Rice Pilaf with Tomatoes

Pilaf with Tomatoes 14

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 1

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 3

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 2

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 4

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 5

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 7

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 8

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 9

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 10

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.

Pilaf with Tomatoes 11

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 12

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

Pilaf with Tomatoes 16

Guinness Lamb Stew with Wild Rice

Guinness Lamb Stew 26

I know you all think I’m weird because I don’t like soup.  But spooning hot liquid into my mouth (and spilling it down my face, because that’s how I roll) is not my idea of a good time.  I do, however, have a fondness for stew.  Especially stew with beer in it, because beer is a great tenderizer of things.  And because I like beer.

Guinness Lamb Stew 7

I’ve had this stewing lamb in my freezer for a while and I decided it was probably time I do something about it.

Guinness Lamb Stew 1

So I took it out, put it on a plate, and patted it dry with a paper towel.

Guinness Lamb Stew 2

Then, in a bowl, I took a small scoop of flour, added salt and pepper, and gave it a stir.

Guinness Lamb Stew 4

Into that I hucked the lamb cubes, and gave them a stir as well.

Guinness Lamb Stew 6

I heated up my trusty cast iron skillet with a few tablespoons olive oil inside.  Then, shaking the excess flour off the lamb, I plopped it in the skillet to brown.

Guinness Lamb Stew 8

While that was going on I cut up some vegetables: carrots, an onion, and a package of mushrooms.

Guinness Lamb Stew 3

I didn’t have any potatoes, that classic stew thickener, so I decided to use rice.  This wild rice blend from Trader Joe’s is excellent.

Guinness Lamb Stew 10

Guinness Lamb Stew 11

I took the browned lamb cubes out and put them on a plate to rest a few minutes.

Guinness Lamb Stew 13

Then I added a bit more oil to the pan and chucked in the vegetables, giving the onions a wee bit of a head start in the cooking.

Guinness Lamb Stew 14

Once they’ve softened you can add the rest.

Guinness Lamb Stew 15

Now you can chuck the meat back in.  Then I plopped in some parsley, Newfoundland savoury, rosemary, and thyme.  If I’d had sage I would have used that, just to make up the lyrics to that “Scarborough Fair” song.

Guinness Lamb Stew 16

I also added a few more tablespoons flour.

Guinness Lamb Stew 18

At this point I ran out of space in my pan so I transferred the contents of the skillet to a larger saucepan.  I used a bit of beef broth to deglaze the pan a bit and poured that into the pot, along with the rest of the beef broth (about 3 cups).

Guinness Lamb Stew 19

Guinness Lamb Stew 20

Then came two cans of Guinness stout (minus a sip or two, for quality control of course).

Guinness Lamb Stew 12

Guinness Lamb Stew 21

Then the rice.

Guinness Lamb Stew 22

Then I brought it to a simmer, lowered the heat, and let that gently bubble away, stirring every so often, for about an hour.

Guinness Lamb Stew 23

Excellent. Even more so the next day.

Guinness Lamb Stew 25

English Muffins: easier to make than you think

English Muffins 22

I have a recipe for real, old-fashioned English muffins in my Peter Reinhart.  And some day, I totally plan to make them the way he says to (because he’s a genius).  Until then, I’m too darned lazy.  But I found this version by the Foodess (also a genius) that seems to be more up my alley in terms of ability and time.  It’s nice to finally have a decent English muffin in the morning, full of all those wee holes designed simply to hold melted butter and honey.  The Newfoundland version of the English muffin is just … WRONG.  It’s more like a hamburger bun or something.  It’s not right.

English Muffins 23

Anyway.  Start with 1 1/2 cups milk, and plop that in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, until the milk begins to simmer around the edges.

English Muffins 1

While that’s on the go, cube up 1/4 cup cold butter.  The coldness of the butter will help to cool your milk down.

English Muffins 2

Stir the butter into the milk and swirl it around until it’s all melted.  Leave the milk aside for a bit to cool down.

English Muffins 4

Beat up 1 large egg and add to it 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Balkan style).

English Muffins 3

When the milk mixture has cooled to just warm, you can mix the egg/yogurt in.

English Muffins 6

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 cups flour to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

English Muffins 5

Put that sucker on low (use a shield around the top if you’ve got one), and slowly pour in your dairy mixture.  Keep going until it’s all in there, and then beat (again, on low) for another full minute.

English Muffins 7

English Muffins 8

You can see that although the dough is still really sticky it’s starting to become stringy as well.  Gluten in action, folks.  SCIENCE.

English Muffins 9

Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, cover the top with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

English Muffins 10

When it’s ready to go, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Find yourself a 3″ biscuit cutter or use the opening to a large drinking glass (mine was about 2 1/2″).

English Muffins 11

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour as well.  Use your floured hands to pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

English Muffins 12

Using your cutter or glass, get busy cutting out little disks of dough.  Fold all your scraps together and repeat the process until you’ve used all your dough.  I ended up with 19 muffins in my batch.

English Muffins 13

Use a floured spatula to transfer them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and set those somewhere warm to rise for another 20 minutes.

English Muffins 14

Now, preheat your oven to 400°F and plop a large cast iron skillet (or two) on your elements.  Heat those up to medium heat and dust them lightly with corn flour.  Do not use a non-stick pan for this; it will not work.  If you don’t have an iron skillet, use a steel, non-non-stick pan instead.

English Muffins 15

Plop some of your dough disks into the dusted, heated pan and let them cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown.

English Muffins 16

Flip them over and do it again to the other side.  Keep dusting the pan with more flour as needed, and keep in mind that the flour may start to smoke after a while.  As your pan heats up you will find it takes a shorter amount of time for your muffins to brown so keep an eye on them.

English Muffins 17

You can see how they are starting to rise up with the cooking and look more like real English muffins.  The reason you cook the tops and the bottoms is so that when the muffins are baking in the oven they don’t get all round and puffy like a dinner roll.

English Muffins 18

Transfer the browned muffins back to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

English Muffins 19

When you’re all ready to go and they’re all browned, pop them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the muffins sound hollow when you tap on them.

English Muffins 20

When you are ready to eat them, pierce the middle with a fork several times to break the muffin open.  If you cut them with a knife you won’t get the benefit of all the perfect little bubbles.

English Muffins 21

Look at those perfect little bubbles.

English Muffins 24

Then you can do whatever you’re going to do with them.  Toast them, use them as sandwich material (the Pie loves making his own version of the Egg McMuffin), eat them as a base for Eggs Benedict … whatever floats your boat.  They freeze well, too — just make sure to wrap them up really tightly.

English Muffins 25

O Canada: French Toast

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!French Toast

Wait a second. Are you telling me that French toast is Canadian?

No, not really.  In fact the first reference to a dish resembling French toast is written in Latin and dates back to the 4th or 5th century.  French toast, or pain doré (“golden bread”), can be found in a lot of recipe books from all over the world.

But it does form part of what the Pie and I refer to as a “lumberjack breakfast,” and that makes it part of our Canadian cuisine.

French Toast

Picture this: most of Canada is unpopulated by people, and in many places still there are huge tracts of old-growth forest stretching off past the horizon.  One thing we do got is trees.  A steady supply of timber is one of the reasons Canada was colonized in the first place.  Our capital city was founded in the 1850s as a lumber town, and mills operated there even as late as the 1960s, clogging the Ottawa river with rafts and rafts of logs.

From our old $1 bill, image from Steve Briggs

The timber that flowed downriver to the mills came from logging camps far upstream, and these camps were occupied by big, rough men, mostly immigrants from Poland, Ireland, or the wilds of Québec, working in miserable conditions to earn enough money to send to their families, who often lived hundreds of miles away.

Norris Point

Logging was (and still is) a rather dangerous occupation, and it took a lot of energy just to stay alive and get the job done.  That is why every logging camp worth its salt (and many weren’t) had a reputable camp cook, and this cook was responsible for providing all the loggers with the caloric intake they needed to last out the day.  This meant a breakfast crammed with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: bacon, biscuits, eggs, pancakes, bread, sausages, steaks — and French toast.

French Toast

The traditional lumberjack French toast would have originally started out as a loaf of stale bread, sliced and left to soak overnight in a mixture of milk and eggs.  It was fried up and served hot, slathered with sugary maple syrup and dusted with more sugar.  Our version is only slightly more refined.  Oh, and if you’d like to read a bit more about logging camps, John Irving produced a great novel recently on the subject called Last Night in Twisted River.  It’s a good read, one of Irving’s best, in my opinion.

French Toast

Anyway, French toast.  Here we go.  This recipe will give you six to eight slices of eggy toast, depending on the size and absorbency of your bread.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup milk (or half milk and half cream) and 4 eggs.

French Toast

Add in as well 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  If you want to go very traditional, try a teaspoon of rum instead and replace the sugar with maple syrup.

French Toast

One at a time, soak your pieces of bread in the egg mixture.  Here we used raisin bread because we love it.

French Toast

Traditionally you would use a thick hearth loaf, but if you want to get fancy, it’s also good with brioche, or pannetone, or even biscuits.  Experiment. Make sure to get both sides good and eggy.

French Toast

Slip the bread into a hot buttered skillet.

French Toast

Brown both sides (this takes about three minutes a side if you use medium heat).

French Toast

Serve hot, sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh fruit, if available.

French Toast

You can add a sprinkle of cinnamon, too, if the mood strikes you.

French Toast

Canadian-style means, of course, lots and lots of maple syrup. Lumberjacks need their caffeine, too, so have it with a hot cup of coffee.

French Toast

Makes a great start (or end) to any day.

French Toast

Sweet Potato Quesadillas

Happy Birthday in advance to Kristopf — this one is for you!

The Pie and I had Rene over at I Love Leftovers in mind when we thought this up.  I’ve been fighting off some form of the plague for the past couple of weeks and we’ve been getting pretty lazy when it comes to our meals.  We were also trying to clear out our fridge in preparation for the influx of our houseguests, so we were combining a lot of our leftovers and running out of ideas.

On this particular night, the Pie was inspired, however.  We had some leftover poached, shredded chicken and tortillas from some wraps we’d made the day before.

We also had some roasted sweet potato left from the day before that.  Add those together, plus cheese, and you have quesadillas!

So first, the Pie grated up a whole whack of cheese.  Gren decided he needed to help.  He’s a very helpful puppy.  And if a little cheese falls on the floor, he’s right there to clean it up.  Very helpful indeed.

Plop the leftover chicken (probably about a cup and a half) in a bowl.  It has already been seasoned with a Tex-Mex dried spice mix, but we thought we would add some more flavour.

My parents went to Avery Island, Louisiana, to visit the Tabasco factory (let’s not even begin to talk about how weird that is).  So for Christmas last year we all got lots of Tabasco-related gifts.  We even have Tabasco ice cream mix, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.  Anyway, the Pie and I got these wee bottles of flavoured Tabasco in our stockings, and we thought we would try the chipotle one.  Ask the Pie to say “chipotle.”  He can’t do it.

To give you an idea of the scale of the bottle, we wanted to place it next to Gren.

Actually, we had to try several times to get the shot.

He kept knocking the bottle over with his nose.  On purpose.

Finally.  Though I’m sure you’ve already figured out how small the bottle is.

So we emptied that sucker all over the chicken.

Then we added the cheese (about a cup and a half).

Then the roasted sweet potato (probably about one sweet-potato’s worth).  Mix that up.

Lightly brush the bottom of a flour tortilla with olive oil (for browning) and plop it in a hot skillet.

Plop half the chicken mixture on top. 

Add another oiled tortilla on top of that and carefully flip the whole thing once the cheese is partially melted.

When the cheese is fully melted, remove from the heat and slice it up like a pizza.  Then do the same thing all over again.  Makes two.  Serve them with sour cream and/or guacamole.  Mmm, lazy dinners …

Handy Items Week: Cast Iron Skillet

Cait and her fiancé iPM will be on a whirlwind tour of St. John’s this week (they arrived late last night), so the Pie and I will be playing host and tour guide while they’re here.

To keep you entertained until they get out of our hair and I can give you your own personal tour of my city, I’m giving you eight days of gadgets that I cannot live without.

Today we have the cast iron skillet. Actually, we have two, having purchased one recently.

Non-stick frying pans are great and all, but they don’t brown things well and sometimes you just need that extra-crispiness.

Cast iron is also handy when moving from the stove-top to the oven, as we saw with the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

The trick to frying in cast-iron is similar to that of a barbecue.  Dab a little oil on the frying surface and let it heat up for a little while.  Don’t put your food in the pan until the metal is nice and evenly hot.  The instant contact of the food on the super-hot surface will help to seal in all the good stuff in your foot and will make a nice firm layer of cooked food that will help prevent your stuff from sticking to the pan.

Cast iron will, of course, rust if you don’t take good care of it.  A well-seasoned cast iron skillet, however, will last you for decades.

You can initially season a new skillet by rubbing the entire cooking surface with olive oil, and then putting it on your stove top at medium-high heat until the oil starts to smoke, or by baking it in your oven for a little while at about 400°F.  Leave the skillet to cool and wipe out excess oil before storing.

Never wash your skillet with soap.  If the pan is not that dirty simply wipe it out with a soft cloth to maintain the oil coating.  If there is a lot of stuff stuck to the pan, fill the skillet with boiling water and leave the excess oils and food to rise to the surface.  You can give it a scrub with a plastic scrubby as well.  Rinse well and place on your stovetop element to dry it quickly without rusting.

If you need to use soap to get out some really cruddy crud, make sure to re-season the pan before you put it away.

We store them with dish towels in between to prevent scratches.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

This cake is my childhood.  Or at least the part of my childhood where I didn’t think I was allergic to pineapple.  Turns out it’s just the No Name brand of pineapple that makes me throw up.  Who knew?

This flat, dense, cakey, sugary, sticky, buttery, crispy, pineapple-y, and cherry-y masterpiece is one of my absolute favourite things.  I have seen variations on the classic design on the internet but this is one of those setups I wouldn’t mess with.

You gotta do it in a cast-iron skillet.  Otherwise it just ain’t the same.  If you do it in an oven-safe skillet then you can do your butter melting and stuff all in the same dish.

Maraschino cherries are optional.  I know that they are probably the most disgusting bit of processed food there is, but they really make this cake extra-special, so I buy them for this reason, and this reason only.

I also like to use fresh pineapple instead of the canned stuff.  Less chance I might be allergic to it if I know that it hasn’t been processed.My mother has recently discovered the ease of email (crazy, I know, but we also bought our first touch-tone phone in 1991), so this recipe came to me over the interweb.  The original recipe, for an 8″ cake pan, comes from a Fanny Merritt Farmer cookbook dating back a few decades, but my mother has modified it for the skillet, adding a bit more flour, sugar, and butter as appropriate.  I get my lack of standardized measurements from her.  Here we go.

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Melt, in your skillet, between 1/4 and 1/2 cup butter.  The butter should be liquid, but not boiling hot.  Burns do not make for enjoyment in baking.  I suggest you remove it from the heat at this time and put it on a trivet on your counter.  More elbow room, for me at least.Spread 1 cup brown sugar evenly over the butter mixture, covering the bottom of the pan.  Add more if you like.  It’s going to melt with the butter and turn to caramel, and it will mix with the pineapple juice and the cherry juice and it will all be so incredibly incredible.  Drain a can of pineapple rings (or use a cored fresh one, as I did in this case) and lay them in the bottom of the pan, taking up as much space as you can, but don’t overlap the rings.  You can see that my rings are sliced open because of the way I’ve cored the pineapple.  I squeezed them together a bit so they’d fit in the pan, but they will shrink while you cook them and there will be plenty of room.If you wish, you can put maraschino cherries in all the little empty spaces, especially in the centre of the rings.  I of course do so wish.Sift together 1 1/2 to 2 cups flour (depending on the size of your skillet) with 2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.  In another bowl, mix together 1 egg and 1/2 cup milk and add to the flour mixture.  The batter will be very dense, so you can add more milk to make it more spreadable.  I ended up adding about an extra 1/2 cup of milk to my 2 cups of flour.  Feel free to experiment with the batter.  My mother says she sometimes adds grated orange peel to it.

Carefully spread the batter in a thin layer on top of the pineapple in the skillet.  You’ll notice that the batter doesn’t spread all the way across.  There will be gaps and even holes through which you can see the pineapple stuff.  That is okay, as it will expand while it cooks.  And it will pull away from the sides, anyway, as the butter starts to bubble up.Bake for 35 minutes or until the top is brown and crusty.  If you are using a skillet this will likely take less time because the skillet is already warm and the batter is stretched across a bigger surface.  For me this took about 30 minutes.

You can see how the butter/sugar mixture is still molten at this point.  You want to let it cool to more of a molasses consistency, so that you don’t burn yourself and it doesn’t get everywhere.  About ten minutes should do it.

Carefully flip upside down onto a serving plate.  Sometimes it’s easier to put the plate on first, then flip it.  My mother has this old-fashioned brown one that I covet because it is the exact size of the skillet, but I made do with this cheese plate instead, which is why the melted sugar oozed everywhere.  Some stuff may still be stuck in the pan, but because your now caramelized brown sugar is still liquid you can glue it all back into place before it cools.  Make sure to get all the good stuff out of the pan before it cools completely or you will never get it out.

Serve with fruit sauce or ice cream or whipped cream.  I like it best just by itself.  We’ve also made this recipe before using peaches and pears and plums instead of pineapple and it’s just as good.