Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Be bold in the kitchen. Good ingredients make good meals.

I didn't have a recipe for tonight's dinner but I had lots of good ingredients handy: cod fillets, apples, sweet red peppers, cherry tomatoes, asparagus and basmati rice. I baked the veggies for various lengths of time. I thought the asparagus could need the most time and the tomatoes the least. I'd say more about my approach to this dinner but the result was not what I was seeking and so I'll stay mum. I wanted caramelized. I got simply cooked.

I sprinkled some hot pepper flakes on the fish hoping for a big burst of heat but I didn't use enough and the effect was way too subtle.

But, and it is a big and important but, the ingredients were excellent. Nothing was burned. The fish was flaky. All the veggies were fresh and they all tasted it. My wife gave the dinner a thumbs up. It wasn't what I wanted but it still worked.

The lesson? Good ingredients tend to give good results. I failed to add much to this dinner but it had a lot going for it right from the get-go. It was a rather delicious failure. My doctors would give my cooking attempt  two thumbs up even if my dinner wasn't going to qualify me for a cooking competition on television.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Check out the New York Times Cooking pages for asparagus recipes

All I am trying to promote is healthy eating. I am certainly not promoting my cooking. When it comes to imaginative ways to prepare and present asparagus the New York Times Cooking site is doing a damn fine job.

I grilled the asparagus illustrating this post but that's all. For recipes please click on the link. New York Times Cooking: asparagus.

I'm not sure that eating well will make one live longer but I do believe it will make your live a healthier life and make dining, even at home, much more fun.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Quick and healthy; not fine dining but still good

My mother was not a great cook but a practical one. Practicality was common back in the early '50s when I was a boy. Give her a holiday and she'd give you roast chicken or turkey, depending upon the number of guests at the holiday banquet. A day later she'd give you leftovers. There was never any waste.

One of her favourite solutions for dealing with holiday leftovers was chicken or turkey pie. And her not-so-secret ingredient was a Campbell's condensed cream of chicken soup. And so in memory of my dear, departed mother, my wife made Margaret-inspired chicken pie complete with Easter dinner leftovers. Even the pie crust was a leftover, made from the remnants of pastry used to make Sunday's lemon meringue pie.

The big difference between my wife's version and the '50s original is that Judy uses low fat condensed soup. Four cans have approximately 5 g of saturated fat and no trans fats at all. Judy tells me she puts two cans of cream of chicken into a pot, adds a cup each of carrots and peas, adds up to two cups of chicken chunks, sprinkles on some thyme and heats all with frequent stirring.

When thoroughly heated, Judy pours the mixture into a suitable pie plate. To keep the fat, and total calories in check, Judy does not line the pie plate with pastry. She uses one layer of pastry on top of the pie and that's it. It looks messy when served but still attractive.

The turnip served with the chicken pie was also leftover from Easter. The broccoli was bought for the holiday but not cooked. It still had nice crunch and its presence added freshness to an arguably faded entrée.


  • 2 cans of Campbell's condensed, low-fat, cream of chicken soup 
  • 1 cup of frozen peas if leftovers are not handy
  • 1 cup of diced, cooked, but not over cooked, carrots
  • A sprinkle of thyme. If dried thyme is used, use sparringly. Fresh thyme is not so intense.
  • And enough pastry for a top crust.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Asparagus pesto is more common than I thought

My wife and I both like pesto. The other day we had a chance to sample a vegetable lasagna with a basil-based pesto replacing the common tomato sauce. It was good. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed it.

When I told our youngest daughter about the lasagna, she said said she was familiar with pestos and note the plural. There are a lot of pesto recipes and some are completely new to me -- but not to our daughter. She told us she made a green pea-based pesto and it was excellent.

This started me thinking. Why not an asparagus-based pesto? After all, it is spring. It would be the perfect creation to celebrate spring's arrival. A search of the New York Times Cooking site found a recipe. A simple Google search found lots more. One of my favourite takes is a Williams Sonoma recipe Rigatoni with Asparagus Pesto and Ricotta Salata.

I took a crack at the NYT's recipe but found it wanting. The next night I took another try. This time, I made the pesto first. I'm not much of an ingredients-juggler when it comes to making dinner. I'm still in the KISS stage: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Let's go over my ingredient list:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus (230 g used for the pesto with six spears held aside to be served whole.)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced (I actually used more but I'm going to cut back to one clove.)
  • 20 g of pine nuts
  • 25 g of walnuts plus a few to adorn the finished dish when served
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed grated Parmesan cheese plus some to sprinkle on finished dish
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • Juice from half a lemon (Squeezed the remaining half over the dinners at the table.)
  • 1 good pinch of salt
  • 150 g of pennine (I cook 75 g of pasta per person. Sometimes I cook even less.)
  • 50 g of chopped baby spinach
  • A handful of small cherry tomatoes and four large cherry tomatoes 
  • 4 ounces of cooked ham or cooked chicken

I grilled and caramelized the asparagus for the pesto but my wife has convinced me the result wasn't worth the effort and time. The next time, I'll just steam the asparagus. I'm sticking with my amount: 230 g.

With the asparagus steaming, toast 20 g of pine nuts in a skillet over medium high heat. When these begin turning golden brown, remove from the heat and set aside. Next, toast the 25 g of walnuts. When done, set aside with the pine nuts, keeping a few walnuts separate as a garmish for the dish when served.
Next, fry the minced garlic in a little olive oil for possibly 30 seconds over medium high heat. The garlic should not turn dark brown. It should be a golden colour. Place this aside with the toasted nuts, as well.

Grate half a cup of Parmesan cheese. Don't tamp it down. Leave loose in measuring cup. Lastly, squeeze the juice from half a lemon and set aside. Now, take the steamed asparagus and dice well. This is especially important if using a food blender. If the pieces are too large, they hang up, jam and require a lot of finagling to be coaxed into making contact with the spinning blades.

Drop the well diced asparagus into the blender, add the toasted pine nuts, toasted walnuts, golden minced garlic, a Tbsp of olive oil, half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and the fresh squeezed lemon juice. There should be about two Tbsps of juice. Give the mixture a couple of good shakes of salt and blend all into a light green pesto. Remove pesto from blender bowl and set aside. It won't sit long.

Chop the cooked ham or cooked chicken into large chunks and toss into a frying pan with a little olive oil. While the meat is heating, drop the pennine into a pot of fast boiling water. Give the pot a stir to keep the pasta from sticking. It will be done in about eight minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, add the tomatoes to the skillet with the ham or chicken. If all goes well, the tomatoes will be just beginning to split from the heat as the pasta closes in on al dente. Drop the chopped baby spinach into the pot with the pasta, swirl the pasta and spinach around and drain. I find smaller bits of spinach clump less than large pieces. The goal is to have the spinach spread out through the pasta.

Place the remaining asparagus spears in the microwave and cook for a minute or less. The spears will cook quickly. Take care not to overcook.While the spears are cooking, add the asparagus pesto to the cooked pasta mixed with spinach. Toss in the chunks of heated ham or chicken and the cherry tomatoes and mix well. Serve.

Decorate each serving of pasta with a few roasted walnuts and sprinkle on a some Parmesan cheese, too. Place the larger, cherry tomatoes and the whole steamed or microwaved asparagus spears on the side. It should look good and taste even better. I'm working on improving my presentation but the flavour demands no serious tweaking.

There was a lot of pesto. I can see stretching this to coat four servings of pennine. (This assumes you are content serving only 70 g of pesto per person.) With more pasta, the pennine might be easier to see. The pennine seems hidden with this presentation.

We eat a lot of asparagus in the spring. There is an asparagus farm just minutes from our London, Ontario, home. I'm confident I'll get this looking beautiful at some point in the near future.

Friday, April 14, 2017

It is not always what you eat but what you don't

It was lunch time, I was hungry and I didn't feel like cooking. The situation had all the ingredients for a recipe for disaster. I could see a gilled cheese sandwich on the horizon. Not good. I opened a can of Campbell's low sodium chicken with rice soup. Better but still not good.

My heart doctors have been very clear. Don't overdo the saturated fats, keep to chicken and fish as much as possible when it comes to meat, and eat nutritious meals and not just filling ones. A quick check of the Campbell's label confirmed that this soup was not going to meet all the demands. And when I took a taste, I realized it wasn't even going to be a sinful delight. It was too bland for my liking.

I emptied the contents of the can, plus a can of water, into a small pot and placed it on the stove to heat. I added two tablespoons of basmati long-grain rice to the soup. It needed more rice. I coarsely chopped an ounce of chicken and added that to the pot as well. I grabbed a large carrot, peeled it and quickly diced it into small pieces. I added this to the pot as well.

Next, to kick up the flavour, I added about a quarter teaspoon of fresh thyme. My mother loved thyme with chicken and so when I think of chicken, I think of thyme. Judy, my wife, doesn't have the same memories. She likes to use less thyme than I.  I dropped a bay leaf into the heating soup. It would remain in the mix for five minutes and then out it comes. Such a small pot of soup very quickly takes on the flavour of the bay leaf.

Lastly, I added a little salt and pepper to taste and then tossed in about a half a teaspoon of Paese Mio bruchetta calabrese. This can be hard to find. When I run out, I substitute dried hot pepper flakes. The goal here is to up the kick of heat delivered by the soup.

Because of the rice, my soup needed to be left on simmer for about twenty minutes. On the bright side,  it didn't take a lot of attention. I essentially left the soup on simmer and went off to watch a little television. In twenty minutes, the rice was fluffy and nicely cooked and the soup was ready to enjoy.

If I make this again, the next time I'd love to add one celery stalk diced into smallish chunks. I like my soups to be filling. Celery would add bulk but not calories. Perfect.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Weight Watchers recipes are good for everyone

This shows the orecchiette the second night. Note the addition of the mushrooms.

My wife decided to lose a little weight and so she joined Weight Watchers. My doctors told me I had to lose a little weight and so I ate the Weight Watchers meals prepared by my wife and I did so without complaint. And not because I'm a saint but because the WW meals were excellent with lots of nutrition but not lots of calories.

The other night my wife made lemony one-pan orecchiette with sausage and broccoli. Orecchiette is a type of pasta shaped like little shells. The name comes from the Italian word orecchia meaning ear. It is said to resemble small ears, hence the name. But I don't see it. I'll stick with little shells. I find it more appetizing.

For my wife's take on the WW recipe we used the following:

  • 8 ounces hot Italian turkey sausage (meat removed from casings)
  • 1 large diced onion
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large, minced garlic cloves
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Paese Mio bruchetta calabrese (may be difficult to find)
  • 4 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 8 ounces orecchiette pasta
  • 2 cups chopped broccoli
  • 2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 4 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese

Over medium-high heat my wife lightly fried the Italian sausage in a little, possibly a teaspoon, of olive oil. When half cooked, I removed the meat from the skillet and chopped it into smaller pieces on a plastic chopping board. When nicely crumbled, I returned the meat to the skillet where my wife cooked it until well-browned. When almost done, I stepped in an mixed a teaspoon of Paese Mio bruchetta calabrese with the meat. This was my idea. I wanted the sausage to have a lot of zip. When done, my wife removed the sausage to a bowl and set aside.

In the now empty fry pan, my wife cooked the onion until soft and translucent. She stirred the onion often and added the half teaspoon of salt.

When done, she added the garlic and red pepper flakes. She stirred the mix for a minute and then added the reduced sodium chicken broth. The chicken broth is the clue that this is a one-pan pasta recipe.

She turned the heat to high and when the broth began to boil she added the pasta. The pasta was done in about eight minutes with frequent stirring. At the five minute mark, she added the broccoli pieces. When the pasta was al dente, she stirred in the cooked sausage, 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest, tomatoes and basil. She sprinkled on the remaining Parmesan at the table.

This made enough for four dinners but we found ourselves still hungry. We grumbled but stuck to the a serving size. Truth be told, WW claims this is will serve six. Admittedly, we had made a change in the amount of sausage used. We cut the sausage from 16 ounces to 8.

The next night, it was time for leftovers. We chopped up eight, large mushrooms and sautéd them in a little olive oil with some finely diced garlic. As the mushrooms fried, water from the mushrooms gathered and began to boil at the bottom of the pot. Before the mushroom juices could boil away, we added the leftover pasta from the night before. The pasta absorbed the liquid and became moist and delicious. The big chunks of mushroom added appetite filling bulk without upping the calorie count. The next time we make this, we will add four, chopped mushrooms to the original recipe and then add four more the next night.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

My wife hates fish but she loved tonight's dinner

Before launching into my post, let me give credit where credit is due. The following was inspired by the New York Times recipes Roasted Hake With Sweet Peppers and Asparagus with Anchovies and Capers. Now, to my post:

Saturday evening dinner was fun to make and fun to eat. I've been playing in the kitchen with cod for the past month or more. I'm getting feel for cooking this fish. I feel comfortable putting cod on my dinner menu.

From recent past experience, I know I like sweet red peppers  and Kalamata olives served with hot, flaky cod. And I know my wife likes this, as well.

What I didn't know was whether or not my wife and I would like asparagus with capers and anchovies. But the description had a nice ring and I knew the green of the veggie would look great on the plate next to the bright red of the pepper.

I made my rice first. This is quick and easy. Boil 7.5 ounces of water, add 4 ounces of brown rice and let sit over very low heat for fifteen minutes. When all water is gone and the rice is nice and fluffy, leave the pot covered and simply set aside. The hot pot will help the rice retain heat.

  • 7.5 ounces of water
  • 4 ounces of brown rice (I used a mix composed of a number of varieties of brown rice.)

Next, I made the achovy/caper mix. It should sit for 15 or 30 minutes or even longer before being served. The wait time mellows the flavours.

I finely chopped:

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 small anchovy fillets
  • 1 teaspoon of capers, rinsed

. . . and blended all together into a paste using a mortar and pestle. Finely chopping the three ingredients made the blending go faster.

Next, over medium heat, I heated about a tablespoon of olive oil. This might have been a little generous but I like olive oil. You can use a little less, if you like. Then, I added about a tablespoon of finely chopped red onion and cooked it until tender. It should be translucent but not browned. I combined the cooked onion with the anchovy/caper paste and blended in two teaspoons of fresh squeeze lemon juice. A sprinkle of salt and a grind or two of pepper and I set the paste aside to mellow. Here is a list of the ingredients just mentioned:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of finely chopped red onion
  • 2 teaspoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice

It is now time to turn our attention to the cod. I had two, inch-thick-plus pieces of cod weighing about 165 grams. Enough for two servings. I patted the cod dry. Then I finely chopped 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves and sprinkled this over both sides of the cod. I also lightly salted and peppered the fish at this time. With the seasoning of the fish complete, I set the cod aside.

I had half a sweet, red pepper in the fridge. I chopped this into long strips and placed these in a medium sized pan to fry with a little olive oil. I thought I my dinner could use more red pepper and so I opened a jar of grilled, red peppers, removed two large pieces, chopped these into long strips and dropped them into the skillet with the fresh, red peppers. Next, I added about an eighth of a cup of diced red onion to the frying mixture.

With the onion translucent and the red peppers softening, I cleared a circular spot in the middle of the fry pan and added a little olive oil -- maybe a tablespoon. I placed the fish in the opening, pushed the red peppers up against the fish and covered all to cook over medium heat for four minutes.

While the fish cooked, I combined 1 teaspoon of sherry vinegar, a finely diced clove of garlic and a pinch of salt. I whisked in two teaspoons of olive oil and about four ounces of chopped Italian parsley.

At this point, it was time to flip the fish. To prevent the cod from sticking, I splashed a little olive oil onto the pan before returning the fish to the skillet. I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of chopped Kalamata olives onto both pieces of fish. Just to be clear, that's one generous tablespoon for each piece. I covered the skillet again and in four minutes this would be ready to serve.

I microwaved my eight stalks of asparagus for a minute and then tossed the vegetable into a fry pan to finish cooking. As  the asparagus cooked, I tossed it with the caper/anchovy paste.

Time to serve:
  • Divide the warm, cooked rice in half and place half on each plate. 
  • Place four stalks of asparagus on the side of each plate. If necessary roll the stalks in the paste as serving.
  • Now, place a piece of olive-topped cod in the centre of each plate, right on top of the bed of rice.
  • Surround the cod with the red pepper/onion mix.
  • Lastly, sprinkle some of the Italian parsley mix onto the fish. Taste first to judge how generous you want to be with this. I was very generous.

Beautiful. My wife hates fish. Clearly, our cod had been well handled. It had no off flavours. The red pepper and the black olives went beautifully with the white, flaky fish. We were both surprised at how good the anchovy and caper paste was with the asparagus. Again, there was no off-putting fishy flavour. My wife tells me that when the anchovies are good, they add a pleasant depth to the flavour of the dish. Our anchovies were good.