Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Steak & Chip Night

Somehow Thursday has become Steak & Chip night at our place. I think it might have something to do with Brian's days in the Navy where one night a week was steak night. B loves his red meat.

The steak part doesn't vary much. In the summer we'll grill a couple steaks on the outdoor grill, in the winter we'll do them on the George Foreman Grill. Usually we'll have a couple nice thick top sirloin steaks but occasionally we'll splurge on some prime rib or ribeyes. Brian season's them with Montreal Steak Spice and puts them on the grill til they are a nice medium rare.

The chip part can vary depending upon how much I feel like splurging on calories. If we are trying to watch the calories B will do spicy oven fries, they have become his new favourite. Once in awhile I'll make cactus fries but when we really splurge I'll do crispy coated sweet potato fries with a curry mayo dip. So bad and yet so good.

Spicy Oven Fries

These are very spicy, you can adjust the amount of cayenne pepper til you find your level of tolerance.

  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
  • 2 medium potatoes washed, not peeled
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Preheat oven 425 F/
  2. Mix spices together.
  3. Cut potatoes into half inch wedges.
  4. In a bowl coat potato wedges with olive oil then toss with spice mixture.
  5. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
  6. Bake 40 minutes or until golden brown, flipping them over half way through
Crispy Coated Sweet Potato Fries

We use a deep fat fryer but have done them in a heavy pan on the stove top. 

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup soda or sparkling water
  • Oil for frying

  1. Heat oil to 350 F.
  2. Cut sweet potato to 1/4 inch sticks
  3. Mix together in a bowl the flour and soda water, this should be a thin consistency, just to lightly coat.
  4. Place sweet potato stick in batter to coat
  5. Using tongs, let excess batter drip off fries then carefully place in one at a time in hot oil
  6. Fry until a light golden brown.
  7. Serve with curry mayo

Curry Mayo

1/2 cup low calorie mayo or whipped dressing
1 teaspoon sriracha or hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoon curry powder

Mix all ingredients together about an hour before serving and chill.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Words of Wisdom

As I mentioned in my first post, I never had children but my husband has three daughters. When Brian and I met, his oldest, Barb, had already left home and was living in Alberta, the other two were living at home with their mother. Veronica, the middle daughter was working full time and going to university the youngest, Laura, in her last year of high school. Here it is, almost 6 years later, Barb is now living in Ontario, Veronica has graduated, moved into an apartment and is talking about heading out to Alberta in the Fall. Laura is about to head off to China Friday. She, along with several others from her Education class at Acadia are going to be teaching English for 4 months in Shanghai.

I am both happy and sad. I'm happy for Laura as she is embarking on an exciting adventure and sad because, well, I'm going to miss her. Okay and maybe I'm a little bit jealous. I've travelled to a few places around the world but never to Asia.

This event lends itself to providing some words of wisdom. I'll never forget my dad's words as he dropped me off at University, my first time living away from home. He said “If it's a choice between the easy way and the right way, choose the right way.” Unfortunately, he neglected to mention that the right way was not always obvious.

Not that I profess to be terribly wise but here is what I've come up with for Laura's big adventure:

  • Keep your wits about you. A good idea wherever you are but especially important when you are in a foreign country.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol, see above.
  • See as much as you can, you may not get another chance.
  • Every now and then, leave the camera home and just imprint the experience with your senses.
  • If the thought of doing something new scares you, pretend it doesn't and act like you've done it a hundred times before. It gets easier after about the fiftieth time.
  • Have fun!

What are your words of wisdom? Any suggestions for Shanghai or China that she must do?

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Panko Crusted Chicken

Looking for some new ways to serve up boneless skinless chicken breasts I went back to my childhood and remembered how much I used to like any meat done up in Shake 'n Bake. With a great big box of Panko bread crumbs in the cupboard I decided to create my own coating.

I really like the extra flavour and crunch this adds to the chicken without adding the extra fat of frying. You can used this to create chicken fingers or for coating pork chops or fish. The secret to keeping it crunchy is to keep the meat off the bottom of the pan. I do this by using a grate typically used in a roasting pan.

I've been thinking next time I make this up I'll add a few drops of lemon juice and lemon zest to give it a nice lemon chicken flavour.

The brussels sprouts in the picture were roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt pepper and lemon zest. B doesn't eat brussels sprouts but I can't get enough of them. Occasionally I'll just steam them and top with a cheese sauce.

Panko Crusted Chicken Breasts

  • 1 cup Panko crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • pinch dried basil
  • pinch dried oregano
  • pinch dried parsley

This will make enough breading for 4 medium sized chicken breasts.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag and mix well.
  3. Put half the mixture in another container for use another time.
  4. Put two medium sized boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the resealable plastic bag.
  5. Reseal and shake until chicken is coated.
  6. Place a grate on a baking sheet and place coated chicken on the grate.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven 35 – 45 minutes or until internal temperature in the thickest part of the chicken reaches 165 degrees.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Best Ever Beef Stew

I'm a big fan of Chef Michael Smith's way of cooking, he gives the basics and encourages you to put your own twist on it. “The best recipe is no recipe at all”. He is a big supporter of local food producers, famers, and fishermen. Emrace everything local, seasonal and that will get you your best flavours.

In my Food Network and online recipe addiction, my best and most frequent successes have been from his shows and websites.
We use our slow cooker quite a bit for Sunday dinners, mostly pot roasts and beef stew. Once I found this recipe of Chef Michael's biscuit crusted beef stew, I never looked back. This isn't made in a slow cooker but in our Paderno casserole dish so it goes from stove top to oven easily.

I have halved his recipe, this usually gives enough for two meals for the two of us. I've made a few ingredient adjustments to our tastes and availablility, you can do the same. Rather than putting the stew in individual serving bowls, I cover the stew with a large circle of the biscuit dough in the casserole dish and put the one pot in the oven. You can find the original recipe here Chef Michael Smith's Biscuit Covered Stew.
For the biscuit topping I use his frozen butter biscuit recipe, about the lightest, fluffiest, flakiest recipe I've ever found. The secret is in the grated frozen butter. The original recipe is here, I half it to top the stew. Chef Michael Smith's Frozen Butter Biscuits
This is a hearty stew for a cold winter evening.

Biscuit Crusted Beef Stew
  • 1 pound cubed stew beef 
  • Salt and Pepper to season
  • A splash vegetable oil
  • 2 peeled and roughly chopped carrots
  • 1 peeled and roughly chopped potato
  • 1 peeled and roughly chopped parsnips
  • 1 peeled and roughly chopped onions
  • 1/4 peeled and roughly chopped turnip
  • A few button mushrooms
  • ½ small can tomato paste
  • ¼ bottle red wine (remember, if you wouldn't drink it, don't use it in your cooking)
  • 1 or 2 cups homemade beef or canned stock
  • A couple bay leaves
  • A few springs of fresh rosemary

  1. Preheat a large thick-bottomed pot that can go in the oven over medium-high heat.
  2. Add enough oil to the pot to cover the bottom in a thin layer.
  3. Sear the meat, one layer at a time, on every side until it’s evenly browned.
  4. Once all the meat is browned, drain excess oil – but keep the tasty browned bits in the pan. 
  5. Add half of the vegetables, except mushrooms.
  6. Add all the meat back to the pot.
  7. Add the tomato paste and enough wine and beef stock to just barely cover the works.
  8. Add the bay leaves and rosemary and bring the pot to a simmer.
  9. Continue cooking about an hour, then add the remaining vegetables and mushrooms.
  10. Continue simmering until the meat and veggies are tender, about another thirty minutes.
  11. Meanwhile make a batch of biscuits.
  12. Roll the dough into a circle large enough to cover the stew in the in the pot then score into 8 pie pieces.
  13. When the vegetables are tender season and then careffully it the circle of biscuit dough onto the stew in the pot. Bake in a preheated 400 degree F oven.
  14. Cook until the biscuit topping is nicely browned and the stew is heated through, about thirty minutes.
  15. When done, carefully remove the circle of biscuit dough, it's going to be hot, and cut into individual servings.
  16. Ladle stew into bowl & serve with a biscuit.

Frozen Butter Biscuits

  • 2 cups all purpose flour 
  • 1 tablespoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoons salt 
  • 1/2 cup frozen butter 
  • ¾ cup milk 

  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together until they’re evenly mixed.
  2. Grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. Shred it through the large holes of a box grater or potato grater directly into the flour.
  3. Toss gently with your fingers until the butter shards are spread evenly throughout the flour. 
  4. Pour the milk into the flour mixture and stir with the handle of a wooden spoon to form a dough mass. The handle of the spoon is gentler on the dough.
  5. Fold the dough over a few times with your hands until all the ingredients come together.
  6. If necessary add a few spoonfuls more milk to help gather up any stray flour.
  7. This kneading will strengthen the dough a bit but not enough to toughen the biscuits. It will also help them form a crisp crust when they bake. 
  8. Pat the dough out on a lightly floured cutting board forming a loose round shape.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Halifax Staycation Continued

We kicked off our evening in Halifax with dinner in the Delta Barrington's new restaurant Tempo Food+Drink.

Last weekend was our second dinner at Tempo, our previous visit we both ordered the Wholly Cow, this time we switched it up. B ordered the Chef's Special of Oulton's Smoked Pork Chop in pig (bacon) gravy with roast corn and fries (he had them switch those for roasted fingerling potatoes). I had just one bite of the pork chop and POW, real smokey goodness with that bacon gravy. I may just be ordering it on our next visit.

I chose the Tagliatelle, a pasta smothered in roasted chicken, parmesan cream, tomatoes, pine nuts, spinach, olives and pancetta. Let me recount the sensations going on in that dish, the moist, tender chicken; creamy, rich parmesan cream; crunchy pine nuts; salty olives and crispy pancetta. Loved it but couldn't finish it, well except for a bit of pasta.

Almost forgot about the bread basket that came out first, a bit of gluten free deep fried rice paper, not much flavour except for the oil but an interesting texture. Also included is a couple pieces of baguette.

Alas, once again, no room for dessert.  I guess I'm going to have to come back and order up the Carrot Crunch dessert on it's own.  Our server said they were going to switch up the menu soon.  After three months in business I would assume they have a sense of what's working and what's not.  Just hoping they don't take a way the smoked pork chop or carrot crunch before I've had a chance to order them.

After supper we took a stroll through the pedways to the casino. On Friday & Saturday nights they open up the Games Room. There they have several Blackjack tables with a $5 minimum a hand as well as a number of slot machines. At some point in the evening a DJ plays pop music at a high decibel level. My guess is that the Games Room is marketed to a younger crowd but we like it because we can play blackjack for the evening without fear of losing much and occasionally coming out ahead. Out in the main room, you'll find various table games, and plenty of slot machines. Just off the main room are the poker tables, high stakes slots and high roller tables. It can be a bit intimidating your first time in but most dealers are friendly and helpful so it won't be long before you get comfortable. Also just off the main room is the Harbourfront lounge, this night Charlie A'court was playing but plenty of local bands play here.

Warnings about knowing your limits and dealing with gambling addictions are posted everywhere. I imagine they are bound by law to have this information available but it really is important to know your limits. Keep in mind that other than the poker tables, every game is in the house's favour. This night we walked away ahead of the game. It doesn't always work out that way but I'm sure they aren't making big money off of us.

The next morning my phone had died and I forgot my charger. Not really a bad thing but wasn't able to take many pictures for the rest of the staycation.  We had brunch at Tempo, served til 4:30 p.m. B had the meaty platter, or as they called it the "Hot Tempo", ham, sausage and bacon with scrambled eggs, toast and hashbrowns. I had a lighter fare with Egg in the Hole, or as we used to call it Toad in the Hole, an egg fried in a hole made in the bread. This was topped with bacon jam. All very tasty.

Then it was off to the Rainmen game. This was our first time to a basketball game and we were pleasantly surprised at what a great time it was.They really put on a show. It's a fast paced game with some entertainment thrown in. The Weather Girls cheer team have a dance or two and are on the sideline throughout the game. We are not hockey fans (I know, terrible Canadians), this is a great alternative, relatively cheap family afternoon or evening out, a little warmer and little less physical then a hockey game. Now that we've been once, we are definitely going to return.

And so ended another perfect date night staycation.  Anyone have suggestions for the next?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Halifax Staycation

Last post I mentioned we started doing overnight stays in Halifax for some of our date nights, it was kind of a process how that came about. 

I started creeping Groupon & Team Buy coupons to find good deals for hotel stays. If we get a good enough deal it's cheaper then a taxi out and back. We stayed at many of the downtown hotels and even had a weekend at the Atlantica Oak Island on a coupon.

Last year I was looking for a deal for B's birthday weekend and found one at the Deltas in Halifax. The Deltas offer a stay and play package in conjunction with the casino which is a good value. I signed up for the Delta emails but following the twitter feed as led me to some exceptional deals. 

As a side note, there are those who could take a page from the Delta Social Media Manager's book. Some businesses will create a twitter account, slap up a Facebook page or add an email to their website and then never engage people ever after. Nothing makes me lose interest faster then sending a tweet or email to a business never to receive a reply.  

Suite at the Delta Barrington
It may have been social media that hooked me into the Delta but it was the rest of the package that keeps us coming back. The Delta Barrington is one of the older hotels in the city and some parts may be showing age but it's always very clean and well maintained. A major reno has started. This Fall the beautiful, spacious  lobby as well as a restaurant, Tempo were finished.

The location is perfect for getting to most downtown locations. There are pedways that connect the Deltas from the casino on the waterfront up to the Metro Centre where many events and conferences take place.

Kudos to the management, the staff embody the best of customer service, always a warm east coast welcome, feels like coming home every time.

Barrington Street has many restaurants and shops from the Deltas to the Seaport Farmer's Market, enough to make a day of going from one end to the other. Alternatively, a short walk down a couple of blocks will take you to the waterfront boardwalk, a more scenic route to the farmer's market, also filled with restaurants and shops.

Last weekend our date night staycation included a tasty dinner at Tempo, an enjoyable evening at the casino, Sunday brunch back at Tempo and then up the hill to a basketball game, Halifax Rainmen vs my hometown team, Summerside Storm.

I tell you more on that next post.

What are some of your favourite things to do for "date night"?