Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tottlin' taters!

Over the last couple of days I've had an inexplicable craving for potato chips, spicy ones. Maybe it's because I saw someone eat a bag the other day or simply because I'm craving some sort of salty starch as comfort food. The weather has been gross all week here in Halifax aside from one nice sunny day with no precipitation. It was -8 and it felt like spring, I tell ya. It felt balmy, in fact. I sweat as I walked outside. It was amazing. Today everything is rainy/snowy/slushy wet and icky. It's warm enough but it doesn't take away from the fact that you feel like a soggy wet mess by the end of the day.

As I dreamt of potato chips, my mind wandered to hash browns and then tater tots. I wasn't about to buy the frozen kind, seeing as I knew I had two perfectly wonderful potatoes at home. So I decided to experiment... I looked up the basics for tater tots, first I was thinking of frying them, but I thought that was a little too similar to latkes. Some recipes call for boiling your potatoes first and then shredding them while others insist on shredding the potatoes raw. I opted for boiling my potatoes. I then shredded then with a regular ol' cheese grater, skins on. I don't mind the tough skins and I like to think that it's leaves some sort of nutritious part of the vegetable. (Yes, nutritious, even though I will be frying these suckers later).
The recipe that I used, can be found here:

It called for 8 potatoes and 4 tablespoons of flour. I only had 2 potatoes, I eyeballed and added 3 tablespoons of flour. I seasoned as called for with salt and pepper and added cayenne to spice things up. I also decided on a whim to add some onion, and I did what I've never done before. I grated an onion so it created onion pulp and mixed it in with the potato shreds in a bowl. I then opened my cupboard to find the perfect experimental ingredient. Chipotle cheese herb powder. I know, I know, cheese powder?? This is a little less repulsive, I must say, because I bought it from a stand at the farmer's market in the fall. The couple puts the stuff together homemade by themselves. You usually add it to mayo and sour cream to make a sauce. I've put it on burgers before, trust me, it's delicious. So I threw in a generous dusting of the cheese powder and began to form my little tater balls.

Alas, no vegetable oil in the house, so I panfried the taters in olive oil,browning two sides. Then I placed them on a baking sheet with aluminum foil for about 15 minutes in the oven on 350 degrees.

Being home made, I like to think that this is healthier than the store bought stuff and it's kind of nice to know one can make their own tater tots to their own liking. This could get fun.. I can think of the possibilities... bacon tater tots, sausage tater tots, bell pepper tater tots, ginger garlic tater tots, herb tater tots...

And this is a great little snack for kids too, and if you finagle it right, you can make sure they get some little veggie in there as well. They might even like to make the little tater balls! Lookin out for all the parents and kiddos out there, 'cause I'm going to be having yet another niece or nephew (that will make 4).

And for me, that's a culinary success! To make a somewhat improvisational meal that can have so many other variations according to your own taste!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


It's winter time and we're without heat at our Quinn Street Attic. What's best for warming yourself up on a cold winter's night and will fill you up for most of the day as well is a good ol' helping of a hearty pie. I had some leftover crust from the last one so I again took all the ingredients laying around my kitchen and made a meal. It includes peas, carrots, onions, cabbage and brussel sprouts. I sauteed the onions and made a simple cream sauce with milk, butter, cornstarch and some parmesean cheese. The brussel sprouts were blanched, and the cabbage, peas and carrots were boiled and chopped to create this filling pie that will probably last me all week long. You may add spices to the sauce to your own liking. I added a bit of mustard powder, nutmeg, sage, thyme, basil and caraway seeds and a small dash of hot curry powder. I think it's a good practical way to keep yourself fed and warm through the week while on a budget or if you simply don't have the heart for going out in the cold for groceries. I hear the wind chill is gonna pick up Monday morning tomorrow. And all the boiling and cooking in the oven tonight made the apartment warm up a little!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hot Chocolate for Breakfast? I think so!

This lovely tradition isn't something that I've devilishly come up with on my own. While I was living in Argentina, I found that having hot chocolate as part of a light meal, it's totally acceptable and even considered a benefit to your health. Sure, I've heard that a small portion of dark chocolate of the purest quality in moderation has benefits for your heart but thick, rich, milky sweet hot chocolate for breakfast? Perhaps it's more preferred by those who want to avoid the caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee. In Argentina, there's this delightful hour that people dedicate to merienda, or a tea time. Argentines from the interior, or the provinces outside of Buenos Aires, generally spend it within their own homes with their family. Typically these treats are usually what people also eat for breakfast. It's all about the sweet breakfast there. Savory breakfasts of eggs and toast is very strange for most people there. They serve tea or coffee and even hot chocolate with a delicious array of sweets:



facturas con crema

pasta frola

dulce de cayote..this is a sugary substance that is made from the fruit of this type of green melon. It's baked in the oven and then the fibrous fruit inside is soaked in water then cooked with sugar.

and of course, the one and only dulce de leche.

Sometimes we'd even have this for breakfast.

Which reminded me of frosting covered animal crackers.

It was even acceptable to go out for churros and chocolate for merienda as a treat.

I loved this tradition. Who wouldn't? When I was living in Tucuman, the smallest province in Argentina, it was typical to have merienda after waking up from the siesta. Imagine this, you go home, you eat a huge lunch during midday and then you take a nap for a couple of hours and wake up to have this delicious dessert like tea. Needless to say, it was like a foodie lovers dream.

In Canada and in the U.S. I remember as a kid that having a glass of milk with every meal was the way that parents would get us to have a healthy dose of calcium. Not in Argentina, milk is rarely drank plain. Typically kids drink it after it's been boiled over the stove or with chocolate. Even at a comedor, a soup kitchen/ center for kids where I spent my free time teaching English, part of the provisional government bundle of minimal food goods given to kids included chocolate. Since I've given up coffee for a while as a New Year's Resolution and am craving something warm, creamy and comforting I think that this Saturday morning I'll get in a healthy dose of calcium with a rich yummy mug of hot chocolate.

Shepard's Pie/Beef Pot Pie/Beef Tart?

You can call this whatever you want and you can make it however you want. That's what makes it easy to make when you've got little to work with and it's hearty enough to keep you full for half the week... at least it was for me anyhow. I made the crust from a Deluxe double crust recipe out of the Joy of Cooking. The original recipe for crust seemed to use a lot more shortening. The deluxe recipe used a lot more butter (2 sticks!) Maybe this is standard for crust making but either way I was kind of frightened by using a lot of shortening or butter. It made the dough very sticky, hard to roll out with a rolling pin. I gave up the traditional effort of rolling out the dough a surface and placing it within the pie plate and basically threw the dough directly into the pie plate and molded from there. It surprisingly worked.

I burnt the crust a bit because I was worried that it was too soft to be cooked through. It wasn't until I burnt the crust that I realized that the crust was supposed to be soft, crumbly and easy to fall apart. After it cooled, however, it tended to stay together a lot better. When I reheated the pie, the whole thing kind of fell apart but it was somewhat tasty anyhow. I could taste a lot of butter in the crust still. Perhaps next time I will try to find an alternative pie crust recipe that won't seem so frightening.

The filling was simple. I suggest using whatever leftover ingredients you have. I had a pound of ground beef, onions, carrots, peas and cabbage. I omitted the cabbage and sauteed the beef, onions, carrots and peas with some garlic and added some cornstarch with luke warm water bit by bit to thicken the juices. I seasoned the beef with paprika, a little garam masala, a bit of coriander, turmeric, a wee bit of cinnamon and nutmeg and some cayenne. The beef pot pie recipe called for curry powder. I found it here:

I didn't add salt or bouillon because I had used salted butter instead of unsalted butter in the crust recipe and I didn't want the dish to be too salty and rich. Over time, the juices tended to be absorbed by the vegetables. Next time I would cook the beef for less time before introducing it to the oven and I would also develop a thicker gravy. On top of the filling I threw in a little bit of leftover mashed potatoes with a generous sprinkling of parmesean cheese. Sure, this meal wasn't the most healthy of meals, but it's been just the thing to keep me warm on the bitter cold Halifax winter nights while our little apartment doesn't have heat.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Almond Biscotti!

This should have raisins in it, but I decided that that was unnecessary. The recipe's from the Williams-Sonoma Simple Classics Cookbook, with a couple of adaptations of my own, the most important being the afore-mentioned lack of raisins.

You will need:

1 cup almonds
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp aniseeds, lightly crushed

1/4 cup butter
1/2 granulated sugar
1/4 brown sugar, firmly packed

2 eggs

2 tsp almond extract
zest from one small orange (about 1 tbsp)

1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water, for a quick glaze.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and spread the almonds on a baking sheet. Bake for about ten minutes, until the almonds are well-toasted. Unfortunately, I can't tell any difference between the almonds before and after, so... ten minutes. Yes. Let cool and chop coarsely. I didn't.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and aniseeds.

Using an electric mixer, mix the butter and both sugars for about five minutes, until "light." Make sure you don't use butter straight out of the fridge. It's annoying.

Add the eggs one at a time.

Beat in the almond extract and orange zest.

Gradually beat in the flour mixture until combined. When I did this it didn't look like dough at all; it was way too pebbly. But once you get your hands in there it all comes together again. Hands, you say? When does that happen? NOW!

Add the almonds and knead them in with your hands. Transfer the dough to a floured surface, and knead a little bit more. Divide the dough in half and form into two logs, like so (my eye-balled halves were NOT equal, but it didn't really matter). Place on a greased and floured surface, brush with the egg mixture, and pop them in oven until they're lightly browned, 20-25 minutes.
Let cool for five minutes. THEN! The fun part! Using a serrated knife (it's easier with the almonds), cut the logs on a diagonal cross into 1-inch slices. Maybe a little bit more diagonal than I've done here. Place the slices upright on the baking sheet and stick back in the oven for 15 minutes.
Turn off the oven and open the oven door about two inches, and let cool IN THE OVEN for 30 minutes.

Now you're supposed to let them cool until they're dry and crisp, but I've never been able to do that. And they DO dunk perfectly.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Hot Toddy

Since I'm feeling a little under the weather, along with pretty much everyone I know, I thought I'd do away with cooking and drink hot toddies all day. And show you how to do it! It's very simple, which is good when you're sick, but I still managed to mess it up. You will need things you find around any good household, such as


And that's about it.
So all one need do is fill his teacup 3/4 full, and add a tablespoon of honey.

Then add two of these guys (that's an ounce of brandy right there), and float a lemon slice on top. Bonus points for using the best possible mug.

My mistakes: turns out I've only got green tea, which if you've seen my Halifax cupboard is pretty shocking. BUT! I found two rogue bags of lemon scented Earl Grey, so I just used those and left out the lemon slice.

My other mistake was to use cognac instead of brandy, only to realize afterwards that I misread the label and had actually used calvados instead. The results aren't bad though, it's just a little apple-y.

And you know, I DO feel a little bit better.