Thursday, October 29, 2009

Move over Cambell's

It's that season again, and I am not talking about the holidays, but the one of stuffy noses, sore throats and upset tummies. It's clear by now that I am a huge fan of soups and stews of any kind, and this time of year is, in my mind, the official Chicken Noodle Soup season. I don't know about you, but canned soup generally leaves me feeling parched for water due to salt overload. It simply lacks that burst of flavour only homemade soup can bring. Stock from scratch most certainly tops it all, but it is possible to pull off a delicious soup with the (dare I say it) canned stock variety. My pantry is never out of chicken bouillon cubes either, since a soup craving can strike at any moment with me!
For a little twist on original Chicken Noodle Soup, but still retaining the feel good qualities of the original, try this Chicken and Tortellini Stew. It's super fast to put together, especially if you have leftover cooked chicken in the fridge. It's perfect for a chilly fall day!

Chicken and Tortellini Stew
Serves 6

2 cups water
1 14 ounce can chicken broth
6 cups roughly chopped fresh spinach (about half a bag)
1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (about 3 medium)
1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 cups dried cheese filled tortellini
1 red or green sweet pepper, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, cut into bite-size wedges
1 tsp dried basil, crushed
1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cups chopped cooked chicken

1. In a large stock pot, combine water and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in spinach, carrots, zucchini, tortellini, sweet pepper, onion, basil, oregano, and black pepper. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until the tortellini and vegetables are nearly tender.

2. Stir in the cooked chicken. Cook, covered, about 5 minutes more or until tortellini and vegetables are tender.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

No ketchup please!

My kids did not miss the massive amounts of ketchup they usually gobble up with their burgers this time, as this recipe twists original burger toppings ever so slightly and creates a new and kid-friendly way to dress up a burger. In the end, they use less of everything, which is less mess for me to clean up, and a whole lot less sugar in their bellies. And that makes a mommy happy.
Team Favourite Turkey Burgers
4 Servings
1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
3 tbsp ketchup
4 tsp dill pickle relish (splurge and buy the good stuff)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 pound uncooked ground turkey or chicken
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 romaine leaves
8 tomato slices
4 whole wheat burger buns, split and toasted
Preheat broiler (or saute pan - I simply pan fried mine). In a large bowl combine bread crumbs, 2 tbsp ketchup, 2 tsp relish, garlic, salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. Add ground turkey; mix well. Shape into four 3/4 - inch thick patties.
In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, remaining 1 tbsp ketchup, remaining 2 tsp relish, and remaining 1/8 tsp pepper. Set aside.
Place patties on the unheated rack of a broiler pan (or in the preheated saute pan, with a tbsp of oil). Broil 4 to 5 inches from the heat for 14 to 18 minutes or until no longer pink inside (165 F), turning once half way through broiling. (If pan frying, cook for the same amount of time, turning only once, on medium-high heat.)
To serve, place lettuce leaves and tomato slices on the bottom halves of the buns. Top with burgers. Spoon mayonnaise mixture on burgers. Add top halves of buns.
I heard about a trick to make home made burgers keep a flat shape while cooking, rather than puffing up in the middle, like mine always have. I am happy to share that this really works:
When shaping the patties, make an indentation in the middle, as with thumb print cookies, only larger. The middle still puffs up while cooking, but since the middle is now thinner, it ends up even with the sides. I love little tricks like this, don't you?

That's life!

I spent a lovely day in the big city of Toronto this past Saturday, scouring the St Lawrence Market, peeking into the windows of George Brown College (hhmmm, maybe I do want to take some 'real' classes some day) and checking out restaurant supply stores for great deals. I only purchased a few small items, like mixing bowls and dog bone cookie cutters (in order to full fill a promise to my girls that we would make dog biscuits together), all in all it was a bit overwhelming for a small city dweller like me. But now I know where to go to find deals, especially odds and ends I may not find at the local Wal Mart. I wasn't surprised that I would find the best prices in China Town, since all things cheap come from China... my surprise came when all labels read, "Made in India". How ironic is that?! Either way, it works for me. I think the place was called Tap Phang, but I could be wrong. I will probably have to make some calls if I ever want to go back!

So I am feeling a bit under the weather these days, but thank goodness it's just a sore throat and stuffy sinuses for me. However, thinking of food is not always so fun when your appetite is low, so I decided I would make kiddie food this week - since it doesn't take long to get on the table, and I wouldn't have to spend energy on convincing the kids that the strange food in front of them does indeed taste super yummy.

Here's what I came up with:

Team Favourite Turkey Burger
with side salad

Chicken and Tortellini Stew

Zippity-Doo-Dah Shrimp and Pineapple Sticks
with white rice and steamed asparagus

Veggie-filled Quesadillas
with scrambled eggs and fresh tomato wedges

I'll probably mix up four loaves of bread since I discovered time management is vital to keep making home made breads; four loaves done all at once takes much less time than four done on separate occasions.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sauteed Shrimp with Penne Pasta and Puttanesca Sauce

Confidence after the storm.

It's a new day, with a new out look, along side a fresh perspective. When a rider falls off a horse, the most important thing is for that rider to get right back on that horse, or fear will hinder the ability to learn with confidence the next time around. So here I am, back on my horse, putting things behind me and feeling excited about learning yet again. On a side note, my dog got a hold of two chocolate chip cookies today, so I spent a good hour watching his every move to see if he would get sick. (He didn't.) This could not, however, ruin the good day I had begun with a very heart warming experience: My beautiful African friend told me of her children, whom I drove to school this morning, and how they could not sleep last night, awaiting their car ride to school. It's almost bitter sweet, as I think of my own children and of how much they have, and how I often feel they should have so much more. But sweet it is to be able to give something so simple, which means so very much to some one else.

Since I have started my new way of cooking, I often ask myself after a meal, "Would I be satisfied with this dish if I ordered it at a restaurant?" Tonight's dinner was one that appealed to my taste buds on every level; it was bursting with fresh and diverse flavour, it was tender but did not lack texture, and kept my interest right to the last bite. I also love that it feeds at least 5 for under $10. Have a look, I give it a big y-e-s:

Sauteed Shrimp with Penne Pasta and Puttanesca Sauce

Preparation time: 40 minutes

2 tbsp olive oil
4 (large) garlic cloves, minced
28 oz diced tomatoes, canned
3 tbsp Nicoise olives, pitted, chopped
3 tbsp capers, drained
1/2 fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 - 1 tsp red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste
1 lb penne pasta
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta while preparing the tomato sauce:

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saute pan over low heat; add 2 tsp of garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes (with juice), olives, capers, 1/4 cup parsley and red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 10 minutes. Set the sauce aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Add the reserved garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and the remaining parsley, saute for 1 - 2 minutes, then add the shrimp to the tomato sauce. Cook the shrimp in the sauce for an additional 3 - 5 minutes, or until opaque in the center.

Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

After composing myself, I did get around to making a menu for this week:

Whole Wheat Quesadillas with chicken, jalapeno jack, and mango salsa.
Black Bean salad with Lime Vinaigrette

Sauteed Shrimp with penne pasta and puttanesca sauce

Lasagna (since it's so great for weekend leftovers when the cook is out of town!)

Puree of Cauliflower Soup
with Onion Cheddar drop biscuits

Monday, October 19, 2009

The f word according to me

There are days in every one's life where you want to run away to some place where nobody knows you, a place preferably with plenty of sand to bury your head in. That is always the easy way out, isn't it? But sooner or later we all have to face that one thing that gets us the most. For me, this thing is called Failure. I have opted out on so many things in my life, because of that silly "what if I can't do it" question, lingering in the back of my head, pestering me until I finally give in to it. This year was supposed to be different, and it started out different, but for now it feels as though everything has come to a sudden halt as I feel like a ton of bricks are weighing down on my back, and I find myself wiping a few tears from my eyes.
It was bad enough to have two ladies miss out on our first Gourmet Dinner night, due to my bad planning and communication skills. Here too, a few tears were wiped from my eyes. The dinner itself was beautiful, as we spent time bonding over food and candle light - nothing was burnt, no wine was spilled, no dishes broken. We all went home happy, excited for what our next time together would bring.
The crashing halt came the next day, as I received news that just about all the ladies, except for me, were sick through the night. Here it is, that little word that begins with f, failure. The worst part is, that it wasn't me that was sick, but everyone else, and I had planned the party and it was at my house. My title of foodie has now become foodie whose food may be risky to eat. I immediately think of giving up everything I had started this year, I was ready to say good bye even to this blog - now I was beginning to feel sick, not due to bacteria, but because of what I had done to my best friends... and how my love for cooking and food should be something kept to myself, and not shared with others, even though that goes against every foodies nature. I went to bed early, buried my head in my pillows (since the only sand available is outside in my daughter's sand box, and it's simply not deep enough), tried to shut off my mind and just go to sleep where all is silent and forgotten.
Earlier that day, however, I was at church, as I always am on Sunday mornings, and the message, although simple, ran through my mind, this time with good news and not one of giving up. The message was so simple, I at times had difficulty staying focused. What spoke to me the most was only a little tiny part of the message, but something I knew to be true for years now, something that had pulled me out of a dark time in my life a few years ago. But it came with a different angle this time and went so deep into my soul, I knew it would be something I would go back to at one point in my life. Little did I know that time would come only a few hours later.
The preacher told us a short story of how his wife would kick him out of the house when he felt low, not to get rid of him, but for him to go and help somebody else. Instead of wallowing in self pity, and waiting for something or someone to come pull you out of a situation, go and pull someone out of theirs. I had done this before, but the difference here is that, rather than waiting a day or two or even a week, you go at that moment, without hesitation... Seeing as I was in bed at that time, I decided I would wait until morning, but with determination that I would look failure straight in the face and DO something about it. I would find the first person that I could help, and I was going to DO something for them. And that is exactly what I did the very next morning.
I have been driving a wonderful African lady home in the mornings after dropping off the kids at school for a little while now. I was not able to drive her TO school, as my old car only accommodated 3 children, but - the new one can carry four. She has two kids, and I have two. It works out perfectly! For some reason I just had never acted on it, so today was going to be that day. So on our way home, not only did I finally ask for the spelling of her name (which is a beautiful African name, not so easy to pronounce, even less easy to spell), I got her phone number and offered to pick her kids up and drop them off each and every day, until they get a car this January. The thankfulness in her eyes lifted the heavy burden on my back, and put a spring back into my step. How can such a simple thing change your entire outlook on life... it just does, and it will be something I will never forget and I know will help me through future down falls in life.
As for cooking, well, I feel a little intimidated at the thought of entertaining, but I will continue to learn and, most importantly, bake delicious, hot out of the oven, bread.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Falalala la la la la la!

Ah, the holidays! What a perfect time to break routines, get out of bed late, eat as much as you want (and squeeze in an extra work out hear or there) - but the best part of all must be... once we are filled to brim, relaxed so much our muscles tingle... getting back to the things that make up our day to day lives. I have decided to supplement my "school books" with one from the Culinary Institute of America, since I feel it's along the same lines, but with more recipes. My Cordon Bleu book is mostly a school book - to build a knowledge of food, which is most intriguing I must say, but I do need more meals to chose from - to keep kids and budget happy! Our Thanksgiving celebrations have been carried over into this coming weekend, but look for a new menu in the following week.

Tomorrow is my first Gourmet Night with the ladies - Four courses, 9 ladies and some wine, how divine! Plus tasting new-to-us foods, discovering fresh inspiration, and catching up with friends in between our busy lives, how fun is that!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Let's get back to cooking!

I have added a little something special to my culinary journey, and it's taken up much of my free thought time lately. It's a little something called Gourmet Dinners, which I was introduced to me by a friend and fellow foodie (and much better baker than I). I feel the need to share this on my blog since I think it is a fun opportunity not just for me and my peeps, but should be passed on in a hope to inspire more groups like this.

Here's how it works: Gather a group of 5 - 8 ladies, men, or both. One member is the host - this person creates a full menu with recipes - one course for each participant. For example, the following line up could work for a 7 member group: appetizers, salad, entree, vegetable, side dish, dessert and drinks. The menu can be themed, or not, as long as all courses work together to create a beautiful, harmonious meal. Pick a date for each month - our group is looking at the last Saturday of every month. For every meeting a new host plans the evening, is in charge of the entree and assigns the other courses out to everyone else. You can make a schedule for each month, working on a rotation, so no one gets stuck making vegetables three times in a row. I am hosting our first Dinner, so then next time I will be making the vegetable, the person making the vegetable at my dinner is then in charge of the side dish, the side dish person is now on dessert, and so on. I think this is such a great way to try out new foods, cooking techniques and styles, plus we finally make time to see each others homes (and perhaps get some decorating tips along the way). I know we all get stuck in a food rut from time to time, this could be the thing to break that!

Pass it on

Something else that I think is incredible is Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food. His work is dynamically impacting Britain's food habits and is now in it's beginning stages in the U.S. If you didn't happen to see his Food Revolution on TV, check it out
Put into one sentence, his "mission" is to start a revolution where people teach each other to cook by passing on a new recipe which they have learned, to two other people. These two now pass it on to two more people each, and these again pass it on - by now 7 people have learned a new cooking skill. These 7 do the same, and soon people every where are in their kitchens, cooking, rather than eating out or heating frozen food. I think this could be a great idea for a group of friends to do together. See the above link for detailed instructions, with an outline of how to create such a group. But for most of us who don't have time for a venture of this magnitute, it could be as simple as passing on a favourite family recipe to a few friends, and asking them to pass it on to others.

Anything that gets people excited about cooking and learning about new foods, gets me excited too! Why should we eat the same 5 meals every week? Why shouldn't our kids grow up knowing what a zucchini or what basil is? Let's get back to cooking and enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Scent of Life!

A funny thing happened to me yesterday: I ran out of onions. Perhaps not a memorable moment to most, but it certainly was to me! I fumbled through my menu and there was nothing I could make - which makes me wonder, if I eat this many onions, do I smell like them too? At one point not too long ago, my fridge boasted 4 different kinds; the average every day white onion, shallots, green onions and leeks. And none of them ended up in the compost! I think most women have moments where we simply must have chocolate, well yesterday I was so stumped at what to make for dinner, I felt the same way about the precious stinky vegetable. It is a vegetable, right? Lucky for me, I had some burgers in the freezer I needed to use up anyway... My kids seemed to be delighted to be eating normal kid food for a change, and I realized how much time I had been spending hovering over the stove lately, as I hung out with the barbecue for a couple of minutes. It felt lazy, but oddly enough was kind of nice, sort of like visiting an old friend. So anyway, that was short lived as I headed straight to the store today and now have a complete pantry again.

And speaking of smelly food, it was Indian night tonight! I have only made Indian food twice in the past 9 years, which is a shame because it's an amazing source for getting all your veggies in. I love that the sauces or liquids in curries are made of vegetables, not heavy cream or a starchy roux. I think here again it's the smell we have to get past. I am reminded of an apartment building I once lived in, with curry loving neighbours - curry that permeated into my apartment and lingered there until the day I moved out. Which very well might be the reason I haven't used curry much in my cooking, that, and my husband needs a little convincing. So I suppose today my skin is onion and curry scented. Which is why I am at my computer, not out with my friends!

One thing is certain, however, food is a big part of who I am, and it's very possible I won't often have long fingernails, smooth skin on my hands, or smell like laundry detergent, but at least I will know who my true friends are!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Corn and Crab Chowder with Basil

Serves 4 - 6

25 mL Vegetable oil
95g Onions, medium dice
1 clove Garlic, chopped
25g Flour

875 mL Mild Fish stock or chicken stock
60 mL Dry white Wine
250g Small Red Potatoes, medium dice
1 bay leaf

250g Corn kernels, fresh or frozen
about 6 Fresh Basil leaves, shredded
250g Crabmeat
125 mL Milk, hot
65 mL Heavy cream, hot (or half and half cream)
to taste Salt and White Pepper

-Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over moderate heat.
-Add the onions and the garlic.
-Cook over moderate heat until nearly tender. Do not brown.
-Add the flour, Stir into the oil to make a roux. Cook the roux slowly for 3 - 4 minutes, but do not let brown.

-Using a wire whip, slowly stir in the stock. Bring to a boil, stirring to make sure liquid is smooth. Add the wine.
-Add the potatoes and bay leaf. Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

-Add the corn kernels and shredded basil. Return the soup to a simmer.
-Add the crabmeat.
-Stir in the hot milk and cream.
-Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chalk it up to experience...

It has been an unusually cold week this week, which does not impress me very much. My kitchen, however, is always warm these days as the oven turns out breads and the stove top belly warming meals. I could eat soups and stews with fresh out-of-the-oven bread each and every day this time of year. Perhaps it's my way of comforting the dread of winter approaching! As I had left-over basil from the pizza a few days ago and a box of crab legs in the freezer (since late spring), I made a chowder that happened to need both of these. The girls and I were out shopping for runners after school, so there was little time left for dinner preparations. Chowders don't normally require long simmering times, just enough to soften the potatoes and throw the rest of it together. I love soups that simmer for a long period of time, and how the flavours of individual ingredients come together and create something entirely new. But with chowders I think the opposite is true, as all the flavours are individually intact, and enhance each other, rather than creating a new one. I love that I can taste the sweetness of the corn, the earthiness of the potato and the freshness of the basil. It's the crab along with the cream that pulls it all together to create a harmonious dish.
But there has to be a catch, right?! A couple of years ago, my family and I visited some relatives in California, and the last day there, we shared a meal at a Chinese restaurant. As my kids picked on angel hair pasta and a few familiar vegetables, their 5 year old cousin chowed down one crab leg after the other. She made cracking the legs look like such a simple task, but I am guessing she must have had a lot of practice because when I tried it yesterday it was a disaster! It took me over half an hour for two pounds of legs - which produced just half a pound of meat. At first I attempted cracking them by hand, peeling back the shell and then picking out the meat inside. But since I only had 5 grams peeled after about 10 minutes, I thought there just has to be a better way! I searched my kitchen for tools that somewhat resembled the ones I had seen on Red Lobster commercials. My kitchen came up empty, so I headed for the garage! Luckily I found something, see the photo above! (And yes, it was clean.) Soon I came up with a system of cracking either side of a leg section, then, if the meat didn't come out on it's own, I would jab a chop stick into it. My older daughter is watching me in horror - or perhaps disbelief of what she is witnessing - and absolute disgust at the thought of this ending up in her mouth. Daughter number 2 was delighted to score a pincher of the crab's leg and play with it. I really didn't care what the crab looked like, or how it was extracted, I admit I was stressed and quite hungry! The sun had set and my dog ate two or three crayons (and to his delight, got away with it) by the time all that crab was done! There has got to be a better way to do this, and I will most certainly find it.
Unfortunetly we were out of wine, except for a bottle of sparkling chardonnay, which is not one I would have thought to pair with Corn and Crab Chowder. But at this point who cares, I deserved a little grape juice to go with my dinner! I have had red wine with chicken before, and that was a bad pairing, but somehow the champagne was really nice with chowder. Stranger things have happened...