My Cupboards are Bare

the highs and lows of my kitchen efficiency…

I went grocery shopping for the first time in at least 3 weeks last night, so they are, actually, not bare. They weren’t exactly bare prior to the grocery shop either, because I can’t help but buy canned goods when they’re on for a good price (thanks Dad). I preplanned my meals for the next two weeks, though, so I avoided the temptation of buying a huge amount of random things in hopes of them coming together in some mystic ball of glory.

Last time I went grocery shopping I got, amongst other things, bread flour, an ENORMOUS round of brie and two sweet potatoes. I had plans for baguette with brie that disregarded that I am a person who lives alone and maybe shouldn’t have cheese sandwiches for all meals for three days.

They were delicious though.

baguettes
I definitely should have put something under the bread, though… Binging with Babish, if you too desire a fancy sandwich

On Sunday I peered into my fridge, hungry – condiments and pickled things, half a giant brick of brie and some very very sad celery.

My freezer – frozen veggies and fruit… and two tupperwares full of chicken bones (thanks Dad!). I put a pot of bones and water on to simmer, and added some celery.

I rummaged through my cupboards – chickpeas… chickpeas… canned soup… tuna… sad shallots… chickpeas… and two sweet potatoes starting to sprout.

I am aware that I described a decently stocked cupboard (didn’t even list it all – it’s called dramatic effect). I just didn’t want any of it. stomps foot. I also didn’t want to grocery shop, order in or go pick up takeout. Stomach, thou’r’t a fickle beast. I ate crackers and cheese and agreed that I should go grocery shopping on Monday.

On Monday, I… did not go grocery shopping. I did not want to. stomps foot. I am transforming into a recluse, going into public places is not the fun.

If preplans two weeks of breakfast, lunch and dinner is my Dr. Jekyll… my Mr. Hyde is googling “Sweet potato + chicken stock?”, rejecting all the recipes that I actually have all the ingredients for and then subbing things out that are sort of the same ish, but not.

Mr. Hyde butchered spicy thai peanut sweet potato soup…

Nice homemade chicken stock… salvaged shallots… celery… promising. Peanut butter and gochujang sauce. Bam. So maybe it turned out more Korean? It might also be very likely that it doesn’t fit any cuisine style outside of Mr. Hyde’s. It has been actually quite tasty, no complaints.

Dr. Jekyll is back in control again, though – I’ve got soup and salads and slow cooker beef and quiche and salmon planned, and have pre-prepped most of the vegetables for storage purposes. It’s gonna be niiiice.

Hopefully in two ish weeks, Mr. Hyde has an idea for a tuna chickpea combo. Maybe hold the peanut butter.

Christmas Cookies

There’s nothing quite like this time of year.  It’s dark, dreary and cold.  If you’re lucky, you get snow, which, of course, leads to shoveling, scraping off frozen windshields, loss of traction, and traffic, because no-one was expecting actual snow to fall again this year.  Frolicking and snowmen and tobogganing and that wonderful silence caused by a thick blanket of cold also come, but sometimes it’s hard to remember them whilst hauling heavy loaded shovels of slush-snow to the enormous pile on your yard.

It’s definitely a time of year for hibernating.  The neighbours you had conversations with all summer long will be like ghosts, flitting between car and house with a scarf garbled shout of “Holidays!  Stress!  how about those hockey guys?! So dark out!” in your general direction.

You may have noticed a certain dearth of bears, and me, in the past few weeks. Hibernation.  With a dash of “go inspect culverts in the middle of nowhere” and “SO. MANY. FESTIVE EVENTS.”  It’s only the start of winter, after all – the start of winter is when everyone tries to fight the cold, fight the urge to just cocoon oneself in flannel and down and wait for spring.  And what better lure than food?

With that in mind, I figured I’d share with you some of my culinary adventures the past few weeks.  If you’re a longtime reader of my blog, you might remember me explaining some things about my Grandpa.  Including mention of the cow-shaped-cow-cutting-board he made for my parents, but with no picture.  What a travesty!  I’m remedying it now.

The pictures below are of cookies I tried out whose recipes I found in blogland.  Click the pic and it will take you to the recipe at the blog.

observe the solemnity of the cow.  Even big green pinweels decorating her flank cannot shake that bovine calm
observe the solemnity of the cow. Even big green pinweels decorating her flank cannot shake that bovine calm.  The cookies were a lot easier than I thought they’d be, and they were a huge hit at my friend’s “Come for a holiday dinner, surprise, it’s actually an engagement party!” Party.  Though of course the ring (and maybe the happy couple) did take center stage

These are going to become a yearly tradition for me - Czech Linz cookies.  I made them with homemade spiced pear jam filling, and some with tasty IKEA lingonberry jam.
These are going to become a yearly tradition for me – Czech Linz cookies. I made them with homemade spiced pear jam filling, and some with tasty IKEA lingonberry jam.

Alright.  I know it doesn't look good.  Doodle looked at this picture and commented that it looked like I'd taken cuts out of our Cowting board, to reveal the beef underneath.  They are, however, delicious cookies.  They're white chocolate and cherry shortbread, and they taste delicious.  They do, however, look like salami, even with white chocolate drizzled over them.  My suggestion is that they might be improved by NOT adding the food colouring.  White chocolate chunks just don't dye red, and that didn't improve things at all.  Taste, though, was divine!
Alright. I know it doesn’t look good. Doodle looked at this picture and commented that it looked like I’d taken cuts out of our Cowting board, to reveal the beef underneath. They are, however, delicious cookies. They’re white chocolate and cherry shortbread, and they taste delicious. They do, however, look like salami, even with white chocolate drizzled over them. My suggestion is that they might be improved by NOT adding the food colouring. White chocolate chunks just don’t dye red, and that didn’t improve things at all. Taste, though, was divine!

These are my favourite cookies of all time.  They make me think of Santa, and snow falling, and lights flickering on a christmas tree and all things good.  The family recipe Ginger Snap, chewy and delicious on the inside, with a snap around the edges.  And I'm letting you all see the recipe.  Tis the season of giving, after all.
These are my favourite cookies of all time. They make me think of Santa, and snow falling, and lights flickering on a christmas tree and all things good. The family recipe Ginger Snap, chewy and delicious on the inside, with a snap around the edges. And I’m letting you all see the recipe. Tis the season of giving, after all.

          Our Family Ginger Snaps

Ingredients:

– 3/4 cup Shortening

– 1 cup Sugar

– 1/4 cup Molasses

– 1 egg

– 1/2 tsp Salt

– 2 cups Flour

– 2 tsp Baking Soda

– 1 tsp Cinnamon

– 1 tsp Cloves

– 1 tsp Ginger

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit.

Cream the shortening with a mixer.  Add sugar gradually, then add molasses.  Cream well.

Add egg.

Sift flour, salt and spices together, then add to the mixture.

roll into walnut sized balls.  Roll the balls in sugar

lay out on the baking sheet and press down with the bottom of a glass.

Bake approximately 10 minutes, or top is barely showing golden colour.

Turkey Turkey Turkey Day!

Happy Turkey Day to my American friends in blogland!  I don’t get why you guys put it so late in the fall, but you make up for it by merging yams and marshmallows and brown sugar into an unholy trinity of glorious “no really, it’s not dessert!”

In honor of your ever-so-belated day of giving thanks (seriously, it’s way too close to christmas), I plan to try this completely not-a-dessert recipe for Stuffed Sweet Potatoes from Sweet Pea’s Kitchen.

What am I thankful for on this entirely ordinary Thursday in Canada?

I’m thankful that the salmon are done running, and that the animals have had time to eat all the dead salmon.  Because old-rotted-raw-salmon-on-the-river-bank, as I have learned the hard way, is a demon-smell worse than skunk, but less terrible than old-dead-naked-beaver.

right before he found the beaver. photo courtesy of fellow Meetup member from the hike.  From then on, he looked like a greased up brown dog, and for the next two weeks, any area he sat on for any length of time started smelling like a weazel nest full of piss.  SUPER grateful that this phase of our fall is over.

Gwynn is thankful that the two week period in which he got 5 baths, including one that involved vinegar, coke and baby shampoo, rinced and then applied again is over.

I’m also thankful that, this week, when I took Gwynn and Sadie into the woods for a walk, it was Sadie that rolled in something I’m going to loosely label ‘mud’.  There are times it’s really nice to be able to pass a dog back to its rightful dog-bather at the end of a walk.

A gorgeous fall day, on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Plus side to an early thanksgiving? less chance of snow!

Hope you have a safe and happy Thanksgiving (or Thursday), preferably full of so much food that you pop a button on your pants.  Because, regardless of which Thanksgiving day you do, it’s all about the turkey!

Hogswatch 2012

We did Hogswatch without you…  Happy Belated Hogswatch!  It’s taken me a while to get ahold of pictures, and recover from eating enough to actually write about, well, eating.

What is it?  Check HERE.  Or just know that, in my family, it involves food.  LOTS of food.

and funny hats. Yes, it's a duck-shaped tea-cosy. This is our ode to the duckman. Underneath the ode is K, my partner in Hogswatch crime.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of your house shrinking as the number of people in it doubles for a long weekend.

Considering I spent two days cooking and eating nearly non-stop, I actually got a lot of exercise.  By the time we were done cooking on Sunday night, most of the main floor kitchen had been moved to the basement kitchen, one desperately-needed item at a time.  That’s a lot of stair-sprints.

I am not a food blogger.  I just don’t have the patience or memory to not-eat-right-away, make things pretty, or take pictures along the way.  What we produced was not restaurant-pretty, but it was delicious.  Today I’m giving you the rundown of recipes I can link to actual food-bloggers’ sites.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll give you some recipes.

Chicken

We have a slow cooker.  I’m not honestly sure if it’s ever been used.  My parents have a tendency to buy things in a “OH WOW, how did we live without this thing?  We were practically savages!” kind of way, and then they disappear into the bowels of the house, only to reappear years later as a “What. The. Hell?!  Was this a gift?  From someone who doesn’t like us?  Who would buy this?!”

More to the point, we did a little chicken, carrots and potatoes in the slow cooker, using this recipe from the Crockin Girls.

It’s the first time I’ve ‘crocked’ anything, but it turned out fabulously.  SO tasty, tender, juicy and delicious.  The potatoes didn’t cook as well as everything else, so I’d probably skip them next time.  We  used baby potatoes, and chopped heirloom carrots instead of the vegetables they list.  The other change I made is that I slid slices of lemon and lime (and the spice mixture they use) under the skin of the chicken.  It’s pretty easy to do, and is great for flavoring the meat, rather than flavoring the outside of the skin (which no-one in my family eats, especially not after it was steamed into a kind of mushy meh-ness).

I am SO stalking their site for more crock pot recipes.

Figgy Pudding

FIIIIGS. They are not the most attractive of dried fruits, but oh-so-delicious. Nearly 24 hours into Hogswatch at this point, you can probably see the cracks in my mental stability spreading across my face. Duck? What duck?
When I mentioned that I was making this as part of the dessert, my mum’s response was, “What?  That’s a real thing?  I didn’t think it was a thing!”

bucket o' dried fruit and alcohol. Yummmmmmmm
The alcohol in it gives it a kind of bitter-sweet taste, and it is so full of dried fruit that you could almost pretend that it’s healthy.  It’s spongy and moist and full of tart pieces of fruit.  The part where you flame it at the end wasn’t exactly successful for us, but I’ll be trying it again next time.

With that many people eating, someone’s not going to like something.  C tried it and disliked it because of the background taste of alcohol.  Peanut refused on the grounds of it being contaminated with both alcohol (sometime I’ll tell you about the one and only time she came to the liquor store with me) and dried fruit.  I’d classify it as a ‘grown-up dessert’.

We didn’t change the recipe at all, being kind of unsure about what it was meant to be.  it’s from here.

Key Lime Cupcakes

We used this recipe, and it was delicious.  We decorated them in our own special way, with home-made elephant ears and noses for some, and turtle legs for others.  I swear, the elephant and turtle theme makes sense – you should go read a Discworld novel.

Yes, one elephant has three eyes. That's not really part of pratchett. We formed the little green legs and the elephant ears/nose out of dyed white melting chocolate that we poured into shapes on parchment paper.
In addition to all this, we also had roast duck (from a mishmash of food network recipes), roasted potatoes and beets, spinach and feta tarts, veggie casserole, Wassail Punch, mulled wine, home-made chocolate rats and skeletons onna stick (seriously, it makes sense!), a cheese platter, salad, and cold borscht.  Some recipes will follow.

I beg your pardon, did you just ask me about a duck? preposterous
I am DUCKMAN!
 

The Prettiest Thing

I found myself at the christmas party night at a country bar recently.  We went for line-dancing and had a blast.  Apart from establishing that, yes, I line-dance with the grace of a giraffe on a unicycle wearing one lead boot, I also got handed a chocolate covered marshmallow on a stick.

I managed to avoid maiming anyone with it while dancing, and even managed to keep my marshmallow-onna-stick and eat it.  It was delicious!  I didn’t hold high hopes for it, since generally such treats are made with ‘chocolate flavoured plastic coating’ and 30 year old marshmallows.  Instead, it was a light and fluffy fresh marshmallow coated in rich dark chocolate, with some candycane crumbles on the top.  It was cute, delicious and an ‘adult’ version of itself.

I wanted to make one!  I wanted to make many!  For a potluck!

I don’t have a recipe or quantities.  The project started at 9:30 on a thursday night, and apart from “i bought wayyy tooo much chocolate” I don’t have any measurements.  This is not the ‘recipe’ kind of project.

What you’ll need, should you choose to make Chocolate Covered Marshmallow-onna-stick:

  • Melting chocolate (I chose the dark belgian chocolate available in neat little rounds at Bulk Barn, but if you don’t like dark chocolate, pick something else.) – I’m guessing I probably used about a cup and a half of them for the 30 marshmallows I coated.
  • sticks – bulkbarn sells actual sucker-type-sticks relatively inexpensively.  Or, for that matter, you could use toothpicks, or shish-kebab skewers.
  • Regular sized marshmallows.  Or you could be super fancy and home-make your marshmallows.  Here’s a recipe for it … but I used store-bought)
  • White chocolate – only if you want to make the pretty swirly additions to the final product.  You won’t need a lot – probably half a cup, if even that much.
  • Sprinkles of some sort – I found the tiny dot type sprinkles worked the best out of what I had available.  You could also use crumbled candycane, or graham cracker crumbs (s’mores onna-stick!), or really anything that would taste good with marshmallows and chocolate.
  • Something to hold them upright to cool – I found that taking an old shoebox and poking small holes in it worked quite well. Alternately, you could use the fancy stand you already have for displaying cake pops.

... because some people make pretty things all the time!

Instructions:

Melt dark chocolate in a microwave safe bowl:  put it in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until it reaches a good consistency.  Alternately, you can do a double boiler.

Put sprinkles in a small bowl, and load your marshmallow onto a stick.

Dip your marshmallow into the melted chocolate, and hold it over the chocolate bowl (shaking it lightly) to let the excess chocolate drip off.

Dip the top (or the top and sides, if you want) in the sprinkles.

Stick the marshmallow stick upright into your stand.  Just make sure there’s space between them so that if they do tip, they are unlikely to hit each other.

Move the full stand somewhere cold.  My plan was to put it on the back deck, since it’s a bit warmer than fridge-temperature out there.  It was raining when I tried to go out to our back yard, so I put them on my front deck, because the front deck has a small awning over the door.  My neighbours might think I’m crazy.  I was concerned about squirrels, but apparently they are either sleeping by 10pm, or just not as interested in marshmallows as they would be if they were sugar-high 5-year-olds roaming the streets.  I wouldn’t suggest this technique on, say, Halloween night.

Once the chocolate is cooled enough that you can lay them on their sides, do so, on wax or parchment paper, to prevent too much cleanup-mess.

Melt your small amount of white chocolate (see above options).

With a spoon, or your choice of implement, drizzle small amounts of white chocolate on the side of the marshmallow.  I found putting a bit of the chocolate on a small spoon and then flicking it violently back and forth over the marshmallows made it look artistic and surprisingly professional.

Return to the cool place of your choice until the white chocolate cools and you can flip them over.  Repeat the white chocolate process.

Store in the refrigerator, to ensure that they don’t melt all over and ruin the ‘look’.

Bask in the glow of the praise and disbelief of your friends and family as they gape in astonishment at how that weird thing you’d been working on quietly in the kitchen for the past hour actually turned out looking like something they might buy at that cute little bakery (you know… that one with the adorable cupcakes?) for $7.99.

the prettiest thign I have ever made.

wax paper between layers... and the urge to open my own bakery... I am impressed at myself!

The Prickliest of the Vegetables, but it’s got Layers, like an Onion… or an Ogre

I am so lucky to have found a food buddy.  If you have one, or want one, you know what this is.  If you don’t, then you might just not be ‘food buddy material’.  A FB is someone you can email or phone or randomly interrupt the flow of conversation with, in order to say something like, “I made a soufflé!  It was awesome!”, and who will give you an excited response to that statement.  For example… I emailed M, my FB, and, when thinking of things to add into the ‘things that are new with me’ part of the email, added “Oh! And I made artichokes for the first time this weekend, and they were tasty!”

If I had sent this random tidbit to almost any of my other friends, it is likely that they either would have made a general statement about their dislike of artichokes, or would have completely tuned out that one part of my email, and pretended it doesn’t exist at all. 

M’s response to my email was this, and only this: “Stuffed Artichokes?!!!”

Well, no… but this did lead to me explaining my recipe and dip, and then asking for her explanation of how one stuffs a tiny porcupine-like vegetable thing, her explaining that it’s less of a hollow-out, and more of a stuff-things in amongst the spiky leaf things, and then both of us moving on to recipes we were planning to send each other that we had previously discussed.

See… Food Buddy.  My other friends like to eat the food (though perhaps not the vegetables that look like green alien porcupines), but they don’t like to talk about it nearly as much as I do.  That’s what a food buddy is for.

I know, all you non food-obsessed people are reading this in bafflement, wondering why on earth this type of conversation could possibly be interesting.  All you food obsessed people are thinking of the people in your group of friends/family who would qualify as FBs.  Oooor, you’re thinking, “Stuffed Artichokes?!!!”

Well, I don’t have the stuffed artichoke recipe yet, but I am going to give you the steamed artichoke recipe, though I use the term recipe loosely… there are alot of variables that you can make your own, and I mixed and matched through a few recipes to get my final recipe. I jumbled together both my dipping sauce and my artichokes from a recipe on the food network site and one on Simply Recipes.  The Simply Recipes site gives great pictures of the steps to preparing and eating the artichoke as well, for those of you (like me) who had never eaten a steamed artichoke before.  That site also shows you what the ‘choke’ looks like, and shows you how to eat the bit of the artichoke under the choke, which is very tasty.

Steamed Artichokes

Ingredients (comments)

Artichokes (I made enough for everyone to have one… and by ‘everyone’, I mean, everyone living in my house… so, 5)

1 lemon and 1 lime, sliced thin (or enough sliced citrus to coat the bottom of your steamer basket)

Fresh Herbs (I scattered whole mint, basil and parsley leaves on the bottom of my steamer basket, but that’s because we had those on-hand.  Tarragon, Sage, thyme… anything that smells nice will work)

Bay Leaf

1 clove garlic, sliced thin (I’ll admit, I forgot this… but it would definitely add to the flavour of the artichoke, so add it, but if you forget, don’t stress, it’ll still taste good)

Instructions:

Cut the top half-inch or so of your artichoke off, and cut off the tips of all your leaves.  Cutting off the tips of the leaves is more aesthetic than anything, because the prickly bits stop being prickly once you steam it.  Cut off the stem, and pull off any small or not-nice looking leaves near the stem.  Rub some lemon over all the parts that you cut, to prevent it from turning black at those points during the steaming process.

my pretty artichokes, after they got all cut up. If you want to see the process to get to here, check out the Simply Recipes Site

Put your bay leaf into the bottom of a pot and put in your steamer basket.  Check to ensure that all your artichokes will fit into the steamer basket when it is in a pot that size.  If not, shift to a wider based pot.  Line your steamer basket with slices of your citrus fruit, garlic and the herbs you’ve chosen. 

herbs and citrus into the steamer basket

Place your artichokes stem-side up in the pot, and heat on the stove.  At this point, it really depends on the size of your artichoke.  Mine were tiny, a bit bigger than my fist, and at the half-hour mark, they were very definitely ready to eat.  It could be more or less time for yours, depending on variables.  You know they’re done when the base can be readily pierced by a knife, and the outer leaves can be easily removed.

stem-side up in the pot... notice that I've changed pots since the last photo... I underestimated the space that 5 artichokes take up

Dipping Sauce

The suggestions for dipping sauces that I came across include the following

Mayonnaise dip

Fruity extra virgin olive oil

Melted butter

I went with a version of a mayonnaise dip, and it is even less recipe-like than the previous.  The quantity I made lasted for 5 artichokes worth of dipping, just to give you an idea.

The measuring spoon I used was a tablespoon.  As in, the standard type of spoon used for eating soup or rice or whatever at the table, heaping.

2 spoons mayonnaise

2 spoons sour cream

About a spoonful (or 5 or 6 leaves, if it’s a big-leafed herb) of each of each type of fresh herb used in the steamer basket, chopped fine. 

The zest of one lemon

A dash of balsamic vinegar

This dip was very tasty, though I found it kind of overwhelmed the taste of the artichoke.  The artichoke itself had a great lemony flavour to it, though, being fairly small, didn’t have a whole lot of edible flesh on it.  I have a feeling that this recipe might become a snack-with-movie type of thing at my house.

It's kind of like chips and dip, only with more fibre...

It’s not Delivery, OR Delicio!

I have an admission to make.  I ruthlessly hunt through this vegan recipe site, and then heartlessly butcher the recipes to suit my own culinary pleasure.  It’s not that the recipes aren’t amazing as-is, it’s just that I eat meat… and cheese… and real butter… and honey.  I try to incorporate vegetarian meals on a regular basis, but vegan and raw-foodist just take it a bit too far.  I eat tofu (and enjoy it!), but the soy-butter and soy-cheese and other faux-dairy products aren’t something I’m interested in.  For one thing – they are very very processed, and I would rather eat animal products than heavily processed foods full of chemicals and preservatives.  I’m pretty sure it isn’t possible to make a pizza crust like I’m used to with raw foods, so I won’t even get into that.  So, when I mention a recipe from this site, it either means that the recipe never had non-vegan ingredients in it, or it means that I ignored all the vegan butter, soy-cheese and soy-milk, and substituted butter, cheese and milk. 

This pizza crust recipe comes from the vegweb site, but it is one of the few recipes I’ve tried from there that doesn’t have any ingredients I needed to modify into less vegan things.  It is such an easy recipe, and lets you make some amazing home-made pizza with a nice thin crust.  A friend of mine recently explained to me that pizza is supposed to be healthy – a nice thin crust, tomato sauce, lots of vegetables, some meat, and a bit of cheese on top.  I can’t deny my love-affair with cheese, so my version of this healthy meal is pretty heavy on the cheese.  But I do agree with her that the crust shouldn’t be an inch thick, and greasy enough to soak through a phonebook. 

Easy Pizza Crust

Ingredients (comments!)

1 (1/4 ounce) package yeast

½ tsp honey (nope, not vegan, and not in the original recipe, but I like to add something sugary to the yeast mixture.)

1/3 cup lukewarm water

3 cups flour (I use 2 cups whole wheat, and 1 cup white – the more whole wheat you add, the more water you will need to get the right consistency)

1 tsp salt

2/3 cup lukewarm water (or as much as is necessary to get a good consistency)

Instructions (comments!)

Dissolve the yeast and honey into 1/3 cup lukewarm water and let stand 10 minutes (or until foamy on top). 

Mix flour and salt in a big bowl, add the yeast mixture, blend, then add 2/3 cup lukewarm water, to make a pliable, elastic dough. 

Form into a ball, cover with a clean damp cloth (soak the cloth in hot water, then squeeze it out), and let rise until doubled in a warm place (20 to 30 minutes).  I use the ‘bread proof’ setting on my oven.  There’s a similar setting on some dehydrators as well.  The main goal is to make sure that it’s a warm place, and that the bread won’t be exposed to too much air-movement.  If you’re looking for a warm place, the top of a fridge is surprisingly toasty.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Roll out dough (put down flour before you start rolling it out), leave lip around the edge (I don’t… but I like my pizza really thin-crusted).  Spread sauce (leave space between the edge of crust and the edge of sauce), and top as desired.  Note:  for cheese, Mozzarella will bubble less than cheddar, which is why it is usually used on pizza.  Soy cheese will melt in ways unknown to me.

Lay out on a pizza stone or a flat pan.  Putting down cornmeal under the pizza will help prevent it from sticking, as well as adding a bit of crunch.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is crisp, and the toppings are sufficiently heated through.

A variation you can include is to add herbs to the crust.

Pizza was a huge success, despite the fact that we ended up eating a bit later than expected.  We made two batches of crust to feed 7 people, with less than half a pizza left-over.  Each batch makes two thin-crust pizzas about 12 inches in diameter. 

Pictures?  Not a chance!  The genteel, well-brought up ladies I invited over for dinner ate like starved feral dogs.  I think I’d have lost the camera if I’d put it between them and the next pie out of the oven!

Hogswatch Feast – The Meat of the Meal

… Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast. And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! They would start on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast…

In lieu of rare Who-roast-beast, we did duck and two little chickens.  For the duck recipe, we used the cooking method from Alton Brown’s recipe.  We were winging it a bit on the chickens, and used the cooking instructions we found here on foodtv.com, with our own prepwork inspired by a variety of foodtv shows. 

Flattened Roast Duck

Ingredients

One Duck (head and feet optional), 5 to 5.5 lb

            ¼ cup Kosher Salt (we used less than called for)

            Carrots and Celery and Onion, enough to support the duck within the baking dish

Instructions

If your duck has its head and feet, follow the instructions in a previous blog post to remove these items.  Put them aside or discard them – it’s your choice whether you want to add them to your future stock. 

Cut the spine out of the duck.  To do this, arrange the duck, breast-side-down, with the tail towards you.  Use kitchen shears (or any clean, sturdy pair of scissors) to cut up one side of the spine.  Rotate the duck, so that the tail is away from you, and repeat the process down the other side of the duck.  Try to stay as close as possible to the spine and avoid cutting into the thigh.  Press down on the bird to flatten, and make a shallow cut along the breastbone to further flatten the duck. 

Remove any excess skin around the neck, and any extra pockets of fat.  There will be some pockets right near the base of the tail, on the inside of the duck. 

Turn the duck breast-side-up, and make a long slash in the skin and fat of each breast.  To do this, press the flat of a sharp knife against the breast, and slide it flat along the surface.  This should slice though the skin and fat while avoiding cutting through to the skin. 

Sprinkle both sides of the duck with kosher salt.  Place the duck breast-side-up in a roasting pan lined with paper towels, and leave this uncovered in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or until the skin is dry and has the consistency of parchment.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush off any remaining salt on the duck and remove the paper towels from the bottom of the pan.

Put enough cleaned and whole carrots and celery, and chopped onions, in the bottom of the pan to support the duck (breast-side-up).  This will allow the juices and fat to drain away from the bird without it sitting in the drippings.  You can put it on a grate in the pan instead, or in a broiler pan, but the carrots and celery will come in handy when you are making stock later.

Put the pan in the middle of the oven and roast for 30 minutes.  Rotate the pan and continue to cook until the thigh reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, about 30 more minutes. 

NOTE: My duck took about 40 minutes after the first rotation to reach this temperature – the instant read thermometer was really useful, and I definitely recommend getting one, or borrowing one, for this type of purpose.  They range from 10 to 50 dollars, from what I can tell, and you can get either digital or analog.  Ours is nice in that it has a thermometer attached to a long wire that connects to the display – this means I was able to put the thermometer in near the end of the cooking process and close the oven door, reading the temperature from the display panel sitting outside the oven.  This was the first time I’d used one of these, and I’m sold on the entire idea – you can check the temperature of the thickest part of the meat you’re cooking, to ensure that it has reached the required temperature for cooking – it takes away the urge to cut your meat before it’s had time to rest (to ‘check’ if it is still raw inside), as well as the urge to add 10 minutes to the planned cooking time to ‘be on the safe side’.  The meat was so tender and juicy – if I’d taken it out when the recipe suggested I should, it might have been cooked through after being left to rest… but it might not have.

Remove the duck from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees F.  Once the oven has come up to temperature, return the duck to the oven and roast until the skin is golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and leave the duck to rest for a bit.  This gives it time to cool enough to seal the flavours and juices in before you cut into it.

Conclusions

the Duck, cooked

I was shocked at how well our duck turned out.  Since this was my first time cooking anything whole, I wasn’t at all sure what to look for in the cooking process, I had figured that something would go wrong.  It wasn’t perfect, but it is definitely on its way.  One of the major things I would change is reducing the salt – I entirely forgot to brush off the excess salt on the duck, so my duck’s skin was very over-salty.  The duck meat was also saltier than I would have preferred, though considerably less than the outside surfaces.  Alton Brown suggests approximately 3 tsp of kosher salt per pound of duck.  For us, that would have been approximately 1/3 of a cup, but we reduced that to ¼.  Next time, I think I’ll sprinkle salt on until it seems coated adequately, rather than focusing on the measurement.  We also added some regular salt the day before cooking, in hopes of helping dry the skin a bit faster (since we didn’t have the duck drying for nearly as long as it needed), which probably added to the saltiness of the meal.  However, the meat was tender and very flavourful, and it tasted better than any duck at restaurants I’d had before.  Of course, that opinion could be a bit clouded by the amount of work I’d put into the duck – after butchering and cooking the duck myself, I’ll be damned if it tastes anything less than amazing!  K agreed with me on the taste, though, so I’ll take that as reasonable proof of how good it was.

Flattened Roast Chicken

Ingredients

One chicken, approximately 4 lb

Seasoning Option 1

1 lemon, sliced thin

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Seasoning Option 2

1/3 cup chopped Fresh Parsley

1 tbsp each dry Basil, Rosemary, or whatever herbs you prefer.  If fresh herbs are being used, increase quantities.

2-3 cloves Minced Garlic (or more, to taste)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

We cut the spine out of the chickens and lay them flat to cook.

Cut the spine out of the chicken.  To do this, arrange the chicken, breast-side-down, and use kitchen shears (or any clean, sturdy pair of scissors) to cut up the side of the spine.  Rotate the chicken, and repeat the process down the other side of the spine.  Try to stay as close as possible to the spine and avoid cutting into the thigh.  Press down on the bird to flatten, and make a shallow cut along the breastbone to further flatten the chicken.

Starting at the neck, slide your hand between the skin and the meat of the breast.  The skin should peel back easily enough, though you may require a sharp knife to help separate the skin from the breast along the breastbone.  The skin isn’t being removed, just separated slightly from the breast, so that ingredients can be stuffed in the opening.  Find the separation between skin and flesh at the thick end of the thighs, and repeat this process, separating the skin as much as possible without peeling it off entirely. 

Herbs and Lemon are stuffed under the skin in order to flavour the chicken

Mix the seasoning together (in the case of the lemon chicken, simply drizzle olive oil on the slices of lemon), and slide the mixture down in between the skin and the flesh of the chicken.  This process allows you to flavour the meat itself, with the skin holding in the moisture and flavour of whatever you stuff the chicken with. 

Note – these are the ingredients I used for these chickens, but you could choose to do something else entirely – orange slices would work, and would add a different type of flavour.  You could also do a combination of herbs and lemons, or an entirely different mixture of herbs.  Avoid fresh herbs with woody stalks (eg, rosemary), because you will have to pick those stalks out from between the meat and skin before you serve your chicken.  The lemon slices pretty much dissolved in my chicken, so that they were soft enough that I didn’t need to remove them before serving.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

Put enough cleaned and whole carrots and celery, and chopped onions, in the bottom of the pan to support the chicken.  You can put it on a grate in the pan instead, or in a broiler pan, but the carrots and celery will come in handy when you are making stock later.  Put the chicken in breast-side-up.

Roast the chicken for 45 minutes.  Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F, and cook until an instant read thermometer stuck into the thigh registers 160 degrees F, about 15 minutes more.  Take it out and allow it to rest, tenting tinfoil overtop.  See Note in the duck recipe for my views on the usefulness of instant read thermometers.  In this case, I found that the times in the recipe were exactly what I needed (though the recipe on foodtv.com was meant for a stuffed little chicken, not a flattened one.)

Conclusions:

Lemon Chicken

Once again, I was shocked – the chicken was as perfect as I could imagine it being.  Unlike the duck, I don’t have any particular changes to the recipe that I want to try next time.  Apart from mixing up the types of ingredient I’ll stuff under the skin, I think this one is exactly where I want it to be.  It doesn’t take long, and the chicken turned out moist and flavourful because of the olive oil mixtures I stuffed under the skin.  Using the meat thermometer ensured that I didn’t overcook the chicken, and also ensured that I didn’t undercook it.  The chickens were the same amount of work as many of my recipes that call for chicken breasts or kebabs, and really had a good presentation

Note: Jamie Oliver had an interesting point on cutting roast chicken.  The standard Chicken carver will start slicing, parallel to the outside surface, and take off big pieces right up until they get to the ribcage.  What this means is that some of the pieces have the seasoning (and are a bit dryer, because they were the closest to the surface), and other pieces are more moist, but haven’t come into contact with any of the seasoning you used.  He suggests cutting the entire breast off, starting from the breastbone or spine.  Once you’ve got the breast off and onto the cutting board, cut the breast into slices perpendicular to the skin, so that every piece gets a bit of skin and seasoning, and a bit of the juicier inner-meat.  I didn’t get it 100%, this being the first time I ever carved a bird, but I think it worked out really well.  With a bit of practice I’ll be able to give it that really nice presentation, and it did ensure that everyone got that herb or lemon flavour kick without having to forage for the one big outside piece. 

Gravy

Mix a quarter cup of flour with 2 tbsp of summer savoury and 2 tbsp of poultry seasoning in the bottom of a warmed pot with some butter.  Add stock and drippings from the pan, equivalent to a carton of stock and a can, and stir briskly to avoid clumps.  If you want a clearer gravy, substitute cornstarch for the flour.           

Stock

We used both the chicken carcasses and the duck carcass, including the chicken backs, duck back, duck feet, and duck neck (that had all been roasted in the pan with our actual roast fowl) in our stock. 

Once the carcass has been cleaned of all the meat you want to eat off it, put it in a big pot, along with the remaining drippings, and all additional parts.  Add all the vegetables that were in the roasting pans, and if you don’t think there were enough, add some more for good measure.  Put in two bay leaves, 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled, some fresh thyme and parsley (or other herbs you prefer), and pour water in until the carcass is entirely submerged.   

Put the pot over high heat until your stock starts simmering (small bubbles breaking through the surface of the liquid, not a rolling boil), and turn down the heat to medium-low. Adjust the heat until your stock maintains a low simmer.  Simmer for approximately 6 hours, and then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard the strained material.  The stock should be relatively clear – if it isn’t, strain again, through a finer strainer.  Cool, and remove solidified fat from the surface.  When the stock is cooled, it should have a slightly gelatinous consistency – this is a good thing, and the consistency will revert to broth consistency when you heat it up again.  It can be stored in your fridge for a few days, or frozen for a few months.  We find that ice cream containers are very effective for storing stock – just make sure to cool it before putting it in these containers.    

The meat was the most stressful part of our Hogswatch plans – it was a dive straight into the unknown.  Neither K nor I had ever done a whole roast bird of any kind – K had never even eaten duck before, so this was even more of a leap for her!  Both Hogswatch meals K and I have made, my parents spent the entire day doubting that we’d finish, doubting that we’d made enough food, doubting that it would be edible (as if we both hadn’t spent time living on our own and successfully feeding ourselves!) and doubting that we had the ‘situation’ (as they refer to the hogswatch meal) under control.  I think it was even more of a shock to us that the chickens and duck worked out so well than it was for my parents – I had been hoping that, at best, they would all be edible with enough gravy on them, and make good stock later.

Hogswatch 2011

Well, it’s over, we survived – our epic Hogswatch cook-athon was a success, even the first attempt at cooking a duck.  I figured, before I get too into the entire weekend, recipes and all, I should explain Hogswatch.  I’ll probably make this all into a few posts, because there are a lot of things I want to mention, and I don’t want to post a novel instead of a blog.

As stated in an earlier post, there are a few people out there who are, as they read this, going “oooh, cool.  You celebrate Hogswatch!”  The rest of you are wondering what it is, and if it involves watching pigs, which probably isn’t entertaining enough to take up an entire weekend and multiple blog-posts.

Firstly, an explanation of the inventor of Hogswatch – Terry Pratchett is the author of the Discworld Series, along with a few books set outside the Discworld.  His books are full of hilarious British humour, with a very eclectic set of characters, including a not-so-tyrranical City Tyrant, Gods for every possible prayer, Witches, Wizards, and Death. 

The Discworld

The Discworld is a flat world supported on the backs of four giant elephants standing on the back of a massive turtle.  If this intrigues you, there are lots of Discworld books, and I am doing my best to think of one that could stand out as a good place to start.  The Colour of Magic was the first one written, but they don’t really need to be read in order.  Regardless of which book you read first, you will encounter characters that are barely touched upon in this story, but who might have an entire book to themselves later in your reading.  Some of my favourites are The Truth, Soul Music, and Going Postal.  They’ve now made movies out of The Hogfather, The Colour of Magic, and Going Postal – I’m fairly sure that someone who has never read anything by Terry Pratchett will be a bit confused, or, at the very least, miss some really good jokes. 

The Hogfather and his Wild Boars

Hogswatch is the Discworld equivalent to Christmas.  The Hogfather (a slightly mutant looking guy with tusks coming out of his lower jaw and a piggish nose) travels all around the Discworld on Hogswatch night (around the same time as Xmas), riding in a sleigh pulled by four wild boars.  He delivers presents to children, and children leave out meat pies and sherry for him, along with turnips for the boars.

Hogswatch for me when a friend/fellow Pratchett fan and I wanted to meet up and celebrate Xmas well after the holiday season was over.  For one year, we’d both ended up in the same town, both for school.  Life at school is hectic, especially around the holidays, so the first time we both had free of all the other life-things was in February.  We figured that, instead of doing Christmas in February (which just sounds depressing), we would do Hogswatch.  It might not technically be the right time of year, but it was close enough.  The next year, I was moved back home, post-grad, and K was back in her home-town as well, but we didn’t want to let our new tradition die.  So, we expanded Hogswatch from an afternoon of cooking, eating and watching movies for the two of us to a weekend in one of our homes, for both of our families (my 5, plus Adoptive Neighbour Sister, and 4 of K’s family).  My parents and K’s parents had been friends for years and years before we were around, so Hogswatch was an ideal excuse to get everyone together and party.  Suffice to say, it was a bit chaotic.  We used two kitchens and a dozen pots and pans, dinner was a bit late, and sleeping arrangements involved couches and cushions on the floor.  We had a blast, and there was never any doubt we’d be doing it again this year. 

This year, Hogswatch involved my family, Adoptive Neighbour Sister, K and her entire family (5 total this year), and M, a friend who more recently got into the Terry Pratchett series.  Oh, and, of course, the newest addition to our family – Dog.  If I’d thought that 10 people in my house (only 9 sleeping over) for Hogswatch was busy, I was wrong… 12 adds exponentially to the planning process.  Cleaning up the house, getting beds ready for new guests (some of which were already occupied by family members), trying to get some of the ingredients ready for cooking, and planning the non-Hogswatch meals took some time. 

In my quest to clean and tidy, I discovered that the basement showerhead no longer works – the tub tap is functional, but will not let you pull the toggle that transfers the flow up to the shower head.  Ah – 1 shower, 11 overnight guests.

My perfect room-assignment plan involved shifting both Tall and Short Sisters to my bedroom – that was messed up by Short Sister’s acquiring the plague in the days counting down towards Hogswatch, since suddenly she was out of both the musical-rooms plan, and the help-clean-and-tidy plan.  Out came the layered yoga-mats and camping pads to produce an extra bed.

The Duck… well… reiterating a past blog, once it was purchased, the main obstacle in the duck plan was the fact that it had its feet and head still on – that was a learning experience.

The Griswold Family's Turkey

The Chicken – when I was imagining a ‘li’l chicken’, I was imagining it considerably bigger than the ones I did find which were definitely not enough to feed 12 people.  The solution – instead of the already not-simple task of cooking one duck and one little chicken, I had the task of cooking 2 little chickens and a duck to look forward to.  I’ll admit, I foresaw a re-enactment of Christmas Vacation – only with three little dusty carcases instead of one big one.

By the time the weekend arrived, I really thought I had planned for most things.  My partner in crime and her family would be arriving sometime early on Saturday, we’d spend the afternoon doing the last-minute shopping and trying to get some of the meal items prepped, and we’d bake the cake.  I’d have the dog walked in the morning, and he’d be tired out enough after that epic journey that we’d be able to give him one or two shorter walks in the evening time to keep him settled.  What actually happened – The 402 between here and Sarnia was shut down due to the weather, at least until sometime in the afternoon.  K’s family didn’t arrive until after 4, and I had done the last-minute shopping alone, and forgotten a fair number of things.  The cake finished cooking sometime around midnight, and the duck and chickens had had their final pre-day-of prep.  We might not have gotten everything done, but we did enough.

Oh, the beautiful chaos – Hogswatch is upon us. 

Stay Tuned for the details of our celebration’s food and beverage!

Butchering the Duck

In case a recap is necessary, I bought a duck for cooking, only to get home and discover that I had bought the whole duck – head and feet included.  After going through a mental debate on the advantages of vegetarianism (vegetarians don’t have to cut the heads off ducks), I chose to remain omnivorous, and finish the butchering job the Asian Food Mart started before my purchase.

Tall-Sister was my photographer and researcher for this (as I would have had to wash my hands over 40 times without her help, to avoid spreading raw duck germs everywhere), and found this blog that takes you through the entire process of butchering a chicken.  It was similar enough to butchering a duck, and immensely helpful.  If my pictures are less-than-appetizing to you, his are a bit more professional looking, without my focused/upset/fiendish facial expressions. 

Me, fiendish.

I might have made the decision that if I can’t deal with the fact that my meat-food had a face, then I shouldn’t eat meat food, but I still had a bit of trouble with the process.  And no, this isn’t for everyone – I’m not saying that people who eat meat ought to be able to butcher their own animals.  Short-Sister left the room, gagging, even just at the idea of watching me finish the butchering of Duck.  Check out the previous post for my entire Duck-dilemma.  This post will pretty much entirely be about prepping the duck for eating.  This duck is going to be cooked following Alton Brown’s recipe for Christmas Duck, and this post brings you almost all the way up to the actual cooking-of-the-duck, which will happen on Sunday.

The Feet:

Cut the feet off at the joint above the foot.

Bend the joint to ensure you know where it is, and, using a sharp knife, cut between the two pieces of bone.  With a sharp enough knife, you can cut through the bone without too much issue, but, if you want it to look like your standard roast chicken, the drumsticks have the knuckle-end of the leg

The end of the drumstick, as you're used to seeing it

 bone on, and no extra bits of bone.  The first one might be rougher than the second – the second foot took me only a few moments to remove, because I had figured out the shape of the joint, and also gotten over a bit of my fear-of-touching-the-duck.  Twisting the joint, or bending the leg tightly while you’re cutting helps to separate the two bones a bit.

What are we doing with them?  I’m planning to make stock out of the duck carcass, and have stuck them in a ziplock bag in the fridge for now, so that I can use them in a few days when I go to make the stock.  To make a good stock, it’s important to have a lot of cartilage in the process – it makes the gelatin that gives you a really thick and flavorful stock.  They won’t stay in for actual soup making, but simmering them in the stock water will add some flavor and gelatin to the overall stock. 

The Head:

Find a joint in the neck, and cut, rotating to access different angles. Best done with a very sharp knife, but brute force is still necessary.

With a sharp knife, feel out the area near the head, in order to find a joint between two neck bones.  This, for me, was mostly brute force.  You’ll have to move the head around a bit, to access your cut from different angles.  This is easiest with a very sharp knife.  I also think it would have been easier for me with a bigger knife, one I could more easily have pressed down on. 

What are we doing with it?  Nothing.  I’m guessing it would probably add flavor to the stock, but I couldn’t do it (if you are planning on doing that, do some research first to find out if there are any issues with adding the head to your stock).  I also couldn’t give it to Dog, because I had no idea whether the head is safe for dogs (like raw chicken backs are), and also because it had eyes, and I just couldn’t deal with that.  So, it went out to the city compost bin – if you do backyard compost, be careful about deciding to put meat products in compost pile, because it can attract raccoons and rats.  We have a city-operated compost program, so we put all our meat products in the bin for pickup, and all our vegetable bits in our own compost bin.

The Neck and Spine:

use scissors, and cut along the spine, from the tail to the neck.

If you’re planning on having a standard roast duck, you can skip cutting the head off, and just do the same neck-joint cut, but at the base of the neck, instead of at the base of the skull.  You’ll end up with your standard whole-chicken shape.  Since I was doing a flattened duck, I took the entire spine out, neck and all.  I use metal

cut back down the other side of the spine and separate the neck and spine from the body

scissors, which works really well, though still requires some brute force.  Starting at the tail end, cut up towards the head area, close to the spine.  You want to stay close, to avoid removing any of the meat along with the spine.  As long as your scissors are sturdy, they shouldn’t have any issue cutting through the ribs.  You can repeat on the other side of the spine, from the tail, or, if you’d prefer to keep your cut on the same side as your hand, rotate your duck, and cut back down from the neck to the tail.  Press the duck out flat after that, and, if it isn’t flattening nicely, score the breastbone with your knife (don’t cut through), that should help.

What are we doing with it?  I briefly considered feeding it to the dog, because, as I said before, raw chicken backs are safe for dog consumption (no other chicken bones, though, raw or cooked – they splinter), but decided to add it to the stock as well.  Chicken backs are very inexpensive, so it isn’t like he’ll be going without, and I’ve heard that duck fat is supposed to be really flavorful.  I’m assuming this means that duck stock will be very tasty as well, so I’m going to try to make as much of it as possible. 

Once the duck had been entirely butchered and flattened, flip it over so that the skin is facing up, and score the skin and the fat on the breast.  The idea is that you don’t want to cut to the meat at all.  A trick for doing this is to lay the flat of a very sharp knife tight against the breast of the duck.  Keeping it on its side, draw the knife towards you, along it’s length, so that the blade slices through a bit of the skin and fat.  This should help you avoid getting to the meat.  It worked pretty well, even with my medium-sharpness knife that I used to butcher the bird.  It’s easier the second time, once you have a better feel for just how much force is required to cut through the skin.  Cut off any excess neck flap skin, as well as excess fat near the tail (there are two big pockets of it right at the base of the tail, on the inside of the duck).

Once was done, I rubbed both sides of the duck with coarse salt.  Regular salt will work as well, according to Alton Brown, but I had Kosher salt available, so I used it.  I used about a quarter of a cup to coat things to my satisfaction, though Alton suggests using about a third of a cup for a 5 lb bird.  My family is pretty focused on lowering our salt intake, though, so I reduced the salt in this as well.

the duck is salted on both sides, and off to the fridge

I lined a roasting pan with paper towels, and lay the duck, breast-side-up, in the pan.  Alton says to leave it uncovered in the bottom shelf of your fridge for 3 or 4 days, until the skin has a parchment-like consistency.  I’m hoping that leaving it from Thursday night to Sunday morning will be enough to acquire this consistency. 

Next post – cooking the duck, and everything else we’re making for Hogswatch!  If you have any votes/suggestions for what we should do for the little chickens we’ll also be cooking, post below!