Chopping Herbs

Instead of blindly stabbing your chopping knife into a pile of herbs, ending up with bits of leaf everywhere and uneven pieces, try this trick next time.

Put the herbs you need to finely chop in a close pile.  Scoop them over themselves so that you make a folded mass.

Fold the herbs over themselves and hold on tight.

Hold the leaves tightly with your hand and hold a sharp knife with the tip touching the cutting board with the other.

Using the tip as a fulcrum, start your chopping, making sure to always hold the leaves tightly but not, of course, to cut your fingers off.

Carefully chop the herbs while still holding on tight.

You’ll find this way is a lot quicker and you can mince the herbs more easily from this stage, if needed.


Tabouleh tabouleh tabouleh

I really like the word tabouleh.  I remember eating it often as a kid.  It’s a good quick salad and it works well in a pita sandwich.

We made this recipe with couscous, but you can substitute it for quinoa or bulgur or other grains.

Stir the couscous and oil into the water and allow to expand for 2 minutes.

To prepare the couscous, bring a cup of salted water to a boil in a small pot.  Remove from the heat and pour in a cup of couscous.  Add in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and allow the pasta to expand for two minutes.

Return the couscous to a low heat on the stove.  Drop in 2 to 3 teaspoons of butter and stir until well-blended.  Allow to cool.

Add butter to couscous and stir on low heat until melted.

We got this tabouleh recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2006 edition) by Rombauer & Becker, and we replaced the bulgur with couscous, of course, and  we weren’t all that good at measuring, either, so we fiddled with the amounts.

Finely chop 2 to 3 tomatoes, 2 cups of fresh parsley, 1 cup of fresh mint, and 1 bunch of scallions or green onions. See my tips and tricks entry on how to finely chop herbs.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, emulsify 1/3 cup olive oil with 1/3 cup lemon juice.  To do this, I took a very small whisk and rubbed it between my palms until the liquid was creamy and custard coloured.

Use a small whisk to emulsify the ingredients.
Rub the whisk briskly between your palms until the liquid is custardy.

In a large bowl, mix the couscous, tomatoes, onions, and herbs together thoroughly.  Toss with the olive oil/lemon juice emulsion and serve.

Serve as a salad or in a sandwich.

We spooned the tabouleh into open pita pockets lined with baby spinach and home-made hummus and ate them with Garbage Soup.

Pita pockets with hummus, tabouleh, and baby spinach.

Garbage Soup with Squash, Spinach, Beans and Barley

Don’t let the name of this soup turn you off: it’s just a moniker my mother applied to any soup she made out of what was left in our refrigerator.

This week I had leftover spaghetti squash from my earlier experiment, as well as leftover cavatappi pasta from our spaghetti night.  What to do . . . ?

The nice thing about soups is they’re dead easy.  I filled a large pot with water and set it to boil.  I added a few heaping spoonfuls of Knorr Vegetable Stock (I use the powder instead of the liquid because I usually can’t use a whole carton before it goes bad and I don’t like to waste it).

Let the soup simmer for a couple of hours on medium-low.

I peeled and chopped a large parsnip and a small turnip (actually a rootabega but who’s checking?) and chucked them in the pot, together with a handful of pearl barley and about a cup of dried white beans.  I also added about a cup’s worth of frozen spinach to the mix, as well as the leftover squash and pasta.  There was already a significant amount of basil in the pesto that was on the squash (as well as the hazelnuts and parmesan cheese), so I didn’t add any other herbs to the mix.  When we eat it we usually add salt and pepper to suit our individual tastes.

Once I got the soup boiling, stirring often, I turned it down to a simmer, medium low, for about two hours, until the beans were cooked and the rootabega was tender.

We ate it hot with tabouleh sandwiches, and it was great.

My dad got me these bowls for Christmas. I am Big Al.

I let the rest of it cool and ladled it into yogurt containers for storage.  I find the yogurt container is a good standard measure for freezing, as it contains about two full servings.

Yogurt containers are a good size for two servings.

Salt and Pepper Dish

I like tobasco sauce, but Pie prefers pepper flakes.

We only have one set of salt and pepper grinders in the house, and they’re in use pretty much all the time.  We like to have them on hand when we’re cooking, and as well when we’re eating, so they travel all over the kitchen, to the dining room, and also the living room.

I got tired of making trips between rooms with all the little items under my arms, and I also got tired of cleaning up the little piles of ground salt and pepper left on the counters and table after putting down the grinders for the umpteenth time.

I think I got this idea from Martha Stewart, but regardless of where it came from, it’s a keeper.

Find a small dish you like and keep all your table items on it.  It makes transportation between rooms and counters a one-trip job, and it keeps the powdered spices off your tables and counters.  It’s pretty genius.


Hang & Level – Avoid Domestic Disputes

You can pick this gadget up from any Canadian Tire for about twenty bucks, and I highly recommend it.

Hung pictures look best if they are grouped, and if you line them up along their edges: top, bottom, or sides.  Because most pictures are framed differently, this is not as easy as it looks, and the Hang & Level will take the guesswork out of getting it right, as well as the annoyance of poking more and more holes into your walls, or telling your spouse, ‘no, move it a little more to the left.  No, that’s too far.’  You get the idea.

Get one.


Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Herbs

me: have you ever made anything with spaghetti squash before?

Cait: since i don’t know what you’re talking about, no

Cait: i think it looks so much like spaghetti that i’d be disappointed when it didn’t taste like spaghetti

me: it tastes like squash

Cait: of course it tastes like squash it’s a freaking squash

The card from my magic book.

The mysterious and elusive spaghetti squash.

I have always been intrigued about the physical properties of spaghetti squash, although until the other day I had never tried it.  We found a squash sale at Sobeys and decided to give it a whirl.  I wrangled up a recipe I had been keeping for yonks out of my magic book of recipes, and I went at it.

The recipe called for 4lbs of spaghetti squash.  My scale only goes up to 500g so I had to give it my best estimate.  It was supposed to serve 4, so I did some mental math and came up with two squash about the size of my feet (while this may not be a standard measurement for you, it works pretty well for me).

I may need a bigger scale.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise.  The recipe said nothing to me about removing the seeds and stringy bits so I left them in and I regretted it later.  I would recommend digging those suckers out with a grapefruit spoon or serrated knife.

Cut side up.

Brush the open squash halves with olive oil, then sprinkle with brown sugar, coarse salt, and ground pepper.

Cut side down. Don't worry about spraying the pan - the oil on the squash is enough.

Flip the squash halves face down on a rimmed baking sheet and chuck them in the oven at 400°F for 45 minutes.  Cool them, in the pan and on a rack, for 10 minutes after that.

Using a table fork, dig out the contents of the squash in stringy little bits – it really is amazing how much this resembles spaghetti – and put the contents in a large bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil, then add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of roasted chopped hazelnuts (fun fact: also known as filberts), 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped herbs (the recipe called for fresh cilantro, but I only had a tiny bit of frozen stuff, so I mixed it with some frozen pesto I had made and that was that).  I can assume that you would use any herb you had on hand, really.

Hazelnuts, Pesto, and Parmesan Cheese - my three favourite things.
The leftover squash shells.
Fork the crap out of that thing.

Toss and serve immediately.

I actually wasn’t too happy with this recipe.  The first negative was, of course, the left-in seeds, which, had they been properly roasted like pumpkin seeds, would have been awesome, but because they were still pretty raw, were actually kind of nasty.  I also didn’t feel that the hazelnuts added anything special to this recipe.  Next time, I would go with slivered almonds or pecan bits, for a milder, sweeter taste.  The pesto was excellent of course, but that’s because I have mad skills.  The leftovers were better the next day, but I think I will just chuck the remainder in some sort of minestrone and be done with it.  Recipe to follow, I guess.

Toss and serve.

Mack Truck Bread

My magic recipe book.

This recipe comes from a book called No Need to Knead by Susanne Dunway.  You can get it on Amazon for about 35 bucks.   I don’t remember the actual name of the recipe itself, but in my family we’ve always called it Mack Truck Bread.  At the beginning of the recipe, there’s a little story about the baker making a pile of these breads and taking them across the street.  One of them fell to the asphalt and was run over by a Mack truck.  The incredulous onlookers watched as the flattened bread miraculously returned to its original shape.  It’s a very durable baked good.

This recipe makes one 9-12″ round focaccia loaf or two 13″ baguettes.  Best served hot, though it’s good for toasting the next day if wrapped carefully.  After that it gets a little too stale.

In a medium-sized bowl, pour two cups of lukewarm water (in my house, which is very cold, I usually have the water temperature at warm, and it cools from there).

Sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm water.
Stir the yeast until it dissolves.

Sprinkle two teaspoons active dry yeast into the water and stir until dissolved.

In a measuring cup, mix four cups of all-purpose flour with two teaspoons of salt.  Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the bowl of yeast water.  Mix with a spoon until combined.  The dough will be extremely sticky, and you may find, depending on the weather, that you won’t use all the flour you have at hand.

Pour in the flour and salt a little at a time, stirring all the while.
The dough will be very sticky.
A quick knead will get all the bits sticking together.

The recipe says that you don’t need to knead this bread, but I find mixing it a bit with my hands inside the bowl gets all the sticky clumps together and gives my dough a little bit of cohesiveness.  A minute of work should suffice.

Place the dough in another, oiled or greased bowl, cover with a towel, and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour or so, until the dough is about twice its original size.  Putting it next to a heater works, but make sure the heat isn’t too strong in any one area, because that will actually begin to cook the dough.

Make sure to grease or spray the bowl before you put in the dough.

Once the dough has risen, you will want to put it in the baking pan and leave it for another thirty minutes or so to rise again.

Cover the dough with a clean towel and leave it to rise in a warm place.

Brush the top of the dough with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and some herbs and spices.  Play around with the toppings you put on the bread before baking.  We prefer the pre-mixed spices you can get in the grocery store, but anything that suits your fancy will work.  I have also tried incorporating extra ingredients into the bread, such as raisins or chopped olives.  Both work extremely well, and I bet you can make a half-decent garlic bread this way.

Allow the dough to rise to about twice its original size.

I cook this bread in one of two ways.  The first way is to plop the bowl of dough upside down in the centre of a large greased cast iron skillet.  The dough will expand to fill the shape of the skillet.  Bake this at 450°F for about 20-25 minutes.  Alternatively, cut the risen dough in half (not an easy or particularly scientific task) and stretch it along the lengths of two greased baguette pans.  Bake at 425°F for 20-25 minutes.  When the bread is done, it will be golden brown on top and the bottom will make a nice solid sound when you knock on it.  If you find the bottom is too soft after baking (for instance, the baguette pan I have doesn’t have little holes in the bottom of it), then put the loaf straight on the rack of the oven for another five or ten minutes to ‘crispen up’ as the Pie says.

Stretch the dough with your hands if you are making baguettes.
Sprinkle the bread with spices and let it rise some more.
The loaves should be crusty and golden when finished.