Asian Noodle Salad – I’m In Peanut Heaven!

If I had the choice, I would cook, order and eat Asian-inspired dishes for every meal. I just can’t get enough of fresh vegetables, steamed, sautéed and stir-fried with slices of beef, poultry or fish on a bed of starchy rice or stringy noodles. One of my favourite dishes to make is Michael Smith’s Asian Noodle Salad. This vegetarian salad makes a perfect side dish. The peanut sauce is easy to create and can be altered to fit your personal tastes. If you prefer more heat, then add an extra dash of hot sauce. If you like it extra nutty, then drop in a few more scoops of peanut butter. The squeezed lime, grated carrot and chopped cilantro add a zesty fresh flavour to the dish. If you are not a cilantro lover than feel free to substitute parsley in its place. This salad takes no time at all to prepare as the thin vermicelli noodles take 5 minutes to cook soaked in a pot of boiling water. Toss it all together and garnish with peanuts and a drizzle of hot sauce. Enjoy!

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A Treat For My Sweety – Sugar Donut Muffins

I don’t know what it is about a crunchy sugar coating on top of a delightful dessert, but when I saw this recipe for Sugar Donut Muffins, I made a point of waking up extra early this past Saturday to bake them for my sweety.  Nothing says love like Saturday morning treats.  I happened to have every ingredient on the list, as this recipe didn’t require anything out of the ordinary.  I sprung for the square muffin pan as a nice compliment to this nontraditional muffin recipe.  After a few stirs of the ingredients in two separate mixing bowls, they were begging to be baked.  During this time, I melted some butter and prepared my sugar assembly line. When the doughy mounds were done rising in the oven, I let them cool for only a moment before brushing their tops with butter and sending them for a dunk in the sugar pile.  These tasty treats are the perfect combination of dense donuts, with a sweet granular topping, in the shape of a muffin.Image

Quinoa & Veggies – A Perfect Match!

After a busy week of eating on-the-run and dining out, my body is not my biggest fan.  So by week’s end, I vow to to get back on track — making better food choices and planning out meals to ensure I don’t grab the easiest (usually unhealthy) food I can find. Mornings are rushed and energy levels are fading at night, so Sunday is the perfect day to stock up on nutritious groceries and prepare a healthy salad that can be eaten during the week as a lunch, or as a supper side-dish.  I often turn to my favourite super-seed – Quinoa – as it fills me up, curbs my hunger and plays nicely with veggies when used in the same dish.  Here is one of my go-to salads: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad.  A simple batch of quinoa mixed with sliced veggies, and moisten with a lemon-oregano dressing produces a salad bursting with colour, freshness and crunch.  You can add whatever veggies you like and omit any you don’t like.  I substituted 1 cup of black beans for the black olives and added some crumbled feta cheese for fun!  Time for lunch…enjoy!

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A Birthday Bash – Slow Cooker Baked Beans

I was recently asked what my favourite food is, which I found to be a difficult question to answer. How do I pick and can I? Unlike my boyfriend who would eat pizza for every meal, I couldn’t narrow my response down to just one food. I love many foods, but after some thinking, I was able to admit that my favourite dishes always feature produce; fresh and nutritious fruits and veggies. I can’t get enough of them. Swimming in my pasta sauces, blended into my smoothies or sitting along side my main course. As my mother taught me, a meal is not complete unless you cover the four food groups, so heavy on the produce please! When it came time to host my Grampa’s 82nd birthday bash this past weekend, I had to make one of his favourite foods — baked beans. I found this recipe for Crock Pot Baked Beans, which slowly simmers the beans all day long. I love the concept behind the slow cooker; toss in the ingredients and give it a stir. As the hours tick away, the house fills with the aroma of the night’s dinner. The recipe requires the dried navy beans to be soaked in a bowl of water overnight. Use a large bowl with a lot of water, as the beans are thirsty suckers and will plump up by morning. Don’t forget to save at least 2 cups of the liquid after soaking as you will need it later in the recipe to keep the beans from turning to sticky mush. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker, cover and turn on. I cooked my beans on low for 7 hours, stirring occasionally and adding some of the reserved liquid. After a tasting shortly before dinner, I found the beans to be slightly sweet and needing a dash of hot sauce to balance out the flavour. These sweet heat beans were a hit! They were the perfect complement to a meal featuring my Grampa’s favourites. I’m certain they will be requested for his 83rd birthday. Happy Birthday Gramps!

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On The Hunt For The Ultimate Mac & Cheese

Friday night rolls around and after a long week of work, a relaxing “night in” is in order.  What better way to celebrate the week’s end but with a bubbling, rich dish of cheesy mac & cheese.  Now I am very particular about my mac & cheese.  I want my noodles cooked to perfection (no mushiness!), I want it extra creamy (no dryness!), and I want it super cheesy!  I don’t believe those are unreasonable requests for my mac & cheese, however, I still have not found a recipe that delivers on my list of “must-haves”.  I caught an episode of In The Kitchen with Stefano Faita (love him!) and he was mixing up one of his version of this pasta classic: Stefano’s Mac and Cheese.  He recommended cooking the noodles to al dente to avoid a mushy mess after the final bake, and with a cheesy béchamel sauce as a creamy base, I had to give this recipe a try.  After the noodles were finished cooking, it was time to whip up the sauce.  Now this was a bit of a challenge as it took a lot of time, patience and constant whisking to produce a thick consistency without curdling or burning.  Keep your eyes on the saucepan!  Once the sauce was thickened, and after the addition of the cheddar, mozzarella, and Romano cheeses, along with some sauteed veggies, I crammed the cheesy mixture into a VERY large casserole dish (almost an overflow!).  Sprinkled with oiled bread crumbs, diced parsley and fresh lemon zest, it was ready to bake.  The recipe called for a 30 minute bake but I left mine in for a few minutes longer to get that crispy, crusty, golden topping.  Time for the taste test!  The noodles were soft but not overcooked.  That is one check off my list!  However, it just wasn’t creamy enough for my liking.  Perhaps my additional cooking time was to blame!  I found the cheese flavours were masked by the onions from the veggie mixture and I would leave out the lemon zest from the topping as it also overpowered the dish.    Still delicious but does not win my Ultimate Mac & Cheese crown.  I’m on the hunt again!

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Girls Night – Vegan Stuffed Peppers

I invited the girls over for a little post-birthday celebration for one of my favourite ladies.  This blond bombshell happens to be enjoying an Vegan lifestyle, so I planned to spoil her with a Vegan culinary treat.  I have not made a Vegan dish in the past and was concerned about whether I’d be able to A) find a recipe that was packed with flavour and void of animal byproducts and B) was I going to be able to pull it off!  I did a little recipe hunting and came across a twist on a classic – Vegan Cajun Stuffed Peppers.  Who doesn’t love a juicy sweet bell pepper overflowing with various grains, legumes and veggies?!  The stars of this recipe are the small fluffy balls of quinoa which make up for the lack of ground meat.  Added to a pan of sauteing garlic, onions, and mushrooms and mixed in with black beans, kernel corn, and some Cajun spice for a kick, this made for quite a hearty stuffing!  After packing into the colourful, sliced peppers and sprinkling a bit of shredded cheese on a few of them for my non-vegan guests, I popped them into the oven to bake while we sipped on glass of vino and enjoy our girl gossip.  After 40 minutes, and a little squirt of hot sauce, the steaming peppers were ready for our hungry bellies.  The initial taste-test revealed a moist pepper bowl, not shriveled or soggy. The combination of flavours in the stuffing was Southwest savoury.  Plated with a side salad of mixed greens, pecans and a balsamic drizzle, we all agreed we weren’t sacrificing any flavours with the healthy meal.

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Comfort Food – Spinach & Sausage Stuffed Pasta Shells

On this chilly Sunday, the Christmas decorations are coming down and football is on TV.  With only a few more weeks until Superbowl XLVII, another NFL season is sadly coming to a close (tear).  Seeing as the living room is quickly filling up with friends over to watch the game, I head to the kitchen to feed their hungry bellies.  Nothing says football comfort food better than a warm, bubbling, cheesy pasta casserole baking in the oven on a blustery winter day.  I had some leftover Italian sausage in the fridge, along with some smooth-leaf spinach so I hunted down a recipe which featured both of these ingredients.  I found a recipe for Sausage & Spinach Stuffed Shells and got to work.  The trickiest part of this recipe, or any recipe involving cooking pasta shells, is making sure you don’t over-cook them prior to stuffing or you will end up with a pile of ripped, limp shells.  The pasta shells bake again after stuffing so aim for “al dente” shells, firm but not hard.  Since my sausage had already been cooked, I did a quick re-heat with the sauteing vegetables in the frying pan.  After mixing up my cheese stuffing mixture and spreading a generous amount of marinara in my casserole dish, I began packing the ricotta mixture into my shells and lining them up in an orderly fashion.  With a covering of sauce and some sprinkling of mozzarella, these babies were ready for baking.  For 30 minutes, the house smelled like a little Italian restaurant and the bellies began to grumble.  Covered in rich marinara sauce and filled with creamy goodness, they didn’t last long once I pulled them out of the oven.  This recipe is definitely a keeper!  Image