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Archive for March, 2008

A little Meme

 

take the stairs

Jeanne from Cook Sister! tagged me in a meme last week.  In case you never thought you wanted to know, here are seven random things about me:

1. I sing along to Billy Holiday when I’m alone, using whatever suitable apparatus is at hand as a mike (think hairbrush or wooden spoon). Sometimes I dance.

2. I like taking the stairs and beating the people on the escalator.

3. I grew up mostly vegetarian.  The fabulous Mr P taught me to love a good steak.  I love a good steak.

4.  My favourite toys right now are my new iMac, my Epson 3800 printer and my collection of wooden spoons.

5. My favourite camera is older than I am and is still more reliable than anything else I’ve used.

6. I like to sneak off on a quiet afternoon and watch a sad or historic movie on my own.  I buy winegums for the duration.

7. I’ve never had a real macaron and I’m saving myself until I can buy one in Paris.

The rules to play along are simple:

* Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
* Share seven random and/or weird things about yourself.
* Tag seven random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs
* Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

I’d like to tag the following:

Jennifer from Milk and Cookies
Bea from La Tartine Gourmande
Ximena from The Lobstersquad
Carol from Paris Breakfasts
prefers anonymous from Tea and Cookies
Annette from Greedy Goose 
and the folk from The Tiny Farm , which isn’t so much about cooking food as growing it, but whatever.

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Manicotti Spinach Ricotta

Manicotti are much larger than cannelloni and therefore much, much easier to stuff.  Personally, I approach the whole stuffing process with joyless abandon.  Not for me the delicate process of cake forks and backs of teaspoons to get the stuffing in the tubes; it’s a roll up the sleeves, hands in the bowl affair in my kitchen.  Although, I must confess, it was the ever resourceful Mr P who beat the prissy out of me one afternoon and a cannelloni stuffing competition, which he won hands down, if you’ll forgive the pun and since then I’ve followed his example.

This is a lighter version of the usual pasta al fourno, foregoing the buttery bechemel in favour of an extra wop of tomato sauce.  And that tomato sauce comes out of a jar, mind you.  I don’t think I’ll be the type to be making bathtubs of my own tomato sauce any day soon and a good quality jar of ye olde tomato sauce does the trick perfectly.

*I used provolone on the top because it’s what I had on hand, but a good mozzarella would be wonderful as well.

** This recipe makes a full lasagna dish worth, enough for 4 – 6 people, so divide proportionately if you want, although it makes great left overs and freezes well too.

Manicotti Spinach Ricotta2

Spinach and Ricotta Manicotti with Sundried Tomatoes and Olives 

Olive oil
1 Onion (I used spanish red) finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch spinach (about 250g), washed and chopped
¼ tsp Garam Masala
½ tsp Nutmeg
10 sundried tomatoes (in oil), drained and chopped
2 Tbsp ground flax
⅓ cup black olives, chopped (I used little nicoise)
½ cup pine nuts
500g ricotta, drained
salt and white pepper to taste
1 jar tomato pasta sauce (I used tomato and basil)
provolone and parmesan, grated – enough to cover dish

– heat olive oil in a large skillet and saute onions and garlic until tender. Add spices and cook until fragrant.

– add spinach in batches, to reduce size, and saute until wilted.  Allow to cool for a few minutes.

– transfer spinach mix to a large mixing bowl, add tomatoes, flax, olives, pine nuts and mix well.

– mix in ricotta with a wooden spoon, breaking it up as you go to form a creamy mess.  Season to taste.

– butter a large casserole or lasagna dish and pre-heat the oven to 350˚F

– spread about ⅓ tomato sauce on bottom of dish.

– stuff each manocotti with spinach filling and place on tomato sauce base.  Continue until dish is full.

– top dish with the rest of the tomato sauce and top with the two cheeses.

– bake in the oven for 45 mins, until pasta is tender.

Manicotti Spinach Ricotta3

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Blood Oranges 1

The problem with me cooking up a good dinner-party dinner is that I just don’t know when to stop. I start off with only the thoughts in my head. Firstly, I always, without an exception, say to myself that I want the meal to be simple and easy and relaxed. Just a few friends over to share some simple food, some good wine and a couple of laughs. I imagine a sparsely laid table, a humble pasta and a simple fruit dessert, followed by tea. Hmm. But then I remember that xxxx sitting in the cupboard, which I’ve been dying to use. A gift, perhaps, from Ms A or Mr V, or something exotic I bought on a whim from Domino’s, or the Healthy Butcher. I start to formulate a menu, already more complicated than the simple pasta by the sheer audacity of said product. Perhaps something with, um xxxx. So I build the dish, often, though by no means always, starting with the main dish and working forward to dessert, then backwards to the appetiser. Then I go shopping with the straight forward intention of buying only, ONLY the ingredients needed for said dish and discover a whole plethora of different ingredients that look too fresh and good to pass up. These somehow need to be incorporated into the dinner as well. “As well” not “instead of”. Now I have a much larger meal than I started out with in my head but then, put me in front of the Cheese counter and I’m a ticking bomb. Is there anything wrong with a dessert AND a cheese platter? Surely not! That’ll be a good excuse to bring out the Port. Oh, my! They have xxxx 70% chocolate on sale! We can have that after the cheese plate with whiskey or cognac, followed by xxxx’s handmade biscotti with tea. Oh, this is going to be the best dinner ever.

Now comes the death trap.

I start researching on this here interweb thingy for instructions and inspiration for the recipes I want to make. And it’s here that I discover yet another level of the option paralysis that engulfs me. That salad listed over there, while looking up xxxx, looks mighty fine. Perhaps we should have a salad with the main as well. And would you just look at that baked xxxx. Surely this dinner wouldn’t be complete without it as a side. Is that a xxxx pesto? Wouldn’t that just make the perfect amuse bouche before the appetizer?

Before you know it, I’m hand making the vanilla custard, the apple and onion chutney, the maple mustard demi-glaze and the butterscotch jambalaya and whipping an entire Broadway-worthy production into a frothy fizz, simultaneously using every dish, bowl and spatula in the kitchen instead of simply tossing some good egg tagliatelle with fresh cherry tomatoes and olives and tucking into the Hagen Daaz at the end.

Such is the evolution of a dinner party. Ah, well. Bon Apetite.

On a completely different line of thought, the blood oranges are here. These are, without a doubt, my favourite of favourite citrus fruits. I’d eat a bag a day if you’d let me.

Blood Oranges 2

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Broccoli and Pepita Pesto w truffle oil & applecider vinegar

For a little dinner, which the dapper Mr P and I had with some fun friends last night, we decided to explore our decadent side a little with both a dessert course and a cheese plate. Is that a gasp I hear in the corner? Both dessert and Cheese? That’s crazy, I hear you yell. Crazy, yes. Delicious, definitely. But in order to survive such decadent and lavish behaviour, one must make sacrifices in the total volume of food presented. Therefore, an executive decision was made by the cook and her sous not to make an appetiser. Is that another gasp I hear behind me? No Appetiser? At a sit down dinner, a Winter dinner?! How barbarous! Ha. And you thought you knew me better.

I did, however, think it rather uncouth to allow any guest our home to wallow in the joys of pre-dinner wine and conversation without just a little something to stay the hunger for a while. Enter the Amuse Bouche. Remember this little gem? Well, with a little twist of the Truffle-oil wrist and a sniff of apple cider vinegar added to the mix something that was already pretty darn good turned into something simply gorgeous.

On an aside; that bottle of truffle oil given to me by the vivacious Mr W has been one of the best food gifts ever given. I’ve had a certain reluctance to ever buy one of those little, fancy bottles of truffle oil you see in speciality food shops on the basis that if I was going to ever eat a truffled anything, it was going to be a truffle omelet in the South of France in November one day. Some food experiences, in my humble opinion, should be saved for the Real Thing. Macaroons? I’m waiting for my next visit to Paris. Jamon de Bellota? The next time I find myself in the south east of Spain, I’m in. But until then, I’m quite happy to read about it, build up my expectations and tuck into some Prosciutto. So, I’d never even thought to buy a bottle of truffle oil here in Toronto but when dear Mr w cooked up an absolutely mouth watering penne with afore mentioned truffle oil, the aroma, the taste, the entire experience had me begging for more. The trick, it seems, as in so many things in life, not what you know but who. Knowing someone who makes there very own truffle oil from fresh truffles and sells it not in those dinky, if cute, little bottles for the price of your first born’s university fees but in a decent sized amount for an unpretentious amount is all it takes to convert me to the truffle side. Thank you, Mr W, you’re a gem.

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Pear Patina

A small group of friends gathers now and then, on a rotation of residence basis, to toast a toast and marvel at each others themed cooking. You might remember a colourful affair a while back. We’ve had a lemon theme and a Childhood Memories evening, where we reminisced about such delights as Three Bean Salad, Tuna Casserole, Mac ‘n Cheese and Pineapple Upside-down Cake. The latest exploration was for Roman Food, and my, did we eat like Caesars, one and all. With stuffed grape leaves, and large, fragrantly cooked dishes of lentils and beans and cauliflower we stuffed ourselves just short of, well, you know…

A little space was left, thankfully, for dessert. Pear Patina, voila. Simply put, a sublime, slightly fragrant and utterly pear-y baked custard served with a white wine honey sauce. Perhaps this is what the Hun was looking for on his little trip through Rome? Thank goodness something is helping me get out of my cooking funk. The fresh, sweet taste of pears in this velvety concoction, after such a beautiful and flavoursome meal, has refreshed my cooking soul a bit.

Poached pears

Roman Pear Patina

2 large, ripe Bosc pears
500ml white wine
2 eggs
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
¼ tsp cardamom
¼ tsp white pepper
pinch black pepper
1 Tbsp Honey
2 Tbsp best Olive oil

For the honey sauce:

2 big, oozing Tbsp honey
¼ cup white wine

– poach the pears, whole, in the white wine in a heavy based saucepan for 20 – 25 mins, or until very tender, turning the pears every few minutes.

– preheat the oven to 350˚F and grease and sugar a 500ml Pudding basin (or souffle dish/caserole)

– allow the pears to cool slightly before pealing and coring them. Mash/process the pears until smooth.

– beat the eggs and add to the pear pulp along with the cream, milk, cardamom, peppers, honey and olive oil.

– Pour mixed batter into pudding basin and bake for about 25 minutes until golden on top, but still jiggly in the middle.

– To make the sauce, warm the honey until it’s quite liquid, add the wine and mix.

– best served slightly warm.

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Chickpea and Luganega stew

Funny that in French the word for garlic is ail. Funny, that is, when garlic, that wonder, that golden child of the onion family, is so good at protecting you from what ails, meaning keeping those nasty little cold and flu viruses at bay. I have personally noticed the relationship between number of cold viruses inflicted to the amount of garlic consumed. The New Year put that theory to the test with a bout beans-on-toast living followed by a visit from Sniffy ‘n Snotty. I love garlic and I tend to use it in just about every dish I make for dinner, along with a liberal and counteractive sprinkling of parsley, to be sure. I do, after all, have to interact with the rest of humanity now and again. When my dear friend and partner-in-crime at the Summer Market, Ms A, gave me a treasured bottle of Iranian pickled garlic, I gushed with happiness. These sweet, heady, more-ish pods of sweet, slightly tart garlic are a delicacy produced in the north of Iran and I can see why it’s a well kept secret. I’ve had the jar in my fridge for a good few months now, nibbling on a clove de temp en temp and in my mood of using what’s in the cupboard I tried to make a dish which would perfectly compliment them.

I opened up my pantry, now stocked mostly with canned and bottled goods, pickles and conserves, dried herbs and spices and jars of various sauces and did what we all like to do now and then: I winged it. So here is something made pretty much from what I had on hand in pantry and refrigerator. The last couple of carrots and the last but one clove of fresh garlic from the Summer Market went into the pot, along with the frozen, left over Luganega from the Pizza Rustica. And I have to say, not only was this little dish heart warming and super satisfying but it made fabulous wraps the next day for lunch, which the ever inventive Mr P made up with a good smearing of balsamic onion chutney. For the dinner it was served with minted couscous and goes brilliantly with those pickled garlic and a dollop of plain yogurt.

*note: I used Luganega sausages because I had a few left in the freezer I wanted to use up. Use any spicy pork sausage, or lamb, or leave them out for a vegetarian option.

Chickpea and Luganega stew 2

Chickpea and Luganega Stew

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 pork sausages, thickly sliced
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp sweet paprika
½ ginger
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled Italian tomatoes
1 14oz (400g) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ cup water
2 carrots, finely grated/chopped
cilantro

– heat the oil in a large, heavy based pot. Saute onions and garlic over a moderate heat until softened.

– add sausage and fry until browned. Add spices, cooking for a couple of minutes until fragrant.

– add tomato paste, cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and water, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they cook.

– when the mixture is bubbling, add the chickpeas and carrots. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer very gently for 40 mins.

– serve with generous cilantro and minted cous cous.

pickled garlic

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