Ricotta, Chicken Pasta and summery dreams

Winter has hit here in Toronto.  It's cold.  Like stupid cold.  There is snow... not a lot but there is snow.  I've put my bike away for the winter.  We cried and I told it that I'd be out to visit and that our first ride in March would be awesome - we have to hold out for that.  So, here I am, running through the snow to work, motivating myself in the dark and craving cooking summery food. 

Let's face it, chicken, ricotta, lemon, parmesan... summery food for sure, right?  I should be posting about turnip, parsnip, cabbage (well - I have been posting about cabbage), squash... all that kind of stuff.  What the heck am I doing posting this in December.  You see?  I'm thinking exactly the same thing that you are thinking.  Where's the gingerbread, the turkey, the soup, the ham???  No, Wanda's posting lemony, cheesy pasta - damn, it even sounds good when you write it. 

Anyway, I craved it and so I made it and it was good.  Everybody ate it which means that it was good and that it didn't seem terribly out of place for the fam.  Truth be told, I bought this organic ricotta stuff and it was a little chunkier than I had hoped.  I imagined something creamier and I would make this again just to try it with creamier ricotta.  I don't think that anyone would object. 
Trust me the Christmasy/Seasonal posts are coming.  You'll get everything that you crave... well, maybe not the turkey.  But let's face it, Man cannot live on Christmas dinner and treats alone.  I'm going to let you in on a little secret:  it's not even my favourite meal.  Not even on my favourite meal list (doesn't everybody have one of those?).  I think that a hearty lasagna, butter chicken or a Trini Sunday lunch would be right up there instead.  I do have a cookie exchange party in a few days that I've got to get organised for.   That's going to force me into Christmasiness for sure.  This particular party serves a lovely Glugg recipe so I'm totally there.  I'll figure out what I'm gonna make and get pictures for all of you so that you can check it out too. 
For now though, let's dream of summer and sitting outside on the patio, sipping chardonnay and eating this gorgeous pasta. 

Ricotta, Chicken Pasta

serves 4

4 - 5 cups cooked pasta (rotini or penne)
1 lb chicken, sliced (I used thighs for this one but a mixture would do fine)
4 cups chard, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cups mushrooms, thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
zest from 1 lg lemon
juice from said lemon
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp basil
400g tub of ricotta (smooth)
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup parmesan
dash of pepper or heat of some kind

In a large pot of boiling water add some salt and boil the pasta to al dente.
Drain (reserve some of the pasta water) and set aside.

In another pot heat some oil over medium heat and add in the onion, chard and mushrooms.  Stir, cooking for about 5 min.  Add in the diced or sliced chicken and the garlic.  Continue cooking for about 5 minutes.  Add in the lemon zest, juice, salt, sugar and basil.  Mix well.
Add in the ricotta, cream and parmesan.  Mix until creamy and saucy (!)  Check the taste and add some heat if you choose to go there.  Adjust as necessary.  Toss the cooked pasta and serve.

Trini-Beef Pelau... hope springs eternal.

I am married to a Trinidadian.
I lived in Trinidad for well over a year - close to a year and a half (and 'No, I did not miss snow or the seasons.  Even at Christmas!).
I love Trini food.  I thought that I had died and gone to food heaven.  Everything tasted so good.  I mean everything.  Even at homes where we might just show up out of the blue made us fantastic food.  Pot Lucks - something that fills me with fear here in Canada (true confessions) - were fantastic.  Most people aren't afraid of cooking and don't rely on prepackaged food to get there.  The problem is that I don't cook  Trini food often enough.
The food looks straight forward, even on paper but when you try to make it you realize how difficult it is to get those flavours and textures just right.  I've watched D's Mom cook, I've watched D's Granny cook (she was famous for her cooking).  In fact, I've watched them cook this particular dish.  I've made this dish many times myself AND STILL I find it hard to get it 'right'.  I don't know what it is exactly but something comes out wrong.  When you do get this right though, it's one of the single most satisfying dishes in the world and any Trini will be happy to confirm it.

Rumour has it that a few years ago when Jay-Z was in Trinidad for Carnival, somebody's Mom got paid $700 US for a pot of pelau.  Restaurants don't stay open late in T&T (like really late I mean) and Jay-Z and entourage were hungry.  One of the contact people called his Mom, got her out of bed and she cooked up a pot for the lot.  I'm sure that Jay-Z and co. were happy to pay for it too - it's that good.
You can throw anything in this stuff... chicken, including feet (yeah, haven't actually seen that one yet), pork, carrot... you get the idea.
Don't let me put you off trying this though - it's well worth it.  The taste is great.  I'm officially resolving to cook more Trini food.

Beef Pelau (adapted from 'Naparima Girls School Cookbook' and my Mother-in-law)

1 1/2 - 2 lbs beef chuck

herb seasoning:
2 tsp each - thyme, chives, parsley
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
2 - 3 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp ketchup

1/3 - 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tin coconut milk (about 2 cups)
2 cups water
1 packet of beef bouillion
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 slices bacon, sliced
1 tin pidgeon peas or kidney beans
2 cups of long grain rice, washed

In a bowl, season the meat with the herb seasoning.  Set aside.

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven.  Add in the brown sugar.  Let the brown sugar melt but not start to turn black (this will take a few minutes - be patient).  Add in the onion and the bacon.  The sugar will seize up a bit but be patient and keep stirring it.  Once the onion and bacon cooks down a bit and the sugar starts to liquify again, add in the seasoned meat.  Let all of that cook over med/high heat until the liquid cooks down.

Mix together the coconut milk, water and bouillion and set aside.
Once the liquid in the meat cooks down, add in the pidgeon peas or beans.  Again, cook down for just a few minutes.  Add in the rice and mix briefly.  Finally, add in the coconut milk, water and bouillion.  Mix well.  Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer until the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed (about 30 min. or so).

Banana Bread and avoidance

So, we are quickly approaching the middle of December.  I should be doing the following:

1.  Sending out Christmas cards, possibly with a family portrait and newsletter but definitely with some kind of personal hand written gesture.
2.  Decorating my house with all things Christmas.
3.  Be at least halfway through my gift purchases.
4.  Baking my Christmas treats to serve at the lovely 'get-togethers' that I will be hosting.

Here's reality:
re #1.  Haven't even bought Christmas cards - won't be sending any and haven't sent any for the last 5 years!
re #2.  I stuck a red bow on my door and put up a Christmas tree - not bad, right?

Nothing else will be happening though, I can assure you.
re #3.  Haven't even made a proper Christmas gift list.
re #4.  Decided that I wasn't leaving the house today.  Didn't have butter - an essential for baking - and therefor made fried rice and this stuff...

Yup, Banana bread.  I searched for it on epicurious.com because I was even too lazy to get out of my chair and look up crap in my cookbooks.  I don't know when exactly you'll be reading posts of my Christmas cookies - turning out beautifully, intricately decorated and so plentiful that they're overflowing my cookie tins.  Maybe next week (I have a cookie exchange party which will pretty much make the decision for me).   Until then, I'm working, life is as usual, time is as usual and we need to eat... stuff with no butter in it 'cause I don't have any.  Banana Bread it is.

I kitchen-sinked it a bit - throwing in nuts and chocolate chips.  Skip both if you are feeling purist (my own personal default).  I was so lazy today that I even read the recipe wrong.  I thought that I was supposed to bake it for 20 min.  Duh!!! Of course it wasn't ready.  I baked it for another 10 min.... wasn't ready... another 10 min... then I lost count and just baked it until it looked ready and the tester came out clean.  So, we won't be eating 'sugar plums' or ginger breads at our house this week but we've got some kick ass banana bread and we can eat that in front of the Christmas tree and sing a carol in the meantime...

Banana Bread (adapted just a little from epicurious.com)
1 loaf

2 1/2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup milk (could use buttermilk here and then omit the lemon juice)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or vinegar)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (I used 1/2 cup of safflower oil instead)
2/3 cup sugar
2 lg eggs, lightly beaten
3 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Grease and flour a loaf pan (9x5)
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
Combine the milk and lemon juice or vinegar and set aside - allow it to thicken and curdle a bit.
Combine the eggs, sugar and butter (or oil).  Add in the milk and mix well.  Add in the banana and combine until well mixed.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Mix until combined.
Add in the chopped nuts and the chocolate chips.  Combine and pour the batter into the loaf pan.  Sprinkle a little coarse sugar over the top just before you put it in the oven.
Bake for about an hour or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool for about 20 min before slicing.

This stuff will probably taste better the next day.

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St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.

My Favourite Cookbooks

  • Naparima Girls High School Cookbook
  • The Silver Palate Cookbook
  • More-with-Less Cookbook
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Wanda Thorne
St Michael's Choir School is celebrating it's 75th anniversary year of service to St Michael's Cathedral. Part of the school celebration is a trip to Italy where our boys from Grades 5 - 12 will be performing and celebrating Mass. This blog will be chronicling our adventures. Wanda Thorne is the Vocal Coach at St Michael's Choir School. Gerard Lewis is the Grade 7/8 Homeroom teacher at the Choir School.
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