- Try something new. Whether it is a new recipe (I know of a really great new cookbook to try!) or a new piece of cookware or tool you got for Christmas, make a conscious effort to try something new at least once a week. Not only will you be keeping things new and fresh in the kitchen but I can guarantee, if you are continually experimenting with new recipes and tools, you will become a much better cook.
- Go exotic. This goes hand in hand with the point above. Step out of your kitchen and taste comfort zones and try new flavours and techniques. If you’ve never made your own Thai, or Indian food for example, find a recipe and give it a try. It can be fun and rewarding to search out and use ingredients that are new and uncommon to you. Not only will you build your recipe repertoire but you will also learn about other cultural cuisines. I’ve included one of my favourite Thai recipes to set you up for success.
- Cook with the family. It is undeniable that a family that cooks together creates a special bond and is much more likely to be close and cohesive. If you are the type of cook who likes to rule over your kitchen alone, I urge you to open it up; let your firehouse crew in to help, cook side by side with your spouse and/or kids, and make the kitchen a communal happy place! You might have to be prepared to let go of all the control, embrace all skill and knowledge levels, and, remember, there’s a job for everyone. For the kiddos, clear a space and accept the mess, and, most importantly, enjoy the process of creating a meal together, not just the final dish.
- Reduce food waste and use up your pantry. We can all do our small parts to reduce our environmental footprint: it can be as simple as eating seasonal when buying fresh ingredients, and sometimes, when we think there is nothing in our refrigerators with which to make a meal, we just need to think outside of the box. Use every part of a vegetable; repurpose leftovers into something new and great; properly store or freeze foods to extend their life for another day; and, simply, buy just enough. I think keeping a well-stocked pantry is key to achieving all of the above; having staples on hand that have a long shelf life will always give you a starting block from which you can add fresh ingredients to build a great meal.
- Try vegetarian. OK, I know the firehouse is very much a carnivore club, but sneaking in a vegetarian meal once in a while will benefit everyone. Healthier and more budget friendly, eating vegetarian is like trying a new cuisine, so don’t be scared off before giving it a try. We have incorporated vegetarian recipes into our ever-revolving menus at my firehouse, and my wife and I eat a pescatarian diet at home (fish but no meat). The benefits this dietary choice has had on my overall health and the family budget has been immense; I’ve lost 50 pounds since I started eating this way six years ago! So, this idea is like two resolutions in one. Vegetarian doesn’t mean tofu and celery sticks; I’ve included a bold-flavoured winter favourite recipe to help get you started.
- Put down that take-out menu. We all love to take a little break from cooking once in a while, but really, nothing beats homemade. Try building your own pizzas (I’ve included a recipe for you), try a copycat recipe of your favourite restaurant’s dish, and we have already agreed that we are going to try making our own Thai or other exotic cuisines, so our bases our covered. Save money and eat healthier – who doesn’t love that for a New Year’s resolution?
- Pumpkin and red lentil curry with panner Pumpkin and red lentil curry with panner
- Tom kha soup Tom kha soup
- Pancetta and rosemary Yukon Gold flatbread Pancetta and rosemary Yukon Gold flatbread
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Tom kha soup
- 1 lemongrass stalk
- 6 cups good-quality chicken stock
- 1-2 chicken breasts, sliced, or 1-2 cups roasted chicken
- 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 4 kaffir limes leaves (fresh or frozen) or 1 lime zested and juiced
- 1-3 fresh red chilies, minced
- 1 thumb-size piece galangal or ginger, grated
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 1 14-oz can good-quality coconut milk
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- *Optional: other vegetables, such as sliced bell pepper or cherry tomatoes work great
- Handful fresh cilantro leaves
- Handful fresh basil leaves
- 3 spring (green) onions, sliced
- Slice and mince the lower portion of the lemongrass stalk. Retain the upper stalk for the soup pot.
- Place chicken stock in large soup pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and add fresh chicken (or leftover chicken or turkey) and mushrooms. Also add the prepared lemongrass (including upper stalk pieces), plus kaffir lime leaves and fresh chili. Simmer gently for five to eight minutes, or until chicken is cooked.
- Add the galangal or ginger, garlic, coconut milk, the fish sauce, sugar and extra vegetables (if using). Stir well and simmer gently two minutes.
- Reduce heat to minimum and add lime juice and stir.
- Do a taste test, looking for a balance of spicy, sour, salty, and sweet flavors. Start with salty, adding more fish sauce if not salty enough. If too sour, add sugar. If too spicy, add coconut milk. If not spicy enough, add chili.
- Ladle soup into serving bowls. Sprinkle with cilantro, basil, and spring onion over each bowl.
Pumpkin and red lentil curry with panner
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped
- 1 lemongrass stalk, chopped
- 1 chilli, Thai bird or small jalapeno
- ½ cup ghee, melted (clarified butter, available in most grocery stores)
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tblsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp curry leaves, fresh or dried
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups pureed pumpkin
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 250g fresh paneer cheese, cubed
- 2 cups baby spinach
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Small bunch of fresh cilantro
- Roti or cooked basmati rice, for serving
- Place garlic, ginger, lemongrass, the chilli and a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and pound to form a paste. Or or finely chop ingredients with a knife.
- Heat 1/4 cup of the ghee in a large braising-type pan to medium heat, add onions and the paste; cook for 10 minutes or until onions are golden brown.
- Add the dried spices, curry leaves and salt to the onion mixture; stir until fragrant.
- Stir in pumpkin and lentils until well coated with the spice mixture. Add canned tomatoes and stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes until the lentils are tender. Check the curry regularly to make sure it’s not drying out; add extra stock or water if needed.
- While the curry is cooking cut the paneer into bite-sized cubes. Heat remaining ghee in large fry pan to medium heat and fry the paneer in batches until golden on each side. Place on paper towel to drain.
- Once the lentils are tender, stir in spinach leaves, cooked paneer, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with Roti or basmati rice.
Pancetta and rosemary Yukon Gold flatbread
- 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, left unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
- 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Smoked sea salt
- 6 oz. thickly sliced pancetta, diced
- 1/4 cup uncooked cornmeal
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ball (8 oz.) prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup roasted garlic paste
- 1-1/2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
- 1/4 cup Niçoise olives, drained and pitted
- Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Brush the sliced potatoes with two tablespoons of the oil and season with smoked sea salt. Place on a parchment lined baking tray in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes turning them once. Reserve for topping.
- Meanwhile, heat a heavy sauté pan over medium-high. Fry the pancetta, stirring, until crisp. Reserve for topping.
- Sprinkle your work surface with the cornmeal. Place the dough in the middle of the surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, stretch it out with your hands, or press it out from the center against the work surface to form a 12-inch piece of dough, preferably rectangular and about 1/4 -inch thick. Brush both sides generously with the remaining olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes, just until the dough starts to turn golden brown. Remove from oven.
- Spread the entire surface with the garlic paste and sprinkle with half the cheese. Cover with the potato slices, placing them edge to edge. Sprinkle with the pancetta and the remaining cheese. Artfully arrange the olives and rosemary over the top. Finish baking the flatbread for another 10 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and season with salt and pepper. Slice and serve immediately. Enjoy with an ice-cold beer!