Monday’s Shrimp & Arugula Pasta

Well it’s Monday again. The weekend is long over and the work week has begun (for most of us I guess).

My Mondays are usually pretty low key. Monday is laundry day. I finish tidying up the weekend mess, I catch up on some tv shows, I plan my week ahead, and you know, get the routine going. On this day I largely tend no get into long-winded conversations with my pans, cutting board and chef’s knife. Often soup and sandwhich is what’s for dinner; soup is already prepared and sandwich helps make use of leftovers. Or, put  your pantry stock to good use.

A well stoked pantry is key to dinner short-cuts and I am not referring to a box of Kraft Dinner either. You pantry isn’t just your cupboard of dried goods, but also your fridge and your freezer.

Now for last night’s dinner,  out come the shrimp from the freezer, the leftover arugula, the box of penne pasta, onions, garlic, and finally vermouth from the bar, put it together and you get…

Monday’s Shrimp and Arugula Pasta

Now, the ingredient portions really are just rough estimates, because I litterally just threw it all together. PLay around with it, substitute some of the ingredients for anything else on hand, and just make sure you don’t over think it. You have a full week ahead, no need to burn yourself out just yet.

  • Pasta, about 4 portions (I use the bowl to measure the portions – one bowl uncooked = 2 cooked)
  • Shrimp, two handfuls (no time to thaw? run under warm water to accerlerate process)
  • Scallions, small bunch chopped (no scallions? use regular onions)
  • Garlic, two cloves chopped
  • Lemon pepper, about 1/2 tbsp (or lemon zeste mixed with pepper, or just pepper works too)
  • Vermouth, about 1/2 cup (or any white wine you have on hand or even broth – a fish broth would work nicely here)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. In a large pan drizzled with olive oil, saute the shrimp, scallions, garlic and sprinkle with lemon pepper. Strain pasta, add to pan along with the vermouth and arugula. Toss together and adjust seasoning with more lemon pepper or simply salt and pepper to taste.

One pot. One pan. Simple and understated. This served two for dinner, with enough leftovers for two lunches.

My First Dischcrawl – Delectable Desserts

What is a Dishcrawl you ask me? Think of it as a pub crawl, but instead if getting increasingly drunk as you stumble from one bar to another, you wander your way from one dish to the next, from one restaurant to another, discovering new foods, flavours and styles.

My first Dishcrawl was all about desserts. Granted I do not have the biggest sweet tooth but I really wanted to try the experience and didn’t want to wait until the next one (there is on average one event per month). The element of surprise here is that the locations are kept secret until the last moment. I did not know where I would be heading that evening until the first location was revealed a day or so prior.

Our evening started off at Patisserie Rhubarbe , a small pastry shop located in Montreal’s Plateau. We were greeted by the lovely Marcella from Dishcrawl who introduced us to the process but didn’t give us any hints as to the evening’s progression. The pastry chef then presented us with the evening’s sampling of desserts. From the top we had the choux with a light chestnut cream that was sublimely delicate, a peanut and caramel tart reminiscent of a gourmet Snickers bars but even more indulgent, and finally a lemon tart unlike any I had ever seen. It’s a given that the desserts were delicious, but it was their original visual and flavour composition that really set this patisserie apart from the many others.

  

Our second stop was at Byblos Le Petit Café, a restaurant that serves traditional family cuisine from the Middle-East. I had heard of Byblos for its weekend brunch  (which I’m planning on tasting soon). This evening we were presented with a wide variety of traditional Iranian desserts. These desserts were for the most part rice based and full of orange blossom, rose water, cardamom and pistachio flavours. I enjoyed a lovely traditional Iranian tea to accompany the desserts. Personally, I’ve never enjoyed rice-pudding type desserts so this was not exactly my cup of tea. However, I did enjoy the floral and exotic flavours, and most importantly the diversity of the location for the overall Dishcrawl experience.

Our final stop of the evening was at PyrusBistronomique, which was recently written up by Lesley Chesterman in the Montreal Gazette. Chef Renaud Poirier presented us with an apple tarte Tatin with salted caramel and cheddar ice cream. Well for me this dish hit the spot! It was a perfect balance of savory and sweet. The sweetness of the apple and caramel was perfectly complimented by the fleur de sel crunch hiding in the caramel and the sharpness of the cheddar ice cream. I was suggested to pair this with a glass of Calvados, but as a whisky fan I opted for a dram of Macallan 12. This dessert really honed in on my more savory palate.

The experience with Dishcrawl was fabulous and I would recommend it to anyone. I loved discovering new places, trying different dishes and meeting new and interesting people. It always amazes me how people connect differently when they are sharing food together, even if it is for the first time.

Next Dishcrawl in Montreal? Discover Montreal’s Downtown Core. To sign-up or find out more about it click here

On another note, I would like to raise a glass to Marcella and Dishcrawl Montreal not only for opening the door to new experiences but also for providing the amazing pictures you see here. Thank you!



The Lactard Lasagna

The highlight of any homemade lasagna – aside from the homemade cheese of course – is the sauce. This sauce hides generation after generation of ingredients, methods, tweaking and most importantly tradition. Whether it is your mother, father, aunt, grandmother, etc…. most of us have at some point in our childhood, clenched someone’s apron and helped stir the family recipe on the stovetop. These recipes that have no specific list of ingredients and are handed down from generation to generation, and the only way you remember how to make them is by standing by the process and hopefully getting to taste it hot from the pot before anyone else gets to. Now that, just that, makes the recipe memorable. That is the moment that your taste buds will remember forever, until one day you put those ingredients together for your family and friends to pass on the tradition.

This is how my sauce originated. Une vraie de vraie sauce à spag! It is a meat and tomato sauce that my mother made over and over, while I stood by paying attention to every ingredient every step of the way, until one day I finally made my own. I have decided to share my version of this sauce with you, but by all means feel free to stick your own because at the end of the day, that’s the one that matters.

Kristel’s Meat Sauce

  • 2 medium onions, about 2 cups chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, about 1 cup chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz of crimini (brown) mushrooms, stems removed and chopped, caps cut in quarters
  • 300 grams lean ground pork
  • 700 grams lean ground beef
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes (28 oz each can)
  • 2 cans of water (28 oz each can)
  • 1 can tomato paste (156 ml can)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (or to taste)
  • 2 tbsp herbes de provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I’ve decided to break this down step by step:

Step 1 – Sweating

 In a large pot drizzled with olive oil, start to sweat (cook until translucent) on medium-high heat the onions, celery, the chopped mushrooms stems and garlic, with about a tablespoon of salt, the chili flakes and pepper. The salt will help draw out the moisture from the vegetables but make sure  they don’t brown.

  

Step 2 – Browning

Add the ground pork and beef to the pot. Break up the meat as is starts to cook through. Add the herbes de provence, the bay leaves and mushrooms caps as the meat continues to brown. Stir-in the canned diced tomatoes, the tomato paste and the water, as well as the teaspoon of sugar. The reason for adding sugar to a tomato sauce is to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes. 

  

Step 3 – Simmering and Reducing

Bring the sauce to a boil, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about three hours. At the halfway point do a taste test to see if you sauce needs more salt, pepper or chili flakes; adjust the seasoning to your liking. When you first add the tomatoes and water the sauce will look very watered down but that is normal. Simmering the sauce for 3 hours plus will help concentrate the flavours and you will notice that the overall volume of the sauce will have reduced. I like to use my cooking spoon to measure the level when the water has been added and after the sauce has been reduced. I usually notice that the sauce content has reduced by an inch or two. At this point I can safely assume that my meat sauce is ready for serving, storing or in this case, layering in my lasagna.

Step 4 – Layering

Now, this step is not part of the meat sauce recipe but it made more sense to continue on with the steps for the Lactard Lasagna.

Here are the additional ingredients you will need: 400g of lactose-free mozzarella (which you can now find in most grocery stores) and lasagna pasta. Choose a rectangular baking dish and estimate how many sheets of pasta you will need. I had four layers in my dish and I used three sheets per layer, making a total of 12 sheets of pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente and strain (skip this step if using fresh pasta).

Now, this is when you start layering: begin with a ladle of sauce, just enough to barely cover the bottom of your dish. Put down the first layer of pasta (1). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a layer of pasta (2). Spread the homemade cheese and spinach filling, then add another layer of pasta (3). Cover with a few ladles of sauce and top with a final layer of pasta (4). Add one last ladle of sauce, just enough to cover the pasta. Top the dish with the shredded lactose-free mozzarella and c’est fini!

Step 5 – Bubbling

Finally, about an hour before you’re ready to eat (maybe longer if you’ve made it ahead of time and kept it in the fridge), preheat the oven to 350°F and cook the lasagna until brown and bubbly on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 before serving!

I know it’s a long process to make the cheese, simmer the sauce and layer the lasagna, but why not make a day of it, invite your friends, spend some time with family, open up a bottle of wine and maybe see if you can create your own culinary tradition!

Got any food traditions you’d like to share? I love hearing about them. Feel free to comment here or email me!

Tools and Techniques – Homemade Cheese

 

My better half is a lactard.
 
When we first met and he confessed to me he was lactose intolerant, I was troubled. To me, coming from a French family where cheese is not just a staple but a necessary for survival, not being able to eat cheese would be a complete nightmare for me. Troubled by how I would cook without butter (yes, butter is a dairy product), without cream, without gorgonzola and coming to terms with no more grilled cheeses, no more pasta carbonara and more… I had to figure out a way around this predicament. And, I did. I found out about Almond Milk, Belsoy, soy ice cream (eek!), coconut milk, and finally some lactose-free cheese at my run-of-the-mill grocery store out of all places, and in the refrigerator next it, some lactose-free milk. But aside from all these dairy products, do you have any idea how many food products contain some sort of dairy?!?!?! Come on people, time to wake up and read your labels.
 
Now, it had been years since Mr. Better Half had had lasagna and I was craving lasagna; you know, the good kind like your mom used to make. I decided I would make this lasagna, with a creamy cheesy center and all. So I pooled my resources and attempted to make my own homemade cheese, aka paneer. Paneer is that cheese that you find in Indian dishes and is incredibly easy to make. Actually, it’s kinda stupid and here’s how you do it. You do need some extra equipment that most of don’t have lying around in our kitchens: cheesecloths. They are easy to find in most grocery stores, so usually there is no need to go to a specialty store to find them. 

T & T – Homemade Cheese, a.k.a. Paneer

  • 1 litre lactose-free milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp herbs or spices
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice

In a large pot bring the milk, salt, herbs or spices to a simmer on medium-high heat. Just as it boils, turn off the heat and stir in lemon juice. You will see that the milk will start to curdle. That’s normal; let it sit for about 15 minutes. Take one sheet of cheesecloth and line it into a strainer. Strain the milk mixture, gather the cheesecloth and slightly squeeze out some more liquid. Wrap the cheese in the cloth, press it between two plates and refrigerate for a couple of hours. You can also add a jar on top of the plate to press down the cheese even more. And voilà, you’ve made cheese!

You can choose all sorts of different spice blends, herbs (dried or fresh) to make a variety of cheeses for any recipe you can think of. This cheese remains creamy but doesn’t melt, so you can pan-fry it. Play around with different flavours, you’ll be amazed by what you can come up with.

 

For this batch I chose to include about one teaspoon of herbes de provence since I was planning on using the cheese as a ricotta replacement for my Lactard Lasagna. So here’s a sneak-peak at the creamy cheesy center of my lasagna:

Homemade Cheese and Spinach Filling

  • 1 batch homemade lactose-free cheese
  • 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups of fresh spinach coarsely chopped (or a 5oz package)
  • ¼ cups shredded lactose-free mozzarella
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a pan drizzled with olive oil, sauté the onions and the spinach until wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to mixing bowl and allow spinach to cool. Once cooled, crumble the homemade cheese and add the shredded mozzarella. Mix all ingredients until well combined. Set aside until ready to build your lasagna. Instead of lasagne, you can also use this mixture as a stuffing for pasta shells, cannelloni, chicken, Portobello mushrooms… Be creative and don’t be afraid to try new things!

Spice Roasted Chickpea and Cauliflower Soup

After a few feet of snow that have been piling up throughout eastern Canada (and mostly the US), the temperature is dropping, so it’s time to curl up with a hearty and satisfying soup. This soup was inspired by a recipe in one of the fall issues of Bon Appétit magazine and has since taken on many phases of evolution.

First I made the original one from Bon Appétit which you can find here. You have to try these chickpeas; they are seriously addictive. Spicy, nutty and crunchy; best of luck getting them from the baking sheet to the table.  The key really is in the toasted cumin and coriander seeds spice blend that I also used for the catfish sandwich.

On another occasion I had planned on making the same recipe but had cauliflower sitting in my fridge that really needed to be consumed asap. So I added the cauliflower florets to the baking sheet along with a couple of cloves of minced garlic.

Then this other time, I was having some friends over for dinner and was serving a cauliflower purée as a side (boil cauliflower until tender, blend with a little olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and that’s all folks), and needed some sort of presentation topping. Eureka, the roasted chickpeas were perfect!

Finally, one dreary weekend in January I had a craving for something hot and filling…and that is how this Spice Roasted Chickpea and Cauliflower Soup came to be.

Wanna make it? Here’s how:

  • 1 small onion, halved and sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 tbsp toasted cumin and coriander seeds spice blend
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, for roasting
  • 4 cups diluted broth (broth mixed with water, half and half)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Toss the chickpeas, cauliflower, onion, garlic with the spice blend and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until brown and caramelized, tossing the vegetables once in a while to cook evenly.

Allow to cool slightly then process in your blender gradually adding the diluted broth until you have reached the desired consistency. I used chicken broth, but for all the vegetarians out there, you can easily substitute with veggie broth. Pour into a pot and bring to a simmer. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

Note: The soup will thicken when reheated on the stovetop. Either add more diluted broth while blending or reheating.