Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Roasted Cauliflower




Spaghetti alla Carbona is a classic pasta dish that requires only a few basic ingredients, comes together in minutes and is so wonderfully sinful it should be illegal.









There are only a few ingredients needed for this amazing pasta dish - pasta, eggs, cured pork such as bacon or pancetta, a hard aged cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  This dish is sooo much more than the sum of its parts. Steaming hot pasta is tossed with raw eggs and grated cheese resulting in a luxuriously creamy sauce, without the addition of  any cream. I  just love roasted cauliflower and I thought it would work well with this dish. I replaced the Parmesan with an aged Asiago cheese because that is what I had on hand.



Spaghetti alla Carbonara with Roasted Cauliflower
serves 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • olive oil
  • 3 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated  Parmesan  cheese, plus extra for garnishing
  • 1/2 lb. spaghetti
  • freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss cauliflower with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet. Roast until golden brown - about 25 minutes. In a large pot of salted boiling water cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water. Meanwhile, cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with slotted spoon and cook onion in drippings until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 or 2 minutes longer. In a small bowl mix eggs, Parmesan, and a splash of pasta water. Off the heat, toss the pasta ( the pasta has to be very hot for this to work) with the egg mixture, tossing together until the sauce becomes creamy. Add the roasted cauliflower, cooked bacon/onion mixture and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Arrange on serving bowls and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan.





Tags: pasta, spaghetti, bacon, cauliflower, Asiago

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Homemade Pork Potstickers


My husband and I live in a fairly small Country/Western kind of town. A couple of years ago we moved from a large city with a population of 1.3 million to a charming, Norman Rockwell kind of town with a population of approx. 21,000. It was a bit of a cultural shock at first, but we have grown to love it. It is so nice to get away from the noise, traffic, and crime of the big city. That crazy homeless guy that used to camp outside our apartment building and would swear at me every time I walked past him -  I don't miss him one little bit. 

 Small town life is wonderful,  I love that we are within walking distance to grocery stores, shops, library, rec. center, restaurants, movie theatre, bowling alley and lots of quaint pubs and even a couple of saloons.






Our local saloon, of all places, makes the BEST potstickers. They serve them with a hot chili oil and they are so good they should be illegal. Anyway, one day I had a craving for pot stickers and I decided to make some at home. The only problem was I didn't have any pot sticker wrappers so I decided to improvise using homemade perogy dough.  This is a really nice dough to work with - very soft and pliable - and the potstickers came together fairly quickly. Best of all - this makes a huge batch of potstickers.


Pork Potstickers
makes 70 to 80 pot stickers

Filling:

1 cup finely grated green cabbage
1/2 cup onion, finely grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced thinly
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
about 2 tsp. salt
2 lbs. ground pork
prepared dough or store bought potsticker wrappers

In a medium skillet heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil. Add cabbage, onion and garlic and cook until cabbage is tender. 3 or 4 minutes.  Let cool. In a  large bowl, mix together, cabbage, onion, garlic, green onions, ginger, sesame oil, sugar, salt and ground pork. At this point, I take a little ball of filling and cook for 20 seconds in the microwave, just to see if it is seasoned properly. On a lightly floured surface roll out 1/4 of the dough, if using. Keep the remaining dough covered. Roll dough so that it is about 1/8" thickness. Using a round cookie cutter or a drinking glass cut out as many circles as you can fit. Scoop out one tbsp. of filling onto each cut out circle. Fold in half, pressing out any air bubbles. Take a fork and crimp around the edges.  As I am making these, I lay them out on a tray lined with parchment. Once I've finished making these, I freeze them on the trays. When frozen, put the pot stickers in a zip lock bag.

To prepare potstickers:

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil to skillet. Cook pot stickers for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Add 1/4 cup of water to pan. Cover, and lower heat. Cook for 5 -7 minutes or until cooked  all the way through. Serve with hot chili oil or sweet chili sauce.


Dough:

5 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups warm water

Blend oil, water, egg and salt. Add flour slowly while mixing. Knead well. Let dough rest, covered for 30 minutes.




tags: pork, appetizers, Asian, potstickers

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thai Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing


A tangle of rice noodles and crunchy veggies tossed with a spicy peanut dressing. This is a light, refreshing salad  that would go well with grilled chicken, shrimp, or pork skewers.






I really enjoy Thai food - it is very fresh and vibrant, often spicy, perfectly balanced flavors and textures. It is the kind of food that just makes you feel good.

Research has proven that eating spicy foods can make you happy.  When you eat capsaicin (this is what makes chili peppers spicy), your brain thinks that you are in pain, which causes your body to release "feel good" endorphins. Hmmm.  Interesting.



Thai Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing


Ingredients:

1/2 lb. rice stick noodles
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
4 oz.  snow peas, string removed, julienned
4 oz. cucumber, julienned
3 green onions, sliced,
1 cup thinly shredded cabbage, red or green
4 oz. dry roasted peanuts, chopped



Peanut Dressing:

6 Tbsp. all natural peanut butter
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
2 tsp. pure sesame oil
2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce, or to taste
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
small handful fresh cilantro
1/4 cup of peanut oil
about 1/4 cup water or chicken stock for thinning, if needed

Pulse all dressing ingredients in a food processor until blended. Add 1/4 cup of water or stock to thin dressing if needed.

Prepare rice stick noodles according to package direction. Rinse and drain noodles under cold water to stop cooking. With a pair of scissors cut up noodles into shorter strands. In a large bowl add noodles, carrots, snow peas, green onions, cucumber, cabbage, and peanuts. Toss with Peanut Dressing.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Garnish with chopped peanuts, thinly sliced green onion, and torn cilantro.




Tags: Asian, Thai, Noodles, Spicy, Salad


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs







My husband's birthday was a couple of weeks ago and I thought I would cook a special meal for him.  I made short ribs for a dinner party a couple of years ago and my husband thought that they were amazing, so this is what he requested.  Beef short ribs are a tough, relatively inexpensive cut of meat that are transformed into the most tender, melt in your mouth, crazy, out-of-this-world, delicious bites of food you will ever experience. The secret is to braise the short ribs in a flavorful broth and to simmer for hours until they are so tender you won't even need a knife. I like to cook these a day before I am planning on serving because they taste even better the next day.



Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs
serves 4

Ingredients:

olive oil
4 large beef short ribs
2 med carrots
2 yellow onions
2 stalks celery
4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded or one small can tomatoes
1 whole head garlic, separated and peeled
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder
2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
dry red wine, about 1/2 the bottle
2 cups beef stock
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Pulse the carrot, onion and celery in food processor until finely chopped. In a large pot, heat a little oil over medium heat. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook until well caramelized, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, in a saute pan, heat oil over medium/high heat. Add short ribs in small batches and brown on all sides. Deglaze saute pan with a bit of wine. Add short ribs to pot. Add remaining ingredients, including the wine that was used to deglaze the saute pan.  Add just enough wine  to almost cover short ribs. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours or until very tender. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. The next day, skim off any fat that has risen to the top. Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Heat over low heat until ribs are thoroughly heated.  Puree sauce if desired. I served this with brown butter mashed potatoes and glazed carrots.




Tags: Beef, Short Ribs, Wine,

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Italian Sausage Meatball Minestrone Soup

I am a huge fan of homemade soup. This hearty soup is comforting and will warm your belly on a miserable day.









For the novice cook, I feel that making homemade soup is the perfect introduction into the world of cooking. In fact, the very first thing I ever cooked was a chilled cucumber soup, when I was 11 years old. In those days my family used to go camping every summer on Vancouver Island, near the town of Comox, BC.  My dad loves to fish  and this area is renowned for salmon fishing. One evening, we got ourselves dressed up and we went out for my first ever  fancy dinner  at a restaurant called The Old House. I still remember this meal like it happened yesterday;  my younger brothers and I were on our best behaviour, the waiter even commented on how well behaved we were. I just remember that every bite of food I had tasted wonderful. My mom and I both started our meal with a chilled cucumber soup. It honestly was the best thing I had ever eaten. My mom asked for the recipe from the chef and was actually given a little card with the recipe written on it. That was such a special night with my family. I really do believe that one meal inspired me to pursue a career in cooking.


Italian Sausage Meatball Minestrone Soup

Meatballs:
3/4 lb. hot Italian sausage, casing removed
1/3 cup finely ground cracker crumbs

Preheat oven to 375. Mix together sausage meat and cracker crumbs until combined. Roll into small meatballs. Bake on a lightly greased baking  pan until cooked through. Set aside.

Soup:

2 tbsp. olive oil
one medium onion, finely chopped
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. chili flakes, or to taste
1 large roasted red pepper, diced
6 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup pasta shells, or other small, uncooked pasta
1 small bunch of kale, stems removed and chopped
freshly grated Parmesan
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped fresh basil

In a large pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook onion and celery until tender. Add the garlic and chili flakes and cook one minute more. Add roasted red pepper, chicken stock, Worcestershire, and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about one hour. Add pasta and kale and simmer until pasta is cooked. Add fresh basil, cooked meatballs, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan.



Tags: Soup, Sausage, Meatballs, Minestrone

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Home Style Ham and Bean Soup



Is there anything better on a freezing cold day, than a delicious bowl of homemade soup? I mean, really.  It's the ultimate comfort food.  When I was a kid, my favourite non-homemade soup was Campbell's French Canadian Pea soup. This ham and bean soup reminds me of that.  It tastes great the first day and even better the second and third day. I love to make a big pot of homemade soup and have it for my lunch all week long.







Ham and Bean Soup

8-9 cups water
1 lb. navy beans, soaked in water overnight
1 large ham bone
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 large russet potato, diced
1 bay leaf
pinch of thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
chicken stock concentrate, to taste, I use Better than Bouillon
leftover diced ham
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, optional
salt & pepper, to taste

In a large pot add water, soaked beans, ham bone, onion, carrots, celery, potato, bay leaf, thyme and garlic. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the beans are very tender. Remove ham bone and bay leaf. To make a thicker soup, coarsely mash the beans with a potato masher or a quick pass through with an immersion blender (you don't want to completely puree the soup).  Add diced ham. Taste soup and add chicken stock concentrate to taste. Add apple cider vinegar, if using. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.



Tags: Soup, Ham, Beans,

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Buffalo Chicken Wontons with Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce



I have to tell you a little something about myself. I love finger foods. Tapas, appetizers, party foods, nibbles, canapes, dim sum. Whatever you want to call it.  This is  my kind of food. I just love to have lots of different little bites of food rather than one big bowl of anything. Variety is the spice of life, or so they say.  Buffalo Chicken Wontons are a nice little spin on the traditional pork won tons, which also happen to be one of my all-time favorite foods.  I mean, you really can't go wrong with Buffalo Chicken anything. I just love that combination of spicy hot buffalo wing sauce with cool blue cheese dip. That is a match made in heaven, if you ask me.













Buffalo Chicken Wontons with Blue Cheese Dip

Blue Cheese Dip:

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup mayo
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Process for a few seconds, until blended but still chunky. Cover and let chill ( Dip is best if it is refrigerated for a few hours before serving).


Buffalo Chicken Wontons:

1 Tbsp. butter
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup buffalo wing sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pkg. wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten with a a splash of water
vegetable oil for frying

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter to pan. Coarsely chop chicken. Season lightly with s&p. Saute chicken until completely cooked. Let cool. In a food processor blend cooked chicken, green onions and buffalo wing sauce, until finely chopped. Remove from food processor and stir in mozzarella cheese. In a small bowl whisk an egg with a splash of water.  On a clean counter lay out a few wonton wrappers. Dip a small pastry brush ( or use your fingers) in egg wash and brush around the edges of each won ton wrapper. Scoop one rounded tsp. of filling in the middle of each wrapper. Fold over in half, pressing the air out. Crimp shut. The wontons should be in the shape of a triangle. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to coat the bottom of skillet. When oil is hot, pan fry wontons until golden brown on each side. Drain on a paper towel lined plate. Serve with blue cheese dip.


Note: A good trick to knowing when oil is hot enough for frying - Stick the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil. If it is the right temperature, small bubbles will form around the wooden handle.






Tags: Appetizers, Party, Spicy, Buffalo Chicken, Blue Cheese