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Boring Friday

I’m bored again and in the mood to ramble. (Lucky you if you’re reading this.)

After a warmish week which culminated in a HOT Thursday, I woke up to rain and a much cooler Friday.

School/work is done as the last class was yesterday and the chance of getting a call during exam week is slim. Just got my VISA bill, and though expected, the hit is a bit of an ouchy due to the plumbing bill. At least now I can use the upstairs tub after a good snaking out and the downstairs tub won’t be dripping hot water … and money. It’s the last of the big bills (knock wood) til I get my 2nd set of city taxes. Still, it means I have to be very frugal until October when I would be getting my first paycheque of the new school year.

I need to go to the library and pick up a book that I’ve got on hold, but other than that, I have no reason to go out.

So, I guess I’ll do some cooking or rather, baking.

Speaking of … I’ve been scavenging through the fridge and freezer again for meals or components to go with recent purchases.

A bit under two pounds of fresh asparagus for $3.50. Enough for four servings with minimal wastage.

A tray of five boneless and skinless chicken breasts, picked up for 40% off, means I ended up with five top cutlets. One of the cutlets became an asparagus roll-up which was crumbed and baked, along with fifteen chicken tenders from the bottom of the breasts, for supper. The other four cutlets and ten of those tenders went into the freezer. Pretty good for $10. The KFC flyer has a bucket of 8 chicken tenders (ok, they’re bigger pieces) for $10. I laughed.

PS: The bread crumbs used for the cutlet and tenders were made with my own sourdough bread.

The combo pack of six pork chops for under $10 gave me two great comfort meals of pan fried pork chops, baked asparagus, mashed potatoes and pan gravy and there are four more chops for the freezer.

With a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, my fudgy chocolate cupcakes made for a great fast dessert.

The scraps of pasta from my ravioli became tagliatelle and were combined with beef stroganoff from the freezer. Enough for three meals. I’m glad I didn’t throw away those scraps. And, a beautiful fresh mango became a mango lassi when combined with milk, sugar and some yogurt.

I HAVE baked … a tray of sourdough cinnamon rolls, most of which are looking for a good home.

It’s been a productive week in spite of not working at all.

Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.

Brioche Hamburger Buns, Hoagies and a BBQ

I’ve barbecued for at least three weekends in the last month because, miracle of miracles, it’s NOT raining.

And I like the taste of bbq’d meats.

No other explanation needed.

I was going to throw sirloin steaks, burgers and a chicken breast on the grill but switched out the last two pork chops in my freezer for the steaks, so I wouldn’t have two beef items. In anticipation of the burgers, I decided to make my own hamburger buns. My recipe makes enough dough for sixteen buns but I made hoagies with half, so I ended up with eight buns and four hoagies. Brioche breads freeze and thaw wonderfully, so that’s why I decided on an enriched rather than a lean bread recipe. It tastes good too.

Hamburgers … naked and dressed – I don’t like raw onions on my burgers but onion rings. Oh mama!!

The rest of the barbecue – Now I just have to figure out what to serve for sides in the week ahead … although I’m thinking of sticking that chicken into one of the hoagies.


Sweet Potato and Ricotta Ravioli with Prosciutto and Pea Sauce

I haven’t made ravioli from scratch in a while but after picking up a pound of ricotta cheese from the local Italian grocery store and with a medium sized sweet potato sitting on the counter in the kitchen, I had my inspiration. An economy ($2.31 for ~3.5 oz) package of prosciutto ends and a cup of frozen peas made for a tasty sauce.

Word to the wise … don’t start rolling out pasta late in the day when your kitchen is hot and you’re cranky and tired. Cause you end up rolling the pasta too thin, and then forget to cover it so it dries out. And trying to turn your thin drying pasta into sacchettini (little purses) when the tortellini shaping isn’t working out. Well, it’s not pretty. I ended up with some misshapen sacchettini and free-form square ravioli which I froze for bagging. Then I dropped the package. Cooked them anyway and covered them with the sauce and grated cheese and ate them anyway in protest.

Broken free-form ravioli covered with sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – It was delicious.

I made a couple dozen ravioli in my molds with the last of the filling, boiled them up, as well as the sacchettini, tossed them with the sauce and then froze them away for work lunch and two future meals.

RECIPE … well, here’s a list of ingredients, anyway

Pasta – 1 cup all purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 3 large eggs make 1 lb of pasta, enough for 4 people

Filling – 1 cup cooled mashed sweet potato, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1 tsp dry minced onion, 1 large egg, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, pinch or two dried garlic powder, salt (1/4 tsp) and ground black pepper (1/8 tsp) to taste. Enough for about 4 dozen ravioli at 1 tsp filling for each.

Sauce – 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 oz prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into strips, 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed

Prosciutto and pea sauce combined with the broken ravioli … pretty all on its own.

I have the trimmings of the pasta in the fridge and may make plain noodles later today. Or maybe not.

PS: Ended up with 200 gm of tagliatelle noodles.

I made some duck fat brioche dough and turned it into hamburger buns and hoagies earlier that morning for a planned bbq the next day. Watch for pictures.

Victoria Day Weekend and Palak (Spinach) Paneer

Between taking time off for a bad cold which started with the sore throat from …. well, you can guess, and a Friday without any calls, I’ve been home for six days. And doing very little cooking that I can post about.

So, this palak paneer is a stretch to be creative with very little energy.

Palak, means spinach, but the more broadly defined saag paneer, which refers to various ‘greens’ including spinach, mustard greens and fresh fenugreek leaves, is the more commonly served vegetarian dish found on Indian menus. Paneer refers to a fresh cheese which you can buy in Indian grocery stores but make, quite easily, at home.

I combined a couple of different recipes I found on line for the recipe below.

Palak (Spinach) Paneer – serves 3-4

250 grams / 8-9 oz cooked spinach*
250 grams / 8-9 oz fresh cottage cheese (paneer), cut into 1 inch cubes
3 tbsp vegetable oil

For the gravy or sauce:

1/2 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 bay leaf (medium to large)
1 onion, medium, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 or 2 fresh green chilies, finely chopped (or 1/2 tsp red chili powder)
1 pinch turmeric powder (haldi)
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dry fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi), use 2 tsp if you want a more bitter taste
1/2 tsp garam masala powder
1/4 cup whipping cream or drained plain yogurt**
a pinch of sugar
salt as required
1-2 fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped (optional)

*  I used a 10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and cooked according to package directions.
** I would have used the yogurt but I didn’t have any this time.

Blanch spinach leaves in boiling water for 3 minutes and drain well. Transfer to a large bowl of cold water with 1/2 cup of ice cubes in it and leave for 1 minutes to cold shock (stop the cooking). Drain the spinach well and puree in a food processor or blender if you want the spinach to be a fine puree. Otherwise, just chop as finely as possible.

Optional: Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Pan fry the paneer cubes until golden brown on several sides to add additional flavour and texture. Remove the paneer cubes and drain them on paper towels.

Making the gravy or sauce:

In the same oil in which you pan fried the paneer, add the cumin seeds and the bay leaf and saute over medium high heat until the cumin seeds crackle. Then add the finely chopped onions and stir well cooking until they turn a light golden colour.

Add the ginger paste, garlic paste and finely chopped green chilies, stir and saute till the raw aroma of the ginger-garlic goes away. (If using the tomatoes, add them now.) Now add the spice powders – turmeric powder, black pepper, and dry fenugreek leaves, crushing the leaves before adding.

Stir well, reduce the heat to medium and add the spinach puree. Season with salt and sugar. Stir well, simmering the gravy for 5 to 6 minutes or until it thickens slightly and the spinach is cooked well.

Add the whipping cream along with the garam masala powder and stir very well. The cream should be mixed thoroughly with the spinach gravy.

Turn off the heat, add the paneer cubes and stir them gently with the rest of the gravy so as not to break up the cubes.

Serve the palak paneer hot with various Indian breads ie. rotis, naan, chapatis, paratha or cumin basmati rice or biryani rice.

I had to eat even though I was sick so I made some other quick and easy dishes …

pan-fried boneless pork chops with leftover enchilada quinoa and

roasted chicken drumsticks which had been marinated in Italian salad dressing, steamed broccoli dressed with sweet Thai chili sauce, vanilla bean panna cotta topped with a compote made with frozen blackberries, blueberries, orange juice and some orange zest.

I even made another sourdough tartine loaf with dried dill weed and minced onion. Great as a snack with some butter or toasted and spread with cream cheese.

Oh, and there was a sourdough pizza and sourdough pancakes with macerated strawberries and strawberry coulis.

Happy Mother’s Day (2017) … Fudgy Chocolate Cake

In many households, dads barbecue to save mom from having to cook on this, their special day. Which you might think is a very considerate thing to do.

My question is … who does the dishes and cleanup, let alone did the shopping, for what gets bbq’d?

Dad?

I DON’T think so. 🙂

For all the mothers (step-mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers etc) out there, I hope you had a great day surrounded by your loved ones. Who show their appreciation to you for all you do, year round.

I made a fudgy chocolate cake yesterday which many mothers would appreciate. Instead of a cake however, I made a dozen cupcakes and two mini cakes that would serve two people. They were frosted very simply with a ganache (whipping cream and chocolate) and there’s a pretty strawberry sauce to go with it.

Strawberry Sauce – makes about a cup of sauce

3 tbsp water
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup thinly sliced strawberries
3 tbsp granulated sugar
a squeeze of lemon juice (it’ll liven up the flavour of the sauce)

Stir together the water and cornstarch in a small bowl until combined.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, stir together the cornstarch mixture, sliced strawberries, lemon juice and sugar.

Bring mixture to a simmer, whisking frequently and cook for a minute or two. Cool for 5 minutes.

Puree in a food processor.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl.

I bbq’d a sirloin steak, a large pork chop, several pork souvlaki skewers for the rest of the week and some pineapple rings. The steak was served with a baked potato (cooked in the microwave and finished on the bbq), sauteed white mushrooms and a simple salad.

 

Cupcakes and frosting

 

Quinoa Goes South of the Border

Cooking for one is a challenge.

On the plus side, you don’t have to cook as often. So the preparation and cooking time for one dish (which will give you six to eight meals) is reduced overall. On the negative side, especially with new dishes, what happens if you don’t LIKE the result? You end up having to eat it for six to eight meals. And some things don’t freeze well. If you’re smart, you halve the recipe to make that particular dish. But then, you often end up with half cans of sauces, beans, veggies etc that are needed for the dish.

Another negative is that you sometimes end up having to buy pre-packaged perishable foods for the dish you’re making that you don’t always use up before they go bad.

This past weekend I brought home a lot of pantry items. Some of them were intended for dishes in which the remaining quinoa in my pantry would be used. And then, I ran across a 900 gm package of white quinoa which was reduced to about 45% of its regular price. So I bought the bag planning to save the pricier tri-colour quinoa for dishes where appearance mattered. Luckily, such items have a long shelf life. But I ALSO bought a hard taco kit cause I have had a Tex-Mex craving for a while. And my Cinco de Mayo meal was just … sad. And it was on sale. 🙂

I DID have to buy some ground beef to put in the tacos, though, because I didn’t have any in my freezer. And old cheddar cheese because I was low on that too. Luckily the cheese was a dollar off.

(The JOYS of grocery shopping.)

Anyway, at this point, I had decided on a Tex-Mex menu for the weekend.

To spare you further headaches of the mental gymnastics I went through, my Sunday cooking ended up being beef tacos, a quinoa enchilada casserole and some mac and cheese (leftover pasta shells) as a side to one of my future weekday meals.

Quinoa Enchilada Casserole – serves 4

2 cups cooked quinoa (1/2 cup rinsed and drained quinoa, 1 cup chicken stock and 1/2 tsp salt, though you can use vegetable stock)
1/2 cup fresh or frozen and thawed corn
1/2 cup black beans (if canned, drained and rinsed well)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced finely
1/2 cup grated old cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend

Enchilada sauce

1 clove garlic, smashed and sauteed over medium heat in 1 tsp vegetable oil til golden, discard garlic retaining the seasoned oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp chipotle in adobo
1-2 tbsp water, as needed

Topping

1/2 cup grated old cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend

Garnish

1-2 diced Haas avocados
1/4 cup green onions thinly sliced on diagonal

Preheat oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Lightly oil a medium sized casserole or other baking dish.

In a large sauce pan, combine the seasoned oil, tomato sauce, cumin, salt and pepper, chipotle and 1 tbsp water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Add additional water if sauce is too thick.

Combine the quinoa, corn, black beans, jalapeno pepper and cheese in a medium sized bowl. Turn out into prepared baking dish and press down lightly.

Spoon the enchilada sauce over the top. Sprinkle the 2nd amount of cheese over the top.

Cover tightly with a sheet of aluminum foil, or the lid if using a casserole dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Let stand for 5-10 minutes and serve, garnishing each individual portion with diced avocado and green onion.

Expect to see more quinoa recipes … soon.

U is for Udon (Noodles that is)

Noodles are ubiquitous in many cuisines and udon, a soft, thick and chewy wheat noodle, is one of the many Asian forms I hadn’t tried until I found them fresh at my local, cut-rate, grocery store.

Vacuum sealed in individual portions, they’re removed from the package and added to a pot of boiling water where they take only three minutes to cook to the al dente stage. Rinsed thoroughly in cold water and then well drained, they can be served either hot or cold.

Closeup

Dan Dan Noodles … the noodles are topped with the meat sauce, sambal oelek and green onions … stir it up and dig in.

Tofu and red miso soup served over a half package of udon noodles with a poached egg for garnish.

Easter Sunday (and Easter Monday) Dining

Sorry for the delay in posting … no real reason.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend with friends and family. Four days off seems like a lot but, amazingly, it’s Monday already and they flew by. It was a mild weekend so I went outside and bbq’d a tray of lamb shoulder chops, a package of asparagus and a package of jumbo hot dogs for my Easter dinner. It was all delicious.

Supper – Chickpea soup with a crispy kale garnish and the lamb chops, kale salad, sweet potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Instead of buns or rolls, I used part of the dough from the traditional Romanian Easter bread, pasca, which I posted already, to make a pull-apart braided cross.

And here’s the star of the meal. The cheese filling is an accent not the main feature.

I cut some of the flowers from the front ‘garden’ for my Easter table and though the daffodils are all faded (they were gorgeous last weekend) the narcissus are beautiful, as always. My dad’s plantings are doing him proud yet again.

And speaking of plants, I planted a small egg tray (2 seeds in each of 6 cups) of lavender seeds a couple of weeks ago but there’s no sign of any seedlings yet. I’m not quite sure why I decided to plan them, but I have had this package of seeds for a while so I thought I’d give it another try in the face of previous fails.  UPDATE (04/22) : only 1 seedling germinated. It was never a very successful package of seeds so I suspect there was something wrong from the source.

I’m debating on what else I should plant this year from my collection of seed packets. Mostly herbs since that’s mostly what I have. Basil (Italian and Thai), some shiso since none of the four or so lovely plants I had in the house over-wintered successfully indoors, from the fall planting. One leaf after another dropped off until all I was left with was a bare stalk with faded blossoms on it. I suppose I could have gathered the seeds but I didn’t plan ahead. As to the mitsuba, I have one very leafy plant sitting on the window sill in the entry way. I pinched off the older faded leaves as a new furl appeared in the center and now I have huge leaves on it. The pot isn’t very large or deep but I’m wary of transplanting in case the shock causes them all to drop off.

It seems like the sage plant I bought from the city market has overwintered successfully outside without any type of covering but the rosemary … I’m pretty sure it’s dead. Thyme, oregano and mint plants were also in the pots but it’s too soon to tell if they’re going to come back.

How to Eat Out on a Budget

The answer is .. you don’t.

At least, if I do, it’s very rare these days.

Dim sum, sushi and Red Lobster are my only dining out treats, but even they are quite rare … a few times a year.

Let’s do the math of dining out in comparison to cooking at home.

The last time I went out for AYCE sushi, I spent $17 and change. And that didn’t include a $3 tip.

In comparison, I spent $10 ($14 regular price with a 30% discount 30%) on a smoked picnic shoulder ham, and another $7 for a package of 4 fresh, skinless, bone in chicken breasts. Sometimes you can find boneless chicken breasts on deep discount.

After boiling the ham, I ended up with 18 cups of broth. I used half of the broth to make 11 cups/servings of ham and bean soup. I used 2 cups of diced cooked ham in the soup and still had enough ham left over for eight generous servings for other meals.

As to the chicken breasts, which were big enough to serve two people each if just simply breaded and baked, the possible usages are plentiful. Another option is turning the meat into breaded cutlets or chicken fillets.

Admittedly, chicken and pork are the most inexpensive proteins available … $2 – 2.50 a pound. Fish and seafood are a lot pricier. And a premium steak. The savings of cooking at home aren’t as obvious, but it’s still cheaper than dining out … two meals in for the price of one meal in a restaurant.

Every time I get tempted to dine out, I do the math.

Although, being frugal in my grocery shopping means that I CAN afford to treat myself occasionally.

What’s your favourite dining out treat? Do you eat out as much as you used to 5 yrs ago, 10?

ETA: I spent $18 on this name brand (Butterball) turkey bought frozen for $1.49 a pound. Lots of breast meat, thighs turned into a spicy Indian curry dish, roasted wings and drumsticks, turkey and rice soup, giblet and rice dressing, delicious gravy and the carcass will end up in a big pot turkey stock.