Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Long Overdue Blog Post

Well, it's been a very long time.  I took a "break" in April 2012 due to my lupus flaring up...then the Beau and I had a set back of our own, and I found I lost my ability to want to create.   I lost my passion for cooking, for writing, for expressing myself.  And the ups and downs continued right up till my recent surgery to have kidney stones removed.  In that time I have gained back the weight I lost (ugh) gained back the Beau (hooray).  My love for cooking and creating wonderful tasty food has been reinvigorated and I have been writing like you would not believe!!!  Maybe someday I will actually write a novel....I think I could!!!

The thing of it is, the river of life carries you on your journey and we all know there are bends in the river   and you don't know what's around that bend; you can't see what's coming at you next.   You can spend your time fighting the current, tiring yourself out and going under, or you can relax and let the current take you.  It's frightening, exhilarating and challenging but eventually the river becomes calm and you can swim in it with sure, strong strokes.

Once you are in that sweet spot, things catch your eye, pique your interest Pinterest!   I have pinned hundreds and hundreds of recipes, found great DYI projects.  So for the last month I have been toying with doing one recipe from Pinterest and writing about it.   And of course I will continue my running commentary on life, present and past.

So here it goes:    The Beau and his family love pie.   They would far rather celebrate momentous occasions with pie than cake.   This recipe for Summertime Strawberry Pie on Pinterest had the most fabulous picture, which I kept ogling until I decided I would  make it for the Beau the next time he was in Calgary.   And I did make it, but he left unexpectedly without even tasting it!    I ended up giving that first pie to my new neighbour as a welcome to our building present.  She cut me a piece of it, and I was thankful not to have any more than that tempting me.  The pictures below are the second pie, which I made today as a special ending to a family roast chicken dinner.   I am NOT a good photographer, but I think I captured how pretty this pie is. 

The recipe is simple as can be and was posted by Julie @  but the recipe really comes from Worth the Whisk.  The recipe is just as originally posted, and after the recipe I am going to add some suggestions and tell you how I tweaked my second pie.

Recipe by: Worth the Whisk
Yields: one 9-inch pie, serves 6-8

Pie Crust Ingredients: (or you can use an unbaked, prepared crust)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
1/2 cup cold butter, chopped
3-4 tablespoons ice cold water
1 egg and 1 teaspoon heavy cream for egg wash
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
1 quart fresh strawberries
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup sugar, reserve 1 tablespoon
Dash salt
1 cup sour cream (not fat-free)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. To make the crust, pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another tablespoon of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30.

Roll disk of dough out to around 2 inches larger than your pie plate and transfer it, situating it in the plate. Fold the excess dough around the edges and crimp, trimming where necessary.

Hull and wash the strawberries and slice them in half. Set aside. Sift flour, sugar, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add sour cream, blending until creamy. Gently fold in the berries without overmixing. Pour fruit into pie shell and spread to edges without packing down — there should be spaces throughout the filling. Sprinkle the top with the last 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake the pie for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 degrees F (I leave the oven door open a minute during this period to let the temperature drop a little) and bake an additional 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Broil the pie for 2-3 minutes to brown up the top. Allow to cool completely (4-5 hours in the fridge, I’d say) before cutting, and serve with fresh whipped cream or ice cream.

My comments and tweaks:

The pastry part of the recipe gives you directions for an egg wash....I didn't know why a single crust pie would have anything about an egg wash, but then thought well the recipe makes two pie crusts, so maybe the egg wash is for the times you make a two crust pie - like saskatoon berry pie, or apple pie, peach pie, pear pie, pie obsession is showing!

I asked my neighbour how the crust on the pie was...she told me it was "kind of soggy in a few spots" but otherwise really good and she loved the creamy custard of the sour cream filling contrasted by the sweet juicy berries.   My own piece of pie, I felt, showed the filling hadn't set enough in the centre of the pie, and the crust was not baked enough either.    I decided if I made the pie again I would:

Blind bake the pie shell.  Blind baking is baking an unfilled pie shell to produce a partially- or fully-baked crust.  Blind baking the crust prevents the crust from becoming soggy from custard based fillings, and is necessary for pies which have the fillings either cooked separately or not at all.  
To blind bake a crust, once your crust is prepared and placed in your pie pan, prick a few holes (this is called "docking") or fill it with pie weights (do one or the other, if you fill it with weights, you don't need to dock), and bake until browned (or just for several minutes if your goal is a partially-baked crust).  I prefer docking over's what my mom taught me and it works every time for me.

To fully blind bake, bake it at 425 degrees 10 to 15 minutes or until the sides begin to brown.  (The initial high heat will force much of the steam out, helping the crust become flaky.)  Remove the pan from the oven. Gently remove your pie weights(if you are using them). Reduce oven to 375 degrees and continue to bake the crust for several minutes until it's golden.  

Now for that egg wash:     You can moisture-proof your crust when blind baking by removing the crust from the oven when it has about 5 minutes left to bake and applying your egg wash with a pastry brush on the bottom of the crust and about an inch up the sides.  Then resume baking the crust for the remaining 5 minutes.

Now that I have given you the technical info on blind baking...I think the pie crust could just be partially baked (the 10 to 15 minutes at 425) and then you could carry on with filling it, baking at 450  degrees for 10 minutes, then 350 for 30 minutes.   

That would probably fix the weakness with the pie crust part of this recipe. 

I tweaked the filling too:  I cut the sugar down to 1 cup from 1 1/4 cups.    You will never miss that 1/4 cup of sugar.  The berries are sweet enough to carry the pie.   I added a tsp of fresh lime juice to the sour cream filling, because I like the tartness of lime and strawberries together.   It just adds another subtle layer of tang to the sour cream custard.  I still sprinkled 1 Tbsp of sugar over the top of the pie to give it that sparkly finish.   

But you know what?  I think you could cut the flour, sugar and sour cream down to 3/4 cup of each, and the pie would still be fine.   And remember the recipe says not to pack the filling down...that's so it has air holes and cooks the way it needs to.  My first pie I smoothed the filling down quite a bit and I think that was a HUGE mistake.  I think a little less of the custardy filling would still work very well.    

So, I intend to make this pie a third time:   the Beau's parents recently moved into a 65+ community and have invited us for supper the next time I am in Saskatchewan.   I said I would bring dessert.   I know my almost father in law will have more than one slice of this baby!!!!  I intend to use my tweaks and will update you on how these changes worked...or didn't.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Romance with Food and Cooking Continues.

Right now I am roasting diced fresh tomatoes, diced fennel, red onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a little salt and pepper to make the soup that is the star of the recipes I am posting today.
I love the romance of food.  Creating it, waiting for the "results" and then actually tasting and enjoying it.  Do you know what I mean?  I love when my home is filled with the scents of things cooking.  Right now there's the tomatoey smell, with that hint of anise from the fennel and an undercurrent of garlic swirling through the air.  It's making me want to go open the oven door and breath in that heady aroma!  I have a spatchcocked chicken marinating in a ziploc bag in my fridge...The marinade is lemon, garlic, rosemary, thyme and some oregano.  When I put it in the oven to roast later this afternoon, it will marry with the tomato smell and make the most beautiful music for the nose!  And I will put together a spicy black bean soup in my slow cooker that will cook while I sleep tonight and be ready in the morning.  
I take a keen pleasure in first planning what I am going to make, making sure I have the ingredients (and sometimes having to run out to get something because my mind is set out making THIS DISH now and nothing else!!!) on hand, and then setting out a timetable in my mind...And then chopping, mincing, dicing the ingredients going into each dish, creating a marinade for the meat I am making (if I am thinking a marinade is needed).  For me, moving through each stage of a recipe is like a dance with a lover I can never get enough of!!!   In this dance I am not clumsy, awkward, self conscious - I am skilled, and I have "flow."    In my mind I am reviewing the ingredients and the "layers of flavour" each will bring to the dish.  When I swap out the olive oil in a recipe for my black truffle oil (which is still olive oil, just flavoured with black truffle) I am thinking about how that intense flavour may mean I need to change up my seasonings in a dish.  It's all part of the dance.
I am at my best cooking; I am relaxed and in "the zone."  The Beau says I start smiling and never stop the entire time, I hum, sing and talk to the ingredients. Apparently one time I as I was prepping a chicken I was calling it darling, and the Beau had to take a second to listen because at first he thought I was talking to him! 
I love when people walk into a home and say "what is it that smells so good? I can hardly wait till we eat!"  If I love you or care for you in any way, I will cook for you.  Now I love food, but I spent years eating high fat, high calorie, sodium drenched things.  I decided when I started my weight loss journey that if it was going to take me 3 years to lose 183 pounds, then I better be making food that tastes damn's too easy to give up by saying you are tired of eating plain boring food all the time.  And I guess I want to prove you don't have to!!!  And so I continue to love food, and it continues to have amazing flavours and textures, but without out all those calories.  The romance is flourishing!!!  (Sorry, honey, I love you too, but food has had my heart a lot longer than you have!)

This past Friday at the office, my wonderful friend C. told me about  Like her, he's a Newfoundlander and his blog is filled with some incredibly good recipes.  He has a Facebook page you can like Rock Recipes on Facebook or visit the blog. (Visit it, it's incredible!!!)  This soup is right from his blog, I didn't change a thing and don't think I's got an incredibly fresh tomato taste but the smoky paprika and other seasonings play into that - it is sooooo yummy  - just delish.  I think it will be terrific along with a toasted chicken/tomato/avocado sandwich for supper later this week!

Tomato Fennel Soup as found on rock

8 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed chilies (optional)
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season

Toss all ingredients together in a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F.  Cook for about 60-70 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the fennel pieces are very soft and most of the liquid has cooked off and the tomato and fennel reach a good chunky consistency.  Puree this mixture well in a blender or food processor and pour into a soup pot. Add:

8 cups vegetable stock (salt free or low sodium is best)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbsp smoked paprika

Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the soup reaches your desired consistency.  Taste and do a final season of salt and pepper if necessary.  

The only thing I would say is that I actually ended up roasting my tomato mixture for 90 minutes because my fennel seemed to take forever to get very soft!!!  

This soup makes 6 (maybe more) servings at about 190 calories each.  If it tastes this good using store bought tomatoes, I can only imagine how good it would be using tomatoes from the garden!!!  If you don't want a soup with a bit of heat, either reduce or eliminate the crushed chilies.

My next recipe comes from a 2008 edition of  O magazine, I believe.  Here's the original recipe and my notes follow. My cousin made this to go with supper last weekend when I was there:

Oprah's Tomato and Feta Salad

3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
12 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a serving bowl, gently toss together all ingredients. Serve immediately or chill, covered, until ready to serve.

What I learned from J, my cousin:  Take 3 or four large tomatoes and dice them in place of the cherry tomatoes.   Crumble the feta  until you have 1 cup (6 ounces) and add it to the salad that way rather than dice it.  12 ounces of feta is a lot of cheese!!!  Dice 1/2 English cucumber and add that too.  Replace one Tbsp of the vinegar with the brine from the feta cheese. Hold off on the salt, but add the fresh ground black pepper.... then taste... if you think you need salt, add it then.  Let me tell you 3/4 of a tsp of salt IS TOO MUCH for this salad!!!  

Okay, if  you make it Oprah's way, it serves 8 at 201 calories each.  If you change it up and make it the way we crazy Hungarian/Ukrainian girls think Tomato Feta Salad should be done, you will make about 6 servings at 150 calories each.

And lest you think I am all about tomatoes today...this would go nicely with a bowl of soup or the salad (and you gotta use up that feta):

Crustless Spinach Feta Pie

10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup onions, chopped fairly fine (originally recipe called for scallions)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (I used 3)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup (2.5 oz) reduced fat crumbled feta
2 tbsp grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup fat free milk
1 tsp olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
cooking spray 

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly spray a pie dish with cooking spray. Mix spinach, onions, dill, parsley, feta cheese, and in the pie dish. 

Sift flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and blend well. Pour into pie dish.

Bake 28 to 33 minutes or until knife comes out clean from the center. Let it stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

I like a fairly strong dill presence in this pie.  The first time I made it, I only used two tablespoons.  The second time, though  I used 3 which I liked better, but I may even try to use 4 tablespoons the next time I make it.    Also I didn't have scallions and used green onions the first time and found they didn't flavour it enough....when I used fine diced onions they were much better.  I think though, you should sweat them before adding them.  I am also going to cut back the flour to 1/3 cup and see what that does to this dish.  It does need the salt .  Made the way it's written, it makes 8 wedges about 126 calories each.  By the way this is good hot or cold!  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Leftover Beef Challenge

My good friend J. has a dilemna that we all run into from time to time.  How to use up leftover meat in a recipe that you haven't made a million times and are bored with.  She mentioned she has lots of leftover roast beef and wants to make something different with it.
My mom was good with "repurposing" her left over meat.  Leftover roast chicken meant at least one chicken casserole and maybe chicken sandwiches for lunch before the rest of the carcass was used to make her divine chicken soup...yummy.  Leftover roast pork was diced and made into stroganoff (I still love a pork stroganoff more than the beef one), or a casserole,  or was sliced and covered with onions and my mom's homemade bbq sauce and slow cooked for at least 4 hours in her slow cooker.  We never had it on buns, instead it was served over rice.  Roast beef...well, there were always beef casseroles,  hot roast beef sandwiches with gravy, stroganoff, dish she called the Squire's Beef -  she would slice roast and layer those slices with rounds of onion and then smother it with black pepper, a little salt and a tiny bit of beef broth and heat it in the oven.  She also loved to get out her meat grinder and grind the beef with dill pickles and onions.  That got combined with some miracle whip, salt and pepper and made a terrific sandwich, particularly if you toasted the bread first.  She made beef and barley soup, she made gulays,  she would cut cold beef into strips and make a salad dressed with a oregano dressing, lots of tomatoes, onions and cucumbers....that homemade dressing was terrific.   She also made something called "chinese hash" that featured left over beef strips, a lot of shredded cabbage, thinly sliced carrot coins, celery and this horrid soy sauce based glop that she told us kids was the "stir fry sauce."  It was HORRID....but in our house, you ate what was put on your plate, or you went hungry.  We were well aware that we were gosh darn lucky to eat like kings....and worried about those starving children in Africa that Mom seemed to know so well.  I got sent to my room for a night for helpfully suggesting we find a box for my supper and send it off right away!  I think I remember stinging buttocks accompanying me to my room!  

I have a recipe that I tried for my husband when we were still married.   He had French in his background and would often talk about the wonderful meals his grandmother would create and how he missed her good French cooking.  So I made this:

Tien de Bouef aux Legumes

1 pound mushrooms, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
6 shallots, minced
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 10 slices cooked beef, or 3 cups chopped (use what you have — exact proportions are not essential)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, mix the mushrooms, garlic, shallots, half of the bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper. Oil a large baking dish and spread half of the vegetable mixture on it, lay the meat on it, and cover with the rest of the vegetables. Add the wine. Sprinkle with the remaining the bread crumbs and the olive oil and bake 30 minutes. Yield: 6 servings

I liked it, my husband did too but told me his grandmother most certainly never made anything like this from leftover beef!  A tian is basically a gratin.  Now I am not sure if J. would make this because I vaguely remember something about her HATING I will just have to post a couple more recipes....Here goes:

Leftover Roast Beef Italian Stew

(makes about 2-3 servings, recipe can easily be doubled.)

1/2 onion chopped

1/2 green pepper chopped (or more)

1 T olive oil

8-10 oz. leftover roast beef or steak (about 1 1/2 cups diced beef cubes)

2 cups beef stock (or 1 can beef broth plus a little water)

1 cup slow roasted tomatoes (or 1 can diced tomatoes)

1/2 T dried oregano

1/2 T dried basil

1 cup mushrooms, cut in large chunks

1-3 T chopped fresh basil (or frozen chopped basil.)

Cut onion and green pepper into 3/4inch pieces, and roast beef and mushrooms into 1 1/2 inch pieces. In heavy dutch oven type pot, saute onions in olive oil for 3 minutes, add green pepper and saute 3 minutes more. Add beef, stock, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and mushrooms, reduce heat to very low, and simmer 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper if desired. Add fresh or frozen chopped basil when stew has cook to desired consistency and cook 5-10 minutes more. Serve hot.  

The Man's Salad
2 cups cubed roast beef
4 large tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonaded 
1/2 cup basalmic vinegar

Combine the beef, tomatoes, onion and basil.  Chiffonading means cutting something into very a very fine shred.  Warm the balsamic vinegar to lukewarm in a small sauce pan, then pour it over the beef mixture.   Let sit for one hour in fridge and then gently stir in one tablespoon or less of olive oil.  This can be served over spinach leaves.  I often omit the oil because I like the taste of balsamic all on its own.  

Thai Beef Salad
6 cups sliced romaine lettuce leaves
2 cups  cooked roast beef or steak, thinly sliced and cut into strips, 
½         English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
1         sweet red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
4         green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
⅓ cup unsalted cashews
1 tsp   grated lime zest
⅓ cup fresh lime juice
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp sodium reduced soy sauce
1 tbsp each fresh minced ginger and garlic
1 tsp   granulated sugar
¼ tsp   red pepper flakes
Dressing: In large bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, vegetable oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar and red pepper flakes. Season to taste. (Make-ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week).

Add lettuce, beef, cucumber, red cabbage, red pepper and green onions to the bowl; toss gently to coat with dressing. Top with cashews just before serving.

Taco Soup

1 lb. chopped chicken, roast beef or ground beef 
1 onion, chopped
1 (16 oz.) can kidney beans, with liquid
1 (16 oz.) can white beans, with liquid
1 (16 oz.) can pinto beans, with liquid (I didn’t have these so I used black beans)
1 (16 oz.) can corn, with liquid
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes with chilies and liquid
1 (16 oz.) can stewed tomatoes, with liquid (I used a can of crushed tomatoes)
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix
1 pkg. Ranch dressing

If you are using ground beef, saute it and the onion together, drain.   Add remaining ingredients, bring to boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or put in your crock pot on low for 3-4 hours. Top with sour cream, tortilla chips and grated cheese.
If using chopped chicken or roast beef, sauté onions in a little oil then add meat or if meat is already cooked , just saute the onion.

You will notice, J. not a casserole, beef and barley soup, stroganoff, cottage or shepherd's pie, or regular stew in this batch of recipes.  I hope one works for you!

How about you, gentle readers?  What do you like to do with left over roast beef, chicken, or pork?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Recreating Memories

I have a friend who believes everything in life runs on a circular pattern.  She says one thing will often lead us in a circle to another.  I think I kind of had that experience today:

My friend M sent me a message on Facebook today that kind of made me chuckle.  She asked me if I have come up with a recipe that recreates the sauteed longbeans we had a Kinjo Sushi House for her birthday.   Sometimes the world works in mysterious ways.  Last year I made a recipe for a work potluck called Japanese Mum's Chicken.  It's delicious and the chicken is cooked in a soy sauce based mixture that eventually becomes a rich thick glaze that coats the chicken with deliciousness.    My friend D asked for the recipe about two weeks ago so she could make it for her boyfriend and I forgot to send it to her.  So this afternoon I sent it off to her through Facebook (I am on Facebook way too much when I have a weekend to myself!).   And I after I had sent it, I kept reading and re-reading the recipe.

Why?  Because it got me me thinking that the longbeans M and I had at Kinjo were in a very similar glaze.  I figured the beans had more sesame oil and garlic in their glaze than my chicken recipe...and that there was some ginger incorporated into the glaze that wasn't present in my chicken recipe. But I figured I could play with the glaze/sauce  and see how I did.  I had a huge bag of fresh green beans (they are my favourite vegetable and any time I see them in the store, I buy at least a pound)  in the fridge, just waiting for me to do so something with them....why not coat them in soy/sesame/garlic/ginger goodness.  

So  to start with, here's the chicken recipe:

Japanese Mum's Chicken

8 chicken drumsticks, skin on ( the skin is important for flavour, and is so tasty to eat!)
1 cup water
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3  cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 garlic clove, peeled and bruised
1 small hot chili pepper, slit open, seeds removed

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over a high heat.  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove any scum that rises to the surface.  Increase the heat, turning the drumsticks frequently in the liquid, and cook until the liquid has reduced to a sticky glaze.  Arrange the chicken on a serving platter, remove the garlic clove and chili from the liquid, and spoon the glaze over.  NOTE It's a glaze rather than a sauce, so there's not a whole lot of it.

My tweaks:  I replaced the chicken drumsticks with 6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
I used red pepper flakes (about 1/2 tsp) instead of a fresh chili pepper.  I also then left the breasts in the pan, put them in the fridge, and then sliced them up and served them cold at the potluck....they were yummy.  I have done them for the Beau as an entree, and they are just as delicious served hot.  And this recipe is good for making sticky delicious chicken wings too!

By the way, I would never make and serve these recipes together at the same meal...even using reduced sodium soy sauce, there's too much sodium in one sitting for me (and you too no doubt).  But I played around making the sauce a couple of times until I thought I was pretty close.  I figured out right away that I didn't need the water, and that the beans will cook very nicely in the glaze.    I steamed a half cup of rice, seared scallops and did the beans.  I also made a very simple salad of spring greens dressed with a very light sesame/ginger dressing to keep with the oriental theme.  Yummy.

M, I think these are pretty darn close to the Kinjo beans:

Sauteed Green Beans

(I didn' t have long beans, so I just used regular green beans...just as good)

1 lb fresh green beans, trimmed
3 Tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil 
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp grated fresh ginger

Place the green beans in a large saucepan or pot with one inch of water.  Bring to a boil, cover and cook for 3 minutes, 4 minutes tops - they should still be very firm and bright green. (well blanched is the effect I think works best).  You could steam them in steamer as well...just keep them very very tender-crisp.  
In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, grated ginger and sugar; set aside.  Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until it starts to brown.  Stir in the soy sauce mixture and beans.  Let the beans and glaze simmer uncovered for a couple of minutes until the sauce reaches the consistency of a glaze.  Watch it carefully to ensure it does not burn.  The beans should be cooked until just tender, so if they are cooked to the right "doneness, " but the sauce is not a thick glaze consistency,  remove them and let the sauce cook to a rich glaze.  Then add the beans back to the pan to coat them in its yummy goodness.   Transfer the beans to a serving dish and pour the glaze over them.

M, you will have to try this and see if I am close to Kinjo's beans.  I hope so!!  You had no idea when you sent that message that when I sent my response that I hadn't cracked it yet, but was working on it...that I mean that quite literally!!!!

Most of you who read my posts know I tell some kind of story, usually from my past, and tie recipes to the story. Today though I want to write about something from the "here and now" - the death of Whitney Houston.
We all know the story, talented young artist rises to superstar status. She has it all - success, fame, fortune.   With that comes immense pressure to always be on top.   Somewhere along the way she becomes ensnared in drugs or alcohol, or both.  We hear blame being placed on the man she's involved with, on her, on the industry, on us for placing pressure on her to be perfect all the time.  She suffers miscarriages and heartbreak, there are stories of domestic turmoil and violence, that drugs are being done by both of them in front of their child.   They break up and we are sure now she will rise above it all to be the person we thought she was meant to be. She goes through treatment several times, but it does not appear to "stick."  There are attempts to revive her career, but they fail.   If you ever watched "A Star is Born" (pick your favourite version), you know how it ends.  And sadly on February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston's life and story ended in a bathroom at the Beverly Hilton. 
Now I will be the first person to tell you I thought she was a hot mess and it made me angry whenever I heard stories about her being drunk or high or both.  I was disgusted by those televised scenes of her and Bobby Brown during various episodes in their life together, and I remember well the "crack is whack" comment she made during that interview with Diane Sawyer.  I was completely cynical watching her interview with Oprah.  I was not surprised by her death, in fact I was expecting it soon or later, but I was surprised by how bereft I felt when I did hear the news.
Every generation has had that someone...the singer, the crooner, the voice of their generation.  Be it Perry Como, Billie Holliday, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Etta James, the Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion.  To me, she was "the voice."  She played Saskatoon in 1991 on her "Be Your Baby Tonight" tour....and I remember how powerful her voice was.  And I loved her music... "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" made me laugh out loud because I found it such a fun, joyful song.  I remember hearing "I'm Your Baby Tonight" and literally getting goosebumps because I thought it was so good.  There were some songs I could hear sheer joy in her voice and I responded to that.  I remember playing "Where do Broken Hearts Go" over and over when my own heart was broken.   When "I Will Always Love You" was released as a single from The Bodyguard soundtrack, it may have been Dolly Parton's song....but she made it her own with that bravura performance, and it stopped me in my tracks.  Still does.  
Some people have made some ugly nasty comments about her life and her death (I think they commented about Michael Jackson too).  And they may have a point.  But I think they should have chewed on their words for a while before spitting them out.  She left family and friends behind that love her, and these comments hurt them and they don't deserve that. I simply remind you that all of us are beloved to someone, maybe it's a parent, a child, a spouse or spousal equivalent, a friend, business associate, peer...get my point?   I hope for your sake that when it is your time to depart this mortal plain, there isn't some braying jackass saying your death doesn't matter.  
I am going to let go of my judgments about her and just remember her for her immense talent and for those times she let that joy she felt singing shine through in her videos; feel sorry for her because she couldn't overcome her demons in spite of her immense talent; and believe the world is a little sadder without her in it.  

When I am down, l like comfort food.  This soup has only 6 ingredients, but it's rich and tasty.  And it doesn't take any more than 45 minutes from start to finish.  

Sweet Potato, Coconut and Quinoa Soup (adapted from Gojee)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)
1 onion, diced
2 cups each of vegetable broth and water
1/2 cup quinoa
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp garam masala
1 cup coconut milk

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute them until carmelized (browned). Add the sweet potatoes, quinoa and the vegetable broth, plus 1/2 of the spice.  Turn up heat to high, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium/medium low.  Let simmer for about 20 minutes, until sweet potatoes are soft and quinoa is cooked.  Then either using an immersion blender  or a regular blender (do it in small batches if you use a regular blender to prevent it popping the lid off and burning you) puree the soup (yes you are pureeing the grains of quinoa too).  Return the pureed soup to the pot, add the coconut milk and the rest of the spice, and warm on low for about 10 minutes.  By the way, in the beginning the soup doesn't seem all that impressive and you will wonder if it's any good.  But when it's done, it has fabulous flavour.  One serving is about 450 calories.  It is high in Vitamin C, fiber, iron, protein.  It makes a very thick potage....and can be thinned down with a little more water if you like.

The original recipe called for 1 tbsp of chili powder, added at the same time as you add the coconut milk.  I added one half of my garam masala while cooking the sweet potatoes and quinoa because I wanted that flavour infused throughout.  I love Indian flavours, and I added the last part of the spice in at the another makes the flavour more vivid. 

I like this soup with a salad and 1/2 of a toasted english muffin for a nice evening meal.  It's perfect for one of those gray days where it doesn't quite feel like winter, but it's definitely not spring-like outside.  Or a day where you are feeling sad and want something comforting like this.

Monday, December 19, 2011

You say perogie, I say varenyky

Growing up one of the things I loved the most was my Grandmother's varenyky.   These little filled dumplings are pyrohy, perogies, varenyky.    To be honest, I don't hear them called pyrohy or varenyky very much these days...everyone knows them as perogies.  When I asked my Grandma why she called them varenyky, when everyone else called them perogies, she shrugged and said "in the part of the Ukraine my family came from, that's what they called them.  So that's what I call them."  

Grandma would make her dough, then roll it out and fill it with one of her two wonderful filings.   One was potato, mashed with a little onion and salt and pepper.  The other was her incredible cottage cheese filling, with onion, dill and black pepper.  I remember my mom and grandma making them together one time in our home (this was while Mom and Dad were still married to each other, of course) I think Grandma was teaching her daughter-in-law the tricks to making good varenyky.

I think they must have made 12 dozen of those triangle shaped little jewels, none more than two bites each.  They were lovely little things, made with love and a lot of skill.. You know, the kind that have just the right amount of filling, a tender,  softer than pasta-like outer casing that was just right...tender yet holding it's shape.  When bathed in butter and sauteed onions and topped with sour cream.....a little piece of heaven (via the Ukraine) on earth.

Now my mom would make perogies and cabbage rolls long after she and my dad split...simply because she wanted to ensure we grew up eating traditional foods from both our Hungarian and Ukrainian sides of the family.  But at some point, I took the job of making the varenyky over from her, and I enjoyed it.  But as good as our versions were, they still couldn't touch Grandma's....and we kids enjoyed them once a year at the Christmas dinners we shared with her and my dad over the years.  I think my nieces have inherited a love of them too which makes my heart happy.  

I am not making a Christmas dinner this year, but next year I am dreaming of making these for the Beau and his family.  If you want to make your own, here's my Grandma's varenyky recipe:

Pyrohy/Varenyky Dough

3 cups flour
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp cooking oil (I use canola)
1 egg
1 tsp salt

Beat egg, add oil and water.  Mix with the flour and salt.  Knead well to make a soft dough.  Let it stand, covered, for about 15 minutes.  Roll it out like pie dough (i.e. on a floured surface, and roll the dough thin like pie dough).  Cut into squares and place a little of the filling (about 2 tsps is good) on each square.  Fold over into a triangle and pinch the edges together well.  

Pyrohy/Varenyky Fillings:

Use 5 to 6 large potatoes and one large onion, unless instructions say differently.

Potato I

Boil potatoes and mash well.  While the potatoes are boiling, take 12 strips of bacon and chop into small pieces.  Fry with finely chopped onion until onion is cooked through (brown at edges) and bacon is very well cooked.  Add the onion, bacon and drippings to the mashed potato.  Taste the filling and season with salt if needed and lots of pepper.

Potato II

Boil potatoes and mash well.  Finely chop a large onion  and then fry it in butter (1/2 cup) along with 1 to 2 cups of finely chopped mushrooms.  Saute until both are browned.  Combine with potatoes, salt, dill, pepper (taste the filling to determine how much of each you need to's all to your taste.)

Potato III

Peel and boil 3 large potatoes and mash well.   Take 6 strips of bacon, chopped into small pieces.  Fry this with half of one large onion finely chopped.  Take 2 cups of sauerkraut and squeeze as much of liquid out of it as possible.  Add it to the frypan.  (some people like to add 1 tbsp tomato paste as well). Let it saute for about 5 minutes.  Combine with potato and season with black pepper.

Sorry, none of these recipes feature cheese in the filling.  I am not that kind of Ukrainian!!!!  I am sure you could grate cheese into mashed potatoes with sauteed onions and salt and pepper to make a filling. 

Cottage Cheese Filling:

4 to 5 cups of dry curd cottage cheese (NOT creamed)
1 egg
1 onion, finely chopped
Fresh dill chopped (good 1/4 cup)

Combine the ingredients, mashing the cottage cheese so that it starts to stick together, although the egg will bind it well.   Use about 2 tsps of filling for each varenyky.

Putting It All Together:

In a large pot, bring water to a rolling boil.  Add salt and then drop the varenyky ONE AT A TIME into the water.  Let cook for about a minute, or until they rise to the top of the water.  Drain in a colander and place in a bowl.  I won't hurt to drizzle some melted butteron them and toss gently to help keep them from sticking together.  Bring the water back to a rollicking boil before adding the next batch.  
Melt butter in large heavy frypan.  Add chopped onion, as much or as little as you like, and saute until onion is cooked through and is carmelizing (getting brown around the edges.  Pour over the varenyky and enjoy....oh don't forget the sour cream.

No calorie count for these little beauties, my friends!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oh, Get Stuffed!!!

As long as we been roasting birds such as chicken or turkey for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or any other special occasion, there has been a debate about baking the stuffing on its own or inside the bird.  I do both.  My mom always stuffed the bird, so I followed her lead.  And I did this for many years, but I started to do both after a Christmas dinner with my stuffing mad niece!!!  

It does a cook's heart good to see someone tuck in and enjoy what you have made for them.  She was only 4 and boy could she pack away dressing - it was a huge hit with her, and when I was packaging up things for them to take home to enjoy as leftovers, she kept asking "Aunty, did you give us stuffing for ME to eat?"  I did indeed, but the next year I remembered that we had very little left. I found a slow cooker recipe in my Pillsbury Cookbook that I liked because it was very close to the version I made that went inside the bird.  And to tell you the truth I always thought cooking the stuffing inside the bird made it more flavourful, but the slow cooker dressing was every bit as good!

I spent Thanksgiving this year in Fernie B.C. with my cousin J and her family.  We had two kinds of stuffing....and I laughed when I realized she and I both made the same slow cooker stuffing, but she also had a baked one that featured sweet potato and  pecans and was yummy too.  

I won't be making stuffing this year at all, and I am hundreds of miles away from family to cook for.  But the Beau and I will be in Vegas and he assures me there will be a fantastic Christmas meal there for the two of us.   But I would like to share with you my mom's recipe and a few others (including the slow cooker stuffing recipe that's a hit with me and J and our families), with a word of advice...some of these recipes call for both butter and for sausage.  If I am using sausage, I use the drippings from the sausage and skip the butter.  But I know others will drain the fat from the sausage, wipe out the pan and then use the butter as called for - saying the flavour from the butter adds an extra oomph in the taste of the stuffing.  Me, I am fine without it and the additional calories.   

Mom's Dressing

1 pound mild breakfast sausage (we always bought a chubb rather than links)
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped celery, including the leaves (get extra leaves if you can)
10 to 12 cups stale dry white bread, cubed** (I like to mix white and brown bread cubes)
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chopped fine or 2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley (1 tbsp dried)
1 tsp salt
1/2 to 1 tsp black pepper
up to 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth (or more)
1 to 2 eggs
turkey giblets (heart, gizzard...NO liver) ground in a meat grinder or chopped in a food processor

** Mom used to dry out bread in the oven...but if you prefer to use fresh soft bread, by all means do so

Cook the sausage in a large non stick pan over medium heat, breaking it up and crumbling it into [ea sized or smaller particles.  Add the giblets and cook until meat is cooked through and sausage is no longer pink.  Add the celery, onion, sage, poultry seasoning and pepper.  Cook until the celery and onion are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Get out the biggest stainless steel mixing bowl you will need it.  Toss the bread crumbs with the sausage/celery/onion/herb mixture.  Take one cup of broth and beat an egg into it.  Work this egg/broth mixture into the bread cube mixture with your hands but be's hot.  If stuffing seems dry or not really holding together you can add another egg if necessary and another 1/2 cup of broth.  What do you do not want is a really wet will be very soggy if you stuff the bird.  You just want it moist enough to hold together but not mushy.  Sprinkle the salt on top and mix it in.  You can stuff a 20 pound bird with this stuffing, but you can also put it in a buttered casserole dish, and bake for about 30 to 45 minutes until it's hot and cooked through and nicely browned on top. 

This makes about 16 cups of dressing, at around 400 calories each one cup serving size.  

Slow Cooker Dressing for Madi

1 cup butter
2 large onions, diced
2 cups chopped celery (include the leaves, they add flavour)
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
12 to 13 cups slightly dry bread cubes
1 1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground sage
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp ground marjoram
2 to 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 eggs, beaten

Melt butter in a large skillet and saute, onion, celery, parsley and mushrooms.   Pour over the bread cubes in a very large mixing bowl.  Add seasonings and toss well.  Pour in enough broth to moisten, add beaten eggs and mix well.  Pack lightly into a lightly greased slow cooker.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour, then reduce to LOW and cook from 4 to 7 hours longer.  

** If I have giblets, I chop them up fine and cook with the veggies. I

This makes about 16 cups of stuffing, at about 325 calories a serving.   By the way, you can cook sausage and crumble it into this dressing as well.    

When I married my husband (I guess I should say former husband) I inherited a daughter-in-law who didn't like to eat meat, not even turkey.  So my usual sausage based stuffing needed to be replaced one Christmas by an alternative.  She did like bacon, always eating it when I made it for breakfast.  I was kind of annoyed by her demands for a dressing that had no sausage or giblets in it, and was "healthy."   She loved my spinach/bacon quiche, so I thought I would give her a similar stuffing.  To my surprise, it was a surprisingly big hit with everyone, even the kids:

Spinach Bacon & Cashew Dressing

6 slices bacon, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup minced fresh sage
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 bag (8 ounces/227 grams) fresh spinach, trimmed
7 cups cubed sourdough bread (1 loaf)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cashews
1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cups whipping cream
3 eggs.

In skillet, fry bacon over medium heat until crisp.  Drain on paper towel-lined plate.  Fry the onion, sage in the bacon drippings until onion is very soft and just beginning to brown, about 6 minutes.  Add spinach, in batches, stirring until wilted.  Scrape into large bowl.  Add the bread and cashews to the the bowl.  In small bowl, whisk together the stock, cream, eggs, salt and pepper. Pour over bread mixture and toss to coat.  Scrape it into a 13 x 9 glass baking dish - smooth out top.  Cover and refrigerate until evenly soaked through, at least 1 hour - doing this the night before is best (it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).  Bake in a 400 degree oven, covered for 20 minuted, then uncover and bake until crusty and knife inserted into centre comes out clean, about another 20 minutes. This can be cut into 8 good sized squares at about 439 calories each.  But 12 smaller squares work out to about 300 calories each. 

And now , my version of the stuffing J. made this Thanksgiving:

Sweet Potato Cranberry Stuffing

1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, diced
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp black pepper
8 cups of cubed bread (french, regular white, sourdough, all good choices)
1 3/4 cups low or no sodium chicken broth
1 cup of walnut or pecan pieces, chopped,

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, set aside.    Place bread cubes in large mixing bowl, and set aside.  Melt 3 tbsp butter in a large heavy frying pan over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook until soft, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium, add the potatoes and cook until they are soft and the onion is browned, about 20 minutes.  Add maple syrup, cranberries, and 2 tbsp of water and cook until cranberries plump, about 3 minutes.  Add sage, salt and pepper, cook one minute more.  
Pour this mixture over the bread cubes in the bowl and toss together with the broth.  Transfer to the prepared baking dish, dot with remaining butter and scatter nut pieces over the top.  Bake until heated through and top is golden, about 30 to 4 minutes.  

Serves 12, each serving is approximately 343 calories each.

Lastly a dark and aromatic stuffing:

Pumpernickel/Rye Cranberry Dressing

1 pound breakfast sausage, skin removed (sweet italian sausage works too)
1/2 cup butter
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery, including leaves
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh chopped sage (1 tsp dried if you have no fresh)
1 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme (1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp fresh chopped rosemary (1 tsp dried)
2 tsp celery seeds (optional and I have never used them)
1 pinch grated nutmeg (optional again)
1 pinch ground cloves (also optional)
1 tsp salt
10 to 12 cups of a mix of rye and pumpernickel bread, lightly toasted and cubed
1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth or white wine (or water)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the sausage, onion, celery, garlic, sage, thyme, rosemary, celery seeds, nutmeg, cloves and salt.   Saute until the sausage is no longer pink and onion is soft, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Do not drain.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, toss the sauteed ingredients with the bread cubes and cranberries or cherries.  Season with pepper and pour the broth over it, tossing to distribute the broth through the stuffing mixture.  

Stuff the bird with this mixture or place in a buttered casserole dish, covered, and bake 45 minutes to one hour.  For a golden brown top and some crunchiness, bake uncovered for the last 15 minutes.  

This will make 14 cups of stuffing, at 307 calories each one cup serving.