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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sweet Potato Bread (with Broccoli Cheddar Soup)

This originally started off as soup with a side of bread, but since the bread ended up getting rave reviews, it got moved up in the final billing. Pioneer Woman's broccoli cheese soup sounded comforting and appealing for a fall evening, although I had to reduce her proportions by more than half since the recipe claimed to feed 10. Granted, she has two extra kiddies but her family is also busy herding cattle all day whereas Urban Woman here just has about 30 bags of leaves waiting to be raked and bagged in her back yard so I'm guessing our appetites are more than a little smaller than theirs. Anyway, totally easy recipe, but next time I'd up the ante on the amount of broccoli since although we all loved the milky creaminess of the final bowl, we easily could have crammed in more of the green stuff without any complaints. Oh well.
But as I said, the sweet potato bread on the side was the big hit. Maddie said, "no offence, but this is better than the soup," and the "no offence" part was because she figured I had bought it. Diss. No offence taken since it was made by her mom's own hands and one thing is inevitably going to be better than another in a meal. Q said it was dessert for dinner and I guess he was right. Moist, dense, flavourful and with just a bit of crunchy/chewy with the nuts and dried cranberries. Reminiscent of the zucchini bread from a few weeks earlier but even better in our opinion. Pretty sure I know what the kids will be fighting over for breakfast on Tuesday morning.

makes one loaf

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/4 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

2 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs, vanilla, milk and mashed sweet potatoes until well blended. Stir sweet potato mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Toss in some pecans and cranberries. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Top with remaining pecans and dried cranberries. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 70 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of loaf comes out clean. Allow loaf to cool in pan for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.

serves 4

1/2 onion, diced

splash of olive oil

dab of butter

3 tbsp flour

2 1/2 cups whole milk (or 3 and skip the half-and-half)

1/2 cup half-and-half

3 cups broccoli florets

1 pinch nutmeg

1 1/2 cups grated cheddar

splash of chicken broth or more milk if needed for thinning

Melt butter and oil over medium heat, add onion and cook for 8 minutes until translucent. Add flour and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the milk and half-and-half. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper, and broccoli and allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until broccoli is tender. Remove from heat and stir in cheese; allow to melt. If you like it chunky, you can serve it as is or mash it up a bit with a potato masher. I pureed it with the handheld blender and it was totally creamy and slid down our throats like a charm.

Rest of the week

Nov 5 Nobody home and I skipped dinner

Nov 6 Dinner at Pic Nic Wine Bar w friends

Nov 7 Gnocchi with brown butter sauce and roasted garlic

Nov 8 Broccoli cheese soup and sweet potato bread

Monday, November 7, 2011

NOv 3-7 Espresso Braised Pot Roast with Balsamic Vinegar

Nov 3    More fast food from EnRoute outside of Kingston Ont
Nov 4    Joe Beef in Montreal
Nov 5    Traditional Quebec lumberjack feast at the Wong/Lam wedding
Nov 6    McDonald's on the highway outside of Cornwall - don't be so jealous
Nov 7    Espresso braised pot roast

So, this is not going to be my prettiest dish but not everything worth eating is going to be beautiful. We left Thursday for Montreal to celebrate the wedding of our friends, Ivy and Craig so I did not cook one thing at all from Friday until Monday. We certainly ate well but there was no cooking and that means no recipes to share which puts the pressure on my to make sure that I cook today, on Monday, even though I really wanted to just eat out one more day. I had to work today and so that meant that I had to throw something in the crockpot. I asked the boys what sort of meat they wanted and Shack wanted bolognese sauce. Since that isn't happening for two more months, he settled on stew or something else with beef. I was completely uninspired so I got out my "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two" book and opened it to the beef section and pretty much threw a dart at it and it landed on a Pot Roast with Espresso and Balsamic Vinegar recipe.
I made a couple of changes and added some potatoes halfway through and we ended up with a pretty tasty dinner. If I had been home to cook I would have made mashed potatoes instead of adding the potatoes but this way, even if I came home 5 minutes before it was time to eat, at least I knew there would be a starch and they were yummy all mashed up with the gravy. I will do something creative with the leftovers in the next day or two as well.

Espresso Braised Pot Roast with Balsamic Vinegar
Cooker: 3 quart
Cooking time: low for 8 or 9 hours

1.5 lb boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat and blotted dry
small drizzle of oil
1/4 tsp salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 tbls olive oil
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee or expresso
1/4 beef or chicken stock (i always use chicken stock)
2 tbls balsamic vinegar
1 lb of halved baby potatoes
1.5 tbls cornstarch mixed with 1.5 tbls water.

Rub all sides of the roast with salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan over med heat and coat the bottom thinly with oil.Brown all sides of the roast and set aside. Place the onion and garlic in the bottom of the crock pot and toss with the olive oil. Place the meat on top and add the coffee, stock and vinegar. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours, until tender.
You can either throw in the potatoes from the start or wait and add them about halfway through. I was home so I could do that but if I were not going to be home I would have added them at the start.

Transfer the meat to a cutting board and tent with foil, letting it rest for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, skim the fat from the braising liquid in the crock pot. Tranfer that liquid to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook, whisking, until sauce thickens slightly, about one minute. Carve the beef and serve with the gravy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Stuffed Peppers

It's been a really busy week, work-wise, and as a result we've been flying by the seat of our pants for dinners. Kids couldn't believe their luck when we went out for pizza midweek and then had breakfast for dinner the following night. So I think it'll have to be a plan-ahead, make-ahead kind of weekend or I can already feel next week unravelling before it even begins. Luckily for me, it's kinda casserole/soup/chili season and we'll try to put some things in the freezer and rest easy for at least one or two nights.
These stuffed peppers were an easy solution on Thursday night and I managed to make them in almost five-minute stages as I ran the kids back and forth to their activities. Chopped the veggies. Made the couscous. Already had leftover sausage waiting in the fridge. Assembled it all and then threw it in the oven just before heading back out for pickup. Ready to eat when we all got back. Perfect busy weeknight meal.

Stuffed Peppers
serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 oz fresh chicken or turkey sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup couscous
a handful of chopped veggies of your choice
4 bell peppers, halved, seeds and ribs removed
1/2 shredded cheese of your choice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook couscous according to directions, fluff with a fork and set aside. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add sausage and cook, breaking up with the back of a spoon, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in with couscous and veggies. Fill pepper halves with couscous mixture and arrange peppers in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover with foil and bake until peppers are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove foil, top with cheese and bake for another 10 minutes.

Rest of the week

Nov 1 Il Fornello pizza

Nov 2 Breakfast for dinner

Nov 3 Stuffed peppers

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nov 1-2 Shepherds Pie Lightened Up

Nov 1     $10 pizza night at Il Fornello
Nov 2     Shepherd's Pie

My father in law called me about making shepherd's pie on the weekend and I had to talk him through it and doing this got me thinking about shepherd's pie. I never make it myself and once a year Shack makes a terrible version of it that includes a layer of canned cream corn between the meat and the potatoes that I refuse to eat and we mutually agree to not discuss. Clearly, it's not high on my list of things I am dying to cook BUT The Kid really likes it (they serve it at school) so I started to think of ways to make it a dish that I could be happy with. I would love to use lamb but Shack hates lamb so I thought I could grind up some chicken thighs, added some sweet potato to the mashed potato layer to make it prettier and more nutritious and went from there. The one mistake I made was to buy chicken breasts instead of thighs because I would have liked a bit of fat and the richness of the darker meat and next time I will use thighs. Even with the far too lean breast meat, the flavour is really nice but the texture of the chicken is not quite right. I think that the lack of fat caused the meat mixture to not blend together the way it would with a fattier meat so that the little chunks of chicken remain very separate and don't melt into the other ingredients the way ground beef would.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Turkey, Avocado and Cheddar Panini with Coleslaw

This past weekend I spent most of my time in the kitchen, cooking and baking, but really none of it amounted to a full meal. We were off to our friends' place on Saturday night for a tailgate party and I had offered to bring salad and desserts. Since others were bringing pulled beef, nachos and chili, I figured coleslaw was just the ticket but didn't want a mayo-laden one. Instead I found a yogurt/sour cream-based version, courtesy of Giada, and it was a crunchy, lighter alternative, with the interesting additions of pine nuts and dried cranberries. I also made some variations of the cute desserts-in-tiny-mason-jars that I've seen recently: a dulce de leche stacked cheesecake one and also s'mores in a jar, with Ina Garten's Grand Marnier chocolate mousse as the middle layer (too rich overall).

On Sunday, our attention then turned to all things Halloween for Maddie's belated 11th birthday party. Peggi-Jean's famous witch finger cookies were a huge hit, as were mummy hot dogs, cobweb cupcakes and fruit skewers stuck porcupine-style in a pumpkin.

Which brings us to Halloween night, which is never a great dinner evening since we've got kids with more important chocolate-gathering priorities than sitting down and eating a good meal. In fact, Maddie and Austin both vamooshed and found dinner elsewhere before trick-or-treating time so I quickly pulled together this sandwich for Q with some leftover coleslaw that he could gulp down before heading out to accompany a gaggle of girls around the neighbourhood for the next two hours. Not much of a recipe here, but just keeping it real.

Rest of the week
Oct 28 Liquid dinner with charcuterie at PicNic Wine Bar with gfs
Oct 29 Tailgate party at friends' place
Oct 30 Family dinner at Vivetha Bistro
Oct 31 TAC panini with coleslaw
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