Mini salsa-stuffed meatloaves and bacon smashed potatoes (my kitchen goes Tex-Mex)

You’ve seen it before on this blog. I have a thing for organization. I have a thing for geometrics. I have a thing for bacon. This dinner combined all three.

This semester Freya and I have gotten a new subletter, Shannon. Shannon was away in Chile for a year on exchange for her international business program. All you need to know is that she makes a lot of Mexican-inspired meals. Fajitas, tacos, everything delicious, fragrant and Tex-Mex-y. When it comes to food, I’m very impressionable. And so, a Hilary Makes Tex-Mex night was in order. Shannon’s weekday taco night was enough to push me off the edge. I needed it.

So what are these small spherical items, you ask? Only your future favourite thing ever.

The first are mini salsa-stuff meatloaves, a recipe found in March’s issue of Canadian Living (which is now splashed with bacon grease). The second were bacon smashed potatoes, something that I’ve been wanting to make for at least a year-and-a-half.

Partial smashed potato filling

This was just what the doctor ordered. The two dishes were easy, filling and made my entire house smell like delicious cooked things. Normally I hate when my clothes absorb the smell of my kitchen, but I made an exception for this meal. I actually made an effort to open some of my dresser drawers so my clothes could flirt with the wafted aromas. Bacon-scented pajamas? Yes please.

Not the most photographic meal, but a solid dinner, lunch, lunch for someone else, dinner again, and late morning snack. Perfect.

Oh baby

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Mushroom and barley risotto (a craving cured)

In past posts, I’ve admitted to several food cravings that I’m not so proud of. Be it five-minute cupcakes, half a bowl of unused cream cheese icing, or cold Kraft Dinner eaten straight from the fridge, these are the cravings that make me wonder how it is that I’m supposed to be a 20-something-year-old.

Then there’s the weird, but positive cravings. Like how I lose my mind for Magic Bullet smoothies after I go for a run. Or like how sometimes I cannot stop eating raspberries. You get the point.

This week’s bizarre and healthy choice came in the form of barley, that delicious grain that resembles the cutest of tiny beads. Barley is just the latest of the super grain family to catch my attention (its extended family tree includes my beloved quinoa and the elusive wheat berry). You can only imagine how thrilled I was when I received my latest issue of Canadian Living, flipped straight to the food section and discovered – low and behold – a brilliant series on Super Grains.

I did a flailing, happy food dance in my dining room.

My favourite of the recipes was one for mushroom and barley risotto. Mushrooms! Barley! Easily two of the best things in the universe. I set out to make this my Thursday night mission. I have a long day of classes on Friday, and said day is severely improved upon if I bring a delicious lunch of leftovers.

Since I didn’t have all the same ingredients as the recipe requested and since I am more frequently throwing caution to the wind and experimenting, my creation turned out a little differently than what you’ll see in the glossy pages of CL. Still, they get 100 per cent of the inspiration credit for this meal.

I added frozen peas and used fresh mushrooms rather than dry. I also made some other minor tweaks. This was yummy and reminded me of the rice risotto that Gord and I once made in Amsterdam.

Finally, winter photo season isn’t working out half as badly as I thought it would! I am totally digging these photos, and have fully delved into the wonderful world of Photoshop in order to make any lighting/colour adjustments that may be necessary. I may have gone a little overboard with the pine cones and oven rack props (fact: the latter was picked up off the side of the road, washed promptly and is now a multi-function house piece!), but hey, for someone who is used to standing on a chair on her outdoor patio to get a good shot, this is nothing. UPDATE: Okay, I just realized that you can’t see the pine cones in the photos I picked, but I promise you that they’re there. I’ll just have to include them in future photos. Aside: isn’t this bowl perfect for these photos?!

PPS: I imagine that this could easily be made vegetarian, should you choose to substitute the chicken stock with veggie stock.

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Gord and I make dumplings, take two (Chinese New Year 2012)

Remember how last year Gord and I made potstickers and shrimp shumai to celebrate Chinese New Year? Well we did it again (with the dumplings, anyways)! This year, said dumplings/pot-stickers didn’t come out looking like turds. I thought it was an improvement, but you can decide that for yourself.

2011 (though I still like the plating)
Uncooked, 2012 (perfectly crimped, probably Gord's)

Having never made dumplings before last year’s day-long food fest, Gord and I spent much of our 2011 time perplexed over the best way to seal one side of the wonton wrapper to the other, while still creating something that looked even vaguely appetizing. This year, we were pros (well Gord was a pro, I was still crimping them closed incorrectly and eating wonton wrappers like raw pasta). The picture above illustrates how the finished, raw dumplings looked like cute little stegosaurus.

Of course, simplicity must come with another new challenge. This year’s challenge was uncontrollable, and not due to my lack of neat food origami skills.

Just as Gord and I were about to get our hands all up in the raw ground pork to make the dumpling filling, the water along his entire street went out. Water is kind of a crucial part of the whole cooking and cleaning process. So we decided Gord would be the solo mixer. After, his hands looked like he had just run them through a vat of zombie brains (seasoned with green onions). Much paper towel was utilized and a careful cooking process followed to avoid sickness.

Dumpling innards, pre-zombie brain mix-fest

Thank heavens I had brought along my trusty Carleton water bottle. It was filled to the brim with the great elixir of life, and leftover water doubled as our steaming and post-dumpling party cleaning fluid.

Take that, forces beyond my control – I have now successfully made bruschetta without power and dumplings without water.

PS: last year when I brought the dumplings home, we were stupid and packaged the soft, stuffed wonton membranes into a Ziploc bag. They promptly froze into one giant clump in the freezer, making the resulting photos of the defrosted dumplings (see above, again) even less appetizing. This year, we froze first, packaged after. There is now a bag of dumpling happiness sitting in my freezer which I will be steaming up on January 23.

PPS: Like last year, I will again use a shot glass to hold my soya sauce. Some things never change.

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Chicken and Lentil Curry with Homemade Naan Bread

For some reason I seem to be going international with my food.  With this Indian feast of a meal and last week’s greek-style macaroni, I guess I’m trying to inadvertently embrace some of the non-Americanized eating traditions.  If that means I get to eat tonnes of delicious ethnic food, I am SO down.

The recipe for this curry also came from the January edition of Canadian Living, which seems to be providing me with lots of great meal choices for the winter months.  Like all Indian food, this recipe was very…fragrant.  By this, I mean that both my kitchen and me smelled like garam masala and cumin for a day.  On a related note, is cumin not the most wonderful spice in the world?  If I wasn’t going to be shunned from society for doing this, I would definitely look into purchasing some sort of eau du cumin perfume (please don’t judge me).  The spices in this recipe were what made the meal.  The curry part of this turned out to be really filling and chalked full of protein.  Also, I got to use up loads of lentils, bags of which have been sitting in my cupboard since the summer months.  All part of my never ending task to empty out the giant void that is my second shelf pantry.

As for the naan bread, this was sort of an impulsive make.  On Saturday morning I knew I was going to be making this curry, and quite simply decided that there was no other way to eat Indian food than by piling it atop some delicious naan.  I got this recipe from the blog Itsy Bitsy Foodies which I found on Tastespotting.  Since I’m lacking the whole authentic clay oven thing that they actually use to bake this bread, I used our pizza stone and my normal oven, which had to be turned up to a whopping 550°C.  Hot, I know.  Let me tell you, our whiny fire alarm did not like that one, and frequently reminded us of its presence throughout the naan’s baking period.  The bread turned out pretty well for a homemade job, I think.  It was way more doughy than the authentic Indian naan and in turn not as light.  Nonetheless, it was incredibly satisfying to shove layers upon layers of naan/rice/curry into my mouth, so I consider this one to be a success.

This meal’s leftovers became a huge and filling lunch on Sunday when I had all day television training at school.  That’s right, on a SUNDAY </complaints>.  The big meal helped cheer and wake me up, so it was much appreciated!

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Cheesy Shepherd’s Pie

I AM DONE EXAMS WAHOOOOOOO!  Other than half of a take home exam that I need to finish for tomorrow night, I am now officially on Christmas break.  This means that I finally have time to do things other than sitting in my bed/library studying and eating Costco-sized Toblerone bars.  For the next two weeks, I will have all the time in the world to blog, relax, play Super Mario with my little brother, cook and spend endless amounts of my day watching my new favourite tv show, How I Met Your Mother.

So ANYWAYS…

I realized the other day that I haven’t been testing out many of the recipes that have been in the recent issues of Canadian Living.  For a few months I was on a real roll, and had been trying out nearly half of their recipes from each issue.  Since I am now regularly getting their monthly magazine sent to me at home (thank you cheap student subscription rates!), it should be easier for me to try out their stuff, right?  Well regardless of the answer to that question, I am just going to have to make a conscious effort to review more of their recipes, starting now.

Making this recipe was actually what saved me from complete unhealthiness last week.  With leftover tourtiere in my freezer and this, I was eating somewhat decently for at least one meal a day, something which I am sure my stomach appreciated.

This shepherd’s pie recipe is found in the December issue of the magazine.  For some reason that boggles my mind, the recipe is actually called “cheddar cottage pie.”  The only reason I didn’t call it this in the title was because I really had no idea what a cottage pie was.  After several debates with Britt and our other friend Freya, we came to the conclusion that this name was because the pie was a “warm winter cottage-like food.”  Apparently we were wrong.  Here is what the ever helpful Wikipedia says:

The term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791, when potato was being introduced as an edible crop affordable for the poor (“cottage” meaning a modest dwelling for rural workers).

Alright, so we were completely off there.  But we ARE students after all, and “affordable crops” are always a plus.  Thank you again to Wikipedia for the endless bank of wisdom.

So this one was pretty good, but unlike many other Canadian Living recipes, I found this one to actually be a bit bland.  Ever since I started cooking in the summer, my taste buds have somehow gotten super sensitive, meaning I’m always craving some sort of spicy kick.  I think it’s probably just me and my neuroses, but I’d add a little extra thyme, salt and pepper to this one just for safe keeping.

Also, happy first day of winter!  To celebrate, here is a picture of the circumstances that I’m going to have to photograph under until the day I decide to make myself a light box. I get even more weird looks from the neighbours now that I’m dragging a chair out to the front steps…

The final product.  I think my potato level was a little dominating in a “I’m going to crush the life out of your meat layer so it’s not photogenic” sort of way, but so such is life.  The half Irish in me screams that you can never have too much of our little spud friend.