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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

greek-ish phyllo chicken pie

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Sometimes you come across a dish that is so pretty and so appealing that you just have to make it.

chicken and rice pie with phyllo This was one of those times.  I came across this spanakopita pie on the Steven and Chris website and it was just too beautiful not to attempt.  Of course, it would have been helpful if I had planned a little better and, you know, actually bought all the groceries needed.

But hey, necessity is the mother of invention, and I think my modified version turned out really well!

Just one note - I didn't find that 1 hr at 350F was enough to get the phyllo truly cooked, so I'd up the temperature to 375F (just use foil on top to keep the top from browning too much). You can see my pastry is a bit anemic here - I think an increase of temperature would do the trick for sure!

chicken and rice pie with phyllo - see how I should have baked it longer/at a higher temp?

This recipe is great because it's an all-in-one dinner and looks so pretty.  Mine didn't stay together quite as well as I would have liked, but I think that too would be rectified by both longer baking and longer resting, so I've adjusted the instructions accordingly.  This is a bit labour-intensive - even with having the chicken pre-cooked, and the rice pre-cooked, it took about 45 minutes to put together, and then an hour to bake.  So learn from my fail and don't try this on a weeknight.  :p  Otherwise you may or may not have to feed your hangry kids grilled cheese while the delicious dinner (which they then won't eat) ends up eaten only by you.  Did I mention this serves like 10 people? omnomnom, indeed.

greek-ish phyllo chicken pie
Makes 10 to 12 servings

chicken, rice and vegetable phyllo pie

2 ½ cups  cooked long grain rice (about 1 cup uncooked rice)
1 ½ lbs (750 g) cooked skinless, boneless chicken breasts or skinless boneless thighs, or a combination of both (I cooked some chicken the day before in the slow cooker, but whatever your favourite cooking method is would work - grilled, poached, etc.)
1 grated zucchini
1 chopped red pepper
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
1 c grated aged cheddar
1T dried dill
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 minced shallot
1 crushed clove garlic
3 large eggs
½ tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
12 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed according to package instructions
¼  cup olive oil Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Oil a 9 inch (23 cm) spring form pan with oil and set aside. 

3. Place cooked rice into a large mixing bowl. Cut chicken into small bite size pieces and add to rice.

4. Grate zucchini and chop red pepper.  Add them, along with feta, cheddar, dill, parsley, shallot and garlic, to the chicken and rice.  Stir together.

5.  In a small bowl, whisk together the 3 eggs with the salt and pepper. Add eggs into bowl with rice mixture. Mix ingredients together until evenly combined. Set aside.

6.  Lay the thawed phyllo out onto a clean surface. Lightly brush one sheet with oil, on one side only.

7. Place phyllo sheet, oil side up, in prepared spring form pan so that one end is inside the pan (try to cover as much of the base as possible). The rest of the phyllo sheet will be hanging over, and outside the rim of the pan. Repeat this step 7 more times, rotating the pan a bit each time, so that you end up with 8 layers of phyllo lining the the pan, and so that the entire edge of the pan has phyllo pastry hanging over, and outside the rim of the pan

8. Before filling the pie, lift the overhanging edges and fold them into the pan, all around, so that you are creating a layered pastry lined wall of the pie. Press the pastry firmly into the sides of the pan to give the shell structure.

9. Turn rice and chicken mixture into pie shell.  Brush the remaining phyllo, one sheet at a time, with oil. Rip (or cut) each sheet into 4 pieces and gently crumple the pieces into a very loose ball. One by one, place the scrunched phyllo balls on top of the filling to cover the whole pie. Lightly brush the top with the remaining oil. Place a piece of foil over the pan.

10. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 minutes more, or until the top is golden. Remove to a rack to cool slightly before releasing spring form ring. Serve in a platter. Use a sharp knife to cut into wedges.

I just loved how this looked in the pan, and the taste was great too!

Monday, April 14, 2014

it's not nutella on toast

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I'm probably not alone when I admit a true affection for nutella.  There is something about the luxurious combination of chocolate and hazelnuts that just makes me's so delicious.  My kids probably aren't alone in that they too love nutella (they've only had it a few times, but it was an instant classic with them).

better than nutella breakfast

With that said, I don't normally buy nutella.  Not just because when it's in my cupboard, I develop an uncontrollable urge to DIP ALL THINGS in nutella (strawberries, marshmallows [hey - don't judge!], oranges, etc.)...but also because it's really not very good for you.  It's full of sugar, scant on nuts and just generally, not a very wholesome thing to eat. It's about as nutritious as chocolate frosting. So I don't have it on regular rotation.  Usually what happens is that I buy it to make popsicles (1/3 c nutella, 1 1/3 c milk, blend together and freeze in a popsicle maker...not healthy, but really, really delish).

So get back on track, I would love to have nutella for breakfast.  My kids would also love to have nutella for breakfast.  But given that I try to be make sure we eat a mostly healthy diet, I just don't see nutella as an appropriate choice for everyday.

So I've got an alternative for you.  This is so simple, it barely counts as a recipe.  In fact, I don't think it counts as a recipe at all, because it certainly does not take a genius to slap a couple of things on toast.  But it's really good, and it (for me and the mini-foodies, at least) completely satisfies the nutella craving, while giving you a breakfast that won't send your blood sugar skyrocketing the way nutella would.

The secret is natural hazelnut butter.  You might have to hunt for it a bit - I love the stuff from Nuts to You - I can find it at my local Sobeys, but Canadian readers will also be able to purchase it from  There are a number of manufacturers of hazelnut butter, but the key thing you want to look for is that the ingredients are 100% hazelnuts.  I will warn you, it's not cheap (quite a bit more expensive than nutella).  But there's a reason for that....this stuff contains 100% hazelnuts, which are not cheap.  nutella contains mostly sugar and oil, which are cheap (19g of nutella has 11g of sugar) - it only contains about 13% hazelnuts.

quik + hazelnut butter

(sorry for the blurry photo - apparently I shouldn't take photos before coffee)

So once you have found hazelnut butter, all you need to do is spread your (whole grain) toast with hazelnut butter, and then drizzle with the tiniest amount of chocolate syrup.  A while back, hubs bought some Quik syrup, so I have that on hand, but the important thing is that the syrup be relatively thin, so you can just drizzle a tiny amount.  My English muffin (the two pieces together) has 3g of syrup...that's all it took to make me happy and give me a delicious blast of chocolate.  If you have a little more time, you could melt a tiny bit of dark chocolate, or even try this recipe for your own homemade chocolate syrup.  All that's really important (in terms of keeping it healthy) is that you just need a tiny bit of chocolate - roasted hazelnuts have a wonderful natural sweetness that goes.  Nutella might make you think you need a lot of sugar, but you really don't.

better than nutella breakfast

Mini-foodie one also enjoyed hers in a whole wheat tortilla, rolled up with sliced banana.  I think it would be even better with strawberries.

So this is how I satisfy nutella cravings for both me and the mini-foodies, while keeping things a bit more balanced.  Hubs thinks we are crazy because he does not understand the wonderful wonderful thing that is nutella.  ;)

it's not nutella on toast
(not really a recipe)

better than nutella breakfast

1 whole grain English muffin
1 T 100% hazelnut butter
1/2 t chocolate syrup

1. Toast bread.  Add nut butter.  Drizzle with syrup.

Thanks for reading!  What are your favourite mostly-healthy breakfasts?

Friday, April 11, 2014

raisin hazelnut overnight French toast

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raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

Here in Ottawa, we are lucky enough to have a truly fantastic bakery called Art-is-in.  Their breads, pastries and sandwiches as well-known both in the region and beyond for being amazing.  If ever you find yourself in the unassuming City Centre around lunchtime, you absolutely MUST go there for lunch - the sandwiches are super crazy good and I pretty much dream of their spicy pickle melt every night.

I stopped by there earlier this week, not to get a sandwich (lines are crazy at noon, but if you go at around 11:30, it's usually not too bad), but to grab some of their dynamite loaves to bring to a party.  While grabbing those (I got kalamata olive and cheddar jalapeno), I also snagged a loaf of their raisin hazelnut sourdough.  Hazelnuts are my favourite nut, so I've always loved this bread - I like it plain and lightly toasted, but where it really excels is in a baked French toast.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

I was first introduced to the concept of overnight French toast by the epicurious creme brulee version (which is fantastic, btw).  I love that you just take five minutes at night to throw together a super quick dish, and then in the morning, you pop it in the oven and have a delicious breakfast that's ready for everyone.  One of the downfalls of stove-top French toast is that you can only do 2-3 slices at a time, and even then, if you crowd the pan, cooking is uneven, and to top it off, you spend the whole morning standing over a hot stove.

Baked French toast gives you the deliciousness without any of the irritation.  It's not *quite* the same as stovetop, but if you are a French toast fan, I think this is worth a try.  I just set my alarm an hour early, put it in a cold oven and then went back to bed, and woke back up the the smell of delicious richness wafting through my house.

One little tip - if you don't have time to bring your casserole to room temperature, I highly recommend putting it in a cold oven, and just baking for a bit longer.  Cold pyrex + hot oven is just asking for trouble, so to avoid any issues, I put the dish in the oven, then turn it on.  That way, it heats up along with the oven and you should avoid any pyrex shattering issues.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

I normally go for cinnamon with my French toast, but I wanted the bread to be the star, so I kept the flavouring a bit milder - I used just under an ounce of Captain Morgan's black spiced rum (though vanilla extract would do the trick too), and the zest of about 1/4 of an orange.  Just enough to provide a bright note to cut through the richness of the sourdough and custard.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

If you aren't lucky enough to have access to a great bakery, this would also be great with a cinnamon raisin loaf (though try to buy one you can slice yourself).  Overnight French toast is best with a hardier bread (rather than a sandwich loaf), so a baguette would give you equally great results - you could just sprinkle frozen blueberries and slivered almonds, or really any flavour combination that struck your fancy.  You can also use thin slices of bread and create sandwiches with cream cheese and preserves for a stuffed French toast.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

The concept is simple, the execution is simple, but the possibilities are endless and the freaking good.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

overnight raisin-hazelnut French toast
(can be adapted to use any type of bread)

1 loaf raisin-hazelnut sourdough or other crusty bread, sliced thick
1.5 cups milk (I used almond milk because I was out of normal milk....any milk would work)
5 eggs
2 T brown sugar
2 T dark spiced rum (could substitute 1 T vanilla)
1/4 t orange zest
pinch of salt

1. Take your sliced loaf and arrange it in a 9x13 as best as you can.  I sliced my slices in half to try to fit as much as possible in my pan.

2. Whisk the eggs with the brown sugar.  Gradually add the milk (your custard will blend better this way).  Whisk in the rum, orange zest and pinch of salt.

3. Pour the custard over the bread, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

4. In the morning, remove the plastic wrap, place in a cold oven, turn the oven to 350F and bake for about 50 minutes (if you have time for the dish to come to temperature, you need only bake for 35-40 minutes).

5. Enjoy with maple syrup.  Because it's the season.  ;)

Best. Weekday. Breakfast. Ever.

raisin-hazelnut sourdough French toast

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

balance and carrot-ginger dressing

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sausage with kale and carrot ginger dressing

I make a concerted effort to eat healthy foods most of the time.  You know - the good stuff - vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, lean protein, etc.  I firmly support Michael Pollan's oft-quoted eating mantra: "Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants."

Seems like a good idea.

But I still like to have to treat myself sometimes...and one of my favourite treats is a grilled sausage.  I know it's terrible - it's laden with sodium and saturated fat (even the really yummy high-quality ones that I get from my local store), but dammit, it's so good.

So when I splurge on a yummy sausage, I like to balance it out with healthy sides.  The healthier the better.  And dark green and orange veggies are pretty much among the healthiest foods around, so why not pair shredded kale (which I LOVE in salad, and I don't care if cauliflower IS the new kale...I still love kale salad) with a carrot dressing.

Almost every post around the blogosphere about carrot-ginger dressing mentions that this dressing tastes 'juste like the salad dressing at Japanese restaurants.'

I have a confession.

I've never eaten carrot-ginger dressing at a Japanese restaurant.  So I have no idea if this is 'it' or not.  But I can tell you that this is delicious.  It has loads of natural sweetness from the carrots (and a bit of unnatural from the vinegar), richness from the sesame oil, acidity from the rice vinegar and saltiness from the soy sauce.  The shallots round out the flavour really nicely (I thought it was strange, initially, that there was no garlic in this, but the shallots step up to the plate (and to the palate - you're going to want some gum after this).

Anyway, all this to say, I enjoyed a completely delicious spicy grilled sausage with onions and dijon, and paired it with shredded kale salad and carrot-ginger dressing.  It was good.  And if you have a stocked pantry, you could probably make this salad dressing right now.  So I'll stop now and leave you to go do that.

carrot-ginger salad dressing with sesame oil
slightly modified from epicurious
carrot ginger dressing

1/2 lb carrots, coarsely chopped (I had large carrots - this was 1 1/2 carrots for me)
1/4 cup chopped peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup chopped shallots
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (if it doesn't say seasoned on the front, check the nutrition label for sodium and sugar - if it has both, then you've got seasoned vinegar - if you don't have it, just use a white vinegar and taste for sweetness/saltiness)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil (canola, grapeseed or other neutral oil)
1/2 cup water

1. Add all ingredients except for oil and water into food processor and process until pretty smooth.

2. Slowly add oil (while food processor is still running, assuming your processor has a tube so you can safely do this), then slowly add water. Continue processing another 2-3 minutes.

 If you want a perfectly smooth dressing, you can blend after processing, but I like it a bit chunky. It's so incredibly flavourful. I think it would also be a great sauce on grilled chicken, or steamed green beans or even as a dressing in a noodle salad.

sausage with kale and carrot ginger dressing

Enjoy - and thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

chowder 2.0 - wild rice, chickpeas, corn, mushrooms and ham

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I snapped the photos for this recipe while eating my sad desk lunch.  You see, I wasn't all that confident in the recipe when I started making this unusual chowder, and then I had to change up the recipe quite a bit because the turkey I had intended on using in said chowder had a slightly-funky smell (and given that foodborne illness is really not fun, if I have any doubt about the safety of a food item, I err on the side of caution).  So I unfortunately had to toss the turkey, and then I had to rejig the recipe using other ingredients I had on hand.

wild rice and chickpea chowder

Quick life-pro-tip: when you are using a glass container to microwave something, put the lid underneath it, then cover with a paper towel.  This way, even though the glass gets SUPER hot, you can still carry the container without burning yourself.  I read about this on pinterest a while ago and it has made carrying lunch back to my desk SO MUCH easier.  Maybe this was obvious to most people, but my fingertips are ever-so-grateful to be spared.

The net result of the random recipe merits a post, even if I don't have a vast collection of beautiful photos to share (and let's face it, I am photo-processing-impaired, so my photos are often lacking a certain something anyway).  This is one of those hearty stick-to-your ribs soups, so it's great for winters like this one, which just don't seem to go away.  Seriously, it's APRIL and this is my backyard - see how the snow is still up to the windows of the kids' playhouse?  UGH.

winter sucks - april 5

I actually have this chicken in my crockpot for today (smells so good), but I'm feeling so cold and chilled and bleh that I wanted to share a nice thick, hearty chowder recipe with you.  But not a fish chowder, or a normal chowder.   This chowder is a bit of a random combination of ingredients.  But trust me, it's really good.  So give it a try!  I found that this recipe is a bit more gently-seasoned than many, and it allows the flavour of the ingredients to really come through - the mushrooms, the corn, the rice and the chickpeas.  It's mild and just comforting and yummy.

wild rice, chickpea, corn and mushroom chowder with ham
adapted from

wild rice and chickpea chowder

2 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup wild rice
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
6 oz chopped ham (bacon or pancetta would also be great)
8-12 oz of sliced crimini mushrooms (about 5 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup butter
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/3 cup all purpose flour

8 cups stock (I used 8 cups of water and 2 packages of bouillon)
1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
1 can drained and rinsed chickpeas
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Bring 2 1/2 cups water, rice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is tender but still firm to bite, 45 to 60 minutes (time will vary depending on variety of rice). Drain; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add mushrooms to pot and cook until beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and set them aside.

3. Add butter to same pot. Add celery. Cover; cook until celery begin to soften, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add shallots; stir until soft, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour over and stir 1 minute. Return mushrooms to pot.

4. Add in stock and rosemary; bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Add rice, ham, chickpeas, and corn to soup. Simmer to blend flavors, about 10 minutes. Stir in cream. Taste and see if it needs a bit more salt/pepper.  Garnish with parsley for serving.

This is pretty different from your typical chowder, but it uses a lot of pantry staples, so it's a great dish to add into your rotation.  This could easily be made vegetarian by simply omitting the ham - you could replace some of the smokiness with a bit of smoked paprika, or you could add in chunks of grilled/bbq tofu if you felt like it.

Have any of you ever tried a super random recipe and been pleasantly surprised by the result?  I want to hear about it!

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