Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Alfredo Sauce

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Alfredo SauceMy favourite meal as a teenager was Fettuccine Alfredo, mostly because I didn't eat anything with noticeable parts of vegetables. Let's just say I grew out if and discovered how great they can be when cooked right. Back to the recipe though, I love making meals like this as I can involve my kids, but you also get a seasonal and definitely gourmet result. The subtle nutmeg with the smooth sweet pumpkin are fabulous together with the alfredo sauce. Pumpkin Gnocchi is a wonderful as meal on its own, but I like to make it as side so that you can enjoy the rich flavours without feeling stuffed at the end of the meal! Tonight I made it with a great bone on rib steak and salad.

The Recipe: Pumpkin Gnocchi with Alfredo Sauce
Makes 2-3 servings as a main course and 4-6 as a side

1 cup of fresh roasted pumpkin (you can use the can stuff if you want, just don't tell me:))
1 egg
1/2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
2-3 cups of flour (this amount will vary, based on the size of you egg, the moisture in the pumpkin etc...)

Alfredo Sauce:
1 Onion very finely diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp of butter split in half
2 cups of milk (skim or 2%)
1/4 cup parmesan
Fresh Ground pepper to taste

pumkin gnocchi with the familyIn a large bowl mix pumpkin, egg, olive oil, salt and nutmeg until smooth. Continuing mixing by hand while adding flour 1/2 cup at a time. The mixture will start out very sticky and probably cover you hands but as you add more flour it will start to come together in a dough. You have added enough flour when the dough stops sticking to you hands.

Separate the dough into pieces about 1/2 cup in size (don't worry too mush about the size as long as you can work with it). On a floured counter, roll the dough into long worms about size of a dime in diameter and cut into 3/4 of inch pieces. Set on a lightly floured cookie sheet until all the dough is ready. Some people like to use a fork to make ridges in the top of the gnocchi so that they pick up more sauce, but in the interest of time I usually don't.

Place a large pot of well salted water on the stove and bring to a boil (the same pot you make pasta in). At this point I like to start making the sauce. Once the water boils, start adding the pumpkin gnocchi (I like to put them in one at a time continuously until the pan is done). pumkin gnochhi uncookedonce the gnocchi float to the top they are finish. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a colander until all the gnocchi are cooked. Set aside until the sauce is ready,

Bring a large skillet (big enough to hold the Gnocchi after cooking) to medium high heat on the stove top and add the first two tbsp of butter, onion and salt. Cook for about 3-5 minutes, add the garlic and continue cooking for another two minutes ensuring to stir frequently so nothing burns. Add the milk and stir frequently until is boils. Turn heat to low, add the remaining butter, parmesan and pepper and stir. Add the gnocchi, plate and enjoy!
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Friday, October 16, 2009

Recipe: The Delectable Pumpkin Loaf

pumpkin loafWe look forward to fall every year just for this pumpkin loaf, although this is much more of a dessert than a loaf. Fresh out of the oven with some butter and I think it is one of my favourite foods! You can easily re-heat under the broiler with a tab of butter to have that "fresh out of the oven" experience again.

The Recipe: Delectable Pumpkin Loaf
2 cups pumpkin
1 cup oil
2 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs
½ cup water
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg

In a large bowl combine sugar, eggs, water, pumkin and beat with a hand blender until smooth. Add oil and mix with a large wooden spoon. In a separate bowl combine the flour, sea salt, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Sift dry ingredients into the wet mixture and stir unitl smooth. Prepare 3 loaf pans with butter and flour (sometimes if I can only find 2 loaf pans I make bigger loafs and cook a little longer). Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees and enjoy!
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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Roasted Pumpkin SeedsRoasted pumpkin seeds are a favourite quick treat during the fall, whether they are out of the jack o lanterns, or the pumpkin pies from Thanksgiving they are an unexpected treat. My wife won't let me make anything without saving the seeds, hence I started to make her separate them and I am very thankful she does. If you make these during Halloween you also have something to snack on instead of your child's treat bag!

The Recipe: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
1 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup of pumpkin seeds
1 pinch of sea salt finely ground
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp of cayenne

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Ensure your seeds are clean and dry (run water over the seeds in sieve and dry with paper toweling). Melt your butter on a cookie sheet and add the the rest of the ingredients. Mix everything together so the pumpkin seeds are even coated. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes checking and lightly tossing every 3-4 minutes. The seeds are done when they start to turn a slightly golden brown (as shown in the picture). Enjoy!
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Risotto with Peas, Leeks, Tomatoes and Bacon

Risotto with Peas, Leeks, Tomatoes & BaconIn a previous post I made a prosciutto and chicken risotto and included a video for those who wanted to see a risotto being made. This week the ingredients around the house were leeks, fresh sugar snap peas, bacon and cherry tomatoes. I don't usually cook with peas and never used leeks before, but something about them two ingredients spoke to me at the market this week. I had my parents over for this meal and sadly there were no leftovers :(
I also made a quick homemade stock that takes any recipes to a new level. Check out the recipe here...

The Recipe: Risotto with Peas, Leeks, Tomatos and Bacon
1 cup aborio rice
1 tbsp butter
8 pieces of bacon roughly cut
3 Cups of Homemade Stock
2 leeks diced
1 tsp sea salt
pinch of pepper
1 cups of fresh peas
3 cloves of Garlic
10 cherry or grape tomatoes cut in quarters
1/4 parmesan

In a medium saucepan heat the chicken stock over med-low heat, start the stock about five minutes before you start the risotto pan.

To cook the risotto, heat a large pan over high heat. Once hot add the butter, bacon and leeks. After a couple of minutes add the garlic. Stir until the bacon is almost fully cooked or has rendered most of it fat, about 5 minutes total.Preparing the bacon and leeks. Add the rice, salt, pepper and continue to stir, ensuring that you coat the rice in butter and bacon fat. After about 2 minutes you can start to add chicken stock a few ladles at a time. Continue stirring frequently. As the liquid reduces and the rice starts to stick to the pan add more stock, a couple ladles at a time. After about 5 minutes add the fresh peas and continue cooking and stirring. After about 10 minutes and once the rice has significantly increased in size, taste a few pieces of rice for doneness. The rice should be soft through but still have structure. If you run out stock you can add little water until you reach the doneness you want. Once the rice has reach this point you can remove from heat and stir in the parmesan and tomatoes. Congratulations on another beautiful risotto!
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Homemade Chicken Stock

homemade chicken stockIt is a lot easier to buy stock from the store and 95% of the time I am not organized enough to plan ahead to make my own stock, but it is amazing the difference when you make your own stock. This is good enough to eat on its own or in any dish that needs a stock. This one was made for risotto with peas, leeks, tomatoes and bacon. The other nice part about the stock is you can make it in a little over an hour because you are not using precooked chicken that has most of its flavour already released.

The Recipe: Homemade Chicken Stock

bones and neck from one chicken roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
3 large carrots diced
5 stocks of celery diced
2 cooking onions diced
4 cloves of garlic minced
1 large tomato diced
6-8 cups of water
Sea Salt to taste (I use about 2 tsp if I was going to eat on its own)

The key to this recipes is using chicken bones that have not been already cooked. I think most people remember they mother or grandmother making stock from the bones of a thanksgiving turkey, but since the most of the flavour has already been cooked out these bones you need a lot more time and bones to get nice results.

This recipe will make about 4 cups of stock. Heat a large saucepan to high heat and add the oil, bones, celery, carrots and onion. Cook for about 5 minutes stirring frequently ensuring nothing burns. Add the tomatoes, garlic and continue cooking for another minute. Add the water and continue cooking over high heat for about 1 hour, the liquid should reduce a fair bit. Add the sea salt if needed, you may leave the sea salt out if you are using the stock in another recipe (adjust accordingly in your next recipe). Strain the liquid though cheesecloth if have it or simply use a sieve that will ensure you catch any small bones. Reserve in the fridge, freezer or use right away!
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Dublin Food

In Dublin we stayed near Lansdowne stadium in a relatively residential area, close to downtown but definitely not surrounded by shops and restaurants. We did all of our shopping and eating in the area of Sandymount, which had a great supply of high end shops and restaurants within a ten minute walk from our apartment. With a supermarket, butcher, wine store, cheese shop and bakery it definitely met the needs for our in apartment cooking.

Taking it easy and giving the kids a chance to rest we ate in the first night and were able to hit the butcher for chicken breast and prepackaged single use rub. Combine the chicken with a fresh salad with strawberries, mozzarella di buffalo, spinach and a simple vinaigrette of balsamic and olive oil made for a great night in.

The second day we travelled to Malahide on the coast north east of the city. The town definitely catered to a wealthier crowd and had lots of shops and restaurants to choose from, although some a little pricier than others. We ended up at an Italian place and we very happy with the food. The restaurant obviously used high quality ingredients and simple flavourful plates was the norm around the table.

For diner and our final night in Europe we visited the Sandymount area and scoped out the windows for our nights food choice, we ended up in another Italian restaurant called Dunne and Crescenzi. It was a treat as the restaurant was focused on quality and traditional Italian cuisine. I had a beautiful risotto, my wife and sister-in-law had pasta while my father-in-law had the zuppa (minestrone of course)! The restaurant also had a great wine list and since I am not familiar with a lot of the wines on the European menus I had the waiter choose a great wine, and he came in under the budget we gave him! You are definitely paying for your meals in Dublin as the costs seem to be about double of the Scottish restaurant once you weigh in the exchange, but at least we didn’t feel ripped off!

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Cabra Castle Dinner

Cable Castle CrytalAlong with the Hopetoun House, we thought we should stay in a castle while in Ireland. We found Cabra Castle that is about half way between Belfast and Dublin. As our journey was taking us through Portadown in Northern Ireland and onto Dublin to fly home, we thought it a great choice for a castle (and really our only choice). We were not sure what to expect since we have never stayed in a castle. We didn’t know if it was going to live up to the fairy tale images in our mind or if it was going to be a tourist trap.

Cabra Castle Tomato SoupLuckily the first was true. The castle has beautiful grounds and has converted the old carriage houses to guest rooms, along with rooms in the actually castle. We stayed in a carriage house that opened onto a large courtyard that the kids had a great time running around in! The dinner also lived up to expectations. The platings were striking and each course from appetizer, soup, main and dessert delivered beautiful, clean flavours using local products and high quality ingredients. The second course of a rich, smoky tomato soup was one of the highlights of the meal for everyone (especially my father-in-law).

Cabra Castle SteakThe breakfast was again very fresh using local ingredients and had traditional elements like Irish soda bread. A breakfast buffet offered cold cereals, juices and baked goods while you could also order hot dishes off the menu, such as an eggs Benedict or French toast like I had. With local ingredients, fine Irish crystal and an exquisite castle setting, the food portion of the event lived up to its best expectations. Overall the experience was well worth the money and the trip through the countryside.

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Hopetoun House Tea

Hopetoun House TeaWhen planning our trip, we tried to find things to do that we just can’t do here in Canada. Hence when we found the Hopetoun House online that offered an afternoon tea, we couldn’t resist. The Hopetoun House is a massive country estate 30 minutes outside of Edinburgh (if your wife and sister-in-law can read a map properly) on the Firth of Forth built in the 1700’s. Although we didn’t find much information online about their tea, we thought we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a traditional tea and thought just visiting the estate would be a guaranteed fun excursion.

The property is definitely majestic, with old trees, massive lawn and views of the water. The estate was pristine and had much of the original carpets and furniture throughout. Combining this setting with a classic afternoon tea made this one the most enjoyable moments of the trip. Scone with Coddled Cream & JamWe had pre-ordered the tea for 4 adults and the staff was more than willing to make something up for the kids. Within minutes of sitting down, out came a beautiful 3 tiered tray of salmon, cucumber and ham sandwiches, coddled cream, preserves, butter and some of the best pastries I have ever had. The brownies were moist and fluffy, the scones were amazing with the coddled cream and preserves and the lemon bar was an excellent “lighter” choice. I had to try them all of course!

I truly felt as if the Hopetoun House tea was one of those experiences you just Jack & Ben exploring Hopetoun groundscan’t replicate at home and was one of the special moments of the trip that we would highly recommend. I am not sure if it makes a big difference, but I should mentioned we were there on the last day of the year that it was open so there were no crowds; hence it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves!

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Edinburgh Farmers Market

Shopping at Edinburgh's Saturday MarketWhile in Edinburgh, we stayed in a fully functional apartment and hence were able to eat in for breakfast, some lunches and even a dinner. The kitchen had the essential tools but lacked any spices or standard kitchen pantry stock. Hence it was a bit of a challenge to make a dinner with flavor, but I love a challenge! We visited a local health food store called Real Foods and picked up some staples like olive oil, sea salt, pepper and some breakfast essentials.

For the dinner, we read about a local and mostly organic farmers market at the foot of Edinburgh castle and we were quite excited about the opportunity to check out some local products. Although we got to the market a little late and all the bread vendors were gone, we were able to get a fresh chicken, some cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, parsley, turnips, garlic, shallots, eggs and bacon. Hence we were able to make a great roast chicken with caramelized turnips for dinner and eggs, bacon and tomatoes for breakfast without wasting any food. The Chicken was cooked with a simple rub of olive oil, butter, salt, pepper and minced garlic, while the turnip was cubed and cooked with the chicken to absorb the flavour from the chicken. Edinburgh Farmers Market DinnerAlso added to the turnips were the parsley, basil and shallots.

It was definitely worth the trip to the market and a fun challenge to create meal without any waste or leftovers. The market was a great little tourist stroll and the food was well worth it. With little kids, we really needed a night with good food before we set out for the rest of the trip!

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Edinburgh Restaurants

Dinner at the Wee WindaesOur trip started in Edinburgh’s old city after an afternoon nap to recover from losing a night’s sleep on the plane. We wandered out the door of our apartment and landed in a busy Italian restaurant on the Royal Mile called Bella Italia (I think it is part of a chain). It was Friday night and very busy, but service was great and very prompt. The pizza was an excellent thin crust with lots of flavor and not too heavy. The meatballs were satisfying and the Caesar salad was very fresh. We were very happy with our first outing and I was looking forward to what we could find if we got a little sleep. The prices were also very reasonable considering the exchange rate was around $1.80 CAD for 1 pound sterling. Entrees were about 10 pounds on average at most restaurants.
The rest of the time in Edinburgh, we had very similar experiences to our first night. Our expectations gradually increased as the days went on but we didn’t expect too much to start. We had a very nice meal at a French family restaurant in the new town area called Café Rouge (also a chain). We had intended to go to something on Rose Street, but with the young children most places did not suit our needs. A Traditional Scottish Dinner with HaggisFor our final night in Edinburgh, we went to a restaurant called the Wee Windaes on the Royal Mile again. Although the décor has not been updated in a long time and it was a little too quiet, it lived up to its billing of traditional Scottish cuisine. My father in-law enjoyed the restaurant as I think it was more his pace (he is 82), but the food was a little bland and the chicken was over cooked for my liking.
The most pleasant surprise had to be the hundreds of little sandwich and soup shops scattered throughout the old and new town. Considering we haven’t been to a fast food restaurant in probably over 5 years, it was nice to see we could easily get a great soup and fresh sandwich on almost any corner.

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