Category Archives: Main Dishes

Cheesy Stuffed Poblanos

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For eons, people have been stuffing vegetables – with rice and other grains, beans, meats, cheeses. Think of eggplant stuffed with spiced lamb and pine nuts, pale green zucchini stuffed with ground beef and rice and cooked in a yogurt or tomato sauce, mushrooms stuffed with bread crumbs and cheese, squash stuffed with quinoa and feta. It’s a traditional and creative way to liven up a vegetable, make it the star attraction, in fact, and to pack more nutrition into your meal.

Peppers are a natural for stuffing because they’re hollow, and in Mexico, chiles rellenos – poblano peppers filled with cheese, dipped in an egg batter, and fried – are a favourite food. America’s Test Kitchen The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook played with that idea by first microwaving the peppers for a couple of minutes to make them more pliable, then stuffing them with mashed pinto beans, corn, garlic, onion, spices and cheese, and roasting them in the oven. I don’t have a microwave so I steamed them for about a minute to soften before proceeding with the recipe.

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Macaroni and Beef Casserole

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Pick up a food magazine, check the Internet, or tune into your television and you’ll notice that the conversation around food these days is quite sophisticated – it’s all about cooking like the pros and how-to videos, organics and heritage crops, locally-grown and artisanal foods, and sustainable, small-scale farming. Ingredients that were once exotic are now everyday, there’s nothing the home cook can’t do. So a dish that harkens back to the 1950s and ’60s and calls to mind something Betty Draper might have taken to a neighbourhood pot luck in Mad Men, had she been friendlier, might strike you as passé.

But you’d be wrong if you thought this Macaroni and Beef Casserole, developed by French chef Pierre Franey in 1991 for the New York Times’ 60 Minute Gourmet column, and reprinted here, falls into that category. Yes, it’s a casserole, and yes, it calls for ground beef, but it is, in actual fact, a timeless tomato-meat sauce with pasta smothered in a creamy, cheesy béchamel. Think of it as lasagna bolognese arranged differently, or mac ‘n cheese with meat; all the component parts are there.

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Eggs in Pipérade

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My Dad was never much of a cook, but in his later years he started making Chinese stir-fries. Shrimp stir-fry was his signature dish, worthy of special family dinners. This was good; it gave my mother a break from the kitchen and it gave him a new interest in his retirement.

Another dish my Dad knew his way around, because he was practically raised on it as a boy in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was fried potatoes and bologna, with sliced bread and molasses on the side. Good, honest food, I guess. Later, after most everyone stopped eating bologna, he would make his own lunches when he was home by emptying leftovers into a fry pan (hopefully there was potato!), giving it a sizzle, and then breaking an egg over the top.

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Cheese and Tomato Galette

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Wondering what to do with all those plump, juicy field tomatoes you hauled home from the market? Had enough toasted tomato sandwiches and made enough tomato sauce? Want a change from eating them sliced, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with feta?

Well, another way to savour this year’s crop of garden tomatoes is this cheese and tomato galette tweaked ever so slightly from Julia Child’s Baking with Julia. Cornmeal-crunchy dough is rolled out thin, then folded up and pleated around a filling of grated cheeses, shredded fresh basil, and thinly sliced tomatoes. The galette is baked in a hot oven until the crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling, and it looks like a flat, rustic pizza.

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Watermelon Gazpacho

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Most of us can remember eating watermelon as kids – at picnics and barbecues and on waterfront docks. It was cold and sweet, a rite of summer. It didn’t matter if the juice dripped down our chins, all over our arms and onto our shirts, it was fun to eat and no one minded the mess.

Fast forward to the other day when I visited my friend Amanda at her home in the woods bordering Gatineau Park, just across the river in Quebec. A great cook, she served me a delicious lunch in her screened-in porch that started with a bright, refreshing watermelon gazpacho, a Lucy Waverman recipe published in Food and Drink magazine.  Yes, there are more refined ways of reliving this childhood memory.

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Cold Cucumber Soup

 

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It’s scorching in Ottawa this week. Temperatures in the 30s, lots of humidity, no breeze. Walking to the store in the middle of the afternoon, I am blasted by the heat shimmering off the sidewalk. It’s mid-summer, after all. This is how it should be.

Personally I like it. If you get the weeding and the errands done early, you can spend the hot hours reading in a cool room. Or you can take in a late afternoon movie with friends followed by dinner out, all in air-conditioned comfort, returning home in time to water the garden in the cool of the evening. Bedtime, you open the windows and put on a fan.

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Gourmet Magazine and Eggplant Parmigiana Rounds

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I have a fairly large collection of old Gourmet magazines, 85 issues altogether dating back to March 1980.  I keep them stored in cardboard IKEA magazine holders in a closet along with our snowshoes and boxes of Christmas decorations. They’re getting musty, but like so many others in the world who have kept their Gourmets since the magazine folded in 2009, I can’t let them go. They’re historical artifacts. I forget about them most of the time, but when my mother came across an old issue on her bookshelf the other day, and passed it along, it started me on a trip down Gourmet memory lane.

I’m not the first to say that Gourmet was the New Yorker of food magazines, especially in its earlier years, a monthly buffet of thoughtful food writing, travelogues, wine and restaurant reviews, beautiful photography, and recipes. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, amid the sumptuous spreads for meals with themes (Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, Passover Desserts, a Poolside Lobster Buffet), and the travel pieces (Scottish Highland Inns, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Crossing into Chile’s Lake District), you’d find pages and pages of unbroken type which you might think would be heavy slogging if you weren’t interested in the New York or California restaurant scenes, visiting Heidelberg or cooking Turkish food. But Gourmet was loved and cherished, miles ahead of any other food magazine, offering a glimpse into another world, a taste of the good life.

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Leek and Mushroom Quiche

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When my Mom goes out for lunch, nothing makes her happier than to have quiche, slightly warmed with a bit of salad on the side. She has a point: quiche done well, with a crisp yet tender, flaky crust and a creamy custard filling, is a wonderful thing.

This recipe, part Julia Child and part Martha Stewart, all revised by Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen and then tweaked again by me (things do get recycled!) is classic. Leeks are braised with water, butter and salt until they’re soft and sweet, and the mushrooms are sautéed in butter with a splash of port until slightly caramelized. Once cooled, the vegetables are added to the egg-and-milk custard and poured into a baked pastry shell. Swiss or Gruyère cheese is sprinkled on top and into the oven it goes.

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Buvette Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

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I was thinking the other day how much I love meatballs. Swedish meatballs in gravy served over egg noodles with lingonberry preserves. Middle Eastern meatballs of lamb, cumin and coriander, stuffed into a pita pocket with yogurt and cucumbers. Greek meatballs with feta, mint and lemon. Or regular Italian meatballs in tomato sauce, served over pasta with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can take meatballs in so many directions.

Then along came Buvette, a beautiful first cookbook by Jody Williams, who owns and operates a gastrotheque by the same name in New York City’s West Village, a place she describes as a neighbourhood bar “with thoughtful food.” Her recipe for Italian meatballs in tomato sauce came from the grandmother of an unnamed “talented actor from the Sopranos” who was proud and happy to share.  Indeed, these meatballs are outstanding, a little time consuming to make but worth every minute you spend at the stove. And, as Williams points out, they freeze well in their sauce. If you take this route, you will thank yourself one day when a decent supper needs to be served and you just don’t have time.

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Maple Mustard Grilled Salmon

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Many are the times I’ve wracked my brain for something quick and easy to make for dinner, and this salmon recipe has often sprung to mind. It’s tweaked only slightly from Chef Michael Smith,  FoodTV host, cookbook author, and “official food ambassador for Prince Edward Island.” (Watch the Food Network and you can’t miss him.)  I’ve made it a million times.

The recipe is simple to prepare, doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, and lends itself to innovation; dress it up with a pinch of curry or chili powder, or take it in an entirely different direction with some chopped parsley and dill. Substitute honey for the maple syrup, marinate for the allotted time or skip this step altogether, grill it on the barbecue or pop it into a hot oven.

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