Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Basic white sauce - A versatile staple for the boonies cook

A basic white sauce is a versatile addition to any cook's repertoire and can be easily modified to suit many of the ingredients that you have in your house. I admit, I mostly make white sauce to use in pasta dishes, but you can also use it on just about anything. 

A basic white sauce has four main ingredients: milk, garlic, butter and flour.

First, melt 2 tbsp. of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Saute 2 or 3 cloves of garlic (minced) until it becomes translucent and fragrant. Add 2 tbsp. flour and mix into a paste.  Add 1 cup of milk (a little at a time at first so your sauce doesn't become lumpy) and whisk. Heat the mixture (stirring constantly) until it starts to bubble, then turn the heat down to medium low and cook until the sauce thickens.

You can adjust the consistency of your white sauce by adding or subtracting butter and flour. Use 1 tbsp of butter and flour for a runnier sauce, or 3 tbsp butter and flour for a thicker sauce.

Now to get creative!

To make a cheese sauce for broccoli or cauliflower, add 1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese to the thickened sauce and whisk until it melts.

For an interesting pasta dish, add 1 tsp. grated lemon rind and 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, pepper, and 1/4 c. parmesan cheese. Mix with cooked pasta, spinach, and chopped tomatoes in a casserole and bake 20 minutes in the oven.

To make clam sauce, substitute 1/4 c. of clam juice for 1/4 c. of milk, add a drained can of baby clams. Mix with cooked spaghetti or linguine.

To make homemade mac and cheese: add 1/2 tsp dry mustard with the flour and 1/4 tsp. paprika and 1/4 c. parmesan cheese with the milk.  Mix with cooked macaroni, cubed ham, 2 c. spinach leaves, and 1 c. cubed cheddar cheese in a casserole.  Top with 1/2 c. grated cheese and 1/4 c. breadcrumbs.  Bake 20 minutes.  [this is a great way to use up leftovers from a Sunday ham - it's one of my hubby's favorite meals]

To make a delicious mushroom sauce, saute sliced mushrooms and garlic with the butter until they soften, add 1 tbsp thyme and some cubed blue cheese to the thickened sauce.

The possibilities are nearly endless!  What is your favorite addition to white sauce?

Friday, February 24, 2012


One of the issues with cooking in the boonies, is getting good quality food that won't kill your budget.  Protein is usually a huge killer to the food bill because let's face it, meat is expensive.  On that note, there are things you can do to decrease your protein bill a bit, while still getting quality meat (and other protein products). Here are some tips:

  • Make friends with a farmer. 
    • This has been the biggest relief to our food budget in the last couple of years since our friend Wade started a small farm.  This year, I bought a whole pig, a giant Thanksgiving turkey, and about 1/3 of a cow. Wade takes his animals to slaughter in the fall and has them processed at a local (inspected) butcher shop.  We paid about $200 for the beef and $280 for the pork (including the cut and wrap) and came out of it with about 100 lbs of  meat (ribs, roasts, ground, steaks, chops, bacon, etc..). That's a little more than $4/lb, which is a pretty good average I think. It may not be the least expensive price you'll pay for meat, but it's made up for in quality - it's delicious! Bonus, our meat isn't trucked from afar to make it to the skillet, decreasing the environmental impact a bit. If you don't know a farmer, try checking out farmer's markets near you.  Many markets have farmers selling meat, and you can find out from them if you can buy in bulk.  Usually, animals go to slaughter in the fall, so you have all summer to find a farmer near you.
  • Buy in bulk. 
    • Go to your local wholesale or Costco and check out the sales.  Even if you don't have a huge family, buy meat in bulk and separate it into smaller packages for freezing when you get home.
  • Hunt and fish.  
    • Hunting is not for everyone either, but if you are a hunter or know a hunter, you could have a great source of cheap protein. In the boonies, many people get more meat from hunting than from the grocery store. There are lots of regulations about gun-ownership, openings, tags and permits, but if you get one moose, you could have as much as 300 lbs of meat to get you through the winter.  Many butcher shops will process your meat for you, right from the hanging to the cut & wrap, or you can learn to do it yourself.  It's a great alternative to factory-farmed meats.  
    • Similarly, fishing can provide you with some great protein, but it can be expensive, especially if you go salt-water fishing (boats, gas, guides, etc..) and you won't get a lot of meat from the trip. If you live near the ocean, try buying direct from the fisherman at the wharf. It's often cheaper and the money goes directly to the guy who caught it, with no middle man.
  • Eat alternative protein. 
    • Learn how to incorporate beans and high-protein grains and tofu into your diet. The vegetarian lifestyle isn't for everyone, but eating at least one vegetarian meal per week will decrease your food bill, expand your horizons, and make you healthier. Beans and grains are also super easy to buy in bulk and store, making them perfect for boonies cooking.  Some high protein grains include quinoa, barley, brown rice, kasha and oatmeal. Be on the lookout for upcoming recipes involving quinoa - it's my new favorite thing.
Today's recipe: Garlic-Rosemary Pork Tenderloin

This recipe comes directly from the ladies at my favorite cooking blog Our Best Bites. You'll need 1 or 2 pork tenderloins, some grainy mustard, garlic, rosemary, and olive oil.

 First, rinse your tenderloin and trim off excess fat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and preheat the oven to  450°F.

In a small bowl, mix together 5 or 6 minced cloves of garlic (lots of garlic!), 2 tbsp of coarse-grain mustard, 2 tbsp rosemary (the recipe calls for fresh, but I've used about 3 tbsp of dried rosemary with success), and 2 tbsp olive oil. Add some salt and pepper to taste.

Put your tenderloins on the baking sheet and slather them with your mustard mix.  Pop in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes (the meat should be juicy, but not pink and the internal temp should be 160°F with a meat thermometer). I've also done this on the BBQ and it works great.

Serve with your favorite side dishes - roasted potatoes are great, but so is rice. Pickled beets are a great, colourful veggie accompaniment.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentine's Dinner (aka Sat Fat Fiesta)

I seriously kicked some culinary ass on Valentine's Day this year. SERIOUSLY. I need to eat like a vegan for the next week to wear off all of the calories I consumed, but it was totally worth it.  So, this recipe is a little bit boonies friendly (I suppose anything that consists of essentially meat and potatoes can be easily made in the boonies, but I think the fact that the meat was so fresh and unfrozen made it a billion times better..).

I spent most of Valentine's Day home alone - I took a sick day, not so much because I was sick, but because I hoped that taking a day off would prevent me from becoming sick..  In the end, I probably ended up doing way more activity that I would normally do at work, but it all worked out.  I'm healthy, and I got to make a kick-ass Valentine's Day dinner that I probably wouldn't have had the time or energy to do otherwise.

My plan for Valentine's Day was to cook lamb - it's succulent, a little splurgy, very very tasty, and kind of romantic.  But, being in the boonies, I couldn't find a rack of lamb anywhere that wasn't frozen as hard as a brick.  So I deferred to steak.  I was inspired by the Cake Boss (of all people) - did you know he has another show called Kitchen Boss where he teaches you the recipes he makes at home?  I had no idea.  The things I miss out on by working all day!  Anyway, he was whipping up a fancy meal for his wife that consisted of pan-seared steak au poivre (peppersteak) with a creamy pan sauce.  I didn't pay enough attention to write down all the details, but when I my lamb-plans went awry I quickly fixated on that steak and did a little research. I think the recipe I came up with is a mix of about 3 recipes that I found online.  In the end, I went with a red wine pan sauce (made with dealcoholized wine because hubs doesn't drink) with garlic, balsamic vinegar and beef broth. Here are the basic steps.

1. Leave your steaks out for about 15 minutes so they are not ice cold when they go in the pan.  Generously salt them all over, then coat the top and bottom with fresh ground pepper. Press the pepper into the meat a bit so it sticks.  You really want to coat it good.

2. Over medium heat, melt about 1 tsp butter together with 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan (I'm totally in love with the ceramic-coated non-stick fry pan that we got as a wedding gift - damn, it's fabulous!). Once the butter starts to turn golden (not brown!), add the steaks.  Don't try to squish them or cover them - just leave them be for at least 5 minutes (for rare) or up to 7 minutes (medium well) then flip them and repeat.  I'm not a steak guru - I went with 5 1/2 minutes on one side, and 7 on the other (I had thick steaks!) and they came out medium - just perfect. If you have doubts, I'm sure you can find a million references online for how long to cook steak.  The key is, DON'T SQUISH IT and don't flip it more than once.

3. When the steaks are done, put them on a plate and cover them with foil.  Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic into the remaining pan juices and saute until it gets nice and fragrant.  Add about 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and cook for about 2 minutes. Then add 1 tbsp of dry thyme, 1/2 c. red wine and 1/2 c. beef broth and reduce the mixture until it gets a little thick and coats a regular spoon.

4. Remove the sauce from the heat, and add about 2 tbsp of butter and stir until it melts and thickens.  Pour this delicious concoction over your steaks and serve immediately.  Seriously, I have never had better steak in my life.

I served this up with some roasted garlic mashed potatoes. I roasted a bulb of garlic for about 30 minutes (chop the top off, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil, roast at 400 F).  This could (and probably should) be done ahead of time so you're not burning your fingers trying to squeeze fiery hot garlic cloves into your mashed potatoes.

Boil up some potatoes as your normally would for mashed potatoes (chop into large cubes, boil in salted water until a fork easily pierces them). Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the bulb and into the drained potatoes. Add some milk and butter (I never measure this - butter gives flavor, milk makes it creamy.  Adjust amounts until it looks/tastes right to you). Mash together.  Add some chopped green onions or chives, if you like.

Serve up a mound of mashed potatoes, the steak and drizzle that pan sauce over both.  You will love me forever.

Oh yeah, and don't forget the green things!  How about peas? Frozen peas are usually easy to get in the boonies, and they cook up super fast.  Pour them into a steamer over 1" of water and steam for 5 minutes. Add more butter.

I don't have any photos of this glorious dinner because it was gone before you could say "Happy Valentine's Day", but let's just say it was very well received!

Now, go on a diet. :)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Black Bean Fajitas!

Here's a recipe that came my way back in university from dog-knows-where. It's a high-protein, low-fat, super-fast weeknight meal that uses just a couple fresh ingredients, and lots from the pantry. If you don't have tortilla wraps, have no fear - you could serve this up as a side dish with rice and salad. If you don't have green peppers, any colour will do. I've even made this with chopped zucchini. It's reasonably versatile.

First, chop up half an onion, several cloves of garlic and a bell pepper (colour doesn't matter). Saute those together over medium heat in a little bit of olive oil until the onions are translucent.

Drain and rinse a can of black beans. Add the beans to the onions and mix for just a couple of minutes.

Add some spices: about a teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder, some salt and pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for heat (if you want). Mix well, then add about 1/2 cup of salsa (you choose the heat). Mix together and cook until heated through.

You could serve this in wraps with lettuce, cheese and sour cream, or as a side dish with rice and a salad or yam fries.

1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bell pepper (or 3/4 c. chopped zucchini or celery)
1 12 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
1/2 c. salsa