Sunday, April 29, 2007

spicing it up

After a nice relaxing weekend, we thought it would be fitting to end it off with a little spice. It's quite clear by now that one of our favorite types of cuisine is Thai food and tonight was another great meal that woke up our tastebuds and helped get us ready for another work week.

Pad Thai is one of those classics that any Thai food connoisseur can't help but love. Some sweetness and some spice with some healthy starches (rice noodles) and the crunch of bean sprouts and ground peanuts for texture.

Pad Thai may seem like a complicated multi-layer dish, but it's exceedingly simple to make. In a wok, cook one egg in two tablespoons of vegetable oil and add some raw, peeled shrimp. Then add some sliced red peppers, bean sprouts and some rice noodles (which were softened in some nearly boiling water for a few minutes) and stir-fry quickly. Then add the sauce, made by combining tamarind sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic chili sauce and some lime juice. Top it off with some chopped peanuts and you're done!

Better than takeout and a delicious Sunday meal.

lesson learned

A lot of times we all take things for granted. We are so busy with the everyday chaos that we forget about how precious time is.
Last weekend we took a trip to Toronto to visit my grandmother. For a while now she has been bed-ridden and incapable of taking care of herself. It is incredibly hard to deal with the reality of the situation. I remember what she was like..the feisty grandmother who loved to rule the kitchen while complaining and gossiping about the latest news. Now she is helpless, relying on others to take care of her. That is not the grandmother I want to remember.
There are times when I wish I could go back to see her kitchen secrets, spend time with her just watching how she commanded the kitchen. Realistically, I know that her days are numbered and it hurts me to even try to make sense of it all, but there is a lesson to be learned in all this.

Do not take anything for granted.

Mony's grandfather (aka Saba) is known for his baking. He worked as a baker when he first immigrated to Montreal...making everything from bagels to challah bread. Knowing his history, it's always a treat when he brings his cheese danishes to our family gatherings. They are a cross between a cheese bagel (non-montrealers are really missing out on these delicacies) and a fruit danish.
Recently, when we were given the opportunity to watch Saba make his famous danishes, we all jumped at the chance. It's moments like these that make me realize how lucky we all are. How wonderful to be able to learn something from someone with such a rich past and so much wisdom. Not to mention the delicious end result....

The lesson was memorable. It is something that I will cherish and keep with me for years ahead. I know that I will never be able to make them as good as Saba, but I love the thought that generations to come will know how good Saba's cheese danishes actually were.

Friday, April 27, 2007

jamaican me hungry

With all this talk about Jamaica this week, what would be more appropriate then a tribute to the beautiful country?
Friday night's quick dinner was BBQ'ed jerk chicken wings. The marinade was a complex mixture of spices, a touch of sugar, and a bit of soy sauce and vinegar to balance it out. The result was a firey, delicious mess.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

wrapping up the week

Tonight we came home tired and worn out from a rough day at work. Not in the mood to cook anything overly complicated, we grabbed some chicken breasts, cauliflower, lettuce leaves, and the pickled radishes Dina made yesterday and drew up a plan.

We preheated the oven to 400 degrees while Dina chopped the cauliflower into florets and mixed them up with chopped anchovies, some olive oil, garlic and chili flakes. About 30 minutes in the oven and out came a golden brown and tender-crisp pile of caramelized cauliflower pieces.

The chicken breasts were sliced into strips and marinated in olive oil, garlic, rosemary, lemon juice, some hot sauce, parsley and salt & pepper. Just a few minutes on the bbq (along with half a red and yellow pepper) and dinner started coming together.

For the sauciness factor, we blended some plain yogurt with lemon juice, garlic, grated cucumber, parsley, and salt & pepper for own spin on traditional tzatziki.

These simple components were combined to deliver a punch of flavor. A lettuce leaf on the bottom, some savoury chicken strips, slices of the slightly sweet grilled pepper, a couple of pieces of the salty and spicy cauliflower, the sour of the pickled radishes and the coolness of the sauce combined for the perfect balance of flavour.

Another quick and healthy meal that satisfied. Bring on the weekend!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

my new favourite thing

Pickled Radishes

1 bunch of radishes
red wine vinegar
pinch of salt

Slice radishes and place in mason jar. Fill half way with cold water, and fill the rest of the jar with red wine vinegar. Add a pinch of salt.
Close lid and shake.

For a spicy treat, add chili flakes to the vinegar mixture.

The radishes will last a long time in the fridge since they are stored in vinegar. You can also add sliced onions, or turnips to the jar.

It usually just takes a few hours for it to marinate. You'll be able to tell when they're ready to eat as they'll turn into a pretty shade of pink.

Monday, April 23, 2007

burger queen

Picture this:
Relaxing on the balcony, sun shining, tree's swaying...
Conversing with a glass of chardonnay...
Burgers sizzling on the grill...

That is what I would consider a sinful evening.

It was such a beautiful day that we decided to grill out tonight. As we talked outside, the cats meowed by the screen door, wanting eagerly to come out and sun bathe. Of course, being the cruel kitty parents that we are, we ignored them and continued our deep conversation about travel and the world. Behind us we could smell the distinct aroma of the start of a great dinner.

The burgers were simply made with lean ground beef and a few spices. We had no hamburger buns so instead we used pocket pita's that we had in the freezer. We grilled those as well so they had a crisp exterior and a soft, squishy inside. They were filled with the usual suspects as well as lettuce and pickled radishes.

On the side, we had baked potatoes. They were first microwaved for a minute or two and then set out on the grill until they were soft and had crispy skin. Topped with sour cream and scallions, it was dreamy.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

a warm hug

When times are rough, there's nothing better than a warm bowl of soup. Even though the weather has been a treat, sometimes you just need something that is the equivalent of an edible hug. This soup was based on a thai soup called Tom Yum (hot and sour soup). It's different from the chinese version with the same it is much thinner and a lot more flavourful. It brings together the perfect balance of sour with spicy. We used a tom yum paste that we picked up from an oriental market, and added green onions, mushrooms, sweet thai basil, and baby bok choy.
This was a good, wholesome meal and I look forward to having the leftovers when we get back from our weekend trip. I'm sure it will be just as comforting then, and we'll probably need the warm hug more than ever...
Till then...

Monday, April 16, 2007

a fish called basa

Today, the odds were stacked against us. Inches of snow, sleet, hail and rain fell overnight and throughout this morning, making the Monday morning commute truly frustrating. A busy workday added to the stress and made us want to be under the covers rather than typing away at the office.

The thought of coming home, unwinding and eating a delicious meal was quickly dashed when we noticed that the barbecue was flung over by the gale-force winds, making it a chore to clean up and put back in place.

But that was nothing that a delicious seafood meal couldn't fix. We had a couple of Basa filets ready to season and cook. Basa is a fish native to Vietnam and is in the catfish family, with a similar delicate, white flesh to its cousin.

Dina seasoned the filets with salt & pepper and oregano and cooked them in a bit of olive oil and sautéed garlic. Once the garlic was toasted, the filets were flipped and a healthy squeeze of fresh lime juice was added to finish. When ready to plate, she added a spoonful of roasted red pepper purée (made from blending roasted red peppers, some chicken broth, lemon juice and some seasonings in the blender and heating up the mixture). I grilled up some asparagus to accompany the fish.

I marinated the asparagus spears in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper, and a squeeze of lime juice and grilled them on high heat in a grill pan until tender-crisp.

This was truly a restaurant-inspired meal, only better. Definitely enough to cure the Monday blues.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

baking with julia.....uhh i mean, joanna

As the manly men enjoyed their hockey, the women retreated to the kitchen to bake. Many of you know that I cannot bake. I hate it. I have trouble following directions and the results are usually disastrous.
Earlier in the morning, I found a recipe online for peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies that required very little ingredients and only a few steps. I thought it would be a perfect afternoon activity for us girls. Joanna (my sister-in-law) was a trooper. She happily put up with my amateur baking questions with much patience.
One of the difficulties we had was the firmed up brown sugar. When I say firm, I mean rock hard. Imagine trying to chip away at cement -- that is what we were facing. Softening it was a challenge, including a major water spill in the microwave, but eventually it was a consistency that was somewhat workable. By the way, if you ever need to soften brown suger...don't. Just throw it out and start with a fresh bag. There are much better things to waste your time with.
Eventually, the dough was made, but it was very moist. The recipe called for rolling the dough into balls, but since we did not want to have sticky dough on our palms, we decided to spoon them onto the baking sheet. We baked them for 10 minutes, 2 minutes longer than recommended...but then put them back in when we saw that they were still very soft. Finally, in silent defeat, we decided to pull them out and wait to see if they would firm up. If they didn't, we would just have to eat them with spoons...I was not going to let all this work go to waste.
After they cooled, they surprisingly looked normal. They were warm, soft and chewy, not too sweet and perfectly cooked.
It was worth the end result...we had delicious homemade cookies and memories that will last a long time to come.

2cpeanut butter
2clight brown sugar
large eggs
2tspbaking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Roll (or spoon) into balls, bake for 8-10 minutes.

Variations: Use chunky peanut butter, chocolate chips, or salted roasted peanuts, toffee bits, etc.

middle (f)east

A true rivalry is brewing. My Calgary Flames are facing my brother's Detroit Red Wings in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Since my brother's a big hockey fan and even bigger fan of a hearty meal, we thought it would fun to have him and his wife over for lunch to catch the game on the big screen and root for our respective teams.

We decided to put together a middle eastern menu consisting of shish taouk, fattouche salad, hummus (with pita bread), couscous with sautéed vegetables, and roasted garlic potatoes.

The boneless chicken breast was sliced in long strips and marinated a day in advance in plenty of minced garlic, plain yogurt, lemon juice, shallots, salt & pepper. About 10 minutes on the grill and it was ready to eat.

The salad included diced tomatoes, sliced cucumber, onions, chopped parsley and shards of toasted pita. The dressing was simply 1/3 extra virgin olive oil, 2/3 lemon juice, sumac, and salt & pepper.

The couscous was prepared just as simply, with caramelized onions and yellow peppers.

The roasted potatoes were cubed and tossed in vegetable oil, garlic powder, sweet paprika, and salt & pepper.

The verdict: Detroit is up 2-0 in the series. I'm not sure if Kenny was more thrilled with the meal or with his team's victory. But the smile on his face was worth the Calgary loss (but only a little bit).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

growing up

When you're a kid, you accumulate many irrational dislikes when it comes to food. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, and usually vegetables in general. For me, eggplant was near the top of the list. For many years I held on to the belief that eggplant was mushy, bitter and mostly tasteless. That is, until Dina came into my life and opened my eyes to the many foods I thought I hated.

Eggplant parmigiana was on the menu tonight. It had most of what I love—tomato sauce, parmesan cheese and the comfort food factor. But, could I overcome the eggplant?

Dina cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices and salted them on both sides, placing them on layers of paper towels on a baking sheet. Half an hour later, most of the bitterness released itself and a quick dab from a paper towel dried up the slices for the next step. Reminiscent of french toast, Dina then quickly dipped the slices into a beaten egg and then some flour, and quickly fried them in a non-stick skillet.

Next, in a lasagna pan, a bit of tomato sauce was spread across the bottom, followed by a single layer of eggplant, more sauce and a generous sprinkling of parmesan cheese. The layering continued until the assembly was 4 storeys high, with a final light dusting of cheese.

30 minutes in a 350 degree oven and out came a bubbling, saucy and incredibly delicious meal. One bite and all my childhood fears just disappeared. The lesson here: always give it a second chance.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

everything but the kitchen sink

One of the great things about living in our area is the abundance of farms nearby. We are extremely lucky that we are able to enjoy 'country living' so close to the city.
Last weekend, we picked up a carton of fresh brown eggs from a local farmer and decided to use them in tonight's dinner.

Our frittatas usually consist of bits and pieces of the week's leftovers.
Tonight, while rummaging through the fridge, we found leftover roasted vegetables, a bit of spaghetti squash, some peppers, a nub of parmesan cheese, and best of all some fresh herbs (parsley, thyme, and basil). These simple ingredients turned into a delicious vegetable herb frittata. I enjoy making this dish because it's a fast weekday meal and wholesome - not to mention the fact that it cleans out the fridge. This is the perfect dish because there is no messy flipping involved, and it is effortless to make. And yet, the finished product looks and tastes like you worked so hard to prepare a comforting meal.
There was something special about tonight's dinner....I don't know if it was the fact that Sam Cooke was playing on the stereo while we waited for the frittata to become puffy and crisp in the oven, or if it was because it felt like spring in our home, even though right outside the kitchen window were big, fat snowflakes falling....whatever it was, it was a good night.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

barbecue 101

Ahead of a potential April snowfall, we thought it would be a good idea to squeeze in another bbq night. Tonight, it was pork chops, oriental-style. These were not your ordinary pork chops, but bone-in, thick-cut chops that we found on sale this past weekend. An hour of marinating was all that was needed before throwing them on the grill.

The marinade was made with plenty of sliced garlic, some oyster sauce, soy sauce, minced ginger, ground szechuan pepper and a dash of toasted sesame oil.

I'd like to think that the one thing I can be relied upon in the kitchen is being in charge of the barbecue duties. I've got it down to a science. Name your meat, veggie or seafood, and I can grill it to perfection.

Now, the trick to grilling a thick cut of meat is to preheat the grill at medium-high for about 5-10 minutes. When you throw the meat onto the grill, resist all temptation to push down on the meat or play around with it. For pork chops of this thickness, I cranked up the grill to high heat and broiled the meat for about 8 minutes with the lid closed. Then, I flipped the chops over and grilled for another 5 minutes. That's it. No pressing on the meat, moving them around or playing around with the heat level. You want juiciness and a perfectly charred exterior. Finally, always make sure to let your meat rest for a couple of minutes before digging in to help redistribute the juices.

A crisp romaine salad on the side made this a great summer-inspired Wednesday meal.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

meat on a stick (indonesian style)

This was a quick and easy Tuesday dinner. It only had 3 steps: marinate, grill, and eat.

The chicken breasts were marinated in a mixture of typical Indonesian ingredients such as lemon grass, shallots, garlic-chili sauce, tumeric, and fresh thai basil. Threaded on bamboo skewers and grilled on a high heat, the satay had a smokey, charred aroma and taste.
The perfect accompaniment was a spicy peanut sauce and steamed garlic broccoli.

More like sat-YAY.

Monday, April 9, 2007

arabian night

When this soup recipe showed up in my inbox a few weeks back, I wasn't sure when we would get a chance to make it since the weather was starting to turn warm. Luckily for us, the weather decided to stay wintery a bit longer so we decided to keep warm with this hearty soup.
This is a classic North African (Tunisian) soup recipe, with lots of deep Moroccan flavour. The traditional spices include tumeric, cumin, and a touch of cinnamon. It is usually finished off with a dried fruit garnish (to add a bit of sweetness) but I knew that Mony wouldn't give the soup a chance if I included the dried fruit so instead I added sliced carrots to try to mirror the flavour. This soup also includes chickpeas which stay a bit firm, yet add nice creaminess to the soup.
This is a simple recipe, with a lot of complex flavours. Definitely a keeper.
Plus it got two big thumbs up from the man of the house. That's always a good sign.

Accompanying the delicious stew, we had a vegetable tart that I made on the weekend. This is a neat technique that involves roasting an assortment of vegetables and layering them in a pie pan.
The vegetables I used were eggplant, zucchini, red onions, and colourful peppers (red, yellow, orange). Simply roast them lightly with a bit of olive oil and salt & pepper. Then layer them in your favourite pie pan and let sit over night so the flavours develop fully. It's also best if you can weight it down so you get a nice slice when cutting into it.
This will be especially wonderful in the summertime...a perfect summer side dish.

Sunday, April 8, 2007


To celebrate the season premiere of the final season of one of our favourite TV shows, The Sopranos, we put together an Italian feast that Tony himself would be proud of.

We prepared some Italian-style meatballs in a fresh tomato sauce on a bed of spaghetti squash that would make even Carmela jealous.

The meatballs were made with a mixture of ground veal, beef and pork with plenty of minced garlic and onion, chopped fresh parsley, chili flakes, worcestershire sauce, fresh thyme, ground fennel seeds and generous amounts of salt and pepper. Shaped into golf ball sized meatballs and baked in the oven for 30 minutes or so at medium heat, they were finished in a fresh tomato sauce made with canned italian tomatoes, garlic, shallots, chili flakes and dried basil.

With Passover winding down, we got a kick out of using spaghetti squash instead of actual pasta. If you've never tried if before, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot as the perfect healthy replacement. Just be sure to use plenty of salt and pepper.

The perfect accompaniment, Valpolicella classico by the glass.

Dr. Melfi's diagnosis: a delicious way to unveil the beginning of the end.


Saturday, April 7, 2007

good evening, vietnam!

As I'm sure you've realized by now, we enjoy trying our hand at cuisine from just about anywhere in the world. Tonight, we forayed into the world of Vietnamese food. Known for intensely flavourful dishes, Vietnamese food uses fresh ingredients and quick cooking methods to put together unforgettable meals that are easy to prepare.

Tonight we tried a dish called Shaking Beef. A recipe that gets its name from the shaking action that is used to release the meat from the bottom of the pan once it's browned and slightly caramelized.

The first step is to simply marinate the meat cubes, in this case beef, in garlic, vegetable oil and salt and pepper for 1-2 hours. You can then prepare the "vinaigrette", which is a combination of fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and a bit of sugar.

First, sauté the meat in a bit of oil until browned on one side. Then shake the pan and flip the cubes over to brown on the other side. Add sliced onion, preferably red, and sliced scallions and cook until slightly softened. Then add the vinaigrette and reduce until it thickens slightly.

The traditional accompaniment to this dish is a dipping sauce made from the juice of one lime, with salt and pepper.

We placed this delicious mixture on a bed of shredded cabbage and carrots that were quickly sautéed in a bit of soy sauce.

Make this dish once and you will be hooked. This one will be added to our weekday repertoire due to its simplicity and quick cooking time, not to mention that it's quite healthy.

Friday, April 6, 2007

down by the bayou

This week was all about reuniting with old friends. With the popularity of Facebook, we have been in touch with people we haven't seen or spoken to in over 10 years. Weird at first, but a pleasant surprise. So when we found out that an old friend was coming into town this weekend, we jumped at the opportunity to see them.
They would be coming over at an awkward hour; too late for lunch and too early for dinner. We decided that cocktail hour with a few tasty appetizers seemed like the best plan. One of the nibbles we made was bacon-wrapped shrimps with a passion fruit sauce. This was the first time we made anything like this and it was a great success. The tiny passion fruit seeds added a burst of flavour and tartness to the savory shrimp - it balanced it out perfectly.
It's certainly not an everyday indulgence, but on this snowy day we welcomed a bit of the tropics into our home.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

comfort food

Some people consider comfort food to be anything that is warm and creamy like mashed potatoes or a big bowl of pasta but not me...comfort food for me is anything that is spicy & aromatic.
I've had a rough week and the perfect ending on this cold, windy day is my special szechuan chicken. It makes even the roughest days a breeze. I won't give away my secret recipe but I will say that it's spicy, sweet, and aromatic all in one. And we didn't even break Passover for it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

passover: day 3

Nearly halfway there and we have no complaints about the lack of bread or pasta. In fact, we continue to be treated to some delicious meals. Tonight, along with the previously mentioned matzah ball soup to start, we had some stuffed peppers with Monday's farfel on the side.

Made with ground beef, mushrooms, onions, garlic and topped with mozarella cheese, these stuffed red peppers were roasted in the oven until the skins became slightly crisp. They were soft enough to cut through easily, but firm enough not to collapse under the weight of the delicious filling.

Dina prepared these in minutes flat, but the peppers had a slow roasted taste and the filling was tender and satisfying. The mozarella topping made the perfect finish to this hearty dish.