Enchiladas with homemade sauce and pico de gallo

Sometimes in Europe, it feels like 1993. Some things just take a really long time to get here, like Mexican food. Tex Mex seems to be hugely popular right now, we even saw a few Tex Mex / Saloon type restaurants in Latvia, but try as they might, these places are missing something…and that something is usually anything remotely spicy.

That said, I thought I’d take a crack at making enchilada sauce. I’m not entirely sure what constitutes an authentic enchilada sauce and my research could not answer this either, but we really enjoyed this and it was a great opportunity to use some dried Mexican peppers we have in the pantry. Pantry space in our European flat = so very precious. Oh, and fun fact, enchilada comes from the verb enchilar, which means to add chilis to something. Yum!

Continue reading “Enchiladas with homemade sauce and pico de gallo”

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Laksa: Ticket to Flavourtown!

I cannot say enough positive things about Laksa, despite only have a vague idea of what it is or where originated. According to this mildly confusing Wikipedia article, vagueness is a characteristic of Laksa, being something that seems to be a mish mash recipe from various cultures.

What I can tell you with certainty is this: it’s a soup, it’s a snap to make and it’s absolutely delicious!

JD and I were lucky enough to be introduced to this culinary wonder by our friends Ashley and John, recent transplants to our city and dedicated Sunday dinner attendees. Ashley gave me the essential directions and ingredients and I went to our local Asian market to procure what I needed. As Ashley so aptly put it “It’s one of those things where you buy the ingredients but then you have them so they just live in your fridge until you’re ready to make it again”.

Laksa is something you can make to  suit your own tastes: milder, spicier, adding in the  veggies and protein that you want. Shrimp? Sure! Noodles? Why not! It’s very flexible – however note that it not necessarily suitable for vegetarians – the Laksa paste I bought had shrimp listed in the ingredients.

One administrative item before we get on to the good part – there is now a “Print & PDF” button at the bottom of my posts. This nifty feature allows you to print posts and recipes (there a button you can check to remove images) or save them as .pdf files on your computer. Handy! I am testing this option so if there is something more convenient that you can suggest, please do so.

For the Laksa that JD and I ate, I decided on onions, mushrooms, and some leftover chicken. So slice a large onion, add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes. (On that note, I feel that I post so many onion photos that the alternate title for this blog could be “photos of sliced onions by Julia”.)

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Go ahead and slice some mushrooms –  I used basic white mushrooms but you could use any variety. Add them to the onions and cook, stirring, 2-3 more minutes. Giving them time to simmer in the soup is key according to Ashley: “it makes them into mushroomy balls of laksa flavoured deliciousness”.

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Add  a couple of tablespoons of black bean paste

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Add a teaspoon (to start) of  ground chilies in oil with garlic – the bottle of which is apparently impossible to photograph (apologies!)

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Add your Laksa paste – I could only find this in a single-pot making packet but Ashley assures me that a well-stocked Asian market will have jars of Laksa paste. If you have a packet, add it all. If you have a jar, start with 3-4 tbsp and add more to taste, if needed. She also suggests a 2:1 ratio of Laksa paste to black bean paste.

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Add one can of coconut milk and about 3 cups chicken broth

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Bring soup to a simmer, cover, and continue simmering for about 15 minutes until vegetables are soft and flavours have blended

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Add your protein of choice – I used leftover chicken from a roasted chicken I made earlier in the week but shrimp or tofu would also be great

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Ashley says “You want that delicious chili oil action happening”, as shown below

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Then you want to prep your herbs – this really takes the soup to the next level. Some delicious cilantro and thai basil

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Add your chopped cilantro and thai basil to your soup bowls with some fresh lime wedges

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If you’re crazy like we are, you can also add some additional chili paste to your soup bowl (also pour yourself a big glass of water)

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Ladle Laksa into bowls and enjoy!

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Laksa

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large Onion, sliced thinly

2 cloves Garlic, minced (I forgot both the garlic and ginger and almost didn’t notice, so you can omit if you wish)

1 tsp Ginger, minced

1/2 lb Mushrooms, sliced

1 packet Laksa paste* or 3-4 TBSP of Laksa paste from a jar

2 tsp Ground chili with fried garlic paste* (less if you like things less spicy, omit if you want it mild)

2 TBSP Black bean paste* (also known as black bean sauce)

1 can Coconut milk

3 cups Chicken broth

2 cups Chicken, cooked and shredded, or protein of your choice

Chopped cilantro

Chopped thai basil

Fresh lime

* These ingredients can be picked up at your local Asian market.

  1. Slice onion and add to your large soup pot with some oil and cook over medium heat until onion softens, about 5 minutes.

  2. Slice your mushrooms, mince ginger and garlic and add to pot. Cook an additional 2-3 minutes.

  3. Add black bean paste, chili paste, Laksa paste, coconut milk, and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking, covered, for about 15 minutes until flavours have combined. Add chicken and simmer 5 more minutes.

  4. Chop herbs and add to soup bowls. Add fresh lime wedges to bowl or serve alongside.

  5. Ladle soup into bowls and enjoy.

Smoky Chorizo & Cabbage Soup

Despite the heat, I have been reluctant to let go of some of the principal comforts of winter, including soup and sleeping with a giant duvet. Cabbage soup typically gets a bad rap but I love the combination of hearty and healthy. This is a riff on another version I make often and it is  so much more than the sum of its parts. Plus, the addition of celeriac (aka celery root) gives it something special since it is a lighter, less starchy root with a vague but yummy flavour of celery salt. This is a lovely, smoky soup that is very hearty but won’t weigh you down. Especially since you have all those springtime things to do while your bum print fades from the couch until winter comes round again…

By the way, JD ate three bowls in a row so you know this must pass muster. Alright, on to the directions:

First chop a couple of slice of smoked bacon. I use applewood smoked, 3 thick slices will do nicely.

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Then grab yourself a small spicy chorizo (you may use mild if you prefer)chorizo

  Chop your chorizo into coins, like soDSC_8574

And cook over medium-high heat, so that bacon starts to crisp and the chorizo starts to release its delicious red oil

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Add your old friends onion and garlicDSC_8576

Now you can either slice a small cabbage, or half of a large one (so pretty)DSC_8579

Cabbage roughly slicedDSC_8582

Add to your pot and continue to cook on medium heat. It looks daunting at first, but I assure you that it will cook downDSC_8584

This is a celery root. It is ugly but delicious. I cut away the tops and sides and peel any leftover bits with a vegetable peeler.DSC_8587

Roughly chop your celery root into chunksDSC_8591

Add two or three fresh tomatoes, choppedDSC_8595

Add some tomato paste and about 4.5 cups of chicken broth, you want the cabbage to be nearly covered.

This is my trick for tomato paste: buy a large can, brush an ice cube tray with olive oil or spray with cooking spray, fill cubes with tomato paste, freeze, and pop out of tray and store in a plastic bag in the freezer. Saves so much time and effort when you need to add tomato paste to a recipe.

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So easy, no?

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Once you’ve added your celery root, tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken broth, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes until cabbage has shrunk significantlyDSC_8599

Taste and adjust seasoning. At this point you may also need to add a little more water or stock, depending on how soupy you like it. I added pepper, a pinch of salt, some red pepper flakes. Spanish smoked paprika would also be delicious if you have it on hand. Let simmer another 10 minutes and serve.DSC_8605

Smoky Chorizo and Cabbage Soup

Serves 4 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 small hot chorizo sausage, sliced into coins

3-4 slices of bacon, preferably a smoked variety, chopped

1 medium onion, sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small cabbage,  core removed and sliced (or 1/2 a large)

4.5 cups chicken broth

1 small celery root (aka celeriac), peeled and chopped into chunks

2-3 Roma or vine tomatoes, chopped

2 TBSP tomato paste

Salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes, to taste

  1. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook bacon and chorizo until bacon starts to get crispy and chorizo releases its delicious red oil, about 5 minute. If you have more than 2 or 3 tbsp of fat in your pan, remove excess with a spoon.

  2. Add sliced onion and minced garlic, lower heat to medium, and continue to cook while onion softens and garlic becomes aromatic, 5 minutes more.

  3. Add sliced cabbage and stir gently to coat. While you prep the rest of your ingredients, stir cabbage periodically as it cooks down.

  4. Add celery root, chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth to the pot so that cabbage is nearly covered. Cover and allow to simmer for 20-25 minutes until cabbage has greatly shrunk in size and is very soft.

  5. Taste soup and adjust seasonings – you may need a pinch of salt, some pepper, and some hot pepper flakes. Allow to simmer 10 more minutes so that flavours combine.

  6. Serve and enjoy

    More to come!
    Julia

Shrimp Salsa for Hunan Hand Awareness Week

Hunan hand. It’s serious. So serious in fact that I will reference this scholarly medical definition. I am shocked that more bloggers have not spoken out about this condition sweeping through kitchens all over the world. Well, I am a hunan hand survivor and this is my story.

A few weeks ago I was spending a nice afternoon with my lovely friend Christine. We started talking about a sushi-making party she once threw, she reminded me that I had sung “Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer” at Karaoke, and I recalled that JD and I had been 3 hours late to the party – because I had hunan hand.

HH (as I like to call it) is a chili burn that you get after handling hot peppers – the capsaicin from the peppers causes skin to have an [often intense] burning sensation. On that fateful night, JD and I had been making hot pepper jelly to give away for Christmas. I had minced over 1lb of jalapenos… the resulting HH caused us to try soaking my hand in milk, water, and even vodka! Let me tell you, it was a waste of perfectly good vodka. After lots of fretting (by me), drinking (by JD), and googling (by both), we reasoned that the only thing that could make HH go away was time. Hence being 3 hours late for the party, missing all the sushi making and arriving only in time for the sushi eating, and obviously, the karaoke.

Although I survived that incident relatively unscathed, I never looked at a hot pepper the same way again. Do yourself a favour – wear gloves, or at least remember to periodically rinse your hands in cold water.

This recipe comes from Gina at Skinnytaste and made a terrific summer meal – would probably also make a great party dip. Next time, I’m going to add some minced garlic.

Juice two limes – or the biggest lime you can find. This lime was so huge, I wondered if it was juicing with steroids

Chop your veggies and herbs

Add your chopped, cooked shrimp

Mix well and allow the flavours to combine in your fridge for a minimum of one hour

JD version: shrimp salsa taco with avocado and old white cheddar

Julia version: shrimp salsa lettuce wraps

Highly customizable – could add black beans, corn, other seafood…yum!

The Hot & Spicy Weekend: Homemade Thai Red Curry

Sometimes you want to come home from work, strip down to your unmentionables, pour yourself a stiff drink, and eat an astonishing amount of Thai food.

Don’t let me frighten you away! The actual culinary skill involved for this homemade Thai Red Curry is very little: can you make a blender drink? You can make this. I will admit, though, that assembling the ingredients can be a bit piddly. But that’s ok – one trip to a decently stock Asian market should have you ready to go. I first made this dish while I was at home in Newfoundland visiting my family –  if I could track down the ingredients in the land of Fish n Chips, I’d wager you can find them where you are, too.

This recipe is a mish-mash of dozens I have read. I can’t make any guarantees towards authenticity but it is delicious.

Thai Red Curry Chicken and Veggies

For the red curry paste:

15-20 dried red chilis, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes (I used 20)

1 shallot, chopped, or 1/4 cup of red onion, chopped

1/2 a red pepper, chopped

2 stalks fresh lemongrass, chopped (tender parts only – remove the outer tough layer) or 3 TBSP frozen sliced lemongrass

5 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp kaffir lime leaves (often sold frozen in a package – they look like large, lime scented bay leaves) or substitute the zest of 2 limes

3 tsp red chili sauce, such as sriracha

2 thai bird’s eye chilis (optional – only if you like things VERY spicy)

One 2-inch piece of galangal or ginger, sliced

1 tbsp of chopped fresh coriander (aka cilantro) stems

2 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp sugar or equivalent amount of sweetner of your choice

2 tbsp chili powder

3 tbsp fresh lime juice

3 tbsp coconut milk (optional – if you have trouble pureeing)

For the assembly:

1 large can of coconut milk (unsweetened)

1 small can of bamboo shoots, drained and rinsed

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs cut into bite sized pieces (use instead: beef, shrimp, or tofu)

Assorted veggies: eggplant, green beans, red pepper (optional)

For Serving:

Steamed rice

Lime wedges

First, mix yourself a cocktail. Next, lay out everything you will need

Soak your dried chilis in hot water. Doesn’t that look like the devil’s hot tub? Yikes. Anyway, while your chilis are soaking, chop your other ingredients.

Clockwise from top – your soaked red chilis, shallot, garlic, galangal (or ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (or zest of 2 limes), thai bird’s eye chilis (optional), chopped coriander (aka cilantro) stems.

Stuff everything into your magic bullet cup (if you’re me ) – or add everything to your blender. If the lime juice/fish sauce/soy sauce is not enough liquid to get things moving, add a few tbsp of your coconut milk.

Why, hello! It’s your new friend, Thai Red Curry paste! Now…please taste a miniscule amount. Literally dip your pinkie finger in and taste this tiniest bit because this is the concentrated paste and as such, it is very, very strong. Adjust as necessary – if you can’t taste the lemongrass, add more. If you find it too sour, add more sugar or tomato paste. Not savoury enough? Add a little more soy sauce or some salt. Is it very spicy? Consider that the coconut milk will calm that. Way, way, way too spicy for you? Add a little more lime juice to calm the heat.

The next step is to sautée your chicken (or whatever protein you wish) just until no longer pink in the middle. About 3-4 minutes per side over medium heat. Set aside.

Now add a little oil to your pan along with 2 to 4 tbsp of your curry paste and apologize for your terrible photo (I’m sorry). For a milder curry, use 2 tbsp of paste; if you like it spicy like we do, use 4 tbsp. The point of this awful photo is to show you that as you cook your red curry paste, it will begin to darken and become fragrant. At this point, add your coconut milk and stir until combined. Then add your veggies (if using), bamboo shoots, and chicken and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until veggies are tender and your whole kitchen is engulfed in the smell of Thai food. Serve over steamed rice with lime wedges as a garnish.

Now, eat a ridiculous amount and enjoy. Happy weekend!

P.s. But Julia, you didn’t say what to do with all my leftover curry paste? Leftover red curry paste can be portioned out in tbsp into plastic sandwich bags or containers and frozen for future use. Just defrost your portion of curry paste and proceed with the recipe. A little work upfront makes a lot of lazy weekend suppers, huh?

Liam’s Mancave Chili

Well, that was certainly a long hiatus! Believe me, a lot longer than I expected. I am just getting over an unbelievable bout of bacterial bronchitis (say that 5 times fast). The good news is that I have a back-log of recipes to post. I also have a lovely new header (see?) thanks to the fabulously talented Miss Andrea Q., whose kindness I hope to repay in cookies. ‘Cause, you know, you can’t mail chili…

On to the good stuff…

I named this chili after two Liams: my brother Liam, and my faithful taste-tester, house-sitter and overall wacky guy, our good friend Liam. My brother had chatted with me recently about wanting to make a chili that was elevated to new heights of meaty-deliciousness. And had bacon. While I didn’t have bacon on hand while I was concocting this chili, I did have leftover pulled pork. I think it gives another layer of meaty yumminess to the chili. Plus it was a great way to use the last of the pulled pork. Our friend Liam was lovely enough to pop by our house and take home some of what turned out to be a massive pot of chili. He declared it “Mantastic”.

Please be warned: this is no veggie lover’s delight. I did not follow the “I need to use up X vegetables – let’s make chili!” train of thought. Veggie chili is good, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t right for the Liams in my life.

One more thing, may I suggest finding a butcher who makes sausages? In my experience, buying directly from a butcher means amazing flavour with very little or no fillers/additives. This means no wheat, excessive fat, etc.. just meaty goodness.

Liam’s Mancave Chili

Serves 6 to 8

1 lb ground Beef

1 lb hot Italian Sausage, removed from casings

1 large red onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

1 small can black beans, drained and rinsed thoroughly

1.5 cups leftover pulled pork (optional) or

5 thick slices bacon, cooked until lightly crisped, drained and chopped (optional)

Juice of 1/2 a lime

1 tsp salt (optional)

1 packet stevia or 1 tsp sugar (or sweetener of your choice – brings out the flavour of the tomatoes)

3 tbsp chili powder

1 tbsp garlic powder (or granulated garlic)

1 tbsp cumin

1 to 2 tsp cayenne pepper (omit if you don’t like heat)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot or dutch oven, brown ground beef and sausage (removed from casing) over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain off all but 1 tsp of fat and set aside.

Add your chopped red onions and cook over medium-low heat until onions begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes. This step will add some sweetness to your chili.

Once onions have begin to caramelize, add your minced garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes until garlic is very fragrant.

I recommend roasted red peppers that have been packed in water, NOT vinegar.

Add your drained and chopped red peppers to your chili pot.

Add your can of crushed tomatoes and your black beans. At this point, you can also return the ground beef/sausage mixture to the pot along with any leftover pulled pork you may have (or bacon if you’re really feeling crazy).

Add your lime juice and spices. Allow to simmer one hour and then taste. Adjust seasonings if it’s not how you like it. More lime juice will temper your chili if it’s too hot. You may need to add salt but I prefer to use little to none, if possible. A couple of drops of liquid smoke might be good at this point, too. After your adjust the seasonings, you can serve the chili if pressed for time or continue to simmer for another hour (my preference).

Served topped with your favorite add-ons. JD’s is shown here with some shredded Monterey Jack cheese and a side of baked tortilla chips I made in the oven. I prefer mine plain with some chopped green onions on top and maybe a little sour cream.

Enjoy!