Friday, April 24, 2015

A Charcoal Interlude

Well, now that grilling season is upon us, (not really. Like most of us I grill year round), the hunt for charcoal begins. The stores around me are just now starting to get restocked in that area and I managed to get three bags of Royal Oak 100% All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal for the fantastic price of $7.00 per 17.6 lb bag at my local Super Walmart. Great deal. While this is normally my go to charcoal I am currently coming off of using a bag of Kingsford Charcoal Competition Briquets, (bought after being recommended to me by Chris Lilly, the pitmaster at Big Bob Gibson in Decatur, Alabama). While this is Chris' go to for competition grilling, I was less than impressed by it. It didn't impart much flavour to the meats being cooked and it just didn't seem to produce the same high searing heat that Royal Oak Lump normally does. It also produced copious amounts of ash. It seems to work out well for Chris, though. They keep winning competitions.
   I do believe that I'll be sticking to the lumpen goodness for the foreseeable future. I've never really cared much for standard briquet charcoal and the more expensive Competition grade just didn't light my fire. Sorry, Chris. For those of you who like lump charcoal you might want to give your local Walmart a check. At $7/17.6# this is a deal that cannot be beat, (that deal may not be the standard at all Walmarts, but you never can tell).

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Velvet Corn Soup With Crab Meat

Back when I was still working in the restaurant business my favourite food to create and cook was soup. Always loved coming up with something new and different for my customers. But my absolute favourite soup recipe comes from the 1977 cookbook "Chinese Cooking, The Easy Wok Method", by Karen Lee Aland. This soup was a family favourite and one I always looked forward to eating.
   It is simple to prepare and the ingredients aren't hard to come by. You can easily substitute fresh crab for canned. And the soup may be made in a pot or a wok. And the recipe scales up very easily, as you may well want to, as this soup demands coming back for seconds. Or thirds.

There are still a few copies of the cookbook out there at Amazon.com and other online retailers. It's well worth adding to your library.


Velvet Corn Soup With Crab Meat


Ingredients

1 cup crab meat, washed and drained
6 cups chicken broth
2 cups sweet corn, cream style
2 eggs, separated; yolks lightly beaten, whites stiffly beaten

Seasoning

1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Marinade

1 slice ginger, minced
2 tsp cornstarch
1 Tablespoon dry sherry

1. Marinate the crab meat in the ginger, cornstarch and sherry for about 1 hour.
2. Heat the chicken stock. Add the corn and bring to a boil.
3. Add the crab meat mixture and return to the boil.
4. Turn the heat down to a simmer and stir in the egg yolks. Then fold in the egg whites. Simmer for a few minutes and then serve.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

A Few Dressings For Salad Season

With the coming of Spring we get to look forward to the crisp, fresh salads that are coming our way,
(I really don't look forward to the bagged offerings of Winter). And with the salads comes the dressings. While I use a handful of quick dressings, I'd always rather make my own. They're not difficult and they are way tastier than the mass produced offerings. Here are a few of the favourites at our house. They can easily be made in a bowl, but sometimes a blender or food processor will help the job along much better.

This is an old favourite around here and usually gets made all through the year. It goes great on a nice, fresh taco salad. Do use a blender or processor for this one. It will go a lot easier.

Thousand Island Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce
1/4 green pepper
1/2 stalk celery, sliced
1/4 small onion
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put ingredients in blender or food processor and blend till everything is combined and vegetables are finely chopped.  Makes about 2 cups.

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French Dressing

1/2 cup neutral oil (canola or any nice salad oil)
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Just a quick dash of cayenne

Add all ingredients to processor or blender and mix till combined. Chill and shake before serving.

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I saved the best for last. It's a favourite of everybody's and is just flat out delicious. This recipe originated from a 1984 version of the Campbell's Great American Cookbook, but got some major modifications from me over the years. I think you'll like it.

Blue Cheese Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort or other blue cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1 glove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
a few dashes of Tabasco sauce
buttermilk

Combine all ingredients, except buttermilk, in small mixing bowl. Mix till combined. Thin out with buttermilk till desired consistency is reached. Chill. Serve over your favourite salads or use as a dip.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Old Fashioned Buttermilk Cornbread (Gluten Free)

Like many people out there I have a spouse who is wheat sensitive. This cuts a lot of foods out of the rotation,  but one bread does get to stay. Buttermilk Cornbread is a Southern staple and one of the first things I learned to bake as a youngster. The gluten free advantage is an advantage these days, for me and many others. It doesn't take a lot to be successful in baking cornbread and requires few tools that you probably already have (or should have).
   One of the more necessary items to make cornbread is a seasoned cast iron skillet. This is the perfect implement to make cornbread in, as well as other foods) and is something every kitchen should have. That's about it for implements. See?
   Let's take a second to talk about the star of the show, the cornmeal. Just about any cornmeal will do, but the Southern go to for cornbread is white cornmeal. It is lighter than yellow and produces a better product in my opinion. Personally, I like a nice stone ground and unbolted (also called Old Fashioned) cornmeal. Unbolted cornmeal is unsifted and has a grittier texture and a slightly larger grind. It also contains all of the grain, leading to a tastier cornbread. If your local market doesn't carry unbolted, stone ground cornmeal, don't worry. Any white cornmeal will do. Or you can order online through any number of sources, like Amazon. (I like the folks at Weisenberger Mills in KY. I've used their products many times over the years). Just don't get confused and use a cornbread mix. These all contain wheat flour.
   While you can use vegetable shortening as your fat of choice, I prefer lard. It's moderately healthier than most vegetable shortenings, but it adds an extra layer of flavour to the finished product. Taste is everything.

Buttermilk Cornbread

2 1/4 Cups White Cornmeal
2 Cups Buttermilk
1/4 Cup Lard or Shortening
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place skillet in oven to heat up while preheating.
Add dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk together.
Beat eggs into buttermilk.
Remove heated skillet from oven and drop lard into hot skillet, allowing it to melt.
Add wet ingredients to dry and whisk till blended. Add 3 Tbs melted lard to mixture and whisk till incorporated, (keep at least 1 Tbs of the melted lard in the pan to help the cooking).
Pour ingredients into still hot pan and give a short shake to even out the mixture.
Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes or till golden brown.
Remove from oven and remove cornbread from skillet to a plate.
Cut and serve!

Makes 8 single servings.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

New: Barilla Pronto Pasta

First, let it be said, I am not receiving anything from the good folks at Barilla for this post. I just like their products and think this new one is rather interesting.

   Barilla has come up with a new pasta, (in a variety of shapes), called Pronto. It doesn't require quarts of boiling water to make. Just a pan and up to a couple of cups of water. It supposedly cooks to al dente doneness and then you can just add sauce and viola,  pasta.
   I must admit, I find this kind of cool. It would certainly make things a bit easier in the kitchen to be able to let my big pans take a rest from pasta duty and get things down to a much smaller pan. And the time savings is not minuscule. I think I'll definitely be giving these a try at some point and will report back, (even though I'm not a huge pasta fan). I'd love to know what they've done differently with the pasta to make it cook in less water. The science geek in me is curious.
   If you've tried it leave a comment and let me know how you liked it.

  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Smoked Trout Salad

One of my favourite appetisers that I have made over the years is Smoked Trout Salad. It is a nice start to any evening or just a great snack for anything you're doing. It's pretty easy to put together and keeps quite well, so you can make it well ahead of time and it will be ready when you are. It can be served over any nice cracker or flat bread, but I really think it shines when served on fried Won-Ton wrappers lightly dusted with Old Bay seasoning.

Trout Salad

2 Smoked trout fillets, skin removed.
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 green onions chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Optional

Won Ton wrappers, cut into triangles
Old Bay seasoning


Remove skin from trout fillets and flake or chop. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Cut won ton wrappers into triangles and fry in oil till crisp. Remove to paper towels and allow to drain. Dust lightly with Old Bay Seasoning. Top wrappers with trout salad and serve.


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dak Jim (Korean Chicken And Vegetables)

Many folks can remember their first cookbook. Mine was the Peanuts Cookbook, way back in the early 70's. But, the first cookbook that I actually went out and bought when I was old enough to actually get some use out of it was Foods of the Orient: Japan and Korea. I bought my copy a couple of years after it came out, while I was in South Africa. This cookbook has followed me all around the globe and it has provided many a great meal. While I was already familiar with Japanese cuisine, having lived in Japan, this opened my eyes up to a number of dishes I wasn't familiar with and allowed me to cook them myself.
  I have many favoured recipes from this well worn book, but my hands down, absolute favourite is the recipe for Dak Jim (Steamed Chicken and Vegetables). I have looked at and tried other versions of this recipe, but I always return to the one from this cookbook. It is the best I've run across. Now, I'm going to share it with you. This version of the recipe is in American measurements. All the recipes in the book come in two versions, Metric/Imperial and American. That makes this cookbook an international multitasker. Sadly, it is long out of print, but is available in the used market.

This recipe scales up quite easily if you need to make more, which I have had to do at times. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

Dak Jim (Korean Steamed Chicken and Vegetables)

1x 4lb chicken cut up into 8-10 pieces
2 carrots, cut into thin strips  (I use a peeler and shave them)
3 dried mushrooms, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes, drained and thinly sliced
1 bamboo shoot, sliced (or 1 can sliced)
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbs. soft brown sugar
1 Tbs. roasted sesame seeds, ground or crushed
salt and pepper

Garnish (Optional)
2 eggs, seperated

Put the chicken pieces in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until chicken is tender. Drain and reserve the stock. When the meat is cool enough to handle, cut the chicken into bite sized strips.
   Put all the remaining ingredients, except the garnish, into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir in the chicken strips and reserved stock, cover ans simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked but still crisp.
   Meanwhile, make the garnish. Beat the egg yolks and whites separately until they are both well mixed. Lightly oil a frying pan and heat it over moderate heat.Pour in the egg white and spread over the bottom in a thin layer. Cook until the bottom is firm, then turn over and cook until the other side is firm. Slide on to a warmed dish and cook the egg yolks in the same way. Cut the cooked eggs into strips.
   Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a warmed serving bowl and scatter over the garnish before serving.

Serves 6 

Preparation and cooking time: 2 1/2 hours