September 29, 2010

Our herb garden is almost ready to go south for the winter. By south I mean almost ready to die or hibernate in the freezer. I decided to make pesto with some fresh basil from the garden. I had all of the ingredients except pine nuts, but when I saw them at the store I was shocked. Bulk Barn has them listed for $8.00/100 g and $45/pound! I thought pesto was a fairly common thing to make, but apparently I was greatly misinformed.

I brought my bag up to the cashier and she said, "that's going to be $8.00. Is that alright?" It was as if the cashiers had been trained to calm down the irritated pine nut clientele. I took my little bag of ridiculously expensive nuts home and thought to myself, "this pesto better be damn good."

pine nuts

I used this recipe here. Basically, put basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, garlic and pine nuts in a blender/food processor and voila, pesto.


(blended basil = pesto)

The pesto tasted amazing with the fresh basil and much better than store bought. Then I made my pizza dough (yeast, flour, olive oil, rosemary) and let it sit to rise for 1 1/2 hours under a kitchen towel. 

(Shhh, it's sleeping)

After I let the dough nap for a little while, I rolled it out into a flat circle. I like my pizza European-style with a thin crust. 

Now, here's the tricky part. A good pizza is all about the layering. This isn't one of those times where you plop everything on without thinking. There has to be careful layers of sauce, veggies and cheese. Here's my process:

Layer 1: Spread the pesto over the dough. The pine nuts didn't quite blend, but I didn't really notice them when I was eating the pizza. 

Layer 2: Spread the pizza sauce over the pesto. It's alright if the two sauces blend together a bit. 
Layer 3: Grate some mozzarella cheese over the sauce. 
Layer 4: Add veggies, like zucchini, tomato, onion or anything you'd like. 

Layer 5: Grate more mozzarella cheese over the veggies. This is so the veggies will be in between the melted cheese and won't slide around on the sauce. 
Layer 6: Drizzle a little bit more sauce and pesto over the top. Season with salt, pepper and a little bit of parmesan cheese. 

I loved the colour of the pesto and veggies together and I was quite proud of my creation. Even after all of that, I managed to accidentally overcook the pizza. 

It looks awful, but it still tasted amazing. Fresh pesto is my new favourite thing and I have learned to accept pine nuts into my life. 
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September 26, 2010

Papa Rellena

South America has always fascinated me. From Machu Picchu to the Galapagos Islands, there is so much of the mysterious continent that I want to explore. One of my favourite episodes of  “No Reservations” features Anthony Bourdain’s visit to Peru (check out the clip in my previous post). I love the quote at the beginning of the episode: “Don’t tell me what a man says; don’t tell me what a man knows; tell me where he has traveled.”

Bourdain reflects on the purpose of travel in this episode. He asks, does it make us smarter, wiser or more enlightened? I say yes to all of these things. In moments of travel, I have found happiness, excitement, adrenaline and sometimes panic. I have learned not just about far off lands, but also about myself. I grow with every plane ride I take and every “Departures” sign I pass.

We were thinking about a trip to South America this past summer; however, it is not the place to go for a weeklong getaway. South America is an adventure that takes time and patience. Like Bourdain said, there’s no better place to find enlightenment than Peru. For this challenge, I decided to, well, challenge myself. If a trip to South America has to be held off for another year or so, then why not prepare myself for the adventure now? 

I decided to try two classic Peruvian dishes. The first dish, "Ceviche," is the staple dish of Peru. Ceviche comes in many varieties in North America. In Peru, the dish consists mainly of raw fish marinated in citrus juice and seasonings. The acidity of the lemon and lime juices “cooks” the fish.

First of all, the selection of fresh fish in our area is rather limited. Secondly, I wasn't sure about the “cooking” process. The juice somehow alters the proteins of the fish giving it that raw, flavourful taste, but sometimes doesn’t rid the fish of all its bacteria. I didn’t want to risk making myself sick, so I decided to make a shrimp and mango ceviche using cooked shrimp. 

The second dish is “Papa Rellena” or “stuffed potatoes.” Potatoes originated in Peru around 2000 BC and were the principal food of the Inca Empire. Basically, Peruvians know their potatoes and how to cook them well. Papa Rellena consists of mashed potatoes stuffed with ground meat, spices and various other stuffings.

Papa Rellena

Papa Rellena (stuffed potatoes)

1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped onion
5-8 yellow potatoes
1 tbsp olive oil (plus more for frying)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp cumin, paprika, cilantro
1 cup ground beef
1/2 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 egg
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Cook the potatoes until tender in a pot of boiling, salted water. When the potatoes are cooked, mash them thoroughly, season them with salt and pepper and let them chill in the fridge until cold. 

2. Soak raisins in one cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. 

3. Saute the onions and garlic in 1 tbsp of the olive oil until golden.
4. Add the seasoning (cumin, paprika, cilantro) to the onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes more. 

5. Drain the raisins and add them to the onion mixture. Add the ground beef. 

6. Add the beef broth and simmer until the liquid has absorbed. 

7. Take the potatoes out of the fridge and add the egg and flour. Knead the dough with floured hands until smooth and soft. 

8. Place about a 1/2 cup portion (or your desired size) of the potatoes in the palm of your hand and make a well in the centre.

9. Place about 1 tbsp of the filling into the well and fold the potato over so none of the filling shows. 

10. Repeat step #9 until all of the potatoes and filling are gone. 

11. Fill the pan with about an inch of oil (or 2 depending on the size of the pan). Fry the Papa Rellena until golden brown for about 10 minutes. 

Shrimp and mango ceviche

Shrimp and Mango Ceviche:

1/3 cup olive oil
6-8 cooked shrimps
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped mango
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus one lime for garnish
1/3 cup fresh, chopped cilantro
1/2 cup diced cucumber
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp hot sauce


1. Place the shrimp in a pot with 2 tbsp of lime juice. Bring them to a simmer.
2. Once the shrimp have warmed/defrosted, peel the shells off and place them in a bowl with 1/2 of the remaining lime juice. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.
3. Combine all of the remaining ingredients in a bowl and add the shrimp. Serve with a lime wedge in a small bowl, shot glass or martini glass. 

My final thoughts:
Even though the Papa Rellena process was quite tedious, it was well worth the effort. They tasted light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, which is a perfect combination in my books. I had two on my plate and I could barely finish one. Traditionally, Papa Rellenas are served with a type of salsa, so the tartness of the ceviche contrasted nicely. I can't wait to go to Peru and try the real thing.

Papa Rellena

For some of the recipes I used, check out thisthisthis, and this link.

If you enjoyed this post, then don't forget to vote for me for Round 2 starting tomorrow. 
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September 23, 2010

I used to think risotto was just a fancy restaurant dish that I only ate on special occasions. Now that I've learned to make risotto, it is no longer for special occasions, but rather, whenever I have chicken stock and wine lying around. Any occasion that lets me drink wine while cooking is fine with me.

Here's my spin on a classic risotto dish. I hate mushrooms, so I used leeks and green onions to add some veggies and topped it with a few cooked shrimp. As you've probably noticed, I don't like to use a lot of chicken broth in cooking because of its high salt content. I usually dilute it with some water. The dish still tastes incredibly creamy and delicious without the full serving of broth.

Leek and onion risotto with shrimp

Leek and Green Onion Risotto topped with Shrimp:

2 cups no-salt added chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped leeks (washed thoroughly)
3/4 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry, white wine
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Desired amount of cooked shrimp per dish (I usually use 3)


1. Bring the stock and water to a simmer in a pot over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low.

2. Add the olive oil to a pan and sauté the onions and garlic for about 2 minutes. Stir everything with a wooden spoon instead of a spatula. Add the leeks and sauté everything for about 8 minutes.

3. Add the rice to the pan and stir for about 30 seconds. Add the wine and stir for a few minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed.

4. Add 3/4 cup of the hot stock and cook for a few minutes (3-4) until the stock is absorbed. Repeat this step until you have used all of the remaining stock. This should take about 20 minutes.

5. The risotto should start to look and feel thicker and creamier. Add the thyme, butter, cooked shrimp and cheese and cook for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, sprinkle the fresh chives on top and additional cheese to taste.

If you've liked this recipe and others, then don't forget to vote for me for Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog 2010. Today is the last day to vote for Round 1 of the challenge. I am crossing my fingers that I make it to the next round.

Check out my Project Food Blog profile here and cast your vote.

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September 22, 2010

This weekend I was adventurous. When I get an idea in my head, I just have to follow through. I got "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" for my birthday and I had only really tried one recipe from the book (leek and potato soup), so I decided to try something more ambitious. 

Leek and Potato soup

Julia Child's version of leek and potato soup is delicious and incredibly simple to make. Add 3 cups of chopped leeks and 3 cups of chopped potatoes to 8 cups of water. Let simmer for about 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender and mash the potatoes a little bit in the water. The soup should be thick and not too watery. If the soup is still watery, let the water boil off for another 20 minutes. Add a tbsp of butter and fresh chives or parsley before serving. 

Anyways, on to my endeavour. I decided to make Julia Child's "Cheese Souffle."I had just watched the episode of MasterChef where the participants had to make Chocolate Souffle and one of the contestants literally sat in front of the oven to make sure his souffle was rising. The clock was ticking and Gordon Ramsay--with huge veins sticking out his neck--preceded to yell at them, "It's collapsing! It's collapsing! Get it on the table!" To see the intensity for yourself, check out this clip:

Well, I wasn't making Chocolate Souffle in some intense competition and I didn't have Gordon Ramsay breathing down my neck. But souffles are one of the hardest things to make and some cooks take years to perfect them. I melted the butter and flour together, then I poured in boiling milk and whipped everything together. I separated the egg yolks and whites into different bowls, then added the yolks to the milk/butter/flour mixture. 

Then I got the part where I had to whip the egg whites and fold them into the mixture. I had never folded egg whites in my life. Plus, Julia Child was sternly telling me to not overfold and "not to be too thorough." Huh? I was a little worried. She describes the process in the book (cut down the top centre of the mixture with a spatula, then draw it towards you and up) but the whole success of my souffle depended on this technique and I had never done it before. I was either going to waste five eggs or put something salvageable in the oven. This kind of sounds like an episode of MasterChef, doesn't it? 

I did the best job I could and put the souffle in the oven. I didn't even go near the oven while it was cooking because I didn't want to accidentally brush up against the oven door handle and accidentally open the oven (yes, these things actually crossed my mind). Then after 30 minutes in the oven, I opened the oven door and this is what appeared:

cheese souffle

Hmm, not quite as pretty as this:

(from this blog)

...or this:
(picture from here.)

My souffle decided to be mean and not rise at all. I think it was bitter that I didn't fold the egg whites right the first time or perhaps some yolk got into the whites. I didn't perfect the souffle the first try, but I will keep trying. 

cheese souffle

After the fact, I found this great video on how to fold egg whites. The souffle did taste amazing though even if it wasn't picture perfect.
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September 21, 2010

butternut squash soup

The leaves are starting to fall off of the trees and the beautiful fall colours of red, yellow, brown and orange are cropping up everywhere. With this weather, I am already craving hearty, root vegetable winter soups.

I decided to make a mix between a "butternut squash" and a "ginger and carrot" soup. I adapted my recipe from this and this recipe.

Fall Harvest Soup (Serves 2 people)

1/2 of one butternut squash
1 sweet potato, chopped and peeled
1 carrot, chopped and peeled
1/2 of one onion, chopped and peeled
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp chopped ginger
1 tbsp powdered ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp butter or margarine
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Chop the butternut squash and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes until tender. Wait until after the butternut squash has been roasted to peel. The peels will come off easier when cooked.

2. In a large pot, add the water, roasted butternut squash, sweet potato, carrot, bay leaf, coconut milk and broth. Let the soup come to to a boil.

3. Sautee the onions in a pan with the olive oil for about 2 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and ginger and cook until the onions start to become translucent. Add the onion mixture to the soup. Allow the soup to cook for about 30 minutes and until the vegetables are tender.

4. Remove the bay leaf from the soup. Use a potato masher to mash up the vegetables in the soup.

5. Transfer the soup in batches to a food processor or blender. Blend the soup until it forms a puree consistency.

6. Transfer the pureed soup back to the pot and return to heat. Before serving, add the butter or margarine, powdered ginger, salt and pepper. To serve, swirl a dollop of plain yogurt on top.

Don't forget to vote for me for Project Food Blog 2010 (click on the widget on the left). Voting is open for 2 more days, so get on over to
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September 18, 2010

I'm not a math whiz by any means, but I seem to have figured out this equation:

Tub of pre-made hummus from the grocery store: $5.49
One can of chickpeas: $0.99
2 kg bag of chickpeas: $3.49

I can buy a tub of pre-made hummus in all its artificial glory OR I can make one batch of hummus for less than a dollar OR I can make endless batches of hummus for less than $5.00. I'm starting to sound like one of those Mastercard commercials: bag of chickpeas, $3.49; delicious hummus, priceless.

Now that I've started making my own hummus, I can't go back to store-bought. My homemade version is cheaper, plus I like the fresh taste and freedom of adding what I want. Hummus is incredibly simple and quick to make. Here's my version:

Homemade Hummus:Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups chickpeas
1 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp of curry powder, cumin, paprika
(These measurements make the amount of hummus seen in the first picture)


1. If you are using chickpeas from a bag, soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. If you are using chickpeas from a can, then skip step 1 and 2.

2. Boil the chickpeas for about 10 minutes.

3. Place the chickpeas in a blender. Add the water, olive oil and remaining ingredients.

4. Blend until most of the chickpeas are pureed or until the hummus forms your preferred consistency. Sprinkle paprika on top of the hummus for presentation.

Tip: The water helps in the blending. If you find the end consistency is too watery, add breadcrumbs or sesame seeds to thicken up the hummus.

To serve, cut up a pita into triangles. Place the pita pieces on a baking sheet on top of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with steak spice. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes until crispy.
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