Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Father's Day Dinner - Salads - Part 2

Of course we can't just have meat for Father's Day! What goes better with ribs than a potato salad and a cabbage and apple salad? The nice thing about both of these salads is they are make ahead. Perfect sides for entertaining because you can make them in advance! The other nice thing about salads is they make it easy to include MORE veggies into our daily meals. As an aside,  some folks might find having 2 "creamy" salads on the same dinner plate is a bit of overkill, but since my goal was to use up things in my fridge and take advantage of what was in season, slightly mis-matched meals happen. If I hadn't had a craving for potato salad, I might have been inclined to cook the baby potatoes and serve them with a little butter and chopped parsley to avoid "creamy dressing monotony". No one complained though, and the plates were empty, so I guess I'm golden!
Our local farmer's market has been on the go since May and I have been going every Saturday to take advantage of our local and fresh produce. Randy laughs at how excited I get over a bag of mixed greens... please go easy on the arugula Bea (FYI, for my taste buds, a LITTLE arugula goes a long way)!  Fortunately for me, my favourite vendor, provides us with a heads up on Facebook as to what goodies are going to be at the market on Saturday. This helps a lot with meal planning. I always shop the farmers market first, before going to the grocery store just in case they are out of some of the items I was planning to get. 

For my local Quinte West readers, I strongly urge you to visit Bea and Dan at the market. You can't go wrong with fresh, tasty and CHEMICAL FREE produce! Please visit their web site -->  Natural Themes Farms - Produce  And just in case you are interested, these folks also have a variety of indigenous plantings for your garden --> Natural Themes Farms - Native Plants  ... a well deserved shout because of the eco-holic in me!

This past Saturday, I was able to procure some beautiful baby potatoes, green onions, carrots, and spinach. The spinach was earmarked for breakfast smoothies and some side salads through the week; the carrots and the rest of the veggies for our Fathers Day feast, (oh, and the carrot tops ended up in a pesto for the carrot soup I made)! The baby potatoes and the green onions definitely rocked our potato salad and the carrots were great along side of the shredded green and purple cabbage (already in my fridge) in my supercharged cabbage and apple salad.

The following dressing recipe for the potato salad is actually a salad dressing I have been making as a substitute for the store bought variety which I no longer buy.  Now that I have fine tuned the seasoning, Erika doesn't mind it as much and has finally accepted the fact that Kraft Ranch Dressing will no longer be found in our fridge. My recipe is quite mild in flavour as I was mimicking the store bought version. 

If you would like a more flavourful dressing for your tossed green salads, feel free to increase the quantities to 1/4 tsp for the onion powder and the garlic powder; 3/4 tsp parsley and 3/4 tsp dill (fresh or fresh-frozen). Keep in mind, no matter which seasoning proportions you choose, the flavours will take at least 2-3 hours in the fridge to develop and intensify. I like to make my dressing the day before for best results. 

Since I already had a batch of my Ranch-like dressing in the refrigerator, I used it for dressing the potato salad. The only catch is, I had already used it some of it for salads and then I didn't measure how much was actually left before I poured it into the potato salad... DUH! If I had to GUESS, it was a little more than 1/2 a cup. Given this conundrum, I am providing you with the full recipe for my dressing. If you have any leftovers after dressing your potato salad, I strongly urge you to try it on your favourite mixed green salad! You might just be able to give up store bought Ranch dressing too.

Potato Salad
Serves 4-6

1.5  quarts of baby potatoes, mine were red skinned, purple and white 
3 eggs, hard cooked from happy chickens
4 green onions, whites finely chopped, greens thinly, sliced
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1/2 lime, juiced thoroughly
1/2 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper

(Make ahead 2 hours or the day before is recommended)
1 cup organic yogurt
1/2 cup mayonaise
2 pinches of salt
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1 heaped tsp dried parsley (fresh is you have it)
1/2 tsp dill (I had some fresh stuff in the freezer) If using dried, I would start off with 1/4 tsp or so, and after about an hour, check for flavour. I find dried herbs can be more intense in flavouring than fresh. You can always add more, it's hard to take it out!

Cook the potatoes in lightly salted water, until just tender. The time will depend on the size of your potatoes... but 6-10 minutes should do the trick.

Drain, and cool quickly in an ice bath. Drain again and pour out onto a cookie sheet lined with a tea towel. I like to make sure that there is no extra moisture on the potatoes.

Hard cook the eggs and let cool.

Peel the eggs, place them in a large mixing bowl and then mash with a fork. Make sure the egg white in small bits.

Add the baby potatoes to the eggs. For the small ones, cut them in half; for the ones that are bigger then single bite-size, cut them in quarters. Toss the eggs and potatoes. 

Add the salt, pepper, diced celery and green onions. Toss again to evenly distribute everything.

Add a 1/2 cup of the dressing and the juice of the lime, gently combine. If your salad still looks a little dry, add a few tablespoons more of the dressing and stir. Repeat as required until you get desired consistency... just make sure your salad is not drowning in the dressing, unless you like it that way of course! 

Scrape your salad into a sealed container and let stand in the refrigerator for at least two hours. You will want the dressing and potatoes to be very well acquainted and the salad nice and cold at serving time. 

Now on to my cabbage and apple salad (on steroids)... I assume it's a hit at every potluck I attend because I come home with an empty bowl!

OOPS! I forgot the garnish for the picture.

Cabbage and Apple Salad - Supercharged
Serves 6-8

***For shredding the cabbage, I like to use my knife, but feel free to use your food processor.  I use my box grater with the course shred size for the carrots.***

3 cups red cabbage, shredded
1/3 medium head green cabbage, shredded
3 medium carrots, grated
3 large leaves curly kale, stemmed and sliced chiffonade style (in RIBBONS)
3 tart/sweet apples like McIntosh or Empire, chopped with skins on.
1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup organic yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp maple syrup (optional)
2 pinches salt

3/4 cup toasted walnut pieces or
3/4 cup pumpkin seeds or
a combination of both

Combine the shredded green cabbage, carrots, and cranberries together in a large bowl. Put back into a large Ziploc bag or large sealed storage container.  This allows the cranberries to plump up with the moisture from the veggies. Store the shredded red cabbage separately, otherwise it will turn the salad pink.

About an hour before serving time, you can take the cabbage mix and red cabbage out of the fridge and combine together. Add in the chiffonade kale and chopped apple. 
This salad is SO pretty

Starting with about half of the dressing, pour into the salad and stir till combined.  Continue adding the dressing until the salad is well coated but not drowning.  Put back into the fridge to stay cold.

At serving time, sprinkle salad with the nuts/seeds for a garnish.  If there are nut and seed allergies, leave them out of the salad, put them on the table and let guests sprinkle there own garnishes themselves.

Yes, it was a super tasty Father's Day dinner. There was no family mutiny, I ended up with leftovers, and it was a nice family dinner. Randy's mom joined us too!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Father's Day Dinner - He Wants MEAT - Part 1

Last week, we ate many, many vegetables!  In fact, our meals Monday through Thursday were either vegan or vegetarian and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had green smoothies or whole grain toast with organic peanut butter and Chia seeds for breakfast; mini portions of dinner leftovers for lunch; plenty of green tea and water and then I whipped up freshly made plant based meals for dinner --> veggie stir fry, brown rice and cashewstomato cream on pasta with diced zucchini and bell peppers, and my sloppy Joe sauce with diced bell peppers and vegan sour cream on brown rice just to list a few. Yes sir-ee, all these veggie based meals ROCKED... OK, so maybe it was only me who was totally excited about this!  As it turns out, by Thursday, it was looking like I would be facing a family mutiny if some form of meat did not show up on the dinner plates, so for Friday's dinner, I thawed some organic chicken thighs to accompany the leftover mains that would now do double duty as sides (**BUDGET TIP** use up those leftovers!). For myself, I opted to remain plant based and had another vegan sloppy Joe with a side of leftover veggie stir fry... YUM!

So meal planning for the upcoming week brings me to Father's Day and providing the man of the hour with a favourite meal that of course MUST have meat for fear of the aforementioned family mutiny! Ribs are a family favourite and even better yet, back ribs were on sale.

On Saturday, I went to our Farmers Market and left with a fabulous stash of chemical free veggies. Those baby potatoes and green onions will rock a potato salad, and those carrots will be a lovely addition to my supercharged cabbage and apple salad.  Both of these salads will be splendid with the honey garlic ribs on the Father's Day Menu!
A few weeks ago I picked up some local, raw honey.  I am only now trying this golden elixir because I couldn't get the ^&*@! lid off... ACK!  OMG, I have never had such incredible tasting honey before. This poor girl has never had local honey, never mind, raw honey EVER!  I will NEVER buy store bought again. Yes, this magnificent honey will star in my honey garlic sauce.
Traditionally, my recipe calls for soy sauce but since I was out of it and had some Tamari in the fridge, I decided to try it instead.  Although Tamari is made from fermented soy beans, it is similar but not the quite the same in taste as soy sauce and it is a little less salty. Just to jump ahead, it was just as nice as the soy sauce, and I would recommend either. Just remember to start the soy sauce at ONE tablespoon to ensure your sauce isn't too salty.

Essentially, my honey garlic sauce is a simmered reduction of all of these ingredients plus water resulting in a thick sauce to brush on during the last 10-15 minutes of low and slow barbecuing.  I will have to fine tune this recipe for you since I lost my original recipe years ago and have been eye balling it ever since. If you would like to experiment on your own, feel free. To get you started, my measurements for the Father's Day Ribs were:
Honey Garlic Sauce (WIP)
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup ketchup
2 cloves of garlic minced (but I should have added a third)
2 tbsp. Tamari (I think I needed a little more)
3/4 cup water (this allows the sauce to simmer without burning to develop the flavours)
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.
Whisk regularly and simmer over medium/low heat till the sauce is thick. 
Careful not to burn.
Once I get my measurements down, I will let you know!
I begin the process by cutting the rack of ribs into serving sized pieces - usually 3 ribs per serving. I put place the ribs in a covered roasting pan with about 2 inches of water and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hours at 325°F. The ribs do NOT have to be in a single layer. Once the ribs are done slow cooking, let them stand for about 20 minutes so that they can be easily handled. Let these ribs cool sufficiently to put into the fridge or freezer for a later meal; or continue on with the oven roasting or barbecuing.
Since it wasn't super hot on Sunday and my barbecue is not so great, I opted to oven roast.  I par cooked the ribs on Saturday; cooled them and put them in the fridge till Sunday. Set the oven to 350° F (if you have a convection oven, turn on the fan).  Put the ribs on an uncovered roasting pan, meat side up, and roast for 10 minutes. (If you have just slow cooked the ribs, you might only need to roast for about 5 minutes since they are still warm.) After 10 minutes, brush the ribs with the sauce and return to the oven. Roast for 5 minutes. Turn the ribs, and brush bottoms with the sauce.  Return to the oven and roast for 5 minutes. Turn the ribs one last time and brush with the remaining sauce - they should be meat side up now.  Pop them back into the oven for another 5-7 minutes.  Turn off the oven and let the ribs stand in the oven while you are finalizing your sides.

Budget & Time Saving Tips

I mentioned before that you can slow cook these ribs and freeze them. As long as they are sealed well, they will keep nicely for a month or 2. In fact, if you want to save time and money, buy the ribs when they are on sale and slow cook several meals ahead of time and then freeze them individually on a large cooking sheet. After all, it takes the about the same amount of hydro to cook one meal in the oven as it does 2 or 3. Once frozen, freeze them in a tightly sealed container or freezer bag. These ribs will now be individually frozen and you can grab as many or few servings as you require.  Thaw them in the fridge, over night and continue with the oven roasting or barbecuing. You can have slow cooked ribs, even for those busy weekday meals.

These ribs are tasty, tender and just a little sweet whether you oven roast or barbecue.  Just keep in mind, when barbecuing, use a low fire because the sauce burns easily and burned sauce is just plain nasty. Stay tuned for Part 2 and my salad sides!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Lasagna Roll Ups 2 Ways

In my last post, I shared my favourite lasagna recipe. It was from a Better Homes & Garden recipe book circa 1950's-ish. I mentioned that this was my go to recipe. While poking around on Pinterest, I came across the idea of deconstructing the traditional lasagna and rolling it up. Some recipe authors suggested that it takes less time, but in the end, I discovered there is very little time saved, except for 15 minutes of standing time. That being said, it is a lovely presentation and a refreshing change from the typical squares of lasagna, plus these rolls make portion control easier!

I knew last week that I wanted to do a post on the vegetarian lasagna rolls that I made, but because I made my lasagna rolls were made from some odd and ends in my freezer, I wanted my readers to have both a meat option and a vegetarian option. Hence the reason for posting my Mom's Lasagna recipe first!

I had almost 2 cups of my vegan Bolegnese sauce in the freezer, of course in a 500 ml mason jar. (BTW, this sauce freezes beautifully too.) This was the "meat" filling in my lasagna rolls. Unfortunately, I did not have enough Bolognese sauce to ladle under and over the lasagna rolls before baking, so I needed on additional sauce. Fortunately, I also had about 3 cups of my marinara sauce in the freezer.  Since my marinara sauce is also flavoured with similar herbs as the Bolognese sauce, it would pair nicely.

I thawed both sauces (over night in the refrigerator) and brought them to a simmer in order to make sure that there was no excess liquids in the sauces, about 20 minutes or so did the trick. Since I wanted the marinara sauce to be fairly thick, I added 4 teaspoons of chia seeds so soak up an extra liquids - shhhhh "hidden healthy"!

Cook 8 lasagna noodles as per package directions – I used whole wheat.

I then mixed together
2 1/2 cups cottage cheese (about 3/4 of a standard container)
1 egg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped (fresh if you have it, but dried works just fine)
Several grinds of pepper

I grated a 3 inch piece of Mozzarella cheese (from an 460 gram bar)

Take 9x13" baking pan and ladle enough marinara sauce onto the bottom. My pictures show and 8x8", which only fit 6 rolls. I had to use an small one for the extra 2 rolls. Oops! Learning curve alert... 

Following my tried and true rhyme, with the crazy beat and a dance if you like --> Noodles, Cheese, Mozzarella, Meat ...

and then roll up and place the roll in the baking dish, seam side down.

Continue until all 8 rolls are done.  

Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the rolls so they don't dry out while baking.  

I covered with foil and baked at 375° F for 25-30 minutes. If you make ahead and take out of the refrigerator, I would probably bake it for an additional 15 minutes to make sure everything is cooked through. You should see the sauce bubbling.  Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes or so, while you get any side dishes finished off.

As you can see my first run through with lasagna rolls was essentially made with leftovers from my freezer.  If you don't have these leftovers available, I would recommend using my favourite meatless Bolognese recipe from the blog for the filling and the topping if you want a vegetarian version. I would add 1 more heaped teaspoon of dried basil to the sauce though if you don't have any fresh. If you want a meat filling (all meat or lightened up with the green lentils and mushrooms) I highly recommend the meat filling from my Mom's Lasagna. For either recipe, I would be happy to answer any questions about measurements or techniques.

Feel free to freeze any extra sauce in a mason jar or two. Don't forget to leave at least 1 inch of headspace. Save the extra sauce for lasagna rolls for 2 or add to your favourite pasta for a quick meal. I have a sneaky suspicion that the full recipes for either sauce will end up leaving you with quite a bit of leftovers. Waste not want not!   
PS. If you use the Bolognese recipe, you will see that it calls for 120 grams of the extra firm tofu, which is about half a brick for the brands that I buy in my grocery store (these are 350 gram bars). As this is the case, I always double the recipe, freeze the extras so that I can have almost ready meals when I'm pressed for time.  Who needs takeout?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Mom's Lasagna

This is Part 1 of 2 for lasagna!

I LOVE lasagna! It was a comfort food from my childhood, and although it was not my mom's favourite, it certainly ranked high in tastiness for us kids, so she made it frequently despite the fact that lasagna is not a ready in 30 minutes kind of meal, primarily due to the preparation of the various components. Now that I think about it, despite the rather time consuming preparation process, lasagna really was a convenient make ahead meal for a busy family of 6 because it could be made several days in advance or or it could be frozen, thawed and then cooked when required! More importantly, junior cooks, like myself when I was 10, could get dinner ready by popping it in the oven and making a side salad.  It is also a great potluck dish... Easy to take to a gathering and it is always a welcomed dish on a buffet table! What more could you want in a casserole type meal?

I adored mom's recipe and still do. It was from a Better Homes & Garden recipe book circa 1950's-ish. To this day, this is my go to lasagna recipe. Of course, I have tinkered a little with it with great success! The nice thing about this recipe is that I don't find it especially rich or heavy, primarily because I tend to use less mozzarella than called for and the wonderful tomato and basil flavour shines through too. Yes sir-we, this is a satisfying and tasty recipe!

Mom's Lasagna

1 lb lean ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced (I use 2 or 3 depending on the size)
1 tbsp. basil
1 tsp salt
1 large can plum tomatoes
2 cans (6 oz.ea.) tomato paste (I use 1 large 13 oz can)
8 lasagna noodles (I use whole wheat)
2 eggs (I use happy chicken eggs)
3 cups cream-style cottage cheese (I use organic 2%)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 tbsp. parsley flakes.(fresh is nice but not mandatory, dried or frozen work)
1 tsp salt (I use sea salt or Kosher)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly ( I use my cheese slicer, on thinnest setting and slice enough cheese to neatly cover the surface of the lasagna 6-8 slices depending on the width, maybe 1/2 lb?)

In a large skillet, brown the meat slowly; spoon off excess fat. Add next 5 ingredients. Simmer uncovered 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Cook the noodles according to package instructions in large amount boiling salted water till tender; drain and rinse. Set aside.

Beat eggs. Add parsley, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to eggs. Set aside. 

ASSEMBLY:  Layer half the noodles in a 13x9x2 in. baking dish; spread with half the Ricotta filling; add half the mozzarella cheese and half the meat sauce. 

Repeat layers --> My little rhyme to remember ... cha - cha - cha and said with a funky little beat... Noodles, Cheese, Mozzarella, Meat!

Bake in a 375° F oven for about 30 minutes (or assemble early and refrigerate ahead of time; bake 45 minutes). Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a green salad and pass me a slice of garlic bread!

This lasagna can be double wrapped in foil and frozen for a month or 2. Thaw in the fridge over night and bake as directed.

Things I have done to tweak this recipe to add a little more healthy and to make this dish a little more budget friendly includes combining 1/2 pound of ground beef, 1 cup cooked green lentils and 8 ounces of finely diced mushrooms, white or cremini when making the sauce. This is a good way to increase the plant-based content AND make the the "meat sauce" a little more budget friendly.  I also use organic cottage cheese and eggs; but sadly, I have yet to find organic blocks of cheese in my local stores.  One of these days, I am going to try 2 flax eggs in the cottage cheese mixture; a little more omega 3 would be a plus since the lasagna is already loaded with protein.

Yes, lasagna is a little heavy in the saturated fat from the meat and the cheese, but that doesn't mean you can't have it. Take a smaller piece and load up 2/3 of your plate with a mixed green salad with some amazing toppings like red and yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets and a few pumpkin seeds. YUM! If you aren't in the mood for salad, a medley of your favourite steamed veggies would be lovely too - broccoli and cauliflower together or a big stack of asparagus or green beans!

Whenever I cook a tomato based sauce that needs to simmer for any length of time, it drives me crazy to be wiping up little splatters of red sauce from EVERYWHERE ! I used to use a metal mesh splatter guard which worked quite well.  Eventually, that gave up the ghost and my hubby bought me the silicon version. It did the job admirably as well, but it has started to tear near the rim. Apparently, this splatter guard's days are numbered too.  

As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention", and I believe I came up with the perfect solution. It requires spending no money (YAY for me) because the solution to containing the tomato sauce splatter is already in my kitchen!  See below, my pot of bubbling tomato sauce. If unprotected, my beautiful backsplash (that my handy husband installed) will soon be covered and splashes of red! Fear not, help is on the way! 

Tada! Another use for my metal sieve.  

I wouldn't be inclined to try this with a plastic one because it would probably melt, but this stainless steel one does an excellent job. I might not be replacing my splatter guard after all! WOW... save money, don't buy what you don't need, and make do with what you have on hand... wallet friendly AND eco-friendly, what more could a budget conscious, eco-holic girl want?

Watch for Part 2 of this post which will feature Lasagna Roll Ups!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter cookies are a childhood favourite of mine.  I remember baking these delectable cookies from an early age. It was an easy and forgiving cookie to make for a junior baker such as myself. The added bonus, of course, was that mom always had the required ingredients on hand.  Peanut butter cookies were definitely pantry friendly!  I could make them whenever I wanted. 

Fortunately for me, peanut allergies were not as prevalent. We were allowed to take the iconic PB & J sandwiches for lunch,  peanut butter cookies and all things peanuts to school for snacks. Sadly these items are all gone from the lunch bags of modern-day primary and elementary students.

One of my goals is to "clean up" my food choices with less sugar, less bad fat, more veggies and less meat. To help me improve our family diet, I have been taking many of my favourite meals and snacks, and giving them makeovers. In some cases I have actually found brand-new recipes to replace my tried-and-true traditional ones, such as the Pasta Bolegnese or add super healthy foods in my traditional recipes ( I LOVE hidden healthy!). In other cases, I have merely substituted healthier choices for some of the ingredients with the goal of keeping the recipe results intact.  So far, so good and I have had very few disasters! 

Up until now, I have always used the typical Kraft smooth or crunchy peanut butter for PB&J sandwiches, peanut butter on toast, and of course peanut butter cookies... the reason for this post! My neighbour Ann makes the most amazing peanut butter cookies, so when I make them, I always use her recipe. The other day, when I made peanut butter cookies, I decided to tinker with Ann's recipe to make it a little healthier. To start off, I used an organic, all natural peanut butter, and split the flour requirement between white and whole wheat flour. It's a "work in process", but so far I am thrilled with the results. The cookies were just as tasty, and no one noticed the healthier additions!  I have a few more tweaks to make, I hope they are as successful as these ones.

Peanut Butter Cookies 

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 egg from happy chickens
1/2 cup natural, organic if you can, peanut butter
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp vanilla

Cream butter, add sugars gradually, beat till creamy.

Mix in egg, peanut butter, salt and baking soda.
Add vanilla and mix well.
Blend in flour.
Roll slightly heaped tablespoons into balls and press with floured fork.
Bake at 350° F for 12-14 minutes until lightly brown.



Next time I think I will substitute brown sugar with honey. My objective... To reduce the refined sugars in this recipe. This will take a little bit of playing around. Honey is far sweeter and has a distinctive flavour. I may even slip in a bit of molasses to mimic the brown sugar flavour. In addition, the honey will not be a 1 to 1 substitution either. I might start with 1/2 cup, add a tablespoon of molasses and keep the white sugar as is.  I might even increase the peanut butter by a 1/4 cup to down play the strong honey flavour. Wish me luck!