“Salmon Two Ways” Pasta

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I made this last night in celebration of landing my first real grownup job! Fast, easy, and I could eat the whole thing myself.

WORKING GIRL PASTA (realistically serves around 4 adults)

  • 2-3 shallots, sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • glug of olive oil, small chunk of butter
  • 1 large piece salmon, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 150 grams or so candied smoked salmon nuggets, cut into little pieces
  • 1 500ml carton heavy cream
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 box gluten free Catelli fusilli pasta
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • salt, pepper, chili flakes

-In a heavy frying pan, heat butter and oil. Saute shallots and garlic for a minute or two, then add fresh salmon chunks. Salt and pepper. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, until salmon is not quite cooked through.

-Dump this stuff in a bowl and set aside. Add a bit more oil to your pan if you need it.

-Meanwhile you should get your pasta water to a rolling boil. I love the Catelli gf pasta for its good quinoa-corn-rice blend, but anything else will do.

-Cook peas until thawed and soft. Add all of your heavy cream and smoked salmon. Bring to low simmer, cooking for a least 5 minutes.

-Scrape the sides every once in a while to avoid chunky cream. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes (amount based on personal preference).

-Your pasta should be almost cooked (6-7 min). Add green onions and salmon/shallot mixture back into cream sauce. Strain pasta. Thoroughly toss with salmon and cream. Sauce should not be thick or “saucy,” just light and stuck to the pasta.

-Eat three bowls in less than ten minutes.

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This was my “funemployed” life. #GloryDays

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Fried Chicken Confit and Waffles, or The Most Crazy Delicious Thing You’ll Ever Eat in Your Life

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For Daniel’s early birthday meal I cooked Chuck Hughes’ Fried Chicken Confit with Waffles out of his Garde Manger book (named after his restaurant in Montreal that I can’t WAIT to go to… in my dreams, where I go to celebrity restaurants and eat deep-fried lobster). Chicken and waffles is one of Daniel’s favourite dishes but one that I have never been able to eat with him because it consists of: fried chicken, waffles, and gravy. Gluten city.

I thought it might be complicated because I’ve never confited anything before. Confitted? Confat? Not sure. But it sounded fancy. The hardest thing turned out to be finding duck fat in Nanaimo to cook with. I called the only butcher I know on the morning before dinner and asked if they carried it. He said yup, it came in frozen blocks, and it was cheap. Perfect. Drove to butcher, no duck fat. No one would cop to promising the crazy lady her duck fat. Finally a guy came out from the back of the store and said, “It was me, and I thought you said BACK fat! Hahahaha!”

After that it was quite easy. You just need to give yourself lots of time.

First you do a dry-brine thing for around 4 hours. Chill.

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Then you rinse your chicken off, dump out your brine, and replace that brine with melted duck fat. A whooole lotta duck fat. Cook for 3-4 hours on low heat, and you’ll get this:

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Take your chicken out of the fat using tongs and throw it on some paper towel, strain your fat so you can freeze it and confit something else some other time.

After that it’s pretty standard: flour-egg-flour the chicken, fry it in my super McDonalds deep-fryer (out on the deck, in case it expodes)(not sure why I think that could happen, that’s my mom for you). Made the gravy: ridiculous ratio of butter, reduced white wine, and reduced chicken broth. For the waffles, I didn’t use Chuck’s recipe exactly because I didn’t want them to have that limp or chewy texture (a risk you can sometimes run by substituting flours straight across when making pancakes or waffles). Instead I used the gluten-free Bisquick and followed their waffle recipe, replacing the oil with melted butter and adding ¼ cup sour cream (as per Chuck). They came out light and crispy. Dinner was served.

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Any other time I’ve ever said “wow, that’s really good,” I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was so good. This makes me doubt all the other things I go through my life thinking are really-really-good, and wonder, what else am I missing here? I’m gonna be confitting my cereal.

Forget the caramelized bacon. Forget the buttermilk pecan fudge. This is the final word in flavour (except for don’t forget those things completely because they’re also delicious and variety is the spice of life).

My First Thanksgiving: A Novella

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I come from a large family of adventurous eaters. For the great majority of us, excluding myself, there is no such thing as too spicy or too aged. I’m generally the only one to abide by the old “When in Rome” mentality of ordering fish and chips at the fish and chips joint- my mom will have the moussaka, thanks.

Except for holidays. On holidays our preferences run more toward the fiercely traditional, almost militant, idea of what turkey dinner should look like. Particularly if certain uncles are invited. There are no variations, no substitutions. For it to be truly pure, my grandmother, Kay, must prepare the bulk of it (or at least all of the things that aren’t just boiled vegetables. And they can only be boiled.)

Over the last couple of years my diet has presented a number of challenges to our holiday table that have really rocked the family to its core (I’m talking to you  Uncle G). The contents of the stuffing. The thickening of the gravy. The flake of the pumpkin pie crust. Changing them? What are we all doing here? What is the meaning of life? At first we were making all separate stuff just for me, to preserve the integrity of the Official Turkey Dinner for the sake of the rest of the family. But it was just too much work, so we had to switch everyone over. Sacred side dishes were now being altered on my behalf; suddenly no one was safe from my soggy stuffing.

But then my mom and I figured it out and it’s awesome again and nobody knows the difference.

I am a big fan of trying new recipes and cooking techniques. Especially when I’m entertaining. Unknown result + guests? So fun! I’m pretty sure Kay has actual nightmares about this. But seeing as I was in charge of Thanksgiving this year and was feeling emboldened by my Uncle Gord’s absence, and the fact there were only going to be 13 victims at the table, I thought I would switch it up and try some all-new recipes to see if maybe there were some traditional items that could be tweaked.

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My first ambition was to brine my turkey. This initial compromise of the main event itself, a bird I christened Ted Baker (after the host of my favourite food network show, Chopped) was immediately met with resistance from the team. At least three times, my dad begged “don’t do itttttttt,” when I mentioned my big plans. I finally asked him why and he said “… because my mom never did.” Huh. Leah took a more aggressive “NO, Al. NO.” but couldn’t give even a reason as legit as my father’s. I was partially stalled by this opposition, and by the fact that the brine required 72 hours soaking time (my personal hesitation was more to do with poisoning the whole family than breaking with tradition). I knew my grandma would just drop dead if she knew. She has poultry paranoia. But I was more curious than scared, and soon Ted was well on his way to brine-dom.

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The The Menu/Verdict:

Ted himself turned out very tasy. I didn’t notice a very different flavour in the meat from having soaked it with the vegetables/herb/seasoning mixture, but other people said they did. For this reason, I probably wouldn’t bother with the 3-day brine again, but I will do a dry brine next time or just a 24-hr one. What did make it worth it was that I got incredible gravy out of that thing. I was a little worried when Ted came out of the oven and it didn’t look like I was gonna have a ton of dark drippings to work with, but it was seriously flavourful. So I’d brine again just for that.

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Showtime!!! Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost a bit of Ted’s skin.

DSC_1424Cornbread Stuffing with Bacon, Onions, and Apple (Food52)

The reason I chose it over the 4,350 other cornbread recipes on the internet is because the recipe for the actual cornbread didn’t include flour, so I knew that my final product would be the same as Food52’s. I was hesitant to rely on my old cornbread recipes because then I would need to sub out regular flours for gf and I didn’t want my little cornbread croutons disintegrating into mush once I combined them with all the other ingredients. It was pretty well received but if I made it again I would reduce the bacon and increase the apple. I was going for that Kraft Stove Top vibe and it didn’t quite hit the mark for me. I missed my gran’s Irish potato/bread stuffing that we usually have so I whipped some up the next day to supplement our leftovers (potato stuffing is great if you’re a celiac, and if you’re not. But especially for celiacs. I wonder if it was invented because so many Irish people are celiac and they can’t have Stove Top? Not sure why I’m still so obsessed with boxed stuffing?)

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Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles (Bon Appetit)

I was excited by the prospect of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on our Thanksgiving table, so naturally I took it too far and decided to work it into another recipe in addition to the stuffing. These dirtballs (as my family calls them) were a big hit. I sautéed instead of the prescribed grilling, because I just had too many irons in the fire to be running outside tending the barbecue. The mushrooms were beautiful and an exotic addition to the meal. We never have mushrooms at Thanksgiving! Wild.

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Cranberry-Orange Relish with Mint (Bon Appetit)

Those mavericks at Bon Appetit were just a little off with this one. Thankfully I made our traditional cranberry sauce to accompany the experimental one (I’m brave, but not brave enough to face the mob without the classic cranberry sauce that is a nonnegotiable requirement of any turkey dinner at my house.) I thought the relish got luke-warm to positive reviews (I always know when people refer to my cooking as “interesting” or “different” that I’ve missed), but next time I would rather put my energy towards elevating other basic dishes and stick with the recipe on the back of the bag for this one.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Parmesan

Because this Thanksgiving was as much about Leah being home for the weekend as it was the holiday, I thought I’d do some fancy cauliflower in her honor. I broke down two heads and spread them out on a cookie sheet to roast away with some sliced onion, garlic cloves, olive oil, S&P, and parmesan cheese. Another unorthodox thanksgiving vegetable! She approved.

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Old Standards

Rounding out the meal we had “Sweet Potato Supreme” (mashed sweet potatoes and yams with a topping of maple syrup, brown sugar, and toasted pecans), carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, and black olives (don’t know why these need to be on the table… they just do).

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DSC_1494Dessert: Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

This was delicious, however at this point we were all dying from such a heavy dinner. The filling was super rich and syrupy and sweet. I had to convert the crust into gf using my trusty Cup4Cup flour, and I thought it could have been a bit more pliable. The dough was very dry when I was rolling it out and I should have known to add more liquid, but I went along with it anyway and it still turned out okay. I would totally do this again and eat less dinner so I could fit more pie.

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Kay brought her classic pumpkin pie, which I probably still prefer to, well, pretty much any other food in the world. I also made one batch of buttermilk pecan fudge, which I’ve made several times and is indescribably good. Have you tried crack? It’s crack.

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Success! Overall it was a success. Nobody died from trying new stuffing, or from eating a three-day-thawed turkey, for that matter. I just got my Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit and am already planning out my Christmas menu (stay tuned for a spatchcocked bird).

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Note: This was so much work! I think about my gran doing it single-handedly with 30+ people coming over… a huge undertaking. As we got closer to sitting down to eat, I had more and more things on the go that needed to be cooked and garnished and steamed and rested and carved. It was a bit of a circus. For this reason, I enlisted the help of Jaime and Daniel to take all photos of the meal and its prep for the blog. I hope you enjoyed their artistic, at times downright avant-garde eye for food photography.

Some of my favourites that didn’t quite make the storyline:

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Steak Quesadillas for Impressing People that Aren’t Shallow

Steak Quesadillas for Impressing People that Aren't Shallow

If you want to really impress someone with a meal that doesn’t necessarily look super martha-gourmet or exotic but is actually a taste explosion, make these quesadillas.

STEAK QUESADILLAS WITH SALSA THAT IS QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST COMBINATION OF FOODS THAT I KNOW OF

1) First make your salsa: chop up a ripe avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and cilantro; combine it with black beans, corn, sea salt, and lime juice. Done.

2) Take a couple of sirloin or flank steaks and cut them into pieces that are about an inch thick. Brown in an oiled frying pan for a couple minutes, then take it off the heat while it is still pretty rare. Let it rest on a cutting board for five minutes.

3) Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Lay tortillas in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered in parchment (I use “Food for Life” brand brown rice tortillas). In a small bowl, mix a glob of mayo with the best salsa you happen to have in your fridge (something with chipotle would be good), and then spread this over the tortillas. Just do this without thinking about it.

4) Cut your little steak pieces into even skinnier little steak pieces. Grate up a whole pile of monterey jack cheddar, and chop up a bit of red onion. Cover your tortillas with these items like you would a pizza. Place a second tortilla on top of each of your little pizzas (rub a little olive oil on the outer-facing side of this tortilla for a nice tanned effect). Bake in the oven for like ten minutes. I don’t recommend trying to flip them over halfway.

5) Cut tortillas into quarters and serve with amazing salsa concoction (and sour cream, if you must). Win friends and influence people.

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Split-Decision Pie

Split-Decision Pie

The other day I got a box in the mail from amazon, and I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t order anything (VERY exciting). Turns out it was the best belated-birthday present from Daniel: the split-decision pie plate! I was so surprised, even though he had asked for my postal code like four days earlier. I am forgetful, which leads to more joy in my life I think. I am not a patient baker, so rolling out the pastry was an issue (ended up just pressing dough into the bottom of the plate). And then when it was cooking the blackberry side cracked open and blackberry lava started burning on the bottom of the oven and smoke started coming out of the oven door, so I thought my pie was burning. Then I thought there was gonna be a fire and I had to phone my mom. But it was still very delicious.

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My Fav Pasta (right now)

My Fav Pasta (right now)Right now I am addicted to smoked salmon. I went a long time without even knowing that I liked it, and then became celiac and thought I couldn’t have it, and then my mom (bless her) searched around and called different companies until she found one that didn’t use soy sauce (Hardy Buoys is g-free, if you care), and since then I’ve been eating it non-stop.

Around the same time I made this salmon discovery, I also discovered that if you cook super-ripe mashed tomatoes (I put them in my magic bullet), white onion chopped really fine, and a lot of butter together, you get the best sauce ever. Butter is what I put in things so my family thinks I’m a good cook. Butter literally sends signals to my brain that make me happy. Depending on how much sauce I’m trying to make, I just keep adding chunks of butter (side note: if you’re trying to make excellent spaghetti sauce, whip your tomatoes, throw a half onion and a big chunk of butter in there, and put the lid on for half an hour or so then throw the onion away. You won’t be sorry.) I never said this was pasta for your health.

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So for lunch the other day, I made my dad this pasta. All my garlic was sick and old, so the garlic shown in the above cutting board picture depicts about a quarter of what I would normally use. This was fine with old Mur, who hates garlic anyway. I sauteed my onions and garlic in a big glug of olive oil (sometimes I magic-bullet my onions and garlic too, because I’m a very busy person), and then added my chopped cherry tomatos (just happened to have nice ones, normally use big old regular ones). I cooked that down a bunch and then threw in some lemon zest, just for added zest (use this at your discretion, I love lemon). When my pasta is just finished cooking I add my smoked salmon to the sauce. You don’t have to chop it up very small because it kind of falls apart when you cook it. It’s so freakin good. Then I add a teaspoon or nine of red pepper flakes, but only if its for my dad (who was born with the tastebuds of a ninety year old chain-smoker). So that was our casual lunch. Have I mentioned I’m unemployed?

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After that I went for a swim.

My Prettiest Easter Brunch

My Prettiest Easter Brunch

For Easter I thought it would be a nice idea to have a sophisticated brunch for my best buds that were gonna be home for the long weekend. I am lucky to have a mother who collects china, and friends who are always down for dressing up, so it worked out perfectly. I made a french toast raphael, with bacon, ham, and lots of fruit. We drank mimosas and ate blueberry lemon muffins that my mom whipped up while we waited for everyone to arrive. The food turned out and everyone looked divine, it was the event of the weekend and a who’s who of the best people in the Parksville/Nanoose area.

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After weeks of being of sad we needed to get outside and drink some drinks and play some tennis. We drank our drinks on the patio at the Beach Club in Parksville with some nachos… but I’m not even gonna report on those. Allow the picture of Will’s face below to illustrate how we felt about them.

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