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!