Culinary Q & A with Michelle Peters-Jones

Michelle Peters JonesOccupation: Sous Chef and Chief Leftover Scrounger at Get Cooking Edmonton.

What did you eat today?

A whole box of Walkers ginger biscuits, leek and pancetta risotto and a moscato zabaglione with moscato poached pears.

What do you never eat?

I eat mostly everything, but I am not a huge fan of kale.

What is your personal specialty?

Home cooked Indian food, especially from South India.

Complete this sentence: In my refrigerator, you will always find:

Milk and eggs.

What is your weekday meal standby?

Bulgur wheat or spiced quinoa salads with lots of fresh vegetables.

What is your favourite kitchen item?

My battered Le Creuset dutch oven, and my Wusthof chef’s knife.

World ends tomorrow. Describe your last meal.

My grandmother’s festival-special pork and offal curry with steamed rice cakes or sannas.

Where do you eat out most frequently?

Kathir on 34 Ave do great dosas.

Where’s the best place to eat in Edmonton?

The Marc. Love the food and the ambience.

If you weren’t limited by geography, where and what would you eat?

The streets of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, small hilltop villages in Italy, the back alleys of Old Delhi, the beaches of Bombay and the roadside eateries in Kerala. Oh, and the tearooms on the Wirral near Liverpool.

Michelle blogs at The Tiffin Box.

The Cooking Chronicles: More from Smitten Kitchen

Mack always teases me that I have my “phases”. He says that I’m currently in my smoothies-for-breakfast phase and my Scandal phase, though based on our cooking schedule recently, I think he’d also say I’m in a Smitten Kitchen phase.

Over the holidays, I didn’t feel too inspired to try new recipes, but browsing through Deb’s website and new cookbook, I immediately bookmarked a handful of recipes. We tried a few more last week.

Mushroom Lasagna

Though the mushroom lasagna is actually Ina Garten’s recipe, I came across it through the Smitten Kitchen website. The idea of a lighter, meatless lasagna was really appealing, as was the prospect of leftovers.

Mushroom Lasagna

Mushroom lasagna

The recipe worked out really well, and my only quibble was recommending 3/4 lb of pasta instead of a full box. Deb mentions that not layering the pasta resulted in uniform slices, but I would have preferred not having leftover pasta. We probably also could have done with a melty mozzarella crust on top.

Mushroom Lasagna

Lunch portion!

But as a whole, it was a lovely pasta, with a luxurious combination of bechemel and sautéed mushrooms. It would make an excellent vegetarian main course.

Honey Harissa Farro Salad

It seems like it was only a few years ago that I learned that salad did not have to be comprised of greens alone. Since then, we’ve made and enjoyed salads that have included everything from couscous to lentils. The honey harissa farro salad in The Smitten Kitchen cookbook looked interesting for that reason, though I have to say I was a little apprehensive about experimenting with farro, as our experience with another grain-based salad (bulgur) did not go well.

We found farro in the bulk section at Planet Organic. The grains resembled rice in their shape, but ranged in colour from light brown to golden. As directed by the recipe, we prepared the farro by boiling it (in stock on this occasion), and simmering it for 20 minutes. The cooked grain then puffed up, though surprisingly, did not take on much of the stock’s flavour, but resembling barley in its chewiness.

We combined the farro with roasted Kuhlmann’s parsnips and Greens, Eggs and Ham carrots and tossed it in a dressing made from olive oil and harissa. The salad was topped with fresh mint, and some Smoky Valley goat cheese.

Honey and Harissa Farro Salad

Honey harissa farro salad

We probably should have stuck to the recipe on the cheese front (it had recommended feta), as the goat cheese overwhelmed the flavours. Mack also couldn’t get used to the interaction between the spicy dressing and the mint. I was really impressed by how the addition of farro really “bulked” up the salad (Deb’s word), as it really did transform the dish into a meal in itself.

I’m not done with Smitten Kitchen just yet – I still have the rest of the book to cook through!

The Cooking Chronicles: Smitten Kitchen

Usually for Christmas I am gifted a cookbook or two, and this year was no different. Mack bought me The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the latest blog-to-page sensation. Although I had heard the name before, I hadn’t really actively explored her blog before. But after flipping through the book and browsing her extensive collection of online recipes, I can see why Deb Perelman has the extensive following that she does – I’m hooked, too!

It’s been just a few weeks since my quick introduction to Smitten Kitchen, but in that time, I’ve already made a few of her recipes, both from her book and her blog. And given the results, it won’t be long before more of her dishes make their way to our kitchen table.

Seared Cod and Gazpacho Salsa with Tomato Vinaigrette

As you’ve probably noticed, our favourite type of dishes are one-pot meals, both because of their simplicity and association with comfort. But Deb’s dish for seared halibut (we used cod), served with a simple salad and drizzled with a light vinaigrette proved we shouldn’t so easily overlook recipes that feature multiple components.

That said, the different components were quick and easy to pull together. To make the salsa, we combined chopped Doef’s tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers with some quick pickled Kuhlmann’s onions (only pickled because I didn’t have any sweet or red onions in the pantry) and parsley. To make the sauce, we blended a tomato with red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. The Ocean Odyssey fish was simply seasoned, then seared.

Seared Cod

Seared cod and gazpacho salsa with tomato vinaigrette

The salsa was light and fresh, and surprisingly tasty even without any salt or pepper. But what really made the dish was the tomato vinaigrette. Sweet and tangy, it would be great on chicken too, though next time I would consider heating it just a bit, to bring it up to temperature with the fish.

Baked Chicken Meatballs

I clicked “Surprise Me!” on the side of Smitten Kitchen, and it led me to Deb’s recipe for baked chicken meatballs. I’d never used ground chicken for anything before, but as we found out, this is a good reason as any to do so!

As she suggested, we made entree-sized meatballs, and enjoyed them alongside a salad. What made them stand out was the sweet tomato paste glaze, and how moist they were (the panade really helped).

Chicken Meatballs

Baked chicken meatballs

For lunch a few days later, I used the leftovers to make us meatballs subs. Topping the subs with a homemade marinara sauce and shredded gouda, I did my best to toast the overflowing sandwiches with limited success.

Chicken Meatballs

Chicken meatball subs

The meatballs held up well, and Mack gave the sub a thumbs up. No doubt, this recipe will be bookmarked for future reference!

The Cooking Chronicles: Everyday Dinners

Though we’ve been eating some rather elaborate meals, as is typical for the holidays, not every day during the season sees such extravagance. Most evenings for us have seen more low-key dishes. And though I’m sad at having to bid adieu to my favourite time of year, it will be nice to return to some semblance of routine again. Here are a few of the recipes we tried more recently.

Mulligatawny Soup

This mulligatawny soup from Spilling the Beans was not your typical chicken soup. Chickpeas, coconut milk, and a tart apple helped distinguish this from other recipes, and with the help of a deli chicken and boxed stock (we skipped the first step), made it quick to pull together.

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny soup

The creaminess reminded me of a chicken and wild rice soup I’ve made in the past, but without the heaviness lent by cream (and instead, added a bit of sweetness). We left the apples too crisp for our liking, but for lunch the next day, they had absorbed more of the broth and blended in with the soup much better. Another one pot dinner for the win!

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are not something I grew up with, and actually, I only had a vague idea of what it was. Turns out, at its core, it is simply a mixture of ground beef simmered in a tomato sauce, served over toasted buns. Mack was craving this over the holidays, so dug up a Rachael Ray recipe to make for dinner one night, garnished with some cheddar.

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes

This recipe was much too sweet for my taste, and between the ripe Doef’s tomatoes and bell pepper, I think the brown sugar could have been significantly reduced.

As a whole, the dish left me thinking about another recipe with a similar name, the New “New Joe’s Special”, which also uses ground beef as a base for a mixture to be consumed over toast, but has so much more inherent flavour. I think that will be the dish I turn to the next time this craving hits.

The Cooking Chronicles: Sugar Cookies

I remember baking sugar cookies with my Mum when I was younger, my sisters and I delighted by the wide collection of cookie cutters she had assembled (as children, we gravitated towards animal shapes and spelling out our names using alphabet cut-outs). We’d lovingly sprinkle our cookies with coloured sugar, sometimes adding a dollop of icing, and that was that (well, besides consuming the saccharine treats).

Maybe it was my naiveté around how difficult it really was to pull the dough together, or perhaps techniques to ensure the “perfect” sugar cookie have been refined and are now better articulated, but a simple Google search resulted in a barrage of tips of what to do, what not to do, and a list of baking supplies that I would need for this procedure that I did not have. When did a simple sugar cookie become so complicated?

All of this came about in that scramble that always happens the last week before Christmas when I probably took on a little too much. On top of baking for family and a work function, I also wanted to show my appreciation to some of my colleagues with a homemade treat from the kitchen.

Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies

Mack wryly joked that these cookies were a multi-day project, and in fact, they were, but only because I realized in the end that I didn’t have the chops to follow through with my original plan (and didn’t have enough time to experiment and learn). I made this recipe for sugar cookies, and with a vision of icing and decorating them on the days following. What I didn’t know was that this would require three different types of icing – two consistencies of royal icing for the base (for piping and filling), and another for decorating. I tried my hand with this recipe for piping, but just couldn’t get the consistency right. And with time ticking down, I ended up with a simple frosting recipe not unlike the one I grew up with, and sprinkled the final product with what else? Coloured sugar.

Sugar Cookies

Individually packaged

I know part of the lesson here is that I shouldn’t have assumed I could carry out an ambitious recipe on the eve of Christmas, without attempting anything similar in the months prior. But I think the even bigger lesson is not to mess with tradition, and as long as things are done from the heart, we are being true to the things that are really important this season.

Holiday Entertaining with Seasoned Solutions

Those of us who have committed to shifting our grocery spending to support local producers can probably attribute this shift to a number of reasons. It could be reading Michael Pollan’s seminal book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, learning about factory food practices in the wake of the innumerable food safety scares (listeria, salmonella, E.coli, the list goes on), or watching the consequences of industrial farming unfold in Food Inc. For me, one of the memorable moments I can point to is attending Gail Hall’s inaugural Seasoned Solutions market cooking classes back in 2007.

While I wasn’t cooking on a day to day basis at that time, Gail introduced me to many of the producers that I now patronize on a weekly basis at the City Market. With her knowledge and passion, it is no surprise that Gail’s market cooking classes have become  a staple in the local food scene. That said, her philosophy of supporting local producers also perforates her other cooking classes, which include lessons centred around her culinary tours, and those that lend themselves to a particular time of year.

Two weeks ago, Mack and I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in one of Gail’s holiday entertaining classes free of charge. Inspired by some of the prominent food trends in Edmonton this year – namely, ethnic restaurants and food trucks – we would be cooking up a diverse menu of small bites and appetizers that anyone would be proud to serve guests.

The Seasoned Solutions classes take place in Gail and her husband Jon’s loft on 104 Street. Their home in the Cobogo Lofts is gorgeous – I am a sucker for exposed brick, but I also love their open concept plan. Their custom kitchen features a large butcher block island, and with the group of seven gathered around, it felt intimate and just right the right size for an evening of hands-on learning.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Inside Gail and Jon’s loft

Because it would be several hours before we would be sitting down for dinner, Gail started us off with an artisanal cheese plate, featuring Sylvan Star gouda and cheese curds, The Cheesiry’s queso and Fairwinds Farm chevre.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Cheese plate

Gail also whipped up a quick holiday apple juice spritzer, spiked with whiskey. Needless to say, I helped myself to a second glass.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Cheers!

In preparing the recipes for the class, Gail met with the chefs and proprietors of all of the restaurants that inspired the menu, but of course, no one was forthcoming with their full recipes. But Gail, being the professional that she is, was able to piece things together based on some of the information they provided, and, well, numerous taste tests.

Mack and I were convinced that Gail’s recipe for chicken pesto calzones, if not a duplicate of Battista’s, are pretty darn close. Starting with a soft, supple dough that proofed for about an hour, each participant was able to assemble their own calzone, layering homemade marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and chicken tossed in an incredibly fragrant basil pesto. It was easily our favourite dish that night.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Gail works the dough

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Assembling my calzone

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Calzones!

Given all of the components in some of the recipes, it wasn’t a surprise that Gail had to have some elements prepared already to expedite things. One example was cooled risotto, needed for the Corso 32-inspired arancini. As with the calzones, all participants had the opportunity to roll their own arancini, stuffing a cube of fontina within, and then dipping the balls in flour, egg and breadcrumbs. To cook the arancini, Gail shallow fried them – good news for us, as it means we are more likely to recreate them at home!

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Frying the arancini

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Arancini

The most complicated dish was without a doubt the fish tacos, a take on Tres Carnales’ popular item. While the batter was easy enough to whip together (the secret ingredient being Mexican beer), the tacos also required coleslaw, pico de gallo, an avocado tomatillo lime sauce and warmed corn tortillas. It was great to “deconstruct” the tacos and understand how each of the components are made, but to be honest, I would probably opt to head over to the restaurant for my fill of fish tacos instead of attempting this labour-intensive dish. As expected, the final product was delicious, however, and I could imagine the tacos being the centre of a more casual gathering  at a taco bar assembly station.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Assembling the tacos

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Fish tacos

In contrast, the Sofra-inspired goat cheese stuffed apricots were a cinch to put together, with Fairwinds Farm goat cheese piped into apricots. They could be served cold, or sautéed.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Mack practices his piping skills

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Goat cheese stuffed apricots

Similarly, the pimento cheese spread was complete in five minutes. Gail, fresh from a tour of Charleston, South Carolina, said the dip was all the rage in the city. After one taste, we could tell why – the combination of goat cheese, pimento, mayo, cheese, Worcestershire, onion powder and paprika was deadly. This is definitely something we will be adding to our entertaining repertoire.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

Assembling the pimento cheese spread

After four hours of prep and cooking, we were ready to eat! The spread was pretty amazing, and I think I can say with confidence that everyone felt like they contributed to the dinner.

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

The spread

Seasoned Solutions Holiday Entertaining Class

At the dinner table

I would definitely recommend Gail’s class – her enthusiasm for food and local producers is unbridled, as is her knowledge. With the small group, it was interactive, and Gail was great at multitasking in answering our questions, providing helpful tips, all while proceeding with the recipes. Mack felt it was the perfect balance between demonstration and hands-on opportunities, and with the detailed recipes we took home, even novel cooks would be able to recreate the dishes.

Although her Holiday Entertaining series has finished for the year, Gail has several classes scheduled for the new year (including market cooking classes starting in May 2013). Check her website for more information. Thanks again to Gail for the opportunity to participate!

The Cooking Chronicles: Bits and Bites

To be honest, I haven’t really tried all that many new recipes as of late. In between our travels this fall, we’ve fallen back on tried and true dishes when at home – mostly due to a lack of time to bookmark new recipes, but also because there are more than a few wintery soups I’ve been inkling to revisit.

That said, there have been a few experiments here and there – one that recalls fall memories and a second perfect for our current season.

Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding

Who among us hasn’t turned to fridge staples of eggs and bacon for a crunch-time evening meal? For that reason, I love that Giada’s newest book, Weeknights with Giada, devotes an entire chapter to breakfast for dinner, but offers alternatives to that basic combination.

We made her tomato-basil bread pudding several weeks ago. It’s a savoury take on bread pudding that incorporates tomatoes, basil, and parmesan in place of sweeter flavours. We used Dauphine’s onion and sage bread as a base (one of my favourites), Greens, Eggs and Ham duck eggs and tomatoes and basil from Gull Valley Greenhouses.

Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding

Tomato-basil bread pudding

The result was pretty good, though I probably would have preferred a bit more bread and tomatoes. Giada recommends using a multigrain bread, but given how fragrant the onion and sage loaf was, I can’t imagine choosing any other bread to use.

Pulled Pork & Beans

When I first flipped through Spilling the Beans, Julie and Sue’s recipe for pulled pork & beans was one of the first that caught my eye because I knew it would be right up Mack’s alley. I don’t have any explanation for why it took me so long to get to it, however.

We purchased a boneless pork shoulder from Irvings Farm Fresh, and cheated a little by using canned beans, having run through my freezer inventory. Topped off in the slow cooker with ketchup, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, mustard and a bit of sriracha (my addition), we let it cook low and slow for eight hours.

When we arrived home tonight, the house smelled marvellous, sweet and porky. The meat was moist and easy to pull apart, and we served the pork and bean concoction over toasted multigrain buns.

Pulled Pork & Beans

Pulled pork & beans

This recipe definitely earned Mack’s seal of approval. He thought it would be too sweet, but found the beans mellowed it out a bit, as did the bread. We probably could have put in a dash or two of Tabasco though, something we will keep in mind for next time.

The Cooking Chronicles: Breakfast Suppers

Having breakfast for dinner in whatever form is usually a treat, and always a great go-to when nothing else seems to be an option. We deviated from our usual formula of eggs, bacon and toast recently to see what other breakfast dishes we could concoct for our evening meals.

Black Bean and Egg Tacos

A recipe for black bean and egg tacos was billed as a frugal meal on The Chew, based around three relatively inexpensive ingredients – tortillas, beans and eggs. The hosts kept raving about how tasty this dish was, but I really didn’t believe such a simple combination could be so tasty – until we tried it ourselves.

It was a meal rummaged from the depths of our fridge and freezer – eggs from Sunshine Organic, two long-forgotten Don Antonio’s whole wheat tortillas, and a bag of cooked black beans I had stored away. The prep was simple – while the tortillas were warming in the oven, the mixture of eggs and black beans were scrambled in a skillet. Shredded cheese was added to the mix, then cilantro, and that was it!

Black Bean and Egg Tacos

Black bean and egg tacos

The black beans not only added heft to the eggs, but also a bit of depth. The fresh herbs also made it pop ever so slightly. It is definitely something we will make again!

Eggs Florentine

In Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Weeknights With Giada, she devotes a whole chapter to “Breakfast for Dinner”. We tried her recipe for eggs florentine one night, swayed by the promise of luscious egg yolk and creamy spinach-flecked sauce.

The best thing about this recipe, however, was making the prosciutto chips that we crumbled on top. Into the oven went slices of prosciutto on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet, and out came crisp, salty, meat chips. They could be a garnish on so many things – soups, pastas, or eaten straight up as we did while the rest of the dish came together.

Anyway, the dish itself was nothing spectacular, though it was tasty enough (given the eggs, cream, and cheese in the dish, it would have been hard pressed not to be so). I recognize I also went a little overboard with the sauce though, which quickly transformed the English muffins from toasted to cream-saturated.

Spinach Florentine

Eggs florentine

I’ll be working my way through some of her other recipes though – hopefully the next one will be more inspiring!

The Cooking Chronicles: Something Fishy

Though Mack and I both love fish, we probably don’t have it as often as we would like to. Part of that has to do with my fixation with having leftovers from dinner carry over into lunch the next day, and the reality of fish is that it should not be microwaved.

Still, we do have fish when we can, and one recipe we tried recently can be served cold, solving the reheating conundrum.

Mediterranean Whitefish Sandwiches and Fried Smashed Potatoes

Mack said he was craving fish and chips, so I gave him my spin on it. I had bookmarked a recipe for Mediterranean halibut sandwiches from Giada’s newest cookbook, Weeknights with Giada. It looked like a great summer sandwich, and it didn’t disappoint.

We substituted Alberta whitefish from Ocean Odyssey and spinach for arugula, but besides omitting the capers, followed the recipe pretty closely, using ciabatta bread from the Italian Centre to finish it off. The resulting mayo-based filling was creamy, with sweetness from sundried tomatoes and fresh bursts from the basil and greens. Mack gave it two thumbs up.

Mediterranean Whitefish Sandwich

Mediterranean whitefish sandwiches with fried smashed potatoes

On the side, in place of fries, I made Giada’s fried smashed potatoes. Using new banana potatoes from Riverbend Gardens, it was quite satisfying pressing the potatoes down. Shallow frying them made it easier than warming an entire pot of oil, and for me, much more manageable. Trying to mimic lightly salted fries, I didn’t make the accompanying dressing, and really, I think it wasn’t necessary. The potatoes came out browned, crispy and delicious.

Roasted Salmon, Green Bean, Snap Pea and Cucumber Salad

I think we really learned this summer that salads don’t have to involve greens at all. And for us, the more textures in the bowl, the more we tend to enjoy the salad. Giada’s recipe for roasted salmon, snap pea and cucumber salad was an example of that.

Due to my aversion for canned fish, I opted to roast our own salmon (Coho from Ocean Odyssey). I did this the night before, but didn’t flake it that same day. This taught me a lesson, as preparing it the day after meant crumbly, instead of flaky fish.

Still, it worked well enough. I combined the salmon with green beans from Riverbend Gardens, snap peas from Sundog Organics, cucumbers from Doef’s, and tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouse. Dressed with Kuhlmann’s dill, olive oil and lemon juice, it was definitely a summer salad!

Roasted Salmon, Bean, Snap Pea and Tomato Salad

Roasted salmon, green bean, snap pea and cucumber salad

Mack wasn’t a huge fan of this dish, believing that the fish seemed out of place, but I liked it. I thought the salmon made a nice light addition, and was an interesting way to have fish. Bonus – the salad also fared well for lunch the next day (so long as the vinaigrette was reserved and the salad was not dressed until the following morning)! Try this if you’re looking for something a little different for dinner.

The Cooking Chronicles: Soup for One

Last week, Mack’s UK and US colleagues were in town, so I was left to fend for myself in the kitchen while he was showing them the best of what Edmonton had to offer. The dish I reach most often for on such occasions is soup.

Yes, I recognize that the blinding heat doesn’t seem the most conducive to soup, but it’s hard to beat a one pot, one bowl meal. A single recipe also creates enough leftovers for multiple meals, which cuts down on cooking that week. To top it off, it’s an excuse to eat good bread!

I decided to try two new recipes last week, and they both turned out well.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

The recipe for beef and cannellini bean minestrone caught my eye in Giada’s new book, Weeknights with Giada. It employs a pretty classic combination of beef and tomatoes, but was appealing to me for that reason since I don’t typically make beef-based soups.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

Beef and cannellini bean minestrone

It was a pretty hearty soup, speckled with vegetables, though next time, I’d add a small pasta.

Chicken, Corn and Cheddar Chowder

I cheated with this Julie Van Rosendaal recipe for chicken, corn and cheddar chowder (which appears in Spilling the Beans) – not only did I eliminate the beans, I used a store bought rotisserie chicken. But it still tasted delicious!

Chicken, Corn and Cheddar Chowder

Chicken, corn and cheddar chowder

I think the reason had to do with the cream base (my favourite kind of soup), and the fact that it has been a while since this type of soup has graced my kitchen. Of course, the potatoes, sweet corn, and bacon didn’t hurt either – definitely a bowl of comfort!

So although I am enjoying these warm days, there is an upside to cooler nights – weather conducive to soup!