Friday, February 26, 2010

I'll admit...

I didn’t make this lasagne.  I thought about pretending I did, but I owe the Thursday night crew more than that.

Yesterday after work the idea of cooking dinner for everybody made me feel exhausted, and that just doesn’t make sense since our weekly get together is supposed to be a relaxing night with friends. On my way home I passed Monastery Bakery and I remembered they have fresh pastas made. I scooped up one of the lasagnes, a poppy seed baguette, and once home I made a  vinaigrette Caesar salad to go with it.

Now that's an extreme close up!
The lasagne was a big hit. Oh, and so was the store-bought pie Meg brought (I guess she was having one of those nights too). It’s always nice to know I have Monastery Bakery to fall back on, because we all know how time consuming lasagne can be. It also got me thinking that if I have nights like that now, what will it be like when I have kids? That will be a whole different ball game.

For the salad:

Romaine lettuce
½ Cup of pancetta, chopped
Parmesan Cheese, grated

Dressing:

½ Cup of lemon juice
1 Tbs of Dijon mustard
1 Tbs of anchovy paste
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Cup of olive oil

Cook the pancetta until golden brown, drain and set aside on paper towel.

Toss the salad with the dressing, grated parmesan cheese, pancetta and a few shavings of parmesan on top.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wedding Cakes


Remember when wedding cakes were always fruit cake? I don’t. I was just told that’s how it used to be. You’re old… JUSTKIDDING! Nowadays you can get butter cream, poppy seed lemon, white chocolate, orange almond, marble… well, you get the idea. Phil and I are tying the knot in July and need to find a wedding cake. How do you choose??

I have a friend who was married in November and she said the first thing she did when she got engaged was sample cakes. Smart girl. I on the other hand was under the impression a good family friend was making ours, but unfortunately she won’t be in the country in July. I really loved the idea of the cake being made by somebody we knew and wasn’t too fussed about what it looked like (though I know it would have been amazing). Now where to start?  I've decided on the cake topper, but no cake.

I think if we were getting married in the city it would be easy to find a bakery I’m familiar with, but we’re getting married near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Does anybody have any recommendations?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fennel


Has anybody seen the March issue of Bon Appetite Magazine? They do a lot with fennel this month and I’m excited. After making Spicy Fennel Spaghetti I realized I don’t do nearly enough with this fine vegetable, and this time of year is perfect to be using it. I’ve always known fennel really loves pork and often use fennel seeds, so I’m not sure why I don’t use the actual vegetable that much. I think this weekend if I have time I’m going to make roast pork braised with fennel. I’ll also try a recipe they had in the magazine for a rustic appetizer of roasted fennel, smoked trout (is that hard to find?) and crostini. Stay tuned!

Indian Buffet

What is your favourite comfort food? What do you eat on those days when it’s snowy and cold outside? I crave Indian food. There’s a buffet around the corner from where I work that I really enjoy. I usually go with a friend, but I’ve been known to sneak off by myself if I can’t find a lunch companion, and sometimes that’s hard since it’s so much food and really heavy to eat when you have to return to work. I’m sure that I smell of garlic afterwards and sorry to my coworkers as this could potentially be the reason they keep a safe distance from me on those days. 

My friend Caroline was always willing to go with me. I think she’s an even bigger fan since she’ll get a side of the Butter Chicken sauce to dip her naan bread in. Caroline started a new job further south so she can’t meet me anymore. I can sometimes convince other friends to go but most of the time they’re not in the mood. I miss my buffet companion! Anyway, it’s snowy out and it makes me want buffet.

The buffet I got to is Indian-Nepalese. They have a pretty good selection of dishes, especially vegetarian. They used to serve a beef or a lamb curry at lunch, but now only serve Butter Chicken and a goat curry. That was a little disappointing when they changed that, because I think I'm one of the few who isn't too keen on Butter Chicken, and the goat curry has too many bones like goat always does. I think if you go on the weekend you can still get the beef or the lamb. Regardless, they have such a good selection of veggie curries I'm not too bothered by it.

Check it out! http://www.kathmandurestaurant.ca/

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Roasted Butternut Squash and Feta Spaghetti


Besides cutting the squash up into cubes and roasting it, this meal is a quick and easy weeknight meal. I enjoyed the combined salty and sweet flavours from the caramelized onions in honey and the salty feta cheese. If you felt like more salt or wanted to add meat to this vegetarian dish I would add pancetta.

Ingredients:

Butternut squash, peeled and cut into cubes
2 Tbs of Rosemary
1 Tbs of olive oil
4-5 garlic cloves, crushed
1 Tbs of butter
Spaghetti for four (or penne)
1 Red onion, sliced
1 Tbs of honey
½ Cup of chicken or vegetable stock
¾ Cup of feta, crumbled
Shavings of parmesan for garnishing

I didn’t have any in my fridge, but peppery arugula would be nice added to this dish at the very end before serving.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Peel and cut the squash into bite size cubes, place in roasting pan with rosemary, garlic and toss with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes or until cooked.

Cook pasta in salted water until al dente, drain, put pasta back into the pot, toss with butter and keep warm.

Meanwhile, sauté onion in oil for about 3 minutes, add honey and cook until caramelized. Add the stock to the onion and reduce by almost half. Add squash, pasta, feta and combine. Garnish each dish with parmesan shavings.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Birthday Extravaganza Continues

Saturday night Phil and I went out for dinner to Coast Bar and Grill.  We had other plans originally, but we were already out so we decided to go somewhere casual. It’s a new restaurant in our neighbourhood that serves steak and seafood in a relaxed atmosphere. We had some excellent oysters from PEI called Raspberries. Have you heard of them? That was a first for me. For dinner Phil had the ribs and I had a fish stew. The ribs were really good, but the broth for the seafood stew was very salty. I still ate it and didn’t complain when they asked how everything was. I’m not sure why I do that. I think it’s for the best if they know one of their dishes are off, especially if they just opened. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Weekend!


 "I love the smell of breakfast."  Phil  

I finally managed to make poached eggs properly!  I'm so proud of myself.  No more of those egg cups for me thanks to Phil's dad who taught me last weekend. Now I can make all those fancy dishes they make on the Iron Chef with a runny poached egg on top of salads and other dishes.




Breakfast is usually Phil's specialty, but today is his b-day so the extravaganza continues.  Happy Birthday Phil!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Chocolate Cake and Fajitas

Meg made this from scratch for Phil’s birthday. I’m not much of a fan of baking, so good thing Phil and I have friends like Meg. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe if anybody asked. It was so chocolaty and moist!




We also had chicken fajitas with some beautiful free-range breasts I picked up from Boffo's. I marinated the chicken in lemon juice from two lemons and about a ¼ cup of vegetable oil to give them some extra flavour.  


Fajitas were one of the first things I made when I started cooking, that and French onion soup. I don’t think I’ve made fajitas in about 10 years, and I can’t remember the last time I made French onion soup. I think I stayed away from the soup because of all the onions. I remember I used to chop them up in my mom’s kitchen wearing goggles to protect my eyes.

Okay now on to the fajitas!

Ingredients:

4 chicken breasts, skin on
6 slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, sliced
½ Tbs. of dried pepper flakes or a fresh pepper
1 Yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 Red bell pepper, sliced
1 Cup of mushrooms, sliced
½ Yellow zucchini, sliced
Worcestershire sauce

Serve at the table:

1 Cup of cheddar cheese, grated
1 Cup of sour cream
1 Cup of Salsa
1 Large tomato, chopped
¼ Cup of Cilantro
8 Tortillas, warmed

Heat the oil in a heavy Sautee pan, cook the chicken breasts over medium high heat until cooked. Drain and set aside.

Add the bacon, cook for a few minutes, and add onion, chile pepper flakes to the oil in the pan and sauté over high heat for 2 minutes and drain the bacon fat if there’s a lot. Add the bell peppers, mushrooms and zucchini; cook over medium high heat adding a good shake of Worcestershire sauce until the vegetables have cooked.

Cut chicken into strips and return to the pan and heat until sizzling hot. Serve right away, with warm tortillas, sour cream, tomatoes, salsa, cheese and cilantro.

Serves about 4 with lots of leftovers.   We actually had a lot more chicken than what's showing in the photo.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sushi

My favourite sushi spot in Toronto is Tokyo Sushi on St. Joseph. The fish is fresh, the service is fantastic and most of all they have this amazing dish I have yet to find at any other sushi spot - Sashimi Don. I’ve had different variations but none of them come close to this bowl of heaven. In the bowl you’ll find sashimi, salmon roe, chopped egg, seaweed, radish, rice, sesame oil and seeds. I know I’m forgetting something else, but you get the idea. They serve it with hot sauce on the side.



I used to sometimes go to this spot with my old roommate who was even more of a regular than me. I think one of the sushi chefs had eyes for her because only with her would we get a free sushi roll. Even if I’m not the favourite, I always get a warm welcome (like everybody else) as if they’ve missed you since your last visit. Now you must go and try it out for yourself!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day

Phil made me dinner on Sunday night. He has his specialties like tuna melts, cobb salad, breakfast and sandwiches, so I knew I was in for a real treat.

On the menu :
Bacon wrapped scallops with pineapple

Shrimp skewers marinated in lime and a New York striploin with mushrooms



.... and a cheese tray for dessert

I'm experimenting


Since I discovered I can have something at a coffee shop besides my usual tea, I decided to try a London Fog. Has anybody heard of it? It’s the same deal as a Chai Latte but with Earl Grey tea. I’m sure I would have loved it, but I remembered after taking my first sip that I’m not a fan of Earl Grey, so Phil had to swap me and I went back to my Chai. It was a crazy Saturday, indeed.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pizza


I picked up this fresh dough from an Italian bakery around the corner from us.  Pizza at our house is meant to be a quick and easy meal, so none of this making your own dough business.  Yes I realize I could prepare dough ahead of time and store it in the freezer, but I don't enjoy that, I`m just not much of a baker period.  If you can buy good fresh pizza dough from a bakery or have a few boxes of puff pastry or phyllo in the freezer to make your life easier, go for it.  I also think if you're entertaining it's okay to have help with a store bought dessert or a nice cheese platter, it`s just as good.  Or take up your guest's offer to bring something and ask them to bring an appetizer or dessert.  You'll find it makes your life a lot easier to have some help.
Besides being a quick and easy meal, pizza is also great to use up leftovers in your fridge.

What I added to the pizza:

Olives
Mozzarella
Prosciutto
Mushrooms
Marinated peppers
Basic tomato sauce
Garlic
Fresh Rosemary
Fresh Thyme
Dried red pepper flakes

I added fresh arugula and a squeeze of lemon just before serving.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A few of my favourite things

I am obsessed with California red zinfandels at the moment. A friend of mine brought me a bottle of Ravenswood zinfandel a couple of years ago, and that’s what got me started. When I saw zinfandel on the label I thought it was a white or better known as blush that I’m not a fan of, so I stored it in the fridge for a while. One night I felt like a glass of wine and thought I would give it a try, and I was a pleasantly surprised when I saw it was red… how did I not notice?? I have never looked back after that!


Cline is one of my top picks because it's really good value for the price. I think it’s around $14.00.


I also enjoy Dancing Bull, for approximately $11.00.

Depending on your budget of course, Ravenswood is more of a wine you would buy as a gift or for a special dinner. It’s close to $25.00

Try red zinfandels with strong-flavoured foods, such as spicy dishes like this one, gamey meats and Asian foods. You can even try it with a burger. Having said this, I’m not too particular with what foods I pair with wine, but it’s always a bonus when they work well together.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese with Pancetta

Until now I've pretty much messed up macaroni and cheese every time I've made it.  There was even this one time Phil got really sick after eating it.  We were told it was a virus but I was a little worried it was the mac and cheese I made the night before.  I know, it's such an easy dish, right???  Well I haven't had much success until tonight, but I'm still open to other recipes if anybody has a good one.  Haha - so are you guys even going to try this recipe after all that?  It has pancetta in it!




Ingredients:

2 1/2 Cups of macaroni
1/2 Cup of pancetta, diced
1/2 Cup of sour cream
1 1/2 Cups of milk
1 Tbs of unsalted butter
1 Tbs of flour
1 Cup of cheddar, grated
2 Cups of Gruyere, grated
1 Cup of Parmesan, grated
1 Clove of garlic, minced
1 Tsp of of Dijon mustard
1/2 Tsp of paprika
1 Egg


Preheat oven to 400F.

Cook pasta in salted water, drain and put aside.

Meanwhile, place pancetta in a large saute pan and cook over high heat, stirring often until brown.  Drain on paper towel, put aside and turn heat down to medium.  Heat butter in the pan, add flour (this is forming a roux) and cook for a few minutes.  Remove the roux from the heat and gradually add milk and sour cream while blending until smooth.  Place the pan back on the stove top and add cheeses, garlic, mustard, paprika and stir for about 5 minutes or until sauce is nice and thick. Add the pasta, pancetta, raw egg and stir until combined.   Pour mixture into baking dish and cook for about 20-30 minutes.

Next time I think I might add some fresh tomato slices and a pinch of nutmeg.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Matza Ball Soup


I don’t have much experience with Matza Ball soup, but I do know a lot of people who rave about it. I had this one at New York Deli on my lunch break last week and it was just okay. By the way, New York Deli is overpriced and the food is just average. Does anybody know of any good spots I can check out? How about a good recipe? I believe there’s better soup out there.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lamb Shanks and Couscous

On Saturday I was in Boffo’s picking up some spicy Italian sausages when I spied some lovely looking lamb shanks, immediately delicious smells from slow braising came to me.  I decided to buy just the one for the two of us, but I think for a real treat one each would have been even better.  I served it with cornbread to soak up all the juices and a Mediterranean inspired couscous.  



If you like add in a second shank with the same amount of ingredients below.  There was a lot of sauce leftover that I’ll blend later this week and eat with pasta. 

Ingredients:

1 Onion, diced
4 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs of tomato paste
3 Bay leaves
1 Carrot, diced
1 Celery stalk, diced
1 Lamb shank
1 Cup of red wine
1 Can of tomatoes with juices
1 Tbs of rosemary, chopped
1 Tbs of Thyme, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.

Season lamb shank(s) with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat Dutch Oven or another oven safe pot on medium high heat and add a ¼ cup of vegetable oil.  Once the oil is good and hot add the shank and let it cook until it starts to turn brown.  Make sure you're patient while doing this, as it's tempting to flip the meat too soon.  As Glen would say at Calphalon “go talk to your neighbour or pour yourself a glass of wine if you're tempted."  Brown all sides, remove from pot and set aside.  Hopefully by now you have some good brown bits that will add richness to the dish.

Add the onions, more oil (if needed) to the pan and sauté until translucent, add garlic, tomato paste and bay leaves and sauté for another minute before adding the carrots and celery, sauté for about 3 minutes.  Add the lamb, can of tomatoes, wine and herbs (you can throw in the stalks from the herbs too if you like), cover and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Place the pot in the oven and cook for about 2 hours or until the lamb is tender and falling off the bone .  If it’s taking longer than expected turn the heat up to 400F.  




For the couscous

1 cup of couscous
Enough hot chicken or vegetable stock (or boiling water) to cover the couscous
Lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Black olives, chopped
Parsley, chopped
Tomatoes, diced
Feta Cheese, crumbled
Shallot, diced

I didn’t note the amounts for each of the ingredients because it’s really up to you how much you want.  1 cup of couscous was a lot for two people but I love having leftovers to eat for lunch later. 

Place the couscous in a bowl and just cover with hot liquid, set aside until all liquid is absorbed.  Drizzle olive oil and lemon over the couscous, add all ingredients and fluff with a fork and serve. 

The Weekend!

 Well it's over now but it was good while it lasted.  

Look at what I woke up to on Saturday morning!  I think Phil’s a keeper.  

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haddock with Garlic Sauce and Caperberries

This is an easy weekday recipe. I used haddock but halibut would be even better.





4 haddock fillets
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs of extra virgin olive oil
1/3 Cup of mayonnaise
Caperberries, sliced in half (substitute caper berries with capers or olives)
Lemon wedges

For the fish:

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Lightly oil a small roasting pan with olive oil. Pat fillets dry, place in dish and season with salt and pepper. Whisk together garlic, mayonnaise, olive oil and season lightly with salt. Spread mixture over the fish and sprinkle caper barriers. Bake uncovered for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Squeeze some fresh lemon to brighten up the flavour.





Have you tried caperberries before? They’re very similar to regular capers but larger, a little starchy and have a less-intense flavour. You can eat them like olives or use them as a garnish.




Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Beef 201

...is my next Calphalon class I'll be taking tomorrow. Check out what's on the menu!

Papaya & Hoisen Braised Short Ribs
Beef Bourguignone
Gorgonzola Stuffed Burger
Lime marinated NY Strip

Are you salivating right now?  Learn more about beef here

Monday, February 1, 2010

Simple Salad


Doesn’t this remind you of summer?  I know we had an extreme cold weather alert, but it was nice to have some sun this weekend.  For now, we'll sit by the window with the warm sun beaming down and pretend spring is near. 

For the salad:
Arugula (my favourite!)
Olives
Yellow zucchini, sliced thinly
Small bunch of basil, roughly chopped
1 Tbs of parsley, chopped
Feta cheese

For the dressing:
Always remember the ratio of oil to vinegar is 3:1 whenever you make dressing. 
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
½ Tsp of anchovy paste
½ Tsp of Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of dried oregano

I mainly stick to oil and vinegar based dressings.  Other ingredients I sometimes add are red pepper flakes, garlic, egg yolk, lemon juice, fresh herbs, shallots....  you can also switch up the type of vinegar you use.  If you make the dressing ahead of time don’t forget to give it a good shake and add to the salad just before you serve. 

Rapini with Pancetta

What isn't good with pancetta?  In case you were wondering you can add rapini to the list of delicious things. 
I made a whole lot of it on Sunday when Phil's family was visiting.  It went went nicely with the spaghetti and meatballs.



Ingredients:

2 Bunches of rapini, thick stocks removed
2 Shallots, chopped
1/2  Cup of pancetta, chopped
1 Tbs of Olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice

Cook the cleaned and trimmed rapini in boiling salted water for about 2 minutes.  Drain and transfer to a bowl of ice water.  Drain again and pat dry. 

Heat olive oil on medium heat, add pancetta, saute for one minute and add shallots until golden brown.  Add rapini and saute until heated through and serve.  Add fresh squeezed lemon and  grated Parmesan if you like.