Category Archives: Cooking at Home

Christmas Eve = time to eat (unhealthy)

Our loyal reader (hi Mom!) will remember that last year I posted a entry about making pirogies (see here), a Christmas Eve eating tradition in my family.  Abe and I made up the little pockets of goodness and evil again this year, and I ate way too many in a 24hr period again this year.

But also included in our Christmas Eve tradition is homemade Tourtière (or Canadian Meat Pies).  My grandma, Nans, made them again this year, but I think next year Abe and I have been called up to the big leagues (something about passing on the baton).  Therefore, we got the recipe and I thought I would pass it along if you are looking for something filling and different in these cold North Florida nights (that’s a Canadian joke).

Ate too quickly, only got leftovers shot (that was 3rd pie we didn't get to)

Meat Pies/Tourtiere:

5 lbs ground pork (lean, as fine of a grind as you can get)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sage (can go up to 1 tsp if feeling crazy)
1/2 tsp each nutmeg, black pepper, ground cloves, all spice
2 cups beef stock (or as my grandma does, 1 3/4 stock & 1/4 red wine)
5 mashed potatoes

In large skillet, brown pork with garlic, onion, and all spices over medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 15min, until meat is cooked and half the liquid is evaporated.  Reduce heat and simmer another 15min.  Stir in mash potatoes until well blended.  Cool 30min.  Put into pie shell, cover with dough. Bake 425 for 10min, reduce to 350 and bake until golden (about 35min).  Makes about 3 pices worth of filling.

What really makes the dish are the spices, and nailing the pie crust.  Here’s my grandma’s tried and true pie crust (she should probably win awards for it).

Nans Pie Crust:

1 stick Crisco (don’t judge)
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp ice water

Make sure all utensils/bowls are cold (pop in freezer for 30min before using).  Cut Crisco in flour & salt until the size of peas.  Add the rest of the ingrediants and beat together.  Add more water if needed until you can roll into a ball.  Lay ball on plastic wrap and flatten to a disk, refrigerate for 30min.  Line pie plate with crust, fill with meat filling from above, and cover with thick layer of crust. Makes one pie worth of crust.

Check out the meaty filling and the crusty crust

Chinese 5* spice powder (*5 actually being 6)

Abe and I decided to get crazy Saturday night and stay in and make a restaurant-type meal. Now, some of you may be wondering what a “restaurant-type meal” is?  My own phrase (like you were questioning that) to recognize cooking nights at home that are more labour intensive (say hours), and that use ingredients that are not normally in our weekly rotation.

We picked pork belly to build a meal around, having had it at few times out and it being one of those cheap cuts of meat that chefs are going crazy to make type deals. A google search for a recipe later (thanks google for changing up your algorithm so now cool blog recipes come up first, and not or whatever it was before) we decided on an Asian style cooking method. And the main ingredient for the night was going to be Chinese 5 Spice Powder!

Side bar. Chinese 5 spice powder: Wikipedia tells me this is an ideal spice for fatty pork products. What do you know, we had some of that!

Chez Pim, Pim being a blogger extraordinaire who specialized in Asian cooking, is who we got the pork belly recipe from.  She seemed  convinced that no self-respecting home cook would use a bottled 5 spice, and therefore devoted an entire post to making this flavourful and all around nifty spice.  As our previous posts may have told you, we tend towards Asian flavours, and Abe has a slight problem of impulse buying dry things at Mike’s Seafood and Oriental Market, so we happened to have all 6 (that’s right, 6, not 5) dried spices at home already.  So off we went making our own, just like Pim told us.

The recipe is courtesy of Chez Pim:

30g (1oz) star anise
30g (1oz) cassia (or cinnamon)
30g (1oz or 5 tbsp) sichuan peppercorn
30g (1oz) cumin seeds
15g (0.5oz) clove
7g (0.25oz) coriandar seeds
black cardamom (to taste, optional) – (I forgot this one in ours…oops! Why we have Chinese 5* Spice Powder, not 5** powder)
Note, I halved this recipe, and even that made quite a bit.

Thanks to our handy dandy kitchen scale inherited from friends, I weighed out each spice.  Pim recommends roasting each spice, and doing so separately because they all have different cooking times.  As this was “restaurant-type meal” night, I actually did that step (typically that would fall into the too-much-work-not-worth-the-tiny-taste-difference column for me).  We did not have whole cinnamon or cumin seed at home, so admittedly those were already ground and were just mixed in with the rest after they were ground up.  The rest were dry pan fried and ground up together in our trusty Magic Bullet, who was up for the job despite the toughness of some of the spices.

Star Anise

Cloves, with coriandar seeds ready to tag in

Coriandar seeds are in!

I was not overly familiar with what each of these spices looked like when properly roasted/toasted, so I went with the tried and true sniff test. When they started to small quite flavourful, they were there!

And viola!

Chinese 5* Spice Powder

Hey Sara! Didn’t you mention pork belly earlier?
I did! That’s coming in another blog post.

Sichuan 101

If you 1) are not a food adventurer, 2) do not like spicy food, or 3) are repulsed by the mention of fermented beans, you will not need to take notes.

I was introduced to this dish by my Chinese friend Nancy back in Columbus several years ago. A group of us went to Imperial Garden at her suggestion. As the server began setting our menus out, Nancy said something in a Chinese dialect and the server picked up the menus and retreated.  Moments later he returned with the Chinese menus (no kidding, click here  I felt as though I had just been allowed to slip under the velvet rope at an exclusive club! Then my eyes went right to the Pan Fried Pig Intestines on the menu. When that happens, it doesn’t matter what else you see on the menu, you’re instantly on guard. Nancy asked us a few basic questions then ordered four dishes.  If you’ve never had Sichuan (aka  Szechwan) food, I have neither the space or expertise to educate you, but Wikipedia does a pretty good job.

The food we had at the restaurant was unique and delicious. There were two distinct flavors in at least two of the dishes that drove me back to Imperial Garden at least 30 times since that night. One was a savory, spicy red broth. The other was a pepper that (I mistakenly thought) was so spicy it made your tongue numb.

I had a hankerin’ for this soup recently and happened upon a recipe that described it almost perfectly ( Make sure to check out the finished product end of the recipe.  I can’t really do the flavors in this dish justice, except to say you really have to experience Sichuan bean sauce and Sichuan peppercorns (note: Sichuan peppercorns are not in fact peppercorns but a berry shell with citrus notes that contains a very mild acid that makes your tongue number).  If you live in Columbus, just go to Imperial Garden as their finished product is the standard.  If in Tallahassee, I haven’t encountered a Chinese restaurant yet that specializes in Sichuan, although Azu on Appalachee Parkway does serve a satisfactory Mapo Tofu.  If you want something close to authentic, you’ll need to go to Mike’s Oriental Market for the ingredients and follow Tao’s recipe above. Also, in Tao’s recipe, he says cod is an OK replacement for basa fish. It’s not. If you can’t get basa, get a higher grade of whitefish than cod.

On last thing: I’m fairly certain that Imperial Garden uses MSG. Mike’s has MSG.  I haven’t been able to find anything online that gives conclusive evidence that MSG is bad for you, but it certainly can make a dish delicious. Consider using a modest amount in this soup as it will take it to a whole other level.



Sara and Abe: Challenge Ginger (part 1)

A few Saturday’s ago was the prime time event called Sara and Abe: Challenge Ginger.  If you missed it on your favourite local station then read on!

As a quick note, when I need a recipe my go-to is the Ontario LCBO Food and Drink magazine.  For those not from Ontario, the LCBO is the provincially owned liquor store that uses the heavy taxes charged to the booze buying public to publish an incredible recipe magazine.  The website rocks too, easily searchable with pictures of everything.  I can’t recommend this website enough for always successful dishes.

If you missed what challenge ginger was all about, we invited some good friends over for dinner with us, and asked them to pick an ingredient for us to frame a meal around.  They picked ginger.  Abe and I decided to do multiple small courses that we divvied out.  Four “main courses” split 2 each, and a cocktail, bar-snack, amuse-bouche and dessert that I decided to add on because I’m an overachiever like that.

The table! Check out the fondue pot of boiling ginger for a house-wide smell of ginger

In general, we were particularly trying to incorporate the different flavours that ginger can be and not do only Asian inspired.  We were probably only partially successful at that because frankly sesame seed oil tastes good with ginger! But you’ll see…

Course 1:  The cocktail.  I had originally thought that a liquor based drink, probably bourbon specifically, was the way to go.  But then our friend got a great new job and we decided to celebrate that at Challenge Ginger night and I picked a drink that was sparkling wine based.  Extra special was we used a bottle from our wedding!  So I found a recipe for a Ginger Champagne Cocktail, thought it sounded simple and fun, and went with that.  Some changes from the recipe to note: I couldn’t find Chinese 5-spice at the Asian grocery or Earth Fare, and thought I would just put together the basic ingredients which we did have at home and grind it all up and make my own!  But I ran out of time, so I went with no rimmer.  I also made the simple syrup as listed for the most part, and it was wayyyyy too much sugar and hardened on the counter as I watched.  I added more water, and all was good.

Course 2.  Bar-snack.  I thought something out to munch on was a good idea since we were also starting with a cocktail.  So I found a cool looking recipe for Sesame Ginger Edamame, which I liked the idea of since I’ve only ever had sea salt edamame and I really enjoy it.  This had lots of potential but came out a little underwhelming in flavour.  But again, could be me with loving big flavours…but there were leftovers, not a good sign considering the rest of the food went pretty quickly.

Course 3: Amuse-Bouche.  I had no idea what to make for this.  I literally googled ginger amuse-bouche and this recipe came up!  I thought it would be a little different than everything else we were serving which was perfect.  I remembered a chef tasting party abe and I went to in Columbus where soup was served in cucumbers that were carved out.  So, that fun memory plus a new Global paring knife that was begging to be used resulted in this:

This ended up being crazy ginger spicy, which was great because nothing else that night ended up tasting like that.  I didn’t really follow the recipe too closely but used it more of a guide.  I had about 4 tomatoes on a vine, probably too much fresh ginger, no olive oil, a heary splash of Clamato (it’s the Canadian in me), and red hot (don’t have Tabasco laying around usually) and forgot the lime (oops).  I really don’t think you can do wrong with the recipe, and the interesting part is the ginger so all else is a bonus.

Sara and Abe: Challenge Ginger (part 2)

Okay, so the challenge ginger saga continues.

Enjoying challenge ginger!

Main course 1: The main courses were served in a series so that we could sit and eat them, talk about them, and then abe or I could finish cooking/getting ready the next.  First up was Abe’s cold soba noodle salad.  Now, take a look at the picture:

It looks so simple, right?! Ha.  Abe spent a looooong time perfecting the taste balance of it.  I did 4 dishes in the meanwhile, that long.  I raised an eyebrow each time he opened the fridge again to play around with it, I’ll admit it.  After getting to really eat it though, I’ll say it was worth the effort.  Maybe not to him, but to you blog readers, yes!  Anyways, he didn’t really use a recipe per say, but ideas across many different sites.  There was soy sauce, sesame oil, raw ginger (is that obvious at this point?),    .  Not too oily, well balanced flavour (after all those go arounds you would hope so).  Great entry into the ginger main course!

Main course 2: Abe up again!  For his major entry into the challenge, Abe brought out the big guns.  Shrimp and stir-fried veggies (including my favourite, baby bok choy).  Abe was trying to avoid soy/sesame/ginger flavours, so I suggested  a black bean sauce.  Deep into the asian grocery store, he found some powdered black bean mix that he did something to and created some sort of black bean sauce.  He put the sauce in the middle of the bowl, put the shrimp and veggies, which had been stir fried in garlic, and little ginger and oil, on top!

Pirogies, the tradition continues

In my family (Sara here), Christmas eve is a really special holiday for us, and it could be because it is really the only holiday we actually have traditions.  My grandmother, I’ll go ahead and introduce her, Nans, makes tortiere (for those non-Canadians out there that’s French Canadian meat pie) and potatoe & cheese pirogies every year.   Now, why this food combination? I actually have no idea.  Interesting, hadn’t even thought about that until now.  There’s no french canadian blood in this family, and my grandmother comes from good german stock.

Besides the point.  This year, Abe and I spent Christmas with his family.  What has stopped me before from making pirogies myself was my total avoidance of anything baked, phyllo wrapped, add flour to, knead…you get the point.  So, now that Abe is full steam into bread making, and not scared of things made from flour like I am, we have become the perfect pirogi making couple that ever was.   This year I had no Nans made pirogies, a man who likes to make dough, and two parents-in-law who seemed to be bored and willing to please.  And all four of us made the team.  The pirogi team.

Go team!

I asked Nans to email me her recipe, thinking it would be sort of like “I add a handful of flour, and when it looks right I wrap it all up”.  A grandma recipe done many years repeatedly! What I got instead from her?

A Martha Stewart recipe link.

I was a little shocked.  She said it was about the same, and to use that.  Okay, well I don’t normally turn to Martha for a recipe, but heck I was game.  And after consulting google for other options, turns out that every grandma out there has a different way to do it, so Martha/Nans was the way we were going to do it.

The filling: I followed the recipe as it concerns the filling in my own way.  Which means not that closely, but approximately (why I’m a terrible baker).  Pretty much you are making the richest, bestest mashed potatoes you have ever made.  To this recipe, I added about a half package of bacon I cooked up and used the grease as well with it all, and an onion.  Bacon makes everything better, and onion is a pretty close second here.  Mashed ‘er all together and the filling was ready.  And let me tell you, the bestest mashed potatoes there ever were.  This is important to remember.  I mean, couldn’t keep people out of them.

Dough: Abe did this.   I think he followed the recipe.  Things happened, it came together.  Take that for what it’s worth.

Time:  When nans makes them, she does the stuffing and dough, and Pops (that’s my grandpa!) mans the boiling water.  It takes the two of them almost all day to get a batch big enough to satisfy about 6 people who haven’t seen a pirogi all year.  It took 4 of us, Abe rolling out and cutting the dough, Abe’s mom and I stuffing each one, and his dad manning the water, about 3.5 hours.  Keep this in mind, it is no small undertaking.

The forming of the pirogi: So, here we were.  Abe rolled out the dough to about 1/8th to 1/16th inch, and cut out circles using the open end of slightly bigger than normal glass.

Rolling and stuffing!

My trick for stuffing was to put a scoop of filling bigger than I thought would actually fit into my circle of dough and that was always the right amount.  I would stretch out the dough a little to get it all around, and they would be nicely filled.  It’s all about proportion.  We found a little water around the edge helped it close a little easier.  Now, I have made ravioli before, and sealing that dough was way more of an issue than this dough.  Pirogi dough is a little stiffer and seems to handle the handling we were giving it.

My assembly line

See all the stuffing in that one?!

As a note, I think our pirogies were a little bigger than my nans has ever made, and they really started to get BIG by the time we were done.  I think it was us getting tired.  They still tasty great!

Once they are stuffed, they go into a pot of boiling water.  They are good little guys, and pop right on up to be fished out when they are ready!  Abe’s dad was perfect for this fishing expedition.  He would keep a cycle of about 6 in, 6 out.

Look at them come out!

And then Abe’s dad would put them on a towel to dry out. After dry, we stacked the little guys on a cookie tray 2 levels deep with wax paper, wrapped in lots of saran wrap and froze until Christmas Eve day!  They really freeze well at this point, but just make sure they are dry before you do, so you don’t get those white spots that you get when dough is wet and then frozen.  You know the ones.

Here they are drying!

We finished about 80 in total.  Used up all the dough and stuffing almost perfectly.

Cooking: Unfrozen pirogies sit in a bath of butter and slowly roll around as lightly frying.  There can never be too much butter.  And a LOT of fried onions.  LOTS.  At my family house, they all get cooked together.  We were cooking a lot for this Christmas, and not a lot of frying pan space, so I did onions before in the butter and kept them hot.  Now, pirogies are a little sensitive at this stage so you have to keep it low and really only push them around a little and not actually flip them by shoving but individually and carefully.  I like my pirogies soft and not crispy so I keep them low and soaking.  Less butter, more heat, and you’ll get crispy!

Serve with more sour cream than is healthy.

How did ours turn out?  Nans would be proud.  Man, I was proud!  I’ll admit it though.  The dough was over the top good.  The stuffing level was great.  They were cooked well.  But you know, that fantastic mashed potatoe combo?  It wasn’t flavourful enough.  Not bland for sure, but it needed more bacon.  More onion.  More cheese.  More pepper, more everything!  You need crazy big flavour to make it stand up to the dough, butter, onions and sour cream.

Enjoy! And it was totally worth it, all 4 persons by 3.5 real-hours of time.  Good stuff.  Great tradition to have in the family!

Go team!

We’re back!

After a long hiatus to get married (!), we are back to blogging! After a wonderful honeymoon in Park City, UT, which has AMAZING restaurants, we are feeling recharged and, crazy enough, wanting to experiment in the kitchen and not go out.

When we started this blog is was meant to be about the restaurants we found in Tally, but it’s turning more and more into Sara and Abe explore cooking AND the restaurants we find ourselves at in Tally. So, we are going with the flow.

All that said, we have a fun idea for a blog that will come this weekend! Abe and I are having some friends over Saturday night for a cooking adventure. We asked the other couple to pick an ingredient, any ingredient, and we would build a menu around that. They picked ginger, and our tasting menu adventure has begun!  Right now we are looking at doing a cocktail, amuse-bouche, appetizer, soup, salad, main and dessert.  Because we are crazy like that.

And I’m taking suggestions for food!  I want to represent the many ways to enjoy ginger, so I’m open to lots of flavour profiles.

Skiing break on the honeymoon!

It’s good to be back!

Abe has been stepping up his game

Abe put this down next to me while I was trying to work. Now I can’t think of anything but eating bread.

It’s time to tell the world

Abe and I have an announcement.  There is a new addition to the family.  Our french blue baby was bought at Marshalls last night and we already love it like our own.

We are both really excited about this new change to our lives.  Enameled cast iron is smooth like a baby’s bottom.

We haven’t ate out much so…

Abe has been going crazy at home.

I have been fully kicked out of the kitchen recently, and I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy it.  One home made wonder this week is based on a great meal we have enjoyed a few times in Tally at El Jalisco.  This is a Mexican restaurant up on Monroe, with decent tortilla chips, pretty good salsa, 2-for-1 margs (this is a common trick in Tally that I have yet to get used to…you want one drink? take two!), and a fantastic mom-must-be-in-the-kitchen-making-it plate of carnitas.  It’s huge (theme?) and abe and I have shared it each time we’ve gone and oh boy is it tasty.  You know you’ve done good ordering when the servers smile secretly to you and say it’s their favourite…both times you’ve ordered it.  Okay, stay on track Sara, this isn’t meant to be a review of the restaurant, just a shout out.  But as a quick review, any Mexican place that has the balls to put ceviche on the menu and expect to not freak people out is a good Mexican place in my books.  Check it out.

Anyways, Abe convinced himself he could make carnitas at home.  He slow cooked the crap out of a pork shoulder, with onions, garlic, chili powder, lime juice and cumin.  Then he roasted the pork before serving for some crispy bits, heated up some tortillas, mixed up some refried beans (note to self: canned refried beans taste the exact same no matter how much you try to doctor them up with garlic and other goodies), spanish rice, guac (my contribution), and verde sauce.

Verdict…tasty…not Mexican-momma tasty.  For future carnitas cravings, I recommend El Jalisco.