Monday, October 6, 2014

Pita Chips

Everyone loves these.  They take a little time to prepare, but they’re well worth it.  Best of all, you can flavour them as you wish to compliment the rest of your menu.  The ones shown are just oregano, salt and pepper, but the possibilities and endless. 

-As many pocket-type pitas as you wish (you will get 16 chips from each pita)
-Vegetable or olive oil spray
-Salt & pepper
-Dried spices or herbs of your choice (basil, chili powder, coriander, curry powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, paprika, thyme…)

Cut the pitas open by carefully inserting a sharp paring knife at the edge, and carefully running it around the circumference of the pita.  Gently pry the two halves apart.

Line your kitchen sink with either paper towels or an old tea towel.  Lay your first pita half in the sink, inside facing up.  Lightly spray with oil, season sparingly with salt and pepper, followed by your choice of seasonings.  Place the next pita half on top (also inside facing up), and continue in same manner.  Repeat until you have four stacked pitas.  Move them to a cutting board and cut the stack into eight triangles (giving you 32 pieces).

Bake in a single layer on cookie sheets in a preheated 325 degree oven for approximately seven minutes, rotating trays at half time, until lightly browned.  Keep an eye on them; once they begin to brown, it happens quickly.  Adjust baking time as needed.

Remove the pita chips from the cookie sheets and cool on a large rack.  Continue making and baking additional batches as desired.  You can cool each batch on top of the previous batch, just keep mounding them up.

Store in zipper bags once completely cooled.  Serve with dips, if desired.

Incidentally, when broken into bite-size pieces, these make an excellent substitute for salad croutons!


Monday, September 15, 2014

Pigs' Tails

If you’re a bone gnawer like I am, you’ll love these.  They’re sticky, sweet and full of rich pork flavour.  These may not look very appealing at the market, but once cooked, they’re unrecognizable.  Yet another thing to love from the versatile piggy!

Not much of a recipe, more of a method than anything. 

-Pigs’ tails
-Your favourite bbq sauce

If there is any skin on the tails, carefully cut it off, along with any excess fat hiding under the skin.  Cut the tip off of each tail.  One or both of these steps may have already been done for you, depending on the butcher.

Cover the tails with cold water in a pan large enough to comfortably hold them.  Salt the water, and bring the tails to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for two hours.

Drain the tails, and let cool slightly.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bake the tails on a rack in a shallow roasting pan for an hour or so, or until they begin to brown and crisp, turning them over at least once.  Brush on your bbq sauce, keeping a close eye on them so they don’t burn.

Pile them up on a plate, and dig in!   

Although I’ve never tried cooking these on the barbecue, I'm sure they'd work just fine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pasta with Sausage & Rapini

The first time I tasted this, I understood why this is one of the favourite dishes of so many Italians.  It's a marriage of flavours; the sweetness of the sausage and the pasta, the bitterness of the rapini, the saltiness of the Parmesan, the heat of the chili flakes, the fruitiness of the olive oil.

I'm intensely infatuated with this (I think of it often), and as it stands now, I would have to list it as my favourite pasta dish.  Once again, simplicity rules.

1 lb / 454 g sweet or hot Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 - 1/2 t pepper flakes, depending how hot you like it
1 bunch rapini, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 c low-sodium chicken stock
1 lb / 454 g penne, orecchiette or ziti
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to the boil for the pasta; keep at a simmer.

Remove casings from sausages.  Brown the sausage meat in a dry frying pan preheated over medium heat. As the meat begins to cook, break the pieces apart by pressing them against the bottom of the pan with the tines of a sturdy fork.

Bring the water back to a full boil and add pasta.

Once the sausage meat is browned, add the garlic, 2 T of the olive oil, pepper flakes, rapini and chicken stock.  Cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain (reserving 1/2 a c or so pasta cooking water), and return the pasta to the pot.  Tip in the sausage meat mixture, along with the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 2 T olive oil.  Stir well.  Adjust thickness of sauce with pasta cooking water, if necessary.

Serves four generously.

Bread, Beautiful (No-Knead) Bread

Who doesn't love the smell of a warm, crusty loaf of bread fresh from the oven?  No one that I can think of. It seems to trigger something almost primitive in our minds, perhaps because the same aroma has reassured countless generations of our ancestors.  It's a smell of comfort, of warmth, and of knowing you've got sustenance to last you into the next day.  After all, bread is the food of life.

I've been making bread since I was in my early teens, and I continue to do so fairly regularly.  I love the feel of the dough in my hands, it's yeasty smell, and the thrill of watching it rise.    

Anyone who's made bread the traditional way (sans bread maker or Kitchen Aid) has likely had a few flops. I'm no different, but my successes have far outnumbered my failures.  Regardless, there seems to be a certain inborn sense which tells you when the dough is too sticky, when it hasn't been kneaded enough, or when the coolness of a room will necessitate a longer rising.

Then, in 2006, The New York Times published a recipe for No-Knead Bread.  It claimed that anyone, regardless of experience, could turn out a bakery-quality loaf from their own ovens.  Like a bakery, you're using a small amount of yeast, letting it proof over a long period of time, and cooking the dough in a hot, humid environment.

A like-minded foodie friend of mine introduced me to the end product, which truthfully, I couldn't believe was homemade.  A crunchy crust, a moist, chewy, hole-riddled crumb, and a taste I can only describe as real.

Since then, I've modified the recipe and method to suit my personal taste, and I humbly admit the results have been spectacular.  I've passed the recipe along to numerous friends, and all have successfully produced delicious bread, with next to no effort.

With delight, I pass along the recipe; no inborn bread making sense required.

No Knead Bread (adapted from The New York Times)

3 c all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 t instant yeast (Fleishmann's Quick-Rise)
1-1/4 t salt
1-1/2 c room temperature water
Flour & cornmeal for dusting

In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt.  Whisk through to combine.  Add water, and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined (it will not resemble dough at this stage).  Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and allow to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for 18 hours.

At the end of the 18 hours, turn the dough over on itself a couple of times (I use a bowl scraper), cover again, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

While it rests, lightly coat a 9" pie plate with vegetable spray.  Using about 1/4 c cornmeal, sprinkle all sprayed surfaces until you can no longer see the pie plate underneath.  This may sound like an over-exaggeration, but trust me.      

Coat your work surface with 2 heaping soup spoons of flour.  Tip the dough onto the flour, turn in over to coat the other side, and begin shaping the dough into a round.  To do this, slide your floured palms under the dough, pulling the sides underneath as you do so, until your palms meet in the middle.  Rotate the dough, and repeat until you have a rough round (it doesn't need to be perfect).  Lift the dough and place it onto the pie plate.  Sprinkle the dough lightly with cornmeal, cover with a cotton towel, and set aside for two hours.

At the 1-1/2 hour mark, place a heavy, lidded pot (I use a 3.5 litre Le Creuset, but I've seen this done successfully with a black enamel roasting pan) into a cold oven, and turn the oven onto 450 degrees.

At the two hour mark, carefully remove your pot from the oven, place it into an empty sink, and invert the dough into the hot pot.  Cover, and place into the oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid after 30 minutes, and continue baking for an additional 15 minutes.

Cool the loaf on a rack.  Once cool, brush off any excess cornmeal using a pastry brush.

For ease of calculating, this recipe takes 21 hours from start-to-finish.

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.