I was hungry last night. Usually when this happens, hubs will jet out and grab a snack (usually terrible for us) or we'll even cave and order in. But something stopped me from doing that last night, and I'm super stoked about it.
One of my favourite shows on the Food Network is Chopped - I love the creativity the chefs have when they are confronted with an odd conglomeration of ingredients that don't really go together. Now, I'm not going to say that this snack was Chopped-worthy, because there's nothing really odd in it, but I'm happy with what I came up with and it's DELICIOUS. It's pretty quick to whip together as a late night snack (like 25 minutes start to finish; definitely faster than delivery!), but it would also be great sliced small as an appetizer, or alongside a green salad and/or soup as a light meal.
Essentially, all you need is some sort of flatbread (I had crappy white tortillas), some vegetables that you like (I had mushrooms and vidalia onion, along with garlic), something to make a sauce (sour cream and dijon), some cheese (cheddar and parmigiano) and then something green to cut through the richness (I had minced parsley, but arugula or any other leafy dark green would be great).
Sorry for the shite pictures - in a perfect world, the cheese would also be more brown, but the edges were starting to smoke, so I had to get it out of the oven before it set off the fire alarm and woke up the kids!
late-night mushroom pizza bianca
2-3 flatbreads (tortillas or pitas)
3-4 cups chopped mushrooms (could also use zucchini, eggplant, roasted peppers, artichokes, etc.)
1/2 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 T butter
1/3 c red wine (or other booze - white wine, sherry, marsala, or half this amount of brandy or cognac)
1/2 c good sour cream (look at the ingredient list - it should just be cream and bacterial culture. If there's other stabilizers, it's bleh. I like Western Dairy brand and I use light)
1/4 c dijon mustard
2 cups grated cheese (aged cheddar, gruyere, emmenthal are all great choices)
1/4 c minced flat-leaf parsley
1. Put flatbreads in oven. Turn it to 400F. Let cook for approximately 6-10 minutes, until they are crispy, slightly toasted and not burnt (just check on it every couple of minutes).
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic and mushrooms, cook over medium-high heat until mushrooms have released most of their liquid and have browned a bit. Deglaze the pan with red wine, and let wine evaporate pretty much completely. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Take your toasted flatbreads and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet (seriously, who wants to scrub burnt-on cheese??? not me!). In the centre of each, add a large dollop of sour cream and a medium-dollop of dijon (I like mine with almost as much dijon as sour cream, for a bit of bite). Use a silicone brush or a spoon to spread it all around.
4. Turn on the broiler. Add mushrooms over flatbread (just divide the mushrooms according to how many flatbreads you have). Sprinkle with cheese, then grate some parmigiano overtop. Broil for just under 2 minutes (mine started to burn at the edges after about 1min45s. As always with broiling any sort of bread, keep a very close eye on it because it will burn quickly.
5. Once cooked, sprinkle with minced parsley, cut into wedges and enjoy.
I had no intentions of blogging this, but it was seriously just SO yummy that I had to snap a crappy picture and share it anyway. Totally making this again.
In other news, I've had a recent spate of success with some delicious pumpkin recipes. I can HIGHLY recommend this pumpkin-gingerbread loaf with spiced buttercream, as well as this pumpkin mac&cheese (weird but good, I swear), and concluding the trifecta of pumpkin with pumpkin pie french toast (like this recipe, except using more milk, and only 5 pieces of bread). Bonus: you can make all of the recipes with just one big-ass can of pumpkin. Thanks for reading!
Sunday, December 09, 2012
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
When I started making this dinner, I didn't think it was going to be BAD, but I have to say that it completely surpassed my expectations with just how freaking delicious it was. Sunday was grocery day (always my favourite day; I consider it like a weekly shopping free-for-all), and I picked up a big side of salmon (yum!). I also picked up what seems like a metric ton of veggies and fruits. I was flipping through a couple of recipe books, and came upon a recipe for roasted cauliflower with shitake mushrooms in Clean Start, and I knew I"d found the inspiration I needed. I changed up the method and seasoning a bit, and I had cremini mushrooms instead of shitakes, but the combination is fabulous. On its own, this is a great vegan dish that would be a great accompaniment to something like a quinoa bowl, or a risotto-type dish. And I don't even really like brussels sprouts. I loved how all of the vegetables gained a nice caramelized sweetness, and the umami meatiness of the mushrooms was the perfect textural contrast.
With my salmon, I did a really simple maple-mustard sauce. I just love this flavour profile with salmon. Since salmon is so rich and fatty, I really like the acidity of the mustard, paired with the sweetness of the maple syrup. You could also be lazy and use a commercial honey mustard, but I tend to find most of those REALLY sweet and lacking in flavour. This way you get the acidic bite of a dijon, the al dente bursts of a grainy mustard, with a garlicky wallop of flavour. Fresh herbs (like dill or even basil) would be great in this, but dried dill was pretty wonderful too. You could use this sauce on pretty much any other protein/vegetable, or even as a dipping sauce for chicken or veggies (though maybe tone down the garlic if it's not going to be cooked).
I served these two dishes with a fresh green salad, topped with my favourite store-bought dressing, Farm Boy's Lemon Garlic (love it because the ingredient list is lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic. That's it. Can't beat that!).
roasted cauliflower, mushrooms and brussels sprouts
inspired and adapted from Clean Start
1 head cauliflower
12 large brussels sprouts (or 18 small)
1/2 pound mushrooms (about 225 g)
2 minced cloves of garlic
2-3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T herbes de provence (or other herb seasoning of your choice)
coarse sea salt (about 1 t), black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In the bottom of a large bowl, combine olive oil, salt, herbes, garlic and pepper.
3. Chop the cauliflower into bite-size florets. Put in bowl. Coarsely chop mushrooms (I had big ones and cut them in 6-8 pieces). Quarter brussels sprouts (or halve if they aren't big).
4. Toss all vegetables in the oil mixture; stir until everything is coated.
5. Spread out on a baking sheet (I like to use parchment paper so nothing sticks AND I don't have to wash my baking sheets. It's win-win.). Roast for 20 minutes. Stir and re-distribute. Roast for another 20 minutes, or until tender.
maple-mustard garlic salmon
6 4-oz (125 g) salmon fillets, skin removed
3 T dijon mustard
2 T grainy mustard/moutarde à l'ancienne
2 T maple syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T dried dill (seems like a lot, but it's mild, I swear)
pinch salt, fresh ground pepper
1. Cut salmon/prep salmon how you like it (this would also work with salmon steaks, bbq salmon, cedar plank salmon, etc.). Preheat oven to 400F (or bbq; it's up to you).
2. In a small bowl, combine mustards, maple syrup, garlic, dill, salt and pepper. Taste (you might like it more mustardy, or sweeter, so this is your chance to adjust it to your liking).
3. Place salmon fillets in a 13x9 glass dish (or a baking sheet, or whatever you have). Put a little bit of the mustard mixture on each fillet (about one teaspoon), spread around. Flip the fillets over, and divvy the rest of the sauce up over the fillets.
4. Bake at 400F for 10-20 minutes, depending on thickness (mine were quite thick and took 18 minutes). Start checking at 10 minutes, especially if your fillets are thin. Salmon is done when it flakes apart easily and is opaque all the way through. I don't like mine overcooked and would prefer to err on the side of slightly undercooked, but this is a matter of personal preference/comfort.
This is so good.
And on a quick technical note, apologies for the weird looking photos. Hubs re-installed windows and has not yet installed Lightroom. I am super Photoshop challenged, so did the best I could to hack away at the processing on these photos, but they still look weird. For this, I apologize. Thanks for reading!
What's your favourite fall vegetable recipe? I have a ton of other veggies to use up (asparagus, fennel, chard, beans, spinach, etc.)
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
When it comes to cooking and meal planning, I take inspiration from a huge variety of sources, influences and cuisines. I like to mix it up. Sometimes we eat a lot of meat. Sometimes no meat. Sometimes complicated. Sometimes simple. Sometimes spicy. Sometimes herbacious. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes salty. The way I see it, the world is a giant smorgasbord of inspirational deliciousness, and I want to help myself to the best. ;)
Not that I'm selfish or anything.
One of my go-to sites for the last 10 years has been epicurious.com; epi was doing social media and web 2.0 before any of us even knew what that was. When I first discovered them (and I've been saving recipes since 2001 on there), I loved it because I could see feedback from other people who'd made the recipe (i.e., they allowed comments; nobody else was doing this back then). I could see reviews from people who'd made the recipe, and best of all, I could save everything in my own personalized recipe box.
Now, pretty much every site (including this one, naturally), allows comments. And with Pinterest, we've pretty much eliminated the need for a site-specific recipe box (though I will continue to use epicurious!). And there are hundreds of thousands of blogs and cooking websites out there. And with this overwhelming amount of choice, it can actually be a bit intimidating to start a recipe search.
So with that in mind, and despite all this endless choice, sometimes I still retreat to my trusty cookbook shelf. It's not a huge shelf, and I don't let just anyone have shelf space, but I have a few tried and true cookbooks that I keep around because they are fabulous.
One such pair is Clean Food and Clean Start (Terry Walters). These are seasonally-based vegan cookbooks using natural, healthy ingredients. First, I love the covers (which is shallow, I wholeheartedly admit, and it looks like the revised edition of Clean Food has a photographic cover, rather than the solid green cover with the half-jacket of the original edition, but the originals are pretty and I like them). I also love the seasonal approach to cooking, using what's best from each season. These aren't generally the recipes I serve to guests, as they do tend to have that distinctive wholesome flavour that is not necessarily universally enjoyed (but I love). Anyway, bottom line, before I ramble too much more, these are great cookbooks for when you want to feel good about what you're eating.
And after a weekend of endless treats and sweets, I really felt like we needed to step back a bit and enjoy something healthy and wholesome. But still tasty. ;)
So I took inspiration from the hearty minestrone recipe in Clean Start, and went from there. My version was not vegetarian/vegan, because I used a combination of chicken/beef broth (it's what I had). Obviously, this is a very simple substitution. I used different beans, because I have a massive container of 9-bean mix that I got from Costco. I just soaked them the night before and let them bubble away for about an hour during the afternoon. Nothing wrong with canned beans either though. ;) 1.5 cups of bean mix made about 4.5 cups of cooked beans.
And my salad dressing is not vegan either, but it's really darn good, so you should make it. I have a hard time with bottled dressings now; I do generally keep a bottle or two in my fridge for when I'm feeling really lazy, but I find the saltiness and added flavourings are just overpowering. Nothing like the pure deliciousness of homemade salad dressings, bright and fresh with herbs and garlic. Also, I had buttermilk that needed using up, so this homemade buttermilk ranch dressing was a great way to do that.
hearty minestrone soup
inspired, but modified due to circumstances, from Clean Start; don't be afraid to modify based on what you have available!)
1 medium yellow onion, diced
(3 stalks celery, diced) --> I was out!
1 T olive oil
3 carrots, sliced
3 cups chopped tomatoes (I drained a can and chopped those)
4.5 cups beans (chickpeas, kidney, black beans, etc. --> this is about 3 cans)
1 head broccoli with stems, chopped
1.5 cups chopped green beans (I was out; I chopped up some bok choy instead; any green would work!)
5 cups stock
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 t herbes de provence (or a mixture of fresh herbs, if you have them!)
1 bay leaf
salt, pepper to taste
1. In a big soup pot, sauté onion, celery and carrot of medium heat, about 5 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes, beans, broccoli, stock, green beans/greens, balsamic vinegar, bay leaf and herbes de provence. And lots of pepper.
3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes (until carrots/celery are done). Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.
buttermilk ranch dressing
2 green onions, chopped
2 T fresh basil
1 t dried dill
2 T lemon juice
2 T dijon mustard
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 t salt, pepper to taste
1/3 c mayonnaise
1/3 c miracle whip/whipped salad dressing (if you only have mayo, use all mayo, but add about 1 t sugar and 1 t vinegar)
1/3 c greek yogourt
1/2 c buttermilk
1. In a food processor/immersion blender, combine the onions, basil, dill, lejon juice, dijon, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Process until relatively smooth.
2. Add mayo, miracle whip, greek yogourt and buttermilk. Process again. Taste, and use on salad, or as a dip. It's super yummy! I had mine on a mâche mix, but it would be good on anything. The recipe makes about 2 cups.
Hubs and Lil Z had theirs with garlic toast (SO EASY - make toast, rub with fresh cut garlic. Voila. Garlic toast.), but I just stuck with the soup and salad. It was hearty and filling and I'm very stoked to eat more of it for my lunch today.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Before we had kids, hubs and I used to host dinner parties pretty often; not monthly, but probably at least every couple of months, we'd have people over for a nice fancy dinner party.
Since we and others we know have started having babies, that has fallen a bit to the wayside; part of it is that I'm a little too tired and short on time to host, part of it is that my dinner parties don't tend to be so kid-friendly. Now, it's not that I think kids won't eat the food, it's just that the timing of a four-five course meal is not a reasonable amount of time for a kid to sit still or keep out of trouble (Z would happily gobble all of this food), and they tend to go too late for kids.
Anyway, my solution is that I invite people over close to bedtime, so Lil Z and Lil R can charm my guests for an hour (okay, maybe they just annoy them, lol), partake in appetizers (only Z; R is too little!), and then be whisked off to bed.
It works quite well.
And this time, I was extra excited, because I wasn't navigating a long list of food restrictions. I've posted in my Dinner Party 101 series before that catering to your guests is key to having a good dinner party, and I do maintain that stance BUT it's always nice when the guests just come with an enthusiasm for food in general. :) And wine, but we'll get to that later.
So going back to how I plan a party (and I'm going to apologize in advance for the shoddy quality/quantity of the photos; I was having too much fun and kept forgetting, and then I maybe had too much wine and lost most of my ability to photograph. These pics are so terrible, I'm not sure they add anything to the post, but hey, it's what I've got.
I don't have a photo of the actual caramelized onion, bacon and gruyère dip, but this is what the dish looked like at the end. I think it speaks for itself.
For me, the key to having fun and relaxing and enjoying is that I like to have pretty much everything done in advance. I don't want to be fussing over things while all the fun happens out in the dining room. So I don't tend to serve things like seared scallops, risotto, etc., that require too much last minute energy.
Here's my menu - and I'll go into the how-to in a minute. The recipes without a link (i.e., the original ones) are posted at the bottom of this post.
Appetizer - caramelized onion, bacon and gruyère dip, served with endive and cucumber slices
First course - thai green curry mussels served in a coconut broth, with 5-minute no-knead bread
Salad - spinach, red onion slivers, parmesan shards, pear slices and toasted pecans with a simple balsamic vinaigrette
Main - bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with a wild mushroom sauce (recipes below), served with pureed celery root and bacon-braised french lentils
Dessert - chocolate pots de creme with an orange whipped cream (1 c whipping cream, 3 T icing sugar, zest of one orange)
I'm not gonna lie, it was pretty darn good. So what I do with a menu like this is that I break it down into components, and I write myself a schedule for those components, and cross things off my list as I go.
So here was my list:
- mix together bread
- make dip
- prep endive and cucumber
- prep celery root puree
- prep lentils
- make pots de crème
- bake bread
- prep pork, make sauce for pork
- clean and pick through mussels, mise en place for sauce ingredients
- whip cream
- toast pecans
- make salad vinaigrette
See? Not so hard when you break it down.
Then, I have a little schedule for myself. For this dinner, it went something like this (all times approximate and very, very flexible)
7: 00 - bake dip, put cucumber and endive on platter
7:30 - guests arrive - set out platter, serve drinks
8:00 - (kids off to bed!) preheat stove, cook mussels; While mussels are cooking (they take 8 minutes), shove pork in oven, put celery root in microwave to reheat, and put lentils on the stove on very low heat to reheat (this is about 3 minutes worth of work)
8:15 - mussels served with bread. and more drinks.
8:45 - prep salad (assemble components, drizzle dressing). Check temperature of pork (needs to register 145F in the thickest part; use the oven timer and just check every 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let it rest once it gets to the right temperature). About 5 minutes in the kitchen. Serve salad. With more drinks.
9:15 - While pork is resting, reheat the celery root in the microwave. Slice pork and serve with sauce (takes 2 seconds on the stove to reheat), celery and lentils. About 5 minutes in the kitchen. And more drinks.
(much wine and conversation ensues)
whenever seems appropriate - serve dessert with coffee and digestifs, if desired. We served dessert at 1 am. ;) Pots de crème (or any other custard-type dessert) is great because you just take it out of the fridge and top it with whipped cream. Again, only about 5 minutes in the kitchen. They are yummy, but this photo is so blurry, you can barely tell what it is!
When we have dinner parties, I'm in charge of food, and hubs is in charge of drinks; i.e., keeping the water pitcher filled, and keeping the wine flowing (and possibly policing if someone is driving, but thankfully our guests cabbed it so we didn't have to worry about that). This division of labour works well for us, because it means that one person isn't constantly in the kitchen; you alternate a bit.
Anyway, I will say that a great time was had by all, and leave you with the wisdom that while it might SEEM like a good idea to stay up and drink wine until 3:30 am, it seems like a much less good idea at 7 am when the kids are up for the day.
bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce
2 pork tenderloins
1 package of bacon (14 slices)
1 T olive oil
1 T dijon mustard
1 T grainy mustard
1 T dark brown sugar
1 T bbq sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T minced rosemary
1 t dried thyme
1. Whisk together olive oil, mustards, sugar, bbq sauce, garlic, and spices.
2. On a platter/cutting board, arrange the bacon so there are 2 sets of 7 slices side-by-side, to wrap around your pork.
3. Place a tenderloin on in the middle of the bacon (so the slices can wrap around the pork). Smear half of the olive oil/mustard mixture on each pork tenderloin (while it's on the bacon).
4. Wrap the bacon around the pork, and then secure with kitchen twine. You could probably also just cook it seam side down if you didn't have kitchen twine.
5. Let marinate for a few hours.
6. To cook - preheat oven to 425F. Put pork in oven (I put mine in a rack in a pan, so the bacon fat could drip. I also put 1 cup of water in the pan, so I wouldn't have to smell burning bacon fat as it dripped onto the pan). Clean up is easier if you line the pan with foil. ;)
7. Cook for about 35-45 minutes, until the thickest part of the pork measures at least 145F (you can go as high as 160F and it will still be pretty moist). Let rest for at least 10 minutes. Remove twine, slice and serve.
1 package dried wild mushrooms (about 14g)
1 cup boiling water
2 T butter
1/4 c minced shallot
1/2 c sherry/marsala (sweetish fortified wine)
LOTS of pepper, some salt
3/4 c whipping cream
1. Reconstitute the mushrooms in the boiling water (you may need more than 1 cup; this is fine). Let them soak for about 15-20 minutes. Strain, but keep the soaking liquid. Chop the mushrooms.
2. Heat a pot over medium-high heat. Add butter, and before the butter burns (but after it browns), add shallots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add chopped mushrooms, saute until most of the liquid is out of the mushrooms and things are starting to stick/brown a bit. Add the sherry/marsala. Let it reduce until it's almost evaporated. Add the soaking liquid. Turn heat to high. Once the liquid has reduced to about half of what it was, add a ton of fresh-ground pepper, and the whipping cream. Keep the heat high until the liquid is reduced to about 1/4 of what it was before, and it nice and thick. The key to a recipe like this is having the patience to wait until the liquids thicken. It takes forever, so I like to do it in advance. The result is a rich, creamy, concentrated sauce and this particular sauce is delicious on almost anything - mashed potatoes, chicken, steak, pork, rice, etc. It's yummy, and it's also vegetarian and gluten-free. I make this up in advance and just reheat before serving.
Thanks for reading and sorry for the shoddy pics. Maybe next time, a little less wine and a little more focus, huh?
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, but this cake is always ugly. I've made it four times now, and every time I think....man, this is uuuuuuuuuuggggly....but it's so delicious, and it smells so incredible that I keep making it.
And I still don't like dates. I still think they look like cockroaches and completely refuse to eat them in an un-baked, un-chopped state. They aren't quite as bad when they are chopped.
Anyway, I got this recipe from a great cookbook called Quinoa 365 (fabulous, fabulous, fabulous...loads of recipes including whole quinoa, quinoa flakes and quinoa flour; I've tried many of them and they've all been really good). However, in reading my recipe, you'll notice that I don't make it with quinoa flour...not that it isn't good that way (I've made it with the flour before and it turned out exactly the same), it's just that I have a really hard time finding quinoa flour in stores, and it's been a while since I made a Bulk Barn run to stock up on it. SO, rest assured, you can make this recipe with or without the quinoa flour.
But you really should make it; it comes together quite quickly, and despite its humble appearance, you could serve it to anyone, and they would be suitably impressed by the flavour. AND, there's no reason that you could just keep the caramel sauce separate and pour it over the served pieces of cake, but I like the all-in-one factor of this dish. And you really don't notice the bits of dates in the finished product.
Last, make sure you buy pitted dates. 1 3/4 c of chopped dates doesn't seem like a whole lot until you have to pit each and every one of them. Then it seems like waaaay too many dates.
caramel date cake with pecans
stolen and slightly modified from Quinoa 365
1 3/4 c chopped pitted dates
1 c boiling water
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour (OR 1 c AP flour, 3/4 c quinoa flour)
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
1 c packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 t vanilla
3/4 c 18% cream
1 c packed dark brown sugar
1/3 c butter
1/2 c chopped pecans
fleur de sel/coarse salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Get all your ingredients ready.
2. In a medium bowl (I use a 2-cup liquid measure), combine the dates and boiling water and set aside so the dates absorb the water. NOTE: Depending on how soft/fresh your dates are, they probably won't absorb all the water. What I do, is pour off the excess water into a little pitcher. If, upon mixing the dates into the cake, I feel the batter is really dry, I'll add some of this excess water.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
4. Cream the butter in a large bowl (ideally with an electric mixer; handheld is perfect for this). Add the brown sugar and cream until fluffy. Add the eggs & vanilla and beat well. Add the flour mixture and continue to mix until well-blended (a couple of minutes).
5. Fold in the (lightly strained) dates. You can see I had about 4 oz of the liquid left, because my dates were really soft and fresh.
Your final batter consistency should be thick, but not dry (if it's pulling away from the sides of your bowl, like a muffin batter, then it's too dry; add some of the water). It should be liquid, but definitely not thin or soupy. This s what mine looked like, for reference. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, combine the cream, sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir constantly (or not so constantly, lol), until the mixture is a thick caramel sauce; about 15-20 minutes.
7. Remove the cake from the oven and pour the caramel sauce over top. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and fleur de sel (just a bit!).
Bake for an additional five minutes. Cut into 9 pieces and serve warm. It's so sweet and caramelly and delicious.
And also kind of ugly.