Monday, August 20, 2007

Fall? Already? And Book Review

You know how I was complaining about the heat? Well it seems that summer has ended and fall is here already. The humidity is gone (my hair says thanks) and there is a chill in the wind. I love fall but it seems like summer was awfully short. However this is the Maritimes - there is a good chance the weather will change again - soon.

In the meantime I am taking advantage of the coolness to bake up some dishes. Baking up casseroles is a good way to use up the fabulous fresh vegetables that are available now and you can have meals to go just waiting for you in your freezer! Mom had given me some eggplant she had and I bought another one, a white eggplant, at the market on the weekend. So I thought I'd make up some Eggplant Parmesan. I'm not a huge fan of eggplant but smother anything in tomato sauce and cheese and I'm there! I scanned my cookbooks for a recipe (to use as a guideline). And then opened my new cookbook that I received for my birthday, Jamie's Italy. I am currently reading it from cover to cover, something I have never done with a cookbook. I'm doing this because I have such a huge appreciation for the simplicity, healthiness and wonderful flavours that come out of Italy. This book is a must have for every collection. Even if you don't cook - the recipes are simple, really sticking to true flavours. And if you can catch the series on TV, I highly recommend watching it. In one of the poorest areas of Italy a MacDonald's opened and then closed again in 3 months. No one wanted to eat there when they got such good food at home and on the streets! This book is expensive in the book stores but order it on-line and save a bunch (watch out for free shipping - you may have to order something else to go with it but, hey, we all need another good trashy novel - which you'll have time to read since Jamie's recipes are so easy and quick!)

I followed Jamie's recipe for Eggplant Parmesan. I started with a basic tomato sauce using sauteed onions, garlic, dried oregano and canned tomatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes, then toss in a little red wine vinegar and some fresh basil (you could used dried just put it in before you start the simmering time). Salt and pepper to taste and that's it! It's a really great, simple base sauce. I would have gladly had it over pasta just as it was!

To make the eggplant Parmesan you grill or saute the eggplant cut into 1/2 strips. Jamie advises not to use too much oil. I sprayed the pan but that was it. Brown it on both sides while your sauce is simmering. Only other ingredient is freshly grated Parmesan. And then you just layer it, sauce, Parmesan, eggplant. You could also add in sliced zucchini if you have lots around or make this with just zucchini. So many of us end up with more zucchini from the garden then we know what to do with. Sprinkle with some bread crumbs and I added some torn up bits of fresh mozzarella on top. Bake at 375 for 1/2 hour. That's it.

And this freezes beautifully. Now in the pit of January you have garden fresh flavours just waiting for you. God, I love my freezer...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Manhattan Inspired Seafood Chowder

Well the end result was excellent. Tim called it as good as anything you'd get in any restaurant... until he found out there was V8 in it! Then he thought I totally cheated but the end result was well worth it. Here's the recipe and variations. And this one freezes beautifully.

Serves 3 - 4 points per serving

  • 3 tbsp of diced pancetta (or back bacon but you may need to add a little oil to saute it and then the onions in)
  • 1 cup of sweet onions
  • 2 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1 398ml/14 oz. can of tomatoes, low or no sodium
  • 1 1/2 cup of low sodium V8
  • 2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning or a mix of salt, pepper, red pepper, paprika
  • 5 dashes tabassco (it won't make it too hot)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 cup of bay scallops
  • 1 fillet of haddock
  • 1/2 cup of chicken or veggie broth if needed

    Heat the saucepan or soup pot to medium high. Brown the pancetta and remove
    it from the pot. Add in the onions using the oil from the pancetta to brown it.
    Reduce heat to medium

    Add in the garlic and saute for one minute.

    Add in the can of tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to break up the

    Add in the rest of the ingredients up to and including the

    Simmer for a minimum of 15 minutes or up to an hour

    Add in the scallops, fish and broth if needed to get the right consistency
    for your liking.

    Toss in the pancetta and serve with mutigrain crusty bread.

Leave out the seafood and puree the soup and you have the best tasting homemade tomato soup! Want to make cream of tomato? Substitute the last 1/2 cup of broth for milk. I'd be tempted to add in some cheese to at the end to make it just like I used to have as a kid!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Relief from the Heat! Finally!

Will it last? Probably not but a cool summer day means it's time to think chowder! I have no idea who invented this rule but I follow it like an old medieval maritime religion. And since Tim slept in his long sleeve pajama top last night (this from a man who doesn't like to wear so much as underwear to bed in the middle of winter) I think we are definitely in chowder territory. Now, I went to mecca (also known as Halifax) earlier in the week and did nothing but eat out. So I'm looking to veggie-load today. And tomorrow I have lunch and dinner plans out... yikes. Okay, I really need to pack on the healthy food today!

Now I love a good traditional chowder but with respect to my need to veggie-load - I'm stepping outside my traditional definition of chowder. Yup, I'm going Manhattan inspired. The bonus with Manhattan versus New England (or just plain old chowder around these parts) is that Manhattan is tomato based. And, surprise! Tomatoes are a veggie. Okay, technically they are a fruit but they are part of that healthy section on the Canadian Food Guide that none of us ever get enough of. So Manhattan it is. But I just got Jamie Oliver's new cookbook "Jamie's Italy" and it has some great, simple and delicious recipes in it, including one for zuppa di baccala which is salt cod soup. You don't have to use salt cod. In fact I'm going to use frozen haddock. Of course I won't actually follow the recipe. I typically only use recipes for inspiration unless I'm making something completely new for company. I cannot wait to further dissect Jamie's book. Poor people in Italy are far healthier than most of us in North America and they keep it simple. Sounds good to me! But once again I digress. Back to tonight's dinner.

Okay so I have a plan. I got chunks of pancetta and prosciutto yesterday in Mecca (aka Halifax) so I'm going to start by dicing up a little bit of this (see the need for healthy eating as mentioned above) and browning it in the pot. I'm going to go with the pancetta. Then I'm going to add some sweet onions and then some garlic. Now the questions is where do I go from there? I don't have any potatoes in the house so I was thinking I would use Orzo (rice shaped pasta) but I don't have any of that either! Which surprised me and had I known I would have gotten some yesterday at the Italian Market. I do have small bow tie pasta and filini which is like angel hair broken in 1/2 inch sticks. Then I was thinking brown rice would be nice instead. I'm still not committed. I am going to use a small can of tomatoes and low sodium V8 juice for the broth and a nice smack of veggies. If I add some dried herbs - I'm thinking parsley, basil and bay leave- it would be nice to let it simmer to get those flavours melding. Which would work nicely with the brown rice. Both pastas I have are really small and would only take a matter of minutes to cook. I'll decide when as I make the soup.

And then there is the matter of veggies. Using the V8 juice means there is already a good amount of veggies in the dish. I do have frozen homemade roasted corn that I could add in. I was also thinking about adding in some frozen spinach. But Jamie's recipe is really simple, mirepoix (carrots, onion and celery), garlic, broth, tomatoes and fish. There is much to be said for simple. Conveniently the V8 contains the mirepoix with the tomato juice! That's something to keep in mind as we soon turn into stew and soup season... Just remember to get the low sodium version. Jamie's recipe doesn't have potatoes, pasta or rice. But brown rice would be a great fiber boast and would give us some of that great slow burning whole grain carbohydrates. However it is the first televised football game of the season and I've already requested Tim make his fantastic hummus for snacking on during the game. So we could afford to go with the lighter version. Something else I'll decide as I'm making the soup.

For the seafood I have a haddock fillet and some bay scallops. I keep them frozen and will cut the fish up right before I put it in the pot. It's a thin fillet so I can cut it easily without defrosting. This way I don't over cook the seafood and the fish tends to stay in chunks better.

I'll let you know how it turns out and hopefully I'll remember to take a pic. Here's wishing you one day of coolness during this very hot summer!

Friday, August 03, 2007

No- Cook Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Here's a recipe that's sure to please during these dog days of summer. It has be ridiculously hot around here. Everything, including breakfast for company, is going on the bbq these days.

I had come across a bag of cheap red peppers at the grocery store so I thought I would roast them up. I knew I wouldn't use them up before they went bad and roasted them is a great way to extend their life span! Roasting is easy. I just threw them on the bbq while I was bbq'ing something else. Turn them to blacken them all around. Then take them off the bbq and put them in a plastic bag. Let them cool then the skins will peel right off. Remove the seeds and you've got perfect roasted red peppers. Don't want to bother? You can buy them in the jar! Here's me making my sauce with show notes below.

Okay, here is the ingredient list
3 roasted red peppers
6 tomatoes, I used canned.
3 cloves of garlic, roasted if you prefer
2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

Toss it all in the food processor and blend. And then add salt and pepper to taste. That's it. No food processor? A blender or one of those stick/immersion blenders work too. Neither of those? Try a potato masher. You're sauce may not be as smooth but it'll work.

This recipe is also good if you have a surplus of tomatoes on hand.

This recipe makes between 4 - 6 servings but you can double or triple it and freeze the leftovers! You can heat this up on those cold winter nights. Or add some chicken or veggie broth and make a tasty roasted red pepper soup! How's that for versatility?!