Archive | July, 2012

Recipe: Cheesy Taco Pasta

29 Jul

Mr. Bacon is decidedly against two types of foods: casseroles and Mexican flavours on pasta. I’m a decidedly huge fan of both of these things. I used to make these kinds of dishes only when he was away from home but sometimes, you just have a craving for some comfort food that needs to be satisfied immediately!

For this very reason, and also because 90% of grocery store frozen meals are gross, I make up these kinds of dishes and portion them out into glass dishes to take for lunches.

This is one of my favourite things to make. It’s simple but packs a lot of flavour and reheats really nicely. It’s also a thousand times better than the ‘Beef-Type-Substance Helper’ version. It’s equally good fresh from the oven on a weeknight if your family is willing to help you eat it!

Cheesy Taco Pasta

1/2 large bag of Scoobi-doo or rotini pasta
1 pound ground beef
1 taco seasoning packet
1 1/2 cups salsa
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sour cream
3 cups shredded marble cheese

Start the water boiling for the pasta. Then in a separate large pot start browning the ground beef. When it’s done, add the taco seasoning, water, sour cream and salsa. Stir and let simmer while the pasta cooks. (Remember to salt the water well!) When the pasta is done, drain and then add to the sauce mixture. Let cook for another 3 minutes, stirring while the sauce is absorbed. Remove from heat and add 1 cup of the shredded cheese to the mixture. Stir.

If you’re eating it immediately, or want a family sized version in the freezer, place the pasta and meat mixture into a large baking dish. If not, portion it out into 4 or 5 microwavable containers. Top both versions with the remaining cheese. If you’re eating it immediately throw it under the boiler for a few minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. The other version will be ready after a 5 minute stint on high in the microwave.

MMM. It’s like a spicy hug.

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

20 Jul

I can’t recall where this recipe came from but it’s in my scribbled notebook of ‘keeper’ recipes. The ones that aren’t in my core cookbooks I keep there so I can easily remember and find a tried and true option when I need one.

This pie is so rich and sinful even though I always make it with low fat cream cheese and diet whipped topping. People go nuts for it, so much so that last time I whipped one together for a get together with Mr. Bacon’s side of the family, I didn’t even get a single slice!

To make up for it, I had an extra big slice of this one. And it was fantastic.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

1 Redi Crust chocolate pie crust
1 tub of whipped topping
1 block of cream cheese, softened
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
chocolate sundae syrup
handful of chocolate chips, peanuts or chocolate covered peanuts

Beat together peanut butter, cream cheese and sugar. Fold in 3/4 of the whipped topping and spoon mixture into the pie shell. Spread the remaining whipped topping over the top. Drizzle the chocolate sundae syrup liberally overtop. Place another 2 tbsp of peanut butter into a small sandwich bag and microwave for approximately 30 seconds or until liquid. Snip the tip of the bag and drizzle the peanut butter overtop of the chocolate sauce. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.

Place in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up. Overnight is best though.

** Tip ** – Invert the lid of the pie crust and reseal the edge to cover your pie while it’s in the fridge.

Recipe: Cheater Shrimp n’ Grits

18 Jul

Shrimp n’ grits is one of a handful of dishes that make up classic southern cuisine. And like most ‘classic’ dishes, everyone’s got a riff that they say makes it ‘the ultimate’ version of that dish. I’m sure this one isn’t ‘the ultimate’ (I’ve tested some of the popular versions) it certainly is easy, takes about 10 minutes and packs a world of flavour. Plus it has bacon. How can you go wrong??

Some of you may be asking the question, “What is a grit? Whatever it is, it doesn’t sound tasty.” Well, let me assure you grits can be plenty tasty and that it’s basically the south’s version of Italian polenta – cornmeal , slowly turned into a fluffy cereal pudding by boiling with water or other liquids. In other words, the corn version of cream of wheat.

Southern grits are white corn vs. yellow. The ones I buy (in the US as they’re very difficult to find here) are the Quaker brand quick cook grits in the blue tube. If you can’t find these, substitute large stone ground cornmeal (like Bob’s Red Mill).

The other secret ingredient is something decidedly NOT traditional – Jalapeno Tex Mex Cheese Whiz . Don’t be afraid – I was not a  Cheese Whiz believer either until a friend (thanks April) turned me on to how good this newly minted flavour of the faux cheese was. It’s fantastic just melted down on top of tortilla chips (just like movie nachos!) and likely many other tasty combinations I’ve yet to discover.

The rest of the ingredients should already be in your house or at least the local grocery store.

Cheater Shrimp n’ Grits

For the grits
½ cup of Quaker quick cook grits
1 ½ cups water
dash of salt
2 heaping tablespoons of Cheese Whiz nacho flavour (or regular Cheese Whiz but add ¼ tsp or more of cayenne for flavour and spice)

For the shrimp
1 pound of shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 strips of bacon, diced
3 green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
½  lemon, squeezed
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
dash of cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

This recipe will come together quickly so do your mise-en-place before starting. Place the grits into a microwave bowl and add the water and salt. Stir with a whisk and place in the microwave until later. Use some kitchen shears to snip the green onions, parsley and bacon vs. using a knife. It’ll go way faster. Cut the lemon in half. Prep your garlic and have your shrimp handy.

On a medium high heat, begin frying the bacon pieces. When they’re almost crisp, remove them from the pan and set aside to drain on paper towel. Now you can turn the grits in your microwave on for 4 minutes on high. While they’re cooking throw the shrimp in the pan with a dash of cayenne. Add in the squeeze of lemon, the green onions, the garlic and the salt & pepper. Stir.

Now go check on your grits. Give them a brisk stir with a whisk and pop them back in the microwave to finish.

Go back to the shrimp and add the parsley and stir a bit more. Cook the shrimp about 3-4 minutes or until thoroughly pink. Add the bacon back in at the end to reheat.

When the grits are done (they should be after 4 minutes), throw in the Cheese Whiz and stir briskly with the whisk until the cheese has been fully incorporated.

Place several spoonfuls into a bowl and top with some of the shrimp mixture. Enjoy the creamy spicyness!




Oh SuzyQ, Baby I love you…

13 Jul

In the last few years with foodie culture getting more mainstream, a series of food ‘trends’ have erupted. There was cupcakes, and bacon, and salted caramel but more recently, the cool kid on the block has been doughnuts. So cool in fact, that the Globe and Mail wrote about the popularity of gourmet doughnut stores popping up across the country, including one in Ottawa. 🙂

SuzyQ doughnuts is on Wellington West in Hintonburg in the shack that used to house Hintonburger. Opened by a Canada Post mail carrier after her stall at a local famer’s market couldn’t keep up with demand, they’ve got a pretty good thing going.

With a yeast-based doughnut dough that manages to be substantial but light and fluffy at the same time, SuzyQ’s real magic is in the imaginative toppings that echo some of the other trends in food like the maple bacon and the salted caramel ones that I sampled today.

The maple bacon doughnut wasn’t as maple-ey as it could have been in my opinion, with the glaze just mostly sweet but the bacon was cooked and cut perfectly so that it became almost like crunchy bacon sprinkles. The salted caramel had a gooey and buttery caramel coating with a light touch of saltyness that really worked well.

I was a bit disappointed that they were out of the other flavour I had wanted to try, Blue Fruit Loop (yes, with the cereal). It’s just a good excuse to make a return trip! Check out SuzyQ’s website at

Tools of the Trade: Cookie Scoops

10 Jul

I love my cookie scoops. If you don’t have at least one in your arsenal you should go buy one.

Courtesy of The Coastal Cupboard

Perhaps I should explain why.

Before the advent of cookie scoops in my world, dishing out a batch of cookies would take a while and would involve a lot of scraping and squishing of dough with two spoons. The cookies would never have a pretty ‘oh those must be from a bakery’ shape and some of them would cook faster than others because they were bigger or smaller.

Now my cookies are perfection and I can scoop out two whole trays in a couple minutes flat.

That being said, ‘cookie scoop’ is a bit of a misnomer. I also use mine to:

– Scoop muffin and cupcake batter – Not only do they come out more uniform due to portioning, but you wind up with more of the batter in the muffin liners instead of ON the muffin tray
– Scoop ice cream – You get perfect scoops every time!
– Making meatballs – Again, perfect size and way faster.

I will never go back to the two spoon method ever again.

Now when you go out to buy yourself one, do not make the mistake of cheaping out. Go whole hog and get the Oxo Good Grips versions. They come in three sizes – small (good for tiny applications like chocolate truffles), medium (good for most cookies, mini cupcakes and small meatballs) and large (good for regular sized cupcakes and muffins and large sized meatballs). I’ve never been disappointed with any Oxo product. They usually have superior design and mechanisms and are dishwasher safe. In Canada they’re available at Bed Bath and Beyond, Home Outfitters, Home Sense and at some local stores like @Home in Kanata Centrum.

I’ve tried other scoops from Norpro and Wilton. The Wilton one had terrible action on it – with stiff cookie batters the scraper would stick, negating the whole point of the scoop. I found it was too small as well. The Norpro was OK but the action was much stiffer and was really uncomfortable to use. It also had issues binding with stiff dough and I eventually stripped the gears on it trying to pry it apart in frustration.


Recipe: Shawarma Salad

7 Jul

It’s been crazy hot here this week. So much so, that Mr. Bacon installed our air conditioner today. We don’t put it in every summer, but the last few have required artificial cooling in order to sleep in our bedroom. And when it’s this hot, you certainly don’t want to make anything that’s going to heat the kitchen up which is why tonight we had shawarma salad.

Sandwich and garlic potatoes from my favourite shawarma purveyor, Ali at Shawarma House on March Road. Ali is an artist.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the shawarma, it’s one of the most popular street foods in the middle east and is incredibly prevalent in Ottawa and Montreal due to the high population of middle eastern immigrants. Shawarma usually consists of meat (either beef or chicken) with vegetables (lettuce, tomato, onion, cabbage) and pickles (turnip and Lebanese cucumber) slathered in sauce (garlic, hummus, tahini) and wrapped in a pita.

What I call shawarma salad though is a traditional Lebanese salad called fattoush with grilled chicken marinated in yogurt, lemon and middle eastern spices. It’s intensely fresh and flavourful and makes a great light summer meal.

Shawarma Salad

For the salad:
1 head romaine lettuce
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 onion, sliced thinly
1/2 English cucumber, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
4 radishes
pita bread
pickled turnips

For the dressing:
juice of 2 fresh lemons or 1 fresh and 3 tbsp of bottled lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
2 tsp dried mint
1 1/2 tbsp sumac

For the chicken:
2 boneless skinless breasts, or 1 pound of chicken tenderloins
1/2 cup plain or greek yogurt
3-6 tbsp of lemon juice (use more if you’re using greek yogurt to thin it)
2 tsp shawarma spice (comes in a packet labelled as such, but there are also recipes on the internet for the spice blend)
1 tsp salt

Marinate the chicken for at least an hour. It’s best if you prep it in the morning. When you’re ready for dinner, start the BBQ and grill the chicken over medium heat.

While it’s cooking, dice the vegetables for the salad and mix the ingredients for the dressing in a separate bowl. Don’t fudge on the fresh parsley and the fresh lemon – it makes a difference.

Take the pita and rip it into bite sized pieces. Place them on a disposable cookie sheet and spray lightly with Pam. Sprinkle with a little sumac and place the cookie sheet on the BBQ with the chicken until they’re crispy.

When the chicken is done let it rest for 5 minutes. Take this time to pour the dressing on to the salad (leaving the pita ‘croutons’ aside) and toss well. You can choose to dice the chicken and include it in the salad, or place it on top. Garnish with  the pita croutons and the pickled turnip pieces. Yes, the turnips are bright pink and look crazy, but they taste awesome really add a great dimension to the dish.

You should be able to find the pickled turnip, shawarma spice and sumac at your local middle eastern grocery store. Although I see that Bulk Barn (at least the location nearest me) is now carrying sumac as well.

Tools of the Trade: Cooking Bibles

3 Jul

Before any Christians get their panties in a bunch, I’m not talking about chucking the New Testament into a stock pot. I’m talking about those cookbooks that you keep going back to because they contain basic but critical cooking knowledge. Yes, as much as I LOVE Pinterest for discovering new recipes, there are two specific cookbooks that I keep coming back to because they have tried and true recipes for the core comfort food that we all grew up on. That’s why they’ve been reprinted for decades and why there are fierce battles on eBay for reprints. 🙂

So, what are my two desert island cookbooks?

One is Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, specifically the ‘red pie’ edition first printed in 1969 – the hardcover, not the 5 ring binder. 

Courtesy of Vintage Victuals

What makes Betty so awesome over 40 years later? This book is filled with core recipes like scalloped potatoes, yorkshire pudding, 7 minute frosting and things that are making a comeback like chess pie.

It’s got great visual instructions on how do to things like cut a pineapple, make a lattice pie crust and what cuts of meat come from what part of the cow.

It actually contains the first recipe I ever made – chef’s salad – for a project in the third grade. Why I chose to make salad for third graders, I have no idea. The kids who made snowball cookies and French toast were a lot more popular.

Betty’s book is still being printed and I in fact have a more ‘modern’ version as well. It still has some good stuff, but it’s been heavily pared down and crammed full of modern classics like buffalo chicken wings, totally missing some of the stuff that made the original so awesome.

Now to get your hands on one of these, you can either pilfer it from your mom’s collection, or you can jump on eBay and hope not to get outbid (I’ve seen copies go for as much as $100 depending on the condition). The best way to find one is likely at your local used book store though. The prices are generally more fair and you don’t have to pay shipping!

Desert island cookbook #2 is the Purity Cookbook. 

The edition on the market now was carefully reproduced from the 1967 edition. It’s got great charts for roasting all kinds of meats and recipes for just about everything that your grandmother probably put on her table, unfortunately including ‘gelatin desserts’.

Given the fact it was published by a flour company, the breads section is especially great with instructions for lots of classic loaves, waffles, muffins, scones and biscuits. The page that is most marked in this book for me is the apple crisp though. The Purity version is nicely sweet and bakes up very crispy on the edges. MMM. Now I want apple crisp.

There’s really no excuse not to pick this book up. At under $20 and readily available on Amazon and Chapters it should be part of your collection if it isn’t already. Makes a great shower gift for upcoming weddings!