Archive | June, 2011

Rigatoni with Squash and Prawns

16 Jun

Last Friday, I was craving a night in. So was Sam, so she ventured upstairs for dinner. (If I haven’t been clear on this already, I have two friends in my building. We call it Melrose Place, but we don’t have nearly as much drama. Or a pool.)

I thought I’d give a cookbook that I’d received as a gift, Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favorites, a go. The Rigatoni with Squash and Prawns recipe looked tasty and quick to prepare. Two things I very much like in recipes. I also  love anything with butternut squash.

We both enjoyed this pasta, but, for some added kick, we added a ton of pepper. Next time, I’ll add some chili flakes to the sauce and I’ll make sure to buy large prawns — I used regular shrimp that were, um, shrimpy compared to the rigatoni.

A bonus: the butternut squash sauce would be fantastic with all kinds of pastas. I have fusilli and chicken in mind.

Rigatoni with Squash and Prawns

  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 lb. rigatoni pasta
  • 1 lb. prawns or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 3/4 to 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Warm 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 tsp of the salt and 1/4 tsp of the pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the prawns with the remaining 1 tsp of salt and remaining 1/2 tsp of pepper.  Add the prawns to the pan and cook, turning once, until just pink, about 3 minutes.
In a large pot over low heat, combine the cooked pasta, pureed squash mixture and 3/4 cup milk. Stir to combine. Add the remaining 1/4 cup milk if the sauce needs to be moistened. Add the cooked prawns, the basil and the cheese. Stir until warm and serve.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.



An Italian Sandwich Party

15 Jun

My family got together one Saturday afternoon recently to celebrate Mother’s Day. We couldn’t get together on the real day so we just made one up.

Our theme was a little Italian sandwich party. Read up — as it was a smashing success and would work great for Father’s Day.

My sister provided the venue, and I brought the food. I hit up my two favourite Italian shops — Lina’s and The Italian Supermarket — for all the fixings.

The essentials: fresh organic bread, buffalo mozzarella, balsamic glaze, olive tapenade, basil, Genoa salami, dilled Havarti (not so Italian but oh so essential), argula and dried black olives.

We laid everything out and everyone made their own.

I’ll give you the fancy-pants recipes for my two favourites.

Caprese Sandwich

Drizzle a little olive oil on bread, followed by olive tapenade.

Add a layer of fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil. Stop with fresh pepper and a spoonful of balsamic glaze.

Salami and Argula

Drizzle a little olive oil on bread, followed by olive tapenade. (Olive tapenade is to me what butter is to other folks.)

Add arugula, salami, sundried tomatoes, dill havarti and dijon mustard.

Serve with fresh veggies and extra olives. Buon appetito!


Nike Free Run + 2

14 Jun

Meet my new addiction:

First, the obvious selling point: if I fall down in the dark and get trapped under one of the banana trees around our house, I’m easy to find. Just look for the shoelaces.

These Nike Free Run +2  are my new walking shoes. When it comes to long distance runs, I remain wholeheartedly a Mizuno Wave girl.  But the Waves aren’t great for long walks. Enter the Free Runs, the lightest shoes I’ve ever picked up. In fact, I thought they forgot to put them in the shoebox when I got them. There’s no tongue, just a mesh overlay. Apparently, these shoes were designed based on the “delicate anatomy of the foot” and promote a natural, barefoot stride.

Put simply, they’re just plain comfortable.

They’re also very good for running sprints. But I’m on holiday so sprints are not part of the conversation. But walking miles along the beach at sunset? I’m in.


Tabata Training

13 Jun

I am typing with my mose.


My nose. Sorry about that. I can’t reach backspace with my mose.

I’m typing with my mose because I can’t lift my arms. They’re too sore. If I try to touch the keyboard, they’re just going to break right off at the shoulder and roll across the floor.

Have you ever tried tabata training? My trainer introduced me this program. It was developed by the head coach of the Japanese speed-skating team. Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports Tabata and his team studied the speed-skaters’ routine of short sprints combined with even shorter rests. They found this form of training increased maximum aerobic capacity — the body’s ability to consume oxygen — and anaerobic capacity — your ability to maintain a high pace for an extended period or to sprint. (Because Spencer, my brother, my brother-in-law and other science types will ask, here is the original reference.)

It’s ventrical-blowing-ly, leg-shaking-ly brutal – and quite awesome at the same time.

Basically, it’s a series of intervals of 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, with the exercise repeated eight times (for a total four minutes), and consisting of  seven or eight different exercises.

You follow?

For instance, you could do a series of four-minutes each of sprinting intervals, TRX triceps, TRX pull-ups, lunges, step-ups, kettleball swings and abdominal leg lifts.

That’s the series my trainer did with me. At least that’s what I remember — my oxygen levels were running low near the end. Consider yourself warned: the first two rounds seem rather easy. But by round #8, self-strangulation with the TRX straps is awfully appealing.

Good luck!


Things We Like Fridays

10 Jun

Friday, so good to see you.

We’ll get right to our hot list for the week:

  • How can you not like the sight of a donkey traveling in the back of a pickup truck as it tears along the autoroute of a Mediterranean island? Hope this makes you laugh as hard as we did. A favourite moment of a very good day, definitely.
  • Waking up to this view of Lake Louise was one of Michelle’s favourite moments this week. It’s no donkey in a truck, but it will do:
  • Good Man, Bad Man song by Ko. Catchy and cool.
  • Big summer sales going on at Azul Couture Boutique and Holt Renfrew. Michelle has done some sale research at HR and may or may not have picked up a fantastic pair of Modern Vintage heels, in preparation for her Las Vegas trip.
  • We were asked about the patio we showed two weeks ago in the favourite things post. It’s in Berlin. For anyone headed to Berlin, here’s a great beer-drinkers’ guide to Berlin.
  • Don’t know about you, but we tire of eating in restaurants. At the end of the day, home-style cooking always beats restaurant cooking. In this piece in The Atlantic, chef Sarah Jenkins makes the case for simplicity, good ingredients, and not overwhelming eaters with salt and fat.
  • And if you’re headed to Cyprus, do stop into this wee pottery shop just outside Chris’ village. The owners make everything themselves from their studio at the back of the shop. It’s her favourite shop on the island.

Now, on with the weekend. See you Monday!

~The Toque Girls

New Joe Fresh Store in CrossIron Mills

9 Jun

Last night, my friend Alyssa and I checked out new Joe Fresh store, which opens to the public today in CrossIron Mills.

Our first impression: Wow, the store is big! The picture below doesn’t do the size justice:

My second thought: I’m happy Joe Fresh has a stand-alone store in town, because I’ve never been good at browsing for clothes in Superstore. Thoughts of food distract me and, before you know it, I’m standing in the dairy aisle marveling at the crazy deal on the block of aged cheddar cheese.

The store is filled with so many cute, reasonably priced things that it’s almost overwhelming.

Here’s a small sample:

In the end, I bought this top — something I can wear to work and to a casual nighttime outing — for a whopping $29:

I was also thrilled to meet Mr. Joe Fresh himself, Joseph Mimran. Joe is the brand’s creative director and the co-founder of Club Monaco, and he looked as chic as you’d expect one of Canada’s most stylish men to be:

With some opening week deals going on right now, the store is definitely worth checking out.

You can always stop at Superstore for the cheese on your way home.


An Outfit For Cavalia

8 Jun

I’m really looking forward to seeing Cavalia this week, but the question looms: what to wear?

The outfit will begin with my striped white and navy tank top from BCBG. Next up, a crisp navy blazer. A slight obstacle: I don’t own a crisp navy blazer. However, I’ve been perusing some websites and have fallen in love with this one from Scotch & Soda:

And this one-button blazer from Smythe. It’s. Just. Too. Good.

The navy blazer is key to this look, so you may see me out shopping this evening.

As for my bottom half, I’ll wear my favourite Rich and Skinny jeans:

And tuck them into my Frye Paige boots:

To finish the outfit, I’ll add gold jewelry, like the long chain and clock pendant from my great-grandmother Ruby and this stretch bracelet from FCUK:

At that point, I think I’ll be ready for my date with the horsies.


A Funny Wedding Idea

7 Jun

Looking for a fun wedding idea? Steal this one from my  brother-in-law and sister-in-law in Fernie, who put on one of the best weddings I’ve ever attended. Among other things, they had a costume party that resulted in guests donning some decidedly un-wedding wedding outfits.

That’s me and Spencer.

When guests, dressed in our regular wedding finery, arrived at the lodge for the reception, we entered single file through one door. We immediately lined up sign the guest book, which was an empty photo album, in the foyer.

Book signed, we moved to the dance floor where three big boxes of costumes were waiting. The bride and groom had collected things for months — from wigs to snorkel masks. We laughed so hard as we put our outfit together. The bride’s cousins took photos of everyone posing in their outfits. What fun for K&B (the bride and groom) to go through all these photos after their wedding!

The husband and I took it quite seriously. In fact, K&B didn’t recognize us in our photo. I barely recognize us.

And how about the gorgeous bride and groom?

~ Chris

PS – We FINALLY have internet here in our little disorganized paradise in the Mediterranean where the national motto is ‘siga, siga’ — slowly, slowly. Promise to provide some updates this week.

Dinner To Make For A Man

6 Jun

When I cook dinner for a man, I figure it better include one key ingredient: meat.

To meet the meat requirement, the recipe below, Blue Cheese-Stuffed Hamburger Steaks with Red Wine Sauce, is fantastic. I tore it out of the Herald’s Real Life section a few years ago and have made it a few times, including for a dinner last week.

I should note that, instead of blue cheese, I used herbed goat cheese. Upon biting into a burger, my dinner guest said it was like an “explosion of goat cheese in your mouth.” If that’s not the best selling point for a recipe, I don’t know what is.

To accompany the meat, I made Wild Mushroom and Tomato Ragout with Polenta. This is one of my favourite side dish recipes. It’s healthy, too — I found it in Shape magazine. (Which might lessen the guilt over the “explosion of goat cheese.”)

The dinner was a success, and my leftovers were just as tasty:

Blue Cheese-Stuffed Hamburger Steaks with Red Wine Sauce

  • 1 1/4 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 lb. (100 g) blue cheese, cut into small slices *I use goat cheese with herbs, but you could also use feta
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • 1 1/2 cups beef stock mixed with 2 tbsp flour
Preheat the oven to 200F. Place the beef, egg, bread crumbs, rosemary, salt and pepper in a bowl and gently mix to combine. Form the meat mixture into 4 wide and thin patties. Put an equal amount of cheese in the centre of each patty. Fold the meat mixture over the cheese to seal it inside and shape the meat into 3/4-inch (2 cm) oval patties. Heat the oil in an non-stick skillet set over medium heat. Cook burgers for 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through. Set the burgers on a heat-proof plate and keep warm in the oven.

Drain the excess fat from the skillet. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the stock-flour mixture and bring to simmer. Simmer until a lightly thickened sauce forms, about 3 to 4 minutes. Divide the hamburger stakes among plates; serve the sauce alongside for spooning on top.

Now, for the side:

Wild Mushroom and Tomato Ragout with Polenta
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups sliced assorted mushrooms (such as cremini, shiitake and oyster)
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta
  • 2 tbsp shaved Parmesan
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallot and vinegar and cook for 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and mushrooms; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in 1/2 cup broth, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Add grape tomatoes and cook 5 more minutes until sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat.

Bring 3 cups of broth, rosemary and sage to a boil in a medium saucepan. Slowly pour in polenta. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes until mixture thickens.

Spoon polenta into four bowls and top each with a portion of ragout and a sprinkling of Parmesan.

Both recipes serve 4. But, for our purposes, they’ll serve just you and a hungry man.


Things We Like

3 Jun

While Chris is living it up in Cyprus, I’m slugging it out in Calgary. Good thing I have lots of things here to make me happy, including but not limited to:

  • This prediction. If I could high-five meteorologist Chris Scott, I would.
  • The news that Calgary has a new downtown pizzeria, called Double Zero Pizza. The spot recently opened on 4th St., in between 7th and 8th Ave. S.W., across from Holt Renfrew. I can’t wait to stop in to try the thin-crust pizzas and paninis. And if you’re wondering about the Double Zero name, it comes from the grade of flour used to make the crusts. I’m not a flour connoisseur, but I’m assuming that’s good.
  • Sophie’s Pizza, for some zza of another kind. I was treated to this Greek-style pie for the first time last weekend. With substantial crust and loads of cheese, it’s the kind of pizza that fills you up after just one piece. That didn’t stop me from having another one, though.
  • Steeling Home‘s sidewalk/garage sale, taking place today through Sunday. Steeling Home continues to be one of my favourite stops for cool little gifts, jewelry, interesting home decor and more.
  • This Essie nail polish, called e-nuf is e-nuf. I swear, I type faster when my nails are painted a bright colour.
  • Russell Smith’s story about words in the Globe and Mail. Anyone who’s been to a Magnan family dinner knows that we love anything to do with language and words. It’s not uncommon for a dictionary to appear, when we’re looking to resolve a debate. (One of our most memorable ones involved “card sharp” and “card shark.” My mom won. She always does.) If you’re a word nerd like me, then you’ll appreciate Russell’s story about overly used words, “elegant variations” and more.
  • Last but not least, Stiegl beer. If I have my way, I’ll be cracking one of these open this afternoon — ideally on a patio. Now that I’m thinking about beer, I may have to head to 1410 to enjoy a grapefruit Stiegl, which they have on tap. If anyone has the lowdown on whether you can buy grapefruit Stiegl at liquor stores or not — and, if so, where — do tell.

Have a great weekend, everyone.


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