Thursday, 26 January 2012

Mac and Cheese in Honor of The Springfield Road Boys

            There are some foods which simply ring of your youth. Most of these things are not really as good as you remember them especially when you think what they are. As we grow a little older we move past these things or at the very least we don’t eat them with the same frequency or vigour as we once did. Some of us have problems letting go and will swear that the peanut and jelly sandwiches of our youth are still the greatest food stuff in the history of the world. Just for the record they are. So I have decided to screw around with someone else’s food obsession. There were many days when I would come home from work to find my roommates all clustered around the stove gazing into a huge stock waiting for their favourite thing in the world... Kraft Dinner. No matter the time of day I could count on seeing KD splashed, in all of its day glow orange glory, all over the kitchen. The boys would buy it buy the case. So here I go, just for you boys, Johnny Condor’s Mac and Cheese.

            Everybody should have a few core sauces in their repertoire that truly kick some serious ass. So the first thing that we need to do is make a killer cheese sauce. This is pretty much a three step process and I am sure that the final product has a fancy French name for cheese sauce, but I don’t know it.  The first two steps do have fancy French names and I do know those. So here we go getting fancy. The first part is making a roux. This is just equal parts melted butter and flour and it acts as a thickening agent. The next part you add some dairy. I use whole milk but you can add whatever you like depending on how rich you want your sauce to be. Whisk the snot out of it so there are no lumps. Now you have yourself a béchamel sauce. All of those fancy words for a simple sauce. Next you add your cheese and stir constantly until all of your cheese is melted and incorporated fully. This yields what we are looking for, an awesome cheese sauce. All you need to do now is put it together with some other stuff and you have a Mac and Cheese of legendary proportions. So let’s do that

Johnny Condor’s Mac and Cheese to the tune of “Faith” by George Michael

½ a bag of elbow macaroni
¼ cup of butter
¼ cup of flour
2 pints of milk
A good size brick of the cheese of your choice I go with aged cheddar myself grated
Salt and pepper
2 onions diced and caramelized
4 strips of double smoked bacon diced and fried
¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese

-Preheat oven at 350

-Cook up your pasta like you normally do and whip up your awesome cheese sauce as outlined above. Use about ¾ of your cheese.

-Combine your pasta, sauce, onions, and bacon and pour into a casserole or baking pan, cover with the remaining cheese and Parmesan. You can also add some breadcrumbs and butter to the top to create a gratin kind of topping.

-Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the cheese on top is a little crispy. Then serve it up my friends.

So there it is, in honor of the boys, give it a go and let me know how it works. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Johnny's Stuffed Pork Chops

Some things are better left alone. Things like, a really good steak, a really good scotch, or an idealistic outlook on love are just better if you don’t mess with them. Some things, on the other hand, can be, let us say, augmented to bring about a change for the better. When playing in the kitchen, start off with small, little things to make your dishes a little bit better. I am a firm believer in the Italian food philosophy that if you have great ingredients they should be the star of the show and all you have to do is let them shine. Unless you are making Mole you generally don’t need thirty ingredients. That is not to say that you should not try new things in the kitchen. The kitchen has always been a place in this world that I have felt safe and at peace and I think it should be that for everyone. It is this feeling that allows me to attempt pairings that I think might work and whether they succeed or they fail, the latter happens more often than not, I have learned a little more about food. This is a great thing.

            This recipe came out of that sort of experimental vibe that I like to have in my kitchen and the question: How the hell do I stuff a pork chop? There were many attempts at making this and some worked out better than others. That is the way things go sometimes but the end result turned out fantastic. I messed around with some different techniques to find which one worked best both in the cutting of the chop itself, the balance of the stuffing and what cooking method worked the best. To answer those questions for you:  a butterflied and pounded chop is the cut that worked best for me, the addition of goat’s cheese balanced the stuffing and pan roasting won the day for cooking method. I am sure that there are foodies out there who will say that this is not so much a stuffed chop but rather it is a roulade and a whole bunch of other fancy French terms and I am sure that they are right. To me, because of where the idea came from, it is Johnny’s stuffed pork chop. Now let’s get to it.

Johnny’s Stuffed Pork Chop to the tune of “Sunday Jen” by Slackstring

2 pork chops butterflied and pounded flat. If you don’t know what butterflying is, it is simply slicing your chop almost all the way through so that when you flip it open it looks like a butterfly

2 strips of bacon diced and fried until crispy
1 apple finely diced
¼ cup bread crumbs
A small chunk of mild goat’s cheese, this part is totally up to you I like lots and some will like less.
1 tsp of oregano
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper

-Preheat oven to 350. Lay your chops out flat and season with salt and pepper.

-In a bowl mix together the bread crumbs, bacon, apple, cheese and oregano.

-Spread your stuffing onto your chops just like you were buttering bread. Leave about ½ and inch on each end. Gently roll your chop up and tie with butcher’s twine, like a jellyroll. At this stage your chop should look like a mini roast.

-Heat oil in a heat proof sauté pan and sear off the chop. Move the pan to the oven and roast for about 10-15 minutes. It should not take much longer than that.

-Remove from the oven and set the chops aside to rest.

-Return the pan to the stove top and add the wine to deglaze the pan and reduce 3-4 minutes on high heat. Remove from heat add your butter and whisk together.

-Remove the twine and slice your chop. Top with the wine sauce. And there you have Johnny’s Stuffed Pork Chop. Enjoy it.

Keep rocking in the kitchen and I will talk to you all soon.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Courtship of Risotto

            So we move now into one of the trickier things to attempt in the kitchen, I am talking about risotto. I am a very avid watcher of cooking shows, the shows that actually show people cooking. I really don’t want to know how gummy bears and pop rocks are made, just so you all know. In all of my watching I have seen risotto get the best of really well trained chefs. This is not to say we should not try it at home all I am saying is that if it doesn’t come out perfect you are in really good company. And I am all about the challenge. The reason that I struggled with making risotto is due to my own lack of patience. You need to take your time with this dish and keep a close eye on it. I you don’t you will end up with something that is less than great. You may ask yourself: Is the time that I am putting in worth it? The answer is yes it is. When done well it is worth both your time and your effort. Above and beyond that, when you get it right you get that feeling that you can accomplish anything in the kitchen. That feeling is priceless.

            There are three steps to cooking risotto. As explained by my go to Italian food reference guru Mario Batali in his books they are: rossalare, coucere, and mantecare. To put it into terms that I can grasp a little better I look at cooking risotto like a relationship. The first step, rossalare, is gently toasting your rice. It is like the first couple of dates; you are warming up and starting to share. The rice will turn opaque and your kitchen will start to fill with a wonderful nutty aroma. If you toast to aggressively your rice will burn, the girl will not return your phone calls and this is bad because you really wanted this to work out. Now it is on to the courtship. You know one another and you are moving in a good direction. You buy the girl flowers, take her out for a meal or two and just generally want to do nice things for her. It is the time for coucere. This means that you are going to start adding stock to your rice. Every ladle is a little something to let the rice feel the love. If you don’t add enough you are a callous bastard and it is ruined. If you do add too much, too fast you are needy and desperate and it is ruined. Just a little at a time and you are golden. Now, big finish, you are going to pop the question or in risotto terms mantecare. This is a lavish display of affection, in a relationship that means a ring, for risotto that means adding some good stuff. It could be melted leeks, chantarelle mushrooms, some crispy pancetta or just a bit of butter. This is the stuff that puts your risotto over the edge into awesome territory. There you go, risotto is like a relationship. Now we are on to a recipe.

Simple Risotto to the tune of “In Your Light” by Gotye

1 cup Arborio rice
4-6 cups of stock, either chicken or vegetable
2 tbsp butter

-toast your rice gently over medium heat in a large sauté pan, move it around a lot so that the toasting is even.

-heat your stock over medium low heat as you are toasting your rice

- add your stock one ladle at a time and stir constantly, once the liquid has been absorbed add another ladle. Continue doing this until the rice is cooked to al dente. I recommend that you taste as you go that way you have a frame of reference.

-Add a touch more stock, your butter, and a pinch of salt to season and stir to combine. The end result should be creamy and spread out on the plate when you serve it.

            As I said before you can add whatever you like to the risotto to make it yours as long as you don’t forget the butter. It adds a little bit of richness that is, in my mind essential. Give it a go and remember that if you give it some care and attention you will be rewarded.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Some Seafood For Ya

            I love cooking with my friend Jill. I am sort of teaching her some recipes and I could not ask for a better student. As I have mentioned before Jill does not dig on the meat, so I am forced from my comfort zone of all things pig and cow into the realm of the all swimming, all floating, world of seafood. Now I love seafood but it was never something that I think to cook in my everyday life. In this I am wrong. Most seafood is very easy to prepare even though, according to Jill it can be a little intimidating. The trick that I have found is that it really needs a delicate touch. Seafood can get over cooked very easily so you really have to keep an eye on it. This applies to shellfish in a big way. Anyone who has had overcooked mussels or scallops can tell you that the rubbery end product is ridiculously unappetizing. You are better off leaving your product a little on the rare side rather than letting it go over and trying to chew through something that resembles the texture of a bicycle tire. So here are two recipes that Jill and I took on dealing with two of my favorite forms of seafood: mussels and squid.

            Okay, buying seafood can be a bit of a challenge in that you are presented with a whole lot of things which may be foreign to you. Here are a couple of tips for getting your hands on good, fresh seafood. The place that you buy your fish from should not smell like fish. I know that sounds a little odd but it is true. The place that you buy your fish from should smell like the ocean. Ocean= fresh, fishy smell= not so much. Talk to the person you are buying your fish from, a good fish monger is going to be able to tell you when the product came in where it was fished from and all of the other things you may want to know about what you are buying. A truly great fish person will also throw out little tips about how you should cook what you buy. A little tidbit about mussels, the little buggers are alive when you buy them. That is what you want. A closed shell is good. If the shell is open tap it with your finger or gently with the back side of your knife. If it closes you are good, if it stays open toss it. Now on to the good stuff, a couple of recipes from Jill and I. Enjoy.

Steamed Mussels in White Wine and Coconut Milk to the tune of Sitting, Waiting, Wishing by Jack Johnson

1lb of mussels
 1 cup of white wine
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 shallot finely diced
½  a red bell pepper finely diced
2 cloves of garlic smashed
½ cup of water

-I use a double boiler for this recipe with a steamer. Add the ¾ of the wine and the water to the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a boil.

-While this is going on add your onions and garlic to a small sauté pan and sweat them down.

-Once you have a good rolling boil going add your mussels to the steamer and cover. You want to steam your mussels until they open, this happens fairly quickly so keep an eye on them.

-While your mussels are going add your coconut milk, your peppers, and the rest of your wine to the onions and garlic and heat through.

-You mussels are now done. Throw them into a bowl, pour your sauce over them, and serve with some nice bread. And we are done. In Jill’s words, “That’s it?” Yep and the results are super tasty.

Pan fried Calamari with a Lemon Vinaigrette to the tune of Astair by Matt Costa

The look on Jill’s face when I pulled the squid out of the fridge was priceless: ¾ fear, ¼ curiosity. So here is a quick and easy way to rock some bar food at home. It is killer over a salad of cucumber and goat cheese, which is how we ate it.

½ pound of fresh as you can get squid. Get your fish guy to do all the work of cleaning them for you. I like equal parts rings to tentacles.
4-5 tbsp oil
½ cup cornmeal or Panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs beaten
½ cup flour
Salt and pepper

-In three separate bowls put the flour in one, the egg in another, and the Panko or cornmeal in the third

-We used a three step breading process: basically dip in flour, dip in egg, and then dip in cornmeal or Panko. Then fry until golden in the oil. It really is that easy.  

-For the dressing all you need to do is mix equal parts olive oil to lemon juice. And pour it over the top. There it is, Calamari in the simplest way possible. Rock on my lovelies, try it at home and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

An Offer You Shouldn't Refuse

            You can ask my friend Mark, all my life I have wanted to be a gangster. I know that it will never come to be as I have no taste for violence and everyone I know has refused offers I have made. That being said I love the movies and books dealing all things mafia. I taught myself how to make the spaghetti sauce from the Godfather because you never know when you are going to have to feed like 20 guys. I am also enamoured with the love for food that is shown in those movies, and even the stories I have heard about the making of them. Catherine Scorsese, Martin’s mom cooked all of the food for the cast while they were filming Goodfellas. That is freaking awesome. So here is a recipe that is inspired by all of my nights sitting up and watching gangster movies. I hope you dig it.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce to the tune of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. How could you not

1 lb lean ground beef
½ lb lean ground pork
1 egg
¼ cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp good olive oil
1 large can crushed tomatoes
¾ cup red wine
1 onion finely diced
3 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp oregano
Chopped basil: as much as you like in tour tomato sauce

-In a mixing bowl combine meat, egg, bread crumbs, and salt and pepper. Form into balls. Heat half the oil in a good sized pot over high heat. Add your meatballs and brown them. Remove from the pot.

-Return the pot to the heat and add your onion and garlic, lower heat to medium and sweat until translucent. Add in the rest of your ingredients and combine. Shove in your meatballs and simmer over low heat for about an hour or so until the sauce thickens up. And that’s my trick.

            You can serve this as a pasta course or if you are anything like me you can make yourself a meatball sub. We are all aware of my love for the sandwich. Give it a shot and I hope that you enjoy.

Breakfast Anytime

So it is common knowledge to anyone that knows me that I am not a morning person. Mornings suck. This being said, I love breakfast food. I will make it any time of day and have even hosted breakfast for dinner parties. They are killer and I highly recommend giving breakfast for dinner a try. It used to drive my mother crazy that I never eat breakfast in the morning so the first part of this post goes out to her. The second part of this post is a riff on a breakfast dish that I serve as a dessert at a breakfast for dinner meal. I hope you dig them.

            Since I have moved to Victoria BC, I have been asked by pretty much everyone that I know who doesn’t live here if I have been converted into a granola munching hippy. As for the hippy part, I still bathe daily, I have never been the biggest Phish fan in the world, and it seems I can’t afford love even if it is free. So, the hippy part is out. The granola part however I am digging right now. Dead easy to make and really tasty I have played with this recipe until it fit my taste. It is one of those recipes that you can remove certain ingredients or add others to tailor it to fit what you like. This is the one I like.

Granola to the tune of   “In The Meantime” by Spacehog.

3 cups rolled oats
2 apples grated
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup honey
½ cup water
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup chopped almonds
½ cup dried cranberries

-Preheat oven to 325 and grease a sheet pan

-In a sauce pan combine honey and water and bring to a boil. Whisk the snot out of them to combine completely. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and set aside.

-Mix the rest of the ingredients except the cranberries in a large bowl and then add the liquid and stir.

-Spread evenly on the sheet pan and pop in the oven for about 45 minutes stirring every once and a while until golden brown

-Let cool and then add your Cranberries. Toss into a airtight container and store in the fridge. It’ll keep for about 2 weeks.

-Throw some into yogurt for a quick snack and we are done.

            Now on to the sweet stuff, I am talking French toast. This recipe comes from two things that I love: fried bread and Bailey’s Irish cream. I serve it as a dessert or as part of a late brunch. When you eat it is up to you but it is awesome any time.

Bailey’s French Toast to the tune of “Howling for You” by The Black Keys

The toast part

8 slices of good French bread
3 eggs beaten
1 tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream
1 tbsp butter

-whisk eggs, sugar, vanilla, and Bailey’s together in a mixing bowl

-in a large frying pan melt butter over medium heat. Dunk the slices of bread into the mixture and then place in the pan. Fry until golden brown and then flip and fry until golden brown on the other side. Repeat the process with all of the slices and you are good to go. Top with the whipped cream that is up next.

Bailey’s Whipped cream

 1 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp super fine sugar
3 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream

-beat all the ingredients together until stiff peaks form. Spoon onto the toast and you are set. Enjoy.