Sunday, 26 June 2011

Toasted Quinoa Pilaf: Could You Please Move You're Right In Front of the Quinoa

Another stolen title. This one's a lyric from a little ditty called 'Whole Foods Parking Lot', a rap where the dude drives a Prius, is pissed about Kombucha being taken off the shelves, and is paying $80 for six things and waiting in the hella slow express line. Things are getting real in the Whole Foods Parking Lot, check it:

So, I'm not going to sit here and wax poetic or get rapturous about quinoa (pronounced keeeeen-waaah). I think it's really easy to make a dead boring dish with quinoa. People seem to lose their shit over it a lot, and usually when I eat it I'm like 'meh'. But not with this dish. This, people, will shoot you the straight goods on just how tasty quinoa can be when you treat her right. It's super healthy, easy, filling, flavourful and really good hot and at room temperature. I made it today because I knew it would be great plane food...I'm heading to Vancouver tomorrow and there is no way in H-E-double hockey sticks that I am paying $8.50 for slimy ham and tasteless cheese on stale bread. So THERE Air Canada.

Quinoa Still Life No. 1 With Dirty, Singed Oven Mitt. 
The recipe is originally from a newsletter that comes with an organic produce bin I get delivered every second week from Front Door Organics (because I like to keep it real). Also, why do I feel like saying that I get an organic produce bin delivered makes me sound a bit douchey? Anyway, it's great, I've been using this company for four years, and they send you a bunch of delicious fruits and veggies and some recipes for what to do with them. I have no idea where the original newsletter is now. If you would also like to keep it real/sound a bit douchey when you talk about it, please go to, and you can start today!

Toasted Quinoa Pilaf with Kale and Pine Nuts

Quinoa, in the process of being treated right.
1 cup quinoa (I used white, but there's also red and that's fine too)
2 cups chicken stock (if you want to make this vegetarian and vegan, just omit the chicken stock and replace it with vegetable stock)
1 tbsp of oil for frying
1 bunch kale, washed, hard stems removed, and torn into bite-sized pieces (you could use curly kale or black kale/lacinato kale, or you could use chard, or spinach, or anything green and leafy, really – so go ahead and use those mustard greens! Do it!)
2 carrots, grated
2 celery sticks, finely sliced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
salt and pepper, to taste

This is effectively a one-pot meal, almost. You do have to use a skillet to toast your pine nuts, so, it's technically two. Re toasting pine nuts:  put them in a small pan, over medium to medium-high heat. No oil is necessary to toast these babies, as they'll release their own special pine nutty oil and that'll do the trick. Keep those nuts moving; seriously, don't go anywhere. They go from delicious golden brown to acrid burnt and black in like a half-second. Once they start to go darker, and you can smell their nutty toastedness, take them out of the pan immediately. Keep them aside, they'll get stirred in at the end.

In a large, fairly deep pan (a cast iron is ideal for this job), pour in your 1 cup of quinoa, again to a naked pan. Toast it over medium to medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. If you're using white quinoa, it'll go from being, well, light coloured to darker and a bit brown-y. If you're using red, I assume it will just go to a darker red. A safe assumption. It might pop a little bit in the pan, which is fine and frankly desirable. After fifteen minutes, remove the quinoa and set it aside.

Put your oil in the same pan you toasted the quinoa in, lowering the heat to medium. Toss in your onions, celery and garlic. Saute for a few minutes, and then add your kale, carrots, quinoa, and chicken stock. Let it come to a boil, and then turn down to minimum heat, and cover. It should take about 20 minutes to fully cook – you'll see that the curly germ separates from the quinoa grain, and that's pretty much when you know it's done. Also, all the liquid should be absorbed.

A good time to say that cast iron pans are just so great.
Remove from the heat and stir in your pine nuts. Taste for salt (some chicken stock can be mega-salty, so I tend to wait until the end on this one), and add both it and pepper if you wish. Serve hot or at room temperature. Makes about 4 servings.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Turkey Burgers with Mango and Curry: Punched-up Poultry.

Turkey Burgahs. Delicious, healthy, tricked out with mango and curry paste, and a big hit of cilantro – elements that are all incorporated directly into the meat. In the winter, I make this exact same mixture and slam it into a loaf pan for turkey meatloaf. So this is a multi-seasonal winner. You probably won't need the whole mango for this recipe – so I instruct you to eat the rest of the mango over the sink.

Mango still-life, No.1.

Mangos are one of the best things in all of life. I spent an entire summer eating mostly mangos and potatoes once, and working at Tilley Endurables at the mall at Queen's Quay in Toronto. I lived across the street from a fruit market, and I had no money - so for some reason I fixated on mangos and potatoes. And also I had to wear a ridiculous Tilley outfit at work that included pleated, high-waisted khakis and a tucked in t-shirt blousey thing. Not hot. At all. Anyway.

Don't be alarmed at bun to burger ratio.
It wasn't as bad as it seems.
So, turkey burgers. I topped these with avocado, which was a really welcome addition. Don't muck them up with many other toppings, as there's a lot going on in the burger, and things can get confusing. Don't let that happen to you and your delicious dinner.

Turkey Burgers with Mango and Curry

a pound of ground turkey (or chicken, or in a pinch I've also used pork)
about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups diced mango (I use a regular ol' potato peeler to peel my mangos, and then cut chunks off around the pit, then dice)
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp of hot curry paste (feel free to use medium or mild paste if you want to cut down on the heat factor - I like Patak's brand)
1 cup of chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp canola oil for frying onions and mango, 1tbsp for frying burgers (you can use any neutral oil here, or even olive oil I GUESS, if you must. I've been told I need to stop being so hard on olive oil)
sliced avocado, to top the burgers
squeeze of fresh lime juice, squeezed on burger just before burger enters mouth

Fry your diced onion and mango in a pan with the canola oil, for about 5 minutes, until the onion becomes translucent and the mango softens up a fair bit. Then add your curry paste, and salt and pepper. Cook the curry paste with the mango and onion for about another fiver. Remove from the pan and allow it to cool. Once it's cooled, add it to a bowl where you've already placed the ground turkey. Add in the cilantro. Mix it up well – this is a good time to use the tools that come attached to you, i.e. your hands. They're the most effective. Don't over-mix. Form into four burger patties. Now is the time to slam it into a loaf pan (or free-form a loaf-ish shape on a sheet pan) if you want to go the meatloaf route. I cooked the burgers over medium heat in a cast iron skillet, but obviously grilling these on the barbecue would be an excellent option. For some reason I don't own a barbecue. Well it's because I haven't bought one. Weird how that works.

Summer, meet plate.

These babies are a little tender, so handle them with care. There's no filler in these burgers, like breadcrumbs and/or an egg, so the meat is a little more fragile. To combat this, I put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes before frying. It just makes them stay together a little bit better. Also, watch it with the flipping. Do it as little as possible. I found the burgers took about 20-25 minutes to cook in the pan.

Serves 4.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Marinated Strawberries. Dessert for People Who Don't Like Making Dessert.

Before we do anything, just have a look at how gosh darn pretty these beauties are:

Hello, lovers.

First delightful pint of Ontario strawberries of the season. Check out how I hulled them – as opposed to lopping off the top in a straight cut, I used a small paring knife and effectively scooped out the green tops. This is important to do, as most of the sweetness in the berry is concentrated at the top, where the greens meet the berry. So you want to lose as little of the berry as possible, and focus on just popping out those greens as opposed to losing the whole top quarter of your berry. I hold the strawberry in my left hand, insert the knife into the top of the berry, and then turn the strawberry around (not the knife) until you come full circle. Pull out the greens. Okay, yes, it will take you a little longer. But you get more bang for your buck. And don't they look even prettier prepared that way? Looks are everything.* 

I'm not really a big dessert person, or sweets person in general, actually. I'm not drawn, viscerally, to things like chocolate or cookies in the same way I am to say, pork crackling or nachos. But there is a lot to be said for a delicious bowl of berries, and this recipe is dead easy and has an interesting twist. The twist comes in the form of marinating your strawberries with vinegar and black pepper. Don't freak out. It's really, really good. You can make it well in advance of when you serve it, even the day before, and serve it over ice cream. Or, if you're a dunce cap like me and you FORGET TO SERVE DESSERT when you have your sister over for dinner (see above re not being a big dessert person), you can eat it in the morning, over plain yogurt. It's also good all on its lonesome.

The fruits of my lack of labour.
Strawberries Marinated with Black Pepper and Vinegar

a pint of strawberries, hulled and sliced up (Ontario is best, Ontario organic even better. But I guess only if you live in Ontario. Point is, buy the ones that are grown closest to you. It will make a HUGE difference in taste, and have all kinds of other positive impacts on local farmers and your local economy. Yay local economy!)
2 tbsp of balsamic, red wine, white balsamic, rice, or any kind of vinegar you have kicking around (each one you use will have a bit of a different flavour profile, so try them all! I happened to have an ancient bottle of the oft-used pomegranate-champagne vinegar (?) so I used that for mine. It was lovely. You can really use whatever kind of vinegar you have around, but I'd recommend staying away from plain white vinegar. Might be a bit harsh.)
1 tbsp of sugar (I used brown)
1 tsp of freshly cracked black pepper 

Put your hulled and cut-up strawberries in a bowl. Add the vinegar of your choice, sugar, and black pepper. Stir it all up well. Let the berries macerate, meaning give them some time to soak and release some of their natural juices. The liquid that will collect at the bottom of the bowl is like liquid gold. After at least a couple of hours, longer if you can, spoon these babies, including some of their liquid, over vanilla ice cream for dessert, or over plain yogurt for breakfast. They'd also be delicious on top of pancakes or french toast.

*No, they're not.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Cheddar and Apple Omelette: O-me-lette You Finish.

I stole the omelette you finish thing from Drunk in the Kitchen, which is a pretty damn hilarious series of videos by this woman who cooks things like grilled cheese while getting drunk (she forgets the cheese). Here's the link to the omelette video – watch it, it'll make you laugh. But only if you have a good sense of humour. Favourite quote:  "Some people like to have only egg whites in their omelettes, and that's a good way to make your omelette shitty". Here's the link:

Okay, on to the omelette that I actually made. It wasn't that pretty. But it was delicious. Going out for brunch is kind of nice (minus the line-ups, and the having to pay for it), but I feel like one of the best parts of the week is Saturday or Sunday morning (slash early afternoon, who am I kidding). You get the paper, you make some tea, you have some delicious toast with ricotta cheese, and you make this omelette. Apple and cheddar might sound strange, but it's such a dynamite combo. I first saw these two hot ingredients in an omelette on an excellent website a few years ago called Everybody Likes Sandwiches, They also used to have a sandwich at Common Ground, this student-run cafe at Queen's, with ham, apple, and cheddar, and it was kind of a big deal at the time. So you could also add ham to this omelette, if that blows your skirt.

Ooooh, ingredients shot.
I wish I could tell you that I have some sort of no-fail method for omelettes. I don't. Case in point? I kind of mucked mine up this morning. You'll see it in the shot below. Frankly, it wasn't my best. And I wasn't going to put it on the blog because I thought it didn't look that nice. Then I thought to myself:  isn't the whole point of this to try and help people be less intimidated about cooking? And not to have to strive for perfection? Isn't the message meant to be, for home cooks across the land, that they too can make a shitty-looking omelette and it's okay? I looked at myself in the mirror, hard, and said:  'you put that omelette recipe up, Carly Dunster'.*

Apple and Cheddar Omelette

2 eggs, beaten (if you can, bring your eggs to room temperature before you introduce them to the heat; I also usually add either a wee splash of milk or water to the eggs before beating)
1 green onion, sliced and added to the beaten eggs before going into the pan
salt and pepper, added to the beaten eggs, again before pan entry
1/2 an apple, cut into matchsticks (don't worry about peeling)
as much cheese as you would like in your omelette (I think it's judgmental to enter a precise amount)
1 tsp butter for frying (or olive oil - but really, butter is tastier)
2 tbsp of fresh parsley (or chives, or thyme would be nice)

You ain't a beauty but hey, you're all right.
Actually, you are delicious.

Beat up your eggs, incorporating a bit of milk or water, the sliced green onion, and your salt and pepper. Make sure you beat them well – the fluffier the better. Get your non-stick frying pan nice and hot – not max heat, but medium-high at least. Once it's hot, add your butter or olive oil, and as soon as it's melted, pour in the beaten eggs. The pan should have been hot enough that you hear a pretty significant sizzle when your eggs hit the pan. Using a spatula, lift up the edges of the omelette, which should already be cooking and keeping together, and let the uncooked middle seep under them to the edges. Do that all around the pan until there is no more liquid running in the middle of the pan. It will still look moist though, and it should. Turn your heat down, to medium-low. Place your cheese and apples onto one side of the omelette. Shimmy your spatula under the side without the filling, and flip it over. Just go for it. You may screw it up. Big whoop. Onward and upward. Keep the folded omelette on low-ish heat, to ensure that the apples get a little bit of heat and all of the cheese melts. Remove from heat when those two things have happened.  

Serve this with a lovely Saturday morning/late Saturday afternoon. It's also a great quick dinner idea. Makes enough for one serving.

*I didn't really look at myself in the mirror, hard. Can you imagine if I did? That would be an embarrassing overreaction. But I did think twice about posting, so...  

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Ceviche: Stupid Easy. For Realsies.

This might be the easiest thing you will ever make in your whole life. Full stop. This recipe actually cannot be screwed up, try as one might. Guaranteed summer supper star. One of the nicest things about this dish is that you can make it with any kind of fish or shellfish (almost - don't use salmon), and with any kind of citrus - lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit even. Grapefruit is actually quite friggin' delicious in this dish.

I like to serve my ceviche with tortilla chips. But this is not required.

And it's weird science:  you don't have to cook the fish – the acid in the citrus breaks down the proteins so that the fish takes on the texture of having been cooked. It's a perfect light lunch or dinner on one of those blistering hot days when the thought of turning on the oven makes you want to jump off a bridge. It's also a great adaptable dish in terms of servings as well:  works just as well for one as it does for a crowd. The recipe below is a good amount for a shareable appetizer for between 4 and 6 people.

This doesn't suck.

1 1/2 - 2 pounds of fish or shellfish (When I made this for my friend Jason's birthday dinner yesterday, I used scallops, shrimp, and a filet of cod; calamari is also great, as are haddock, halibut, red snapper, even octopus!  Get crazy. It's important that you use fresh fish, but frozen – defrosted, raw – shellfish is okay.)
Juice of two limes
Juice of one lemon (you could replace this with the juice of one grapefruit)
1 jalapeno pepper or other chile, minced (you can add more or less, based on how spicy you like it)
a big handful of chopped cilantro
Half a red onion, sliced as thin as possible
Salt (start with a half-teaspoon or so, but taste before serving to see if you need more)
1 avocado diced
Tortilla chips, for serving

Cut up all the fish and shellfish into a size that will make it land nicely on a tortilla chip. Basically, dice it up. Add all of your citrus, jalapeno, cilantro, red onion, and salt. Mix it up well, and put it in the fridge. The total time it will need to sit is about one to two hours, or a shorter time if you're making it for one. Stir it a few times during its stay in the fridge. You'll actually be able to see the fish cooking in the acid – it will start to turn white and opaque, and take on the appearance of having been cooked.

Once it looks (and tastes) to be 'cooked', stir in your diced avocado and taste to see if it needs more salt, adding if necessary. Serve with the tortilla chips.

This is really delicious, light and fresh and punchy and the perfect summer food, in my opinion.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Shrimp and Lettuce Fried Rice: Because Lettuce Ain't Just for Salads.

Lettuce begin.  Wah wah.

So I think lettuce needs to be in more things. And I also think that cooked lettuce (oh yes, I said COOKED lettuce) is a really delicious, underrated delight. A compelling reason that one should get friendly with this recipe is that sometimes, you have a head of lettuce in your fridge and you just don't want a salad. A potentially even more compelling reason is that fried rice done any old way is fantastic and easy and cheap and pretty healthy.

Every time I make rice for something, I make way more than I need. I had made the Tandoori Chicken for Lazy People earlier in the week, and served it with rice. I made 1 cup (the general rule is that 1 cup of uncooked rice yields three cups of cooked) and the leftovers were kicking it in the fridge. I always have frozen, uncooked shrimp in the freezer, that take about 10 minutes to defrost in some warm water and cook in about 2 or 3 minutes. Really user-friendly protein to have in your freezer, at the ready. So sad, unwanted, almost on the way to lettuce heaven lettuce head meets shrimp in hot pan with some vegetables and soy sauce, etc., and bob's your uncle.

This dish is also excellent with chicken, pork, calamari, or tofu instead of the shrimp. Or all of them! Feel free to leave out the egg if you're not into it.

Wok full of goodness.
Shrimp and Lettuce Fried Rice

Note:  This is one of those dishes where it's handy to have everything chopped up and ready to go before you start cooking anything. You want to fry everything at a high heat, and it will cook quickly. If you're all ready with the ingredients, it will make bringing everything together way easier.

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp of grated ginger (I keep ginger in the freezer and then grate it on the small holes of my cheese grater, as it's easier to grate when frozen)
1 tbsp canola/grapeseed/other neutral oil (Don't use olive oil. I know everyone sort of reaches for it regardless of what they're cooking, but think about it for a second:  would you put olives in your stir-fry?  That would be absolute madness! So use an oil that doesn't have a flavour that will get in the way of your vaguely Asian stylings. Save the olive oil for the Italian stuff and salad dressings).
1 egg (see below for what to do with it)
a handful of sliced mushrooms
a stalk or two of thinly sliced celery (you could also use carrots, peas, zucchini, or whatever vegetables you have around)
2 green onions, sliced
10-12 medium-sized raw shrimp, defrosted
a small to medium-sized head of leaf lettuce, washed and sliced into short strips
1 or 2 cups cooked cold rice (this is important - fried rice doesn't work nearly as well with warm, just-cooked rice - and you can make this as rice-heavy or rice-light as you wish)
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tbsp of fish sauce
a couple of dashes of rice wine vinegar (optional)
1 tbsp of oyster sauce
hot sauce, to taste (I use sriracha) 
cilantro, chopped, for garnish
Supposedly you eat slower when you eat with chopsticks.
I have not found this to be true.

Heat up the oil over high heat in a big frying pan, ideally a wok, until it's quite hot - and then crack in an egg. Scramble it around, incorporating white and yolk, without really worrying about that. Take it out once it's still moist, but cooked.  Add into your pan (add another splash of canola oil if the pan needs it) the garlic, ginger, celery and mushroom. Stir-fry it around, moving it constantly. Add the scallions, lettuce, and cold rice, along with all of the sauces, and stir-fry for a few minutes. The lettuce will get wilty.  Don't be afraid, it's delicious. Add the shrimp, which will take only a few minutes to cook. Continue to stir everything well, and give her a taste. Want more saltiness? Add more soya. Want a little more sweetness, add more oyster sauce. More magic delicious flavour? Hit it with more fish sauce. Once everything is looking about ready (from start to finish, this dish should take no more than 10 to 12 minutes in the pan), add the already scrambled egg and mix everything up. Serve topped with chopped cilantro and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime. Makes two generous servings if you've used 1 cup of rice, more if you've used 2 cups.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Faux Tandoori Chicken Thighs/"Tandoori" For Lazy People.

This dish has very little to do with authentic Tandoori. But there are enough similarities that I thought it merited some sort of qualified Tandoori-ish recipe title. Hence, what you see above. take some chicken parts (thighs or breasts are best - this isn't really a wing-friendly sauce). Pour a delicious bath for them that consists mainly of plain yogurt (the good, full-fat, ideally Greek/Balkan kind) and Indian hot curry paste. If you want to get a little fancy, add some garlic, ginger, cilantro, and lime juice to the marinade. Serve with rice. Now I'm not saying this would wow the chefs at Lahore Tikka House or nothing, but it's a good, flavourful, Indian-ish dish.

"Tandoori" for Lazy People

All flatware courtesy of Dollarama.

6 chicken thighs/3 chicken breasts, boneless skinless (thighs are better, frankly, and cheaper - and harder to overcook)
1 cup of plain yogurt, preferable Balkan/Greek, the thicker the better
2 tbsp Indian curry paste (I use Patak's Hot)
juice of 1 lime
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chunk of ginger, grated (I use the small holes of my regular cheese grater - wash grater properly after to avoid ginger cheese; also, don't worry about peeling ginger - total waste of time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir together all the ingredients in a big bowl or casserole dish. (If you're going to grill the chicken, see below, reserve a few tablespoons of the sauce to glaze with toward the end of grilling). Add the chicken last to make sure the sauce ingredients are well incorporated. If you have the time, marinate the chicken in the sauce for up to 4 hours before you cook. But don't worry if you don't have time - there's enough flavour in the dish to skip marinating altogether if it's not doable.

Pop the casserole dish with chicken in it directly into the preheated oven. It took about 30 minutes to cook, but it will depend. It might seem quite liquidy, but not to worry...the liquid will keep the chicken moist and you can spoon it over the delicious basmati rice that you serve it with. To assess whether chicken is done, you're supposed to see if the 'juices run clear'. I find this highly difficult sometimes. So, I do it the old-fashioned way, and pick up a thigh, cut into the middle, and see whether it's pink. If it's pink, stick it back in the oven, until it's not. Foolproof.

You could also barbecue the chicken if that suits your fancy. If you do, drain the chicken of most of the marinade before placing on the grill. Grill over a fairly low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, glazing with the reserved sauce towards the end of cooking.

Again, I served mine with basmati rice. Which I friggin' love. I also made a snappy little cucumber salad by doing the following:  I diced up half a cucumber, then picked some mint from the garden, (mint is crazy easy to grow and will provide you with plenty of mojito inspiration all summer) sliced that up finely and added to the cucumber. Then I sprinkled over a bit of lime juice, a bit of fish sauce*, and about half a teaspoon of brown sugar. Super delicious and dead easy.

*Everyone, in my humble opinion, should have fish sauce in their fridge. I use it constantly. It usually comes in giant bottles, but don't fear, it pretty much never goes bad. Likely because it sort of smells like it's already gone bad? It's basically fermented anchovies. But don't let that dissuade you. Seriously! It's awesome in curries, salads, and stir-frys, just to name a few. I know it sounds unseemly (who wants a sauce made of fish), but I swear to you it will become your secret ingredient, if only you'll let it.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Beaconsfield Calamari

There's a calamari dish at The Beaconsfield, a bar not too far from my house, that I order every single time I go there. The Beaconsfield itself has sort of lost its allure for me over the past couple of years; when I first started going there, it was this perfect blend of great lighting, a nice bar to sit at, good music, and a crowd that was admittedly quite hipstery, and highly attractive, but not so much so that it bothered me. Now I feel like it's more the place where bearded dudes named Neil hit on you, and where there's an unspoken competition amongst women to see whose jeans are the most high-waisted. Anyway. They still have this wicked awesome calamari (and other quite great food, their kitchen has some really talented people working in it), so I go there on occasion. In my normal-waisted jeans.

In order to avoid exposure to jean-waist-height competitions, I wanted to try and make this dish at home. I had calamari in my freezer (frozen calamari is dirt-cheap and a great thing to have kicking around), and also used tomatoes, black olives, capers, a can of artichoke hearts, dill, and some white wine and/or chicken stock. Basically the whole mess goes into a pan (after the calamari has defrosted - important step) and you've got dinner. I served it with bread and a green salad. Here is the calamari patiently awaiting being eaten:

Bowl of deliciousness.
What you can't see from the photo is the stock/wine mixture infused with the dill that rests comfortably underneath all of that healthful calamari/artichoke/olive/tomato action. This dish needs bread. Bread is not optional.  

Beaconsfield Calamari

1 package of frozen calamari, defrosted (you can use the pre-sliced rings, or buy the whole bodies already cleaned, and then slice them up, which is what I did)
2 cloves of garlic
2 green onions, sliced on the diagonal, but not too finely sliced - make them about an inch long
half a pint of cherry tomatoes (or just a tomato, chopped)
a handful of black olives (don't bother de-pitting, just throw them in)
a can of artichoke hearts, hearts cut into quarters, ish
2 tbsp of capers
a good handful of dill (go heavy on the dill - the one deficit to the dish when I made it was not enough dill)
1/4 cup white wine (i.e. a couple of good splashes) - if you don't have wine, just use more chicken stock
1/4 cup chicken stock (see above re good splashes)
salt and pepper to taste (but watch it with the salt - capers and olives will give it some good salt already)
juice of a lemon
The first step is to throw the sliced calamari into boiling water for 10 seconds. MAX. Calamari is really easy to overcook, and this is the worst thing that can happen. To you. Ever. 10 seconds. In, out. It's kind of an annoying little step but it means that when the squid meets everyone else in the pan it'll only need two minutes to get acquainted and be ready.  

Once you've dealt with the calamari, saute the green onions and the garlic over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes (don't let the garlic brown - if that starts happening, move quickly to the next stage). Throw in the tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, capers, and dill. Then add the wine and/or stock, and stir everything around, still on medium-high heat, for a couple of minutes. Things should be sizzling. Then throw in your already 10-second boiled calamari, and the juice of your lemon. Mix everything up good for a minute or two and c'est tout. Serve in bowls, and make sure each person gets some of the delicious broth.

Action shot!
In theory, I thought this would serve four. In reality, it served two. Here is a shot of my friend Phil digging into his calamari (or more accurately, following my annoying instructions to dip his bread into his bowl just so, in order for me to get a 'candid, eating action shot').

This is a really quick, lovely summer meal. But it's also a keeper for winter as most of the ingredients are items you might have in your pantry/freezer. And, best of all, you can eat this in the comfort of your own backyard, sans dudes named Neil and hipster Mom jeans.  

Monday, 6 June 2011

Take Yer Peppers and Stuff Them.

Stuffed peppers, just hangin' on the picnic table.
Look to your right!  It's a photo!  I made these lovelies Sunday afternoon and immediately brought them out into the middle of my backyard for their photo shoot.  Which entailed me squatting on the top of the picnic table with a camera and pretending to be some kind of photographer.

A stuffed pepper is really quite a great thing.  It can be vegetarian or carnivorous, it's pretty hard to screw up, and it's fairly healthy (at least when you don't overdo it on the cheese - but 'overdo it on the cheese' is basically my middle name, so, you know).

I first made these last week when I had two lonely green peppers standing sentinel on my counter.  I kind of hate green peppers.  And I hate hating any kind of food, because I feel like I'm missing something that everyone else understands.  And I hate being left out.  So, I started looking up recipes involving the stuffing of said peppers.  I found one on a website called Homemaker's that looked good, and called for some vegetables (mushrooms and peppers), basmati rice, lentils, and cheese.  Sounded good, but a bit I threw in a green chile, some cumin and chili powder, some zucchini, and cilantro, and called them Stuffed Peppers a la Tijuana!  Ole.

Anyway, they worked out great, so I thought I'd post the recipe.  Because if nothing else, this is a recipe for the people.

Stuffed Peppers a la Tijuana*
adapted from

4 bell peppers, of varying colours (remove the tops of the peppers, and dice whatever pepper is left on the lids; also, clean out the inside of the peppers of any seeds and ribs)
1 zucchini, diced
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp of olive oil (or vegetable oil, or butter, or bacon fat, for that matter)
1 green chile, minced (I use the ones you get in that flip-top can, I think they're La Costena brand - anyway, don't worry if you only need one - transfer the rest of the can to a tupperware container and they'll last a long time in your fridge - or just use a jalapeno pepper)
1 tbsp of chili powder
1 tbsp of cumin powder
1/3 cup basmati rice
1/4 cup lentils
1 cup of water or chicken stock (feel free to use stock from bouillon cubes)
a handful of chopped cilantro
1 cup of aged cheddar cheese (or other hard, grate-able cheese)
juice of half a lime

Preheat the over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (doesn't that word look weird to you?).

Fry the onion in the oil for a couple of minutes over medium high heat, in a fairly large pan, until the onion becomes somewhat translucent.  Then add the garlic, and toss that around.  In goes the zucchini and the diced peppers.  Fry them all together for about 5 minutes, until everything has softened together.  Then add the green chile/jalapeno pepper, chili powder, and cumin powder.  Make sure everything is well incorporated, and the spices should become fragrant.  Add the rice, lentils, and cup of water or stock, and bring to a boil.  Once it reaches a boil, turn down to a minimum and cover.  Check after about 15 minutes, and every few minutes after that.  The mixture should be moist but not super wet when it's ready, and make sure the rice and lentils are cooked (easy way to do this - taste them!).

Remove the mixture to a bowl and let cool a little bit.  Once it's kind of cooled, stir in the cheese, cilantro (but keep a little bit to sprinkle on at the end), and the juice of half a lime.  Taste for salt and pepper, and add them if necessary.  Pile the mixture into the peppers, and pop them in your pre-heated over for about 45 minutes.  The peppers are done once they've become soft and a little bit blistered.  Top with your remaining cilantro and serve.

Peppers getting friendly in a completely 80's serving tray.
Pair these with a simple green salad and you've got yourself a healthy, vegetarian meal.  Or, screw the vegetarians and serve these with barbecued flank steak.  Also great as a bag lunch the next day.

*I'm not really being serious in calling these 'Stuffed Peppers a la Tijuana', because obviously that's ridiculous.  I just thought it was catchier than 'Stuffed Peppers'.  Don't feel any need to propagate my ridiculousness.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Square One. And Frozen Grapes.

Hello my legions of followers! Or just Mom and Dad, or whatever! Welcome to my blog, to my blog about food.

The goals of this blog are twofold:  one, to share information about the kind of food that I cook, and perhaps some of the places I eat, in the hopes that that information might be useful and/or helpful to someone somewhere out there. I want this place to be a resource for ideas for people that like to cook already or for those that would like to cook more. My other goal is really just creating a place for me to practice becoming a food writer, with some semblance of public exposure (public exposure = Mom and Dad, see above re legions).

And I can't think of a better, more special, fancier way of inaugurating this l'il blog than to tell you about a potato salad I made yesterday. How's that for aiming for the stars, hmmm? Honestly though, it was crazy delicious. I hit on a recipe from a wicked website called Smitten Kitchen (written by a sassy, thoughtful, extremely knowledgeable food blogger in NYC). It was a potato salad of the vinaigrette variety, not of the heavy, mayo-laden, gloopy salad in a giant tub variety. It called for new garlic (garlic that's picked while it still looks like a fatter green onion, before the end fattens into a bulb and becomes the garlic you see around), and I had some!  Also asparagus, snap peas, and potatoes, obviously (which oddly, I had all of - this was clearly a sign).

Here's the thing though – recipes are made for adapting. I had some of the key ingredients, but I also had some other stuff that wasn't in the recipe that I thought might be a good addition (things like feta, and anchovy paste in the dressing, and later, for round two of the salad, I added some shrimp and avocado). And if you didn't have a key ingredient, like say all you had lying around was some regular old garlic, or snow peas not snap peas, no matter – just use what you have. All this to say that I started with a basic premise and then worked with what I had. And I made lots, hence 'round two' for dinner.

Oh! And it's hot now, yes? Buy a bag of grapes. Place them in the freezer. Remove when frozen. Eat. I've been eating frozen grapes every summer since I could eat solid foods.  Can't imagine summer without 'em.

Here's the recipe for the salad:

Spring Potato Salad
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen:

about 2 pounds of new potatoes (white or red) - if they're bigger, chop them into chunks
1 pound of asparagus, cut into one-inch lengths (a bunch)
a handful of snap peas
1 shoot of new garlic, sliced very finely (or use regular garlic, or even just a green onion)
1 big sour pickle, diced - this added a whole lot of deliciousness, don't leave it out if you're into pickles
pea shoots (or watercress, or sprouts would be nice too)
a medium-sized chunk of feta, crumbled
about ten medium-sized cooked shrimp (optional)
half an avocado, diced (optional)

for the dressing:

2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's the best)
1 tbsp of smooth dijon
1 tsp of anchovy paste
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Place chunked potatoes in a pot with salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, and let 'em go for around 10 to 15 minutes (test with a sharp knife for doneness - you want them to be cooked, but not overcooked, meaning the potato should yield easily to the knife but not be all smushy). Remove the potatoes to a bowl and throw in the asparagus lengths and the snap peas. Cook them for about two minutes. Seriously, that's it. Take them out and run cold water over them so they stop cooking immediately. You could also prepare an ice bath - a bowl with cold water and ice cubes, and plunge the veggies in there after their two minute boil. For some reason that always seems like a lot of work to me, so I just run super cold water to shock them into stopping with the cooking.

Add the crumbled feta, diced pickle, new garlic, and pea shoots into another big bowl. Once the potatoes have cooled a little (but it's better when they're still a bit warm), add them to the bowl, along with the asparagus and snap peas. In a small empty jar (like an old mustard jar, or one that had capers in it) add all the dressing ingredients and give it a good shake. Pour it over the whole shooting match in the bowl, and toss thoroughly.

If you want to make this salad even heartier, add the cooked shrimp and avocado along with the other veggies and toss them all up together. This is an awesome salad for a barbecue, a picnic, or just any old meal. Leftovers also make a great bag-lunch for work the next day.

Note:  I will be posting photos of dishes to accompany the posts imminently. I need to get a camera, basically, as I'm told you need one of those to take photos.