Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Pasta with Mushrooms and Spinach

This past weekend, I visited with family in Vancouver. Vancouver is one of my very favourite places, not only because many of the people I love live there, and the fact that it is a stunningly beautiful place, but also because it is a vibrant, multicultural feast for all the senses. I had the opportunity to go shopping with my sister-in-law, who is a formidable foodie. She has sussed out all the best places to buy ethnic foods, and we always go out together on food adventures…this time, we visited little grocery stores in Chinatown (she is Dutch-Chinese and was able to identify a lot of things I did not recognize or know the use of), and hit up an amazing Italian grocery store called Bosa. If you ever need *anything* Italian grocery-wise in Vancouver, Bosa will have it! I stocked up on pastas, antipasto, all kinds of things…a place like that is like the proverbial candy store to me. I could wander in there all day :)

One of my purchases was a dry spaghetti pasta containing hot chili. It is a pretty orange colour (it has a bit of tomato and garlic in it as well). I wanted to have it today, but had not been grocery shopping and did not have a huge variety of stuff to cook with it. Some of my yummiest inventions come to me when I have limited selection. The following is what I made, and it was, in my husband John’s words, “damn good”.

2 tbsp. avocado oil (or other high heat-tolerant oil)
one medium onion, chopped
1/2-3/4 pound brown mushrooms, chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups fresh spinach (packed lightly)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
dash Old Bay seasoning
dash cayenne pepper
lots of freshly ground pepper
good pinch sea salt
250g (1/2 package) “spaghetti al peperoncino” – Italian hot chili pasta (plain pasta would be fine)
1 tbsp. olive oil
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, to taste

Bring salted water to boil, and put pasta on to cook for about 8-9 minutes or until “al dente” (slightly chewy in the centre of the pasta), or longer if you prefer it to be softer.

While water is heating/pasta is cooking, heat avocado oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and mushrooms, and saute until mushrooms brown and lose most of their liquid. Stir in oregano, Old Bay seasoning, cayenne, salt and pepper.

When pasta has about 3 minutes left to cook, add garlic and spinach to onion-mushroom mixture in pan. Stir in and allow spinach to wilt. With measuring cup, scoop 1/4 cup of the water the pasta is cooking in and add to the vegetables. This will make a bit of sauce. You may like to add another 1/4 cup, just do it carefully as you don’t want to make it too wet. The starch in the water will cause a bit of thickening of the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Drain the pasta when it is cooked to your taste, and toss with the olive oil. Mix in the vegetables and any liquid, tossing thoroughly.

Plate the pasta and top generously with freshly grated parmesan cheese. This amount could serve three people, but the two of us ate the whole lot. Buon appetito!

Stilton and Potato Gratin with Chanterelles

I recently bought a massive chunk of lovely Stilton at Costco, as well as some chanterelles. Eyeing my bag of spuds at home, I knew I wanted to do something using these ingredients. Lo and behold, on cookthink.com, there was such a recipe. It contained, however, a fair bit of whipping cream and while the recipe sounded lovely I did want to have something a bit healthier…besides, truth be known, I didn’t have any whipping cream, but I did have some sour cream…  ;)

Here is my spin on the recipe – it was a resounding success. You could certainly use other mushrooms and any kind of blue cheese for this. Also, it could be made without the sour cream, using a total of 2-1/2 cups of broth – it would not be quite as rich but I expect it would still be delicious. It is easy to put together and impressive-looking when baked.

The flavour of the Stilton really mellows, kind of the way anchovy does, in this recipe – making it a dish that could be served to someone who does not necessarily like the assertive taste of blue cheese on its own but just wants a hint of “blue”.

1 1/2 cups crumbled Stilton (yes, that much)
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup sour cream
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound chanterelles, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
2 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Extra Stilton, for sprinkling on top (if desired)

Preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a large rectangular baking dish.

In a medium bowl, with an immersion blender, blend together the Stilton and 1 cup of the broth until well combined. Then whizz in the rest of the broth, the sour cream and the salt and pepper.

In a large saucepan, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When the foam of the butter subsides, stir in the chanterelles. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the mushrooms and continue cooking until the mushrooms absorb most of the liquid, 5-7 minutes.
 
Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the potatoes. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a single, overlapping layer of potato slices. Pour a third of the cheese mixture over the potatoes. Layer the mushrooms over the cheese mixture. On top of the mushrooms, pour another third of the cheese mixture. Cover the cheese mixture with the rest of the potato slices and then pour the rest of the cheese mixture on top, distributing evenly. If you are sprinkling with extra Stilton, do it now.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake at 400F for 30 minutes. Take off the aluminum foil and bake the gratin uncovered until the potatoes are cooked through and the cheese on top is lightly browned, 25-35 minutes.

This would be excellent with steak or roast beef, but was delicious as a vegetarian main course with simply cooked green veg on the side. Either way, red wine is a must with this :D

Mock Peking Duck (using Seitan)

I love the taste of duck, but truthfully prefer that Donald and Daisy live on to quack another day. This is an adaptation of a recipe that I found online, that uses seitan (use commercially-made or make your own, using the recipe posted on this site under “Seitan Worship”). It is yummy and as I have said before, guilt-free.

The seitan recipe I provide makes three sausages of about 7-8 ounces each, each sausage making about two servings – this recipe will serve two people.

one seitan “sausage” (about 7-8 ounces) of homemade seitan (or use commercially-made), cut into small strips
4 teaspoons dark sesame oil
4 teaspoons hoisin sauce
4 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons soy sauce (low-sodium is fine)
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
hot cooked rice, to serve two

Whisk together all ingredients except seitan and green onions, to make marinade. Mix seitan into marinade and coat completely. Let sit for at least one hour, or overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Place seitan on foil-lined pan, reserving marinade. Pour remaining marinade into small saucepan and heat until warm.

Grill 4-6 inches from element until it is heated through and glazed, and just beginning to turn crispy. Be careful not to over-broil, you want the seitan to be crispy on the broiled side and chewy underneath. Plate rice and arrange broiled seitan strips on top of it. Drizzle warmed marinade over seitan, and sprinkle with green onions and toasted sesame seeds.

Quick and Easy Curry with Seitan (or without, if you wish)

I made this curry after my first attempt at making seitan. Super quick and easy to throw together, and if you prefer not to use the seitan you can certainly leave it out, or sub in shrimp, chicken, etc.

1 seitan “sausage”, cut into small strips (see the recipe I posted, or use commercially available seitan)
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut on the diagonal
2-3 tbsp. of your favourite curry powder
1/3 cup seitan broth (or veggie broth)
a few grinds fresh ground pepper
sea salt to taste (you may not need salt if you have used the seitan broth, as it has the soy sauce in it)
1 can coconut milk
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large frying pan and sauté seitan until it browns up, this takes a couple of minutes. Add onion, garlic, green pepper, and carrot, and sauté until onion starts to soften. Add broth and bring to boil. Stir in the coconut milk and tomatoes. Add the unsweetened flaked coconut.

This mixture will thicken after simmering 10-15 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a bit of broth or water.

Serve over basmati rice. Makes 2-3 helpings.

Seitan Worship…not for the gluten-free

As we shift more and more back to being vegetarians, I have decided to experiment a bit. When we were in Montréal in the summer, I had seitan for the first time in my life. To be honest, I was a bit sceptical and my expectations were not super high. We were in an amazing Thai food restaurant, ChuChai, and I should have known better by the quality of the food we had already been served – exceptional! Anyway, one of the dishes our group ordered was a spicy “duck” dish…I was enthralled. Very duck-like, without the loss of any quackers. Totally guilt-free!

Now back at home, I decided to try to make my own seitan. Seitan is also known as “mock meat”, as its texture is more meat-like than tofu and through different seasonings, it can be made to mimic most meats. Realistically, it is not exactly the same as meat, but it is a tasty, and guilt-free, alternative. It can be made using regular flour, but that process involves washing the flour repeatedly to remove the starch, leaving the gluten. The gluten, when the seitan is cooked, is what gives it the chewy, meat-like texture.

I found this excellent recipe at the Post Punk Kitchen vegan site: http://www.theppk.com/2009/11/homemade-seitan

IsaChandra’s recipe seemed to me to be the most straightforward and easy to follow. There are also many helpful suggestions in the comment section below.

I will repeat IsaChandra’s recipe below, with some suggestions following with what to do with your homemade seitan.

“1 cup vital wheat gluten flour
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup cold vegetable broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed or grated on a microplane grater

For the simmering broth:
4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce

Fill a stock pot with the water, broth and soy sauce, cover and bring to a boil.

In the mean time, in a large bowl mix together gluten and yeast. In a smaller bowl mix together broth, soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Pour the wet into the dry and combine with a wooden spoon until most of the moisture has absorbed and partially clumped up with the dry ingredients. Use your hands and knead for about 3 minutes, until it’s an elastic dough. Divide into 3 equal pieces with a knife and then knead those pieces in your hand just to stretch them out a bit. Let rest until the broth has come to a full boil.

Once boiling, lower the heat to a simmer. Add the gluten pieces and partially cover pot so that steam can escape. Let simmer for 45 minutes, turning occasionally. Turn the heat off and take the lid off, let sit for 15 minutes.

Remove from broth and place in a strainer until it is cool enough to handle. Slice and use as desired.”

Okay, it’s me again…first of all: DON’T throw the broth away. Store your seitan in it, and use it as you would any stock/veggie broth in your recipes.

This recipe, making three seitan sausage-like pieces, will make 6 servings.

It does look a little unappetizing in its newly poached form, but for recipes you cut it into slices, cubes, etc.
Now you have made your seitan, you can use it right away or store it in your fridge – I would think storage for up to a week is a reasonable amount of time.

My first attempts at cooking it in recipes, both successes, will be posted separately.

Be brave! I am sorry I brushed it off for so long. I am not a super-huge fan of tofu (not that I dislike it, it is just never my first choice), but I do like seitan.

Faux Pissaladière

I love this time of year because of the masses of ripe fruit and veggies just waiting for something creative to be done with them! I also like saving time…so, with our bumper crop of tomatoes staring me in the face, I had to think of another way to eat them besides salads, pasta sauces, yada yada…then I remembered having this amazing dish, Pissaladière, in the south of France! I did not feel like making the traditional yeast base, or a pastry base, and came up with this “faux” option. It captures the flavour that I so fondly remember.

Being the cheater (sort of) that I am, I defrosted a package of puff pastry and got busy. This recipe highlights the fresh tomatoes, and is a perfect lunch or supper treat. Hope you like it :)

1 package puff pastry, defrosted
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a bit more for drizzling
2 medium or 1 large onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence, plus a bit more for sprinkling
anchovy paste, about 1-1/2″ squeezed out of the tube (or good pinch sea salt, if you hate anchovies)
3-4 large garden tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick (or enough to cover entire area of pastry)
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup good black olives, pitted and chopped up

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Take puff pastry and roll out really thin, about the area of a large pizza. Place on a cookie sheet (I use a large pizza pan). Make it a sort of uniform shape by cutting and pasting the scraps, and pinch a small edge around the outside.

Pierce it in a fork to stop it lifting too much when it bakes, and place in the oven for 10 minutes to pre-bake.

While crust is pre-baking, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until translucent and fragrant. Stir in the 2 tsp. Herbes de Provence and anchovy paste (or salt, if you must), mixing well to make sure anchovy paste dissolves completely and is distributed thoroughly.

After ten minutes is up, remove puff pastry from oven and gently push it down with a spatula if it is puffy (it probably will be). Distribute onion-garlic mixture over it to the edges. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer on top, overlapping just slightly so the entire top is covered with one thin layer of tomato. Using different coloured tomatoes makes it look extra pretty!

Sprinkle olives over the top, sprinkle with a bit more Herbes de Provence, grind black pepper over it. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.

Bake 20 minutes more at 400 degrees. The pre-baking will ensure that the crust stays crispy. This can be eaten hot or at room temperature.

Enjoy with a salad, if you like, and a glass of French red, of course!

Pretty (and) Fresh Yellow Tomato Sauce

I spent most of today canning…I canned yesterday and will be doing so again tomorrow. I love all the fresh stuff from the garden and the farmers’ market, and want to take as much advantage of it while it is still around! I really didn’t feel like now turning around and cooking a full-on dinner…as much as I love cooking, I want a little break!

So…I looked around to see what I had…I have some crab ravioli in the freezer, which deserve a nice sauce. Something special, but easy. I continued looking…I had some pesto and some homemade ricotta in my fridge (check out my recipe!), some lovely yellow tomatoes from our garden, some garlic and onion on the counter….I think you are getting the idea :)

This sauce is a bit different from the usual tomato sauce in that while the taste is similar to a red tomato cream sauce, the colour is a lovely, primrose yellow with a tinge of green from the pesto. The ravioli are striped red-and-white so will look very pretty with it!

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 large yellow heritage tomatoes, chopped (about 500g or so)
about 3/4 cup of my ricotta cheese (my recipe has fat in it, I don’t know if low fat ricotta would be as nice in this recipe)
3 heaping tablespoons basil pesto, or to taste
liquid to wet – about 1/4 cup (I used coffee cream because I had some hanging around, but chicken broth, water, or white wine would all suffice)
good pinch sea salt
generous grind black pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy frying pan. Saute onion and garlic a couple of minutes, until starting to soften and become translucent. Add the tomatoes, and cook for a couple of minutes. They will give off some liquid.

Now add the ricotta cheese, liquid, and pesto. Already it is starting to look interesting!

Now tip the lot into a mixing bowl, take out your trusty immersion blender and whiz it until smooth.

Replace in the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper, and heat gently as your pasta is cooking.

This took a grand total of about ten minutes to bang together…now to relax :D

Easier than buying, almost…”ricotta”

The other day I was wandering around different recipe sites and came across this little gem. I buy a reasonable amount of ricotta, and was intrigued by the concept of making it at home. This recipe is not “real” ricotta, which is made from the whey left over from the manufacture of mozzarella. Perhaps it should more appropriately be called a type of farmer’s cheese…or perhaps if it was pressed into a block, a version of paneer. It could be used for anything calling for ricotta, such as lasagna, etc., but it is also delicious with fruit (fresh figs, a sprinkle of fresh thyme and a drizzle of honey!), or mixed with garlic and herbs to make a faux Boursin.

This cheese is so easy to make it is ridiculous, and the result just too good not to make it all the time. It is made of ingredients readily available to anybody, and takes very little time.

You will need some cheesecloth, although you could use a clean tea towel in a pinch…because it is more tightly woven than cheesecloth, the tea towel could increase the draining time of the cheese. Or not. Not sure. You will also need a large, heavy saucepan for heating the mixture.

Something I did, which might be considered a novice – or greedy – move, was I took the cheese after about 40 minutes and wrung most of the remaining whey out of it. The resulting consistency was fairly dry but still spreadable. To remediate this, I took some of the whey (which I had saved) and, with my trusty stick blender, whizzed some back into the cheese, a bit at a time. It is now creamy and spreadable, much like a cream cheese spread but sooooooo much tastier. The lemon juice leaves such a fresh, light taste it does not really need anything.

I actually did not mess around at all with the ingredients this recipe, and the full credit for the ingredients goes to epicurious.com for their post of Gourmet Magazine’s recipe. I could just post a link, but you are already here, so…there are other recipes online, but this one clicked for me. Ina Garten’s version on food network.com also caught my eye, but looked a little rich for me with so much cream. I will try it, but will be hard pressed to be more dazzled than I am with this version, which is plenty creamy! 

I have taken the liberty of amending the original instructions to include things I did to make the job a bit easier. Also, keep the whey – you can use it for baking bread or other uses. It is full of protein!

2 litres (or quarts) whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon salt (I used sea salt)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Dampen the cheesecloth and line a large sieve or colander. Set this colander over a large bowl. 

Slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil in a heavy, large (5 litre) pot over moderate heat. Stir often to prevent scorching.

Once it reaches a boil, remove the pot from heat and add the lemon juice. 

Now, stir it slowly and steadily for a couple of minutes until the curds form, about two minutes. You will see the curds separating from the whey, it’s quite magical!

Pour (or ladle, if it is easier) the entire lot into the lined sieve/colander. Allow it to drain the whey into the bowl below for one hour (if you can). 

Once it has drained, turn the ricotta into a bowl and enjoy. It will keep in the refrigerator for two days, but most likely won’t last that long :)

 

 

Yeasted Pancakes…or, I don’t live under a rock any more

I have always made pancakes. Everybody in my family loves all the types of pancakes I make, ranging from crepes to pannekoek/pannkaka to fluffy ones. But always, they are made with baking powder and/or soda. I am always on the lookout for good pancake recipes, as our little grandson, Ben, loves them cooked in his special “jungle animal” mini-pancake pan :)

Before attending our youngest son Dane’s wedding in Oahu recently, we spent a week in Maui – just the two of us. I am now in love with Hawaii, and I love the different foods and drink I got to try! Our favourite breakfast/lunch place there, the Kihei Caffe, had many delicious offerings. One of their specialties was recommended to us by oldest daughter (and former flight attendant) Camille, who had enjoyed many yummy meals at this establishment while on layovers…”you guys *have* to try their pancakes!” Indeed, said pancakes come with all sorts of “not-so” to “quite” exotic toppings…I had banana and macadamia nut, which was lovely, but the pancake itself was what grabbed my attention. There was this lovely, yeasty aroma to them and the texture was bubbly and different from the pancakes I make at home.

So, once back at home, I wandered the internets looking for recipes to try, and there were so many! How had I missed them?! I make lots of yeast breads and cakes and don’t know how that happened. Anyway. I found this recipe on a great blog called Food Wanderings, and they stated they had adapted it from a Red Star Yeast recipe. I like this recipe as it does not need to stand very long, and the flavour is wonderful. I also like that they are quite impressive looking when done – they hold their round shape and rise nicely.

Adding a handful of blueberries to the batter didn’t hurt!

2 cups flour
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast (one-1/4 ounce packet) – I used “instant” yeast for bread machines
2 heaping tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1-1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup water
2 eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
pinch salt
oil for the griddle/pan (I used coconut oil with great success, and it adds a little “je ne sais quoi” to the pancakes!)

In a large bowl, combine one cup of the flour with the yeast and one tablespoon of the sugar, and whisk well. Heat the milk and water together until very warm and add to the flour mixture. Whisk until all ingredients are well incorporated. Cover and let rise for one hour.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs well. Add the melted butter to the eggs and whisk until combined.

In another bowl, combine the remaining one cup of flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, baking soda and salt.

Heat your pan/skillet over medium heat until a few drops of water dropped on it bounce before evaporating. You want the griddle hot but not *too* hot, which would result in the pancake overcooking on the surface but remaining raw inside.

Beat down the yeast mixture, and add the egg/butter mixture and whisk until blended. Add the flour/sugar/soda mixture gradually to it, stirring gently just until incorporated.

Scoop about 1/3 cup of batter per pancake, over medium heat. They will remain uniformly round and will brown beautifully. Flip the pancakes once bubbles appear on the surface and the edges look dry-ish. They flip nicely, and are firmer than “regular” pancakes (as I am not the most talented pancake flipper, I really appreciate this).

The recipe also doubles nicely.

Serve to your favourite people, with all the favourite toppings and lots of maple syrup! ♡

Chickpea Garden Salad

This recipe started out as Jamie Oliver’s recipe, but ended up being morphed into something a bit different (as usual!). His “Summer Chickpea Salad” involved a bit of cooking but for a hot weather fast salad I thought this one was pretty good, and I had to sub out some of the ingredients, anyway.

I love Jamie’s recipes because they are generally so flexible and his style of writing them is so inspiring. I hope you like my “mods”!

1 small onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 large tomatoes
1 yellow pepper
large can (around 500mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
handful fresh mint, cut in ribbons (chiffonade)
handful fresh basil, cut in ribbons
200g feta cheese, crumbled
juice of one large lime
olive oil (EVOO)
sprinkle chili pepper flakes (to taste)
dash Tabasco (to taste)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine first eight ingredients in salad bowl, mixing well. Dress with remaining ingredients, adding “hot” ingredients sparingly until you get the “heat” you like – you don’t want to overwhelm the other flavours in the salad.

Enjoy al fresco!

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