Tuesday, September 20, 2016

One pan baked pasta with cherry tomatoes

When I say I have been inundated with cherry tomatoes these last few weeks, it is no lie. After a few weeks, I became completely negligent and let them fall over, overgrow like crazy and let them be. It became a kind of an experiment of sorts. (Or, I may have been too lazy to pull them all out...)

Anyways, here we are into what is generally regarded as fall weather and my cherry tomatoes are still producing. I don't always do what gardening books tell me to do and instead prefer the experimental approach. I have started seeds way too early, way too late, and transplanted dill- successfully. And this time I didn't strip the bottom leaves from my tomatoes, yet here it (still) goes. It just goes to show you that experimentation is still a valid gardening technique.

Right now I have cherry tomatoes in successive stages of ripening on my windowsill. Some are always at the ready for snacks, a quick tomato salad or for this unbelievably easy baked pasta.

This baked pasta is fresh, oozing with cheese (just enough, not too much), and quick to make. And it only uses one pan! That is always the biggest bonus in my books. This is a great end-of-summer dish for those beautiful cherry tomatoes.

My husband first perfected this dish after getting the Cook's Country, Cook It in Cast Iron Cookbook as a Father's Day gift. It was also a signal that I was more than willing to hand over more meal responsibilities to him. His repertoire increased significantly with the introduction of this dish. The kids call it "Dad's pasta" now. His specialty used to be Annie's Mac & Cheese. Clearly, it is that easy.

One pan baked pasta with cherry tomatoes
You can use a large 12" cast-iron skillet for this recipe, or a large oven-safe skillet. Or, make in one pot and throw into an oven-safe dish for the broiling. Adapted from Cook's Country: Cook It in Cast Iron Cookbook. You can use any small to medium-sized pasta in your pantry, but I prefer the small lasagne-type noodles or penne. 

1 1/2 lbs grape tomatoes, rinsed (depends on size of tomatoes, but mine equal about 4 cups) 
1 tbsp olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
12 oz dried pasta (or about 3/4 lb) penne, ziti, or the tiny lasagne noodles which I prefer
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped basil 
1 cup shredded mozzarella or mixed shredded cheese with mozzarella

1. Preheat broiler (mine has a medium setting, which works great). Heat cast iron skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add oil, tomatoes and 1 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly charred, about 10 minutes. 

2. Stir in garlic, tomato paste, pepper flakes and cook about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat and mash tomatoes with a potato masher or fork. Stir in pasta and 3 cups water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, cover (with a large lid, foil or whatever you can find) and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender, about 15-18 minutes. 

3. Stir in parmesan and add extra hot water if needed (should be a slightly 'loose' sauce, not too thick). Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella or mixed cheeses and transfer to broiler. Broil until cheese is melted and browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Easy (one bowl) whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

These chocolate chip cookies are incredibly easy. And if that isn't enough to lure you in, I am smitten with their crackly cookie top and chewy centres. They are absolutely amazing.

What if I said that you could be eating these cookies in 15 minutes? About 5 minutes to stir together in a bowl with a wooden spoon and 10 minutes to bake. Then you are done. No fancy ingredients, no creaming "room temperature" butter, no messy mixer to deal with. Simply fantastic chocolate chip cookies, made simple.

Perfect for school lunch emergencies, last-minute visitors or after school snacks. Or when you are having a late night craving.

Easy ONE BOWL Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 10 minute cookie from River Cottage Everyday

Whole wheat flour differs significantly in its coarseness and thus, can affect the 'spreadability' of these cookies. If you want thicker cookies, you can let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before scooping, or put in the fridge for a few minutes. But if it is truly a cookie emergency, just go for it! Thin cookies are wonderful!

Whole wheat flour can go rancid quicker than all-purpose, here are some tips on storing whole grain flours.

In a large bowl combine:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar or dark brown sugar (for extra crinkly tops!)
1/2 cup melted butter (unsalted preferred, but if you use salted, skip adding the pinch below)

Stir in:
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

Then add:
1 cup whole wheat flour

Stir in: 
1 cup chocolate chips
*optional: smarties, m & m's: can be pushed into the tops before baking

1. Drop by about 2 tablespoonfuls (or heaping tablespoon) onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space for them to spread.

2. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes (this depends on size of cookie, so somewhere between 8-12 minutes).

3. Cool on the sheet for a few minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Try not to eat these all. If you somehow succeed at this, then pop them in the freezer for up to a few weeks.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Gluten-free Chocolate Blender Cake (made with leftover rice!)

I was researching what to do with leftover rice when I stumbled upon this gem: a chocolate cake made with leftover rice. Made in minutes, in a blender. Seriously, genius.

I just had to tinker with the weighted measures of this a bit. My family loved the experimentation. Except the time I forgot the sugar. Big, giant disappointment. (Cue crying, sad faces of children.)

Not only does this avoid expensive gluten-free flours, it is extremely simple to make. Have 5 minutes to pop this in the oven before dinner? Dessert is done.

Leftover rice is completely and utterly transformed into this moist and delicious chocolate cake. The fact that it is gluten-free is kind of a bonus if you need to make something for someone who is avoiding gluten, but no one else will ever know the difference.

Trust me. My family inhales this. I used to use leftover rice to make this. Now I make rice just to make this cake.

Chocolate Blender Cake 
Easy, Gluten-free
White or brown rice works for this, freshly made or leftover from yesterday. I love my glass 8"X 8" baking dish for making this cake, but any pan about this size would work. You can blend raw almonds before beginning to make 1/2 cup flour. This works best with a high-powered blender, or use a food processor if your blender isn't good at thick batters. The original recipe calls for 6 eggs which we found a bit too eggy, so I opted for a bit less egg with 4-5 eggs, depending on size.

8” or 9” square or circular pan, greased with butter

5 medium eggs or 4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
½ cup almond flour (or ¾ cup handful of almonds, blended first)
1 cup cooked, leftover rice (white or brown)

1. Blend eggs, sugar, vanilla, cocoa, baking powder and almond flour until smooth. Add 1 cup leftover cooked rice, puree until smooth. Use a spatula to scrape down sides and then continue to puree for another minute or two until smooth.

2. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Let cool for at least 30 minutes, before cutting into 9 pieces.

3. Serve with a dusting of icing sugar (confectioner's sugar), a dollop of frosting or a spoonful of ice cream. Or serve with sliced strawberries or mushy raspberries. Just serve it. It is best the same day of baking. I think. 
It never makes it long enough to figure that out.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats

Recently a friend and I were interviewed about a project we were working on about food gardens. One of the questions was about which foods represent home to us. Some people who don't know me well would probably say "Kale!", "Peas!", or "Swiss Chard!" Yes, I love growing these foods but these don't represent home to me.

We laughed when we both said processed food reminded us of home and childhood. Her selection was Kraft dinner and mine was Sapporo Ichiban, and we agreed on a bunch of other things like perogies...mostly processed foods. Don't get me wrong, both my parents were good cooks and made some things from scratch.  But we grew up in the era of convenience foods- and my mom was a renaissance woman of the 80s, holding down a job and a family so these foods were definitely convenient. And we may have eaten less processed food than some kids but Sapporo Ichiban (and of course Kraft dinner!) was what remind me of home and childhood.

Nowadays home-cooked foods and making things myself are delicious and rewarding---from making homemade pasta noodles and pressing corn tortillas to crafting homemade candy. I like tinkering and trying to make things just to see how challenging they are to make. But truth be told, this is not an every day occurrence.

I love making these things but you sometimes need extra time, which doesn't always happen. I only make things that make a huge difference if homemade. Cookies? Yes! Pickles? Yes! Ketchup? No. (Plus, my kids go through ketchup like water. I could never keep up with that demand!)

I do love Michael Pollan's quote, "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." This generally applies to cookies and homemade doughnuts in our house. This is not always a good thing, but it is a delicious thing. We still love treats though...so I try to make them more than buying them if and when I can.

This is one of the treats that represents home to me- it's a cross between my mom's famous Cocoa Puffed Wheat Squares (required eating for camping and summer) and standard Rice Crispy Treats. I just made them for my kids so I thought I would share a slice of real life.

So eat treats. Make them if you can. But try to eat them in a garden...where you are growing some of your own food. :)
Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats
Use the wrapper from the butter to grease the pan if you can. These are naturally gluten-free.

1/4 cup butter, unsalted preferred
1- 400 gram bag mini marshmallows (can buy vegan ones if needed)
4 tbsp cocoa
2 tsp vanilla
10 cups rice crispy cereal

1. Butter a 9"X 13" glass or metal pan.
2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, cocoa and marshmallows together. Stir constantly with a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon until smooth.
3. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and rice crispy cereal until combined.

4. Spoon into greased 9"X 13" pan. Press down with parchment or greased fingers. Leave parchment on and refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. Store in fridge if keeping for more than a day or two. Good luck with that...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Zucchini & chickpea flour fritters

We currently have a glut of zucchini.

I have sautéed zucchini, barbecued zucchini, made zucchini brownies (meh), experimented with zucchini cookies (yes!) and now I'm finally onto zucchini fritters. 

I have made zucchini pancakes or fritters with eggs and flour in the past, but I couldn't help thinking how good they would be in a chickpea flour batter. Channeling my recipe for pakoras, this is like a zucchini pakora pancake. 

These crispy, hearty, gluten-free pancakes truly deserve to be called a fritter. The summer squash-packed morsels are delicious made small for an appetizer size, or larger for lunch or dinner. Serve it up with plain yogurt spiked with salt and minced mint, raita or tzatziki. Or maybe tamarind chutney? Oh, the possibilities!

These are hearty, so something like a big salad or cut up vegetables would go well alongside.

Zucchini & chickpea flour fritters 
Chickpea flour goes by many aliases, but it is now easily available in most grocery, health food or ethnic stores. 

1 cup chickpea, garbanzo, gram or besan flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric
pinch cayenne pepper or black pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil, melted butter or coconut oil
3/4 cup cold water
1 medium zucchini
additional cooking oil
for serving: plain yogurt, raita, tzatziki or tamarind chutney (for vegan)

1. In a bowl, combine chickpea flour, salt and spices into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add oil and water. Stir until well mixed. Let stand for a few minutes, while you grate the zucchini. 
2. Stir zucchini into batter. 
3. Heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Spoon heaping tablespoons, or larger size, into pan. If desired, flatten slightly for even cooking. Cook for a few minutes on each side until crispy and golden. 

4. Drain pancakes on paper towel to absorb extra oil. Sprinkle with a touch of salt. 
5. Serve immediately with yogurt, raita or chutney. Refrigerate any leftovers and reheat in oven.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Quick Mango Pudding

My kids love their aunt's mango pudding. Rich, creamy and spiked with fresh mango, they would probably sell their mother for a pan of it.

I asked her for the recipe and have been sitting on it for years, desperately trying to replicate that flavour. Hers requires cans of mango purée which can be hard to source where I live. However, I have been working on recreating it and I think I have finally 'cracked the code'.

Here is my version of her mango pudding but made with (the much easier to source) mango juice. It is such an easy, no-cook, summer dessert. And my kids have never been happier.

Quick Mango Pudding
Serves 4-6
This can be easily customized to have no additional sugar to adding just to taste. I generally use bulk organic gelatine, but either works great. Alternate thickeners like agar agar can be used, but the quantities will need to be adjusted. The mango juice can be anything in a tetra pack carton (any will work) but, for best results, preferably one that has some thickness to it like a nectar with puree listed in top two ingredients. If it contains added sugar, you may not need as much (or any) sugar in the recipe. 

1-2 mangoes, peeled, chopped into chunks
2 pouches of powdered gelatin or 5 tsp bulk powdered organic gelatin
2 1/2 cups mango nectar or juice (1/2 cup cold or room-temperature mango juice & 2 cups warmed, not boiling, mango juice)
1/4- 1/2 cup sugar, if desired
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup milk

1. Place gelatin and the 1/2 cup of room temperature juice in a large bowl. Whisk together for a minute or so. Let stand or 'bloom' for 3-5 minutes. For more info on blooming and gelatine, click here.

2. Put mango chunks into the serving dish (any container that will hold about 4 cups of liquid---a pie plate, a 8" X 8" pan, anything).

3. Add the 2 cups microwaved or stove-heated mango juice (not boiling, but hot) to the bloomed gelatin. Note: Organic gelatin typically specifies not using boiling liquid, but just hot liquid. However this does not seem to be an issue for conventional gelatin. Whisk until smooth. If it could use a bit of sweetener, add 1/4 cup sugar to start and whisk until dissolved. Whisk in cream and milk.

4. Pour mixture over the mango pieces and place into the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight. Can be served with additional cream poured over if desired.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Easy Strawberry Chia Jam

I love the smell of sun-warmed strawberry fields. It really makes the sometimes back-breaking labour of harvesting u-pick strawberries worth it. The fields smell like jam and it reminds you why you are doing what you are doing when you get tired. You think of the reward. And that reward can come soon but it is at its very sweetest in the middle of winter when you crave a taste of summer.

Although I harvest from the u-pick, I also buy from the roadside stand when I tire of picking. I usually freeze them whole and make freezer jam, long-cooked jam, fruit leather and ice cream. Just when I can't stand the sight of another flat of strawberries, I remember the taste of summer in winter and I press on. Just one more batch.

This  year I decided that I wasn't going to go so crazy. So I tried to find some other options for no-cook strawberry jam recipes. I love this Chia Jam from the kitchn. Although they cook the fruit slightly, I prefer their raw fruit version for strawberries but I could see the cooked version working better for blueberries.

The nice thing about this jam is that all the ingredients are recognizable: chia slightly thickens, lemon helps to keep the colour vibrant and the sweetener is customizable. I used organic cane sugar because I like how it doesn't mask the strawberry flavour at all and acts as a slight preserver too. It takes a few minutes to mash it all together and it makes for a very tangible reward afterwards when you get to taste a spoonful of this saucy jam.

Easy Strawberry Chia Jam
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups
I leaned towards 4 tbsp of sugar for my early strawberries. I might use less the next time if the strawberries are sweeter. Use on waffles, pancakes, stirred into yogurt or on ice cream, cheesecake and other desserts. It should last about a week in the fridge but it definitely won't make it that far. But if it does, it could come in handy to enhance a smoothie!

2 cups strawberries, cleaned and tops removed
juice of 1 lemon
2- 4 tbsp organic cane sugar or sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, etc.)
2 tbsp chia seeds, any colour

1. In a large bowl, mash strawberries until juicy but chunks of berry remain. Add lemon and sugar and stir for a few minutes until sugar dissolves. Stir in chia.
2. Pour into clean jars and cover with lids. Refrigerate overnight for best texture.