Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the category “Dinner”

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!

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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 😀

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.

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 😀

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!

Boozy (not really) Banana Bread via Nigella

This is a tip from the lovely and talented Nigella Lawson…I just tried it, and it is great!

Before making your favourite banana bread recipe, take 1/2 cup or so of raisins (for one loaf) and put them in a small saucepan with 1/3 cup dark rum. Bring to a boil, remove from heat immediately and let cool.

Mix up your loaf, and stir these babies in. Nigella said to drain them, I didn’t – just dumped the whole lot in, there wasn’t much to drain as the raisins had soaked most of the rum up.

The resulting banana bread was elevated from “very yummy” to “Mmmmmmmmmmmyummy”. I recommend using a recipe (like mine) that uses butter rather than oil, for an extra rich taste.

Try it! So simple and so good. Thank you, Nigella!

For those of you who do not have a “go-to” basic Banana Bread recipe, this is mine:

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar (can cut back to 3/4 cup)
2 eggs
3 medium bananas (ripe), mashed
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
(optional: 1/2-3/4 cup raisins/craisins and/or chopped pecans)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar together. Ad eggs one at a time, beating until smooth. Add bananas and vanilla, and blend until combined. If you are adding rummy raisins, add them now.

In second bowl, stir dry ingredients together. Add to wet mixture, stirring only to moisten. Transfer to greased loaf pan (9″x5″) and bake for 1 hour or until done.

Remove from pan after ten minutes, cool on rack and try to leave it alone until the next day. Banana bread always is better the next day!

Mmmmushroom Mmmmmoussaka

Moussaka is delicious in its various forms, which almost always include meat. This version is equally wonderful, very flavourful and satisfying, and we allow the little lambs to frolic another day.
It is not difficult to make but it is a bit time consuming to make in one go. Try to make the time for it, though…it is totally worth the effort!

2 medium-sized eggplants
salt
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
grated Parmesan (about 1/4 cup) OR about 1 cup of the pre-grated “pizza mix” cheese
4 medium potatoes, boiled and cooled, then sliced about 1/4″ thick (optional)

Mushroom/Tomato Sauce:

3 tbsp. olive oil
750g chopped mushrooms
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 cup dry red wine
6-7 fresh tomatoes, chopped coarsely (could use 19-ounce can of diced)
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Cheese Sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups cottage cheese

Cut eggplants into 1/4″ slices crossways,layer in colander over bowl or sink, sprinkling each layer with salt. Let stand for 30-60 minutes. This removes excess water, and prevents that bitter taste eggplant sometimes has.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce. In a large frying pan, fry the mushrooms, onion and garlic in the olive oil until softened. Mix in the remaining ingredients except parsley, and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated – when you draw a spoon along the bottom of the pan, the sauce will not fill in much when it is ready to use. This will take a while. When it is done, stir in the parsley and set aside.

While the mushroom-tomato sauce is reducing, make the cheese sauce. Make a roux with the butter and flour, whisk in the milk over medium-low heat and cook until it is thickened and smooth. Stir in the cheeses, then the eggs (add eggs last so they don’t start cooking – the mixture will have cooled with the addition of the cheeses).

Turn on the broiler element in the oven.

Drain and rinse the eggplant, and pat dry. Brush with olive oil and set on baking sheet. Broil until translucent and golden, turning once – about 8-10 minutes total.

Change the oven to heat to 350 degrees.

Now to assemble: spread half the mushroom-tomato mixture in a greased deep 9×13″ pan/lasagna pan. Dab a little cheese sauce over this (about 1/4 of it), distributing evenly. Layer half the eggplant over this, overlapping if necessary. Repeat layers (adding a layer of sliced potatoes in there if using), and end with a nice deep layer of cheese sauce. You can cover and freeze it at this point if you like. Top this layer with either the grated parmesan, or the cup or so of pizza cheese, then sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

Bake for 60-70 minutes in oven, or until browned and bubbling. Let stand for 15 minutes or so, then cut into squares. Will make about 8 servings. A nice red wine, a simple green salad and crusty bread make nice accompaniments 🙂

Top Chefs-inspired Leftover Pasta Idea

Don’t worry, I am not yet quite delusional enough to call myself a Top Chef – I have to say, though, that having recently watched Top Chef Canada 3, I found myself fired up and totally inspired by what those amazing chefs could produce on very short notice, often with no knowledge of what ingredients would be available to them!

The other day I made a double batch of Adrian’s Tomato Sauce (recipe posted on this site back in September) and a double batch of pasta to go with it. Adrian and his friend Hayden were coming to visit, and I wanted to make sure we had enough! Needless to say, there was a lot left over…the leftover pasta and sauce were mixed together in a bowl and put in the fridge, and we have been working away at it. Tonight, there was enough for one last meal for us, and I really did not want to eat it as it was…again. As we know, pasta absorbs sauce when it is left for any amount of time, so this stuff “needed help” – and not just lashings of cheese, again!

Wanting to do something creative with what was left, and not really wanting to  go shopping to do so, I thought about Top Chef Canada and the various challenges the chefs faced in their competition, which were always inspirational to watch 🙂 I rummaged though the fridge and pantry to see what all I had, and the following casserole is the result. 

This is kind of a “freeform,” recipe – I have listed the ingredients without quantities, because if you are in a similar position, you may not have the ingredients I used, or the quantity of pasta/sauce I started with. My only recommendation would be to add the pesto gradually as you want it to flavour and moisten, not be a sauce. Add other “fillers” to taste, and be creative 😀

Olive oil (EVOO for the flavour)
Cooked chicken breasts, chopped
Basil pesto
Sundried tomato pesto
Garlic scapes, chopped (flower tops of garlic plants – available at farmers’ markets -or just use some minced fresh garlic!)
Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
Pine nuts
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Panko breadcrumbs

Drizzle pasta with a bit of olive oil to moisten it very slightly. Mix in the chicken. Blob on some pesto (I used both kinds), a tablespoon at a time, and toss until pasta and chicken is coated lightly.

Mix in some of everything else listed as desired, except the Panko. Put mixture in a greased casserole dish. 

Make a gratin topping of grated Parmesan, pine nuts, and some Panko. Distribute this over the top. 

Bake casserole in 350 degree oven, covered with tinfoil for 15 minutes, then uncovered for 15 minutes longer or until heated through and top is crispy and browned. Good with a simple green salad and a flavourful red wine (we had a Spanish one) 🙂

Getting Freekeh

Oh, that name…I could get really punny, but will quit before I get rolling.

I am always interested in finding new things to try.  Now that so many “new” ancient grains are available, it is fun to experiment with them. I recently discovered freekeh, which is dried, roasted green wheat. Its taste and texture are intriguing – smoky, earthy and chewy. You could use it in place of rice or any other grain. I bought a box of it, “Casbah” brand, to try, and messed around slightly with their recipe for freekeh salad – with happy results. There are lots of different recipes online for freekeh dishes, and I am looking forward to experimenting!

Salad:

1 package (145g) freekeh
1-3/4 cups water
1 cup roasted red or yellow peppers, chopped,
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or equivalent in dried thyme)
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped coarsely
1/2 English cucumber, diced

Dressing:

Juice of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 large garlic clove, minced
Large pinch sea salt

Combine freekeh and water in pot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes or so, or until water is absorbed and freekeh is tender. Cool.

Once freekeh is cool, combine in bowl with remaining salad ingredients. Whisk dressing ingredients together. Pour over salad and stir to combine.

Yummy and different! 🙂

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