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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 reach into the bottom of the cooking barrel.

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)
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.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl and Matzoh Ball Soup

I’m always up for trying another cuisine and one of the blogs I follow often has very interesting Korean recipes. Of course, the most famous Korean dish is probably kimchi … and one day, I may try to make my own. However, I’m not fond of fermented vegetables and cabbage is a new addition to my palate so it will be a while.

Beef however, as found in the famous grilled dish, bulgogi, is something that this meat lover can get all over. Getting sirloin or rib eye steak sliced paper thin for the dish isn’t in my budget, though, so this much more affordable ground beef dish is a tasty substitute. You can google for a recipe but I started with this one. I added two things … 1/4 tsp of gochujang for heat and 1 tbsp of fish sauce for a more complex flavour.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl

Plating was pretty simple though, if I LIKED kimchi, I would have served some on top of the beef bowl. Sauteed bok choy is something I want to add next time. A fried egg over easy or a poached egg adds a creamy texture when broken up and stirred into the meat and rice below.

Matzoh Ball Soup

I used the recipe on the Manischewitz matzoh meal box for the matzoh balls.

I haven’t made matzoh balls in ages but I ran across a canister of matzoh meal in the cupboard so I dug out a container of turkey stock from the freezer and made this. My dad would have enjoyed the matzoh balls almost as much as he liked my mom’s home made egg noodles.

You want a nice spongy texture inside your matzoh balls so have a light touch when shaping them.

Beef Duo – Curry and Individual Pot Pies

NOTE: I made the curry and the duck fat pastry as directed by the recipes in the links … ok, I used water instead of vodka in the pastry cause I didn’t want to waste the vodka. The filling for the pot pies started with the recipe on Allrecipes but I made some changes as briefly noted below.

I made the mistake of freezing an entire tray (2.6 lbs) of stewing beef when I brought it home so I wanted to get creative when I cooked it.

I recently saw an intriguing recipe for Punjabi Beef and Spinach curry which I wanted to make. It’s not a pretty dish when done, but the combination of herbs and spices sounded like they’d make a flavourful dish. I browned all the beef and set aside 1 pound for the second dish, a pot pie.

Beef pot pies are a great way of stretching your meat to serve more people and getting some veggies into your diet at the same time. I chose to do individual pies so I could freeze away the extras for future meals without worrying about the filling oozing out and making a mess or drying out.

Inside the pot pie … I think I need to make a bit more gravy but just adding some more broth which would make the gravy thinner should solve the issue.

I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes though I made some adjustments to the technique including making a roux based gravy, with the liquid used to simmer the beef (~1/2 cup), to which I added a rounded tablespoon of dried French onion soup mix and about a cup of chicken stock.

And, instead of a frozen pie crust, I made a flavourful pastry with some duck fat instead of using all butter.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/Casserole

I first tasted this dish at a very expensive restaurant in Chicago while visiting there with some friends. We stayed at the Renaissance Blackstone Hotel, in walking distance of other famous landmarks including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium which we visited. We even walked all the way to the Water Tower Place for some window shopping. It was a memorable visit long before my mobility issues.

For a simple French peasant dish, there are a lot of ‘expert’ opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do when making this glorified pot of baked beans.

As you know, for Christmas dinner, I roasted a duck very simply and sliced and froze away both breasts, one of the legs, the carcass and some trimmed meat from the back. I had visions of a hoisin duck wrap with the breasts. And with the leg … well, I made duck gravy with the drippings and froze that away as well. I can’t remember exactly WHY I decided to make a duck cassoulet. I think I saw one posted on FB and had an A-HA moment.

In any case, since I’m home this week and snow was predicted midweek, I thought it would be the perfect time to give the cassoulet a try.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – single portion with a breadcrumb crust

Just a bit of broth left at the end makes for a perfect cassoulet

5 Steps in Making a Cassoulet

Step 1: Soak the beans – This step and the next can be eliminated if you buy canned beans. Drain and rinse well and go straight to Step 3. In this instance, I added a generous tablespoon of salt to the soaking liquid as I wanted to see if that would affect the cooking time. It’s also been suggested that this will give the salt more time to penetrate the beans and flavour them.

Step 2: Cook the beans – You don’t have to cook the beans until they fall apart, just until they’re no longer crunchy, as you’ll be cooking them some more with your meats.

Step 3: Brown the meat – The meat used is a matter of debate. Duck, lamb (mutton) and pork, in several forms, may be used. The lamb is often omitted, which I did as well. Chicken may be substituted for the duck. And then, there’s a question of fresh or smoked. I’ve already mentioned that I was using leftover roasted duck, about a pound in total. For pork, I went with fresh pork belly, with the rind removed, and cut into portion sized chunks, as well as two raw apple sausages. I wanted to use raw garlic sausages, but my regular butcher didn’t have any, and I forgot to check at the other one at the market. (duh!!)

Step 4: Prepare the crust – This step is also a matter of debate. Some cooks swear by a crunchy crust made of fresh bread crumbs fried in duck fat, spiked with garlic (fresh or dry) and fresh, chopped parsley with a bit of stock to moisten it before it’s spooned generously over the top of the cassoulet. Pat the crumbs down gently and bake your cassoulet until the top is brown and crunchy. For other cooks, a ‘natural’ crust formed by the broth as it cooks down is preferred.

I was GOING to make the breadcrumb topping but then found myself with only 2 TBSP of breadcrumbs in my breadcrumb jar and no bread in the house/freezer that I could make more out of. I was too lazy to run to the local bakery and buy breadcrumbs so I made a single portion of the cassoulet in one of my ramekins with the breadcrumbs I had.

Step 5: Assemble and bake – Use a casserole dish large enough to hold all your beans, meats and enough liquid to just cover the beans. You will bake the contents for at least an hour until the beans and the meat are cooked through and then uncover and continue cooking to reduce the amount of liquid. You’re not making a soup but you DO want some liquid left. If your bean mixture gets too dry, you can spoon some of the reserved bean cooking liquid or stock over each individual portion before serving.

Duck and Pork Cassoulet/ Casserole … finished dish

Duck and Pork Cassoulet – serves 6

Beans and meats for your cassoulet

1 pound dry navy beans, soaked overnight along with 1 tbsp salt
1 pound duck meat, legs and or breasts
1 pound fresh pork belly, rind removed and cut into 4-6 portions
1/2 pound (2) fresh pork sausage, garlic preferred but apple was used

For the duck stock

1 duck carcass
6 cups of water, enough to cover the duck carcass
~ 1 tsp salt
1 small onion, ends trimmed and outer skin removed
1 carrot, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 2-3 pieces
1 stalk celery, rinsed, trimmed and chopped into 3-4 pieces

For the bouquet garni – wrapped in cheesecloth and tied closed

1 clove garlic, whole, root end trimmed and paper husk removed
2-3 dry bay leaves
6-9 black peppercorns
1/4 tsp dry thyme

Cooking the beans/making the stock

In a large stock pot combine the soaked navy beans, water, duck carcass and bouquet garni. Bring just to the boil, skim off any scum that floats to the top, reduce the heat until the contents are just simmering, cover and cook 45 min to 1 hr or until the beans are just barely tender. Remove the carcass to a bowl. Let cool and pick off any meat from the carcass which you’ll add to the cassoulet during the assembly.

Remove and discard the bouquet garni, onion, carrot and celery pieces.

Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid for assembling and cooking the cassoulet.

For the cassoulet

6 cups cooked navy beans
2 – 2 1/2 cups duck stock or bean cooking liquid
2 tbsp duck fat
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 tbsp tomato paste

For crumb topping

2 – 2 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 – 2 tbsp duck fat

Preheat the oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Place a large dutch oven on the burner set to medium heat and when hot, add the trimmed off rinds from the pork belly. Render out the pork fat and then add the meaty cubes of pork belly. Brown on all sides then transfer to a large dish. Brown the sausages on both sides, cut each into 2-3 pieces and add to the dish with the cubes of pork belly.

Drain off all the pork fat from the casserole. Add 2 tbsp duck fat to the casserole and saute the diced onion over medium heat just until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the minced garlic and saute for another minute or two. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes to dry out the tomato paste. Add a cup of the bean cooking liquid/duck stock and scrape up browned bits from the bottom. Add the beans and as much liquid to just cover the beans. Nestle the meats into the broth, bring to the simmer and then cover the dutch oven and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for an hour.

Even without a crumb topping, you’ve got a tasty dish … a bit of fresh parsley scattered over the top would be perfect

Prepare the crumb crust by toasting the garlic in the duck fat, if using fresh minced garlic, in a large saute pan. Otherwise, toast the breadcrumbs, dried garlic powder and the dried or fresh parsley in the duck fat. Add a splash or two of bean cooking liquid to the pan. Remove the dutch oven from the oven and pat the crumb crust over the top of the cassoulet.

Return the dutch oven to the oven and continue cook for another half hour or so before checking the level of liquid left.

You may turn on the broiler on high for 2-2 1/2 minutes to finish the browning if your liquid has reduced enough. Check carefully as you don’t want to burn your crumb topping.

Spoon into each individual bowl making sure there’s a bit of sausage, pork belly and duck in each portion.

Garnish with some fresh parsley before serving.

Happy New Year! … Leg of Lamb Roast and Oreo Cheesecake

Sorry for the belated post but I’ve been a bit lazy so I’ve got a bunch of stuff to share.

I made an Oreo cheesecake to go with my simple boneless leg of lamb roast New Year’s dinner.

The slices I cut for my dinner were from the fatty end of the roast and a BIT underdone so the roast, including the slices you see on the plate, went back into the oven for another 15 minutes. (Lesson learned, try the directions ON the package before you get creative.) The lamb looked like the picture below when I ate it.

The much nicer end of the roast

I didn’t have a lot of inspiration for a pretty cheesecake plating so here’s a profile shot.

Most of the cheesecake went into the freezer.