black bean & tomato soup

This is probably the easiest meal we put together in our kitchen on a fairly regular basis.  Its roots are found in the CPHA‘s publication, The Basic Shelf Cookbook, which is something I feel every household should have a copy of.  I don’t actually own the book right now (and before you call me a hypocrite you should know that I’ve owned the book and given it away at least 7 times.)  The contents are brilliant on a fundamental level: simple meals comprised largely of ingredients with long shelf lives which focus on maintaining nutritional integrity.  It can be ordered here for CDN $7.50.

My recipe differs from the original by a couple of steps and ingredients but still maintains the inherent simplicity while stepping up the flavour quotient a couple of notches.  Oh, and it’s entirely vegan if you omit the cheese or replace it with a soy based cheese.

What you need:

1tbsp olive oil

1 tsp. coriander, ground

1 tsp. cumin, ground

1 medium sized cooking onion, finely chopped (vidalias and reds are my favourites for this soup)

4 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 cans of diced tomatoes (or jars if you do your own)

1 can of black beans (or soak the dried kind if you want to)

1 can of sweet or baby corn (or use leftovers if you’ve got ’em)

2 cups of vegetable broth (or dissolve 2 cubes/packets of bouillon-esque stuff in your 2 cups of boiling water)

1 tbsp dried or 1/4 cup fresh oregano

1 tbsp dried or 1/4 cup fresh basil

A pretty, fresh herb and some cheese for garnish (I’ve got cilantro and cheddar in the pic above but parsley &/or basil are great alternatives to the cilantro if you don’t have any on hand.

Toast the spices in a large pot over medium-high heat until fragrant.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the tablespoon of olive oil.  Once the oil is hot, sweat the onions and garlic in it for 3-4 minutes or until translucent.  Add the tomatoes, corn, beans & stock.  Up the heat again to medium-high and keep it there, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a low boil.  Stir in the herbs.  Move to large bowls and garnish.

samosas for Todd

No picture of this as I haven’t had the opportunity to do the frozen versus fresh trial I wanted to as ‘plain yoghurt’ means ‘vanilla-flavoured yoghurt’ in the minds and hearts of my yoghurt buyers. I shall post my recipe for the wonderful nibblies things anyway.

The dough recipe I use comes out of a cookbook called Peterborough Peoples’ Potluck Picks. This amazingly alliterative oeuvre was purchased through a local fundraiser for Canadian Crossroads International back in 1993 and contains simply the tastiest & most forgiving, recipe for samosa dough ever.

What you need for the dough:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. butter, margarine or ghee

3/4 cup plain (not vanilla) yoghurt (I prefer balkan style for this but anything from fat-free to homemade will work)

Lightly mix the flour and salt in a large bowl then cut in the butter/margarine with a fork or a pastry cutter until the mixture looks all coarse like breadcrumbs. Stir in the yoghurt then mix it all together with your hands. Dough hooks and other gadgets really don’t work well with this dough as part of the pliability of it leans on body heat – avoiding getting your hands dirty will not result in a good dough. You don’t need to knead it, just mix with the hands forming it into a ball as you go. Once that’s done you can set it in the fridge while preparing the samosa guts.

What you need for the innards:

1/2 cup of chopped onion – I like sweet & nutty flavour of vidalias for samosas

3 cloves chopped garlic

3 large potatoes diced – I prefer reds as they wash up quickly and the skins can be left on but usually use 4-5 of these as they don’t really come in large size russets (which is an effective alternative) or other white-skinned varieties do around here

1 cup of fresh or frozen peas – alternatively, that frozen vegie mix comprised of carrots, peas, corn & beans works really well too and allows me to get samosas past people who say they don’t like peas

2 tbsp. margarine, butter or ghee

juice of 2 limes

salt to taste

spices (I’ll get into that in a bit)

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat then melt the butter/margarine/ghee in it. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes and salt and allow everything to brown just a bit. Once slightly browned, reduce the heat to low-medium and continue to cook until the potatoes are fork tender (about ten minutes.) Up the heat to high, add the salt and peas and cook over high heat for another 2-3 minutes. Then it’s time to remove the filling from the heat source and talk about spices.

As you’ve probably been able to deduce, samomas are pretty versatile creatures. As such, there are infinite possibilities for dealing with their spiciness. One could create their own amalgam of spices, toss in a pre-made garam masala or curry paste or keep them minimal and somewhat pirogie-like. If I’m feeling lazy I’ll toss in 1 tbsp of Sybil’s Jerk Seasoning or her Kick Ass Curry Paste (I’m sorry for those of you who don’t live in the area and don’t have access to her wonderfully spicey bounty of deliciousness) but I almost never use a pre-fab curry powder. So when I’m feeling less lazy I mix up a concoction of equal parts cumin, coriander, allspice, nutmeg, tumeric & ground chilies…which I often have on hand as I also almost always make up too much of this concoction. This can all be ground together in a coffee grinder, small food processor or with a mortar & pestle.  The important part is to season your filling to taste and mix it well.  After that’s done the lime juice can be added and mixed in as well.

The filling should be allowed to chill at least an hour or two before using it with the dough otherwise it could make the samosas fall apart.  When you’re ready to fill them, get out the ball of dough and divide it in half, then divide those in half again and so on until you’ve got 32 little balls.  Then just roll those little balls out into circles as thinly as you can, add about 2 tbsp of filling, fold the dough over the filling and press the dough edges together with a fork.  I always need to experiment with the first couple I make.  The beauty of this dough is that it’s very stretchy, the downside to that is that I end up overestimating it’s stretchiness.  I’m an overstuffer.  Some people are understuffers, and the downside to that is you end up with really doughy samosas.

I like to get at least one other person in on the rolling and stuffing part of the samosa-making process.  This allows me to get them cooking as we go which prevents them from sitting and sweating on a surface which doesn’t allow them to breathe and making them more breakable.  That generally plays out as me being in charge of the hot oil for deep frying, 1 kid rolling and 1 kid stuffing.  If I don’t have an extra set of hands around to help me out I can get around the sweat issue by preheating the oven to 425 degrees, moving the stuffed samosas directly to a lightly greased baking sheet then moving the full-of-stuffed-samosas baking sheets directly to the oven to cook for about 5 minutes (just long enough to dry the dough, but not to brown it) then moving the samosas onto cooling racks.  The advantage of going that route rather than directly to deep fry is that they’re easier to store as they can be tossed into freezer bags and then into the freezer then brought out and deep fried at a later date.  One could also finish them in the oven and bypass deep frying altogether, but let’s face it, part of the appeal is the crispy, goldenness of these tasty treats.

So there you go.  It’s not a complicated process but it definitely can be a long one.  I like to justify it by making a double or triple batch so there are some to enjoy immediately and others to be put away for entertaining later.


Someone suggested having a crepe-themed wine (or ‘let’s eat ’til we burst’) night with our regular motley crew and Friday that plan finally came together. They’re really not the mystery one might have you believe them to be and they make for a nice, decadent, incredibly versatile treat once every 5 years or so. You may as well try to make them.

What you need for savoury crepes:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

What you need for dessert crepes:

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of amaretto

Butter or cooking spray (which I don’t normally endorse the use of but I’ve score a lifetime supply of it and need to use it for something) for greasing the pan(s).

In the bowl of a large (10-12 cup) food processor mix together all of the ingredients (except the butter or cooking spray for the pan) and pulse together 10 times for 2 seconds each. If you feel the need for more batter just double the batches but mix them separately for a smoother batter. That’s it, that’s all. Well, until you’re ready to cook them and you won’t be for a good hour or so as it’s best to refrigerate the batter for at least an hour to quell the bubbles which cause crepe breakage during and after cooking. I also like to allow the batter to sit at room temperature for a good 15 minutes before cooking as it helps the butter get back in with the rest of the batter family after it’s resolidification time in the frigo.

As far as cooking crepes goes I tend to prefer a heavy bottomed skillet over the thin, low lipped crepe pans. the reason for this is that I can get a good flip out of a larger pan and can control the heat in them better. The good flip means less handling which means less breakage which makes for happy crepes. The temperature control means less burning which means I can have two pans on the go at once without compromising the integrity of the crepes. So 2 heavy skillets over medium high heat with a wee bit of butter rubbed on them or cooking spray sprayed in them for lube will get you going – just remember to start them one at a time and if you don’t feel like doing two at a time, don’t.

It always takes me at least three crepes to gage how much batter to use when experimenting with new equipment (and I was as I wasn’t at home.) I eyeball how much goes in; I start with about a quarter of a cup of batter in the pan and swirl it around until the bottom is lightly coated in batter. If my crepe is not translucent enough to see the bottom of the pan I know I’ve got too much batter. If there are holes through the crepe I know I’ve got too little. I adjust accordingly either way with subsequent crepes until I get it right.

Crepes can be filled with just about anything. Friday night we had each guest bring a selection of fillings for both sweet and savoury crepes so our selection consisted of roasted chicken breasts, asparagus, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, cheese curds, old cheddar cheese, butter chicken sauce, mushroom wine sauce, bechamel, prosciutto, tomato butter, shrimp & potatoes. For the dessert crepes (sorry;no pictures of those – I blame the wine) we saw amaretto cream cheese whipped cream, amaretto stewed fruits (do you sense a theme here?) raspberry compote, fresh strawberries and blackberries, and probably a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember. It was all wonderfully yummy and incredibly filling but kept up with the wine nicely.

Meatballs and noodles in lemon-dill sauce

No picture today as the camera is on a business trip in Montreal (it leads such a jet-set lifestyle, that camera) but I wanted to share the spring-inspired dish we enjoyed for dinner tonight with you all the same.

What you need:

1 lb lean ground chicken, pork, turkey or lamb – or any combination of those

3/4 cup breadcrumbs

3 eggs

4 cloves of minced garlic

4 tbsp dill

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup water

2 tbsp butter

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 12 oz. package of egg noodles

Start by putting the water for the noodles on to boil. In a large bowl combine ground meat, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of dill, salt and pepper. Mix well and roll into balls about 1.5 inches in diameter each. Heat the olive oil to medium-high in a heavy skillet then add the meatballs to brown.

Turn the heat down to medium and cook for another 3- 4 minutes. At this point the noodle water is likely boiling so go ahead and put the noodles in to cook according to the directions on the package. Once the noodles are in add the lemon juice to the water and add that mixture to the skillet a little at a time, using it to deglaze the pan as you go until all of the water/lemon mix is in the pan.

Let that come to a simmer, still over medium heat and add the butter. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl while waiting. Once the stuff in the skillet has reached a simmer add some of it to the bowl with the eggs a little at a time, stirring constantly. I like to use a turkey baster for that job as gives greater control over how much is added and is easy to use with only one free hand.

You’ll want to mix in at least half of the hot mixture in order to prevent the eggs from cooking once returning the sauce to the pan. Add it back to the pan, a little at a time, stirring all the while again (I know, I’m so demanding) until everything is thoroughly mixed together and uniform. Bring it back up to a simmer – still stirring or the eggs might go wonky and toss in the remaining dill and garlic once there. Then it’s all ready to go over the noodles.

I like to serve this in bowls with loads and loads of freshly ground pepper and a light salad drizzled in nothing but lemon juice on the side…or peas. It’s really good with peas too.

Decadent Mollusks

I’ve been craving mussels like 90 lately and happened to score a bunch on sale. 6 lbs of on sale mussels in fact. Here’s what we did with them:

This recipe sort of mashes steaming and baking due to the sheer volume of mollusky goodness. We took one look at our pot and realised it simply wasn’t going to do the whole lot in one fell swoop. Luckily we had a very astute guest present who suggested doing them in the large roasting pan we normally use for turkey. Perfect!

Now, a word about dealing with mussels: the cooking of the little critters takes very little time at all, however the prep work can be quite a lot longer depending on the state in which the mussels were sold. We lucked out as ours were sold ‘debearded’ but some still had beards which needed to be snipped and tossed and they all needed cleaning. As such, the first thing we did was toss them into two large bowls of very cold water and begin the cleaning process. I’m probably a bit too meticulous about this but I want to be sure I get all of the dead ones. Cleaning each shell ensures that I see each one which is open and broken so I can pitch it straight away. Any with open shells should be discarded if they don’t quickly close with a tap on the table. Also, scrubbed mussels look prettier than unscrubbed one and as I wanted to do them in a broth to be enjoyed with them I really didn’t need any clinging grit on them. I just give each one a once over with a copper wool pad and was ready to begin cooking in about half an hour.

What you need:

2 sticks of butter

5 cloves of garlic lightly crushed

1 large red onion, chopped

3 cups of dry white wine

2 lb bag of new potatoes – we used gold fingerlings as I enjoy their firm texture in contrast with the mussels

5 roma tomatoes in 1/2 inch thick slices

1 tbsp ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh parsley

6 lbs mussels in shell

Start by preheating the oven with the roasting pan in it to 400 degrees. Once it’s up to temp add the butter to melt, then the garlic and onion. Cook those until translucent and fragrant. Add the potatoes and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring at the 10 minute mark.

After 20 minutes the potatoes should be slightly tender and browned. Add the wine and cook for another 10 minutes with the lid on. Add the tomatoes and the nutmeg and cook uncovered until the tomatoes are soft and cooked down then stir 1 cup of the parsley into the broth. Now it’s time to add the mussels. Add them quickly but in small batches, giving them another check for any with opened or broken shells, discarding those as you go. As soon as all of the mussels are in the pan put the lid back on and set the timer for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes check to see if they’re all open. Open means done and you don’t want to over cook them or they’ll taste like fish-flavoured bubble gum. if they’re not all open pull the pan out of the oven and cover again for about 2 minutes. The pan will still be hot enough to finish cooking them. Any which didn’t open should be discarded and those left should be stirred around to get coated in broth. Cooing words of encouragement at them works too. True story. Top the lot of it with parsley and serve with fresh baguette slices and a nice Shiraz.

We did our rock ‘n roll duty by putting a major dent into 6 lbs of mussels between the three of us, but even we gluttons couldn’t do away with the lot of them. The solution to that problem (because I’m not about to let those succulent little critters go to waste) was to shuck the remaining mussels and put them and the remaining broth in a bag and then into the freezer – I’ll use that for a lovely chowder at some other time.

Sunday dinner redux

I was feeling adventurous & had a pork tenderloin roast in the freezer begging to be cooked into something yummy. So I experimented with simple ingredients; you can barely see the tenderloin up there smothered in its wine, apple & mushroom jus, but it was very much present in terms of flavour & texture within the meal itself.

What you need:

1 pork tenderloin roast

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups of dry white wine

5 cloves garlic, smashed & peeled, but not crushed

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 sliced, large apples

1/2 stick of butter

salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Once it’s hot gently place the two sides of the tenderloin into it to sear & dust the exposed meat with a little salt (a pinch per loin should do it). Sear the tenderloin, turning as you go in order to get all sides lightly browned. Once browned lightly deglaze with one cup of wine, using a wooden spoon to lift any meat residue from the bottom of the skillet. Slice almost but not fully through the meat at one inch intervals along the length of the roast. Add the garlic to the pan & transfer the roast, skillet & all, to the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the roast is nicely brown on the inside. Remove the tenderloin from the oven & transfer to a cutting board to sit.

Heat the skillet containing the leftover juices & wine from the roast over medium-high heat. Stir the contents until they’re reduced by half. Add the mushrooms & the apples. Continue to heat & stir until the apples & mushrooms are fork tender & the juices have been reduced by about half again. Add the butter & stir that in until it’s combined with the rest of the sauce. Stir in the remaining cup of wine & taste. Add more salt if necessary. Reduce the heat & let simmer for about 10 minutes until it’s slightly thickened.

Cut the roast into medallions along the slits you’ve already made & transfer to the dish in/on which you intend to serve it. Spoon the jus over the roast & garnish with a couple sprigs of fresh thyme or parsley. Serve hot over rice, potatoes or (as seen below) savoury madeleines (a recipe I will not share at this time as I haven’t perfected it yet but is really quite delicious nonetheless.) The fresh, steamed, green beans make a lovely side.

more chicken

I have to admit a bias toward drumsticks when it comes to cooking with chicken. Many of the treatments I give them are easily adaptable to breasts and whole birds for a more formal dining experience and that’s precisely why I lean toward drumsticks; they’re very informal, finger food, go with just about anything and therefore make children happy. I often make a bigger batch than is necessary as they’re something the sprogs will willingly pack in their lunches for the next day.

This recipe is nice because it goes together very quickly and the heat output from the chili sauce is very controllable – it gets diluted quite a lot by the butter and lime but more can be added as desired or can be served on the side for the more adventurous to dip into.

What you need:

16-20 chicken drumsticks

1 stick of butter

Juice of 2 lemons or 4 limes

1 tbsp dried thyme or you can remove the leaves from two or three fresh sprigs

2 tbsp chili garlic sauce (I use this but one can easily make their own)

2 tsp powdered ginger or 1 inch chunk of fresh ginger grated (I recommend having one of these on hand for that job)

Melt the butter in a medium sized microwavable bowl or on the cooktop in a medium sized saucepan, stirring constantly to ensure it doesn’t burn (if you’re doing it in the microwave be sure to give it a stir at the one minute mark.) Add the lemon/lime, thyme, chili garlic sauce & ginger to that. Stir until combined. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Dip each drumstick into the mixture and move to a roasting pan, preferably one with a rack to keep the chicken off the bottom of the pan – this makes clean-up so much easier. Once all of the drumsticks have been dipped & arranged brush each one with a little more sauce and toss the pan into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes & serve hot – or let them cool and take them on your next picnic or as your incentive to not eat out for workday lunches.