Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Here fishy fishy...

I grew up in an Eastern European household. Both of my parents cooked peasant food. My mother immigrated to Canada when she was a child, so she also cooks common North American food (mmm...deep fried chicken). My father grew up on a farm in Yugoslavia. So he normally cooked very hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meals.

My favourite was his polenta. My father would get a chunk of uncut bacon from our butcher. He would chop the bacon and cook it in a cast iron skillet. While the bacon cooked, he would make polenta. To the polenta, he would add the cooked bacon, and a handful (or two) of crumbled feta cheese. He would mix this until combined and season to taste with salt and pepper. Then the polenta mixture was poured into the cast iron skillet (with the bacon fat goodness). He would then bake it until golden brown. He always served it by the slice (like a pie) with a dollop of sour cream. I know my quick and dirty description does not do this meal justice. I will say this, if I had to choose a meal to have as my last dinner, this would be it. Hands. Down. No second thoughts. It is THAT good.

Unfortunately, my parents also cooked food that was unappetizing to my brother and I, like head cheese, cow tongue, and brain. They also fried a lot of fish. And I HATED the smell. I don't know what they did to make the fried fish smell the way it did! I don't know if it was the type of fish (fresh perch and cat fish), the batter, the type of oil, or all of the above. When my parents fried fish I would shut myself in my room, stuff towels under my door, and open my window (even if it was -30 degrees Celsius outside). It was THAT bad of a smell. I swore off fish until 2004 when I was forced to eat at Joe's Crab Shack. I decided to stop being irrational and give fish a chance. I had a peanut crusted Mahi Mahi. My first bite was a hallelujah moment. Fish actually tasted good, and more importantly, it didn't smell!

Italian Fish and Veggie Pockets

Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis


1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, stemmed
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 orange bell pepper, sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 (4-ounce) trout fillets, skinned (or other fish about 1/2-inch thick)
8 thin slices lemon
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl mix together the lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Lay out the 4 sheets of aluminum foil. Place 1/4 of the sugar snap peas, 1/4 of the yellow bell peppers, and 1/4 of the orange bell peppers on each sheet of foil. Over each pile of vegetables drizzle 2 tablespoons of white wine, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and gently toss.

Top each pile of seasoned vegetables with a piece of fish. Sprinkle the fish with some of the reserved lemon zest mixture. Top each fish with 2 slices of lemon.

Fold up the foil into an air-tight packet. Place the foil packets in the oven and bake for 15 to 18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Sprinkle the fish with mint just before serving.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Gnocchi + spinach + pine nuts + brown butter sauce = delicious

The first time I tried Gnocchi was in 2005 at Pasta Plus* in Laurel, Maryland. Dan and I went out to dinner with his mom, dad, sister, and her husband. I think it was the first time I met Dan's Mom and Dad.

So this meal predates my (un?)healthy obsession with all things food. I was living in a studio apartment. My kitchen, if you could call it that, had one foot of counter space. Barely any cupboard space. The fridge sort of blocked the doorway, so you had to enter sideways. The fridge door opened into the hallway. The oven door, when pulled open, came within one inch of hitting the wall. So ya, my "kitchen" was small. Very small. It made cooking a hassle. And if you know me, I hate hassles.

So back to dinner at Pasta Plus. I read over the menu and thought the Gnocchi Verde sounded good, only I didn't know what Gnocchi was. I asked our waitress and I remember she described them as potato dumplings, like little potato pillows. I was sold. My dish came and I fell in love immediately.

Four years later my love for Gnocchi has not wavered. I'm now living in Endicott, NY, where we have quite a few excellent Italian places who all have great Gnocchi dishes. When I cook it at home I use the vacuum packed Gnocchi. It's as fresh as your going to get without making your own. Which is something I've been meaning to do, but haven't had time. I think it looks like fun, and I really like the idea of having freshly made Gnocchi at home.

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts
Adpated from


16oz package vacuum-packed gnocchi
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
10oz package fresh baby spinach
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 oz finely shredded Parmesan cheese


Cook gnocchi according to package directions; drain.

Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts to pan; cook 3 minutes or until butter and nuts are lightly browned, stirring constantly. Add garlic to pan; cook 1 minute. Add gnocchi and spinach to pan; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts, stirring constantly. Stir in salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Side note: If you ever find yourseful in Laurel, MD, I highly recommened Pasta Plus. The food is bloody amazing!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Apples apples everywhere

It's mid-winter, it's mostly been cold, real cold. The snow has melted so everything is grey and muddy. And worst of all, fresh in-season fruit is scarce, unless you want to pay $6.99 for a pint of berries! More and more I wish I was a bear, or even a squirrel - I want to hibernate for the rest of winter. If you believe Punxsutawney Phil, that little rodent bastard who is afraid of his own shadow, winter will not be over until around the second week of March. Four. More. Weeks.

Since I cannot hibernate, I've been making the best of it by eating comfort foods. Cooking meals that include widely available, relatively in-expensive, ingredients like lentils, apples, and squash will make you and your bank account happy. The other night I made this recipe, and paired it with a mash of butternut squash and apples. This meal made me forget about my dreams of hibernation.

Apple Braised Chicken
Adapted from Weight Watchers


2 tsp vegetable oil
1 lbs uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 large onion, sliced
2 medium apple, firm, cored and sliced (I used Granny Smith)
1 cup apple cider
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cornstarch


In a large skillet, warm oil over medium-high heat. Toss chicken with flour in a medium bowl, patting off excess. Place chicken in skillet and brown well on both sides. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Reduce the temperature to low and add onion to skillet. Sauté, stirring often, until onion is tender and lightly browned.

Stir in apples, cider, chicken broth, salt, ginger and chicken. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Then transfer chicken, onions and apples to a serving dish.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 2 to 3 tablespoons of pan juices. Combine cornstarch mixture with remaining pan juices, whisking constantly. Simmer for one minute. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Mashed Butternut Squash and Apples
Adapted from Weight Watchers


20 oz butternut squash, fresh, peeled and cubed
2 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces*
1/2 cup apple cider
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper


Place squash, apples and cider in a shallow microwave-safe baking dish or container; sprinkle butter over top. Cover and microwave on high until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Mash until smooth, but chunky; stir in thyme, salt and pepper.

*You'll probably notice in the photo that I failed to peel the apples. This is what happens when you do not fully pay attention. Neither Dan or I noticed the skin. I think most of it was pushed to the bottom of the dish while I was mashing. So maybe this was a time saver? ;)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Banana Muffins with Tart Lemon Icing

In my office, we always celebrate everyone's birthday. We sometimes get take out, or people will bring food in to share. My birthday is in May and I am hoping they will get take out from Crepe Heaven!

This past Monday it was a double birthday. The baker in our office made her famous apple crisp (so delicious). Since quite a few folks in our office are trying to lose weight, I decided to make a healthful baked good so everyone could join. I scoured Cooking Light, Food Network, Weight Watchers and a few of my cookbooks for a recipe. I finally settled on Banana Muffins with Tart Lemon Icing. I love banana bread, lemons, and icing. So how bad could combining all those things into little packages be? They turned out to be better then I thought. The tart yet sweet icing was perfect. I would make it again and drizzle it over strawberries, or angle food cake, and use it to ice a banana loaf. Hell, I'd even eat it by the spoonfuls, it was that good!

Banana Muffins with Tart Lemon Icing
Adapted from Weight Watchers


1/2 cup sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 tsp Pure Vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup fat-free skim milk
4 large ripe bananas, mashed

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest, or more to taste
1 tsp Pure Vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 18 muffin holes with paper liners, or spray muffins holes with nonstick spray.

Place sugar and butter in a large bowl; cream with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat until thoroughly mixed.

In another large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add half of flour mixture to butter mixture; beat well with mixer. Add milk and remaining flour mixture; beat until batter is combined and then gently fold in mashed bananas.

Spoon batter into muffin holes/liners about 3/4 full. Bake until muffins start to brown and tooth pick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Allow muffins to cool in pan for about 2 minutes; remove to a wire rack and cool completely before icing.

Meanwhile, combine icing ingredients in a medium bowl; beat with an electric mixer until creamy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Ice cooled muffins; cover and refrigerate any uneaten muffins.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Lately I find myself craving comfort foods that my Mother used to make. So the other night when I couldn't decide what to make, I went back to one of my favourites - crêpes.

I was always my Mother's helper when she made crêpes. She used an 10" cast iron skillet that was perfectly seasoned. The first crêpe she made was usually a bust. She would adjust her temperature and I would snack on the malformed crêpe. One by one, her perfectly formed crêpes would be tossed on a plate for me to fill. We always filled the crêpes with either jam (strawberry, raspberry, grape), or sugar. Occasionally she would let me use Nutella. My mother always made sweet crêpes. I had never had a savory crêpe until last year. It was good, but I prefer sweet.

Crêpes are not difficult to make. They are made from a simple batter and cook quickly. You do not need a special crêpe pan - I use an 10" nonstick skillet with curved sides. You will need a spatula to flip. Or, if you are skilled enough, you can flip them using the pan and a flick of your wrist. I managed to do this on my third attempt (so proud). It's too risky though, so I will stick with using my spatula!



1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk (2% is best, but will work with skim)
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1/2 stick of butter, melted
3 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt


Combine all of the ingredients in a blender. You will want to blend until the batter is smooth (scrape down the sides if necessary). Place the batter in refrigerator for 1 hour (this allows the batter to set).

Heat 10" nonstick skillet over medium heat. Either spray the pan with cooking spray, or add some butter to the pan. Once the pan is hot (the spray, or butter should not be smoking) remove the pan from heat, and pour 1/4 cup of the batter onto the pan. You'll want to quickly tilt/rotate the pan so that the batter spreads evenly over the bottom, then return it to the heat. Cook until the crêpe bubbles and the underside is lightly browned. Gently flip the crêpes using your spatula. Cook until second side is lightly browned (not even 30 seconds). Slide crêpe off onto pan. Repeat until batter is gone.

To fill the crêpes, spread (or sprinkle if you're using sugar) 1-2tbsp of your chosen filling onto the crêpe and roll. You can also make a cake by spreading each crêpe with a thin layer of jam, and then layering them. Sprinkle with sugar to finish.

Side note: If you live in the Binghamton area you have to visit Crêpe Heaven in Johnson City. The food is simple, fresh, made from scratch, affordable and pretty damn tasty. The coffee is also rocking, they even serve Turkish Coffee. The owner is always there and is super friendly. So please, go eat there. You will not be disappointed!

Sunday, February 8, 2009


Some like to call it the other white meat. I call it delicious. No matter what the cut, you can never go wrong. Over the years pork has developed a bad rap for being unhealthy. It's actually much leaner then beef. Some pork cuts, like the tenderloin, are as lean as a chicken breast. Plus, any excess fat is on the peripheral and can be trimmed off (or left on if you want extra flavour). The National Pork Board's website The Other White Meat is very informative and includes some top notch recipes.

Pork chops + fresh sage + Parmesan cheese + Bread crumbs = A very happy Tacha.

Parmesan and Sage-Crusted Pork Chops
Adapated from


1 (1 1/4-ounce) slice white bread, torn into pieces
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 large egg whites
4 (4-ounce) boneless thin-cut pork loin chops, trimmed
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil


Place bread in a food processor; pulse bread 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure about 1 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, cheese, sage, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place flour in another shallow dish. Combine mustard and egg whites in another shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.

Working with one pork chop at a time, dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Dip pork into egg white mixture, allowing excess to drip off. Coat pork completely with breadcrumb mixture. Set aside. Repeat procedure with remaining pork, flour, egg white mixture, and breadcrumb mixture.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add pork; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned and done.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Lentils are one of my favourite foods. I always got excited when my Mother was making lentil soup for dinner. She always used green lentils and served it with a side of olives and feta cheese. I always crumbled the feta over my soup. I loved the little extra bit of saltiness the feta would add. Perfection. I still do this today, except now I have a glass of wine too.

Another fond lentil memory, was Mrs. Knispel's lentil soup. Ethel was my babysitter when I started kindergarten until...not really until when! Anyways, she made her soup with red lentils and a lot of vegetables. It was much different in flavor and texture from my Mothers. I don't remember enough to recreate the recipe. If I did, it would be pretty damn amazing since I haven't had it in at least 20 years! Maybe her daughter is on Facebook...I bet she has it...

Lately I've been craving my Mother's recipe. Unfortunately, I'm trying to shed a few pounds, so I can't really use her recipe. I did find a lighter version in Cooking Light (LOVE that magazine). I made it this week. While it's not my Mother's recipe, it's as close as I'm going to get!

Anthos Lentil Soup
Adapted from Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2008


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups cubed peeled baking potato (about 8 ounces)
1 cup finely chopped carrot (about 2 medium)
1 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup finely chopped parsnip
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
6 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup brown lentils
2 bay leaves1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Note: This recipe initially happens quickly. I suggest following the practice of mise en place. I normally half ass do this. But in this case, it's necessary.

Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add potato, carrot, celery, parsnip, and shallots to pan; sauté for 7 minutes or until tender.

Add sherry vinegar to pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add chicken broth, lentils, and bay leaves to pan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes or until lentils are tender. Discard bay leaves.

Transfer half of lentil mixture to a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth, scraping sides. Return lentil mixture to pan; stir in pepper and salt.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Baby shower snacks

So this weekend we attended a surprise baby shower for friends of ours. We signed up to bring beer and nuts. I know beer and nuts are sort of random for a baby shower, but they were on the Evite list of items to bring. Randomness aside, this presented an opportunity to attempt to recreate some peanuts I had a few years ago. A friend of mine brought peanuts to a New Years Eve party. The peanuts were not your run of the mill peanuts. They were sweet. They were spicy. They were perfect. I decided make my own version for the baby shower. Instead of using peanuts, I chose to use mixed nuts (peanuts are boring, plus I really like Brazil nuts!).

Sweet & Spicy Nuts


12oz Deluxe Mixed Nuts
1 - 2 tbsp Honey (add a tbsp and toss, if you need more, add more)
2 tsp cracked Red Peppercorns*


Add nuts to medium non-stick pan. Cook over medium-high heat. Once the nuts are lightly toasted, add the honey and red pepper to nuts. Toss repeatedly to cook. Remove from heat when honey starts bubble rapidly.

Spread the nut mixture over a parchment paper lined baking sheet to cool. Once cool, break up nuts (they stick together a little) and serve.

*To ensure the nuts would be appealing to everyone I used red peppercorns instead of cayenne. Next time I'll use cayenne or chili powder. I really felt they needed a little more heat.

I also made a recipe from Weight Watchers that I downloaded awhile back called Teriyaki Snack mix. Since the name includes the sauce you would expect the finished product to have some semblance to teriyaki - it doesn't. I was disappointed by this recipe. So I've changed it - my edited version is below. I want to try making it again this weekend with my adjustments. I'll let you know if it improves, or if this recipe is just a write off.

Teriyaki Snack Mix
Adapted from WeightWatchers


2 cup(s) General Mills Multi-Bran Chex, or similar product
1 cup(s) unsalted soybean nuts
1 cup(s) ready-to-eat puffed rice cereal
1/2 cup(s) slivered almonds
3 tbsp teriyaki sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sesame oil
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp wasabi powder


Preheat oven to 375ºF. While the oven heats up, combine Chex, soybean nuts, puffed rice and almonds in a large bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

Pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients and toss to coat; spread on a large baking sheet. Bake, stirring after 5 minutes, until lightly brown and crispy, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool.

I had a lot of fun photographing the step by step photos. I'll be adding more to my Flickr site tomorrow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dinner last Monday

Every month I print a blank calendar from iCal. Every week I page through my cook books, food magazines, loose recipes, and decide what I will cook for dinner each night. I note the name of the recipe, where it is from (what mag., book, etc.), and the page number. I post calendar on the refrigerator. We do not have a lot of cupboard space, or a pantry. So it's hard for me to keep a lot of items on hand. I always have the basics. But I can't always guarantee I'll have 1 15.5oz can of Garbanzo beans, or a can of Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. By making the menu each week, I buy what I need for the week and never have the "crap, I didn't realize I was all out of...." moments. Plus, it's nice to know what yummy food we have to look forward to each night (my husband likes the menu for this reason).

Last Monday I made Shrimp and Broccoli Fried Rice with Toasted Almonds from Cooking Lights Jan/Feb 2009 issue.

This recipe has great flavor, plus it is super quick to throw together during the week. The sauce that coats everything has a really nice salty, yet slightly sweet flavor. I loved the crunch of the almonds. The recipe calls for sticking the rice in the freezer. I did this, but in the future will skip the step. I honestly don't think it really did anything.

Shrimp and Broccoli Fried Rice with Toasted Almonds
From Cooking Light Jan/Feb 2009 Issue


1 3/4 cups water, divided
1 1/2 cups instant white rice (such as Minute Rice)
4 cups broccoli florets
1 large red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 tablespoons roasted peanut oil, divided
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped green onions


1. Place 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Add rice to pan; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Spoon rice into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish; place dish in freezer.

2. Combine broccoli, bell pepper, and the remaining 1/4 cup water in a microwave-safe dish. Microwave at HIGH 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Set aside.

3. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic to pan; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.

4. Increase heat to medium-high. Add shrimp to pan; cook 4 minutes or until shrimp are done. Remove shrimp mixture from pan. Remove rice from freezer.

5. Heat remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add rice to pan; cook 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Combine broth, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Stir broth mixture into rice. Add shrimp mixture and broccoli mixture to pan; cook 1 1/2 minutes or until sauce thickens. Sprinkle with almonds and onions.