Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka

moussaka-4Today it’s raining, so today is a great day for us to get real about, of all things, Moussaka.

Moo-saka, as most would say, or Moo-ss-ah-kah, as the Greek people pronounce it, is comfort food at its simplest, finest, and tastiest. This is a casserole dish my husband will unabashedly ask for a third helping of. It is that good. Oh, yes it is.

Traditionally this classic casserole is made with eggplant, but since only one of us likes eggplant, I have taken to making substitutions for him. I love him that much. Oh, yes I do. My version swaps out the eggplant for strips of zucchini and roasted red peppers.

I have been in Greek restaurants in a few parts of Canada that serve this dish with thicker generous layers, and whipped potatoes on top, but I don’t feel any of that’s right. This is a peasant’s dish, therefore it should be kept it as simple and bare bones as possible, and layered with Bechamel sauce up on top just like the Greek peasants did it when it was first invented. This is a great dish for the Spring/Summer time when you don’t want to eat a lot but you do want to eat well. This will do the trick. Every time.

Give this one a whirl, and if you are from different regions near Greece, feel free to add something that is familiar to you in place of the eggplant and let me know how that turns out. Here is the basic recipe I use.

Auntie Stacey’s Moussaka:
2 Zucchinis – sliced lengthwise 1/4″ thick
Salt – sprinkle over both sides of the zucchini slices, set aside for 10 minutes
Black Pepper – freshly cracked
10 oz Roasted Red Peppers – sop up excess brine with paper towels

1 Tbsp Oil
3 Cloves Garlic – minced (or whole if you only want to flavour the oil)
1/2 Yellow Onion, chopped finely
1/2 Lbs Ground Lamb (or veal, beef, or pork , or a combination of a few)
8 oz Tomato Puree
1/4 C White Wine
1/2 Tea Dry Basil
1 Tea Oregano
Small Bay Leaf
S&P – roughly 1/2 Tea each

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 C Milk
S&P – small pinches
1/4 Tea Nutmeg – grated (optional)

1/4 C Cheese – grated (I used Parmesan)
1/8 C Breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500 degrees while heating up a large skillet. When the skillet is hot enough, add 1 Tbsp of oil to warm up. Add the garlic to the pan (I drop the cloves in and heat them up for about a minute or so to flavour the oil, then I discard them), and after a minute I add the chopped onion. Cook the onion until they are translucent and smell fragrant.

Add the meat to the pan and start to break it up into small grinds while tilling it over in the pan for about 5 minutes. Wash and dry the zucchini at this point and start slicing it up lengthwise into one quarter inch pieces. The idea is to have them cover the whole bottom of the baking dish in the assembly stage of this casserole.

When the meat is browned all over, add the tomato puree and white wine. Stir to incorporate it all with the meat before adding the seasonings. Cook another two minutes and remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and let it rest while broiling the zucchini slices.

Wide Zuke StripsPlace the slices on a lined baking sheet and broil each side of the slices about 3-5 minutes. Set them aside once wilted and browned enough to cook a bit while bringing the oven down to 350 degrees.Bechamel SauceIn a small sauce pan, heat up the milk and butter to start the Bechamel sauce. Once the butter is melted completely, add the flour and seasonings and stir constantly until it comes together in a thick white sauce. Remove from the heat immediately at this point to rest a minute or two while assembling the layers casserole like so:

Layer 1: Zucchini slices
Layer 2: Roasted Red peppers
Layer 3: Meat mixture
Layer 4: Bechamel sauce
Layer 5: Breadcrumbs
Layer 6: Parmesan cheese – ground or very fine grate

Bottom Two Layers Meat Sauce Middle Layer Bechamel Middle Layer Top Two LayersMoussaka-3aOnce assembled, bake for 30 minutes uncovered. Let it rest 5 minutes before serving with a lovely side salad and small hunks of bread with some heated up oil on the side. Or let it cool down as much as it will in a holding time of no more than 30 minutes before storing it the freezer for the future.

Finito[ This two container batch is for my MIL who is 87, a diabetic, never eaten Greek food in her life, and is suspicious of anything she’s never heard of before hence labelling them as Greek lasagnas. It’s a close cousin of Italian lasagna, but without the pasta layers. ]

Note: I often grind meat in my food processor or Magic Bullet if I have a great piece of meat already on hand at home to use up, or I cannot find any good already ground meat I’m after at the grocery store. I cut the meat of choice up into 1 inch cubes, and I process them in a few small batches.grindingmeat

Korean Beef & Noodles

Korean_Beef_Udon_Noodles_001

[ Placeholder picture from “You Gotta Eat Here!” until I get a chance to snap my own. ]

Following the same theme as the last post about watching “YGEH!” and foods features in some of their segments, here is my version of their Korean Beef & Noodles that I made for the husband and myself the other night. I forgot the sugar, and it was sorely missed. The sauce is too acidic without it for my liking. Though, having said that, I’m not a fan of sugar in savoury sauces, so I will probably scale the sugar back to 1 – 2 tablespoons when I make this again. And I will make this again. It’s fast, it’s cheap and it’s easy. This is exactly the kind of dish I love to make after a long day at work, and dinner needs to hit the table in under 40 minutes. (I let meat rest for 30 mins to come up to room temperature before I cook it.)

I think the meat cost me $2.50, the noodles were $1.25 a pack, and the rest of the ingredients added up to, maybe, $2.00? Again, dirt cheap to make. And fast. And packed with flavour. Feel free to add more vegetables if you like to bulk this dish out. I know that’s what I’m planning to do.

Korean Beef & Noodles:
Sauce
1 TBSP Garlic, minced
1/2 T Ginger, fresh (I used 1/4 T ground)
1/4 C Brown Sugar (I’ll use 1-2 TBSP max)
1/4 C Soy Sauce
3-4 TBSP Sesame Oil
1/4 T Red Chili Flakes

2 TBSP Oil (any nut based oil will work fine)
1/2 C Beef, cut into strips
1 Portabello Mushroom, sliced
1 Carrot, grated
2 Green Onions, rough chopped
S & P
1 Pkg Udon Noodles
Sesame Seeds

1. Mince the garlic and chop or grate the ginger. Place in a large bowl. Over that, pour the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil and red pepper flakes. Whisk up and set aside.

2. Heat up a pan, and then add the nut based oil to it. When the oil is hot enough, drop in the beef and Portobello slices, and ladle about 1 cup of the sauce over top. Toss and stir to coat the sauce over everything in the pan, and then let everything cook long enough to brown the meat and slightly soften the mushroom. (About 3 minutes.)

3. Add the uncooked udon noodles to the pan, along with the salt + pepper. Stir to coat the noodles before grating the carrot over the pan and adding the rest of the sauce. Cook this all together over med-high heat for another 3 minutes or so (the noodles don’t take long to heat through, so take care not to burn the sticky sauce by leaving them in the pan too long).

4. Plate the mixture into serving dishes, and top each serving with the green onions and sprinkles of sesame seeds.

Cabbage Meatball Stew

Presenting, my variation on the Foodland Ontario’s original cabbage meatball recipe that came out about four years or more ago. It was an instant hit with DH, who isn’t into soups or stews in the least. But, something about the ingredients I mixed together and my straining of the broth before serving intrigued him enough to at least try it. And once he did, he declared it “awesome!” (That’s high praise indeed from a man whose only rating of meals ranges from, “it’s ok,” to “it doesn’t suck.”) As you can tell, I have a harsh food critic at my table every night. Heh.

Ingredients:
3 C Broth (of your choice – I use chicken because I use turkey meatballs more often than not)
1 Bay leaf
2 C Onions, sliced
1 C Whole potatoes, undrained (I use a large can of diced tomatoes instead of potatoes – personal pref)
1 Tsp Dried thyme and dried oregano
1 Pinch Sugar
1 Pound meatball of your choosing, frozen or homemade (I have used frozen chicken, turkey and Angus beef)
1/2 C Dry pasta, uncooked (I tend to use penne, macaroni, bowtie, or any other small pasta I have on hand)
6 C Savoy or green cabbage, finey chopped [1 medium head] (I used half a bag of packaged coleslaw mix)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Boil enough water make your 3 C of broth in a large stock pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Toss in the bay leaf and onions and simmer in pot for five to ten minutes.
3. Add the whole can of diced tomatoes to the pot (liquid included), thyme, oregano, sugar and meatballs to the pot. Cook on medium heat for ten minutes, stirring occasionally, till everything starts to blend into each other.
4. Add the dry pasta and a few good handfuls of the packaged bag cabbage mixture to the pot, cover and lower heat to med-low to simmer for final 15 minutes.
5. Serve hot in bowls with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese over top if desired.

The Relationship Saver Chicken Burger

Dinged up your car today and are afraid to tell your spouse? Having marital discourse because you perhaps spent a wee too much money at the mall recently? Are you having a hard time getting your significant other to agree to visit your family more often? Struggling to convincing your loved one to clean up after his- or herself without resorting to nagging?

I’ve got just the thing to for you! Some might call this a Chick-Fil-A knock off, but really it’s more of a strife neutralizer if you think about it. You’ll understand after you’ve tried one.

Do it! You owe it to yourself, your stomach, and your relationship.

Auntie Stacey’s Relationship Saver Chicken Burger:
2 Skinless, boneless Chicken Breasts (sliced in half lengthwise to make 4 fillets)
1 – 1.5 C reserved Pickle Juice brine (straight from the jar)
6-8 large White Mushrooms (washed and sliced up)
2 whole slices of Red Onion (about 1/4″ thick, cut to half moons)
4 slices of Bacon (cut in half to make 8 pieces)
Jalapeno Lime Aioli
4 soft, crusty baker’s Buns
1/2 C shredded cheese (Monterey Jack is a great choice for this burger)

While bringing your meat up to room temperature, let is soak in a bowl filled with enough pickle juice to barely cover it. Let that stand on the counter for up to 30 minutes before you grill it.

In the meantime, heat a pan on the stove while you wash and slice up the mushrooms, and cut the onion slices. When the pan is hot enough, add about 1 teaspoon of oil and let that heat up before you fry your bacon slices. When they’re done, transfer them to a plate with paper towel to drain off the fat. Clean your pan and then toss in your mushrooms and onions together to saute and get a lovely brown colour to them.

Heat up your grilling pan or contact grill appliance. When it’s hot enough, add your chicken to cook for about five minutes. The meat should be thin enough after slicing in half that it won’t take much longer to cook it through. While waiting, remove the mushrooms and onion from the heat; set aside. Cut up the buns and shred your cheese.

After the chicken is done cooking, assemble your burgers and prepare to feast as you pound your hand on the table in ecstasy!

My husband likes to look around the table, toward the kitchen, toward me, and then pick up his plate to look under it, pick up the condiments to look under those, etc., and then look at me with puppy dog eyes as he asks where his second burger is the very second the last bite of his first chicken burger hits his stomach.

Yup… They’re that good.

You’re welcome. 🙂

Liquid Smoke

Liquid_smoke

After watching so many food shows where liquid smoke is talked up to the skies, we decided we were curious enough to try some cooking with it at home. We found this small bottle of Woodland’s Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke Flavour to do some testing with. It was on sale, so if it turns out for so weird reason we don’t like it, neither of us will mind giving it away or ditching it.

I found this thread of what others have used liquid smoke with and for. I’ll summarize the list for you so you don’t have to bore yourself reading all of the replies and comments.

Typical & Atypical Liquid Smoke Applications:
– In Crock Pots and oven pans for very long meat cook cycles
– In overnight brines mixtures
– A few drops added to mayonaise to make a smoky dip
– Steam covered chicken on a rack in a pot over water with liquid smoke
– Diluted in a mist bottle, sprayed lightly over meats and other foods
– Misted over ice cream, chocolate and fruits – possible uses
– Added to BBQ sauces, of course
– Brushed over meat before being dried out into jerky
– Added to pots of stovetop chili and baked beans
– A dash or two added to eggs
– Bread and pizza doughs to simulate wood stove baking taste
– Salmon curing (if you’re into lox)
– Brushed over briskets, wrapped and chilled overnight
– Misted or lightly brused over seafoods and fish
– A few drops in your best BBQ’d corn salads
– Braised ribs
– Various marinades and sauces used to dip food in
– Coated over Kosher salt, then dried out in the oven for use over many dishes

That list is by no means complete, but it’s a fairly hefty range of ideas for us, and for you, to use to get our smoke on, so go forth and enjoy. And then come back here and share the details of what you used it with and how it tasted with the whole class. 🙂

As for us, I took out two very thick steak chops and a long but skinny pork loin I want to butterfly and layout some fantastic filling ingredients on before I roll it up, truss it, and slow cook it till the meat melts in our mouths.

{drooling}

Pictures and recipes beyond pulled pork are sure to follow very soon!

Auntie Stacey’s Butter Chicken

ButterChicken-PanOne of my favourite uses for boneless chicken is Butter Chicken. If done right, this dish can satisfy, comfort, inspire, delight and sting. It’s magical. Truly.

The secret to a dish like this is making it spicy and creamy enough to stand up to the fragrant nutty smelling jasmine rice it’s going to sit upon. When butter chicken and jasmine rice meet, my body and soul are nourished in a way I can’t quite describe.

It’s…

Magical.

So, for people who have never tried butter chicken (criminal!!), this is my version. Give it a go! 🙂

Auntie Stacey’s Butter Chicken: (Yields 8-10 servings)

JASMINE RICE:
1/2 C (per person) Jasmine rice
1/2 C Water (per portion per person) water
1/4 C Water (additional)

Place the jasmine rice in your cooking pot and run water over top up to three times to remove as much of the starch as possible (optional – sometimes I don’t even bother because I like starchy rice). With your hand, swish the rice around till the water goes cloudy, then drain it. Repeat this step two more times  before measuring out your cooking water.

With the rice and cooking water in the pot, heat the pot till the water starts to gently boil. At that point, drop the heat down to the lowest setting, lid the rice pot and set the timer for 15 minutes.

After the timer goes off, lift the lid and place a small wash cloth the opening of the pot and then replace the lid before moving the rice off the burner. Set the timer for a final five minutes. The cloth is used to absorb most of the remaining moisture so the rice doesn’t remain mushy, but rather finishes in an almost dry and fluffy state.

If the rice finishes before the butter chicken is made, it can stay in the pot off the burner till it’s needed for plating.

BUTTER CHICKEN:
20 oz Boneless chicken
6 C Water
2 Tbsp Chicken stock powder

Dissolve the chicken stock powder in hot water in a large pot on the stove. Add the chicken when the water comes to a boil. Cook the chicken until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees. Remove the meat and set aside to cool until the meat no longer lets off a visible steam so you can cube it into bite sizes or pull it apart by hand or in a large mixer using the paddle attachment. (The chicken can be made up to two days prior if timing is too tight to make it all in on go.)

1/2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Vegetable oil
1/4 C Fine diced yellow onion

Heat up your pan, and when hot, add the oil. Heat the butter until it foams up and then add the oil and heat through until a drop of water crackles when it hits the fats. Add the onion and saute until it becomes translucent.

Note: I don’t like the stench of garlic on our breath, but if you like it, feel free to add some in the pan when you cook your onions. I would think one minced clove would do the trick.

14 oz Tomato puree
1/2 C Diced tomatoes (or stewed from a jar)
1/2 Tsp Black pepper, freshly cracked
1/2 Tsp Sea salt
1 Bay leaf

Add these five ingredients to the pan and heat through while you mix all of the dry spices together in a small bowl. After that, start pulling the chicken apart in to bite size chunks.

1/2 Tsp Cayenne pepper (or more if you really like heat)
1/2 Tsp Ground coriander (or dried basil if coriander isn’t on hand)
1 Tsp Cumin
1 1/2 – 2 Tsp Garam Masala
1/4 Tsp Cardamom (found in Indian grocery stores)

Add the chicken to the pan and heat that up in the tomato sauce and then add the spices. After you add the spices, stir really well the evenly distribute the flavours.

1/2 C Thick yogurt (or fat sour cream)

Stir inthe dairy to the pan to turn the tomato sauce into a creamy base that coats all of the chicken. Keep stirring until it’s combined fully. At this point, taste the sauce before you can finish the dish with a bit of salt (if needed). Now is the time for the final taste tweaks!

Add some freshly parsley or cilantro leaves to give the final sauce and chicken another flavour, colour, and texture.

Plate your jasmine rice into large shallow dishes (something with a small wall would be fine), and top the rice with one or two heaping scoops of your butter chicken. Serve this with toasted flat or naan breads in case it’s too spicy for some.

Alt Plating Ideas: Steamed cauliflower for the warm naan, dry parsley for the cilantro (since only half of any given population like this herb), and mashed potatoes for the rice.

Meatballs

So, I have been thinking a lot about my favourite soup recipe, and one of the things we love most about it is it includes pasta shells and meatballs. So lovely, and tasty. And that soup got me thinking about meatballs. How much we love meatballs specifically.

‘Mmmmm, meatballs…

Thinking back to when I was a kid – and my husband has similar childhood memories – we don’t recall our mothers ever having the time to make their own meatballs, but they always sourced some delicious all-beef meatballs for spaghetti. I like store bought just fine; I’m not a snob, but when I have time, I like to play around with recipes to find that elusive meatball that I will want to make forever and ever.

And thus far, no luck. I’ve tried many meatball versions, but none of them are made more than a few times in our kitchen. I call that a definite lack of sticking power. And since neither my mother or my mother-in-law have a great tired and true recipe to hand down to me, I have been forced to do recipe developing research. *gasp*

After some small online searching, I found a light and fluffy meatball recipe brought to us by the fantastic Lucinda Scala Quinn from Mad Hungry. I love this woman, and everything she makes is so scrumptious without being pretentious, complicated or over the top. She makes every day food. <– Ha. Get it?

Now, this is a meatball recipe I can get excited about. I love ricotta cheese. I’m always looking for new ways to use up a tub of it at home before it turns and stinks up the rest of the fridge. Oy. I hate wasting money, too. I’m not cheap but I do feel bad when I leave perfectly good food in my fridge to fend for itself. It would be like me ignoring that bamboo plant my best friend gave me till it starts to wilt and I have to think hard about when I last watered it.

{ahem}

I digress. Give this recipe a shot. I plan to this weekend. I will report back, with pictures, and we can compare notes. Sound good to you? Ok, then. Let’s do this!