Archive for January, 2012

Last night, I was thinking that I wanted to eat something really cozy and comforting for dinner, and I wanted it to include brussel sprouts.  I thought of a recipe for a savoury bread pudding that Carly recently shared with me, but I didn’t really want to use up all my eggs and milk.  Speaking of Carly and brussel sprouts, anytime brussels come up in conversation with me, Carly makes sure to let me know that she LOVES brussel sprouts, even though I am well aware of this fact because of the previous times she has emphatically told me so.  I am starting to believe that this is a ploy of hers to ensure that I always think of her when I’m having brussel sprouts; I don’t know why she desires this, but it must be true. So anyways, I didn’t want to make bread pudding, but I thought I could maybe make up a pasta casserole of sorts that would satisfy my comfort craving (“Comfort Craving” to be sung to the tune of a certain k.d. lang megahit).

A couple weeks ago, Paul and I made up a casserole with cauliflower in it, so I decided that I would build off of the basic idea of that one and transform it to have other things in it – like brussel sprouts. A lot of brussel sprouts. So, I quartered some brussels and roasted them in olive oil, salt, and pepper until they were all charred and crispy and delicious. I caramelized some onions, and sauteed with them some mushrooms and garlic and spices (most notably, sage).  Paul grated a lot of cheddar (grating cheese is Paul’s most frequent kitchen duty, I hate doing it).  I also threw some chopped walnuts in with the veggies for this casserole – the bites of the finished product that had walnut in them were amazing, and I would add even more nuts next time. While I boiled the bowtie pasta, I made the lazyman’s cheese sauce in a double boiler over the pasta pot.  This sauce consists of a big glop of sour cream (or creme fraiche, or yogurt) into which you stir your grated cheddar until it becomes melty and incorporated and uniformly a sauce. Last night I added a splash of milk to thin it out.

Meanwhile, I mixed together a breadcrumb topping.  It involved some breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, cayenne, and a bunch of sesame seeds.  At the last second I melted about a tablespoon of butter and mixed that into the breadcrumb mixture. I also got out my round casserole dish that I had never used, and greased it.  Oh, how I love this casserole dish! I bought it this past summer at Treasures in Muskoka – if you are ever around Huntsville or the west side of Algonquin Park, you gotta go to Treasures.  It’s on highway 60 and it is this amazing, crowded little thrift shop full of, well, treasures.  I have beautiful green glasses that I got from there, among other things, and this year I bought this brown tinted glass casserole dish with lid and a wicker holding basket.  I love it. I love coloured glass and I love wicker casserole dish holder thingys.

When the pasta was al dente, I drained it, and tossed it with the veggies I had earlier set aside (i.e. the onions, mushroom, brussel sprouts, etc.) and then added the cheese sauce and mixed until evenly coated.  I poured that into my greased casserole dish, topped with the breadcrumb mixture and some extra grated cheddar. Then I baked it at 400 for about 20 minutes, put it on broil for a couple minutes, and took it out (where I promptly and happily put it in its wicker warmer holder).

This pasta was SO GOOD. My nighttime bad-lighting photos do not do it justice, but then again, photos rarely do a casserole justice.  It was brussel-y and sage-y and breadcrumb-y and smoky and hearty and Paul and I nearly ate the entire dish full, but Paul put away his last half-plateful and I cannot wait to eat it with my dinner tonight. This, I suspect, will become a standby this winter.

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I know what you’re thinking – “That Liz, any excuse to say the word ‘nips’!” but it isn’t like that, I swear. A little while back, I started buying goldfish crackers. This increased when the President’s Choice version came out not too long ago, which are shaped like penguins and just a little bit cheaper than the original.  I started buying these partly to try and break my Crispers habit, because while Crispers are certainly delicious, they are also full of all kinds of crap.  Surprisingly, goldfish/penguin crackers mostly are not.  I mean, they have some things in them that I wouldn’t use in my food at home, but not nearly as bad as the barrage of un-pronounceable things that many other crackers have in them.  And so a cheese-y cracker addiction began.  Sometimes I would opt for Cheese Nips (I swear, I’m not trying to advertise for any of these brands) if they were on sale.  But always, as I bought these, there was a voice in my head nagging me. It was saying “Stop buying these – save your money.  You know you can make these at home”.  This voice usually comes up in the cookie aisle, when I’m tempted to buy some crappy grocery store cookies and I talk myself out of it with images of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.

Not too long ago, I never would have dreamed of making crackers.  Even though I’ve seen roommates make them before with ease.  But those are usually healthy crackers, and I just want a salty snack.  All the homemade crackers I pictured in my head were covered in seeds and made with spelt and all that – completely delicious for many purposes, but generally not the kind of crackers I buy anyways.   But then, almost a year ago now, there was THIS.  I remember reading that post and having my mind blown.  It looked so easy.  So few ingredients! And yet, I didn’t have a goldfish-shaped cookie cutter.  So I put off making them.  And oh yeah, I didn’t really have a good food processor either.  Always excuses, and I kept buying the cheesey store crackers.

Today, I came home from the grocery store to do my homework.  And I did homework, for a little while.  And then I remembered that every day last week I brought penguin-cheese crackers with me to school in my lunch, and I didn’t have any more for this week.  I remembered that I just bought 2 blocks of cheese on sale (300g block for 2 bucks! Pretty good deal!).  Without hesitation, I got up, and started grating cheese.  I knew if I started, it would come together in no time, and it did.  The only part of this recipe that takes any time is the actual baking, and that’s not really active time.  So make these for yourself, because holy crap, they are sooo easy and more delicious than any store version, and cheaper, and they only have SIX ingredients. Two of them are flour, and none of them are weird.  And really, truly, you don’t need a goldfish cookie cutter to make them.

Cheese Crackers a la Goldfish (adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Lee Bros.)

– 1 1/2 cups grated old cheddar cheese (really pack it in those cups, the more cheese the better. If you want to weigh it, its supposed to be 6 ounces of grated cheese)

-4 TBSP of butter (I cut mine into little cubes, and softened a bit in the microwave)

-1/2 cup whole wheat flour

-1/4 cup regular flour

-1/4 tsp. onion powder (optional – you can barely taste it, but I think it adds character)

-1/4 tsp. salt (you can put less – these are not as salty as the store-bought kind, but they are still salty.  I’m a salt fiend, so if you want less, go for it)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and let blend until it forms a ball of dough. This should take about 2 minutes.  THIS was the craziest thing ever! When I turned on my food processor, it just looked like bread crumbs, and I thought there was no way it would come together into a ball of dough.  Did I miss something? Am I supposed to add some water? I checked the recipe again and read through the comments.  Nope, no water. I resisted the urge to add some right away and decided to (gasp!) follow the directions. It was nuts, I’ve never seen this before.  A mix of totally dry and crumbly bits started to get more clumpy, and more clumpy, until suddenly it was one big ball of dough and my food processor was working hard to push it around in circles.  Crazy! So, have faith in this dough.

Roll it out (on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin) until it is 1/8 inch thick.  I never know how thick my dough is, so just try and get it fairly thin, yet thick enough that you are still actually able to pick it up off your rolling surface. Since I don’t have any cookie cutters, I just cut my crackers into squares, placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, pricked them a few times with a fork (to let the steam escape) and misted them with water.  In my insanely-fast-super-hot oven, these only took about 5-6 minutes per batch, but the recipe said 12-15.  So keep an eye on them.  Take them out when they are starting to be golden at the edges, but before they burn (duh).  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Keep in an airtight container at room temperature.  Sometimes things like this go soggy when they are in containers, I will let you know if that happens.

I ate about a million of them while I baked, and still ended up with about 80 1-inch square crackers, so pretty good.  They cost me about $1 worth of cheese to make, and the rest of the ingredients I always have and so I count that cost as pretty much negligible. So all in all, a great deal. Even if “I love homemade-cheesey-square-crackers cuz they’re so delicious!” doesn’t quite flow off the tongue in the same way. Enjoy!

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Forgive the Gil Scott-Heron reference (on second thought, don’t excuse it), but when I first ate the result of the recipe I’m going to share with you, I proclaimed to my classmates “OH MAN, this is a lunch revolution!!!”.  Presumably they found me both charming and decidedly nuts.

Before I go any further, I have to give credit where credit is due.  I did not think this up on my own.  I didn’t actually think it up at all; instead, someone mentioned a packed-lunch standby of hers to me in passing, and I flipped right out. Then, I proceeded to yell excitedly about it to anyone who would listen, and most people humoured me but didn’t care that much, except for Carly, who said repeatedly: “that is SO smart. that is so SMART. that is SO SMART” (add something else onto the list of why I love Carly: she is equally enthusiastic as myself about revelations in the realm of packed lunches, in spite of the fact that she currently does not have to pack a lunch to go anywhere).  Anyways, the point is, thank you very much to Ruth for introducing me to this idea so casually over some afternoon wine in Kitchener.

Without further ado, I bring you your new lunch: homemade frozen burritos.  If you didn’t just say to yourself “holy shit!”, then you probably don’t care that much about this. But me, I freaked. Homemade frozen burritos! In the store they have frozen burritos that you buy and microwave and eat! But they are generally not that good! And sometimes they are really expensive! I love burritos! Burritos are one of the two things I’m always in the mood for! The other is roti, which is a similar concept! Why haven’t I thought of making burritos and freezing them?!

Ruth explained to me, in brief, her method: she makes a bunch of burritos, but instead of layering in the filling like you would normally, she mixes everything together in a big slop – beans, cheese, veggies, etc. just all together.  I guess this will make it freeze/thaw/cook better and more evenly.  Makes sense to me! Then, she said, she individually wraps them in little parchment paper bags, and freezes them. Then, when its time to pack a lunch, she just grabs one, brings it with her, and microwaves it for 2 minutes or so when its chow-time. BLAM-O!

And so, the week before I went back to school for second semester, I spent an hour making myself a batch of burritos to freeze.  It really only took an hour start to finish I would say, which I think is well worth it given that I got 6 lunches out of it.  In my burritos:

-one can of my favourite refried beans

-homemade salsa     -cubed, roasted sweet potato     -chopped and sauteed onion, carrot, and garlic

-frozen corn from my CSA that I froze in August      -grated cheddar cheese     -cilantro and green onions

-a chipotle pepper, also from my CSA, which was surprisingly HOT

-a bit of sour cream, and seasonings of salt, pepper, cumin

I mixed all that together, and then assembled.  I used 10-inch whole wheat tortillas, and heated them for about 15 seconds to make them more pliable, then scooped in the filling and rolled them up.  I made little parchment paper bags by stapling sheets of the paper together (note to self and to you: do not put the paper bags in the microwave later on, staples are made of metal and that is bad in the microwave) and then put them into freezer bags.  I did a sort of bad thing and put them straight into the freezer when they were still warm, which means that they got some condensation from the steam that may ultimately mean a bit of freezer burn, but oh well.

On Tuesday I had my first day where I packed a lunch, and I excitedly brought one of my burritos.  The best thing is that since they’re frozen rock-hard, I don’t need to bring an ice pack or anything like that, because it stays cold until my lunch time.  The other best thing is not having to wake up and go “Dang, I have nothing to bring for lunch!”.  The other best thing is that they are delicious.  I microwaved that baby for 2.5 minutes total, flipped it over once to get it cooking evenly, and it was so good.  Keep in mind, like most frozen burritos, by the time the microwave was done it is more fork-and-knife material then handheld, but that’s okay.  It was so satisfying.  A filling, homemade, healthy, and cheap lunch. Score! Happy New Year to lunch!

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Witch’s Brew

Normally I would start out with a lot of apologies and explanations for why I haven’t posted in so long.  But you know, bygones. It’s a new year, and does it really matter? I’m here now. I will try and post a bunch in the next few days, because I made a lot of homemade gifts this Christmas season, and now that they’ve all been received by their recipients I can post about them without ruining any surprises.  In the meantime, though, I’m here to tell you about making beer. BEER.

When I was really young, my dad used to homebrew beer.  I only have vague recollections of his equipment, and of course I was too young to sample it.  When my little brother was born, he stopped brewing, but since my brother is now away at university, he’s started up again, and this time he’s delving even deeper into the art and science of brewing beer.  He tells me that back in the day he brewed from malt extract, rather than from the malted barley itself.  I gather that using malt extract would be like making lemonade from a frozen can of lemonade concentrate, whereas working from the barley itself is more like squeezing all those lemons yourself and making simple syrup, etc. When you brew from the barley rather than the extract, you also have way more freedom in terms of how you want your beer to end up tasting – just like cooking things from scratch affords you more control with your food.  So this Christmas, when I was at my dad’s house, we spent a day brewing beer.  He had asked me in advance what kind of beer I’d like to make, and I decided on a coffee porter.

Mixing up the barley mash.

The basic procedure, as far as I can remember, goes like this. You start with your big sack of malted roasted barley.  My dad gets his from a guy in Windsor, Ontario.  Depending on what you are making, you may have a mix of barley that is more darkly roasted with lighter roasted, etc. In this case, my dad got a bag of barley that was kind of pre-mixed for making porter.  So you heat some water, you mix it with the barley, you really smash it around and mix it, there’s a bunch of stuff with adding water and taking temperatures that I don’t remember really.  Eventually you start draining the liquid out into a big pot.  My dad crafted his equipment himself, and so he used this big yellow water cooler for mashing the barley, and he put a false bottom in it that strains out the big barley pieces as it drains through the nozzle thing. Very technical terms I’ve got here, eh?

I keep forgetting what this mixing wand tool thing is called. I prefer to call it the Mash Tongue.

So you drain it out, and you do it slowly through a hose and try to avoid getting any big chunks of barley in your pot.  This whole process takes longer than it sounds – around an hour or so just to mash and drain it usually.  Then you heat that brew up.  My dad has a big propane burner that he sets up in the garage (where he does all his brewing so that his house doesn’t smell like hops all the time).  You let it come to a boil, and you boil it for an hour.  In the last 15 minutes you add your hops.  For porter, we had two different kinds of hops to add.  One was added at the 15 minute mark, and one was added a little closer to the end – the hops added at the end will not get cooked as much and will thus offer more hoppy flavour to the finished product (i love hops).

Homebrew station setup.

After boiling it, you drain it out of the pot into the receptacle that it will ferment in (in this case a sterilized bucket).  You have to drain it nice and slowly again, and you want a lot of air to get in there, because air is good to feed the yeast.  Then you add the yeast, which my dad had already been brewing up since the day before, in a fruit jar on the counter. It was extra oozy!

Draining out the barley mash into the pot for boiling.

Basically then you let it ferment for 10 days or so.  If you know anything about yeast, then you know that it has to be warm for yeast to do its work, so you ferment in a warm place.  Then you start to chill it and age it.  Then you drink it! In this case, since we were making coffee porter and not just regular porter, you add a cup of espresso after it ferments.

Relaxing in lawn chairs and watching a pot boil.

I haven’t tasted this beer yet, but my dad is going to try and bottle some and send it to me somehow.  He tasted it when it was done fermenting, and said that even when it was warm that it tasted great.  I will let you know how it turns out! Brewing beer was fun, though really cold when you’re spending a number of hours in a garage in the winter.  I kept putting my face over the boiling pot of beer to warm up, and I’m pretty sure my face was all burnt in the days after, because I was rosy cheeked for a few days.  There are a lot worse things, lemme tell you.

Into the bucket for fermenting!

ADDENDUM – courtesy of my Dad, some of the more scientific stuff that I forgot:

The grain blend that the guy in Windsor sell and grinds was my recipe for Porter. He weighs it out and grinds it cause his grinder rocks!

The yellow cooler itself is called the “Mash Tun”, the process of steeping the grains to change the starch to sugar being called “mashing”.  The wooden tool is called the “Mixing Wand Tool Thing”


There were some hops added right when it started to boil, these are the ones that will contribute bitterness but no flavor. Boiling for a long time means that you extract the bittering compounds but boil off the flavor compounds. Adding hops near the end has an opposite effect, not much bitterness and hopefully you keep the flavor.

I can tell you that I think it tastes great. It’s just about fully carbonated. I think I’ll be bottling soon.

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