Feeling a Bit Chilli?

As the nights get darker, and the temperature starts to drop, I begin to think about stocking up my freezer for the winter.  Soups, stews, sauces and casseroles are all wonderful things to have waiting for you at the end of a long day at work, especially when they only need to be heated up.  It takes a little bit of planning, but if you can make too much of a recipe once a week and freeze the leftovers into portions, you will have a freezer full of comforting home cooking in no time!

Chilli for the freezer

My first winter-warming recipe has to be chilli.  It’s so versatile and can be served in tacos or tortillas, over a baked potato, or just in a big bowl with rice, salad, grated cheese and sour cream.  There are a million recipes for chilli, but we really like this one because it uses chunks of stewing beef rather than minced beef, and the addition of smoky chorizo really gives it another level of flavour.  The long slow cooking process is great for a lazy Sunday afternoon, and the delicious smells that fill your home will have your family wondering when will it be ready!

Adapted from Olive’s Best-Ever Chilli (Olive Magazine

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 red chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 1.2 kg lean braising steak, cubed
  • 175 g chorizo, diced
  • 3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 600 ml beef stock
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 400 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 400 g tin of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 50 g dark chocolate (70%), chopped
  • sour cream, avocado, tomato, cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce and rice to serve

Directions

  1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large, deep casserole dish, add the onions and cook until soft but not coloured.  Add garlic and chillies and cook for a minute.  Remove mixture from the pan and put on a plate.
  2. Heat another tbsp of oil in the pan and brown the beef in batches, then add to plate.  Add chorizo and quickly brown on all sides.
  3. Return the beef and onion mixture to the pan, add tomato puree and spices.  Cook for 1 minute before adding the stock, vinegar, sugar and tomatoes.  Season, stir well and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and continue to cook on low for 1.5 hours, or until beef is very tender.  Add kidney beans and cook another 30 minutes.  Add the chocolate and stir until melted.
  5. Serve with rice, lettuce, tomato, avocado, shredded cheddar and sour cream.

 

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One Pot Madness!

One-pot chorizo 001

I can honestly say that if there’s one thing that really depresses me, it’s coming home after a very busy day, starving, and being faced with cooking solo with no plan. Ugh. I’m hungry, I’m tired, and there’s nobody here to help in any way. It happens to the best of us. And for those of us who don’t have a nice mother-type nearby to pity us and feed us, what on earth does that leave for us to do?

When I have been in this situation, I will admit to having heeded the call of the Colonel. Or visited one of many other quick greasy take-away options in my neighbourhood. Sometimes I’ve cracked open an imported box of Canadian mac & cheese, complete with very nutritional powdered cheesy sauce mix. Classy, I know. I have a girlfriend who eats a bowl of cold cereal and milk when faced with these situations. Sad, sad and sad I say.

A few months ago, the same girlfriend sent me a fantastic recipe for a stew that turned store cupboard ingredients into a magical meal in about 20 minutes, with little effort. An onion, some garlic, olive oil, chorizo, red wine and tinned white beans combined in a saucepan, simmered for as long as you were willing to wait, and presto. Take that Mr. Fried Chicken! You can keep your eleven herbs and spices!

Chorizo and Butterbean Stew with Garlic and Thyme – Serves 4

Recipe from Rick Stein Coast to Coast: Food from the Land & Sea Inspired by Travels Across the World

Ingredients

  • 350g (12oz) dried Judion butter beans, soaked overnight, or 2 tins of cooked butter beans
  • 225g (8oz) hot chorizo for cooking
  • 50ml (2fl oz) olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 175ml (6fl oz) red wine
  • 1 x 400g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt

Method

  1. Put the dried butter beans into a large pan with lots of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour until tender. Drain and set aside.  If using tinned beans, drain and rinse beans and set aside.
  2. Cut the chorizo sausages into thin slices.
  3. Put the olive oil and garlic into a pan and heat over a medium-high heat until the garlic begins to sizzle.
  4. Add the chorizo and cook until the slices are lightly browned on either side, then add the onion and continue to cook until it has softened.
  5. Add the red wine and cook until it has reduced to almost nothing.
  6. Add the canned chopped tomatoes, thyme, butter beans and 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and simmer for 15 minutes.
  7. Scatter over the parsley, spoon the stew into deep warmed bowls and serve with some crusty fresh bread.

Pasta 2.0

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 110

I think there are some basic kitchen rules that everyone should know. They are some of my tenements of cooking, rules to live by. They include:

  1. Never put anything sharp in a sink full of soapy water.
  2. Always have butter and Parmesan in your house. They can turn anything (potato, pasta, rice, veg, bread) into a meal.
  3. When in doubt, or short of time, toasted bread with whatever foodstuff you have put on top usually makes a great appetizer – try cooked, mashed frozen peas with some olive oil, crushed garlic and Parmesan. Easy peasy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
  4. Not many people can really tell if you’ve used stock cubes rather than fresh. Save yourself the trouble.
  5. Always cook pasta in loads of boiling, heavily salted water. And not some silly pinch of salt. Heavy. It should taste like salty water from the sea.

Rules #5 is quite an important one in my books. Nothing worse than when someone cooks pasta in a small pot of water with a meagre amount of salt. Ick. Bland. Boring. Awful.

Hold on a minute.

One weekend this summer, as I sat happily by the seaside, indulging in a favourite pastime of flipping through food and cooking magazines, I came upon a pasta recipe that was so crazy, so contrary to everything I had ever been taught, and so against all the rules of pasta cooking that it shocked me to my core. It couldn’t work. It shouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work. But there it was, staring up at me, taunting me from the hallowed pages of Martha Stewart magazine, a tome held by some as almost biblical in the world of home and garden magazines. How could Martha recommend something that was this wrong??

The pasta was cooked in a saucepan with a fixed amount of water and tomatoes, onions, garlic, chili and basil that would become the sauce. The water would become the sauce. No draining, no shaking, no tossing in olive oil. Pasta, water and other ingredients become one. Absurd right? Totally. Or maybe, maybe it might just work.

We decided to test out this recipe while visiting our friends in France this past August. The night was warm, the kids were in bed, and frankly if the meal completely failed I knew we had bread (please see tip #3 above) and enough wine to make up for any dinner disasters.

Well. What can I say except wow. It worked. Pasta tossed in simmering water, water reducing while tomatoes and aromatics are softly poaching in the starchy flavoursome water, all fusing together into the one pot meal to end all one pot meals. Shocking. “Kind of like risotto but with pasta”, my friend remarked. And she was right. And it was delicious. Pasta 2.0 – the way forward.

One-Pan Pasta – from Martha Stewart Living, June 2013

Serves 4

Summer 2013 (Nick's camera) 120

  • 12 oz linguine
  • 12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 tsp salt, 1/4 pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil mixture, stirring and turning the pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil.  Serve with oil and Parmesan.

Tried and true

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Cooking means different things to different people.  For some, it is feeding their family.  For others, it is a hobby.  For many, it is a chore.

Cooking is what I do to relax, for fun, and to entertain myself at the end of a day. There is nothing I like more than reading food magazines and planning dinner parties, scanning favourite recipe websites for new things to try, flipping through cookbooks and dreaming of canapé receptions. But in recent months that has all changed drastically. I have…a new job.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my new job. And we still eat. We cook dinner nearly every day, and I still cook a few times a week, especially on the weekends. It’s the time that has been lacking lately, but not my love of cooking.  Some days I am just too tired to even think about being creative when it comes to dinner.

One of my favourite Saturday morning activities is sifting through an enormous pile of recipe clippings and choosing two or three new dishes to try over the week.  But some Saturdays I am scribbling down a quick menu from “the repertoire”. You know the repertoire. We all have one. The things we can cook quickly with little fuss, common ingredients, and not much thinking.

So many of us face this dilemma regularly – what do I cook for dinner tonight?  When the pressures of life don’t give you a lot of time to think about this question, we turn to quick and easy meals that are etched into our brains.  I’m sure you have a recipe or two that you can make from memory, using mostly store cupboard ingredients and not a lot of thought or effort required.  Growing up my Dad used to refer to these meals as “Default Dinners”.  In those days, our family default dinners involved things ready-made in the freezer combined with instant foods in the cupboard (can you say frozen breaded veal cutlets and instant scalloped potatoes?).  But over the past few months, I have discovered that quite a few of my own default dinners can be quick and easy, but still home-made and wholesome.

I am very lucky to have a husband that loves to cook and enjoys following a recipe, so even on the nights that I’m too tired to cook we eat well. As I thought more about it I decided that just because it comes from the repertoire, doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious and worth sharing with others.  So for the next few posts, I will be sharing recipes from our super collection of Default Dinners!

Today’s default dinner is a favourite of ours, because there are very few fresh ingredients, and the result is a rich and creamy fish risotto that can be put together from start to finish in about 30 minutes.  I buy smoked haddock from our fish monger and cut and freeze it into portions just perfect for this dish.  Dill is another great ingredient that can be frozen easily – a quick chop of frozen sprigs of dill added to any dish, and you’ll probably never know that this herb wasn’t fresh from the greengrocer. Butter, onions, garlic, rice, and parmesan are all store cupboard ingredients, and chicken stock cubes are a great substitute when fresh stock isn’t an option.  Throw together a quick green salad on the side, and you’re zero to dinner in about 30 minutes!

Smoked Haddock and Dill Risotto

(adapted from BBCGoodFood.com), Serves 4

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50 g butter

Onion, finely diced

Garlic, 1-2 cloves chopped

300 g risotto rice

100 ml white wine (cooking sherry is a good substitute)

1.2 litres chicken stock, hot (from a cube is fine)

200 g smoked haddock, skinned and boned and finely sliced

2 tbsp chopped dill

2 tbsp chopped parsley (or double the dill if you don’t have both)

50 g grated parmesan

4 tbsp crème fraiche

  1. Melt the butter in a wide shallow pan and gently cook the onion until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the risotto rice and cook for 2 minutes, coating the rice in the onion and butter.  Stir in the wine and cook until nearly evaporated.  Add the hot stock a ladle at a time, stirring continuously and keeping the heat high enough for the rice to gently simmer while adding the stock.  Keep adding the stock bit by bit until the rice is cooked but still has a slight bite and a creamy consistency.  This should take around 15-20 minutes.
  2. Stir in the smoked haddock, dill, parsley and parmesan.  Leave to stand for 3 minutes – the heat of the risotto will cook the haddock.  Serve in warm bowls with a dollop of crème fraiche and a spring of dill.

Allison’s 27 Minute and 11 Second Meal

I enjoy a good challenge.  But a four course meal in 30 minutes?  Come on.  Whose brilliant idea was that?

Well Jamie’s.  And a brilliant idea it was indeed, because we all went out in droves and bought the book.  Shortly after its release in 2010, Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals was named the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time.

But the book wasn’t without its fair share of critics, including many naysayers who felt the recipes couldn’t possibly be made in only 30 minutes.  Well in the words of Barney Stinson challenge accepted!

It took me awhile to decide which 30 minute meal to try.  The only trouble I have with this book is that you have to make the entire meal as Jamie has written it, because all the methodology is written in time sequence for the meal, not for each recipe separately.  So if you like the pasta dish and the dessert from one meal, but want to make the salad from another meal, it’ll get a bit difficult flipping pages back and forth during the cooking process.  And all that dillydallying TAKES TIME FOLKS!  When you’re making a 30 minute meal, you have no time to waste.

I finally settled on the steak sarnie (that’s a sandwich to us non cheeky-chappies) served with crispy new potatoes, cheesy mushrooms and a beetroot and feta salad.  I got my gear out, preheated the oven, dug out the food processor and away I went.  Pleasingly, I cooked all four dishes in 27 minutes and 11 seconds, and even managed to wash a couple of dishes during the process.  A delicious triumph!

Hope you have the same speedy and tasty experience as we did when we made this, and  hope you’ve enjoyed my week with Mr. Oliver!

Steak Sarnie, Crispy New Potatoes, Cheesy Mushrooms, Beetroot Salad

Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (2010)

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Serves 4

Steak Sarnie

  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 ciabatta loaf
  • A small handful of jarred peppers
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Horseradish sauce, to serve
  • A large handful of prewashed rocket, to serve

Mushrooms

  • 4 large flat Portobello mushrooms (approx 250g/ 9oz in total)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ fresh red chilli
  • 2 sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ lemon
  • 70g (2½oz) mature Cheddar cheese

Potatoes

  • 500g (1lb 2oz) baby new potatoes
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • ½ lemon

Seasonings

  • Olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Beetroot Salad

  • 1 x 250g pack of cooked vac-packed beetroots
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • ½ lemon
  • A bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 50g feta cheese
To start: Get all your ingredients and equipment ready. Put a griddle pan on a medium heat and a large frying pan on a high heat. Turn the grill to full whack. Fill and boil the kettle. Put the coarse grater attachment into the food processor.
Potatoes: Cut any large new potatoes in half, then add all of them to the large empty frying pan with a good pinch of salt. Quickly squash 6 unpeeled cloves of garlic with the heel of your hand, then add to the frying pan. Pour in enough boiling water to cover, then cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through.
Mushrooms: Lay the mushrooms, stalk side up, on a chopping board. Trim the stalks and place the mushrooms stalk side up in a small earthenware dish that they fit into fairly snugly.
Crush ½ an unpeeled clove of garlic over each mushroom. Finely chop ½ a red chilli and a couple of parsley sprigs, and divide between the mushrooms. Grate over the zest of ½ a lemon, drizzle well with olive oil and season. Cut the Cheddar into four chunks and pop one on each mushroom.
Beetroot Salad: Grate the beetroot in the food processor. Remove the bowl from the processor, take out the grater attachment and pour in a couple of lugs of balsamic vinegar and a few lugs of extra virgin olive oil.
Squeeze in the juice of ½ a lemon. Finely chop a bunch of parsley and add most of it. Stir to dress, then tip into a nice serving bowl. Scatter over the rest of the parsley. Crumble over the feta. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and take to the table.
Mushrooms: Grill on the top shelf for 9 to 10 minutes, or until golden.
Steak Sarnie: Put the steaks on a board. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, pick and scatter over the thyme leaves, and drizzle with olive oil. Rub the flavours into the meat, then flip over and repeat on the other side.
Pound the steaks once or twice with your fists to flatten them a little, then put them into the screaming-hot griddle pan to cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side for medium rare, or longer if you prefer. This depends on the thickness of your steaks, of course, so use your instincts and cook them to your liking. Wash your hands.
Potatoes: Check they are cooked through, and drain in a colander. Return the pan to a high heat, add a good lug of olive oil and tip the potatoes and garlic back in. Use a potato masher to lightly burst the skins open (don’t mash them though).
Add a few sprigs of rosemary and a pinch of salt. Toss every couple of minutes until golden and crisp.
Steak Sarnie: Put the ciabatta loaf into the bottom of the oven. Finely chop the peppers on a large clean board. Move the steaks to the board and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Finely chop a few parsley leaves, mixing them in with the peppers and all the steak juices. Scrape the pepper mix to one side of the board. Slice up the steaks at an angle.
Mushrooms: Remove the mushrooms from the oven and turn the grill off. Take the mushrooms straight to the table.
Steak Sarnie: Get the ciabatta out of the oven and slice it open. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Spread over the horseradish, then arrange the rocket leaves on one half. Lay the steak slices on top.
Mix and scrape the peppers and juices from the board and scatter over the meat, then fold together and take to the table.
Potatoes: Tip the potatoes on to a serving platter, and put ½ a lemon on the side for squeezing over. Take to the table.

Ah, Mr. Anchovy! Do sit down.

As we continue on with my Jamie Oliver week theme, I am seriously considering renaming this “foods I used to be scared of and now love” week.  First lentils, and now anchovies.  I know.  Anchovies are delicious.  Who knew?

Well in fact, many people knew.  Like most of Italy.  And a lot of France.  And many other people in many other places I’m sure.  However let me clarify my new love of the anchovy for a moment.  I really don’t want to eat them on their own.  I think they’re too fishy and strong to sit on top of a salad or pizza.  Sorry to the Nicoise salad fans out there.  But when you saute them in a little olive oil and garlic and watch them just melt into nothingness, that’s when they are at their finest.  It’s kind of like Thai fish sauce in a way – on its own, it smells like feet.  But once you’ve cooked a Thai dish with fish sauce you couldn’t imagine pad thai without it.  Something about tiny fishy fish that just lend a great salty, savoury, umami quality to a dish.  Like magic.

Take today’s recipe as an example.  Broccoli and pasta.  Sounds nice enough, but just not very exciting.  And then BAM!  (Apologies for the Emeril Lagasse reference, I couldn’t think of a better explosive sound.)  You add some anchovies to the garlic and butter and chili flakes, let those anchovies melt away into nothingness, toss in some al dente pasta and broccoli florets, mix together and voila – you wind up, not with boring broccoli and pasta, but a fantastic dish that makes you a happy camper.  Amazing isn’t it?

Maybe you don’t believe me.  And that’s ok.  In fairness, I think I only tried a dish with anchovies the first time because somebody made me.  And we’re adults right?  We don’t need anyone telling us what to eat.  But if you’re a brave eater, I really encourage you to try the recipe below.  After all, it’s just a simple dish of pasta and broccoli right?  Nothing scary in sight!

Broccoli and Anchovy Orecchiette

Happy Days with the Naked Chef (2002)

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  • 2 large heads of broccoli
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 2-4 small dried red chillies, crumbled, to your taste
  • 4 good pats of butter
  • 1 lb dried orecchiette
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 good handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

Using a small knife, trim round the broccoli to remove the dark green flowers from the main stalks and put them to one side.  Peel the stalk, trim off the dry end and throw this away.  Finely chop the stalk and put into a large pan with the garlic, anchovies, chillies and half the butter.  Cover with a lid and cook slowly for 8-10 minutes while you cook your pasta in salted boiling water.  This should take about the same length of time – check the package.  Something I like to do that is slightly different (but better, I’d like to think) is to cook the broccoli flowers with the pasta for the last 4 minutes – this makes them soft enough to eat but leaves them with great colour and texture.

Drain the pasta and broccoli, saving a little of the cooking water, then toss into the other pan.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Season to taste with salt, pepper, the rest of the butter and a large handful of Parmesan.  Mix well, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary to loosen the pasta and make it shine.  Serve immediately, sprinkled with the rest of the Parmesan.

Lentils…not just for hippies anymore

I like to think I was a hippie once.  In the 90s I wore plaid pajama bottoms to school with scuffed used combat boots that I bought from a guy with a rusty safety-pin in his ear in Toronto’s Kensington Market.  Can you hear the gasp from my mother when I came home with those boots?  Yeah, I can still hear it too.  Good thing she never saw the guy who sold them to me.

In addition to my snazzy hippy wardrobe of flowing skirts and peasant blouses, I was “el presidente” of my high school’s environmental group.  I loved Simon & Garfunkel.  I wore dangly beaded earrings.  My friend Rob had a brown VW van and we used to sit in the parking lot at lunch hour and sing Blue Rodeo songs.  Right on.  Groovy.

During those years I also tried (unsuccessfully) to be a vegetarian.  I decided I would subsist on a diet of basically everything I was already eating, just minus the meat. Which meant a lot of mashed potatoes and cooked carrots at home, and a lot of fries and pizza at school.  Not exactly well-balanced.  And I certainly was NOT going to eat weird things like lentils. As if.  Sheesh.

While my vegetarian hippie days are now but distant memories, I have recently found myself head over heels in love with the mystical lentil.  How did THAT happen?  I’ve discovered that lentils don’t have to be overcooked and mushy, no no.  They can be a delicious savoury side dish (or main for that matter), simply cooked in a little stock, drizzled with olive oil and maybe some sautéed onion and garlic and fresh parsley.   Mmmmm.  As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said in the Guardian last week, they are “little marvels”.

The Jamie recipe featured today is from his second book, The Naked Chef Takes Off, and is a very quick, healthy and colourful weeknight dinner dish.  Perfect for your inner hippie on a Wednesday night!  Peace out brothers and sisters.

Salmon Fillet Wrapped in Prosciutto with Herby Lentils, Spinach and Yogurt

The Naked Chef Takes Off (2000)

IMG_7137Serves 4

  • 9 oz lentils
  • four 8 oz salmon fillets, skinned and pin-boned
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 slices of prosciutto
  • olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 good handfuls of mixed herbs (flat-leaf parsley, basil, mint), chopped
  • 3 large handfuls of spinach, chopped
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt

Preheat the oven to 425F.  Put the lentils into a pan, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer until tender.  Season the salmon fillets with a little pepper before wrapping them in the prosciutto slices.  Leave some of the flesh exposed.  Drizzle with olive oil and roast in the oven for around 10 minutes until the prosciutto is golden.  Feel free to cook the salmon for less time if pinker is to your liking.  Drain away most of the water from the lentils and season carefully with salt, pepper, the lemon juice and 4 good glugs of olive oil.  Just before serving, stir the herbs and spinach into the lentils over high heat, until wilted.  Place onto plates with the salmon and finish with a drizzle of yogurt seasoned lightly with salt and pepper and stirred well.  Thin the yogurt with a little milk if necessary.