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.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Menu: LCP (Low-Carb Paleo) Lovelies

For some reason, I only now feel like the holidays are finally over. I know lots of people force New Year's Resolutions onto themselves according to the calendar, but my experience has shown me that when I'm mentally ready to try something, the results are much more positive. That doesn't mean I give up when I decide things get tricky, but starting under your own willpower and desire is more powerful than for arbitrary or external reasons.

Both my husband and I like to eat low-carb or paleo style meals when we can. We've read enough of the research to be convinced as to what high amounts of carbs and processed foods can do to the body, and from personal experience, both of us tend to feel better when we follow these diets. That said, there are certain things I don't like to do. Filling up a dish with "substitute" food, items that are not natural but have been produced to imitate something real, to me, is just as bad as eating processed food.

Low-carb recipes often skimp on using natural flavors, for the sake of carbs, resorting to tepid amounts of powdered spices or canned cheese products instead of fresh vegetables, or freshly grated spices and cheeses. Paleo recipes are almost always written from an upper-class perspective and assume that people have limitless reservoirs of cash to buy three pounds of custom ground grass-fed beef for $30 from a local butcher, or access to rare or unusual ingredients sold only in specific cities.

It's like food idiot meets food snob, so when I cook LCP (low-carb paleo), I try to think like a chef instead. Look at the recipe and decide what's the most important. I guarantee you it's not the cheese in a can or the uber special ingredient. Substitute for fresh, and trusted ingredients, and you'll often end up with a fairly healthy and super delicious dish.


  • Health Bent's Paleo Chorizo Burger
  • Image Credit: Health Bent
    • New! Having grown up in Texas, a chorizo and egg wrap from Taco Cabana in the morning is a lovely, greasy mess. However, it's a bit more tricky to find around here. The recipe suggests I also find ungodly expensive handcrafted grass-fed beef as well, and while there are local butchers around here I would love to support, I have a weekly food budget to stick to. My version will be made with lean ground beef and ground pork, and seasonings yet to be determined. I'm intrigued by baking the burgers in the oven as well. I have great success with meatballs, but my pan fried burgers always seem under or overcooked. (Yet another reason to dream of living in a house with a proper outdoor grill!) Fried egg, fresh avocado and tomato, caramelized onions, and melty cheese over a juicy burger? Why would you need a bun?
    • Verdict: Pretty flavorful! I wound up finding a spice mix recipe for chorizo seasoning and added that to the pork before mixing everything together. The burgers came out, well cooked and overall, this was fairly tasty. Lots of prep to put these together, but overall a nice combo for a burger.
  • Kludgy Mom's Easy 5 Minute Slow Cooker Ribs
  • Image Credit: Kludgy Mom
    • New! My mother makes her ribs by baking them in the oven, sealed with tin foil, effectively steaming them. Them come out perfect every time. But I'm lazy and I want to try something new. (It's a hell of a personality combo.) I love the spice rub ingredients on this and think that the use of a crockpot would very closely imitate the oven, thus giving me similar results. Yes there is sugar in the recipe. No, I don't much care. When doing LCP, I think in terms of daily nutrition. There's less than a 1/2 cup of sugar, including the BBQ sauce I'll choose, in the entire recipe. Split that up between 4 pounds of meat and an individual serving is only going to have you eat a tablespoon or less. And that's the only sugar you have in the day, awesome. Carbs aren't evil, they're just bad for you in huge quantities.
    • Verdict: I really liked the seasonings on these ribs, and cooking them in the crockpot was super easy. However, we all felt like the meat wasn't as juicy as we'd like. We couldn't decide if that was because of the cooking method or the particular type of ribs (side, I think). I would definitely try this again, but with a different cut of ribs (baby back if I can find them).
  • Epicurious' Paprika Chicken, Ina Garten's Roasted Brussel's Sprouts and CBSOP's Brown Soda Bread with Molasses
    • Paprika chicken is a dish I've made several times. If you click on the link, you'll see Epicurious gave it a pretty pretentious name, so I've simplified it. Be generous with your paprika, add a dash of cayenne at the end, and patient with your chicken. It's better to initially undercook it then finish it in the simmering sauce, then to end up with a luxuriously creamy sauce and hard chicken chunks.
    • Ina Garten's Brussel's Sprouts is also a tried and trusted favorite. Like most people, I
      Image Credit: Food Network
      grew up with those horrid frozen, then steamed balls of moist sulfur. But somewhere along the way, I ran into this recipe. If I had never met my husband, I wouldn't have tried it, because I still then hated Brussel's Sprouts. But he had spent Christmas with a friend's family for several years and always raved about the mother's Brussel's Sprouts. So he liked them, but I didn't. This recipe works for us both. There is absolutely no sulfurous smell, and the slight crisping of the leaves transforms these petit chou chou into gourmet french fries.
    • New! That only leaves the Brown Soda Bread with Molasses. Yes! I remembered that I
      Image Credit: CBSOP
      do have a Molasses showdown to work on. I also note that this is the first time I've actually listed a "meal" for one of my dinners. It's try that we generally only eat a main course, since it's just the two of us. Rarely, I'll through together a salad or some other vegetables as well. It just ends up being too much food, and we're happy to eat a plate of meat. But this bread calls to me. It's the only item on this week's menu that is clearly not LCP, and like the ribs, I don't care. There's a difference between eating homemade bread once a week and Pop Tarts every day. As per CBSOP's suggestion, I'm going to up the molasses a bit, because it's so wonderfully tasty!
  • Martha Stewart's Savory Sauteed Leeks becomes LEtI's Economy LCP Dinner!
    • New! Well, OK. I didn't really make this recipe. I took the idea of cooking leeks in bacon fat and made something of my own. Because frankly, her recipe sounds really bland and boring. So, for the first time ever, here's an Let's Eat the Internet "Original":
      • Let's Eat the Internet's Economy LCP Dinner, Serves 2
      • Ingredients:
        • 1 leek, whites only, rinsed, dried, and sliced into 1cm half moons
        • 3 slices of bacon, cut into 2cm slices
        • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
        • 1 small smoked Kielbasa or other smoked sausage
        • pat (about 1 TBS) of unsalted butter
        • freshly ground black pepper
        • Cayenne pepper
      • Cook it:
        • Prepare a pan with about 1/4 of water and a lid. Throw the bacon slices in a heated skillet, cast iron or similar works well and cook until crisp. Once bacon is finished, turn on the heat for the water pan. 
        • Remove bacon onto a paper towel to drain, dab up most of the grease lower the heat a bit and throw in a pat of butter. When the fats are mixed, throw in the leeks and the garlic. Sprinkle on the peppers and add a dash of salt if you like. Saute until almost fully caramelized. Eyeball it folks. Don't burn them. 
        • Meanwhile, your water pan should be at a rolling simmer. Put the smoked Kielbasa in, cut in half if you like, and tap the lid back on. Let the meat simmer for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, you'll probably find the casing on the Kielbasa is barely holding in the meat. Pull the sausage out, and chop into bite size wedges. Return the bacon to the leeks.
        • Optional Step: Throw the wedges into the leek-bacon mix and add a splash of the sausage water. Simmer for a while and try to get a slight crisp on the sausage. This adds two layers of flavor to the dish, so I highly recommend it.
        • Serve!

Sweet Tooth

  • Linda's Low Carb's Chocolate Truffle Torte
    • New! In the spirit of an LCP week, and needing to use up my leftover chocolate from
      Image Credit: Linda's Low Carb
      last week's Triple Chocolate Mexican Cookies (omg!), the torte won out over some delectable looking spiced cookies. The recipe calls for an entire cup of granular splenda, and while I don't mind a dash in my morning coffee, this is a whole other level of chemical substitution. I'll have to think about what I want to do here. I've found that recipes with that much alternate sweetener just taste off, but I also don't want to eat a mouthful of real processed sugar. I'll report back on that. However, I'm fairly confident I'm going to add some crushed sea salt to the top of this lovely torte!