Monday, 30 November 2015

Braciole - Beef Stuffed with Cornbread, Bacon and White Cheddar

This is my version of Braciole, which is thinly sliced beef stuffed and rolled to create a pinwheel. It is seared and then baked in tomato sauce, which keeps the meat moist, adds flavour and gives you a sauce to serve the meat with.

I had some beef inside round rouladen to use, and wanted to do something more exciting than breading and pan frying it. The leftover cornbread that I had frozen after our last chili dinner gave me the idea to make this. I also got to use the last 3 rashers of bacon in the package, as well as the last piece of white cheddar. I baked my braciole in some beef stock and Basic Tomato Sauce that I had in the freezer.

I admit that these are time consuming to assemble, but once that is out of the way, they are in the oven for around an hour and a half, which gave me plenty of time to prepare the rest of the meal, and still have time to sit and read.

Start the stuffing by cooking until crispy:

3 rashers of bacon, diced

When the bacon is crisp, drain any excess fat from the pan.


1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

Cook until the onions have softened. Remove from the heat.

Keep the pan for the sauce.

In  a bowl, combine the cooked onions and bacon with:

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil


2  cups crumbled cornbread
1  cups grated white cheddar

Mix well to combine.

 Lay the thinly sliced beef on a baking sheet.

Divide the stuffing between the pieces of beef and spread it evenly, pressing down gently.

Starting at one thin end, roll the meat and stuffing up, jelly roll style.

Use kitchen string to tie the rolls.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Re-heat the pan that the bacon and onion was cooked in. Add:

1/2 cup beef stock

Bring to a boil, stirring to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Brown the meat on all sides in a very hot pan, using olive oil. When the last side has been browned, turn the heat off.


The beef stock

Cover the meat with:

2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce

Place the pan directly into the oven and bake, covered until the meat is tender. This took about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the meat from the sauce and allow it to rest for 5 - 10 minutes, before cutting off the string.

Slice the meat into 1/2" thick slices.

I served the meat with rice and steamed asparagus. I portioned the sauce directly onto the plates, but it can be passed at the table if you wish. The meat was tender and juicy, the stuffing was moist and full of flavour. This meal was enjoyed by all!

  • The trick here is to bake the meat for long enough that it becomes fork tender. Baking it covered helps to retain moisture.
  • Other cuts of beef can be used...flank steak, top round or bottom round. If the meat is not thin enough to make rolling it easy, use a meat mallet to pound it to a thickness of 1/2" or less.
  • There is no reason to stop you from using other meat, as long as it is thinly sliced and large enough in size to stuff and roll. Some options are turkey or chicken breast, or pork cutlets.
  • I used cornbread in my stuffing as I had it in the freezer. Any fresh bread will work; remove any crusts and crumble it between your fingers. The beauty of the cornbread is that it is moist.
  • The bacon added a smoky flavour, but the bacon fat also added richness and helped to keep the stuffing moist. I removed the excess bacon fat after cooking, leaving enough to cook the onion and garlic.
  • The cheese also added richness and moisture; if you have a drier cheese such as Parmesan, you might want to add a bit more fat or liquid to your stuffing.
  • The beauty of a recipe like this is that the stuffing lends itself to substitution...try and use a starch such as bread, rice, couscous or quinoa. Add in richness with fat such as bacon, sausage, butter or olive oil, and cheese. Herbs and spices can be used to complement the rest of the ingredients. Vegetables can be varied from onion and garlic to cooked greens (spinach, kale), roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, grilled vegetables.
  • Tying the rolled up meat and stuffing helps to keep the shape during cooking; it also prevents the meat from unrolling and the stuffing falling out.
  • If you have red or white wine, use that instead of beef stock. My stock was in the freezer, left over from another meal.
  • The beef can be stuffed and rolled a day ahead; it can also be stuffed, rolled and frozen. Defrost and brown the meat, and proceed with the recipe.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Mediterranean Baked Chicken Breast with Goats Cheese Crumble

With fresh new produce in the house I was ready to make something full of vegetable goodness, but I knew that there were also some older items to use first. I had a beautiful eggplant that I was itching to use; the older vegetables to use were a roasted red pepper, half a fresh red pepper, a handful of grape tomatoes and half a zucchini. There was also a handful of fresh spinach...oh, and 1 1/2 cups of Basic Tomato Sauce that had been defrosted and not used yet.

My thinking cap on, so many ideas going through my head and this is what I came up with. It exceeded my expectations in the yumminess department, was reasonably healthy and allowed me to use up so many little things. I cooked the orzo that was left in the package and served the chicken, vegetables and sauce over that.

Lightly season both sides of the chicken with salt, pepper and dried oregano. I used:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

In a hot pan, using sundried tomato oil to prevent sticking, sear both sides of the chicken.

Remove the chicken from the pan, keep the pan on the heat.


a handful of grape tomatoes

to the hot pan, and cook, shaking the pan often, until the skin of the tomatoes starts to blister and pop. Remove the tomatoes from the pan.

Using a bit more sundried tomato oil if needed, add the vegetables to the hot pan, and cook over medium high heat, seasoning with salt and pepper while they cook.

You will need:
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 zucchini. diced
3 1/2" thick slices of eggplant, diced

When the vegetables are beginning to caramelize, add:

2 cloves garlic, minced

Cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in:

1 roasted red pepper, diced

Add in:

1 handful of washed fresh spinach

Turn off the heat, and allow the heat from the vegetables to wilt the spinach.

To make the goats cheese crumble, combine:

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup crumbled soft goats cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Using your fingertips rub the goats cheese into the breadcrumbs to make the crumble. Set aside.

Spread the cooked vegetables on the bottom of an ovenproof dish.

Top with:

1 1/2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce


Place the seared chicken breasts and grape tomatoes on top of the  Basic Tomato Sauce.

Spread the goats cheese crumble evenly over the top of the chicken and grape tomatoes.

Bake at 350F until the chicken is cooked, the vegetables and sauce are bubbling and the crumble is crispy and golden.

Serve a chicken breast and crumble, accompanied by sauce and vegetables over pasta or rice.

  • The vegetable portion of this casserole is a basic ratatouille. This allowed me to use my beautiful eggplant, without ignoring the zucchini, pepper and tomatoes.
  • The ratatouille can be used in other ways...make a vegetarian sub by using it instead of meatballs, add some cheese and broil to melt it; use it as a pasta sauce; use it as a filling for crepes or quiche.
  • By using the oil from my sundried tomatoes I added flavour and depth to the dish, and stopped the oil from going to waste. The herbs and garlic that are usually added to sundried tomatoes packed in oil, as well as the intense dried tomato flavour can add a lot to something as simple as stir fried vegetables, omelettes or salads.
  • If you do not have soft goats cheese, use feta cheese, herb Boursin or cream cheese. If you only have hard cheese such as Parmesan or asiago available, grate the cheese on the fine side of your grater, add it to the breadcrumbs along with just enough olive oil to bind it to the breadcrumbs and create a crumble.
  • The crumble is a blank canvas as far as adding flavour...chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, parsley or chives; chopped green onion; minced fresh garlic; spices such as cayenne, chili flakes or fennel seeds; lemon zest are some ideas to try.
  • The crumble can be used to top other baked dishes such as macaroni and cheese.
  • The chicken can be diced and mixed into the vegetables and sauce. Leftover chicken or turkey from a roast can be diced and added instead.
  • Other meats that can be used include pork chops, sausages, prawns or meatballs made from any ground meat.
  • The Basic Tomato Sauce I used had been defrosted for another meal, and not used. Diced canned tomatoes and their juice can be used instead, as can a purchased tomato sauce.
  • Chopped frozen spinach could be used as a substitute for the fresh spinach.
  • Omit the meat and add in garbanzo beans to make this a vegetarian meal.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Ancho Cherry Chocolate Cookies

It's cold and frosty outside, and the furnace decided to stop working today...while waiting for the furnace to be repaired, I made some cookies. I knew the heat from the oven would warm the house, and it would help to pass the time. Now the house is warm and toasty, and smells wonderful.

As far as what kind of cookies to make, I found a small piece of dark chocolate and some dried cherries. I made a variation of one of my favourite cookies, which is double chocolate and cranberry. Dried ancho chili powder and cinnamon gave a kick to the cookies, the dried cherries added a chewiness.

These cookies are soft and gooey, and if you eat them while they are still warm the soft chocolate adds a lovely, sweet messy element to them!

Measure the dry ingredients into a bowl:

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground dried ancho chili

Set aside until needed.


1 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar


2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Add the eggs one at a time, scraping the bowl down in between additions.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until almost combined.


1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1/2 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Continue to mix on a low speed until everything is combined.

Turn the oven on to heat up to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Portion the cookie dough into balls and place them onto the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1" apart. Gently press them down slightly, as these cookies do not spread a lot during cooking.

Bake until the cookies are set, but still soft in the centre, about 14 - 16 minutes.

Allow the cookies to cool for 10 minutes on the tray, before serving.

  • Not only did I warm the house up by using the oven to bake these cookies, but I also cleaned out some of the bits and pieces in my baking cupboard. The dried cherries leftover from baking brownies, the small chunk of chocolate and the last few chocolate chips in the bag.
  • I chopped the chunk of chocolate into chunks and combined it with the chocolate chips to give a total of 1 cup of chocolate. You can use all chocolate chunks or chips if you like. You can also use any type of chocolate; I do think that dark chocolate ids the best complement to cherries.
  • As I mentioned, I usually make these cookies using dried cranberries. Experiment with other dried fruit such as dried figs or mango.
  • The addition of chopped nuts would add a crunch to the cookies...I wanted to add toasted almonds, only to find I had none. I used almond extract instead. Nuts that work well with cherries are almonds, hazelnuts or pecans. Any type of nut can be used.
  • Other additions that you might want to consider are toffee bits, chopped caramels, crushed candy canes, candies such as M & Ms or chopped peanut butter cups. This can be a good opportunity to use up that Hallowe'en candy....
  • Orange or lemon zest can be substituted for the almond extract.
  • The spices are optional, and can be omitted. They can also be changed to other spices such as ground or fresh ginger; aniseed or start anise; cayenne pepper or chipotle chili.
  • Espresso powder or instant coffee can be used to make a mocha cookie. I would leave out the cherries in this case, and add more chocolate and nuts.
  • To make 'regular' chocolate chip cookies, omit the cocoa and use 2 3/4 cup of flour. The dried fruit can still be included.
  • To make chocolate peanut butter cookies, use 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup peanut butter. Add chopped peanuts to the dough if you only have smooth peanut butter.
  • The cookie dough can be made a couple of days ahead and kept refrigerated. if you want to freeze the cookie dough, portion it into balls before freezing. This allows you to defrost and bake as many cookies as you need, and still have more for another time. The cookies can also be frozen after they have been baked.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Braised Turkey Meatballs with Balsamic Onion Gravy

There was one and a half pounds of ground turkey thighs in the fridge that needed to be used. It had been defrosted a couple of days ago and I never got around to using it as I had worked late both days.Time to use the turkey!

Last time I used chicken stock I had frozen the unused portion, so I used that to braise the meatballs, and then make a tasty gravy, with caramelized onions and the last bit of balsamic vinegar.

The whole meal turned out better than I had hoped it would...tender, juicy meatballs and a silky gravy that were both full of flavour. I served them with some leftover mashed potato and steamed asparagus, and was very happy with all the praise I received for the yummy dinner!

To start the meatballs, combine:

1/3 cup minced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 egg
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
A few drops of hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stir in:

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Using your hands, knead in:

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey thighs

Roll the mixture into meatballs. I made 27 that were about 1 1/2" diameter.

Wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

To start the gravy, caramelize in a bit of olive oil:

1 medium onion, sliced

When the onion is soft and golden in colour, add a small sprig of fresh rosemary. Turn off the heat and set aside until later.

Heat a deep sided frying pan that is large enough to hold all of your meatballs in one layer. Add enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the meatballs, and brown them on the first side and then turn them to start browning the second side. Keep the heat at medium high.

Turn the heat down to low, and add enough chicken stock to almost cover the meatballs.

Cover and simmer until the meatballs are completely cooked.

To finish off the gravy, remove the sprig of rosemary. Turn the heat back on to low, and add:

1 tablespoon butter

When the butter has melted, stir in enough flour to coat the onions. Cook, stirring for a couple of minutes.

When the meatballs are cooked, remove them from the heat.

Carefully pour the braising liquid into the gravy pan, whisking as you do so to avoid lumps.

Add the liquid gradually, until the gravy is smooth and silky. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Stir in:

1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar.

Serve the meatballs with the gravy, and pass the remaining gravy at the table.

  • If you don't have fresh breadcrumbs on hand, simply crumble a slice or two of bread between your fingers.
  • I keep a container in the freezer for stale bread and crusts. When it is full, I defrost the bread and turn it into breadcrumbs by putting the bread into the food processor. I return the breadcrumbs to the freezer; this way no bread gets wasted and I always have breadcrumbs on hand.
  • Fresh herbs add a lot of flavour to the meatballs. This is the first time I have used rosemary, and it was a good choice with the turkey. I usually use basil, oregano or parsley.
  • Refrigerating the meatballs for a couple of hours allows them to firm up, and also allows the breadcrumbs to absorb any extra moisture. This keeps the meatballs firmer and less likely to break apart during cooking.
  • It is important that the meatballs only simmer when the chicken stock has been added. Rapid boiling can cause them to fall apart. The meatballs can also be braised, covered, in the oven if you prefer.
  • Water can be used as part of the liquid. Wine can also be used. The chicken stock helps to retain moisture, and the meatballs add flavour to the stock, which in turn adds a lot of flavour to the gravy.
  • The meatballs can be made with any ground meat, or combination of ground meats. Chicken or vegetable stock can be used for pork; beef stock is best for beef, lamb or veal.
  • When making the gravy, add extra chicken stock or milk if you feel that the gravy is too thick after adding all of the braising liquid.
  • I chose not to strain the gravy, as the onions added a lot of sweetness. It can be strained if you prefer a smooth gravy.
  • Sliced mushrooms can be cooked along with the onions. Shallots can be used instead of onions.
  • The Balsamic vinegar adds depth to the gravy; a hint of acidity as well as sweetness. It can be omitted if you like. Maple syrup can be used instead, to add more sweetness to the gravy. If you have a spicy pepper jelly, add some of that to the gravy.
  • The meatballs can be made and frozen; defrost or cook from frozen.
  • Leftover meatballs make great sandwhiches; slice them and use for pizza toppings. Make smaller meatballs and serve them as a canape, accompanied by a dipping sauce.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Orange and Hoisin Glazed Chicken Legs

This tasty chicken dish came about because the bag of oranges I had bought were not the best for eating...the membranes between the flesh were quite tough. There was a lot of juice, sweetness and flavour to them though, and there were only 4 left. I wanted to do something other than just drink the juice from these last oranges, so I combined it with the last of my hoisin sauce to make a sweet, citrus marinade.

The sugars in both caramelized during the cooking, glazing the chicken legs, while combining with the pan juices to make a sauce. The meat was tender and moist, the skin was crispy...hard to believe it was so easy to make.

To make the marinade, combine in a resealable plastic bag:

Juice of 4 oranges
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

Add the chicken legs to the bag, and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. You will need:

5 bone in, skin on, chicken legs

Leave the chicken in the refrigerator overnight, or for at least 6 hours before cooking it. This will allow the marinade to tenderize, and the flavours time to penetrate, the meat. Turn the oven on to 350F.

Place the chicken legs into an ovenproof dish.

Pour the marinade over the chicken

Place into the oven to bake.

Every 20 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and baste the chicken with the marinade and juices that are in the bottom of the dish. The second time you do this, drain most of the liquid from the dish, saving it for future basting. This allows the skin to start crisping up.

 Continue to baste the chicken, and drain any excess liquid from the dish until the chicken is fully cooked.

Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Skim the fat from the top of the reserved pan juices, and discard it. Bring the pan juices to a boil, allowing them to reduce down for your sauce.

Sprinkle the chicken legs with toasted sesame seeds to serve. I served the chicken legs with basmati rice, garlic broccoli and Asian slaw. The sauce can be passed separately, or drizzled over the chicken and rice.

  • Add the zest from one of the oranges to increase the intensity of the orange flavour in your marinade. 
  • If you are not juicing oranges, but using purchased juice, you will need about 3/4 cup of juice for this recipe.
  • A combination of any citrus can be, lemon, lime, grapefruit.
  • To increase the glaze, honey can also be added to the marinade. I would only add 1 - 2 teaspoons, as both the orange and hoisin are sweet. If you are using lemon or lime juice, you can add extra honey.
  • The small amount of soy sauce adds enough salt; more can be added at the table as needed. The saltiness increases as the marinade reduces, both in the oven and in the pot when making the sauce.
  • I use tamari instead of regular soy sauce. Tamari is usually gluten free, as it is made without wheat. Always double check the labels to be sure if you are on a gluten free diet. I use tamari because I find the flavour to be richer, denser and more complex, as well as less salty than regular soy sauce. The choice is yours, use whichever you prefer.
  • The chicken can be grilled, basting every 10 minutes to maintain moistness and add flavour.
  • This recipe can be used to roast whole chickens, chicken wings or drumsticks. The cooking time will need to be adjusted accordingly. 
  • The marinade can also be used for pork tenderloin, or for basting salmon while baking or grilling.
  • If you prefer a thicker sauce than just reduced pan juices, mix 1 teaspoon of cornstarch with orange juice to make a runny paste and whisk this into the boiling sauce just before serving. Add half to begin with, and if you would like the sauce a bit thicker, then add the rest.
  • The leftover meat was removed from the bones, and used to  make wraps for lunch. It can also be used for things like rice or noodle bowls; chicken salad; added to a salad.