Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First "official" day!



This first day seems both exciting and kinda "Groundhog Day"at the same time for me--exciting because it's my first blog and GD because the first day of this 365-day journey actually started last August when I announced to my family that we'd be breaking out of our routine and not repeating a recipe for the coming year. Quite honestly, although I enjoyed poring over cookbooks and browsing websites/blogs and getting excited about all the possibilities, I invariably fell back on "old faithfuls" when dinnertime actually rolled around. I figured I needed to set an ambitious goal to motivate me to make some major changes. That decision was the easy part.

The harder part came to breaking the (good) news to my family. My eldest son (Corbin, age 16), asked if I could start in January instead since he'd be heading off to university in August and would only have to tolerate eight months of this nonsense. My middle (Austin, age 13), embraced it with "Yum! When do we start?" and the youngest (Maddie, age 9) asked sadly whether this meant she couldn't have macaroni-and-cheese for a year. The answer? Yes, but all different varieties! In fact, we have since discovered a better mac-cheese recipe (Mark Bittman's version with mascarpone... everything tastes better with mascarpone) than our existing fave at that time so Maddie is somewhat less traumatized and a little more open to change. My husband Quentin was onside, with the proviso that we'd have pasta before any of his triathlon events (he's training for an Ironman so nutrition means a lot to him).



When we announced our new endeavour to family and friends, there were the inevitable gasps of horror and warnings of craziness, combined with comparisons to Julie & Julia and whether we would be confined to using just one cookbook; whether we could eat out; if it involved breakfast, lunch and dinner; etc. To clarify matters and protect myself from claims of cheating, I officially outlined "My Rules," which translated into the following: I can use any recipe from any source; we can eat out or order in, but less so; and it applies to dinner entrees as well as any baking recipes since I love baking and wanted to try new recipes here as well. (This has been the hardest part of the challenge for us since sometimes you just want your fave chocolate chip cookies nestled in the cookie jar on the counter... not some fancy-schmancy fruity/nutty version.)

Right from the start, my ever-supportive foodie friend and fellow walker/yogi Carole encouraged me to blog our experiences but I was overwhelmed at the thought of documenting it all online as well as researching and cooking. Now that I've been doing it for a few months, and with her kind guidance, along with the prospect of sharing the blog with her and Jen, it somehow seems less intimidating at this point, even though it has now become my family's 480-day adventure instead (but I haven't told them that part yet)!

The upside is that the past few months have proven that my family are surprisingly gentle reviewers--and that everyone has an inner food critic buried deep within. Each of the kids bursts through the door at the end of the day with the inevitable question, "What's for dinner, Mom?" but now they get a new answer every time. Our dinner table has morphed into more of a discussion about food and the worst comment I've received so far has been "That wasn't my favourite thing." The other night, when the entree really sucked and I apologized, they told me that at least the cookies were better than the meal (lesson: when in doubt, bake!). Even the most sensitive cook can handle that type of criticism but as the months unfold and the choices wane, they may become less kind! Most of my choices are straightforward, easy and family-friendly because we're just normal folk looking for a great dinner at the end of a busy day.

Here's the lineup from our past few days:

January 6 Angel Hair Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese (Giada's Everyday Pasta), Date and Nut Bread (New York Times Cookbook), Double Chocolate Cookies (Barefoot Contessa)

January 7 Date night.... Ate yummy pizza at Queen Margherita Pizza

January 8 Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin , Risotto with Butternut Squash, Roasted Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts, Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

January 9 Roasted Potato and Leek Soup with Crispy Shallots (Barefoot Contessa) with crusty bread, Nutella Ravioli

January 10 Farfalle with Mushroom Gorgonzola Sauce (Giada, Everyday Pasta); Snickerdoodles (Martha Stewart Cookies)


My Recipe to Share
Toronto was covered in snow all weekend and my kids were either skiing or tobogganing so a hearty soup seemed like the perfect meal to warm us all up by day's end. Ina Garten's recipes (Barefoot Contessa) are typically straightforward and simple... just roasted some veggies, pureed them, and then added stock, cream and seasonings. What made this recipe memorable for us were the crispy, over-the-top shallots because they add a sweet crunch and made us feel like we were eating very elegant, delicate onion rings.

Maddie had been away skiing for three days so we wanted to make a special welcome-home dessert of Nutella Ravioli. Talk about rich and decadent. "Chocolate egg rolls" was how my kids described them and none of us could move after eating just a couple.


Roasted Potato Leek Soup (from Back to Basics, Barefoot Contessa)


2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
4 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts
1/4 cup good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups baby arugula, lightly packed
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 to 7 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz creme fraiche
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Crispy Shallots, optional (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the potatoes and leeks on a sheet pan in a single layer. Add the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the vegetables evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning them with a spatula a few times during cooking, until very tender. Add the arugula and toss to combine. Roast for 4 to 5 more minutes, until the arugula is wilted. Remove the pan from the oven and place over two burners. Stir in the wine and 1 cup of the chicken stock and cook over low heat, scraping up any crispy roasted bits sticking to the pan.

In batches, transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor fitted with the steel blade, adding the pan liquid and about 5 cups of the chicken stock to make a puree. Pour the puree into a large pot or Dutch oven. Continue to puree the vegetables in batches until they're all done and combined in the large pot. Add enough of the remaining 1 to 2 cups of stock to make a thick soup. Add the cream, creme fraiche, 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper and check the seasonings.
When ready to serve, reheat the soup gently and whisk in 2 tbsp white wine and the Parmesan cheese. Serve hot with an extra grating of cheese and crispy shallots, if using.

Crispy Shallots
1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter
5 to 6 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rings

Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Reduce the heat to low, add the shallots, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are a rich golden brown. The temperature should stay below 260 degrees. Stir the shallots occasionally to make sure they brown evenly. Remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain well and spread out to cool on paper towels. Once they have dried and crisped, they can be stored at room temperature, covered, for several days.

2 comments:

Kathy said...

That potato leek soup looks really good. Oh who am I kidding, it all looks good!

Jen H said...

Oooo that soup looks amazing!!

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