Heart & Home [Coconut Flank & Broccoli Salad with Peanuts and Basil]
I’m sorry… did I go to Mexico or was that just a sublime delusion?
I blinked and it was over. Days on days of burying my nose in My Berlin Kitchen, romancing over a life that wasn’t nearly mine, sipping piquante bloody mary’s or mojitos while observing a motley crew of intensely-hued tropical fish swim circles around my ever-browning toes, kissing dolphins on the nose (which made me squeal in an octave I’m not sure has been identified by humans yet), standing still while spider monkeys crawled around my head, tangling sesame seed shells into my salt-crusted hair, sipping mimosas while kayaking around a lagoon and yelping that the electric-coloured crabs would jump 6 feet to our boat (unlikely…I realize) and finishing each evening recounting our day over red wine and Jacuzzi baths (guys. seriously. the Cadillac of Jacuzzi tubs sat a mere two feet from our bed). It was a trip not filled with much culture or adventure, but one rich in relaxation, time together reconnecting, and plenty…PLENTY…of sub-par dining options. As most resorts tend to excel in.
On our last day, I started thinking of what I would cook when I came home. I needed something rich in colour, vegetables and zingy, bright flavour (everything we ate was rich and salty….but not balanced with any sort of citrus or acid). I spent much time during our week away immersed in the Donna Hay Magazine spring issue. Every recipe had my mouth literally puckering and drooling like a toddler, and I anxiously dog-earred pages, knowing full well that the second I got home, I would drop my bags and sprint as fast as I could to the nearest store for produce and ingredients to make these dishes my reality. I returned home the day before my birthday and while most wishes I received directed me to have someone else cook for me on my day, the only thing I was wishing for was to have my feet planted firmly in front of my cutting board; chopping, whisking, marinating, searing… the words I’d missed so genuinely that had been replaced with “room service” and “buffet” and “Me gustaría pedir…”. I love my kitchen. It is heart and home as much as my bed, my Allan, my animals.
This dish is vastly different than the one in the magazine in preparation. The ingredients are identical, but because I bought flank instead of rump, I decided to marinate it in the coconut mixture that was only used to soak peanuts and cook broccoli in the original. It produced a savoury, rich marinate AND sauce for the dish that I can’t wait to experiment with again. I hope you enjoy making it as much as eating it, and relish in the act of chopping and searing, as I did.
Coconut Flank & Broccoli Salad with Peanuts and Basil
adapted from Donna Hay Magazine
1 cup coconut milk
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
2lb flank steak, trimmed of excess fat
1/2 cup peanuts, roasted & unsalted
4 cups thinly sliced broccoli florets (or broccolini)
1/3 cup basil leaves
In a large sealable container (or zip bag), add the coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, soy, lime and oil. Stir to combine and tuck the flank steak into the mixture. Seal, chill and marinate 3 hours, up to overnight.
Place a large cast iron skillet or grill-pan over high heat with a bit of neutral oil (veg or peanut) in it. Remove the flank from the marinate, shaking to remove excess marinade, and place on the pan for 4-5 minutes on each side for medium-rare. I don’t recommend cooking past med-rare as flank tends to get tough if over cooked. Remove and wrap in tin foil to rest.
Pour leftover marinade and peanuts into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the broccoli and toss around a bit. Cover and cook just until bright green but still crunchy in the center, 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. Let coconut marinade continue to simmer until reduced and deep brown. It should coat the back of a spoon.
Slice flank into very thin slices, cutting against the grain, and at a slight diagonal so that the slices are wide. Toss the meat with the broccoli and thickened coconut and peanut mixture, taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Spoon onto a platter or serving dishes and top with basil leaves and extra lime wedges. I serve with lots of spicy Sriracha as it tends to go well with these flavours.
To stretch the dish out and provide something a bit more filling, serve with rice or rice noodles.
Flying Away to Mexico [Chorizo & White Bean Stew]
This is my last post before I head to Riviera Maya, Mexico with my handsome man for a week of bun-sunning, toes-in-sanding, coconut-drinking, hammock-laying and maybe some tequila-drinking (FYI: “Maybe” means “absolutely, definitely, 100% a lot of tequila drinking”). We head there tomorrow morning and I haven’t quite had a chance to get excited yet because work and life have been so incredibly packed with things to do. I won’t keep you long, but I wanted to share this recipe with you before I go. And I really hope you’ll make it while I’m gone and maybe, if it’s not too much to ask, take a picture and send it to me so I can look at it and remember how much I love and miss you all (ok, I’m only going for a week which isn’t long AT ALL, but still, guys. Just do it, ok!?)
This stew is ridiculously simple. Nothing but a few pantry items involved, but I will insist that you buy really good quality fresh chorizo. That’s the flavour-maker in this stew and it needs to be a product that’s made with big, powerful flavors that haven’t been sitting around in packaging for weeks (or months). If you can’t find a high quality chorizo, than I’d suggest going with another high quality sausage of your choosing (an Italian would be lovely here – especially if you can find a good spicy one). As well, a good homemade stock, or at least one you’d be willing to sip on its own, makes a big difference in the overall flavour of the soup. Because the ingredients are so few, finding the best ones becomes paramount for an impeccable finished product. The creamy white beans, bold crumbly sausage and savoury broth swimming with onions will melt you right to your core.
I was feeling slightly under the weather (err… hungover) last Sunday and this stew got me right back on track. Warmed my tummy, filled my body with nourishment, and the fattiness from the sausage never hurts a hangover now, does it? Short of a super spicy Bloody Caesar, this might be the next best hangover cure!
Chorizo and White Bean Stew
adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry your tummies are
I used Seed to Sausage chorizo in this dish and highly recommend you do the same if you’re able to find it in your grocer/market. And if you can find it at your market, I suggest you stock up on EVERYTHING because once you taste it, you’ll want to try everything Michael McKenzie and his crack team of butchers and chefs puts out. It’s just that good.
1lb fresh Chorizo
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 cans cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed well
2 cups good quality chicken stock
1/2 tsp Smoked paprika (more if desired)
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
4 big handfuls of baby spinach
Drizzle about 1 tbsp of oil into a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and let it cook to a golden brown on all sides and cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove the sausage to a plate. Turn the heat down a touch to medium and add the onion. Cook until golden brown, 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another minutes. Add the beans, stock, paprika and a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper. Use the back of your spoon to crush some of the beans and thicken the stew slightly (option, but gives nice texture). Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Slice the sausage into bite-sized chunks while the stew cooks. Remove from heat, fold in the spinach and sausage until spinach is just wilted. Spoon into bowls and drizzle with moe olive oil and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.
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To Melt. To Thaw. [Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar]
This recipe comes at just the right time. When our bodies are craving warmth and solace from the bitter cold. The mercury seems to be on a never ending nose dive into the 30 belows and as it makes it’s decent, our bones stiffen, muscles tighten and groan as we reluctantly emerge from our blanket-covered indentations on the couch. We need to melt, to thaw our winter-permeated bones and come back to life.
This soup will do just that. Every blistering spoonful, oozing like lava with sharp, buttery cheddar warms the soul from the inside out. I like to eat it when it’s so hot that it will likely leave your tongue slightly burned - a price I’m happy to pay for a soup that battles this unwavering chill.
French Onion Soup takes very few ingredients to construct and you’ve likely got most of them on hand right now. At it’s core; stock, onions, bread, cheese. But I’ve pumped it up slightly with a deep, dark, bitter porter. You can buy Trafalgar Cognac Aged Porter at some LCBO but if you can’t find it, substitute for another high quality porter that you enjoy drinking (that’s important!). Use a good quality stock, preferably homemade, and a cheese that’s sharp and melts to a rich, gooey consistency.
Portered French Onion Soup with Île-aux-Grues Cheddar
serves 4-6, depending on portion size
You can buy Île-aux-Grues Cheddar at The Red Apron in Ottawa. If you want to give this another dimension of flavour, a smoked porter would be a lovely addition.
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
5 large onions, sliced thin into half moons
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups porter
6 cups high quality beef stock
2 sprigs fresh thyme
8 thick-cut slices of baguette
1 1/2 cups grated aged cheddar
Let the butter/olive oil heat up in a large dutch oven over medium heat. When sizzling, add the sliced onion. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until onions are deep brown and sweet. Be patient with this step, it should take about 30 minutes to get them a beautiful, rich brown.
Once the onions have turned to a buttery soft consistency, turn the heat up a notch and add the porter. Cook, scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the little stuck-on bits of onion up, until reduced slightly, 5 minutes. Add the stock and sprigs of thyme, a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook until reduced by about 20%. It should be deep brown, shimmering and taste rich and full.
Turn your oven on to broil. Ladle soup into oven-safe ramekins or bowls and place 1-2 slices of baguette on top of the soup. Sprinkle bread with a generous (GENEROUS!) amount of cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbling brown and baguette has toasted lightly around the edges.
Serve HOT. The steamier, the better. But eat carefully - I can’t promise you won’t burn your tongue.
Bright and Happy [Lemon-Herb Wild Mushrooms with Israeli Couscous]
Resolutions? Not up in here.
I’m not much for them. Setting myself up to feel badly that I haven’t kept a promise made 12 months prior isn’t my idea of productive. That said, I do usually try to start a new year off on a healthier foot. This is mostly because I have eaten and drank myself into early diabetes and alcoholism over the Christmas holidays. Am I over exaggerating? Unlikely.
Healthy to me means adjusting my eating habits, not existing on raw carrot sticks and lemon juice with cayenne for a month. Food is not the enemy and the people who make it out as such give me a wicked case of the face-palms. I’ve been filling up on better-for-you grains and swapping out my usual heavy pasta toppings with lots of quick fried vegetables and nuts. Finding dishes that are as delicious as they are good for you makes a healthy lifestyle adjustments a lot easier to stick to.
I always turn to my good friend, Fungus, when I need something rich and meaty… without the actual richness and meatiness. Mushrooms are the only vegetable that naturally contain Vitamin D. Any other natural food sources of Vitamin D are from animal, poultry or seafood origin. So when it’s mid January - late March and you’re missing the sun and feeling a little down in the dumps, grab a handful of mushrooms and fry them up. Your mood will be brighter and your tummy will be happier because of them.
I cooked this decadent lemon-herb mushroom dish on CTV Ottawa Morning Live today (see my nervousness here!) and wanted to get the recipe up right quick so you could whip it up over the weekend if you’re so inclined. I’d like that. I think you would, too! It’s going to fill you and and keep you satisfied through the afternoon if you have it for lunch, and would be super delicious with an arugula salad on the side for dinner.
Lemon-Herb Wild Mushrooms with Israeli Couscous
serves 4 as side, 2 as main
A note on browning mushrooms: Really take care to be patient when browning the mushrooms. Don’t overcrowd the pan or salt the mushrooms before they’ve browned. Don’t be shy with the oil, this helps dissipate the moisture in the pan and will help them crisp up.
1 1/2 cups dry Israeli Couscous
2 cups water or stock
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
fresh ground pepper
1 1/2lbs wild mushrooms (chanterelle, shiitake, oyster, porcini etc)
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp lemon zest
1 tbsp tarragon
3 tbsp fresh Italian/flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
high quality olive oil, to garnish
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, to garnish (optional)
In a medium sauce pot over med heat, add a glug or two of olive oil (maybe 2tbsp) and th couscous. Let it cook, stirring every minute or so, until couscous is lightly toasted. Add the water or stock and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and let cook, covered, until couscous has absorbed all the liquid, 8-10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, parsley and a generous amount of pepper. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
While couscous cooks, take a heavy (cast iron would be ideal!) skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add a good layer of olive oil to the pan and place 1 layer of mushrooms down. Let them brown well (2-3 minutes) and them flip and brown the opposite side. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat until all your mushrooms are brown and crispy and delicious.
Wipe the pan down and add 1 tbsp olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute. Add the mushrooms back along with the herbs, lemon zest and a pinch or two of salt. Toss a few times to combine and remove from heat. Add the lemon juice.
Spoon couscous into a serving dish and top with mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with pine nuts, olive oil and any remaining parsley. Pour a glass of wine (or seltzer if you’re being really good and healthy) and enjoy!
A Shift in Comfort [Chermoula Chicken with Toasted Almond Couscous & Coriander Yogurt]
And just like that, winter came. And liked us so much it decided to stay for 4 long months.
As the nipping air blows into town and we wrap our bones in layers over layers like flaky croissant dough around a piece of rich Swiss chocolate, I find myself feeling a constant power struggle in the kitchen. Comfort vs. Health. Does there need to be such a decision? Can’t we have it all?
The short answer is yes! We can! But there needs to be a bit of a shift in the way you prepare and buy ingredients for your favourite comfort foods. If you love macaroni and cheese, add the cheese to a pureed cauliflower or squash base instead of the classic butter-filled bechamel and use whole wheat pasta. Take time to learn how to adjust your seasoning with herbs and spices instead of salt. It’s not only healthier, but you really learn how to use all those little jars collecting dust on the shelf. Love a gooey lasagna? Try using thin slices of eggplant to replace the noodles, or place a spoonful of meat sauce at the end of an eggplant slice and roll it up like cannelloni There are so many simple ways to make the dishes we crave most when the temperature drops just a little bit healthier, we just need to be a bit more mindful of how we shop and what goes into our meals.
The dish I’m sharing today might not bring visions of couch-snuggling, wine drinking or cozy evening movie-watching to mind initially, but to me it’s as quintessentially comforting as a bowl of noodles and broth. The couscous with toasted almonds is surprisingly satisfying, the fiery chicken with it’s array of warm spices can take the chill out of any frigid evening, and the cooling coriander yogurt really brings everything together. All of these flavours of lemon, yogurt, coriander, paprika and cumin compliment each other so wonderfully your mouth won’t even realize you’re eating something packed with nutrition. I chopped up all the leftovers and tossed them together in a salad for lunch that I just happen to be eating RIGHT NOW. And let me tell you, if it tasted good the first day, you’re going to be blown away by day 2! And it’s lovely cold, as well.
Invite a few close friends over and serve this up family-style over the holidays. It’s a meal that’s meant to be shared and enjoyed together. And since you’ve already saved yourself a few calories, why not have an extra glass of wine with dinner? Live a little! I give you my permission.
Chermoula Chicken with Toasted Almond Couscous & Coriander Yogurt
adapted from Fork Magazine
6 sweet red peppers (if you can find the long skinny ones, those are best)
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
For the Coriander Yogurt
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro), minced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice + zest of 1 lemon
salt, to taste
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
Stir all ingredients until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Place in the fridge until ready to eat. Can be made 1 day in advance.
For the Chermoula spice:
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 small red chilli, chopped & seeds removed (substitute: ½ tsp cayenne pepper)
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
Place all ingredients in a bullet or food processor and blend until smooth. Can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge until ready.
For the couscous:
3 cups cooked couscous
1 cup toasted almond flakes or slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper, to taste
Stir all ingredients except for salt and pepper. Add a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper and taste. Add more if needed. Keep warm in a pot over low-heat on the stove, stirring every so often.
For the Chicken and Peppers:
In a large container with lid (or a food-storage bag), add the chicken and Chermoula spice. Squish around until the chicken is coated and place in the fridge for 3 hours up to overnight. The longer you leave it, the better the flavour the chicken will have.
Bring a grill pan or cast-iron skillet with a couple glugs of vegetable oil to high heat until sizzling. Add the chicken and cook for 6 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Keep the pan on the stove and remove the chicken to a plate to rest for a few minutes. Place the whole peppers, 3 at a time, on the pan and let the skin blacken and blister slightly, 3-4 minutes. Flip and let the other side blister. Alternatively, you can move your oven rack to the top ledge and cook the peppers under the broiler. Remove and slice the peppers into thin strips and place them in a serving bowl.
Pour the couscous onto a large serving dish. Sliced the chicken and serve over the couscous. Serve with Coriander Yogurt and Grilled Peppers.
The Busyness [Braised Lemon, Leek & Pancetta Beans on Toast]
When things get a little crazy, as they’ve been lately, I find myself constantly daydreaming of sitting at home with a big plate of comfort food, Mr GL and our animals at my side, with a good movie playing. My happy place is there, with them (and maybe a nice bottle of wine). With every season change seems to come more work, though happy work I’m glad to have, more functions, more meetings and more leaving the house, something that leaves a homebody like me feeling a slight bit of dread. I find myself fighting the urge to cancel plans, but I know that these things are essential to building the future I want. And though I often dread them while I stare into the mirror trying to hide the ever-apparent suitcases under my eyes and willing myself to shake off the dread and be happy I have so many interesting people to meet and greet, I always return home happier than I left. Glad for the interactions I’ve experienced, inspired by the people I’ve met, energized by a new project or event I’m taking part in and thrilled to come home to my waiting family. Busy is good. Busy is productive and engaged in a future I used to only dream of. It’s remembering to be completely present in the few moments of quiet, when the computers and phones are put away (which is rare, I’ll be honest), that matters.
When a free night popped up last week, I scoured the pantry early in the morning before heading off to work to see what we could do for dinner. In there I spied a bag of dried Romano beans that I’d picked up a while back for purposes I can’t seem to remember. I poured them into a big bowl of water and would worry about the rest of the details later. Not feeling particularly inspired that day, I put out an inquiry to an ever-brilliant group of Facebook and Twitter friends to see what they would do with the beans and decided that beans on toast would be the perfect plate of comfort I’d been craving so badly. I made a few stops along my walk home from work to grab some essentials and returned home to my beans, now softened and ready for a braise. I chopped and sautéed while Mr. GL and I caught up, him at a chair in the middle of the room and me at the counter – our designated spots. These are some of my very happiest memories; us in our small kitchen dancing around each other (and sometimes just dancing for the sake of it) while we try to get dinner ready. The busyness of everyday life stands still and we’re able to remember what it’s like to just be there, together, enjoying the quiet and each other.
All of the other ‘stuff’ aside, these beans are god danged delicious. I ate two heaping servings (on two massive pieces of toasted country loaf) and would have gone back for thirds if it hadn’t been 9:30pm. Something tells me beans after 9pm aren’t a good thing for any parties involved. AMIRIGHT?! Toot jokes are my very favourite, apologies if you don’t share in my joy.
So let’s show you how to make these beans, shall we? I hope when you make them you’ll remember this post and cook them in the company of someone truly wonderful, someone who makes your busy life stand still for a few moments.
Braised Lemon, Leek & Pancetta Beans on Toast
adapted from Tastespotting
makes 6 servings
If you’d like to hold off on the pancetta, feel free. It does impart a fantastic richness to the beans, but a few glugs of olive oil will do just fine.
You can used canned beans if you simply MUST have these tonight, but dried beans hold their shape better and have a much nicer texture than canned.
2 cups of Romano beans (Pinto will work, too) soaked overnight (or for at least 5 hours)
¾ cup pancetta, cubed
2 celery stalks, sliced thin
3 large leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and sliced thin
4 cups sodium free stock (veg or chicken) or water
zest from 1 lemon
juice from 1 lemon
3 sprigs of tarragon + more for garnish
½ tsp dried thyme leaves
salt and pepper
few pinches red pepper flakes, optional
1 loaf crusty white or whole wheat bread
Preheat oven to 250.
Place a large heavy pot (with fitted lid) on the stove over medium-high heat and let it warm up. Add the cubed pancetta and let the fat render until its crisp. Remove to a paper towel lined bowl. Remove all but 2 tbsp of the pancetta fat from the pot and add the leeks and celery. Stir until they’ve softened, 4-5 minutes. Add the beans, stock or water (or a combination of the two), lemon zest + juice, tarragon sprigs, few pinches of salt, a generous amount of black pepper and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Put the lid on and place in the oven for 1 ½ hours. Remove the lid, stir everything around and place in the oven for another 40 – 60 minutes, until there is still enough liquid to keep things moist, but not enough to make them soggy. Taste for seasoning and serve over toasted bread.
Garnish with fresh tarragon, olive oil and pepper.
Baked Eggs Only [Southern Style Shakshouka]
I woke up last week with a hankering of the worst kind for eggs baked in marinara. Since then, I’ve made it such an obscene amount times I’m almost embarrassed to say. What’s that saying about moderation? Something about eating everything in excess? Or something? The fact that I wrote about another type of baked eggs a mere 4 posts ago should tell you that I’m no longer writing recipes for you to enjoy and I’ve gone rogue. The Gouda Life is now a baked egg recipe blog only. (Just kidding. But truthfully, I can’t stop eating eggs for every meal. I’m sorry you have to put up with this and we’ll return to your regular scheduled variety of food groups as soon as possible).
Shakshouka is a Tunisian dish of eggs baked in a chili-spiced tomato sauce that’s warmed with aromatic cumin and paprika, sometimes a handful of chickpeas tossed in, sometimes not. It’s the perfect one-pot-dish that’s as basic as it is delicious and comes together with many pantry staples you’ll already have handy. It’s as spot-on for a lazy Sunday brunch with good friends as it is for a Tuesday evening dinner alone. Easily adaptable to whatever number of eaters that happen to be hanging around. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread or warm pita and you’ve got yourself a meal….and a party. I adapted the recipe to what I had on hand which sent it in a bit of a Mexican direction, but I do so love Mexican cuisine so was pretty pleased with the outcome. Some might say this is a take on huevos rancheros so I’ll happily let you call it whatever you’d like!
Southern Style Shakshouka
Feel free to change up the type of bean, chili, or spices as you see fit. Cumin and paprika really do compliment the tomatoes and eggs so well.
1 28oz can diced plum tomatoes
1 15oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 jalapenos, veins and seeds removed, diced
1 tsp paprika (sweet or hot)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp honey or sugar
warm pita bread or loaf crusty bread
fresh chives, sliced thin
feta or manchego cheese
good olive oil
Pour a few glugs of oil into a large saucepan (with fitted lid) over medium heat and let it get hot. Add the diced onion and jalapeno and let sweat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Pour in the tomatoes, black beans, paprika, cumin and a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until sauce has reduced slightly and thickened up, 15 minutes. Add the honey or sugar and stir to combine.
Crack the eggs gently into a small ramekin or bowl (it’s easier to pour them into the marinara this way). Using the back of a large serving spoon, make a small indentation in the sauce. Pour in one egg. Repeat with the other 3 eggs. Put the lid on and cook until whites are set and yolks are still runny, about 6-7 minutes.
Serve each person a slice of bread or pita and spoon one egg onto the bread. Sprinkle with chives, cheese, pepper and olive oil.
Hangover Hero [Braised Brisket Ragu with Penne]
While many of you are spending your weekends busily cleaning house, running errands, driving kids from ballet to soccer, studying, working overtime or catching up on your reading, I’m suffering through a hangover from an overindulgent night spent with the best of friends. Or so was the case last weekend.
We celebrated the inaugural issue of Herd Magazine, for which I contributed to, last weekend and soon after found our bellies pressed against the bar at Union Local 613, downing bourbon-lemonades and stuffing our faces with the world’s most delicious deviled eggs (yes, I mean this with all my heart. Best in the world. More on Union here).
I awoke Saturday morning feeling foggy, bones aching and head pounding. We’d invited some friends over for dinner that evening and though my current state made me question my commitment, my want to see them far outweighed my squeamish gut. I just had to make a meal that would do all the work for me while I recovered tucked between my wrinkled sheets and cozy comforter.
Slowly simmered beef brisket forgotten in the oven for a few hours turns a tough slab of meat into a rich, flavourful ragu suitable to top any pasta, potato or bun you have on hand. Throw a few simple ingredients into a stock pot, cook for 2 hours while you rest (or while you’re being responsible and tackling things that need to get done… either way) , and all that’s left for you to do is figure out what you want to blanket this sauce over. My weapon of choice was some penne, because we already had it, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and a bit of basil. Who looks like a hero and gets to enjoy the company of good friends and a hearty meal after sleeping all day? This guy. There’s still time for you to be a hero today, too! Get to it.
Braised Beef Ragu with Penne
adapted from Donna Hay
4-5 lb beef brisket
2 tbsp all purpose flour
3 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow or brown onion, halved & sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup dry red wine
2 cups stock, beef or chicken
1 cup water
1 lg can whole plum tomatoes
3-4 bay leaves
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp honey or raw sugar
1 lb penne or other shortcut pasta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
good quality olive oil
red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 350.
Cut the brisket into 4 pieces. Warm 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a heavy saucepan (with a fitted lid) over med-high until sizzling. Toss the beef with the flour and after shaking off excess, brown pieces 2 at a time in the pan until browned on both sides, 2-3 minutes per side. Set aside. Add the other 2 tbsp olive oil and the onion to the pan and cook until just starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the red wine, scraping all the bits stuck to the pan up, and cook until liquid has reduced by half. Add the stock, water, bay leaves, tomatoes (break them up with your hands as you add them in), tomato paste and honey/sugar. Stir to combine and add the beef back. Cover with a tight fitting lid and cook for 2 hours, until beef is easily shredded with fork in the preheated oven. Remove the lid and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and shred the meat using 2 forks.
With 20 minutes left, cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions. Serve the ragu over pasta and finish with parmesan, basil and olive oil. Add red pepper flakes if you like a little spicy kick.
The Mushroom Man [Local Wild Mushroom Fettuccine]
Through the years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been honoured to meet some truly fascinating, incredibly inspiring people. Farmers, chefs, home cooks, sommeliers, fellow bloggers, food-loving bon vivants and so many more. It’s been such a gratifying pleasure to find myself in the presence of those who are as moved by good food and drink as I am.
Recently, I had the great fortune of having some locally foraged Porcini mushrooms delivered by Scott Perrie (@morelsottawa), a man known by many local restaurants and food-lovers as “The Mushroom Man”. A veritable encyclopedia of foraged treasure knowledge, Scott is obviously passionate about his craft. He offered some helpful tips on how to clean, prepare and cook the little sack of mushrooms that hung in wait from my mailbox a couple weeks ago. With the bag bearing a note of assurance that they were, in fact, edible, I dove right in immediately; looking, touching, smelling, and generally enjoying being in the presence of something grown from the ground I walk on daily (Ok, not really. I don’t live in the forest…but I wish I did)
Unlike many people who “forage” (said with an upturn of the nose), Scott does this for himself as much as for others. The simple truth is that he likes to be in the forest and he likes to eat things while he’s there. It’s as unpretentious and simple as that. He’s not messing around, either, and knows that a keen eye and plenty of knowledge is the only way to forage safely. As he’s said in previous interviews, “There’s an evil twin mushroom to most edibles.”, and an untrained eye can easily mistake them. Though I’ve yet to spend any real-life time talking with Scott, I hope that time comes soon. Between him and his fiance, there is a whole lot of food knowledge that I’d be only so lucky to have bestowed upon me. I have a feeling we could find common ground on which to chat for many hours.
Before I leave you with the recipe I whipped up with these local gems, I urge you to seek out someone in your city with vast foraging knowledge. It’s such a thrill knowing what your city is capable of providing you with from it’s own bounty. Many cities offer foraging tours (Which Perrie might soon be offering - hint hint!) that might awaken you to how bountiful your own city really is.
Local Wild Mushroom Fettuccine
adapted from Bon Appetit
I purchased some local blue oyster & shiitake mushrooms to supplement the porcini’s from Perrie. Many specialty grocers (Il Negozio Nicastro’s in Ottawa) offer a variety local mushrooms when the season is right.
1lb wild mushrooms (porcini, cremini, oyster, shiitake etc)
3/4 pound fettuccine
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tbsp fresh Italian/flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
extra Parmesan to serve (optional)
extra parsley to serve (optional)
Bring a large pot of generously-salted (very important as this dish is so simple) water to a boil and cook pasta to just under al dente according to package instructions. If the package says 9 minutes, take out around 7. Reserve 1 cup of starchy pasta water before straining.
In a dry, heavy-bottom skillet set over medium-high heat, brown mushrooms in batches until golden and crisp. I browned each variety of mushroom on it’s own as they may have different moisture levels (a tip from Scott!). It should take about 6-7 minutes per batch to get them nice and golden.
Once all your mushrooms have been browned, remove everything from the pan. Add the butter and olive oil to pan and let it get shimmering and hot. Add the garlic and let it cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, parsley and red pepper flakes and saute until everything is combined, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Strain pasta (don’t forget to reserve 1 cup starchy water), and add back to large pot. Scoop the mushroom mixture into the pasta, making sure to really scrape all the good bits from the pan, with the Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of starch water and toss. If it’s too dry, add more water a little at a time until you’ve got a nice, loose mushroom sauce coating all the noodles. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
Garnish each serving with pine nuts, extra cheese, parsley and fresh ground pepper.
Cinco de Mayo & Mexican Cuisine [Sopa Azteca with Cilantro Pesto]
You’ve got to hand it to the Mexicans; they can do food like nobody else. Better than the French (Désolé mes amis), better than the Spanish (Lo siento mis amigos) and better than the Italians (Spiacente miei amici)… at least as far as my gut is concerned. Their colourful plates are amass with vibrant produce, umpteen varieties of tongue tingling chilies, slow braised, barely holding themselves together cuts of meat, cobs of corn slathered in butter and rich mayonnaise infused with a Cajun mix of spices, lusciously creamy posoles and mole, cemitas filled with potatoes, tender cactus & stuffed with Oaxacan cheese, crispy chiles rellenos loaded with smooth Mexican-style ricotta……have I lost you yet? Because I’m suddenly filled with the urge to hop a plane to Oaxaca. Truly, my love of Mexican cuisine knows no bounds. Even something as simple as a plate of rice and beans serves as one of my most sensuous meals in recent memory.
There is something truly magical about the textural varieties of Mexican food that makes me coo with delight upon seeing a giant plate of toothsome corn tortillas charred lightly and stuffed with tender carnita meat, creamy avocado, tart Tomatillo Salsa and pickled jalapenos.… there lies the perfect bite of crunchy, smooth, creamy, hot, spicy, cool… nothing is missed, nothing is without balance. This seems to be a constant in most of Mexico’s historic cuisine. Though sussing out a spot that respects the traditions and authentic flavours of Mexico isn’t always a task easily completed. We’ve only recently started to see a movement in truly authentic Mexican cuisine in Ottawa, but it’s still a far cry from the hole-in-the-wall joints you might find in bigger cities. Making dishes at home seems to be the only way to experience all the flavours and colours of Mexico without being bombarded with the sometimes tacky, overly Americanized Tex-Mex cuisine.
To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I decided to make something that hadn’t made it’s way into my kitchen before. Sopa Aztec; a chili-spiked tomato broth, acidic and ever-so-lightly spiced, topped with cubed avocado, melty cheese (usually queso fresco, Chihuahua, or Asadero), fried tortilla strips and more crumbled chilies if desired. It’s one of the most comforting soups I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. And of course, since it was a recipe I adapted from the KING of Mexican cuisine, Rick Bayless, it’s no surprise that it came out as tummy-pleasingly as it did. He truly is a master of his craft.
Whip up a batch of this sopa, don your most colourful sombrero, shake your mariachis and sip on a citrusy Margarita (on the rocks or bust!) this May 5th, Cinco de Mayo! It’s time to throw down!
Sopa Azteca with Cilantro Pesto
adapted from Rick Bayless
I wasn’t able to find epazote or Pasilla chilies on such short notice, so I left out the former and opted for a dried ancho chili instead. I also couldn’t find any authentic cheese, but I usually use a simple goat mozzarella in my Mexican dishes. I love the flavour.
1 large dried pasilla or ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice ( fire-roasted if you can find them)
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
1 medium white onion, rough chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 quart chicken broth
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups queso fresco, oaxaca or goat mozzarella cheese
1 corn tortilla per person, sliced into thin strips
1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream or creme fraîche for garnish
*cilantro pesto (recipe to come)
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving
Start by placing the dried chile in a dry pan over med-high heat and press down with a heavy pan or a fork until lightly toasted. Flip and repeat.
Place the chile and tomatoes in the blender and puree until smooth.
In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil, onions and garlic and saute until golden, about 6-7 minutes. Scoop up the onion and garlic in a slotted spoon, leaving as much of the oil in the pan as possible. Toss the onions and garlic into the blender with the tomatoes and puree for another 10 seconds or until smooth.
Bring the pan back to medium-high heat and add the tomato mixture. Let the liquid evaporate while stirring almost constantly, until the mixture is almost as thick as tomato paste, about 10-12 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and let it cook, about 10 minutes.
Taste for salt and add if needed.
While the soup is simmering, toss the tortilla strips with a small amount of oil, just enough to coat them. Place on a foil/parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 325, checking halfway through.
Ladle the soup into bowls and top with avocado cubes, cheese, cilantro pesto and tortilla strips.
2 healthy handfuls of fresh cilantro
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Place in food processor or blender and puree until smooth.