Category Archives: sides

The Humble Baked Potato … Gets Dressed Up

The classic baked potato with sour cream and butter. Delicious. But it can be so much more.

Like twice baked potato skins. Which I’m going to make too. In the meantime, here are some other toppings for that baked potato.

Broccoli and Cheddar Baked Potato – A simple bechamel (white sauce) becomes a mornay sauce when you stir cheese into it. Sharp/old cheddar cheese adds a nice punch but you can use whatever kind you prefer. Microwave some broccoli florettes just until tender, chop them up coarsely and then stir them into your cheese sauce.

The result … like having a bowl of cream of broccoli and potato  soup but with a lot more substance. Makes a tasty side dish to a pork chop or a piece of roasted chicken.

Dress up a pan of baked potatoes with various toppings for game day.

Chili Baked Potato – chili con carne, sour cream, shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese, green onion

I was going to make and post each of the toppings below but I got distracted by other things so I’m sending this out into the LJ/blogging world. I may make and post pictures at some point … but I’m not making any promises.

Other Baked Potato Toppings

1. Pulled Pork – bbq sauce, shredded pulled pork, coleslaw, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions
2. Breakfast Sausage and Gravy – pork sausage gravy
3. Tex-Mex – spiced meat (ground beef or turkey) mixture, salsa, queso fresco (or paneer cheese)

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Leeks (Roasted) … A Versatile Veg

My Saturday grocery shopping had been skipped and there wasn’t much chance that I was going out on Sunday either. I had chicken drumsticks marinating in a spicy Korean mixture with gochujang, garlic, ginger, honey and some other goodies for a type of ‘stew’. And, I had some leftover plain white rice that I could serve them with. But what veggie dish could I include, was the burning question?

A recent purchase of three beautiful leeks meant that after making a pot of mapo tofu, I had two more leeks to use up.

So I went net surfing and found great ideas for using leeks. Some weren’t useful immediately, because I was lacking critical ingredients (or I wasn’t in the mood to go outside and grill on the bbq) but I COULD adapt others. I’m writing down a a few ideas and links from the former category, by the way, for the next time I have leeks. This is the simplest vegetable side dish with leeks that I could find. Simple is GOOD, yes?

Yes, leek soup WAS one of the recipes I found but I don’t have any potatoes for thickening.

Roasted Carrots and Leeks with Fresh Thyme

It’s cold outside but my hardy little thyme plant is still alive so I went out and cut a few sprigs. Salt and pepper, a drizzle of olive oil over the top, then the carrots were roasted in the oven, while the chicken drumsticks were braised. I only removed one of the outer layers of the leek, so it was a bit “chewy” like with unpeeled older asparagus stalks, but still very tasty.

Ready to roast at 350 deg F for 45 min or until tender and slightly caramelized.

Spicy Korean Braised Chicken Drumsticks – thighs are good too, skin on or off

Mexican Rice con Azafran

I discovered Tex-Mex cuisine late in life … but have enjoyed every dish I’ve tried so far.

“Mexican rice” is a delicious side dish which I usually make using jarred salsa, for convenience, but the recipe below starts with basic ingredients. And a Goya brand seasoning packet, Sazon con Azafran. Azafran is translated as “saffron” but this is not the saffron sourced from the crocus flower.

Instead, the seeds of the achiote (annatto) plant, and tomato paste, are the source of the distinctive yellow/orange colour seen below.

Mexican Rice con Azafran – serves 4

1 pkt Goya Sazon con Azafran
1 cup long grain rice (basmati)
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil or butter, or as needed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt, or as needed

In a large saute pan, saute onion in 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil over medium heat until soft and the edges have started to pick up some colour. Transfer the sauteed onion to a small bowl and reserve.

In the remaining oil, plus another tbsp or as needed, saute the rice until the rice grains have become white. Clear an area of the saute pan and add the tomato paste. Fry for a minute or two and then combine the tomato paste with the fried rice, sauteing for another minute or so.

Transfer the rice to a medium sauce pan, add the sauteed onion, stock, tomato-rice mixture and salt. Bring to the boil stirring to mix the ingredients together, then reduce the heat to as low as possible and cover with a tight fitting lid. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for another 5 minutes so that the rice will steam and absorb any remaining liquid.

Fluff and serve.

Turkey burrito on home made sourdough tortilla

August/Summer Wrap-Up … Butter Saffron Basmati Rice and Pepperoni Pizza Sourdough Bread Loaf

PICTURE HEAVY WARNING

Summer has been much too short. Of course, I didn’t get much accomplished. In fact, I can’t even remember the semi-ambitious plans I had made.

Next year, I’m going to have to make and post a list of To Do‘s to keep me on track.

I hope work calls are more frequent this fall than last year and that my insomnia doesn’t flare up again. Going to bed at 5am is a bad habit and I need to get my sleep patterns back on track if I keep getting 6am phone calls to work.

And now, for a quick clear out of dishes I’ve cooked and pictures that I haven’t shared in August. Posting should slow  down quite a bit as work starts again.

I made butter saffron basmati rice with which to serve some leftover green chicken curry.

Butter Saffron Basmati Rice – ~3 cups

1 cup basmati rice
1 1/3 cup water
1 tbsp butter, unsalted
1/2 tsp salt

Saffron garnish
pinch or two of saffron threads
2 tbsp boiling water

Combine the boiling water and the saffron threads in a small bowl/ramekin and set aside.

Cooking the rice:

Wash the rice in several changes of cold water and then pour into a colander and drain.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and then add the drained rice. Saute for a minute or two. Add the water and salt to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to the minimum setting on your stove and cover.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the rice continue to steam for another 5-10 minutes.

Fluff with a fork. Every rice grain should be separate from every other. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle the saffron over the top.

Serve.

I tested the suggestion that using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour in my sourdough baking would give me better oven spring. The result did not bear that out but as I made some other changes to my ‘go to’ no-knead sourdough recipe, they’re not conclusive. The add-ins (1 oz diced hot pepperette, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, 2 oz shredded mozzarella cheese, and 1 tsp Italian herb seasonings), at least, gave me a very tasty, if flat, oval loaf of pepperoni pizza bread.

It was great as a dip for marinara sauce and toasted or plain, with butter, peanut butter or as a base for an open faced egg salad sandwich.

 

Mushroom and Tofu Egg Drop Miso Soup – It’s hard to take a nice picture of miso soup

A shrimp appetizer

Shrimp and Mushroom Scampi over home made Fettuccine pasta

Some breakfasts/lunches

 

Spicy pepperoni and mozzarella cheese stuffed omelette

Sourdough tortilla pizzas have been appearing often on my plate – from the classic pepperoni/mozzarella, with or without sweet peppers, Canadian bacon and fresh basil to pulled pork/bbq sauce to shrimp or mushroom on a base of shiso pesto. A bacon and mozzarella pizza made today isn’t pictured.

 

 

I was sure I had some fudgy chocolate cupcakes in the downstairs freezer for a quick dessert (even had a frosting idea that I was excited about) but then I had to scramble for a new plan when I discovered that I had eaten them all up, and all that was left were nine red velvet cupcakes. Making a cream cheese frosting was my immediate thought and, after weighing what was left of the last brick of Philly cream cheese (77 gm) in  my fridge, I searched my hard drive for one of the many ‘one day, I must try this’ frosting recipes that I could scale down. I was very pleased with the result … a thick, pipeable frosting with a touch of lemon juice to cut through the cloying sweetness of so many cream cheese frostings.

The last of the raspberry cupcakes with raspberry curd

Mexican Street Corn and another try at Mititei/Mici

I set aside a couple of the grilled corn on the cob from last week’s barbecue and finally got around to making the dish I had planned … Mexican Street Corn.

It’s a remarkably easy dish which can add flavour and moisture even to corn that’s no longer at its peak in terms of flavour and texture because it’s been sitting in your fridge for a day or three longer that it should have. Incidentally, the result tasted SO good, I wish I had more grilled corn available.

Mexican Street Corn – serves 2

2 grilled corn on the cob
1 tbsp mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp fresh herb or herb mixture (cilantro, parsley, oregano, thyme, mint**), julienned
1/2 – 1 tsp lime zest
several shakes each smoked or regular paprika and cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes
1-2 tbsp grated cheese (manchego, asiago, Parmesan, Romano**)
1 tbsp sliced green onion
paprika, to taste
lime wedges

** I used mint leaves and the Romano cheese

Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, paprika, cayenne pepper, fresh herbs and lime zest, stir and refrigerate covered for at least one hour to allow the flavours to meld together.

Brush the mixture on all sides of the warm corn on the cob. A silicone pastry brush will help to load the thick mixture onto the corn and help spread it out.

Sprinkle on the cheese, green onion and more paprika to taste. Squeeze the lime wedge over your corn just before eating.

This is my second attempt at making these skinless Romanian sausages called “mititei” or “mici”. (The Serbian version is called “cevapcici” or “cevapi” and uses equal parts ground beef and pork.)

I used a package seasoning mix which contained: garlic powder, salt, onion powder, summer savory, MSG, ground black pepper, ground coriander, bicarbonate of soda, ground caraway seeds as well as a bunch of preservatives.

As suggested on the package, I added the contents to 1 kg of ground beef along with 50 mls of cold water, and hand mixed it for about 10 minutes, though 15 minutes might have been better, but I got bored. If you have a stand blender with a dough hook, it will save you both time and effort. I portioned the meat into 50 gm amounts and then shaped it into 3 inch sausages using wet hands.

Grilling on the barbecue would have been the best way to cook the sausages but I didn’t want to fire it up, so it preheated a cast iron frying pan to med-hot, seasoned with about a tbsp of vegetable oil. I browned the sausages on all sides and then finished the sausages in a 375 deg F oven for 15 minutes. I think 10 minutes would have been plenty as a lot of liquid came out and the resulting sausages were drier than I would have liked.

Served with salad as part of a meal or as a snack with mustard or tzatziki sauce on tortilla wraps, they were very tasty but I know the next trial, with my own seasoning mixture, will be even better.

PICSPAM: Last BBQ of the Season

I love the taste of bbq’d foods but only bbq’ing a few things at a time seems wasteful to my frugal nature. So I make it worth my while with enough meat and veg for a week’s worth of meals.

I recently saw a post for Mexican market corn which made my mouth water, so I picked up a half dozen corn on the cob on sale to throw on the grill and make a batch. At 6 for $1.99, it wasn’t the best deal ever but I didn’t quibble. I didn’t quite have the energy to make them today, but there are two cobs set aside for it. The other three will probably end up in a corn chowder.

The full spread.

Here’s a picture of today’s Civic Holiday meal.

And some close-ups … sirloin steak and a sweet potato

Sweet corn on the cob and pork chops

Jumbo hot dogs

Pasta Possibilities … Egg Noodles

ETA (07/31/2017): Picture of Mákos tészta added

Whether or not you’re on a budget, pasta is the start of many amazing dishes that don’t make you feel like you’re tight on cash.

I ended up making the usual ‘boring’ pasta dish because I had leftovers in the fridge that I wanted to use up … cooked hot Italian sausages and jarred pasta sauce from making a couple of pizzas on Saturday. And, because I’ve already made several heavy Hungarian dishes and both my two other options were also Hungarian. I hope to make them sometime in the next week and post pictures then.

These are the Hungarian noodle dishes I was GOING to make.

Mákos tészta (sweet poppy seed noodles) …

or Túrós czusza (curd cheese and bacon noodles) or Kaposztás tészta (cabbage with noodles)

Which one do you think I should make??

Instead of using dry pasta, I made fresh egg noodles with semolina … just enough for 2 servings (scaled down to use 1 egg) and am re-posting the recipe here. It’s very easy and you don’t even need a pasta machine to make them though I did for the convenience.

Fresh Semolina and Egg Pasta – 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 servings

1 cup (170-180 gm) all-purpose flour
1 cup (200 gm) semolina flour
a pinch salt (1/8 tsp)
3 large eggs
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sift together all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and pinch of salt. (Remove about 1/4 cup to a separate bowl and use it to knead with.)

On a clean surface, make a mound out of the flour mixture then make a deep well in center.

Break the eggs into the well and add olive oil. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.

Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple. (To know when you’ve kneaded it enough, form the dough into a ball and cut it in half. The inside shouldn’t have pockets/holes in it but look nice and compact.)

Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough with a pasta machine or a rolling pin to desired thickness (<1/16th of an inch or 1 mm).

Let air dry for 10-15 min before cutting, especially with your pasta machine cutters. Cut into your favorite style of noodle or stuff with your favorite filling to make ravioli.

Bring water to a boil in a large pot, adding about a tbsp of salt.

Cook pasta until it is tender but not mushy, 1 to 8 minutes (2 1/2 minutes in this case) depending on the thickness. Drain immediately and toss with your favorite sauce.

Speaking of pizza … here’s what I made.

Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.

How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.

It’s All Gravy … Tomato and Duck

My mom only made one kind of gravy.

It started with bacon fat.

About once a month, my dad would slice up slab bacon with the thick rind on it, like in “the old country”, for the two of them. It took forever to render down enough of the fat to get any bacon grease but the results were worth it. (My brother and I liked the regular kind of bacon – thin slices, plumped up with water so it didn’t have a lot of flavour – but it crisped up quickly and the drippings were SO tasty.)

After frying up a pound or so of the bacon in her old cast iron frying pan, my mom would drain off most of the fat, leaving a few tablespoons in the pan, and add about the same amount of flour. She’d whisk the flour into the fat and cook the mixture (roux) for a while. The flavouring was about half a small can of Unico brand tomato paste. And then she’d add water and cook it up until it got nice and thick.

A bit of salt, and, at the end … well, each of us would add some of that tomato sauce or gravy to a soup bowl and dip in chunks of Italian bread and a few strips of bacon for a simple but filling brunch washed down with a cup of hot coffee.

Since she never measured anything, sometimes there’d end up being a lot of smooth, tangy and tasty tomato gravy. And sometimes, it would be lumpy and the flavour would be just slightly flat. Still, I never remember there being any leftovers.

Weekend Brunch – I didn’t have any bacon to fry up but I boiled up a smoked picnic shoulder ham and sliced off some of the uneven pieces and served it with tomato gravy and slices of home made French baguette to dip into it.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make different kinds of gravy. Turkey, breakfast sausage, pork chop pan gravy and buttermilk gravy. Sometimes the flavour is just slightly flat, sometimes it’s not as smooth as I’d like especially if I’m in a hurry or distracted with other things.

Recently, I ran across a treasure in the freezer. A container of duck drippings and fat. I thawed it, lifted off the layer of hard duck fat on top, and guess-timated how much flour I’d need to add for my roux. I ended up with about a cup of duck juices, jellied and dark and flavourful. A bit of chicken stock to extend the contents and this was the result. A delicious bowl of duck gravy.

Basic Gravy – 2 tbsp oil/butter/fat, 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups of liquid/drippings and meat juices. It’s just that simple.

Tomato Gravy – 1 tbsp bacon fat, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 cup tomato juice, additional water as needed, salt and pepper to taste.