Cornbread with Maple Syrup, Cream, and Cranberry Sauce

Monday, December 25, 2006

My grandpa gave me litre bags of wild Saskatchewan cranberries and blueberries when I drove east to visit last weekend. This was like getting bags of gold - wild cranberries have a deep, intense tartness. Due to car trouble I was a day late getting home and the berries were no longer frozen, so I've been eating blueberries and cranberry sauce daily.

This is a dessert for breakfast: cornbread soaked with equal parts cream and maple syrup, and topped with cranberry sauce. Please don't use the stiff, flavourless and overly sweet cranberry sauce in cans for this - if you need a recipe, Elise has a good one.

(The cornbread shown: Mix together 1 cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup all purpose white flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream mixed with 2/3 cup water and pat into a nine inch square pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for twelve to fifteen minutes. You might have a better recipe; I didn't have any milk or eggs. I cut the bread into nine squares and used four, halved horizontally.)

Mix together 2 tbs cream and 2 tbs maple syrup in a wide shallow bowl and soak thin slices of cornbread in the sweet cream. Arrange cornbread on plates and top with 2 tbs of cranberry sauce each. Serves 2 for breakfast or a filling dessert.

Corn with Pimentón in Coconut Milk, for JFI-Coconut

Friday, December 22, 2006

This dish was inspired by a recipe I was reading for curried corn in coconut milk, and by a beautiful new can of pimentón.

Pimentón is an inexpensive seasoning that is well deserving of its growing popularity - it gives smokiness and depth to plain foods like cauliflower, potatos, and eggs; and takes dishes flavoured with cured meats into another dimension. I used bittersweet pimentón, but hot or sweet would also work. The mushrooms I, um, had in my fridge and needed to use. This took less than twenty minutes to make.

Wield a knife to make 1-2 tablespoons finely diced bacon or deli ends (I used a 3 cm piece of cured Italian sausage) and 2 tablespoons of finely diced mushrooms. Fry in a large saucepan until the mushrooms are soft and the fat has mostly rendered from the meat. You can omit the meat and just use extra mushrooms if you want. Add 1 1/2 cups of frozen corn (could use canned) and 3/4 tsp pimentón and fry together until heated through and tender. Add 3/4 cup of coconut milk, and simmer for a few minutes to blend the flavours. Taste for seasoning - the effect you are after is sweet corn and coconut balanced with smokiness and bite of pimentón - and serve to 2 with rice or bulgur.

The original curried corn recipe was in a paperback student cookbook called Students Go Vegan, by Carole Raymond. Student cookbooks are a great resource for less expensive and low effort recipes. This is my entry for JFI - Coconut, hosted this month by Ashwini at Food for Thought.

Apple and Lime Salad with Mint

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Last week I was tossing grated apples into a pool of lemon juice for a cabbage salad, and tasted some of them. The apple was inspiringly good soaked in lemon juice and made me want to try a salad with just apple and lime juice, since lime brings out apple flavour better than lemon. The mint adds a cool note but is mostly for colour. Don't skip this salad if you have no mint - use parsley, or, in a pinch, grated carrot instead. (You could also experiment with things like fresh thyme and rosemary. Let me know if you try this; I like both herbs in cooked apple desserts but have never tried them with raw apple before.) This salad is bracingly tart, especially if your apples are not very sweet, so you can add sugar if desired.

Juice limes for about 2 tbs lime juice. Peel and grate two large apples into the lime juice. (Leave peel on if desired; I only had waxed apples so I threw it away.) Taste for sweetness and add sugar if desired. Julienne a dozen or so mint leaves, mix together, and serve to two or three.

Book Review: Meals Made Easy from Real Simple

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Real Simple has always seemed to me like a periodical with more style than substance - pleasant to peruse in the doctor's office, but not a magazine you'd make time to read regularly. However, their Meals Made Easy cookbook author's name caught my eye - Renee Schettler. While she was at the Washington Post, their online food section was my favourite of any newspaper, and I still search for her articles regularly. (Try searching for Avocado Smashwich. Simple and fabulous!)

Physically, the book is gorgeous and every single recipe is illustrated in Real Simple style. The wide, heavy pages are suited to the rigors of kitchen duty and will not flip closed on you while cooking. The recipes are very easy both to skim and to cook, and there are cooking tips on each page that are useful both to the beginner and to experienced cooks. The recipes are arranged by effort: One-Pot Meals, 30-Minute Meals, Freezer Meals, and so on. I especially like the frugal-friendly and almost completely veggie No-Shop Meals section, which includes basic things like eggs in tomato sauce and quesadillas.

The cookbook's main drawback is that many of the recipes are, well, ordinary - all but the most beginner of cooks already have a pasta with bolognese, an omelette, and poached fish in their repertoire. Advanced or more adventurous cooks will find the book less appealing. Also, though the beautifully styled pictures really add to the appeal of the book, it would have greater value with fewer pictures and more recipes.

This is a good basics book for beginning cooks, or someone who is new to Canada/US and is interested in learning common home cooked food.

Crisped Leftover Pasta, adapted from Meals Made Easy

about 4 oz cooked spaghetti or fettucine, cold
2 tbs olive oil
3 slices proscuitto or 2 slices bacon (these were optional, so I left them out)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, (optional, I left them out)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 tsp kosher salt - (I omitted, since the cheese was already really salty)
1/8 tsp black pepper (I used more)

Let the pasta sit at room temperature until it becomes pliable, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the proscuitto or bacon if using and cook until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Drain off and discard all but 2 tsp of the drippings in the skillet. Sprinkle the red pepper flakes (if using over the remaining drippings. Increase heat to medium high. Add the pasta to the skillet and gently spread it out to form a large nest. Cook without stirring, until the pasta begins to crisp and brown on the bottom, 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and prosciutto or bacon if using. Cook, still without stirring, for about 2 more minutes. Season with the salt and black pepper. Slide or invert the pasta onto a plate and sprinkle with additional Parmesan. Cut into wedges, if desired.

Tip: store leftover spaghetti on a dinner plate covered with plastic wrap. This creates a perfect size nest of noodles that you can slide straight into the skillet.

Testing notes: This works best with white pasta, cooked a bit past al dente. It gets quite rich so is best served with something astringent, like cooked greens with vinegar or broiled tomatoes.

Cacio e Pepe, for The Spice is Right IX

The Spice is Right is one of my favourite food blogging events to follow, and I am really glad to finally join in for the Warm me up baby! It's cold outside... episode, hosted this time around at Rosie's Kitchen. What warmer spice exists than pepper? And Pepper is my handle. So, perfect. What to make? I had picked up some grated Pecorino Romano at the Italian Centre for a really, really good price, so the natural choice was spaghetti cacio e pepe, a recipe that was very in vogue a year or so ago. It is spaghetti with Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly grated pepper.

Bring a large pan of water to boil, salt it, and add spaghetti (whole wheat spaghetti is shown) for however many people you are serving. Mix together grated Pecorino Romano and pepper - about 2 tbs cheese and 3 grinds of pepper for one person and an additional tbs of cheese and grind of pepper for each additional person. This dish is easily wrecked with too much cheese (the salty element) or pepper, so add less to start. When spaghetti is nearly soft, drain, saving some pasta water, and mix the hot spaghetti with the cheese and pepper, adding water to soften the cheese into a sauce. Taste for flavour balance, adding more cheese or pepper if needed, and serve immediately.

Bloggers seem to love this dish, and I can understand why - the pepper and cheese are magic together. The very talented Orchidea has a gorgeous version, and Orangette also did a great post on it last year.

Spicy Tomato Lentil Soup

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This soup tastes as warming as it looks and smells fantastic. You need 1/2 cup of red lentils (masoor dal), one can of tomatoes, and something to make it spicy. You can use 3-4 fresh tomatoes if you can get good ones right now - I can't. If you don't have these seasonings, use your own - a teaspoon (or more, taste as you go) of chili powder or curry powder would work. Don't skip the toasting step, even if you are using a powdered spice.

In a large saucepan, toast 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, and 1 small dried red chili (or to taste) in 1 tsp oil over medium heat until seasonings are browned and fragrant. Add one 398 ml can of tomatoes (14 oz, I used Italian plum) and heat together for a minute or so, mashing tomatoes if they are in whole pieces. Add 1/2 cup red lentils and 2 cups of water, and 1 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for half an hour until lentils are tender. Serves 3; I love it with grilled cheese sandwiches but any whole grain would complete the protein.

Rigatoni with Cauliflower Sauce and Paprika

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Edmonton had deep freeze weather last week, and I felt like eating something rich and comforting. I remembered a spaghetti recipe with sauce made from cauliflower and cream, and decided to do a less expensive version using chicken stock. An aged Piave was grated into the sauce, but you can use any deeply flavoured cheese that will go with the cauliflower - cheddar would be fine. Cauliflower also loves paprika; use a hot or bittersweet pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) if you can find it.

Cut up a medium head of cauliflower and roast on a baking sheet drizzled with oil until browned and tender in a medium oven. Use every bit of the cauliflower - there is no reason to throw away the core or green leaves. Meanwhile, saute half an onion and a few cloves of garlic - more if you love garlic - in a large saucepan until tender. When cauliflower is ready, scoop it into a blender with the onion, garlic, and one and a half cups of chicken stock, blending to make a thick, very smooth sauce. Add water or more chicken stock if the sauce is too thick to pour. Return sauce to the large saucepan and heat through. Stir 3 tbs grated cheese into the sauce, heat, and taste for seasoning.

Bring a large quantity of water to boil, add salt, and add rigatoni. (I used whole wheat rigatoni, which took eight minutes to cook.) Drain pasta, saving some of the water, and mix with the sauce, thinning with reserved pasta water if needed. Let sit for a minute, then dish up and sprinkle with paprika. This much sauce will work for about a pound of rigatoni or similar pasta shape, which feeds four to six.

Grocery Spending for November

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Since some visitors have been dropping in via J.D. Roth's excellent Get Rich Slowly blog, I thought I would post my grocery spending over the past month. (This is shopping for one person who eats out about once per week.) Recording spending like this is a great way to get it under control, with a bonus of information about your eating habits. For example, I thought I spent 75% of my food money on fruits and vegetables, but it ends up being much closer to 50%. A lot of my diet does not appear on the month's snapshot - oats, soybeans, bulgur, flour and rice showed up a month or more ago.

My shopping trips are frequent, and rather than use a list I look for good values, often spending only a few dollars per visit. I try not to buy more than I can use up over the next few days, no matter how good some things look (this is tough). Also, even though my local big grocery store flyers are linked on my blog so I can study them weekly, I often end up going to smaller, more specialized places like the Italian Centre and H&W Produce. Someone who can grocery shop only once a week and needs to buy everything in one place will have a lot different shopping pattern than mine - you need to find what works for you.

Avocado, Grapefruit, and Pomegranate Salad

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I wanted to do a salad with citrus and pomegranate again, because the sweet-tart elements replace the need for dressing. My roommate left for a long weekend and told me to use up all her perishables, which included some things I don't often buy like grape tomatoes and avocadoes. Avocado and grapefruit get along really well in salads, so this was the result. You want to use really sweet grapefruit - if the fruit you have is very tart, you might want to add some sugar, particularly if you are feeding kids.

Cut the peel off of one grapefruit and dice, saving the juice. Dice one avocado, and gently mix fruit together, making sure avocado is covered with grapefruit juice. Place fruit carefully on two serving plates, sprinkling each salad with 1 tbs pomegranate seeds. (Yellow pomegranates, if you can find them, would be really beautiful here.)