Thursday, June 24, 2010

chilli pasta

You know something will be a hit when a family has a code word for it. In this case, “CP.” Apparently, the kids get too excited otherwise. Even the two year old says, “Chilli pata! Chilli pata!”

This recipe comes from England originally, via Nova Scotia, and has now winged its way across Canada to land on the West Coast with me. Many thanks to my friend Leanne from Chester Basin, N.S. for passing it along. She got the recipe from her sister Denise, who lives in Plymouth, England. Leanne reports that every Tuesday is chilli pasta night for Denise’s family.

There are two secrets to this recipe: chilli pepper and back bacon. The two make a smooth and smoky alliance in this tomato sauce. I think they were destined for each other.

Speaking of back bacon, who knew how many names there are for it? Apparently, it’s sometimes called Canadian bacon or Irish bacon in the U.S., and can be called peameal bacon in Canada. I wonder what it’s called in the U.K.?

This is the ultimate weeknight dinner recipe. Throw a few things in a pot, let it simmer, boil up some pasta, grate a bit of cheese . . . and be astounded by how delicious it all is.

Chilli pepper and back bacon: a happy marriage indeed.

A note: You could put in less soup or no soup and still make a great sauce. I like the soup because it makes the sauce creamier.

Another note: This makes quite a runny sauce, which I like to coat all the noodles. However, if you prefer a thicker sauce, try straining the canned tomatoes and/or adding less soup.

chilli pasta 

serves 4 adults

1/2 lb. (230 g.) back bacon or "Canadian" bacon, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 1/5 c. mushrooms, sliced
28 oz. (800 ml.) good quality diced tomatoes
2 c. cream of tomato soup (less from a can where it’s condensed)
1/2 to 1 green chilli pepper or jalapeño pepper, minced finely
salt and pepper, to taste
parmesan or asiago cheese, grated

Heat heavy-bottomed pan over medium-low heat.

Add oil, then bacon. Stir and add onion, garlic and mushrooms. Cook until onion has softened.

Add chilli or jalapeño pepper, diced tomatoes and tomato soup.

Cover and simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In the meantime, make the pasta and grate the cheese.

Once the sauce is ready, toss it with the pasta. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

sweet oatcakes

Ever since I left Halifax nine years ago, I have missed eating Mrs P’s oatcakes. They are crumbly, almost sandwich-like things: round oatcakes stuck together with peanut butter icing and dipped in chocolate. They are the perfect thing to eat, sitting at a coffee shop downtown, trying to study, but actually thinking about where life will go.

Every time I go back to Halifax, I search out Mrs P’s oatcakes. If one coffee shop doesn’t carry them anymore, no, I can’t stay, I’m off to the next. A visit isn’t complete without a chocolate peanut butter oatcake (or seafood chowder, for that matter).

But those visits just aren’t enough.

I longed for my own oatcake source, and I realized Mrs P was probably never going to expand from her small bakery on Herring Cove Road outside Halifax to supply coffee shops in Victoria.

It was all up to me.

A chocolate peanut butter oatcake is a serious thing, so I did my research and came up with these. They loosely follow a recipe that’s all over the Internet for “Cape Breton Oatcakes.”

I made a few changes to make them better suit my memory, and added the chocolate and peanut butter icing, à la Mrs P. They’re easy to make – almost like making a pie with oats the way you cut in the butter and shortening.

Without the chocolate and the peanut butter icing, these oatcakes are pleasantly sweet, but not overly so. In fact, I’m already looking forward to making a savoury variation, probably with cheese and chipotle.

If you’re ever in Halifax, I’d highly recommend you find Mrs P’s oatcakes. But if you’re not, make these.

Mrs P, thank you for the inspiration. Bless you for coming up with the idea of putting oatcakes, peanut butter and chocolate together.

A note for gluten-free people:
This recipe will only work for you if you can tolerate oats. Make sure you find oats that were grown in an uncontaminated field and processed in an uncontaminated factory. My favourite oats come from Cream Hill Estates.

chocolate peanut butter oatcakes

bakes 60 wee oatcakes

2 c. rolled oats
2/3 c. oat flour
1 1/3 c. wheat flour
            Or gluten-free flours:
2/3 c. sweet white sorghum flour
            1/3 c. tapioca starch
            1/3 c. sweet rice flour
            1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum or guar gum
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. vegetable shortening
up to 1/2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a cookie pan (or two) with parchment paper.

Pulse the rolled oats in the food processor a few times to break them up.

Stir the pulsed oats, oat flour, wheat or gluten-free flours, baking powder and salt together. Stir in the brown sugar.

Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in the butter and vegetable shortening. Mix well.  Add a bit of cold water and stir together. Keep adding water until it holds together and isn’t crumbly (but also isn’t sticky).

Use your hands to spread and pat the dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Make it about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick. With a butter knife, cut squares. Then cut each square diagonally in half to make triangles.

Place triangles on prepared cookie pan. They can be quite close together, as the cakes don’t expand as much as puff up while they bake.

Bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until their edges are just golden.

peanut butter icing

1/4 c. smooth peanut butter
1 1/2 c. icing or powdered sugar
1 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
up to 2 tbsp. milk
+ 4 to 5 oz. dark chocolate for drizzling

Whip the peanut butter, icing sugar, butter and vanilla together. Slowly add the milk until you have a consistency that is easy to spread, but will also harden well.

assembling the oatcakes

Once the oatcakes are cooled, melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler (or in a metal bowl suspended over boiling water).

Spread each oatcake with an untidy dollop of peanut butter icing.

Use a fork to drizzle chocolate over the peanut butter icing.

Chill the oatcakes in the fridge to allow the icing and chocolate to harden.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

behold the small white bean

Meet the small white bean.

See how shy it is, trying to make its getaway? It slumps down to the bottom of the bowl, trying to evade my spoon. But I will catch it because it is delicious.

Small white bean, you say? What kind of small white bean?

Well . . . It came in a package labelled, “small white beans” and my mother-in-law’s soup recipe calls for “little white beans.”

And that’s all the information I’ve got. It is a shy bean, you see.

However, I am a journalist by profession, so I looked it up and have determined – fairly certainly – that it is a small white navy bean.

Whatever it is, it makes one of the most lovely, silky soups I’ve ever eaten.

This recipe comes from my Mennonite mother-in-law Loretta. It’s called “Ripe Bean Soup” – which must be a translation from Low German that didn’t quite work out in English. Because this recipe starts with dried beans.

Whatever it really means, it works. And it’s easy. The only trick is starting it a couple hours before dinnertime. Once you throw the beans and pork hock in the pot, you're pretty much done.

The small white beans make the soup unusually smooth and the smoked pork hock makes it incredibly tasty. You'll be glad you met the small white bean.

A note: Don’t be intimidated by that pork hock, if you haven’t used one before. I found a local smoked pork hock at the grocery store – it was less than $5. This is a Mennonite soup, so it must be economical!

ripe bean soup

makes 6 bowls

2 1/2 c. dried small white beans
2 tbsp. butter
12 – 14 c. water
1 1/2 – 2 lb. pork hock
1 onion, chopped finely
1/3 c. parsley, minced
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 tbsp. vinegar
1 – 2 tbsp. sour cream

Fill a big, heavy pot with the small white beans, butter, 12 cups of water and pork hock. (If you are a bit picky about fatty pieces of pork hock, you can carefully cut off the fat and skin, and just use the meat and bone in your soup.)

Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat until the stock simmers away. Cover. Let simmer for about 2 hours, until the beans are tender.

Half an hour before you’d like to eat, throw in the onion, parsley, salt, and some freshly ground pepper. Simmer. Part way through the cooking, taste and decide if you should add the other 2 cups of water and more salt. You might not need to.

Once the soup is ready and the beans are soft and splitting, stir in the vinegar and sour cream.

Garnish with a piece of parsley if you’re feeling fancy.