Search My Blog

Monday, March 29, 2010

Chicken and White Bean Chili

I wanted something spicy. Honestly, I was craving something Mexican. But Mexican food doesn’t come easy in these parts of the world, so I needed to improvise. So, I checked around my kitchen, and decided to make a white bean chili. Okay, I know it’s not traditional (for a more traditional Chili con Carne recipe, click here), but sometimes you just have to work with what you’ve got.

The result? Delicious! And somehow, much lighter than a regular chili. Even though it had meat and beans, I guess the absence of red meat and the thick, tomato sauce made more delicate. I ate it over rice, and believe me, I probably could have eaten the whole pot, had my husband not come home!

Chicken and White Bean Chili
Serves 4

2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 Chicken Breasts, cut into small chunks
4 Cloves Garlic, chopped
2 Medium Onions, medium dice
1 Large Green Chili
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Cumin
3 tsp Chili Powder (for moderate spicy…adjust as desired)
1 cup Grated Carrots
Juice of 1 Lemon
4 cups Chicken Broth (Low Sodium)
4 cups Cooked White Beans
2 tbsp Cornstarch mixed with 1/4cup Cold Water
1 cup Fresh Cilantro, chopped

In a large pan over medium- high heat, heat the oil. Cook the chicken until just browned. Add the garlic, onions, green chili, and spices. Cook for a few minutes until the onions start to soften. Add the carrots and lemon juice and stir to combine.
Add the chicken broth and beans to the pan and bring up to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes to let the flavors meld together.

Add the cornstarch and water mixture, and let it come up to a boil again. You should notice the chili getting a little thicker. Stir in the fresh cilantro.

This chili is great served over rice.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Leek and Olive Tart

I was feeling French today. So I made a Leek and Olive Tart. I realize this thought process seems kind of random. I mean, after all, if I was feeling French, why not duck or escargot or foie gras??

Well, first because I didn’t have any of those things kicking around, and second, because I did have these ingredients. Well, that’s not really the only reason. My (French) husband really loves leeks, and it a popular French thing to turn leeks (well, everything) into a tart.

One major faux pas, however, is that it’s actually not a tart. A tart is sweet. This is savory. Therefore, it’s a torte. Oh well. And my second faux pas? My tart (or torte, if you want to be absolutely correct) is not made in the French style at all! But then again, it can’t be my fault…I’m not French!

Leek and Olive Tart
Makes 1- 9 inch tart

1 sheet Puff Pastry, thawed (about 300 grams)
1 tbsp Olive Oil
4 cups Leeks, sliced, white part only
½ tsp Dried Thyme
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
¾ cup Black Olives, sliced
3 Large Eggs, beaten
2/3 cup Evaporated Milk

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the puff pastry into a greased tart or pie pan. Prick the surface of the pastry with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a pan, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook until leeks have just softened. Remove from heat. Stir in the olives. Let the mixture cool to room temperature (this is important so that the eggs do not cook when you stir them into the mixture). Stir in the beaten eggs and the evaporated milk.

Pour the filling mixture into the pre-baked puff pastry shell. Bake in the oven for another 20 minutes, until the filling is just set and the pastry is golden.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fresh Ravioli with White Bean, Bacon & Leek Filling

Italian food has become part of every language. In particular, spaghetti, lasagna, penne and ravioli… these are all words which need no explanation. They are a staple on restaurant menus, and not just Italian restaurants. In the all-day, we-serve-everything restaurants, there is usually at least one pasta. But somehow, it ends there. We seem to forget that there are so many other Italian dishes, like Ossobuco, Veal Milanese, pork belly, fish stews… I mean, the list goes on and on.

Anyway, I am no Italian connoisseur, but I do love Italian food. And like most everyone, I love pasta. But instead of throwing on a pot of boiling water and dumping in a package of my favorite dried pasta, I decided to make some fresh.

Yes, I have tried it before, and to be honest, it never really turned out exactly as I would have liked. Usually, the dough is too sticky, and the strips of pasta just stick together in a clump when I drop them into the boiling water (or sometimes, even before they make it to the water). And then I end up eating them anyway because I can’t bear to waste food, and it ends up as a gummy, soggy, chewy mess, which I just admit is my sorry attempt at homemade pasta. The only real success I have had so far are the Ravioles du Royans that I made for my husband. Perhaps they were just too small to stick together…

But today, I rolled up my sleeves and decided to try again. And this time, with a new focus… to make fresh semolina pasta. Semolina is a courser grain flour that is ground from hard wheat. I heard that it was more difficult to work with, but that it would produce a drier dough. So, I decided to try it. I didn’t want to use 100% semolina because I was worried it would really be difficult, so I searched for a recipe that used equal amounts of semolina and white flour. I found a recipe, tried it, and, it worked. Very well, in fact. So well that it surprised me. My only tip here is that you need to work fast. Since I did everything by hand (manual pasta roller, and manual filling and cutting of ravioli), I could feel the dough getting a little dry as I was working. So work fast, and only roll a small piece of pasta dough, stuffing and cutting it before rolling the next piece.

For the filling, I decided to make a hearty white bean, bacon, and leek mixture. I wanted the ravioli to be wintery and filling, but without using too much meat. Also, I didn’t feel like doing the traditional spinach and ricotta. Sometimes, we crave a little change.

So, give it a shot. It does take some time, but it is well worth the effort!

Fresh Ravioli with White Bean, Bacon & Leek Filling
Makes about 70 ravioli (cut 2.5 inch round)

For the Filling:
8 ounces of bacon, cut into pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups Leeks
3/4 tsp Salt
3/4 tsp Black Pepper
4 cups Cooked White Beans, pureed
Salt and Pepper
1/3 cup Flat Leaf Parsley

For the Fresh Pasta:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
1 pinch salt
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Making the Filling: In a large pan, cook bacon over medium high heat until just chewy. Drain most of the fat (keep about 2 tbsp in the pan). Add the garlic, leeks, salt and pepper, and cook until the leeks are wilted. Add the beans which have been cooked and pureed. Stir to incorporate. Stir in the cilantro. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

**For the white beans, you can used canned, drained and rinsed beans, however, I prefer to cook my own.

Making the Pasta: Sift together all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and pinch of salt. On a clean surface, make a mountain out of flour mixture then make a deep well in center. Break the eggs into the well and add olive oil. Whisk eggs very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. When mixture becomes too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands.

Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple. Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. Wrap dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

**If you don’t have time to make fresh pasta, you can use won ton wrappers instead. They make a great alternative! However, I really suggest you try fresh pasta at least once!

Assembling the Ravioli: Roll out dough with a pasta machine to #2 thickness (not the thinnest, but the 2nd thinnest). Cut in half so that you have 2 equal sized rectangles. Place 1 of the halves on a lightly floured counter. Using your cookie cutter (I used a 2.5 inch round cutter), mark the dough (lightly press the cutter on the dough just so you can see the light outline of each circle. This is so that you know where to place your filling). Place about 1 tbsp of filling in the centre of each marked circle. Brush a little water around the mounds of filling and gently place the second half of the pasta dough on top. Press your fingers around the filling to seal the two pieces of pasta together, working from the filling outwards, trying to push out all the air. Then, using the round cutter, cut the ravioli. (Of course, you can use any shaped cutter you like, or even just use a knife and cut the ravioli into squares). Repeat with remaining pasta dough and filling.

Cooking the Ravioli: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt (a couple of teaspoons). Reduce the heat to a light simmer. Add the ravioli, ensuring that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Cook pasta until they float. They should be tender, but not mushy, about 1-2 minutes (2-3 minutes if frozen). Drain immediately and serve with a drizzle of olive oil. These would also taste good with a simple tomato sauce.

Freezing the Ravioli: Place between layers of parchment paper and freeze for up to 2 months (if they last that long!!).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Substitute for Nuts

So, a friend asked me today for a nut substitute, specifically for the Flax Oat Fruit Bars that I posted yesterday.  To be honest, never had to think about it, but my first suggestion would be seeds. They have a similar texture and crunch, and a bring great flavor and a lot of nutrients to this recipe just like the nuts do. Some of my favorites are sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. Just make sure they are unsalted.

If seeds are not your thing, you could also try dry roasted, unsalted soy nuts (which are not actually "nuts") or crunchy granola, although if you use pre-packaged granola, you need to make sure that it doesn't have any hidden nuts. 

Last suggestion? You could try some kind of puffed rice or cereal.  Although I haven't tried this one myself, I think it would work.

Anyway, use the same quanitity of these substitutes as nuts in the recipes, or use a little of each! Be interested to hear the results from those of you who try it!

Flax Oat Fruit Bars

I am always looking for healthy snack foods and quick breakfast foods. Although I love muffins, they can be deceiving because they usually have quite a bit of added fat and sugar. Ditto for granola. And of course, I love cereal, but not exactly the kind of breakfast you can take on the run. That is, unless you eat it dry.

Then, I found these… these Flax Oat Fruit Bars include all the things I love without the not so good stuff. They are portable, freezeable, and most importantly… delicious!

Flax Oat Fruit Bars
Makes 18 bars (2 square dishes 9x9)

Dry Ingredients
3 cups Roll Oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup Unsalted Nuts, chopped (I used a mix of Walnuts, Hazelnuts, and Almonds)
1 cup Seedless Raisins
1/2 cup Dried Cranberries
1/4 cup Flax Seeds
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Salt

Wet Ingredients
2 Large Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla
2 1/2 cups Non-fat Milk 

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Stir in vanilla and milk. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes to let the liquids soak into the dry ingredients.

In the meantime, grease or line two 9 by 9 square baking dishes and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit).
Pour the mixture into the prepared dishes and bake for about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting.

These bars can be stored in an airtight container for about 1 week, or wrapped individually and frozen for up to 1 month.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baked Spring Rolls with Sweet Chili Sauce

Today is all about making those guilty pleasures a little healthier! And one of those happens to be Spring Rolls. You know, those crunchy, deep fried treats that tempt you on every Chinese menu. Oh, and then there are the ones that you can buy in the freezer section and bake or fry at home. Don’t even get me started with those ones! Don’t you hate it when you spend all that money on packaged spring rolls, only to bite into a hollow roll?

Well no more sparse spring rolls for you! These ones are so much healthier and tastier than the ones you buy in the store and they are baked instead of fried! (although to be perfectly honest, you can fry them if you want to…).

Another reason that this is a great recipe is because it is quite easy to make, and it can be doubled or tripled to stock up the freezer for those days when you don’t feel like cooking, or you are faced with unexpected company. I love recipes like this that can be made ahead.

So, roll up your sleeves and make a bunch! You will thank me for it later!

Baked Spring Rolls
Makes about 25-30 large spring rolls

1 tsp Ground Ginger
250 grams Pork Belly, cut into small chunks
750 grams Chicken Breast, cut into small strips
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp Sesame Oil
8 cups Cabbage, shredded
2 cups Carrots, shredded
1 Onion, shredded
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
Salt and Pepper

In a large pan, cook the pork and chicken with the ginger. When almost cooked, add both of the oils, cabbage, carrots, onion, and soy sauce, and cook until just tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Stir in the cilantro.

Once cool, start rolling the spring rolls. Place some filling in the diagonally across the center of the wrapper. Roll into a tube by first folding the bottom corner over the filling, then folding in the side corners, then rolling. Continue with the remaining wrappers and filling. At this point, you could freeze the spring rolls for up to 2 months.

To bake, place the spring rolls (fresh or directly from the freezer) on a lined, lightly oiled baking sheet. Brush each spring roll with oil. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit) for about 25 minutes, until they are golden brown. Serve with sweet chili sauce.

Sweet Chili Sauce
Adapted from recipe at

Makes 2 cups sauce
2 cups water
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried crushed chili (more or less to taste)
1 regular chili powder
2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
5 Tbsp. brown sugar (or more to taste)
2 Tbsp. honey
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce

Place 1/4 cup of cool water in a small bowl or cup. Add the cornstarch and stir to dissolve. Set aside.

Place remaining water in a sauce pan or pot over medium-high heat. As the water comes to a boil, add the remaining ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the cornstarch dissolved in water. Stir continuously as the sauce thickens (about 1 minute).

Remove sauce from heat and taste-test. If not sweet enough, add more sugar or honey. If too sweet for your taste, add another squeeze of lime juice. If too spicy, add a little more water (you may have to add more cornstarch-water too).

Cool and/or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: This sauce will keep for up to 1 month in a covered jar in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olive, Sundried Tomato and Oregano Cake

I love recipes that allow for a little creativity and improvisation, and this is one of those recipes. Once you make the basic cake recipe, you can spruce it up with whatever flavors you like. Today, I used olives, sundried tomatoes, and oregano, but a little cheese, bacon, onion, and fresh herbs sounds pretty good too! Just throw in whatever bits you have in your fridge or pantry and turn this savory, versatile cake into a party of flavors.

Just a note, you really have to try this cake recipe with some nice fresh olives. I really think their saltiness and tartness works very well here.

This cake is especially good dipped in some balsamic and olive oil with fresh cracked pepper. Yum!

Olive, Sundried Tomato and Oregano Cake
Makes 1 cake

1/2 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
3 eggs
240 ml Evaporated Milk
50 ml Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Dried Oregano
1/4 cup Black Olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup Green Olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 cup Sundried Tomatoes, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Farenheit).. Grease and line a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking powder, salt and pepper. In another bowl, beat eggs. Then beat in milk and oil. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated (do not over mix!). At this point, you can stir in any flavorings that you like. I used olives, sundried tomatoes and oregano.

Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and bake in the preheated 180 degree Celsius oven for 35- 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.