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Monday, October 26, 2009

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Nothing says autumn like a basket full of zucchini!

Today we are using this abundance of zucchini to make fritters. I love these fritters because the zucchini really takes center stage. They are great as a starter, side dish, or snack and the leftovers can be stored in the fridge for the next day!

I didn't have a grater (since I am still cooking in a hotel kitchen), so I used a peeler instead to peel these zucchinis into ribbons. It actually makes them look quite nice, but of course, it takes more time than grating. Anyway, regardless of whether you peel or grate, these warm fritters are delicious with the cool, fresh tzatziki.

Zucchini Fritters
Makes 12-15 Fritters

½ kilo Zucchinis, grated or shaved
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Flour
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Freshly Ground Pepper
1 Small Onion (red if you can), quartered then sliced thinly
1 tbsp Lemon Zest
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 Clove Garlic, minced
1/4 cup Feta, crumbled
1/2 can Sweet Corn Kernels
(A great addition to this mix would be some crispy bacon mixed in at the end before cooking!)

Toss the grated zucchini with a teaspoon of salt. Put the zucchini in a strainer over a bowl and let drain for about 15 minutes, until a lot of the moisture has come out of the zuchinni. Place in paper towel and squeeze any excess moisture from the zucchini.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper and mix well. Stir in the onion, lemon, parsley, garlic, and feta. Finally, add the corn and the zuchinni. At this point, I find it easier to mix together with my hands to ensure it is all mixed together well.

Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into the pan and using a spatula, flatten slightly. Cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until both sides are golden brown. Place on paper towel to remove the excess oil. Serve with tzatziki.

Makes 2 cups

1 cup Cucumber, grated
2 Cloves Garlic, paste or minced
2 cups Plain Yogurt
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Fresh Black Pepper

Toss grated cucumber with 1 tsp salt. Place in a strainer over a bowl, and let drain for about 15 minutes. Place in paper towel and squeeze any excess moisture from the cucumber.

In a medium bowl, stir together cucumber, garlic paste, yogurt, lemon juice and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, until flavors meld together. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Banana-Orange Muffins

Need something to do with those overripe bananas sitting on your kitchen counter? Well, here is a simple and healthy way to use them up! The orange zest adds a nice kick to these muffins and the rolled oats and whole wheat flour keeps them healthy.

Banana-Orange Muffins (or loaf)
Makes 12 muffins or 1 loaf

Dry Ingredients
1 3/4 cups Whole Wheat Flour (you can use white if that's what you have)
1 cup Rolled Oats
3 tbsp Brown Sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Ground Cinnamon

Wet Ingredients
3 Ripe Bananas
1 Egg
2 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup Milk
1 tbsp Orange Zest, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or line muffin tin or loaf pan

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients

In a separate bowl, mash bananas with a fork. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the oil, vanilla and milk and mix well. Stir in the orange zest.

Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and stir together until just combined. Do not overmix.

Scoop dough into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean- 25-30 minutes for muffins and 45 to 50 minutes for loaf. Let cool on a wire rack.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Healthy Brown Rice Pudding with Apple Compote

Healthy Rice Pudding? Is that possible? I mean, when I think of rice pudding, I think of a creamy and rich bowl of sweet rice. The last thing that comes to my mind is healthy.

Well, I think I have found an answer with this healthier (and tastier!) version of this heart-warming dessert. I used brown rice with low fat milk and much less sugar than other recipes would call for. I also made use of some beautiful fall apples, which I cooked down to bring out their natural sweetness. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Healthy Brown Rice Pudding with Apple Compote
Makes 4 servings

For the Rice Pudding
3 cups Low Fat Milk
4 slices Fresh Ginger Root
1/2 cup Brown Rice
1 tablespoon White Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

For the Apple Compote
3 Large Apples, diced (Any kind. I used a mix of Golden Delicious and Red Delicious). I don’t peel them, but you can if you want)
2 tbsp Butter
3 tbsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp Cinnamon
¾ cup Golden Raisins

To make the rice pudding, put the milk, ginger, rice, sugar, and vanilla into a heavy bottomed sauce pan on med-high heat. As soon as the milk starts to bubble, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 50 minutes, stirring a few times during cooking.

Meanwhile, in a large sautee pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the diced apples, sugar, and cinnamon and sautee for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let cook for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir in the raisins. Cover and let cook on low heat for another 15-20 minutes until the raisins are soft. Remove from heat and leave covered.

When the rice has cooked for 50 minutes, remove from heat, and let it sit, still covered for about 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the ginger pieces. Stir the rice pudding and adjust the thickness with milk if necessary. I usually stir in between ¼ to ½ cup more milk at this stage so that the pudding is thick and creamy.

Serve the rice pudding topped with the apple compote.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Baked Crunchy Cornmeal Chicken

I love fried chicken.

It reminds me of my grandfather. He was a chef on the Canadian Pacific Railway. He ran his own restaurant. And he sure loved his fried chicken.

I love thinking about those Sunday afternoons when our family would sit and muse over a big red and white bucket of chicken. Or the times we would enjoy the now extinct all-you-can-eat-buffet which I have come to believe that my grandfather chose because they had great fried chicken.

Everyone has their own memories of their grandfather. Mine just happen to involve crunchy, juicy fried chicken.

But, in this health conscious day and age, we are all looking for ways to slim down our favorites. For me, it's because I want to be able to eat more of it while keeping my conscience guilt-free.

So, try this recipe for baked chicken that is as crunchy as the fried stuff minus all the grease. The polenta gives it a nice texture, the herbs give it a great flavor, and the chili gives it a bit of a punch. Plus, it is great hot, room temperature, or cold (think picnics, leftovers, lunch boxes). Okay, you may still crave the greasy stuff once in a while, but this is one crunchy piece of chicken that you don't need to hide.

Baked Crunchy Cornmeal Chicken
4 servings

2 kg Chicken Parts (I used 2 whole legs separated into leg and thigh and 2 large chicken breasts cut into 1.5 inch strips)

In a large ziplock bag, combine:
3/4 cup Plain Yogurt
1 teaspoon Lemon Zest
Juice of 1 Lemon (or about 1/4 cup of the bottled stuff)
1/4 cup Onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp Dried Thyme
2 teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper or Chili Powder

Add the chicken to the bag. Remove the air from the bag and seal. Then massage the mixture into the chicken pieces. Refrigerate for about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Coat a baking sheet with a little oil.

In a large bowl, combine:
3/4 cup Quick Oats
3/4 cup Flour
1 cup Cornmeal
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper

In another large bowl, whisk together:
2 Eggs
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Black Pepper

Remove chicken from the ziplock bag. Dip each piece of chicken first in the eggs, then in the cornmeal. Then dip the same piece in the egg again, and in the cornmeal again. This will ensure it has a thick and crunchy crust.

Place the chicken skin side up on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 30-40 minutes until golden brown. Serve hot or cold.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Chunky Greek Style Pasta Salad

Are you looking for a crowd-pleasing, stress free, anytime dish? Then this is the one for you. Not only is it delicious, but it works well as a side dish, main dish, potluck pleaser, or easy family friendly meal. And the best part? You can make it in advance and the flavors just get better with time! So make it the night before and maximize your time out of the kitchen the next day!

Chunky Greek Style Pasta Salad
Serves 4-6 as main course

500 grams Pasta (any short pasta: penne, shells, fusilli), cooked and drained
3 small Cucumbers (or 1 whole long English), cut into chunks
2 Tomatoes, cut in large dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut in large dice
1/2 Onion, thinly sliced
1 cup Black Olives
1/2 cup Feta Cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 handful Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
250 grams Sausages (optional)
2 Chicken Breasts (optional)
2 Cloves of Garlic, cut in half and crushed (optional)

Boil a large pot of water with 1/2 tsp salt. Cook pasta as per package instructions. Drain and rinse under some cool water, just to cool pasta down to room temp. Drain well.

In a large bowl, mix together all the vegetables and olives. Add the drained pasta.
In a small bowl, combine the Dijon mustard, balsamic, salt and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking to combine. Stir in the parsley.

Add the sauce to the pasta mixture. Mix well. Crumble in the feta cheese.
If you are not adding chicken or sausage, serve immediately or place in the fridge until the next day.

For Pasta Salad with Sausage, Chicken, or both (I like to use both)...

For the Sausages: Poach the sausages for about 5 minutes, or until cooked through (about 5 minutes for small sausages and 8-10 minutes for large ones). Cut into slices. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sautee pan over medium-high heat.
Add the sausages and the garlic and sautee until the sausages have browned. Remove the garlic.

For the Chicken: Cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch chunks. Season with salt and pepper. Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Sautee the chicken for about 4 minutes, until cooked through. Let cool slightly, then shred each chunk of chicken with your hands. This will create small torn pieces of chicken which will absorb the salad dressing.

Add the chicken and/or sausage to the pasta mixture. Serve or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lamb and Vegetable Casserole with Herb Polenta Crust

Shepherd’s Pie.

Like myself, most of you have probably heard of it, eaten it, or made it. But do any of us know how it began or what it was traditionally made of?

I certainly don’t. I grew up believing that Shepherd’s Pie was ground meat (usually beef) mixed with peas, carrots, and corn that was put in a casserole dish, topped with mashed potatoes, and baked in the oven.

While there does seem to be some agreement that Shepherd’s Pie is a meat casserole with mashed potatoes, that is really where the agreement ends. What kind of meat and the addition (or omission) of vegetables seems to be under debate. And of course, the million dollar question… it’s a pie so where is the pie crust?

Well, I can’t answer all of these questions, but I have learned that Shepherd’s Pie originated as a sort of “poor man’s pie.” It was made using leftover meat between two layers of mashed potato “crust,” since potatoes were the affordable starch of those times. And it’s still a very affordable, easy to make dish that has become a staple in many households.

But today, we are going to do something a little different. We are going to turn this “poor man’s pie” into a gourmet feast by tweaking just a few ingredients in this dish. Will it add extra work or extra expense? Not at all. The steps are the same and if anything, I might have made this dish tastier and healthier that the way it’s usually made. I have loaded this recipe with vegetables and topped it with herb polenta instead of the classic mashed potatoes. Give it a try!

Lamb and Vegetable Casserole with Herb Polenta Crust
(a.k.a "Gourmet Shepherd’s Pie" )

Serves 4 people (either as 1 casserole or 4 individual servings)

For the Meat Layer
1/2 cup Carrot, diced
1/2 cup Onion, diced
1/2 cup Zucchini, diced
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
250 grams Lamb Mince
2 tbsp Flour
1/2 can Corn Kernels
1 Large Tomato, diced
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Frozen Peas
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oil for cooking

In a pan over medium-high heat, heat about 2 tbsp oil. Sweat the carrots, onions, zucchini and garlic for about 5 minutes until just starting to soften. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.

In the same pan, crumble in the lamb mince and sprinkle with the flour. Stir constantly for about 3 minutes until the lamb starts to brown. Add the vegetable mixture back into the pot with the lamb. Add the corn, tomato, tomato paste, peas, water and a good pinch of both salt and pepper. Stir well so that all the ingredients are mixed. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. While it is simmering, you can make the polenta.

For the Herb Polenta Layer
2 cup Milk
2 cup Water
1 tsp Salt
1 cup Corn Meal
1/2 cup Fresh Parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp Butter

In a heavy bottomed pot, heat milk, water and salt until it just starts to bubble. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cornmeal, stirring constantly, for about 5-8 minutes (depending on the type of cornmeal—check the package for timing). Be very careful that the heat is low as the polenta will sputter. When the polenta is cooked, remove from heat and stir in the butter and parsley.

Making the “pie”
Whether you choose to make one family style casserole or four individual ones, the method is the same. Place a layer of the meat mixture at the bottom of the baking dish. Top with a layer of the herb polenta. Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes, until it’s bubbling around the edges and the polenta is golden on top.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Naughty (or Healthy) Chocolate-Banana Cupcakes

Everyone loves cupcakes. Some of us even love them a little too much. But whether you want the occasional indulgence or the guilt free version, this is the recipe for you. These easy and delicious cupcakes can be made as healthy or as naughty as you want.

For the healthy version, make the low fat milk and whole wheat flour substitutions and keep the rest of the recipe as is. Eat as is (without icing)…more like a decadent muffin than a cupcake. (I have also tried substituting the butter for 2 tbsp oil and 2 extra tbsp low fat milk... it worked very well!)

For the naughty version? Use the full fat milk, the white flour and stir in some semi-sweet chocolate chips or poke in a few pieces of dark chocolate into each cupcake before sticking in the oven. And of course, top with some dark chocolate ganache (see chocolate cake blog for ganache recipe). What could be better? Oh, I forgot. Then head to the gym… for balance of course.

Or, for those of us that want decadence but want to skip the gym... make the healthy substitutions, poke with pieces of dark chocolate, and skip the icing. Now that is what I call compromise!

Chocolate-Banana Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

1/4 cup Butter, room temp
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
1/4 cup Milk (or substitute 1% or 2% milk)
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
3 Bananas, ripe and mashed
1 1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 1/2 cups White Flour (or substitute whole wheat flour)
1/3 cup Cocoa Powder
1/2 teaspoon Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add milk, vanilla, bananas and mix well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt.

Add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Do not overmix, otherwise the cupcakes will be tough.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups until about 3/4 full. Bake for 13-15 minutes until cupcakes are springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Move to a wire rack to cool.

(If you would like to ice the cupcakes, make sure they are cooled completely first. Then make some
Dark Chocolate Ganache to spread on top!)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Chunky Veggie Soup with Cornbread Style Dumplings

There is nothing like a little soup to warm you up on a chilly autumn day!

I love this soup because it's a great way to use up whatever vegetables you have kicking around in the fridge or in the garden. And if you don't have any veggies, not to worry. Just pick up whatever is in season to make this soup!

The cornbread style dumplings are hearty and have a great texture. They are a wonderful alternative to regular flour based dumplings. Of course, if you don't have cornmeal, you can make the recipe using 2 cups of white flour instead.

Chunky Veggie Soup with Cornbread Style Dumplings
Serves 6-8

The Soup
3 tbsp Olive Oil
1 ½ cups Onions, medium dice (about 0.5cm)
4 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
5 cups Mixed Veggies, medium dice (I used carrot, zucchini, aubergine, red peppers)
2 tbsp Dried Herbs (eg. Oregano, Thyme, Parsley, Chervil, or a mix)
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 tbsp Tomato Paste
2 Liters Vegetable Stock (or chicken or beef stock if you like)

In a pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sweat onions, garlic, all the veggies, and the dried herbs for 4-5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and tomato paste and stir. Then add the stock. Bring up to a boil, then cover, lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for about 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, go ahead and make the dumplings (if you want to omit the dumplings, just let the soup simmer covered for about 45 minutes total and enjoy!).

The Cornbread Style Dumplings
Makes about 20-1 inch dumplings

2 tbsp Freshly Chopped Parsley
1 1/2 tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1 cup Cornmeal
1 cup White Flour
3/4 cup Water

In a large bowl, combine parsley, mustard, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add cornmeal and flour and stir until all ingredients are well mixed.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients. Slowly pour the water into the well, using a fork to incorporate the flour mixture into the water. Mix just until the dough comes together. Do not overmix or the dumplings will be tough. Using your hands, roll into 1 inch balls.

Once the soup has simmered for 15 minutes, drop the dumplings into the soup, cover and let simmer for another 30 minutes. You will know when the dumplings are ready because they will float to the top of the soup.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

I wanted to bake cookies today, but I wanted try something a little different. My “go to” cookie recipe in times of need is always my delicious and sought after Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe; however, today my heart was set on oatmeal. This left me with so many decisions to make. Plain Oatmeal? Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip? Oatmeal Raisin? Peanut Butter Oatmeal?

They all sound good, but today’s winner is… Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies.

There is nothing like an oatmeal cookie with that beautiful cinnamon aroma and those sweet little apple morsels embedded in it. And what makes this cookie so special is that it’s not hard and heavy. It’s soft and chewy, thanks to the combination of baking soda and baking powder. Goes great with a cup of tea, or sandwiched around a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. Oh so satisfying (and not that bad for you either)!

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies
Makes approx 20 cookies

Dry Ingredients
3/4 cup White Flour (you could use Whole Wheat if you like)
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/4 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups Quick Cooking Rolled Oats

Wet Ingredients
1/4 cup Butter, room temp
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup Honey
1 Egg, room temp
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 /2 cup Fresh Apple, peeled and cut into small dice (If you prefer, you could substitute raisins or nuts. If you want to substitute chocolate chips, omit the cinnamon)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F.

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the honey, egg, and vanilla and beat well.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Gently stir in the fresh apple (or substitutions).

Drop by heaping tablespoon onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 12 minutes until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve alone or with some Vanilla Ice Cream!