On The Side

Often with a family of five the best approach to getting dinner on table is a divide and conquer strategy.

Today Kevin did what he did best which was grill steak and I put my attention on the sides to go with the meal. It has been a while since we had enjoyed baked sweet potatoes and fresh asparagus so they were the right sides to go with the meal.

Now I’ve never cooked asparagus before so I did some reading and went with this recipe from Food Network from Emeril.

From top: One pound fresh asparagus, snapped and washed, three cloves minced garlic, 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice

From top: One pound fresh asparagus, snapped and washed, three cloves minced garlic, 1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice

The first thing I liked about this recipe was that it was quite simple to make and the ingredient list was all items I have on hand on a regular basis.

I have to confess that working with fresh veggies can be a bit intimidating for me. There seems to be a magic moment with a lot of veggies where they taste amazing but all too quickly they can cross over into a mushy substance that can’t be recovered.

Combined with olive oil and fresh minced garlic.

Combined with olive oil and fresh minced garlic.

I went with only 1 pound of asparagus but kept the amount of garlic the same. We are a garlic loving family so this wasn’t a bad thing. In the end I also kept the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice but the reduced extra olive oil turned out to be the perfect amount.

Fresh from the oven.

Fresh from the oven.

Now I will say that I probably kept these in the oven about 3 minutes too long. Because several of my stalks of asparagus were a bit thick I wanted to make sure that they roasted through and this hesitation cost me. Next time I’ll go with the suggested time of 20 minutes.

Sweet potatoes rubbed down with a bit of butter and sprinkled with salt.

Sweet potatoes rubbed down with a bit of butter and sprinkled with salt.

Now for the making of my sweet potatoes.

I like to get my sweet potatoes from Costco. They are well priced and I can often get 5 nice sized potatoes which works out well for our family because we all love this side.

I always start with rinsing my sweet potatoes and giving them a pat down with a clean tea towel. Then I take a small amount of butter and just make sure to cover the potato’s skin with it all over. It doesn’t need to be a thick layer of butter either you just want to make sure none of the skin will be able to dry out. Then take your sea salt and give a generous sprinkle all over the potatoes.

After you’ve prepared the potatoes as I’ve suggested you can slide them into a preheated 350 degree oven or on a hot BBQ. Tonight ours were placed on the top rack of our BBQ and left there for 30 minutes to bake. Like any other potato you can test to see if it is done by simple piercing it and making sure the centre is soft.

Honey Butter: Equal parts butter and honey.

Honey Butter: Equal parts butter and honey.

A nice touch to the sweet potatoes is to do a honey butter spread. Easily done in a bowl combine equal parts honey and butter and mix with a fork until it all comes together to look like this:

Finished Honey Butter.

Finished Honey Butter.

A simple condiment where a little goes a long way.

Finished potato with some honey butter and cinnamon.

Finished potato with some honey butter and cinnamon.

Once your potatoes are done just split, add as much or as little of the honey butter as you like and top with some cinnamon. These are a big hit with our kids and they don’t last on the plate long.

Garlic-Roasted Asparagus

Recipe from Emeril on Food Network.com

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed, rinsed and patted dry (I used only 1 pound)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I cut it back to 1.5 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation

1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2) In a large glass baking dish, toss the asparagus with the olive oil and garlic. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and toss. Bake until the asparagus are tender and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes, depending upon the thickness of the stalks, stirring twice.

3) Remove from the oven and toss with the lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning, to taste.

4) Serve warm or at room temperature.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

My husband taught me this one.

Ingredients

  • 1 sweet potato per person (this is our estimate)
  • 1/4 cup of butter (for rubbing down the potatoes. The more potatoes the more you will need)
  • Sea Salt
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • Ground cinnamon

Preparation

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F or heat BBQ

2) Rub potatoes with butter until covered all over the skin. Sprinkle all over with sea salt.

3) Bake in oven or BBQ for 30 minutes. Check potato by make sure the centre is soft.

4) Put 1/3 cup of butter and 1/3 honey in a bowl and combine with a fork until smooth.

5) Slice potato down the middle, add honey butter and sprinkle with cinnamon

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Staff Appreciation Lunch

Every year during Staff Appreciation Week at my kid’s school a group of parents join forces and each provide a Crock Pot full of soup to create a soup buffet lunch for the all staff that work in the school.

In previous years we had provided catered lunches but they weren’t as light as soup can be and with everyone making a different soup there was sure to be something for everyone to enjoy no matter diet preferences or allergy restrictions.

Every year I like to try and make something different. The first year I made a Baked Potato Soup and last year I made a vegetarian Sweet Potato Corn Chowder and both of these I’ve been told were enjoyed by many.

This year I went to a collection of soup recipes assembled over the years by dear friends of mine for inspiration and was struck by the recipe for this Pumpkin Curry Soup from my dear friend Shelley.

Now I will admit to tweaking this recipe a bit by adding two additional spices, Turmeric and Cumin, that weren’t called for in the original ingredients list and their addition just enhanced the overall flavour profile.

Starting top left:

Starting top left: 6 cups prepared chicken stock, chopped onion and minced garlic, spice blend of curry powder, salt, coriander and red pepper flakes, pure pumpkin, and half and half cream.

I didn’t have chicken bouillon cubes in the house as we buy a base that is paste rather than powdered called Better Than Bouillon. So because of this I went ahead and made the stock for my liquid component as instructed on the side of the jar. If you wanted to go vegetarian with this soup you would just need to substitute out the chicken for a veggie based stock.

I also doubled the recipe so I could have a good amount in my Crockpot.

While I did get the ingredients from Shelley the process was my own. Lol there were no instructions per se so I worked with it and followed what seemed most logical.

Butter in the pot.

Butter in the pot.

I started with the butter in my stock pot. I can see how you could easily substitute olive or canola oil in this step to make it a bit lighter. When baking I tend to substitute oils and butter with some unsweetened apple sauce to cut down the fat content but this doesn’t translate to frying as I have found. If someone has a suggestion I’d love to hear your feedback.

Onions and minced garlic.

Onions and minced garlic.

Once my butter was melted and starting to get that smell of browning I put the onions and garlic into the pot and walked away to let them soften. Again when it comes to something like softening onions and garlic I tend to have to find something else to do or I spend a lot of time stirring when in reality it just needs to be left alone to do it’s thing.

Toasting spices

Toasting spices

Once I have softened onions and garlic I go ahead and add my spice blend to allow the spices to toast a bit. The spices made my kitchen smell really great. I love the smell of curry and when I smell it I am struck but how it makes me feel warm. I can’t fully describe it but when I smell it I just feel warmth spreading through my body starting with my belly.

Stock added in.

Stock added in.

After I have given the onions, garlic and spices a chance to come together I stir in my chicken stock and let it come to a simmer. I gave it a few minutes to come together and absorb flavour from each other. Then I whisked in the pure pumpkin.

Finally some Half and Half.

Finally some Half and Half.

The last thing I do is add my Half and Half Cream. I wondered if I could lighten it up by going with a low fat sour cream next time for this and may try it. The nice thing about soup is that you generally use crackers with it so the fact that is it on the thin side isn’t a bad thing unless you were going for a chowder.

Finally into the Crockpot for the next day.

Finally into the Crockpot for the next day.

I got about a 3/4 full 6 quart Crockpot with a double batch of this soup. I didn’t let the cream heat up too much when I added it as I knew that it would have 3 or so hours to warm and come together on low the next day.

I haven’t gotten any feedback yet but when I tasted it before putting it into containers for transport the next morning it had all the notes I wanted from it and felt pretty proud about it.

Pumpkin Curry Soup

From my dear friend Shelley.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 -4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 vegetable bouillon cubes (can also use chicken in a pinch)
  • 1 – 16 ounce can of pure pumpkin
  • 1 cup half and half cream
  • fresh chives, chopped (garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric (My addition)
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (My addition)

Preparation

1) Melt butter in a stock pot.

2) Add onions and garlic and allow to soften.

3) Once the onions are garlic are softened, add the spices and allow to toast for a couple of minutes.

4) Add the chicken or vegetable stock. Allow to simmer for a few minutes.

5) Whisk in the pumpkin.

6) Add the half and half cream. Allow to warm through (be careful it could burn) and serve with fresh chive garnish.

Simple Valentine’s Day Dinner

Today is February 14th! A day for love, a day of flowers…

A day to enjoy wonderful food with those you love.

With three kids we don’t often go out on Valentine’s Day proper often opting for a date night around the day instead. Last year Kevin cooked our celebratory meal so I was on deck to come up with a meal that would be ideal for a night where my daughter is scheduled to have dance until 5:30.

While reading my morning paper I saw an ad for a local fish shop which stated the had red and white heart shaped cheese ravioli on sale for Valentine’s Day and I decided I would get that to be the central point of my dinner for my family.

A quick Google search for “Pasta Sauce for Cheese Ravioli” returned this result from The Chew television show. It looked simple and quick. Ideal for a busy week night.

My ingredients starting from top left: 2 cups chopped cremini mushrooms, red and white heart shaped cheese ravioli, parmesean cheese, two sprigs of rosemary, and chopped onions and garlic.

My ingredients starting from top left: 2 cups chopped cremini mushrooms, red and white heart shaped cheese ravioli, parmesan cheese, two sprigs of rosemary, and chopped onions and garlic.

I had to make a couple of substitutions for ingredients. I wasn’t able to find shallots so I went with about some chopped sweet onion and added an extra clove of garlic on Kevin’s suggestion. I also followed the cooking instructions on the packages of pasta as they were frozen raviolis. Also the heart raviolis were a bit smaller than a square ravioli so I went with 2lbs over just a 1 1/2 lbs recommended in the recipe.

Butter and olive oil together in the pan.

Butter and olive oil together in the pan.

Here are my two tablespoons of butter and olive oil in the frying pan heating up. This is the first time I’ve ever put this combination of oils together so I wasn’t sure what to expect as it heated up.

Rosemary and Mushrooms in the pan

Rosemary and Mushrooms in the pan

Once the oils are hot I added the mushrooms and rosemary. The first thing I noticed is that the rosemary became really fragrant as it warmed up in the oils. The mushrooms browned very smoothly and I went twice around the pan with my pepper grinder for the black pepper and gave a health dash of salt.

Onions and garlic in.

Onions and garlic in.

At this point I was struck by how the green of the rosemary became as the sauce comes together. The components also gave off a really great smell. My kids mentioned more than once that it smelled really good.

Red and White Heart shaped pasta, cooked and drained.

Red and White Heart shaped pasta, cooked and drained.

I found this pasta really easy to cook. 10 minutes at at soft boil and the ravioli was perfectly cooked and ready to be put into the pan with the sauce components.

Pasta water.

Pasta water.

I was supposed to reserve some of the pasta water to use in the sauce. The red raviolis managed to leave some colour in the water but it didn’t affect the sauce in terms of flavour or colour.

Finished Meal!

Finished Meal!

The final step of adding the two remaining tablespoons of butter with the pasta water and the parmesan with the raviolis to the pan went in short order and it didn’t take long for the whole thing to come together nicely. My family enjoyed every bite with even my 3 year old eating his portion in under 10 minutes.

Strawberry Muffins from Fried Green Tomatoes

Strawberry Muffins from Fried Green Tomatoes

Of course what is Valentine’s Day without something sweet to end the day. Kevin is a bigger fan of strawberries instead of chocolate and when I saw this at the Fried Green Tomatoes Facebook page I knew I had to get some for my family to complete our dinner. They were delicious and again even the non sweet eating 3 year old enjoyed every bite. The 3 year old  tends to ask for desserts and never finishes them.

This was not the case here.

All in all a great simple dinner paired with a great dessert.

Cheese Ravioli with Garlic, Mushroom and Rosemary

From ABC’s The Chew

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds of cheese ravioli (fresh or dried)
  • 4 tablespoons of butter (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 1 large shallot (minced)
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 1/3 cup Parmigiano Reggiano

Preparation

Heat a large pot of boiling water over high heat and season generously with sale (make it taste like the ocean).

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and the olive oil. Once hot, add rosemary sprigs and mushrooms. Toss the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile drop the ravioli in the boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon.

Then add the garlic and shallot to the pan and toss to coat. Cook 2 – 3 minutes, or until the garlic and shallots are cooked through (I didn’t have a shallot so I substituted some chopped sweet onion and an extra clove of garlic).

Cook the ravioli one minute shorter than the packaged instructions (I followed the package instructions as I used a frozen ravioli).

Drain ravioli, reserving the pasta water, and put into the saute pan. Add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Add Parmigiano and toss the pasta until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 – 6 servings

Pizza Soup – It’s for Dinner!

This past Saturday night was a night out to celebrate with friends.

When we have sitters come in and I know we will be out past dinner time we try have something simple on hand so that they and the kids can eat and we are assured it is something filling and hardy.

I wasn’t about to let not being home throw me off my challenge of making new soups on a regular basis while the weather is cold. So I dug out my handy Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker and went to find something fun for the kids to try.

Some time on Google later I decided to go with Pizza Soup.

Now this wasn’t the first Pizza Soup I’ve tried to make. I tripped over a recipe by accident one day and I did make it in my slow cooker but the reviews were mixed and the flavour could have been stronger. So I was thrilled to find this variation.

One of the things I love about this recipe is the mix of veggies. Makes it easy to get some solid veggie content into my kids but under the guise of pizza. Talk about win win.

When I start to cook I’m a huge fan of going through the recipe and prepping all my ingredients. This way when I put it together it flows like a Food Network show.

Starting with our onions and garlic.

Starting with our onions and garlic.

Now the first change I made is used olive oil in my version. We keep it in the house as our oil of choice and since I was going with a dish inspired by Italian flavours I hoped this would add another layer. Here I have my onions and minced garlic in my heated olive oil. I gave the onions a bit more time to soften and sweeten as I was cooking for younger palates.

Adding in the pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers.

Adding in the pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers.

Once I had my onions and garlic where I liked it I added the other ingredients as the recipe suggested. Now you have the option of going with ham, turkey or pepperoni and I went with pepperoni as that is the one pizza topping that all 3 of my kids agree on. I did go with Winnipeg Old Country Pepperoni because I knew that a quality product would make the flavour really pop.

Now for my friend who is a vegetarian I would suggest she go with her favourite vegetarian meat product like vegetarian bacon or you could always go with some portobello mushrooms along with the other mushrooms listed in the recipe. Using vegetarian broth is a suggestion from Canadian Living so I think this would be an easy recipe to make for a vegetarian family.

Transferring to the Slow Cooker

Transferring to the Slow Cooker

Now I’ve gotten my ingredients to a good point where there is very little liquid in the frying pan and transfer them into my slow cooker. At this point I get to gauge if I am going to have enough for the kids, the babysitting teenagers and the little friend of my 3 year old who are all hanging out in our home for the evening. I doubled the recipe as printed and once I had my onions, garlic, pepperoni, mushrooms and bell peppers in the crock I was confident I would be able to have enough for everyone to enjoy just by how far the ingredients went up the side.

A double batch nicely fit in my 6 QT Slow Cooker.

Here is the soup prior to me turning it on low and letting it come together for a couple of hours.

Here is the soup prior to me turning it on low and letting it come together for a couple of hours.

I then add the final ingredients to the slow cooker and give it a stir. I used a spoon to lift some up for the photo to show the tomatoes and other ingredients. One of my cans of diced tomatoes was one of Italian herbed ones. With the final ingredients I ended up with a full slow cooker.

I put the lid on and it was on low for about 3 hours or so. I left some pre-shredded mozzarella and a loaf of garlic bread to go with the soup when it was served.

I have to confess I was a bit excited to get home and get the review from my young diners.

Thrilled to learn that it was a hit from the 3 year olds to the 16/17 year olds!

I also had enough left over for some school lunches.

Which is nice when the kids still have to go to school at -40C.

Pizza Soup Recipe

From Canadian Living

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups (500 mL) sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup (250 mL) diced ham or smoked turkey or pepperoni
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each of salt and pepper
  • 1/2 chopped sweet green pepper, optional
  • 1 can (28 oz/796 ml) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) tomato paste

Preparation

In large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; sautee onion, garlic, mushrooms, ham, oregano, salt and pepper until liquid is evaporated, about 6 minutes. Add green pepper (if using), tomatoes, stock and tomato paste; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until flavours are blended, about 10 minutes. (Make-ahead: Let cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate until cold. Transfer to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.)

Source : Canadian Living Magazine: February 2005