Pesto Pasta with Veg

HAPPY CANADA DAY!  Be safe and well today!

This recipe is a good and quick one if you are heading out to your local festivities today.  Of course, if you’re in Ottawa today, the third-largest party in the world (supposedly, the first-largest is New Year’s Eve in Kuala Lumpur, second is NYE in Times Square, NYC, and the third is Canada Day in our nation’s capital) is going to be extra big with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance.  You’re going to want to make sure you eat enough to have energy for the party.

The Pie wants me to let you know that normally, we use pesto that we’ve made ourselves from scratch, but that this year is a bad one for our basil, so we went with store-bought instead.  But he wants you to know that normally we don’t stoop to such levels.

Set a pot of water a-boiling and fry up a couple (or a few) boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  If you have leftover chicken lying around, this will do as well. 

Once the chicken is cooked through, cube it up.

Leftover bacon?  I know, it’s like a mythical creature.  But we had some.  So I shredded that.

We had some asparagus and cauliflower lying around, so I cut those up into bite-sized pieces as well.  Whatever vegetables you have on hand will do, of course.  Red peppers, perhaps, or onion.

Chuck enough pasta in your boiling pot to feed four and cook it according to the package instructions, usually for 10-12 minutes.  We used whole wheat spaghetti here, but penne and rigatoni would work equally well.

For the last two minutes of your pasta cooking, chuck in your vegetables, just to get them a wee bit soft.  If your vegetables are already cooked, I would skip this part, otherwise they might get soggy.

Drain the pasta and toss in your meats, as well as about a cup of pesto (the store-bought stuff, at least.  If we’d made it from scratch we probably would have used less).

Toss well to coat the pasta and circulate the vegetables and meat, then serve, topped with grated parmesan cheese.

Utterly fantastic the next day as well.  You can serve it hot or cold!

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

The Pie and I took Easter easy this year, and it was just the two of us, so we kept Easter dinner simple.  We had a maple-glazed ham, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, crisp mashed rutabaga, and roasted asparagus with cheese and bread crumbs.

These mashed potatoes are super easy, and really not all that healthy.  But honestly, I don’t really think “healthy” and “mashed potato” should be used in the same sentence.  But that’s just me.

Gather yourself a selection of potatoes and peel those suckers.  Or don’t peel them.  I prefer my mashed potatoes with skins, but I was making this for the Pie and he prefers them without, so there you go.  Cut off all the spots and things.

Cube ’em up.

Boil the rawness out of them.  Drain them.

Mash them silly.  Add in lots of butter.  More than you think sane.

Some minced garlic.  Use your judgment here.  I don’t want to try to force my ideals of garlic amounts on you.  That’s just not my way.  I am not a proselytic garlic lover.

Some cream cheese.  Again with the judgment.  And some herbs of your choice.  Today we used dill.  Other days we use basil or oregano.

Eat.  Tell your arteries to pipe down and go back for seconds.

Roasted Asparagus with Cheese

For you Canadians out there, don’t forget to VOTE! █♣█

The Pie and I took Easter easy this year, and it was just the two of us (well, plus Gren), so we kept Easter dinner simple.  We had a maple-glazed ham, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, crisp mashed rutabaga, and roasted asparagus with cheese and bread crumbs.

Now of course you all know how to keep asparagus nice and crispy.  Today I’m going teach you a new trick.

The bottom ends of asparagus are woody and tough, and need to be removed before cooking.  To do this, all you have to do is bend the asparagus until it snaps.  I was doing this with one hand so I could photograph it and the stalks were flying across the room.

The natural breaking point for asparagus is where the tender bit meets the tough bit, so it saves you the guess work.  Tada!

Place your newly cropped asparagus in a roasting pan.  I used about 1/2lb asparagus.

Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Shake the pan from side to side to coat the stalks.

Roast for 10-15 minutes at 425°F until the stalks are tender-crisp.  Toss with a few tablespoons bread crumbs

… and grated cheese (your choice).

And serve.

Japanesey Dinner with Doodle

Hooray!  It’s our 200th post!

I am fortunate to have three best friends (and yes, the superlative applies to all of them).  You’ve already met Cait and Chel, and now I would like to introduce you to Doodle (she’s not that fond of the nickname but she used to call me Poo so she’ll just have to suffer).

When she was home from Chicago for Christmas, she got her mother, who is Japanese, to teach her how to make gyoza, a crispy-fried dumpling, basically the Japanese version of a pot sticker.  With her new-found knowledge she came over to cook dinner for my parents and the Pie and myself.  And we were all so very glad she did.

For a very short person and a very tall person, Doodle and the Pie make a good cooking team.

To accompany the gyoza, Doodle decided on a simple green salad and miso soup, with rice on the side.

For the soup:

I’m sure you remember my earlier attempt at miso soup with an Atlantic flavour.  I can assure you that this is the real deal.

Start a pot of water boiling, with as much liquid as you will need to feed all your hungry mouths.

Grab yourself some miso.  This particular miso was made BY HAND by Doodle’s mother, so it was extra good.

Add the miso bit by bit to the boiling water, until you have achieved the desired consistency and taste. 

An important ingredient is dashi, a sort of fish powder.  Sorry my picture here is blurry.  Add a couple of shakes of that.

And some seaweed.   It’s amazing, considering what’s in this particular soup, that the Pie drank his all up in a jiffy.

Cube some tofu and add that in as well.

Doodle informs me that you can keep whatever tofu you don’t use right away in your refrigerator, as long as it’s submerged in clean water, which you will need to replace every day.  The more you know.

Keep adding things until it tastes good to you.

When you are ready to serve, pour your soup into bowls that will fit easily into your hand (miso soup is a good drinking soup) and garnish with chopped green onion.

For the salad:

On Doodle’s instructions I gathered equal amounts of broccoli, asparagus, and green beans, and chopped them into pieces manageable by chopstick.

Gently steam your vegetables in a pot of simmering water.

Drain and rinse the vegetables in cold water.

Dress with a mixture of soy sauce (Doodle’s mom prefers the sushi soy sauce for its sweetness), rice vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic powder, to taste.

For the dumplings:

This is Doodle chopping up Asian chives.  I’m sure any kind of chive is good.

She then added them to about half a red onion, chopped finely, in a bowl.

Add to that about a cup each of ground pork and lean ground beef.

Maybe a spoonful each of minced garlic and minced ginger.

Doodle then chopped up some green cabbage. Then she mulched the cabbage in a food processor.

Adding the cabbage to the meat and onions, she mixed it well with her hands.

Now comes the fun part.

On your workspace, place the bowl with the meat mixture and a spoon for scooping it up, a plate for the finished dumplings, and a small bowl of warm water.

For these dumplings you need the round dumpling wrappers.  Doodle tells me that the square ones don’t work as well, and, also, that the dumplings can be frozen and used later, though they are slightly more sticky when thawed.

Place a wrapper in the palm of your hand.  

Take a spoonful of meat mixture and place it in the centre of the wrapper.

Dip a finger from your other hand in the water and use it to draw a line around the edge of half the wrapper.

At the edge of the wrapper, where the wet line meets the dry wrapper, pinch the two sides together, just at the edge.  Then pull the rest of the wet side of the wrapper over slightly and pinch it onto the dry side, making a pleat. 

Continue until you reach the end, so that one side of your dumpling edge is smooth and the other is pleated.  This will make sure that the dumplings stay upright when they are cooked.  Make sure to seal the edges well, using more water if you have to, in order to ensure a good seal.

Keep doing this until you either run out of dumpling wrappers or filling material.  You can see that expert Doodle has created a plate of perfect dumplings.

This is the plate that the Pie and I made.  Not quite so perfect.  Of course after they were cooked you couldn’t tell the work of us newbs from that of the professional so it’s all good.

Now take a large non-stick frying pan with a lid that fits.  A wok won’t work because you need the bottom to be flat.

Put a few teaspoons of oil in the pan and heat it to medium-high.  Place your gyoza into the pan so they are all sitting upright and let them sizzle for a few minutes.

Fill a cup with water and add a teaspoon or two of flour.  Mix it well.

Pour the flour water into the bottom of the pan and cover the pan with the lid.

Let the dumplings cook like that until all the water is gone and the flour has formed a sort of crispy net on the bottom of the pan. 

Use chopsticks or a spatula to loosen the dumplings from the pan.

Place a plate on top of the dumplings.

Flip the pan so all the dumplings end up on the plate. Some may still end up in the pan.  Some may end up on your floor.  It’s anyone’s guess.

See how they’re all lovely and crispy brown?

Mix up some soy sauce and rice vinegar.

Pour it into a dipping bowl for your dumplings and serve everything with some rice.

Enjoy it thoroughly.

There was nothing left of this lovely repast, as you can see.  I can’t wait to do it again!

Turkey Casserole with Broccoli and Cheese

Today is an auspicious day: my paternal grandmother turns ONE HUNDRED AND ONE.

I know, right?  She was born in 1909Happy Birthday Grandma!

Because she’s a hundred and one she’s not really up-to-date on the how-tos of internet surfing, but I figured it’s the thought that counts.  I’ll probably bake her a cake too.

Today’s post is about leftovers, which are rather inauspicious, but it’s in the spirit of the sort of thing my dad remembers his mother making for him when he was younger.

Casserole.  I’m not a huge fan of casseroles.  Believe it or not I’m not a huge fan of turkey, either.  I know, it’s shocking.  It’s always a struggle for me to figure out what to do with my leftovers once I’ve finished a major turkey holiday such as Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter.  Sure, there’s soup, but aside from the Pie’s favourite Hot Turkey Sandwiches (*shudder*), what else are you going to do?  Turkey salad, turkey sandwiches, cold turkey … and turkey casserole.  But this one I actually like.  I pulled it off the internet a few years ago and the ubiquitous casserole dish finds its way into my refrigerator like clockwork when there’s turkey around.  The original recipe calls for asparagus, but I use broccoli because asparagus is out of season.

Get your mise en place ready, because all the steps kind of follow each other really quickly so it’s good to be prepared ahead of time.First, chop up and gently steam about 2 cups broccoli.

Chop up a bunch of green onions (I used three green onions and a shallot) and a red pepper and set all your vegetables aside.

Cook one cup penne or similar pasta according to package instructions.  Drain and set aside.

Grate one cup cheddar cheese.

Have your garlic-in-a-jar at the ready.

Have also ready the following:

6 tablespoons flour.

1 1/2 cups chicken broth.

3 cups cooked diced turkey.

1 cup soft bread crumbs.

1 tbsp melted butter, cooled.

Also you will need 2 cups milk, but I don’t have a photo of that because the chicken broth was in my only remaining measuring cup.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and grease a 9″ x 13″ glass baking dish.

In a large saucepan on medium-low, melt 6 tablespoons butter (that’s slightly less than half a cup).

Add the red pepper and sauté until tender. 

Add 2 teaspoons garlic and the onions and cook for a further minute.

Stir in the flour until well blended.It should look all mushy.

Stir in chicken broth, cooking until thickened.

Stir in milk and cook, stirring, until thickened and hot.

Add in salt and pepper to taste, together with any herbs of your choosing, such as oregano or basil, then add the broccoli and the turkey.  Heat through.

Stir in the cheese and cook until it’s all melted in. 

Stir in the cooked drained pasta.

Pour it all into a baking dish.

Mix your melted butter with your bread crumbs.

Sprinkle that over top.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes until hot and bubbly. 

Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

You can keep leftovers covered in the fridge for a couple days, too.

 

 

Keeping Asparagus Crispy

Don’t you hate buying produce one day and the next time you go into your refrigerator you find it flaccid and unappetizing?

I don’t keep a lot of vegetables in the refrigerator for this precise reason.

To keep my asparagus in a turgid state I like to make a little arrangement of it in a vase or jug of water.  I find it will stay crisp that way for a couple days longer than it will in the refrigerator.

Plus it looks nice as a centrepiece.

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

I usually make this recipe with green beans, but I couldn’t find any good ones so I used asparagus instead.

Take about 1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds and toast them briefly in the oven.  Put a shallow layer of them  on the bottom of a pan or baking sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 425°F for 5-10 minutes, or until the almonds are the desired colour of brown.  Be careful not to burn them (because I totally did the first time).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Strip the leaves from 4-5 stalks of fresh tarragon (or frozen) and set aside.

Cut the tough bottoms of a bunch or two of fresh asparagus off and bash the lower ends of what’s left with a rolling pin.

Chuck the stalks into a wide frying pan or wide shallow sauce pan and cover halfway with water.  Add a splash or two of lemon juice.  Steam gently for a few minutes until the stalks are bright green.  I was doing other things and accidentally overcooked mine a bit, as the photo shows.  You want them nice and firm.

Drain the asparagus and put it in a serving dish. Top with a generous dollop of butter, another splash of lemon juice, and sprinkle with the tarragon and almonds.  Toss until the butter is melted and serve.  Two bunches of asparagus makes enough for 7-8 people.

Easter (Eater) Dinner

On Sunday the Pie and I had KK, Il Principe, and D, J, and S over for an Easter feast.

I have a lot on my plate this week (and I’m not talking about food here) so I’m going to draw the recounting of this tale out as long as I possibly can.  I’ll try to give you a post a day about all the fun and fantastic things we ate.

I love to have dinner parties.  I think it’s my parents’ influence again.  I’m not really happy unless I can stuff someone else with food until he or she feels the need to lie down.  It really makes my day.

That said, entertaining, on a small or large scale, takes a lot of work and a lot of planning.  Timing is pretty much everything, and it takes practice to get it all to happen at the same time.  The Pie and I have it down to an exact science at this point.  We take a gander at what time things are supposed to be done, chuck them in the oven or on the stove at the various points in time we think they need to go in, then we shut our eyes tight and cross our fingers that everything will turn out properly.  Most of the time we’re right but it took years to get us to this stage.

I have also learned the art of making things ahead of time.  This saves a lot of panic in the kitchen when you’re trying to get everything finished at the same time.  If there are some dishes on your menu that can be popped in the microwave or in the oven for reheating at the last minute then all the better.  Another important thing to remember, and something that I only recently learned, is that you don’t have to make absolutely everything from scratch.  There is nothing wrong with adding store-bought chips to your dips, or purchasing bread as a side.  The more stuff you make the more complications you are going to have.  Besides, sometimes the store versions of things are actually better.  You don’t have to have absolute control over everything that goes on your menu, and so that is why, finally, it is also important to let other people give you a hand if they want to.  Kª wanted to bring a salad, and you know what?  I thought that was a great idea.  And it was a great salad.

Items to be posted this week:

Menu

Appetizers

White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip (made the day before)

Pita Chips (store-bought — really, you don’t have to be a domestic maven all the time – I get the In Snax sea salt versions from In Foods Inc.  They are totally tasty.)

Mains

Ham with Cloves (pre-cooked for simplicity)

Red Curry Quinoa (made the day before)

Sides

Spinach Salad with Blueberries, Feta Cheese, and Balsamic Vinaigrette (made by Kª – I don’t have a link because I didn’t make it)

Carrot and Parsnip Butter Mash (made the day before)

Steamed Asparagus with Lemon, Tarragon, and Toasted Almonds

Roasted Red Fingerling Potatoes with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Quick Drop Biscuits

Dessert

Strawberry Glazed Angel Food Cake (strawberry component prepared the day before)

Waiting for the feast.