Friday, 31 October 2014

Corn and Bacon Chowder with Cheese Biscuits

A bowl of hot soup is perfect with warm cheese biscuits, straight from the oven, especially on a cool Fall evening. It's not only comfort food, it's also good for you!

Start off by dicing the vegetables. I used the last of my carrots, leek and added in some onion:

1 medium carrot
3/4 cup diced leek
1/2 medium onion

Set aside while you cook the bacon.

Dice 2 strips of bacon, and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally.

When the bacon is crisp, drain on paper towels to remove the excess fat.

Drain the remaining fat from the pan.

In the same pan (it has all that bacon flavour) add a drizzle of olive oil, and cook the diced vegetables until they start to soften.

Stir often. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle about 1 - 2 tablespoons of flour onto the vegetables. You want enough to lightly coat them, and to absorb the oil. This will help thicken the soup.

Cook for about 2 minutes.

Add 4 cups of chicken stock, and allow it to come to a boil, stirring well in the beginning to avoid lumps of flour from forming.

While the stock is coming to a boil, peel and dice 1 russet potato.

Add this to the boiling stock, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook until the potato is just tender.

Now you can add the frozen corn. I added about 1 1/2 cups. Continue to cook over a medium low heat, to finish cooking the vegetables, and to heat the corn.

Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Just before serving, add the cooked bacon to the soup.

Adjust the thickness to your preferred consistency by adding a bit of milk.

Taste again, and adjust seasoning. The bacon is salty, so the balance will have changed.

For the cheese biscuits, heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Measure out the dry ingredients:

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt (less if you use salted butter)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar

Add 5 tablespoons of butter, cut into small bits.

Using your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients until you have a fine, crumbly texture.

Now add the cheese...

I used a good handful of grated Cheddar as well as 1 green onion, finely chopped

Add approximately 2/3 cup of buttermilk, and mix in with a fork. Add more as needed.

Be careful not to overmix the dough, it will toughen it. You want it to just be wet enough to start sticking together.

Turn out onto a floured counter, and gently bring it together into a ball.

Gently press the dough down into a circle, about 1/2" thick.

Cut it into 8 pieces...

...and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with a bit of buttermilk.

Bake until the biscuits are golden, about 15 - 20 minutes.

  • I usually use celery as one of the vegetables for this soup, but I had used my last bit of celery for something else. The type pf vegetables you use depends on your preferences and what you have available. The important thing is that they are all cut into small dice, about the same size as the corn.
  • Add fresh herbs if you have them available...thyme and parsley would complement the vegetables well. I relied on the flavour of the vegetables, and the smokiness of the bacon to flavour the soup.
  • Any smoky meat can be used...leftover Christmas or Thanksgiving ham, pulled pork or smoked chicken.
  • In summer, use fresh corn. Cut the kernels off the cob and add them to the soup.
  • Add black beans for colour, and extra fibre and protein. Season the soup with cumin and chili powder.
  • Turn the soup into a seafood chowder by adding in cooked crab, shrimp or scallops with the corn. Add some chopped fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • Instead of potatoes, add leftover cooked rice or pasta to the soup.
  • Use vegetable stock or water instead of chicken stock...make it a vegetarian soup by leaving the bacon out.
  • The soup can be frozen.
  • Spice the biscuits up by adding paprika, cayenne pepper or ground black pepper. Instead of green onions, use chopped fresh chives.
  • As with any recipe calling for cheese, try something different each time, until you find your absolute favourite...smoked white cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan or Pepper Jack are some of the endless choices.
  • Margarine can be used if you don't have butter.
  • As a substitute for buttermilk, add a squeeze of lemon juice to milk, and allow it to curdle; or mix a spoonful of plain yoghurt or sour cream into milk.
  • The biscuits can be cut out into rounds by using a cookie cutter. I find there's less waste by doing it this way. Divide the dough into 2 rounds, and make smaller biscuits if you wish.
  • The biscuits are also a great accompaniment to stews or chili.
  • Make the biscuits sweet by omitting the green onions and cheese, and increasing the sugar to 2 tablespoons. Sprinkle the top of the biscuits with either white or brown sugar before baking them. These can be eaten with jam, or used to make berry shortcakes : split the warm biscuit and top the bottom half with sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries, before replacing the top half.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Apricot Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Beets and Carrots

This meal was based on using up some dried apricots and trying out some roasted beets...It resulted in a very colourful plate, with lots of flavour and texture. All in all, a good dinner.

Start with the beets, as they take a while to roast. Mine were the size of lemons, and took about 2 hours to roast.

Place the beets on a piece of foil, and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Wrap them up, and roast at 400F until tender.

Remove them from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

Peel the beets and cut into smaller pieces. I cut them into 4 or 6, depending on the size of the beet.

Place them into an ovenproof dish. Turn the oven temperature down to 350F.

 In  a small pan, heat:

2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
black pepper to taste

When the butter has melted, remove from the heat.

Pour the glaze over the beets and return to the oven to continue cooking, stirring occasionally.

Next, the carrots. They take slightly longer than the pork to cook, so once they are in the oven you can start with the pork, and everything will be ready at the same time.

Scrub and half baby carrots lengthwise.

Place them in a roasting pan, along with some sprigs of fresh thyme, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

Roast alongside the beets, in the 350F oven, until they are just tender when pricked with a fork.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar over the carrots.

Return to the oven. This allows the sugar and vinegar to create a sweet and sour glaze on the carrots.

For the pork,soak the apricots in orange juice to soften them. I did this when I first put the foil wrapped beets into the oven to roast.

Place the apricots in a small saucepan, and add enough orange juice to cover them. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow to soak.

Using a small, sharp knife cut a hole through the middle of the pork tenderloin.

 Insert the knife and slowly work it down the length of the pork, turning it around carefully to enlarge the size of the hole.

 Carefully push the soaked apricots into the pork, until you have stuffed the whole tenderloin.

Save the orange juice.

You can cut the pork into 2 pieces, or work from both ends of the tenderloin, to make it easier to reach the centre.

Season the pork with salt and pepper, and sear all sides in a hot pan, using a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Drizzle the orange juice from the apricots over the pork.

Place the pork into the oven to finish cooking.

When the pork is cooked through, remove from the oven, and allow it to rest for 5 - 10 minutes before slicing.

I served the pork with steamed asparagus, the roasted carrots and beets and Corn and Zucchini Pancakes on the side (I had some zucchini and buttermilk to use up).

  • After searing the pork, use the pan to make a sauce by deglazing it with orange juice, wine or chicken stock. Bring it to a boil, scraping all the yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. Just before serving, swirl a bit of butter into the sauce.
  • The pork can be crusted with a coating of Dijon mustard, and then chopped herbs, garlic, nuts or breadcrumbs.
  • Prunes can be used instead of apricots.
  • Soak the fruit in any juice, such as apple or orange; liqueur such as Grand Marnier, brandy or rum.
  • Instead of making a hole through the centre of the pork, make a slit along the top of the pork (lengthwise) and stuff the apricots in there. This also allows you to add other things such as cheese, nuts or herbs. See the post Pear Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Scalloped Potatoes.
  • The beets can be roasted with honey instead of maple syrup. Beets are naturally sweet, and roasting intensifies the sweetness, this added sugar is just to create a shiny glaze.
  • Leftover beets can be used cold, in salad with crumbled goats cheese.
  • Carrots also have a natural sweetness which is brought out by roasting; the balsamic vinegar showcases this.
  • Other herbs or spices that work well with carrots are cumin, fresh ginger, dill.
  • Beets can be paired with coriander, rosemary, garlic.
  • The beets can be foil roasted a day or two ahead of time, then finished off in the oven with the glaze.
  • The pork can be stuffed and frozen, for roasting another time.
  • I used one pork tenderloin to feed 4 people; the vegetables and Corn and Zucchini Pancakes were all very filling, and no one complained about not enough meat, which in our house is unusual!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Build Your Own Pasta Dinner

This is a great interactive meal, that gives everyone the chance to eat what they want, and gives the cook the opportunity to use up those bits and pieces that always get overlooked. Which is exactly what I was trying to do...use things up before buying new today!

The concept is simple...cook  up some pasta; heat up some sauces; cut up vegetables and meats. Everyone gets to decide which sauce, meat and/or vegetables they would like with their pasta. The result? A table full of happy people, no waste and often some new flavour combinations to try again.

Start off with the sauces...

#1: Basic Cream Sauce

I made a cream sauce, using up some Parmesan rinds and some of the last garlic cloves.

Peel and cut the garlic in half; this allows more flavour to infuse into the cream.

I had about 2 cups of whipping cream.

Add the garlic and Parmesan rinds to the cream, cook over a low heat until it has reduced enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon.

Watch it carefully! It loves to bubble up and boil over if you don't!!

When it has reduced, season with salt and pepper, and add in a handful of grated Parmesan.

#2:  Tomato Sauce

In a bit of olive oil, cook:

Half an onion, diced
1/2 cup zucchini, diced

When the onion and zucchini are softened, add in 2 tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir in and cook for a couple of minutes.

Now add in 2 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce .

Simmer for about 15 minutes.

#3: Basil Pesto

This was in the freezer, I defrosted it and it was ready to go.

These sauces are all basic, and can be used as is, or combined...pesto-tomato sauce; pesto-cream sauce; tomato-cream sauce.

Next, the meats and vegetables...

I diced up some cooked chicken; cooked up a chicken and asiago sausage that was in the freezer; cooked up some beef and sundried tomato sausage filling from our second sausage making adventure earlier in the day.

We were low on vegetables...all I had to offer was blanched broccoli, roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes.

And last, but not least, cheese to finish off the dish...

Grated Parmesan, crumbled blue cheese and chopped bocconcini

I cooked up a bag of penne, and everyone made their are 2 of them...

Tomato cream sauce, with chicken, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes and blue cheese

Cream sauce with sausage, chicken roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes and blue and Parmesan cheeses

  • We were low on vegetables, this was my use it all up before I buy more meal...usually there is more choice. I offer things such as cooked mushrooms, fresh peppers, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, olives, diced fresh tomatoes, shredded spinach, grilled zucchini. Don't overlook vegetables such as canned artichoke hearts and frozen corn or peas.
  • Any leftover meat is perfect for a meal like this. Not everyone wants or needs the same thing, so little bits and pieces go far. Try cooked bacon, chopped ham, diced cooked pork/beef/chicken/turkey, cooked seafood of any kind.
  • Think about toasting nuts such as pinenuts, pecans or almonds to add some crunch to the meal.
  • If you have extra meat sauce next time, freeze it and use it for one of the sauces.
  • Meatballs in the freezer? Perfect addition to the tomato sauce.
  • Go crazy with cheeses...goat cheese, feta cheese, asiago, cheddar.
  • Instead of a cream sauce, make a light cheese sauce. Someone will have mac 'n cheese...what they choose to put with it is the fun part.
  • Occasionally I find open packages of pasta, with hardly any pasta in them. These can be cooked up, and people then have a choice of pasta shapes too...don't overlook stuffed pasta such as ravioli or tortellini.
  • Chop up some fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, rosemary to add another dimension to the sauces.
  • And any leftovers from this dinner can be turned into pasta salad for lunch. Toss the cooked pasta with vegetables, meats and cheese and dress with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Chocolate Cranberry Bar with Brown Sugar Meringue

I made this chewy bar on Thursday, and it was almost all gone by Friday, so I made it again! Why not? We're all enjoying it. The base is cake like and then topping is brown sugar meringue, with chocolate chips, dried cranberries and coconut sandwhiched in between.

Line a 9" X 13" pan with foil; this helps with clean up and cutting the bar.

Whisk together:

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup melted butter

Whisk in:

3 egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Next, stir in the dry ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon bakng powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Press the dough evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan.

Refrigerate for about 30 minutes, or longer, until it is well chilled.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Sprinkle evenly across the base:

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup coconut

Start the meringue by whipping the 3 egg whites until they form soft peaks.

Continue whisking on high speed while slowly adding in 1 cup of brown sugar. You will end up with a shiny meringue.

Spread the meringue carefully over the base and toppings.

Bake until the meringue is puffed and golden, about 30 - 35 minutes.


              Cool completely before cutting. Do not refrigerate, the meringue will start to soften.

  • You can prepare the base and  freeze it for another time.
  •  No butter? Use vegetable or olive oil instead
  • Brown sugar adds a caramel flavour to the meringue, but white sugar can be substituted.
  • Any chocolate chips or fruit will work. Try white chocolate with chopped dried apricots; milk chocolate chips with dried cherries.
  • If you love coconut, use equal amounts of chocolate, fruit and coconut. You can substitute nuts for the coconut if you want a different texture.
  • Add orange zest or cinnamon to the base.
  • The bars keep for a couple of days, at room temperature, well wrapped...that is, if they haven't been eaten by then.