Tuesday, June 19, 2007

adeus, adiós, au revoir

Keep cooking and enjoying life....we'll see you guys (all 5 readers!) in a few weeks...

We'll definately be bringing back some good stories, and some great photo's - stay tuned!

Until then.....

Sunday, June 17, 2007

this weekend's selection

With yesterday's smoky ribs, we chose to pair a robust red from the Manduria region of Italy. Italy's version of the Zinfandel grape is the Primitivo. High in alcohol, fruity and robust, it stood up nicely to the sweet and spicy sauce on the ribs.

Tonight's dinner was perfectly paired with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc from France. Ideal for serving with seafood and dishes with creamy sauces, this wine quickly reached near the top of our list of favorite summer whites. Its refreshing floral and citrus notes kept us cool on this warm summer day and was even more perfect as we sipped it between bites.

I'm dying to tell you about tonight's dinner, as it was one of my favorites of all time. But you'll have to stay tuned to find out...

summer on a baguette

A great start to tonight's dinner was tomato bruschetta on crostini. The recipe is simple, yet so fresh and delicious.


2 ripe tomatoes (remove seeds and juice)
1 garlic clove
1/4 red onion
2 Tbls fresh oregano
2 Tbls grated parmesan
1 Tbls olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Chop all ingredients and mix together. Pile on thin slices of baguette and enjoy.

a second chance

I decided to cook Mony a special meal tonight. He really felt like having risotto so I thought I'd make him a special Father's day dinner...you know, cause he's so good to our cats.

Risotto, in layman's terms, is a saucy, creamy rice dish. That is a simple explanation but in all honesty, it is so much more than that. It's a complex dish with flavours that all come together to become more than the sum of its parts.

It all started from a delicious smokey stock I made from the bones of a bbq chicken carcass. The stock was made a week ago and frozen for uses like tonight's dinner. I knew that I wanted to give our jumbo shrimp a second chance and decided that tonight's risotto would be the perfect opportunity for it. I peeled the shrimp and added the shells to the pot of stock, along with fresh sage sprigs from our makeshift balcony garden. This would become the foundation of tonight's dinner.

The risotto started off with sauteed garlic, along with shallots and spanish chorizo sausage. The chorizo is readily available these days and adds a smokey flavour with a hint of heat. Once the aromatics became soft and slightly brown, I added the arborio rice and allowed the grains to become translucent. Once the rice was coated with the shallots and garlic, I deglazed the pan with white wine and allowed the alcohol to burn off, leaving only the herbaceous, robust wine flavours. The infused chicken stock was then added, 1 ladle at a time, until the rice was cooked thoroughly (about 25 minutes). Towards the final stages of cooking, I added chopped watercress that was given to Mony from a co-worker's home garden, along with a handful of parmesan and a healthy spoonful of goat cheese. The goat cheese was added as a last minute thought as I am trying to clear out our fridge before our travels this week.

Since we wanted to give the jumbo shrimp another try, we decided to take mom's advice and marinate the shimp in pesto. I cooked them in a separate pan and added a bit of lime to balance out the flavours. Once plated, I garnished the dish with fresh watercress, along with the lime-pesto shrimp. A sprinkling of fleur de sel added the final touch.

Tonight's dinner, out on the balcony, was absolutely perfect. This was the first time that I cooked something and felt that it was worthy to be served at a restaurant. Along with the sauvignon blanc, it was a flawless meal; perfectly fitting for our quasi-father's day dinner in our home.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

get in my tummy

As I'm sure you are all well aware, we love our ribs. After our previous experience with smoking using wood chips, we thought we should put the method to good use and slow smoke a rack of ribs. As with the whole chickens, we soaked the wood chips for a half hour and made a pouch out of aluminum foil and punched some holes to let the smoke out. The pouch went straight on the stones, under the grate and the lid stay closed, for the most part, to trap the hickory flavour inside.

A dry rub went on first and indirect heat allowed for a long, slow cooking process while the smoke permeated the meat.

An hour and half later, once the meat started turning a deep red, we basted the ribs using our own version of bbq sauce. We doctored a store-bought sauce by adding chipotle peppers, honey and five-spice to add some zing to an otherwise ordinary sauce.

Contrary to what most people think, these baby-back ribs (from Costco) had very little fat and TONS of flavour.

We encourage you to try slow-smoking on your bbq and you'll see the difference indirect heat makes when grilling meat long and slow.

how im'press'ive

As I gradually got out of bed late this morning after a solid sleep, Dina was out on the balcony reading a book. Being the wonderful husband I (often) am, I thought an early lunch would be in order. Last night Dina mentioned that she would love a grilled panini for lunch on Saturday, so I donned the apron and started to assemble the sandwich of all sandwiches.

I often wonder how Dina can take simple ingredients and make the most delicious sandwich I have ever had in minutes flat while it takes me at least 20 minutes to put together a lackluster one. So today I decided that it was time to exceed expectations and quickly prepare a delectable italian-style sandwich with "melt-in-your-mouth" written all over it.

I whipped out last year's Christmas present from Dina, a stunningly shiny panini press with all the bells and whistles you need to create a crunchy, melty panini sandwich and got to work. I clipped a bunch of fresh basil leaves from our makeshift garden and sliced up a ripe red tomato. Slices of jarlsberg cheese and generous dollops of creamy goat cheese for the melty factor and simple s&p to taste and we were in business. A brushing of extra virgin olive oil on top of the triangles of ciabbata bread helped create a toasty outside.

The result: the classic flavor of a tomato-boconccini salad in a panini. The basil, tomato and cheeses combined to make a mild and gooey centre between the perfectly grilled crunchiness of the bread. A glass of ice cold lemonade and we had the perfect lunch out on the sunny patio.

I might actually be the new sandwich chef of the family after this achievement. Then again, I have some tough competition.

15 days later...

It's been 15 days since we first planted our flowers and herbs so I thought I'd give everyone an update, like I promised I would.

And the verdict is.....

...a resounding success!!

Not too bad for a person with a black thumb! Now, I wonder how much these plants and flowers will miss us while we're away...

Friday, June 15, 2007

a wimp of a shrimp

Jumbo shrimp. A true oxymoron. But a delicious one at that. We picked up some frozen raw colossal shrimp and visions of tender sweet grilled jumbo shrimp danced in our heads as we pondered the possibilities.

I cranked up the bbq to high and let it preheat for a while as we marinated the shrimp. We combined lime zest, chili flakes, garlic, lime juice and bit of rum and let the shrimps bathe for a while. We could already taste it.

After 15 minutes in the marinade, I transferred the shrimp to the grill and let the fire do its work. The greyness slowly blended into a bright pink and less than 10 minutes later we were ready to dig in. A side salad made the perfect accompaniment.

Unfortunately, these shrimp didn't quite meet our expectations. I'm not sure if it was a lack of punch in the marinade or not enough time on the grill, but the flavour was somewhat lacking. We still have more of these in the freezer, so I hope to get some suggestions from you foodies out there on how to improve the next time around. Hey, you can't win them all.

(Maybe we'll get some ideas when we feast on the fresh seafood in Portugal).

a home run

Earlier today, I received a call from some old friends that were in town. With Mony having a softball game tonight, I thought it would be a great opportunity to have them over for some drinks.

After work, I quickly came home to tidy up and rummage through the fridge to see what I could serve them...I did not want them to leave with empty tummies. Hidden away, in the corner, was last week's spontaneous purchase of halloumi cheese that we hadn't gotten around to using just yet. Halloumi is a hard, Greek cheese with a higher melting point so it is ideal for the bbq.

While waiting for the bbq to heat up, I sliced the cheese into half inch slices and marinated them in lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic. After a while, they were quickly grilled on the bbq. It melted a bit but nothing like regular cheese would. I think next time I'll cut the slices thicker to not have this problem again. Once done, I placed the cheese on toasted sour dough bread and drizzled it with the remaining marinade. Dill was added at the end for that final touch.

The cheese was not overly gooey, but it was delicious. The bbq gave it a smoky taste...and it was the perfect balcony snack with an ice cold drink and good conversation.

After my guests left, I decided to go check out Mony's softball game. He's had a handful of games already, but I've never had the chance to see him play. It was a beautiful night and I thought I'd be a good luck charm to him since they've had an awful losing streak lately.

I love surprising him as his reaction is always so genuine. Unfortunately, I was not much of a charm as they struggled through most of the innings. After about 2 hours, I decided to get myself home...the mosquitos were hungry and out in full force.

Overall, it was a nice night and it was admirable to see Mony 'in action'.
Go Big Blue Go!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

what the falafel?!?

I had this brilliant idea today to get some takeout for dinner. Mony was working late and I was looking forward to catching up with friends until he came home. I was not in the mood to cook tonight, but I also didn't want to cave into inedible fast food. That's when I remembered my mother-in-law raving about a falafel dinner they had recently that was delicious and cheap. I was hesitant to try it as I loathe bad falafels...they are like heavy, greasy hockey pucks and I really didn't want a heartburn-induced meal. Nonetheless, I decided to check out the place.

As soon as I walked in, I knew that this place was a gem. In the backgound, loudly playing on the tv, was a Lebanese television show. It was like walking into a small street restaurant in Beirut. I quickly took a look at the menu board and noticed that they only had a handful of choices, all revolving around falafels. To some this would be a disappointment, but for me this is a bonus. One of my biggest dining-out pet peeves is when a 'restaurant' specializes in a million different dishes. You know those restaurants...the ones that proudly boast the best everything -- pizza, subs, pasta, etc. How can they be good at everything??

This little (and I use this word liberally) restaurant truly specializes in falafels and everything to do with them. I ordered the falafels to go, along with all the trimmings to make the sandwiches at home ourselves. The trimmings included whole wheat pita, tahini sauce, pickled turnips, chopped curly parsley, mint leaves, sliced tomatoes, and spicy chili peppers. To my pleasant surprise, once my order was placed, the cute Lebanese lady actually freshly cooked my falafels right in front of me. I felt like a visitor in her home.

There is a spot in my heart for really good falafels and this place now resides there (move over Mony). The falafels were crispy and light with just the right amount of chickpea taste.

They were as perfect as falafels could be...and it was all less than $10. You just can't beat that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

hamburger tuesday's

Hamburger Tuesday.
I think this should be a National holiday.

Hamburgers are delicious but what makes them so good? Is it a thick patty or a soft bun? Is it crispy onions or sweet tomatoes? Everyone has their own version of a perfect burger. And ours is pretty simple.....lean ground beef with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Condiments include swiss cheese, red onions, tomatoes, pickles, iceburg lettuce plus all the basics like honey mustard, ketchup, and mayo.

The hamburger bun plays a large part in the enjoyment of a burger. This one was a new discovery for us. PC brand now has a thin bun that is not only whole wheat but it is loaded with 10 grains. The lean bun is wonderful because you actually taste the burger and you're not just eating a mouthful of soft squishy bread.

To add to the nostalgia, we made ice cold rootbeer floats. Whoever thought to put ice cream (frozen yogurt in our case) into a glass of soda is a genious. It's that good.

the good life

For some reason I feel as though I'm already vacationing. My mind is constantly in Portugal with this great weather we've been having.
This morning I thought I'd have breakfast out on the balcony. It was so nice. The birds were chirping, people were getting ready for work, and I was enjoying my life.

Breakfast included a slice of toast smeared with goat cheese and a drizzle of honey. And of course my essential cup of coffee.

The soft goat cheese was salty and creamy, a perfect balance for the sweet, earthy honey. The bread was a whole grain loaf from a nearby bakery.

I rarely have breakfast but this is something that I really love.
It's a great way to start the day.

Monday, June 11, 2007

aging isn't always a bad thing

A while back, my friend, Mike, tried to sell me on a method of cooking steaks. He went on to tell me that he lets the steaks sit in the refrigerator for over a week (a method called dry-aging). My first thought was - Gross! Can anyone say e-coli?? But after listening to him go on and on and rave about this method, I became curious. After all, he was still kicking and he's never had food poisining.

So last week we decided to try it. We took out the steaks from the freezer and allowed them to defrost in the fridge. Our intentions were to defrost them on Monday, age them for 3 days (much less than what Mike suggests) and cook them up on Thursday. That was the plan - but what ever goes according to plan? Instead of 3-day aging, the steaks sat there all week. Mony had become ill last week and the thought of eating a steak was not appealing at all. So we waited it out, thinking that we would just chuck them if they started smelling foul. Oddly enough, after a week in the fridge they looked great and smelled perfectly fine.

With the intention of having them for dinner tonight, we took a look at them after work. The moisture from the steaks had disappeared and the steaks looked very dry.
We were wary.
We were very wary.
But we went ahead with it...
and we are so glad we did.

This was probably the best steak we've ever cooked - and don't even get me started on lack-luster restaurant steaks that are supposedly dry-aged and charge you an arm and a leg. This cut was a rib-eye but tasted as good as a porterhouse. So incredibly juicy and flavourful. This is what steak is supposed to taste like....

On the side, we grilled some romaine hearts. I had read an article in June's edition of Gourmet magazine that talked about a grilled romaine cesear salad. We didn't use a cesear dressing but instead used a simple vinaigrette made with red wine vinegar and artichoke tapenade.

It was a great Monday meal -- even though we didn't even come close to finishing our steaks. Who cares? Tomorrow's lunch is going to make everyone in the office jealous!