Archive for the ‘Side dishes’ Category

If harvest season were a novel, this would be the denouement.

For the past few months we’ve had farm-fresh produce delivered right to our door through a CSA with our neighbour’s family farm, and it’s been a fantastic experience. Unpacking the box every Saturday afternoon felt a bit like Christmas: what do we get this week? Raspberries! Baby kale! Golden beets! I’m sure it was just a few weeks ago that the volume and variety of veg in the box reached a fever pitch, but now it’s tapering off, and this week we’ll see our last box.

One thing I have especially enjoyed about the CSA is how seamlessly the season unfolded. First, shoots and greens, then ripe juicy veg, then the hardened and sturdier roots and gourds. Of course, the progression isn’t neat and tidy; along with the last of something you get the first of something else. Like the last of the tomatoes, and the first autumm squash.  This first squash was funny, though – pale, tender flesh like zucchini, skin as tough as an autumn squash. Not quite summer squash, not quite autumn squash.

What to do? Turn on the oven, I thought.

A long slow bake does wonders for both squash and tomatoes, after all. Toss in some leeks, fresh herbs and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and you’ve got yourself a delightful side dish. Or, with a fried egg and some crusty bread, a divine brunch.

Few better ways to say goodbye to summer’s last veg.


Tomato and Squash Gratin
serves 4 as a side dish

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 small leeks, sliced

1 pound summer squash, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/4 cups grated parmesan
salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil

Heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook the leeks: In a medium-sized skillet over medium heat, saute the leeks until soft and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Spread the leeks evenly in the botton of an oiled square baking dish, and let them cool.

To assemble the gratin, start with sprinkling some of the chopped herbs over the cooked leeks. Starting at one of the baking dish, lay down a row of slightly overlapping tomato slices,propped up slightly at an angle, and sprinkle them with herbs, salt and pepper. Cover the tomatoes with parmesan. Next, arrange a layer of squash slices over the tomatoes and repeat with the seasonings. Repeat with alternating layers of tomatoes and squash, seasoning and covering with cheese, until the pan is full. Sprinkle the whole thing with a healthy pinch of salt and pepper, the remaining herbs and cheese, and drizzle the whole thing with olive oil.

Bake for at least an hour, during which time the juices will bubble and reduce significantly, and the top will be well browned.

Can be made in advance and reheated before serving. This gives the flavours even more chance to get acquainted.


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Oh, hello!

Do you have more get-togethers coming up?

Do you have to make something?

Might I suggest these?

Chevre-stuffed mushrooms
makes 30

Do-ahead:  These can be stuffed ahead of time and will keep in the fridge for a day or two before being baked and served.

30 medium-sized cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed, with the stems removed and finely chopped
2 tsp. olive oil
1 shallot, diced fine
1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
EITHER: 1/4 cup fine bread or cracker crumbs, OR 4 extra mushrooms, finely chopped
[This is to accomodate those who can’t eat wheat. Or those who don’t have bread or cracker crumbs.]
1 small log (140 g) soft chevre

1.  In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook 2-3 minutes, until softened. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, and finely chopped mushroom stem (and chopped mushrooms, if not using bread crumbs). Cook until the mushroom is lightly browned and has let off a good deal of moisture – it will have reduced in bulk considerably. If using breadcrumbs, mix them in now, along with about two-thirds of the chevre. Season to taste.

2. Stuff the mushrooms, using your fingers or a small teaspoon to gently pack the stuffing so that it’s level. Top each mushroom with a tiny dab of the leftover chevre, and arrange the mushrooms on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Bake the mushrooms for approximately 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. When the mushrooms are cooked through, turn on the broiler and broil the mushrooms for a few minutes until the tops are attractively browned.

Serve warm.

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Low-maintenance whole wheat bread

In early 2009, after the market tanked and lots of people started to lose jobs, frugality became the new  big thing. Or maybe it didn’t, but at the time that’s what all the newspapers were writing about. Thrifty was the new black.

So while I had the good fortune of having a stable job and good income, I started to think about tightening my own belt in ways that wouldn’t be too painful. What conveniences could I cut out of my spending and replace with making it myself? Not like doing my own dry cleaning, but something that would bring pleasure into my life. My grocery bill seemed an ideal place to start. 

Being someone who likes to eat good crusty whole-grain bread, I spend at least $5 a loaf, which usually adds up to $25 a month at my house. Not a huge cash savings, but nothing to sneeze at. I also had a new stand mixer,  recently received as a wedding gift (thanks, Mom!) and needed something to do with it that wouldn’t result in my house always being full of cake or cookies. So I decided, baking bread every week would be a good thing to try. I found a recipe for whole wheat bread from the Ace Bakery cookbook, and away I went.

Like most new habits, it went well for a while. I learned some new things about bread baking, chiefly that tasty, chewy, crusty bread comes from a dough that uses little (if any) sugar, not much yeast, and a long, slow rise. The catch with this particular recipe, although it yielded three loaves of tasty, chewy, crusty bread, is that it also came with a schedule. First, I had to mix a sponge and let it rise for half a day. Then I had to mix the bran part of the dough, mix the two together, and let it rise for another few hours. Then shape the loaves and let them rise, then bake, blah blah blah. A procedure that required that I map out the times for when mixing, kneading, shaping and baking would happen. Now, I’m a homebody, but I do like to get out the house on weekends. So the bread-making frugal ethos gradually died out.

And then a few months ago, I found this recipe for a no-knead bread in a Martha Stewart  magazine. A basic dough that requires a minimum of kneading and a long slow rise on the countertop for between 12 and 18 hours. This means very little working time. You can mix it up at dinnertime on a Friday or Saturday night, sleep in, and bake the bread the next afternoon. Or, mix the dough when you first get up in the morning and bake it before you go to bed that night.

In short, it’s a bread recipe that gives you a bit more freedom. It’s an easy way to save a bit of cash on storebought bread. Also, with very little work you can impress your friends when they come over for lunch.

One thing you must have for this recipe is an ovenproof pot with a lid – this helps keep the steam in and makes a good crispy crust. I sometimes use my heavy Le Creuset Dutch oven, but have found that a heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan works just as well.

Low-maintenance whole wheat bread
adapted from Martha Stewart Living, April 2010 issue

yields one round loaf

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast (not quick-rise)
1 1/3 cups water, room temperature

Mix the dough: In a large mixing bowl, stir the dry ingredients together. Add the water, mixing well until all the dry ingredients are incorporated and you have a wet sticky dough. This may require a bit of kneading, but that’s about all the kneading you’ll do for this bread.

First rise: Cover the dough with plastic wrap (not touching) and let stand at room temperature until it doubles in volume and has bubbles breaking the surface, about 12 to 18 hours.

Shaping and second rise:  Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface. With lightly floured hands, fold the dough by lifting the edges into the centre and shaping it into a loose round. Generously dust a clean kitchen towel with flour and put the dough on it, seam side down. Dust the top with more flour and cover it with another clean dry kitchen towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in volume.

To test if your dough has risen enough, gently press your finger into the centre. If it’s risen enough, it won’t spring back when you take your finger away. 

Bake: When your dough is about 15-20 minutes away from being ready, preheat the oven to 475 degrees and have your rack in the lower third of the oven. Heat the pot until the dough is ready.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the hot pot from the oven. Working quickly, unfold the towel and flip the dough into the pot, seam side down. Close the lid and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for about 20 minutes, until the top is a dark golden-brown.

Cool: Remove the bread from the pot right away. I usually do this by placing a wire rack over the pot, flipping it over, and right-siding the bread with my oven mitt.

I know this part is hard, but you really should wait until the bread is completely cool before you cut into it. If it’s still warm when you slice it, it will a) be harder to slice, and b) won’t be quite as crusty. But if you can live with that, hey, I can’t blame you.

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Corn salad

 This salad is perfect for these days when you have too much corn on the cob on your hands. Or, just a good excuse to buy way too much corn.

After all, the end of summer is here, folks. Best to enjoy it while we can.

Deliciously simple. No sense measuring here, just mix together in proportions that suit your taste:

Cooked fresh corn
cherry tomatoes, cut in half
green onions, minced
fresh basil, shredded
cider vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Delightful  served warm or cold.

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I don’t know about you, but I get tired of green salads. There are times when I just can’t get excited about greens. I want something more substantial. I want something I don’t have to load up with chicken or cheese or egg or tuna to make it exciting. I don’t feel like doing all that washing.

Enter, the complementary proteins. (Thanks, Frances Moore Lappe, who introduced me to the concept. In my world, there is nothing like a tasty grain salad, combined with other things, like beans and corn, to make complete proteins. Filling, delicious, and feels healthy.

Add to the equation quinoa, my favourite grain at the moment (though it’s technically not a grain, it’s a seed). Not only is it one of the more protein-rich grains, it has a lovely crunchy texture and also looks pretty.

This salad is a lunch favourite. The recipe makes a lot, and I eat it for a few days, which I don’t mind at all.


Black Bean and Quinoa Salad
Makes a ton. Serves 4-6 as a side.

 For the quinoa:
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups water
pinch salt

 For the salad:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red pepper, diced
½ cup frozen corn, thawed
1 avocado, diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, minced

 For the dressing: 
2  tbsp. orange marmalade
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground cumin
zest of one lime
juice of 2 or 3 limes, to taste
¼ cup olive or canola oil
pinch cayenne
salt to taste

In a small saucepan, combine the quinoa, water and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low setting until quinoa is cooked, approximately 15 minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, make the dressing. You can either combine all ingredients in a small bowl, or blend with a hand mixer, which gives the dressing a creamy texture.

Once the quinoa is cool, add in the beans, pepper, corn, avocado and cilantro. Mix in the dressing, and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

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Holy crap, what happened to March?

Right. I was really busy, went on holiday for a week, and then March was over.  So, hello!

I can’t say I have anything to report food-wise from my holiday, because, well, all-inclusive resorts are hardly culinary destinations, especially those in Cuba, where the variety is a bit lacking. Needless to say, my pregnancy-induced craving for rice and beans is safely satisfied, and I can move on with my life.

So where does that leave us? Happily, in early Spring. We’re in that awkward time of year when Spring is in the air, people are walking down the street with an extra little bounce in their step, wearing more colours instead of their dark winter jackets. The problem with this time of year is, that while our minds are racing ahead into warmer weather, the produce is still stuck in winter mode. So what’s a cook, craving greens and Spring flavours, to do? 

Here’s one idea: take a wintery vegetable to a mandoline slicer (minding your fingers, of course), add a lemony vinaigrette and toss in a handful of hothouse grape tomatoes for a juicy bite reminiscent of warmer times.  It may not be the season’s new asparagus, but it’s pretty good.

This recipe is adapted from an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I love that guy.

Broccoli slaw with cherry tomatoes
serves 4 as a side dish

1 head broccoli

zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 tsp. dijon mustard

salt and pepper to taste

3-4 tbsp. olive oil

roughly 1/2 pint of grape tomatoes, halved

Depending on the size of the broccoli head, chop it down lengthwise (along the stem) so that it’s wide enough to fit on a mandoline slicer. Then, slice all the broccoli so that the stem is roughly cut into ribbons. The florets will generally break apart, but to me the variety of texture is what makes the salad. The result will be a bit messy, though, so do this over a cutting board so you can just tip the whole lot into a bowl once everything is sliced.

To make the vinaigrette, I use the jar-shaker method. Combine the lemon juice and zest, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper and olive oil in a small jar and shake to combine.  Toss it with the sliced broccoli, along with the halved grape tomatoes, and add extra salt and pepper if you think it’s needed.

It can sit for a while without going limp, unlike other salads, but it doesn’t really keep well as leftovers.

Here’s what it looked like after I dove in, then remembered to take a picture:


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I vividly remember my first taste of roasted cauliflower. At the tender age of 23, I had just started my First Big Cooking Job, and among my marching orders was to help prep the sides that went with main dishes. One of these was honey garlic cauliflower, roasted at high heat until caramelized, and it tasted like candy.

Sadly, I’m the only one in my household who really likes cauliflower, which means I cook it rarely – and even then, I have to cook it with enough other stuff so that Andy can begrudgingly eat one or two pieces and then eat something else. Tonight, while cooking dinner, I found a small head of cauliflower calling out for my attention, and I decided to improvise.

With awesome results. Look at those caramelized bits!


This could be considered a kind of cheater’s Aloo Gobi. You par-cook the veg, toss them into a mix of curry-spiced yogurt, and roast until crispy and golden brown. Even Andy agreed they were fantastic. I plan to make this again and again.

 Indian-spiced cauliflower and potatoes 
Serves 4 as a side dish; takes approx. 45 minutes from start to finish

Heat the oven to 450F.

1 small head of cauliflower, cut into large florets

1 large potato, cut into 2-inch chunks

¼ cup yogurt

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. curry paste (I used Patak’s Madras Cumin and Chili sauce)

½ tbsp. turmeric

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2-inch piece of ginger root, minced

generous pinch salt

pinch cayenne

Fill a medium-sized saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cauliflower; the cauliflower will float to the top, making it easier to remove (since it cooks faster.) After the cauliflower has cooked for 5 minutes, remove them from the pot and set aside. Continue cooking the potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a fork.

While this is happening, grab a large mixing bowl and combine the yogurt, oil, curry paste, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne.  Toss in the semi-cooked cauliflower and potatoes and toss to combine. (It should smell heavenly.) Spread the vegetables out on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Mix them up about halfway through the cooking time so they can brown evenly.

They should look like this:

Devour at will.

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