Sublime Summer Supper

This was a recuperation weekend, a weekend to relax and just do whatever sort of presented itself at the time. My only planned events were to complete a 500 piece puzzle and run some errands. Michael went down to Calgary to spend time with his sister and help around the home with those maintenance things that get put off until there’s a Michael sort around.

Although I’m all for rest and relaxation, I feel adrift and a bit sad if I end up spending too much time on the couch watching TV, or even reading. Doesn’t help of course, when I chose to watch/read tear jerkers. I’m all for a good cry, but sometimes it can be a bit much.

Today was a beautiful Edmonton day. I got outside and ran my errands, and ended up at the Italian Centre Shop. I stopped in for inspiration and thought I’d skip my food delivery app (my usual go-to when at home alone and feeling a bit pathetic) and create something delicious tonight for my supper.

The Italian Centre Shop did not disappoint. Although busy, I have learned the best thing to do is head to the deli first, pull your number, and then leisurely shop until your number nears. Not sure if you noticed, but there is a gentle ding and “being served” numbers throughout the shop towards the ceiling. In the time I had to wait for my number to come up, I finished my shop of non-deli goods.

Although I went into the shop today with a plan for mushroom stuffed gnocchi with a pre-made sauce, I was inspired as I often am, to create something from (at least) semi scratch.

I picked up some arugula, basil, cherry tomatoes, purple garlic, Grana Padano cheese, kalamata olives, and some fancy (expensive) dry pasta.

When supper time rolled around, I was feeling a bit un-energetic and was twitching to pull up the food delivery app. Michael called at that moment and after a bit of a talk and a few laughs, he said why not just pour yourself a glass of wine and start the prep? So I did.

I poured the wine, chopped garlic, olives, tomatoes, washed the arugula and basil and set it aside. I boiled up a pot of water and then switched it off so the apartment wouldn’t burn down while I sat out on our patio to enjoy the view and my glass of wine.

It was (and still is) one of those beautiful evenings. Slight breeze, clear sky, warm, and NO RAIN. I sat out on the patio enjoying my music and my glass of wine.

With the wine finished, and feeling a bit peckish now, I put together the arugula salad. A simple thing to do:  arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, and a generous grating of Grana Padano cheese. I set up a little table on the patio, and promptly watched half my Grana Padano fly away in the breeze. This is why there is no photo. No matter, I mixed up the salad and managed to polish it off with the remaining cheese intact.

After a few long minutes of digestion and polishing off my second glass of wine, went back inside to finish cooking the main dish.

While the pasta was cooking, I cooked up the chopped garlic in generous glugs of olive oil over a medium heat. When the garlic was fragrant, I added the cherry tomatoes and let it break down slowly. As things started to meld, I added the chopped olives, and a few tablespoons of the pasta water. I let that simmer down to a slightly thickened sauce. I added a burst of lemon juice at the end to keep things bright.

I put it all together on my plate, topping it off with a bit of chopped basil and another generous grating of cheese, and headed back to the patio.

I tucked in. I ate slowly. I enjoyed the flavours, the view, listening to the shouts from the baseball game in the valley, the traffic below, watching people rest on the bench along the pathway. At times I just put my head back, and let the sun warm my face while I was truly able to relax and enjoy a beautiful summer evening in our city.

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Now I have my tea, and am thinking of having something a bit sweet to finish the evening. Not sure what that will be yet.

Thanks for reading about my evening. It was one of those memorable ones, and wanted to document it before the memory fades. xo

 

Super Easy Risotto that you Don’t Have to Stir

If you are like me, you Googled “Super Easy Risotto that you Don’t Have to Stir” because life is hard and you don’t want to fuss for your lunch, yet you demand to have risotto over having a peanut butter sandwich. This is not that recipe. You will be stirring.

This story starts a few weeks back where a cartoon bubble with a picture of risotto gets planted in over my head and I begin to obsess. I try a few Google searches and learn the basics of how to make risotto. I learn that in its most basic form, you need special rice and time. Time dedicated to standing at the stove stirring. Nothing else.

I rise to the challenge in the way only I can do, by pleading with Facebook and Twitter to tell me where I can buy an awesome risotto for supper at local restaurants. This social-media based searched resulted in some responses that were very encouraging, most telling me how “easy” it is to make it myself. The most inspiring was a message from Teresa Spinelli from the Italian Centre Shop because she gave me two very viable options:

1) Come to the Italian Centre Shop and select an arborio rice from their nicely stocked shelves and make it myself, or,

2) Have supper at Massimo’s Cucino Italiano restaurant and eat their daily risotto special.

I did both.

Michael and I made reservations at Massimo’s for our supper that night, but not until after he and I argued for several minutes about which Italian Centre Shop location it was at, if it had a pizza oven, and did Teresa mean the little coffee shop attached to the South Side location?

To clear this up:

The South Side store has Massimo’s (complete with pizza oven and daily risotto), as well as the coffee shop, Spinelli’s Bar Italia. All three can be found at 5012 104A Street, Edmonton.

The new west end store at 17010 90th Ave, and the original shop located in Little Italy at 10878 95 ST NW have Spinelli’s Bar Italia attached as well.

IMG_1986We were pleased to discover delicious Italian fare at Massimo’s without the month-long reservation wait time one finds with Corso 32. Not to pit one against the other, both are fine establishments and offer amazing food, but we felt far more comfortable and at home in Massimo’s. They had a daily risotto which provided a very satisfying fix to my craving.

As we are early eaters, we still had time to shop in the Italian Centre shop for a package of arborio rice. Michael and I like to go for a little walk after supper to aid in digestion. This evening, we were delighted to take our stroll through aisles of varieties of canned tomatoes, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, pastas, rice, dried beans, baked goods, fresh produce, and our highlight, olives, meats and cheeses. Even on full stomachs, my mind was inspired to cook greatness!

Fast forward two weeks, and here we are on a lazy Saturday. I am armed with:

1-900 mL box chicken stock. You can use your own made-from-scratch-stock, which we all know is better, but impossible if you haven’t roasted a whole chicken in well over a year

1/2 cup white wine (reserve the rest of the bottle for the cook)

Butter (2 – 3 tablespoons)

Olive or vegetable oil (a glug – or about one tablespoon)

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

Parmesan cheese – grated (1/4 to 1/2 cup)

Onion (I used a half a medium onion), or one or two shallots (finely chopped)

Here’s what you do to make a basic risotto:

1) Don house slippers with arch support. You will be stirring risotto for at least the next 30 minutes of your life. Be comfortable:

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2) Select iTunes playlist that will entertain you non-stop for the next 30 to 40 minutes. I cannot stress enough that you will be TIED to your stove. I made the error about 20 minutes in, to go to the bedroom to change out of my going-out-for-coffee-with-a-friend-attire into my cooking-risotto-for-one-attire. I only very narrowly averted DISASTER because of swift stirring and gentle cooing and apologies to the risotto.

3) Pour chicken broth in pot, and bring to a simmer on the stove.

4) Finely chop an onion.

5) Grate about a 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

P10205156) Melt about two tablespoons of butter along with a glug of vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan.

7) Add the finely chopped onion, and cooked it on medium low until soft and translucent.

P10205168) Add 1 1/2 cups arborio rice, stirring steadily about two to three minutes.

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Arborio rice, onion, butter and oil.

9) Add 1/2 cup white wine, stirring steadily until the wine is absorbed in the rice.

10) Add a ladle full (or tea-cup full) of hot chicken broth, stirring steadily until the broth is absorbed in the rice. Sip glass of wine reserved for the cook.

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What it looks like after a ladle full of chicken broth.

11) Repeat step 10 for the next 30 minutes, or, more accurately, until the rice is tender and liquid absorbed. You may run out of broth before the rice gets tender. If this happens, keep adding more broth. I had the kettle boiled and a packaged dry chicken stock on the ready in case this happened. But it didn’t.

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What it looks like after the ladle full of chicken broth is absorbed.

12) When the rice is tender, the broth absorbed, stir in your grated Parmesan and another tablespoon of butter.

13) Salt if needed.

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What the finished product looks like. DELICIOUS. Nom nom nom nom.

14) EAT IT! Risotto, as I can attest to from experience, does not have the same allure once it is cooled and reheated. It’s still good, but it’s not the same. Life’s too short to eat left over risotto. Eat it fresh with reckless abandon! Then have a nap. That’s what I did.

Easy Pasta Sauce

Pasta sauce recipe is below. First, you have to hear about our weekend.

We had an interesting weekend being survivors of the Edmonton earthquake.  You don’t believe me, do you? Check it out: Tremors from 7.7-magnitude earthquake in B.C. felt in Edmonton | CTV Edmonton News.

Being on the 6 o’clock news was more fun than the earthquake I tell you. It was a lot of hoo-hah for a few swinging blinds and towels, but we were begged in the cutest way, and how can you say no? Especially when it’s the news program my Mom watches.

Anyhow. Pasta sauce. Inspired by a picture I came across on Teresa Spinelli’s Facebook page, I said to myself, “I want what she’s having for supper!”.:

The greatest pasta sauces in the world start with a glass of red wine, so I got that going first. Next, I rummaged in the back of the fridge, the cupboards and counter-tops to see what we had on hand. I was lucky today and found:

Red Peppers, slightly wrinkly, but still edible
Yellow Peppers, fresh as they day they were picked
One fresh tomato that was a bit soft, but no fuzz
Punnet of grape tomatoes, slightly wrinkled (the beginnings of sun dried tomatoes I tell myself)
Saucer full of whole fresh garlic
Bottle of strained tomatoes
Assortment of bottled herbs and spices, namely, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, chili peppers, granulated garlic, pepper, salt, dash of sugar

Method: Rough chop your peppers and tomatoes. Add to large sauce pan with olive oil. Add peeled garlic (I leave it whole). Add your assortment of herbs and spices. Cook until cooked. If you need more specifics, cook until it is soft and fragrant.

VERRRRRRRRY carefully, transfer the contents of the saucepan to your blender or food processor. Whir until blended to your preferred blendedness. Perhaps you prefer it chunky and omit this step. That would be fine.

Blender of roasted veg. Strained tomatoes. Wine. What else does a person need?

Crack open a bottle of strained tomatoes, or diced tomatoes, or tomato sauce. Whatever you have. Ketchup won’t work. Just saying. Pour a bit of this in the blender if your blended veggies are a bit thick. But don’t tell your vegetables you think they are thick. They will be offended because vegetables can be sensitive that way.

Flavour. Nothing but flavour.

Meanwhile, back to the pan, you should have some sticky vegetable goodness on the bottom of the pan. Splosh a glug of red wine (or water, or balsamic vinegar) into this sticky goodness, let it burble for a second or two, then stir to pick up all that flavour.

VERRYYYYYYYY carefully add the whirred up vegetables in the blender to this, add the rest of the strained tomatoes, diced tomatoes or tomato sauce. Stir. Cover. Simmer.

There you have it. Easy. Serve over your favourite shape of pasta. Grate a bit of Parmesan cheese to make it even better. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the works if you are feeling like a 1950’s housewife.

OK. Now for the truth. This recipe IS easy, however, it has to be one of the messiest things I make. If you know me, you know I’m a pretty neat and tidy kind of gal. But this type of recipe leaves our kitchen in a splattered tomato/roasted pepper mess. We’ll be dabbing at tomato spots on the walls for weeks ahead.

 

Walshinara Sauce

We’ve been eating a lot of meat lately. Mm. Meat. Nothing wrong with meat, but some days the old ticker says, “Hey Walsh, take it easy please.” I listen to my body all the time. And I respond in kind. So when it says, “Hey Walsh, you need to eat that Mint Oreo Blizzard”, I say “okay”. Similarly, when it wants me to cut back on meat, I will heed that call as well.

I wanted to make something fairly simple for our Sunday supper. It has been a busy, hot, day. Hot? Yes. Hot. Although minus a bazillion outside, our place has been sitting at 26C all day. We live in an apartment you see. An apartment with an old, hot water heating system.  It hisses. It gurgles. It has a happy ping-ting-ping-ting-ting at night. But in our suite, it seems the devil himself has made himself at home and set the heat on high.  As I said to a friend last night, I was thinking of putting dough on the walls and see if I’d wake up to naan bread.

Our building management company has posted signs in the communal hallways and elevator warning us ever so specifically, that if we leave our windows open and the thermostat set below 20C that we will cause the pipes to burst and disaster to the building. And it will be Our Fault. So ever so cautiously, ever hour or so, we quietly crank open our windows, and like people who have crossed the desert with no water for days on end and suddenly it rains, we stand in the cold air rushing in our open windows, gulping in the cool air, lifting our shirts to feel the icy air on our heat blistered skin and giggling with insanity.

We’ve been in our shabbiest of summer clothing to beat the heat. We escaped momentarily today to buy the fixings for Piña Coladas, because, if you can’t beat the heat, you may has well make the best of it, and pretend, even for a few minutes, that you live in a palapa by the sea… a palapa beside a sea that offers no air movement, no soothing swooshing ocean waves, no moisture in the air, and ratty old carpeting the colour of sand, that is in desperate need of a vacuuming.

A palapa. This picture was stolen from the Internet. I questioned whether I could do this legally. Michael said, if Google can, so can you.

What was I supposed to be writing about? Oh yes, marinara sauce.

So from Mexico (the palapas), and Puerto Rico (Piña Coladas), let’s move to Italy for a bit.

I wanted to make a plain veggie tomato sauce to go with pasta. Marinara came to mind, because it’s a meatless sauce. But what goes in it? My only experience with marinara sauce is a Catelli can my Mom always had on hand in the lazy susan at home when growing up. I remember it being watery and not too flavourful. As a teenage picky eater, it was perfect at the time. But today, I wanted a sauce that would stick to the pasta. A sauce with a ton of flavour.

A recipe provided by a ubiquitous Italian food TV chef Giada De Laurentiis offers a marinara sauce full of carrots and celery, onions and tomatoes.  But I lost interest with the ½ cup of olive oil. Can that be for real? Deep fried marinara?

So I moved on to other websites, which all seemed to agree you just heat up a can of tomatoes, along with sautéed onion, garlic and a few flakes of peppers and basil. Yawn.

If I could crunch up the internet in a ball and throw it over my shoulder, I would have.  I said to myself, “You write a food blog for heaven’s sake, make something up!”. So I did.

Walshinara Sauce

In a few tablespoons of olive oil, sauté finely chopped onion, with similarly chopped green pepper, celery and carrots. When soft, add some chopped garlic. Stir. When you start to smell the garlic, add:

Oregano
Basil
Chili Peppers
Salt
Pepper
Fennel seeds
Whatever tickles your fancy really

When your over-heated apartment smells like an Italian bistro, add your tomatoes. I added a tin of tomato paste for the stick-to-your-pasta thickness, a little bit of balsamic vinegar, because I read on some obscure website that this is what you add to marinara, and then a tin of your best tinned tomatoes.

Now, this might be shocking to some of you, but I whirred the whole kit and caboodle in the blender. I was looking for a sauce, not a chunky stew. So I whirred, and this is what I got:

My splatters are showing. Remember, I'm not a food photographer. I'm a writer.

Michael asked innocently if it contained cream for the pale red colour. But what it lacks in tomato red, it makes up for in flavour. It’s brilliant, if I may say so myself.

We are trying a new pasta tonight. Barilla, which we bought today instead of our usual favourite Riscossa, both found at the Italian Centre Shop.

Will it make us sing Mambo No. 5?

I’m sure it will be just as delicious, because I don’t think the Italian Centre Shop sells anything bad.  I reluctantly add (for greedy reasons) that the café at the Italian Centre Shop (south side) is brilliant. For only $5.50 you get a perfect espresso, cappuccino, and a croissant to share.  The challenge? Finding a seat. The place is busy.

Just remember, when you wake up to the news on your radios Monday morning, and you hear of a couple found incased in ice in their apartment because they let the pipes freeze, it may very well be us.

Friday at our Place

What. A. Week. A confidence shared. Embarrassment.  Spilled my full-to-the-top water bottle all over my keyboard, mouse, telephone, pants, floor. All while trying to be professional during a telephone call. Not sure that a screamed “OH CRAP” (*whispered: I actually screamed OH SHIT but someone I work with might be reading this, so oh crap is my official statement*) is professional, but thankfully person on the other end of the phone had a sense of humour.

In among the little black cloud hanging over my head (if you live in Edmonton, you can see it, just look out your window), there are some things that make all this okay. A co-worker who happens to have a stack of paper towel to soak up the water. Friends who are supporting. Friends who are forgiving. Friends that understand me. Pants that are indestructible. A husband who loves me. Fighter planes flying overhead. A bottle of wine. Crystal that resonates a beautiful ping. And, dare I say it, Matt Monro. I know, I know, he’s not Peter Fox or Massive Attack, my usual fare, but sometimes you need to hear a voice that works on memories of days gone by to get out of a funk.

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk about supper. Supper! Oh yes, grey skies and a resigned acceptance that I’ll be indoors all evening has inspired a hearty, beefy pasta sauce.

Here’s the ingredients:

Here’s the recipe:

Brown the beef. Chop the organic stuff in small pieces. Add to the beef. Add a generous glug of wine. When nice, add the tomatoes. In another pot. Boil water. Add pasta. Cook. Drain. Add sauce. Grate the best Parmesan cheese you can find**. Drink wine. Dance. Fall asleep on the sofa cozied up with husband.

**One of the things I am so unbelievably grateful for in Edmonton is the Italian Centre Shop.  I cannot say enough nice things about this place. The deli is AMAZING, and they always have that ingredient you need but you can’t find anywhere else. In my pic you can see the the La Povencella whole tomatoes, and the Italissima strained tomatoes. These are standard pantry purchases for us. These tomatoes are delicious. Sexy food because they are Italian. And are sold at a reasonable price. Teresa Spinelli has done an amazing job of continuing her father’s legacy. Frank Spinelli would be very proud indeed.

 

Thanks To Boursin Cheese

Listen up all you so-called friends, family, fans and followers. I demand, DEMAND to know right this minute why none of you have told me about Boursin cheese?

*hands on hips tapping foot waiting patiently for an answer*

I have seen Boursin cheese on the grocery shelves virtually every time I have shopped. I have never picked it up, but have seen it enough to know its there. During the week, I had to stop in to pick up a few things, saw this happy little box sitting on the shelf with its little picture of a garlic clove, and thought, “Meh, I’ll give it a try”, flung it in the basket, fully expecting it to be something like Cheez Whiz with garlik (intentionally spelled with a k).

Tonight I thought I’d crack open the box, unfurled the silvery foil surrounding it, and thought, “Helllooooooooo Boursin Cheese” and stuck my knife in a tried a bit of this creamy, crumbly, garlicky, formage frais epice and shot right up to heaven, said hi to Peter, and came back down to earth. I took a sip of my wine, a lovely, lovely, lovely 2005 Spencer Roloson Tempranillo, gave my head a little shake and tried the Boursin again. Zoom. Peter said, “You’re back?” to which I replied, “Just for a sec, I have to get back to the Boursin”. As I headed back to earth, I could hear him shouting after me, “Bring me some back with youuuuuuuuu” as he faded away into the clouds.

In other cheese news, I also picked up a wedge of Romanello pepato from the Italian Centre Shop. A few weeks ago I was shopping at the 51st Avenue store, and I happened, for once, to not need anything from the meat, cheese and olive section. But there I was standing, with nary a customer to be found. I was stunned. My favourite server happened to be behind the counter, and he asked “Miss, is there anything I can help you with?”. I stood there stupidly for a few seconds, and said, as a woman with fluctuating hormones and mood swings would, “No, no, I need nothing, nothing at all thank you, but I will take 100 grams of the peppercorn salami thank you very much”. So whilst he sliced and stacked, I wandered over to the few free samples of cheese they had out, and much to my delight tried this Romanello pepato and also fell in love. Not quite to the heavens in love, but in love enough to take a note for future reference. The Romanello pepato is a hardy yellow cheese, with peppercorns throughout. It’s got a delicious texture and a zing with those peppercorns. It also accompanies my Tempranillo quite nicely thank you.

So about the crappy part of the weekend. I smashed up my car in yesterday’s freshly fallen snow (I’m fine, car is driveable, but cracked and looking not at all like the brand new car it is). That’s crappy. And my husband is in Calgary, and despite endless handwashing and Purelling at the Rockyview Hospital, has come down with a serious case of the gastrointenstinal bug that is sweeping the hospital. So he’s at his Mum’s house in Calgary having long intense conversations with the crapper.

But we Walsh’s are hopeless optimists, and I’m making the best of it by roasting some potatoes, warming up some boeuf bourguignon, writing to you, and enjoying a few glasses of my new favourite wine, a 2005 Tempranillo from Spencer Roloson. Yes, I know I said it before, but I’m hoping one of you is taking notes, and wondering if a case of that would be an appropriate Christmas gift to me. It would be. A perfect gift. And Bin 104 happens to carry it, in case you are wondering where to pick it up.