Vietnamese Buns

My cousin Tamara was in town recently and that means we get to indulge in Asian flavours as we both love that style of food. This night we went to our neighbourhood Vietnamese hangout called Pho Huo’ng. The restaurant is on the corner of Pacific Ave and Dundas St. West and is a real local spot in the Junction. The restaurant is always busy but we always manage to get a table as the turn over is quite fast.

When you sit down they hand you menus and an order sheet where you write  down what you want.  The waiter swoops back and picks up your order, brings you a lovely tea and within 5 minutes your order arrives – fresh and delicious.

This night I had the lemongrass chicken bun and Tamara had the grilled chicken and pork with a spring roll bun.  Oh so good!!! Including tip and tax the meal is between $9-$10.  How can you go wrong?

For those not familiar with what a “Bun” is – it is “everything in a bowl” – fresh steamed rice noodle vermicelli on the bottom with sliced cucumber, sliced lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled carrots along with whatever grilled protein you order. You pour a vinaigrette over top that is a bit sweet and a bit tangy. Then you dig your chopsticks into it and enjoy.

Highly recommend this restaurant!

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Shepherds Pie (with a twist)

So who doesn’t remember growing up having shepherds pie and loving it? Okay perhaps some of you didn’t have it – but I did, and I always loved it.  For the last few years though I have tried to reduce the number of carbohydrates I consume so I switched to sweet potatoes from white potatoes (when I have potatoes which isn’t that often). The “twist” I learned from my friend Zannat (who’s blog I have reposted a number of times – food4happiness). The twist is to add lentils to your ground beef. It adds fibre, protein and increases the amount of the beef mixture so you get much more for very little extra cost. I happen to love lentils so this is perfect for me. I substituted white potatoes for sweet and didn’t use too too much on top so it still remains healthy and low fat.

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Ingredients:

1 lb of lean (I used extra lean) ground beef

1 tin of lentils (cooked)

1 cooking onion – chopped

1-1.5 cups of mixed frozen vegetables (add as much as you like really)

1 pint of mushrooms chopped (about 10-12 large)

1 egg whisked

4-5 sweet potatoes medium sized (add more if you want a thicker topping)

¼ cup of low fat yogurt

½ cup of grated parmesan cheese

A couple of dashes of ketchup (less than ¼ cup)

1 tsp of Harissa spice mix (if you don’t have just add a pinch of cumin and a tiny pinch of cardamon and a pinch of cinnamon – really only a tiny amount of each).

1 tbsp of chopped garlic – about 2-3 cloves

I don’t use salt but if you want you can add a pinch of salt

½ tsp of cornstarch mixed with 3 tbsp of water or beef broth (not obligatory – this step just helps thicken the beef mixture and absorb some of the liquid)

3 tsp olive oil

Directions:

Sauté a chopped onion till tender and slightly browned in 1 tsp of olive oil (I sometimes add a tsp of brown sugar to help caramelize the onion a bit). Add 1 more tsp of oil with the garlic, mushrooms and  frozen vegetables once the onions are pretty much done. Sauté all together and add the broth and corn starch. Remove and put in a bowl for the time being.

Add beef and a tin of lentils to the pan along with the spices, ketchup, salt and pepper. Brown the meat with the lentils and then add back in the vegetables, onions and mushrooms and stir together. Add the egg and mix everything up.

While the meat is cooking, peel and cube the potatoes (try to make them even sized pieces so they will cook evenly). Microwave them in water until they are able to be pieced easily by a fork. You can also boil them if you prefer – if boiling then start the potatoes before the meat and vegetables.

Turn off the heat on the meat when all cooked and let sit in pan. Drain potato pieces into a bowl and add yogurt and parmesan cheese and whip using either a hand blender or a stand mixer. Using this type of equipment whips air into the potatoes and makes them a bit lighter. You can also do it by hand it just takes a bit longer and is more work. Once the potatoes are whipped taste and add seasoning as needed.

Put meat mixture into a deep dish and pat it down so it is firm. Then “frost” the top with the potato mixture as you would a cake. Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees (F) to brown the top a bit and then serve. I made it in several containers as you can see in the picture and froze it so I had lots of meals from the one cooking session.

Chicken Wrapped Asparagus

The other day I was rummaging around my freezer figuring out what to make for dinner. I found a tray of thin chicken breasts that were like scallopini. I remembered I bought them on sale for less than $4 (when I see sales like that I stock up and vacuum seal them). I also had a fresh bunch of asparagus sitting in the fridge. I knew I wanted to make something that incorporated both ingredients and then I remembered I also had some low fat old cheddar cheese (not old as in time spent in my fridge but old as in flavour 😉 )

I thought “how about wrapping the asparagus in the chicken lined with some cheese for extra flavour!”

Defrosting the chicken didn’t take long and here is how it turned out.  I got 4 wrapped pieces which is 4 meals along with a salad.  Not bad for a total of about $6 -$7 dollars. They looked great and where tasty too.

chicken wrapped asparagus

Ingredients:

2 Boneless skinless chicken breasts thinly sliced and pounded (or buy them this way as I did)

½ – 1 lb of asparagus

Old cheddar cheese thinly sliced (or any cheese of your liking – goat cheese would work well too – I just used what I had on hand – use 1-2 slices per roll – it will leak out a bit but who doesn’t like melted cheese?)

Pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

Directions:

Lay a slice of chicken breast flat on a plate or piece of parchment or any type of sheet/board – I have a bunch of those thin plastic cutting boards. Lay down 1-2 slices of cheese (or spread goat cheese) per piece of chicken. Place about 4-5 stalks of asparagus trimmed (it can stick out the bottom and top) and roll the chicken and cheese around the asparagus. Hold together with a toothpick or two – remember to remove these before serving.

Place roll in heated frying pan with the olive oil an sear all around. Once chicken is lightly browned or cooked outside all around, place pan in oven at 350 degrees (F) for 15 minutes. This will finish the cooking and make sure the asparagus is also cooked nicely. Remember ovens vary so if you need a few minutes longer then leave it in for about 20 minutes – shouldn’t need any longer though.

Remove from the pan and serve.  This whole dish took 30 minutes from start to finish. Now thats what I call “Cheap and Cheerful”!

Broccoli, Peppers and Chicken Stir Fry

Well it was a Monday and I was at a loss for what to make for dinner.  I kept looking at my new rice cooker which I really use mostly when cooking for other people as I don’t eat much rice. It was calling out to me to use it so I looked in the fridge to see what there was. I had a couple of chicken breasts thawed and a head of broccoli so I thought”why not make a stir fry”?

I know I have blogged stir fries before but each is a bit different.  This one had a sweet and spicy base and I served it over the brown rice. I have to say I have never been any good at making rice – for some reason it never turns out well. I decided to invest in a rice cooker and went with the Cuisinart 7 cup cooker.  Aside from the fact that it looks great – boy is it easy and clean up is a breeze!

So here is what I made and how I made it.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp of olive oil

1 knob of ginger chopped

2 -3 cloves of garlic chopped

1/2 cup of sweet chilli sauce (asian variety)

2 tbsp of hoisin sauce

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cubed

1/5 – 2 cups of broccoli florets

1 pepper thinly sliced (colour of your choice)

pepper to taste (no salt as hoisin and the sweet chilli sauce have enough sodium)

Directions

Make 3/4 cup of brown rice (enough for two people) any way you choose, either in a pot or a rice cooker. While this is cooking….

Place cubed chicken in a bowl with the sauces and the ginger and garlic. As this is marinating, steam the broccoli and peppers for about 2 minutes in the microwave oven with a bit of water.

In a saucepan, toss the chicken, whatever sauce is left in the bowl, the broccoli and the peppers and stir fry till chicken is cooked and no longer pink. That’s it!  Now serve over some rice and you have a tasty meal ready in about half an hour.

Spending Time with Wonderful People

I have a friend Beth who I see for one day each year between Christmas and New Years.  She works in Asia and comes back to see her parents once a year and that’s when we hang out.  I always go out to see her and her parents because I love spending time with them all – She has very wise and interesting parents and spending time with them is always a treat.

Every year we  have fabulous meals for both lunch and dinner.  This time was no exception. Lunch was this rustic charcuterie platter with a variety of cold cuts and cheese but the star of the show was the Moroccan pickled salad. This was a recipe Beth found of Chef Michael Smith that is actually called “Moroccan pickled veggies with marmalade and mint” but it was served as a wonderful mouth watering salad. The flavours alighted one by one in your mouth going from sweet to spicy to tangy to pickled. Below are the pictures and the salad recipe. I encourage you to try it.

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Recipe for the salad above:

Moroccan pickled veggies with marmalade & mint (takes 15 minutes)

For the warm dressing:

  • ½ cup (125 ml) of cider vinegar
  • ½ cup (125 ml) of orange marmalade
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of ras el hanout or curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of cumin seeds or ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of your favourite hot sauce
  • ½ teaspoon (2 ml) of salt

For the salad:

  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of dried apricots, sliced
  • 2 English cucumbers, cubed
  • 1 cup (250 ml) of chopped fresh mint

In a medium pot over medium-high heat, stir together the vinegar, marmalade, ras el hanout, cinnamon, cumin seeds, hot sauce, and salt. Bring the pickling brine to a simmer, allowing the flavours to blend.

Stir in the carrots, onions, and apricots. Bring the mixture back to a simmer for a few moments. Turn off the heat, then stir in the cucumbers.  Just before serving, toss in the mint, preserving its intensity. Serve and share.

This salad is excellent served freshly made, but like anything pickled it may rest for an hour or more or even overnight. Its flavours and textures will evolve and intensify as it rests.

 

I have to say you would think we would then just have  a simple dinner but “simple” is not the way when I come to visit. They always outdo themselves with the most flavourful meals and dinner was no exception. Chicken thighs marinated in marmalade and grainy mustard with cabbage cooked to perfection with some sugar and balsamic vinegar olive oil and garlic (I may be wrong on the garlic but it certainly can’t ruin the dish). The chicken was marinated in the marmalade and mustard for an hour or so and then baked at 350-400 until ready. We joked about it being a very marmalade day since it was in the lunch salad as well. (Funny thing is neither Beth nor I are big fans of marmalade but cooking with it gives a whole different texture and taste – mellow and citrus in perfect balance).

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For the cabbage – I believe the recipe was to sauté 4 cups of thinly sliced cabbage with 2 tsp of sugar and a shake of balsamic vinegar.  Sauté until tender and serve.  The chicken with the cabbage and green beans was comfort food with an upscale twist – very yummy!

Once again my favourite thing – sharing great food with wonderful people! It was a great day and I left that evening with a smile on my face thinking it never feels like a whole year between our visits and I look forward to next years time spent all together.

Mushroom Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Here in Toronto we had a pretty bad ice storm and power outage just before Christmas.  Mine lasted for almost 3 days with the house temperature hitting 5 degrees celsius at the low point. All that being said I wound up having to throw out some food from the fridge.  The freezer stayed pretty well frozen but I thought I should defrost and cook some of what was in there meat wise.  I had a pork tenderloin and decided to try stuffing it with some mushrooms I had just bought.

Friday night before the storm I had a dinner party and my friend Elizabeth brought me some maple pepper. I had never heard of it but it was maple flavoured pepper.  Very yummy.  So here is what I did.

I sliced the tenderloin down the middle and butterflied it.  Pounded it out a bit so it was a bit flatter. I put a layer of dijon mustard over the tenderloin inside. Then sautéed chopped mushrooms with some garlic and some of this maple pepper. I also sprinkled the maple pepper over the mustard on the tenderloin just for a bit of added flavour.

I put a layer of the chopped mushrooms down the middle of the tenderloin and using toothpicks, wrapped it round. I then sear it in a cast iron pan till it browned a bit all around the outside – then into a 350 degree oven it went for 30 minutes after which I let it rest covered for about 10 minutes. I normally make a jus from the bits on the bottom of the pan but the tenderloin was quite moist from the mushrooms so I left it as is. A side a vegetables and I had a nice dinner!

Stuffed Pork tenderloin

Chicken and Pasta Prima Vera

This recipe started out as pasta prima vera but I thought “why not add some protein to it”? Turned out to be quite yummy and when a group of friends wound up back at my house all hungry I happened to have a big bowl left over from a food order I had just filled so was able to get everyone fed and happy in a very short period of time.

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Ingredients – serves 6-8:

Olive oil – enough to sauté vegetables

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into small bite size pieces

4 cloves minced garlic

1 red and 1 yellow  pepper cut into thin strips

2 large handfuls of chopped raw kale

2 cups sliced mushrooms

1 cup grape tomatoes cut in half

1.5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup fat free evaporated milk

2 tablespoon all-purpose flour, dissolved in 6 tablespoons water

Pepper to taste

1 large carrot peeled and sliced into strips with a peeler

Fettucini or linguini – enough for 6-8 people

3/4 – 1 cup grated Parmesan

A large handful of fresh parsley leaves chopped

1/4 – 1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves

Salt to taste if you want to (I don’t usually cook with salt)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add peppers and cook until they begin to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, mushrooms, tomatoes and kale and cook until softened about another 4-5 minutes. Add carrots and stir into other vegetables. Stir in flour/water combination and mix throughly with vegetables. Add stock, evaporated milk and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer and cook until liquid has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes. If liquid does not thicken enough add another tsp of flour and water mixture and stir through.

While the vegetables are cooking, bring water to a boil for the pasta. Cook pasta until it is al dente. Drain pasta and combine and toss  with vegetables and sauce. Serve garnished with Parmesan, parsley and basil.

Note: sauce thickens even more by the next day.

Sweet and Spicy Stir Fry Chicken with Eggplant and Broccoli

That is a very long title I realize….But it is accurate.  I found a sauce at the grocery store that was a sweet and spicy chilli sauce.  I thought it might work well on a stir fry so I bought it.  I am doing a lot of cooking this month for a friend of mine so I figured this is a good time to experiment with some dishes to add to my menu lists. This week was the chicken in this recipe, pasta prima vera with chicken and quinoa with roasted vegetables. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for the other recipes 😉

spicey sweet chicken

This was pretty easy to make and didn’t take much time at all. For my friends version I am providing brown rice to go with it but for myself I thought I would have it on it’s own.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients – serves  2

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut in cubes

1/4 cup of sweet and spice chilli sauce (if it says sweet on the label of the chilli sauce then it is most likely sweet and spicy) plus a small reserve amount for broccoli and eggplant

1 japanese eggplant cut in 1/2 inch slices round

2 cups of broccoli florets

1 tsp of canola oil for frying

Directions:

Pour 1/4 cup of sauce over cubed chicken pieces and marinate for about 15 minutes (can be longer). Stir fry the chicken till cooked and put aside when done.

Add a bit of oil to the pan and put the slices of eggplant one side face down and brown slightly. Then flip over and brown the other side.  Remove and set aside. Steam the broccoli in the microwave for about 3 minutes, drain and put in the pan to sauté slightly. Add the eggplant back in and drizzle a bit of sauce over the vegetables and stir fry for a minute or two.  Take off the heat and arrange on a plate any way you like.  You can put rice down first, then mix the chicken and vegetables together or separate them as I have done in the picture.  Any way works!

Enjoy

Shrimp and Kale on Pasta (Gluten Free)

Many of you that read this blog know that I like to use up whatever is in the fridge when I can. I had recently bought a big batch of kale as it looked so fresh. It had been a while since I had shrimp and pasta so I thought I would mix it up with the kale – how could it be bad? I also had some mediterranean black olives which I thought would give a nice saltiness to the dish.

Below is the recipe – it lasted me for three meals which in my book is a good use of leftovers. By the way – it tasted good too!

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Ingredients:

1 package of GOGO Quinoa pasta (I like this type of gluten free pasta) – penne style noodle

10 shrimp (frozen tail on)

1 bunch of kale with the stem and core trimmed off and the leaves chopped

10-15 black olives broken in half to take out the pit (easier to buy pitted)

2 tsp chopped garlic

Olive oil to sauté kale and shrimp

Directions:

Add contents of the pasta to a pot of boiling water.  Boil until softened (takes a bit longer than regular pasta).  When it is finished the water is quite starchy so I tend to rinse the pasta under water for a minute.

Add oil to a pan and put chopped kale till you have filled the pan.  Start to sauté the kale in a covered pan so the steam will help to soften it.  I also added about 1/2 cup of water in small amounts to aid in the steaming and sautéing process.  When the kale is wilted slightly add the chopped garlic and the black olives and mix – continue to steam/sauté until the kale is fairly soft.

When the kale is almost ready – throw in the raw shrimp, mix with the kale and garlic and cook until the shrimp curls and turns pink on both sides.

Add in the pasta and mix everything together.  Heat through and serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan cheese.

Broccoli, Sweet Potato and Cheddar Soup

I thought I had blogged broccoli soup before but I don’t see a post on my timeline about this particular version so I am blogging it now.  This is super easy to make and tastes great.  Can be a meal, a side or even served as an appetizer in a small shooter style glass. I have been seeing this from time to time served at dinner parties where you don’t want to fill up on soup.  A small amount of soup is served in a shooter or other style of small glass, it is literally just a mouthful or two – that way the guest gets a taste. It is something different and they don’t get full on soup before the meal).

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Here is the recipe for this easy and versatile soup.

Ingredients:

2 small onions diced

1 large or two small sweet potatoes cut into small pieces

6-8 cups of chicken or vegetable broth (if made with vegetable broth it can be vegetarian and or gluten free)

1 head of broccoli cut into small pieces

1 cup shredded old cheddar cheese

Dash of oregano

Salt and pepper to taste ( I don’t add salt but you can if you like)

 

Directions:

Sauté onions in a pot with some olive oil. When softened add the small pieces of broccoli and sweet potato and the oregano. Stir and cover for a minute or two then add the broth.  Stir everything, cover and let cook with a slight boil but not a strong boil for about 15 minutes until the potato and broccoli are soft.

Using a blender put small batches in the blender and add some cheddar to each batch.  Mix until puréed but still slightly thickened.  Pour into a large bowl and keep the process going until all the soup has been blended.  Serve with a nice crusty bread and there you have lunch, dinner, appetizer or side dish!

Enjoy!