Trick or treat: Pumpkin seeds

I love Halloween – with the free Tootsie rolls, toddlers dressed as wild beasts and 1970s fright movies.  I appreciate the effort some people put into it, so I feel it’s only fitting to have a hand-carved pumpkin greeting the little trick-or-treaters when they come to my door. And, of course, I get all those pumpkin seeds to roast.

Roasting or toasting the seeds is very easy. First, get a pumpkin from your local market. When you’re ready to carve, cover your work area with newspaper because this is going to get messy. Now follow these steps:

  1. Set oven to 375°
  2. Cut off the top of the pumpkin
  3. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, dump them on a tray
  4. Separate the seeds from the pulp
  5. Rinse off seeds, pat dry with towel, place in bowl
  6. Add olive oil (about 1 tbsp)
  7. Add kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
  8. Spread coated seeds on cookie sheet
  9. Roast until golden brown (about 20 minutes), mixing often so they don’t stick

Want a little kick? Add some cayenne. I love these pumpkin seeds warm out of the oven. But they’re also a great snack the next day at work.

Happy Halloween.

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6÷2 = 3 quick pastas

Math is hard. Pasta is easy. In less time than it takes to calculate π you can make either of these three great recipes that only require a few ingredients each.

Some pasta takes longer to cook than others so you’ll need to know when to start cooking your sauce once you’ve got the pasta in the water. An example; recipe 3 really only has garlic, which can burn quickly if left in the hot oil for too long. Have the pan hot but only put the garlic in during the last few minutes. Burning can also be avoided by taking the pan off the heat now and then or by adding a bit of water.  The last thing you ever want is toasted, bitter garlic.

1. Strozzapreti with pancetta, tomatoes and garlic

  • 1 package Strozzapreti (they tend to be a little stuck together so separate them onto a plate)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz. pancetta (cut into ¼ inch dice)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes (quartered)
  • 1 medium onion (cut into ¼ inch dice)
  • 3 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Ground pepper
  • ¾ cup parmesan reggiano cheese (grated)

Instructions

  1. Bring salted water to a boil and heat up the pan.
  2. Pour two tablespoons of olive oil in the pan to heat up.
  3. Put the pancetta in the pan and occasionally stir, add some pepper.
  4. Once the pancetta has started to brown and render it’s fat, add the onion and garlic. Don’t forget to stir.
  5. Once the onions are translucent, add the tomatoes and let them melt a little.
  6. Place pasta in the water (the Strozzapreti is a six to seven minute pasta).
  7. A few minutes after pasta has gone in the pot pour two ladles full of boiling water into the pan and add the bay leaves.
  8. Cover the pan, and reduce the heat to a steady simmer.
  9. About two minutes before the pasta is done take the cover off the pan, add a bit more fresh olive-oil and continue the simmer.
  10. Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan.
  11. Discard the bay leaves and mix everything together.
  12. Off heat, add the cheese and some more pepper.
  13. Once you’ve plated the dish, add a touch more olive oil all over.

2. Strozzapreti with mushroom duxelle and cream

  • 1 package Strozzapreti
  • 1 ½ packages of button mushrooms (cut into fine dice)
  • 2 small shallots (cut into fine dice)
  • 1 garlic clove (minced)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • S&P
  • ½ cream
  • ¾ cup parmesan reggiano cheese (grated)
  • ¼ cup parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Bring salted water to a boil and heat up the pan.
  2. Chop up the mushrooms. If they’re a little old or damp put the pieces into a towel and squeeze out all the liquid you can into a bowl and reserve it.
  3. Put butter in the pan and let it melt and then sizzle.
  4. Put the shallots and garlic in the pan for about a minute, add salt and pepper.
  5. Once the shallots are translucent add the mushrooms. Stir constantly. You want them to brown but not burn.
  6. Put pasta in the water.
  7. About three minutes after adding the pasta add the cream to the mushrooms and lower heat to bring the sauce to a light simmer. If it thickens too quickly pour in some of the mushroom liquid.
  8. Drain the pasta and pour into pan.
  9. Mix everything off heat and add the cheese and some more pepper.
  10. Garnish with parsley.

3. Three-cheese Tortellini with garlic and parsley

  • ½ package three-cheese Tortellini
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus some extra)
  • 5 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
  • Ground pepper
  • ¾ cup parmesan reggiano cheese (grated)
  • 2 tbsp parsley for garnish

Instructions

  1. Bring salted water to a boil and heat up your pan. Don’t let it get too hot!
  2. Put pasta in the water (the Tortellini I use can take 15 minutes).
  3. When the pasta has about three to four minutes left of cooking time put the olive oil in the pan.
  4. Once the oil is hot add the garlic. If it looks like it’s frying get the pan off the heat. Swirl it around, don’t let it burn! You’ll smell it in less than a minute.
  5. Just after a minute pour a ladle full of boiling water into the pan.
  6. Swirl the garlic, oil and water around to get a light emulsion. Lower the heat.
  7. Drain the pasta and pour into pan.
  8. Mix everything together and add some fresh extra-virgin olive oil
  9. Off heat add the cheese and some more pepper and mix.
  10. Garnish with just little parsley.

Of course you can use other types of pasta if you like. I bought the Strozzapreti and Tortellini at Costco. All three recipes are easy and delicious! Now pre-heat the pan, get chopping and make sure you have things ready when the pasta is done. Solve that equation and you’ll see these recipes are pretty hard to F up.


By Special Request, Transylvanian Goulash (Szekely Gulyas)

This dish was first experienced at Café Chianti in Halifax. (The pre-fire Café Chianti, which was a hands-down favourite for cozy atmosphere and old-world servers. Unfortunately the new Café Chianti, located in a part of town where south enders go to feel good about shopping, seems to lack the same charm. But I’ve only been once, so stay tuned.) They served it with spaetzle and it was jaw dropping delicious.

Chad was able to find the recipe (not sure where) and it has been served countless times to favourable reviews. Everyone loves this dish (even Terra had seconds) and it’s surprisingly easy to make. The only annoying kitchen gadget tip is it really helps to have a spaetzle maker. I know people substitute cheese graters and Ziploc bags as they carefully shape each noodle, but the spaetzle maker works like a charm. I’ve taken the short cut of serving this with egg noodles, and it’s nowhere near as memorable. (Note: while not necessarily a feast for the eyes [it’s still goulash]; Transylvanian Goulash is a feast in every other way.)

Transylvanian Goulash (Szekely Gulyas)
Serves 4-6

Roughly chop 1/2 package of bacon and fry until cooked. Set bacon aside. Reserve a few tablespoons of the bacon fat and sauté 1 cup of finely chopped onions and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic until translucent.

Stir in (until onions are well-coated): 2 tbsp. Hungarian paprika (I have no idea if I use Hungarian paprika. Is all paprika Hungarian? Is it the macadamia nut of spices? No idea.)

Add pork (whatever you have and however much you want) cut into 1-inch cubes. Add Hungarian sausage (buy in your deli) cut up into bite size pieces. Add bacon.

Spread over meats: 1 lb. sauerkraut

Sprinkle over sauerkraut: 1 and 1/2 tsp. caraway seeds. (I don’t usually add this much, but the original recipe called for it).

Combine 1 can of tomato paste and a carton of chicken stock. (Sorry Tom, I know I should be making chicken stock.)

Pour above mixture over sauerkraut. Add water to bring liquid level to almost the height of the sauerkraut. (I’ve never done this. The chicken stock is always enough.)

Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer one hour.

Mix together with wire whisk:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy cream (or whatever you have on hand)
2 tbsp. flour

Stir into casserole: simmer for ten more minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste (I’ve never done this either. Trust me, it’s already tasty.)

The recipe we use for the spaetzle can be found here at AllRecipes. Follow it verbatim – it’s perfect. However, we usually quadruple it to feed four to six people (and to match the amount of goulash.)


Crappy day scones

Sure is ugly out. Made some scones. What else are ya gonna do?

Cream scones with currants

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar plus extra for tops
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 6 tbsp cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 2 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup heavy cream plus extra for brushing

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk flour with sugar, baking powder and salt in bowl.
  3. Toss the butter with the flour mixture to coat
  4. Using your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture is like a coarse meal.
  5. Add the currants and zest and mix
  6. Beat the egg with the cream and stir into flour mixture to make a loose dough
  7. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a 6″ round
  8. Cut into 8 wedges and place on baking sheet leaving space between
  9. Brush tops with cream and sprinkle with sugar
  10. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes

Saved by black bean soup

It’s hard to stomach but winter is almost here. The cold, the shovelling, being indoors all the time and the lack of sun drive me nuts. Sharing warm, hearty food with friends at this time of year helps to forget the coming threat of snow. And there’s something about the colder months that seems to make dinner parties special.

To stretch our legs I decided we needed a theme. After going through some cookbooks I thought a Cuban inspired meal would be a perfect way to try something new and remind us of hotter days. I discovered a recipe from Jacques Pépin for black bean soup that set the tone for the menu.

We started with fresh guacamole and tortilla chips. It was one of the better batches I’ve made all year and probably the last I’ll have until next summer. As we ate I thought of the beach and mentally held my middle finger up to December.

Next came the soup. Full of heat, textures and lots of flavour it was easily one of my favourite courses of the night. And it’s a dark soup – like mud – but glorious. What sets it even further apart from other soups are the condiments. Once served, you pile chopped banana, hard-boiled egg, raw onion, cilantro, red wine vinegar and olive oil on top. And don’t forget to add plenty of tabasco!

Our main course was a butterflied roast chicken with a Latin inspired spice rub. We served it with a salad of lettuce, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. After roasting I reduced the pan juices for a simple dressing. The labour-intensive part was the side dish, Papas Rellenas. Basically, these are mashed potato balls stuffed with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, Poblanos peppers and olives. I learned they’re a standard Cuban accompaniment to a meal, and after all the effort, worth it. We ended with ice cream and mango slices covered with a Tequila cream liqueur.

Everyone enjoyed the meal as far as I can tell. The black bean soup was a big hit and I’ll credit it, and Jacques Pépin no less, with inspiring the evening. If you hate winter you have to find things to keep you happy. Preparing a dinner party can be a great way to spend the day in the kitchen and an evening with friends at the table. It’s funny that a cookbook by a classically trained French chef showed a Canadian how to make Cuban soup. Do we even know if these dishes have ever been prepared in Cuba? Nope. And does it matter? Of course not.

Black bean soup

  • 1 lb. dried black beans
  • 2 potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 cup onions (chopped)
  • 2 tomatoes (diced)
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
  • 1 small bunch cilantro
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp red-wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

Garnishes

  • 1 onion (finely chopped and rinsed in water)
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs (chopped)
  • 2 small bananas (chopped)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar to drizzle on top

Instructions

  1. Remove the debris or damaged beans and wash the remaining in cold water. Drain and put beans in saucepan and cover with cold soak to soak for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare other ingredients
  3. Drain the beans again and put them in a large pot. Mix in the potatoes, salt, thyme, onion and tomatoes. Mix in the water and chicken stock.
  4. Cut the cilantro leaves from the stems, chop the stems coarsely, and add them to the soup.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce to low, and cook uncovered for about 2 hours.
  6. Pay attention towards the end of cooking and scrape the bottom of the pot so the soup doesn’t stick.
  7. When done puree one third of the solids and then return to the soup. You can add some water if it’s too thick.
  8. Add the olive oil, red-wine vinegar, Tabasco and garlic and stir to incorporate. Bring to boil before serving.
  9. Once ladled out, drizzle on extra red-wine vinegar, olive oil and add the garnishes. Serve while very hot.

Pesto Palanca

We all suffered from the recent throwdown, except for Nichole for some reason. The rest of us had a horrible night and she slept like a kitten. Who knows why?

Now let’s move forward by stepping back a bit…

In our first post I mentioned a pesto recipe that accompanied the tomato sauce. There have been tens of thousands of demands to get this thing online. It must be stressed that we’re only a small shop here at SixTop and it has been on the to-do list. Your time has now come! Sorry for the delay, gang.

You will notice this pesto has butter and oil all over the place. Yes, butter! In a pesto! Use it in small doses over pasta or blanched string beans. It goes a long way. Along with all that delicious fat the other great thing is that it lasts forever in the freezer and will thaw in a only few minutes if you’re making a last minute meal. It may be a little unhealthy but at least you know where it all comes from and it would never face a potential government crackdown!

Pesto Palanca

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter (softened)
  • 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • S&P
  1. In a food processor, process the garlic and pine nuts.
  2. Gradually add the other ingredients until you have a thick paste.

Why not? It’s Tuesday.


Double Down throwdown

KFC’s Double Down arrived in Canada today. Bacon, cheese and “secret” sauce between two chicken breasts — a chicken cordon bleu for the masses. Of course we had to do our own gourmet version. So four of us sat down to compare the two. Here’s the breakdown: 2 DDs against 2 of our own stuffed chicken breasts.

Theirs: 540 calories, 30 grams of fat, 1,740 mg of sodium.

Ours: Who the hell knows the nutritional values? But we can tell you our ingredients: chicken, Provolone cheese, Italian prosciutto, sauce (mayonaise, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, roasted garlic, basil, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper)

UPDATE: We found the Dietitians of Canada website and had our (two portions) recipe analyzed. Baked Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Butterfly the chicken and hammer it out. Salt and pepper each side. Add one slice of cheese and one slice of prosciutto. Fold over one side of the chicken. Hold together with toothpicks. Roll in flour and shake off excess. Dredge in mixture of one beaten egg and 1 tbsp Dijon mustard. Roll in Panko bread crumbs. Place on wire rack on cookie sheet. Bake for 40 min at 400°.

Of course, our version won the taste test. Ours tasted real. KFC’s tasted just like you’d expect – salty, processed and guilt-ridden.

Nichole:

I appreciate fast food. And I started with the KFC version. That first bite – all you taste is KFC. If you ask me, save yourself the calories and stick with the bucket. Moving on to homemade, you can actually taste the textures as well as the flavours. My last impression and bite of the DD is this: salt assault.

Tom:

I found the DD incredibly salty. I could even taste it in the back of my throat after the first bite. Other than that, it tasted just like KFC with processed cheese. I never actually tasted the bacon. There are so many other ways to be decadent. I’d never make a special trip for this. The Six Top version tasted like chicken and had a nice crunch. And I could really taste the prosciutto. I don’t think I really tasted the cheese that much.

Doug:

I was very curious to document the immediate difference between the processed DD and our homemade version. As expected, the DD left a classic after-taste that screamed “head to the toilet.” The Six Top version had a genuine taste of chicken. In all honesty, I found our version salty because of the prosciutto. But on the salt scale, the DD was 99% while our version was probably around 70%. Still salty but much tastier.

Terra:

I love the smell of KFC, and the DD didn’t disappoint. The first bite was great. But after three the processed cheese started sticking to my teeth. I can see why one of my co-workers suggested a can of Coke to wash it down. That would kill the salt taste too. I thought our version was flavourful. But to be honest, I wouldn’t eat it as a burger (it looks more like a sub anyway). I think it needs to be served on a plate with salad.