Today was a rough day at work. A new VP for my division was named a couple of months ago, and as always a change at the top means changes throughout. My department wasn’t directly impacted, but someone I worked for for years has been shuffled out. I respect her very much as a manager, and over the years I had come to see her as a friend. She has always been there to listen and offer advice. I’m not worried about her, but I am sorry to see her go. I hope our office friendship has what it takes to be a real friendship.
The announcements and the feeling of uncertainty change always brings has me pretty down. It’s the kind of day that calls for comfort food. Shepherd’s Pie is a favourite of mine, one of those dishes that soothes the soul. I based this vegetarian version on a Chuck Hughes recipe. I’ve made this a few times, each with a little change. Originally I used goat cheese then switched to feta. I’ve also gradually be upping the sweet potato to regular potato ratio. I think all of my adaptations have led me to something pretty tasty.
Combining the sweet potato with regular potato allows the sweet potato flavour to shine through while the regular potato cuts down on the moisture. I really like the combination of lentils and spinach with the mushrooms, and I truly believe feta makes everything better. Well, almost everything.
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie
- 1 cup dried brown lentils
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp thyme
- 1 tsp rosemary
- salt and pepper
- 2 large yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
- 1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- olive oil for frying
- Soak the lentils in 2 cups of water for 1 hour. Drain then set aside.
- In a medium pot, fry the onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add two cloves of garlic and fry until you can smell the garlic. Stir in the lentils, then cover with two cups of water. Add the bay leaf, thyme and rosemary, along with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then simmer until the lentils are cooked, about 30 minutes (you can taste the lentils to test). Drain the lentils and set aside.
- In another medium pot, cover the Yukon Gold’s and sweet potatoes in cold water and add salt to taste. Place over medium heat, bring to boil and cook until both kinds of potato are tender then drain. Mash the potatoes with the butter and milk, then crumble the feta and mix it in. Set aside
- Heat the onion to 400F
- While the oven is heating prepare the spinach and mushrooms. In a medium pan, fry the mushrooms with the final clove of garlic until browned. Stir in the spinach, season with salt and pepper, then stir in the lentils. Remove from the heat.
- Spoon the lentil mixture into a baking dish, then top with the mashed potatoes. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top starts to brown.
Growing up I would ask my parents to get a pool every summer. Every summer they would say no. To be honest I asked them to get a pool this summer too; still no. Sigh. I guess it’s a turtle shaped kiddie pool for me again this year.
Instead of a pool they have trees and gardens. Sitting in the backyard almost makes me forget that I’m in a city. There are two little herb gardens, tomato plants, cucumbers, peppers, all kinds of flowers and more. Birds and squirrels are regular visitors.
This weekend some raccoons also stopped by. They showed up in the middle of the afternoon, and didn’t seem to be afraid of people at all. One them came right up to the patio door knocked. He would have come and sit down to lunch if we had opened the door. They are strangely cute and terrifying at the same time. They knocked over some plants, pulled my laundry off the rack. I assume they must have been very hungry because as far as I know raccoons are nocturnal, and although I felt bad I couldn’t feed them. I wanted my backyard back. My dad eventually scared them off, and we were once again able to enjoy the day.
Along with the sage and oregano in the picture above, there is also sorrel in the garden. I had never tried sorrel until yesterday; it’s got a zesty almost lemony taste to it. I instantly wanted to make a salad with it. I had already been planning to make a salad with cherries and decided to use the sorrel as well as some baby spinach as greens. The sweetness of the cherries was a great contrast to the zesty favour of the sorrel.
Cherry and Sorrel Salad
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tbps lemon juice
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups sorrel, chopped
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup sweet cherries, pitted and halved
- 6 ounces goat cheese
- 1/2 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- In a small jar, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon, salt and pepper together.
- Put the greens and cherries in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing.
- Plate then top with the goat cheese and hazelnuts.
Last week when I decided to cook this dish, I planned to write a silly little post about the pot holes in Montreal, or “nids de poules” as they are called in French (chickens nests). But then Japan happened. Seeing all the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami made writing about a few bumps in the road seem so petty.
People around the world are looking for ways to help. The easiest thing to do is to make a donation to a non-profit that is helping in the area. Which non-profit to donate to is always a tough call. The safe choices like The Red Cross have high overhead costs, and the smaller organizations may not be legitamite. Because of their reputation, I choose to donate to organizations like The Red Cross or Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders); they may have more overhead but they are trusted, well known organizations.
If you are looking for another way to help, Sabrina from The Tomato Tart is hosting an Online Bake Sale to help Japan. Check out her post if you want to donate goods or bid.
If you simply want to donate, here are a few links.
The Canadian Red Cross
Medecins Sans Frontieres
In the United States:
The American Red Cross
Doctors Without Borders
And now for the recipe…
Chicken With Vegetables and Spinach
- 2 chicken legs
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
- 5 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into large pieces
- 4 garlic cloves
- olive oil
- salt, pepper and thyme to taste
- 1/4 cup white wine
- fresh spinach
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Clean and pat dry the chicken legs. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the onion, garlic cloves, bell pepper and potatoes with oil so that everything is coated. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.
- Place the vegetables on a large baking sheet in an even layer. Place the chicken legs on top of the vegetables. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pan. Place the pan on a burner on high, pour the wine into the pan and deglaze (scrape up all the brown bits).
- Place the chicken and vegetables on a bed of spinach and top with the wine sauce.
Food photography is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to learn. I try to take nice pictures; sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. One of the things you realize almost immediately when writing a food blog is that pictures can make or break your blog. People want to see big gorgeous pictures of scrumptious looking food. I’ve read a lot about lighting and composition over the last year, and I’ve tried to implement some of the things I’ve learned. I think what it comes down to in the end is talent and practice.
Every time I’ve seen a picture of lasagna in a magazine it’s had perfectly even layers, with the ruffled noodles poking out just so. My lasagna didn’t look like that. I’m pretty sure I cut off the ruffles while slicing the pieces, and my sauce and cheese layers kind of melded together. It tasted incredible, but it was incredibly difficult to photograph. My experience made me wonder if all the lasagna I’ve seen in magazines was ever actually baked.
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to food photography and styling, but when it comes to taste I think I know what I’m doing. This was the first time I tried making a vegetarian lasagna. I wanted it to be pretty packed with vegetables to make up for the absence of meat. The sauce has zucchini and mushrooms, and the cheese lmixture has spinach. I was a little nervous about leaving out the meat, but the four kinds of cheese and tons of veggies were very satisfying. I couldn’t even tell that I had used low fat cheese.
- 9 Whole Wheat Lasagna Sheets
- Olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 zucchini, diced
- 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
- 1/4 cup red wine
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 cup low-fat ricotta
- 1 cup yogurt
- 1 egg
- 1 packaged frozen spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup shredded gouda
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- Follow package instructions for noodles.
- In a large pan over medium high heat, heat the oil then sautee the onions for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, cook until fragrant.
- Stir in the zucchini and mushrooms, cook until the zucchini starts to brown. Pour in the red wine. Scrape up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan, then add the tomatoes. Season with salt pepper and spices. Let simmer 20-30 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, put together the cheese layer. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, yogurt and egg together. Stir in half the mozzarella and gouda, as well as the spinach.
- Once the sauce has cooked assemble the lasagna. Pour a bit of the sauce in the bottom of a large glass baking dish. Top with three sheets of lasagna. Pour half of the ricotta mixture over the lasagna sheets, top with a third of the remaining sauce. Place three more of the lasagna sheets, topped with the remaining ricotta mixture and another third of the sauce. Place the final lasagna sheets, topped with the remaining sauce, then cover with the remaining mozzarella, gouda and parmesan.
- Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more until the cheese is golden.
- Let set for 10 minutes before serving.
Earlier today we celebrated Sasha’s second birthday. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun I had at a child’s party. Turns out toys are fun for grown ups too. I have to tell you I am incredibly proud of myself for not breaking my sugar-free/gluten-free fast. Turning down the birthday cake was a lot easier with a gluten-free buddy, and I discovered that another party goer was in the process of eliminating gluten to test for intolerance. We both agreed that snacks and breakfast are the toughest meals of the day. She’s tackling the situation the way I did the first time I eliminated gluten, by replacing her usual foods with gluten-free versions. Although that works it is very expensive; a small loaf of bread is anywhere from 5 to 7 dollars in Montreal.
(I love the spots on organic eggs)
This time I decided to tackle the situation by actually changing the way I eat. Gluten free bread is a poor substitute for the real thing, so I see no point in eating it. The question then becomes, what to eat for breakfast? This meal is one of my solutions. I was inspired by Janice’s Bistro Style Egg Sandwich, but replaced the English muffin with oven baked home fries. This breakfast is great for a Saturday morning. It’s filling and delicious and pretty easy to make if you have a little time. I used a poach pod to poach my egg as none of the traditional methods ever work for me.
Poached Eggs With sautéed Spinach and Mushrooms and Home Fries.
- Olive oil
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1-2 mushrooms per person
- A large handful of baby spinach per person
For the Potatoes:
- Slice the potatoes in half and peel them.
- Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes. Potatoes should be slightly less than cooked through.
- Cube the potatoes and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight if you are planning ahead (this step is important, it leads to crispy fries)
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
- Toss the chilled potatoes with olive oil to coat and salt and pepper to taste.
- Bake for 20- 30 minutes, flipping the potatoes at least twice so that the are properly browned.
For the Spinach and Mushrooms
- Heat some olive oil in a skillet. Cook the sliced mushrooms until browned.
- Add the spinach and cook until wilted.
For the Eggs
- Crack an egg into a lightly greased poach pod.
- Fill a medium pot with about 2 inches of water. Heat until simmering. Gently place the poach pod in the simmering water. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and cover.
- Cook the eggs for 4 to 7 minutes, depending on the desired doneness (that might not be a word).
Place the spinach and potatoes on a plate, and top the spinach with the poached egg. Season with salt and pepper.