Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Slow life revolution

"Today's online services turn friendship into fast food -- wrapping everyone in a "friend" paper -- and sharing really suffers". (foxnews)

Stop for a minute and think about that. Are we feeling more connected? Perhaps. Do we have conversations with friends over dinner, interesting topics abruptly ending with, "yup, saw it on facebook". Do we visit people less, since we've "visited" with them online? Guilty, I am. Lately I questioned myself repeatedly, are my friendships becoming deeper, or, not at all? Is there value in daily virtual chats, or will I enjoy face to face visits all the more, even if they are less in quantity, but more in quality? My intentions are not to start an anti-facebook revolution, it's a life change I am embracing, and in doing so, I have noticed just how much facebook has taken over my social activities. I worried for a several days about losing touch with past friends found, about missing out on saying a quick hello to every day friends, about seeing photos and keeping up to date. Now I am certain, keeping in touch will continue with those truly apart of my life, I may just pick up the phone more often and hear my friend's voices, photos might become more precious again when sent by snail mail. Instead of missing out, I will learn to appreciate once again. I think that's what I've missed.

My thoughts on food are not far off, cooking from scratch with time invested elevates the most basic of all foods to a level where fine dining can't touch it. If you don't understand what it means for there to be love in your food, then you need to make a point of finding out. It's not something that can be explained, but something that needs to be discovered. If I am going to start any sort of revolution, that would be it. Value the simple. The every day. And find satisfaction in an entirely new way, which has nothing to do with success or money.

Try this marinara, it's slow cooking process, resulting in a depth of flavour that is pure bliss, not to be forgotten any time soon.


Roasted Vegetable Marinara

4 large, ripe tomatoes
1 large red pepper, quartered, seeds removed
1 head of garlic

olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush tomatoes, red pepper, and garlic head with olive oil and place in a shallow baking dish. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes.
Remove vegetables from the oven, set them aside to cool slightly.
Peel tomatoes and red pepper by pulling the skins off with your hands. Squeeze the garlic out of it's shell. Place vegetables in a food processor with 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and pulse until almost smooth, leaving some texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cook your choice of pasta in salted water until al dente, drain but do not rinse, place back in pot. Add marinara and cook until heated through.

Try it with turkey meatballs and a little cheese, but it's pretty devine all on it's own.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Perfectly crisp, through and through

Being of the health food eating kind, never craving junk food, I do have one exception, you probably do too - fries. It's not just the kids with this one, mom and dad have cravings just the same! Having home fries is, sadly, never the same, we miss out on those gorgeous crunchy outsides. Home fries certainly are not a substitute, they are, in my opinion, an entirely different food.
Then comes an a-ha moment... while watching Food TV with my very interested 7 year old daughter, who replaced mindless kid's shows with Discovery Channel and Food Network (my heart gets all fuzzy and warm thinking of this).
I've made home fries countless times. I've read many a recipe. None share these easy, vital steps that make ALL the difference. Are you ready for this? It's simpler than you might think... (seems all things in simple form somehow come out on top, doesn't it?) Here it goes:
After cutting scrubbed but unpeeled Russet potatoes into even sized wedges, put them into a bowl of cold water, drain and rinse, repeating until the water goes from milky to clear. You have now washed off excess starch. Step two: place the wedges on a clean dish towel, and dry thoroughly.
That's it.

Place the wedges in a dry bowl, drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil over them, about 1 for every large Russet potato. Add a few pinches of sweet paprika, kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Toss to coat the wedges evenly. Put them on parchment lined cookie sheets, spread apart so steam can evaporate, rather than make the wedges soft. Bake in a 425 F oven for about 40 minutes, until tender inside and crispy outside. I use two cookie sheets since I make a huge amount for my fry loving family, rotating them top to bottom halfway through the cooking time.

Remove from the oven and hit them with a little steak spice to kick it up a notch, or coarse salt if you prefer.

And when bikini season comes to a close, I figure we'll dress the fries up a bit, piling them high in a round casserole dish, adding a good covering of Monterey Jack cheese and bacon bits, then melting the cheese under the broiler for a minute or two. Pretty it up with chopped green onions - all males in your house will love you just a bit more that day!

Inspired by Chuck Hughes

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the inside out - the anti diet

I don't believe in diets, and yet I do watch what I eat a whole lot more this time of year than any other, with just two rules: avoid sugar as much as possible, and eat vegetables more than usual with every meal (snacks included). And since we don't eat processed or premade foods, I think that's enough effort. This quote pretty much sums it up, "Don't focus on the growth of something ... focus on it's health! Healthy things grow!" Eat right, feel right.

No time to cook? Try this one on for size: snow peas and onions are flash heated and left perfectly crisp by draining pasta over them right in the strainer. Add in fresh, ripe tomatoes, a bunch of herbs, some garlic and a hint of cheese, your dinner is ready in 15 minutes. You could even barbecue chicken in the same time by pounding chicken breasts between two pieces of plastic wrap until 1/4 inch thick, seasoning with salt and pepper, and brushing with good for you olive oil. Barbecue on medium heat for about 12 - 15 minutes. I bet waiting for pizza delivery would leave your belly hungry for a whole lot longer!

Print Me

Spring Garden Pasta
Serves 4 - 6

1 lb dried shell pasta
2 cups snow peas, trimmed and cut in half
2 cups ripe grape tomatoes, any variety
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

herb pesto:
2 cups fresh herbs, like basil or parsley, very finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 - 1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan OR 1 cup grated Mozzarella

Cook pasta until tender.
Meanwhile, place trimmed, halved snow peas and sliced red onion in a colander set in the sink for draining the pasta.
Make the pesto by pulsing the garlic and salt in a blender, then add herbs, olive oil, pepper and Parmesan (if using Mozzarella, don't add to the blender, but stir into pasta when ready). Pulse again until combined. If you have a proper chefs knife, you can skip the blender by chopping your herbs and garlic super fine, and stirring into olive oil, then adding cheese.
When pasta is tender (but not mushy), drain right over the vegetables in the colander. Do not rinse. Pour pasta and veggies into a large bowl, add pesto, cheese and tomatoes, toss to combine. Serve with additional cheese if you so desire.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When your garden's bounty is herbs...

It's Spring.
It's hot.
It's almost Summer.
I love it.
Because I love the BBQ.
And herbs.


The Herby Turkey
Serves 4 - 6

Foccacia buns or slab, cut into burger size squares, sliced

1 1/2 lbs ground turkey
1 - 2 shallots, finely minced
a good handful finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

about 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
one parsley sprig, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp grated Parmesan

to cook:
2 - 3 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder


To make the herby pesto, place garlic and salt in a blender. Pulse for a few seconds. Add almonds, pulse again. Add everything else and pulse just enough to combine. Done!

Fire up the BBQ on high, get it good and hot. To make the herby turkey patties, mix your patty ingredients with the turkey, only until just combined. The more you mix, the tougher the end result. Oh, and use your hands, they are your best tool. Shape into 4 - 6 even patties.

Stir 1/2 tsp garlic powder into some olive oil, and using a pastry brush, coat both sides of each patty.

Turn the BBQ down to medium, gently place the patties about 2 inches apart on the grill. Now leave them alone for 6 - 7 minutes (use a timer!), then flip, only once, never more, and cook another 5 - 8 minutes, or until firm to touch.

Quickly toast foccacia on the BBQ, then spread the bottom half of each with a little mayo. Add a patty, spoon a little pesto on it and finish with the top half of the foccacia. Serve with a simple tomato salad.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Are you keeping a weekly menu?

I know I am a bit of an odd-ball, but I will never be ashamed of telling you how much I enjoy sitting down with my menu journal, a good pen and note paper for the shopping list, plus a few cookbooks, to write a weekly menu. It's probably as relaxing to me as a bubble bath would be to others (I despise long, quiet - boring - baths, so much so that I whenever we get around to building our dream home, I am not planning for one in my master bath - give me a good size walk in shower with a decent shower head any day!).

In general, here are a few menu writing guidelines I have developed over the years:

Meals are planned around vegetables, rather than meat or even grains.
I plan for two meat dishes a week, and probably one fish every two weeks.
I never do more than one kind of starch a week, for example I wouldn't plan for more than one pasta, rice, or potato dish.
I add "cheater meals", like the roast potatoes and omelet this week, from extras already in the pantry, to stretch out the menu week and also give myself some fast, no-fail dinners. This often includes fruit salad, waffles, and sunny eggs. Or pasta either handmade stored in the freezer or dried in a package, with a quick homemade marinara.
I add snacks that need to be made, this week I am making another batch of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus for our veggies. Other weeks I make muffins, cookies, or even a banana sorbet.
If I am not cooking from memory, I always add the cookbook title and page number for quick reference.
When I am short on time or imagination, I can look back in my journal for menu ideas from weeks past. Although this is a rare occasion!

What are your menu writing strategies?