Sunday, 17 November 2013

Deep and Delicious Shepherd's Pie

Who doesn't like Shepherd's Pie? It's a quintessential fall/winter dinner packed full of delicious beef and veggies and it's pretty obviously a favourite of mine. Better yet? It's so simple to make and neatly rounds out my Shepherd's Pie recipe set.



Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds of yukon gold (or similar), peeled and cubed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, roughly cut (they'll get mashed)
  • 1 pound of lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup beef or vegetable broth
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup carrots sliced/diced
  • 1 cup button or cremini mushrooms sliced
  • 1 cup celery chopped
  • 1 cup of peas
  • 1 cup of corn
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place potatoes and garlic in a pot and fill with enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer on medium/low, cover, and simmer until tender (15 - 20 minutes).



While potatoes are cooking, brown the beef and onion on medium heat in a deep skillet. I like to also add in some oregano and rosemary to help flavour.



When beef has browned, stir in flour, beef broth, tomato paste, carrots, mushrooms, celery, peas, and corn. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything thoroughly and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or until it has thickened. 



Transfer the mixture to a large, oven-proof, casserole dish.



Drain the potatoes and mash them. Add 1/4 cup of cheese and the sour cream and continue mashing the mixture until it is smooth. Spoon the potatoes onto the beef mixture in the casserole dish. 



With a fork, spread the potatoes evenly across the beef, to the sides of the casserole dish, forming the top layer. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top of the potatoes.



Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 - 25 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden. Let cool for 10 - 15 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Quick Tip: Ricotta for Cream Cheese

Have a recipe that calls for cream cheese but you're either not a fan of it or you don't have it on hand? Well, ricotta cheese makes a very good substitute. Just drain off the moisture and substitute in your recipe 1 for 1.

Mind you, you have to have ricotta on hand to substitute... :)

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Shepherd's Pie Potato Skins

When you get right down to it, how can you not love Shepherd's Pie? It's always been one of my favourites because it's mostly beef, potatoes, and cheese! Now, what could possibly make it better? Well... How about cooking it in the potato skins? Oh yeah...



So, here's what you need:

  • 2 large baking potatoes, baked as desired (BBQ is nice...)
  • 4 tsp butter (divided)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 2 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp summer savoury
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of grated cheddar (I prefer old cheddar for the tangy flavour)
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Melt half the butter in a non-stick, deep, frying pan at medium heat. Add in the onion and cook for about 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add the ground beef, increase heat to medium-high, and cook an additional 3-4 minutes or until beef has browned. Add in the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, summer savoury, and oregano. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently cook (should bubble) for about 15 to 20 minutes or until sauce has thickened. With a few minutes to go, stir in basil, salt, and pepper.


While the beef mixture is cooking, cut the potatoes in half length-wise and scoop out the interior into a small bowl, making sure you leave the skin of the potato intact as this will be your dish.


Mash the potato in the bowl with remaining butter, salt, and pepper (to taste). Divide the beef mixture into the potato skins.


Cover the tops of the potatoes with the mashed and then top with the grated cheese.



Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a nice golden brown. Serve and enjoy! This feeds two.



Saturday, 14 September 2013

Quick Tip: Fresh vs Dried Herbs

While I generally prefer to use fresh herbs over dried herbs, that's not always possible, and dried really is okay. However, unless a recipe states to use fresh, it is most likely dried variant that is the ingredient being listed. In general, I use a 3 to 1 ratio of fresh to dried in measuring. For example, 1 tsp of dried oregano equates to 3 tsps of fresh oregano.

Now, for those of you who like to grow your herbs in your garden (like me), you can dry them yourself for use in the winter. These will taste much better than the five year old bottle in your spice cabinet, truly. So, to dry them, all you really need is a way to produce warm air flow around the herbs. You can do this with dedicated dehydration machines (active and passive) or with a convection oven with the door propped open at 140 to 160 degrees (drying time varies with herb and quantity, so keep an eye on them). Enjoy!

Saturday, 31 August 2013

BBQ Cider Chicken

Chicken done on the BBQ is always something to enjoy, but you can take it to the next level using beer or cider. In this case, I went cider with a can of the well-known Strongbow cider and it's oh-so tender and tasty. So, what do you do?

First, pre-heat your BBQ. We're going to want to work with indirect heat, so this works best if you have 3 or more burners on a gas BBQ or a large working surface if you have a coal/wood BBQ. Either way, you want to get up to about 550 degrees or so and ensure that the chicken has a place that isn't directly on the flames.

As the BBQ is getting going, time to prep things up. I have a can holder, which is very useful to have, and I placed the can of cider in it. You want to drain it down to about half a can. If you like cider to drink, that's the best way to reach the half way mark...



The holder gives good stability on the BBQ, which is handy if you don't want to risk having the chicken fall over when you lift the lid just a little too quickly.

Okay, next, put your chicken over the can... and don't giggle at the appearance. Of course, make sure you remove any of the spare parts such as the giblets and neck, otherwise the plastic bag is going to really spoil the taste.


Now oil up that baby using a good quality extra-virgin olive oil. Then, mix up some fresh herbs (such as sage and rosemary) with fresh ground pepper and salt and rub that on the chicken. Also, stuff some rosemary and sage into the opening at the top. Truss the bird if, like me, you decide that sage under the wings is a good idea.



If your BBQ is up to heat, bring out the bird and place it so that the heat is indirect (preferably on both sides).


Now, you want to close the lid (and keep it that way for most of the cooking time) and roast the chicken for about 1 hour to 1:15 hours, depending on size. The breast should read 165 degrees and thighs at 180 degrees and juices should run clear.


Let it rest 10 minutes, carve, and enjoy.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Tex-Mex Night

Not all that surprisingly, my quick post around fajita seasoning was a prelude to actually making use of it. So, tonight, was Tex-Mex night with Mexican rice and fajita-style enchiladas in a tomato sauce.

Dinner!
Without further ado, the how:

Mexican Rice

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup of uncooked, long-grain, rice
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (I prefer sweet white)
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth
In a large sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat and add rice. While stirring, constantly, add in the garlic and cumin and mix in. Continue stirring until rice expands (about 2 to 3 minutes). Stir in chopped onion and continue to stir until onion has softened. 

When onion has softened, add in crushed tomatoes and chicken broth. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduced heat to low/simmer and simmer rice covered for 20 minutes or so, until liquid is absorbed.

This serves 4, but downsizing the recipe isn't practical given the volumes. Package up and have leftovers, worth it anyways.

Fajita Enchilada Sauce

  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes
  • Sprigs of fresh thyme, basil, and oregano, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally as needed. Keep warm.

Fajita Enchiladas

  • 4 large tortillas (see my previous article on pizza wraps for help on folding)
  • 1/2 pound of sirloin steak, thinly sliced into strips (pre-cut sauté beef works well too)
  • 1 cup of onion, cut into strips
  • 1 medium sized green pepper cut into strips
  • 2 tbsp of fajita spice
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese (or monterey jack)
  • Shredded lettuce
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (garnish)
Heat cast iron skillet with the oil on high heat. Add onions and peppers and sauté until tender. Add meat and fajita spices, continuing to cook until meat is properly done. Finally add in water and mix constantly until sauce thickens up. Reduce hear to low and keep covered until ready to roll the enchiladas.

On a tortilla, add a generous amount of the beef/onion/pepper mixture, some shredded cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. Roll the wrap and place on plate. Once all of the enchiladas are rolled, pour a reasonable amount of the sauce on each, sprinkle with fresh parsley and cheese. The sauce will melt the cheese and the flavours will blend nicely.

¡Buen provecho! 

Fajita Spice is Easy

Many people spend the money buying pre-packaged fajita spices, but you really don't have to, it's easy to do it yourself and save some money while you're at it. Besides, it's quite likely that you have most, if not all, the necessary ingredients on hand if you at all like Tex-Mex anyways.



  • 2 tbsp corn starch
  • 4 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp powdered vegetable stock
Combine all ingredients in a jar or bowl and mix thoroughly. 2 tablespoons is about one package of the pre-mixed. Also worth experimenting with smokey paprika, other hot pepper, different salts, etc.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Quick Tip: Easy Steak Marinade

I don't always use a marinade when BBQ'ing a steak, but one quick option that adds nice flavours without overwhelming the meat is:

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp dry sherry
  • 2 tbsp water
  • medly of fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, etc. have fun)
Soak your steak in that for about 45 minutes to an hour. When ready to put on the BBQ, discard the marinade, salt and pepper both sides, and grill according to your usual plan.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Never Buy Pizza Pops Again: The Pizza Wrap

Pizza pops are probably my big junk food weakness. I like them, but they're not exactly the best thing to be eating... Turns out, though, that a healthier alternative is almost as quick and easy to make as the store bought, frozen, option.

If you're a beginner on doing tortilla wraps, then this Youtube video should be watched:




Big secret: microwave each tortilla for 30 seconds on high, makes it dead easy.

Ingredients

  • 5 large tortilla wraps (size in the above video is perfect)
  • 1/2 cup of diced pepper (green, red, yellow, doesn't matter)
  • 1/2 cup of diced mushrooms (pick your favourite)
  • 1/2 cup of sliced up bacon
  • 1/2 cup of diced pepperoni or sausage
  • 1/2 cup of shallots or onions (I prefer shallots)
  • 1/2 cup of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup of grated cheese of choice (I like cheddar or mozzarella)
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • Basil to taste (dried or fresh)
  • Oregano to taste (dried or fresh)


Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix chopped garlic, basil, and oregano in the crushed tomatoes.

Spread out the tortilla and lightly spread the tomato sauce around, leave an inch or so near the edges. Put on a 1/5th of each topic selection and roll the wrap according to the video above and place into an oven-safe dish.

Bake for 12-15 minutes (the more the wraps, the longer you'll want).

Ready to Eat!

Quick Tip: Fry Your Eggs in Truffle Oil

Real truffle oil (when made with truffles) is a treat. Basically, this is an olive oil is infused with truffles (mushrooms) that gives it a heady, earthy, tone. This tone added to eggs fried with some basil and oregano creates a wonderful taste sensation that is hard to beat.

Give it a try!

Just make sure, however, to use real truffle oil. There are cheaper variants made with chemicals. They're not the same.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Zucchini and Calabrese Flatbread Delight

This weekend I find myself as a temporary bachelor and, in the spirit of the moment, I decided that some form of pizza was the thing to be doing... with a twist. What I decided that might be interesting is a flatbread with some spicy Calabrese sausage, zucchini, and yellow peppers. I was very, very, right.

So, without further ado, I give you my Zucchini and Calabrese Flatbread discovered only just tonight...

Ready for the Oven (pardon the deadly harsh iPhone shot)

Ingredients

  • 1 small (or part) zucchini sliced thin
  • 1 small yellow pepper cut into rings
  • Calabrese sausage thinly sliced
  • Ementhal cheese, grated to desired amount
  • Clove of garlic, minced
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Large flatbread
  • Fresh chopped oregano
  • Fresh chopped basil
  • Fresh chopped thyme
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a small skillet over high heat, sauté zucchini in olive oil, with some fresh oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic. Not too long, just enough to soften the zucchini.

On the flatbread, spread the crushed tomato thinly (you really don't need a lot, trust me), salt and pepper that to taste. Sprinkle with oregano, basil, and thyme.  Layer on sausage, zucchini, and pepper rings. Lightly cover with the grated cheese.

Place on a pan (preferably an already heating pizza stone instead) in the oven and allow to bake for 8 minutes or so. The cheese should be thoroughly melted and the edges of the flatbread should be crisp.

Grab a beer and enjoy!

Very tasty result



Saturday, 10 August 2013

Zucchini a la Bruschetta

I love zucchini, it's versatile, tasty, and incredibly easy to grow. In fact, it's almost too easy to grow because the darn fruits of the plant can get monstrously large if you don't keep an eye on them. That led me to an experiment to figure out a way to make use of some of the giants that I pulled from my garden and so Zucchini a la Bruschetta was born.

Zucchini a la Bruschetta prepared for cooking
Ready for the Oven

Ingredients

  • 1 Zucchini sliced to maximize surface (if you have a large zucchini then disks are fine, if you have a standard store-bought one, then a length-wise cut is best).
  • 1 garden tomato, sliced and cut to fit on the zucchini
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, sliced into ringlets
  • 1/2 cup of gouda cheese, grated
  • Salt to taste*
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Olive oil
Directions

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place zucchini in a casserole dish and brush with olive oil, add a layer of tomato slices, then shallots, then garlic (the order doesn't really matter). Salt and pepper. Cover with cheese.

Place in oven for about 20 minutes. Enjoy!

Note: You can size the recipe as desired, the above is a good side dish for 2 people.

*On the subject of salt... Really, avoid the use of the standard iodized salt for these kind of dishes (or any in my opinion, but can be hard to do). I normally use sea salts (Malden salt is well worth the price of admission) or kosher salts and grind or crush them. If you have a chance to taste test something like a Malden salt with the old store stand-by you'll really understand the difference.

The Adventure Begins

Welcome to my new blog.

The reason I decided to create this blog is that I've rediscovered my interest in cooking and, more specifically, that my taste buds had changed. It's been about two years or so since I quit smoking and, in that time, I've discovered that I do in fact like a bunch of vegetables, that I do like rice, and that a stir fry is not only fun, it's tasty! I've also discovered that chicken fingers and fries is boring, that pizza pops are junk food, and that you can make a meal that is both delicious and fun to do.

So, I've created this blog as a means of sharing recipes I discover (or create), techniques I've learned, equipment I've found, and more.