Sunday 30 March 2014

Avocado, Black Bean and Wilted Greens Quesadilla

This isn't so much a recipe as throwing together a bunch of great ingredients for a very quick meal.  A healthy and delicious meal!  I love the greens added just after the quesadillas are removed from the pan so they are only very slightly wilted and still have some good texture. 

Makes 6-10 tortillas (folded in half).

1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Avocado slices
Cheddar cheese, grated
Greens (I used arugula and baby spinach)
Corn Tortillas
Sour Cream

Saute the onions until softened then add the black beans and heat through.  Add a squeeze or two of lime juice for flavour plus a pinch of salt.

In a fry pan, heat a small amount of oil.  Prepare the tortilla by layering (on one half) some avocado slices (salt lightly), black bean/onion mixture, grated cheese and a teaspoon or so of salsa.   Fold the tortilla in half and place in fry pan. Lightly brown on each side and ensure the cheese is melted.

As soon as the quesadilla is removed from the pan, add a small amount of the mixed greens.  The cheese will still be hot so it should easily pull apart to add the greens.  Then fold it back together and the greens will very lightly wilt from the heat.

Serve with sour cream and more salsa.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Chana Masala (Curried Chickpeas)

I am not a big fan of raw chickpeas (I remember getting as my veg option on a flight a sandwich with nothing but lettuce and mashed chickpeas ... eww), but I love them cooked in so many ways – with curries easily topping the list.  This Indian chickpea curry differs from this Jamaican / West Indies style used for Roti’s.  The main difference is the addition of tomatoes (which would make a roti filling a bit sloppy).  

I started eating and then cooking Indian food when I lived in Vancouver.   Then I went to India and loved the food so much I gained 10 pounds in only 3 weeks.  It was worth it.  But thankfully I lost that weight when I returned home.  When I cook Indian food, I cook a lot of it.  It generally involves a lot of different spices which can seem like a lot of work some times.  So I make an event out of it and usually cook a few dishes over a couple of days.  And even after inviting friends to share, I still often have plenty left to freeze for leftovers.

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
4 tsp chopped ginger (about 2 inches)
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp serrano chile pepper, minced
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
28 oz chopped tomatoes
2 15-oz cans chickpeas

Heat 2 tsp vegetable oil in a large saute pan.  Add 1 tsp cumin seeds and cook just a minute or two until the seeds begin to split (you'll hear it!).

Add the diced onion and cook about 5 minutes then add the ginger, garlic and chile pepper.  Continue to cook another 5 minutes or so until all are tender.  Add the remaining spices and cook 1-2 minutes to bring out the fragrance of the spices.

Add the tomatoes and chickpeas.  Cook 20-30 minutes until flavours have fully integrated, tomatoes are broken down and chickpeas are tender.

Serve with rice or naan, raita, and other side dishes.  Leftovers freeze very well.

Thursday 27 March 2014

Homemade Granola Bars with Apricots, Crystallized Ginger and Cashews

As I was researching a few granola bar recipes, four of the five recipes I looked at made some comment about granola bars being hippie food.  Seriously folks?  Granola bars have been mainstream since the 1980s so get over it.

Having said that, many of the granola bars found in stores are full of sugar and fat (and why do so many have chocolate chips!?).  So it is nice to be able to make them at home and put whatever I want in them.  I love the combination of the apricots, ginger and cashews!  And the crystallized ginger gives these a nice spicy bite.

2 1/2 cups oatmeal
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped unsalted cashews
1/2 cup wheat germ
2/3 cup honey
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, chopped

Heat over to 350 degrees F.  Butter an 8 x 12 baking pan.

Combine the first 4 ingredients and spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, stirring once or twice and keeping a close eye during the last few minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl.

The rest needs to happen fairly quickly as it will become difficult to stir when the liquid mixture cools down.

In a pot, combine the next 5 ingredients (everything except ginger and apricots).  Heat to a brief boil, then remove from heat.  Pour over the toasted oatmeal mixture.  Stir to combine then add the fruit and stir to ensure it is all well mixed.

Transfer to the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 25 minutes (still at 350 F) or until the top is slightly browned and the edges begin to pull away from the pan.

Allow to cool slightly then slice into bars.  Store in refrigerator.  Any crumbs that are left after the bars are sliced can be eaten with milk or yogurt!

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Okra Update (after 3rd day)

This morning's posting showed the okra seeds already sprouting after two days ... the picture was taken last night (Tuesday).  I just took another picture (Wed evening).  Unbelievable growth!  The seeds are large so I would expect them to germinate quickly, but wow!  The plants themselves (or at least the ones I've grown) don't get much larger than large pepper plants ... although after a quick viewing of "okra plants" in google images, I suspect I haven't been getting the full potential.

The other seedlings in the pic are tomatillos ... and the black krim tomatoes are starting to show.

Okra Seeds - only 2 days to germinate!

This single Annie Oakley Okra seed was only planted two days ago in jiffy peat pellets which have been germinating on a heat mat.  Wow, that's fast!  Although I don't expect the tomatoes to be far behind.  You can also see one starting to sprout in the pellet just to the right.

But these seeds are larger than your average tomato seed (similar in size to a peppercorn or allspice berry).  In fact, I wasn't sure if they might be too large for these peat pellets and I'll keep an eye out for the 2nd and 3rd seeds in each pellet to sprout.  I'll have to nip any extras early on.  Generally, the larger the seed the quicker the germination which is why squash and pumpkin seeds can usually be seeded directly in the soil when the weather warms up because they grow so quickly.  

The Okra seeds were, by far, the largest I seeded this past weekend but I'll still watch closely over the next few days as others should start to emerge.

I did not have much of an Okra harvest last year, but saw an Okra plant flower for the first time.  They don't take too long .... this picture was taken last year on June 22nd.  I wonder why they sometimes flower??  Does it affect the growth?  Any input is welcome as I have grown Okra only a few years, but the flowering only occurred one year and on just a few plants.

Monday 24 March 2014

New Seedlings, Jiffy Pellets and a Seed Schedule

Despite not having a greenhouse available this spring, I've gone ahead with starting some plants from seed already.  I suspect I am going to have problems in just a few weeks from now when many of them need to be transplanted into larger pots ... no idea where I'll put all of them at that point.

I have intentionally started less based on my experience last year (too many too soon).  But I still started quite a few ... and with winter never ending it seems, I'll still likely have some space issues to work out.  But I'll worry about that when it happens.

In the meantime, here is what I have started (the first batch is an update on a previous post):

A little over a month ago, I started some Brandwine and Black Krim heirloom tomatoes; these were from seeds I had saved from last year.  As it was the first time I have saved tomato seeds, I was anxious to see if I had been successful. No problem it seems; 5 weeks later and they are already about 4 inches tall.

I also started some sweet peppers - they take a really long time and are pretty tiny still.

The tomatoes and peppers started back in February are all under a fluorescent light set on a timer - on at 6am and off at midnight.  I bought this timer when I went away for a few days but it's pretty cool to have even when I'm home.  I don't have to worry about remembering anything!

And I have just started another big batch; mainly peppers and tomatoes again.  But a couple of other plants as well.

For these types of seeds (small seeds), I use the Jiffy "Greenhouse" setup with a heat mat.  The peat pellets have water poured over until the peat has expanded and has loosened up.  That's at least 2 litres of water for the 72 pellet setup I have. I generally use 2-3 seeds in each pellet to be sure something comes up.  If all three come up, I will wait until they are a couple of inches tall, then pinch away the weakest looking ones.

And to track all of this, I have started to document everything in a spreadsheet.  Here's a snapshot of what I plan to track (below).  I've already transplanted the first 4 types I started in February, but I can't recall the date so will leave it blank. But I'll be sure to track everything going forward.  This should really help to develop a routine over the next few years. I can adjust based on past experience and general weather conditions.

Hmm ... I wonder if I should also track other info like weather conditions?  I'll see as I go, I suppose.  I am also going to check around the internet and see what other people track on their seed schedule and take advantage of their experience to get on the right track sooner with my own plans.

Sunday 23 March 2014

Geraniums: Wintered Indoors in Pots

I was thinking of putting up a post a few weeks ago asking if anyone knew what needed to be done for geraniums that were brought indoors for the winter.

But then one bloomed all of a sudden and so I figure no action is required on  my part.

And another one coming soon ...

I had started geraniums from seed last year and managed to get 5 plants from the 8 seeds I had purchased ($4 for 8 seeds).  Although they were transplanted into larger pots, I never did get them into the ground.  But these aren't really the thick, bushy types of geraniums people use as borders in gardens.  I suspect I'll just leave them in their pots.

This one has a bonsai-style going on ...

But I'll still ask the question in case it's not as easy as this ... should I be doing some sort of maintenance on my geraniums to prepare them for the new growing season??  Any advice would be appreciated.

Friday 21 March 2014

Mattar Paneer

This is another Indian dish I make often.  Crazy healthy with the peas.  And the paneer (Indian Cheese) adds a good balance.

I was very certain that I had paneer in the freezer when I planned this dish, only to discover it was Halloumi.  No worries, that worked just fine.  Halloumi is a Greek cheese that does not melt when cooked (same concept as the paneer, just a bit saltier).   It is a great snack when grilled and served with a drizzle of olive oil and chili peppers (I think I got that from Nigella) like this:

But back to the peas ...

1/2 lb paneer, cubed
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 Tbsp fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
3 medium tomatoes
1" stick cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp each turmeric and chili powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3 1/2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup tomato juice

Fry the paneer cubes in a small amount of oil.  Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the ginger, garlic and tomatoes and blend into a paste.

In the same pan, add the cumin seeds and heat until they start to pop.  Add the ginger, garlic, tomato paste and cook until the liquid has mostly evaporated.  Add remaining spices and cook 2-3 minutes until the spices become fragrant.

Add peas and tomato juice and cook until peas are tender.  Return the paneer to the dish just before serving to warm through.  Serve with naan or rice.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas

This is a great snack and so much healthier than chips or nuts (although I wouldn't turn down a handful or two of these spicy nut candies I made recently).  I tested quite a few versions; mostly spicy recipes with different combinations of hot paprika, cumin, chili powder and a few other spices.  But my favourite was simple: salt and pepper!

The important step is to ensure the chickpeas are thoroughly dried out before tossing with the spices.  In addition to laying the chickpeas on a plate for hours, I also pop them into the oven on their own for a bit, then toss with the spices and back to the oven.  That seemed to produce the crunchiest chickpeas.


Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and spread on a plate. Pat dry with a towel then allow to sit and "air dry" for up to 8 hours.

Place on a parchment lined tray and bake at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes - they will start to crack slightly and you'll know they are ready for the next step.  Remove from oven and toss with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and your choice of spices*. 

Return to oven and bake until crisp - up to 45 minutes.

*spices:  season to taste with salt and pepper (about 1 tsp of salt and 3/4 tsp of ground black pepper) or try something spicy (1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp salt).

Sunday 16 March 2014

Lamb Shanks Braised in Red Wine served with Borlotti Beans


Ohmergerd so delicious!  The braised lamb shanks look very elegant (even with my crappy photos) but this is an incredibly simple dish to make even for inexperienced cooks.  There are so many recipes for braising lamb shanks and mine is in no way unique.  So just pick one you are comfortable with and go for it.  You will not regret making this dish. The lamb can be served with just about anything including rice (a mushroom risotto would be awesome), maybe celery root puree or with these borlotti beans (which are from my own garden harvested in the fall)!

After the lamb is cooked the braising liquid is reduced to make a sauce - that is the shiny glaze you can see in the pictures.

I made this over two days but it can certainly be done all at once if you have the time.  It takes up to 2 hours (as well as an overnight soaking of the beans) to fully braise the lamb until it's falling off the bone and it shouldn't be rushed.

1 cup borlotti beans
2 lamb shanks, 3/4-1 lb each
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
1/2 can tomato paste
2 cups red wine
chicken stock (up to 1 litre)
1 large bunch fresh rosemary
1 small bunch fresh thyme

Soak the beans overnight or a minimum of 8 hours.  Set aside.

Set oven to 325 degrees F.

Heat a large dutch oven on the stovetop and add 1 Tbsp olive oil.  Add the lamb shanks to the pan and brown the meat - don't rush!  This will caramelize the meat and add great flavour.  Remove the lamb when all sides are browned and set aside.

Add another Tbsp of olive oil to the same pan, then the chopped onion, celery and carrots and cook about 10 minutes until vegetables start to soften.  Add 1/2 a can of tomato paste.   Stir into the vegetables and cook another 10 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with the red wine and allow to cook about 3 or 4 minutes for some of the alcohol to cook away.


Add 1 tsp each salt and pepper, the herbs, the lamb shanks and enough chicken stock to cover the meat.  Bring to a boil.

Cover and put in oven.  Braise 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until you see the meat easily pulling away from the bone.

And this is where I stopped but you can go ahead and serve it at this point (see further down for the sauce).  Or remove the meat, allow to cool and store in foil in the fridge.  Strain the remaining mixture, keeping the liquid and discarding the vegetables.  The following night ...

Now that the braising liquid has been refrigerated, some of the fat will have risen to the top.  Skim as much of the fat off as you can then return the liquid to a casserole dish or other oven proof dish.  Add the lamb and return to the oven at 325 degrees F until heated through - probably 30-40 minutes.

Drain and rinse the beans.  Place in a pot with 3-4 cups water.  Add 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to a boil then simmer until beans are tender.

Sauce:  Remove lamb from the oven.  Take 1 cup of the remaining braising liquid (or as much as is left) and pour into a small pan.  Cook on medium heat until reduced at least by half.  Season with salt if needed.  I also drained the beans of the cooking water when they were almost ready and returned them to the pan with some of the braising liquid for additional flavour (if you have enough liquid to do this with).

Place the beans in a shallow bowl with a lamb shank on top.  Spoon some of the sauce over the lamb and into the beans.