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Archive for April, 2010

Hamburgers and Yam Fries

Burgers and Yam FriesTHE VERDICT:

We planned this meal as a classic kick-off to the summer barbecuing season, but sadly the weather did not cooperate. Though I should probably confess that we never got around to cleaning our patio furniture, so the rain was just one reason we didn’t enjoy this meal out on the patio as planned. But the first burger of the season enjoyed alongside a cold beer and some yam fries still managed put me in the mood for sunshine when it finally decides to stick around for a while.

Not to brag, but I am known for my hamburgers. I always freestyle them a bit based on the mood I’m in and what ingredients we have on hand. Somehow they always seem to turn out well and tonight was no exception. The recipe below is the closest I will probably ever get to nailing down a proper recipe.

The yam fries were our first attempt to make our own. Trying to be healthy, we decided to bake them. They tasted pretty good, but were more like mushy yam sticks than actual fries. I see more experimenting in our future.

THE RECIPES:

Hamburgers (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1 lb. extra lean ground beef

1 egg

1/2 of a small onion, minced

3 cloves garlic minced

sprinkling of bread crumbs

ground black pepper and/or white pepper, to taste

a few pinches of chili powder

pinch of salt

4 hamburger buns

hamburger fixings of your choice (e.g. tomatoes, cheese, lettuce)

  • Combine ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, onion, garlic and seasoning in a large bowl. Mix together with your hands.
  • Divide meat mixture into 4 equal parts. Roll into balls and then press into patties.
  • Grill on the barbecue until cooked through, approximately 5 minutes per side.
  • Serve on hamburger buns with hamburger fixings.

Yam Fries (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

2 yams

1 Tbsp. kosher salt

1 Tbsp. ground pepper

2 Tbsp. olive oil

  • Peel the yams and cut them into strips.
  • Toss with remaining ingredients.
  • Spread out on baking sheet.
  • Bake at 500°F for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.


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Cranberry-Cornmeal Quick Bread

Cranberry-Cornmeal BreadTHE VERDICT:

First I should probably confess that I am allergic to nuts, which means I have to modify about 50% of the baking recipes I try. This recipe, in particular, called for pecans. I substituted extra dried cranberries for the nuts, but you could easily substitute seeds or other dried fruit if desired.

The other thing I should probably confess is that I screwed up when making this recipe. I combined the dry and wet ingredients before realizing that the melted butter was still sitting in the microwave. While my knowledge of baking chemistry is limited, I have a feeling that adding the melted butter to the already combined batter may have adversely effected the outcome. The bread was a little dry.

But overall, this bread was tasty and I would make it again. Just add a little butter, margarine or jam to make it a little moister and the dryness problem is solved. It kept well for several days stored in a Ziploc bag on the counter. It made a wonderful breakfast with some fresh fruit and a cup (or two) of coffee.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Cranberry-Cornmeal Quick Bread (source: www.epicurious.com; original recipe)

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Chocolate Chip Cranberry Granola Bars & Sparkling Iced Tea

Granola Bar and Sparkling Iced TeaTHE VERDICT:

Both of these recipes make for a tasty afternoon snack though the beverage is a much healthier option if you are counting calories. The granola bars are amazing, but they are a problematic snack. The original recipe should be prepared in a 9 x 9 cake pan and then cut into 16 pieces, leaving you with a miniscule portion size that packs a whopping 157 calories without filling you up. Because we cut larger, more filling bars, I’ve doubled the original recipe, so that we can eat these as snacks all week long. We won’t make this recipe often as it is not the healthiest choice (though it is still preferable to the heavily processed granola bars available at the grocery store), and in the future we may try to make healthier substitutions for some of the ingredients (e.g. pumpkin seeds instead of chocolate chips).

The iced tea is extremely refreshing and I am looking forward to making several variations of this recipe over the warm summer months. The original recipe only serves two and is designed to be served shortly after making it, so I altered things a little bit. I just made a jug of extremely strong cranberry-raspberry tea and then diluted it with club soda whenever I made a glass. This would be a great drink to serve at a summer barbecue.

THE RECIPES:

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Granola Bars (source: Spark Recipes; original recipe)

Sparkling Iced Tea (www.canadianfamily.ca; original recipe)

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Fresh Tomato Pasta with Garlic Shrimp and Green Salad

Fresh Tomato Pasta DinnerTHE VERDICT:

This recipe was our favourite find of last summer. As the weather has been warming up, we decided it was time to bring this dish out of the vault. It is a quick and easy weeknight meal and the leftovers make a tasty pasta salad.

For this meal, we paired it with some grilled shrimp and a green salad with citrus vinaigrette.  We love free styling salads and this was another one of our produce aisle inspirations.

To prepare for baby: Choose a small pasta noodle (e.g. macaroni) or cut your noodles to a suitable size after cooking. Make sure the tomato is finely diced. You may want to ease up on the garlic as well. We found Z wasn’t as keen about this dish as he usually is when it comes to pasta and can only conclude that the fresh garlic was too strong for him because he loves raw tomatoes almost as much as he loves pasta.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Fresh Tomato Pasta (source: Today’s Parent magazine; original recipe)

Green Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

1 bag butter lettuce or your favourite salad greens

1 avocado, diced

1 cucumber, diced

1 handful dried cranberries

a few tablespoons olive oil

a few splashes of lemon juice

a few splashes of lime juice

salt and pepper

  • Toss all ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Serve.

Garlic Shrimp (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

Two dozen shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. butter

  • Melt butter in a small frying pan.
  • Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
  • Add shrimp and saute until cooked (shrimp will turn pink).


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Mustard-Crusted Tofu with Kale and Sweet Potato

Mustard-Crusted TofuTHE VERDICT:

Maybe it was the fact that we cooked one too many recipes calling for kale and/or sweet potato this week or maybe this recipe really was lack lustre. I would actually go so far as to say that recipes like this one are what give vegetarian cooking a bad name. Overall, it was bland–except for the kale, which was bitter. The only good thing I can say about this recipe was that it was fairly quick and easy to prepare.

If, despite our review, you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Mustard Crusted Tofu with Kale and Sweet Potato (Source: Epicurious; original recipe )

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Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Chicken Noodle SoupTHE VERDICT:

The flavours of this soup are good, but it could probably use some salt next time.  Even adding salt, the sodium content would still be much less than a packaged soup.  A recommended meal for the day before is this one, which leaves a nice carcass for the soup base.  You can substitute thyme or some other fresh herb for the dill, depending on your tastes and the season.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Chicken Noodle Soup (source: Canadian Family magazine; original recipe)

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Crispy Roast Chicken with Oregano and Lemon, Mashed Yams and Apples, Green Beans

Roast Chicken with Yams and Green BeansTHE VERDICT:

This roast is dead simple and results in moist, tender chicken in the same vein as Swiss Chalet. The gravy was very non-traditional and tasted more like a vinaigrette than a full-fat gravy. We think the gravy would appeal to Swiss Chalet fans, but we’d probably skip it in favour of a more traditional format next time. As with all roasts, cooking times may vary due to factors such as oven size and bird size.  The key is internal temperature, so the first time you cook this, leave some extra time just in case.  For the record, it took us closer to 1.5 hours to get to 170°F.

The yams and apples turned out delicious, and almost seem too good to be vegetables.  Definitely good if you want to “hide” vegetables in a tasty dish that the kids will love. Also a possibility for a sweet potato pie filling. We hardly had any leftovers because we both enjoyed thirds of this simple, but flavour-packed side dish.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Crispy Roast Chicken with Oregano and Lemon (source: Canadian Family magazine; original recipe)

Mashed Yams and Apples (source: www.epicurious.com; original recipe)

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Pavlova with Lemon Curd Filling

Pavlova with Lemon CurdTHE VERDICT:

Justin loves pavlova and anything lemon, so combining these two recipes was a natural choice for his birthday “cake.”  The pavlova turned out great; I found the instructions easy to follow and even someone who had never made meringue before would have a high chance of success with this recipe. The lemon curd tasted great, but there was not enough of it. Next time, I would double the recipe.

How are the leftovers? I have no idea. This dessert was so delicious and deceivingly light-tasting that we ate the whole thing between the two of us the same night that we baked it. But what’s a birthday if you can’t indulge a little bit?

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Pavlova (source: www.epicurious.com; Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries)

Lemon Curd (source: family recipe)

8 Tbsp white sugar

Juice of 2 lemons

1 Tbsp butter

2 eggs

  • Mix well.
  • Put in top of double boiler and cook until it thickens, stirring constantly.

Note: 2 Tbsp of lemon juice=1 lemon

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Yogurt and Tamarind Grilled Chicken with Curry Vegetables and Basmati Rice

Yogourt Tamarind Chicken with Curry Vegetables

THE VERDICT:

There’s nothing like making curry from scratch.  Fresh spices lend a much more complex flavour to the dish than generic paste or powder, and the cook can more easily influence the dish to their liking.  The vegetable dish can be made with any variety of vegetables (local and in season, ideally) but care must be taken to add each vegetable to the pot so that they all reach the proper level of softness at the same time.  The chicken dish turned out much better than I expected, and both of us would make it again.  It is a very simple and low maintenance dish, so as long as you can be proactive and marinade it beforehand.  A good idea would be to prepare the marinade in the morning before leaving for work, so that it is ready to cook when you get home. Cooking the chicken was a cinch.  We used the Griddler to grill the chicken, but a cast iron grilling pan or BBQ would work just as well. While the recipe says the lemon wedges are optional, the citrus really does enhance the flavour of the marinade.

Leftovers were tasty and the vegetables held up overnight.  We didn’t overcook them so they weren’t completely mushy the next day.  The curry was even more aromatic as the flavours had time to intensify.

On Vij’s cookbook:  I’d highly recommend this cookbook.  The introductory sections give a great background on Indian cooking and the spices traditionally used (note that he doesn’t once mention nuts even though many Indian restaurants seem to use nuts to thicken sauces) and background on their restaurant.  The recipes are mostly doable without having to devote your life to prep, and are written in a great anecdotal style which lends insight into his thought process.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Yogurt and Tamarind Marinated Chicken (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

¾ cup plain yogurt, stirred

1 Tbsp. tamarind paste

3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

¼ cup canola oil

1 ½ Tbsp. salt

1 ¼ Tbsp. ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. garam masala

2 ¼ lbs. boneless chicken thighs

1 lemon cut into 6 wedges (optional)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, tamarind paste, garlic, oil, salt, cayenne, and garam masala. Add chicken and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. The longer the chicken marinates, the stronger the flavours will be.
  • Preheat a grill, barbecue or stovetop grill pan to high heat. Remember to turn on your exhaust fan if cooking indoors as the cooking process will create some smoke.
  • Grill chicken on one side for 2 minutes, then turn over and grill the other side for 2 minutes. Repeat this process for a total of 4 minutes per side.
  • While chicken is still piping hot, squeeze a little fresh lemon to taste.

Note: Be sure to use boneless chicken thighs as breast meat doesn’t absorb the flavours of the marinade as well. If your tamarind paste has the texture of a fruit smoothie rather than a thick jam, use 2 Tbsp. instead of 1 Tbsp.

Makes 6 servings.

Coconut Curried Vegetables (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

½ cup canola oil

25-30 fresh curry leaves

1 Tbsp. black mustard seeds

1 ½ cups finely chopped onions (2 medium)

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. chopped garlic

2 cups chopped tomatoes (2 large)

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. turmeric

½ tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 (12 oz.) can coconut milk, stirred

1 lb. eggplant in 1.5 inch cubes

1 lb. cauliflower in 1.5 inch florets

¾ lb. red, green and/or yellow peppers in 1.5 inch cubes

¾ cup chopped cilantro

3-4 cups cooked basmati rice

  • In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute. Keeping your head at a distance from the pot, add curry leaves and mustard seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 1 minute or until just a few mustard seeds start to pop. The curry leaves will cook and shrivel.
  • Immediately add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  • Sauté the masala for 5-8 minutes or until the oil glistens on top.
  • Stir in coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Add eggplant, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add cauliflower and bell peppers, cover and cook for 5 minutes more.
  • Stir in cilantro.
  • Serve on top of rice.

Note: You can use whatever vegetables you like for this dish, but remember to add them according to cooking time, so that they don’t end up over or under cooked.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Garam Masala (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

This spice mixture is used in many Indian recipes.  Garam means “warm” and Masala means “spices”.  There are many variations to a basic masala but they are all relatively pungent and spicy, and tend to have some sweetness to them.  This is Vij’s famous mixture that is used in many of their dishes.

1 heaping tsp whole cloves

1 1/2 tsp black cardamom seeds (about 10 whole pods)

6 heaping Tbsp cumin seeds

1 Tbsp pounded cinnamon sticks

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Make sure you have your stovetop exhaust on as this is pungent cooking!  In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat cloves, black cardamom seeds, cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks on medium to high heat, stirring constantly.  When the cumin seeds become a darker shade of brown, remove from stove.  Transfer the roasted spices to a bowl and cool for 20 minutes.  Place roasted spices, mace and nutmeg in a grinder or mortar/pestle and grind until it has the consistency of black pepper.  Can be used right away and will keep for up to 6 months.  We’ve found it keeps even longer although I tend to add more to dishes the longer I keep a batch.


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Beef Souvlaki with Greek Salad

Beef Souvlaki with Greek Salad
THE VERDICT:

If you are organized enough to prepare and marinade the souvlaki the night before, then this is an easy weeknight meal. If you have a tendency to forget these sorts of details, plan it for a weekend. While the recipe says to broil the meat, this is also a great recipe for the barbecue in the warmer months.

I have loved both of these dishes since first learning to make them in high school. They are so simple that it is easy to free style them or adjust them to include ingredients that you have on hand. I have also found that the salad is quite popular at potlucks and travels well for picnics.

Leftover salad makes for a great snack or light lunch the following day. The meat does not reheat well, but you could always eat the leftovers cold (maybe tossed with the salad) if you like that sort of thing.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Souvlaki (source: my high school cooking class)

40 ml oil

25 ml minced onion

40 ml wine vinegar

½ ml salt

10 ml Worcestershire

½ ml pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ ml oregano

½ ml dill

300g steak or chicken

Day 1:

  • Combine marinade ingredients and pour into Ziploc bag or Tupperware container. Add meat and refrigerate.
  • If using wooden skewers, soak in water overnight.

Day 2:

  • Preheat broiler. Put oven rack in top position.
  • Remove meat from bag and place on skewers. Place in foil lined broiling pan.
  • Broil 8-10 minutes. Turn once after 5 minutes.

Makes 3 servings.

Greek Salad (source: variation on my high school cooking class recipe)

large splash of olive oil

small container of feta cheese

a few large pinches of dried oregano

some fresh ground pepper to taste

large splash of red wine or balsamic vinegar (whatever is handy)

half a red onion (if you like onion)

2-3 tomatoes

1-2 green pepper

1 cucumber

black olives (if you like them)

  • Crumble feta cheese into salad bowl. Toss with oregano and pepper.
  • Chop vegetables into bite-sized pieces and place in bowl.
  • Add remaining ingredients and toss.

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