Thursday, May 31, 2007

bringin' summer back

It's been a rainy few days and the beautiful summer weather seems to have disappeared. I thought it would be nice to make Mony some pasta tonight since he has been asking for some for a while now. And with the weather gone downhill, a light pasta dish would be a great summer inspired meal.

This pasta is an easy one, not requiring too many ingredients...fresh asparagus (of course!), sun dried tomatoes, shallots, and fresh herbs like parsley and summer savoury. All this was sauteed with some extra virgin olive oil and a few cloves of garlic. Penne was tossed in towards the end and then finished off with a handful of freshly grated grana padano.

Once plated some fresh basil added the final touch to this simple dish.

Mony seemed to really enjoy this meal - so much so that he went for seconds (and thirds). I, on the other hand, had to admire this dish from afar, as I dutifully ate my lean chicken breast and salad. That's the cruel life of a girl who needs to wear a bathing suit in 3 weeks...

Monday, May 28, 2007

asparagus: day 2

We have a fridge full of asparagus thanks to our farmer friend so we thought we would make one of our favourite side dishes. This one is easy, as it should be for a cloudy Monday.

Recently we bought a veggie tray for the bbq. How we ever lived without this tray, I will never know. It is so much easier to carelessly throw everything into this tray rather than arranging each spear meticulously across the grill. For the prep, we cut off the tough ends of the asparagus and gave them a good wash. At the same time, we took a few endives and cut them into quarters. All this went onto the hot bbq (into that heroic vegetable tray). A few drizzles of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and fresh ground pepper, and a touch of balsamic vinegar towards the end adds a nice touch. The balsamic works really well here since the endives are naturally bitter so the sweetness from the balsamic balances everything out.

This is a great little side dish that we would eat every week if we could. It's full of nutrients and essential vitamins and a great way to use seasonal vegetables.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

our friend the farmer

Dina recently made friends with a farmer. Yes, a real live farmer. Every so often we get a phone call early in the morning from Allison, the proprietor of Senneville Farm, merely 10 minutes away and home to incredibly fresh seasonal crops. Early this morning, she let us know that a batch of fresh asparagus was freshly picked this morning and she would leave it out for us to pick up at our leisure. If you've never had farm-fresh vegetables, you're missing out.

Instead of grilling, Dina decided to take the steaming route and then sauté the spears in a delicious mixture of garlic, olive oil, lime juice and some fresh dill, and finished with salt and pepper. It was tender, flavourful and incredibly fresh.

So hearty and delicious were these asparagus spears that we treated them as the main course. Alongside, some veal chops, simply seasoned with salt, pepper and chili flakes. We've always wanted to try these chops, but sadly, they were a little disappointing. I'm not sure whether it was the dry rub idea, or that grilling might not be the best cooking method for this cut of meat, but the veal lacked flavour and a certain 'je ne sais quoi'.

These veal chops were akin to pork chops, only more tender. Perhaps a wet marinade would have made for a more punchy flavour, but we think that an osso buco type preparation where the meat is simmered in a sauce for a long time would make for the most tender and delicious results.

But hey, you can't win 'em all and we would have been more than satisfied with a generous pile of Allison's asparagus and nothing else. We can't wait to find out what the next crop will yield...

Saturday, May 26, 2007

summertime, and the living is easy

I don't know if it was because we were celebrating the fact that I could finally see, or the fact that my sister had mentioned that they bbq'ed some lobster last week, but we decided to be decadent tonight. Lobster season is finally here and who are we to turn the other way?

The lobsters right now are from the Gaspesie and are known to be a bit smaller but perfectly sweet (and inexpensive to boot). Once we were home from grocery shopping, we placed the live lobsters in the freezer so that they could take a nice, long nap. When we were ready to start dinner, we boiled a large pot of salted water and stuck those slippery guys in before they could get away. They quickly turned a bright red color after about 5-10 minutes. Once cooked, we pulled them out and let them cool so that we could prep them for the bbq.

(nice to meet you)
After it cooled down enough for us to handle, Mony cut through the hard shell as I cleaned them up. We chose to have female lobsters instead of male even though there is a bit more cleaning involed in the females. The ladies are known to have broader tails which hold (arguably) the best part of the lobster meat. Once cut and cleaned, we made a quick lemon, herb butter to brush on the meat. The melted butter included fresh garlic, dill, parsley, thyme, and lemon juice.

The lobsters then went onto the hot bbq grill, meat side down. They charred up nicely in about 5 minutes. A squeeze of lemon and we were ready to dig in.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

turning up the heat

Maybe the first place you think of going when it's 30 degrees outside isn't in front of a blazing fire, but when it comes to cooking in our household, grilling is one of our top summer pastimes, regardless of the temperature outdoors.

We picked up a pair of inexpensive sirloin steaks and decided to shake things up by turning them into some delicious kabobs. Steaks make the juiciest and most tender kabobs, so try to avoid using those stewing beef cubes they sell in the meat section of the grocery store, as they get way too tough.

We merely cut up the steaks into cubes and seasoned them with montreal steak spice and skewered them with onion and green pepper pieces in between. Grilled at a high heat for less than 5 minutes per side for medium rare, the meat ended up juicy and flavourful.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

for the love of mango

I am not usually the biggest fan of mango's but this one was so incredibly good; it was definitely post worthy.

Imported from India, it was unlike any other mango we've ever had. It was sweet, smooth, and juicy -- unlike the stringy, chalky Mexican mango's we usually find in the grocery stores. This one was perfectly ripe, almost on the bring of being too well done.
Mango's are usually overlooked in the shops but they must be one of the best fruits out there. They are so exotic yet conveniently available at all the stores down the street. Mango season is just starting so make sure you get your fill this summer.

Go eat a mango. Pronto.
No need to thank me.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

dining & whining

After a fun and indulgent weekend (that even lasted a day longer than it should have), we're trying to eat better.

And when I say we're, I mean me.

It's very hard to go back to eating well when you have a few days of eating carelessly. Unfortunately, I do not have the metabolism to sustain more than a few days of it, so it's back to normal (aka mundane) dinners for me while my husband still enjoys the good life. I'm not resentful...okay maybe just a bit....but I decided to create a delicious, healthy dinner for myself to make myself feel better.

We took advantage of tonight's great weather and decided to grill out....while Mony decided to have sausages for dinner, I decided a chicken breast would be a healthier option for me. I marinated my chicken in a spoonful of plain yogurt, a dash of adobo powder, chopped parsley, and a mashed up chipotle pepper. The cooling yogurt helped keep the heat in check and balanced the flavours nicely.

Mony's fierce bbq'ing skills ensured that I had a juicy piece of meat. Even though he cooked the chicken thoroughly, he made sure it wasn't cooked as dry as cardboard (my pet peeve).

And as much as he was looking forward to eating his version of dinner, I saw him eyeing my chicken...and like a good wife, I shared.

Maybe, just maybe, I can lure him over to the other (healthier) side....

Monday, May 21, 2007

a sure bet

After a delicious dinner, the perfect ending would be to have something smooth and light. The fresh watermelon sorbetto I made this weekend would be a wonderful way to end this long weekend. Although it looks very elegant and complicated, it only had 1 ingredient. Watermelon.
The process is simple. I cut up half of a fresh seedless watermelon into chunks and tossed it into a food processor and whizzed until smooth. Then I added the juice of one lime to the pulp and chilled the mixture in the fridge for about an hour. When it's out of the fridge, I added a spoonful of vodka (to prevent the liquid from turning into a block of ice when it's in the freezer). Then into an ice cream maker for about 30 minutes until the slushy mixture comes together and starts to thicken. Transfer to a container and into the freezer and you have refreshing, homemade sorbet!
To make the dessert more whimsical, I dotted the sorbet with chocolate chips to mimic the seeds.

stick to ya ribs

It was a long weekend packed with lots to do. Although there was little relaxation involved, it was still a great one, with Dina's sisters, brother-in-laws, niece and nephews in town from Toronto. Lots of laughter, entertaining the kids and spending quality time with the family made the weekend a blur. The little sleep we got quickly caught up with us and made a slow-cooking, stick-to-your-ribs barbecue dinner essential for this work-free Monday.

We snatched up a rack of baby-back ribs from the grocery store and I got to work on a dry rub to marinate the ribs for a few hours. I combined old bay seasoning, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, dried thyme and rosemary, black pepper, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a pinch of sugar and treated the ribs to a soothing massage to ensure that the seasonings penetrated into the meat.

Now, the key to my famous bbq ribs, is slow cooking through indirect heat. I turned up the heat on both burners to preheat the grill for 5 minutes. When it's time to put the ribs on, I turned off one burner and placed the ribs on that side, while tuning the other side to medium heat. I shut the lid and patiently waited for 45 minutes before opening up the lid again. When the time came, I flipped the ribs to the other side and waited another 45 minutes. The sign that you're almost at the basting stage is a slight pinkish-red appearance to the edges of the meat, which usually comes at the 1:30 hour mark.

At that time, take your favorite bbq sauce, preferably a slightly sweet and spicy one, and lightly brush both sides of the rack and turn the heat back on (to the low setting) to allow the sauce to caramelize slightly. Close the lid and get a glass of your favorite (alcoholic) beverage to help pass the time. After about 5 minutes, flip the rack and baste the other side. Another 5 minutes and one last baste on both sides. By now, the entire rack should be glowing a smoky red color and the meat should start to loosen from the bones. Check out the pink around the edges (it's all about the smokiness):

To make it easier to grab and eat, we sliced the ribs after every 2nd bone. Since we started making this, our desire to eat ribs outside the house has diminished. For a simple, no-nonsense dinner, we just check the propane level, grab our favorite magazines and make a lazy day last forever. Well, almost forever.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

jerusalem artichokes: not an artichoke OR from jerusalem

After a long, dreary day of cold weather and running errands after work, the logical answer for dinner would be take out. Since I was already at the grocery store, I decided to pick up a rotisserie chicken. Tasty and healthy; I thought it would be a suitable dinner. To make things even better, instead of greasy fries I decided to buy some jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes). Once home, I cubed them and roasted them the way I would potatoes. Some olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper added to the intense sunchoke flavour. They were roasted for about 25 minutes at 425.
They are similar to potatoes but yet very different. First of all, they are more nutritious than potatoes. I am not a big fan of potatoes since they do not add many health benefits to our bodies but jerusalem artichokes are full of iron and low calorie to boot. They are loaded with iron, potassium, niacin, and thiamine, and are known to promote cardiovascular health and proper fat and sugar digestion. When raw they are ugly, deformed, little knobs but that is worth overlooking.

I'm sure you're wondering what they taste like...well, oddly enough, they taste like artichokes. They are a bit sweet, moist, and have a slight crispness to them. I highly recommend trying this vegetable if you haven't already. We roasted them, but they have much more potential...raw, in a soup, pureed, mashed...I can't wait to get some more and try out all the possibilities.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

and the envelope please...

Sometimes Dina pulls a meal out of the bag that just makes my jaw drop. In this case, she literally pulled it out of a bag (or more appropriately, a pouch). It's a simple concept, throw in a bunch of ingredients in an envelope made from a folded over piece of parchment paper, bake in the oven and let the steam do the work. Our version of Fish en Papillote.

We set up a small assembly line and put together the pouches in layers. First some yellow and green string beans, cubed bell peppers, zucchini and onions, and sliced mushrooms at the bottom. Then a few small bay scallops scattered on the vegetables. Next, a basa filet on top, seasoned with salt, pepper, lemon zest, and a sprig of thyme. Finally, to help the steam do its work, some lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a splash of white wine. To create a tight seal, fold the parchment paper in half and fold the edges all around, creating an oval shaped pouch that you then place on a baking sheet and toss in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

You would not believe the scent that permeated the kitchen only 10 minutes into the cooking time. I would strongly recommend making this dish for several reasons:

1-It's healthy, since you control the amount of fat without sacrificing flavour.
2-The steam makes the fish tender and moist, while infusing all of the added flavours into it.
3-It's a fun (fast and easy) way to cook!

Don't forget to serve this dish with a straw. You won't want to waste a drop of that flavourful broth that collects at the bottom of the pouch.

With the quickness, versatility and amazing flavour of this dish, we wouldn't hesitate to make this a weekly staple in our household.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

saluting mom

There won't be an elaborate post for Mother's Day, instead I'll show you the photos.....but I will say that maybe baking isn't that scary after all.

Good company...
Good conversation...
Good food....
What more could anyone want?

higher grounds

I'll admit it. There is not 1 single thing that I love more than a fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning. I will rarely turn down a cup, unless it's instant.

Does that make me a coffee addict? I would not deny it.
Does it make me a coffee snob? Probably, but the word connoisseur just seems nicer.

I think the addiction turned into snobery when I decided that my coffee maker was just not good enough. I needed a machine that would freshly grind the beans and provide a superior cup of joe. So we bought an expensive machine.....but I use it everyday so I know that I've gotten my money's worth. After that, the coffee was good but still not great. What could I do to make the coffee better? Well, roast my own beans of course. I'm pretty sure at this point Mony realized that I'm losing my mind but I might as well be happy doing it.

So we purchased a coffee bean roaster...and never looked back. The process is easy, but somewhat annoying. You need to roast your beans at least 48 hrs in advance to release all the gases in order to get the best flavour. There is a lot of planning involved but the end result is so worth the trouble. The green beans are much cheaper than buying roasted coffee from a store. And you cannot beat the freshness. Keep in mind that the coffee that you buy at a grocery store, or at a Starbucks has probably been sitting there for weeks. It's stale and yet we pay so much for it.

Home roasting is kind of like making popcorn in those old kernel popping machines. It's the same process, but produces a lot more smoke. The first couple of times we used the roaster, our fire alarms went off and scared the cats. We've learned that every window and door need to be open in order to get enough circulation. The cats are still scared though and run for shelter every time we are getting ready to roast.

The green beans themselves are small and become larger as they roast. It is interesting to see the roasting process the first time. It's amazing to see how it goes from being an odd green bean to becoming a fragrant coffee bean and a beautiful shade of brown.

The whole process takes only about 4 minutes; 5 if you prefer a darker french roast.

What I love is the thought that these beans come from around the world. The cup that I am enjoying this morning came all the way from Peru. Someone in Peru picked these beans for me to enjoy and I treat them the best way I know how.

It's encouraging to think that even though water divides this world, coffee brings it together.

Friday, May 11, 2007

beef & broccoli (& relaxation)

So after what seemed like a very long week and a particularly high stress Friday, my wonderful husband offered to take on the duties of dinner. He decided to conquer beef and broccoli as I eagerly relaxed on the couch with a cold glass of white wine and the tv blaring. It was wonderful and such a lovely change.

His recipe is not very authentic, but extremely tasty nonetheless. The meat used was the paper thin beef that is normally used for fondue but worked very well in this dish. The sauce consisted of oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and a bit of chili sauce. All this was sauteed with the broccoli florets until they were soft but still had a bit of a bite. The beef was then added and quickly mixed in with all the other ingredients.

This meal was really delightful. Not only did it taste great but it was an admirable gesture after such a long day. I might even be willing to take on a million long days if I could always come home to such an enjoyable dinner.
AND he washed the dishes too.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

chop chop!

It was my dad who introduced me to the world of grilling. We used to throw chicken, burgers or pork chops on the grill throughout the summer and all sit around the table to eat together. I would stand at my dad's side as he grilled on the patio and, although I was too young to handle the bbq duties, when he would head into the house, I'd grab the tongs and pretend that I was the bbq king.

Some of my fondest childhood memories was eating dinner as a family and feasting on the bounty that was perfectly seared and steaming hot, right off the grill.

This explains why, in the summer, we go through tanks of propane like it was going out of style. But we wouldn't have it any other way.

Tonight we quickly marinated some pork chops with dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, garlic, olive oil and chili sauce and cranked up the bbq to high. A few minutes on each side and the chops were ready to devour. And devour we did.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

it's easy being green

We decided to take a break from bbqing tonight and cook a bit of comfort food. It was fast, easy, and tasty. What more can you ask for?

We made fresh halibut cooked in a thai green curry sauce on top of a mound of sticky rice. The green curry paste was a bit spicy, but balanced perfectly with the coconut milk that was added to create the creamy sauce. The green curry and halibut were simmered for about 20 minutes while the rice cooked. Pea's were added towards the end so that they were not over cooked...there is nothing worse than mushy peas.

All in all, it took about 20 minutes to have a comforting, mouthwatering dinner ready tonight. Who needs 30 minute meals when something this good can be done in 20?