Saturday, 29 November 2014

Smoked Tomato Soup with Pull-apart Cheese Buns

Time to use up the smoked roma tomatoes that hubby made, and I threw into the freezer. Add to that the bit of tomato paste in the fridge, and the 3 carrots that were left.

Easy, filling and comforting tomato soup...

...with some pull-apart cheese buns, that I added some fresh thyme and roasted garlic to.

As far as the smoked tomatoes go, they can be exchanged for canned plum tomatoes, or oven roasted roma tomatoes, as not everyone is as lucky as I am, having a husband who enjoys smoking various foods for me to cook! If you still want to achieve the smoky flavour, add some bacon into the recipe.

I started off with the bread dough, then put the soup on to simmer while it rose. Then while the bread was baking, I finished off the soup.

Measure out the flavourings for the bread first:

1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 head of garlic, roasted
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup grated cheddar

Into the bowl of a stand mixer, measure out:

1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dried yeast.

Add 2 1/2 cups warm water and leave it to start bubbling, about 2 minutes.

When the yeast starts to bubble, add the flavourings in, along with:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 heaping cups of wholewheat flour
3 - 4 cups all purpose flour

Use the dough hook on a medium to low speed, adding the all purpose flour as needed, until it forms a ball of shaggy looking dough, that is not too wet and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter, and finish kneading by hand, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Leave it in a draft free spot of your kitchen to rise until it has at least doubled in volume, approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

When the dough has risen, lightly punch the air out and turn it out onto a lightly floured counter.

Pre-heat the oven to 350F, and lightly grease 2 loaf pans.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces; form one piece into a regular loaf and place into one of the loaf pans, leaving it to rise until doubled again.

Divide the remaining dough into 10 pieces, rolling each into a ball.

Place the 10 dough balls into the other loaf pan, and leave to rise again, while the oven heats.

When the balls and the large loaf have doubled in size again, brush the tops with cold water and bake for 45 minutes. The tops will be golden and crispy, and when you remove them from the pans they will sound hollow when you knock on the bottom of the loaf. The loaf and buns should be removed from the pans to a cooling rack immediately, to avoid sweating.

Place the warm pull apart buns on a plate, and allow people to help themselves...pulling your own warm bun from the 'loaf' is part of the fun of this bread!

Now for the soup...

Heat a large pot, and drizzle in a bit of olive oil.


3 large carrots, diced
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper

Cook these until the onions start to soften slightly.

Add the herbs and tomato paste:

a few sprigs of fresh parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, peeled

Stir the tomato paste in well, and cook for a couple of minutes.

Next add in the tomatoes. I used about 12 smoked roma tomatoes.

There is no need to peel them, as the soup will be pureed and strained.

Now add in enough chicken stock to cover the tomatoes. I used about 2 - 3 cups.

Allow the soup to come to a boil, then turn it down and let it simmer until the carrots and onions are soft.

Using a hand blender (my preference), blender or food processor, puree the soup.

Then strain it through a fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds and tomato skins.

Return the soup to the stove to reheat. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Adjust the consistency if needed, by adding more chicken stock, or even whipping cream.

I served the soup garnished with crumbled goat cheese., passing the warm bread at the table.

  • The bread and buns can be frozen.
  • Flavouring the bread is a great way to use up little bits of things such as olives, cheese, cooked onions, fresh herbs and adding extra spice such as curry powder, sambal oelek (garlic chili paste) or canned chipotle peppers will add a boost of flavour.
  • The buns can be rolled and baked as individual buns on a parchment lined baking sheet; adjust the cooking time to approximately 20 - 25 minutes. Turn one over and knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow, it is done.
  • This soup is a basic method that can be used for most vegetables. Vegetables such as carrots, butternut squash, parsnip, sweet potato will thicken themselves. Vegetables such as asparagus, spinach, roasted red pepper, cauliflower or broccoli will need to have potato added to help thicken the soup.
  • Onions can be switched for leeks or shallots, or even a combination.
  • Personalize the soup by using herbs or spices of your choice...paprika, chipotle, cayenne, basil, fennel seeds, cumin.
  • If you like a chunky soup rather than a smooth one, after it is pureed and strained add in things such as black beans, bacon, corn, peeled and chopped tomatoes.
  • As I mentioned at the start of this post, the smoked tomatoes can be substituted with canned plum tomatoes, or roasted roma tomatoes. To roast the tomatoes, cut them in half, place in a baking dish, sprinkle with salt, pepper and herbs such as basil or thyme. Drizzle with olive oil and roasted at 400F until the skins wrinkle and the tomatoes start to colour slightly.
  • If you choose to add bacon, I suggest cooking the diced bacon, removing it and the fat from the pan, and then proceeding with the recipe in the same pan. Add the bacon back after pureeing the soup, or use it as a garnish.
  • Garnishes for the soup can include sour cream, pesto, crumbled soft cheese such as goat or blue cheese, croutons, cooked diced bacon, grated hard cheese such as white cheddar or Parmesan.
  • The soup will keep in the fridge for 2 - 3 days, and also freezes well.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Baked Spaghetti Squash Stuffed with Chicken, Corn and Black Beans

Leftover cooked chicken, some black beans in the freezer and a small spaghetti squash were the starting point for this meal. As the squash I had was quite small, I decided to cut it in half and stuff it, with each half feeding one person.

The chicken and black beans were combined with corn, seasoned with chili powder and topped with grated cheese...

Start by heating the oven to 350F and pre-baking the spaghetti squash until it is soft when pressed with your finger.

 Remove from the oven and allow it to cool.

While the squash cools, prepare the filling.

Finely dice half a small onion, and cook it in a bit of olive oil until it begins to soften.

 Season with:

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper

Next, add:

1/2 tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste

Cook, stirring until the tomato paste is well combined.

Now add the cooked chicken. I had about 1 cup, diced.

Stir in:

1/2 cup black beans
3/4 cup frozen corn

Add a bit of water just to moisten everything, and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

When the filling has cooled, add grated cheese.

I used about 3/4 cup cheddar.

Now, prepare the squash for stuffing.

Cut it in half, lengthwise, and carefully remove the seeds. Place the 2 halves into an ovenproof dish.

Divide the chicken filling between the 2 squash halves, mounding it slightly in the centre.

Top the filling with a bit more grated cheese, if you wish.

Place the dish in a 350F oven and bake until the filling is heated through and the cheese on top is melted and bubbling, about 30 minutes.

                  Serve with diced avocado and chopped green onions.

  • The squash I was using was not much bigger than an acorn squash; a bigger spaghetti squash could be used to serve more than one person per half. Place the baked halves on a platter and allow people to serve themselves, using the squash as a bowl.
  • Cooked ground beef or turkey can be substituted for the chicken. The meat can be omitted to turn it into a vegetarian meal...add more beans and more vegetables, such as red peppers or chopped cooked spinach to take the place of the meat.
  • Instead of topping the filling with only cheese, mix breadcrumbs with grated Parmesan or crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper, and chopped fresh herbs.
  • As with any recipe, the cheese can be exchanged for the cheese that you have available.
  • Other stuffing ideas to try: chopped cooked spinach, diced cooked chicken, pesto and ricotta cheese; ground beef cooked with onions and garlic, chopped tomatoes, olives and feta cheese; leftover baked beans topped with cheese; leftover rice combined with cooked shrimp, peas, garlic and ginger and an Asian style marinade; couscous with raisins, almonds, green onions, chick peas, feta cheese and cooked lamb. The meats are all optional.
  • Some vegetarian options for stuffing squash are apples, pears, spinach or kale, beans or chick peas, lentils, dried fruit, grilled vegetables, nuts.
  • Other squash that can be stuffed the same way are acorn squash, butternut squash and sugar pumpkins.
  • Spices that work well with squash are cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, curry, turmeric and some herbs to choose from include sage, parsley, thyme.
  • Other flavours that complement squash are maple syrup, brown sugar, garlic, fresh ginger, coconut and orange.
  • The squash can be pre-baked a day or two ahead; it can also be stuffed a day ahead and kept well wrapped in the fridge.
  • This can be served as a stand alone meal, or a side dish.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Sole Baked in Parchment Paper with Capers and Lemon

If you've never baked fish inside a package of parchment paper, and you're looking for something new to try, here's how I did it last night. The fish, vegetables and flavourings steam inside the package, and when it's opened at the table, the aroma is mouthwatering!

Each package can be personalized, according to taste, or to what you have available to use. I was using up some grape tomatoes, green onions and part of a red pepper.

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

Prepare the vegetables and flavourings:

3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced
12 grape tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon capers, drained
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 small sprigs of fresh thyme

Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper, approximately 12" X 18" and lie them on the counter, with the short side facing you.

In the centre of each piece of parchment paper, place:

1/4 of the tomatoes
1/4 of the red pepper
1/4 of the green onion
salt and pepper

Next lay 3 pieces of sole on top of the vegetables, lightly sprinkling each piece with black pepper.

Fold the thin ends of the fish fillets under.

Place 1/4 of the capers and 1/4 of the lemon zest on top of the fish.

Fold the parchment to form the packages...

...bring the two short ends towards the centre, and fold them over a few times until they lay flat on top of the fish...

...fold the short sides up towards the fish, as many times as you need to until they are snug against the fish...

Place the packages onto a baking sheet, ready to bake.

Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the parchment packages puff up and the fish is cooked through.

To serve, place each package on a plate, along with vegetables. I served roasted rosemary potatoes and fresh asparagus. Each person can open their own package; watch out for the steam!! The fish and vegetables are tender and moist, and the aroma and flavours are amazing!

  • Baking fish inside a package like this helps to prevent it from drying out during cooking. There's nothing worse than dry, overcooked fish.
  • What you choose to bake with the fish depends on what you have available, and who you are feeding...these little packages can be personalized. I had one person who didn't like capers, so they were omitted. If you have small amounts of vegetables or herbs, each person can have a different flavour combination.
  • Any type of fish can be used. I was using sole, and I layered the fillets on top of each other as they are very thin, and cook really quickly. By layering them, I created a thicker piece of fish, which took longer to cook, allowing the flavours time to infuse into the fish.
  • Some ideas to try: salmon with thinly sliced green onion, baby bok choy halved lengthwise, thinly sliced red pepper, minced garlic and ginger and a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil; red snapper with thinly sliced leeks and fennel bulb, orange zest and fresh parsley; firm white fish such as cod with peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, olives, capers and lemon; trout with shredded spinach, white wine and fresh thyme.
  • If you use smaller items such as halibut cheeks, scallops or chunks of fish, the cooking time will need to be adjusted as they will cook quickly. To accommodate this, it would be best to use only fresh herbs, zest, spices or thinly sliced green onions rather than larger pieces of vegetables.
  • Leafy greens such as bok choy or shredded spinach can be used as a base for the fish.
  • Herbs that complement fish include dill, cilantro, chives, parsley, basil or thyme.
  • Small amounts of liquid can be included. White wine, lemon juice, soy sauce or coconut milk. Oils such as sesame oil and olive oil can be used to provide a boost of flavour.
  • Spices to be considered include black pepper, chili flakes, cumin, fennel seeds, turmeric or paprika. Try and avoid using too much salt; it can be added at the table.
  • Anything that is added to the package with the fish should be cut into small pieces, that will steam in the time that the fish takes to cook.
  • If you have a flavoured butter such as herb or garlic, add a small piece to each package. This will add richness as well as flavour. The butter will also combine with the fish and vegetables juices to make a simple butter sauce.
  • Smaller fish such as trout or sardines can be baked whole, with the cavity stuffed with fresh herbs, lemon slices and garlic. Just be sure that the scales have been removed before placing the fish in the parchment.
  • The packages can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Shepherd's Pie with White and Sweet Potato

When I decided to make shepherd's pie, it wasn't really to use something up so much as it was to make something yummy that we haven't had for a while. I did however, use up some chicken stock, and a sweet potato...I made two versions, one topped with russet potatoes, and one topped with sweet potato.

That being said, this is the type of dish that has a lot of flexibility and allows you to use up the vegetables and meat you have on hand. I used ground pork, as I had some in the freezer, but I have made it with ground beef, and have a friend who will only use ground lamb.

Start off with the vegetables. Cook them with a bit of olive oil, seasoning with salt and pepper, over a medium low heat until they start to soften:

1 small onion, diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 stalk celery, diced
3/4 cup zucchini, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Next add 1 pound of ground pork, season well with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is almost completely cooked through.

Use a spoon to break the meat up as it cooks, so there are no large lumps of meat in your filling.

Add in a good dollop of tomato paste, about 2 tablespoons. Stir it in well.

Next you need to add some flour to thicken the filling.

I added between 1 - 2 tablespoons. How much you add depends on how much fat and liquid has been released by your meat. You want the flour to absorb the fat/liquid and form a thin paste-like coating around the meat and vegetables.

Allow this to cook for a minute.

 Add the chicken stock, a bit at a time, allowing the flour to thicken it as you add it. I used approximately
1 1/2 cups. Continue adding stock until you have a thick, saucy filling.

You can always add more stock to thin it down if you need. Allow the filling to simmer until the vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool while you cook the potatoes.

I forgot to add in the frozen peas at this point, so I added them into the filling when it was already in the baking dishes. I used about 3/4 cup of frozen peas.

Cook 2 peeled and diced russet potatoes in salted boiling water until they are tender. Drain, and mash with salt, pepper, butter and a bit of milk; the potatoes should be fairly stiff, so do not add too much milk.

In a separate pot of salted boiling water, cook 1 large sweet potato, that has been peeled and diced. When this is tender, drain it, and mash the sweet potato with salt, pepper and butter. Again, you want this to be fairly stiff.

Divide the filling between the baking dishes, and carefully spread the mashed potato topping over the filling.

I used 2 individual ones for the sweet potato topping...

...and 1 large one for the russet potato topping

Bake the shepherd's pies in a 350F oven for about 45 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the potato topping is golden and crunchy.

  • As I mentioned at the start of this post, this is a forgiving dish, which is perfect for using up bits of vegetables, or meat that you have available. I try to stick with a base of carrot and onion, and then improvise from there.
  • Some vegetables that would work well included leeks, corn, red peppers, chopped cooked spinach, diced turnip, and even potatoes or sweet potatoes, diced.
  • If you have fresh herbs such as thyme or parsley, add these into the filling. You can also add in a bayleaf while it's simmering.
  • I used chicken stock because I had some in the fridge; beef stock, vegetable stock or even just water can be used. If you are using a stronger meat such as beef or lamb, feel free to add in a bit of leftover red wine...
  • Use leftover cooked meat and chop it up finely. Mix this into the filling after it has been thickened.
  • This is often made with ground lamb or beef; we prefer pork. Why not try ground chicken or turkey? 
  • Cooked, flaked whitefish will also make a healthy and tasty alternative. Poach the fish in water, along with a bayleaf, a lemon cut into slices, some fresh thyme and parsley and a clove pf garlic that has been crushed to release the flavour. When it is cooked, remove the fish (reserve the water) and allow it to cool, before flaking it up and adding it to the vegetables after the sauce has been thickened. Strain the seasoning from the poaching water and use this as your stock. Consider adding things such as fresh dill, lemon zest or capers to the filling.
  • Once the potatoes are mashed, consider adding to them...chopped fresh herbs, grated cheese such as Parmesan; roasted garlic or caramelized onion; chopped green onions; even bacon!
  • If you are looking to cut down on the calories that potatoes bring to this meal, consider using turnips, rutabaga, cauliflower or butternut squash for part of the potato topping. Simply boil, and then mash with the potatoes. This is also a great way to introduce a new or different vegetable to your family.
  • The assembled shepherd's pie freezes well, so does the cooked filling.
  • The warm potato is easier to spread when the filling is cold, so if you can, make the filling a day, or few hours ahead.