Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

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
  1. Soak the lentils in 2 cups of water for 1 hour. Drain then set aside.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. Heat the onion to 400F
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Enjoy!

Tomato and Courgette Tart

September has what I’d call a split personality. Even though I haven’t been in school for quite awhile it feels like the beginning of a new year, a time for fresh starts and new shoes. It’s full of excitement and possibilities.

At the same time when September rolls in there’s a feeling that something is coming to an end. Night falls a little earlier every day, the temperature starts to drop. That carefree feeling that summer brings starts to slip away. When I feel it going I do whatever I can to hold on to it even tighter.

This summer hasn’t been all that care free for me. We’ve been short staffed for months, which led to long days with no time for breaks and sometimes no time to eat. On top of that a new VP for my division has once again brought a sense of uncertainty to the office. We’ve been “restructuring” for so long I can’t remember what structured felt like. All of this meant I was counting down the days to my vacation. It finally began yesterday. My intention was to sleep in, but my body had other plans so I was up pretty early.

I headed out to the Farmers Market in St-Anne-de-Bellevue and picked up some gorgeous cherry tomatoes.  I just discovered the market recently. It’s in a beautiful spot along a boardwalk. As you choose you vegetables you can look up and see the water. Shopping at a market has completely different feel than going to a grocery store. The vendors are all passionate about their products, the shoppers are all happy to be there. People are relaxed and smiling. It’s much more pleasant than the hustle and bustle of large grocery store on a Saturday morning.

The photo above has a combination of market tomatoes and some from my parents garden. Tomatoes fresh off the vine taste like sunshine (true story). I’ve been eating as many as I can while I can. I’ve been thinking about a tomato tart since the beginning of tomato season; once September rolled around I realized I was running out of time to make it. I stopped myself from eating all of the tomatoes and put this together. The top layer has tomato and yellow zucchini slices. Underneath that you’ll find a layer of caramelized onions and garlic, and finally there’s a layer of goat cheese and ricotta.

I was really happy with the way this tart turned out. The dough has a little corn flour in it, which I think helped it stand up to all the wet ingredients. Even the next day the crust was still crisp. The onion layer added some depth to the flavour and was a great compliment to the tomato and zucchini.  I was going garnish the tart with some fresh basil but completely forgot. It wasn’t necessary but I think it would have added a nice touch.

Although the recipe is not difficult, it does take some time to put together. There are two chilling times for the crust, 30 minutes to blind bake the crust and then another 40 minutes of baking time. To save time, the dough can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for a week or two.

Tomato and Courgette Tart

  • 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup corn flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 1/4 cup  plain yogurt
  • 1/4  ice water
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 200 g ricotta
  • 350 g goat cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 yellow zucchini, sliced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Make the crust: In a large bowl mix the flours, 1/2 tsp salt, sugar, and thyme together. Using a pastry cutter or your finger tips, cut the butter into the flour until it hold together when squeezed and there pea sized pieces of butter. Mix in the yogurt and ice water. The dough should come together, add more water if necessary. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Place in a 9 inch tart pan and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Cover the dough with foil then place dried beans or pie weights on top. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.
  2. While the crust is baking, cook the onions. In a large pan on medium heat some olive oil then add the onion slices. Lower the heat and stir the onions until they start to brown. Add the balsamic vinegar and continue cooking. Once the onions are browned add the minced garlic, salt and pepper. Cook two to three minutes longer.
  3. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, goat cheese and egg. Season with salt and pepper and 1/2 tsp basil.
  4. Once the tart crust is done remove the foil and the weights. Pour the cheese mixture into the crust, cover the cheese with the onion mixture, the layer the tomato and zucchini on the onion. Brush the tomato and zucchini with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and the remaining dried basil.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Enjoy!

Cherry and Sorrel Salad

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
  1. In a small jar, mix the olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon, salt and pepper together.
  2. Put the greens and cherries in a large bowl. Toss with the dressing.
  3. Plate then top with the goat cheese and hazelnuts.
Enjoy!

Orzo Salad


How often do you make recipes from blogs? Although I read a lot of food blogs, I rarely follow recipes I’ve found on them. I read food blogs more to follow the people than the recipes. Every blogger has their own story to tell, and a style they use to tell it. My favourite blogs are the ones that engage me, the ones that give the impression I’m actually getting to know the author. Pretty pictures help too.

That’s not to say I only read blogs for the articles. The recipes inspire me. Sometimes I’ll see a blogger use an ingredient in a way I had never considered, which makes me think of other innovative things to try in the kitchen.

Other times I’m inspired by the simplicity of a recipe. This salad was inspired by a very simple pasta dish by Paula of bell’alimento. Her recipe got me thinking that pasta is the perfect showcase for some of my favourite summer ingredients.

This dish is comes together very quickly, but is still full of flavour, especially if you use fresh summer produce.

Orzo Salad

  • 1 cup orzo
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • chives, chopped
  1. In a large pot, cook the orzo according to the package instructions.
  2. While the orzo is cooking, in a large sautee pan heat the olive oil on medium. Add the minced garlic to the oil. Once you can smell the garlic, add the tomatoes, pepper and olives. Sautee for two to three minutes; the peppers should remain crisp.
  3. Strain the cooked pasta, pour into a serving bowl then add the tomato mixture. Toss with the lemon zest and chives.
Enjoy!

Roasted Potato and Radish Salad

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

It’s been awhile since I last participated in a Daring Cooks Challenge. The last few months have been quite hectic, and the challenges just didn’t fit into my schedule or my menu.

This month’s challenge was a different story. Potato salad is one of my favourite summer side dishes and as soon as we planned a hamburger night I knew I’d have to make some. I headed to the market to find some inspiration, but it’s still a little early in the season for most vegetables here so the only thing that caught my eye was radishes. Their bright pink colour just spoke to me.

I decided to roast the potatoes to give this recipe a twist on a traditional potato salad, and wonder what would happen if I roasted the radishes as well. I quick Google search told me that radishes can indeed be roasted. So my salad was planned. It’s quite simple, but since I was experimenting, I didn’t want to throw too much at it. My mom repeatedly requested bacon bits, as “a little bacon never hurt anyone”, but I decided to stick to the healthy aspect of the challenge. In the end, I don’t think it needed bacon, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have hurt. After roasting, the radishes lost their peppery flavour. Instead they were actually quite sweet, sort of like a roasted turnip.

In the future, I think I might do a combination of roasted and raw radish, to get both the sweet and peppery taste. The raw radish would also add a little crunch.

Roasted Potato and Radish Salad

  • 2 lb new potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1/2 lb radishes, cut into bite size pieces
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp honey
  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Toss the potatoes and radishes with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Pour onto a baking sheet and roast for 45 minute to 1 hour until they are cooked through and lightly browned.
  3. Let the potatoes and radishes cool slightly, then pour them into a bowl. Add the parsley and red onion.
  4. Make the dressing: Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mustard and honey together. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over the salad then toss to combine, making sure the salad is well dressed.
  5. Serve warm.
Enjoy!

Vegetarian Lasagna

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.

Vegetarian Lasagna

  • 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
  1. Follow package instructions for noodles.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Let set for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

Quinoa Puttanesca


I like food that comes with a good story. Food with a story has been passed down through generations and is pretty much guaranteed to be good. Pasta a la Puttanesca is one of those foods. As the story goes, it was invented by prostitutes in Naples (“puttanas”). Whatever you think of the profession, you will probably agree that the sauce is pretty darn good.

It is also very easy to put together. The ingredients are sauteed together quickly and then tossed with pasta. I decided to mix things up a but by using the sauce with quinoa. It made an excellent side dish; I served it with some baked talapia and a salad for a tasty, healthy meal. I also had some leftover for lunch with some goat cheese.

Most puttanesca sauce recipes contain garlic, anchovies, peppers, olives and capers. If you like all those ingredients, use them. If not, leave something out or replace it with something you do enjoy. Having a story doesn’t make a recipe un-alterable.

Quinoa Puttanesca

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • chili flakes to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup olives, diced
  • parley, chopped
  1. Cook the quinoa as per package instructions.
  2. As the quinoa is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large pan. Sautee the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and anchovy paste, sautee until you can smell the garlic.Add the spices.
  3. Add the red pepper and olives, stir until the red peppers are slightly cooked. Stir in the parley.
  4. Mix the sauce with the cooked quinoa.

Note: I didn’t add any salt to this recipe because the anchovies and olives add quite a bit. If you are omitting either, taste the sauce to see if it needs any salt.

Enjoy!

Chickpea and Tomato Stew

When I got the March issue of Food and Wine in the mail last week, I realized it had been forever since I did a Magazine Monday post. For those of you have not heard of it, Magazine Mondays are an informal blog event hosted (usually) by Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice. The goal is for us to actually make those magazine recipes we have book marked. I’m sure many of us have the same habits. When we get a new cookbook or food magazine we are filled with excitement, but they often end up in a pile or on a shelf, their potential unfulfilled.  Personally, I love to spend weekend afternoons curled up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee flipping through a magazine. I drool over the gorgeous images, enjoy the articles, and fold down all the pages with recipes I want to make. More often than not a magazine will end up with most of its pages folded. Yet somehow when it comes time to find a  new recipe my first stop is always the internet. I think its because I usually have an ingredient in mind before I look for the recipe, and googling “chicken legs” is a lot easier than searching through all my magazines for a good recipe. That’s why I appreciate Magazine Monday so much; it reminds me that food magazines are for more than just drooling over.

This months Food and Wine is full of healthy recipes, which made it even more motivating. As usual there were plenty of them that I wanted to try, but this one really caught my eye. The pictures was gorgeous ( I admit it, I tried to recreate it and failed), and I had all the ingredients on hand. No need to run to the grocery store to make this! It’s a really quick meal to put together, which I’m sure many people will appreciate. The leftovers were also great, so I feel pretty comfortable calling this a good make ahead dish. It’s got a great flavour combination, with ginger and cumin being the dominant flavours. I ate it the stew alone and on a bed of basmitti rice; it’s good both ways, but I preferred it with rice. The original recipe called for a paste to be made with garlic, ginger and jalepenos; as I didn’t have the jalepenos on hand I just omitted them and sauteed the ginger and garlic with the onion rather than making the paste.

Chickpea and Tomato Stew

  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed or 3 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2 cups water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves
  1. In a large skillet over high heat, add the oil and onions sauteeing until the onions are sizzling.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the onions start to brown.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Add the cumin, coriander, and cayenne; cook for one minute to bring the flavours out of the spices.
  3. Add the tomatoes and water then simmer until thickened.
  4. Add the chickpeas and simmer for another 10 minutes so that the chickpeas take on the flavours on the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve topped with yogurt and cilantro over a bed of basmitti rice or with naan.

Enjoy!

French Lentils with Feta

I had a bit of a bloggers dilemma while considering writing this post. This is one of my favourite meals, it’s easy to put together, it’s made entirely from pantry items, and it’s delicious. So why would I hesitate?

Well, it ain’t sexy. I stuck a parley sprig garnish on it because while I was taking the pictures all I could think was “man, that’s brown”. Brown food is a tough sell. What does sells in the food blogging world is dessert. If you need proof  have a look at the FoodBuzz Top 9 on any given day; it’s heavily slanted towards sweets, but honestly who can eat that much sugar and maintain any semblance of health?

Don’t get me wrong, I love dessert, but most of what I eat is more along the lines of this meal. Simple, healthy, and still delicious. So I decided to share my boring lentil recipe with you, even though it won’t spike my traffic, because it’s good, and I love it, and you should try it.

French Lentils with Feta

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup French Lentils
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • feta, crumbled
  • parsley to garnish
  • brown rice to serve with
  1. In a pot over medium high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic, cooking until fragrant.
  2. Add the lentils and vegetable broth. Season with salt, pepper and thyme.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the lentils until cooked (about  to minutes)
  4. Serve over brown rice, topped with feta and parsley. Don’t skimp on the feta, it makes the meal.

Enjoy!

Roasted White Vegetable Soup

I haven’t been able to find the time to write more than one blog post a week lately, for that I apologize. The biggest reason for this is that I’m about to put my condo up for sale and I’ve been running around taking care of last minute things to get the place showing ready. My real estate gave me a list of things to do, she said there wasn’t that much, yet it seems to be taking all my time. I can’t imagine what having a lot to do would be like.

This weekend I removed all the caulking from my bathtub and redid it. Caulking is not as much fun as it sounds. Removing it is long and tedious work, and applying it is a lot harder than the youtube videos make it seem. Thankfully I had a nice bowl of soup waiting for me when I was done with the silicone-ey mess.

I had seen this recipe on Tartlette a year ago and it stayed in the back of my mind all this time. This weekend’s deep freeze seemed like the perfect setting for it. The soup is thick and creamy, even though there is no cream. Roasting the vegetables gives them a great almost caramelized flavour. It was a wonderfully soothing meal.

I also made the polenta croutons she recommends from Lisa’s Kitchen. I generally don’t like polenta, but a corn flavoured crunch really appealed to me. I followed the recipe and used cayenne, but I think these would also be great with rosemary or thyme. The croutons lost their crunchiness after a day, so if you make them, eat them all fast!

Roasted White Vegetable Soup

  • 1 Cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 celery root, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 1 L low sodium vegetable stock
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Place the vegetables, onion and garlic on a baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast vegetables for 40 minutes.
  3. Transfer roasted vegetables to a large soup pot. Cover with stock. Bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender puree soup, or allow to cool and pour into a regular blender to puree (may have to be done in batches)
  5. Serve with polenta croutons.

Enjoy!