Sunday, September 17, 2017

Garlicky pasta & lemon: served daily but always different

Tonight I made the garlicky pasta with lemon recipe that I have been making every night for dinner for the past few evenings. Each night I add different ingredients to play with the base flavour. Tonight I added coarsely chopped tomatoes, two kinds, about three tablespoons of coarsely chopped hazelnuts, some chopped basil and, of course, grated Parmesan, about a quarter cup. At the table I added some extra dried pepper flakes and more grated Parmesan.

The trick here is to use richly-flavoured field tomatoes. If your tomatoes are the hard, tasteless variety form Mexico, this dinner will fail. It desperately needs the strong, fresh tomato flavour. I also used about ten cherry-sized yellow-cream tomatoes. All in all, this had lots of tomato flavour.

One often reads how hard it is to feed oneself on a budget. No it isn't. Not if one knows a little about cooking. If you insist on opening a can, you had better be prepared to open your wallet.

I bought my pasta on sale for 89-cents for a 900g bag. My tomatoes and broccoli came from Thomas Bros. Farmer Market on highway 4 south of London. (I used one, large, red tomato.) Parmesan is expensive but I buy it in big blocks from Costco. It's a lot of cheese but it keeps and goes a long way. The hazelnuts came from the Bulk Barn in the Smart REIT run mall in London's northwest.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I'm still tryng variations on garlic, oil and pasta

If you read the post before this one, Garlic plus pasta can almost carry a meal, you will know I am experimenting with flavour riffs based on garlicky pasta. Tonight it was the usual dinner for two starting with 150g of small penne flavoured with a tablespoon of pan-roasted minced garlic and quarter teaspoon of dried hot red pepper flakes.

To the garlicky pasta base, I added:

  • 1/4 cup pan-roasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped artichoke hearts 
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped black olives
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of pasta water (reserved before draining pasta)

Originally, I was going to use coarsely chopped hazelnuts but Judy convinced me to use the pine nuts in our fridge instead. She wanted to cut into our growing list of leftover ingredients. She was right.

To get an idea how to proceed with this dinner, please read Garlic plus pasta can almost carry a meal. But don't let yourself get bogged down in following the recipe. Be bold. Invent your own riffs on this solid, basic pasta recipe. Tomorrow night I am going to try basil and coarsely chopped field tomato as the additions to the garlicky pasta. I think it will be wonderful.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Garlic plus pasta can almost carry a meal

I love pasta. 75g dried pasta almost makes a meal, at least for me. A 900g bag can be found for under a dollar. That's enough pasta for a dozen healthy dinners at little more than 7-cents a piece. Pretty inexpensive, eh?

Of course, pasta alone does not make a meal. But it doesn't take much to turn a plate of  pasta into a pleasant dinner, especially when accompanied by a glass of white wine poured from a box.

Before boiling the pasta, take one tablespoon plus a little extra of fresh, minced, Canadian garlic and  brown it in a couple of tablespoons of good olive oil. Don't use too high a heat. You don't want to burn the garlic, just turn it golden brown. When done, if you'd like a little bit of spicy heat, add some red pepper flakes to the pan. A quarter teaspoon, or a little more, should suffice. Now, set all aside and turn your attention to the pasta.

Cook the pasta in a little less water than the instructions on the package suggest. This will increase the starch in the water. Reserve about a quarter of a cup of the pasta water immediately before draining.

With the pasta drained, add the remaining, raw, minced garlic. Half a teaspoon is about perfect. If you are not as fond of garlic as I am, add a little less. Raw garlic is more pungent than the pan roasted garlic. Roasting mellows the strong garlic flavour.

Toss in a teaspoon of grated lemon zest, a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice and add the reserved pasta water. Stir over medium heat until the water has almost completely cooked away.

Finally, add a quarter cup of chopped fresh basil, an ounce of grated Parmesan and 2 ounces of pan roasted pine nuts. Salt and pepper to taste. Have extra grated Parmesan available at the table.

Ingredient list - serves two

  • 150g  dried pasta. I favour pennine (small penne).
  • 1 Tbsp plus one and a half tsp of minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp good quality virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan
  • 2 ounces roasted pine nuts
  • salt and fresh, grated pepper

If you don't feel like basil and pine nuts with your pasta, add something else. For instance, when the minced garlic is golden, stir in a half teaspoon of coarsely ground fennel seed along with the red pepper flakes before setting aside. Then, when the pasta is al dente, drain and add 8 ounces of coarsely chopped artichoke hearts in place of the basil. I'm partial to the artichoke hearts packed in water and bottled not canned. Finally, add two ounces of chopped, roasted hazelnuts and stir over medium-high heat until the pasta water has disappeared.

Try thinking of other variations on this garlicky pasta theme. I have tried substituting four ounces of pitted, black olives and adding these along with the garlic and Parmesan to the drained pasta. I also add two ounces of chopped, pan-roasted walnuts for a bit of crunch.

How would you make this garlicky pasta theme your own? Any ideas?

For a vegetable with this pasta dinner, I'm partial to asparagus but I'm sure there options here, as well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Pizza can be healthy: Enjoy

I've mentioned this before but as we had this for dinner, it seemed like a good to mention this again. Dr. Oetker pizza often goes on sale in London for less than $3. When it does, my wife and I pick up a number of 4-cheese pizzas and store them in our downstairs freezer.

Half of each pizza contains only 50mg of cholesterol. Add five slices of Ziggy's pepperoni to each piece and you have a two pizza-slice pizza dinner with only 65mg of cholesterol. I've been told to keep my daily cholesterol intake below 100mg. This dinner does just that.

The green and red sweet peppers, the diced pickled hot peppers, black olives, artichokes and mushrooms all contain no cholesterol but these ingredients help to bulk up the dinner. We find this dinner quite filling and the calories, or points if one uses the Weight Watchers system, are low enough to allow both of us to have a small glass of wine with the meal.

Two tips: fry the mushroom slices first. This removes the excess moisture trapped inside the mushrooms. And fry the pepperoni slices. This removes a little fat. Always a good move.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

French Potato Salad: Made With No Eggs

Some years ago I was asked to bring a potato salad to a family dinner. After making the request, my relative realized eggs were off my diet and I wouldn't be able to have any of my contribution to the dinner. I told them not to worry. I'd find a recipe for potato salad that didn't use eggs. And I did.

I found a recipe for French potato salad posted by a Swedish blogger named Ewa (Eva). She lives in Seattle, WA., and enjoys sharing her recipes. I don't believe she'd mind my posting a link to her site and her recipe for French potato salad: Carrots & Spice (Healthy Recipes for Busy Families.

Over the intervening years I've served this salad to numerous folk and I've had many requests for the recipe or at least the link. This healthy potato salad is popular and deservedly so.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Low fat lasagna

Tonight I served low-fat lasagna. No mozzarella but eggplant instead. I kept the traditional ricotta cheese but used a light, 2% fat, version. I also used a bottled tomato sauce. This kept the preparation time down. And of course, there was no ground meat in my lasagna.

I used a pinch of cinnamon and a tablespoon of fresh basil plus salt and pepper to give the entire presentation a little extra depth. I may add some mushrooms lightly fried in a clove or two of garlic when I make this next. And I will make it again and soon.

When I have the recipe down pat, I'll post an update and add a link to this post.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Maitake mushroom: too beautiful to hide

Maitake mushrooms are incredible. Not only are they delicious, they are beautiful. When I cooked tonight's dinner I could not bear to fold the omelettes and hide the beautiful mushrooms. Tonight, I served my first open-faced omelettes.

Maitake mushrooms can be expensive. I got mine as a 70th birthday gift. I was delighted. A maitake mushroom keeps very well in the fridge. If it is fresh when purchased, it can last several days without showing any signs of deterioration. In other words, it is not hard to eat the whole thing by having a little each day until all is gone.

I broke mine into smaller pieces, weighed the result (I insisted on getting as much on my omelette as my wife) and then I fried the mushroom in olive oil and Becel. (I cannot eat butter. Doctor's orders.) When the maitake was almost done, I added some mined garlic. After about thirty seconds after adding the garlic, I set the pan aside.

Next, I heated some olive oil in a small, fry pan and when hot I added four ounces of Egg Creations. (I cannot eat whole eggs. The yolks are banned from my diet. Doctor's orders, again.) Before the Egg Creations had set, I added the garlic-fried maitake and a few chunks of cheddar cheese plus a little salt and pepper.

I refused to fold my omelette but served it open-faced. I just could not bring myself to hide the maitake. I think it was the right decision. Do you agree?