Archives for posts with tag: dinner

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Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

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I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

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When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

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I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

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Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

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Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

How many times have you bought something to cook and left it in your fridge and then totally forgot about it.  When you finally do remember it, it has already gone bad.  This will never be the case with Swiss chard.  I bought this Swiss chard two weeks before I actually used it.  Two weeks and it was still fresh.  You wouldn’t expect that with a leafy green.  I was trying to not cook it intentionally.  You see, my husband is back on the P90-X diet.  Agh, I hate that diet.  I bought this Swiss chard so that I could it as a side for his gargantuan portion of boring grilled chicken.  But his diet leaves me uninspired and I’m not going to cook a meal for him and a meal for me every night, so my diet, at least at dinner is very boring and bland.

I made the executive decision to introduce quinoa into his diet.  I don’t know if the P90-X gods allow it or not, but at this point I don’t really care.  I needed to expand the horizons of the P90-X cookbook, which my husband gave to me and said, “There are so many great recipes in here, use them, get inspired.”  Um, thanks, but no thanks is what I have to say about that.  I would love to complain that my husband doesn’t help around the house, but that’s not true so I feel a little guilty not making dinner for him (at least on weekdays).

Back to the quinoa, I decided to sauté the Swiss chard and add his favorite chickpeas and my usual salad additions of herbs, something sweet, sour, nuts, and cheese.  I did get a lot of scorn for the cheese -”TOO FATTENING, IT’S NOT FAT-FREE MOZZARELLA.”  Next time I’ll add more cheese, that’s me and my passive-aggressive ways.  If you’re on P90-X or not, this salad is a great lunch or side-dish and there are absolutely no rules.  If you don’t like Swiss chard, use spinach, if you don’t like chickpeas, use black beans, use any herbs you like.  Just as long as you follow my equation of sweet, sour, salty, nutty, herby you’ll be just fine.  Anything goes.

I’ve made this dish three times since the beginning of this year.  As much as I like it, I hope to make something super decadent soon, just to get my husband off his silly diet.  :)

Red Quinoa with Rainbow Chard, Chickpeas, and a Meyer Lemon Dressing

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

Olive oil

1 cup red quinoa, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes and drained

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

2 cups chopped rainbow chard, or any other sturdy leafy green

1 small cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cooked chickpeas, or any bean of your choice

1/4 cup, or to taste crumbly cheese, like goat or feta

1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or currants

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, or any nut of your choice

1/2 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint, plus a little extra for garnish

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon red chili flakes or to taste

for the dressing:

1 small clove of garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint

juice of 1 juicy Meyer lemon, about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a medium-sized sauce pan with the lid on, cook the quinoa with the chicken/veg stock or water on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the quinoa unravels and looks a little stringy.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan on medium heat, heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the red chili flakes and garlic and allow them to infuse the oil.  Once the garlic starts to brown just slightly, add in the rainbow chard, salt, pepper, and sauté until it is wilted down and cooked, about 10-12 minutes.  Once cooked, allow it to cool down for 10-15 minutes.

Make the dressing, by add all the ingredients into a blender and blend until emulsified.  If the mixture is too thick you can add a little water to loosen it up.

Next, combine the cooked quinoa with the rainbow chard, chickpeas, cranberries, pine nuts, herbs, and the dressing and toss to combine.  Top with crumbled cheese and extra herbs, for garnish.  Serve warm, at room-temperature, or cold.

Lamb chops are something that have always daunted me.  I save lamb for restaurants where a more experienced chef can masterfully prepare them for me without the stress and over thinking that would be occurring in my kitchen.  The pros can  handle red meat better than I can.  What I’m scared of the most is overcooking a good piece of meat.  Why spend the money and then “accidentally” cook a juicy steak or lamb chop to well-done.  (No offense to those who like their meat well-done.)

My husband has been asking me to make him rack of lamb for five years.  Five years!  I’ve tried to maneuver my way around the issue and make him roasted leg of lamb or lamb shank.  But something about the rack of lamb scared me.  Every year on his birthday, he requests rack of lamb and every year I get myself out of it.  Since this year we have celebrated five birthdays together, I just made the dive and we both went to the butcher and got the rack of lamb.  I needed the support, that’s why we both went.

Once we got home, I contemplated what I should do with the lamb, the over thinking had begun.  After all, I’ve eaten lamb many many times at restaurants, so I calmed myself down and went with my instincts.  Herbs became the main attraction followed by lemon and nuts.  I raided my pantry and came up with a herb, walnut, lemon, capers crusted lamb.  I let it marinate so the flavors would penetrate the meat.

I roasted it and it came out perfectly, medium rare bordering medium.  (I do love steaks at medium-rare, but for me, lamb needs to be cooked a tad bit more.)  While it was roasting I also prepared a shallot and dijon sauce, which was lovely with the lamb.  When we sliced through the rack, I finally got over my fear and could do it again and again.  The end result makes you want to step back in the kitchen and expand your culinary horizons.  For now I’ve tackled rack of lamb, let’s see what comes up next.

Rack of Lamb with a Walnut and Herb Crust

Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 french rack of lamb, 8 chops in total

1 cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, chives) + extra for garnish

5 cloves of garlic

juice and zest of 2 lemons + plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the sauce:

olive oil

2 shallots or 1 large shallot finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups chicken or beef stock

1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche

fresh chopped parsley

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

To make the crust: in a food processor, combine the herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, capers, walnuts, flour, salt and pepper.  Pulse lightly until everything is crumbly yet a little sticky.

Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and then cover both sides with the crust and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Before baking preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake the lamb in an oven-safe pan or dish for 25 minutes.  If you like your meat cooked well-done, add another 7-10 minutes.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the sauce.  In a saute pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan on medium heat and once it comes to temperature, add in the shallots and cook until translucent and on the verge of turning light brown.  At this point, add in the Dijon mustard, chicken or beef stock, salt, black pepper and allow it to reduce.  Once reduced to your liking, add in the crème fraîche and parsley.  Once the lamb is cooked, let it rest outside the oven covered in aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Serve the lamb with the sauce and garnish with some fresh lemon and chopped herbs.

I also added some asparagus in the pan with the lamb, towards the end of cooking.  I served the lamb with a sunchoke mash as well.

Things are hectic lately.  We’re about to move, which is always a stressful time. Yes, finally, I am moving to a big city, Toronto. My husband used to live there, so it won’t be too hard adjusting.  Despite all my complaining about where I live now, I am going to miss it.  My apartment feels so homey, anyone who visits says the same thing.  I’m getting sentimental about leaving.  There are so many things I’m going to miss, which I will post about later.

This was the first city my husband and I lived in together, where we moved past the newlywed stage of marriage and have come into our own.  We have our own routine here, it’s not the most exciting life or in any way cosmopolitan, but we managed.  But there’s always a time to move on, I guess.  I don’t want to sound like a downer, I am very happy we’re moving.  I’m just the type of person who gets attached to places.  I lived in the same house until I was 21.

Anyhow, my main point was that things are hectic around here.  When things are hectic, shami kebabs are a lifesaver, emergency food, if you will. They freeze so well and last for months.  I must admit, the process of making them is somewhat grueling, but it’s not so bad.  I try to always have them on hand because it never hurts to serve an extra dish, especially for a last-minute gathering.

I am smiling right now, thinking about in Pakistan there are always unexpected guests, an occasion where shami kebabs come in very handy.  This concept would not really fly in North America, people showing up unannounced and expecting to be served something substantial to eat. Someone usually has to rush to the local bakery to get samosas, various biscuits, and puff pastry patties.  Then, all the food is placed on a special trolley for guests and then it is rolled out with a teapot covered in a tea cozy and all the bakery goodies.  Meanwhile, shami kebabs are frying up in the kitchen because they are ready in the freezer.

Whether or not you eat shami kebabs as an emergency food, they are delicious and one of my all-time favorites.  Since we’re going to be moving and there will be little time to cook, we’ll be eating a lot of shami kebabs.  All the hard work is worth it, trust me.

Chicken Shami Kebabs

Makes about 25-30 kebabs

Ingredients

for cooking the chicken:

water, as needed

2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, in large chunks*

1 medium sized red onion, roughly sliced, no need to be precise, just in chunks

half a bulb of garlic, peeled

2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped

1 cup yellow split pea lentils (chanay ki dal) soaked overnight and washed

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

3 black cardamoms

5 green cardamoms

10-12 dried red chilies, use less for less spicy

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

2 bay leaves

salt, to taste

after cooking the chicken you will need:

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1/2 a red onion, chopped

4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

2 eggs

oil for frying

Method

First, cook the yellow lentils in plenty of boiling water until soft, after 30-45 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large pan, add the chicken, a little oil (if necessary), and all of the items listed (including spices) under the “for cooking the chicken” ingredients.   Also, add a little water, about 1/2 a cup.  Cook the chicken on medium heat for 15 minutes and then turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 45 more minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and all the water has evaporated.  You may need to add more water to the pot if it evaporates too quickly, just make sure you cook until the chicken is tender and the onion, garlic, and ginger are very soft.  Remove the cinnamon stick, black cardamom, and bay leaves, all the other spices will grind in the food processor.

Once the chicken is cooled, allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes.  After it has cooled slightly, transfer it to a large food processor with the cooked lentils and pulse until they are combined. Transfer the chicken and lentil mixture to a large bowl and add in the chopped cilantro, mint, scallions, green chilies, and red onion.  It’s time to get messy and crack in the 2 eggs and mix it all together with your hands.  Once everything is combined, form the chicken into round kebabs, about 3 inches in diameter.  You should end up with about 25-30 kebabs.

Next, in a frying pan heat some oil on medium heat and fry the kebabs until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cook as many as you want and you can freeze the kebabs that are not fried for up to 3-4 months.

Variation: Instead of adding the egg inside the kebab mixture, before frying you can dip each kebab into beaten egg and fry the kebabs with an egg coating.  Another slight variation, is that you can grind all the spices that you cook with the chicken i.e. before adding them to the pot grind them all in a spice grinder and cook the chicken with the ground spices.  However,  I just grind them in the food processor with the chicken after it has cooked, removing the black cardamom, cinnamon stick, and, bay leaves.  I find that the other spices grind easily, as they have become soft after cooking.  It’s a personal preference.

To reheat frozen shami kebabs: leave frozen kebabs out at room temperature for 30 minutes and fry as usual.

You can serve the shami kebabs as a snack or a side dish with green chutney /chili garlic sauce or with dal and basmati rice.  I also like to eat them with parathas.  A popular street food in Pakistan is bun kebab, which is also made with shami kebabs.

*I usually use beef stewing meat, which you can use, just cook the yellow lentils with the beef rather than separately and adjust the cooking time and water according to the meat you use.  Beef will take longer.  I used chicken thighs here because I had some in my freezer.  I imagine you could also use chicken breast as well.  Some people also cook the meat and lentils in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one so I can’t give instructions on that method.

Shami Kebab recipes on other sites:

Chachi’s Kitchen

Passionate About Baking

Journey Kitchen

Fauzia’s Pakistani Recipes

Epicurious

I have tried to write this post for a few days now, finding it kind of out of place.  With so many people suffering right now, I felt a sort of guilt that I have the luxury to write a blog post about soup whereas for many this would be the last thing on their mind.  I couldn’t find a way to fit it together without sounding forced.  Usually I have an idea about what my blog post is going to be about.  Here I am just typing, whatever words come out, I don’t know.  Let’s hope it makes some sense.

The world has been a tumultuous place lately–revolutions, earthquakes, floods, poverty, slavery, injustice.  I guess these things have always existed, maybe I just notice more now, now that I’m older and not as aloof as I used to be.  I watch the news in a daze sometimes, in awe of the hate and the suffering in the world.  My eyes often well up with tears and I hold them in.  My husband would tease me and call me a softy.  I feel safe where I am, just as people all over the world feel safe in their homes, eating meals cooked by loves ones everyday.  Sometimes we are shaken, as life can throw a curve at us.  It’s amazing how resilient the human spirit can be–how strong we are.

We do what we have to to get by.  A mother will still look after her children even when her world is shaken.  She will find a way to feed and comfort them.  Eating gives us fuel, gives us a feeling of the familiar.  We all have our favorite meals and sometimes when you sit down to a meal after a long hard day, you can unwind and just relish in food.

This Thai Soup is a family favorite.  Usually in restaurants, it’s called Tom Yum Goong, but I couldn’t find lime leaves, galangal, and Thai Basil, so I improvised.  The results were still delicious.  I also added coconut milk, because something about the aroma of coconut milk soothes the soul–comfort.  Chilies and spiciness are also soothing for me.  We always ask for our Thai food extra spicy.  Sometimes we regret it, but most times we enjoy the fiery spice.  How ever you like your soup, enjoy it and take a minute or two to reflect on life and be grateful for the small things.

Thai Style Soup with Shrimp

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

Vegetable oil of your choice

2 shallots, roughly chopped

4 cloves garlic roughly chopped

2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 stalk of lemon grass, bruised with a knife and roughly chopped

zest and juice of one lime

6 dried red chilies, or to taste and a few extra for the broth

1 tablespoon brown sugar

15 sprigs of cilantro, stems included

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, any size you prefer

crimini mushrooms, quartered

handful of pea pods, optional

6-8 cups chicken stock

salt, to taste

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1 3/4 cup coconut milk, I used light

1 red chili, sliced

1 green chili, sliced

cilantro, basil, limes, for garnish (or any combination)

Method

Put the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, lime zest/juice, dried red chilies, brown sugar, and cilantro springs in a food process and pulse until it forms a smooth paste.

Next, heat a large pot on medium and heat about 1 tablespoon of oil and add the paste to the oil and mix for 3-4 minutes.  Add in the chicken stock and mix the paste and chicken stock well so tat they become uniform. Taste for salt, and add salt, if necessary.  Also, throw in a few extra dried red chilies into the broth, optional.

Cook until the stock boils, once the stock boils add in the coconut milk and let it come to a boil again.  Add in the fish sauce and let the soup boil until you can see the oil separately.

Add in the mushrooms, pea pods, and shrimp and cook until the shrimp turns pink.  Garish with the red and green chilies, cilantro, basil, limes.  Serve hot.

A few other recipes of Thai Soup:

Temple of Thai

The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Thai Food About

Rasa Malaysia

**A good breakdown of a few organizations you can donate through for earthquake/tsunami relief via Slow Like Honey**

I miss the ocean.  Even though I live right on (literally) Lake Ontario, I miss the ocean.  The lake isn’t the same.  There aren’t any seafood shacks like Champlin’s or Iggy’s.  Every summer in Rhode Island, we order clam cakes, lobster rolls, whole lobsters with fresh drawn butter.  The meat of the lobster is so sweet and succulent.  I always tell my husband that I hate being “landlocked,” that I need to be living on a coastline.  As usual he rolls his eyes and ignores me.  Don’t worry, one day I’ll get my way and we’ll be close to the ocean.

Trying to appease me somewhat, my husband brought lobsters from Halifax after an interview at Dalhousie University.  (Not my first choice of places to live.)  Last year, he was in Cape Breton Island on an elective and did I give him an earful for not bringing back lobsters that time.  This time, I didn’t even mention anything about lobsters and he brought them.

The Rhode Islander in me immediately thought to make lobster ravioli.  Federal Hill, our Little Italy, is the place for lobster ravioli.  Venda Ravioli makes amazing lobster ravioli.  What I wouldn’t give for a heaping plate of those beautiful pillows of flavor right now.  Once when I was at home in Rhode Island, I went to Trader Joe’s and noticed they had some prepackaged lobster ravioli.  I decided to try it out and the guy at the checkout told me that he couldn’t believe how popular the lobster ravioli was in Rhode Island and that he worked in several Trader Joe’s throughout the US and never even noticed them before coming to Rhode Island.

A pasta dish is never complete without a side of bread and garlic and herb infused olive oil.

As much as I wanted to make lobster ravioli, I deemed it as too much work.   My husband brought whole lobsters, he wasn’t bright enough to just get me the meat.  One step at a time.  I had to clean the meat out of the shell, and after that messy ordeal, we were lucky I didn’t just melt some butter and have us eat the lobster plain (even though this way is delicious in its own right).  I decided go with the Federal Hill idea and simply make an egg pasta with lobster that you could find almost anywhere on Federal Hill.  We enjoyed it and it brought me back to my Rhode Island roots and the lobster meat tasted like the ocean, almost making me feel as though I was near the coast.

Federal Hill Style Lobster with Pasta

inspired and adapted from Food and Wine and Gourmet

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, meat removed and cut into large chunks, and shells reserved

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

5 canned plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands

1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Vermouth, Pinot Grigio)

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

heavy cream, as much or as little as you like, I used 1/4 cup but you can go up to 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 lemon cut into slices or wedges

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

sea salt, to taste

3/4 a 500 g box of De Cecco pappardelle, or any egg pasta of your choice, cooked to al dente, 1/2 cup cooking liquid reserved

Method

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, heat the oil and add the chopped shallot and let it soften for a minute or two.  Next, add in the garlic, bay leaf, and crushed red chilies, and allow them to infuse the oil for a minute.  Add in the shells (from the tails and claws) and sauté them for two minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and crush them further with a cooking spoon.  Season with salt.  Pour in the wine and 1 cup of water and let the liquid reduce by half, about 10-15 minutes

Once the liquid is reduced, turn the heat to low, and add the saffron and let it infuse into the broth for five minutes. After five minutes, pour in the cream and whisk it so that it does not curdle.  Let the cream reduce for two minutes.  Once the cream has reduced slightly put the cooked lobster meat into the pan and let it warm through for a few minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid until the sauce reaches a consistency you like.

Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Sprinkle in the parsley and drop in the dab of butter and allow it to melt into the sauce.  Remove the bay leaf.  Next, toss in the cooked pasta and place the lemon wedges into the pasta for some brightness in color and flavor.  Drizzle with olive oil and use shells as a garnish, serve hot. You can also carb-load and serve some nice focaccia with olive oil on the side.

If anyone is interested, here’s an article on the “seafood shack” culture in Rhode Island.

This is definitely not a Valentine’s Day dish.  It’s not special and it’s completely and utterly pedestrian, at least in Pakistani households.  Regardless, I wanted to share it with you today because it’s the first dish I ever cooked for my husband.  Way back when, five years ago, in April, I met my husband through my sister.  She met him and put him in touch with me, he was in grad school in Toronto and I was in grad school in Montreal and in my sister’s mind that was enough reason for us to get along.  We started talking and then one day on a whim he decided to visit me in Montreal.  As you can imagine, I was nervous.  In our conversations I told him I enjoyed cooking, though at the time I didn’t do much being a busy grad student.  So when he arrived and when we got over the initial awkwardness we both went grocery shopping together.

It’s not exactly the first date most of us imagine, but that is what happened with us.  The premise of the grocery shopping was that I would cook lunch for us.  I had no clue what to make, we were wandering through the aisles and I said that I would make keema (ground beef).  It was a dish I was comfortable making and my now husband was pretty laid back about the whole thing.  He told me he liked it with green bell peppers, in my mind I thought, “ew,” but I put some green bell peppers into our cart and also picked up some spinach to  make aloo palak, a dish I had never made before.  Back then, I was polite and didn’t say anything about the bell peppers, if it was today, it would be an entirely different story.

We got back to my apartment and I started cooking in my tiny kitchen with very little proper kitchen equipment.  We began talking and pretty soon we were more comfortable and it felt as though we knew each other for ages.  I made the keema, aloo palak (it turned out good), basmati rice, salad, and chutney.  My husband stuck with me after that meal and it’s safe to say he was a fan of my cooking.  After eating lunch we explored Montreal, which in of itself is a very romantic city, and then later had some late night bites at a restaurant, a “proper” date, if you will.

My husband’s favorite Pakistani dish besides channay is keema. I don’t know if he liked it before or if his love for it blossomed after I made it that first time.  He now requests it on a weekly basis.  He was just away for three weeks on medical residency interviews and whenever he would get a few days in the middle to come home, he would ask me to make aloo keema. Luckily for me it’s an easy dish and I also enjoy it.

I know this isn’t a gorgeous Valentine’s dessert of gooey chocolate, but it is one of “our” dishes.  Since my husband and I consider food a big part of what we have in common, it doesn’t matter if it’s simple Pakistani home cooking or some form of haute cuisine, we always enjoy it in each other’s company.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Aloo Keema

serves 3 as a main, 4 if served with a side dish

Ingredients

Canola oil, or any neutral vegetable oil

1 pound ground beef (chicken, lamb, goat) It’s also up to you if you want to use lean or not.  I like to wash and drain it in a colander.

1 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (2 inch piece of ginger and 5-6 cloves of garlic blended together with a little water)

1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (you can also use peas, peppers, cauliflower, or any vegetable you choose, just adjust cooking times)

2 tomatoes, puréed (canned are alright, if they are out of season)

1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon red chili powder/cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3-4 whole black peppercorns

2 cloves

2-3 green chilies, julienned, seeds removed if you like

nice handful of cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, chopped, optional

garam masala, optional

limes, for garnish, optional

Method

Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and add in some oil, to your taste.  Let the oil heat up and add the onions and fry them for a few minutes until they start to almost turn light golden brown.

Add in the meat and ginger-garlic paste and keep stirring it until the ground beef is all broken up and in very small pieces.  Once the meat is slightly browned add in all the spices except the garam masala and keep mixing until everything is combined and the rawness is cooked out the spices.

Next, add in the tomato purée and mix it into the meat.  I also add in half a cup of water at this point.  Lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan and allow it to cook for 15 minutes or so.

After fifteen minutes, check the meat and mix it.  Cover and let it cook for fifteen more minutes.  After fifteen minutes, add in the potatoes and mix everything together a few times.  You should no longer see individual pieces of onion (it should have melted into the “masala,” and the oil should start to separate from the meat.  If necessary, add a little water (1/4 cup) to help the potatoes cook.

Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the green chilies, cilantro, scallions, and a sprinkling of garam masala and cook for another few minutes.  Serve with rice, chapati/roti, or naan and green chutney, limes, spicy pickles (achaar), and salad.

*Leftovers taste even better!

Sometimes they are recipes that you want to try and you just don’t for whatever reason.  This is one of those for me.  I first saw this recipe about a year ago in Food and Wine magazine and deemed it as an easy weeknight meal.  But the recipe used roasted eggplant instead of the fennel I used here.  I have been obsessed with fennel this winter.  I have been making a fennel and mushroom soup weekly.  When my husband asks what I made for dinner and I reply, “fennel mushroom soup,”  I get a grunt, a big one.  If my husband wants this to change he can step into the kitchen and make it happen.  Until then, or until I tire of this combination, either of which doesn’t look like anytime soon, I will keep making it.

But back to the recipe at hand, the eggplant and lentils fennel and lentils.  Well, it was really going to be eggplant and lentils.  I even bought an eggplant for this purpose and went as far as roasting it.  Then at the last-minute I opened the fridge for some herbs and there I saw my fennel.  Looking at it with longing eyes, I cheated on the eggplant with fennel.  The roasted eggplant is still in my fridge, oops.  Don’t worry, I will use it.  I’ll make baba ghanoush or eggplant bharta or something, who really cares, I’m talking about fennel right now!

Fennel and lentils, I can’t say I’ve heard of this combination before, but it works.  I gobbled down two platefuls.  Another thing that works brilliantly with fennel is smoked paprika.  I didn’t cook with it much before a few months ago, and now I quite enjoy it.  Initially, I was turned off by the overly smoky smell, but that’s not the case any longer.
Another plus to this dish is that I enjoyed it even more because my husband was out-of-town, well not for that exact reason, but  I didn’t have to deal with any grunts or disgusted faces because he is not a fan of French lentils (or at least the way I make them.)  Notice a pattern here.

Anyhow, I never got around to making the original recipe, maybe another day.

Fennel and Lentil Salad

inspired and adapted by Food and Wine (Eggplant-Lentil Salad) February 2010

Serves 2, as a main

Ingredients

2 cups sliced fennel, fronds reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

kosher salt, to taste

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 shallots, finely minced

1 cup French Lentils (du Puy), washed

2 1/2 cups water

zest of 1 lemon and its juice as well

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds removed, if you like

5-7 mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

some fennel fronds, chopped, optional

plain yogurt, for serving

Method

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add half of the smoked paprika to the oil and let it infuse the oil for a minute.  Next, add in the fennel and the rest of the smoked paprika.  Season with salt and allow the fennel to caramelize and soften for about 15 minutes.  Once it is ready set aside.

Heat a saucepan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil.  Add in the cumin seeds and crushed red chili flakes.  Allow the cumin seeds to crackle a bit and then add in the shallots and allow them to soften.  Once soft, add in the garlic and allow the garlic to get to the point where it is beginning it brown, but do not burn it.  Next, add in the lentils, water, and salt.  Cover and allow to come to a boil.  When the water starts to boil, remove the lid and and turn the heat to medium low and allow the lentils to simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated and the lentils mash when you press them between your fingers.

Toss in the fennel, herbs, jalapeño, lemon juice, and zest.   Serve warm or at room temperature. The Food and Wine recipe suggests topping this with yogurt, which I did and serving it with naan, which I did not.

I need a major detox right now.  For the past two weeks I have been overindulging to the max and have totally skipped the gym.  I know that most of us have resolutions to get healthy in the New Year and I do alright for most of the year, but when December rolls around I fall victim to holiday overeating.  The funny part of this all is that I don’t even celebrate Christmas.  I don’t have anything against partaking in the festivities, though.  I’m all ready to eat holiday cookies and spreads, no reservations for me there.

I’m sure many of you can share similar stories.  So I won’t go on and on about this because it’s been said and done before.  I made this dish before the holiday hoopla, before I got on the “see-food” diet.  I most certainly will come back to my normal routine now that I am no longer at my parents’ place for the holidays.

Speaking of the “see-food” diet, we can change that to the seafood diet.  This fish dish I made is full of clean and simple flavors.  I was lucky enough to find some local Bay of Quinte Perch, a lake fish that is very mild.  But feel free to use your favorite white fish as a substitute if perch isn’t available to you.  I “perched” the perch (forgive me for the cheesy joke) over a warm red cabbage salad with a leek vinaigrette.  It was a satisfying dish that made you feel good after you ate it not only when you ate it, as is the case with many guilty pleasures.

Pan Seared Perch over a Red Cabbage Salad with a Warm Leek Vinaigrette

Serves 2 (can easily be doubled, tripled)

Ingredients

for the fish:

extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound perch filets (or white fish of your choice and skin on or off)

1 cup flour (there will be flour left over, but I like to have enough to easily coat the fish)

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

the leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the red cabbage:

extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

red chili flakes, to taste

1 cup sliced leeks, white and light green parts

1 small shallot, chopped

juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup of chopped green herbs, parsley and chives

3 cups thinly sliced red cabbage, can be done on a mandoline or by knife

salt and black pepper, to taste

sea salt

lemon wedges and extra green herbs, for garnish

Method

Prepare the fish first. Mix together the flour, Spanish paprika, thyme, salt, and pepper together in a shallow dish and coat the fillets of fish with the flour mixture and tap off any excess flour.  Set the fish aside on a rack until ready to pan fry. This step can be done up to 2 hours in advance.

Next, make the leek vinaigrette by heating a sauté pan on medium heat with some olive oil.  Add in the garlic and red chili flakes (to taste) and allow them to infuse the oil for a minute.  Then, add in the leeks and shallots, season with salt and black pepper and allow them to soften and almost caramelize, this should take 10-15 minutes.  When the leeks are done squeeze in the lemon juice and toss in the herbs and red cabbage and turn off the heat.

Now, it is time to cook the fish.  In a clean sauté pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and then add in the flour coated fish (skin side down if you are using fish with skin).  Allow the fish to sear on each side for about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of your filet.  Once the fish is in the pan, don’t touch it until it is ready to flip because it might break.  Set the fish on paper towels to absorb any excess oil, but there should not be much because the fish wasn’t deep-fried.  At this point, also sprinkle a little sea salt over the fish. You can keep the fish warm in a low oven while making the red cabbage, if you like.

To serve place the fish over the warm red cabbage salad and you can garnish with lemon wedges and green herbs.

The crisp fall breeze has arrived and with it yields the vibrant hues of Fall.  These colors and flavors are different than summer and allow us to cozy up with our favorite blanket and herald in the coming of Fall.  If you ask me, Autumn is far too short.  In these months, I often make roast chicken.  Roast chicken is simple enough and not very controversial.  However, for me, it reminds me of childhood and being Pakistani in a sea of non-Pakistanis.  Eating roast chicken would make me fit in.  This time of year meant a new year at school, new friends, and new teachers.

I don’t know if when you were children, if kids would ask each other what they had for dinner.  In my circle of friends, we did.  I don’t know what the case was: early foodies or a lack of conversation topics.  You would think I would want to discuss Jordan Knight of The New Kids on the Block and my stonewashed denim jacket covered with huge and gaudy pins pictured with him or those other things I obsessed about like bubble necklaces or snap bracelets.

As a child, I was on the radar about food.  There were times I would feel embarrassed and tell people I had a roast chicken for dinner, I didn’t want to be different.  I didn’t want to explain what chicken salan was or that we ate flatbreads with our meal or that I ate goat meat.  “Oh, the horror,” I thought.  I looked at other children’s chicken salad sandwiches on pumpernickel and made my mom duplicate those lunches for me.

I was the diversity in my school, I lived in a small town in Rhode Island.  I can’t say that anyone was particularly mean to me, despite my bushy eyebrows and my obvious difference in culture.  I can’t even convey to you how relieved I was when my mother let me get my eyebrows threaded.

I wasn’t embarrassed for long, I found the kids I went to school with thought these differences were actually cool.  We would wear my shalwar kameez and play Aladdin (how Orientalist of us, I know).  I could tell them what I actually had for dinner and they would love to try all the spicy and different dishes my parents would make when they came over.  There was no more pretending that we ate Kraft macaroni and cheese every night for dinner.

Through all this, roast chicken, Pakistani or not (it can most certainly be made Pakistani) is a comforting dish for me.  It is a reminder of a happy childhood and that although Pakistani food is something that is part of me, this roast chicken also brings out warm memories.

Autumn Roast Chicken

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1- 3-4 pound free-range organic chicken

2 tablespoons of softened unsalted butter (if you are in Ontario, try Stirling Creamery butter)

2-3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil

1 cup parsley leaves

15 sprigs of chives

2 tablespoons of thyme leaves

1 bulb of garlic, peeled

2 medium-sized onions, roughly sliced

3 lemons, 2 sliced and 1 juiced

1 cup dry white wine

plenty of kosher salt and black pepper

extra green herbs for the cavity of the chicken

Method

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Make sure your chicken is clean and patted dry, season it generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the body.  Make the herb spread for the chicken by combining the butter, olive oil, half the garlic cloves, lemon juice, parsley, chives, thyme, salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse the ingredients into a paste.

Place the chicken into a large oven proof baking dish.  Rub and massage the paste into the chicken and carefully lift up the skin and rub it under the skin.  Make sure you have rubbed it in well.

Place half the lemon slices and under the skin and fill the cavity with 1 onion, the lemon slices, half of the remaining garlic, and leftover green herbs.    Scatter the other onion, garlic, and herbs around the chicken in the baking dish.  Pour the white wine around the chicken.

Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.   After 20 minutes reduce the heat to 400 degrees and bake for an additional hour. Every 15 minutes or so, baste the chicken with the wine and pan juices.

Make sure the chicken is cooked through.  Serve on a nice large platter with some lemon wedges and chopped parsley.  I like to throw in some potatoes and carrots about 30 minutes before the chicken is done.  Allow the chicken to rest for 15-20 minutes before carving.  Don’t be shy about soaking up some bread with the pan juices.  Yum.

*There are thousands of roast chicken recipes out there, I’m sure there are several similar recipes out there.

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