Zucchini Bites and Swedish Meatballs…

Two recipes from my current number one source of food inspiration…

I don’t know if you’re like me but I’ll go through phases where I’m all inspired in the kitchen and come up with some pretty amazing quick meals and then all of a sudden, nothing! It’s like I hit a wall and don’t even know what I want to eat anymore and so I keep preparing the same old same old.

My new number one source of food inspiration these days is Pinterest! You can just type in an ingredient, do a search and Boom!!! So many options! Most of the time the pictures are what grab my attention and if you are on Pinterest you know what I mean, almost everything looks so delicious that I want to make everything!

Here are two recipes I did last Sunday that turned out so good and the big plus is that they can be easily doubled or even tripled for freezing.

Easy Zucchini Bites Apetizers…

Zucchini Bites with Sour Cream and Salad

Zucchini Bites with Sour Cream and Salad

Now here is a screen capture of the recipe from my Instagram feed, here. Cooking time was at least 10 more minutes. I served them with plain sour cream, a simple version of Cesar Salad and it made for a delicious lite vegetarian meal. Extras can be kept in the refrigerator for a good 4 days and they heat up in no time.

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This other recipe is my idea of comfort food!

Swedish Meatballs…

Who hasn’t been to Ikea? Ever ate there, tried their Swedish Meatballs? Well I did years ago and I must say they were kind of good. I know you can buy them frozen now but I haven’t tried them nor have I taken the time to look at the ingredients. I’m not much of a fan of ready-made frozen food although I know you can stumble on some good options.

Swedish Meatballs with Egg Noodles, Green Peas and Cranberry Sauce

Swedish Meatballs with Egg Noodles, Green Peas and Cranberry Sauce

This recipe for Swedish meatballs is pretty good, super easy and what I love most about it is I know what’s in them and can control the salt factor. The quantity of meat I used made 30 meatballs translating in three meals for Catherine and I.

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Five meatballs are more than enough per person and in fact four could do it but hey this is comfort food so a little extra does feel good! Two thirds of the meatballs I didn’t cook through since I was planning on freezing them.

In the microwave about three minutes to defrost, I prepared half of the sauce (perfect for two servings) while the pasta was cooking. Once the sauce was ready I put the meatballs in, put the lid on a few minutes. Oh and the last five minutes of the pasta cooking time is when I poured a big cup of frozen peas. It will cool down the temperature of the water meaning the cooking time will be a little longer but the idea is to use only one pot. Less dishes is always good in my book!🙂

This is truly a 20 minute mid-week meal with little to do, perfect after a long day and I’m guessing It’ll be a weekly staple when the temps go down next winter. As you can see cranberry sauce can be enjoyed with more than turkey!

Both these recipes are on my Pinterest food board, here.

Original websites…  Zucchini Bites, here.  Swedish Meatballs, here.

 

When you don’t know what to cook anymore, where do you get your inspiration?

 

 

Couscous, avocado, blueberries & microgreens salad…

Last night was my first night alone in a long time. My daughter went to a sleepover and so it was supper for one. Not in the mood for cooking, I simply mixed what follows and it was heaven!

Couscous, avocado, blueberries & microgreen salad with poppy seeds vinaigrette.

Couscous, avocado, blueberries & microgreen salad with poppy seeds vinaigrette.

For the couscous salad…

2 cups of cooked couscous

1 cup of blueberries (strawberries, rapsberries, peaches, mangoes… all would be delicious!)

1 half ripe avocado in smallish pieces

1/4 cup of thinly sliced sweet onions, I love the Vidalia variety in summer but you could use red if you like for color or Spanish for an extra punch but then use a little less otherwise you may lose a little of the taste subtleties of this salad.

1/2 cup of microgreens* (can easily be replaced by watercress, arugula, endive or any lettuce you might have on hand, broken in small pieces)

I could have added some fresh flat leaf parsley but was too lazy!

Everything goes in a nice bowl, yes presentation counts even when for one!🙂 Careful when mixing not to crush the avocado, you may want to simply place the pieces on top once everything has been mixed with about 1/4 cup of vinaigrette

Poppy seeds vinaigrette…

1 cup of mayonnaise (homemade if you have it)

1 tbsp of Dijon mustard

1 tbsp of honey

1 1/2 tbsp of poppy seeds

2 tbsp of white vinegar or to taste

2 tbsp of canola oil

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and depending on taste you may want to add a little sugar but this might not be necessary if you’re using store-bought mayo and there’s already honey. I add about 1 tsp of it when I use home-made mayonnaise.

This vinaigrette is delicious with chicken by the way and even with fries if you add a little more white vinegar.

Another option which I think may be just as delicious and more figure friendly, simply sprinkle the salad with poppy seeds, 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil and the zest (with the Microplane) and juice of half a lemon although in my case I just might use the whole lemon since I love the taste so much. Salt to taste. Honestly I’m not sure I would use freshly grounded pepper but hey, that’s me!

 

What do you think about fruits in savory salads?

 

*Microgreens pack a punch in taste so you don’t need much. Several delicious mixes are more and more easily available in grocery stores. Here I used a Mediterranean mix.🙂

 

Frittata My Way…

Eggs for supper? Oh yes!

This has been a favorite for years for a quick easy and satisfying mid-week meal. The combinations are endless when you know the basics and even for that the quantities don’t have to be precise.

Frittata for two…

5 large eggs (you would use 8 eggs for 4 portions and increase slightly the quantities of the other ingredients)

1/4 cup of creme, 15% or 35% (10% doesn’t cook really well and milk would make it watery)

1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of nutmeg

Chopped Fresh herbs if you have any my favorites are flat leaf parsley and savory

In a bowl whisk all these together.

Garnish…

Well here’s the tricky part… almost anything goes! For example this past winter last-minute (I was working full-time with crazy schedules) I used a can of quartered artichokes, a can of mushrooms and lots of garlic, warmed up in the pan with hot pepper flakes. I know, cans!!! Well they can be useful and in a frittata, well they did the job good so now I always keep some in my pantry.

With frozen veggies! There are so many beautiful mixes available these days, all you have to do is sautĂ© them before adding the egg mixture. You can mix frozen and fresh like a pack of frozen spinach with lots of onions or a thinly sliced zucchini with garlic…

The combinations are endless I tell you, I could go on and on and on…

I would much more go for fresh of course so here a version we like a lot made with asparagus.

Beautiful asparagus sprinkled with Kalamata olives.

Beautiful asparagus sprinkled with Kalamata olives.

Here I had a bunch of thin asparagus, onions, garlic and hot pepper flakes getting all happy in the skillet* in about three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for about 4 minutes at medium high (if the asparagus are bigger you can chop in smaller pieces), turned down the heat (4.5 on my stove) and added kalamata olives just before pouring the egg mixture. Put a lid on and let gently cook for about 6 to 7 minutes.

Turn on the oven to broil and place the skillet real close to the element. This will end the cooking of the eggs and give the beautiful golden color. Make sure to keep a close eye on it and to use a skillet that has an oven safe handle. If you don’t have one, wrap the handle with foil to protect it.

Asparagus Frittatta with salad and garlic bread!

Asparagus Frittatta with salad and garlic bread!

Cut and enjoy with a nice salad, a piece of garlic bread or focaccia!

*I use a non stick skillet. Remember I want this to be easy and fast so fast cleaning is part of the deal for me. It will work in a traditional one but make sure to use a little more olive oil. It will stick to the bottom a little and if you don’t play with it once the egg mixture is poured it may not be too bad.

 

Have you ever made a frittatta? What’s your favorite garnish combination?

 

 

Perfect Pizza Dough…

Sorry if I haven’t posted a new recipe since… last year… Going back to work full-time last fall has meant that cooking wasn’t much of a priority. No, my daughter and I haven’t spent this past winter eating frozen dinners but I have kept it simple. Good doesn’t have to be complicated and since I’ve taken pictures of some of our favorites of these past months, I’ll try to catch up and post some of them… soon.🙂

HG Pizza Dough…

How many times have I tried to make pizza dough? Countless! I now believe I have finally found “The One”, that perfect mixture that becomes the base for my culinary inspiration… The big plus of this recipe is it cooks well in a regular oven. I would think if you have a pizza stone the results may be even better. This is something I’m planning on purchasing eventualy. Anyway, if you want a good healthy option to frozen pizza, this is it! You’ll never go back, I swear!

The thing to remember here is if you plan on having pizza for dinner you have to prepare your dough 2 hours in advance. Now you won’t have to slave over it, with a food processor* it takes no more than 10 minutes to make… Really, I’m not kidding!

This recipe comes from How to Cook Everything (an app I downloaded on my iPad from New York Times columnist Mark Bittman) but I did make one change to it. Instead of using 3 1/4 cup of white flour (here I use un-blanched flour), I use 2 cups of white and 1 1/4 of wheat flour. This gives it an extra flavour kick and the texture remains soft coming out of the oven.

The ingredients…

400 grams all-purpose flour plus more as needed (about 3 1/14 cups) or like I do, 2 cups of all-purpose and 1 1/4 cups of wheat flour. You could, if you want, add some dried herbs or even some lemon zest at this point for extra flavor.

2 teaspoons instant yeast (one pouch)

2 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt plus extra for sprinkling

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2.25 dl of water (about 1 1/4 cup)

How to…

Flour, instant yeast and salt all go in the food processor. Give it a few spins to mix.

Press start and through the top opening gently pour the water with oil (I pour both in the same measuring cup and yes the oil will float on top and go down into the flour mixture first but that’s fine).

Let the food processor do it’s thing. It takes about a minute to see a ball form. Since I’ve been using a mixture of white and wheat flours I’ve had to add about 1/4 cup of water towards the end to “pick up” and mix the bits at the bottom.

Remove the dough from the food processor’s bowl and transfer to a deep glass oiled bowl, cover with a damp dishcloth and let rest for a good 1:30 hour. I like to keep in the oven. What I do is turn on the oven just about 5 to 10 minutes to make it slightly warm. The warmth helps the dough rise but you can easily do away with that.

After an hour and a half the dough becomes lighter and almost doubles. You could prepare a big family pizza at this point but I split it in two with a knife and store half in the refrigerator, in plastic wrap.

I use a non stick perforated pizza pan and spread the dough on it. Before going ahead with toppings I brush extra virgin olive oils on the edges.

Once your toppings are in place, put on the bottom rack of the oven at 425° F pre-heated oven for 20 minutes.

The short cooking time means some of your toppings may have to be pre cooked so keep that in mind.

If you follow me on Instagram, here, you may have seen these pictures below already. Since I’ve been having fun with pizza recently there will likely be more combination posted in the near future.

 Here are two of my daughter and I favorite combinations so far…

Kale & Goat Cheese

Kale & Goat Cheese

The base is caramelised onions, kale which was gently heated in a pan with olive oil, garlic, salt and hot pepper flakes. On top, the goat cheese can be spread with fingers in smaller bits. This one may not be the most elegant to eat but the crispy kale is so delicious, who cares?🙂

Eggplant, Spinach & Feta Cheese

Eggplant, Spinach & Feta Cheese

Here the eggplant slices had been previously grilled in the oven (about 30 min on a cookie sheet brushed with extra virgin olive oil). Spread the eggplant goodness on the dough with a few cloves of garlic minced or pressed, just put as much baby spinach as you can on top (non cooked), the Feta cheese and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil (if you don’t do this the spinach may end up a little dry) and a little coarse salt or Fleur de Sel if you have any and chopped Kalamata olives.

To these bases I’ve added fresh mushrooms, chopped tomatoes (drained of their water and seeds) thinly sliced zucchini… There are so many possibilities! So far we’ve enjoyed these meat-less but I could easily imaging some prosciutto to the firs one or tiny lamb meatballs to the second… mmmm!

What are your favorite homemade pizza toppings?

 

*The food processor I have is a classic Cuisinart in which I keep the regular blade.

Ratatouille

This is a classic from the South of France but with a twist!

It can be cooked on the stove which is the usual way but for more flavour, baked in the oven makes it quite memorable. Here is the more traditional version but as you will see, you can easily make it your own.

 

Classic Ratatouille ingredients.

Classic Ratatouille ingredients.

 

The quantities for this recipe are totally up to you. You can use more/less eggplants, add a red bell pepper and not use as much onions if you want. You really prepare this with what you have. For the tomatoes I do prefer the Italian variety due to the fact that they hold less water but if you have any other kind, do use them. I’ve often used big red ones for this and when they are not in season, you can even use a can of Italian tomatoes. For the onions, anything goes as well. I often use a Vidalia but here is a Spanish onion. Garlic, better to finely chop it, it will give the Ratatouille more taste.

Here is what I used this time around, the basic classic ingredients…

3 small eggplants

3 white zucchini

2 red bell peppers

10 Italian tomatoes 

1 large onion.

4 cloves of garlic

Shop everything in roughly the same size and you don’t have to be precise about it. It’s a vegetable ragout so once it’s cooked it will not look fancy if you know what I mean?🙂

Put your vegetables in a lasagna dish, drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil, I’d say about 1/2 cup or it, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar*. At this point it’s easier to mix with your hands. You can sprinkle some dried herbs like Herbes de Provence but I personally prefer using fresh ones at the end just before serving.

Do not cover, put in the oven at 350° F. for about 45 minutes. It’s a good thing to turn over the veggies with a large spoon at half time. I didn’t use the convection option, I tried once and it didn’t look as good.

If you cook it on the stove in a large pot, simmer at low temperature (for me it’s 3.5 which is a little under medium) for about the same time. Just make sure the vegetables are cooked but keep their shape.

Why do I prefer the oven version? Simply because it the oven the flavors are more concentrated, they have more punch. I do hope this makes sense.🙂

 

This is what it looks like right before going in the oven.

This is what it looks like right before going in the oven.

 

So easy and so delicious, this is what it looks like coming out of the oven.

So easy and so delicious, this is what it looks like coming out of the oven.

 

When you take the Ratatouille out of the oven you can mix in fresh basil, savory, oregano or fresh thyme. You can use only one or a mix of all if you want. It’s really up to you. This time around I only used fresh flat leaf parsley.

Serve with a nice fresh crusty bread and it’s Heaven!!! Now of course, my daughter and I enjoy an extra drizzle of spicy oil as shown, here!

You may have noticed that I didn’t use any black pepper. The reason for this is quite simple, unless pepper is kept whole during the cooking process, I find it gives food a sour taste and so I prefer to use freshly grind just before serving but here since I’m using spicy oil, pepper is not necessary. But that’s me of course, if you like the taste of pepper do go ahead.

*The addition of sugar is non traditional. I add it just in case the tomatoes have too much acidity which can happen when you do this out of season.

For a more substantial meal you can serve your Ratatouille as a side dish with chicken, any grilled meat and even white fish.

If you have any left over, which would be a nice thing, the next day warm up and mix in with some long pasta like spaghetti or linguine. You can then change the taste a little by adding some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

I do hope you will try this. It’s the perfect recipe for this time of year when all these vegetables are in season.

Let me know if you do and what variations you did, I’d love read how you made it your own.

 

 

 

Spicy Oil…

You all know that everything tastes better with a little bit of a kick don’t you?

I try to make sure to never run out of this spicy oil. There are several on the market and their prices can vary quite a bit so if you get used to them they can get quite expensive, especially when go for the ones made with olive oil. This is the reason why I started to make my own spicy oil. Drizzled on pizza, pasta, almost any meat or fish even on soups, it just addictive. Really it is!

So easy to make you can, like me, use extra virgin olive oil but you can also use any oil of your choice as long as it heats well. Canola works well for this and I sometimes mix both olive and canola oils.

 

Only 3 ingredients

Only 3 ingredients

 

1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons of hot pepper flakes*

1 good pinch of herbes de Provence**

Mix all in a small pot and warm up on the stove. Once you see the oil making veins… I know this sounds weird but it does kind of look that way, turn off the heat and let cool down. You don’t want the pepper flakes to start frying.

Warming the oil helps release the Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for the heat of the peppers and the flavor of the herbs.

As you can see, this recipe is quite easy to multiply. Most of the time I do 2 cups. You may want to start with less and adjust to your taste. If ever you find it too hot, simply add a little oil.

 

Spicy Goodness!

Spicy Goodness!

 

I am searching for a better looking bottle, I got this one a few years back in a dollar store. The 500 ml size is just perfect but I’m a little tired of the design.

*Currently at farmers markets there are so many beautiful hot peppers available that you can dry yourself and use for this. Your oil will only be better for it and as I’ve done in the past, you can even drop one or two whole dry peppers in your bottle.

**Herbes de Provence is a mix of herbs which originates from the South of France. It usually includes: Savory, Fennel, Basil, Thyme. Sometimes Oregano replaces Savory and often for the American market, Lavender is added. You can make you own mix of course or just use one of these herbs for your oil. Personally I wouldn’t use Lavender on it’s own in this case.

 

Is this something you would make?🙂

 

 

Merguez & Quinoa Stuffed Mini Eggplants…

This I actually prepared this dish at the end of last week and it was a hit with my daughter! She’s not a fan of eggplants and neither was her dad but they both liked them stuffed with meat and topped with melted cheese.

I had these mini eggplants and at first didn’t know what to do with them. Since, I didn’t have any cheese and I wasn’t in the mood for the more traditional stuffed version I figured why not sausages? In my freezer I always have some merguez sausages and lately quinoa has been replacing rice more and more so here’s my new take on stuffed eggplants. Of course you could make of this a vegetarian dish by omiting the sausages.

Merguez & Quinoa Stuffed Mini Eggplants

Merguez & Quinoa Stuffed Mini Eggplants

One cup of cooked quinoa*

6 merguez sausages** cooked and cut in pieces. You could also remove the meat from the casings before cooking.

6 mini eggplants***, sliced in half & emptied with a spoon

1/2 cup of chopped onions

2 cloves of garlic chopped, grated or passed through a garlic press

1 red bell pepper chopped

1 pint of fresh cherry tomatoes or one small can of steamed tomatoes

In a large non stick skillet, cook the sausages in a little olive oil. Remove and keep aside.

Onion, eggplant and pepper are next. Cook at medium high temperature for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic, cook a few minutes and then mix in the tomatoes. Lower temperature to medium low, cover and let cook for another 10 minutes or so. When done, mix in the quinoa.

In a lasagna dish, place the halved eggplants and fill with the stuffing. You will likely have extra mixture so you could consider stuffing a pepper, great for a next day lunch.

Since the stuffing is on the dry side, pour a little water at the bottom of your dish, cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes, time for the eggplant shells (and pepper) to fully cook.

You can sprinkle some parmesan cheese on them, which my daughter did but I prefered a light drizzle of spicy olive oil. This was a hit! My daughter not only loved it, she asked me yesterday when I would prepare them again!

*For this you simply cook 1/2 cup of quinoa in 1 cup of water with a little salt for about 20 min

**Merguez are sausages made with lamb, beef or a mix and are usually spiced with cumin and harissa. Try to find the lamb merguez they are usually the tastiest. Since they are quite spicy, I don’t add any extra to the mix, only a little salt. If you want to make this a vegetarian version, add some cumin and harissa to the eggplant mix.

***You can use a large eggplant for this recipe, it’s just not as easy to serve. The mini are just so darn cute!