January 22, 2011

Sunshine Orecchiette

For some reason, I always want to mis-spell orecchiette. It's either orrechiette, orecchietti, or worse - orrechiete. All wrong. This dish, however, is very, very right.

It came to me as I was pondering a use for the leftover half-pound (or so) of orecchiette left over from testing a recipe for a book review. While I was originally thinking that it would be a meatless dish, I was reminded that we had a double-smoked farmer's sausage in the freezer that needed using, so I threw that in, too. I was very happy with the combination of chickpeas and sausage and pasta all together, but you could easily make this dish vegetarian (vegan, in fact) by using veggie stock in place of the chicken stock, and simply omitting the sausage.

I wanted something non-tomatoey, and we weren't all that keen on a cream sauce that particular night, so I decided to make a bright, lemony sauce, using the tips and tricks I'd learned in tweaking the Chicken Sahara recipe. With the first few bites, we knew this one was a winner.

Sunshine Orecchiette

Serves: 4
Total Prep & Cooking Time: 30 - 45 minutes

200 grams orecchiette
1 double-smoked farmer's sausage
2 cups canned chick peas
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest & juice of a lemon
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
1 teaspoon chicken stock/veggie broth (unheated)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups spinach, in chiffonade

Dice sausage and fry gently in a 12" skillet until lightly browned. Obviously, vegetarians can skip ahead to the next step.

Combine flour, salt & spices in a large measuring cup or small bowl. Whisk the cold stock or broth into the flour mixture, along with the lemon zest and juice and crushed garlic. Do not use heated stock/broth, or you will get lumps; room temperature or cold is best. Whisk until the mixture is smooth with flecks of garlic. Pour the sauce mixture into the skillet, and cook, stirring often over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas and continue to cook on low, covered so the liquid doesn't all evaporate. The sauce will get much yellower as it cooks, don't worry.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook orecchiette to desired doneness. Drain (or - better - remove pasta from the pot with a spider tool, and add to the sauce. Stir really well, getting the sunny yellow colour to coat the pasta. If the dish seems too thick or stiff, add a little of the pasta cooking water to thin it out (maybe a quarter of a cup). Allow everything to cook for a few minutes on very low while you slice the spinach into chiffonade. Stir spinach ribbons into the pasta, combining well, and serve immediately (with a little freshly ground black pepper, if you fancy).

January 16, 2011

Hamburger Stroganoff Skillet Dinner

First things first: this is, obviously, not a true stroganoff, nor is it pretending to be one. Instead, it's a quick weeknight dinner that only uses one pan and doesn't take a whole lot of time. Bonus points that it is made from ingredients that I'm likely to have on hand. Even better, it has a surprisingly modest caloric payload, which (according to an online recipe calculator) is approximately 400 calories per serving, somewhere in the vicinity of 1 1/2 to 2 cups. Add some fresh steamed veggies for a side dish, and you're licking the plate (and patting your satisfied belly) for under 500 calories. This dish is, I presume, what Hamburger Helper wants to be. Only better, I think, and with less sodium, which means it doesn't send you desperately, repeatedly to your water glass until your insides slosh when you walk. Comfort food!

Hamburger Stroganoff Skillet Dinner

Serves 4

450 grams extra lean ground beef
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cup finely diced onions
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
200 g broad/wide egg noodles
1 1/2 teaspoons Better than Bouillon Beef Base (or substitute beef broth for the boiling water below)
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (I use Liberte's 0% fat)
2 cups sliced mushrooms of your choice
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch

In a 12" non-stick skillet, fry the beef, stirring occasionally until well browned. Sprinkle the dry mustard and the salt over the meat and stir again. Add the onions and garlic, cooking and stirring until softened and a bit translucent. Add mushrooms to skillet, and a splash of water to make sure nothing sticks. Add the noodles, beef base, Worcestershire sauce, and boiling water, stir well and bring to a simmer. Shake the half cup of cold water in a lidded container with the flour, until smooth. Add to the skillet and stir well until thoroughly incorporated and gravy starts to thicken up, and then cook over medium heat until noodles are half-done (about 5 minutes). Combine yogurt with cornstarch (so it doesn't break and curdle) in a small bowl and beat with a spoon or whisk until perfectly smooth. Add yogurt mixture to skillet. Cook stirring until mixture thickens to a creamy coating and the noodles are fully cooked.

A crisp salad would be another lovely way to round this out.

January 08, 2011

Orange & Date Flecked Muffins

These are homely little muffins, but pack a fresh, orangey punch, thanks to using the whole orange - skin, pith, and all. They're not too sweet, either, so it doesn't feel like you're eating a cupcake (or one of those lethal coffeeshop-style gut-bomb muffins).

You do need a blender (or a good food processor), because chopping through both dates and orange peels is tough work.

Orange & Date Flecked Muffins
Adapted from allrecipes.com

1 orange (thin skinned is best)
3/4 cup 1% buttermilk
1/2 cup diced dates
1/4 cup butter
1 large egg
1 3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

Grease a 12-cup regular sized muffin tin (or spritz with canola spray).

Cut orange into eight pieces, and remove any seeds, as well as the thick strip of pith from the centre of the orange. Put the orange pieces into the blender with the egg, buttermilk, dates and butter. Blend thoroughly until mixture is thick, fairly smooth with flecks. It will look a bit like baby food.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cloves and ginger. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the contents of the blender in all at once. Stir rapidly with a fork until any dry bits are gone. Don't worry about small lumps, though, the batter doesn't need to be smooth. Divide the batter between muffin cups.

Bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Let stand in pan for five minutes, then remove to wire racks for cooling.

Store cooled muffins in a sealable container in the fridge to keep them fresh. You can also wrap them individually in plastic and freeze. Reheating a muffin for 15 seconds in the microwave works beautifully, and makes them taste oven-fresh.

Perfect for coffee breaks!

January 03, 2011

The Last Pie of the Year is also the First Pie of the Year

Which can only mean one thing: Tourtière for New Year’s Eve (and again, New Year’s Day). (It's also often made for Christmas Eve, instead, depending on where you hail from.)

Tourtière is one of those wonderful foods which can be summed up as “those Quebecois pork pies” (doing it something of a disservice in brevity), but also holds an awful lot of holiday tradition, and hot debates as to the exact ingredients required (or, in some cases, permitted). There is the great potato debate - should it be included at all, should it be in chunks, or should it be mashed smooth? There is the meat debate - all pork, a mixture of pork and beef (and the percentages thereof), should you use game, such as venison or rabbit? And finally, last but not least, the seasoning. I’ve seen arguments for salt-and-pepper only (boring, but safe, I suppose), nutmeg and cloves (my personal favourite), and a sort of kitchen sink approach which encompasses every possible option from the spice rack, and infinite variations in between.

I am not Quebecois (although part French), and therefore do not have a family imperative to include in my definition of this dish, but I have a great fondness for French food in general, including its many regional variations. Here is an ad-hoc version that should prove tasty to most meat-pie loving folks:

Dawna’s Tourtière

Serves 6 - 8
Total Preparation & Cooking Time: 1.5 to 2 hours

Pastry for one double crust pie
2 cups flour
½ cup butter, cold
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons cold water

Using a food processor fitted with a metal blade, blend the flour, butter and salt with quick, full-speed pulses until the butter is the size of little peas and evenly distributed throughout the flour. With the motor running on low, add the water all at once through the top of the food processor. Immediately crank the speed up on the processor, and in a few seconds it should start to become dough, little chunks of which start to glomb together and try to crawl up out of the bowl. Pull the dough clump(s) out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead just barely until it comes together. Separate into two roughly equal pieces, and pat down into disks. You’re done! You can refrigerate them until you are ready to work with them, or you can roll out the pastry now if your filling is ready. This pastry works beautifully for sweet or savory pies and tarts.


600 grams lean ground pork
300 grams extra lean ground beef
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bayleaf
1 medium potato, boiled and mashed (as smooth or lumpy as you wish)
½ teaspoon salt
Good pinch of ground nutmeg
Good pinch of ground cloves
Small pinch ground sage
Small pinch ground thyme
Black pepper to taste (lots)
½ cup vegetable broth

Brown the pork and the beef in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, and bayleaf and stir and saute until the onion becomes translucent and tender. Stir in: first the seasonings, then the broth, and finally the potato. Stir about, and taste. Adjust the seasonings to your liking, remove the bayleaf, and remove the filling from the heat.

Roll out your pie’s bottom crust and place it in the pie plate. Heap up the filling in the middle, and then spread it about so that the pie will be full, without gaps by the side crust. Sprinkle the filling with extra nutmeg, and lay the top crust over the filling. Trim and crimp the sides, and cut slits (air vents) in the top of the pie, and brush it with an egg wash (essentially, one egg, beaten smooth, applied with a pastry brush until the whole top surface, including crenellations, are liberally coated with yellow goo. This only uses up about a tablespoon, at the most, of your beaten egg, so put the rest in the fridge (in a little dish, covered well) for a future omelette or other baking tasks).

Place pie in a 450 F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and continue to cook for another 20 to 30, depending on your oven.

Allow to cool for about five or ten minutes before slicing, to help it preserve its shape when cut.

You may wish to serve this with a nice tomato chutney, or banana ketchup, or even salsa. I won’t judge - well, not much, anyway.

Happy New Year!