Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Oatmeal, my favourite (and Chantal’s way)

The other day I was in Costco, and I always like to check out the food demonstrators’ tables to see what is new (and copy-worthy). I was bemused to find that they now offer “pre-made” (as in you heat, presumably in a microwave) cooked steel-cut oatmeal. The popular, pre-packaged powdered abomination (the stuff in the envelopes) made by various cereal manufacturers which passes for oatmeal is bad enough – full of sugar and not a whole lot of goodness, and ridiculously expensive for what it is. This stuff at Costco actually tasted all right – there were two varieties, berry- and maple-flavoured – but worked out to about a dollar a serving. Pretty steep in my opinion, as one package was about eight bucks. I can cook a lot of steel-cut oatmeal myself for that kind of money.

Oatmeal has a bad rap, as it is often poorly presented or badly cooked. It is bland, but with a little love can make a very tasty breakfast and need not have sugar added. When I was a kid I used to load it with brown sugar and milk, which I found delicious then, but my pancreas doesn’t like it now 😉

Oatmeal comes in the aforementioned steel-cut form (which does require a little patience but for oatmeal aficionados such as myself, as it takes longer to cook, it is worth the wait) – as well as rolled, quick-cooking and Scottish versions. My favourites are rolled and Scottish (British oatmeal is cut more finely, and therefore cooks quite quickly).

I generally use slightly more than twice the amount of liquid to oatmeal – a single serving of dry oatmeal being 1/3 cup, so about 3/4 cup liquid is what I use. I much prefer to use milk over water, as it makes the cooked oatmeal more like rice pudding in consistency, and of course, you get the boost of calcium and protein.

To prepare, combine however much you are making (i.e. increase recipe amount according to the number of mouths needing oatmeal) in a pot, bring to boil, reduce heat immediately and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until done – about five minutes (maybe slightly longer for larger amounts). Who needs a microwave?

Now the fun part – you really don’t need sugar. My personal favourite is cinnamon (or a combination spice from Epicure called “Poudre Douce” – recommended if you can get it in your area). Sprinkle cinnamon/spice of your choice to taste, and add a couple of tablespoons each of hemp hearts (best deal is at Costco!) and ground roasted flax seed (same!), as well as a handful of almonds, blueberries or some cut-up peach, nectarine, apple or plum, or use a small handful of dried raisins or blueberries if you have nothing fresh.

Another way that I love is one that I learned from my daughter, Chantal – the addition of egg to oatmeal. You can poach the egg and add it to the cooked oatmeal, but my favourite way is to cook the oatmeal in water (the egg provides protein) until it is *almost* done (as in, very slightly runnier than you would serve it). Now, add one egg per serving and stir like crazy, continuing to cook for another minute or so. The egg cooks with the remaining liquid in the oatmeal, making a “custard”. Add a teaspoon vanilla and some cinnamon (and any or all of the additions mentioned above), and you’re done 🙂


Yummy Spelt Muffins with Bananas and Blueberries

We are hearing more and more about how much wheat has been genetically messed with, to the point where it barely resembles the original plant. Add to this the practice of dousing it with chemicals to keep it pest-free…it is enough to make you fear what will happen to us a few generations down the road. Thankfully, there are organic options available to get away from the chemicals, and I have recently discovered that “ancient” grain, spelt. Spelt, from what I understand, is not gluten-free as it is a “cousin” of wheat, but has less than wheat. It has (from what I have read) managed to avoid the large-scale genetic modifications that wheat has been subjected to. It is also apparently interchangeable with wheat in baking – however, I think bread would be a bit tricky as it requires gluten to get the chewiness, I have not tried baking bread with spelt although I know it can be done. It is, as I have found, perfect for muffins.

Swtiching out the dairy milk for soy or almond milk would make this a dairy-free recipe.

A local bakery makes absolutely delicious banana-blueberry-spelt muffins. They are such a treat, but a bit expensive to indulge in on a daily basis! I started experimenting with muffin recipes I found on line, made a couple of combinations and modifications to the ones I liked, and came up with this one. They remain moist and tasty, even when they are day-old (or older!). This recipe made 12 decent-sized muffins.

2 cups spelt flour

2 tbsp. toasted ground flax seed

1-1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. baking powder

pinch salt

2/3 to 1 cup brown sugar or date sugar (do not use less than 2/3 cup – the original recipes used the full cup of sugar but I found it could be successfully reduced)

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup milk (or unsweetened non-dairy if preferred)

2 large, ripe bananas, mashed

1 egg

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup blueberries (you could use nectarines/peaches or other berries if no blueberries)

Combine dry ingredients in large bowl. Combine wet ingredients and mashed bananas (not berries) in measuring jug or small bowl. Pour into dry ingredients, stir gently until almost mixed (don’t worry about lumps) and fold in the berries. Stir gently a couple more times, until all ingredients are combined.

Distribute batter evenly into regular-sized paper-lined baking cups in muffin tin. Cups will be quite full.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and tops “bounce back” when pressed very lightly with fingertip. Cool on rack, and enjoy 🙂





















How to Cook Asparagus, the Easy Way

Asparagus is one of those vegetables that many people enjoy when they go out for supper, but rarely cook at home. For some reason, it has a reputation for being a complicated or exotic…the only thing you can do wrong with asparagus is overcook it. You don’t need a fancy pan or anything. My favourite way to cook asparagus is as follows, although you can prepare it in other ways, like roasting it. I personally feel that the asparagus loses something in the roasting process.

First, purchase the best asparagus you can find, as you would everything you buy to consume. That means that the stalks are not dried out, and the tips have not fallen off or gone mushy and indistinct. It should be firm, a pretty green with a purplish tinge to the tips. Some people like fat stalks, others prefer thin – neither is necessarily better. The important thing is that it is as fresh as possible.

Once you have washed the asparagus, take each stalk and snap the end off. Don’t cut them! If you snap the end rather than cutting, the stalk with break where the asparagus is not dried out. Knowing this, you may have to snap the stalk in half and discard the bottom part. Keep moving up the stem and bending slightly until it snaps.The end result may not be restaurant-perfect, but will be far better than if you just cut it and hope for the best.

Place the asparagus in a shallow frying pan and add about 1″ of water. You do not need to submerge the asparagus. Bring the water to a boil and cook the asparagus for just a couple of minutes, until it turns bright green but is still firm. This is literally a COUPLE of minutes. If you absolutely do not want crisp, firm asparagus (and who wouldn’t?) you can cook it for just a short period longer to make it more tender – but no more than a couple of minutes longer.

The Romans apparently used to have an expression: “Do it in less time than it takes to cook asparagus”, which means…quickly! Your bit of trivia for the day.

Lift the cooked asparagus out of the water with a slotted spoon or spatula and let the water drip off, and place it on a platter. Now you can use your imagination…just butter, salt and pepper is lovely, but branch out with your favourite sauce (cheese or hollandaise are two classics). Of course, lots of chopped garlic and parsley with a drizzle of olive oil and squeeze of lemon juice works for me 🙂

Garlic Makes it Better (if you had not already noticed) – Spinach and Broccoli get a little makeover

One common ingredient in almost all of my savoury dishes is garlic. I have not yet figured out a way to incorporate it into desserts, although I did try garlic gelato in Vancouver once (can’t say I was a huge fan, but I did like the balsamic vinegar gelato offered at the same establishment). I find it brings almost any recipe, that had not initially included it, up a notch or two 🙂

Two vegetables that seem to have mixed reviews are spinach and broccoli. I will tell you for free that garlic makes them special! Adding garlic to them will definitely add to their fan base. Here are my simplest ways of adding garlic to these veggies and making them delicious…

Spinach with Garlic (a dish I had for the first time many years ago in Portugal…I don’t know its name in Portuguese, or what its “official” recipe is, but this is a good approximation) – serves two to four people

one large box or bag fresh spinach (wash if package does not specify it has not been washed, do not spin dry, just pat most excess liquid off with paper towel)

one bulb garlic, separated into cloves which have been peeled and cut up fairly coarsely

2-3 tbsp. olive oil

sprinkle (1/2 tsp.? more?) cayenne pepper flakes

pinch salt

Heat olive oil in large frying pan (which has lid). Add garlic and seasonings, saute for a couple of minutes. Add spinach a handful at a time, stirring into the hot oil until it starts to wilt. As you create more space, add more spinach until you have it all in the pan. If the spinach was completely dry, add 1-2 tbsp water to the pan, stir well, cover with lid and let cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes or so, until all spinach is completely wilted. Tip pan over sink and drain off any excess liquid, if necessary (don’t let the garlic bits get dumped out!) and if desired, stir in a bit more olive oil. Add more salt if necessary, and serve.

Broccoli with Garlic, for 3-4 people

3 cups or so broccoli florets (washed and cut into equal bite-sized pieces)

one clove garlic, separated into cloves which have been peeled and cut up fairly coarsely

2-3 tbsp olive oil

sprinkle (1/2 tsp? more?) cayenne pepper flakes

pinch salt, or 1-2 tbsp soya sauce

Cook broccoli in saucepan containing small amount of water for a couple of minutes, until it just turns bright green. Remove from heat, drain, and rinse with cold water to arrest cooking process.

While broccoli is cooking, heat olive oil in a large frying pan or wok and saute garlic, pepper flakes and salt (if not using soya sauce) for a couple of minutes. Add broccoli, and stir it around in the olive oil to coat. If using soya sauce, sprinkle it in now.

This is also nice with almonds (add a handful and saute with the garlic), or a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds (toast in separate, dry – no oil – frying pan for a couple of minutes until fragrant).

Moules Marinière (Mussels in White Wine)

This is a favourite of ours – so simple to make and so yummy! We were in Brittany earlier this year and saw the amazing mussel farms that supply France with this little delicacy. We enjoyed them prepared so many different ways, but this is my favourite.

4 lb. fresh, live mussels

3 tbsp. butter (optional but recommended)

3 tbsp. olive oil (or more, if you do not use the butter)

1 tsp. cayenne pepper flakes

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 onion, chopped finely

juice of one lemon

1 bottle dry white wine (cheap is fine)

1 cup heavy cream (optional)

1/2 cup chopped parsley

pepper and salt

Baguettes, to sop up the liquid

Rinse mussels thoroughly and remove beards if necessary. Just pull them off. Pick them over and throw away ALL mussels whose shells are not tightly closed. Put closed mussels in bowl and set aside.

In a large pot, fry onion, garlic and cayenne in butter and/or olive oil until it is soft and starting to smell delicious. Add the lemon juice and the wine. Put the mussels into the pot and cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for about 6-8 minutes until their shells are open.

Once they are cooked, remove mussels with a slotted spoon, and place in serving bowl. Turn heat up under liquid in pot and boil until it is reduced to half, or slightly less than half of its original volume. Add parsley (and cream, if using). If cream has been added, heat to simmering. Add pepper, and taste before adding salt – it will probably be salty enough. Pour this hot liquid over the mussels in the bowl.

To serve, scoop mussels into bowls, top with some of the liquid and eat using one half of the shell as a “spoon” to get the mussel off the other half of the shell. Serve with plenty of crusty baguettes on the side. Dunk the bread into the liquid, or just drink the liquid with a spoon like soup! Don’t forget to put out bowls for the used shells. Bon appétit! 😀

Tortilla Española Canadiense (Canadian-style Spanish Omelet)

I spent a total of about a year in Spain when I was in my teens, travelling with my parents. I loved all the food I had there.  This particular dish was one that was, to my delight, available pretty much everywhere. It is so easy to make. I don’t know how “official” the recipe is, hence the “Canadiense” designation, but it tastes pretty official to me 😉

The ingredients are fast and loose, depending on how big a pan you have, how many eggs and veggies you have and how many people you want to feed.

For 4 people, with maybe some leftovers (or not):

8-10 eggs, fork-beaten with salt and pepper

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups or so cold, cooked potato, chopped into 1″ pieces (I like to steam extra potatoes so I have the leftovers to make this – new potatoes can have the skin on, but older potatoes should be peeled before cooking for this recipe)

handful parsley, chopped

generous amount olive oil – start with 2 tbsp. and go from there

In frying pan with heatproof handle, heat the initial 2 tbsp. olive oil and fry the garlic and onion until soft and fragrant. Stir in the potatoes and parsley, fry for a minute or two. The pan might be looking a little dry, so add some more olive oil and let heat. Pour in the beaten eggs…there should be enough egg in the pan to almost cover the vegetables. Stir gently in the pan to combine and coat all vegetables with the egg. You can always beat up another egg or two and mix it in if there is not enough. Now leave it alone to cook over very low heat.

Turn on the broiler in your oven while the omelet is cooking. .

Cook over low heat until egg is mostly cooked – there will be a small amount of runny egg still on the top, but the omelet will be fairly firm underneath. When the omelet reaches this stage, and the broiler is heated, slide the pan underneath the element and brown the omelet, watching it carefully. This will only take a few minutes (depending on how hot your broiler is). Leave the handle of the pan away from the element!

When top of omelet is golden, remove from oven, and let cool. This can be served warm (room temperature) or chilled, never hot.

Delicious with green salad, and perhaps a bit of salsa on the side. Or ketchup (that is definitely NOT Spanish!) 🙂

Farmer’s Market Curried Quinoa Salad

I love this time of year. Markets are overflowing with beautiful ripe produce, much of it available is organic, and the bounty means that generally the prices are at their best. As much as I try to restrain myself, I often end up with tons of stuff that I need to get creative with. One of my mom’s favourite expressions when someone overloaded their plate was that “their eye was bigger than their stomach”…in my case, right now particularly, my eye was definitely bigger than my refrigerator 🙂

I saw the “bones” of this recipe in a local magazine…I did intend to stay on course, just substituting quinoa for the couscous called for in the original recipe, but then I ended up going completely off piste, and the finished product in no way resembles the original…except for the little round grainy things 🙂

1 cup quinoa

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/2 cup raisins

2/3 cup roasted unsalted cashews

1/2 English cucumber, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2-3 green onions, chopped

1 yellow or red bell pepper, chopped

1 nectarine, chopped

1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and grated

3/4 cup mayonnaise

juice of one lime

1 tsp. sugar

3 tbsp. Madras curry powder

salt and pepper to taste

Bring stock and quinoa to boil in a pot. Add raisins when stock is boiling, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or so until liquid is mostly absorbed. Let stand for a few minutes, fluff with a fork and leave to cool completely.

In the meantime, prepare all the vegetables and fruit above and put into a bowl with the cashews. Mix the mayonnaise with the lime juice, sugar and curry powder. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When quinoa is completely cool, gently mix it into the vegetables with the dressing until all is combined.

Refrigerate and serve when cool.

This could be made more “substantial” with the addition of some cooked shrimp or chicken.

Fresh Cucumber and Toasted Quinoa Salad

I recently purchased a cookbook called “Quinoa, the Everyday Superfood” at Costco. It is a great little book, showing how quinoa can be used in every meal from breakfast to dessert.

The first recipes I made from this book have been very yummy. As usual, I messed ever so slightly with this recipe and made it “mine” with, we think, great results 🙂


1 cup quinoa

2 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp Salata vinegar (seasoned German vinegar, if you don’t have it, use white wine vinegar or rice vinegar)

2 cups chopped English cucumber (about 1/2 a cucumber)

2-3 green onions, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped (or 2 tbsp. or so of dried dill)

salt and pepper

1 cup tamari almonds (or toasted plain almonds)

In large pan, toast quinoa (dry, no oil) over medium heat until fragrant but not brown. Add stock to it and bring to boil. Cover and cook over low heat for ten minutes, then turn off heat and leave covered for an additional four minutes. Remove lid, fluff with fork, and let cool completely.

Toss well with remaining ingredients. Best if eaten immediately, but can be refrigerated for up to three days in a sealed container.


Spicy Garlic Eggplant, my way

I just love Chinese food – it can be as rich or as light as you choose. It is also very vegetarian-, dairy- and gluten-free “friendly” – the possibilities are endless. One of John’s favourites is this dish, which he had in Montreal visiting Jean and Albert. It is ridiculously easy, and quick to make.

Fish sauce is available at Asian markets. It is an essential ingredient in Thai cuisine, and adds a little deliciousness to this one. It is sort of the Asian equivalent to anchovies, it lends a nice flavour but the end result is not “fishy”. While it is not mandatory to include it in this recipe, it is a nice addition.

2 tbsp. canola oil

2 large Chinese (some call them Japanese) eggplants, sliced (not too thinly, about 1/4″)


1/2 cup broth (veg or chicken)

1-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. cornstarch

1-1/2 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. fish sauce (Vietnamese)

2 tbsp. soy sauce

2 tbsp. oyster sauce

1 tsp. (or to taste) Asian garlic chili sauce (or sambal oelek) – use judiciously, it is HOT

2-3 green onions, sliced

1/3 cup chopped garlic (yes, you read that right – stop clutching your pearls and just do it)

Heat oil in pan over high heat until hot, add eggplant slices and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and let steam (adding water as necessary, don’t let it dry out completely or the eggplant will stick onto the pan) until eggplant is soft, 8-10 minutes or so.

While eggplant is cooking, mix all ingredients except garlic and onion. When eggplant is nice and soft, add garlic and onion and stir for a minute or so to “mellow” their flavours just a little bit. Add sauce ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring gently (eggplant will start to break apart, but that is okay), until sauce is thickened.

Serve as a side veg, or over rice, or as part of an Asian-style feast – good with teriyaki salmon or chicken, and any other dish you like 🙂

Now…what to do with leftovers of Adrian’s tomato sauce

I mentioned in the previous post the versatility of the tomato sauce…I will now offer a few suggestions regarding what to do with the leftover sauce, especially if you do not have enough for another pasta dinner. Really, just use your imagination!

1. Freeze it – it does quite nicely in the freezer and can be added to any future batches or in any of the recipes below, at a future time.

2. Make Ratatouille – in a frying pan, saute a couple of sliced (1/4″ thick slices) zucchini, a chopped onion and some garlic (of course) in a bit of olive oil, add a cup or so of leftover sauce, along with 2-3 tbsp. tomato paste (try to find tomato paste in a tube – at delis – much more convenient than cans). Stir well to combine and put into a greased shallow casserole dish. Top with a mixture of a handful of grated cheese (parmesan, fontina, gruyere are all good), mixed with a few breadcrumbs, some chopped garlic (you can never have too much taka-taka) and freshly ground pepper, and bake in 375 oven until cheese is bubbly and crumbs are browned. You just need to heat it through, it does not need cooking. Nice as a main course with rice, or on the side with BBQ and new potatoes.

3. Add to broth to make a Minestrone-style soup – in a large pot, fry onion and garlic in olive oil, and any other vegetables (or meat, for that matter) you want in your soup. Add a box of vegetable or meat broth (or your own homemade broth) – about a liter. Add a cup, more or less, of the leftover sauce. Stir until blended. If soup is not “soupy” enough, add some more broth. Correct seasoning by adding a bit more salt and pepper, basil, oregano and/or tabasco sauce until it tastes good. You can add chopped cooked meat at this point, or 1/4 cup barley or rice, or pasta…or not.  Let it simmer for an hour or so. Serve with plenty of garlic bread (is there any other kind?).

4. Use as a base for Chili – again, fry a chopped onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil. Add chopped or ground meat (if using) of your choice. Cook until meat browns. Add 2-3 tbsp. chili powder and 1 tsp. ground cumin to taste (in a pinch you can use a bit of curry powder instead of cumin!). Add 1-2 cups of leftover tomato sauce, and 1 or two cans beans (I find it tastes good with all different kinds of beans, not just the traditional kidney beans). Adjust seasonings – you might find adding a bit more oregano makes it even better. If you want it hotter, add tabasco sauce to taste. Serve (over rice or plain) with plenty of grated cheese, sour cream and/or chopped green onions sprinkled on top. Maybe a bit of take-taka if you are feeling adventurous.

5. Bake it! For those times when you have a couple of cups of sauce left over, no pasta (or have some left over, but not enough for the sauce) and still have pasta cravings! If you don’t have leftover pasta, cook some more – but a little less than you would use if you were going to serve it on top of the pasta – for example, if you have enough sauce for four servings, cook pasta for three servings, etc. Combine sauce and pasta in large mixing bowl. The pasta is going to absorb some of the moisture of the sauce when you mix it, so you want it to be fairly “wet” – you can add a bit of tomato juice, wine or other liquid to this if it is “dry” looking. Don’t make it sloppily wet, though. Grate 2-3 cups of cheese, cheddar is good, mozzarella, asiago, fontina, or any mixture. Mix sauce, cooked pasta and cheese together, season with lots of freshly ground pepper and a bit of salt. Place in greased casserole and top with breadcrumbs and cheese mixed together with freshly ground pepper and chopped garlic. Bake in medium oven until heated through.

6. Use it in lasagna! Use your favourite recipe.

7. If you have some pesto(s)and other goodies hanging around, try using leftover pasta and sauce in my Top Chef-inspired Leftover pasta recipe:

So, you can see that a little sauce can go a long way…have fun experimenting 🙂

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