Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sauce sequel; open-faced sandwich.


On night two of my I'd-rather-be-dead-than-think-of-making-anything-for-dinner crisis, I left the responsibility of meal-making to Marc. I was kind of hoping I'd get the question he usually asks when it's his turn to cook : "so d'you want pizza, shawarma or St-Hubert?"... But slap me silly, he actually opened the fridge and started throwing ideas at me! "We have to use up the rest of that pasta sauce you made yesterday, and this sourdough bread is on its way out. So what should I make?" Wow. Impressive. It was like he'd been reading somebody's food blog or something. So it was with a little back and forth brainstorming - he in the kitchen, me on the couch, hefty cocktail in hand - that we came up with this spin on a croque-monsieur. Quick, easy, delicious. And, bacony. Because Marc was cooking, after all.

Clean-the-fridge open-faced sandwich

Note: these are simply guidelines and inspiration for your own version of this sandwich, with your own troublesome leftover ingredients. If you don't have any leftover pasta sauce, use pesto. Or mayonnaise. Or puréed leftover squash (just add a bit of olive oil or grape seed oil to make is smooth while it blitzes in the food processor). Or grainy mustard. Or butter! You get the idea.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat (or nothing at all, if you don't mind scrubbing), assemble the following ingredients, in order of appearance:
  • thick slices of bread, or a length of baguette that's been halved horizontally
  • spinach and white bean pasta sauce from the other day
  • pecan halves
  • chopped dried figs
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • bacon or pancetta cooked 'til crispy, and crumbled
  • Emmenthal or any other melty cheese
  • freshly ground pepper

Pancetta confetti!

All dressed up with DEFINITELY someplace to go.

Stick the baking sheet under the broiler (on a low setting - if you don't have a low setting, move the rack to the centre of the oven) until the cheese is properly melty and the sandwich is warmed through.

Serve with a side salad and voilà! Pardon my attempt at going "Jamie Oliver" by piling the salad directly on top of this poor thing. It looks like a Derby hat! Mmmmmm. Edible Derby hat....


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The anti-takeout.

We've all had nights when the responsibility of even thinking of something to make for dinner - much less actually making it - was the equivalent of being told to climb Mount Everest, in four inch heels, with 30 lb packs of rocks on our backs. Ugh. You know you've been there.

I was actually there three times last week; coming home late, out of steam, mentally drained... I was terrified. In such times of weakness, it would have been so easy to ask Marc to stop by the St-Hubert drive-thru for a chicken dinner with fries and gravy... Lord... That would have been good. But we had to eat something better than that. On that first evening, Mere would be coming by to go for a run, and I needed proper fuel. Not a cheap, greasy thrill.

So it's with that need for a speedy fill-up in mind that I thought of pasta. Pasta's fast, especially when you have some tomato sauce waiting in the freezer. But I didn't have any tomato sauce in my freezer. Damn. What the heck was I going to feed myself and my hungry man? I had some 35% cream in the fridge, but making a sauce with it would have been very, very wrong. That got me thinking, though. Do you know what else is creamy? Beans! Off to the larder I went, and whipped up a sauce in a jiffy. Because this sauce didn't require any cooking, it was ready by the time the pasta was done! On nights like these, I bless the day Marc got me a food processor as a "just because" gift. That man knows me so well...

Speedy and fresh spinach and white bean pasta sauce with Parmesan and lemon
(Feeds four, no leftovers)

Step 1: fire up a pot of water, salt it when it starts to boil, and throw in a 450 g package of pasta (any kind will do - I chose spaghetti this time). Tip: to achieve perfect flavour in your pasta, the cooking water should be as salty as the Mediterranean. Go ahead, taste it before you throw in the pasta. Nobody will judge you! 

Step 2: while your pasta cooks, put the following ingredients in your food processor and blitz:

  • 1 can of white beans, drained

  • 3 big handfuls of fresh baby spinach
  • zest of 1/2 lemon (add more after blitzing, if you want a more lemony taste)

  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh parmesan chunks that you've chipped off using a butter knife (matchbook- sized pieces), or pre-grated parmesan (just not the sawdust kind from the green canister, for the love of all things holy!)

  • enough olive oil to make everything whizz around smoothly (between 1/4 and 1/2 cup)
  • salt and pepper to taste (might want to add this after everything's been blitzed).

Step 3: scoop a cupful of the pasta water out with a coffee mug and set aside. Drain the pasta, return it to the cooking pot and pour the pasta sauce over top. Mix everything quickly, adding some of the pasta water if the sauce needs to be smoother. Serve immediately with a drizzle of olive oil over everything. Et voilà!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sweet potato eviction complete

I did it! I won! The sweet potato is no more. What did I do with it, you ask? I steamed it in the microwave and threw it in a salad! Gimme a break - it had to be a salad. We overindulged during the Holidays.

You have to understand that the microwave has very limited use in our house. In my opinion, it's good for warming up your lunch, melting chocolate (thanks, Nigella, for that one), heating up milk or water (to lukewarm, not boiling, please), and for softening tortillas. So talk about a discovery when my laziness, triggered by my complete disgust at having to clean a pot AND a steamer in order to cook 1/3 of a sweet potato, caused me to experiment.  I simply cut the sweet potato into small bite sized pieces, set it in a dinner plate with barely 1/4 inch of water on the bottom and cooked it for 3ish minutes, turning the pieces over halfway. And whaddaya know! It worked!

Talk about a quick meal. I chucked some baby greens in a bowl, topped them with some brown rice left over from a previous dinner, a handful of sunflower seeds (a fridge-larder staple!) and the potato, and tossed everything with a simple balsamic vinaigrette (balsamic, dijon, olive oil). Poof. Done. 

Well THAT felt good. Nice knowin' ya, sweet potato. Boy... I'm going to have to get to know my microwave better... The possibilities! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The sweet potato that wouldn't die...

The holidays have come and gone, and I think most of us are just fed up with trying to find ways to reinvent the leftovers. Sadly, that work is never done - for me, anyway... Every single day of the year, some food item is guaranteed to be staring back at me from the inside of my fridge, taunting me with the ever present threat of spoilage. Is today its last day before mouldy grossness takes it over the edge into the realm of the inedible? Aiiiiiiigh! The never ending danger of decay is enough to drive a person insane. I hate throwing out food.

I've been having this sort of crisis lately with a sweet potato that's been in my crisper for the past month and a half. Every day, I see it. And every day, something comes up and I can't use it (or don't feel inspired to). It's started to shrivel a bit, just to remind me that time is ticking, and that the money spent on a nice organic sweet potato is about to be wasted. When I picked it up on Monday, a shrivelled part of it had actually gone soft and my thumb kind of sunk into it a bit. Ew. That's when I knew it was now or never. 

Thankfully, I had five or six boiled potatoes left over from our New Years' eve party à deux. And what does one instantly think of when one has a load of cold boiled potatoes? Potato salad! Of course, none of my resolutions included being less lazy, so I didn't bother to boil the sweet potato (it would have had a weird shape anyway, once the soft gross bits had been cut out); I just grated that bad boy down to shreds. Well, part of him, anyway. Here's what happened.

Potato salad with grainy mustard vinaigrette, sweet potato shreds and chives (feeds two)

This is a recipe that's easy on the dishes. All you need is a salad bowl, a knife, a cutting board and, if you must, a garlic press.

In the salad bowl, whisk together :
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 generous tbsp grainy mustard
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • one minced clove of garlic 
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup of olive oil (or more, if you like)
  • salt and pepper.

To that dressing, add :
  • 5 or 6 cooked potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • 1 good bunch of asparagus (like the ones they sell tied together with a rubber band), cooked al-dente in a steamer and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • a few tbsp of finely chopped herbs such as chives, mint, parsley or dill (I had chives lying around from making mashed potatoes at Christmas, so I used chives)
  • 1 cup of grated sweet potato

Stir around delicately and voilà. Serve with a few pieces of cheese or a boiled egg on the side.

Of course, that recipe only used up a third of the dammed, rotting, cursed sweet potato. So tonight, I went ahead and made another salad with more stuff that was lying around the fridge. And this time, I dealt with another food straggler: old pita... Have you ever had this problem, where you buy pita for a hummus fix, but then the leftover bread just sits around your fridge for days on end, because it's become too old and tough to enjoy? Solution? Pita chips! They're super easy to make, and no matter who's around at mealtime, they'll be excited to eat them. If Marc could orbit the stove when I make these, I think he would; sadly, the wall behind the stove prevents full orbiting, so all he can do is stick his face in the oven window and keep repeating over and over "I think they're ready now. I think they're ready now. I think they're ready now." Gaaaah!

So here's the how-to for pita chips:

1. Cut the edge off your pitas by going around them with a knife or clean scissors. Eat the edges or give them to the dogs. Separate the two sides of the pita and lay them on a baking sheet with the inside surface facing up.

2. If you have a pastry brush, use it to give each pita circle a light brushing of olive oil. If you don't have a pastry brush, just pour a bit of olive oil (using a thin stream) all over the pitas and then smear it around with your hands.

3. Add whatever flavour you want. Dried herbs (oregano's nice), spices (smoked paprika anyone? curry?), salts (garlic salt, celery salt). Pepper's also highly recommended, and salt, if you're not using any of the garlic or onion variety. For this specific time, I used salt, pepper and sumac.

4. Pop the baking sheet on the middle rack of your the oven, which has been set to Broil. WATCH THEM CLOSELY. They burn in a heartbeat. Seriously. Heart... (still okay)... beat (crap! burnt!)

5. When they're nice and brown and crispy, take them out of the oven. Break them up if you wish. Enjoy.


Aaaah! Now that the pita chips are out of the way, back to the sweet potato from hell. Here's tonight's salad, with thanks to the larder, as usual, for the beans.

Curried creamy navy bean and shredded sweet potato salad with hard-boiled egg and pita chips (feeds two, with leftovers)

Boil up a few hard-boiled eggs (I made three for two people). While they cool, combine the following in a bowl :
  • 1 can of white navy beans or white kidney beans, rinsed
  • a few tbsp chopped fresh herbs like mint, dill or chives (I still had some damned chives, so I used chives)
  • 1 cup of grated sweet potato

In another bowl, combine : (I did it this way, but you can definitely make this part first in the big salad bowl and save yourself some dishes)
  • approx. 3/4 cup of plain yogourt (not low-fat)
  • 1 scant tsp of curry powder
  • 1 scant tsp of honey
  • juice of 1/4 lime (approx. 1 tbsp); add more if not tangy enough
  • salt

Serve the bean salad on a bed of baby greens with the sliced egg on top. Enjoy with your freshly baked pita chips.

Pfff. Only 1/3 of the sweet potato to go! It lives to die another day...

Until we meet again, Crisper squatter.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ever have a cheese hangover?

Happy New Year everybody!! I wish you a happy and healthy 2012, filled with lots of flavour, fun, and fibre. Fibre before wealth, man. Always. As for me, the one resolution I intend to stick with this year is to blog more than once or twice a month. Don't be shy to call me on it if you get more than a fifteen-day waiting period between posts. I have no kids. Ergo, I have no excuses.

So with that in mind, let's get things started off right by me telling you about the best cancelled-at-the-last-minute-New-Year's-Eve-dinner-for-six I've ever had! The reason for the cancellation doesn't matter (double-bookings, less-than-firm rsvp's, too much farniente and not enough follow-ups... You know - the usual). All that matters is that Marc and I found ourselves face to face at our dinner table last night, with two bottles of bubbly, insane amounts of cheese and MY NEW RACLETTE SET!

All that's missing now is the cheeeeeese!

I don't know why I'm so tickled by food trends of days gone by. The BIB, cheese balls, raclette... Maybe it's the historian in me (did I mention I ultimately became an archivist after cooking school?), or maybe it's my way of flirting with disaster, by attempting hipster cool in the ever menacing shadow of not-cool-enough-to-pull-this-off lameness. But, as usual, I digress...

I know very little about raclette, besides the obvious basics that it originates in Switzerland, it was probably invented by hungry herders, and it involves meats, potatoes, pickled things and, most importantly, cheese (seriously - the Swiss must climb a lot of mountains, with the amount of cheese they eat). Normally, I would have done a bit of research in order to get the necessary ingredients and traditions right, but I thought, meh - it's melted cheese on stuff. How can I go wrong? I'm not Swiss. Marc's not Swiss. The dogs aren't Swiss. No one will know.

So off I went to Costco to pick up some nicely priced Emmenthal, to accompany a few more cheeses that were still hanging around my fridge from the Christmastime food-a-palooza. Oddly, it's also at Costco that I found my inspiration for what would go under the cheese; a less than poetic, plastic-wrapped two-pack of dried California figs. I figured the Swiss probably didn't put figs in their raclette, but that didn't matter. I started thinking about antipasti platters; what do figs go well with? Nuts! Mmmm. Then I turned another corner and saw prosciutto cotto (a.k.a. cooked ham with a fancy name). Angels sang. This was going to be good. So with a few more stops on the way home - butcher, baker, candlestick maker - we were all set for dinner!

And what a dinner it was. I don't know if it was anywhere close to traditional, but it's traditional in our house as of now. The lesson of that evening? Have raclette! It's way more fun than fondue and it's a great way to let your imagination fly! When you're planning your meal, just think: would cheese taste good on that? If the answer is yes, THEN GO FOR IT!!

Oopsie. Please forgive that pen in the upper-right corner.
Don't drink and photograph. The risk of pen-in-photo is too great.

In case you're curious, here's the ingredients list from last night:
  • prosciutto cotto (or other good quality cooked ham);
  • local bison steak, cut thinly into wide strips (put your knife on a diagonal instead of cutting straight down);
  • house-made pork and beef breakfast sausages from Boucherie Gréber;
  • asparagus, cooked al-dente and shocked in an ice bath;
  • boiled potatoes (salt the water appropriately, because they'll be a let-down under the cheese!);
  • caramelized onions (I cooked three big ones for two people);
  • jardinière (a mix of cauliflower, carrots and peppers. Thanks Shannon!);
  • pecans;
  • dried figs, sliced into four or five pieces each;
  • baguette, just because.

Asparagus, pecan and sausage.
Peekaboo! Asparagus, pecan and sausage, pre-melt.
There is no post-melt photo, sadly. *slurp*
Bedtime for bison and fig!
Sweet dreams...

BTW, my fig, nut and ham hunch was right. Man, was it good. Try it. Now.

Bonne année 2012!