Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spiced Veggies and Chickpeas

I made this dish last week when all I wanted was to consume a large amount of vegetables that were packed with flavour. I added the chickpeas to add some protein to make it a little more hearty. I wish I could say I remember exactly how much of everything I added but I can't. All I know is that I knew from the get go that a basic pan would not hold all my veggies, and that a saucepan would have to be used. Turns out this was an excellent idea, as the vegetables got very soft and almost stew like, without the sauce. In this recipe I got to use a spice combination I picked up at the One of a Kind Craft Show in Toronto in December. It is called dukkah. It is great on toasted naan or pita, but also makes a nice topping to dishes such as this. By the way, I cannot wait for the next show to treat myself to another new spice/condiment. The products that you can find there are fantastic. Oh...and did I mention there are free samples...EVERYWHERE?!?

Spiced Vegetables with Chickpeas

I appologize for how rough this recipe is, but it must be flexible since I winged it and it turned out great. It is also all about your taste and how much spice you can handle. Don't like ginger? Use less or leave it out. Love garlic? Start mincing those cloves! I also kept the size of the chopped veggies fairly large which is also a matter of taste.

1.5 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp chili flakes
1.5 tsp cumin
red onion, chopped
cremini mushrooms, sliced
carrots, chopped
celery, chopped
brussel sprouts (cut into halves/quarters)
1 can of water chestnuts
1 small cauliflower head, chopped
1 brocolli crown, chopped
3/4 tsp tumeric
4 coves garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 can chickpeas
black pepper
1-2 tbsp sesame oil

1. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat with chili flakes and cumin. Once fragrant, add the onions and saute for a couple minutes.
2. Add the rest of the vegetables. Stir well for 5-10 minutes until vegetables begin to cook.
3. Add tumeric and stir well to combine.
4. Add chickpeas, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. Stir and continue to heat on medium until vegetables are soft.
5. Drizzle with some sesame oil, mix in well and remove from heat.
6. Serve with dukkah sprinkled on top.

This is a good intermediate dish between wanting the fresh salads riddled with vegetables of the summer, but still craving the warm comfort food of winter.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Brie Macaroni and Cheese

I was not a huge fan of macaroni and cheese while growing up. My brother loved it, so I ate it when it was made for me, but I would never ask for it. Of course, this was Kraft cheddar mac 'n cheese. This convenience food is often a staple for University students. Incredibly cheap, quick, and easy. For me however, I can distinctly remember the three times I ate mac 'n cheese during my undergrad. The first was in first year. I lived in a dorm-style residence with no kitchen amenities beyond a microwave and refrigerator. We managed to make Kraft dinner in a plastic container of some sorts, and it was only palatable doused in ketchup. The second two times came out of no where (about a year apart) where I had an intense craving for President's Choice white cheddar macaroni and cheese. I have not had it since, but the craving has creeped up again.

I have been wanting to make my own from scratch for quite a while, becuase I know with some real cheese it could be quite a treat. A couple weeks ago Just Flourishing mentioned brie mac 'n cheese. I knew this is how I wanted to make my first homemade macaroni and cheese. With brie! When I saw brie cheese at No Frills for a reasonable price, I picked some up and knew that it would be used to make my first ever homemade macaroni and cheese.

This recipe is really my own but I took ideas from a number of recipes. I accepted that it wouldn't be heathy, but I put some "healthier" twists on it anyway. I like the idea of adding a vegetable which came from the Kitchn. I also liked the idea of using cottage cheese to amp up the creaminess from Smitten Kitchen. In this recipe the cottage cheese was blended to blend the "curds" which tend not to melt when heated. This added some cheesyness and protein without the fat of traditional cheddar or the brie which I used. Oh, and I didn't use macaroni.

Shells with Brie Cheese and Mushroom Sauce
Serves 2-3

1 tsp butter
3 large cremini mushrooms
1 cup milk (I used skim)
1 tbsp flour (use all purpose - whole wheat results in brown specs in the sauce - see picture)
1/2 cup cottage cheese, blended smooth (I used 2%)
1/2 small wheel of brie cheese (100 g, rind removed)
2.5 cup dry vegetable shell pasta

1. Heat butter on medium heat. Add mushrooms and saute until soft. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
2. Turn heat to medium-low and add 1/2 cup milk and stir continuously while simmering.
3. Add 1/2 tbsp flour (sprinkle it), and continue to stir until sauce thickens.
4. Add blended cottage cheese and the rest of the milk. Stir until a simmer is reached.
5. Sprinkle the rest of the flour and continue to stir until the sauce thickens. Add brie cheese, cut into chunks. Simmer and stir until desired thickness.
6. Add sauce to cooked pasta.

For making the sauce on the fly, it didn't turn out too bad! It was a little thick so I think I would add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk next time. The problem with homemade cheese sauces is they tend not to do very well as leftovers. This is all to do with texture as they become clumpy rather than saucy. The taste does not change though so all is not lost.

I recommend you make this recipe if you are looking for a protein packed (15 g per 1/2 cup) slightly healthier 'real' mac 'n cheese, and love brie. But really, you can substitute any cheese you want for the brie to suit your taste. Making sauces can be fun as long as there is no pressure for them to turn out perfectly, so experiment! It might not look very pretty, but it will always taste is cheese after all!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rosemary Focaccia, Spinach Salad, and Ice Cream Sandwiches...Oh My!

I am sad to follow the roasted lamb recipe with my whole wheat focaccia failure. Well, it wasn't a total failure, but it needed some improvement. There is a reason I own a cookbook dedicated to whole grain baking. It is because it is just not as simple as substituting whole wheat flour in for all purpose flour. I followed a recipe from 330 Vegetarian Recipes for Health, but substituted the all purpose flour directly with whole wheat. The dough just did not rise sufficiently. It was a dense focaccia, let me tell you. Flavourful, but dense.

In Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce, there is a recipe for focaccia bread which uses spelt flour. I would have loved to make this variation but I just didn't have time for the extended rising times required. Maybe that is all my dough needed was more time to rise. The focaccia had great flavour as it was speckled with dried rosemary, minced garlic, and large rocks of sea salt.

The disappointment of the focaccia was definitely made up for by the salad that accompanied the meal. A very simple salad with fresh baby spinach, goat cheese, and walnuts, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I don't often add nuts to salad but I loved the walnut and goat cheese combination.

Now a dinner like this must finish off with desert. I don't make actual desert very often. Usually just for birthday dinners or a special occasion. But it was Friday, and I roasted a lamb so it was kind of a special occasion. I love ice cream, but there was no way I was making my own. That would be too many cooking "firsts" for one day. So I purchased some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Something in this desert had to be made by myself though so I thought ice cream sandwiches would be appropriate. I wanted it to be an absolutely delicious cookie so I headed over to Annie's Eats, as she has plenty of recipes to choose from. I made Annie's Giant Double Chocolate Cookies, but smaller, for appropriately sized ice cream sandwiches.

These sandwiches were quite tasty. I think next time I would make the cookies thinner since once frozen they were pretty rock hard and difficult to bite into. Regardless, you can't really mess up cookie + ice cream. Especially chocolate cookie + mint chocolate chip ice cream.