Stir-Fry at Cait and iPM’s

Hang in there, those of you facing Hurricane Igor!

The main trick in food photography, I have learned, is to always, always, always use natural light in your photographs.

The problem with living in Canada is that half the year, the sun sets really early and your good afternoon light turns blue.  Unless you want to start cooking your dinner at two in the afternoon, you have to put up with a lot of noise in your now blue-tinged shots.  I apologize in advance.

A downside to cooking in other people’s kitchens is that friends my age often live in quirky apartment buildings and so don’t have the enormous picture window with which I have been blessed in my own kitchen back in St. John’s.  The light quality in these places, therefore, isn’t all that great.  I should really start using my low ISO feature.  Some kitchens don’t even HAVE windows, which is a real shame, both for the sake of my pictures, and for the cooks themselves.  How can you enjoy cooking if you don’t like being in the room where cooking takes place? 

Anyway, tonight I went over to visit Cait and iPM.  You may remember them from their visit to St. John’s in June. Cait is a computer guru and she is in the process of making my laptop able to survive the extra two or three years of service I need it to give me before I can afford to replace it.  Their kitchen is fortunately roomy enough for my purposes, but as it was late in the evening, the light’s not all that great.

In the middle of the produce section of Loblaws, Cait and I decided on a stir-fry, so I picked up some broccoli, mushrooms, green onions, snow peas, and fresh garlic.  Cait already had chicken, carrots, soy sauce, vinegar, and brown sugar, so it was a simple matter of adding hoisin, black bean, and teriyaki to the basket and off we went.

At home, Cait set to haranguing my computer and making it do her bidding and I set to chopping.  Cait owns neither a cutting board nor a non-serrated knife so it was an adventure trying to julienne the carrots and broccoli stalks.  But I did it.

I also sliced up three boneless, skinless chicken breasts as well.  Nice and thin.

Ruby, who is only a puppy, tried to convince me that chicken was the best thing for her and that what we thought was her proper dog food was actually poison.  She failed.  But she’s cute.

In a small bowl, mix together about two tablespoons each of brown sugar, vinegar (I prefer rice vinegar but Cait only had balsamic), hoisin, teriyaki, black bean, and soy sauce.

Slice up about three cloves of garlic and plop them in a pan with olive oil.  Heat that sucker up.

Add the chicken, and stir until just cooked through, between 5 and 10 minutes.

Add the sauce mixture and stir to coat all the chicken.

Plop in your vegetables and stir to get them all coated, too.I ran out of room in the pan and therefore had to transfer half my cooking to a nearby pot.

Let the vegetables cook a little bit, but not too much.  You want them still crisp, but brightly coloured.  Probably you want to cook them for about seven minutes or so.

Serve over rice, and if you have lovely Fiestaware to do it on, all the better. 

iPM went back for seconds so I know it was good.

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Savoury Beef with Shiraz Gravy

This recipe is an improvisation from start to finish, and if I hadn’t taken photos of it on the slight off-chance that it was going to work then I would never be able to tell you what I did.

Fortunately for you it got the Pie’s Official Seal of Approval (in that he nodded with his mouth full and muttered, “this is really good”), and I have the photographic evidence to jog my memory.

Beef I get on sale is never the best that red meat has to offer.  More often than not it contains a lot of gristle and tends to fry up awfully tough.  However, I am willing to put up with a lot for three dollars.  These three steaks cost me $3.47 in total, which wasn’t bad at all.

Rather than simply fry them up, as per Pie’s plan, and then drown them in barbecue sauce (also as per Pie’s plan), I decided to cube them up instead and make something a little … saucy.

The original plan was to create some panang-like concoction with red curry and coconut milk.  Upon closer scrutiny it came out that I had no coconut milk so had to go with a more European approach.  I picked four herbs to accompany me on this journey: ground corriander, dried parsley, Hungarian paprika (which, after tasting the completed recipe, I would have left out, as it was overpowered by everything else), and pure Newfoundland savoury, grown at Mt. Scio Savoury Farm, not ten minutes from where we live.

In a small bowl, mix together about 3 tablespoons flour with your paprika, coriander, parsley, and savoury.  Use whatever amount you feel is appropriate.  I probably added 2 teaspoons or so of each.

Before you cook your meat, make sure to pat it dry with a paper towel.  I learned that from Julia Child, and it’s totally true.  If your meat is damp it won’t brown properly.  And yes, that is totally a Spiderman Band-Aid.  I had a run-in with my bread knife and now it has a taste for blood.

In a cast-iron skillet sear the beef at high heat until the cubes are browned on all sides.  A non-stick pan won’t give you half the brownness you’re looking for on this, and if you have the skillet super hot, with just a drop of butter sizzling in there, you don’t have to worry about the meat sticking at all.

Reduce the heat to medium and sprinkle the browned meat with the flour mixture and stir until the cubes are evenly coated with the flour.  You will notice that it sticks to the bottom of the pan at this point, but that’s a good thing.  The reason you add the flour mixture at this point is so it forms a paste with the meat juices, and when you add more liquid to it, it doesn’t get all clumpy and gross.

Pour in about a cup of beef broth.  For this I dissolved a bouillon cube in a cup of boiling water.  Give it a good stir with a wooden spoon and make sure to scrape up all the pasty stuff from the bottom of the pan.

Let that simmer for a bit until it starts to thicken. That’s the flour working away.  Aren’t you glad you mixed it in early so you have no lumps?

Add about a cup of Shiraz or any other red wine (sorry enthusiasts/aficionados/snobs, but I can’t tell the difference with reds – they all taste like cat pee to me) and let it simmer until the sauce is a thick, dark brown and is reduced by about half.

This should take about twenty minutes from start to finish and serves three or four, depending on how hungry you are.

The Pie has suggested also substituting for the red wine with a nice porter or stout beer.  Could work.  Maybe we’ll try that next time.

Serve over rice (we used our favourite Brown Rice Medley my parents smuggle us across the border from Trader Joe’s) and accompany with your favourite vegetables (in this case, imported broccoli and local rainbow carrots).

Tarragon Chicken

I have vague memories of my mother making this a long time ago, when we lived in British Columbia.

The combination of fresh tarragon and lemon and salt permeates every inch of the chicken and it’s lovely and moist.

So take your whole chicken.  This little baby is a local Newfoundland chicken, one of the few forms of livestock produced in-province.  You can tell that they haven’t used any growth hormones because of how small it is.  And they taste really good.

Remove all the giblets and cut off the excess skin.

Work your fingers under the skin to make room for the herbs ‘n’ such.

In a small bowl, mix together some tarragon leaves and some sea salt.  Squish up the tarragon a bit.

Work it under the skin of the chicken, and then tuck in a few lemon slices.

Put extra tarragon and lemon inside the chicken.

Put the chicken in a roasting pan, or a baking pan with a small rack underneath.  This keeps the chicken out of the juices it will leak during cooking and prevents it from getting soggy.  I trussed the chicken up a little bit to give it some shape.  Just tie a bit of kitchen string around the legs and tuck it under the wings to hold everything in place.  Just keep in mind that trussed chickens don’t cook as evenly as untrussed chickens.

We’re going to do a one-dish meal here, so I’m also roasting some potatoes, together with some carrots.  Slice them up and toss them in the pan around the chicken, with a drizzling of oil and some salt and pepper.

Roast at 375°F until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 180°F.  Stir up the vegetables once or twice to make sure they brown evenly.  Stick a thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (without touching the bone) for this reading.  We have a digital thermometer from Lee Valley that beeps at us when the chicken is done.  Also, if you cut into the chicken at this point, all the juices will run clear and the meat will be white, not pink.  I’m going to turn the carcass and leftovers into chicken noodle soup.  Stay tuned.

Italian Pot Pies

Because the weather outside refuses to cooperate, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that it is actually spring out there.  Accordingly, I’m still making the steamy comfort food characteristic of the winter months.  These little pies come out of the oven molten hot, and the tart flavours of the sauce really accent the classy biscuit topping.

This is a Martha Stewart recipe, and it’s quick and easy and a great way to use up leftover spaghetti sauce.  Normally the Pie and I use stuff we make ourselves, but tonight I was lazy and so I followed the recipe (shocking, I know).  I apologize in advance for the lighting in the photographs.  It was late in the day and it’s been a rainy week.

Preheat your oven to 450°F and position your rack on the lowest or second-lowest possible level.

In a saucepan or large skillet over medium heat, warm up about 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Add in 1 medium onion and 2 carrots, finely chopped.  Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender (about 8 minutes).

Add in 1 pound or so of lean ground beef.  Break up the meat with a utensil and cook until no longer pink (about 5 minutes).  You could also definitely do a vegetarian version of this, just omit the meat and ‘beef’ up your sauce a bit.  I suggest cheese.

Pour in 2 cups tomato or spaghetti sauce and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer until slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary, and a pinch of salt.  As an aside, I got the above mortar and pestle for about 2 bucks at IKEA.  It’s a very handy thing to have around.

Make a well in the centre and pour in 1/2 cup milk and 4 tablespoons melted butter.  Stir just until dough comes together.

Set 4 8-ounce ramekins on a baking sheet.  Spoon in the meat mixture.

Mound spoonfuls of dough on top.

Bake until the topping is golden and you can stick a toothpick in it and have it come out clean (about 12 minutes).

Be careful, it’s hot!