Rustic Zucchini Basil Pesto

The best thing about this recipe is….. NO food processor! That`s right folks, this “rustic“ pesto invented by moi requires just a wee bit of grating (the zucchini and parmesan), chopping (the basil), and NO pine nuts (keeps the cost down but would be lovely sprinkled atop your creation I`m sure).

A few days ago I thinking about making pesto but was worried about taxing my wee basil plant too much by stripping it nearly bare to get enough leaves to make it. Then one night making dinner I had some leftover zucchini and inspiration struck; If the zucchini could supplement the basil I wouldn`t need as much! A quick google search reveals yes, zucchini pesto is a thing! I was feeling lazy so I skipped the whole recipe surfing step I usually spend quite a bit of time on, as well as the whole getting out a food processor bit that is usually necessary with pesto. The result was amazing! I have now made this twice this week and guests rave about it. The word `rustic` is culinary code for `lazy`, didn`t you know? Make some lazy zucchini basil pesto today and say “Mmmmmmmmmm”   “mmmmmmmm”  thanks Violet’s mom!

If you have never had bread that has been baked then rubbed with fresh garlic, you are in for a treat and a suprise. The bread will take on much more flavour than you would expect with such a brief encounter with the garlic, yet it is still delicate and much more pleasant than little chunks of garlic.

packed with flavour, freshness, and crunch

packed with simple, fresh flavours this appetizer is a hit!

Rustic Zucchini Basil Pesto with Garlic Crostini 

1 handful of fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup grated parmesan (large hole side of grater)

1/2 cup grated zucchini (large hole side of grater)

salt and pepper

a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

FOR PESTO: Mix all ingredients above in a small bowl with a fork until somewhat blended.

TO SERVE: Make garlic crostini by slicing a baguette, brushing both sides with melted butter, adding a bit of salt and baking at 400 for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned. Rub with half a fresh clove of garlic and serve with a spoonful of pesto, or for an extra treat grate some extra parmesan and sprinkle on bread. Return to oven for a few minutes to melt cheese before topping with pesto and serving.

Alton Brown’s Baked Beans… Sort of

Anyone who is familiar with Alton Brown is aware how particular he is as a chef. He crafts his recipes very carefully with detailed measurements, urgings to weigh ingredients, and scientific mumbo-jumbo to explain how the whole thing works.

He probably would not be happy with me altering his recipe, but fate be damned I am doing it anyways!

I have been making these baked beans for nearly a decade and they always turn out well. In recent years I have made a few changes which seem to result in baked beans which me and my wide variety of food tasters seem to *gasp!* prefer to Alton’s original recipe. Simmer down Alton lovers; all I did was remove one jalapeño and add in some vinegar and maple syrup. Did you know that maple syrup is a flavour enhancer, much like vanilla? A little goes a long way! I also omit the bean water in favour of more flavourful broth and remove the lid for the last bit of cooking time for a deep browning. Plan on closer to 8 hours than 6.

So comforting and filling, baked beans are a great winter dish served with some Cornbread and a salad.

Also for anyone wanting to make less than what seems like a mountain of beans at the end, I have halved this recipe with great results!

Baked Beans

Adapted from Alton Brown’s Once and Future Baked Beans

1 pound dried Great Northern beans
1 pound bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons of apple cider or other vinegar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
4 cups vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt

—–
Heat oven to 250 degrees F.

Soak beans in a plastic container overnight in just enough cold water to submerge them completely.

Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and stir in the bacon, onion, and jalapenos until enough fat has rendered from the bacon to soften the onions, about 5 minutes. If desired, remove some bacon fat with a few paper towels. Stir in the tomato paste, dark brown sugar, molasses, vinegar, and syrup. Cook for a few minutes.

Drain the beans and rinse. Add the drained beans to the Dutch oven. Add the vegetable broth to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Add in cayenne, black pepper and salt. Give them a stir and cover with the lid. Place the Dutch oven in the oven for 6 to 8 hours, or until the beans are tender. Remove lid for last 30-45 minutes of cooking.

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Roasted Squash with Pomegrante Rice Stuffing

Even though my husband and I are not vegetarian every once in a while we like to have a meatless main course which helps to cut down on both meal costs and calories.

I used to make a dish similar to this but with cous cous and Mediterranean seasonings and always used to use acorn squash. However my CSA share has yielded a great variety of squashes including delicata, carnival and red kuri.
*Any squash that can hold stuffing would be fine in this recipe but the carnival squash really was divine and all three of the aforementioned squashes have edible skins; just give them a good scrub before baking like you would a potato.

I cheated a little and used a bistro package of pre cooked unseasoned basmati rice which was heated slightly less than directed in the microwave one minute but we are quite picky eaters and it was very good! All was devoured and little miss Violet really enjoyed hers.

Serve with a salad for a very satisfying

Serve with a salad for a very satisfying and healthy meal

Roasted Squash with Pomegranate Rice Stuffing

Adapted from Chow com.

Serves 2-3

3 medium size carnival squash*

4 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

2 cups (or 1 small bag of bistro rice) of any cooked rice mix

1/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins

2/3 cup pecans, chopped and toasted

1/2 cup chickpeas

seeds from half a pomegranate

1 tsp. thyme or Italian seasoning

salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450 and cut squash lengthwise and seed.

Place squash cut-side up on a baking sheet, brush with 2 tablespoons of melted butter, sprinkle with sugar and a little salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until just fork tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the onion, shallots, carrot and celery, season with salt and pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the thyme and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and stir in the rice, pecans, cranberries/raisins, chickpeas, the majority of the pomegranate seeds and measured salt and pepper.

Divide the rice filling among the roasted squash halves (about 1/2 cup for each) and drizzle the remaining tablespoon of butter over top. Continue roasting until the squash is completely fork tender, the edges have started to brown, and the filling is heated through, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve immediately.

Coconut Oil – Not Just for Skincare Anymore ?

Coconut oil has been in my life for a few years and is a pretty big part of my skin care regime. I love the way it smells and my skin seems to love it too.

Soon I will be making whipped body butter with my giant tub of coconut oil (check out Costco for the best prices) for Christmas gifts but in the meantime, I wanted to try cooking with coconut oil for the first time.

I made these “Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins” which were quite good and I was so proud of myself for baking without oil or butter.

I tried frying in some of the oil and it was pretty successful – another win!

Then I started reading further about consuming coconut oil…

Let’s look at a comparison of coconut oil with butter and other oils from Eating Well

“Nutrition breakdown (per 1 tablespoon)
•Coconut oil: 117 calories, 14 grams total fat, 12 grams saturated fat
•Unsalted butter: 102 calories, 12 grams total fat, 7 grams saturated fat

Based on the numbers, butter seems to be the better choice: it’s lower in calories, total fat and saturated fat. Plus, the percentage of fat from saturated fat is lower: 58 percent versus 86 percent.”

What about this whole “good saturated fat/ good cholesterol” argument?

From Dr Jay Kenny of the Pritilin Institute;

“Yes, studies of people on traditional Polynesian diets have found that they have relatively low rates from heart disease despite high LDL cholesterol levels, but other aspects of their native lifestyle are very healthful, and probably help counteract the cholesterol-raising effect of the coconut fat. Their traditional diet, for example, is very high in dietary fiber and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids from fish, and very low in sodium. Historically, native Polynesians also tended to be nonsmokers, and were physically very active. All these factors would certainly promote heart health.”

So, after all this I sit here with my batch of “extra healthy muffins” and shake my head. Next time I will be saving my coconut oil to use on my skin (and maybe trying some oil pulling as I think the taste would be better than other oils) rather than in my baking.

So, the verdict ? Coconut oil…. still mostly just for skincare.

Greek Lasagna (gluten free)

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Greek lasagna you say? What the heck is that? Okay I admit it, I kind of tricked you with this title as this recipe is actually for moussaka, which is basically Greek lasagna and happens to be naturally gluten free. However the name moussaka conjures images of something strange and fishy more than it does a meaty, saucy, creamy eggplanty type delight and wanted you to give it a fair chance.

Moussaka is practically the national dish of Greece. The dish originated in Turkey as a lamb and eggplant braise, which was then reworked by the Greek chef Tselementes and became the dish it is today. The classic version is still prepared almost the same way wherever you go in Greece.

Peter Conistis

I saw moussaka being cooked on the food network a year or so ago and have made it many times since then. Guests never have any idea what it is but always seem to enjoy it quite a bit.

Here is how it differs from Italian lasagna:

-No noodles! Instead to create layers there are usually sliced potatoes on the bottom and a layer of eggplant (can be substituted for zucchini) in there somewhere as well.

-Many recipes do not contain cheese, and if they do it is usually feta or a hard Greek sheep cheese called Kefalotyri (κεφαλοτύρι) . I have used feta, no cheese, and a blasphemous combination mozzarella and ricotta, as I describe here. All were delicious. Instead of using the no- cook ricotta mix for the topping as I have described here you can use a béchamel sauce with an egg (or two) mixed in at the end. This makes it a much more frugal dish than lasagna (which you must buy ricotta for) if using the béchamel sauce.

-The sauce is tomato based like Italian Lasagna, but usually has spices like cinnamon or allspice included, which makes the flavour out of this world! Since stumbling across moussaka I have been putting cinnamon in all my Italian style tomato/pasta sauces as well and it is very good. Subtle and most people can’t quite guess what the ingredient is.

-Some recipes I have seen use beef, some lamb, and some a combination. I have used beef, ground pork, and a combination and they are all very good. We aren’t lamb lovers but if you are I am sure that is tasty (and more traditional) as well.

I heavily adapted this recipe from Chef Peter Conistis and it was much easier than other recipes I have used due to the no cook cheese topping (I also used leftover meat sauce from Won Ton Wrapper Mini Lasagnas I had made for a party a few days ago which made assembly a breeze).

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Greek Lasagna (Moussaka)

Sauté 1/2 lb. of pork, beef or combo, drain, add a chopped onion and a few minced cloves of garlic and either a jar of tomato sauce or a can of crushed or strained tomatoes). Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of sugar, and 1 cup of water or red wine.

Cover and simmer on low for as long as you have (10 minutes – a few hours).

Preheat oven to 400f convection.

Wash and slice 3 large potatoes or 6 small (I used new potatoes). Toss in salt, pepper and oil and throw into an oiled casserole dish (I used an 8×8 but it was really pushing the limits).

Slice 1 large eggplant or 3 baby eggplants lengthwise and toss in oil and salt and pepper. Place on parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake eggplant and potatoes in oven together for 20 minutes or until eggplant a little brown. Remove from oven and turn oven down to 375f.

Meanwhile, in a bowl mix half a large container of ricotta, 1.5 cups of grated mozzarella, a handful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper, a dash of nutmeg, 3/4 cup of half and half cream, and 2 eggs.

Push potatoes around in dish so they are evenly layered.

Pour all of your meat sauce over the potatoes.

Lay the eggplant in a layer (slightly overlapping) overtop of the meat.

Pour on your ricotta mix.

Refrigerate for later baking or bake for 30-40 minutes or until browned.

Storage: The next day, separate cut slices onto foil lined pan and freeze for a few hours. Remove from pan, wrap each slice in plastic wrap and place in a labelled freezer bag. Stores well for several months and individual slices reheat great in microwave or toaster oven.

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Icebox Ginger Snaps

Entertaining season is just around the corner and you never know when someone might pop in for a visit. Make a double batch of these cookies which are stored in log form (either in the fridge for a few weeks or the freezer for longer term storage) and then sliced just before baking and you’ll always be ready to serve a satisfying and seasonal treat short notice.

Almost as easy as something made by Pillsbury but so much better for you.

I have made these a few times (they are the perfect make ahead event/dinner dessert or hostess gift) and have tried a few different toppings such as:

  • coarse sugar
  • slices of candied ginger
  • sliced almonds
  • combinations of the above

I haven’t had anyone say they like a particular topping more than another, and these disappear quickly so make lots! The thinner you slice them, the crisper they will be but try to slice them evenly and watch closely near the end of cooking as they can burn easily. Thaw frozen logs in freezer overnight or on the counter for an hour or two before slicing.

crispy, spicy, and delicious ginger snaps

crispy, spicy, and delicious ginger snaps

Ginger Snaps

Adapted from Williams Sonoma

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup butter) at room
    temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar, plus about 5 Tbs. sugar for
    dusting tops
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup molasses
In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and 2/3 cup sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, egg yolk and molasses, mixing well. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in three additions, beating until each addition is fully blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Place the chilled dough on a piece of plastic wrap and shape it into a rough log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in the plastic wrap and roll it back and forth until the surface of the log is smooth and even. Refrigerate the roll for 2 hours (up to several weeks) or freeze for up to 3 months.

Preheat an oven to 375f convection. This will allow you to bake multiple trays at once.

Remove the roll from the refrigerator or freezer and unwrap it. Cut it into slices 1/8 inch thick and place them 1 inch apart on the baking sheets. Sprinkle each of the tops with coarse sugar, candied ginger slices, or sliced almonds.

Bake the cookies on a parchment lined cookie sheet. until golden around the edges but still soft, 8 to 10 minutes for chewy cookies and 10 to 12 minutes for crisp cookies. Using a spatula, immediately transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container (I find a jar is best) at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes about 30 cookies.
ginger snap with slivered almonds

Homemade Panko Breadcrumbs

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As I have mentioned before, I never quite jumped on the panko bandwagon. Panko is expensive when store bought and often I find too large to properly stick as a coating. Honestly to me they have always seemed like snooty breadcrumbs which I could happily live without.

However after reading up on panko I realized they are just large, jagged breadcrumbs which I could make cheaply and a bit smaller so they would stick better but still absorb less oil than breadcrumbs, resulting in a crisper crust. Some sources such as Chow.com claim the bread used to make the crumbs must be crustless to differentiate them from regular breadcrumbs.

Either way I made some today with 1/4 of hard, leftover Buttermilk Honey Bread and they were SO good and made a huge pan full in minutes!

Try it today and you will never buy store bought again.

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Panko Breadcrumbs

Adapted from Allrecipes.com

Cut bread into 1-2″ cubes and pulse in food processor until desired size. Lay out on cookie sheet and bake at 300f for 5 minutes, stir, then bake another 2- 5 minutes or until they feel dry but are not toasted/browned.

Cool and use in recipes, store in a jar for a week or so or freeze for later use.