Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the tag “easy”

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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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 🙂

 

 

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!

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! 🙂

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.

“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 🙂

 

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!

Caramel Pecan Croissant Pudding…a decadent way to use up those leftover croissants

I love croissants, as do most people I know, but we all know they are less than stellar when not fresh and crispy. That being said, you can refresh them in the oven for a few minutes to make them like new, but when you buy a massive box of croissants at Costco, you may be doing that for a few days…but don’t lose faith! Here is something you can do with leftover croissants that is spectacularly yummy and delicious.

This is an adaptation of Nigella Lawson’s recipe in her book “Nigella Express” – I have changed the quantities and ingredients slightly and added some notes. This is an easy recipe with few ingredients, but it does require your undivided attention for a few minutes when making the caramel syrup.

4 stale croissants

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1 cup cream (heavy or coffee, whichever you have available)

1 cup milk (not low-fat or skim)

1/4 cup whisky or 1 tbsp vanilla

4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 and butter a gratin dish which will hold a litre or so.

Rip croissants up and put into dish. Distribute pecans over top.

Put sugar and water into deep, heavy saucepan and swirl to dissolve sugar a bit. Heat over medium-high heat *without stirring*, but watching closely. Let it boil until it turns a deep amber colour. This process can take up to ten minutes. You need to watch the mixture closely, because once it starts to turn colour the change will happen quite quickly. If you burn the mixture you will have to discard it and start again…ain’t nobody got time for that!

Once the sugar has caramelized, remove from heat, and whisk in cream, then milk, then vanilla or whisky. When you add these the caramel will splutter and may bubble up. Just keep whisking! The sugar may “lump together” but return to *low* heat and keep whisking, and it will dissolve in the cream and milk. Once mixture has dissolved any lumpy caramel, temper the eggs with a bit of the hot liquid, then slowly whisk eggs into mixture in pot.

Pour custard mixture over croissants and stir to combine. If croissants are stale, let mixture sit for a few minutes.

Bake for 20 minutes or so and – as Nigella says – “prepare to swoon”. Couldn’t say it better myself 🙂

 

 

 

Coca-Cola Cake – sounds bizarre but very yummy

Every month or so I attend a pot luck lunch at the Comox Air Force Museum, and always try to bring something new and different for the table. I am always interested in Nigella’s concoctions and when I saw this recipe I knew I had to make it. It was a solid success, with a lot of people complimenting me on it (thank you again, Nigella!).

The addition of Coca-Cola to the batter and icing lends a bit of caramelly mellowness to the cake. Chocolate cake is normally not my choice, but this has a delicious rich texture and taste. I used to love Coke but now do not, and there is half a small bottle left in my fridge, in case anyone wants it 🙂 You don’t need much for this recipe, as you will see.

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s “How to Be a Domestic Goddess”

For the cake
200 g (7 oz) (1 3/4 cups) plain flour
250 g (1/2 lb) (1 1/4 cups) golden caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125 g (4 oz) (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
175 ml (3/4 cup) Coca-Cola

22-23 cm (9″) Springform, lined with foil to prevent the batter leaking, then greased

*note – Do not use anything bigger than a 9″ pan otherwise your cake will be very thin, I think an 8″ might even be better (adjust cooking time). Also, I just greased my pan, I did not line it and had no problems.

For the icing
225 g (7 oz) ( 2 14 cups) icing sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) butter
3 tablespoons (45ml) Coca-Cola
1 tablespoon (15 mL) cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180?/gas mark 4/ 350 F and put in a baking sheet at the same time.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, bicarb and salt. In a measuring jug, beat the egg, buttermilk and vanilla.

3. In a heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola, heating it gently. Pour into the dry ingredients, stir well with a wooden spoon, and then add the liquid ingredients from the jug, beating until it is well blended.

4. Pour into the prepared tin and bake on the warm sheet for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.

5. Leave to stand for 15 minutes in the tin before unmoulding. Then unclip, unwrap and turn out on a wire rack, making sure you’ve got a sheet of newspaper or something underneath the rack to catch any icing that drips through.

6. Sieve the icing sugar and set aside for the moment. In a heavy-based saucepan, combine the butter, Coca-Cola and cocoa and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla, and spoon in the sieved icing sugar, beating as you do so, until you’ve got a good, spreadable, but still runny, icing.

7. Pour this icing over the cake, while the cake is still warm, spread gently and leave till cool before transferring to the plate on which you’re serving it.

I surrounded it with whole strawberries to add colour, and that was a popular addition 🙂

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