Tag Archives: healthy eating

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Some days dinner should be simple, like a sandwich or something. That is what I was hoping for last night but I had some fresh local zucchini beauties I needed to use up and there was a pack of chicken thighs already defrosted in the fridge. Sigh… I was not in the mood… Mood or not, I really had to find my mojo and get cooking. What to do, what to do??? Too lazy to browse through my collection of recipes saved everywhere: online, on paper, bookmarked, in magazines, in e-mails… Too tired to want to try something totally new… I also wanted to cook something that wouldn’t radically bust the calorie count; I didn’t want to ruin my “9km walking dowtown” day. Soooo, I opted for familiar with what I had on hand: onions, zucchinis, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers and parmesan. A never fail pairing with chicken. The combo worked and by the time I had my ingredients sorted out, I found my second wind. It smelled divine in the house and we couldn’t wait to dig in.  I served myself just a little wee bit of pasta but the King, who has been blessed with a “piss me off” good metabolism, piled it on his plate with reckless abandon (his plate in the picture). I drooled with envy over his copious serving and cursed the gods of curvy bodies… He gobbled it up with a guilt-free conscience,  adding a few slices of über fresh sourdough bread from Bread and Sons, generously slathered with a thick coating of  Riviera Salted Butter (my new heart throb). Lucky man… Not fair… He had seconds… I went to water my plants lol!

Ok, enough with the pity party!! I could have ended up with a hard boiled egg and a sliced tomato… Instead, I got to enjoy a respectable serving of this really yummy and healthy meal! I hope this recipe inspires you: the instructions may seem long but I added a lot of details to help those who are really new in the kitchen. Don’t be intimidated, this meal is super easy to make…

“Somewhere in the Mediterranean” Chicken Dinner

Because nothing evokes the Med life better than tomatoes, zucchinis and garlic simmering together…

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What you need:

  • 5 good size zucchinis, diced in big chunks
  • 1 generous tbsp olive oil
  • pepper
  • 6-8 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch or flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red, yellow or orange sweet pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2tsp oregano
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 big tomato, diced
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper
  • pasta or rice, enough for 4 servings (optiona)
  • grated parmesan

How to make it: 

I roasted the zucchinis first while I prepped the rest. It does cut some of the cooking time a bit plus add just that umph of flavour. I was able to cook everything else while the zucchinis were taking on a nice roasted flavour. I like to crank my oven up to 450F on convect roast to get a good char going on… For more ideas on how to maximize the use of your oven, I invite you to read an older post dedicated to this subject. You can skip this step and add the zucchinis with the onions and peppers at step 6.

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and set grill rack to the upper middle position
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Toss the zucchinis with olive oil and pepper. Spread even,y on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes. The zucchinis will be ready when they start to have a nice brown outer edge
  3. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tsp salt and some coarse ground pepper. Add to the chicken and coat well, set aside
  4. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in large and deep skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat; add the chicken, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 8 minutes on each side. You want to achieve a nice golden crust and cook the inside without over cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, chop the onions, sweet peppers, garlic and tomatoes. Gather the remaining ingredients. Set your water to boil if you are cooking pasta or get started on the rice
  6. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from pan and set aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan. You shouldn’t need any additional oil. Sauté until the vegetables start to caramelize then add the garlic and oregano. Toss a round a little until the garlic starts to soften without browning. If using, add the white wine and cook down until nearly all evaporated, 3-5 minutes. If you are not using wine, skip to the next step
  7. Check on the zucchinis… If they have a nice brown colour and have softened, they are ready to pull out of the oven
  8. To the skillet, once the wine has reduced, add the fresh & canned tomatoes and the  tomato paste. Stir to mix well.
  9. Add the zucchinis, stir and taste for seasoning. I added 1tsp of salt and some black pepper
  10. Nestle the chicken pieces on top of the vegetables without burying completely in the sauce. Bring to a gently bubbling simmer, cover and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes
  11. While the chicken is simmering, cook the pasta or rice (optional)

Serve with a generous shower of freshly grated Parmesan although asagio, and romano would be honourable substitutes and fresh mozza, crumbled feta or goat cheese would easily enhance as well.  Everyone is happy 🙂

Side note: if in Ottawa, you must visit Bread and Sons on Bank Street, it is worth discovering!  I am not receiving compensation from these businesses, just sharing my appreciation for what they offer.

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When fall returns to haunt June weekends… Fragrant Moroccan Chicken Stew

Note: this dish can be entirely adapted to accommodate a vegetarian diet. In lieu of chicken, double up on the chickpeas and replace the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

It’s been cold, damp, windy and simply unspring like over the past few days… You are not playing nice Mother Nature! This kind of weather begs for a warm hearty serving of some sort of simmer. Not that I necessarily wait for cooler days to make this beautifully fragrant dish: I do not own a BBQ in my city home therefore summer grilling is reserved for the cottage. I must admit that not having a BBQ at home is a bit of a challenge, especially when the mercury hits the sizzling hot zone. On those days, I wish I could simply throw a chunk of meat of the grill, serve it with a huge salad and call it a day. Easy grilling days not being a dinner option in the city, my stovetop remains my “go-to” cooking tool, even in the middle of the summer. When the work days wipe any dinner creative energy out of me, on those days, our go-to easy summer meal is more likely to be a sandwich or an omelet. And I am very grateful for air conditioning which permits me to cook with abandon using a hot stove or oven even during heat waves.

For the most part, I cook a full meal nearly every night of the week. Well, ok, maybe not every night, that would be a slight exaggeration! I often tend to make enough to have left overs for at least a second meal… Sometimes we even get tired of eating the same stuff a few days in a row… Oh well, even though he is The King, he can’t expect to eat like one every single day!!! Like come on now, a girl needs to do other things once in while other than working and cooking right? Although Jamie Oliver and a few others try to makes us believe a fully cooked dinner from scratch can be dished out in 15 minutes, I beg to differ. There is absolutely no such thing as a 15 minute meal unless there are little minions living in your house who gather ingredients, portion the meats, wash all the produce, take out all the required ingredients and clean up the entire mess after you. I have no such minions, do you? I consider myself a pretty skilled cook, with solid organization and planning strategies. I can handle a knife with certain ease (although not a pro) yet dinner prep in my house averages at about 1 hour. I clean up as I go usually leaving only the service dishes and pots for the after dinner clean up crew (luckily, I have one of those). I do not mind that 1 hour prep time at all. I never set myself up for disappointment since I never, ever expect to make a meal under an hour… Except when there are recipes such as this Moroccan Chicken Stew! So simple and so easy to throw together that you wonder why you don’t make it more often!!! This one truly takes maybe up to 30 minutes to assemble including prep AND cleaning up as you go. And then, it takes maybe 30 minutes to cook (which allows me plenty of time to check what is going on in the world via my beloved I-Pad). When I last made this dish, it was ready to serve in less than one hour; almost faster than firing up the grills!

In Morocco, the weather is warm nearly year round and although they can whip up some fantastic grilled meats, some of their most famous dishes are slow simmers using tagines. Tagines are clay cooking pots with lovely cone shaped lids which allow the steam to build up, get caught up at the top of the cone, condense again and the trickle back down to the food, constantly bathing what is cooking inside and infusing all the flavours and aromas. I do not own a tagine (yet) but I have had the pleasure of eating delicious Moroccan food cooked in this traditional utensil. So even though the weather is very hot in Morocco, I bet these stews are popular not only because they are so delicious but most likely because they are very economical to make: they yield large portions of food using humble ingredients while showcasing masterfully blended spices such Raz el Hanout. Here is a interesting little tidbit info capsule that may also explain the popularity of tagines: fresh bread is sacred in this country and baked daily in wood burning ovens. Although the dough is prepared everyday at home, the raw loaves are brought to a communal oven where the master baker bakes all the loaves. These ovens are quite large and will retain residual heat for a long time even after the rush of bread baking has come and gone which is where the tagines end up later in the day to simmer slowly. Such stews, served piping hot over a bed of couscous, are always a crowd pleaser! My Moroccan Chicken Stew may not simmer slowly in a tagine nestled in a wood burning oven yet it still manages to evoke images of Marrakesh, white washed homes, blue mosaic tiles frescos and bustling spice markets.

I have adapted this recipe from Everyday Food by Martha Stewart which has now become a family classic because it is super healthy, packs a ton of flavour yet is so easy to make. There is no “heat” to this recipe either, for those who are sensitive to spicy foods.

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Moroccan Chicken Stew

serves 4 generous portions

What you need:

Don’t overlook making this dish because the ingredient list seems too long. Apart from the spices, there are very few ingredients needed and very little preparation required. You can replace Ras el Hanout with chili powder and garam masala (1 tsp each). Sumac and parsley add an extra dimension but can easily be omitted

  • 8 pieces of chicken, skinless, bone in
  • 2 cups of carrots peeled and cut into 1.5 inches long pieces then halved or quartered depending on the size of the carrots
  • 2-3 medium yellow onions, thin sliced
  • 1 small can stewed tomatoes, whole or diced (14oz or 400ml)
  • 1 small can chickpeas, rinsed or 2 cups cooked chickpeas (14oz or 400ml)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (500ml)
  • 1.5 cups dried fruits of your choice: figs, prunes, raisins, apricots**
  • 1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger or 1 tsp. dry
  • 2 heaping tsp. Ras el Hanout***
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. sumac (optional), adds a citrusy flavour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • Plenty of pepper
  • 2 zucchinis cut the same way as the carrots
  • The juice of 1 lemon (preserved lemon pieces would be a great substitute)
  • A generous handful of fresh chopped parsley if you like but not necessary
  • Couscous

* I like to use a combination of thighs, drumsticks and halved breasts with the bone in because it yields maximum flavour. This dish can also be done with boneless chicken pieces of your choice which will slightly reduce the cooking time.

** I like to use figs and prunes which I cut in half.

*** Ras el Hanout has become much easier to find recently although if at all possible, I strongly recommend sourcing a good blend from a small spice store instead of a grocery store. Raz el Hanout’s personality varies from one master spice blender to another. It is the North African equivalent to India’s garam masala. It evokes sun drenched spice markets of the Mediterranean.

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How to make it:

  1. Now this is where it gets really easy: add everything to a large pot except the dried fruits, zucchinis, the lemon juice and the parsley.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes (15 minutes if using boneless meat).
  3. Add the zucchinis and fruit, simmer for another 10-15 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  4. Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package instructions. Couscous is normally ready in about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir lemon juice and fresh parsley in the stew
  6. Taste and adjust salt if needed.
  7. Ladle over couscous and serve.

Avocado Buttermilk Dressing

Ohhhh just another recipe ok? This one is quick and easy. I am home nursing my little me, waiting for antibiotics to take effect;  a bit of an impromptu day of R&R allowing me some play time on my blog between naps! YAY!!!

What is this gorgeous electric green creamy liquid? It is  Avocado Buttermilk Dressing! It is really oooooohhhh and aaaaaahhhh worthy! This is a no non-sense recipe and super quick to execute  if you have everything on hand, such as a ripe avocado!!! Grab your favourite squisher/pulverizing tool: power blender, Nutribullet™, food processor, it don’t matter. Throw in the flesh of 1 avocado (peeled and stoned of course), ½ cup buttermilk (or: yogurt, kefir, nut milk, you get the drift), 2 tbsp good oil, 1 medium garlic clove, the juice of one juicy lime (use 2 if the limes are juice stingy), a handful of fresh cilantro, stems and all, plus salt and pepper. Crank the power on until smoooooothhhh. You can add water if it’s too thick to pour. Ta da! I will be smothering my shrimps and salad with this hot number. Or dipping my crudités in it. Or dropping by the spoonful over tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas… Olé!

Surprisingly enough, this dressing will keep about 5 days in the fridge without browning…

Avocado Buttermilk Dressing
Avocado Buttermilk Dressing

 

A Taste of the Sunny Far East: Coconut Lime Chicken with Mango Salsa

Sometimes, it really doesn’t take much to bring home flavours of exotic cuisines… Of course, some specialty meals are so complex it may be a much better idea to go out to a restaurant to enjoy instead of making them at home. I have shied away from making certain dishes because the ingredient list alone is daunting, let alone the techniques used and the equipment required. I don’t think I will ever attempt to make those Asian «pulled» noodles for instance… But there are other dishes, like this Coconut Lime Chicken, that is a reminiscence of fragrant dishes from Thailand or Cambodia yet is extremely simple in its preparation. I created this dish a few years ago wanting to enjoy a «Thai like» meal without leaving my house… I am sure I must have been inspired by a recipe I saw somewhere but honestly, I cannot remember what the source was or how much I deviated from it…  As well, the ingredients are very easily found in any grocery store. This dinner is bright, fresh, easy to make and relatively healthy depending on what your thoughts on good fats are. If you do not cringe at the fat content of coconut milk, then you will enjoy every single bite of this dish; I prefer to use whole coconut milk although I presume it would still taste great if it was swapped for light coconut milk.

Although the chicken would probably benefit spending a bit of time in the marinade, it is also possible to infuse enough good flavour even if it only marinates during the time it takes to pull together the other components of the recipe. The mango salsa is pretty amazing on its own; as a matter of fact, it could be used as a condiment in many preparations. I suggest serving this dish with basmati rice however, you could also use the coconut milk poached chicken in lettuce wraps and instead of making the sauce using the carrots and zucchini, you could top the chicken lettuce wraps with  mango salsa and the grated vegetables.

If you decide to make this recipe, I would be thrilled to hear how it turned out :)!

Coconut Lime Chicken

COCONUT LIME CHICKEN WITH MANGO SALSA

What you need:
Marinade:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in thick strips
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and pepper

Mango Salsa

  • 1 ripe mango cut in small cubes
  • 1/3 large red onion finely chopped
  • ½ red pepper, finely diced
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper

Sauce:

  • 1 each grated carrot and zucchini, yields a generous cup of each vegetable
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • fresh cilantro

Cooked basmati rice

How to make it:

  1. In plastic airtight container, toss together chicken with coconut milk, lime zest & juice and salt & pepper. Let marinate in refrigerator while you prep the rest of the recipe or up to 12 hours.
  2. Meanwhile, toss all the ingredients for the salsa together. Adjust seasonings and let sit in refrigerator for a few hours if possible. Adjust seasonings again to taste as flavours will evolve while resting.
  3. Pour chicken and marinade in large skillet or stove top pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and poach gently until chicken is cooked through.
  4. Remove chicken and set aside. Add zucchini, carrots and honey to cooking liquid and simmer until sauce has reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon basmati onto serving platter. Pour half the sauce over the rice. Add chicken strips to rice. Pour remainder of sauce. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve cold salsa on the side.

Variations:

  1. Making wraps: why not marinate and poach a little extra chicken breast to use later in wraps? Grate a little extra carrots and zucchini too. Refrigerate this extra chicken; once cooled, take large lettuce leave, rice wrapper or tortilla. Add chicken, top with some grated carrots & zucchini,  add salsa and voilà! Lunch in a jiffy!
  2. Playing with flavours: why not add green, red or yellow Thai curry paste for a completely different meal? Any curry for that matter will radically change the meal. The base is simple yet so versatile.

Zucchini “Noodles” with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Halloumi

Making “noodles” out of zucchinis is actually pretty easy. The only catch? You need the right tool called a Spiralizer. When I bought mine on impulse, I was worried it would become one of those gadgets that end up taking too much kitchen real estate space, collecting dust to finally end up in a garage sale somewhere… NOT! I love my Spiralizer and I use it more often than I thought I would. “Spiralized” vegetables are not just limited to make grain-free noodles; they can elevate salads to a new level! My White Turnip and Celery Leaves Salad is a family favourite: using the spiralizer to turn tender and sweet white turnips into a guest worthy salad!

Although the tool may feel awkward at first, it is super easy to operate and just as easy to clean. I recommend buying a good quality spiralizer: there is nothing more frustrating to have a tool that doesn’t perform because the built and the blades are cheap. Mine is German-made and I am very happy with it overall.

This recipe is super easy to make and should take less than an hour to complete. The instructions may seem long but only because I am trying to provide detailed step-by-step instructions on zucchini noodles making. I have tried several different ways to shorten the process, hoping to find a magical shortcut and skip the need to sweat the zucchinis. No can do: zucchinis have a high water content and unless you like watered down and soggy vegetables, going through the step of sweating zucchinis is a must. And although it may seem like a big job, it really is no «sweat» at all, pun intended!!! The zucchinis will loose a lot of volume after going through the sweating stage. So much so that it inspired me to try this on myself: I sprinkled tons of coarse salt all over my body and set myself to sweat for a while. Sadly, I didn’t reduce in volume at all. Darn! Okay, silliness aside: back to the business of sweating zucchinis, not people!!!  In order to have enough noodles to feed 4 as a side dish, 4 large zucchinis may do the trick but I recommend using 6.

What you need
4-6 medium to large size zucchinis
Coarse sea salt
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil
8 oz Halloumi cheese*, sliced ¼ inch thick
½ tsp sugar
Salt and pepper

Tools:
Spriralizer
Colander
Salad spinner (optional)
2 clean dish towels, cotton is best
1 baking sheet, lined with parchment or silicone matt
1 large frying pan

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Westmark Spiralizer

How to make it

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. I use «Convect Roast» function and place the rack on the second row from the top.
  2. Using the spiralizer, turn all your zucchinis into long noodle like strands. If your spiralizer offers different sizes, use the smallest one11975285_10156025954200125_518589782_o.
  3. In batches, sprinkle the zucchini noodles with coarse salt all over. Place in a colander set over a deep bowl or dish to catch the water. Set aside12041214_10156025953930125_2054176187_o
  4. Meanwhile, slice the cherry tomatoes in 2 and spread on baking sheet. Sprinkle with the sugar, a bit of salt, pepper and about 2 tbsp of olive oil. Toss well to coat all the tomatoes with oil, spread evenly and place in oven. Roast until the tomatoes start to caramelize and the skins start to turn a nice deep brown. The tomatoes should render a fair bit of juice by then, which is a good thing. Over roasting the tomatoes will yield a beautifully intense paste that can be used for many things but not ideal for this particular recipe. Depending on the water content of the tomatoes, roasting can take from 20 to 40 minutes. I set my timer on and I start checking at the 20-minute mark and then in 5 minutes increments until I notice the tomatoes starting to yield some juice while having turned a nice caramelized colour. Remove from oven and set aside.
  5. Slice the Halloumi cheese in ¼ inch thick slices. Halloumi is salty and a little goes a long way. Using the frying pan over medium-high heat, fry in batches in a bit of olive oil until a deep golden crust forms. Flip and fry the other side. Set aside on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  6. Time to tend to the zucchini noodles: rinse the noodles under cold running water to remove as much salt as possible. Shake as much of the water off as you possibly can. I use my salad spinner to spin off excess water. For best results, spin the zucchinis in 3 or 4 batches. Lay both tea towels one on top of the other and spread the zucchinis in the center, length wise. Roll the towels tightly, bring over the sink and squeeze the excess water out. It is surprising how much eater will come out.The zucchinis may flatten slightly but that is okay and this will not affect the end result. I recommend squeezing the zucchinis in 2 batches.
  7. At last, the quick and easy part! Now that all the pieces of the puzzle have been  aligned, it is time to assemble the dish. Return the frying pan to the stove top. Heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the zucchinis and toss quickly until slightly browned. Reduce heat to medium, add the cherry tomatoes, scrapping all the luscious juices from the bottom of the baking sheet. Add in the minced garlic toss together a few minutes until the garlic has cooked down and mellowed. Add the Halloumi, let heat up a minute or two, taste for seasoning and serve! This is seriously divine.

 

Now that you are a pro at making zucchini noodles, your mind is probably racing with all the possibilities right? Think pine nuts, basil, pesto, grilled shrimps, creamy Alfredo… Yup, zucchini noodles can take you there: the perfect vehicle to pasta everything minus the calories.

*What is Halloumi? It is a Middle Eastern cheese that is perfect for frying. It is squeaky, salty and does not melt when heated. It is very easy to find Halloumi in Ottawa: most grocery stores carry this cheese, usually in the deli section.

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Variation: yellow and green zucchini noodles with marinara sauce and fresh bocconcini

Reconnecting with Some Old Roots: Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

As the price of fresh and out of season produce continues to soar here in Ottawa, I have been trying to be very creative cooking with good old roots. As much as I love our locally harvested root vegetables, I must admit that come this time of year, I crave (and often give in) to the tender greens that are shipped to us from faraway lands. However, with our poor Canadian dollar getting such a beating these days, it is really difficult to justify the cost of certain “luxury” vegetables. Especially those shipped to us from the United States. I still manage to sneak in zucchinis, cucumbers, celery and cherry tomatoes now and then but for the most part, roots and winter squash are the main plant contributions to our meals.

This pasta toss was a creative way to bring a breath of fresh air to the table while utilizing a nice variety of root vegetables. Like most pasta dishes, this one is easy to make. The toasted walnuts added a nice crunch to the dish. My King and my younger Prince are known carnivores yet they each enjoyed seconds of this dish. Knowing my men, when they pass on seconds, I know the meal was not a huge hit and I should simply forget the recipe ever existed. Reaching for a second helping definitely spells success in the «tasty» department!

This is a great way to clean out the fridge: I gathered a bunch of roots that were in the crisper, trying to use up what I had on hand. My mix of the moment consisted of squash, sweet potatoes, purple & yellow carrots, sunchokes and a purple radish like vegetable (an unfamiliar root that came with my farmer’s basket delivery). I also had about 5-6 cauliflower florets (I know, such luxury!!!). I could have added parsnips, turnips and beets as well. Bottom line is to use what you have on hand. As long as you can gather 8 cups of cubed vegetables, you are good to go. The recipe calls for toasted walnuts which can be replaced by your favourite nut or you can omit all together. That is the fun part of a recipe like this: what matters is the general idea, the rest is left to creativity!

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Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

What you need:

  • 1 lb. rotini – any pasta will do (450-500g)
  • 8 cups assorted root vegetables, peeled and cut into cubes
  • ¼ cup oil*
  • 1 tsp each salt and sugar
  • A generous sprinkling of pepper
  • 1 package Boursin™ cheese* (approximately 1 cup)
  • 1 cup chopped or crumbled feta
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 to 1½ cup reserved pasta water
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper as needed

*oil: you may notice in the pictures the orange hue of the oil I used. It is organic cold extracted canola oil. I love to roast with this oil because the vegetables turn a beautiful shade of gold and it also has a light nutty taste. Use whatever neutral tasting oil you have on hand. Good choices are grape seed oil, avocado oil and sunflower oil

*Boursin™ cheese: it may not be available in your area. Boursin™ is a soft and creamy herb and garlic fresh cheese. You can substitute with any herb and garlic soft cheese or even ricotta. If using ricotta, I recommend adding 1-2 minced garlic cloves to the cheese.

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How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Peel and cut hardy vegetables in cubes. Aim to gather 8 cups of cut vegetables
  3. Toss with oil, salt, sugar & pepper and spread onto large baking sheetimage
  4. Roast in oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the vegetables start to turn deep brown without burning. Remove from oven and set asideimage
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Then chop feta cheese, chop parsley and grate the parmesan cheese. Set these aside
  6. Spread walnuts on another baking sheet and add to the oven. The walnuts will take no time at all to toast because the oven is already set to such a high temperature. Maybe 5 minutes or so. Check the walnuts frequently: burnt walnuts taste very bitter. Once the walnuts start to turn golden brown, from the oven. Crumble or coarsely chop once cool enough to handle
  7. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked,  reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid before draining. Set aside then drain pasta well.
  8. Return the empty pot to the stove and turn heat off. Add the Boursin™ and 1 cup of the reserved water. Blend until the cheese has melted together with the water into a sauce. It will be thinner than you expect. Return the drained pasta to the pot, stir well to coat. Add extra water as needed. I used an additional half a cup of water: I found 1 cup was quickly absorbed and the pasta was a bit dry.
  9. Toss the vegetables, feta, walnuts and parmesan with the pasta, reserving a little of each ingredient to garnish. Transfer the pasta into a large serving bowl. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Add the reserved garnish. Sprinkle with parsley and a few more sprinkle so parmesan.

This dish is delicious piping hot and is equally delicious served cold, as leftovers for lunch for instance.image

Rolling in the Deep Dead of Winter with Cabbage Rolls

It’s January. It’s cold. It’s dark. There is nothing better than cooking up comfort foods and family favourites. Especially those casseroles that are easy on the budget and not too bad on the calorie count. The first time I ever ate cabbage rolls I was 23 years old. Yup, I had been living in the dark ages up until then… Cabbage was hardly, if ever served at home when I was growing up. I am not sure why. I suspect my mom’s distaste of the cruciferous globe may have had something to do with it. And to think of it, I am not sure that she disliked cabbage, I simply think she didn’t like cooking with it much.

At any rate, I never tasted the little parcels until I met my King. One of our first get away together was at his family’s cottage. It was January (we had recently met in December) and we were completely gaga over one another. Yes, already! To celebrate our newly found love, the King had invited me to spend some quiet alone time at the cottage (yes, the same cottage I refer to frequently in this blog). Although the cottage is more a house than a cabin, it does get closed down completely for the winter months. It requires a bit of work to get it going and habitable during this season: other than electricity, there is no running water and no instant heat. A big cast iron woodstove eventually keeps every one warm and cozy (until the fire dies out in the middle of the night) and water is lugged in from a hole dug through the ice on the lake. We need this water to clean dishes, tend to basic personal hygiene and flush the toilet. In the winter, the cottage is half rustic and half city slicker!!! It didn’t take me long to get accustomed to cottage life, regardless of the season but on that very first romantic get away, the King planned everything himself. I guess he was trying to impress! He went ahead of time to get the place all toasty and comfy, to dig the hole in the ice, to clear a pathway from the road to the front door and to bring up the edible supplies we would need. He then returned to town to pick me up… Such chivalry!!! Amongst the dishes he brought along for our sustenance were these magnificent cabbage rolls. One bite and my heart was 100% conquered. It took me a while to discover that his mother, not him, was the real cabbage roll master. I simply assumed he had made them and he simply didn’t elaborate. Oh well, one small omission of truth on his part lol! And by the time the truth finally came out, we were already a solid item! It didn’t matter much to me if cooking was not his thing: since he could still clear the path, dig the hole for water, split the wood and keep me nice and warm in the deep dead of winter, I was than happy to take over kitchen duties. Yes, I have very fond memories of our first weekend together. I knew then that not only would I end up spending a long time with this wonderful man, I also knew that one day, I would learn to make these little gems of cabbage, meat and rice!

It is my understanding that many, many families have their own cabbage roll recipes. Depending on the recipes’ origins, cabbage rolls can be made with fresh cabbage or with sauerkraut. Some recipes have tomatoes and others don’t. Some have more rice and others more meat. The truth is that I have never tried a homemade cabbage rolls that I didn’t like! There is just something über comforting about these plump pockets of meat and rice. This recipe is the exact recipe I had fallen in love with so many moons ago. It is very economical to make although it does require an investment in time. Since they also freeze very well, I tend to double the recipe and freeze the leftovers for quick and easy meals. It is bound to warm your heart.

Pretli Family Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage Rolls

 

What you need:

  • 1 large green cabbage or Savoy cabbage
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 3 lbs lean ground beef (1.3 kg)
  • 2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 ½ tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper or hot paprika
  • 4 cups tomato juice (1L)
  • ½ cup tomato ketchup

How to make it :

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  1. Set to boil a large deep stock pot with salted water
  2. Using a small sharp knife, remove the core of the cabbage while leaving the cabbage whole with all the leaves attached
  3. Place the cabbage in the pot, keeping the water to a soft boil
  4. Using kitchen tongues, remove cabbage leaves one by one once they are cooked. You will need a bit of patience to get to the center of the cabbage and you do not want to undercook the leaves. The cabbage should be tender enough to be pliable without being overcooked. Overcooked leaves will break easily
  5. Deposit cooked leaves in cold water to stop the cooking process
  6. Meanwhile, cook rice covered with plenty of salted water, maybe 2 inches above rice. Bring to a boil and cook for 9 minutes. Drain rice but make sure to keep cooking liquid. The rice cooking water will be used to help bind the meat mixture.
  7. In large bowl, mix together: beef, onions, garlic, cooked rice, Hungarian paprika, salt and cayenne. Once well blended, add just enough reserved rice cooking liquid to moistened meat mixture. The texture should resemble that of sausage meat.

Stuffing the leaves:

  1. Drain cabbage leaves well and remove any excess water. With a paring knife, remove or trim down the coarse rib of each leaf.
  2. Reserve 2 or 3 large cabbage leaves
  3. Lay one leaf at a time on a flat surface and add a generous scoop of filling, approximately the equivalent of an ice cream scoop, not quite in the middle of the leaf. If you were to separate the leaf in 3 imaginary zones, the filling would go on the first third closest to where the rib was. Start rolling from this end, folding sides over the center, tucking the leaf snuggly in the ends.

    Cabbage Rolls Filling
    Cabbage Rolls Filling
  4. Proceed until all the meat has been used
  5. Coarsely chop the remaining cabbage, except for the reserved leaves.
  6. In a large and deep casserole dish*, spread half the chopped cabbage. Layer cabbage rolls on top, then spread the remaining chopped cabbage over the rolls.
  7. Whisk together the tomato juice and the ketchup. Pour over the cabbage rolls. Lay the large leaves on top, pressing down slightly to help the liquid spread evenly.Cabbage Rolls 1
  8. Cover and bake at 350°F for 1 ½ hours

*I like to use a deep covered roasting pan, especially if I make a double batch.

Cabbage Rolls 2
Cabbage Rolls 2

Happy New Year Recipe – Freekeh Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Resolutions, diets, cleanses, gym memberships… It is that season right? And by now, as mid-January quickly approaches, some of the lofty goals set for 2016 while under the influence of a great too many drinks on the Eve don’t seem to make so much sense anymore right? New Year Resolutions are often such epic and drastic plans of self-makeovers, they almost seem impossible to achieve. Especially without a solid plan of attack in place. Are your resolutions already simmering on a back burner? Or are you procrastinating jumping in? I personally find New Year’s Eve resolutions so… Hmmm… So restrictive? So absolute? So unforgiving? Almost like setting ourselves up for failure on improvements we want to see happen but have not yet been able to conquer… Personally, I am not fond on New Year’s Eve celebrations: I have always found the farewell to the past year very anticlimactic as we often decide to change the very things we wanted to change the previous year. And by the time December 31st rolls around, I am completely partied out. My stomach has a hard time handling yet another puff pastry, cheese-filled, cream-laced, bacon-wrapped, sugar-coated treat. So by the time the clock strikes midnight on the first day of the new year and I force down that glass of really good champagne, I am so saturated that I feel ready to make the biggest resolutions ever to go on a cleanse, eat only veggies, lose X number of pounds and exercise every day!!! Until the vapors dissipate… Thankfully, with age, and dare I say wisdom, I have come to accept that the same old, same old New Year resolutions are actually more a work in progress than an entirely new and clean slate. Therefore, I propose to change the word resolution to evolution!

If you are anything like me, your budget is pretty dry right now from spoiling every one you love but yourself and your belly is probably a little bloated. Instead of removing every «forbidden» food item from my list on January first, I simply decided to continue with my evolution by giving myself a break from spending money on stuff while giving myself some much needed TLC. It is quite an accomplishment for me to have been able to maintain a healthy body weight over the last 2 years. Yes, there have been a few set-backs but overall, I am very pleased to say that I currently have a good grasp over my food demons. Well, maybe not always a good grasp as the Tales of December Feasts can tell… But it has been easy to rein myself in once all the parties stopped. My skin tone is revealing stories of late nights, excellent wines paired with just as excellent cheeses! My sleep patterns are also wonky. But heck, it was worth it! And I will probably succumb to another several rounds of feasting come December next year!!! Since it took a full 10 days of gorging to start feeling the effects of the Holidays tables’ plentifulness and decadence, I was expecting it would take at least a full 10 days before the gut started to stop «vibrating», swooshing and acting weird. As I am writing this, I can say the «healing» has begun!

The biggest challenge I will face with my evolution in the upcoming year is making quality time for this blog. My biggest hurdle is the lack of creative energy after I tend to all the «have to do» activities of daily life… Work is busy, home life is busy and social activities are busy. Since I am a tad perfectionist, I find it difficult to simply write a short intro to any recipe I may want to share. It has held me back from posting on this blog. More often than none, I create recipes, lay out the ingredients, and take fabulous pictures with my blog in mind. As these activities take place, I am excited and gong-ho with writing a fabulous piece for the blog. And then, the demands of life set in:  creativity vanishes! Soooooo for 2016, I will try to rein in my obsessive need to write what I feel is the perfect story and instead, share a bit more of the good stuff: the FOOD!

Without further ado, I am presenting to you my first recipe of the year. It was inspired by a new cookbook I received for Christmas: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. There is a recipe in the book for stuffed portobello mushroom caps. Typical me, I bought the caps without looking at the rest of the ingredients. And typical me, I had to improvise to fill the caps since I was missing half the ingredients!!! Cooking the mushroom caps in the oven before stuffing was the only part of the recipe I «poached» from the book. The end result was very, very good! And I must say that these mushroom caps tasted even better the next day. Both the King and I agreed that the flavours matured tremendously with time. I made enough that we were enjoying them again 4 days later and they were still excellent, if not better.

As part of a healthy way of life, I try to keep my intake of grains to a minimum and concentrate on the really weird ones I have absolutely no idea how to prepare. One even has the name Freekeh. Freaky eh?

Freekeh Stuffed Portobello Mushroom Caps

What you need:

  • 1 cup freekeh*, well rinsed
  • 6 large portobello mushrooms
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 5-6 Swiss chard leaves*
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1½ cup grated cheese such as Gruyere, Emmenthal, and Gouda…

*Freekeh is a popular Middle-Eastern grain. It is actually green wheat that has been roasted. It is a good source of fiber and protein. It can also be replaced with any other favourite grain such as bulgur, barley, rice, quinoa… When substituting the grain, select one that is slightly sticky when cooked: you need the filing to bind well in order to stay in the mushroom caps. Freekeh has a lovely mild flavour. Once cooked, it is very tender yet still yields a bit of a chewy texture.

*Swiss chard: to easily chop Swiss chard leaves, remove stems, lay each leaf flat piling them one on top of the other. Roll all the leaves in a tight cigar looking shape. Cut slices, the thickness depends on how large you want the slices to be. You can replace Swiss chard with any other leafy green of your choice.

How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. Rinse freekeh well under cold water. Place in a large saucepan with plenty of salted water, 3-4 cups. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a very gentle boil, cover and cook for 20 minutes or until Freekeh is tender. Drain and rinse under cold water until grain is cooled. Set aside
  3. While the freekeh is cooking, line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  4. Clean mushroom caps, removing stems. Remove gills by gently scraping the inside of the cap with a spoon.
  5. Brush the inside of the caps with one tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place mushroom, inside caps up, on baking sheet and bake in oven for 20-25 minutes
  6. In large saucepan on medium heat, add the other 2 tbsp of olive and the leeks. Sauté until the leeks are tender and start to caramelize slightly. Add carrots, thyme, garlic, 1 tsp salt and cook until carrots start to soften, 4-5 minutes. Add white wine and cook until almost all evaporated.
  7. Add the Swiss chard to the saucepan and stir until wilted. Add about half of the reserved Freekeh* to the vegetable mixture. Add the fresh tarragon and the parsley. Remove from heat, taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed.
  8. Assembly: leave the mushroom caps on the baking sheet. Drain any liquid that may have accumulated in the caps during the cooking process. Using a large spoon or ice cream scoop, divide the filling between each of the mushroom caps. Shape with hands to form little mounds. Flatten tops slightly. Top each mushroom cap with ¼ cup of cheese.imageimage
  9. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and starts to brown a bit
  10. This dish also keeps well for a few days: make great leftovers for lunches.

Happy Evolution!

My Global Kitchen: Crispy and Cool Rice Vermicelli Salad!

If I were a purist, I would tell you that this salad is far from an authentic Vietnamese or Thai noodle salad. I would tell you that we, North Americans, tend to «Americanize» everything and that in the end, foods from other cultures served here are a pale comparison of the original ethnic dish at the source of inspiration. And if I was a purist, I would tell you that recipes like the one I am about to share do not respect the culture and flavour profile of the real deal rice noodle. I would even go as far as to say that we are imposters and we should show more respect to the authentic cuisines of the world… I mean, which Italian hasn’t chuckled in front of a plate of Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs on this side of the pond? How many French have wrinkled their nose at the site of a plate of escargots à l’ail smothered in mozzarella? I myself cannot stand the use of the name «poutine» when shredded cheese is used instead of cheese curds because that is how it is done in Quebec: only with cheese curds and hand cut fries can poutine be called poutine! Only then, it is really authentic and worthy of its name!!!

So recently, I have taken the time to reflect on this so-called bastardization of ethnic dishes and wonder if it is such a terrible thing after all… I have read articles that shame Moo Shoo Pork lovers (guilty: I adore Moo Shoo Pork), stating that this simile Chinese concoction is not even remotely close to the real heritage dishes of China. Those articles snub our love affair with foods that have been introduced under the name of another country’s culinary culture but when in fact, they have most surely been tweaked for good reasons: lack of readily available ethnic products, lack of authentic methods & tools, lack of technique training and entering a market that may be tentative to new tastes, flavours and sometimes “off the wall” ingredients. But other than using cultural names in vain to present these dishes and maybe unwillingly insulting the real “McCoy”, these counterfeit ethnic offerings may have done the Epi-Curious world an extreme favour.

Over decades, if not centuries, immigrants (and traveller’s alike) have brought their culinary art and tastes of their home country wherever they have set their roots. Conquistadors have managed to influence the cuisines of the colonies in order to bring some comfort in an otherwise very foreign land. Even our own food heritage gets tweaked with time: recipes passed down from generation to generation often get a bit of a facelift or are adapted to the taste of the hour… Ingredients availabilities and food brand names change, diets demand new adaptation and taste preferences dictate the need for variations.

Take for example the famous Vietnamese sandwich Bành Mì: how «authentically Vietnamese» would anyone consider liver pâté and baguette? However, culturally, Bành Mì is THE sandwich of Vietnam; its creation influenced by French colonization. I believe culinary influences from around the globe bring a wonderful array of flavours into our worlds. They make culinary explorations a lot of fun and give us permission to explore and play with ingredients that are unfamiliar. They make us dream of faraway lands and help us connect to humanity… While we adapt our foods to our needs, our regions and taste buds, it doesn’t mean that we disrespect the original recipe or the culture’s influence. On the contrary, it permits to open our edible concoction profile to infinite possibilities! I personally think this is really amazing… But out of respect to the purists out there, I present my Vermicelli Rice Noodle Salad without adding any culture/country influenced name. Let’s just say that this one is an Ottawa-prepared but Vietnam-inspired fusion salad! It is cool, refreshing and perfect for our city’s climate which is often plagued by thick, very hot and very humid summer temperature. Hmmm, I hear this Ottawa weather can resemble that of Vietnam tropical forest… I may be offering more authenticity than I thought… Nahhh, I think it would be too far a stretch to call my salad «Vietnamese Noodle Salad» just because we share a humid summer climate lol!!! I will stick to my original title.

ăn ngon miệng nhé (Bon appétit)

Salade de nouilles asiatiques(2)

Crispy and Cool Rice Vermicelli Salad

I literally tossed this one together using bits and pieces of fresh veggies left over from other meals… I managed to make enough salad to serve as a meal for 2 and a generous portion left over to bring for lunch. The vegetable proportions are approximate and you can certainly add you own variations with what you have on hand. In my case, I hand a handful of radishes, one half a red pepper, a couple of green onions and left over ready chopped cilantro as well as few more items including chopped lettuce. I am sure the dish would have been uplifted a notch had I had lemongrass, cucumbers and Thai basil: I will certainly keep that in mind for the next time. And since I always keep a bag of very fine rice vermicelli in my pantry, tossing this one together was extremely easy and quick… Making your own dressing adds such a depth of flavour to any salad however, if you are pressed for time or lacking ingredients, commercially prepared Asian dressings such as sesame or miso dressings will work wonderfully.

What you need:

For the dressing:

¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
⅛ cup soya sauce¹
2 tsp sugar or honey
2 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1 crushed garlic clove
1-2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
⅔ cups of a neutral tasting oil²
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil

In a shakeable container such as a Mason jar (I use recycled glass jars from store-bought dressings), with the exception of the oils, add all the ingredients and shake until well blended. Add the oils and shake again. This dressing will keep several weeks in the fridge.

¹ – I prefer Tamari or Japanese soya sauces because I find them lighter and less salty. I purchase organic soya sauces whenever I can
² – By choice, I now only use organic oils that have been pressed using cold extraction. Neutral oils, regardless of your food sources and convictions include: canola, grapeseed, sunflower, peanut and corn. I would not recommend olive oil with this recipe.
For the salad: (all vegetable portions are approximate)

⅔ package dry, fine rice vermicelli, usually available in most grocery stores or specialty Asian markets.
1 cup shredded carrots
8 small radishes, sliced
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup edamame
2 chopped green onions, white and green parts
1 package dried shiitake mushrooms (or fresh if you can find some)
2-3 cups of chopped lettuce
2-3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Lime quarters

Would also be yummy: cucumbers, bean sprouts, Thai basil, white turnip, micro greens etc…

Vermicelli rice noodles are super easy to cook. Simply soak them in a large bowl with boiling water until tender, anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes. I start checking the noodles after 5 minutes soaking time. Rinse under cold running water until completely cool and set aside to drain until all the other ingredients are ready. While the noodles are soaking, you can also reconstitute the dry mushrooms by soaking in hot tap water. They will roughly take the same amount of time to soften as the noodles. I like to use frozen organic edamame: they only take 3 minutes to cook in boiling water. Rinse until cool and set aside.
Assembly:

This is the easiest part: leaving the lime wedges and cilantro, toss everything else together in a large bowl. Add salad dressing to taste and blend well. To properly balance the flavours according to the quantity of noodles and vegetables in this particular recipe, I used half the salad dressing which means I have the other half all ready to go for another time!
Sprinkle with fresh cilantro and serve with lime wedges.
N.B. If you plan on saving some for lunch (or another meal), portion that meal BEFORE adding the dressing. Otherwise, most of your vegetables will get soggy…

Salade de nouilles asiatiques(3)

Muffelettes: A Rat Race Antidote

Within seconds of waking up, the night’s cobwebs have dissipated from my mind. Woooshhh… Swept away with a deft eyelash sweep. My head has not yet lifted itself from the pillow, my mind is already seizing the day. I often wish I could lazily lift a heavy eyelid just to let it happily slide back over my eye and cocoon right back into the warmth of my bed, capturing, reveling into and extending the moment of cathartic limbo between dreamland and reality. Noooo, none of that for me: my brain lights up as suddenly as if flickering a light switch. An incandescent 100 watt light bulb instantly flooding the thinking box: BOOM! Already intense and revved up to go! My wake-up ritual is exactly the same every single day (if one can dare call an 8 second flat moment a ritual at all): I grab my glasses and literally jump out of bed. Even before I have actually placed my tippy toes on the floor, I have already started a conversation with myself and I know without a doubt that I will exhaust myself just «thinking»… I greet each day with gumption: plans and projects rapidly form as if today, unlike yesterday, will somehow magically extend itself, adding several extra hours which I absolutely need to accomplish everything I want to do. Yes, today I will learn to paint, study Italian, work on my scrapbooks, write several posts for my blog, cook two or three recipes (maybe even 4), reorganize my kitchen junk drawer and go for a long walk. I will visit my mom, call my friends, enjoy a latte with a good book. Oh and yes, I will read those two articles I have saved in my reader. I will catalogue all my recipes, prepare a meal plan, and categorize my photos complete with ratings and Photoshop adjustments. I will! I will! Oh I will do so much today!!! I have yet to place my second foot on the floor…

And so the day starts: ablutions, breakfast, commute, work, commute… By mid-afternoon, I have not even looked at the «I want to do» list of activities and my energy starts to dwindle. I wish I could start with morning all over again to tackle, in parallel to life’s obligatory tasks, the fun projects that are waiting for me to submerse myself into. I need my very own Groundhog Day movie scenario, the one featuring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell… The idea of repeating a day, or even just a portion of the day, without actually ticking it off a calendar or triggering the biological clock sounds really, really good. Imagine having completed all the «must do» tasks of the day and being given the same number of hours to play? It would mean that by dinner time, I would have invested twelve hours in the work day routine and an equal twelve hours in ME! Whoa, the possibilities!!! How perfect! Time each day nearly doubled, what a concept! Although not exactly following the Groundhog Day Movie storyline where February 2nd starts over again every morning for Bill Murray, but rather inspired by the concept of freezing time! Time: I want you, I need more of you!!! Don’t we all?

I have accomplished so much so far today in the «must do» life. And I have imagined several appetizing dishes throughout the day that would be perfect for tonight’s dinner. Ohhh, the endless possibilities:  what can I whip up today with pantry basics and a few fridge staples when I get home? I have been giddy with anticipation all day long. As I log off from the work day and walk home, still full of energy, I mentally compose my next “fabulous” blog post complete with the photos I hope to shoot later as I cook. I see it all coming together in my head. I am walking with a slight spring in my feet: this is going to be an exciting moment in my kitchen! Tonight, I am guaranteed to earn the cook of the year award! Again! Ohhhh, I cannot wait to get home… The thirty-five minute walk has invigorated me: there is so much I can do with remaining five and a half hours left before I sandwich my tired bones between mattress and duvet. Ohhhh, I just can’t wait to get home and tackle the endless projects I have been planning on doing since my eyes popped opened this morning. I finally step into the house, cheeks all rosy and hair all messed up by the welcomed spring breeze. My kitchen is calling me, clean and inviting, begging me to start creating… And suddenly, just as quickly as the morning thoughts entered my mind, full of promise, exhaustion sets in. Within a few minutes, I have actually forgotten what it is I had planned on cooking or writing in my blog… The thought of spending the next hour or so messing up that sparkling little kitchen wipes out any residual spunk I may have had up until this very moment. Where has my youthful stamina gone? I am completely wiped out… I try to summon myself back into my playground but the usual visceral pull is eluding me.  Gone is the love affair I normally have with peeling, chopping, mincing, sautéing, stirring… One thought dominates my entire grey matter, blinking like an overly bright neon sign in a dark alley:  «oh man, do I really have to»? Time and energy have completely vanished… My real life Groundhog Day movie moment happens like clockwork every single work week day, always at the very same time. I admit that I do not always love to cook…

So short of winning the lottery, I am stuck with the same 24 hour day as everyone else who juggles work, family, domestic chores and blah, blah, blah… And since I am and have always been a strong advocate of home cooked meals eaten as a family at the dinner table, energy or no energy, I almost always manage to whip up something from scratch. Doesn’t mean I enjoy the chore of everyday cooking. Although the Princes are adults now, with active social lives, the King comes home every night with the appetite of an ogre. We still make a point of sitting at the dinner table together and we seldom order/eat out on weekdays. And we also very seldom rely on grocery store convenience foods. Cooking from scratch has never been a trend, it has been a way of life. Maybe my natural penchant for the kitchen activities has everything to do with this! And while the world may think unfair that the King should show up only when the meal is ready to be served piping hot on his plate, let me reassure you that the Queen hardly ever participates in kitchen clean-up activities: an ancient kingdom law that has endured the test of time and even the Princes teenage era! How do I deal with the daily grind of dinner preparation? Well, truth be told, my only reliable antidote to weeknight bitching and complaining is the weekend prep. A few hours on Sunday goes a long way for the rest of the week.

Breakfast muffelettes, these little “grab and go” 1 egg wonders can be prepared in advance and be individually packaged for easy lunch bag building. They are satisfying on their own and also work great in a sandwich or accompanied by a salad. They taste delicious hot or cold. They will last a few days in the fridge. I am not inventing a new concept here that’s for sure: recipes can be found nearly everywhere. As tasty as many recipes are, the overall texture of the finish product has been the chief complaint in my circle of friends. Their omelettes were either too spongy, too soggy or tasteless… I have been able to address those issues: in order to reduce sogginess, the high moisture vegetables must be cooked before making the omelettes. To reduce sponginess, try to use whole milk instead of low fat milk. The caloric input will barely be noticeable per serving but the end result will be highly satisfying. If you are bold and brazen, use light cream: you are guaranteed a soft and velvety texture! Cooking vegetables ahead will also increase the flavour profile. Parmesan or any other strong tasting cheese will up the umami a few levels! Don’t forget to use salt and pepper. And be carefree in your combinations: throw in some fresh herbs, your favourite spices, minced chili, olive slices, left over pasta or cooked legumes…

Breakfast “Muffelettes”

IMG_0048  

What you need:

Tools: muffin tins to make 12 individual Muffelettes (I used jumbo tins which yield 6 portions per tray), individual muffin paper liners, 1 large frying pan, 1 large bowl and a whisk. And the usual tools: chopping board, knives, wooden spoon, measuring cups and spoons

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow pepper, diced
½ small chili pepper, minced (optional)
1 Tsp smoked paprika
⅛ Tsp chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 dozen eggs
1 cup milk, preferably whole milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (seems like a lot but it gets fluffy when grated with a Microplane™ type grater)
1 Tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
A few handfuls of baby spinach, mâche or your favorite greens
36 grape tomatoes, halved

How to

  • Preheat oven to 350°F on bake more (it is preferable not to use the convection setting)
  • In a large frying pan, heat oil on med-high heat
  • Add onions, sauté until translucent and a light caramel color starts to show
  • Add mushrooms and cook until they also start to brown. Depending on your stovetop, you may want to reduce the heat to medium to avoid scorching of the vegetables
  • Add the zucchinis, cook a bit then add the yellow peppers. The idea here is to add the vegetables one at a time to avoid too much moisture being created in the pan all at once. Too many moisture rich ingredients in one shot will bring the lot to a boil instead of caramelizing the veggies. It doesn’t take much time between each addition: you just have to make sure all the natural liquids have been rendered
  • Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper as well as the minced fresh chili and chili pepper flakes
  • Cook until all the water has evaporated
  • Set aside and let cool slightly

Building the muffelettes:

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs
  • Add the milk, the cheese and salt and pepper
  • Whisk again until all ingredients are well blended. This should yield 4 cups
  • Line the muffin tin with paper liners (I have tried without and cleaning the tins was a huge ordeal). Lightly oil each liner.
  • Divide the vegetables equally at the bottom of each tin, add 3 halved grape tomatoes and a small sprig of greens per portion on top of the vegetables.IMG_0040
  • IMG_0041
  • Pour about ⅓ cup of the egg mixture over the vegetables. Gently swirl the egg mixture using the tip of a butter knife to remove any air pockets and ensure the egg mix reaches the bottom of each portion. You want to make sure the vegetables are entirely covered with egg.

IMG_0042

  • Pop in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes

The muffelettes are ready when they have puff up nicely and no longer jiggle in the center.

 

Enjoy right away «au natural» or nestle them between layers of fresh bread or toast. Be wild and add what you fancy to elevate your sandwich: bacon, ham, fresh lettuce, tomato slices…

IMG_0049

These keep well for several days in the fridge and are perfect to grab when you need breakfast on the run. I have not tried freezing them yet: they never last long enough!