Tuesday, October 30, 2007

a sea of shrimp

This past weekend we had a craving for a simple dinner: a pile of spicy peel-it-yourself shrimp. Along with some delectable garlic-cheese bread, we quickly tossed a generous portion of shrimp into the oven for 15 minutes and dinner was ready.

This recipe came from the lovely pioneer woman. The secret to these spicy and savoury shrimp is combining them with olive oil, lots of black pepper, garlic powder, vermouth, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. We lined them up on a baking sheet and that's all the prep time we needed.

As for the garlic bread...a simple combination of shredded mozarella and parmesan cheese, garlic and butter was all it took to produce a delectably cheesy garlic bread to sop up all those juices from the shrimp.

Spicy, peppery and tender, these shrimp were too delicious for words and are a must-try for all you fellow shrimp lovers out there.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

what is this??

This week's CSA package resulted in a few things that we have no idea what to do with. What is this?

I have no idea what to do with these beans. What type are they?

We also got some acorn squash...what do you do with this?

I'm scared. Please help.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

tequila sunset

A few weeks back, Dina and I hosted a dinner for some friends. It was time for me to whip out my famous, bursting with flavour, tequila-lime pasta. This is a never-fail recipe that combines the tang of lime juice and the unmistakable bite of tequila in a creamy, velvety sauce. The secret to this recipe is what I call the "flavour paste" which is put together first. This recipe was inspired by a dish I once had at California Pizza Kitchen when I was in Chicago a few years ago.

Here's how it's done:

Tequila-Lime Pasta with Shrimp

Flavour Paste:

1 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
1/2 cup tequila (you may also use rum or vodka)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup lime juice (about 3-4 limes)

Sautee garlic, coriander and jalapenos in olive oil in large pan on medium-high until translucent and slightly softened (about 5 minutes, stirring often). Add tequila, broth and lime juice and reduce until mixture turns thick, about 5-7 minutes. Once paste is thick, remove from pan and set aside.

Putting it all together:

3 bell peppers (yellow, red and orange) thinly sliced
1 medium red onion thinly sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 pound of large, raw shelled shrimp
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 box of linguini, fettucini or spaghetti

Place thawed shrimp in small bowl and marinate in soy sauce for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, boil pasta until al dente. Sautee peppers and onions in oil on medium heat in large pan until slightly softened (about 5-7 minutes). Add flavour paste and combine thoroughly. Remove pan from heat, add cream and stir until vegetables are well coated. Increase heat until sauce comes to a gentle boil. Cook for about 10 minutes until sauce thickens slightly, then add shrimp and soy sauce. When shrimp turns pink, add well-drained pasta, mix well and serve immediately.

One of the interesting things about this recipe is that it has HUGE flavour with no additional salt or pepper. The soy sauce adds just the right amount of saltiness while the garlic, lime juice, tequila and coriander makes for an incredible balance of flavour.

Want to make it your own? Here are some substitution suggestions:

Brandy or Grand Marnier for the tequila
Scallops, clams, or chicken breast for the shrimp
Lemon juice or orange juice for the lime juice

Just make sure to balance out the sweet with the tangy, so brandy and orange juice would probably make for an overly sweet sauce.

So this winter, when you're feeling cooped up and the snow is waist high, just stay in and indulge in this creamy, tangy and substantial pasta dish and, somehow, springtime will be just a little bit closer.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

presto pasta sauce

When most people think of sauce, they think slow, long...a whole day event. While I love those Sunday cooking afternoon's, sometimes you need something quick and easy for a weekday meal. This recipe is from the king himself, Mario Batali. I love this recipe because it is flavorful and yet simple enough to make after a long day at work.

Basic Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped in 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
Two 28-ounce cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved

In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Season with salt and serve.

A few changes we made...
We added a lot of chili flakes because we like it spicy!
We used our canned San Marzano tomatoes.
We left the sauce a bit chunky, but you can process it to have a smoother consistency.
We added fresh parsley to the sauce and a dollop of basil pesto to the finished dish.

I love everything Mario Batali (bright orange clogs included) so I may be a bit biased for this recipe. It is homey, simple, and delicious. What more could you want?

Do you have a favorite tomato sauce recipe?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

the weekend scoop

It was an early morning of extreme house cleaning; getting prepped for our first open house on our condo. We were expecting a handful of buyers and were excited about the possibilities.

The afternoon came and went and although it was somewhat successful, we felt we needed some comfort in the form of ice cream. Oh, I forgot to mention that it was also a beautiful, sunny
Spring Fall day and it was just screaming for something cold and creamy.

After the open house was done and over with, we wanted to make the best of what was left of the warm day and decided to make a vanilla bean ice cream. We used a recipe from the Perfect Scoop, and as always, it was just perfect.

Vanilla Ice Cream


cups heavy cream


cup whole milk or half-and-half


cup sugar


vanilla bean, split lengthwise


tsp. vanilla extract

Pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the saucepan and add the pod to the pot. Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat and add the remaining cream, the half-and-half, and the vanilla extract. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, for at least eight hours or overnight. When ready to churn, remove the vanilla pod (reserve the bean for another use), then freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

This ice cream was just what we needed. It was creamy and rich with just the perfect amount of sweetness. The vanilla specks were lovely and added that professional touch. I highly recommend this recipe to anyone that is looking for an easy yet tasty vanilla ice cream recipe.

Oh, and they say that the smell of something baking draws people into your home -- well, we fell for it and baked some chocolate chip cookies. They were soft and moist and M says that they made really good ice cream sandwiches!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

summer, winter, spring, and fall

Okay, I was wrong. I admit it. The weather hasn't taken a turn for the worst - oddly, it was actually really nice out today...very Spring like. I finished work earlier than usual and decided that it would be nice to go home and actually cook.

After a week of lots of left-overs and take-out, it was nice to get into the kitchen and make something with my own two hands. Sometimes the best remedy for a hard week is lots of chopping and stirring.

This week's CSA share left us with a bounty of beets, carrots, and other root vegetables. I decided to make a roasted side dish with beets, carrots, and onions.

The recipe is adapted from an old Gourmet magazine.

Beet Salad

2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 large carrots, cut into chunks
2lbs red beets

3 oz crumbled feta (1/2 cup)

Whisk together vinegar, mustard, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, then add 3 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well. Cook onions with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes.
Roast beets and carrots together until soft, approx. 45-60 minutes.
Add onions to dressing, then add beets and carrots, stirring gently to combine.

Sprinkle Greek feta over top and enjoy.

The salad was very fresh tasting and yet also very earthy. It was perfect for a day like today where we're not sure what season it is anymore. The dressing was quite tangy; a perfect balance to the sweet vegetables.

It's a great side dish, any time of the year.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

calling all expert omelette makers

This past Sunday, we had a moment of sunshine that we thought we should take advantage of. We knew that this would probably be the last time this year (maybe even forever!) that we would be able to dine al fresco on our balcony. So we hurried up and made a quick and easy brunch omelette and a huge pot of coffee.

Okay, so this is going to be hard to believe but with everything that we're able to cook, an omelette is not one of them. Shocking but neither one of us has ever made one before. Of course we've ordered them in restaurants but never felt the need to make one at home - well, until now.

How hard could it actually be?

This is the point where I tell you that I don't think I'll be making an omelette again any time soon. Don't get me wrong, the filling was delicious (we used fresh basil, aged cheddar and a smear of pesto) but the eggs were dry and over cooked.

How do they make the eggs stay light and fluffy and have a melty filling?

The eggs were way to dry for my taste, so I only ate the filling around the eggs. Even the cats wanted nothing to do with the eggs...they're becoming little food snobs.

I'll try making this again, but only if I get some good tips. So all you expert omelette makers, please help me make an omelette that is deliciously light and fluffy, with a gooey filling...well, at this point, I'd settle for even just an omelette that is edible...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

he leeks it, he really leeks it

With a 180 degree turn in the weather last weekend, Monday night's dinner was a comforting bowl of Potato Leek soup. This is one of my favorite soups and with the abundance of potatoes and leeks from our weekly CSA basket, it was an obvious choice on what to make for dinner. The stock was homemade from the weekend's turkey feast, but you could easily use store bought chicken stock for convenience.

Potato Leek Soup

3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced (about 4 1/2 cups)
2 large potatoes, peeled, diced
4 1/2 cups (or more) chicken stock

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic; stir to coat with butter. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4 1/2 cups stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in a processor until smooth or with a hand blender. Thin with additional stock if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Bring soup back to simmer.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh chives.

We were out of chives so we substituted with chopped scallions. We also added a sprinkle of shredded aged cheddar, and a tiny drizzle of a good quality olive oil.

It was a delicious, warming soup - a perfect meal for the chilly Fall season.

And Mony liked it, he really liked it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

challah: take two

One of the tasks that I wanted to tackle yesterday (on my day off) was to try making challah bread again. This time, I used the same recipe but decided to hand knead the dough, rather then using the dough hook on my beloved KitchenAid mixer.

I'm happy to report that the challah came out even better than my previous attempt. This time, it was soft and fluffy, and just downright beautiful to look at. I also decided to bake it as a round braided challah rather than a long loaf as that is much easier to handle. I kind of like the round challah better - esthetically it looks much more professional this way.

A sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds added that final touch.

Even Ms. Salty couldn't keep her eyes and nose away...

If you try this recipe, I would definitely suggest hand kneading over a mixer attachment. The end result is worth the little extra effort.

Monday, October 8, 2007

the lopsided turkey

When all the dishes were put away and the last sip of wine drunk, I think we could say that it was a successful evening. No real mishaps, except for a too-tart tart and a one-winged turkey.

Yes, you read that right...a 1 winged turkey.

Who would have thought that from all the turkeys to choose from, I would choose the one who lost his wing. Poor guy; wingless and eaten for Thanksgiving.

The menu:

Garlic green beans with slivered almonds
Maple roasted carrots
Parmesan & chive mashed potatoes
Roasted butternut squash
Mixed greens with clementine and red onion
Bread stuffing with sausage and fennel
Turkey gravy

Apple pie
Carrot cake
Key lime pie
Vanilla ice cream

Everything was eaten up, some things more than others but that is expected, I guess. The turkey bones are in a huge pot right now making some stock -- hopefully enough to get two different soups out of it.

I wish I has some pictures of all the side dishes as they were really delicious. The butternut squash was a last minute addition thanks to Aimée who suggested it, as well as pairing sausage and fennel in the stuffing. That was a great addition to the dish.

The highlight of dessert was an apple pie that my sister made. The crust was flaky and tender, with loads of crisp apples.

I also have to mention my too-tart key lime pie that was not the greatest tart but looked very pretty!

And a carrot cake rounded out the dessert table...

So, overall, I think it was great evening with lots of laughter and good food -- everything that we've grown to expect out of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

things to come...

A lot of you have been asking if we're okay and/or if we've abandoned the blog and I'm here to tell you all that everything is fine.

We've just been really busy.

We've always said we wouldn't be one of those bloggers -- you know, the ones that post once every few months. Well, we started off strong but lately life has gotten in the way. Lately our evenings comprise of getting in from work around 7:30pm...dinner is either leftovers or something super easy, and then after a bit, just heading to bed to start another day. Between obligations at work, family crises, and house hunting; we've been spent.

But I think we're back. Things have quieted down a bit and, well, since I've been having dreams about posting, I think it's time to get back into the swing of things...AND what a better way to do so then to host a Thanksgiving dinner this weekend (14 people!!).

This is huge for me. Thanksgiving (us wacky Canadians celebrate this weekend), for us, has always been a great excuse to overeat, overdrink, and overlaugh in our family. This is the first year that I'm hosting and it is nervewracking and exciting all at once. I suddenly feel like a grown up.

So besides the usual huge turkey, I have no idea what else is on the menu...and it's 2 days away. Any menu ideas and suggestions would be much appreciated...anything from appetizers to desserts. What tried and true recipes have gotten you through the holidays?

Long story short, look forward to posts this weekend with all the turkey-day details.

The good, the bad, and the tasty....Stay tuned - We're back, and with a huge bang.
(We're sorry about the lull, we hope you still stick around!)