Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

A fabulous “new” (to me) Tomato Sauce!

Honestly, I do not know how I have been a keen cook for this many years and not have heard of this sauce. It is supposedly Marcella Hazan’s recipe, in a book of family favourites by her son Giuliano. It has THREE ingredients (well, and salt). That’s it.

This recipe is great for when you need something delicious and can’t get to the store! Tomatoes, butter, onions and pasta…most people have those ingredients kicking around in their kitchen pantries and fridges.

The original recipe called for peeled tomatoes to be mashed up and cooked with the butter, but I used some nice Roma tomatoes, which I sliced skin-on, bagged and popped in the freezer last summer.

I also saw that some people had used canned tomatoes, with the suggestion to be careful with the salt. The following is what I produced today, and likely will stick with in the future:

3-4 cups of chopped Roma tomatoes

1/3 cup butter

1 cooking onion, halved

Sea salt to taste (I salted at end of cooking time)

Place all ingredients in a large pot, so you have a bigger surface to evaporate the sauce. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to very low, and simmer gently, stirring every ten minutes or so, until you have cooked away most of the tomato liquid and the butter is basically coating the top of the tomato pulp. This will take about an hour, more or less.

The original recipe states to remove the onion (you could, and use it elsewhere or discard)…I removed one half and then, with my trusty immersion blender, wizzed the remaining half into the sauce until it was smooth, and the tomato skins were blended in. I seasoned with a good pinch of sea salt and tasted it. Wow, wow, wow. Simple and fresh-tasting, the butter lends a rich smoothness, taking out the sharpness of the tomatoes.

You could top this with some nice freshly grated Parmesan when you serve it over pasta, but really, I don’t think it needs it.



The Best Scone Recipe

It seems sometimes that the easiest things to make are sometimes the easiest to mess up. Don’t get me started on tea…today, I will discuss the humble scone. Scones, despite relatively few ingredients and simple instructions, can be often not as *fabulous* as we would like…they always look wonderful, then when you taste them…meh. Many delicious-looking “homemade” scones I have purchased in coffee shops and bakeries have proven to be dry and crumbly, and definitely not to my taste. I prefer to make my own…this simple recipe is one that I have used for years and has never let me down. It is flexible and can be tweaked to suit different serving situations – plain for either jam or cheese, cream for shortcakes or cream teas, and savoury for with soups and stews.

What makes the perfect scone? The secret, in my opinion (besides not making the dough too wet, or overworking said dough) is not to use baking powder, which can leave a “taste”. These little guys bake up perfect and tender every time. I like to bake them on a stone, which I put in the oven before preheating so it is nice and hot when the scones are ready to bake. They are also yummy baked on a lightly greased baking sheet.

2-3 cups unbleached flour*
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Salt to taste
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup milk

(ingredients for variations are listed after basic instructions)

*I usually start with about 2-1/2 cups flour and add a bit more if needed, using some of the total allotment of flour for the rolling out part – if it is damp weather, you might find you need to use in a bit more flour in the dough.

Preheat oven to 450 deg F. Lightly grease baking sheet, or preheat bakestone. Mix dry ingredients together, incorporate butter with pastry blender or your hands until crumbly, add milk and mix gently until combined. Dough will be soft and elastic.

Turn dough out onto floured board and knead gently a few times (as in, five or six kneads) until smooth. Do not overwork the dough, or it will start to develop the gluten and the scones will be tough.

Press dough out with hands or rolling pin to about 3/4-1″ thickness. Cut into 2-1/2-3″ rounds, place on baking sheet (or hot stone) and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden.

Raisins or berries are a nice addition (about 3/4 cup, add with liquid and mix very gently if using fresh berries). I like to brush with a bit of milk and sprinkle sugar on top, if they are to be eaten with tea. Don’t stop with berries! Add chocolate chips (white or brown), or candied ginger to the dough, or mix cinnamon into the sugar you sprinkle on top – this basic recipe works well with any kind of addition you like 🙂

To make cream scones, use heavy cream instead of milk, and add 2 eggs also when adding cream to recipe. These are quite rich but very nice, good for “strawberry shortcakes”. If you are craving the traditional “cream tea”: serve with thick cream (comes in a jar in the dairy section…if you can find clotted cream, go for it – be authentic!) and sliced ripe, fresh strawberries or high quality strawberry jam, and of course a perfect pot of tea… 🙂

Savoury scones: You can add 1 cup grated sharp cheese if you are making to serve with soup, etc. A few chives or chopped herbs are a nice addition also.

If you prefer, you can bake as one big circle and cut into wedges (score before baking) – adjust baking time accordingly.

Whichever type you make, don’t forget to eat them fresh (they don’t keep all that well)!

Delicious Yam, Red Pepper and Spinach Salad

I recently discovered “Eat Clean” food and fitness author Tosca Reno. Her “Eat Clean” style of cooking is delicious and inspired. Although I can’t quite do egg-white omelettes yet – the yolk is my favourite part! – I have been incorporating her style of cooking into a lot of our meals. I recommend her cookbook, the recipes are easy to follow and her choices of ingredients unusual and yummy. I made this salad of hers, and as usual had to mess with it slightly. I found the seasonings just a little on the shy side, so I upped them a bit. The contrast of colours and tastes (sweet and sour) are wonderful. The results were both colourful and delicious, and I thought I would share 🙂

1 large or 2 medium (orange!) yams, peeled and diced into 1/2′” cubes (about 4 cups’ worth)

1 large red pepper, cut in 1″ chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups fresh spinach


2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 large clove garlic, minced finely

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon honey

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss yam cubes and pepper pieces in olive oil until coated. Sprinkle with cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper and toss again. Spread onto baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until yam cubes are fork-tender. Let cool.

Whisk dressing ingredients together in small bowl.

Place cooled yam and pepper in salad bowl. Toss with dressing. Incorporate spinach leaves, tossing gently.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad, or 2 as a generous and tasty main course 🙂

French Chicken, the quick and dirty way

I have a few recipes that are “go-tos” – recipes that I will use for dinner parties that never fail to elicit ceases in conversation and lots of ‘mmmmmm”. One of those recipes, the name of which has been lost in time and replaced with the innocuous “French Chicken” is a recipe that I have found I can now make much more easily than the original version – happily with much less mess, also.

We are continuing in our Alsace theme, and this dish is a version of Coq au Riesling. The original recipe I had was not called Coq au Riesling, but it essentially was, and involved cooking the whole chicken in wine and veg. Delicious, but a bit of work, as everything needed to be browned separately on the stovetop before cooking in the oven. The original recipe included potatoes which are not in this recipe (but you could serve this on steamed potatoes instead of the noodles). Needless to say, serving it was a bit of work also – cutting up the chicken while keeping the veg hot, reducing the sauce, etc…exhausting!

Basically, this is my adaptation of an abbreviated Coq au Riesling recipe from one my idols, Nigella Lawson (yes, I still love Chef Feenie also). Her recipe eliminated a lot of the fussy prep, and I added flourishes from my original oven-cooked recipe. It captures the taste of  the beloved “French Chicken” and is so much simpler!

This recipe is great when served immediately that it is cooked, but is even better if you make it the day before and reheat it very gently over a very low heat (don’t boil!). This will generously feed six happy people.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

6 cloves garlic, minced

150g (about 6 ounces) pancetta, chopped

3 big leeks, cleaned and sliced thinly  (white part only), OR two medium onions, sliced (can use a combination of onions and leeks if you wish)

4 cups sliced mushrooms (can use chanterelles)

3 bay leaves

1-750mL bottle Riesling (does not need to be expensive!)

1-2 tablespoons Maggi sauce (for those unfamiliar with it, this is a magic little ingredient that rounds out many sauces beautifully – use sparingly as you just want to “enhance” the sauce)

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, each chopped into three pieces

sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons whipping cream (optional)

3 tablespoons chopped parsley

hot, buttered egg noodles or Spätzle (German noodles…traditional!)

In heavy 5-qt Dutch oven, heat olive oil and butter until melted and combined, and add pancetta, garlic, onions and/or leeks. Fry over medium-low heat until soft. Remove from pan onto plate with slotted spoon, and add the mushrooms into the Dutch oven and fry them in the pancetta-ish oil until they are brown and yummy-looking. Add the pancetta mixture back into the Dutch oven and add the bottle of wine, the bay leaves and the Maggi sauce. Stir to mix evenly.

Now add the chicken thighs, and tuck them into the liquid.  Bring it to a boil, reduce heat immediately and simmer gently, covered, for about 40 minutes.

With your slotted spoon, remove all the chicken and veg into a bowl. Boil liquid, uncovered, until it is half its original volume. You can measure before with a chopstick to determine where “half” is. Once liquid volume is reduced, turn heat right down and replace chicken pieces and veg. Stir, then taste sauce. Add a bit more Maggi sauce if you would like, and salt and pepper to taste. If using the cream, add it at the end of the cooking time.

Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve in cooking pot at the table, over the buttered noodles or Spätzle. Now wait for the “mmmmmmm” 🙂




Tarte flambée, or Flammkuchen (what you call it depends on which side of the Rhein you’re from)

When we lived in Germany, we lived very near the French border. Across the Rhein river (the border) was Alsace, a region with a rich gastronomic history (apparently it has more “starred” restaurants than any other region in France!). Alsace has been alternately German and French over the past few centuries, and this has resulted in a unique combination of the best of both countries, as far as I am concerned.

If you go to Alsace, you will notice that many restaurants offer Tarte Flambée, or Flammkuchen. These thin-crusted “pizza-like” concoctions are cooked in wood-burning ovens and served in their magnificent crispiness to happy diners. So delicious! Every restaurant has its own little touches, but they are all essentially the same…bacon (you can have them without, and they are equally tasty – see ** note at bottom of recipe), cheese, and onion. Doesn’t sound all that exciting, but it is the type of cheese that gives it its distinct flavour.

For years I could not figure out how they did it, and tried various toppings which, while tasty, did not have an authentic flavour. Then…success! This takes a bit of advance prep with the dough, but assembly and cooking take very little time and the results are spectacular. It is the creamy texture of the crème fraîche-cheese combination that give this recipe its close approximation to the real thing 🙂

If you are a whiz with a pizza peel and bakestone, this will be delish cooked that way. You know what to do. For those who are less skilled, like me, use a large metal pizza pan, and the directions below are for that method of cooking.

For the dough (do this the day before):

1-1/2 cups water

1/4 teaspoon yeast (yes, one-quarter, not a typo)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1-1/4 teaspoons salt

3-3/4 cups flour (all-purpose unbleached or bread flour, your choice)

Mix all in a bowl which will allow the mixture to expand to twice its volume. Cover loosely with cling film, and forget about it for 12-18 hours – I mix around 8 or 9 at night to make for the following night’s supper.

NOTE: This recipe for the dough will make enough for two large 12″ or three medium 9″-10″ Flammkuchen, wrap and refrigerate what you don’t want to use – it will keep for 3 days – you can use it to make regular pizza, too!)

To make ONE 12″ LARGE Flammkuchen, use the following quantities of ingredients:

2-3 tablespoons cornmeal

1/2 cup crème fraîche (available at good grocery stores, or you can make your own by mixing one cup of whipping cream and two tablespoons of buttermilk and leaving it to stand at room temperature until thick – this will keep covered, in the fridge, for 10 days)

pinch each freshly ground nutmeg and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

75g (about 3-4 ounces) pancetta, chopped into 1/2″ cubes (obviously, omit for vegetarian version, see **note at end of recipe)

1/2 large onion, sliced thinly

1 clove garlic, minced

about 1/2 cup “pizza cheese” – I like the prepackaged, pre- grated ones that have provolone, gouda, mozzarella in them – they are more interesting than plain mozza

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees (yes, five hundred degrees).  Put a rack right under your broiler, and another one in the middle of your oven.

While oven is preheating, take your dough and tip it onto a very well-floured surface and cut into two (or three, depending of how big you want your flammkuchen). Poke the dough to collapse it, roll it in the flour until the surface is dry and easy to handle, and cut it into two pieces.

Heat olive oil, and over low heat fry pancetta pieces (if using), garlic and onion, until golden and fragrant. Keep the pancetta tender, do not cook it until crisp.

While onion/pancetta/garlic mixture is cooking, grease pan *very lightly*, and sprinkle cornmeal on your pan. Put the dough piece on it, well-floured, and spread it gently with your fingers into a rough 12″ circle. It does not have to be a perfect circle, it is supposed to be rustic-looking. Be careful not to pull the dough too thin (translucent is too thin) and mend any holes that form while you are stretching it.

Mix the crème fraîche with the nutmeg and pepper. Spread this mixture over the dough. Sprinkle the onion/pancetta/garlic mixture over top, and distribute pieces evenly. Sprinkle with the pizza cheese. Do NOT use a lot of cheese, you want this to have a light, cheesy topping, not a thick stringy “North American style” one.

Place the pizza in the oven and bake at 500 degrees for 7 minutes, or until golden and puffy looking. Turn oven off, light broiler, and immediately transfer pan to broiler and broil for 3 minutes or so until topping is nicely browned.

Let cool a couple of minutes, slice and enjoy as an appetizer or as a main meal, with a simple green salad 🙂

**As mentioned, for a vegetarian version, the pancetta can be omitted – I would suggest trying a smoked Gouda mixed with mozzarella as the cheese, as I think that would replace the smokiness given to it by the bacon.

Fantastique! Wunderbar!

Fondue Neuchâteloise

This is the *classic* cheese fondue. If any of you are guilty of using the pre-fab cheese fondue, please just stop it now. This is so superior in taste, and so easy to make, it is ridiculous. It is a great make-ahead. This recipe on its own will make enough for a fondue for 4-6 people. A good rule of thumb is to allow about 6 ounces (about 200g) of cheese per person. Serve with a simple green salad on the side, and you are done.

To enjoy fondue properly, you will need certain equipment. A fondue pot designed for cheese fondue, made of ceramic or cast iron, is a must. Ensure that you use the correct type of pot – the metal ones, unless they are heavy cast iron, are meant to hold oil or broth for meat or fish fondues, not cheese.

A stand with a burner on the bottom will be sold wherever you purchase the pot. This burner will be filled (at a SEPARATE location, not at the table) beforehand with fondue fuel. ****DO NOT put the fuel in the burner at the table where you will be eating, or attempt to re-fill it when it is hot. To do so will expose you to risk of fire.**** I fill mine in the kitchen sink, away from any flame or flammable materials. If you decide to be clever and fill it at the table, you may spill the odourless, clear fondue fuel and not be aware – and will find out that you did the hard way, when you light the burner. I repeat – do it somewhere SAFE.

Cut your bread into 1″ cubes a few hours ahead of time. I like baguettes because you can leave a piece of the crust on each cube, which makes it more likely that the cube will stay on the fork when dipping.

There are also special forks used for cheese fondue – set one at each place setting, along with a regular dinner fork. The diners may dip their bread with the long, skinny cheese fondue fork, and then transfer the dipped, cheesy bread onto their plates and eat with a regular fork. It’s rude to eat with your dipping fork 😉

Traditionally, the bread is speared onto the fork and swirled in the cheese in a figure-8 pattern. If you should happen to lose your bread, you either pour wine for everyone or kiss the person next to you – consider this when arranging seating 😉

At the end of the meal, when the cheese is gone, you will see a “crust” of cooked cheese on the bottom of the pot. Don’t throw this away! Give it to your guest of honour (if you have one, and if they want it) or give a bit of it to everybody…it’s yummy!

12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

6 ounces Emmental cheese, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

3 teaspoons cornstarch

1 to 1-1/2 cups dry white wine

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup Kirschwasser (a Swiss schnapps made from cherries – it is not sweet and is absolutely integral to the authentic taste of this fondue)

pinch each freshly ground pepper and nutmeg

2-3 baguettes, which you have cut into 1″ cubes several hours ahead of serving so that they can dry out a bit

In large bowl, combine cheeses, garlic, cornstarch and seasonings. When well combined, place mixture into ceramic or heavy iron fondue pot.

In a measuring cup, measure one cup of the wine, and add the lemon juice and Kirschwasser. Keep the remaining white wine in the bottle – you can drink it if you don’t use it. 🙂

When you wish to eat, simply pour contents of measuring cup into fondue pot, stir well and heat the pot over very low heat. If, once the cheese has melted, you would like a runnier consistency, add more wine, a tablespoonful or so at a time, stirring after each addition.

If you overdo the wine and it is too runny, you can mix a bit of cornstarch with a bit of wine and stir that in – it will thicken it up.

Heat this right before you wish to serve – fondues do NOT “keep” and will separate if left for a period of time.

Transfer pot carefully to the table and set on a burner, which you have set in the middle of the table where all can reach. Set the flame to the lowest setting.

An additional treat is “le coup du milieu” – a tiny container with kirschwasser in it. You dip the bread quickly in that (don’t soak it), and then into the cheese. Mmmmm. This would be for kirschwasser aficionados, and is not necessary for this fondue to be fabulous.

Bon appétit!

New Year, more posts

Happy 2013! Where does time go, anyway? After my trip to Hong Kong in November, the Christmas family swirl of fun, and New Year’s celebrations, I find myself deposited unceremoniously in 2013, not having posted since before I went away.

I have a special treat for you: three posts! I hope you like them 🙂

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