Farfalle with Snap Peas, Pine Nuts and Currants

It was a Mommy and Evan night since Bob had a meeting to go to, and Evan was pretty excited about it.  Much as he loves his Daddy, having Mommy to himself is definitely a treat in his eyes! Particularly since work had me traveling a fair bit last year. I’ll take it…I’m sure it won’t last too much longer since he’s seven already. Sigh.

So my imaginative whirlwind of a boy was acting his most grown up and it was lovely to have him sitting at his little kitchen desk doing his homework on his own while I made dinner. Then he set the table and tidied up his toys. O.M.G. I’m sure he’ll be back to normal tomorrow. I couldn’t persuade him to try this dish, so he had his farfalle with pesto instead. Given that he’s usually partial to penne it was nice to see him try out a different shape at least. Then he got into his PJs and we spend the next hour reading Harry Potter 2. Nice.

It is totally worth toasting the pine nuts for this recipe. It doesn’t take long, only 3-5 minutes…any longer and you risk burning them anyway. Just put a bunch in a frying pan on medium high without any butter or oil. Keep an eye on them and shake them every so often. Once they start to darken it will go fast and they will continue to brown once you take the pan off the burner so if they’re the right colour, dump them in to a bowl. Make a bunch and then store them in the fridge and toss them in salads. Yum!

I adapted this recipe from an America’s Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers magazine, which called for broccoli and oricchiette (shells), neither of which I had so we ended up with farfalle and snap peas.

It was quite good. Next time I will use broccoli though because the tops of the ‘trees’ are perfect for trapping yummy melted, wine-soaked Parmesan. Basically use equal amounts of sliced onion, mushroom and veg and 1/2 that amount of pine nuts and currants. Use more or less pasta, as you like. Definitely don’t skip the currants…they add a subtle sweetness on top of the wine and garlic that’s fab!

Table for two...complete with candles and penguin.

Farfalle with Snap Peas, Pine Nuts and Currants
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen 30-Minute Suppers, Spring 2011.

1/2 red onion or 1 cup sliced french shallot, sliced thin
1 large/2 med garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup dried currants
1/3 cup white wine
2/3 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 box farfalle
1 cup snap peas cut on an angle in small pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently toss pine nuts in a frying pan with no oil over med-high heat until slightly darkened. Bring pasta water to a boil and start to cook pasta. You’ll toss in the snap peas to cook with the pasta for the last couple of minutes.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook onion and mushrooms until softened. Add garlic and pine nuts and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant — about 1 minute. Add currants, white wine and broth and simmer for a few minutes until the liquid reduces a bit and the pasta and peas finish cooking.

Drain the pasta and peas and toss them into the skillet along with the Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Serve immediately. Makes quite a bit.

Cream of Leek and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

Yesterday I just couldn’t warm up. Seriously, the house was 70 degrees and I was wearing three layers, including a fleece vest and I still felt cold. I’m sure it had nothing to do with all the snow on the ground…It’s been a fun few days with the schools closed all week and all the sledding, sledging, tobogganing (whatever you like to call it…) has been making me nostalgic about growing up in Ontario — Canada, not California, for my American friends. (The nostalgia has also been feeding my current obsession with the Hipstamatic iPhone app).

The topper was heading into the grocery store and finding myself in the newly designated “British Specialties” section wistfully looking at chocolate bars I haven’t eaten in years…Flake, Dairy Milk, Aero, Aero Mint. It was the mint Aero that really took me back because it’s probably been 25 years. Couldn’t resist. And then after I had eaten it I decided I wanted to take a photo and naturally had to go and buy sweetly ask Bob to go back to the store for another one.

One bite and I was also reminded of these ‘Parfait Mints’ my grandmother used to buy every Christmas. They might have been Laura Secord, but I’m not sure….little pastel-coloured piped white chocolate drops in a white box with a window in the shape of a tall parfait glass. So my mind wandered for a while…kind of how this post has wandered…

Cold days call for soup so I started rummaging through the fridge to see what I could come up with. Leeks that I bought almost a week ago, and some baby bell peppers that we weren’t using up fast enough. With some fried polenta on the side for the kid who will probably not have more than a taste of the soup. That’ll work.

Cream of Leek and Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

4 large leeks, sliced, white parts only
1/3 cup sliced mushrooms
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup roasted bell peppers (the pile of mini peppers in the picture became about 1/2 cup after being roasted)
3 1/2 cups broth (I used two 14 oz cans of chicken stock but you could use any stock)
white wine to deglaze
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
heavy cream – to taste

It’s more efficient and less fiddly to use regular bell peppers but I happened to have all these mini ones. Slice the peppers in half or quarters lengthwise, remove seeds and place skin up on a cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil and put them under the broiler until the skin blackens and blisters. Meanwhile, you can prep the leeks and mushrooms.  When the peppers come out of the oven, cook the leeks, mushrooms and garlic over medium heat in the bottom of your soup pot with a blob of butter. While the leeks and mushrooms are slowly sweating, peel the skin off of the cooled peppers. Then add them to the pot along with the sage and thyme and stir it around for another 2-3 minutes or so.

Add in a glug of white wine to deglaze and let it simmer for about 5 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Then add the stock and let it all bubble for a few more minutes. When everything is soft, you can pour it into a blender or use a hand blender right in the pot. Puree until smooth. Slowly stir in the heavy cream if you use it. I ended up using about 1/2 cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

The photo at the top makes it look much greener than it actually was…it’s just the photo. Here’s another:

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Nut-Free “Peanut” Sauce

I’ve been meaning to make this recipe for a while but for some reason just hadn’t gotten around to it, plus Bob needed convincing that making a peanut sauce with soy nut butter would be good. The trick, I told him, was not to think of it as a peanut sauce replacement, but to just to consider it something new and probably yummy. He bought it. Hee Hee. And even took it upon himself to take care of browning the tofu while I put together the sauce. Evan said the other night…”Mommy, don’t you think Daddy is awesome?” Yup.

Actually, he said it was good and even Evan liked the bit that he tried (not enough to eat a whole bowl, mind you, but it’s a start). Evan loves tofu and loves soba noodles, the latter practically drowned in rice vinegar. He looked suspiciously at the sesame seeds on the tofu and needed to scrape them off before trying it (sesame seeds only belong on bagels don’t you know) but admitted it was pretty good. His version of dinner was a bowl of plain soba noodles with tofu on the side, plus a little of our version to try. Love meals like this….we’re all eating the same stuff even if it’s seasoned/sauced a little differently.

Soba Noodles with Tofu and Nut-Free “Peanut” Sauce                                             Adapted from The Family Kitchen 

Of course you could probably substitute peanut butter in the same proportion, though I don’t know that for sure, having never eaten peanut butter. But this recipe would work with any peanut sauce you find somewhere on the net. Depending on how sweet you like it and whether you use sweetened soy nut butter or not you may want to adjust the amount of brown sugar. I use the I.M. Healthy brand of soy nut butter and the one I buy is sweetened but they do have an unsweetened one (and also a chocolate soynut butter which is the nut-allergic person’s version of Nutella and its so awesome I won’t buy it anymore because it disappears by the spoonful!) 

For the tofu:

1 package firm or extra firm tofu
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds
a splash of soy sauce
1 tbsp canola oil

For the sauce:

2 tbsp soy nut butter (creamy)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce (reduced sodium)
1 ½ tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
¼ tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp brown sugar
1 clove garlic
Hot pepper flakes to taste

The rest:

1 package soba noodles
2 baby bok choy thinly sliced
2 bell peppers (red, orange, yellow or a mix), thinly sliced

Gently press the whole tofu between sheets of paper towel or dish towel to remove excess water. Then cut into 1” cubes. Toss in a bowl with the sesame oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Heat canola oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat, add tofu in a single layer and cook until all sides are brown and crispy. About 10 minutes total. 

While tofu is browning, grate the ginger. You can use a wood rasp like in the photo (available in most kitchen stores or online here) or a cheese grater on the fine side. Whisk together everything for the sauce but the garlic, then cut the clove in half or thirds and drop it in the sauce and stir. If you really like it garlicky, crush the garlic, but I didn’t want it to be overpowering. 

Start the soba noodles when you flip the tofu. Slice the baby bok choy and peppers and dump them in your colander. Drain the cooked noodles over them to blanch the vegetables.

Transfer noodles and vegetables to a large bowl. Add tofu and sauce (remove the chunks of garlic) and toss to coat. 

One of these days I’ll figure out how to start a new line without everything ending up double-spaced in the recipe. Bear with me. Thanks for scrolling endlessly. Update 1/21/12: I figured it out!! Yay!

Wacky Cake (Eggless Chocolate Cake)

Just when I finished congratulating myself for not gaining any weight over the holidays we had a belated birthday dinner a few nights ago for my brother and Evan and there are were two different kinds of ice cream in the freezer along with some leftover holiday chocolate. Oh well. I went for a run today (the fact that I even mentioned it gives you a clue as to how novel that is). Does it still count if I only really ran for about 5 minutes before I needed to walk? Probably better than just wearing my workout gear around the house all day, right? Good thing I work from home.

Wacky cake, if you didn’t know, is an old recipe…believed to be from WWII when ingredients like eggs and milk were rationed.  But since eggs and milk are common allergens, it works well for the allergic set too. Cakes without eggs can tend to be crumbly so I use milk (usually 1% because we have it around but it would probably be even better with whole milk) and melted butter instead of the vegetable oil from the original recipe as I think it makes it a bit more substantial.

It doesn’t rise too much so it’s better as a layer cake if it’s for a birthday. (And mine sunk in the middle but my oven is old and doesn’t heat evenly). If it was to be brought to someone else’s place I’d have doubled the recipe to make two full layers. But since any leftovers would be hanging out in our kitchen (not for long I might add), I decided to use loaf pans, split the single recipe batter in half and make an oblong layer cake instead. It still tastes good even if it’s a different shape!

There are many variations of this recipe on the internet and I have no idea where I found the one I’ve adapted. Lots of them say to make 3 separate wells in the dry ingredients and pour the vanilla, water (milk) and oil (melted butter) in each but you don’t need to do that. Just mix the dry, mix the wet, pour wet into dry. Couldn’t be easier.

Eggless Chocolate Cake

1 1/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350

Sift all dry ingredients together and stir to blend well. I used the whisk attachment on my mixer so I’d have my hands free to get the wet ingredients together but you can use a fork or a hand whisk. In a 2 cup measure, melt the butter and then add the milk, vanilla and vinegar to it and stir well. The milk will start to curdle a bit but you want that. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. (Over-mixing doesn’t hurt this cake and I think it even helps). Pour into an 8″ pan (round or square) and bake for 35-40 min or until a toothpick comes out clean. If you want this to be vegan, substitute vegetable oil for the melted butter and use 1 c. water instead of milk.


I had a plan for dinner. It involved pasta and capers and kalamata olives and maybe sundried tomatoes or artichoke hearts….all those savory, salty things we love but then I noticed that the avocados we bought the other day were absolutely perfectly ripe so I changed my mind about dinner and asked Bob if he’d mind dropping by the store after he picked up Evan from school. Voila, it’s a Mexican night instead…except the Mexican chopped salad recipe we tried was really meh and not worth sharing with you until we try it again with some major tweaking. BUT, I do have a tip to share. If you buy fresh cilantro but frequently end up with half of it wilting and then rotting in the bottom of your fridge (like me, until recently) check this out.

Put your washed cilantro into a glass of water like a bouquet and cover it loosely with a plastic bag. A produce bag or a Ziploc bag works well. Put it in the fridge and it will keep for at least a week. And if you’re still not using it up, chop it up, put it in a ziploc, squeeze out the air and toss it in the freezer. But use it…it’s yummy!

Polenta with Sausage

Here’s a perfect example of three versions of the same dinner to accommodate all but without making three different meals. We have a few different items and everybody chooses from what’s offered. It’s easy enough to make both meat (Ev and me) and veggie (Bob) sausages at the same time, Evan and I ate polenta with it, and Bob and I had salad while Evan picked out the parts that he liked (just spinach and goat cheese). Pretty quick.

There’s no recipe for this one….we used a tube of plain polenta and fried it in a bit of butter and did the sausages on the bbq. The white blobs in the photos are bits of crumbled goat cheese.

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans

Today is Yesterday was my mom’s birthday so it’s fitting that my first post features one of her recipes (which we had for dinner last night but I found out that I can’t edit a blog post very well on my iPad and was already comfortably curled up and was too lazy to move to the desktop) …anyway,  we both kind of wing this dish instead of following a measured set of instructions. Cooking’s more fun that way! This meal is great because it’s one dish, is full of protein and fiber and tastes amazing…well, if you’re a grown up. Scratch that, it would taste good to a picky first grader too if only he’d actually taste it!

It took a bit longer to make than I remembered, mainly because of the chopping and cooking the quinoa but you sauté the peppers and onion then pretty much toss everything together and leave it until the quinoa is plump and the liquid is absorbed; so it’s relatively low-maintenance. We made this for dinner one night last week but we were still all on holiday with a very relaxed pace and I wasn’t really watching time. Last night was the night before school started again and I couldn’t believe that it was about quarter to eight when we started dinner! So next time I’ll start a little earlier. Come to think of it, it also could be all the crazy photos I was taking while I was cooking, which made the whole process take much longer.

Once the peppers and onions and garlic are softened, add the quinoa and chicken stock (or water if you prefer) and let it simmer until the water/stock is absorbed. Add the black beans (you can also add them earlier…whenever you think of it!) When it’s close to done but there’s still some liquid left in the pan, stir in the chopped cilantro. Serve hot, with (optional) grated cheese and a blob of plain yogurt or sour cream if you’re feeling decadent. It doesn’t really need it though.

So what did Evan have for dinner? Cheese quesadilla. Oh well.

If I’d been thinking, I’d have cooked some quinoa separately for him and offered him that plus the sautéed veggies on the side. But I forgot.

Southwest Style Quinoa and Black Beans (variation on beans and rice)

2 bell peppers, any colour

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic, chopped or minced

2 cups chopped cilantro

1 cup quinoa (white or red)

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

2 cups chicken stock or water

Dice the peppers and onions and sauté on medium-high in butter or olive oil until just soft. About 5-6 minutes. Add uncooked quinoa and chicken stock and stir to combine. Lower temp to simmer, cover and leave it, stirring occasionally. When most of the liquid is absorbed stir in the chopped cilantro and black beans (if you haven’t already) and leave for another 5 minutes or so, until the rest of the liquid has been absorbed. You can speed it up by raising the burner temp and removing the lid but you’ll need to hang out by the stove, stirring every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn. You really can use any veggies you have on hand (carrot, frozen corn – thanks for the idea mom!). You can also add cooked quinoa (or rice) at the end (this is a good use of leftover rice or quinoa that’s already in the fridge) instead, but I like the flavor depth you get from cooking it all together.