How To... · Pasta

Pizza Dough

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Making pizza on an evening when you are not in a rush is good for the soul.   For us, it is a team activity which means time well spent together.  I prep the dough, we both do the toppings and Kevin cooks it on the grill which avoids heating up the house.

By using instant yeast, rising time is cut in half so we can start the dough around 4 and be eating by 6:30.

So, this Saturday night, when dinner can get to the table ‘eventually’, mix your dough, then maybe mix a cocktail to unwind…  kick back and listen to some great music with your significant other and wait for the dough to rise.

While you are waiting, chop up some fresh herbs and stir them into to can of tomato sauce for a fresher tasting pizza sauce.

And, remember to have fun with your toppings.   What about that leftover brisket, souvlaki or  bbq chicken already in your fridge?  Maybe charred veggies?  Or stick with traditional pepperoni.  Whatever makes you happy.

Cooking time will depend on where you are cooking it – our charcoal grill cooks it in about 6 minutes, but it takes nearly 15 in our oven.  So you will have some experimenting to do, but don’t stress over it, its all part of the fun.

The one piece of specialty equipment you will need for this is a pizza screen or use an upside down pizza pan or cookie sheet.  Using one of these takes all the stress of getting that dressed pizza off of the peel and onto the grill.  Just be sure that if you are grilling this, the pan you choose fits your bbq.

 

Pizza Dough

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon instant yeast

2 1/2 cups flour

6 – 8 oz water

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit more for brushing the bowl

In bowl of stand mixer, whisk sugar, salt, yeast and flour together.  Add the olive oil and 6 oz of water.  Using the dough hook, on low speed, mix until dough comes together and forms a rough dough.  If dough looks dry or is not coming together, add more water by teaspoons until it looks right.  Knead with mixer until smooth.  About 5 minutes.  (this can be done by hand if you prefer).

Turn dough onto floured board and knead 3 – 5 minutes until smooth and elastic.  Place dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, place in warm, draft free area and let rise until doubled in size- 30 – 40 minutes.

Punch dough down and place on lightly floured board.  Divide in half for 2 large pizzas or into 3 for 3 medium ones.  Form pieces into balls, place on cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and put back in warm place to rise for another 30 minutes. ( here is where we take that 3rd ball of pizza and toss it into the freezer for later use.  Also, if you are making the dough ahead, you can pop it into the fridge now for up to 2 days. Of course, you will thaw and or let dough warm up and rise before proceeding)

Preheat your oven or grill to 500F.

Working with one ball at a time, roll or press out dough on a lightly floured surface to a roughly circular shape, about 10″ across for a mediium pizza.  Place on your pizza screen or upside down pan.  Add sauce and toppings as desired.  Pop the pan into your oven or the grill and bake 8 – 14 minutes, until cheese has melted and crust is golden.

Pour yourself another glass of wine and enjoy.

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How To...

Tzatziki Sauce

Now that you know how easy it is to make this, you will be putting it on everything – fresh tomatoes, your next BLT, salads, dip for that leftover pita bread…

Tzatziki Sauce

1   6″ cucumber, peeled, seeds removed

1 cup greek yogurt (whole milk)

1 clove garlic, grated

1 teaspoon fresh mint, finely chopped

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together, let stand 15 minutes for flavours to blend and serve with anything greek.

Desserts · How To... · Pies

(Almost) Graham Cracker Pie Crust

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Mango Pie with Graham Crust

We can buy Graham Crackers here but we must go to an import store where we pay more for that little box of crackers than it would cost to buy a whole pie from a speciality bakery.    We can get pre-made “graham” crusts for a very reasonable cost, but they tend to be flavourless.  So, I started experimenting with different types of cookies that  are readily available here and, discovered what most of you probably already know… most any unfilled cookie can sub in for Graham Crackers.

Crush the cookies in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or pop them in your food processor.  The important part is to be sure to add enough butter and sugar so it stays together when you press it into the pie pan.

It isn’t rocket science and some of you are probably wondering why on earth something so common needs to be written down.   The answer?  Because even though this is a no brainer for many of you, I  don’t make pies often enough to have this simple formula memorized.  And, now that it is written it down, I don’t have to memorize it.

(Almost) Graham Cracker Pie Crust

 

1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs

6 tablespoons  butter, melted

1/3 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together in large bowl until well combined.   Press mixture into a 9″ pie pan, making sure it is tight and compact.   Using the bottom of a flat measuring cup to help with this.

If you are making a no-bake pie, chill the crust for at least 2 hours before adding the filling.

If making a baked pie, pre-bake the crust at 350F for 7 – 10 minutes, then continue with whatever directions you have for the filling.

How To... · Soups and Stews

Chicken Stock

Yup, it is exactly the same as Turkey Stock, but a whole lot more versatile.

In my family, there is a certain traditional flavour we expect Turkey Soup (and stock) to maintain, whereas chicken stock can go in so many different directions.

The beginning is simple.  Start with a pot full (about 2 kilos) of chicken bones, backs, thigh bones, breast bones.   (Honestly, if you are not already doing this, keep a zip lock bag in your freezer and any time you have to remove a breast bone, or de-bone a chicken thigh, toss it in the freezer bag.  You will be surprised at how little time it takes to fill it up.  Once full, it should weigh about 2 kilos, which is enough for  2 – 3 litres of stock. )

Toss the frozen contents of that bag into a stock pot, add water to just cover the chicken pieces.   Toss in 1 onion, quartered, 2 stalks of celery, cut into 2″ pieces, 2 carrots, peeled and cut into quarters, and a handful of parsley stems.

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This batch included chile d’arbole and dried chipotle, along with garlic and cilantro

Now for the fun part; any number of additions can be made in any combinations you like, depending on how you plan on using the stock once finished:  oregano, thyme, dill, ginger, cilantro, dried chilies, garlic, lemons, lime, use your imagination.

Once you have everything in the pot, bring to just below the boiling point over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for about 2 hours.  Keep an eye on the water level, it should just cover the bones to begin with, and as the stock simmers, the level of liquid will reduce by about 2″.    Avoid letting it boil and try not to stir too much as this will make your stock cloudy.   Remove from heat, cool slightly and strain the broth.  Discard solids  (you can pick the meat off the bones at this point to use in the soup if you like, but my personal opinion is that the meat has boiled so long, all the flavour has left it by now).    Let stock stand, uncovered until it cools to room temperature.  Then transfer smaller containers and refrigerate, uncovered until completely cool.  Do not cover until completely cool or the stock will turn sour and unusable.   Once cooled, any fat can be easily removed and discarded.

And that is it!  Simple.   Stock will keep in the fridge for 5 days.  You can freeze it for up to 3 months.

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How To...

How to Cook Dried Beans

Its true, you cant beat the convenience of canned beans.  But, making your own beans is really very simple.  Once you have the basics down, soaking and cooking, you can take a pot of plain beans in any direction you choose.   There are other ways to soften dried beans, but I get the best results this way.

2 cups dried beans – black, kidney, navy, pinto, garbanzo..any kind you choose, really.

Place them on a cookie sheet and give them a quick sort to remove any tiny stones or broken beans.

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Watch for (and remove!) the little stones hidden inside each bag of beans.  They can be a real party killer.  

Toss the beans in a colander under cool running water to rinse, then place in a bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch.   Remove and discard any beans that float.  Cover and let soak overnight.

Put beans and soaking liquid in pot.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer, partially covered, adding more water as necessary for several hours until beans are tender.  How long will depend on the type and age of the bean.  The older the beans, the longer they will take to soften.   Moe or less, allow from 1 – 3 hours.  Just be sure keep an eye on them while they simmer.

Once the beans are tender, you can spice them up any way you choose, including subbing them in any recipe that calls for canned beans, which means less sodium and NO Preservatives!!  Will keep 5 days, refrigerated.

Beef · How To... · Main Courses

Our Favourite Way to Grill a Steak

Its Friday, and time to unwind.  For us, that means  grilled meat, usually beef!!

Being Alberta born and bred, we had a tough time adjusting to Mexican beef.  We discovered there is a reason that beef here is normally marinated, stewed or sliced and diced and stuffed into a tortilla.   Pretty much, we stopped buying beef altogether, with the exception of a pre-marinated steak called Aracherra.

Several years ago, however all that changed,  when a Sonora’s Meats store  opened at the Las Juntas crossing.    Presumably,  they serve beef from the state of Sonora, but wherever it came from, it was good meat!!  Much better than anything we had previously found, and the big draw for us was that they would custom cut a steak that finally justified the time a charcoal BBQ takes to be ready.

Our first time ordering  a 2″ cut of sirloin caused enough commotion to attract the manager/owners attention.   He wandered over, thinking we needed a translator to help with our order.   He looked even more surprised than the butcher when we confirmed that yes, we did in fact want a 2″ cut of beef.   It wasn’t until we told him that we are from Alberta that a look of understanding came over his face.  He said something in Spanish to the butcher and we got our 5cm cut of sirlon.  He then asked us “How to you cook this anyway?”    (what he never did learn was that we did not eat this at one sitting.   This was our Friday dinner, our Sunday steak and eggs and lunch for several days the following week.)

Unfortunately, all good things must end.  The meat store eventually closed, and the butcher who would actually cut a 2″ steak for dropped out of sight.  Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Sonora Beef began to become mainstream, and can now be found at our local Mega and Wal-Mart stores.  While it is nearly impossible  to convince any of the employees to give us a 2″ cut,  we are nearly always assured of  finding a  decent 1″ steak, which, in reality works just fine for us.

So, we are happily grilling every Friday again, and always, there is room for anything our guests want to grill as well.    Friday Grill has become a tradition here;  a time for  us to connect with our guests as we gather to share a glass, a good meal and some laughs while the sun sets on another beautiful day here in Nuevo.

Regardless of which type of grill you use;  charcoal, gas or hot coals of a camp fire, one trick we have learned is to season our meat EARLY!!   Like ‘in the morning before we start work’ early!    The flavour early seasoning brings to the steak is incredible!   It also helps to keep the meat moist, and tenderizes it a bit, so if the tenderness of that strip loin you bought is suspect, early seasoning will help it.

Here is our method to a perfectly cooked steak.  If you are not already doing this, give it a try, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

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Step 1  – Season your steak in the morning. You can use simple salt and pepper, or your favourite steak seasoning. We often make our own, but Grill Mates Montreal Steak Spice is our go to .

 

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Step 2 – Set seasoned steak on a couple of bamboo skewers so air can circulate around it, then pop it in the fridge and forget about it for the next 6 – 10 hours.

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Step 3 – Rub about 2 teaspoons of oil on your steak before you put it on the grill. This helps keep the juices in.

 

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Step 4 – Grill over direct heat till its done how you like it. About 4 minutes per side for Medium Rare
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Step 5 – LET IT REST!! Tent with foil and let it rest 10 minutes before you cut into it. This gives the grill master time to re-fill his glass while all those juices are absorbed back into the steak instead of running all over your plate.
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STEP 6 – Enjoy!!

 

How To... · Main Courses · Soups and Stews

Turkey Stock

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Finally, a free day for me, which means I have time to move last weeks turkey carcass out of the freezer and into my stock pot!!

Not that making stock is difficult, or time consuming, when one really stops to think about it.  Just put the ingredients into a pot, cover with water and let it simmer away on the stovetop for a couple of hours while I putter away at something else.

My plan today was to take a short nap, then write this blog while the stock simmered.  The nap part came off without a hitch,  but my computer wanted no part of my plan, and the stock is finished and cooling and I am just starting this blog.   Hmm.

There are so many reasons for making your own stock, aside from making your house smell awesome with very little effort, but in this case,   if you want turkey soup, you will have to make your own stock.   I don’t think they sell it.

This is the basic recipe.  Use your imagination to expand its flavour profile.  My stock today included 1 jalepeno, a small piece of ginger, 8 chicken thigh bones (left over from last nights dinner) and some cilantro stems.  The add-ins are limited only by your imagination, really.

Oh and thanks to my genius friends suggestion, cooling stock in 80F weather just got a whole lot easier ( and faster):  run a sink full of cold water, plunk the pot with the strained broth in it and let the water work its magic.

 

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Turkey Stock

1 leftover turkey carcass, bones and any skin that family members did not peel off the bird   as you were trying to carve it on the big day

1 onion, quartered

2 carrots, peeled

4 stalks celery

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

water to cover

Bring to boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface.  Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 2hours.  Remove lid and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes to reduce the stock just a little.

Let stand 30 minutes to cool a bit.   Strain thru colander into another pot large enough to hold all the stock.    (Be careful when working with hot liquids).  When bones are cool enough to handle, you can pick the meat off the bones to put back into the soup, or you can toss all the solids and just keep the stock.

Strain the soup again thru a fine mesh strainer.  Let cool completely before refrigerating or  packaging to freeze.

This will keep in your fridge for 3 days, or up to 3 months in your freezer.