Friday, June 29, 2012

rigatoni with sausage and parsley

This is last night's dinner of Rigatoni with Sausage and Parsley from Great Food Fast.
We used an Italian spiced chicken sausage for this dinner to keep it a little lighter. Using sausage instead of ground meat really is a great way of having built-in flavour without much effort in blending your own spices. So if you like the taste of a particular sausage on it's own, chances are it will make a great pasta sauce once removed from the casing and cooked in place of ground meat.
One major flaw in our technique was to not caramelize the red onions. The recipe isn't written to do this, and unknowingly, we followed it as instructed. But it would have been so much better if we'd only had the foresight to take that little extra time to get that caramelized onion flavour going on. But all in all this was a really nice pasta that I really think we'll make again come fall.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

barley salad with chicken, corn and scallions

With our leftover chicken from the previous night's meal, we had Barley Salad with Chicken, Corn and Scallions from Everyday Food Light.
I felt like things could go either way with this dinner, but my expectations were leaning to the lower end of the spectrum. This dinner was easy enough to prepare, but took a while to cook the barley and roast the corn and scallions. Both tasks we could walk away from once a timer was set which is a rare kitchen luxury. Once complete it took a while to get the seasoning just right (needed a lot of salt), but when we got it, it was very tasty. Barley and corn are a great match together and the addition of scallions and parsley worked really well. I think this would taste even better with fresh basil added, although I doubt we'll have this again to ever give it a try.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

grilled tuscan chicken with rosemary and lemon with grilled zucchini and squash

We are really enjoying grilling our meals. Truly, can you resist this weather? Perfect for cooking and eating outdoors. We made this Grilled Tuscan Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon with Grilled Zucchini and Squash from Great Food Fast.
Another exclusive to the barbeque dinner, this is a really nice way of enjoying the flavours you get from grilled food. The veggies are a combination of zucchini, summer squash, yellow and orange bell peppers with fresh basil. We bought a roaster chicken and I'm pleased to say my husband successfully butchered his first chicken. One whole chicken made so much chicken we ended up with plenty of leftovers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

garlic-marinated chicken cutlets with grilled potatoes

Our bbq is on overdrive these days. We've already blasted through an entire tank of propane in 3 weeks. But everything tastes so great grilled and this dinner of Garlic-Marinated Chicken Cutlets with Grilled Potatoes from Great Food Fast features an entire meal prepared on the grill.
To start, this recipe calls for chicken cutlets. I don't know what they are so we just took a boneless skinless breast of chicken and cut it in half (width-wise), into two thin pieces of chicken. There is a garlic marinade for the chicken that includes thyme, but where the recipe asks for fresh, we used dried. I really like thyme with chicken and thyme is one herb I prefer dried. The marinade looked a little muddy, but the taste was fantastic. The vegetables were grilled, and when complete, everything is served family-style. There is a final addition of a drizzle of Vinaigrette. This garlic vinaigrette is a necessary addition that adds such a nice flavour boost when drizzled over all three items which really helps bring everything together. We had the rest of this homemade vinaigrette on our salads for days and it really is a keeper of a recipe. 
Overall, a little bit of time and effort goes a long way with this dinner but I highly recommend trying it, especially if you're enjoying your bbq this time of year.

Monday, June 25, 2012

strawberry-rhubarb buckle

We decided to have another picnic this weekend with my in-laws. For dessert I made Anna Olson's "Any Fruit Buckle" using fresh rhubarb and strawberries. One of my favourite dessert recipes from Fresh Flavour Fast was the peach buckle, and until making it a couple years ago, I hadn't ever heard of of this type of cake before. Similar to a coffee cake, a buckle is a vanilla cake with baked fruit and, this one Anna Olson published on her website, has a strusel topping which adds a extra nice flavour/texture contrast.
This dessert is one of my favourites we've had recently. The crumb on this cake is so tender, I'm still gushing over the texture this cake has. It's so moist I actually had it in the oven for over 15 minutes longer than the instructed time. I've learned the hard way that baking times on buckles vary based on the amount of juice fresh fruit renders when baking.
Here are some of the reasons buckles are so great. If you're not the biggest pie fan (like myself), this is a great way of showcasing fresh baked fruit in a dessert. Buckles are simple cakes (similar to a loaf) and don't require any extra steps after baking. Like loaves, they are portable (which in this case I baked it right into a glass Pyrex with a fitted lid so it could travel with us to the picnic). Lastly, buckles appeal to my sensibility because they are cakes that aren't iced/frosted. 
The versatility of different seasonal fresh fruit that can be used makes this recipe a summer must-bake. If you're reading this, please try it!

Friday, June 22, 2012

owen's first rock concert

Do you ever have one of those days where you get shaken out of the monotony of routine? There are the predictable ones, like vacations or a night out... the ones that are planned. But then there are days like yesterday, where we found our day got turned upside down.

Built to Spill is a band both Nuno and I adore but have never seen live. We've seen just about every band we love live, but Built to Spill has alluded us. I was actually a little nervous to see them live because I heard their shows are about as crazy as Guided By Voices, with stinky aging male indie rockers getting beyond wild. But hours before the performance, I heard Built to Spill were playing a free show with Matthew Sweet (remember him? "Girlfriend") on the Buffalo waterfront as part of a concert series they have Thursday & Friday evenings during the summer. Well, we couldn't swing a sitter in time, so we decided there really wasn't anything that could hold us back from seeing our long overdue Built to Spill show and having Owen share in the experience of seeing his first rock show. 
Ah, I love Buffalo. Cheap food, cheap beer, free show and a really great time! It's pretty awesome to love music not many people listen to at a show not many people attend. I wonder if the Jesus and Mary Chain show planned in a few weeks will garner much of an attendance?
Owen ate a hot dog and in all his excitement spit-up on himself as well as me during one of his moshing outbursts. Party till you puke, Owen!
There was nothing more hilarious than to see Owen shake a tail feather. He made his own little dance party during Matthew Sweet (who played almost his entire "Girlfriend" album from beginning to end in honor of Roger Waters who was playing "The Wall" only blocks away at the First Niagara Centre).
I'm not sure I've seen Owen in his element more than at this show. Sign him up for swim class or soccer, he's just not on bored. But play some live music and he's got his own personal dance party.
“We’re special in other ways – way’s our mother’s appreciate”
The sound at this outdoor show was great. And I couldn't have been more happy to have heard Built to Spill play "Stop the Show". Huge thrill.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

grilled greek chicken kebabs with mint-feta sauce and greek-style bruchetta

With all the dicey fails we've had with Everyday Food Light, I decided recently to take more time returning to recipes we enjoyed. One such dinner we've had several times since we first tried it is Greek Style Chicken Kebabs with Mint-Feta Sauce.
As I was prepping to make this dinner I decided to check back on my blog to find the recipe link and read any other notes. Completely by coincidence, we had this dinner exactly two years ago to the day! So I can say with confidence this is the perfect dinner for this time of year. It's simple, inexpensive and a total keeper. We had a side of Greek bruchetta made on the fly with diced tomatoes, feta cheese, diced kalamata olives, dried oregano, splash of red wine vinegar, s&p on garlic buttered loaf then barbequed. Extra kebabs and sauce make for a great lunches along with lettuce & tomatoes in Greek-style pitas.

Monday, June 18, 2012

our good times


marineland, aquarium of niagara, of montreal at NXNE, with my sister & cousin at NXNE, 
archers of loaf at Phoenix, backyard pools and sprinkler fun

Friday, June 15, 2012

gourmet hot dog picnic

I'm not really into the idea of hot dogs and sausages. At some point a few years ago I wrote them both off completely on account of the saturated fat and nitrates. That was until recently, when I started buying them from reputable local butchers. Now I allow them once in a blue moon and they are always a real treat. Our latest picnic at Lakeside Park yesterday found us barbecuing foot longs for a Gourmet Hot Dog Smorgasbord. These dogs are what sliders are to hamburgers. One foot long made three mini dogs where we taste tested several of the July/August issue of Everyday Food magazines suggested toppings. 
From left to right - Frank & Beans, Mexican Charred-Corn Dog and Banh Mi Dog. 
The one stand-out was the Banh Mi. We had all the ingredients around from our Vietnamese Steak Sandwiches from a couple nights ago (Nuno and I are hooked on these sandwiches and it makes perfect sense to work them into a hot dog). I'm disappointed that all the pineapple and red onions were used on our Hawiian pizzas the previous night because I think the Hawaiian Dog would have been delicious as well. Over our picnic, we came up with lots of new hot dog toppings that might work, so if we decide to do this again we'll try and share some of our own concoctions.
I made a side of Marinated Zucchini with Mint from Everyday Food Light and - it was just terrible. To think of the time it took to make this it was a huge disappointment on every level. I took this as a sign to just go ahead and indulge because as much as I canceled hot dogs from my diet, I just as avidly reject chips. But we decided to have Tostitos & salsa with this dinner and thank goodness we did since the zucchini side was so rank.
This is Owen's second time trying hot dogs (the previous time was at a birthday party). As you can tell he has no idea how to eat one with the wiener in one hand and bun in the other.
He even got to enjoy some Tostitos along with his cucumber slices as a side. Summer picnics are all about fun with a bit of indulgence.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

hawaiian pizza

I used to find it strange to have something sweet like pineapple on a pizza. Hawaiian is a pizza I've only gained appreciation for very recently.
This Hawaiian Pizza on the bbq is made by grilling red onions and pineapple on the bbq first. To do this we sliced thick slices of red onions and sliced a whole pineapple into 8 long segments (removing the skin and core). Once cooked it's cut into chunks. 
Once we shaped our dough it was placed directly onto the bbq grates. I thought for sure it would melt through the grates, but it didn't happen that way. It grilled up perfectly! Once the first side was done it's flipped and the topping are placed on. Along with tomato sauce this pizza has prosciutto and mozzarella cheese along with the grilled onion and pineapple.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

coriander-crusted flank steak

The July/August 2012 issue of Everyday Food magazine features the recipe for Coriander-Crusted Hanger Steak (which we substituted flank steak for). This is basically a rub of crushed whole coriander seeds, bay leaves and black pepper. Once grilled we were really pleased with the result. A quick and simple way to boost the flavour of your steaks.
On the side is my potato salad. I've reworked this potato salad with fantastic results. Here's how it's made:

Creamy Potato Salad
2 lbs of scrubbed new potatoes, halved, large quartered
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup light plain yogurt
1/4 cup light mayo
2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp dijon
1 bunch of thinly sliced scallions, just white and tender green parts
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled 

In a large pot, cover potatoes with salted water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp paring knife, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and mix in sour cream, yogurt, mayo vinegar and dijon. While stirring mash a few potatoes and blend into salad. Season with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and add the scallions and bacon. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

After posting this entry I noticed that I’ve now posted 800 entries. When I first started writing I didn’t expect to make it past 50, but to maintain and grow this blog has become a fun hobby. It’s been a way of tracking and enjoying things in my life that are important to me such as my family, vacations, milestones and of course food.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

eggplant rollatini

This is our Eggplant Rollatini from Everyday Food Light. After cooking through a number of recipes from this book I’m finding it really is hit and miss, but this dinner is a huge hit!
This is our first time making any sort of eggplant rollatini, so I’m not sure how the original dish is made, but I doubt we’d have it any other way than this. It’s absolutely delicious, probably one of our favourite Italian American dinners we’ve ever had! These look like huge heavy burritos but it's not a heavy dinner by any stretch. It's quite light, using light ricotta and light mozzarella and baked eggplant instead of noodles, I definitely think this is light without sacrificing flavour. We ended up doubling this recipe and freezing the second portion which worked out really well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

old-fashioned berry layer cake

We celebrated Father’s Day for my dad this past Sunday. It was beautiful outside sitting by the pool and having a barbeque. We brought a potato salad and this Old-Fashioned Berry Layer Cake from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook. What a gorgeous masterpiece this cake turned out to be.
The cake was a very easy & fun bake with no unusual ingredients - most of which anyone would have on-hand. My new Kitchen-Aid stand mixer made light work of this cake as 10 eggs need to be beaten for 5 minutes at high speed. I was really pleased with how the cake baked-up. The two cakes get halved and filled with whipped cream and berries. Our initial plan was to take Owen strawberry picking, but most of the patches are closed on Sundays, so we did the next best thing and picked up berries from the farm stand. I chose a quart of small berries for this cake so they could stay intact and not have to be sliced. 

This is a very large cake that serves at least 10 people. But beware, as soon as you slice through half the cake it takes great amount of skill and care to slice the second half without the layers toppling. I guess round berries and light whip cream don’t make for the best mortar between cake layers. Ah, it tastes great either way.

Friday, June 8, 2012

individual pinto and black bean tamale pies

Here is our Individual Pinto and Black Bean Tamale Pies from Everyday Food Light. I'm no tamale expert having only one in my life, but after seeing how this is made and the way it tastes, it really is just a very simple way of getting the flavour of a tamale with a much easier execution. A layer of sliced polenta (from a tube) is placed in an oven-proof dish or ramekin and then filled with a mixture of pinto & black bean, tomatoes and seasoning. The topping was sharp cheddar (which is a substitution we've had to make recently in all Mexican dinners b/c all of our grocery stores have eliminated Monterey jack cheese from their shelves). Sharp cheddar is one cheese that tastes fantastic when it gets nice and golden on top.
As I was making this I felt like it wouldn't be flavourful enough and was tempted to add a little dried cumin. But I'm glad I followed the recipe exact because it really didn't need it. The only possible way to improve this was  Nuno's suggestion to try it with our own oven baked polenta instead of the prepared tube. The flavour and texture would be improved. And, wow - this recipe made so many servings. We had this for two nights, one of  which had an extra guest dining with us. This recipe was almost custom made for Owen's tastes so it goes without saying that he really enjoyed it - we all did. We will definitely make these again in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

farfalle with salmon, mint and peas

Uh-oh! We have another recipe fail! Darn, I was sure Farafalle with Salmon, Mint and Peas from Great Food Fast was going to be delicious. It seriously sounded so great. But then there is that deflating moment when you're finished cooking and you taste for seasoning to realize no amount of salt or pepper is going to revive this dinner. I just walked away hoping that if it sat for a few minutes it might 'come together'. Nope! I had no choice but to suggest we get take-out.
And in comes my creative and talented husband to jack this dinner out of the dead-zone. He disappeared into the kitchen where he blended cream cheese and whole milk with minced garlic over a warm skillet. Added to this recipe we now had a creamy salmon pasta, which really tasted great. We didn't end up finishing this off with the mint but just added it our fruit salad for dessert.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

oat muffins with rhubarb

I love this time of year when rhubarb grows like a weed - which is how my garden grows. What I don't like about rhubarb is how much sugar most dessert recipes require to balance its tartness. Well, we have Anna Olson to thank for concocting another stellar recipe without sugar. I know the lady had a show called Sugar, but I swear her next venture has to be a no-sugar dessert cookbook. Nuno doesn't eat sugar and in order to eat the way we do, I try and limit desserts. Having said that I somehow bake once a week.
Anyways, back to this recipe which is a healthy muffin. I love muffins and loafs because Owen can easily bake with me and they can be justifiably eaten at any time of day. Our rhubarb came from Harvest Barn, the place where if it's in-season and it's fresh, you'll find it there. Although this recipe has a couple different leavening ingredients, they didn't rise much at all so I'd be inclined to fill the muffins to more than three quarters full next time around.
These muffins are delicious and different. The tartness you get from the rhubarb is similar to baking with dried cherries. It's not for everyone, especially those who love sweet and cakey muffins. And if you do have a sweet-tooth I suggest spreading them with strawberry jam. 
This recipe is available at Anna Olson's website for .pdf download under the recipes fly-out tab.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

couscous with nectarines and pistachios

Owen is always telling us how much he loves couscous. Give the kid a side of rice and he'll tell us he wants couscous instead. Sorry kid, no separate meals in this house. But since it's a popular request, I always try and take note of new and interesting couscous recipes.
This Couscous with Nectarines and Pistachios is a recipe I found through Whole Foods. I'm kinda addicted to it right now and imagine it would be a hit with vegetarians. It is incredibly delicious and a jumping-off point for substitutions with the fruit and nuts. But I'm really enjoying it according to the recipe right now. The only revision I've gone ahead with is to use baby arugula instead of watercress (and I only add it to my portion). For Owen's I added diced chicken (the previous night's leftover from Spicy Chicken with Peanuts) and pick out large pieces of shallot. The prep time is long on this which is it's only drawback, but I double batch it and it lasts for 4 or 5 days in the fridge air-tight.

Monday, June 4, 2012

a few dinner fails

I'm always reluctant to report on recipe fails. Mostly because it's not fun to invest time, effort and money into something that didn't live up to our initial expectations. Then I have to ask myself, was it the recipe or was it something we did incorrectly?

Here are a few recipes which I don't recommend and will never try again.
First up is Welsh Rarebit. I've been wanting to try this for decades because of how it creeps up every once in a while in pop culture. I figured if we were going to give it a go, the recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything would be our best guide. Guinness cheese sauce over toast really tasted lot hot vomit on toast. It was literally one bite and then tossed in the compost.
The second fail was this Beef and Mango Lettuce Wraps from Everyday Food Light. I was really excited about making this because our last lettuce wrap dinner was so amazing I wanted to make it again right away. Unfortunately this dinner fell so flat. Flank Steak is just too tough for a lettuce wrap and judging by how rare we eat our meat, being overcooked wasn't the reason for that. The dressing was just overly tart and almost bitter. And I can't imagine who would just eat cellophane noodles dressed in oil, scallions and s&p. Um, not me - it's horrible! The leftover flank steak was used the next day for Vietnamese Steak Sandwiches from Great Food Fast. Which after having these a second time around I have to state that they are beyond delicious, you must try them! Great way to use up leftover flank steak.
And the third terrible dinner we tried last week was Spicy Chicken Stir-fry with Peanuts from Everyday Food Light. Again, I expected this to be delicious and was looking forward to having snow peas since it's been ages since we had them last. Unfortunately just about every element of this dinner wasn't enjoyable. I ended up removing all the chicken from this and using it in another recipe which I'll blog about soon.

What was the thought process that went into compiling Everyday Food Light? I'm starting to notice that the first two Everyday Food books (especially the first) are fool-proof and delicious to boot. Let's hope this weeks meals keep us all a little happier.

Friday, June 1, 2012

sesame soy shrimp and chinese noodles

The other night we enjoyed another picnic night out at the St. Catharines Museum (at Lock 3). 
When cooking through Fresh Flavour Fast we really enjoyed this Chinese Noodles with Sesame Dressing cold noodle salad so I decided to make it again and use the same dressing to marinade skewers of shrimp to bbq. Along with a green salad this dinner was very nice, light and easy to eat. Just light enough to go out for ice cream later. But first Owen tackles the hill...
Up and down, up and down.
Made it to the top!
Along with climbing mountains, Owen's other talent is simultaneously singing "Web In Front" by the Archers of Loaf.