Saturday, 21 December 2013

Winter Hiatus

Happy Winter Solstice!  The sun is now beginning to return and the 2014 seed catalogues are arriving in the mail.  I'm taking a break for a couple of months to focus on gardening plans for next season.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Venison Bolognese


Oh venison, how do I love thee?  Nom, nom, nom ...

I have had the pleasure for many years to know deer hunters who are very generous.  I am always excited to get some of Rick's venison sausages or some of the roasts and steaks I have received.  And very recently I have been given a variety of cuts, including some ground venison (thanks Peter!). 

I really want to try a chili some time but when I only have a limited amount of ground venison, my first choice is always a bolognese ragu.  This particular recipe, which I have prepared many times, is based on a youtube video by Mario Batali.  He uses beef, veal and pork and I have substituted venison for the beef and veal in this version.

If you want to do this properly, do not rush!  This should take about 4 hours.

Buon appetito!

1 large onion
3 celery stalks
2 medium carrots
3 cloves garlic
Herbs: thyme, rosemary, parsley
1 lb ground venison
3/4 lb ground pork
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup milk
1 cup white wine
Parmesan cheese

Pasta to serve (pappardelle is awesome)

Finely dice the vegetables.  This is a basic mirepoix ...onion, celery and carrot.  The onion should equal two parts to one part each of the carrot and celery.  Not sure if I did a great job, but close enough.  Then add the garlic.  You want them to blend into the sauce rather than stick out in chunks.

Prepare a bouquet garni with the herbs - I often wrap the herbs in a coffee filter to avoid pieces falling out into the dish, but you can just as easily wrap them with butcher's twine (food grade twine).

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot and add veggies and the bouquet garni.  Add a pinch of kosher salt.  Keep this on a low-medium heat for about 30 minutes.  If it gets hot, add some liquid - stock, beer, wine ... a little of whatever is on hand.

After a half hour, add the meat and a bit more salt and some pepper.  This is going to take a while.  Let it cook low and slow for about 45 minutes or so to render the fat.  Before moving to the next step, the meat should be crackling ...

Add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 minutes on low-medium heat.  This is probably a good time to remove the bouquet garni.  Then add the milk and cook just 4-5 minutes for it to evaporate.  Add the white wine and cook a few minutes to let the alcohol cook away.  After about 5 minutes, keep the temperature at low-medium (so 3 for an old school stovetop) then cover and cook for about an hour.  Taste and season with S&P.  Add in some parmesan as well; the saltiness helps with the seasoning.

You do not need a lot of sauce with the pasta, just enough to coat the pasta is sufficient.  Put some of the sauce in a pan, toss with the cooked pasta and some parmesan then serve hot.

Grazie, altrettanto
Grazie, altrettant

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Butter Tarts

Here's another Christmas treat that we grew up on; the recipe was passed down from my Dad's mom to my mom who still makes it for the "kids" each season.  This has always been my favourite butter tart recipe, and boy there are so many varieties!  Especially so here in Eastern Canada where you will often find them made with maple syrup.  You would think I would prefer something with real maple syrup over corn syrup nowadays but it's really hard to give up the stuff you grew up with!  And these are super tasty, so why would I switch to anything else?

This version calls for either raisins or currants, but we've always used currants (at least I think so, that's certainly what I've been using).  And the original calls for margarine, but I always use butter so I've made that switch here (I mean come on, they are called butter tarts, not hydrogenated oil tarts).  As for the pastry, I just used the recipe from the side of the Tenderflake package; my mom uses the Crisco recipe.  Or just buy some ready-made tart shells - even easier!

The filling is enough for 12 3" tarts which should call for a basic one-crust pastry recipe.  The tart shells are not blind baked first.  I thought that was strange but it seems very common this way and the blind baking is not at all necessary.

Pastry for 12 tarts
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup golden corn syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup currants (or raisins)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Prepare pastry, cut tart shells (a 4" round should be the right size) and place in a 12 tart/cupcake pan and chill in the fridge while preparing the filling.  I'm not that great at this, but they turned out OK (well, maybe not OK, but not too bad?).

Soak the currants in just enough hot water to cover them.

Melt the butter and add all remaining ingredients except the eggs and currants.  Make sure the mixture is cooled down, then add the 2 slightly beaten eggs and mix well. 

Put an equal amount of the now cooled currants into each tart shell; a little less than 1 Tbsp each should work out.

Then top with the filling (if the filling has been sitting for a bit, you may need to give it a quick stir again).

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry has browned.  Leave in the pan until cooled before trying to remove (trust me on this one).


I recommend making a double batch as I always do ... they'll go quick!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Samantha's Summer Day Cocktail with Cake Vodka

We are having quite a cold snap across most of Canada and I'm already reminiscing about warmer weather (winter hasn't even officially started yet!!).  So how about a summery cocktail to help with a daydream or two of summer time?

When my friend Samantha was visiting last month, I had a bottle of Three Olives Cake Vodka for her to try.  Three Olives is the brand; Cake is the flavour.  That's right, it tastes like cake.  Well, more like the icing.  I'm not even a real sweet dessert kind of person, but this is something else ... so delicious!!

Mix the following ingredients in a shaker with some ice.  Shake and pour into two martini glasses.

3 oz cake vodka
4.5 oz pineapple juice
Juice of 1/2 lime

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Quinoa Pudding with Orange Blossom Water, Persimmon and Pistachios

As easy as rice pudding (which is very easy if you have not made it before!).  But the quinoa makes it that much healthier than rice.  In this type of dish, the quinoa is very similar to tapioca; I hesitate to use the term gelatinous because that doesn't sound very appetizing, but it really is delicious; soft and chewy.

2 cups milk
1/3 cup 10% cream
1/4 cup white sugar
2/3 cup quinoa
Orange Blossom Water

Heat milk, cream and sugar just to a boil then reduce immediately to a simmer.  Add the quinoa.  Stir then top with the lid ajar.  Cook 30-40 minutes, stirring often.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp orange blossom water or more to taste.  Let sit off the heat at least 10 minutes before serving.  It may continue to thicken, so add additional milk if you prefer a looser consistency.  It is equally good served warm or chilled.

Serve layered with sliced persimmon and chopped pistachios.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Classic Caesar Salad Dressing


Happy Birthday Mom!! 

When I lived in Vancouver, my friend and her husband regularly hosted dinners for their single friends.  I recall she made the most amazing Caesar salad dressing and always made extra so we could hang out in the kitchen and dip chunks of bread into it while the meal was being cooked.

Most Caesar dressings are similar, although they will vary in the amount of each and every ingredient.  Every ingredient can impact the overall taste and this version simply reflects my own preferences: average amount of anchovy, heavy on the garlic and not too rich (I used one whole egg instead of 2 yolks).

Dressing Ingredients:
4 garlic cloves (about 1 1/2 - 2 Tbsp)
2 tsp anchovy paste
1 egg (or 2 yolks)
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt

For the salad:
Romaine hearts
Cooked bacon, broken into pieces
Additional parmesan cheese
Croutons / Bread

I coddled the egg first ... I'm not normally too concerned but the eggs I had were getting a little old in the fridge.  Place a room temperature egg (run under warm tap water if it's fresh out of the fridge) into a bowl.  Pour bowling water around the egg and let sit about 45 seconds.  Immediately remove the egg and run under cold water to cool it down (I usually dump the egg into a colander which is sitting under a tap).

Mince the garlic cloves and place in a mason jar with the anchovy paste, egg, lemon juice, mustard, olive oil and grated parmesan.  Screw on the lid and shake until all ingredients are well blended. Season with salt and pepper and adjust other ingredients as needed.  Alternatively, mix all dressing ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl.  Then slowly whisk in the olive oil.  But the mason jar option is much easier!

For the bread part of the salad, I toasted and sliced up some pita bread and broke it into pieces.

The salad itself does not require much dressing, so if this is your first time, add it a bit at a time.  Toss the lettuce in a bowl with just enough dressing to lightly coat it.  Add croutons, cooked bacon and additional parmesan cheese for serving.

I was going to serve it with whole leaves, large pieces of bacon and the pita bread triangles.  My plan was to make it a bit fancy and make a design with the dressing by using a squirt bottle.  I guess I didn't screw the top on tight enough.

This is why I don't try to fancy things up ... super klutz!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Fennel, Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti

These are always a great Christmas cookie with the red cranberry and green from the pistachios.  I had actually intended to make these with dried cherries but had none on hand.  But this particular biscotti recipe can be made with various combinations of nuts and fruit.

Many of these types of biscotti recipes call for almond extract, but the first thing I think of with biscotti is fennel which has a subtle licorice flavour. And it goes really well with the pistachio and cranberry.  I crushed the seeds to bring out more of the flavour.

Unless the internet is lying to me (and believe me, it's happened before), biscotti is Italian for twice-baked. Or at least that is exactly what they are ... twice-baked cookies.  They are first baked in a loaf shape, then cooled, sliced and baked again.  I've seen a few recipes that call for olive oil instead of the melted butter which would make them a bit healthier.  What's important is that the fat is a liquid and not solid, so if using butter, it must be melted.

It took longer than I thought to shell the pistachios so be prepared if you have to do the same ... and try to remove the skin as well or you end up with more of a dull brown than the bright green.

1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp fennel seed, crushed
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachio nuts, unsalted

Cream together the melted butter and sugar.  Add the vanilla, then beat in the eggs.  Add the dry ingredients, including the fennel seed, and mix on low just to combine.  Stir in the cranberries and pistachio nuts (if using a mixer for the dough, this last bit should be done by hand).

Form two logs, about 10-12 inches long and 2 inches wide.  The dough will be sticky, so it helps to put some water on your fingers.  Bake 35-40 minutes @ 300 degrees F.  It should be cooked through but still soft.  Allow to cool completely.

Cut diagonal slices and bake until golden brown - maybe 10-12 minutes.  These freeze very well.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Linguini Coquilles St. Jacques

Coquilles St. Jacques is a classic scallop dish.  There are variations, but usually it involves a scallop placed on a bed of minced shallots and mushrooms served in a scallop shell and finished with some type of gratin top, either cheese or mashed potatoes.

Other than the potatoes, I've used the ingredients for a pasta instead.  And it is delicious!!  I always prefer to use good quality sea scallops (usually from the Pelican Grill in Ottawa).  I use sea scallops here, but bay scallops are perfectly fine.  If using sea scallops, be sure to remove the muscle as it can be tough (most fish mongers will already have done this).

This makes 2 servings.

Long pasta, 2 servings
6 oz scallops
8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup white wine
Heavy cream

Start the pasta water.  After the scallops are ready, the rest of the recipe can almost be done in the time it takes to cook the pasta once the water is boiling, so long as the ingredients are all prepared. 

Depending on the size of your scallops, cook whole or cut in half for bite-size pieces.  Before cooking, rinse scallops in tap water then pat dry.  Season on top and bottom with salt and pepper.  Sear on high heat in some olive oil - just a minute or so per side is plenty.  Remove to a plate.

In the same pan (add more olive oil if needed) and still on high heat, saute the shallot just a few minutes until they begin to soften.  Add the garlic and mushrooms.  Cook until the moisture from the mushrooms is released and the mushrooms start to brown.  Add the fresh thyme, season with some salt and continue cooking until mushrooms are fully browned.

And still on a high heat, add 1/4 cup white wine and return the scallops to the pan.  Cook about 3 minutes while the wine reduces.

Add your cooked pasta and 1-2 Tbsp of heavy cream.  Toss quickly and serve immediately.

Serve with grated parmesan and additional fresh thyme leaves.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Spicy Lamb and Red Bean Chili

This is, without question, the best chili I have ever made.

I have a few mason jars full of peppers; some smoked and dried, others just dried.  They can last years if properly dried and stored in tightly sealed containers.  My choice for this lamb chili was a single smoked and dried anaheim pepper which provides amazing flavour and some good heat to go with the cayenne and chili powder.

And the cocoa and cinnamon add a richness to the flavour but also improve the colour as lamb is pretty pale.

Olive oil
1 medium red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb ground lamb
Spice Mix (see below)
White wine (optional)
1/2 can red kidney beans
2 cups whole canned tomatoes (4-5 fresh plum tomatoes)
10 cherry tomatoes (optional)

Spice Mix:
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp kosher salt
1 smoked and dried anaheim chili pepper, crushed

Saute the onion and garlic about 8-10 minutes in some olive oil until softened.  Break up the lamb into the pan, cook about 15 minutes until fully browned.  Add all spices, cook 8-10 minutes which will help to bring out the flavour.  Add a splash of wine to deglaze if the mixture is sticking too much to the pan.

Add beans, canned tomatoes and fresh cherry tomatoes (if using) and let simmer for about 20 minutes.  Add additional salt as needed.

Serve with sour cream and cilantro with a side of cornbread (pictured with some johnny cake).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Persimmon Buttermilk Scones

I don't know how much longer persimmons are around for, but I am loving them!  This is only my second use of persimmons ever - and the first was just a few weeks ago with the persimmon-mascarpone trifle (oh so good).

This is based on a Nigella Lawson basic scone recipe, but I've loaded it up with persimmons!  From her basic recipe, I've just increased the sugar and added pieces of persimmon and cinnamon; otherwise the recipe is the same.

3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
3 persimmons, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
Heavy cream, for brushing

 Heat oven to 400 degrees F.  Combine dry ingredients (including cinnamon) in a large bowl. Cut in butter (with fingers or pastry cutter) and mix to a coarse meal. Add buttermilk and mix just until combined.  Lightly stir in pieces of persimmon.

On a floured surfaces, transfer dough and pat down to approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inch thickness.  Depending on how juicy the persimmons are, the dough might be a bit sticky so use flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to hands.  Cut into wedges or rounds using a cookie cutter and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Brush the tops with cream, and bake for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Johnny Cake (a.k.a. Northern Cornbread)

I've been thinking about this breakfast dish for years.  I don't know why it took so long to ask my mom for the recipe.  We used to eat this as kids ... presumably on weekends but I've never had much of a memory for my childhood.  Just bits and pieces of delicious comfort food meals and lots of tv watching (and maybe some Atari video games).  This goes very well with a lazy weekend morning watching movies in bed!

Back then, it was meant to be served with Roger's Golden Syrup - nowadays I prefer real maple syrup, but whatever works for you ...

It can easily be used as a regular savoury cornbread.  Mix in a bit of corn, cheddar cheese, maybe some jalapenos.  Or just with this basic recipe, it will go well with a hot bowl of chili.  But if that's what you are looking for, I would suggest my recipe for Bacon Jalapeno Cornbread Muffins

Here is my mom's recipe card:

In case it is not obvious, combine all dry ingredients in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients - by the way, I assumed the use of milk and a "little bit of vinegar" was a replacement for buttermilk so I actually used 1 1/4 cups of buttermilk.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.  Spread into a greased pan, or in my case, I just used a non-stick baking pan - 8" x 8".

It does not need 40 minutes, check after about 25 minutes and remove when an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Serve hot with butter and warmed syrup ...