Thursday, September 25, 2008

slow roasted tomatoes and life metaphors

What do you do with two quarts of baby tomatoes delivered to your door? That was the situation I found myself in two weeks ago when I let some of the vegetables we had been receiving pile up in our fridge.

So, to be honest, I had previously been drooling over images of slow-roasted tomatoes, and I was purposely trying to hang on to the tomatoes so I would have enough to fill a cookie sheet or two. It was a lot easier than saving the blueberries, go figure.

Did I mention I'm in the middle of a career change? No, probably not because I don't blog about much here except food and my kids. Anyway, I have two kids in daycare/preschool and time on my hands to cook and blog look for my next big project.

Roasting these tomatoes became my first project of the morning (I aim high).

Figuring out what I want to do next is a little like choosing to slow roast tomatoes instead of eating them some other way. Instead of rushing to find the fastest way to get back to a regular salary, I'm taking the time to really figure out what I would be happiest doing.

But slow-roasted tomatoes. I took my two favourite recipes from Bon Appetit and Smitten Kitchen and combined them. I liked the ingredients from the Orangette's recipe but the hands-on work involved with the Smitten Kitchen was far easier (put them in the oven for three hours and forget about them). (I like a quality end-result, but not without too much fussing)

At about the 1.5 hour mark, I started to smell the sweet smells of the olive oil and tomato juices. My stomach growled. Visions of tomatoes with goat cheese, tomatoes in pasta, danced in my head. But I had another hour and a half left to wait.

I ate lunch. I waited (patience-I have a lot).

And then..they were done. I scooped them into a bowl, drizzled more olive oil on, grated some fresh garlic and topped it with chopped parsley. Then, into the fridge to let the flavours meld.

When they came out --and I did serve them with dinner to my family-- they were delicious. We ate them on their own. No cheese, no bread.

If only tomato season weren't almost over...

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
I took the elements I liked from the recipes posted at Smitten Kitchen and Bon Appetit. Slow-roasting tomatoes is easy --real easy, no matter which recipe you choose. And in my opinion, pretty hard to mess up. And it made me feel like anything I served with it would be that much fancier.

1 cups (or more) olive oil
2 quarts of cherry, grape or small Roma tomatoes, halved
dried oregano
dried thyme
dried rosemary
1 3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh Italian parsley, minced

My preparation
Preheat oven to 225°F.
1. I cut each tomato in half--crosswise and arranged them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up.
2. I drizzled olive oil over each tomato, just enough to make them glisten.
3. I sprinkled the oregano, thyme and rosemary, sugar, salt and pepper over the tomatoes. Like Smitten Kitchen, I went easy on the herbs, which let the tomato taste come through. The sugar, from the BA recipe, was just for kicks.
4. The tomatoes went in the oven for about three hours. I could should have left mine longer than 3 hours. They were supposed to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside– I think mine were more on the juicy side.

This is where I reverted to following Bon Appetit:
5. I let them cool, then layered them in a bowl and sprinkled garlic and parsley over each layer, then added more olive oil.
6. I put them in the fridge, I let the ones I hadn't eaten sit for a few days and then took them out to serve at room temperature, as recommended (and I forgot the baguette, AGAIN)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

an orzo revelation

Orzo has never been one of my favorite pastas. Maybe because the few times I have had it, either it has been cooked incorrectly (leaving it sticky and clumpy), paired with the wrong kind of sauce (it really didn't do much for me mixed with pesto and served as a side like rotini or fettucini), or left me feeling less than wowed as an ingredient in a salad.

You would think I'd avoid eating it, but for some reason, I keep trying to find a way that works for me.

This week, I think I figured a way out - add it to a stew or soup. Okay, so maybe for most people this is an obvious option, but for me it was a revelation. I've never been big on eating either, but they are easy to prepare, and nutritious (and that's always a consideration with kids!). I am slowly finding recipes that I really like. So that's why it took me so long to come around to this discovery. I only made my first beef and barley soup last winter, too...

I threw the orzo into a Tuscan Bean Stew with Sausage (courtesy of the Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet) as it was simmering. It served a few purposes*: one, it balanced out the food groups in this meal and replaced the missing bread that I forgot to buy AGAIN. Two, it gave me a chance to use up an ingredient that I have in my cupboard. (Reason number three, it gives me a pasta dish I can submit to Presto Pasta Nights, started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. She's hosting this week, too. Check out the roundup of pasta dishes when it appears on Friday.)

It turned out really well. Adding it to the stew gave the orzo just the right amount of liquid (no clumping!). Since the pasta has no real taste of its own, the spices from the sausage and other ingredients continued to shine.

And the whole dinner provided a substantial amount of substinence for two little boys who wanted to run around the playground until it got too dark.

Tuscan Bean Stew with Sausage and Cabbage (and Orzo!)

Serves 8

The pictures above show a rotini as well as the orzo - I suppose you could use any pasta, but I think orzo really is the best choice. I sourced the recipe from The Yummy Mummy Cooks Gourmet. Kim writes captivating posts that make her life with two toddlers seem like a wonderful adventure every day. The original recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.

Table salt
2 large tins of good quality cannelini beans - I use Eden's Organic 14 fl oz or 398 mL size
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
1 dash of fresh or dried oregano to taste
1 large onion, chopped medium (1 1/2 cups)
2 medium celery ribs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (3/4 cup) - I didn't have celery this time so I added extra carrots
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (1 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves peeled and crushed
4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium if you like)
3 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 cups orzo, uncooked
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes drained and rinsed
1/2 medium head Savoy cabbage, cut into 1-inch pieces
Ground black pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut up sausage into small pieces and place in an oven safe pot. Cook in olive oil until it nearly loses its raw color, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to paper towel-lined plate.
3. Add onion, celery, and carrots to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes.
4. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Stir in broth, water, bay leaves and beans. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer.
6. Add sausage and the orzo.
7.Transfer pot to oven, and cook about 30 minutes, until bubbling hot.
8. Remove pot from oven and stir in cabbage, oregano and tomatoes.
9. Discard bay leaves and season stew with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, use back of spoon to press some beans against side of pot to thicken stew.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

baking, berries and kids

The Bean and I are on our way to establishing what I hope will be an ongoing routine. Every so often on a Friday afternoon, we head for the kitchen while the Boo naps. I put on my baking apron with the red and white stripes and the Bean puts on his..errr..."apron". Then we get all the ingredients out to bake a special treat.

I read the recipe and measure things out. He's in charge of dumping the ingredients into the bowl and stirring "like a hurricane". It's all part of my master plan to teach the Bean how to cook and eat good food.

This past week, I decided to make Blueberry Crumb Bars from the Smitten Kitchen. I've had this recipe on my to-make list since she posted it in July. It took me that long to get around to making them because the blueberries kept finding their way into the kids' snack cups instead of the mixing bowl. And then I decided that I wanted a real pastry cutter, instead of the two knives I have been using to make my pie crusts.

I love baking with the Bean. Sure, he got a little impatient and mid-stir and got down off the chair to line up my measuring cups along the windowsill. But he came back to help me finish. And of course, sample some of the blueberries. He even likes to mimc mommy and take photos of the food -- with sometimes better results than me (see below).

BeanPhotos: midway through and the final result, ready to serve

Like most other desserts in our house, this one barely lasted 48 hours. We polished off the last crumbs on Sunday night. And we only shared it with one other adult. Seriously, sometimes I think we need a little more self control. Or maybe I need to triple the recipes.

Smitten Kitchen Blueberry Crumb Bars
original source recipe from
The only two things I changed from the Smitten version were the type of sugar and flour. Otherwise I followed this recipe to the T. Or should I say B? I'm keen now to try the suggested variation with cranberries and orange instead of blueberries and lemon.

1 cup organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cold butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one lemon

4 cups fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.
2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest.
3. Use a fork or pastry cutter (also known as pastry blender in some parts) to blend in the butter and egg until the dough is crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.
4. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries.
5. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.
6. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown.
7. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

no shoes, no shirt, no service.

Here's a question that has been bothering me for years. We've all been to those restaurants where they post this sign on or near the door:


I've always wondered: what would happen if someone walked in wearing only a shirt and shoes? Would they have to serve that person? (and no, I'm not the type of person to try and find the answer out first hand...)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

farmer's market pasta

This week, I was inspired by the plethora of vegetables in my fridge to create a version of a pasta primavera. In this case, I think primavera is a bit of a misnomer, given that the current weather is definitely not spring-like where I am. In fact, the last few days have alternated between blazing summer heat and downright fallish rains. I guess that's September for you.

But back to the vegetables. Our local grocery store (the one within walking distance of our house) shut down unexpectedly while we were on vacation. We would shop their regularly for fruits, vegetables, dairy and meat, so the closure left a huge void in our shopping patterns. For almost two weeks we scrambled. We try to drive as little as possible, so we had to really think about our shopping trips and plan ahead more than ever.

One of the solutions we found was to sign up for delivery of farm-fresh vegetables and selected fruits to our home (it's like CSA, but we can use the website to customize our delivery and it runs year round). We got our first delivery last week. Zucchini, tomatoes, beets, potatoes, leeks, wild blueberries, carrots, peaches and peppers were just a few of the things included in our box.

Two days to go before our next delivery though, I still had a fridge full of vegetables. I had to act fast. So I pulled out a recipe for pasta primavera from one of my usual sources and used it as a guideline for prepping the veggies for our dinner.

I chose my vegetables carefully to try and obtain a good balance of different colours. I used a combination of steaming and sautéing to make the vegetables as tender as possible. If we'd had a good quality parmesan, I would have thrown that in, but as it turned out, all we had was the shakeable stuff.

The end result: a pasta that everyone enjoyed, especially my little Bean. It's not often that he gobbles up his dinner and asks for seconds--praise from my toughest critic.

After a long absence, I am submitting this dish to Presto Pasta Nights, started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. She's hosting this week too.

If I were between the ages of 4 and 13, this would also be a good dish to submit to, an initiative of the Canadian government to make fruits and vegetables fun for kids.

pasta agricola
I'm calling this dish pasta agricola, because according to google, agricola is one of the Italian words for farm*. I like it because it gives a nod to the primavera source, but also to the source of the vegetables - which are all farms that are local to my area (within 50 for some items, and a little higher for others (like the peaches). In reality all I did was cook up the vegetables I had on hand and add them to pasta. You could really use just about any vegetable.

*If someone who speaks Italian wants to confirm this or shoot it down in the comments, go ahead!

1 zucchini, chopped into small cubes
3 carrots, sliced thinly (1/2 cm or so) and then chopped in half
1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup peas - frozen or fresh
225 g of wholewheat rotini (1/2 of a 16 oz bag)
1/2 cup grated parmesan

If you use the stovetop method of steaming vegetables, fill two pots out for boiling water. If you microwave-stean, I can't help you with directions. I use a metal steamer in my pot with about an inch and a bit of water. The pasta pot should have enough water to cover all your pasta plus about half an inch to an inch more. The water should be boiling for both the pasta and the vegetables before you put them in.

Cook your pasta according to instructions (usually 8-10 minutes in rapidly boiling water for al dente consistency). At about the 6 minute mark, add in the frozen peas.

Steam the carrots and the zucchini until tender-soft and set aside (about 5-8 minutes). Sauté the red pepper in a pan with the olive oil until it is tender (4-5 minutes)

Drain everything and toss in one large bowl. Mix in an additional 1-2 tbsp of olive oil and the parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.

Other possible substitutions:
  • green beans
  • corn instead of peas
  • cherry tomatoes (it is tomato season after all, and I have my eye on a few recipes for slow roasted tomatoes here and here)
  • sweet potatoes/orange yams

Do you have any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

on blogging and brain-freeze

Blogging is hard.

I've been at this one now for 6 months, and all I can say is that I find it difficult to be happy with the way I am writing. I can't help but compare my blog to some of the ones out there that I find interesting -- either because they have great photography or great writing (for some examples, see my blog roll to the right). Lately, I feel like I have neither...though I know my family, at least, would say that's not true.

But sometimes you need more than positive input from your family. I'm looking into some creative writing courses to give me some new perspective.

Until I recover from my writer's block, here's a selection of some of the food-related things that are percolating in my brain:

Smoked salmon-wrapped scallops: One of the best seafood meals I had this summer was at the Green House on Main in Shediac, NB. My sisters-in-law and I had lunch there as part of a "girls' day out". In a menu full of dishes like crispy salmon cakes, seafood chowder and fresh lobster, it really stood out. So much so that all four of us wound up ordering it, because not one us could fathom the idea of sharing it. Five fresh, huge scallops hugged tight by a thin slab of smoked salmon, served with fresh fruit, a green salad and a wedge of lemon.

more of my favorite dishes from Hollyhock: I went back to the Spreads and Dips section of the cookbook and pulled out the recipe for the white bean and sage dip (my Food Co-op order with a caseload of white cannellini beans finally came in!). It was delicious, especially when I spread it on a hearty slice of wholewheat bread and ate it with the last of my spinach and green garlic soup [recipe courtesy of Orangette]. One of the most perfect pairings I have ever eaten in my entire life, because both things have very subtle flavours and smooth textures that played off each other in the most wonderful way....

not-just-the-same-old pasta dishes: Whether by design or by accident, I have not submitted a post to Presto Pasta Nights in quite a while (I'm afraid to go back and count the weeks). Pasta has turned into a bit of a side-serving with something else kind of dish, and as a result, I have not put much effort into finding new and interesting ways to serve it. I tried creating a couple of dishes without a recipe, but I think I still need to experiment a bit more before I share anything with the blogging community. (pasta with blueberries was a bomb, but couscous with roasted beets, pecans and feta cheese had promise). So hopefully, I'll be able to come up with something to submit in time for my turn to host.

One of the bigger topics that keeps rolling around in my head (and one which I'm not quite sure what to with yet) is the whole issue of where food comes from. I've been attracted to things like The Omnivore's Dilemma and a National Geographic article on the importance of soil to the world's food supply. I'm probably not going to turn this blog into a soapbox for better growing practises, but I am pretty sure that what I am reading will have an effect on my cooking and blogging.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

berries. cheese. chicken. pasta. don't.

So I took four ingredients that my little Bean always wants to eat for lunch when asked, and wondered what would happen if I tried putting them together in a pasta dish.

In to the bowl went wholewheat pasta, feta cheese. leftover grilled chicken with pesto and blueberries.

It looked interesting and colourful, but the Boo's reactions to this combination spoke volumes. He picked out all the blueberries first, then ate the chicken, then ate the pasta and cheese. Not one of my best conconctions, unfortunately, so it's back to the kitchen.

I'd like to think there's still possibilities. Couscous instead of rotini? Halloumi cheese instead of feta?

Let the experimentation begin.