Sunday, March 28, 2010

Enchiladas, Revisited.

The other day, I had lunch with my father, after which we went book store browsing in the Annex. My father lovingly proceeded to buy me a stack of books that had been on my Amazon wish list for ages (Thanks, Dad!) I put them by my bedroom window so that I can look at them when I wake up in the morning. If this sounds odd, then you aren't a book lover. I love having books around me, I love their presence, their smell, the way new worlds are only a few pages away from me at any given moment. Seeing them waiting for me in their haphazard pile compels me to make the time to curl up with a mug of tea and meet the characters who will fill my head for the next few weeks.

I've always had this weird aversion to re-reading books I've loved. I guess I'd always felt that there were gazillions of great stories to read, why waste time on one you'd already gotten through? I'd had the same resistance with movies and recipes too. With so many creative possibilities out there, my restless nature had always itched for the undiscovered. Recently though, I've been questioning the soundness of this logic. Is this a healthy thirst for new experiences? Or is it simply impatience, a 'been there, done that' sort of attitude?

Why go back to something a second time? Because maybe sometimes, the second or third or even fourth time around can be sublime. I only need look at Almost Husband and me, in the throes of our 5th or 6th love affair, to know that some things truly do get better with age. With books, you cast a different eye on the story because your maturity level has changed, or your day-to-day life makes the content more personal or relevant. And with recipes, you get a chance to tweak the original and put your own stamp on it, or enjoy it exactly the way it was because it was just right the first time. Without revisiting things in the past, nothing would stand out. Nothing would be exceptional or memorable. Nothing would hold any value. I can't imagine such a life.

The other night, I was running low on groceries and I thought back to these awesome Pumpkin Enchiladas I'd made with a friend a couple of weeks back, from Martha's 'Great Food Fast' book (of course, who else? I'm obsessed with her lately.) They were really good and I had most of the ingredients on hand. I made a few changes to the original recipe, substituting the pumpkin with oven-roasted tomatoes and adding black beans and corn to the chicken filling.

Then I assembled the tortillas, doused them in the tomato sauce and baked them in Demonic Oven till the cheese was all melty.

And the finished product, while extremely unphotogenic (hence the pictures of them uncooked) was well worth it - slightly spicy and tangy, and oh so comforting on a cold, rainy night. And you know what? I'll be making a variation of these again and again, because they're awesome.

And because it's never a waste of time going back to something you love.

Variation on Martha Stewart's Pumpkin Enchiladas From "Great Food Fast"

3 large ripe tomatoes
1 onion (I'd recommend using scallions instead; much nicer flavour with this - you'd need about 5-6)
1 tbsp oil
2 cooked chicken breasts
1 cup canned black beans
1 cup canned or frozen corn
2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of 2 limes
1-1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
a pinch of cayenne pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, core and seeds taken out, cut into 4 pieces
5-6 tortillas (I could only fit 5 in my roasting pan)
1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella and cheddar

1. Preheat oven to 350-375 degrees, depending on your oven. Cut the tomatoes in halves, cut the onion in half and slice into rings. Add both tomatoes and onions to roasting pan and drizzle with the oil. Roast till softened, about 20 minutes.

2. While the tomatoes are roasting, cook the chicken breasts over medium heat, if using raw - this should take about 20-25 minutes (alternately, you could use a rotisserie chicken to save time) Put the rinsed black beans and the corn and the rest of the onion, coarsely chopped, into a bowl. Once the chicken is cooked, cut it into smallish pieces and add to the bowl. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl or glass jar, combine the olive oil, lime juice and zest, chili powder, smoked paprika and cayenne. Shake/mix till well combined. Add this to the chicken-corn-bean filling and stir till everything is well coated.

4. Once the tomatoes are roasted, pull out your blender and dump the tomatoes and onions in, along with the jalapeno pepper and blend till well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste, if you like.

5. In large rectangular roasting pan or glass dish, pour half the tomato sauce over the bottom. Assemble the tortillas, one by one, putting in a medium amount of the chicken-corn-bean mixture and topping it with a bit of cheese. Place the rolled tortillas seam side down in the roasting pan on top of the tomato sauce. When you've finished rolling all the tortillas, pour the remainder of tomato sauce over them and sprinkle with the rest of the cheese.

6. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then eat!

Probably Of Interest Only To Me...

This is a picture of my Yucca plant. We had bought some house plants for our new place back in January. I'd researched the heartiest house plants and went for some ivies and ficus, things that didn't need an awful lot of bother because, despite being able to take care of a cat and a dog, I've never been able to keep plants going. My vegetation efforts have been, at best, inconsistent.

Anyways, while we were paying for our plants, I noticed this lonely, sad looking Yucca plant, discounted by 50% because it was clearly dying. I felt so awful for it; here was a once-glorious tropical plant spending its last days in the lower level of a dimly lit Loblaws garden department in the middle of a Canadian winter. Sigh. It HAD to come home with us. The cashier, after giving it to us for a mere $4, assured us that as long as it had greenery on it, it was still alive and still worth hoping for.

Over the past few months, I've been checking on it regularly, watering it once the soil is dry, and trying to get it as much natural light as possible. I've even been talking to it. Don't laugh. And then, a couple of days ago, as I was cleaning the kitchen, I noticed was sprouting new shoots! I couldn't believe it! My thumbs are definitely getting greener! And I'm kind of looking at it as a sign; nothing is ever hopeless.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Immodest Tart

I've suffered from acute modesty my whole life. As a kid, I was never one to take compliments well. I don't know where it came from, maybe it was just another part of being shy, but any time someone encouraged or praised me, I'd practically curl up into a defensive ball like a potato bug;

Well Meaning Individual: "Monika, you look really nice today."
Me: "What? Are you blind? I look awful. You clearly need your eyes tested."

Like it would kill me to say "Thank you, that's so kind." I would aim for nonchalance, but what came out was borderline hostile, and I'd invariably make the Well Meaning Individual feel rotten for talking to me.
I was worried about seeming conceited, which, to my mind, was the exact opposite of being lovable. Even if I worked really hard at something, the recognition would send me into fits of blushes and bashfulness that were almost painful. What I really wanted was to be able to stand up and take my bow with grace.

And while I've grown up a lot and stopped being such a wiener about these things, I still kind of fret over it from time to time. You know how people preemptively apologize for a meal they've just made, because they can't bear the thought of having their dinner guests make horrified 'ugh!' faces at each other after the first bite? I've been guilty of that too. In the back of my head, I'd have the delivery pizza contingency plan on standby at the first sign of trouble. But I'm making a concerted effort to not do that anymore. It's tedious. It's exhausting. And as much as cooking is about the finished result, it's every bit as much about the sense of accomplishment and the love that goes into cooking for people you like.

I've been subscribing to Body + Soul magazine for a couple of years now. Much like All Bran or the at-home yoga DVD I've never used, it makes me feel healthier just having it around. I love this magazine because among other things, they have really great, simple recipes. With the fantastic food styling and stunning photography, it's hard not to be seduced by the recipes. My new issue came last week, and I saw the Mushroom, Scallion and Spinach tart and thought "Ding Dong! This would be perfect for my sister's birthday lunch!"

So I got all the ingredients ready...

Look at that spinach, shamelessly sunbathing in the colander;

I roasted the veggies and made the phyllo dough base. I put together the custard-like filling, assembled the tart and popped it in the Demonic Oven, checking on it often to make sure the dough wasn't burning. And when it came out?

I couldn't believe it. It was gorgeous. No - it was breathtaking. It looked like the picture in the magazine. I let the tart cool a little, then bundled it up and carefully walked it over to my sister's house. Her husband had come home early and we each polished off two big pieces of it. "Moni," my sister kept repeating, "this is REALLY good!"

I'd issued no disclaimers or warnings about the possible awfulness of the meal when we sat down to eat. I'd simply set it out and hoped for the best. And you know what? It was really good - flaky, salty, creamy, earthy. Totally something I would order for myself at a restaurant. And so I devoured, without the faintest tinge of modesty, my compliments. And they tasted wonderful.

Mushroom, Spinach and Scallion Tart, a Body + Soul recipe by Sarah Carey:

1 lb mushrooms (combination of button and shiitake is recommended, though I just used creminis) trimmed and sliced 1/2 inch thick
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
12 scallions, ends trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
10 sheets of phyllo dough, 14x19 inches each
2/3 cup of goat cheese
3 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3 tbsp fresh chopped herbs (I used thyme and rosemary, but you can use whatever you like)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. (Demonic Oven functioned at 350 and it worked out just fine)

2. On a baking sheet, toss mushrooms with 2 tbsp oil and 3/4 tsp salt. Roast for 10 minutes. Toss in the scallions and roast for about 15 minutes. Push them to the side and place spinach on the empty side, roasting it till wilted, about 3 minutes. Let it cool a bit, then squeeze extra liquid out of spinach.

3. Brush an 11x7 inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom with some of the remaining oil. (I just used the same baking sheet I'd roasted the veggies on - again, work with what you've got.) Keeping the sheets of phyllo between two damp dishcloths, work with one sheet at a time, placing it on the pan and brushing it lightly with oil. Bear in mind you'll be folding the sides and edges under to create an elevated crust if you're not using the tart pan. If using the tart pan, there should be a 1 inch overhang. Repeat the process of brushing oil with each sheet. When finished, fold the edges according to the pan you're using.

4. Line the middle portion of the crust with foil and put some dried beans or something on top to hold it in place. Bake it like this for about 5-7 minutes, or until the edges are golden and beginning to set. Remove the foil and bake until golden all over; about 3 minutes. If the edges are browning too quickly, you can cover them with foil.

5. Reduce oven to 375 degrees (Demonic Oven stayed at 350) In blender or food processor, puree goat cheese, eggs and milk with remaining 1/4 tsp salt till smooth. Add the herbs and pulse to combine. Spread the mushrooms, scallions and spinach over the crust and pour the custard mixture over top.

6. Place tart back in the oven and bake till the custard is set, about 20-25 minutes (watch carefully that the crust doesn't burn) Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Then devour it, with pride.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Scientific Salad

I wish there was a way to photograph smells. If there was, you'd be inhaling this; a heavenly perfume of a Moroccan-inspired spice mix that I found here. I'd always been really intimidated by spices. I never knew how to use them; I was too concerned with amounts and proper combinations to really play with them and discover for myself what I liked. I felt much safer with my trusty salt and pepper shakers. I've always been awed by culinary alchemy; how does it come to be, this delicate, invisible formation of gold from common elements?

Some things truly don't make sense when you put them on paper. Almost Husband likes aggressive rock and comic books. He loves his limited diet of meat, potatoes and ice cream, and prefers to travel the perimeters closest to home. My love of music doesn't encompass 'noise metal' and I can't seem to get into comic books. I love exploring new foods and dream constantly of travelling to faraway places. We push. We pull. And yet, all of the things we bring to this concept of 'us', including all the things that clash and conflict still manage to make something beautiful in its own right.

(And it only took me 14 years to work that out.

The other day I bought some ground cardamom, for the first time ever. It sat on my shelf all afternoon, imbuing my kitchen with its cool, indescribable smell. I'd run across so many recipes calling for it that I figured it was time to try it. As I was putting together the spice mix, I was completely bewitched by the earthy, warm colours; all together, they looked like a patchwork landscape view you'd see from a plane that was starting to make its slow descent. I almost didn't want to stir them up and destroy the beauty. But I did, and I followed Kevin's recipe pretty much to the letter and with delight because he positively saturated his ingredients with flavour (most of the time, my indelicate palate requires a good bludgeoning of flavour to activate itself - I'm working on it.)

I roasted up a bunch of veggies that were languishing in the fridge and put on the quinoa while I waited. I only managed to set off the smoke detector once, thanks to my demonic oven, but at least this guaranteed me a pet-free kitchen, which in turn guaranteed me a clear pathway to the fridge without anyone getting hurt.

I was starving by the time everything was ready, as I'd started cooking a bit late, but this was so worth the relatively short wait. It was exactly the sort of combustion of flavours I love; the spice was pronounced but didn't dominate the other ingredients, and I loved the sweet bursts of raisins and cranberries amidst the salty vinaigrette. And the colours! I know they harken more to fall than spring, but when something is so beautiful, who cares about seasonal propriety!

Almost Husband made appreciative noises at my bowl when I brought it into the living room, and we sat down, my Mr. Meat-N-Potatoes and me, and ate our very different meals side by side. I am not a scientific person by nature. But I know romantic alchemy when I feel it.

Moroccan Roasted Carrot And Chickpea Quinoa Salad - via Closet Cooking

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4" thick circles
1 red pepper, chopped into smallish pieces
1 small bunch of broccoli, cut into smallish pieces
1 small onion, cut into rings

3-4 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon moroccan spice blend

1/2 cup red quinoa

1/2 cup white quinoa

2 cups water (I used chicken broth)

2 teaspoons moroccan spice blend
1 cup chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

1/4 cup red onion (I skipped this)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts (I skipped this too and used dried cranberries instead)

1 handful parsley (um, I skipped this too; I can't do parsley)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon (zest and juice)

1 teaspoon moroccan spice blend
salt and pepper to taste

Moroccan Spice Mix:
2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper


1. Prepare spice mix.

2. Get oven good and hot, approximately 350-400 F. Combine the oil and spice mix and drizzle it over the chopped veggies in a roasting pan. Stir to coat all the veggies and roast till they're soft and fragrant and browned a bit.

3. While you wait for the veg to roast, rinse the quinoa to remove the bitterness and heat up the chicken broth or water. Once boiling, add the quinoa and cook at a hearty simmer till the broth/water has evaporated. Set aside and add the raisins and cranberries and rinsed chickpeas - the quinoa is still nice and hot and will soften them up!

4. Combine the 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp of spice mix and the lemon juice and zest in a small jar and shake till well combined.

5. By now the veggies should be done; add them to the quinoa mixture, then add the dressing and stir till everything is coated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cruel Irony

Imagine you hear a man laughing. Meanly, caustically. Imagine, let's see - Philip Seymour Hoffman, yes, imagine HIM doing one of his sarcastic, sardonic laughs. Aaahaahaahaahaa. A laugh that would almost physically hurt if he was directing it towards something you said or did.

That's the sound I heard in my head when I made these brownies.

Seriously? I'm no Martha Stewart, I get that. But I consider myself fairly competent in the world of cooking and baking. I can boil water and decently flip an omelette. I can bake a cake that is edible and I'm kind of a genius with homemade pizza.

So why, why am I unable to correctly make brownies from a box? I wanted to bake for Almost Husband's Almost Celebration, in honour of his Almost Promotion. If it were up to me, I'd make decadent dark chocolate raspberry brownies. Ooh, or milk chocolate with orange essence. Or chocolate-cherry. Mmmmm.

But this is my meat-and-potato counterpart. I know him. He likes the stuff from the box. So I put in my egg, water and oil. Stirred it about 50 times, counting it in my head no less, because the box said to stir it about 50 times. I popped it in the oven (you stupid, jerky, irrational appliance, why won't you die so we can ask for a new one?!?!!) and the kitchen smelled gorgeously of melty chocolate and cake. And when I prematurely peeked in on the pan, I decided to pull it out early, knowing the tempestuousness of the oven. And it was burnt around the edges. No mind, it was still soft in the middle. So I let it cool completely, then put it in the fridge for after our dinner (more on that coming up)

After dinner, I excitedly reached in for our pan of brownies. We were both stuffed, but when you have dessert waiting for you, and really, sometimes dinner is more of an obstacle you must eat through to get to an anticipated dessert, you find room, you know? It's like double-parking in your stomach. Anyways, I got the knife and...horror of horrors, the thing was rock hard. Immovable. Crunchy. Like in a burnt cookie way. I was mortified.

"It's okay," Almost Husband said, "They're still good, here, let me eat some." He took a bite. I honestly questioned whether his incisors could withstand the formidable solidity of the brownie. I couldn't stop apologizing, more to myself than anything else. We ate our overcooked dessert in silence and the mood was - subdued.

Perhaps every cook, new or advanced, needs such stories to chart their culinary growth. Maybe, as Almost Husband sweetly pointed out, I'm not meant to follow directions directly. I'm not a "cook-inside-the-box" sort of gal.

I think I'm okay with that.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Recovery Menu

It was with barely concealed joy that I made the phone call.

"Laurence," I said, "the refrigerator is leaking again."

The call was a guarantee for a new fridge. Our old one, in addition to leaking, was tiny. It was designed with one person in mind; perhaps the sort of person who lived a glamourous life of take-out and cocktail parties; someone who used the shelf space for their shoe collection. It was not designed for two people who eat in all the time, eschew parties for DVD's in front of the telly, and have barely 10 pairs of shoes between the both of them. It looked cluttered and chaotic, like a tenement dwelling for foodstuffs.

So I had rejoiced when I noticed a pool of water on the floor again. After the call was made and our new refrigerator was on its way, I set to cleaning out the old one. And I excavated food I hadn't known was in there. Blueberries with frostbite, a lonely slice of prosciutto. Tiny nubs of old cheeses trapped in saran wrap, a half-empty jar of old olives. I was struck by just how much food I wasted on a regular basis, and how little I cook with what ingredients I have on hand. And I suddenly felt very clear on one thing: it was time I started working with what I had.

The road to recovery from the stomach flu had been paved with eggs, toast and plain rice. Now I was ready for slightly more adventurous fare. In keeping with the spirit of non-wastage, I wanted to use what was readily available. I still had a large chunk of the banana bread I'd made, which had aged and intensified in flavour over the past couple of days. I had this crazy idea: What if I cut up a slice into rough cubes, threw on some mocha-vanilla yogurt and topped it with store-bought granola? (Yes, it was store-bought; I was craving the clusters) And the result?

Ding Dong! I do have brilliant ideas sometimes!

Dinnertime was in a similar vein of breakfast-tinged food. I had some chicken bacon that needed to be used, so I concocted a sandwich that looked like this: Bacon, cloud-light eggs, blue cheese dressing/sauce, and some gorgeous bread that my landlord's wife gave me. So good, so simple! Why does it take my getting sick for me to remember how good simple food is?

I wasn't sure if I should bother posting recipes, as these dishes seem somewhat self-explanatory. The blue cheese sauce that I made was equal parts mayonnaise and plain yogurt, a chunk of blue cheese crumbled with a healthy spray of lemon and fresh ground pepper.

And the new fridge? It's enormous! We've got all our essentials in there, with room to spare. At least now we can pretend we attend cocktail parties.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Menu Of A Sick Person

Here's what I ate yesterday. I know. It's not food. That's because I caught a stomach bug and spent the day barely able to keep these delights down. My stomach had been bothering me for several days, so I hadn't been cooking anything really exciting, and I didn't feel like boring you with a picture of white rice with salt and pepper. I imagine everyone already knows what it looks like and probably has a reliable recipe to follow for themselves, right? So instead, I thought I'd bore you with another picture of banana bread, because after a long bout of running to the bathroom and three blackening bananas on my kitchen counter, what else could I possibly be inspired to make?

I'm usually pretty tough when I'm sick, in part because I've had a lot of experience. As a kid, I was plagued with migraines, the kind that made me sensitive to sound, touch, smells. Even thoughts had a powerful effect on me. I would be at a migraine's mercy for almost an entire day. I can only really liken it to being on an uncovered boat during a raging storm. No matter where I was when I was struck with a migraine, I'd rush home to get to my mother, because she was the only one who could soothe me and make me feel safe. She'd change my bedsheets, so I could burrow myself into the cool folds of cotton after heaving my insides out. She'd get me Popsicles and stroke my hot skin with her soft fingertips. And slowly, slowly, the storm would subside and sleep would overtake me and I'd take deep breaths between the pain and remember what 'normal' felt like. These migraines lasted for years.

Incidentally, my father, similarly afflicted with these black headaches, always credited his remission to falling in love with my mother. He never got another one after marrying her. And strangely, the same thing has happened to me since Almost Husband graced my life again.

Anytime I get sick, the following couple of days are usually full of recovery food. I call it the 'beige' diet; rice, toast with butter, applesauce, potatoes - you get the idea. Hardly sexy. But I have to say that this banana bread turned out brilliantly, especially since I couldn't be bothered to follow a recipe, though I'm sure you could find a zillion recipes exactly like this one, so I'm not sure the credit should all go to me. But it's cakey and dense and moist *cringe - I despise this word* and full of banana flavour and the kitchen smelled so goddamn good which was a lovely way to end the day after it was so full of sickness.

So here's my recipe. I know; what the world needs is another banana bread recipe. But that's what you're going to get. Unless you want me to post about white rice.

Moni's Banana Bread:

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
3 super-ripe bananas, mashed

1. Preheat oven to 350
°F. In large bowl combine all the dry ingredients and mix well.

2. In separate bowl, combine the sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Use a whisk to get them well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir as little as possible, till just combined. Add mashed bananas and lightly incorporate into the mixture.

3. Pour mixture into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake for about 55-60 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool entirely before - why am I saying this? I can never wait for things to cool completely; just watch that you don't burn your tongue!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

'Everything But The Kitchen Sink' Dinner

I've always been painfully aware that I am not photogenic. I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm uttering a truth. I'm not sure what the problem is, if it's that I get uncomfortable the moment a camera is pointed at me; if it's the 'performance aspect'. Or maybe it's as simple as the rounded, Eastern European contours of my face drinking in light as opposed to sharply deflecting it in flattering angles. It's okay. I've come to accept it. And in the age of the digital camera, people like me don't have to suffer anymore; we can shoot and shoot and shoot and eventually, we'll hit upon a decent enough photo for public viewing.

My mother was a photographer. A former career woman, she chose to become a stay-at-home mom and, after selflessly raising us into the salty, sulky adolescent years, she realized she needed something that was just for her, a creative endeavor. So she began taking night school courses in photography and purchasing camera equipment. And luckily for her, she had two models to practice on right at home! Her pimply, shy, awkward daughters. Every Saturday morning, she would set up her studio, ready us with a dash of lipstick and a swipe of blush (the only part I enjoyed of this ritual) and we'd sullenly pose for her for several hours. There are virtually no pictures of me smiling during this time period.

Just like unphotogenic people, there are some foods that don't really take good photos either. The more I make it, the more I realize that pureed soup is one of these foods. Last night, with the house all to myself and a hungry belly, I looked in the fridge to see what I had to work with. Broccoli. Leftover bits from previous meals. A variety of veggies that were just starting to lose their crispness. So I decided to make soup; a soup that would help me use up a considerable amount of these ingredients. I wanted something with the soup, so I decided upon a chickpea sandwich filling, with mushrooms, thyme and Parmesan cheese. I chopped. I sauteed. I boiled. I coarsely pureed. I stirred. I tasted. I cheered myself on for making such a yummy dinner. But when it came time to photograph the food, my heart sank a little.

Everything was a murky sort of brown colour. Oh dear.

I broke a sweat, trying to get my creations to demonstrate their appeal to the camera. Twisting bowls this way and that, angling plates up and down and sideways, trying all the while to keep my hand steady while depressing the shutter button. By the time I was done, my food was getting cold and I decided to stop fretting about it and eat. And the tastes - salty, tangy, earthy, layered - neutralized all my concerns that I wouldn't be able to impart to the reader how lovely it all turned out. Because I'd know. And I'd have days of leftovers to keep reminding me.

My mother, by the way, became a brilliant photographer, and I keep her pictures close to me, in every room of my house, to remind me of her.

Please note: when I don't follow a recipe, I tend to use loose measurements, so these are approximations. Just keep tasting it!

Kitchen Sink Soup:

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 large onion, diced
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets and stem chopped.
2 large potatoes, cut into smallish cubes
3 stalks of celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
generous splash of white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup of water, more if needed
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp dried dill
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
prosciutto or bacon, cooked and cut into small pieces
plain yogurt or sour cream, if desired

1. Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot. Add onion and cook over medium heat till soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add all the chopped veggies and the generous glug of wine and stir for about 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, keep at a healthy simmer for about 25 minutes, or till veggies are soft. In the meantime, cook up the bacon or prosciutto and set aside.

2. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup till smoothly processed. Add the buttermilk and the dill and paprika and adjust seasonings till it's to your taste. Keep it warm till serving. Add a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle the bacon on top.

Chickpea-Mushroom Mash:

1 tbsp butter
1/2 onion
8 oz or 1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped - I used white, but cremini or shitake would be lovely too!
1/2 can chickpeas, rinsed well
generous glug of white wine
zest of half a lemon
juice of half a lemon, or more to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1-2 tbsp chopped green olives (can leave these out for more subtle flavour)
shaved Parmesan cheese
Slice of grainy bread with light smear of Dijon

1. In medium frying pan, heat the butter. Add the onion and cook over medium heat till soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped mushrooms, chickpeas and white wine and cook till browned and fragrant, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Once cooled, put in food processor and pulse till coarsely mashed (do not puree!) Pour the mash into a mixing bowl and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, thyme, olives if using and salt and pepper and stir till well combined. Serve on toasted grainy bread with Dijon and top with the Parmesan.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Kitchen Crime #17

My name is Monika and I have Stack-itis. This is an illness - though some may dispute that and call it laziness - whereby I am unable to dry and put away dishes that I've just washed. Symptoms include creating precarious and dangerously high 'stacks' of plates, mugs and what have you on the dish drainer, with little (or no) intention of re-shelving.

Several wine glasses have perished as a result.

The only remedy I've found thus far is to shack up with a person who has the opposite affliction. And who is very, very careful with glassware. Or really, really good at Jenga.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Joyful Salad

What happens when you mix lemon-yellow corn and night-black beans in a frying pan with some oil and lime juice and chili powder? Magic! What happens when you throw these things in a bowl with sunset-coloured mango and fresh, crunchy lettuce that reminds you that spring is just around the corner and top it all with chicken and a dressing that dances on the tongue? Delight! What happens when you manage to get all the elements on one forkful into your mouth with minimal spillage? Pure joy.

Initially, I wanted to call this a "Southwest Salad". But I've never actually been to any of the Southwestern states (except in my wildest dreams) so I'm not 100% sure this could be classified as "Southwestern". Because I think my idea of that region of the world is at best ill-informed by subpar taco kit commercials, Tex-Mex bar food and 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman'. And I thought that maybe the idea that everyone in this area lives in adobe houses, wears turquoise jewelry and rides on horseback while eating refried bean tortillas might just be as tiresome as Canadians living in igloos, tripping over beavers everywhere and having their crime managed by adorable Mounties. So I decided to keep my cultural uncertainty to myself and call this what it was: a joy to make, a joy to eat. A Joyful Salad.

It didn't take long to throw together. It's open for adapting to your personal taste; add bacon, add a soft, unripened cheese, add tomatoes, cilantro, crumbled up tortilla chips. Just don't forget to pour yourself a cold glass of beer and get a slice of crusty bread with a generous slathering of butter or cream cheese or whatever tickles your fancy. I swear, if you close your eyes mid-mouthful, you can almost feel the sun on your face.

As always, please bear in mind that I made the approximate amount for one person who loves leftovers. And eats big plates of stuff. Feel free to double the amounts for two or more participants.

Joyful Salad:

vegetable oil for pan-frying
1 boneless chicken breast cut into chunks
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
dash of cayenne pepper
1/2-3/4 cup corn, ideally fresh, but frozen or canned will do just fine
1/2-3/4 cup black beans, rinsed
Juice of 1 lime (or more, if you're like me and love it fierce!)
1 ripe mango sliced and diced into smallish chunks
1/2 bunch of romaine lettuce, rinsed and chopped
Shredded cheddar

1. In small frying pan, heat some oil and add chicken breast chunks. Pan-fry till golden and well cooked - cooking times will vary depending on stoves or using fresh or frozen chicken, so I won't offer a time estimate.

2. In frying pan heat oil. Add the onion and garlic and saute till almost translucent, about 5-7 minutes, over medium heat. Set aside to cool in medium sized bowl.

3. In same frying pan, heat up a touch more oil. Add the chili powder and paprika and stir constantly for about 1 minute. Toss in the corn and black beans and some lime juice and coat with the spice mixture. Gently saute for about 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool - you can lay it out on a baking sheet to speed it up. When cooled, throw it all into the medium sized bowl with the onion-garlic mixture, the mango and the chicken and more lime juice.

4. Wash and chop the lettuce. Dry it as best you can; any water will dilute the dressing. Add all the ingredients to the lettuce and serve the dressing on the side.

Southwestern Ranch Dressing, via Everybody Likes Sandwiches, featured on Poppytalk (whew!)

1 c buttermilk
1/4 c Greek yogurt
1/4 c mayonnaise
1 chipotle chili in adobo, minced + 1/2 t of the adobo sauce
1/4 t dried red chili flakes
1/4 t hot smoked paprika
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pinch each of dried dill & oregano
1/2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
juice & zest of 1/2 lemon

1. Put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake it till well combined! Easy, huh?