Archive for September, 2010

Comfort food…

Here’s something I’ve learned in the last week or so that I’m sure will continue to frustrate me for the next few months as the days get shorter and shorter – my camera does NOT take very good photos (of food) in my kitchen when it’s dark outside.  My kitchen gets fantastic natural light, so when I cook in the daytime my food always looks pretty great.  But when I’m dealing with flash settings and dull overhead lights, not so much.  So bear with me, and maybe I will figure out some new camera settings or even get a new camera that is a little more adjustable.  But for now, be forewarned that the lighting in these photos (and surely many photos to come) is not spectacular.

Above is a screenshot of the recipe I’m about to tell you about – it’s from an issue of Canadian Living magazine from about a year ago, and I photocopied the recipe when I was home for Thanksgiving last year.  I made it shortly thereafter, during my brief stint of eating meat again, as it calls for bacon.  It was definitely delicious with bacon – as is everything.  But last week, when I got potatoes (again!) and a green cabbage in my CSA, this was the first thing I thought of, and was sure it would still be tasty without the bacon.

Basically, this recipe amounts to a macaroni-and-cheese-like casserole with potatoes and cabbage in it.  And bacon, if you eat meat.  I realize that I JUST posted a pasta recipe with potatoes in it, but what can I say, I’ve been getting a lot of potatoes in my CSA and have also strangely been craving pasta more than I usually do.  This recipe is totally simple, just a little bit time consuming because things like potatoes and cabbage can take awhile to cook.  I also don’t really recommend making this recipe if you don’t have a wok or a really large frying pan of some sort, because it takes up A LOT of space.  This is one of the few recipes that I keep my $6.99 wok from Ikea around for.  The recipe is linked up there, but basically you want to cut your potatoes into bite-sized pieces and boil them until they’re tender (but not totally mushy, since they’ll get baked soon) in broth – I use veggie broth from my homemade bouillon, but it would work just as well (or better?) with chicken broth.

When you drain your potatoes, reserve a cup of the broth you cooked them in, and save it for later.  Meanwhile you’re sauteeing some onions in butter – or in your bacon fat if you’re using bacon, which if you are you should have already fried and set aside – and then you’ll add in about 6 cups of thinly sliced cabbage.  Yadda yadda yadda, there’s more sauteeing and at some point you add that leftover liquid and a bunch of spices, then later you add the potatoes, and so on.  Like I said, I’ve linked the recipe, but basically the idea here is to get the cabbage nice and soft and browned, and then add in the potatoes and saute it all together for a few minutes. Since I wasn’t using bacon this time I figured I needed something a little meaty and delicious to replace it, so I threw in a portobello mushroom that I had in my fridge – this was totally delicious and I would do this again.

At some point during the time you’ve been frying your cabbage, you’ll want to put the pasta on to boil.  I did this as soon as the potatoes were done boiling, and just used the same pot without washing it.  The recipe calls for egg noodles, and I’ve used egg noodles both times, so I’m not sure how it would be with other pasta, though I’m sure it would still be great.  But since this is a large casserole and it uses basically an entire small bag of egg noodles, you’re not going to end up with leftover egg noodles lying around for months or anything.  The sauce for this casserole is the easiest thing in the world – it’s a 500g tub of cottage cheese.  That’s it.  You puree it so it becomes smooth, and that’s your sauce.  I’ve been really into these easy cheesy casserole sauces lately, even though I think that bechamel and other roux-based sauces are beyond compare.  A few months ago I made a cheesy casserole whose sauce was just cheddar cheese melted into sour cream in a bowl over the pot the pasta was cooking in. GENIUS! Anyways, the first time I made this I pureed the cottage cheese with an immersion blender, but this time I used my fancy new mini food processor.  Toss the cheese with the cooked pasta, and mix it all up with your cabbage-potato mixture.

Spread it into a 9 by 13 pan (totally worth investing in a good Pyrex one), sprinkle with more cheese (I used parmesan) and fresh parsley and bread crumbs if you want and/or have them around, and bake it for 20 minutes at 400.  It’ll come out looking like this:

Now, it looks like a lot of food, especially if you’re making it only for yourself and a skinny beanpole boy, but it is really very easy to eat large quantities of this. I definitely had seconds (and thirds? I can’t remember) and have spent the last few days trying to remember what expression it is that Mara always says when food makes you want to eat a lot of it and thought about how this casserole is very moreish, a word Mara tells me is a British thing (Mara’s sentence example: The mustard pretzels were moreish).

Anyways, this is delicious, and total fall comfort food.  Cabbage is awesome, if you didn’t already know, particularly when it is cooked in butter.  And you will likely have at least a little bit of leftovers, and this reheats very nicely for lunches when you come home from running errands and are thinking “Wahh! I’m so hungry I have nothing good to eat!” and then are ecstatic when you remember this is waiting for you in the fridge.

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I am, quite possibly, about to lose most of you with this post.  Because in this post I will officially reveal my not-so-secret grossness. But before I do that, I’ll try to compensate by posting about something that is much more classic and refined.

Marcella Hazan.  Have you heard of her? I realize that not everyone in the world was necessarily raised with a love of food and recipes in the same way that I was. Marcella Hazan is, in my opinion and as far as I can tell, THE authority on Italian food, at least as far as cookbooks go.  When I was growing up my Mom had one of the two books that are brought together in this hardcover volume I have – and hers was this old, tattered, paperback book the size of a small drugstore novel.  I remember it distinctly both because it was different than any other cookbook I had seen then (no pictures except for the occasional sketch of a vegetable, novel-sized, more likely to have prose-like directions rather than step-by-step instructions) and because it was where the recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara came from, something I remember eating a lot as a kid.  Anyways, I had some basil to use up, among many other veggies, so I thought I’d make a pesto.  I consulted Marcella and she lists a recipe for pesto pasta with potatoes and green beans.  Whaddaya know, I have both on hand that need using up!

Can you see that in the photo there? She says that “there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory”. If that’s not a glowing review of a recipe, I don’t know what is.  So I made it! I didn’t follow her elaborate instructions really, because I figured this is something that can be done in one pot – start boiling the potatoes first, then add the pasta, then add the beans, and drain them together. An exercise in good timing!

So I went out and bought a tiny 3-cup food processor and made this pesto.  I never follow a recipe for pesto anymore, not since I had to make it multiple times daily with elementary and high school students on a farm with the tiniest food processor and whatever green herb thing was available that day (chives, oregano, spinach, arugula, mint, you name it!).  I always just start by pulsing whatever nuts I have on hand – usually walnuts, like this time – and then adding the garlic, followed by herbs and generous drizzlings of olive oil until it looks like the consistency that I want. Then I add cheese, and, if I remember, lemon juice and salt. Easy peasy.  Pesto is hard to mess up, and really easy to wing with whatever you’ve got around.  And just a note – if you’ve never made pesto with arugula, you really really should.  It’s awesome. Same goes for cilantro, unless you’re one of those genetic cilantro-haters (I’m not!).

As I mentioned, I made it all in one pot.  I can’t remember the exact timings (which would probably be helpful since it was such a delicate balance) but I think it was something like potatoes for 5-6 minutes, add the pasta and boil those together for another 6 minutes or so, add the beans and boil for another 4-5 minutes.  Or something to that effect.  In the end, it was quite tasty.  Definitely a carb-heavy meal, but really satisfying for an early fall day.  The beans were tough, but I think that had more to do with the fact that they were more than a week old rather than how they were cooked.

And now, for something completely different.  I only feel remotely comfortable telling you about this because in spite of myself, I think it’s totally delicious, and also because one Mr. Jamie Oliver, foodie favourite and champion of most good, wholesome, well-farmed foods also loves this thing.

Yes, that’s it right there.  See it? “Fantastic Fish Stick Buttie”.  FISH STICKS.  So, back before I stopped eating meat, I loved fish sticks.  I’m not afraid to admit it! Gross breaded minced mixed mystery fish! I loved them.  Well, I still love them, and now fish is the only animal meat I eat, but I also know that the fishing industry is one of the scariest, most messed up farming practices that exists these days.  We’re running out of fish, and quickly.  So even though I occasionally go out for sushi and eat salmon that is likely far from sustainable, I try not to buy or eat fish that I know is bad for the world.  But it sure is tricky! You need to consult one of the few websites that monitor the fishing industry.  You can google Sea Choice or the seafood watch at Monterey Bay Aquarium as well as others – I’ve gone to David Suzuki’s website before and found some good sources for sustainable seafood. Anyways, Monterey Bay says that Alaskan pollock is a good alternative, and Sea Choice says that they have some concerns about pollock, but it’s not the worst in the world – and pollock is a fish that is sometimes used in fish sticks.  So with this information, I set out for Fiesta Farms to see if they carried any fish stick-like product that I could buy in good conscience.  Because man oh man, was I craving a fish stick buttie.

This is what I came home with.  It was 100% Pollock, which was a hard to find thing to begin with – most fish stick are made from a combination of fishes, predominantly cod.  Cod is bad! It is very bad! Try not to buy cod please! This healthy, kosher fish stick was the only thing I could find that suited me, and I thought “hey, potato-crusted doesn’t sound half bad!” and it is indeed true that, as the box claims, I actually recognize all the ingredients listed on the back.  So I went home to make a buttie.  What is a buttie, you ask? Basically, from what I understand, a buttie is a british term for basically any sandwich filling thing that is smushed between two pieces of well-buttered white doughy bread.  A fish stick buttie, according to Jamie Oliver, is just this, with fish sticks and ketchup in the middle.  Throw in some lettuce if you want, can’t hurt, but that’s about it.  I suppose it’s sort of like a homemade, less scary, filet o’fish.

There it is, pre-assembling and smushing.  Jamie Oliver stresses the fact that once you have this sandwich together, you need to smush it.  I’m willing to agree – kind of like flattening a grilled cheese sandwich while it’s frying, you know? I added some mayo to mine since I’m a mayonnaise fiend, and threw some pea shoots on top since I had some laying around in the fridge. Then I smushed it together and ate it.

Well, actually, truth be told, that’s not exactly what happened.  I had decided to pan-fry the fish sticks against my better judgement (generally I don’t pan-fry anything that starts out frozen, it never works for me!) instead of baking them, and when I bit into my sandwich they were EW FROZEN still! Crispy but cold! Blech! So, I was forced to do what my mother and I have always done in such situations – take it apart, microwave it, patch it back together, nobody will know (see my brother’s pumpkin birthday cake disaster circa 2008).  I took out the smushed, mangled fish sticks and microwaved them for 20 seconds and mashed them back into my sandwich and all was well.

So there you have it.  The truth is out! I’m not all peach pies and black raspberry jams and corn pancakes.  In reality, I’m probably more fish stick buttie than anything else.  Deal with it.

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Yesterday was a really awesome day.  It was really lovely weather, and Paul and I got up early and went to the St. Lawrence Market for the Sunday antique market. I’d never been before, and there was some really cool stuff there.  AND! I got a quilt stand! I know, I know, you’re thinking “how old is this lady?! Ninety-five?!” because really, who buys quilt stands? Well, I do.  I have this beautiful quilt I got last year in Montreal that’s more than a hundred years old and I love it and the backing is silk and I always want to look at it but I simply cannot sleep with it on my bed – I’ve done so on a few different occasions, and I’ve made existing tears bigger, and felt the backing rip over my feet.  My mom has an antique quilt stand and I thought it was exactly what I need and then I stumbled right upon one yesterday! Mega score. Paul and I also bought a Super Nintendo with a whole bunch of games.  After the market we were really hungry.  Like low-blood-sugar-cranky-pants-hungry.  I was too hungry to even think about what I wanted to eat, but Paul wanted savoury french toast.

So savoury french toast we had.  When I later explained the concept of savoury (rather than sweet) french toast to my dear friend Mara, she cringed and pretended to vomit.  To each their own, I suppose!  Really it’s just adding a bit of salt to your egg/milk mixture (and herbs, if you want to ) and then varying your toppings. Instead of maple syrup, I had mine with this delicious fresh yellow tomato and sour cream.  Paul had something strange like sour cream with ketchup and hot sauce. Either way, a delicious brunch.

Speaking of tomatoes, that yellow tomato came from Paul’s mom’s garden in Kitchener.  He went home for a quick visit and came back with 3 litres of tomatoes for me.  About half were red and half were low-acid yellow, so I decided it was definitely a bad idea to try and can the low acid ones.  I had been intrigued earlier this summer by a recipe for a yellow tomato sauce on 101 Cookbooks and decided to try it out.  The recipe was really very simple – as tomato sauces likely should always be – and it was more that I had never thought of making a sauce with yellow tomatoes before.  But how pretty!  I invited Mara over for dinner to see my new place and Paul and I made this yellow tomato sauce, also stealing the onion technique from this tomato sauce recipe from over at my other go-to food blog, Smitten Kitchen.  I think I’ve now decided that cutting an onion in half and letting it simmer in with sauce is basically the most ingenious way to get onion flavour into sauces.  Or soups for that matter, or who knows what else!  I love it.  I love this onion technique the way I love cobbler.

This sauce smelled so good while it was cooking.  Paul and I both had our concerns that it wouldn’t taste nearly as good as it smelled, but it was actually really delicious. We sauteed and threw in some of my many CSA veggies at the end (namely a funny shaped yellow zucchini, spinach, and a store-bought portobello mushroom) in an attempt to use up the many veggies I’m having a hard time consuming now that I live alone (I’ve been giving away cobs of corn and bunches of beets!)

We had the sauce over pan-friend mini gnocchi, topped with parmesan, and served it alongside a simple salad of lettuce, grated carrot and pea shoots (also all CSA items) with delicious ACE bakery baguette.

And then we ate it on my back patio.  It was awesome.  And we had cobbler for dessert (again).  This time it was peach rhubarb cobbler, and Paul thought it was better than the peach blueberry one, but I didn’t think so.

Then I left my camera sitting on the patio overnight and I’m pretty sure it rained and I KNEW when I was coming inside last night that there was something I meant to remember but couldn’t actually remember what that thing was and when I remembered this morning it was out there on the ground all soaked with beads of water but miraculously it seems fine.  The reason that I went looking for it this morning was because I was making another something delicious for breakfast in honour of Paul’s first day back to school, and first day going to school full-time in a very long time.  Again, in an effort to eat up some of my veggies I made corn pancakes!  I used a Smitten Kitchen recipe again, which you can review here – though mine seemed to turn out quite differently – the batter was pretty runny, even though I added a generous extra sprinkling of flour at the end – and they turned out more like crepes than like puffy pancakes.  But I didn’t mind, they were delicate and delicious and not too sweet so they were so good with maple syrup and coffee.  And man, they fried up really nice and golden, which I must say is the most satisfying pancake-cooking experience.

So there you have it.  A lot of really good foods in a short period of time.  And well-balanced meals! And local fruits and veggies! A pretty great day off in every way possible.

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A new house…

I realize that once again I have left you, dear (and few) readers, without a post for quite awhile.  But this time I have a really good explanation! You see, I moved!  I moved over August 27th and 28th, and then promptly went out of town until the early days of September.  So since I last posted my time has been filled with a lot of packing, moving, and unpacking (and re-acquiring of kitchen staples like bay leaves and baking soda).  Needless to say, I haven’t done a lot of cooking, let alone cooking that deserves a blog post.  So today, I’m going to tell you about a few things.  The first being that – I have a new kitchen!!! I suppose that was fairly obvious given the fact that I have a new apartment.  My new apartment is all my own though – this is the very first time I’ve ever lived alone, and so far, I love it.  One of the perks of this is that the entire fridge and freezer are mine!  My new kitchen is significantly smaller than my old kitchen, and I now have an electric stove rather than gas (whimper) and it’s one of those tiny stoves, on top of everything else.  It has virtually no counter space, but I got lucky and scored a prep table type thing from my landlord.  I was worried about this kitchen, but now that it’s all set up, I totally love it.  It’s very bright, and it has a brand new le creuset kettle on the stove (who put that there?!)

After much bulk store shopping I have built myself up a little pantry on these life-saving open shelves I got at Ikea – without which I would have virtually no room to store dry good foods.

And, last but not least, I actually have a magnetic knife rack thing now! I installed it myself, and shhh you can only tell that it’s crooked if you stand far back and look very closely!

So that’s my new kitchen! I mean sure, I don’t have a giant gas stove anymore.  And no, I don’t have anywhere (in the whole apartment) to sit and eat my food at a table; and yes, all my jams and preserves have to live wayyy on top of my cupboards.  But in the end, I think it’s a pretty good little kitchen.  And yesterday I got a pie pumpkin in my CSA (didja see it there on my pantry shelves?) and so I think that there’s some pumpkin foods in store for the near future of this blog.  Now that I’m settled you can expect some regular posts from me again!

In the meantime, I won’t leave you totally without a food post – a week or two before I left my old apartment, Paul and I made a feast of foods in order to try and use up some of the many fruits and veggies from my CSA and from assorted other food projects.  We’d bought these BEAUTIFUL wild blueberries when we went up to my uncle’s cottage, and we still had a lot of them left, and I had a few rogue peaches that were very quickly going bad.  And so, a cobbler!  I had never actually eaten or made a cobbler before, though it is apparently the easiest and most delicious dessert creation in the world.  Seriously.  Why hadn’t I had cobbler before? It is so good! All those years I spent making apple crisp in university, and never a cobbler! I am in love with cobbler.  I am tempted to throw cornmeal biscuits on top of everything I make forevermore.  Not surprisingly, I took the recipe from the beloved Smitten Kitchen, and you should take a look at her recipe.   I did, as usual, make some changes.  The big difference with what I did was that I didn’t have as much fruit as she had.  So instead of making a big casserole, I just made this cobbler in a 9-inch pie plate, with the fruit I had, and cut down on the sugar accordingly.

HOWEVER, I opted to make the same amount of biscuit topping, because I figured who doesn’t want full biscuit coverage?!  It turned out wonderfully, and like I said, you may catch me dropping cornmeal biscuits on top of nearly everything from now on.

Well friends, stay tuned! I’ll be cooking lots again, especially now that the fall crispness has set in and it’s actually tolerable to stand in a kitchen with appliances that emit heat.  I expect that these cooler months will bring a lot more soups and stews to this blog, and also a lot more recipes that aren’t from actual recipes – I tend to cook lots of meals where I indiscriminately throw things in a pot and see what happens.  And I’m looking forward to it!

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