Monday, October 18, 2010

Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce (Mommyghetti)

I grew up on this sauce; it was always a family favourite and is now a guaranteed win with the kid. It’s also a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your diet…and clean them out of your fridge.

Most of the measurements are rough: alter them to your tastes. The quantities below are more than will fit into my 7-quart crock pot (I usually skip a couple of the vegetables). I freeze the extra sauce in small batches (2 to 4 cups) for easy weekday meals.

2 lbs ground beef
½ to 1 tbsp steak seasoning or Montreal steak spice
¼ cup Memories of Kobe sauce (optional)
4 cans (798 mL each) crushed or ground tomatoes
10 oz spinach or other leafy green, fresh or frozen (optional), chopped fine
olive oil for frying
3 large (grapefruit-size) Spanish onions, diced small
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs mushrooms, cremini or white, sliced or diced small
2 to 4 zucchinis and/or summer squash (optional), diced small
1 eggplant (optional), diced small
a few stalks celery and/or fennel (optional), diced small
3 or 4 sweet red/yellow/orange peppers, peeled (optional), diced small
1 to 3 tbsp dried oregano
1 to 3 tbsp dried basil
1 to 2 tbsp dried Italian seasoning mix
1 to 4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

In a large skillet, brown and crumble ground beef with the steak spice. Near the end of cooking, add the Memories of Kobe sauce. Place in crock pot set on high, along with tomatoes and spinach.

In batches, use the same skillet to lightly brown each of the vegetables in olive oil and a bit of salt, then add them to the crock pot. Don’t skimp on the oil during this stage: the sauce is unsatisfying without it. You only need a tablespoon or so per batch, it adds depth of flavour to the sauce, and in the end it really isn’t that much oil when divide among six or seven quarts.

Once all the vegetables are in, add in some seasoning and give it a good stir. Cook on (preferably) low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. (Sauce can also be simmered for an hour or two on the stovetop over low heat; keep a close eye on it to prevent burning.) About an hour before mealtime, taste the sauce and add more seasoning as desired.

Serve over whatever pasta you like (reserve some pasta water to thin the sauce if desired), or polenta, spaghetti squash, mashed potatoes, rice, whatever!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baba Ghanouj

This eggplant dip is a Middle Eastern classic; unlike some supermarket versions, you won’t find any mayonnaise here. Serve with pita bread (Arab style, not Greek) or raw veg for dipping.

1 very large or 2 medium eggplants
2 cloves garlic, puréed
cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
¼ – cup tahini*
¼ tsp ground cumin (optional)
salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Prick skin of eggplant on all sides, place on a pan pr sheet of foil (to catch drips) and roast, turning occasionally, for 30 – 60 minutes, until very tender. Allow eggplant to cool until safe to handle, peel off skin, rough chop, then set it in a colander to cool completely and drain any excess juices.

Add eggplant and remaining ingredients to food processor and process until very smooth. Taste and adjust salt as necessary. Can be served right away, or refrigerated for several hours to firm it up.

To serve, spread in a shallow dish, drizzle with olive oil and top with finely chopped parsley, plus any (or all, except the pomegranate) of the following:

Pine nuts, toasted
Tomatoes, seeded and diced
Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
Pomegranate seeds

*Tahini is ground sesame seed paste, very similar to natural peanut butter. A staple in many Middle Eastern dishes, it can be found in most supermarkets and bulk food stores, and has an indefinite shelf life. Like natural peanut butter, it separates over time and must be stirred to reincorporate the oil before using.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Orange Pumpkin Loaf

This recipe is an adaptation from an old “Company’s Coming” book. I am not a huge fan of pumpkin—it is easy for me to skip the pie at Thanksgiving—but this loaf brought me around with its combination of pumpkin, orange, dates, and pecans to create a rich, full-flavoured quick bread reminiscent of fruit cake. Enjoy!

½ cup pecans, chopped
cup butter, softened slightly
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
cup water
1 medium navel orange
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
¾ tsp salt
½ cup dates, chopped (about the size of raisins)

Preheat oven at 350°F. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan and line bottom with parchment, if desired.

Toast pecans in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until fragrant. Set aside to cool. (Toasting the pecans can be skipped if you’re pressed for time.)

Cream together butter and sugar well. Beat in eggs until just combined, then stir in pumpkin and water.

Cut orange in half stem-to-bud and remove any seeds from the centre column. Grind up the entire orange in a blender, food processor or grinder. (If you don’t have a grinder, slice the peel thinly and then run your knife through the lot to finely chop.) Stir into pumpkin mixture.

Combine the remaining ingredients together with the cooled pecans and mix well. Stir into wet ingredients until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it out if necessary. Bake for 60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before removing from pan. Cool completely before slicing.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Date Squares

At some point when I was a teen, my parents accidentally bought a skid of dates at auction. Yes: a skid. I made a lot of date squares that year, which was fine by all of us; they never lasted long. I was a date square machine! (Is that something I should actually be proud of?)

Once I moved out on my own, I never made them since they are atrociously high-calorie. Then, somehow, the recipe was lost. Gasp! Fifteen years of looking and it still hasn’t turned up. But—about five years ago—my mother stumbled on an older version of the original recipe, written out old style: basically a listing of ingredients with virtually no instructions. It’s not quite as good as what I grew up on, but decent all the same. Here is that original recipe, with a few extra notes by me.

1 lb dates, pitted
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 cup boiling water

Combine in a saucepot and cook well. The dates should be softened and the sauce thick.

2 cups rolled oats
1¾ cups AP flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup butter
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Cut together all ingredients. Press half the oat mixture into an 8 x 8 pan (lined with parchment if desired), then all of the date mixture (wet hands makes spreading the dates easier), then the remainder of the oat mixture. Bake 20 minutes in a moderate oven (350 to 400°F will do the trick). Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sadaf’s Rice and Raita

I have been meaning to post this recipe for ages, and was reminded today when I watched the kid forget all about his demands for macaroni and cheese (out of a box, yes, it’s true) as he gobbled down two bowls of this yummy Middle Eastern classic. The proper name for the rice and peas is pullao, but in our household we call it Sadaf’s Rice, named after my friend Sadaf, whom the kid adores and I begged the recipe from.

I have modified Sadaf’s original recipe slightly, to make it a bit more compatible with my North American pantry. If at all possible, try to source all of the whole spices; they are available at many regular grocers and most bulk food stores, and can certainly be found in any Asian grocer. Since the spices are whole, they last a long time when stored away from light and heat.

Sadaf’s Rice:

1 – 2 cups basmati rice
4 tsp olive oil
1½ tsp black cumin seeds (use regular cumin seeds if you can’t find black)
12 whole peppercorns
4 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1 black cardamom pod (add a couple more green pods if you can’t find black)
1 cinnamon stick
1 medium onion, diced (reserve 1 tbsp for raita)
2 cloves garlic, sliced or minced
1 can chick peas, drained
chicken broth or 1 bullion cube

Rinse and soak rice in a fine mesh strainer or loose-weave cloth for 20-30 minutes. Drain.

In a heavy saucepot on medium-high heat, fry spices in oil until seeds begin to sizzle. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes.

Add drained rice, chick peas, and broth or water to cover ½ inch above the rice (about double the quantity of rice used). Boil uncovered until liquid is almost level with rice; cover with tight-fitting lid and simmer on low until liquid is absorbed, about 12 – 14 minutes. (Make raita while rice cooks.)

Let stand, covered, for a few minutes and then fluff rice with a fork or chopsticks. Remove the cloves, cardamom pods, and cinnamon before serving.

Raita (Yogurt Salad)

½ to 1 cup plain yogurt, ideally 2% or higher (I use 6%; it’s worth it)
1 cup or more English cucumber, sliced half-moons
½ cup carrot, shredded (optional)
½ cup radish, thin slice (optional)
1 tbsp onion, minced (or a couple pinches of onion powder)
½ tsp dried mint
½ tsp ground cumin

Mix all ingredients together and let stand in refrigerator for 10+ minutes, to allow flavors to blend. To serve, spoon on top of pullao.

When you can't find the whole spices

Any of the following ground spices can be substituted in the pullao, but they will alter the flavour a bit. They burn easily; only let them cook for a moment before adding the onion and garlic.

tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground black pepper
tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cardamom (replaces both green and black pods)
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Greek Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

Take a cotton napkin, or a paper coffee filter, or a cotton tea towel, or a woven cotton shirt, or several layers of get the idea. Put the cloth in a strainer or colander standing in a bowl. Pour your yogurt into the cloth. Let stand in the refrigerator or loosely covered on the counter for 2-4 hours for Greek yogurt, or 8-12 hours for yogurt cheese* (known as labneh in the middle east). Transfer drained yogurt to a container and store in the refrigerator.

The drained liquid is whey, which can be used for cooking.

Don't have a colander? Pour your yogurt into a tea towel and tie the ends of the towel to hang off your kitchen sink tap. Put a bowl under it to catch the whey if you want to.

Yes, it is okay to leave yogurt out overnight at room temperature.

*If you are using yogurt cheese as a Phillydelphia-style cream cheese substitute, stir in ¼ tsp salt per cup of yogurt before draining.

Seriously Folks, Don't Buy a Yogurt Maker

Put down the $100 "gourmet" yogurt maker with automatic digital temperature control. Back away slowly. Now come with me....

I admit the process looks difficult, considering I dedicate five paragraphs to it below. But really it's quite easy and takes almost no time. This is the fancy equipment required to make yogurt at home:

A pot
A spoon or whisk
A clean glass jar (such as an old pickle jar), or thick glass/ceramic bowl
A medium towel or blanket
It is also helpful (but not mandatory) for you have a candy thermometer (sold for $5 in grocery stores)

Ingredients (can be scaled up or down; it is only dependant on the size of your jar):

4 cups milk* (any fat content you want)
1 heaped tbsp plain yogurt (this is your starter)
* don't use lactose-free milk: this will cause your yogurt will fail

So here's what you do:

In the pot, bring the milk up to froth. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer for two minutes.

Remove from heat and insert thermometer; allow to cool, undisturbed, until the temperature reaches 106-109°F. This may take 15-30 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. If you don't have a thermometer, test the milk by sticking your pinky finger in. If you can just hold it in the milk for a 10-count, the milk is ready. Take care not to let the milk get too cold; the yogurt can fail if it's not close to this temperature.

While waiting for the milk to cool, put the starter yogurt in your jar and beat it with a spoon or whisk until it is liquid and free of lumps. Once the milk is the right temperature, add a tbsp or two and blend thoroughly to warm up the yogurt. Now add the remainder of the milk and stir/whisk (I put the lid on my jar and give it a few shakes).

Put a lid or cover or plastic wrap on your jar/bowl/whatever. Wrap the towel around it and stick it in a cupboard or other draft-free hideaway. Wait 8 to 12 hours (overnight); longer aging increases the yogurt's sourness.

Store yogurt in the refrigerator. Yogurt will keep for about a week. You can use this yogurt to start your next batch.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sweet-Hot Beef

We love, love, LOVE this quick and easy meal. I make this when I am feeling tired and uninspired. It survives both whole wheat pasta and ground turkey substitutions well. Round it out with a Caesar salad.

1 lb ground beef
½ cup water
¾ cup raisins (sultanas are best)
1½ tsp ground cumin
1¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 can (398 mL) tomato sauce
½ lb spaghettini or other thin round noodle
1 tbsp lemon juice
minced parsley

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brown beef, stirring to crumble.

Once beef is cooked, stir in the next eight ingredients (water through tomato sauce). Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions.

Remove sauce from heat and stir in lemon juice. Toss together with spaghettini and top with parsley.

Salisbury Steak Patties in Mushroom Gravy

Hmm, what to do with that appetizing tube of beef? Isn’t it cute in its bright red package? How can you not love food that comes in a tube???

1½ lbs ground beef
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 green onions, sliced fine
1 tbsp prepared mustard
a few generous shakes of steak seasoning, (or some salt, pepper, and a pinch each of cayenne and dill)
1 can beef gravy
1 tray sliced mushrooms
½ cup water
2 tsp horseradish

In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Beware the overmixing!* Divide the mixture into 4 to 6 patties.

In a large skillet, cook the patties on medium-high until brown, about 4 minutes each side.

Mix together the remaining ingredients and pour over patties. Simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, until mushrooms are tender.

Serve with mashed potatoes, plus a green vegetable of some sort, if you’re felling guilty about, well, beef.**

*I am an incurable overmixer. Left alone, this leads to tough meat and burgers that seize up in their middles during cooking. There’s an easy fix though: if you show the meat a little too much love (uh, that sounds WAY wrong), take a fork or a pair of chopsticks to your meat mixture after combining it and “fluff” it (stab, and lift; stab, and lift). Adding a bit of air back in will cancel out all that nasty squishing you just inflicted on your poor, helpless meatballs.

**I never, ever, get around to the green vegetable on this meal. It’s all about the beef and potato, baby.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

This old WW recipe is a snap to make and freezes well. Watch out if you use a hand blender: this one can spray.

1 head broccoli (about 4 cups)
2½ cups chicken or vegetable stock (or one can broth, reconstituted)
½ cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated “light” old cheddar (2 oz)

Peel the broccoli stalks and rough chop. Combine with stock in a saucepot and simmer until broccoli is quite tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Purée soup in blender or with a hand blender until smooth. Soup can be strained through fine mesh sieve if desired (I never do). Return to pot.

Stir in milk, salt, and pepper. Simmer until heated through; remove from heat. Stir in cheese until melted.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chicken with Stewed Tomatoes

Every time I am invited to a recipe exchange, this is the first recipe I think of. It's fast, easy, and light.

  1. Dredge boneless skinless chicken breasts in flour with a bit of salt and pepper mixed in.
  2. In a large nonstick skillet, fry on medium-high with a bit of oil or butter until lightly browned, about 4 min each side.
  3. Dump a can of stewed tomatoes on top; bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered, on low until chicken is done, about 20 minutes. Use about one can of tomatoes per pound of chicken, or more if you like a lot of tomatoes.
  4. Serve with rice or other starch.

Recipe notes:

Cut cooking time down by cutting chicken breasts in half horizontally, so you have two wide thin pieces. Reduce fry time to about 2.5 to 3 mins and simmer to about 10 to 12 mins.

Any flavour of stewed tomatoes will work, my favorite is Aylmer original flavour; the petite cuts work best. I do not recommend home-brand or no-name tomatoes.

If you have one, put a splatter screen over the tomatoes.

Fancy it up with buttered or garlic croutons served on top of the tomatoes (with original flavour tomatoes).

The Kid’s Specialty: Pepperoni Double-Mushroom Pizza

Yeah, I’ve tried going authentic and making my own pizza dough. And sauce. And designing my own cheese blend. Then one day I was tired and the kid wanted to help make dinner and I decided to be easy on myself: I bought all the base ingredients pre-prepared and let the kid have at it. The result: we don’t take out from Pizza Hut any more.

Everything in this recipe is found at Metro.

olive oil or cornmeal
1 bag sun-dried tomato-basil pizza dough by Fresh to Go
¾ can garlic basil pizza sauce by Primo
¾ bag pizza blend shredded cheese by Selection
2 cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained
½ bag thick-sliced pepperoni
other toppings as desired

Preheat the oven to 500F (if you don’t have an oven thermometer, allow at least 20 minutes to preheat, even if you have a new oven that tells you it’s ready in 8, because, well, it’s lying to you). If you are using a pizza stone or cast iron, stick it in there until it’s quite warm to the touch.

Prepare the stone or pizza pan with oil or cornmeal. To create a Pizza Hut-style pie, use a pizza stone or a cast-iron pan and a generous amount of oil. For a drier crust, use cornmeal. You can roll out your dough directly on the stone if using oil, or transfer it after rolling if using cornmeal. If you can toss pizza dough, good on you! But, why are you reading this recipe?

Once your dough is rolled out, layer on the sauce with the back of a spoon or ladle, then cheese, then mushrooms, then pepperoni. Don’t be shy about crowding on the pepperoni slices: they are going shrink up in the oven.

Bake on the middle rack 12-16 minutes; watch for cheese browning at the edges. Let pizza rest for a few minutes before slicing.

Save the leftover sauce and cheese for pita pizzas or whatnot. The pepperoni will keep in the freezer for a couple months.