Archive for the ‘Main dishes’ Category

Earlier this year when I made a whole bunch of changes to my diet, we instituted Tofu Tuesday at my house. I was working on healthier eating, getting more vegetarian protein sources, and eating more grains. In my experience when you’re trying to reinvent how you eat, you need a few standbys to turn to on the nights when you just want something easy, something you can just make without thinking too much about it. Since my husband and I both love tofu, inventing Tofu Tuesday seemed a good place to start.

Tofu Tuesday has a few incarnations, but what you see above is the most common one and we eat it at least once a month.  It’s just brown rice with steamed greens, marinated tofu and peanut sauce, but the sum is so much greater than its parts. It’s hearty, savoury and filling, and as long as you don’t drown it with too much sauce, it feels pretty virtuous.  It’s also a tip of the hat to my favourite dish at Fresh, where I used to eat often way back when it was still called Juice for Life, in its original location in the Annex. That place introduced me to the concept of rice bowls, and for this I am forever grateful.

This peanut sauce is very easy to make, and versatile too. I use it as a dip for fresh spring rolls or as a dressing for cold noodle salads in the summer. It’s also a great go-to for weekday lunches, since it’s usually pretty easy to pack some cooked grains and some vegetables to steam in the microwave at work. Drizzle some of this sauce on it, and suddenly it’s a substantial lunch that won’t have you ransacking your desk for a granola bar an hour later.

Peanut Sauce
Makes about 1 cup

1/3 cup natural peanut butter (smooth or chunky, doesn’t matter)
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. grated ginger root
1 tbsp. tamari soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
hot sauce to taste (I use sriracha)
1/4 cup boiling hot water

In a tall liquid measuring cup, combine all ingredients using an immersion blender. Add the hot water last and blend until the sauce has a nice smooth consistency, adding more water if necessary.

Keeps well for three to five days in the fridge.


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Can we just take a moment and acknowledge that despite its many virtues, meatloaf is not very photogenic?

How about if I strategically place it on a nest of *Confetti Kale?  


Yeah, still not that great. So let me say that despite its humble appearance, this meatloaf is pretty spectacular.

I’m a big fan of meatloaf. I have never understood why it has a reputation for being dull and loathsome. Probably TV, wherein broccoli and brussels sprouts are also reviled, is to blame. But seriously, what could be wrong with a dish that’s economical and receptive to so many different types of seasoning? I love the traditional beef-and-pork meatloaf with the sweet ketchupy glaze, but there’s so much room to play. Moroccan lamb. Tex-Mex chipotle. And in this case, made with lean ground turkey, spiked with fennel and topped with bacon to make it seem decadent.

And let’s face it, this time of year, we still need a bit of decadence. Here in Central Canada we still have a bit of winter left to go. While you, my west coast friends, can go enjoy your asparagus and fiddleheads, we still need some comfort food to give us the strength to carry on.

I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t written much (if anything) about fennel here yet. Fennel is one of my favourite winter flavours. I eat it sliced very thinly in salads at least once a week these days, and when I cook with it, I usually try to bump up its presence in the dish with ground fennel seeds, but in this recipe I go one step further and add ouzo to deglaze the pan when you saute the onion. A quarter-cup sounds like a lot, but it mellows in the cooking. You could ease off and just use white wine or even stock, but it’s worth the use of an unconventional cooking ingredient.  

Despite its down-home virtues I don’t really think of meatloaf as a weeknight dinner unless I’ve done most of the work in advance.  There’s a fair amount of chopping, plus the baking time is a bit long. To get a better return for your time investment, you can mix up a double batch and freeze one batch for later. Or, if you are a two-eater household like mine, (well technically three, but she’s not really into meatloaf yet), you can split the recipe below into two smaller meatloaves. One half-recipe will yield two dinner servings plus two brown-bag lunches.

*At my house, Confetti Kale is what we call a simple saute of diced red pepper and carrot, corn and kale. Onion or garlic if we feel like it. Nothing fancy, just tasty and colourful.

Turkey Fennel Meatloaf
serves 8

Do-ahead: Take the recipe through to the end of step 4 and cover the meat mixture in plastic wrap. It will keep a day or two in the fridge before baking.

2 tsp. olive or veg oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely diced fennel (about 1 cup)
generous pinch chili flakes
2 tsp. fennel seeds, lightly ground
1/4 cup ouzo or white wine
4 thick slices of bread, crusts removed
3/4 cup milk
2 lbs ground turkey
4 slices of bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

Optional: about 8-10 slices of bacon
Or: 2 tbsp. honey mustard as a glaze

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and position a rack in the centre of the oven.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic and fennel until softened and just beginning to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the chili flakes and fennel seeds, and cook one minute more. Add the ouzo or wine to deglaze the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes to reduce the liquid, until the mixture is almost dry. Remove from the pan and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a shallow dish, soak the bread in the milk for about 5 to 10 minutes, mixing once or twice so that the bread is evenly soggy but not falling apart. Lightly squeeze the bread one handful at a time to get rid of some of the milk, and finely chop it. Add the chopped bread to the cooked onion-fennel mixture.

4. To the large mixing bowl, add the ground turkey, chopped bacon, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and egg. Mix just until combined – overmixing will make the meat loaf tough.

5. Do a taste test. Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Shape about a tablespoon’s worth of mixture into a patty and fry it on both sides until cooked through. Taste it and adjust the seasonings as needed.

6. To bake the meatloaf, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Transfer the meat mixture to the baking sheet and shape it into a rectangular block about 10″x4″. It will become more loaf-shaped as it cooks. If you’re using an optional topping, now is the time to drape it seductively with bacon or brush the top with honey mustard. Bake the meatloaf for approximately 45 to 50 minutes (35 to 40 if you’re baking a half-batch), until the middle registers at 165 F on a meat thermometer. Allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Marriage (or any other long-term cohabitional situation) is a wonderful thing, but it does have a way of nudging certain foods out of your life. Over time, dishes that had previously been a single person’s mainstay are shelved out of respect for the significant other’s dislikes; one day you wake up and realize these old friends have become culinary persona non grata.

For many years I lived with my beloved friend Jennifer, who is a star in the kitchen, but whose downfall was that she doesn’t like potatoes. Not that she outright won’t eat them, she just made her utter lack of enthusiasm for them very clear. So I deleted the potato from my cooking for years, even after we stopped being roommates. (I have since reclaimed the potato.)

Now, the two main things I miss and have to eat on my own are salmon and tuna. Canned tuna, especially, which Andy used to feed to his late beloved kitty, Mia. Years after Mia’s demise, he still considers canned tuna a sort of catfood and likely always will.

But see, to me canned tuna is instant dinner or lunch. It’s a pantry wonder. Cheap, tasty protein, it doesn’t need thawing or cooking or planning at all. It just sits there in your cupboard ready to be tossed into a sandwich, on top of a salad or into a pasta dish. It plays well with others, especially other things that generally live in your kitchen, like a can of tomatoes, pasta, garlic, lemon and olives. A can of tuna, to paraphrase the late Laurie Colwin, will get a hungry person out of trouble.

This dish in particular is what I eat on the rare nights I find myself alone for dinner. It’s perfect for the times when you’re desperate for a quick and easy dinner, and you’re low on groceries. It’s easy to make – the sauce is assembled while the pasta cooks. And the flavour is something much better than the sum of its parts: briny olives with fishy tuna brought together with a tomato base; lemon zest and fresh herbs give the whole thing a lift. (In a perfect world I would have had fresh herbs in this photo, but there weren’t any in my fridge. I think the food gods will forgive me.)

I’ve written the recipe for four, but a half-recipe will easily feed one person dinner and provide lunch for the next day.

Pasta with Tuna and Olives
serves 4

2 tbsp. olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
generous pinch of chili flakes
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped pitted olives
1  28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cans of tuna
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1 tbsp. chopped capers
garnish: chopped parsley or basil

pasta – I’ll let you decide what kind and how much. The pasta in this photo is fettucine made with kamut flour. I also like short pasta, like fusili or penne, to go with this chunky sauce. .

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, heat the oil until it shimmers and add the garlic and chili flakes. Cook until the garlic softens and is aromatic but not browned. Add the lemon zest and olives (and capers, if using), cook for 1 minute and then dump in the tomatoes and tuna. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes while the pasta cooks.

2. Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a large pot of salted water. Cook it just to the al dente stage.

3. Season the sauce to taste and mix in the herbs. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.

Leftovers taste even better the second day.

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Since we’ve moved farther away from our favourite butcher and grocery store where we can buy meat that we feel better about eating (hormone free, free run, etc), I’m thinking about eating less meat. It’s better for us, after all. Health-wise, planet-wise, money-wise, what’s not to like? 

While I’m not a vegetarian, I spent much of my twenties living and sharing food with vegetarians, which meant that I ate veg at home, and meat when I was at work. And while we eat a fair bit of meat here at Last Muffin Standing, I tend to have much more fun cooking vegetables or veg-oriented dishes. Meat is meat any day of the year, but changing your cooking with the seasons is much more interesting. It keeps me in tune with the passage of time. It helps me celebrate the colder weather when I would much rather have the days be longer and brighter.

This recipe came from a desire to eat less meat, but also a craving for something that had the earthy fall flavours of leeks and mushrooms. Also, the combination of creamy pasta, mushrooms and cheese is infinitely appealing as the days get colder and darker. Comfort food, as it were.

America’s Test Kitchen had sent a mushroom lasagna recipe in a recent newsletter, but I found it finicky. I wanted something relatively simple but with a few refined touches. So the bechamel sauce became a white-wine-leek sauce. Next time I make this I might switch up the parmesan for asiago or add some tarragon to the sauce, but this dish is already pretty fabulous on its own. You could halve this recipe to make one small lasagna, but really, why make one when you can make two and freeze one for later? Alternatively, if feeding a crowd, you can make it all in one large baking dish.

Mushroom and leek lasagna
makes 2 8×8 lasagnas*; each serves 4 generously and 6 more virtuously
* I use tin foil pans for for these.

2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
olive oil for sauteeing
salt and pepper to taste
approximately 12 oven-ready dried lasagna noodles [these may look too small to adequately fill the pan, but they will expand as they cook.]
1/4 cup butter
2 medium-sized leeks, washed thoroughly and sliced thin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup white wine
6 cups whole milk
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
salt to taste
1 cup freshly grated parmesan

1. Working in batches, saute the mushrooms in a large skillet until golden brown and season with salt and pepper as you go. Set the cooked mushrooms aside in a bowl as you get the other ingredients ready. [Tip: if the mushrooms let off moisture as they cool, add those juices into the leek sauce for extra mushroomy flavour. ]

2. In a large saucepan or heavy-bottomed stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the leeks until softened, then sprinkle the flour over and mix well to incorporate. Cook the floured leeks a minute or two, then add the white wine. Stirring with a whisk to get rid of any lumps, add the milk and turn down the heat to low. Cook the sauce, whisking occasionally, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the minced garlic, nutmeg, white pepper and salt.

3. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. To assemble the lasagnas, ladle about 1 cup of sauce into the bottom of each baking pan. Set down one layer of noodles and one layer of mushrooms (about 1/4 of the sauteed mushrooms for each pan) and cover with sauce. Repeat with another layer of noodles, the remaining mushrooms, and sauce. Finally, top with one more layer of noodles and sauce to cover, then sprinkle the grated parmesan on top.

5. Bake the lasagnas uncovered for 45 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked through in the centre and the cheese is golden brown on the top. Before serving, let it rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. If you want to freeze them, let them cool completely and then wrap in a couple of layers of plastic wrap. To reheat, let it thaw completely and warm it in a low oven (about 325 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 40 minutes.

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This week in No Food Left Behind, I made a dent in my stash of dried lentils, used up some nuts and finished up the breadcrumbs I had in my freezer with this tasty recipe. They’re like falafels, but without that messy deep frying. They’re crispy and hearty, and a really satisfying vegetarian dish. 

They’re also fairly versatile – you can make them as full-sized burgers and eat them on pitas, or make tiny patties and serve them as appetizers. (I made them small this time, because I like cute food.) I have served them with a full spread of mezze-style salads and dips, but they’re just as good with nothing more than a side salad. Although! I would recommend taking an extra two minutes to mix some chopped green onions and cilantro into a bit of yogurt for a tasty raita to drizzle on top, as follows:

Lentil walnut burgers
serves 4

3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup nuts (walnuts, pecans, and almonds are all tasty choices)
1/3 cup breadcrumbs*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. ground coriander
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 egg*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the lentils are cooked through but still holding their shape. This takes about 15 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until fragrant – about 10 minutes.

In a food processor, combine the lentils, nuts, breadcrumbs (if using), garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Move the mixture to a mixing bowl and stir in the egg.

With your hands, shape the patties. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the burgers until browned on each side – about 8 to 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.


3/4 cup plain yogurt
1 green onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
salt and pepper


* If you can’t eat breadcrumbs for some reason, just replace this amount with extra nuts.

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I love brunch.

It’s the wonderful meal that’s partly breakfast, substantial enough to be lunch. Involves sleeping in, leisurely coffee, a newspaper and something eggy – for me, usually on the savoury side, rather than the sweet.

 There was a time in my life when I made everyone else’s brunch on a weekend but couldn’t enjoy it myself, what with all the 6 am wakeups. This honed both my love of coming up with new combinations of flavours to eat with eggs, and my desire to get out of the restaurant world, so I could sleep in and have my own damn lesisurely brunch.

My favourite brunches involve poached eggs with toast and a sauce of some kind. At most restaurants, Eggs Benedict is the only dish that meets this description – a dish I’m not that fond of, so I tend to eat poached eggs at home.  And although making some kind of tasty sauce is an extra step, the enjoyment I get out of it makes it totally worthwhile.  The sauce varies depending on what’s in the fridge: cheddar, roasted red peppers, or roasted tomatoes, mixed in with a little milk- or cream-based sauce.

Recently Andy’s sister and husband stayed a weekend at our house, and here’s what I made for brunch. The sauce is not overly rich, but fresh with the taste of spinach and dill, slightly tangy from the feta.

Poached eggs with spinach-feta sauce
Serves four

8 eggs
1/4 cup white vinegar (for the poaching liquid)
special equipment: you need a slotted spoon for lifting out the eggs.

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. white, all-purpose flour
1 cup milk (I use 1%) – you might need extra to get the right consistency
1/4 to 1/3 cup crumbled goat’s milk feta
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped fine
fresh dill and chives, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste

Bread for toast

1. First, start your poaching pot: Fill a large saucepan with water, add the vinegar and heat to just below the boiling point.

2. Then, start your sauce: In a medium saucepan or frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and sprinkle in the flour.  Stir to combine, and let cook for a minute or two. Whisk in the milk and stir to make sure it’s free of lumps. Add the feta. Turn the heat to low and keep it warm until ready to serve.

3. Poach your eggs:  Your water is ready when it has small bubbles surfacing, but is not at any kind of boil. Keep the heat set to medium. Use your slotted spoon to give the water a  gentle spin before cracking the eggs and dropping them in. Keeping the water moving helps them keep their shape as they cook.

Once you’ve added all the eggs, let them cook approximately 5 minutes until the whites are completely set – lift one out and prod it gently with your finger to be sure.  For runnier yolks, the eggs will still be a bit soft. If you like your yolks more cooked, leave them in longer.

4. Drain your eggs. Either in a fine-mesh sieve, or on a clean kitchen towel.

5. Make your toast. On this particular day I used whole wheat baguette. I tend to favour a crusty bread, cut thick – ideal for sopping up sauce and yolks.

6. Finish your sauce. Add the spinach, dill and chives, season to taste.

7. Put it all together. Eggs on toast, sauce on eggs. Like this:

‘Kay, I need to go make this again. Right now.

*One of these days I promise to do an egg-poaching tutorial, once I get up the courage to take photos during a cooking process where timing is crucial.

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Magical Healing Soup

Sometimes, you need a reminder that dinner doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s a big deal when you’re hungry at the end of a long day, but sometimes cooking dinner can be easy, and making dinner doesn’t have to take a ton of time or money.

This soup was that reminder tonight, when tired and hungry, I realized I was headed home to a solitary supper and a mostly empty fridge. My options: go grocery shopping, buying a BBQ chicken, or just make do. I was too hungry for the grocery store, and felt too stingy to spend $10 on a chicken. But happily, I had all the ingredients I need for this soup.

This soup. This soup. This soup is what I eat when I’m staving off a cold or need some comfort on a cold winter night. Or just when the spirit takes me.

Having grown up in an Italian-dominant town, tortellini soup is a staple from my childhood. Usually this involves a handful of tortellini, a bowl full of chicken stock and a sprinkle of chopped parsley and grated parmesan. But to make it a meal, you need a bit more substance.

This is so inexact I can’t call it a recipe, but here’s what I had to work with:

  • Chicken stock that I made last weekend, along with bits of chicken picked off the bones
  • A handful of cheese tortellini from the freezer
  • Also from the freezer, a few oven-dried tomatoes, diced (sundried from the cupboard would work equally well)
  • A generous handful of chopped kale

Bring the broth, chicken and tomatoes to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring some water to a boil and cook the tortellini. Technically, you   could cook the tortellini in the broth, but this makes it cloudy. When the tortellini is cooked, drain the water off and toss the pasta into the soup pot. Last of all, toss in the kale and let it soften.

Seal the deal with a grind of pepperand a generous grating of parmesan.

This is what you end up with:

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