Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Beef Chronicles:Tacos with Salsa Cruda

What are these Chronicles all about? Here's an intro.

It's generally easier to eat in than out when you are toting around small children. That was my thinking when I grabbed a package of ground beef from the freezer on my way out the door on a recent visit to my sister's place . Although her downtown apartment is just up the street from the oh-so-dangerous Bofinger, I vowed to cook our supper, rather than order take-out.

I'd forgotten what it's like to cook in a tiny apartment kitchen and the challenges it brings: minimal counter space, über-high cupboards, many many stairs to climb with groceries...Oh, and don't forget the two (of four) furry friends waiting for you to drop something just outside the kitchen. I am totally not used to cooking under such scrutiny.

The 'cousins': Roxy & Tulip

Fortunately my sister had a kicking food processor which more than made up for the cramped quarters and left me asking myself why I don't have one of these modern conveniences; it sure whipped our salsa into shape in record time. If you're decent with a knife and have the time, this salsa is better chopped by hand--and looks prettier--but this lazy version is just fine to serve up when everyone is starving after a long, hard day of shopping.

Lazy Salsa Cruda

4 medium tomatoes, washed and quartered

1/2 large white onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2 Serrano or jalapeno chilies, quartered and seeded

3/4 cup fresh cilantro, washed and stemmed

1/2 cup water

juice of 1 lime

Coarse salt

Combine tomatoes, onion, chilies, cilantro, water, and 2 1/2 teaspoons salt in a food processor. Pulse until the salsa is chunky and well mixed. Add lime juice and pulse again. Season with more salt to taste.

OK, so around here we eat a lot of tacos. For some odd reason, Noah will eat pretty much anything as long as it is wrapped in a tortilla, so I stock up on corn tortillas from my favorite Mexican shop (Tortilleria Maya for you locals) and freeze them for dishing up later with re-fried beans, shredded chicken or spiced beef. Tacos are our cheap, fast and easy weeknight dinner and not really something I'd think of blogging about, but I'm committed to chronicling our local beef; hence this post!

Spiced Taco Filling

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, minced (optional)
1 teaspoon whole cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 teaspoon dried garlic
2 tablespoons water

For spice blend:
Heat a large cast iron on medium heat until quite hot but not smoking. add cumin seed and toast gently for a minute or two. Remove cumin from pan and cool. In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, combine cumin, black peppercorn, dried oregano and dried garlic. Grind to a powder. Add chili powder and pulse just to combine. Set aside.

Heat the same skillet again and add oil. When oil is hot, add onions and cook until soft, about five minutes. Add garlic, jalapeño-if using- and spice blend. Cook another minute or so.
Add meat to the pan, crumble with a wooden spoon and stir well to combine with onion mixture. Stir the meat while it is cooking to help it brown evenly, breaking up any large chunks.
After meat is well browned and sticking to the bottom of the pan a little bit, add the water and scrape the pan vigorously to remove all the browned bits. Turn heat to low and simmer until liquid has evaporated. Season well with salt.

Serve with flour or corn tortillas, plenty of shredded cheese and salsa cruda.
Margaritas are optional.

Just so I don't get into trouble, I better add that my sister's high-ceiling-ed, creaky hardwood floored apartment is actually pretty awesome. I miss those days--even if the storage is atrocious.
And look, she was even able to pull together a peach & ginger pie while I was preparing the tacos, so the kitchen is somewhat workable.

Gosh it was good; we must be related.

More Beef Chronicles:

In Which we Buy A Cow
An Introduction
Rib Steak With Red-Wine Butter
Rosemary-Garlic Marinated T-Bone
Cumin-Scented Kebabs
Sesame-Beef Lettuce Wraps

Thursday, September 24, 2009

7 Inspiring Recipes for the Thanksgiving Table

Plans and preparation for Thanksgiving are getting underway around here as we will celebrate this favorite holiday in just two weeks time!
Cooking the entire Thanksgiving feast can be a daunting task, but if some of the dishes can be contributed by guests or family members 'pot-luck' style, and a few things made ahead of time, the event can be comfortably managed.

Take my Buttermilk & Sweet Onion Rolls, for example. They can be made up to a month ahead of time, then well wrapped and frozen. On the big day simply thaw and place in the oven about 20 minutes before dinner is served. Voila! Hot rolls as tender and soft as if you have made them fresh. Be sure to make plenty as I've observed individuals eat as many as three each during the Thanksgiving feast. (Nope, it wasn't me.)

Here's an outstanding Fruit & Herb Stuffing that can be assembled the day before and baked off on Thanksgiving Day either in the turkey or on the side. It's perfumed with some of my favorite herbs and sweetened with dried cranberries, apples, and golden raisins. Speaking of Big Bird...

There's lots of fancy ways to cook a turkey, from deep frying to brining overnight and then roasting, but I prefer it simply seasoned and roasted, with a maple butter glaze brushed on in the last few minutes of cooking as directed in this post.

It's often easy for the side dishes to steal the spotlight at Thanksgiving feasts, especially when they are emerald green and bejeweled with toasted nuts like these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts & Lemon.

Don't forget my favorite part of the meal: the cranberry sauce. It's really the main reason to eat turkey, as far as I'm concerned, and this cheery Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce will wake up those taste buds and complement the poultry perfectly.

Wait! Hold off on thirds of this virtual Thanksgiving feast, because dessert is coming!

It doesn't get much more classic than apple pie, but this sky-high version made with sour cream and spices, then topped with a kicking pecan streusel, is the best I've ever had. Trust me, it's worthy of a spot on your sideboard this Thanksgiving.

I don't even have to sell you on this Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce because just the title and photo alone should tell you that it's pretty much the ideal Autumn dessert.
Psst: don't have time for messing with pie crust? This dessert is a cinch to put together and can be made a day or two ahead of time--IF you can resist eating it warm from the oven. I dare you.

No matter where you are or what day you celebrate, here's raising a glass and wishing "a happy, healthy Thanksgiving to each and every one!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Geraldine's Chocolate-Date Cake

I've been going through cake withdrawal. I haven't posted a cake recipe in two months. That means I haven't baked a cake in two months. Since June's Pecan-Streusel Coffee Cake there has been soup, salad, salmon and plenty of beef, but precious few sweets, which is odd for me, wouldn't you say? (Thanks for putting up with all the beef, by the way, we're nowhere near finished.) Summer's fresh fruit and berries have provided sufficient distraction and we've eaten crisps and cobblers galore, but with the cooler weather comes a distinct longing for... CAKE!

Fortunately, before I started spazzing from lack of flour, eggs, sugar and butter baked in pleasing proportions, Beth Lipton's (aka CookiePie) brand spanking new cookbook arrived in the mail for me to review. Titled You Made That Dessert? this sizzling cookbook provided ample reason to rev up my Kitchen Aid.

I'm so thrilled Beth chose me to participate in her online book tour. This cookbook was a pleasure to peruse and a breeze to follow. I love it's tag line: "Create Fabulous Treats, Even If You Can Barely Boil Water". I can attest to the clear directions and straightforward steps; they are going to make baking a whole lot easier for the novice.

Since I already had cake on the brain, I thought it would be easy to choose a recipe from Beth's cookbook; however, her stellar collection of twenty or so cakes left me thumbing back and forth for some time before I settled on a recipe that combined two of my favorite ingredients (chocolate & coffee) with a twist --dates.

There were two things I noted while making this cake--well, three actually.

1. The recipe calls for the dates to be chopped in half. Brilliant, because they are going to be tossed in a blender later and pureed with the coffee. Ever encountered a date or olive pit while using your blender? NOT fun. As it so happens, I removed two pits from the 'pitted' dates as I was chopping them.
2. This really is a one-bowl cake, dry ingredients are sifted right on top of the wet. And speaking of sifting...
3. Listen to step 2 of the recipe:

"Sift the dry ingredients by holding the sieve over the bowl and lightly tapping the side with your fingers. If there are any lumps of dry ingredients left after you've finished sifting, rub the back of a spoon over the lumps to press them through the sieve."
Are those not clear directions, or what? Beth has carefully outlined each step with such care, they will reassure even the most timid baker. Bravo!

As I had suspected, this cake was even better after sitting overnight. The flavors really had a chance to meld, yet each one still shone through in its own way. Marvelous cake, and @CookiePie--fantastic cookbook! Congratulations!

Geraldine's Chocolate-Date Cake


Cooking Spray
2 cups pitted dried dates, halved

1-1/4 cups hot strongly brewed coffee

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350F. Mist a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Place the pan on a sheet of parchment, trace the pan with a pencil and cut out the parchment circle. Line the bottom of the pan with the parchment round and mist it with cooking spray. Loosely fill a 2-cup liquid measuring cup with the dates and cover with the hot coffee. Let it sit for 5 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter, sugar, and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a flexible spatula and then beat again until the mixture is uniform. Place a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl with the butter mixture and put the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in the sieve. Sift the dry ingredients by holding the sieve over the bowl and lightly tapping the side with your fingers. If there are any lumps of dry ingredients left after you've finished sifting, rub the back of a spoon over the lumps to press them through the sieve. With a flexible spatula, mix the dry ingredients gently into the butter mixture until nearly combined.

Pour the dates and coffee into a blender or food processor and blend to puree the mixture completely. Add the pureed dates to the batter and mix with the same flexible spatula until all the ingredients are combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top evenly with the chocolate chips. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the edges begin to pull away from the side of the pan and the cake springs back when you touch it lightly. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack until cool enough to handle, then gently turn the cake out onto the rack to cool further. Serve at room temperature. Cover leftover cake with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Join the You Made That Dessert? Cookbook Food Blog Tour!!

Sour Cream Coffee Cake on Two Peas and Their Pod

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes on Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

Cappuccino Biscotti on the Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch

Lime-Glazed Citrus Tea Cake on Sticky, Gooey, Creamy Chewy

Cookies & Cream Cheesecake Bars on Recipe Girl

Banana Snack Cake with Rich Caramel Frosting on Cookie Baker Lynn

PB&J Bars and Coconut Rice Pudding on Eat Me, Delicious

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Talking Jam on SimpleMom

I haven't really been holding out on you, it's just that I completely forgot to mention that I wrote a Jam Making 101-type of post over at SimpleMom last week.

It's definitely the season for canning and preserving summer! If you're dragging your feet at getting started, this post will reassure you that's it's not so complicated after all. I discuss Ingredients, Tools & Equipment, and a Basic Method for making jam.

Here's a sample from the post:

"My first attempt at making jam was memorable, for all the right reasons. I was a newlywed, eager to wear the old-fashioned housewife hat, and making my own jam seemed like something I would enjoy, more so than, say sewing curtains or darning socks. I had my flat of strawberries and set to work in my tiny apartment kitchen...."
...read the rest of An Introduction to Making Jam on SimpleMom

All this jam talk reminds me...

e you submitted your jam recipe to my virtual swap yet?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Beef Chronicles: Sesame Beef Lettuce Wraps

An introduction to these Beef Chronicles

When it comes to Asian cuisine, I'm the first to admit I'm a terrible hack.

I don't know when to use sriracha or shichimi and mix up udon and soba half the time. My versions of classics such as Pad Thai or Sweet & Sour Soup are butchered because I tend to toss in whatever is wilting in the fridge instead of following a recipe.

Sure I've been to Thailand and Indonesia, but that doesn't account for much--certainly didn't instill an instinctive Asian touch to my cooking. On the contrary, it fostered such a fondness for coconut milk and lemongrass, that many a promising Chinese or Japanese dish has been ruined by the addition of a can of coconut milk. Obviously I need help.

I either need to get my hands on a really good, all-inclusive Asian cookbook or take some classes. Marrying into an Asian family is no longer an option, unfortunately. Maybe I should have considered those marriage proposals a little more seriously back in my wild and free backpacking days.

With that disclaimer, I can now bring you today's new recipe in the Beef Chronicles: Sesame Beef Lettuce Wraps.
I'm not sure if they are Korean or Vietnamese, but I do know that they were baaaad--in the good sense of the word, of course.

Here's why we can't get enough of them:

Self. Assembly. I just don't have time these days to roll sushi or spring rolls. Ingredients go in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves.

Fresh, Fresh, very Fresh. Simply LOVE lettuce as a wrapper for these crunchy bites. As much as I'm fond of bread and its many forms, it gets a little boring--not to mention fattening--as the means of transporting toppings & fillings. Pizza, souvlaki, panini, hamburgers, calzone, fajitas, wraps, quesedillas--all those relatively quick, family style food have bread as a base. Heavy.

Easy Peasy. Marinade the beef in the afternoon and stir together dipping sauce. 20 minutes before dinner, start rice. Shred some carrot, grill the beef, grab a head of lettuce and dinner is served.

. I liked that the rolls offered the ease of outdoor cooking--particularly helpful these days because I'm trying to keep my kitchen extra clean--but they don't scream BBQ, because by now, BBQ is getting a little old, you know?

Have I mentioned Fast? Fast to prep, fast to grill, fast to serve. Leaves plenty of time to relax around the table and prepare each wrap lovingly by hand.

Hmmm, I guess they are more like 'folds' instead of 'wraps'. As you can see from the photo, I didn't really wrap them. They're actually more like tacos. Asian tacos? You see how confused I am?

By the way, we're really, really enjoying our beef, a locally purchased Angus calf, for those of you who are new (and there's plenty more beef recipes at the bottom of the post).

Sesame Beef Lettuce Wraps
Serves 2-3

1 head Boston lettuce
3 cups cooked rice
2 carrots
bunch of green onions
250 g minute steak or flank steak
Dipping Sauce (of choice or recipe below)

2 small garlic cloves
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
fresh ground pepper

Peel and chop garlic cloves. Sprinkle with sugar and using the side of your knife blade, crush the garlic to make a paste with the sugar. Place in a bowl and add the remaining marinade ingredients. Coat steaks with marinade and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.

Peel and finely chiffonade or grate carrots. Wash and pat dry the green onions and chiffonade the green stalks; reserve the bulbs for another use. Toss green onion and carrot together and reserve until ready to serve.

Pull apart leaves of Boston lettuce and place in a bowl.

Preheat BBQ. Remove beef from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Lightly oil with vegetable oil. Grill quickly to desired temperature. Time will vary depending on the cut of steak. Remove from grill and allow to rest a few minutes.

To Serve:
Place rice, lettuce, and carrot on the table. Slice beef into thin strips and serve with dipping sauce of your choice or the recipe below.
Each person assembles their own wrap.

Korean Barbecue Dipping Sauce

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Sriracha chile sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon minced green onion
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
1 Tablespoon water

On a cutting board, use the side of the blade of your knife to crush the garlic and the sugar together, forming a paste. Transfer paste to a small bowl and add all remaining ingredients. Mix together well an reserve until ready to use.

More Beef Chronicles:

In Which we Buy A Cow
An Introduction
Rib Steak With Red-Wine Butter
Rosemary-Garlic Marinated T-Bone
Cumin-Scented Kebabs
Beef Tacos with Salsa Cruda
Classic Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding
Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Purée
Steak au Poivre & Sweet Potato Fries
Ossobuco in Bianco
Chocolate Chip Chili

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Foodie Facebook: Cheryl

If Backseat Gourmet isn't the cutest name for a blog, then maybe Naptime Quilter is, anyway, they are both written by the illustrious Cheryl. Yep, the same Cheryl with whom I swapped mothering and cooking stories over dinner last month.
Find out about her fondness for ale and more in this edition of Foodie Facebook.


Calgary, Alberta

Mama, Environmental Program Manager, Quilter, Aspiring Writer and Teacher, Bestest Wife Ever

What is your earliest childhood food memory?

It may seem cliche for a Prairie girl, but the first food memories I have all involve Ukrainian food. It is arriving at my Baba and Dido's after a long drive and being served hot raspberry tea and fresh pyrohy, loading up the car with Baba's vegetables from her enormous garden, or sitting down to a traditional Christmas Eve feast. They all blend into one big ball of fried dough in my memory bank.

What did you eat today?

A fresh peach and cottage cheese, shared with Smilosaurus (my youngest daughter) for breakfast. Berry Crumble Squares (thank-you Dinner with Julie), apples, and raspberry lemonade at a playdate. A salad with nectarine, feta, and leftover pork shoulder at lunch. And spaghetti pie made with more leftovers for dinner.

What will your kids never be allowed to eat?

Never say never. There are things I will never serve them (KD, packaged oatmeal and pre-packaged luncheons), but I won't deny them the crap anymore than I would deny them the exotic. That being said, we once ordered mac and cheese a snooty private club and when they served KD my toddler refused to eat it. That's my girl!

What do you always have on hand in your fridge?

Feta (sheep), cottage cheese, Liberté Mediterranean yoghurt, this week's CSA delivery, maple syrup, fresh eggs, and butter.

What is your beverage of choice?

That depends on the time of day! I like water and tea at work, milk for dinner, and when it comes to alcohol I really, really enjoy my scotch. But give me a G & T or a Traditional Ale on a hot day and I'll be your friend forever.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the history of man, who would it be?

I would do anything to sit down for a family meal with my father-in-law. He passed away before we had kids and I would do anything to have him sit at the table with us as a family, just once, and revel in the raucousness. I guarantee he could win the roaring contests.

OK, it’s your last meal ever, what do you have?

If is is truly my last meal I plan to do it up Roman style, so this is a long menu. Slow roasted tomatoes with goat cheese, my Hubby's hamburgers, guacamole and my Dad's salsa with chips, fresh corn on the cob, brownies, mint chocolate chip ice cream, peaches and still warm raspberries, Traditional Ale to wash it all down, and a smoky scotch (don't make me pick which one now) with an assortment of dark chocolates.

Thanks for taking time out from quilting to chat with us, Cheryl! I've had the pleasure of dining on those burgers of your hubby's, so I know full well why they made this list.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Chilled Yellow Tomato Soup with Savoura Mini-Cucumbers

Giant, yellow tomatoes are splitting their sides with juice in my little kitchen garden because I've been too busy to pick them. There is this little side project going on around here called "Moving House" and it's taking up every ounce of energy and attention. It was with mixed excitement and trepidation when we placed our home on the market, but the real work is keeping the place presentable with two little monkeys tearing around all day long!

I've got my kitchen so clean, I don't want to cook in it--a feeling I don't expect to last for long, especially with all the gorgeous autumn produce that is showing up at the markets. Pretty soon there will be swash soup splattered on the walls and pumpkin seeds stuck to the floor as we embrace the season, but for now I'm trying to keep things spit-polished.

This quick tomato soup requires just a bowl and a blender and can be kept in the fridge for no-fuss light lunches all week long. No stove to clean and minimal dishes? I like that.

This soup was inspired by Chef Normand Laprise of Toqué! His version was always a popular item on the summer menu back when I was garde-manger girl. Hey, I bet he would have loved these new mini cucumbers from Savoura; fine dining establishments are all about the micro-vegetables. These cucumbers are harvested when they are four inches long--making them ideal for lunches or adorning a crudité platter.
Snack food has never looked so cute, thanks to this Québec-based company!

I couldn't resist garnishing my chilled tomato soup with a stylish mini-cucumber wedge and sprinkling it with a little Maldon salt. Fall may be just around the corner, but this favorite soup of mine will remind you that summer is still hanging on.

Chilled Yellow Tomato Soup with Mini-Cucumbers

6 large, ripe yellow tomatoes

2 Tablespoons sugar

3 Tablespoons rice vinegar

& pepper

garnish options

chives, chopped

cherry tomatoes


diced avocado

crumbled feta

Quarter tomatoes and toss in a bowl with sugar and vinegar. Cover and marinade 1-3 hours.
Puree in a blender and pass through a fine sieve. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve chilled with your choice of garnish. That's it!

The soup can keep up to three days in the fridge. Be sure to shake, whisk or blend well before serving as it will separate when it sits.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

For Sale By Owner: UtHC Kitchen & Surrounding House

First look at the UtHC kitchen

This isn't going to be your typical post, and quite honestly, I debated whether I should go ahead with it or not. In the end, I decided that this blog is just too good of a platform to not use to my advantage, so thanks in advance for putting up with the real estate shark in me (Who knew?) and for hearing me out.

Here's the deal: we're selling our house!

Yep, UtHC is moving to some new digs; not a new virtual "hosting" site or "domain", but the actual brick and mortar kitchen where the cooking magic happens. I'll be sad to say goodbye to my sunny kitchen with its hardwood floors and warm terracotta walls; after all, this is where the highchair phase of our lives started.

The house will be on the market in a few days, but I would love to pass this cozy, functional kitchen on to someone who will use it as much as I did. And that is why you, dear (local) readers, are eligible for an EXCLUSIVE opportunity before this hits the market and gets snatched up by a non-foodie!

So... who wants it? I'm serious. Don't forget there is a kitchen garden or 'potager' as we like to call it, that starred in it's own series last year.

Here are details:

If you are looking to purchase a modest home in the South Shore area of Montreal, email me at aimee(dot)c(dot)bourque(at)gmail(dot)com and I would be more than happy to give you more information.

Would this be any fun if there were no incentive? Of course not! Tell your friends who are looking to buy a home about this kitchen you see in the photos. If you refer someone to me who ends up taking over the stoves (stove included without legal warranty, wink, wink!), I'll come to your place and cook dinner for you and a few friends. How does that sound?

Start the bidding...

Due to the personal nature of this post, I'd prefer to answer questions via email, rather than in the comments. Thanks!
We will be back with our regular programming soon!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


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