Thursday, July 30, 2009

Safe Bet

It hasn't been a great couple of weeks in terms of home cooking. Some very busy days at work and a few weddings here and there on the weekends has not led to a lot of meals being made in the kitchen.

For times like this it's always good to have some standbys that you know are easy and reliable. For me, these dishes typically involve pasta, anything with garlic bread, eggs and chicken parm.

Mmm...I can't put into words how much I love chicken parm. I don't even really like
chicken but when they're thinly pounded, breaded and covered with cheese, de-lish! Not to mention that it goes well with pasta AND garlic bread. Heaven.

This recipe is pretty basic. The only things I would really emphasize are to use fresh breadcrumbs if you can (it really makes the texture a whole lot better than store-breaded chicken) and to properly season at every step. I should probably point out that I am a salt fiend and may have a tendency to overseason, but even if you use less salt and pepper than I do I would still recommend that you make sure your chicken, egg and breadcrumb mixture is all seasoned. That way you won't get any bland bites. Also, the sauce isn't really anything special - just your standard tomato sauce using whole canned tomatoes, but it's nice and fairly tomato-y which works for me!

Oh, and I used a cup of cornflake crumbs because for some reason we have some kicking around the kitchen and have been adding them to everything. They were actually really good and added a nice extra crunch to the chicken, so I'm keeping it in the recipe.

Chicken Parmesan

1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat some olive oil in a medium-sized pot and add onions. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. You don't want the onions or garlic to burn so make sure the heat isn't up too high.

2. Add tomatoes and give it a stir. Add herbs and let simmer for awhile. If you have a couple of hours, great but most of the time I do this for about 20 minutes to a half hour (I am clearly not claiming that this is an "authentic" tomato sauce by any means, but it's simple and tastes pretty good!). Add tomato paste to desired texture, depending on how thick you like your sauce (this will also vary based on how long you cook the sauce for)

Chicken Parm
4 chicken breasts
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk

1 cup breadcrumbs (preferably fresh)
1 cup crushed cornflakes (or just more breadcrumbs)
1 cup grated parmesan
4 tsp black pepper
3 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
cheese (I used havarti, you can really use any cheese you want)

1. Flatten chicken - Using a meat tenderizer or mallet (I use a rolling pin and cover the chicken with plastic wrap), flatten chicken breasts to 1/4 inch thickness. Depending on how large the breasts are, I also sometimes cut the breasts in half first.

2. Combine egg and milk in a shallow dish, beating lightly with a fork. Add salt and pepper to season. Combine breadcrumb mixture in another shallow dish.

3. Dip chicken breasts in egg mixure and coat with breadcrumbs.

4. Heat a large frying pan to medium heat and add some canola oil. Once heated through, fry chicken breasts for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. If you're worried about the chicken cooking through, cover with a lid while it's cooking. I don't generally find this a problem since the chicken has been pounded down.

5. Cover with cheese and cook under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Serve with tomato sauce and pasta, if that's what you're doing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Think I Have a Problem

I know, I know...corn again? What is this girl thinking? Well, I can't help it. I have an obsessive-food personality. My favourite foods are REALLY my favourites for a reason. That's not to say I'm going to eat the same meal every day for a week, but certain variations of ingredients or dishes will happily be eaten week in and week out. Which might explain why I get cranky if I don't have pizza at least once a week. Or tacos once every couple of weeks. (I know it doesn't actually SOUND like a lot, but its hard when a certain someone has a *gasp* carb AVERSION. That's right. Maybe I need to re-think our relationship. But it's also probably the only reason I'm not morbidly obsese) And why I'm writing about corn for the third time in two weeks.

Now in all fairness, this is probably the most common corn dish in our dinner rotation, except that its usually made with canned and frozen corn so I just HAD to try it with the fresh! Can you blame me?

I can't exactly claim that this recipe is my own, as like the Taco Dip you'll find endless variations on the Internet. For years, I thought it was actually unique to a certain restaurant that we used to order "fancy" chinese food from. But that was stupid, because its on the menu of most Chinese restaurants. And it's insanely easy to make so I have no idea why the lightbulb only went off sometime last year that I could make the soup at home.

Anyway, this soup can be VERY easily made with a can of creamed corn, but for the purposes of the recent fresh corn obsession, I made my own. And it was tasty! The corn flavour was a lot more pronounced and although the corn itself was very sweet, the overall soup had a nice savoury element to it. But I won't lie. I'll probably keep making this with canned corn in the future because a part of the appeal for me is its convenience. So go ahead, grab that can and get cooking!

Chicken Corn Soup

Cream-Style Corn
3 cobs fresh corn, hulled (cobs reserved)
1 cup water
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
(you can substitute canned creamed corn here as a shortcut. I'm going to guess this is about one large 19 ounce can of creamed corn)

2 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup imitation crab meat (optional)
4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp water
1 egg, lightly beaten
sesame oil (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the creamed corn - combine corn, water, corn starch, sugar and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until corn kernels are soft and plump. At this point you want to break up the corn kernels a bit. I used a hand blender lightly, you could use a stand blender or even just mash with a potato masher or ricer.

2. Add chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Let cook for about 10-15 minutes. If you used fresh corn, add the corn cobs to add some more flavour.

3. Remove corn cobs and add cooked chicken and crab meat, if using. Bring back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Combine corn starch with water until a paste forms, and add to soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add some sesame oil (maybe 1 tsp) if using.

4. Reduce soup to a simmer, and add egg mixture. Wait a minute for the egg to cook slightly and give it a stir. And done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cranberry What?

I've been meaning for some time now to get into baking some "fancier" breads mimicking the artisan-style loaves available at bakeries and grocery stores. I had my first attempt with the hearth bread awhile back but I had another ultimate goal in mind. In particular, I had visited a Loblaws a couple of months ago and was treated to an AMAZING sample of cranberry-pumpkin seed bread that I've been thinking about on and off ever since. So I thought I would finally try out a variation of this.

Except that apparently I have my seeds mixed up and I accidentally bought sunflower seeds, not pumpkin seeds. Which may have worked out because it may have actually been sunflower seeds all along that was in this aforementioned loaf. It's hard to say. I have the short-term memory of a goldfish. All I really remember is that is that it had cranberries, and was delicious.

Anyway...I decided to adapt (fairly heavily) a recipe from The Bread Bible. The actual recipe is for a raisin pecan bread but the underlying base seemed to be what I was looking for - hearth bread made from mostly white bread flour with a hint of whole wheat and studded with dried fruit and nuts/seeds. Plus I decided to bake the loaf in a Dutch oven, a la no-knead bread (I've contemplating trying no-knead bread more times than I can count, but the amount of rising time involved always ends up leading me to another recipe). I read in Ratio (I know, I've been talking about this book way too much lately...I am going to write an actual review of it soon so that I can get the rest of my raving out in one post) that you can actually bake any bread in a dutch oven to get that crispy, cracked crust without having to use complicating steaming methods like trays of ice cubes or spritzing, so it seemed like a good thing to try.

There are still a few things that I think I need to master with hearth breads, like how to form the loaves nicely and cut the slashes in the top of the loaf without completely flattening the dough, but overall this bread was really really good. Just a bit sweet and filled with the nutty toasted sunflower seeds, perfect with a smear of butter for breafast. Or with a hunk of cheese as a snack. And the dutch oven worked like a charm - Crunchy and nicely browned on the outside with NO steam necessary! I'll be baking the rest of my loaves this way for sure.

Cranberry Sunflower Loaf
adapted from the Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Berenbaum

1 cup bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water at room temperature
1 tbsp honey

Flour Mixture
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Soak the cranberries - place the cranberries in a small bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Let sit for about 20 minutes until softened and plump. Drain the cranberries, reserving the liquid in a 1 cup measure. Add enough warm water to equal 1 cup (this will be your 1 cup of room temperature water)

2. Make the sponge - In a large bowl, place the bread flour, yeast, water and honey. Whisk until very smooth and you can see some air bubbles, about 2 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap, while you make the flour mixture.
3. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour and yeast. Spoon this mixture lightly on top of the sponge. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature.

4. Mix the dough - add the salt and using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the sponge. Stir in the oil, sunflour seeds and cranberries, and mix to distribute throughout the dough. Knead the dough in the bowl until it all comes together, then scrap onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding as little of the remaining 1/4 cup of flour as possible. It will be fairly tacky but just work through it. Cover with the bowl and let rest for about 20 minutes. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. It will still be a bit tacky but less than before. If you need to, add the remaining flour during this step.

5. Let the dough rise in a dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with oil. Lightly oil the top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

6. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead lightly. Shape the dough into an oval and place in a greased dutch oven, or a greased baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit about 1 hour prior to baking.

8. Remove the plastic and let dough sit for about 5 minutes to dry out slightly. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the dough a few times. If you're using a dutch oven, cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes; remove lid after this point and continue baking for 10-15 more minutes, until the bread and golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

9. Remove bread from the oven and cool for as long as you can possibly wait - I think I made it about 20 minutes (Levy recommends 2 hours....right)

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Heart Corn

So...after the whole potato salad revelation, I was still on a corn kick that I couldn't shake. So I just went with it, and made some corn muffins!

I know I already ranted about how much I love corn, so I won't repeat myself here. But I do LOVE corn bread yet haven't baked much of my own, mostly because I seem to have a hard time deciding between the savoury and sweet recipes out there and I always feel like I need to have something to eat the cornbread with. But...corn muffins are easier. Corn muffins can be eaten on their own! And they should always be sweet! (or at least I think so).

For this recipe, I adjusted Michael Ruhlman's basic quickbread ratio for muffins, adding in cornmeal and corn. And it was really good! Slightly but not too sweet, plenty of corn flavour from the kernels and not too crumbly. A couple of notes...I actually used a lightly grilled corn cob for this because it was all I had left of the fresh corn. I wouldn't do this again though, because the corn chunks came out a bit dry since they had already been cooked once (I assumed this would happen, but again it was all I had). I also reduced the egg from 2 to 1, because I was also looking at other random cornbread recipes and decided for some reason that this was a good idea. I don't think it was - the muffins, while delicious were a bit on the dense side. I think the extra egg would help with that so I'm going to leave that as the amount of eggs in the recipe.

Corn Muffins
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk*
1 corn cob, hulled (you can also use frozen or canned corn here - it should be about a cup)

*I never actually keep buttermilk in the house, so to substitute, combine 1 tbsp of white vinegar and enough milk to make one cup and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

1. Combine cornmeal, flour, sugars, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Whisk together butter, egg and buttermilk. Pour into the dry mixture and stir until just combined.

3. Add in corn kernels

4. Drop by spoonful into a greased muffin tin, about 3/4 full. This will make enough for a dozen.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eating Light....ish?

Cooking in warm weather can be so difficult for a comfort food addict like me. It just doesn't seem right to make the baked pastas, casseroles and savoury pies that I love to make in colder weather. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of summer foods that I love but it just isn't what I crave after a long day that leaves me wanting nothing but fatty carbs (there is no logical reasoning for this - it's just what I do).

Fortunately, living in Canada there isn't a very long time span that this is actually a real problem. Especially this summer, there have been plenty of cold, windy, rainy days where I don't have the least bit of a problem with whipping up some soup or mac and cheese for dinner. But...still. I find I have a greater tendency to fall into cooking "ruts". Especially without access to a barbeque.

Luckily I've recently discovered quinoa. A friend of a friend made a delicious quinoa salad awhile back, and since then we've made a few variations of it for dinner. This recipe has an asian feel to it with the shrimp, ginger and sesame, plus a bit of sweetness from the pineapple. It's nice in that I can still feel like I'm getting my carbs (since it's a GRAIN salad) without feeling like I've just gained 5 pounds nad is great as leftovers for lunch (it actually tastes better after its been sitting in the fridge for awhile and the flavours have had a chance to soak in). And apparently it's good for you too. Score!

Summer Shrimp Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup quinoa (about 2 cups cooked)
2 cups frozen edamame beans
1/2 cup canned or fresh pineapple tidbits
2 stalks green onions
Shrimp (I think I used about 12 but I'm really not sure)
salt and pepper to taste
sesame seeds, for garnish

1 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp pineapple juice

1. Whisk dressing ingredients together until combined, and set aside

2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and add quinoa. Cover and let cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, re-cover and let sit for about 10 minutes.

3. If the shrimp that you're using is frozen (as mine was), run it under cold water, and leave for about 10 minutes to drain. The shrimp should start thawing out pretty quickly. Or if you actually think ahead (as I rarely do) you can take it out and defrost it in the fridge for a few hours.

4. Stir fry the shrimp over medium heat in a skillet until cooked through. I poured some of the dressing over it while cooking so that it absorbed some of the flavour.

5. Cook the edamame beans until they're not frozen anymore. The ones I use are pre-cooked so they don't actually need to be cooked, per se. I just microwave for less time than I normally do (like...1 minute instead of 4). Remove the beans from the pod if you're using ones in the shell.

6. Slice up the green onions up to the dark green parts

7. Throw the quinoa, shrimp, green onions, pineapple tidbits and edamame beans in a large bowl

8. Add dressing, a bit at a time, until it looks wet enough for you. This would be completely to your preference so just keep going until it looks and tastes right. Season to taste and garnish with sesame seeds

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cooking for One

Okay...this post includes a recipe, but that isn't really what I want to talk about. It's more of a side note.

Adam and I went to a barbeque at a friend's yesterday and I decided, in trying to break away from that Taco Dip rut, I would try something new - Potato Salad. I had seen a pretty tasty looking one on Pioneer Woman last week so I thought I would adapt that one. The particular recipe involved ricing the potatoes rather than using chunks. This seemed odd to me so I just chopped up the potatoes*. I also decided to add some apples and corn, and lemon to lighten up the flavour a tad, but not too much so as to take away from the base recipe and that fact that this WAS supposed to be potato salad, after all.

So I made this salad. And it was good - but not great. It definitely wasn't the best thing I've ever made. But, and this is the lesson here - there were so many things about it that were great, and it turned out that those things were the additions that I was hesitant to add too much of in the first place.

First off, the apples. This may sound disgusting, but when I was younger my mom would serve apple chunks slathered in mayo as a "salad". My dad loved it, and to be honest I did too. And though I may no longer eat this "salad" I thought it was perfectly acceptable to add apples to this one, and it was delicious!

And...the corn. Oh God the CORN. Just as a bit of background information, corn in general is one of my favourite foods. I love it in pretty much any form - out of the can, frozen, fresh corn on the cob. I'll add it to pretty much anything - salads, quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, or eat it mixed with mashed potatoes. It's even good on pizza, or omelettes. Anyway, I digress. Even with my lifelong love of corn, I've never, for some reason, cut corn off the. cob for other uses before. Maybe the frozen and canned versions were just too convenient, or cutting corn off the cob seemed too difficult. Either way, I had a couple of fresh corn cobs lying around so I figured I would try it (I won't lie - this was motivating. The directions in here are very helpful as well, so if you're going to try this at home follow these instructions!). And it's actually sad how happy it made me. The corn tasted SO MUCH BETTER than the other stuff. And cutting corn off the cob was so much easier than I expected, even possibly FUN (okay, I realized I sound like the world's biggest dork now, but whatever).

So anyway...I think that what I'm trying to say, is that sometimes it's okay to adapt a recipe to the point that it's a brand new dish. In this case, the next time I make this, it won't really be a "potato salad" as it will have quite a bit more of the apples and corn. I'm not really sure what it will be, per se. But that's okay. It will be delicious because there are delicious things in it, and it will be something totally new. And maybe no one else will want to eat it because I've overloaded on my favourite things and no one else's, but that's okay too - all the more for me.

*Although I've never made potato salad using riced/mashed potatoes before, I can see the appeal of it. This salad in particular seemed a bit bland, and I think largely because the potato chunks themselves had no flavour. I'm not sure if this could be improved by adding more salt to the water while the potatoes are boiling, but I do think that this is partly the reason for the ricing. The small pieces of potato you have, the more room there is to impart seasonings and flavour, and for the dressing to seep into every crevice. Regardless, I do like some chunks so I'll probably try ricing half the potatoes and using chunks for the other half next time.

Potato Salad
3 medium russet potatoes, washed, peeled and cubed
2 small macintosh apples, washed, peeled and cubed
3 stalks green onion
3 eggs
1 cob corn
1 lemon
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsbp yellow mustard
fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

1. Hard boil eggs - put eggs in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Remove eggs and chill in ice water bath until cool.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil - add potatoes and corn.

3. After 3 minutes, remove corn and chill in ice water bath to stop the cooking. Once corn is cool, hull corn off the cob using a sharp knife. Use the dull edge of the knife to rub off the rest of the corn nubs as well. You can use Ree's step-by-step instructions from this recipe here.

4. While potatoes are cooking, cut up green onion and apples and chop up dill.

5. Peel and roughly chop hard boiled eggs

6. Mix mayo and mustard together

7. Once potatoes are fork-tender, drain and add to a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, green onion, apples, corn and dill. Add in mayo-mustard mixture and squeeze in juice of half a lemon. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine. Season to taste as needed.

Home Cooking

When I first moved away from home, I didn't make or eat a lot of Korean food. I'd been eating it all my life, I still went back to my parents' place every couple of weeks so I didn't really feel the need to make it myself. However, the older I get the more I feel that changing. I still visit my parents quite often, but I find myself craving more and more of those home cooked meals from when I was a kid. I guess I've come to appreciate Korean cuisine a lot more (I was quite a picky eater as a child, so there were a lot of foods that I wouldn't eat) and now these dishes don't all fit into one weekend of meals. Either way, I've been trying to cook more of this myself at home and the best teacher for this is obviously my mom.

The problem with Korean food is that, unlike North American (or any other) cuisine, I can't just search for recipes online that seem to fit what I'm looking for. I need it to taste like what MOM made, so for that I need to go to the source. And since my mom (and I think this is the case with a lot of moms, or grandmothers that have been cooking for a long time) doesn't exactly write her recipes down, it's all about learning the techniques involved, or just how to eyeball the right amount of ingredients. For this reason I've started with the simplest recipes that a fairly small number of ingredients, to lessen the chance of messing up.

Hobak Jeon, or Korean Zucchini Pancakes, is one of the many popular street foods in Korea. There are only 5 ingredients involved and it's all about judging how much water to use - you want it to be fairly runny, not like a regular pancake batter at all (I'll admit - I DID try making these myself once previously using an online recipe. The pancakes were way too thick and puffy from not enough water in the batter) They don't taste anything like a North American pancake either - savoury and crispy, these are a tasty snack that is usually enjoyed with soy sauce.

Hobak Jeon (Korean Zucchini Pancakes)
1 zucchini
1 egg
1 cup flour
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

1. Slice up zucchini into thin discs (the thinner the better!) and then slice the discs into thin strips. I admit, this takes awhile. You could probably use some sort of machine for this that I don't own.

2. Make the batter - Dump flour, salt and the egg into a medium sized bowl. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Continue adding water until you get a runny batter - how runny, it's hard to say. I can't think of a good comparison - like syrup? Or something like that. Add the zucchini and mix in.

3. Heat up your skillet or frying pan to medium heat with a good glug of canola oil. (My mom really emphasized that you should make sure you have enough oil to cover the pancake once you flip it as well) You don't want the heat to be too high or the pancakes will burn before cooking through the zucchini.

4. Using a ladle, pour in some batter. Make sure it's not too thick (the runniness will help with this). Cook for a couple of minutes, then flip over and continue cooking until both sides are browned and crispy. Cut into wedges and eat with soy sauce.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


So remember that pie I've been thinking about for weeks? I actually did make one this weekend. I went to the local strawberry farm on Saturday afternoon and bought a couple of quarts of Ontario strawberries and a few stalks of bright and vibrant rhubarb for my first ever strawberry rhubarb pie. I really enjoy rhubarb because it's so tart and I don't like super sweet fruit desserts, but had never actually cooked with it before so I was very excited to try this out!

I also decided to try a (sort of) new pie crust recipe. I've been reading Ratio by Michael Ruhlman which is all about cooking with ratios rather than measurements, and focuses on the basic ingredients that you need to make something. In the case of pie, they are flour, fat and water. The recipe I normally use involves egg and vinegar, but I've been thinking lately that my pie crusts have been a bit too "puffy" and the egg probably has something to do with it. So I figured I would try it with just the basics and just a dash of sugar to sweeten it a tad.

And the result? Man was this good. Tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. I forgot just HOW good strawberries and rhubarb are together. There was just the right amount of fruit chunks and slightly thickened syrup. I barely even noticed the Splenda, which when executed badly can totally kill a dessert for me (I have an unnatural aversion to artificial sweeteners).

So in short...I will be making this pie again before strawberry season is over. You should too.

Pie Dough
3-2-1 pie crust ratio
15 ounces flour
5 ounces butter
5 ounces vegetable shortening (I use Tenderflake)
5 ounces ice-cold water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar (optional)

from Bon Appetit via smittenkitchen
3 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
3 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda so that my dad could have a slice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

1. Cut out butter and shortening amounts, and freeze for about 1/2 hour Making sure the ingredients are cold is incredibly important when making pie crust. I try to store the tools I'm going to be using in the freezer while my butter and shortening are in there as well to keep everything cool.

2. Measure out flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl

3. Cut in (or grate in) butter and shortening into the flour

4. Add water a couple tablespoons at a time, until flour mixture starts to clump together. Form a ball with your hands (be careful not to overwork the dough or it will end up tough)

5. Divide into two discs, wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until ready to use (you can do this a day or so in advance as well)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit

6. Combine filling ingredients together in a bowl.

7. Roll out bottom of pie crust until it's about 1 inch wider than your pie plate and transfer to pie plate

8. Spoon in filing

9. Roll out second crust. Slice into 1/2 inch strips and weave into a lattice pattern on top of pie. Trim edges with a bit of overhang and fold up so that your strips stay in place. Crimp edges if desired (I usually do, mostly because I find that my crust doesn't really "stay" in place if i don't).

10. Bake for about 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until edges are golden and filling is bubbling (This particular recipe said to bake for almost 2 hours. I only baked for about an hour)

Random Pie Crust Tips:
1. Use plenty of flour

2. Turn the dough at a 90 degree angle once or twice to make sure your dough isn't sticking to your surface

3. Don't freak out - it will get easier every time you make a pie

4. When you're ready to transfer the bottom crust to your pie plate, fold into quarters and place in your pie plate so that the bottom point is in the middle, and unfold

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Signature Dish

A few months back I read this article which got me thinking about what my "signature" dish might be. Something that, time and time again is requested for potlucks or parties, that may originally be from another source but has been made my own over time. I was discussing it with a friend and realized what it was. It's not a special casserole, or roast chicken, or even a great dessert. It's...taco dip.

Yes. TACO. DIP. That fattening but disturbingly addictive layered dip that was probably at the last barbeque you attended. You can likely name at least five people that make on a semi-regular basis. It's not particularly original, and definitely isn't classy. But I've been asked to make it so many times I can't even count, and have been told more than once that it's better than the other taco dips. So as much as I'm almost ashamed to admit, this is my signature dish. At least during barbeque season anyway.

This might sound really obvious, but the "secret" to my taco dip is the guacamole. For some reason most taco dip recipes out there don't include guac, but it really makes all the difference. I make a homemade, chunky guac for this layer and I swear that the amount of compliments I get on my taco dip has a direct relationship to the amount of guac in it. Just trust me on this.

Taco Dip

1 8oz block of light cream cheese, softened (I don't normally use light or low-fat products, but since the dip itself is so heavy and people have a tendency to eat a LOT of it I figure it's probably for the best)
1 250ml container of light sour cream (see above)
1 packet taco seasoning (I use the reduced salt kind)
1 small jar of mild or medium salsa
1-2 tomatoes, diced
Guacamole (see recipe below)
Cheese (not really sure how much...1 or two cups. Enough to cover your casserole dish)

Casserole dish...a 3 quart container in any shape should do it. Preferably glass so that you can see the layers. Or you can halve the recipe and use a smaller container. This makes a lot of taco dip.

1. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and kind of "cut" it with a fork. Start mixing small amounts of sour cream, using the fork to blend the two. This makes it easier to blend the two smoothly vs. just having sour cream with clumps of cream cheese floating around. Keep doing this until you've added all the sour cream and then mix in the taco seasoning until smooth and spread over the bottom of your dish.

2. Layer salsa. If you're using a glass dish and want the layers to show, start at the edges and work your way in with each layer.

3. Layer diced tomatoes, then guac as above.

4. Sprinkle the entire thing with cheese, enough to cover.

5. Cover with saran wrap (or a lid) and refrigerate until ready to eat. Either way, its best after it's been in the fridge for about an hour or so after the bottom layer has had a chance to firm up again.

2-3 avocados
1 shallot, finely diced (I only use about half of it)
1 lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Pit and scoop out the insides of avocados into a small bowl. Add shallots and the juice of 1/2 or whole lemon (depends on how lemony you like it) and season with salt and pepper

2. Run a knife through the bowl a few times until you get the chunkiness that you like. I make my guac pretty chunky, as you probably know so you can use a fork or something if you like it smoother

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Something New

Happy Canada Day! I realize this is delayed, but as I spent the day out and about (and definitely not cooking a thing) there wasn't much time to write something down.

So I've been thinking for awhile that I should try and set some cooking-related "goals" for myself with a deadline, as I have a tendency to get lazy and be all "Oh I'll cook that sometime..." and then never get around to it. Case in point: I've been talking about pies for probably three weeks now. I keep saying that I'm going to make pie "this" weekend and then something comes up. Though seriously...I swear I AM going to make pie this weekend! Anyway, with the beginning of a new month, it seems like the perfect time to make a to-cook list.

Note: Although I was originally planning on keeping this list limited to things that I've never made before, there are dishes that I don't make often enough (like pie) or have only made a few times but are SO good (like baked beans) that I'm also going to include.

To-Cook List for July
Baked Beans
Homemade Pasta (not really sure what kind yet...I wanted to try gnocchi but as I've never tried making pasta before it might not be the best place to start)

That's all I have for now. I am realizing as I read this back that this is a really carb-heavy list. Unfortunately, this will probably be a pattern as I don't tend to think "now I REALLY want to try that amazing looking salad recipe I saw awhile back". Also as it's summer and have been re-reading a lot of the Little House series lately, I seem to be gravitating towards comfort-style picnic food. I'll cross these off as I go and we'll see how far I get by the end of the month. I'm going to try and do this on a monthly basis. Also if you have any suggestions on things to try please let me know in the comments :)