An Evening in the Maritimes

Another Ridiculously Easy but Very Impressive recipe, one that is so easy your friends won’t believe it when you tell them how you made it.

In years past, I’ve appeared on  “A-Channel Morning” here in Ottawa to help publicize “An Evening in the Maritimes”, a fundraiser hosted by Citizen Advocacy.  I have been a volunteer with CA for 7 years, and it is a wonderful organization with a very “hands-on” approach to service.  Each volunteer is matched with a member of the community who is at risk of social isolation due to a disability or illness, and the pair just hang out and do whatever they want to do.  My match and I go to movies, out to eat and shop, and check out gardens and craft shows.

Details of the May 31 fundraising dinner can be found here… There’s a delicious meal (including meat and vegetarian options as well as the traditional lobster dinner), Maritime entertainment, and an auction with amazing items.

Here is the super-easy recipe I made on the morning show in 2008… Serve it with a side of steamed local asparagus for a lovely little lunch.  If you don’t relish the idea of cracking up your own lobsters, use canned lump crabmeat for an easier preparation.

Lobster and Avocado Salad with Roasted Garlic Mayonnaise

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as an appetizer

1 head of garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup mayonnaise

2 – 1 pound lobsters, cooked

1 ripe avocado

Chop the tips off the head of garlic and place onto a sheet of aluminum foil.  Pour oil over the top, and wrap the foil around the garlic.  Roast in 400°F oven for 40-60 minutes. To save energy, do this while you’re cooking something else in the oven.

Let the garlic cool for at least 30 minutes, then squeeze the garlic out of the skin, mash it and stir it into the mayonnaise.

Remove lobster meat from the shells and chop into large pieces.  Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and chop into large pieces.

Toss the lobster and avocado with the garlic mayonnaise.

Lemon cream pie or squares

Fresh lemon sweets make me think of spring…. so I thought I would share this ridiculously easy but very impressive (REVI) recipe with you today. I’ve noticed that the more exotic Meyer lemons are available in grocery stores here in Ottawa lately, and this recipe would be an excellent way to try them. Meyer lemons are a bit less sour than regular lemons, and the skins have a deeper yellow colour.

Lemon Cream Pie

One small graham cracker or other crumb crust – make your own (a recipe is usually on the side of the graham crumb box, or use the one below) or buy one already made.

One can of sweetened condensed milk

½ cup lemon juice

1 tbsp. grated lemon zest (optional, but adds immensely to the “impressive” part)

Prepare crust if necessary.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Whisk together milk, juice and zest – it will thicken as you mix it.

Scrape mixture into crust with a rubber spatula and smooth it flat.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until firm.

Cool completely before cutting.

Crumb crust – use for cheesecakes or any other kind of goodie that needs a crumb base.  I like chocolate wafer, vanilla wafer or bran cookie crumbs… just whiz up the cookies in a food processor or place them in a big Ziploc and crush with a rolling pin.

1 ¼ cups crumbs

¼ cup sugar (white or brown)

1/3 cup melted butter or margarine

Mix crumbs and sugar.  Stir in butter, then mix by hand to combine well.  Press into pan.

Freezer Recipe – Healthy Home-made Pizza Dough

I adapted this recipe from “Eat, Shrink and Be Merry” by Janet and Greta Podleski, and tested it for the freezer

2/3 cup very warm water (from the tap is fine)

2 tsp sugar

2 ½ tsp. quick-rising yeast

2 tsp olive oil

1 cup all-purpose flour plus ½ cup whole wheat flour (or 1 ½ cups AP flour)

2 tbsp ground flax seed (also called flax meal) or bran

½ tsp salt

Extra flour for kneading

Oil to grease rising bowl

Place water in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor or mixer fitted with a dough attachment.  Dissolve sugar in water and sprinkle yeast over the top.  When the yeast starts foaming, add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl.  Stir with a fork or mixer until the dough comes together.  Knead by hand if necessary, adding flour until dough is no longer sticky and it comes away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.  Knead as long as you can stand it (more is better, but it doesn’t take much).  Form dough into a ball and pour a little bit of oil over the top.  Turn the dough in the bowl so the ball is coated.  Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.  Divide into two for thin crusts, or use a whole recipe for thick crust.  Place in freezer-safe bags and freeze for up to 3 months.

To use:  thaw dough in fridge 24-48 hours; let sit on counter 1 hour or more to warm up a bit before using.  Preheat oven to bake at 475°For as high as your oven will go – if you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven now.  Place dough on baking tray or pizza peel and stretch or roll it out carefully into the desired shape.  Allow to sit 5-10 minutes in between a couple of sessions of stretching to allow dough to relax.  Top with desired topping and bake in a pre-heated 475°F oven (wait for oven to reach temperature – very important) for 8-10 minutes or until bottom crust is browned and crispy.

Creamy Pineapple Chicken Curry

If you’re looking to get more vegetables into your family, here is the recipe for you – cream of mushroom soup is a magic ingredient; it makes children eat vegetables.  You can use just about any combination of vegetables, so use this recipe to clean out your veggie crisper the day before you go shopping, or unearth some frozen veggies when you tidy up your freezer and throw them in.  If you want to go vegetarian, skip the chicken and throw in some chickpeas…

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1” cubes

1 tsp. oil (optional)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp. each chopped garlic and chopped ginger

2-3 tsp. curry powder or curry paste – adjust this to your liking.  If you don’t like really spicy food, use mild curry, but use at least 2 teaspoons.

1 can pineapple tidbits in juice

2-4 cups of chopped vegetables

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Cut chicken into cubes.

In a large pan or pot, heat oil, if using, over medium heat.  Add onions and cook for about 5 minutes, until they are softened and translucent.  Add chicken, garlic and ginger, and stir to coat.  Add curry powder and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Open the can of pineapple and save the lid.  Use the lid to keep the pineapple pieces in the can while you pour the juice into the chicken mixture.  Stir to coat, and add in any hard uncooked vegetables like raw carrots or celery.

Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until chicken and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the can of soup and any softer or pre-cooked vegetables.  Stir in the pineapple.  Taste and add salt if necessary – but the soup is probably salty enough.

Serve with brown or basmati rice

Substitution – to make this recipe lactose-free and gluten-free, use half a can of coconut milk in place of the cream of mushroom soup.

Protein Pancakes

It seems like everyone’s trying to eat more protein lately…. especially at breakfast, where eggs can get boring after a while. This recipe is adapted from The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook, but I used higher-protein, higher-fibre flours and more eggs to make it less refined-carb-y and more protein-y… this recipe makes six big just-one-for-breakfast sized pancakes.

1/2 cup white (all purpose) flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup buckwheat, oat, or spelt flour, or a combination

1/2 cup soy flour or other bean flour, or a combination

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup ground flax seed or oat bran, or a combination

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 to 2 1/2 cups buttermilk (or skim milk with some sour cream or yogurt stirred in)

1/4 cup melted butter

4 large eggs

Stir all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Beat 2 cups of milk (and other dairy if using) with butter and eggs in a medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring until just combined. If the batter is very stiff, add some more milk until the batter can pour off a spoon. It will still be quite thick, though. It depends on the kinds of flours you use.

You can make the pancakes any size you want. Heat pan over medium heat. Grease your pan if it is not non-stick.

Pour batter into hot pan and spread with back of spoon if it is too thick to flow on its own. Cook until bubbles stay holes when they burst – they don’t cover themselves back up with uncooked batter. Edges of cake will be dry, too. Flip and cook for another minute or two.

Pancakes keep well in the fridge for about a week, or the freezer for a month or two. Heat in microwave for 30 seconds, top with jam or syrup or both.

Ridiculously easy Christmas pudding

Three years ago I went to my parents’ place for Christmas, and immediately posted this recipe on FB with comments below…. it’s a great recipe!

“My mom made this for Christmas this year, and I’ve been eating it incessantly since I got here 24 hours ago. The recipe came from Bonnie Quick, my mother’s friend Holly’s mother.

A nice simple steamed pudding, delicious and Christmassy, and best of all, allergen free for me! Served with a sauce that can be festively “hardened” with a splash of rum… ”

Pudding/cake:

1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup water
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups cranberries, cut in quarters

Combine all ingredients, folding in the cranberries last.
Pour into a 2 quart greased tube pan, and set the cake pan in a roasting pan.
Add water to the roaster to come at least halfway up the side of the pan, and cover, either with the roaster lid, or tightly wrapped with foil.

Bake 45 minutes at 350°F.

Sauce:

1/4 cup margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup cream

Mix butter, sugar and vanilla well, then add cream. Bring to a boil.

Serve wedges of cake with sauce poured over.

Cherry Blossom Fudge

After baking some shortbread cookies last week, I ended up with waaayy more chopped cherries than I needed to decorate them – my son got carried away with the knife and cutting board – so I decided to come up with a new recipe. I remembered Cherry Blossom chocolates from when I was a kid, and came up with this easy fudge recipe to recreate that flavour.

This really is an easy recipe – no candy thermometers, and I did everything in the microwave. It does take some time from start to finish, though, because three different layers have to chill separately. I’ve posted step-by-step photos on our Magic Fridge Facebook page!

Ingredients:

1 and 1/3 cans of condensed milk

2 cups chocolate chips – semisweet or dark, depending on your taste

1 cup white chocolate chips

1 cup unsweetened coconut

1 cup chopped maraschino cherries, drained, or glace cherries

1 cup chopped nuts (I used salted cashews)

Directions:

Place chocolate and white chocolate in separate glass microwave safe bowls. Open one can of condensed milk and scoop 2/3 of it into the chocolate bowl and 1/3 of it into the white chocolate bowl.

Microwave the chocolate bowl for 30 seconds on high, then remove and stir with a microwave-safe utensil (I use a rubber scraper/spatula). If chocolate is not fully melted, microwave for another 10 seconds and repeat. Scrape *two-thirds* of this mixture into a well-greased 8×8 pan and cover with a piece of cling film. Press the chocolate into the pan with your hands, using the cling film as a barrier. Leave the film on and chill for an hour in the fridge. Save the remaining third of the chocolate mixture for the topping later.

Once the base is chilled, microwave the white chocolate bowl for 20-30 seconds and stir until melted, then add the coconut. Sprinkle cherries over the base, and pour the white chocolate-coconut mixture over top. Use the cling film trick again to flatten the white chocolate mixture and make sure it is well adhered to the base. Chill, with cling film on top, for at least 2 hours – this layer is softer, so it will take longer to set up.

To make the third layer, add 1/3 of a can of condensed milk to the reserved chocolate mixture and microwave 20-30 seconds; stir until melted. This layer will have a thinner consistency than the base layer. Take out your chilled fudge and evenly sprinkle the nuts over the white chocolate mixture. Pour the thin chocolate mixture over the top, and once again use some cling film to press the last layer evenly over the top of the nuts. Chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, since this last layer is even softer than the other two.

When it is thoroughly chilled, remove the fudge from the pan and cut it into pieces, making sure the nut layer is on top for easier cutting. It will keep well in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Crockpot freezer kits, part two….

A few weeks ago, I posted about crockpot kits for the freezer, and a few folks on Twitter really took it on board! Now they’re asking for more recipes, so I thought I would share a few more kits…

Beef stew…. In the dry bag: carrots, mushrooms, onions, celery. In the wet bag: stew beef, beef broth, garlic, herbs, Worcestershire sauce. Add some potatoes when starting the crock, and stir in some frozen peas right before serving. For a creamy stew, add a can of cream of mushroom soup

Asian chicken thighs…. In the dry bag: carrots, chopped cabbage, onion. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce (optional). If you have some, stir in some bean sprouts and bell peppers right before serving, and serve with rice or noodles. This one is also nice with a couple of pork tenderloins

Chicken cacciatore…. In the dry bag: onion, mushrooms, peppers, zucchini. In the wet bag: boneless skinless chicken thighs, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (optional), garlic, basil, a pinch of rosemary, salt and pepper. Add a sprinkle of crushes chiles if you like it spicy! Serve with pasta and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

Crockpot Kits for the Freezer

So you want to use your crockpot, but mornings are just too busy to be messing around with chopping veggies and dealing with raw meat.  Here’s your solution!

I make these crockpot kits for my clients, and they just love them.  Just about any crockpot recipe can be prepared this way.  Just be sure to keep the potatoes out of the freezer and in the cupboard until they are going into the crock, and keep the liquid with the meat, not the veggies.

You can even do several at once, and that way you can chop up lots of onions and celery and stuff and make an assembly line.  To make the process even more streamlined, do it as soon as you get home from the grocery store so that you don’t need to unpack and store the groceries you need for the recipes.  Kids can help with the squishing around of the sauce and the filling of the bags.

Here’s a recipe I use often, here at home and also for my clients.

Freezer to Crockpot BBQ Chicken Stew

You will need two large freezer bags

Into the first freezer bag, place:

One to two cups of baby carrots

One onion, sliced or diced

Three stalks of celery, sliced or diced

Into the second freezer bag, place:

¼ cup of your favourite BBQ sauce

½ a can of tomato paste

¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar, or other mild vinegar

2 tbsp. brown sugar

1-2 cloves of garlic

A dash or two of hot sauce (optional)

Close the bag and squish these ingredients around until well mixed.

Open the bag back up and add:

1.5 – 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs* (boneless or bone-in both work well)

* Don’t be tempted to use boneless skinless chicken breast cubes.  They can get quite mushy and shredded if crock-potted too long

Re-close the bag and squish the sauce all over the chicken.  Open the corner of the bag and push out all the air.  Fold the top over and place the chicken bag inside the vegetable bag, on top of the vegetables.  Label and freeze for up to two months.

To use, you’ll also need:

One bag of tiny potatoes to keep in the cupboard – or cut regular potatoes into medium chunks to put into the crock

Move the bag from the freezer to the fridge the night before so you don’t have to wrestle with a big chunk of frozen meat in the morning.  Open the bag and remove the chicken bag, keeping it closed.  Pour the veggies into the bottom of the crock.  Add the potatoes now.  Open the chicken bag and pour chicken and liquid over the vegetables.  Poke everything around until there is an even layer of chicken over an even layer of veggies.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours, then serve.  For a creamier stew, gently stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup or some sour cream just before serving.

Freezer Mashed Potatoes!?!

I had a strange experience when shopping for a client yesterday. I needed just a few potatoes for a pan of scalloped potatoes.  Here were my choices: loose potatoes for $1.29/lb (I’d need at least 2lb, so let’s say $3 worth), a 5lb bag for $3.99 or a 10lb bag for $2.99 (!?!)  Of course I bought the 10lb bag. I know I’ll need them next week for something. But still….

There are not many foods you can’t put in the freezer – salad is one that springs to mind…  But for a long time, I thought mashed potatoes were on that list, too.  Then I found a strategy that I’ve been using successfully for many years now.

All you have to do is add sour cream or cream cheese to your mashed potatoes, and they will freeze beautifully.  So if you have three-quarters of a bag of potatoes that are just about to grow roots, get out a big pot, boil ‘em up, mash ‘em and fill the freezer.

A few tips for this so-called recipe…

Unless you have very squeamish kids or really tough potatoes, don’t bother peeling them (the potatoes, not the kids).  All the good stuff, the fibre and the vitamins, is in or near the skin, plus it is easier and takes less time.  I like to buy thin-skinned Yukon Gold potatoes.  You don’t have to peel them, they cook up nicely and their yellow colour makes everyone think there is lots of butter in them, even when there isn’t.

For this recipe, cook the potatoes until they are very tender, almost falling apart.  This makes them mash more easily and smoothly.  Add butter, salt and pepper or whatever you usually add.

Then add about ½ cup of sour cream or cream cheese for each 4 cups of potatoes.  This is just a guideline, though.  You can make them “looser” by adding some extra milk or broth, but do this only after you’ve added some sour cream or cream cheese.  You can also add milk after you thaw them if you want them more spreadable to put them on shepherd’s pie or something like that.

When you thaw the potatoes, you might think they’re ruined.  They may be soggy-looking or grainy or watery…. DON’T WORRY!  This is OK.  Just heat them in the microwave for 1-2 minutes and stir vigorously, then let them sit for 1-2 minutes.  The potatoes will re-constitute themselves and look appetizing again.  Repeat this process if they are not heated through or don’t want to come together.

When I am making a big batch of mashed potatoes – like that time I couldn’t resist the 50-pound bag for $3.99 – I use my sturdy KitchenAid mixer to mash them.  A smaller batch might be a good workout for what I recently heard termed “bingo wings”, those flabby tricep muscles that us ladies over 30 prefer not to talk about…

These potatoes are another weapon in your arsenal for streamlining  meal planning – combine with slow-cooking and great supermarket finds, and dinner will come together in a flash.  Put a roast in the crockpot, pull a bin of mashed potatoes out of your freezer stash, serve a bagged salad with a home-made salad dressing, and you have a fabulous meal on the table in ten minutes!

I love it when a plan comes together….