May 09, 2011

Pancake-Battered Onion Rings

For those who are reading the blog for the first time, let me quickly introduce my 'cooking style' (whatever that means)

  • I keep a well-stocked pantry because I hate having to go shopping whenever I want to make something
  • I often find shortcuts to get the finished product I want.                                                                    (Mind you, there are days when I am in the mood to be in the kitchen for hours and make everything from scratch; after 8 hours on my feet at work, weeknights just don't fall into that category.)
  • I cook based on my cravings. Which are very erratic and, quite frankly, don't make much sense half the time. 
  • I improvise in recipes ALL the time. Sometimes because recipes call for ingredients not available in my area, but mostly because I don't want to go out just for that one thing.
  • I never make anything the same way twice; again, what's in the pantry/fridge goes into the dish.
Now that we're acquainted, welcome to the blog! :)

Last week after a particularly tiring day at work, I drove home with onion rings on the brain. I seriously contemplated driving through a fast food place just to pick some up, but guilt (and frugality) dismissed the idea. After all, I had huge onions at home (described as jumbo at the grocery store, they're pretty colossal) and could easily make my own. Once I walked through the door and sat on the couch however, preparing  onion rings seemed like the most daunting task ever. I'd have to soak them in buttermilk (which I would have to make by souring milk with vinegar; I can't find buttermilk here) then prepare the batter, coat them and fry them up.

OK, so it really doesn't sound so bad when I say it now... but at the time it was just too much. :|

Then, a beacon of hope. The packages of instant buttermilk pancake mix that I have on the top self of my pantry caught my eye. Buttermilk.. batter.. who says they could only be used for hurried breakfasts on weekday mornings?

So yes, beer-battered onion rings are great. But I was making pancake-battered onion rings.

First I sliced up the onion into rings, separated them, and dusted them with flour. I use whole wheat flour at home.

I mixed the packet of instant pancake mix with water until it was combined but thicker than the typical pancake batter. I added a touch of paprika and salt to balance out the sweetness of the batter.

Deep fried the coated onion rings.

Drained the onion rings on paper towels, and sprinkled with a little sea salt. (Some look a bit burnt, but it's the picture. I'm still working on my food photography 'skills')

Onion Rings on FoodistaOnion Rings

May 06, 2011

Mac and Cheese

Please note: Mac and Cheese here does NOT refer to the stuff that comes in a cardboard box with a little packet of orange "cheese" flavoured powder inside.

No judgement - those have saved me plenty of nights when my friends and I partied a bit too hard and had a bit too much to drink.

No, this Mac and Cheese is baked in a casserole. Made with homemade cheese sauce, herbs and spices, and what I like to call a crunchy garlic bread topping. Which is always everyone's favourite part.

I first made this Mac and Cheese for an Earth Hour barbecue that my friends and I had in college.
For those who don't know what Earth Hour is, you should read about it here; but, in essence, we all pledged to turn off all our lights and devices that used electricity for one hour that night to participate in the movement. During that hour, we all head outside to the pool with a charcoal grill and torches, and hung out and ate and had an awesome time. With awesome food right off the grill, of course.

Unfortunately, I have not yet figured out a way to make my Mac and Cheese on the grill. If it wasn't for the crunchy topping I could, but the idea I had just wouldn't have worked outside, so I did it in the oven beforehand.

Start the dish by cooking 4 cups of Macaroni Elbows...

*This is the one recipe you will see me include a roux and not complain bitterly. I have diagnosed myself with RPD - Roux Paranoia Disorder. I really believe that I have some deep-set, unresolved issues with roux. I have never botched one up, but I literally am in a state of panic the entire time I'm working on one because I think I am going to mess up. I couldn't even begin to describe it - but just know, I try to stay away from them for the sake of my mental health.*

But cheese sauce any other way would just not be as good, so I suffer through my RPD attack while making Mac and Cheese because once I sit and taste it, I know it was worth the stress.

That said, start the sauce with a basic roux. Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a heavy saucepan, and whisk in a quarter (1/4) cup of flour. Cook the mixture, while still whisking, until completely combined and you no longer smell the raw flour. Slowly, VERY slowly, whisk in two (2) and a half (1/2) cups of milk and let cook until it begins to thicken. Once the mixture start to thicken, turn the heat down to low and temper in 2 eggs. 

At this point, I add in my spices. My "secret" ingredient in my Mac and Cheese is Spicy Brown Mustard. Many people I've spoken with are shocked at this combination, a little intimidated even. But there are a few that already are privy to this unusual but brilliant (in my opinion) trick. I add a tablespoon of mustard to the mixture, along with a pinch garlic powder and salt and pepper. I use dried herbs as well, most often a teaspoon of parsley along with either a teaspoon of thyme or oregano.

Turn the heat off and begin to add the shredded cheese.. slowly. I always use sharp cheddar and pepperjack cheese because they add very distinct flavours to the dish. 1 cup of each. Of course you are welcome to use whatever kind of cheese you like. Be sure to reserve a half (1/2) cup of the shredded cheese for the topping.

Once the cheeses have melted and the mixture is completely combined, I stir in the cooked pasta and pour into a casserole dish.

Cover and bake the casserole at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. The mixture should be bubbly and gooey.

Now for the topping :)

Melt a half (1/2) cup of butter in a sauce pan, and drop in 4 smashed cloves of garlic (keep them whole so that they're easy to pull out). Cook the garlic cloves in the butter until fragrant, then pull them out and turn off the heat. When the butter cools a bit, add to a cup of breadcrumbs. I actually use panko (japanese breadcrumbs) because they have such a great crunch. toss the panko with the garlic butter and the reserved shredded cheese and use it to top the Mac and Cheese.

Place under the broiler (or if you don't have one, back in the hot oven) until the cheese on top melts and the topping browns.

When it's finished, the topping should be crispy and the casserole itself should be moist. The different textures work well together and make this a great dish for family gatherings, barbeques and entertaining.


May 03, 2011

It's Cinco de Mayo - Throw a Taco Party!

Cinco de Mayo is one of my favourite holidays to celebrate because I welcome any excuse to stuff my face with yummy Mexican food. Love it. And let's be honest - the Corona... and the Tequila.

If that doesn't sound like a party.. I dunno what does.

In my opinion, one of the best entertaining ideas is to prepare a spread of ingredients and have the guests build their own meal. Everyone gets to control what goes on their plate, all the different preferences are catered to, and it is very low maintenance for the host. Perfect for one that wants to participate in the party rather than spend the whole time fussing over the guests.

So for Cinco de Mayo, the ideal dish for a hands-free party is a Taco Bar.

One of the Blogs on my "Food Blogs I LOVE" list had a post last week detailing a Taco Party that she threw for her friends. I thought it would be a great idea to share with Cinco de Mayo being just around the corner; invite over some friends, prepare the spread, and enjoy the night!

I asked Roxy from Relaxing with Roxy to write a guest post on how she went about preparing her taco party.


I love tacos, but the closest taco restaurant I know of is 4 hours from where I live. My friend who recently moved nearby had a taco craving the other day. Since we can't readily get any, we decided to make them ourselves, invite some friends over, and have a taco party. yay!! fun! fun! fun! :).

We bought prepared taco shells, both hard and soft. Along with sour cream, iceburg lettuce, and shredded Mexican Cheese blend.
We made our own salsa by chopping fresh tomatoes and onions, and combining them with minced garlic. Half the mixture was placed in the blender on low speed for a couple seconds and then folded back into the chopped tomato mixture so it had a chunky texture.

For the taco meat, we browned minced beef and then added a can of diced tomatoes and a can of tomato paste. We then added a pinch each of: paprika, oregano, parsley, basil, crushed red pepper, sugar and salt, and simmered the mixture for about 15 minutes.

This was my first time making helping to make tacos (I must give my friend most of the credit and take the rest for myself because dicing up tomatoes and onions is no easy task...ha ha) and I cant wait to make them again!

Taco bar with taco meat, iceburg lettuce, salsa, shredded cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream and taco shells.

Beef taco topped with lettuce, salsa, cheese and sour cream

Your guests will love it!

Taco on FoodistaTaco