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

Auntie Stacey’s Waffle Mix

waffles

These are some yummy waffles I make most Sunday mornings for the husband (below). He loves them! And I find kids really love these waffles, too. A lot. I know one little boy who ate so many, even the adults were stunned. I, of course, sent him home with leftover waffles in his pants and jacket pockets. You know, for the road trip home. That 17 minute ride can be soooo long when all you’re thinking about is your next waffle fix. 😉

FYI: Sometimes I sub out the milk for water or whatever juice we have on hand each Sunday morning. We can taste the fruit in the waffles, and they even seem a bit more moist. Plus, you can’t beat an orange hued waffle. Oh, and we also use this batter to make our pancakes when we’re not in the mood for waffles.

You can also use this batter to dip your Texas Toast in if you’re in the mood for french toast hot off the griddle. Just mix it up the night before, cover it and refrigerate, until you need it the next morning. It may need to be thinned out a touch more after a night of chilling. I add a few dribbles of water when I do.

Waffle Mix in a Bag:
2 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine contents of jar with eggs, oil and milk. Pour dry mix into a large bowl. Add eggs, oil and milk. Stir until well combined, but no more than that. Don’t over mix.

Allow the bowl of batter to sit in the refrigerator for 5 minutes to thicken up as the baking soda does its thing.

The pancakes can be frozen after frying. Store each separately in plastic wrap and place in a large freezer-safe plastic bag. Reheat in microwave.

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.

Lobster Mac & Cheese

LobsterMac&Cheese-3[ Click to embiggen picture of Lobster Mac & Cheese ]

We’re not the kind of people who love to go out to eat much anymore, nor are we the kind that dress up to go out for wine and fine food. Having said that, we are the kind of people who will watch tv shows like “You Gotta Eat Here!” and find new things to cook at home using ingredients neither of us have ever tasted or used, including some more pricey items like good cheeses or truffles. From time to time, mind you. We aren’t the Rockefellers. 🙂

I have been clearing out a backlog of food shows lately and came across one featuring lobster mac & cheese. My husband always stops wherever he is, whatever he’s doing, when his two favourite foods in the whole world are mentioned: lobster, and mac & cheese. So, of course I had to watch the “YGEH!” Déja-Bu segment over and over till I figured out how to make our own version at home, at our own stove, with the ingredients I know I could get my hands on easily. I even studied the recipe published on the tv show’s website.

I scaled down the increments from the originating recipe because I don’t like lobster (that was strictly for the husband), and it’s just the two of us feasting. Two bowls were more than enough for one night. I stored the rest of my Mornay sauce in the fridge to make another bigger batch of baked mac & cheese tomorrow or Monday night. Probably with some chicken and vegetables thrown into it for good measure instead of the lobster.

LobsterMac&Cheese-4

[ The basic Mac & Cheese using just the Mornay sauce, onions and cilantro. ]

Here’s what I came up with. Play along at home if you like this recipe.

Lobster Mac & Cheese:
(Béchamel + cheese = Mornay Sauce)
1/4 C white or cooking onions, diced
2 oz butter
4 TBSP flour
1 lemongrass stalk (or three lemon rind peels)

3 C whole milk
S & P
2 oz gruyere + 1/8 C parmesan cheeses

2 C cooked pasta
1 TBSP butter
2 oz lobster meat (I used lobster flavoured white/pollack meat)
Drizzles of truffle oil (completely optional if feel you want the full Monty)

1. Start the pasta water so it boils while working on the other ingredients. Whack the lemongrass stalk along the length with the back of a big knife (or, if using a lemon instead, peel three strips of rind off) and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a stock or sauce pan that can hold up to 5 cups of liquid easily. While that’s melting, dice up the onions. When the butter is bubbling, add the onion dice to the pot and let it cook for 3 minutes before adding the flour. Stir the mixture till it balls up and leaves the side of the pot to form the roux. Pour in 1 cup of milk at a time, whisking the roux into the liquid. Let the milk and roux heat through and thicken up, stirring occasionally so the milk doesn’t scald and burn at the bottom of the pan.

3. Add the pasta to the heavily salted pot when the water hits the boiling stage. Give the noodles a quick stir so they don’t stick or clump to each other as they cook for 8 minutes.

4. When the milk mixture is thickened enough to coat a spoon or spatula, remove the pot from the heat and start to ladle it into another bowl or pot with a mesh strainer sitting over the opening to catch the lemongrass or peels and the onions. Place this strained Bechamel back onto the burner and add the cheeses to the pot. When the cheese is fully melted, a few scoops of this Mornay sauce can then be used in a small to medium sauce pan along with two scoops of cooked pasta. Toss to coat the pasta fully.

5. Let the pasta and sauce simmer on med-low heat while melting butter in another small sauce pan. Add the lobster meat when the butter if fully melted. Toss to coat all of the meat; let it heat through (about 3 minutes).

6. Plate the pasta and sauce, and place the lobster meat over top of it, arranging the meat chunks in a pleasing arrangement on top of the noodles. Pour the butter drippings from the pan over top of the lobster, and sprinkle some rough chopped fresh herbs over that and top it all with drizzles of the truffle oil if using. Serve immediately.

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.

Cream Cheese Baked Mac & Cheese

A while back I found this fantastic looking baked mac & cheese by Jessica Burns that uses cream cheese over a traditional bechamel sauce, and my brain woke up.

Cream Cheese Mac & Cheese from Jessica Burn's blog

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some bechamel sauce, but sometimes I like to try variations on old classic themes just to, you know, mix it up a bit. I would hate to be on my deathbed and regret only ever eating mac & cheese one way. Zzzz…

So, yeah. I’m going to give this a whirl this week. Will you? Head on over the Jessic’s blog for the recipe and ingredient listing.

Shepherd’s Pie from The Kitchn

I can’t believe I went a whole winter without making, or at least eating, any Shepherd’s Pie. This has to be a new record for me. Huh.

This one from The Kitchn looks simple enough to whip up at some point this weekend.

ShepardsPie

Shepherd’s Pie recipe. Picture courtesy Emma Christensen from The Kitchn

I’m down for any version of this casserole dish that doesn’t involve creamed corn in any way, shape, or form. (My brother will second that.)