Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Triple Decker Grilled Cheese

Laying the foundation...
Triple decker sandwiches have always held me in a certain sense of awe.  I have a very clear memory of my father making a triple-decker peanut butter and jam sandwich at the cottage we used to rent as kids.  It looked so luxurious, so EXCESSIVE... and far too big for my 5-year-old mouth.

Fast-forward about 20 years, after considerable mandibular growth and freedom from the confines of parental sandwich rules.  A couple of weekends ago, my new neighbour/work buddy Deb and I enjoyed the exquisite culinary offerings of Baked Expectations in Osborne Village.  Fan.  Freakin'. Tastic.  I had suggested that we split a sandwich or wrap for an entree, then each order a dessert.  Deb suggested the (you guessed it, you smart person you...) triple decker grilled cheese.

This thing was like no grilled cheese I'd ever had before.  Three slices of whole grain bread, two kinds of cheese, grilled mushrooms and onions, and some fresh lettuce and tomatoes (there was possibly one other vegetable, but I forget what it was).  DELISH.  I even ate the mushrooms; it was that good.  Another fantastic point: fresh-cut shoestring fries, and a pickle spear.  Mmmm.

Just an FYI- there's sautéed garlic and onions under that cheddar.  Oh, yes.
So, while catching up on some much-needed leisure reading and rest on Sunday, I thought I might try to create an homage to my experience at Baked.  Not recreate, you understand.  I don't think I'm capable of such deliciousness.  Regardless, I gave it a good shot.  I used three slices of cheddar and onion ciabatta that Deb had brought to accompany our pre-Manitoba Moose hockey game meal.  I toasted these under the broiler on one side, then flipped them over and added swiss cheese to one slice, and sautéed onions and garlic covered in cheddar cheese to the other.  The last slice just got toasted, with a bit of margarine.  I think you can see what I added to the last slice above, prior to assembly.

Very yummy lunch... trip to the deli not required!
Hubs was convinced that the baby spinach and tomatoes didn't belong.  I respectfully disagree.
You KNOW those pickles are necessary.  They're like a sandwich food group all on their own.  My favourites: Vlassic kosher baby garlic dills.  Mmm.
While I most certainly have recreated (improved upon?) my father's triple decker sandwich efforts (peanut butter, raspberry jelly, honey, AND bananas... take that, papa!!), I think this particular sammy is a bit more refined; perhaps less childish.  Good grief, I'm even making grown-up sandwiches now... is this what happens when you graduate and start a career??

Thinking she'll pick up bananas and white Wonderbread on her next shopping trip to relive simpler times,

Monday, February 21, 2011

Citrus crazed

 It's hard for me to believe that, once upon a time, a young Honeybee really didn't like citrus fruits.  Oranges were too hard to peel, and had too much pith.  Lemons and limes were far too sour for her sweet tooth.  Grapefruits were right out of the question.

I'm not sure if more citrus has become available on the market in more recent years, but I count this family of fruits among my favourites now.  I'm especially excited that 1) it's blood orange season and 2) Manitoba stocks blood oranges.  Tangerines, mandarines, and clementines are up there in the top five as well.  So many of my recipes call for freshly-squeezed lime or lemon juice, +/- zest, that I find myself stocking up on these during every shopping trip.

Blood orange slice, for those who are unfamiliar.  If you're in Windsor, go to Joseph's Farm Fresh Produce and buy some now!!!
 I've tried out a couple of noteworthy citrus recipes over the past couple of months: clementine cosmopolitans, at both Hubs' family Christmas and Sher's birthday, as well as tangerine meltaways.  Behold!

Pouring the clementine simple syrup (seen bubbling away at the beginning of the post) into the rest of the cosmo mix: cranberry juice, lime juice, and vanilla vodka.  Mmm.  Recipe is here, courtesy of Claire Robinson (who is just adorable).
These puppies are delicious, but STRONG... definitely made for sipping.  I made a whole pitcher full... and drove to Jess' place with it :S  I kept praying that 1) it wouldn't spill and 2) I wouldn't get pulled over!
Sorry for the blurry pics... my camera wasn't loving me this evening.  They're a very pretty blush colour!
I needed to make something for our bi-weekly genetic counsellor meeting (a chance to review tough cases and kvetch about life in Genetics & Metabolism at HSC Winnipeg).  I'd been wanting to try a few more recipes from my Anna Olson cookbook, so I did what I usually do: check the ingredients list, and make whatever recipe I can with what I have on hand.  The result?  Tangerine meltaways, a sort of shortbread-y cookie that apparently originated in the South.  Tasty!!

My cookbook is so well-loved (mistreated?) that its pages are falling out!  It still serves, though.  Don't worry about trying ot make out the fine print; you can view the recipe here.
Again, camera wasn't super-cooperative, but here are the rolled and sliced cookies.  Look at all that zest!!
Enjoying some meltaways, with some blood orange slices and lemon thriller tea.  I actually used clementine & blood orange juice and zest in the cookies, as opposed to tangerines, which gave them a pinky-orange colour.  P.S.- Ni, click the link in the last sentence.  I've had it stuck in my head this entire post, and it makes me think of you!
Close up!
The glaze DOES dry matte, like Anna says... but this one looks shiny due to some spilled tea.  Oops!
A nice little evening snack.

There IS one citrus recipe that I've personally never attempted... but I've had a HUGE hankering for over the past while.  This would be GOOD key lime pie.  The kind that's not really green, more yellowish, and made with sweetened condensed milk.  I'll have to wait for a good excuse to make one (maybe St. Patty's day?)  If anyone has a tried-and-true recipe, let me know... otherwise I'll turn to Anna again.

Incredibly confident that she'll never be stricken by scurvy,

Muffin Mania!

My muffin pan has gotten a good workout lately.  Whenever I'm feeling like I need a little pick-me-up, out comes the dozen-cupped baking vessel.  In the past few weeks, I've re-made some favourites of mine: pumpkin muffins and berry bran muffins.  I tweaked them both a little bit this time around... details below!

Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from "Muffin Mania" by Cathy Prange and Joan Pauli
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 3/4 cup pumpkin (small can)
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cup raisins
  1. Beat eggs slightly. Add sugar, oil, pumpkin and beat thoroughly.
  2. Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Stir in raisins.
  3. Fill greased muffin cups 2/3 full.Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes.
Mmm, nice and moist.  They didn't suffer at all from cutting down on the oil content.  Plus, I feel a little bit better having subbed in some whole wheat flour.

This next recipe comes from my dear friend Andrea.  I'll give you the original instructions below, then let you know what's going on with that ooey gooey goodness (see above) afterwards:

Berry Bran Muffins
From Andrea… not sure of her original source

Makes 9-12 muffins, depending on how you fill the tins
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup wheat bran (you can also use All Bran)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup of frozen or 1 cup of fresh berries
  1. Mix together the egg, milk, and oil.  Stir in the wheat bran and let sit five minutes.
  2. Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.
  3. Combine wet and dry ingredients until just moistened. Stir in berries.
  4. Spoon into greased muffin tin (or cupcake wrappers). 
  5. Bake at 400ºF for 20 minutes. 

My modification: À la Tim Hortons "Fruit explosion" muffins, I substituted some peeled, chopped apple for some of the berries, and added a small dollop of PC Blue Menu raspberry jam on top of the raw batter just before putting them in the oven.  No more messing around with the jelly jar when it's baked right in!
Overall, these were super-tasty.  The key is to eat them in moderation.... not four in a row (I'm not addicted... I can quit anytime I want...) I did fairly well with these, bringing just one at a time in for a mid-morning snack at work, with another one alongside a cup of tea for an after-dinner snack.  Reasonable, right?  Right??

Thinking she'll use up more of that jam making her godmother's PB&J muffins...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More homemade pasta

 I have one piece of kitchen equipment that I don't use often enough.  This would be my pasta machine.

There she is, in all her glory!!  She was a birthday gift from Nonna the same year that Hubs proposed.  It was a good day.
As much as I scoff at Giada De Laurentiis' macrocephalic bobblehead and overuse of cleavage as a way to increase male viewership, I have to admit that the woman has some good recipes.  I received a copy of her book, "Everyday Pasta", as a gift some years ago, and have been meaning to try her shortrib ragù recipe.  I had Jess and Kyle over for "cat orientation" prior to my holiday visit to Windsor, and used them as guinea pigs treated them to a scrumptious dinner as a thank you for looking after the fur babies.

Mmm.  Beef shortribs.  In all honesty, this marks the first time I've cooked with them.  Shameful, I know.
The ragù.  I LOVE that the beef simmers in this for TWO HOURS before being removed, shredded, and returned to the pot.  My kitchen smelled like a mamoni's fantasy world.  The recipe can be found here.  I also find it hilarious that this food writer (whom I've never met) also compares Giada to a dashboard ornament.  Glad I'm not the only one!!
On to the pasta.  Thanks to my wonderful aunt Lisa, I got Nonna's recipe: "2 1/2 cups of cake and pastry flour for 5 eggs or 4 eggs and 2 half eggshells full of water.  Add more flour as needed, probably about another cup or so. 5 eggs should be good for 5 or 6 servings but those are big servings. I think it's about 1 1/2 pounds of pasta"
Rollin'.  In the future, I think I'll make these one setting thicker.  They were just a liiiittle too thin to stand up to chunky meaty sauce!
So pretty :)
Finished product, topped with shaved pecorino romano.  Heavenly.
I also made parmesan popovers (they're in the blue bowl in the background), but I honestly didn't prefer them.  Kyle seemed to like them, so I gave him the leftovers.
Get that fork in there!! Delish.
Overall I was very pleased with the results (minus the popovers... I'm not even going to link you to the recipe).  Hubs, again, was jealous that he missed a good meat dish... lucky for him, I had enough ragù left over to freeze for another night.  It's just waiting for his arrival in this fair (and freezing!) city!

Thinking that an early April snowstorm might be a good excuse to serve up the leftovers,

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spicy Thai Basil Eggplant

I frequently get a hankering for Thai food.  I've tried a fair few places in the city so far, and most have been quite good... but none have fully lived up to Basil Court back home.  So, in an effort to have the dishes I want, when I want them, I've been turning to making them myself.  You've seen my Pad Thai... that kicked the craving for awhile.  I was shocked to discover that I didn't take pictures of my matsaman curry efforts (maybe I was just too hungry to bother?), but here is my attempt at spicy Thai basil eggplant.

Mmm.  Eggplant.  I love the long, skinny Chinese variety... they're so pretty and tender!
A bit of a closer look.  See the lovely colour on those nice thin skins?
White onion, zucchini, red pepper, and basil standing at the ready.  The recipe didn't call for zucch, but I had one that was going round the bend, so I just tossed it in.
Mmm.  Look at that purple!
Pepper and onion, getting fried up.  Yes, I added the pepper.  I'm trying very hard to expand my palette with regards to the capsicum family.
Bringing it all together.  The sauce was nice and sweet and sticky... delish!!

On a bed of rice.  Funny, in this pic, some of the eggplant looks like chicken or pork pieces.  I assure you, it's all veg.
 Thai Spicy Eggplant
Adapted from "Simply Thai Cooking" by Wandee Young

Makes 3-4 servings.
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 Asian eggplants, sliced into 2-inch wedges
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into 2-inch wedges
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (in addition to the above oil amount)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 fresh hot chilies, finely chopped (sadly, I was out of chilies, so subbed 1 tsp chili flakes and 1 tsp Sriracha)
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 medium red pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 20 whole leaves fresh basil (I only had Italian basil, not Thai, but meh)
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolve in 1 Tbsp water
  • 2 1/2 cups freshly steamed rice
  1. Heat 1 cup oil in a wok on high heat, until it is about to smoke.  Add eggplant and zucchini and fry on all sides for 2 minutes until nicely browned, and flesh is soft and can easily be pierced.
  2. Remove the eggplant from the oil with a slotted spoon and place in a colander set over a bowl to drain off the excess oil.  Discard the oil in the wok and wipe it clean.
  3. Add 2 Tbsp oil to the wok and immediately add garlic and chilies and stir-fry for 30 seconds.  Add onion and red pepper strips and stir-fry until softened.
  4. Add the fried eggplant back to the wok.  Add soy sauce, sugar, sriracha, and 1/2 cup water and fry until everything is bubbling happily.
  5. Add 2/3 of the basil leaves and the cornstarch dissolved in the 1Tbsp of water.  Stir-fry until sauce has thickened somewhat.  Remove from heat.
  6. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the rest of the basil leaves.  Serve immediately with the steamed rice.
Finished product!  Time to chow down!
This was a pretty tasty dish overall.  I remember feeling a tiny bit disappointed with it... but that could have been because I was coming down with something, if my internal calendar serves.  I'll have to try it again soon!  I'll also have to make Matsaman again, so you can see how happy it makes me.  So.  Happy.

Looking forward to trying more Thai recipes and restaurants,

Red Velvet Valentine

Last week, knowing that the obligatory-day-of-love-expression was upon us, I figured it was high time to try making a Manitoba favourite- Red Velvet Cake.

Yes, it's as red as it looks.  Mmm.
The creation of these puppies made my kitchen look an awful lot like one of Dexter's kill rooms...
I've been meaning to try out a recipe for this cake for a long while.  I first tried red velvet cake at Guildy's, a delicious and very popular little eatery at work.  I've also seen it featured at Salisbury House... which may be the only thing I eat from there ever again.

One thing I've been made clear on: red velvet cake should be MOIST.  So, as with most of my food experiments, I Googled my way to this recipe (yay, fellow Blogspot user!)  The title for her post caught my eye:  The BEST Red Velvet Cake Recipe ~Easy, Homemade, Moist with Southern Flair~.  It did not disappoint.  I did make a bit of a mistake, though... I accidentally added double the amount of coffee called for.  Oops.  As a result, you COULD taste the coffee a little bit in the end product, but it was still mostly red velvet goodness.

Baking.  I really should clean my oven window...
I was originally going to debut my efforts during a baby shower/potluck held yesterday... but then decided that my coworkers have been guniea pigs often enough for my baking efforts.  Not that they mind... but for a baby shower, I wanted to be sure I was putting my best foot forward.  So, my American Sign Language 102 class got to be the taste testers this time during our class on Valentine's day.

Cooling cupcakes.  The two crackly-looking ones in the front are the sugar-free versions I made for my two diabetic classmates.  That's the joy of Splenda.... hooray for measuring cup-for-cup!  It did result in a bit of a different texture, though (Jarred let me have a bite of his)
Valentines Day-themed frosting (these later got a cinnamon heart decoration as well)
The diabetic cupcakes again- no cinnamon heart, just a drop of food colouring for decoration (and a sprinkling of Splenda on top-- I accidentally added far too little to the actual icing.  Still tasted okay, though)

For the actual baby shower, held for our genetic assistant Lisa, I decorated with a different cream cheese icing (found here).  I will confess: I didn't like this one as much as the one included in the cupcake recipe.  The icing was lighter, but also very soft (probably because of the whipping cream, and also due to my reluctance to add SIX CUPS of icing sugar).  It didn't really set up nicely.  It also made A TON, probably enough for twice as many cupcakes.  I probably won't use it again myself, though my coworkers seemed to like it quite a bit.  Now, I'm left with the problem of having leftover icing in the fridge... this could end badly.

Cupcakes again: same recipe, but in opaque silver wrappers, with the softer whipped icing piped into a spiral on top.  Blue sprinkles, since Lisa knows she's got an XY bundle of joy on the way!
These sort of remind me of the cupcake dolls that my sisters and I had when we were younger.  I think it was Sar that had a cherry-scented one with a spiral frosting "hat".
Overall, the cupcakes seemed to be a hit with both classmates and coworkers.  One doc, who couldn't be at the potluck due to clinic, had one brought to him by Jess... and apparently proclaimed them "AMAZING".  I know he used to work as a cook, and he seems to be a gentleman of very discerning tastes, so that made my week!

Off to think of ways to use up that remaining frosting (without eating it straight with a spoon...)