Fiery Spaghetti with Plenty of Garlic, Fresh Herbs, and Parmesan

Spaghetti with Fresh Herbs, Chilies, Parmesan, and Black Pepper on a vivid red background.

This recipe has many, many variations but the basic idea is always the same: heaps of fiery chilies, bright greenery, enough garlic to offend anyone within close range, and some sort of satisfying umami element to bring it all together. You could go ahead and use any type of pasta you prefer, but there’s something very satisfying about eating a big bowl of perfectly toothsome al dente spaghetti that I find essential to this loosely crafted recipe. If I’m using sub-par garlic, which tends to be often, I use between 5-7 cloves to really drive the point home. If you’re lucky to have wonderfully pungent cloves then feel free to scale back (or not). I have fresh basil and parsley kicking around more often than other greenery, but I’ve also had immense luck with arugula, dill, and even baby spinach. What you’re looking for is a big happy juxtaposition of elements, the greens need to be capable of standing up for themselves and shining through layers of other robust flavours. The cheese is the umami hit that’s so essential when bringing all these flavours together, I tend to have a big chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano hanging out in the fridge so I use it as my default ingredient but anything aged and flavourful will work wonderfully (may I humbly suggest Pecorino Romano, aged Manchego, Piave Vecchio, Asiago, Crotenese, or even a really aged goat’s milk gouda).

fiery spaghetti with plenty of garlic, fresh herbs, and parmesan:

Enough spaghetti for 1-2 people

Olive oil

5-7 cloves of garlic, finely minced (if you have super strong garlic use less, or not!)

A big handful of flavourful greens and fresh herbs (parsley and basil are my personal favourite)

Copious amounts of freshly cracked pepper

Dried chili flakes

Parmesan cheese, grated (or other aged cheese)

Kosher salt to taste

  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, before draining reserve about half of a cup of the pasta water.
  2. In the same pot that the pasta was cooked in heat up the olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the minced garlic until fragrant and then add the fresh greens and dried chili peppers.
  4. Toss the spaghetti and pasta water with the garlic, dried chili peppers, and greens. Take off the heat and add the freshly cracked pepper, parmesan cheese, and kosher salt to taste.
  5. Serve in large bowls with extra cheese and greens sprinkled on top. Eat large amounts while still piping hot, relax and reflect on how happy and nourished you feel.

I have to admit, there’s something about The War on Drugs that reminds me of early childhood, being in the car with my dad while he listened to Dire Straits or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As with so many things in my life, nostalgia takes the wheel once again and steers my taste. I love this album, it’s just meant for sunny Sunday afternoons and lying around on the couch, waiting to gently fall asleep in the pools of a softly filtered sunbeam.

The War on Drugs – Comin’ Through

Kitchen Sink Salad with a Creamy Avocado and Greek Yogurt Dressing

Broccoli, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, pickled peppers, cucumbers and a creamy feta and avocado dressing on a bed of lettuce.

I have some really nice memories of Sunday nights with my family that involve kitchen sink salads. My sister and I would often spend the afternoon outside, our outdoor activities depended on the time of year (destroying piles of raked leaves, making picnic table forts, pretending the hammock was a pirate ship, or constructing little houses out of sticks for toads). We’d come inside and clean up, maybe draw or read, and my parents would always be listening to music as they figured out dinner (yes, I was an early inductee into the world of music with dinner). Sometimes, our Sunday night supper would be a kitchen sink salad – a large wooden salad bowl filled with chopped broccoli, mushrooms, sweet peppers, little diced pieces of cheese, and whatever else needed to be used up in the fridge. That’s the magic of kitchen sink salads, you have the freedom to add whatever you want! I have such a soft spot in my heart for iceberg lettuce, I almost always have some in my crisper and I have so many memories of reading in bed with my mom and sharing a head of lettuce. We’d slowly peel the lettuce leaves away, crunching contentedly while totally absorbed in a book. Of course, I know that I’m looking at these memories through the lens of nostalgia, but they hold such a special place in my heart it’s hard not to experience them without it. Being a kitchen sink salad, the “recipe” part is really only used as a series of gentle suggestions. Think outside your fridge, too, and look in your cupboards or pantry. I’m a big fan of beans (canned or dried), roasted red peppers in brine, capers, grains, pickled hot peppers, and anything else that looks like it would be at home in a salad. This creamy avocado and Greek salad dressing is one of my favourites, but again, use what you love and whatever is convenient.

kitchen sink salad with a creamy avocado and greek yogurt dressing:

1/2 avocado

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Juice and zest of half a lemon

1 large bunch of fresh basil, parsley, and/or cilantro

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 head of broccoli, segmented into small florets and blanched in boiling water

12 grape tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters depending on their size

1 cup of cucumber, cut into thick(ish) half or quarter moons

3 scallions, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. pickled jalapeno or pepperoncini peppers, finely diced

About 1/4 cup of crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese

Iceberg lettuce (or any other crisp, sturdy lettuce)

Put the avocado, Greek yogurt, red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and fresh herbs of your choice in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, giving it a final blitz when you’re happy with the seasoning.

Place all of the remaining salad ingredients in a large serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and toss to coat. Enjoy a giant bowl of this salad, feeling good that you’ve found a use for all the odds and ends in your kitchen.

I grew up in a Leonard Cohen household and this song is a fitting tribute to childhood Sunday dinners. I still think this song is as mysterious and hauntingly beautiful as I did when my mom and dad would listen to it while making supper. This song especially makes me think of dark winter nights, clean crisp sheets, the smell of our fireplace, feeling anxious about Monday at school, my parents before they divorced, reading Tintin in bed, and my beloved childhood pet cat Peter.

Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat

 

Fantastic Slow Cooker Pot Roast

Pot roast in a narrow serving vessel with a glass of red wine and a small white bowl of mashed potatoes.

My slow cooker, my friend. And a worthy friend at that! I can roughly chop a bunch of ingredients up, throw them in my slow cooker, and 4-8 hours later I have a meal that is comforting, delicious, complex in flavour, and almost always yields leftovers. Pot roast is an especially rewarding slow cooker meal, the final product being akin to actual kitchen alchemy with very little effort on your behalf. All you need to do is brown the roast on all sides and then pop it into your crockpot, add a few flavour enhancers, and then nestle in a bouquet of winter vegetables to complete the meal. I know that lots of people like to add potatoes to their pot roast, which you should do if that sounds appealing. Personally, I prefer my potatoes made separately – mashed with butter and Greek yogurt until perfectly whipped and fluffy. You can add all sorts of vegetables to your slow cooker, besides the options presented below; I am particularly fond of celeriac, parsnips, mushrooms, pearl onions, fennel bulbs, and turnip. Just make the vegetables are cut up in a fairly uniform size, although the risk of undercooking anything is rendered impossible due to cooking times. This is also a very forgiving recipe and in fact a very good one to use if you’re trying to clean out your fridge drawers of somewhat wilted vegetables. You can omit the red wine and use all broth, or omit the broth and use all wine. The fresh herbs could be substituted with dried (use less in this case), you could also add some puréed tomatoes to make an exceptionally savoury ragu for pasta. Alternately, you could serve this pot roast on freshly toasted rolls with thin slices of mozzarella for a rustic take on the good old fashioned Sloppy Joe (one of my favourite ways to use up leftovers). I don’t think pot roast requires that you make complementary sides, but a big green salad and steamed broccolini with chopped garlic and olive oil wouldn’t be remiss.

fantastic slow cooker pot roast:

3-4 lb. pot roast (I generally use deboned roasts)

2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 cup of red wine

1 cup of beef broth

2 stalks of celery, cut into thin half moons

1 large red onion, cut into fat wedges

3 large carrots, peeled and cut into generous, uniform pieces

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small rutabaga, sliced into thick half moon pieces

1 fresh sprig of rosemary

3 fresh sprigs of thyme

2 bay leaves

1-2 Tbsp. flour or cornstarch

Generous amounts of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

  1. In an large skillet or Dutch oven brown the roast in the grapeseed oil on each side. Transfer to your slow cooker.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the flour or cornstarch, and cook on high for 4 hours or 8 hours on low.
  3. Towards the end of the cooking time remove some of the gravy from the slow cooker and whisk in the flour or cornstarch before returning the mixture back to the slow cooker. Stir the mixture back into the contents of the slow cooker and heat for another half an hour or so, stirring occasionally to prevent lumps.

I’ve been revisiting Sparklehorse lately, which is like wrapping yourself in a big blanket of sadness. The real life tragedy behind Sparklehorse is all too real is and seeps into their music as thick as any depression I can remember, which is odd because I generally find myself listening to Sparklehorse when I feel the lights turn on in my own life.

Sparklehorse – Painbirds

 

Autumn Salad with Roasted Golden Beets and Cauliflower

Plate full of salad with roasted cauliflower and golden beets.

I’m entirely in love with the autumn we’ve had in Vancouver this year. It actually feels like a season of its own and not just an immediate onset of grey and never-ending rain (which I do love, I’m not complaining), but a breathtaking and bright extended autumn. It feels like I’m back in Ontario for my favourite time of year, just without the quiet threat of impending snow and cold. This warm salad is an ode to the seasonal fruits and vegetables of autumn, its bright colours mimic the foliage of October in Vancouver. It’s a vibrant contrast between green pine trees and palm trees against the firework display of deciduous leaves, often nestled delicately amongst the former. You could use turnip, parsnip, sweet potatoes, yams, or carrots in place of the golden beets and the apple could easily be a pear. Go ahead and use regular beets but beware their shocking hue, your salad will go from multicoloured to deep red as soon as you toss it. I also like this salad the next day wrapped up in warm pita bread or naan with a drizzle of hummus that has been thinned with tahini and lemon juice.

autumn salad with roasted golden beets and cauliflower:

5 golden beets, scrubbed and quartered

1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into small segments

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Half an apple, I like Pink Lady or Honeycrisp

2 small stalks of celery, cut into thin quarter moons

About a third of a red onion, diced and then soaked in juice of 1 lime and water for at least 15 minutes

2 cups of baby spinach, torn

Half of a pomegranate

for the dressing:

1/4 cup of olive oil

1 1/2 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1 Tbsp. honey or 1 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. dried chilli flakes

Freshly cracked pepper and kosher salt to taste

1. Toss the beets with olive oil and generous pinch of salt and roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Add the cauliflower pieces and another drizzle of olive oil, roast for another 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to come to room temperature.

2. Put all of the salad dressing ingredients into a jar and shake vigorously. Set aside.

3. Cut the beets into thin slices and combine them with the cauliflower, apple, celery, red onion, spinach, and pomegranate seeds in a large salad bowl. Add the dressing and toss well to coat the salad. Let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving while still warm.

Who knew a song about a dying goldfish could be so pretty? Something meaningful and nostalgic for a warm day on the couch in front of the fire.

Pinback – Penelope

Congee with Shredded Chicken

Chicken congee in a square bowl with garlic and chill paste

I think I’ve made this congee with shredded chicken three times in the last two weeks, mainly on my Sundays alone (which is actually a Monday). Sunday/Mondays are the days when I tend to do writing work and clean the apartment. Lately it’s been either grey or white skies I wake up to, both are like opening your eyes to a soft embrace, especially when you don’t have to leave the house for work or errands. Making congee takes at least 2 hours of almost totally hands off time, so I usually begin making it once I’m ready to sit down and write. That way, towards late afternoon when I suddenly realize I haven’t eaten yet, I’m treated to an incredibly nourishing and soothing mid-afternoon meal.  You can use a whole chicken if you’d like, although I’m more likely to have chicken thighs in the freezer so I use those instead. It’s imperative the chicken have both skin and bones intact, these ensure the congee ends up richly thick and gives immense flavour to the broth. Simple to assemble, congee can be eaten alone or with a wide variety of condiments. Some of my favourites include sambal oelek, sriracha, lime wedges, slivered scallion, a splash of fish or soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh basil or cilantro, extra grated ginger or garlic, napa cabbage, and shredded carrot. This is ultimate comfort food so make every attempt to eat in your pyjamas, curled up on the couch under an afghan with a good book. Bonus points if it’s raining and you have the windows open so that you can smell the overwhelming greenery just outside your apartment.

congee with shredded chicken:

4-5 large chicken thighs OR 1 whole chicken, skin and bones intact

3 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 pieces

3 Tbsp. jasmine rice

1. Place the chicken and ginger in a large pot with a lid and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for at least an hour and up to two.

2. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into another pot, reserving the chicken and allowing it to cool. Bring the broth to a very low simmer and cook the rice for at least a half an hour and up to a full hour (the rice will begin to disintegrate, but you’ll have an amazingly thick congee in the end).

3. Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred into large pieces. Portion into large shallow bowls and cover with the hot congee. Eat as is or load up on any of the suggested condiments or anything else you think might taste delicious.

I can’t listen to music with a lot of singing, or lyrics, when I’m writing for work; I find it incredibly distracting. I love songs such as this one, a slowed down Dead Can Dance sort of sound. It’s wonderfully atmospheric and feeds into my love for dark days and solitude for long stretches of time.

Bvdub & Ian Hawgood – Beauty is in the Eye of the Pretender

Simple Roasted Vegetables and Brown Rice

Roasted Vegetables and Rice

Today was my first day back at work after being on holiday visiting my family in London, Ontario for the week and I was really feeling the adjustment tonight when I got home. It’s especially easy on nights like this to succumb to delivery, but roasted vegetables are a fast and hands off way to get dinner on the table quickly; even allowing you to have a dance party in the living room to unwind while they’re in the oven. I took one eggplant, quartered, and salted it while I cut up about half a bundle of asparagus and 2 sweet peppers. I rinsed the eggplant with cold water and patted it dry with a paper towel before cutting into a 1 inch dice. Toss all of the vegetables together in a roasting pan with a generous amount of olive oil, salt, pepper, dried oregano and dried basil. Roast at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the cut vegetables surfaces are evenly browned. Once thoroughly roasted snip in about a 1/2 cup of fresh basil and a scant 1 cup of grated Reggiano (Vacche Rosa if you can find it.) Have the rice cooking alongside the vegetables and then stir in a small pat of butter before serving with extra cheese and fresh basil. Easy!

Most importantly, have a living room dance party while the roasting is occurring…

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero

Honey Roasted Carrots

Roasted Carrots

I have always found carrots to be less than exciting. Maybe part of the indifference comes from the disparity between their spectacular colour and lacklustre flavour – even young, tender carrots leave me wanting. The other night at the grocery store I asked Ian what he’d like for dinner as a side for risotto balls and he responded with “carrots.” I was up for the challenge and remembered a very similar formula for roasted parsnips that received a considerable amount of enthusiasm and thought that the same principles would apply. I am happy to report that the carrot transformation was a  complete success. These honey roasted carrots are sweet and softly salty, the honey glaze turns into a sticky toffee-like coating that brings out a flavour that captures exactly what I feel carrots should taste like; something oddly bright and earthy at the same time.

honey roasted carrots:

7 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch strips

3 Tbsp. of honey

3 Tbsp. of vegetable oil

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 cup of fresh basil or parsley (or both), cut into a thin chiffonade or snipped with scissors

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Whisk together the honey, vegetable oil, and kosher salt in a small bowl. In a large mixing bowl mix the honey and oil mixture with the carrot strips until they are well coated.

3. Either line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, adding non-stick cooking spray if using the latter. Distribute the carrots evenly and bake for 35-40 minutes, turning the carrots halfway through the cooking time for even roasting.

4. Transfer the honey roasted carrots to a serving platter immediately and garnish generously with fresh basil and some additional salt to taste.

I’ve had the new Mazzy Star album Seasons of Your Day on repeat for the past 4 hours and just on in general since I first listened to it being streamed on the CBC website. For the most part the album sounds like an extension of their earlier records and of the Warm Inventions which is exactly what I what anticipating and hoping for. This is rainy day music at its best and a dream soundtrack for the grey Vancouver weather we’ve been hurriedly thrown into; autumn always feels more inviting with the presence of fuzzy warmth in the form of music.

Mazzy Star – In the Kingdom