Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some neat food I like.

As a fledgling cook, it can be very easy to get caught up in using very similar ingredients all the time. Lord knows there's a lot of versatility in a pound of shrimp, some onions, garlic, tomato and limes. As previous entries will attest to!

But, that being said, I think it's important to get out there and try more unusual foods. Either local delicacies or items that aren't on the normal 'map'. Here are some that I've enjoyed over the years...

1) Wild garlic

Wild garlic, or ramps, is a member of the leek family with a similar flavour, but a little more onion-y. Local farmers in Ottawa sell them at markets with instructions on pickling them. The pickled garlic is delicious when thrown in a veggie stir-fry, salad, etc...

Pickling is dead easy: trim the stalks if this hasn't done yet to keep only the white bulb (ignore the red bits in the pic above), mix equal parts vinegar and water, throw the garlic in the solution. Keeps for about a month.

Peak Season: late April-May (Ottawa area)

2) Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads are a Central-Eastern Canadian/Northeastern U.S. delicacy. They're a kind of fern (ostrich fern) that grows in the early Spring. Other varieties can be found throughout the world, but I've never heard of them used outside the northeastern N. American seaboard.

Pan-fried in butter as a side for a nice piece of fish? Welcome to Heaven! The flavour is quite unique, and you need to wash them thoroughly before cooking in order to remove the brown leaves as they are/might be toxic. Cooked fiddleheads are still pretty crunchy. The flavour is reminiscent of broccoli, but milder.

Peak Season: late-April, May (Ottawa area - this year the availability started and ended weeks earlier due to a mild winter).

3) Chinese Sausage

OK, I'll be the first to admit that stir-fry, while being the easy choice for quick meals, can get pretty effing boring after the umpteenth shrimp or chicken dish. So, when I was in Chinatown (which in Ottawa is more like Chinastreet) recently, I came across this interesting looking package labelled 'Chinese sausage'. Now sausage is one of the best foods in the world no matter where it comes from, but Chinese sausage (aka "Lap Cheong") is something totally different than what we're used to. Honestly, they kind of look like pepperettes.

But the flavour is this interesting mix of sweetness, smoke, licorice and salt. And the texture is much harder and chewier than normal sausage, but it is dried and keeps much longer than regular sausages.
I tried a pretty tasty stir-fry using this stuff and Bok choy:

Chinese Sausage Stir-fry

2 inch piece ginger, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
3 tbsp dry sherry

Stir fry

4 Chinese sausage, sliced
1 red pepper, julienne
1-2 sweet onion, julienne
2 heads baby bok choy (or other Chinese green), chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced thin
½ head broccoli, cut into small florets

- Begin sauce boiling
- Add sausage and sauté until fat begins to be rendered into sauce (7 mins. or so)
- Blend sausage fat into sauce well (whisk if nec.)
- Add veggies and sauté until tender
Serve over hot rice or noodles with Sriracha hot sauce, if desired.
Chinese sausages and Sriracha are available at most Oriental grocers and supermarkets.

4) Pickled Herring

Alright, maybe it's not super-exotic, but I LOVE pickled herring. Try it some day with some really nice toasted bread.

You can find jars of pickled herring at any supermarket in the seafood section.

5) Berbere spice mix

This is my secret weapon for cooking spicy food. I use it in dry rubs, I use it in BBQ sauce, I put it on my toast, I use it in chili instead of chili powder. I'm like the old lady in those Frank's Red Hot ads.
Berbere spice is a staple in Ethiopian cooking. It's used in stews like Doro Watt and most other common dishes.
The version I use was taken and slightly adapted from Chef Marcus Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa. This is a GORGEOUS cookbook with lots of shots of the locals in various African countries doing their thing with food. And it has some neat-o recipes. I adapted his BBQ sauce recipe for ribs the other week and, yeah, wow. But it's Samuelsson's simplified Berbere recipe that has made buying this book totally worth it.
Here is the recipe, not sure what the copyright law is, but I'll repeat: this is Chef Marcus Samuelsson's recipe, from Soul of a New Cuisine. Please don't sue me.
Berbere spice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup ground dried serrano chili peppers or other ground dried chili peppers
1/2 cup sweet paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (preferably freshly ground)
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Finely grind the fenugreek seeds with a mortar and pestle or in an electric spice or coffee grinder. Combine the remaining ingredients and add the ground fenugreek seeds, mixing well. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 months (although I've had batches last 6 to 9 months in the fridge and be fine).
If you have trouble finding the ingredients, check out an Indian grocery and a Chinese grocery. Between the two, you should find what you need.
Use it liberally the way you would chili or curry powder. Mix about 2 parts brown sugar with 1 part Berbere spice for a delicious rub for meat.

6) Zataar

One of the great things about living in Ottawa is the very large Lebanese population, which led me to be exposed to Middle Eastern food long before shawarma became ubiquitous. Now, I didn't try zataar until later on in life, but man did I eat a lot of baklawa as a kid...

So, zataar, what is it? Well zataar itself is an herb blend. Often the herbs are mixed with oil to create a spread. I've only ever had it prefabricated from Boushey's Grocery - essentially what they make is a pita bread with this spread over it. They sell it for about 1.50$. It's a tasty, tasty snack!

Here is a recipe for the zataar spice blend from I have no idea about the authenticity, but I bet you it's tasty!


1/4 cup sumac (check at Middle Eastern grocers or upscale food shops)
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons marjoram
2 tablespoons oregano
1 teaspoon coarse salt


Grind the sesame seeds in food processor or with mortar and pestle. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Store za'atar in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or in an airtight container. When stored properly, za'atar can be used from 3-6 months.

To make into a spread, add olive oil a bit at a time, stirring constantly, until desired consistency is reached. Spread it on pita bread and enjoy the bitter deliciousness!

7) Fatayer

Fatayer is a kind of savoury pie/turnover dealie, usually stuffed with spinach, onion and any number of spices/herbs. It's commonly sold in Middle Eastern groceries. Makes great picnic/hiking fare!

I've never tried making it myself (mostly because baking frightens me), but here's a recipe anyway (from

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes


For the Dough:

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup water

For the Spinach Filling:

1/2 pound fresh spinach, finely chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/8 teaspoon ground sumac


In a medium bowl, combine flour and salt. Add oil and begin to knead dough. Once oil is absorbed, add warm water. Knead into an elastic dough.

Shape dough into 2 inch diameter balls. Cover and set aside.

Preheat over to 425 degrees.

Wash spinach and soak in salted water while you chop vegetables. Rinse spinach and dry thoroughly with paper towel.

Combine and toss filling ingredients.

Place 2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each ball of dough. Cover filling with dough and form into triangular shape.

Bake for 10-15 minutes on greased baking sheet, until golden brown. Allow to cool 5 minutes and serve immediately.

That's it for this edition of 'off-the-beaten path' foodstuffs. I'll get back to this topic when I've gathered enough to make it worthwhile. As always, your comments are welcome too!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quick and easy vegetarian meal

Good day dudes and dudettes!

Alright, I've been shoving BBQ and meaty goodness down your throat over the past few posts, so now it's time to switch gears and lighten the mealtime load. The following recipe was cobbled together for a certain lady friend who had no idea what to have for dinner (a fairly common occurrence, eh kitten?).

After she tried it, she said it was good, so I figure I might as well share.

Chickpea Salad

- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed thoroughly (use a colander/strainer to rinse the chickpeas, give them a good rinse since they have a ton of salt on them)

- 1/2 small red or Vidalia onion, chopped

- 1 small tomato, chopped

- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Mix all ingredients in a bowl with Dressing


- juice from 1/8 lemon

- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

- 2 tbsp olive oil (best quality)

- 1 tsp dried basil

- salt and pepper to taste

Whisk ingredients together with a fork.

Serve in salad bowl with good quality pita bread or baguette.


Sunday, May 16, 2010


Yeah, we all love 'em, they're delicious messy pig awesome.

Now, making ribs the 'pure' way is about as far from 'easy bachelor cooking' as it gets, but there are ways to cheat. I like to smoke my ribs, but it involves having a smoker or making a smoke packet, all of which are far more complex than necessary to make a whack of "DAMN that's good" ribs. For now. Soon, teach you smoking I will young Padawan, hmmmmm... Yeah, cause I did my first smoke job a few days ago and I all I can say is GODDAMN!

But, for now, let's make those suckers easy. Basically there are as many variations on a good rib rub/marinade as there are bad AC/DC cover bands... So, I'm going to crib from my buddy Paul and adapt his easy rib recipe for today's post:

Step 1 - Get some ribs. Side ribs are cheaper, and you don't have to remove the membrane that you do for back ribs. Granted they aren't as tender, but for this trial, let's stick with side ribs.

Step 2 - Get some cheap BBQ sauce for the marinade/pre-cook. Kraft Garlic works just fine.

Step 3 - Using a food processor (hopefully you've picked one up by now, if not, chop the bejeezus out of everything!), purée an onion and as many gloves of garlic as you think you can handle. Add a few drops of liquid smoke (and only a few drops, it's mighty powerful stuff!) and as much hot sauce as you like. Mix it all together with the BBQ

Step 4 - Here's where you get creative. Use any of the following ingredients in reasonable quantities (and when I say 'any', I don't mean all! It's an exercise in 'mix and match to your taste'):

- bay leaf
- parsley
- oregano
- basil
- dry mustard powder
- cayenne pepper
- paprika
- cumin
- coriander
- dry cocoa powder
- brewed coffee
- rice wine vinegar
- beer (my fave!)
- whiskey
- red wine (for a richer sauce)
- tomato juice/veggie cocktail (if you like a richer tomato flavour)
- pineapple (gives a nice tang, I like it!)

Mix this all together in the food processor or whisk together with the BBQ sauce & onion/garlic puree.

Step 5 - Using a roasting or lasagna pan, lay out the ribs and pour sauce over them, rub the sauce into the meat. Make sure the meat is all well covered.

Step 6 - Cook ribs in oven for 4 hours at 200 degrees Farenheit.

Step 7 - Increase heat to 240 and cook for another hour. Remove from marinade. Ribs should be close to falling off the bone, but that isn't guaranteed. And really, they're still DAMN tasty.

Step 8 - Preheat grill or broiler (the broiler works just fine, but using the grill will give your ribs that smoky BBQ flavour)

Step 9 - Brush ribs with higher quality BBQ sauce. Remember the PC Smokin' Habanero Barbcue Sauce from last time? Yeah, that stuff works nicely if you like the spicy. If not, I suggest Diana sauce of whichever variety.

Step 10 - Cook ribs until sauce glazes and forms a crust of sorts. Do this on both sides. You can do this as much as you want. Usually 3 'coats' of sauce is good, but it's a question of taste.

Step 11 - Cut ribs into portions of single ribs or sets of three. Up to you really...

Step 12 - Keep lots of napkins handy and EAT!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fajitas made easy

Howdy y'all!

Chances are, if you were born before 1985, you probably remember the advent of fajitas in the late 80s as THE COOLEST FOOD EVER! Who doesn't have a fond memory of going to one of many brand-new Tex-Mex joints in their neck of the woods (readers from south of the Mason-Dixon line, please ignore this) and being bombarded by the smell of meat sizzling on super-hot metal plates that they served in front of you with all the cool fixins on the side? And then you got eat that goodness with your hands! YEAH! 13-year old me is PLOTZING just thinking about it!

My mother would continue the tradition at home with nearly the same amount of spectacle. And a ton of clean-up for the kids aferwards (fajitas at home = mixed blessing!).

Now, as time has passed, I've found myself craving that awesomeness, but do I have the room or implements to make that kind of meal? HECK NO! But, as with any good cook who has limited space, time and resources, I tinker. So, after a few attempts, here's my take on fajitas.

Basically this recipe takes all those different ingredients that you put on a bunch of different plates and cook differently and puts them altogether. It also is a year-round recipe. No grilling involved.

Half-assed Fajitas for 2-4


- 1 lb. boneless steak or chicken or pork (cut into strips about 2 inches or 7-8 cm long, 1/2 inch or 1.5 cm thick) OR 1 lb. peeled shrimp (remove tails)

- 1 small red pepper, cut into strips

- 1 small red or sweet onion, chopped

- 1 ripe tomato, chopped

- Shredded lettuce (optional - I usually don't bother since lettuce is about as nutritious as paper)

- Chopped cilantro (optional)

- 10 small tortillas - flour or whole wheat

- Fajita sauce

Ingredients for Fajita sauce

- 2 garlic cloves, minced

- 2 tbsp olive oil

- 1/2 cup BBQ sauce (whichever kind you prefer, I use President's Choice Smokin' Habanero Barbcue Sauce , which is really tasty, but also quite spicy)

- 2 tbsp hot sauce (whichever you prefer, I like either old school Frank's Red Hot style, or a smoky chipotle sauce)

- 1 tsp ground black pepper

- 1 tsp paprika

- 1/4 cup beer

- Whisk all sauce ingredients together.

Putting it together
- In a large frying pan on medium-high heat, pour in Fajita sauce, meat, peppers and onion and sauté. You can add the tomato if you like it cooked (I do it this way) or keep it aside if you want to add it raw.

- Fry up mixture for about 15 mins until everything's cooked.

- As mixture is cooking, place as many tortillas as you're using on cookie sheet and preheat oven to 350 F.

- Spoon mixture onto tortillas and roll into cylinder.

- Cook in oven for about 5 mins, to heat and crisp tortillas

- Remove from oven, open fajitas and spoon sour cream, salsa, guacamole, chopped cilantro, etc. etc. - how ever you want it!

- Eat and get messy!

Psssssst... You want a recipe for guacamole? DEAD easy!


- 1 ripe avocado, cut in half, pit removed (this is a bit tricky. First of all, a ripe avocado is a deep greenish-black; totally black usually means overripe. Second, to split the avocado, just cut through the soft part until you hit the pit, DON'T try cutting that in half! Just work around until the soft part is cut in half, and gently pull one side away from the pit, then the other)

- 1 tsp chopped onion

- 1-2 clove garlic, minced

- 1/2 tomato chopped (optional)

- juice of half a lime

- salt and pepper (and, if you're feeling frisky, a pinch or two of chili powder)

Putting it together

- Scoop the avocado 'meat' into a bowl

- Add all other ingredients and mash with a fork until desired consistency is reached.

- EAT!

Later dudes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sugar shock wrongness to throw on top of ice cream

OK, I'm about to unleash an old sugar junkie's secret. It's an old school recipe for a topping for ice cream that just is pure awesomeness. Ever want to make your ice cream taste like a Snicker's bar? Do this:

- melt together 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter and 3 tbsp corn syrup
- pour onto ice cream
- enjoy semi-melted ice cream goodness

That's it! Enjoy!