Monday, March 28, 2011

Taco Soup

I get so stressed about cooking for guests. Preparations usually involve scouring the internet, revisiting my starred recipes in my Google Reader and multiple calls to Giz. I finally had to stop the madness, stop calling my mother, stop stressing and just pick something. An anxiety-filled decision making process isn't a prerequisite to making a good meal. In fact, it's often the simple dishes that are the best tasting.

This certainly is the case in this situation. This Taco Soup made for a delicious and filling lunch. The recipe come from Pam at For the Love of Cooking. One of my "go to" blogs for great recipes, I've blogged about Pam's dishes before here, here and here.

Taco Soup

Taco Seasoning:
1 tsp of cumin
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp of paprika
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp of onion powder
1 tsp of coriander
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

1 lb of lean ground beef
1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can of pinto beans, rinsed and drained (I used navy beans)
1 can of kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup of frozen corn (I used canned corn)
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 4.5 oz can of diced green chilies
1/2 oz of package of ranch salad dressing mix (half a packet) (I couldn't find this, so excluded it)

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat then add the ground beef. Add all the taco seasonings and mix into the ground beef, making sure to break it up into crumbles. Add the diced onion and garlic then mix thoroughly and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, green chilies and ranch dressing packet, mix well then cover and simmer on low for 2 hours, stir occasionally. Taste and re-season with sea salt or pepper if needed.

Corn tortilla strips (directions below)
Sour cream
Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Green onions, diced

While the soup is simmering. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut a few corn tortillas into strips. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray then place the tortilla strips on it and spray them with cooking spray and season with sea salt. Bake in the oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Ladle the soup into bowls then top with corn tortilla strips, soup cream, cheddar cheese and green onions.

I took the opportunity to use some new plates that R brought home from Mexico for this meal.

The bread come from Art-is-in Bakery, some of the best bread in Ottawa.

My guest brought dessert and I also served strawberries. I was just looking for an excuse to use my strawberry bowl (yes, it's an actual bowl for strawberries). You can wash and serve them in the one dish.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Chicago Pizza

I've never tried Chicago Pizza before. I do, however, remember watching an episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate Pizza and remember how Duff Goldman from Ace of Cakes almost salivated just thinking of his favourite Chicago Pizza. So when Val from More Than Burnt Toast invited me to share her table with a Chicago Pizza...I mean, how could I refuse that?

The concept of "Invite a Blogger to Your Table" is to invite another blogger to share a recipe with you. It doesn't even have to be a blogger you know, as long as you're setting up a new challenge and creating new friendships.

The Rules

1) Choose a dish to prepare and invite 1(one) blogger to create that dish with you. You can source your recipe from a cookbook, magazine, blog or any other source. Your dish can be sweet or savoury; easy or complicated.
2) Decide upon a date that you can both mutually post your recipe within a 4 week time frame.
3) Link back to More Than Burnt Toast somewhere in your post as the caretaker of this event.
4) Please feel free to use the Avatar/Badge above "Invite a Blogger to Your Table".
5) Once you have made your dish with your blogging friend or friends and posted it, you can choose to STOP or CONTINUE on and "invite another blogger to your table" to make something DIFFERENT on a mutually agreeable date within the next 4 week time frame.
6) If you would like to please e-mail Val at bloggerstable(AT)gmail(DOT)com for no other reason than to let her know you have participated. She would love to see what you have accomplished.
7) Cut and paste these instructions into your post and contact a friend. Let magic happen and let's get cooking!!!

Pretty simple

Val and I emailed back and forth trying to agree on which recipe to try and we decided on one that we found on Annie's Eats , that's an adaptation of a Cooks Illustrated recipe.

For the dough: (OK, I'm not getting an award for beautiful dough)

1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (8 1/8 oz.) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1 3/8 oz.) yellow cornmeal
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/8 tsp. instant yeast
½ cup plus 2 tbsp. (5 oz.) water, at room temperature
1½ tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

For the sauce:

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. grated onion
Pinch of dried oregano
¼ tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
Pinch of sugar
2 tbsp. fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1½ tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper

For assembling and topping:
2 tbsp. olive oil
8 oz. mozzarella, shredded (about 2 cups)
¼ oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (about 2 tbsp.)

To make the dough, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook on low speed. Mix until blended, about 1 minute. Add the water and melted butter and continue mixing on low speed until fully incorporated, 1-2 minutes, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is glossy and smooth, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, 4-5 minutes.

Using your hands, coat a medium bowl with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl, turning once to coat with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled, about 45-60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, prepare the sauce. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, oregano, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and sugar and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then lower the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer until reduced to about 1¼ cups, about 25 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the basil and oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To laminate the dough, turn the dough out onto a dry work surface and roll into a 8- by 6-inch rectangle. Using an offset spatula, spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough, leaving a ½-inch border around the edges. Starting at the short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. With the seam side down, flatten the cylinder into a 9- by 2 inch rectangle. Fold into thirds like a business letter, pinch the seams to form a ball, and return to the oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator until nearly doubled in size, 40-50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425˚ F. To assemble, coat a 9-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Transfer the dough ball to a dry work surface and roll out into a 13-inch disk about ¼-inch thick. Transfer the dough to the pan. Lightly press the dough into the pan, working into the corners and 1 inch up the sides. If the dough resists stretching, let rest 5 minutes before trying again.

Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the surface of the dough. Spread the tomato sauce over the cheese and top with Parmesan. Bake until the crust is golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Yield: 1 9-inch deep-dish pizza

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January-February 2010


I originally thought that the addition of cornmeal would make the dough gritty; not so much. It was, however, pretty bready and if you like bready crust, it's great.

Making the sauce was fun and the aroma in the house was just fabulous. I would use this sauce for any pizza.

2 cups of mozarella cheese and additionally parmesan was alot of cheese making for excess sodium and fat. But.... since you really can't finish more than 2 small pieces, I guess one could consider it a treat.

According to Duff Goldman, having a Chicago Pizza means sausage. I didn't use sausage and didn't really feel I missed anything. Sorry Duff!
I did, however, throw in 3 lonely mushrooms that were crying out for something. Many think it's just not a Chicago Pizza unless it's completely loaded with your choice of fillings.

All in all, an interesting challenge and appreciated the opportunity to share the table with Val. StumbleUpon

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is it PC to Give a Mixed Review?

My how the tables have turned. I can't help but revel in the moments of being able to guilt Giz about not posting. Giz - are you still a foodblogger? (said in a teasing, ironic tone)'s THAT annoying when you ask me that question too.

Actually, I should be more appreciative. Somehow I managed to receive a package labelled for Giz. Sweet! In the package was a bag full of products from President's Choice Healthy Insider Report.

I haven't tried everything yet, so I'll just talk about some of the products that I have tried, for now.

First up are the Thin Multigrain Bagels.

They certainly live up to their name in terms of thinness. I was actually surprised that I liked them, at least the first couple that I ate. I think they would be good for a brunch. It's not uncommon for us to have family brunches that include bagels, lox and cream cheese and a bunch of other options. A bagel (or even a half) in those circumstances seems like a big commitment when there are a bunch of options. But, a thin bagel or half would be a nice balance. I definitely didn't have the heavy feeling of having just eaten a bunch of carbs like I would with a traditional bagel.

Also included was a toddler meal of spaghetti in a turkey sauce. I don't have a toddler, so I gave this to a friend. I can't speak to the taste, but her son definitely liked pretending that the container was a steering wheel of a car.

I like the idea of organic meals for toddlers, with hidden vegetables (if your child is a fussy eater). I just wonder whether the amount of packaging used is necessary.

Another item in the package was a peach and mango sparkling fruit juice. Personally, I never buy this kind of stuff. So, I may not be the best person to comment on this. But, I did try one. One word: BLECH! Sorry PC - I don't get it. Do people actually like this stuff? I tasted the peach/mango flavour. But it tasted synthetic. Other than that, there was no flavour. I tried to get R to finish it (he's usually my human garburator). No dice. He didn't like it either. The rest got spilled out and now I have 3 remaining taking up room in my fridge. end on a positive note. I quite like the Almond Vanilla Granola.

I've been pretty loyal to a small handful of cereals. But, I have found myself craving this cereal since I first opened it. In fact, I like it more on its own rather than with milk. So far, favourite item of the group.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tortellini Soup

I took the leap! I decided to graduate from my Canon SD450

to a starter DSLR, a Nikon D3100.

*Note: both pictures were pulled from Google Images.

I'm determined to figure out how to take decent photos in manual mode, but feel like I'm near the bottom of a steep photography learning curve. I took a half day crash course and spent most of the time wide-eyed and overwhelmed. My new challenge is to figure out how to take photos in RAW format and then edit them to look good. Any tips on editing programs to use (ideally open source or not too expensive)?

I definitely notice a difference in the pictures I take with the DSLR. Not necessarily for the better as of yet. So, you'll just have to bare with me and the varied photo quality.

I recently had a couple of friends over for dinner. I had been thinking about making this soup for a while and since the dinner was taking place on the same day as my photography course, I knew I wouldn't have a lot of preparation time. Annie's Eats is a really delightful foodblog that I've been following for a couple of years now.

Tortellini Soup
Annie's Eats

Yield: 3-4 servings
1 tbsp. olive oil
½ cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. dried oregano
1 (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, with juices
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
9 oz. tortellini, any variety (fresh or frozen)
3 cups fresh baby spinach, loosely packed
Salt and pepper
Grated Parmesan, for serving

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions to the pan and cook until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Mix in the oregano and diced tomatoes. Add the broth to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the tortellini to the pot and cook according to the package directions. One minute before the tortellini is fully cooked, stir in the spinach. Remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with grated Parmesan as desired.

I highly recommend this soup. It's super easy to make and tastes great. I'd probably add more vegetable broth next time. Go take a look at Annie's version of the soup. It makes a better case for trying the recipe than my photo.

It has been forever since I've shared something with Presto Pasta Night, so I'm going to send this dish over to Chez Cayenne, who is hosting this week's event.

Although the soup could be a meal on its own, I decided to make a spanikopita, a recipe we've posted a couple of time on here.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Eating Well While Camping

Did I mention that Giz is an anxious mother?

Evidence #1: I thought Giz wouldn't have any nervousness about our upcoming trip to Australia and New Zealand (leaving mid-April - SO EXCITED). We finally booked our tickets and I sent the itinerary to Giz. Her response: " sounds pretty intense to me. Wouldn't you rather spend the night in LA and then continue on after a good sleep?

Am I crazy or does that make no sense at all? Why would I want to be well-rested in preparation for a 14 hour flight? You'd think it would be the opposite. My current plan is to take some night time cold medicine and sleep for as much of it as possible. Any other recommendations are welcome!

Evidence #2 of Giz's being an anxious mother - here's a recent telephone conversation:

PG : We're going on an overnight xc ski trip this weekend.

Giz: Oh yeah? Where will you stay?

PG: In a yurt, like usual.

Giz: Won't it be cold?

PG: No, it's fine. It's actually really warm in the yurt with the wood oven.

Giz: Are you going to take food?

PG: No. I'd figure we'd just rough it.

Giz: WHAT!?! No. You need to take food.

PG: I'm sure there will be wild animals out there. We can just hunt for our food.

Giz: Are you serious? I really think you should take some food with you.

PG: Seriously mom? Do you think I'm going to go on an overnight trip without food? Have we even met?

Giz: Well... I just wanted to make sure.

Rest assured mom. No one went hungry.

It started with picking up a sandwich from DiRienzo's, a xc ski tradition.

I know I've talked about DiRienzo's on here before. It's an Ottawa institution. You go into this corner store that looks pretty run down on the outside. Quite often the line wraps around the aisle of the store. But, the staff working behind the counter are so fast, you'd think they were moving in fast forward. As you work your way closer to the front counter, you pick up a bun (not my favourite aspect to have to select a bun from a bin that hundreds of people root through). You then select a sandwich number, based on the option posted (I always get #6 -- proscuitto, turkey and havarti cheese). The meat is sliced fresh and you tell the staff your preferred toppings (e.g., lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard, pickled eggplant). All of that for $4 (prices increased from $3.50 this year, but it's still well worth it).

Dirienzo's on Urbanspoon

After making our way to Gatineau Park, we set off for the yurt (our home for the evening).

This year, we decided to switch it up from the usual hot dogs and salad and make chicken fajitas.

Having everything cut up ahead of time makes this a really quick, convenient and tasty meal to make on a wood stove. Sorry, not a great picture, but it was dark out by the time we ate.

Breakfast was also delicious -- home made hasbrowns and omlettes stuffed with sausage and veggies.

By splitting up the meals between 6 of us, it was really easy to ski in carrying a good variety of food that was more interesting than the usual camping fare.

You can read about a previous ski trip here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aahar: The Taste of India

Aahar is one of those restaurants I've had on my "to try" list for a couple of years. I would drive by their Carling and Churchill location occasionally and make a mental note that I still hadn't gone. I'm glad to have have changed that.

Upon entering the restaurant, I was surprised how bright it was inside. From the outside of the restaurant, it looks like it's really dimly lit, but on the inside I almost wished the lights were a bit dimmer, to give that dining feel.

For starters, we ordered Allo Tikki, which is a spiced potato with curried chickpeas, tamarind sauce, mint sauce, yogurt and coriander.

I would rather there have been less yogurt on the plate. I'm not an expert on Indian food, so maybe that's just the way it is served. Personally, I found that it overly neutralized the spiciness of the potato and took over the other flavours in the dish.

We also ordered samosas, which were quite good. The accompanying sauce was just okay.

For the mains, we order Vindaloo, which included a warning that it was hot even though it was relatively mild. We both really enjoyed it though.

Finally, we went with the typical Butter Chicken. Along with the naan, it tasted great. We even debated over who would get to have it the next day for leftovers.

The service was mixed. The younger guy seemed really nice, although only came out of his shell to chat with us toward the end of the meal. The female working there was polite, but really missed the mark when we gave her feedback on the house red. I told her that the meal was good, but the wine that they served was off. After a quiet giggle, she said, "we don't make the wine." I think it's kind of a ridiculous response. I wasn't assuming that they were producing wine in the back of their restaurant. However, if they're serving wine that tastes bad, they should still feel responsible for the quality of it. It's not like I drank the whole glass and then said it was off. I had two sips and could stand any more of it.

That incident aside, I'd definitely recommend Aahar and intend to go back and order take out from them in the future.

Aahar on Urbanspoon StumbleUpon
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