The Cooking Chronicles: Bits and Bites

To be honest, I haven’t really tried all that many new recipes as of late. In between our travels this fall, we’ve fallen back on tried and true dishes when at home – mostly due to a lack of time to bookmark new recipes, but also because there are more than a few wintery soups I’ve been inkling to revisit.

That said, there have been a few experiments here and there – one that recalls fall memories and a second perfect for our current season.

Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding

Who among us hasn’t turned to fridge staples of eggs and bacon for a crunch-time evening meal? For that reason, I love that Giada’s newest book, Weeknights with Giada, devotes an entire chapter to breakfast for dinner, but offers alternatives to that basic combination.

We made her tomato-basil bread pudding several weeks ago. It’s a savoury take on bread pudding that incorporates tomatoes, basil, and parmesan in place of sweeter flavours. We used Dauphine’s onion and sage bread as a base (one of my favourites), Greens, Eggs and Ham duck eggs and tomatoes and basil from Gull Valley Greenhouses.

Tomato-Basil Bread Pudding

Tomato-basil bread pudding

The result was pretty good, though I probably would have preferred a bit more bread and tomatoes. Giada recommends using a multigrain bread, but given how fragrant the onion and sage loaf was, I can’t imagine choosing any other bread to use.

Pulled Pork & Beans

When I first flipped through Spilling the Beans, Julie and Sue’s recipe for pulled pork & beans was one of the first that caught my eye because I knew it would be right up Mack’s alley. I don’t have any explanation for why it took me so long to get to it, however.

We purchased a boneless pork shoulder from Irvings Farm Fresh, and cheated a little by using canned beans, having run through my freezer inventory. Topped off in the slow cooker with ketchup, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, mustard and a bit of sriracha (my addition), we let it cook low and slow for eight hours.

When we arrived home tonight, the house smelled marvellous, sweet and porky. The meat was moist and easy to pull apart, and we served the pork and bean concoction over toasted multigrain buns.

Pulled Pork & Beans

Pulled pork & beans

This recipe definitely earned Mack’s seal of approval. He thought it would be too sweet, but found the beans mellowed it out a bit, as did the bread. We probably could have put in a dash or two of Tabasco though, something we will keep in mind for next time.

The Cooking Chronicles: Breakfast Suppers

Having breakfast for dinner in whatever form is usually a treat, and always a great go-to when nothing else seems to be an option. We deviated from our usual formula of eggs, bacon and toast recently to see what other breakfast dishes we could concoct for our evening meals.

Black Bean and Egg Tacos

A recipe for black bean and egg tacos was billed as a frugal meal on The Chew, based around three relatively inexpensive ingredients – tortillas, beans and eggs. The hosts kept raving about how tasty this dish was, but I really didn’t believe such a simple combination could be so tasty – until we tried it ourselves.

It was a meal rummaged from the depths of our fridge and freezer – eggs from Sunshine Organic, two long-forgotten Don Antonio’s whole wheat tortillas, and a bag of cooked black beans I had stored away. The prep was simple – while the tortillas were warming in the oven, the mixture of eggs and black beans were scrambled in a skillet. Shredded cheese was added to the mix, then cilantro, and that was it!

Black Bean and Egg Tacos

Black bean and egg tacos

The black beans not only added heft to the eggs, but also a bit of depth. The fresh herbs also made it pop ever so slightly. It is definitely something we will make again!

Eggs Florentine

In Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Weeknights With Giada, she devotes a whole chapter to “Breakfast for Dinner”. We tried her recipe for eggs florentine one night, swayed by the promise of luscious egg yolk and creamy spinach-flecked sauce.

The best thing about this recipe, however, was making the prosciutto chips that we crumbled on top. Into the oven went slices of prosciutto on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet, and out came crisp, salty, meat chips. They could be a garnish on so many things – soups, pastas, or eaten straight up as we did while the rest of the dish came together.

Anyway, the dish itself was nothing spectacular, though it was tasty enough (given the eggs, cream, and cheese in the dish, it would have been hard pressed not to be so). I recognize I also went a little overboard with the sauce though, which quickly transformed the English muffins from toasted to cream-saturated.

Spinach Florentine

Eggs florentine

I’ll be working my way through some of her other recipes though – hopefully the next one will be more inspiring!

The Cooking Chronicles: Something Fishy

Though Mack and I both love fish, we probably don’t have it as often as we would like to. Part of that has to do with my fixation with having leftovers from dinner carry over into lunch the next day, and the reality of fish is that it should not be microwaved.

Still, we do have fish when we can, and one recipe we tried recently can be served cold, solving the reheating conundrum.

Mediterranean Whitefish Sandwiches and Fried Smashed Potatoes

Mack said he was craving fish and chips, so I gave him my spin on it. I had bookmarked a recipe for Mediterranean halibut sandwiches from Giada’s newest cookbook, Weeknights with Giada. It looked like a great summer sandwich, and it didn’t disappoint.

We substituted Alberta whitefish from Ocean Odyssey and spinach for arugula, but besides omitting the capers, followed the recipe pretty closely, using ciabatta bread from the Italian Centre to finish it off. The resulting mayo-based filling was creamy, with sweetness from sundried tomatoes and fresh bursts from the basil and greens. Mack gave it two thumbs up.

Mediterranean Whitefish Sandwich

Mediterranean whitefish sandwiches with fried smashed potatoes

On the side, in place of fries, I made Giada’s fried smashed potatoes. Using new banana potatoes from Riverbend Gardens, it was quite satisfying pressing the potatoes down. Shallow frying them made it easier than warming an entire pot of oil, and for me, much more manageable. Trying to mimic lightly salted fries, I didn’t make the accompanying dressing, and really, I think it wasn’t necessary. The potatoes came out browned, crispy and delicious.

Roasted Salmon, Green Bean, Snap Pea and Cucumber Salad

I think we really learned this summer that salads don’t have to involve greens at all. And for us, the more textures in the bowl, the more we tend to enjoy the salad. Giada’s recipe for roasted salmon, snap pea and cucumber salad was an example of that.

Due to my aversion for canned fish, I opted to roast our own salmon (Coho from Ocean Odyssey). I did this the night before, but didn’t flake it that same day. This taught me a lesson, as preparing it the day after meant crumbly, instead of flaky fish.

Still, it worked well enough. I combined the salmon with green beans from Riverbend Gardens, snap peas from Sundog Organics, cucumbers from Doef’s, and tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouse. Dressed with Kuhlmann’s dill, olive oil and lemon juice, it was definitely a summer salad!

Roasted Salmon, Bean, Snap Pea and Tomato Salad

Roasted salmon, green bean, snap pea and cucumber salad

Mack wasn’t a huge fan of this dish, believing that the fish seemed out of place, but I liked it. I thought the salmon made a nice light addition, and was an interesting way to have fish. Bonus – the salad also fared well for lunch the next day (so long as the vinaigrette was reserved and the salad was not dressed until the following morning)! Try this if you’re looking for something a little different for dinner.

The Cooking Chronicles: Soup for One

Last week, Mack’s UK and US colleagues were in town, so I was left to fend for myself in the kitchen while he was showing them the best of what Edmonton had to offer. The dish I reach most often for on such occasions is soup.

Yes, I recognize that the blinding heat doesn’t seem the most conducive to soup, but it’s hard to beat a one pot, one bowl meal. A single recipe also creates enough leftovers for multiple meals, which cuts down on cooking that week. To top it off, it’s an excuse to eat good bread!

I decided to try two new recipes last week, and they both turned out well.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

The recipe for beef and cannellini bean minestrone caught my eye in Giada’s new book, Weeknights with Giada. It employs a pretty classic combination of beef and tomatoes, but was appealing to me for that reason since I don’t typically make beef-based soups.

Beef and Cannellini Bean Minestrone

Beef and cannellini bean minestrone

It was a pretty hearty soup, speckled with vegetables, though next time, I’d add a small pasta.

Chicken, Corn and Cheddar Chowder

I cheated with this Julie Van Rosendaal recipe for chicken, corn and cheddar chowder (which appears in Spilling the Beans) – not only did I eliminate the beans, I used a store bought rotisserie chicken. But it still tasted delicious!

Chicken, Corn and Cheddar Chowder

Chicken, corn and cheddar chowder

I think the reason had to do with the cream base (my favourite kind of soup), and the fact that it has been a while since this type of soup has graced my kitchen. Of course, the potatoes, sweet corn, and bacon didn’t hurt either – definitely a bowl of comfort!

So although I am enjoying these warm days, there is an upside to cooler nights – weather conducive to soup!

The Cooking Chronicles: Calendar Inspiration

Recipe inspirations can come from anywhere – online, the newspaper, a television show. On two recent occasions, that inspiration came from calendars.

Garlic Shrimp and Spinach Linguine

The daily image on our kitchen Milk calendar has got to me before, but this time, the image of “succulent” garlic shrimp and spinach linguine haunted me for a week before I caved in. I’m a sucker for cream-based pastas anyway, and enjoyed this version very much, the cream balanced somewhat by a white wine reduction. I also loved the wilted Sundog Organic spinach throughout, while the Doef’s red pepper added a nice sweetness. The shrimp were okay, though I would likely substitute chicken the next time around.

Garlic Shrimp and Spinach Linguine

Garlic shrimp and spinach linguine

Lunchbox Granola Bars

Mack likes to tease me about being hungry all the time, but it’s true that I try to carry some sort of sustenance with me in case I start to get peckish. That usually ends up being a granola bar of some sort, typically of the packaged variety. I never really considered making my own until I came across this recipe in the Canadian Diabetes Association’s Healthy Living Calendar.

The recipe calls for a ton of healthy ingredients, including sunflower seeds, dried fruit, and applesauce. I tried to incorporate as many local products into it as possible – Prairie Gold flaxseed, Halwa Farms whole wheat flour, Highland Crossing rolled oats and Meadow Sweet honey.

Out of the oven, the bars held together well, but still had a nice chew. Mack joked though that one bar would be more than enough to replace a meal, as they were quite dense and weighty. But most important, the bars tasted good! They weren’t overly sweet, though I appreciated the bit of chocolate in every second bite.

Lunchbox Granola Bars

Lunchbox granola bars

I’d definitely recommend this recipe, and will be making another batch for myself soon.

Cooking Chronicles: Perfect for Summer

Meals that are easy to throw together are a welcome addition to our kitchen any time of year, but it seems especially valuable in the summer, when we’re trying to make the most of those warm weather nights. Here are two recipes we tried recently that helped us do that.

Mini Quinoa Cups

Thanks to Courtenay, I was exposed to the idea of incorporating quinoa into a basic frittata recipe popularized by Iowa Girl Eats. Though I’ve been making mini frittatas for quite some time (in fact, it was the first ever “Cooking Chronicle” I posted all those years ago), I never thought to punch up the protein factor by stirring in some cooked quinoa.

Mini Quinoa Cups

Mini quinoa cups

We used diced ham, Sundog Organic spinach, aged cheddar and chives from our balcony garden as fillings, but should have followed the recipe more closely when it came to using non-stick spray (I didn’t have any, and probably didn’t do as thorough of a job brushing the oil inside the individual baking cups). That said, other than some of the quinoa cups not detaching perfectly, the recipe itself worked out very well! Mack loved the crunch from the quinoa, and served over Sundog Organic greens, didn’t even complain that he was eating a salad!

Mini Quinoa Cups

Over salad

We had a few quinoa cups left over the next day, and found that they also made a quick, tasty breakfast, heated briefly in the microwave.

Lemon Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Tomato

Mack was in charge of dinner a few nights ago, and had selected a pasta recipe that made use of tender crisp asparagus from Edgar Farms and sweet cherry tomatoes from Gull Valley Greenhouses.

He substituted the stelline we had on hand for the orzo, added some Dreamin’ Green Farm chicken and balcony basil, and tossed it all together with garlic, lemon and olive oil from Evoolution.

Lemon Pasta Salad

Lemon pasta salad with asparagus and tomato

It’s probably the sort of thing many wouldn’t require a recipe for, but we appreciated the guidelines. It was a very light dish, with varied textures that really celebrated the fresh produce. Mack especially liked the prominent lemon flavour.

We’ll be on the lookout for even more such recipes this summer!

The Cooking Chronicles: Baked Comfort

As far as comfort foods go, baked pastas are pretty high up on my hit list. We definitely have our favourites, but I’m always willing to experiment with other recipes as well. We recently tried two new dishes, and one came out with much better results than the other.

Baked Rigatoni with Béchamel Sauce

With leftover béchamel sauce from a lasagna made earlier in the week, I decided to use it up by making Giada’s baked rigatoni with béchamel sauce.

The recipe was easy – maybe too easy – and just involved mixing prosciutto-and cheese-spiked béchamel with cooked rigatoni, transferring the mixture into a baking dish, then topping it with cheese before baking. The only change I made to the recipe was substituting the mozzarella I had kicking around in the fridge for the fontina.

Baked Rigatoni with Bechemel Sauce

Baked rigatoni with béchamel sauce

While it wasn’t a complete failure, it just wasn’t all that interesting or tasty. It also had to be consumed right out of the oven, as the pasta became limp and dry without enough béchamel to keep it moist. Even Mack, who came home later that evening, found that the pasta had already passed its prime.

Baked Mac & Cheese with Little White beans

We had much better luck with baked mac & cheese with little white beans, from Spilling the Beans. Similar to the risotto we had tried last month, this recipe sneaks in little white beans, covert in creamy white sauce.

Even without the beans, the recipe would have been a fine rendition of mac and cheese, with just the right amount of cheesy goodness (we used a mixture of old cheddar and gouda), and a crispy, buttery panko crust (I substituted panko for the whole wheat bread). With the beans, some of the guilt of eating such a calorically-high dish was dissipated, especially given the serving size could be reduced with the addition of a filling and healthy protein.

Baked Mac & Cheese with Little White Beans

Baked mac & cheese with little white beans

Best of all, we had loads of leftovers that reheated very well. Mack was a happy camper for a few days with this lunch to look forward to! Thanks Julie and Sue for another great recipe for the repertoire.

The Cooking Chronicles: Classics, Old and New

In recent weeks I made two dishes, both classics in my mind, though one perhaps more recognizably so.

Classic Italian Lasagna

I went back to Giada’s very first cookbook to finally try my hand at lasagna. We’ve made stuffed pastas before, but we’ve never thought to make the layered version.

Giada’s recipe required two separate sauces – a marinara and a béchamel – so I planned ahead and made the marinara the night prior to cut down on the day-of cooking time. We also used fresh pasta (from local company Pasta Time), which meant one less pot as well.

Assembly was straightforward, and in many ways, less labour-intensive than stuffed pastas. After forty-five minutes in the oven, we were greeted with a cheesy, bubbly dish.


Classic Italian Lasagna

Mack’s first critique was that each slice should have been served with an additional ladle of marinara sauce, to which I concurred (sadly, we’re probably much too used to the Americanized version of lasagna). I probably also would have cut down on the amount of spinach (to half) and ricotta (to two-thirds), and used more fresh pasta, given the sheets were actually quite thin. Other than that, it was an indulgent, but comforting dish that yielded a huge amount of leftovers. It’s not something we will make all that often, but I’m happy to have finally tackled!

The New “New Joe’s Special”

In his Food Matters Cookbook, Mark Bittman indicates that every San Francisco restaurant with “Joe” in its name features a dish with the name “Joe’s Special” or “New Joe’s Special” on its menu. As I can’t recall visiting any such restaurant, this hash-type dish was new to me, but it seemed very straightforward in terms of preparation and ingredients, so I marked the recipe for future reference. We tried it for the first time a few weeks ago, and loved it!

Starting with good ground beef (we used Nature’s Green Acres), this hash layers in onions, spinach, mushrooms and some herbs, then incorporates egg and parmesan. And that’s it!

The New "New Joe's Special"

The New “New Joe’s Special”

Served over toast (for us, nothing beats Honey White from Prairie Mill), it was one of the most satisfying recipes we’ve made in recent memory. The key for me was taking the time to cook the mushrooms down – they really are the star of the dish.

Looking forward to trying other classics soon – and with the farmers’ market adding to its fresh inventory every week, there will be inspiration around every corner!

The Cooking Chronicles: Spilling More Beans

Though we still do have a few cans in the pantry for emergencies, for the most part now, I’ve only been using beans and pulses cooked from their dried form. Prepared in large batches, then frozen in small portions for use in individual recipes, I’ve found the transition a lot easier than I expected.

With thawed pulses in tow, I tried out a few more dishes from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan.

White Bean Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach and Parmesan

I loved the idea of incorporating beans into risotto, especially because our usual risotto is mushroom-based, and minus the cheese, is protein-less. As a result, we usually prepare risotto to be consumed as a side dish, instead of the main that we know it can be.

This recipe of white bean risotto is a seamless way of punching up the dish, and really, the beans end up being cloaked and almost disguised in the creamy rice.

White Bean Risotto

White bean risotto with sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and parmesan

I appreciated the wilted spinach, but probably could have done with three times the amount of sundried tomato (I already doubled the quantity from the original recipe). Definitely a winner we will make again!

Spaghetti with Garlic, Chickpeas and Braised Kale

Another vegetarian option we tried involved lacing spaghetti with garlic, chickpeas and braised kale. For some reason, pan-roasting the chickpeas didn’t quite work for me, and they didn’t end up with the crispy texture that the recipe intended. Other than that, the kale cooked up nicely, and the garlic flavour was prominent, as expected.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Chickpeas and Braised Kale

Spaghetti with garlic, chickpeas and braised kale

That said, it wasn’t the easiest dish to eat – it’s difficult to spear chickpeas on a fork already wrapped with spaghetti and kale! A smaller pasta like rotini or penne would have worked a lot better. As well, as most “sauceless” pastas go, it did not reheat well the next day.

But we’re not discouraged! I’m sure we’ll be thumbing through the book for even more inspiration in the next few weeks.

The Cooking Chronicles: Ham and Cheese Waffles

Every so often I come across a dish that grabs me, and regardless of the calorie count, I have to have it. This happened with poutine sandwiches, and again last week with another indulgent dinner.

One of the housewarming gifts we received when we moved into our condo two years ago was a waffle maker. Due to a lack of pantry and cupboard space (and our preference for pancakes instead of waffles), the appliance languished in storage, unopened.

But when I saw this Bon Appetit recipe for ham and cheese waffles, I knew I’d be reaching for the dusty waffle maker. A savoury waffle, studded with bits of crusty ham and melted cheese? Sign me up.

The batter was easy enough to pull together, though it did require the separation of egg whites from yolks to ensure the waffles were light and fluffy. There was also A LOT of butter (an entire cup of it!), but this wasn’t the time to pull back. Cheese and ham were sprinkled on top, once the batter had been transferred into the hot iron. We found that we could have easily tripled the amount of cheese specified in the recipe, as we didn’t get the desired melt-y factor we were looking for.

Inspired by Under the High Wheel, we chose to eat these dinner waffles with poached Sunshine Organic eggs on top, the rich yolks acting as the “syrup”. Yum.

Ham & Cheese Waffles

Ham and cheese waffles with poached eggs

As we had two waffles left the next day, we enjoyed them for breakfast (heated up in the waffle iron), served with warmed maple syrup. They weren’t bad with this touch of sweetness, but I think I preferred the savoury version.

Ham & Cheese Waffles

With maple syrup

If you’re looking for a breakfast-for-dinner idea, I’d highly recommend these waffles. I know we’ll be dusting off our waffle maker again some time soon.