Saturday, 28 June 2014

Lasagne Roll-ups with Smoked Chicken and Spinach

Like all pastas, lasagne provides opportunity to be creative, which is always an invitation to incorporate things that need to be used up, either because you bought too much or you have a little bit left from a previous meal. Pasta, like rice, does not have a distinctive flavour or texture, allowing other foods to be showcased.

A layered lasagne requires more filling ingredients and work than lasagne roll-ups do, in my opinion. So on a day like today, when I had a little bit of spinach, a small amount of grated mozzarella in the freezer, half a red pepper and a handful of grape tomatoes, that is exactly what came to mind.

Clockwise from left: spinach, mozzarella, red pepper and grape tomatoes

I added a smoked chicken breast from the freezer, some ricotta and goat cheese to bind the filling, onion, garlic and fresh basil, and of course, lasagne noodles.

First assemble the filling:

Heat a pan and add the spinach with a small amount of water, turning constantly to avoid scorching. This will wilt the spinach.

Place in a strainer and allow to cool and drain. When it is completely cool, squeeze as much excess liquid out as you can, then roughly chop the spinach.

                                                                                                                        In the same pan, over medium high heat, place the tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes  start to colour and split. Cool, roughly chop and add them to the spinach.

Dice the smoked chicken breast, and set aside. If you do not have access to a smoker, or cannot find smoked chicken breast  at your grocery store, plain chicken breast works just as well.
Finely dice 1/4 cup of onion and in the same pan as the tomatoes, gently cook them with olive oil until they soften. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and the chicken breast. If you are using smoked chicken it is partially cooked, so it will cook for less time than an uncooked regular chicken breast.                              

Add the chicken mixture to the bowl with the spinach and tomatoes. Roughly chop 1/4 cup of fresh basil and add that as well, along with 1/2 cup of ricotta cheese and 1/4 cup of soft goat cheese. Mix it well to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Cook 12 lasagne noodles until slightly undercooked, drain and run under cold water to stop them cooking, and to make them easier to work with!

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce (I used 2 cups of my Basic Tomato Sauce, see recipe on the side bar) on the bottom of a 9" X 13" ovenproof dish.

 Lay your prepared noodles out on the counter and divide the filling between them, spreading it to leave about 1/2" clear at each short end. This stops the filling from squishing out when it gets rolled up.

Roll each noodle up and place seam side
down on the tomato sauce in the dish.

Spread the rest of the tomato sauce over the top iof the rolled noodles and top with the grated mozzarella.

Bake at 350F until heated through and bubbling, and the cheese is golden.

Serve hot and enjoy!!!

Other filling ideas for lasagne roll ups:

  • Cut a butternut squash in half and place in an oven proof dish, add 1" of water, some sprigs of thyme and 2 cloves of garlic and roast until tender. Cool and scrape out of the skin and mash. Season with salt and pepper, chopped fresh thyme and/or sage and spread onto the noodles.
  • Cook sliced mushrooms with butter, minced shallots and garlic. Add whipping cream to cover the bottom of the pan and allow it to reduce until starting to thicken. Add chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, fresh goat cheese and spread onto the noodles.
  • Thinly slice zucchini lengthwise, season with salt and pepper and rub lightly with olive oil before grilling. Lay a piece of zucchini on each noodles and spread with a herbed soft cheese such as Boursin, before rolling it up.
  • Canned pumpkin, season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg and combined with caramelized onions.
  • Ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, chopped cooked spinach, roasted garlic, fresh basil and chopped olives.
  • Crumbled cooked sausage, cooked onion and garlic, ricotta cheese and fresh herbs such as basil or rosemary

Sauces can be mixed and matched with the fillings you choose. Try some of these ideas:

  • Basic tomato sauce, chili flakes, fresh herbs
  • Cream sauce with pesto (basil or sundried tomato pesto)
  • Meat sauce
  • Cream sauce with blue cheese and fresh chives
  • Roasted red pepper puree, alone or combined with tomato or cream sauce

Friday, 27 June 2014

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

Raining outside today, so I took the opportunity to do some baking. There are a few overripe bananas in the freezer, let's use them up!

Whole frozen bananas, and in the bowl defrosted and skinned bananas

Bananas that have passed their prime can be frozen in the skin, defrosted and then slipped out to be used for baking.

The beauty of these bananas is that as they ripen the sweetness and flavour intensifies, your banana bread is moister and bakes faster.

For this recipe 1 cup of mashed bananas is needed, which translates to approximately 3 medium bananas. If you are using defrosted bananas, just slip them out of the skin and they are ready to go. If you are using fresh, well ripened bananas, you can peel and mash them using a fork.

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease 2 loaf pans, or 1 bundt pan, which is what I use.

 Using an electric mixer, cream 1/2 cup butter with 1 cup of white sugar until it is light and fluffy.

You can substitute all brown or part brown sugar if you like. Your loaf will be slightly darker inside.

Add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon of vanilla, one at a time, scraping the bowl down in between additions.

Add the bananas and mix well to combine.

Combine 2 cups of all purpose flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of baking soda in a small bowl.

Add half of the dry ingredients, mixing to combine.

Then add 1 cup of sour cream (I use non fat Plain Greek yoghurt), and when that is well combined scrape the bowl down and add the remaining dry ingredients.

 Mix in 3/4 cup chocolate chips of your choice...white, dark or milk.

You can use toffee bits or chopped nuts instead of chocolate chips.

If you prefer fruit, try fresh, frozen or dried blueberries.


When they are combined, scrape the batter into your prepared pan(s), smooth the top and bake until golden on top and a wooden skewer inserted into the loaf comes out dry.

 When the loaf has cooled slightly, unmould it and allow it to cool before slicing. Enjoy!!

This recipe is fairly adaptable, try some of these ideas:

  • Instead of a loaf, make 12 - 18 muffins, depending on how big you like them. Little kids love the mini size.
  • Top muffin or loaf pan batter with a streusel topping. If I make fruit crumble and have leftover topping, I freeze it and use it up to top muffins.
  • Mix together 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and some chopped almonds, or dried coconut and sprinkle this in the centre of the muffin or loaf - put half the batter into the pan, then the cinnamon mixture, the top with the remaining batter and bake
  • The banana bread freezes well, as a whole loaf, or sliced and wrapped individually...these are perfect lunch snacks for school or work.
  • If you want a more chocolatey loaf, substitute 1/3 cup of cocoa for 1/3 cup of the flour
  • Spice it up by adding ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger
  • Try butterscotch chips instead of chocolate chips

A couple of other tips for overripe bananas:

  • Mash them first and freeze in 1 cup portions
  • Slice them and freeze, this works well in smoothies or milkshakes
  • Mix them into pancake batter as part of the liquid
  • Puree them and use as a marinade. Add an acid such as lime juice, a bit of buttermilk, chili flakes or hot sauce, minced garlic and some rum if you wish. This tropical style marinade works well with grilled chicken or shrimp. Throw some chunks of fresh pineapple on a skewer alongside the meat.

As with anything, the ideas are as many and varied as your imagination...

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Baked Mac 'n Cheese Balls with Bacon and Roasted Garlic

Mac 'n Cheese, who doesn't love it? Childhood memories, comfort food...and I'm not talking about the stuff that comes in a blue box, I'm talking real, made from scratch cheesy goodness. Mac 'n cheese balls seem to be very trendy right now, time to try them out!

Last time we had mac 'n cheese, I made some extra, and left in to chill in the fridge overnight.

There was already cooked, chopped bacon in the mac 'n cheese, so I gave it another boost by adding some roasted garlic, more grated cheddar and grated mozarella, a good handful of each.

A good mix with clean hands to blend everything and then it was time to make the balls.

 I used a 4oz ice cream scoop, pressing the pasta in well and rounding it slightly before removing it from the scoop.

Rolling the balls into rounds was tricky as the sauce was sticking to my hands, but that problem was solved by dipping them in cold water every now and then. After the balls were formed, they went into the freezer overnight.
They can be prepared to this point and kept in the freezer until you are ready to finish them off, which gives you something quick and easy when you are pressed for time.

While the oven was pre-heating to 425F, I set up a breading station:
  • flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 whisked eggs, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • breadcrumbs

The mac 'n cheese balls went into the flour to coat, then into the egg and lastly into the breadcrumbs. I had an ovenproof dish ready and waiting....they were baked for 30 minutes and came out of the oven golden, crispy, hot and gooey inside, thanks to the mozzarella I had added.

We ate them for lunch, with some warmed tomato sauce, yummy on a rainy day! Try these, your kids (big and small) will thank you!


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Pear Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Scalloped Potatoes

As I mentioned in yesterday's posting, my scalloped potatoes were all ready for topping with cheese and reheating for tonight's dinner. I chose parmesan, a nice sharp flavour.

For the pork tenderloin I had a pear that had been dropped and was bruised, as well as some maple butter (from my husband's last almond smoking event - these are very yummy, and so addictive, one is never enough!) in the fridge. These would make a perfect stuffing for the pork.

I minced a shallot and cooked it to soften in some of the maple butter, then added the diced pear and some fresh thyme. Done!

After cooling, it went into the pork tenderloin that had been partially butterflied. I melted the remaining maple butter and browned the bottom of the pork, then put it into a 350F oven alongside the potatoes, to cook through (160F is a good inside temperature for pork).

This was served with some roasted carrots, which were placed in a foil package to bake along with some fresh thyme, salt, pepper and the juice of 1 orange.

For dessert, a slice of chocolate cherry bundt cake, not really using anything up, but since there were  fresh cherries in the is my husband's favourite!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Potatoes Two Ways

I bought some Yukon Gold potatoes that I really wanted to use for tonight's dinner, but was well aware that I had 2 russet potatoes screaming to be used before they started I decided to see what else I had and ended up making dinner for tonight with the Yukon Golds, and for tomorrow night with the russets! Problem solved.

Other bits and pieces I had to work with were a leek, 2/3 cup of whipping cream, 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock and a small piece of feta cheese.

I decided to use the russets, part of the leek, the cream and 1 1/3 cups of the stock to make scalloped potatoes.


I used the remaining chicken stock and leek, together with the feta cheese to make some Greek style potatoes (my way) to serve with the chicken breasts I had marinading in lemon, garlic, oregano and olive oil.

First the scalloped potatoes...

I started by combining the cream, chicken stock, 2 cloves of garlic, fresh thyme and a bayleaf in a small saucepan. When it was heated through I removed it from the heat and allowed it to steep.

Oven on to 375F, ovenproof dish lightly oiled and ready to go.

After peeling the potatoes I sliced them into 1/4" thick slices. The leek was sliced thinly and washed.

 One third of the potato slices went into the dish first, topped 
with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Then a layer of half the 
sliced leek (I used about 2/3 of the whole leek for this recipe), 
salt and pepper, and I continued to layer this way until the 
last layer of potatoes was placed on top. Then all the liquid 
was poured over the vegetables, and it was ready to bake.

I lightly greased a piece of foil, covered the dish and baked it until the potatoes were tender, about an hour.

Tomorrow night I will top it with cheese and put it into a 350F oven to heat up.  I will post a follow up picture when it is ready to serve tomorrow night...

Now for the Greek style Yukon Gold potatoes.....

The potatoes were cut into approximately 1" chunks and placed into a saucepan. I added the remaining chicken stock and enough water to cover the potatoes. After bringing it to a boil, I turned it to a medium heat and cooked the potatoes until they were just tender. I used a metal skewer to check.
I drained them, reserving the liquid and allowed them to cool while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.

 2 cloves of garlic, minced
1  teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (or more if you wish)
1/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
the remaining one third of the sliced leek
salt and pepper

In an ovenproof frying pan I heated some olive oil, added the leek and cooked for a couple of minutes until it was soft. Then I added the garlic and oregano, salt and pepper and cooked for a minute before adding the potatoes. I kept the heat to medium, stirring occasionally so the potatoes wouldn't stick to the pan. After about 5 minutes I added the sundried tomatoes and enough of the reserved potato cooking liquid to cover the pan. I let the potatoes continue to cook, adding more liquid when the first addition of stock had reduced away. When the second addition of liquid was reduced to nothing, I removed the pan from the heat.  At this point, check and adjust the seasoning.

I sprinkled the feta cheese over the top and put the pan under the broiler to melt the cheese and crisp everything up slightly. Ready to serve with the grilled chicken breast and some grilled red pepper, zucchini and onion! 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Grilled chicken salad with mango, brie and candied pecans

Leftover grilled chicken thighs, a piece of brie and a mango that was calling out be eaten....salad time! I love making a main course salad that uses up whatever bits and pieces I have in the fridge or cupboard, but is still healthy, tasty and filling. This salad fit all of those requirements.

While the torn lettuce soaked in cold water, I peeled the mango, and cut it into matchstick sized pieces (a little bit bigger, to be truthful), and cut the chicken into the same size pieces. I thinly sliced the brie.

To make the candied pecans, I heated 1/2 cup light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar until the sugar melted and it bubbled.

 1 cup of pecans was added at this point, and I continued to cook it over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the pecans were well coated with the syrup.

I had pre-oiled a foil lined cookie sheet, and using 2 forks, quickly spread the nuts out to cool. Do not touch them with your fingers at this point, the caramel is HOT!!!
The nuts can be made ahead and stored in a sealed container for a few days.

The leftover chicken that I was using had been marinated in grainy mustard and maple syrup, so I made an easy salad dressing by combining 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon each of grainy mustard and dijon mustard and 1/4 cup of olive oil. I put these all in a jar, sealed it and gave it a good shake.

I dried the lettuce in a salad spinner, and tossed it with the dressing in  a large bowl, then portioned it directly onto the plates. Each salad was topped with chicken, mango, pecans and a few slices of brie.

A piece of focaccia, with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping on the side, and dinner was ready!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Rhubarb and Apple Coffee Cake

A rainy day, time to bake. And with only 3 eggs left in the fridge, I had to choose carefully. My rhubarb was growing nicely and needed to be picked, so I went out and did that, and decided to combine it with apples to make a coffee cake.

I had the perfect recipe in mind, and as it calls for sour cream, I could substitute my Greek yoghurt and use that up too, along with the zest from my last lemon.

First things first, I washed and sliced my rhubarb then peeled and diced 2 apples, giving me a total of 3 cups of fruit.

Preheat oven to 350F, grease a 9" X 13" glass baking dish. Ready for the fun stuff!

Toss the fruit with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Set aside.
Measure out 3/4 cup of yoghurt, add 1/4 cup of milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and the zest from my lemon (I use the small side of the box grater).
Crack the eggs.
Measure 2 3/4 cups of all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1 teaspoon of baking soda.

 Using the paddle of my electric mixer I creamed the 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of white sugar and 3/4 cup of light brown sugar until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl down occasionally.

The eggs were next, one at a time, scraping the bowl in between.

Then the dry ingredients got added , half first, then the yoghurt mixture, then the other half of the dry ingredients.

 I spread half of the batter on the bottom of the prepared pan, then sprinkled the fruit over the top.

 The remaining batter went 
 on top and was spread evenly        across the fruit.

Now to make the scrummy almond crumble topping! In a food processor combine  1 cup of almonds, 1/2 cup of light brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of cold butter. Pulse until the nuts are chopped and the mixture just starts to form small clumps.

Spread the crumble evenly over the batter. Place the dish in the oven and bake until it is golden brown, and a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out dry, about 1 hour.

  • This coffee cake works well with a lot of different fruits, so is a perfect way to use them up. I have used apples, peaches, plums, nectarines, berries, rhubarb, pineapple, cherries to name a few. As it freezes well (I cut portions and wrap and freeze them individually for convenience) the fruit does not go to waste at all!
  • You can substitute any nut for the almonds, again a great way to use up bits and pieces that would go to waste. Dried coconut would pair well with pineapple or raspberries.
  • As I mentioned at the start of this recipe, you can use either sour cream or yoghurt (plain or flavoured).
  • If you choose orange or lime zest instead of lemon, you will alter the taste of the cake. Try lime and blackberry, or orange and cherry.
  • You can add chocolate chips to the fruit or crumble.
  • If you are really in a chocolate mood, substitute 1/4 cup of the all purpose flour with cocoa powder.
  • Don't feel as if you have to use cinnamon, try ginger with peaches, nutmeg with pears. Or live on the edge and try a hot dried chili, like ancho or chipotle, but use less than 1 teaspoon, according to how much heat you and your family can tolerate.
  • The cake is good room temperature, or warmed up and accompanied by whipped cream or ice cream.