Saturday, December 31, 2011

Protein power

I have been collecting food magazines and articles for a while now, and every now and again I go through some of them with the hopes of finding an old gem that can be reused. Such is the case when I flipped through the 2009 edition of "Eat Smart" with Ellie Krieger. My boyfriend was coming over for dinner and I wanted to make something hearty but different, and voila! - Baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta. Succulent shrimp soaked in rich tomato sauce, baked with feta cheese and topped with fresh parsley and dill - that's exactly what I was looking for.
I used black tiger shrimp

What you'll need:
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tsp)
2 14.5 oz cans no-salt added diced tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 cup finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp finely minced fresh dil
1 1/4 pounds frozen and thawed medium shrimp, peeled
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
salt and pepper to taste
orzo or rice (this dish can be served on either, I used orzo)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Heat the oil in an ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ohio and cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. 
  3. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 5 minutes, until the tomato juices thicken.
  4. Remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, dill, and shrimp and season with salt and paper.  
  5. Sprinkle the feta over the top.
  6. Bake until the shrimp are cooked through and the cheese melts, about 12 minutes. 

Cooked orzo
You can use pretty much any type of pasta for this recipe, but I decided to use orzo as I'm a huge fan of this grain. Orzo (an italian "barley") bears a close resemblance to rice, just but a bit longer (almost as large as a pine nut). Traditionally, it's used as the base for many soups, but I think it can be used interchangeably with any other grains in cold and hot pasta dishes. The nutritional info alone is pretty remarkable - In 1/2 cup of Primo brand orzo pasta, there's 300 calories, 1.3 g fat, and 10 g of protein! Add that with the shrimp packed sauced and you've got a protein packed meal.

Top with some shaved parmesan cheese and serve!  :)

Bon appétit!


Friday, December 30, 2011

Vegetarians beware.

If you are a vegan, vegetarian, PETA member, or just generally weak in the stomach when it comes to raw meat and its production, read no further (seriously).  I decided to write a post on "capciola" making, after I spent the afternoon at my nonna's (Italian grandma). For those that don't know (and I truly feel sorry for you if you are missing out on this little piece of heaven), capicola is a Calabrese cold-cut made from pork shoulder or neck, and then dry-cured whole. Capo means head, and collo means "neck of pig", for those wondering about the name origin.  All in all, this is a deliciously salted meat that tastes amazing on crackers, in sandwiches, or just eaten plain straight from the slicer.  In case anyone is interested in ever making their own homemade salumi meats, or just curious to see where it comes from, this should hopefully satisfy your questions.

Step 1:  Buy boneless pork capicola butt from your local butcher shop or grocery store. Take them home, cover the capicola evenly with salts and store in cool place for 24 hours.

Step 2: Season and spice capicola with paprika, crushed chilli peppers, whole black pepper corns (a few)

Season the capicola 

Step 3: Stuff the spiced capciola butt into the casing. We use natural casing, meaning it is fully edible, has no artificial preservatives or additives, made from the intestines of pigs, sheep, cattle, and goat. Kiiind of gross, but if you think about it, it's really the most natural way to go (this is the only casing permitted for organic sausages). It allows the smoking and cooking flavours to permeate the casing and really seep into the meat.  Artificial casing is made from collagen, cellulose, and sometimes plastic (yuck).  That red tube is called a "stuffer", and makes it easier to slide the meat in whole.

 Step 4: Tie up the cased meat with netting, again using the stuffer.

Step 5: Ta-da! All done. Now, let them hang in a dry room for one week, and then transfer to a cooler area (like a cantina) for about 5-6 months. 

I can show you our finished product in a few months, but this is generally what capicola looks like after curing.
Capicola is a great addition to charcuterie boards, paired with hard Artisan cheeses, grapes, and a freshly cut baguette. Mmm charcuterie boards...more on those later.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Simply pure - for real.

Soo you have a craving for some creamy delicious vanilla ice cream (YES people having cravings for vanilla). You hit up the closest grocery store and you're faced with these two badboys. Which one do you choose? Why?

Nestle Real Dairy Natural Vanilla
Nestle Parlour Vanilla

If you happen to have the same mindset as most consumers these days, you'd probably choose the one on the left (Real Dairy) and likely because of two very strategic components of the tub: the word "Real" and the seemingly "clean-label" (i.e free of fancy writing, pop-out graphics, and patterned colour).   Reports in the December issue of Food Technology  show that shoppers are paying more attention to what's going in their bodies and more importantly, what's on the label of the things going into their bodies. Anyone noticed how food labels are becoming more and more.....plain? No, it's not because companies are downsizing and firing all their marketing directors. This "clean-label" is actually a marketing strategy in itself and one that is bringing in the bucks.

On a global level, consumers are getting tired of highly processed foods, and the negative connotations associated with them. "Processed" is now tossed in the same bag as things like "high fructose corn syrup" and (gasp) "white bread," and manufacturers needed to act quickly to deal with this market change.  Since labels are one of the first things a consumer notices, they were the first to undergo a complete makeover. Major food giants have adopted the clean-label, using words like "clean", "simple", "real", and "pure" to remove the "processed" look from their products.  But what does that say about their other products?

Back to the aforementioned ice cream. Nestle's Real Dairy label for the cappuccino flavour reads: "Cappuccino-flavored ice cream made with fresh cream, sugar, eggs, and real coffee. No artificial colours. Made with simple ingredients like fresh cream, sugar and eggs. It's real, done right." Sounds great...but what does that mean, their Parlour ice cream is...."not" real dairy...done wrong? Fake dairy! Preposterous!

Unfortunately, it's actually the perception of 'processing' that has more of an impact on consumer preference, which is why the perception of the product is so very important for food manufacturers.  Example - most shoppers would not consider milk a processed food at all, even though all milk is pasteurized ( a Major processing step). Same goes with all canned goods.

So which ice cream is better? Which one is healthier? Well that entirely depends on your definition of "healthy". If your looking for low-fat, low-cal ice cream, the Parlour wins at 110 calories and 3.5 g of fat per 1/2 cup. If you're looking for fewer artificial additives and ingredients, Real Dairy is for you, with only 11 ingredients. 

All in all, it really depends on what the consumer wants. Are you buying a product or buying into a product? Think about that the next time you're browsing grocery store aisles.



Saturday, December 10, 2011

A spicy sweetness

Well it's Saturday night and I have officially surrendered to the thought of staying in tonight.  And since I now have a whole whack of free time, I figured I may as well attempt to bake something seeing as it is the holidays and all.  I say attempt because I am actually not a baker. In fact, most things I bake end up being huge fails...It is hard for me to accept that baking (unlike cooking) is not as flexible in the ingredient/recipe department...meaning the "pinch of this, little of that, dash of this" philosophy does Not fly. Luckily, my mother is a cooking queen and she gave me these idiot-proof recipes with Very clear instructions. The first thing I made was Spicy Pecans - these are awesome for the holidays, and perfect if you want to give a home-made gift (as the receiver has probably already gotten 10 boxes of cookies). 

3 cups   pecan halves
¼ cup   packed light brown sugar
2 tsp     salt
1 tsp     cayenne pepper
1 tsp     paprika
¾ tsp    ground ginger
¼ cup   pure maple syrup
1 tbsp   water
2 tsp     vegetable oil
½ tsp    finely grated orange zest
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Spread pecan halves in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet, ungreased. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.
  3. In a bowl, mix together sugar, salt, cayenne, paprika and ginger. Set aside.
  4. In a saucepan, combine syrup, water, oil, and orange zest.  Bring to a boil over low-medium heat without stirring. Add toasted nuts. Reduce heat to low and stir with a wooden spoon for 2-4 minutes or until nuts are completely coated and liquid is absorbed.
  5. Immediately transfer pecans to bowl containing reserved spice mixture and toss until evenly coated.  Spread onto a baking sheet and let cool completely  Transfer to an airtight container, adding any spice mixture that may remain on the baking sheet. 
You CAN change up the quantities of cayenne and ginger, and even add more depending on how spicy you would like your nuts (hehe).  These nuts keep for up to 1 month in a well-sealed container at room temperature.

Next I attempted a Cranberry and Pistachio Shortbread cookie, found in Chatelaine magazine. I am obsessed with shortbread cookies but I think the cranberries and pistachios give an extra flavour so they don't taste like your eating pure butter (which is still awesome, I know). I've attached photos of some of  the steps in this recipe.
Dried cranberries and coarsely chopped pistachios
"Creaming" the butter. Aka mixing the butter with the icing sugar, whilst developing huge bicep muscles.
Add in cranberries and pistachios. More stirring (owww my arm)
Transfer to cooling rack and lightly dust with icing sugar. Ta-da!
These are soooo good! I've already put half the batch in the freezer so they don't get devoured before I get a chance to give them out as gifts.  I know mine don't look exactly like the picture (I was going for a more "authentic" look instead of the flat, round typical cookie...) but meh, it was my first try.

Time for a (few) taste test's and off to bed. 


Not your average Kiwi

TGIF!! ....Not that it really matter's to me since I am both unemployed and home from school for the semester -Booya! Either way, last night myself and some lovely ladies decided to dine at a King street hotspot, the King West Kitchen, also called the "KiWi".  This place had a great ambiance - it was intimate and classy, without the white tablecloth posh feel. And our bartender was amazing! There was no drink menu (only a wine list) but he made sure to accommodate every one's needs. Note: If you have a sweet tooth, ask for the raspberry martini.  For this location (King and Bathurst), I thought the price point was very reasonable (read: an $8 salad exists), and the food was great for a simple, fresh-tasting meal. 
Goat cheese, figs, red pepper and bean salad ($12)
This was my order, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm definitely going to re-use this recipe at home.

Pan seared sea bass, fingerling potato salad ($18)
Bass was tasty, but the portion size was kind of weak for an entree.

Capellini, sautéed shrimp in pesto sauce ($16)
These shrimp were delish.

Pizza with salami, olives, peppers, mozzarella ($14)
The picture should say it all.....

Kiwi burger with cambozola and BBQ sauce, side frites (#10)
Burger was a bit dry, but the fries were amazing. I know it would be hard for a restaurant to screw up fried potatoes but these were spiced really well, and didn't have that greasy food taste.

Overall, a good place in a great location. I think I'll be back again, maybe only for drinks and some light app's though. And likely in the summer so I can put their spacious patio to use!



Friday, December 9, 2011

Home sweet home (and more importantly, well-stocked fridge)

Home for the holidays! Hoorah! That means a bigger kitchen and a fuller fridge. I decided to make dinner for the rents last night and here's what was on the menu:

The chicken was a recipe from the wonderful Ina Garten, in her book How Easy Is That? It's called Jeffrey's Roast Chicken, and is super great if you don't have a lot of prep time. I've linked the recipe, but basically you stuff the chicken cavity with lemon and garlic (and I added a few sprigs of rosemary), then roast the chicken on a bed of lemons and onions. After roasting for about an hour and 15 minutes, remove the chicken from the pan and cover with aluminium foil (called "tenting" the chicken) for 10 minutes on another platter. Here's the best part - you thentake the roasted onions/lemons and place it on the stove over med-high heat, adding dry white wine, chicken stock, and 1 tbsp all purpose flour. This makes a thick and flavourful sauce to drizzle all over the chicken in once its been carved. Mmmmmmm........

Jeffrey's Roast Chicken
For the beans, I used a Rose Reisman recipe that was actually for asparagus, but we didn't have any asparagus so I made due. I steamed the beans, and then poured a mix of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and a tiny bit of mayo and garnished with toasted pine nuts and parsley. 

Green beans with Tahini and Pine Nuts

I made a salad with arugula and raddichio, and added slivered almonds, crumbled goat cheese and half a peeled pear. For the dressing I mixed red wine vinegar, minced garlic, and a few sprigs of thyme. Careful with red wine vinegar, only a little bit gives a LOT of taste!
Arugula with Goat Cheese and Pear
I also made a side of rice, and everything turned out pretty great. One thing I would note is the chicken recipe calls for 2 whole lemons for a 4-5 lb chicken. Since this one was only about 3 lb.'s, I think the lemon flavour may have been a biiiiiit too much - but definitely still delicious!

Bon appetite!


Thursday, December 8, 2011


Hi from Alicia (that's me) and welcome to my blog! Here you'll find an assortment of food-related info, recipes, reviews, and probably a lot of random facts that I just find plain interesting (thank you, inner science dork). 

I've always had a passion for all things food, likely stemming from my italian heritage. Growing up, food was an intimate part of our family - weekday dinners, birthday celebrations, sunday brunches, or a backyard barbecue, there was ALWAYS something to make or something to eat at my house. Over the years, my passion for eating has (thankfully) also developed into a keen interest as well. What are we eating? Where does it come from? How do I make it? What is it doing to my body? I ask these questions virtually every time I have a meal...but don't freak out! I'm not a crazy health nut/diet fad follower...

My beliefs lie in eating good, home-cooked food and using meal times as a way to bring family and friends closer together. I hope I can share some of my love of food with you as well!

Happy eating!

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