Garlic and Sage Infused Oil

It’s sage season, and our community herb garden has a patch of it that has overgrown its boundaries. Sage is no longer a polite little section of the garden. It’s grown to the point where it’s looming over other herbs, overtaking the space and is threatening to choke the oregano, parsley and thyme. It’s a rude herb that is a ‘close-talker:’ even our resident garden gnome now feels threatened.

Herb garden, now 90% pure sage. (Can you spot the nervous gnome?)

Herb garden, now 90% pure sage. (Can you spot the nervous gnome?)

There are the obvious options of using sage: Drying the leaves and keeping them until winter. Using the fresh leaves in the cavities of poultry, or crumbling the dried herb in stuffing. But infusing your oil is one of the best ways to keep the fresh summery taste of the herb.

Only two things frighten Herb The Garden Gnome: Having his natural habitat overun with sage, and botulism.

Only two things frighten Herb The Garden Gnome: Having his natural habitat invaded by sage, and botulism.

Botulism bacteria can grow in this type of environment, even in a sealed bottle.

Flavoured olive oils and dressings make great gifts, but botulism is a potential danger.  One potential danger involves putting anything in the oil that contains any trace of existing juices. That would include garlic, lemon peel, fresh peppers, and fresh herbs like sage.  The oil will not support bacterial growth but the moisture found in fresh herbs or vegetables will. Botulism bacteria can grow in this type of environment, even in a sealed bottle. There are three ways to avoid botulism.

  •  Mix all the ingredients, refrigerate them and use them within a week:
    This is the best way if you are using fresh ingredients such as fresh basil, fresh rosemary or garlic. Garlic is ideal for adding to pasta dishes, that you can then top with a little grated dry cheese. Fill a decorative 1-litre bottle with extra virgin olive oil. Add a clean head of garlic (whole if desired), and leave to marinade for a few days. You can also use lemon peel, fresh or dried peppers, ginger, rosemary sprigs, etc.
  • Use only dried version of the herbs and spices. Dry your citrus peel before infusing it olive oil, make sure your herbs are dry and crumbly before adding them to your cold olive oil. Strain out the herbs after a few days.
  • Fry your garlic and sage and use them with the olive oil that day – strain the solids out, and use the cooled version of olive oil within the week as well. It’s great on salads, and adds another subtle flavour to stir-fries.

It was garlic season, and having attended the annual Garlic Festival at Wychwood Barns in Toronto this weekend, I had quite the collection to play with. I’d eat garlic with garlic if it didn’t mean alienating everyone around me within a five kilometre radius.

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  1. Use your choice of garlic, and some fresh sprigs of sage. Generally, two tablespoons of herbs per cup of oil is a suggested measure.
  2. Toss your garlic and fresh sage into a sauce pan, and cover with enough olive oil to cover everything.
  3. Set your burner to medium-low heat (you’re not trying to cook the oil,) bring the heat up to 180°, let the oil cool, then strain out the sage and garlic.   This makes the oil infuse more quickly and reduces some of the risk of bacteria growth, but it can also leave the oil with a slightly “cooked” flavour.
  4. Use the cooked sage and garlic in a stir-fry or smear it across a slice of baguette.
  5. Pour the cooled oil into an attractive bottle and refrigerate. Remember, olive oil solidifies when refrigerated, so you may need an wide mouthed jar or bottle if you want some of the stuff fast.
  6. Enjoy!

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DIY Gourmet Pizza: Cheaper than Take Out

If you’re good at starting something, forgetting about it, coming back to it hours later, then homemade pizzas are just the best. They’re so affordable to make, and you can put ingredients on you want on them. Best of all, you can make two pizzas with one batch, and freeze one for those days you’re broke and don’t feel like cooking. Depending on your ingredients, your homemade pizza can cost less than those frozen, cardboard flavoured things you find in the frozen food section of the grocery.

Does it take long? Not really. To be honest, if you start the dough in the morning, or leave it overnight to be rolled out and baked the next day, it’s not too bad. The dough takes about an hour to rise and be rolled out.

Do you need special equipment? Nope. You don’t really need a speed mixer or a food processor, but if you have one – great! It does cut down some of the time mixing the flour and yeast, if that’s an issue. For this experiment, I just used my stand mixer to blend the dough at the beginning.  As for rolling, I didn’t even have a proper rolling pin. I used an empty wine bottle.

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As you can see, rolling pins are optional. 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon quick-rising instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, yeast and salt) together in a bowl, and pour it all out onto a counter. Make a well in the center, so you have what should remind you of a high school volcano diorama.

Next, run your hot water tap and fill your measuring cup until its 1/2 full: Make sure it’s just a little warmer than room temperature, but if you’re that worried, use a thermometer: It should be 120 F or 50 degrees Celcius. Add the oil, and pour this mix into the hole of your volcano. Instant lava!

Now, here comes the fun part. If you were the kid who loved playing with plasticene in kindergarten, you get to relieve your youth again. Start mashing the sides of the flour-volcano towards the centre of the lava pit, and start kneading. Knead it for at least eight minutes straight, or through the duration of three songs from your favourite album. You really can’t over-knead the dough at this stag.e

If you doubt your stamina or your strength, it’s okay to use a food processor with the pastry blade if you have one, or the dough hook on a stand mixer. The proportions of the dough remain the same.

The first stage of kneading will yield a ropey and raggedy dough, but that’s okay. It’s all part of the plan.

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The first stage of kneading: It doesn’t look like it now, but this will become a nice, smooth ball of dough.

You can put it in a greased bowl, and cover it in plastic wrap, or just cover it with a large bowl. Put this in a draft-free place and forget about it. Clean up a bit. Vacuum your home. Run an errand or two. Call a friend and invite them over for custom made pizza. The rising stage should last an hour: check it to see if it’s doubled in size.

Cut the dough ball in half. You now have the choice of the following:

  1. Wrap the dough balls in plastic wrap. Put the frozen balls of dough in the freezer for thawing and rolling out later.
  2. Keep the plastic wrapped dough balls in the fridge if you want to bake pizzas within the next 24-48 hours.
  3. Roll out the dough – without the plastic wrap, of course – and dress them.

I’ve rolled out the dough of one of the balls for immediate use. I decided to partially bake the other. By baking it halfway, it means the dough is slightly raw, and perfect for cooling and freezing. When you put the frozen (half-baked) pizza in the oven, it thaws and bakes perfectly, just like a store bought frozen pizza. Except this version tastes good.

Sprinkle two 12 inch pans with flour or cornmeal, if you want a crunchy crust. Put the flattened round of dough down, and start topping it any way you want.

I added the following toppings to mine:

  • Pesto, brushed over the top of the dough
  • Kalamata olives
  • Slices of spicy pepperoni
  • Sliced mushrooms

My significant other, Dominic put three kinds of meat on his

  • Tomato paste to coat the dough
  • Dried oregano, thyme and marjoram (to give the flavourless tomato paste some “oomph”)
  • Spicy pepperoni slices
  • Half cooked bacon (it would burn if placed fully cooked on top of the pizza)
  • Salami

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees Farenheit. Here’s the trick to getting the cheese all ooey and gooey: Put add the cheese after you take it out of the oven. Really. Don’t put it on the raw pizza, it will overcook and get crusty. If you like crunchy brown mozzarella, then go ahead, but trust me, half the joy of a good pizza is the way the cheese melts into soft strings as you pull a slice away.

So: Put your veg, meat or other toppings (pineapple? Anchovies? Sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions?) on the pizza and bake the whole thing in the bottom third of your oven, for about 10 minutes. My oven was slow, so this process was 15 minutes. It needed another minute in the oven after I added shredded mozzarella.

trust me, half the joy of a good pizza is the way the cheese melts into soft strings as you pull a slice away.

Result: Two pizzas. The flour was approximately 50 cents, and the most expensive part of the toppings were the meat slices. We bought an immense brick of cheese that was on sale for $5.00, and we only used a third of it. In all, both pizzas cost about $6.00, and yielded four slices each. That makes it $3.00 per meal since we each ate two slices for dinner, and had the other two for lunch the next day.

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If I were going to make frozen pizza, I would still bake them in the bottom third rack of the oven at 500 Farenheit, but for only 5-7 minutes. Let them cool, then wrap in plastic, or use a re-sealable frozen food bag.Add the cheese and follow the same rules for cooking. The only difference is that with the par-cooked pizzas, you can put those directly on the oven rack as it cooks.

Here are some other recommendations for pizza toppings:

  • Shrimp
  • Caramelized garlic
  • Seared scallops and béchamel sauce
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Red onion rings
  • Green peppers
  • Grilled zucchini
  • Hot peppers
  • Feta cheese
  • Smoked cheese, like Applewoods smoked cheddar, or smoked Gouda
  • Smoked meat (Pastrami, if you’re American)
  • Marinated, grilled tofu

The options are endless.

Roasted Garlic: Vampire Deterrent, Roommate Repellent and Excellent Hors D’Oevre

Sorry about the late blog entry:  It started out about chickpeas, but I had to add a little something about its most vital secret ingredient: roasted garlic. That’s when this post took on a life of its own. Poor garlic – it’s the most shunned foods of all date menus, but you just know that a meal without garlic is somehow missing something.

Garlic: The “stinking rose” of the culinary world

 

The summer before I moved to Toronto, I visited with my friend Arielle, who was rooming in a house not far from the U of T campus.  The evening I came to visit, we decided to cook together, a quick cooking stir-fry that would leave the rest of the evening for the important business of friendship: drinking and giggling.

The recipe called for some paltry amount, I think it was one or maybe even (gasp!) two whole cloves for a meal for two.  We rolled our eyes.  Did the recipe author even like garlic? What’s the point of putting such a small amount in the recipe, we mocked.  “More garlic!” we shrieked – and we tripled the amount of garlic.

In short, that fifteen minute stir fry used up a whole head of garlic, and caused the owners of the house to come down to the kitchen to check if the paint had peeled itself off the walls.  According to Arielle, we were dubbed “The Garlic Girls” by the rest of the house for the duration of her stay.  One roommate joked that Arielle and I would be vampire-free for the next couple of days, and the other roommates just avoided us entirely.

Fresh garlic, or partially cooked/stir fried garlic is always way more potent than cooked garlic, so for those alliumphobics out there, don’t worry. Roasted Garlic – AKA The Best Secret Ingredient Ever –  is actually pretty tame.  However, it is the gateway drug to a full-on addiction to garlic. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The great thing about roasted garlic is that it can be used in almost anything from soups, dips, salads – even just as its own as an hors d’oeuvre, served with fresh bread or crackers.

Roasted Garlic – The Ultimate Secret Ingredient 

Keep this stuff in your fridge for a maximum of two weeks, or else freeze it.  Roasted garlic does pose a risk of producing botulism toxin, so don’t store it in oil, like a fancy-looking salad dressing.  When you’re adding it to your chickpea salad or dip, keep it refrigerated until just before you serve it. If you can’t finish all the roasted garlic, wrap in foil or a BPA-free plastic container, and store it in your freezer.

  • 3 heads of roasted garlic
  • Enough aluminum foil to wrap the heads
  • Olive oil, brushed generously over each head.
  1. First, preheat your oven to 350F.
  2. Remove one layer of loose papery skin from the head; you don’t want to peel it completely, just get the extra stuff out of the way.
  3. Turn that garlic on its side, and cut off the pointier, stem end of the garlic head.  This will help get the olive oil in between the cloves and help caramelize the cloves as they roast. The flat bottomed, often woody base will hold all the cloves together as it bakes, so don’t cut off that portion.
  4. Set the head down on a cookie sheet with a length of aluminum foil, and brush it generously with oil.
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Photo by “Darnok” of Morguefile.com

 

The cut side should look like the photo above; just put the cut side up, and leave approximately one or two inches of space between each head of garlic.  Loosely fold up the ends of the foil, keeping a few inches of space . You want the garlic heads steamed in their own juices, so leave a little room for air to move around inside that foil package.

Bake in the oven for an hour, take it out of the oven and let it cool, if you’re going to use it in a dip or as a condiment.  If it’s still warm, it’s amazing on fresh bread, and makes an amazing appetizer. Make sure your date and/or table mates get in on that roasted garlic action, too: Garlic breath is un-noticed when shared.

Cost Breakdown:

  • 5 heads for $1, so three heads only cost less than .20.  Because my math skills are poor, let’s round it up to 20 cents per head of garlic, or say it’s a full buck if you’ve decided to save time in your near future and have roasted garlic on hand like the fancy pants foodies out there always seem to have at the ready.
  • 3 tablespoons of Olive oil – if you’re fancy:  Longos Novello Extra Virgin Olive Oil at $14.99 for 500ml, or if you’re me:  The No Frills 3 litre metal jug bought on sale for $17.

The Final Product, Tallied and Compared:  

Fancy Pants EVOO* (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) Version:$2.33, net

$1.33 for 3 tablespoons + $1 for five heads of garlic = $2.33 total.(Note that I didn’t calculate the cost of aluminum foil here.  How do I know you’re not an Extreme Hoarder who saves every scrap of used foil, and re-uses toothpaste?) Still, it’s more affordable than going to that restaurant with the unpronounceable name and a year-long reservation waiting list.

Cheap-Ass Real Life Version: $1.83, net.  My hubby the math whiz, tallied it this way: 3 tablespoons of the No Frills olive comes to 0.83 cents total for all three tablespoons.  So, not counting the cost of electricity to use your toaster oven for an hour during off-peak hours, added to the cost of the buck’s worth of garlic, this is the cheapest you’d get for roasted garlic.

Store Bought Version:  $8 for a single head of roasted garlic from a restaurant in downtown Toronto that I’m not allowed to name. (You’re paying for the chef’s time, skill and the venue’s hydro bill, presumably.)

* EVOO sounds like a cow affecting a posh accent to impress lesser bovines.  “Darling, ‘moo’ is so passé.  Any cow who is anyone is lowing ‘evooooo!’ now.”

Forty Cent Muffins That Taste Like A Million Bucks

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Chocolate-chip, dried cherry muffins.

 

Muffins – quick to make, easy to pack or eat on the go; What’s not to love? Maybe the fact that they’re the biggest cash grab for fast food chains, cafés and groceries. If you buy them in bulk, sure, you may save more money than picking up a fresh one every morning at the local coffee stand. Even if they’re stored in the freezer to prevent staleness, you’re likely still stuck with one batch of a dozen-plus muffins in the same flavour.

What if I told you there’s a way to save money, make it healthy(ish) and not suffer from Flavour Boredom?

Here’s the punchline: They’re cheaper than store-bought muffins, too! Here’s the breakdown:

At date of publication, the cost of a dozen muffins from Metro comes to: $4.99 for a package of six muffins. That’s $10 for a full dozen, and they contain preservatives, additives and some ingredients that may just not be the freshest. Depending on the size of your bulk ingredients purchase, you can make each muffin for as low as 40 cents each, if not less.

Think about it: A ten kilogram bag costs anywhere from $8 to $12 dollars, and if you’re using simple syrup instead of maple syrup, you reduce the cost further.  It only gets expensive once you’ll start adding posh ingredients (and if you’re buying in bulk, you might not even get too shocking a price.)

I promise you that it takes fifteen minutes to assemble, and cooking time is only 20 minutes on my slow oven.

Fast preparation, no appliances and the closest thing to high technology in this recipe may be the Silpat muffin molds.

(If you don’t have a silicon muffin mold, this still works for people using paper cupcake/muffin liners and metal pans.)

  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Maple syrup, table syrup* or simple syrup
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (or canola oil, or grape seed oil. Basically, any oil except olive oil or diesel fuel will do.)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • Dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts.

First, turn your oven on to 350F if you’re using Silpat/silicone muffin molds. If not, set the oven to 375 for metal pans, but line them with paper cups, first. You’ll want the oven good and hot while mixing the batter. Pour the flour in to a large bowl, and add your baking soda and baking powder. Feeling fancy? Grate some lemon or orange zest into it, but if you don’t have any, don’t worry about it. Stir it all up.

If you have a large measuring cup, pour your water, vanilla, vegetable oil and syrup all in to it. If you don’t have maple syrup, and making simple syrup sounds like wasting time you don’t have, go with table syrup. Pour it all in to the dry mixture and stir. It may seem runny at first, but it thickens with time. Here’s the trick to making really moist whole wheat muffins: Let the batter sit for at least 10 minutes. (If you’re pressed for time, don’t panic. They’ll still turn out fine.)

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Plain whole wheat muffin on the left, and chocolate chip muffin on the right. Other flavours in the cups included dried cherry, cherry-chocolate and blueberry.

 

Here’s where the fun begins. Fill your muffin cups halfway with batter. Then, add a tablespoon of whatever filling you like. You want blueberry muffins? Dump in enough berries to make the batter rise to the 2/3 full mark. (They need room to rise without overflowing.)

Here are some great flavour combos:

  • Chocolate chips and dried cherries
  • Dried cranberries and candied lemon peel
  • Walnuts and dried apricots
  • Blueberries and sliced blanched almonds (who keeps that in their cupboards?)
  • Sliced up fruit or leftover fruit cocktail.

Make two or three cups the same flavour, that way throughout the week, you’ll be guaranteed a change in muffin. If you really don’t have time for diddling around with all the varieties, stirring them individually in to cups, I don’t blame you. Just dump it all into your bowl and stir with your spoon until it’s all incorporated. Use a ladle, and pour your mix into the muffin tins.

Bake it all for 20 minutes but check on them; if they don’t bounce when tapped lightly then put them in the oven for another few minutes.

*Personally, I try to stay away from HGFCS (High Glucose-Fructose Corn Syrup) for numerous reasons, but if you want to try it on this recipe, go ahead, and post your results. We’re aiming for a low-cost and portable breakfast, so if a bottle of pancake syrup works, go for it.

Simple, Simple Syrup

Ever come across a recipe that calls for simple syrup or bar syrup? Some cakes use it as a glaze to seal in the cake and prevent the icing from softening the pastry. Cocktails often use simple syrup as a sweetener and/or filler.

Frankly, when it comes to Happy Hour, momma doesn’t have time for that.  Let’s get to Happy Hour, and under five minutes, please.

My cocktails have two qualities: Little to no fillers and they must take less time to assemble than to drink.

Every now and then, I’ll come across a posh looking cocktail and think to myself, “now, wouldn’t Slava and I look great drinking this?”  (Okay, so my cocktails have a third quality: They make great colour-coordinated accessories.) Like I said, I don’t have either the patience nor the time for fiddling.  Let’s make Happy Hour last longer than an hour, and I’m not referring to the aftermath of dishes.

Without further ado, here’s the fastest, easiest recipe for Simple Syrup:  Equal parts granulated sugar and water.

That’s it.

Well, we’ve all seen blogs that feature a vintage, blown glass bottle stoppered with an antique cork to store your syrup…but this isn’t that blog.

Here’s the breakdown:

That’s all there is to it, folks. 1/2 cup warm water, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.

 

  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar (the stuff health nuts beat you over the head with a rolled up newspaper, should you publicly confess to buying or -gasp- eating.)
  1. Pour the water into a mason jar.  They have tight fitting lids, and fit easily into the door of most refrigerators.
  2. Add the water and stir.  If you’re super lazy, and don’t want to bother with rinsing the spoon, just put the lid on the jar and shake. Just stir until you can’t see individual gritty grains at the bottom.
  3. Put it in the fridge, and affect a smarmy tone about how you “never buy store bought bar supplies,” or how you’re “always prepared for cocktail emergencies.”

In a pinch, you can heat it until it turns golden and pour it over pancakes.

Once the syrup looks clear and doesn’t have cloudy sediment on the bottom, you’ve successfully made your simple syrup.