December 31, 2010

December 30, 2010

g's first cooking lesson

Recognizing how busy I've been, G made dinner tonight.  More specifically, he asked me to teach him how to make dinner tonight and I couldn't have been more thrilled.  He even cleaned up afterward - I am such a lucky girl!

He wanted to make beef tortellini with a simple tomato sauce.  If you ask me, the tortellini are better saved for a cream sauce or soup but if G's offering to make dinner I'm not about to question his choices.

So here's my step by step lesson for a simple tomato sauce.  Perhaps you can get your sweetie to make it for you too! ;)

Step 1:  Choose and cook your pasta.  
G chose tortellini but feel free to choose your favourite.  Unless you choose a very quick cooking pasta like capellini, your sauce will come together in the time it takes for the water to boil and the pasta to cook.  If you want a quick-cooking pasta, no problem - just make the sauce first.

Step 2:  Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. 
I like non-stick but stainless will do nicely - just stay away from reactive metals such as cast iron or aluminum as they will react with the natural acid in the tomato.  Not a good thing.

Step 3:  Add one roughly chopped or sliced garlic clove to the skillet.
Saute just a minute or so, until you can smell its aroma.  You don't want any colour on the garlic otherwise the flavour will become overpowering.  If it burns, it's game over - trust.  Keep an eye on the garlic.

Step 4:  Add 1 tsp tomato paste and saute very briefly (30 seconds or so).  
This step is optional.  The sauce will have a lovely fresh taste if you omit the paste, and I often do.

Step 5:  Add canned plum tomatoes to skillet.  I am fortunate enough to have home canned tomatoes (a ton of work every summer but totally worth it) but there are lots of great commercial products available.  Just make sure to choose whole tomatoes in juice (not stewed, diced or pureed - whole taste fresher.

Step 6:  Using a wooden spoon break up the tomatoes and simmer over low heat until pasta is ready.

Step 7:  Drain pasta and add to sauce in skillet.  Stir to allow pasta to soak up sauce.

Buon appetito!

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December 28, 2010

slowing it down

I am not one for new year's resolutions but after the insanity of 2010, as the year winds to a close I feel compelled to adopt one for 2011:  slowing it down.  For me, that means less energy focused on work and greater emphasis on things I enjoy:  family, yoga, photography, cooking, reading and, most definitely, this blog which has been neglected for much too long.

Step 1 in my reintroduction to the land of the living: participating in the 2011 Book Blogger Recommendation Challenge.

December 24, 2010

good tidings

From amidst the detritus of our fabulous Christmas Eve dinner, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

November 11, 2010

remembrance day: lest we forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

John McRae

October 31, 2010

happy halloween

I've always thought Halloween is for kids and I've never understood the grown-up appeal.  As an adult, getting all decked out in costume has never been my idea of a good time.

As a kid, whole other story.  Back in the day, before ready-made costumes were the norm, we used to spend weeks planning what we would wear.  One year I was a hobo with black cork smeared on my face, another I was Little Bo Peep (although, looking back, I looked a lot more like a Little House on the Prairie reject), with a witch thrown in here and there for good measure.

Back then our Halloween haul consisted mostly of lollipops, tootsie rolls and the dreaded pumpkin candy in the Halloween wrapper, with the odd bag of chips.  But there was one special house in the neighbourhood where the lady gave out full size Jersey Milk chocolate bars - all the kids knew it and we made sure to get there early before they were all gone.  My dad never let us eat it on the way home, no matter how much we begged, but as soon as we got home we'd tear open the wrapper - I can still taste the chocolate melting on my tongue.

As wonderful as that was, my favourite was always the Reese's peanut butter cup.  While there weren't any in my own Halloween bag as a kid, I do recall them starting to make an appearance in my youngest sister's haul several years later - and even though I was seven years older, I wasn't beneath pilfering a few.

A close second in my candy pantheon is caramel and toffee (love those Swedish Daim candies!).  However, I'd never thought of combining the peanut butter with the toffee - until I came across Bon Appetit's Halloween Peanut Butter and Toffee Candy Bark.

Now that the candy is done, all there is left to do is nibble on it while I wait for the little ghouls and monsters to descend.  Maybe Halloween isn't so bad after all.

October 29, 2010

changing history over tea and cake

It is thanks to the Famous Five that I am a person.

Tired of being treated as second class citizens, in 1927 five intrepid Canadian women (including the British Empire's first female judge) decided they'd had enough.   

Archives Canada
Canada's first constitutional challenge relating to women's rights, the Persons Case, was fashioned over tea with date and nut loaf on Judge Emily Murphy's porch.  It was this case which resulted in women finally being declared persons in 1929.

Today the women's achievements are commemorated in Persons Day celebrations across the country, in the Famous Five monument on Parliament Hill, and on the $50 bill.  

Judge Murphy's recipe for date and nut loaf was memorialized for posterity by the Edmonton Bulletin - should you care to give it a try you can find it here.

Famous Five Monument (Ottawa)

October 28, 2010

October 24, 2010

banana bread

We've been in the midst of renovation hell for what seems like forever and, while the end is in sight, it's still at least a couple of weeks away.  With all the disruption and mess, not to mention endless trips to home improvement stores, I've become something of a crank.

Generally a perfectionist, the details are driving me crazy.  My patience has worn so thin I don't care about much other than getting the job done and the strangers out of my home.  Paint colour slightly off?  No problem.  Chipped cabinetry?  I can live with that.  Cracked tile on the floor?  Whatever.  JUST. GET. IT. DONE. Not the best long term strategy, I know, but I'm willing to bet that anyone who has lived through a lengthy reno can sympathize.

Today I decided to ignore the chaos that has become my life and see where the day would take me.  After spending a leisurely morning puttering around, I finally felt ready to tackle the blackened, shrivelled bananas that had been sitting on my counter for awhile, suffering from reno-induced neglect.

I've been making banana bread since my teens using the tried and true recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  It's a lovely dense loaf with loads of banana flavour, my absolute favourite recipe and I've never strayed from it - until today.  I recently purchased The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook and decided to try their lighter version - the "Better-For-You" banana bread.

I am rarely disappointed by Chris Kimball's team but, while this loaf was good, the cinnamon and nutmeg in this recipe overwhelm the banana flavour, so much so that it tastes more like a spice bread than a banana bread. 

So if you like your banana bread on the spicy side, this is the one for you.  If, however, you're like me and want the banana to be the star of your loaf, stick with the Joy of Cooking's recipe (you can substitute 6 tbsp butter for the shortening if you prefer).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pick out kitchen cabinet knobs.  Sigh.

October 22, 2010

this makes me smile

I really couldn't resist sharing this video of Gordon Pinsent reading Justin Bieber.  Guaranteed to make you smile!

October 14, 2010

October 11, 2010

happy thanksgiving

Pumpkins, photographed in Canada.Image via Wikipedia

July 1, 2010

liming with doubles trini style

Just got back from a business trip to Port of Spain in Trinidad.  My Trinidadian colleagues warned me about the crime rate and the kidnapping risk, insisting that a company security guard pick me up at the airport, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect.  What I found instead was a warm, hospitable and diverse society - and a humidity level so high that my hair started to curl the moment I stepped off the plane.   

To a person, the "Trinis", as they call themselves, were incredibly charming and warm.  Every person I passed offered a smile and a "good morning" or "good afternoon", often stopping for a brief chat.  Living as I do in a large North American city, this is definitely not something I am used to, and at first I was wary.  But very soon it became clear that this wasn't about targeting the tourist and it wasn't long before I was reciprocating enthusiastically and making friends with the hotel staff.  

Unfortunately I didn't have much time for "liming", the Trinidadian pastime of hanging about, drinking beer and contemplating the mysteries of life (a most worthwhile pursuit), but did manage to squeeze in a brief introduction to some serious street food.

The Trini "double" is street food at its best - two (i.e., double!) bara (fried bread) filled with curried channa (chick peas), chutney and of course the ubiquitous Trini hot sauce.  Traditionally eaten at breakfast, it's so popular you can pretty much get it 24/7 at various stalls around town.  It's no wonder the locals claim that "God is a Trini"!

While my inclination to operate on "Trini time" and to spend time liming with strangers on the street has already begun to fade mere hours after disembarking, the memory of the doubles lingers and I am determined to find some decent ones in my own city.   With the Trini population in T.O. that shouldn't be too hard and, who knows, maybe I'll have a proper lime while I'm at it!

June 28, 2010

rhuberry parfait

I am absolutely loving my CSA box - I've wanted to do this for years but there was always some excuse why it wasn't convenient (I was going to be away, I didn't have time to pick it up, my dog ate the application form - you get the picture).  This year was no different except I ignored the excuses and ordered the box.  Three weeks in and I'm in love!

Yes, there is the freshness of the produce and the fact that I haven't been to the grocery store in weeks,  but the real surprise is the creativity it's inspired in me.  It's like getting a surprise every week!  There is usually at least one fruit or vegetable in the box that I would not buy on a regular basis and, because the produce is seasonal, the same ingredient will appear for several weeks so I'm needing to find new and creative ways to use produce.  Love it!

Week 3 of CSA brought more delicious strawberries and rhubarb and, with my first strawberry pie under my belt, I wanted to try something different.  Keeping with my resolve to keep some semblance of balance in my life, I also wanted it to be guilt-free and a parfait seemed, well, parfait!

Inspired by Canoe's recipe for rhubarb compote I simply added halved strawberries towards the end of the cooking time and cut back a bit on the sugar.  Very quickly my kitchen was filled with the scent of fresh strawberry.

As the compote cooled I spooned nonfat Greek yogurt into dessert goblets and pondered the mystery of Greek yogurt.  Until very recently, nonfat Greek yogurt was extremely difficult to find in Toronto grocery stores.  Given the size of our Greek community I've often wondered why that might be and would be grateful to anyone who might be able to enlighten me!

Enter Liberté, with the recent addition of a 0% fat Greek yogurt to its lineup, and it's a cause for celebration.   Thick and tangy, it's a great base for guilt-free desserts.  It's finally starting to appear widely in supermarkets but often sold out.  If you can't find it and you're feeling indulgent, try their Méditerranée line; full fat and creamy, it gives ice cream some serious competition.

The tangy yogurt was a perfect pairing with the sweet-tart compote.  Can't wait to see what next week's CSA brings!

June 24, 2010

pasta in cream sauce with ham and spring peas

My CSA box last week included some gorgeous spring peas.  They were so sweet and delicious I was popping them like candy until I suddenly realized I'd eaten half the bag and figured I should share.  That's when the idea of making my mum's spring pasta with cream sauce, peas and ham came to me.  I've been really good with my diet lately and G has largely been deprived of pasta so I figured why not!

The dish is great with frozen peas but using fresh peas elevates it to the sublime.  Really, truly delicious.  So good I can't keep it to myself so I'm sharing it with all my friends from Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Mansi of Fun & Food Cafe.

See you Friday at Mansi's roundup!

Pasta in cream sauce with ham and spring peas

Serves 4

500 gr medium to large tube pasta (I used paccheri but penne or rigatoni would be great)
125 ml (1/2 cup) cream (18% works nicely)
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
3 slices cooked ham, diced
1 tsp olive oil
salt to taste

Heat olive oil in a small skillet and saute ham until slightly golden around the edges.  Add cream and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until thickened slightly.  Add peas and simmer for 2 minutes.  The sauce will seem a bit thin but will thicken up when tossed with the pasta.

While sauce is cooking, cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and add to skillet with sauce and toss.  Serve immediately.

June 20, 2010

cindy crawford's strawberry pie

Originally published in Saveur, this recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie was made famous when it was highlighted on Oprah in a feature about Cindy Crawford, in my view 
the world's sexiest supermodel, past or present.   

But before I get to the pie, let's just talk about Cindy for a moment.  Is there a girl in the '80s or '90s who didn't want to be her?  Seriously, after watching her iconic Pepsi ad I spent hours in front of a mirror trying to coax my hair into those lovely tousled waves.  Wish I could say I was successful but in reality I just ended up looking like an escapee from the local sanitorium. 

And Cindy today - still looking great well into her 40s and after 2 kids.  After I saw this reprise of the classic Pepsi ad I was tempted for a moment to pull out my old Daisy Dukes but thankfully a stray glimpse of my rear end in the mirror instantly changed my mind.  Sigh.

But I digress - we are here to talk about pie, not my ever-expanding caboose.  

While I love Cindy, I wasn't convinced that she was a master pie maker extraordinaire but what actually intrigued me was the crust - it's made with oil instead of butter or shortening.  I had my doubts but ultimately the allure of a pie crust free of saturated and trans-fats won me over and when I received fresh strawberries and rhubarb in my CSA box last week I knew the time had come.

I was impressed when the crust came together in seconds but I feared for the worst when I realized how tough it was - it took so much elbow grease to get it into a rough circle for the bottom crust that I decided to go with a lattice top.

Worried I'd have to dump the whole thing in the garbage I put it in the oven and hoped for the best.   A couple of hours later I said a silent prayer as I cut into the pie in front of G and my parents and then stood silently as they took their first bite.

The crust was sturdy and the filling was wet but the combination was perfect - definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  Hell, it was scrumptious!

So thanks to Cindy and to Saveur, and to Ms Louise Piper, a home baker who won a blue ribbon in the 1997 Iowa State Fair with this pie.  You can find the recipe here.

June 18, 2010

presto pasta night #168 roundup

Update:  I seem to be having trouble with my email account this week and haven't been receiving all of your submissions.  If you don't see your post below, it's because I haven't received it so please send it to me again.  A thousand apologies and thank you for your patience!

I am absolutely thrilled to be hosting Presto Pasta Night again. Unfortunately I didn't get around to posting my own pasta dish this week but I'm sure no one will even notice because, as usual, everyone's contribution this week is spectacular!

Thank you Ruth for the opportunity to host this week and thank you everyone for participating in this week's roundup and making my turn at hosting so much fun! I hope to see you next week when Mansi of Fun and Food Cafe will be hosting.
And speaking of Ruth, she's made her mouth-watering and healthy Hottie Tottie Manicotti turned lasagna.  Whatever you call it, this dish looks delish!

Next up is Mary from Food Floozie who has amazed herself, and us, with her Spaghetti with Garlic Scapes.  I got some scapes in my CSA box this week and will definitely be trying this out.  Thanks for the inspiration Mary!

Girlichef features an "ode to couscous" on her blog this week with Grilled Eggplant, Couscous, Toasted Pine Nuts and Herbs.  This is poetry I can get into with no problem!

For all the new mums out there, Muneeba from An Edible Symphony has found a perfect antidote for those sleepless nights:  Penne in Gorgonzola Sauce, proving my theory that cheesy pasta makes everything better!

Haalo from Cook Almost Anything served up this "love it or hate it" Squid Ink Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce and Pangrattato.  Me, I'm definitely in the "love it" camp!

Ching from Little Corner of Mine threw together this Stir Fried Macaroni with Broccoli and Tuna  to go with her baked fish on her "lazy" day.  If this is Ching on a lazy day I can't wait to see what she can come up with on a good one! 

Katie of Thyme for Cooking shared this gorgeous and seasonal Pasta with Ham, Spinach and Mascarpone and a great story about her disappearing dog.

Kristin over at Holy Cannoli Recipes made this Chicken and Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo when her parents came to visit.  It was a big hit, which is no surprise as it looks awesome!  And congratulations to Kristin for her Beautiful Blogger Award!

From Kits Chow we have a lovely noodle dish with the best name I've heard in a long time:  Spicy Mama Noodles, Yum Ma Ma.  You'll never look at instant noodles the same way again!

Kait of Pots and Plots decided to make her own convenience meal and this Fiesta Skillet Mac sure beats anything in my grocer's freezer!

My oh my, I love a good Spaghetti Pie and so does Chaya from Chaya's Comfy Cook Blog who shares her gluten-free version.  Looks delish!

Another pasta pie from Mangocheeks of Allotment 2 Kitchen who made a Mosaic Spinach and Pasta Pie as a treat for her hubby while she was away from home for a couple of days.  Her husband is a very lucky guy!

EJM of blog from our kitchen combined fresh black pepper noodles and fiddleheads for a lovely seasonal spring pasta.  I will definitely be trying this next time I make fresh pasta!

Michelle of Italian Mama Chef was inspired by David Rocco to make this Pasta con Ricotta.  His may have been made over an open fire in Italy but Michelle's version looks wonderful.

Continuing the ricotta theme, Nic at Lemon and Cheese made this awesome Asiago, Spinach, Artichoke and Ricotta Pasta.  Absolutely gorgeous!

Helen at Fuss Free Flavours whipped up this Tamari Pasta with Pak Choy with just four ingredients.  According to Helen it's also lovely cold.   A handful of healthy ingredients, delicious hot or cold - this is my kind of food!

And Daphne at More than Words made Roasted Pumpkin and Capsicum Pasta with Pinenuts.  Daphne is a big fan of roasted pumpkin and I can't say that I disagree.  Yum!

June 14, 2010

it's my turn again!

The last 2 weeks have been nonstop frantic with work and I haven't been doing much cooking or blogging.    But things are looking up, just in time for me to host this week's Presto Pasta Night!

For those of you who are new to Presto Pasta Nights, PPN is the brainchild of Ruth Daniels of Once Upon a Feast and each Friday night a different host posts a roundup of pasta dishes submitted by bloggers across the globe.   There are a few simple rules,  chief among them that the dish must include some sort of noodle.

You can  submit your dish by emailing me at sweetkitchen [at] rogers [dot] com with a copy to ruth [at] foreverykitchen [dot] com, including a photo and a link to your post, no later than Thursday evening.

Really, it's that simple.  So let your creative juices flow and see you on Friday for the roundup.

June 4, 2010

confetti salad

Let me start by telling you about my boss - she is one of those women who seem to do and have it all.  She is a top legal executive managing a large team of professionals, has 4 children, the social graces of an aristocrat, an impeccable wardrobe and nary a hair out of place.  Oh, and did I mention that she is also attractive, tall and slim?

Yes, there is much to envy about my boss.   So when we had our first potluck I secretly hoped that I might for once see a small chink in her perfect armour.  Instead, she brought this masterpiece and I seriously began to wonder if the woman had a single flaw - the incredible shortbread she baked last Christmas settled that question for good.

Well, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I took a page from her recipe book and have been making this Rice and Vegetable Salad from The Silver Palate Cookbook ever since.   Full of aromatic ingredients - dill, parsley, currants, olives, shallot, green onion, peas and bell pepper - tossed with rice and a lovely vinaigrette, it simply bursts with flavour.  It's the perfect thing for a summer barbecue or a spring potluck.

P.S.  You can find the recipe here.   It makes a mountain of salad so, unless you are feeding an army, you might want to cut the recipe in half as it only keeps a couple of days in the fridge.