Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spring Sprouts

Even though the big first planting weekend of the year is a month and a half to two months away, it makes it seem closer to see the little sprouts of what's to come peeking out at me against the snowy background of our windows. The snow is getting less and less, and my excitement about digging in the dirt is growing every day. Get ready, in the next couple of weeks we will be posting our garden plans so that you too can anticipate the kind of fresh ingredients that will show up as ingredients in our summer recipes.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Bento Week! - Friday

My camera died on me, so I wasn't able to take photos on Friday. The only downside to having a camera that charges via USB is me losing the cable half the time. Luckily, the battery lasts a very long time so I don't often have to deal with this. So instead of Friday's lunch you get Monday's... masquerading as Friday's.

Friday's lunch:
- Pork & Asparagus Stir Fry (20g pork & 60g asparagus)
- 2 quail eggs, hard boiled
- kabocha miso mash (1/4 squash)
- 1/8 small canteloupe, cubed
- 2 small chocolate chip cookies

The kabocha miso mash takes about 5 minutes to make in the microwave. Just cut the squash in quarters, wrap in cling film and microwave on high for 4-5 minutes. Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash with a small knob of butter and a tablespoon+ of miso (per full squash) to taste. This works with butternut squash as well, as it has a very similar flavour to kabocha.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bento Week! - Thursday

I'm being a bit sneaky here, because I actually didn't bring a lunch today - I had dinner plans so only brought fruit for a snack. This is one of last week's lunches; the fish is leftover from the previous evening's dinner and then I cooked the vegetables in the morning before work. While it might seem like a pain cooking in the mornings, it is just as quick as putting together a good sandwich or salad, and because I enjoy cooking anyway it just makes me look forward to lunch all the more.

Thursday's lunch:
- 1/3 piece misoyaki fish
- grilled mushroom, zucchini & asparagus tossed in sesame oil with sesame seeds
- mandarin orange


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bento Week! - Wednesday

This is basically a "dinner for lunch" kind of bento. I have class tonight and won't have a chance to get home for dinner after work, so I've brought a pretty big lunch. The sandwich has a leftover pork cutlet from last night's dinner, apple slices cooked with a knob of butter, and brie. I am anticipating lunch already, and I've just had breakfast!

Wednesday's lunch:
Bento 6
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 herb ciabatta bun with pork cutlet, apple, lettuce, brie & wholegrain mustard


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bento Week! - Tuesday

I have been craving cold soba for weeks now, and finally gave in. It's really best in summer, but this winter is dragging on for so long that I just can't wait. This is quite a large bento, and has room for a snack as well as lunch.

Tuesday's lunch:
-65g soba with dipping sauce
-1 blood orange, sliced
-1 medium carrot
-cucumber & wakame pickles

The recipe linked above for the pickles is from Just Hungry - I love being able to make them in only a couple of hours!


Monday, March 23, 2009

Bento Week! - Monday

I have a love of cute things, so it is no surprise that I adore bento lunches. I certainly don't put a lot of effort into them, though; while the complicated character bento are amazing to look at, I have no patience to do it for myself. All I want is for my lunches to be colourful and tasty.

Monday's lunch:
- 1/2 cup edamame with sea salt
- 3 small onigiri with nori (about 3/4 cup cooked rice)
- large lettuce leaf
- 3/4 cup strawberries tossed in rice wine vinegar

For once, I didn't make my lunch in advance, so this was a quick 5 minute lunch. I make my onigiri (rice balls) in advance and freeze them, so I always have something to fall back on when I haven't prepared anything or don't have any leftovers. They are just wrapped in cling film to freeze and defrosted in the microwave before packing.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Almost Pepperoni & Mushroom Pizza

My fridge is pretty much empty tonight, and I was way, way too tired to walk the the 2 (long) blocks to Sobey's. To give you an idea of just how empty my fridge is: the fruit drawer contains 1 granny smith apple, 1 lemon, and 1 wrinkled pomegranate. So, when I got home from work I did some raiding around and found in the freezer half of a sausage. Yay~ dinner!

This was pretty delicious for being made up of scraps in my refrigerator. I had one greek style pitta left in the freezer, so I used that and topped it with tomato paste - I use the squeeze kind from the Italian Centre Shop so I'm not constantly opening the little tins just to have them go to waste. I sliced the frozen sausage and cooked it on the hob, then added that to the pizza with the mushrooms. I decided to go with brie as it's pretty mild, as the only cheese I had was that or chèvre. It was then topped off with chopped parsley for colour and cooked in a 350F/180C oven for 10 minutes. Once it was cooked, my unrefined palate couldn't tell that I'd used French cheese on an "Italian" meal.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Urban Diner: A Fun Breakfast Spot

Urban Diner is one of those places that I have driven by many times and never stopped in. It is just off of 124th Street in the West Central area of the city, in the part of town sometimes called "High Street." I pass it most often on the way to Paddy's Cheese Market, which you should definitely stop at if you are eating in the area. The Urban Dinner is a bright, funky space, perfect for weekend brunch with your friends. I see that the have a great little patio out back, so I will definitely have to return once the warmer weather has arrived to try that out.

We arrived around 1:00 thinking that we would be able to choose from both the breakfast and lunch menus, but I didn't realize that on the weekend lunch service does not start until 2:00. No worries though, as the brunch menu has a number of savory selections as well.

My dining companions chose the Diner Huevos, Two Eggs Any Style with Bacon, and the Diner Waffle with fresh cream, wild berry compote and the Vanilla Pears on the side. I had the Smoked Salmon Bennies.

The Huevos were good, but as they tend to be, got a bit messy by the end, and the two eggs any style were pretty much as to be expected, although the toast was a little well done around the edges. The waffle was delicious, although it was a surprise that the vanilla pears were actually a puree. The person that ordered the waffles was pleased to have ordered the puree on the side, but I had a taste after, and it was really delicious. In fact, it was tasty enough that I might be tempted to choose the waffle myself next visit. It's nice to vary waffle topping up from the traditional butter and syrup or berries and cream. All dishes were served with a generous portion of Diner potatoes, which I like better than grated potatoes.

My eggs bennie were also very well executed. I thought that the salmon along with the Basil Pesto, Roasted Bell Pepper, Spinach, Cheddar & Cream sauce would get a bit overwhelming by the end, but it did not. I think had I had even more, it would have eventually been a bit much, but instead it carefully teeter on that line of being incredibly rich, but not so much that I felt ill after finishing it.

Having taken a sneak peek at the dinner menu, I will surely be going back one evening to try out some great diner classics. The casual atmosphere and classic diner menu, with a few creative twists also make the Urban Diner the kind of place that would work well if you are going out with kids, or just a fussy eater.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Green Tea Sugar Cookies

I looove the flavour of matcha, so with St. Patrick's Day coming up I thought it would be a great time to try adding it to some cookies - only using half of my dough in case they weren't to my liking. Luckily (or not), they turned out to be so moreish that I have had a hard time keeping my hands off them.

The recipe is the same as the one for yesterday's Sugar Cookies, just omitting the vanilla and adding 1-1.5 tbsp matcha green tea powder. I ended up adding about 2 tbsp extra butter to this version to add a little extra moisture. For the icing, I added 1 tsp matcha powder to 1 cup icing sugar and 1-2 tbsp water.

That's my dad rolling below... I always try to pass off any kneading/rolling required because I'm lazy.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Soft Sugar Cookies

Here is my family's recipe for sugar cookies - and I have never found another that makes a soft, crumbly cookie like this one is. Other recipes always seem to produce a pretty crisp cookie, but since I grew up with the soft kind I am just never satisfied with anything else. This is also a great way to keep kids busy... if you don't mind them ending up covered in icing by the end of it.

Sugar Cookies (makes ~80):
1lb butter (not margarine!)
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
3 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Mix all ingredients together well. Shape the dough into a roll and divide it in half, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2-3 hours. If you don't allow this chilling time, the cookies won't hold their shape as well during baking.

The next day, knead the dough to soften it and then roll to a half centimetre's thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out your shapes and bake at 350F/180C for 8-12 minutes. You want them just done, with only a hint of brown (or none) at the edges. Cool on newspaper or a wire rack and then ice.

Normally, I just sprinkle with sugar sprinkles prior to baking as it is a lot less work than icing them. If you do decide to ice them, mix 1 cup icing sugar and 1-2 tablespoons water. Add more water as necessary to achieve a pourable consistency. Tint with gel food colouring, or if using liquid food colouring add it prior to the water. When trying to use several colours on each cookie I find it is easier to use a piping bag to outline the shape and a toothpick to spread the icing within the piped borders.

P.S. Come back tomorrow for a delicious St. Patrick's Day variation on these!


Friday, March 13, 2009

A Seriously Easy Quiche

More asparagus... but this is the last of it for this week. I have never tried making a quiche before, but I was certain it couldn't be too difficult - and I was right! I was feeling pretty impressed with myself as I ate this.

Because Boursin (I used the regular garlic & herb, but I am sure the others would be tasty as well) has so much flavour, I literally did not add anything else to this. Just the asparagus, cheese and eggs, and bam! Instant quiche. Next time I'm entertaining, this will be making a reappearance in appetizer form, possibly with courgettes instead of asparagus.

Asparagus & Boursin Quiche (2 x 4.5"):
65g asparagus, chopped
1/2 pack/75g Boursin cheese
2 eggs
splash of milk

I won't post the recipe I used for the pastry, as it didn't turn out at all and I ended up having to just push pieces of it around the cases and squish them together. Just use your favourite savoury shortcrust pastry recipe, or store bought.

Oh, okay... here's the pastry recipe:
150g flour
90g cold butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
pinch salt

It may work for you. I only had 2 regular eggs left and I had used them up for the filling, so instead of an egg yolk I used 1 quail egg. Haha, perhaps that had something to do with my failure? Bring the flour and butter together until they reach the breadcrumb stage, then add the egg yolk and salt. If you need to, you can add some water to help the dough combine.

Brush the cases with oil, lay the pastry in and all the way up the sides. Line the pastry with parchment paper and weigh it down (I used pennies as I don't have baking beans). Bake at 375F/190C for 15 minutes until pale golden.

In a bowl, whisk together the boursin and eggs and add some milk if you need to pad out the filling. I added enough milk to ensure that both quiches would be full to the top of the pastry - probably less than a quarter cup. While the pastry is baking, bring some water to the boil and cook the asparagus for around 3 minutes. Remove pastry from oven, add the asparagus and pour over the cheese & egg mixture. Bake at 400F/200C for 15-20 minutes.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Think About Gardening

I know it seems like gardening, and the resulting fresh produce is miles away from what you see out your window today, but now is the time to jump on the gardening train. We are fortunate in that Brooke's parents (my in-laws) live on an acreage, so we will each be stealing a plot of land out there. In addition, I will be planting as full of a garden as possible in my normal sized backyard. Right now we are planning what will be planted and where, as well as getting a start on some items that require longer than what our growing season provides. The above photo shows preparations for starting leek seedlings. Yay! Stay tuned this spring as we feature what we are doing in our gardens, things we make from our gardens, and all sorts of helpful resources for people to buy more locally sourced food.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pork and Asparagus Stir Fry

I bought a giant bunch of asparagus when it was on sale, and now I feel like it's all I've been eating for the past week. In attempting to do something a bit different from what I normally have (either roasted or Norm's Jamies's version), I threw this together last night. If you wanted to do a spicy version of this, you could replace the sesame oil & sesame seeds with chili oil & crushed dried chilis. Or, presumably, it would be just as good with green beans or broccoli.

Pork & Asparagus Stir Fry (serves 4 as a side):
3 tbsp vegetable oil
450 g asparagus
200 g finely chopped pork

2 garlic cloves, squashed
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch
ground pepper
1 tbsp sake
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds

In a bowl, mix the pork, soy sauce, cornstarch, and pepper and let marinate while you prepare the asparagus (break off the woody ends and cut in 5cm/2" lengths). Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok and add the asparagus. Cook for around 3 minutes, until done but still firm. Remove the asparagus, add the remaining oil to the hot wok and then add the marinated pork and whole garlic cloves. Stir fry for 3 minutes until the pork browns, then fish out the garlic. Add the asparagus back to the wok, pour over the sake, sesame oil, and sesame seeds and stir to combine.

This also makes a great addition to a bento (I'm going to have a good lunch today!). The one pictured below has 1 serving of the stir fry, 2/3 cup rice, 2 hard boiled quail eggs (with sesame seeds & salt in a furikake shaker), and 2 small chocolate chip cookies.


Monday, March 9, 2009

A Grown-up Egg McMuffin

On Saturday morning I had a craving for an egg mcmuffin - but not the regular greasy (yum) kind. I wanted something a bit more grown up. Because it was snowing like crazy I definitely did not want to leave the house, so I just made do with what I had. It turned out to be perfect... and almost ridiculously delicious. I poached the egg instead of frying it, and added goat cheese, sage, and tomato. I am sure this one will be staying in my repertoire.

Egg McMuffin:
1 toasted english muffin
1 poached egg
goat cheese
salt & pepper

This was my first time poaching an egg. I suppose I was always worried they wouldn't turn out, and didn't want to waste eggs (why yes, I am very cheap thrifty). It was a lot easier than I had thought. In a shallow pan, bring a few inches of water with salt to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to medium, add a splash of vinegar, and gently pour the egg into the water. Supposedly, the vinegar keeps the egg together. Cook 3-5 minutes with a lid on until it reaches your desired firmness of yolk. If you want to rinse off the vinegar taste, just drop the cooked egg into a bowl of cool water before serving.

While the egg is cooking, bash up the sage with some sea salt and mix with the goat cheese, and get the english muffin toasting. Spread the cheese on the toasted muffin and place a slice or two of tomato on the other side. When the egg is cooked, add it to the muffin and season with salt & pepper. Done!


Friday, March 6, 2009

Homemade Skinny Fries

No, they won't make you skinny (wishful thinking!), they are skinny. Skinny and delicious!!! This is yet another of my husband's "signature" recipes, taken, of course, from one of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks. They are a bit of a flavour twist on regular fries in that they have a lemon and rosemary seasoning to add a bit of interest. I love slightly gourmet versions of non-gourmet food.

Making these is very easy, even if you don't have a deep fryer. I don't have a deep fryer myself for fear that I would turn to deep frying all my food seeing as I actually use the phrase "deep fried goodness" to describe a whole category of foods I love. As a substitute, I just fill a pot with cooking oil, heat it up nice and hot, and use a metal strainer to lower the fries in. It works like a charm.

For this side dish, we used regular old red potatoes, and cut them up into french fry slices with the skin still on for a bit of colour. I like how fries done this way really look homemade and totally not uniform in length. Lower the fries into the oil in small batches, and put a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or a good shaking of dried rosemary right into the oil so that the taste is infused.

Once the fries are nice and golden (or darker if you like them really crispy), strain them out and soak up some of the oil with paper towel. Put the finished batches in a bowl in the oven to stay warm while you finish the subsequent batches.

To finish them, bash up some lemon zest and sea salt using your mortar and pestle, and sprinkle over top.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Chahan - Easy Peasy Japanese-y

It seems like most of our posts recently have been about quick meals that use up leftovers. And nothing is changing today, because this does both. Basically, you can put anything you want into it as it seems to taste good regardless of the meat/vegetable combination you use. I have even used hot dogs, and it was still good.

Chahan (Japanese Fried Rice):
1 tbsp canola oil
1 carrot
3 green onions
60g chopped cooked pork
1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 cups cooked japanese rice
1 tbsp sake or mirin
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 eggs
handful of chopped greens (today I used rocket, but usually it's spinach or chinese cabbage).

Heat the oil over medium heat. Add any ingredients that need to cook first - I put the carrot, green onions and pork in now, and because I had shredded the carrot instead of chopping it this only required 1-2 minutes of cooking time. Stir in the ginger then add the cooked rice. Break the eggs on top of the rice and quickly mix everything around so the rice grains are coated with the uncooked egg. Add the sake & soy sauce then the greens, and serve.

To serve it as I have above, line a bowl with cling film, put the cooked chahan in, and overturn onto a plate. You definitely want to move fast when making this; if you let the eggs overcook it tends to be a bit too dry. Remember, the heat from the rice will keep cooking the eggs while you're plating it.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sausage and Feta Pasta

Yup, still in the cooking slump. Pasta is right up there with stir-frys in terms of being an easy and flexible alternative for a week night dinner. It is even easier when you have made homemade pasta recently, as it cooks even faster than the dried stuff (even from frozen, you are only looking at about 4 minutes). I hit up the farmers market this Sat in an attempt to get something that I knew would be relatively fresh and locally produced so that I could get rid of some of my winter flavour blahs. Although buying meat this way can be a bit more pricey than the store, I kept it very affordable by opting for sausage. I have never made my own sausage (I don't have the stuff to do it, and honestly there are so many good ones at the local farmer's market that I don't see the need to). As the star of tonight's dish, I had some sundried tomato and chive sausage. I wish I had noted which farmer it was from, but I didn't. It was just over $6 for 10-12 breakfast sized sausage, so not bad for meat.

To start with, I get a big pot of water boiling so that it is all ready for the pasta when I hit the T -4 minute mark. Next, I grabbed a big frying pan and started to pan fry six of the sausages. When they were fully cooked, I got the pasta going, and removed the sausage from the pan to cut into smaller chunks. Cutting after cooking is the easiest in my opinion seeing as the sausage stays together, but sometimes I opt to cut off the casing and make little meatballs with the sausage filling. Once cut up, I returned the sausage chunks to the pan with some plain tomato and basil sauce (just grabbed from the pantry). I like to add the sauce to the pan because it kind of deglazes the pan a bit while warming, so that all the flavor the sausages would have left behind becomes part of the sauce. By this time, the pasta is ready to be drained, and tossed into the pan to get mixed around with the sauce and sausage. Finally, it gets plated and topped with crumbled feta (as much as you like).

The whole thing takes my under 10 minutes to make. Even on days when I am so hungry I have a bad case of grouchiness I can usually manage that much time before eating.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sesame Tonkatsu - Breaded Pork Cutlet

I am trying to get out of my February rut... but I am still feeling pretty lazy about cooking lately. Most of the meals I make are of the quick and easy variety, but I suppose anything is better than making no effort at all. Hopefully the warmer weather (and better produce!) will bring back my inspiration.

With the sesame and pepper, this makes a nice change from a regular breaded pork chop. I normally use a mixture of black and white sesame seeds just to up the prettiness factor. Not so healthy, but super tasty!

2 pieces boneless pork
1 egg, beaten
cayenne or sansho pepper
3/4 cup panko
3 tbsp sesame seeds
peanut oil

I normally use pork shoulder because it is well marbled, but pork chops would work fine too. In a bowl, beat the egg and add a bit of cayenne pepper for flavour. On a plate next to it, mix together the panko & sesame seeds. Dip the meat in the egg, then roll in the panko to coat fully. Heat the oil (if you don't have peanut you can use another flavourless oil - not olive) over medium heat, then add the meat and cook for around 4 minutes on each side until browned and cooked through.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Simple Stir-fry

We all have those days. Those days when you feel like you have no energy to make a decent dinner, no ideas for something different, and no good left overs to toss in the microwave. I seem to have more of those days through Feb/March. I think it is just plain old fatigue that sets in. How can you get jazzed about cooking when you live somewhere like Edmonton where at this time of year fresh produce seems like a distant memory? Not only are there few fresh local ingredients to work with, but even going to the store seems like a huge endeavor, requiring car pre-heating, and then dashing through cold parking lots just to get in. It is times like this that people all catch colds and/or the flu, and times like this that I fall back on the basic stir-fry.

Stir-frys of all sorts were a staple when I was back in school. You can make noodles or rice once, and then use the left overs for days, and that leaves you with one pot a day for cooking something to put on top. The elements are always the same: a meat (sometimes that gets skipped), whatever veg happens to be in your crisper, and a sauce so that it is all pulled together somehow. Today I was lucky enough to have left over coconut rice, so I didn't even have to make that.

I started by chopping up a pork tenderloin. Pork tenderloin is such a great lean protein. It is still really inexpensive compared to other meats, and my favorite part is that one small tenderloin is perfect for a meal for two and leftovers. Next, I rummage around for the veg. I have some baby corn, broccoli, mushrooms, red pepper, and onions - not too bad really - stir-frys can be really great nutritionally, which helps with the above mentioned cold/flu problem. The key to a good stir-fry in my opinion is a hot pan. I sometimes use a wok, but other times just use a really large frying pan. Add a bit of oil, and toss the meat in until it starts to brown a bit. Once browned, add the veg one at a time, starting with the one that will require the most cooking. I allow enough time in between to allow the pan to get nice and hot again. At some point a whole pile of garlic and grated ginger go in as well. Finally, right at the end, I throw in the sauce. If the pan isn't hot, the sauce will stay watery instead of getting that nice stickiness that makes it like the take out you get.

Garlic and ginger to be added with veg (I used 6 garlic cloves and about a teaspoon of finely grated ginger)
1/4 chicken broth
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch

The last three ingredients should be mixed in advance so that the cornstarch is all dissolved, and not in little clumps that will otherwise turn into dumplings. The sauce is very flexible in being altered to your own personal taste, but these proportions will give everything a nice coating of flavor. I also like to throw some sesame seeds or cashews into the pan at the very end for a second.

Who could ask for a meal that is faster? It's a great fridge cleaning meal that incorporates a lot of veggies - the food group we probably skimp the most on through the winter.