Sunday, 29 October 2017

Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato and Chick Pea Soup

For me, one of the best parts of the cooler weather is soup. Warming, tasty, not too heavy, quick and easy to make and it often allows me to use up bits and pieces.

This soup is a great example of all of these qualities. When making the Gnocchi with Chicken, Asparagus, Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto last night I also roasted the remaining grape tomatoes, and three sweet peppers that were in the fridge. Some chick peas and chicken stock pulled from the freezer and I had the makings of a lovely soup.

The peppers added sweetness, and the chick peas added the thickening element (no need for potatoes). The addition of  herb and garlic Boursin cheese just before serving added some creaminess to the finished soup.

In a 400F oven, roast 1 1/2 - 2 cups of whole grape tomatoes, and 3 sweet peppers in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. When cooled, peel and seed the peppers. Set aside.

In a heavy bottomed pot, with a bit of olive oil, cook until softened:

1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
salt and pepper

When the onions are soft, add:

the roasted tomatoes and any juices from the roasting dish


the 3 roasted, peeled and seeded peppers and any juices from the roasting dish


2 sprigs fresh thyme
Chicken stock to cover the vegetables

Bring to a boil.

Stir in:

1 cup chick peas

Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots are soft.

Remove from the heat, and using a hand blender or food processor, puree the soup.

Strain it through a fine mesh strainer to remove the tomato and chick pea skins, leaving you with a silky smooth soup.

Return the soup to the heat, adjusting the consistency by adding more chicken stock if needed.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

When the soup has heated through again, serve it garnished with some crumbled garlic and herb Boursin cheese and a sprig of fresh thyme. I also toasted some thinly sliced sourdough bread and passed that at the table.

  • Fresh tomatoes, seeded or canned tomatoes can be used instead of grape tomatoes. Both can be roasted, or left as is. Roasting the tomatoes enhances their flavour, giving it more depth and also increases the sweetness.
  • Purchased roasted peppers can be used if you like.
  • Use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock to make this a completely vegetarian soup.
  • Pureeing the chick peas allows the starch in them to thicken the soup. If you want to set some aside to use for garnish, go ahead. You can also roast some to crisp them up and add those as a garnish.
  • Instead of chick peas use other beans such as cannellini, navy or kidney. A peeled and diced potato can also be used instead of chick peas.
  • As far as flavourings go, I kept it simple: salt, pepper and fresh thyme. This way the sweetness of the peppers was not masked. Of course, you can add whatever herbs and spices you choose...paprika or smoked paprika, chili powder, cumin, basil.
  • Soft goat cheese can be used in place of the herb and garlic Boursin. To keep this vegetarian, garnish your soup with some Basil Pesto, instead of using cheese.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Gnocchi with Chicken, Asparagus, Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto

At the top of my list of things to use were some asparagus and grape tomatoes. Two things that are perfect for quiche or pasta, but a friend had been asking me about making gnocchi, which had me wanting that's the route this meal took.

I defrosted some of the Basil Pesto I have in the freezer to use as a sauce, and used the last few pinenuts as a garnish, together with shaved Parmesan. All very tasty, and my husband had leftovers for lunch today.

The chicken is optional, and I added it because we wanted the meat.

Start off by making (or buying) potato gnocchi, and cooking them in lightly salted water, at a slow boil. When the gnocchi rise to the top, scoop them out and place them onto an oiled baking sheet to cool. Set aside until needed.

Turn the oven on to 400F.

In a hot pan, using some olive oil, sear the chicken. You will need:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper

When the chicken is seared on both sides, add:

a handful of grape tomatoes

Toss to coat the tomatoes with oil, season them with salt and pepper and place the pan into the oven to finish cooking the chicken, and to roast the tomatoes.

While the chicken and tomatoes are cooking, heat a bit of olive oil in a large wok or pan, and add:

1 shallot, minced
salt and pepper

Cook for a couple of minutes.


12 - 16 asparagus spears, cut into 2" pieces

Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.

Add the cooled gnocchi to the pan and continue to cook, stirring gently and often to prevent sticking.

The gnocchi will start to crisp slightly; that is what you are looking for.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the oven and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

Add the roasted grape tomatoes and pan juices to the gnocchi.

Add Basil Pesto to taste. Mix gently to coat all the gnocchi.

I added:

1/4 cup of Basil Pesto

Taste and adjust seasoning.

 To serve, place the gnocchi in the dishes, and top with the thinly sliced chicken breast. Garnish with toasted pinenuts and shaved Parmesan. I also passed extra Basil Pesto at the table, in case someone wanted more!

  • Pasta can be substituted for gnocchi.
  • The tomatoes do not have to be roasted; I like the extra flavour it creates. You can leave them whole, or halve them, and add them with the aparagus. Peeled, seeded and chopped large tomatoes can also be used if you like.
  • The asparagus does not have to be blanched, as it has plenty of time to cook while the gnocchi heat up.
  • Other vegetables that could be used are broccoli, broccolini, sweet red peppers, sundried tomatoes, olives, mushrooms or zucchini.
  • I have an abundance of  Basil Pesto in my freezer, as I had a bumper crop of basil this year. If you do not have any, use Basic Tomato Sauce instead.
  • The chicken can be roasted, as I did, or it can be cubed and cooked in the pan with the shallots, adding the asparagus when the chicken is almost fully cooked.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Pecan Thumprint Cookies with Apricot Jam

These cookies have always been a favourite of my youngest daughter, who believe it or not, is not a fan of chocolate chip cookies!

I am also a fan of them for a few reasons....they are easy to make, they are fun to eat and they are flexible as far as allowing me to use up bits and pieces from the baking cupboard.

They do come with two warnings, though. Firstly, do not even try and eat them until they have cooled completely, or you will burn your mouth with the boiling hot jam. Secondly, they are way too easy to eat and disappear very quickly.

That being said, let's bake some cookies!!!

Turn the oven on to heat up to 350F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind until the nuts are fine:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, whip until light:

8 ounces softened butter

Add the ground nuts and sugar to the butter, and continue to mix until combined, and creamy.


1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix to combine.

Add half the dry ingredients. The total dry ingredients are:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

When the first half of the dry ingredients are incorporated, add the rest and mix until just well combined. You will have a firm dough.

Roll the dough into balls that are about 1" in diameter. You should have about 32 balls.

Gently flatten each ball until it is about 2" in diameter, and press down with your thumb in the centre to make an impression (this is where the jam will go).

Bake the cookies until they are set, but not completely cooked, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and gently press the thumbprints down, as the dough will have risen slightly while baking.

Place a spoonful of jam into each thumbprint.

Place the tray back into the oven to finish baking.

Bake until the edges of the cookies are golden and the jam is starting to bubble, about 6 - 8 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.

These cookies make a great snack, are great as part of a dessert platter or with ice cream, and are fun to give as hostess, teacher or Christmas gifts. Just remember to be patient and let them cool!

  • Thumbprint cookies can be made two ways...with the nuts incorporated into the dough as I do, or with the balls of dough rolled in nuts before baking. I prefer to have the nuts in the dough, as it is one less step after the dough is made, there is less chance of the nuts burning in the oven, and the nuts add a nice crunch and richness to the dough.
  • As far as jam goes, any jam you have works. I used the apricot and vanilla jam I made this summer, with the fruit from our tree.
  • Other fillings can also be used; some need to be added after the cookies are completely baked and cooled. Those that can be baked include jellies, fruit compote or even Christmas mincemeat. Those that need to be added once the cookies are cool include ganache, fruit curds such as lemon or lime, dulce de leche, buttercream.
  • As long as you have 1 cup of nuts in total, anything goes. I have used pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans and almonds. Try macadamia nuts, peanuts or walnuts.
  • If you do not have a food processor, buy ground nuts  and use those instead. For 1 cup of whole nuts you will need approximately 150g of ground nuts.
  • The balls of dough freeze well; defrost and proceed from there. I like to do this, baking the cookies as needed over Christmas. It also stops us from eating them all!
  • Once the cookies are baked they last for 2 - 3 days, as the jam starts to soften the cookie. They still taste great, but don't have the contrast of gooey jam and crispy cookie any longer.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Chick Pea and Paneer Balls

I hardly ever buy paneer, but the last time I did the only package in the store was quite large, so I froze what I didn't use. This was the test, as I had read conflicting opinions online about how well it freezes. It froze and defrosted nicely, and I was able to use the last of it to make these absolutely yummy snacks.

I used the juice from a zested lemon in the dough, and to help the cornstarch coating to stick.

I grated the paneer and mixed it with mashed chick peas and spices, formed the mixture into balls and shallow fried them and then served them with an apricot chutney for dipping.

I wasn't quite sure how my husband would feel about them, but he loved them. He's already asked me to buy more paneer and make them again...

In a bowl, combine:

1 cup grated paneer
1 cup chick peas, mashed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon lemon juice


3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 pinches of turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Mix until everything is well combined and you have a moist dough, similar to cookie dough in texture and consistency.

Add more lemon juice if needed.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and roll each into a ball.

Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them.

When you are ready to fry the chick pea and paneer balls, heat vegetable oil in a wok or pan. You will be shallow frying, so you need about 2" of oil. Heat it to a temperature of at least 375F.

In a bowl, combine:

1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon garam masala

Have another small bowl ready with the remaining lemon juice, and a plate to put the coated chick pea balls on.

Roll each paneer ball in the lemon juice, allowing any excess to drip off, and then coat them in the cornstarch and garam masala.

Shake off any excess and place on the plate, ready to fry.

Gently lower the paneer balls into the hot oil, and cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are golden and crunchy and the inside is hot.

This took about 5 - 7 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the paneer balls from the hot oil and place on paper towel to drain.

Serve the hot chick pea and paneer balls with a dipping sauce, such as chutney. Eat them while they are hot...the spices are at their most fragrant, and the paneer and chick peas are soft and moist.

  • I mashed the drained and rinsed chick peas with a hand blender, leaving them slightly chunky. You can also use a food processor. 
  • Leftover mashed potato can be used instead of chick peas.
  • Paneer does not melt, but when it is hot it is soft. Grating it allowed it to be evenly distributed throughout. 
  • If you want to add cayenne pepper of chili flakes for heat, go ahead. Minced fresh ginger can also be added to the dough.
  • By coating the paneer balls in cornstarch, they are kept gluten free, but if you wish to use breadcrumbs instead, go ahead.
  • If you do not have a thermometer to check the oil temperature, it is ready when a drop of water sizzles when it hits the hot oil....only a drop! If you use any more the oil will bubble up and may boil over!!
  • Another cooking option is to quickly brown the paneer balls in a pan, and then place them in a 400F oven to finish crisping and heating through. 
  • The balls can be made and rolled a day ahead; coat them with the cornstarch just before frying.
  • These make a great snack, or appetizer.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Spicy Chicken and Peanut Stew

Now that there are only two of us in the house I have to remember to buy smaller cans of things like tomatoes...every time I make something I find that I am using only half a can...that's where a recipe like this comes in handy!

I used the second half of the can of tomatoes, as well as the open chicken stock, and while I was at it, why not finish off the peanut butter?

This stew was easy to make, and had quite a spicy kick to it, which mellowed out when it was served with rice. Cooking everything in Harissa infused olive oil helped to increase the heat...but as with any recipe, the amount of heat can be adjusted to suit your personal preference.

In a bit of olive oil, cook:

1 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup diced zucchini

Cook until the onion starts to soften and the zucchini starts to brown.


2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 bayleaf

When the spices have cooked for a couple of minutes, add:

2 chicken breasts, diced

Cook until the chicken is seared on all sides.


2 cups chicken stock
1 X 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 cup peanut butter

Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape all the bits off the bottom of the pan.

When the liquid is boiling, add:

4 small red potatoes, cut into 4 or 6 pieces

Cook at a low boil until the potatoes are fully cooked.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve the stew alone, or over rice as I did. Garnish with chopped roasted peanuts, and chopped fresh cilantro.

  • This recipe is full of flavour, and also has quite a bit of heat, which we enjoy. Use less cayenne and black pepper to decrease the heat. If you like a lot of heat, consider adding some fresh chilies, minced or using a flavour infused olive oil such as the Harissa olive oil I used. 
  • I used chunky peanut butter, which gave some texture to the sauce.
  • Fresh tomatoes can be used instead of canned, you may need to increase the amount of chicken stock to make up for the lost liquid. Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes first. This is a good opportunity to make use of soft tomatoes.
  • No chicken stock? Use water or vegetable stock.
  • Instead of potatoes, use sweet potatoes, or a firm flesh squash such as butternut. Sweet red peppers can also be added.
  • Chicken thighs can be used instead of chicken breast. Pork would also be a good choice.
  • Omit the chicken, and add chick peas instead, or use both.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Shepherd's Pie with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

As the season starts to change and it gets colder outside, I notice a definite yearning for comfort foods...stews, pastas, casserole type meals. Shepherd's pie is one of those meals.

Shepherd's pie is traditionally made with lamb, but I often make it with pork. This time, however, I used the ground beef that was in the freezer, along with the frozen beef stock.

Since I had about half a cup of grated Parmesan and a bunch of green onions in the fridge, I added those to the potato after I had mashed it.

Instead of just cooking and mashing the potatoes, I chose to bake them, scoop out the flesh and stuff the skins with the meat filling before topping it all with the mashed potato. A lot of work, you may say, but it really wasn't any more work than it would be otherwise, and provided us with a fun version of a traditional dish.

To start off, wash  1 large baking potato per person; I used russet potatoes. Prick the skins to stop them from exploding during cooking, and place the potatoes into a 400F oven to bake. They should take at least an hour, depending on the size of the potato. The potatoes are ready when they are soft when gently squished.

While they are baking you can make the meat filling.

In a heavy bottomed pan, using olive oil, cook until the onions are opaque:

1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
2" length of zucchini, diced (about the same amount as the carrot)
Salt and pepper

When the onion is opaque, add:

1 pound of lean ground beef

Cook, breaking up any lumps of meat, until the beef is almost completely cooked through.


2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bayleaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

Cook until the beef is no longer pink.

Stir in:

1/4 cup flour

Cook for 2 minutes, stirring.

Stir in:

4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups beef stock

Bring to a boil, stirring. Turn the heat down and simmer until the carrots are tender.

Taste and adjust seasoning.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven and as soon as you are able to handle them (I use a tea towel to hold them), cut them in half, lengthwise.

Scoop the flesh out of the potato skins, and place the skins into an ovenproof dish.

Place the flesh into a bowl for mashing.

Mash the potato with butter, salt and pepper and a bit of  milk or you normally would, but with a bit less liquid. I used:

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons millk

Stir in:

1/3 cup grated Parmesan
3 chopped green onions

Taste and adjust seasoning.

Fill the potato skins with the cooked and cooled meat filling.

Divide the mashed potato between the filled potato skins, gently spreading to cover the meat.

Sprinkle each potato with some more grated Parmesan.

Bake the stuffed potatoes in a 350F oven until the filling is hot in the centre and the mashed potato topping is crisp and golden.

I served two potato halves per person, along with some steamed green beans. The crispy on the outside, soft on the inside mashed potato was so tasty, and the meat filling provided a beautiful gravy. If you are so inclined, the potato skin can be eaten at the end...less dishes!

  • Feel free to cook your potatoes in a microwave if you are so inclined. I prefer to use the oven, but that's a personal choice.
  • The potatoes can be baked, scooped and stuffed a day ahead of re-baking. Keep them in the fridge, well wrapped.
  • Potato mashes best when it is hot; it tends to become gluey when it is mashed cold. That is why I like to scoop the cooked flesh from the skins as soon as I can hold the potatoes, and I usually end up using a towel to hold them.
  • When making shepherd's pie you want the mashed potato to be a bit thicker in consistency that your usual mashed potatoes, so start off with butter only, and then add small amounts of liquid as needed to help mash to a fluffy consistency.
  • I used milk, but whipping cream, sour cream, plain Greek yoghurt or buttermilk can be used.
  • Sweet potatoes can be used for this dish.
  • The Parmesan can be omitted or replaced with any other cheese. Instead of green onions add chives or chopped parsley.
  • The meat filling made enough for three large russet potatoes; I only baked the two I had, so the remaining filling will be frozen for another time.
  • If you have no ground beef, use ground pork, lamb, chicken or turkey.
  • This recipe can also be turned into a fish pie, by using cooked (leftover would be perfect) fish. Mix this into a thick Basic White Sauce (Bechamel), along with vegetables such as green peas, carrots, onions or whatever you have on hand.