Thursday, 30 June 2016

Vegetable Lasagne with Roasted Garlic, Chick Peas, Spinach and Grilled Zucchini

My youngest daughter requested this for dinner, making sure to mention that I grill the zucchini! It turned out really well, so well in fact, that my oldest daughter who seems to dislike anything with zucchini in it, ate two husband who always asks where the meat is, ate three pieces!

I had one yellow and one green zucchini, which I thinly sliced and grilled. In the freezer were a small amount of cooked spinach, half a can of chick peas, some grated mozzarella and some Basic Tomato Sauce. A good freezer purge!

The fridge yielded some fresh spinach, ricotta cheese and Parmesan (as well as three Parmesan rinds). After roasting some of the copious amounts of garlic I seemed to have, and wilting the fresh spinach, I was all ready to start.

In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook 12 lasagne noodles, draining and running them under cold water when they are almost cooked, but still firm. Set aside.

Thinly slice, lengthwise:

1 yellow zucchini
1 green zucchini

Grill the zucchini strips on a hot, well oiled grill.

Cook the zucchini about halfway, so it is still crunchy, and has nice grill marks on both sides.

Remove from the grill and set aside to cool.

To make the sauce, using olive oil, cook until soft:

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

Add, mashing with a wooden spoon:

24 cloves of garlic, roasted

When the garlic is mashed, add:

2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce
1/2 can chick peas
3 Parmesan rinds

Simmer for half an hour, or until the sauce has thickened slightly, and the chick peas are soft.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside until needed.

In a bowl, combine:

2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup cooked spinach, excess water squeezed out, and roughly chopped

Stir in:

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Assemble the lasagne in a 9" X 13" pan:

Spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce on the bottom, to prevent the noodles from sticking.

Top with a layer of 3 noodles, and then cover that with half of the chick pea - Basic Tomato Sauce

Layer a third of the grilled zucchini over the sauce.

Place a second layer of 3 noodles.

Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture over these.

Add another layer of zucchini.

Repeat these two layers, ending with a layer of ricotta cheese mixture.

Sprinkle the mozzarella over the top of the last layer.

Bake in a 350F oven, until the lasagne is hot in the centre, and the cheese on the top is golden and starting to crisp.

Leave the lasagne to rest for 5 - 10 minutes, so that the layers can set up, before cutting and serving. This helps to prevent the inside of the lasagne from oozing out when it is served.

  • This meal allowed me to use up so many more items than I originally thought I was going to use...and that is always a good thing.
  • It can be adapted to whatever you have available...I think that artichoke hearts would have been a nice addition to the spinach and ricotta. I also think that roasted red peppers, grilled mushrooms and eggplant, roasted or sundried tomatoes, olives or olive tapenade would be things to consider next time I make this.
  • My daughter's original request was to grill the zucchini and use it instead of pasta for the layers, but I did not have enough zucchini, so I opted to use the pasta and create layers of zucchini in between. More planning is necessary to eliminate the noodles and only use zucchini. Bigger zucchini would also make a difference, mine were quite small!
  • Store bought sauce can be used if you have no Basic Tomato Sauce. This was my last container in the freezer, so I am going to be making more soon.
  • Other cheese that can be added to the ricotta instead of Parmesan include asiago, fontina, soft goat cheese. Sliced bocconcini can be used instead of the grated mozzarella on top of the lasagne.
  • The dish can be assembled ahead and kept refrigerated, or can be frozen. The individual components can also be made a few hours, or a day ahead and kept well wrapped, in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Tropical Chicken Skewers, with Pineapple and Mango

A few years ago I developed a mild allergic reaction to fresh pineapple, with intense itching at the very back of my tongue being the symptom. I love pineapple, and luckily I am still okay with it if it has been cooked.

I bought a beautiful fresh pineapple for my daughters to eat, but made sure to set some aside for cooking. While grabbing the chicken breasts out of the freezer, I saw the container of extra mango marinade that I had frozen when I made Mango - Coconut Halibut Skewers. Mango and pineapple...a perfect pair of tropical fruits.

I cut the chicken breasts into chunks and marinated them, and then added some red pepper along with pinepple chunks to the skewers, before popping them onto the grill.

My husband made some peanut sauce, I cooked some basmati rice and dinner was delicious! The sweetness of the pineapple comes out when it is cooked, and the acidity is less obvious. 

To make the mango marinade, see the post Mango - Coconut Halibut Skewers. This recipe made enough for two meals, so if you have extra, feel free to freeze it for another time.

Cut 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts into 1" chunks, and combine them with the mango marinade.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Cut half a peeled and cored pineapple into 1" chunks.

Cut a red pepper into pieces that are approximately the same size.

Skewer the chicken, pineapple and red pepper pieces onto bamboo skewers.

Grill the skewers, turning often, on a lightly oiled hot grill.

When the chicken is almost done, use any remaining marinade to baste the skewers, turning and basting a few times until the chicken is fully cooked.

Make sure that you cook the marinade fully before removing the skewers from the heat.

Serve the skewers on a bed of basmati rice, and drizzle the rice and skewers with peanut sauce, passing extra sauce at the table.

  • Cooking meat on skewers is an excellent way to increase the flavour, as more surface area is available to absorb the marinade and the smokiness of the grill. Be careful as it is also easy to overcook the meat, as the pieces are small.
  • Another benefit of using skewers is that if you are short on meat, the addition of fruit and/or vegetables to the skewers extends it. This also adds, colour, flavour and texture to your meal.
  • Keep in mind the cooking times of the vegetables or fruit you add to the skewers. Some cook really quickly, like cherry tomatoes, pineapple, peach or red pepper so they are best suited to really thin strips of meat, or fish, which cook quickly.
  • Meat can be skewered and then frozen in the marinade. This is a good way to be prepared; make extra next time you are making these. Defrost them before grilling.
  • The pineapple and mango will work nicely with fish such as halibut, scallops or prawns.
  • A quick peanut sauce: cook 1 teaspoon each minced garlic and ginger in a bit of olive oil until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup peanut butter (I like chunky), water or chicken stock to thin it down and then add brown sugar, soy sauce and lime juice to taste. Hot sauce can be added if you like your sauce spicy. Remember that as it cools, it will thicken, so always make it a bit thinner than you want.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Coconut Cashew Bars

A snack that tastes great, is easy to make, but also freezes well is something that always comes in handy. Especially the freezing part, as that stops us from eating them all too quickly, which believe is very easy to do with these bars!

I made these because I wanted to use the coconut and cashews that were in the cupboard, and because I love these two flavours together.

The crust is a brown sugar shortbread, and the filling is chewy, gooey and full of caramel flavours. The nuts and coconut add crunch and their own unique flavours.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F and line a 10" X 10" square pan with foil. Lightly grease the foil.

To make the crust, combine the following in a food processor:

1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar
5 ounces cold butter, cut into small cubes

Process until you have a fine, crumbly texture, as shown in the picture on the right.

Press the crust into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Place into the oven and bake until the crust is set and slightly golden, about 10 - 15 minutes.

Remove and set aside while you prepare the filling.

Whisk together:

1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Whisk in:

2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 ounces butter, melted and cooled

Stir in:

3/4 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup roughly chopped cashews

Scrape the filling onto the cooled crust, gently spreading it evenly.

Put the pan back into the oven and bake until the filling is set (firm to a gentle touch in the centre) and golden on top.

This took about 30 minutes in my oven.

Remove from the oven and allow the bars to cool completely before carefully lifting the foil out of the pan. Peel the sides away from the bar and cut into whatever size you like! The bars can be dusted with icing sugar if you are serving them for something special, and presentation is important. Otherwise, dig in and enjoy!!!

  • I really like the shortbread texture and taste of this crust, but if you wish to make it a bit thinner, simply freeze the excess for another time. An ideal thickness is about 1/2" or it will not hold up to the sticky filling.
  • White sugar can be used instead of brown, but the toffee taste will be lost. 
  • The crust can be flavoured with the addition of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger. You can also add citrus zest. Finely ground Earl Grey tea, or instant coffee can be used too. The crust is a good basic bar or square base, and can be flavoured according to your filling.
  • If you triple the recipe you can make an 18" X 24" sheet pan of bars.
  • As with the crust, the amount of filling can be adjusted. This is a fairly thin layer, as it is quite sweet and rich. If you want a thicker layer of filling, double the recipe, and turn the oven temperature to 325F during baking so that the top and outside edges don't get too dark, as this size will take longer to bake.
  • The nuts and coconut can be omitted, or replaced with dried fruit such as cranberries, chopped apricots or dates. Other nuts can also be used. Macadamia nuts and coconut are a great combination; chopped dates and walnuts are another option; mixed nuts or just lightly salted peanuts work well with the filling. If you must have chocolate, white or dark chocolate chips can be folded in.
  • The filling can have other flavours such as grated fresh ginger, orange zest or almond extract added to it.
  • The bars keep for 3 - 4 days, well wrapped in the fridge, or can be frozen.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Turkey Breast

While we were on vacation we brought back a lot of food...compotes, chutneys, vinegar, chocolate....I was excited to try the fig compote, that had walnuts and cardamom in it. It is nice and chunky, with big pieces of fig in it, full of spices, and oh so good. This was going to be a good meal!

I had two turkey breast fillets to use, and decided to stuff them with the fig compote, as well as the tiny bit of blue cheese in the fridge. I roasted some potatoes, along with the last asparagus spears to accompany the turkey.

After deciding what I was going to make, the dilemma was how I was going to stuff the turkey. In the end I went with the simple method of making slits in the top of the turkey, and stuffing the fig and blue cheese inside.

To make the potatoes, turn the oven on to 400F.

Cut two red potatoes into 1/2" thick slices and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and chopped fresh rosemary.

Place into the oven to roast.

When the potatoes are half cooked, add some whole cloves of peeled garlic and place it back into the oven to finish cooking.

Turn the oven down to 350F.


About ten minutes before serving, lightly drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and place in the same pan as the potatoes.

Place back into the oven to roast.

While the potatoes are roasting, stuff the turkey; time the cooking of it with the potatoes and asparagus.

Make three slits in the top of each turkey breast fillet, at a 45 degree angle, as shown.

Stuff some fig compote into each slit.

Add some crumbled blue cheese on top of the fig compote.

Heat some olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan, and add the turkey, keeping the stuffed side facing up. Season with salt and pepper.

Place the pan into the oven and bake until the turkey is fully cooked.

Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve the turkey on top of the roast potatoes and asparagus, sprinkling the plate with some chopped fresh parsley.

  • Chicken breasts can be substituted for the turkey; this would also be really tasty if you used pork or beef tenderloin.
  • The turkey can be stuffed a few hours ahead of time, keep it refrigerated until you are ready to cook it.
  • Blue cheese can be changed to brie or camembert, Cambozola or goat cheese.
  • Sundried figs can be used if you don't have a fig compote...simply slice them thinly and follow the recipe.
  • As long as there is the contrast of sweetness to the tartness of the cheese, any fruit compote or dried fruit can be used.
  • Fresh herbs can be chopped and mixed with the cheese; roasted garlic would make a good addition or substitution for the compote.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Mixed Greens with Honey Paprika Chicken Breast

Staying with the crystallized honey, I used it to season some chicken breasts, combining it with smoked paprika for some heat. The grilled chicken was thinly sliced and served on top of mixed greens, grape tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and goat cheese. A bright and colourful dinner, full of crunch and goodness.

I made a quick vinaigrette, adding some poppy seeds and fresh chives from the garden. Any vinaigrette or purchased dressing can be used; I wanted to use some pink grapefruit juice up so I made this one.

In a small bowl, combine:

1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons pink grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

Whisking constantly, slowly add:

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Stir in:

1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Add more vinegar, or lemon juice, to adjust the acidity if needed.

Set aside until needed.

In a small bowl, combine:

1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Spread the honey and smoked paprika onto both sides of:

4 chicken breasts, cut in half to give 8 thin pieces

Season with salt and pepper

Grill the chicken on a hot, lightly oiled grill, until fully cooked.

Remove from the heat and allow the chicken to rest for 5 - 10 minutes, before slicing thinly.

To serve, toss the mixed greens with the poppy seed dressing, and gently place the thinly sliced chicken on top. Add the cucumber, grape tomatoes, avocado and crumbled goat cheese and dinner is served!

  • During summer, when it is still hot at dinner time, I love to serve salads, using it as an opportunity to throw in any and all vegetables that I find in the fridge.
  • Add some leftover meat, or some freshly grilled meat or fish and you have a full meal, that is easy to put together and not too heavy.
  • The honey and smoked paprika can be heated so that the honey is runnier, and used to baste the meat during cooking, instead of rubbing it onto the meat. 
  • Other spices that can be used include Spanish paprika, ground cumin, ground chipotle or ancho chilies, mustard powder or garlic powder. Herbs such as fresh thyme, rosemary or sage can be combined with the honey as well; so can grated lemon, lime or orange zest.
  • Use firm tofu instead of chicken...slice it into 1/2" thick slices, brush with the honey and paprika and grill to heat through.
  • Pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin, scallops or prawns...try one of these next time.
  • Any leftover chicken can be added to sandwhiches or wraps, used for pizza toppings, added to pasta or rice.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Macadamia Nut, Honey and Thyme Crusted Halibut

We arrived back from our vacation a couple of days ago, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the fridge did not need a major clean fact, the only thing was in there to use up were some Brussels sprouts. These were turned into a slaw, along with the Asian pear that was in the fruit bowl.

The crystallized honey needed some attention, so after heating it up and melting the crystals, I used it together with some macadamia nuts and fresh thyme to make a quick crust for the halibut that I bought. It's halibut season...

I bought fruit and vegetables with this in mind, and we ended up with a very colourful meal...full of flavour and texture, and so easy to put together.

Make the Brussels sprouts slaw first. Combine:

2 cups thinly shaved Brussels sprouts
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley


1/2 Asian pear, grated

Toss with:

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 - 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon lime juice 
salt and pepper to taste

Mix well, taste and adjust the acidity of the dressing by adding more lime juice if needed.


Dried cranberries

Cover the slaw and refrigerate until it is time to serve.

I made a mango salsa to serve with the fish. Peel and dice one mango, add 1 thinly sliced green onion and a quarter of a red pepper, minced. Season with lime juice and sriracha.

Heat the oven to 375F.

In a small bowl, combine:

1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stir in:

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Line an ovenproof dish with lightly oiled tinfoil.

Place the halibut onto the foil; lightly salt and pepper the fish. I used:

3 pieces, each about 4 ounces

Divide the nut and honey mixture between the fish fillets, gently spreading it.

Bake the fish until it is cooked through. Mine took 10 minutes, and then I turned the broiler on to give a bit of colour to the topping.

Remove from the oven.

Serve the fish with the mango salsa and Brussels sprouts slaw. I also served oven roasted potatoes.

  • For the nut topping, any nuts can be used. Roughly chop them with your knife; if the pieces are too small they will burn in the oven. Nuts that work well with fish are macadamia nuts, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans.
  • I used a combination of fresh thyme and parsley. Rosemary is another herb that is suitable for fish. The lemon zest  can be omitted if you like, or even replaced with lime or orange zest.
  • Feel free to add in a clove of minced garlic; I chose not to this time, but I have added it to similar crusts.
  • Honey can be replaced with maple syrup; Dijon mustard can be replaced with grainy mustard if you like. This will increase the texture as well as the mustard flavour.
  • The topping can be made a day ahead; store it in the fridge until needed.
  • Other fish that would be suitable include salmon, snapper, tilapia or haddock. Large scallops can be crusted and served as a canape or with a salad.
  • Boneless pork chops, pork tenderloin, rack of lamb or chicken breast can be crusted in the same way. Keep in mind that these will take longer to cook than the fish does, so make sure that the nuts are not chopped as finely.
  • Brussels sprouts work well in a slaw, as they are so similar to cabbage. I am not a fan of cooked Brussels sprouts, unless they are shaved and very quickly stirfried. Having them as a slaw also maintains the crunchiness. I cut the core end off, removed any discoloured outside leaves and put them through the food processor, using the slicing blade on the thinnest setting.
  • Instead of adding carrots, I wanted something even sweeter to offset the bitterness of the sprouts. The last piece of fruit in the bowl was an Asian pear...problem solved. Other fruits that would work are apples or pears. Jicama can be used as well.
  • Dried fruit adds more sweetness, as well as colour and texture to the slaw. Try raisins or sultanas, apricots, figs. Nuts can be added as well, but as there were nuts on the fish I did not add any to the slaw.
  • As far as the mango salsa goes, a bit of chopped fresh cilantro adds a lot to the salsa...unfortunately I'm the only one in the family who likes cilantro.