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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chilli Fries

I often like to pretend that my culinary exploits are nothing but healthy, extravagant, forays into only the best of international cuisine.

But that's just not true.

There are a few dishes which we'll just... euphemistically... call white-trash food.

In fairness, we don't succumb to white-trash food more than a few times a month... but it does happen.

I believe in moderation, and as much as I would council a culinary-ignorant human being to try some Beouf Bourgignon or some Brandy Truffle Cream Pasta before he or she dies... so too might I suggest they should at least try some Greasy New-York style Pizza, or some simple Mac & Cheese before they die.  

Experiences are what make life worth living.

:)

So... this week, I pulled together a stunning meal for left-over night, which just happened to have the unfortunate status of also being kind of trashy.


Chilli Fries!

Heh heh heh.

I recently made some super spicy chilli sin carne, and had need to use up the remainder.  And, remembering that my wife doesn't really like left-over night... and that she didn't really love the spiciness of this chilli... I opted for something a little different.

I baked some frozen french fries.

And then I re-heated the chilli in a sauce pan.

Put one on top of the other in a large bowl, top with some grated cheddar, a healthy (this was exceptionally spicy chilli) dollop of greek yogurt, and some freshly chopped parsley, and there you have it.

So trashy... but so delicious and easy!

:)



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Harvest Fruit Pecan Crisp

It's that time of year again, where delicious autumn-harvest fruit is plentiful.  So plentiful, that we end up - invariably - having some last longer than we can eat them.

So it came to pass, that our fruit basket, once literally over-flowing with gorgeous pears and apples of all varieties, ended up looking a touch... scraggly recently.

That's my cue to bake something delightful.

The wife wanted to bake a pear cake.  But I reminded her that we are not 65 year old British ladies-who-lunch over tea and ladyfingers.  Surprisingly, she became upset.  She promptly exclaimed: "Fine!  You do something with them then!"

And so I did.

The following account is my reckoning of the leftover, slightly-worse-for-wear, apples and pears I just could not let go bad, and so turned into a fruit crisp.

Not really too sure on what constitutes the differences between a crisp, a crumble, and a cobbler.  I admit I also don't really care though...

So, if I'm calling this a crisp when you know in your indignant heart-of-hearts this is in fact more resemblant of a crumble... just please forgive my blunder.

:)

I made a 'naturally-sweetened' (i.e. no added sugar) apple crisp/crumble a while back, so if you're interested, go check that out.  This time around, however, I opted to employ the full-on amazing power of delicious brown sugar.  :)

Anyway, here we go! 
I'll start with some sad pics of my sorry harvest fruit.




They were gorgeous in their prime, but that was weeks ago, sadly.

So, first things first.

Wash the fruit.  Remove seedy-centres.  Chop loosely (keeping the majority of the entire fruit) just to make it easier to throw in the blender.

Purée.

Spread into large casserole/baking dish.


Looks like apple sauce.  I guess apple/pear sauce.  :)

Cover this with aluminium foil and BAKE (yes, just the puréed fruit) for about 20 - 30 mins at 400°.

Meanwhile, get started on the crisp/crumble/delicious sugary part.

Toast some crushed pecans (or other nuts) in a large pan.




Nuts, as always, are optional.  In fact, I'm usually NOT an incorporator of nuts in recipes.  But for whatever reason, I decided to throw some pecans in.

Melt some unsalted butter in a small pan.



Throw the toasted pecans into a large blender, with a good cup of brown sugar, and about the same (this varies, as we'll discuss later) amount of flour.

At this point, you can add your spices.  Cinnamon is - of course - a very well-accepted spice for this sort of thing, but today I've opted for some freshly-ground nutmeg.



So, all of these dry ingredients get about a half-dozen pulses in your blender, until reasonable mixed.



Now, drizzle your melted butter over the whole mixture, and pulse again for a few seconds.



Now, scrape this out into a medium mixing bowl, and - depending on its consistency (and moistness) - see if it will start to clump up.  If it is too dry to clump, simply add more butter.  If too wet to clump (as was mine) simply add more flour.



Once this mixture forms nice dry-ish clumps, it's ready to be sprinkled evenly over the recently baked fruit mixture.

Baking the fruit first allows for a lot of the juices to bubble up from the bottom.



So, sprinkle the crisp on top.




And then throw it in the oven, uncovered, for another good 20-30 minutes.  Until the flour mixture becomes golden brown.



Voilà. 



YUM.

As is my preference, I find this best served - warm - with some vanilla ice cream.




<drool>




Thursday, October 25, 2012

(Yet Another) Chilli sin Carne

Gather round children, it's time - again - for yet another of ijj's "chilli" sin carne.

I say "chilli" loosely, because many people believe that a true chilli is only one which has meat in it.  So, by their reckoning, the whole concept of 'chilli sin carne' is oxymoronical.

However, I am not one of those people.  As long as there are some legumes and (relatively) copious amounts of chilli peppers involved, I consider it a chilli.

So... really, this is basically beans.  Hot beans.  Muy piquante, in fact.  I used four peppers.  Which is about three more than my wife would have me use.

I'm not one of those crazytownbananapants pepper aficionados, who will gobble up the hottest peppers they can find.  You know the jerks (heh heh heh - that pun just crept up out of nowhere!) - they'll ask you if you like hot peppers, and then make some perverse display of machismo culminating in their pretending to be completely unaffected by any heat at all.  

Personally, I don't understand being boastful of capsaicin tolerance.

I like a medium amount of heat myself.  When ordering out, that's my preferred choice.  When given a choice, it's usually between 'mild', 'medium', or 'hot'.  Two extremes, and - what can only be logically determined as - the median, or the chef's idea of what it should be.  

I believe that most 'hot' dishes are prepared deliberately, and with a greater holistic expectation than my own humble taste buds could fathom, so who are they (my taste buds) to dictate that a well-constructed menu item from a reputable chef should in fact be moderated or mitigated?

So, yah...  I kinda got off topic there a bit... sorry.  Suffice it to say, I can eat heat, particularly when a dish typically should have some, but I am far from one of those jerk-juggling Scoville-scoffers. :)

So, I don't think I'm being unreasonable when I make a spicy dish like CHILLI actually spicy.  In fact, chilli like this is more often than not served with mitigating carbs or dairy (things which help your taste buds to deal with the spiciness).

ANYWAY... like I said, this is really just spicy beans.  In order of concentration, this dish contains: beans (browned navy beans), tomato, chilli pepper, onion, green onion, garlic, toasted cumin seeds (freshly-ground), oregano (ground), and a dash of sea salt.

It's pretty simple to make, and although I like it to stew for a few hours in a slow-cooker, it doesn't have to.

I began, like with most things, by sautéing some minced onion, green onion, and garlic in some olive oil.


Then, I puréed one tomato, and four small chilli peppers.


Chopped up some fresh parsley.


And then added it all to my slow cooker.  Looks like salsa.  Heh heh heh.


Throw in a few more tomatoes, and use cilantro instead of parsley, and it just might be salsa.

:)

I, however, added a large amount of navy beans.

And, let's not forget a healthy amount of cumin and oregano (absolutely imperative for the chilli flavour).



This is what my slow cooker looked like prior to cooking (slowly, heh heh heh) for an afternoon.


Now, as I mentioned earlier, this sort of dish is best served with at least a couple 'heat-mitigating' sides or accompaniments.  In this case, I served up a large amount of greek yogurt to be spooned on top, and I mixed up a batch of some tortillas to wrap it all up.  Together, the bland carbs and the cool dairy actually help immensely with a spicy dish like this.




So... this was delicious, but my wife couldn't take the heat, so I consider it ultimately a fail.  :(

I liked it, although I admit it was pushing the 'medium' heat boundary a little bit.

Let's just finish this post up with a little mention on how healthy this meal is, though.  Not only is it comprised of nothing but vegetables, these veggies are unilaterally accepted as some of the best out there.  Even the spices are good for you.  Cumin is supposed to be REALLY good for you, and even capsaicin is purportedly healthy in reasonable doses.

Indeed, sometimes I'm amazed at how healthy something as delicious as this actually is for you.

This is the reason I make some sort of chilli sin carne at least once every few weeks, rather than any love of spicy Mexican food.  

That's just a wonderful side-effect.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Home-made Chicken Soup

Few things are as uniformly and ubiquitously considered 'hearty' and 'filling' and 'heart-warming' as chicken soup.

It's good stuff.

Well, following Thanksgiving - where I roasted a whole chicken - I was left with several full jars of a concentrated chicken stock.

I also had a few root vegetables in the crisper which were starting to become... less crisp.  :)

So, a perfect time to make some home made chicken soup!

I started with copious amounts of fresh parsley.  A must for chicken soup in my opinion.



And a not so small amount of root veggies.  Also a must.



So, first to go was the white onion.  Lots of it.  Diced rather finely.  It's OK to get chunks of carrot and celery in your soup... but not onion.  :)

So, I gave the soup a kick start by dropping a small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of unsalted butter in the bottom of my large cauldron-esque cook pot.  Brought that up to a low simmer, and threw in the onion to get started.



Then, as that was - essentially - sautéing, I chopped my other vegetables.  The scallions relatively finely, but the carrots and celery were basically just sliced.  After a few minutes, the scallions got added.



And then I added the stock.  Lots of it.



Now, because stock is - by it's very nature - concentrated, I then added a fair bit of water.  Basically I topped it up with water.  The ratio was almost 1:1 stock to water.  Don't be afraid to add the water slowly though, and in batches, as you don't want to dilute your soup!

Now I turned the heat up to medium-high, and set to adding the carrots and celery.




Let's not forget about the soup's namesake - the chicken!

This was leftover from Thanksgiving as well, and rather than chop with a knife, I like the look of 'pulled' chicken better, so I used my hands.




After all that gets added, I chopped up my finishing touch - the parsley.



All that gets mixed together, and brought to a slow boil.



Now comes the salt.  I know many people who cringe at this part.  In our fear of sodium, we often make things taste terrible, and then rebound in other unhealthy ways.

I was raised in a very low sodium household.  In fact, my parents have poor habits when it comes to sodium.  My mother will put a ton of effort into a meal and not even add a granule of salt, out of principle, on some things which could be made much better by a truly very small amount of it... like steamed veggies, but then she'll not even think twice about serving up a platter of processed meat (like bacon).  

To me that's crazytownbananapants.

I'd rather take a more holistic approach, and take my salt in moderation.  So, I'm not afraid of putting a little bit of salt in something which really does need it to taste good (like chicken soup!) but never really go overboard.  And considering I avoid more processed foods than the average North American, I feel safe in doing so.

I guess that makes me the opposite of my parents, because I'd rather skip out on a piece or two of bacon per week if it means that I can actually have some salt in my soup, a dash on my asparagus, and a sprinkle on my beans.

Anyway... I'm adding a level tablespoon of gray sea salt here.



A tablespoon is a lot of salt... but this is a LARGE amount of soup... easily 12 servings.  You can see that the pot is almost full... that is the single largest pot I have in my kitchen.

Not to mention the fact that there isn't a speck of salt anywhere else in the pot.  There was none in the stock, and although the chicken had been roasted with a sprinkle on top (on its skin) I can't imagine it retained any to bring it to the soup today.

So... you have to add it.  It means the difference between tasting delicious or tasting like meat water.

Just take your salt with a grain of salt (heh heh heh - pun intended).  If I have a sodium-rich meal one night, I'll abstain the following... or try to anyway, which is all I ask of myself.

So, after the salt, I give it all a good two or three minutes of stirring while still at high heat.



But then the lid goes on and I turn it down to low, and let this puppy simmer for hours.



It's technically ready as soon as the veggies are soft, I'd say about an hour maybe two.  But I like to leave it on for the better part of a day.  This batch was on for about 6 or 7 hours.

If you want to add a noodle (of your choice) do so at least an hour before serving, but no more than 3.  Today I went with arborio rice.  Seemed like a good idea.



And it was.  It got a little mushy, but in a good way.

Anyway, after simmering all afternoon, my soup really took wonderful shape.



All the oils separated, and made the watery stock liquid all nice and greasy, and all the greens (especially the parsley) took on the warm, over-saturated, dullness that bespeaks soup-like cooked-ness.

Mmmmmmmmmm...

I like days like this.  It was a cold, gray autumn day, and the hard part of supper was all done by like noon, so when the wife got home from work it was a simple matter to just ladle up some bowls, hunker down and cut-in.

I served this up with just a couple pieces of artisan bread, toasted with a bit of margarine, and a couple of parmesan crisps from the day before.



Comfort food at its best.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Raspberry Cupcakes with Raspberry Butter-cream Icing

As the name might suggest, these are mind-blowingly delicious.

If I do say so myself.

It's basically a simple vanilla yellow-cake recipe I tweaked to be freaking raspberry time.

And pink.

:)

So... mix up your vanilla cake recipe.

I suppose you could even use the store-bought batter-in-a-box kind if you had to... but honestly they're not much easier or time-saving.  Having used both, I can tell you that all the hard and time-consuming parts of cake mixes are there regardless.  You still have to add eggs, and beat with an electric mixer... so where's the time saved in mixing your dry ingredients yourself?

Anyway...  my recipe was from my trusty America's Test Kitchen's baking book.  I can always rely on them for taking any guesswork out of baking.  If you follow their steps, it will turn out their way.  Every time.

Well... I did, but let's not forget that I went and tweaked the crap out of this one.  Firstly, by puréeing an entire pint of raspberries, and then mixing that in with the finished batter.



Pinkalicious!


These then got baked as normal.  About a quarter cup per cupcake liner.  I only made a half-recipe as I didn't need 2 dozen cupcakes.  So my entire batter fit nicely in one cupcake tray.


And turned out lovely!


But, that's only really half the job.

Now comes the 'raspberry butter cream icing'.

:)

About a 1/4 cup of unsalted butter, another full pint of pureed raspberries, and a spoonful of vanilla (I really wanted to use Chambord instead, but I didn't have any on hand).


Mix that up super well, and keep adding icing (confectioner's) sugar in batches, until you reach your desired thickness.  This makes a lot of icing.


In many recipes for this sort of thing, I've seen multiple suggestions for the use of red or pink food colouring.  Why?  I can't for the life of me think why you'd need food colouring when the raspberries' natural pigment is so unbelievably red to begin with.

Anyway... That's that.  Let it chill in the fridge for at least 30 mins (butter needs to harden), and there you have it..

Save a few raspberries (some of the better looking ones, obviously) for toppings.


And these babies are not only pretty, but deadly delicious.
:)