Brunch with Elizabeth and David

My friends Elizabeth and Dave are busy people. Trying to organize a get together is not easy, so when someone has a day free we jump on it.  The other Saturday afternoon we gathered for brunch at their place.

Brunch is one of my favourite meals because it is usually laid back, spent with friends and served with delicious food. Does it get any better?

This day was no exception. While Dave may have been worried that the brunch wasn’t over the top enough I am here to say it was outstanding!  Perfect meal to enjoy with friends and just kick back and have a good yak.

Brunch was an avocado dish that I thought was quite brilliant and have to try making.  We had avocado mixed with baby shrimp put back into the avocado shell which it was served in (so smart!). Beautiful tri-coloured tomatoes (one of my favourite things) and a touch of smoked salmon on the side.  It screamed springtime even though it was only 1 degree outside and pretty darn cold (if you can’t get your fill of spring with the weather you may as well get it with your food 😉 ).

Take a look at how beautiful this brunch was.  2 hours later we were talked out and we all had other stuff to get done. I left with a big smile on my face and the feeling of warmth and contentment.

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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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shepherds pie1

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”!

Low Calorie Brownie (gluten free?)

So there I was reading through facebook and on my friend Katherine’s timeline I see a recipe for 37 calorie brownies!!!! Well it started a huge chain reaction on her timeline and so I had to make them then and there to see whether they were real and any good.

Below is the full recipe as it appears however I did change one or two things (hence my title “low calorie” versus 37 calorie). I also didn’t see gluten in anything but I wasn’t sure which is why I have a question mark by the title.

First the recipe and then the pictures. I have to say they were actually quite delicious.  Very very moist and somehow they held together too which when you read the ingredients you will wonder how. They were super quick and easy to make.  All done in about 40 minutes.

3/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt  (original recipe used vanilla flavoured)

1/4 cup skim milk

1/2 cup Cocoa powder

1/2 cup Old fashioned rolled oats (like Quaker)

1/2 cup Truvia (or any natural/stevia based sweetener that pours like sugar) – I used mostly organic real sugar and topped it up with Splenda (I am not that crazy about artificial sweeteners – hence the more than 37 calories – but not high calorie by any means)

1 egg

1/3 cup applesauce

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

* I added some chopped pecans to the mixture and blended and then topped with some chopped pecans when finished)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a square baking dish (I used 8″x8″). Combine all ingredients into a food processor or a blender, and blend until smooth (about 1 minute). Pour into the prepared dish and bake for about 15 minutes (I baked mine for 25 minutes as they were still wet at 15 minutes). Allow to cool completely before cutting into 9 large squares.

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brownies

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Enjoy!

Leftovers – Lets Make Pizza!

It’s been just over two years now that I have been blogging and I still love it! Great readers from all over the world who themselves publish great blogs that I enjoy reading.

Many of you know from past blogs that I like to use things up that are in the fridge rather than throwing them away.  This time I had some tofu, some roasted grape tomatoes that I made with balsamic vinegar and olive oil (recipe to follow), some pork tenderloin and a piece of mozzarella cheese.  Something screamed pizza!

I had some whole wheat wraps in the fridge. I spread a bit of marinara sauce over one and added a small amount of the grated cheese. I quickly sautéed some mushrooms and garlic with the chopped up tofu (I know it sounds weird but for those of you that are vegetarian it really works!). I also chopped up the pork tenderloin (I am not a vegetarian) and threw that into the pan to sauté as well.  Once everything was warmed, I spread it over the wrap. I then added some roasted balsamic grape tomatoes and the additional cheese on top. Baked the whole pizza for about 20 minutes till the edges were crisp and there it was – a quick and easy dinner (and lunch the next day!).

Recipe for roasted grape tomatoes follows images…

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pizza

Roasted balsamic grape tomatoes.

I had a couple of containers of grape tomatoes that were starting to get a bit wrinkled so rather than tossing them in the garbage I sliced them in half and put them in a bowl,  sprinkled a bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil over them and let them marinate for about 20 minutes. I then drained them and put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roasted them for about 3 hours at 350 degrees F. They make a great addition to salads, pizza, roasted vegetables etc.

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

Friday Night Dinner With Old Friends

I may have mentioned in previous posts about my friend Fern who is my oldest friend (not in age but in years we’ve known each other 😉 )

Last Friday I went over to Ferns in the afternoon so we could cook a nice dinner together for Friday evening.  Her dad, husband Ian one of her sons Chase along with another old friend (again not in age but years known) Liz all came for dinner.

I went over about 2:00 in the afternoon so we could take our time and hang out.  We made the honey sesame chicken recipe I have posted before on brown rice along with brussel sprouts seared with chestnuts and bacon pieces and a great salad.

There is a small story behind the brown rice I have to admit.  I am not good at making rice.  I do not have a rice cooker and my rice always comes out a bit mushy or wet even though I follow the guidelines exactly.  This time Fern gave me a box of Uncle Bens converted brown rice.  How could I go wrong? Well I started following the instructions for something else on the box and in my defence there were about 3 different methods of cooking the darn rice.  I added way too much water and thankfully Fern came to the rescue and dumped half the water mid way and saved the rice from being porridge. I don’t think I will ever live that down as the whole time we were cooking (and drinking wine) I kept saying “I don’t think this rice is right”

We lucked out since Ian (Ferns husband) just bought a restaurant downtown that serves fabulous cheesecake so he brought home a great assortment for us to choose from along with a great chocolate “babka” cake Liz brought.

When all was said and done, it was a really great day and a lovely evening with old friends and great food.

salad

 infamous rice
chicken and sprouts
chicken on rice
Couldn’t resist this picture too – When I got up to bring something to the table and came back to sit down – this little girl was in my seat – think she wanted to join the fun! She was quickly shoo’d off the chair but what a face!!!!
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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.

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.