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.

 

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.

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.