Tag Archives: vegetables

“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.

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

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!

Pickle, pickle on the wall, who is the crunchiest pickle of all?

Perfectly lined mason jars on kitchen shelves have long ago cast a spell on me. There is something really, really attractive about fresh produce trapped behind glass. Gently shake the jars and watch the spices dance around appetizingly colourful vegetables: like a culinary snow globe…. Delicatessens with walls lined with big jars of bright peppers of all shapes and colours don’t need much else to instantly make the store more attractive, even if this sooooo old school! I love walking in a deli or a «charcuterie» and seeing those beautiful shiny glass jars. I dare anyone  to say they don’t nearly die with envy whenever they see a pantry or a cold storage busting at the seams with the bounty of summer captured «en pots de verre». Well maybe not everyone has that same infatuation as I do but I personally think that jams, jellies, preserves, pickled vegetables, ketchups and relishes are simply gorgeous! And delicious!

I have to admit that I am a novice when it comes to home canning. Although I have always wanted to preserve summer in mason jars, life seems to have managed to get in the way every single year. Between vacation time, work, upkeep of our summer home and a slew of social events, I always seem to miss the «perfect for canning timeline» of our short local produce season. I have made jam sporadically through the years and I have also canned tomatoes, marinara sauce and even made chunky ketchups a few times. But hard core canning and pickling have been more of a bucket list kind of activity: something I really, really want to do but can’t seem to find the time. I should also mention that beyond the lack of time, there is also a bit of an intimidation factor when it comes to home preserving. What if I mess it up and poison my entire family with botulism? What if I spend loads of hours and money and in the end, the stuff I make ends up tasting weird, or too vinegary or simply blahhhhh? My mom-in-law, the Queen Mother, used to can and pickle a fair bit and although most of her canned goods were really good, her pickles were not my favourite. And she would make so many jars we were sort of «forced» into eating mushy and bland pickles. I know, it sounds really awful writing this down especially since the Queen Mother was an excellent cook. Sorry, my lovely mom-in-law for «dissing» you publicly but it seems we all have our strengths and weaknesses right? Your plum jam was AMAZING!

So I decided it was time to toss aside intimidation and start educating myself on the subject matter of canning and preserving. A few years ago, I purchased a book dedicated entirely to this; maybe it was time I read it?  And as if reading my mind, Bon Appetit Magazine featured an entire article on food preservation in one of the summer issues. Beyond those 2 sources, I perused through my many cookbooks, numerous websites and read several blogs. I discovered many things I was not aware of; the most important bit of information I read was about the actual process of canning using either the hot bath method or a pressure canner. I didn’t even know there was even such an animal as a pressure canner, geez Louise! I must live in the dark ages… Or I should have read my book a long time ago… I was always leery of canning items that contained meat products, always wondering how they would fare with an immersion in boiling water. Hot water bath canning was the only process I knew and my knowledge was minimal at best using this method. Last fall, I had tried to can a few jars of home made soup which resulted in a huge disaster… Thank goodness all the lids popped up because of fermentation otherwise I shudder at thinking what gastrointestinal illness I would have plague my family with eeekkkkk!

Beside my new acquired knowledge of basic canning equipment, I also educated myself on which foods can be preserved using the simple boiling water bath method and which foods have to go through the hotter process provided by a pressure canner. Basically, the rule of thumb is the following: acidic foods with a Ph of 4.5 or lower, foods preserved in vinegar and fruits preserved with sugar (jams) can be canned using the hot water bath method. A pressure canner must be used for all non-acidic foods as well as meats and meat containing preparations such as soups. Since I do not own (yet) a pressure canner, I started to investigate this product. However I do own a pressure cooker but according to all the literature I have read, pressure cookers are not recommended for this job. Something to do with the ability of the cooker to reach and keep steady a very specific temperature. Since my pressure cooker does not have a temperature gauge, I think best not to try it… I also learned that pressure canners and glass-top stoves are not a very good match. Hmmmm, I have a glass-top stove so I guess I currently have to eliminate canning any foods that are not acidic until I find another solution. Unless I do all my canning at the cottage where I still have a good old fashioned electric coil cook top? Might be a good temporary solution but since I plan on updating that old stove (gas is not an option at the cottage or at my house), I am not sure that I will have the correct stove to pursue this activity in the future. So pressure canning is out for now and good old fashioned «jars in a hot bath» is in.

Equipment and proper technique aside, the other intimidating factor is the taste! I do not come from a long line of canners… And I have really only dabbled in jams, jellies, syrups and tomatoes in the past. So again, I read through countless articles and recipes on the art of pickling. The conclusion I came to? Just do it!!! The bottom line is that pickled vegetables are not rocket science. For pickling, all you need is a good brine of water, vinegar, salt, sugar and spices in the right proportions. Got it with Bon Appétit, thank you! Got it as well in the Bernardin book on preserving, awesome! So brine, check! Time to select those farm fresh veggies, herbs and spices, check! Again, not a biggie problem: for pickles, dill, garlic and pickling spices will do the trick! For my first attempt, I was quantity cautious just in case I messed up with the flavours; I opted to buy a small amount of cucumbers. Well, if one can call a half a bushel a small amount! I rolled up my sleeves, put on my «big girl pants» and dove right in. I was surprised with the entire experience… I thought this activity would be far more time consuming than it was. I jarred that half bushel of pickles in about 2 hours. Add the scrubbing of the pickles and cleaning up after, the entire «ordeal» took a little less than 3 hours. And I had set the entire day aside to make these, sheeezzzz!

Armed with new found confidence, I hoped to dabble in more pickling fun in the weeks to come. My wish was answered just this past week. We hosted an appreciation party at the lake for our beloved cottage neighbours. Since over abundance seems to be my thing when hosting events, I was left with an insane amount of freshly picked corn… I decided to make corn relish. Even if I was at the cottage and even if my kitchen there is smaller than you can even imagine. I didn’t have the traditional pickling spices (pre-made mix,  mustard seeds or celery seeds) on hand. I had however coriander seeds, fennel seeds, garlic and fresh cilantro. I also had onions and yellow and orange peppers, as well as vinegar, sugar and salt. I was not too sure how everything would turn out but it was worth a try… It was. As a matter of fact, the corn relish turned out so wonderfully delicious, my King said it should definitely be added to my blog! I am such a good little Queen!!! I have listened to his request and you can find the recipe bellow as well. LOL!

So I can confidently say that my summer of pickling and preserving is off to a good start. So far, I have made jams (strawberry, mixed berries and blueberry/lemon), dill pickles, corn relish and basil pesto (pesto is in the freezer, not in a jar). I hope to make a few more things before the end of September but you know, sometimes, life simply gets in the way…

The Pickling Diaries

Before I continue forward, I wish to thank my trustworthy source for many basic details: thank you BA Magazine for that insight! Here are a few tips on how to proceed:

  • Choosing the right cucumbers does matter: Kirby cucumbers are the best: their thick skin and lower water content will deliver a crunchier pickle
  • Removing the stem edge of the cucumber is important: there is an enzyme in the stem that will change the texture of the pickles and make them loose their crunch
  • Cucumbers (or any other vegetables) should be very well scrubbed: Using a vegetable brush, scrub the cucumbers very well under running water
  • Dill weed: soak in a large bath of cold water, change the water 2-3 times to rid the herb of any soil residue and excessive pollen
  • Vegetables can be prepared one day before, kept whole and in an air tight container in the fridge. The dill weed as well. If stored any longer than a day, the colour vibrancy and crunch may be lost
  • Start with clean jars and only use brand new lids (the inside lid which has the little rubber seal). Metal rings can be reused several times. Discard any dented/rusted rings and chipped jars. Sterilization is not necessary: the canning process paired with the use of vinegar will destroy harmful bacteria
  • You will need: a very large and deep pot of boiling water (jars must be submersed in water), a few tea towels, a good sturdy funnel, kitchen tongs and a ladle
  • Good quality vinegar. Balsamic vinegar should not be used for pickling purposes.
  • Pickling salt that is void iodine or other anti-clumping agents. Salt should be the only ingredient on the box
  • Pickle jars that will go through the canning process will keep up to 12 months at room temperature. If the canning process is skipped, pickles will last up to 2 months in the refrigerator

Crunchy, Lovely, Home Made Dill Pickles

What you need

The brine: It’s a simple matter of proportion and I used Bon Appétit’s guidelines

1 cup vinegar
2 tbsp pickling salt
2 tsp sugar
up to 2 tbsp pickling spices (I think 1 tbsp is enough)
2 cups water

Pickle Mise

I used half distilled white vinegar and half apple cider vinegar. Balsamic vinegar is not recommended for this application. For half a bushel of cucumbers, I made 6 times the amount of the brine recipe above, using the same proportions. I was left with about 2 cups of brine, which I am now using as a base for vinaigrettes. No waste!!!

For dill pickles, I recommend fresh dill weed that is at the seeding/flowering stage as well as some of the younger type of dill that is greener: it yields a stronger dill taste. A few garlic cloves per jar is also a great addition. If you don’t have mixed pickling spices, you can make your own with mustard seeds, celery seeds, fennel seeds and  black peppercorns in equal proportion.

Mix all the ingredients together in a pot and bring to a boil, then keep on a simmer while you assemble the jars.

Starting with clean jars (I run them through the dishwasher first), place fresh dill weed fronds at the bottom with a few pieces of garlic. I used 2 cloves per jar: you can increase or decrease according to your affection for garlic. Pack in your pickles: they can be left whole, sliced or quartered, the cut will not affect the end result. For fun, I tried all three.

Pickles Assembly

Using a clean wide mouth funnel, fill the jars with the hot brine, enough to cover the cucumbers but leaving about 1/2 inch of clearance at the top. This will allow the preparation to expand slightly while in the hot boiling water without any of the brine spilling over. If the brine spills over, it may affect the air tight seal once the pickles cool off. Once your jars are filled, remove any air pockets by sliding a knife alongside the cucumber slices. Cover with the lids and secure with the metal ring.

At this stage, you have 2 options: you can simply place your jars in the refrigerator and let them «brine» for a few days or you can “can them” for longer storage.

If proceeding with canning: Place your jars in a large pot full of boiling water, completely submerged in the water. Keeping the water boiling, let the jars «cook» for 15 minutes. Once this step is completed, remove jars and place on a thick layer of dish cloths or on a wooden cutting board. To avoid cold shocking the glass which could cause it to crack and break, it is not recommended that the jars be placed directly on a cold surface such as stone counters when they are removed from the hot bath.

Let your jars cool completely. Within an hour or so, the top of the lids should «pop» and the small dot in the middle should pull inwards. If you can press on that dot after a few hours and it still bounces up and down, your seal did not happen and you may have to start the canning process again which may affect the final texture of the pickles.  I recommend instead that you keep the improperly sealed jars in the refrigerator instead.

By skipping the canning process, you save a lot of time. Keep in mind that refrigerator pickles will last about 2 months in the fridge (well, unless your pickle monsters eat them all before the time is up lol). Canned pickles will last up to 12 months without refrigeration, as long as the seal is not broken. Once a jar is opened, it should always be refrigerated. I opted for the canned version for 2 reasons: 1 – I want summer fresh pickles in the dead of winter and 2 – I only have one fridge. But I do have access to a small cold storage space which is perfect to keep my bounty.

Since I am a curious kind, I wanted to see what the difference was between the two ways of pickling. I made 2 jars of pickles using the refrigerator method while I proceeded with the canning process for the rest of my loot. I let both sit for a week before we were all able to taste test the pickles. It demanded quite a bit of willpower to wait that long… For one entire week, I had absolutely no idea what the pickles would taste like! At first, the uncooked pickles still boasted a deep green colour (as you can see in my featured picture) while the others had change slightly to a yellowy green colour reminiscent of store bought pickles. However, after one week in the refrigerator, the raw pickles took on that same yellow shade of green. It is the same principle as making ceviche: vinegar (or other acidic liquids such as lemon juice) «cook» foods without the use of heat.

The results? Both types of pickles taste really good. Both had retained a good crunch and both had been well infused with the wonderful flavours of the brine. Both the King and one of the Princes thought they were fantastic. I thought the spices may be a little overpowering so I will probably adjust to 1 or 1.5 tbsp of pickling spices instead of the 2 tbsp I used.

Happy Go Lucky with What I Have in the Pantry Corn Relish

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This is certainly not the prettiest picture. The colours were amazing in the bowl. I got so involved and excited making this relish I completely forgot to take photos of the step-by-step process…

This relish is fresh and vibrant and slightly runny. It is not of jam consistency because the sugar is kept to a minimum as well as the cooking time in order to maintain the «freshly picked» taste of all the ingredients.

What you need

  • 8-9 ears of corn
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 medium or 3 small peppers: yellow, orange and/or red, finely chopped
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 generous tbsp each coriander and fennel seeds, slightly crushed
  • 2 tbsp grainy mustard (optional)
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

How to make it

  1. This is really too easy!
  2. In a large saucepan or cooking pot, combine the brine ingredients: vinegar, sugar, salt, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, grainy mustard and turmeric. Bring to a boil and turn off heat. Set aside
  3. With a sharp knife, remove the kernels from the cobs and place in a large bowl. Add the chopped onions and peppers. Mix to combine
  4. Add the corn to the brine, mix well and bring back to a boil, cooking for only about 5 minutes. Add the cilantro. Let the entire mixture sit for about 15 minutes. taste and adjust the salt and the cilantro to your taste.
  5. Jar the relish and can using the hot water bath method as explained above

This relish is great on grilled meats, with sausages, fish and on top of burgers and hot dogs.

Mix with equal proportion of sour cream or mayonnaise and voilà! A new interesting dip for vegetables.

Parting words: I hope I have inspired you to dabble in home preserving. I am currently investigating how I can bring a pressure canner into my kitchen world without ruining my stove top. Once (and if) I figure that one out, I will definitely share my findings on this blog. Until then, happy canning everyone! I know what I will be doing in the next few weeks: I feel marinara sauce invading my cold storage room!!!

“Everything but the Kitchen Sink” Lentil Mulligatawny



I owe the discovery of my inner Indian to my beautiful, crazy, Brit friend and cooking soul mate Laura S-C. I met Laura when she applied for the inglorious job of right hand woman in my little tiny café I use to own years ago. This place was so small you could barely turn around without hitting yourself on a wall or a counter. We made everything from scratch, serving breakfast and lunch in a medical building. For the most part, it was just the two of us. I never laughed as hard in my life than when I was working with Laura. The customers adored Laura: she became the star of the shop thanks to her extremely addictive laugh and her amazing personality! She was also an unparalleled kitchen aficionado: not only could she cook, but boy oh boy could this chick ever bake! Some of the recipes she graciously let me keep are now family favourites… Beyond turning out amazing scones, Laura brought her passion for many Indian inspired dishes to the café.

One of the café’s claim to fame was a daily offering of “made from scratch” soup. We had a huge repertoire: a soup seldom made it twice on the menu in the same month. Every morning, the soup of the day was posted for evryone to see on a big blackboard just outside our front entrance. Some of our customers would even ask the day before what soup was on the menu for the next day! The café’s ultimate all time favourite was Laura’s very own rendition of Chicken Mulligatawny soup. This soup was to the café what the flute was to the Pied Piper of Hamelin: magical and cast spelling!!!  The spices’ pungent fragrances would tantalize everyone that walked in or around the restaurant and by the time is was ready to be served, at 11:30  sharp, a line-up had already formed at the door. 

Thanks to this soup, I was introduced to wonderful world of spices: I dig Marco Polo’s travels to the middle and far east!!! Indian cuisine is extemely broad and can be quite intricate, so I will not claim to be a pro nor claim to use the proper techniques: I simply dabble with it… However, I now include in my everyday cuisine many spices that used to be foreign to me and sometimes even a bit intimidating. As much as I enjoyed eating Indian cuisine, it wasn’t until Laura started to marry many of these spices together under my nose that I actually started to use them on a regular basis. This lentil mulligatawny soup is an offspring of Laura’s original chicken mulligatwany: the spice blend is quite similar and the results are equally as good. I am confident that if you were to swap the lentils for chicken and add a little bit of basmati, the results would be pretty close to the one we used to serve at the café.

My lentil mulligatawny includes many different root vegetables but don’t fret over having the exact ones on hand: I simply used the vegetables I had in my fridge. Onions are a must though :). If the ingredient list seems intimidating, keep in mind that the spices account for a good chunk of the list.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbps each coriander seeds, cumin seeds and black mustard seeds, coarsly crushed with a mortar and pestle.
  • 3 tbsp oil, use your favourite neutral oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3-4 celery branches, chopped
  • 2 cups dry brown or green lentil, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 10 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or diced stewed tomatoes
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced in cubes
  • 1 small to medium rutabaga, peeled and diced in cubes
  • 1 each parsnip and sweet potato, peeled and diced in cubes
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp tandoori paste
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamom
  • 8 oz fresh baby spinach
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large stock pot, heat oil on med-high heat. Add the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds and toast for about 2 minutes to release the flavours, stirring constantly
  2. Add the onion and celery and cook until they start to soften
  3. Add the lentils and cook another few minutes
  4. Add the broth & tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle boil. Cover and cook for 30 minutes
  5. While the lentils are cooking, dice all the remaining root vegetables. After 30 minutes, add to pot, bring back ot a gentle boil, cover and cook for another 30 minutes or until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
  6. Stir in the remaining spices and coconut milk. Cook for a few minutes, taste and adjust seasoning. Add salt if needed.
  7. Add the cilantro and spinach and cook until just wilted
  8. Serve! 

This soup keeps well for a few days in the fridge and freezes beautifully

Moroccan Inspired Vegetable Medley

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It’s been crazy cold here in Ottawa these past few weeks. I mean, insanely cold! The media is having a field day calling this cold snap a polar vortex. Even cold weather veterans like us Canadians are shying away from spending anytime outdoor. All this Arctic air is making most of us gravitate towards warm, hearty and comforting meals. This simple yet fragrant vegetable medley fits the bill. Not only do the flavours evoke the white washed landscapes of Casablanca, the entire meal is super healthy and has that “stick to your ribs” qualities. What makes this vegetable stew “Moroccan inspired” is the use of ras el hanout, a spice blend that is to North Africa what Garam Masala is to India. Spice masters in Moroccan markets all have their own secret, special and prized blends. You can probably create your own blend of ras el hanout but be prepared to gather a impressive number of spices. If you are anything like me, buying a pre-blended mixture is more up my alley, Ras el hanout will vary in fragrancy, pungency and flavour depending on the the source and freshness. I would recommend trying to find a spice specialty store instead of relying on mass produced spice blends. What to expect: many floral notes and a bit of sweetness without heat. I favour coarse ras el hanout over powder but the later still delivers a good punch of flavour.

I served my vegetable medley with roasted chicken and orzo. The orzo was a substitute to couscous, which would have been a better option but at the very last minute, I realized I had none in my pantry… So I adapted hahaha! The chicken I simply rubbed with a generous amount of ras el hanout, salt, fresh garlic, pepper and olive oil. To cook it faster, I spatchcocked the chicken as per my post yesterday on chicken soup. An average size spatchcock chicken will roast in about one hour at 375F on convect roast. While the chicken was in the oven, I prepared the vegetables as follows. My total in the kitchen prep time was about 45 minutes.

Moroccan Inspired Vegetable Medley

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4 average carrots, peeled and sliced in half circles
4 average zucchinis, sliced in half circles
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 1/2 tsp ras el hanout
1/2 tsp cinnamon
14 oz (400ml) can diced tomatoes
14 oz (400ml) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

In a large pot, heat oil on med-high heat. Add the onions and carrots. Cook a few minutes, stirring until the onions start to soften. Reduce the heat to medium if the vegetables start to brown. For this recipe, you do not want to caramelized the vegetables. Add the garlic and the ras el hanout. Stir another few minutes to release all the flavours. Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, broth, ginger and cinnamon. Bring to a soft boil and let cook until the carrots are almost tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Add the zucchinis last and cook until they are tender. Serve over couscous or any other grain/small pasta you have on hand.

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