Fresh Tomato Bruschetta

On Saturday I went to the Farmer’s market in Ste. Anne with Ian. I bought this strange looking sandwich thing. I am not entirely sure what it’s called. It looks like a great big kernel of wheat. See?

I only know that it is made of home-ground whole wheat flour and baked. And it’s filled with a mixture of lentils, carrots, tofu curds, green peppers, chili peppers, red peppers, and is almost fat-free. I also know that it’s awfully tasty and filling.

We went to a marvelous and charming little cafe in town, called Twigs. They have the most innovative sandwiches I’ve ever seen or heard of. Alligator sandwich, anyone? They also have excellent espresso, which has become my treat reserved for Saturdays.

Anyways, we also picked up a baguette at the market. Very delicious bread with a crunchy crust and a chewey inside. That is, if you eat it on the same day. Which we didn’t. So what happened to the bread? It got hard and dry, blame it on the Montreal weather. It has been very cold these past few days. I even broke out winter boots. Yes, winter boots in September.

In efforts to resuscitate the baguette, I made bruschetta! (Was going to make baked french toast but forgot…)

Simple ingredients. Easy dish. Elegant look. Wonderful taste. Read on for the recipe.

Oh, did I mention that Ian is learning to cook? I didn’t? Oops. Well, it seems that his first lesson is knife skills, seeing as he made salad today with boiled eggs. (If your boiled eggs always have the icky bluish-greenish sulfur ring, follow this trick: bring eggs to a full boil for 2 minutes ONLY, then cover and let sit for 10 minutes, rinse with cold water and peel. I guarantee perfect eggs every time.)

Doesn’t the olive oil and balsamic vinegar look like the perfect couple approaching each other shyly? No? Okay, maybe it’s just me. 😉

Note: Rubbing the garlic on the toast gives just enough garlicky-goodness without visible, or overwhelming chunks of garlic. Enjoy.

Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
serves 3-4

1/2 lb. fresh tomatoes
5-6 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade, or fine strips
dash of onion salt, to taste
pepper to taste
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, cut in half crosswise
1/2 of a day-old baguette, sliced

  1. Place the baguette slices on a baking tray and dry in 250 degree oven until crisp, about 20 minutes, or more if your bread is more fresh.
  2. Chop the tomatoes and combine with the rest of the ingredients except for the garlic. Set aside.
  3. Rub one side of each toast with the garlic and top with tomato mixture.
  4. Eat.

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Spicy Cold Noodles

It’s hot here. My mom always says that when it gets too hot she loses her appetite. I can certainly understand that, although I agree more with not wanting to cook in heat.

These noodles are hot n’ cold. No, not quite like the song.

They are cold on your lips and hot on your tongue. Quite an interesting contrast. The toasted Sichuan peppercorns add just a bit of numbness to the mix. I took this to a potluck and it was very well received. In fact, it was gone before I could get to it. I got an interesting comment though. One lady asked me what kind of peanuts I used. I was confused and told her that it was simply raw, regular peanuts. She thought it tasted sweet. I told her the dish contained no sugar. She didn’t understand how the peanuts tasted sweet.

While I’m not exactly sure why she said it, I could guess that in toasting the peanuts until they are a golden brown brought out the deep roasted and sweet flavour. The peanuts leftover on the bottom of the dish after all the noodles were eaten were picked off too. Don’t skimp on the toasting time; the flavours leak out into the oil and meld onto the noodles later.

Spicy Cold Noodles
makes a ton, or a lot for 4-6 people

1 lb. thin spaghetti
1/3 c. oil, not olive
1/2 c. raw peanuts
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns
3 Tbsp. Chinese Chili Sauce with Oil (Lao Gan Ma 老干妈)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. chili powder
1 small bunch cilantro, chopped roughly
salt to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and run cold water over it until the noodles are very cold. Set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large wok, add the peppercorns, pepper flakes, and peanuts. Toast on medium low heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the peanuts are starting to turn golden brown.
  3. Add the garlic powder, chili powder, noodles, and chopped cilantro. Toss until coated. Serve cold.

Happy Birthday Franklin!

Today is my brother’s birthday. We celebrated on Sunday with his church friends and a much-loved soccer ball cake. My mom and I cooked a lot of food for dinner today. It was a feast, as I’m sure my stomach will happily tell you. Here are some pictures, enjoy!

This is This is Braised Smoked Pork Shank. We purchased the pork shanks partially cooked and smoked, and braised it in soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and green onions. The soy sauce is probably why it turned out so dark, but looks notwithstanding, the meat was tender and wonderfully smoke infused.

This is Tofu with Fish Sauce. The tofu is panfried until crisp and then briefly cooked in the sauce. The sauce has nothing to do with fish. It’s simply a version of a sweet and sour sauce with Sichuan peppercorns.

I’ve never seen vegetable Asian noodles before, but today at the supermarket Franklin requested them so we bought it. It’s flavoured with spinach and reminds me of spinach pasta. This is Stir-Fried Vegetable Noodles with ground pork, mushrooms, and zucchini. The Chinese traditionally eat noodles on birthdays because the noodle’s length symbolizes a long life.

Mom’s specialty. Simply stir-fried shrimp. See it also here.

Baby bok choy with dried salted shrimp. It’s refreshing to have a simple vegetable dish in a multi-course meal.

This is a cold dish and makes a great appetizer. It’s blanched long beans tossed with soy sauce, black vinegar, and smashed garlic. Very addictive.

Chinese chives with squid. Both main ingredients are fresh-tasting and complement each other. The squid is tender;  the chives are vibrant. I realized that I may possibly like squid more than shrimp, perhaps because there is no shell to peel. Lazy me. 😉

The last dish is just peanuts roasted in the wok. This dish usually accompanies potent Chinese liquor such as Maotai. We didn’t drink with our dinner but included this dish because mom wanted to make eight dishes. Eight is an auspicious number in the chinese language because when pronounced, the word sounds somewhat like the word “to become rich.” So it wouldn’t do to have only seven dishes. Gotta have eight for my brother. The peanuts are wonderfully salty and nutty because of the low heat and long toasting time. Use high heat the peanuts will be burned. My mom rushed making this dish because we all wanted to start eating already.

What do you say? Isn’t Franklin a lucky boy?

Green Beans with Onions

If I could only eat three vegetables for the rest of my life I would choose:

  1. Broccoli!!!
  2. Green Beans or asparagus (although apparently asparagus makes one’s er, urine, smell funny…)
  3. Onions

And this dish has two of the vegetables on my list. Gotta be good right? At least to me it was. I like to cook green beans till they are a little soft, not crunchy at all. My dad claims that not well-cooked green beans, i.e. crunchy beans, are toxic, but I’m not sure he has actual proof for that. I just like the softer texture better.

I also used a little bit of bacon grease. I am fairly health-conscious, but bacon grease is good stuff. I actually have a tupperware of it in the fridge, mixed with Chinese sausage as well as Italian sausage grease. Might sound kind of gross to you, but a little pat of the thing melted in a wok does wonders on vegetables. You get a meatiness without using actual meat. Of course, if you are a vegetarian, skip.

This is terribly simple to make. Trim the beans, slice the onions. Melt the bacon grease, or add a couple tablespoons of oil. Add the vegetables and stir. Place the lid on and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring every few minutes. The beans will be tender and the onions soft. Great quick side dish!

Rooster’s Beak (Pico de Gallo)

I didn’t know that pico de gallo means rooster’s beak. But then again, Spanish is not my strongest suit. I apparently did know Spanish while I lived in Spain, when I was five. Tell that to my brain, and my mouth, both of which are hopeless when it comes to the language.

Regardless of my language skills, I went to the local farmer’s market today and picked up some tomatoes, lime, and cilantro. The fixings of pico de gallo. Pico de gallo is wonderfully fresh and spicy, with a lovely texture. Plus it looks pretty. The crunch of the onions is offset by the softness of the tomatoes. A touch of lime juice brightens up the dish. Use less jalapenos is you can’t handle the heat. On the other hand, leave some of the ribs (white membranes) in the peppers if you do happen to love the heat.

Serve with tortilla chips, on tacos and fajitas, or dig in with a spoon. 🙂

Pico de Gallo

1 large onion
3 medium Roma tomatoes
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and ribs removed (see note above)
1/2 a lime
freshly ground pepper
salt

First, finely dice the onion. Then dice the tomatoes. Thirdly, chop the cilantro. Fourthly, finely finely finely dice the jalapenos, nobody likes to sink their teeth into a big chunk and by the time they realize, it’s too late. So please, finely. Put all four ingredients in a large bowl and squeeze the juice out of the lime into the bowl. Grind some pepper over top. Generously salt. Mix together and taste. Add more jalapenos if you wish.

Mac n’ Cheese

With the exception of my mom, pretty much everyone else likes mac and cheese. Unless you don’t like pasta. Or cheese. Otherwise, for all you pasta and cheese lover people out there, here is a simple and easy mac n’ cheese recipe that I whipped up for lunch. It contains onions and garlic, so I guess it isn’t “pure” in cheesy creamy goodness. But I love both of those things, so there they are.

Serve with a fresh salad, just for kicks, or to balance all that fat and carbs.

Cat’s Mac n’ Cheese
makes enough for 4 servings

8 oz. dried elbow macaroni pasta
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 c. milk, warmed in the microwave
2 c. grated sharp cheddar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Fill a pasta pot or a large pot half full with water and bring to a boil. In the mean time, melt butter in a saucepan. Toss in the onion and garlic and let them sweat on medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a few more minutes. Add the milk and quickly whisk until smooth. Add the nutmeg and mustard. Heat until bubbly and thick. Turn off the heat and add the cheese. Eat some sauce with a spoon. Season again with salt and pepper. Do not under salt.

Cook the pasta until al dente, following the directions on the package. Drain well and toss in the cheese sauce. Serve hot and happy.

And oh yes, it is worth mentioning here too that my laptop has died. And strangely enough, it chose the precise moment when I sat down in front of it to leave this earth. Like it wanted me to watch its demise. The poor thing probably hated me right till the bitter end.

Vegetarian Fried Rice

I almost never ordered fried rice at restaurants. When given the option between fried rice and plain rice, I always pick plain. Lesser of the two evils, in my opinion. I figured that if I didn’t want to eat rice anyway, since it’s (in my opinion) a rather flavourless grain, I might as well choose the one that is truly au naturel. In some places, the fried rice tastes just like the plain rice, except loaded with oil and soy sauce. It always makes me wonder, if they dumped buckets of soy sauce into the rice, why doesn’t it at least taste like it?

At home though, I made fried rice, because everyone else seems to like it. And because we always have leftover rice. I make it with enough vegetables to give it some balance, colour, and goodness. I also go fairly light on the oil. And the soy sauce. For this vegetarian fried rice, if no one objects, feel free to add some chopped, peeled shrimp, for a non-vegetarian version.

Vegetarian Fried Rice
enough for 4

3 cups cooked rice, use leftovers if you have it, otherwise, cook it fresh.
(Note: To make rice, add to a saucepan 1 1/2 cup rice, rinse, and add 2 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil, cover tightly and simmer for 15-20 minutes until tender. Or use a nifty rice cooker, which is what we usually do)
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup chopped green onions leaves, that is, the green part of the green onion
1 Tbsp. ginger, chopped finely
1 large tomato, diced
1 handful of soaked and chopped wood ears, optional
1/2 cup frozen green peas
3 Tbsp. oil
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
salt as needed

Heat up a wok or a large pan with 3 Tbsp. oil till the oil ripples and a droplet of egg in the wok sizzles. Add the beaten eggs and scramble until almost done. Break apart with a spatula. Keeping the heat on medium high, add the ginger, green onions, tomato, wood ears, and peas. Shake in the sugar. Stir fry for about 5 minutes, until the peas are cooked and tomatoes are beginning to soften. Break up the rice in its container or fluff the rice in its pot. Add to the wok and stir to combine everything. Continue to break up the rice as needed. Heat over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the soy sauce and toss. Turn off the heat and season to taste.

Serve as a side to other dishes, such as meat or tofu and vegetables. Or as lunch, with tea.

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