Monday, March 3, 2014

Menu: K.I.S.S

Last week was a trial. All my recipes had some kind of flub or mishap by yours truly, so I'm really, really hoping that this week goes better.

This was the easy part of the drive...
On Thursday, a friend and I attempted a road trip to Owen Sound. The trip
started off nice as we both just wanted to escape the city for a while and go somewhere. Unfortunately, much like my cooking week, our trip was plagued with troubles. The wiper fluid finally froze in the lines and left us with somewhat limited sight, the huge snow drifts in the country coupled with fairly high winds ended up blinding us completely and forced us to abandon the trip, and our dinner at East Side Mario's was pretty abysmal. The dish we both ordered was supposed to be penne topped with alfredo and Bolognese sauce, but when it arrived, the pasta was practically naked, save for a weird melting of cheddar cheese. I wouldn't want to go back, nor would I recommend ever eating there.

Even though we never made it to Owen Sound, and the trip was one disaster after another, we still both had a lot of fun. Road trips are as much about the company as the exploration. And so is cooking. I know there will always be mistakes and failures, and I know those are teaching me more about fundamentals of cooking, but ultimately, I'm having a lot of fun learning. I'd rather try and fail at new recipes occasionally than always eat the same twenty items. There's just too much to taste to give up!


  • Witty in the City's Man Pleasing Chicken
    Image Credit: Witty in the City
    • New! I've seen variations of this recipe around the internet. "World's Best Chicken" or "Totes Amazeballs Chicken" but this version takes the cake for the most ridiculous epithet. (Why yes, I am an intersectional feminist!) Regardless, this flavor combo seems to be an internet recipe darling. And to be fair, the simple ingredients should produce a pretty good meal. I've also made mock Alice Spring's Chicken (from Outback Steakhouse) using a sweet mustard glaze before baking, and the chicken has come out very moist. So I have high hopes for juicy, tangy chicken! I'll be using chicken breasts and reducing the cooking time accordingly, mostly because hubby still isn't acclimated to dark meat, which is odd, because he also wants to explore game meat and offal in the future. 
    • Verdict: 40 minutes was way too long for the breasts I had, but the sauce was very yummy. Even putting the meat under the broiler did not produce the pretty caramelized edges like the picture, but this was very edible and easy to make. I will likely make it again. 
  • from Buzzfeed, Terri Tsang Barrett's Jumbo Spinach and Mushroom Turnovers
    Image Credit: Buzzfeed
    • New! It looks like Tuesday nights are turning into our attempt to have a vegetarian meal each week. It's also the husband's cardio gym night, so the higher carbs will work well. I've made items similar to this in the past and really, you can't go wrong with food stuffed in flaky pastry. Spinach and Ricotta always work well together, though I'll likely add some onion and possibly some Italian blend seasoning.
    • Verdict: Not terribly difficult to make but these were very one dimensional. Thankfully, I only baked half the recipe so I can play around with the other half on Leftover Friday. I'd like to keep it vegetarian, so maybe sun-dried tomatoes, roasted jalapenos, or maybe some shredded mozzarella. Absolutely, the base recipe is bland. Adding onions and a good heaping spoonful of Italian seasoning, along with plenty of salt and pepper is a must. Finally, I don't know why the recipe suggests you should make monster pockets. Only using half the pastry, I made four and for two people, it was more than enough.  
  • Everyday Paleo's Smokey Roast
    Image Credit: Everyday Paleo
    • New! I've had this recipe queued up for a while but keep putting it off. Both my parents are a fan of pot roast, the husband is a fan of large hunks of meat, and I do like the flavors in the rub, but my experience with pot roast is always ... average. However, it's due to be cold this week, which means less desire to put together something complicated. I won't be able to afford grass-fed beef, nor have I bit the bullet and bought coconut oil up here yet, but I'm fairly sure that subbing my F.O.C. (fat of choice), with chilled bacon fat, will be just as tasty. I'm planning to serve this with fresh fruit, but some baked sweet potato fries would also be a good side.
  • Annie's Eats' Spinach and Cheese Strata
    Image Credit: Annie's Eats
    • New! I think I have a growing love affair with quiches. I have two in permanent rotation and seem to try a new quiche every other week. Not quite a casserole, a strata is a layered quiche, usually with large cubes of bread that soak up the egg mixture and then become lovely and fluffy. It is highly likely I'm going to attempt to add some kind of meat to this, either bacon or sage sausage crumbles. I plan to make this Friday evening, pop it into the fridge, and bake it Saturday morning when we get up, so we can have a hearty start to the weekend. The husband does a lot of professional development on Coursera, usually two classes at a time, so I usually treat him to some kind of breakfast on the weekends. Mostly omelets or simple scrambles. We have a quiet weekend coming up, so that seems a good time to try something special. (And while we're talking about Coursera, have you seen this class? Looks fun!)

Sweet Tooth

  • The Spice House's Curry and Cardamom Cookies
    • New! I've wanted to make these for a while, but they kept getting voted over for other tasty treats. After last week's success with the Pistachio Cherry Meltaways, another cookie sounds good. It's strange though. If I went into a shop or patisserie to buy a cookie, I'd totally go for something super chocolate. But baking cookies, I want to try out interesting and new combinations. The only downside to this recipe is going to be crushing the cardamom pods by hand. I have a small spice grinder, but because the recipe calls for such a small amount, knife skills seem more effective. No, I don't have a mortar and pestle yet!


  • Dinner at Kenzo, a Japanese Ramen House near downtown. It seems completely ridiculous to
    Image Credit: Kenzo
    me that, as fascinated as I am by Japanese cuisine and culture, I haven't wandered into any of the many ramen houses in Toronto. Now magazine gives this place a pretty good rating, so it seems like a great place to start. I'm hoping to try a pretty basic ramen, probably one with a shoyu broth. A long time ago, my mother gave me good restaurant advice: When you try out a new spot, order the most basic dish that best exemplifies that cuisine. So for example, at an Italian restaurant, you might start with a spaghetti or their house lasagna. At a Hungarian restaurant, schnitzel, at a Tex-Mex spot, their fajitas. The idea is, if the restaurant can't make the basics well, chances are good that the rest of the food will be mediocre at best.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recipe Review: BBQ Chicken Pizza by The Turquoise Home

Cooking this week has been disappointing. Monday's bland chicken and mushy rice, and Tuesday's reading disaster left both of us unsatisfied at the end of the night. I know this sort of thing is always a risk when trying out new recipes, but cooking is primarily about pleasing those who eat the food.

Yes, I like to learn about new ingredients and techniques, but I mostly want to eat those delicious things!

Wednesday night was another new recipe. BBQ Chicken Pizza from The Turquoise Home. Being a fan of straight up pepperoni pizza, I never order BBQ pizza when doing take out or delivery. About the only time I've ever tried this flavor combination is when having a slice at Cici's pizza. (For the Canadians out there, it's basically a place to get super cheap pizza in a buffet/all-you-can-eat style.)

Find the recipe here!
Still, I'm a fan of using ingredients from the fridge as much as possible instead of constantly buying foods and throwing them out. A few weeks ago we tried Kludgy Mom's Slow Cooker Ribs and only used half a bottle of BBQ sauce. I also needed cilantro for Tuesday's Red Curry Lentils, and bacon is a staple in this house. 

That means I only needed to buy some Mozzarella, which would also be used for Saturday Night's "Survival Rations" (more on that later), and some chicken. As mentioned on the menu post, we found a lovely smoked chicken at European Quality Meats.

So, how was it?

First, I'll say I didn't really follow the recipe. I mean, it's pizza. Laura even says the pizza is easily customized, so I used her recipe as a template. Here are my changes:

  • Used smoked chicken breast instead of plain cooked or leftover shreds
  • Used super thinly sliced, raw, yellow onion, instead of sauteed, chopped onions
  • Topped the cheese with a few good shakes of Red Pepper flakes
  • Used a different dough recipe for the crust

The last change deserves an explanation. The original dough called for an entire tablespoon of yeast and only 5 minutes of rise. My previous experience working with breads and doughs comes mostly from Peter Reinhart's excellent tome, The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Pizza dough isn't a quick bread, like banana bread. Giving the dough time to relax and rise imparts flavor and texture to the crumb.
The single biggest flaw in most pizza dough recipes is the failure to instruct the maker to allow the dough to rest overnight in the refrigerator (or at least for a long time). This gives the enzymes time to go to work, pulling out subtle flavor trapped in the starch. The long rest also relaxes the gluten, allowing you to shape the dough easily, minimizing the elastic springiness that so often forces you to squeeze out all of the gas. (Reinhart, p 209)
Wanting a flavorful pizza crust is a matter of opinion however. Not everyone cares as long as there are scrumptious toppings! Personally, I had the time and the desire. So, I opted to use a more "formal" dough recipe. Being somewhat short on time, I opted for the Basic Pizza Dough from Suzanne Dunaway's wonderful No Need to Knead.

It only calls for a teaspoon of yeast, and since there's only two of us, I cut the recipe in half. The dough took about 5 minutes to put together and set up in an oiled, covered bowl, then I just let it do its thing for about an hour and a half.

If I had been more thoughtful, I would have made the dough the night before, and let it slow-rise in the fridge for extra flavor. Dunaway's crust was easy to work with, and even after only 90 minutes of rising, still had a nice flavor.

As for the rest of the pizza?

Wonderful! And as tiny as an ingredient as it might be, do not leave out the cilantro! The smoked chicken was great, no doubt, but this is a recipe where you might end up with 6 different flavors all battling for control of your taste buds unless the right six ingredients are used. The cilantro helps the creamy Mozzarella, sweet BBQ sauce, and salty bacon all work together in a lovely flavor explosion.

We devoured the pizza with a really nice bottle of white. Wallaroo Trail is a Chardonnay blend from Australia and Canada. Kind of fruity for me, kind of dry for the husband. It only ran about $10 at the Wine Rack! So, great bargain and tasty wine for a wonderful pizza.

This pizza is definitely going into rotation. I can easily prep the ingredients a day ahead if I want and stick them in the fridge. Spreading out the dough and topping the pizza probably took 10 minutes, tops.

Thank you Laura at The Turquoise Home for a great, simple recipe with a fantastic flavor combination!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Menu: Will Winter Ever End?

Much to my surprise, I have enjoyed seeing the sun during my first Canadian winter. For some reason, I assumed it would be all snow, ice, and frozen days until about mid-April, but happily, we have had quite a few blue skies to brighten our moods. That's not to say I've been out to the beach or roaming about in t-shirts, but I was genuinely worried I wouldn't see the sun for weeks at a time. Texas really does have tall skies and I've spent the greater part of my nights looking at the stars.

In the city, you can barely see them. How sad.

Click here to view the menu full size.
For the past two weeks, we have been eating! But I haven't updated for a myriad of reasons. Recently the management for the apartment we're living in decided to rip out our windows that developed frost on the inside and replace them with new, heat trapping things. This also meant they tore out our pretty glass patio door with screen and replaced it with a solid wood monster. I miss the light. The windows actually trap so much heat, that we have to keep them open at all times just to keep the apartment mildly comfortable. While I know the heat won't be on in the summer, I'm worried about the implications.

I also wound up distracted with a tiny "craft" project. I read a great post about menu planning on a really down to earth blog and it inspired me to do the same thing. I had originally planned to do a more visual weekly menu, a la Pinterest, but the more I got into the project, the more I realized how much time that would take and how inflexible it would actually be. Sure, it would look nice, but I'd have nowhere to put it! So instead, I made a menu of our favorites:

I gave our little apartment a name and decided that, based on the kinds of food I make, we have something of an almost bistro feel. I like rich, but simple foods, quiche being among the favorites. The menu design itself came from this website. This menu is totally for personal use, so it's really just a screencap with some extra alterations in photoshop. (Eventually, I'll remake it completely on my own.) That said, the website is really fun and I got idea after idea. Eventually, after fidgeting around enough in photoshop, I decided just to make my own. And so, behold, the weekly menus:

I really had a lot of fun putting these weekly menus together, so it will probably become a regular thing. I like putting them together, it doesn't take terribly long (and I currently have time to spare) and I like being able to email my husband the week's nosh. Additionally, if you check out the text under this Saturday's Party listing, you'll notice it says "nosh and nectar". The husband and I would like to expand our home bar, so on our upcoming party nights, we're going to be trying out and offering our guests a new drink each week. The nectar. This may become a new feature! A Let's Eat the Internet original.


  • Martha Stewart's One Pot Chicken with Swiss Chard
    Image Credit: John Kernick
    • New! Chicken leg quarters went on sale this week, so I wanted to learn a way to cook and use them. This recipe looked promising and I especially appreciate the way you use the chicken skin to render out fat that's used for the rest of the cooking process. Additionally, I'm a big fan of trying out new ingredients, but not all at once. Trying new foods is like writing poetry. There must be something familiar to enjoy the new.
    • Verdict: Bland. The recipe doesn't call for any salt of merit or any spices except for a bit of lemon zest that absolutely disappears. Even with some poultry seasoning and fresh thyme this was pretty forgettable. That said, I liked the method and I think this is a good introduction to Swiss chard. Maybe starting with some bacon fat and adding fresh herbs towards the end would make this a dish to remember.
  • Pinch of Yum's Red Curry Lentils
    Image Credit: Pinch of Yum
    • New! I'm charmed by the idea of having one vegetarian meal a week to help with food costs, but the reality is that I inevitably need some new ingredient to make the dish. Because of that, I'm more interested in having a vegetarian meal each week because I want to try new dishes and there is a really vibrant community of vegetarian and vegan cooks online. This week, I'm attempting a basic curry dish. We both like lentils and any excuse to eat naan is fine by me. (We'll be getting the naan from a local South Indian restaurant. Read on below.) 
    • Verdict:  Reading fail! Recipe calls for "tomato puree" and for some silly reason, I thought this was another way of saying tomato paste. My nerves questioned this when I bought it and when I was dumping it in, but for some stubborn reason, I continued. Just as stubbornly, I did what I could to fix my mistake by adding more coconut milk, chicken broth, and some water from cooking the lentils. Added additional spices too. That said, I think this *would* have been really nice if the paste hadn't been so overpowering. I added carrots this time, and when I make it again, I'll be sure to use tomato puree and more vegetables. The spices were lovely and I think this is a keeper.
  • The Turquoise Home's Homemade BBQ Chicken Pizza
    • New! Wednesday is supposed to be a gym day/night for me and I've found I'm most successful at staying on schedule if dinner for gym days is ridiculously easy or already prepped. (We also have leftover BBQ sauce that's waiting for attention.) Originally I chose this because chicken breast was on sale, but I honestly like the idea of a weeknight pizza. How simple is this? We ended up not buying chicken breast because we got all of this week's meat at super awesome prices from European Quality Meats out in Etobicoke. Why? Because we finally found the place! My husband repeatedly insisted there was a "great meat place" in the area, but after several drives of much pointing and yelling and getting lost, we could never seem to find it. This weekend, we totally found it, after much pointing and yelling and making illegal U-turns. So for this recipe, I'll be using smoked chicken! Yum!
    •  Verdict: Great! Read the full review here!
  • Bobby Flay's Chorizo and Goat Cheese Quiche
    • New! When I selected this recipe, I had a different one in mind. I wanted to make another quiche this week (because there had been an enormous sale on eggs a while back and we had 3 dozen to get through, hence the Eggs Benny last week that consumed 10 eggs between the two of us.) I found a recipe for a simple pork sausage, Monterrey Jack quiche that I planned on adding some jalapenos to, but after our foray at the butcher shop, we came home with fresh chorizo instead. I think Flay is an asshole, but I recognize that he seems to be pretty skilled with strong seasonings. I renamed this quiche on my weekly menu because I initially didn't think I'd be able to find Cojita. After a tasty stop by Cheese Boutique however, I came home with a lovely, salty Cojita and a generous slice of Quebec Fontina. I cannot express enough love for that shop.
    • Verdict: ARG. It turned out that my chorizo had already been smoked! I should have just left it out of the quiche, because I knew it would create a weird mix of textures. Regardless, I decided to add the roasted jalapenos directly to the layers, and yes, I layered the meat, onion, peppers, and cheese, then carefully poured the thyme/cilantro egg mix over top, a la Chef John's quiche advice. The three cheeses made for a very tasty quiche, and I really liked the peppers, so maybe I'll permanently modify this to be a roasted jalapeno, three cheese quiche. In that respect, very tasty.

Sweet Tooth

  • The Girl Who Ate Everything's Chocolate Eclair Cake
    Image Credit: TGWAE
    • New! I had a moment of food snobbery when I came across this recipe. I have a fantastic cookbook on french pastries that not only shows how basic recipes stack together to make beloved classics, but also has heart-wrenching history tidbits behind every recipe. I came across it a long time ago in a Half Price Books store and fell in love with it. Some day, I will make everything in it, and if you don't have this book in your collection, go buy it! When I saw that this dessert's filling would be pudding mix and cream cheese, I scoffed and pulled out my book. I read up on the recipe for crème patissière. While making it wouldn't have been difficult, the quantities of sugar caused me to second guess making an "authentic" version of the above recipe. Yes, I know there's sugar in pudding mix, but not as much as the traditional recipe. With that in mind, I'll be trying out this interesting, hopefully fast recipe. I've worked with pâte à choux before (the "crust"), so I feel confident I can pull this off.
  • The Girl Who Ate Everything's Pistachio Cherry Meltaways
    Image Credit: TGWAE
    • New! It's pretty rare that I'm going to put two recipes from the same site in the same week. But Christy's dessert section was pretty tempting! These odd, green cookies are going to be part of the Saturday party nosh. It's a horror-themed board game night, and we'll be having something I call "Survival Rations", and an alcoholic drink called "Seawater" which happens to be green. What better to finish the night than odd green and red cookies? Not just for holidays! These are also made with a pudding mix to help with the "meltaway" and hopefully they'll be a sweet hit.
    •  Verdict: These disappeared really fast! I didn't let my dough stay in the freezer for more than 25 minutes, so the cookies spread out just a bit, but they were still cookie shaped and brown bottoms. Pretty easy to put together with a nice flavor. I also didn't have almond extract, so just subbed vanilla. Crispy bottoms and a smooth cookie! To go with the horror theme, we renamed these "Cthu'ookies"; they were demonically delicious!


  • As mentioned above, we got all our meat this week from European Quality Meats in Etobicoke. They don't have a website, unfortunately, but if you find your way out there, and manage to find parking, you'll be treated to a really great selection of meats. For $27, we scored a pound of fresh chorizo, two chicken quarters, two pounds of fresh bacon, an entire smoked chicken, and a huge pack of meat pierogies. If I had bought the quarters and chicken breasts from No Frills, I actually would have spent closer to $40 and had no pierogies. They even have packs of vacuum packed meats for $25-85 you can get and toss in your freezer. This shop is definitely a must-go when I'm out in the area.
  • For our Red Curry Lentils, I'll be picking up fresh naan from Rashnaa, which is just north of Cabbagetown. I've attempted homemade naan and I've bought premade store-packed naan from grocery stores, but neither really holds a candle to naan fresh from a good restaurant. We've eaten at Rashnaa several times, most recently to celebrate my birthday in December and their food is always wonderful. Of all the Indian restaurants I've tried so far in my life, I rank them in third place, just behind Bombay on the Lake in Etobicoke and the all-time reigning champ, Shiva in Houston's Rice Village. This is not to say there are no better Indian restaurants in the world, just that this is my current personal ranking. Check these spots out if you have the chance.