Apple Cinnamon Swirl Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Apple Cinnamon Swirl Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Although I was really enjoying slices of the cinnamon swirl bread done up like cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting for breakfasts this week, I could not help but think about using some of the bread for something else. Naturally I thought about using it to make a sandwich and of course the first sandwich that came to mind was one of my favourite types of sandwiches, the grilled cheese sandwich. While I was thinking about how to do a grilled cheese sandwich with bread with a sweet swirl of cinnamon in it I kept thinking about apple pie for some reason. Apple and cheddar are a great flavour combination that I use rather frequently and I figured that a cinnamon swirl grilled cheese sandwich would be just about perfect!

I could have gone two ways with this apple and cinnamon grilled cheese sandwich, I could have gone with straight apple slices or I could have caramelized them first and this time I decided to go with just the slices of apples so that I would be able to enjoy their fresh, juicy crispness. The apple cinnamon swirl grilled cheese sandwich turned out really well! The apple and cheddar combination was once again a winner and the crisp, buttery bread with hints of sweet cinnamon worked really well with it! Now I am torn between cinnamon swirl bread 'buns' and grilled cheese sandwiches for the rest of the loaf!

Pizza Dip

Pizza Dip

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Over the last while I have slowly been trying to free up some space in my freezer and I recently came across some pizza sauce that I had left over after making a pizza a while back. As soon as I stumbled upon it I remembered thinking that I had wanted to use it to make a hot cheesy pizza dip when I put it in the freezer. Once I had that thought there was no turning back and I was already dreaming up recipes for the dip.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I am a huge fan of cinnamon! A long time ago now I made a cinnamon quick bread and I while I was enjoying it I remember thinking that I wanted to try a yeast bread version. Before I got a chance to try it, things came up, I got distracted and I forgot... and here we are 3 years later and I finally remembered! Being unable to resist the calls of thick swirls of sugary cinnamon in a light and fluffy bread I had to make it right away!

After searching for recipes for a while I decided to go with this recipe for a cinnamon swirl bread from The Pioneer Woman . This recipe starts off as a pretty standard white bread recipe with a bit of extra sugar and then you add the swirls of cinnamon. Adding the cinnamon swirls is pretty easy with you simply rolling the dough out, sprinkling on the cinnamon and then rolling it up to form a log. The hardest part about this recipe is all all of the waiting, especially when the bread is in the oven filling your place with the those amazing fresh baked bread aromas.

Porchetta Sandwich with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Asiago Cheese and Arugula

Porchetta Sandwich with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Asiago Cheese and Arugula

I was just about done with my porchetta roast but I made sure to save some to try one last sandwich, inspired be a readers comment describing a porchetta sandwich with caramelized onions and arugula. After a quick search of the web I found a few variations of sandwiches with those ingredients and after picking and choosing ingredients I ended up with one that sounded excellent. This sandwich combines the moist and juicy porchetta with the sweet and tangy balsamic onion marmalade that I had just made with tasty melted asiago cheese, peppery arugula and hit of grainy mustard. Although the previous sandwiches had been beautiful in their simplicity, this sandwich was definitely a winner with its more complex flavour combinations that were definitely amazing. What a great way to finish off the last of the porchetta!

Onion Marmalade

Onion Marmalade

I recently came across the concept of onion marmalade and I was immediately intrigued. Images of sweet and chunky preserved caramelized onions were dancing through my head and I could not resist. I am rather taken with caramelized onions, except that because of how long they take to properly caramelize I do not make them as often as I might like but the idea of sweet balsamic caramelized onions was all the push that I needed. This recipe is pretty simple and you just need to caramelize the onions, add some balsamic vinegar along with sugar, thyme salt and pepper and you are done.

When I first started caramelizing onions it took me about 3 hours to do it properly but now I am down to about an hour. I start by cooking the onions at medium heat until they are tender and then I reduce the heat a bit, add water, cover and cook until they are golden brown stirring every once in a while. Given that in caramelizing the onions you are trying to remove their moisture, adding water may seem a bit counter intuitive but it increases the total surface area of the onions that is being expose to the heat allowing them to cook faster. Normally only the small amount of surface area that is directly in contact with the pan is exposed to the heat but if you add water, the water will heat up to the same temperature as the bottom of the pan and it will get into every nook and cranny of the onions exposing them to the heat. Once you get to the add water, cover and cook phase it is pretty hands off so you can go on and do other things as long as you remember to come back and stir every one in a while so that hour is not as bad as it may seem.

The onion marmalade, or balsamic caramelized onions, turned out to be just as good as they promised to be! The tangy and fruity balsamic vinegar went really well with the sweet caramelized onions and the touch of thyme added a great flavour and definitely planted the marmalade more in the savoury category than the sweet for me. Now that I have my onion marmalade I can't wait to use it in something.

Porchetta Chowder

Porchetta Chowder

No matter how much you enjoy them, there are only so many porchetta sandwiches that you can have in a row before you start wanting something a little different. I still had a large chunk of my porchetta and I was thinking that a creamy porchetta chowder would do the trick. I started out by building up the flavour base with some double smoked bacon and then I moved on to the standard aromatic vegetables including onions, celery and carrots, though for this chowder I left out the carrots as I felt that the orange colour would be a bit bright in the chowder. I wanted the chowder to be creamy without having to rely completely on cream so I went with some simple tricks to add creaminess including pureeing half of the cannellini beans that I was adding and grating a baking potato. (Pureed beans are a great way to add creaminess to any soup and baking potatoes tend to fall apart when boiled for long periods of time so if you help them along by grating them first they will disintegrate quickly and make any soup creamier.) I still wanted to have big chunks of potato in my chowder so I also diced a stewing potato and threw it in along with the porchetta and some herbs and spices.

The porchetta chowder turned out amazingly well! It was certainly decadently creamy and with the large pieces of succulent porchetta every bite was pure indulgence. The chowder was nice tasty and I really enjoyed the combination of textures. I served the porchetta chowder with some braised rapini and cheesy garlic bread .

Braised Rapini

Braised Rapini (Broccoli Rabe)

I recently been thinking that it has been a while since I last talked about a side dish and since I have been enjoying the braised rapini so much lately, I figured that it was a great tie to bring it up. Rapini, also known as broccoli rabe, is a green vegetable that has buds that look similar to broccoli florets which are surrounded by leafy greens. It has a nutty or earthy flavour and it can be a bit on the bitter side, which is probably why I like it so much. Braising rapini has to be one of my favourite ways of cooking it and it is so quick and easy to do. You simply boil it in water until the thick parts of the stalks are tender and then give it a cold water bath to stop the cooking process so that it retains its bright green colour. Next you saute some garlic and red pepper flakes in oil so that the oil takes on the garlicky flavour and the peppers heat and then you toss the braised rapini in the garlic and red pepper flake oil to coat, thus adding a bit of flavour.

Porchetta Sandwiches

Porchetta Sandwich with Braised Rapini

Now that I had my porchetta , an Italian style slow roasted pork, it was time to start enjoying the leftovers! Given that my introduction to porchetta was by way of sandwich, I moved right on to the sandwiches and it is a good thing that the roast was so large as I have been enjoying different variations of porchetta sandwiches all week. I started out with simple version consisting of the oh so moist and tender porchetta in a soft and crusty bun along with a dollop of grainy mustard and a side of braised rapini, or broccoli rabe.

Porchetta

Porchetta

Although I do not eat out all that often, I like to keep an eye on the restaurant scene here in Toronto and a new comer, Porchetta & Co recently caught my attention. Not surprisingly they specialize in porchetta and with all of the rave reviews they were getting I had to pay them a visit and try out their porchetta sandwich. Porchetta is an Italian style of roast pork that is seasoned with spices and slowly roasted until tender. Fattier cuts of pork are often used for porchetta and it is common to wrap everything up in a pork belly. All of this fat does two things for the roast, the first being that it keeps the roast nice and moist even through all of the roasting and it adds a ton of flavour. The final component of the porchetta is that the outer part of the pork belly gets nice and crispy and it is referred to as the crackling. Porchetta & Co definitely have their porchetta down and the sandwich was amazing! This of course inspired me to try making porchetta at home.

Luckily Porchetta & Co describe their porchetta pretty well so all that was required was coming up with the amounts in the recipe and getting to roasting. Well, before we get to roasting we actually want to marinate the pork shoulder and apply a dry rub to the pork belly and let to develop their flavours for at least 24 hours. Once the pork has had a chance build up some flavour the roast is assembled and thrown into the oven, first at a high temperature to get the outside nice and crispy and then low and slow until the roast is fully cooked. This was actually my first time working with a pork belly and I have to say that I am quite pleased with the results. The porchetta certainly did come out nice and moist and tender and full of flavour. I served the porchetta with a dollop of grainy mustard and a side of braised rapini or broccoli rabe. Now I am definitely looking forward to some porchetta sandwiches and enjoying the leftovers in other ways!

Corned Beef, Cabbage and Kimchi Burrito

Corned Beef, Cabbage and Kimchi Burrito

At some point while planning my St. Patrick's Day meal I came to realize that St. Patrick's Day was on a weekday and a particularly busy one at that! I had to change my plans and I decided to go with my all time favourite St. Patrick's Day meal, the apricot glazed corned beef with sauteed cabbage and colcannon which in addition to being amazingly tasty it is also easy to make since it is a one pot slow cooker recipe. The slow cooker made it perfect for a weekday as you just load it up in the morning, turn it on and it is ready when you get home from work. I ended up making my corned beef dinner a little before St. Patrick's Day which meant that I got to what I was really after all along, the leftovers, a little earlier!

First up on my list of things to try with the leftover corned beef was this corned beef, cabbage and kimchi burrito ispired by Kogi's stinky leprechaun burrito. In addition to the corned beef, this burrito includes cabbage sauteed with bacon , kimchi , which is a spicy fermented cabbage, onion and cilantro relish , melted cheese and some avocado salsa verde (because it's green and it's St. Patrick's Day). I have to say that this is one fantastic combination of flavours and textures! The slow cooked juicy and tender corned beef works really well in this spicy burrito covered in gooey melted cheese. The kimchi and salsa verde add just the right amount of heat and the sweet and juicy onions help clean the palate leaving you ready for more. I practically inhaled this burrito and now I want another one but it's time for a slice of Guinness chocolate cheesecake .

More experiments with corned beef leftovers coming. While supplies last.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Crispy Beer Battered Fish Sandwich

Crispy Beer Battered Fish

Over the last few days as I have been contemplating my St. Patrick's Day dishes, but I could not get the thought of fish and chips out of my head. After a while I decided that the easiest way to get past the road block was to simply give in and make some fish and chips. I do not make fish and chips all that often so when I do I like to indulge a bit and I go with cod for the fish. Cod is my favourite fish for fish and chips as it has an amazing texture after frying that just goes perfectly with the crispy coating. Speaking of the batter, with all of the thoughts of St Patrick's day I could hardly not go with a beer batter and a Guinness beer batter at that!

Guinness Chocolate Cheesecake

Guinness Chocolate Cheesecake

St. Patrick's day is coming up and this weekend I started working on my meal plan. Normally I do not start with the dessert but when I came across this recipe for a Guinness chocolate cheesecake I knew that I would be making it immediately. Last year I made a Guinness chocolate cake and I discovered that the combination of Guinness and chocolate is a wonderful one and I could not resist using it in one of my favourite treats, a cheesecake!

Chipotle Butternut Squash and Black Bean Burrito Bowl

Chipotle Butternut Squash and Black Bean Burrito Bowl

I enjoyed the chipotle butternut squash so much that I just had to make it again! This time I turned it into a main from side dish by making it in the form of a burrito bowl where a burrito bowl is essentially a burrito served in a bowl rather than in a tortilla. I constructed this chipotle butternut squash burrito bowl with cilantro lime rice , seasoned black beans , pico de gallo , avocado, cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Overall this is one nice and simple meal that is full of flavour and even on the healthier side made more so by the use of brown rice in the cilantro lime rice .

One of the things that I like about burrito bowls is that you can do pretty much whatever you want with them. They are a great way to use up some of those Mexican leftovers and they are definitely worth making extras to ensure that you have leftovers. You can make them as simple or as complex as you like. If you want things to be easier just go with rice and black beans instead of the cilantro lime rice and seasoned black beans and use a jar of your favourite salsa instead of the pico de gallo . If you want to put some more effort into it make some guacamole instead of just using diced avocado. No matter how you do it, these chipotle butternut squash and black bean burrito bowls will be a hit!

Chipotle Butternut Squash

Chipotle Butternut Squash

Every time that I opened my fridge over the last few day I was greeted by the lonely face of a half a butternut squash that just seemed to cry; Why won't you finish me? Eventually I had had enough and it was time to do something about it! Luckily that night I was having a Texmex themed meal that needed a side dish and I knew just how I could work the butternut squash in. I was thinking that the sweet butternut squash would go well tossed with some spicy and smoky chipotles in adobo sauce. I had also recently been remembering a dish where cubed potatoes are fried along with onions until the potatoes are crispy and the onions are caramelized and I figured that that would also work well for this dish. I kept the recipe pretty simple, though I did add some cumin for flavour and some tomato sauce to help balance out the chipotles. The chipotle butternut squash was definitely a success and the combination of sweet and spicy with the hints of smoke was wonderful. The butternut squash certainly did not get all crispy like the potatoes in the other dish but I particularly liked how some of the sides of the butternut squash started to caramelize. I will definitely be making this again!

Note: This recipe would also work well with sweet potatoes.

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Fritters

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Fritters with Balsamic Vinaigrette

The other day I came across my stash of roasted red peppers in the freezer again and since then I could not get them off of my mind; I just had to pull some of them out and do something with them! When red peppers are roasted they become nice and sweet and one of my favourite things to pair them with is a salty feta which helps to balance out their sweetness. I already had an idea on how I wanted to use that roasted red pepper and feta combo and that was in the form of some crispy fried fritters.

At their base fritters consist of some kind of body, in this case the roasted red peppers and feta, an egg and some flour or bread crumbs to hold everything together. From there you can mix in any other flavours that you want and I went with some oregano and a splash of balsamic vinegar as they also both go well with roasted red peppers. The fritters are then finished off by spooning the batter into a pan to fry in oil until golden brown and crispy on both sides. This is certainly another winning way to enjoy that roasted red pepper and feta flavour combination! In fact they are so addictive that I have already made them a few times! Although they are great just the way they are, they are even better with a balsamic vinaigrette for dipping or drizzled with a balsamic syrup.

Shrimp Gumbo

Shrimp and Okra Gumbo

I have been wanting to try making a gumbo for a while now and with Mardi Gras here I figured it was the perfect time to make one. Gumbo is a stew that is made with a strong stock that is thickened, the "holy trinity" of vegetables; onion, celery and green pepper and some kind of meat. I was dead set on going for shrimp for the meat and since I had never tried okra before I had to go with that as well. The thickener in gumbo is usually one or more, of okra, filé powder or a roux which is made by cooking flour in a fat. Since I was not too sure on exactly how thick the okra would make things by itself, I went with the roux as well. The fat in the roux is usually oil or butter but you can also go with lard or bacon grease to add even more flavour. The trick with the roux is to get it nice and dark brown without burning it since all of that browning is just adding more flavour.

Since gumbo is described as starting with a strong stock, I had to go with making one myself and given that I was using shrimp in the gumbo I went with a homemade shrimp stock . I made the shrimp stock the day before to save time on the day that I made the gumbo.

Although this recipe is rather long and it takes a while to make, especially if you also make your own stock, it is not all that difficult and the final results are definitely worth the effort! One important point about this recipe is that the shrimp are not added until the very end to ensure that they are not overcooked and that they remain nice and plump and juicy and good. I served the shrimp and okra gumbo topped with rice and garnished with green onions. I am definitely looking forward to experimenting with more gumbo recipes in the future!

Shrimp Stock

Shrimp Stock

Ever since I discovered how easy it is to make your own stocks at home, I have been hooked! In addition to being easy to make, the homemade versions pack in more flavour than the store bought ones and better yet, you control exactly what goes into them. Although I tend to make chicken stock the most frequently, I also enjoy making shrimp stock for use in shrimp based soups and all that is really required is that you save the shells and heads until you have enough to make some stock. The shells and heads will store well in the freezer until you have enough of them so it only really costs you a bit of freezer space.

One of the nice things about stock recipes is that you can play around with them and if you know what you are going to be using the stock in ahead of time you can tailor the recipe to suit. This is a pretty standard version of the recipe where I start with the classics of onion, celery, carrots, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Since the dish that I was planning to use the shrimp stock in contained thyme, I threw some into the stock as well. Stocks generally need a lot of simmering time to draw out all of the flavours and although shrimp stock does not absolutely require as much time, I like to simmer it for a while to let the stock reduce a bit and concentrate those flavours. Once the stock is made it will keep for a few days in the fridge so you can make it ahead of time or you can store it in the freezer for longer periods of time.

Creole Split Pea Soup

Creole Split Pea Soup

I recently made Cajun red beans and rice and it was the first time that I had had andouille sausage and I was quite taken by it and anxious to use it again. Given the chilly weather I was thinking that a soup would be just the ticket and I since I had also been contemplating doing a split pea soup, I decided that I would combine the two and do a Creole style split pea soup with andouille sausage. Split pea soup has to be one of my favourite winter soups and I really like the way the split peas break down and naturally thicken the soup and make it nice and creamy. Given that it takes a few hours for the peas to fully cook, you have a good long simmer on your hands which is just perfect for adding a smoky ham hock to imbue the soup with a ton of flavour.

For this soup I started with a base of onions, celery, green pepper, garlic and homemade chicken stock . To that I added some Creole style seasonings including paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano and thyme in addition to the andouille sausage. With that, all that was left was to sit back and let the soup simmer to perfection. I have to say that this is one tasty soup and all of the flavours work really well together! As tasty as this soup was on day one, this is one of those soups that only gets better with time so I am looking forward to enjoying the leftovers for lunches this week! This is the second dish that I have tried with andouille sausage and I was instantly hooked to both of them. I am looking forward to working with andouille sausage again.

Buck Rarebit (Welsh Rarebit with Spinach and a Poached Egg)

Buck Rarebit (Welsh Rarebit with Spinach and a Poached Egg)

As good as the Welsh rarebit on (Grimbergen Dubbel) beer bread was, I knew that I could make it even better and I had a pretty good idea on how. The tasty cheese sauce kind of reminded me of a hollandaise sauce and a hollandaise sauce goes perfectly with a poached egg. As it turns out, Welsh rarebit topped with a poached egg has already been done and it even has a name, buck rarebit. I particularly enjoy serving asparagus with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce but since it is not in season I figured that some steamed spinach would go well and add a bit of green and some healthy goodness.

Welsh Rarebit

Welsh Rarebit

The flavours in my beer bread caramelized onion grilled cheese sandwich reminded me a lot of the flavours in Welsh rarebit. Welsh rarebit is a melted cheddar cheese sauce that commonly contains ale, Worcestershire sauce and mustard and it is served warm over toast. After thinking about Welsh rarebit, I just had to make some using the beer bread for even more beer flavour! I have tried a few recipes and so far this modification of Alton Brown's Welsh rarebit recipe is my favourite. It starts out by making a simple roux with butter and flour and then Worcestershire sauce and mustard are added for the flavours. The roux is then turned into a bechamel sauce by mixing in ale and cream instead of milk and finally the cheddar cheese is melted in. The cheese sauce is then poured over the toast and it can be served just like that but I prefer to take one extra step and broil it until the cheese sauce gets all bubbly and golden brown.

Beer Bread Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Beer Bread Caramelized Onion Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Nothing beats a simple melted butter topping for that first slice of bread when it is fresh from the oven! After that fresh bread euphoria wears off though, it is time to get down to using the bread a little more creatively and I already had a few ideas for my load of (Grimbergen Dubbel) beer bread . I had come across the idea of a beer bread caramelized onion grilled cheese sandwich on Honest Fare a while ago and I immediately knew that it would be a winner. You really can't go wrong with combining sweet, slowly caramelized onions with melted cheese and wrapping it all up in light, crispy and buttery bread. If that bread just happens to be a beer bread then that grilled cheese sandwich is just over the top good! This sandwiches flavours are rounded off with a hit of Worcestershire sauce that is added to the onions and some mustard for a bit of tang. I did change one thing and that was to use a yeast based beer bread rather than a quick bread as I figured that it would hold together better when used in a sandwich. All of the flavours in this sandwich certainly work well together and the final result is one tasty sandwich! My dilemma now is, do I enjoy a few more of these sandwiches or try some new ones?

Beer Bread

Beer Bread

Last week I got the chance to talk to some of the Fathers of Grimbergen Abbey from Belgium who were in here in Toronto for the launch of Grimbergen Dubbel in Canada. I learned a bit about their over 800 years of history including about the destruction of their Abbey no less than three times. Of course I also got the chance to sample some of their double fermented abbey beer and I particularly liked the undertones of caramel in it.

After an evening of talking about beer, I realized that it had been a while since I last did a recipe with beer in it and by the time that I got home I knew that I would have to try a Grimbergen Dubbel beer bread. When you think about beer breads you normally think about quick breads but I had already had a few ideas for beer bread sandwiches and quick breads do not hold together well enough for sandwiches. I figured that I would need to do a yeast based beer bread and after contemplating different recipes for a while, I decided to go with the recipe that I am most familiar with, a French bread recipe , and I simply replaced the water with beer. I also used some whole wheat flour which I though would go well with the rich flavoured beer.

Although this recipe is fairly easy, it does require a few minutes of kneading and a bunch of time to let it rise twice and then some more time to bake it and let it cool. Even with the effort required, you will instantly know that it was worth it the second those amazing aromas of fresh baked bread start coming from the oven and the addition of beer only makes it better! With the whole wheat flour, this bread is a little heavier than a white bread but it is still pretty light. This bread also has a fantastic, perfectly crisp crust that protects the moist and tender insides. The flavours and aromas of the beer in the finished product is subtle but definitely apparent. Now that I have my loaf of beer bread, I am looking forward to trying it out!

(This bread would also work well with an Irish beer for St Patrick's day coming later this month.)