2

Coffee-Spiced Sirloin with Sweet Bell Peppers

I recently tried to sign up for a cooking class called ‘Beef and Butter.’

By now, half of you are either salivating over your keyboards or scratching your heads in bewilderment. It all comes down to your cooking style, I guess.

I like to describe my style as simple. You won’t find extensive spices and foreign pastes lurking in my cupboards. If by some odd chance you do happen to come across one or two, I can almost guarantee you they’ve never been opened.

I like to eat simple things, so in turn, my most treasured culinary brainchilds consist of pretty basic ingredients. I like sea salt and sweet paprika, good quality canola oil and, most of all, butter.

There’s nothing quite like cooking with butter. The way it dances around your skillet with the slightest touch of heat, or how it morphs into this alluringly fragrant foam just seconds before melting into a rich and flavorful sauce.

Now imagine lifting a thick, juicy strip of sirloin out of its paper wrapping, and ever so gently resting it in that oozing buttery melt. The satisfying sizzle as the flesh immediately starts to form an unforgettably irresistible crust, the savory aroma infusing your kitchen with the smells of home.

That, for those of you who questioned the desirability of a class dedicated to “just” beef and butter, is why I was so sorely disappointed when the class was later cancelled.

I won’t lie – I moped pretty hard at the thought of missing out on my chance to spend an entire Saturday browning beef in butter. But after a while, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Class or no class, I was going to sear.

I’d been toying in my head the powerful combination of a good quality sirloin and the warm, rich notes of coffee for quite some time. When a recipe developer I work with pitched a steak dish with a coffee marinade a while ago, I stupidly questioned her judgement. Coffee and steak? Sounded like a grisly combo. And then I tried it.

It’s hard to describe exactly how this works, but it’s like every ambrosial grind of coffee just soaks into the tender, grainy flesh of beef, accenting its earthy composure in a way that no spice or seasoning can. The coffee is subtle, yet it makes its presence well known to your greedy little taste buds with every melt-in-your-mouth bite.

I really like the idea of a coffee rub. There’s something about the rough graininess of coffee that makes you want to slather it over a porous length of steak, working it into the flesh with your fingers.

I wanted to add a nice mix of classic spices to balance the strength of the coffee, so I opted for a blend of sweet paprika, chile powder and a touch of cayenne for heat, and just a dash of cinnamon for warmth. You can always play around with the amounts according to your own taste, and try adding in some new spices for a twist.


Coffee–Spiced Sirloin With Sweet Bell Peppers
Serves 4.

Sautéed bell peppers bring out the sweetness in this tender, juicy meat. I like to serve it with a fresh strawberry salad and some roasted baby potatoes.

Tools

Small bowl
Measuring spoons
Grill pan or skillet
Baking sheet
Small nonstick skillet
Wooden spoon

Ingredients

1 tbsp fine-ground coffee grinds
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 – 1 1/2 tsp chile powder (depending on taste)
1 tsp sea salt
3 – 4 grinds of fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Dash cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, divided
1 lb sirloin steak
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 each red, orange and yellow bell peppers, sliced

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small bowl, combine coffee, paprika, chile powder, salt, black pepper, cayenne and cinnamon.

3. Melt 2 tsp butter and rub all over steak. Rub spice mixture onto all sides of steak.

4. Heat a large grill pan or skillet on medium-high. Add butter and heat until melted. Add steak and sear, turning once, until a deep crust forms, 3 to 4 minutes per side.

5. Transfer steak to a foil-lined baking sheet and bake until steak is cooked to desired doneness, 15 to 20 minutes for medium-well.

6. Meanwhile, in a small nonstick skillet, heat oil on medium. Add bell peppers and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender and skins are slightly blackened, 10 to 12 minutes.

7. Remove steak from oven. Let rest for 5 minutes. To serve, top steak with bell peppers.

Enjoy!
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0

Blue Cheese–Stuffed Pork Chops

I’ve been told more than once that moving is among one of the most stressful events of your lifetime, right up there with death, disease and divorce. And after having moved five times in as many years, I can tell you with confidence this is true.

Aside from all of the technical stresses – as if stuffing all your belongings in boxes isn’t enough – you’ve still got to come to terms with the fact that you are uprooting. It doesn’t matter if you’re only moving from one apartment to another in the same city. You’re still going against instinct, taking yourself from the place you can trust to a new place, a place where you don’t know how many steps it takes to reach the bathroom or exactly where the light switch is on the wall.

It was amongst this chaos not long ago that I realized I was beginning to crack. My belongings, all of the physical stuff I associate with who I am, were out of sight, rendered insignificant under layers of cardboard and bubble wrap. I hadn’t really slept in weeks, and my pots and pans had been packed up long ago, making it impossible to sauté my troubles away.

The move happened, and here I am, settled into my nice new apartment. But I still feel off-kilter, out of sorts, and a little bit depressed.

Because I think it’s during these periods in life, when everything you thought was stable is shaking, that you start to feel disembodied from yourself.

The simplest things, like bending to tie your shoes or making a pot of coffee, seem foreign and complicated. You look at yourself in the mirror and see someone you only sort of recognize. You’ve been stirred out of your comfort zone, and once that happens, it takes a long, long time to find it again. And even then, it can’t be the same as it was.

But sometimes, even with all of this madness swirling around you, beautiful things happen. You start to learn a little more about yourself. You learn to gauge your strengths and weaknesses. You figure out who you can really trust. Things that seemed significant in your life are no longer so. Your priorities change, and so do you.

And sometimes, you learn to take the old and turn it into something new. You learn that, say, if you happen to have an inexplicable surplus of both pork chops and blue cheese in your fridge just three days before you move, all you have to do is put them together, and a powerful union is formed.

Blue Cheese–Stuffed Pork Chops
Serves 4.

The rich, elegant taste of salty blue cheese champions anything you put on the table, so try and pair your pork chops with simple, mild sides, such as boiled new potatoes and fresh green beans.

Tools

Small bowl
Wooden spoon
Sharp paring knife
Large oven-proof skillet
Metal tongs

Ingredients

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese, plus additional for garnish
4 thick boneless pork chops
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, as desired
1 tbsp canola oil

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small bowl, combine butter and blue cheese.

3. With a sharp knife, carefully cut a lengthwise incision in each pork chop to form a deep pocket.

4. Spoon blue cheese mixture into each pocket, dividing evenly. Gently press pocket together to seal. Season both sides of pork with salt and pepper.

5. Heat a large oven-proof skillet on medium-high. Add oil, swirling to coat. Add pork chops and cook, turning once, until golden brown and a nice crust forms, 6 to 8 minutes.

6. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until pork is cooked through and juices run clear, 15 to 20 minutes. If desired, garnish with additional blue cheese and drizzle with any pan juices.

Enjoy!

2

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Swiss Cheese Sauce

Hello, prosciutto. Where have you been all my life?

If, like I was until just recently, you are sheltered enough to have never encountered this most delectable of meats, let me explain.

Prosciutto is to ham what Parmesan is to cheddar, what clementines are to oranges, or what a thick, juicy AAA sirloin steak is to ground beef. It’s like once upon a time, someone just decided to take a slice of ham and cure it into heaven.

I’m talking about thin, salty slices of smoky, tingle-on-your-tongue pork that doesn’t need any dressing up or garnishing. Actually, one of my most memorable prosciutto experiences was the Jambon Buerre at a cafe called Bonjour Brioche in Toronto’s Leslieville. As the name suggests, it’s simply a baguette slathered in butter and topped with a generous stack of heavenly ham.

It’s hard to believe that up until just a few months ago, I had absolutely no idea what prosciutto was – if I’d ever heard the term, I likely associated it with some uppity cheese dish that wasn’t really my style. But no, there is nothing uppity about prosciutto. The total opposite, in fact, as the whole premise of its inception was to keep ham tasting fresher for longer by curing it with a mixture of salt and oil. Pretty simple, and incredibly tasty.

There really are no boundaries when it comes to prosciutto. You can even eat it right out of the package, if the mood strikes. You can put it on pizzas or sandwiches or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use it to wrap other incredibly tasty foods, like I’ve done here. You can get a little carried away with all the prosciutto wrapping possibilities – I’ve seen it wrapped around everything from cheeses to mangoes. But my personal favourite way to cook with this Italian gift is to wrap it around chicken – it makes the perfect mouth-watering blanket for tender cuts of juicy chicken.

To get the maximum flavor, I sear my wrapped chicken breasts in a bit of oil to create a flavorful crust. This crust also helps lock in the juices for the next step, baking the chicken, to ensure every inch of the breast is cooked through while still maintaining the perfect tenderness.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken with Swiss Cheese Sauce
Serves 2.

Tools

Cutting board
Plastic wrap
Large stainless steel or cast iron skillet (not nonstick)
Measuring cups and spoons
Metal tongs
Baking sheet
Small saucepan
Whisk
Wooden spoon

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of visible fat
Pinch each sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
4 slices prosciutto
2 tsp olive or canola oil
Olive oil cooking spray
1 to 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 slices Swiss cheese, torn into pieces (or about 1 cup shredded)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place 2 slices prosciutto horizontally, one higher than the other, on a cutting board and place chicken smooth side down over top of prosciutto. Fold prosciutto over chicken to wrap completely. Wrap each in plastic wrap and set aside for 10 minutes; this helps the prosciutto stick to the chicken.

3. In a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet, heat oil on medium-high. Once oil starts to ripple, add chicken and cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook for 2 more minutes.

4. If using a cast iron or all-metal skillet (no rubber on handle), simply transfer skillet to oven. If your skillet has a rubber handle or is not oven-safe, line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Add chicken to sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

5. Meanwhile, prepare Swiss cheese sauce: In a small saucepan, melt butter on low heat. Gradually whisk in flour until thick and well combined. Add milk a little at a time, whisking well between additions, until smooth. Increase heat to medium-low and cook, whisking often, until bubbles start to form and mixture thickens; do not bring to a full boil. Stir in cheese and cook until melted and sauce is thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. To serve, drizzle Swiss cheese sauce over top of chicken.

TIP: This dish is great served with a hearty leafy salad, or if you feel like really indulging, I love it with a classic sticky risotto.

Enjoy!

2

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Toasted Walnuts

Eight years is a long time.

In eight years, I’ve graduated high school, earned a university degree, chosen and pursued a career in journalism, thought about switching said career (twice), learned to cook, learned to write, raised a kitten, moved to another city and landed a job at a food magazine. And I’ve done all this with one person by my side.

My boyfriend and I are celebrating our eighth year anniversary. Well, “celebrating” may be too glamorous a word.  We try not to make a big deal of these things, mostly because we’re just not “big deal” kind of people, but also because we know it’s just a day. And one day, compared with the nearly 3,000 we’ve spent together so far, isn’t huge.

We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve held and supported each other through the death of loved ones, various family crises, depression, failure, moving away from our families and all of the accompanying arguments, yelling matches and occasional silent treatments.

This past year has been the most difficult. We’re dealing with new problems – grown-up problems – like money and jobs and car payments. It’s been a struggle, every day, to get ourselves back to the way we were before, which is, as I’m discovering, part of the problem.

We started dating when we were very young, and therefore endured a fairly sharp growth curve in our relationship. We were both growing in and out of adolescence, desperately trying to forge our own identities while still holding onto each other.  Then, somewhere in university, we’d figured out our routine – we hit a plateau. We got along, we shared the same values, and we made a life together.

Now our relationship is moving again and it’s rocking us to our very core, prying us away while forging us closer together at the same time. We’re experiencing growing pains, and we’re resisting it because all we want is to go back to the way we were.

So on this eight year anniversary, I am vowing to look forward. I’m going to look back at the memories we made and smile rather than cry. I’m going to look at him with promise rather than nostalgia. And I’m going to treat every day as a stepping stone to our future. Because at the end of the day, after eight years, we’re still crazy about each other. And that is something worth celebrating.

Tools

Cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Small metal spoon or melon baller
Large pot
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons
Wooden spoon
Blender of food processor
Frying pan

Ingredients

1 butternut squash
1 tbsp plus 3 tsp olive oil or canola oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 onion
3/4 cup half and half
1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
Chopped walnuts, as desired
Sour cream, crème fraiche or plain Greek yogurt, as desired

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out and discard the seeds. Drizzle the two halves with 1 tsp oil each and season with salt and pepper. Place, cut side down, on a large baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes, until soft. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

In a large pot, heat 1 tbsp oil on medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until translucent, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, scoop out flesh from squash. Add half of squash to a blender or food processor. Add half and half and purée until smooth. Reduce heat to medium-low and add mixture to pot; stir to combine. Place remaining squash in blender with 1/2 cup broth. Purée until smooth, then add to pot and stir to combine. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup broth, butter and maple syrup. Sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and additional salt and pepper to taste. Add additional broth or half and half if needed to reach desired consistency. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through.

In a small frying pan, heat remaining 1 tsp oil on medium-high. Add walnuts and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

To serve, divide soup among serving bowls and top with a dollop of cream or yogurt and toasted walnuts, if desired.

Enjoy!

1

Honey & Soya Sauce Chicken Wings

You can’t fix somebody else’s problems.

This is probably the most difficult, frustrating and downright impossible life lesson I’ve yet to learn.

It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love stand powerless in front of you, not looking for – or wanting – your help. You feel helpless, useless.

And somehow, I always seem to make things worse. I poke and prod and give advice until eventually I drive them nuts, or I drive them away altogether.

I have found, in my limited experience of dealing with others, that sometimes the best course of action is to sit on the sidelines, cheering. My rational brain knows this, and begs me to follow my own advice. But, as any control freak (like me) knows, this is incredibly, excruciatingly hard.

But you’ve got to do it, even if it means tying your arse to the sidelines, sitting on your hands and taping your yappy mouth shut.

I know this is what I should do, need to do, but I just can’t seem to let go – not because I’m nosy or bossy or think I have all the answers. It’s because at the end of the day, if someone you love is lost, you feel the need to find them.

The problem is, they have to find themselves first.

In the meantime, while I’m trying to figure out how to navigate the fine line between supporting and controlling, I cook. Like, a lot. I don’t know what it is about cooking for someone else that makes me feel better, but there’s just something to the art of mixing a few favourite ingredients that shows, without talking, that you care.

At the end of the day, that’s all you can do. You can’t fix their problems, no matter how big or small.

But you can make them chicken wings.

This is another gem from my grandmother’s collection of prized recipes. The first time I made them, I left the casserole cover off for the entire cook time. The result was not nearly as tender as they should be, so I recommend covering them for the first hour and 15 minutes, then removing the lid for the final 15 minutes to build up a crust on the skin. This way you get tender, fall-off-the-bone meat with a bit of a crunchy skin to sink your teeth into.

Tools

Large round casserole dish with lid
Large cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Wooden spoon
Measuring cups
Measuring spoons

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken wings (Tip: If you’re squeamish, try to find wings that have already been broken in two, or ask your butcher to split them for you)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp low-sodium soya sauce

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove wings from packaging and place on a large cutting board. With a large kitchen knife, cut each wing in two at the joint to form the wingette and drumette. Place chicken in a large, round casserole dish and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, honey, salt, pepper, ginger and soy sauce. Mix well, until combined. Pour mixture over top of wings and stir to coat. Cover and bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Remove lid and cook for 15 more minutes.

Enjoy!

1

Watermelon & Goat Cheese Salad

I realize that I am a complete and utter minority when I say that summer is not my favourite season.

Now before you go ahead and judge me as some cold-blooded weirdo who likes to lurk in my basement away from the sun, I encourage you to hear me out.

If you’ve ever so much as caught a glimpse of me, you realize that physically, I’m just not built to take the sun: I’m practically translucent.

I’d given up on the concept of tanning long ago – in fact, the only semblance of a darkening in my pigmentation is the result of my innumerable orange freckles, which like to spring forward and form map-like designs over my arms and face as soon as the month of May hits.

So in order to even so much as step outside without burning to a crisp, I need to slather myself in a pint of sunscreen. Which, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing it, makes you feel like a slippery fish-like creature, attracting all sorts of bugs and dust balls that stick to your skin like gruesome little magnets. Not to mention the fact that you look like a sweaty, greasy mess to those around you, no matter how much deodorant you insist you’re wearing.

Then there’s the whole concept of doing stuff. I am, by nature, a bit of a hermit, and if I had my way, I’d spend most of summer curled up with a book in the shade. But for whatever reason, as soon as the warm weather hits, I’m overcome with this ridiculous guilt that dictates I should constantly be doing something – making the most of my precious summer days. It’s ridiculous, I know, because I end up spending my whole day fretting over what I should be doing, rather than enjoying the time I have. Winter and fall, on the other hand, provide the perfect excuse to squirrel away in a cozy chair and read my book, totally guilt-free.

But my biggest problem with summer is that it’s almost always too bloody hot to cook. There’s nothing more disheartening than trying to bake a cake when your kitchen’s already 30 degrees, and let’s face it, nobody really wants to dig into warm baked goods on a blistering hot day.

For now, however, summer and I have reached a compromise, and that compromise is watermelon salad.

There are likely a few dozen recipes for watermelon salad floating around, as it’s certainly not groundbreaking or fine dining by any stretch of the imagination. But there is nothing, and I mean nothing, more refreshing than a bowl full of watermelon and mint.

My uncle introduced me to this blessed combination a few weeks back, when I was over at his house for supper on one of these ridiculously hot days. It’s incredibly simple, fresh, and best of all, it honestly takes no more than 10 minutes to put together.

Tools

Cutting board
Large kitchen knife
Large mixing bowl
Measuring spoons
Salad tongs

Ingredients

1/2 ripe watermelon
2 – 3 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil leaves
1-1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Dash balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Instructions

Dice watermelon into 1-inch cubes, discarding outer peel. Place in a large bowl. Add chopped mint and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, tossing to coat. Top with goat cheese and toss to combine. Serve immediately, garnishing with additional mint or basil leaves if desired.

Enjoy!

1

Fettuccine Alfredo with Broccoli

For the first time in 18 years, the first week of September had no meaning to me. It came and went with no new shoes and sweaters, no scribblers, no fresh start.

It’s been looming over me for the past month now, ever since the back to school flyers started arriving in my mailbox, serving as a weekly reminder of my permanent adult state.

I can’t bring myself to drive by my old university campus, or to change my homepage to something other than my school’s site. What would I possibly change it to? Where do I belong now?

The truth is, I belong to myself now. I am responsible for what happens next, what path my life takes, not some professor with the mark of her pen.

It seems so infinite, which is what scares me the most. In school, I always had semesters and summer jobs to look forward to, always knowing that each would come to an end eventually, and I had no control over when they did.

I’ve lived my life on deadlines, always looking ahead to what’s next, always planning for my next chapter, never appreciating what I have in the moment. Now I have everything: a beautiful apartment, an amazing boyfriend, an incredible job in my field, and a kitty that cuddles me every evening when I read my book.

But for some ridiculous reason, all I can think of is the next step: what will I be doing in five years, when will I get married, where will I live? But it’s not just thoughts; it’s worry and doubt that run through my mind, causing me to ignore all these beautiful things I have now.

I often catch myself staring out my office window at the house next door. There’s a woman that lives in there with her husband and handful of kids, and I’m jealous; jealous of the haphazard way she goes about her day, living according to her 4 year old’s schedule. I look over at her and think how simple her life is, caring for her kids. But the other day, as I took a break from work and gazed out my window, I saw her standing on the porch of her lovely home, looking bereft and staring up at me on the third floor, a hint of envy in her eyes.

I wish I had perspective and was able to recognize that everything I’ve worked toward is a reality, that the life I’ve spent the past four years preparing for is now mine. I wish I was able to go back to being that confused freshman student just for a moment, so I could see how far I’ve come.

Five years ago, when TJ and I were just about to graduate from high school and start the next big step in our lives, he decided he’d try his hand at cooking. He wanted to impress me, so he chose, of all things, Fettuccine Alfredo. To be honest, it was kind of dreadful. The sauce was chunky and cold, and the pasta was undercooked. It meant the world to me that he tried, so I smiled and ate it nonetheless.

Neither of us have dared to make it since, so now that we’re entering another chapter of our lives, I thought it was about time to try it again. The base of the recipe is from an old issue of Canadian Living, but I added more butter and some broccoli to mix things up.

Tools

large saucepan
medium saucepan
whisk
measuring cups
measuring spoons
colander
wooden cutting board
large kitchen knife

Ingredients

12 oz fettuccine pasta
2 cups broccoli
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Instructions

Cook pasta in large pot of salted, boiling water for 7 minutes. Add broccoli and cook for another 2 minutes. To prevent noodles from sticking together, pour 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil in the water beforehand.

Drain and return to the pot, removed from heat. In medium saucepan, heat butter and whipping cream. Whisk thoroughly and bring to a boil. Reduce head and whisk in salt, pepper and parmesan cheese.

Add sauce to pasta and broccoli, toss, and serve with added parmesan cheese on top.

Enjoy!

*Edit* After receiving a concerned phone call from my sister claiming this recipe is too salty for her taste, I have realized an unfortunate typo; rather than the 1/2 cup salt listed on the original post, the recipe in fact calls for 1/2 teaspoon. Let’s hope she was the only chef who followed my advice blindly (I am trying my hardest not to make fun of her right now).