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Pasta with Clams and Roasted Fennel

Who doesn't love pasta with nice, little clams? Crazy people, that's who.

Although I love a straight up vongole with nothing but olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, wine and clams, sometimes I want to kick things up a bit. I was craving a good pasta with clams but I was also craving roasted fennel- what to do? When I thought about it,  it made sense to just throw some fennel in there. Once I got used to the idea of adding fennel, it made it feel less taboo to add some diced tomato as well. At this rate, I will be adding meatballs and smoked trout the next time.

Pasta with clams and roasted fennel
serves 4

1 head fennel, quartered
olive oil
kosher salt

400g dried spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bls butter
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
pinch chili flakes
salt and pepper
1kg or 2 lbs of small clams
1/4 cup white wine
1 small tomato, diced
handful fresh italian parsley, chopped
roasted fennel, sliced
fennel fronds, chopped

to roast the fennel ahead of time:
preheat oven to 400F
rub the fennel slices in enough olive oil to coat, and sprinkle with kosher salt and place in a heavy baking pan (I do mine in my cast iron skillet). Roast on the second to bottom rack until totally brown and caramelized, about 30 minutes. I turn it over at that point, let it cook for another 5 minutes and then remove from the oven but let it sit in the hot pan and it will continue to brown the bottom while your prep your pasta ingredients. When it cools enough to handle, slice the fennel and set aside.

As far as the clams go, try to buy them the day you are going to cook them or the night before but not sooner than that. As soon as you get them home, place them in a colander and put the colander in a bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel or paper towels that have been soaked in water and wrung out. Don't let them stay in the plastic bag and don't keep them all day in water. I rinse them a few times and then let them sit in a bowl of cool water for about 20 minutes before they go into the pan.

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. It will take about 8 minutes to cook so you have to work fast and have all of your ingredients prepped and standing by.

heat your olive oil and butter over med low heat in a sauté pan that is big enough to accommodate the finished dish. Add the garlic and the chili flakes and a good pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper and cook slowly for 4 or 5 minutes but don't let it get brown. Drain your clams and add those along with the white wine and the tomato and cover and let cook for a few minutes until all of the clams have opened up. By this time your pasta should be just about done so take it out of the water and drain it (don't rinse it, just drain it) and dump the pasta into the clams.

Add the parsley, the sliced fennel and the chopped fennel fronds and give the pan a few good tosses, let it cook for another minute so that the pasta can soak up some of the delicious juices and plate it up. If it seems a bit dry, drizzle a bit more olive oil over the top before you plate it.

Argentinian Flank Steak with Chimichurri

I love chimichurri and could probably be persuaded to eat it on just about anything. I like to say that I would eat dog poop if you used enough chimichurri but that is kind of gross so I probably shouldn't write that here.

I Love Mother's Tea Because That Means I Get To Eat Tea Sandwiches

Do you think that Oprah loves these tiny, crustless tea sandwiches too or do you think she likes her tea sandwiches battered and fried? Now that I think about it, a chicken fried tea sandwich might be a pretty fabulous thing, no?

Anyway, I spent hours looking at tea party treats for our school's annual Mother's Tea and just couldn't decide on what sandwich to make. I LOVE a good egg salad but I was pretty sure that someone else made some because someone always makes egg salad. I wanted to keep things pretty mild, nothing too crazy so I finally settled on these Oprah sammys and then, because it didn't feel like enough, I made some cheese straws too. My southern friends make me feel like I have not lived until I have eaten some tangy, mildly spicy cheese straws and wouldn't dream of hosting a tea party without them so I didn't want to feel like a shoddy hostess (even though I wasn't actually the hostess anyway). I used the recipe from smitten kitchen because I find her recipes to be fantastic all the time so, sorry Martha, but I passed yours over this time and I am really happy with the results.

I rechopped the parsley after I took these pictures and chopped it much more finely so the finished sandwiches had a much lighter dusting of parsley in case you are looking at these and wondering why they seem to be under attack by rabid parsley bits.                                    

Cheese and Arugula Tea Sandwiches
from Oprah of all people

8 oz (250g) of cream cheese, room temp
5 oz (140g)  herb goat cheese, room temp
1 packed cup of baby arugula, finely chopped
1 seedless cucumber, sliced super thin on a mandoline
16 slices of very thinly sliced, fresh white sandwich bread
finely chopped parsely

put the slices of cucumber on paper towel while you get everything ready so it will absorb some of the moisture.
Mix together the cream cheese and the goat cheese in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add in the chopped arugula and mix just until incorporated.

Lay out 8 slices of bread. Spread each slice with some of the cheese mixture and then lay down a few slices of cucumber. Cover each with a slice a bread. Carefully cut off the crusts and then cut each sandwich into quarters. Spread a bit of the cream cheese on one side of each quarter and dip that it the chopped parsley.

Cheese Straws
from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups of grated sharp cheddar
4 tbls (half a stick) of butter, room temp and cut into chunks
3/4 cup all purpose flour, more for rolling out
1/2 tsp of my fancy pants Breton sea salt but you can use kosher salt
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
1 tbls evaporated milk

Preheat the oven to 350F

In your food processor, mix the cheese, butter, flour, salt and chili flake in quick pulses until it looks like coarse meal. Add the evaporated milk and process until the dough comes together in a ball. She says 10 seconds but it took at least 20 seconds for me so keep going until that happens.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into about an 8"x10" 1/8" thick rectangle. I used a pizza wheel to cut the dough into strips that were about 1/4" wide. Transfer those strips to a parchment lined baking tray, leaving some space between them and bake them in the centre of the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes - mine looked perfect after 13 minutes.

Remove them from the oven and cool the tray on a rack. They keep in the fridge for 2 days but good luck with that. It was all I could do to not eat them all myself before I packed them up to take to the tea. Some of them broke but that doesn't matter because they are tasty and nobody minded a few smaller straws.

Linguine with raw tomato sauce

This is something we eat a lot during the summer months when tomatoes are at their peak. It seems like such a shame to cook them for those few precious weeks that we have local tomatoes that are succulent and perfect. Nothing is better than a perfectly ripe tomato from your own garden, sliced up with nothing but a bit of sea salt and a grind of black pepper.


MMMMMM mussels. They are so cheap, so easy and so delicious that anyone who enjoys eating them but never makes them is insane. You can make a giant pot of mussels, cut up a loaf of some kind of good, crusty bread, maybe make a salad and you have dinner on the table in ten minutes for under $10.

Sometimes it's fun to get fancy pants and do all sorts of exotic thai lemongrass or Indian spiced mussels to be sure, but for The Kid, it's always classic,  straight up white wine, garlic and buttery tomatoes. Bottom line is that there is no excuse to not make them so don't be a crazy person. Go and buy yourself a bag of mussels and get cracking.

Mussels in White Wine

serves 2 as a main course or 3 or 4 as an appetizer

2 lb mussels
3 tbls butter
3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch chili flakes
2 large plum tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chopped italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped basil

Cook the onion, chili flake  and garlic in the butter in a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until the onions are soft.  Turn up the heat to high and add the mussels.  Pour in the white wine and stir for about 1 minute.  Stir in the tomatoes, parsley and basil and cover and cook for 5 minutes until all the mussels have opened.
Serve the mussels in large bowl with the broth and some nice, crusty bread to sop up the juice.
** when you buy mussels, try to buy them the day you are going to cook them. Once you get them home from the store, give them a rinse and put them in a colander set in a bowl, cover with a damp towel or dampened paper towels and keep in the fridge until it's time to use them. They might require a bit of a debearding but most mussels these days come pretty clean already.

Buttermilk Oven Fried Chicken

Dinner. It just doesn't ever go away. Every day you have to eat something and you have feed that kid something for supper. When you are feeding people on a daily basis, it can't all be risotto and homemade pasta because on most week nights, you are going to need dishes that are delicious, quick, nutritious and easy to throw together in a hour. I had some skinless, bone in chicken breasts that had to get used today and a bit of buttermilk so I settled on some sort of buttermilk marinated chicken. Doesn't take a brain surgeon to come to that conclusion, does it? From that point, it's all about what sort of spices and other flavourings you add to the buttermilk that separate the men from the boys.

Regardless, I just wanted to make sure I was on the right track with my plans so when I found this really basic recipe on TLC and it didn't involve 19 kids and counting or american gypsy's, I knew I had found a good, solid base to work from.

I didn't follow the actual recipe really closely but it gave me my starting point. I am still very much in love with my smoked paprika so you know there is some of that in there. Again, as always, if I were making this for just the adults, I would have added some hot sauce and I am thinking of trying this again and using some of my Frank's buttery wing sauce that I brought home from a trip to Wegmans over  the border. This was so quick and easy and really tasty that I can see it becoming the basis for a regular oven fried chicken option. Of course it doesn't taste like real fried chicken but I don't deep fry at home and it is a bazillion times more healthy than real fried chicken so you can actually make this all the time and not feel like you are putting nails in the family coffin. It was really very tender and moist and the coating got nice and crispy so it's not like it's all that far from the fried chicken experience. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE a great fried chicken but I try not to eat that sort of thing very often and save it for a rare treat at a couple restaurants that do a fabulous fried chicken. If you live in Toronto and you haven't Tommy's eaten fried chicken at Stockyards, you aren't enjoying a life worth living.

Oven Fried Chicken
adapted from TLC buttermilk oven fried chicken

3 skinless, bone in chicken breasts
1 cup buttermilk
1 tbls smoked paprika
pinch kosher salt
1 tsp cumin

1 1/2 cup panko
1/4 cup all purpose flour
pinch kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp smoked paprika

mix the buttermilk with paprika, salt and cumin and soak the chicken breasts all afternoon if you can but at least for a few hours.

preheat the oven to 400F
Line a baking tray with foil. Put a grill or some sort of rack on top so that the chicken won't be sitting on the actual pan and oil that rack. It's better if you get air and heat circulation around the whole pieces of chicken.

mix the panko, flour, salt and pepper and paprika and put in a shallow bowl.
Remove the chicken from the buttermilk, shake off the excess marinade and coat completely in the crumb mixture and set on the rack. Spray the tops of the chicken with cooking oil (you can use a cooking spray or you can actually keep some olive oil in a small spray bottle in the kitchen) Let it sit for ten minutes before putting it the oven.

Bake for about 50 minutes until the chicken is golden brown and the juices are clear.

Italian Meatloaf

My guys love meatloaf and they are really open to all the different kinds of meatloaf I make. We have done a turkey meatloaf that had all the flavours of thanksgiving dinner that was a huge hit. Then there is The Kid's very favourite meatloaf that has lots of bbq sauce that I change up a little bit every time I make it but as long as there is bbq sauce in there, he is always happy. I make meatloaf with ground chicken, turkey, beef, veal, pork and combinations of all of those meats. 

For this particular dinner, I had the idea to make an italian meatloaf covered in pancetta and stuffed with provolone and went to the grocery store for my beef/pork/veal only to find they were out of ground pork. I was going to buy pork chops and grind it up myself when I spied the italian sausage and thought "why not?"

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