Tag Archives: pasta

A day in the life of a kitchen klutz

11 Jul

So you know I’m all about keepin’ it real here at HHH. Thus, today’s post. You’d think that since I’m a food blogger, and in the kitchen so much, that I’ve got things pretty much down to a science. I’m always quick, tidy, and efficient, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! I am here to dispel those myths. Because sometimes, in my kitchen, stuff like this happens:

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Occasionally, there’s this too:

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…and no, that’s not just a bit of water splashed on the floor, it’s olive oil, MUCH harder to clean up since you need practically boiling water to cut the grease (trust me, I know).

In fact, both of those things happened on the same day, along with a minor BBQ-lighting incident that caused the singeing of a few of my hairs (no, I don’t want to talk about it but fortunately my eyebrows remained intact). But it’s okay…with all the cooking I do, I’m bound to have some mishaps, right? And when the end results are as delicious as this:

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and this:

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it makes the mess almost worthwhile.

Since we’re going in order of the photos today, for this post, we’ll live dangerously and do dessert first.

The cherry disaster that you see up top was part of my quest to make Black Forest Ice Cream. I got my inspiration from several sources: last weeks Biggest Loser chocolate ice cream, the little bit of cherry yogurt still lingering in my fridge from a past (failed) recipe attempt, and the beautiful fresh sweet cherries that are now in season in Southern Ontario.

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Side note: a tip for all you cherry lovers out there. I think it was my sister who told me that you can use a regular old plastic drinking straw to pit cherries. Since I wanted about a cup, I decided to put this method to the test. Sometimes you had to force it a bit, but overall, the straw worked beautifully.

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So why the microwave cherry mess? I read in a past issue of Rachael Ray magazine with a feature on ice cream that I pulled out that if you want to add fruit, it’s a good idea to cook it first so the pieces are rock-hard and icy (I still found them a little icy though).

So, to make my Black Forest Ice Cream, I made the BL Super-Simple Chocolate Ice Cream base, as directed (this time I pre-chilled the evaporated milk so it would freeze quicker). Before freezing, I whisked in the remainder of the cherry yogurt I had left (I’d say it was probably about 3/4 of a cup). Then I froze the mixture in the ice cream maker as usual. IMG_2083

About 2/3 of the way through the freezing time, I added the cherries, which I had completely cooled in the fridge (I started with 1 cup pitted, halved cherries, microwaved for two minutes (don’t be like me, use a bigger bowl/actually WATCH them to avoid overflow), then drained/drank/wiped up some of the liquid before adding).

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So you see the final result above. I enjoyed my first bowl with a few fresh cherries and some BL hot fudge sauce (I heated in the microwave 30 seconds before using, as it gets pretty thick the longer it sits) and fat-free Reddi-Whip. Thoughts? Other than the cherries in the ice cream being a tad icy, I really liked this. The cherry flavour was subtle, but there, and went really well with the deep cocoa flavour of this ice cream.

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The olive oil was being used in a little update on my spring spaghetti. It was updated to keep with the season, and turned into more of a summer spaghetti. It still had garlic scapes,  asparagus (which is the last of the season…sigh), ricotta, lemon and thyme. But this version also had the benefit of two more ingredients: arugula and zucchini, both freshly picked from my garden. This adapted version was every bit as delicious as the original: fresh, light, and with a nice pop from the lemon.

So you see my friends, out of tragedy can come triumph. From mess we can create success (other than the time I broke a full bottle of balsamic vinegar and it spilt all over the kitchen floor…there was no success to be had there). Although my hands bear the scars of a few kitchen accidents (which have lead to 2 trips to the hospital for stitches), I still live to cook another day, and have just a few more stories to tell.

Fresh plus Frozen

29 Jun

Today marks the first day of my summer vacation….YAY! Hopefully, the IMG_1926weather will soon figure out that it is summer too and it will be sunny and warm rather than cool and cloudy.

Summertime means loads of delicious, fresh fruits and veggies. I love these fruits and veggies so much, that I freeze some every year. Typically, come May and June, I’m trying to clear out the rest of last year’s “stash” to make room for the new stuff. But at the same time, I’m wanting to eat the deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables that are available. The solution? Make dishes that use up the cache in my freezer and incorporate the fresh stuff.

The dessert in the top picture is another delicious soft serve sundae (basically the same as the one found here). Frozen stuff: strawberries (I’m almost done the last bag from last year), mango and banana (I don’t count those last 2 as stuff to “use up,” since neither one is every “locally available”). Fresh stuff: stewed rhubarb, sliced strawberries…and topped with cacao nibs of course. Winking smile

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Next up: dinner (sorry for the bad photo – the pasta was steaming hot and I was in a rush). Fresh stuff: basil from my garden, garlic scapes, asparagus, portabella mushroom, Vidalia onion and bell pepper. Frozen stuff: spicy tomato sauce that I made last year (I would post the recipe but I got it off a friend’s facebook and I don’t think I printed it out). Also topped with grilled feta/spinach chicken and turkey sausage from Costco.

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So you can see in the photos: frozen tomato sauce + fresh basil = one delicious pasta meal. All I did was saute the veggies in olive oil, add the sauce (partially thawed) and simmer for a bit, add the chopped fresh basil right at the end, a bit of the starchy cooking water from the pasta, and then the pasta right at the end. I did the sausage on the BBQ, and sliced it over the pasta and voila – ready to serve!

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The last fresh and frozen combo involved chocolate for breakfast – does life get any better than that? I made my usual smoothie in a bowl by combining 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries with 1 cup almond milk and some Splenda, but I added in a splash of vanilla and a heaping spoonful of cocoa powder. I topped it off with blobs of fat-free Greek yogurt and 1 and 1/2 cups sliced fresh strawberries (that’s right, my breakfast on Monday involved 3 cups of strawberries)! Mmm…this one was a winner! Imagine eating a big, cold, chocolate-covered strawberry…at breakfast time!!! How can you go wrong? The cocoa powder gave it a nice, deep, rich (but not-too-sweet) punch of chocolate flavour.

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And speaking of frozen….there’s one more frozen thing I enjoyed last night (no fresh fruit though Smile with tongue out)…the perfect way to kick off summer….ice cream at the Marble Slab! Last night, I was in Stratford to see a concert with my mom and some friends, and we went for ice cream after (the concert went later than expected, but thankfully the Slabs are open until 11 year-round). The ice cream was certainly an 80/20 splurge, but I ate healthfully all day, ordered the smallest size and enjoyed every bite! What was my indulgence of choice? A mix of peanut butter and praline ice creams with peanut butter brownie and Skor bits for my mixins….YUM!!!!!!! Open-mouthed smile Nothing says summer quite like ice cream!

Happy summer to all my teaching friends (I’m done a little earlier since no one gets a supply teacher on the last day of school)…and to everyone else, I don’t mean to brag, and I’ll try not to rub it in too much! What food screams summer to you?

Pretty Ziti

23 Jun

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Mmmm….how I love baked ziti (or really any creamy, baked pasta dish). What’s not to love about carb-y pasta goodness, creamy melted cheese, and a nice bubbly top? For those of you not in the know as to what baked ziti is, allow me to enlighten you (courtesy of Wikipedia).Baked ziti is a popular baked Italian American casserole dish made with ziti and sauce. In many recipes, the ziti are first cooked separately while a tomato and cheese sauce is prepared, which may include meat, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. The cooked and drained ziti are then combined with the cooked sauce, which may be layered with additional varieties of cheeses, baked in the oven, and served hot.” Sounds good, but totally off-limits with all those carbs and cheese, right? Wrong, oh SO wrong.

Thanks to Hungry Girl (whatever would I do without her), we can enjoy guilt-free ziti! She takes the traditional dish, uses whole-wheat ziti, bumps up the veggies, and uses low-fat cheeses for a dish that satisfies those creamy Italian pasta cravings we all have (let’s not deny it). I got this recipe from her 300 under 300 cookbook, but it’s also online, and right here on HHH….read on!

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Ingredients:
5 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) uncooked whole-wheat or high-fiber ziti or penne pasta
1 cup thinly sliced onion
2 cups chopped brown mushrooms
1 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 cups fresh spinach
3/4 cup low-fat/light ricotta cheese
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil (as good as this was, if it’s winter and/or you don’t have/want to buy fresh basil, you could probably get away with dried or Italian seasoning)
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided (I used light Kraft Italiano cheese…it’s what I had…worked fine)
2 tbsp. reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping
Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain well, place in a large bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring an extra-large skillet sprayed with nonstick spray to medium heat on the stove. Add onion and, stirring occasionally, cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic, and raise temperature to medium high. Continue to cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are soft, about 3 minutes.

Add spinach to the skillet and, stirring often, cook until spinach has wilted and excess moisture has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in ricotta cheese and basil.

Transfer contents of the skillet to the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Toss gently to mix. *Note…I added a bit of salt here because I thought it needed it…but it’s your call on your version!

Spray an 8" X 8" baking pan  (mine was 9 x 9…I’m a rebel like that) with nonstick spray, and carefully fill with contents of the bowl. Evenly top with Parm-style topping and remaining 2 tbsp. mozzarella cheese.

Bake in the oven until entire dish is hot and cheese on top has melted, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, and then serve and enjoy!
MAKES 4 SERVINGS

Serving Size: 1/4th of recipe
Calories: 286
Fat: 7g
Sodium: 455mg
Carbs: 41g
Fiber: 5g
Sugars: 7g
Protein: 16.5g

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Right after I added the spinach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now in goes the ricotta!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stir it all together (veggies, cheese, pasta, tomatoes) before topping with cheese (I skipped the extra bowl and just cooked the veggies in an extra-large pan – one less thing to clean). Side note: I just love the sound that creamy cheesy pasta and sauce makes when you stir it – does anyone else know what I mean? I can’t really describe it – just that pleasant, sort of smooshing sound – but that really doesn’t do it justice. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourself so you know what I mean.

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It’s ready to go in the oven! See the top for a close-up of what it looks like after it comes out.

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Now, I know this might not be considered the most summer-y meal to have on the first day of summer, being that it doesn’t involve the grill, but paired with an asparagus salad, it sure was tasty! And I made it on hooping night (Tuesday), so with the asparagus salad marinating in the fridge and my mom popping this into the oven, a delicious Italian meal was waiting for me when I got home…can’t beat that! Added bonus? Two delicious servings of leftovers…score!

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Dessert was another one of the strawberry squares I told you about yesterday fancied up even more. I topped it with leftover filling from my grandma’s rhubarb cake, sliced fresh berries, cool whip and a touch of light chocolate syrup….delish!

What are your favourite Italian dishes? And do you have any tips or tricks for lightening them up?

Keepin’ ‘em guessin’

18 Jun

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Keeping with the theme of yesterday’s post, I have more photo guessing for you to do. Do you know what the above photo is? I’ll give you some clues:

  • it’s a springtime vegetable of sorts
  • it is part of a plant that we normally eat the bulb of
  • it has a nice little “kick”

Give up? If you guessed garlic scapes, you’re right! What are garlic scapes, you may be asking? Basically, they are the green shoots of the garlic plant. Flavour and texture-wise, they’re best described as a curly green bean with a mild garlic flavour (I can’t take credit for that, it’s what the lady at the market told me back when I first bought them). They’re only available for a few weeks in the spring, so if you see these guys, jump on them if you get the chance!

I was blessed enough to be able to “double-dip” on farmer’s markets this week. Because of my work schedule, I was able to make it to my Thursday market in Simcoe (which I usually miss) AND Brantford’s Farmer’s Market on Friday…SCORE!

I used the scapes and more of Thursday’s purchases to make a KILLER springtime spaghetti. IMG_1790Truly, other than salt and pepper, all of the ingredients are in this photo (quantities are for one person):

  • 2 ounces dry whole wheat spaghetti
  • fresh garlic scapes, chopped
  • fresh asparagus, chopped
  • fresh peas, shelled
  • lemon zest and juice
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup light ricotta
  • a couple of sprigs fresh thyme

This pasta is completely vegetarian, satisfying enough for supper, but light enough that it would make a lovely spring lunch. And it came together SO fast! I put the water on as I was starting to sauté the veggies, and then wished I had started it sooner…it came together that quickly!IMG_1791 So all you do is…

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook spaghetti according to package directions (confession: I broke the noodles in half before cooking….any Italians reading have my permission to wag your finger and scoff).

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and scapes, sauté for a few minutes, then add the peas. When vegetables just start to get tender and barely brown, zest in some lemon peel, then squeeze in the juice of half the lemon. Add the thyme leaves (removed from stems), season with salt and pepper, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.

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Add a nice splash of starchy cooking water, then add in the cooked spaghetti. Crank the heat up a little bit more, then squeeze in more lemon juice. Just before serving, stir in the ricotta, heat through, and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

 

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Put the pasta in your serving bowl, and add one more shot of lemon juice (I found that adding the juice at different stages really brightened up the flavour). Mmmm….super spring-y (and very verdant, don’t you agree? ).Winking smile

 

Speaking of verdant, Donna requested the recipe for the lime cookies I talked about yesterday. IMG_1794They were lime meltaways from Martha Stewart (I have and love her cookie book). I found the recipe online here though (saves me typing). The quantities aren’t the same, but I figure they’re both Martha cookies, so you’ll get the same end result, right? These cookies are basically like an incredibly rich, buttery shortbread, with a nice hit of lime and a delicate powdered sugar coating…perfection for any lime lover! Warning: when coating in the icing sugar, a few of these guys will break on you. You’ll be left with a few broken pieces…I’ll leave you to decide what to do with them. Winking smile

One warm fuzzy moment to leave you with from my market double dip: IMG_1808there are several of the same vendors at both markets. One of my favourites, Dan the Mushroom Man and I always chat and say hello….and when I showed up yesterday, he said he had a surprise for me….then went and bought me THESE! Isn’t that so sweet? I love the market!

I hope that something equally as lovely has happened (or will happen) to you this weekend!

Full of Beans

5 Jun

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Have you ever heard that expression before? I remember my mom using it growing up to say that me or my sister were kind of silly/crazy. Although I would describe myself as being “full of beans” in the crazy sense quite often, that’s not what this post is about, it’s more in the literal sense. Winking smile The beans in question? Garbanzos (aka chickpeas). I am a BIG fan of canned beans. For 99 cents (if you buy no-name), you can get 4 servings of a protein and fibre-packed food that is both tasty and extremely versatile. Win, win! So that’s one layer of the post title. The second meaning comes later on, keep reading and scrolling.

I love healthy eating/cooking blogs (and some not-so”healthy” ones too). Seriously, I don’t know what I did without them. While I come up with many of my own meal ideas, I love getting ideas and inspirations from all you other brilliant bloggers out there. I sometimes think there’s not enough hours in the day to read all the blogs I love! So when I saw this recipe over at Oh She Glows, it immediately piqued my interest. Fresh herbs? Chickpeas? Lime and cumin? I’m in. But the funny thing is, Angela adapted it from another blog, then I adapted it from her. Follow the link for the original recipe, below is what I did.

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Cilantro (and other herb) Lime Chickpea Salad (adapted from Angela who adapted it from Heather)

Makes 2 small or one large serving

1/2 can chickpeas, drained

Fresh cilantro, parsley and chives (I didn’t think I had enough cilantro yet in my garden to go ALL cilantro. Also, the original recipe called for fresh spinach, which I didn’t have, so I upped the herb-age).

About 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped red onion

One clove garlic, chopped

Small spoonful of Dijon mustard

Generous pinch of cumin

Lime juice

Fat-free Italian recipe (original called for olive oil, I swapped it out for this)

Splenda (swapped in for sugar in original)

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Process all ingredients except chickpeas, onion, salt and pepper in food processor (action shot). 

Combine the dressing with the chickpeas and onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit in the fridge for a bit if you have time to develop flavours.

I used this in lunches 2 days in a row last week as part of a larger, “enhanced” salad (I know, more salads, but I warned you)!

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Salad one (on the left) was a basic Romaine and fresh veggie salad (plus more fresh herb-age) with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing on the side, which I poured over right before serving. Good, but not WOW.

Salad 2 on the other hand, really hit the spot. This one was a “combine-with-dressing the night before and let sit” kinda deal. Lightly cooked asparagus, cucumber, onion, tomatoes, fresh parsley and chives, broccoli slaw mix, red pepper. Dressing: the “juice” from the chickpea salad, a bit more lime juice, red wine vinegar, Dijon, fat-free Italian, salt and pepper. Mmmmm! Those flavours combined and marinated to absolute perfection. This was Friday’s lunch, where I was supplying at a track and field day, so my multiple ice packs kept this nice and chilled in my bag and I was SO ready to dive in at lunch time!

My only “downside” to this chickpea salad was that I wish that I had enjoyed it on its own/in something that allowed its flavours to stand out a bit more. I liked what I did, but I don’t feel like I really let the chickpea salad take the starring role that it could have.IMG_1627

Now, if you read this blog regularly, you’ll know that I DO NOT like letting food go to waste. You also might know (although I haven’t mentioned it as often) that I have sort of a fear/paranoia about slimy canned beans. So, once a can is opened (sometimes even before), I am thinking about how I can incorporate the rest of the can into upcoming meals. Case in point: the aforementioned garbanzos.

I had seen the idea for the salad and wanted to make it, but didn’t want to make the whole one-can batch as originally posted. What to do with the other half of the can? Make a seriously delicious veggie-packed vegetarian (and even vegan if you leave off the cheese)-friendly pasta dish, naturally! Here’s how it all went down (this recipe serves 2). IMG_1628

I sautéed chopped asparagus, mushrooms, onion and garlic in 2 tsp olive oil in a non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes, then added the remaining little bit of a can of tomatoes that was in the fridge. I reduced heat, added salt and pepper, then let it simmer away.

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Meanwhile, I cooked 4 ounces whole wheat macaroni. Towards the end of the sauce cooking, I added in a cup of chickpeas (the other half of the can), and generous portions of fresh oregano, basil and parsley. *Fresh herb tip: add fresh herbs right at the end of cooking time. While you can add dried herbs in early, fresh herbs have a more delicate flavour, which can be cooked out if you add too early.IMG_1630

Add the cooked pasta, and a bit of that starchy cooking water (thanks Rachael Ray), crank the heat back up, and simmer for just a few more minutes to reduce the sauce a bit.

 

 

 

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Spoon into bowls to serve, and top with crumbled goat cheese (unless you’re going vegan). Mmmm….so good! Fibre-packed and full of veggies. Healthy, fresh, and incredibly delicious. I believe my mom’s words after eating this were: “that was exactly what I wanted, even though I didn’t know it yet.” Smile

Now for the second meaning of this title….

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Know what these are? If you guessed the bean plants in my garden, you’re right! This is what they look like 1.5 weeks after the seeds are planted. One is yellow, one green (can you guess which is which Smile with tongue out?). I just love planting things and watching them grow! Even better when I know I will get to eat them eventually!

What is your favourite bean dish (using canned beans or otherwise)?

Before and After

26 Mar

Mushroom Pasta Casserole

I love leftovers (you know this by now Smile). If I can help it, I won’t let any food go to waste. This was the inspiration for Wednesday’s dinner: mushroom chicken pasta bake. The leftovers I used: cooked whole wheat penne, more of the infamous mushroom cream cheese (you would NOT believe how much of this stuff is still left!) and leftover roasted chicken.

If you take a look at my nifty photo collage (can’t believe I’ve been using Picasa for years and just discovered this feature!) you can see the before and after photos – before is in the top right, after is the large photo on the left and then my plated portion is on the bottom right, alongside some roasted veggies (eggplant, carrot, cauliflower, red pepper with cumin, olive oil and salt). Before I go on to describe how I made this casserole, let me just say that I am really getting into cumin-roasted veggies, cauliflower in particular. I’ve always LOVED cumin and its delightful smokiness (without being spicy hot)…and lately I’ve been sprinkling it on my cauliflower, then roasting with oil and salt…YUMMY! Open-mouthed smile Give it a try.

Anyway…back to the casserole. My sister was visiting this week Red heart, so instead of making a dinner for two, this casserole serves three. The amounts I used of my leftovers were (approximately): just about 3 cups cooked penne (I chopped it up a bit before putting it in, because I wanted smaller pieces), 6 or 7 ounces cooked chicken, chopped and a nice scoop of the cream cheese. I started by sauteeing some mushrooms, onion, garlic and kale (for added colour, nutrition, and to use up the little bit left in the fridge) in a teaspoon of olive oil. Meanwhile, I was soaking some dried mushrooms in boiling water. I added the mushrooms, a bit of frozen spinach that I had defrosted and drained (again, why not bump up the veggies?) and the chicken, my seasonings were salt, pepper and thyme. I added in the pasta, my scoop of cream cheese and a bit of the reserved liquid from the mushrooms (if you soak dried mushrooms, save the liquid, it’s SUPER flavourful) and cooked it together for a few minutes until heated through, tasting to check for seasoning (oh: just remembered, I added a splash of soy sauce just for an extra punch of flavour).

I put the pasta mixture into a casserole dish, then topped with 1/3 cup grated light cheese (I had Tex-Mex, so that’s what I used) and 2 tbsp light Parmesan cheese (as processed as I know the stuff in the plastic can is, I like it because it’s grated so fine, a little goes a long way). I baked it at 400 for about half an hour, just to heat it all through and get the cheese nice and bubbly.

This wasn’t my absolute favourite meal, but it was a tasty and inventive way to use up leftovers, I think. It got positive reviews from the other diners too Smile.  Since this post is about re-imagining leftovers/using up food, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite tricks and tips for using up leftovers/food that’s almost going bad…there are always ways to incorporate something, and I’d much rather do that than let something go to waste!

1. Be creative! Just because you have leftovers of a meal doesn’t mean you need to eat the same meal for days straight. Leftover meatloaf can be made into a sandwich, or even crumbled onto nachos. That mushroom cream cheese wasn’t just for appetizers, but pizza, pasta, chicken…(still looking for ideas)! You just need to think outside of the box. Part of the fun of leftovers is that you can create unique combinations that you never would have thought of before and maybe make something you like even better than the original!

2. Don’t throw out produce that’s past its prime. Limp veggies can be revived! They’re probably not great for eating fresh…so cook ‘em up. Limp celery and bendy carrots? Cook them in a soup…either chopped in a chicken noodle soup, or blended into a puree for a cream soup. You can also stir fry or roast veggies that may not be at their freshest.

3. Even sour milk can be saved! Ok, if it’s separating into big chunks and clear liquid….it’s past its prime. But, if it’s just a little off, you can bake with it. There are recipes that actually call for soured milk (it’s true!)…like my favourite banana cake recipe (will have to post it here some time). And speaking of out-dated dairy, remember that expiration dates are just a guideline. I eat yogurt that’s past the date all the time…and sometimes milk too! I open it up, take a whiff, and if it smells ok, I go for it, no matter what the date says. Remember, it’s best before, not terrible after!

4. Don’t banish the bruised! Soft or bruised fruit can be used. Over-ripe bananas? Freeze ‘em! Freeze in the peel and then microwave to use in baking (hello banana bread Smile ) or peel first, cut in half, freeze, and use for banana soft serve, smoothies, or just eat as-is for a quick and delicious snack. Pears or apples that are bruised, past their prime, or just kind of mealy or soft are great if you cook them in a little bit of water with cinnamon/spices and sweetener of your choice. You can stir them into yogurt, use as an ice cream topped, or make my squash breakfast.

I’ve got lots more great leftover tips, but I will save them for future posts. Do you have any favourite ways to use up leftovers? And…any ideas for what else I can do with my mushroom cream cheese? Or do you want some? I’ll give it away, free of charge!Smile with tongue out

My Favourite Things – meals for one

27 Jan

Time for another installment of My Favourite Things. As per a request after my last post, this one is devoted to some of my favourite meals/cooking tips for one person. I lived on my own for three years during university, and I am alone for meals a lot of the time now, so cooking, shopping and eating for one have become second nature to me. I really didn’t even realize that cooking for one is a challenge for some people until my sister mentioned it to me. So here are a few of my best tricks/favourite meals.

A nice big pasta supper. See my basic recipe for pasta with meat and veggies. Then you can change up the veggies and meat (or go meatless, use cheese or beans) and play with it until you have the flavours you like. Pasta is a fairly inexpensive meal that comes together quickly, which is great after the end of a long day.

Soup and Sandwich Supper

The nice thing about eating alone is that you have no one to answer to. If you just feel like a soup and sandwich, you can go for it! The sandwich can be whatever you like – grilled cheese, meat, both, veggie. You can use any kind of bread – make a quesadilla with a tortilla (or roll it into a wrap), use normal bread, a bagel, pita or English muffin. I really love sandwiches made with grilled or roasted veggies (and you can make these ahead – use them in salads or soups too) and goat cheese. Sandwich these between bread, grill it in a panini press/grill pan/frying pan and enjoy cheesy deliciousness. 🙂 Grilled portabello mushrooms also make FABULOUS vegetarian sandwiches. Grilled cheese sandwiches with a little bit of fruit (sliced apples are great) are another favourite of mine. If you want a meatier option, sandwich meat is always a quick option, or you can use up your leftovers to make another meal. And if all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with a good old peanut butter sandwich for supper.

As for soup? Mmmm…love it, especially this time of year! Here are a few of my favourite soup tips:

Classic quick chicken noodle

Veggie puree – I love vegetable cream soups…with just about any veggie. Broccoli; cauliflower; squash and apple is a great combo; zucchini…the list goes on.Basically, you just cook the veggies (I usually saute in a bit of olive oil), puree with a bit of liquid (you can just use water and salt or use broth), add milk (or fat free cream cheese or laughing cow cheese are really great), season and heat through. Nutmeg is always good in veggie cream soups. Squash soups taste great with a bit of cinnamon mixed in, or curry is good if you like it (I am not a huge curry person myself though). I love using my immersion blender to make soups (LOVE this gadget, one of the best birthday presents I’ve ever received…seriously).

A lot of canned goods are inexpensive and great for adding to soups. Canned beans make a great healthy, tasty and cheap addition to soups for protein. Canned tomatoes are excellent for adding volume/liquid to soups, particularly veggie ones. You can add the trinity of southwestern flavour (as I like to call them) – paprika, chilli powder and cumin – and do a yummy southwestern veggie soup. Tomatoes, corn and black beans work well together.

Chili

I love a nice pot of chili. I never use a recipe – like many other things I make, it depends on my mood/what’s on hand. Quite often, I make vegetarian chili using just beans, or sometimes add soy crumbles. You can use whatever meat (or not) is your preference.  Two of my favourite “secret” ingredients are a pinch of cocoa powder and coffee (either add liquid or even some dried instant coffee). Both add a nice depth of flavour to chili – try it sometime! Even if you’re only cooking for one, make a big batch. Chili freezes well and is GREAT for leftovers. You can use leftover chili to: top a baked (or “microwave-baked”) potato, put on a taco salad, top chili fries (either make homemade regular or sweet potato fries, or use frozen ones) or nachos (and of course, don’t forget the cheese!) and to make a dip – nothing like a good old Mexican layered dip with chili – you can do one layer of taco seasoning mixed with cream cheese/sour cream, a chili layer, then cheese over all, microwave and enjoy (ok, I know that last one is not a traditional “meal,” but it sure is a tasty way to use up chili).  You know what’s great about all of these recipes? If you don’t feel like/don’t have time to make chili, they all work with canned chili (such as my FAVOURITE one).

Stir Fries

Stir fry is a healthy, quick meal that can be easily reduced or expanded depending on how many people you are serving. Again, you can use whatever protein (chicken, pork, beef, tofu, shrimp) and veggies you have on hand. For me, garlic is a must for seasoning. Fresh ginger adds a nice Asian flair. And, if you’re like me and can take the heat, dried chili flakes are great too. I start by having my ingredients all chopped and ready to go. The basic method is to heat a pan (non-stick is best) till it’s nice and hot over medium-high heat, add a pit of oil (or use PAM), then add your meat and garlic (and ginger and chili flakes if using), cook until the meat is almost done, stirring occasionally but not too often (or the meat won’t brown). Then add all your veggies, cooking and stirring until crisp-tender. Near the end comes the fun part – seasoning! Now, if you’ve used ginger, garlic or chili flakes, you can just add salt and pepper and call it a day. But in the last few years I’ve discovered some Asian sauces that make your stir-fry taste decidedly more “restaurant-y.” Try any of these on their own, or mix and match to create your own “secret sauce.” Soy sauce is a classic, Teryaki is great, but my three new favourites are black bean sauce, oyster-flavoured sauce (doesn’t taste fishy, trust me, I HATE all fish/seafood) and chili garlic sauce. I bought these because I was making recipes that called for them, and now I love them on their own. They are available in the Asian section of most grocery stores (even here in Simcoe!). Once you’ve sauced and seasoned your stir-fry, cook and stir a few minutes more. You can serve your stir fry over rice, pasta, bulgur, couscous or quinoa (all of which are pretty cheap and easy to make).

I have more ideas, but this is a long enough post already. These are just some of the classic single stand-bys. It looks like I’ll have to do a Part II of favourite meals for one.

Let me know if you have any great single meal ideas or if you have any requests for favourite things posts.