Monday, March 28, 2011

We've had a few chilly days in Montreal this past week, I guess to be expected even though spring is officially here. The weather seems to once again call out for some warm comfort food, and beef stew is just the dish. True to my Italian origins, I added some fresh tomato and red wine to my stew recipe. Homemade beef stock also helped to further enhance the flavours of the beef and all those yummy root vegetables. Serves two with just enough leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. After all stew is even better the next day.
Suggestion: for thicker sauce add an extra spoon of flour.

11/2 pound roast (round) cut into bite- size pieces
1 onion coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 cup cherry tomatoes cut into wedges 
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small rutabaga cubed (about 1 1/2 cup)
2 carrots cut in 1" pieces
2 small parsnips cut into 1" pieces
2 Yukon gold potatoes cut into bite size pieces

Season the meat with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven pot, heat the butter and oil on medium high.Brown the meat a few pieces at a time. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and set aside. In the same pot, brown the onions, add the garlic. Add more oil if necessary. Stir in the flour, allow it to cook for a minute. Gradually whisk in the beef stock to prevent lumps from forming.  Return the meat to the pot. Pour in the red wine. Toss in the tomatoes, bay leaf, and fresh thyme. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the the vegetable pieces and continue to simmer until the meat is tender, about 25 minutes or until the meat is tender. The stew can also be finished  with the cover on in a 350º oven for about 25 minutes or until the meat is tender.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Coconut Banana and Date Cupcakes

Showing some self restraint, I stopped myself from snacking on the remaining dates used for the chocolate orange nut date loaf recipe. I managed to save just enough to incorporate them into my favourite banana cake recipe which has proven quite popular on the blog. Given the sweetness of the dates, I reduced the amount of sugar in the recipe. I also substituted 1/2 cup sour cream for the 1/4 cup buttermilk  called for in the recipe. There's no need for a cake mix to guarantee perfect results; this very forgiving recipe turns out moist and fluffy cupcakes. In fact I didn't even follow my own directions. I ended up adding all the wet ingredients at once to the flour mixture; beating them together  for 2-3 minutes with an electric hand mixer and still got amazing results.  The batter was enough for 12 cupcakes and a small loaf or 18 cupcakes.

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened.shredded coconut
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1 cup chopped dates
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup ripe bananas (mashed)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Toss in the dates, nuts, coconut to coat with the flour mixture. The date pieces will be sticky, separate with your fingers or a fork while blending into the dry ingredients..Add the bananas, sugar, butter and sour cream. Beat the mixture on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute. Pour into into 18 prepared muffin tins.  Bake in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes. The cupcakes are done when a toothpick or knife is inserted in the middle, and comes out clean.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Foodnetwork's Community March's Cooking Club Challenge Is... Classic Tuna Casserole!

Last year I participated in a fun retro recipe challenge with other Food network community members, so upon learning that March's challenge  was once again the infamous Classic Tuna Casserole, I couldn't resist giving it a go. Although I had the best intentions to follow the recommended recipe, it's almost impossible for me to follow a recipe without tampering with it to the nth degree. So, guilty as charged, I substituted some of the ingredients found in this quintessential 1950's dish. Never a  fan of green peppers, I replaced them with the much sweeter red bell peppers. The recipe also called for canned onion rings for the topping, another ingredient I couldn't bring myself to use (and don't even get me started on the margarine which was replaced by good old olive oil). A crunchy parsley and parmesan panko breadcrumb topping was also the perfect substitute for the suggested onion rings. The evaporated milk was also a "no go" for me and replaced with an easy to make creamy Mornay sauce infused with bay leaf, fresh thyme, and the delicate flavour of Comte cheese....well worth the extra dirty saucepan to wash up. I also took artistic liberty by adding some extra ingredients like capers, parsely, mushrooms, and white wine. You have to agree that processed ingredients can't hold a light to simple basic ingredients.
Below, I've provided both versions.  What are your thoughts?  

Anna's Tuna Casserole:

1/2 cup panko crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Pinch of salt 

In a small bowl and using your hands, combine the panko breadcrumbs, oil, parsley, and parmesan cheese. Set aside the topping.

 Mornay sauce:
1 1/2 cups 2%  milk
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup grated Comte cheese    

In a sauce pan melt 3 tablespoons of butter and whisk in the flour. Continue to stir and allow the flour to cook for 1 minute. Pour in the hot milk,bay leaf, fresh thyme and continue whisking. Bring to a boil and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the grated cheese and set aside.

1/2 pound No Yolk noodles
2 cans 7 oz. albacore solid white tuna (drained and broken into bite size)
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cup sliced white button mushrooms
1/2 red bell pepper diced
1 cup frozen peas
small handful chopped Italian parsley (about1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons capers
1/2 cup white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta al dente in a large pot with salted boiling water. Drain and set aside in a large bowl. Reserve some of the hot water to thin out the sauce, if necessary.
In a saucepan heat the oil; add the shallots. Sauté until transparent and add the mushrooms. Continue cooking for 2 minutes and add the peppers and capers. Sauté for an addition 2 minutes and add the wine. Add the frozen peas. Continue cooking for a minute or two to allow the flavors to infuse. Toss the vegetable mixture into the pasta and pour in the sauce. Stir to combine. Pour the pasta into a buttered 1.5 liter (6 cup) casserole dish and sprinkle the breadcrumb topping on top. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the breadcrumb topping before baking in a 350º F oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes to heat through, and the breadcrumbs have turned a golden brown. Serves 4-6

And Now the Foodnetwork's Version.........
Classic Tuna Casserole!

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 31 minutes 
Ingredients - Yield 4
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable margarine
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup sliced white mushrooms (about 6 to 8 mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1x12 ounce can reduced-fat evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1x5 ounce can light water-pack tuna, drained and flaked
  • 3 cups NO YOLKS noodles (prefer Extra Broad), cooked according to package directions
  • 1/3 cup canned French fried onion rings


  1. Melt the margarine in a large nonstick skillet. Add onion, bell pepper and mushrooms. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to mix in. Add salt, thyme and pepper; stir again.
  2. Gradually add evaporated milk, stirring constantly, scraping up any browned bits in bottom of skillet. Add peas. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, or until milk is slightly thickened. Stir in tuna and NO YOLKS noodles. Spoon noodle mixture into a large, shallow baking dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. Sprinkle onion rings over noodles. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until onion rings and noodles are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let set for a minute before serving.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First Year Anniversary!

Who would have thought a year ago, that I would actually have my own blog. Always passionate about food but not very adept with computers, I'm thankful for my daughter's encouragement to take the plunge. With her at my side, I was introduced to "http", "username" and "google mail". Yes, I'm talking about rudimentary computer functions for which I had little use prior to embarking on this blogging odyssey. My darling husband picked up the torch, teaching me how to use his camera, download and upload pictures onto the computer, and "cut and paste" to my heart's content. I remain amazed at his patience and support through the whole process. To this day, his support is unrelenting and steadfast. Even when he is probably bored to tears with the thought of reading yet another recipe post, he manages to find the time to peruse the blog, providing constructive criticism when needed and words of encouragement.  It's not only family that has played an integral part in my new found passion but also you, my wonderful  friends out there, who have supported me from the beginning and motivated me to continue, especially during periods of "remise en question". I would like to toast you all as I celebrate my first anniversary, by extending a warm thank-you because this blog would not exist without you. Cheers!

What's a celebration without something sweet!  A look back at some of the photos from the earlier recipe posts...........


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pesto Chicken Breast with Wild Rice Mushroom Stuffing

Bored with the thought of another uninspired chicken meal, I scoured my pantry for inspiration. Seeing that I still had a small amount of
"gourmet" rice (heirloom red rice, wild rice, sweet brown rice).  I thought, why not combine the rice with portobello and button mushrooms; cook it with some some white wine to make a stuffing for a chicken breast that was on hand. The final touch was to smear some homemade pesto under the skin for extra flavour. Although the wrapped parcel might not have looked so pretty once prepped for cooking, the end result definitely rated a "wow" from my husband. A simple fennel and blood orange misto salad added vibrant colour to the meal. Now if I can only repeat this for a dinner party. Sometimes our best recipes are the ones made off the cuff.

1 large boneless chicken breast with skin
3 tablespoons basil pesto
2-3  tablespoons olive oil
1 cup mushrooms
1 shallot
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 cup cooked rice
3/4 cup white wine
3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves chopped
6 cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked  rice( mix of gourmet rice...wild, brown and red)
1/2 cup chicken broth

In a sauce pan, heat the oil and saute the shallots for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and thyme; continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomato pieces, parsley, and a heaping teaspoon of the basil pesto. Cook for a minute. Pour in 1/4 cup of  the white wine. Cook a minute or two before stirring in the cooked rice. Set aside to allow the mixture to cool. Spread the chicken breast on a work surface and flatten to a 1/4" thickness. With your fingers spread a tablespoon or two of pesto under the skin. Turn the chicken skin side down and spoon on the rice mushroom mixture. Spread on the surface of the meat and fold into a parcel. Taking some kitchen twine, wrap the meat to secure the stuffing. Transfer to an oven proof saucepan to which you have heated 2 tablespoons of oil. Brown the chicken, on all sides. Pour in 1/2 cup of wine, simmer for a minute. Add the chicken broth. Cover and continue cooking in a 350ºF  oven until fully cooked about 20-30 minutes, until fully cooked.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What a great way to begin the week-end!  Priya of the Now Serving blog, just informed me that my chocolate banana cake recipe won an award for best Western desserts. The recipe was actually tested and reviewed on her site . I would like to thank Priya for this recognition and congratulate the other two winners of "Dessert Maker Par Excellence Award"; Paaka Shaale for her molten cake recipe and Hot from the Oven for her sticky toffee pudding.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

The dating game .......Chocolate Orange Date Nut Loaf

Is it just me or has the date nut loaf fallen out of favour? It seems that this once popular quick bread has fallen off the face of the earth; so, feeling somewhat nostalgic, I resurrected one of my old recipes. To help it into the new decade I gave it a slight facelift by introducing cocoa and orange zest to the original recipe. I also decided to add a streusel topping. For one of the small loaves I added a decadent touch by placing a layer of Belgian dark chocolate disks on the top after it was baked. I then returned it to the oven for a minute to allow the chocolate to fully melt before spreading it on the loaf. Who can say this is not a wholesome treat, what with so little butter in the recipe and all the benefits that the dates provide. Dates are not only rich in fiber, but also loaded with a wide range of nutrients like calcium, iron and potassium to name just a few.


Streusel topping
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup toasted pecans
2 tablespoons soft butter

Add all the ingredients to a small bowl and blend using your fingers or a fork.

Loaf batter:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dates
1 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
zest of one orange (about 1 tablespoon)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon melted butter

In a small bowl sift the flour,salt and cocoa powder and set aside. In another bowl add the dates and baking soda. Heat the orange juice to almost boiling point and pour over the dates. Allow to cool to room temperature. In a large bowl beat the egg and gradually whisk in the sugar, vanilla and orange zest. Blend in the cooled date mixture and then incorporate the dry ingredients, just until blended. Pour into a prepared loaf pan measuring 8 ½" x 4 ½" x 2½ " or 2 smaller loaf tins. Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top and bake at 350ºF oven for 50-60 minutes for larger loaf and 40 minutes for the smaller ones.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Stir Fry Tofu

All you need are some pantry basics like soy sauce, sesame oil, and fresh ginger, which can always be found in my fridge, to come up with this simple everyday meal. It's the perfect healthy and satisfying dish for the harried office worker after a long day on the job or anytime, when you're not in the mood for yet another meat dish. The beauty of the recipe is that you don't have to follow it to a "T". Just improvise as I did with whatever vegetables are lurking in your own fridge. Tasty alone or served on a bed of  plain leftover basmati rice which can be sauteed in some browned onions and a hint of light soy sauce. Super easy and another great meal in way under thirty minutes.

1 block 10oz. very firm tofu cut into 1" squares
3-4  tablespoons light olive oil or canola oil
1/2 onion finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves finely chopped 
1 inch piece fresh ginger finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons when chopped)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3-4 tablespoons Kikkoman soy sauce (light soy sauce)
1/2 onion cut into slices
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into slices
2 celery stalks, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups broccoli  florets
1 zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices

Prep the vegetables and set aside
Heat the oil  and brown the onions. Add the garlic and ginger, saute an additional minute. Toss in the tofu and stir, scraping the pan to transfer flavour from the browned onion pieces. Add the sliced onions and cook for 3-4 minutes to brown the tofu.

Pour in  the sesame oil and soy sauce. Cook for 2-3 minutes, before adding the broccoli. Allow the broccoli to cook slightly, an additional minute or two.

Toss in the celery, peppers and zucchini.
Cook until al dente and serve over rice.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pappardelle with Pork and Veal Meatballs

Once you've mastered the art of pasta making, the possibilities are endless. With one easy basic recipe you can make a wide range of pasta, anything from linguine, tagliatelle, ravioli, lasagna, and of course parpardelle, a wide cut fettuccine pasta. Simply follow the tutorial below for the pasta (March 24, 2010 post). Once the pasta dough has been finely rolled out, you can proceed to roll up the dough into cylinders and cut 1" strips to form you parpadelle.  Although parpardelle are traditionally served with a boar ragu, I  tossed mine in a simple marinara sauce, and served  pork and veal meatballs. Below you will also find the recipe for my mother's traditional Italian meatballs ( April 16, 2010 post)

Homemade Pasta:

4 Cups of all purpose flour
6 large eggs

Place the flour on a clean surface (a counter or large wooden board). Make a well in the center of the flour. Break the eggs into the well and lightly beat with a fork. Start incorporating the flour a little at a time. Continue blending in the flour with your fingertips. The amount of flour used will depend on the size of eggs and humidity. You may not need all the flour.
Remove excess flour from the work surface and start kneading your dough on this lightly floured area. Knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let stand for at least 30 minutes or more.

Roll out the dough into a 9 inch disk and cut into 6 pieces. I start my machine at #6 and roll each piece. I then lower it to #4 and roll the dough pieces once again. Continue this process until #1, which will give you a thin dough. Roll the strip of dough into a cylinder and cut 3/4" to 1" strips.

Place the strips on a clean cloth or a work surface light dusted with flour and allow to dry before cooking in salted boiling water.  The pasta also freezes well for later use.

my family's original meatball recipe!

1 lb. minced veal
1/2 lb. minced pork
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
handful fresh Italian parsley
2 eggs
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon salt

In a mixing bowl, add the ground pork, veal, garlic, bread crumbs and eggs. Season with the salt and pepper. Mix with your hands and form into balls. Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 375 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes. The meatballs can also be fried. Turn the meatballs and continue cooking for an In either case, cook until golden brown.additional 10 minutes, again until golden brown. You can reduce the cooking time if the meatballs are to be added to a simmering tomato marinara sauce. This will ensure that the meat is fully cooked and infused with your delicious sauce.