Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the category “fast”

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!

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 😀

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 🙂

 

 

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!

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! 🙂

“I Miss Hawaii” Cookies

We recently returned from a wonderful trip to Hawaii…first, a great week in Maui, followed by a fantastic week in Oahu where we attended our son’s wedding! What a fabulous time 🙂

Now we are back at home on our own (admittedly cooler) island in the Pacific. It is currently raining, nothing unusual for June.  I have been wishing for summer and remembering the endless sun and turquoise water in Hawaii….what better way of spending a rainy day than baking cookies? Wanting to add a bit of tropical yumminess, I came up with the (incredibly original!) idea of adding toasted coconut and macadamia nuts to the carob chip cookie dough, and I must say the results are divine 🙂

This makes lots, you can halve the recipe…

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup coconut oil
2-1/4 cups brown sugar, lightly packed
4 eggs
4 teaspoons vanilla
I cup toasted unsweetened coconut (toast at 350 degrees for 5 minutes), cooled
1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped and toasted with the coconut, cooled
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 cups carob chips
Pinch salt

Beat fats together. Add sugar and beat until blended. Add eggs, beating in one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix dry ingredients together in separate bowl and stir into butter/sugar mixture. Drop 2″ apart onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Sage, Cambazola and Pine Nuts

Again, I was drifting through my Nigella Lawson books and came across this recipe in her Nigellisima book. It is actually a variation of one of the variations given in her original recipe (I used Cambazola instead of the gorgonzola she suggested, as it was what I had), peeled the squash and I cut the sage into ribbons rather than using whole leaves as she did….still, so simple, and absolutely delicious.

1 large butternut squash, peeled and seeded

2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 sprigs fresh sage, leaves only, cut into strips

3 tablespoons pine nuts

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/3 cup Cambazola cheese, cut into small pieces

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped parsley to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut squash into chunks about 1″-1-1/2″ square. Toss pieces of squash in the olive oil with about 2/3 of the sage, salt and pepper, and place into a casserole dish.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until squash is golden brown and tender.

Squeeze lemon half over top, and sprinkle cheese, remaining chopped sage and pine nuts over top. Mix gently so the squash pieces stay intact but the cheese melts and distributes through the squash evenly, with the other ingredients. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Makes 3-4 servings.

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