Monthly Archives: December 2006

These are a few of my favourite things …

Hi there,

I’ve made friends with a stick. I think technically it’s called a bamboo skewer. Think of chicken shish kebobs, remove the chicken and the vegetables. Now you have the wood part in the middle. That’s the part I’m talking about.

I bought a bag of these wooden sticks several years ago to use for making teriyaki salmon kebobs. And they do still get used for that meal. But I’ve rescued one stick from the garbage, and now it’s my favourite kitchen tool. I know it’s not very sexy, and it’s so cheap it’s virtually free.

My stick has many fabulous uses. For example, I poke lots of things to check for doneness, such as baked goods (banana bread, muffins, apple pie to see if the apples are soft enough). I stab boiling potatoes. I pierce the potato and lift up… if the potato falls off, it’s cooked. If it clings and stays stuck to the stick, it’s not fully cooked yet. I jab pork tenderloin and hamburgers to see if the juices are no longer pink.

As well, I stir my coffee grounds with my wooden instrument of torture before plunging my Bodum coffee press. If I was the type to eat chocolate fondue, I could use it for that, too, I suppose, but really chocolate doesn’t last long enough in this house to be saved, melted, and eating elegantly. Instead it is hidden, eaten in one sitting, or not brought into the house at all.

These bamboo skewers sell for about (US) $2 per pack of 100. This allows for the occasional one to be broken or thrown away. Very recently we were trying out a new cleaning lady, and after she left I quizzed my husband as to where he’d put the stick. You know, the stick I use all the time. How am I supposed to check the potatoes (to make mashed potatoes) without my stick?

Anyway, we soon discovered that our new cleaning lady had THROWN OUT my precious stick. She was trying to be helpful, I’m sure. She probably thought we’d ordered take-out the night before (and only had one stick hanging around … seems suspicious). Maybe she took it home with her (unlikely). Thankfully, Husband found the package of remaining sticks and pulled out a buddy.

This begins a new series of articles, to mix in with the food bits and the recipe adventures and the lasagne disasters and the tandoori chicken recipe I’m trying to perfect… In this series called “These are a few of my favourite things…” I’ll share some of the things that make my life as a cook just that little bit easier. Future articles will include the story of my $4 fluorescent green vegetable peeler, my special Dorothy-goes-to-Kansas chef shoes, and my potato ricer.

Do you have a tool that you think everyone should know about? I’m certain, for example, that Ginger has an ice cream scoop that she says rivals all others. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Just hit reply to this email and drop me a line 🙂

You can always reach me at shelley@oneroastchicken.com.

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef
www.oneroastchicken.com

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Recipes and cookbooks: What I look for and what turns me off

I have lots of cooking magazines and cookbooks. Collecting recipes is definitely a passion of mine. I cut out and keep scraps of yellowed newspaper, pages printed from the internet, and magazines permanently turned open to my favourite pork tenderloin recipe.There are certain things I look for when I’m examining a new recipe.

First, I check how long the recipe will take to prepare. If it’s more than 1.5 hours, I usually don’t go any further unless it also says “mostly unattended,” or “includes marinating time.” Yes, I am competent cook. But just like you, I usually don’t have hours and days to spend on one recipe, especially if I haven’t made it before. I don’t want to invest a lot of time in a meal I’m not even certain will work.

Some of my favourite cooking magazines

Is the recipe overly complicated? If the recipe is divided into four parts – make this, that, another thing, and then a sauce – then assemble – well, if I see this I usually keep going. There are certainly exceptions, like Valentine’s Day trying-to-impress-new-boyfriend cakes. Or extravagant cooking that I sometimes undertake while on vacation. But most weekends, if I’m scanning a new magazine, I’m looking for a recipe I can make that week that is fabulous and will come together quickly and easily.

What is the list of ingredients. I want to know if I will able to find the necessary bits at my local grocery store. Hopefully I won’t have to go all over town to find something exotic. And I don’t want to be referred to a “resources list” at the back of the magazine where they tell me how to mail order the special ingredients. I will admit that in the past I have mail-ordered lime extract (only to find out that cheap lemon extract is a decent substitute).

Recipes that say “easy dinner with only 3 ingredients” are suspect I also review the list of ingredients because I’m suspicious. Recipes that say “easy dinner with only 3 ingredients” are always suspect to me. For example, here’s one: “You’ll only need three ingredients: pasta, olive oil, and bread crumbs.” While the magazine text will boast how easy this meal is, to me it looks like slimy pasta with gritty bread crumbs. OK, sure, if you have some exotic brand of extra virgin olive oil you picked up last year on vacation, and you combine that with homemade seasoned breadcrumbs that you make with your mother in law … and if you make the pasta from scratch …

Of course not. That’s not most of us. We’ve got a box of dried pasta, a half-litre of regular olive oil, and breadcrumbs that come in a cardboard carton.

This is a pet peeve of mine: recipes that glamorously state that all you need is perfect ingredients that are minimally prepared. That’s grand if you’ve got great produce to start with. There are two ends of the continuum: either you live in California, within walking distance of an organic farm stand, and can get heirloom tomatoes and your grocer sells strawberries divided by variety. The other end of the continuum is Blind Bay, British Columbia. This lovely inland community is miles from California, and about 45 minutes to a real grocery store. There’s a local general store with basic stock. But try to get a lime for your Corona beer. It’s a stretch. I’ve tried it.

The rest of us are somewhere in between. Spinach might be available all year, but only in cellophane bags. Trying to find fresh figs might be impossible.

So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that since everyone doesn’t live in New York City, where you can get just about anything, or nextdoor to an organic farm stand… then there should be cookbooks for the rest of us. It’s not that we’re unadventurous, we’re just limited in the groceries we can easily put our hands on at 6:00 pm after working all day. How about recipes that only use regular grocery store ingredients. It should be possible. We should make it a new law.

Do you have any recipe pet peeves, the things that once you discover when reading you just skip the recipe entirely? Does it bother you when you see “feeds 6 to 8” when you’re a family of 2? Do you have a “number of ingredients” threshold? What’s your biggest recipe irritation?


I’ll share more feedback, letters, and questions with you in future updates. Hurry up and write me soon, so I can include your brilliance in my next update!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. You can always reach me at shelley@oneroastchicken.com.

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef
www.oneroastchicken.com

Subscribers write fan mail

OK, maybe I have the coolest job on the planet, or maybe I have the best subscribers from all over the planet. It’s probably both.

As One Roast Chicken continues to grow, our little food community is now completely international — with members in India, Denmark, South Africa, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the US, and the UK. And you’re all so generous with your feedback, encouragement, ideas, and questions… I thought I’d share a few of the more recent comments with you.

>> The idea of One Roast Chicken

Inie writes from Blind Bay, British Columbia: “Dear Shelley, I can’t believe how I look forward to opening the latest, new blog from you! Fun, interesting, VERY practical, and a definitely ‘new’ way of approaching the age old Q: ‘What to have for dinner?’ Keep ’em coming!”

Lise writes from Abbotsford, BC: “I LOVE the idea of having a private cooking tutor.” >> Shelley responds: We’ll also have a cookbook of recipes, which you can download or have printed and shipped to you, just like the chicken recipe but times 15 recipes — Lasagne, fish, desserts, banana bread, all that stuff… Later I’d like to teach classes in person, travel to major cities, rent a kitchen in a high school, and hold cooking basics bootcamp for 20 interested souls … >> Lise replies, rather emphatically: SIGN ME UP FOR BOOTCAMP !

>> Cinnamon ice cream

DJ writes from Blind Bay, BC: “I am making your cinnamon ice cream for our Women’s Ministry meeting tomorrow night to go along with the apple pies [my grandson’s] school makes and sells every fall. And speaking of ice cream, what about chopped peaches with some kind of peach brandy and nutmeg? OK, that is more talking about food than I have done in 10 years put together!” [The next day she writes]: “I don’t much care for ice cream unless it is chocolate and then only in a cone. But I made this to go with apple pies made by my grandson’s school. Served it to a group of women and it got high praise. Then yesterday I thought I should try it. And it is soooo good! And easy. It took me longer to find a bowl than it did to mix it. Then I just put it in a plastic container with a good lid and scooped it out from there…” [Later she writes again]: “OK, more on the ice cream. My grandsons raided my fridge last night and finished it off. The ice cream, not the fridge! They both (the picky eaters) declared the ice cream excellent, and plan on buying more ‘White’ ice cream to make their own.”

Inie (Blind Bay): “DJ sent me your website and the cinnamon ice cream. Sounds heavenly … One roast chicken at a time sounds like a blast, and I love the ‘I feel like I know you feeling’ when reading it. You obviously know your stuff and have a gift for ‘taste’ and presentation! All the best.”

>> Lasagne research in progress

Regan (via the blog) says: “I have been struggling over the years to make a good lasagne. Every time it comes out goopy and when put on the plate it looks more like noodle slop then lasagne. The frozen pre-made ones that I have tried aren’t much better. They don’t taste as good as home made lasagne and if over heated they end up with burnt edges and are all runny. I’d be most interested in hearing of a recipe that didn’t dirty every dish in my place and came out looking and tasting great. Please keep me posted on what you find works and doesn’t work. Have a great day.”


I’ll share more feedback, letters, and questions with you in future updates. Hurry up and write me soon, so I can include your brilliance in my next “wowie, thank you, my subscribers are fabulous” letter!

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. You can always reach me at shelley@oneroastchicken.com.

Thanks and bon appetit!


Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef
www.oneroastchicken.com

A packed lunch is like a jigsaw puzzle…

You’ve probably heard these complaints … packed lunches are boring, too much work, and the take out Chinese food place is just downstairs where I work. “We all know we should skip the food court and pack a lunch each day. Not only do the health books recommend it, but so do the financial guides. If you purchase lunch at an average cost of $6 per day, the habit can add up to over $1,500 a year. By packing a lunch, you can keep your costs to under $2 or $3 a day” (homemakers.com).

It sounds like a straightforward topic, packed lunches. Maybe you’re making a lunch for yourself, or your spouse, or your kidlet. My husband works in a garage. They don’t have a lunch room, but all the guys sit in their work area, eat on their laps, and play cards. Thankfully, they have a fridge and a microwave. But imagine the temptation when the hot lunch truck drives up to their site everyday at noon, offering homemade chicken skewers or lasagne. At $6 each. Plus milk and dessert. And the lunch truck lets you run a tab.

I started making his lunches just over a year ago when we returned from a vacation and realized that we had to watch our pennies. Trying to keep costs down, it seemed like a reasonable task. I’ll make your lunch, darling, and you’ll stop buying the hot convenient easy food that arrives on your doorstep each day.

Over the past year I’ve figured out a couple of really fabulous lunch tricks.

1. Lunch is a jigsaw puzzle made up of 5 parts: drink + meal + veggie/fruit + sweet + salty.

For example,

 

2. Shop once a week for lunch staples.

The important decisions are made when you’re still in the grocery store. Small containers of milk may seem expensive to buy individually, but they’re better for you than juice boxes with added sugar. For salty snacks, instead of chips or cheesies, you can buy a large bag of pretzels, and take a handful in a plastic container (to prevent crushing).

Each week I buy 5 containers of milk, an equal number of cans of juice or diet pop, an 8-pack of small yogurts (or one big yogurt which can be divided up into plastic containers). I buy some fruit (a couple of apples, or kiwis, or a fresh pineapple — depends on the time of year, and what looks good). I buy some generic lunch-able vegetables: cucumber, tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots. I personally think celery sticks are grim.

3. Assemble lunch in the evening, after dinner, not first thing in the morning.

It’s just too easy to roll out of bed and think “I’m too tired.” And I don’t know about you, but smelling certain foods at 6 am does not make me want to eat them later on. I make lunches right after supper, before any cleaning up or movie-watching or additional wine consumption takes place. I put the dinner leftovers in a microwave-able container. At least, that’s what happens ideally.

4. Try to make a few meals each week that produce lunch leftovers.

Sure, there’s nothing easier than putting a slice of lasagne into a plastic container. Done.

Of course, this assumes that I’ve done a couple of things. For starters, it assumes that I have, in fact, cooked dinner. And that I’ve been smart enough to make enough for a lunch leftover. And that we’ve stopped eating, have not had third helpings (thus eating up the next day’s lunch).

On nights where I’ve failed in some way to create a leftover, the meal part of the lunch might be a sandwich (tuna, egg salad, ham+cheese), or I open a can of soup and plop that into a container.

5. Once the meal part of the lunch is ready, the rest takes care of itself.

The rest is a breeze. I add a drink, some variation on the fruit/veg theme depending on what’s in the fridge, and what’s about to go bad, and what I’m trying to get rid of before it goes bad. I wash the apple in advance and remove the produce sticker. I cut the kiwi in half and pop it in a baggie. Now I need to remember to put in a spoon…

6. Try to bake once a week to stock your freezer.

One evening a week, after dinner, when I’m feeling inspired (or if that doesn’t happen then one weekend afternoon, when the house is quiet) I will make the “sweet” part of the lunches all at once. How hard is this? One batch of gingersnaps (frozen a dozen at a time in bags). Or I make one lemon poppyseed loaf (leaving half on the counter wrapped in plastic, and freezing the other half for next week). Or I make 12 banana muffins (frozen all together in a big zipper bag). Or one batch of shortbread cookies (these don’t last long enough to freeze).

It doesn’t really matter what you make. Try to vary the choices a bit week. Have some variety. Then each night when assembling the lunches, you can pull out what you need from the freezer, put it in reusable containers, and the individual bits are easily defrosted by lunchtime the next day.

OK, what do you think?

Do you have any lunch tips you’d like to share with us? Any particular challenges? Need help? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Just hit reply to this email and drop me a line 🙂

You can always reach me at shelley@oneroastchicken.com.

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef
www.oneroastchicken.com