Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scotland and Ireland Family Food Trip

We recently took a bit of a family food trip to Scotland and Ireland. With a 1 and 3 year old, lots of time in the car, museums, shows or most other cultural events were out of the question, but food was definitely necessary! I should explain that we were not in anyway planning to only visit the best of the best, but just trying to eat well and meet the needs of a real family. From the Edinburgh restaurants to tea at a grand estate in the country, the trip was a very pleasant surprise and definitely not the British Isles I was expecting.

Our trip landed us in Edinburgh with a brief stop in Wishaw to re-trace my wife’s family roots, where we enjoyed an amazing caramel shortbread and tea. The shortbread was covered in caramel and then covered with freshly melted chocolate. My father-in-law, who was on a mission to taste every soup he could find, had a great bowl of Cock-a-leekie soup which was full of homey goodness that warmed you after being out in the cool, fall weather of Scotland.
With a stop at the Hopetoun House, we took the train and ferry over to Belfast in Northern Ireland and stayed one night. We ate at the famous Crown Pub’s dining room (above the pub) and although the food was okay, I am sure it didn’t live up to the whiskey downstairs. Belfast seemed to be a city trying hard but still not quite making it (I think they have too much of the past still lingering).

From Belfast we travelled through Portadown on the way to Cabra Castle which was a well needed and beautiful break. As a Rosette Award recipient, the dinner and breakfast were definitely castle quality! From Cabra Castle, we went on to Dublin with another apartment rental very close to Lansdowne Stadium and the area of Sandymount. Although more modern and more expensive than our Scottish adventure, it was a quaint area with local shops that were definitely foodie quality and catered mostly to locals.

Overall, I can say I was almost shocked how good the quality of the food was with lots of flavours. After living in Toronto for 7 years and travelling to places like New York, San Francisco and Montreal on the corporate dollar, I can say that the mid to high end restaurants in Edinburgh and Dublin were definitely as multicultural diverse as anything found in North American and competed for quality of food. It definitely was not boiled beef and potatoes!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lasagna: My Way

Lasagna My WayWhen I make lasagna, I don't like really thick noodles or creamy cheeses. I think lasagna is all about the meat sauce, fresh noodles, great cheese and keeping it relatively simple. Including noodles from scratch, you can actually make this meal in about an hour and it puts anything from the freezer to shame! You can also make this meal with beef, chicken or ground turkey (I used half dark chicken and half dark turkey).

The Recipe: Lasagna, My Way

Meat Sauce:Prepping the meat sauce
3 pounds of ground meat
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
5 shallots diced (about 1 cup diced)
3 cloves of garlic minced
10 medium button mushrooms diced
5 medium tomatoes diced (Roma are the meatiest and add the most flavour, although I use whatever is organic and available)
1/4 cup of tomato paste
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
3 tbsp fresh chopped basil
3 tbsp fresh chopped oregano
1 tsp fresh ground pepper

Homemade Pasta
12 ounces grated mozzarella
6 ounces of grated medium or old cheddar
3 ounces of parmesan grated

Heat a large pan to medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the ground meat and brown. This will a take a few minutes. Ensure that you stir consistently to brown all the meat evenly. Remove the meat and strain the liquid back into the pan. Return to heat and add the shallots, continue cooking for 3 minutes. Homemade Lasagna NoodlesAdd the garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking for 5 minutes until the mushrooms have reduced significantly. Add the tomatoes and cook for another five minutes, reducing the heat to medium and stirring frequently. Add the herbs, pepper, Worcestershire, salt, tomato paste and meat. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Lower the heat while preparing the pasta. I like to roll my pasta to the 3rd smallest setting on my pasta machine, and cut the sheets to the same length as the casserole dish I will be using. Check out the recipe here.
In a large casserole dish, add about half the meat sauce and cover with one layer of fresh pasta. Since the pasta is quite thin and fresh, I do not precook the noodles as the moisture from the meat sauce does a great job. Layering the lasagna ingredientsAdd half the cheddar and mozzarella evenly on top of the noodles. Add another layer of noodles, followed by the rest of the meat sauce and another layer of noodles. Finish with the remaining cheese, including the Parmesan. Place in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn the broiler on for about 3-5 minutes or until the top layer of cheese starts to bubble, but not burnt. Remove from oven and Enjoy!
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