Slapdash Souvlaki

May was an INTENSE month here at the Ali Does It household. LongJohn went to daycare a month earlier than scheduled and I had a whole four weeks to get all the stuff done on the house I hadn’t had an opportunity to do when we moved in … because of the whole having-a-baby thing. Some of those projects are still in progress but I have SO MUCH to show you when they’re ready to be shown. If May was intense, then June is even more so. I went back to work full time AT A NEW JOB. And on my first day, I had HAND surgery. Today I’m having hand surgery on the OTHER hand. So things are a little nuts, to say the least. Luckily I have a bit of a backlog of posts for you guys. Let’s start with this one for the barbecue, now that we’re officially into grilling season.

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The Pie is a huge fan of souvlaki. We’re fortunate that some of the best souvlaki in town is only a short drive away. But it’s actually pretty easy to make your own souvlaki at home, provided you have some time to prep. Here’s how you can do it.

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First, let’s start with that most essential of condiments: tzatziki. You can always buy this but it’s easy to make as well. I rarely measure my amounts because I find they vary depending on my mood but here’s an approximation for you. Start off by grabbing about 1/2 cup plain yogurt and plopping it in a few layers of cheesecloth in a colander. Wrap it well and put something with a bit of weight on top. Place the colander over a bowl and shove it in the fridge for a few hours. I use Balkan style yogurt for this, but if you have Greek yogurt you can skip this step.

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After your yogurt has been pressed and some of the water has drained out, you can unwrap it and give the cheesecloth a bit of a rinse. You’re going to need it in a second.

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Grate up about half a cucumber. Plop the cucumber bits onto the cheesecloth, wrap it up, and give it a good squeeze over the sink and get rid of excess water.

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Now, tip that into a bowl together with the yogurt, some minced garlic, chopped fresh dill, salt, pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Stir, stir, stir! Shove that back in the fridge for a few hours (preferably overnight) to let the flavours mingle.

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For the souvlaki we’re going to create a marinade. Start by finely chopping up a small red onion. I’m being smart here and using a large red onion because I’m making the recipe twice and chucking half of it in the freezer.

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Throw the onion bits in a large Ziploc freezer bag and tip in about 1/2 cup olive oil,

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2 tablespoons red wine vinegar,

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and 4 tablespoons lemon juice.

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Next plop in about 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons dried (or fresh) oregano, and of course salt and pepper to taste.

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Wrangle yourself a decent-sized pork tenderloin (you can do this with chicken breast too). Don’t be tempted to use a pork shoulder or any other cut for this, as they’ll be too gristly when cubed. Trust me. I did it once when they were on sale and I regretted it. Pull the tough membrane off the tenderloin and trim any excess fat.

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Cut it into cubes.

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Chuck those cubes into your freezer bag.

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Seal the bag carefully, give it a good smushing together, and bung it in the fridge for several hours. While you’re waiting, grab some wooden skewers and plop them in a tray of water to soak for at least thirty minutes before you grill.

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When you’re set to start, shove the cubes of marinated meat onto your skewers (I like to use two skewers per so that they’re easier to flip) and grill until cooked through and at an internal temperature of about 145°F.

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Serve over rice with a hefty side of your fresh tzatziki and enjoy the summer!

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Creole Okra with Chicken and Tomatoes

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I don’t really know that much about southern food except that I like it a lot, and whenever I’m down south (I’m talking the southern US states here) I eat as much of it as I can. This dish started because I found okra at a good price at the grocery store and is more Creole-inspired than actually authentic (because again I don’t know much). It is adapted from something I found on The Kitchn. I doubled the amounts, prepared half this recipe in the pan and then chucked half of it in the freezer for later, like the clever person that I am†. Not that this recipe isn’t dead simple. I’m just lazy.

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I accompanied this one-dish meal with another dish: steamed beet greens.

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Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Zest 1 lemon.

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Gather your spices. Creole spice blends tend to run to mixtures of the following, so make one to suit your own taste (this one is about 1 teaspoon of each): onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, thyme, parsley, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne. The recipe I was looking at didn’t use creole spices; instead it called for a bit of cumin and coriander. So I just used everything. Set that aside for a few minutes.

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Start with your okra, about 1lb, and slice the tops off before cutting it in half lengthwise. Apparently people either love or hate okra, because it’s a bit slimy. I am ambivalent so far.

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Lay that on your baking sheet and sprinkle with about 1 cup (canned/drained/rinsed) black-eyed peas.

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Next, slice up a small white onion.

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Sprinkle that onto the pan, together with a few cloves crushed or minced garlic.

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Give that a good drizzle with some nice olive oil.

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Now here’s where I kind of diverged from the recipe. This dish is a good meal all in itself as a vegetarian option, but I feed boys (boys who are not vegetarians) so I had to chuck some meat in here somehow. In a large bowl, I threw 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs together with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and your lemon zest.

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Then I chucked in all those lovely spices and gave it a good mixing.

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Spread the chicken and tomatoes evenly across the top of your peas and okra and shove it in the oven for about an hour. Give it a stir once or twice to make sure everything is browning evenly.

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We served ours over rice with the beet greens and it was pretty good. The Pie thought the okra was a little slimy (#1 reason why many people dislike it) but I thought it was pretty good!

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If you plan to freeze this recipe for later, I would recommend freezing it in two parts: in one bag goes the okra, peas, garlic, rice, and oil, and in the second bag goes the tomatoes, chicken, and spices. It just seems like a logical thing to do to tenderize the meat and prevent the peas and okra from getting too soggy.

Spag Bol Redux

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I have so many fun and exciting things to show you guys in the near future, but I thought I’d do a little bit of a retrospective today. My very first entry on this here blog, five-plus years and 900-odd posts ago, was a recipe for spaghetti bolognese. I make this spaghetti sauce all the freaking time, so I thought I’d do another post just to show you how things have changed over the years, but they still remain in essence the same. For one, the Pie and I went vegetarian for a month when I made that post so there’s no meat in that sauce. For another, I was way lazier when it came to chopping things up, so my sauces were much chunkier. I like them a bit more uniform these days.

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Some things stay the same, though: I always load it down with diced onions to start. I made a crapton (a metric measurement of course) of this so that I could freeze it so I can’t give you exact measurements. Just lots.

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I always add diced red pepper (I’m allergic to green) and diced mushrooms. You can add whatever you wish, though. Sometimes I chuck in whatever’s in my fridge that needs to be used: avocadoes (they add a nice thickness the sauce), tomatoes, sometimes even carrots.

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And then of course a variety of tomato-based canned items. I used to use jarred spaghetti sauce as my base but I found they were sneaking green peppers into the mix and it wasn’t doing my digestive system any good so I switched to canned crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and canned diced tomatoes.

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First I start by sautéeing up the onions with olive oil and a little butter. I let them go until they’re smelly and soft. Then I pull apart a large hunk of lean or extra lean ground beef. I like to break it up with my fingers to ensure that there are no big chunks in the pot. You can also use ground turkey or pork or whatever works for you. If you’re going the veggie route and using TVP, add that last.

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After the meat is browned to my satisfaction I tip in my vegetables, as well as some minced garlic, salt, pepper, and various spices.

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I like a mix of italian spice plus extra basil.

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I add in all my tomato things as well and give that a grand old stirring.

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Let that simmer for at least half an hour so the flavours can mingle, and feel free to adjust the spices as you see fit. I like to let it simmer as long as I can, but it’s good either way.

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Cool and freeze or serve hot on top of your favourite fresh pasta, baked into a pasta casserole, or glopped on top of bread as a sloppy joe!

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Citrus Chipotle Cranberry Sauce? Believe it.

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I made a fancy cranberry sauce for Christmas last year but for some reason I didn’t blog it. This year for Thanksgiving (13 October in Canada) I wanted something a little spicier (but not much spicier) than the traditional sauce, so I thought that this would be a good bloggable opportunity, and I modified this recipe I found on Epicurious (originally of Bon Appétit) to do it. The result is a delightfully rich cranberry sauce with a hint of savoury and garlic and a smoky after taste. It’s truly amazeballs (yes, that is the technical term).

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Start with 2 dried chipotle chillies. Super dried. Gross.

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Plop those in a medium saucepan filled with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let those chillies soak up the hot water for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how dried out they are. You want to be able to mince them in the end. Your house will smell like chipotle for like forever, just a warning. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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Grab yourself an orange and a lemon and zest them.

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I used a small rasp to get most of the zest but I used one of the fancy kinds for cocktails to get a bit of rind for colour.

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Juice the lemon while you’re at it and save the juice. Eat the orange because it’s good for you. DO IT.

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When the chillies are soft, drain them and then plop them in another pot with 24oz fresh cranberries (that’s two of the standard bags you get at the grocery store), the lemon and orange zest and lemon juice, 3/4 cup dried diced apricots (optional but worth it), and about 2 cups sugar. I actually saved a splash of the chipotle water and added it in as well, probably about 2-3 tablespoons.

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Heat that over medium, stirring, until the sugar is all dissolved.

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Now, you’re supposed to keep the chillies in there until the end and then take them out, stem and deseed them, and then plop them back in. But my chillies were so soft they started falling apart almost immediately.

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So I took out the bits of chipotle earlier, minced them (which was easier than I thought it would be, considering how hard they used to be), and added them back in. A few stray seeds made it in as well but there’s no harm in that.

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Keep cooking the berries, stirring occasionally now, until they start to softly POP open (it’s a delightful noise, I promise). Stir in 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin.

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Keep stirring that until the sauce starts to thicken a bit and you can tell that the flavours have all gotten to know each other. Then you can remove it from the heat and let it cool.

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Chill the cranberry sauce for up to one week before it’s needed. It also freezes fantastically.

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I actually hope this lasts until Thanksgiving Monday. The Pie and I keep scooping out bites of it with a spoon.

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Turkey Meatball Rigatoni with Pesto

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Happy Canada Day!  Today is a holiday here in the Great White North.  Last Monday was also a holiday for those of us in Newfoundland, and I cooked this recipe up on that particular day.  We are trying to consume the contents of our pantry and freezer before we move (and we’re doing a pretty good job) so this gets rid of a chunk of the stuff in there.

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Anyway, my landlord is doing some renovations to her house, which is directly behind ours, and she needs our yard for access.  The first thing I said to the Pie when he got up and joined me in the kitchen last Monday morning was, “Oh good, you’re clothed — there’s a man in our tree.”  And there was.  And there were several in the backyard.

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And in the front yard.

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And in the side yard.

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And everywhere.  All.  Day.  Which made Gren very grumpy.

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And all the shops were closed so we had to make do with what was around for our dinner.  So start making up some meatballs, okay?  Preheat your oven to 375°F and grab a baking sheet. Ignore the small highway being created in your backyard.

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Finely grate up a medium-sized carrot.  Chuck that in a bowl.

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Slice up some green onions.

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Then dice ’em.  Chuck those in the bowl with the carrots.

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Then add a few spoonfuls minced garlic.

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Plop in 2 eggs.

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And about 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs.

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Give that a thorough stirring.

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Add in some ground turkey, seasoned with salt and pepper.

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Stir that all together, then use your hands to squish it into golf-ball-sized meatballs.

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Plop those onto your baking sheet and let those cook in the oven for 20 minutes.

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To test for doneness, cut one open and see that there’s no pink inside.

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Grab yourself some pesto, too.  However much you want.  I like lots.  You can buy it or make it yourself, it’s up to you.

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And slice up some tomatoes.  I used grape tomatoes here.

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Boil up a pot of water and cook up some pasta.  We used rigatoni, because it was something we needed to get rid of.

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Drain the pasta.  Dump the tomatoes and the meatballs into the pot with the pasta.

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Add the pesto.  Stir like there’s no tomorrow.

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Serve it up hot!

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Pumpkin Soup

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Right.  So.  In my effort to effectively use all the pumpkin purée left over from our Pumpkin-Off, all 14 cups of it, we are starting to get sick of pumpkin (though the amount of fibre that has been added to our diet is extraordinary).

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The solution?  SOUP.  Most pumpkin soup recipes call for a single can (a little less than 2 cups) of the stuff, but I’m just gonna giv’er and dump in the rest of what I got.  BLAM.  It came out to about 2 1/2 cups.

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I don’t really feel like blending this soup, because the pumpkin is pre-puréed, so I’m just going to cut everything else up really small. It’s a really quick recipe, too, no need to simmer for a long time, so you can make it, say, just before lunch, and then eat it right away.

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First I got my spices ready: minced garlic, a little bit of cumin, some curry, and a bit of chipotle.

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And the incidentals: lemon juice (don’t mock my plastic lemon, it’s the best I can do in Newfoundland), chicken broth, and coconut milk.

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Then my vegetables: three carrots, an onion, and a red pepper.

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The carrots I scrubbed and grated with the skins still on.  That’s good vitamins for ya.

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The red pepper and onion I diced up.

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In a large saucepan, then, heat up a bit of olive oil on medium-high and toss in your onions.  Cook those until they’re softened.

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Then add in your cup o’spices, and stir that around for a minute or so.

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Chuck in your grated carrot and diced pepper and stir that around as well, spritz it with lemon juice, then add in your coconut milk and stir until fully incorporated.

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Add in the pumpkin finally (it was already cooked, so I didn’t want to overcook it), and pour in the chicken broth until you’ve reached a consistency that you like.  Let that simmer for about 20 minutes and that’s it, you’re all done.

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Season with salt and pepper, and a little more lemon if you like.  At the eleventh hour I added a teaspoon ground cloves to boost the pumpkin.

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This one came out a bit spicy, because I guess my curry was hotter than I had previously thought. I would recommend serving with a bit of yogurt or sour cream.

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Wingin’ it Wednesday: Comfort Ramen

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

The week before we left for Vancouver, the Pie, poor thing, got tonsillitis.  After the fever went down and he’d rested a bit (read: slept all day and all night for two days), he still had a raging sore throat and came home from the doctor’s with an enormous jar of amoxycillin pills (sorry folks, when you’re grown up, they don’t give you the banana-flavoured liquid anymore).

To tempt his appetite (hard to be hungry when every swallow is like eating razors), I made him all sorts of his favourite soft foods, and this was one of them.  Ramen is the sort of thing we eat when one of us is out for the evening and the other doesn’t want to be bothered with really cooking.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

Of course, the ramen as it comes in packages with salty broth and dried noodles cooked in coconut or palm kernel oil is an unhealthy choice, and I haven’t yet learned to make it from scratch.  So we try to add a few things to it in the hopes that it will be nutritionally redeemed — somewhat.

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This means that there’s a bit of prep work involved in making what is normally an almost instant meal, but it’s totally worth it.  Just remember that any vegetable or meat or anything you put in the ramen must be fully cooked or sliced super dooper thin, because it will only be in the boiling water for a very short time.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

Accordingly, tonight I thinly sliced up a small onion, an Italian sausage, and about six mushrooms.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

I’m trying to get more protein in small packages into the Pie’s stomach (when you’re a large man and you’re barely eating, you tend to get very tired), so I’m also adding two eggs to this mix.  Beat those up and let them wait in a bowl until you’re ready.  Other things that work well in ramen are things like thinly sliced roast beef, green onions, pre-cooked baby shrimp, chopped hard-boiled eggs, red peppers, alfalfa sprouts, spinach … anything small, pretty much, will work.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

So the first thing I do when cooking packaged ramen is I measure the water into a pot and I add the powdered broth.  I like to give it a chance to simmer a bit.  I also add a healthy dollop of minced garlic.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

When the water is boiling, I slide in the blocks of noodles and cook them for about a minute.

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Then I pour in the vegetables and sausage and give them a stir (cooking chopsticks are very handy here, but a regular pasta spoon will work as well), and let that cook for another minute.

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen

Then carefully pour your egg in, in a thin stream, so it cooks and forms strings on the surface of the soup.  Give that a stir as well, and then you’re ready to serve.

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Garnish with fresh herbs if you like, or chili flakes or whatever floats your boat.  Smooth and simple!

Wingin' It Wednesdays: Comfort Ramen