Tuesday, August 31, 2010

homemade soup and Hawaii 50

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I have been watching a Hawaii 50 marathon on TV. Quite the little time capsule. I have seen fashion,food,electronics,and architecture/interior design...all circa 1967. This was the TV of my youth. I think the things I am most surprised about is how good looking Jack Lord was... and how cool the opening sequence was, with the big wave and that groovy music!

Thank goodness the marathon is only on in the morning! At least the rest of the day can be spent doing a bit of COOKING!! I have been trying to clean out my freezer. I have the kind of refrigerator with freezer drawers, and they really don't hold much food. Nevertheless, it is always good to get in there and see what's hiding. Yesterday, I decided to make some soup. I had 4 small containers of a sort of bean soup I had made a few months ago, that wasn't my tastiest creation. I had always planned to un-thaw it, and tweak it a bit, until it became more what I liked to eat. I thought that I could turn it into a sort of minestrone.

I started out with a small white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, celery and carrot, all chopped. I sauteed them in a big lug of olive oil, and added a generous amount of fresh thyme and oregano, salt and pepper. I added a small can of stewed tomatoes, and the thawed soup, plus an additional container of homemade ham stock. Then I boiled some whole wheat bow tie pasta, and set it aside. I boiled the soup for about 20 minutes, and turned off the heat. After it had cooled a bit, I tasted it for seasoning, and found it quite delicious. When the P-Man walked in the door, I scooped some bow ties into the bottom of a bowl, and ladled the soup over top. So it was not just soup, for supper, I added some toasted whole grain bread spread with some light Boursin cheese,topped with a few slices of fresh cucumber and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

I don't know why...but tonight I may create something with pineapple! Book em Danno!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A delicious lunch

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Ha! Don't be fooled by my yummy 'frites' photo...the lunch I will be writing about today was made by ME!!! I feel as if I will go MAD with boredom. My last party was on Friday, and now it is Thursday...and I am STILL eating leftover party food! Yesterday at lunch, I said: NO MORE!!! I had a look through my crisper and found a beautiful dark green zucchini and some baby carrots. I and knew I would make a fresh and delicious pasta primavera, with a bit of leftover salmon...I know, but I just hate to throw food away!

I chopped 3 fat, white cloves of garlic. Next I cubed the zucchini, and sliced the carrots on an angle. I flaked the salmon that I had baked with a grainy Dijon, maple syrup, caper marinade. I heated up a small saute pan, and added some olive oil and let it get hot. Then I added the veggies and garlic, some salt and pepper, and a shake of chili flake. I let everything fry, while I boiled up some spaghetti. When the zucchini was tender/crisp, I turned off the heat and added the salmon, and a handful of fresh torn basil leaves. I drained the spaghetti reserving a little cooking water, and tipped it into the pan with the veggies. I grated a nice bit of fresh Parmesan over the top, poured myself a glass of wine,( Thanks to Penny and Dino!) and sat down to enjoy my feast!

I must confess that zucchini is not my favorite vegetable, but when lightly sauteed it becomes something that just soaks up other flavours especially olive oil and garlic. The torn basil was a fragrant and sweetly herbal ingredient. Every time I got a piece in my mouth, I wondered why I didn't cook with it more often.

My plate was really full, and I took my time, and enjoyed every bite. I drank my wine, and headed out onto the deck to digest, and read my book. The sun was shining, and the water was sparkling.

I stifled the urge to purr...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Happy 100th BLOG!!

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Today I am giving myself a big bouquet of virtual flowers! Today's blog is my 100th!!! I must Thank Don Genova, the man who taught the course that started all of this. I also must thank Russ Davies, who after listening to yet another idea I had for making White Rock a better Community, suggested that I start writing a blog. I would also like to Thank my niece Tracy, who answered my many questions related to blogging, and was very encouraging about my writing skills. Last, but certainly not least, Many, Many, Thanks to the P-Man, who has taken me to some incredible places this year. Travelling has given me the opportunity to eat at some wonderful restaurants, and even when we weren't away, he has been nothing but complimentary with regards to my cooking skill over the last 25 years!

In addition to this milestone, and the future changes I am sure it will bring, I have decided to leave Delitalia. I want to Thank my whole team there, for putting up with my stubborn, bossy attitude. My complete inability to clean up after myself, and then argue about it, and for teaching me what working in a commercial kitchen is all about. It was fun, AND frustrating to be part of a FAMILY again, as most of my own is gone.

I have no doubt that FOOD will continue to be part of my professional future. In what form, I am not quite sure. I believe that is what I am most looking forward to.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

the parties are OVER!!

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It is a sort of windy, grey day. I am just puttering around, cleaning up after Friday night's party. We had about 14 people over, and I made food suitable for 'grazing'. I had to work the day before, and the day of the party, so make ahead items were essential. My menu went something like this:
with drinks: Spicy nuts: slightly modified from a recipe by Karen McSherry
Marinated olives: as above
Caramelized red onion,Parmesan,and fresh thyme tart/Fresh pesto and cherry tomato tart with Parmesan cheese: both Nigel Slater
Light Supper: Three bean salad: Janet and Greta Podleski (Looney Spoons cookbook series) Potato salad: my recipe. A whole ring of farmer sausage courtesy of Rempel Meats in Abbotsford, steamed with assorted mustard's. A side of salmon glazed with grainy mustard, real maple syrup and capers: my recipe adapted from Michael Smith. New carrots and cucumber fingers with sour cream/green onion dip: my recipe.
Dessert: Chocolate Mousse...courtesy of Michel @ Le Vol Au Vent. This mousse is really delicious, and the P-Man insisted on having it.
Almost everything I served, I had prepared before. The only thing that was quite new, and I was quite surprised by was the olives. Before I worked at Delitalia, I had never really eaten olives. Now I am a convert. This recipe called for 3 or 4 different types of olives, combined in a dish with good olive oil,fresh herbs such as oregano, rosemary,and thyme, some chili flakes, and some slices of fresh lemon. They can sit in the fridge under the oil, almost indefinitely, and when taken out an hour or so before eating, and allowed to come to room temperature...they really are a revelation. Slightly salty, and spicy, and almost bitter, with the nearly pickled lemon.
Once I get everything cleaned up, and put away, I am going to wander down to Le Vol au Vent to pay for the mousse. It looks like the sun is coming out, and I am sure that there will be something tempting on the menu to enjoy for lunch. The P-Man is away for a few days in a really big city. I will make sure to enjoy the beach for both of us...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Le Vol Au Vent...Pork with Prunes

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It has felt extremely 'Summery' lately. Hot days, and even hot nights! I don't know why, but the heat hasn't bothered me one little bit this summer. Quite the opposite, I feel ripped off by each day that doesn't live up to my 'Summer Heat' expectations! I worked on Monday. My shift is 9 to 5. I am always reminded of that 1980's movie and song by Dolly Parton. It had been a warm day, but when you work in air conditioning you get so disconnected to the actual temperature. I left the deli at 5 and immediately thought that I would walk home. The temperature was perfect for walking. It wasn't too hot, it wasn't too cold...and there was a nice breeze blowing. The P-Man had left in the AM on a business trip, so my supper plans were completely within my control. It takes me about an hour to walk home from work, and in that time I can always decide what I am hungry for. I took an extra step, and stopped by the library and checked out a copy of Metropolitan Home...just in case I ended up at a restaurant on the beach. Just me and my magazine and a warm night. All I needed was some great food and my evening would be approaching 'perfect'. I ended up at Le Vol Au Vent.
After greeting my hosts for the evening, Nanna and Michel, I had a seat on the patio.
I had a look at the menu, and inquired about the availability of chanterelle mushrooms. On my walk, I had half decided to dine on a vol au vent filled with fresh chanterelle and a salad. Nanna said that they were sold out, but the pork with prunes was great. As always, she knows, and pork with prunes it was. I sipped my wine, something different, a slightly effervescent Vinho Verde, delicious, and opened my magazine. It really was a great magazine. I saw some great photos and jotted down some very interesting websites to check out at a later date. Then I smelled something quite wonderful. It was my Pork with Prunes.

The plate placed before me was absolutely beautiful. I was obviously hungry from my walk, but any plate with a definite 1/2 and 1/2 split between meat and vegetables always warms my heart. Weight Watchers would definitely frown on this sort of potential gluttony...but I walked, now I was going to eat. I stared lovingly at my plate, with it's classical arrangement of 4 golden brown pork medallions, with a glossy milk chocolatey coloured sauce, dotted with deep purple prunes. The veggies were a colourful foil to the pork side of the plate. They consisted of a baked tomato, a piece of grilled zucchini, some sauteed red cabbage, and a gorgeously red piece of roasted red pepper. Before I could say, " Hey where are my frites?" Nanna showed up with a gorgeous little butter lettuce, halved, and drizzled with Michel's super tangy homemade vinaigrette. She told me that he didn't think that I would want frites on such a warm evening, so he made me a little salad instead. Ahhh, bliss! To no one's surprise, I started with the pork. It was so tender, I barely had to chew it. It had been ever so lightly dredged in flour, so there was a tiny bit of crispness, but not enough to distract in any way from the sauce. Did I mention the sauce? This had to be one of the most flavourful things I have ever had in my mouth. My first impression was sort of a nutty, buttery, oniony silkiness. I tried my next piece of meat with a bit of meltingly soft prune, and even though I don't ever recall actually eating a prune...I strongly believe that they are my new favorite fruit. I never have understood people who eat one thing at time...but there I sat, with a happy smile on my face, eating every bit of the wonderful pork that was on my plate.

When I could tear myself away from my 'pork-fest'...I let Michel know that on the YUM SCALE...this dish was the coveted 5 YUMS...and proceeded to eat everything else, finishing with the delicate butter lettuce salad.

I drank one more glass of wine, and finished my magazine, just as it was getting a bit difficult to see in the dusk. I had no desire for dessert, and proceeded up the hill to my place with a happy, full, belly.

Another Summer evening...Another incredible meal...Merci, Michel.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Parties and smelly apartments

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I have only lived in an apartment for about 10 years now. Up until then, my experience with them was the groovy pads that people on television lived in. People like Mary Tyler Moore, or Rhoda, or Marlo Thomas. My very favorite apartment, was from the Odd Couple. It was actually the only apartment that looked like it had a real kitchen, where people could cook. I always remember that scene from the Odd Couple movie where Felix Unger, actually cooked a meal in the gorgeous, spacious, 5 bedroom post war flat somewhere in FABULOUS Manhattan...and Oscar never came home for supper! HILARIOUS!!!

My apartment is quite fabulous, if I do say so myself...but it has a galley kitchen without a window, and a lowish ceiling with a small vent hood...nothing like the gourmet kitchens you see in all the brand new 5000 sq ft monster homes. When I cook something on my stove top...especially if I FRY anything in a pan, on my stove top...the smell carries into the open areas next to the kitchen. I usually turn the vent hood on high, and open up the sliding glass doors...but it seems that only time will take care of the smell.

Last week, I had a party. I had to scour the Internet and my cookbooks for inspiration and something that caught my fancy, was a caramelized red onion and Parmesan tart with fresh thyme...courtesy of Mr. Nigel Slater's cookbook, 'Appetite'. I am quite familiar with caramelizing onions, as we do a caramelized onion pizza at Delitalia...but the technique and ingredients were slightly different. Slater's instructions were simple and specific. Use approximately 4 Tablespoons of butter, 5 or 6 medium sized red onions cut on the thickish side, and cook them low and slow, until they are silky and brown and lovely. This should take about 30 minutes, but they can't be rushed. Well, my onions certainly did not rush. I believe they took approximately 1.5 hours...and everyone said my tart was delicious.

I am having ANOTHER party, 3 days from now...and I have decided to repeat the recipe, and add another tart, this time, a basil and tomato tart. As I write this every window is open...the kitchen fan is on high, and my onions are happily, sizzling away. I suppose that having an apartment that smells delicious, is simply a bonus when creating a tart that tastes delicious!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Party Planning...Recipe Searching!

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I am hosting a party on Saturday night. I have 3 days off this week...so let the menu planning BEGIN!! Whenever I start to think about the food I would like to serve...I go straight to my 'Cook Book Cupboard'. I haul down, whatever volumes, I think would be helpful, and start flipping pages. Yesterday, I pulled EVERYTHING out of the cupboard, and had a good look through, and was quite amazed at the quantity and variety of cook books in my collection. I managed to pull together a menu, and a shopping list...but approximately half of the menu items were sourced on the internet. I find it quite astounding, that even if you half remember a recipe you read about once, or saw on TV...you can google a chef or an ingredient...and presto...there it is, floating around in cyberspace!
I have to do some of my prep, tomorrow...so later today, I will wander up the hill to the Bread Box, to choose my fresh produce. The weather is supposed to be warm...so fresh, simple food is the obvious choice.
Party on the Patio...I can't wait!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Swedish Meatballs...In the SUMMER?

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My work schedule has been pretty consistent lately. I have been working 2 days, off for 1, work for 1, and off for 3. This allows me to cook ahead, or cook all day! I have a nice variety of fresh vegetables in the fridge, courtesy of a local farmers market simply bursting at the seams with fresh colorful goodness. I currently am using the following vegetables to mix and match with a couple of meats: English peas in the pod, arugula, cauliflower, green beans, tiny new potatoes, and carrots. I eat the peas, arugula, and carrots raw, and lightly blanch everything else. This gives me absolutely no excuse NOT to eat my veggies! As I was doing some blanching this AM, I was thinking how the green beans and the new potatoes would pair well with a nice jar of Italian tuna in olive oil, some black olives and a hard cooked egg to create a lovely Nicoise style salad, with a splash of lemon juice as dressing. MMMM...a potential lunch in the making!

I, personally, would never want a completely vegetarian diet. I don't know if it is due to my Ukrainian upbringing, or habits from my youth, but I am a fan of meat. I also know that my stomach simply cannot deal with a strict diet of vegetables and fruit. I tend to get a sore achy stomach, especially from too many raw vegetables, and have found that even a light blanching helps my digestion immensely.

I already have some baked chicken breasts, and some turkey vegetable ragu sauce prepared for the week, but I wanted some red meat. I took out a pound of ground beef from the freezer, and proceeded to search for a recipe that would not duplicate the tomato base, I already have in the ragu. I decided on : 'Swedish Meatballs with Shitake Mushrooms.' You can find the recipe at MyRecipes.com one of my favorite 'go-to' recipe sites. The recipe was very easy to follow, and not alot of work, with the exception of thinly slicing the 4.5 cups of Shitake mushroom caps. I found the addition of the allspice and the ginger in the meatballs to be trans formative in the dish. I have made meatballs over the years, a million different ways, and these were incredibly flavourful. I also found the combination of the beef broth with the low fat sour cream wonderfully rich. I am so used to cooking with chicken or vegetable broth, that I forgot what deep flavour beef broth lends to a dish.

This recipe was definitely a winner. Although a meatball dish, cooked on the stove top in August, may not seem traditional...cooking and eating what you crave, is always the right choice for me.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

fooling around with tomatoes and red peppers

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If you read my last blog, and haven't managed to make your way to the Acme Cafe for some fabulous pie...Please see the photo to the right! MMMMM....PIE!!! I feel a little like Homer Simpson!

A week or so ago, I brought home a large bag of red and orange bell peppers, and a medium sized tub of tomatoes from the farmers market. As usual, I had no idea what I was going to make, so every day or so, I had another look at them, and waited for inspiration to strike. I decided to make a salad for lunch, so I cut up one of the tomatoes. To my great surprise, despite a lovely red color,they were not at all sweet. I had seen someone on tv, roast tomatoes in the oven to develop their sweetness and intensify their flavour. I thought it was worth a try. After I cut them up, and tossed them in some oil and herbs and garlic, they barely filled the baking tray. Then I thought about the peppers. I prepared them the same as the tomatoes, placed them in an oven that was a mere 200 degrees, and left them to roast for 7 hours. When I took them out, they were shiny and shriveled up, and looked like little vegetable candies! I threw them all into a blender with a bit of white wine and water, and pureed them. It was amazing how thick the mixture was. I kept adding liquid until I was happy with the texture, and proceeded to poach some shrimp, cook some linguine, grate some fresh Parmesan, and added the pureed tomatoes and peppers. The flavour was incredibly intense, and needed a bit more thinning out, but overall, I really enjoyed the contrast to regular tomato sauce. I kept the rest in the fridge and have added it here and there to other dishes, when I thought they could use a bit of vegetable ZIP! I will use this method again...especially with tomato and pepper season drawing to a close

Lunch at the Acme Cafe

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I had to renew my passport. It doesn't expire until December...but I am always early for everything! I decided to head into Vancouver, and thought that if I have to sit for many hours on a hard chair in a scary government office...I had better have a good lunch beforehand. I had read a review of the Acme Cafe somewhere, and as I recall, the reviewer spoke a great deal about the decor, and location. The location being 51 West Hastings, I was curious, and a little apprehensive.
The location is very close to the new Woodwards development, right next to a vacant lot, awaiting some fabulous new building. The sign out front is adorable, and given my age, I associate anything 'ACME' with the Roadrunner and his arch nemesis Wile E Coyote. The interior could not be farther away from a 1970's cartoon. It was clean and cool, and sleek and white. The horseshoe shaped counter, with the classic spinning stools, along with a strange looking machine that has been converted into a place to display delicious PIES, was the only nostalgic reference.

At 12:30 on a sunny Thursday afternoon, the place was packed. I was told a table would be ready in a minute, and given a menu to look over. I took a quick look, but my attention was taken by a great looking display of baked goods to my right, that consisted of cookies, cupcakes, muffins, and a beautiful multi layered cake with blindingly white icing. I also noticed that I was now standing in the Take-Out line. A very good idea in the morning I can imagine, with people pouring out of the neighbouring condos. Some actually coming in for a sit-down breakfast...others grabbing something to-go. My table was ready, so I had a seat.

I decided on the Meat Loaf Sandwich. It came with either: a cup of soup, or broccoli almond slaw and potato chips. I chose the soup. It was described as potato/ vegetable/ Parmesan. It wasn't what I was expecting. It was completely pureed, and had literally no texture, very thin. The Parmesan flavour was strong, but I could not taste any vegetable...including potato. The colour of the soup was also quite unappealing. It was a very pale beige color, as was the cup it was served in. I would have liked a bit of garnish, some bright green parsley or maybe a dash of black pepper or paprika.
My sandwich could have been much better. It looked good, but there were some problems. It was served on a whole wheat hoagie bun that felt and tasted stale. After a few attempts to get the sandwich into my mouth, I set aside the top bun, and proceeded to try to eat the rest, open faced. As I was only given a soup spoon, I started carving away at the remaining sandwich. The meatloaf had good flavour, but was barely warmed. The Swiss cheese was also luke warm, and had that terrible half melted look about it. The arugula was not very peppery, and like the bun, tasted like it was not terribly fresh. The sandwich had 2 sauces, a BBQ and a grainy Dijon mayo. I preferred the taste of the mayo, as the BBQ was a tad sweet, and I don't think it complimented the arugula at all. Perhaps, reheating would have made my sandwich more yummy...but all 8 staff were very busy, so I'll never know.

I finished my glass of wine, ( Babich Sauvingnon Blanc...very reasonably priced at $7.25 per glass) and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a very nice looking pie. I was still a bit hungry, and goodness knows, a decent pie is hard to find, so I inquired. It was a DOUBLE CRUST APPLE PIE. At that moment, sweeter words were never spoken. I ordered a piece with whipped cream, and a coffee.
This pie arrived looking like a million bucks! High and proud, firm and dry. I am not a fan of drippy, soggy apple pies...and I harbour an unnatural hatred of RAISINS. This pie was room temperature, with a firm, thin crust. The apples were tart, in that, what a surprise, the pie doesn't taste like candy, sort of way. The top was lightly sprinkled with sugar, and even the whipped cream was barely sweetened. There were no horrible raisins hiding in the filling, and I ate the whole piece...even the hated edgy crust, that is usually just a lardfest. I paused to have a sip of my coffee, and found it delicious.

This pie has restored my faith in restaurant pies...especially in the classics, like apple. I will visit the Acme Cafe again. I tasted incredible potential in that pie...

I'm Baaaack!

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I am sorry for my lazy blogging habits, of late! I have been stockpiling some photos and food stories, and I promise I will be more consistent in the future!

I have been trying to cook at home a bit more, of late, and have been enjoying it. In the past, I did most of my cooking for the week on Sunday. Lately, I have been cooking 2 main dishes on Sunday, and have been adding a new salad or side dish every day. This method has allowed me to cook in smaller batches. This in turn adds more variety to the 2 main dishes, and allows me to take real advantage of the fresh produce at the Sunday Farmers market. Last week's 'switch- up' looked like this:

Clam Chowder: I had some really great clams in Italy...mostly in a Linguine Vongole. I was craving them. I picked up a package of 'Tilly's Galley- Fresh Catch Chowder Mix', added the clams, and presto...great fresh clam chowder. I really like this local brand. The instructions give you 3 variations on the basic mix, and the flavour is incredibly fresh tasting. This time I used the basic recipe, and toasted up some focaccia bread I had in the freezer in a 350 oven, drizzled with a little olive oil. I put a few pieces of the toasted bread in the bottom of the bowl, and ladled the chowder in. The P-Man thought the toasty bread added a real rich, herby flavour. We had enough left for another dinner, and this time, I steamed up some fresh green beans, and added some brown rice, ladled on the chowder, and had a completely different meal.
If I use a packaged ' convenience' food, I always read the label. This item has dehydrated potatoes as the first ingredient, and seasoning salt as the last ingredient. I also always try to balance the meal with some vegetables, or a healthy starch, such as brown rice. Convenience, nutrition, and great taste always works for me.