Archive | January, 2013

The Perfect Potluck Salad

23 Jan

Thanks to the culinary talents of my friend Steph, I was recently introduced to the perfect party salad.  And I mean perfect.

I like bringing a salad to potlucks.  It guarantees that there will be something leafy, green, and healthy amidst a spread of rich and indulgent (but oh-so-tasty) bites.  Unfortunately, I run into the same issue every time.  Add-ins like fruit, spiced nuts, and cheese need to be present in order for the salad to get ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’.  These additions can be healthy but tend to leave little room for other vegetables.

Thanks to Steph, I now have the salad of my dreams in my arsenal, ready for my next potluck.  The base consisted of mixed greens along with radicchio for texture.  Added to the salad were multi-coloured bell peppers (red and orange), cucumber, crunchy celery, cherry tomatoes, and green onion for bite.  The dressing, an Asian-style sesame vinaigrette, provided just the right amount of sweetness.  Finally, a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds transformed an otherwise ordinary green salad into a masterpiece.  Delicious and nutritious.

Other elements of the meal included panko-crusted stuffed chicken breast (with asparagus, roasted red pepper, and brie) and mashed potatoes with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes—both courtesy of my Rose Reisman cookbook.  To top it off, we indulged in the ultimate dessert: homemade fresh strawberry ice cream and birthday cake.  If you need a reason to get yourself an ice cream maker, this is it.


Steph’s Asian Sesame Vinaigrette

This isn’t an exact recipe but rather rough estimates. Feel free to adjust the measurements to taste.

3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Combine all ingredients in a jar, shake, taste, and add more of whatever seems to be missing!

Makes ½ cup. Per 1 tbsp serving: 70 kcal, 6 g fat (1 g saturated), 2.5 g CHO, 40 mg sodium.

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Jamaican-themed dinner featuring Coconut Rice and ‘Peas’

15 Jan

Inspiration for Saturday night’s dinner came from an unexpected source: Gordon Ramsay.  The British chef best known for his profanity and fiery temper reveals a softer side on his new show, Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course.  Each episode features a dizzying number of tips, tricks, and recipes that revolve around a theme deemed by Ramsay to be essential know-how for the modern cook.  Saturday’s topic was ‘cooking with chilli’ and featured a classic jerk chicken—one of E’s favourite dishes.

When I think of jerk chicken, Jamaica immediately comes to mind… and when I think of Jamaica, I think of Rice and Peas.  An odd association since I’ve never actually eaten Rice and Peas before.  Rice and Peas is a mainstay of the Jamaican diet and consists of rice cooked in coconut milk with pigeon peas (or cowpeas, or kidney beans) and flavoured with ginger, thyme, garlic and onion.  An easy, flavourful side dish that pairs well with spicy jerk seasoning.

Rice and Beans

To complete the meal, we made a chunky salad with mango, bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, and lots of cilantro.  The sweetness from the mango balanced the fragrant coconut rice and intense jerk spices just perfectly.  It was like sunshine on a plate—colourful, fruity, and fresh.  Regrettably, several things were missing from our Jamaican meal: the beach, palm trees, Red Stripe beer, and Bob Marley music playing in the background.

Mango Salad

Jamaican Rice and Peas
(adapted very slightly from SimplyRecipes.com)

Fear not: the rice has no heat despite containing a whole chili.  The chili acts like a bay leaf and gives the dish flavour. 

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
1 cup light coconut milk
1/2 of a 19-oz can of no-salt-added kidney beans, rinsed and drained (~1 cup)
1 whole Scotch bonnet chile (can substitute a whole habanero)
Lime (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes, until they begin to soften.
  2. Add the garlic and rice, stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
  3. Add the salt, thyme, grated ginger, water, stock and coconut milk and stir well. Add the kidney beans and the whole Scotch bonnet chile (or habanero).  Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low and cover.
  4. Cook for ~20 minutes, or according to rice package directions.  Once done, remove from heat and cover for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving and sprinkle with lime juice if desired.  Discard the habanero (or eat it, if you dare!)

Makes 5 servings. Per serving: 245 kcal, 40 g CHO, 3.9 g fibre, 7 g fat (2.5 g saturated), 7 g protein, 145 mg sodium.

‘Souper’ Easy, Hearty and Healthy Lentil Soup

7 Jan

Celery, carrots, and onion are a trio commonly known as a ‘mirepoix.’ During the winter, I like to make sure my kitchen is always stocked with these three staple ingredients which together form the basis for a wide variety of soups and stews. You’d be surprised how long celery and carrots will last in the fridge. If they start to wilt, store them in a bowl of cold water and watch them spring back to life. It’s like magic!

Mirepoix

We’re one week into 2013 and so far I’ve managed to keep my New Year’s resolution. I cooked one of my favourite hearty soups yesterday afternoon, a soup that my Mom first made during my university years. It brings back fond memories; years of dismal cooking spotted with frozen homemade meals that I would always save for when I was craving a taste of home.

This isn’t your ordinary lentil soup. Sweet potato chunks are little gems of bliss (I’ve been known to pick out all of the pieces from the pot!) and contrast nicely with the robust cumin, coriander, and oregano. It’s thick, hearty, and an easy one-dish meal.  Bonus: it makes a LARGE pot, so you’ll have plenty of leftovers plus several portions that can be frozen.

Now I get to sit back and relax because lunch for the week is made!

Fundalentilly delicious!

Nom nom nom

Fundalentil Soup
(from Crazy Plates)

Feel free to substitute the can of tomato soup for a can of tomato paste + a bit of sugar or honey for just the right amount of sweetness.  Add the water or broth last.  My soup pot is not quite large enough to hold all of the ingredients so I often use a fraction of the fluid at first, then add the rest once I’ve eaten a bowl or two.

1 tsp olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups low-fat chicken or vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained (preferably no-salt-added)
1 can (10-3/4 oz) reduced-fat tomato soup, undiluted
2 cups dried brown or green lentils
2 cups chopped carrots
2 cups peeled, diced sweet potatoes (I left the skin on this time)
2 tsp dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp each ground coriander and salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2 cups packed, chopped, fresh spinach (I like to use an entire 227 g bag of spinach)

  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and garlic. Cook and stir for 3 or 4 minutes, until vegetables begin to soften.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients, except spinach. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add spinach and simmer for 15 more minutes.  Serve hot.

Makes 12 servings.  Per serving: 198 calories, 2 g fat (0.1 g saturated), 12 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 12 g fibre, 355 mg sodium.

A Hearty Moroccan Stew to Satisfy your New Year’s Resolutions

1 Jan

Happy 2013!  Do you have a resolution for the New Year?  The surplus of Weight Watchers commercials on TV yesterday served as a reminder that weight loss is one of the most common goals set by individuals at the start of a new year.  According to a recent study, 38% of resolutions are weight-related.  Unfortunately, only 8% of all people are successful in achieving their resolutions—and this number is not limited to those who strive for weight loss.

Soups and stews are the perfect vehicle for New Year’s resolutions that revolve around any of the following:  to lose weight, to eat more vegetables, to cook more often, and the list goes on.

The liquid in soups make them filling, meaning less room in your stomach for more calorie dense foods.  Research has shown that when individuals consume a low-energy soup before a meal (e.g. broth-based vegetable soup), they eat 20% fewer total calories at that sitting.  This can translate to weight loss of half a pound every two weeks if soup is eaten before a single meal each day.  Soups are also an easy way to meet your vegetable quota for the day: coarsely chop what you have in the fridge and throw into a pot. The more colourful, the better.  Canada’s Food Guide recommends that most adults eat a minimum of 7 servings of fruit and vegetables per day (preferably more vegetables than fruits).  One serving is ½ cup cooked vegetables. Finally, soups are easy. Even the least skilled home cook can ‘wing it’ and end up with a tasty meal. Bonus: no fancy knife skills needed.

Up until now, I didn’t plan on making a resolution.  But as I sit here and write, I’ve decided that my resolution will be to cook more soups and stews. Partly because I haven’t been cooking as often as I’d like to and partly because I find them warm and comforting, particularly as we enter the depths of the cold winter months.  Since any goal must be SMART to be successful, my goal will be to cook a large soup or stew with a variety of vegetables and at least one good source of protein once a week (ideally Sunday) for the next 6 weeks. As a bonus, this will provide me with ample inspiration for upcoming blog posts.

The recipe below is for a hearty, one-pot Moroccan stew that I made over the holidays for a ‘chili/stew cook-off’ between several families.  Chickpeas, sweet potato, peanut butter, and earthy spices (cumin, coriander, curry powder) are truly a match made in heaven!  I tend to use generous amounts of onion, pepper, and celery to boost the veggie content.  Next time I’d like to try substituting squash for the sweet potato.  Or adding several handfuls of spinach or kale.  The possibilities are endless…

Soup’s on!

Moroccan Stew sans cilantro thanks to my sister J

Moroccan Stew (sans cilantro, thanks to my sister J)

 

Rockin’ Moroccan Stew
(from The Looneyspoons Collection)

2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup each diced celery and chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp grated ginger root
1 tsp each ground cumin, curry powder, ground coriander and chili powder
3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth
3 cups peeled, cubed sweet potatoes
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) no-salt-added chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
2 Tbsp each light peanut butter and minced fresh cilantro

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook and stir until the vegetables begin to soften, about three minutes. Add ginger root, cumin, curry powder, coriander and chili powder. Cook for 30 more seconds.
  2. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the raisins, peanut butter and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
  3. Stir in raisins, peanut butter and cilantro. Mix well. Simmer for five more minutes. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.  Per serving: 253 calories, 5.3 g fat, (0.8 g saturated fat), 8 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 6.9 g fiber, 355 mg sodium.