garlic, ginger, sugar, fish sauce and pepper flakes to the hot stock.  Cover, and allow to infuse off heat for 30 minutes.  Remove lemon slices.

Bring stock back to the boil; add the shrimp, scallops, green onion and tomatoes (if using).  Return to the boil and immediately remove from heat.  Stir through the coconut milk and lime juice.  Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired.  Serves two generously.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Asian Salmon Cakes

Hot, sour, salty, sweet.  They're all covered here, and the result is delicious.

213 g can sockeye salmon, drained and flaked
1 t minced ginger
1 t sugar
1 T soy sauce
¼ t sesame oil
1 t prepared hot mustard
1 T lime juice
1-2 green onions, sliced (depending on size)
Small handful chopped cilantro
Sprinkle white pepper
1 egg
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs

Combine all in bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. 

Form into two patties.  Cook in frying pan with 2 t vegetable oil over medium heat until nicely browned on both sides. 

Excellent served with stir-fried broccoli.

Baked Rice Pilaf

Years ago, a group of awkward twenty-somethings got together for a pot luck meal at a friend’s house.  My job was to bring a rice dish, and I opted for a baked pilaf.  The rice was nothing short of phenomenal, but the recipe disappeared shortly thereafter into oblivion. 

Since then, I’ve scoured countless recipe books and websites in the hope of finding the exact recipe, to no avail.  Here’s my best attempt at recreating it, which I must say, is excellent.  

1 t vegetable oil
½ lb / 227 g mushrooms, diced (optional)
1 T butter
1 small onion, diced
1 c converted rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-3/4 c chicken stock
¼ t dried thyme
¼ t salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 c frozen peas (optional)

Lightly grease an 8 X 8 glass dish & set aside.

If using mushrooms, sauté in the vegetable oil over medium heat, stirring often, until they’ve released all their liquid.  Tip mushrooms into glass dish.

In the same saucepan, sauté the onion in the butter over medium heat, until onion begins to brown.  Add the rice, stirring well to coat the rice.  Continue to cook, stirring often, until rice begins to brown slightly.  Add garlic, stirring for 30 seconds or so.  Add contents to glass dish.  Sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper.  Add peas, if using.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil in the same saucepan, and pour over the rice mixture.  Stir to combine, cover with foil, and bake in a preheated 350o oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven, and allow to sit for 10 minutes undisturbed.  Remove foil, fluff with fork, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

The clean, fresh flavours of this soup have restorative properties for me.  This is what I crave to counteract the gastronomic over indulgences otherwise know as 'weekends'. 

900 ml low-sodium chicken stock
1 T lime juice
1 t soy sauce
¼ t sesame oil
1 T fish sauce
227 g mushrooms, sliced
6 baby bok choy, or one smallish regular bok choy, rinsed well and diced
2 t sugar
1 T julienned ginger
200 g rice noodles
2 boneless skinless chicken thighs, fully cooked & diced
Cilantro, chopped

Combine the first nine ingredients in a Dutch oven or large pot.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.

Cook the noodles according to directions on package.  Divide the hot noodles between the two bowls and top with the diced chicken.  Ladle the simmering soup over, and top with cilantro.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chicken 'n Collard Greens

Collards are my favourite leafy green.  Unlike most greens, they require a fairly substantial amount of cooking to make them digestible.  Collards and chicken are best friends, and this recipe is how I serve them most often.

To prepare collards, cut out the stalk from each leaf.  Stack the leaves, roll them tightly into a cigar shape, and cut them crosswise into half-centimeter ribbons.  Rinse well with water, and drain thoroughly.

2 t vegetable oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch collards, prepared as above
Seasoned salt to taste
1 T white vinegar
1 c chicken stock

In Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt, pepper and anything else which strikes your fancy.  Brown the chicken thighs well on both sides, then remove to plate and pop in refrigerator.

Drain any excess fat.  Reduce heat to medium, and add collards, followed by seasoned salt, vinegar and chicken stock.  Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 1 hr and 15 minutes, stirring regularly.  Add more chicken stock if necessary.

At the 1 hr and 15 minute mark, lay the chicken thighs on top of the collards, cover and allow the chicken to heat through for 15 minutes.  Serves 2.

In the South, the leftover liquor in the pan would be sopped up with cornbread.  I haven't tried it yet, but it sounds absolutely delicious.