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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

penne with shrimp, roasted brussels sprouts, arugula and pesto

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I had a serendipitous visit from a friend this weekend - the kind of visit where you literally encounter each other in a random parking lot, and then immediately make plans to get together and catch up.  I find these are both the best and worst kind of encounters.  I love them, because it means you catch up with someone awesome that you haven't seen in a while, and then I hate them, because it reminds me of how bad I can be at keeping in touch with people.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

Anyway, she was guilting me that I haven't been posting much lately, so this post is for her.  ;)

Because this meal was also serendipitous.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

This past week, I had diligently made my meal plan using the Fresh 20 service (which I love and use sometimes, but not every week, because I'm too type A to have ALL my meals planned out for me).  The problem is, I got lazy and didn't do the prep work, and then I got busy at work, and couldn't get home in time to make the planned meals.  So it didn't go so well this week (not a knock against the service, which I think is great; more a knock against my organizational skills).

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

The net result is that at the end of the week, I had a bit of a random assortment of ingredients that needed using - arugula, pesto, shrimp and brussels sprouts.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

With the veggie/pesto combination, my first tendency might have been to go for a hearty bean/vegetable soup, but once I started thinking about the shrimp, I decided I really wanted pasta to be involved.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

So this dish is a bit random - it has roasted vegetables (brussels sprouts and red onion), because the roasting takes a lot of the cabbage-y taste out of the sprouts, and turns them a bit sweet and super delicious.  I threw red onion in, because, well, red onion is great roasted.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

 I quickly sautéed the shrimp, and then steamed some greens over top.  I might have been a little overly enthusiastic in the amount of greens I added, but given how good they are for you, I think it's a good amount, as long as you like them.  So basically what I'm saying is that I don't think this dish will convert people to loving greens....but if you DO like them, then you'll love the dish.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

Dark leafy greens are pretty much the healthiest food you can eat, so we should all eat more anyway.  ;)  Plus, this is a great way to use them up if you initially thought you'd gorge yourself on salad, and then you get lazy and end up with a tub of not-rotten-but-well-on-their-way greens.  Stir fry is great for that too.

Last, I had a half-jar of pesto that was set to expire in a few days, so I thought it would be great with this.  I often get the Kirkland brand pesto from Costco, because I love the fresh flavour and the bright green colour.  Given the price of fresh basil in these here parts (about $2 for a tiny little bunch), purchased pesto is definitely the economical choice.

It all came together in a surprising, but super yum dish.  The roasted veggies add some flavour and sweetness, and the greens add a nice earthiness to the dish.  You could easily change up any of the ingredients - roast peppers and mushrooms, change the arugula for spinach, kale or another dark green, skip the shrimp, or use chicken instead.  Sundried tomato pesto would be a good change-up too.  I threw some sundried tomatoes in as well, but I think I should have added them earlier, because they were still a bit on the chewy side.  Still tasty though, and offering little bursts of tomato flavour.

penne with shrimp, roasted brussels sprouts, arugula and pesto
serves 6-8
penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto
1 lb penne (or other pasta)

1 lb brussels sprouts (or other roasting veggie, like peppers/zucchini/eggplant/fennel)
1 red onion
1 T olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper

1 T olive oil
1 lb shrimp (or other protein)
10 oz baby arugula (or baby spinach, or other dark leafy green)
1/4 c. chopped sundried tomatoes
1 small jar pesto (about 1 cup)

1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Prep your brussels sprouts by washing them, trimming the little stem bits, and halving or quartering them, depending on size (mine were pretty big).  Chop your red onion.  Combine the sprouts, onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet (I cover mine with parchment or a silpat to prevent sticking).  Bake for about 35 minutes, stirring half-way through.

2. Now, put a large pot of water on to boil. (now is a good time to set the table or make salad, because you have about 15 minutes to kill here).

3. When you have about 15 minutes left on the oven timer, start preheating a large frying pan for your shrimp.  Add pasta and sundried tomatoes to boiling water (add about 1T salt to the water).  Cook according to package directions (probably around 10 minutes).  Now add the oil to the pan, then the shrimp and cook until they are opaque (this will depend on the size of shrimp - I use 21/27 size and they usually take about 4 minutes).

4. Remove shrimp from pan (but don't clean it out), return pan to heat, and add greens.  They will barely fit, and this is okay.  They shrink a lot.   To help them shrink, I like to get fancy and steal the lid from the pasta pot.  It will take about 5-6 minutes, but if you cover your greens, stir them every couple of minutes, they will quickly wilt.  Return the shrimp to the pan.
4. Using a mug or glass measuring cup, scoop up a bit of the pasta water (no more than a cup).  Drain the pasta when it reaches al dente texture.  Return the pasta to the pan, add in the roasted veggies, the sauteed greens and the shrimp, and combine.  Add in the pesto and stir until covered.  If you find the mixture dry, you can add some of the cooking water.

Enjoy with parmesan cheese and/or pepper.

penne with roasted brussels sprouts, greens, shrimp and pesto

Thursday, January 09, 2014

meatless monday - slow cooker style (vegan curry bowl with grilled 'bellos and basmati rice)

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I'm going to continue in the theme of anachronism, and we'll pretend that it isn't Wednesday, that mini-foodie 2 did not drop a heavy object on the hard drive and thus crash the computer and require a new hard drive and reinstallation of EVERYTHING.  Let's pretend that, shall we?

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

So, on Monday (when I was GOING to share this, until the aforementioned incident), in keeping with my goal of eating more vegetarian and vegan meals (emphasis on the latter) this year, we had a delicious (and satisfying) vegan feast of a crockpot curry with marinated, grilled portobello mushrooms.  Hubs was skeptical when I mentioned the idea, and even more skeptical when he got home and smelled it (apparently kale + slow cooker = whole house smelling like cabbage.....).  I can say, however, that hubs completed enjoyed the end result (can't say the same for the mini-foodies....they are usually pretty good, but they just really didn't love this).

But seriously, what's not to love?  Look at these delicious beauties...

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

Successful slow cooking is a bit of a delicate art - you can go on Pinterest and find five zillion recipes that proclaim that you can cook pretty much ANYTHING in a slow cooker, and while this premise isn't strictly wrong, it is a bit misleading.

One of the things that makes food delicious is contrast in texture and taste.  And when you put a pile of ingredients in a slow cooker for 8-10 hours, while you are away at work, what you have is pretty much the opposite - no contrast in texture and no contrast in taste, because everything tastes the same.  There is the odd throw-it-in dish where this mostly works (like some stew recipes), but a lot of crockpot recipes garner criticisms that they taste like a uniform bowl of mush.  Which they do.

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

So here's my advice on mitigating that, while still staying pretty close to the idea of an easy slow cooker meal (i.e., nothing that requires you to do something every hour or two, because that's just not feasible when you're gone to work for the day, or, huge pet peeve, slow cooker recipes that take five hours - this is seriously NOT helpful).  The key principle to successful slow cooker meals is that you need to add texture and flavour contrast.

One of my most popular recipes (and one that's also been featured on Clean Eating) is my crockpot beef curry, and it in particular works because the chickpeas retain some texture, stirring in peas at the end adds texture and flavour, and when you serve it with the fresh naan and the yogourt sauce, you've added additional layers of flavour and texture, thus building a satisfying crockpot meal and making your belly happy.

I've also pinned a lot of crockpot recipes (haven't tried them all, though I usually do go back and comment once I've made something) and if you look through my board, you'll notice that most of them incorporate added texture/flavour through one method or another.  I think the easiest way to do this is through toppings - things like chopped tomatoes, green onion, yogourt/sour cream, cheese, chopped nuts, avocado, dried fruit, etc. (whatever suits the recipe).

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

To make these curry bowls, I took the initial recipe (which I changed a bit from the inspiration, and which I knew from looking at would be a pile of mush after slow cooking) and topped it with a mixture of tomatoes, cilantro and green onion, as well as some sri racha.  Serving the recipe with the grilled portobello caps added additional texture and flavour contrast and made this an entirely satisfying, delicious (and easy!) dinner.  And not just a bowl of mush like this.

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

For the mushrooms, I reverted YET AGAIN to my favourite salad dressing as a marinade.  I do have to wax poetic (I know, again) about my love of Farm Boy dressings.  LOOK at this ingredient list -

look at the ingredient list - so good!

Isn't it perfect?  How can you go wrong?  Anyway, I did my ultimate in laziness and just poured some dressing over the portobellos in the morning, and then had hubs grill them in the evening while I was chopping my toppings and the rice was cooking - dinner was on the table within 25 minutes of getting home, and that to me is pretty much awesome.

slow cooker vegan curry bowl with grilled portobellos
(modified slightly from Domestic Divas)

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

1 cup lentils (green, brown or French - not red)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons curry powder
3 T curry paste (I used madras)
1 can coconut milk,
2 cups water
salt to taste (about 1/2 t to start)
2-3 cups chopped kale (I would recommend adding this while your rice is cooking, in retrospect, but chop it while you prep the other veggies)

4 portobello mushroom caps
1/3 c your favourite dressing or marinage, or a mixture of 1 part olive oil, one part white wine vinegar, and add some dijon, oregano, fresh garlic, salt and pepper

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

basmati rice (I use 3 scoops in my rice cooker - about 1.5 cups of uncooked)

toppings of choice (tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, hot sauce)

1. Chop the onion, garlic, ginger and sweet potatoes.  Combine in a large bowl with lentils.  Add the tomato paste and stir until it coats things somewhat.  Add curry powder and curry paste and stir (I find this is the best way to distribute the spices for slow cooking - otherwise they clump together).  Add the lentils and stir, so they also get coated.

2. Dump the vegetable mixture in the slow cooker.  Add the coconut milk and water, stir and cook on low for 8 hours. (You can also cook the kale in the slow cooker all day, but like I said above, your house will smell like rotten cabbage and it will lose texture - I'd turn the slow cooker to high when you get home, stir in the kale, and let it cook while you do the rice and other things).

3. Combine the cleaned mushrooms and your marinade.  Refrigerate them and let them sit for 8 hours.

4. When you get home, add the kale (I suggest pre-chopping it if you have time), start the rice, preheat the grill (you could pan-fry if you don't have access to a grill).  While the rice is cooking and the mushrooms are grilling, chop your toppings.

5. Serve a scoop of rice, topped with a ladle of curry, some sliced grilled mushrooms, and a generous handful of toppings (and hot sauce!).  Enjoy!  This will easily feed 4-6 people.

slow cooker sweet potato, lentil and kale curry with marinated grilled portobellos

Enjoy!  Anyone else have any food-related resolutions?  Check out my vegetarian/vegan board if you are looking for inspiration! Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 06, 2014

anachronistic potluck goodies - smoke salmon tart, buffalo chicken dip and salads

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I made a batch of freezer burritos today, and was all proud of myself, so I uploaded a pic to my facebook page....and a friend promptly pointed out that I'd labeled them all with January 2013.  *facepalm*

freezer burritos

In the spirit of going back in time, let's go back a few weeks to the holidays (or really, it could be going forward in time to your next potluck), as I have a few recipes to share that are great for potlucks of all sorts.

I will shamelessly admit that I like to bring the dish that everyone wants the recipe for.  I like cooking, I try to make food that's appealing, so I score it as a win every time someone genuinely likes my food enough to want to know how to make it themselves.  And I always share the recipe.

But with that said, there are varying types of potlucks and varying types of audiences.  Except for the smoked salmon tart, which is probably best at a potluck where you KNOW at least a couple of people like smoked salmon, I do think most of these dishes will work for most potlucks, and while we all love baked brie and nacho dip, somebody else always brings those things.  So here are a few alternatives to spice things up and broaden the potluck horizons.

smoked salmon puff pastry tart

Without fail, one of the recipes I get asked for most often is this buffalo chicken dip.  It's not pretty, so I didn't take a photo of my own, though I have shamelessly stolen the one below from the Frank's website (because it's also not my recipe - it's theirs).  This dip is creamy, spicy and filling.  People just gobble it up.  It's also completely and utterly terrible for you, so eat sparingly.

Photo credit: Frank's

Buffalo Chicken Dip
delicious buffalo chicken dip!

photo and recipe credit: Frank's, with a few mods

1 pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Frank's red hot sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
 2 cups chopped/shredded cooked chicken.
1/2 cup finely shredded aged cheddar

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Combine all ingredients in a 1-quart baking dish.

3. Bake 20 min. or until mixture is heated through; stir. Serve with crackers or vegetables. (I like it with tortilla chips).

To continue in the appetizer vein, a favourite thing for me to make is this smoked salmon tart.  It looks beautiful and fancy, and the best part is that the actual labour involved is relatively low.  It's not fussy to make.  This is ALWAYS a hit with the smoked salmon lovers, and always avoided by everybody else.

But that's okay, because it means more delicious smoked salmon for me.

Smoked Salmon Tart
smoked salmon puff pastry tart

1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry (check label - I like PC brand because it is pre-rolled AND made with some real butter - if you don't get pre-rolled, you'll have to give it a go yourself and it could end up not as nicely shaped)
1/2 c high quality sour cream (high fat, and also check the label for stabilizers like carageenan and guar gum - avoid these for the nicest quality and find one that just contains milk/cream and bacterial cultures)
1/2 package cream cheese
1 T dijon mustard
1 clove minced/crushed garlic
dill (fresh or dried - about 2 T/ 2 t respectively)
salt, pepper
4 oz pre-sliced smoked salmon
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2-3 T capers, roughly chopped (otherwise they roll off)
fresh cracked black pepper
lemon slices

1. Preheat oven to 400 F.  Bake puff pastry sheet for about 20-24 minutes, or until it is nicely golden brown.  You could try pricking it with a fork and scoring it at the edge to keep it from rising, but as you can see, that is a bit of an exercise in futility.  :p

smoked salmon puff pastry tart

2. Let puff pastry cool, and in the meantime, combine the sour cream, cream cheese, mustard, dill, garlic and a bit of salt and pepper.  Once the pastry is cool, spread the cream cheese/sour cream mixture.

3. In terms of presentation, I find it easiest to slice the tart at this point (on a cutting board because it makes a big crumby mess) and carefully transfer the pieces to your serving platter.  I think it slices best into 16 pieces, but you could go smaller (25 pieces) or bigger (9 pieces) depending on the size of your group and how much they like smoked salmon.  Top each slice with a piece of smoked salmon and decorate with slices of shallot, capers and fresh cracked pepper.  Adorn the platter with lemon slices.  Done.

And doesn't it look pretty?

smoked salmon puff pastry tart

My last couple of recipes to share are salads - these recipes are both big crowd pleasers and hold well for a day or two - they are great for picnics or barbecue type potlucks.

The first is a recipe for a kale, wild rice, pomegranate and feta salad that I take ZERO credit for - it's from Lindsay at Pinch of Yum, but I can say that I've made it three times in the last month (pomegranates are in season!) and it's been a hit every time.  I love the texture contrast between the pomegranate, kale, wild rice and nuts, and the salty touches of feta are perfect.  I use pecans in this recipe, because that's usually what I have around the house, and I don't sauté the onion for the dressing (mostly due to laziness). I'm not going to re-post here, because I don't have a lot to add, but look how beautiful it is (and her photos are gorgeous, as you can see here):

gorgeous salad from Pinch of Yum
photo credit: Pinch of Yum

So that's why you should make it.

Last thing I'm sharing is a VERY simple recipe for greek pasta salad - I love this one because it's ever so slightly outside the yucky mayo pasta salad box, and pretty much everyone will try it and enjoy it.  This comes together really quickly and makes a good-sized batch, so it's great for a crowd.  I usually just purchase greek salad dressing (I love Farm Boy's), but you could use your personal favourite greek dressing recipe as well (I love the FB one because the ingredient list is so short that it's pretty much the same as homemade!).

Quick Greek Pasta Salad
greek pasta salad
1 lb box pasta (penne, fusilli, corkscrews or bowties work well)
1 large green pepper
1 large red pepper
1 cucumber
1 small red onion (if it's really pungent, go easy on the onion)
2 cups small tomatoes (grape/cherry - leave them whole if you want your salad to have shelf-life, as cut tomatoes go mushy)
1 cup kalamata olives
200 g crumbled feta (give or take)
1.5 cups greek salad dressing (give or take)

1. Cook pasta according to instructions for al dente.  When the pasta is cooked, rinse it repeatedly in cold water until it is cool and the sticky starch is gone.

2. Chop the peppers, cucumber and onion to bite-sized pieces.

3. Combine the cooled pasta with the chopped vegetables, tomatoes, olives, feta and salad dressing.

And you're done.  It's that easy.  Amounts on this are very forgiving - if you have more or less of a given ingredient, it will still be great (case in point, I was SUPER short on olives for this batch and it was still a hit!).

Anyway, I know this wasn't the most focused post, but hopefully you've got a few ideas now for potlucks (or even just lunches, because these salads are EPIC).

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

resolutions...wha????? (with bacon, lobster, cream and pasta)

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I could start the year out with a nice, healthy recipe that would help you all out in your healthy eating resolutions.

But I'm not going to.

I made this pasta last night, and even though it isn't terribly photogenic, it's too tasty not to share.  This recipe would work well without the lobster, or with shrimp/other shellfish, and you could even omit the bacon to make it vegetarian (but seriously....BACON).

The dish comes together in about 25 minutes, so despite the level of indulgence and deliciousness, it's completely do-able on most busy nights. Hubs snapped the pic on his phone, so it's not great, but trust me, this is delicious.

penne with lobster and portobello pesto cream sauce
pasta with portobello and pesto cream sauce, topped with lobster tails
1 lb penne (or other pasta of choice)
1 lb shellfish (optional --> lobster tails!!!!!)
4 slices bacon, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
4 cups mushrooms (sliced/chopped --> I used two enormous portobello caps; I recommend a portobello or wild mushroom mix here, if you can, for added flavour)
3 cloves garlic
1.5 T butter
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/2 c dry white wine
1.5 c whipping cream (35%) (you could substitute evaporated milk if you were trying to be healthier, but don't substitute normal milk or cream because they will separate when boiled)
1/3 c good quality pesto (I like kirkland signature from Costco)
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Fill a large (6 qt) pot 3/4 full with water and heat on high until boiling.

2. Meanwhile, preheat a large skillet and put your bacon in the pan, and saute until it's semi-cooked and you have a nice glaze of bacon fat (remember, I told you this wasn't healthy!).  Add the shallots, and cook for about 3-4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, cook for another 5 minutes or so, then add garlic.  Cook this until the mushrooms have finished releasing water, and the whole thing has started to try out a little bit.  Add the butter. Your mushrooms will cook down a LOT.  Add the balsamic vinegar and quickly stir it around.  This gives the mixture the slightest hint of sweetness and acidity.

3. By now, your water is probably boiling.  Drop in your shellfish and cook for 3-4 minutes (cook time will depend on the size of your lobster/shrimp).  You want to cook it in the shell, because the shell will add flavour to the water, which will in turn flavour your pasta.  Remove the shellfish from the water without dumping the water, and strain out any bits of shell.  Let shellfish cool a bit.

4. Deglaze the mushroom pan with white wine - I used a cheap sauvignon blanc, but the rule of thumb is to pick a wine you would drink - I'd recommend a bolder, dry wine for this.  Scrape the pan and get all the good bits.  Add the whipping cream, mix it all in and let this mixture bubble away until it reaches the consistency of a nice thick sauce.

5. Once your seafood is out of the pasta water, add about 1 T of salt, then add the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions (somewhere between 8-12 minutes, depending on your pasta shape).

6. Drain the pasta, but don't rinse it.  Optional: keep back 1 c of pasta water in case you need more sauce.

7. Return pasta to pot.  Add mushroom cream mixture and stir.  Then stir in pesto (I leave the pesto until last because Kirkland is a raw pesto and heating it changes the flavour.  Serve in bowls, topped with shellfish, a bit of grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh cracked pepper.  Salt to taste.

Enjoy!  Hope everyone had a great NYE and wishing you all a very happy new year.  Any exciting food-related resolutions to share?

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