Tag Archives: America’s Test Kitchen

Guest post: French in the house

Dear Life, please stop getting in the way of the important stuff, like, I don’t know, posting my blogs! I have a triple jillion written and half written posts, but it seems, every time I’m about to upload, you get in the way Life, and the blog stays silent for days, even weeks at a time. So come on noq, ease up a wee why don’t you.

Today’s post is a guest cooking challenge post (that’s been sitting in my inbox for about a month now!) by my partner in Life: Big Ring. Which means, November had two cooking challenges (I’ve still got to post mine). So enjoy 😀
November 22, 2013
Cook’s Country – December/January issue
Chicken With Vinegar Sauce


In the Big Ring/Princess of Pavement household, I do most of the cooking.
Partly because PofP isn’t very comfortable with the culinary arts; her diet before we got together consisted mostly of eggs, eggs and eggs. And partly because, with her long commute, it just makes sense for me to get things going in the kitchen.
Fortunately a long run of self-sustaining bachelordom meant I pretty much had to figure my way in the kitchen. Or starve.

Big Ring cuisine isn’t very fancy; lots of grilling with occasional forays into stir fry, omelettes, and international dishes like paella and butter chicken. I don’t do recipes.

Then PofP took on her year-long recipe challenge. She wanted to explore the pages of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe magazine subscription she’d received as a Christmas present and expand her own culinary horizons. I was glad to be the beneficiary. I got a break from the kitchen and enjoyed some very tasty meals.

This month, I decided to pick up the challenge. The latest issue had a number of recipes that tickled my taste buds and sounded relatively easy. When one, chicken in vinegar sauce, was billed as a classic French dish, I was sold. If we can’t live in France, we might as well eat as if we are.

It also helped that we already had most of the necessary ingredients in the pantry.

Now going in, I’ll admit to some trepidation to basing a sauce on vinegar. Around here we use it to clean the counter tops and stainless steel. And the apple cider vinegar in our pantry was only there because of the fruit fly infestation we endured in the summer; it was the lure to attract them into the sticky trap.
But if it’s good enough for the French, it should be good enough for us.

And, son of a gun, it was.

Poulet au vinaigre
1 tsp cornstarch
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
chicken pieces (the recipe calls for bone-in, but I trimmed the bone from the breasts I bought for the recipe challenge)
salt & pepper to taste
2 tsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil)
1 shallot, minced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (I used the dried stuff)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with the rack in the middle
2. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tbsp of the chicken broth in a 2-cup measuring cup. Whisk in vinegar, honey and remaining broth.
3. Heat oil in an oven safe 12-inch skillet until its just smoking. Place the chicken pieces in the skillet, skin side down. Cook until well-browned, about 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a plate skin side up.
4. Pour off all but 1 tbsp of the fat from the chicken and return the skillet to medium high heat, Add the shallot and garlic, cooking for about 30 seconds. Whisk in the broth mixture and bring to a boil, stirring up any brown bits from the chicken in the pan.
5. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up, then put the skillet into the oven.
6. Bake for about 10-15 minutes.
7. Remove chicken from the skillet to a plate, then tent it loosely with aluminum foil. Return the skillet to the stove top at medium high heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes.
8. Remove the skillet from the heat and whisk in the butter and tarragon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
9. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and serve.

I steamed some broccoli as a side dish, along with toasty baguette and glass of white wine. Vive le France!

Cooking up Brussels

October 13, 2013:
Cook’s Country  – October/November issue
Brussels Sprouts Salad

Please excuse the ugly bowl, my family is much too large to be served by my pretty bowls

Last month’s cooking challenge was a risk, a HUGE, Brussels sprouts kind of risk!

Not everyone loves Brussels sprouts, in fact, I think most people actually hate them. (Weird, I know!) But I love them, like really, really, really love them. My moms loves them. Big Brother loves them. Big Ring loves them.

And so, for this month’s challenge I decided to take on the Brussels sprouts. But not in your traditional steamed buttery yumminess you typically find them in. Nope, I made a salad. That’s right folks, a Brussels sprouts salad! Risqué indeed.

When Big Ring pulled out two bags FULL of Brussels sprouts, four pounds worth, it took all of two seconds and a bulging of my eyes to realize that maybe I’d chosen the wrong dish to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. My gawd, I thought, I’ve got to slice all of those! That’s gonna take forever!!! Well, not quite forever, just three hours. THREE HOURS!!!

By 45 minutes into the stemming and trimming process, I was sprouts cross-eyed, seeing double sprouts, everything in my peripheral was  sprouts green, and I’m pretty sure my wrist was feeling the effects of  sprouts carpal tunnel. I decided to take a break, and move onto the next step of slicing. But just to make sure I was on the right track, I took a peak at the recip And that’s when I learned I’d just wasted 45 minutes. You see, when I looked at the ingredients list, it said the Brussels sprouts needed to be trimmed. I didn’t know how to trim Brussels sprouts, so I Googled it and found a YouTube tutorial telling me I needed to cut off the hard part at the bottom and remove the dark green leaves around the sprout. But had I looked at the entire page the recipe was on, I would have found an America’s Test Kitchen step-by-step trimming tutorial in which it shows all I had to do was stem the sprouts, not remove outer leaves. Oh frick.


“You know what the number 1 rule of Amazing Race is,” said my dear husband, secretly I’m sure knowing it would irritate the heck out of me:Read the clue! Pay attention to detail!” Every episode I’m practically yelling at the TV screen at the teams who don’t read the entire clue, who don’t follow all the steps in the clue, who don’t pay attention to detail. They deserve to be penalized, I say. And I guess, I, too, deserved that 45-minute penalization. D’oh.

By the time I had finished thinly slicing each and every one of those taunting, tormenting, troublesome sprouts, I was pretty close to swearing off my once beloved holiday veggie for life. My hands were tight, cramping, gripped into a slicing shape long after the knife had been pulled away. I wanted nothing more than to just quit this recipe, dash off to the nearest grocery store and pick up something I know would have been edible… a statement I could not yet promise for this one.

The money already spent, however, kept me on path. I whipped up the vinagrette, which was fairly easy aside from the shallot tears, then mixed it in with the Brussels sprouts, and then proceeded to shred the gouda, chop the dried cherries, and toast the pecans. (Thank you Big Ring for buying pre-chopped pecans; one less step.) Then, I begged for the best.

I was worried.

If this recipe was just for Big Ring and I, it wouldn’t have mattered so much if it turned out awful. But because I was feeding it to my entire family (or at least those brave enough to try cooking from my hands) and because there are a few of us around the table who very much love our sprouts, I was freaking out the whole drive over to my parents’. This was the first recipe challenge where it wasn’t just Big Ring and Little Ring as my guinea pigs. Risqué indeed.

I placed it on the table and called it “slaw.” What people didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them right 😉 I saw my parents, brothers, sister in law, nieces, and even a couple of my nephews pile it on to their plates. I took in a breath and waited. And then, it came:

  • “Who made this salad? It’s excellent.”
  • “I need this recipe.”
  • “Well done.”
  • “I don’t even like Brussels sprouts, but this is really good.”

And then, it was my turn. One bite. Two bites. Three bites just to be sure. HOLY YUMTASTIC!!! This was really, freaking tasty!!! Wow! The sprouts weren’t rabbity at all, they had softened up quite nicely from the viniagrette, and the smoked gouda along with the cherries and pecans gave it that extra powerful oomph of goodness. But would I do it again?

Only if I bought pre-sliced sprouts, which thanks to my sister-in-law I now know is an option.

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Fun fact about Brussels sprouts: They originate in Brussels!!! I never once associated Brussels sprouts with Belgium until this recipe when I realized the Brussels in Brussels sprouts was capitalized. My family has roots in Belgium; no wonder I love this veggie so 😀

Not Brussels, but Bruges.

3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and sliced very thin
1 cup shredded smoked gouda
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries

1. Whisk lemon juice, mustard, shallot, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Slowly whisk in oil until incorporated. Toss Brussels sprouts with vinaigrette and let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
2. Fold in smoked gouda and pecans. Add chopped dried cherries. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8

Volcano of oil

Sept. 7, 2013
Cook’s Country – August/September 2013
California-Style Fish Tacos

130907fishtacosYou can’t just wrap a fish in a tortilla and call it a California-style taco. You need light, crisp fried fish, the perfect toppings, and high-contrast flavors and textures. ~ Rebeccah Marsters

I’m a bit late with this post, and in fact was a bit late with the making of this “August” challenge (I blame work!) and am now playing catch up, which means you guys will be getting back-to-back recipes … not sure if that’s a good thing 😉

So, back in early August, Big Ring and I met up with our New York turned trucker friends for dinner at the first annual Columbia StrEAT food cart festival in New Westminster. Now, normally I steer clear of street food, it just doesn’t sit well with my belly, but the foods featured in these carts, they were far too intriguing not to try. There was Holy Perogy, Beljam’s Waffles, Chilli Tank, and Vij’s Railway Express – yes that Vij! Super chef Vikram Vij bringing out what was sure to be yummy Indian eats at a fraction of the cost of his hoity toity restaurant fares.

I had hoped this event would have been sampler style so I could try bits from multiple carts, but no, it was a wait in a hour plus lineup and hope the food you want is still available when you finally reach the front of the line kind of event. But I digress. I chose Vij, and I don’t know, maybe I had hyped the food up in my head, but I was fairly underwhelmed by it all 😦

Yet, still, the atmosphere, the people, the feet on the street, the potential of such an event intrigued the heck out of me. And so, when I spotted California-style fish tacos in my latest Cook’s Country magazine, there wasn’t any debate about it, I knew that would be my August cooking challenge. How is that not street food???

But let me tell you that hot, spitting oil wasn’t gonna let me off easy. According to the recipe, I needed to keep the temperature at 350 degrees while the fish was sizzling inside, but the thing is, I didn’t have a temperature gauge, so your guess was as good as mine as to how hot that oil actually was. That said, given it spat a fiery volcano’s worth of oil up at me every time I laid a piece of battered fish down in it, I’m thinking it was probably hot enough.

When I wasn’t dodging the spitting oil, I was fighting to keep the battered fish from sticking to the bottom of the Dutch oven. Apparently there’s was a skill to it: when you place the fish in the oil, it’s advised you slide it along the bottom of the Dutch oven. Well, let me just say, that did NOT work. I swear half the fish was a mangled battered mess!

Overall, this was not my favourite recipe. I liked the heat of the jalapeños mixed with the refreshing white lime sauce, but I just couldn’t get over the battered fish. It tasted fine, don’t get me wrong, and it went well with a cold beer, and Big Ring said it was even better the next day, but I’m really just not a fan of deep fried. I think, for me, fresh fish – no batter – would have been a much better, repeat-worthy option.

1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup pickling liquid from pickled onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons milk

2 pounds skinless whitefish fillets, such as cod, haddock, or halibut, cut crosswise into 4 by 1-inch strips (I used cod)
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup beer (light bodied lagers work best)
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. FOR THE PICKLED ONIONS: Combine onion and jalapeños in medium bowl. Bring vinegar, lime juice, sugar and salt to boil in small saucepan. Pour vinegar mixture over onion mixture and let sit for at least 30 minutes. (Pickled onions can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.)
2. FOR THE CABBAGE: Toss all ingredients together in a bowl.
3. FOR THE WHITE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. (Sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
4. FOR THE FISH: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add beer and whisk until smooth. Transfer fish to batter and toss until evenly coated.
5. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 3/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working with 5-6 pieces at a time, remove fish from batter, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, and add to hot oil, briefly dragging fish along surface of oil to prevent sticking. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Fry fish, stirring gently to prevent pieces from sticking together, until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to prepared wire rack and place in oven to keep warm. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining fish.
6. Divide fish evenly among tortillas. Top with pickled onions, cabbage, white sauce and cilantro. Serve.

Serves 6

To fluff or not…

July 31, 2013
Cook’s Illustrated – March/April issue
Fluffy omelets


The day I moved away from my parents’ at 19 was the day omelets became a regular staple in my diet.

As you all know by now, I am not a good cook, and for the most part, when it comes to savoury dishes I do not enjoy the kitchen. For years I had no desire to learn dinner-style meals; my dinners pretty much consisted of omelets. Every night. You’d think I’d get sick of them after awhile, right, goodness knows my housemates got sick of the smell, but nope, I loved my omelets then, and I love my omelets now.

When Big Ring and I started dating, I quickly discovered that he, too, loved omelets… just not every night. Every week, to this day, they’re on our meal plan. And every trip to France we’ve made (3 for me, 4 for him) the first meal is ALWAYS an omelet and a side baguette.

Knowing that, you’re probably now wondering why I’d even bother including an omelet into my 12 Months of Cooking challenge. Well folks, this was no ordinary omelet. This omelet required oven time. This omelet required fluffing up time. This omelet required attention to detail. This omelet required a cooperative child.

My gawd, did it ever!

Given that Little Ring had been struggling with a Jack-in-the-Gums tooth all day, we decided to wait on our dinner until after he went to bed. The kid was tired, you could see he was tired, his eyes were droopy, he was expressing Tyrannosaurus Rex yawns, and melting down at the littlest of things. But do you think the boy would give in to Mr. Sandman? No.

Halfway through prepping the omelet – after whipping up the egg whites into firm yet semi soft peaks, and then combining them with the rest of the omelet concoction ready for the oven – I stepped away to assist Big Ring in calming our boy. By the time I had come back, the fluffiness had semi deflated 😦

I knew its looks were already far from perfection, but I hoped to still score high on taste in the end, which I am relieved to say I did. The balsamic vinegar was sheer brilliance. I’ve done omelets with caramelized green onions and mushrooms, but I had never thought to include balsamic vinegar. It kicked the flavour up ten-fold!

But still, I didn’t really see the point in the soufflé style omelet. For the most part, it tasted just like any other omelet I’d made prior, it was just somewhat fluffier. Why put that work in, when you could do the same for far less time?

Will I be doing this recipe again? Probably not. The balsamic vinegar concoction will be incorporated into future omelets, but the fluff I can go without.


4 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (a tsp of white vinegar or lemon juice can be used instead)
1 recipe filling (see related content)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk egg yolks, melted butter, and salt together in bowl. Place egg whites in bowl of stand mixer and sprinkle cream of tartar over surface. Fit stand mixer with whisk and whip egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, 2 to 2½ minutes. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks just start to form, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites until no white streaks remain.
2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon butter in 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, swirling to coat bottom of pan. When butter foams, quickly add egg mixture, spreading into even layer with spatula. Remove pan from heat and gently sprinkle filling and Parmesan evenly over top of omelet. Transfer to oven and cook until center of omelet springs back when lightly pressed, 4½ minutes for slightly wet omelet and 5 minutes for dry omelet.
3. Run spatula around edges of omelet to loosen, shaking gently to release. Slide omelet onto cutting board and let stand for 30 seconds. Using spatula, fold omelet in half. Cut omelet in half crosswise and serve immediately.

Serves 2

From the flames of hell

June 29, 2013
Cook’s Country June/July issue
Grilled Chicken Leg Quarters/Grilled Jalapeño and Lime Shrimp Skewers/Grilled Red Potato Skewers


Cooking for Assholes, you poisonous jerk, calling me a sissy if I put on rubber gloves to chop those jalapeños, you knew, I know you knew, that by saying that, it would be a sufficient enough challenge for me NOT to put those gloves on, and you were right, yep, right as could be. And me, I suffered, ohhhh did I suffer. It didn’t happen instantly, nope, it was about an hour or so later when an itch in my eyes had me rubbing, and suddenly, HOLY FREAKING MOTHER OF GOD!!! BURN!!! MY EYES ARE BURNING!!! MY HANDS ARE BURNING!!! MY MOUTH IS BURNING!!! STOP! STOP! STOP!


June’s cooking challenge came down to the crunch. The month flew by and before I knew it, I had just one day to accomplish my challenge. I frantically scoured the magazines trying to locate the perfect recipe. I didn’t want a recipe that would require a bijillion ingredients we didn’t have, but still I needed a good, strong challenge. After an hour of looking, the decision was made.

With the temperatures rising, it was high time I embrace the flaming beast (also known as the barbecue) no matter how much that sucker freaked the bejesus out of me! And instead of just one recipe, I would tackle three!!! Go big or go home right 😀

The marinades were all fairly straight forward, and not even all that time consuming as has been the case for previous recipes. And aside from the jalapeño torture,* (see note below) I did fairly alright in the preparation stage. It was the barbecue that was the challenge.

Big Ring, who I swear had twitchy hands the entire time I was in front of his barbie, kept telling me that barbecuing isn’t about following a recipe, or being precise in every step, “It’s a feel.” Uhm, hello, Mr. Barbecue, this is ME we’re talking about here, if you want an edible meal, you best be encouraging preciseness!

I didn’t have any flare ups, which apparently is a good thing, but I did burn the hell out of my cute oven mitts, I did sweat buckets in front of that face full of heat, and I did struggle like crazy trying to turn the shrimp and taters on those skewers. Seriously, impossible!

Nervous smile.

Three quarters of the food on the grill.

I eventually gave up trying to turn them.

Dear Big Ring, I need new oven mitts 😦

Everything I went through to get this meal on the table was 5,000 times worth it! It was by far the hardest challenge to date (my respect for Big Ring and his grilling skills went up ten-fold!) but also the most rewarding. The fresh, lime-infused juiciness of that chicken, and the hot kick of those shrimp, and the creaminess of the potatoes, oh man, my belly was in pure heaven. And I swear, before we’d even finished the meal, Big Ring was already asking me to make it again. Sure, I said, but you’re doing the grilling 😀

(For this post, I am only listing the Grilled Chicken Leg Quarters recipe, but I’ll include the two other recipes in separate posts on the 12 Months of Cooking Challenge page)

6 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 2 tablespoons juice
2 teaspoons plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (we didn’t have cayenne, so I used hot paprika instead)
4 (10-ounce) chicken leg quarters
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (1 teaspoon dried oregano can be used instead)

1. Combine garlic, salt, sugar, lime zest, 2 teaspoons oil, cumin, pepper, and cayenne in bowl and mix to form paste. Reserve 2 teaspoons garlic paste for dressing.
2. Position chicken skin side up on cutting board and pat dry with paper towels. Leaving drumsticks and thighs attached, make 4 parallel diagonal slashes in chicken: 1 across drumsticks, 1 across leg joints, and 2 across thighs (each slash should reach bone). Flip chicken over and make 1 more diagonal slash across back of drumsticks. Rub remaining garlic paste all over chicken and into slashes. Refrigerate chicken for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
3. For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn primary burner to medium and turn other burner(s) to low. (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature of 400 to 425 degrees.)
4. Place chicken on cooler side of grill, skin side up. Cover and cook until underside of chicken is lightly browned, 9-12 minutes. Flip chicken over and cook another 7-10 minutes.
5. Transfer chicken to hotter side of grill, skin side down, and cook covered until skin is well browned, 3-5 minutes. Flip chicken and continue to cook 3 minutes longer. Transfer to platter, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 1/4 cup oil, lime juice, cilantro, oregano, and reserved garlic paste together in bowl. Spoon half of dressing over chicken and serve, passing remaining dressing separately.

Serves 4.

*NOTE: The story of the jalapeños: I wasn’t sure how to cut them, so I did what any novice cook would do, I Googled it, and came across http://www.cookingforassholes.com. How perfect, how brilliant, I thought. One hour later, though, I was cursing him. Bastard, and his sissy comment, burned the hell out of my hands for two freaking days!!! And yeah, I am now totally a subscriber to his website 😀

Spanish Chorizo and Lentil Soup: cooking 101

May 29, 2013
Cook’s Illustrated – March/April 2013
Spanish Chorizo and Lentil Soup

130529soup“To achieve authentically deep, complex flavor in this hearty soup, we had to turn down the flame.” ~ David Paz

Sometimes you’ve just got to have faith… at least, that’s what I told myself when I gave Big Ring the keys to my 12 Months of Cooking Challenge. For May’s challenge, I plopped a stack of magazines in front of him and told him to choose my next recipe. The only perimeter I gave him was that it had to be a proper meal – no other limitations – and I was fully aware, and freaked out, of the consequences this could present. What if he picked pork? I do NOT eat piggies*

Big Ring, to his credit, took the challenge seriously. He told me he didn’t want to pick something super easy, or super hard for that matter, just the right recipe to hone my skills, give me a challenge, but not send me into a flurry of F bombs. The result: Spanish Lentil and Chorizo Soup.

*I know what you’re all thinking: sausage, that’s pig. No it’s not, neither is ham 😉

Big Ring picked well; this recipe was full of Cooking 101 lessons. I learned NOT to stand so close to a pan of spitting, angry oil, but only AFTER having my arms, chest and cheeks painstakingly charred! I learned that unless I want eyeliner streaks staining my cheeks, I must invest in a pair of onion goggles. And I learned the definition of simmer, a term I’ve thought for years meant to cook over the lowest temperature. But nope, that’s not it at all.

Simmer [sim•mer]
verb (used without object)
To cook or cook in a liquid at or just below the boiling point

I only looked the definition up because I wasn’t 100 per cent confident in my understanding of the word, and because I want to follow these recipes to a tee, I felt it imperative to get out the dictionary 😀

That’s a cup of tears right there!

I also learned a new technique – Sweating Out The Veggies – that’s not so 101, but maybe a wee bit more advanced dare I say 😀 Sweating out involves cooking the vegetables super slow to produce a “sweet, vegetal taste” that wouldn’t overpower the entire dish. Big Ring thought this technique would be the hardest  for me, probably because of my tendency towards impatience, but it was actually quite easy. I just had to keep an eye on it, and make sure it didn’t brown, or goodness forbid, BURN!

All in all, I kind of liked this recipe. Even though it was time consuming as hell chopping and measuring all those dang vegetables and sweating them out, and prepping the lentils, and sauteing the spices into a “fragrant bloom,” etc., etc., when it finally came together, it was a thing of beauty in my mouth. (Who ever thought I’d say that about my cooking!!!) The melding of the flavours, the stick-to-your-bones lentils, the juiciness of the sausage, it warmed my belly with pure happiness. And the next day, oh man, the flavours were so much more intensified. It was not only Princess approved, it was Big AND Little Ring approved too!

There were a couple challenges however. We couldn’t find proper Spanish chorizo, so we used kielbasa instead, which the recipe said would be fine, but I think the intensity of chorizo would have been better. The second issue was my blood sugars. They did NOT like this recipe at all! Because there was no real way of measuring the carbs in the lentils, given it was combined with the veggies and sausage, I pretty much had to guesstimate my insulin dose – to which I failed miserably 😦

1 pound (2 1/4  cups) lentils, picked over and rinsed
Salt and pepper
1 large onion
5T extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds Spanish-style chorizo sausage, pricked with fork several times
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3T minced fresh parsley
7 cups water, plus extra as needed
3T sherry vinegar, plus extra for seasoning
2 bay leaves
1/8t ground cloves
2T sweet smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, minced
1T all-purpose flour

1. Place lentils and 2 teaspoons salt in heatproof container. Cover with 4 cups boiling water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain well.
2. Meanwhile, finely chop three quarters of onion (you should have about 1 cup) and grate remaining quarter (you should have about 3 tablespoons). Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add chorizo and cook until browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer chorizo to plate. Reduce heat to low and add chopped onion, carrots, 1 tablespoon parsley, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very soft but not brown, 25 to 30 minutes. If vegetables begin to brown, add 1 tablespoon water to pot.
3. Add lentils and sherry vinegar to vegetables; increase heat to medium-high; and cook, stirring frequently until vinegar starts to evaporate, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 7 cups water, chorizo, bay leaves, and cloves; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low; cover; and cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.
4. Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add paprika, grated onion, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute longer. Remove chorizo and bay leaves from lentils. Stir paprika mixture into lentils and continue to cook until flavours have blended and soup has thickened, 10 to 15 minutes. When chorizo is cool enough to handle, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 1/4 inch thick slices. Return chorizo to soup along with remaining 2 tablespoons parsley and heat through, about 1 minute. Season with salt, pepper, and up to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar to taste, and serve. (Soup can be made up to 2 days in advance.)

Serves 6 to 8

Previous 12 Months of Challenge Recipes:
• February 1, 2013: “Impossible” Ham and Cheese Pie
• March 20, 2013: Easy Asparagus Tart
• April 17, 2013: Chicken and Rice Soup
• April 20, 2013: Braciole

Braciole: fooled by the name

April 20, 2013:
Cook’s Country – April/May issue


Ohhh, braciole.

Braciole. Braciole. Braciole.

I just can’t get enough of saying its name, letting it roll off my tongue, pretending I were on the beach in Sicily, scarf around my neck blowing in the wind, over-sized sunglasses taking over my face. Ahh, yes, my first mistake in choosing it for my latest 12 Months of Cooking Challenge.

Last month was a bit of a funny month for the challenge. I had chosen braciole (pronounced bruh-zoooool) early in the month, had sent Big Ring out for the ingredients, and then got curb stomped by a nasty cold, putting braciole on hold. Instead, I made that incredible chicken soup that I still dream of to this day. The cold lasted just over a week, and lucky for us the braciole ingredients were still in tact. The proper April challenge was a go.

This dish was not like the others, which in all fairness weren’t the most challenging. Braciole is an Italian rolled beef dish, similar to Germany’s rouladin, that originates in Southern Italy. I’m pretty sure, prior to braciole, I had never once cooked a dish involving beef. Just like most other meats, beef kind of scared the heck out of me. I mean, if you cook it too long, it becomes tough, if you under cook it, it’s cold, which, sorry, not really my thing. It’s kind of finicky, you know.

But that name, oh that name, she enticed me. I’ve had a love affair with Italy since I first stepped off that plane in Florence four years ago. And nearly every meal I’ve made in my once a year Big Ring Birthday Bash has been Italian. I couldn’t go wrong… or so I thought.

Me and Italy go together like honey and peanut butter!

You see, this meal, it had a lot of steps. A lot. The thick slab of flank steak we got from the local butcher (yay local!) needed to be pounded out within an inch of its life. But I had no pounder, no mallot, no hammer even. I was left to use a big ol’ can of crushed tomatoes, which frankly, did not do the job well at all.

And then there was the debacle of the kitchen string, which, frankly, wasn’t all my fault. I didn’t realize I needed kitchen string until the day I was actually making the meal, and so, I sent Big Ring back to the grocery store. Well, that dear husband of mine, who himself has never worked with kitchen string, came back with hairy string. HAIRY STRING!!! I was already started on the recipe at this point, and the dinner hour was fast approaching. Surely, the hair would stay on the string right? Right? Yeah, no. This meal most definitely had extra fibre that was not called for!

The biggest mistake I made, though, was halving the recipe. Because we’re a small household, not so keen on leftovers, I figured we’d save a few dollars and chop the recipe in half. While the taste turned out just fine (despite the hair, which you didn’t notice once it was all cooked) the technique of rolling the steak and its fixins’, I thought, probably would have been easier with a larger surface to work with – I barely got the 1 pound of beef rolled around once, let alone three times, and I had raisins and other fillings falling out every which way.

Raw braciole: I don’t advise using toothpicks. I thought they’d help keep it in place before getting the string out, but, uhm, I kinda broke one. More protein 😀

But, it was kind of fun tying the sucker up and trying to figure out what it looked like. Big Ring said an inch worm; I said an armadillo 😀

Semi-cooked armadillo, er, I mean, braciole 😉

The flavour was good, but not good enough for me to try again. Sorry braciole, even with your beautifully exotic name, I can’t overlook the massive amount of steps you require. You’re out of the Princess cooking repertoire.

Fully cooked braciole, sauce and all, served atop a bed of spaghetti noodles.

1 (2-pound) flank steak, trimmed
10 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup golden raisins, chopped coarse
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (plus extra for serving)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 onion, chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Position steak on cutting board so long edge is parallel to counter edge. Cover with plastic wrap and pound to even 1/2 inch thickness. Trim any ragged edges to create rough rectangle about 11 by 9 inches. Pat steak dry with paper towels.
2. Combine garlic and oil in bowl and microwave until fragrant, about 1 minute. Let cool slightly, then remove garlic from oil with fork. Separately reserve garlic and garlic oil. Combine raisins, Parmesan, 1/4 cup basil, parsley, half of garlic, 1/2 tsp oregano, and 1/4 tsp pepper flakes in bowl.
3. Brush exposed side of steak with 1 tbsp garlic oil and season with 1/2 tsp salt and 3/4 tsp pepper. Spread raisin mixture evenly over steak, pressing to adhere, leaving 1-inch border along top edge. starting from bottom edge and rolling away from you, roll steak into tight log, finally resting seam side down. Tie kitchen twin around braciole at 1-inch intervals.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon garlic oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add braciole, seam side down, and cook until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish.
5. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, remaining garlic oil, remaining 1/2 teaspoon oregano, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes to now-empty skillet. Cook until onion just begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and remaining half of garlic and cook until fragrant and tomato paste is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, bring to simmer, and pour sauce over braciole. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake until fork slips easily in and out of braciole, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Transfer baking dish to wire rack, spoon sauce over braciole, re-cover, and let rest in sauce for 30 minutes.
6. Transfer braciole to carving board, seam side down; cut and discard twine; and cut into 3/4-inch thick slices. Stir remaining 1/4 cup basil into sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle 2 cups sauce onto serving platter. Transfer braciole slices to platter. Serve, passing remaining sauce and extra Parmesan separately.

Serves 4-6

Other 12 Months of Cooking Challenge recipes:
• February 1, 2013: “Impossible” Ham and Cheese Pie
• March 20, 2013: Easy Asparagus Tart
• April 17, 2013: Chicken and Rice Soup