Friday, September 10, 2010

A Bit Of A Break

Today I am heading off to my hometown for a couple of things. Firstly, my mothers side of the family is having a corn roast at the family ranch outside of town where there is a whole lot of space with no one around to bother you. That is something you don't see very often, if at all anymore. Great spot to go ponder life and get away from it all. No big city lights to ruin the view of the stars No main street vehicle noise to drown out the stillness of nature. If yo take a short walk, there are some great vantage points to see some beautiful scenery out there. At on point, you can see three rivers coming into one. I love being out there.

Secondly, I am in a golf tournament. Don't worry, I can't compete in the good ones as I have only golfed 4 or 5 times this year. Who am I kidding, I can't compete with those guys who golf 50-100 times a year! If I break 85, I'm a pretty happy guy. This is a memorial tournament for a dear old friend who passed away a few years ago now, so I try not to miss it if possible. I learned a lot from him about what happens in the food industry on a day to day basis on the business side. Good guy to know as he had a great sense of humour and a big heart. I go up every year to pay my respects to him as he was a great help to me at certain points in my life.

The healthy eating may take a sideline for a day or two, but I will still put the effort in to see if there are any good restaurant's there yet who don't bow down to the public and serve something fresh and decently healthy. I hear there is a new Indian place there, so I may get a shot of curry in at some point. I think the sushi place is still open, I hope. I could eat sushi at least 5 days a week. Love it! The day after O came into this world, I went to pick up her and Mrs. Urban Eater at the hospital. I asked if there was anything she wanted to do on the way home. She said emphatically "I haven't ate sushi for almost nine months. I want sushi right now!" Who am I to argue with a person so lovely to never raise her voice to me and wants to eat sushi? Little O's first step out into the real world was into a little Japanese restaurant so her mother could satisfy a craving for raw fish.

Little O's menu

I haven't fed little O yet today, but the past couple of days, she has been steady on the banana's, yogurt and the juices from the fruit we poach for her for breakfast and desserts. For the main meals, steady as well with on the sweet potato, carrot and zucchini side with a small swing towards a little of the lasagna sauce once or twice.

I will do my best to post some pictures of the corn roast this weekend. I always like this as the garden out on the ranch is pretty significant. It's not as large as it used to be when my grandparents were still alive to tend to it. My uncle and his girlfriend still do a pretty good job taking care of it and putting on the the big show every year around the long weekend in September. This year it's a week late as the kids going back to school put too much pressure on people showing up for the regular time slot. It will be good to see everyone who shows up and I'm sure there will be some funny stories told as usual.

This week will return with a few great recipes to tell you about. Now, I'm off to see if I can get a hole in one. Haha, yeah right. Good one.

Today's quote:

"I don't like gourmet cooking or "this" cooking or "that" cooking. I like good cooking."


James Beard



Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Good Day To Be Inside

Even though it's raining outside, I don't mind staying inside (sometimes). It gives me a chance to get into the kitchen and come up with a few new ideas and also try some old ones. It's a good thing to constantly refresh your own personal menu, even tweek it a little bit.

We make all kinds of things for O to eat whether it's nice outside or not. Can't take the chance on running out of food now, can we? There are always peaches to blanch and skin, blueberries to freeze and carrots to chop up. She is a very lucky little girl to have these things to eat everyday. I wish I could say the same thing about it when I was her age. It's a lot a effort which we believe will be worth it as time goes by. Yesterday she had a cube each of sweet potato, zucchini and carrots. Added into the mix was EVOO, rosemary, Italian parsley, thyme and chives. I think I will either ease off the chives or go with none at all next time as she kept giving me the "what the hell???" look. Pretty comical, but she's the boss when it comes to what she wants to eat or not to eat. I will oblige. For dessert, she ate one cube each of apple and blueberries. If you don't know what I mean by cubes, we freeze her food in ice cube trays after processing it by either steaming or boiling it.

The past few days haven't all been too nice. Even the nice days weren't overly warm. Nevertheless, we made sure to get outside and enjoy the sun as it may be awhile before we get to run around outside with a pair of shorts on. Normally on chilly days, I make chicken stock or lasagna. I already made them both earlier, so I decided to change things up a little. We haven't had Kopanisti or Hummus in quite a while. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Hey, that's not hearty". I agree, but they are both healthy and good foods to snack on anytime or even before you eat the hearty foods.

There are various types of this Greek dish, made mainly with feta cheese. I first tried this a couple of years ago when we were in Halifax visiting family. It was at a restaurant named Opa Greek Taverna (http://www.opataverna.com/) on Blowers and Argyle. Decent place, nice atmosphere. It was absolutely pouring that night as well, so staying inside a restaurant trying to figure out what the ingredients were in our dishes was good with me.

When I make Kopanisti, I use roasted red peppers. So this is Roasted Red Pepper Kopanisti. Go figure. Usually I use feta made with sheep's milk as it tastes creamier than goats or cows milk feta to me. You can use whichever type you wish. When I make it, I go by the rule of 2 red, two white, meaning roasted red peppers and red chilies with feta cheese and goats cheese. The sweet pepper balances the salty feta. Don't cut corners on the quality of your feta - it's the biggest part of the flavour. Use a nice EVOO as well to add a nice background flavor. If you don't want to use the goat cheese, don't worry. It still tastes great without it.

Kopanisti

2 red peppers, roasted, peeled and seeded. You could also use a jar of pre-roasted peppers if you wish
250 g good-quality feta (½ lb. ), crumbled
1 small red chili, finely chopped, or red pepper flakes to taste
1 log (113g, 4 oz) plain goats cheese. Chevre could be used as well
60 ml extra virgin olive oil (¼ cup )

Directions:

In a food processor, purée peppers. Add feta and pulse a few times. Add chili and pulse until just mixed. Add goat cheese (if using) and pulse a few more times. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in olive oil until blended. Serve with grilled pita or bread.


Hummus is a great companion for Kopanisti. They offset each other nicely and are both very flavorful. We have Little O eating both of these now with no problem. Red peppers have a lot of things going for them healthwise (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=50), but are one of the top 12 foods to avoid due to the amount of pesticides found in them. Buy organic if you can.

Hummus


2 cans (540 mL, 19 fl oz. each) of chickpeas, drained
1/4 cup of cold water
2 cloves of garlic
1 or 2 lemons, juice
4 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
1/4 tsp of ground cumin
dash of fresh ground pepper
sea salt to taste
1 large pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions:

1. Combine all of the ingredients in the food processor except the oil and cayenne. Process until smooth. Add oil and pulse again

Add salt to taste, but be careful as the canned chickpeas are already a little salty. Some people like their hummus quite lemony, so if you don't, I would start with the juice of 1 lemon and go from there. If you like your hummus even creamier, simply add more oil. Try to use the good stuff here as well. Sprinkle the cayenne over the top, if using.



Chickpeas are high in protein, fibre and a few other important things we need (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=58) to ingest everyday. They are a good substitute for meat protein if you are a vegetarian or are just choosing not to eat any meat at that time.


Don't waste time on rainy days. Your good health doesn't need you to take a day off. If you can't go outside, then make staying inside worthwhile.

Today's quote:

I don't like food that's too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I'd buy a painting.


Andy Rooney

He's a picky guy, huh?

Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cold Day, Hearty Food.

Great day to be alive, if the weather could cooperate a little better. A little chilly again today, but it didn't freeze last night, hovered around 6C or 42F. This morning it's around 8C or 48F, so things are lookin' up!


As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I was making lasagna to take to a friend as she is recovering from an operation. This a warm, hearty meal which I always love to make and eat. It takes a while to finish the whole thing off, but it's worth the time. As usual, I did everything I could to reduce the amount of fat in the dish without compromising too much off the flavor. This is not a traditional lasagna with bechamel sauce as I am not a big fan of that style. Truth be told, I avoid cream sauces as much as I can, especially if there are other fatty ingredients surrounding it. It is a big meal to try and tackle, but portion sizes are very important here. It's also a good idea to add certain ingredients which not only add flavor and texture, but health benefits as well. I use ricotta cheese, dry cottage cheese and spinach for this.

I start by cooking down approximately 3/4 kg (just over 1.5 lbs) each of extra lean ground beef and pork in a little EVOO. Do not let it brown. Cook it down enough to release the as much of the fat as possible. Add fresh ground pepper and keep stirring every few minutes. When finished, set aside or pour into a colander to get rid of the unwanted grease. The picture below shows just how much comes out of the meat after I spooned the meat out with a slotted spoon. There is a lot of moisture in there as well, but I would rather replace this with juice from the tomatoes and the tomato sauce.


Preparation is always important. I always make sure my vegetables are ready to go along with any cans you are adding to the mix before the meat is done. As you can see, the onion, garlic and peppers are ready to go (well, the onion I already put in before I took the picture, but you get the idea).


The next step is to add some EVOO to the pot to sweat down the onions and peppers. I add a little cumin to the oil. This adds a nice musty flavor to the onions and peppers. Add sea salt to get the juices to release and a little pepper for flavor. Make sure to season at different levels as to add flavor at every point you can. Watch the salt though. Too much will obviously ruin the dish and eventually you too. When the onions are almost translucent, add the garlic. I usually add 2 or 3 cloves for this size of recipe. This way the garlic doesn't have much of a chance to burn as there will now be juice from the other ingredients.


When onions are translucent, they are almost too soft, but not quite. They still have some texture to them and will add this to the sauce. This is a good way to gauge when to start adding the next wave of ingredients. It's now time to add the meat back into the pot. Stir everything to incorporate the flavors. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and the tomato sauce. You can add any type of tomatoes you like: diced, crushed, sauce or whole. I like the diced with the sauce combination as the diced tomatoes mostly break down with some of them staying in play. Good for texture and flavor. Biting into the odd chunk of tomato isn't really a bad thing. It's a nice burst of flavor. I thought about using San Marzanos, but chose not to as I think I will save those for a tomato sauce where there is really nothing else but them and a couple other ingredients as they stand out on their own without any help. Stir everything in and bring to a boil. When the sauce is boiling, turn down the heat to a simmer and add your herbs. I chose to use rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, 3 bay leaves and Italian parsley. I will add the parsley near to the end. The oregano was chopped up, while the rosemary and thyme I threw in still on the stems. I lightly smacked the rosemary a few times with the back of the knife as to bruise the leaves and release extra flavor from the herb. Mix in the herbs and put the lid on while leaving it cracked a little to let the steam escape. This will help the sauce reduce and condense the flavors.


This sauce is more or less a bolognese, so it takes a while to make. I usually let it simmer for at least 3 hours on low heat. When it is finished, I add the basil, parsley and about 2 to 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to add a little sweetness. You could also add a little smoked paprika to taste, if you like. Make sure you take out the stems of the herbs and the bay leaves.



Boil water in a pot with some sea salt. Make sure to use lots of water. Don't try to scrimp. The Italians always say pasta water should taste like the sea, so feel free to taste the water before you put the pasta in. This may be hard to do if you have never been to the coast and tossed around in the ocean surf. Believe me, I know why people don't drink sea water. Yuck! I used rice lasagna noodles this time around. I find when I do this, the lasagna isn't so filling, but you can use any type of noodle you want. I have used both rice and regular and always get nice results either way.

Oil the pan(s) with a little EVOO before you start. I layered the pan this way for a smaller pan which will feed two people: 2 lasagna noodles, sauce, dry cottage cheese, frozen spinach (which I thawed and squished the moisture out of it with potato ricer), one noodle, sauce, ricotta, sauce. I diced some fresh mozza into 1/2" cubes and spread it out over top. I used this because it was in my fridge. You can use whatever cheese you like. Fresh mozza has a nice, fresh flavor and I love using it for this reason.


The reason why I don't use many measurements here is because you should make the sauce how YOU like it. If you like it a little meatier, then use less tomatoes. If you like it with more onion, go for it. It's your lasagna. I just showed you how to make it healthier and how to get the most flavor out of it. Some people may say I use too many herbs. They may be right, but I don't use them to overpower the dish with it's flavors. I use them to add a healthy benefit and some background flavors. That's all. You can use whatever herbs you wish, but I like these ones the best for this dish. Another tip: let the sauce sit for a couple of days before you use it. This way the flavors have a chance to come together. It makes the dish a lot better.

Little O had a chance to try the lasagna this time. She ate about 1/3 of my wife's serving! Hungry little monkey. O is going through another growth spurt I believe as she is eating some pretty big amounts for her tiny size again. Also, we found out she likes hummus and roasted red pepper kopanisti. I will show you these dishes next time. We started feeding her blueberries again as well. They get mixed in with a little yogurt and she gobbles it down without any issues. I believe implementing protein into her diet, whether it is meat such as pork or chicken, even beef or bison, is a good thing in small doses. Going with a different type such as chick peas is a good idea too. This helps her get used to a wide range of different flavors and textures without putting her health at risk.

The quote of the day reminds us of portion control:

More die in the United States from too much food than from too little.

- John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2007) Canadian-American economist.
 
Until next time, good eating everyone.
 
Mark