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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sweet Potato and Two Pea Curry

For a couple days, I really thought that summer was just around the corner. The sun was shining, and it was warm enough to go out without a jacket. So, my meals started to reflect the weather. Spring greens with avocado, apples, and bright zingy dressings. Pan seared fish with simply squeezed lemon and sauteed vegetables. Cold rice bowls with salmon, crisp veggies and garlic-tahina dressing.

But I guess I spoke and acted too soon. The rain and cold breezes returned, and I found myself going back into hibernation mode for a little bit longer. And this meant, I needed to warm up my dishes. The secret? A little bit of spice.

Now by spice, I don't mean heat. I just mean a little bit of warmth. The is achieved with some Indian inspired flavors and is balanced with the sweetness from the sweet potato and the freshness of the cilantro. Paired with the pop of the mustard seeds and two kinds of peas (green and chick peas), I am starting to think I could stay in winter mode for a little while longer!

Sweet Potato and Two Pea Curry
Serves 4-6

2 tbsp Curry Powder
1 tbsp Mustard Seeds
2 tsp Ground Coriander
1 tsp Ground Turmeric
1 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper

2 tbsp Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tbsp Ginger, minced
1 Large Onion, chopped
6 cups Sweet Potatoes, cut into large chunks (about 3 medium sized potatoes)
1 Can (28 ounces) Diced Tomatoes
1 cup Water
1 cup Frozen Green Peas
1 cup Cooked Chick Peas
4 cups Fresh Spinach Leaves
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
Salt and Pepper

In a large pan, add all the spices and toast on medium heat until the spices start to smoke and the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the olive oil. Then add the garlic, ginger, onion, and sweet potatoes. Stir to coat with the spices. Add the tomatoes and water. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

After 30 minutes, stir in the cooked chick peas and green peas. Let simmer for a couple of minutes. Then stir in the spinach and let it wilt. Finally, stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with rice or flat bread, or both!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Green Pea Polenta Cakes: A Side Dish & Brunch all in one!

Today, as I was in the grocery store, my eyes fell on a bag of cornmeal. Strange... I haven't used cornmeal in ages. I really think it's because of moving. You see, I always make sure my pantry is full. You might call me a kitchen hoarder, but I just like to say that I am well stocked. Anyway, every time we move, we spend weeks before hand emptying out our pantry. That basically means using up as much stuff as we can and not buying anything else! As difficult as it can be when you get low in stocks, the more interesting the meals become.

So, once moved to a new location, I always start again to stock up the pantry. But it takes time. And something always gets overlooked. In this case, the cornmeal.

But I am so glad I have found it again! It is so easy to make and has endless possibilities. In this case, I made a great side dish which turned into an easy brunch also! Two dishes in one! Can't go wrong with that!

I cooked the polenta with some peas and aromatics then cooled it in a pan and cut it into little cakes. These cakes were then pan fried until crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. Yum!

These polenta cakes are great as a side dish to any sort of meal.  And the leftovers are amazing for brunch with a sunny side egg on top. Reminds me a little of the cheesy grits with poached egg that my husband loves so much!

Green Pea Polenta Cakes
Makes 12 squares (6 servings of 2 squares each)

1 tbsp Canola Oil
1/2 Red Onion, finely chopped
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups Cornmeal
4 cups Water
1 1/2 cups Frozen Peas
Salt and Pepper

Olive Oil or Butter for cooking

Prepare a 9" by 13" cake pan by lining it with plastic wrap.

In a large pot, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add polenta and water and bring up to a boil. Reduce to low. Stir continuously until polenta is cooked, about 20 minutes (alternatively, stir for the first few minutes, cover for about 10 minutes, then stir again). Stir in the frozen peas and salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be creamy and smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth out with a spatula. Place in the fridge to cool and set.

Once cool, cut into 12 squares. Up until this point, this recipe can be prepared ahead and kept in the fridge until ready to use.

Heat some butter or olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the polenta squares and cook until browned on both sides and hot in the middle (about 5 minutes per side).

Serve as is or as a side dish to any meat, fish, or poultry. Or, for a yummy brunch, serve with a sunny side up egg on top (and bacon on the side...)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup

Soup is one of my all time favorite "go to" dishes. It is super easy to make, clean up is a breeze, and you can make tons and freeze it for later. And soup is one of those dishes that just gets better tasting with age.

Oh, and it's healthy. Which works really well with my current "detox." Yes, it's true. I am detoxing. After moving across the world and enjoying many welcome home meals (and drinks) with family and friends, it is time to kick my body back into perfect functioning order. And that means a 14 day detox.  Now, I am not really one for diets and stuff like that, but this detox isn't a diet. It is supplying the body with whole, natural, easy to digest ingredients to allow the body to shift it's focus from digestion to a little internal clean up.

So, what does it mean? Well, in essence it means no salt, sugar, wheat, dairy (except yogurt), meat, poultry, alcohol, caffeine, or anything processed. And to be honest, the hardest part? Giving up coffee. I love the smell and the taste in the morning. And yes, I guess I could drink decaf, but I figure, if I am going to give it up, I might as well go all the way.

Okay, so back to soup. I wanted a soup that was healthy but also creamy and delicious. So, I chose butternut squash.

Butternut squash makes an incredibly delicious, creamy soup. When it is pureed, it becomes creamy and decadent and acts as a thickener. Now, since I am detoxing, I didn't use any salt in this recipe and I used water instead of stock. Of course, if you are not detoxing, you could use stock, or even if you are detoxing, you could make your own stock without salt. But I find water works just fine.

I also added a few other elements to make the soup flavorful and interesting. Ginger adds some heat, the honey complements the natural sweetness of the squash, and some herbs, just to give some flavor.

To be honest, this soup tasted fantastic. Detox or no detox. I would eat it anyday!

Butternut Squash & Ginger Soup
Makes about 8 cups

1 tbsp Canola Oil
4 cloves Garlic, minced
2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, chopped
1 large Onion, chopped
3 large stalks Celery, chopped
3 Carrots, chopped
1 Butternut Squash, seeded and cut into cubes
1 1/2 tbsp Italian Herbs
1 Bay Leaf
1 tbsp Honey
Cracked Black Pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger, onions, celery, carrots and cook until they start to soften, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the butternut squash, Italian herbs, and bay leaf. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Add enough water to the pot to cover all the vegetables. Cover and cook for about 45 minutes, until all the veggies are soft.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender (or a regular blender). Stir in the honey and season with cracked pepper to taste.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

More Tea Party Ideas: Greek Skewers & Mexican Taco Cups

On the topic of tea parties, here are a few other great tea party ideas. Of course, like the BBQ Chicken Pitas with Zesty Slaw earlier, they could also be used as creative starters for a dinner party, a light and fun lunch or appetizers before a party! They are so versatile and look great! Plus, a lot of the components can be made ahead.

These are fun, colorful dishes that can be made for 4 people or 40 people. So try them at your next social get together and let me know what you think!

Greek Skewers
Makes as many as you want

Feta Cheese
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kalamata Olives
Cucumber, cut into about 2 cm cubes
Cherry Tomatoes
Red Onion, cut into about 2 cm pieces

Wooden Skewers, soaked for about 10 minutes (I think it helps everything slide on better, but not mandatory)

In a bowl, mix the olive oil and oregano. Cut the feta cheese into about 2 cm cubes. Toss in the olive oil and oregano.

Then just assemble the skewers... Cherry tomato, red onion, olive, feta, cucumber, tomato. Simple, tasty, and good looking!

Mexican Taco Cups
Make a few or a lot!

Ground Beef
Chili Powder
Ground Cumin
Salt and Pepper

Romaine Lettuce, Shredded
Sour Cream
Guacamole (homemade or pre-made)
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cheddar Cheese, grated
Tostidos "Scoops" Tortilla Chips

Heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and season with chili powder and cumin (about 1 tsp of each for each 250grams of meat). Cook until there is no pink left and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool.

In a bowl, mix together equal parts of sour cream, salsa and guacamole (1/3 cup of each should be more than enough to start).

Assemble the cups: put about 1/2 teaspoon of ground beef mixture on the bottom of the tostido cup. Top with about 1/2 teaspoon of the sour cream mixture. Then add a little grated cheese, shredded lettuce, and top with a slice of cherry tomato.

These are best eaten immediately. The longer then sit, the tortilla chip becomes a little soggy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tea Party Ideas: BBQ Chicken Pitas with Zesty Cabbage Slaw

Tea Parties. Elegant parties with elegant little food. Cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon rolls, petit fours and the like, right? Well, not in my book.

After all, who says that tea parties have to follow the "rules" when it comes to food? In my eyes, a tea party is a chance for people to get together, drink tea, perhaps champagne, and enjoy "little" food..... and by that, I simply refer to food that can be eaten while drinking tea.

So, this weekend was my sister's bridal shower. And it was a tea party.  So of course, food was an extremely important component. The question is, are all the traditions of a tea party really necessary?

Tea parties staples are in fact, just a suggestion, but they are not a requirement. It is not mandatory to adorn the table with perfect little cheddar sandwiches, deviled eggs, and fruit tartlets. This is a an opportunity to create an interesting spread of finger foods. Of course, details are everything. They need to look good and taste fantastic.

The first item on the menu were these BBQ Chicken Pitas with Zesty Cabbage Slaw. Definitely not the traditional tea party food, but colorful, comforting and just really delicious. They were a hit!

BBQ Chicken Pita with Zesty Cabbage Slaw
Makes a lot of little pitas (or you could just pile it onto a rolls and eat it yourself for lunch!)

For the Chicken
2 kg Whole Chicken Legs, bone in, skin on
Salt and Pepper

For the BBQ Sauce
2 tbsp Canola Oil
1/2 Onion, chopped
4 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Dried Rosemary
1 1/2 tsp Ground Cumin
1/2 tsp Ground Cloves
2 tsp Paprika
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
2/3 cup Water
1/2 Orange, zest and juice
2 cups Plain BBQ Sauce (bottled)

For the Slaw
1 Head Cabbage, shredded (green, purple, or mixed)
1/2 Red Onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Raisins

For the Slaw Dressing
Juice of 1/2 Orange
Juice 1/2 Lime
2 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
1/2 tsp Sugar
1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
1 tbsp Ginger, minced
1 small Red Chili, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup Plain Yogurt

Pita Bread (you could also use bread rolls or whatever bread you like)

For the Chicken
Generously season all sides of the chicken legs with salt, pepper and paprika. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until cooked through and the juices run clear. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Once cooled remove the skin and discard. Then shred or pull the chicken into small pieces and set aside.

For the BBQ Sauce
This is a really great way to make your own custom BBQ sauce. It really brings some additional great flavors to the table without needing to do everything from scratch.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Stir in all the spices. Then add the water, orange juice and zest, and BBQ sauce. Reduce the heat to medium low and let the BBQ sauce cook for about 45 minutes. This allows the flavors to meld together and the mixture to reduce a little.  After 45 minutes, remove the bay leaf.

Pour the BBQ sauce over the shredded chicken. Mix well and set aside.

For the Zesty Slaw
In a large bowl, add the orange and lime juices, red wine vinegar and sugar. Whisk until the sugar dissolves. Whisk in the dijon, ginger and chili. Then add the olive oil and yogurt and mix until smooth and creamy looking.  Add the cabbage, onions and raisins and toss with the dressing. Set aside.

To Prepare the Pitas
Cut each pita into triangles (I cut each pita into about 8 triangles). Top with a little slaw (make sure each portion has a few raisins), then the BBQ chicken. Enjoy!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blueberry Muffins

I am always searching for great, easy muffin recipes. My criteria? Great flavor and texture, fairly healthy and not too sweet. This way they can be eaten for breakfast, a snack, or even a guilt free dessert!

And blueberry muffins just happen to be one of my favorites. But with so many recipes out there, it is always difficult to choose the right one. So, I combined elements from many recipes that sparked my interest and this was the result.

These blueberry muffins fit the bill perfectly! Despite the oats and whole wheat flour which can usually make muffins pretty dense, these ones have a really nice soft texture because of the yogurt and buttermilk. They are a perfect sweetness for me with just 1/2 cup of honey, but if you like your muffins sweeter, you could add another 1/4 cup.

Make a big batch and share them, freeze them, or eat them all yourself... I will leave that up to you!

Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

Wet Ingredients:
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Canola Oil
1/2 cup Honey
1 1/4 cup Plain Yogurt (I used low fat, but you could use whatever kind you have)
1/3 cup Buttermilk
1 tbsp Orange Zest

Dry Ingredients:
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup White Flour
1/2 cup Old Fashioned Oats
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Salt

1 1/2 cup Frozen Blueberries
1 tbsp Flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line a muffin tin and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together all wet ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix together all dry ingredients. Add the dry to the wet, stirring until just mixed. Toss the frozen blueberries in the tablespoon of flour and stir into the mixture immediately.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup just over 3/4 full. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Surprisingly Delicious Lentil Cookies

One of my favorite things to do is to watch cooking shows. So it is no surprise that while at the gym, my headset is plugged in and I am watching the food network. Yup, there I am, sweating away while watching some great chefs make amazing food. I have had more than one person look at me with confusion, I have had a couple people working out next to me become fixated on the images flashing across my screen, and I have even had some flat out comments like "how can you watch that while you are working out?" or "Why are you tempting yourself?"

And my answer? I just love it. It is not a bad thing to have a good relationship with food. In fact, it's healthy. Perhaps if we just indulge ourselves watching it, food would not always be on our minds as a negative thing, causing unnecessary binges and guilt.

Anyway, I have a great relationship with food, and food network is my workout buddy. In fact, I do my best thinking while working out. Today, however, a great recipe was just handed to me. No thinking required. The Spice Goddess came on TV and made lentil cookies.

Seriously? Lentil Cookies? Could they be any good? With barely any flour, how would they stick together? My curiosity was peaked and I just had to make them immediately.

I did very slightly alter the recipe by substituting 1/2 cup mashed banana for some of the butter and adjusting the quantities of sugar and chocolate chips. But other than that, I kept the recipe pretty much the same.

The result? TO DIE FOR!!! No joke. They were delicious, moist, hearty but not super dense as I imagined. Just fantastic. And my husband could not stop eating them! They are perhaps the best cookies I have had in a long time and I would love you to try them and let me know if you feel the same...

Surprisingly Delicious Lentil Cookies
Slightly modified from the Spice Goddess' Recipe (Bal Arneson)
Makes 24 cookies

1/2 cup Margarine (or Butter), room temperature
3/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/2 cup Banana, extremely ripe and mashed
1 cup Cooked Green Lentils, crushed with a fork
1 Egg
1 tsp Vanilla
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1 tsp Baking Soda
3/4 cup Slivered Almonds
1 cup Pumpkin Seeds
3/4 cup Mini Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl, cream together the margarine and brown sugar. Blend in the mashed banana, the crushed lentils, the egg, and the vanilla. Add the flour, oats and baking soda and stir until everything is combined. Fold in the almonds, seeds and chocolate chips.

Drop the cookies by the spoonful onto the prepared baking sheet and flatten. Bake the cookies for 15 to 18 minutes and allow to cool on a baking rack.