Poaching: Easy and healthy.

When I saw that I had to poach something for this week’s challenge, I immediately though about eggs. But then Astro reminded me that you can poach all sorts of things, and suggested that I should try something else. I agreed; poaching an egg seemed too boring. I probably should learn how to at some point, since I never have, but I wanted to do something else  for the challenge. So I went to google again, and looked up what poaching actually meant, and sifted through recipes until I found one I thought would be good.

Poaching is just defined as “to cook in boiling or simmering liquid”. It’s one of the healthiest ways to fix meat because often there is no additional oil or fat in the cooking process. In the end, I decided to try poaching salmon. Salmon is delicious, but I’ve always baked it with butter and spices… yummy, but not the healthiest option. The recipe I chose used water with veggies in it as the poaching liquid. It was a simple process: just chop up the veggies, place in a high-sided pan with water, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, let the veggies cook for a while (for flavor) and then slide the salmon fillets in and cook in the water for five minutes. Seriously, if you are wary about cooking, try poaching. It was easy and the salmon was great.

 

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Poaching doesn’t really add much flavor, so sometimes the dish can end up quite bland, but the salmon turned out very well. I also made a dill cucumber salad as a side, and made pretzel bread the same day. It was very adventurous, but everything turned out very well. I think I’m getting the hang of this cooking thing! Astro told me it was her favorite dish so far, which she’s said a couple times. I think it just means I’m getting better and better.

I’m really happy I decided to do the challenge. I’m finding that I really enjoy cooking, and making dinner/ lunch is fun instead of a chore now. It’s becoming more of a hobby than just something I need to do.  Plus, even if what I make that week isn’t the healthiest thing ever, I still have more control over the quality of ingredients I put in it, which is better than a frozen dinner/ dessert by far.

I think I might be officially turning into a cook!

What quick, easy and healthy cooking techniques do you know?

All for now,
Bale.

p.s. Next week’s theme is super-duper awesome, and I’m beyond excited for it. So keep an eye out for my post! 

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Jamaican? What?

This week’s 52weeksofcooking challenge was Jamaican, but I had no idea what to cook. Or even what constituted Jamaican cuisine, honestly. I googled it, and almost nothing came up that looked good… or that looked good AND within my capacity to make. Things like jerk chicken were a possibility, but I don’t have a grill. Meat patties were another option, but I didn’t really feel like attempting stuffed pastries again so soon after the pierogi debacle. And goat curry or oxtail soup just did not sound appetizing. Nor did turned cornmeal or porridge. But I wasn’t going to let myself skip a week of the challenge, so I was determined to find something.

While desperately looking for recipes that were both appealing and that I felt comfortable attempting, I found a nice little blog “Cook Like a Jamaican”, which shares family recipes that a mom is teaching her daughters. Each recipe even has a video! While perusing their blog, which had lots of things that I could see myself making, I found a couple recipes for drinks, and decided that since last week I did a dessert, it would make sense to follow it by making a drink. That narrowed down the choices considerably, and I ended up picking “Guinness Punch”. The other drinks were very summer-y, and I felt like anything with Guinness would be yummy.

Astro was one of my taste-testers!

Astro was one of my taste-testers!

The recipe is simple and easy to make (especially if you watch the video, complete with Caribbean-style music in the background). And it was very, very yummy.  Here’s the recipe I followed:

In Jamaica there are two drinks that are known to be men drinks. One is Irish Moss and the other is Guinness Stout Punch. It has been said is that both make a man more virile. I’m not sure how true that is, but that’s the story that has been passed on for generations.

Quite a few of you have requested this recipe so I thought I’d share the one that most reminds me of the stout punch of my youth. Because I used the lighter Irish Guinness draught stout, it isn’t as bitter as it is when using English Guinness stout, which is fine by me. So, if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavour buy the latter when making this recipe. It uses 5 ingredients and it literally takes 5 minutes! Enjoy!

Ingredients

2 cups Guinness Stout (Irish)
3/4 cup Sweetened Condensed Milk
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ground Nutmeg
1 large Egg, beaten
10 Ice Cubes

Method

1. Put stout, milk and spices in blender and blend on High
2. Add beaten egg and blend again
3. Add ice cubes and blend until smooth

Serves 3 to 4

Jamaican Guinness punch. Simple: just throw the ingredients into the blender and go!

Jamaican Guinness punch. Simple: just throw the ingredients into the blender and go!

I followed the instructions without any mishaps, mistakes or accidents, and it turned out great! There was a lot of it, too. Definitely enough for three to four people. It was easy to make, and delicious. The taste-to-effort ratio was very good, since it was so simple.

I’d highly recommend this treat, even if it’s not too healthy for you. (But, if the stories are true, it could heighten your virility 😉 )

All for now,
Bale.

Everything takes practice, especially cooking.

I’m already five weeks into the 52 weeks of cooking challenge, which is rather hard to believe. I already feel like I’m a better cook, and I’m definitely learning from my mistakes. When I started the challenge I just thought of it as a way to get me cooking more, and trying new things. Now, though, I see that it will definitely be a year full of experiments, first attempts, mistakes and a TON of learning.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best cook I know. And that’s OK, because I’m a young twenty-something who hasn’t had to cook for herself all that long. My parents are great cooks because they’ve had years of practice. And Astro pointed out that grandmas are the best cooks because they’ve had the most practice. So I have a lot of practicing ahead of me to get good — a lifetime of practice, in fact! I’ll settle for improving enough to feel comfortable cooking new recipes, and enjoying them. And so far, so good … for the most part. (I’ve only cut myself with a knife once!)

The first five challenge topics were: eggs; something with an ingredient you hated as a kid; something made in one pot; polish food; and vanilla. I made scrambled eggs; bacon and brussels sprouts pasta; my dad’s beef stew; pierogi; and vanilla bean mousse. Out of all of them, only one was a huge bust, and that was the pierogi. I tried to make them completely from scratch, and the recipe I followed made it seem a lot easier than it was, so I was over confident when I started. I don’t think I did anything terribly wrong, and I ended up with some edible pierogi, but they weren’t delicious enough to warrant all the work I’d put into them. I think it would go a lot better the second time around, but it will be a while before I try again. The beef stew and vanilla bean mousse were easily the best so far, and the brussels sprouts and bacon pasta was alright, but not great. And eggs are eggs. Nothing too hard or spectacular about them.

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My dad’s beef stew is one of my all-time favorite dishes, so I decided I’d highlight it in this post, since I don’t want to go into detail about all five — that would be one massive post! Plus it’s a family recipe, so I’m excited to share it with you guys. While I was home over the holidays I made sure to get the recipe, and have my dad show me all his tricks and techniques. It’s a fairly simple recipe, but you have to have several hours to make it. It’s totally worth it, though, I promise.

Beef stew, bread and beer. Quite possible the best meal ever. The puzzle in the background is just a bonus.

Beef stew, bread and beer. Quite possible the best meal ever. The puzzle in the background is just a bonus.

Beef Stew

Ingredients

The spices are really what set this recipe apart. The flavor of this beef stew is strong and wonderful. There’s nothing bland or simple about it … it’s very delicious.

  • 2 pounds chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes (my dad recommends the pot roast cut)
  • 1/4 cup shortening (like crisco)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon season-all
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon parsley flakes
  • 2 teaspoons beef flavor base (my dad actually uses a little over a tablespoon of ‘Better than Bouillon’ base, mixed with the water to start)
  • 2 cups water/ broth to start (see above)
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 4 small potatoes (or one small one per person, depending on how much you like potatoes)
  • 4 small onions (I only used one large onion, and was happy)

Directions

In a big pot (the bigger the better, I’ve discovered), brown meat in hot shortening. Add seasonings and water/ broth while stirring. Cover and bring to a simmer. Let simmer as long as you can — the longer you can  the meat gets super tender and a delicious melt-in-your mouth quality. The original recipe says 1 1/2 hours, but when Astro and I made it we let it simmer for nearly three. We added beef broth (the simple store brand kind) about every half an hour to be sure it ended up with enough liquid (the first time I made the stew  myself I didn’t add as much, and it wasn’t as good… but I really like broth, so it’s really up to you and your preferences). About 45-minutes before you want to eat, add more broth and bring it to a boil while you prepare the veggies. Peel the carrots and cut into 1-inch pieces. Quarter  the potatoes (Astro and I left the skins on, but you can peel them if you want). Peel onion and quarter (or just peel the four small onions). Add vegetables to stew and make sure there’s enough broth. Let simmer for another 30-45 minutes, or until veggies are tender. And you’re done!

Astro and I got some sourdough bread to go with it, and it was delicious. I definitely recommend having some sort of bread to dip in the broth — it’s one of my favorite parts! Beer also goes very well with it, just saying.

The stew is also very tasty reheated, so if you only cook for yourself just put the leftovers in some tupperware and save them for several great lunches! Astro and I often put leftovers in the freezer as well, to make sure they don’t go bad before we get a chance to eat them.

And if you’re a vegetarian, I’m sorry. This stew actually made one high school friend give up on being vegetarian, just so she could eat it. I’d asked her if she wanted to stay for dinner without realizing she’d decided to become a vegetarian. My dad’s stew smelled so good she couldn’t resist. It wasn’t until after she ate it that she told me. And she didn’t regret it at all. It’s that good.

And now my mouth is watering and I want to make it again.

All for now,
Bale

Do you have any favorite family recipes you’d like to share?