Thursday, March 27, 2008

In search of Shitakes and other fun ingredients

I was so excited today to go to Chinatown and visit the Kowloon Market. It's not a place I can walk to, but it's the best place to buy shitake mushrooms and that's what I needed for the recipe for dinner tonight - a shitake brown rice pilaf. I love pilafs, and this recipe appealed to me because it used brown BASMATI rice and roasted pecans.

The Chinese grocery stores are a true experience. The aisle signs were all in Chinese, so I had to wander up and down each of the crammed and narrow aisles to find what I was looking for. Some products I recognized (tofu, wonton wraps, noodles). Some I didn't (bugogi). Some I would be reticent to try, even in my most experimental moods (chicken feet, sea cucumber). At the back of the store, whole fresh (I hope) fish packed on ice, presented in blue recycling bins. Even if I had brought my camera with me, which I forgot, I would have felt very self-conscious about snapping pictures. However, it was a highly sensory experience - smells, colors, textures...

I picked up two bags of dried shitake mushrooms (because let's face it, with a three year old and one year old, who knows when I'll be able to get there again), along with some edamame. I also tried to find some items that our family might eat, that wouldn't be found in the "regular" grocery stores.

Part of the reason I did this is because I was inspired by another foodie project to spend $20 at Whole Foods on things that look "interesting, gross or exciting". I wish we had a Whole Foods here, but I know there are plenty of great places to find the same type of things.

So how did the Shitake Brown Rice Pilaf turn out? *sigh* not great. After my successful invention with leftovers, following this rebar recipe didn't yield the success I hoped for. I think the biggest problems were:

1) the amount of liquid (2 cups of hot water reserved from the soaking of the mushrooms) was not enough, or else something happened and it boiled away too quickly. The result was that the rice had that partially-cooked, crunchy texture. I hate that texture. Next time I think I might cook the rice and mushrooms separately from the onions to see if that makes a difference.

2) I used regular fresh mushrooms instead of the additional fresh shitakes it called for. I have only so many stops I can make in the ingredient search when I tote my toddlers, so sometimes I have to substitute for what I have. In this case, I think it took away from the overall dish.

3) One of the leeks I used was quite large, and I wonder if maybe that set the taste balance over to far in the direction of onion, instead of nutty pilaf or mushroom.

So, instead of a photo of the dish I made, I've posted a photo of the fun stuff I bought. Maybe I'll invent a dessert using what I bought instead ;-).

If you want to try the recipe, here it is:

Shitake Brown Rice Pilaf
(from rebar modern food cookbook)

Serves 4 (yes it does)

1 oz dried shitake mushrooms
2 cups boiling water
2 leeks, mostly white and green parts
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz fresh shitake mushrooms
2 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown basmati rice
1/2 cup pecans, roasted and roughly chopped
4 scallions, minced for garnish

1. Soak the dried mushroms in hot water for at least 30 mins. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Finely mince the mushrooms and set aside.

2. Quarter the leek whites lengthwise and chop into 1/2" dice. Place in a colander and run cold water over them to rinse of excess grit. Stem the fresh shitake mushrooms and slice thinly.

3. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil and saute the leeks, garlic and minced soaked shitakes with 1/2 tsp salt until the leeks are soft. Add rice and continue to saute to toast the rice grains. Add 2 cups of the reserved mushroom-soaking liquid, the remaining salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to very low and let the rice steam for 45 minutes. Turn off the head and let the rice sit for an additional 10 minutes. Don't peek!

4. Before serving, heat another tablespoon of oil in the skillet and sear the sliced shitakes until golden (the fresh ones). Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine or balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Turn the cooked rice to a serving dish and gently stir in the sauteed mushrooms and roasted pecans. Garnish with scallions and serve hot.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Family Favorites: Buckwheat Cauliflower Bake

Based on: Quinoa Cauliflower Bake in Hollyhock Cooks

I'm going back in time at the moment and posting recipes I love, but am not necessarily cooking today.

My mom bought me the cookbook after we raved about the Oatmeal Bake, a breakfast recipe. In all honesty, "Hollyhock Cooks" is full of delicious tasting food. Most of the recipes use ingredients that are fairly easy to come by as well.

I've been making this recipe for about 7 months now and it has been a real hit with family and friends. In the last week, I've sent this to four different people, on request. It's tasty (especially with the mix of feta and kalamata) and healthy.

The first time I made it, I picked up orange and purple cauliflower to use - and it makes a very pretty looking bake. As soon as the veggies come back at the farmer's market, you can bet I'll take a picture.

This recipe is my adaptation of it. I'm sure other cheese/grain/olive combinations are possible!

2 tbsp sunflower oil
3 cups diced onion
3 chopped and rinsed leeks
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 coarsely chopped cauliflower head
juice of 1 lemon
*1 tsp+ fresh dill
1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives
*1/4 cup+ chopped fresh parsley
pepper and salt
2 cups crumbled feta
2 cups cooked buckwheat groats or kasha

* the + signs indicate that I sometimes add more, since we like these herbs.

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Make buckwheat. To get what you need, add 1 cup dry grains to 2 cups boiling water.

3. In a large saucepan sautee the onions, leeks and garlic in the oil until
the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower, stir and
cover, allowing the cauliflower to steam for 5 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients
and stir well.

5. Gently press into a lightly oiled baking dish. I often divide the mixture into two 8x8 pans and freeze one - it works well because one 8x8 serves the three of us with a little left over. If you had a bigger group, use a 9x13 pan.

6. Garnish with paprika, if you like, or leave it plain - the green colour of the parsley and the dill come through. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, March 24, 2008

the great milk debate

There's a debate raging in our household, and we're not sure how to solve it. We drink a lot of milk (probably about 16 litres every 10 days between 3 people). We're concerned about the environment, and we're also increasingly concerned about what hormones and chemicals we ingest. At least my husband and I are. The Lima Bean generally goes along with whatever we decide in that department, as long as the end result is a glass of milk at the table, and a bottle of milk at bedtime.

Four litres of milk cost approximately $5 when it comes in the 3 plastic pouch bags and $8 if we buy it in two x 2L milk cartons. We haven't checked the price on a 4L plastic jug yet. Now, if we shift over to organic milk, the price changes to $8 for 3 plastic pouch bags and then goes up from there.

In Ontario, the cartons and plastic jugs are recyclable, but the plastic bags (the cheapest alternative) are not. We can wash, dry and re-use them, but eventually, they will end up in a landfill.(For all we know, the other options will as well, but I prefer to remain optimistic on that front that they are indeed being recycled). And then there is a bottled milk option where we are....which is probably the best of all options since it is produced locally by what I perceive (but am not entirely sure) is a smaller dairy farm. And I have no idea how much that option costs at all.

So here's our foodie dilemma. How do we remain cost and health conscious, but at the same time environmentally responsible? Should we suck it up and plunk down whatever it costs for the organic milk that has the best recycling possibility? Do we sacrifice the environment, or our health? How much of a danger really is non-organic milk in Ontario?

We're starting to pay more attention now to what we buy, and eat. Our meat is all antibiotic-free and free-range, if it isn't organic, and I do buy organic when I think it makes the most sense. All the jarred foods we buy for the littlest monkey are organic. I like the idea of eating locally, but only if I am sure their practices jive with what I think is responsible (ie no pesticides, no chemicals..)

I find this issue to be such a quagmire, and there is only so much time I can devote to researching it. I will have to do some reasearch. I'll try and publish what I find here, but if anyone out there has any comments or feedback in the meantime, I'd love to hear it....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

necessity: the mother of invention

This recipe was submitted to Presto Pasta Nights!

I had a food emergency tonight, and survived. The grocery stores were madhouses yesterday, and I didn't feel like braving the lineups. We had dinner out last night and brunch at my sister's this morning. I'd invited friends over for dinner, knowing full well I had no idea what I was serving.

I took inventory of my fridge and my cupboards. Among other things I found: half a container of ricotta cheese, lots of mozza, 3 sweet potatoes, the remains of a batch of spinach, 3/4 of a box of lasagna noodles, some cream cheese, about half a small container of olive garlic pesto, a zucchini and a yellow pepper. So I did what anyone else in my shoes would do. I made a veggie lasagna.

Our friends, who we have shared many a collaborative Thanksgiving dinner with, supplied a lovely tomato and bocconcini salad dressed with balsamic vinegar along with an olive foccacia. And cheese, and crackers. We supplied the wine and dessert (home made cookies and tea). All in all, wonderful things to go with the lasagna. Or food we could rely on to sustain us if the lasagna didn't work out.

In the end, I didn't have to worry. The lasagna was a complete success, eaten up by everyone including my little ones.

So here's the recipe for the lasagna, with a very boring title. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Garlic, Sweet Potato and Spinach Lasagna

Serves 4 average portions in an 8x8 baking dish

1 large zucchini
3 sweet potatoes
small bunch of spinach
1/2 yellow pepper
1 box lasagna noodles
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated fine
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup olive garlic pesto

My Preparation

I peeled and boiled the sweet potatoes until they were soft enough to pierce easily with a fork. Slice them into 5 mm slices (fairly thin), They were soft enough that I could mash the slices between my fingers.

I sliced the zucchini widthwise into thin slices. I could just as easily have sliced lengthwise.

I mixed the ricotta and the pesto together in a bowl, and washed the spinach and cut the stems off, leaving only the leaves.

Then I started layering:
Layer 1: zucchini
Layer 2: lasagna noodles
Layer 3: grated mozza cheese
Layer 4: spinach
Layer 5: ricotta/pesto mix
Layer 6: sweet potato slices
Layer 7: lasagna noodles
Layer 8: zucchini
Layer 9: grated mozza cheese

yellow pepper to garnish

I cooked it for 45 minutes at 375 F, covered in foil. At the 45 minute mark, I removed the foil and cooked it for another 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Family Favorites: Mixed Frozen Berry Crisp

In addition to being a chocolate fiend, I am also a dessert fiend. This recipe showed up in the April 2008 issue of Today's Parent (the Canadian Edition). For the most part, I like the recipes I find in this magazine. Simple to prepare, using ingredients I have in my kitchen and, because it's a magazine geared towards parents, the recipes are typically kid-friendly. As long as you don't have a picky eater. Which I don't. Yet. But never say never.

Berry desserts of any sort are pretty propular in this house so I knew I'd be pretty safe making this for dinner. The other appeal was that it allowed me to use up the ricotta we have sitting in the fridge. I try my hardest not to let food go bad in our fridge, and ever since I've actually started planning menus and buying to the lists, it's been pretty easy.

The recipe promises a 10 minute prep time and a 40 minute cooking time.

I made a few changes - I left out the sugar in the berry/ricotta base because I figured the berries would be sweet enough (as well as the half a cup of brown sugar in the topping). And I added extra lemon zest.

15 minutes later (I had to work an extra little bit to get the frozen berries out of the bag), the dessert was ready to cook!

Out came the Sicilian Meatballs (yes, we made them again), in went the dessert. I put it in an 8x8 glass dish as the recipe says, but would have preferred to have ramekins for individual portions (as pictured in the magazine). So much prettier and much more classy. It would have photographed better as well.

If a photo is worth 1000 words, here's a 1000 words on how my oldest monkey liked it. No words from the youngest monkey, but maybe there will be the next time I make it for him.

Mixed Frozen Berry Crisp

The recipe says it serves 8, but the way we cut it, it served more like 6. I may not have added enough berries, since I had a 2 kg bag and guessed.

1/2 cup wholewheat flour
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup butter

600 g pkg frozen berries
2 tbsp white all-purpose flour
zest of lemon
1 cup light or regular ricotta cheese

*I omitted the 1/4 cup of sugar because I figured it would be sweet enough with the berries and the sugar in the topping. We didn't miss it. If you do add it, it gets mixed in with the lemon zest and then mixed with the berries.

Preheat the oven to 375F. In a small bowl, mix the flour, oats, cinnamon and sugar. Cut cold butter as you would carrots. Slice into sticks, line them up and then dice. Add to flour mixture, and use your fingers to distribute as evenly as possible.

In an 8 in square baking dish or a 10 in diameter deep-dish pie plate, toss together berries and flour. Mix the lemon zest in with the berries.

Insert 1/4 cup dollops of ricotta in four places between the berries (not on top). Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit mixture. Place in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until bubbling.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I got Choc-o-lot in my Pock-o-lot

Like a large majority of people, I love chocolate. My preference is for dark chocolate (though 75% is about my limit - after that it gets too dry)

We've been buying a lot of higher end chocolate bars. By higher end, I mean one that costs more than the basic candy bar which use low grade chocolate (According to Wikipedia, the term is compound chocolate). There are definitely even better chocolates out there (hello Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut) but the is a quick and easy indulgence.

Here's some of the ones we like:

Lindt Excellence Madagscar: a sweet, smooth aftertaste (65% cocoa)
Lindt Creation Cherry Chili: chocolate with a wicked chili pepper jelly fill that kicks (70% cocoa)
Cemoi Noir Quinoa (Organic): chocolate with crunchy quinoa. kind of like a chocolate covered rice krispie square, only healthier (60% cocoa)

Hubby brought this one home today. This purchase was tongue in cheek - a reference to his desire for a man hut all of his own.

Literally, the label is translated as "dark man chocolate Bitter for men", but really, it could be interpreted in so many ways. *wink*

(Note: the title of this post is in reference to a Laurie Berkner song. The Lima Bean is nutso for Laurie. If you have kids and need music you can listen to as well, Laurie's albums are great!)

When I walk I walk a lot
And when I talk I talk a lot
And when I’m not, what do I got?

Choc-o-lot! I got choc-o-lot!
I got choc-o-lot in my pock-o-lot!


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Food-related songs: Lyle Lovett, Keep it in Your Pantry

Two days before Valentine's Day, my husband took me to see Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert (a real date with no kids!). It was amazing, and when they jammed together it reminded me of my favorite moments of festivals where they have workshops and members of various bands takes turns playing acoustic versions of songs and jamming with each other.

When Lyle Lovett played "Keep it in Your Pantry", I knew I had to add it to this blog somehow. The version below is a little hard to hear, and a little too bluegrass for my taste, but the lyrics still move the foodie in me. Excuse me while I go make some cornbread.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Family Favorites: Sicilian Meatballs

Recipe source: Rachael Ray

With two kids under the age of three, meals at restaurants are rare (hence the fits and starts to this blog). But we are experimenting a lot with food and new recipes, and this recipe has quickly become a family favourite. So in lieu of restaurant reviews, I'm offering a look at the recipes we love to cook.

My husband came across this recipe while at work. He has a TV in his office (for work purposes mind you) and while cruising the channels, he caught a glimpse of Danny DeVito. Being a fan of DD, he stopped to watch (our tax dollars, hard at work ;-)). Danny was showing Rachael Ray his recipe for Sicilian Meatballs.

I'm glad he stopped. These are no ordinary meatballs. The size of baseballs, they include tasty ingredients like currants, parsley and pine nuts. Smother them with crushed tomatoes (in juice) and they are incredibly delicious!

We've made the meatballs many times over the past month, and each time, they've been different (explanation: the list of ingredients seems long. we read it off the computer screen in our kitchen. the kids demand attention. we lose our concentration. voila!)Our key ingredients are pine nuts, currants, and extra parsley. And lots of tomatoes.

The recipe suggests serving a salad and a basil/black pepper/ricotta mix alongside. We tried it once, but it didn't go over so well (both the salad and the ricotta mix). Instead, we serve it with rotini pasta, a family staple.

It's recipes like this that keep me from becoming a complete vegetarian.

Danny Devito's Sicilian Meatballs (our version)

The main differences between the recipe posted here and the one on RR's site is that we dropped the pinch of red pepper flakes (lima bean doesn't like spicy) as well as the salad and ricotta side.

4-5 slices of bread, torn up
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cans tomatoes (28 ounces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground sirloin
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon allspice
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup currants
1 egg

Pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.

In a small bowl, place torn up bread and pour milk over it; set aside to soak.

Drizzle a good amount of EVOO into a roasting pan, then pour in the two cans of tomatoes and crush them up with your hands or a potato masher. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and set aside while you prepare the meatballs.

In a large bowl, combine ground sirloin, garlic, parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, allspice, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, currants and the egg and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze out excess milk from the soaking bread (it should be loose and in small pieces), add it to the meat mixture and mix everything with your hands to combine.

Form 12 baseball-size balls, each about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and place them on top of the mashed tomatoes in the roasting pan. Transfer to the oven and roast until the meatballs are brown and cooked through, about 30 minutes.