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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Grilled Sesame Asparagus Rafts

Saturday was a gorgeous day out, reaching a high of 15 C. After moving a friend into her condo, I went for a short mountain bike ride; sanded an old desk in the backyard and then opened a Corona on the deck. It was definitely a barbeque night. Although asparagus is not local yet, I did reluctantly purchase some to grill. I made asparagus rafts, brushed them with sesame oil and placed them on the grill for 4 minutes a side. Near the end of the grilling I sprinkled on some sesame seeds that the heat of the BBQ toasts.

First, wash the asparagus well. And using wooden skewers (soaked in water for 20 mins) pearce the asparagus and skewer them at both ends to make a raft.
Brush both sides with sesame oil and sprinke with ground pepper.

Place on a preheated grill (med high heat) for 4 mins a side.

Near the end of the grilling, sprinkle with sesame seeds, the heat of the grill will toast them, giving a nice nutty flavor.

Serve (in this case with BBQ Chicken)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kidney Foundation Fundraiser

This past weekend my sister and brother in law hosted a wine and cheese Fundraiser in honour of our cousin. The fundraiser was for the Kidney Foundation of Canada. My cousin has been diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which is a type of Glomerular Disease one of many diseases that affect kidney function by attacking the glomeruli, the tiny units within the kidney where blood is cleaned (the filtering process takes place in the nephron, where microscopic blood vessels filters called glomeruli are attached to the fluid collecting tubules). Glomerulosclerosis describes the scarring or hardening of the tiny blood vessels within the kidney.

The kidneys are organs that filter the blood of its toxins. They process about 400 quarts of blood a day to sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water that eventually leave the body as urine. This process occurs through the glomeruli. Glomeruli disease damages the glomeruli letting protein and sometimes red blood cells leak into the urine. The disease can interfere with the clearance of waste products by the kidney so they begin to build up in the blood. Furthermore, loss of blood proteins like albumin in the urine can result in a fall in their level in the bloodstream. Albumin acts like a sponge to draw extra fluid from the body into the bloodstream where it remains until the kidneys remove it. But when albumin leaks in the urine the blood loses its capacity to absorb extra fluid from the body. Fluid therefore accumulates outside the circulatory system and causes swelling in the face, hands, feet and ankles.

When a patient has acute of chronic loss of kidney function they are said to be in renal failure. When a person is in end stage renal failure they must go on dialysis or receive a new kidney via transplant. Dialysis is a process by which the blood is cleaned and waste and excess water is removed from the body (what a healthy kidney should do). For further information on dialysis and FSGS please visit the Kidney Foundation of Canada website.

My cousin is only 30 years old and is in end stage renal failure. She does not qualify for organ transplant and as such most of her days are spent on dialysis. Every other day she is hooked up to a home dialysis machine for 4 hours. The process is exhausting leaving her incapacitated after the treatment. Because she must do dialysis every other day, she is limited to traveling out of her city to visit friends or family. She is unable to work and most importantly she has a 4 year old daughter that she may not get to see grow up.

The manner in which my cousin faces her disease is truly inspirational. She takes each day in stride and does what she needs to do without fuss and with much bravery. She always has a smile on her face and has an air of optimism in her voice. There is no doubt she has her hard days (to say the least), but for all she has to deal with she really is a remarkable individual, one that has done a lot for the Kidney Foundation of Canada, for her daughter, husband and would reach out to help anyone who needed it, without asking for anything in return.

Although there is never enough one can do for her, I would like to thank my sister for having the fundraiser in her honor and bringing some education to her disease. I know that my cousin loves to educate others on her illness, as it is only through education and understanding can such diseases get funding and recognition to develop important treatments.

I wish I had taken more photos throughout the night, as that was the plan. But between eating and socializing I didn't get too many good shots. The menu also deserves some credit. It consisted of a cheese platter, artichoke dip, california rolls, smoked artic char, mushroom dip, sausage, artichoke and roasted red pepper skewers, chicken skewers, truffles, assorted desserts etc...

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Give Away!

If you enjoy fun give aways, go over to According to Ashely's to check out her fun Swoozie give away. Not only can you enjoy her blog and a chance to win a swoozie, you can find out what the heck a swoozie is.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Indian Spiced Artic Char

Last Friday night my sister called me to see what I was doing for dinner. She was calling to offer me some fillets of Artic Char. My sister use to live in northern Canada, so when a friend from up north came to visit her, she requested that she bring with her a large Artic Char, one that she possible could not eat all herself. So I am the lucky one that got to have a couple fillets. I quickly put my chicken in the freezer and went to pick up the fish. Of course anytime I have fish I prefer it grilled and as some of you may know I love to use Cajun or blackening spices. I changed it up somewhat and used an Indian Spiced Rub and served it with a ginger dipping sauce.

Indian Spiced Artic Char

1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
pinch cinnamon
pinch cloves
pinch red chilli flakes (optional)
2 fillets of Artic Char (6oz each)
olive oil

Heat a dry skillet over high heat, add peppercorns, cumin and coriander and toast until fragrant - about 1 minutes.

Remove from skillet and place in a coffee grinder and grind until powdery. Mix with cinnamon, cloves and chilli flakes.

Preheat oven to 450 or grill to med high heat.Drizzle salmon with oil and rub part of the mixture onto the fillets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. If grilling grill one side for 6 minutes and then flip to grill the other side for 4-6 minutes.

Fish should be opaque in side and flaky. You do not want to dry out fish.Serve with mango chutney or this ginger dip.

Ginger Dip

1/4 cup pickled ginger chopped
1/2 cup mayo
1 green onion chopped
pepper to taste
2 T soy sauce
2 T lemon or lime juice

Mix together and serve with fish.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jalapeno-Cilantro Hummus

In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow I thought I would whip up something green. My favourite green herb is cilantro and my favourite chillis are jalapenos, as I like many of my dishes spicy. I experimented and combined both of these ingredients in a hummus dip. After adding a few more spices like cumin and coriander the hummus turned out nice and smooth with a subtle kick to it. The cilantro leaves look a bit like clovers so it is a good way to decorate your dip for the occasion.

Jalapeno-Cilantro Hummus

1 can (190z) chickpeas or navy beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded
1/4 cup water
1T olive oil
juice of 1 lime
2/3 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add more water if required to make it smooth and adjust flavoring to your desire.

Dressed it up for St. Patrick's Day.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lemon Cranberry Scones

If you are look for a quick morning or afternoon snack to whip up, scones do not take long at all. These took 15 minutes to put the batter together and 12 minutes to bake. You can even make the dough a day ahead of time, store it in the fridge and take them out to bake them fresh. These scones use whole wheat flour, very little sugar and are loaded with tart antioxidant filled cranberries. Noting scones can be dry I tried to make them a bit more moist using buttermilk and frozen cranberries. So put the donuts down and enjoy a healthy scone with your coffee or tea.

Lemon Cranberry Scones

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 t wheat bran
2 T sugar
2 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 T unsalted butter, cut up into pieces
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 lemon zested
1 cup cranberries (frozen, fresh or dried)

Preheat oven to 425F.

In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Add in butter pieces and using a pastry cutter blend butter into flour. Add in zest and cranberries.

In a small bowl whisk together buttermilk and eggs.

Pour buttermilk and egg mixture into dry ingredients and gently mix until moist. Let sit for about 5 minutes.

Then on a floured surface divide the mixture in 2 and mold into 1" thick circles. Cut the circles into 6 wedges.

Place on a non stick (spray with non stick spray) and bake for 11-12 minutes, until golden brown.

Glaze: combine 1/2 cup icing sugar and 2 T lemon juice for a glaze and brush ontop of scones while still warm.

Scones freeze well.

Yields: 12 scones

Monday, March 9, 2009

Burgers & Bowling

My husband and I love to host theme nights. Even if it is just the two of us we are notorious for having some sort of theme. Be it Italian night where we listen to some Frank Sinatra, make homemade pizzas and watch the Sopranos; host a Mexican night with tacos, piƱatas, burritos and sangria; Spanish wine and tapas night, or participate in an activity like skiing or hiking followed by a great corresponding meal (eg. Skiing and Spaghetti). This weekend we decided to do Bowling and Burgers. We rounded up about 12 friends to enjoy a couple hours of 10 pin bowling followed by a BBQ at our place. Having everyone contribute salads, dips, chips, made for a causal, low maintenance event. My husband made his spicy burgers for the occasion, which he has been perfecting over the years. They are moist with a great kick to them.

Spicy Burgers

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 minced garlic cloves
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 T Frank's hot sauce
1 tsp paprika

Combine all ingredients into ground beef and mix together. Form patties using hands to desired size.

Preheat grill to high heat. Grill burgers over high heat about 5 minutes per side.

Burger Tips:

If using onions in your recipe, shred them rather than chop, so they cook at the same time as the beef. Chopped onions tend to stay raw in the pattie.

Do not over mix the burger patties. If you over work them they have a tendency to shrink and puff up.

Internal temp of meat should be 160F when done.

Do not push down on the patties with flipper, this just removes the flavor and moisture.

Veggie Burgers

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spinach & Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breast

This past weekend my in-laws were down for a visit. Noting it was -20C we thought it was a good time to check out the Canadian War Museum for the afternoon. I was really impressed by the layout and content of the exhibits ranging from the wars of the First Peoples, the French and the British to the World Wars. I learned so much about the role of Canadians in many a wars, some of which I’d learned about in grade school but had since forgotten the details.

Even though you can never understand war unless you lived through it as a civilian or soldier it provided great insight into what it must have been like. So much of the knowledge we get about war is romanticized through the media that hearing accounts of living in the trenches by actual veterans (filled with rats, urine, feces, decomposing bodies, no food, wet, cold); seeing the brutal weapons used during war time, as well as seeing the overly simple surgical kits used to treat soldiers’ wounds brings one to their knees in disgust and can bring one that much closer to understanding the sheer brutality and violence of war.

If you live in Ottawa or are here to visit I’d recommend checking it out. It took us about 2 hours to walk through it. But one could easily spend 4 hours there.

Afterwards we came back to the house to enjoy a nice meal. I’ve wanted to make spinach and goat cheese stuffed chicken for a while. I was impressed by the simplicity, the taste and beautiful presentation of this dish. The chicken was tender and the silky smooth texture of the melted cheese was heavenly. I kind of winged the ingredients and did not measure them, so basically you can adjust the following ingredients to your liking. We were talking a lot while I was preparing the dish, so I just realized I did not even add any seasoning. I think it was good without seasoning, but one could add some more flavour with rosemary, saffron or make a nice mushroom and white wine sauce to go over it.

Spinach & Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken

4 large chicken breasts
2-3 T butter
10oz bag of baby spinach
¼ white onion
½ to ¾ cup sliced cremini or button mushrooms
1 cup creamy goat cheese
Ground pepper
½ cup chicken stock or white wine

Place chicken breasts in the center of a plastic food storage bag and pound out the chicken from the center of the bag outward using a meat mallet, evenly flattening the breasts.

In a large skillet melt 1 T butter over med-high heat. Add the spinach and sautee until wilted. Set aside. Once cooled drain and squeeze the excess water out of the spinach.

In the same skillet melt 1 T butter over med-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onion and sautee until tender about 5 minutes.

In a medium to large bowl add the spinach, mushrooms and onion and goat cheese and ground pepper. Mix or cream together the mixture until well blended. Start with a bit of cheese and add more as desired.

Now spoon the mixture into the center of the chicken or slightly to the right of the center. Now roll the chicken breast over the mixture, as you would tortillas and secure with toothpick(s). Repeat for all 4 chicken breasts.

Place the 4 chicken breasts in the same skillet (oven proof with lid) and add the chicken stock or white wine to the skillet.

Cover and bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour.

Serve immediately with lemon butter green beans. You can slice the chicken breasts and serve them in a fan shape or serve whole.

Also try Stuffed Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Steak, Mushroom & Stout Pie

I love both the look and the convenience of individual pot pies. I find they look really elegant to serve company and are perfect for freezing and defrosting for single servings. In trying to figure out a good recipe for this pie I did a bit of research into its origin.

I found that Steak and Mushroom Pie is a traditional British dish and that Steak and Stout Pie has origins in Ireland. In Canada they have become traditional British Pub or Irish Pub dishes. The only thing that really seperates each dish from one another was the obvious fact that one uses mushrooms and the other a pint of stout. Leave it to the Irish to omit a vegetable in place of a good beer (although I have seem some variations with using both in them).

I love mushrooms and I love stout (especially cooking with it) and hence decided there was no reason to keep them apart. I adapted the recipe Steak & Stout Pie from the 2009 winter edition of LCBO Food & Drink. I doubled the recipe and added a combo of cremini and button mushrooms, and replaced the celery root with potatoes.

2 lbs good quality stewing beef or steak (I used blade steak as it breaks up nicely)
3 T all purpose flour
olive oil
2 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
2 cups white onions, coarsely diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 T tomato paste
2 cups carrots peeled and diced
2 cups white pototoes, peeled and diced
1 lbs mushrooms (cremini and button) sliced
1 can Guiness or stout (440ml)
2 cups beef broth

In a bowl add the flour to the beef to coat and add salt and pepper to flavor. In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat, add the beef and cook until browned, about 15 min. Remove from pot and set aside.

Add more oil if needed to the same pot and add the onions and garlic, cook 5 mins. Add thyme and tomato paste, stir. Cook 2 mins.

Add the stout and scrap up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the beef broth and the beef. Bring to a boil and then let simmer covered for 45 minutes.

Add carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and simmer slightly uncovered for 60 minutes.
Fill individual ramekins and place puffed pastry on top of stew mixture (read directions on puffed pastry). Make sure to make slits with a nice in the puffed pastry. And brush with egg wash.
Place ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven (400F) for 40-45min, until pastry is cooked and golden brown. Serve.