Tag Archives: easy

Memorable Quickies

15 May

Life has conspired yet again over the past couple of weeks to keep us busy on things unrelated to food and blogging, which is turning Communal Table into a sad little corner of neglect in the awesomeness of the World Wide Web. When Jenny and I get sidetracked with work and other duties of life, we don’t spend nearly as much time as we’d like experimenting in the kitchen. Instead, we resort to eating out a bit too often, or cooking the quick, simple standby meals that we’ve already blogged about.

In an effort to give the blog a little love even as our kitchen gets ignored, I thought I’d put up a quick post looking back at some of those easy meals we’ve previously written about here, and which we make often when we’re pressed for time. The idea for this post came from a conversation I had recently with my friend Sofi, who writes the great Sexy Typewriter blog. Sofi and I were commiserating about our lack of time for cooking, and she mentioned that she’d love to read a post where we highlight a few quick recipes she can try out.

The three picks here are my top choices from our recipe repertoire for meals I like to make when I only have a small amount of time and energy available for cooking. While I’m not going to claim that these recipes can be prepared in 20 or 30 minutes, it’s a pretty safe bet they can be completed in under an hour.

Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce

As Jenny mentioned when she wrote this post, this is a quick, comforting meal I’ve been eating for years, and it’s one we turn to often when we just want to put something on the stove to cook that we don’t necessarily need to devote all our attention to. The ingredients are simple, and so are the flavours. But it’s delicious, healthy and suitable for even the busiest weeknights. It’s also a great choice for those evenings when you don’t want to eat meat.

Smoked Salmon on Dilled Potatoes

This one is basically a take on a Jamie Oliver recipe, who usually finds ways to take a few ingredients and quickly whip up something great with them. It’s definitely a lazy-day meal, but the flavours go so well together and the smoked salmon and herbs really stand out against the potatoes. There’s something very summer about this meal, and it’s one I’m sure we’ll turn to often over the next couple of months.

Seared Sirloin with Grapes and Port

This one just sort of came to me one day a couple years ago in a moment of creativity and inspiration. It’s delicious and perfect for our occasional red meat cravings. But the best part is how easy this dish comes together. Sear the meat. Saute shallots and grapes for a few minutes. Add port to pan and reduce to make a sauce. Serve over meat. That’s it.

Simply Assembled: Dilled Potatoes with Smoked Salmon

18 Feb

Recently a friend asked me “Do you guys ever make anything bad? Do you ever screw up?” Though I would like to have answered “No. Never. We’re perfect. In every way,” that is far from the truth. Neil and I love to cook but we have a ton to learn and we do, of course, sometimes screw up. A Parmesan ice cream incident and a tofu cupcake mishap are among two of the worst. We just don’t post about the screw-ups!

I know it may also appear that we’re constantly busy cooking up delicious things, but just like most other regular day-job-holding home cooks we have our moments of  “Let’s just order a pizza” or frequent nights when we’ll get home from work, look at each other and say “What should we do for dinner? I don’t feel like cooking.” That’s usually followed by blank stares and silence, followed by whining (mostly be me), and usually ending with Neil suggesting take out sushi from our favorite place or burgers from one of the many burger joints in the east end and me vying for vegetarian or Moroccan food from around our hood.

Sometimes we’re in the mood to eat at home, but are more interested in easily assembling something instead of actually cooking. We have a few go-to meals for such occasions, and one of those is dilled potatoes with smoked salmon and a very leafy green side salad.

I once saw my celeb crush Jamie Oliver make this easy meal on his beautiful show Jamie at Home. I didn’t write down the recipe (because there really isn’t one) but the idea stuck with me and we’ve been making it ever since. Jamie is known for using really fresh, simple ingredients and producing dishes that are bursting with flavor. I love how he just adores every ingredient he throws into a dish and speaks of each one like they’re all his little muses.

This meal is not fancy or fussy but it tastes amazing and is really quick to throw together if you have all the ingredients in your fridge. It took us 20 minutes from starting to sitting down at the table.

If you’re wondering what’s up with the rainbow smoked salmon in the photos, we decided to try President’s Choice Vodka Beet Smoked Atlantic Salmon, mostly because it was on sale, but also because we were curious. It’s really beautiful and would go over well for a nice brunch or dinner party, but we didn’t really think it added much to our dinner, aside from some nice color on the plate. The taste is really no different from their regular smoked salmon, though it may have been a bit less smoky-flavored. I actually like to use gravlax for this meal because it’s thinner and more delicate and kind of melts in your mouth, but any smoked salmon will do.

Don’t skimp on the herbs for the potatoes though – they really make the dish. And I find that the horseradish sauce just brings it all together nicely. We’re big fans of horseradish sauces for lots of different dishes, as evidenced here and here.

The other night when we made this, we served it with a simple raw kale salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and a touch of maple syrup. And I have to say, this dinner pairs well with a really good cold beer on the side. We had Beau’s All Natural Lug Tread Lagered Ale (we’re really loving their beer as well as their cool packaging) and it was the perfect complement to our simple but fulfilling Jamie O-inspired meal.

Smoked Salmon with Dilled Potatoes

Sauce:

Plain yogurt or sour cream

Lemon juice

Lemon zest

Prepared white horseradish

Potatoes:

A bunch of red or white mini potatoes

Dill, chopped

Chives, chopped

Good quality extra virgin olive oil

White balsamic or apple cider vinegar

Lemon juice

Sea salt

If you’re using frozen smoked salmon, take it out of the freezer a few hours before eating and let it thaw in the fridge.

We like to cut the potatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Place potatoes in a steamer and steam until soft. We actually steam ours in the microwave for approximately 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. I never measure; just use your judgment and adjust to your taste.

Get your herbs and oil and vinegar ready so you can quickly work with the potatoes while they’re steaming hot. Prepare your salad.

Once the potatoes are done, transfer them to a big bowl, add in the herbs, drizzle in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and a good amount of sea salt.

Bring everything to the table and let everyone serve themselves. The best way to eat this meal is to take a heaping spoonful of potatoes and then top them with pieces of smoked salmon and a little bit of sauce. Try to get a little bit of everything in each bite.

Pasta Pinwheels: Dinner Made Easy AND Pretty

17 Feb

A few weeks ago I found myself in the organic section of the grocery store picking up a box of kamut lasagna noodles. This was a strange occurrence for me, not because of the kamut but because I have never purchased a box of lasagna noodles. Ever.

I have never made a lasagna from scratch myself. There, I’ve admitted it.

And here are some reasons why:

-       I will never be able to make a lasagna that even attempts to rival Neil’s aunts (all of his aunts!) and his mother’s, for that matter. (aunts make the classic Italian meat version, mom makes a creamy béchamel version. Neil daydreams often about both)

-       I pretty much know for sure that any homemade version I attempt has no chance standing up against the one from 7 Numbers in Toronto either.

-       Making a whole lasagna for just two people seems silly somehow, and I never think of making it for guests.

-       Lasagna just always seems like a major pain in the butt to make. When I think of the steps involved compared to the simplicity of the final product, my brain shuts down.

So there I was staring at the kamut lasagna noodles thinking “but they’re so pretty!” I realize this might make me a little crazy, but there it is. I’m big on the aesthetics of my food. I’ve always thought that lasagna noodles, with their curly edges, are quite an attractive noodle and they’re usually hidden among the layers of sauce, cheese and other typical lasagna accoutrements.

I bought the box and figured I’d either research some cool way to use them, or surprise Neil sometime by trying to finally make my own lasagna. The first option came to fruition after a little scan on FoodGawker. As soon as I spotted some photos of what some people call “lasagna rollups”, I knew what to do.

I wasn’t in the mood for the classic flavors of lasagna and didn’t want to make a tomato-based sauce. I also didn’t have a lot of time.

What followed was one of the easiest and quickest dinners I’ve ever made. I’m not joking. This recipe both showcases the ‘prettiness’ of the lasagna noodles and comes together faster than anyone would believe once they see and taste the final result.

You can obviously use this same idea with any kind of filling and/or sauce and you can make as many or as little as you want at a time.

I think I’ve found a new go-to weeknight dinner, and a reason to finally stock my cupboard with some of the most attractive noodles around.

Pasta Pinwheels

Lasagna Noodles – I used Kamut noodles, 10 of them (you can make as much or as little as you want, just adjust the filling accordingly)

Filling:

1 475g tub ricotta (I used light ricotta)

Zest of 1 lemon

Handful of basil, chopped

Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Pepper

Sauce:

1 large shallot, chopped

Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 ½ cups of hot water

3 Tbsp butter

1 cup white wine

Half a lemon

Boil the lasagna noodles according to the package, but make sure you leave them al dente. If they’re too soft, they’ll fall apart and will be hard to work with.

Preheat the oven the 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix all five ingredients for the filling.

Chop the soft porcini mushrooms but reserve all of the liquid they were sitting in.

In a sauté pan, cook the shallot in a little bit of olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add in the butter and sauté a few minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add in the white wine and slowly raise the heat to medium high as you mix, to cook off the alcohol. Add in the chopped porcinis and 1 cup of the mushroom liquid. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon, mix and take off heat.

When the lasagna noodles are done, drain them and run cold water over them to cool them off.

Place noodles on a cutting board or clean, dry surface. Spoon the filling mixture onto each lasagna noodle. Roll each noodle slowly, using both hands.

Place all the pinwheels into a glass baking dish and pour the mushroom sauce overtop.

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes to heat everything through.

To serve, sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a little bit of chopped parsley.


Roasted Butternut Squash with Quinoa Stuffing

23 Dec

I don’t want to clutter up this post with a ton of text because really I just want you to read this recipe and then try it. Immediately.

I made this one up on the spot after a holiday craving hit me hard. See, I kind of have a thing for stuffing. Some might say that it’s even a mild love affair.

I’ve never attempted to make it myself though. Real holiday stuffing is always a treat that I look forward to eating at other people’s houses but once a year. A cousin of ours makes the most perfect stuffing involving sausage and holiday spices and I crave it the whole year long. She even goes as far as forming it into balls, and frying them up to serve as a cocktail appetizer. A-mazing.

I don’t think I could ever top that, but I think I may have come close this time. As close as a healthy vegetarian version can get, that is.

The other night, as dreams of holiday deliciousness were floating around in my head just days before Christmas, an idea came to me. I figured there had to be a way to bring together the flavors of holiday stuffing and the vegetarian ingredients that I knew I had in my kitchen.

And so, quinoa stuffing with roasted butternut squash came to be.

I will definitely be making this all year round to satisfy my love affair as I wait for the treat of ‘the real thing’ during the holidays.

But this version comes with zero guilt and no need to unbutton your pants at the end of the meal. That is strictly reserved for once-a-year gluttony.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Quinoa Stuffing

1 butternut squash, halved lengthwise (seeds and pulp removed)

1 cup red quinoa

2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 large shallot, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

Handful of dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, water reserved

Handful of fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

Olive oil

Handful of dried cranberries

Handful of pine nuts

Fresh or frozen spinach

Panko bread crumbs (or regular bread crumbs if you don’t have panko, or no breadcrumbs if you want to keep it vegan)

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375F (190C).

Brush olive oil all over the flesh side of the squash and place the halves flesh-side down on a baking sheet or into a glass baking dish. Bake for 40 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, bring the quinoa and vegetable broth to a boil. Reduce heat and let the quinoa simmer for about 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Set aside.

Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over medium low heat until browned and fragrant. Remove from heat, place in a bowl to cool and set aside.

When the butternut squash comes out of the oven, the hollowed-out ends of each half may fall apart. Cut the ends off and scoop the flesh out into a bowl. Scoop out some flesh from the remaining squash halves to form a cavity in each.

In a large pan, sauté the garlic and shallot in a good amount of olive oil. Add rosemary, cook for a few minutes.

Roughly chop the reconstituted mushrooms and add them to the shallot and garlic mixture. Cook for a few minutes and then add half the mushroom water. Cook until liquid is absorbed.

Add spinach and mix.

Add the cooked quinoa and squash that was scooped out and set aside. Mix and mash squash into the mixture.

Season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the mushroom liquid and mix.

I drizzled a little bit more good quality olive oil into the mixture to add richness.

Add toasted pine nuts and cranberries. Mix well and let the stuffing heat through.

Spoon quinoa stuffing into the cavity of each squash half. Sprinkle with panko bread crumbs.

Put them back into the oven for approx 15 minutes or until the panko is lightly browned and everything warms through.

Serve with a lightly-dressed leafy salad.

Serves 2 really hungry people as a meal (with leftover stuffing to be enjoyed the next day!) or 4-5 as a side dish.

Quinoa with Fennel, Olive and Citrus

20 Oct

Quinoa is one of my favorite foods and I’m always looking for new ways to spruce it up. I came up with this dish based on a salad I quickly threw together a few weeks ago with tomato, orange and olives drizzled with olive oil and salt. We ate the salad with some sautéed fennel and a piece of salmon and the combination of flavors on the plate were perfect.

Fennel is delicious no matter how you eat it, but something magical happens when you cook it down in a little bit of olive oil and really let it get soft and sweet. It becomes rich and almost creamy and full of flavor.

Neil has been adding a touch of fennel pollen to our sautéed fennel these days, and it really helps add depth to the flavor. You can find it at specialty food stores or spice markets. We bought one little jar of fennel pollen a long time ago and it’s lasted a long time because you really only need a little to make a big impact. It’s very pungent and powerful stuff but it’s so good that I don’t know how our kitchen could ever be without it. Neil’s dad actually adds a touch of Sambuca to his fennel when he sautés it (cooking off the alcohol but keeping the licorice-ey flavor), which gives a similar effect and is also delicious.

To make this quinoa salad, I pulled together the flavors from the olive salad and the sautéed fennel, and decided that some toasted almonds would be the perfect addition to bring it all together. In my opinion, they made the dish. I was so happy with the way this turned out. It was savory and a little sweet, salty and crunchy. You can serve this hot or cold, but I preferred it cold served as a salad. It makes a perfectly balanced and filling lunch or a great side dish.

Quinoa with fennel, olive and citrus

1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa * Make sure to rinse your quinoa very well in warm water before cooking it. Rinsing it takes away the strange bitter flavor and leaves you with a clean-tasting quinoa

Cherry tomatoes, halved

1-2 Oranges, segmented and chopped

Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (I think any variety of olive would work well in this, even green ones)

1 head of Fennel, chopped into small bite-size pieces – keep the fennel fronds (the gorgeous stringy bits that come out of the head of the vegetable)

Fennel Pollen

A bunch of slivered almonds, toasted and cooled (I toast mine quickly in a pan on medium heat, constantly stirring them until they smell toasty and turn a nice light brown)

Lemon Juice

Apple Cider Vinegar or Rice Wine Vinegar

Good Olive Oil

Sea Salt

Heat a good amount of olive oil in a pan and add the chopped fennel. Sautee for about 5-10 minutes, until the fennel gets very soft and caramelized. You can add a bit of water or white wine and cook it off to help the fennel soften. Add some salt as it’s cooking. Once it’s cooked down and soft, sprinkle with some fennel pollen, mix and let cool.

Once your cooked quinoa has cooled, add the tomatoes, orange segments, olive pieces and toasted almond slivers. Add in the cooled fennel.

Drizzle with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a bit of apple cider or rice wine vinegar (to taste, really) and some coarsely ground sea salt. Add a bunch of fennel fronds to top it off – they add a hit of bright green and some extra fennel-ey flavor.

C’est tout! You can refrigerate to let the flavors come together and serve cold. It actually tastes even better after a day in the fridge.

Last-Minute Meal: Salmon Burgers with ‘Faux Tartar Sauce’ & Romaine and Dill Salad

7 Jul

You know those nights when you’re pressed for time, your fridge is basically empty and the thought of cooking makes you want to cry? Tonight was one of those nights at our house. They seem to be plentiful lately.

But it’s quite the coup when you figure out how to overcome those shortcomings and still end up with something healthy and delicious. Hence this post! I wanted to share a little last-minute meal that was a combination of convenience and inspired innovation.

It all started when we remembered that we had a package of salmon burgers in the freezer. We usually don’t like to buy packaged burgers and prefer making our own, but who’s kidding who? That’s just not possible sometimes so it’s always nice to have some backup ready to go in the freezer. I bought PC brand Blue Menu ‘Wild Pacific Pink Salmon Burgers’ a while ago and was a bit skeptical about how they would turn out. I feared they would taste scarily reminiscent of cat food or at least like canned salmon (I know, why did I buy them in the first place?!), but I’m happy to report that they were surprisingly delicious and full of real chunks of salmon that tasted great. I highly recommend them and will definitely buy them again.

We needed a quick salad to go with the burgers and I decided to try my own version of a fantastic salad we recently had at an amazing new Greek takeout restaurant in the east end called Folia Grill.

Their food is so fresh and clean tasting – which to me is very impressive for a fast food Greek place. Nothing leaves you feeling greasy or heavy, the ingredients are fresh and you can tell it’s all been cooked and devised with a lot of thought and care. The owners bring in a special olive oil from Greece that you can really appreciate in their salads and on their grilled peppers. Honorable mention to the chicken gyro (the first I have ever eaten that hasn’t made me feel sick by the last bite; it’s non-greasy and full of smoky paprika flavor) and the pork souvlaki, which Neil absolutely adored.

But the pièce de resistance was Folia’s Romaine and Dill salad. So fresh and delicious, I had to try to make it at home. I’ll admit, mine wasn’t nearly as good as theirs – I don’t have the dressing quite right yet, but just the idea of this simple salad is so wonderful and such a great melding of flavors.

And then I needed a little sauce to go along with the burgers so I came up with my own healthier version of tartar sauce, completely inspired by what we had in our fridge. It came out pretty good, I have to say!

All of that paired with some grilled peppers and eggplant that I cut and tossed in olive oil and balsamic in about 5 minutes and then BBQ’d, and we ended up with a killer last-minute meal.

The whole thing took about 20 minutes to prepare and cook, leaving me with ample time to enjoy my prized backyard hammock, pictured below.

The hammock was my 30th birthday present last summer from my amazing husband, and it is pure bliss. My ‘happy place’, as I call it. There’s nothing like coming home after a stress-infused day (every day!) and surrendering yourself into the comforting embrace of a hammock.

If anyone out there is actually reading these blog posts (hello? Are you out there?), feel free to chime in and share your favorite last-minute meals or even an anecdote about your ‘happy place’ that keeps you sane and helps the stress of the day melt away…

In the meantime, some quickie recipes from tonight’s meal:

Dill and Romaine Salad:

Make sure you buy some really green and crisp romaine leaves, and cut them into thin strips. I rolled the leaves up like I usually do with basil and cut strips from there.

Chop up a ton of fresh dill (no measurements – it’s a quickie dinner!) and add it right into a bowl with the strips of romaine.

Drizzle with a good strong olive oil, some white wine vinegar, coarse sea salt and I drizzled on a bit of honey for sweetness. Mix and enjoy!

(side note: I rarely make a vinaigrette in its own bowl anymore… who has the time? I always drizzle my ingredients right onto the lettuce leaves and usually toss by hand. Yes, sometimes the proportions don’t work out perfectly, but sometimes good enough is good enough…)

Faux Tartar Sauce for burgers:

Mix in a bowl: low-fat sour cream, hot white horseradish, lemon juice, a bit of dijon mustard and 1 chopped dill pickle. Again, no proportions, just go with it!

This meal was enjoyed outdoors with a view of my aforementioned ‘happy place’…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 78 other followers

%d bloggers like this: