Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

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! 🙂

“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.

Gnocchi Primavera

Spring is a wonderful time – all the current crop is starting to appear and we no longer are quite so reliant on stuff grown on the other side of the planet! Asparagus is one of my favourite spring things…I find it delicious in any form! Baked, steamed, sauteed, you name it.

This recipe comes from there being a surfeit of asparagus in my fridge…I was thinking about making it with a pasta of some kind and looking around to see what all was hanging around in the fridge, and this is the happy result. I found some mascarpone and got this idea.

You could use veggies of choice for this, cutting them as you would for a stir fry. You could also, if preferred, use pasta or even egg noodles.

Have your prep done ahead of cooking the gnocchi, the sauce only takes a couple of minutes to make. Hope you like it 🙂

1 package gnocchi

2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)

6 green onions, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 orange bell pepper, chopped

10 spears asparagus, ends snapped off, cut into 1″ lengths

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup mascarpone cheese

1/3 cup dry vermouth (e.g.. Noilly Prat)

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

salt and freshly ground pepper

chopped parsley to sprinkle (optional)

In dry frying pan, toast pine nuts for a couple of minutes until golden, watching the entire time of cooking as they burn easily. Place pine nuts in bowl to cool. Set aside.

Put pot of water on to boil for gnocchi. Once water is boiling, add gnocchi and cook until they float (just a few minutes, don’t overcook).

In small bowl, stir mascarpone cheese and vermouth together. Set aside.

As gnocchi is cooking, in large frying pan or wok, melt butter over medium heat, and add asparagus pieces and bell pepper. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until asparagus starts to turn bright green.  Add green onion and garlic, and cook for a minute or two to soften but not brown.

Add mascarpone/vermouth mixture to vegetables. Mix thoroughly. If too thick, take a tablespoon or two of the gnocchi water and add it to “loosen” the sauce.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle Parmesan over top and stir in gently.

If gnocchi are not quite cooked, remove sauce from heat. If they are cooked, drain them and add them to the sauce, mixing gently.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Makes 2-4  servings, depending on how hungry you are 🙂

“Fried Rice”…made with quinoa!

One of my favourite sites, http://www.eatliverun.com, is a never-ending source of delicious and fun recipes. The blogger, Jenna, is a chef with a wonderful and carefree style that I love to read. Her recipes are awesome! This recipe was posted recently and I just HAD to make it…of course, I did make a couple of very minor changes to her original recipe due to what I had in my fridge and personal preferences…I know, I know, there wasn’t any garlic in the original recipe so I put some in. The original recipe also called for snow peas, which would be lovely but were not hanging around in my fridge, so I subbed celery which was tasty. I also added the mushrooms, but everything else is as the original recipe.

Other veggies could be substituted. If chicken or shrimp were added, I am sure they would taste great, but frankly this is so good as it is with just veg and eggs, it does not really need anything else. It is also a good, protein-y dinner.

This is so quick and easy and as Jenna said, “seriously a power meal!”

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup celery, sliced thinly on the diagonal

2 green onions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 red bell pepper, diced small

4 large mushrooms, sliced thinly

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon coconut oil, divided

1 tablespoon fish sauce (don’t leave this out – it lends a beautiful flavour)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

 

Combine quinoa and water in medium saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook 12-15 minutes, or until quinoa has absorbed all water. Once cooked, remove from heat, and fluff with fork.

Place half of the coconut oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Once oil is hot, pour eggs into pan and let cook until almost set (don’t scramble, just leave them). Remove onto plate while still surface of eggs is slightly runny. Put remaining coconut oil in pan, and add chopped veggies. Stir fry for about three minutes or until veggies are barely tender. Add quinoa to pan and mix together with veggies. Add eggs back in, breaking into pieces. Finally, stir in the sesame oil, fish sauce and soy sauce and mix well.

All done! Serves four (or fewer greedy) people 🙂

 

Chef Feenie’s Fish Tacos, slightly amended and simplified

I had never made fish tacos before, a realization that struck me as odd because I really like them. For this Easter weekend, Dane and Brittany were here with us and it was a request! Feeling somewhat panicky, I looked in to my cookbooks and my copy of Chef Rob Feenie’s “Casual Classics” popped out at me, seeing as fish tacos are served at Cactus Club Cafe restaurants where he oversees the menu.

Lo and behold, there was a recipe in it – “Cod Tacos, with My Salsa, Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Sambal Mayonnaise”. I wish I could say it was “my” recipe because the tacos were delicious! The man is a genius. The time spent in prep is well worth the fabulous flavours which combine in these little gems.

I have modified his recipe very slightly to suit what I was able to do at the time (with the fish), but I think he would like the results – the salsa, cabbage, and mayonnaise are all his. Chef Feenie sears the fish in the olive oil with salt and pepper, as opposed to cooking it in the oven with Tex-Mex. He also suggests grilling the tortillas, which I did not do (I don’t think anybody noticed, to be honest, they were too busy savouring!).

6 ounces cod (you could use halibut or other white fish), cut into 1″ cubes

1 tablespoon olive oil

Tex-Mex seasoning

2 cups thinly shredded green Savoy cabbage

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (about 12)

1 tablspoon diced red onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon finely chopped hot pepper (I used fresno, he called for jalapeno)

1 ripe avocado, pitted and roughly chopped

1/3 cup corn kernels, slightly cooked and drained

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons sambal oelek

 

1 lime, cut into wedges

12 small flour tortillas (5-6″)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil. Toss fish cubes in olive oil and seasoning to coat. Set aside.

Toss cabbage with cider vinegar and sugar in bowl, set aside.

In another bowl, combine tomatoes with onion, cilantro, lime juice, hot pepper, avocado and corn. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and black pepper and toss gently to avoid mashing the avocado. Set aside.

Mix sambal oelek with mayonnaise, set aside.

Now you are ready to cook the fish – pop it in the oven for five minutes or so, or until the fish is opaque and cooked through. Remove from oven, transfer to a warm serving plate and tent it loosely with foil to keep it warm.

Arrange your sauces, cabbage, fish and tortillas so they are easily accessible for assembly. Call your hungry people!  On each tortilla, spread a bit of the sambal mayonnaise, top with fish, salsa and cabbage and roll the tortilla up, securing with a pick if desired. Enjoy.

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Kale and Pine Nuts

Recently I had the distinct pleasure of dining at Rebar in Victoria, BC. It is a cute little vegetarian restaurant with inspired dishes and an amazing cookbook (which was conveniently for sale at the restaurant)! I ate a dish similar to this dish, which was one of the evening’s specials and is not actually in the cookbook. When researching online to find something similar to use as a starting point, I did find this one from the Food Network, but tweaked it a bit because I can’t help it. The result was delish and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 onion, cut in slices

1/2 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh sage

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped (about 6 cups)

1 17.5-ounce package potato gnocchi

juice of half a lemon

1 cup grated cheese (I used “pizza cheese”, the bagged blend of shredded mozzarella, parmesan, provolone and gouda)

2 tbsp. pine nuts

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until it is soft and golden. Remove from pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of butter. When melted, add the squash and cook, stirring, until slightly soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, red pepper flakes and 1 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper; cook until the garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Add the vegetable broth to the skillet. When it starts to simmer, stir in the kale and cook until it wilts slightly, about 2 minutes. Add the gnocchi, stirring to coat. Cover and cook until the gnocchi are just tender, about 5 minutes or so, stirring halfway through to ensure all gnocchi are cooked through. Uncover and stir in 1/4 cup of the cheese, lemon juice, and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.

Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pine nuts; transfer to the broiler and cook until golden and bubbly, about 3 minutes.

That’s it! So yummy!

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