Toad's Kitchen

(mostly) healthy recipes for the family

Archive for the tag “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!


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) 🙂

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,, 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 🙂


Real men do eat Quiche…contrary to popular belief

When quiche was beaten to death in the 70’s, along with Harvey Wallbangers and Caesar Salad, part of the backlash was the comment, “real men don’t eat quiche”.

My experience says otherwise, but only if it is delicious and especially if it does not contain Miracle Whip and canned shrimp. *gag*

Quiche is an easy and fast dish which is appropriate for lunch or brunch, dinner, a family dinner or when entertaining. It calls for ingredients most of us have on hand so is great to whip up when your fridge is looking a bit empty. It is equally delicious in its vegetarian versions.

This recipe is a basic, more-or-less classic recipe which is easy to fiddle around with – sub out the bacon with some nice sausage, or leave it out completely, using a bit of butter and olive oil to brown the veggies. Mix and match the veggies (asparagus and red pepper are pretty)! The type of cheese you use is a personal choice also…cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, even cream cheese are all yummy (bump up the seasonings with cream cheese or it will be bland). The proportions are what should be observed, and you should end up with a delicious dish that needs only a green salad to accompany it (and of course, a glass of wine…) 🙂

The type of pastry can be varied as well. I like using the puff pastry available in the frozen section of the supermarkets which saves me time and tastes just fine. You can use your favourite pastry recipe if you prefer – I did for years. However, I find puff pastry perfect for this. The rough, uneven edges make a lovely, rustic-looking crust and is so easy to keep on hand in the freezer.


one package frozen puff pastry, defrosted (or use pastry of your choice for crust)

75g (about 3-4 ounces) bacon, chopped – or pancetta or fatty smoked “speck” (optional)

1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil (if not using bacon)

1 onion, chopped

250-300g/8-10 ounces or so coarsely chopped mushrooms (brown ones are nice)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup whole milk or cream (or mixture)

4 eggs

1/4 cup sherry, vermouth or white wine

1 teaspoon basil

1/2 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and dry mustard powder (“Colman’s” or “Keen’s”)

2 tbsp. or so minced parsley (optional)

salt and pepper

1 cup grated Gruyère or “Swiss” cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place sheets of puff pastry on quiche dish (or flan dish), pressing seams together and trimming edges. Use trimmed pieces to “fill in” the edges – don’t worry about making it look perfect as it will puff when cooked and look fabulous. If using your own pastry, line pan and flute edges.

I recommend pre-baking the crust a bit, before adding the filling. When oven is fully heated, bake empty puff pastry shell “blind” for 10 minutes. You can put weights in it if you like to stop it puffing up…or as I do, after you remove it from the oven, let it cool a couple of minutes and press it very GENTLY (so as not to rip it) back down flat again. Do not mash it, handle it very lightly.

While pastry is pre-baking: in large pan, fry bacon (or your choice of meat) over medium heat until fat begins to render out and it begins to brown. Alternately, if not using bacon, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and mushrooms and cook all until brown and delicious.

While veggies are cooking, whisk eggs, milk/cream, sherry or alternative, and remaining ingredients *except the cheese* together.

Take cooked vegetables (and bacon if using) and distribute over prebaked puff pastry. Pour egg mixture over, nudging veggies with spoon to ensure that it is evenly distributed. Then sprinkle your cheese evenly over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees or until a knife inserted halfway to the centre comes out clean. Let quiche sit for 5-10 minutes before cutting. As stated above, this needs only a salad (or simply cooked vegetable) on the side for a lovely meal. Wine optional, but recommended 🙂

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” 🙂




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