Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roasted Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is something I like to make a few times a year and freeze it in ice cube trays to use later on. I use it for when I'm feeling under the weather or just feel lazy and want a quick and light meal. Like most everything I write about here, it's healthy and has lots of flavour.

Everyone has their own way of making it. My way is pretty standard, but I try to put my own little trademarks on it, if you can do that. Preferably, I like to roast the chicken first before throwing it in the stock pot. This helps to darken the stock. I always used powdered turmeric to add another healthy element to it (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=78) and to add the yellow(ish) color to the stock. Yes, believe it or not, it's one of the ingredients which helps give any chicken stock or soup you buy in the grocery store it's yellow color.

I just happened to find some fresh turmeric at the Calgary Farmers Market a few weeks back, so this time I could put a new twist on my stock. I found it at The Silk Road Spice Merchant (http://www.silkroadspices.ca/about). Most times, fresh is the way to go and I would like to think fresh turmeric is an even healthier way to use it. Dried is already ground up for you but if left for a long period of time, like anything else it loses it's flavour and health benefits. If you have the root, it lasts a lot longer but is harder to deal with. It's rock hard, so I believe the best way to deal with it is to grate it with a microplane, a good sharp one, and press hard on it. Don't lose the tips of your fingers while doing it though. That may screw your soup up, especially the color.

If you are using a whole chicken, I was always told there are two ways to do it. Drop a whole chicken into the pot with whatever else you are cooking it with, herbs, spices, vegetables. The French call the vegetable part of this equation mise en place, which means "putting in place" or defined by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) as "everything in it's place." Sometimes it's also called mirepoix. Depends on the preparation or cooking method. At any rate, have your vegetables ready to go when you put the chicken in the pot. Crank the heat up, cover it and boil the life out of everything for an hour. I'm not a big fan of this as I like passive cooking methods rather than hijacking the flavour out of your ingredients. The other (easy) way is to bring the pot up to a boil, cover it and let it sit for about 8 hours. I don't normally suggest doing this, but it does work if you have to run out the door. I have however, found a happy medium for these two. Bring the pot up to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer for about 2-2 1/2 hours.

If you are going to roast the chicken first, strip as much of the meat off as you can before shoving it in the oven. This will darken the bones and help add more flavour and color to the stock. And you can have a chicken sandwich while you're waiting too! You can do this with a turkey carcass as well if you want to make turkey soup with any holiday leftovers.

Roasted Chicken Stock

- About 4 lbs (1 3/4 kg) raw chicken (or turkey) bones (backs, feet, ribs, wings, necks). I usually throw in one or two carcasses as a general rule.
- EVOO or canola oil, if roasting the bones
- 2 large onions, chopped.
- 2 large carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 1 leek, cleaned well and chopped
- 2 - 3 cloves of garlic
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 - 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- small handful of parsley, curly or flat leaf Italian
- 8 - 10 whole peppercorns
- 2 - 3 bay leaves
- 1 red chili
- 1 teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
- 18 cups cold water (4.5 litres) or whatever comes close to filling up the pot you are using.

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Add oil to large roasting pan and rub it around so the carcasses don't stick to the pan. Add bones and roast in lower rack of oven until golden brown, about 15 to 25 minutes. Stir often to ensure even browning. Browning the bones will give a rich flavoured and dark coloured stock. Skip the browning step if you want a chicken stock with a mellower, more subtle flavour. Try to get as much of the skin off as you can, but you don't need to waste a whole lot of time doing this.

3. Transfer bones to a stockpot. Add the vegetables and herbs. Add enough cold water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. As the water comes to a boil, skim the scum off that floats on top. If you don't have the time for this, you can do it later when the stock cools.

4. When the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer stock very gently, uncovered, for at least 2 hours or up to 4 or 5 hours if you want a more concentrated flavour. Leaving the pot uncovered will help reduce the volume of stock, thus concentrating it.

5. The liquid should barely bubble; if the stock boils it will be cloudy. Don’t stir it or push down on the bones either. This will make it cloudy as well.


6. Strain the stock through a fine sieve (you could use cheesecloth while doing this if you like too) and cool. Transfer to shallow containers so the stock cools quicker. When cooled to room temperature, seal with plastic wrap or in airtight containers. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze until ready to use. Skim off any remaining fat from the top of the stock before using. Makes about 16 cups, but yield depends on how long you simmer the stock.

When it's all said and done, there are different ways to serve this. Normally I don't have a plan, I just plan as I go. Bring the soup to a boil. This may take a little time if you are using frozen cubes. Most times I will add rice noodles or spaghetti broken into smaller pieces. Sometimes I don't. Depends on how I feel that day. Then I add some broccoli.


And after a while I will add some diced red pepper. Also, I will add sea salt when I reheat it only as to not have it reduce on me and become to salty. I add the chicken near the end as it is already cooked. Sometimes I will even drop in an egg and let the heat of the soup cook it while I wait for it to cool down. Stir before eating and it will spread itself throughout the soup.


Needless to say, Mrs. Urban Eater and her strong dislike for undercooked eggs didn't agree to the egg thing. Her loss.

This is a great little meal for a cold day or whenever you feel like eating light and hanging out on the cook watching TV or doing some reading. I ate this soup while writing one of the blogs on here. This is another meal idea which is quite versatile and you can pretty much add almost anything that would go into a soup with this. Meat, seafood, vegetables, whatever. I also use it to make risotto or stir-frys. It's healthy and a good way to help make yourself feel better (http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/12/14/does-chicken-soup-have-healing-powers-1.htm)

When making the stock, feel free to throw in a parsnip or turnip if you like as well. They're good for you and the flavours won't overpower anything else in the pot. Some people even throw in a yam or sweet potato. It's up to you.

Mrs. Urban Eater's Christmas Party

Mrs. Urban Eater had her company Christmas party last night at The River Cafe (http://www.river-cafe.com/index.php). Nice place, nice setting on Prince's Island just off of the downtown core in Calgary. Nice view of all the buildings lit up against the dark sky (not exactly going green with that, but nevertheless it looked cool) as you sit at your table. About 50-60 people there having a good time, nice to see.

As we walked in the door, they had servers handing out a nice Bordeaux, 2005  St. Julien Fiefs de Lagrange, a tasty sauvignon blanc, 2008 Sancerre Alphonse Mellot 'La Moussiere', NV Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition 1 er Cru Champagne and I believe it was orange and ginger snap martinis with vanilla bean infused vodka. I grabbed a glass of the red and so did the wife. While we were visiting with everyone, the hors d'oeurves were being brought around by more servers. Halibut and Shitake mushroom Potstickers, Brie de Meux Filo, halibut cakes, red lentil hummus served on red fife wheatbread and there were a couple of other ones which I didn't partake in as I didn't want to ruin my dinner. There was also an oyster bar with fresh oysters from PEI (Malpeque) and Vancouver Island.

The dinner was served after everyone passed on their holiday wishes. My meal started with roasted carrot soup, then a field green salad, and the main was roasted sablefish which the wife also had. A good selection of mains to choose from made it hard to figure out what to have. Everything on the menu looked so good, but I have never ate sablefish, so I thought it was time. Didn't disappoint. I would definitely order it again and so would the wife.

I had some pics of the restaurant, but the cell phone camera doesn't take great shots in a darker atmosphere. Too bad. I just wasn't going to walk around a party to which I am a spouse, not an employee, and in a nice place like that with a camera. Might be a liiiiiittle bit tacky.

It was a nice party, lots of fun and interesting conversation. We had to leave as I phoned our babysitter, next door neighbor Maria, and she told me O was still awake and playing (at 9:45 at night, well after her bedtime) but everything was good. It was best we got home to settle her down for a long sleep. When we arrived, she was out cold. A nice way to end the evening. It sure is nice to have a babysitter who is a mother to 3 great kids and a new grandmother to watch little O. Very reassuring.

Little O's Menu

As this may be my last blog before Christmas, I will let you know she will be eating whatever is made at the in-laws place. Turkey, ham, perogies, mashed potatoes, whatever she likes she can eat. All of this and the fruits we have been feeding her up to now. We're hoping she will gain about 2 pounds as she only weighs 18 1/2 pounds now. The doctor says according to the growth chart, she should weigh about 22-23 pounds (about 10kgs). He isn't too worried about it as she is healthy and happy, so at this point that's all that matters.

Side note: yesterday I was having some issues with this site (spell check not working right) and some of the content was a little skewed, including a sentence which I actually took out and then magically reappeared! I tried to fix it and re-publish. My apologies if it looked kind of strange. I knew what the problems were, but thanks again K for noticing.

If I don't get another one out before Christmas, have a great holiday everyone. This will be our first as a family so I'm looking forward to ours. Enjoy yours and cherish it.

Merry Christmas. If this offends you, too bad. It's my blog and I can say whatever I want. :)

Quote of the day:

"A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting"
- Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), Professor of psychology at Brandeis University, founded humanistic psychology and created Maslow's hierarchy of needs.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Eggs en Cocotte, Or Let's Just Call Them Fancy Schmancy Eggs

I like my eggs. I like the way they taste, I like how many hundreds of healthy ways you can cook them and how they can add a nice touch to almost any dish they are in. They got a bad rap in the '80's for adding to peoples cholesterol problems, but that was turned around and they were proven to be a good addition to your diet a couple of years ago.

I never quit eating eggs even though my dad had cholesterol issues and still does. I'm a firm believer to which if a person eats healthy at least 80-90% of the time, then all bad things which come from a poor diet will decrease and possibly go away. There's no way Mother Nature would make something like an egg available for us to eat and make it bad for you, unless human intervention has added things to it to make it unhealthy.

What makes them even better is they are extremely versatile. We all use them in all facets of cooking: baking, cooking in the oven and on the stovetop, pasta, etc. Eggs can also be used in food as a binder in certain dishes which require a "glue" to hold them together as well such as burgers, crab cakes and ravioli. Eggs are more than just over-easy or sunny-side-up.

This dish is one of my favorite dishes for eggs, besides Eggs in Purgatory (poached on tomato sauce). You can add almost anything you want, within reason, and the eggs will lead you down the garden path to a taste eggstravaganza! All kidding aside, this is a pretty healthy and great way to have a wonderful eggsperience.

When you try this dish, it is an old French way to cook the egg. The dictionary (audioenglish.net) explains it like this: "egg cooked individually in cream or butter in a small ramekin."
Wikipedia: "Shirred eggs (also known as baked eggs, or in French, oeufs en cocotte) are eggs cooked in a manner which results in a firm white but soft or runny yolk. The name comes from the dish in which the eggs are cooked." Both are a little different explanations but really mean the same thing: a brilliant way to eat eggs.

I used to make this years ago for myself, but that was no fun. Now, I can make for Mrs. Urban Eater and soon little O. It was a slightly difficult to do as the wife likes her eggs hard, bouncing off the wall hard (I think she was trying to change Wikipedia's definition). So I had to open up the door and let the steam escape to put mine in as I like my yolks runny to dip my toast in. It still worked out, so both of us were happy with the outcome.

When making this dish, be creative and think about what eggs go with or what you think you would like to eat with your eggs. I did a take on lox and cream cheese in one and blue cheese in the other. I could have added a sprinkling of walnuts and some pear slices to the blue cheese, but I chose not to be overly creative. Both are very simple to make but offer beautiful flavors and compliment the eggs so you can serve them to your spouse, parents, in-laws or whoever you want to impress for breakfast.

Eggs en Cocotte

- 2 teaspoons crumbled blue cheese
- 8 slices smoked salmon lox
- 2 thin slices red (Spanish) onion
- 6-8 capers per ramekin. I don't give measurements for this as you shouldn't use spoons to take capers out of the jar. Us a fork or the opposite end of the utensil as to not take any of the brine with the capers.
- 1 teaspoon cream cheese, Mascarpone or crème fraîche.
- 4 eggs
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 sprigs of chives, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon butter for the ramekins. I always use just enough to make sure none of the ingredients will stick to keep the fat down to a minimum.


1. Heat the oven to 375FºF/190ºC. Into the bottom of each of two buttered ramekins put a spoonful of one of whatever you choose like blue cheese, smoked salmon, etc. Gently crack an egg in on top. Top with a spoonful of cream cheese for the salmon. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the chives now or you can wait until they are out of the oven.


2. Set the ramekins in a baking dish and pour hot water in the dish to come half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until cooked, but still jiggling if you like your eggs rare, about 5-7 minutes. If you like them done so the yolk is still a just a little runny, you'll need about 7-9 minutes. Keep your eye on the whites and not the yolks. The yolks will stay yellow, so don't be fooled waiting for them to turn color. Serve with buttered toast soldiers for dipping.


Take a look at those yolks, still nice and yellow. BUT, they are juuuust a little runny. I should have taken a picture of Mrs. Urban Eaters as well. Hers were the same color but like rubber, just the way she likes 'em. My toast soldiers wouldn't have stood a chance with her eggs, so she had regular toast. She's no fun.

On a health note, I used butter because EVOO may have made everything stick to the ramekin because of a low smoke point, so butter was the choice to go with. Besides, eggs and butter are a tasty combo. Just make sure you keep the amount to a minimum.

Try this way of cooking eggs and get creative. Eggs don't have to be boring or cooked in an unhealthy manner. They also don't need to be cooked all by themselves. Add some personality to them.

Little O's Menu

She can't get enough of those mini croissants, I tell ya. But that's alright though. It fills her up. The French can't be wrong about those things. They are pretty damn tasty. We have been giving her those for breakfast or for snacks along with the raspberries, some blackberries and blueberries alone or with yogurt. She now has 4 little teeth to chew with so she has to learn how to use those little choppers somehow.

Another idea for snacks we started to utilize is Garden Veggie Straws we bought at Costco. I'm not to sure where else to get these as there isn't a lot of info on the web about them, but the big people in the house like them too. She has been nibbling on them for the past few weeks and they are a good little space filler between meals. Here is a little blurb about them which is one of the only ones I could find (http://www.foodsourcefile.com/diet/healthy-treats-veggie-straws-are-like-french-fries-in-taste), and here is another on (http://productreviewratings.com/2010/01/veggie-tale-twist/). The second person seems a little all over the board with what they like or dislike, but at least this gives you an idea of what they are. We only feed her 4 or 5 at a time as we aren't too sure yet if there are any bad things happening with them. Good enough for me right now. They're a lot better than a lot of other junk out there which you have to carry around for an emergency snack fix.

Tonight is Mrs. Urban Eater's company Christmas party. We will be dining at The River Cafe (http://www.river-cafe.com/index.php) on Prince's Island in downtown Calgary. Should be interesting as always and we're both looking forward to it. I'll let you all know what we had and how it was next time.

Today's quote:

"When arguing with a stone, an egg is always wrong."

- African proverb


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Monday, December 20, 2010

Meatballs!

First, I would like to say a big Thank You to all of the people following me on this blog. There are only 16 followers on the actual blog (feel free to add your name to the followers list if you like), but there are others following from other sites such as Twitter, Facebook, 12 Tomatoes and so on from various countries all over the world. It's nice to know there are people following and I hope I am offering good advice and ideas. I welcome any and all feedback (good, bad or indifferent) from anybody out there. I do get feed back, but not a lot. My good friend K in Toronto sends me emails with interesting little tidbits and I am grateful for that. Keep them coming in K!

Second, for all you trivia buffs and to all who hate winter, December 21st is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, meaning it only gets better from here. The days will start to get longer now as the sun will be at it's lowest point in the sky. I love winter as there are a lot of good things coming from snowy weather: Skiing, Christmas, The movies 'Uncle Buck' and 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles" amongst other great movies being played on every second channel for a few days over the holidays, and my most favorite day ever: Little O's first birthday on New Years Day! This Christmas will be our first together as a family. It'll be so much fun.

There will be a lunar eclipse tonight, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it will be the only one on this day for the next 80 years. Take a peek into the sky tonight if you can. I decided to make something round, meatballs, to celebrate the occasion.

Meatballs are something I make once in a while. That's why I try to make them so full of flavour they will be too good to eat all of the time. Every Italians mother or grandmother has some kind of meatball recipe they have passed on to someone in their family for generations. This is one I will pass on to little O when I force her to start cooking on her own.

I have tried about 20 different types of meatball recipes, and I believe this one is the best one I have made. I'm still tweaking it a little, but not a lot as it's pretty tasty right now.

Ingredients

- 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1 lb (.45 kg) lean or extra lean ground beef
- 1 lb (.45 kg) ground pork
- 1/2 lb (.23 kg) veal. If you can't find veal (or don't want to afford it), just use 1 1/4 lb (.57 kg) of both beef and pork instead. 
- 1/3 cup plain breadcrumbs. Use fresh bread and chop it up in a mini chopper if you can. 
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Use as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. 
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ground pepper
- EVOO
- Tomato sauce, enough to cover all or at least up to half of the meatballs when cooking them in a pot or saute pan.

Directions

1. Place the stock, onion, garlic, and parsley in a blender or food processor and puree.
2. In a large bowl, combine the pureed stock mix, meat, bread crumbs, egg, Parmesan, red pepper flakes, and salt.
3. Combine with hands until mixture is uniform, do not overmix.


4. Put a little olive oil on your hands and form mixture into balls a little bit larger than the size of golf balls. If you want bigger ones to use as a meal on their own, make them double the size.
5. Preheat oven to 425F (220C) and place baking sheet(s) in the oven to preheat as well.
6. When oven is ready, take the sheet out and place the meatballs on it. You should hear a sizzling sound at this point. Put back in oven to cook for 30-35 minutes or until the temperature in the middle of the meatballs reach 140F. You can grease the pan if you like, but this only adds more fat and the balls should have enough already to aid in them not sticking. Using a Silpat is a good idea as well and so is using a good quality baking sheet. If the sheet is hot enough, they shouldn't stick anyways.


7. While meatballs are in the oven, heat the tomato sauce in a large pot or saute pan.
8. Transfer the meatballs to the pot with the tomato sauce and simmer for one hour.


9. Serve alone or over pasta.



Yield: About 18-20 meatballs

By the way, I made a bigger batch than what this recipe says, so that is why there are so many in the pictures. I almost always serve this with spaghetti, but also like to eat them alone with sauce over top.
I have also cooked these by frying them in olive oil to and it takes about 15 minutes to brown them. Just make sure to move them around to brown on two sides. If you're going to try it this way, you will need enough oil to come up about an inch from the bottom of the pan. This is a very good way to do it, but I'm trying to keep the fat down here, so in the oven they go. If you like them to be browned before going in the sauce, doing it in the pan is best. They will brown a little in the oven, but not a lot.

One little hint is to use a bigger bowl than you need as to accommodate the meat moving around. When rolling the meat into balls, try to use one hand to roll them and the other to do anything you need to do with a clean hand. It's not always easy, but it works. It's nice to make meatballs and not kill anybody with ecoli or any other food-borne illness. Also, don't be worried when making these meatballs if it seems there is too much liquid to hold them together. It works fine and the meatballs stay together, just be careful with them and handle them gently. You can try to add 3/4 of the stock mixture first to see if the meat isn't too wet, but you may overmix the meat. Just be careful and do what you are comfortable with. If they are too wet, add a little more breadcrumbs.

Little O's Menu

This week, we had O eating whole organic raspberries. She really gets into these. At first she makes a funny face as they can be a little tart, but she keeps on chewing. I baked off 6 organic sweet potatoes this week for her as well. These are a big hit and never fail to please. We mix the pieces up with some green beans from Grandma's garden and maybe a few little chunks of steamed broccoli or asparagus along with a little EVOO, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. She now likes to eat them all by hand and it gets a little messy, but that's the way the cookie crumbles, or in this case that's how the sweet potato gets mushed all over the place.

For breakfast or a little snack, for the past month she has been eating mini croissants we get from Costco. She loves these and they are helping her keep up the fat content in her diet. Just have to be careful. As we all know they are full of butter. This is good to help fatten her up, but too much butter means she may have to have angioplasty by the time she is 6. Keeping our eyes on that one.

Mrs. Urban Eater and I have gone back to eating the yogurt, organic granola and berry thing for breakfast again. I usually pour a little flax oil over top as well. You have to be careful about flax oil as it is a natural laxative, so wade into those waters very carefully! We are still working towards the smoothie again as well, but at least we are ingesting lots of berries this way instead for now. Loaded with antioxidants, berries are healthy anyway you can get them in your stomach, liquefied or whole.


For snacks, I made a baking sheet full of 70% dark chocolate and roasted almonds. The Greeks call this Anomala. Usually, you make them into individual pieces, but I made it into bark instead, meaning pour everything onto a baking sheet, let it cool and break it up into pieces.

Here's the directions:

Roast whole almonds in the oven for 12-15 minutes at 350F. Take out when done and let cool. Remember they will keep cooking as they sit, so stir them around a little to help cool them off. Break up the chocolate into small pieces so they will melt faster. You can temper the chocolate if you like to keep it from turning white in places, but I chose not to. Put the chocolate into a double boiler set-up. I used a glass bowl over top of a sauce pot. Make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl directly as the chocolate will melt easily by residual heat from the steam. Stir until chocolate is melted and add the almonds. Stir again and pour over a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Let cool and break into pieces. Almonds are a very healthy addition to everyones diet as they are high in manganese, vitamin E and magnesium, just to name a few of the good things in them (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20). Dark chocolate is also good for you as it is full of antioxidants, which is what you want to in your diet (http://longevity.about.com/od/lifelongnutrition/p/chocolate.htm). All around, it's a good, healthy way to have a snack.


My camera ran out of juice as I was making this so my apologies for not having more. Here is the finished product as it sits in a Tupperware container just out of the fridge. A real Hallmark moment, but it tastes soooo good no matter how the picture looks.

 I went with Lindt 70% cacao this time. Be careful as to not buy cheap chocolate. Buying a good quality chocolate is important, especially when it is one of the key ingredients. On the other hand, you don't want it costing you $5.00/100g to make either. Also, try to use equal amounts of each when making this. 500g of one ingredient equals 500g of the other.

Today's quote:

"Nothing spoils lunch any quicker than a rogue meatball rampaging through your spaghetti."
- Jim Davis, American actor, 1915-1981.

Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stir-Fry Ideas

About 17 years ago, a dear friend of mine whom I coached on a women's soccer team, talked to me about how she wanted to lose weight. She was the teams goalie and figured it was time to lose the baby weight she was having issues with. She also assured me exercise would be part of the plan she had to put in place. D mentioned she knew I cooked at a fairly high level, so I told her I would help her with the way she ate.

The dish she was most interested in (as I believe we touched base on this briefly once or twice before this discussion) was the stir-fry. I was in pretty good shape at the time playing rugby, coaching soccer and running three or four times a week. She had asked how I helped myself stay this way. I told her simply, "Exercise and the way I eat."

Eating is the simple part as you have to do it multiple times a day. Don't kid yourself: you have to do it more than once a day if you want to stay healthy. Eating four or five times a day is extremely important. This is only possible if you are eating properly and your portions sizes are not super-sized. But this can be discussed another day here.

In 1992, I started to try and elevate my cooking skills and knowledge. Along the way, I found out what the stir-fry could do for me. There are about 100,000 ways to make this dish as there can be so many ingredients to which the dish can be brought together with. I would make it differently as many times as I could, but I still stuck with my basic principles. If you or I made the same dish everyday of the week the exact same way, no matter how good it was for you, we would grow sour with it very quickly. The key is to use different ingredients, but still make it the same way. I know this looks like a lot of information, but once you start getting used to it, there shouldn't have any problems. It is very easy to make this.

My basic principles are:

- Plan ahead by cutting your some of your vegetables and store them in the fridge. This is very important if you are short on time. Do anything and everything you can to ensure you and your family eat well at every meal. I usually only do this with sturdier vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, the ones which require the most work to prepare.
- I would only use extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) or grape seed oil. At that time (and where I lived) these were the only options available, but there are many other oils out there now which bring a healthy element to the dish and have a high enough smoke point to accommodate the heat. Be careful of EVOO though. It's smoke point is quite low, but the health benefits are hard to ignore (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=132).
- Use a big sauce pan if you don't have a wok. The only way I would use a wok was if I had a gas stove.
- Start by adding the oil to a hot pan over medium-high heat. Add any spices like cumin or curry first to flavour the oil. This will flavour everything around it easier than adding it later on. Doing this also adds a nice smoky flavour to the spice.
- Start by cooking the thicker, heavier vegetable first, like carrots, broccoli stalks and onions. Cut the carrots at a diagonal to expose more of the inside to make it cook quicker. It's alright to let your carrots start to turn color or even brown, but not burn.



- Add heartier spices such as rosemary or oregano at this point and a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper. The salt will help the vegetables release their juices. If you want to use cayenne or a chili pepper, add it now.
- When the onions are translucent, add the lighter vegetables at this point such as peppers, broccoli florets and chopped asparagus. Garlic and chopped ginger should go in now as well. This would also be a good time to add meat like chicken or pork if you choose to use it. If you are adding asparagus, cut with a rolling cut. This will help it cook quicker and pick up more flavour. To do this, make a diagonal cut and roll it 1/4 turn to make the next cut, as seen below.


- Add a little more sea salt to keep the green vegetables green and to make more juices come out. This will help the stir-fry make it's own sauce. I will sometimes add a little water or fresh juice here, like lemon or lime if I am cooking with chicken, or apple to add a nice background flavour. This will help steam the ingredients. Put the lid on and turn down the heat to medium-low. If you are using spinach or another leafy vegetable such as bok choy, kale or Swiss chard, put it in now. If you want to use shrimp or some other kind of seafood (except squid, add it at the end with about 1 or 2 minutes to go), add it now.
- After about 5 minutes, take the lid off. Add lighter herbs here, meaning basil or thyme. This way it will not kill the flavour if you put it in too early.
- Now is a good time to add sesame oil or something like this to add another background flavour. I sometimes used oyster and/or soy sauce but found it had too many things in it I didn't want to ingest (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyster_sauce). You really do have to read the labels on foods and sauces you buy to make sure you are not ingesting Styrofoam or plastic these days. Besides, I would rather make my own sauce any day over buying one. Buying a sauce off the shelf means you are eating something in which you have no idea what's in it. Make your own and you will know!
- Sprinkle finely chopped parsley or cilantro over top and stir.
- I always follow one rule when it comes to serving this dish: If it has meat in it, serve it alone. If it doesn't have meat in it, serve it over curried quinoa, basmati rice, pasta or rice noodles. I always make sure I don't mix meat and starch if I'm trying to keep the fat off. This combination can be hard to digest as it is very heavy. Sometimes I do eat pasta with meat sauce (and love it!), but don't make a habit of it.

So, you see it's easy to make a stir-fry and it's also easy to use almost anything you want. Just learn to cook your ingredients the right way. There is a way to bring out the most flavour from whatever you are using in your dish. I just told you how, but remember, every pan and every cook top will be different. Figure out how yours work together the best and go for it.

Adding different spices is not a bad idea, but be careful. Some spices don't play well with others. If you're confident about something and you want to try it, do it. Some people may like a cinnamon stick in a stir-fry. What the heck, I might even try this! Cinnamon is good for you! Some might even like a little nutmeg. If you are using squash, this would work. It's your recipe, so do what you want. Just remember to try and keep it healthy.

I served the stir-fry over curried quinoa this time. To make it this way is very simple:

- Quinoa is like most rice grains, double the water to the amount of quinoa. I put it in the pan to toast it a little first before I add the water on medium-high heat. This adds a nice, nutty flavour. You will know when to add the water when you can smell the nutty aroma.


- Add the water and it will be ready to boil almost right away. When it does boil, add 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or as much as you'd like) for every cup of water you are using. Serve on a plate and spoon the stir-fry over top.


Little O's Menu

As I mentioned yesterday, O has teeth and is starting to utilize them more often now. Different kinds of pasta are going down well (whole wheat and regular) and so is what the pasta is being served with. This week, I will make pasta primevera for us and her as well. My version is pretty much just pasta with roasted vegetables, herbs and spices. I have to watch out for which spices I use with her though. She isn't a big fan of any heat, which I don't blame her for at all. I slipped up and accidentally fed her some veggies with a little chili involvement. Oops! I felt so bad as they were supposed to be for me, not her. She only had a couple of bites and expressed her extreme displeasure with my mistake. I fed her a little yogurt and she was back to her little old self again.

We are also getting to the point where we are going to try and step up her tomato consumption. I think her stomach can start handling more and more now without the acid issues which may come with young, little tummies. This will help her a great deal in fighting off any illness or disease which may come along due to the lycopene. The human body needs help with lycopene as it does not produce any on it's own (http://www.familynutritiononline.com/Health%20Articles/tomatoes_benefits.htm). Anything to help our family out in the health department is a step in the right direction.

Quote of the day:

"Tomatoes and squash never fail to reach maturity. You can spray them with acid, beat them with sticks and burn them; they love it."

- S.J. Perelman - Jewish-American humorist, author and screenwriter (1904-1979)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spaghetti Aglio Olio

Spaghetti. I love eating it, and I should even be eating more whole wheat spaghetti than I do. I guess I'm just too traditional. I still cook whole wheat pasta for us as I know it is supposed to be better for us, just not as often as I should. This will continue to change, but slowly. I find it hard to get used to the flavour change from the regular pasta. But, it's for the better good of our health, so I just have get used to it.

For simple dishes such as Aglio Olio, I like to use regular ol' white pasta. The reason: I don't want to overpower the flavour of the sauce with the whole wheat pasta. It sounds weak, but as I said before, I am a traditional guy when it comes to pasta. Bolognese or any other big, bold sauce, yes, I will use whole wheat. If it's all you use, feel free to use it, or maybe corn or rice pasta. It's your dish when you make it, so it's up to you.

If I'm in a hurry or just being lazy, I like to make Aglio Olio. It's quick, easy and very versatile. When you add something such as a little parsley, it changes the whole dish. The whole idea with this dish is to maximize the flavour of everything in the dish as there aren't many ingredients. Timing and attention is also important. You can burn the garlic very easily or overpower it with the chilies, if you choose to use them. Personally, I like a little heat as it's a healthy thing to do (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29). Chilies or Cayenne helps me when I'm having issues with allergies, and they also has capsaicin which is extremely beneficial to our bodies. I use chilies to either add a tiny bit of flavour to a dish or add a lot of heat. It all depends on what you are cooking and what result you are looking for. I never want to kill the flavour of something nice in a dish by pumping up the heat.

This whole dish is about simplicity and eating healthy. Don't ever think that eating healthy is a hard thing to do. This dish takes about 15 minutes to make, that's it!

Spaghetti Aglio Olio

- 3/4 pound (340 g) spaghetti
- 1/3 cup EVOO
- 2 cloves finely chopped garlic. The smaller you chop or mince it, the easier it burns. Be careful.
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or as much (or as little) as you would like,
- 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
- coarse sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- grated Parmesan cheese

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. 2. While pasta is cooking, heat oil over low heat in a frying pan.
3. Add garlic and saute just until garlic softens but does not brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let it burn as it will turn bitter. If you want lots of heat in the dish, add the chilies now. If you want more heat, add them earlier on. If you only want a little heat, add them as late as possible, maybe just before you add the pasta to the oil.


4. Drain the pasta, reserving around 3/4 cup of the pasta water. Adding this water to the oil after adding the pasta will help the pasta soak up as much flavour from the oil as possible and will keep it from getting dry.
5. Add parsley. Remove from heat.


*Notice the color of the garlic. It is not brown, it's just slightly red from the chilies. I actually added the water to the mix before the pasta. Better to add the pasta first. I tried something different this time, but not like this again.

6. Add the pasta to the frying pan. Mix and add the pasta water. Let cook for another minute.
7. Add salt, pepper and Parmesan to taste.


Yield: Serves 3-4

Other options: I like to also add a couple of anchovies to the oil and let them melt after smushing them with a fork. This adds another level of flavour and makes it a little healthier as well. You could also use any Pecorino or Asiago cheese instead of Parmesan.

Little O's Menu

With the addition of three new teeth, she is more likely now to start chewing things which are a little harder. Myself, I'm not too sure I would be eating anything hard as my gums would be too sore, I would think anyways. She has started to take a liking to the whole grain breads we get from Cobs Bakery (http://www.cobsbread.com/home/). The outside of the bread is covered in seeds such as sunflower, flax and even some rolled oats. She has been eating their breads along with the organic whole grain bread we have been giving her. As I have mentioned before, we have been putting spreadable cheese on the bread and almond butter. We are now venturing out to crab apple jelly, but only a tiny bit. There is lots of sugar in jellies like these, but in small doses it's not as bad.

We have backed off of the snacks like the whole grain Cheerios a little now. This is only considered a treat for O now as she seems to get pretty excited when she sees the cup which they are in. You know the face when her eyes are as big as coffee cups and her mouth is rounded and "Oooooo" is coming out of it? Yikes! We had some issues with her wanting to eat those all day and not much else. So, needless to say, enough of that for now.

For her dinners, she has still been eating some of what we eat. This is consisting of pasta with pesto, roasted vegetables and a little roasted chicken as of late. This is nice as it looks like her palate is accepting more powerful things such as a tiny bit of pesto.

Mrs. Urban Eater and I have been trying to keep the healthy eating thing going, but sometimes it's hard to do with a busy schedule. I'm not sure what she eats at work, but at home I'm doing the best I can. Every few days I'll eat a boiled egg or two for breakfast (see below). We started drinking smoothies again, but it didn't last long. We're starting again tomorrow with this. Smoothies are simple: start with yogurt, about 1 cup. Then add fruits such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangoes, kiwi's, whatever you can find that is healthy. Then add fresh OJ or some kind of juice which is either fresh or as low in sugar as you can find, and you only need about 6 ounces or so. You could also add some mango puree, if you have some as well. Sometimes I will even add a little flax oil or some maple syrup. Flax oil is great stuff, helps make your body work and grow properly (http://www.indianchild.com/health/benefits-of-flaxseed-oil.htm). It also is supposed to make your hair nice and silky. Women should like that on their heads and on the men they spend time with.

Here's the best way to boil an egg:

Put an egg in a pot with cold water. Bring it to a boil and immediately cover it and take off the heat. Let stand in the hot water for 8 minutes if you like it runny, 10 minutes if you like it just done and 12 minutes if you like it well done. I like it runny if I'm eating them with toast soldiers to dip in the yolk, but just done if I'm eating them alone. If you boil them like this, you will also avoid the grey line around the yolk. I don't like that as it doesn't look right. It's also a good way to see if the restaurants you are eating in boil them properly. It also might be a way to see if you are eating food from a chef or someone who likes to think they know what they are doing.


This one may have gone 11 minutes, but that's alright. I still love eggs boiled like this, actually any egg for that matter. They are a good source of selenium and protein among other things (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=92). I try to eat 3 or 4 a week and usually by organic or free range.

I was talking to D the bartender again a couple of weeks ago. First, he said he made pesto from my recipe and loved it. Then he asked me if I've ever heard anything about Pine Nut Syndrome. I said no, so he explained it to me. This happens when you buy cheap pine nuts to make your pesto or salads with. They are a little rounder than normal and can give you an almost metallic taste in your mouth. Read this link and even look it up yourself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_nut). I Googled it and a few different links came up. Dave Lebovitz wrote a little piece on it as well (http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/04/pine-nut-syndrome/). I definitely don't want to deal with this, not that it is life-threatening or anything, but it just doesn't seem pleasant. Blech!

Quote of the day:

"A day without an argument is like an egg without salt."
- Angela Carter (1940-1992)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Calamari - A Take From Lidia

So, there I was one night sitting at the local 900 seat watering hole watching the hockey game, the bartender G, mentions to me one of the other servers was telling him about my blog and how he was enjoying a few of the recipes on here. The other fellow is D. He and I have talked a few times about this blog and food in general. This makes me a happy guy. It means there are people out there who are not only into the food thing, but they are actually reading this blog (no offense to D and G)! I'm also glad to see there are more and more people around who are experiencing the benefits of a healthy diet. As I've stated before, this is the main reason why I write this blog, to bring attention to a healthier and diet and lifestyle.

After chatting with G for a bit, he asked me where my recipes come from, do I take them from anybody in particular or are they all my own? My response was yes, I do find recipes and inspiration from others and I also have my own ideas. If you think about it, cooking shows and cookbooks wouldn't exist if chefs and foodies didn't want to share their ideas with the rest of the world. But, a person can't take another persons ideas, publish them, take credit for them and make money from them. This is called working on Wall Street... Ooops! I mean it's called plagiarism.

If you read this blog, you know I do use other peoples recipes, but I always give them the credit. I want people to appreciate where the idea came from and the person who I got it from. Besides, I don't believe I'm going to make a million dollars doing this thing (at this point anyways), so I don't want to get sued and have to pay a pile of money to someone from a bank account which is already in the red now. On that note, please support the sponsors on this page by clicking on them where they appear here. We both will be grateful and you will be supporting my "What If I Get Sued?" fund.

Most of the cooking I do is Italian or Mediterranean. It's pretty tough to invent new ideas from those areas and all of their different styles of cooking and eating, but sometimes you can put a new twist on something old. The flavours coming from those areas are exceptional. The dishes they prepare are mainly healthy and sustainable, meaning you can keep on eating what your family has been making for generation after generation and still stay healthy. If you look at a lot of the old Greek men, they smoke and drink (Ouzo, wine, whatever) quite a bit. Not exactly healthy, but they eat right and they walk a lot. There you go, diet and exercise will allow you to smoke and drink your whole life! I'm kidding, but I think you get the point.

One of my favorite people to follow as far as anybody in the culinary industry is concerned is Lidia Bastianich. I follow her because she is a very likeable person to watch on television and she speaks to you and not at you or down to you. This makes following what she is doing, whether it be on TV or in print, a whole lot easier. A smart lady with a smart family, she has built up her brand very well.

There are a lot of people I follow to learn new ideas from: Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, Chuck Hughes, Rob Feenie, David Rocco, Lidia, the list goes on and on. All of these people, to me, are easy to understand. They speak in layman's terms, meaning at a level to which we can all understand. Each one is different in their approach to getting their point across, but I find the result is still the same: I can understand where they are coming from. Lidia, I find, is one of the easier ones to follow.

All of the people I mentioned so far have cooked a seafood dish which I have tried to emulate at some point with reasonable success, but this calamari dish in one of the simplest dishes you'll find anywhere. But, you really have to pay attention to the clock on this one. Sometimes you say to yourself "Self, isn't it almost about thirty minutes from when I checked the Duck A la Banana in the oven?", when in fact it's been almost forty five minutes to an hour. It happens, we all do it from time to time. You can't do that with this dish. You will screw it up because calamari can't be overcooked. The good thing is, it doesn't take long to cook, so those of you (us) with ADHD don't have to worry. Just don't walk away from the stove and everything will be fine.

Manfredi's Steamed Calamari 

- 2 1/2 pounds medium-large calamari (uncleaned), or 2 pounds cleaned, uncut calamari. I usually use frozen as we can't always get fresh here, but the fresher, the better.
- 1 lemon
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
- 5 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from lemon used above)
- 1/4 teaspoon peperoncino (chili) flakes, or to taste. You can use a chopped-up chili as well if you prefer
- 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Clean the calamari one at a time, if necessary, by bulling the tentacles slowly until all the innards come out of the body. Cut off the tentacles below the eyes, and discard the rest of the head and the innards; pop out and discard the small hard beak where the tentacles join. Cut off the pointy tip of each body, and peel off the skin; discard both. Rinse the trimmed tentacles and the body, holding it open under running water to flush the cavity. Slice the cleaned body crosswise, in rings 1/3 inch thick. Drain all the tentacles and rings in the steamer basket colander.
2. Shave off the lemon peel (zest layer only) with a vegetable peeler, in short strips. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon and reserve. Drop the zest into the water with the bay leaves, cover the pot, and simmer the water for about 1/2 an hour, to infuse it with the aromas of lemon and bay.
3. Keep the water simmering, and set the steamer basket with all the calamari in it inside the pot. Put on the cover, making sure it fits snugly inside, and steam the calamari gently. After 2 minutes, lift the cover, tumble the calamari over a couple of times in the colander, and sprinkle over it a couple of pinches of salt. Cover and steam another 2 minutes, tumble, and salt again. Repeat after 2 more minutes—you should have used 1/4 teaspoon salt in all. Steam for a total of 8 to 10 minutes.
4. When the calamari is tender but slightly resilient to the bite, remove the colander, season the pieces with another 1/4 teaspoon salt, mix well, then let them drain and cool for 5 minutes.
5. Turn the calamari into a bowl while still quite warm. Toss with the olive oil and lemon juice, sprinkle over the remaining salt, the peperoncino, grated orange zest, and parsley, and toss well again. Taste, and adjust the seasonings.
6. Serve warm or at room temperature.


This is good as a main or a side. It's also a good thing to serve at a dinner party as no one is used to eating calamari this way. Everyone I've served this to has absolutely loved it. Squid is pretty versatile as well. You can use it in dishes such as a stir-fry too. Eat it more often than you do now, and try to get it grilled, braised in a sauce or steamed if you can.

The health benefits of squid are enormous. Almost everything from the sea is, but squid are the exception. Squid is full of vitamins and minerals you need (http://healthmad.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-squid/), so don't deny your body this chance to help make things right inside.

This is a brightly flavoured dish. Once you eat it, you may never go back to deep fried calamari, I didn't. But then again I never ate deep fried much before. Deep fried is alright, but it's still deep fried. The best I have ever eaten this way was at my health club, The Bow Valley Club (http://www.bowvalleyclub.com/) by Chef Kurt Warner. His was delicious, perfectly cooked. That was around a year ago, and it was quite a long time before that when it was the last time I ate it. Otherwise, it's steamed, grilled or in a sauce from now on. We had grilled calamari in PEI when we were there 2 years ago at a place called Sirenella (http://www.sirenella.ca/) in Charlottetown. Great dish and I have made it this way myself. The flavours in these three are well beyond what deep frying could ever hope to achieve and is far healthier.

Little O's Menu

Seeing as Christmas is just around the corner, Mandarin Oranges are now coming out in grocery stores. Last night we bought a box and broke them out immediately. While we were sitting on the couch watching TV with O sitting between us, Mrs. Urban Eater gave half a wedge to O, and she ate it. Then she wanted more! When she didn't want anymore, she had almost finished the whole thing by herself! Awesome! We figured the oranges would be too tart for her, but I guess we were wrong. I think most kids like oranges anyways, but we are excited to see she is taking to them at such an early age. I love the way they taste and they are loaded with vitamin C. The health benefits coming from the Mandarin are hard to ignore (http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2007/01/mandarin-oranges-to-prevent-liver-cancer/). Check them out and know that you are helping yourself out by eating a few over the holidays.

We also have her back on the whole grain sprouted bread with almond butter. She loves this and I think she gets more on her face than in her belly, but it's the thought that counts. Having fun with your food at that age is nice, but I think it's her aim that's to blame.

The adults in the house are taking another step towards a healthier diet as we are starting to make smoothies again. They are a good and healthy way to pound the nutrients into your body and fill you up first thing in the morning when you need it the most. I'll keep you posted about this.

Today's quote:

"The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry"
- George Miller

I have to have a squid quote, but they are extremely hard to find, so here you go:

"This is like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Except I'm married to the giant squid"
 - Al Bundy (Ed O'Neil) 1995, Married With Children


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pesto

Pesto, Italian for something made from pounding, is something I think almost every foodie loves. It's easy to make and has a wonderful flavour. You can use it with pasta dishes, on potatoes, tomatoes, grilled or baked fish, sliced beef, on hor d'oeurves and we even saw some Italians eating it on toast for breakfast. The French also make something close to this called Pistou, but it doesn't have as many ingredients. It is good as well, but is mainly used a flavour enhancer for soups.

For awhile (the '80's), pesto was the new "big" thing. Restaurants were all trying it on pizzas or whatever other dishes they could. They tried to make it look uptown, but they couldn't be more off base. Pesto is as rustic as it gets. There really isn't anything special about it, it just tastes really good and eating basil is good for you (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=85)!

Pesto isn't just basil pesto. There is usually a basic list of ingredients, but pesto is made to your own personal taste. This means no two are usually the same, mine, yours or somebody else's. Pesto can be made from arugula (rocket), spinach, parsley if you want it green, and sun-dried tomatoes, regular tomatoes or red peppers if you want it red.

Then there are the nuts. Normally you use pine nuts which are sometimes toasted, but you could also use pistachios, cashews, almonds or walnuts. The cheese involved is normally Parmesan, but Grana Padano or Pecorino will work too. Garlic is a mainstay and so is some kind of oil. I normally use the good extra virgin olive oil, but any decent EVOO will suffice. Manufacturers will sometimes try to cut corners by using canola or safflower oil along with a little parsley to lengthen it. They may also use a cheaper nut along with cheaper cheese, but every good Italian uses EVOO, mostly pine nuts and Parmesan.

Techniques for making pesto may vary. I have made it with a mortar and pestle, but this takes time. It is however the proper way to do it, if you have the time and your forearm can handle it. I have also just cut everything on a cutting board. I used a larger knife, but using a mezzaluna would help out a whole lot more. Most people nowadays use a food processor. Some old school people say this takes some of the flavour away, but you should just use what you have. I use a processor if I am making a lot of pesto simply for the fact that I don't want to blow off a day making it nor do I want my forearm to be numb for the rest of the day. Those old Italian women who make this all the time would pop your head off if they grabbed you by the throat!

There are things you should know about making pesto:

1)First, if using a mortar and pestle, use coarse salt. This helps to break everything down quicker. The texture helps to break down the leaves and assists in bringing out the flavour. If you don't have coarse, regular will do the job, just not as quick. Start by using less salt than the recipe suggests. This way you avoid putting too much in, ruining it and sending your blood pressure through the roof. Adjust near the end of the process. Also, take your time, don't rush. The pesto will be all over your counter top if you're not careful. Also when using a mortar and pestle, pound down on the ingredients but also twist your wrist when at the bottom. This will help with the process and also decrease your time factor.

2) It is very important to make sure your basil is dry before you chop it up. If it is wet, your pesto may go bad early because of the moisture in it. Water will make it turn brown, something you don't want. Wash the basil well and dry it in a salad spinner, then pat it dry with a cloth as well.


3) Use the freshest garlic you can find. Be careful not to use too much as to overpower the pesto. You want to taste the basil first and foremost.

4)Pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to a week after being made. Make sure to add a little extra oil on top before storing it to keep from spoiling. When you go to use it, take it out of the fridge for an hour or so to let it uncoagulate (is that a word??). It will congeal in the fridge, so prepare for this.

5) I like to toast my pine nuts. You don't have to do this as purists who make true Genovese pesto don't call for this, but it adds a nice, nutty flavour. Be careful if you do toast them as they may burn very easily because they are quite delicate. Just throw them into a dry frying pan over medium-low heat and watch them closely.


Here is my standard recipe I have used for many years now:

Pesto

- 4 cups (1 L) fresh basil leaves. Make sure to wash and dry the leaves thoroughly
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) toasted pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 tsp (6 ml)
- 1 cup (250 ml) EVOO
- 1 cup (250 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Put the basil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in the food processor. Turn on and process until everything is finely chopped into a paste.
2. Use a spatula to push it all back down the sides of the processor so it will all be near the blade at the bottom.


Put lid back and turn on. Slowly pour EVOO into the processor until it reaches desired consistency.


You will know it's done when you lightly move the container back and forth and the pesto moves along with it, but not too much. You want it to move a little, but not be too soupy.
3. Add Parmesan and pulse until it's all mixed in. Pour into a jar or dish which can be refrigerated and covered. Pour a little oil over top before you put it in the fridge.


As I mentioned earlier, I use pesto with many different dishes, mostly pasta. Here is one dish I make quite often for Mrs. Urban Eater.

Pesto, Ricotta and Tomato Pasta

- 6 oz (177 ml) penne
- 1/3 cup (79 ml) ricotta cheese
- 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 3 Tbsp (45 ml) pesto

1. Cook penne according to instructions on the box. Try to get it as close to al dente` as possible as you never want to overcook it. Al dente` also has a lower glycemic index than overcooked, so I've read. This is far more healthier for you and mushy pasta never makes anybody happy.
2. Add the next three ingredients in a bowl big enough to hold all of the pasta.
3. When cooked, pour pasta in the bowl with the other ingredients and mix together before serving.
Yield: Serves 2


As you can see, I had to use whole wheat rotini instead of penne because we ran out and I never noticed. Rotini works fine with this recipe as well, so I wasn't worried.

You could grate a little Parmesan over top for extra flavour, if you like. But if you want to keep the calories down, I wouldn't. This is a pretty flavourful dish without it. Besides, there's already some in the pesto. I sprinkled a little Italian parsley over top because I like it. If you want to be fancy, put a basil stem with a few leaves on the top.

Little O's Menu

O has still been doing well lately with her eating the yogurt, mangoes, kiwis, strawberries or blueberries and rice cereal mix for breakfast, and is back eating plums now in the yogurt again as well. We decided she has been away from them long enough. She really likes them and they can't be in the freezer for much longer anyways. Red grapes are still in the good books along with toast and cheese too. The toast is nice as it fills her up and the organic whole grain bread is good for her.

Lunches have been consisting of bread with cheese or almond butter (if she didn't have bread for breakfast), mangoes and/or apricots and yogurt or part of what I eat. Lately this has been a little pork rib meat Mrs. Urban Eater made on the weekend (which I mentioned last time on here) along with the roasted acorn squash with EVOO and maple syrup. She ate it until there was no more left. Beautiful!
Her suppers have been somewhat along the same lines as lunch, some of what we eat. If we have pasta, she gets a little. We tried to get her to eat this pasta, but she was put off a little I think from the strong pesto odour. If we have meat, she gets some of that as well. She will only eat a little meat most days, so we have to fill her up with fruit, cereal and yogurt before her mix of formula, water and whole milk. This gets her good and sleepy before bed. This way she can make it through the night without waking up hungry at 3am.

Today's quote:

"Pesto is the quiche of the '80's"

- Nora Ephron, American journalist (1941 - ?)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Banff And Dinner With A Friend

This weekend, a friend came out from the Ontario and we met with a few people for business. Had some good meetings, saw some good ideas. He hasn't been here for awhile, so he said he would like to head out to Banff for a few hours. I couldn't see any problem driving out there for a short trip. Big mountains and cool little town means great scenery.


He took a couple of pictures with his iphone and sent them to me.


If you've never been to banff, you should go. It's a nice little town set in the Rocky Mountains only an hour from Calgary. Very scenic and lots to do. Lake Louise is only an hour or so up the road and is even prettier. And I believe they already have a 40 cm snow base as of today! With all the snow we are getting here, I would hate to try and drive up there now. Could be treacherous, but the road maintenance crews will have it cleaned up in no time.

On the way back in, I asked K if he wanted to come over for dinner. He said he had no plans, so game on! Called the wife from the Audi and cleared it with her, no problem there either. She was already cooking some baby back ribs in the slow cooker so all I had to do was make a couple of sides.

We don't eat ribs much, maybe once or twice a year, but they are good when we do. We might go out specifically for ribs once a year and cook them here once or twice. Either way, they always go down well.

When we got home, I looked around the kitchen to see what was there. I noticed red potatoes, Roma tomatoes, garlic (of course!), and an acorn squash. Alright, here we go. The game plan was to make potatoes and tomatoes along with roasted acorn squash with maple syrup. Normally, we wouldn't eat potatoes and squash together, but the squash had to get used and we were hungry. Besides, maple syrup and pork go well together.

Mrs. Urban Eater cracked open a bottle of red wine. It was from a co-worker of hers who brought it back from Italy with him because she gave him grief about them going (jokingly of course) and we weren't. He was nice enough to bring back a bottle of 2007 Alfeo Bolgheri Superiore, which turned out to be a nice drinking wine. While I prepared my dishes, we talked and drank. This is a great way to cook, as long as the drinking doesn't take over the cooking. This would be a good way to test your smoke alarm and run around the house while trying to keep your stay upright.

Potatoes and tomatoes is a nice dish with lots of flavour. It's more like a breakfast dish, a fancy way to eat hash browns, but I like to eat it mainly at dinner as a side. It's quick and easy to make and you will like the results. I have been making it for over 15 years now and plan to continue doing so.

Potatoes And Tomatoes

- 12 small potatoes, red or white
- 4 Roma tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- handful of parsley, curly leaf or Italian
- small handful of fresh mint. If you really like mint, just use a little more.
- 5 Tbsp EVOO
- 3 Tbsp sherry
- 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- pinch or two of sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut potatoes into bite size pieces and put into a steamer or just boil them in a pot for 10-12 minutes. They will be done when you can easily stick a fork into them. Try to take them just before this happens as they will keep cooking after you take them out.

2. Put the parsley and mint on a cutting board, one on top of the other. Throw the garlic and the salt and pepper in there as well.


Start to chop it all up so it comes together as one homogeneous green mixture with little white garlic chunks.


3. Quarter and slice the tomatoes. When the potatoes have been cooking for 6 or 7 minutes, put them in a frying pan with the EVOO over medium-high heat. The reason why you need a little more EVOO than normal is because you are making a dressing for the potatoes. Be careful as the tomatoes can make the oil snap and splash on you. Keep the pan moving a little so the tomatoes don't stick to the bottom of the pan.
4. Let the tomatoes cook for 1 minute then add the parsley and mint mixture and stir.


5. Let everything come together for another minute then add the sherry and stir. You want the alcohol to burn off, so turn down the heat and let it go for another 2 minutes.
6. Add the vinegar and stir. Let it cook for another minute. If you timed everything right, the potatoes should be done and you can put them in a bowl. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and serve.
Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish.

Despite the extra EVOO and the sherry, this dish is fairly healthy with the parsley (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=100), tomatoes (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=44), the garlic (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=60) and the mint (http://www.suite101.com/content/mint-a-powerful-antioxidant-a108135). I have already talked about the parsley, garlic and tomatoes as being healthy, but it doesn't hurt to look again.


You may wonder why I use the http://www.whfoods.com/ link a lot. I do because the articles, as far as I know, aren't funded by any one industry in particular and there are good references at the bottom of the articles. I'm no doctor or nutritionist, so I make sure my sources for this type of thing are reputable.

We also had roasted acorn squash with maple syrup, EVOO and salt and pepper. Everything turned out great.


Sorry, don't have any pictures of the ribs. They didn't last long.

Little O's Menu

O ate some of everything we had with this meal. She just couldn't do it until the next day as her bedtime came before our mealtime. She ate up the squash. It was nice to see as we like it when she eats brightly coloured vegetable. This means she is getting a lot of beta carotene (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=125). This helps her little body form right from the inside out.

Today's quote:

"There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic."

- Louis Diat - French chef (1885-1957)


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark