Friday, January 29, 2010

Em's sushi party

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Have you ever seen a more charming sushi set than the little cloud and soy-sauce bird above? It belongs to Em, and this is how we celebrated our sushi night with friends.

Em organized a sushi- and salad-roll-making night at M and DV's house. Everybody brought different fixings and we all took turns making rolls. There were sweet potatoes, cucumbers and all kinds of wonderful fillings. For fish, we had salmon, tuna and shrimp. There's nothing better than making food together with friends, and then having a giant feast at the end of the night!

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Em also served pieces of the roasted nori in a little bowl all on their own. Usually I only use nori in sushi making, but they have a nice seasidey, salty and crunchy taste on their own. Thanks for introducing me to another great snack!

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Acorn squash with apple and walnut stuffing

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I have rediscovered squash! The last time I made it was a couple of years ago when I had all four wisdom teeth out and needed a soft-serve diet ;) That time I made it with butter and brown sugar. This recipe is equally delicious. I found it Joy of Cooking and have adapted it a bit.

Acorn squash with apple and walnut stuffing
serves 2

1 acorn squash
2 apples
handful walnuts
handful Craisins
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
dash of rum
pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg
pinch of ground flax (optional, but a good source of fiber and may lower cholesterol)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits. Put the squash in a high-sided baking dish, cut side down. Add some water to the pan and braise the squash in the oven for about 40 minutes.

Dice the apple and add it to a large mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients to the mixing bowl except the orange juice and the olive oil and butter.

Heat a frying pan and add some olive oil and butter. Fry the apple mixture for five minutes or so, until the apples have softened. Deglaze the pan with the orange juice. Add the rum. Season with salt and pepper.

Take the squashes out of the oven. Drain the pan of water. Put the squashes right side up and fill with the apple mixture. Bake for about 15 more minutes.

Reduce the liquid that remained from the apple mixture in the frying pan until it is a glaze consistency. Drip over the finished acorn squash after you have plated it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Striploin steak on croutes with sauteed onions and mushrooms

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Last night S and I made another delicious dinner. We collaborated — he made the following steak and I made the vegetable accompaniment, apple-stuffed acorn squash.

Striploin steak on croutes with sauteed onions and mushrooms
Serves two

1 striploin steak, about one-inch thick
one small onion
handful of cremini mushrooms
balsamic vinegar
quarter of a baguette
salt and pepper
olive oil/canola oil/butter

Put some canola oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat.

Season one side of the steak generously with salt and pepper.

When the oil is hot, put the steak in the pan, seasoned side down. Then season the other side of the steak. Leave the steak for three to five minutes, depending on the thickness until it is browned and caramelized. Do not check the meat too often.

Flip the steak and repeat with the other side, which will take a little less time to brown. Use the finger test to see how well done it is. Poke the steak with your finger — if it's soft then it's rare, but the firmer it feels to the touch, the more well done it is.

Take the steak off the heat and let it rest on a plate for 10 minutes under some foil.

While the meat is resting, prepare the croutes and saute the onions and mushrooms.

To prepare the croutes, slice a quarter baguette on a long diagonal, rub the top side with butter or olive oil and lay on a baking sheet. Put under the broiler for three or four minutes or until starting to brown. Remove from oven and set aside to crisp up.

To prepare the mushroom saute, heat a frying pan on medium heat and add olive oil. Chop the onions into half-moon slices and slice the mushrooms. When the oil is hot, add the onions and stir until softened but not browned, about a minute or two. Then add the mushrooms and stir for a couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Once they've started browning, reduce the heat and drizzle some balsamic vinegar on top. Stir for another minute. Remove from heat.

Assemble the ingredients. Cut the steak in half and put each half on a bed of croutes and the mushroom sautee on top of the steak. Serve with apple-stuffed acorn squash.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Weekend brunch with bacon, eggs, hashbrowns and fruit

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Besides pancakes, this is the other big breakfast that S and I sometimes make on weekends: a brunchy plate of eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and fruit.

To make the eggs, fry the bacon first in a frying pan until crispy, and then set aside on some paper towels to drain. Drain away most of the bacon fat from the frying pan except a teaspoon or so. In the same pan, saute some sliced onions, which will become a bed for the eggs. When the onions have softened, break two eggs on top of them and cook them sunnyside up. Break the bacon into smaller pieces and put them on top of the egg whites so that they surround the yolk. Then garnish with some chopped green onion. Everything sticks together nicely and the egg becomes this happy colourful work of art!

Each time I made the hashbrowns, they come out differently depending on what kind of pepper, cheese and spices I have on hand. Today I sauteed some finely diced onion and diced red pepper in a frying pan until softened, and then add hashbrowns. Mix and season with salt and pepper and add some smoked paprika and thyme. I fry the hashbrowns for about 10 minutes, leaving them alone for several minutes at a time before turning, so that at least two of the four the sides brown up. At the end of the 10 minutes, take the frying pan off the heat, sprinkle grated cheese all over and cover. The cheese melts quickly under the cover of the lid. Just remove the lid carefully so that all of the condensed water on it doesn't end up on those carefully crisped hashbrowns!

Serve with tea and apple quarters or mandarin orange slices.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Mushroom risotto

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I made this over the holidays with my dad. We used the turkey stock he made after Christmas instead of chicken broth. It turned out really well. I think the secret is to include the mushroom broth that comes from soaking dried mushrooms. You could also add garlic. Another secret: do not rinse the rice. Usually I wash rice four or five times or until its water runs clear, but with risotto, you don't want to wash off the starches because they are what gives this dish a creamy consistency.

Mushroom risotto
Serves six

pat of butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
handful of dried wild mushrooms
4 cups turkey stock
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 2/3 cups arborio rice
2 1/2 cups of mushrooms, sliced
pinch of pumpkin spice
finely chopped parsley
grated parmesan

Bring the turkey broth to a boil in a stock pot and turn down to maintain at a low simmer.

Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of boiling water from the kettle for about 10 minutes or until soft. Drain but keep the resulting mushroom broth and set aside. Slice the soaked mushrooms. Bring the mushroom broth to a simmer in a small saucepan.

Add the butter and olive oil to the bottom of a large, high-sided frying pan. Cook the onion until glassy (a couple of minutes). Add the rice and turn down the heat. Mix in the rice until it looks like every grain is coated with oil.

Add the fresh mushrooms and pumpkin spice (we used this because we didn't have nutmeg). Season with salt and pepper and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the sliced soaked mushrooms and their broth. Cook, stirring, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add a ladleful of turkey stock and stir the rice continuously until all of the stock has been absorbed. Repeat with another ladleful. Continue until all of the stock has been added and the rice is al dente. This will take about 20 to 25 minutes. The actual amount of stock you need may vary.

Remove the risotto from the heat and garnish with parmesan and parsley. Serve.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Date, cheese and proscuitto bites

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This appetizer is full of contrasts — you get heat from the jalapeno cheddar, salty goodness from the prosciutto and an incredible sweet hit from the dates! My friend Ella made this for me in October. It's her own creation and shows just how talented she is at cooking without a recipe.

I made this for two Christmas parties. Most people loved it. It's similar to a popular recipe that wraps bacon around dates. I wouldn't serve too many before a big meal, but it's a perfect Christmas season appetizer when everyone has given themselves over to the idea of overeating anyways ;) One of my tasters this holiday didn't like prosciutto, so I made a few without that part and they still tasted good.

They key to this recipe is good dates — not the ones squashed together in a big brick. Look for honey pitted dates that have kept their round shape and have a hole down the centre that you can peer through.

Date, cheese and proscuitto bites

1 package of dates
1 small package of jalapeno havarti
1 package of prosciutto

Cut a slit down one side of the dates to open up the hole a bit so that you can stuff in some cheese. Cut the cheese into little pieces and insert a piece into each date.

Cut each prosciutto slice into three strips (or two, depending on the size) lengthwise.

Then wrap the cheese-stuffed dates in the proscuitto strips — try to go around a couple of times and wrap the sides up too so the cheese doesn't ooze out — and skewer them with a toothpick to hold them into place.

Bake them at about 400 for eight minutes or so until the cheese melts a bit. They are good cold, too.

If you can only find a brick of dates, don't worry, you can still make this. Just separate the dates as best you can and place the cheese and date side by side and do everything else the same way.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Sausage and apple stuffing

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Usually my Dad likes to cook everything from scratch himself during holiday feasts like Christmas and my job is simply to make Stovetop stuffing. One year some time ago he didn't like the way his Stovetop turned out so then it became "my job." This year, we split the cooking. He still did the turkey, gravy and sauteed mushrooms with herbs, and I did the stuffing (but homemade this time), mashed potatoes, the appetizer and a salad.

This homemade stuffing recipe is adapted from one we found in Canadian Living magazine of a sausage walnut stuffing loaf. My changes were basically to add apple, fennel and green onion, and also substitute turkey stock for chicken. Lastly, since I prefer loose stuffing, I didn't form it into a loaf.

Sausage and apple stuffing
Serves about 12 people

olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
3 hot Italian sausages, casings removed
one onion, finely diced
two stalks of celery, diced
quarter of a fennel bulb, diced
1 diced apple (skin left on)
handful of chopped walnuts
chopped fresh sage
chopped fresh parsley
chopped fresh green onion
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 cup turkey stock
9 cups cubed day-old bread
2 beaten eggs
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add some olive oil to a hot wok or high-sided frying pan. Remove sausage from casings and drop in little chunks of the sausage meat, breaking them up while cooking. When the sausage is just cooked, remove it with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate lined with paper towel to let it drain.

Drain most of the sausage fat from the hot pan, too, and add more olive oil. Cook the diced onion, celery, fennel and apple for a few minutes until all vegetables are coated and the onion is glassy. Season. Add the sausages, herbs and stock. Cook a few more minutes, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

(I made this preceding part of the recipe one day in advance and kept it in the fridge overnight.)

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Beat two eggs in a separate bowl.

Combine the cooled sausage mixture, eggs and bread in a large mixing bowl. Scrape into a large rectangular baking dish that's buttered or better yet, lined with parchment-paper. Bake covered at 375 for 40 minutes and uncovered for another 20 to get a crispy golden top. Garnish with chopped green onion tops.

My only complaint with this recipe is that it turned out a bit too dry after the baking time. Next time I will try adding more liquid, say 1.5 — 2 cups of stock instead of 1 cup.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Mashed potatoes with ricotta cheese

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Happy New Year everyone!!

This year I tried something different with the mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner. I boiled them in the usual way and added just a wee bit of melted butter, but also mixed in a whole tub of ricotta cheese and some finely chopped green onions (white parts only). I then broiled the mashed potatoes in the oven for a few minutes and sprinkled them with some chopped green onion rings to give them colour.

These mashed potatoes were very tasty and creamy and didn't dry out at all the next day, which is an important bonus when eating a plate of leftovers!

Another healthier option that my Mom often chooses is to mash some boiled cauliflower into the potatoes — it also makes them soft and creamy AND you get the nutritional benefits of cauliflower.

In the photo, the mashed potatoes are sitting with some homemade sausage and apple stuffing. I'll post that recipe tomorrow.

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