Tag Archives: cooking

Making Saag Paneer with guest hostess Johanne Durocher

Saag Paneer for dinner-YUM!

I am absolutely thrilled to have my friend Johanne do a guest blog for me!  She has so much going on and yet made time for Cheese and Toast.  Her bio and pic (including a pic of donuts) is here and her blog Fashion in Motion is a fave–not only because of the fabulous content but I love Johanne’s witty and fun writing style.  You shall see as you read from this point on…..  ENJOY, SR.

As a gal who likes to improvise in the dressing room and in the kitchen, following a recipe to the letter is an exercise in restraint. I can’t resist substitutions, additions, modifications. I’ll use a silicone spatula instead of a wooden spoon. I’m such a rebel. Cue the music: I did it my way.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always enjoyed cooking Indian food: it’s so flexible to adding more of this, less of that, turn up the heat or throw in an extra veg. But every now and again and I take on a new recipe and force-feed myself a little discipline. I do my best to follow it to the letter and not dispute salting the water or measuring only one teaspoon of vanilla.

And so it was with this in mind that I rolled up my sleeves and made Saag Paneer. Most people look shocked and a little scared when I tell them I made Saag Paneer. It is fitting that we reveal the mystery of the saag right here right now.

I followed the recipe here at Active For Life and it boasts a healthy take on the Indian classic. Having made Indian dishes before, I thought, piece of cake. It is very easy- but not necessarily a project I recommend undertaking on a weeknight unless you’re up to eating at 9pm. It will be an event: so pour yourself a drink and start washing your spinach.

I set a very large pot of salted water to boil and while that was heating up, I washed and dried just over two pounds of fresh spinach. That in itself took a long time and when I make this recipe again, I may just buy it pre-washed.

Fresh Spinach

I prepared just over two pounds of fresh spinach that I chopped into 3-inch long segments

Before blanching the spinach, I coarsely chopped it in half or thirds depending on the length of the leaves. I figured that this way when I would blend them there wouldn’t be a chance of having long strings of spinach filaments- imagined or real, the anticipation caused a coarse chop (see- I just can’t help myself throw in extra steps.)

Okay, when the water is at a full boil you drop your spinach in it, stir to get it all wet and then you wait and watch with the lid off (helps tremendously).

Spinach in Water

Blanching spinach is easy- just let the water come back to a boil and you’re done

When the water begins to boil again, strain the spinach and discard the water. In my case, I was hesitating about blanching it all at once because I had so much spinach and perhaps had not chosen a large enough pot, so I blanched in batches. To do this, just delicately scoop out the blanched spinach from the water and let the water come back to a roaring boil before throwing in the next batch. Worked really well for me.

Blanched spinach

The goal of blanching is to soften the spinach, not kill it to mush

After that bring in the high-powered machine: blend the spinach in a food processor at high speed. It won’t be super smooth so you’ll want to add water at the rate of one tablespoon at a time, then blend again, then add water until it’s looking smooth to you. It won’t be like a creamy-smooth, but it should be well-blended and the spinach particles quite small. No chunks, no filaments.

Food Processor

I was using my mini-food processor and had to blend my spinach in batches. See? Anything is possible

After that comes the fun stuff: on medium heat, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan with high sides. Add ¾ tsp of cumin seeds and cook until slightly browned and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Careful not to let these babies burn. Add 1 diced cooking onion and sauté until golden, roughly 10 minutes. Stir in 3 cloves of grated garlic and 2 tea spoons of grated ginger root. Cook for one minute.

Onion and Cumin

By this time it will smell so good in your house you’ll be thinking you can do this

When the onions are nice and golden, stir in ¼ cup of cilantro finely chopped, ½ tsp each of salt, ground coriander and turmeric. Stir in ¼ tsp of cinnamon and cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add ½ cup of fresh chopped tomatoes and cook until they reduce and break down, roughly 5 minutes.

Paneer in Pan

I made the execute chef decision to pan-fry the paneer cubes at this step in the game

Set aside the tomato mixture in a bowl and return the frying pan to the stove, adding one teaspoon of oil and set that to medium heat. Dice 1 package of paneer into bite-sized cubes and add that to your hot pan. I added two cloves of grated garlic to them and flipped the cubes until golden crispy on two or more sides and then pulled those aside. This paneer-frying is a deviation that is perfectly acceptable (weeks later I discussed this with chef Vikram Vij who said it’s okay, but you can also just add your paneer later as the recipe instructs and that way it will be more melt-y, less-cube-y in texture. Your choice.).

Golden Paneer

Mmm paneer- a pressed cheese much like cottage cheese brick and commonly used in Indian cooking. I didn’t make the paneer and you don’t have to, either; it’s found at most large supermarkets.

I returned my pan to the heat and picked up where I left off: in it went the tomato mixture which I brought back to medium heat while stirring, and then added the reserved spinach. Cook for 3 minutes.

Spinach and Tomato

See me using a wooden spoon! I’m not breaking all the recipe rules

After that you should be looking at it and asking yourself if the mixture is saucy. If too thick, add water a few tablespoons at a time and stir. Stir in 1/3 cup of plain yogurt (I used fat-free Greek yogurt and threw in a little extra), the paneer cubes, and 2 tsp of lemon juice.

Yogurt Paneer

Watching this coming together is like waiting for the finale to a figure skating routine and you will get a quad

Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 5 minutes. Uncover, cut the heat, stir and admire your work.

FInal Saag Paneer

Ta-da! It will be magic and even the international judges will give you full points

Serve with rice or naan bread, or in my case, eat it straight up with a side of Panch Churan chutney (see top photo).

Thoughts on leftovers….

For me it was the best on the night-of, the leftovers were delicious but the creaminess never matched the same bliss as when the sauce came out of the pan. Chef Vikram Vij told me that flavours will intensify over time, too.

Come over here to see the full instructions to make this Saag Paneer and feel like an Indian figure-skating sensation.

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Filed under All Recipes, Blogs with cooking tips, Cheese/Cheese Related, Uncategorized

Find me on Foodnetwork.ca with some kid-friendly cooking ideas

The blue shape is a train. Really. Squint.

Happy Father’s Day to all ye dads.  And to my dad and to my son’s dad.  (You know who you are.)

I jut wanted to let you all know that I’ve started blogging weekly for The Food Network, so every Friday I’m posting a recipe or something to do with cooking that is easy for kids to participate but also that helps them start to learn about food, cooking and kitchen skills.

Today’s post is sugar cookies for Father’s Day.  Just the basic variety (cars, planes, trains).  If you want to see kick ass effort check out this link to a cookie “remote control”.

I know! Crazy. Someone loves their husband more than I love mine. (from somewhatsimple.com)

I encourage Felix to cook with me, and before I teach him about organic or local or grass-fed I really just want him to see meals come together.  A pizza made from scratch.  Stuff like that.

And I do not mean to be preachy (we are having friends over tonight and I will be ordering pizza and just making a quick salad to go with–or actually asking my friends to bring that–better idea!)  but  sometimes a simple lentil salad with lemon dressing (canned lentils) can go a long way when paired with fast meals like grilled cheese-or pasta with garlic and butter.

And Does Felix eat lentil salad?  Sometimes a fair bit, sometimes none but usually something in between.  But, he knows how to make it!  Though honestly, my cat could make it (it’s slightly more awkward whisking with paws we’ve found–and we keep electrical gadgets out of her reach).

You’ll see a new sidebar on the right side of the blog called Cooking With Kids and I will add links there as the blogs accumulate.  Thanks for checking it out.

Have a fantastic weekend.    S.

See the train shape now? What about the car? Maybe move back from your screen…

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Terroir 2012: Making mouths water like crazy

Terroir 2012, proving you can never have too many cooks...

Slushy wet snow, smokey, wood-burning smells in the air and a warm packed room accented with aromas of cooking, scattered  beer cans and people unravelling themselves layer by layer from their outdoor gear.  Could have been an afternoon anywhere in Canadian cottage (or cabin) country.  Aside from the iPhones filling up with photos of just-foraged plants being sliced, fresh sausages being filled and local trout being smoked.

Connie DeSousa making sausages (yes, Top Chef Canada lovers, celebrity sighting!)

Plus the fact that the whole feast was being prepared by some of the most talented chefs in Canada (and some outside of Canada). It was a fantasy Thanksgiving-doppelganger afternoon at Mad Maple Inn in Bruce County this past Tuesday, April 24.

The dining room at Mad Maple, this is the view from the open kitchen.

The event was part of The Terroir Symposium 2012.  The day before had been a full house at the newly renovated Acadian Court, now run by Oliver and Bonacini (more on the symposium in another post).   I was fortunate enough to be invited on the following day’s tour of Grey Bruce Simcoe county–complete with bus ride, April flurries and a more moments of awesome than even the Book of Awesome could come up with (lunch featured wood-fired pizzas and was hosted by Michael Stadtländer at his Haisai Bakery and Restaurant.)

Check out Renée Suen’s photos for Toronto Life where she gives a preview of The Singhampton Project, Michael Stadtländer’s upcoming visual and edible feast at Eigensinn Farm.

We were hosted by Miriam Streiman who is opening Mad Maple Country Inn in this summer.  Above is the side table which served as the appetizer hang-out (if you weren’t stealing nibbles from the main kitchen.)   The yellow wax encased cheese is from Best Baa Dairy and the two cream cheeses came from newish producers Steacy and Scott den Haan of Primeridge Pure Dairy Products.

But let me get to the heart of it–the meal.  The formidable menu was posted on the wall after dinner was served and I had to take it in three pictures to get it all, as it reached down to the floor.  For more of the chefs and the food, check out Jessica Allen’s piece for Maclean’s.

THE CHEFS, THE FOOD AND THE LOCAL PRODUCERS

Beer Bread and birch plates

BRENT LEITCH, Two Kinds of Beer Bread, Creemore Springs and K2 Milling

CARL HEINRICH, RYAN DONOVAN, JULIA AYEARST, Trout on Kale with Mustard Vinaigrette, Kolapore Springs and The New Farm

So tender, so beautiful, so trouty

CARL HEINRICH, RYAN DONOVAN, JULIA AYEARST, BBQ Pork belly and trotters on baked beans, Blue Haven and The New Farm

CONNIE DESOUSA, Lamb organ Kielbasa with Brassica mustard, Twin Creeks Organic Farm and Forbes Wild Food

CRAIG FLINN, Black chicken soup with Jerusalem artichokes and wild mushrooms, Blue Haven, Creemore Springs and Wylie Mycologicals

JEREMY CHARLES, Wild Newfoundland Rabbit with Red Tail Flour pappardelle, wild mushrooms, speck, wild mustard and fresh herbs, K2 Milling, Forbes Wild Foods, Michael Stadtlander

JEFF CRUMP, Spit-Roasted Lamb with sauce gribiche, Twin Peaks Organic farm

BEN SHEWRY, Grated Potatoes , The New Farm, Tama Mutsuoka Wong

The grated potato salad with foraged greens and poached egg

Ben Shewry of Melbourne, Australia's much accoladed Attica restaurant, working on potato salad

Forager for Daniel NYC, Tama Mutsuoka Wong, talks about her finds which are going into the salad

JAMES ROBERTS, Potatoes gratin with wild garlic and shallot confit, The New Farm, Frobes Wild Food, Harmony Organic

PETER BURT, Fire-roasted beers and carrots and (and I can’t read the rest of the list, damn), The New Farm

CONNIE DESOUSA, Fresh Cheese Cheesecake with Rhubarb and almond Crumb, Harmony Organic

And finally my Cinderella…I never find out who she was, but man, was she a beauty!

And if you’re thinking–where was the bar?  It was there, in a cozy back room, the wine provided by Georgian Hills Vineyards.

And if you’ve been waiting to see a picture of Ivy Knight, woman-of-all-trades (and a back of the bus fun person–I am a front of the bus read a book person, it makes me sad sometimes) here she is.  Check out her awesome new website all about foodstuffs at swallowfood.com  and ask for an I SWALLOW sticker for your iPhone.

See the glee, the fun that was had?  She’s laughing because she just swore at me.  But then, I did cut off most of her face in this picture.  Even?

Fun was had, food was had, Tuesday’s will never be the same.   Though I might start eating off  birch plates (even sturdier than paper and disposable in the wood pile).

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Filed under Ruminations on the Edible, Top Chef Season 1, Travel and Food, Uncategorized