A few weeks ago I successfully catered my first event for M. Karim Boulos’ Campaign Launch. Seeing as it was indeed my first time and I was worried about not having enough food, and big surprise, I ended up with too much food! Some leftovers stayed behind as snacks for volunteers and some came home with me, namely the roasted red pepper dip and chimichurri that I had made immense quantities of. After using them on sandwiches, grilled veggies and meat throughout the week, like most people I became bored of having the same thing over and over.
I was at that point of revisiting the essence of Kristel’s Kitchen and realized that so far I hadn’t been keeping true to the idea of sharing my credo of reduce, reuse and recycle in my kitchen. Yes I recycle – quite diligently in fact, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. We’re talking leftovers and going beyond the “oh no not that again” feeling we often tolerate from the desire to not waste food. As a way to liberate myself from the repetitiveness of sandwiches and whatever was left in my fridge, here is what I came up with:
Roasted Red Pepper Spaghetti with Sautéed Veggies
- Leftover roasted red pepper dip
- Whole wheat spaghetti or any pasta of your liking (enough for two)
- Any leftover veggies in your fridge
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the box. While the pasta is cooking, heat up about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan, add your garlic and veggies. Add salt and pepper to taste and sauté until tender. In my fridge I had leftover tomatoes, spinach, asparagus and leek. Once the pasta is cooked, reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, then strain and transfer back into the pot. Add the leftover roasted red pepper dip and thin out the mixture with the reserved pasta, water as needed. If you happen to not have enough roasted pepper dip to coat the pasta, do not panic. I recommend always keeping a small can of tomato paste or sauce in your pantry. You can open the can and simple add as many extra spoonfuls as needed to coat the pasta. *Got some leftover in the can? To keep for next time, transfer the remainder into an ice tray and freeze. Once frozen you can store the tomato cubes in resealable plastic bags or plastic container. Serve onto plates and top with the sautéed veggies. Nothing’s simpler and nothing goes to waste!
Chimichurri Seared Scallops
- Leftover chimichurri
- Large scallops
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Scallops seem oh-so-very decadent, and they most definitely can be. They can also be enjoyed more casually. Sure they are individually expensive but if you get one each it can be a nice little treat on top of a salad as an appetizer or on top of the pasta as I have done here.
You want to start by rinsing the scallops and patting them completely dry with a clean dish towel or paper towel works too. The reason scallops need to be prepared this way first is because if they are not dry enough when you put them into the pan, they will boil rather than sear and hence will become rubbery. Nobody wants to eat a rubbery scallop. Add salt and pepper to both sides of the scallop and place into the hot pan. Scallops take no time at all to cook so you need to act fast. You want a nice caramelized color on the bottom before flipping it over and the flesh to be more opaque less than half-way up its sides. At this point, flip the scallop and add a spoonful of chimichurri to the already seared side while it finishes cooking. Remove immediately from heat and place onto your dish.
The streets are bustling with freshmen making their way through with beer chugging contest initiations, 99¢ pizza (or at least that’s how much it cost when I was a freshman) at closing time and a greasy spoon breakfast or their preferred hangover remedy. It got me reminiscing about my freshmen initiation and first year of university. I remember hating the taste of beer and having to chug pitchers during the McGill Pub Crawl. I remember my parents taking me out for a smoked meat sandwich at Montreal’s legendary Schwartz’s. I remember loading up on KD boxes and ramen noodles at Club Price. I also remember my parents saying “How is she going to manage? She doesn’t even know how to cook herself an egg!”
For those who know me, you would probably be surprised to hear that. For those who don’t know me, I spent my last three years of high school in boarding school; in other words cafeteria for breakfast, lunch and dinner! And although i grew up with my parents preparing home cooked meals every night, I personally never stirred a pot. I think the only thing I ever cooked with my mom was home-made play dough when I was 4…which I ended up eating anyway. Growing up I knew a lot about food, loved to eat in large quantities but never learned how to prepare any of it.
All that being said, my culinary exploration and fascination with food started that first year at McGill, in my tiny apartment kitchen tucked away in a closet-like space. In that kitchen, I cooked my first soups, my first spaghetti meat sauce, my first salmon filet, my first cheese fondue, my first huevos rancheros, my first Irish stew, my first veggie lasagna, and after a few failed attempts my first successful hollandaise sauce.
Now that you’ve calmed down for the first weeks of intense partying, the readings are catching up on you, midterms are right around the corner and you’ve started burning the midnight oil on those term papers. So in tribute to all you poor souls recovering from your initiations and the rest of those starving first year students, I present my own first year staple: “poule au pot”, which directly translates to “chicken in a pot”. This dish is the meal of my childhood that I looked forward to on Sunday nights. It tops my list of comfort foods and my cousins (for lack of brothers and sisters) are always astonished with the way I can inhale this dish. In university I learned to be creative with it, meaning that I didn’t restrict this dish to only a stew-like meal but transformed it into other things. Before moving on, one must start with the basics!
The Freshman “Poule au Pot”
- One chicken, whole and insides cleaned out
- One large onion, cut up into large pieces
- One leek, sliced
- Carrots, sliced
- Turnips, cut into large cubes
- Potatoes, cut into large cubes
- Bay leaves
- One tbsp of Herbes de Provence
- Cloves, whole
- Pepper, whole
Grab the biggest pot you have, big enough to hold the whole chicken. If you do not have a pot big enough, then you’ll have to make a smaller portion simply by using a few chicken legs (bone-in).
Put the pot onto a medium heat, drizzle with olive oil, add the onions and leek, and sauté for a couple of minutes. You simply want to sweat the onions and leek, not brown them. If they start browning, lower the heat.
Put the whole chicken in the pot (make sure its been rinsed under cold water first) and add water until it covers the chicken. Add one heaping tablespoon of salt, a few whole black peppercorns, two bay leaves and the tablespoon of Herbes de Provence. Cover and simmer for about an hour depending on the size of your chicken. Obviously the smaller the chicken the less cook time it requires.
After one hour, using a spoon remove and discard any impurities and extra fat gathering at the surface. Add the carrots, turnips and potatoes. Let the pot simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes, checking regularly for impurities to be discarded. You may also want to check the vegetables for doneness; you want them to be fork tender. At this point your “poule au pot” is ready!
You can serve it in a bowl as a stew. You can remove the chicken and veggies from the pot and strain the liquid to make a clear broth – a great base for other soups, sauces, rice, etc. You can pull the chicken apart from the carcass and use the meat throughout the week in soups, sandwiches, salads, stir-fry, casseroles. Save the veggies and use them whole or purée them as a side. If you purée them, you can thin it out with the broth, add a little milk or cream and make a cream of vegetables. The possibilities really are endless with this classic Sunday night French dish. Be creative and enjoy reusing leftovers to make something new and interesting. This time I decided to make a simple chicken and vegetable soup: to the broth I added the chicken that I shredded, leeks, carrots, parsnips and mushrooms as seen in the picture.
To the students out there who decide to make this dish, go ahead and use its French name when referring to it. Not only does it have a nice ring to it but you can also pull out your pretentious first-year tongue when serving this up to your fellow intelligentsia and tell them that King Henri IV of France declared that every laborer of his kingdom should be able to afford “poule au pot” every Sunday.
Mussels are the easiest and quickest meal to make at home. Not only is it cheap but you get to eat with your hands. One of my favorite sayings is ‘that everything tastes better when you eat with your hands’. Growing up, the only way my parents could get me to eat salad is by allowing me to eat it with my hands! Messy eating aside, let’s get back to the gun show: mussels!
My absolutely favorite way to make mussels is my spicy Thai version that I cooked up with my mom years ago when she was in town visiting. Although they are mouth-wateringly delicious, lately I’ve been finding myself looking for other ways of preparing mussels. Steaming them in a broth is the best way to get this meal done because it is so easy. Once you’ve settled on your “broth” base, it is only a matter of minutes before these little mollusks are ready to be scooped out. This is the latest version I came up with:
Dill-Turmeric Steamed Mussels
- One tbsp oil, any regular veggie oil will do the job
- One medium onion, halved then sliced
- Two garlic cloves chopped
- One bell pepper, julienne (aka. cut into thin strips)
- One tomato, chopped
- Two cups of dry Vermouth
- One tbsp of turmeric
- One tsp of cayenne pepper or to taste
- One pound bag of mussels, scrubbed and rinsed
- One bunch of fresh dill, coarsely chopped
- Two green onions, chopped
The first thing you want to do when it comes to mussels is to scrub and clean them under cold running water. Keep an eye out for the ones with broken shells and discard them. Drizzle the oil in a large pot and sauté the onions, garlic and bell peppers on medium-high heat until soft and slightly caramelized. Add the tomatoes and stir in the Vermouth, turmeric and cayenne. Bring the heat down to medium and let the “broth” simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the mussels, dill and green onion. Stir delicately to coat them with the broth. Cover and steam until all the mussels are cooked, stirring occasionally. The mussels are ready when they have opened – should take no more than 10 minutes or so. Serve into bowls. A classic side for this dish is fries, so don’t forget to bake up your favorite frozen kind to dip in this flavorful broth.
Finally, there is no need for forks here: the best way to eat mussels is to use the shells to nab out the meat. If you encounter mussels that haven’t opened, better to discard them. In no time flat you have a perfect “moules frites” (aka mussels and fries) for two!
If ever you have some broth left over, it makes an excellent base to poach fish or even chicken. Not only are you reusing leftovers that you probably would have thrown out, but you are creating a second meal that requires minimum prep. Simply add some rice and sauté extra veggies as a side!
A priceless indulgence of the summer BBQ! Well, perhaps it’s neck and neck with ribs but a great indulgence nonetheless. Simple or elaborate, it is just delectable, moist, tender and its skin perfectly crispy! Sprinkle your chicken with salt, pepper and herbs, or baste with store bought BBQ sauce or marinate the chicken with your own creation. Whichever you decide, it will be fabulous!
The first time I made beer can chicken at home it was a delicate balancing act. The can was too full, the chicken too heavy and the grills too far apart – or not enough for such a narrow base. It is needless to say that the chicken fell over many times. So for beer can chicken you have two options: attempt the balancing act or for $5 buy the contraption seen in the picture. This stand is specifically made for beer-can chicken and is available at most grocery stores. Let me tell you, this contraption is definitely a worthwhile investment!
On this particular beer can chicken day I had an over-ripe mango on the counter and recently purchased whole dried ancho chilies I had not yet worked with. These two key ingredients mated to create this ancho-mango marinade.
Ancho-Mango Beer Can Chicken
- One dried ancho chili
- One tbsp dried oregano (remove the leaves from a few sprigs if using fresh)
- One tsp cumin
- One tsp cayenne
- One half tbsp salt
- One mango, peeled and cut into pieces
- Two garlic cloves
- One whole chicken, cleaned and patted dry
- One large can of brown beer
- One cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses
In a food processor combine the dried ancho chili, oregano, cumin, cayenne and salt until well blended. Add the mango and garlic, mix until smooth. Rub the marinade over the cleaned and dried chicken, making sure to get some of the marinade under the skin so that it can penetrate the meat. Latex gloves also come in handy here. Allow the chicken to rest and absorb the flavors at room temperature for about an hour.
In the meantime, use a can-opener to pop open the can of beer and pour out half its contents into either a glass for yourself or a saucepan if you decide to make a glaze. If you’re going for the glaze, then you should definitely go to your fridge and get a second beer for yourself to enjoy. In the saucepan, add the brown sugar and molasses. Bring up to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
Beer-can chicken must be cooked with indirect heat, which essentially means that you want to leave the burner located under the chicken in the off position. Also make sure you have enough room to close the lid over the chicken. Turn only one side of the grill burners to medium heat and let the BBQ reach about 350°F. While the grill heats up, take the time to place the can of beer in the contraption’s holster. At this point you are ready to mount the chicken onto its beer-can throne. Once securely set, place the chicken onto the grill, above the grill that is in the off position, so it is in indirect heat. Close the lid and let it cook. Every fifteen minutes or so baste the chicken with the beer glaze and turn it to make sure it cooks evenly. Total cooking time should be between one hour and a half and two hours depending on the size of your chicken (internal temperature should be at 180°F).
The skin of this particular chicken was crispy and so sticky that the tongs stuck to the chicken. The meat was juicy and tangy from the mango and ancho pepper.
If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, the meat makes for awesome sandwiches!