October 24, 2010

I love potluck dinners. As I've mentioned before, potlucks are the 20-something's equivalent to a dinner party. You can find out a lot about someone from what they bring to a potluck. Are they laid back (a chips person), sweet and thoughtful (dessert), smart and skillful (complex appetizer) or just plain lazy (Timbits)?

Or are they like Mike? Mike also loves potluck dinners. Let's just say, he gets a little carried away -- in a good way -- when it comes to potlucks. For one potluck, Mike cooked 17 pounds of pork along with 50 buns to make pulled pork sandwiches. For a Christmas potluck, Mike cooked an entire turkey, along with stuffing, roasted vegetables and gravy. Surprisingly, there weren't any leftovers from that party. On Friday we were invited to another potluck and Mike made chicken. Not just one chicken: two roasted chickens with stuffing, roasted vegetables, gravy, dinner rolls and a pumpkin pie. Lucky for us, there were plenty of leftovers to take home.

roast chicken

The chickens were marinated with basil, sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, chipotle, paprika, margarine and oil. The stuffing was made with frozen bread crusts, chopped celery, apple, lemon juice and the same spices used on the chicken. Roast chicken is probably my favourite go-to meal because it's cheap --$8 a chicken or $5 if they're on sale -- easy and makes about a week's worth of chicken.

roasted vegetables

The vegetables from the bottom of the pan are always delicious after they've been cooked in the chicken juice. Mike used potatoes, carrots, celery, onions and drizzled them with a little olive oil before putting the chickens on top.


The dinner rolls were a recipe from Mike's Mom. I hope she doesn't mind if I share the secret. He used a standard pizza dough recipe (flour, water, oil, yeast) and rolled three balls for each roll:


Then he formed the three balls together and put them in a muffin tin:


And baked them for about 20 minutes:


For dessert, he made a quick and easy pumpkin pie with a ready-made pie crust, canned pumpkin, evaporated milk and spices:

pumpkin pie

The potluck was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed Mike's abundance of contributions. Only one of the chickens was eaten at the dinner, so we brought the other one home for leftovers. On Saturday, we made hot chicken sandwiches for dinner.

hot chicken sandwiches

Is there anything better than chicken and bread soaked in gravy? I think not. I am a gravy fiend, so I love when food is swimming in gravy. Even after a potluck and hot chicken sandwiches, there was still a ton of chicken left. I plan on making chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, chicken curry and chicken stock with the leftover bones and carcass.

When I said chicken made a cheap and versatile meal, I wasn't kidding.
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October 09, 2010

I am still in shock that I made to Challenge #4 and the top 100 in Project Food Blog 2010! This contest has been inspiring and has reinforced my passion for food writing. Thank you FoodBuzz, judges, bloggers, family and friends for believing in me. I might be a food blogger newbie, but I can still compete with the big kids!

Now, onto Challenge #4: "Sure, you can take a pretty picture. But your task here is to go above and beyond and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial. It could be anything from how to bone a chicken to how to make your favorite recipe, but your photos need to guide the reader through the steps."


Potato gnocchi


For this challenge I decided to make pasta from scratch. I was inspired by Delia Smith and her books, “How to Cook” volumes 1 and 2, which were a gift from my Mom. The books have great photo tutorials and cover cooking basics like eggs, pastry, meat and potatoes. She keeps it simple and basic, which is a blessing in disguise for any new cook. I decided to try her “Gnocchi with Sage, Butter and Parmesan.” 


Delia Smith's How to Cook

Why did I choose this recipe? I will let Delia tell you herself: “Once again it’s the Italians who are so clever at inventing such simple things out of what seems to be fairly ordinary ingredients but then become something quite outstanding” (How to Cook, Volume 1, pg. 190). Potatoes, flour, eggs and butter; it can’t be anymore simple than that, right?


Whenever I think of making pasta, I think of those amazing Italian “nonnas” who vigorously knead and roll pasta for hours in their kitchens in Italy. I try to imagine what it would be like to have an Italian grandmother: “Laurrra,” she’d say, rolling her r’s, “I will teach you how to make pasta, but first, do I not feed you enough?” I think back to my trip to Italy and how I ate everything on my plate because the food was so delicious; a big no-no in Italian culture. Apparently, if you eat everything on your plate it means there wasn’t enough food. I couldn’t help myself. The antipasta, pasta, meat, seafood, gelato, and pizza were just too delicious.


I remember our last lunch in Rome. Mike and I just wanted a light, refreshing lunch before heading off. We found this quiet café in a winding, narrow street near the Coliseum and ordered some bruschetta to start. For the entree, I ordered a seafood salad and Mike ordered a small plate of pasta. Beside us, were two businessmen on their lunch break. They also started with the bruschetta, then pasta, then a fish course (a whole fish), a bottle of wine, and finally, some espresso. After that, they reluctantly shuffled back to work. I sat there -- slightly embarrassed with my little salad-- totally in awe of the way Italians truly savour their food.


With making pasta, my imaginary Italian grandmother would first probably tell me to take off my rings: “Laura, this is serious business. Rings come off.” Pasta making, at least in this experience, was messy. My hands were covered in flour and egg mush, my shirt was covered in flour spots and I had to stop myself from obsessively licking my fingers and washing my hands during cooking, like I usually do. I learned that the process is also long. By the time the pasta was rolled, cut and cooked, I had consumed a few essential snacks in between.

Delia Smith's Gnocchi with Sage, Butter and Parmesan (recipe also available online)

Ingredients: 

2 medium sized potatoes3 1/2 oz plain flour, sifted, plus more for rolling1 large egg, lightly beatenSalt and pepper

For the sauce:

8 fresh sage leaves2 oz butter1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed3-4 tbsp parmesan cheese (for serving)


Directions:

1. Place the potatoes, with skins on, in a pot of salted, boiling water. 2. Simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
3. Drain the potatoes and pare off the skins using a knife or potato peeler. 
4. Place the potatoes in a bowl and whisk on a slow speed using an electric hand mixer. Break up the potatoes and whisk until light and fluffy. 

5. Let the potatoes cool down. Then add the sifted flour and half of the beaten egg. 
6. Bring the mixture together using a fork. Then knead the mixture with your hands until it becomes a soft dough.
7. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. 
8. Divide the dough into quarters. 
9. Roll each quarter into long, sausage shapes approximately a 1/2 inch in diameter. 
10. Cut the sausage shapes on a diagonal into 1 inch pieces. 
11. Place the pieces on a floured plate. Cover and refrigerate the gnocchi for at least 30 minutes. 
12. Press a fork down onto the gnocchi to form a ridge and lightly form them into crescent shapes. 
13. Bring a large shallow pan of water to a simmer (3.5 litres of water or less depending on the pan).
14. Drop the gnocchi into the simmering water and cook for three minutes. The gnocchi should rise to the top of the water when they are ready. 
15. Scoop the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon onto a warmed serving plate. 
16. For the sauce, melt the butter and garlic in a pan until the garlic starts to brown. Add the sage leaves and cook for 30 seconds. 

After all of this, you will have perfect gnocchi:


I'm just kidding. That picture is Delia's rendition. THIS picture is mine:


The pasta wasn’t that hard to make. The only difficulty came in making the sauce. I love Delia, but pure butter, melted, then poured onto pasta is insane. Of course, I can eat butter in numerous desserts and pastries, but the sauce made the dish an oily, greasy plate of butter with a side of pasta. After the first batch, I literally lay on the floor in overdramatic discomfort, yelling, “I ate too much butter!”

Potato gnocchi

The next night, with the second batch of gnocchi, I cooked the garlic and sage in a little bit of margarine, then drizzled a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese on top of the pasta. The pasta wasn’t drenched in sauce and I found I could actually enjoy the dish without worrying how my arteries would react. Nonna would probably say, “Nonsense, butter makes you tough. You’re a growing girl.” 

In case you were wondering, I WAS that child who constantly made up imaginary people and friends. I also never had an Italian grandmother (obviously), but I will always have a place in my heart for Italy.

If you liked this post, then please vote. I have some cool ideas for the next few rounds, so let's get this "food fight" started! Check out my profile and vote here (your Italian Nonna will thank you). 
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October 06, 2010

For the last Project Food Blog challenge (classic cuisine from another culture) I asked a few friends for their ideas on what to make. One of my Greek friends suggested Moussaka.

The first time I had Moussaka was in Greece. On my trip last summer, I probably sampled most of the cuisine Greece has to offer, such as gyros, spanakopita, tzatziki, souvlaki, baklava, stuffed grape leaves and even ouzo. I also gained about 10 pounds sampling all this cuisine. But on the last day of the trip, in Athens, I realized that I went the whole week without trying Moussaka.

Greek Moussaka
(My first and only taste of real Grecian Moussaka)

I have always had an indifferent relationship with eggplant or "aubergine." I don't like it, but I don't hate it either. The sliminess kind of bothers me too. When I went to order Moussaka, I figured the eggplant would be masked so well in layers of lamb, potato and béchamel sauce that I wouldn't even notice it. Well, I did notice the eggplant, but I also noticed the delicious creaminess of the sauce, the hearty potatoes, the savoury lamb, and somehow the eggplant fit nicely in there, almost indifferent: it wasn't too noticeable, but it needed to be there.

I had some leftover eggplant from my dinner party on Sunday, so I decided to recreate my Moussaka experience. A traditional Moussaka has many layers, but I only made one layer of everything because I only had half of an eggplant left. The ingredient sizes will make one layer in a lasagna pan (more than enough for 2 people).

Beef Moussaka

Beef Moussaka

4-5 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1/2 eggplant, thinly sliced
1 cup of ground beef or lamb
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 cup of canned tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup olive oil
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tbsp dried oregano
salt and pepper to season

For the béchamel sauce, I used Delia Smith's recipe from "How to Cook: Volume 1:"
Ingredients:

425 ml milk
1 bay leaf
a few whole black peppercorns (5-10)
1 slice of onion
1 1/2 oz butter
3/4 oz flour
salt and pepper
Bechamel sauce

Directions: 

Add the milk, bay leaf, peppercorns and onion (you can also add parsley stalks and powdered mace) to a pot and bring slowly to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain the milk and take out the spices. Put the milk in a separate bowl or cup on the side.
Add the butter to the pot and heat until melted. Add the flour, then add the milk a little bit at a time until thick.
While you are making the sauces, place the eggplant and potatoes on a baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes.
For the beef sauce, add onions and garlic to a pan and sauté until golden.
Add the ground beef and cook until brown.
Add the wine, tomatoes and tomato paste and let the sauce thicken over medium heat for about 20 minutes.
To assemble the Moussaka, grease the pan, then add the potatoes, eggplant, beef sauce then béchamel sauce. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the sauce browns on top.

Serve with the remaining red wine ;)

Beef Moussaka

I used this and this recipe. Next time I might try mashing the potatoes, so everything sticks together better. Mine didn't quite have distinct layers when I served it. I thought it tasted amazing. Opa!

Tomorrow is the last day to vote for Challenge #3 of Project Food Blog. Check out my luxury "tea" party and please vote here. Please help me get to the Top 100!
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