Saturday, November 22, 2014

Blushing Spaghetti Vongole

It's nice to have a day off to chill out and relax!  This morning I was able to start catching up on all the YouTube videos I've bookmarked since prior to the cruise.  One of them was an hour and a half long live video from Jamie's Feastival in the UK.  It's an event I would love to attend in person one year.  He and Gennaro cooked four dishes on stage, and chose members of the audience to come up  and sample the food.  I decided it was high time I did another new recipe, so I chose one for my lunch.

454.  Blushing Spaghetti Vongole (Jamie's Comfort Food, page 180)

I've never eaten or bought clams before.  I sourced them fresh at Sobey's for about twice the price of mussels, but I decided what the heck, I deserve a treat!  So I picked up a pound, along with a package of GoGoQuinoa spaghetti.  I also stopped at the liquor store and bought two single-serving bottles of wine, one white and one red.  After my son vacated the kitchen (complaining all the while about the smell of the raw clams, which was non-existant), I started cooking.  First up, I boiled the spaghetti in salted water.

Jamie suggests that you have all your ingredients chopped and ready to go prior to starting, so I quickly chopped garlic, dried chile, parsley stalks, and tomato.  I put the parsley leaves aside until later.  After the pasta had been boiling for about 5 minutes, I put a large pan over a high heat and added a lug of olive oil.  I went in with the chopped veggies, washed clams and two tablespoons of tomato paste.  I mixed everything together, added a splash of each type of wine, and covered the pan with a lid to let the clams cook.

I found the clams very slow, unlike mussels which open quite quickly.  I took the lid off when a few had popped, to let the alcohol evaporate, but kept the heat high.  I added a few scoops of pasta water so that things didn't get too dry, but the clams were really being stubborn.  Once the spaghetti was ready, I drained it and added it to the sauce.  I ended up throwing away at least 10 clams, because they just wouldn't open.  I was quite disappointed....that was close to half of them.  I have to think they weren't very fresh.  I added the parsley leaves and served the pasta up into bowls.

The sauce was tasty,  but I would have liked a higher seafood to pasta ratio.  The next time, I'll make this dish with mussels.  I don't know where the clams came from, but the mussels I get are generally from PEI.  Perhaps that's the difference in quality.  Live and learn.  Oh to live closer to the sea...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Meal Planning

Things are finally getting back to normal. I picked up some specialty items on the weekend - lots of non-dairy goodies.  I got a great buy on So Delicious Vanilla Cultured Almond MilkYogurt at the market (it's to die for) along with some Cultured Coconut Milk.  I picked up a couple more butternut squash, while they are plentiful and inexpensive, because they keep well. I treated myself to some pure maple sugar candies, a vegan date & seed bar, and more of those Luna Lemon Zest protein bars.  I also took a run through Sobey's because I love their health food aisle.  They carry most of the same items as the farmers market, but usually for a bit less.  Ok, I also wanted to get a peek at the new, seasonal Jamie Oliver Discovers Canada items that they are advertising, but unfortunately most of them I can't eat.  He has a great new line of rice pilaf dishes, but they all contain brown rice, wild rice, chick peas or butter...none of which are on my diet.  However, I picked up more of the Gogo Quinoa gluten-free pastas, because I don't feel so heavy and sick after eating them as I do with regular, wheat-based pastas.

I've been eating some things from the freezer this past week, including these great vegan lentil burgers from Michael Smith that I made a big batch of prior to the cruise.  They go well with my homemade dill pickles.

I need to make a plan this week so I can get through until next payday without grocery shopping.  I don't have a lot of meat in the freezer, so I need to be smart about what I do with it.
Fresh Veggies:
Bok Choy
Baby carrots
Ideas for dinners:
Left over Cod Stew
Turkey  & Sweet Leek Pie (use up the frozen Thanksgiving turkey)
Pork roast with roasted potatoes & carrots
Dim Sum Pork Buns (with the left over pork)
Ideas for lunches:
Buckwheat noodles & bok choy (Asian soup)
Fennel/apple salad
Rice Krispy squares

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Squash Rigatoni & the S word

Almost a year ago to the day, I blogged about the threat of snow in the forecast, and made Cod Stew to warm myself up when it actually arrived.  Coincidentally, that's what I plan to make tonight.  I braved the cold, went out and pulled all the leeks a few minutes ago.  I should probably pull the herbs too, but I don't have the energy.  Hopefully the snow will hold off until the beginning of the week, and I can find time to freeze the parsley & cilantro, and dry the sage and thyme.

Last night, I was on the hunt for squash recipes, to use with the butternut I roasted whole the other day.  There is a page called Roasted Squash:  4 Exciting Ways in Save With Jamie, but so far I've only done one - Squash Hummus.

453.  Squash Rigatoni (Save With Jamie, page 46)

I put some finely chopped garlic & fresh chile in a bit of olive oil to fry, along with some fresh thyme from the garden.  I scraped in half of my roasted butternut squash, then had to alter the recipe slightly, as of course I am still off all dairy.  So instead of creme fraiche and blue cheese, I added soy milk and Tofutti sour cream until the sauce was a nice consistency.  I let this simmer on a low heat while I boiled the pasta (saving a cup of the cooking water).

When the pasta was al dente, I seasoned my sauce and mixed the rigatoni in, along with a bit of the cooking water.  My next challenge was Parmesan cheese, but then.I remembered a recipe I'd seen on the web for a vegan alternative, so I pulled it up.  It was just a simple mixture of raw cashews, nutritional yeast and salt.  I put these ingredients into the food processor and let it run until they were finely ground together. It really does smell like cheese!  I sprinkled some of this over the pasta and called it dinner.

I found this a really filling meal.  Next time, I'll eat half the amount with a big garden salad, I think!  But it was tasty, with a nice kick from the chile.  I love the combination of squash and pasta, in any form.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sicilian-Style Tuna Carpaccio

I came home from the cruise with a head cold, and spent the first two days on the couch, eating takeout Chinese.  The third day I ate packaged noodles for lunch, but managed to make burgers and potato salad for dinner.  The fourth day, I made myself a fennel & apple salad for lunch, and cooked a pan of Chicken & Chorizo Paella for dinner.  I also threw a whole butternut squash in the oven to roast, for future use.  That's always how I know I'm getting better, when the desire to cook nutritious food comes back.

I'm still not 100%, but this morning I woke up with enough energy to do the dishes and prepare the ingredients for a nice lunch to take to work.  Tonight, I plan to use that squash.

452. Sicilian-Style Tuna Carpaccio (Jamie's FoodTube) recipe
FoodTube video

I saw this update come through on YouTube and knew I had to make it.  I still have a few tuna steaks in the freezer, and I planted a second round of arugula in the garden at the beginning of September that is still kicking.  It probably won't be for much longer, with the threat of snow looming!

So this morning, bright and early, I thinly sliced my defrosted tuna steak and put it in a container to take to work with half a lemon wrapped in clingfilm.  I went out and picked the arugula and the only remaining soft herb, cilantro.  I also had some nice fennel fronds in the fridge.  I attempted to blacken a fresh red chile from the garden, but after I seeded it, all that was left was blackened skin.  Maybe it was too small for this process?  So I just chopped half a fresh one instead, and chopped half a clove of garlic.  I soaked some capers in red wine vinegar (the closest I could get to rosé wine). 

I combined the chopped herbs, the drained capers, the garlic and the chile with some EVOO and packed it in a little container.  I put the washed arugula in a separate container with some EVOO, and threw a whole lemon into my bag just in case it needed it.

At lunch, I squeezed lemon juice over the tuna slices, and let it sit for a few minutes to "cook".  Then I spread it with the herb paste, and topped it with dressed arugula.  What a gourmet work lunch!  Not much I love more than raw tuna.  I almost feel like I'm back on the cruise....of course my co-workers were horrified!  :p

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cruise Eats

Finally home and back to work today, getting my feet back under me again.  We had an awesome cruise, and the food was just spectacular.  The dining staff was so accomodating, preparing my meals without dairy each night.  It's hard to come back to reality and have to cook again (even though I enjoy cooking).  It's taking me a few days to get back into the swing of things again.
Here are some of the highlights that I thought to photograph along the way.  First, the wonderful fish and chips area on the ship for lunch, that also served a daily seafood soup, and cold appetizers such as ceviche and tuna & watermelon salad.
I almost always ordered two appetizers in the main dining room at dinner, and this one was so pretty I had to take a picture:  Beetroot carpaccio with arugula and pink grapefruit!

Halloween was a spectacular affair onboard, with many people arriving to dinner in costume.  Our group included me, dressed as Jamie Oliver, my mom dressed as a Mexican taco, complete with mustache and sombrero, my daughter dressed as Pikachu, her girlfriend Tiffany as Ariel, the little mermaid, and our friend Danielle dressed as a minion.  The desserts were all Halloween themed, and even though I was not able to order off the menu, because of my dairy restriction, the chef managed to create me a special dish that resembled bloody eyeballs (aka strawberries in strawberry compote).

Mornings were usually a buffet affair, but there was also the option of a Mexican cantina with build-your-own breakfast wraps, and these wonderful little soft taco creations, that came pre-made, topped with grated cheese.  However, they were more than happy to make mine fresh without the cheese, and I was able to load them up at the salsa bar with fresh watermelon & jicama salsa, tomatillo salsa, and fresh cilantro.  Wheeeee!

One of our ports was Cozumel, Mexico.  We stopped for a bite of lunch on the beach, and I ordered something called lime soup.  It was totally delicious, filled with chicken and strips of tortilla.  We were even serenaded by a couple of gentlemen playing guitars and singing La Bamba while we ate!

After leaving the ship, I had a couple more great meals in Ft. Lauderdale.  I ate the best shrimp I ever tasted, prepared Spanish-style in a creole sauce along with fried yucca, rice and black beans, at a divey little place across from our hotel.

I also had some tasty, deep-fried, spicy tuna sushi alongside a bowl of miso crab soup at a place on the beach called Quarterdecks.  Prior to eating we were able to swim in the ocean with a pelican, and watch the cruise ships departing and the planes arriving, right overhead.  Pretty cool way to end the vacation.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gorgeous Gado-Gado and Cruise Planning

I haven't cooked much of anything since Thanksgiving, other than a large pot of turkey noodle soup.  I had a few meals out at restaurants this past week, due to special occasions.  However, I had a productive weekend, both shopping and cooking-wise.  I hit two farmer's markets and four grocery stores over the course of two days!  I have all the ingredients to make a couple of new recipes to sustain me this week, as well as everything I need to throw together a lasagne for the kid.  Sunday morning I baked two more pumpkin pies, a batch of granola bars (that turned into granola when they wouldn't hold together) and a crock pot full of delicious almond milk tapioca pudding.  For lunch, I wanted something fresh and light.

451. Gorgeous Gado-Gado (Jamie's Comfort Food, page ??) recipe

This is another healthy dish from the book.....they are kind of few and far between, but I'm glad they are included!  I thought this one was so intriguing when I saw it on TV, because of the way Jamie coats the bowls in the peanut sauce first, and then layers up the salad on top.  It's like nothing I've ever seen before. 

I started out by boiling up some potatoes and eggs, and pan-frying some cubed, extra firm tofu in sesame oil.  I let these cool while I assembled my ingredients for the dressing and salad.  I had sliced radishes & cucumber, bean sprouts, shredded Napa cabbage & tomatoes that I diced into bite sized pieces.  Into the blender went natural peanut butter, tamarind paste, soy & fish sauce, garlic, fresh red chile from the garden, brown sugar (in place of palm sugar which I couldn't find) and the juice of a couple of limes.

I coated the bottom of one of my JO bowls with the 1/4 of the sauce, then layered up all of my salad ingredients and topped with a dollop more sauce. 

I would never have thought to use a peanut sauce in a salad.....for dipping chicken satay skewers or fresh shrimp rolls, yeah, but a salad?  But it worked.  It didn't look pretty once I mixed it but it was really, really tasty.  Tonight I'm going to assemble another one for dinner, but this time I'll remember to add cilantro leaves and perhaps some nice, crunchy rice crackers.

So here we are, four days until we leave for our Carribean cruise!  I am in packing & planning mode this week, wanting to make sure I leave enough food for the kid to survive (although I am sure he is resourceful enough to go to the store if he runs out), but also not wanting to buy more fresh stuff than I can eat before I take off.  I have a couple of new recipes I might make this week if time permits, but here is my basic plan:
Lunch - left over sushi
Dinner - Gado Gado salad and creamy ginger butternut squash soup
Lunch - Gado Gado salad
Dinner - Michael Smith's Vegan Lentil Burgers
Lunch - left over squash soup
Dinner - left over burgers

Lunch -  left over squash soup
Dinner - Lasagne

Lunch - left over squash soup
Dinner - Florida here we come!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Skunks & Hummingbird Cakes

Our Thanksgiving meal was interrupted when my son's German shepherd started barking in the yard.  We had just finished dinner but had not yet had dessert.  Have you ever smelled that aroma of burning tires, when a skunk first sprays?  Sure enough, that's what happened, in the light of day.  WTF?  We think he disturbed a skunk who was sleeping under the neighbour's shed.  Thankfully, I had a supply of hydrogen peroxide for just such an occasion, so he got an unscheduled, chilly bath in the yard.  

After all that excitement, it was time for dessert.  I had spent most of the morning creating the following masterpiece.  It went nicely with the pumpkin pies, whipped cream, and carrot/cream cheese muffins Mel brought.

450.  Hummingbird Cake (Jamie's Comfort Food, page 358) recipe

This was really quite the undertaking....perfect for a special occasion.  I started early in the morning, mixing up the batter for the two round cakes.  It was a bit like a banana bread, with pineapple mixed in, but no butter.  It called for olive oil instead, which suited me just fine.  Self raising flour, cinnamon, sugar, eggs, vanilla and pecans rounded out the ingredient list.  I divided this into the tins and set them in the oven for about 40 minutes.  They rose up quite nicely.

When they were cooled (and one had sadly sunk in the middle) I made two different batches of icing.  The first used the standard butter & cream cheese, while the second was modified for my dairy-free diet, using Tofutti cream cheese and Earth Balance butter.  Both had icing sugar and lime zest & juice added, and were beat until creamy.  I put them in the fridge to firm up a bit.

The hardest part was to create the pecan brittle topping.  I put a half cup of sugar in a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water, and turned the burner to a medium heat.  The sugar bubbled like crazy, but it took forever to colour.  I swirled it around to try and keep it moving, because you really aren't supposed to use a spoon, but I found it was going hard around the edges, almost crystally.  So I got a wooden spoon once it was golden, and pushed it all into the centre.  It finally turned into a thick, brown syrup, so I mixed in the pecans to coat, and turned everything out onto a piece of greased parchment paper.

Once the brittle was cooled, and after I tasted a small piece to be sure if was good (ha ha) I smashed it up with my wooden rolling pin.  I put the sunken cake on the plate first, spread it with the dairy-free icing, then put a circular piece of waxed paper on top.  Then, I placed the good cake on the waxed paper, spread it with the butter/cream cheese icing, and topped everything with the smashed brittle.

I thought it was pretty impressive looking!  It would have been even prettier sprinkled with edible flowers, but a) I didn't have any and b) the kids said they would refuse to eat it if I did.  LOL.  I had to separate the layers before cutting it up, and of course I sprinkled more brittle over the bottom half.  I was pretty excited to be able to have a piece, because I generally can't eat icing. 
It was to die for.  A serious sugar rush.  Reminded me of pineapple upside down cake a bit.  The praline topping was killer.  I am going to have to freeze half or I'm going to go into a sugar coma.  Oops, I just had another piece for breakfast.  Somebody stop me.