Category Archives: basics

Sundried Tomato Pesto

Do you ever find yourself purchasing a large jar of something because it is such a good deal, but then you get home and wonder what on earth to do with it?

Ya, me either.

But hypothetically, if you ended up with a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in your fridge that was large enough to last you until 2025 (expiry date? what expiry date?!?!), and if you hate throwing away perfectly good food just because you’re bored with it, you might need to think of an exit strategy.

Enter sun-dried tomato pesto.  It’s the slightly more riske cousin of regular pesto, and doesn’t require a grow-op of basil to make.  No siree, this just uses up what I bet you already have in your fridge and pantry. And if you don’t, well no big deal – just improvise.  Or go grocery shopping.

sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), parsley, dried basil (or fresh if you have it), parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Over a medium-low flame, toast 1/2 c of pine nuts in a drizzle of olive oil.

Since pine nuts are basically the price of a down payment on a home, I highly suggest you watch them carefully so they don’t burn!  When they’re lightly toasted, take them off the heat.

Oh, and if you don’t have pine nuts kicking around, try walnuts. I think they would work just splendidly.

In a food processor or a really high-speed blender (hello, Vita Mix!), pulse together 1 c of sun-dried tomatoes…

1 c of loosely packed parsley…

And 3 cloves of garlic.

Pulse it several times until it goes from this…

To this!

But wait, there’s more!

Add the toasted pine nuts, 1/2 c of grated parmesan (not the stuff in the can, for goodness sake!), 2 t of dried basil (or a handful of the fresh stuff if you have it), 2-3 T of olive oil, and about 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t of pepper.  If you’re feeling really adventurous, feel free to invite a good pinch of red pepper flakes along for the ride.

Of course, if you haven’t followed my lead by accidentally dropping your beautiful food processor on a cement floor and breaking it, you could add everything at once.

But if not, give it another whirl!

Taste it for seasoning, and adjust as needed.  Transfer to an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (as if it will last that long)…

…or use immediately.

I am seriously in love with this pesto. It’s complex, fresh, and versatile.  And it’s my favourite colour, which never hurts!

Hmm…maybe that massive jar was a good deal after all!  In fact, I may just have to pick up another later on this week.  You know, for research purposes and all.

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Roast Beef

For some reason, people are always surprised when I tell them I don’t really know how to make something.  While I am definitely more proficient in the kitchen than most people, I’m not too proud (or foolish) to admit that I know how to make anything you could possibly think of, however simple it may be.  Take coffee, for example: I’m great at ordering it, not so great at making it. If you come to my house, I’ll make you tea.  If we go out, you can buy me a latte.  Sounds fair to me, so do we have a deal?

Beef is one of those things that I’m not very experienced with.  I eat more chicken and fish than red meat, and while I enjoy a good steak I don’t have one often…and if I do, it’s usually not prepared by me.  When I do feel like cooking beef, I usually just grab a beef tenderloin at the butcher because I know it will be super tender.  Unfortunately, it is also a pricey cut of meat so I figured learning how to turn a more economical cut (read: cheap) of beef into a tender roast would be a good idea so that I could buy more shoes with the difference.

The last time I made roast beef (not beef tenderloin) I tried a method I had read about whereby you heat the oven up and then turn it off as soon as the beef goes in…the theory is that the residual heat in the oven will cook the beef.  After a few hours, it was ok, but not great.  I’m not sure if it was the cut I used or the method,  so I figured I’d try something else this time in pursuit of the perfect roast beef.  Besides, I probably only cook with beef once every few months, and I forget the specifics in between attempts….so you are about to (visually) participate in one of those times so that next time I feel like beef I can pull up my blog and remember what I did.

Exhibit 1: Baron of beef:

Sidenote: you know how you should always trust your intuition? I went to the butcher with the intention of purchasing a sirloin roast, but walked away with a baron of beef because he said it would be equally good, and they were the same price.  I think I’d go with the sirloin next time because it’s more even in shape and would therefore cook better.

I don’t know for sure though; next time I might buy beef tenderloin.

Exhibit 2: Seasoned beef:

Exhibit 3: Hot oil + cold beef:

Exhibit 4: Seared beef:

Exhibit 5: Hot oven.

Sidenote: “hot” is a relative term here – this time, I thought I’d keep the oven temperature fairly low (250 degrees) so that the connective tissue in the beef had ample time (1 hr) to break down without drying it out.  Since I had already seared the exterior, I wasn’t needing any browning to happen.

Exhibit 6: Temperature time:

Since it had reached 110 degrees, I cranked the oven heat to 500 degrees and continued to let it roast for another 20 minute or so until it reached 130 degrees in the thickest part.

After resting for about 20 minutes (the beef, not me), we had dinner.

Exhibit 7: Roast beef!

And it was good, very good actually.  Sometimes, I impress myself!

Come back next week, we’ll talk about how to make tofu taste good.  Or maybe we’ll talk about cake; I’m on the fence.

The Stock Market

You may remember that a few days ago I posted about my camera dying mid-recipe and so I would be unable to post about the chicken stock/soup that I made.  While…I uploaded the pictures tonight and I realized that I had photographed enough of the process to warrant a post.

So, let’s talk about stock, shall we? Not stocks – I’ll save the investment lesson for another day – but chicken stock.  It really is the foundation of so many wonderful things, and is one of those things that every cook should master.  Why don’t more people make their own, then? You may have your own reasons, but my theory is that it’s because (a) people don’t know how, (b) people think its too hard, and (c) people think its too time consuming.  Well, its your lucky day because right here in Canada’s Test Kitchen I’ve tried many different methods, never use a recipe, and can usually turn out something pretty decent.  However, the times that stand out the most are the ones where I’ve made the stock and then let it simmer for hours with onions, carrots, celery.  Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time or desire to do this, but once you’ve had the real deal its pretty hard to go back to the stuff that comes out of a carton.  Before you start thinking I’m a total snob, let the record show that I’m actually a fan of a few brands of store-bought stocks or stock bases, and depending on the usage I think they can be just as good or better than the homemade kind. However, sometimes you just feel like homemade is best, you know?

I know what some of you are thinking – why not just make a big batch all at once and freeze it? Well, aren’t you smart! Why haven’t I ever thought of that?!?! Kidding.  That would be completely logical and something I would have done a few years ago, and actually, now that I think about it, I probably did do that a few years ago.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a deep freezer (I know – the horror that is my life) and my (small) freezer is packed with enough random ingredients as it is (or does everyone have frozen, pulverized lemon grass in their freezer?) so while I love the idea of making homemade stock on a rainy day and freezing it so I can make homemade soup on a moments notice it has yet to happen.

Do you have any freezer space you’d like to donate to me? Perhaps I should set up a new page.

So – refocusing – my challenge du jour: make chicken stock that doesn’t require 3 hours of simmering.  Since I’m feeling ambitious, my goal is going to be to make it in under an hour. Feel like joining me? Or like placing bets? Do YOU believe?!?!

The goods:

Canola oil, a whole chicken that has been cut up (please see below), a few onions, boiling water, salt, and some bay leaves.

Should be easy enough, right? Time’s a ticking so I better get moving!

To make good chicken stock we need to first start with a good chicken.  Starting with a whole chicken, remove the breast meat from the chicken, and set it aside.  Hack the rest of the chicken apart into 2-inch pieces.  Why? Because we want this stock to be produced quickly, and this is the easiest way to do it.   I know its not pretty, but hopefully the end product will be worth it.

Let’s be practical though: How does one cut up a whole chicken, anyways?  Well, there are really 2 different options:

1)      Become good friends with your butcher and bribe them ask them to cut the chicken up for you.

2)      Bite the bullet and do it yourself: remove the legs and wings first; set aside.  Separate the back from the breast and then split it and set the breast meat aside. Using a meat cleaver, hack the back crosswise into three or four pieces, and then halve each piece again. Cut the wings at each joint so it gives you three pieces.  Are you tired yet? I hope not, cause we have more work to do still. Split the leg and thigh at the joint, and then hack each piece apart to give you three or four pieces.

Alright, now that that is out of the way we can get the party chicken stock started!

In a large stockpot, heat about 1 TBSP of vegetable or canola oil. When it’s hot, add the chicken breast halves and brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile, while the chicken is sautéing dice up the onion.  Medium-sized pieces sound good to me.

Oh look!

The chicken is nicely browned.  Let’s remove it and throw the onion into the pot in its place. It’s been benched long enough. Two or three minutes should do the trick – starting to smell good in here!

Let’s remove the onion…

…and now add about half of the chicken pieces to the same pot.  After about 4-5 minutes they should have started to turn opaque.

Yup! I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this looks good, but its what we’re looking for.

Remove this batch of chicken, and repeat the same process with the other half of the chicken parts.  When this batch is opaque, add the first batch of chicken and the sautéed onion back to the pot with it so everyone is reuinited again.  This stock is powerful. Its going to change some lives; I can just feel it.

Reduce the gas to low and put a lid on the pot. We’re going to cook it for about 20 minutes so that the chicken can release its juices.

How are we doing for time? Anyone keeping track? I sure hope someone is – this IS a competition after all! About 15 minutes after you put the lid on the pot, stick the kettle on to boil. We have a schedule to stick to, so no wasting time allowed!

Looks like our 20 minutes is up; time to check on the chicken…

Perfect.  Increase the gas to high, and add 2L of boiling water along with the sautéed chicken breasts, 2 bay leaves, and about 2 tsp of salt. Let it come to a simmer, and then cover and cook until the chicken breasts are cooked through.  I think 20 minutes should do the trick, don’t you?

And that is pretty much the end of my photographic journey through stockland (I shed enough tears for all of us, don’t worry). Once 20 minutes has elapsed, remove the chicken breast, and set aside until they’re cool enough to handle.  When they are, remove the skin and shred the meat.  Refrigerate it separately from the rest of the stock. Meanwhile, strain the stock through a fine-mesh strainer or a cheesecloth lined colander into a clean bowl or pot. If you have the time, refrigerate the stock to defat it since the fat will rise to the surface and harden so it can be easily removed.

And that’s it! Homemade chicken stock in under an hour. Yay!!! It IS possible, and it IS delicious.  Will you make extra and freeze it so I can have some next time I need it? Thank you in advance for your co-operation.

Lemon Roasted Chicken & Potatoes

Roasted chicken and potatoes is pretty much the definition of simple comfort food, and over the years I’ve tried to perfect it with many different methods….you name it, I’ve probably tried it.  After much trial and error, I think I’ve settled on my favourite way to prepare it, so give it a try and see if you agree with me that this is the ultimate roasted chicken.

The ingredients:

Whole chicken, salt (that’s whats in the mug), sugar, butter, parsley, olive oil, garlic, lemons, onion, potatoes, pepper, and Mrs. Dash (original blend).

First, we have to make the brine.  What’s does brining mean, you ask?  It’s the process of soaking meat in a solution of salt (and in this case, sugar) and a liquid (usually water). I could give you the long scientific explanation of why this works, but all you need to know is that this is going to help the meat be evenly seasoned, moist, and tender.  I know what you’re thinking – is brining really necessary? Yes, it is.  Very, very important, especially because we’re going to roast the chicken at a really high temperature and not brining it will result in dry meat.  I use a very concentrated brine because I don’t want to have to devote hours to the process, but if you don’t have time to let it brine for an hour just buy a kosher chicken – they’re already salted and are a good substitute.

Back to the brine – dissolve 1/2 c of table salt + 1/2 c of sugar in 2L of cold water, and set it aside while you get the chicken ready.

We’re going to butterfly the chicken.  Have you ever done that before? It’s really easy.  Essentially what you’re doing is removing the backbone and opening and flattening the bird.   This not helps everything cook faster by ensuring greater exposure to the heat and it also guarantees crispy skin as the entire bird.

Ok, so back to the butterflying – here’s how you do it:

Cut through the bones on either side of the backbone using kitchen shears on a knife. Flip the chicken over and use the heel of your hand to flatten the breastbone.

That’s it! Now dunk the chicken in the brine and let it hang out in the fridge for an hour.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to prepping our potatoes, shall we?

Peel and cube up some potatoes, and then submerge in cold, salted water.

Throw in a whole lemon (yes, you read it right)…

…and then separate and peel a whole head of garlic, and throw the cloves in there too. I know what you’re thinking – is she crazy?!?! Well perhaps, but that’s not the point.  Throwing the lemon and garlic in the water with the potatoes will help infuse them with flavour…at least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Don’t boil the potatoes yet though!

Line a casserole dish with tin foil, and add a coarsely chopped onion.  Set aside, and then make the rub for the chicken.

In a food processor (or bowl), chop up a handful of parsley, a few cloves of garlic, and the zest of one lemon.  If you want to add some other herbs – rosemary and thyme are both great – go ahead and add them now.Once everything is chopped, add in about 2 TBSP of butter, and then drizzle with olive oil until it forms a paste.  Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Are you tired yet? I hope not, but if you are, don’t worry, we’re almost done! We still have a bit of time to go before the chicken will be ready to go in the oven, so go ahead and take advantage of this chance to have a nap go do your laundry, wash your floors, and organize your closet.

After the chicken has been brining for about 50 minutes, turn the potatoes on and bring them to a boil.  We want them to boil for about 10 minutes total. Don’t worry about cooking them all the way through; we just want them to be partially cooked but seasoned with the lemon and garlic.

Once an hour has elapsed, remove the chicken from the brine and rinse it really well under cold running water.  Since there was sugar in the brine, if the chicken isn’t rinsed it will burn.  Dry it really well with paper towels while you drain the potatoes.

(Sidenote: If you have the time, brine the chicken the night before, rinse and dry it, and let it dry uncovered in the fridge overnight.  All of the surface moisture will evaporate, and the skin will be extra-crispy.)

Remove the lemon from the pot, and then drain the potatoes and add them to the roasting pan.  Slice the lemon (careful – its going to be really hot!) and toss with potatoes.  Add a few pats of butter if you feel so inclined.

Lay the chicken on top of the potatoes. Smoosh a few TBSP of the rub between the breast meat and skin, and then spread the rest over the entire bird.  Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash.

Roast at 500 degrees for about 30 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 450 degrees and continue roasting for about 30 minutes longer or until the thermometer registers 160 degrees in the thickest part of the breast.

Remove the chicken and allow it to rest on a cutting board while tented with foil. Broil the potatoes for about 10 minutes while the chicken is resting. The potatoes will have pretty much mashed themselves by this point, but we want to brown the top a bit.

Does this look good or what?!?!

Go make this chicken. Today. You can thank me later for the marriage proposals that will inevitably come your way.