Made-up Macaroni Salad

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Pasta salads are ideal for summer parties.  You can make them ahead of time and you don’t have to worry about heating up the house.  This one came together on the fly, as most of them tend to do.  I stuck with a reddish theme and it worked out.

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Start with a bowl of cooked pasta.  I used cavatappi, or Scoobi-do pasta.

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Chucked in a diced onion, tomatoes, garlic, red peppers, and green olives.

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Then some fresh oregano, chives, and some cubed feta.

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Then I decided to throw in a few bocconcini as well.  I also tossed in some tandoori spice and some Hungarian paprika for kick.

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When you make a pasta salad, make a lot of dressing to go with it, because the pasta will absorb so much extra liquid.  The base of this one was olive oil, maple syrup, Tabasco, and rice vinegar.

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As I said, make a lot.

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Put half in now and then the other half right before you serve it.

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TADA.

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There was enough left over that I added some pasta sauce to it, topped it with cheese, and baked it into a casserole afterwards.  Waste not!

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Creamy Mint Guacamole

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I pulled this gem out of the Ottawa Citizen a few weeks back and it makes a fantastic dip all on its own or as a replacement for the traditional sour cream and guacamole side on a plate of nachos.

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I cut everything up by hand but if you don’t have the patience for that you can always pulse the ingredients together in a food processor until combined but still chunky.

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Start by opening up and de-pitting 4 large avocados.  You can tell that they’re ripe because of the bright avocado colour under the stem.

Creamy Mint Guacamole 2

Slice them into little cubes and scoop them into a large bowl.

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Next, mince up a few cloves garlic.  Chuck that in the bowl too.

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Then grab a bunch of fresh mint (this was about 8 stems) and pull the leaves off, discarding the stems.  Mince the leaves and chuck them into the bowl.

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Now, slice a fresh lime in half and juice it.  Drizzle the juice all over the avocados in your bowl.

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Add a few dashes Tabasco sauce, to taste.

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And a drizzle of honey, your favourite kind.

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Plop in 1 cup sour cream or greek yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

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Give it a vigorous stirring to mix it thoroughly and break up the avocado a bit more — not too much, though, because you want it nice and chunky.

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Serve with fresh warm tortilla chips (these are chipotle flavour from Farm Boy).

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Double-dipping totally acceptable.

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Pulled Pork Mac and Cheese

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Ando made this for Thidz’ birthday last week and it went down so well that he suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is, adapted to his standards.  While the whole thing takes a little while to prepare, it’s all easy stuff that you can do in stages.  I ended up having most of it ready in the morning and then just chucked it together at the end and baked it.  But we’ll work from the bottom up on this layered casserole.  Also, the recipe says it serves 8, but really it serves 4 because you are going to want seconds.

BOTTOM:

Preheat your oven to 425°F and spray a 9″ springform pan with cooking spray.  My pan was a little wider, but that’s fine.

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In a teeny bowl, mix together 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and some salt and ground black pepper to taste.

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Peel 2 medium sweet potatoes.  I only had large ones, so I opted to just do one, but I could have used both and it would have been fine.

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Use a mandoline to shave off super thin slices.

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Chuck those pieces in a bowl, drizzle with a few tablespoons vegetable oil, and add in your spice mix.  Toss with your hands until the oil and spices evenly coat all the potato pieces.

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Layer the sweet potato slices evenly in the bottom of the pan.

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Bake for 15-20 minutes until they are softened and starting to brown.  Ando wanted to bake them longer to make them more crisp, so I tried that, but I found that once you piled the rest of the ingredients on top they went soft again anyway, so don’t worry too much about that.  The Pie hoped for a thicker layer of sweet potatoes (because I only used the one potato and my pan was wider), so next time I would go for two.

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MIDDLE:

Grab yourself some pork tenderloin.  I had a boneless pork loin rib here that was on stupid sale so I used that.

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You’ll need 2lbs pork, cut into 2″ chunks.  If I did this again, I would cut the chunks larger, just so your pulled pork strings end up being decently long.

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Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add in the meat.  It goes gray almost immediately, which is kind of gross.  Reduce to a simmer and leave that on the go for about an hour.

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Drain the pork and use 2 forks to shred it into little pieces.

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Then you’re going to need some barbecue sauce.  Ando expressed concern that the sauce tended to overpower the more delicate flavours of the macaroni and cheese on top, so we picked out a milder apple butter sauce and it worked out fantastically.  The sweetness of the apple really worked well with the pork.

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So you pour 14oz barbecue sauce all over your pork and mix it in.

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Then you add in 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and stir that in as well, then set the whole thing aside.

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TOP:

Bring another saucepan of water to a boil and add a pinch or two of salt.  When it’s boiling, add in 8oz elbow pasta (MACARONI) and cook according to your package instructions.  When it’s ready, drain the water, saving about 1/4 cup of it.  Add the water back to the pasta in the pot.

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Add to the pasta 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (I think the sharper the better), 1/2 cup grated Gruyere (we used Jarlsberg), and 1/4 cup creme fraiche (which is next to impossible to find in Newfoundland, so we used sour cream instead).  Because Ando suggested boosting the flavour of the mac, I added a few crumbles of blue cheese (Rochefort) as well.

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Stir that up until it’s all melted, then add a few drops of hot sauce (we used Tabasco) to taste.

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Season it with salt and pepper and set it aside.

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CRUST:

Melt 1/4 cup butter and stir it up with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.

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ASSEMBLY:

Smooth the pulled pork over the sweet potatoes.

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Dollop the macaroni on top of that and flatten it down a bit.

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Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture on top of that to completely cover the macaroni.

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Bake for 15 minutes, until the casserole is hot through and the bread crumbs are browned.

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DISASSEMBLY:

Ideally you should be able to pop open the springform pan and cut this puppy like a cake.  My pork ended up being supremely saucy and thus too slithery to be architecturally sound in terms of casserole structure.  Meaning I tried to pop off the frame and then the whole thing went sideways — literally and figuratively.  So we just scooped it out with spoons, hence the lack of presentation.  Didn’t matter.  Ate it anyway.  And it was awesome.  Thanks Ando!

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Panko Chicken with Savoury

Savoury Panko Chicken

This is quick and crunchy and very handy if you’ve got a harried husband on his way out the door.

About an hour and a half before you want to eat, submerge 2 chicken breasts in about 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.  Add in some hot sauce (and/or tabasco) as well and leave that to marinate for an hour.  The acid in the buttermilk makes for a tender, juicy chicken that is hard to beat.

Savoury Panko Chicken

When the chicken is marinated, preheat your oven to 400°F and generously spray a baking sheet.

Savoury Panko Chicken

Pour about 1 cup panko crumbs (or other bread crumbs, brown rice ones if you are going for the gluten-free version) into a bowl with a pinch of sea salt and a tablespoon of dried savoury (or other dried herb of your choosing).

Savoury Panko Chicken

Mix that all together.  Lift one of the chicken breasts out of the buttermilk and let it drain before dredging it in the panko crumbs until completely coated.

Savoury Panko Chicken

Place the chicken on the baking sheet and repeat with the other breast.

Savoury Panko Chicken

Bake for about 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the crumbs are starting to turn golden.  We served ours with some corn and carrots.  Mmm, tasty!

Savoury Panko Chicken

That’s a Spicy Ice Cream!

Tabasco Ice Cream

I may have told you this already, but a while back my parents took a road trip down to Louisiana with the specific goal of visiting the Avery Island Tabasco factory.  As a result all their family and friends received a plethora of Tabasco-related gifts.

Tabasco Ice Cream

One of these is this, a Tabasco ice cream mix.

Tabasco Ice Cream

 

I’ve had saffron ice cream.  Black bean ice cream.  Taro ice cream.  Hemp ice cream. Even wasabi ice cream.  So this can’t be too weird, right?  Granted, I didn’t really ENJOY any of those (well the saffron was pretty good), but I’m always willing to try something new.  The Pie, not so much.

Tabasco Ice Cream

It’s a mix, so I can’t really give you the recipe here (because I don’t know it), but it involves milk, cream, the mix, and Tabasco’s Sweet & Spicy Sauce (which we also received as a present).

Tabasco Ice Cream

So here goes.

The mix is revealed to be sugar, vanilla, and xanthan gum.  So nothing too scary.  Sweetener, flavour, and thickener.  Fine.

Tabasco Ice Cream

Put that in a bowl, add the cream.  Whisk.

Tabasco Ice Cream

Add in the sweet and spicy sauce.  Whisk.

Tabasco Ice Cream

In the ice cream maker, it reveals itself to be a lovely pale peach colour.

Tabasco Ice Cream

And it actually froze up pretty quickly. You are supposed to put it back in the container in which the mix came, but ours didn’t fit.

Tabasco Ice Cream

The verdict?  The Pie, Fussellette, and I all tried it, and as Fussellette says, “It tastes like stir-fry.”  So if you like that, I recommend this stuff.  If you’d prefer your ice cream to be a little more traditional, you might want to leave this on the shelf.  I wonder if there’s anyway this could be saved.  Any suggestions?

Tabasco Ice Cream

Sweet Texas Pork Ribs

Obviously it’s been a sweet week with Rusty and Mags in town.  We’ve even had some awesome weather, and what better way to celebrate summer than ribs on the back porch?  It’s become kind of a yearly tradition with us and The People Downstairs, so we took advantage of a sunny day last Friday and had ourselves some ribs.  The sauce here makes enough for four racks of ribs and comes from an old LCBO magazine.

We got these ribs from Costco, and it’s a hit and miss process.  These ones were a very strange cut, and probably tougher than we would normally prefer.  But ribs is ribs. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

First you need to remove the membrane across the bone.  This will help to tenderize your meat and will ease the absorption of juices.  It also facilitates the removal of excess fat, and boy, did these ribs ever need some trimming!  Use a paper towel to help you grip the membrane on the bone side.  Then, with steady pressure, slowly pull it off.  It’s simple.After you’ve removed the membrane, place the ribs bone-side-up in a baking dish.Now you concoct the sauce.  In a bowl, mix together the following:

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 garlic cloves (or 4 teaspoons minced garlic)

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon chili sauce

2/3 cup beer (the darker the better)

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon green Tabasco sauce

2/3 cup barbecue sauce

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Pour that stuff all over your ribs.

Use a pastry brush to coat the ribs evenly.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for an hour.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for a further 30 minutes to thicken the sauce.

Remove the ribs from the oven. 

Place the ribs on your serving plate and cut to serving size (you might want to keep it in a low oven to keep the ribs warm). You can also toss them on the barbecue for a few minutes to caramelize the juices on them.   Drain the  sauce from the pan into a gravy separator to get rid of the fat.  Discard the bay leaves.  Then cook the sauce in a saucepan for a further ten minutes until it is reduced and thickened.  You can add corn starch to push this along if you need to.

Drizzle the hot thick sauce over your ribs and serve. 

We had ours with creamy garlic mashed potatoes and a fresh green salad.

Egg Quickie

A couple of weeks ago I was procrastinating on the internet and I found a food blogger who discussed how after getting her husband and son off to work and school in the morning there was little time for her to find a nutritious breakfast (I wish now I had bookmarked the page).  Her solution was to take an egg to work and cook it there in the microwave.  We all know that eggs are the ultimate superfood, and a nice hot breakfast is a great way to start your day.

Before I was allowed to use the stove as a child, I used to make scrambled eggs in the microwave.  It’s easy, painless, and nearly instantaneous.

All you need is an egg.  Or two.  A fork.  And a coffee mug or very small microwaveable bowl.  The benefit of the mug is that the handle is cool enough to hold onto, while the bowl tends to get a little toasty.

Take the eggs and crack ’em in your container.  Scramble with fork.  You don’t have to worry about cooking spray.  The eggs will naturally peel away from the edges of the mug when they cook.

Feel free to stir in things, like cheese, or parsley, or Tabasco sauce (I did).  Or basil, or avocado, or red peppers.  Or whatever floats your boat.  Bacon, maybe?

Nuke it for about a minute, depending on your microwave.  Wash your fork while you wait.

BING!  Eat yer egg(s).

A good quick breakfast or lunch or snack with minimal dishes to do and a whole heap of nutritional goodness.

Barbecue in a Bottle

This recipe has been adapted with thanks from PickYourOwn.org, who set out all the steps for this delicious tangy tomato goo, including the entire canning process.  For other tips on canning, check out some previous posts here.  I doubled the batch laid out below (of course) and ended up with about 8L of sauce.

In a very large pot, start simmering 5 14oz (796mL) cans diced tomatoes.  This is roughly equivalent to 16 cups or 4 quarts (I did the math).  In one of my batches I substituted one can of crushed tomatoes for diced.  It didn’t seem to make much difference, save I had less seeds in that one.

Once those are going strong, chop and chuck in 4 stalks celery, 2 onions, 3 red peppers, 2 jalapeno peppers, and 2 cloves crushed garlic (or garlic-in-a-jar).

In addition to that, add in 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon dry mustard, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon sea salt, and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

THEN add in 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 1/2 cups 5% (white) vinegar.

Remember you can adjust any of these flavourings to suit your own tastes.  I added extra cayenne and brown sugar, as well as a few dobbles of sweet chilli sauce and a can of tomato paste.

Simmer everything for about 30 minutes or until it’s all softened.

Now here you have two options.  If you have tremendous patience, you can run the cooked sauce through a food mill, which will remove the seeds and give you a lovely velvety smooth sauce.

If you’re me, you can use an immersion blender

Tomato sauce will end up everywhere, and you will still have seeds in your slightly chunkier sauce, but you will end up with more sauce for preserving.

All you have to do at this point is cook down your processed sauce until it’s the consistency that you like.  Just keep an eye on it and stir frequently to avoid burning.  Remember that the sauce at this point is thick enough to interfere with proper convection so stirring is essential.

Pour into sterilized jars and can according to your canner’s instructions.  And that’s it!

Quick Chili

Fall is always a busy season for me.  Usually, school is ramping up and the hot weather has disappeared, leaving me with more energy to get out and be active.  Plus the hockey season starts in October, and that keeps me busy until June.

As the outside temperature cools, we start making hotter dishes to keep us warm.  But because the fall is so busy, we don’t always have the time to have some sort of comfort food simmering on the stove all day.

This chili recipe can be ready in half an hour, and tastes almost as good as its slow-cooker counterpart.

So you start, as always, with an onion and some garlic.  I of course use garlic-in-a-jar, but you can use whatever you like.

Chop up the onion.

This is where I like to use the new love of my life, the Onion Goggles.  I’ve tried knives dipped in lemon juice, and cutting onions next to an open flame, but these work wayyyyy better.

Of course, I look like a total dweeb when I wear them.

Anyway, chuck your onion in a saucepan with some garlic and olive oil and cook until the onions are translucent.

Chop up two red peppers and chuck them in as well, together with some chopped fresh basil.

Add in some cumin, chili powder, and tabasco sauce (hot sauce) to taste, together with whatever else you need to make it the kind of spicy you’re in the mood for.

Our hot sauce came from my brother’s wedding.  It’s pretty good.

Next you can add in your beans.  White beans, black beans, kidney beans, it really doesn’t matter (well, perhaps not broad beans).  They can come from a can or a bag, but make sure they’re cooked before you chuck them in.  This is a bean medley my mother cooked up a while ago and froze.

Pour in a can of diced tomatoes.

Add a handful or two of TVP if you wish.  If you think the chili is too liquidy, you can also add a can of tomato paste for thickening.

I like to pop in some frozen corn when it’s almost ready.

Let it simmer the whole time you’re adding stuff, then for about twenty minutes after you’ve added the last ingredient.

Serve hot, store in your refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it for a quick dinner some time later on.

Basic Burgers

Today is the first day after the Pie and I finished our month-long vegetarian experiment.  Accordingly, we’re going to MEAT IT UP and have ourselves some burgers tonight.  So much for easing back into omnivorism.

There are two very important things to remember when making burgers by hand.  The first is to buy no leaner than a medium ground chuck.  You may think you’ve made a healthy choice with a leaner ground but your burger will not stick together and will crumble as it cooks.  The second is to touch the meat as little as possible, which is quite a feat considering you need to hand-form the patties.  But it is doable, and making your own burgers really isn’t that hard.

There is a third thing you should know about burgers: KEEP IT SIMPLE.  Remember that you are frying or grilling up some ground meat, which, as it cooks, will secrete slippery oil and will shrink into individual particles.  This means that cohesiveness is an issue when making burgers, which is why you don’t touch them too much or get too rough with them.  The more stuff you add to the chuck before forming it into the patty, the more you risk a crumbling burger.  If you’re going to add things to the meat, make sure they’re small things so they don’t mess with the burger’s internal structure.

Gonna get gooey.

So you take your meat.  We made some of these patties out of medium ground beef and others from ground chicken.  I like to leave it out of the fridge for a while because you are going to be working it in your hands and manipulating cold ground meat feels like sticking your hands in the northern Pacific in the winter (which I have done and don’t recommend).  The amount of meat you use depends on the number of burgers you want, obviously.  We find a kilo of ground makes about 9 3-inch patties.

Put your meat in a large bowl that you can easily get your hands into.  Remove your rings and roll up your sleeves.  This is going to get gooey.

Finely (and I’m talking FINE) dice a medium onion and chuck that in with the meat.  Add a few teaspoons of minced garlic from a jar, and a few sprinkles of dried oregano and basil (or any herb of your choice) and a pinch or two of sea salt and ground pepper.  If you’re feeling adventurous you can add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and/or Tabasco sauce.  Don’t go too crazy with your ingredients, because you need the meat to be able to stick to itself as it cooks.

If you have no confidence in your patty cohesiveness, or if you have ignored me and purchased lean ground beef, you can add an egg or two, but I think that’s cheating.  Eggs are useful in meatloaf, but they don’t really belong in burgers.  ON burgers, but not IN burgers.

Working quickly, mix the meat with your hands until all your ingredients are just combined.

Grab a handful of the mixture and pat it gently into a patty about the size of your palm.  Make a thumbprint indentation in the centre of the patty and set it aside.  The indentation will keep the patty from contracting too much as it cooks.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.

You can freeze your patties for use at a later date.  Simply separate the patties with wax paper and place them in a freezer bag, tightly sealed, with the air removed.

Heat a large skillet with a bit of olive oil (or a grill, or even a broiler) and get those patties on there.  Once the patties are on the hot surface, you leave them the hell alone.  You may flip the burgers, but you can only do it ONCE, usually about five to ten minutes into the cooking, depending on how well done you like your meat.  Safety-wise, your burger should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.

If you like cheese on your burger, put a few slices on after you have flipped the patty and they will melt into the meat.

Serve on a bun of your choice with the toppings you like.  Very much a crowd-pleaser, and it covers four food groups.