The Cooking Chronicles: Lunchable Leftovers

Not five years ago, I was perfectly happy with cold lunches. Most days, I would make do with a slice of banana loaf, single-serve yogurt and a juice box. Now, lunch doesn’t seem complete without reheated leftovers! A sandwich just doesn’t cut it for me anymore.

So the name of the game for us most weeknights is to cook up enough food to double as lunches – big batches, here we come!


Scrolling through 2014 food trend predictions, I came upon one writer’s call that shakshuka would be appearing on menus all over New York. What was shakshuka and why was it so hot?

I eventually came to Smitten Kitchen’s shakshuka recipe, where she explained that it was an Israeli dish made up of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It was the perfect weekday meal – quick, filling, and would yield leftovers.

I ended up slightly overcooking the eggs, and next time, I’d make sure to have feta on hand. Still, paired with warm pita bread, it was a satisfying supper.



Silky Mushroom and Feta Fusilli

I don’t actually mind standing in line at the grocery store, because it usually gives me a few minutes to flip through aisle magazines for recipe ideas. This Canadian Living recipe for silky mushroom and feta fusilli was one such inspiration.

It was incredibly simple, with a light but creamy consistency lent from the addition of milk and pasta cooking water. That said, it was the final touch of lemon juice and zest that made the dish sing.

Silky Mushroom and Feta Fusilli

Silky mushroom and feta fusilli

Happy lunching!

The Cooking Chronicles: Thai Green Curry

Every Friday, I ask Mack a question he dreads, “What do you want to eat for dinner next week?” It ensures we have a meal plan for the week, but more importantly, helps us generate a shopping list for our routine stop at the farmers’ market on the following day. Most of the time, Mack falls back on old favourites, but last week, he was adamant about satisfying a craving for Thai green curry.

Though we have made coconut milk-based curries in the past, we’d never experimented with more authentic recipes. By chance, Chef Elaine Wilson, Thai cuisine enthusiast, was featured in the Journal that same week, so it was meant to be!

We adapted her recipe for Thai green curry with chicken. It was the first time I’ve encountered instructions on how to separate coconut milk (leaving the can in the fridge overnight, opening it from the bottom, then draining off the coconut water). This seemed to make all the difference, in terms of the resulting creamy, thick sauce. The kaffir lime leaves (which we bought frozen from Lucky 97) were also key, lending telltale citrus notes to the coconut base.

Mack somehow had the impression that green curry could only incorporate green-coloured vegetables, so we substituted blanched broccoli, green pepper and green beans for the eggplant (and peas). Next time, we would double the amount of sauce to accommodate the quantity of vegetables we threw in.

Thai Green Curry

Thai green curry

The curry turned out wonderfully – the heat was manageable and the broccoli florets, as Mack noted, was perfect for soaking up and retaining the sauce.

Thai Green Curry


I’m pretty sure the next time I ask Mack what he wants for dinner next week, “Thai green curry” will be his response.

The Cooking Chronicles: Back to Smitten Kitchen

After a few weeks away from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, I returned to it again for dinner inspiration. The recipes didn’t work as well as I’d have hoped, but they did get us out of our routine!

Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves

We loved Deb’s recipe for baked chicken meatballs (which we have made more than a few times), so this week, decided to try the tomato-glazed meatloaves in the book.

We were a bit surprised at how many pots and bowls this recipe required, given Deb’s proclamation on her blog of her aversion to unnecessary dishes. I didn’t think the food processor was necessary, as well as the extra step of cooking the vegetables. I also decided against the extra step of browning the butter and just made regular mashed potatoes.

Unfortunately, the Sunshine Organic beef was probably too lean for this recipe, given it didn’t call for the inclusion of ground pork, bacon, or anything with a bit of fat. As a result, the flavour was lacking in the meatballs themselves. The silver lining was the tomato glaze – I loved the sweetness, and in the future, I would likely double the amount of glaze.

Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves

Tomato-glazed meatloaves over mashed potatoes

Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto

Deb’s recipe for linguine with cauliflower pesto was intriguing. A “sauceless” pasta, it involved putting together a pesto made of raw cauliflower crumbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, almonds, Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley, olive oil and sherry vinegar.

I’ve never handled cauliflower in this way before – pulsing it in the food processor to create couscous-like crumbs. They were light and airy, as the recipe promised.

Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto

Cauliflower crumbs

The pesto wasn’t as cohesive as traditional pestos, though I’m sure I could have added more pasta water to encourage the sauce along. But I was hoping the cauliflower flavour would come through a bit more – it was overwhelmed by the ground almonds. It probably also could have used a bit more acid or a sprinkling of fresh herbs for some pop.

Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto

Linguine with cauliflower pesto

With some tweaking though, this recipe would make a great casual vegetarian entree.

The Cooking Chronicles: Random Recipes

I do my best to try and group the random series of recipes that I decide to make from week to week, and sometimes it is a great stretch to connect two seemingly diverse dishes. This time, I won’t even try!

Tuscan Kale and Farro Soup

I think I’m in love. With farro that is. We had great success with a salad recipe that incorporated the chewy, nutty grains together with a variety of fresh produce, but even better was a Rachael Ray recipe that called for farro to be served in broth.

This Tuscan kale and farro soup was not only healthy, but substantial, packed with white beans, tomatoes and kale. But it was the farro that made the dish – it was hard to think about serving this soup without the grain that added texture and a depth that no pasta or rice could accomplish. Like farro, this recipe is a keeper!

Tuscan Kale and Farro Soup

Tuscan kale and farro soup (yes, that is steam fogging up the camera lens…)

Swedish Meatballs

In the fall, I made a loose commitment that 2013 would be the year of the slow cooker for me. I had bought a copy of Slow Cooker Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen, which, unlike most slow cooker bibles, features colour photographs of every recipe. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize until I took a closer look at the book was that many of their recipes involved several steps that preceded the use of the slow cooker, or, a technique of cooking part of the dish in a foil packet that would rest on top of the bubbling mass. I wasn’t too comfortable with the latter; baking in parchment is one thing, but cooking for a prolonged period of time in foil is another.

I finally attempted a recipe that fell into the first category – even though I resented it almost the whole way through (why was I “slaving away”? how many dishes is this going to take? wasn’t the slow cooker supposed to do the heavy lifting for me?). The recipe for Swedish meatballs involved browning the meatballs in a hot oven first, and preparing a gravy. I halved the recipe – 60 meatballs seemed a little much for two people, even for leftovers. After the fact, I found that it was a great technique to help render out some of the fat, and it wasn’t as time consuming as I originally thought.

Swedish Meatballs

Baked meatballs

In hindsight, I should have kept the originally specific amount of gravy – the final product was a little dry. The meatballs themselves had a good flavour profile – the allspice and nutmeg really came through – though both Mack and I commented that they didn’t have that telltale processed “springiness” of Ikea’s Swedish meatballs.

Swedish Meatballs

Swedish meatballs, made with First Nature Farms beef, served with Erdmann’s mashed potatoes

I’m not sure the time in the slow cooker really showed, though I’d have to compare it with a straight baking technique to be sure. This recipe might come in handy for entertaining, but otherwise, I will be sticking to other meatball recipes in the future!

The Cooking Chronicles: Grab and Go Salads

My preference for both dinner and lunch are hot meals, but I have to say, throw together room temperature salads full of fresh vegetables, legumes and grains are really starting to grow on me. It’s not only a nice change-up, but they do make for an easy lunch – no need to queue for the microwave (maybe not an issue at your workplace, but it usually is at mine!), and in warmer weather, they would make the ideal portable picnic lunch.

Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Spinach, Lemon and Feta

I bookmarked this recipe for orzo salad from Spilling the Beans (which has seemed to be my go-to book lately for dinner inspiration). It was perfect as a throw-together meal on a busy weeknight, taking less than thirty minutes from stove to table.

It combines silky orzo, chickpeas, slivered spinach, red onion and feta cheese with a dressing of lemon, olive oil and rice vinegar. The spinach was a bit of a pain to slice, chiffonade-style, but it was worth it in the end, the ribbons adding some visual appeal to the salad. I was also surprised how great the rice vinegar tasted as part of the dressing – I’ve never used it like this before in such a prominent way, and the flavour was refreshing but not overwhelming. Mack definitely approved – his serving was gone by the time I turned around to look. We’ll definitely be making this again!

Orzo Salad

Orzo salad with chickpeas, spinach, lemon and feta

Lentil and Farro Salad

We turned again to Spilling the Beans later in the week when I was hunting for a recipe to use up the rest of the feta I had in the fridge. The lentil and wild rice salad was appealing in a different way, featuring a laundry list of fresh vegetables, plus an opportunity to substitute my new favourite grain into the mix.

The salad tosses celery, bell pepper, tomatoes, cucumber, grated carrots, dill and parsley together with du puy lentils and farro (in my case). Everything is dressed with lemon, olive oil and a dash of sugar, leaving the vegetables to sing for themselves.

This took a little longer to put together, as I didn’t have any cooked lentils or farro to turn to, but I was able to prep the produce while they simmered away on the stove. The final product was enjoyable – even Mack, ever the salad-hater, gave a thumbs up! My only improvement would have been to double the grain content – but then again, I love the chewy nuttiness that farro brings to any dish.

Lentil & Farrow Salad

Lentil and farro salad

Given our success with these salads, I think more grab and go salads will be in our future!

The Cooking Chronicles: One Bowl Meals

Though it’s not exactly the same thing, my penchant for one pot meals extends to one bowl meals as well, as generally, for the kinds of recipes I am drawn to, means comfort food. For me, it’s what I want to look forward to eating at the end of a long day.

Black Lentil Soup

In Luisa’s introduction to Rajat Parr’s black lentil soup, she mentions that her desire to use up black Beluga lentils was what led her to the recipe in the first place. For us, it was the opposite – we had to scour the city to find black lentils, let alone beluga lentils.

We found urad lentils at the Spice Centre on the south side, and given they were the only black lentils we had seen thus far, we figured it was close enough. They cooked up to taste like a cross between lentils and beans – the small pods burst open and were chewy in nature. Paired with the tomato-based broth and a handful of Indian spices, it was a very tasty soup. I would recommend adding a few chopped tomatoes for texture and sweetness (it helped balance out the spice), and should have heeded Luisa’s advice in pureeing half of the soup to thicken it out.

Black Lentil Soup

Black lentil soup

But all in all, a great dish ideal for our cold nights.

Potato and Kale Hash

When I told Mack that we were having potato and kale hash (loosely based on this recipe) for dinner, he asked what made it different from the poached eggs over warm lentil salad. There were a few key differences – potatoes instead of lentils, a chicken broth-based sauce instead of a red wine vinaigrette – but really, it is one of those dishes that can be modified based on what you have on hand, or to taste.

We ended up with a base of potatoes from Erdmann’s, onions from Kuhlmann’s, red pepper from Doef’s and kale. We threw in some roasted pork we had in the fridge (though a bit of bacon, or shredded chicken would have worked just as well), simmered the mixture in a bit of chicken stock, and topped it all off with poached eggs from Sunshine Organic.

Potato and Kale Hash

Potato and kale hash

The leafy kale stood its ground against the softened potatoes and sweet peppers, and I was surprised at how much flavour could be extracted from just a bit of stock. It was a surprisingly satisfying dish that ended up being much more than the sum of its parts. We will be making this again!

The Cooking Chronicles: More from Smitten Kitchen

Mack always teases me that I have my “phases”. He says that I’m currently in my smoothies-for-breakfast phase and my Scandal phase, though based on our cooking schedule recently, I think he’d also say I’m in a Smitten Kitchen phase.

Over the holidays, I didn’t feel too inspired to try new recipes, but browsing through Deb’s website and new cookbook, I immediately bookmarked a handful of recipes. We tried a few more last week.

Mushroom Lasagna

Though the mushroom lasagna is actually Ina Garten’s recipe, I came across it through the Smitten Kitchen website. The idea of a lighter, meatless lasagna was really appealing, as was the prospect of leftovers.

Mushroom Lasagna

Mushroom lasagna

The recipe worked out really well, and my only quibble was recommending 3/4 lb of pasta instead of a full box. Deb mentions that not layering the pasta resulted in uniform slices, but I would have preferred not having leftover pasta. We probably also could have done with a melty mozzarella crust on top.

Mushroom Lasagna

Lunch portion!

But as a whole, it was a lovely pasta, with a luxurious combination of bechemel and sautéed mushrooms. It would make an excellent vegetarian main course.

Honey Harissa Farro Salad

It seems like it was only a few years ago that I learned that salad did not have to be comprised of greens alone. Since then, we’ve made and enjoyed salads that have included everything from couscous to lentils. The honey harissa farro salad in The Smitten Kitchen cookbook looked interesting for that reason, though I have to say I was a little apprehensive about experimenting with farro, as our experience with another grain-based salad (bulgur) did not go well.

We found farro in the bulk section at Planet Organic. The grains resembled rice in their shape, but ranged in colour from light brown to golden. As directed by the recipe, we prepared the farro by boiling it (in stock on this occasion), and simmering it for 20 minutes. The cooked grain then puffed up, though surprisingly, did not take on much of the stock’s flavour, but resembling barley in its chewiness.

We combined the farro with roasted Kuhlmann’s parsnips and Greens, Eggs and Ham carrots and tossed it in a dressing made from olive oil and harissa. The salad was topped with fresh mint, and some Smoky Valley goat cheese.

Honey and Harissa Farro Salad

Honey harissa farro salad

We probably should have stuck to the recipe on the cheese front (it had recommended feta), as the goat cheese overwhelmed the flavours. Mack also couldn’t get used to the interaction between the spicy dressing and the mint. I was really impressed by how the addition of farro really “bulked” up the salad (Deb’s word), as it really did transform the dish into a meal in itself.

I’m not done with Smitten Kitchen just yet – I still have the rest of the book to cook through!

The Cooking Chronicles: Smitten Kitchen

Usually for Christmas I am gifted a cookbook or two, and this year was no different. Mack bought me The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the latest blog-to-page sensation. Although I had heard the name before, I hadn’t really actively explored her blog before. But after flipping through the book and browsing her extensive collection of online recipes, I can see why Deb Perelman has the extensive following that she does – I’m hooked, too!

It’s been just a few weeks since my quick introduction to Smitten Kitchen, but in that time, I’ve already made a few of her recipes, both from her book and her blog. And given the results, it won’t be long before more of her dishes make their way to our kitchen table.

Seared Cod and Gazpacho Salsa with Tomato Vinaigrette

As you’ve probably noticed, our favourite type of dishes are one-pot meals, both because of their simplicity and association with comfort. But Deb’s dish for seared halibut (we used cod), served with a simple salad and drizzled with a light vinaigrette proved we shouldn’t so easily overlook recipes that feature multiple components.

That said, the different components were quick and easy to pull together. To make the salsa, we combined chopped Doef’s tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers with some quick pickled Kuhlmann’s onions (only pickled because I didn’t have any sweet or red onions in the pantry) and parsley. To make the sauce, we blended a tomato with red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning. The Ocean Odyssey fish was simply seasoned, then seared.

Seared Cod

Seared cod and gazpacho salsa with tomato vinaigrette

The salsa was light and fresh, and surprisingly tasty even without any salt or pepper. But what really made the dish was the tomato vinaigrette. Sweet and tangy, it would be great on chicken too, though next time I would consider heating it just a bit, to bring it up to temperature with the fish.

Baked Chicken Meatballs

I clicked “Surprise Me!” on the side of Smitten Kitchen, and it led me to Deb’s recipe for baked chicken meatballs. I’d never used ground chicken for anything before, but as we found out, this is a good reason as any to do so!

As she suggested, we made entree-sized meatballs, and enjoyed them alongside a salad. What made them stand out was the sweet tomato paste glaze, and how moist they were (the panade really helped).

Chicken Meatballs

Baked chicken meatballs

For lunch a few days later, I used the leftovers to make us meatballs subs. Topping the subs with a homemade marinara sauce and shredded gouda, I did my best to toast the overflowing sandwiches with limited success.

Chicken Meatballs

Chicken meatball subs

The meatballs held up well, and Mack gave the sub a thumbs up. No doubt, this recipe will be bookmarked for future reference!

The Cooking Chronicles: Everyday Dinners

Though we’ve been eating some rather elaborate meals, as is typical for the holidays, not every day during the season sees such extravagance. Most evenings for us have seen more low-key dishes. And though I’m sad at having to bid adieu to my favourite time of year, it will be nice to return to some semblance of routine again. Here are a few of the recipes we tried more recently.

Mulligatawny Soup

This mulligatawny soup from Spilling the Beans was not your typical chicken soup. Chickpeas, coconut milk, and a tart apple helped distinguish this from other recipes, and with the help of a deli chicken and boxed stock (we skipped the first step), made it quick to pull together.

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny soup

The creaminess reminded me of a chicken and wild rice soup I’ve made in the past, but without the heaviness lent by cream (and instead, added a bit of sweetness). We left the apples too crisp for our liking, but for lunch the next day, they had absorbed more of the broth and blended in with the soup much better. Another one pot dinner for the win!

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are not something I grew up with, and actually, I only had a vague idea of what it was. Turns out, at its core, it is simply a mixture of ground beef simmered in a tomato sauce, served over toasted buns. Mack was craving this over the holidays, so dug up a Rachael Ray recipe to make for dinner one night, garnished with some cheddar.

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes

This recipe was much too sweet for my taste, and between the ripe Doef’s tomatoes and bell pepper, I think the brown sugar could have been significantly reduced.

As a whole, the dish left me thinking about another recipe with a similar name, the New “New Joe’s Special”, which also uses ground beef as a base for a mixture to be consumed over toast, but has so much more inherent flavour. I think that will be the dish I turn to the next time this craving hits.

The Cooking Chronicles: Sugar Cookies

I remember baking sugar cookies with my Mum when I was younger, my sisters and I delighted by the wide collection of cookie cutters she had assembled (as children, we gravitated towards animal shapes and spelling out our names using alphabet cut-outs). We’d lovingly sprinkle our cookies with coloured sugar, sometimes adding a dollop of icing, and that was that (well, besides consuming the saccharine treats).

Maybe it was my naiveté around how difficult it really was to pull the dough together, or perhaps techniques to ensure the “perfect” sugar cookie have been refined and are now better articulated, but a simple Google search resulted in a barrage of tips of what to do, what not to do, and a list of baking supplies that I would need for this procedure that I did not have. When did a simple sugar cookie become so complicated?

All of this came about in that scramble that always happens the last week before Christmas when I probably took on a little too much. On top of baking for family and a work function, I also wanted to show my appreciation to some of my colleagues with a homemade treat from the kitchen.

Sugar Cookies

Sugar cookies

Mack wryly joked that these cookies were a multi-day project, and in fact, they were, but only because I realized in the end that I didn’t have the chops to follow through with my original plan (and didn’t have enough time to experiment and learn). I made this recipe for sugar cookies, and with a vision of icing and decorating them on the days following. What I didn’t know was that this would require three different types of icing – two consistencies of royal icing for the base (for piping and filling), and another for decorating. I tried my hand with this recipe for piping, but just couldn’t get the consistency right. And with time ticking down, I ended up with a simple frosting recipe not unlike the one I grew up with, and sprinkled the final product with what else? Coloured sugar.

Sugar Cookies

Individually packaged

I know part of the lesson here is that I shouldn’t have assumed I could carry out an ambitious recipe on the eve of Christmas, without attempting anything similar in the months prior. But I think the even bigger lesson is not to mess with tradition, and as long as things are done from the heart, we are being true to the things that are really important this season.