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Recipes: Quiche, a Basic How-To

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2014 by KarenElizabeth

When I was in university, I made my first vegetarian friends — and I had no idea how to feed them.  My high-school girlfriend’s brief flirtation with vegetarianism had consisted mostly of grocery-store-brand veggie lasagna, vegetarian chili-cheese fries at the cafeteria, and eating a lot of raw veggies & dip.  I’d never had to cook an entrée that didn’t include meat, before, and wasn’t entirely sure where to begin.

A search online for vegetarian recipe ideas led me to a food I’d never tried before:  quiche.  I figured that something which looked essentially like an omelette in a pie crust couldn’t possibly be half bad, and whipped up a quick version with broccoli, mushrooms, and three kinds of cheese.  It was a success, and quiche entered my cooking arsenal as an easy, quick, and crowd-pleasing piece of comfort food.

quiche

These days, while quiche remains an easy default for vegetarian-friendly meals, it’s something I make more often as a portable lunch-option for work, or as something I can quickly reheat when I’m too busy to cook for a few days.  It’s also a great way of using up leftovers, since you can throw pretty much anything into a quiche and it’ll come out tasting pretty good.  I usually do, in fact, use meat in my quiches — today’s version includes pork sausage — but they’re an incredibly flexible food that you can easily tailor to your particular desires.

 

The Crust

The most labour-intensive part of a quiche is the crust.  I generally use my basic pie crust recipe as the starting point, but since a quiche doesn’t require a top crust I’ll just whip up a half-sized batch.

Cut a half-cup of vegetable shortening into 1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt, until you’ve got a crumbly mixture with no big clumps of shortening.  At this point, since quiche is a savoury dish, you may want to add a few herbs — I like to toss in a sprinkling of dried Italian herbs for visual interest and a bit of a flavour-hit in the crust.  Sprinkle cold water in, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together into a slightly-crumbly ball.  Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes or so before rolling out into the bottom of your pie dish (or a round cake pan will do, if you want a deeper quiche with a more straight up-and-down edge — a springform pan will allow you to make a deep-dish quiche without the difficulty of removing it at the end).

Alternatively, you can either use a store-bought crust, or puff pastry.  Either is perfectly acceptable (although everyone should really make a scratch-made crust at some point in their life).

 

The Filling

As I’ve already mentioned, you can put pretty much anything you like into a quiche.  Meat should be pre-cooked (for today’s quiche, I browned the sausage & some onions in a frying pan for the filling), but vegetables can be either cooked or raw — I tend to prefer raw veggies, since they retain more of their individual flavour and texture within the cooked quiche.  Frozen veggies are perfectly acceptable, here — just give them a rinse to get rid of the “freezer taste”.  Dark green veggies like broccoli, asparagus, and spinach are classic quiche ingredients, but don’t feel limited; use whatever you like.

Leftovers are a great option for quiche, so this is the perfect place to use up the last bits from your roast or chicken dinner.

Depending on the texture you prefer, you can use large or small pieces in your filling.  I like the texture & flavour variations provided by using larger pieces of veggies, but it’s entirely up to you.  Smaller bits will give a more uniform flavour throughout the dish.

quiche filling

Where I differ from many classic quiche recipes is that I like there to be a LOT of stuff in my quiche.  While custard is delicious, I prefer to add just barely enough egg & cream to hold the whole thing together, to make a more hearty meal.  So as you can see in the photo, I fill my dish right up.  Meat, veggies, and plenty of cheese, with just a few little spaces in-between for the egg to fill.  Putting the majority of the cheese on top (use any kind you like; my quiche today has a combination of Parmesan and sharp Cheddar) makes for a nice toasted, crispy top that both looks and tastes delightful.

 

The Custard

The defining ingredient of quiche is, of course, the custard.  Thoroughly beating the eggs is important to getting a nice, fluffy texture on your finished product.  For my 9″ pie pan, I use 3 eggs and about a cup of cream (5-10%, although whole milk will do if you’re concerned about fat content).  Add your herbs & spices to your custard — salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika (be generous with the paprika) are my usual “basic” mix, and then I’ll add other spices to compliment whatever filling I’m using.  Chili spice or cayenne for a spicier meal, parsley & sage to go with chicken, rosemary with beef, dill & thyme with fish — or, like today, a generous scoop of curry powder to compliment my pork sausage.  Make sure the herbs & spices are thoroughly mixed in, then pour your custard mix slowly over top of the filling in the pie shell.  A few light taps on the side of the pie pan will make sure that the custard has filled up all the holes between the filling.

quiche before baking

Note that your quiche should not look particularly “full” of custard at this point.  It will puff up during cooking — if the pie pan is full to the brim, you’ll get spillover as things cook.  You can see in the pictures that mine looks quite “shy” before going in the oven, but once things are cooked the eggs have puffed up to fill the remaining space.

Cooking, Serving, Storing, and Re-Heating

In an oven heated to 375 Fahrenheit, bake your quiche for about 40 minutes (until the crust is golden-brown).  Once you take it out, let it sit for 5 minutes or so before serving — this will let the custard solidify a bit more, and make it easier to slice & serve.

quiche toasty cheese

I like my quiche with a bit of hot sauce on top, or occasionally a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.  If you’re feeling decadent, you can drizzle on a bit of hollandaise.  A 9″ pie pan makes about 4 servings.  A bit of salad on the side rounds out the meal, but certainly isn’t necessary.

Quiche will keep wonderfully for 3-4 days in the fridge — wrap tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, or store in an airtight container, to prevent it from drying out.  Or you can divide it into portions & freeze for 2-3 months.

Reheating is best done in an oven or toaster oven, to maintain the crisp & flaky crust.  If you’ve frozen your quiche, reheat it directly from frozen, don’t thaw it out first.  If you’ve just been keeping it in the fridge, it should only take about 10 minutes to be heated through & ready to eat.

Microwaving is faster, but your crust will get soggy.  3-5 minutes should do, depending on your particular microwave.

You can also eat quiche without reheating, which is often what I’ll do at lunch time.

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Recipes: Asian-Inspired Deconstructed Cabbage Roll

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

I’ve probably mentioned it many times before, but I am not a fan of summer.  The sweltering heat, the choking humidity and poor air quality, the burning sunlight — it all makes me pretty unhappy.

One of the many things that annoys me about summer is the difficulty of cooking decent meals.  Living in an apartment building, barbecue and outdoor cookery is not much of an option for me.  But being in the kitchen for any length of time heats up the entire apartment and just adds to the general discomfort of the season.  As a solution to this, I’ve developed a lot of recipes that take less than 20 minutes to prepare.  The less time spent in the kitchen, and the less time spent with the stove or oven running, the more comfortable I am with this whole “summer” thing.

Today’s recipe was a bit of a make-it-up-as-you-go affair, and it came out beautifully.

deconstructed cabbage roll

Feeling headachey and gross from a combination of heat and tiredness and depression, I was craving some sort of homey comfort-food.  Lasagna.  Meatloaf.  Cabbage rolls.  But all of those things take a lot of oven-time, which was obviously not an option in this weather.  A dig through the cupboards, though, revealed a package of rice noodles — what could I possibly do with those?  Some ground beef, Asian spices, and veggies later, I’d created something delicious.

The Ingredients

  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced.
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped.
  • A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root, diced small or grated.
  • 1lb ground beef (or other ground meat or meat alternative — pork, chicken, or turkey would work just fine here, or go with tofu for a veggie option).
  • A splash of sesame oil.
  • A couple tablespoons of olive oil.
  • 1 small zucchini, chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  • 1/4 of a large cabbage, roughly chopped.
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce.
  • 1/3 cup lime juice.
  • A splash of fish sauce (omit for vegetarians).
  • Asian 5-spice blend of your choice (I make my own with cinnamon, dried chilis, anise, ginger, and tumeric — and I go heavy on the ginger and chili.  You can buy a pre-made mix or combine your own flavours).
  • Rice noodles (any style)

The Method

Heat up the olive oil and sesame oil in a large pan or wok, at medium-high heat.  Add in your onion, garlic, ginger, and beef.  Lightly brown these ingredients, then turn down the temperature to medium-low.  Add your soy sauce, lime juice, fish sauce, and spices.

At the same time, bring water to a boil in a separate pot.  The rice noodles only need to cook for about three minutes; as soon as the water is boiling you can drop them in, but don’t forget about them or they’ll turn to mush!  Rescue & plate them as soon as they’ve gone soft.

Cook your meat mixture for about 5 minutes to combine all of the flavours, then toss in your cabbage and zucchini (alternatively, you can use other veggies like eggplant, bell peppers, bok choy — whatever catches your fancy).  Stir the mix so that the veggies cook evenly, and as soon as they start to get nice and soft, it’s ready.  Spoon the meat mix over your rice noodles, and serve immediately (garnish with more chilis and a slice of lime if you want to get fancy).

This makes about 3-4 servings, depending on how hungry you are.  And it only takes about 15 minutes to prepare!

 

Any leftover meat mixture can be wrapped up in cabbage leaves and kept in the fridge to snack on cold the next day.  But this stuff is so delicious that you might not have any leftovers.

Recipes: Creamy Broccoli & Cheddar Soup

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by KarenElizabeth

This soup is a favourite food of mine — and it’s incredibly easy to make.  If you’re intimidated by cream soups, or just don’t tend to like the commercially available ones (I know I don’t — I find they’re always way too thick & the texture is off-putting), this is a great place to start.  You can use this same basic method to make any sort of cream soup — cream of mushroom, cream of celery, whatever catches your fancy.

You can also make this soup lactose-free and vegan-friendly by omitting the cream & cheese — it’s a delicious soup without those things, too.

Broccoli_bunches

Total prep time is about an hour and a half, although most of that is just cooking.  The actual work involved takes about 10-15 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch broccoli, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup half and half cream (can be omitted or replaced with soy milk for lactose-free)
  • 3 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • a few tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/2 cup flour (or a flour substitute like corn starch, if going for gluten-free)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • a pinch of paprika
  • cheddar or other cheese (I happen to like mixing 1/2 and 1/2 cheddar and swiss) (can be omitted if desired)

Prep

Start by pre-heating a large pot and melting your butter or margarine over medium-high heat.  Add your diced onion & garlic, and sautee until you start getting some nice brown colour going on (should just take a couple of minutes).  At this point, add your flour — this will absorb the butter and the liquid from the onions to make a roux, which will thicken your soup.  Keep stirring until all the liquid is absorbed, so that the flour doesn’t burn & stick to the bottom of the pot.

Add your stock & 3 cups of water to the pot, as well as your broccoli.  You can add a bit more water if the broccoli is not completely submerged.  Bring everything to a boil, and then turn down the heat to a very low level and let it simmer until the broccoli is thoroughly cooked & quite soft.

At this point you want to blend your soup to crush up the broccoli.  If you have an immersion blender, this is the perfect tool — or if not, you can pour your soup into a blender or food processor, and then return it to the pot once blended.  I like to only blend a little, to leave some chunks of broccoli and give the soup a better texture, but you can make it as creamy as you wish.

Once everything is blended together, add your cream & spices.  Careful with the salt, especially if you used a commercially made stock as your base — go lightly, and you can always add more later.  Remember that you’ll be adding cheese to this, and cheese has salt in it too.  Pepper, on the other hand, I encourage using a heavy hand with.  Paprika rounds out the flavour and compliments the garlic, as well as adding a little pop of colour (you can also sprinkle the bowl with paprika before serving, to add extra visual interest).

Return the soup to a simmer, and leave for 20 minutes or longer (to thoroughly merge all of the flavours).

Grated cheese should be added to the bowl right before serving — this means that the cheese will still be visible when the bowl hits the table, and also means that you don’t end up with cheesey goo stuck permanently to the bottom of your pot (makes for easier washing up).

And that’s all there is to it!

Changing it Up

This soup is super easy, so don’t be afraid to change it up with your own touches and ingredients.  Switch up the vegetables, or add meat to the pot (after you’re done blending things) for a heartier meal — I like adding bits of chicken or sausage (cooked in a frying pan with a bit of oil to give them some nice browned edges), or you can’t go wrong with bacon.  Try different types of cheese to add a different flavour (smoked gouda is delicious, or a creamy goat cheese for richness).  Try adding curry when you’re making your roux (curry likes to be cooked with oil, or it tastes “raw”), or a blend of Italian spices when you add your cream.  Or add some roasted tomatoes and/or red peppers to give it a really different flavour and colour.  Be adventurous!  And share your experimentations in the comments.

Pesto; Pistou; Pasta

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 12, 2011 by KarenElizabeth

One of the greatest challenges of living alone is the simple fact that it’s often hard to motivate oneself to prepare delicious meals when there is no one else to impress.  The rewards of gourmet cooking are decidedly reduced when there’s no one ooh-ing and ahh-ing over your hard-wrought creations … and of course, cooking from scratch takes a lot more work and produces a lot more dishes than just simply throwing a frozen pizza into the oven.

Another trouble with cooking for one is that most things simply aren’t sold in single-sized portions.  Buying just one nice chicken breast, pound for pound, is two or three times the cost of purchasing an entire chicken.  And a lot of vegetables simply don’t come in smaller sizes — a bunch of celery is a bunch of celery is a bunch of celery, and damn that’s a lot of celery for just one person to eat before it goes limp.

Now, there are a lot of different solutions to these problems.  Cooking larger meals and then freezing the leftovers, buying frozen vegetable mixes to introduce more variety without having to buy a dozen different things, and making use of odds and ends in simple one-pot meals are all options that many of us single-types employ.  But one solution that I’ve found particularly useful, and somehow it doesn’t seem to be on most people’s lists of shortcuts, is the magic of sauces and spreads.

Making a large batch of, say, pasta sauce, is an easy way to use up vegetables before they go bad, and it also provides you with easily stored leftovers that can be re-heated and served very quickly.  In the 10-15 minutes it takes to boil water and prepare pasta, you can take a serving of sauce from the freezer, to a pan, and have it nice and warm by the time the pasta reaches al dente.  And there’s no need to get bored of eating the same thing all week long, because in the freezer the sauce will keep well for a month or two, allowing you to spread out your meals.  The same goes for many different sauces and spreads — even things that can’t be frozen can often be stored in the fridge or preserved in canning jars, in order to last much longer than the raw ingredients would on their own.

One of the fruit & vegetable shops near my house sells large bunches of fresh herbs for really excellent prices, but generally an entire bunch is much more than I could possibly use in a week.  I have a particular love, though, for fresh basil, and this week I just couldn’t resist picking up a bundle.  Enter: the magic of sauces and spreads.

Image by Paul Goyette, used under Creative Commons license

One of the ways in which most people are introduced to basil is through pesto, a popular spread with its roots in Genoa, northern Italy.  Pesto’s popularity is a testament to its deliciousness, and you might be surprised to find out just how easy it is to make:  a traditional pesto contains only 5 ingredients.  Fresh basil is ground up with pine nuts, garlic, a little bit of coarse salt, and some Parmesan cheese.  Sometimes olive oil is added to improve the consistency.  The ratios of various ingredients may change (the Internet is full of “secret recipes” for the “perfect” pesto), but the basic method remains the same.  Put it all together in a food processor, blend until smooth, and serve over noodles or spread on fresh bread (or add it to other dishes).

I’m not actually a particular fan of pine nuts, and so I tend to make the less-well-known French version: pistou.  Pistou is even simpler to prepare, being prepared only with basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil.  Sometimes cheese is added, but I prefer to leave it out — I’ll generally add cheese to the dish later, if I want it.  Pistou goes extremely well with goat cheese, feta, Swiss cheese, or just a simple Canadian cheddar.

The ratio that I use in preparing my pistou is:

  • 2 cups roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 8 to 10 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp coarse sea salt (you can leave the salt out if you’re looking to monitor the sodium in your diet, but remember to add a touch of salt in later if you’re going to be using it on its own or in a dish that doesn’t already contain salt, as this does enhance and round out the flavour).

Start with a smaller amount of olive oil, and add more as things are blending if you find that the food processor is having trouble integrating it all into a paste.  I find that the amount of oil used can vary quite a bit, depending on factors like the moisture content of the basil and the humidity of the air.  The final result should be about 1 to 1-1/4 cups of fragrant, delicious pistou, ready to be used as-is (it’s delicious spread on fresh bread), or combined into other things.  Store your pistou in an airtight container, and it should keep in the fridge for a month, or freeze it in an ice-cube tray and then keep frozen (in a ziplock bag, to prevent freezer burn) for up to three months.

Ideas for using your pistou include:

  • Add a tablespoon of pistou and some grated cheese to warm pasta for a delicious, quick lunch or dinner.
  • Alternatively, make a pasta salad by adding pistou and fresh lemon juice to cold cooked noodles.
  • Add a tablespoon or two worth of pistou to cream or cheese sauces for extra zing
  • Put a teaspoon of pistou inside a stuffed chicken breast with bacon, asparagus and asiago cheese for something fancy and delicious — this is a meal I use when I really want to impress somebody, as most people get really excited about food-stuffed-inside-other-food.
  • Add a bit of pistou to a creamy risotto dish for extra flavour.
  • A scoop of pistou in a vegetable or chicken soup adds a nice hit of flavour and some pretty green flecks (this is a very traditional way of using pistou in Provence; pistou soup is usually prepared with summer vegetables and spaghetti noodles)
  • A tablespoon of pistou, a tablespoon of whole-grain mustard, a splash of lemon juice, and a cup of olive oil (well-shaken) makes an easy and delicious salad dressing.
  • Add a generous amount of pistou to some sour cream, cream cheese, or greek yogurt  to make a yummy dip.
  • Add pistou to a hummus spread for a non-traditional flavour.

Apples! A Few Quick Solutions to Apple Season

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

Apples!  Delicious, nutritious, and (due to a food allergy) they make my mouth feel as though I’ve been drinking bleach.  Not to worry, though!  I can still enjoy apple season just as much as the next North American goth kid, with only a few extra steps involved, because cooking renders the apple proteins harmless (and defenseless against my ravenous nommings, just like a fruit should be).

Whether or not you need to cook your apples to destroy their evil allergy-powers, the following recipes are fast, simple, and delicious ways to cook up those bushels upon bushels of apples that are so plentiful at this time of year.

Applesauce

Whether it’s a topping for pork roast, a side-dish, or a snack in its own right, applesauce is definitely a classic (try having a bowl of apple sauce with a big wedge of aged cheddar cheese on the side — it’s such a good combo!).  And it’s so, so easy.  Just peel, core, and slice one large or two small apples for each person you want to serve (if you’re feeling lazy, you can skip peeling and just chop the apples up quite small, but you’ll end up with a chunkier sauce that way).  Put the apples into a pot along with a bit of water or apple juice (enough to cover the bottom of the pot by about an inch), a pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of cinnamon*.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  After five minutes, the apples should be nice and soft.  Mash them up with a fork or potato masher, and you’ve got delicious apple sauce!  You can serve it right away, or make a big batch and keep it in the fridge.  If you’ve got a boiling water canner you can even jar it up and save for later, but I find that apple sauce is so easy to make and apples are so readily available, there’s no reason to store it.

 

Baked Apples

Baked apples are a personal favourite of mine, and easily made in the microwave, oven, or toaster oven.  They’re kind of like inside-out apple crisp, and they look very pretty when served in a little saucer, covered with whipped cream or drizzled with caramel sauce.

The most complicated part of making a baked apple is cutting out the core.  You don’t want to cut all the way through the apple, or you’ll make it impossible for all the gooey goodness to get held inside.  You just want to scoop out most of the core, leaving about a half-inch “floor” on the bottom to hold everything in.  Think of it kind of like carving a pumpkin — cut a circle around the stem with a paring knife, then use a spoon to scoop downwards and take out the core and seeds.  You’ll want the hole to be about an inch wide — enough to make sure you’ve gotten out all of the core and seeds, but not so wide as to be cutting out all of the delicious apple flesh.

Once you’ve made your little apple “bowls”, it’s time to fill them with crumbly goodness.  Mix together equal parts brown sugar, uncooked oats (I prefer large-flake oats, because they retain more texture than quick oats, but use whichever you have on hand), and raisins or nuts (or a mix of both).  1/3 cup of each gives you enough to fill four large apples.  Add in a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of cinnamon*, then fill your apples.  Top each one with a teensy bit of butter or margarine (a half-teaspoon is enough).

If you’re baking these in the oven or toaster oven, you’ll want to add a little bit of water or apple juice to the bottom of the baking pan, just to help keep things from drying out.  If you’re doing it in the microwave you don’t need to worry about that, since the microwave doesn’t dry things out the same way.

Bake covered at 350 degrees for a half hour, or in the microwave at medium-high for five minutes (depends on your specific microwave; it may take some testing to get the timing right).  Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream, or caramel sauce (or all of the above).

 

Apple Crisp

This one’s my dad’s favourite, and was usually the dessert he’d whip up whenever he was in charge of dinner.  He and I share the same allergy, so it was one of the few ways he ever got to eat apples, and he became an expert at making this particular dish.

Peel and slice four large apples.  Lay the slices in an 8×8 baking dish (use a bit of butter to grease up the dish if you’re not using non-stick).

In a bowl, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour (I like to use whole wheat), 1/2 cup oats (like with the baked apples, I prefer large flake, but quick oats will do), a pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of cinnamon*.  Spread this over the top of the apples.  Cut up 1/2 cup of cold butter into small chunks and spread these evenly over the top of the crumbly layer.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the top begins to turn golden brown.  Serve immediately with whipped cream, ice cream, or caramel sauce.

 

*Other spices you could use are allspice, cloves, nutmeg, or even pumpkin pie spice, but cinnamon is my usual standby here.  Feel free to get crazy and add whatever the heck you like, though — you could probably add ginger and chili powder and have it come out pretty delicious.

Roast Chicken with Bread Stuffing

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , on September 14, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

I’ve already covered cooking large cuts of meat, like roast beef and pork, in an earlier post on this blog.  And now that the weather’s finally getting cooler, I’m getting back into the roasting mode.  So tonight’s dinner (and the subject of this post) is roast chicken.

As a note before we begin: this method of roasting works for other birds as well — duck, turkey, goose, pheasant, etc. can all be done up in a very similar way — just remember to account for the different size (a big turkey takes a long time to cook!) and fat content (ducks, for example, are very fatty birds, and the skin must be pricked all over with a knife to allow that fat to drain out during cooking).

The Stuffing

My mom taught me to make this stuffing years ago, when I was still in high school.  She always uses celery and onion as the vegetables, and it’s a good combination.  I like to mix it up a little, largely because I’m not a huge fan of celery for its own sake and I rarely buy the stuff.  In tonight’s stuffing I used rapini (also known as Chinese broccoli or broccoletti) instead, and I’ve also had success in the past using carrots, corn, green beans, kale, bok choy, red peppers, and combinations of the above.  Use whatever veggies appeal to you.  You can also throw in a handful of cooked bacon or sausage, if you’d like to make things extra meaty.

To begin with, chop a small onion and a handful of veggies into approximately 1cm pieces.  You’ll want between 1 and 2 cups of veggies in total, depending on the size of your bird (although you can make an extra large batch of stuffing and bake some of it in a separate pan, if you’ve got stuffing-lovers to please).  Put the veggies into a large saucepan or a medium-sized pot along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil, on medium heat.  You want the veggies to soften, not brown too much.  If you’re using denser vegetables like carrots, you might want to boil them for a few minutes before putting them into the stuffing, just to make sure they get nice and soft.

While the veggies are cooking, add your herbs and spices.  Salt, pepper, sage, and oregano are pretty much essential, in my books, for getting that proper “stuffing flavour”.  Most herbs will taste good in stuffing, and you can add whatever your favourite flavours are:  rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, cloves, and garlic are all good choices.  Spice liberally; the bread and milk you’re going to add next will dilute the flavours significantly.

Once the veggies are nice and soft, remove them from the heat.  Now it’s time for the bread.  You’ll want at least as much bread as you have veggies, or as much as two times as much bread.  Use whatever type you have on hand; the flavour won’t much affect the final outcome of the stuffing.  Slightly stale bread or crust pieces are best, as they hold their shape a little bit better and make for a chunkier stuffing.  Tear or cut the bread into small pieces (about 2cm across), and mix these in with the veggies.  The bread will soak up the butter and spices pretty quickly.  Add milk or cream to the mix until the bread just begins to fall apart.  Finally, add one beaten egg to help glue everything together.  And now your stuffing’s ready to go into the bird!

Preparing the Bird

The first step in preparing your bird is selecting a nice one from the store.  Look for air-chilled, NOT water-chilled meat (in many parts of the world water-chilled meat doesn’t meet health code regulations, and there are good reasons for this — frankly, it’s just a bad practice).  Free range is good if you can get it, since these birds will have less fat and higher-quality meat.

Many people advise rinsing your chicken before cooking, but I’ve never liked doing it.  It significantly increases the risk of transferring salmonella or e-coli bacteria to your kitchen surfaces, increases the amount of time that you need to spend handling the raw chicken, and really shouldn’t be necessary unless you managed to drop your chicken in the dirt at some point.  Any bacteria on the chicken will be killed by thorough cooking.

Get all of your ingredients and tools prepared before you pull out the chicken, so that you won’t have to open cupboards or the fridge with dirty raw-chicken hands.  Get the roast pan out, turn the oven on, have a spoon ready to help with the stuffing, and have the twine out for binding up your stuffed bird.

Check inside the cavity of your bird to see if there are any organs in there.  Sometimes the kidneys, liver, heart, and/or neck may be tucked inside the cavity.  You can cook these up and serve them, if you like (I’m not a fan of organ meats, but some people do like them), or just set them aside to be used in making chicken stock later.

Once the cavity is empty, use a spoon or your hands to put as much stuffing inside your bird as possible.  Squish it down to remove air bubbles.  Once the bird is as full as you can possibly get it, tie the legs together to hold everything in.

***NOTE: if you want to make extra stuffing, I suggest cutting off the wings from your chicken and putting those into the baking pan with the extra stuffing.  This allows some of that “chicken flavour” to get into the separate pan.  You can also add a bit of chicken stock to the extra stuffing, to replicate the extra juices that would come from being cooked inside the bird.

Once your bird is stuffed and trussed, sprinkle the skin with a little bit of salt — this will help it to come out nice and crispy.

Cooking the Bird

It’s best to cook your bird at a medium temperature, to ensure that everything gets heated through without the outside getting blackened.  I generally set the oven to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit — at this temperature, a 5lb chicken will take about an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours.

To ensure a nice, crispy skin and good colour, I like to cover the pan for the first hour and a half or so, until the internal temperature of the bird is about 150 degrees (30 degrees short of finished).  At that point I’ll uncover the pan and turn the oven temperature up to 450 degrees.  This last 20-25 minutes of cooking will crisp everything up nicely.

It is absolutely, positively, 100% necessary to use an accurate thermometer to check the doneness of poultry.  The density and packing of your stuffing, the density of the meat, the amount of fat in the bird, and the nature of individual ovens can all cause differences in cooking time, and undercooked chicken can kill you (or at least make for a very unpleasant few days spent getting better acquainted with the toilet).  If you don’t have one, invest in a digital meat thermometer.  Don’t guess, because you don’t want to find this stuff out the hard way.

Carving, Serving, and Leftovers

Carving a chicken (or other bird) isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks.  This is the method I use, although there are other ways out there.  A thoroughly cooked bird should kind of fall apart on its own, and won’t need much help from your knife.

A roast chicken just isn’t complete without gravy.  Combine some of the drippings from your chicken with a roux made from flour or cornstarch and water (or milk, or chicken stock, if you want some extra chickeny-flavour).  I usually add a dash of Worchestershire sauce or soy sauce to deepen the colour of the gravy a bit, since I find the yellowish colour of chicken drippings to be slightly unappetizing.

Pack up leftovers right away and refrigerate them to prevent spoilage.  I like to slice any leftover breast meat up for sandwiches, while dark meat gets chopped into small pieces to go into chicken salad or soup.

Once you’ve served up or packaged and refrigerated all of the meat from your chicken, you can make chicken stock from the bones.  I generally just throw the carcass into my small crock pot with 5 to 6 cups of water, a clove or two of garlic, a couple of bay leaves, and a sprig of rosemary.  Turn it on low and leave it overnight.  In the morning you can pour it through a strainer, and you’ve got homemade chicken stock, all ready to turn into soup or other deliciousness.

And that’s all there is to it!  Almost as easy as roast beef, and a nice inexpensive meal that will feed several hungry mouths.

What’s the Difference between Jelly and Jam?

Posted in Recipes with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2010 by KarenElizabeth

There are lots of punchlines to the query posted in the title (one of the less rude of them is “you can’t jelly a banana in your ear”), but this post is focused more on the actual question of how one makes home-made jam (or jelly; I’ll cover that, too).

This week’s little project, for me, was homemade cherry jam.  Growing up, my parents had a sour cherry tree in the backyard.  I was the only one out of all the kids in the neighborhood who actually enjoyed eating the cherries straight off the tree (then again, I probably had no taste buds left after eating all the hot chili peppers straight out of the garden).  For most everyone else, the cherry tree was but one ingredient in a multitude of heavily sweetened delights:  cherry pie, cherry cake, cherry tarts, and of course, cherry jam.  I liked the cherry tree so much that I even did a grade 2 science report on the subject (complete with cherry jam-filled cookies for everyone in the class to eat … yeah, even then I’d learned the value of brownie points).

Those days are long gone, now — the cherry tree’s been cut down, I rarely visit home, and I’ve developed an allergy to raw cherries (like many other raw fruits including apples, pears, and peaches, they cause nasty reactions and make my mouth hate me).  But fortunately for me, cherry jam is still on my list of edible eatables (cooking destroys the protein to which I’m allergic).  And there’s a farmer’s market every week just up the street from me where I can purchase pints upon pints of fresh, local deliciousness.  So last weekend I picked up two baskets of cherries: step one in the process of creating enough jam to last all winter.

A Brief History of Fruit Preserves

Jams and jellies have been around for a really long time.  No one’s really sure who first came up with the idea, or how this jam concept was spread (pun intended).  What we do know is that the oldest known cookbook, “The Art of Cooking” by Marcus Gavius Apicius, contains references to fruit preserves.  Apicius, of course, is better known for being a gourmand somewhat akin to the Futurama character Hedonism Bot — his favourite dainty, apparently, was flamingo tongues, and he died a premature death related to his gluttonous habits (although not, as would be poetically judicial, by being pecked to death by tongueless flamingos).  But this has little to do with jam.  My main point here, is, that jams and jellies were already well-known by the time Apicius was writing, during the reign of Tiberius (1st century).

Before the days of refrigeration and easy global transport, jams and jellies served an important purpose besides just making toast un-boring.  Up until the 20th century, preserves were one of the few ways in which people living in non-tropical countries (or those traveling on ships) could get year-round fruit and prevent the onset of diseases like scurvy.  Where I live in Canada, you’re lucky to get fresh fruits for 6 months out of the year (starting out with strawberries in the spring, and carrying on until the last apples are harvested in the fall).  Between November and April, you’re unlikely to see fresh fruit growing anywhere outside of a greenhouse.  So in the days before “grown in California” fruits were common on grocery store shelves, jam was a good way of keeping fruit in your diet all year.

Modern jams are usually made using refined sugar, and the makers of home-made jam will often use shortcuts like boxed fruit pectin to ensure the perfect jam consistency.  In the past, conveniences like this were not available.  Honey and molasses were more likely to be used as sweeteners, and getting enough pectin into your jam often required some trial-and-error.  Many traditional jam recipes include apple peels:  not for flavour, but because the skin of apples contains a very high amount of natural pectin, and this would help make your jam set up nicely.  For budding jam-makers, I suggest starting out with the refined sugar and boxed pectin — it makes the whole process a lot, lot easier.  But once your jamming skills are more refined, please do try making a traditional recipe or two — not so much because they’ll come out better (often they don’t, since it’s hard to predict the amount of pectin in a particular batch of fruit), but because it’s worth seeing how preserves used to be made.  Plus, the old ways are the ways we’ll have to revert to once the zombie apocalypse arrives, so it’s good to have some practice.

Simple Cherry Jam, with Help from Refined Sugar and Boxed Pectin

The recipe for this one is just three ingredients:  4 cups pitted sour cherries, 1 box fruit pectin crystals (don’t substitute liquid pectin; liquid and crystal pectins work differently and require different acid/sugar ratios), and 5 cups of white sugar.  If you can’t get sour cherries, the sweet ones will work, too, but you’ll also need to add about a half cup of lemon juice to make it set up right.  Most boxed pectins come with a recipe guide inside that goes over the recommended ratios:  do check this, because some brands of pectin work a little bit differently from others.  I generally use Certo or Bernardin canning products — they’re widely available and have served me well in the past.

Before you start cooking everything up, though, you need to get your kitchen ready for canning, so let’s take it back a step and go over the sterilization process.  A boiling water canner (basically just a really big pot with a wire rack in it to put your jars on) is a necessity, as are clean (I sterilize mine with vinegar) canning jars (you’ll need enough to hold 6 to 7 cups of jam).  Sterilize all the surfaces in your kitchen, and carefully wash all of the utensils you’ll be using during the canning process:  canning is chemistry, after all, and science works best when you can avoid any outside contamination.  There’s nothing more disappointing than opening up what you thought was a delicious jar of jam, only to find that you’ve got a lovely little mold colony growing in that jar instead.  Well, okay.  There are probably worse things — a baby alien facehugger might jump out and lay eggs inside you, for example — but it’s still a pretty unpleasant thing.

I find that the easiest way to avoid contamination is to wash everything in hot, soapy water, rinse with vinegar, and then put all of the jars and utensils into the boiling water canner.  Fill the canner with water and put it on the stove.  Heat it up until the water is boiling, then remove your utensils.  Leave the jars in there, though:  you’ll want them to be already hot when you pour the freshly cooked jam into them.

Once your kitchen, jars and utensils are as sterile as you can get them, put your 4 cups of pitted cherries into a large saucepan, along with the boxed fruit pectin crystals.  Cook these together, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a boil.  Then add your 5 cups of sugar all at once, mix it in, and return the mixture to a boil.  Stir constantly, and let it boil for one to one-and-a-half minutes.  If the jam gets really foamy while it’s boiling, put in a little bit (only about half a teaspoon) of butter.  Once the cooking time is up, remove the jam from the heat.  Using tongs (you can buy special ones designed for lifting jars, and I suggest using them because it’s WAY easier), remove a jar from the hot water canner.  Use a non-metallic funnel and ladle to fill the jar up with jam.  Leave less than 1/4 inch of space at the top of the jar; you don’t want too much air getting in there or the jam might spoil.  If you see any bubbles of air trapped in the jar, use a non-metallic instrument (like a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula) to pop them, and then top up the jar to full.  Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth (I like to use paper towel, even though they’re not the most environmentally friendly of things, just because it’s easier to ensure that they’re clean).  Then, using tongs again so your fingers don’t contaminate things, put a lid on the jar and screw on the sealing ring until it’s just tight (don’t ream it on there, just tighten it until you get some resistance).  Once the lid is on, immediately return the jar to the boiling water canner so that the jam doesn’t start to cool off on you.  Don’t tilt it!  The lids aren’t on perfectly tight just yet, and you don’t want to spill hot jam on yourself.  Repeat this process with the rest of your jars, until all the jam is canned up.  Then all you have to do is return all of the jars to the boiling water canner, make sure they’re covered by at least an inch of water, and let them boil for 5 to 20 minutes, depending on your altitude above sea level.  This will kill any bacteria that might have survived your rigorous sterilization process.  Turn off the heat, remove the jars from the boiling water canner (again, don’t tilt them!), and let them sit for 24 hours, upright, without being disturbed.  During the cooling process the lids will properly seal themselves, getting vacuumed to the tops of the jars as the jam inside cools down.  After 24 hours, check the lids to make sure they’ve all popped down tightly onto the jars, and then store the finished jam in a cool, dark place until you’re ready to use it.  It’ll keep for at least a year or two (home-canned foods really shouldn’t be kept longer than that, since they don’t contain preservatives of any sort and they may start to ferment).  Once a jar is opened, store it in the fridge.

The Difference Between Jelly and Jam

Jam, as you’ve just seen with the cherry jam, contains little pieces of fruit and the skin of the fruits, in addition to the juice and pulp.  Jelly is made in essentially the same fashion, but with one important extra step:  the fruit is not added whole, but is instead strained so that only the juice is used.  Commercial “jelly bags” are available for straining your fruit, or you can just layer together several pieces of cheesecloth and use those to squeeze all the juices out of your chosen fruit.  Jelly, therefore, comes out clearer-looking and is more homogeneous, while jam is a slightly more chunky affair.  I’ll be making grape jelly later this summer with Kenneth, so I’ll illustrate the differences more fully at that time.  There are also other kinds of fruit preserves besides just the basic two:  marmalade, conserves and freezer jams all have their own peculiar quirks, and I’m sure I’ll get to them all in time.

In the meantime, check out this website for home canning recipes and information.  I tend to like their cookbook best out of all the different ones I’ve read — plus it’s handy that they have all the recipes available for free online.