Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad

Guest Chef: Mom

For the last Friday of a vacation week, we were heading to my parents for lunch and relaxing on their patio. A couple days earlier, my mom had called me, very excited about a recipe she saw for a pasta salad in the Toronto Sun. Not wanting to ask why on earth she was reading the Sun, I asked her about the recipe and it sounded great. She prepared it for the Friday lunch.

The salad tasted great. The flavour mostly comes from both roasted and picked vegetables. My mom was especially excited about the recipe because it's very easy to prepare ahead of time. The vegetables can be roasted a day or two in advance and refrigerated, and the rest of the salad comes together quite easily. Mom also switched things up a bit and used roasted garlic (and more garlic than the original recipe stated) and was more liberal with the balsamic vinegar (but she didn't remember how much more liberal).

Although the recipe calls for some parmesean cheese for garnish, I actually think that adding 1/2 cup feta cheese immediately before serving would really do the trick. Not having any feta on hand, we weren't able to try it.

Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 2 zucchini, cut lengthwise into thick strips
  • 8 stalks asparagus, ends trimmed
  • 1 250g package cremini mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 package (500g) rotini pasta
  • 1 medium jar (340ml) marinated artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 3 roasted red peppers, skinned and cut into strips
  • 4 cloves roasted garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup feta cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 400-degrees and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss onion, zucchini, asparagus and mushrooms in olive oil, salt and pepper and transfer to cookie sheets.
  3. Grill the vegetables in the oven for 5 minutes, turn and continue grilling for another 5 minutes until tender and crispy
  4. Remove vegetables from oven and let cool. Roughly chop vegetables and transfer to a container if preparing in advance. Cook pasta until al dente following the package directions, rinse and drain.
  5. When ready to serve, in a large bowl, toss pasta, grilled vegetables, artichokes, roasted peppers, garlic, tomatoes, olives, oil, vinegar, parsley, basil and feta cheese and serve.
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Friday, August 26, 2011

Chocolate Chip Squares

Getting ready for a day-trip to Jackson's Point in July with some friends, Meredith wanted to bring some goodies for the kids. Her first idea was to make cookies, however, she realized that making squares would be less work. Fewer pans, and I could still pack the result away in a container for the car.

The recipe is mostly from the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus recipe book (you may remember the Welsh cakes). For Jacob's sake, Meredith held back on the nuts.

Chocolate Chip Squares

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar (packed)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. Using a stand mixer, mix the butter and brown sugar. Add white sugar and mix again. Add egg and vanilla and continue to mix.
  3. Add flour, baking soda and salt and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.
  4. Add chocolate chips.
  5. Transfer mixture into 9x9 greased pan.
  6. bake for 25-30 minutes until set and top is light brown.

Can be cut into up to 36 pieces (6x6).

Based on the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus. Original recipe by Cye Beechey.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review: Elwood Bar & Grill, Detroit, MI

Another restaurant from the Boys' Weekend Trip in Detroit. After a night out and sleeping on a hotel room floor (one bed, four people), we were off to see the Tigers play the Angels. It was just after 11:00 a.m., and we were heading out to breakfast after picking up our tickets at Comerica Park.

We didn't go very far to find our breakfast - there was a diner right across from the park's front gate: Elwood Bar and Grill. It looked authentic (probably the oldest structure in the area) and there was a patio.


Aside from starting with our breakfast beers, I wanted to get something as close to breakfast as possible. It was a tough call because Elwood specializes in burgers, sandwiches and other bar food. They were even selling beers, hot dogs and chili to pedestrians from a little booth right outside of the diner.

Since we were there before a game, the place was pretty packed and the service was probably slower than usual, but that's expected. It just gave us all more time to chat on the patio and enjoy the sun and our breakfast beers.

The server was especially helpful when I asked for something as close to breakfast as possible. He recommended the Monte Cristo sandwich.

I wasn't expecting much considering how busy the place was, and I was pleasantly surprised. It was served on sourdough bread with turkey, ham and Swiss cheese. The bread is dipped in egg and the whole thing is lightly fried on their grill. The sandwich was presented with a pickle and tasted excellent.

It was a perfect start to game day.

Elwood Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Secret Recipe Club: Grilled Sweet Potato Curry Fries

For the August edition of Secret Recipe Club hosted by Tina of Moms Crazy Cooking, I was assigned Steak and Potatoes Kinda Gurl. Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm the polar opposite – I'm an anything but steak and potatoes kinda guy. If I was going to do this, I was doing it my way. I just had to find some inspiration.

I did.

I found the inspiration when we went to the Evergreen Brickworks, on the site of the old Don Valley Brickworks. Jacob made some pottery for a community project and helped organize a garden. The guy manning the garden was also making sweet potato fries in a cast-iron pan over a fire. They weren't bad, and they gave me an idea for Secret Recipe Club. I remembered seeing a recipe for garlic oven fries.

Jacob posing by the newly planted section of garden
at Evergreen Brickworks.
With my apologies to the Steak and Potatoes Kinda Gurl, I ran with the idea of fries, and mostly left reality from there. I decided to use curry powder instead of garlic salt and basil, and opted for a sweet potato instead of the standard fry potato. Oh, and I didn't use an oven either. Instead, I used my recently repaired barbecue.

Does that still count? I hope so!

I was sure to use SPG's method of partially cooking the potatoes in boiling water first - I think that's a very important step for good roasted potatoes, and it's a method I only recently picked up. What a difference it makes!

It was my first time grilling sweet potato and it turned out really well - not as crispy as I would've liked (I'll cut them thinner next time), but even our nine-month-old devoured them.

Secret Recipe Club'
Grilled Sweet Potato Curry Fries
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced into 1cm-thick fries
  • 2-3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  1. Boil a pot of water and let potatoes cook for five minutes while the grill heats up to medium.
  2. Remove potatoes from water and gently dry with a paper towel.
  3. Combine oil, lemon juice, and curry powder and coat potato slices.
  4. Grill potatoes for about fifteen minutes, turning every 3-4 minutes so all sides are crispy.
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Friday, August 19, 2011

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette

The strawberries will never end.

The day after Meredith made the second strawberry pie, I had assumed the strawberries were gone. I should never assume.

There they were: two more containers of strawberries in the back of the fridge - and they were going to spoil if we didn't use them soon. I decided to puree the rest of them and find some uses for it. Some of the puree was mixed in with banana for Jeremy's desserts (and promptly frozen in ice cube trays).

The rest was turned into a salad dressing. I don't often eat fruity salad dressings, so one of the bottles made it to our neighbours, who have also benefited from the other spoils of the strawberry windfall.

And this is really, truly, the end of Strawberrypalooza. There ain't no more.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 2 cups strawberries
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Strawberry Crumble Pie

There were leftovers from Strawberrypalooza in June/July. I really didn't think we had that many strawberries. I was clearly wrong.

Wanting to get rid of the last of the strawberries before they deteriorated into mush, Meredith decided to make one more pie. This pie would be a more traditional baked pie with a crumble topping. Meredith had a recipe for a rhubarb pie that she was able to adapt to get the results she wanted - the most significant change being reducing the amount of sugar.

Strawberry Crumble Pie

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups strawberries, diced (about 1/2 inch)
  • 1 9-inch pie crust
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup cold butter
  1. Preheat oven to 425-degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, stir eggs and melted butter.
  3. In another small bowl, combine sugar and flour and stir into egg mixture until well combined.
  4. Place strawberries in a large bowl and mix in flour and egg mixture.
  5. Prepare the topping by mixing the flour, sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter (using a mixer or pastry cutter) until topping looks like coarse crumbs.
  6. Transfer strawberry mixture into pie shell.
  7. Sprinkle topping evenly over the top and bake for 15 minutes.
  8. Reduce oven temperature to 350-degrees and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until filling is set and topping is light-to-medium golden-brown.
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Rice Salad from Leftovers

Once in a while, I end up with bits and pieces of a few meals hanging around. Usually some rice (I frequently make too much) and bits of vegetables left over from a salad.

On this particular occasion, I had to clean out the fridge to make space for a party and the six or seven dishes I was making. I grabbed the rice, some bits of vegetables and my mom's salad dressing and threw this together in a couple of minutes.

Rice Salad from Leftovers
  • 1-2 cups rice, cooked and cooled
  • 1/2 tomato, diced
  • 1/3 cup cucumber, diced
  • 5-6 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 tbsp Greek salad dressing
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss and serve.
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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Vegetable Soup (Gypsy Soup)

This flavorful vegetarian soup is gluten-free and uses
Mediterranean spices for a unique, but not overwhelming flavor.
Week after week of reading Monday posts at Living in the Kitchen with Puppies, I'm reminded of one of my first cookbooks - Moosewood. I don't use it often at all, but every time I see one of the recipes, it's a little push to pull out my own copy.

My very first copy was literally that - a photocopy I had made from a friend's version (the original 1977 edition, I might add). I vowed that when I could afford to buy my own copy, I would. And I eventually did. The second edition (c. 1992) is a little different. still hand-drawn, but the recipes are a bit healthier. Less heavy creams, cheeses and butter, and more yogurt and olive oil (or no oil at all).

One of the things I noticed the very first time I opened the book is that some of the methods are very labour intensive. You're hard-pressed to find a recipe that takes less than an hour. The very first recipe I made (Russian cabbage borscht) took me quite a while as I had a cabbage as big as a basketball and a stockpot to make a double batch.

On this particular day, I decided to make my own version of the Gypsy soup. I say my own version for two reasons: because Katzen's own notes lists a plethora of substitutes for vegetables, and; there's no way I'm blanching, peeling and seeding tomatoes by hand. I will, however, use a small bottle of my mom's home-made tomato sauce instead.

Vegetable Soup (Gypsy Soup)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 2 cups peeled, diced carrots
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp basil
  • dash cinnamon
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 bell pepper (green or red), diced
  • 1 can chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  1. In a dutch oven, heat oil on medium. Add onions, garlic, celery and carrots and saute for 5 minutes. 
  2. Add salt and saute for an additional five minutes. 
  3. Add paprika, turmeric, basil, cinnamon, cayenne, bay leaf and water. cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add tomato sauce, peppers and chickpeas. cover and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
  5. Remove bay leaf before serving.
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Mushroom and Onion Pate

With me running around concentrating on food and Meredith with her mind on other things as well, we forgot to invite people to dinner the last Friday in January. Not even Facebook could help us (actually, it could, but the people who most wanted to join us most were either out of province, out of country, or overseas!). That didn't stop me from making dinner, but it certainly did result in lots of leftovers. I had a bunch of new things I wanted to try.

I decided to dig through some of the old school cookbooks and online for a vegetarian chopped liver recipe. The best (and by best, I mean worst), involved canned green beans. The more appetizing used mushrooms. Real chopped liver also uses hard boiled eggs, which I thought would be great for protein, so I decided to throw those in as well.

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Vegetarian Chopped Liver (Mushroom and Onion Pate)
Mushroom and onion pate is a poor substitute for real liver, but
  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1/2 kilo fresh mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 hard boiled eggs
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • salt and pepper
1. Heat oil on medium and sauté onions until translucent.2. Add mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms are soft (and most of the liquid is gone).3. Transfer mushrooms and onions to a food processor and add walnuts, salt and pepper. Pulse until desired consistency is reached.Serve with matza or dry crackers.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 cups
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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Slows Bar B Q in Detroit, MI

There's also a patio off to the side
behind the photographer.
Every year we have a boys road trip on my dad's side of the family. The trip is organized by a cousin of mine who chooses one or more destinations, arranges for accommodations, a sports events, and a general itinerary.

This year, I decided to consult my food blogging community, and it really paid off. Since the final destination was Detroit, I emailed my friend Yenta Mary at Food Floozie. I've frequently read her reviews of good eats in both Ann Arbour and Detroit.

Mary recommended that we go to Slows Bar B Q on Michigan Avenue in Detroit. We arrived pretty late, maybe 9 p.m., but the place was still bustling and we didn't make reservations. We happily waited at the bar.

The bar was excellent. With an extensive wine list and around 20 beers on tap with a healthy list of local breweries, I didn't mind waiting a short while. Going on the bartender's recommendation, I was very happy with the Motor City Lager from Motor City Brewing Works.

After a short wait, we were seated at a large table and drooling over the menu. I settled on "The Reason" on a kaiser roll with a side of mashed sweet potato. The reason is described in the menu as "Niman Ranch pork butt, smoked slow and pulled, bathed in sauce and topped with our signature coleslaw and dill pickle strips."

The Reason with coleslaw and
pickles right on top.
The sandwich was excellent - I savored it slowly. There wasn't too much sauce to overpower the pork - it was a perfect balance of flavors. I actually tried to eat it with the pickle and slaw inside the sandwich and it fell apart a bit, but that's part of the experience.

Half-eaten Mac-n-Cheese. We dove in
before I had a chance to take the photo.
The side of mashed sweet potatoes was okay, but the other sides, which we all shared, really got my attention. The Mac-n-Cheese was an excellent dish of pasta shells baked in a cheese sauce, and the waffle fries in cheese sauce were done well. Not greasy at all. I would've liked to try the baked beans and corn bread, but there was so much food at the table already, we just couldn't.

Baby back ribs with lattice fries
in the background.
My brother, Abisaac from Gluten Free Edmonton was very impressed that Slows makes all of their sauces from scratch and clearly marks the gluten-free options on the menu. He had the Baby Back Ribs, and they were great. A dry rub didn't mean dry ribs, they were just right.

We were even impressed with their vegetarian offerings. I thought my cousin Jack was going to be stuck with a large bowl of Mac-n-Cheese (which wouldn't have bothered me), but he was quite content with his namesake dish, the Hoppin' Jack: black beans served over rice with cheddar cheese, tomato and scallions.

Other dishes at our table included the jambalaya, brisket and salmon. All excellent.

Since it was my dad's birthday, we finished off with The Chuck Norris for dessert, Chocolate and Oreo Brownie, Ray's Detroit Club Coffee Ice Cream and Sander's Hot Fudge. Quoth the menu "It'll kick you in the face." We managed to share it between all eight of us as we were full from the rest of the meal.

It's not very often that a party of eight goes to a restaurant, some with special dietary needs (be it vegetarian, or my vegequarian uncle who ordered the salmon), and every single person was more than satisfied with the meal. The next time I'm even as close as Windsor, Ontario, I'll be making a point of taking the tunnel to Detroit for another visit to Slow's.

Slow's BarBQ on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cheese and Onion Pie

Our friend Julia has perfect timing. Occasionally, I help her with her website, Fibre Fantastics, and in return, she cooks us dinner or sends us a recipe.

At the beginning of the summer, we were planning a brunch with some friends. Julia's email arrived right on schedule - the day Meredith and I were planning the menu. Her recipe's two main ingredients are two of my favourite foods: cheese and onions. It must be served for the brunch!

The morning of the brunch, I chopped the onions started on the salads and ran (well, drove) to the bakery. The cheese pie was pretty much done when I got home.

The brunch was a success. In addition to the great company and the cheese and onion pie, we served bagels, pressed cottage cheese, egg salad, herring, my kitchen sink salad, a pickle plate and our friends brought an amazing apple pie.
Cheese and Onion Pie
  • 1 pie shell
  • 3 medium onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. Line pie plate with pastry, prick with a fork and bake at 350-degrees for 10 minutes.
  3. Place onions in a wide saucepan with 1 cup water and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce to medium-low and simmer, covered for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.
  5. Beat together eggs, milk salt and pepper.
  6. Assemble the pie by placing half of the onions in the pie shell, then mozzarella cheese. Add rest of onions, cheddar cheese, and pour egg mixture over the final layer of cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes or until set.
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