Tuesday, July 31, 2007

all hail the kale

Last week I asked all you loyal readers what I should do with the kale I received in my CSA share. We got lots of great responses but one reader's suggestion really stuck out. Chelsey talked about a delicious soup that her mom makes, one that includes hearty potatoes, spicy sausage, and cream. I knew I wanted to make this for dinner, but a little lighter since the weather has been so hot.

My version might have been lighter but still full of flavour and beautifully highlighted kale. I'm sure Chelsey and her mom would be proud!

Kale & Sausage Soup
2 spicy sausages (medium sized links)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup lentils
1 cup water
3 cups chicken broth
1 small bunch kale, chopped coarsely (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon balsamic or red-wine vinegar
chili flakes
salt & pepper

Brown sausage until fully cooked. Drain on paper towels to get rid of excess fat. Add garlic and onion. Cook, until softened. Add water, stock, lentils, and sausage. Simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Add kale and simmer, uncovered, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in vinegar, chili flakes, and salt & pepper to taste.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

a mo'rockin' salad

When we were in Morocco, we had a lot of incredible food. One the most memorable meals we had was when we arrived late at our riad, after a long flight delay, and had a traditional Moroccan meal. The meal started off with an assortment of salads, one of which was a cold carrot salad that was divine. It was the start of a wonderful epicurean adventure, much of which revolved around turmeric and cumin.

This week when we received beets in our CSA share, I knew I wanted to reenact the traditional Moroccan flavours to make something similar to what we had in Marrakech.

The beets were cleaned and roasted in a baking sheets alongside some carrots. A bit of water was added to the baking sheet and covered with foil. This helps control the roasting and helps it stay moist and not get too caramelized. The roasting took about 25 minutes, and as soon as the beets were cool enough to handle, they were peeled and quartered. The vinaigrette consisted of cumin, turmeric, harissa, honey, lemon juice, and salt & pepper. It was poured over the warm vegetables and left to cool in the refrigerator.

The memories came flooding back as soon as we took one bite of the salad. Both earthy and aromatic at once, the carrots and beets were tender, but not mushy and the Moroccan flavours came through beautifully.

butter me up

A few weeks back, the New York Times had an article on how easy (& tasty) it was to make butter. I was very intrigued over how such a simple process could result in such a wonderful, creamy product. In our household, we try not to consume too much butter throughout the week but I would much rather eat real, fresh butter over chemically altered, full of preservatives, low fat margarine on my toast any day. We're all about whole foods and moderation and so this recipe really appealed to the Martha Stewart in me.

After doing some research on the topic, I learned that in order make a more flavorful pro-biotic butter the cream would need to be cultured. It sounds complicated but it's super simple. Take some yogurt, mix it in with the cream and let it sit on the counter for about 18 hours. Once the 18 hours are up, you'll have a mixture the consistency of creme fraiche - thick and rich. Chill it for a few hours and in no time you'll be ready to make butter.

Pour the chilled cream mixture in your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Start it on a medium-low setting and be patient. After about 5 minutes or so, the cream will separate into butter milk and milk solids.

Once you get to this stage, you're just about done. Strain the butter and wash it a few times in cold water (that will help prolong the shelf life). And that's it, you're ready to enjoy the sweet, fresh taste of real butter. At this point, we added some fleur de sel to get salted butter.

I promise you, it's like nothing you've ever had before and it'll be hard to go back to the overpriced, no taste, grocery store variety.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

lamb, bam, thank-you ma'am

We waited all week to make use out of a bunch of lamb loin chops we had in the freezer and got to thinking about all the ways we could showcase this beautiful cut of meat. We had an itch for some indian flavours and since lamb is a staple in indian cooking, it was a perfect combination to put together.

A simple grilling preparation with some s&p and fresh rosemary was just what the doctor ordered. An indian-inspired sauce drizzled all over the hot chops would make the perfect finale, so Dina got to work prepping the sauce.

Masala Cream Sauce

This sauce was inspired by Vij's Fenugreek Cream Curry.

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp lemon juice

1. In a pan, sautée garlic in oil until lightly browned.
2. In a separate bowl, combine cream, spices and lemon juice.
3. Add cream mixture to pan and stir on low to medium heat for a few minutes.
4. Make sure the heat is not too high, or else the cream will separate.
5. When sauce slightly thickens, turn off the heat.

We drizzled the hot sauce over the chops right when they came off the grill. The result was delectable—mild and aromatic from the cream and Indian spices and the delicious grilled flavour of the chops.

And...the chops were cooked to perfection! High heat for 3-4 minutes on each side for a slightly seared exterior and a perfectly pink and juicy interior.

Friday, July 27, 2007

a little mi(steak)

It's been a while since we've had steak night and given the sweltering summer heat, it was a good day to grill up a couple of enormous rib steaks.

Dina took the liberty of marinating the steaks in advance in a tuscan-like wet rub. In a mortar and pestle she mashed 2 cloves of garlic and some salt until it became a paste. Then, she added fresh basil leaves, a few chili flakes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and blended it all until it came together.

The rub went all over both sides of the steaks and they marinated for about 10 minutes as I fired up the grill to preheat.

When the bbq was hot enough (place your hand a few inches above the grill and start counting...if you can make it to 5 seconds before it gets too hot, the grill is at the right temperature) I threw the steaks on and left them alone for about 7 minutes. Then a flip and another 5 minutes. We then let them sit for a couple of minutes to let the juices redistribute themselves.

Although Dina flavoured the steaks beautifully, unfortunately, I seem to be losing my touch when it comes to cooking them just right. They both turned out to be closer to well done rather than the medium-rare that Dina prefers and the medium that I enjoy.

Any fool-proof methods for cooking to the right doneness?

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Earlier this month, when we were in Portugal, we became familiar with these terracotta cooking plates. We first encountered the plates at this little beach front restaurant that served killer garlic prawns. The prawns came sizzling to our table in these hot terracotta plates - we were all very intrigued. We later found out that these plates were cooked directly on the stove, although it could easily be used in the oven as well. We decided, then and there, to seek out these amazing cooking vessels and bring home a little taste of Portugal.

We did end up bringing 2 of these terracotta plates home and ever since then, I've been dying to get the opportunity to use them. I was a bit afraid to use them on my glass stove (it has a rough bottom) although I knew that the oven would be just as good. However, since we've been having some crazy hot weather in Montreal, I decided to try making something with it on the bbq.

I knew I wanted to do something with shrimp since the cooking time would be shorter...and I also knew that I wanted dinner to have a Greek flare. We sort of made up the recipe as we went along (that's half the fun, isn't it?) and it turned out really well, and super easy to boot. To those of you that are not lucky enough to own terracotta plates, this recipe could easily be adapted to be made in the oven in a regular casserole dish. Give it a try...it's easy, healthy, and delicious.

Greek Shrimp

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 Tomatoes, diced
1 Onion, sliced
3 Garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Mushrooms, sliced
1/2 lbs Shrimp, peeled (tails remaining)
Crumbled Feta
Salt & Pepper
Lemon wedge

Sautee garlic in olive oil until fragrant. Add sliced onions and brown until slightly caramelized. Add chopped tomatoes along with mushrooms; cook till soft and tender. Season to taste. Add shrimp to pan and sprinkle with crumbled feta. (If using oven method, put pan in oven until shrimp is cooked - about 10 minutes) Once the shrimp is cooked and the feta slightly melted, add the final touches of parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
Enjoy over rice or with a crusty loaf of bread.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

stir-fry, our way

I love cooking on Wednesdays. We get our CSA baskets and get to decide what to make with the surprise bounty. Tonight it was an obvious choice with the beautifully tight broccoli head, purple beans, swiss chard, and left over bok choy from last week. I am not a purist when it comes to stir-fry recipes. I don't believe that only certain items can be put into it for it to be authentic. I use anything and everything and I'm always happy with the results. It's a great way to get your veggies in, not to mention all the healthy vitamins and anti-oxidents.

Chicken & Veggie Stir-fry

2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp minced ginger, root
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 lb. lean ground chicken
1/3 cup oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
4 large bok choy
1 cup green beans
1 red pepper, sliced
1 broccoli head
1 cup chopped swiss chard
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp chives, chopped
In a large wok, stir-fry ground chicken, breaking up meat, for 4 minutes or until no longer pink. Empty into a bowl and drain off fat.
In the same wok, heat oil over high heat; stir-fry ginger, garlic and onion for 30 seconds. Add all veggies, except swiss chard, and cook for 3 minutes. Add oyster sauce and soy sauce; bring to a boil. Add swiss chard and cook until wilted.
Dissolve cornstarch in water and stir into wok. Stir for 1 minute until thickened. Add chives and enjoy!

Mony likes his stir-fry topped with chopped peanuts, while I like a healthy dose of spicy Sriracha.

CSA: Week 4

This week's CSA share included:

* Purple Broccoli
* Beets
* Kale
* Swiss Chard
* Purple Beans
* Zucchini
* Patty Squash
* Chives
* Parsley
* Basil
* Fennel Fronds

We received a good variety this week. I'm excited to try the beets but does anyone know if the beet greens are edible? Also, what do you do with kale?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

welcoming 29

These are the flowers that I received from my husband for my birthday, today. I usually would not blog about flowers but they are just so beautiful; I had to show everyone what a good job he did!

It was such a pleasant surprise to see him come home with such a pretty bouquet...it was a nice start to the evening...a nice start to a new year.

Our plans tonight were to head back out to that special little Italian restaurant and enjoy a relaxing evening. It was nice to be greeted with heartwarming smiles upon returning there. Luigi was back at the door and led us to a cozy little table. This is the type of restaurant that you think you should see Tony Soprano sitting at a little corner table sipping red wine, and slurping his pasta. His homemade pasta - everything is homemade, down to the bread. It feels as though you're entering a friend's home and no request is denied.

We started the evening with the Frittura Mista, which is various seafoods lightly battered and fried. It was good, but I probably would not order it again. It was a bit too heavy as a starter, for my taste.

For our mains, we both had veal. Mine was with a Porto sauce, while Mony's was in a Sorrentino sauce. The porto sauce was not sweet at all since it was mixed with a demi-glace.

The sorrentino was made with tomatoes, cream, and cheese. The tomato sauce was so simple, yet incredibly delicious. We later learned that it only had 3 ingredients - tomatoes, onions, and garlic. That's it.

The wine for the evening was 2 glasses of Primitivo. When Luigi found out that it was a special occasion he topped off our glasses which was a very nice gesture. That is the type of family-owned restaurant this is. Luigi even remembered what I ordered when we were last there.
is the type of place this is.
You become family.

will work for (birthday) cake

One of the many things that I want to accomplish this year, before turning 30, is to become a skillful baker. I've taken little steps here and there, trying simple recipes, and so far everything has been edible but nothing too exciting. There have been small mis-haps along the way and minor emergencies in the kitchen but I still cannot say that it has made me into a better baker. I'm still learning and I hope to use this year to expand on my baking abilities - or at least learn how to follow a recipe to a tee.

So this week when asked what kind of birthday cake I want, I used this as an opportunity to try out a new recipe. Yes, I baked my own birthday cake...doesn't everyone?!? Well, I'm sure Martha does.

I looked up a few recipes for a layer cake but nothing really appealed to me...the thought of having to wash 3 bowls just didn't sit well with me. I then came across Dorie Greenspan's blog that talked about a simple cake that requires no more time then the time it takes for guests to get settled into your home. I love everything Dorie, so I knew that this would be a great cake. I tried my hardest to stick to the original recipe but I just couldn't. The thought of making it into a lemon-raspberry version took over my head and I started adding ingredients without thinking twice about it. Apparently when you bake, you're not supposed to do this...but I just can't help it. So I made Dorie's Visitor cake into a lemon-raspberry version with a lemon cream cheese glaze.

The cake was simply decorated with beautiful, purple, marjoram flowers...how very gourmet of me.

Now, I don't know if Dorie's version is this rich but this cake is buttery, moist, and just down right sinful. The cream cheese icing with the layer of fresh raspberries just brings it over the top...

Monday, July 23, 2007

almost peachy

One of the things that I wanted for a while now was a beautiful tart pan. I've been constantly talking about what I would make with one and I guess Mony got sick of hearing about it, so he went out and got me one. I was so excited that I needed to make something with it right away.

Since peaches are so wonderful right now, so juicy and sweet, I thought it would be best to make something showcasing them. I chose to make a simple peach tart with a pâte brisee.

The dough was one of the simplest that I've ever made. It was made in the food processor - 1/2 cup of cold butter, 1 cup flour, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and enough cold water to bring it all together. Let it rest in the fridge for an hour for the butter to firm up again. Once ready, roll it out, put it into the tart pan, and stick it in the freezer for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice your peaches and add sugar to taste. Our peaches were so sweet that they didn't need any additional sugar. Arrange the slices in a concentric circle, using two layers of peaches. Bake for 45 minutes, or until slightly brown. I added a glaze of loosened apricot jam at the end to give that finished, shiny look.

So how was it?

The taste was right on, and the crust was perfectly baked but since the peaches were so succulent, they released a lot of juices and the crust got a bit moist and not as crisp as it should have been. Does anyone know if this preventable? I really want to be able to make this again, maybe using apples, but I'm afraid of the leakage issue. Anyone have any tips?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

dinner at mama's

So after sweating a couple of pounds off in the kitchen yesterday, we thought it would be a good idea to give the pots and pans a break and head out for a nice Italian dinner. Dina had recently discovered a little family-owned restaurant in the west island and I made reservations for her birthday this coming Tuesday. However, we were really in the mood for a nice bowl of pasta, so we thought we'd give the place a shot for an early dinner today to see if it was worth the birthday excursion.

Gaudio's is a tiny, homey Italian bistro in Pierrefonds, on St. Charles Blvd., where the owner and his wife greet you at the door and shake your hand, as though they are welcoming you into their home. We were a little taken aback when Luigi said, "You must be Mony!" as we walked in, but we soon deduced that he must have seen my name on his call display when we called this afternoon to find out what time they opened for dinner.

From the ice water with slices of lemon and lime to the bruschetta appetizer to the warm bread, things boded well for the evening. But we really knew this was the place to be when Luigi got choked up describing some of the dishes on the menu. You could tell this man loves what he does and does what he loves.

Our choice from the long list of antipasti was proscuitto wrapped around a mixture of mascarpone, ricotta and mushrooms, dotted with a sauce made from mangos. Hearty and unique, this definitely got our appetites going.

Dina chose a creamy and delicate home-made tagliatella with salmon, capers and goat cheese, which came in such a generous portion that she could only manage to consume half of it, much to the surprise of the young waiter (who must have been Luigi's son).

My choice was spaghetti gaudio, which was covered with a rich tomato and vegetable ragu with a large meatball and sausage pieces throughout, all made by mama in the kitchen. Delicious.

No meal is complete without dessert. Dina chose a home-made dark chocolate sour cream cake and I had an elegant bowl of tiramisu. Like the creative couple we are, we switched desserts halfway and decided that the moist chocolate cake must have been baked for me. It was just perfect.

Gaudio's lived up to our expectations. In fact, we already have an idea what we plan on having on Tuesday. You'll be the first to hear about it.