"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes

I was never a big fan of scalloped potatoes growing up.  I had a thing about mushy food, so that's probably why I didn't appreciate them.  As with so many things, my tastes have changed over the years.  It also helps that I am making my own recipes so I know what goes into them and can appreciate the finished product more. 

Ham and Scalloped Potatoes

This is not a simple weeknight recipe, but it's not that complicated and the results are definitely worth the effort!  This is the perfect choice to serve with ham, and I'm going to halve the recipe for Easter dinner for two this weekend. 

A large gratin dish is great for this recipe, or you can use any glass baking dish. 

sliced potatoes

I find that slicing the potatoes in the food processor with the slicing blade really simplifies things.  But you can slice by hand or on a mandoline if you prefer.  It just takes more time. The important thing is to have thin, even slices of potato. 

Scalloped Potatoes

The potatoes are boiled in milk, then placed in a buttered gratin dish.  I like lots of black pepper. 

Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

The potatoes are then covered in the scalded milk and shredded gruyere cheese, then baked until brown and bubbly.  The cheese gets shredded in the food processer too, to make life easy.  

Scalloped Potatoes

You end up with these amazing, creamy, cheesy potatoes.  The crispy edges are the best part!

Here's the recipe.  Enjoy!

3 pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes
3 cups whole milk
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup whipping cream
150 grams gruyere cheese, shredded
salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Peel and thinly slice potatoes using a food processor with the slicing blade or a mandoline.  Place potato slices in a large pot and cover with milk. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Occasionally gently scrape the bottom of the pot so the potatoes don't stick, but be careful not to break up the potato slices.  

Drain the potatoes in a colander over a bowl to reserve the milk. You should have 2 cups of milk remaining.  If not, add additional milk to make 2 cups.  

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Use a large oval gratin dish or rectangular glass baking dish. Slice the garlic clove in half and rub the cut halves all over the inside of the baking dish.  Brush the melted butter all over the inside of the dish. 

Carefully layer the potatoes in the baking dish.  Sprinkle each layer with salt and pepper.  Pour milk and cream over potatoes.  Top with shredded cheese. 

Bake for about 90 minutes until milk has become creamy and thick but not dry, and cheese is deep golden brown.  If the cheese begins to become too brown, you can cover the dish loosely with foil to finish cooking.  

Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. I suggest serving with glazed ham

cheesy scalloped potatoes

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Pan-Seared Chicken with Maitake Mushroom Cream Sauce

chicken with maitake mushrooms

I love finding local treasures - especially foods produced close to home.  I recently discovered that a company is producing maitake mushrooms right around the corner from our house!  

maitake mushrooms

Also known as "hen-of-the-woods" mushrooms, maitake are tasty and said to have cancer-fighting properties.  Here's an article about the local production facility here in London. 

maitake mushroom

The mushroom has a thick base but is topped with petal-like segments that are thin and delicate.  Cut off the base or pick off the tops to separate pieces easily. 

chicken with maitake mushrooms

In this recipe the mushrooms are sauteed and then cooked with wine and cream into a thick, rich sauce served with crisp-skinned chicken.  It's delicious!

chicken with maitake mushrooms

I cut the chicken into 8 parts - 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, and split each breast in two, keeping the wings on. I ended up taking the bone out of the breasts, which makes a lovely presentation. 

This isn't the most quick and simple recipe, but it's definitely doable for Sunday dinner and impressive for company.  I served it with roasted cauliflower, but it would be nice with a green salad or steamed broccoli.  

Here's the recipe...

1 whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup whipping cream
230g maitake mushrooms (or mushroom of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and place them, skin side down, in the sizzling butter. Cook for 10 minutes until deeply browned, then flip and cook for another 5 minutes.  Remove chicken to a baking sheet and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, add the diced onion to the pan drippings and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the wine is mostly evaporated. Add the stock and cream and simmer about 10 minutes until thickened. 

Break apart the maitake mushroom.  Heat the last two tablespoons of butter in a separate pan and add the mushrooms. Cook until slightly browned, about 8 minutes. Toss the mushrooms with the cream sauce.

Put some mushrooms and sauce on the plate and place the chicken on top. Drizzle sauce over top. 


chicken with maitake mushrooms

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Movie Cocktails - Wakandan Aviator

This post is by Matt, the Beer Baron. He loves to make cocktails based on superhero movies. Find him on Twitter and Instagram @geekcanuck

Black Panther cocktail

Special movies call for special cocktails. Just as we did for Wonder Woman with Themyscira Wonder Punch, now it is time for Black Panther with our newly created Wakandan Aviator -- although I made the process of putting it together more difficult due to my stubbornness.

How do you create a cocktail to celebrate Black Panther? For me, I immediately thought of creating a purple cocktail to acknowledge his regal status as King. The fact that the Black Panther premiere in Los Angeles was on a purple carpet and that the character’s suit glows purple in the movie sealed the deal.

A purple cocktail is easy, right? They are a dime a dozen if you Google them. Alas, that is where my stubbornness played its part. I didn’t want to use food colouring, digitally alter the photos or use Blue Curaçao (which I haven’t had since I was a teenager). That meant our starting point was a classic cocktail called an Aviation, which uses Creme de Violette to imbue a purple tint.  

Aviation cocktail

We made a standard Aviation (2 oz gin, ½ oz lemon juice, ¼ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur, ¼ oz Creme De Violette) first, using a recipe I found here. It was nicely aromatic but fairly weak and hardly worthy of a King.

Aviation cocktail

Thankfully, we had help in the form of both an awesome book (Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail by Dave Arnold) and an awesome friend (who happens to certified cicerone and experienced mixologist). The variation above used ¼ oz more lemon juice balanced out by a ¼ oz more maraschino liqueur to bring the total to 2 oz gin, ¾ oz lemon juice, ½ oz Luxardo maraschino liqueur and ¼ oz Creme de Violette. We also swapped out the pretty neutral London dry gin we used in the first version for The Botanist, which is a more herbaceous and flowery gin.

pineapple aviation

Things were getting better. There was more body and complexity but we weren’t just there to make a good Aviation. To start creating our own variation worthy of the name Wakandan Aviator, we started with the Liquid Intelligence recipe, but this time added pineapple simple syrup and Ms. Better’s Pineapple Star Anise Bitters and used an egg white to soften the edges and give it a pleasingly smooth mouth feel. Alas, the end result was too sweet.

cassis aviation

I tried a version with crème de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) for added vibrancy but then tried to balance out the added sweetness with even more lemon juice and the whole thing was a train wreck. (Not a train wreck I didn’t happily drink, but a train wreck nonetheless.)

blueberry gin fizz

This is when panic (and possibly drunkenness) started to set in. My go-to booze is bourbon but I was thankfully overruled before we went down that particular rabbit hole. Instead, we ditched the entire concept of the Aviation and decided to try muddling blueberries to make a purple Gin Fizz. As you can see above, it was certainly pretty and verging on purple, but not something any of us would seek out, let alone serve to a King.

Wakandan Aviatior

In the end, the Gin Fizz did give us an element we all liked in the muddled blueberries. Now, we just needed to combine it with the other things we liked best from our previous attempts to come up with our Wakandan Aviator, which turned out alluringly aromatic, nicely balanced between sweet and sour, pleasingly smooth, and more-or-less purple:

2 ounces gin (in this case, The Botanist)
¾ ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ ounce Luxardo maraschino liqueur
¼ ounce Creme De Violette
Handful of muddled blueberries
1 egg white

Shaken over ice
Poured into a martini glass and garnished with a frozen red star

Why garnished with a frozen red star (made with cranberry and pineapple juice), you ask? Well, that is because I am a super geek. At the end of Captain America: Civil War, Bucky (aka The Winter Soldier) is taken to Wakanda and placed into cryostasis until Wakandan scientists can figure out how to reverse his brainwashing. The frozen red star represents Bucky and how technologically advanced Wakanda is. Duh.

Winter Soldier

So, what did we learn through the process of making our Wakandan Aviator?

  • Use good gin
  • Egg whites in cocktails (as in bourbon sours) are wonderful
  • It’s always good to have friends that kick ass
  • Never set out to make a vibrant purple cocktail unless you are willing to be vaguely disappointed in the colour or just break down and cheat
  • Buy lots of lemons

spent lemons

Obviously, many lemons were hurt in the making of this cocktail.

Cheers and have fun at Black Panther. Wakanda Forever!
Black Panther cocktail

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Banana Pudding

Banana Pudding

A few years ago we took a trip to Nashville and tried Banana Pudding for the first time.  It's an iconic Southern dessert that's simple to make and very comforting!

Glazed ham with pineapple

Recently for Matt's birthday dinner his wish was to have an old school glazed ham with pineapple and cherries. I served it with scalloped potatoes and black-eyed peas, and banana pudding for dessert. 

scalloped potatoes

It was a great meal.  The banana pudding should be made in advance, so it's a great dessert for a dinner party.  The wafers soften in the custard and make a lovely-textured treat.  You can assemble it the day before for the best texture. 

banana pudding

I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen as inspiration, but I didn't make my own vanilla wafers, I used store-bought Nilla Wafers

Making the custard is the most challenging part, but it's pretty simple.

Definitely try this simple, fun dessert! 

Here's how to make it:

6  egg yolks
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup cornstarch
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
3 1⁄2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon bourbon
4 ripe bananas
1⁄2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon

Equipment:  8 6-oz ramekins or jelly jars for serving

To make the custard, place the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium pot. Whisk them together, then whisk in the milk in a slow stream until combined.  Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring.  I like to use a rubber spatula for this.  Keep stirring as it simmers for about 5 minutes until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Once thick, remove from heat and whisk in butter, vanilla and bourbon. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the custard and chill for 4 hours or overnight.  

Nilla wafers

To assemble, place wafers in a layer in the bottom of each ramekin.  You can also make this in one big dish if you don't have individual serving dishes.  You may need to break some cookies to make a full layer, that's ok! 

On top of the wafers, dollop a layer of custard, then a layer of sliced bananas.  Repeat with a layer of wafers, custard and bananas until all the bananas and custard are used up.  Cover the dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but even better overnight.  

banana pudding

When ready to serve, whip cream with sugar and bourbon until soft peaks form.  Dollop whipped cream on top of puddings and place a Nilla wafer on top.  

Creamy, rich and not too sweet. This is a perfect dessert! Enjoy. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Instant Pot Chicken Phở

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

This is one of the best recipes I've made in a long time! It is quick and easy enough for a weeknight, and makes fantastic leftovers. 

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Usually when I make or order phở it is made with a rich, spicy beef broth, but Phở Gà or Chicken Pho is also very common. The gingery broth is an amazing complement to the chicken.

Instant Pot

Using the Instant Pot makes this dish so quick and easy.  I also love the way the pressure cooker makes such a lovely, clear broth.  The most time-consuming part was gathering the spices. 

ginger, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, coriander, cardamom

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious. It will serve 6 as a meal.  Leftovers are even better the next day and the broth freezes beautifully. 

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, halved
2-inch piece of ginger, sliced, skin on
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
5 cloves
1 cinnamon stick 
3 cardamom pods, smashed
7 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2-3 pounds)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
8 cups water
salt and pepper

red and/or green chilis, sliced
green onions, sliced
1 lime, sliced into wedges

lime, chilis, cilantro, scallions

Push the "Saute" button on the Instant Pot. When the pot is hot, add the oil.  Place the onions, cut side down in the pot and add the ginger.  Cook without stirring for 4-5 minutes until charred. 

Add the corriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and cloves.  Stir for 1 minute. Add the chicken, fish sauce, sugar and water.  Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it. 

Press the "Manual" button and set the time for 17 minutes at high pressure.  It will take about 30 minutes in total for the soup to come to pressure and cook.  Once done, let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes, then turn the vent to release remaining pressure.  While pressure is releasing, cook the rice noodles according to package directions. 

Once the pressure is released, remove the chicken to a large bowl. Strain the broth into a large bowl or measuring cup, discarding solids. Skim fat from the top of the broth. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste. 

Carefully remove the chicken from the bones and discard the skin and bones.  Shred the chicken.  

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Place noodles and chicken into individual bowls.  Top with hot broth.  Each person can add their own herbs, chilis, lime and green onions to their bowl to their own taste. 

This soup tastes amazing.  You will love it! 

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Instant Pot Chicken Pho

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Years Day to bring luck in the coming year. 

Instant Pot

They are SO easy to make in the Instant Pot, or any electric or non-electric pressure cooker, you don't need a special occasion to make these beans!  

Black-Eyed Peas

Enjoy them on New Years Day along with some Collard Greens for good luck! 

Here's the recipe:

1 pound (454 g) dried black-eyed peas
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
6.5 cups water
2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon vegetable or chicken base

Better Than Bouillon is amazing stuff, but if you don't have it, you can use chicken stock in place of the water, or use stock cubes mixed into the water.

Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot.  Set it to Manual at High Pressure for 25 minutes. 
Once cooking is complete, let the pressure release naturally.
Serve the black-eyed peas with some of the delicious cooking liquid, and use the rest of the liquid to make Collard Greens, or save it for soup!

Instant Pot Black-Eyed Peas

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

 Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

My husband loves homemade marshmallows.  He has a nut allergy, so he's usually pretty wary of holiday cookies, but our dear friend made marshmallows one year and he loved them so much!  I had to try making them too. 

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

Marshmallows are not difficult to make, but they require some things you may not normally use in your holiday baking.  A candy thermometer is one.  A stand mixer also makes things much easier. You'll also need corn syrup and gelatin, which not everyone has on hand. But the ingredients are inexpensive and easy to find.  Once you have them you can make marshmallows in any flavour you desire. 

Vanilla Bean

I made bourbon vanilla marshmallows, but the bourbon flavour doesn't really come through.  I would try using more bourbon next time. 


It is so neat to watch the clear liquid transform into white ribbons as you mix the marshmallows. 

Bourbon Vanilla Marshmallows

Marshmallows keep really well at room temperature for up to 6 weeks.  They're great in hot chocolate or on a cookie tray (and gluten free too!), or you can give them as gifts. 

Homemade Marshmallows

Adapted from this Epicurious recipe

2 vanilla beans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
vegetable oil or cooking spray
3 packets (7 grams each) unflavoured gelatin
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt

Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife. Place 1/3 of the vanilla bean seeds in a small bowl with the bourbon.  Place the rest of the seeds in a medium bowl with the powdered sugar.  Mix well, crushing the vanilla seeds with the back of a spoon to incorporate.  Let sit one hour.

Brush or spray a 9-inch square baking pan with vegetable oil.  Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and tap out the excess that doesn't stick to the sides. 

Place 1/2 cup water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the gelatin and stir to combine.  

Combine 1/2 cup of water, granulated sugar and corn syrup in a small pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add the empty vanilla bean pods to the sugar syrup and place the thermometer in the pot, not touching the bottom.  Boil until the syrup reaches 240 degrees F (this took about 7 minutes for me).  Remove from heat and use tongs to remove the vanilla beans. 

Use the mixer's whisk attachment and whisk the gelatin mixture at low speed.  Carefully pour the hot sugar syrup down the side of the mixer bowl with the mixer running. Increase the mixer speed to high and whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture is very thick and looks like ribbons when you raise the whisk attachment. Add the bourbon and vanilla seed mixture and whisk until incorporated. 

Using a rubber spatula, pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared pan.  Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature, at least 4 hours or overnight, until marshmallow is dry.

When you're ready to cut the marshmallows, cover a cutting board with vanilla powdered sugar and invert the pan onto the cutting board. Use a spatula to pull the marshmallow away from the sides if you need to.  Dust the top with vanilla powdered sugar.

Cut the marshmallows into 36 squares (or 64 smaller squares). Place each individual marshmallow in a bowl of vanilla powdered sugar and shake to cover.  

Store in a covered container separated by parchment paper.