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.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Quick Tip - Trim the ends!

I made pickles for the first time last week and it was a lot of fun. Canning things is really kind of addictive! Unfortunately, I didn't know that you want to trim the ends of the cucumbers, especially the flower end, because there are enzymes concentrated there that will soften the pickles.

So, I made another batch this week, but I trimmed the ends!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Quick Tip - Give Tomatoes a Dash

Not that tomatoes need a whole lot to punch them up, but a nice and quick way of adding a little dash is to wedge up a tomato and then grind some fresh pepper (I use a four pepper blend) over them and sprinkle lightly with some high quality salt.

Hardly a new idea, I'm sure, but I was rather surprised at how many people I know didn't think of it when I put this together last night on a whim.


Sunday, 29 June 2014

BBQ Chicken - Hawaiian Style

I have no idea how authentic this recipe is, despite having been to Hawaii, but I can tell you this much: it's as tasty as Hawaii is beautiful. As Kat put it, she's not a fan of chicken thighs, but this marinade was made for them.


  • 6 chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 2 cloves of garlic (fine mince)
  • 1/2 onion (chopped, I prefer a fine dice)
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (smoked paprika is nice)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
Whisk all of the ingredients (less the chicken) in a bowl until thoroughly mixed and then add in the chicken to cover. I usually use large freezer bags for marinating, I find them really convenient for getting coverage, but either a bowl or bag is fine. Place in fridge and marinate for at least an hour, but longer is better.

When ready, preheat the BBQ to medium (about 375℉) and oil the grates. To be fair, this is probably much, much, better over charcoal, but much faster with propane. In any event, once heated, remove the thighs and discard the marinade. Cook the chicken for 10-15 minutes per side (depends on thickness), serve and enjoy. I just made these tonight with grilled zucchini and corn.

For the corn, strip back the husk, remove the silk, slather with butter, salt, and pepper. Close the husk back over and wrap in tinfoil. Cook on the grill for 12-15 minutes... delicious.

For the zucchini I quartered them and then let them marinade in some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Depending on the thickness, you can grill 3-5 minutes per side (9 -15 minutes total).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tasty Lime Sorbet

I love the taste of all citrus fruits, but there's something especially intense in the flavours when it comes to lime. This recipe revels in the taste of lime and it's really very easy to make. So, here's what you need:
  • 6 juicy limes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (and another 1/4 cup if you want to reduce the lime intensity a little)
  • 2 tbsp rum (or vodka)
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
Mix water and sugar together and heat at medium to melt the sugar into the water. Once melted, remove from heat and let cool. You're basically creating a very thin sugar syrup.

While that's going on, zest half the limes. Then juice all 6 limes, getting as much of the liquid as you can. You can mix the zest and the juice, it's all going in the mix anyways. You should have about 1 cup of juice. Then add to the juice the rum and the vanilla.

Note: The purpose of the rum is to change the mixture enough to prevent the sorbet from becoming an ice cube, you want to be able to scoop it. If you don't want to use alcohol, then you can create an Italian meringue from the whites of a couple of eggs. The meringue ensures the egg is cooked which is the safest course.

Once the sugar water has cooled, mix in the lime/rum/vanilla mix and stir thoroughly. Poor into a freezer safe container (should be at least 4 cups in capacity) with a lid and freeze.

After about 3 hours, give the mixture a good stir, scraping the sides of the container, and return to freezer. In another 3 hours, pour mixture into a blender and blend thoroughly. It should be slushy like at this point. Place back in the freezer and continue to freeze until it reaches an ice cream-like consistency. Serve and enjoy, keeps for a while in your freezer.

You can substitute limes for other citrus if the juice volume is roughly comparable. You might exclude the vanilla for some choices, it mixes well with lime, not so much with grapefruit. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Quick Tip: Great Instructional Videos

Sometimes it's much better to see how something is done rather than getting a description. While you can certainly search around YouTube (and I do), there's a great source for instructional cooking videos from an obvious source: Martha Stewart. I find the videos to be clear and concise, not to mention well shot as you would expect.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lo Mein - High Taste

Want fast and tasty? Then it's really, really, hard to beat Lo Mein for that fact! Not only is it really easy to prepare, but it's fast to cook, and easy to vary up. I added this to my cooking list a couple of weeks ago and Kat loved it so much, I ended up making a beef variant and chicken variant in that week. That, by the way, is the great thing about Lo Mein: pick your meat or go all vegetable, it's up to you.

So, what do you need for this trip across your tastebuds? The list here is for 2 people, so expand as needed:

  • 4oz of your meat of choice (chicken, beef, shrimp, etc.)
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil (other high smoke point oils are fine)
  • 1 cup of fresh bean sprouts
  • 1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms (pick your favourites)
  • 1/2 cup of green onion, just the green portion. Cut about 1" long. You can save the white bulbs for other purposes if you want.
  • 1/2 cup of julienned carrots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp sherry
  • 3 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • ground pepper to taste
  • Cooked pasta for 2 (I actually use asian wheat noodles, but you can use fettuccine or similar)

Using a wok or a deep skillet, bring to high heat and add the oil. When shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, and meat. Stir fry for 1 minute.

Add all of the mixed vegetables and stir fry for another 1 to 2 minutes. Basically, until the veggies are heated through.

Add the previously cooked noodles (I usually make them while chopping the veggies) and stir fry for another 1-2 minutes.

Add the sherry, soy, oyster sauce, and pepper (hint: Mix sauce items up before starting the cooking, makes it easy to add). Mix well and then drizzle on the sesame oil.

Serve and enjoy! As an aside, the finished lo mein in the wok at the top of the post has grilled steak in it. I still did the stir fry of it for 1 minute and it tasted great!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Minestrone, The King of Soups

Even before I quit smoking, I loved minestrone soup. Back, when I thought I still disliked most foods and vegetables, we had to take a semester of Home Economics as a part of high school and in the class we made minestrone soup. That was my first encounter with it and I loved it.

There are lots of variations of minestrone out there, but mine is purely vegetarian and I keep it that way to enjoy the bright, fresh, tastes of the vegetables as they mix and mingle while cooking away in my crockpot. This recipe does require a large slow cooker to work with as there's a lot of vegetables, liquids, and so forth. I use my 8 quart slow cooker and this gets filled to the rim!

A bright medley of vegetables ready to cook!

  • 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups of sweet onion (vidalia is nice), chopped
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 cups carrots, sliced
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 28oz and 1 14oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red wine or  1/4 cup of sherry (optional)
  • 1 cup kidney beans, drained
  • 2 cups green beans
  • 2 cups baby spinach, rinsed
  • 3 zucchinis, quartered and sliced
  • 1 tsp oregano (fresh isn't necessary)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup ditali pasta
  • Parmesan cheese, fresh grated, for topping

1. Sauté garlic in olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes, just to bring out the flavours. Add in the onions and sauté another  3 minutes. 

2. Combine celery, carrots, tomatoes, kidney beans, green beans, spinach, and zucchini in slow cooker. Add the onions and garlic, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Mix them up, I just turn the collection a few times with a wooden spoon until nicely jumbled.

3. Add in the liquids. If you're not using the wine or sherry, just add another half cup of broth. Though, as note, the alcohol will cook off, but the wine will add subtle flavours that you can't get otherwise so try it if you have it handy.

4. Cook on high in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours.

5. Before serving, when the soup is cooked through, prepare the ditali pasta. Do not cook the pasta with the soup, it will cook way too long. Cook at the end and add to the soup. You can choose to just stir it in to the soup or add to the serving bowls and mix in.

6. Grate parmesan cheese over the soup, to taste (I like lots, I love parmesan cheese).

7. Enjoy! Nice, crusty, bread is a good addition to this. It will fill you up, this is a very hearty soup.

This isn't a soup to freeze, as a note, but it's never been an issue for us. It's assured that Kat and I will polish off this soup in the days that follow well before you'd ever need to consider freezing or discarding.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Not the Salt of the Earth, but it Should Be In Your Kitchen

Not all salts are created equal. In fact, most of them are of a lesser stature, especially the iodized tiny cubes of the common table salt. There are better choices out there, choices that remove the iodine and the anti-caking agents and leave you with pure, true, salt.

Amongst some really, really, tasty salts out there is one that stands out above them all: Maldon Sea Salt. Seriously, all you need to do is taste test this with any other salt and it's going to be very obvious. It's mild, yet penetrating taste, adds that perfect finishing touch to any dish you would consider salting. I like it so much, I now carry a pinch tin of it in my pocket.

As Slate Magazine so eloquently put it, "It's half the price of a movie ticket in New York City. Shut up and buy this salt."

'Nuff said.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Quick Tip: Be Prepared

Eating good tasting food every night can be hard to arrange, but not if you think a bit ahead like Gina does. Visit her site, Shabby Creek, to find out how to put one month worth of tasty meals together in a less than a day.

It's great idea on her part, though I have to admit that I would probably struggle to do this, mostly out of sheer laziness on a weekend. Nevertheless, I have to admire the solution she's put together, it's quite a slick exercise on her part and if you have that discipline then you'd be rewarded.

The Best Tomato Soup, Ever

I love soup, all kinds of soup, and on a cold winter's day there's seldom anything better for lunch than a bowl of hot tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. That, then, leads me to my absolute favourite tomato soup recipe!

So, first, assemble the ingredients:

  • 2 - 28oz cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp, older, cheeses)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cup of cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop the onion and mince the garlic, then spray a large pot with olive oil and heat at medium. Add the onion and cook until softened. Then add the garlic and cook for about two more minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes (with the juice). vegetable stock, honey, basil, cheese, oregano. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering for about 10 minutes.

While the mix is cooking, grate your cheese and prep the cream. You'll also want an immersion blender, if you have one, but a regular blender will do, it'll just take a bit more work to blend.

When the ten minutes are up, add the cheese and cream to the soup, stir to mix in, then blend until creamy smooth.

Serve and enjoy! Serves 6-8, but freezes well, so make the full-sized batch. Sprinkle some additional grated cheese on the soup for some extra cheesy goodness.