Monday, January 31, 2011

Smothered Chicken with Bacon Brussels Sprouts and this week's Meal Planner

This evening I cooked another recipe from the AWESOME cookbook MasterChef.

I honestly can't say enough about it in that every single recipe I've tried has been brilliant and at blog's end I will be sharing another for Smothered Chicken with Bacon Brussel Sprouts.

Smoky bacon perfectly combines with Brussel sprouts and chicken















It also comes with sections on stocking your pantry, cooking secrets, and choosing wine - all things I've learned over the years through trial and error- and it's becoming a revelation how much information is available concerning the preparation of food.

Interestingly, classes like home economics, accounting, and even typing were considered "electives" when I went to school - meaning you could elect to take them or not, but in the grand scheme of things, none of these were considered as important as, say, physics, history, or literature.

Don't get me wrong because I'm not saying classes like chemistry are unimportant - not at all - most of the things I learned in English shaped who I became - it's just that I'm realizing, more and more, the importance of practical learning. Useful information like how to invest wisely, when and where to tip, or how to make a cream sauce.

And what I love about blogging is that it gives a chance to learn from each other as well as share tidbits of information we come across.

One tidbit I will share today is that if you have a busy schedule, having a meal plan for the week can be a Godsend.

This is something I learned from many of the bloggers I follow as well as from one of my favourite food network hosts, Sandy Richardson on the show Fixing Dinner.

So before I share today's recipe, I thought I'd put together a meal plan for myself featuring a blend of new recipes, one original creation, and some older favourites from the blog.

Meal Plan January 31-February 7

Monday: Bean and Taco Meat Loaded Tostatas
A recipe from my friend Rhondi at Big Mama's Kitchen

Tuesday: Butternut Squash Ravioli with porcini mushrooms

















Wednesday: Asparagus and Zucchini Frittata (recipe and photo to come)
Thursday: Beef and Mushroom Noodles



Friday: Baked Salmon with Herbed Salad and Lemon Roasted Potatoes



Saturday: Malt Shop Dinner



Sunday: Chicken Breasts Bordelaise



















***
Dr. Tracy Nailor, was a contestant in the first season of MasterChef in the US and her story caught my eye.

Before her mother - who was an amazing cook - passed away, she asked for the family recipes and the following adapted recipe was one her mother passed down.

Rosemary infused sauce smothering tender chicken and surrounded by Brussel sprouts and crispy bacon.

The flavours all work together so beautifully it's kind of like... magic.

Smothered Chicken with Bacon Brussel Sprouts
For printable recipe click here















Ingredients
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 (4 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, needles stripped from the stem and chopped
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 4 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Steamed long grain white rice
Directions
  1. Combine the flour, paprika, cayenne, garlic, 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a pie plate, mixing together with your fingers. Dredge the seasoned chicken in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess.
  2. Coat a large skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil and place over medium heat. When the oil is hot, lay the chicken in the pan. Brown for 3-5 minutes on each side, until the outside is nicely browned. Remove the chicken to a side platter.
  3. To the drippings in the pan, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and the onion. Season with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 3 minutes, or until the onions are soft and starting to brown. Pour the broth into the pan and bring to a boil, stirring. Return the chicken to the pan, toss in the rosemary, cover, and gently continue to simmer as you prepare the rest of the dish.
  4. Prepare the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the brown ends and pulling off any yellow leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise.
  5. Place a large non stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crispy. Set aside on a paper towel lined plate.
  6. Add sprouts to the hot pan and season with salt and pepper.Toss and cook for ten minutes or until tender. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed.
  7. To serve, pile a bit of rice on each plate and put a piece of chicken on top. Ladle the sauce on top of the chicken to smother. Scatter the Brussels sprouts around the plate and sprinkle the bacon on top.


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Coconut Shrimp

As we head toward the holiday season  I will be sharing some of my favourite recipes for entertaining and today's appetizer is a real show stopped!

Tender prawns are dredged in a seasoned flour mixture, dipped in egg, dredged with sweetened coconut and fried to a golden brown. Serve this with an icy cold coconut martini and you have the recipe for a fabulous evening!

Coconut Shrimp
For printable recipe click here

















Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 20 large raw shrimp shelled, but leave the tails on
  • 2 cups vegetable or canola oil for frying
  • Sweet chili sauce for dipping
Directions
  1. In a deep plate or shallow bowl, combine the flour and seasoning. Place the eggs in another bowl and the coconut in a third.
  2. Hold shrimp by tail, and dredge in flour, shaking off excess flour. Dip in egg; allow excess to drip off. Roll shrimp in coconut, and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Can be made ahead at this point and refrigerated for a few hours.
  3. Line a second baking sheet with paper towels.
  4. Preheat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan on high. When you can toss a small piece of the coconut into the oil and it sizzles and browns, reduce your heat to medium add your shrimp to the pan in batches of five. Cook about a minute or two per side. You can continue to turn these in the pan so they don't brown too quickly.
  5. Cook to a golden brown and remove to paper lined baking sheet. Cook the rest and serve warm with sweet chili dipping sauce.




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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Back Soon with More Food Fabulosity

The next few days are going to be too busy work wise for cooking and blogging.

This means the man I married will be required to either take me out to dinner or whip me up some kind of clever casserole with his trademark "secret ingredients."

Trust me when I tell you, I am voting for the former and looking forward to a few evenings of restaurant dining.















Pictured above Earls California Shrimp Pizza.

And sliders from The Cactus Club below.

















In the meantime, while I'm out and about nibbling and noshing (and working) I thought I'd leave with you a little teaser for a recipe I'm going to share over the weekend that is truly all that and the proverbial bag of chips.

Crispy on the outside, light and ooey gooey cheesy on the inside, I can't wait to tell you more about these little make ahead marvels.

They've become a freezer staple around my place and are...

Oh.

So.

Good.

See you in a few days!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Three Layer Dinner with Turkey Sausage and Apple Sauce

When I was a teenager my best friend's mom used to make something called "Seven Layer Dinner" - which could hardly be labeled as gourmet fare, I know - but there was something comforting and homey that I loved about it, and there was always an extra place set at the table for me.

This was usually during winter because this kind of casserole, loaded with ground beef, rice, canned peas, tomato soup, and sausages, was definitely the kind of food one ate to keep warm. And growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada, keeping warm in 30 below winters was a priority.

















My best friend Linda and I were both band students and would lug our saxaphones over to her house after school - making the twenty minute trudge home as our breath formed white fog in the air and the tips of our toes tingled in the cold.

But that was growing up on the prairies.

Winter's winds blew a bitter cold and the sky burned the brightest shades of blue imaginable.

















Kids grew up with skates on their feet and every neighborhood had a community club where even on the coldest days we would skate; ducking into the bathrooms to warm our frozen toes under the hand dryers.

It is from those frigid temperatures that the seven layer dinner was born - and it was from out of that bitter cold that some of my warmest memories played out.

Even as a kid I got that.

I understood that sitting around a table with friends and family on a cold day added to life in ways that made things better.

So many kids don't know what this is - a simple dinner, parents who are present, supportive conversations, unconditional love.

"We've got teenagers walking around in a culture of darkness all alone."

It makes me want to continue opening my heart even on days when it would be so much easier to turn a blind eye and look the other way.

That's where the seven layer dinner comes in.

January has been a long month and today was one of those days where I wanted to come home to the same kind of comfort and reassurance found at my friend's table so many years ago.
















So I went to my pantry and created my own version of seven layer dinner (or in my case three layers) with turkey sausage, veggies, and cheesy mashed potatoes.

It was the perfect dinner for the way I was feeling and I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia I got with every bite.

If you try this, I hope you will too.

Three Layer Dinner with Turkey Sausage and Apple Sauce





















Ingredients
  • 2 packages turkey sausages, removed from their casings.
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced button mushrooms
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups cooked frozen mixed vegetables
  • 3 cups cheesy mashed potatoes to top
Directions
  1. Spray a casserole dish with Pam.
  2. In a large skillet, cook sausage, mushrooms, and onion over medium heat until the sausage is browned, the mushrooms have begun to release their water, and the onions have begun to carmelize. Add the salt pepper and spices.
  3. In a bowl, combine the soup, water, and frozen mixed veggies.. Add to the sausage mixture in the pan and stir well to incorporate.
  4. In the casserole dish, layer half the potatoes, soup mixture and sausage; repeat layers.
  5. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
  6. Turn oven to broil and bake 5 minutes longer or until top of potatoes are golden
Serve garnished with fresh parsley and apple sauce.

Embracing Simplicity - M. Jacques Armagnac Chicken

I've been spending a lot of time lately in reflection about the way I process things, realizing that in most ways life is meant to be simple and that if we aren't being faced with the big stuff like losing a loved one, or getting sick, it really just is small stuff.

I know its been said before, but this is a message that bears repeating because as we get busy, and stressed, we tend to blow the inconsequential things in our lives out of proportion; attaching more importance to people or circumstances that don't deserve our energy or attention.

It's really about attitude and remembering that we each have the power to control the way we feel and react to things in every moment and that if something or somebody is taking more of our energy than we wish, we can disengage and choose to remain on the outskirts of a conflict or crisis.

I reminded myself of that today.

Not that I'm embroiled in intrigue or crisis at the moment, but my all too human mind can run amok if given half the chance, turning molehills into mountains, and I am hard at work trying to change this.

To remember that peace is a two way street and if I embrace an attitude of peacefulness and calm in even the most stressful situations, peace will be my experience.

I have the power to choose how I interact and react and therefore also have the power to determine my own experiences.

And one of the ways I wish to experience life is by continuing to adopt a Mediterranean (ie French, Italian, Greek, Spanish) way of living that embraces beauty in my surroundings...

















Simplicity in fashion






















(I LOVE this look on Janet Jackson and totally intend to copy it.)

And relaxed food made with beautiful ingredients...

Like yesterday evening's dinner of M. Jacques’s Armagnac Chicken from Dorie Greenspan's Around my French Table

















I have begun a love affair with Dorie Greenspan, her cooking, and the lovely relaxed way she describes French food and eating that I believe will last a lifetime.

And because I tend to share my every thought and feeling here on my blog, I would be remiss if I didn't share Dorie with you.

From “Around My French Table,” by Dorie Greenspan.

"This recipe, une petite merveille (a little marvel), as the French would say, was given to me years ago by Jacques Drouot, the maître d’hôtel at the famous Le Dôme brasserie in Paris and an inspired home cook. I’ve been making it regularly ever since. It’s one of those remarkable dishes that is comforting, yet more sophisticated than you’d expect (or really have any right to demand, given the basic ingredients and even more basic cooking method).

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 8 small thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and halved lengthwise
  • 3 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, trimmed, peeled and thickly sliced on the diagonal
  • Salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 chicken, about 3½ pounds, preferably organic, trussed (or wings turned under and feet tied together with kitchen string), at room temperature
  • ½ cup Armagnac (Cognac or other brandy) ** I used Grand Marnier because it was all I had and it was amazing.
  • 1 cup water.

Directions
  1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. You’ll need a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting cover, one large enough to hold the chicken snugly but still leave room for the vegetables. (I use an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven.)
  2. Put the casserole over medium heat and pour in the oil. When it’s warm, toss in the vegetables and turn them around in the oil for a minute or two until they glisten; season with salt and white pepper. Stir in the herbs and push everything toward the sides of the pot to make way for the chicken. Rub the chicken all over with salt and white pepper, nestle it in the pot, and pour the Armagnac around it. Leave the pot on the heat for a minute to warm the Armagnac, then cover it tightly — if your lid is shaky, cover the pot with a piece of aluminum foil and then put the cover in place.
  3. Slide the casserole into the oven and let the chicken roast undisturbed for 60 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pot to the stove, and carefully remove the lid and the foil, if you used it — make sure to open the lid away from you, because there will be a lot of steam. After admiring the beautifully browned chicken, very carefully transfer it to a warm platter or, better yet, a bowl; cover loosely with a foil tent.
  5. Using a spoon, skim off the fat that will have risen to the top of the cooking liquid and discard it; pick out the bay leaf and discard it too. Turn the heat to medium, stir the vegetables gently to dislodge any that might have stuck to the bottom of the pot, and add the water, stirring to blend it with the pan juices. Simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens ever so slightly, then taste for salt and pepper.
  6. Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and sauce.

Serving

You can bring the chicken to the table whole, surrounded by the vegetables, and carve it in public, or you can do what I do, which is to cut the chicken into quarters in the kitchen, then separate the wings from the breasts and the thighs from the legs. I arrange the pieces in a large shallow serving bowl, spoon the vegetables into the center, moisten everything with a little of the sauce and then pour the remainder of the elixir into a sauce boat to pass at the table.

Storing

I can’t imagine that you’ll have anything left over, but if you do, you can reheat the chicken and vegetables — make sure there’s some sauce, so nothing dries out — covered in a microwave oven.

Bonne idée

Armagnac and prunes are a classic combination in France. If you’d like, you can toss 8 to 12 prunes, pitted or not, into the pot along with the herbs. If your prunes are pitted and soft, they might pretty much melt during the cooking, but they’ll make a sweet, lovely addition to the mix.

Lyndsay's Bonne idée

Because I am currently cooking for two, there were lots of leftovers for this incredibly moist, flavourful, and succulent meal. So tonight I tossed everything together with a little melted butter in a hot skillet, almost making a crust on the bottom of the potatoes, and finishing by adding the leftover sauce, fresh ground pepper, and parsley.

The result was rustic, simple, and absolutely divine...

















***

Dorie's recipe can be found on pages 204 and 205 of Dorie Greenspan's new cookbook, "Around My French Table"

This blog is linked to Cookbook Sundays at Brenda's Canadian Kitchen.

Cookbook Sundays Badge

Monday, January 24, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookies and a Drag Queen Dress

I was having the most lovely Sunday.

After a leisurely brunch of Banana Sour Cream Pancakes courtesy of a recipe shared by my good friend Pattie at Olla-Podrida, I took the dog for a long hike and then came home to enjoy a day of putzing, cleaning, and cooking.

As an aside, there is truly nothing I like better than a Sunday spent at home and in the kitchen.

And this Sunday I planned to try a couple of new recipes from Around my French Table - one for something called gougéres; a delectable looking little cheese puff I would like to serve at my next book club dinner, and another for Armagnac Chicken.

To round it out, I decided to bake my favourite chocolate chip cookies.



















I am all about health, exercise, and balance this month - but no one ever dropped dead from eating one perfectly baked cookie.

Right?

Right.

But just as I got the first pan into the oven, two things happened:

1. The man I married put a movie on that featured blood thirsty alien predators hunting screaming humans.

In surround sound.

2. And my mother, who I affectionately refer to as Aurora, called with an urgent Ebay related cocktail dress emergency.... (have I mentioned she got an i pad for Christmas?)

Friends, up until December 25th, my mother - who had never so much as laid a fingertip on a computer key board and thought the internet was pretty much of the devil (which it still may actually be) - was now in possession of a device that could take her to every conceivable shopping venue known to man, including Ebay, (deep cleansing breath) with absolutely no idea how to use it.

And I, as loving and dutiful daughter, was crazy enough to set up an icon on her desktop in the category "cocktail dresses" so that she could just tap and go on Ebay.

A site she spent six and a half hours purusing prior to her phone call at approximately 2:30 pacific standard time.

Occurring simultaneously with my cookies going into the oven and The Predator coming onto the big screen.

The call:

Aurora: I don't know what I've done.

Me: What's going on?

Aurora: I found a dress, but then I tapped something and a mauve model came up and she won't go away.

**Heavy artillery and explosions in the background**

Me: A mauve model?

Aurora: I keep tapping the cancel button and I can't get rid of it.

Me: Why don't you just go back to your home page and try again?

Much fumbling and muttering

Aurora: I'm back on the page I started at.

Me: What's the first dress at the top of the page?

Aurora: "Classic party mini dress, cross dresser drag queen"

(I honour the divinity that resides within me)

And on it went.

To my eternal credit, I managed to bake 2 dozen chocolate chip cookies during the phone call.

And the drag queen dress was just fabulous enough for me to place an order.

Who knew baking cookies could be so exciting...

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies






















INGREDIENTS

* 1 cup butter, softened
* 1\2 cup white sugar
* 1 cup packed brown sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon salt
* 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
* 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Cream together the butter, white sugar, and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Add baking soda to batter along with salt. Stir in flour, chocolate chips, and nuts. Drop by large spoonfuls onto ungreased pans.
3. Bake for about 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are nicely browned.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Embracing the Healthy Side of January with Fish Tacos and Mango Chutney

As I talked about in a previous blog, I've been trying lately to be a little healthier both in my approach to life and to the things I eat.

This is an annual thing.

Every year around the 15th of January, I realize my joyous foray into the world of mashed potatoes, gravy, and baked goods has changed from something wonderful as in "the holidays are coming" to something mildly depressing with sinister undertones.

"Drop that cracker lady and step away from the asiago cheese dip!"

In the spirit of that, my husband and I spent this morning wandering around our favourite heath food store. Or, as I like to call it, doh dodey oh dohing.

For the unitiated, doh dodey oh dohing can occur in any kind of shopping venue. Whether it be a convenience store, home electronics mart, or a health food emporium, with the prerequisite for doh dodey oh dohing being that one must wander slowly down the aisles and look at every item available. In doing so, the dodey oh doher must find some kind of a treasure that (a) doesn't cost much and (b) he or she would never have considered purchasing prior to visiting the store.

This morning the man I married scored a box of Andrew Weil's instant oatmeal, something called Happy Tea, and some beautiful organic avocados and peppers - taking my mind in the direction of something fresh, healthy, and Latin for tonight's dinner.

















Loaded with all this good stuff, though, and talking of things like silky black beans and chutney, we both started to feel a little hungry and decided to take ourselves out for lunch. I was craving a bowl of Wonton soup, but my husband - God bless him - felt like chicken.

Normally this would have meant he'd be ordering chicken flavoured wontons, but since he was the one who scored the Happy Tea, I decided to give up my dreams of soup and put forth my newly enlightened resolution to be a better "Giver" in the New Year - thus taking us both the Swiss Chalet.















Where we each ordered the quarter chicken dinner as pictured above.

Except the service was slow. Our dinners didn't come with the advertised special dipping sauce or side salad, we had to wait an extra ten minutes to flag down a waitress to get the situation rectified, and after all that, the dipping sauce wasn't even really that good.

But at no time did I as "Giver" feel inclined, to complain or make reference to the superior service at the Japanese restaurant where we usually get our wonton on.

Not me.

Instead, staring across the table at the man I vowed to love for life as he dabbed a little special sauce off his chin, I was filled with complete happiness.

Good old fashioned kick your heels up, hug a bunch of trees joy.

I had made happiness a choice.

Instead of complaining, I decided to enjoy the moment and go with the flow letting lunch unfold as it would, and we both ended up having a great time - go figure.

I realized, I had turned a corner in my "self medicating with pie crust" January blues and re-committed to feeding both my mind and soul with ingredients that were fresh, healthy, and maybe a little spicy - because as the chilly winds threaten to keep us indoors for a few more months, there's nothing like a little flavour to give meaning to our days.

Swiss Chalet notwithstanding.

***

I have to tell you, the following recipe inspired by the fresh avocados and peppers was very good. I adapted it from Whitney Miller's original recipe as featured in the MasterChef cookbook to rave review from my husband.


Fish Tacos with Mango Chutney
For printable recipe click HERE















Chutney Ingredients

  • 1 ripe mango, halved and cubed
  • 1 diced red pepper
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • 1/2 small jalapeno pepper finely chopped
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • 3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • juice of two limes
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Chutney Directions
Combine the mango, red pepper, onion, jalapeno pepper, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, lime juice and vinegar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for twenty minutes or until the chutney thickens. Stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.


Ingredients for the Black Beans
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 small jalapeno pepper finely diced
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can black beans rinsed and drained
  • juice of one lime
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus more for garnish
Directions for Black Beans
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, jalapeno pepper, and garlic. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until the vegetables are softened and fragrant. Mix in the beans and cook for 5 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Squeeze in the lime juice and stir in the cilantro. Cover to keep warm.

For the Taco
  • 2 tbsp Emeril's creole blend
  • 2, 8 ounce white fish filets (cat fish, basa, halibut)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1/2 cup mixed field greens or shredded romaine lettuce
  • 1 ripe avocado, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup Hellman's Real Mayonaise
Directions for the tacos
Pour the 2 tbsp creole blend into a pie plate. Dredge both sides of the fish pieces in the spice mixture to evenly coat and tap off excess.

Brush a large non stick pan with oil and place over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, lay the fish in the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook for 3 minutes longer or until the fish is completely cooked through.

To serve: Put two tortillas on each plate and spread all over with mayonnaise. Top with a heaping spoonful of the black beans. Divide fish among the tortillas. Put a spoonful of the chutney on top and garnish with the lettuce, avocado, and cilantro.

Serve warm.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mandarin Pork Stir Fry

After the casseroles, appetizers, baking, and butter of the past few months, (November and December tend to bring out the hibernating bear in me) it's time to dial things back and embrace an eating plan with food groups that don't require gravy.

Cheese.

Or condensed soup of any kind.

Where my key words for December were "ooey and gooey'' the word to describe my current perspective on food - and life for that matter - would have to be "spicy."

Spicy foods serve many purposes. Not only do they have the power to unblock the nasal passages and help soothe the sniffles, I find that I eat less when I have something zesty on my plate.

Something zesty in my life doesn't hurt either, and certainly, embracing a spicy attitude has its benefits.

The spicy person tends to take life less seriously and never forgets at days end that work must be left behind. They remind us that long conversations over a plate of well prepared food and a glass of wine are good things, and that we should all make time in our lives for dancing, laughter, and the odd siesta.

This is why I like January; even though I'm not one for resolutions, there is definitely a sense of renewal this time of year.

In the spirit of that, I took my running shoes out of hibernation this afternoon, leashed the dog and went for a long slow jog - my first real run in over a month.

I've talked about this before, but I'll say it again - the benefits of exercise, not just on the body, but on the mind, are immense.

A 45 minute workout, run, swim, or walk is a powerful way to change perspective, lift the spirits, and uncover the spice that resides within all of us.

And what better after a zesty workout than a beautiful Asian Stir Fry?

















The following recipe is one I have adapted from a new cookbook I'm very impressed with: MasterChef

It's a compilation from Gordon Ramsey's Fox show and when I saw this recipe for Asian Orange Stir Fry, I knew I had to try it.

The original recipe called for boneless chicken breasts, fresh mandarin oranges, and more cayenne pepper. My version uses boneless pork loin, canned mandarins, and a little less heat.

When my husband took his first bite he said "I could eat this every week."

And I agree.

Asian Pork Stir Fry

Prep Time:  20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4

For printable recipe click HERE






















Ingredients
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork loin cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 small tin mandarin oranges
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Asian chili sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound snow peas
  • 4 cups cooked white rice
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the bias for garnish
Directions
  1. Whisk the egg white, cornstarch, sesame oil, and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Add the pork and toss to coat. Set aside.
  2. In another bowl, drain the juice from the mandarins and add the broth, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and chili sauce. Stir well until everything is mixed.
  3. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok at medium high. When the oil is hot, toss in the pork and stir fry until pork is cooked through and is nice and brown and crispy. Reduce heat if the pan becomes too hot.
  4. Remove the pork to a plate lined with paper towel and add the snow peas to the pan. Pour in the mandarin juice mixture. Simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens (about 7 minutes)
  5. Add the pork back to the pan tossing to coat in the sauce.
Serve with white rice, mandarin orange segments, and green onions to garnish.




***

Author:

Lyndsay Wells is a professional trainer, writer, and program developer with a passion for food and cooking. She is an award winning recipe developer, and a website ambassador for Kraft Foods Canada. Lyndsay believes cooking should be approachable and easy and has great tips and ideas for putting together sophisticated looking dishes that cooks of all levels can accomplish.

Visit her daily on her blog, The Kitchen Witch or on her YouTube Channel, CHARMED With The Kitchen Witch.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Porcini Mushroom Sauce

One of fun things about food blogging is the opportunity it gives to expand culinary horizons and try new things - like today's recipe for butternut squash ravioli with porcini mushroom sauce.

















I received the nicest compliment the other day from a cashier at my local grocery store who asked if I was a chef.

This, based on the interesting array of food items I had in my cart.

"I'm just a food blogger," I said, backing away from the till, truffle oil and wasabi paste in hand - thinking she should have been here for the tuna noodle casserole last week - but flattered, nonetheless, that she recognized the cook in me.

I walked away grateful for this outlet to express my own creativity.

When I'm shopping at my favourite thrift store looking for just the right vintage table setting, or hunting for specialty wines, this wacky hobby gives me joy and a place to play when the everyday world of being an adult closes in with its responsibility and drama.

Play.

It was something we all did as children.



I can still remember Christmas when I was eight years old - being shocked that my older cousins were happy with gifts of clothes or cologne instead of toys.







Sad on the day I realized, one day at fifteen, that I was there too.

Because we all need a little magic in our lives.

A chance to use our imaginations, throw our hands in the air, and rejoice in the moment.

I find that sense of fun through blogging, while others find it through art, or sport, or travel - the point isn't what you do to play, just that you do it.

That you are constantly committed to finding things that give your life a sense of joy and purpose.

Even if it's something as simple as this...























One of my aspirations this year is to begin experimenting with making my own pasta, but until I get there, I have to admit I was intrigued by the butternut squash ravioli pictured above.

In the same way I had been a few weeks prior with the dried porcini mushrooms that made their way into my shopping cart.

And the result of the two together...

One of the most beautiful, comforting, healthful, and all round super yummy meals I've made in a long time.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Porcini Mushroom Sauce
For printable recipe click HERE


















Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine or a sweet red wine
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 cup beef stock or canned beef broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1 package butternut squash ravioli
Directions
  1. Combine porcini mushrooms and 1 cup warm water in small bowl. Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms from liquid, squeezing excess liquid from mushrooms back into bowl; reserve liquid. Place mushrooms in another small bowl.
  2. Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until onion browns, about 15 minutes. Add Marsala and white wine. Increase heat; boil until most liquid evaporates, about 7 minutes. Add rosemary, mushrooms and both stocks. Pour in reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Boil until liquid mixture is reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes.
  3. Mix butter and flour in small bowl to blend; whisk into mushroom mixture. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Prepare ravioli according to package directions and then toss with the porcini sauce. Let the ravioli sit in the sauce for five minutes before serving to incorporate. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.
**Note: This sauce is amazing on many things like chicken, beef, or pork.

Happy Tuesday everyone! I hope you enjoy...



***

Author:

Lyndsay Wells is a professional trainer, writer, and program developer with a passion for food and cooking. She is an award winning recipe developer, and a website ambassador for Kraft Foods Canada. Lyndsay believes cooking should be approachable and easy and has great tips and ideas for putting together sophisticated looking dishes that cooks of all levels can accomplish.

Visit her daily on her blog, The Kitchen Witch or on her YouTube Channel, CHARMED With The Kitchen Witch.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Gingersnaps Dipped in White Chocolate

"Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love."
— Wally Lamb (She's Come Undone)

***

I was driving to an appointment with a colleague the other day when she mentioned in passing, "You can never feel for your step children the same way you feel for your own."

As someone who doesn't have step kids I didn't disagree with her - after all, who am I to challenge her experience - but the comment gave me pause because I am a step child.

A step child who has never once felt a difference between the relationship I have with my step father and the one he has with his "own" kids.

Don't get me wrong, however, because when I talk of my step father - who will from this point forward be referred to as "Marv -" I'm not describing a touchy feely sort of person.

To the contrary, the last time I remember getting a hug from him was in 1988.

What I have come to learn, though, is that people show their love in a variety of ways and it is the wise person who can accept what is being offered.

































Pictured above is my pie safe.

I first learned about these wonderful, whimsical pieces - originally used to keep pies and baked goods fresh - while watching the Food Network, and I can still remember the conversation I had with Marv afterward telling him how much I would like to have one.

A year later, at Christmas, I did.

































Designed from top to bottom by a man who owed me nothing - with pieces of wood, and oak, and stained glass that he had been saving - it is to me, one of my most treasured possessions.

***

We all have ways in which we express ourselves.

For some, expressing our feelings and love comes easily.

A hug.

A smile.

A casual I Love You.

But for others the words aren't always there.

That doesn't mean they don't exist.

Human beings, in all our fear and frailty, are such beautiful creatures.

And I've learned over the years not to accept anyone at status quo.

Because what we initially ever see of anyone is merely the tip of a very complex and complicated iceberg.

We're conditioned only to see the tip.

Our first impressions, judgments, opinions, and assumptions cloud our ability to see the warmth and humanity that lives beneath the ice.

















"You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

— E.B. White (Charlotte's Web)

***

Bloggers are fortunate in that we have the opportunity to meet people from all over we might never have if not for this medium.

And I am no different.

The friends and supporters I have met over the years are so appreciated I don't even know how to begin to express the gratitude I feel.

But there is one friend who has been supportive to the next level, someone who is always on my side, and is always there to remind me of my own inner "Towanda" - and it is for that person I have taken much joy in making a "milkshake."

Over the years I have accepted what she has to offer and this weekend I had the chance to pay it forward in my own way.















I am sending her cookies because she is the kind of person who creates a sense of value in the lives of the people she touches - and that, to me, is worth everything.

This recipe for gingersnaps dipped in white chocolate is one of my all time favourites.


















A lot of love went into them from me to my friend.

***

Sometimes the biggest difference we can make in the lives of others is by extending ourselves.

In kindness.

In compassion.

In cookies.

What cookies do you have to give? Simple gestures that in ways big and small make this world a better place?

How will you give them?

That is my question and my answer this beautiful Monday...

***
Gingersnaps Dipped in White Chocolate
For printable recipe click HERE

















Ingredients

* 2 cups sugar
* 1-1/2 cups canola oil
* 2 eggs
* 1/2 cup molasses
* 4 cups all-purpose flour
* 4 teaspoons baking soda
* 3 teaspoons ground ginger
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon salt
* Additional sugar
* 2 packages (10 to 12 ounces each) white chocolate chips
* 1/4 cup shortening

Directions
  1. In a large bowl, combine sugar and oil. Beat in eggs. Stir in molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
  2. Shape into 3/4-in. balls and roll in sugar. Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until cookie springs back when touched lightly. Remove to wire racks to cool.
  3. In a microwave, melt chips and shortening; stir until smooth. Dip cookies halfway into the melted chips; allow excess to drip off. Place on waxed paper; let stand until set. Yield: about 14-1/2 dozen
This blog is linked to Metamorphosis Monday


Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Basics Part One: How to Broil the Perfect Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms and Crispy Baked Potatoes

There is nothing I like better than a good steak slathered with buttery golden sauteed mushrooms, and a fluffy baked potato with crispy skin.


In fact, I like it so much, I consider it one of my "basics" - a go to dinner I make at least once a month, usually on a Friday night.

I can't help it, I work hard and friday nights have an air of celebration about them.

Sometimes we go out to dinner, but more often than not, celebrating is putting on my comfiest flannel pyjamas and opening a bottle of good red wine.

Like this wonderful Cabernet Shiraz from Australia that's selling at a decent price point: The Musician.






















Though I neither swirled nor sniffed, this is a lovely full bodied red that beautifully accompanies a steak; which when broiled properly during these winter months when the barbecue is not as accessible, is a Friday night treat as good as you would have in any steak house.

Just as in life where there are techniques for navigating its ever changing waters like: "Do unto others," "Never tell a lie," or "Let your conscience be your guide" - the same applies to cooking where there are tried and true techniques for preparing most food.

Techniques I think of as "The Basics" that I will be sharing periodically starting with Friday's dinner of steak with sauteed mushrooms and a baked potato.

As an aside, one of my happiest food memories involves this dinner.

It was a Wednesday afternoon when I was in grade five.

I came home for lunch, expecting to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or a bowl of KRAFT dinner, when to my surprise, my mom was in the kitchen, taking the day off work, and making me - you guessed it - a broiled T bone steak and a fluffy baked potato for lunch.

It was so thoughtful and so special that I more clearly understand now, why this particular dinner makes me feel well cared for at the end of a tough week.

Love, as they say, is in the details, and taking the time to prepare simple food exceptionally is another way to enjoy the very best of what life has to offer.

So let's begin!

Perfect Crisp Skinned Baked Potatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and clean a couple russet baking potatoes.
  2. Once the potatoes are clean, dry them off, poke two or three times with a fork, and oil the potatoes using canola oil. To oil, dab a small amount in your hands (about 1/8 tsp) and then spread thinly over the potato like it's getting ready to go to the beach. This is what will make your potato skin crispy.
  3. Lightly sprinkle with salt and then place directly onto the top rack of the oven. Heat rises and baking on the top rack will contribute to a crispy skin. Bake for about an hour and half checking often.
  4. If making with a steak, the potato can be moved to the bottom rack of the oven while the steak broils.
To serve your baked potato I'm going to share a secret I learned years ago watching Martha Stewart.

When it is cut in half, and before you add your toppings, grab your potato at both ends and gently push the ends toward each other. This will cause the insides of your potato to fluff providing the perfect receptacle for creamy butter, crisp green onions, or silky sour cream.

















Broiling the Perfect Steak
















Ingredients
  • 2 steaks
  • Your favourite steak seasoning (I use Montreal Steak Spice)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
Additional Items: Cast iron skillet, tongs

Directions:
  1. Bring your steaks to room temperature.
  2. Move oven rack 6 inches from heating element.
  3. Pre-heat oven and skillet by setting the oven to broiler for 10-15 minutes (the idea is to get your skillet very hot)
  4. Rub steaks with olive oil, and your choice of seasonings.
  5. Once the skillet is pre-heated, pull out of oven and carefully lay steaks on the skillet. The skillet will be extremely hot so expect the steaks to sizzle.
  6. Close oven and sear the steaks for 3 minutes on one side, turn and sear the opposite side for 3 minutes. Use tongs to turn steaks. A fork will release juices from the steak that you want to keep.
  7. Once seared, re-set the oven to 500F and cook using this Time Chart. Turn steaks half way through the remaining cooking time.
Time Chart
    Rare:1 inch steak, 0-1 minute, 1 1/4 inch steak 2-3 minute, 1 3/4 inch steak 4-5 minute
    Medium: 1 inch steak 2-3 minute, 1 1/4 inch steak 4-5 minute, 1 3/4 inch steak 6-7 minute
    Medium Well: 1 inch steak 4-5 minutes, 1 1/4 inch steak, 6-7 minute, 1 3/4 inch steak 8-9 minute

    Remove steaks from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes (Very important. Don't skip this step)

    Serve with sauteed mushrooms.

    Sautéed Mushrooms a la Julia Child

    Note: It is very important when sauteeing mushrooms that they are perfectly dry. Otherwise they will boil in the pan instead of sautee.

    Adapted from Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    • Heat 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet over high heat
    • When the butter melts and foam begins to subside, add ½ lb. button mushrooms that have been washed, well-dried and sliced
    • Toss mushrooms for 4 to 5 minutes until they absorb the fat and start to squeak (you will hear them)
    • Adjust heat if starting to smoke and continue sautéeing for another 2 to 3 minutes until the mushrooms start to release the fat. They will brown rapidly at this point
    • Remove from the heat when they are light brown. Add salt, pepper, and any other seasonings to taste. I like to add a clove of minced garlic if serving with steak.
    So that's it.

    My version of the perfect steak dinner on a January Friday.

    I hope you enjoy!

    ***
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