Monday, 24 October 2016

Butternut Squash, Bacon, Roasted Garlic and Cheese Baked Pasta

I made this to use the butternut squash that I had roasted and mashed; adding bacon and ricotta cheese just seemed right. Fresh sage and provolone cheese rounded out the dish, which was hot, cheesy and creamy, eaten straight from the oven.

This is a great use for leftover squash of any kind.

I used pasta shells, but any pasta shape that will hold up to a thick, creamy sauce will work...penne, rigatoni, orechiette. This dish does not have to be baked, it can be eaten right away, but we like the golden, crispy cheese that you get when you bake it.

Cook enough pasta for 4 people, about 500g. While the pasta is cooking, you can make the sauce. Heat the oven to 350F and have an ovenproof dish ready.

Cook over medium-low heat:

4 rashers of bacon, diced
4 - 5 leaves fresh sage

When the bacon has released its fat, and is cooked, but not crispy, add:

1/2 medium onion, diced

Cook until the onion has softened, and the bacon starts to get crispy.

Stir in:

3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

and cook for 2 - 3 minutes

Whisk in:

1 cup milk

Bring to a boil, whisking to prevent lumps.
Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl, combine:

the bacon sauce
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup cooked, mashed butternut squash

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Stir in:

16 cloves roasted garlic

Combine the sauce with the cooked, drained pasta.

Scrape the pasta and sauce into the ovenproof dish, and sprinkle grated provolone cheese over the top.

Bake until the pasta is hot and bubbling, and the cheese is melted and golden.

Serve immediately....

  • Leftover squash of any kind can be used....butternut, pumpkin, acorn, hubbard or any other winter squash. If the squash has been cooked with herbs and/or spiced this will add to the flavour of your pasta sauce.
  • The bacon is optional; I used it for the smokiness. It also adds salt, so that is the reason I only added pepper until the end when I tasted and adjusted the seasoning.
  • Sage is a herb that I associate a lot with Fall cooking, and it is perfect with squash. Other herbs can be used...thyme, rosemary or oregano.
  • I used ricotta cheese, but cottage cheese can be used if that is what you have.
  • I had roast garlic left from another meal; it can be omitted, but it does add a lot to the dish, and is worth roasting ahead of time to include. See the post Garlic for how to roast garlic.
  • Any melting cheese is suitable for the top; try combining breadcrumbs, cheese and chopped fresh herbs for a crunchier topping. Provolone is slightly tangier and sharper than mozzarella.
  • If you choose not to bake the pasta, add the ricotta and squash to the bacon sauce and heat it through before adding it to the hot pasta. Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top to serve. 
  • The pasta and sauce can be frozen; defrost before baking. It can also be assembled a day ahead, and kept well covered in the fridge before baking.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Brown Sugar, Rosemary and Pepper Crusted Pork Tenderloin

There was still some fresh rosemary sitting on the kitchen counter, left over from a previous use, so I chopped it and added it to my brown sugar crusted smoked pork tenderloin. Initially I was aiming for sweetness to counteract the smokiness of the pork, decided the rosemary would add a nice freshness and then ended up adding in ground black pepper and cayenne pepper for some heat...this is how making dinner in my kitchen usually proceeds...things change from minute to minute. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't!

I was planning on cooking the pork and adding it to a salad, so I will just get into the pork in this post, as it can be added to any salad you choose, and mine was pretty basic.

First heat the oven to 375F. Have an ovenproof dish ready.

On a plate or tray, combine:

1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Roll the pork in the sugar mixture, pressing to make sure it adheres to all sides. You may need to turn it a few times, until all of the sugar has been used.

I used:

1 pork tenderloin, that had been smoked.

Place the coated pork into the ovenproof dish, and into the oven to bake.

Bake until the pork is fully cooked, using the syrup from the meat juices and melted brown sugar to baste it a couple of times.

Remove from the oven and allow the pork to rest for 5 - 10 minutes, before slicing and serving.

I served my pork with a green salad, grape tomatoes and hard boiled eggs. If there are any pan juices, drizzle them over the sliced pork on the plates.

  •  The pork tenderloin I had was smoked (courtesy of my husband and his smoker) but this recipe can be used for plain pork tenderloin, pork loin, chicken breast, bacon or whole ham.
  • The brown sugar adds sweetness, caramelizes and creates a sticky crust on the outside, that seals the juices of the meat inside, and you end up with lovely moist meat.
  • The rosemary adds brightness, but any other woody herb can be used...thyme, sage or even tarragon.
  • The amount of pepper you use will determine the amount of heat, as will the type of pepper. Consider chili flakes, dried ancho or chipotle chilies, smoked or Spanish paprika, pink, white or dried green peppercorns. The pepper can also be omitted.
  • I did not add salt, as the smoked pork was soaked in a salty brine before it was smoked, but if you aren't using bacon, ham or a smoked meat then add about 1/4 teaspoon of salt to your brown sugar.
  • Thinly slice the cooked meat and use it on sandwhiches; top a pizza; add it to pasta or risotto; use it as your Thanksgiving or Christmas centrepiece if you are cooking a whole ham; bacon cooked this way makes amazing BLTs, omelettes or burger topping; ham can be thinly sliced and added to breakfast sandwhiches or eggs benedict, not to mention diced and used in a soup.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Beer Braised Chicken Stew with Dumplings

I know, using up the last beer to make stew is sacrilege, but my husband loves this meal so much that he offered it up so that we could have this for dinner. It is very loosely based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for rabbit stew with dumplings....and I mean very loosely.

Start with the fact that I use chicken thighs and not rabbit, I add in a lot more vegetables and I use less beer and more chicken stock. This is so easy and adaptable though, that as long as you have beer, bacon and rosemary the meat and vegetables don't really matter at all!

I used quite a few carrots this time, as for some strange reason I have been buying a lot of carrots when I still have some in the fridge; I have been on a mission to use them all up before buying any more!

I also had the last three rashers of bacon from the package to use, so this was just one more reason to make this yummy dinner.

I usually make biscuits to soak up the gravy, but went with another favourite, dumplings, this time.

Start off by dicing and cooking until crisp:

3 rashers of bacon

Remove the cooked bacon from the pan and set aside on paper towels to remove the excess fat. Drain the remaining fat from the pan, but save the pan.

In a  bowl, combine:

1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Use this flour to dredge:

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Reserve the dredging flour.

Using the same pan that you cooked the bacon in, heat some olive oil. Add the chicken thighs to the pan, browning both sides before removing them and setting them aside until needed.

Turn the heat down, and add more olive oil if needed. Add the vegetables:

3 medium carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 large zucchini, diced

Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until starting to soften and colour slightly.

Add back the cooked bacon.

Add the reserved dredging flour, and stir to coat all the vegetables and bacon.  Cook for two minutes.

Add back the browned chicken thighs.

Pour in:

1 x 355ml can/bottle of beer

It will bubble up. Stir gently, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan.


3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Chicken stock - enough to cover the chicken.

Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cover. Leave to simmer for about an hour, or until the chicken is tender.

To make the dumplings, combine:

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon soft butter

Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is the texture of fine breadcrumbs.


1/3 - 1/2 cup  milk

Stir 1/3 cup of milk in with a fork, adding more as needed to make a soft dough.

Drop spoonfuls of dumpling dough on top of the bubbling stew. I made 5 large dumplings.

Cover and leave to cook for 15 minutes.

To serve, portion out some chicken and vegetables along with some of the gravy, and top with one or two dumplings.

  • Jamie Oliver's Rabbit Stew also uses mushrooms, which I usually add, but forgot to buy, so I had to leave them out. I always add carrots and zucchini, and have also used celery if there is some in the fridge.
  • The combination of rosemary and bacon is, in my opinion, one of the perfect flavour pairings to use. If you do not have fresh rosemary, use dry, but remember that that fresh, piney flavour gets somewhat lost when rosemary is dried. You could use other fresh herbs such as sage or thyme if you like.
  • The reason I never use rabbit is quite simply the cost. Chicken thighs are much cheaper, at least here in Vancouver, and also a lot easier to find. I do love rabbit though, and would love to make this using it. You could use pork if you wish.
  • Jamie Oliver's recipe calls for a dark beer, but I have found that any beer works, as I usually just use whatever is in the fridge at that time. A darker beer will give a more intense flavour. 
  • This could be made using only chicken stock, if you have no beer, or would prefer not to use it.
  • For the dumplings, feel free to add chopped fresh herbs such as parsley or chives, or spices such as paprika, cayenne pepper or garlic powder.
  • I always start out by using less milk, and adding more if needed. Sometimes I find that I don't use all of the milk;  this depends on the humidity in the air and the moisture content of your flour. 
  • As soon as the milk has been added to the dry ingredients the dumplings need to be cooked, as the baking powder starts to react right away. They also need to be eaten as soon as possible after they are done, as they don't keep well.
  • This fed three people very well.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Pumpkin Creme Caramel

Thanksgiving dessert is always a challenge, as only half of us really like pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie lovers always want something with pumpkin as a compromise to missing out on their pie, so I have done things such as pumpkin cheesecake and pumpkin creme brulee in the past.

I was asked to make pumpkin creme brulee again, but mixed it up a bit by making creme caramel instead. Basically the same thing, a creamy baked custard with caramel...for creme brulee sugar is sprinkled on top and then caramelized, while creme caramel has caramelized sugar poured into the bottom of the dish before the custard is added and baked. The caramel melts while the custard is setting and runs over the dessert when it is turned upside down and unmoulded.

Place 6 individual 4 ounce ramekins into an ovenproof dish that is about 2" deep.

Turn the oven on to 350F to pre-heat.

Make the caramel, by combining in a heavy bottomed saucepan:

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Keep the heat on low until the sugar has dissolved. Do not stir, just gently swirl the pan if needed. When the sugar is dissolved, turn the heat up to medium high and allow the syrup to gently boil until it starts to caramelize, and turn golden around the sides of the pan.

Continue cooking until the sugar syrup reaches a deep amber colour, swirling the pan to keep the cooking will change faster around the edges than the centre.

As soon as the syrup reaches the right colour, remove it from the heat.

Divide the caramel between the 6 ramekins, making sure the bottom of each one is covered.

Set aside to cool while you make the custard.

Whisk together:

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of nutmeg

Whisk together:

1/2 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


The pumpkin and spices, whisk to combine.


1 1/2 cups whipping cream

Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the eggs, sugar and pumpkin.

When all the cream has been added, strain the custard into a jug.

Divide the custard between the 6 ramekins, pouring it on top of the hardened caramel.

Pour hot water into the dish, surrounding the ramekins and coming half way up their sides.

This will help the custard to bake evenly.

Bake until the custard is set, with only a slight jiggle in the very centre.

Check by inserting a sharp knife into the centre of the custard; it should be clean when it comes out.

This should take about 50 - 60 minutes.

Remove the baked custards from the oven and leave them to cool in the water bath for 15 minutes, before removing the ramekins from the water. Place the custards into the fridge to cool completely, for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

To serve, run a sharp knife around the outside of each custard, and invert the ramekin onto a plate.

Wait until you hear the custard release, and then carefully lift the ramekin off.

I served the creme caramel as it was, but you can add softly whipped cream or toasted nuts if you like. The caramel that has melted in the fridge slowly drips down the sides of the custard...yum.

  • The differences between the caramel in creme brulee and creme caramel are not just the placement of the caramel, but also the texture. The caramel on top of the creme brulee is crunchy, but the caramel that drips down over the top and sides of the creme caramel is sweet, sticky and saucy. This is because the cooked sugar softens and melts in the fridge, turning back into a liquid.
  • Be very careful when working with the caramelized is VERY HOT! It will set as soon as it touches something, but does not lose its heat right away, so if it ends up on your skin the burn will be quite bad.
  • Another caution is that once the sugar starts to colour, it can turn from light golden to burnt in a matter of seconds, so watch it carefully once it starts to colour.
  • Keeping the heat low until the sugar has dissolved prevents the water from evaporating and the sugar crystallizing. If this does happen, don't be afraid to throw it out and start again.
  • It is important to whisk continuously while adding the scalded cream to the egg and pumpkin mixture. If you add the hot cream too quickly, the eggs will cook and scramble. Adding it slowly allows the eggs to warm up and leave you with a smooth, creamy custard.
  • Other flavours that can be used include: star anise, ground cloves, a slice of fresh ginger infused while the cream is heating, orange zest or a tablespoon of rum.
  • The baked custard needs to be refrigerated long enough to chill it completely, which helps to firm it up as well as to melt the caramelized sugar. Leave it for at least four hours; overnight is better.
  • Try using other fruits/vegetables instead of pumpkin: chestnut puree, sweet potato, quince, roasted squash.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Sausage Stuffed Meatloaf

We all love meatloaf, especially when it is accompanied by gravy and mashed potatoes. I took advantage of the cooler weather to make this comfort food for dinner, using up mushrooms in the gravy and a roasted red pepper, some mini bocconcini and fresh spinach as well as the ground beef and two Italian sausages.

It sounds like a lot of items to use in one meal, but they all worked together really well, and by leaving the sausages whole and stuffing the meatloaf with them, I extended the ground beef to feed four, plus lunch for one the next day. The slices of meatloaf looked great on the plate, with the sausage in the middle, instead of just crumbled up and mixed in with the ground beef, which was my original plan. The extra work was well worth it!

Start off by combining:

2/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


1 pound lean ground beef

Using your hands, mix until well combined.

On a piece of parchment paper, use your fingertips to press the ground beef mixture out to a rectangle that is about 12" X 8", and no more than 1/2" thick.

Cover the ground beef with:

4 thin slices of prosciutto

Cover the prosciutto with another piece of parchment paper.

Flip the whole thing over and peel off the top sheet of parchment, leaving you with the prosciutto on the bottom and the ground beef on the top.

Cover the ground beef with a layer of fresh spinach. I used baby spinach.

Peel the casing from:

2 Italian sausages

Place the sausages in the middle of the ground beef, on top of the spinach, as shown.


1/4 cup mini bocconcini
1 roasted red pepper, diced

Using the parchment paper to help, roll the ground beef and prosciutto up to enclose the sausage. Pinch the ground beef where the edges meet to seal the filling in. Pinch the ends to seal them as well.

Turn the oven on to heat up to 350F.

Place the meatloaf, still on the parchment paper, into an ovenproof dish.

Bake until the sausage and ground beef are fully cooked, and the prosciutto is golden and crisp. This took about 45 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow the meatloaf to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

I cut the meatloaf into 1" thick slices, and served it with garlic and cheese mashed potato, asparagus, as well as onion and mushroom gravy.

  • The meatloaf can be made with other ground meat such as pork, veal, turkey or chicken. You can also use a mixture of two or more ground meats.
  • The sausage can be crumbled up and combined with the ground meat if you want the flavour of the sausage, without the work of stuffing the meatloaf.
  • The spinach can be cooked and chopped, and then combined with the meat, along with the bocconcini and roasted red pepper as another way to save time. Place the meatloaf into a lined loaf pan and bake.
  • Chopped fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, rosemary can be added to the ground meat mixture. Other flavours such as chipotle peppers, corn, sundried tomatoes or tapenade can also be added. Try spices such as fennel seeds, chili flakes or ground cumin.
  • Large bocconcini can be diced; grated cheese such as mozzarella or Asiago can be used.
  • The prosciutto is optional, but it added a nice crunch and helped to hold everything in a nice roll. Bacon or ham can be used instead.
  • The meatloaf can be assembled up to two days ahead of baking; keep it well wrapped and refrigerated. It can also be frozen; defrost before cooking.