Quick Rustic Ratatouille

The veggies in the photo above look so fresh don’t they? It’s all the bright colours I think. I bet you have a ton of zucchini and tomatoes in your garden…maybe even peppers and eggplant. Me? None. Zero. Zilch. It was not my gardening year. It was not Eggton‘s gardening year either. Check out her video. Oh, and read her. She’s funny as hell and always includes pictures of her kids dogs and posts yummy recipes.

For me, there was too much work travel this summer and then lack of motivation to get out there and work in the yard. I can only speak for myself because Bob has a garden too (he takes care of the back yard, I deal with the front) but he grew different stuff. Garlic, onions, peas, beans and some weird looking heirloom tomatoes, oh and corn! A few cobs actually grew this year. That was cool. His stuff looks great. Mine sucks. But I’m not competing or anything. 🙂

Ok so back to the photo of the ratatouille. The tomatoes and herbs are fresh but everything else has been quickly roasted until tender and the flavours are wonderful. You can make ratatouille any time of year, but there’s nothing better than when everything is in season. (And even better when they come from your own garden but I’ll leave that to you guys, ok?).

This is a quick, rustic rat that’s super simple to throw together. It really benefits from fresh herbs so if you don’t grow them yourself, splurge on them because it will be worth it.

Slice the zucchini in rounds, the eggplants in spears and roughly chop the peppers and onions into ~1″ pieces and toss everything into a mixing bowl as you go. Add salt and pepper. I didn’t measure the salt and pepper but you can see the amount I ground in. Add more if you like.

You dump it all onto a rimmed baking sheet and roast it quickly at high heat. While it’s in the oven you prep the tomatoes and herbs and toss it all together with the hot veggies.

We like ratatouille as a side dish or tossed in pasta, rice or quinoa as a main meal. It makes a great cold pita sandwich with a smear of hummus. I just had it again for lunch tossed with fusilli, some feta cheese and a drizzle of balsamic. Serious yum!

Quick Rustic Ratatouille
Thanks to my mom for this recipe…I’m not sure where she got it but she adapted it and then I did…..) Preheat the oven to 475Âș.

Cut and toss into a large bowl:
1 small eggplant, cut into thick spears
2 med zucchini, cut in rounds
1 med onion, coarsely chopped
3 bell peppers coarsely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped (I’m starting to sound like a broken record. Hmmmm…kids today probably don’t know what that means.)

Toss with: 3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out onto a rimmed baking sheet (spray it or spread out a little olive oil on the sheet first)
Roast for 15 min or until the veg are tender.

While the veg are roasting: 
Chop: large handfuls of basil, flat-leaf parsley and cilantro (have about 1-1.5 cups of chopped herbs)
Halve: lots of cherry tomatoes

Take the vegetables out of the oven, stir in the tomatoes and herbs and transfer to a large platter. Enjoy!

First Day of School French Fries

Well, my kid is in Grade 2 now. Sorry, I mean 2nd Grade. My dual-citizen kiddo is really very American and gets mad if you call it Grade 2. There was excitement over a new lunchbox, cool school supplies (I loved school for the school supplies alone! I can spend all day in Staples now….), and a very grown up boy got washed and dressed, made his bed and cleared his breakfast dishes without being asked.

But then the anxiety hit and there was worry, and withering confidence and my very grown up boy became a very teary boy as we walked closer to school. So different from kindergarten when he proudly sat at his Very Own Desk and announced with a giant grin that we could go now. Almost 8 means more to think about, a bit less naĂŻvetĂ© about the world, new awareness of things….and more anxiety than Almost 6 did. I hugged him goodbye, loosened his desperate grip on my arm, gave him a thumbs up from the classroom door and managed to get a weak smile in return.

As expected though, I was greeted at 3:20 with light and energy and “My day was AWESOME!!!!”
And then there was the traditional First Day of School Ice Cream and a coffee (milk) together at Starbucks, and home made french fries with dinner.

Home Made French Fries

Use Yukon Gold or another white potato for good crispy fries. Cut them into sticks, place in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 425Âș until brown. You probably have to turn them once but you can just push them around with a spatula unless you’re Type A enough to turn them individually with tongs. Serve with ketchup….and vinegar eh?

Mediterranean Baked Feta

Oh. You guys. You HAVE to make this. It’s simple and fantastic. We came home from camping and I saw Smitten Kitchen‘s post with all these ingredients I love…feta, kalmata olives, cherry tomatoes. This are the kinds of ingredients I use all the time. BUT I’d never had the idea to serve the feta warm. It takes it to a whole new level. After a week of hot dogs, s’mores, cold cereal, etc this was just what we needed. You need this too.

Slice cherry tomatoes in half, chop olives, toss with thiny sliced onion, minced garlic, oregano and a good grind of pepper.

Place tomato mixture around and on top of a block of feta and bake. Serve immediately. Preferably outside on a deck somewhere.

Mediterranean Baked Feta

You can serve this on crackers, flatbread, pita chips, soft pita etc. Or if you’re watching your bread carbs/gluten try it on cucumber rounds (patted dry), in a lettuce wrap, endive leaves, grape leaves….or just eat it with a spoon!

1/3 – 1/2 lb block feta
1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup kalmata olives, diced (measure with whole olives, then dice)
1/4 cup thinly sliced onion
1-2 thumb-sized cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh, chopped oregano
pepper

Preheat oven to 400ÂșF. Place block of feta in an oven-proof dish and set aside. In a separate bowl, gently toss tomatoes, onions, garlic, oregano together. Then place around and on top of feta. Add a good grind of pepper on top and bake for about 15 min.

Serve immediately. Feta will not melt, but will be spreadable. As it cools it will firm up but can be popped in the oven again. I think it won’t last long enough to really cool down! You could also make a balsamic reduction and drizzle it over when you take the feta out of the oven. (To make a reduction, pour some good balsamic in a sauce pan and heat over med-high until it becomes thick and syrupy).

Hello Summer! Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp

I changed my header photo. Like it? Strawberries from my garden, blueberries from the store. Well…that’s not technically true. The strawberries are really from Bob’s garden. He deserves all the credit. I’ve been so lazy this season and haven’t really done much gardening at all (I’m guessing that armchair/backseat gardening doesn’t count).

So with all of these amazing berries staring at me how could I not make a dessert? I mean, Evan likes the crisp part of apple crisp, so this might be a good way to get him to start eating berries. Right? Bob rolled his eyes. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that.”

Okay fine, whatever. I made it because I wanted it. But I truly did have hopes that Evan would try some. I did make it small. And whole grain. And not a huge amount of butter or sugar.

And Evan didn’t eat any of it. But it was f*cking awesome. Every last bit of it.

Whole Grain Summer Berry Crisp
This is dead simple. Layer the berries in the bottom of the pan. Add a splash of orange juice. If they’re not as sweet as you like, you can sprinkle with sugar to taste. Cover with the topping, dot with butter and bake at 350ÂșF until bubbly.

2 cups 5 grain rolled hot cereal (or rolled oats if you prefer)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups mixed berries
splash of orange juice

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake

OK so chocolate. Lots of chocolate, and sour cream for richness and moisture (and as an egg replacer*) and a whole whack of zucchini grated so fine it just disappears into the cake. It’s dense enough to be eaten out of your hand, especially if you’re one of three 7-year old friends, sitting around on the grass discussing what would happen if a superhero fell into a hole to the center of the earth. Apparently Superman might survive if he flew out in time and Wolverine would be fine because he can regenerate. But Spiderman? Spiderman would bite it.

Sorry for the short post…summer has taken over my brain and I can’t think of much to write these days.

Dark Chocolate Sour Cream Zucchini Cake

Adapted from Dinner with Julie.

1/2 cup butter, soft
1/4 cup canola oil
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp sour cream
2 cups finely grated zucchini
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350Âș. Spray a Bundt pan with non-stick spray.
On high speed, beat the butter, oil, sugar and 2 tbsp sour cream for 2-3 minutes until thick and pale yellow. Add in vanilla and mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

On low speed, add about 1/2 of the dry mixture to the wet ingredients, then stir in the sour cream and mix to combine. Mix in the rest of the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl. At this point the batter will be really thick, but adding the zucchini will thin it down a bit.

Stir in the zucchini and chocolate chips until well distributed. Bake for about an hour, until the top is springy and a toothpick comes out clean.

I was in a hurry to make this cake and had to get it out of the pan while it was still hot. To my surprise, not one crumb stuck to the Bundt pan. So whether you let it cool completely or turn it out while it’s still warm, you’ll have to experiment. It probably depends on your pan and how well you sprayed it.

*if you’d like to make this cake with eggs, replace the 2 tbsp of sour cream with two eggs. Add them at the same time as the vanilla. Reduce the baking powder to 1 tsp only.

French Onion Soup in Honour of Le Clown

I was worried that by the time I posted this recipe it would be summer weather and no one would want to hear about soup. But yes, its still dreary in Seattle. AND it’s not sweltering in Montreal yet. So I guess the timing is right afterall. Why Montreal, you say? Because this blog post is in honour of this Clown I ‘met’ recently, who lives and blogs there.

Blogging is a weird thing…and presents opportunities to virtually meet all kinds of people. And if you move from the foodie blogs to some of the humour/essayist types of blogs you come across some pretty interesting people, whose comments on other people’s blogs are just as entertaining as their posts. (Not that foodies aren’t an interesting lot of course, but the other bloggers I’m reading are much snarky-er (is that a word?) and thus highly amusing.

Definitely check out A Clown on Fire. This hilarious post about his daughter is the post that got me hooked into the saga of his crazy life and very interesting, talented wife and kids. You’ll find more here and here. You can also find some interesting and clever reads at Gemini Girl in a Random World and Paltry Meanderings of a Taller Than Average Woman, two funny women whose blogs I also follow.

Recently Le Clown took a blogging haitus while sorting out some family stuff and so when he returned I promised I’d blog in his honour and make/blog about his favourite food. Good thing he isn’t totally nuts or I’d have to be blogging about haggis or corn dogs and cotton candy…thankfully he was kidding about those. But “anything cheesy and salty” following a suggestion of French onion soup cemented it for me. A clown after my own heart! And soup it was.

Wonderful soup too. And because the onions steep and brown slowly for a long time in this recipe they, how shall I put this delicately, do not cause distress in those who do not digest onions well.

French Onion Soup
Adapted, but barely, from Smitten Kitchen’s version, which is a streamlined version of Julia Child’s. It’s really worth it to keep the heat on the low end and take the full amount of time suggested to brown the onions. The depth of flavour is lovely. This makes enough for about 6 bowls. 

Soup:
1 1/2 pounds yellow onions – thinly sliced
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 quarts beef or other brown stock (mushroom works for a veggie version)
1/2 cup dry white wine
pepper to taste

Gratinée (cheesy bread topping)
1 baguette, sliced 1/2″ thick rounds and toasted until hard
1-2 cups grated cheese (Gruyere or Swiss and Parmesan/Romano)

In a large pot, melt the butter and oil over med-low heat. Add the onions, toss to coat them in oil. Cover and reduce the heat to low and let them slowly steep for 15 minutes.

Then, add the salt and sugar, raise the heat a bit, say med-low again, and let the onions slowly brown (30-40 min).  Grab a book, your iPad, glass of wine, whatever, pull up a stool and sit there and enjoy, stirring every few minutes. If you have trouble with that, well….do the dishes, make your kid’s lunch, supervise homework, reorganize the spice rack, alphabetize or color coordinate your cookbooks, whatever floats your boat. Just don’t stray far from the kitchen for the next 30-40 min and stir frequently. They should caramelize to a deep, golden brown.

Once the onions are caramelized, sprinkle in the flour and combine. Cook for 3 minutes.

Add the wine (all at once), then add the stock, a little at a time, stirring after each addition. Season to taste with salt and pepper (keep in mind that the cheese will be salty as well so consider under-salting a little). Bring to a simmer and leave it for 30-40 min.

Finishing:
Pre-heat oven to 325°. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. (Place them on a foil-lined baking sheet incase there are spills). Layer/float the baguette toasts on top of the soup bowls and cover in the grated cheese. You can butter the toasts prior to putting them on the soup but I skipped that step and it was still amazing. Bake for ~20 min or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Finish under the broiler if needed.

Chocolate Bundt Cake with Dulce de Leche

It was Cinco de Mayo the other day, and so am I giving you a fab recipe for fajitas or enchiladas or even mojitos? No….though Bob made a kick ass fish taco last night. Or so I’m told. I’m allergic to fish, remember? But our friends said it was great. Next time he makes it I’ll take some photos and let you in on the recipe. Because quite honestly, this dinner party was all him….he planned, invited, grocery shopped, prepped and cooked. What a guy! It was really fun too. I did virtually nothing. Except make this cake. And the dulce de leche that is decadently running down the sides. Oh my god, you guys.

This is the easy way to make dulce de leche, using a can of sweetened condensed milk. I picked it up from Stephanie Eddy’s Icing on the Cake column in the Globe and Mail (Canadian paper, for my friends here in the Excited States). There are methods out there that call for boiling the unopened can in a pot of water but you do risk having the can blow up and wasting all that decadent sweetness doing some serious damage to someone or your kitchen cabinets.

For this method, you pour the sweetened condensed milk into a 8 or 9″ pan, cover tightly with foil and make sure the foil is not hanging down. Tuck it up tight like in the photo above.

Then put your covered pan in a larger one, like a roasting pan and fill with water until about halfway up the sides of the smaller one. Pop in the oven at 450Âș for about 90 min. You will probably have to add more water at some point. Check the water level at the 45 min mark. Don’t add cold water though, boil the kettle and use that to top up the level.

When it’s done, it will be this lovely caramel colour. I did mine on convection and it was finished in about an hour (good thing I decided to check under the foil!) It was about the consistency of pudding. Give it a good whisk to get it all smooth if there are lumps. The first time I made this, my oven was not on convection and I just left it for 90 min. It was not lumpy at all.

It will thicken a bit more as it cools. While it’s still warm eat it by the spoonful ladle it on the crest of the bundt cake and it will slowly drip down the sides. Or, let it cool and spread it between two cookies, or stir it into plain yogurt…keep leftovers in the fridge.

Bundt cakes are trendy right now for some reason. With a traditional round or 8″ square eggless cake, the middle always falls a little. But I wondered if the shape of the bundt pan might lend itself well to an eggless cake. I was right!! It didn’t fall and it rose very well. However, I needed to alter my original eggless chocolate cake recipe because for some reason, in the bundt pan, it turned out dry the first time I made this. So I added 1/4 cup of stewed prunes (baby food prunes would work really well because it’s so smooth, but applesauce or pureed dates would likely be just as effective). Recipe below. If you want to make this with dulce de leche as a topping, make the cake first and have it cooling while the oven is working its magic on the sweetened condensed milk.

Chocolate Bundt Cake (eggless)
Proportions are for a 9″ bundt cake pan. This makes a large amount of batter. Preheat oven to 375Âș . If you don’t need to make the cake eggless, skip the balsamic vinegar and the prunes and add 2 eggs.

2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2/3 cup melted butter
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups milk (1/2 milk, 1/2 buttermilk)
1/4 cup stewed prunes (date puree or applesauce would also work)

In a large measuring cup, melt the butter (microwave), then stir in milk, vinegar, vanilla and prunes. Then sift the dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to blend well. On low power, slowly pour in the wet ingredients. Once you’ve got a little moisture in there you can turn up the mixer and not have flour flying around everywhere. Let it mix vigorously for a few minutes.

Spray the bundt pan well with non-stick spray. Pour in cake mix and bake until a toothpick/skewer comes out clean. Let cool completely before attempting to turn it out of the pan. Even with a ton of non-stick spray I still lost thin patches of cake, but that will be covered up by the dulce de leche (or whatever you frost it with). For a good review of bundt pans go here (you’ll need to sign up for a free trial to see the whole article if you’re not a member).

Penne Primavera

I’ve been having trouble with wine lately. Not the fun kind of trouble, like <insert posh accent> “Oh you simply MUST try this lovely red we picked up on our last visit to Sonoma/Provence/Piedmont…such a PITY it’s our last bottle”. Or, “...we have GOT to get our architect to design us a larger wine cellar…”  As if.

No, my wine troubles are more like this conversation between me and my body: “WTF body, you used to love red wine…remember the time we toured little wineries in Sonoma with Bob? Remember when we all learned what a real zinfandel was? What happened?”

My body answers, “What do you want? We’re 43 now. We can’t eat whatever we want and still feel 20-something! Especially since you can’t be bothered to exercise me very often. Geez. No respect”.  Gulp, ok, guilty on the last charge. My punishment? Reflux,  a rapid heartbeat and big time flushing.  Sigh. But a least I can still cook with wine!

And no self-respecting red sauce should be without a healthy dose of red vino to deglaze the pan and add flavour depth. Experts disagree on how long you need to keep your dish cooking to burn off the alcohol, some say 20-30 seconds and some say it must boil for several minutes or simmer for a few hours! So if alcohol is something you really need to stay away from, check out this handy table. It’s from Wikipedia so use it as you will…I tried to link to the US Dept of Agriculture Nutrient Laboratory who did the study but the link was corrupt. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to worry that much about it but I thought it was interesting.

So throw some veggies in a pan with some onion, garlic and olive oil, add some basil and oregano, deglaze with some wine and a can of diced tomatoes and go to town!! You can add a touch of cream near the end if you like….or not. It’s super yummy and perfect for spring.

Pasta Primavera

3-4 cups diced vegetables (eg peppers, zucchini, asparagus, mushrooms, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower etc)
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 19oz can diced tomatoes
1 19oz can tomato sauce (ie pureed tomatoes)
2 tsp dried basil (or 2 tbsp chopped fresh)
2 tsp dried oregano ( or 2 tbsp chopped fresh)
1/3 cup red wine
pinch sugar
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
Short pasta, like penne, farfalle, rigatoni.

Dice onion and vegetables roughly the same size. Toss in a deep skillet with some olive oil and a few grinds of pepper on med-high heat. Sauté for 4-5 minutes and add the minced garlic and the herbs. Sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add wine and let it bubble for about a minute and then add in the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar (and cream). Turn down the heat, add the cooked pasta, salt to taste, and let the sauce simmer for a few minutes to allow the flavour to permeate the pasta. Garnish with grated parmesan and serve.

In our family, we fish out the pasta for Evan so he gets all the flavour but none of the ‘lumps’ of vegetables. We give him a small dish of the vegetable sauce in a separate dish that he usually doesn’t touch but it’s served to him anyway. One day he’ll try it…

Fast Personal Pizza

Maybe it’s because I’m gearing up for a lot more work travel over the next few months and summer is just around the corner and we haven’t figured out which summer camps Evan will be doing…regardless of the reason, it seems we’re in fast forward! Fast forward often requires fast food….but only in the figurative sense. We don’t eat a lot of Fast Food in our family…(though it seems like road trips and McDonald’s go hand in hand and I have no problem with that!)

But make-your-own pizza…that can be really fast and still great. We often get ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s but that still requires rolling it out etc. The BEST super fast mini-pizza vehicle I’ve found, thanks to my mom who tuned me onto it, is Greek style pita. There is no pocket, it’s designed for wrapping around souvlaki or tearing up and dipping in hummus or tzatziki (hmmm…I sense a future post).

However, it also makes terrific pizza crust. Spread your favourite jarred sauce and favourite toppings on the bumpy side. Put it straight on the oven rack flat side down and it gets nice and crisp. About 8-12 minutes on 375° depending on your oven and when you consider your pizza ‘done’. Then, if you’re me, try to get it on the table without a “Mommy, can you finish taking pictures so I can eat it now?”

Hmmm....seems this lunch was particularly orange!

Butternut Squash Quesadilla

This squash is shocked that I would steal a little work time to play around with the camera.

It was a beautiful spring day (finally) and spending another minute in my windowless home-office surrounded by decidedly non-foodie and non-spring-y things wasn’t doing it for me. Heading upstairs and poking around, I found butternut squash, spinach and some tortillas that needed using up. VoilĂ , this quesadilla was born.

You can’t tell me that this squash isn’t a little reminiscent of Wallace….though it would be more so with some googly eyes.  (Check out this link for a LOL).

So this is the quick version of this quesadilla. I can already think of ways to improve it but I’ll leave that for another day. A speedier version can be had using leftover butternut squash, or bag-o-squash. I had to cook mine.

 

 

Butternut Squash Quesadilla

With apologies to those who like formal recipes, this was pretty free form. I cut my squash in half, scooped out the seeds, sprinkled with seasoned salt (see pic of my fave one below) and put it in the microwave for about 5 minutes on high. Then scooped out a couple of tablespoons worth and spread it on a tortilla. A squeeze of lime would probably be good, though I didn’t have a lime to do that.

Add some spinach leaves, thinly sliced shallots, clumps of goat cheese, fold the tortilla and place it in a non-stick skillet on med heat.  Flip when it gets brown and toasty.  Cut into sections, drizzle with crema. Enjoy!

Buttermilk Crema

1/2 cup sour cream
buttermilk
salt and pepper

In a measuring cup whisk together sour cream with enough buttermilk to thin it to a pouring consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This is my favourite seasoned salt. I use it for everything. Roasting vegetables, potatoes, seasoning a roast or chicken….I found it in the salt section of my grocery store. You can find it on Amazon too. It’s worth the splurge.