Sunday, November 30, 2008

Iron Chef: a primer

Here is my overview of the phenomenon that was the original Iron Chef:

1. It was super-serious food competition in which a successful chef is invited to challenge one of the Iron Chefs, each of whom represented a different style of cooking; usually Chinese, French and Japanese. (Occasionally Iron Chef Italian would make an appearance).

2. The challenge itself is based on the preparing of dishes (usually 3 or 4) around a theme ingredient, ostensibly revealed right before competition and frequently exotic.

3. The winner was judged by a (Japanese) celebrity panel of judges. The discussion, dubbed into ubber-proper English, was the height of refined dinner conversation.

3. The competition took place in Kitchen Stadium and was presided over by the insane Chairman Kaga.

The show got extra points for the theme from Backdraft over the closing credits and the fact that Iron Chef French, Hiroyuki Sakai, usually attempted to make ice cream out things that you should never attempt to make ice cream out of (like meat).

Allez cuisine!



A brief history of peppers and 2 of the best pepper sauces

The strange allure of peppers.

I was a huge fan of the original Iron Chef series. This would be a confession if I felt the least amount of shame about, but I don't. Now, if I was to proclaim my love for the American version of the show, that would be a totally different story — it's all kinds of lame — but the original, in my opinion, is beyond criticism.

For those of you who don't know the series, I've prepared a primer.

Here's where the peppers come in: Chairman Kaga, the insane host of the show, had a thing for peppers, as evidenced by the show's opening. IC was also filled with legend and obscure sayings, several of which involved peppers like: "Red peppers are for the King, orange peppers are for the Queen, and yellow peppers, for the Prince" that gave peppers a special mystique.

And so, I tend to think about IC, that masterwork of television, whenever I cook with peppers.

Anyway, thanks for letting me reminisce about IC, and share a bit of food culture. Here are two of my favourite pepper sauce recipes:


1 1-lb box penne
2 tbsp olive oil
3 bell peppers (any color), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 24- to 26-oz jar pasta sauce
1/2 cup ricotta


Cook the penne according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bell peppers, salt, and 1/4 tsp of the black pepper. Cover and cook for 4 min. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 1 to 2 min. Add the pasta sauce and cook until heated through, about 3 min.

Drain the pasta and divide it among individual bowls. Top with the sauce, a dollop of the ricotta, and the remaining black pepper.



2 tsp olive oil
3 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed through a press
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sage
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/4 lb pasta


In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add bell peppers, onion and garlic, and cook until very soft, about 15 min.

Stir in tomato paste, sage, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water; cover and cook until peppers and onion are meltingly tender, about 20 min.

Transfer bell pepper mixture to food processor and process to smooth puree. Return puree to skillet. Serve with pasta.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shawn's birthday meal request

Mr. Sunday requested pork provolone with a side of creamed corn for his birthday meal, and I was more than happy to oblige. Pork provolone is one of my first "original" recipes. That is, if you can be original while adapting a very well-known Italian American classic.

I guess originality here is debatable, but what is not is the fact that provolone beats parmesan hands down in this recipe. Here's how I make it:



4 boneless pork chops
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp dried thyme
salt and fresh ground pepper
provolone cheese (sliced or grated)
1/4 cup tomato sauce
olive oil
1 egg


Mix bread crumbs with thyme and  about 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. In a separate shallow bowl, beat egg. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Coat each chop in egg and dredge in bread crumb mixture.

Add chops to pan and cook 4 min each side. Remove from pan and place on a baking sheet. Top each chop with about 1 tbsp of tomato sauce, then cheese.

Broil in oven for 2 min.




Happy birthday, to a very special boy!

When I'm asked to bring a cake, I bring cake.

I ordered a cake from a specialty cake shop for Shawn's birthday yesterday. However my motives were not entirely pure; I was also looking to compensate for what will be a cakeless birthday for me.

I knew that we weren't going to be disappointed, but I was not expecting the finished product to look quite so spectacular. What's more, the decoration is made entirely of icing! (No fondant or marzipan.)





Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smothered chops

I've been cooking this comfort classic for nearly a decade now. The first time I made this Shawn couldn't stop raving. (I thought there was a possibility that he might leave me for the chops.) Needless to say, this recipe has stayed in the rotation.



1 small red onion
2 (3/4-lb) pork tenderloins or 6 boneless pork chops, about 1/2 inch (1 cm) thick
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp dried sage leaves, crumbled*
1/2tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp butter
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup apple juice or dry white wine
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

*I have never found this in the spice section (for the past 9 years), so I dry it and crumble it myself. (That's how I roll.) Dry in the oven at low temperature for about 10 min; monitor carefully.


Finely chop onion, then set aside in a small bowl. Diagonally slice each pork tenderloin into 1/2-inch pieces. Using the flat side of a large knife, gently flatten each piece to form a medallion. If using pork chops, trim off fat, then slice into 2 pieces. In a large bowl, stir flour with sage, salt and pepper. Coat pork evenly, one piece at a time, in flour mixture.

Heat 1 teaspoon each butter and oil in a large frying pan set over medium heat. When hot, add about half of pork. Do not crowd. Cook until lightly browned, 3–4 min per side. Remove to a large plate and cover with foil. Add remaining teaspoon each butter and oil to pan and repeat with remaining pork slices. Transfer to plate and cover to keep warm.

Add onion to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted, 1–2 minutes. Pour in juice and vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any brown bits from bottom of pan. Bring mixture to a boil. Boil, uncovered, about 2 min. Return pork to pan and simmer, uncovered and turning meat halfway through, until sauce has thickened, 2–3 more min.

Serve with Yoder's.




Sunday confessional: questionable food

Today's confession:  Occasionally I eat something called "Yoder's."

The package says it all.

I feel better now.

Breakfast chocolate

Everyday Food inspired today's breakfast. It is essentially a grilled cheese that substitutes the cheese for chocolate-hazelnut spread (i.e., Nutella®) and bananas.

2 slices whole-wheat bread
1 tbsp chocolate hazelnut spread
1/2 banana, thinly sliced lengthwise


Spread one side of each slice of bread with margarine. Place one slice, buttered side down, on work surface. Spread with hazelnut spread, top with banana. Top with remaining bread, buttered side up.*

Heat a small skillet over medium. Add sandwich; cook, turning once, until both sides are golden brown, about 3 min for first side and 1 min for second one. Halve and serve.

*I only butter one side of the bread (the top) and butter the pan for grilling the first side instead. (It's less messy.)

Dare you to try it!




Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunny sweet potato stew

Here's a hopeful recipe for what promises to be a long hard winter. I adapted it from Martha to suit Canadian sizes. (Because I've never seen a 4-pack of chicken thighs or a 14 oz can of chicken stock.)



1/4 cup all-purpose flour + 2 tbsp
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 piece fresh ginger (2 inches long), peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1 can (10 oz) free-range chicken broth + 1 can water
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbs fresh lemon juice
1 cup couscous


Place flour in a wide, shallow bowl. Season chicken with salt and pepper; dredge in flour, shaking off excess. In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add chicken, and cook until browned, 4–6 min per side; transfer to a plate.

Add onion, ginger, and cinnamon to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion starts to soften, 2–3 min. Return chicken to pot. Add broth, water, and sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sweet potatoes are tender, 10–15 min. Discard ginger and cinnamon. If stew requires thickening, dissolve 2 tbsp of flour in water, and add to pot and stir. Stir in lemon juice, and season stew with salt and pepper.

While stew is simmering, prepare couscous according to package instructions. Serve chicken stew with couscous.




Kitchen full 'o hope

Oh, no they didn't!

Yes they did! I knew they would, but it was still exciting.

On Tuesday Shawn and I went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants and then went home to watch the results roll in. It was pretty romantic, just the two of us (and, of course, Anderson Cooper). Actually, looking back, it feels like there were a whole lot of people in the room that night. So, it was not romantic, but, definitely exciting.

In other news:

California passed Prop. 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, that is set to radically change how farm animals are treated in the state and possibly throughout the country. Click here to find out all about it. This is a issue that is very close to my heart. Too bad that it had to be dampened by the shameful passage of of Prop. 8. (Thanks California, for taking one step forward and one giant step back.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Deconstructed chicken soup

Another attempt to make myself feel better:



6 skin-on, bone-in chicken breasts
2 lemons
1 can chicken broth
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1/2 cup (125 mL) whole black or green or spiced olives, unpitted
feta cheese


Preheat oven to 400˚.

Place chicken, skin-side up, in a 9x13-inch (3-L) baking dish. Slice lemons into quarters and discard visible seeds. Scatter lemons and olives in between chicken breasts. Pour broth overtop. Sprinkle with thyme. Cover dish tightly with foil.

Bake in centre of oven for 30 min. Then remove foil and baste chicken with pan juices. Return to oven and bake, uncovered and basting occasionally with pan juices, until chicken is springy when pressed and skin is crispy and golden, about 30 min.

Serve over egg noodles and top with crumbled feta cheese, if desired.




Will nothing make me feel better?!

A drive in the country.

I have been ridiculously sick since Tuesday, and I can find nothing to make me feel better. I was even driven to eat a Big Mac, believing that the special sauce might have some magical curative power. (It doesn't, it's basically just tartar sauce, which means that it isn't even "special.") In a last ditch effort yesterday I decided that Shawn and I should visit Jean Albert's in Hallville, Ontario, after reading a review of the new American-style soul food restaurant in a local magazine.

Many soul food staples are part of my cooking repertoire, namely cornmeal breads and sides, mac n' cheese, and all manner of pork. Interestingly, there are a lot of similarities between soul food and French Canadian home cooking — food I grew up with — so, there's also a kinship there.

Jean Albert's is way out in the country, but I didn't mind because the car was comfortable, the weather, beautiful, and the trip saved me from being a complete shut-in. The food was great (you must order the lemonade), however, my selection of side — mac n' cheese — was not available!!

Ugh! When will this nightmare end?!

I guess I'll just have to go back; not only for the mac n' cheese, but to try the chili cheese fries and maybe some peach cobbler.

Will post a recipe when I'm feeling better...