Friday, February 25, 2011

Spelt Gnocchi With Puttanesca Sauce And My Worries About Staying At Home

Lots of people nowadays are waiting longer to have children. I know I'm glad I did. Back in my earlier days, I didn't have much advice to offer any of my offspring, and I wasn't ready to settle down so I thought it would be better if I waited to get married and possibly start a family. Good thinking on my part.

Now that's all changed. There's a short, little person wompin' and stompin' around the house, so everyday represents a new challenge for me as a stay-at-home dad. Sometimes it seems pretty easy, but then reality checks in and the s*** hits the fan. "Uhhhh.... ok, she ate about an hour ago, but I think she's getting a little cranky now because she's thirsty.... I  hope." Then there's the "Ewww, what's that smell.... oh geez..." And then she's hungry again, then there's some laundry to do, and then I have to take her to Gymboree, then I have a meeting lined up and have to find our babysitter. Blah, blah, blah. It never ends. But, I must say I have no regrets. Everyday I get to see my little girl, usually all day. A lot of my friends never had this chance. But, this may change soon as there are a few things coming down the pipe in my world on the business end, so I am going to enjoy every minute of it while I can.

Now, I suppose I should explain the last part of the today's title. I added this to the title because I never realized how much work it was with one kid let alone two, three or more. Don't get me wrong, I always knew it was extremely difficult doing all the things a parent has to do, but for me, a guy with absolutely NO experience dealing with kids, it can get a little nuts. Luckily for me I know when to take a step back, take a deep breath, gather my thoughts and emotions and step back into the fun zone when my brain is back working again. Now, that's just the everyday activity part of it. What about the sustenance part of it, meaning eating and drinking? I have been studying food and every part of and around it for a long time now, but this is very different. It's hard to feed your child something they like, something which is good for them all in the same dish, then get them to keep eating it while always looking for other ingredients and other ways to cook those ingredients. I will not cop out and feed our little girl stuff out of a box. What I mean is there will be the odd time she will have to eat something from a fast food joint or a box, but only after I have exhausted every other option to get her something healthy to eat or drink.

Another way to look at this is our diets as well. Sometimes we have to eat at the drop of a hat, so it has to be fast. I will do my best to try and make something healthy, but sometimes this doesn't always work out properly. It all depends on what you have in the pantry and the fridge. This is why I keep them stocked fairly well and know what's in there most of the time. I also go shopping 2 or 3 times a week, if not more. Having a meal plan is a good idea too, but most times I like ad-libbing dinner. It keeps me on my toes.

I came home a little late yesterday, so I wanted to get cooking as soon as I could. Eating late is not a good idea for two reasons: 1) Because you aren't supposed to. It's a little hard on your body if you do it constantly and experts say eating before 8pm is your best plan. 2) Other experts (not too sure if they're the same ones or not) say eating late or just before bed helps promote a pot belly. I don't need any help with that, so the earlier we eat the better.

I had to figure out something to eat fast and still keep it healthy. The wife pulled out a pack of spelt gnocchi she picked out at the Italian market the other day. I thought "Alright, what kind of sauce can I make here." This is what I came up with and it only took me 35 minutes to plate it.

Spelt Gnocchi With Puttanesca Sauce

- 1 500 g (17.6 oz) package of spelt gnocchi
- 1 796 ml (28 fl oz) can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) onion. chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 3-4 anchovy fillets, chop them up if you wish
- 8-10 black olives, pitted and chopped
- 3 forkfuls of capers, rinsed. I use a fork to get them out of the jar rather than a spoon as it's easier to get them out and leave the brine in the bottle.
- 1-2 pinches of dried chili peppers
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) dried oregano
- 2 tbsp (30 ml) parsley, finely chopped
- EVOO
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

1) Over medium heat, add some EVOO to the pan. I generally use about 2-3 tablespoons when not using a non-stick pan. Add the anchovies and onions, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper and cook until the onions start to turn a lighter color.


Smush the anchovies up with a fork and they will melt into the sauce eventually (I added them after I took the picture). Add the garlic, stir and cook for another minute.
2) Add the olives, capers and chili peppers. Dump in the can of tomatoes and mix everything together. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer, uncovered for 10 minutes. At about 8 minutes, add the parsley and stir.


3) While the sauce is simmering, cook the gnocchi in a pot with salted water. You will know when they are done when they float to the top, about 4-5 minutes in boiling water. When they float, you can take a spider or some kind of slotted scoop or spoon to get them from the pot to the pan. Let them simmer in the sauce for 1-2 minutes and serve.
Yield: Serves 3 or 2 bigger sized servings if you don't care about how much you eat. I made the whole pack so there would be a some leftovers.



Spelt is an ancient grain which is a cousin to wheat and is a nutritous option to regular pasta for people with wheat intolerances. It's high in manganese which helps promote a healthy bone structure, and also has a good amount of fibre in it as well as vitamin B2 and niacin.

I would've made my own gnocchi, but then we wouldn't have ate until about 10 pm, so the store bought stuff does just fine in a pinch. I know there are some additives in there but it's not like we eat anything from a box or package like this very often at all. This is quick, easy and fairly healthy. A good meal when you're in a hurry.

Little O's Menu

Her appetite is pretty aggressive right now, so I believe she's in another growth spurt. This means it's very important to be smart when feeding her or she will be hungry most of the time and/or will not get the nutrients she requires. She still likes her oatmeal, and we are still mixing in blueberries and ricotta with it. This is good for her to eat about an hour before she goes to bed as it sustains her throughout the night. She usually sleeps for around 11 hours, so if it works stick with it. Throughout the day, she will snack on about 20 grapes and around 15 blueberries. The juice she is drinking right now is pear. I've started mixing it in with mango puree as well. This is a good source iron, vitamins A and C.

Whether or not she eats what we eat, we feel it's important for her to eat alongside us to understand it's important to sit down and eat with your family. She seems to eat more and give us less grief when we do this.

Last week, a lady who I went to school with had a baby. Congratulations Tracey to you and your husband. She's a little small yet from what I've read, but I hope she gains all the weight she needs and continues to grow strong and healthy. And congrats to my friend Dave as well. He's a new Grandpa and very proud to be one.

Quote Of The Day:

"One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child's name and how old he or she is."
~ Erma Bombeck (1927-1996) American humorist


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cornish Game Hen With Blueberries

When I first started cooking at a higher level, I went on a blueberry kick where I tried to make as many things as I could with them. I tried all sorts of different ideas from salads and smoothies to chicken breasts. They were all pretty good for the most part, but I saw James Barber (The Urban Peasant, and no I didn't copy the name...) make this or something similar to it. It was so long ago that I almost forgot about it.

Little O really likes her blueberries, so I thought since we are trying to get her to eat more protein, this may be one idea to try with her. I have made this a couple of times for Mrs Urban Eater and myself now. We both enjoy it very much, so now's as good a time as any to give it a try. Blueberries add a nice flavor and color to the hens and are a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants. Anytime I can add the combination to food, I'm all for it. And if O likes it, all the better.

This is an easy dish to whip up, so here you go.

Ingredients

- 1 Cornish game hen
- 2 cups frozen blueberries
- EVOO
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions

1. Heat a pot or Dutch oven up over medium high heat. When hot enough, add enough EVOO to make sure the hen doesn't get stuck to the bottom of the pot.
2. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the bird and put it in the pot. Let it brown for about 4-5 minutes then flip it over to the other side. Salt and pepper that side as well.


3. When the second side has been browning for 4-5 minutes, pour in the blueberries and put the lid on.


Turn the heat down to medium low and let simmer for 20-25 minutes.
4. When finished, take out of the pot and let it rest for 5-6 minutes before cutting. Pour a little of the sauce and berries over top of the bird and serve.
Yield: Serves 2. I cut it in half.

For a side, I cooked some broccoli. I just boiled it in some water with a small splash of EVOO for flavor and a dash of salt to keep it green and make the juices come out.


I know I'm an advocate for steaming vegetables, but I ran out of steaming vessels, so this will have to do. You work with what you have, right?

I served this over a mix of 2 small steamed and mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and a sweet potato. I added a little EVOO, salt and pepper, 1 tsp butter, 1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg and 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan.


Little O's Menu

It's nice to see she's back eating a lot again, as I've mentioned. She's been gorging on all kinds of fruit like red grapes, kiwi fruit and blueberries. These are all very healthy additions to her diet and will keep up her vitamin intake. Kiwi fruit are high in Vitamin C and have quite a bit of fibre and phytonutrients as well. Grapes are loaded with manganese and polyphenals. These will help our little girls body grow up healthy and keep her heart and lungs in good shape.


Restaurant Review

This weekend, an old friend of mine came to town and asked me to meet up with him and a buddy for dinner. I'm always up for that, so away we went. Nolan said he wanted to eat something which wasn't what he was used to seeing in our home town where he still resides. We were going to go for sushi at first, but decided on going to a nice, upscale eatery instead as the limo (yeah, he ordered a limo, big one too. Great ride.) pulled up in front of the place to stop for the light. We figured this is where the bus stops, so let's get out here. The name of the place was Murrieta's. Nice place, located upstairs in the old Alberta Hotel Building on Stephen Avenue. Always a good atmosphere to dine in, live bands playing on the weekends as you eat and drink while not blasting you out of your seat.

We started by ordering a half dozen oysters, then another dozen. They didn't last long, so that meant they were pretty tasty as usual. Next we had the Alberta Beef Tenderloin Tartare and the Pacific Crab Cake which was also nice. Nolan then ordered the Steak and Lobster and I believe his pal had one of the pastas and I had the Chorizo Flatbread. All were outstanding. Before, during and after the food, we were drinking an Argentinian Malbec, Quattrocchi Reserve 2007. After two bottles of this we ordered another different one. Sorry but for the life of me I can't remember what the hell the name of it was. Not a dinner for the faint of heart! I never go out like this anymore, which is probably a good thing for my body and brain. Good food, good drinks and good people at our table and all around us. It was a fun night and I'm sure we'll do it again in the future. I recommend going to Murrieta's for dinner when you get a chance.

Quote Of The Day

"You ought to have seen what I saw on my way
To the village, through Mortenson's pasture to-day:
Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb....."

~ From the poem "Blueberries" by Robert Frost (1874-1963) American poet.


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Halibut Poached In Olive Oil

I have always been a big fan of eating fish and will usually try different ways to prepare it. When I find a new way that I like, I try to utilize that technique at least once a month. Poaching halibut in olive oil has been something on my radar now for a couple of years, but just never got around to trying it. You might think it's like deep frying, but it's not at all. It's a gentle way of cooking and adding flavor to the ingredient. Poaching something in oil should only be done if the ingredient at hand is something which isn't very dense, so fish is perfect.

Halibut is a firm, white fish with many health benefits as it's full of tryptophanselenium and protein. Many other vitamins and minerals exist in it as well, so eat it at least once every 3-4 weeks, if not more. I love cooking with it because it has a sweet-like flavor to it and takes on other flavors around it nicely, and also goes well with almost anything you wish to pair it up with. Lots of flavor, easy to cook with and plays well with others, sounds like a winner to me!

I put a lot of thought into this, probably too much as I try to keep most things simple, but I wanted to impart as much flavor in the fish through the oil as I could without ruining the actual flavor of the fish. I had some ideas to what I was going to do, so I went to the spice drawer and the fridge to see if I had everything. I didn't. Ok, so plan B goes into effect as I was too lazy to run to the store. This is what I came up with:

Ingredients

- 2 skinned filets of halibut (1/4 pound/125 g each), washed and thoroughly patted dry
- 1 1/2 cups olive oil, or just enough to cover the fish
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 clove garlic
- small handful of Italian parsley
- freshly ground black pepper
- Fleur de sel

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Lay the fish filets in a baking dish just large enough to hold them.
2. Grind a little fresh pepper over top.


3. Pour over enough oil to cover. Add the thyme, garlic, parsley.


4. Bake until just tender, about 10 minutes. Remove the fish from the oil.
5. Garnish with Fleur de sel. Serve with a little of the cooking oil dribbled over top. When done, the oil can be ran though a sieve and some cheesecloth to be used another time within a week.
Yield: Serves 2


The next time I make this (and it'll be soon), I will add either a couple slices of orange or lemon and possibly some fennel seeds to the oil. And I'll make sure the shopping is done properly before I start.

I served this over a steamed, pureed sweet potato. I added about 1/4 cup (59 ml) EVOO, 1/4 cup (59 ml, in case you didn't see the last one) Parmesan, 1/2 tsp fresh nutmeg, some sea salt and pepper. Sweet potatoes are a good source of beta-carotene and when you add a little fat such as EVOO, this helps your body absorb more of it. Sometimes fat has hidden values which may surprise you! They're also extremely abundant with vitamin A and C. So eat them all you want. They will make you stay strong and healthy.


I would rather steam a vegetable than boil it because steaming is a gentler way to prepare something and it won't cook all the good stuff out of the ingredient. That is why Asians have bamboo steamers which are sometimes 6 or 7 levels high. Steaming your food is a healthier, easier and more efficient way to cook. We should all try to use this method more often.

Little O's Menu

We made some chili tonight (which will be on a blog of it's own) and did it so our little ravioli could have some too. I've never made it this way before as we put in some chickpeas in case she didn't want to eat the meat. We spread it on a piece of bread and she loved it. Awesome! Glad to see her accepting more protein in her diet. She's also back eating yogurt again too, so this will add more fat, vitamins and probiotics to her diet. Along with the yogurt, we're mixing in a handful of blueberries with it so it's a nice, healthy snack.

Quote Of The Day

"It was not uncommon for fisherman to catch 300 pound halibut at the turn of the century. Now it is commercially extinct."
~ Glenn Jones - American R&B singer


Until next time, good eating everyone.

Mark