Friday, 28 September 2012

Phyllo-philia! :)

There are several ingredient mixtures that just are indicative of what heaven might be like.
I've got to admit that my all-time favourite ingredient combo is mushroom-garlic-bacon. But a close second is...spinach, ricotta/feta, and phyllo pastry. A match made in heaven. Hello!

Since making a spinach/ricotta ravioli a few weeks ago, and also indulging in a spinach/feta phyllo coil from the grocery store, I became obsessed. Similarly, I give kudos to my sister-in-law, who is a fellow foodie, for inspiring me to experiment with salmon and citrus.

Citrus-glazed salmon

2 salmon fillets (skin on)
Juice of 1/2 orange
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Zest of both halves
2 tsp Dijon
1-2 tsp honey
Season till you perceive a balance of sweet, salty, tart, and spicy
2 green onions chopped finely

Mix the sauce ingredients. Heat a saute pan with 3 tbsp olive oil on low-medium until just starting to smoke. Lay the fillets, skin-side down, on the pan. Drizzle all the sauce over the salmon. Cook the salmon till 2/3 done while skin-down. Continually baste the top of the fillet with the sauce. You'll notice that the sauce becomes sticky and gooey as you cook the salmon. Don't worry if the salmon is still slightly pink in the middle when done. As long as it's hot all through, it's fine. And what's more, it will be a LOT more juicy!

Once done, sprinkle the chopped spring onions over the fillets to add a zingy onion flavour that will balance out the citrusy tartness.

Spinach and ricotta spanakopita

DISCLAIMER: I am not Greek. I don't even know if I spelled spanakopita properly. However, I DO know that usually spanakopita is made with feta, not ricotta. And there's a good reason. Feta is much more briney, whereas ricotta is not salty at all. But since I had leftover ricotta, I substituted it. But added a LOT of salt.

1/2 package of phyllo pastry
1 package frozen chopped spinach
1 clove garlic
1/2 small tub of ricotta
LOADS of salt
1/4 cup melted butter

Thaw the phyllo and spinach till room temperature.

Pull out two sheets of phyllo pastry and cut in 1/4s lengthwise and brush with melted butter. Cover the remaining phyllo with a damp cloth.

Squeeze the excess water from the spinach with a cheese cloth. Mix spinach, ricotta, garlic, and salt. Put a large tablespoon of the mix onto the bottom of a phyllo strip and fold in alternating triangles to the top. (Think   of making a child's paper ornament).

Once all the spinach and ricotta mix is packaged into neat little triangles, brush with butter, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with oregano and bake for 10-15 minutes in a 375 degree oven till crisp and golden brown.

I guarantee there won't be any leftovers!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fish fusion

For several days now, I've been craving Thai food. Now, my family is pretty traditional when it comes to food. As my husband says, "I prefer food from Europe..." And my daughter is pretty much stuck on ham sandwiches with mayonnaise.

But knowing I had these amazing ingredients in my fridge...tilapia, cilantro, ginger, lemon grass, lime, snow craving became unbearable!

However, despite my apparent bravado, I sincerely doubted that I could produce anything similar to Thai food, no matter what ingredients I had. And to admit it, I've never tasted authentic Thai food, so probably I didn't. But regardless of what I made, it was freakin' awesome!!

I DID try to take inspiration from Thai cooking. And, being super WASP, I probably fused a variety of Asian foods (and maybe, for my sweetie, there was some Italian in there!).

The end result was pretty darn delicious though. And this is what it was:

Saffron, Cocount, and Cilantro Risotto 

3/4  cup coconut milk
2 1/2 cup water
1 large pinch of saffron
1 cup rice
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt to taste

Add the coconut milk and 1 cup of water to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the rice and saffron. Keep adding water until the rice is done. Add salt to taste (it will probably be more than you estimate as the coconut milk makes the rice quite sweet.).  Just before serving add the chopped cilantro.

Thai Fish Curry

In a food processor, combine the following:

1/2 stalk crushed lemon grass
1 large red chili (I used two of my Apache chilis from my garden--they are as big as my pinkie fingernail, but are potent!)
2 small garlic cloves
3 diced tomatoes
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp soya sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
The zest of one lime
The juice of half a lime
1 tbsp honey

Blend well. Taste constantly to make sure you have equal parts of sweet, sour, hot, and salty.

Heat a pan with two tbsp of peanut oil on medium. Once hot, add 3 diced fillets of tilapia (or any other fresh fish).

Once the fish is nearly done, add:

1 thinly sliced red pepper
1 cup of snow peas

If necessary, put a lid over the mixture to steam it till done.

Once done:

Add the curry sauce to the fish and veggie mixture. Sautee on low heat till the fish is done.

Serve the curried fish with the saffron, cilantro, coconut rice....YUM!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Fad-ulous feasts

The are several reasons why I have not blogged in a while. One of them being that work has been insane, but the other, more pertinent factor is that I went vegetarian for two months. Sorry to my Veggie friends, but I completely lost my inspiration for cooking when I couldn't sear, braise, grill, or sautee. I know...there's such a thing as grilled tofu and sauteed veg, but I found myself gravitating to bread and peanut butter sandwiches and pasta for dinner. I guess to be vegetarian it would help to love vegetables. I DO love some veg, but only if it's accompanied by meat, I suppose.

That being said, I still believe in the reason I went veggie in the first place... I wanted to protest factory farming. Look it up if interested. If not, this is not a soapbox, so don't worry. Although, if you want more information, see:

(PS: For local readers in the KW area, I would love to discover more friendly ways of eating without breaking the bank. The Healthy Butcher is all well and good, but Healthy Butcher=Sick bank account).

REGARDLESS...I am now back in cooking heaven, and as the title suggests I've realized that my cooking like my fashion has phases. Sometimes I dress punk for weeks at a time and then will go to work in slacks and a sweater...or even yoga pants. Similarly, a few months ago I was into survival food. And I don't mean trail mix. Our family really enjoys survival shows like Man vs. Wild, Dual Survivor, and Survivorman. I started buying frog legs, and learning how to gut and fillet a whole fish. It was so much fun, I even thought of making escargot from the snails in my back yard a la Gordon Ramsay. Unfortunately, I think the little buggers are so cute, that they're almost like a collection of backyard pets.

So after my veggie stint, what's the new fad? Meat of course, but also homemade pasta!!

My husband watched a Jamie Oliver show that describes how simple it is to make homemade pasta, and we've been experimenting with it ever since.

First was a tagliatelle with a basic herb and garlic tomato sauce:

The recipe goes like this:

100 grams of flour
1 egg
1 tsp. olive oil

Kneed. Roll out. Roll up. Slice. Dump in boiling water for 45 seconds. Done.

It was delicious. One thing I would recommend though, if you're going to be doing this alot, is to invest in a pasta roller (it's on my birthday list!). You can roll and roll and roll till you finally understand how the Italian mamas got so muscular, and you still won't be able to get it as thin as a roller. And with fresh pasta, it puffs up a little when it's boiled.

Yesterday, to continue with my pasta/Italian theme, dinner was chicken parmesan with homemade tomato sauce and spinach and ricotta ravioli.

Tomato sauce:

6 roma tomatoes stewed in a sautee pan with 1/2 cup water till soft

Once the tomatoes are soft, strain and pour into a food processor. Then add:

Fresh basil, sage, and oregano (dried if you don't have fresh)
4-5 cremini mushrooms
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove
1 tsp molasses

Blend. Done.

Chicken parmesan:

2 cups bread crumbs (I didn't have any French bread, so I toasted several slices of whole wheat bread and blended them in the food processor).
Enough shredded mozzarella to significantly cover each piece of chicken
1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 egg mixed with 1/2 cup milk for breading
Chicken breasts (I actually used thighs and they worked just as well)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Dip each piece of chicken in the egg/milk mixture. Coat thoroughly with breadcrumbs. Place the pieces on a baking sheet covered in tinfoil.
After about 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350.
Bake for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven. Pour 1/2 of the tomato sauce into a 9 x 13 pan. Place the chicken pieces over top. Then pour the rest of the sauce over the chicken pieces. Cover each piece with a significant amount of shredded mozzarella and then sprinkle a generous amount of parmesan over top. Bake for another 10 minutes.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

2-3 cups of spinach
1 clove of garlic
1/3 cup of ricotta

Use the same pasta recipe as above, but this time, after rolling out the dough cut it into ravioli-sized squares.
Sautee 1 minced clove of garlic and 2-3 cups of spinach in olive oil until the spinach is wilted.

Mix the spinach with the ricotta. Dab approximately 1 tbsp of the mix on a pasta square. Wet another square with water and press it over top of the square with mix. Ensure that all air is removed from the pocket and that the edges are tightly sealed.

Drop in boiling water and allow to cook for 2-4 minutes.

(My husband thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and let's just say there were no leftovers!)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Shrimp risotto (or: you can't freeze mussels)

My shellfish-allergic husband recently got braces and is on a strictly mush-and-soup diet. So...I figured what better time than to cook up a seafood risotto? My daughter has an almost ridiculous obsession with seafood, and I must say, her adventurousness has challenged me to delve into the depths a bit more myself.

I bought a bag of frozen shrimp (sorry! as much as I LOVE fresh ingredients, fresh shrimp are just too expensive!:S) and knew I had a bag of frozen mussels in the freezer.  Okay, for all you seafood culinary know-it-alls, I get it. But a dear friend of mine (who has cooked seafood alot), told me it was okay to freeze fresh mussels. Maybe it is, but it didn't work for me. Although I planned to cook my risotto in a lovely mussel broth, after several minutes with my mussels still remaining stubbornly tight-lipped, I realized they were goners. Resorted to veggie stock....sigh.

Regardless, I must say this dish turned out delightful! My one mistake was that I should have actually made MORE risotto. Still, not sure if it would have been eaten, since once my daughter was finished her first helping she made me pick out as many shrimp as possible for her second!

Here's the recipe...

Shrimp risotto

1 cup large frozen shrimp
2 red chilis (finely sliced)
1 thinly sliced green pepper*
3/4 cup spinach*
Enough seafood or vegetable broth to cook the risotto
1/2-3/4 white wine
juice of 1/2 lime
several tablespoons of butter
1 cup risotto

Melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the chilis and green pepper. Add the risotto and toast slightly. Add the white wine and the saffron threads. Then add the stock slowly until the risotto is fully cooked.

Meanwhile in a separate pan: Fry up the shrimp until about 1/2 done. Then add to risotto when it's halfway cooked.

Once risotto is fully cooked add spinach, seasoning, and juice of 1/2 lime.

Mix till spinach is slightly wilted.

Serve with a wedge of lime. YUM!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Risotto redemption

After my culinary crisis of last weekend, I decided to do something I rarely do...cook a recipe that I've done before. Tried. Tested. True.

Yes, so my epicurean ego was slightly damaged and needed assuaging. Nothing spells redemption quite like risotto. Or maybe it's just me. 

Being of Mennonite background, risotto used to be as unfamiliar to me as a pierogi is to an Italian. (Though the word does look suspiciously Latin!) The first time I heard of risotto was on Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen and it became my new Everest. I mean, how many times have you seen Gordon Ramsay slop around a risotto appie and then yell out one of the following: "It's RAW!!!" or "BLAND!" or "Overcooked! It's MUSH. Get the **** out of my kitchen!"

Somehow I got the idea that if I could make a good risotto I could honestly consider myself an amateur cook.

Now, on this International Women's Day, I must confess that the my very first risotto attempt was made while entertaining a (dear) friend, who tried to convince my husband that women belong at home and in the kitchen. So I will have to admit that on that particular occasion the risotto got stirred a bit faster than it should have, and was not a particularly relaxing experience.

However, that being said. The risotto did turn out, and I think the act of constant stirring actually calmed me down.

In fact, over the last couple years I've found that making risotto is an extremely relaxing and therapeutic process. It's lengthy, and I know it sounds weird, but the act of slowly adding stock, and stirring and stirring     is an ideal relaxant after a long day of work.

Ontario mushroom risotto

Mushroom mixture

1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups mushroom
2 cloves garlic (minced)

Saute the onions in 1/4 cup of butter. Add mushrooms and garlic. When slightly tender, add white wine and saute until wine is completely reduced. Set aside.


1 1/4 litre chicken stock
450 grams arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup diced onions
1/4 cup butter

Saute onions in butter. When onions are slightly soft, add rice and toast slightly. Add white wine and stir until absorbed. Continue to add stock at about 1/2 cup at a time; each time stirring slowly until the liquid is absorbed.

When all the stock has been added and absorbed, test the risotto. Some prefer it more al dente, although I like mine less "crunchy".

Add the mushroom mixture to the risotto and add seasoning. If you really want to be decadent, add 1/4 cup parmesan and stir until melted. YUM!

This is a HUGE recipe. Ideal for serving about 10 people, so adjust accordingly.

Because risotto is so time-consuming and attention-consuming, my favourite meat dish to serve it with is something that matches the classiness of the risotto, but is actually pretty easy.

Pesto-stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon

In the summer, I generally make my own basil pesto, but you can also buy basil pesto at any grocery store.

Simply slit the breast 2/3 open lengthwise, stuff with 1-2 teaspoons of pesto and then wrap the breast in bacon. For a leaner option, wrap in prosciutto. It's fewer calories, but the chicken will be a bit drier.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 40-45 voila!

Seriously people, is there a better combination on earth than mushrooms, bacon, and garlic????

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Middle Eastern crisis

Okay, so maybe I should have had Madeleine Albright negotiate between me and my falafels, but I really thought I had this one in the bag!

I hadn't cooked ALL week. No joke. In fact, if someone introduces me to a piece of pizza at this moment I might just slit my throat (after I vomit profusely).

But all week, during the pizza deliveries, I was fantasizing about the amazing Middle Eastern feast I was going to create on the weekend.

The menu?

Falafels with home-made pitas

I researched dozens of recipes, compared them all, asked my lovely Iraqi friend where I could find grape leaves (she even gave me tips on the dolmas), and was PSYCHED to experiment.

But I must admit I was super cocky. Generally, (well, at least 65% of the time) my experiments work out.  So I chose Saturday night (company night, of course!) to test my hypothesis that I could whip up an authentic Middle Eastern meal.

Of course, as I'm sure you can all guess, I failed MISERABLY!

I'm not even going to post the recipes I used (as a favour to you all!), but I will detail what went wrong.

1) I didn't have time to make my own pitas. Although, mind you, this was probably a blessing in disguise. For those of you living in Canada, my fave storebought pitas are Grandma Ozery's pitas They are as close to authentic fluffy Middle Eastern pitas as you can get (unfortunately not sphere-shaped as they sell them fresh at the shuk in Israel! Mmmm....salivating....)

2) Actually, this should be number one....I SHOULD have begged my lovely Iraqi friend to take me under her wing and teach me. I was far too cocky.

3) The falafel recipe called for the falafels to be baked rather than fried. I mean, COME ON, if you're going to eat falafels, you might as well eat them fried! As my husband put it, my falafels tasted like: "dried balls of hummus." Ouch. (Yet true.)

4) The tabouleh was TOO dry. It needed more olive oil and more seasoning. And a greater ratio of parsley to bulgur. Sigh....

5) Last, but definitely not least. Although the dolmas turned out all right, I made a so-called Turkish version (pile on the raisins, cinnamon, etc.). Too sweet to keep up.

6) The tahini (storebought) was uber-nutty. Not at all like the tahini used to adorn Israeli falafels.

So there is my embarassing confession of causing my own, pathetic, Middle Eastern crisis.

On the other hand, I DID get some ROCKING shoes from my husband for Valentines Day! ;)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

What makes my kitchen saucy (and often chaotic!)

Instead of posting a recipe today, I though I'd delve deeper into the idea of a "saucy" kitchen, and why mine qualifies.

First of all, I accept the basic definitions of saucy as either covered in loads of delish liquidy-yet-slightly-viscous coating (and I do love a good sauce!), or of being slightly cheeky (which judgement I'll leave up to those who know me).  However, as the image of my blog shows, my kitchen cupboards/floors/counters/appliances are often covered with spatters of my latest creation AND (I'll admit) at too frequent moments, spatters of my own blood. No, I don't love and labour over cooking so much that I sweat blood. However, living in a two bedroom apartment that has a galley kitchen, combined with being pretty clumsy, combined with my impatience when doing dishes...all join forces in adorning my hands with new and lovely scars every so often. :S

So all in all, when cooking (or apparently doing dishes!) my kitchen is usually a pretty chaotic place. I have about 2 square feet of counter space on which to prepare food, and both my six year-old daughter and my cat usually decided to play a game of tag through the kitchen whenever I'm preparing dinner.

Creating in the midst of chaos has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I need to feel relaxed in order to cogitate and (I'll admit to my neurosis) in control in order to cook.

(Check out Figure 1 for an example of an impatient dishwashing experience. Accidentally loaded the dishwasher with actual dishwashing results!)

Figure 1

So here are a couple of my all-time favourite strategies to creating a kitchen with just the right amount of sauciness and the least amount of chaos.

1. Have a CLEAN kitchen. Clean-up any leftover stains, dishes, and dried food before beginning. This may seem basic, but as I said, when you only have 2 square feet of counter space, it's imperative! There's nothing that puts me off cooking dinner more than coming home from work and seeing a filthy kitchen with a mound of crusty dishes waiting for me (and unhappily as our kitchen counter is about 3 feet from the front door, it's the first thing you see when you walk in!) I must give a shout-out to my husband on this regard though--he works from home and is generally pretty good at having the dishes done when I get home.

2. Grab a glass of whatever makes you calm (I'll let you fill in the blanks) and crank some tunes! Whatever pumps you up, gets your creative juices flowing, and makes you excited! For me it's indie rock, 90s grunge, and some wacko songs that either make me laugh or bring back memories of laughter. For some great recommendations in this category, check out my page What I'm listening to in the kitchen...

3. Last but not least, get a ROCKIN' apron! For clumsy me, an apron is essential, but I don't want some Victorian pinafore or 1950s parachute. I want something that says I've got class and sass in kitchen (and that I'm only there cause I want to be! ;) I got mine at Flirty Aprons and love it! Pier 1 also has some great choices in-store.

I even bought my daughter a nifty hand-made reversible apron for when she and I bake together. Our aprons are the first thing we look for before getting started on that batch of pumpkin bread (don't even get me started on my cookie-making experiences....later blog!)

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Curried chicken butternut squash stew

This is definitely one of those dishes that tastes better than it looks! (Let's hope!) I came across a recipe that used acorn squash with curry, and the idea intrigued me... I have actually never cooked with squash (besides your annual pumpkin pie), and the so-called savoury squash dishes I've eaten have been more remniscent of said pumpkin pie than anything I would like to eat for a main course.

My husband shares my dubious attitudes towards squash, so when I came home from the grocery store with a honkin' butternutter, he looked at me askance. However, I am *trying* to cook more seasonally, and tis the squash season, so all the more reason.

So, combining the idea of a chicken curry with a squash soup, I modified the following recipe into a curry stew:

1 butternut squash
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts or 4-6 thighs (cut into bite-sized pieces)
2 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp curry
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili
2 tsp grated ginger
1 small onion (diced finely)
2 minced garlic cloves
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp red wine vinegar
seasoning to taste

Cut the squash lengthwise, scoop out the guts, and lie facedown on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325 for about an hour. Once the squash is tender, remove the peel and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Add the olive oil to a large pot and sautee onion, garlic, and spices on medium-high. Add the chicken and continue sauteeing until the chicken is nearly done. If the spices start to burn, add a bit more olive oil combined with water.

Add the squash, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar and cover the mixture with water. Simmer for about 30 minutes and then serve! :)

A nice dollop of sour cream is a great garnish. As would be fresh parsley. However, I have decided a while ago to forego fresh herbs in the winter. They are pricey and the grocery stores always make you buy way too much, causing at least half the bunch to go bad. Maybe next fall I'll experiment with drying/preserving my own herbs!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Italian bread -- it's amore!

After experimenting with whole wheat bread a couple times (and not super-successfully, I might add), I was reminded of a very rare, very beautiful, very forbidden experience...eating crusty-on-the-outside-hot-and-chewy-on-the-inside Italian bread.

OMG (as in goodness!) Hot out of the oven, with butter slathered and half-melted on top? One of life's best experiences ever? Possibly!

In my opinion it's a shame that the mere mention of white bread now causes raised eyebrows and "tut-tuts" (does anyone still tut-tut? Probably not...) in North American society.  We are a blame-game culture and when we see that muffin top, what do we do? Blame the baguette! It's so unfair...poor processed flour, it deserves a break.

And so...with a borrowed recipe in hand (slightly modified because I'm cheap and lazy), I went to town.

*Note to self: When it says "score 1/4 inch", try to follow instructions more carefully to avoid (as my sister calls them) "gaping mouths". The only mouth that should be gaping is mine, just before I swallow my first mouthful of processed, starchy, carb-filled goodness.

Bread: one of the most fundamentally pure and basic foods can (and should!) be made from grain that's been processed the heck out of.

Here's the recipe...

2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup yeast
approximately 5 cups bread flour
1 TBSP brown sugar
2 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP salt

sesame seeds
1 egg white

Let yeast bloom in water for 5 minutes. Then add sugar and flour and knead (or mix with a dough-hook if you're lucky enough to have a KitchenAid--I just have forearm muscles, which are hopefully getting stronger! ;)--when dough starts to form, add olive oil and salt.

(*Note to self: Don't wait until dough has already formed, then it's SUPER hard to add the olive oil, especially without said KitchenAid!)

Grease dough-ball, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for about 1 1/2 hours. Knead down, form into an oval loaf (rolling is easiest, just make sure seam-side is down) and place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.

Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for another 30 minutes.
Brush with egg white, cut three 1/4 inch scores and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Once the dough has risen to double its size, bake in a 400 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes.

* A tip I got was to sprinkle/spray (if you have a spray bottle) the loaf with water 3x during baking. Once after 3 minutes, once after 6 minutes, and once after 9 minutes. Supposedly this makes the crust crustier. I'm not sure if this is weird cooking juju, but I did it and it seemed to work. (I just flicked water over the loaf with my finger tips).

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Crackers, granola bars, hummus, and tzatziki: Homemade cooking and comedy

So my latest cooking venture has taken me far away from my usual culinary endeavors. Generally, I love to try unique and quasi-exotic recipes that take ordinary ingredients and make them extraordinary.

However, of late, I have been striving to bring the grocery bill down. This is certainly an exercise in balance. While I attempt to spend less, I am hoping to avoid sacrificing how is this done?

Well, I'm certainly not an expert. In fact, I'm sure many of you have a myriad of ideas on reducing the grocery bill that I haven't yet thought of (please post!). One thing, however, that I've realized, is that packaged foods take a heavy toll on the monthly expenditure.

With that in mind, my first step to reducing the monthly grocery bill is to replace some of our family's favorite packaged food with homemade.

So what do I generally buy that's pre-made? Usually it's snack foods for my daughter's lunch and dipping sauces for crackers/chips/veggies.

So here's what I did....

Made homemade crackers

This is super-easy, but there are two things I should tell you from the get-go.

1. Make at LEAST two batches. They will go quick!
2. Inform your family members to go easier on these crackers than they usually do. These crackers (while amazing!) are a lot heavier than your Ritz or saltine.

So here's the recipe:

1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup white flour
2 tsp onion powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup veggie oil
1 cup water
salt for sprinkling

Mix all the ingredients and knead into a tough dough. Roll out to 1/8 inch or less. Place the dough onto an ungreased baking sheet. Score in small squares and prick each square twice with a fork. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. If necessary, broil for a couple minutes to toast the top evenly. Once the dough has cooled, break along scored edges into cracker shapes.  Enjoy!

Made homemade garlic hummus

2 cups canned chickpeas
2 tbsp tahini
3-4 cloves of garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
salt to taste

Blend in food processor till smooth. Done!

Made tzatziki

500 grams of Greek yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 peeled and seeded English cucumber (grated)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp dill
salt and pepper to taste

Strain the grated cucumber through cheesecloth or paper towel and strainer for several hours. Ditto with the Greek yogurt. Once both have been strained, mix all ingredients. Done! :)

Made granola bars

2 cups rolled oats
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup wheat germ
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup raisins (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup honey
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix all dry ingredients then make a well in the middle and add wet ingredients. Grease your hands, then hand-mix the mixture, and press into a 9 x 13 baking sheet. Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool for 5 minutes and then cut into bars. Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan before removing. Store in an airtight container.

These recipes all turned out quite well, and I'm pretty excited about substituting some of my kid's packaged snacks with homemade, good quality snacks for school lunches.

And on that cheerful note, here's a great post of a spoof on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

A must see!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Pork chops stuffed with spinach pesto and sundried tomatoes: A Chop of Many Motives

In contemplating my next culinary experiment for this blog, I was swamped with numerous thoughts. First and foremost was: "I am NOT Julie in Julie and Julia." That is important to get out there. I hate that movie. I HATE that character (Julie...AND Julia Child). And yet...I am grateful for their contribution to what I call the culinary arm of the feminist movement.

For many years I was hesitant to cook. Not only because I had no experience, but because I didn't want to be branded as that "barefoot in the kitchen" type of housewife. For me, cooking was tantamount to fishing a smoldering bra from a 1960s bonfire.

But suddenly, cooking became IT. Women, men. It didn't matter. It was suddenly cool to cook. And yes, I am ashamed to admit it, but I jumped on the bandwagon. I sadly didn't figure out earlier that  cooking could be rescued from 1950's chauvinist purgatory and practiced as an act of creation. Of brilliance.

Not that I'm a brilliant cook. I just now have more respect for the act of cooking, and no longer view it as a metaphorical ball-and-chain for women.

That being said....

The next thought upon figuring out what to experiment with for this blog entry was my relationship with pork...

I am not Jewish and have nothing religious against eating pork, and yet throughout my life I've had some suspicions as to why God forbade the Israelites the delight of bacon and a good ole chop. And my conclusions were always this: "Pigs are nasty. They are cannibalistic. They eat EVERYTHING. They wallow in mud....and something to do with William Golding's creepy book."

Yet, as I get older, and money is tighter, I realize that the white-red meat is lean, cheap, and versatile!

So tonight, improvising (extensively!) on a recipe once read, I bought two butterflied centre-cut pork chops and this is what I did....

Made home-made spinach pesto:

In the food processor, I blended the following...

2 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 TBSP olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Added shredded white cheddar and sun-dried tomatoes:

Once the pesto was finished, I added...

1 cup grated white cheddar (farmer brick cheese)
8 sundried tomatoes (diced)
2 cloves garlic (minced)

Made a winter puree:

1 celery root (peeled and diced)
1 cauliflower head (disected)

Put together in a steamer and steam for approximately 20 minutes.
Then mash and add cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

Fried stuffed pork chops:

Slit 2 pockets per side in each butterflied center-cut pork chop.
Filled both slits with pesto/tomato/cheddar stuffing.
Fried for 4-5 minutes each side in a sautee pan on medium high
with one part butter and one part olive oil.

Made a sauce:

Once the pork chops were finished, I added the following to the sautee pan (on

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 lemon's zest
1/2 lemon's juice
2 TSP Dijon mustard

De-glaze the sautee pan and reduce the sauce for approximately 8 minutes.


Serve chops with winter puree, peas, and the dijon/lemon sauce.


You might think "too many flavours."  However, the filling, while delicious, has mild but distinct flavours, as does the puree, whereas the sauce (having both Dijon and lemon) has a lovely zing that brings the whole meal to another level.

Cooks of the world--UNITE!!!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Blackened salmon caesar salad: Cajun romance

As tempting as it was to go out for dinner this Valentine's day, I just couldn't think of an affordable restaurant that was worth the money. Like any other wife, I would LOVE to be taken out to dinner on V-day. Having dinner cooked FOR me, avoiding doing clean-up? No dishes? What's not to love?

Yet, I have ambivalent memories of dinners out. I'm a big fish lover, and as many of you know, ordering a salmon fillet is not cheap. Yet...(I'll admit it, our family doesn't make reservations at places above a franchise-level) the nearly 20$ salmon that I feel extravagant when ordering, most frequently arrives dry, overcooked, under-seasoned, and with pathetic sides.

Well, this V-day I had an amazing opportunity! At a Sobey's a few days ago there was an amazing fish sale. I bought a MASSIVE (and I mean two-meal's worth!) salmon for half price and it was gorgeous. Not fatty or flakey, like your regular frozen salmon, nor Ramsay-priced. I splurged and picked up two and felt extremely culinarily wealthy for having so much good-quality fish in my fridge!

So...remembering the overly-priced jerkied salmon of franchise restaurants, I decided to cook dinner (yes I did!) for Valentine's Day. The fabulous thing was that it was amazingly easy, quick, and simple!

The menu? Home-made Caesar salad with blackened salmon fillets on top.

Mind you, the home-made Caesar salad included home-made croutons made of home-made bread (both bread and croutons are amazingly simply and easy to make--later post!), home-made bacon bits (cut two to three slices into thin strips and fry--easy peasy!), fresh romaine and shredded Parmesan (no need for fresh--you can get grated, which is way better than powdered but way cheaper than fresh).

Okay, so does that sound intimidating? Trust me. It's not. Although the bread was already made, the croutons took about 1/2 a minute to prepare (and about 10 in the oven), the bacon about 2 minutes and voila!

Next on to the salmon...

I was certainly nervous about this. I have a pretty gnarly stove/oven and every time I try to fry fish it's hit and miss. Well, I found this AMAZING recipe and man, did it ever work like a charm! The key is NOT to use less butter than it calls for. Yes, you'll be tempted. You might think blackened salmon with Caesar salad is low-caloric, but in this case we're going for quality over diet! (It is SO worth it, ladies!) So work the butter, people!

Here's the recipe:

2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cayenne pepper
1 TBSP onion powder
2 TSP salt
1/2 TSP white pepper
1/2 TSP black pepper
1/4 TSP ground thyme
1/4 TSP dried basil
1/4 TSP dried oregano
1/2 cup melted butter
4 skinless salmon fillets

Mix all dried spices. Melt butter and brush both sides of fillet with melted butter before sprinkling heavily with spice mixture.

In a large skillet on HIGH heat, cook salmon until blackened (2-5 minutes per side). Continue basting in remaining butter. Salmon is done when flesh is easily flaked with a fork.

When I made this I substituted chili for cayenne pepper, and since I didn't have white pepper, I added more black. Because of the amount of butter in the pan, the fish cooked beautifully at 5 minutes per side (when continually basted). Remember: the less butter, the more burning! It may be full of calories but it makes the most beautiful Cajun fillets!

When they're done, let them rest shortly on a paper towel to absorb excess grease and then lie them atop the Caesar salad. YUM!

I must admit (and so did my husband!) that this is a dish that Ramsay would be proud to serve! Just make sure to use good quality salmon (and for goodness' sake, get it on sale!)

That whole meal, for the two of us, cost about 12$--less than the price of one overcooked salmon on some undercooked rice at a franchise restaurant.

Happy Valentine's Day to us! :D