Thursday, January 31, 2008

Spaghetti & Meatballs

Since I'm behind on my food blogging and finishing this post on Friday, rather than Thursday, this will be my submission for next week's (rather than this week's) Presto Pasta Night Roundup.

I've never been a big fan of large chunks of ground beef. I think it's some sort of heldover association to a meatloaf that should never have made it to the oven. However, on occasion I make spaghetti and meatballs. Below is my recipe for it. I always endeavour to make the meatballs so soft that they practically melt in your mouth - so if anyone has any further tips on this goal, please share!

I started off with garlic and shallots (didn't have any regular onion). I would also usually add mushrooms at the beginning, but didn't have any fresh ones.

I added a tomato sauce as well as crushed tomatoes. Then I added a can of mushrooms (I don't like canned mushrooms, but R doesn't mind them). I also add in a bunch of herbs and spices.

After the sauce comes to a boil, I add meatballs.

The meatballs are made from ground beef, ketchup, an egg, bread crumb and spices. Usually, I add spicy paprika, oregano, basil, onion and garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.

I also add this stuff, Cracked Lavender Pepper:

R and I picked up some lavender products from Salt Spring Island, when we travelled to British Columbia this past summer. Here's the lavender farm we visited.

When we were in Turkey, I picked up some Turkish Meatball Spice:

I have no idea what's in here and can't find a quick answer online. But, I discovered that it's an acquired taste when I added it to a stew I made one time. As of yet, I haven't acquired the taste.

After adding all of the ingredients to the hamburger, I make balls out of mixture and add it to my sauce.

I leave the meatballs in for about an hour or so and let them cook in the sauce. Just be careful about leaving the sauce unattended to for too long -- or else this (or worse) may happen:

That's only a minute or two worth of damage.

I usually like my meatballs with spaghettini:

It makes for a great traditional-style meal and lunch leftovers for another 4-5 meals.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Phoney Pho

Cravings are irrational, or so I keep telling myself. I learned early on in my pregnant life (about 100 years ago) that dill pickles are NOT an irrational craving. They only become irrational when mixed with ice cream. Just ask psychgrad about dill pickles. I believe she has some residual cellular memory of these cravings from in utero.

So in a round about way, what I've come full circle on is today's craving which was for a steaming bowl (a tub would have been even better) of Vietnamese Pho Soup. The only issue I have with the real deal is the sodium content (note sodium obsession kicking in). In an effort to keep it healthier, I created my own version and although there's something really special about sitting in a small Vietnamese 6 table restaurant having this massive bowl served to the table, this version does satisfy the craving and I feel better for it for not ingesting excessive amounts of sodium.

Home made chicken broth (store bought would work too)
Cut pieces of whichever protein you chose (or not). I used chicken
1/4 cup pea pods
1/4 cup shredded carrots
1/4 - 1/2 cup mung bean sprouts
1/4 cup broccoli florets
1 baby bok choy cut up
rice vermicelli noodles to your liking
Siracchi hot sauce (or whatever hot sauce you like)

1. Fry together pea pods, shredded carrots, broccoli, baby bok choy so that they only lose some of their crunch - about 3-4 minutes
2. Boil water, add vermicelli rice noodles - don't cook for more than 2 minutes, drain.
3. Bring soup to a boil. In the meantime, in a large bowl cut up protein, add drained vermicelli noodles, fried vegetables and then soup.
4. Top with fresh mung bean sprouts
5. Add hot sauce to your taste

This soup is nutritious and very filling. I don't add any spice at all to this soup - the hot sauce gives it both bite and flavour. StumbleUpon

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Tag is a Many Splendour Thing

Our first rite of passage - mom and dad blogger Redacted Recipes put me into "oh gawd, I really have to figure out how to do links properly hell" by tagging us. Psychgrad is already the family expert and I the unwilling grasshopper when it comes to mastering new internet related things.

Here are the rules:
1. Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
2. Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
3. Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
4. Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog

So, here goes - 5 Things you may never want to know about Gizmar (aka Giz) or Psychrad.

1. The thought of eating celery in raw form makes my stomach turn. Although it's never done anything to me, the texture, the smell and even the look of it is a total turn off. (Giz)

2. Related to sickness, I spent over 5 years totally food restricted - no whole grains, no legumes, extremely limited fruit choices, low sodium choices. After a successful kidney transplant in January, 2007, although still obsessed with sodium content in foods, I can eat anything and everything. (Giz)

3. Food disappointments have, on occasion, sparked irrational emotional reactions. For example, while living in England for the better part of a year, I really missed Strub's full sour pickles.

I would even have gone for a Claussen (I have no idea who this guy below is, but I agree with him, even though I had to laugh at the guy).

After multiple sweet pickles, which I spat out on the first bite, I got really excited when I heard that the deli in Harrod's food area served something that sounded like a corned beef sandwich. I think the sandwich was something like 10 pounds. Add another quid or so for a pickle. $25 dollar (Canadian) sandwich seemed reasonable, right? Ok...not so much. But I was really jonesing for a corned beef sandwich with a pickle. Surely, the pickle would be sour -- who eats a sweet pickle with a corned beef sandwich? R and I shared the sandwich -- not because it was massive. We sat patiently waiting for the sandwich. I'm sure to the unaware (of my massive craving) observer, I looked normal. But my taste buds and all other sensory neurons in my body were leaping in excitement for my long-awaited corned beef sandwich and pickle. Finally, it arrived. R doesn't seem to have such attachments to pickles, so he let me take it for myself. I took my first bite....

It was sweet. In the "not sour" sense. I spit out my biteful and handed the pickle to R. Without any intention to respond strongly to my disappointment, tears started streaming down my face. R freaked out - "what's wrong? what happened?" Nothing (my usual response for -- I don't want to talk about it). "Why are you crying?"

I figured, if I'm going to cry in the middle of probably the most famous department store in the world, I should explain it. "I really wanted a sour pickle". Between his laughs, R promised to buy me a full jar of full sour pickles upon returning home to Canada. It wasn't until R and I returned home and he met my mother for the first time, who had cheese blintzes with strawberries waiting for us when we walked into her house after landing in Canada, that he truly understood how important food could be.

For further evidence of my irrational responses to food disappointment see a story from my personal blog (language warning). (Psychgrad)

4. After high school and before beginning my university education I had the bug to do some travelling. One of the spots I visited was the middle east, more specifically Israel. I fell in love with the country and the people and decided to take a longer hiatus from schooling than originally planned. I made many friends, one of whom was a tour guide. We were on a day trip and stopped to visit with some Beduins who were in transit. My friend spoke with them in Arabic and both kept turning to me and smiling. Not wanting to offend anyone, I just smiled back in response. The conversation between the two men continued for about 15 minutes. I couldn't understand any of it but just kept smiling and being polite. Suddenly my tour guide friend suggested in a rather stern voice that I go back to the car and stay there. I didn't really understand why he changed so quickly but once we were on the road again he began laughing hysterically. What??? He proceeded to tell me that he had a wonderful opportunity to sell me to the Beduins for 5 camels and 10 sheep. Apparently this is an extremely good price. To think that I could be part of a harem. (Giz)

5. I tried out for the Canadian Olympic Volleyball Team and received a rejection because I was too short. Maybe in my next life. (Giz)

People we are tagging:

1. Kevin at Closet Cooking
2. Dori at Foodie Fashionista
3. Ronell at My French Kitchen
4. Ruth at Once Upon a Feast
5. Larissa at The Larissa Monologues StumbleUpon

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Wedding in the Family

My brother is getting married. It's pretty exciting, since he managed to survive 50 years without tieing the knot. It's funny that no matter what age one decides to get married and actually has a full blown wedding, the clueing in to who does what and in what order becomes totally overwhelming. Since the rest of us in the family (i.e. the nuclear family) have been married at least once - some twice - we became the "experts" at putting on weddings. The family meeting was called. We all knew what we were in store for so we opted to tell brother dearest that if we were going to be "on the hook" for a pile of work, he was taking us all out for dinner. He did.

We chose a local Trattoria - a regular family neighbourhood haunt where were usually have pretty good luck with meals and service. This particular restaurant is well known for its wood stove pizza - two of our party ordered it and true to form it was spectacular.

We ordered a bottle of Pinot to go with it against our server's better instincts. Note to self: On my bucket list I have to learn more about wine and food pairing. I admit it - I only know about two types of wine - red and white, everything in between is a bit of a mystery.

The wedding boy who is probably the most health conscious member of our family ordered the roast chicken dish. He was very patient with me while I photographed his dinner and finally said "do you think maybe you'll get one good shot out of the 30 you already took?". Geez....temperamental - I guess only bloggers understand the importance of getting the shot just right.

The trattoria had on their specials list for the evening a canelloni dish that the server said was exceptional. It was probably the first time I've ever sent anything back to the kitchen. It looked okay but on tasting proved to be overly sauced and just far too rich.

The chef came to the table and asked for feedback - thought that was pretty decent and offered a replacement. I opted for the Spaghetti Bolognese - a tried a true for me and it was very flavourful - loved it.

We now are very clear about expectations. My brother is marrying someone from France and the entire French family (none of whom speak English) will be coming to the wedding. Some will be making a vacation of it and expect to stay in Canada for approximately a month - and would we mind terribly opening up our homes to the new family. Don't get me wrong - I would do anything for my brother but how long is charades fresh? Apparently there will be a series of meet and greet events to welcome our new family from across the pond. StumbleUpon

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Caesar Salad

I guess you have to start somewhere with cookbooks. This was one of the first we've ever received -- from R's mom. It came in handy as we were both trying to figure out how to make meals for ourselves.

To this day, we use the caesar salad dressing recipe from this book. Once you try homemade dressing, there's no going back to the store bought stuff. Actually, this reminds me of a slightly embarrassing potluck story. We were attending a friend of a friend's potluck and were asked to bring salad. So, we brought caesar with our homemade dressing. We assembled the dish there and it got rave reviews from everyone who ate it. After getting a plateful of food, R went back for seconds. He came back with more caesar salad on his plate and start eating it without a second thought. Next thing you know, he's making faces about the salad and says to me (relatively loudly) "Something is wrong with our salad. It doesn't taste right at all". I tried some, squished my face and said -- maybe we should take it away from the table. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), we were corrected that this wasn't our salad and that someone else had also brought caesar salad, which was prepared when our salad ran out. Oops...the person who brought the second salad was in the room. OOPS!

I don't mean to sound like a salad dressing snob...but...there is a difference.

Without further ado, here's the recipe. I'll give the full recipe, which serves six. We usually half the recipe for the two of us. More specifically, R usually halves the recipe (I rarely do the prep on caesar salad).

1/3 cup olive oil
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp water
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 cloved garlic, finely chopped
3 anchovy fillets, chopped (we usually use 1 or 2 -- 3 was too salty)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 large head Romaine lettuce
garlic croutons
bacon bits
parmesan cheese

1. In a food processor, combine oil, majonnaise, lemon juice, water, mustard, garlic, anchovy fillets and pepper until smooth and creamy.

2. Arrange lettuce in salad bowl; pour dressing over and toss lightly. Add croutons, bacon bits, parmesan cheese. Toss again.

I also just heard a tip on Barefoot Contessa that you should use your salad spinner as a crisper by just washing your lettuce and leaving it in the spinner in the fridge over night. I've never tried it, but it sounds like a good tip. I also noticed that I have the same Oxo salad spinner as Ina (a used, but perfectly good donation from my uncle). After going through (read: breaking) a couple of spinners, I am devoted to this one.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Apple Cake

Freud theorized that people have two life forces, Eros and Thanatos, a life and death instinct, respectively. I think he forgot one life instinct...freezeros. The life force that drives you to fill your freezer. Maybe this is just a manifestation of Eros, but it feels very separate from a desire to live. More so, a desire to fill space....sounds like an existential crisis.

Today, I felt the itch to cook or bake something. Maybe it's because I'm getting sick. Probably more so the pleasure I get from posting recipes on our food blog. My mom's most exciting moment of the week was bringing my grandmother food from the freezer so that she would have space to cook more. So, I come by it honestly.

In the end, I made apple cake. Preparing it specifically with the intention to freeze small cakes in the freezer.

1/2 cup of shortening (I use margarine)
1 cup of white sugar
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup of milk
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 tsp. of baking soda
1 tsp. of baking powder
dash of salt
1/2 tsp. of vanilla
4 good sized apples (sometimes I use more)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Cream shortening and sugars.

Add eggs - beat slightly. Add milk. Add dry ingredients and beat until mixed. add sliced apples (fold in with spoon). Pour everything into a greased 9X13 glass baking dish.

On top of cake (before cooking) put about 1/2 cup of brown sugar (dust over) and sprinkle cinnamon (to your taste). Put in over at 350 for 45 minutes (in my oven it was ready in 40 minutes).


Put cake into smaller pans for freezing and adjust time in over according to depth of pan. For example, the cakes below were left in the oven for 45 minutes.

This time I added raisins to the recipe. They were a great addition. But, then again, I love raisins in anything apple or oatmeal.

Of course, I had to make sure the cake was only two (of three) contains are freezer-bound. StumbleUpon

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vegetarian Lasagne

The Skinny Gourmet is hosting a Food for Thought event about dishes that recreate memories. Although the quintessential nostalgic dish, for me, would have to be chicken soup, I just used that recipe for a Comfort Recipe event. A close second is lasagne. Lasagne nights were always good nights, growing up. In fact, if I am forced to eat a bad lasagne, I find it irrationally upsetting to me. All of that anticipation for nothing!

Take this lasagne (picture below), for example. Looks decent. So misleading. The person making this lasagne followed a recipe that required sliced cheese. I think she figured using cheese in, Kraft mozzarella cheese slices, would suffice. It didn't. It was gross and I had to hold back from throwing the good china at the wall.

Meeting R, I didn't have a lot of dishes in my repetoire. Schnitzel, Kraft Dinner and lasagne. Thankfully the latter of the three sealed the deal.

Every so often, I switch up the more traditional meat lasagne for the recipe you see below. Both are very good, but the meat version would probably "take the cake".


lasagne noodles - 9-12 (depending on layers and size of lasagne -- I prefer the kind that you boil first)
ragu sauce (I spice with onion and garlic powder, oregano, chillis, basil and pepper)
mozzarella cheese - about 2 cups
parmesan cheese
cottage cheese (small container)
tuna - 2 cans
mushrooms - 7-8 medium sized
spinach (I used 2 frozen spinach packages this time, but fresh and boiled works too. Just make sure to squeeze the water out in both cases)
artichokes (6-7 hearts)


While your noodles are boiling, prep the layers of your lasagne.

Spray the casserole dish with pam, Then add a light layer of ragu sauce. Next is a layer of pasta.



Spinach and sliced mushrooms

Dollops of cottage cheese and artichokes

Cheese - mozzarella and parmesan

Repeat the layering a second time and end off with a top layer of noodles. On top of the final layer of noodles, create a final layer of cheese.

Cook in the over at 350 F for approximately 30 minute. Keep an eye on the cheese so that it doesn't get too crispy (unless you like it that way). Once you take it out of the oven, if you don't have hungry mouths lined up, let the lasagne sit for 10 minutes or so to let it settle.

I'll be submitting this post to this week's Presto Pasta Roundup


Chicken Parmesan with Potato Dumplings

The whole time I thought of preparing this dish AND during the cooking process, I had this little person on my shoulder whispering in my ear. No - really - I'm not entirely insane - she was there - honest she was! She kept whispering in my ear "why are you even thinking about eating this - it's so fattening and you'll be so sorry you ate all these calories. Why don't you make a salad instead". My gosh -it's my mother still telling me what to eat! "But mother, I said - I'm making your potato dumpling recipe (she calls them "kliskes" - a Yiddishism for Gnocci, dumplings or whatever one's cultural heritage calls it). "Never mind she said - I used to make them for your father - he could eat them - he was skinny".
Call me a rebel - I made them anyways. I figure by the time I hit the age of 50, I could do what I wanted in my own kitchen.

Feeling mighty brave by this point I grabbed the ingredients for the dumplings:

Dumpling Ingredients:
4 or 5 medium sized potatoes (I used russet)
1 egg
salt and pepper

This is one of those recipes that works from "feel" - it has to feel right.

1. Peel and quarter potatoes
2. Boil until soft
3. Drain and return to pot to allow excess water to dissipate
4. Mash really well or if you have a ricer even better. Lumps are a no no
5. Add beaten egg and begin adding flour about 1/4 cup at a time until you create a dough like consistency (shouldn't be sticky)

6. Liberally flour board to work with your dough
7. Cut dough in quarters and roll each quarter into a snake (I start this with my hands and then transfer to a board and roll it lightly with both palms)
8. Cut dumplings at an angle. Continue this process until all the dough is used.

9. Bring a soup sized pot of water to a boil, add salt and drop dumplings into water - remove as they rise to the surface (as you would with perogies)

Note: I learned a hard lesson with these - if you don't add enough flour and have a solid consistency with the dough, they can quickly become a mush pot. It's that whole you have to feel when the dough is right and not sticky.

The second thing I've learned over time is that I probably should have been born to an Italian family. I love the foods, love the cultural identity, love the sense of family and love the customs. I'm fortunate enough to live in a community that houses many Italian families from new immigrants to second and third generation Canadians. One of the things I've come to love is the September long weekend tradition in our area of going to the local farmer to bring home a minimum of 5 bushels of tomatoes. The garage doors go up, the huge pots come out, the canning jars are all sterilized and one neighbour helps the next as the back breaking job of making sauce tomatoes begins. We seem to have it down to a science - each bushel of tomatoes (depending on the quality of the crop) will usually yield about 20 - one litre mason jars of sauce. So 5 bushels gets you through the winter with enough left over to share with family and friends.

The tomatoes go through an extruder twice and I've come to learn that good sauce is thick and rich - not runny. Mixed with fresh basil leaves (basillica as my neighbours call it) and a good pinch of salt, this sauce becomes the foundation of all wonderful foods Italian.
One of my favourite good things Italian is Chicken Parmesan - easy, quick, freezes well and always makes me feel good when I eat it. What could be finer.

6-8 chicken scallopini (chicken breasts sliced thin)
1 cup bread crumbs (approx. - you may need more)
seasonings for bread crumbs (I use dried oregano, Mrs. Dash, pepper, garlic powder)
2 slight beaten eggs
tomato sauce
1-2 cups shredded mozarella cheese (I used provalone)


1. Beat eggs, season bread crumbs

2. Add a good splash of olive oil to a large frying pan, heat to medium
3. Dip chicken scallopini first in egg, then in bread crumbs and add to heated frying pan.

4. Spray oven proof casserole dish and add browned chicken

5. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese (to your taste)
6. Add shredded mozarella cheese to coat chicken (to your taste)
7. Add approximately 1-2 cups of tomato sauce
8. 350 F oven uncovered for approximately 30 minutes

Voila - you're in heaven. StumbleUpon
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