Monday, March 31, 2008

Elegant Meals for Entertaining (and deadly simple)

My first comment today is that making Prime Rib at home is incredibly easy. I made a small one on the weekend. The only thing you must have is a meat thermometer. This is crucial.

I started by preheating the oven to 450 F. I know it's high but this sears and browns the meat. I put the meat in a roasting pan with onion and celery chopped large on the bottom as a rack and sprinkled the meat all around with my favorite Ryan Duffy's Steak Spice and a little Emeril's Essence. Any of your favorite beef spice mixes will do or just salt and pepper the roast. The roast cooked at 450 for 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to 350 for another 20 minutes and ours was done. It was only small. But I would never have dreamt it was done so quickly had it not been for my handy dandy thermometer. You only want it to be about 110 F internally. I know that sounds low but let it sit, tented under foil for 25 minutes. It will be perfect.

This is a great meal for company. Elegant yet easy. Roast some veggies in the same oven and you'll be sitting down to a great meal with little sweat!

Another meal fit for company was the Smoked Salmon Pasta I made on Sunday. This was inspired by a dish I saw on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares. It looked delicious but I couldn't find the recipe anywhere so I came up with my own version.

Smoked Salmon Pasta with Sugar Snap Peas
Serves 2

  • 1 cup or so of dried bowtie pasta
  • 1 tsp capers
  • 1/2 lb or 200g sugar snap peas, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh chopped dill
  • 2 -3 oz smoked salmon
  • 1/2 -3/4 cup of light cream (I used coffee cream at 18%)
  • 3 tbsp shredded parmesan, plus more for serving

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to box directions. Save 1 cup of the pasta liquid when draining.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spray pan with olive oil cooking spray if you wish.
  3. Add capers and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add sliced sugar snap peas and cook another 2 minutes.
  5. Add garlic and dill and cook for 30 seconds.
  6. Add smoked salmon at the same time you add the pasta.
  7. Toss in the cream and heat through.
  8. Add in the parmesan and mix thoroughly.
  9. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water.
  10. Serve sprinkled with a little more parmesan on top.

A glass of white wine is a great accompaniment.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One more thought on Taco Salad and a Light Hollandaise Sauce

I was thinking of having some more tasty Taco Salad tonight but I don't have any boneless chicken or lean beef to add to it. Darn! Oh wait, I do have individual servings of ground beef already made up with taco seasoning in the freezer. Yup, once again I turn to my handy, dandy freezer. When we have taco night I make a batch of the traditional ground meat with the packaged seasoning for The Kid while we have leaner chicken or beef that I season myself to cut down on the sodium. I freeze the leftovers so I have them for future taco nights. I'm thinking I could take out one freezer pack of the ground beef, add some black beans while reheating and split it between 2 main course salads. All the flavour but less sodium and fat! Perfect. Moral of the story - cook once, freeze the leftovers and you'll eat again and again!

Since Easter weekend just passed I have been in the mood for some of the more traditional Easter tastes. Hollandaise is one of them. On the weekend I made a sort of Eggs Benedict wrap. I used one slice of bacon per wrap, a weight watchers tortilla wrap, 4 eggs whites (I used the yolks for the Hollandaise) and 1 egg between 2 wraps, 1 tbsp shredded mozza cheese and Hollandaise sauce. They were really good for a Sunday Brunch meal. Let me share the Hollandaise sauce. I lightened up a bit without losing the taste.

Lighter Hollandaise Sauce

  • 1 c fat free yogurt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste (I use about 1/4 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 dashes of hot pepper sauce
  • 1 tbsp butter

  1. Blend everything but the butter together in a pan.
  2. Whisk continually over medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble.
  3. Add in the butter and continue whisking until melted.
  4. Remove from heat immediately and serve.

You can adjust how much yogurt and butter you use. You may want just a half a cup of yogurt and 2 -3 tbsp of butter. It's a personal choice but the point is that you can lighten up the sauce!

I was able to save the leftovers and reheat in a low heat microwave (power of 3 out of 10) slowly, while stopping and whisking every 30 seconds. We had them last night over Salmon and Asparagus. I was surprised because I didn't expect the Hollandaise to reheat that well. Power buttons on the microwave are a wonderful thing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Yo quiero Taco Salad!

We were suppose to have taco night on Saturday night but went out instead. Today I was going to make a Prime Rib for easter but eating out and too much chocolate meant we weren't really in the mood for a big dinner. I was in the need for a feed of veggies. I get like that sometimes if I feel like I haven't been eating right. So I decided to make a taco salad. I had some chicken breast which I sprinkled chili powder and cumin on and let sit in the fridge for 1/2 - 1 hour. I was going to use Ranch dressing and rely on the chicken for the mexican flavour but decided that just wouldn't be enough so I tinkered around. The result was fantastic! (Sorry had to go get a mini -reeses cup... damn easter bunny...)

So here is just the dressing. I'll share what I used to construct the salad in a minute.

Tex Mex Salad Dressing
3 Tbsp Light Ranch Dressing
2 Tbsp Salsa, your favorite
(this makes enough for 2 big size main course salads)
That's it. Yup! Mix or blend. That's it.

Like I said, I sprinkled the chicken breast with chili powder and cumin. Then I sauteed them in a pan.

My salad consisted of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, orange pepper, red and green onion. Just whatever I had in the house.

I also grated some cheddar cheese.

I tossed the salad ingredients with the dressing and some of the cheese.

I did take some flour tortillas and slice them into strips. I put them in the oven at 400 for about 10 minutes to brown and crisp them up.

I piled the mixed salad on some plates, sliced the chicken breast and put it on top, placed some of the crispy tortillas on top of it and sprinkled with some more cheese.

It was a huge hit around here. I'll be pulling out this dressing recipe again and again for taco salads all summer! (it's snowing and really cold here, still but I was in the mood for a salad gosh darnnit so I was having one!)

And you can use whatever meat or salad ingredients equal mexican taste for you. Want to make it more hearty, add a some drained and rinsed black beans. Want to vegetarian? Use the meatless mex ground soya mix or just add more beans!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pork Tenderloin - Stuff it!

Last night we had a little, inexpensive pork tenderloin. To make it more interesting I decided to stuff it. It doesn't take much to stuff a pork tenderloin. I cut it down the centre and pounded it out to about 1/4 inch thickness. You don't have to pound it if you can't be bothered, it's fine. I put in one slice of pancetta, yup, one slice is all it needed to give it a fantastic flavour. Then I put in some spinach that had been defrosted and I had squeezed the moisture out of it. I then sprinkled on about 2 tablespoons of feta (that was all we had) and about 3 tablespoons of shredded parmesan. I tied it up with kitchen twine but if you don't have that you can use toothpicks to keep it closed. I seared all around and then put it in the oven for 15 minutes. I let it rest for 15 and it was moist and tasty. We had it with a pile of broccoli. Super healthy meal that was properly elegant for a Friday night.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Inherited Glassware

So Manon asked if my relatives liked blue... She has no idea.

This is the pile of 93 blue glasses, several vases and candles holders (yup, all blue) that came from my Nana's house. They actually belong to her daughter, Gail who started me on the road to blue with a set of old dishes that belonged to her late husband's mother. They are from around World War 2. There were only a set of 4 but mom gave me a modern set that almost matches so I have a set of 8. They are really beautiful and on a table with everything else blue and white, they really stand out.

Back to the blue glassware. I have 4 different types of drinking glasses, 4 different type of wine glasses, 3 different types of hot beverage glasses. Each one of these is a set of 8. Plus there were 5 other large latte type mugs. I didn't even count the vases or candles holders as we were wrapping them up. There is also set of cobalt blue canisters that my Nana had had made for Gail. I really do love them! Aren't they beautiful!!?? I'm totally in love with them all. I think there was a point where Gail started buying them just for my collection since she never used them. I will cherish them for years to come.
Last week when I was cleaning I complained to my friend Alana about the greasy build up in some of the areas of the kitchen. She asked if I had a splatter screen. I thought, oh crap, another gadget. Last thing I need is another gadget in this house..... While in Halifax I stopped by Linens N Things and picked up a set of splatter screens. I'm weak, what can I say....

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Princess and the Pea

Last night I did my "Princess and the Pea" impersonation. My folks have just moved and this is my first visit to see them in their new house. I arrived to find their dog wondering aimlessly outside by himself. We came inside to find my folks arguing while assembling their bed. Nothing puts stress on a relationship like moving but that's another blog topic altogether. In the room I was to sleep in there were 2 sets of mattresses and box springs piled on top of each other. I was to sleep on 4 X 15" layers. I had to use steps to get into bed! At almost 40, I'm a little old for bunk beds....

So here's an important tip for when you move or cook at in a strange oven. The oven at this new place is a basic model with a single dial to operate the oven part. It took me an hour to cook 2 pork tenderloins (lets be clear, that is usually a 20 minute job). Luckily my mom had borrowed my oven thermometer so we were able to put that in the oven and get an accurate read. It took the oven forever to heat up, but it may be the dial because later it was totally accurate and this morning we had no problem with it. Moral of the story, when you are faced with a new oven, give yourself time to figure out it's nuances. and if you can bring along a oven thermometer, all the better. And don't cook an expensive piece of meat when using the oven for the first time. Buy something cheap to experiment with!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Austrians, Creme Brulee and A Quick Side Dish

Last week we entertained some Austrian business associates of Tim's. I forgot how much we love to entertain. And I think we are pretty darn good at. I don't think there was a topic we didn't hit on at least once during the evening. You know, I spend all day talking to this computer but it never talks back. Neither do the dogs. It's nice having someone talk back, to discuss ideas and such. I forgot how charming I was.

Tim thinks I worked so hard to pull together such a wonderful meal. Really it's pretty easy. I keep it simple and do as much ahead of time as I can. Really it's all about project management. Break the tasks down, order them so they make sense, time estimate, schedule and get to it. But I'll let Tim think I'm wonderful, talented and worked my butt off. We'll see what that gets me. On the other hand, cleaning this dog infested pig pen was a shite load of work and for that I do deserve some kudos. Luckily we have wine leftover from last week so I see a nice big glass of it in my future later this evening...

Last week's menu was as follows:

Lobster Bisque

Maple Glazed Salmon

Sauteed Spinach and Orzo

Creme Brulee

Creme Brulee is actually quite easy and a great make-ahead for entertaining. You can make them up to 2 days ahead of time and then all you have to do is brown the tops right before serving. I use a basic recipe from Fine Cooking. They have a great resource on line that also includes an article that discusses these wonderful silky custards.

But I want to share my side dish recipe for Sauteed Spinach and Orzo. You can boil the Orzo before your guests arrive so it is all ready to toss into this dish.

Ingredients: (for 4-5 servings)

  • 3/4 cup dry orzo

  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

  • 3 shallots, chopped

  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced

  • 1 box of fresh baby spinach

  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan


  1. I have everything all ready to go before my guests arrive so I can just pull this together quickly.

  2. Boil the orzo as instructed on the package

  3. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a saute pan

  4. Brown the shallots and garlic

  5. Add in the spinach

  6. Once the spinach starts to wilt (about 1 -2 minutes) toss in the pasta

  7. Toss in the cheese and serve.

It's really great with fish!

Just a note about Austrian wine. I had experiences some of the good stuff when I was in New York City last November. We stumbled across a great little Austrian Restaurant when we were looking for a place to get a drink. We ended up having an appetizer plate as well to share. It was full of Austrian meats, cheese spreads, spreads and breads. It was really lovely. My friends had beer, which they both enjoyed but I had a glass of white wine from Austria. It was really good. I didn't write down the name because in my wine lovers delusion, I assumed I would remember the name. Do I?! Of course not. It started with an 'S' and I think that was the grape name, not the brand name. Since I got back I've checked each liquor store I've been in for Austrian wines but hadn't seen anything until last week. I was able to pick up a bottle for dinner. And once again I forget the name! Okay, name's aren't my thing but you would think I could write it down if I was going to discuss it here... My point is that Austrian Wines are quite lovely so try one!

Our guests told us that almost all Austrian wine is made from little wineries where they often sell the wine on site. These places have a special license which allows them to sell anything they produce on the farm in an on-site cafe. It seems the appetizer plate we had at the restaurant in NYC was very much like something we would get at a winery cafe in Austria. How cool is that?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chicken Pot Pie

Last night I made Chicken Pot Pie. I used some leftover turkey. Some of it was from Christmas 2006! I didn't realize this until I went to unwrap it. It tasted fine. Now that's some shelf life! Anyway, I diced and partially cooked some carrots, added in some frozen cauliflower, onion powder, garlic powder and dried sage. I added some of the Ms. Dash original and a pinch of salt. Then I added in my leftover, from the freezer, gravy. Tossed in the diced leftover turkey. Warmed it all through. Added some water when it got too thick. That's it. I dished it into casserole dishes, sprinkled on some frozen peas and put the unrolled crescent rolls on top. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes and dinner was ready. It was super tasty. Even The Kid liked it and he'd never had chicken pot pie.

I made one big casserole that we ate last night.

And 2 individual casseroles to put in the freezer. It will be interesting to see how it freezes. The biggest issue really is reheating it so the crust stays firm. It will have to be in the oven.

If you don't have leftover cooked turkey in the freezer, no need to buy the pre-packaged stuff. Just bake extra the next time you bake some chicken or buy parts and bake them up for the leftovers. That way you control the salt and seasonings. Plus you can make gravy out of the pan drippings! Your half way to a chicken pot pie already!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Pillsbury Dough Boy lives on

Last night was pizza night. We do pizza crust many different ways but one of the quickest is using the refrigerated pizza dough in the tubes, you know, the Pillsbury stuff. The Kid makes his own (obscene amounts of cheese which he is responsible for grating) and everyone is happy. The best part about Friday night pizza night is Saturday morning leftover cold pizza breakfast. It's great to be able to hit Saturday morning running with breakfast good to go. And surprise, it's a healthy breakfast. Actually, in most cultures there are no specific breakfast foods. Breakfast is just like any other meal, maybe some rice or a sandwich. Not all cultures have fruit loops! So I like to pretend that we are being very international when we have our leftover pizza for breakfast.

Tonight I'm making Turkey Pot Pie. I have leftover turkey out of the freezer from Christmas, gravy from the last beer can chicken I made and I picked up some Pillsbury crescent rolls to use for the top crust (second time you've heard me say Pillsbury products because, guess what?! They were on sale last week at the Sobey's - see last post!). Just add some frozen peas and carrots and we're all set. I'm debating whether to do them in individual casseroles since I have quite a few ramekins or if I should do it as one big casserole. The benefit of doing it in individual casseroles is that I can freeze them easily and defrost them later faster. Plus I can make them customized for The Kid. Although I can't think of how I would make them any more kid friendly ...

Friday, March 07, 2008

Toblerone Biscotti

I'm waiting patiently for the coffee to finish brewing. Yesterday I made Toblerone Biscotti. I like making biscotti. Even us non-bakers can manage a biscotti recipe. After all, they're just overcooked cookies. Even I can manage to do that! And these turned out tasty even though I didn't really follow the recipe. I just threw everything in a bowl, mushed it together, made a log and baked it. So it seems you can't screw up biscotti.

The recipe is super easy.
3/4 c sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 c flour (I used half white flour and half whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
150 g of chopped almonds (I used only about 55 grams and I used natural almonds and pistachio nuts)
100 g of chopped toblerone bar

You are suppose to mix the sugar and eggs until smooth then add in the flour and baking powder. Fold in the nuts and chocolate. Form into a flat log on a greased cooking sheet.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Cool 15 minutes then cut into 1/2 inch slices. Put those slices on a cookie sheet and cook them at 325 for another 15 - 20 minutes.

I let them set on the cooling rack overnight so they get good and hard. Perfect for dipping in my morning coffee. Which is exactly what I'm doing right at this very moment. Life is good..

These days I'm trying to enjoy my beverages more. Most days I putter around all morning and then suddenly realize I've drank 3 cups of coffee (I try to only have 2 full caffeine cups per day) and I didn't really savour any of them. Now I wait until I'm sitting and can give my coffee the attention it deserves. So often we are just inhaling things today and not savouring the moment. I'm trying this with wine too. I'm only having a glass when I will give it my full attention and truly savour the moment. If I'm consuming the calories then I really should fully enjoy it!


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Sales Flyers!

Today I want to talk about sales flyers. Most of us don't bother with the sales flyers from the grocery stores. Lets face it, it's not really exciting to look at a colour brochure for stuff we have to spend our hard earned money on. No one dreams of a can of spaghetti like they do a big screen tv. Grocery flyers just aren't part of the "if I could afford it, I'd buy it" fun of the weekly flyers. But they should be part of your "I have to spend it, so I might as well get the best deal" approach to parting with your dollars.

I see what's on sale in meat and fish and start planning my menu around it. For example, this week one grocery store had a good price on frozen shrimp so I put Coconut Curry Shrimp on the menu. The shrimp were a really good price and I had been keeping my eye out for a sale so I could make this dish. I also added pork roast to the menu since the centre loin roasts were on sale (we're having it tonight). If something is on sale it usually means it's plentiful and typically fresh. Buy it!

This is especially true for produce. I devise the rest of my grocery list based on what is on sale and what I know is in season which is also priced well, looks good and tastes great. Typically these are two of the same! I got some nice Campari tomatoes and baby cucumbers at 2 for $4. I bought my cheese, bread and even toilet paper because of the sale prices. I write the name and price on my grocery list so I don't have to try and remember what it is I'm looking for, this lets me zip through the grocery store!

Take advantage of the sales at your grocery store. It someone is offering you a good price, take it! And this week, no cheap scratchy toilet paper for us, no sir, we got the good stuff - on sale of course!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Stew Secrets from my Mom

I promised I would share my mom's secret for great stew. So here it is.

You can add whatever veggies you usually do for your stew (potatoes, carrots, turnip, parsnip, etc) and of course, your beef. I'm just going to talk about the flavour base.

1 tsp chili powder
1 onion, chopped into large chunks
2 tsp minced garlic (about 3 -4 cloves)
2 tbsp white vinegar (this is the secret so don't leave it out)
6 cups beef broth
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tomato sauce (I used about 1/4 c tomato paste instead)
20 -25 shakes of Worcestershire Sauce.

This will make a large pot of stew for about 8 - 10 servings. If you are making a smaller pot, adjust the amounts as necessary.

I'm serious, these flavours are awesome. And if you can let it sit for a day or two in the fridge, the flavours only get better!

We had yet another snow storm this weekend and are forecasted 30 cm for Wednesday but +9 degrees for Tuesday. I love winter but this up and down weather is driving me crazy! Time for a bowl of stew, a hunk of good bread and maybe a Hot Toddy! Join me, won't you?!

Just a note. I made an adjustment to the Swiss Steak and Tomatoes Recipe found here after I had some out of the freezer. Tim thought the leftovers from the freezer were great but I thought a slight change to the recipe for freezing could make it even better!