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  • Blackened Tilapia Tacos with Jalapeno Sour Cream

    Taco done

    I've always read about 'Fish Tacos', but have never gotten around to making them, until last night. I previously had a very bad experience with 'blackened' fish, with a recipe containing cayenne pepper. Our oven doesn't have a fan overtop of it, so when blackening the fish the kitchen quickly filled with a horrible, suffocating smoke that had Ben and I running to the door gasping for air. Fearing a repeat of this event, there's no cayenne on this fish but still lots of spices and flavour. Feel free to add a bit of cayenne if you have an oven fan!

    The tacos are served with a jalapeno spiced sour cream. Made in my most favourite mini cuisinart food processor!

    Sauce blender

    Blend of spices:

    SpicesLime

    I used tilapia but any mild white fish would work well. I found it easiest to break the fish apart with two forks.Fish pullapartSauce on fish

    Blackened Tilapia Tacos with Jalapeno Sour Cream

    1/4 cup sour cream
    2 tbsp lime juice
    1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

    1 1/2 tsp paprika
    1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
    1 tsp dried oregano
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp cumin
    1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
    4 tilapia fillets
    1 tbsp canola oil

    Corn tortillas
    Avocado slices
    Lime wedges

    Combine sour cream, lime juice, and jalapeno in a food processor until smooth.

    Combine paprika, brown sugar, oregano, salt, cumin, and red pepper. Sprikle evenly over both sides of fish. Heat oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add fish to pan and cook 3 min per side or until cooked through.

    Flake fish into pieces using two forks. Serve on corn tortillas with avocado and fresh lime juice.


  • Soup & Beans

    I picked up a cookbook recently 'Color Me Vegan' by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Not that I'm vegan, but I'm always looking for ways to make meat less of the main part of the meal. I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but Ben is convinced that it is hard to be full without consuming meat. I'm slowly trying to prove him wrong.

    Attempt #1 - Green Soup & 'Drunken' Beans - two recipes adapted from the 'Color Me Vegan' cookbook. Keep in mind that these recipes are NOT vegan! I substitute regular dairy products.

    soup

    Green Soup

    3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled & cubed
    2 medium sweet onions, chopped
    6 cups vegetable stock
    1/2 pound (about 250g) fresh baby spinach
    1/4 cup minced fresh dill
    8 fresh basil leaves
    1/2 cup milk
    2 tsp honey
    Juice from 1/2 lemon
    Sour cream for topping

    Add the potatoes, onion, and stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

    Add the spinach, dill, and basil, and leave for one minute. Use a hand blender to puree the soup. You could also transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor for this step.

    Stir in the milk, honey, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. We had this with a bit of sour cream and it was delicious!

    beans

    'Drunken' Beans

    1 tbsp oil
    1 yellow onion, diced
    1 red pepper, diced
    2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tbsp chili powder
    2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
    1 bottle beer (we used a gluten free beer)
    2 tbsp brown sugar
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp pepper
    1/3 cup fresh parsley (or you could use cilantro)

    Heat the oil in a large pot. Add onion and saute about 5 min, until soft. Add red pepper, jalapenos, cumin and chili powder and cook for 5 minutes.

    Add the beans, beer, brown sugar, salt and pepper, reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Serve sprinkled with parsley.

    Results:

    We really liked both of these dishes. I was surprised by how good the soup was - I wasn't sure how spinach, dill, and basil would taste together but the flavours worked really well. Ben loved the beans, and I think they kept him full for more than an hour!

  • Chicken Enchiladas

    I've always been a big fan of Mexican food but have never really tried to make any at home. This recipe is a combination of many recipes I've read for enchiladas, chimichangas, burritos, etc. Not really sure what exactly to call this one but I think the result was great! Lots of great flavour (from the cumin and chili) and fairly easy to make.

    Shredding the chicken with two forks makes it flaky, which is nicer to have in the rolls than larger chunks of chicken.

    Cutting chickenMixingRollingFinished

    Chicken Enchiladas aka Mexican Flavoured Chicken Rolls!

    3 cups cooked chicken, shredded with two forks
    1 small can green chiles
    1/4 cup chopped green onion
    1.5 cups shredded sharp cheddar, divided
    1 tsp dried oregano
    1/4 tsp ground cumin
    1/4 tsp chili powder
    1 garlic clove, minced
    1/2 tsp ground black pepper
    1/2 tsp salt
    1.5 cups refried beans
    6 large tortillas
    1 cup salsa
    Sour cream

    Preheat oven to 400F.

    Combine chicken, chiles, green onions, 1/2 cup of cheese, oregano, chili powder, garlic, pepper, and salt.

    Spread 1/4 cup refried beans along bottom of first tortilla. Add about 1/2 cup of chicken mixture. Roll up and place on baking sheet, seam side down. Bake for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, top evenly with salsa and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake for an additional 2 minutes or until cheese has melted. Server with a dollop of sour cream.

  • Butternut Squash Risotto

    Squash

    Ok, so I'm back from a short hiatus (ok, maybe it would be referred to as a long hiatus), but the summer was very busy and there was not much cooking going on around this house!

    However, there's no time like the present to get back into cooking again. The leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler, and whispers of fall are definately in the air. Squashes of all kinds are popping up at farmer's markets and the grocery stores, so what better time to try out a warm fall butternut squash risotto?

    I've made risotto before, and although it takes a little time stirring and standing beside the stove, the end result is worth it. Creamy and flavourful, it's the perfect comfort food to welcome in the cooler weather.


    Garlic
    ingredients
    pancettarisotto

    Butternut Squash Risotto with Pancetta

    2 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (1/2 inch pieces)
    1 tbsp olive oil
    2 tsp minced fresh garlic
    4 cups chicken broth
    1/3 cup pancetta, finely chopped
    1 cup onion, finely chopped
    1 1/4 cup uncooked arborio rice
    1/2 cup white wine
    Salt and pepper
    1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

    Preheat oven to 400F. Toss together squash and olive oil, and arrange in single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, stir in garlic, and set aside.

    Bring broth to a simmer in a saucepan (not to a boil). Keep warm over low heat.

    Heat a large saucepan (not frying pan) over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add onion, cook 3 minutes. Add dry rice, cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine, cook 1 minute or until liquid is nearly absorbed. Begin adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each portion to absorb before adding next. Continue to do this until all broth has been absorbed and rice has creamy consistency. Remove from heat.

    Stir in squash, parmesan, and S+P to taste.

  • Roasted Vegetable and Shrimp Pasta

    Roasted veg 1

    I don't know why I've waited so long to incorporate roasted vegetables into our meals. Roasted potatoes, sure. But much beyond that, I always use some other method of cooking. But roasting, oh it makes everything slightly sweeter and delicious! Even those that start bitter (onions) end up having a great sweet taste.

    Not to mention how easy it is. I chopped up whatever vegetables we had (red pepper, zucchini, eggplant, and red onion) into bite sized pieces, tossed in a bowl with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes, mixing once after 20 minutes.

    And here was the result!
    Roasted veg 2

    While the vegetables were cooking, I made a quick pasta sauce:
    Sautee 1/2 diced onion and 2 cloves diced garlic in a bit of olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes and cook one minute more. Reduce the heat to medium, and add one can diced tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, puree with a hand blender (or leave as is for a chunkier sauce). Season to taste.

    We had some shrimp in the freezer, so I defrosted them, sprinkled with S&P, and pan fried about 3 minutes per side or until just cooked through.

    Cook as much of whatever kind of pasta you would like.

    Layer cooked pasta, tomato sauce, roasted veggies, and shrimp. Top with some fresh grated parmesan. Delicious!

    Roasted veg pasta

  • Beef Stew

    Beef Stew

    It's March 1st today, and it has come in like...well, not quite like a lion, but not quite like a lamb. But the days are slowly getting longer. The sun is lingering in the sky for a few more minutes each day and I'm sure spring is just around the corner.

    But in the meantime, damp cold days call for warm comforting meals, and this is surely one that will chase away the winter blahs. Ben's mom, Diane, is a simply amazing cook. Straight from her recipe collection, we've had this at her house many times in the past, always leaving so satisfied and happy. A few months ago I asked her for the recipe to recreate this feeling in our own house, and now I hope others can enjoy the same!

    Gone All Day Stew (courtesy of Diane Belanger)

    2 lbs beef chuck or round steak cut into cubes
    3 tbsp corn starch (dissolved in cold water)
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    2 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp pepper
    1/2 tsp dried thyme
    1 dried bay leaf
    1 15oz can tomato sauce
    1 can beef stock (most of these have wheat in them; however, Campbell's boxed 25% less sodium beef broth is for some reason GF)
    1 cup red wine
    2 medium carrots, cut into bite sized pieces
    2 yellow potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
    1 package fresh pearl onions

    Preheat oven to 300F

    In a dutch oven or heavy casserole pan, combine all ingredients except onions. Cover and bake 4-5 hours.

    Peel the pearl onions. This can be done by placing them in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes. Put them directly into an ice bath. One by one, take the pearl onions from the ice bath, cut off the root end, and then pop the onion out of it's skin. The effort is worth it, the sweet little onions in the stew are delicious!

    After the stew has been cooking for 4-5 hours, remove, add the skinned pearl onion, and put back in oven for another hour.

  • Quinoa Tabbouli and Falafel with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

    Quinoa falafel

    I've always loved tabbouli but since it's always made with bulgur (cracked wheat), we've never been able to have it here. A few weeks ago I was flipping through a vegetarian cookbook by Moosewood Restaurant (they have many amazing vegetarian cookbooks) and found a recipe for tabbouli made with quinoa! So of course I had to try it. And some falafel made with gluten free bread crumbs. And some cucumber yogurt sauce (tzatziki). Everything complemented each other really well! Traditionally you would probably eat the falafel in a pita with the sauce inside.

    Quinoa pilafFalafel side

    Quinoa Tabbouli (from Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook)

    1 cup uncooked quinoa
    2 cups water
    1/4 tsp salt
    1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
    1 red pepper
    2 green onions
    1 clove garlic
    1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh parsley leaves
    2 tbsp lemon juice
    1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

    Rinse the quinoa in a mesh strainer. Bring the quinoa, water, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce, cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork.

    While the quinoa is cooking, finely chop the pepper, green onion, garlic, parsley, and mint. Add to serving bowl with cooked quinoa. Pour on lemon juice and olive oil and mix well. Salt and pepper to taste.

    Falafel

    1/4 cup red onion
    1 tbsp dijon mustard
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp paprika
    1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
    1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used gluten free)
    2 eggs
    1/2 tsp black pepper
    1/4 tsp salt
    2 tbsp olive oil

    Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor and pulse until well blended. The mixture will be quite wet.

    Preheat non-stick frying pan over medium high head and add olive oil. Spoon about 2 tbsp per patty onto pan. Allow to cook 4 minutes per side or until cooked through.

    Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

    1 cup plain yogurt
    1 tbsp lemon juice
    1 cup peeled grated cucumber
    1 tbsp fresh chopped mint

    Squeeze excess water out of grated cucumber. Combine all ingredients in bowl and mix well.

  • Quinoa Stuffed Red Peppers

    Quinoa stuffed peppers

    Ben is convinced that if a meal does not contain meat, it will not make him full. Often our meals start by choosing some meat that we have on hand and creating a recipe from there. I'm trying to get away from that way of thinking, even if it's for just a few times a week.  I'm trying to prove that there can be fullness without meat!

    I picked up a book from the library recently called How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. It's about 1000 pages of how to cook every non-meat dish you could possibly think of. I found a recipe of rice stuffed tomatoes, and below they talked about a variation with quinoa stuffed peppers. Well, that sounded delicious. So I made it. And it was!

    Quinoa veggiesEmpty peppersStuffed peppers

    Quinoa generally needs to be rinsed before using as the outside layer contains saponin which can make the cooked quinoa taste bitter. I usually put the quinoa in a sieve and then place the sieve in a bowl. This way you can fill the bowl, shake the quinoa around in the water a few times, lift up the sieve to dump the water, and start the process over again. I usually rinse about 4 or 5 times.

    Quinoa Stuffed Red Peppers

    1 cup quinoa, rinsed
    2 cups chicken broth
    1 small dried chili pepper
    1 clove garlic
    1 leek, white and light green parts
    1 medium onion
    4 red peppers
    2 tbsp olive oil
    1/2 tsp cumin
    1/2 tsp smoked paprika
    1/2 tsp ground coriander
    1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
    1/4 cup grated parmesan
    1 cup drained and rinsed black beans
    1/4 cup grated cheese (for melting on top, we used old cheddar)

    Preheat the oven to 450.

    In a medium sized saucepan, combine the quinoa, broth, and chili pepper. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

    Meanwhile, dice the leeks and onion, and mince the garlic. Saute these with a bit of olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

    When the quinoa has finished cooking, fluff with a fork and remove the chili peppers. Mix the olive oil with the cumin, paprika, coriander, and black pepper. Pour this mixture into the quinoa and mix until combined. Add the sauteed vegetables, black beans, and parmesan and mix. Set the quinoa mixture aside.

    Cut the tops off of the four red peppers and remove the white parts from the inside. I used a spoon to do this, just scraping up the sides. Salt and pepper the inside of the peppers. Stuff the peppers with the quinoa mixture, replace the pepper tops, and place in a lightly greased baking dish. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the peppers are soft and the stuffing is hot. At the last minute, we removed the peppers, sprinked some shredded cheese on top, and returned them to the oven under the broiler for a few minutes.

    We served ours with a bit of sour cream and salad.

    Ben was full after two of them.


  • Simplicity

    Building on basics

    I find that I often use the word 'simple' to describe my recipes, but I think this might give the wrong impression. I usually lean towards making unfussy but flavourful things, trying to find the best way to use ingredients to maximize their natural flavours. Today's post isn't so much a recipe as some ideas, and how I took the plain chicken and rice we had in the kitchen and made the meal above...which was delicious!

    For the rice, I sauted some diced onion in olive oil in the pot I was going to cook the rice in. I then added basmati and lower sodium chicken stock (whatever your instructions tell you is the correct ratio). The lower sodium chicken stock adds a lot of flavour, and I find even the low sodium one still has quite a bit of salt in it. I let the rice cook according to the instructions, and meanwhile toasted some pinenuts in a dry pan over medium heat, moving them around often and taking them off the heat as soon as they start to brown. Toasted nuts are amazing, and if I'm going to add nuts to a recipe I usually toast them first. When the rice was done, I took it off the heat, added the toasted pine nuts, some chopped green onion, and some chopped fresh basil.

    I sprinkled the chicken with a bit of salt and pepper, prepared a pan over medium heat with some olive oil, and pan fried until cooked through (according to a meat thermometer, or until the juices run clear). We had red peppers, and roasting them really brings out their sweetness, so I cut them in half, placed them cut side down on a baking sheet, and baked them in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the skins are blackened. Pull them out of the oven and place them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Allow them to sit for about 15 minutes, this will allow the steam to loosen the skins. Remove from the bowl, peel the skins off, and ta-da! Roasted red peppers. Alternatively, you can buy roasted red peppers in a jar. Saves a bit of time.

    I layered the roasted red peppers on top of the chicken, grated some extra old cheese on top (I'm pretty sure everything is better with cheese on it) and some fresh basil. I popped them in the oven under the broiler just for a few minutes to melt the cheese and they were done.

    So! There's a million options for both the chicken and the rice here. For the chicken, you could add sundried tomatoes, some diced cooked bacon or prosciutto, any different kind of cheese, etc. For the rice, you could always add spices when adding the rice and broth, or try other kinds of toasted nuts, or even adding other diced vegetables at the end.

    I used to feel that if I didn't follow a recipe exactly it would end up being a disaster. Well, I've had plenty of disasters, but also plenty of great meals by just throwing together things in the kitchen! Hm, I feel like the spokesperson for a Chef at Home episode...

  • Sage & Parmesan Crusted Pork Chops

    Sage Pork1

    HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Ok, it's been the new year for over a week now...but better late than never! I had a wonderful holidays full of family, friends, and lots and lots of food. Not food that I made, but everywhere we went delicious treats and meals were put in front of us. In fact, I could probably count on one hand the number of meals I made here in my own kitchen. It was nice being spoiled for a few weeks but my own kitchen is calling me. I received a couple of new cookbooks for Christmas (thanks, Corey!) and have already tabbed many recipes that I can't wait to try.

    I find it is sometimes hard to find 'fresh' flavours during the winter months. Fruits and vegetables aren't as vibrant and flavourful as they are during the summer. Tomatoes have gone from bright red to a dullish pinky-green. Strawberries may look beautiful from the outside, but cut into one and find a white, flavourless fruit masquerading as a strawberry. So to find fresh taste in the winter I usually turn to fresh herbs. Even in the dead of winter I find they can bring a really bright taste to dishes. A few days ago when at the grocery store, I picked up fresh basil, thyme, and sage, and used them as a starting point for searching for a recipe.

    I have been reading up on pan-frying lately, since it has always been difficult to make a good crust with gluten free ingredients. I would usually just pass by any recipe that involved a coating, assuming I wouldn't be able to make it. But now I've got a different mid set and decided to try substituting and see how it turned out.

    Creating a 'crust' on something usually requires three steps:

    1. Dusting with flour. Instead of flour I used cornstarch and found it worked really well.

    2. Egg/egg white mixture. To this step you could add any wet seasoning (mustard, lemon/lime juice, etc.)

    3. Breadcrumbs, crushed crackers, panko - whatever is going to add that 'crunch' to the coating. I actually found gluten free breadcrumbs! (Is this considered cheating?) Now that I've got a box of them I feel the need to coat everything in a crunchy GF breadcrumb layer.

    Sage Pork Setup

    And a couple of hints about pan frying:
    1. Don't overcrowd the pan. If your pieces are too close together they will trap moisture and end up steaming instead of developing a crispy crust.
    2. Only cook each side once. Flipping back and forth between sides could start to knock off the crust.
    3. Serve immediately. It will lose its crispyness and start to become soggy.

    Sage Pork PanSage Pork 2

    Sage & Parmesan Crusted Porkchops (adapted from Cooking Light: Way to Cook)

    4 thin boneless pork chops, pounded between two sheets of parchment paper to about 1/2 ince thickness (this allows the inside of the pork to cook quickly and stay moist)
    1 cup GF breadcrumbs
    1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
    1/4 cup parmesan (fresh is best!)
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/4 tsp pepper
    1/2 cup corn starch
    2 whites, lightly beated
    1 tsp mustard
    1 tbsp olive oil

    Set up your bowls in this order (I used wide shallow bowls):
    1st bowl: Cornstarch
    2nd bowl: Egg whites combined with mustard
    3rd bowl: Breadcrumbs combined with sage, parmesan, salt and pepper

    Doing one pork chop at a time, dip the first pork chop into the cornstarch, shake off any excess. Next, dip into egg mixture. Finally, dip into breadcrumb mixture, again shaking off any excess. Place pork chop on plate and continue until you have coated all four.

    Heat a large nonstick pan to medium heat. Add oil to pan. Add pork chops, making sure they are now crowding the pan. Cook 3-4 minutes per side, or until a thermometer reads 155-160F.

    We served with thyme mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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