Friday, March 6, 2009

Lazy day foods with BIG flavour

I haven't been in a cooking mood as of late. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I haven't been spending a lot of time at home. My hours at work have increased (yeah!) and the weather has been nicer so I've been spending more time outdoors...sometimes walking around the neighbourhood, or meeting up with pals for tea at a cafe or for a bite to eat.

Nevertheless, I did manage to whip up some quick and easy meals recently and wanted to document them and share them with you.

One dish I prepared was a quick and easy coconut tofu veggie stew which I served over brown rice. I didn't follow a recipe, I just visualized what would go well together and abracadabra instant tasty results. Creamy coconut with a spicy Indian curry kick.

Coconut Curry Stew

1 block of tofu - pressed and diced
3 tbs olive oil
1 whole onion diced
3 cloves garlic diced
1-inch knob of ginger, diced
1 zucchini cut lengthwise and sliced
3 cups veggie stock
2 tbs Patak's curry paste (whichever one you fancy)
2/3 to 1 can of coconut milk
1 tsp Thai chili sauce

1) Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in olive oil until wilted and slightly golden.
2) Add the zucchini and saute another 2 - 3 minutes.
3) Add the chili paste and stir the onions, garlic and zucchini ensuring that the paste has coated the veggies.
4) Add the stock to the pot and allow the veggies to simmer for 5 minutes.
5) Place the diced tofu cubes in the pot, place the lid on the pot and allow the whole mixture to simmer for 15 minutes.
6) Pour the coconut milk in the pot, stir and replace lid. Cook for another 10 minutes.
7) Prepare the rice as per package instructions.
8) Serve the coconut curry over the rice.
9) Add a few more drops of chili sauce if you prefer more heat.
10) Enjoy it hot!

The other meal I made was for my husband who was feeling sick and had a bad cough all week. I decided to make a lovely, fresh tasting carrot soup. I borrowed the recipe from the talented and always inspiring Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska. (Just as an aside, about a year ago - by complete fluke - I landed on Laurie's blog and after reading a couple of her posts, I came to the realization that some of Laurie's posts where about the very same Greek island that my mother is from and where I have spent many summer vacations.) Wow! Small world!

I have never met Laurie but I feel that somehow I know her based on her descriptive and interesting stories of the life and food from this particular Greek island. One day, I hope to meet Laurie in person whether it be on the island or in Alaska (perhaps as a potential car raffle winner held in Alaska each year by the Greek community). For for now, I'll just enjoy the same foods that Laurie does.

Lemony Carrot Ginger Soup (adapted from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska)

2 cups diced onions
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cups vegetable (or chicken stock)
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup plain yogurt or cream (optional)

In a Dutch oven (or pot), sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the stock, lemon peel, ginger, and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes or until the carrots are soft.

Purée the soup with a stick blender (or in a blender or food processor) until it is very smooth. Return the soup to the pot, stir in the lemon juice, and cook for five minutes. Taste and add salt, freshly ground black pepper, or lemon juice, as needed. If using yogurt or cream, stir it into the soup. Serve immediately.

Note: This soup is very delicious! It tastes as if there is orange juice in it but it's the lemon juice and zest which lends such a freshly squeezed taste. The inclusion of cinnamon is also a great addition to the soup as it enhances the carrot flavour. I also really like the crystallized ginger in the soup. There were plenty of leftovers to take with us to work the following day.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Carrot Slaw (and the case of the missing tahini jar)

After spotting a recipe for tahini ginger slaw on kickpleat's (of Everybody Likes Sandwiches) blog, I immediately developed a hankering for some.

I knew that I had NO cabbage in my fridge, but I did have two jumbo carrots. And, I knew that I had an unopened jar of tahini, which my mother had brought back from Greece last year. The question was, where did I stash the tahini jar?

After spending 10 minutes peering into every possible cupboard and pantry in the kitchen, I came to the (premature) conclusion that my dear husband has thrown it out! Grrr! Now, don't get me wrong, my husband will ask first before he disposes of something, but on occasion he will toss something if he is convinced that (a) the item has gone bad or (b) we do not need it.

Months ago, when I had brought the jar of tahini home, J had questioned me about whether we needed such a large jar of tahini. Are we really going to consume all that tahini to warrant having it take up space in our cupboard. My answer was yes!

Well, here I was, with shredded carrots in a bowl and the lemon juice and ginger and oil in another bowl, eagerly waiting for the creamy tahini to bind it all together. There was NO tahini in sight.

I called J at work. He said he did not recall tossing out the jar of tahini. I pushed on...blaming him for my current distress at not being able to complete my salad recipe. "That is your style," I argued. You're always tossing things out without asking me first!"

I was livid and wasn't thinking straight. I was also PMS-ing.

To make a long story short, I found the tahini, 5 minutes after I got off the phone with my husband. It was in a place where it should not have been...stored in a pantry drawer with my selection of teas and hot chocolate mixes. How it got there, I do not recall. Perhaps I put it there in a haste and forgot all about it. That is probably the case.

I felt so horrible afterward for blaming my husband over the MIA tahini. I sent him three e-mails at work apologizing profusely and yes, of course I blamed PMS. Wouldn't you?

So, here is what I did differently from kickpleat.

I used only carrots.
I added a handful of golden raisins.
I made her tahini dressing without the sweetener since the raisins add sweetness.
(I got angry at my husband)

dressing (adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches)
1 T tahini
juice of half a lemon
1 t minced fresh ginger
1/4 c olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste

This carrot slaw was wonderfully ginger-y. If you enjoy the robustness of ginger then this salad offers the perfect balance by combining both the sweetness from the chewy raisins and the kick from the fresh ginger. The creamy tahini offers the slightest hint of sesame aroma. Quick, simple and flavourful!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rolling out the dough: Roquefort and Pear Strudel

I seldom make time-consuming foods but on occasion I will break from tradition and try something new and different. This past week I made a strudel. No not an apple strudel...a pear strudel. With blue cheese and pecans. It was good! Quite good that I ended up eating pretty much all of it by myself.

Pears are a fruit that I rarely desire. So when I spotted this recipe for pear, pecan and Roquefort cheese in this months issue of Bon Appetite magazine, I knew this was a good way to eat pears.

1.5 tsp unsalted butter plus 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1.5 pounds firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved, cored, cut into 1/3-inch cubes
(about 3.5 cups)
6 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans
1 tbs all-purpose flour
1.5 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs plain dried breadcrumbs

Melt 1.5 tsp butter in a heavy large skillet over high heat. Add pears and saute until soft, about 4 minutes. Strain pear mixture, discarding juices, then transfer pears to rimmed baking sheet, spacing apart; cool completely. Transfer cool pears to large bowl. Add cheese, pecans, flour, and lemon juice to pears and toss gently to combine.

For the strudel I did not use the recipe in the Bon Appetite magazine and instead I used Kickpleat's recipe for cornmeal pate brisee. I have included the original strudel pastry recipe from Bon Appetite at the end of this post.

cornmeal pate brisee
2 c flour
1/2 c cornmeal
1 t salt
1 t sugar
1 c unsalted butter, frozen cut into small pieces
1/4 - 1/2 c ice water

1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and sugar. Add the butter and use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Slowly sprinkle in the ice water, a little at a time and use your hands to mix the dough until it holds together.

2. Divide the dough in half and place each lump on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten to form a disc and then wrap tightly and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 1 day before using.

Place 36x24-inch cotton cloth or some parchment paper on your work surface. Secure corners with tape. Sprinkle some flour onto the surface. Using rolling pin, roll out one of the dough balls as thinly as possible and create a long thin rectangle and dust dough lightly with flour as needed to prevent sticking. Trim the irregular edges. Rolled them up into a smaller ball and used the extra dough to patch up cracks or holes in the existing rectangle. Believe me there will be cracks and crevasses in the dough.

Brush the dough with some melted butter. Sprinkle 1 tbs sugar and 1 tbs breadcrumbs on the dough before you add the filling.

Take your filling and fill the centre of your pastry, creating a 1.5 -inch wide log and leaving a one inch border all around. Using the parchment paper or the cloth as an aid, life edge of paper and start rolling up strudel dough over filling, enclosing filling completely. Tuck in short ends of dough and pinch to seal.

My strudel dough was too short and did not cover up the entire span of the filling so I improvised and stopped rolling halfway across the strudel. Then I took hold of the opposite side and rolled towards the centre. I rolled up the ends too. If you have a look at the photo below you will see what I mean. Not the most attractive looking strudel but good enough for a newbie.

Transfer strudel to baking sheet. Brush some melted butter all over the surface of the strudel. Chill at least one hour. Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat oven to 375 F . Bake strudel until golden brown for approximately 40 minutes. . Cool strudel on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Cut strudel crosswise in 1-inch thick slices eat warm or at room temperature.

The finished product looked and smelled great! The taste was a combination of sweet from the pears, tangy from the cheese. The cornmeal brisee was crispy and buttery.

Overall the strudel was pretty good and it tasted even better the following two days where I continued to eat it up all by myself. My husband only sampled a slice of the strudel because he is cutting back on his wheat and dairy consumption lately so there was more than enough strudel for me to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner until it was all gone.

In case you are interested in using the original dough recipe from the Bon Appetite magazine here it is:

2 cups all purpose flour plus additonal for dusting
3/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt

Combine 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup warm water, oil and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Dough will be sticky. Remove strudel dough from bowl and divide in half into ball. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate one ball overnight for strudel; freeze second dough ball for another use.

The one ball of dough will create a large rectangle sheet of rolled out dough (34x18-inch). With a sharp knife, trim edges to form 33x17-inch rectangle. Cut dough rectangle lengthwise in half, forming two 33x18.5-inch rectangles. Proceed with brushing butter and sprinkling sugar and breadcrumbs on the surface. Add filling and begin to roll. See above for complete instructions.

pizza breakfast of champignons

Breakfast is one my favourite meals of the day but lately I've been getting quite bored with just the old standby: cereal, oatmeal or fried eggs. I was thinking what to make for breakfast one morning this week when I was inspired by a leftover tortilla I spotted lingering in my refrigerator.

At first, a traditional pizza came to mind...with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and some mushrooms. Simple enough, right? Well, I also felt that I needed something more breakfast-y to add to this dish. Something with a bit more protein other than just cheese. So I decided an egg would satisfy my quest .

I should also mention that the progression of this dish came to me as a flashback to a Jamie Oliver cooking episode where he made an authentic Italian pizza and cracked and egg (or two) onto the pizza, added some cheese, anchovies and capers called it a meal. Jamie's pizza seemed like an incredibly easy and tasty twist on traditional Western style pizza. I bet if smell-o-vision was available through my laptop, it would have smelled great too.

So that is basically what set the wheels in motion for me to make this "breakfast tortilla pizza".

Putting this dish together was very easy. The cheese was grated first and a well was formed in the middle of the "pizza" with the cheese, so that it would contain the raw egg without allowing it to run all over the place.

After this, it was just a matter of what kind of extras to add. I love mushrooms, so I knew they had to be present in this dish. Some spring onions were also added for a bit of colour and a flavour boost. And of course salt and pepper to taste.

Since I had the oven preheated, the "pizza" was ready in less than 15 minutes. The cheese had melted and the egg had firmed up. (No runny yolks for me, but feel free to bake your pizza for less time, if you like the runny yolk effect. Likewise, if you are bold and can handle anchovies at 9 a.m. then be my guest and add them to this dish as well.) The tortilla (my favourite part) was toasted and crispy and had developed a cracker-like crunch.

In the end, this pizza addressed all of my breakfast needs and gave me just the right amount of energy to tie me over until lunch. A perfect pizza breakfast of champignons and champions!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Speedy Gonzales Savoury Rice

You remember him don't you? Speedy Gonzales - the fastest mouse in all of Mexico? Well, I'm him. I mean, I'm fast like him. In the kitchen. My husband says so. Take it up with him if you don't agree that I'm fast...because I am!

I've been finding lately that I'm always in a hurray and don't have enough time to make a time-consuming meal so this week for lunch I made this rice dish. And I'm telling you, it was so good! Savory from the onion, sweet from the currants and crunchy from the cashews. Need I say more?

The total number of ingredients you will need are minimal. I didn't even refer to a recipe and I certainly did not measure anything. I just started adding things to the plain rice and shazaam, perfect Middle Eastern-style rice.

Having pre-cooked rice helps speed up the preparation time otherwise you will need to add another 15 minutes to the cooking time, unless you have a rice cooker. I had my rice stored in the refrigerator from the previous day which cut down on prep time significantly.

Here's what you will need:
About a cup or two of plain cooked rice (depending on how many people you plan to feed), a handful of cashews, a smaller handful of currants, 3 stalks of spring onions, some olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

There's no sequence to this meal. Just dump everything in the pan at once. Saute ingredients in the frying pan until well combined and piping hot. Serve immediately. Garnish with avocado if desired.

My lunch was ready in 10 minutes.

30-minute meals? Bah! Rachel Ray has nothing on me.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A cake that cures!

Tonight we are invited to our friends for dinner and a movie. I was thinking what to bring as a hostess gift and considered purchasing some Greek loukoumades (honey balls) from the Greek bakery. But given that we already brought some over to them during the holiday season, I decided to bake a homemade offering instead.

I had been scouring recipes on-line and decided to see what my fellow blogger 'kickpleat' had in her recipe index...I decided that the orange crumb cake sounded just perfect for this season. And, I had all the ingredients to boot! With plenty of Vitamin C - it's the perfect cake to cure what ails you!

What also excited me about this cake was that it calls for olive oil instead of butter or traditional sunflower / canola oil. If you know me, you'll know that A) I'm Greek and B) that I really enjoy olive oil and use it often in my cooking. It is not uncommon to find traditional Greek cakes made with olive oil, like this variation of an orange cake and this apple cake.

Vitamin-C Crumb Cake taken from "Everybody Likes Sandwiches"

2 c flour
1 1/2 c brown sugar
zest of 1 large orange
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t cardamom
1/4 t nutmeg
1/2 c olive oil
3 T orange juice
1 c yogurt
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a 8 or 9 inch round or square pan. I used a springform cake pan. Set aside.

2. Stir flour, sugar, orange zest and spices in a medium sized bowl. Add oil and orange juice and stir lightly until mixture forms clumps. Remove 1 cup of this mixture for the topping and set aside.

3. In another bowl, combine the yogurt, egg, vanilla, baking powder and baking soda until blended. Add the flour mixture to the yogurt mixture, stirring until batter is smooth.

4. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Now here is where my recipe differs from kickpleat's. I suggest holding off on adding the crumble topping to the cake until perhaps the last 10-15 minutes. When I added the crumble topping from the beginning, the crumb topping disappeared and sunk into the cake batter. If anyone can explain to me why this occurred, I would be very grateful.

Baking the cake released a fragrant, citrus-y aroma, which reminded me of Spring. If only Spring was near. With over 4 feet of snow on my front lawn and February 1st being tomorrow, Spring just seems light years away. Drowning your mid-winter woes in a slice of orange cake seems like the perfect way to ring in a new month.

UPDATE: I sampled the cake and it was dense and sweet with a very moist interior and a chewy exterior. The taste had a subtle orange flavour. Our hosts served the cake with ice-cream and it was the perfect accompaniment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fast and furious creamy spinach pasta

I usually cook a huge pot of something on Sundays and package it up for the week to have for lunch and/or dinner. It makes the start of the week easier to handle. This weekend, I did not get around to making my usual standby of assembly-line meals.

I was out most of the day on Monday and when I returned home I was famished. There was nothing to warm up and nosh on. After I devoured a can of smoked oysters with some bread, I began to think about what to make for dinner. I had less than an hour to make something before I scooted off to my Pilates class.

I decided to make spaghetti because it is fast and I had a hankering for carbs. I found this recipe for pasta with creamy spinach walnut sauce posted by eat me, delicious who adapted the original recipe from the "Moosewood Restaurant Low Fat Favourites."

Did I have any walnuts? No, but that didn't stop me. I used pine nuts instead.

The sauce, or pesto, as I like to call it was...delicious!

This is a forgiving recipe because although I only used 1 cup of cottage cheese (instead of 2 cups) and dried basil, rather than freeze-dried (not sure what that is), the sauce was not lacking in flavour or thickness.

Furthermore, I had no broccoli in the fridge so I skipped that part entirely.

But I did add a few glugs of extra virgin olive oil because I enjoy olive oil and it tastes great on pasta dishes. I guess since I added oil to this dish it can no longer be considered "low-fat."
Who cares? Let's move on...

So without further delay, here is my version to this recipe below:

3 cups packed fresh spinach
1/4 cup toasted pinenuts
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup dried basil
1/4 tsp salt
ground black pepper to taste
1/2 lb pasta

Wash and clean the spinach. Steam the spinach on medium heat for about 4 minutes. Do not over cook. Remove spinach from steam basket. Shake off excess moisture or water from spinach.

In a food processor, add the spinach, pine nuts, cottage cheese, garlic, Parmesan, basil, and salt and puree until smooth. Add pepper to taste and set aside.

Make the pasta according to package instructions. For 'al dente' cook less. For softer pasta cook longer. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to slow down the cooking process and to keep the pasta from sticking.

Transfer the cooked pasta into a large bowl and add a few more drops of olive oil. Then ask your sous chef, er...your husband/wife/partner to add the creamy spinach pesto to the pasta as you scoot out the door for Pilates, or whatever else you are in a hurry to get to. Oh! and ask them to also take a photo of the finished meal for your blog.