A Salad Riffing Freshly

First, this was going to be a post about challah, which seemed timely, but since I haven't posted in ages, posting just a link (it's not my recipe) after all this time didn't seem right.

Then I was going to start it with, "Chicken breasts are difficult."

What I've decided on, after some thought, is to open by excusing my posting a salad recipe. See, I always feel like salad recipes are a little bit of a cop-out unless they're somehow unusual or a great break from tradition. Salads, much like soups, are a conglomerate of the stuff you have in your fridge and therefore have always been done before. I'm familiar with this sensation, however. As a writer, anything I put to paper has probably been done before; it's an on-going struggle. The result is, however, that I also feel somewhat secure in my ability to recognize a fresh riff.

I believe my salad riffs freshly.

Cajun Chicken and Mandarin Orange Salad

This salad contains a few extra steps beyond bowl, lettuce, dressing, fork. You could probably dump one or two if you really wanted to.

Second note--I used romaine hearts here. You could use whatever greenery pleases you because I'm of the feeling that lettuce is largely interchangeable unless you're looking for a very particular texture or flavor. In this case, the lettuce is just dressing vehicle. Use whatever you've got.

Lastly, I was originally going to measure ingredients for you. Then I decided against it. Much of this salad's beauty is its well-sprinkled toppings. Sprinkle as you see fit.

Serves twoish, depending on appetite

1 romaine heart, torn up
1/2 fennel bulb, sliced

2 chicken breasts
2 tsp Cajun spice (like this one?)
1/2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil

mandarin oranges
toasted walnuts (To toast a nut: Set oven to 425. Spread nuts in single layer over cookie sheet. Bake for 5 minutes, stir, bake five minutes more or until fragrant and browning.)
asiago cheese, shaved

2 Tbsp avocado oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Toss romain into a bowl. Top with fennel, sliced into matchsticks or rings or what have you.

For the chicken, mix butter and olive oil in a pan and add the chicken. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with the spice and sautee until chicken is crispy and browning all over.

Drop chicken on top of salad. Scatter oranges, walnuts and cheese over top. (Toasting the walnuts is one of those steps you could skip if you must.)

For the vineagarette, I chose avocado oil because I wanted something fruity to go with the oranges. You could do olive oil or walnut oil for that matter, though I think the walnut oil might OD the salad on walnut. Maybe you'd like that. Whisk the oil, vinegar and salt and pepper together. Drizzle over salad.

I vote a winner. I may be biased.

PS - Crappy photograph to come.



I think my sister thinks I'm lavish.

It's simply not true. I enjoy good food as much as the next girl, but I don't usually go crazy. That's saved for guests. (Hint--There may be a post for this Friday's dessert, for instance.)

In this case, her feelings are guided by misunderstanding. I say her feelings, but I'm making assumptions here--this is an educated guess of mine based on the fact that she thinks I make fancy, over-priced apps as snack food. The issue is, I don't think most people know how simple really good food can be.

Which is why I love the following recipe, which is less a recipe and more a series of steps you can fill out, because it feels indulgent. And, you will learn, I really like indulging. The only thing that will suck is waiting an hour while the smell of roasting garlic invades your house.

Prosciutto, Roasted Garlic and Goat Cheese Crostini

makes 12 crostini

1 head garlic, roasted*
1/2 cup goat cheese
4 large slices prosciutto
baguette, cut into 12 thin rounds
spicy oil, optional
minced fresh chives, optional

Note: This recipe has been updated since the original posting.  Not only does it have a photo, the directions have changed a tich.  I thought I was being fancy by layering prosciutto in thinner cuts previously.  I've decided this is unnecessary because the little "blankets" scrunny up like the picture above displays.  Simpler, faster, equally pretty and delicious.

Start your broiler heating.  My gas oven allows me to set my broiler to "low".

Working over a cookie sheet, scoop out a clove with a butter knife and smear it over a round of baguette. If you have particularly large cloves, cut them in half.  Top with crumbled goat cheese, dividing evenly between the rounds.

If you want a little spice, this would be the time to lightly shake some hot oil over the crostini.  A pinch of red pepper flakes will work well too, but be sure your guests want that kind of thing!

Lay the prosciutto slices directly on top of each other.  With a flat, sharp knife, cut into thirds, width-wise.  This supposes you will end up with small slices that are just big enough to cover one of your crostini.  If your slices are larger or smaller (I've gotten up to 4 pieces out of really big prosciutto slices), adjust accordingly.  Layer prosciutto like a little blanket over the cheese. 

Place cookie sheet in the oven 3-4 inches away from the broiler. Cook them for just 3-5 minutes or until the edges of the crostini and meat are browning; the fat at the edges of the prosciutto should be starting to crisp and render.

Consume immediately, guiltlessly, lavishly.

*Roasting a head of garlic: You do this by cutting the top 1/3 of the head off (you're aiming to expose the tops of most, if not all, of the cloves) and drizzling a little olive oil on it. You could top with a little salt and pepper if you want.  I don't really see a need, though. Wrap it up in tin foil, set it in a 375 degree oven.  Check it after 45 minutes.  (One hour for two heads, which I would recommend, because who wants to turn on the oven for an hour for one bloody head of garlic?  They will also keep in the fridge for a while so no panic.)   The garlic is done when the tops are geennntly caramelizing (you don't need a deep brown like most "real" caramelizing - the outside cloves may burn first).  You should be able to feel the garlic is smooshy-soft through the skin.

Seriously, that's all there is to this five-dollar app they've served you at a restaurant.  A ten-cent head of garlic and time.

(Alternatively, you could get a similar flavor poaching a head of garlic and get yourself some garlic-oil for bread dipping and dressings and what have you at the same time.)

Achievement Unlocked: Roasted Garlic


Recommendation RRrrrrrrondays!

Okay, so there will never be a good day of the week to note a recommendation and make an alliteration of said note. I'm okay with that. Mostly.

I anticipated from the start that I would intersperse recommendations with my own recipe posts as a tribute to those bloggers and inventors who have inspired me. So see the Recommendations page for the list of linking posts I throw up here.

The first linkee of honour that I wanted to have here was one Cheryl Rule. Cheryl runs 5 Second Rule, a hilarious, smart, fun blog that I can't say enough good about. She was also the one who inadvertently introduced me to the world of food blogging. I don't remember what I'd been looking for, but long ago, I found her via Google and after reading about a million recipes straight (and totally just for her recipe introductions--I'd stopped caring about the food three posts in, but it's awesome too), I knew I was hooked.

I'd like you to take a look at a simple offering of hers, Bacon Green Beans with Crispy Sage. This recipe combines two of the best things in the world, bacon and fresh sage, so you can't go wrong.


Chai Tea Concentrate

For my very first recipe, foodie to foodie, I give you...

A drink.*

I was a huge fan of going out for drinks at a coffee house until I figured out how to make most of the drinks I like at home. Don't get me wrong--I don't have an espresso maker so lattes and foamed milk are out. But I never used to order those as a first choice anyway. What I did used to order, I now see as a waste. Why pay four bucks for that when I could do it at home? So I order some kind of latte and I enjoy it but I'm not possessed by its deliciousness.

My favorite has always--before and since the advent of my mild lactose intolerance--always been chai. Eventually, my mom and I scoured the internet for a recipe and I don't know if we were simple or the internet was simpler (but I have my guesses), but we didn't have a ton of luck. One recipe we did find called for peppercorns. Peppercorns? That just sounded too weird to us and we continued to satisfy our cravings by the overpriced cup.

It's only been in the last two years that I've figured out how to make my own chai. I like to use whole spices. It's a pain to go to a bulk store and find them sometimes, I know. However, it's easier, to my mind, to have a stock of these rather than carefully straining out your tea through a coffee filter so you don't have a quarter inch of grit at the bottom of your cup.

That being said, if you'd like to do it that way, go nuts. Just be careful with your translations of whole spices to ground.

Chai Tea Concentrate

Please note that this is a recipe for a concentrate, not a tea. Mix the results of this concentrate half and half or 3/4 concentrate to 1/4 milk, depending on your taste.

4 cups water
5 orange pekoe tea bags (I split these between caffeinated and decaf so I don't go to bed jittering)
1/2 cup honey
4 half-size cinnamon sticks or 2 regular size
15 cloves
8-10 peppercorns
5 cardamom pods
4 allspice berries
1/2 inch ginger root, smashed
2 medium pieces star anise
1 tsp vanilla

Bring your water to a boil and then add the tea bags. Turn the heat way down and allow the bags to steep for approximately five minutes. Bring the tea back to a boil and then add the honey. This will dampen your boil so get it going again.

Add the spices and the vanilla. Cover and reduce to simmer. Let the mixture simmer for five minutes with the tea bags, then remove them so the irony tea taste doesn't overwhelm the pot. Allow the spice to continue to simmer for the next twenty minutes or so. Strain out the spices. Serve hot or cold.

*I find two things hysterical about this photo. One, that the ingredients shown are not even, in fact, the ingredients I use as the nutmeg shouldn't be in there. When I took this picture long ago, though, I was. Too bad, so sad.

Two, I told you I was a shitty photographer. Only a photographer of my epic levels of mindlessness would frame their shot beside their dirty kitchen sink. I want you to know I photoshopped that picture, badly, to clean the sink up a bit. You're welcome.


Introducing, The Facts of Life

Hi. Welcome to my "new" blog!

New is in quotes for a reason. I've been blogging since 2005; somehow--and this is going to blow your mind so get ready--somewhere along the way prattling about my life got old. So this blog has waddled along toward its inevitable deletion for a few years now. Yet, I never quite got around to it. Then I got a new idea.

This blog has been polished, primped and prepped in anticipation of its reopening. It has been made faster, stronger...tastier?

It has become a food blog.

You're flabbergasted by my originality, I know, but please hold all applause for the end.

You see, I've had a burgeoning interest in cooking, baking and food for some time now. I've been taking pictures like a good little foodie (even though I am no photographer), reading other blogs, putting new cook books on my Amazon Wish List and feeding my husband all kinds of things he doesn't actually like. Then a few months ago, when I'd quit my day job in anticipation of a move, someone asked me what I'd do in the interim.

"Write," I answered. For some reason I assumed everyone in the office knew that I was a novelist, albeit an unpublished one.

"Oh!" they cooed. "A cookbook?"

(Through my Facebook updates, my meals had acquired some degree of status around the office.)

No, I thought, but not a bad idea.

While this is no cookbook, I felt it was time for me to start to share my ideas with the world. That's what I like best about writing--the sharing. Food is just one more good excuse.

I want to meditate a little on what this blog will be, then, and give you a feel for what I'm about.

This blog's meals will be cooked in a small space. This is a big part of the point of this blog. For the next few years, at least, I am damned to an apartment's kitchen that I can't, due to the fact that I don't actually own the space, change much about. I have very limited storage, limited counters and a fridge door which falls off (Landlord is STILL swearing he will fix it soon). None of this, however, is a deterrent to the determined!

This blog's meals will be small. I cook largely for my husband and I; there are no children and the cats sniff a lot but don't eat much. The single exception is my soups. I am incapable of making less than eighteen batches of soup.

This blog's meals can be made by hand. What I mean is, I will very rarely write about something that you can't do with a spoon, a whisk, a spatula and a metal bowl. While I've acquired things like stand mixers and food processors in the last year that make my life a lot easier, I have whisked meringue by hand. I (prefer to) make bread by hand. I anticipate someday making my first batch of ice cream this way as well. "By hand" can be slow, it certainly requires more effort, but if you really want to, you can do it.

This blog's meals will be made from scratch. I am actually famously bad at preparing pre-packaged products. I have turned rice into mush and Betty Crocker cakes into bricks. However, what this also means is that I advocate the whole-food, home-made movements going on. I am currently making an effort to know exactly what's in my food. I am steeping my own vanilla, brewing my own tea and preserving my own lemons. These things, you will find, are ridiculously easy.

This blog will talk about reusing. I am married to a man who more or less taught me to care about recycling. This attitude has changed me and my habits. Plus, the city of Toronto is aiming to force people into reducing their weekly garbage by accommodating a huge amount of recycling and green bin refuse. I appreciate the effort. Vegetable peels, ends and brown bits? Keep them for the stock pot.

This blog will take short cuts. Please forgive me. Sometimes I am just tired. Sometimes we will just order pizza. Sometimes I'd rather grab a damn high-sodium can of beans than cook some for two hours because I forgot to soak them overnight. I'm not a purist.

Settled? Good, then. Some things I won't do.

This blog will not be political. I enjoy reading other foodie bloggers' takes on the last Pollan article, the revelation of this or that practice, the reason for eating from a CSA rather than a Sobey's. While I have my own set of principles that will become clearer with time, I do not enjoy hashing such things out, particularly.

This blog will not be exact. You can blame me, here. I do not, for the most part, measure as I cook if I'm not using someone else's recipe. So take the measurements with a grain of salt and if you think the soup needs more water, give it more water.

This blog will not be simple, or at least, not all the time. I really enjoy a challenge. I get excited when I see a recipe with a long ingredient list. (Within reason, anyway. I recently read a cookbook where every third recipe had two half-page columns of ingredients. Aie.)

This blog will not, however, include impossible ingredients in these possibly-lengthy lists. I have a few blogs I love but despair of. They will describe a recipe that sounds incredible, only to inform me halfway through that I need tamarind paste. I will immediately realize that I didn't like the recipe well enough to hunt down an Asian grocer who might carry tamarind paste. On the contrary, while spelt flour always sounded obscure to me, I discovered you can get it at your local Bulk Barn. I'm likely to mention this, however.

This blog will not contain good photography. As I said, I'm no photographer. I hate a recipe without a picture, though, so I'll do what I can.

Can you tell that I also like the sound of my own voice? Or, at least the flow of my own print? Alas, it's true. I'm a writer; it's my fatal flaw. So, that all said, let's begin.