Saturday, May 4, 2019

Looking for inspritation


I'm not all that creative in the kitchen. A pasta dish with a bit of extra colour impresses me. I'm too easily impressed. I need to expand my world when it comes to dining. Today one can find inspiration watching cooking shows on television. But a more traditional way is to enjoy a night out by taking your partner to  a fine dining restaurant.

The picture with today's post shows a squash and baby spinach risotto with pan-seared scallops. I took the picture at The Springs restaurant in London, ON. It had to have been one of the  prettiest dinners I've ever had.

And the best part of the dinner was the knowledge that I could do that (and will). And my doctors  will approve. This dinner is heart-healthy.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Clean-out-the-fridge-night


Last night it was Taiwanese ginger chicken. Tonight it was clean-out-the-fridge-night. Judy suggested I take the leftover ginger chicken, cook a little extra rice, and add both to a smattering of leftover veggies.

I found broccoli, carrots, celery, green onions, yellow sweet pepper, basil and roasted, salted cashew nuts. I chopped them all and fried them in stages. Some of the vegetables demanded a bit more time in the fry pan than others. For instance, one wouldn't want to fry broccoli flowerettes at the same temperature and for the same amount of time as big, chunks of sweet pepper and thick, slices of raw carrot.

I had a small bit of ginger left from the night before. I peeled this, chopped it into about eight coins and fried these in some roasted sesame oil, along with a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a large sprinkle of dried, hot, red-pepper flakes. After no more than two minutes, I added the carrots to the fry pan. After a short break I added the chopped broccoli stems and then after a bit more time I added the sweet pepper.

I held the chopped green onions, basil and chopped cashews in reserve and added the leftover ginger chicken to the fry pan. I immediately followed this with the rice. I turned up the heat and stirred everything. Then I added the green onions, basil and cashew nuts. All were, of course, coarsely chopped.

I called Judy. Dinner was ready. By the time she arrived at the stove, dinner plate in hand, the green onion had heated through but the green ends still held their shape. Perfect for this meal.

If one is a senior, especially a senior on a slim, fixed income, using every bit of food that comes into the  home is important. Waste is expensive. This dinner cleaned out our fridge but didn't look or taste like a desperation dinner.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

As hot as you like it Taiwanese ginger chicken


This recipe won't put a complete meal in front of you. It lacks vegetables. That said, it was quite satisfying as a Saturday lunch just as shown. The bottle of Fiol Prosecco DOC we had with it helped balance the meal with its hints of pear and melon. For a prosecco, Fiol is not cloyingly sweet as some of these sparkling wines can be. In fact, it claims to be extra dry. But it's not.

Inspired by a recipe from the New York Times, I cut back on the garlic and added some celery and sweet, red pepper. The next time I may up the ginger, gin and soy sauce from the amounts listed. Why? For more flavour and more sauce. My wife and our guest were both asking for more sauce and I had none. Next time, I will.

The original recipe called for rice wine. This is not the same as sake. And since true rice wine is difficult to find, what is a good substitution? Gin. Go figure. I used Tanqueray.

One can either use red-pepper flakes for the heat or fresh, finely chopped, hot peppers. I went with fresh, using one, small, Thai red pepper from Remark on Hyde Park just north of Oxford St. W. These peppers are quite small and come in green, half-pint containers that hold dozens. If you are not going to use them quickly, they can be frozen for use later.

I remove the seeds before mincing the pepper into fine pieces. This cuts the heat. As it is, Judy and I find just one of these red peppers is more than adequate to spice a meal, but if you'd like to use more, please, go ahead. You have been warned.

Judy was concerned about the ginger in this recipe. She urged me to cut back. I resisted. I did go a little lighter on the garlic though. A fine call by Judy.

This chicken dish, complete with a thick sauce, works well served over white, Basmati rice. A few minutes before serving I tossed some chopped celery into the still cooking mix and I decorated each  plate with a few sweet, red pepper rings that had been briefly fried in a separate pan with olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil (I used equal parts regular and toasted) . These oils add a nutty flavour to the dish.)
  • One 2 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into 'coins'. You should get about ten 'coins'.
  • 9 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 4 whole green onions cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 tsp red-pepper flakes or one, minced Thai red-pepper. I would say no more than 1-1/2 minced Thai red-peppers. You do not want this to uncomfortably spicy hot. If in doubt, go for less. You can always add more.
  • 1-3/4 pounds of chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 rounded Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Tanqueray London Dry Gin
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup of fresh, coarsely chopped basil. I used 1/2 cup and my wife, who hates basil, loved it in this dish. A half cup worked for her and our friend.
  • an ounce or two of salted, roasted coarsely chopped cashews

The preparation is simple

  1. The very first thing to do it get the rice cooking. This will take about 20 minutes. Start it first.
  2. Then heat a deep, 5 qt. frying pad or large wok, add 2 Tbsp of sesame oil and when oil shimmers add the ginger coins, garlic, chopped green onions and minced hot pepper. Cook for possibly two minutes.
  3. Push the aromatics to the side, add remaining oil and after heating oil for a few seconds, add the chicken. It should be cooked in 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Add the brown sugar, stir all together and add the gin and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until sauce has reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. About five minutes before being done, add the diced celery. You want some resistance but not raw.
  5. About three minutes before the chicken is done, fry the sweet, red pepper slices in a separate fry pan. Flip once. Salt.
  6. Add basil to chicken dish, stir and serve. Spoon onto white rice  and decorate  with slices of red pepper.
  7. Coarsely chop an ounce or two of salted, roasted cashews and sprinkle on each serving.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Peasant Food

My wife called my lunch peasant food. A little pasta, 55 g, a handful of cherry tomatoes halved, half a sweet pepper coarsely chopped, a minced clove of garlic, a pinch of hot pepper flakes, a little grated Parmesan, a few leaves of fresh basil, some salt and pepper plus a tablespoon of olive oil in which to gently fry the veggies. These are all ingredients an Italian peasant would have on hand, according to my wife.



For me, this lunch recalls the no-recipe recipes that the New York Times runs almost weekly. This was quick and easy and, more importantly, delicious.

Put the dry pasta in a pot of boiling water, while the pasta is cooking cut the little tomatoes in two, chop the sweet pepper and put a tablespoon, or so, of olive oil in a heating fry pan. While the sweet pepper is cooking chop the garlic and tear the basil leaves into large pieces. With just minutes until the pasta is done, drop the tomato into the fry pan with the sweet pepper. After a minute add the garlic. The garlic will be done a minute or so. It should be a golden colour and most. It should not be allowed to get dark brown.

Drain the cooked pasta, add it and a little of the pasta water to the fry pan with the sweet pepper, tomatoes and garlic. Sprinkle some hot pepper flakes onto the mix and then grate some Parmesan cheese on top. Toss all and then add the basil and salt and pepper. Cook for about a minute. Just enough time to wilt the basil. Serve and add some more grated Parmesan at the table if you like.

It is a no brainer to make and it tastes as good as it looks. The ounce or so of pasta water helps to make a light garlicky sauce composed mainly of the juices from the tomatoes and sweet pepper.

This was inspired by a quick afternoon lunch made by David Rocco on his cooking show. I'm going to make it again come spring, serve it with some red wine and enjoy it with my wife and possibly some friends.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Pan-toasted pumkins seeds a hit


The Publican House Brew Pub is located in an heritage home in Peterborough, Ontario. My wife, Judy, loves dining outside. It was lunch, the brew house was handy and it had a large porch open for dining. I knew nothing about the place but a porch, serving as a patio, made it worth a look.

We kept it simple. We both had the beet and arugula salad and shared a Marge pizza of tomato, cheese and basil. All was very good. I also had a pint of the Pub House Ale from the brewery immediately next door. The beer was another good choice. We gave the place full grades as a spot to stop for a quick bite and a draught.

When we got home, I decided to serve a salad inspired by the brew pub's. I headed for our local Remark store. I got a bag of spring greens (for the colour), a bag of arugula, some dried cranberries, shelled pumpkin seeds, a pint of strawberries, a bottle of pickled, whole beets and some still-in-the-pot pea sprouts. At home, I had a large block of Parmesan plus a bottle of blackcurrant and raspberry salad dressing.

The brew pub's salad was arguably better. Their presentation was perfect. And I really liked their dressing, which I assume was made in the brew pub kitchen. That said, my salad was wonderful. Why? I  pan-toasted the pumpkin seeds. The pan-toasting game the seeds a strong hit of a surprising, and very yummy, flavour.

The ingredients are listed above. The proportions to use are up to you. I'd advise being generous with the pan-toasted pumpkin seeds and shaved Parmesan. My wife and I both prefer the pickled beets cut into large chunks. We find larger pieces deliver more flavour. The strawberry is actually optional. There was no strawberry in the brew pub salad. And the choice of salad dressing is also up to you. My only advice here is do not use too much dressing. Let the salad itself shine. Never drown a salad in dressing. The brew pub didn't and that was one reason its salad was so good.
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I've had a complaint or two about not going into greater detail as to how to assemble this salad. I didn't think it necessary but obviously it is. This post is meant to inspire. Good salads are not simply iceberg lettuce and Kraft dressing. Have some fun. Buy some interesting greens. Add nuts or fruit. Toast the nuts now and then in a hot fry pan for a slightly different flavour. If you're lazy, at the very least don't always buy Kraft dressing. There are lots of interesting dressings made by small, local food businesses. Read the labels and look for excellent ingredients. You won't go far wrong.

Have fun! And in short order you will be making stuff that makes you smile. Now, go for  it! (p.s. I'm taking my own advice. I bought some shelled Brazil nuts at Costco today: A fine addition to an imaginative salad.)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sockeye Salmon with Tomato and Onion Sauce


My doctors have advised me to eat more fish. I should try to replace red meat with fish whenever possible. Tonight I served sockeye salmon steaks pan fried and served with a tomato and onion sauce spiced with a little ground coriander and some fresh basil. I liked it. My wife not so much. She is not big on fish and so is very hard to please.

The recipe is quite simple: Sockeye salmon steaks pan fried in a hot, neutral tasting olive oil. Fry the fish for about three minutes per side, skin side down first. The thicker the steaks the longer the frying time. Generously salt and pepper while cooking.

While the fish is frying, in another pan, fry a quarter cup of chopped onion until translucent. Add about 12 ounces of chopped, fresh tomato to the cooked onion and then salt all. Sprinkle in some ground coriander. Taste to decide on the amount. I used about half a teaspoon. Immediately before serving, mix in about a dozen chopped fresh basil leaves

Meanwhile in another pot have some rice cooking. This dinner is served on a bed of basmati rice. In another pot, one with a steamer insert, cook enough broccoli for two. I found eight minutes steamed the brocoli perfectly. This will vary depending upon the amount of broccoli and the pot.

To serve, put down a bed of rice, top with a salmon steak and add some tomato/onion sauce. Put a slice of lemon and some broccoli, or other vegetable, on the side. Good luck. My wife often finds salmon has a fishy flavour. For that reason, she isn't fond of salmon. She did like the sauce, though.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Farro for a different kind of risotto


I bought a bottle of farro with dried porcini mushrooms at Homesense. I love that store for the interesting food items it carries - and at damn fine prices to boot.

Farro, often incorrectly called spelt, is an ancient grain. A little chewy with a slightly nutty flavour, farro cooks in about 30 to 45 minutes. As farro cooks, one adds preheated chicken broth a little at a time in a manner similar to that used when cooking risotto. (I should add that in Italy, my bottle of farro came from Italy, the confusion is so deep that the two terms, farro and spelt, are used interchangeably on the labels. The New York Times has a widely quoted article addressing the mix-up.)

With it being the end of summer in southwestern Ontario, I had to add fresh vegetables. To this end, I bought field tomatoes, zucchini, fresh mushrooms, garlic and flat-leaf parsley from a farmer's market. I also used some basil from my garden. And lastly, I chopped up one hot, Italian sausage with fennel and I fried it with the vegetables.

Ingredients

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup farro
1/4 cup dry white wine. I like a good box wine for cooking as it keeps.
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup of chopped fresh field tomato
1 garlic clove minced
A little olive oil
2/3 cup of chopped fresh mushrooms
2 3/4 cups of low-sodium chicken stock
1 hot Italian sausage coarsely chopped (Optional. Vegetarians can eliminate this.)

Directions

First, fry the fresh mushrooms, chopped into big chunks.When lightly browned, add a cup of hot chicken stock, a cup of farrow, a quarter cup of wine and bring all to a simmer. Simmer gently for five minutes or until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

Add a quarter cup of hot chicken stock and keep the pan simmering. (I like to preheat the chicken stock so that adding it does not stop the simmering.) As the chicken stock is absorbed, add another quarter cup of chicken broth. This cannot be hurried. When all the chicken stock has been added and absorbed or reduced, the farro should be cooked. This may take from 30 to 45 minutes.

While the farro is cooking, cut the Italian sausage into large chunks and fry in a little olive oil in another frying pan - a larger, deeper frying pan. One with a tight-fitting lid is perfect. The lid keeps the heat in and minimizes splatter. When the sausage has clearly started to cook, add the zucchini slices and a little more olive oil if necessary. Don't let the zucchini completely cook. The zucchini should not cook so long it gets mushy.

Of course, vegetarians can omit the sausage and go right to cooking the zucchini. If you do this, start the cooking of the vegetables a little later. Like I said earlier, you don't want to have mushy veggies.

Add the minced garlic to the pan of fried zucchini, fry for about thirty seconds, don't burn the garlic, now, add the tomato chunks and simmer all gently.

Even though no tomato sauce has been added, the frying pan should have some tasty liquid gathering at the bottom of the pan. This is mostly juice from the tomatoes. If you have timed this right, the farro should be done as the tomato chunks begin to look cooked and the liquid has all but disappeared. Add the cooked farro, the parsley and the chopped basil. Toss, salt to taste and serve.

I added some fresh ground pepper some dried, hot pepper flakes at the table. My wife also added a little more salt. We both agreed that this was delicious.

If you are a vegetarian, you might consider adding some chopped fennel to this recipe. My sausage had fennel and it was a nice additional flavour.