Category Archives: sides

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.

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.

It’s All Gravy … Tomato and Duck

My mom only made one kind of gravy.

It started with bacon fat.

About once a month, my dad would slice up slab bacon with the thick rind on it, like in “the old country”, for the two of them. It took forever to render down enough of the fat to get any bacon grease but the results were worth it. My brother and I liked the regular kind of bacon – thin slices, plumped up with water so it didn’t have a lot of flavour – but it crisped up quickly and the drippings were SO tasty.

After frying up a pound or so of the bacon in her old cast iron frying pan, my mom would drain off most of the fat, leaving a few tablespoons in the pan, and add about the same amount of flour. She’d whisk the flour into the fat and cook the mixture (roux) for a while. The flavouring was about half a small can of Unico brand tomato paste. And then she’d add water and cook it up until it got nice and thick.

A bit of salt, and, at the end … well, each of us would add some of that tomato sauce or gravy to a soup bowl and dip in chunks of Italian bread and a few strips of bacon for a simple but filling brunch washed down with a cup of hot coffee.

Since she never measured anything, sometimes there’d end up being a lot of smooth, tangy and tasty tomato gravy. And sometimes, it would be lumpy and the flavour would be just slightly flat. Still, I never remember there being any leftovers.

Weekend Brunch – I didn’t have any bacon to fry up but I boiled up a smoked picnic shoulder ham and sliced off some of the uneven pieces and served it with tomato gravy and slices of home made French baguette to dip into it.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make different kinds of gravy. Turkey, breakfast sausage, pork chop pan gravy and buttermilk gravy. Sometimes the flavour is just slightly flat, sometimes it’s not as smooth as I’d like especially if I’m in a hurry or distracted with other things.

Recently, I ran across a treasure in the freezer. A container of duck drippings and fat. I thawed it, lifted off the layer of hard duck fat on top, and guess-timated how much flour I’d need to add for my roux. I ended up with about a cup of duck juices, jellied and dark and flavourful. A bit of chicken stock to extend the contents and this was the result. A delicious bowl of duck gravy.

Basic Gravy – 2 tbsp oil/butter/fat, 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups of liquid/drippings and meat juices. It’s just that simple.

Tomato Gravy – 1 tbsp bacon fat, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 cup tomato juice, additional water as needed, salt and pepper to taste.

Christmas Duck Dinner (2016)

Christmas for one doesn’t have to be dull and boring. I always set the table for two. This year, I used my mom’s Christmas china … I bought it for her at Canadian Tire many, many years ago. The turkey platter (only $10) picked up at the same place is perfect for this year’s duck. I found the old linen tablecloth tucked away under a stack of ‘good’ dish towels in the bathroom closet.

Duck and orange is a classic pairing but, instead of an orange sauce, I added oranges to my kale salad and dressing. Or rather, Kraft did.

Drippings from roasting the duck made a tasty base for gravy.

Bread pudding made with leftover Nutella, chocolate and pecan babka, Bree Drummond’s easy caramel sauce and a scoop of French vanilla ice cream

I spent a bit over $13 CDN for the duck (2.3 kg) but there’s enough meat for at least 4-5 servings. And the carcass (not in the picture) will end up as stock.

Sweet Pickled Cottage Roll Dinner

I’ve never cooked one of these packaged boned, rolled and brined pork shoulders before but the technique is quite simple. It’s all written on the package.

After 2 hours of braising the cottage roll in 2 cups of water along with 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns, a smashed, peeled clove of garlic and a couple of bay leaves in a covered dutch oven, at 325 deg Fahrenheit, the netting is removed, the thin fat cap is scored and the roll is transferred to a baking sheet for another 15-20 minutes (at 350 deg F) to brown the top. A drizzle of maple syrup or a tablespoon of brown sugar may also be added to the top and caramelized under the broiler.

For additional flavour, I took half a large onion and cubed it and then added it, along with a couple of peeled carrots cut into large chunks, and half a dozen whole, washed, new potatoes under the roll . The potatoes and carrots cooked in that first 2 hour baking period and then were kept warm in the dutch oven while the meat was finished off.

The result is a cross between a New England boiled dinner and corned beef and cabbage, without the cabbage. And with pork instead of beef.

If you like cabbage, you can shred half a cabbage and place it in the strained broth (discard garlic, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns) in the dutch oven. Transfer the potatoes and carrots to a medium bowl and keep warm. Cook the cabbage in the 350 deg F oven with the roll while it’s browning until the cabbage is tender.

Verdict: The meat is very tasty, tender and moist. However it’s a very fatty cut so you may want to limit your intake.

I used some uneven pieces to make a couple of ham and cheese sandwiches. You can also fry leftover slices of the ham and serve it for breakfast along with eggs and home fried potatoes.

Cauliflower Duo – Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” and Aloo Gobi

I’ve mentioned my vegi-phobia over the years, so I never thought that I’d make a post about THIS.

I remember my mom dipping cauliflower florettes into seasoned flour and then beaten egg before shallow frying them. I don’t know what they tasted like, cause I never tried them. I HAVE had steamed cauliflower as part of the ‘mixed veg’ on my plate in restaurants, but they were soggy and flavourless. Not exactly something I ever wanted to replicate at home. But I recently ran across a spicy hot ‘vegetarian’ version of Buffalo chicken wings made with cauliflower florettes and couldn’t resist trying it out. It’s just a bit fiddly to prepare but crunchy enough to appeal texturally and with enough spice to satisfy anyone who likes things ‘hot’ hot.

The original recipe had a batter for the cauliflower made up of seasoned flour, milk and water, baked, turned and then basted with a hot sauce/melted butter. In the reviews, someone suggested adding the hot sauce to the batter itself as a substitute for some of the liquid. So that’s what I did. Because the hot sauce is absorbed by the cauliflower, a little hot sauce goes a lot farther without any wasted. The heat sneaks up on you so you may not be aware of it until later. Just a word to the wise.

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” – appetizer with a blue cheese and ranch dressing dip

Buffalo Cauliflower “Wings” – serves 2 as a side dish

1/2 medium sized head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florettes (~400 gm, 4 cups)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Ranch or blue cheese dressing for dipping

Pre-heat your oven to 425-450 deg F depending on whether or not it runs hot.

Generously oil a baking sheet. Or, if you prefer to cut back on the fat, line the sheet with parchment paper.

Add salt, pepper and spices to the flour. Whisk in the hot sauce and water until you get a smooth batter. You may want to add a bit more water to thin the batter enough to coat the florettes evenly.

Spread the florettes evenly over the baking sheet, one layer thick, and bake for 20-25 min. Turn over each florette and bake for another 20-25 minutes.

Watch carefully as, at the higher temperature, that extra 5 minutes may result in burned bits.

Serve with ranch or blue cheese dressing.

Indian cooking is quite complex. There are regional and religious variations. And, of course, familial preferences. So, when I went searching for a recipe for this dish which combines potatoes (aloo) and cauliflower (gobi), there were endless versions.

The first version I looked at used what many consider the Indian ‘trinity’ of onion, garlic and ginger paste … which is often the base for a wet preparation or masala along with peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes. The second version omitted all three and focussed on toasted whole spices as well as the ground form to give the dish flavour … in what was usually a dry preparation.

Prior preparation of the vegetables also varied. Potatoes and/or the cauliflower were sometimes parboiled or steamed separately until tender before adding them to the saute pan. Personal preference and convenience may dictate the method used.

The recipe below is my novice attempt at aloo gobi along with some variations. If you have leftover steamed cauliflower or baked potatoes, you can save yourself some work and use them instead of cooking everything from scratch.

Quick Aloo Gobi

Quick Aloo Gobi (Potato with Cauliflower) – serves 4 as a side dish

1 lb (400 gm) potatoes
1 lb (400 gm) cauliflower florettes
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 chopped green chile pepper
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp chile powder**
1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves for garnish

** I used 1 tbsp mulato/chipotle pepper puree cause I had it around but you might want to just use ground red chile pepper.

NOTE: You can also use a paste made up of garlic (1-2 cloves), ginger (1 tbsp grated) and onion (1/2 medium size) as a base for this dish. For a wet dish, you might want to add a couple of peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes with their juices and a bit of water to make a sort of sauce that you can serve over basmati rice. For a heartier dish, peas and/or carrots may be added along with the cauliflower.

Par-boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the cumin and mustard seeds for several minutes, until they begin to burst. Add the green chile (plus garlic, ginger, onion paste and pepper puree, if using) and fry for a few more minutes until the oil starts seeping away from the paste. (You’re drying it out by doing this.)

Add the cauliflower florettes and fry, stirring, for 5 minutes. (I added about 1/4 cup of water and put the lid on at this point so the cauliflower would ‘steam’ cook and not burn.)

Add the potatoes, the ground spices and salt and cook for 7-10 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. You’ll probably need more salt than you think as the potatoes and cauliflower soak it up. (A splash of water will help dissolve the salt and help it get absorbed by the potatoes and cauliflower.) Taste both the vegetables.

Garnish the aloo gobi with coriander and serve with tomato and onion salad and pickle for an Indian menu.

‘Spicy’ Chili and Sweet Cornbread

When I’m happy … I want sushi.

When I’m sad … I want sushi.

When I’m bored … I want… I think you can pretty much figure out where this is going.

BUT, sushi is pricey, so I go digging through the pantry and the freezer for inspiration, and then I come up with dishes that will fill my tummy and not empty out my wallet.

I haven’t made chili in a while and a recent exchange with “The Frugal Hausfrau” about chili and the obsession of some people over what makes the perfect chili came to mind.

So, I decided to make chili and NOT use any commercial chili powder. Instead, I soaked and pureed the last mulato chile in my pantry, and combined it with some frozen chipotle in adobo sauce, ground cumin, minced garlic, and Mexican oregano. All ingredients in the commercial chili powder in some form or other.

‘Spicy’ Chili – makes about 8 servings

1 pound red kidney beans, soaked and cooked until tender
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2-1 cup finely diced onion
1-2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 mulato chile, stemmed and seeded, soaked in about 1 cup hot water then pureed in ~1/4 cup of soaking liquid
1 tsp chipotle in adobo sauce (or more if desired)
1 tsp ground cumin powder
1 tsp Mexican oregano, stems and flowers removed and roughly rubbed between palms
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp salt to start, more as needed

Mulato puree and Mexican oregano

In a large dutch oven, over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add half (or all) of the mulato chile puree, chipotle, cumin and oregano and fry for a few minutes.

Add the crumbled ground beef and salt and brown, breaking up as you do so.

Add the drained, cooked beans and tomatoes with all their liquid. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so the contents simmer. Partially cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chili is the consistency you prefer. Taste and add more salt if needed.

You may choose to add hot sauce to the pot or to individual servings.

Garnish with diced avocados, grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese or sour cream and serve with cornbread.

PS: My definition of spicy is ‘flavourful’ NOT ‘hot’. If you want heat, a few splashes of your favourite hot sauce will do the job.

And what bowl of chili is complete without a square or two of sweet cornbread? No jalapeno peppers, whole kernel corn or grated cheese to doctor it up. Just a bit of honey in place of the sugar and I was in chili nirvana. Martha Stewart’s cornbread recipe is almost identical to the one I used but I’ll post it if anyone is curious.

Plain Corn Bread – 16 2-inch squares

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2-4 tbsp sugar (depending on how sweet you like it to be)**
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk or buttermilk**
1/4 cup cooking oil or melted butter, margarine or shortening

** I used 1/4 cup wildflower honey this time cause I wanted it sweet and buttermilk cause I had some available.

Stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together eggs, milk and oil. Add to flour mixture and stir just until batter is moistened, no more.

Pour into greased 9″ round cast iron skillet (or an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan, but really, the cast iron makes it taste better) and bake in a pre-heated oven at 425 deg F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Even better … I now have several containers of chili to stash in my freezer. And a tub of cornbread.

Baked Kibbeh (Kibbeh bil sayneeye)

Kibbeh is a delicious Middle Eastern appetizer, mezze offering or main dish. Served with tzatziki or other yogurt based sauce, few people would pass this by.

I’ve made the individual stuffed version but it’s fiddly to make and then you have to shallow or preferably, deep fry, the football shaped kibbeh.  I chose to make this kibbeh in a pie plate, but you can also make it in a 9×13 inch baking dish and cut them into diamond shapes.

My first attempt used only beef but a combination of half beef and half lamb is even tastier. You can use the same recipes for this version except bake for 40-45 min in a preheated 350 deg F oven. I added 2 tsp of the Baharat made below to the filling and 1 tbsp to the shell mixture.

Baharat spices before and after being ground

Turkish Baharat

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp clove
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp green cardamom
1 pinch cinnamon

Toast dried, whole spices lightly. Let cool and grind in coffee grinder. Store in dark bottle in the fridge or freezer.

Dessert … Turkish delight (loukum)

Risotto Duo … Lemon Shrimp Risotto and Fresh Corn Risotto/Arancini

My brother did a grocery drop off … ok, it was beer, a grapefruit cooler and corn on the cob, but it still counts as groceries in my book. I am attempting to think of creative things to do with my goodies.

First, the fresh corn.

Risotto is usually a side dish like pasta but, like pasta, you can make it an entree by adding a protein.

Lemon Shrimp Risotto

I decided to make a basic risotto with a flavourful chicken stock (Better than Bouillon, in this case) with saffron threads and a half glass of Reisling Pinot Grigio. I removed one third of the risotto when it was almost done to a second saucepan and added diced sauteed shrimp to it and a bit more stock. I stirred in some lemon zest and juice just before serving.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cup arborio rice, 1/2 cup white wine, 5 cups chicken stock with a pinch of saffron threads, 1 onion, finely diced, 1 large clove garlic, finely minced, 1 cup fresh kernel corn, 6 tbsp unsalted butter, 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, 3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper as needed. If desired, fresh basil leaves, julienned, may be added to the risotto along with the lemon zest and juice.

To the rest of the risotto, I added fresh corn kernels, cut off the cob and sauteed in butter and olive oil, and after refrigerating the risotto overnight, I made cheese arancini. I was going to add fresh basil to the filling but I got too tired to bother going outside to pluck fresh basil off my plants.



Speaking of basil … here are a few pictures. Of course, the hot weather has got me down so I’m letting my plants go to seed rather than harvesting them and making pesto as I’d planned.

Pine Nut Brittle and a Break

I  think I’m going to take a bit of a break … not sure how long though so I’ll leave you with a quick candy recipe post. This will give anyone reading a chance to catch up on earlier posts which they may have missed (hint) and give ME a chance to come up with some ideas for what to make during my two months of summer break.

POSSIBLE projects are mostly rehashes of things I haven’t made in ages … like cannoli shells, potstickers, pastas (I’ve been meaning to try a beet puree for colouring), yaki onigiri. (I may add more ideas here as they come to me. Right now I’m too hungry to think clearly.)

I had a brittle craving a while ago, but the only nuts in the house were pine nuts from my freezer, so that’s what I went with. Not cheap to make compared to something like a peanut brittle, but OH SO GOOD.

Pine Nut Brittle

A very simple basic brittle recipe using equal amounts by weight of sugar (100 g /1/2 cup sugar, 100 gm/1 cup pine nuts, 1 tsp butter, a pinch of baking soda, a pinch of sea salt and a few finely minced fresh rosemary leaves).

I made a second batch in which I doubled the sugar and halved the nuts. It was good too and more economical on the nuts if that’s a concern. Here’s a picture of the two versions for comparison. At least I could spread out the 2nd batch of brittle more thinly on the sheet.

Meal Round-up

Breakfast of sourdough starter pancakes topped with macerated strawberries and maple syrup, eggs over easy and LOTS of bacon.

Various chicken dishes: a disappointing chicken kebab recipe which was transformed into a chicken shawarma wrap, a couple of ways to serve leftover shredded chicken mole

Leftover pea-meal bacon roast, mac and cheese and peas … all from the freezer

Potato salad with hardboiled eggs with my home made blender mayonnaise.