Something spicy – curry in a hurry

Easy food is the best food. Yes, you can order in. And it can be delicious. Or it can be cold, overly salted, too fatty, and full of things you know you shouldn’t eat. So if you arm yourself with a few quick options, you can rustle up a meal whenever you’re hungry. Here’s one I like to make – you can make a lot, or a little, depending on what you have. The proportions are not exact…adjust to your taste!

In a saucepan over medium heat, heat some cooking oil, about a tablespoon. 1/4 cup of vegetable or other broth will also work. Dice an onion and throw it in to get started. Turn it down if it is browning, you want it to just start to become translucent. Meanwhile, what other veg do you have? For two people, plan on around 2 to 2-1/2 cups of chopped vegetables. You can use frozen if you don’t have fresh. Don’t worry! Add these to the pot and stir, as you chop them. Here’s what we used yesterday:

1 onion (as above)

1/2 zucchini

1 spicy red pepper

6 cremini mushrooms, halved

4 green beans from our garden

There isn’t a vegetable we haven’t tried in this. Once they are all in the pot, add curry powder or paste to taste. Powder is easy to keep, adds a lot of colour and flavour, and is CHEAP. I used about 2 tablespoons or 30ml.

Once you’ve stirred this in, add about a cup of cooked chickpeas (half a jar of frozen, or half a can, with liquid). Add another half cup of water, and stir in 2T/30ml of coconut milk powder, OR add half a cup of coconut milk, OR half a cup of soy or nut milk, and some shredded coconut – sweetened or not, it won’t matter.

Simmer it for about 20 minutes. This means dinner in less than 30 minutes, start to finish. I served mine on leftover brown rice. Alternately, you can start the rice about half an hour ahead, but honestly, just cook a big pot once a week and keep it in the fridge to use as needed. Another option is to add a diced large potato or six or so baby potatoes, halved, or a small sweet potato, diced, to the other veg and simmer along. Let it thicken a bit with the lid off if you prefer it thicker.

If you have some basil leaves, they are lovely stirred in. A dollop of yogurt (vegan or dairy) adds a nice touch. Or a few coconut flakes on top are also good. Enjoy! Delightful with lemonade, fizzy water, a beer, or a glass of white wine.

Soup, glorious soup!

Vegetable soup
What’s hiding under the broth? All these vegetables!

It doesn’t take much to make a quick pot of soup for lunch. I already had a cup of cooked beans (white beans with rosemary and garlic) in the fridge. I made those at an earlier time and froze part of the batch for future use. I like to do several kinds of beans on the same day, especially if I also have a batch of bread rising in the kitchen. That lets me use the energy of my oven as efficiently as possible. I know there are many Instant Pot fans out there; for me, an afternoon of cooking a variety of foods while the oven is hot is very soothing.

Here’s what I did:

I started with a jar (500ml/2 cups) of vegetable broth I had in the freezer, and thawed it quickly in the microwave. Failing that, it’s perfectly fine to just use water, some herbs, and salt if you like it. We tend to go very easy on salt in our house, so do that to your taste. Hot sauce or soy sauce are also nice additives for flavour. Or reconstitute some dried mushrooms and use the soaking water as your broth.

Next I chopped up some veg. In this case, you can see carrot, onion, potato, and green pepper. I used one each, except for the pepper – there was half of one left from yesterday’s homemade pizza. I brought those to the boil in the broth, and simmered til tender. Then I stirred in the beans, including the liquid they were cooked in. If they had been canned beans from the store, which would also work just fine, I would have drained and rinsed them.

That’s it! In the photo, they’re without broth so you can see how fresh and delicious the veggies look. This lunch is faster than fast food, and easy to make at home, where many of us are hanging out these days.

If you’re a front line worker in a grocery store, emergency services, healthcare or elsewhere, thank you for all you do. Everyone please stay safe out there!

Our grandparents knew how to make the most of a little

Apples, nuts and ginger at the ready.

One of our favourite Sunday breakfasts? Pancakes. Especially in these lean times, when we’re working hard to use food that’s in the cupboard, they are a go-to. Hearty, satisfying, and delicious. Here’s the recipe I use. My grandmother wasn’t above using a biscuit mix, but she was just as adept at doing it this way. Keep a few key provisions like herbs, spices, baking powder, baking soda, flour, sugar, and cornstarch, and you’ll be able to make all sorts of foods. Apples will store for a long time without refrigeration, if you have a cool, dark spot.

The burner I like to use on our stove is going wonky, so the temperature control isn’t working. It’s one of the things Steve was going to fix, before the world turned topsy-turvy. But it’s okay – it just means I prepare things on that place first, and then set them aside, since it only cooks at one speed: ultra fast. I browned the apples above in a little butter. For two of us, this is a single large apple, sliced, a few sliced almonds (maybe 2T/30ml) in a tablespoon or 15ml of butter. I also chopped up a couple of tablespoons (30ml) of fresh ginger instead of my usual cinnamon because I have it on hand at the moment. Dried (1t/5ml) would also work. Once they look like above, take off the heat and cover the pan while you make the pancakes.

Almost ready to turn. The bubbles are breaking through the top. As soon as the edges start to look slightly dry or less glossy than this, it’s time.

Serve with a couple of tablespoons of syrup or honey. If you don’t have that, you can use jam, or add sugar to the apple mix while it sits, or if you don’t eat sweeteners or can’t have them, simply use the apples. They’ll still taste delicious.

Pancakes with apples and almonds

How is your pantry holding up? If you’re trying to figure out how to use ingredients you have in a new way, or you’re missing something and don’t know what to substitute, give me a shout. I’ll help if I can.

No baking powder? For every teaspoon, substitute 1/2tsp (2ml) baking soda and 1/4tsp (1ml) cream of tartar. Or use 1T baking soda and add 1t (5ml) vinegar or lemon to the milk. Or use half-and-half yogurt and milk, if you have plain yogurt, plus the baking soda. Two more tricks: if you have no soda, you can whip your egg white until fluffy before folding it in (mix the yolk in with the rest in the usual way), or if you have club soda or gingerale or something similar, you can sub half and half with the milk.

Your Creativity will Carry You Through

We’ve been conditioned to shop. Programmed, really. Even with food. We live in one of the most abundant countries in the world, and the minute someone tells us we can’t have something, we run after it like desperate lemmings. Or at least that’s how it appears.

Today is March 28th. I’ve been in my little castle in the sky for more than a week without venturing outside, with the exception of the balcony, or the garbage chute. We can do this. You all know I like to save a dollar (even a dime!) wherever I can. I also hate waste. And I like to cook, and eat. So how is a food-lover like me managing these days?

Creativity is my secret weapon. And improvisation. And being able to set frustration aside. I also learned to cook from some women who were even more frugal than I. They had no choice. I do miss my vegetable garden right now. I know as we spend more time inside, I will REALLY miss it. But the cupboards, fridge and freezer will have to do.

Some things that have been my kitchen salvation during this:

  1. Rice and beans (including lentils and chickpeas). I always have lots on hand. I buy dried, not canned, because a much larger volume fits in the same space. Then I cook up batches and refrigerate or freeze some portions for quicker use, if I am so inclined. Right now I have white and pink beans in the freezer, already cooked, in mason jars. Lots of kidney beans and black beans in the cupboard.
  2. Canned tuna and nuts. Both sources of protein. If you’re vegan, the nuts will do nicely, but they are much more expensive.
  3. Eggs and cheese.
  4. Rolled oats and cornmeal. Porridge. Polenta. Granola. Muffins. Bread.
  5. Pasta, shapes and long.
  6. Frozen fruit and vegetables. They often go on sale. They don’t go bad as easily and take less space to store than fresh.
  7. Potatoes and onions. They store well in a dark cupboard or in a box on your balcony when it is consistently above freezing but not hot outside.
  8. Canned tomatoes. You can eat them plain, with eggs, in a soup, make delicious marinara or a casserole, without all heavy doses of sugar, salt and additives found in many canned varieties.
  9. Soy or nut milk in tetra packs, or UHT (shelf stable) milk or canned evaporated milk. Again, coming from a place where there are frequent storms and power outages, I learned to keep things on hand that can survive without a fridge.
  10. Many dried herbs and spices. Many.

Basically, it is cheaper and easier to keep the base ingredients for things you like to eat, and learn to cook them from scratch. Keep a supply on hand. Learn to use them. If you want tips, let me know. (Oh, and that vegetable chowder up top? Put a diced potato, onion, carrot, and about a cup of corn niblets (half a can, if canned, or use frozen) in a pot. Add cold water that covers them by about an inch (or the depth from your thumb-tip to the first knuckle). Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer 10-12 minutes until the carrot is soft. Add a cup of milk (canned, plant, whatever you have). Add herbs or a grind of pepper (or both). Enjoy. Next time, switch up the veg. Or use tomatoes instead of milk.

Please care for each other. Stay in. Stay safe. Venture out only when you must. You’ve got this.

But I HATE Kale! (Full Disclosure, I Don’t)

This is a refrain I hear all the time. The most “egregious” (according to its detractors) is kale. You know I’m a kale fan, but I can understand how this fibrous, unfamiliar vegetable can be challenging for some people. It doesn’t taste like peas, beans, or carrots. It can be earthy. It looks funny. And it can be tough if not prepared correctly.

So what can you do with kale? Here are some ways we like it in our house:

In smoothies. You need to pair it with something very flavourful and colourful. Try a banana, a beet, and some ginger and cinnamon, in addition to plant milk. The beet will keep it from looking green (or worse, brown). Cocoa powder is another addition that can really make a difference. Or go full-on green and instead of the beets, add an avocado.

In a delicious soup with onions, chickpeas, a little potato, and chorizo. Basically chop it and sweat it with a lot of onion (three or more, diced), then add a chopped potato, a diced chorizo, a couple of cups of cooked chickpeas, and enough water to fill a large pot (like a French or Dutch oven). Simmer until everything is tender. Thanks to the onion and chorizo it will make its own broth.

Kale chips – fans swear by these but I will fully admit I’ve eaten them but never made them at home.

In a stir-fry. Much like cabbage, sliced thinly, it will take on the flavours of the other ingredients.

Last but not least, in a salad. Chop it relatively finely. Don’t use the stems or tough ribs. And mix it with a tender lettuce (like cos or Bibb) and a watery, juicy one (like iceberg or romaine).

I hope you’ll at least give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Here are some menu plans for next week! You can see we are still using up the gallons of turkey soup I made. If you don’t have turkey soup, that’s okay – but make a homemade soup. It’ll have far less salt and be better for you, and a large pot will make several lunches worth, that you can freeze and reheat when you’re ready.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Sunday January 21st Leftover quiche EatingWell Tomato Basil Zoodle Salad Weight Watchers Barley Chicken Casserole
Monday January 22nd Beet and Kale Smoothie Cooking Light Roasted Sweet Potato and Orange Salad Jamie Oliver Sicilian Spaghetti Alla Norma
Tuesday January 23rd Granola with 1/2 banana Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 whole grain bread and 5ml butter Weight Watchers Zucchini Risotto with Sundried Tomatoes
Wednesday January 24th Banana Kale Smoothie Apple Kale Salad Weight Watchers Orange Couscous with Chicken (substituting turkey) – served with green beans
Thursday January 25th Apple Nut Oatmeal Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 whole grain bread and 5ml butter Weight Watchers Spaghetti with Kale and Garlic
Friday January 26th Carrot Cake Smoothie Cooking Light Fall Vegetable and Lentil Salad Weight Watchers Cod with Parsley Sauce served with steamed green beans and carrots
Saturday January 27th Granola with 1/2 banana Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 whole grain bread and 5ml butter Artichoke Pizza

Planning for Success! Meal Plans for January

 If you’re like many people, you may be planning to improve your diet in 2018. One of the most effective ways to make sure we are eating healthily at our house, is to make a meal plan. It works for three reasons:

It lets us see the big picture and identify patterns (such as eating too many bad fats, or dividing dishes into extra large portions instead of making less).  We get to think about seasonality and what’s available in stores, which some meal plans miss, especially if they are formulated in warm weather climates where salad greens and other vegetables are readily available year-round. It also lets us be mindful of what we have on hand, so we can use it and not waste it.

I’ve decided to share my January meal plan with you, so you can adapt it with some of your own favourites. Many of the food items are from websites, so I’ve put the links in also. Enjoy! Stay tuned for additional weeks…

January 1st

Breakfast – Banana Kale Smoothie

Lunch – Apple Kale Salad

Dinner – EatingWell Vegetarian Spinach Enchiladas

January 2nd

Breakfast – Apple Nut Oatmeal

Lunch – Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 slice bread and 5ml butter

Dinner – Eating Well Baked Tofu Stir Fry with Cabbage and Shiitakes

January 3rd

Breakfast – Carrot Cake Smoothie

Lunch – EatingWell Vegetarian Taco Salad

Dinner – Eating Well Spaghetti Squash Lasagna with Broccolini

January 4th

Breakfast – Apple Nut Oatmeal

Lunch – Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 slice bread and 5ml butter

Dinner – Eating Well Curried Pork Chops with Roasted Apples and Leeks

January 5th

Breakfast – Beet Kale Smoothie

Lunch – EatingWell Stetson Chopped Salad

Dinner – EatingWell Kale and Gruyere Panini

January 6th

Breakfast – Poached Egg Avocado Toast

Lunch – Homemade Turkey Soup with 1 slice bread and 5ml butter

Dinner – Men’s Health Salmon Hobo Packets

 

January 7th

Breakfast – Granola with Banana

Lunch – EatingWell Tomato Basil Zoodle Salad 

Dinner – Jamie Oliver Sicilian Spaghetti Alla Norma

My smoothies follow a recipe something like this, for two:

Two beets, or a carrot, or a handful of kale

5ml cinnamon or grated ginger

60ml nuts or seeds

A banana or 250ml of berries or for carrot cake smoothie, pineapple

750ml unsweetened low-sodium non GMO soy milk (try Natur-A, they are all Canadian and the best plant milk I have tried).

Stay tuned for additional weeks, and please share widely. Thanks to all of you who have visited my site, and wishing you a healthy, happy 2018.

Work With What You’ve Got

Farmer’s market fresh! One thing about summertime trips to the market is that (in the words of my grandfather), your eyes can be bigger than your belly. That’s sort of what happened with the basket of fresh peaches we picked up on Tuesday. To be more specific, it was our capacity to consume them before they hit their tipping point. We’re surrounded by overripe fruit, and so there are peaches in every meal. To top it off, we had a surfeit of cheese, left with us by some departing guests. What to do?

When I have a host of items that need to be used, one of my first thoughts is always salad. It’s a go-to when vegetables are in season. This one started with a vinaigrette of homemade red wine vinegar, canola oil, and Kozlik’s Balsamic Fig and Date mustard – in equal proportions. I mixed this in a large bowl, and then began adding veg – greens from the balcony garden, cucumbers, radish, and celery – but use whatever you have, like in this Kitchen Sink Salad. Then I topped it off with some walnuts, sliced peaches, and crumbled Stilton. If you’re a vegan, omit the cheese or use some chopped smoked tofu instead.

Even though I bought too many, I never get tired of too many peaches. We love them, and all the other seasonal bounty, so I’m grateful to be able to have many delicious ideas to use them up.

Savour the flavour…

Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day here in Toronto; we took a nice long walk (about 5.7km) through the city, taking in the sights and eventually making our way to St. Lawrence Market for produce. We stopped in along the way to take in the awesome Gothic Revival Cathedral Church of St. James, with memorial plaques commemorating many of Toronto’s noted citizens. We were intrigued by the very contemporary Stations of the Cross.

To the south, we swung by Berczy Park’s new dog fountain enroute to the market. Kids and pets alike were enjoying the spraying water. We had fun finding the one cat statue amongst the dogs, and to discover just what she was looking at. (We won’t tell just now – you should check out the mystery yourself!)

The sun was blazing and hot, so by the time we arrived home, we were in the mood for something quick and cool, that wouldn’t overheat the kitchen. We put some potatoes on to cook while we enjoyed a cool beverage on our balcony and took in the sights of the neighbourhood. When they were cooked, we let them cool in the fridge while we prepared the rest of this tasty curried salad. For two, as a main course:

For the dressing, whisk in a large bowl:

3 tablespoons (45ml) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (60ml) cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (30ml) curry powder – more or less, to your taste

3 boiled potatoes, cooled and peeled, and cut into chunks

1 red pepper, diced in bite-size pieces

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can)

1 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup (60ml) chopped unsalted peanuts

3 leaves basil, sliced finely

Mix all the vegetables into the salad, including the chickpeas. Divide between the plates and sprinkle with peanuts and basil. You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more people, and it keeps well in the fridge, gaining flavour as it sits. Enjoy!

Keep it simple!

Sometimes when you’ve had a long day, it can seem onerous to make homemade food. That’s when something like a one-pot or oven dinner comes in handy. Also, if you’re really tired, the best thing for you is to get some fresh air and exercise, so you’ll be able to sleep when the time comes.

Earlier this week we combined both of these – after a long day’s work, we walked up the street to our friend Mark’s butcher shop, and picked up a couple of pork chops and some fresh Ontario asparagus. We circled back home for this tasty oven dinner:

First, heat the oven to 400F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Then scrub your potatoes and slice 1/4″ or a little less than 1cm thick. Brush with olive or canola oil (we use canola, because it’s Canadian). Press a sage leaf into the top of each slice and place on the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, if you like, although they are very tasty with just the sage.

To prepare the pork chops, we brushed them with some fig mustard from Kozlik’s, and put them in their own parchment-lined pan.

Lastly, we took a sheet of foil and put the washed asparagus on it. This could probably have cooked less, but we didn’t want to fuss with it. We chopped a couple of cloves of garlic and added this along with the zest and juice from half a lemon. Wrapping the packet securely, we put it on the sheet pan and added all the dishes to the oven for half an hour.

That’s it! While we were waiting, we enjoyed a beer from the latest batch we bottled at Fermentations  on the Danforth. Charles and his team can match the flavour of your favourite beverage, or help you create wine from juice or actual grapes.

We’re feeling pretty fortunate with all of the great food and drinks we can find within a short walk or streetcar ride. Thanks for letting me share.

Granola, Granola, We Love Ya, Granola…!

About five years ago, we went off breakfast cereal entirely. We had been working on our diets, lowering our sodium, increasing fibre, and generally getting rid of things with excessive sugar or additives. Around that time I started experimenting with various recipes – some were too sweet, others were too fatty, but bit by bit I found what works best for us.

I often get asked, “what’s the recipe?”, and the truth is, there isn’t exactly a recipe. Here’s what I do:

Preheat oven to 350F, and line two cookie sheets (whatever size you have, which is why it isn’t a recipe…) with parchment paper. This eases cleanup and makes sure nothing sticks.

On each sheet, put a layer of large flake, old fashioned rolled oats. Not the quick cooking kind! Sprinkle with some dried fruit, probably half a cup or so is enough. Some recipes suggest you stir it in at the end, but I like the toasty, caramel-y flavour it gets if you bake it in. Next, add a sprinkling of nuts or seeds. In these photos, the top one has raisins and pumpkin seeds, while the bottom one has dried apricots and walnuts. Sometimes I’ve added coconut or dried bananas; these up the calories but it’s your call!

Drizzle each sheet with 2T (30ml) of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup, please!) and 2T of canola oil. Other oils will work but this oil is Canadian and doesn’t change the taste. Sprinkle each sheet with cinnamon and stir all of it together. I’ve made this in a bowl before, but I’m lazy about doing extra dishes, even with a dishwasher. You could make a single sheet, but if the oven is going I figure I  should use the energy wisely.

Put the sheets in the oven around the middle rack (not too high, not too low…but you know your oven best). Set the timer for 10 minutes and stir. Depending on humidity and lots of factors, the granola will take more or less time. You want  a nice toasty golden colour.

Cool this, put in mason jars and store. You don’t need a lot – a serving is about 30g or an ounce if you’re watching your calories, topped with a banana or some berries. We use soy milk on ours. It’s also lovely sprinkled on ice cream or yogurt.

Enjoy!

 

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