ChickenSalsaCheese

Cait:  the whole recipe is: you take chicken and you put salsa and cheese.

You can read the instructions above ↑ or the ones below ↓.  The results will be the same.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 11

This recipe is an oldie, but a goodie.  The first time Cait cooked me dinner, probably over a decade ago, it was this dish.  She’s been pressuring me to put it on the blog for a while now, so I’m capitulating.  

This recipe involves three ingredients, no more, no less.  Though if you wanted to add a side of rice or other vegetables, feel free.  Only Cait will judge you.  And she will judge you hard.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 2

Cait and I have been trying for years to come up with enough ridiculous three-ingredient recipes to make a cookbook.  So far, we have ChickenSalsaCheese.  Although really that’s probably enough, with variations like ChickenFingersSrirachaBrie. It would be a quick read.

Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Take a dish.  Put some chicken in it.  However much you want.  Or that fits in the dish, probably in a single layer. I may have put some salt and pepper on the chicken. Don’t tell Cait.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 5

Take some salsa.  Put that in the dish too, so it’s all up in the chicken’s grill.  Whatever kind you want.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 7

Take some cheese.  Grate some.  However much you want.  Then sprinkle that on top of the salsa and the cheese.

Chicken Salsa Cheese 8

Bung that in the oven.  Cait cooks everything for 45 minutes at 375°F.  Even hot dogs, she says.  So she bakes this for 45 minutes.  I suggest a little less, but that will depend on how much chicken you have and whether or not it’s on the bone.  And how much insulating salsa and cheese you’ve plonked on it.  Properly cooked chicken has an internal temperature of 160°F and its juices run clear if you cut it.  So go with that benchmark and you should be good.

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For the sake of colour and substance (I am married to a boy after all), we served our ChickenSalsaCheese with rice and some kale chips.  The Pie even folded his into a wrap.  Cait was unhappy when I texted her a photo of it (not an Instagram – I’m not that much of a hipster), but she lives 3000km away and can’t do anything about it. Yum!

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O Canada: Poutine

Chicken and Poutine

This dish comes to you from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, where most street corners in the downtown area are dotted with “chip trucks”, mobile vendors of French fries and hot dogs.  And poutine.  A melty mix of hot fries, squeaky cheese curds, and oozing thick gravy.

Like most foods we hold dear to the Canadian heart (though if you hold this one too close you are apt to have a heart attack), the origins are contested.  The version I like best I heard on CBC a few years back.  This particular chip truck also sold cheese curds, a Québec specialty.  A customer wanted the vendor to simply chuck his order of cheese curds on top of his fries.  The vendor protested, saying “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (it’ll make a damned mess), but the customer insisted.

Chicken and Poutine

A new delicacy was created out of “a damned mess”, though the gravy drizzled over the fries and curds to keep them warm came a little later.

My mother grew up in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, so I trusted her judgment as a child when she told me that poutine was absolutely the most disgusting thing in the entire world.  Then, when I was a teenager, and we moved to Ottawa, I discovered that my mother had never in fact eaten poutine in her life.   I promptly went out and discovered what I had been missing.

My mother did, at the age of 60, eventually eat her first poutine.  The dish has a new fan.  If you’re in the Ottawa area, the best place in the city for poutine is JP’s Crispy Chips, a high-end chip truck on the corner of Merivale and Baseline Roads.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

That’s not to say you can’t get good poutine at other places in the city.  The chip truck near my high school had a decent recipe.  If you wanted to get fancy you could head down to the Elgin Street Diner and try their Philly Cheese Steak Poutine, among other variations.

Chicken and Poutine

But poutine outside of the Ottawa-Gatineau area tends to fall a little short of my expectations.  The Pie and I once ordered a poutine in Parry Sound, Ontario.  What arrived was a plate of Tex-Mex seasoned frozen fries, grated marble cheddar, and a gravy that obviously came from a powder packet.  Most disappointing.  The only decent poutine I’ve had outside of Ottawa-Gatineau has actually been here in St. John’s.  Newfoundlanders are good at eating potatoes, so they picked up on poutine right away.  Venice Pizzeria has a version served with “dressing,” what I call stuffing — the kind that goes in a bird.  And Aqua has a ridiculously rich version with chorizo and LOBSTER.

We’re going to do it the simple way here.  I don’t think my arteries could take it any other way.

A note before we begin, however.  You can buy your fries pre-cut and frozen from the store.  You can use powdered or canned gravy rather than make it from scratch.  You can use chicken gravy, turkey gravy, beef gravy, moose gravy, or mushroom gravy.  Whatever gravy you want.

But you absolutely MUST use cheese curds.  Must.  Otherwise it’s just fries with cheese on them.  And if you can get the cheese curds from St-Albert, Québec, by all means do so.  You can definitely taste the difference.  We used these ones from Montréal, Québec, and although they were good, they just weren’t the same.

Chicken and Poutine

Because we were serving the poutine as a sort of pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner, we decided to roast a chicken to serve on the side (because everything takes a backseat to poutine).  This also gave us a base from which to make our gravy.

Chicken and Poutine

First I fried up some onions with butter and herbes de provence, then I stuffed them into the chicken, which I roasted at 400°F until the thickest part of the thigh registered at 180° and the juices ran clear.

Chicken and Poutine

I used the juices that came out as the foundation for my gravy. I have more info on making gravy here.

Chicken and Poutine

I poured the juices into a saucepan and added a ton of organic chicken broth.  Here’s your gravy base, if you’re going for chicken gravy from scratch.

Chicken and Poutine

Make a slurry of flour and water and add that as well.  Bring the gravy to a boil and then reduce the heat and let it simmer to thicken.

Chicken and Poutine

The Pie was also engaged in making a pumpkin pie while this was going on. Gren got to lick the pumpkin spoon. Cooking dogs are so very helpful.

Chicken and Poutine

While that is going on, chop up 6 medium potatoes into shapes resembling French fries.

Chicken and Poutine

Rinse off the starch and let the potatoes soak for half an hour.

Chicken and Poutine

Drain them and dry them with a paper towel when you are ready to cook.

Chicken and Poutine

In a large saucepan, bring about 4 cups vegetable oil to a temperature of 350°F. Use a candy or deep-fry thermometer to be accurate.

Ease about half your potatoes into the hot oil.  A wire spoon is handy in this situation.  A fry basket would be even better.

Chicken and Poutine

Leave them in there, sputtering away, for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fries. The sputtering will calm down after a while.

Chicken and Poutine

Pull them out and let them sit on a paper towel for about 5 minutes, while you cook the rest of the fries.

Chicken and Poutine

After you have cooked each batch once, allow the heat of the oil to rise to 365°F.  Now you put the first batch back into the pot and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, until light brown.

Drain on paper towels again, season with sea salt, and get ready to serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

Pour half the fries into the bottom of a large serving bowl.  Sprinkle half a package of cheese curds on top.  Add a bit of gravy to get everything melty.

Chicken and Poutine

Repeat with the remaining fries, curds, and some more gravy.  Serve immediately.

Chicken and Poutine

We had ours with our roasted chicken, stuffing onions, and some carrots.  And all that extra gravy, of course.

Chicken and Poutine

Fresh Eggs

You buy a carton of eggs at the grocery store.  If you just got ’em, that means they must be fresh, right?

Wrong.

While those eggs are still fine to eat, the freshest of fresh eggs, for us urban folk, generally come from farmer’s markets or produce exchanges.  If you are fortunate enough to have access to fresh eggs, then your cakes and custards will be the fluffiest and most tender.  Congratulations.

Here is a quick test to determine how fresh your eggs are, and it was taught to me by Miss Awesome (not her real name, but, surprisingly, pretty close).

Take your egg.  Plop it in a bowl of water so it is completely submerged.  If it sinks, it’s fresh.  If it floats, it’s not.

The reasoning behind this is because egg shell is porous (which is why you shouldn’t put your eggs in the door of your refrigerator, as they’ll absorb all the smells of your fridge), and over time air leaks in through the shell.  So you can tell that your egg has been around for a while if it floats, because it’s had time for the good stuff inside to shrink and for the shell to absorb air.

And now you know.  Eggs. 

Sausage Stuffed Turkey with Gravy

For years, my health-food nazi, roughage-eating parents bought only free-range organic turkeys.  And I hated them: so dry, tasteless, and without any juices with which to make gravy.  Turkey without gravy is a travesty in my family, so my parents gave up about three years ago and started buying the unstuffed Butterball turkeys.  Shocking, I know.  But the difference has been night and day.  I actually kind of like turkey now.  Which is good, seeing as I always seem to be the one who stuffs it, roasts it, and then makes the gravy.

So let’s do that today, shall we?

First we’re going to do some gravy pre-preparation.  Take the neck and giblets from your turkey and plop them in a pot with some garlic and enough chicken broth to mostly cover them.  Simmer that for an hour or so, then take out the giblets and neck (feed the giblets to your dog if you have one, or purée them and add them back to your broth), and set the broth aside.

Now for the stuffing.  Take three sausages of your choice (I prefer a spicy Italian), remove the casings, and squish the contents into a pan with some olive oil and garlic.

Add in a diced onion.

Pour in a generous amount of savoury.  I love my Newfoundland savoury.  The Pie brought this along specially for this stuffing when he came to Ottawa for his Thanksgiving visit.

Add in two chopped apples as well.

Sauté that stuff until the sausage is broken up and cooked through and all the other ingredients have had a chance to get to know each other.

Plop it in a bowl and allow it to cool a bit.  Add in some large dried bread crumbs.  

You can make these yourself by cubing bread slices and baking them at 200°F until stale, but we had enough to do so we bought them pre-made (I can’t do everything by myself, now, can I?).

Stir that mess up and shove as much of it as you can into the cavity of your turkey.  You can make removal easier later by lining the inside of the cavity with cheesecloth, but I didn’t have any on this day.

Close the opening with a slice of bread.  This will keep the stuffing near the opening from drying out and burning.  It’s a bread shield.

Put the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole dish and douse liberally with chicken stock.

Drape your turkey lovingly with a few strips of bacon.  This will keep the skin from drying out and it will save you from having to baste the darned thing while you’re entertaining, as the fat from the bacon will drip down gradually and keep everything moist.  You can truss your turkey if you wish, but with big poultry I prefer to leave it all hanging out there to ensure even cooking.  I don’t cover it with foil either.  Well, not until much later.  You’ll see.

Chuck your turkey into the oven at 325°F and roast the sucker.  Your cooking time will vary with the size of your bird, but for some reason I find no matter the size, mine always cooks in between three and four hours.  Keep a close eye on your thermometer.  The turkey is cooked when the thigh temperature is 180°F.  Check the stuffing inside the turkey, as well — it should be around 165°F for safety’s sake.

If you plan it right your turkey should probably be done about an hour or so before it’s ready to serve.  Clear a space on your counter and lay out two or three old towels.  In the centre overlap a couple of pieces of aluminum foil.  Once the turkey is done, remove it (with the aid of a poultry lifter) to your improvised platform.  Pull up the edges of aluminum foil and add more to cover it all around tightly.

Pull up the towels and add more on top, wrapping it with care and tucking under the edges.  Resting the turkey like this will keep it hot for a couple of hours, and will ensure that none of the juices get lost.

Now that you have your turkey pan free, carefully scrape all the juices and bits of stuff into a fat separator.  Let the liquid settle and drain off as much fat as you can.

Pour whatever juices and solid pieces you get into the pot with your reserved chicken broth from the giblet boiling.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Scoop out a little bit of broth and make a slurry with some flour, then whisk it back into the gravy and keep stirring until the mixture thickens.  You can remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool while you do other things.  You can always heat it up again later.

Your extra stuffing can be roasted, covered with aluminum foil, at 350°F (or higher, depending on whatever else you are cooking at the time) for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are crusty and brown.  Everything in it is pre-cooked so you needn’t worry about temperature in your casserole dish.  Just cook it until it looks good.

You can unwrap and carve your turkey at any point that’s convenient to you.

Reheat your gravy, pour it into gravy boats and serve over your hot stuffing and turkey!

Chicken in Toronto

In the last week of August I went to Toronto for the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, which was incredibly exciting for me, to be able to rub elbows with all the people I hope to know personally once I’ve finished my doctorate.

I was also able to meet the Pie in town on two nights and catch some Blue Jays games.  This is Jose Bautista.  He’s not much to look at but he got a home run on one night.

I stayed with my best friend Chel and her lovely new husband Invis right downtown.  Talk about making the most out of a small space!  Here is their tiny kitchen, with Invis filling up most of it.  Chel had the clever idea of using one of her favourite coat hangers (because she couldn’t find another place for it) to hang up her pots and pans. I think it’s genius.

One night  they were kind enough to allow me to cook them dinner, and we decided, since it was hot and humid in the Big Smoke, to keep things on the simple side.  We settled on a chicken rosé sauce on pasta followed by vanilla ice cream with strawberry and red currant fruit sauce.

We decided to feature basil in the recipe because Chel has been keeping a lush little plant going for some time.Chop up a few boneless skinless chicken breasts, as well as a small onion, some mushrooms, and a red pepper or two.  And don’t forget lots and lots of fresh basil.

Chuck the onion in a pot with some olive oil and sauté until translucent.Season your chicken breasts and plop them in as well.  Stir it around until the chicken is cooked through.Add in your basil and let that aroma fill the space as it heats up.Then drop in your vegetables and let them cook for a wee spell.Now you can pour in a jar of your favourite pasta or other tomato sauce.Add in some whipping cream as well, about 250mL.  Let the whole thing simmer.If you find it’s too watery you can add in a can of tomato paste to thicken it up.Serve over your pasta of choice and you’ve got a lovely meal.Now while that is simmering you can whip up your dessert fruit sauce.  We found some lovely fresh red currants in the grocery store so I added them, some cut up strawberries, a bit of sugar, and some juice to the pot and set it to boil.Once you have simmered it for a while, remove it from the heat and let it cool while you eat your dinner.  Pour it over ice cream and you’re all set.