25 February 2009

Green Herb-encrusted Pork with Green Beans

This isn't really quite so true to the colour coded food idea, but I didn't really like any of the options from the book and so I decided to do my own thing following the general idea. So roasted herb-encrusted pork tenderloin with crunchy, spicy green beans and rice.

I've made this pork recipe several times, though I tend to use pork loin chops rather than tenderloin, but I'm glad I tried it this way instead of my usual. I found a method online for cooking tenderloin that I'm a little scared is unsafe but produced the best pork I think I've ever made.

The method, basically, is this: preheat the oven to 500F. Place a 1lb tenderloin (previously marinated or covered with a dry rub) in a roasting pan, then bake at 500F for five and a half minutes. Turn off the oven heat and let the pork sit for 1 hour in the hot oven without opening the door during that time. The meat, at the end of the cooking time looks pretty much like it does in my picture - a touch pink, very juicy, but with an internal temperature of ~160.

So I stuck a thermometer in it before I put it in the oven and it passed 180F within the first 15 minutes (after the initial 5.5 minutes) after which point I turned off the thermometer until just before I took it out of the oven, when it was 165F. When I cut into it, it was juicier than any cooked meat has a right to be and more tender. Honestly, the most flavourful pork I've ever made.

Clearly it hasn't made me sick, but I do still feel nervous about how cooked it was. The temperature was right, but it just seems... odd, I guess, to cook it that way. And I do have a terror of under-cooking meat. I don't want to make myself or anyone else sick. I don't know. Thoughts on the safety of this?

24 February 2009

Redwater Rustic Grille - 22 February 2009

So we went to Redwater Rustic Grille for my sister's birthday on Sunday. And this is what we ate. I wish we'd had a better camera with us because the one we had with us does okay but not great. Some of the pictures came out quite grainy. And my sister (who shot three of these pictures) doesn't think to look at what is sitting around in the background or what angle would show things a little better or let everything fit.

This first photo was the appetizer that I ordered - Mini Prime Sirloin Burgers on Toasted Brioche with Quebec Oka and Grainy Mustard. I've ordered these before and they are just phenomenal. So so good.

My sister and brother-in-law each had one of these mini burgers and then also shared Pan Roasted Wild Shrimp in Chili Garlic Butter. I don't eat seafood, but I tried a piece of one of the shrimp even though I was sure I wouldn't like it. I didn't, really, but I just don't like the texture and the slight fishy flavour puts me off.

We didn't get a photo of all three entrées because my brother-in-law was more interested in eating than in photo taking. (Alas.) He ordered 8 oz Alberta Beef Tenderloin with Garlic Poblano Butter on Ponderosa Field Mushrooms with Marjoram and Organic Agria Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes. He found the mushrooms boring, but everything else was great.

My sister was in the mood for shrimp, apparently, because she ordered Wild Shrimp and Scallops with Chili Garlic Butter on Pan Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Locally Grown Green Beans in Brown Butter. She was surprised (as was I, really - I tasted it on a bit of chicken) to find that the Chili Garlic Butter didn't really have any chili zing to it, though the flavour was really nice.

And I ordered Grain Fed Rotisserie Fired Chicken Breast with Garlic Poblano Butter on Pan Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Locally Grown Green Beans in Brown Butter. My Garlic Poblano Butter also didn't have any real poblano zing to it, but again... tasted great.

This is what I ate. Or what I ate half of. That's a lot of chicken. The beans were exquisite, the potatoes perfectly cooked and the chicken just a tiny tiny bit dry. (Alas.) Otherwise, perfect.

All in all, a pretty great meal, anyway.

23 February 2009

Red Chicken with Red Vegetables

I think my bland beige boring white dinner kind of killed the cooking mood last week because this is the first time I've cooked since. (I did go to a nice restaurant yesterday though, which if I remember to get the pictures from my sister, I'll write a blurb about tomorrow.)

So Day Two of the colour diet is red. A lot of their red recipes were for fish or veal. And if I'd made this last week like I'd intended, I didn't want fish twice in a row, so I decided on Chicken Paprika. This is really just a variation on the theme, since it doesn't have any sour cream and no attempt even at a sauce of any kind, even one less fattening than a sour cream based sauce. Basically, it's really just a chicken breast that's been dipped in a mixture of paprika, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, then baked with sautéed mushrooms and shallots on top. I sprinkled on a good dash of cayenne pepper as well, just for some extra flavour and some heat.

I didn't really like any of the vegetable suggestions from the book - imagine, there weren't any options using red peppers. How could there not be? In any case, I had two red peppers in the fridge for something I'd planned to make last week and didn't, so I roasted one for this dinner, strips of which are on the right of the chicken breast. To the left are baked tomato halves with a sprinkling of herbs and Parmesan cheese.

Like the white dinner, the vegetables were too good so I wound up eating mostly vegetables and only part of the chicken (which was also good but will make a better leftover than cold baked tomatoes would).

Tomorrow will be green day, I think. Though maybe orange. We'll see.

18 February 2009

White Fish with White Vegetables

I think I mentioned about a week ago that I've got a lot of unusual cookbooks, including a diet one that suggests eating a different colour of food each day of the week. I definitely agree with the idea that a person should eat as wide a variety of fruits and vegetables as possible in order to get all the nutrients we need from food, but I think eating on a colour-wheel is at best silly.

But silly sort of amuses me, so my next seven meals will be coming from this cookbook, Colorfully Slim.

Day one is white vegetable day.

I'm not really following the plan, but if I were, I'd have eaten nothing but white grapefruit, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, endive, bean sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, pattypan squash and water chestnuts today. (Fruits and vegetable-wise anyway. All the recipes also include protein and so on.) I'm only dedicated enough to eat a white dinner.

So it's not very visible, but under those mushrooms is a fillet of red snapper. I really like red snapper, I think this is the second time I've cooked it and I just really like the flavour. There's something really nice about it. There was nothing particularly special about this preparation and honestly it was a little bit bland. The entire thing, really, is mushrooms, shallots, salt and pepper with some oil and a bit of liquid. It's not enough. I mean, the fish was good, but mushrooms, especially button mushrooms, need some dressing up. They're not exciting and this wasn't an exciting way to eat them.

The cauliflower is really steamed and then tossed with a handful of chopped up cilantro and parsley, which was the only colour the plate, except for the plate. (I did intentionally photograph this on a red plate so there'd be SOMETHING to show all that beige against. Can you imagine so much white/beige on a white plate?) I think if I were to make this again, and probably I will, I'd under-steam the cauliflower a bit and then sauté it in a little oil or butter to add some extra flavour before tossing it with the herbs. Still, it was really tasty even without that. I ate all the cauliflower straight away then picked at the rest of my food because I'd made so much cauliflower I pretty well just filled up on it.

Day two? Red.

16 February 2009

Chicken and Sausage Vegetable Soup

So for the first time ever, I decided to make my own chicken stock. Yesterday we made a roast chicken, so I used the stock and some roasted vegetables and... stuff to make it. It's got a much more intense flavour, I found, than the stuff you buy from a grocery store. And it doesn't have that sort of.. faintly metallic taste you sometimes get with the store bought stuff. I don't know if I'll want to do this every time we make a chicken, but it does taste good enough to make it worth the while.

Anyway, I was having a crisis yesterday about what sort of soup to make and looking for recipes but all I kept finding were soups with lemon in them and I just don't like chicken soup with lemon. So Just Jenn suggested a soup she likes to make. I didn't do much more than absorb her suggestions so I really don't know how much like her soup it actually is, but it was really tasty.

Basically what I did was cook shallots, garlic, carrots and some celery until they'd more or less softened, then I threw in some turkey sausage (without the casing) and cooked that through, then I added the chicken stock, and a handful of tiny bowtie pastas. Once the pasta was cooked through, I added a handful of shredded chicken leftover from the night before and some chopped up cilantro and parsley.

In the picture there's a gob of sour cream, which I mixed into the soup and yum. Very tasty soup.

LJ Birthday Block - Feb 10

I signed up this year for another exchange on Livejournal where we make blocks according to requests and then send them out in time for each person's birthday. Because there aren't a lot of us this year, we're making two blocks per person.

For the first birthday, on February 10, the request was for 10 inch blocks made with purples. I feel a bit like I've done nothing but purples the last little while, so I was surprised to find I didn't have nearly as much purple fabric as I thought I did. I didn't use that much for these blocks... I must have put the scraps somewhere I can't find them now. I don't know.

Anyway, I found myself much more constrained by my fabrics than I thought I'd be and it was surprisingly difficult to find fabrics that would work together. I don't think this one is too bad, although I've got a tendency to want a much paler purple in the light areas than I have got.

This second block really didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. I thought the print with the leaves would stand out more than it does, but the background is too close, I guess, to the the lavender. I think the contrast was more obvious when I was looking at larger pieces of fabric but cut into smaller triangles you see far less of the leaves and far more of the background.

Live and learn, I guess.

15 February 2009

Roast Chicken with All the Usual Suspects

Here is a sad truth: I've cooked absolutely nothing in six days. What I mean by nothing is that it's possible that I... well, no. I don't even think I microwaved anything (other than pizza pops once). No leftovers. I'm not really sure what I ate. My stomach has been feeling weird and off lately, so I keep eating rice cakes and bland things, but maybe I just needed to eat some actual food? I don't know.

Today, though, we made a proper family dinner -roast chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and vegetables. It's pretty much bog standard for us. Nothing different or interesting or strange. (I'd probably do something different or interesting or strange if I were doing it just for myself, but since it's for my sister and her husband also, I have a tendency only to do things I know they'll like.)

I've never done it before, but I'm currently making (or trying to make anyway) chicken stock out of the carcass and leftover vegetables and such. I hope it makes good stock because I think tomorrow I want to try out a chicken soup recipe suggested to me by Just Jenn. Mmm chicken soup...

11 February 2009

Review: Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje

Quite a long time ago I had my first experience of reading a book by Michael Ondaatje. It was In the Skin of a Lion and for years I considered it my favourite book. If I don't call it my favourite now, that's probably only because I don't really consider any book my favourite book. (Who can make such a decision? There are so many books.) Whenever I hear there is a new Ondaatje book coming out, I get excited. He is not a fast writer. He's not one of those authors who births a new book every year. There have been at least five years (and as many, I think, as eight) between novels (though those years have been interspersed with books of poetry).

Divisadero, the most recent of Ondaatje's novels, tells the story of a family from California, the way they're torn apart and how they recreate their lives after having something so earth-shattering happen to them. It's mainly about family and the divisions between members of families and also how in spite of distance and such damaging events we can never let go of the people we've lost to them.

Although I've owned the book for several months, this is the first time I've read it. Sometimes, with authors I really love, I put off reading a book because I want so much for it to last forever and I want for it to be perfect and I can't bear the thought of starting it because that will mean finishing it and then I won't have anything to look forward to anymore. Sometimes that works against me, because I'm often disappointed that this book I couldn't bear to open wasn't as perfect as I wanted it to be.

Opening paragraph:
When I come to lie in your arms, you sometimes ask me in which historical moment do I wish to exist. And I will say Paris, the week Colette died….Paris, August 3rd, 1954. In a few days, at her state funeral, a thousand lilies will be placed by her grave, and I want to be there, walking that avenue of wet lime trees until I stand beneath the second-floor apartment that belonged to her in the Palais-Royal. The history of people like her fills my heart. She was a writer who remarked that her only virtue was self-doubt. (A day or two before she died, they say Colette was visited by Jean Genet, who stole nothing. Ah, the grace of the great thief…)
So was Divisadero worth the wait?

A long while ago I said that Ondaatje could write a phone book and make it sound beautiful. This is still true. If you read a dozen reviews of this book, I'm sure you'll see a dozen different ways of calling this book beautiful, and it is. It sounds beautiful and it looks (if you're a visual sort of reader) beautiful. Reading Divisadero is an experience I couldn't hope to explain. There's something very sensual about Ondaatje's words, regardless of the things he is saying or trying to say. I find it hard to describe what this book is about because when I try to think of it, I think of particular scenes, the moment with the fox or when Cooper realizes he's been betrayed or Rafael's horse ride during the eclipse, rather than any A to B to C progression of plot.

And in a way that is the disappointing thing about Ondaatje. He presents moments, more than complete stories. I'd like to know what happens when Claire takes Cooper to the farm. I'd like to know if Anna returns from France. I'd like to know what next. I don't think that's necessarily important to Ondaatje, what next, because I don't know that he really thinks life works like we're taught in grade school to look at books: plot, exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. In a way, this book starts with the climax and it's all just life as usual after that, no perfect resolution of conflict wrapped with a bow of forgiveness and familial happiness ever after.

I always want to tell people to read Ondaatje, but I can't ever be sure how anyone will react to his style. It's beautiful, but maybe florid. I can't ever be sure how anyone will react to the stories because they sometimes feel unfinished. I sometimes suspect that Ondaatje appeals most to the angst in me, which in turn makes me suspect he appeals to the teenager in me, and angsty teenagers are the most horrible of people, melodramatic and excessive, which in turn makes me worry that other readers will find Ondaatje melodramatic and excessive. Don't get me wrong though, I wouldn't unread this book (or any of Ondaatje's books) if I could. The most disappointing thing about it, for me, is the ugly cover. (Hearts? Hearts?) (I know, I know, it's meant to reflect a playing card. And yet, ugly.)

Michael Ondaatje is the author of several novels I love including In the Skin of a Lion, The English Patient and Coming Through Slaughter. The English Patient is probably better known for its film version, however. He's also the author of a memoir and several books of poetry, including The Man with Seven Toes (which I wanted desperately to steal from the library at UBC, but didn't), The Cinnamon Peeler, and the entirely amusing Elimination Dance, which you can find online if you search the title with Ondaatje's name.

Ondaatje, Michael. Divisadero. Toronto: Vintage, 2008.
Finished: 11 February 2009
Rating: 5 of 5 painted blue tables
This was my 1st book in February and my 6th in 2009.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

09 February 2009

Chicken and Spaghetti in Spicy Peanut Sauce

I tend to pick up a lot of cookbooks in bargain bins at grocery stores. Sometimes I get really great cookbooks, like Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen or... this one cookbook I can't remember the name of, which is orange and in the kitchen downstairs. I use those books a lot and have had far more successes with them than failures. Sometimes I get sort of cracked out cookbooks, like one I bought a couple months ago but haven't used called Colorfully Slim. It's actually a diet book, which advocates (of all cracked out things) eating a certain colour of food each day of the week. Some are sort of fun but useless (to me), like one I bought called Down with Boring Old Food because it's cover featured bright pink spaghetti with a floret of romanesco cabbage in it. There isn't a thing in that book I really want to cook, but I like having it on my shelf anyway.

This came from a cookbook called Eat Smart that I'd bought for $4 from a bargain bin. Just another boring diet book with a bunch of recipes in the back, which I'd hoped would be interesting. I haven't tried many things from the book because the first two attempts were miserable failures. First, there was the gratifyingly yellow Yellow Chicken, which was entirely flavourless. And then there was the microwaved curry debacle, Curried Root Vegetables.

Anyway, I'm trying to go through some of these cookbooks, so that I can get rid of those that have neither good recipes nor good information, and I decided to try out another few recipes before giving this book the (metaphorical) toss.

This, though not spicy enough, was really very tasty. It doesn't show particularly well in the photo, but the peanut sauce was thick with a luscious texture and really nice flavour of peanuts and ginger. I left my meal too long while photographing and trying to clean up some of the cooking mess and so it was cold by the time I ate it, but it was delicious cold. The carrots were crunchy and the chicken juicy and nothing at all went awry.

Probably I'll try a few more things from this book before deciding whether or not to keep it, but if I get rid of it, I'll definitely be keeping a copy of this recipe for some future date.

06 February 2009

Fusion Chicken with Citrus Salsa

I don't really like the word fusion as applies to food, but "fusion chicken" was the name given to this recipe by someone at Better Home and Gardens. The recipe for this appears in a diet cookbook for BH&G and it's some of the best diet food going.

So so good. It's a bit sweet and a bit salty and very, very flavourful. My sister and brother-in-law wouldn't eat it with the citrus salsa, but the oranges add a bright, fresh taste to the sauce and I think they're lovely together.

Here's the recipe, which I reproduced in a comment a few days ago. When I made it tonight, my only change was to use a blood orange, a cara cara orange and a tangerine in place of the tangerines the recipe asks for. Oh, and I used apricot jam today, and reduced the amount of sugar. (There's a lot of sugar in Hoisin and in jam; I don't think it's necessary but haven't tried the sauce without it.)

Fusion Chicken. Serves four.

1/4 cup water
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp peach preserves (I've used everything from apricot jam to marmalade to passionfruit jam)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
4 med. tangerines or 2 lg oranges
3 tbsp cilantro, snipped
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (~1.5 lbs total)
1 tbsp oil

Combine water, hoisin, preserves, sugar and soy sauce in a small bowl. Add 1 tsp rind, finely grated from one of the tangerines. Set aside.

Peel and coarsely chop oranges, removing seeds. Toss oranges with cilantro. Set aside.

In a large skillet, brown the chicken in oil over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Drain the fat. Pour hoisin mixture over chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is tender and no longer pink (170F).

Remove chicken from the skillet. Boil sauce gently, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until reduced to 1/3 cup. Return chicken to the skillet. Heat through, turning to coat with sauce.

Serve over hot rice with tangerine mixture.

02 February 2009

Orange-Ginger Chicken with Ginger Sugar Snap Peas

So this chicken recipe was maybe the easiest thing I've done in a while. Just three ingredients: chicken, ginger, and an orange. I found the recipe in a French cookbook a few months ago but only just found the paper I'd scrawled the recipe on. This is what I wrote:

Chicken w/ ginger and orange

2 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 breast
1 2-in piece of gingerroot
2 blood orange

Oven 350.
Rub chicken w/ peeled ginger
Peel of skin. Then
squeeze juice. Put chicken
in oven proff dish, add
rind and juice. Chop ginger
and press into chicken skin.
Cook ~ 20 min. in oven until
skin is crispy.

So okay. If you want crispy skin in 20 minutes, you'd probably have to turn the heat up higher, and also your chicken would be raw. What I did was this:

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat baking dish with cooking spray. Season 3 chicken thighs with salt and pepper and place in prepared baking dish.

Grate peel from 1 orange over chicken pieces. Cut peel off 2-in knob of ginger, then finely grate ginger over chicken pieces. (I used a microplane grater, and it was more a pulp than bits of ginger.) Cut open the peeled orange and squeeze into the baking dish around the chicken pieces. Place in the oven and bake until the skin is crispy and the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

I don't know how crispy I'd say the skin got, since I don't eat chicken skin and I'd just thrown it away. But I imagine it would have been crispier if I'd put a little oil on the chicken.

In any case, this resulted in a really moist and very subtly flavoured piece of chicken. I suspect the flavour would have been stronger if I weren't so averse to chicken skin, but it was lovely anyway.

To make the snap peas, I just sautéed them lightly in a touch of oil with a glob of grated ginger (and also some garlic), then added a bit of water and covered them with a lid so they'd steam a bit. I like them to be quite crunchy and these were perfect.

Tasty all around.

01 February 2009

Month End Round-up: January 2009

Books Read, January 2009

J13 - The Weather Makers; Tim Flannery [review]
J15 - The Tales of Beedle the Bard; JK Rowling [review]
J20 - Criminal Minds: Finishing School; Max Allan Collins [review]
J21 - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; F Scott Fitzgerald [review]
J27 - A Spot of Bother; Mark Haddon [review]

So I really didn't read a lot last year. I don't quite know why it happened that way, but I'm not sure I finished even 20 books last year, so this year I have a goal. The goal is (I think) pretty modest - 26 books. I didn't quite intend to read ~ 1/5 of the books in the first month, but it might help me keep up my numbers if I run into a month or two where I don't seem to have the time or desire to read.

Favourite: My favourite was definitely A Spot of Bother. When I wrote my review I couldn't think of anything bad to say about it and I still can't. It was just a pleasure to read.

Least Favourite: Oh, probably the Criminal Minds book. It wasn't terrible, for what it is, but I don't have a very high opinion of what it is, so it's kind of the default worst book. It's one of those books that's okay for the afternoon it takes you to read it and then you immediately forget it because it's entirely forgettable.

Still Reading: I'm reading Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero, or trying to, but keep taking it to work and then doing suduko and crossword puzzles in the free newspaper instead. It's not that it's not interesting, it's just that it requires more attention than I can devote on a 15 minute break in a room full of slurpers and loud talkers. I've also put Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom: Mister Monday on the toilet tank in the bathroom, which means I'll soon be finishing that up for the 5th or 6th time.