Getting My Husband to Like Aubergine 

We all have a veg we’re not a fan of but the rest of the family likes.  I hate Brussel sprouts, our son isn’t a fan of asparagus and mushroom, and our daughter finds celery particularly weird.  Aubergine is what my husband would be happy to avoid.  I have made the Moroccan Lamb Stew that he likes but as we like to grow the veg I need to come up with more recipes to use up the harvest.


When we were in Little Italy our daughter ordered a starter that layered aubergine, tomato, prosciutto, and basil.  She loved it so this was the inspiration for dinner.  I wanted to use the strong flavours of sun dried tomatoes and garlic for this dish.  I wanted it to pop!  I also used chicken thighs as it is a less expensive cut of meat to use.  

For this dish I used a little more than half a pound/10 oz of chicken.  Cut the chicken into small cubes and finely chop 3-5 cloves of garlic. Slice a large handful of sun dried tomatoes while heating up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Toss in the three ingredients and sauté on medium low to pull the flavours of the garlic and sun dried tomatoes into the oil.  


Once the chicken is halfway cooked add the aubergine.  We grew small Italian finger aubergine which get to about 5in/12.5cm long.  For this dish I used four of the veg, sliced.


Cook for a few minutes then add a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Because we ran out of our chicken stock (gasp!) I used veg bouillon instead.  It worked really well with the strong flavours.  Use about a cup/8oz of the bouillon and simmer to reduce slightly.  For once we did really well growing basil this year.  Let’s face it, gardening can be a bit of a crapshoot.  But I tossed in a handful of the fresh basil.  Once the dish is nearly finished cooking add a handful of chopped prosciutto.  You don’t want this ingredient cooking too long as it can get tough and overpowering.


While all this was going on I oven roasted potatoes that I sliced about a 1/4 in/.625cm thick, drizzled with olive oil and sea salt.  Lay out the potatoes and top with the aubergine dish.  Grate fontina cheese over the dish and garnish with fresh basil.


Our daughter said it wasn’t exactly like the dish she had, which was fine as I wasn’t reproducing it, but that she loved it.  My husband’s response? “Congratulations on making aubergine edible!”  😄.  I do love cooking for my family.

Tomatillo Steak Salad

Autumn may be flowing in, thank goodness, but I’m not above having a nice salad.  Even though it wasn’t intended.  How would a salad happen accidentally?  It’s easy when you are having a flighty moment.

I definitely knew I wanted to do grilled skirt steak with a tomatillo sauce.  I was thinking a rustic type of sauce to act as the veg portion of the dinner.  That didn’t work out as you will see.

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We didn’t have much luck with growing tomatillos the past few years so we didn’t attempt it this year but luckily the farmer’s market had some.  Our garden has produced a bumper crop of hot peppers.  I just wish tomatillos weren’t so sticky once you peel the papery covering off.  Cut the tomatillos in half and keep the pepper whole.  Fire up the grill and roast the tomatillos and pepper until they start to char.  You don’t want charcoal veg as a result so keep an eye on this as it will cook quickly.

tomatillo-dressing-2-2016

As I said my plan was to have a rustic meal but I realised a grilled potato and a bit of steak wouldn’t cut it.  When I did up the sauce it became more of a dressing rather than a veg side.  So salad it was!  Using a food processor add the tomatillos and pepper.  I kept the seeds to give it a kick.  Throw in a couple of cloves of garlic, a teaspoon or so of cilantro, and a few splashes of lime juice and olive oil.  Blend.

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I kept the steak simple seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and worcestershire sauce.  Because it is grass fed be careful on how hot you cook it.  Sear then lower the heat.  Keeps it tender. Slice the steak and top with the tomatillo sauce. Any leftover sauce can be frozen for later.

Roast Chicken with Bacon and Leeks and Teaching the Boy to Cook

I have wicked spring fever!  It looks like winter is leaving early this year.  Obviously this could change but I am really hoping it doesn’t.  It is so beautiful out.  And it so nice to be out of the windowless office.

A few weeks ago my son mentioned he wanted to cook dinner for us so we had him go through our cookery books to see what he would like to try out.  He found a recipe for roast chicken that had a bacon stuffing with seaweed.  With the exception of me, no one else would want seaweed and I don’t like roasting birds stuffed.  So we brain stormed and came up with our own recipe.  We finally had time to do it last night and it was a lot of fun to cook with him.

Roast chicken with bacon and leek 1 2016

Preheat the oven to 325F/150C.  Place the chicken in a shallow roasting pan.  Add water and a bit of sherry to the pan.  Coat the chicken with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.  This chicken was just under 4lbs so we cooked it for an hour and a half.

Roast chicken with bacon and leek 2 2016

Cut up 4 rashers of streaky bacon and render it into the skillet.  While I was doing this my son was working on his knife skills getting the mushrooms and leeks ready.  He’s 11 so I handled the raw meat and he took care of everything else.  I was impressed with how he did.  🙂

Roast chicken with bacon and leek 3 2016

Drain excess bacon fat then add the leeks and mushrooms to the skillet.  Saute until the leeks have softened then add about a cup to a cup and a half of chicken stock and bring to a simmer.  Add a couple of tablespoons of cognac and about the same amount of stone ground mustard.  Stir well to blend and simmer to reduce by a third or so.

Roast chicken with bacon and leek 4 2016

I had my son taste test to see if it was balanced.  I have to say he has a really good palette.  So I had him adjust the flavours as needed.  He did really well with that!

Roast chicken with bacon and leek 5 2016

Let the chicken rest for about 10 minutes before carving.  We served it with roast potatoes and parsnips.

I really enjoyed spending one on one time with him doing this meal.  He’s a neat kid.  🙂

Loaded Baked Potato Soup to Keep Us Cosy

We’re in the first peak of tax season so quick meals are key.  And given how cold and snowy it’s been, comfort food is a definite must.  We’re lucky it’s not as bad as the winter in the midwest last winter but you get to a point that cold is cold.

I’ve seen several pins and references to loaded baked potato soups.  The idea really sang to me so I thought I’d come up with my own recipe for this soup.

I cubed up a couple of red skin potatoes and covered them with homemade chicken stock.  Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are tender and cooked.

Loaded potato soup 1 2015

In a separate skillet cook up some streaky bacon, scallions, garlic, mushrooms, and thyme.  To hold up in the soup the bacon needs to be on the crispy side.

Loaded potato soup 2 2015

Once the potatoes are cooked through use an immersion blender to blend the potatoes until they are smooth.  Sprinkle a teaspoon or two of red pepper flakes into the soup.

Loaded potato soup 3 2015

Add a cup of cream and the bacon mixture and warm through again.  Season with salt and pepper.

Loaded potato soup 4 2015

Top with shredded cheese, sour cream, and some chives.

Loaded potato soup 5 2015

A good stick to your ribs soup!  It was even better the next day with the flavour of the red pepper flakes really coming through.  And it did the trick for pushing back winter.

 

Giving Cornish Pasties a Try…

When we had our family get together a few weeks ago my dad was telling me about someone he knows being confused about how to pronounce Cornish Pasty.  This person would insist on pronouncing it pasty as in paste.  We had a good laugh about that, I asked if dad had explained that pronunciation required dollar bills!

As I did research on recipes for Cornish Pasties I realised that in 2011 it was given a PGI similar to Chianti or Parmesan cheese.  So I went to the official site for a Cornish Pasty to find out how to make these.

I’m not sure how stringent they are in protecting the Cornish Pasty because I have had several in the UK, many variations which include peas or carrots, different ways of doing the beef, etc.  I followed their way as closely as I could.  I’ll show what the actual recipe says and what I did based on the ingredients I had.

For the pastry:

500g strong bread flour (I used our all purpose flour)

120g white shortening

25g cake margarine (I used butter)

5g salt

175g cold water

Cornish pasty 1 2014

Combine all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until the water is incorporated.  Tip out onto the counter.  This will be very crumbly.

Cornish pasty 2 2014

Knead the dough together to incorporate the shortening and butter.  This will be a stiff dough.

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Cover and place in the fridge for 3 hours.  I only was able to have it in there for 2 but it came out well.

For the filling:

450g skirt steak (I had about 390g)

450g potato (they said to use waxy potatoes but I used what we had on hand and used our freshly harvested red potatoes.  Also, to keep the ratio of the filling intact I used about 390g of potato)

250g swede (rutabaga)

200g of onion

Cornish pasty 4 2014

Chop the steak onion into 1/2″ cubes.  Chop the swede and potato into 1/4″ cubes.  Season well with salt and pepper.  The recipe says to have a 2:1 ratio of salt and pepper.

Cornish pasty 5 2014

Preheat the oven to 410F/210C

Divide the pastry into four portions.  Roll out thinly and spoon the filling into the centre.  I found that 1 1/2 cup of filling was as much as the pastry could hold.  Add two dollops of butter.

Cornish pasty 6 2014

Fold over the pastry and roll crimp from one side round to the other side.  Put a few slits in the top.

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One step I forgot was to brush milk over the pastry before baking.  Bake for an hour until golden brown.

Cornish pasty 8 2014

I did find a disconnect between the amount of pastry they say to make and the filling.  I had about a third of the filling leftover and it was reduced based on what I had.  When I make this again I will reduce the filling even more.

We all enjoyed it and I loved the simplicity of the recipe.  And I have to get to Cornwall and see what the real thing is because it looks like I haven’t bought real ones yet!

 

Tartiflette – And Can’t We Give Our Kids More Credit?

I enjoy having the chance to pick up my daughter from school.  Now that it is tax season I am limited to once in awhile given the work schedule but I love hearing how her day went and what’s happening in school.  She told me a funny story about math class today.  Apparently they are learning things about angles and the teacher wanted to teach them about SAS or side angle side.  She ended up with going with angle side side and didn’t realise her error until she wrote on the board ASS.  She twigged to it quickly but that just set off a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds into giggles and snickers.  Made me giggle as well.  🙂

She started the health course and her teacher in that class for some reason assumed none of the kids would have heard the word wellness before.  I found this weird.  The whole class had.  But it made me wonder.  Did she assume that the kids aren’t aware of the important things, or did another class space on this concept, or is it painfully obvious that a lot of adults around us aren’t taking the time with the kids on wellness.  Part of the problem in general kids aren’t given enough credit.  I think given half the chance most kids want to make the right choices and be well.   We’re very lucky with our kids because they are aware of the importance of good food, exercise, positive choices equaling wellness.  I doubt they are in a tiny minority though.  I also think most kids are more than capable of grasping these concepts and to start a class saying this is a new word kind of dumbs it down.

In continuing my pinterest theme of actually using the recipes I have found I decided to try a tartiflette which is a French potato dish.  Kind of like mac n cheese but with potato only in a gourmet way.  But meets the criteria of being a comfort food.  Though I have to say I took a break from comfort food last night and made my husband and I a salad for dinner.  Just was in the mood for fresh ingredients and keeping it simple.

This dish has a few steps but isn’t overly complicated and lends itself easily to making it your own if you wish.  I changed it a bit, no surprise.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C.

Cube 4-5 medium to large potatoes and half an onion.

Tartiflette 1 2014

Take 4-5 slices of bacon and slice into strips and render them in a skillet with a bit of olive oil.

Tartiflette 2 2014

When the bacon is half way cooked add the onions to soften.  Then add a cup of turkey or chicken stock and 1/2 a cup or so of marsala wine.  Add some fresh thyme.  The recipe I found said to just use it for decoration.  I wanted the flavour.

Tartiflette 3 2014 Tartiflette 4 2014

Add the potatoes, cover and simmer until the potatoes soften a bit.  In a baking dish add half the mixture and cover with cheese.  Then add the rest of the potatoes and cover with cheese. I used Jarlsberg for this.  The recipe called for 250g of cheese.  Which my husband was kind enough to grate and measure out.  Turned out to be a huge amount.  In total I probably only used about 150g and it was a lot of cheese.  Cover and bake until the potatoes are soft and tender.  Uncover to brown.

Tartiflette 5 2014 Tartiflette 6 2014

I found some Brussels Sprouts for my husband and daughter and sauteed in olive oil until browned a bit.  For my daughter and me, I found a fabulous piece of Scottish salmon.  I kept that simple and just used salt and pepper with some lemon and thyme.  Oh it was lovely.

Tartiflette 7 2014

It all went down a treat and the potatoes were really good as leftovers.  Made for some great lunches this week.

 

Pommes Boulangere and How to Up My Game

I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist because good luck with that.  No one is perfect!  But I really dislike not being really good at something.  Needless to say it leads to disappointment.  For example, you will never see me dancing and singing on stage.  That is reserved for the car and the kitchen.  I wish I was better at food photography.  It’s strange because with everything else I can come up with some very good photos but I struggle with food.  And plating.  I can paint, create, design most things.  Food?  There is a mind block.  Which is tricky when you have a food blog.

So imagine my envy when I came across Roger’s post for Pommes Boulangere.   Granted he made a career doing this but I saw his food pic of the ingredients and just went wow.  That is what I am looking to achieve.  I immediately put photography books and food photography books on my Christmas list.  This is my New Year’s resolution to improve in this area.  It’s in my head but doesn’t always translate.  Time to start thinking outside the box and just do it and practice.

And the recipe?  Had to try it.  I admit for the first time I was hesitant to blog about a recipe that someone else did because of the difference in the photography but this dish is so delicious it outweighed my concerns.

Preheat the oven 375F/190C.  Avoid the convection on this one.  I should have and you’ll see why below.

I finely chopped half an onion and thinly sliced about 1 1/2 cups of leeks.  I use the green parts all the time.  Lots of flavour and less waste.

pommes boulangere 1 2013

I took 3 potatoes and thinly sliced them.  Quite the task when you don’t have a mandolin but I managed.

Pommes boulangere 4 2013

In a skillet melt 2T of butter and saute the leeks and onions until softened.

Pommes boulangere 2 2013

Add a cup of homemade poultry stock.  I used our turkey stock for this.  Also add 1 cup of dry white wine and bring to a simmer.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Pommes boulangere 3 2013

The recipe calls for fresh thyme but I didn’t have any as ours is currently buried in snow.  So I used some fresh sage we had on hand. After simmering for a couple of minutes add the potatoes.  Cook for 10-15 minutes covered.

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Pour into a shallow baking dish.

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Bake until potatoes are cooked and golden with most of the liquid absorbed.  Here was my error in using convection.  It got crispy too fast so I switched to regular baking.  Covering would have helped as well.  Live and learn!

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This makes a wonderful side dish.

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I must say though if you can, make it a day or two ahead.  I found on the second and third day using up the leftovers that the flavours really melded together perfectly and it just got better and better.

You Say Potato, I Say Potahto

Actually I don’t say potahto.  I say tomahto but that’s it in that category.  I do love that song with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.  What a musical combo.  I love listening to them.  Not like today’s singers that overload on those silly runs trying to prove they can sing.  If you can sing, just sing!

It was time to harvest the potatoes.  I was keeping my fingers crossed we would have a bumper crop and then we’d have to figure out how to store the tremendous bounty.  Reality wasn’t quite like that.

Potato harvest 1 2013

We had already harvested the two little towers and didn’t get a whole lot but they were small.  We had enough for a few meals.  But it was time to tackle the two big ones.  You know they are ready when the plants die back.

Potato harvest 2 2013

My husband tipped them over and it was time to dig in.   The kids had fun with this.  Nothing like getting all dirty!

Potato harvest 3 2013

We had a few good size ones like this one but many were small and some pea sized.   I kept those too.  My husband thought I was crazy but dang it we grew them, we’re keeping them!

Potato harvest 4 2013

We filled the bucket about halfway.  Not exactly the tremendous bounty I was dreaming about.

Potato harvest 5 2013

But it was more than what we bought to plant and they are delicious.  I’ll have to do some research over winter to see how to increase our yield organically.  In the meantime roast potatoes and parsnips sounds good.  🙂

And then the rains came…

It was a case of be careful of what you wish for.  I wanted rain.  Just enough to fill the rain barrel.  We only have one.  Mother Nature thought we had a 100.

The spring started off wonderfully.  Some days was like an English summer.  We had some rainy days then some wonderful gorgeous spring days.  Then it got dry very quickly.  The plants were doing well but the soil got so dusty!  The wind blew and you got dirt in your eyes.  Ugh.  So I wished for rain.

And it came!  It seems we were on the thunderstorm path with showers and bucketing rain.  When it wasn’t raining it was unbelievably muggy and humid.  Ick.

The benefactor of all this?  Our garden.  It is doing amazing.  So are the weeds but that’s another story.  🙂

I love our peas.  Once they start growing it’s my favourite snack as I walk by.  We’re almost to the point where I can start harvesting and freeze the peas for our risotto.

Garden progress 1 2013

I am debating whether or not to plant broccoli next year.  We don’t eat it much but on the flip side the flowers are so pretty.  Tiny little yellow flowers just pop in the garden of a ton of green.

Garden progress 3 2013

I plant kale because you can get a ton out of a very small space.  My husband calls it rabbit food.  🙂  It’s become a little family joke “You’re feeding Daddy rabbit food!” LOL  But he’s a good sport and if I come up with dishes that incorporate it he’ll eat it.  And because so much grows I get to give a nutritious food to the community kitchen.  We plant about a 4 x 2 foot spot and the number of meals we get is huge.

Garden progress 4 2013

I’m looking forward to harvesting the leeks.  We usually get 5 foot long leeks and I hope that happens this year.  We do all organic gardening.  Miracle Grow and other chemicals have nothing on us!  I brought one to the community kitchen last year and they looked confused for a couple of minutes when I tried to hand them a 5 foot leek.  Wish I had a camera.  🙂  But it’s a great place right round the corner from our house.  They do such good work and I really hope there comes a time when what we grow might go to waste because no one is hungry.

Garden progress 5 2013

Zucchini.  Here’s the thing.  I am a supertaster.  About 25% of the population has some level of this.  What that means is we don’t like mushy food, overcooked veg, or some veg like zucchini, squash, or Brussels sprouts.  These types of veg taste extremely bitter to supertasters.  I keep reading about descriptions of Brussels sprouts being nutty and sweet.  They are one of the most bitter things I’ve ever tasted.  Most veg that I can’t handle cooked I enjoy raw so something in the cooking process really changes things.  Except zucchini.  I can not handle that raw!  But here’s the thing.  I also have to be a good sport.  Each year we ask the kids what they want planted and our daughter chose zucchini.  I don’t want to discourage them in anyway when it comes to gardening or healthy eating so we planted a bunch and I’ve been pinning recipes for when they are ready.  I’m wondering how much cheese is needed to cover the taste!

Garden progress 6 2013

I can’t wait for harvest time for the peppers.  We love to make hot pepper jelly.  It is so good on cheddar cheese.  I think we have about 6 varieties and 35 plants total in the raised bed.  We’ll freeze more when it’s time.  They work really well in sauces and chili.

Garden progress 7 2013

We went a bit crazy with the tomatoes.  We planted about 50 plants of 4 varieties.  I can not wait for harvest!  I love picking them fresh and eating them as I go by just like the peas.  And oh the sauce we’ll make!  Yum.  We do pick a few and make fried green tomatoes.  Such a treat.

Garden progress 9 2013

Last year we did one potato tower and this year we did four.  So far they are doing well and once the pile of dirt dries out a bit I need to add more to the towers.  You only want 1/3 of the greens sticking out so you add as you go.  Of course we’ll have to now figure out a root cellar system because I plan on having a lot of potatoes and I don’t want them going to waste.  But there is nothing like a fresh harvested potato.

Garden progress 10 2013

My son has a neat program as school where they give out cabbages to plant in third grade.  He is getting such a kick out of watching it grow.  Can’t wait to see how big it gets.  🙂

Garden progess 2 2013

 

Planting Potatoes

We had heard over the years how wonderful fresh harvested potatoes were so last year we decided to give it a try.  We did pretty well up to the point tiny little bugs stripped the leaves.  Those little buggers eat really fast.  We did get a small harvest and they were delicious.  So this year we’ll be ready for the little twerps.

The potatoes being planted are Red Norland and German Butterball.  Because our plot isn’t big we needed a way to grow them without taking up a lot of space.  I found last year on Pinterest loads of information about potato towers and that seemed perfect for us.  And it worked very well.  They aren’t hard to grow but there is a bit of prep to do before planting them.

Planting potatoes 1 2013

The seed potatoes get shipped mid April to our area.  We get our stuff from High Mowing in Vermont.  They are great but I do recommend buying your seed from an organic source near your zone.  That way you know it is adapted for your growing conditions.  The potatoes need to be sliced so each chunk you have has some “eyes” on it.  This is where the potato plants grow from.

Planting potatoes 2 2013

The cut sides need to be treated with sulfur to prevent rot.  Now last year we were very careful to follow directions.  They had to dry completely before planting.  But then the next direction was to put them in the soil and water well.  What’s the point?  So this year I cut them all up and treated them.  I let them be in the sun while I put the towers together.

Planting potatoes 3 2013

As the potatoes grow more soil is added so you need enough height to accommodate the growth.  It is also good to have composted soil for this as the potatoes need lots of nutrients.  We had some old wire fencing so we use these for the forms of the towers.  Line the bottom with the compost and line the sides with straw.  Fill the tower with about 6 inches of soil, water well then place the potatoes in with the eyes pointing upwards.

Planting Potatoes 4 2013

Cover with a couple inches of soil and water well.

Planting Potatoes 5 2013

A friend gave us two small tower bags to try out so we used those and built a second tower.  We should get loads of potatoes without using a ton of space.  🙂

Planting Potatoes 6 2013