Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Simple Tomato Salad

I noticed fresh tomatoes at the farmers market last weekend. Even though it's not yet the right season for them, and, so, they're of the hothouse variety, I'm still very excited to have access to local produce that isn't a) potatoes; b) squash; or c) canned.  Besides, hothouse tomatoes produced in my own community are certainly better than tomatoes that the grocery store trucks in all the way from Mexico; so, I proudly picked up a basket, knowing exactly what I wanted to do with them.

When I want to enjoy fresh tomatoes, I like to make a really simple tomato salad. All I do is drizzle tomato slices with good olive oil, season them with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, and serve them with some kalamata olives and feta cheese. It is so easy, yet so delicious and pleasing to the eye.

I really enjoyed the tomato salad. While the hothouse tomatoes didn't have the same magical, juicy burst of flavour that they get from the summer sun, they were still very tasty and well-matched to the briny cheese and olives. This dish was a great preview to what I will be privileged to enjoy in a couple of months. 

Hurry up, tomato plants! I have big plans for you.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cedar-Planked Salmon Glazed with Maple Syrup, Hoisin, and Mustard

After a lifelong irrational fear of all seafood, I have finally started to incorporate fish into my diet. I started with fish and chips, of course, but have recently moved up to ordering pan fried or baked fish at restaurants. It turns out that I love it, and it makes me sad to think of all those years I wasted refusing to eat it. It has therefore become my mission to make up for lost time; now that I'm comfortable eating fish, this weekend I was finally ready to try cooking it at home.

Jeff and I decided to be brave and barbecue a salmon fillet. We found a recipe for cedar-planked salmon with a hoisin and dijon mustard glaze, and since he's a fanatic, Jeff modified the recipe a bit to include maple syrup (like any good New Brunswicker would).

The fillet went onto the smoking cedar plank, and the lid went onto the charcoal grill.

We were very patient, and didn't peek for 20 minutes.

And, boy, were we rewarded for it.

The salmon was extremely moist and flaky, with a wonderful smoky taste from the cedar plank. The sweet, sharp, and sticky glaze was to-die-for, and its flavours perfectly complemented the the fish without overpowering the taste of it. It was even better than what I've recently enjoyed in restaurants. Cooking at home can be so rewarding.

I'm glad that I've finally learned not only to enjoy fish, but also to cook it myself; I feel as if a whole new aspect of the foodie world has opened up for me. My goal when I decided to try fish was to get to the point where I eat it at least once a week. With a recipe like this, that doesn't seem like very much of a challenge!

Cedar-Planked Salmon with Maple Syrup, Hoisin, and Mustard Glaze: The recipe

Amanda's notes: Add a tablespoon of maple syrup to the Weber recipe if you so desire.
We used a skinless fillet, which didn't seem to affect the suggested cooking time. Jeff seasoned the plank with salt and pepper before adding the fillet.

"Prep time: 10 minutes Grilling time: 15 to 25 minutes

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 large salmon fillet, with skin, 2 to 2-1/2 pounds, about 16 inches long and 3/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 untreated cedar plank, about 16 inches by 8 inches, submerged in water for at least 1 hour
1. Prepare a two-zone fire for medium heat (to see how, click here).
2. In a small bowl mix the glaze ingredients.
3. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large cutting board. Using needle-nose pliers, remove any pin bones from the salmon. Cut the salmon in half lengthwise but do not cut through the skin. Then cut the salmon crosswise to make 6 or 8 servings, but again do not cut through the skin. Brush the glaze evenly over the salmon flesh, brushing some glaze between the individual servings. Season the top evenly with the salt and pepper.
4. Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After a few minutes, when the plank crackles and smoke begins to escape from the grill, place the salmon, skin side down, in the center of the plank. Close the lid and let the salmon cook until lightly browned on the surface and opaque all the way to the center of the flesh, 15 to 25 minutes. If at any point you see a lot of smoke pouring out of the grill, use a water bottle to extinguish the flames on the wood plank. Moving the plank over indirect heat will also prevent flare-ups, but the cooking time will be longer.
5. Using sturdy tongs or spatulas, carefully remove the salmon and the plank from the grill together and lay it down on a heatproof surface. Serve the salmon on the plank or pick up individual servings by sliding a spatula between the skin and flesh. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 6 to 8 servings"

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Warm Carrot Julienne

While on a mini getaway in Alma, NB, this weekend, I eat perfectly fried local haddock at a restaurant just outside Fundy National Park. Although the fish was among the best I've ever had, there was an unusual side dish served, along with the traditional chips and coleslaw, that really made an impression on me: a warm carrot salad.

Thin slices of carrot were served softened with a little bit of turnip, and dried garlic and herbs. Even though it was good enough, what stuck with me was not their preparation, but rather, the idea of what I could do with this interesting salad at home.

 I let my subconscious work on it while I enjoyed the rest of my weekend, and, once home, I got to work on my own version.

I decided that, instead of turnip, my carrot julienne would have thin slices of red onion in it, to add more flavour and colour.

I also used fresh, not dehydrated, garlic, and a little bit of fresh lemon juice, to improve on the complexity of the dish. Like the original version, I added plenty of dried basil and oregano, along with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

The warm carrot julienne was a success. Since this is my blog and I can say what I want, I'm going to go ahead and toot my own horn: mine was better than the version that inspired it. Once sautéed, the carrots became so sweet that I was thankful for the garlic and lemon juice, which provided a nice counterbalance. The red onion, itself fairly sweet, was the perfect complement to the carrots. Served with a grilled steak and roasted asparagus, it was a great side dish that I think will join the usual lineup at Chez Amanda. 

Dear Bay of Fundy,

I'll be back for the fish. Next time, though, leave me in charge of the carrots.

Much love,


Warm Carrot Julienne: The Recipe
Servings: 2 sides

Amanda's notes: As pictured, I used a julienne peeler (found it at a regular grocery store) to do the carrots. Slice them thinly with a knife if you don't have one of these handy babies.

1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté red onion in olive oil until soft. Add garlic and stir frequently to avoid burning. Add carrots, dried herbs, and salt and pepper, and sauté until soft. Add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice. Garnish with lemon zest; serve immediately. Enjoy! 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Memories of Tzatziki

Growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, I was exposed to amazing Greek food; in fact, the quality of the Greek food is one of the things I am most proud of about my hometown. As a young girl, I developed an obsession with tzatziki sauce, the so-garlicky-it-burns condiment made of cucumber and yogurt. Whether I slathered it on pita while I shared a cold pikilia platter with my mom at Dimitri’s, or eat it spread on a Pano’s donair for breakfast at the Boyce Farmer’s Market on Saturday, tzatziki sauce has always held a very special place in my heart. I’ve eaten it with a spoon from the Styrofoam takeout container, people; true love knows no manners.

Now that I live in the neighbouring city of Moncton, I find myself hard to please when it comes to my favourite condiment. While there is a perfectly lovely Mediterranean restaurant here, it does not specifically identify itself as Greek; therefore, its version of tzatziki, which is neither thick nor garlicky enough for my tastes, just isn’t the same. Grocery store brand obviously won’t do, either, so what’s a girl to do? Well, this girl makes it herself.

I read dozens of online recipes for tzatziki sauce, and combined elements from the ones that sounded most like what I can get at home. After little tweaks here and there, I finally have a formula that I love to call my own.

If you think tzatziki is only good for pita bread or donairs, think again. I make it every single weekend in the summer, because it is so versatile. I love it as a condiment for sausage, chicken, burgers, steak, pork tenderloin, or potatoes, as a dip with any vegetable, dolloped on top of an omelette, as a dressing for pasta salad, and in a big bowl surrounded by chips or crackers. The possibilities are endless.

While it would be nice to be able to run out and pick up a container of delicious tzatziki sauce whenever I please, I don’t mind taking the time to make my own. It’s rewarding to satisfy my cravings in my own kitchen, by successfully recreating a taste that I've always adored. However, even though I really enjoy my own version of tzatziki, some things just can’t be changed: when I’m at Mom and Dad’s, it’s Greek takeout all the way.

Tzatziki Sauce: The Recipe

Amanda’s notes: Since I can’t get Greek yogurt around here, I buy the thickest I can find, Balkan-style yogurt (6% M.F.), and strain it to thicken it even more. This can be done by placing a couple of layers of paper towel in a sieve, adding the yogurt, and sitting the sieve on top of a bowl in the fridge overnight. Discard liquid.

Because there is a lot of water in cucumber, after grating and salting, I squeeze out as much as I can by scooping it into paper towel or a clean dishtowel, and wringing.

Unlike the smooth tzatziki I grew up with, this one is chunky from the grated, skin-on cucumber. If you’d like a smoother texture, you could peel then puree your cucumber in a food processor before adding it to the yogurt.

I usually use about 6 cloves of garlic, but I really like the sting. Use 3 or 4 if you’re unsure, and more if you’re a fanatic (I once used 10, but it was bad for my social life).

1 large container Greek yogurt (about 2 cups)
1 cucumber, grated
6 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Whisk olive oil and lemon juice in the bottom of a bowl. Fold in yogurt. Add cucumber and garlic; mix well. Salt to taste. Let tzatziki sit in the refrigerator for at least a few hours before serving. Garnish with paprika. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Grilled Chicken, Potato, and Vegetable Skewers

I'm so happy that barbecue season is finally here to stay. The days are much longer, and the weather is consistently pleasant. Also, we’ve been heaving a bag of charcoal into our cart every time we go for groceries. Is there a better sign of spring?

Making skewers is a great way to barbecue. Not only is it a fun way to eat, because everything is bite-sized, but also it makes it easier to flip the food on the grill. (Note: if using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them in water for at least a few hours to slow down the burning process.) Last Saturday, Jeff marinated pieces of chicken breast overnight in a mixture of lemon juice, olive oil, honey, red wine vinegar, whole grain Dijon mustard, basil, oregano, rosemary, and salt and pepper. On Sunday, he marinated baby red potato slices for about three hours in olive oil with thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper. This blog entry won’t contain a recipe section, because there aren’t any; Jeff’s style of marinating is as follows:

- Opens a Ziploc bag
- Dumps in any combination of ingredients that he likes, in arbitrary amounts
- Adds food

Although no two marinades have turned out alike, it has never failed him. Why not live on the wild side?

As I’ve mentioned before, I am picky when it comes to potatoes; therefore, I prefer relatively thin slices for maximum flavour and crispiness. However, you could simply halve the potatoes before skewering, if you like (tip: poke some holes in them with a fork so that the marinade seeps through.)

The vegetables weren’t marinated; once skewered, we simply brushed them with olive oil, and seasoned them with salt and pepper. These babies don’t need any more help in the flavour department.

The potatoes went onto the grill first, since they take the longest to cook through; up next a little while later were the veggies. Have I ever confessed that I love burnt food? Well, I do.

Just look at the char marks on these potatoes. Burnt potatoes are a must for me (other food I prefer with a bit of a burn: onions, toast, Brussels sprouts, hot dogs, marshmallows.) Delicious!

Once the veggies were done, they were placed in a 300C oven to keep warm. The chicken skewers replaced them on the grill.

Mmmmmmmmm. What more can I say?

Once the chicken was cooked through and the potatoes were fork-tender, it was finally time to eat.

Success! The chicken was bright and tangy, with a strong lemon taste. The potatoes were perfectly crispy, and woodsy from the rosemary. The vegetables were naturally flavourful, tasting almost as if they had been roasted. All three food groups had the unmistakable and delicious taste of being grilled over charcoal. Served with my ever-present coleslaw, this spring meal of skewers left nothing to be desired. What a great way to wind down from the weekend!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Doggone Delicious

When I have visitors, I love to let them know how much I appreciate their company by making them something special. Spending time in the kitchen in honour of a guest is my favourite way to welcome them into my home; and, since I love cooking, as well as sharing my passion for food, I really enjoy entertaining.

So, when I found out that my new friend Packer was coming over while his human parents enjoyed a nice evening out, I decided to make him a little treat. I figured he might be a little confused in his new surroundings with strange babysitters, and I wanted to make him as comfortable as possible.

I decided to bake him little biscuits, and since I knew that Packer has not yet tried a lot of different foods (although he has been known to eat garbage), I steered clear of recipes that contained a lot of ingredients (like cornmeal and cheese, which seem to be pretty common in homemade dog treats). It would be rude to fill his puppy stomach with treats over the course of the evening, and then have him go home and be sick; therefore, I selected the simplest recipe I could find: Peanut Butter Puppy Poppers, which only have four ingredients. I confirmed with his owners that he has been given peanut butter before, and then set to work.

The peanut butter and whole wheat-based dough was extremely easy to work with, which is great for a novice baker such as myself. Although bone-shaped treats would have been adorable, I just used the smallest biscuit cutter I could find; besides, I don't think their shape really mattered to Packer.

I was delighted to find that he absolutely loved the treats. He sat on command like a good little boy to get them, and gobbled them up at lightning speed. At one point, he even sat on the floor in front of the bowl that they were in, and barked for more. It was hard for me not to let him have them just for being cute, but I knew his owners are doing a great job training him, and didn't want to mess up any progress. I sent him home at the end of the evening with the leftovers, and am happy to know that he will be enjoying them for a little while longer.

I wouldn't ever post anything on my blog without tasting it, and since I knew exactly what was in this dog treat, I did sample one. The cookie was dense from the whole wheat, with a strong peanut butter smell and taste; however, not surprisingly, it was pretty bland. I might eat them if I were starving. Maybe. Oh well, who am I to judge a dog's tastes? He likes what he likes! I certainly respect that.

Since I'm getting my own puppy in about six weeks, I was happy to test this recipe on little Packer. A neighbourhood dog also really liked them, so I'm pretty confident in holding on to this recipe for the future. As a dog-lover, it was very heartwarming to see one willing to stand on his head to get something that I made especially for him. 

In short, if you have a puppy, know a puppy, or are a mail delivery person, I highly recommend these biscuits. Just remember to take their bark for it that they taste good.

Amanda's notes: I found that the biscuits were done at around the 14 minute mark. I used smooth peanut butter in case Packer wouldn't like the texture of crunchy, but after seeing how much he liked them, next time I'll use whatever is on hand. If you don't have cookie cutters, just cut the dough into squares; the dog won't mind!

2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth) 
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In another bowl, mix peanut butter and milk, then add to dry ingredients and mix well. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Bake for 20 minutes on a greased baking sheet until lightly brown. Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight container.