Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grilled Eggplant with Ricotta & Tomatoes

I've been playing along with noreEATS, I promise I have but between work and life I've been a very delinquent poster.  For that I apologize.  I had a delicious BLT salad last week that I still may back post on this past weekend that I totally missed.  It was that good and that easy.

As has been the case since I went back to work, I am truly struggling with making dinner on a nightly basis.  And making sure something is different and somewhat worthy to share.  The job of keeping someone else's life in order does suck alot out of you.  Some nights I get home and even if I have something easy planned or leftovers or even if the Boy suggests going out I just don't have it in me.  I think I had been out of it for just long enough to forget that feeling.  I'm not going to lie I long for the days when I could make whatever my heart fancied for dinner.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Roasted Parsnip Soup

While Austin and I were walking the boardwalk together the other morning, I decided to pick his brain for ideas for dinner since I was coming up empty on my own. Although I was toying with the thought of paninis, he was remembering the caramelized roasted parsnips we'd served his buddy the other night and he asked for them again, but this time in some form of soup. Easy enough to do. I guess he can feel the fall in the air and the natural transition back to comfort foods. Not to say that I'm ready to cover the BBQ for the season but autumn is definitely around the corner. Quick meal to prepare, appreciated by the requestor and lots of leftovers for the next day since Q is in London and I went out to Table 17 with Carole and other friends from the gym for our annual Pretty Summer Dress night out. We both had the most delicious trout with corn salsa and avocado puree as well as an amazing panna cotta. But the real star of the evening wasn't the food but Carole, dressed in a totally fierce little black dress with sophisticated cut-outs at her neckline, paired with strappy sexy wedgy-heels. And if you think she's entertaining to read on-screen, her lightning-quick one-liners and razor-sharp wit/view of the world kept us all laughing for the entire night. I'm one lucky girl to have her as a friend, walking companion, blogging mentor and cooking pal.

serves 6

1 1/2 lbs parsnips, peeled and roughly chopped (cut them into smaller pieces than mine above so they'll puree easily without spraying the entire kitchen in the process... my mistake)
4 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 clove garlic, minced, or 3 roasted cloves

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

1 tsp chopped fresh sage

drizzle of whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place parsnips and garlic cloves on baking sheet and toss with 2 tbsp of oil. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until fork-tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add oil, onions and celery and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add white wine, stock, parsnips, garlic and herbs and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Puree soup with a handheld blender. Stir in the cream and season to taste.

Rest of the week

Aug 26 Grilled chicken souvlakis and assorted roasted veggies

Aug 27 Date night at Queen Margherita pizza... possibly one of the best pizzas of my life

Aug 28 Banished from house so Corbin could have BBQ for all his work buddies; forced to eat at golf club

Aug 29 Roasted parsnip soup for Austin; Table 17 with the girls for me

Aug 25- Aug 31 Cherry Crisp

I left last Thursday to attend a big, fat Hindu wedding in Detroit and just got back last night so there was no cooking going on all weekend (although there was a whole lot of eating going on) I was going to just blog about all that I consumed over the weekend but decided to share this recipe with you instead because I made this on Thursday morning before I left so that the kid would have some dessert while his mother abandoned him so it really is the only think I have cooked since my last post. It has fruit and fruit is healthy and there are oats and nuts which are really healthy so there is no reason that this can't count as an entree. For all I know, this is what the little rugrat ended up eating for his supper anyway.
I will be back to our regular dinner schedule for my next posting day which is Thursday.

I bought a nice, big basket of golden cherries for a song the other day and thought I might make one jar of cherry jam with them. I made that key lime ice pie ice cream and when I eat ice cream, all I can think about is apple crisp to go under my ice cream. Then I thought that a cherry crisp would be even better and one thing led to another and I made two lovely little crisps.
I liked the sound of this recipe by Alton Brown, so I used that as my base and changed it up a bit. I didn't want to use that many nuts so I used less expensive nuts and more cheap and cheerful graham crackers. I also added crystallized ginger because I love that stuff.
The cherries still had a touch of bite left to them because I only halved them instead of chopping them up and that was a very nice thing. If you want them to be all soft and totally melty, just chop them up but if you like the texture of real chunks of fruit, keep them in halves. It wasn't too sweet and I love that as well. The only downside was that once we tasted the finished product, we realized that it needed plain vanilla ice cream so it was never eaten with our key lime pie ambrosia. Actually, that means there is still key lime pie ice cream left in the fridge.

Cherry Crisp

3 cups of pitted, chopped cherries
1 tlbs cornstarch
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
zest from about half the lemon

Crumble Topping:
1 cup flour
2/3 cups sugar
1 cup mixed, chopped nuts ( I did a third each pecans, walnuts and almonds)
1 3/4 cup crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup chopped crystalized ginger
1 stick cold butter, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350F
To make the topping, mix all the dry ingredients together and then work the cold butter in with your hands or a pastry cutter until its all crumbly and pebbly. This will keep in the fridge for a week to use on more crisps, crumbles and something Alton calls a grunt. Whatever.

In another bowl, mix the cherries, the cornstarch, sugar , lemon juice and zest and about 1/4 cup of the topping and fill two or three 8 oz ramekins (his recipe says you can get four out of it but I used two different sized ramekins so I am not sure about that).

Top the ramekins with about 1/2 cup of the crumble topping, place them on a baking sheet and bake in the centre of the oven for about 35 minutes or until it's all bubbly and the topping is nicely browned.
Let it sit for 15 minutes before serving it.

What I love the most about this recipe is that I can keep the crumb topping in the fridge and make just a couple at a time over the course of a week or so. With just the two of us eating until Shack finishes up with this movie, I don't want to make giant desserts that will sit around, staring at me every time I open the fridge, begging me to take a spoon to them so by the end of the day I have consumed an entire dessert that was meant to feed 6.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Caramelized Onion Tart and Warm Mushroom Salad... that turned into a frittata

Sometimes dinner is just a bust and unfortunately Thursday was one of those nights. Based on the photo above, you'd think we had caramelized onion tart. And it did start off that way. In the morning, I searched the freezer to make use of something on hand, and when I saw some puffed pastry, I went looking for a savoury tart recipe. I had high hopes for this recipe but although the kitchen smelled like a dream with the caramelized onions, and the tart came out of the oven looking golden-brown on top and along the edges, when I cut into it once it had cooled I found that the pastry was still totally raw. By that point, way too late to put it back in the oven. And this, even though I had already doubled the recommended cooking time. The recipe didn't call for rolling out the pastry so I had just unfolded it as indicated but this was likely the problem. Maybe my pastry was overly thick... who knows. Just a disappointment in terms of wasted time, energy and ingredients.

Since I had also figured that we were kid-free that night, I had plans for a warm mushroom salad on the side and knew this combo would be fine for the two of us. But at the last minute, Austin popped in the door, looking for a meal before he reffed soccer. Last week nobody was home for dinner and now I have unexpected hungry tummies. And not many 14-year-old boys are excited at the thought of uncooked pastry, let alone a warm fungus salad. You can imagine the blank stare of "are you kidding, you want me to eat this?" So we cobbled together a Plan B meal for him instead.

At this point, I'd basically given up on the idea of dinner altogether and a few minutes before Q arrived home, I decided that a salad alone probably wasn't going to do it for him either (how many people can I disappoint in one day) so I tried to salvage what I could of my efforts by scraping off the ricotta/onion mix from the top of the tart, combining it with the sauteed mushrooms that I'd started on, throwing in some beaten eggs and calling it a frittata. He was thrilled and said it was delish because he's a trooper who rarely complains about any of my food. And I didn't wince when he squeezed some ketchup on top and asked if I wanted to take a pic of the whole mess.

Caramelized Onion Tart

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp sugar
optional 4 tsp white wine
1 package puff pastry, thawed
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium frying pan, cook butter, thyme, onions, salt, pepper, sugar and white wine for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened and golden brown. While onions are caramelizing, combine ricotta cheese and egg in a small bowl and set aside. Unfold puff pastry sheets on a large cookie sheet, making sure both sheets connect in the middle. (This is where things fell apart for me. Flour and roll out the sheets fairly thinly so they'll cook through.) Gently fold in each side of the puff pastry sheets approximately 1 inch. Spread ricotta cheese evenly over the puff pastry and lightly sprinkle most of the parmesan on top. Add caramelized onions evenly over the cheese mixture and top off by sprinkling any remaining parmesan. Bake for 45 minutes until puff pastry is golden brown.

Rest of the week

Aug 23 Nobody home for dinner

Aug 24 Date night at Table 17 as part of our staycation with Maddie away; kids had salmon and veggies

Aug 25 Mushroom/caramelized onion/ricotta frittata

August 21-24 Onigiri

Aug 21     korean short ribs
Aug 22    curry chicken udon noodles
Aug 23    dinner out
Aug 24    late night chinese with both of the men in my life
Aug 25    Onigiri

I was supposed to have my kitchen counter repaired on Tuesday so I planned on going out for dinner. It really would be impossible to cook in there because my kitchen is about 2 sq ft and I only have two counters and if Bob The Builder is working on one of them, there wouldn't be room to swing a cat in there.

 Of course, the repairman didn't get around to my place on Tuesday and I had nothing ready to prepare for dinner so we went out anyway. My kitchen counter was now being fixed on Wednesday.  That meant that Wednesday, which was the day I planned on cooking , would also be a non cooking day but I have to post Thursday AND Thursday afternoon I am leaving to go out of town for the weekend. I am going out of town all by myself (to attend an exiting multiple day Indian wedding so it is going to be nothing but food, food and more food - maybe some champagne to wash down all the food) until Sunday so unless I cook something Sunday evening after I get home, I will most likely have no recipes but lots of great stories and food porn to show you on Monday. For all of you mothers, I think you know why I bolded ALL BY MYSELF IN A BEAUTIFUL INN WITH A BIG BED AND ROOM SERVICE AND A BOTTOMLESS HOT WATER SUPPLY AND A BIG BATHROOM AND I WON'T HAVE TO SHARE THE BED WITH ANY STINKY BOYS. Exited, am I !

Anyway, whether I am here or not, The Kid has to be fed. The Neighbours are keeping an eye on him until his father stops working late Friday night but he is getting himself up, dressed, getting his lunch together before catching the bus to camp on Friday morning and then coming home after camp on his own. I will be able to see him off on Thursday morning but he will be coming home on his own after camp and this means there needs to be something for him to eat for dinner (The Neighbours are taking him out for dinner Friday).

One perfect thing I could make ahead of time and leave for The Kid to eat is onigiri. I had some leftover curry chicken from our curry chicken udon noodles and used some of that to stuff in them. If you have never tried onigiri, they are just japanese sticky rice (the same rice you use to make sushi but you don't season it with the vinegar/sugar mixture) that you put in a cute, little mold, fill with a bit of meat or fish or something and the wrap in a strip of nori (the seaweed sheets you use to make sushi). You can use anything to fill them, even tuna salad or some ham and it makes a really easy lunch item to pack for your kids too. I make california roll onigiri on mornings when I am too lazy to make actual california rolls to pack in his lunch. Have I mentioned how spoiled my little prince is? This is really more of a snack food or a lunch treat but in this case, it made the perfect make ahead dinner for a rice loving kid. A bonus was that it didn't require any re heating, i.e.  the use of any potential house burning down appliances.

my onigiri mold
makes 4 med sized onigiri
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup water
a couple tbls of cooked, leftover meat or seafood (curry chicken and cabbage in my case)
furikake to taste - my kid loves it so i use a generous amount but you can just use a light sprinkle
1 sheet nori, cut into strips (the sheets have a light cutting indents so just cut along those lines, about 1/2")
 onigiri molds

I use a rice cooker for my rice. Put the rice in pot and rinse it in cool water four or five times until the water runs pretty clear. Cover with water and let it sit on the counter for at least 15 minutes or up to about 30 minutes to soak. Drain that water and then add a fresh cup of water to the rice in the pot and cook in your rice cooker.
While the rice is cooking, get your stuff together.

Cut up your leftover meat or fish or mock crab or whatever you are going to stuff these things with into little pieces. Cut your nori strips and set aside.

When the rice cooker turns off, let it sit for 10 minutes to steam before removing the lid. When that is done, take off the lid, remove the rice and put it a shallow bowl and let it cool until it's just nicely warm. This is when you sprinkle in the furikake (you can skip this too if you or your kids don't like it) over the rice and gently fold in in.
*please excuse the terrible how to photos - I had to make this at the crack of dawn and it was dark so I had to take them with the kitchen light on.

fill part way with rice - make small indent

add a bit of your filling

cover with a bit more rice to fill mold loosely

push down lid to compact the rice

finished with nori wrapping

rinse your mold and the mold lid under warm running water and don't dry it off. Pack some rice into the mold so it covers the bottom and is starting to come up the sides. Lightly press a well into it with your thumb and put in a bit of filling - not too much or it will not hold together after. Cover the filling with some more rice so that the mold is loosely filled - not too tightly packed in or when you press the lid down it will ooze out and the filling might seep out.
There is a little flap in the bottom of the mold and you push that in and it pops the onigiri right out. Because it's still warm, the seaweed will stick right to it and hold itself to the rice.

That's it. If you are eating it right away, you just serve them as is. You can serve with any sort of dipping sauce or just a bit of soy sauce. The Kid eats them plain or sprinkles even more furikake on them. These were perfect because I made them before catching the train, wrapped them lightly in saran wrap and left them in the fridge along with a salad (undressed so that it wouldn't get soggy - he can put the dressing on when he is going to eat it) and he can eat something other than the twenty rice cakes he would have called dinner if left completely to his own devices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The easiest Tomato Sauce Ever!

August 20 - Steak & grill roasted veggies cooked byt the Boy and MIL
August 21 - tacos with homemade corn tortillas & leftover chipotle mango pulled pork with a grilled corn salad
August 22 - Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter over spaghetti
August 23 -  chicken thighs braised in Tomato Sauce with Onion & Butter with leftover corn salad

It's no secret that we love Italian food in our house.  It's my preferred food to cook and the Boy is a huge fan of carbs and cheese, which is easily worked into to many Italian dishes.  All this being said, it's rare that I ever just make spaghetti with a basic tomato sauce.  There's always some meat or veg included or the pasta is baked.  There's just always something else done to it.

Since before I started blogging there has been a tomato sauce recipe going around the web that has only 3 ingredients.  Now I don't use a ton of ingredients for my base sauce, but just three, seriously?!   It comes from Marcella Hazen's book The Essentials of Italian Cooking.  I honestly don't know why being the Italian food lover that I am I don't own this book, but after trying this sauce I'm absolutely getting it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Search for Q's Fave Gazpacho

The decision to make another version of gazpacho partly arose because we've only had intermittent power over the past 24 hours, following a violent thunderstorm in the Toronto area on Sunday afternoon. That day the power was down (as were several trees in our neighbourhood) for five hours and just when we thought we were back to normal, the electricity was on and off again on Monday. The teens were gobsmacked and didn't know quite what to do without a screen in front of them and had to take desperate measures to entertain themselves otherwise; one decided that sleeping it out was his best option.

I was prepared to grill something on the BBQ for dinner but then figured a cold dinner would work too. Preparing this 10-minute gazpacho just had to coincide with the power being on for a few seconds so I could mix it all in the blender and then pop it in the fridge. So that's what we ended up doing. Unfortunately it wasn't popular with Austin, who is normally the kindest and easiest critic of all, and Q said it was fine but didn't hit the mark in terms of his golf club's gazpacho, which I've now learned is the gold standard that I'm trying to meet. This version was a lot smoother than the previous one and apparently chunkiness is something I should be aiming for, plus the addition of bread but the lack of veggies weren't pluses. Personally, I think this one just tasted more like cold tomato soup than full-flavoured gazpacho and that was the main problemo for all of us.

Monday, August 22, 2011

August 19-21 Pad Thai

Aug 19     Pad Thai
Aug 20     kid at with the neighbours, i had wine and popcorn at cirque du soleil
Aug 21     Korean shortribs, rice and green beans

I never make pad thai at home because I can get really good noodles at a couple great thai restaurants that I like to frequent and frankly, I haven't found a  recipe that seems to work for me. I heard that the pad thai from Chez Pim is very easy and very good so I thought it was time to give it a try. If it wasn't for this challenge, I would be taking Little Shack out to Salad King for dinner but I am supposed to be cooking this stuff at home, aren't I?

The sauce was easy enough to put together - I really don't like reconstituting the tamarind but you have to do what you have to do and it's just kind of gross and messy, not difficult. I did fidget with the proportions after I used her basic equal parts tamarind, fish sauce and palm sugar to add more tamarind and fish sauce because it seemed a bit too sweet but I might have been off on my sugar measurements.
Really, as long as you chop your chicken, peel your shrimp, slice up your tofu, etc it's pretty simple and quick to make.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Off-to-Camp Mac n Cheese

Bug repellent, bungee cords, sleeping bags, plastic ground sheets, sunblock... just some of the items we were scavenging for over the weekend in preparation for Maddie's week at overnight camp. It's her first time away and the excitement is high in anticipation of all the outdoor fun with her friends from school. We're hoping for great weather and for the reality to live up to the fun expectations. She's an independent little thing, although definitely a city girl at heart, so we'll see how country life suits her over the next seven days. What I'll miss most is waking her up in the mornings... her warm little body stretched across the bed with one of her dozens of stuffed toys tightly tucked into her folded elbow. Like all my kids, sleeping is when she still looks her youngest and brings back memories of babyhood.

Maddie had already informed me of her hopes for a welcome-home meal next Saturday (always the planner) but when I asked her what she wanted as her "last supper" before the big adventure, I already knew what her answer would be: mac and cheese. I didn't want to make this meal too much of a culinary twist since it was really all about comfort and familiarity, so I chose Giada's version, which used flat egg noodles and fontina cheese, just a tad different from the norm for us. My only memories of eating those egg noodles while growing up were beneath a goulash, sprinkled with poppy seeds, that my mom made every once in a while. Q remembered them from the tuna casseroles of the 1970s but I can safely say I never ate any of those (taste is personal but to me they're a definite yuck). Anyway, the main point is that Maddie went back for seconds and said it was excellent so she's all set for the week--even if it means surviving on s'mores from here on in.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Chipotle Mango Pulled Pork & Slaw

August 17 - Chipotle Mango Pulled Pork, with a green salad and pickled beans 
August 18 - Leftovers from Queen Margherita Pizza
August 19 - late munchies at the Fill Station

The slow cooker is my savior when I'm working.  Unfortunately much of what I make in it is pretty hearty and not exactly the kind of food you want to be eating in the summer.  The one thing that's perfect in the summer, well just about anytime if you as me, is pulled pork and it is oh so easy in the slow cooker.

I'm a meat hoarder.  When there is a good deal on whole chickens or pork shoulders I buy them up and throw them in our chest freezer.  Early in the week I realized I hadn't made pulled pork in quite some time and figured I should get on it.  First because it's delicious and a guaranteed hit on our house but also because it's a perfectly easy weeknight meal and I had a shoulder in the freezer just begging to be used,  a benefit of meat hoarding.  The beauty of pork shoulder is that it takes alot for it to dry out, so while chicken can get quite dry in the slow cooker if you get stuck at work late, pork just gets more delicious.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sesame-Crusted Salmon and Orzo with Brown Butter and Parmesan

Just for the record... I don't mind searching for and finding new recipes every week (after all, this whole adventure was of my own making). I don't mind making a list and shopping for the ingredients either. And, for the most part, I really don't mind trying to be creative and experimenting with different things. What I do mind, however, as I discovered this week, is making meals that immediately turn into leftovers because nobody, and I do mean nobody, is home to eat them. Must be the final dog days of summer but everyone in this house has been consistently busy with one thing or another (think buddies, golf, Wonderland, soccer reffing, movies, swimming, "hanging," I've heard it all) and although the intention is there to be home for dinner, at 6:00 pm I find myself looking at a messy kitchen but no one at the table. So much for "if you make it, they will come." Well, I made it and they didn't. Sorry for the vent but it's been a bit discouraging.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Aug 16-18 Japanese Salad Dressing #2 or JSD #2

Aug 16     Thai fried rice with the leftover chicken from the day before
Aug 17     Dinner out with Kate and Emma
Aug 18     Salad with JPD #2 and take out sushi

I have started to attempt to replicate The Kid's favorite salad dressing from a local restaurant, which we are referring to as the JPD project. JSD #1 was delicious but different than the vinaigrette I am attempting to copy. I had an epiphany one night as I was drifting off to sleep that the key to this salad dressing that was neither oily or super vinegary was that it was made with apple juice.

For our salad today, I tried making a dressing that had basically no oil and although delicious, I have been informed that it is even farther off than the first attempt BUT he also said it was really good and because it has only 1 tsp of sesame oil in the whole batch, it's really healthy and low fat and so I will certainly make this again just for that reason alone. The chunks of apple and carrot give it a really nice texture and I didn't miss the oil at all.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Festival of Peaches

August 13 - Birthday bar crawl with friends
August 14 - Peach BBQ Chicken thighs and a buffala mozzarella, garden tomato & peach salad
August 15 - tomato & cheddar tarts with a green salad
August 16 - I had dinner out with a friend so the Boy went for wings

This is my favorite time of year because peaches are in season.  And not just any peaches, local Niagara Peaches.  I've been going nuts making peach jam and peach salsa and will be freezing and canning half peaches this coming weekend. All for the love of this gorgeous stone fruit.  I can't help it, they are my fave and I'm so happy to be living less than 100 miles from where many of them are grown.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Zucchini Corn Pancakes (and another PB cream pie for Mikey)

Maddie came home with a huge mason jar filled with fresh corn that she'd spent an hour shucking at her auntie Karen's house, and, after some pretty aggressive cajoling to get her to share it with the rest of us, she finally agreed to let me use one cup--and one cup only, mind--in this breakfast-for-dinner savoury-pancake/fritter recipe. She knew she had worked long and hard to get those valuable golden kernels, with two finger-nicks to boot, and she wasn't giving them up easily.

But just as I was starting to mix the batter, the inevitable texts from the menfolk started coming in. Q was already in Regina so I knew he was out of the picture but then both boys also bailed on dinner--one was babysitting and the other was heading out with friends after work. Suddenly four place settings reduced to two. Two fewer critics too, I guess, so that was an upside. Anyway, it simplified things in the end because although I'd been planning to grill some fish or chicken to go alongside these, I knew they'd stand alone just for the girlfolk. So Maddie and I sat down to our corn pancakes together, which were much thicker than expected and more like fritters, with some tangy salsa and sour cream on the side, and, although they were delicious, she eventually admitted that she'd really just prefer a bowl of her fresh corn, nicely heated please. Straight up, nothing fancy. And she was right. Mother Nature was way more delicious than anything I could put on the table. Totally creamy and satisfying and a meal in itself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

August 14-15 Yellow Plum Sauce

August 14     2 slices of cold pizza to stop me from passing out
August 15     Yellow Plum Sauce with Savoury Sesame Chicken

I had every intention of cooking dinner on Sunday night but I took a jam making workshop with Sarah Hood and it ended about 6:30pm because the jam refused to stay at 220F and it went longer than expected. I went to pick up Little Shack at his friend's house and realized that I hadn't eaten anything other than a banana that morning and was about to collapse. The family rescued me with a couple of delectable slices of cold pizza so suddenly, dinner was not happening so that meant the pressure was on to make something of worth on Monday, for sure.

The minute I tasted the plum cinnamon jam we made at the workshop, all I could think of was plum sauce. I was contemplating Captain Highliner or McNuggets or chicken balls on the drive home, to be perfectly honest. Thankfully, the pizza filled me up and then I saw that I had some savoury sesame chicken from SupperWorks in the freezer that would be perfect with the plum sauce that I made using the Yellow Plum with Cinnamon Jam . Pre-pizza I was inches away from buying some breaded chicken strips at the grocery store to go with this plum sauce but thankfully, I checked the freezer first.
Close call.

Yellow Cinnamon Plum Sauce

3 tbls yellow plum with cinnamon jam
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 red thai chili, seeded and chopped fine (or to taste)
1 tbls chopped thai basil

Breaded chicken of your choosing. Cook this chicken in the manner that the chicken demands to be cooked.

Mix the jam with the vinegar, the chili and  a pinch of kosher salt and taste. Adjust chili if you want it spicier. Stir in the basil right before the chicken is ready.

Serve the plum sauce either on the side or spoon it right over your breaded chicken, fish, fish sticks or whatever food you would normally eat with plum sauce. You will not regret it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Aug 11-13 Orange Teriyaki Halibut

Aug 11     spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce with thai chilis
Aug 12     Dinner out with friends
Aug 13     Orange Teriyaki Hailbut with scallion noodles

Last week I made teriyaki salmon using a recipe I found on Life is Great and we both liked it a lot but I can't make that one again and Little Shack wanted teriyaki. There was a recipe for scallion noodles that she made to go with the fish that I couldn't stop thinking about so we made those but had to look for a different sauce recipe. Clearly, the Kid and I are all asian, all the time right now and that suits both of us just fine. I had really lost my cooking mojo there for a while but I realize I am cooking the way I did before I started living with Shack and all of these dishes and ingredients are coming back to inspire me. I feel badly that the BBQ is just not being used but at least we have moved beyond crying jags in the kitchen at 6pm. Things are looking up.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Peanut Butter Pie

You aren't going to get a recipe from me today.

My rundown of what I made over the last few days is at the bottom of the post, but i just felt I had to take today to write a bit about why I cook, why I blog and why I took on this crazy challenge.

Why am I doing this?  Well if you aren't an avid food blog reader or active within this crazy community we've created, you may have missed the heart-breaking news that fellow blogger, Jennifer Perillo husband died so suddenly on Sunday night that she didn't even get the change to say good-bye or one last "I love you." She is now faced with finding a new normal for her and her girls without Mikey.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grilled Chicken with Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto

It's been a busier-than-normal week for work so I've been flying by the seat of my pants in terms of dinners. And the eldest kid is feigning busy-ness, even when he's not scheduled at work, just so I don't dare ask him to step up to the stove and put together a meal for the rest of us. His last day off was spent, busily but unproductively, trying to log on to the university website to move any early classes to something past 10 a.m., since apparently it would be a physical impossibility to make it there otherwise, mom, even while living not 10 minutes away on campus, and why set yourself up for failure so early in the year? After more than 14 hours (no exaggeration) of almost-consecutive mouse-clicking (even hiring his brother as his back-up on a second computer), he finally managed to get in and move things around. What a relief. Life can go on. Maybe success is within reach. No excuses now, at least.

All this leads us to me back to the dinner dilemma that I'm obviously facing alone, and, while nothing has been wildly inspirational this week, we haven't eaten out either so that's been a minor victory. This pesto chicken ended up being a bit of a success/failure too. The pesto itself was fresh and tasty and the leftovers will no doubt be used in many forms over the next few days, but I admit that I didn't read the recipe properly in advance, and made the assumption that the chicken should be slathered with the pesto before grilling, instead of grilling it first and then doing the pesto-smearing. As a result, I ended up with pretty charred chicken that wasn't worthy of any photograph but, and this is the success part, it was still delicious nonetheless. I love, love, love it when you're about to throw it in the can and decide it's at least worth a bite and it ends up redeeming itself. Did a final smear of the green stuff on top of the black and no one was any the wiser.

serves 4

4 boneless chicken breasts

2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 to 2 tsp grated lemon peel

1/3 cup plus 2 tsp olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan

Heat the grill to medium heat. Lightly oil the grill pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and the grill until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Combine the spinach, pine nuts, lemon juice, and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse. With the machine running, gradually add 1/3 cup of the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy. Add salt and pulse. Store half of the pesto for future use.

Transfer the rest of the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the pesto over the chicken and serve.
Rest of the week

Aug 10 Made-to-order omelettes with tossed salad

Aug 11 Pesto chicken with couscous and roasted veggies

Aug 8-10 Sweet and Spicy Pork with Udon

Aug 8     Disgusting bowl of tomato soup at Tim Horton's on the 401 outside of Ottawa
Aug 9     Burger's Priest Burger and a salad a few hours later
Aug 10   Sweet and Spicy Pork Noodles with Salad with japanese style dressing

Little Shack and I spent Sunday and Monday with friends in  Ottawa , our nation's capitol, and we all had a fabulous time. The moms left the kids and the dad at the hotel on Sunday night and went out together for a really nice dinner at Play. The next morning, we all had a tasty breakfast at our hotel, ARC but other than those two meals, there was nothing worth mentioning. I was really dying for something fresh and home cooked.

Our first night home was supposed to be that delicious, home cooked meal but it kind of fell through when Shack took us to the Burger's Priest before he had to leave for work at 4pm. I have no ability to say no when someone waves a Burger's Priest burger under my nose. I am only human although we did have a yummy salad later on in the evening if that counts for anything.

Wednesday, all I could think of were those lettuce rolls with ground chicken or pork but, oddly enough, I didn't feel like the lettuce roll part so I made the meat and we ate it over udon noodles. I am planning to turn it into lettuce rolls tomorrow night so I made the full recipe even though it makes a ton of meat and could have easily fed another four people.

This was a huge hit with Little Shack. He even asked for a second bowl of just the meat and didn't care that there were no noodles left. He also kept saying "mmm, this is good beef" so, as always, take his opinion with a grain of salt.

Sweet and Spicy Pork Noodles
adapted from this recipe from Ming Tsai (makes enough pork to feed 4 to 6 but I have plans for the leftovers)

1 lb ground pork
2 tbls canola oil
1 tbls soy sauce
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 red thai chili, seeded and chopped finely (you can add more if you like it spicier )
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 onion, chopped
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (chinese rice cooking wine)
1 cup chicken stock
handful of partially cooked green beans (I steamed them for one minute and rinsed under cold water)
1 tbls cornstarch and about 1 1/2 tbls water made into a slurry
Japanese udon noodles
1 tbls chopped roasted peanuts per serving

Bring a pot of water to the boil

Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan over med high heat. Add the ground pork and stir fry about four minutes. At that point add the soy sauce and continue to cook for another minute, until the pork is cooked and no longer pink. Remove the pork to a shallow bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the garlic, chili, ginger and onion to the pan and stir fry that for about five minutes, until the onion is softened and it gets really fragrant. Throw in the hoisin sauce and stir that around for one minute. Now put the pork back in with the chicken stock and the green beans and bring to a boil. Let that cook down for five minutes. 

While the pork is cooking down, it's time to cook the udon noodles. I buy fresh noodles that you will find in the refrigerated section of any asian grocery store. Cook them according to the instructions and drain and set aside.

After the pork has cooked for five minutes, stir in your cornstarch slurry and stir well for about one more minute until the sauce thickens up and take off the heat.

Put a serving of cooked udon noodles in a bowl, top with ground pork and green beans with some sauce and sprinkle each bowl with a tbls of chopped peanuts.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grilled Pizza with Apple & Cheddar

August 7 - The boy smoked sausages and I made ceviche
August 8 - dinner out with friends
August 9 - leftover smoked sausages on pizza, like the tasty one below

So last night I had my first serious meal screw-up in a really long time.  I've had meals that weren't hits, but were edible and turned out how they were supposed to, but last night it was a serious fail.  Like a blackened pizza fail.

This summer I've become a master of the grill, I grill on it and even bake all kinds of things on it, pies, cakes, enchiladas, eggplant parm.  I've gotten to know our grill quite well or so I thought.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Salade Nicoise and Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers

I had decided on a Nicoise salad for a light dinner on Monday night, with memories of our recent trip to France, but was trying to add something to round it out in case the kids got picky. I've never seen Julia Child add popovers on the side of this classic and they aren't something I usually associate with the middle of the summer either--reserved instead for some stick-to-your-ribs fare on a snowy Sunday in February--but whatever, I figured we had nothing to lose. Especially since my sister had put me onto this particularly light, summer-sounding recipe from Smitten Kitchen about a week ago and I'd been wanting to try it ever since. Fresh and full of corn flavour, all puffed up and totally bronzed on top, they managed to steal the show. Since this recipe only makes six (perfect since I only have a six-popover pan), we were already doing the math and figuring that everyone would get 1.5 popovers, but then Austin bailed on dinner at the last minute and suddenly the remaining three of us realized that meant no sharing and a full two each. And they all disappeared pronto, with requests from Maddie that they be part of her birthday meal in October. Wow. There's an endorsement. Notsomuch for the salad.

Salade Nicoise
serves 3

1 large head Boston lettuce, washed and dried
1/2 lb green beans, cooked and refreshed
1 tbsp minced shallots
1/2 cup basic vinaigrette (see below)
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
6 to 8 mini-potatoes, boiled and cut into chunks
1 can good-quality tuna or fresh tuna steak, grilled
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup small black olives
2 tsp capers
3 tbsp minced parsley

For the vinaigrette, mix together 1 tbsp finely chopped, 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 tbsp wine vinegar and 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a large platter. Toss the beans with the shallots and a bit of the vinaigrette. Baste the tomatoes with a spoonful of the vinaigrette. Arrange each of the ingredients in a corner of your platter, with the tuna in the middle, or however you choose to present them. Spoon more vinaigrette over it all and top with the olives, capers and parsley.

Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers
makes 6

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup corn kernels (from most of one cob)
3 large eggs
2 tbsp melted butter, cooled, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp yellow cornmeal
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives

Put buttermilk and corn in a blender together and blend for just 3 seconds--just to break up the corn a bit, not puree it. Add the eggs, one tbsp of the butter and blend for one second more. Add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and pepper, and the chives, and blend again until barely combined (some lumps are fine).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, allowing the batter to rest for about 15 minutes while it heats. Brush your popover cups with the remaining melted butter. Fill each cup slightly more than halfway. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes and don't open the oven door to peek. Popovers are done when they're tall and bronzed. Flip them out onto a cooling rack for a few moments before serving.

Rest of the week

August 5 Pizza night

August 6 Dinner at Q's parents

August 7 Greek food a la Taste of the Danforth

August 8 Nicoise salad and popovers, Maddie's amazing peanut-butter choc chip cookies

Monday, August 8, 2011

Aug 4-7 Green Curry with Tofu and Eggplant

Aug 4     green curry with tofu and eggplant
Aug 5     Taste of the Danforth
Aug 6    
Aug 7     Dinner out in Ottawa

I bought some of those little, round Indian eggplants and wasn't sure what I was going to do with them. I spent a couple of days just opening the fridge and looking at them but just didn't know what to cook and it was getting dangerously close to having to go out for dinner again if I didn't make something in the next half an hour. A green curry was in order and so I made one with whatever I had in my fridge and the curry cooked in the time it took the basmati rice to do it's thing in the rice cooker. This makes a really mild green curry because although I like a hot, spicy curry, The Kid does not.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Green & White Halibut Ceviche

August 6 - dinner out at the Bowery

Since we went out for dinner last night, I'm sharing my contribution for our dinner tonight.  The Boy is in charge of much of dinner, which will include smoking some sausages we bought at the St. Lawrence Market yesterday.

I've spent much of the day making preserves from all of the amazing seasonal produce I bought at the market and some from our backyard garden.  It's pretty freakin' hot here today and while I know the sausages will be tasty and I'm excited to try them, I've been craving some citrusy fresh ceviche.  So I asked the boy to pick me up some halibut on his way home from a meeting this morning.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Easy Black Bean Tacos

August 3 - take-out from Queen Margherita Pizza
August 4 - Wings & Beer at the Fill Station for the Red Sox Game
August 5 - Gourmet Schnitzel House take-out

As you can see by my rundown above, I haven't cooked over the last couple days.  But we started the blog to help keep us honest and we committed to keeping it real in what we share with you.  So that's the reality.   on Thursday I went to my Zumba class and raced home, started making some homemade tortillas* for some shrimp and bacon tacos that I wanted to make.  After I made half a dozen, and got off the phone with a girlfriend in Texas, the Boy came into the kitchen and said oh I thought we could go get wings and watch the baseball game.  I won't pretend I wasn't slightly perturbed by this since I had already started dinner and had shrimps defrosted in the oven.  But I finished the tortillas I had in the pan, wrapped them up, took a quick shower and off to the bar we went.

Well today rolled around and the Boy and I were up early to get to the St Lawrence Market Saturday Market so I could stock up on fruit for some preserving this weekend.  We ate at around 10:30am so by the time 5pm rolled around we were a bit hungry.  Knowing we didn't have dinner reservations until 8:30 I whipped up these super easy tacos, with the tortillas I had in the fridge and some ingredients I happened to have on hand.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Caprese Olive Oil Bread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Bocconcini and Basil with Raw Corn Chowder

Full confession... I love all things Caprese--salads, skewers, pasta, sandwiches--the combination of flavours of fresh tomatoes, cheese, basil and olive oil never lose their appeal for me. They also bring back amazing memories of one of the best days of our life spent on the beautiful isle of Capri several years ago, being serenaded in the Blue Grotto by a musically challenged fisherman. That and, of course, limoncello, but somehow it's easier to fit the taste of Capri into a family dinner with this healthy quartet of ingredients than with a swig of the tasty, tart yellow stuff. Until the kiddies get a bit older, that is.
So when I saw this recipe for Caprese olive oil bread, it was evident that the rest of the meal would just have to fall in place around this loaf. And it did. The savoury bread ended up being the star since it was moist and dense but full of creamy cheese flavour. The raw corn soup couldn't have been easier to make but ended up looking slightly more greenish than yellow due to the addition of the avocado. This colour issue might have swayed the kids' opinions regarding taste but I think Corbin's statement that it just would have been better on a sweltering, sticky day than on the rainy, overcast one when we ate it probably is the best evaluation of when to serve it.

Caprese Olive Oil Bread with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Bocconcini and Basil
makes one loaf

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes
3 oz bocconcini
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, combine eggs, milk and oil. Whisk well until combined.

Pour the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir until just combined. Add the tomatoes, cheese and basil, and stir until just combined.

Oil a loaf pan and pour batter in; smooth top. Bake until the top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted the centre comes out dry, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove the bread from the pan, and cool completely on a wire rack. Slice and serve.

serves 4

3 ears of corn, husked and silks removed

1 avocado, coarsely chopped

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

juice of 1/2 lime

1 small jalapeno, seeded and deveined, chopped

1 1/2 tsp sea salt

1 2/3 cold water

With a knife, cut off corn kernels from top to bottom; set aside 1/4 cup of kernels for garnish later. Then use the knife's dull edge to scrape the cobs from top to bottom on all sides, collecting remaining pulp and "milk" (the remaining juice in the kernels) in the bowl.

Transfer kernels, corn "milk" and pulp to a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend for 1 minute or until well combined. Pour in bowls, garnish with the set-aside kernels and toppings such as sour cream, plain yogurt, chopped avocado or chopped cilantro. Or chill until ready to serve.

Rest of the week

Aug 2 Q's bday... Grilled top sirloin with horseradish creme fraiche, corn on the cob and Austin's fab smashed potatoes with birthday carrot cake

Aug 3 Caprese bread with raw corn chowder

Aug 4 Corbin's amazing lasagna

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aug 1-3 Teriyaki Salmon, take 1

Aug 1     Chili peanut tofu with rice noodles from Donna Hay (subbed chicken with tofu)
Aug 2     Teriyaki Salmon
Aug 3

This week is all asian baby. Chili peanut tofu rice noodles Monday for dinner, Vietnamese at MiMi for lunch Tuesday, teriyaki salmon for dinner and.....
A couple of weeks ago we ate at Vivetha, in the Beach, and Hank had teriyaki salmon. He has NOT shut up about it ever since and to be honest, I don't really want to take him to a restaurant so he can eat an $18 entree on a regular basis so I decided it was time to try to perfect my own teriyaki. Up until Vivetha, he liked teriyaki well enough but never totally loved it so I rarely made it at home. I liked the sound of the recipe I found on the blog, Life is Great so that was my base. She had a delicious sounding recipe for ginger scallion noodles that I am going to do soon, but rice was requested so I made basmati rice. I did add some ginger to the sauce and I sprinkled the finished salmon with some black and white sesame seeds.
It was declared "very good but not quite as good as Vevitha" so it seems that at least I am in the ballpark for now. Next time I will crisp up the skin in the frying pan and then transfer the fish to a rack to put under the broiler so that the sauce doesn't totally burn into a hard crust under the skin, but otherwise, it was really delicious.

Salmon Teriyaki
adapted from Life is Great
serves 2

2 tbls mirin
2 tbls sake
2 tbls honey
2 tbls soy sauce
1/2 tsp grated ginger

1 lb salmon fillet, skin on

combine all the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer over med heat until it starts to thicken - just 4 or 5 minutes will do it. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler and move the rack to the top of the oven.

heat a pan over med-high heat and then add about a tbls of veg oil. Put salmon, skin side down, in the pan and let cook until the skin is crisp. Transfer the fish, skin side down, to a rack set over a baking sheet lined with tin foil and broil for another 5 -7 minutes, basting two or three times with more teriyaki sauce until the fish is cooked and the sauce has caramelized and started to bubble and brown on the top of the fish.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cacio e Pepe

July 30 - smoked ribs and sausages with burrata & tomato salad - with tomatoes form our garden!
July 31 - our first anniversary, dinner out at Origin
August 1 - Mussels in white wine & fennel with crusty bread, chabichou cheese and a green salad
August 2 - Cacio e Pepe with leftover smoked sausage and a side of green beans

I can do this, right?  I can work 10-11 hours days and still get home to make dinner and share my escapades with you.  Right?  


It sure doesn't feel that way.  But I'm going to do my best.  And I figure most of you out there have jobs outside of the homes and still have to figure getting dinner on the table.  And it's not like I haven't done it before.  I've just never been challenged with putting a different meal on the dinner table every night.  My goto meals of mac & cheese and burgers just won't cut this time.  But then again, this is what this challenge is all about, right? So I'm going to do my best to rise to the occasion and keep truckin, frustration and tiredness and all.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Vegetable Tostado

Spent the long weekend in Niagara Falls with the kiddies having a totally great time and enjoying all the fun attractions and kitsch, but also eating way too much "brown food," as Q calls it, along the way. Restaurant food, quick food, street food, kiddie food... it's generally some tone of a less-than-healthy colour. And so, by Monday, all the roadside fruitstands were calling out to us as we drove home, and everyone was craving some summer veggies and a home-cooked meal. Carole's recipes from last week extolling the virtues of all things tortilla-related inspired me to combine my need for greens and colours with her delicious grilled flatbreads. And the tortillas that she kindly got for me from her local Chinese market were delicious in their own right, but unfortunately this particular recipe fell a little flat for us... not enough oomph or flavour and, even though I did want something light, it wasn't filling enough for any of us either. If I make it again, I'll choose to add the optional cheese instead of skipping it and probably add some sort of protein to round things out too.

serves 4

2 cups fresh corn kernels from 3 ears sweet corn

1/2 cup diced red onion

2 cloves minced garlic

2 medium diced zucchini

1 cup organic black beans, rinsed and drained

pinch dried oregano

flour tortillas

olive oil

1 lb chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp fresh lime juice

1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro

grated soft white cheese (optional)

1 ripe sliced avocado

Saute corn in hot oil over medium high heat until cooked, 2-3 minutes. Season corn and remove. Add a bit more oil and saute the red onion until soft and beginning to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and stir for another 30 seconds or so. Add zucchini and saute until just beginning to soften, about 2-3 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Return corn to the pan, and add the beans and oregano. Stir and heat gently. Remove from heat.

Combine tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and salt and pepper in a bowl. Set aside.

Light brush both sides of a tortilla with olive oil and slide it into a hot nonstick pan over medium heat. Gently press it with a spatula and flip it when it begins to turn golden and crispy.

To assemble, place several spoonfuls of the veggie/bean mixture on the tortilla, topped with some of the cheese, if chosen, and the tomato salsa, and top with slices of avocado.

Rest of the week

July 29 Date night at golf course

July 30 Red Lobster in Niagara Falls

July 31 Planet Hollywood in Niagara Falls

August 1 Summer vegetable tostados and carrot cake for Q's bday
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