Monday, August 1, 2011

Beef Tacos

My Grandfather is doing well after he broke his femur. I was there tending to his garden and leaving my wife to look after ours on her own for 2 weeks. I am back and excited to be back in my own kitchen after that unexpected pause.

My friend's birthday was while I was gone and since I had to leave kind of a sudden, she was good with the idea of me cooking her dinner. Of course I think it was the Chocolate Lava cakes that she was after though. So, being a belated birthday, I figured I would go out and make a special dinner.

One thing I really miss about having my mexican friends close by is the food. I remember my friends Laura and Rosie cooking all day sometimes and they would make floutas, tomales, and tacitos, with salsa verde, and other hot sauces that should have a warning label. But the most remarkable thing is to see corn tacos being made by mexicans, they have a system and it is dizzying. Looks kinda simple until you try it. It definitely takes practice to get them looking like tacos.

Well, I found a very good, and less messy alternative. The market around the corner sells pre-made corn tortillas. Not as good as Laura's but definitely better than my last attempt. My friends used to make shredded pork and chicken for the tacos that was stewed for hours, so I thought beef done the same way would be great.

1 green onion diced fine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
3 garlic cloves diced
salt and pepper
1 bottle red ale
1/4 cup olive oil

1 kilo (just over 2 lbs) Blade roast
1 large onion chopped
2 stocks celery chopped
1 shallot
1 large green onion finely chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
1/2 tsp of each cumin and paprika
pinch of cinnamon
2 ripe tomatoes
3 cups beef broth (approx.)
hot sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

First, I marinated the beef (good old reliable blade roast) overnight with parsley, cilantro, garlic, salt, pepper, oliver oil, a red ale and a hot pepper that was given to me that is black on the outside, reddish on the inside and probably has a name other than really damn hot pepper. Then the next day, take beef, pat excess moisture off with paper towel and cube into large pieces. Sear the beef (with just enough oil to coat the bottom) in batches not to crowd the pan and brown each side. I like to cook the onions half way through to remove the brown bits on the pan before they burn, adding a little beef stock to dilute the brown bits. Place onions aside
add a little more oil and continue searing beef until all is browned. Place beef in large pot, add onions, celery, shallots, and after a minute the garlic. Cover 3/4 with beef broth adding spices and 2 ripe tomatoes, with hot sauce and Balsamic. Bring to a light boil and then simmer on low for no less than 2 1/2 hours or when able to take a fork to shred the beef. Remove beef and thicken remaining broth, once shredded add beef back to thickened sauce.

To shred the beef:
Using 2 forks, take a piece and hold it with one fork, and then scrape the piece with the other fork until you are left with shreds of beef, then repeat through the remaining pieces.

Corn (or if you prefer flour) tortillas
Shredded beef
Good crumbly feta
Chopped cilantro
diced tomatoes
sautéed red peppers and onion
shredded carrots
sliced green onions
good hot sauce

Dress tacos and enjoy, and if I missed a topping that you like, go ahead and add it, tacos are meant to be custom made. Simply put all the fixings you like and let everyone fix their own.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

East vs West: 2 different sushis

Hi everyone,
Ok so it has been a long time since I wrote. In my wife's family most of the birthdays are in April or May, work got supper busy and didn't let up, and well I went to Ireland for my late honeymoon. Recently I quit the IT world to follow my passion of good home cooked dinners, and started my own business of teaching and sharing how that can be done. First order of business is to find those who want to cook, but don't know where to start. I am creating a ebook to cover the most basics, and then subsequent editions to follow, to hone skills and master good food.

In my life a lot of good came from family dinners, a lot of sharing and talking happened while feeding a common need. It was a time where no matter what the war between siblings or parents was, there was a cease fire long enough to enjoy a meal. When family that we hadn't seen in a while came to town, it was time for a special dinner, so in my eyes food was a way to bring people together.

That being said, I wanted to start where I left off, Sushi. The last post was that of a first attempt at sushi, and the second time around I tried to take a staple and make it a bit special. Making a good sushi rice is key to this and bellow is a recipe for Sushi rice. I took the ever-so-basic but ever-so-lovely California roll and taking the same ingredients inverted it to make what I am going to call the PEI roll. I call it the PEI roll since it is as opposite of California as it gets and it has a friendly piece of smoked salmon. Both are easy to make and you will want to start making sushi yourself too.

Sushi rice:
1 cup short grain rice (Kohuko Rose is my fav)
*1-1 1/4 cup water (for rice maker use higher amount for stove top use lesser amount)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp garlic powder

For a rice maker put rice and water in machine and let sit for 20 mins powered off. Then cook as normal.

*for stovetop, get a pan with snug fitting lid and enough tin foil to cover top of pot. Put rice and water together and let sit off the heat for 20 mins. Wrap the top of pot with tinfoil and place lid on top ensuring air tight seal. Turn on high heat for about 3 mins and drop heat to low for another 15 mins without opening. When done the water should be gone and the rice just a bit al-dente.

When rice is done either method, get a non metal bowl and put rice in it. Mix the garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, sugar and salt together in a separate dish and then stir into rice a part at a time mixing into rice and separating the rice at the same time, so you don't get mushy rice.

California Roll (8 pieces):
1 sheet of Nori
1/3 cup of sushi rice
1/4 cup imitation crab meat shredded
1/4 avocado sliced
1 tbsp mayo
1/4 tsp wasabi paste
pinch of garlic powder
1/3 of a cucumber julienned

Mix garlic powder wasabi paste and mayo together. Take Nori sheet and place on either sushi roller or a sheet of plastic wrap and spread rice on it thin enough to cover nori leaving about one cm (1/2 inch) strip on the top with no rice. Place crab, cucumber and avocado about 1/3 of the way from the bottom of nori sheet in a row across, then spread mayo beside ingredients. Lightly wet bare strip, then roll carefully and tightly pressing into shape as you roll towards moisten part. Start slicing by cutting in 1/2. then cut each piece into half again, repeat one more time to make 8 even pieces.

PEI Roll:
1 sheet of Nori
1/3 cup of sushi rice
3-4 slices cold smoked salmon
1/4 cup imitation crab meat shredded
1/4 avocado sliced
1 tbsp mayo
1/4 tsp wasabi paste
pinch of garlic powder
1/3 of a cucumber julienned

You will need the plastic wrap here, spread the rice thinly but enough to cover nori sheet without leaving gap. Invert so that rice is directly on the plastic wrap and top the same as you would a california roll. Roll tightly using plastic wrap. Remove enough plastic wrap to evenly place smoked salmon, then re-wrap to press smoked salmon on top. Start slicing by cutting in 1/2. then cut each piece into half again, repeat one more time to make 8 even pieces.

These were a hit at my house, hope these work for you. Coming up on Nights Around the Table, some of our culinary highlights from Ireland which is making local it's obsession.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The sushi experiment: The Grasshopper Roll

I am a big fan of sushi, and a big fan of do it myself so it wasn't long before I attempted to make my own. I always left it to the experts because I didn't want to get sick and I didn't know that sushi grade fish is so readily available at fish mongers. When I lived in Vancouver, I never really thought about making my own because I could just go down the street and there was at least 2 good sushi restaurants in minutes from where I lived. The Fish was always fresh and tasty. Then I moved to Montreal, and well until recently, I couldn't find good sushi, most of it is either over-priced or mediocre. A while back when I was looking for a good piece of salmon for tartare I found that all the fish at my fish mongers was sushi grade (well in the display). That got the wheels turning, but still intimidated it took me a while to try making my own rice and wrapping a roll or two.

I was going to my local fish monger to get some fresh Haddock for fish and chips, and in front of me was a bag of Kokuho rose rice (the best short grain rice). Living with Korean roommates for 4 years I remember that brand as the best sticky rice. My friends used that for Korean sushi (Gimbap). So now I needed a good fish, and the fish monger recommended Talapia. I never would have guessed that Talapia was good raw. Talapia worked well because it has a firm flesh which makes it easy to slice thin for sashimi. It has a mild flavour and goes with things that won't over power it. I used some papaya, cucumber and carrots which worked well.

Being a beginner on the whole sushi thing I came up with the name of my new roll from the Kung fu series. I called it the grasshopper because it is not complete, with patience I will be able to perfect it, and I thought it was funny. So that said, sushi was good but I need to keep practicing and I will keep you posted.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Best Lasagna

One of the ultimately great tasting things on this planet is melted cheese. So what better dish to make if you like melted cheese than a traditional beef lasagna. I Love lasagna for many different reasons. I love pasta, a great meat sauce, and the many layers coming together plus it doesn't hurt that there is a very generous layer of melted cheese.

For me a beef lasagna must have: a good meat sauce with mushrooms, good noodles, ricotta cheese, and a blend of melting cheeses, parmesan and cheddar. My wife taught me a trick that is very much worth mentioning and that is adding a light dusting of garlic powder in with the cheese layer. It gives your cheese layer a bit of extra oomph.

I know that out there everyone is looking for a quick and easy 30 minute weekday meal, and it is good to have for those weekdays where that's all the time you have, this isn't one of them. There are ready to bake noodles and other shortcuts that can be used, but flavour takes time. I have been taking the time to make my homemade pasta, and I wanted to try making lasagna with fresh pasta. I am glad I did because using fresh pasta (once made and rolled out of course) was just as easy as the ready bake. Once you get the hang of making pasta it is actually fairly easy to do, and you will not go back to the store bought dry packaged stuff again. If you can't take the time, try to at least find fresh pasta sheets at the market, the difference will shock you!

Now the ingredients you use in your lasagna are very important because of the different layers you will notice each of the ingredients more. Organic and fresh is key here, and because of the focus on the dairy try to find a good ricotta (it is the one that your family or guests will notice most). Lasagna pretty much goes against the trends of quick, easy, healthy and affordable, but that's what makes it so irresistible. So go out and live a little, and take the time to make something memorable.

For 8 portions of memories you will need:
1 onion finely diced
2 medium carrots finely diced
2 celery stocks finely diced
1/2 pint of favourite mushrooms (I love cremini because they are more earthy)
1 1/2 lb. ground beef
3 big cloves garlic minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coarsely chopped fennel seeds
1/4 tsp + pinch for dusting- garlic powder
3 tbsp olive oil
S&P to taste
1/4 red wine (something you would drink)
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2-3 cups diced tomatoes (fresh if in season or canned other wise)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp dried rosemary

1 lb. fresh pasta cut to fit you baking dish (for other types of Lasagna noodles follow directions on the box)
400 grams of good ricotta
350 grams of shredded cheese a mix of mozzarella, provolone (or other stringy cheeses), parmesan and a bit of cheddar

To make the sauce:

Start of by browning the beef at medium to medium high heat in a large pot. Then put off to the side. Add oil to pan and start to sweat the onions, and when they are softened, about 2 -3 minutes add the diced carrots and celery. Brown together adding mushrooms when the rest of the vegetables are almost brown. Seasoning with salt and pepper, then start to add the dry spices. When you can smell the spices, add the garlic and beef. then add the red wine and scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Then add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Let simmer for 30 mins uncovered. Add the diced tomatoes and let simmer for another 10 mins. Season to taste, depending on the tomatoes you may need more of the dried spices or a bit more salt and pepper.

To bring it all together:
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Skim a bit of the liquid from the meat sauce and line the baking dish with it. Lay down first layer of pasta to cover dish, then a generous layer of meat sauce on top, then pasta. Keep layering until you are 1/2" from the top of the dish, spread a layer of ricotta top with a thin layer of sauce and pasta. Then top with cheese blend and dust with garlic powder. Bake about 25 minutes on a baking sheet (so you don't have to scrape cheese of the bottom of your oven) for fresh pasta, and follow directions for other types of pasta.

Let cool for about a minute or two then serve and enjoy!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Top-Chef leek and potato cream soup:

About a month back I came across the Top Chef University online. I love the show and since Tom Colicchio is involved it couldn’t be too bad. For those of you who live on Mars, Top Chef is a Reality Cooking Competition, with various challenges, like The Apprentice for Foodies. Anyway for $100 couldn’t hurt to try it out, so I did. I have gone through the basics section, and it was just that, kind of like the Dummy Series of books (a reference for the rest of us). Now I am in soups, which I am pretty good at but I got a new recipe, and a different way of making leek and potato.

As anyone who has read my previous post will see this is night and day different. I like my soup French style where texture is important, I like consumes and puréed soups more that rustic ones, but this soup is amongst chowders as one of my few exceptions. This soup is super easy to make as well which is good to make in a short time on a weekday night (now I gave away that secret, my wife is going to have me to make it more often).

So what you will need: (Adapted from Top Chef University)

5 or so strips of bacon cut into lardons. + 2 strips for garnish
1 shallot diced
3 cloves of garlic smashed
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme (leaves only)
2 medium leeks sliced (white parts only)
2 russet potatoes ¼ inch cube
2 Cups cooking cream
2 cups Chicken stock
2 green onions tops only sliced on bias (Garnish)

Heat pot you are doing soup in to medium heat and start cooking bacon for garnish. Half way through add lardons and slowly brown. When the strips are cooked, remove and place on a paper towel to soak up the extra grease. Add shallots, and leeks and let soften, then add garlic, bay leaves and thyme. Add the potatoes (a little oil or butter if potatoes are sticking) and cook for 3-5 minutes before adding the cream. Cook on high for 2-3 minutes to reduce the cream, add stock and simmer until potatoes are fork tender. S&P to taste and garnish with bacon and green onion.

You can change it up to your tastes, maybe add croutons or hot sauce, but it is fine the way it is. Enjoy…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Roast Beef with Roasted Vegetables on Rye.

I have always been a big fan of a good roast beef sandwich, and on homemade rye bread, it is almost as good as a Rueben. My favourite bread growing up was rye. There was this bakery that had a great rye bread, although it was a good walk (about 20 minutes each way), I would probably go once every couple weeks or so for my parents, when ever we had stew. Once I started making my own bread, it wasn't long before I learnt how to make rye bread. Well when you have a good bread, you have a great base to experiment with sandwiches.

I find that good sandwiches aren't always easy to come by, with the exception of a new sandwich only shop opened up near my work. Its a small chain that has put the focus on sandwiches and doing them well, but they are a little expensive. I love a good sandwich and since they are not always easy to find, I experiment with my own.

This experiment went well. I normally wouldn't have made this roasted vegetable sandwich with beef but my wife and I had roast beef for dinner yesterday. I took a gamble and well as long as you don't forget the mustard its a well balanced sandwich. I find that it balances the sweet caramelized vegetables well.

What you will need:

Roasted vegetables:
3 bell peppers ( I used 2 red and 1 orange)
1 med onion sliced into thing rings
1 Eggplant (aubergine) sliced
1 head of garlic
olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 F. Slice eggplant (aubergine) into about 1/4 inch slices, and place on cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt to bring out the excess moisture. Slice each of the peppers into 4 flat pieces. Slice onions carefully across the top to make thin circular slices (try to keep in tact) and place on a large foil lined cookie sheet with peppers(you may need separate trays). Take a sheet of foil out big enough to wrap head of garlic, slice top of garlic so each clove's top is cut off. Place garlic open part up, brush top with olive oil, season with S&P and wrap in foil. With a paper towel wipe off eggplant, then brush both sides with olive oil. Season with S&P and place back on cookie sheet. Bake for about 1 hour or until caramelized, the onions go from nothing to burnt rather quick so keep an eye on them. Eggplant needs only about 45 mins and turn everything (except the garlic) about 1/2 way in.
Let cool and chop. mix all vegetables together with garlic.

For sandwich:
2 slices of your favourite rye bread (you can substitute any bread you like)
3 Tbsp (or more) of the Vegetable mix
3 or 4 thin slices of Roast beef
Cheddar cheese
favourite mustard to taste
mayo (optional)

Adding grilled vegetables is a great way to add some flavour to any sandwich, I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The 10 for 5 Finale: Chocolate Lava Cakes

Let me start of by saying that I have had plenty of requests for these little gems. These are perfect for all chocoholics, and so easy to make. Now my original recipe calls for six ingredients and after a painful sacrifice I dropped the only ingredient I could, vanilla. This was tough because vanilla is like salt of the desert world, and I don't think I make anything that a little vanilla wouldn't make better. But for the sake of the challenge I dropped it, and it worked out pretty good. I do recommend adding a splash of vanilla but as I was pleasantly surprised it can hold up without it.

This was a great challenge and I am happy that I got a chance to participate, as I said in a previous post it got me in touch with some old favourites. But another thing that this challenge did for me was to think about simplifying my new favourites and really appreciate what each of the ingredients bring to the dish. Thank you Julie (Rosie + Tart) for putting this together, it has been a lot of fun.

Enough of the blabbing, this is what you will need: (4 portions)
8 oz dark chocolate (make it as good as you can afford)
1 Stick (1/2 cup) Butter (I never said it was low-fat)
4 eggs
4 Tbsp Brown sugar
4 Tbsp Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 400 F and butter 4- 8 oz ramekins and then coat with white sugar. In a double boiler melt chocolate and butter together. Meanwhile, whisk together the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. Let chocolate cool a bit but not harden, then mix together with egg mix. Using a deep sided baking dish place the ramekins in and fill 1/2 way with water, then bake for about 12 minutes from room temperature, or about 20 from the fridge.
When you pull these out of the oven slide a knife around the edges (while still hot so use oven mitts or a cloth) and invert on a plate. Enjoy, and whoever you make these for will invite themselves over for dessert.
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