Sunday, 13 December 2015

Go Spicy!

Turns out that spicy doesn't just make for good tasting foods, it could also be helping you stay alive. It appears that the active compound in hot peppers, capsaicin, may have positive effects in fighting certain forms of cancer and helping you live longer.

So, this is clearly a case of no pain, no gain... That's coming and going.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

A Stir-fry is in the Sauce

A good stir-fry can be made or broken by the sauce you choose for it. While different kinds, depending on your protein choices, can be enhanced by certain flavours in specialized sauces, it's good to have a "go-to" sauce for general use.

I put this one together because I found many were just a little too sweet and I was looking for something a bit more savoury. So, here it is:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water or stock
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sherry
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp chili flakes or 1/2 tsp sambal oelek
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • Fresh ground pepper (be generous)
  • 1/4 tsp ground sumac (optional, if you have it, I do...)
That should do a good 2-4 person stir-fry. Works really well with beef, especially since beef is well suited to savoury flavours.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup

There I sit, broken-hearted; Thanksgiving is over and I just got started...

What to do with the delicious left-overs that haven't been consumed in sandwich form yet? How about soup! More specifically, Turkey and Wild Rice soup, a delicious finish to the Thanksgiving meal.

To make this, we have a couple of stages to consider. First, we want to make a stock from the turkey carcass. You did save it didn't you? Much goodness flows from that... Once the stock is made, then we make the soup itself.

Making the Stock

First thing you want to do is strip the remaining meat from the carcass, this will be the turkey you use in the soup. Then take the remains and place it into a large stockpot with some roughly chopped onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Leave the skins/paper on these, they have flavour and will add some colour to the stock.

Then add water, in this case I used 32 cups to cover the carcass, but add what you think is appropriate. Bear in mind that you will have some evaporation as you make the stock and you're aiming to get about 5 cups of it, but left over stock can be used for other things and it freezes well.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Allow it to simmer for a couple hours then taste. You want to get a nice, strong, stock, so if it's weak then you want to continue simmering. Check every half-hour or so after that until you're satisfied.

Once to taste, strain the stock to gather the liquid and discard the solids.

Making the Soup

For the soup, you can go the slow cooker route or the stove top. 

  • 1/2 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stocks, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of wild rice, rinsed and drained
  • 5 cups of the turkey stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp  thyme
  • 1/4 tsp summer savoury
  • Shredded turkey (about 2 lbs is ideal)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Reserve the turkey, it's already cooked, but place all other ingredients in your soup pot or crockpot and give it a good stir. 

If cooking on the stove, cook on medium high heat until the rice expands and then add the turkey. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the turkey is heated through.

If cooking in crockpot, cook on low for about 3 hours, then add the turkey. Cook for another couple of hours. On high, cook for about 1.5 hours, add turkey, then cook for another hour.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Cranberries - by Cjboffoli (CC by 3.0)
Canadian Thanksgiving falls around the time of the year that you can get fresh cranberries in the store. Not all that surprising, it's a feast to celebrate harvests after all, but it does mean that you have a real opportunity to do it yourself rather than buy it canned.

Believe me, fresh is best!

So, to get started, here's what you need:

1 bag of fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup of sugar
2 tbsp of water
Citrus zest of your choice (I used lemon, but orange or lime would also be good)

Rinse the berries and have look for berries that are too soft and discard those. Add all of the ingredients to a sauce pan and place on low heat.

Stir everything from time to time, monitoring until all of the sugar has melted. This will take about 10 minutes or so, be patient.

Once everything has melted, increase the heat to medium and stir more frequently, but constantly, until the berries burst. You should have lots of bright red liquid in the pan, this will gel from the pectin in the berries.

Allow it to cool to room temperature, put into a container, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Good Intro to Knives

Okay, if you haven't heard of Alton Brown, I really advise spending some time discovering him. He's the kind of chef that really makes the process of learning fun. I'd love to have him as a teacher in the kitchen. While that is not to be, sadly, you can have him as a virtual teacher in your kitchen and that's where this video comes in:

While this video will not make you a master of the blade just by watching, what you can get from it is a sense of the basic concepts and an idea of what that dizzying array of knives (which would look good in my kitchen if anyone is interested in supplying) is intended for. It's also done in that friendly and comedic style that Alton Brown is famous for, so even if you already know watch anyways because it's fun. Many thanks to Alton Brown and Shun Knives for creating this video.

Now, having stated my lust for that selection of knives, you do not require all of those knives to be effective in the kitchen! As a must have set, you really should invest in a high quality chef's knife (can either be a classic western style or an asian style like the santoku), a paring knife, and a serrated bread knife. If you have some cash left over, adding a slicing knife for meats is also ideal. After that, it's really up to you and how fancy you want to get. Obviously, more specialized tools help speed up the process if you know how to use them, but if you very, very, rarely need to use them then I would take the savings and buy better quality in the four basics.

As an aside, I personally prefer the santoku blades for my kitchen work. It's all a matter of taste, really, but for me I like the weight and feel of my santoku over my classic western style.

Final tip: take care of your knives and they'll take care of you. Sharp is safe and if you do use the dishwasher (okay, my bad, I do), then keep the knives away from other objects in the dishwasher and check the sharpness more frequently. Ideally, it's better for the knife to hand wash them, but I can be a bit lazy on that front and I keep telling myself that I plan an upgrade at some point...

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Quick Tip - Summer Savoury Perks Up Stews

I love a good beef stew, especially in the winter when you're looking for a hearty, stick to the ribs, kind of meal to keep you warm and cozy. I add a lot of different herbs and spices into my stews, but the one that always kicks it up a notch is summer savoury.

Don't just limit that to stews, summer savoury is also really tasty in some soup dishes as well, especially ones with a lighter broth like a chicken noodle or similar.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

App Review - Paprika for Mac and IOS

In the good ole-days everybody collected their recipes in various books, notepads, and binders because that was really the only option. However, the problem with that is finding the recipe again! Nevertheless, it was a model that worked well for many people for a great long time and many people stick with it today.

For me, being a child of the computer age, I like to have the machine do the work for me and so notepads and slips of paper are not a good solution. It's even more relevant now when we have powerful options like tablets and smartphones that allow the integration of applications in very useful ways and so enter the Paprika app for recipe management which offers up support on Mac OS X, IOS, and Android platforms (sorry, no Windows).

Now, there are several apps out there that do things very similar to Paprika (notably MacGourmet Deluxe), but I haven't really encountered any that do as much for as little. I've been using Paprika for quite a while now, so what I'm going to do is describe how I use it, then I'll go into what I think are the highs and lows (or hits and misses) of the application itself.

So, I have the Mac and IOS versions installed on all my devices. With the Mac version, I do most of my recipe browsing and editing because the full keyboard and large screen real-estate lends itself better to the task of editing.

It's also easier to manage the import of unsupported site recipes using the Mac version simply because selection and addition are much simpler with a mouse or trackpad there.

I will do a few other things on the Mac version, sometimes adding items to the shopping list as I'm working, but primarily this is how I use it. I don't generally use the meal planning features since our schedule is so unpredictable.

I use the iPhone version of the app for shopping and, from time to time, emergency recipe entering when I'm away from home. The ability to synchronize the shopping list between devices makes it really handy for adding grocery items in any of the devices and then picking them up in the phone version for actual shopping.

You can add to the shopping cart directly from the recipe (hence the quantities you're unlikely to buy), but if you ignore that little quirk, it's pretty handy and Paprika has an option to combine duplicates when adding ingredients from multiple recipes.

I use the iPad version in the kitchen as my cookbook.

The iPad is large enough to make the text readable from a distance, but small enough to keep it out of the way of cooking activities. Couple with a stylus that can be handled with sticky/messy hands and you have a good way of viewing your recipe without risk of messing up the device. Consider, too, that you no longer risk spilling ingredients over your carefully hand-written recipe book.

So, I'm going to start with where I think this app can be improved.
  • No option for inline images with the recipes. This is truly unfortunate, because visual guides to certain activities or the ability to show what something should look like at a certain step is hugely powerful. It also represents my single biggest complaint about this otherwise superb application. I end up with a bunch of recipes in Evernote as a consequence.
  • No option for good sub-dividing of recipe sections. Many recipes are multi-part such that you have the ingredients and steps for say the cake, then ingredients and steps for the icing. The point is, being able to do something as handy as a header would be huge.
  • No option for multiple shopping lists. I don't buy all of my things at the same store and having the ability to create multiple lists would be very handy.
  • No option for creating new aisles in the shopping list. Some of us shop at specialized stores, so we end up with a lot under "miscellaneous" as a result of our selection not fitting a pre-determined selection of aisles.
  • Category selection clears itself when reopening during the import phase.
  • The web browser import is embedded and so annoying flash popups and other irritating advertising techniques bombard you on some sites. An external plug-in like Evernote has would be so much better.
  • Simplified, high-contrast, view when cooking would be handy, but not particularly a problem for me.
Now, what's good?
  • Recipe import is very, very, good despite my note above. It works like a charm for the support list, as you would expect, but I also find that it often works well with many of the food blogs out there. When it doesn't, then you have the ability to hand-pick off the screen.
  • Recipe display and integrated timers is well designed and makes it easy when cooking to time your work. I love that you just click on the time instruction in the directions and a timer is created automatically (an option to have those auto-start would be nice).
  • Good conversion tools.
  • Scaling is easy to do and I find that it's very accurate.
  • Synchronization between devices allows for my desired workflow.
  • Well consider layout and clean design makes it easy to navigate.
  • Good category features with easy filtering.
  • Search is accurate and provides relevant results.
  • Recipe pinning makes it easy to switch between active recipes.
  • Ingredient strike-out as you go makes it easy to see what you've already done.
  • I use it daily...
If you're a Mac user and you like to cook, then there really isn't anything out there with the bang-to-buck ratio of Paprika. As I mentioned early, MacGourmet Deluxe has similar features (and resolves some of my Paprika complaints), but introduces a fair bit of complexity and a much higher price tag along with losing some of the really useful features of Paprika. Long story short, this app is a winner for me.