Thursday, March 22, 2012

Curry Carrot Soup!

We live in California so you would not think we needed “warm me up” type dinners but when the fog rolls in on a winter’s night a hot bowl of soup and fresh bread are exactly what we need.  G makes a mean carrot soup, it tastes so rich you would think it was made from milk or some sort of cream but surprisingly it is mostly made of up carrots and onions.  It also had a bit of curry paste which adds a nice spice that is not too overwhelming.  Our boys both like it and bread from our bread making machine for “dipping” make it a yummy meal.

What you will need:
  • 1 pound of carrots
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 3 table spoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of curry paste
  • 6 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
Mix the chopped carrots, onion and butter in a pot and cook at low heat for around 40 minutes giving it a stir every so often.  Mix in the curry paste and then add the chicken stock and bring the whole mixture to a boil. Turn the heat down, add the lemon zest and ground ginger and simmer for 15 minutes.  Blend it (this is key to the success of this soup!!!), add salt and pepper to taste.

We have tried all kinds of different amounts of curry paste so I would suggest experimenting with that based on your tolerance for spice. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Easy Lasagna

This is my go-to version of a 'quick' lasagna.  I have made it for many friends and it always gets rave reviews.  I usually double this recipe and freeze one for later.

Package of lasagna noodles, cooked
One pound of sausage
Tub of ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
Fresh herbs (big hand full of basil, 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley), chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (approx 1 tsp of each)
Large jar of tomato sauce (or homemade if you have some already!)
Approx 2 cups of chopped vegetables (I often use peppers, zucchini, mushrooms)
1 - 2 cups of Mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take sausage out of it's casings and break up and cook the meat until done.  Drain fat.  Add tomato sauce and remove from heat.  (I use spaghetti sauce so it already has seasonings, if you are using a can of crushed tomatoes, you may want to add some seasonings here and simmer a bit)

Mix ricotta cheese with fresh herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with olive oil.  Spread about a third of the tomato sauce mixture on the bottom.  Put a layer of noodles on top of the sauce.  Spread half of the ricotta mixture on top. Next, add your chopped veggies (if using quick cooking vegetables like zucchini or peppers, no need to precook, just slice thinly and spread out evenly).  Spread another 1/3 of the tomato sauce on next.  Put another layer of noodles on.  Spread the rest of the ricotta mixture on top of the noodles.  Cover this with the rest of the tomato sauce.  Sprinkle mozzarella all over and then sprinkle the parmesan on top also.  Bake in preheated oven for 30 - 45 minutes or until cooked through and bubbling.  Mmmmm....lasagna!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pizza Crust

We decided to try the pizza sauce that Jacqueline posted last week and needed pizza crust!  We bought a bread machine a few years back and while we normally use it for bread we decided to try a recipe (from the Joy of Cooking with a few adjustments based on what was in our cupboards) for bread machine pizza crust.  It was really easy and given that it is basically flour, yeast and a bit of oil it is definitely cost effective compared to the closest ready made alternative. 

 What you need:
  • 2 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of yeast
  • 2 tablespoon oil (olive oil is usually suggested but we only had veggie oil and it worked fine)
  • 1 cup of water
 Follow the pizza dough instructions on our bread machine.  Let the dough sit for a around 30 minutes and then roll it out.  (We spread it out onto a cookie tray and made a rectangle sized pizza.)

Once the crust is ready to go you need:
 Preheat the oven to 375 and spread the sauce, cheese and toppings onto the crust.  Cook it for around 15 minutes and enjoy!

 Here it is, before and after it was cooked in the oven. 

This time around we decided to go for a basic margarita type pizza along with fresh rosemary, next time we'll try with some more toppings! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chicken Stew

Growing up I always remember my mom boiling the chicken bones for soup and while my chicken stew is very different from the soup I remember it is definitely inspired by it.  Like my chili it this chicken stew is never exactly the same and is the product of whatever we happen to have in our fridge at the time of stew making! However it turns out it definitely hardy and makes for as yummy meal in the cooler evenings and I love how it is chock full of veggies for the kids.  J  Cooking this always feels a bit like you are constantly starting and stopping but given there are no hard cooking times I always found this easy to make around nap or “quiet” time.

What you will need:
  • 1 chicken or turkey carcass
  • 1 chopped up potato
  • 1 large handful of uncooked rice
  • 1 large handful of lentils
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 large chopped carrots
  • Other veggies! (I’ve added celery, broccoli and others in the past, basically a product of what food we happen to have in our fridge)
  • Salt and pepper to taste and perhaps a bit of readymade stock powder if it is not as tasty as you were hoping

Pick any leftover meat off your cooked whole chicken or turkey and boil the rest in the crockpot for around 3 or 4 hours, I usually start with around 6 cups of water, potentially a bit more depending on how big your original bird was.    Drain the liquid into a bowl and stick into the fridge overnight and skim off the fat in the morning to create your stock.  In the meantime pick any other meat off the bones and set aside.  Once you have the stock ready put that into the crock pot  and chop and toss in any of the meat you have been able to salvage.  Throw in the potato, rice, lentils and veggies and cook for 3 or 4 hours in your crockpot stirring every few hours and adding a bit of water if it seems too dry.  We usually serve with fresh bread made from our break machine.  It should make a hardy and tasty meal but in the event your stew is not as tasty as you were hoping add a tablespoon or two of readymade stock powder and that should make the difference. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Nopales Test

This post is a little bit different than the usual.

This is more of a chronicle of an experiment than an actual recipe. Forgive my ignorance on the subject of Nopales, while I'm sure there are lots of great recipes out there for them, I have somehow avoided ever having cooked prickly pear cactus ever before. Yes for those of you in the dark, Nopales are indeed the cooked pads of the Prickly Pear cactus. It's something of standard fare in Mexican dining, and apparently makes for a great addition to salads, or as a part of fresh salsa. For me though this was a novelty, and definitely an exciting one.

 Our son has a fascination with cacti, he's 3 now, so its really the simple things that intrigue him. And I'd agree with him that by all rights cacti are pretty awesome. So I really bought this Nopal for my son, but preparing it can be a pain. I'd recommend you try it though, even if like me, it's mostly for the novelty.

To prepare the Nopal firstly, you'll have to cut all of the thorns out of the cactus pad. Sometimes you'll buy Nopal de-thorned.... wait. is thorn even the right word? Should it be spike? spine? Ah well, you know what I mean, the sharp pointy bits. Cut them out of the cactus pad and try not to get pricked. Also try not to utterly destroy the cactus in the process. This is easier said than done, and make note, this will take some time to do.

Once you've cut off the thorns you'll want to rinse off the cactus and start cutting it up into small pieces. Small is essential because you're going to need to cook this for quite a while before its ready to be eaten. Why you may ask... because of the CACTUS SLIME.

Cactus slime is gross. Seriously gross, and Nopals are full of it. So boiling or frying out all of the sap is essential before eating. As you can see I cut up the Nopal and put it in the pot with a third of a yellow onion, as well as 3 cloves of garlic and a teaspoon of salt. then I just covered it all with water and boiled it on low for 40 minutes. When it was finished I double rinsed the veggies to make sure they weren't at all slimey.

This is the jumping off point for Nopales, here's where you might want to put it into a tomato sauce for pasta, or add it to your Never the Same Chili along with some jalapenos, red pepper, and sweet corn for a Mexican style meal. In our case we already had a main course ready to go in some yummy Curry Carrot Soup (recipe for that to come to TFL sometime down the road), so all we needed the Nopales for was a side. I added some more salt for seasoning and served as it.

Our son, being 3, was not interested in actually easting it. Erica and I however thought it tasted pretty good. Kind of like diced green beans. I have a feeling it would be even better as a part of a larger meal though instead of a side. Maybe we'll try it again one of these days, and I'll of course let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Never the Same Chili

I love my crock pot.  Working full time I get home and have about 20 minutes before I need to get dinner on the table and feed my ravenous boys.  Needless to say without any prep work I would hardly be able to manage anything outside of a bowl of cereal on a daily basis.  Chili is a staple in our house and I am a big fan of pre-soaking dried beans beforehand rather than spending the extra cash on the canned ones.  

The chili recipe below should just be used as a guide, every time we put it together it comes out a bit differently but I figure that is part of the fun.  I have also been trying to cook a bit more vegetarian food recently so did not include meat below but you can easily add ground beef, ground pork (our favorite!) or ground turkey, I would just suggest precooking it before adding it to the pot.

What you need:
  • Around two 14oz cans or 3 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 4 good sized handfuls of  dried beans soaked overnight (I use garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans and red beans)
  • Around half a head of crushed garlic
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons of chili powder depending on how spicy you want it
  • 1 tablespoon of salt (more to taste as needed) 
  • 1 medium sized chopped onion
  • Whatever veggies you happen to have, my usual choices are carrot, celery, pepper (whatever color), broccoli and eggplant 
  •  A bit of grated cheese as a tasty garnish
Throw everything in the crock pot and give it all a good stir.   Cook it on low for around 8 hours, stir it every few hours to make sure it does not stick to the pot.  If it seems to be dry I usually add about ½ a cup of water to help.  Serve with rice and a bit of grated cheese!  This will make a ton of chili so we always have leftovers, for whatever reason it usually tastes better the next day.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Yummy Pizza Sauce

So here is my favourite pizza sauce recipe at the moment.  Very quick to make and very yummy.  Have fun changing things up with different herbs or fresh herbs if you have some on hand.  

1/3 cup olive oil
1 can tomato paste
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp of dried rosemary
1.5 tsp dried oregano
1.5 tsp dried basil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the above ingredients together in a bowl except water.  I like to crush dried rosemary in the palm of my hand before adding to help release the oils.  Add water to make mixture your desired consistency.  I like to mix this the morning we are making pizza or the night before to let the flavours mingle. Spread on pizza dough and sprinkle your favourite toppings on top!

UPDATE - here are a few pics of the Yummy Pizza Sauce in action. Combine this with some Pizza Crust and enjoy :)

Monday, March 5, 2012

5 minute tomato sauce

I have to share this recipe from the fantastic 101 cookbooks website by Heidi Swanson.  So simple and so tasty!  It is a bit on the spicy side, so cut back on the crushed red pepper flakes if that's not your thing.  But despite the spiciness, my 2.5 year old ate a bowl of it on spaghetti and asked for seconds.  I will give you the original link to her recipe but will post it here for you as well:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
zest of one lemon

Combine first 4 ingredients in a cold saucepan.  Stir while heating the saucepan over medium-high heat, saute 45 seconds or just until everything is fragrant.  Stir in tomatoes and gently simmer for a couple of minutes.  Remove from heat and taste it now to see if you need more salt.  Add lemon zest and serve over pasta or pizza or whatever tickles your fancy!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Strawberry Jam Pictures!

Motivated by my first post I decided to make jam this afternoon.  The result was three full jars and a small bowl.  I'll be taking a peanut butter and jam sandwich to work tomorrow.  Yummy!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Strawberry Jam

Ok so perhaps jam is not exactly healthy but it is a breakfast staple in our house and it always irks me to see the high price when I know it is basically just fruit and sugar.  For some reason I was always hesitant to make my own jam, I got it into my head that it would somehow be difficult to make, but I now realize it is one of the easiest things out there to make and the ingredients cost about half of what it would cost to buy readymade.  Below is classic strawberry jam, my kids love it and by making it myself I know exactly what goes into it. 

What you need:
4 cups of crushed strawberries
4 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of lemon juice

Basically just mix everything together in a saucepan and boil, boil, boil along with a lot of stirring!  I usually end up cooking it for around 20 minutes.  If you are not sure if it is ready or not put teaspoon on a plate in the fridge and you can see how it sets.