Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Last Post of 2011 - Pozole Verde

We had a great trip to Mexico ( I HATE the term Mayan Riveria but that is where we were) but because it seems that everyone needed more rest than usual, we didn't leave the resort all that much - so unlike us. We usually jump in the jeep every morning after breakfast and go do stuff and that also means we look for great stuff to eat while we are out and about. Breakfast is always good at these resorts because you can load up on a huge plate of tropical fruits like papaya and mango, have some yogurt with granola, a nice cappuccino, maybe a pastry and be on your way. This time, because we hung out on the beach and read and swam and only really went on on big outing to Coba to climb the ruins, we came home tanned and happy but feeling very unsatisfied in the eating department. Even the resorts with the best food get kind of boring and repetitive after a few days if you stay on site and eat all of your meals there. This means I have lots of things I have to make to make us all happy and the first thing I chose to make is Pozole Verde. I love to make chili verde with pork and was going to just do that but I have never made pozole so I thought it the perfect dish to ring out my year of making new things.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Still No Cooking - Urge Taquitos in Tulum

This should have been my Monday post but I had to turn around and go back out of town as soon as we got home to visit with my sister and her family, so better late than never, right?

I kind of feel terrible that after all of the hard work , I am ending my official year of no reEATS with nothing to share. We got back from our holiday in Mexico at about 3am Xmas morning and we had Xmas dinner with my father in law and his family and it was lovely but I didn't cook anything at all. Now, it's boxing day and we are on our way to visit my sister and so, clearly I have nothing to share again. I promise that even if I have nothing for Thursday that I will share one last dinner before NYE. As I wrote earlier, Dianne and I are going to continue on with the blog but only devote one day a week to making something brand new so the content will slow down to a steady twice weekly entry but we are exited to keep going and hope we will inspire others to break out of their comfort zones and explore new things.
I will share the best meal we had in Mexico - actually, it was the only great meal we had. We usually stay at a resort but after eating breakfast there, we go off in the jeep to have adventures all day and we eat endless delicious things while we are out and about but this time we all needed a serious restful week and we only ventured out a few times. That means that most of our food was eaten on the resort and so that also means that 95% of what we ate was unmemorable.

The day before we left we drove down to Tulum and ate at Urge Taquitos for fish tacos and ceviche. They basically make fish and chips battered fish or shrimp and they have a big selection of delicious salsas and condiments like shredded cabbage, a great chipotle tamarind sauce, super spicy avocado sauce etc. If you go to the area, you MUST seek this place out for a nice cold beer, some great tacos and one of the yummiest shrimp/fish ceviches ever.

For my final no reEATS of the year, I will be making pozole because for the first time ever, this trip held no food love apart from this meal and I am left with unmet cravings that I am going to have to fill myself over the next few weeks.

I swear to god that there is some deep fried fish under all of those condiments

I can never decide and end up using all of them

this ceviche is ripe with lime juice and salt and so much black pepper that it will make you a bit sneezy but only in the best way possible

until you have eaten resort guacamole, you don't realize that there is such a thing as bad guacamole. THIS is not that.

crazy habernero sauce

the carnage

My favourite taco joint in Tulum, by far

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No cooking down Mexico way

I had a long, detailed post complete with pictures but it won't post. Long story short, I am on vacation and not cooking and enjoying a week of not thinking about cooking.
We come home Xmas day, eat Xmas dinner at my father in law's and then go to my sister's for dinner boxing day so I might have nothing to share Monday as well. I feel a bit guilty for shirking cooking duties at the end of this

year but I am very happy to be with my boys in Mexico.
Merry Xmas, happy holidays and eat well and often my friends!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Squash Baked Macaroni

I was looking for variations on macaroni and cheese this week, but most of them were overly rich and also pretty "adult," with additions of pancetta and mushrooms and the like (probably unlikely to be a hit with the kiddies). So when I came across this hidden-squash version, I thought it might be worth a try, even though Maddie hates the stuff. If I could fool her by slipping it into her fave meal, it'd be a success. Austin and Q loved it, with full vegetable disclosure, but we did the blind test with the little missus who, despite being able to taste the offending veg from her first bite, liked it regardless. Am I showing my age if I say, "Hey Mikey, she likes it!" (anyone over 40 will relate...). She said that I should write in my blog that any moms whose kids hate squash and yet they want to secretly get it into their tummies should try this recipe. The perfect endorsement as far as I'm concerned.

Squash Baked Macaroni
(adapted from Martha Stewart)
serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 medium acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 tbsp butter
1 lb macaroni or pasta of your choice
1/2 cup light cream
1/2 cup milk
pinch nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place squashes on a rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with oil. Toss squashes until evenly coated and rub the cut sides and the cavities of the squashes with the butter and season with salt and pepper. Place cut side down and bake until very soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Do not turn off oven.

When cool, use a large spoon to scoop the flesh of the squash into the bowl of a food processor. Add cream and milk, and puree until smooth. Add nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Process until well combined. Transfer mixture to a large bowl; set aside.

Cook pasta to al dente in boiling salted water. Drain and add to bowl with squash mixture along with the cheeses. Top with breadcrumbs and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Rest of the week
Dec 17 Pizza night for girls' sleepover
Dec 18 Family Xmas get-together
Dec 19 Salmon hash
Dec 20 Squash mac 'n' cheese with broccoli

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dec 15- 19 Salmon Cakes

Dec 15     Salmon Cakes
Dec 16  
Dec 17
Dec 18

I spent the entire day on Thursday baking and making candy because on Wednesday night we decided we would go to Mexico and we had to leave on Saturday. That suddenly meant that I would have to have all of my baking done by Friday morning so I could package up treats for The Kid's teachers etc. Since I spent the entire day working with nothing but chocolate, sugar, butter and more sugar, I wanted something really simple and quick and light and I didn't want to have to do a big grocery shop so I had to turn to the pantry. It was either salmon cakes or a can of pork and beans with toast and although the can of beans was tempting me like nobodies' business, I couldn't really write about that, now could I? Not now, after lasting for 11 months and two weeks of endeavouring to make not just something different every night but something kind of worth talking about. Not that salmon cakes are the most exiting thing in the world but it's better than heating a can of beans, right?

Sorry for the bad iPhone photo but The Kid ate the extra salmon cake I had tried to sneak into the fridge so I could take a pretty picture tomorrow in the daylight.

Salmon Cakes

1 213g can pacific wild salmon
1/4 cup panko and then another 1/4 cup or so for dredging
1/2 tsp grated ginger
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/3 shallot, finely chopped
1 heaping tbls of kewpie mayonnaise if you have it or regular if you don't
1 tbls black sesame seeds
a squeeze of lemon (i squeezed in half of a meyer lemon)
the zest from half of the lemon
kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper to taste
1 egg yolk (I would normally use a whole egg but I had yolks leftover from making meringues)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. I put it in the fridge for about 45 minutes to firm up and then I take it out and form my little hockey puck sized patties. Dredge them on both sides with more panko.

Heat a frying pan over med heat and add a bit of oil. Fry them for about 4 or 5 minutes per side so they get nice and crispy.

We ate them with a salad with a japanese sesame dressing. I also put them on a nest of really thin rice vermicelli and if you want to do that you just put the nest of dry noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let it sit for about 3-5 minutes until it's softened and then drain it and rinse it under cold water and let sit and drain in a strainer while you get the salad ready.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Quick and Easy Borscht

Ever since Carole posted her beet risotto a week or so ago, I've been wanting to make something beet related. I'm not sure if it's all in my imagination, but I always feel stronger after eating beets. Yes, I know they're chockful of all sorts of nutrients and vitamins, but someone long ago told me they're especially great for your blood, and after fainting recently and feeling a bit lightheaded/dizzy at times, I figured I had nothing to lose and hopefully everything to gain. Borscht isn't something I've ever made before, or even wanted to, for that matter, but what better time to try it than in the final stretch of our all-new journey. Easy enough to roast up the beets and prep the soup. A bit harder to find someone to eat it alongside me since the boyfolk are all away and Maddie took one look at the vivid jewel tones of the final product and headed straight out the door with an empty stomach instead of having to partake. As for me, I loved it, feel stronger for it and will repeat again sometime next year.

Quick and Easy Borscht
serves 4 to 6

6 medium beets plus tops and stems
4 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium bunch kale, trimmed stems, then coarsely chopped
1/2 28-oz can plum tomatoes, with juice, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 red onions, medium diced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 bay leaves
3 chopped dill fronds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
3 to 4 cups water

Roast beets in foil for 40 minutes at 425 degrees. Cool, peel and medium chop along with stems and leaves. In a large soup pot, heat 1 tsp oil over medium heat and then add onions, garlic, caraway seeds, dill and bay leaf and saute briefly. Add rest of the vegetables (except tomatoes), cover and saute briefly. Add tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, juice and water; stir, cover loosely and simmer for approximately one hour until flavours blend and vegetables are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Rest of week
Dec 14 Hors d'oeuvres a la Daniel et Daniel at Q's work party
Dec 15 Dinner propped up at the bar of The Keg w Maddie
Dec 16 Borscht with crusty loaf

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dec 12-14 Crock Pot Fennel Roast Beef

Dec 12     chicken green bean stir fry
Dec 13     meatloaf sandwiches
Dec 14     Crock Pot Fennel Roast Beef with pasta

I truly had no idea what I was going to make for dinner on Wednesday night until I went to the grocery store and they had eye of round roasts on sale so I grabbed one and walked around the store getting all of my baking stuff trying to figure out what to do with it. I actually don't like roast beef. I don't like prime rib or standing rib roast or any of that stuff. The only way I enjoy a big chunk of beef is if it is falling apart so I pretty much only braise them or cook them in my handy dandy crock pot (or as we like to call it, my crotch pot). I was either going to go beer, mustard beef on mashed potatoes or a more italian beef served over pasta.
Clearly I chose to go the Italian over pasta route. I might just pick up another one at this price and make it with beer next week now that I think about it.

I will have a post for next Monday but I am leaving this Saturday for a week of christmas beach and sand and will be be back until christmas day. Clearly I am not going to be cooking anything myself but I will post next thursday with photos of some of the delicious things we will be eating and then that only leaves ONE LAST WEEK UNTIL THIS NO REEATS CHALLENGE IS FINISHED!!!

Clearly, we lost our third partner, Jen, somewhere around the end of October when her work schedule sent her into a black hole but I am pretty thrilled that Dianne and I have made it to the bitter end. We have both decided that although neither of us wants to do this again for another year, we do like being forced to step out of our comfort zones and make things that we would not normally make. We will continue with the blog but we will each just take one day a week where we have to make something completely new and we will share that with you. I plan to make exactly the same thing the other six nights of the week just for sport.
If there is anyone out there who is crazy enough and would like to take the year long challenge, you are welcome to get in touch and let us know and maybe you could join our crazy train.
With that, I give you:

Crock Pot Fennel Roast Beef 
1 lb (about 600g) beef eye of round roast
kosher salt and pepper
glug olive oil
*tbls of #5 Umamai paste 
1 cup tomato puree
3/4 cup of chicken stock
fresh thyme, at least a small handful or to taste
2 cloves garlic
1 fennel bulb, sliced

serve with any hearty pasta - I like it with paperadelle but it's good with rigatoni or something like that

Slice the fennel bulb like this:

Put the fennel and the garlic into the crock pot. Mix in the tomato and 1/2 cup of the chicken stock and the thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste ( I have to salt because I use my own tomatoes that were preserved without salt).

Heat a frying pan over med heat, add a little glug of oil and then liberally salt and pepper your roast before putting in in the hot pan to sear on all sides until nice and brown.
Put the browned meat on top of the fennel and push it around until the fennel is surrounding the meat and the meat is partially submerged.
In the hot pan you just seared the meat, add the umami paste and then the last 1/4 cup of chicken stock and let that bubble up. Take it off the heat immediately and use a spatula to scrape all of the goodness into the crockpot over the meat.
Put the lid on, turn it onto high and walk away.

I cook it all day on low or if you don't have all day, you can do it for about 4 or 5 hours on high but the longer you let it sit, the softer the meat gets and the easier it is to shred it up.
When it's done, as your pasta is cooking, open the lid and take two forks and start shredding the meat up until it looks like pulled pork.
Ladle the meat, the fennel and some of the liquid over pasta and grate lots of fresh parmesan on top. Of course, I like to sprinkle lots of hot chili flake on mine. You can also eat it over rice or mashed potatoes of course.

*about this #5 umami paste, I am LOVING it. It adds a really nice depth of flavour, a hit of salty, briny goodness and I will make sure I always have a tube of this in my pantry. In Canada, you can get it at Loblaws as part of their new Black Lable line and it looks like it's widely available at fine food stores like Dean and De Luca in the States. If you don't have it, you can just use some tomato paste for thickness but it won't bump up the flavour

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quinoa-Crusted Chicken or Salmon with Sage

I found myself leafing through Quinoa 365 again this week, looking for a salmon recipe, and this simple weeknight Quinoa-Crusted Chicken with Sage sounded light, fresh and delicious--and I figured I could adapt it to salmon for three of us, while the remaining holdout from anything fishy could enjoy her chicken alone. The recipe called for a gouda cheese sauce to go alongside the chicken but since I don't really like gouda and I didn't want a heavy sauce, I wasn't tempted to make it and I was also pretty sure that none of us would miss it anyway. And they didn't. Then again, I didn't tell them that it even existed so who knows, it might have been a hit since nobody in this family ever turns down anything cheesy.
Since I didn't have the quinoa flakes that were listed, I just used my regular quinoa and it worked perfectly... grainy, nutty and light, with a zing from the Dijon and the freshness of the sage... a nice change from normal breading of any kind. No complaints from anyone, neither fish nor fowl camps, and that's often the highest praise since my food critics are feeling the fatigue of providing positive feedback after more than a year of new stuff. Just quiet acceptance is enough for all of us right now and I'm grateful for that.

Quinoa-Crusted Chicken with Sage
adapted from Quinoa 365
serves 4

3 tbsp milk
3 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
3/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup quinoa flakes
6 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
1/2 tsp salt
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

cheese sauce
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp quinoa flour
1/4 cup grated Gouda cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

Mix the milk and 2 tsp of the mustard in a small, shallow bowl. Add the garlic and Worcestershire sauce and mix well. Set aside.
Combine the parmesan, quinoa, 2 tsp of the sage and the salt and place in a shallow bowl. Working with 1 chicken breast at a time, dip evenly into the milk mixture, then place in the bowl and coat with the quinoa mixture.
Place the chicken breasts on the baking sheet and bake on the centre rack for about 20 minutes, until the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear.
To make the sauce, heat the milk and quinoa flour in a small saucepan on medium heat, stirring frequently. Whisk in the cheese with the remaining 4 tsp sage and 1 tsp Dijon. Heat the mixture until it thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes, whisking frequently. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve immediately.
Rest of the week

Dec 10 Dinner with family at golf club

Dec 11 Busy day so ordered in from Vivetha

Dec 12 Quinoa-crusted salmon with tossed salad

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dec 8-11

Dec 8      Creamy Tomato Fennel Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons
Dec 9      We had to be out and didn't really eat dinner
Dec 10     ordered in Thai
Dec 11    Meatloaf

This ended up being a bit of a stressful end to the week for various reasons so we either weren't home to eat or too spent to think about cooking. Thankfully I had made a fabulous tomato soup and The Kid was happy with two big bowls full of grilled cheese croutons for Thursday because he certainly didn't get any real dinner on Friday night.
Sunday came along and Shack had to work so I felt like I should make something that the boys would find really comforting. It was time to whip out a basic meatloaf. I have been holding back on a couple of winter staples so that I could make them this last month of this challenge to make it all go by a bit faster. They really enjoyed the turkey meatloaf but they both love a good, solid meatloaf so much and it was the perfect meal to end a not so good week.
It's not like anyone is actively counting the days until I no longer have to stick to this crazy challenge or anything.

The Kid's Favourite Meatloaf
makes 2 meatloaves, serves 6 to 8

1 onion, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
olive oil
600 g ground pork
600 g lean ground beef
1/4 cup milk
1 slice whole grain bread
1/2 cup of your favourite bbq sauce
about a tbls each fresh thyme, sage and rosemary chopped fine
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry hot chinese mustard

1/4 cup bbq sauce
1 tbls chipotle chili in adobo
1/4 red onion sliced really thinly

heat a sauté pan over med heat with a small glug of olive oil and sauté the onion, celery and garlic for about five minutes until it's softened. Remove from heat and let cool to room temp.
Preheat oven to 400F

Put the slice of bread in the food processor and grind up into crumbs. Add the milk and let sit and put aside. Put the beef, pork, bbq sauce, eggs,  herbs, salt and chinese mustard in a big bowl. Add the bread crumbs that you soaked in milk and mix with your hands for about a minute. Don't over mix or your meatloaf will be tough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Divide the meat mixture into halves and form each half into a loaf shape on the parchment lined pan. Mix the glaze ingredients and then brush each of the two meatloaves with the glaze. Scatter the red onion slices over each meatloaf.
Put the baking tray in your hot oven and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hr. Check after 45 minutes and the internal temp should be at least 160F. Take it out of the oven and let it sit for about ten minutes to settle before slicing and serving.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Simple Hearty Minestrone

I don't know about you but at this time of the year I could pretty much skip dinner altogether most evenings. Maybe it's overindulging during the day so there's no appetite left at night or I'm tired and/or lazy or I'd just rather be bakin' instead of cookin'. Whatever the reason, the last thing I want to do is make dinner. But with the eldest home from university and craving home-cooked meals and drinking us out of house and home in terms of milk but who's keeping track of these things, it still seems to be a priority (to him, at least) and order-in or take-out aren't viable options right now.
So, on one busy Friday afternoon, this minestrone soup pretty much made itself and hit the spot for all of us, as we all came and went at different times. Chopped up some veggies, got the onions and garlic a-going, and then threw it all in the pot and walked away for the good part of an hour. I waited til almost dinnertime to add the pasta so it wouldn't be too soggy once we made it to the table. Good, stick-to-your-ribs fare that will tide us over til the next piece of shortbread.

Hale and Hearty Minestrone Soup
serves 6 to 8

2 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
6 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tbsp chopped basil
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 dried bay leaf
1 28-oz can chopped tomatoes, with their liquid
1 cup canned kidney beans, drained
1 cup dried penne pasta

In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onions and cook until translucent.
Add the broth, tomato paste, parsley, basil, celery, carrots, bay leaf, and tomatoes along with their juice and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked tender.
Add the kidney beans and pasta at the very end, and simmer for another 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Rest of the week

Dec 6 Bubble chicken with salad

Dec 7 Barbecued ribs w mashed potatoes and broccoli

Dec 8 Linguine with pesto and veggies

Dec 9 Minestrone with cheese sticks

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dec 5-7 Tandoori Salmon and Parippu

Dec 5     sparkling wine and candy at Dianne's gingerbread house party!
Dec 6     Tandoori Salmon and Parippu (dal)
Dec 7     Tandoori Salmon Tacos

Shack is back on another movie so he hasn't been around a ton for dinner which means we are back to finding things that The Kid and I love that Shack doesn't love as much. We both really, really love salmon and Little Shack is developing a love for Indian food so I decided on tandoori salmon. I used the tandoori marinade from my beloved The Food Of India book for both the tandoori and the parippu, which is just a kind of dal using red lentils. For those of you who find making Indian food intimidating, this is a really simple thing to start with and although the list of ingredients can look kind of long, it's so easy to throw together. My only recommendation would be to grill the salmon if you can because it would have been better if it had all the nice, dark bits and the slightly burnt skin that comes from grilling but it's December and I don't have a gas grill so that was out of the question.

Little Shack loved the coconutty lentils and I will eat that dal every day until it is gone and be very happy about that so I made a big pot. I also made extra salmon because I knew we would do tandoori salmon tacos the next night because, remember, everything is delicious in a corn tortilla!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Candy for Dinner because It's the Annual Gingerbread House Party

Ever since December 1, the kids have been having a little piece of chocolate from their advent calendars as part of their breakfast, so I figured it was only fair that I also got to eat candy for dinner on this, one of my favourite nights of the year--my annual gingerbread house party for some of my closest girlfriends. This tradition started out about 11 years ago, I think, because my first memory of the Kitchenaid whirring away making batches upon batches of royal icing was when Maddie was still a wee baby, strapped in her car seat on the counter and a totally captive audience, watching me run around the kitchen before my guests arrived. Now she's graduated to my second- or third-in-command, if Austin is around, and they're both part of the action as my friends are sweet enough to include them in decorating their own masterpieces.

Over the years, the group has whittled itself down to the true "hard-corers" who come armed and ready with blueprints, plans, spreadsheets, and bags of candy/cereal/props/lights to adorn their creations, and be part of the (generally) warmhearted "competition." Hard to believe that everyone starts with the same simple pre-assembled six-inch house and ends up with such completely unique and amazing results. From English cottages to pink wonderlands to silver winter scenes and even a Whoville extravaganza a few years back when the Grinch was in theatres, the possibilities are endless and we've seen it all over the years. Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas in this household without feeling sticky for two days straight, finding globs of royal icing stuck in my hair the next day, hearing all the leftover dragees/sprinkles/candies being sucked up by the vacuum later that night, and enjoying friendly female company and competition in my warm kitchen. Thank god for girlfriends at any time of year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dec 1-4 Beet Risotto

Dec 1     Butternut Squash Pear Soup and a big salad
Dec 2     Dinner with The Neighbours
Dec 3     Beet Risotto
Dec 4     Shack made pasta with meat sauce

When your 12 year old requests beet risotto, you make him beet risotto. You don't ask questions, you just say yes, of course I will make you beet risotto.That is all I have to say about that.

So, about the actual risotto, all the recipes I saw called for peeling, chopping and roasting the beets before hand and then mixing them into the almost finished risotto but I didn't want to go to all that trouble AND I wanted the risotto to have a really pretty, strong colour. I decided instead to grate the beets and cook them right in the rice and I also threw some  beet as well as the stems into the stock for good measure to make the stock red and beety. I think I made the right choice because the colour on this risotto was insane - Little Shack said it's the perfect Christmas dish what with the beautiful deep red from the beets and the dark green from the beet greens making it all festive. I put aside a tiny bowl, thankfully, because between the two of them, they hoovered the entire thing. I was lucky to get a small bowl for myself alongside the tiny portion I hid so I could get a picture the next day. I am actually pretty exited that now, on the home stretch in our year long challenge, I am actually still making stuff that I know will become life long family favourites.

Beet Risotto
Serves 4

5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups of chicken stock
3 small beets with greens attached
1 tbls butter
1 tbls olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper
3 tbls cold butter
3/4  cup grated grano padano
a drizzle of truffle oil

Put the stock in a large pot. Chop the stems and greens off of the beets and add the stems to the pot of stock. Wash and chop the leaves and set aside.

Peel the beets and grate on a large box grater and set aside. Throw the nubs leftover into the stock pot.
Finely chop the shallots and throw the skins and any scraps into the stock pot.

Heat up the stock pot on a back burner until it comes to barely a simmer. On the front burner, heat the oil and butter in a deep sauté pan and cook the shallot and garlic for about 4 minutes. Add the arborio rice and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the rice is opaque.
This is when you add the wine and stir until the wine is almost completely absorbed. Start adding stock, one ladle full at a time. After the first ladle, add the grated beets. Keep stirring, pretty much constantly for another ten minutes, adding a ladle full of stock when the rice absorbs the last addition.
At the halfway mark, about ten minutes in, add the reserved, chopped beet green leaves. Keep adding a ladle of stock until it is absorbed and stirring non stop, making nice figure eights, for a bother ten minutes for a total of about 20 minutes of cooking time. Salt and pepper to taste.
When the risotto is finished (it should be a tiny bit soupy and the rice should still have a bit of bite to it - just keep tasting as you go but it will almost always take between 18 and about 23 minutes) take it off the heat and add in the cold butter and the grano paddano and stir vigorously until all the cheese is incorporated and the butter is melted.
Don't worry if you don't have truffle oil because this stuff is so delicious that you don't really need it but I have some so I use it.
Serve in shallow bowls.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Maddie mentioned the other day that the only soup she really likes is tomato soup. Campbell's, that is. That of the liquidy ketchupy fame. A definite yuck for me but apparently appealing to her. Felt like she'd thrown down the gauntlet and I was up for the challenge. When I found this roasted tomato soup recipe I was pretty sure I could top the canned variety but obviously I spoke too soon. My first mistake was probably thinking I could make a truly flavourful tomato soup when it's the end of November and not exactly prime tomato season. But I still held out hope that the roasting process would somehow intensify the flavours. It didn't. Then, of course, as the pic shows, my soup turned out more orange than red, which led to kid-suspicions that I had actually made butternut squash soup or sweet potato soup and was trying to pass it off as the tomato variety. Taste couldn't convince them otherwise since it was so bland that none of us could identify what the main vegetable even was. The only redeeming grace was the addition of the grilled cheese croutons, which saved the greasy finger approach of having to dip your sandwich in da soup. But enough said: quite simply, Campbell's won this showdown.

serves 4

2 lbs tomatoes, diced

1 red pepper, diced and seeded

1 onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled

olive oil

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp paprika

1 tsp oregano

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup heavy cream, optional

handful of basil, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes, red pepper, carrot, onion and garlic on a baking pan and drizzle with the oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Place everything but the cream into a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes. Puree with a hand blender and mix in the cream and basil.

For the croutons, make up a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches (I used my panini press) with the cheese of your choice. Cut off the crusts and cut into small squares.

Rest of the week

Nov 26 Dinner at Bravi with friends

Nov 27 Rotini with sun-dried tomato sauce

Nov 28 Roasted tomato soup

Pulled Braised Beef and Onions

Trust me, this meal is more delicious than the photo may suggest (totally brown food is never easy to photograph, especially in the evening)... totally delicious, in fact, if we do say so ourselves. I was looking for a throw-in-the-oven-and-walk-away kinda meal because Q and I were hoping to hit a matinee but still wanted to walk in to a homecooked dinner at the end of our day. And this recipe not only met both these criteria but also had the house smellin' like a cozy dream. Austin kept an eye on things in our absence and even took care of the "pulling of the beef" too. A perfectly easy Sunday night dinner that began before noon with a quick browning of the roast, followed by a super-fast toss of all the other ingredients. Then I threw it in the oven at a low heat, walked away and it took care of itself from there on in. Sweet, caramelly, slightly spicy pulled beef is the reward--and a nice change from the traditional pulled pork.

Pulled Braised Beef and Onions
serves 8 to 10

a bit of olive oil, for browning
1 eye of round or top round beef roast
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp grainy mustard
a few cloves garlic, crushed

In a heavy skillet, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and brown the roast on all sides. Meanwhile, toss everything else together in a slow cooker or ovenproof casserole; top with the browned meat. Cover and cook on low (in the slow cooker) for 6-8 hours, or cover and bake at 275 to 300 degrees for 6 hours. Using two forks, pull the meat apart in the sauce and serve on soft buns.

Rest of the week

Dec 3 Ordered pizza and watched a movie

Dec 4 Pulled beef

Friday, December 2, 2011

Turkey Sweet-Potato Shepherd's Pie

I was inspired by Carole's mini-turkey-meatloaves a week or so ago and had been thinking about making something similar, when my dear friend Peggi-Jean mentioned that she'd also made turkey/veggie/mashed potato cupcakes or muffins that same week and they were totally delicious. So as not to be a complete copycat of Carole (accidental alliteration), I figured I'd use PJ's recipe, which had originally been posted on Foodbuzz. Sadly for us, however, I had no success finding them in their archives and by that point PJ had flitted off to NYC for a crazy girls-gone-wild weekend so I had to resort to Rachael Ray's version instead. The verdict here on the homefront was that this one was on the bland side... a common refrain lately so I'm going to have to work on the seasoning side of things... and since we're all lamb lovers, we'll likely return to that in the future for traditional shepherd's pie. But I won't give up on PJ's cupcakes once she makes it back to TO and gives up the elusive recipe.

Turkey Sweet-Potato Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Rachael Ray
serves 4

2/ lb sweet potatos, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, diced
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 cup peas
1 cup turkey or chicken broth
1 tbsp flour
a few dashes Worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup grated cheese of your choice

In a large saucepan, combine the sweet potatoes and enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, salt the water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a deep skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil, add the turkey and cook, breaking up with a spoon. Stir in the onion, carrots, celery and salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the meat mixture and cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then add the chicken broth and Worchestershire sauce. Stir and allow to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and remove from the heat.

Mash the sweet potatoes with the butter and season with salt and pepper. In individual ramekins or a larger casserole dish, top the turkey with the sweet potato and then sprinkle with cheese. Bake until the cheese is completely melted, about 5 minutes.

Rest of the week

Nov 30 Ordered Thai food for early celebration of Austin's birthday; molten lava chocolate birthday cakes

Dec 1 Cheese on toast due to crazy night of parent-teacher interviews

Dec 2 Turkey shepherd's pie

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nov 29-30 Creamy Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

Nov 29     Date night with The Kid at Amaya Bread Bar
Nov 30     Creamy Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta

I had to make something that was going to be quick and easy because we had a busy Wednesday night filled with parent/teacher meeting, karate and then I had to go back out to a "thing" so I was pretty sure it would be a pasta. Before this year, we usually ate pasta at least three times a week but I realized that we have not been eating much pasta at all lately and I am missing it.
I was feeling like I was probably shooting my self in the foot by wanting to make a simple pasta out of ingredients we all love and would appear to be a no brainer because I can never forget the great cauliflower pasta incident where it all went terribly wrong. That is the day that I learned that my adventurous foodie eaters were actually not as adventurous as I thought and just because they love all the ingredients in a dish doesn't mean they are going to love them all together as a finished dish.
I have no patience for this nonsense but  I was going to throw caution to the wind and do it anyway. To be honest, since Little Shack was doing his vow of silence for Free The Children he couldn't complain about it even if he didn't like it, so I was kind of taking advantage of his generous spirit. You gotta do what you gotta do to get by sometimes.
In the end, this pasta was really, really, really good and even my little silent bob was having a hard time not moaning and rhapsodizing about the deliciousness that he was shovelling into his non speaking little mouth.

Creamy Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Pancetta
300 g brussels sprouts
2 tbls olive oil
2 cloves garlic
50g pancetta, diced small
2 tsp PC #5 Umami paste (spiced tomato/anchovy paste) (or you can do 1 tsp of anchovy paste and 1 tsp of tomato paste instead I would think)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
grana pandano cheese
300g pasta ( I used PC Splendido gemelli )

wash and chiffonade the brussel sprouts (I use a mandolin to get them really fine but you can slice them really thinly with a knife too) and set aside

Get a big pot of salted water boiling.

Heat a saute pan over med heat and throw in the pancetta. Cook the pancetta until it's crispy and remove it with a slotted spoon, reserving whatever fat has rendered in the pan. Add the olive oil to that and throw in the garlic, stir it around for 30 seconds and then add the brussel sprouts and stir them until they are softened. I keep going until they actually start to brown up a bit but you don't have to go that far if you don't like your brussel sprouts as sassy as I do.
Meanwhile, your water should be boiling so you can add your pasta and cook according to the package directions.
 Add the Umami paste to the brussel sprouts and stir that around for a minute. Throw in the evaporated milk, add the pasta and toss to make sure everything is mixed up and the pasta is completely coated in the sauce.  Taste and salt and pepper to taste. Throw in 3/4 of the pancetta, toss again and plate it up. Top with freshly grated grana padano and the rest of the crispy pancetta.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nov 28 Chili Baked Potatoes

Nov 27     We all ate movie popcorn for supper because we are clearly terrible parents
Nov 28     Baked potatoes with chili and a big salad

Sunday Shack was supposed to work so The Kid and I were going to have an easy supper of baked potatoes stuffed with chili, some more of my cojita cheese leftover from our black bean soup and whatever else I have in the fridge but that meal got pushed to Monday. Instead, we took him to play Warhammer with all of the other geeks and then saw Hugo and dined on popcorn and sprite. I think they both ate some leftovers before bedtime but I am not sure because I was already in my own bed celebrating my mother of the year award.

Baked Potatoes with Chili

2 baking potatoes
some butter
1 cup of chili
handful of crumbled cojita cheese (or feta would be good too)
handful of grated sharp cheddar
pinch of fresh, chopped cilantro
drizzle of greek yogurt

preheat the oven to 350F
wash and dry your potatoes, prick them a few times with a fork and wrap them in foil. Bake them for about an hour - I like my baked potatoes really soft so I don't worry about over cooking them.
Unwrap them from the foil and cut them in half or a cross down the middle and spread it open a bit.
Heat up the chili and pour about 1/2 cup of hot chili on top of each potato. Grate on some sharp cheddar, sprinkle on some crumbled cojita cheese. I put the greek yogurt into a little snack baggie and snip off a tiny hole in one corner and squeeze the yogurt out so it looks prettier. Scatter the whole thing with some fresh cilantro and dig in.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nov 24-26 Cranberry GlazedTurkey Meatloaf With All The Trimmings

Nov 24     Black bean tofu
Nov 25     Black Bean Soup and a cheese quesadilla for The Kid
Nov 26     Turkey Meatloaf with all the trimmings

We really love a big, traditional turkey dinner and all look forward to Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving just so we have an excuse to make it. We would never dream of serving anything else on those holidays if we have any say in the matter but we didn't get turkey at Easter (it was simply out of our control people) so we are still all feeling one quart of gravy down. With all this talk of American Thanksgiving taking over our internet lives, I am dying for the big bird but don't want to roast one for the three of us so I thought, why not make a meatloaf that tastes like turkey dinner in one loaf? How bad could it be, right?

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Sick Day... It Happens

Lesson learned: don't leave things til the last minute. This is what I tell my kids and this is what I try to live by but I learned it the hard way on Friday when the best of intentions to make and post a meal in the afternoon slowly but steadily got nixed by a series of events. Austin had unexpected gum surgery in the morning so we were trying to figure out what he might like/be able to eat by dinnertime. Then I spent the afternoon fighting a headache so the two of us just cocooned on the couch and watched a movie. (Can you hear the hours quickly ticking by?) Then I headed down the street to donate blood... and passed out afterwards. Embarrassing. Mortifying to wake up on a gurney. But all the sweet people who help out at these blood drives try to assure you that it's totally normal and to be expected and then push free juice and cookies on you so I just laid back and basked in all the TLC. Sorta.

Anyway, at that point, with my head still spinning, I knew that the rest of my evening would be spent on the couch. I didn't want to fall head-first into some pot boiling on the stove (okay, I'm being overly dramatic) so I figured horizontal was probably my best position. My independent kiddies cobbled together something for themselves and Q did the same. They step up to the plate in a pinch and I love them all for that.

So that's my long, pathetic story of my lost post for today. Apologies. Lesson learned.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nov 21-23 Orange thyme pork

Nov 21     Orange Thyme Pork
Nov 22     Dinner at Table 17
Nov 23     Worked through dinner and boys were on their own

I have been really at a loss as far as dinner is concerned as we near the home stretch of this year long challenge and so I bought Donna Hay's new book - Fast, Fresh, Simple. She has always been a favourite of mine with her simple, tasty recipes, her beautiful food photography and styling and heavy asian influence. I have all of her books and they always give me tons of inspiration so I am counting on this book to bring me into the home stretch.

I liked the sound of her Thyme and Orange Pork with Winter Slaw except that I wasn't in the mood for the slaw and I wanted to use my pork tenderloin instead of loin steaks. A little tweak here, a little change there and I ended up with a simple, fast and tasty dinner for The Kid and I. I am going to apologize in advance for the quality of many of the photos that are going to come, including this one. With the time change, it's totally dark by dinner time and I cannot always make the food early in the day just so I can get a beautiful photo of it and there aren't always leftovers that I can photograph the next day. Such is the life of a no reEATER after the time change.

Orange Thyme Pork
adapted from Donna Hay

1 tbls olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tbls grated orange zest (i used a rasp but next time I would want my zest to be less fine)
1 pork tenderloin
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 tbls brown sugar

Heat a frying pan over medium high heat.Add the oil, orange zest, garlic and thyme and cook for about three minutes, until it becomes kind of crisp. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Cut the tenderloin into 2" sections. Pound each section flat (I put the disk of pork between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound it with a wine bottle) until it's about 1/4" thick. Salt and pepper all of the pork and add them to the hot pan. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or until well browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the orange juice, chicken stock and sugar and cook until reduced a bit before you put the pork back in the pan along with the zest mixture and cook for another minute until the pork is heated through. I served this over rice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage

Work has been crazy and, for whatever reason, whenever it's nuts for me, Q coincidentally also needs to catch a plane and fly across an ocean or a continent for work... hmmm... Vamoosh, he's outta here. So, the little devils/angels have been fending for themselves more often than not and managed to prepare some lasagna the other night, although the kitchen floor looked like a marinara food fight must have been part of the bargain. Regardless, I'm not complaining because they fed themselves and pretty much cleaned up too and show me a mom who isn't grateful for that as she comes in the front door right at bedtime.

Anyway, on Sunday night, when the three of us were home together for dinner, we had a quick meal-in-a-sweet-potato... crammed full of assorted veggies, fresh herbs, some sausage and a zing of sour cream too. This recipe from Fine Cooking also called for Gruyere but I thought these were probably rich enough on their own so I just lightly grated some parmesan on top. I had leftover Brussels sprouts and mushrooms from the other night, which we reheated, and threw them in with the mashed potatoes, along with some chopped carrots and broccoli florets. Pretty much any vegetable you like tastes good here. Nice, comforting, quick and easy meal that got positive reviews from all of us.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes with Leeks and Sausage
serves 4

4 small sweet potatoes
1/2 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tbsp butter
1 lb leeks, white and light-green parts only, quartered and thinly sliced
1 tsp chopped fresh sage
1/4 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Gruyere

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Prick the sweet potatoes a few times with a fork and then bake them until tender, about 45 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage, reduce the heat to medium, and cook, breaking it into small bits with the edge of a slotted spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Add the butter to the skillet and allow it to melt. Add the leeks, sage, thyme and some salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture just starts to sizzle. Reduce the heat to low and cook, until the leeks are very soft and just starting to turn golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully cut them in half lengthwise and gently scoop the flesh into a medium bowl, leaving about 1/8 inch of flesh in the shells. Mass the scooped flesh with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Stir in the sour cream and some salt. Fold the sausage and leeks into the potato mixture and season to taste.

Position a rack 6 inches from the broiler and heat to high. Mound the filling into the potato skins and top with the cheese. Broil until the cheese is golden, about 4 minutes.

Rest of the week

Nov 18 Ate Indian at Delhi Bistro

Nov 19 Girls night... ate popcorn

Nov 20 Stuffed sweet potatoes and salad

Nov 21 Kiddies made lasagna and I worked late

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nov 17-19 Flourless Chocolate Cake

Nov 17     Thai take out
Nov 18     Nobody home but me so I ate popcorn. Put some smoked paprika on it to make it new
Nov 19     Dinner out with friends (I am actually starting to get tired of eating out if you can believe that)
Nov 20     American thanksgiving dinner at Jen's house and I made flour less chocolate cake

So, once again I didn't cook dinner at all in the last four days unless you count my popcorn with olive oil and smoked paprika as cooking dinner. I am alarmed at how much we eat out and if this year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that we eat out way too damned much!
Anyway, too late to do anything about this now so I will share my recipe for flourless chocolate cake since that is what I made as my contribution to Sunday night's dinner.  This cake is so easy but so delicious that it has become my fall back, go to dessert. It's easy to make sure you always have good chocolate, eggs and sugar in the pantry so it really is something you can whip up at the last minute. You can make any sort of additions too - some chopped up candied ginger or some orange zest and extract and you have something a bit new. For ease of remembering, I like the 200/200/200 gram ratio too -it's kind like Herman Cain's 9/9/9 but it actually makes sense.
It would actually make a fine main course any night of the week if you round it out with a nice salad, of course.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
adapted from Laura Calder and featured on The Yum Yum Factor last year

200 grams good dark chocolate (i like to use about 70% dark), broken into chunks
200 grams butter, cut into chunks
1 tsp vanilla
200 grams sugar, divided in half
4 eggs, separated

butter and flour to flour the pan **(to make it gluten free, sub in cocoa powder for flour)
whipped cream and berries to serve

Heat the oven to 375F
Prep an 8" spring form pan by buttering and flouring and put a circle of parchment on the bottom (if you want to make it totally gluten free you can butter and instead of flouring, use cocoa)

Put a stainless bowl over a pot of simmering water and gently melt the chocolate and the butter together. When it's all melted add the vanilla and give it a good stir with a spatula.

Divide the eggs into two steel bowls -whites in one, yolks in the other. Whisk in 1/2 cup of sugar with the yolks until they are pale and ribbony. In the other bowl, beat the whites into soft peaks. Sprinkle the other 1/2 cup of sugar over the whites and beat until stiff peaks.
Slowly melt your melted chocolate/butter into the yolks, whisking the whole time so that it doesn't cook the egg. When the chocolate/butter is totally mixed into the  yolks, stir in a spoonful of egg white. When that is mixed in, gently fold in the rest of the whites with your spatula until it's totally incorporated. Pour this mixture into your prepared spring form pan and put in your hot oven. Bake for 50 minutes.

Take the cooked cake out of the oven, run a clean knife around the outside edge and let cool completely in the spring form pan.

Serve with whipped cream or ice cream or creme anglaise or just about anything. Again, serve with a nice salad to turn it into a healthy week night supper.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

This meal started out with the best of intentions. I selfishly chose it because I just wanted an excuse to eat some Brussels sprouts although I did figure that the menfolk would be happy with the pasta part. If they were actually home to eat it, that is, and that's where the story of this dinner fell apart. I began prepping it in the afternoon and even got a little mise en place going, as the photo shows, which is a total surprise since I'm usually racing against the clock, madly chopping and throwing the veggies as water boils, oil heats and something burns. But on Thursday, for once, I had a somewhat leisurely beginning to the meal that ultimately never was. I even began sauteeing up the sprouts, shrooms, garlic and onions in advance so that most of the scut work would be done early. But then, one by one, my guests began to fall. Austin headed off for a babysitting gig and informed me he'd be having dinner there. Q texted to say he was at a work gig that he'd previously informed me of (hmmm... suspended doubt and disbelief) and they'd be feeding him. And Maddie, who had 10 mins flat to eat between her evening activities, took one look at my pan of browned veggies and shook her head, "no, mama, I don't wanna eat that." And so, a bit later, I sat down alone and ate myself a little bowl of the veggies and was happy as a clam without the pasta and sauce. However, I've included the full recipe here since I have lots of leftovers and fully intend to complete what I started, maybe for a lunch for us all over the weekend. If anyone shows up, that is.

Whole Grain Spaghetti with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms
4 to 6 servings

1 lb whole grain or whole wheat spaghetti
1 cup grated pecorino romano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup creme fraiche, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 large lemon)
zest of same lemon
1/2 cup slivered almonds, optional

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Toss with 1/2 cup cheese.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts, onions, mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the creme fraiche, vegetable broth, lemon juice and zest. Bring to a simmer and stir until the mixture forms a creamy sauce, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the sauce over the pasta, add the almonds if you choose, and toss until coated. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve.

Rest of the week

Nov 14 Bubble chicken and tossed salad

Nov 15 Teriyaki beef stirfry

Nov 16 Spaghetti w Brussels sprouts and mushrooms

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nov 15-16 Slow Cooker Asian Ribs

Nov 15     the Buffet at the Niagara Casino - it was what one would expect it to be
Nov 16    Slow Cooker Asian Ribs

We spent day two of nokidapalooza grocery shopping in Buffalo, New York and then dining on buffet fare at the Niagara Casino. We are both HUGE fans of Wegman's and your cheap American cheeses and sody pop (Shack is addicted to cherry coke zero which means that we need to do regular runs to Buffalo to fill the truck to the rafters with it).
Wednesday was the day that Little Shack was coming home so I wanted to make something that he would really like. I wanted to do ribs, I needed to be out much of the day and I wanted to use asian flavours so I began my internet hunt. Lots of bloggers swear that they get fabulous results with ribs in a slow cooker so I decided to give it a try. I found a recipe on Mmmisformommy that was pretty close to what I wanted, flavour wise, so I used that and tweaked it a bit. She is a fellow Canadian food blogger who is one of the six (along with myself) who is being featured in the holiday issue of Eat In Eat Out magazine and I swear to god that I found her recipe through tastespotting before I realized who she was.
These ribs were pretty awesome. They were falling off the bone, sticky and sweet - the only thing I would do differently is to perhaps add some chili flake or something to give it a little kick but it was certainly packed with flavour and I can't wait until I can make these again in the new year.

Sticky Slow Cooker Asian Ribs
serves 3-4
adapted from a recipe on mmmisformommy

4 lbs pork side ribs
3 tbls dark brown sugar
2 tbls chu hou paste 
2 tsp grated ginger or ginger paste
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sesame oil

bbq sauce:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup mirin
3/4 cup water3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbls ginger paste
2 tbls soy sauce
1 tbls ketchup
1 tbls smoky bbq sauce like Bulleye (I used my Wegman's Kansas style of course)
1 tbls cornstarch

If your ribs are in long racks, cut the into serving sized sections. Make the paste and coat the top sides of the ribs with it and let them sit for about an hour or more.

Get your slow cooker out - if you don't have one I can only ask why not? I fought the slow cooker for years and years and once I used it, I was sold. It's a really useful kitchen tool, especially for busy people.
Anyway, stand your ribs up, meaty side against the walls of the crock pot, like this:

Put all of the sauce ingredients, except for the cornstarch, in a pot and bring to a boil. When it's boiling, add the cornstarch and let it boil for another 30 seconds to a minute. Pour that sauce over the ribs, cover and cook them on low for at least 6 hours and up to about 8 hrs.

At that point, remove them very carefully and lay them out on a rack place on a foil lined baking sheet and tent with more foil. Strain all the liquid left in the slow cooker into a pot and let it sit for a few minutes so you can skim off most of the fat. Bring it to a boil and let reduce for about 15 minutes or until it's halved in volume.
Preheat the broiler and brush the ribs with the reduced sauce and broil them for about 10 minutes. Don't put them too close to the broiler or they will burn and keep an eye on them.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nov 10-13 Cheese Ravioli with Chanterelles and Sage

Nov 11     Indian food at Amaya Bread Bar with a friend
Nov 12     Dinner at a friend's house
Nov 13     Dinner with the in laws
Nov 14     Cheese Ravioli with Chanterelles and Sage

This has been a no good, terrible weekend as far as any home cooking went. I took my good friend, Alice, out for dinner at Amaya Bread Bar and it was wonderful. We had onion bahji, pakoras, butter chicken and a really great coastal prawn curry and I can't wait to go back.

On Saturday good friends made us dinner and then on Sunday, despite big plans to do a pork shoulder in the crockpot for tacos, we ended up visiting my in laws and had take out veal sandwiches there. One would think that meant that by Monday we would definitely cook dinner at home but Monday was also the day Little Shack left for a three day leadership camp. The chances of NOT going out to dinner were looking slim to none.

I basically just told him that I was cooking dinner on Monday, we were eating in and that was going to be that. Because The Kid is not home, we can eat mushrooms. The only thing we both love that he hates are mushrooms so we have just sort of gotten to the point where we forget mushrooms exist as an ingredient and we never buy them, I walk by them in the supermarket like they aren't there and my eyes skim past any recipe that features them. The last time he went to his retreat, we ate mushroom risotto the first night.
Some people like to have wild monkey sex in the living room,  get drunk and go wild when the kids are gone for a few days. We eat mushrooms.

Cheese Ravioli with Chanterelles and Sage
serves 2 hungry people or three people who are pretending to be watching what they eat

about 300 g or just over half a lb frozen cheese and arugula ravioli

2 tbls salted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced leeks
3/4 lb chanterelles, wiped clean and chopped
1/4 lb baby bellos,  wiped clean and sliced
2 tbls brandy
1/4 cup heavy cream
parmesan cheese
sage leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a saute pan over med heat. Add the leeks and sauté for about five minutes, until softened before you add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Throw in the mushrooms and turn up the heat to medium high and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the brandy and let reduce for about 45 seconds to a minute. Add the heavy cream and sage and let come to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it cook for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, you have brought a big pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the frozen ravioli according to package directions or until they all float to the top of the water, about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, put it in two shallow pasta bowls and cover with the mushroom sauce. Grate some parmesan on top and eat.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Corn Chowder

After eating so much pasta over the weekend, I was hoping for something veggie-based for dinner on Monday. Austin's bags of summer-shucked corn were calling to me from the freezer so I knew that was my starting point. I figured a corn chowder was the quick ticket but sought out a sweet potato version as something slightly new and different, with the chipotles for a bit of a kick too. You could definitely choose to puree this into a smooth soup, but I wanted something chunky and hearty so I didn't bother. Just as well since Maddie made it clear she really just wanted corn chowder so she spent 20 minutes carefully spooning out all the sweet potatoes, bacon and onions, and then happily sipped away at the remaining corn/stock combo. Two soups in one is always a good thing.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Corn Chowder
serves 4
2 whole sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups corn
8 slices bacon, cubed
1 cup onion, peeled and diced
2 tbsp thyme
2 tbsp marjoram
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 whole chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1/2 cup cream or milk

Fry up the bacon in a large saucepan. Once crispy, remove and set aside, leaving some of the bacon fat in the pot. Add the onions, corn, marjoram and thyme, and saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the diced sweet potatoes, stock, seasonings and peppers and simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If you want your chowder on the smooth side, blend half of the soup with a handheld blender and then add back to the chunky part. I wanted a real chowder so I skipped this step. Finally, add the cream or milk if you'd like it a bit creamy. Top with crumbled bacon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lasagna (again!)

I wouldn't normally post two variations of the same dish back to back but the Prodigal Son came back from university on Sunday for his cousin's 18th birthday and asked for his favourite meal for dinner (lasagna). How could I refuse? Of course, he didn't want the veggie-packed orange version that we had had on Friday. Nope, he wanted our old standby, which is likely the same as your family's one. I sauteed up some onions, browned the ground beef, added seasonings, mixed in some marinara sauce and let it simmer away for an hour or so. Then Maddie jumped in to handle all the layering and before you knew it I had an assembly line of sauce/noodles/cheese action going on and we were ready to go. Popped it in the oven for an hour and a classic Italian comfort meal was delivered to the table and to Corbin's hungry lips.
I apologize for the lack of a photo and an accurate recipe but lasagna's lasagna and mine ain't nuthin' fancy or imaginative as you can tell from above. Spending time with him and family was the priority today and the icing on the cake was him choosing a home-cooked meal over heading out to a restaurant. No place like home, I guess.

Rest of the week

Nov 12 Dinner at Green Eggplant

Nov 13 Lasagna, caesar salad and garlic bread

Friday, November 11, 2011

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna

I've been wanting to make a lasagna for a couple of weeks but just haven't had the time, so when I suddenly found myself with Friday off, I decided to give Martha Stewart's veggie version a try. Pretty straightforward but a little time-consuming so probably not great for a normal weekday night dinner. I began by roasting up a big tray of cubed butternut squash, which got the house smelling amazing right from the start. While that cooled, I mixed up the ricotta/milk/cheese mixture and then mashed up the cooled squash. This is where I misunderstood Martha's directions and left half of the cubed squash on the baking tray, which is where they stayed even as I put the lasagna in the oven. What I now realize is that (needless to say, I didn't read the directions carefully enough) all the squash goes into the bowl, but you only mash half of it, and leave some in chunks for texture in the final dish. Duh, me. So our version will be smoother than called for but I'm pretty sure we'll all survive and quite honestly, I'm happy to have the leftover cubes waiting for me to nibble on at lunch tomorrow anyway. All was not lost.
Anyway, if you want a truly veggie version, substitute veg stock for the chicken stock, and you'll be good to go. Otherwise, toss the squash with the crispy sage (sauteed for a couple of minutes in butter in a saute pan) and stock and then start layering with the noodles. Nice fall meal alongside a fresh salad.

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna
serves 4
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb ricotta cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream (or substitute milk or half-and-half)
1 large egg yolk
1/4 lb fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated
fresh nutmeg
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chicken stock
fresh lasagna noodles, cooked, or dried noodles, cooked
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a baking tray, toss cubed squash with the olive oil and some salt and pepper and roast until light gold and tender, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, combine ricotta, cream, egg yolk and mozzarella, and a pinch of nutmeg in a medium bowl. Season with salt.

Melt butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, add sage, and cook until light gold and crisp at edges, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Place squash in a medium bowl and mash 1/2 of it with the back of a wooden spoon, leaving the other 1/2 in whole pieces. Gently stir in the sage-butter and stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread 3/4 cup of ricotta mixture in a baking dish. Top with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/2 of the butternut squash mixture over noodles. Top with a layer of noodles. Spread 1 cup of ricotta mixture over noodles. Repeat layering once more (noodles, squash, noodles, ricotta). Sprinkle parmesan over ricotta mixture.

Place baking dish on rimmed baking tray and bake until cheese is golden and bubbling, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Rest of the week

Nov 9 Worked late and skipped dinner
Nov 10 Drinks and nibbles at Keg before BCC party
Nov 11 Butternut squash lasagna and salad

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nov 8-9 Braised Pork with Pumpkin

Nov 8     panko chicken strips with plum sauce and sweet potato fries
Nov 9     Out to the Playpen for dinner
Nov 10   Braised Pork with Pumpkin

This was going to be a stellar week of eating in every night, starting with an attempt to replace wing night with a healthier home version. I like going out for great wings every once and a while as much as anyone but it would be nice if we cut that back to a couple of times a month. I baked chicken strips with a panko/black sesame seed coating and baked sweet potato fries to replace our wings and poutine. Everyone seemed pretty happy with that so we were off to a good start. I had every intention of making the chinese braised pork with pumpkin to eat Wednesday and even walked all the way to chinatown to pick up one missing ingredient but Shack texted just as I got there to let me know he had made reservations at the Playpen, a new Johnny K restaurant that we have been waiting for. Foiled again by the saboteur ,  Mr ILOVETOEATOUTEVERYNIGHT.
I made the Pork anyway and we will eat it tonight. It is traditionally made with little pork spareribs but I used a pork butt cubed so it would be more meaty and less boney and easier to eat. I used half the weight in pork because I estimated that half the weight would be taken up by the bone in the ribs. It seemed like it worked out right so go me!

Braised Pork with Pumpkin
adapted from

sunflower oil
1 500g pork butt roast, trimmed of excess fat and cubed into bite sized pieces
chicken stock
3 star anise
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tbls grated ginger
1 tsp chili flake
1 tbls curry powder
1 heaped tbls hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tbls chu hou sauce
1 tbls ground bean paste
1/2 tbls dark soy sauce
1/3 cup shoa xing wine
1 tsp kosher salt
pumpkin, chopped into bite sized pieces

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pot (I used my Le Creuset cast iron pot but you could use a heavy wok or any other good pot). Throw in the garlic, ginger, star anise, chili, hoisin, chu hou and ground bean pastes and fry over medium heat for a couple of minutes until very fragrant.

Add the pork and sauté for another 7 or 8 minutes until the pork is browned and totally coated in the sauce. Add in the curry powder and the dark soy and sauté for another minute.
Now add the Shaoxing wine and deglaze the wok for a couple of minutes before you add the stock or water just to cover to the pork. Bring it to a boil and then turn down the heat until you get a light simmer and let it simmer for about and hour and a half until the pork is really tender. I kept a pot of pork stock simmering lightly on the stove because I found that I had to top up the liquid a bit a couple of times during the cooking of the pork - maybe I simmered it too vigourously but keep an eye on it and make sure you don't let it get too dry. It should be a bit dry and sticky by the time the entire dish is done but you need some liquid to be left in the pot for cooking the pumpkin.
Bring back to a boil and season with some salt to taste. Add this point, you add in the pumpkin and move the meat to the top and the pumpkin to the bottom of the pot, cover lightly and let that cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
Serve it with rice.

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