Rice Pilaf with Tomatoes

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I’ve been on a pilaf kick recently, ever since I had one at the Savoy last week and I can’t even deal with how good it was.  They’re really easy to make, too, just a few extra steps more than plain Jane rice.  Why not? This version serves 6 comfortably, with leftovers.

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I had half a 28oz can of diced tomatoes in the fridge as well as some shallots left over from probably Christmas so I figured I’d do something to use them up and take advantage of my overstock of Trader Joe’s Wild Rice Medley.

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I chopped up a handful of mushrooms and shallots and set those aside.

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Then I dumped a hunk of butter and some olive oil into a skillet and let that melt on medium-high heat.

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When it was all melted and foamy I tipped in 2 cups wild rice medley (you can use whichever rice you wish, of course).  I had a bit of black rice hanging around as well so I chucked that in too.

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Stir that around until it gets all coated with butter.  You’re basically toasting it here, so you want it to get a bit brown and smoky.

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Now you can add in your vegetables and stir them around a bit.

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I left the tomatoes until last because I wanted the onions and mushrooms to soften a bit.

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Now you add your stock.  Any stock you like.  Just make sure that it works according to your rice’s cooking directions.  This rice requires 2 1/2 cups liquid for every cup of rice.  I had 4 cups broth in my little carton here, plus a cup of liquid in the tomatoes.

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Give that a stir, then cover it and let it simmer for the allotted time given in the cooking directions (with mine it was 40 minutes).  I stirred mine occasionally, but only because I’m paranoid about burning rice.  I’m really good at burning rice.

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When it’s cooked take the lid off and remove it from the heat and let it sit for about ten minutes.

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We served ours next to a bed of greens and topped with a pan-seared half chicken breast.  It was lovely!

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Chicken Orzo Salad

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The Pie’s parents, Mrs. Nice and Papa John, are in town on a visit for the Pie’s graduation (B.Sc. Honours in Geography and Computer Science, booyah), so I get a good number of opportunities to cook new things that I think might appeal to them.  This one I made with Mrs. Nice in mind, and reminds me somewhat of that amazing orzo salad we had at Ferryland a few years ago.

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Prep your vegetables.  Dice up half a large red onion, 1 red pepper, and half a large cucumber (I cut out the seeds).  I also halved 250g grape tomatoes and defrosted 1 cup each frozen corn and frozen peas.

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Prep your dressing.  In a small jar (or other container with a lid), dump 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons dried savoury (or basil, or oregano, or whatever you want), 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, and 3 tablespoons vegetable oil.

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Close the lid tightly and give that a shake.  Let it sit for a while.

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Fill a large saucepan with about 4L of water and salt it generously.  Put it on to boil.  When it’s boiling, remove the lid, turn the heat down a bit, and pour in 450g orzo pasta.

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While that’s on the go, cut up about 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts into small cubes and  pitch those in a frying pan or skillet with a bit of vegetable oil.

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Sauté those until fully cooked and browned on the outside.  Remove from the heat.

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Drain your orzo and plop it in a big bowl. This bowl was not big enough.

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My peas and corn were still a little frozen so I added them to the still-hot chicken pan to let them thaw properly.

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Then I chucked in the rest of the vegetables and stirred that around.

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Then you just add your veg to your pasta.  Give that a good stir.

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Give your dressing another shake and toss that with all the rest of your salad (don’t worry about the amount — it will be absorbed into the pasta) and serve warm or cold.

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Deep-Fried Dinner

Deep-Fried Dinner

For the Pie’s birthday dinner, we decided to try deep-frying for the first time.  We’d been putting it off because, well, it’s incredibly unhealthy, it’s a dangerous fire risk, and our kitchen has no fume hood so we’d be dealing with the aromas of cooking oil for several days.

But we needed to learn (in the same way that we need to learn everything else we do here).  So we decided to try two different methods and make Buffalo chicken strips (with blue cheese dip) and some beer-battered onion rings.  Both recipes come from Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food magazine.  Both recipes involve buttermilk.

Now, though I’m presenting two different recipes here, I’m going to give the instructions to you in the order I did them, because that makes the most sense to me.  In order for you to differentiate the two recipes, I’ll preface instructions for the chicken with BCS and use OR for the onions.

BCS/OR: Turn your oven to 250°F.  Put some cooling racks on top of rimmed baking sheets and put those in the oven.  Those will be your warming and draining trays for your chicken and onions.
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OR: Slice 2lb onions into thick rounds and submerge them in 2 cups buttermilk for about an hour before cooking.  The buttermilk takes the acidic bite out of the onions, making them sweet and tender.  Just a warning: following this recipe results in a heckuva lotta onion rinks, so if you don’t want to fry up a million, I suggest halving it, or even quartering it.
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BCS: Crumble up 1 cup blue cheese (I used 400g here and it crumbled to about a cup) and 1/2 cup buttermilk.
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Stir that around and set it aside.
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Cut up some vegetables while you’re at it, why don’t you?  You’re about to consume pure fat — you should probably add in some vitamins.
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BCS/OR: Plop about 1 1/2 cups flour in a shallow dish and put that near your stove.  That’s for the batterin’.
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OR: Crack two eggs into a bowl.  Whisk ’em.
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Whisk in 1 bottle lager or pale ale.
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Whisk in 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 teaspoons coarse salt.  Set that near the stove as well.
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BCS: In yet another bowl, combine 1/3 cup hot sauce with 3 tablespoons butter.  Stir well and set that aside for now.
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Slice up 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into finger-sized pieces.
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Dip them in 1 cup buttermilk.
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Then into that flour you have ready.
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Lay them out on a baking sheet.
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I think we’re about ready to start cooking.  While I’m sure you could do these two dishes at the same time, I am far from experienced with hot-oil cooking, rather prone to accidents, and I only have one large-sized element on my stove.  So I am going to cook the chicken first, as it doesn’t need to be crispy and can therefore sit in the oven for longer.

As a safety note, we had a box of baking soda handy at all times during this, in case of flareups.  Never leave hot oil unattended, and never, NEVER add additional oil of any kind or any temperature to oil that is already hot.

BCS: Heat 1/2 cup to 1 cup vegetable oil in a heavy skillet.  You can tell if the oil is hot enough for frying when a pinch of flour dropped into it fizzes rapidly.
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Slide a few chicken pieces in, working in batches.
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Cook for about 6-8 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the chicken is golden brown.  Remove the cooked chicken to the rack in the oven.
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This was a very spatter-y process, so I wore long sleeves and kept my face averted from the pan.  My hands kept getting burned from little splashes of oil.  In the end I pulled on a pair of work gloves to protect them and worked happily after that.
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Make sure to let that oil cool before you move it anywhere.

OR: In a large, wide saucepan, heat up 5 cups vegetable oil.  I know, that’s a lot of oil.
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Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer and continuously adjust the temperature of your element to keep the oil at 375°F.  If it gets too cold, it won’t cook the onions all the way through, and if it gets too hot, well … let’s not think about that.
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What was interesting was the cool pattern the oil made while it heated.
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Take a ring of onion out of the buttermilk and dip it in the flour, then into the beer batter.  Shake off the excess.
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Slide the ring carefully into the hot oil.  Cook in small batches, rotating halfway through, for about 5 minutes.  Remove to the other rack in the oven to drain and keep warm.  This method of frying was wayyyyy less spatter-y, if you were interested to know.
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We had a lot more onions left to cook after we had cooked as many as we thought we could eat.  We figured they would keep until tomorrow and we would try again.
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BCS: When everything is cooked and you are ready to go, take the chicken strips out of the oven and toss them in the hot sauce.  These will be served with the blue cheese dip we made earlier.
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OR: For the onions we had a nice tzatziki dip as well as a chipotle mayo.
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All told, it was pretty epic.
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Not the Whole Enchilada

My dad and I have taken to trading off on dinner duty.  Today, he was running around town finishing his errands (one of which included a much-needed trip to the grocery store), so I ransacked the refrigerator and tried to figure out what I could make with what was left inside.

I’d been craving some Tex-Mexicana but I didn’t want to go through the time-consuming (but worth it) effort of making our very popular chicken enchiladas, so I kind of improvised.

First I set two chicken breasts to poach in half chicken broth, half water, so they were covered about an inch with liquid.

The trick with poaching is to bring the water to a boil and then very quickly turn it to low, so you only get the slightest little bubble.

I left them like that for about 45 minutes or so, then drained them and shredded them with a fork.

I set that aside and turned my mind to other things. 

Like grating up some cheddar cheese.  I like lots of cheese.I diced up a large onion and chucked in in a large pan with two teaspoons garlic-in-a-jar and the same in olive oil.

I also diced up a sweet yellow pepper and three small tomatoes fresh from the garden (ah, Ontario produce, how I have missed you!).

I sautéed the onions with the garlic until they were softened.

Chucked in the other vegetables.  How’s that for lovely colour?

Then I added a teaspoon ground cumin and two teaspoons chili powder.  You can of course adjust this to suit your own preferences.

I then added some of the tasty hot sauce leftover from my brother’s wedding.

Then a can (680mL, a little more than two and a half cups) of tomato sauce (puréed tomatoes would also work here).

Let that simmer and thicken on medium heat for about twenty minutes.  Or as long as it takes you to cook your rice.  My rice takes about twenty minutes, if I cook it according to my husband’s very exacting standards.

Add your shredded chicken to your tomato sauce mixture and stir it around until the chicken is thoroughly coated and nice and warm.

Serve over your rice with grated cheddar cheese.

We even had some leftover, so I would say this recipe serves 4 or even 5 (Dad had seconds).  Not bad for a we-have-nothing-in-the-fridge kind of meal.

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.

Hash Wednesday

The title for this recipe comes from the Pie, who is a very punny guy.  Yeah. Ha ha.

The recipe itself started to come out of Martha Stewart, but then we changed  it so I think we’ll call it our own.

Cube up 2 large potatoes (we used PEI Russets) and boil the crap out of them for about 15 minutes.

You have two options here when it comes to the chicken.  You can either take a chicken breast with the bone in and the skin on and bake it for 35 minutes at 450°F, or you can take a boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut it in half horizontally, and fry it up in about 15 minutes. Either way, sprinkle some thyme, salt, and pepper on the chicken as it cooks.

However, you do it, cut the resulting cooked chicken into cubes and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet (use the one you fried your chicken in, if you did that), and sauté half a large onion, diced, until tender.  Use a wooden spoon.

Add a teaspoon of garlic in a jar and heat for 30 seconds.

Add your potatoes and cook, stirring often, until browned (about 7 minutes).  At this point, add in 2 tablespoons water.  Scrape the bottom of the pan with the spoon to bring up all the good stuff that’s starting to stick and keep cooking those potatoes for another 5 minutes or so. 

Add in your cubed chicken, together with about 1/4lb baby spinach (I’d say about 5 loosely packed cups).  Stir it up until it’s all wilted, about 2 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.  Serves two.

Best Chicken Sandwich – Ever.

At least that’s what the recipe says.  A recipe for a sammy.  Don’t that just beat all …  Nevertheless this is super easy and super awesome and it serves two, for a romantically messy meal you can eat with your fingers.

It’s from a book called Food Cook Eat by Lulu Grimes that my mother gave to the Pie for Christmas a few years back.  Page 108 for those of you following along at home.

First, slice up a tomato, half an avocado, and wash some leaves of lettuce (get fancy and use arugula or frisé or whatever), and set those aside.

Cut two large pieces of ciabatta or Turkish bread in half horizontally and put that aside as well.

Take a boneless, skinless chicken breast (or a boned, skin-covered one and work some magic with it, which is what I did), trim off the excess sinew and fat, and cut it in half horizontally.

Flatten the pieces out a bit by hitting them with the side of your knife, the flat of a cleaver, your fist, or a mallet.  Work out your frustrations, but don’t go crazy and break the flesh.  You just want to thin it out a little.

Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a large pan and slip in the breast pieces, cooking them on both sides for a few minutes until brown and cooked through.  Sprinkle them with some lemon juice and take them out of the pan.  Put ’em on a plate or something.

Take your bread pieces and put them, cut side down, in the pan. Press them down a bit to soak up the chicken and lemon juices and leave them in there for a minute or two.

When you take the bread out of the pan, rub the cut side with a garlic clove, cut in half, then generously spread all the pieces with mayonnaise

Put a piece of chicken on the bottom pieces of the bread. 

Top with tomato, avocado, and lettuce, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. 

Plop the top of the bread back on and eat the crap out of that thing.  Tada: your sammich.