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Creamy Portobello & Thyme Pappardelle

Mmmmm this was so SO good. It was Friday evening. We got in late after another rousing round of house hunting. We were really tired and just wanted something comforting and quick. This really delivered. Mushrooms are amazingly versatile and so delicious in so many ways. They impart a really satisfying and robust umami to this pasta that plays so well with the creamy and sharp cheese. Combine that with the herbaceous quality of thyme and spice of pepper and it makes for a really flavourful dish. I happened to have roasted garlic in the fridge from the day before, so it was a no brainer to toss it in. It would be pretty simple to make some:

Roasted Garlic

Turn oven on to 400 F / 200 C. Make a sort of bowl out of aluminum foil by cupping it in your hand. Place about 7 unpeeled cloves of garlic in and drizzle with olive oil. Close up the bowl of foil and put it in the oven (even if it’s still preheating). Leave it in there about 20 minutes. That’s probably how long it’ll take you to prepare the rest of the ingredients and cook the mushrooms. When ready remove from oven, peel and mash cloves and put them in the sauce.

A splash of white wine would also be lovely. Overall, I think it took me about 30 minutes. The mushrooms need to release their liquid and soften which is probably what takes the longest. This isn’t at all a finicky dish so feel free to make it on a weeknight!

Ingredients

4 servings egg pappardelle or pasta of your choice

About 1 TBSP olive oil for sauteeing

1/2 yellow onion

4 large portobello mushroom caps

2 TBSP salted butter

2 cups milk

1 TBSP corn starch

100 grams / 3.5 oz grated parmigiano reggiano plus another 25 grams / about an ounce petals for garnish (I used a mandolin to make the petals but you can also slice thinly or buy them pre-made)

1.5 tsp fresh thyme

7 cloves roasted garlic (see recipe above)

Fresh cracked black pepper and salt to taste

Drizzle of olive oil for pasta

Method

Boil pasta per package directions.

Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat.

Add onions and sauté until translucent.

While onions are sautéing, slice the mushrooms into 1 cm strips.

Add mushrooms to pan and cover (it might seem like a lot of mushrooms but they’ll reduce down significantly)

Uncover when they’ve reduced in size and darkened in colour. Use a spatula to gently turn them in the pan. Recover until they are consistently cooked. The mushrooms are very fragile until they cook through so they can break easily if moved. I wanted my slices to stay intact but it’s up to you how you want them to turn out. You may notice some liquid in the pan as the mushrooms release their water.

Once all of the mushrooms are roughly the same colour, add the milk to the pan and gently mix in. Sprinkle on the cornstarch and use your spatula to mix it in.

Add the thyme, roasted garlic, and grated cheese and mix to combine. Simmer uncovered for another 5-10 minutes until the milk has reduced to a sauce consistency. If it doesn’t reduce enough add a bit more cornstarch and simmer another 5 minutes or until it reaches desired consistency.

Salt to taste.

Garnish with fresh cracked black pepper, thyme, and parmigiana petals. Beautiful. Simple. Enjoy.

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Curried Carrot & Quinoa Cakes (made with juicer pulp)

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Have you ever noticed the taste of your own cooking becoming too familiar?  It happens to me often. I first noticed it when Bogdan made butter chicken one night in late winter this year. We were in the middle of our first whole30 and experimenting with making different recipes compliant. One of our favourites was butter chicken with coconut milk instead of dairy and riced cauliflower instead of basmati. I made it quite often. It was a quick, warming, stick-to-your-ribs meal perfect for cold February weeknights. I don’t remember why but that particular night Bogdan decided he would make it. Bogdan can cook, he just doesn’t do it very often so I wasn’t expecting the level of flavour development he achieved in his 30 minute stint in the kitchen. When I took the first bite I was blown away by the flavours.The dish was bright, fragrant, and captivating. I ate, quietly mesmerized. I couldn’t figure out how he had made a familiar dish so exciting. It was like a jolt. A reawakening. A reminder of why I do what I do. Why food is at the centre of it all.

That experience made me realize that when one cooks, they leave a signature that makes the food their own. That probably sound obvious but even so it’s definitely taken for granted. It has little to do with following recipes and everything to do with personal style. That’s why nothing will ever taste like mom’s cooking. It’s the same reason my own cooking often starts becoming too familiar. I know my own cooking. I know my own methods and can usually anticipate how something will taste. That’s why I was so floored when I tasted these curried carrot and quinoa cakes. For a recipe I came up with to make use of juicer pulp (after making carrot juice gajar halwa gummies) these were phenomenal.

Knowing every step and ingredient can take some of the magic out of that first bite but that was definitely not the case here. These cakes have a perfect crisp crust enveloping the mouth-watering interplay of herbs and spices in an unexpectedly meaty filling. Writing this is making me want to make them again tonight. As I told Bogdan last night through mouthfuls of carrot and quinoa “I would juice just to make these.” On that note, I did use juicer pulp to make them and I know some people might not have juicers. I haven’t tried it but I think you could replicate this effect if you grated carrot and then squeezed out the liquid with some cheesecloth.

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It’s a lot of work but I would do it for these cakes. They’re that good. Again, I haven’t tried it so this isn’t a recommendation but if you really want to have them then this might be a good way.

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Ingredients

2.5 cups / 600 mL carrot pulp
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups cooked quinoa
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup diced cilantro
3 cloves of garlic (mashed)
1 cm x 1cm cube of ginger (mashed)
1 TBSP curry powder
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp salt
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp cardamom
pinch of cinnamon
5 TBSP ghee for frying

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Method

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
Form mix into either large (burger sized) or smaller falafel sized patties.
Heat ghee in a non-stick pan on medium heat.
Once heated, place patties in pan without crowding. Fry on medium heat uncovered for 5-7 minutes. The idea is to form a crust on the bottom. If the heat is too high they’ll burn instead of crisping.
Once a crust has formed (you can usually tell if they’re easier to pick up with a spatula) then flip and cook on the next side for another 5-7 minutes.
Best served hot with a spicy raita.

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Also for anyone wondering, the chilies in the pictures aren’t in the actual recipe (though you could add them if you wanted to) they were used in the raita I made to go with the cakes. I’ll try to get that recipe posted soon too.

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Romanian Eggplant Spread With Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Cucumber & Parsley On Toast Medallions

No matter how many times I eat this eggplant spread it still brings back memories of long summers spent in Romania. You know how they’ve found that the very process of recalling your memories also permanently alters them? Well making this spread is like recalling a memory that doesn’t seem to ever change.

In Romanian it’s called salatã de vinete or eggplant salad, a common name for this type of spread throughout the Balkans and Mediterranean. It takes quite a while to make (3 hours at minimum) so we didn’t always have it when I was growing up. It was reserved for balmy summer evenings when, exhausted from the heat of the day, we would sit around the grape trellis covered rectangular table in my grandparents yard eating the foods of summer: fresh made sheep’s milk feta, sweet tomatoes still warm from the sun beating down on them in the garden, crisp cucumbers, crusty bread from the bakery up the hill, and oftentimes this eggplant spread.

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Picking grapes in my grandparents yard circa late summer 2011.

Romanian food doesn’t have the sexy reputation of Greek or Italian but I’ve made this spread for non-Romanian friends before and they couldn’t get enough. The eggplant is cooked thoroughly so it takes on a really luxurious texture. When it’s ready I usually add sweet yellow onion, but this time I used red and it tasted almost the same. The cooking also imparts a smokiness that rounds out the raw onion nicely. A creamy element comes in the form of either  canola oil or mayonnaise (which I prefer).

The eggplant releases a lot of liquid while it’s cooking so if you’re making it in the oven make sure you place a foil lined pan underneath it as shown here.

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You’ll know the eggplant is ready when it’s totally deflated and the skin crumbles when you flip it with tongs. This is what my eggplants looked like when they were ready.

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Depending on the eggplants and your oven it could take longer than an hour. You should also make sure not to skip draining. My mother used to tell me that they needed to be drained to prevent a bitter flavour from developing. Being the rebel that I am I once skipped the draining and went straight to blending and refrigerating. The amount of liquid that pooled in my eggplant spread was unbelievable. A lot of liquid comes out of the eggplant and if you don’t drain it properly you’ll be disappointed. Also, even if you do drain properly some separation might happen. In that case just mix it before eating

Salatā de vinete is best served cold on toasted bread with tomato and cucumber. For the pictures shown here I used a round glass to cut circles out of bread, which I then toasted. I smeared a thin layer of mayonnaise on the toast medallions, and layered a slice of cucumber, a teaspoonful of eggplant spread, diced heirloom tomatoes on top and a sprinkle of diced parsley. If you really wanted to go for the gold, you could even whip up some homemade mayonnaise. That recipe is for olive oil mayonnaise but canola could easily be substituted (and would be more authentic).

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Ingredients

2-3 large eggplants
Half a yellow or red onion
Salt to taste
1-2 TBSP mayonnaise (optional, you can substitute with 1 TBSP canola or olive oil)

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Method

Oven Method
Preheat oven to 400
Set up your oven racks as shown in the picture (one on the bottom and one half way up)
Cover a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and place on lower oven rack
Wash eggplants and place directly on upper rack right above the foil lined pan
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, turning every 15-20 minutes (eggplants are done when they’ve deflated and the skin pulls from the flesh as shown in the picture)
Remove from oven and splay out in colander or bowl to cool and start drain
Once eggplants are cool, remove the skin by peeling it off from the flesh
Discard skin and allow the remaining eggplant to drain for up to an hour (you can also squeeze it to make this go faster)
Place in a food processor and blend with onion until smooth (if you don’t have a food processor you can also use a blender or finely dice the onion and use a potato masher)
Salt to taste and add mayonnaise if you want to
Serve chilled or at room temperature

Barbecue Method
Cook eggplant on a hot barbecue turning frequently until deflated (approximately 15-20 minutes)
Follow the rest of the instructions for oven method

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