Month: March 2010

My Noodly Appendage

I’ve always been known to keep a well stocked fridge and pantry. Among other basic necessities, you’ll rarely find me lacking any of the following foods: assorted cheeses, frozen vegetables, multiple bags of pasta and jars of Classico tomato sauce. [A note on the latter: though I’m a stickler for homemade, those chefs over at Classico really know what they’re doing. Though I wasn’t paid to say that, I’d just like to inform the fine folks over at Classico that I really wouldn’t mind some free sauce. Or a coupon. You know, both are good!]

All I had was an hour, but all I wanted was pasta. With some garlic toast. And maybe even a little use-up-the-veggies-up-before-they-wilt salad. I thought it would be as fast as boiling some noodles and opening up a jar. Alas, I was jar-less. My Classico supply had been depleted.

That’s when I hit the vodka… 

Paired it with tomatoes and cream and turned it into a velvety smooth sauce!
Though the actual preparation is quick, if you have the time I highly recommend that you make this earlier on in the day and let it simmer over low heat in order for the sauce to thicken and the flavours to enhance. I served mine over spinach fettucine (to add a splash of colour & pizzazz to the plate… yes, I just used the word pizzazz) with a side of pumpernickel toasted with garlic butter and a hint of shredded cheese. I balanced it all out with a cherry tomato, avocado & romaine salad tossed with Renee‘s naturally low-cal cucumber, dill & yogourt dressing.


Nutrition facts about this meal

Pasta myths debunked: Spinach pasta is not any healthier than regular pasta – the spinach is mostly used for the colour, though the spinach content does add a small ammount of vitamin A and some iron. I choose spinach pasta because I prefer the taste and texture, but you may prefer the enriched semolina (regular) variety. If you’re looking to add fibre to your diet, whole-wheat pasta is the choice for you. The “healthiest” pasta in my opinion is quinoa pasta, as it contains the most nutrients overall – however, this is not to say that you should banish pasta from your diet. In a well-balanced meal like this one, pasta can be a satisfying and healthy choice, no matter what variety you use.

Vitamins & Nutrients: Lutein, the compound that gives tomatoes their bright red colour, is a vitamin that is said to reduce the risk of serious eye disease. This sauce is chock-full of it! The avocados in your salad are a source of HEALTHY fat – the kind that helps to unclog your arteries, as well as 20 other minerals and nutrients. Contrary to popular beleif – eating avocados will not make you fat! The yogourt in the dressing is a source of “good” bacteria that help with food digestion, and is low in saturated (unhealthy) fat. People who are slightly lactose intolerant can often digest yogourt due to it’s bacterial content.

Drunken Tomato Sauce 
note: you can add other vegetables into this sauce while simmering, such as diced carrots, crushed garlic, chopped spinach, etc. I kept the recipe simple because that’s how I like it but I’ll leave it to your discretion to make it your own! 

what you’ll need
•    1 large can plum tomatoes (other varieties will do, but this is my recommendation)
•    1 large onion, diced
•    1 tbsp vegetable oil
•    1 tsp sugar
•    1/2 cup cream (at least 10%, use 35% if you prefer a creamier sauce)
•    1/4 cup vodka
•    2 tsp sea salt or kosher salt
•    dash tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
•    handful of fresh basil, chopped (optional)

how to do it
In medium saucepan, heat oil on medium and add onions. Sprinkle with sugar and cook until soft. Add tomatoes, breaking up with mixing spoon. Stir in tabasco & vodka. Simmer until tomatoes begin to break down. Bring cream to room temperature while simmering. Once sauce has reached desired consistency, slowly stir it, one tbsp at a time, into cream, just until the cream is warm. This will ensure that the cream does not curdle upon entering the hot pot. Whisk cream into sauce, slowly, little by little. Add salt and basil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until ready to serve. Garnish with grated fresh parmesan cheese.

Sweet Tart

I am not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but this year, I quietly promised myself that I would learn as many new skills as I can. This vow came in an effort to better myself as a teacher and an artist… and may also have been slightly backed by my desire to add some pretty pictures to my portfolio. So far, I have explored watercolour painting (frustrating, yet so pretty when it’s done right), charcoal drawing (tried once before, but the mess has always kept me away), metal embossing (time-consuming but relaxing), and most recently, knitting (just because it makes me feel so crafty). My artistic explorations have also extended into the culinary realm: until recently, I hadn’t expanded my baking repertoire further than simple cakes, cookies and muffins, always sticking to traditional, simple recipes. I’ve decided that it’s time to change that. I’ve decided that I am going to eventually learn to bake all of the basics as described Michel Roux’s “Pastry: Savory & Sweet”

I am not doing this Julie & Juila style, though the book may have inspired me somewhat, but I am doing this because of my friend Lisa, who has recently commenced pastry school, of which I am quite envious. I’ve therefore decided that Michel Roux will be my teacher, and “Pastry” will be my textbook. I will be assessed by my partner, who has no qualms telling me if something is dog-gone awful – though, let’s be honest, it rarely is –  and will be evaluated by my brother, who is perhaps the world’s pickiest eater. I will share my explorations with you, dear readers (hi mom!), and perhaps you’ll get to learn a thing or two along the way!

I have started with the most basic pastry, and, according to Roux, a sturdy one – Tart Dough, or Pate Foncee in France. I filled it with a homemade custard – a massive, chunky flop the first time around – and a delicious wild blueberry filling with a hint of cranberry (definitely a keeper.) So, without further adieu… I present to you a delectable, buttery, custard and blueberry tart. Savourez!


Tart Dough (Pate Foncée)
Note: it may look like a lot of instruction, but don’t let this intimidate you – the actual dough making is rather easy! 

what you’ll need

•    1 ¾ cups flour
•    ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature
•    1 egg at room temperature
•    1 tsp sugar
•    ½ tsp salt
•    2 ½ tbsp cold water

 
how to do it
Make a heap with the flour on the counter and create a well in the centre. Add everything except for water into the well, and work in with your fingers until dough begins to hold together. Add water, little at a time, until dough is even. Pat into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour, or until ready to use. The dough will harden in the fridge, but will soften quickly once it is taken back out (as butter does), so remove it from fridge a few minutes before rolling it out. Roll out evenly and place dough sheet into tart pan. TIPS: to transfer your dough from counter to pan: roll your dough onto your rolling pin (I used a marble rolling pin and I highly recommend it), and then roll out into the pan. Do not press down with your fingers – instead, take some extra dough, roll into a ball, and press the tart down into the pan and into the side crevaces.  Roll the pin over the top to cut off the remaining edges. Poke fork holes into the dough once it is down in the pan. This will allow the dough to breathe in the oven so it does not bubble and crack.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before baking. When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375F. Place a sheet of parchment paper over the pan that reaches long enough over the edges. Because you are baking this dough sans filling (also known as blind baking, thank you Michel!) Fill with dried beans (or dough weights) in order to weigh down the dough when baking. This is important because if you do not weigh it down, the dough might shrink and deform. The weights will ensure that the tart keeps it’s shape. Bake for 35 minutes, remove weights and paper, and return to oven for 5 more minutes in order to brown and dry the shell.
Filling
what you’ll need:
2 cups frozen wild blueberries
1/4 cup frozen cranberries
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp unflavoured gelatine

how to do it:
Dissolve cornstarch and gelatine in water. Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat until berries begin to soften and sugar dissolves. Stir intermittently. Mixture will begin to thicken. Tip: to speed up the thickening process, add an extra 1/4 tsp gelatin powder dissolved in 1/4 cup water. Remove from stovetop, cover and cool. Sauce will thicken even more upon standing. Pour into prepared pie crust, over custard if desired.

Spring Sweets

Springtime: It’s almost here. The weather is warming, the trees are budding and the sweet aroma of cow-dung fills the air. Ah yes, there is something about cow dung (or perhaps it is melting doggy doo) that triggers something nostalgic in my brain.

I love spring! I love the colours, the warmth and the fashion. Most of all, I love spring because it means that summer is just around the corner! And summer means that my garden will be in bloom. I love being able to go into the backyard and pick a myriad of vegetables to fill up my salad bowl. I love the endless vine-ripened tomatoes, the fresh chives, the large zucchinis and the abundance of mint leaves. The only downside to gardening in the North is the limit to the kinds of fruit that can be grown. Oh, how I long to have a citrus tree. Alas, until I live my dream life in a warmer climate, I’ll have to settle for the lemons at the supermarket.

Incredible things, lemons are. Their smell triggers memories of being a small child and watching my mother dust the living room table. Yet, I still want to eat them. And how! I love to squeeze a little lemon into my iced tea (a summer favorite), over a nice piece of grilled salmon (another summer love), or into a light dressing (to pour over my garden vegetables). But, give me lemons, and I will make cake.  Actually, give me a new mini bundt pan, and I’ll jump around until I can make many little cakes! I have a soft spot for exciting new kitchen gadgets. And pans. And spatulas. I love spatulas. Enough daydreaming, let us bake cake!

Lemon Poppy Seed Cakes
what you’ll need
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp finely grated lemon rind (from two small lemons)

• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 4 large eggs
• ¼ cup lemon juice
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 ½ tbsp poppy seeds
• ¾ tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp baking soda
• ½ cup sour cream

glaze
½ cup icing sugar
2½ tbsp lemon juice
how to do it
Preheat oven to 325F. Zest your lemons with a very fine cheese grater or lemon zester. In a medium bowl, pinch sugar and lemon zest together with your fingertips, until the mixture is bright yellow. Beat in softened butter until pale, then beat in eggs and lemon juice. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Fold in flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with sour cream. Do not over-mix. Pour into a 6-cup mini-bundt cake pan and bake for 28 to 30 minutes. Let cool, and invert onto countertop or large tray. If your cakes are wobbly, slice off the bottoms in order to stabilize them. In a small bowl, mix glaze by adding the lemon juice a little at a time. Drizzle over warm inverted cakes, serve and enjoy!

Superfood, Superfast.

However you pronounce it, Quinoa is one little superfood that packs a nutritious punch.

If you’re a foodie, you’re probably familiar with the grain-like substance, often served warm in place of rice, or tossed into a chilled side salad. A little bit fluffier than couscous and slightly larger than millet, quinoa is surprisingly not considered a grain. Quinoa is in the spinach family, which might explain it’s nutritional power: quinoa is a complete protein, which means that it contains all ten essential amino acids – and, it is the only known plant source that does so. This makes it an excellent choice for those of us who follow a meatless diet. Quinoa is gluten-free, low in calories and is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, manganese, riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate, zinc and dietary fibre.

Quinoa can be found in most supermarkets either in the organic/health food section or alongside the grains and rice (usually next to the couscous.) If you’re not in a prime grocery location, you can always buy quinoa online. 

What I like most about quinoa is the pseudograin’s versatility: quinoa has a rather neutral flavor on it’s own, which offers up the opportuntiy to toss it with whatever your tastebuds are craving, or whatever you have lying around in your fridge! You can serve it sweetned topped with cinnamon and raisins (think rice pudding), spiced up with chili or curry, robust with pesto, or refreshing and light with lemon, rosemary and dill. I made a slightly creamy version using some leftover sour cream and goat cheese and I added some extra colour and crunch with steamed broccoli and chopped fresh basil. So, what are you waiting for? Get it onto your plate today!


Quinoa with Goat Cheese, Basil & Broccoli

What you’ll need:
1 cup uncooked white quinoa
1½ cups water
1 tsp butter
1 cup broccoli florets
½ cup crumbled goat cheese (or more, to taste)
1/3 cup sour cream (low fat or 5% will do the trick)
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil

How to do it:
In a fine sieve, rinse quinoa well under cool water (this step is unnecessary if you’ve purchased already-rinsed quinoa). Combine quinoa, water and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to med/low and cover saucepan until quinoa expands and water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). While quinoa is cooking, steam broccoli on the stovetop or in the microwave. (To steam broccoi in microwave, place in a shallow dish with 1/4 cup water and heat on high for 1 minute.)
Toss quinoa with sour cream, cheese, basil and broccoli. Garnish with extra basil and cracked black peppercorns. Serve and enjoy!