December 20, 2011

Quick Paleo Chili

So, I went Paleo about three months ago, and to my continued astonishment, I'm finding it really easy not to eat grains, or sugar. Industrial seed oils are harder to get away from, given how much we eat in restaurants, but I'm working on it.

My Beloved is not on board with the whole paleo thing, sadly; he's a grainivore to the core, and has not even entertained the idea of giving up bread, crackers, pizza crust, corn, etc., blah de blah. He is, however, content to modify what I cook to include some of his treasured grain. I make taco or fajita filling, and he has it with tortillas and I have it over salad.

On the weekend, I made Quick Paleo Chili, with a few modifications to suit what I had. And it was delicious and spicy, and Beloved hardly even commented on the lack of beans in it. Not more than once, anyway.

Mostly Paleo Chili


1 lb grass-fed ground beef
3 links spicy Italian sausage, cut into bite size chunks
1 medium onion (chopped)
2 tbsp olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic (minced)
1 can diced tomatoes 14.5oz (mine weren't organic)
1 red bell pepper (chopped)
1 tin green chilies (again, not organic)
2-4 tbsp chili powder (depending on how you like the heat :)
2 tsp dry oregano
1-2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp tomato paste


Add olive oil to a pan on medium heat, brown ground beef and sausage with chopped onion and minced garlic. Then add tomatoes, bell pepper, chilies, chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Then simmer the mixture for 20 mins or until the meat and green peppers are tender and the tomatoes cook into a sauce (I let it simmer for nearly two hours).

I served this up (for him) with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of cheese on top, and with a spoon for me. Deeelish!

July 2, 2011

Handbag Gravy

Yesterday was Canada Day. July First. Used to be called "Dominion Day" when I was a kid, but has been modernized to minimize the British Colony implications. (And to people in Quebec it's still secondary to St. Jean-Baptiste day, which comes later in the month. July 24th, I think.) A day of parades, Salmon Festivals (well, in my 'hood, anyway), face painting, underage public drinking (again, maybe that's just my 'hood), wearing red, wearing flags as capes. waving flags, and meeting the neighbours out in the sunshine.

And the weather was decent, which makes for a nice change this summer. And as we often do of a weekend, we got together with our friends Dana & Dave, to cook things and eat things. At their house this time, because half the city was already parked in our neighbourhood. Dave had bought a three-rib roast, and was going to do it on the barbecue. Dana expressed concern that there might not be enough dripping and pan juices to make gravy, so I assured her that my Beloved can whip up a gravy out of the most trifling of ingredients*, and I'd bring both him and his favourite magic gravy powder, Bisto.

So I fling the box of Bisto in one section of my purse and off we go, via the cold beer and wine store, and the grocery store, to pick up some essentials. And we get to D&D's and have a couple of drinks and try to keep Dave from opening up the barbecue too often, and things progress nicely. And then it comes time to make the gravy. I pull the box of Bisto out of my bag, and realize that the stupid thing is empty. The box top is open, and the bag inside is too, and there's the merest trace of powder at the bottom. Oh, for Pete's sake! Who puts an empty box back in the cupboard?

I say to my Beloved, who is the one who took the box out of the cupboard: "There's nothing in here; it's empty!" (This might have been said somewhat accusatorily. Maybe.)

He: Well, it wasn't empty when I took it out of the cupboard.

Me: Oh. Well, I hope it's not all over the bottom of my purse! [This might have been said with a tone that implied that such a state of affairs might be anyone's fault but my own.] *opens that section of the purse* Oh, God. It's all over the bottom of my purse.

He and Dana: *fall over laughing*

Fortunately, that purse has only just come back into the rotation, and was clean. You know, apart from the fine light-brown powder throughout the one section. So I took out the few items that were swimming around in the powder, got a big spoon, and transferred as much of the Bisto as I could from my bag to a bowl. And then, while my Beloved and my Bestie were wiping away their tears of mirth, I emptied everything out of my purse, wiped it down, and reassembled both my handbag and my dignity.

The dinner was delicious, and the gravy hardly tasted at all like the pennies we found in the powder in the bowl.

And we have an apocryphal cooking story to pull out on future occasions involving gravy. "Hey, Wendy, where's your purse? All we have to do it soak it in hot water for a delicious, beefy treat!"

I might be miffed if I wasn't laughing so hard.

*He really can. He's in charge of gravy, at our house. 

May 21, 2011

Capsicum Masala Rice!

Someone I work with brought this for lunch one day, and declared it her new favourite thing to eat, so I had to try it. The video is worth a watch, because the written instructions are full of hilariously unhelpful things like "fry further for another minute till the rawness disappears and the flavors come out", and if you can understand Chef Sanjay's accent, the visuals and spoken instructions will help clarify the confusing and contradictory bits in the written ones.

Capsicum is called "bell pepper" in Canada and America (and possibly other places, too); I never heard the word until I went to New Zealand, where I embarrassed myself by asking "what's capiscum?" at a pizza place, since every pizza featured it.

Capsicum Masala Rice

Step 1: Cook rice to make 3 cups of cooked rice.

Step 2: While that's cooking, make the masala
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp black gram daal (I couldn't find these, but the end result was fine anyway)
  • 4-5 dried red chilies (to taste), or red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon bark/stick
  • 10-12 fresh curry leaves
  • 3 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated coconut (optional)
Heat a pan to medium and add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black daal, cinnamon stick, and dried chilies, and dry-roast for a few minutes. Add the peanuts and curry leaves and toast a few minutes more, taking care not to cook past 'aromatic' to burnt. The curry leaves will get crisp.

Remove from the heat and let cool.

Step 3: While that's cooling, cut up the bell peppers. The recipe says slice thinly, but I just diced them (as he does in the video) to be more fork-friendly with the rice, and I used a combination of colours, also as suggested in the video.

Step 4: In a food processor, grind the cooled masala to a coarse powder.

Step 5: Saute the peppers in a bit of ghee or butter, to tender-crisp. Add the masala and mix well.

Step 6: Mix with the rice, and serve. Delicious!

I mixed a little plain yogurt with a little garam masala to cool the heat a little bit (I have a sensitive mouth for 'hot'), and it did admirably. This is a delicious dish, even without the black gram daal (which I couldn't get except in catering-pack quantities) and the cinnamon bark (which I forgot to add).

Delish. Highly recommended. Might well go into our regular rotation when Indian food is on the menu.

Taking (or making) Stock

*blows dust off this blog*  (Hey, the tag line does say 'recidivist'.)

Oh, hi! It's been a while, hasn't it? This is only the third post this calendar year! Yes, well, obviously I haven't been doing much in the way of new and interesting cooking. Isn't it sad? I don't know why I lose my interest in cooking when the weather is cold and there's not as much fresh produce available... oh wait. Yes, I do know. It's because I'm better with summer produce than with winter. Also because my Beloved isn't much of an experimenter with That Which is Strange To Him (because by definition it must also be Highly Suspect), and with just the two of us here, it's easier to stick with what's known, no matter how boring it might be.

So anyway. I've been a member of Rouxbe Online Video Cooking School for almost a year, and I'm sorry to say that, after a period of deep entrenchment, I have kind of let things slide for a while. But I went back this week, because I've had a hankering to make some stock. And since I didn't really have any suitable bones, I went for vegetable stock.

I've never made stock before. Well, unless you count boiling the Thanksgiving turkey carcass and calling the resultant liquid stock. Which I used to, but now I know better. (For one thing, boiling = bad when making stock.)

So I used the Rouxbe recipe for vegetable stock as a guideline, and it's simmering on the stove as I speak. (Bloody thing hit a boil while I wasn't looking, but I think I caught it quickly.)

I peeled and chopped carrots, parsnips, onions, and a pretty sizeable kabocha squash. Their recipe calls for celery root and leeks, but my local supermarket didn't have either of those, so I used fresh celery instead, and shrugged about the leeks. (Note to self: next time you do this, go to the veggie market not the supermarket. PS: try to make that a habit anyway you lazy thing.)

Next, I roasted the vegetables. This is an optional step, but I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound, so I tossed it all in enough olive oil to coat but not drown, topped with a few heads of garlic sliced in half horizontally, and off it all went, in to a 400-degree (F) oven, for as long as that might take.

It didn't take long. The garlic was golden before anything else, so I plucked the heads out and chucked them in my stock pot, then stirred the rest of a bits to turn them, and put them back in the oven for a few minutes, before removing them, too, and plunking everything - now delightfully soft - into the stock pot.

I topped all of this with some roasted corn on the cob (cut into 1.5-inch slices) and roasted tomatoes (quartered and seeded), which I had to roast separately because my oven wasn't big enough for that many pans at once. Then added water to cover the veggies by about two inches. Then added a bouquet garni of fresh parsley, whole peppercorns, bay leaves, and a bit of dried thyme (because I didn't have, and couldn't find, fresh when I was out shopping yesterday).

I can't smell it from here, in the living room, but up close it's fantastically aromatic and I'm looking forward to using it in something. Goodness knows what, but I'll think of something. It's got about another 40 minutes to simmer, and then I'll remove the solids, strain, and cool before storing. And I'll have made my first proper stock!

February 22, 2011

Spinach? Ew! Right?

OK, let me start by saying that I don't have much spinach trauma in my life (well there was that horridly weird bacon-fat dressing on a spinach salad once, but that wasn't the spinach's fault), but we've mostly been nodding acquaintances. A salad here, some frozen chopped spinach used in a pasta dish there, that was about it. And in general I preferred spinach raw or - if cooked - unidentifiable among other ingredients. Because, you know... wilted leaves... are kind of 'ew'.

Until yesterday, that is. When I discovered a cooked spinach dish - in which the spinach is identifiable - that I love.

It's called Sautéed Arugula and Spinach with Paneer and Roasted Cashews, and it's from the Appetizers and Salads section of Vij's Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine, a cookbook that My Beloved and I bought (along with a masala dabba) after a particularly fine meal at Vij's restaurant. (Well, actually at Vij's Rangoli, next door, which was easier to get into, and which does the retail sales.) It was an excellent investment, as cookbooks go, and an excellent introduction not just to the ingredients in Indian cooking, but to the methods involved, and the importance of those methods (e.g., cooking the spices).

I was going to make this as part of an Indian feast we were planning, for a get-together with our friends Victoria and Mark, whom we hadn't seen in years, before the plans got changed and we ended up eating out rather than in. But I already had the spinach and arugula - and it kept really well, in an insulated grocery bag, outside in our cold store, for a week or more - so I thought I'd give it a whack anyway.

If you've ever done any Indian cooking, you'll know that it takes time. The prep, the mise en place, the grinding of spices, and so on, it can take ages to get a dish ready. But this one only took about an hour. Which is entirely reasonable for a weekday dinner. It would probably take me less time, next time, now that I know what I'm about. And I was cooking for one - My Beloved is in Puerto Rico, with work - so a meatless meal was allowed. :)  So without further ado:

January 18, 2011

Spicy Green Beans!

For a really long time - let's call it forty years, give or take - I didn't eat green beans. The green beans of my youth came from a can, were a drab olive colour, and had a thoroughly objectionable texture. I still recall the revulsion excited by the sensation of the outer layer of the bean sliding off the 'meat' of the bean as my tongue pushed it against my teeth. *shudder* Blagh! Ick. I remember at least two occasions on which I sat at the dinner table until bedtime, sobbing and struggling to swallow my beans. It was my experience with green beans that made me determined never to have that kind of food battle with my own children, should I have any. (And I don't, so that's a non-issue entirely.)

So. I didn't eat green beans for a long time. And then, about a year ago, I discovered the delicious delicious wonder that is Spicy Green Beans. Or Szechwan Green Beans. When they're on the menu in a restaurant - and you don't have to be in a Szechwan restaurant to get them, these days - I order them.

And tonight, I made them. For dinner. With chicken, for some protein. Google found me this recipe, which I will reprint here so you can read it and look at the lovely lovely photo and be jealous of my yummy dinner.

Spicy Green Beans & Chicken
Szechuan Green Beans

These beans are "dry-fried," a Szechuan cooking technique that makes them extra tender. The recipe calls for Chinese longbeans, but you can use haricots verts, green beans or runner beans. The recipe normally calls for chili peppers, but I've used chili paste - feel free to substitute dried red chilis if desired. Serves 4.

Prep Time: 10 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes, Total Time: 20 minutes.


  • 1 pound Chinese longbeans (also called yardlong beans or just longbeans)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
  • 2 scallions (spring onions, green onions), white parts only
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Pepper to taste, optional
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil for stir-frying, or as needed


Wash the longbeans, drain thoroughly, and trim the tops and bottoms.
Cut the longbeans on the diagonal into slices approximately 2 inches long.
Chop the garlic, ginger and white part of the scallions.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the longbeans and stir-fry until they start to shrivel or "pucker" and turn brown (5 - 7 minutes). Remove the long beans and drain in a colander or on paper towels.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the wok on high heat. Add the garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir-fry for a few seconds, then add the chili paste and stir-fry for a few more seconds until aromatic. Add the longbeans and the remaining ingredients. Mix together and serve.
Serving suggestion: Szechuan Green Beans would make an excellent side dish to accompany Mapo Tofu.

January 2, 2011

Gratin Potatoes

I was asked to bring scalloped potatoes to a group dinner on New Year's Eve. Well, I claimed that I knew how to make them (because, really, how hard can it be?), and didn't mention that I had hated scalloped potatoes (scalloped potatoes and ham, as my mother made them) growing up. Because I hated ham, growing up, too. But I like it now. So why not give scalloped potatoes a shot?

A search of "scalloped potatoes" on (I'm a registered student) came up with this recipe for "gratin potatoes". Gratin is French for "with cheese", as you may know, and "cheese" means "love".

Gratin Potatoes
  • 4 medium-to-large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon softened butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups whipping cream (can substitute heavy cream)
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated powdered parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. 
  2. To begin square off the bottom of each potato so that it sits firmly on the cutting board. Cut each potato into 1/4" slices, still keeping the potato together. Discard the end pieces.
  3. Place the sliced potatoes into a square pan that has been smeared with butter and minced garlic. Then gently press on the potatoes until the potatoes are at a 45 degree angle. 
  4. In a medium sized mixing bowl whisk the parmesan, salt and pepper into the cream. (You want it to be almost too salty, so taste the mixture. The potatoes will soak up most of the saltiness.) Then pour the cream mixture over the potatoes. They should be almost completely covered. 
  5. Sprinkle the potatoes with a little more parmesan, cover with aluminium foil and bake for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the potatoes are tender when poked with a knife.
  6. To finish the potatoes remove the foil, turn the heat up to 375ºF and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is golden brown. 
  7. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow them to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before you serve them. This will give them time to thicken and soak up any extra cream.
  • Choose potatoes that are more or less the same size, so you don't have to peel and cut so many.
  • Use fresh parmesan rather than the stuff that comes in a shaker can. Grate it first, then pulverize it in a food processor or grinder to get the proper texture and quantity.
I wish I'd take pictures, but I didn't have a camera with me at all on New Year's. Let's just say they turned out very well, and were a massive hit.

And I think I know why I hated my mom's scalloped potatoes. She always cut them super-thin, with the potato peeler. Which limits their ability to soak up liquid and get soft and potatoey. Scalloped potato slices need to have some substance to them, so they can absorb liquid and flavour. Yes.