Grilled Portobellos stuffed with quinoa, pesto and grilled vegetables

If you’d asked my husband a few years ago what his least-favourite vegetable was, he would probably have said zucchini. Thanks to a lot of experimentation, he’s changed his tune, a fact he expressed when tasting this delightful dish for lunch. Previously, he complained that zucchini didn’t taste like anything, whereas I’ve always preferred to think of them as the perfect blank canvas for other flavours (this delectable, easy zucchini ‘noodle’ dish is a great example). You can make this dish in under 30 minutes and while it’s a great meatless meal on its own, it’d also be a fantastic side for grilled fish or meat. Use whatever pesto you like; I’m partial to basil but grilled garlic scape pesto would be terrific too. If you wanted to serve this as an appetizer, substitute smaller cremini or white mushrooms for the portobellos.

Portobello_quinoa_pesto_watermarked

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) quinoa (I prefer red quinoa for its nice colour)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) balsamic
  • 4 Portobello mushroom caps
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1/2 orange or red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) pesto
  • Lemon wedges (to serve)

Method

  • Preheat barbeque to medium-hot.
  • While barbeque heats, put quinoa and water in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to minimum and let cook for 15 – 20 minutes until all water is absorbed.
  • While quinoa cooks, put olive oil and balsamic in a small jar with a tight lid and shake until well blended.
  • With a small knife (a grapefruit knife is ideal) cut the stems and some of the gills out of the Portobellos to form a bit of a hollow in the middle, being careful not to cut all the way through.
  • Slice zucchini lengthwise into four thin strips and cut pepper into two pieces.
  • Brush both sides of the vegetables with the olive oil and balsamic mixture, being sure to thoroughly coat the Portobellos.

Portobello_quinoa_pesto_veggies

  • Place the vegetables on the hot barbeque grill and cook, turning once, for about 4 minutes per side. Remove from heat.
  • Transfer the cooked quinoa to a medium sized bowl. Chop the grilled peppers and zucchini and add to the quinoa, along with all but a tablespoon of the pesto. Stir gently to combine well.

Portobello_quinoa_pesto_bowl_watermarked

  • Place the Portobellos on individual serving places, with the stem sides facing up. Heap about 1/2 cup (125 mL) of the quinoa mixture (or more, if you can fit it on) onto each mushroom.
  • Top each with a dollop of pesto and serve immediately with lemon wedges to squeeze over top for a bright pop of flavour.

Portobello_quinoa_pesto_square_watermarked

Makes 4 stuffed Portobellos.

Portobello_quinoa_pesto_text

Posted in appetizer, barbeque, Grilling, vegan, Vegetables, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sweet and Spicy Cherry-Chipotle Barbeque Sauce

When I set out to create a new barbeque sauce recipe, my starting point was that it absolutely could not include any ketchup. Ketchup is used as the base of so many sauces and I just find its overly sweet and salty flavour too cloying. The good news is that you can make fantastic barbeque sauce without tomatoes in any form. Depending on how much of the chipotle pepper you add, this sauce can pack a bit of a heat punch when freshly made but it mellows really beautifully after just a few days. I recommend dividing the batch into smaller portions and freezing it. Thaw it quickly in the microwave before brushing it on your favourite barbequed meat or vegetables, towards the end of the cooking time.

Cherry-BBQ-Sauce-watermarked

Ingredients

  • 3 cups (750 mL) dark sweet cherries (fresh or frozen, pits removed)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL)  apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free version)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) cinnamon
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) minced fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) each kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped (freeze remainder of can) or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder (or to taste)

Cherry-BBQ-Sauce-Chicken-watermarked

 

Method

  • Put all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring every 3 – 5 minutes.
  • Blend cooked mixture until smooth (using a stick or conventional blender).
  • Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage.

Cherry-BBQ-Sauce-Pinnable

Posted in barbeque | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lavender-Blueberry Shrub for Cocktails and Salad Dressings

Shrubs are a big part of the current cocktail craze, and for good reason – they’re delicious! A shrub is a sweetened vinegar-based syrup, sometimes called drinking vinegar. Shrubs typically consist of vinegar infused with fruit juice, herbs and spices for use in cocktails or in salad dressings; they can also be used to flavour soups and sauces. Inspired by the lavender that’s blooming like mad in my garden, this shrub’s combination of lavender and blueberry is absolutely delicious and the lavender flavour is quite subtle thanks to the relative intensity of blueberries. You can use various types of vinegars as long as they are labeled as having at least 5 percent acidity. I prefer apple cider vinegar which tends to be milder than sharp-tasting white vinegar; wine and balsamic vinegars are also great to work with. Have fun experimenting with different combinations of flavours! Shrubs make fantastic host or hostess gifts.

blueberry-lavender-shrub-watermarked

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (500 mL) blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 10 sprigs fresh lavender sprigs
  • 1 cup (150 mL) apple cider vinegar

Method

  • Place blueberries and sugar into a medium bowl. Crush the berries, and then stir to combine.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a dark place on the counter for 2 days. If your home is really hot (above 24C) then place in refrigerator. Stir the mixture occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.
  • Meanwhile, place lavender into a nonreactive container, cover with cider vinegar, and cover with a tight lid.

blueberry-lavender-shrub-vinegar-watermarked

  • Store the cider mixture on the counter (or in the fridge if your home is hot) for 2 days.
  • Position a fine-mesh strainer in a funnel over a 500 mL canning jar and pour blueberry mixture through to remove solids. Resist the urge to press down on the blueberry mixture with a spoon as this will result in seeds going through the strainer.

blueberry-lavender-shrub1

  • Pour the vinegar mixture over strained blueberry mixture, into the same jar as the blueberry syrup.

blueberry-lavender-shrub2

  • Put the lid on the jar and shake the mixture then place in the refrigerator for a week before using.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze for longer-term storage.

blueberry-lavender-shrub-square-watermarked

Using the shrub

  • Add 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) of shrub to 1.5 ounces of gin or vodka and top with soda water to make a delicious cocktail.
  • Combine 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of shrub with 3 – 4 tablespoons of good quality olive oil to make a delicious salad dressing.

blueberry-lavender-shrub-pinnable

Posted in Canning, cocktails, Drinks, Edible Gifts, Entertaining | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HelloFresh Meal Kits – A Review

When I was asked if I wanted to test out the new HelloFresh meal kits, I was intrigued. With award-winning recipes and pre-measured ingredients delivered right to my door, I was pretty confident I would enjoy having a virtual ‘sous chef’ to make weeknight dinners a whole lot easier. After trying three family-sized meal kits, I have to say I was impressed.

hellofresh

What did I like about HelloFresh?

  1. When my shipment was enroute, I received an email with a tracking number.
  2. The ingredients arrive in a sturdy box with oodles of ice packs to keep perishables nice and cold PLUS each meal is in a separate box inside so you don’t have to figure out what ingredient belongs to which recipe.
  3. The portions were extremely generous – while each of the kits in my Family Box was intended to feed four, I found that the provided quantities could easily have fed five or six.
  4. The ingredients were already prepped, for the most part, so it only took a little bit of time and effort on my part to finish making the recipes.
  5. The step-by-step recipes were easy to follow and all were ready in 30 minutes or less.

What did I make?

Since this was a promotion, I didn’t get to choose my recipes from the weekly changing menus as regular subscribers do. My kits were:

  • Chicken and Cold Soba Noodle Salad

Hello-fresh-soba-noodles-watermarked

  • Sausage and Pepper Hoagies

Hello-fresh-hoagie-watermarked

  • Steak Tagliata with Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges and Watercress Salad

hellofreshsteakwatermarked

Would I recommend HelloFresh?

As mentioned, I was impressed by the appearance of the meal kits when they arrived at my doorstep and can confirm that all three recipes were simple to prepare and very tasty. My husband thought the Chicken Soba Noodle Salad was restaurant-worthy and my son really dove into those Hoagies. While I was tempted to tinker with the Steak Tagliata recipe, I made it exactly as directed and found it to be delicious. While the price at first might seem high, it’s important to realize that HelloFresh uses a lot of premium ingredients, particularly for its meats, and if your time is valuable, you’ll really appreciate all the work that’s been done for you ahead of time.

Would I change anything?

  1. As a matter of personal taste, I found some of the ingredient quantities to be disproportionate. For example, there was not enough rice vinegar for the soba noodle salad dressing and the amount of oil (to be supplied by me) was insufficient. On the other hand, there were far more vegetables than needed supplied for the hoagies. The herbs were also not properly portioned – I’m pretty sure even the biggest dried oregano fan in the world, for example, would not add a tablespoon of it to about a quarter cup of vinaigrette.
  2. While the recipe card for each dish does outline possible allergens, I thought an effort could have been made to find gluten-free soba noodles for that dish.
  3. Although the instructions were for the most part quite clear, I was perplexed by one on each recipe card that said “wash and dry all produce”. That makes sense for intact items, but I would assume that anything which has been chopped would have been washed ahead of time. I was particularly puzzled about how to wash and dry a bag of diced onions.
  4. Also on the topic of produce, I found that in my box, tender watercress did not travel well. Despite wrapping it in paper towel and putting it in a plastic bag in the fridge immediately upon delivery, the next day more than half the bunch was unusable. Perhaps more sturdy greens should be considered.
  5. The recipe cards tell you what is included for that meal but don’t give exact quantities. It would be really nice if it listed not only the HelloFresh amount (eg 1 package) and an equivalent measurement (1 cup), should one wish to recreate the recipes later.

As someone who genuinely loves all aspects of cooking – from choosing recipes to grocery shopping to preparing meals and even doing the dishes – I have to say it was a real treat to have three nights where I didn’t have to think about dinner at all, knowing everything I needed was at hand and I could look forward to whipping up a nutritious, delicious meal in just half an hour. If you don’t love cooking the way I do, you might really enjoy HelloFresh.

The nice people at HelloFresh have offered a discount code to you, my readers, so you can enjoy HelloFresh too. The code is COOKING-60-OFF and will allow you to have a total discount of $60 ($30 off when ordering your first HelloFresh box, plus another $30 off when ordering second box). For more information on HelloFresh, visit www.hellofresh.ca

Disclosure: While I did receive three meal kids from HelloFresh to test out their service, I was not compensated in another way and all opinions expressed are my own.

 

Posted in Product Review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Post: Breakfast Nachos – A Delicious Competition

Editor’s Note: After the first ever Constantly Cooking guest post was so well received, we knew we wanted to do more. Opportunity knocked when Paula Roy’s son Nick became involved in some nacho shenanigans. The competition was fierce, and the results were delicious.

When it comes to ranking our daily meals, I’m firmly in the “breakfast is the best meal of the day” camp. There’s such endless possibilities about what we can do for breakfasts that we’ve only just begun to explore the boundaries of the known breakfast universe. My love of breakfast recently took me on an exciting adventure which I was happy to share with a few people; we embarked on the inaugural Great Breakfast Nacho Competition on the evening of June 7th. It was a fun and busy night in a cramped Glebe apartment kitchen, and I’m very pleased to be sharing the results of this experiment!

The genesis of “Breakfast Nachos” as a competition began after mentioning the concept of the breakfast nacho to my girlfriend, Chelsea, not long after we started dating; she even made me a special custom shirt as a gift for Valentine’s Day, knowing full well my love of breakfast cuisines and nachos of all shapes and sizes.

tshirt

 

After she’d mentioned her gift to a few close friends, the competitive aspect of Breakfast Nachos was thus born. A lot of planning and scheming and trash-talking took place, and a few weeks after Chelsea returned home from vacation in Jordan, four of us embarked on the inaugural Great Breakfast Nacho Competition!

The judge for this competition was Chelsea’s roommate Andrew, an experienced line cook at a number of locations throughout Ottawa, most notably at the new Mulligan’s, downtown. With a seasoned pro in the world of food, expectations were high on both sides of the table as we set out to prepare.

There were three entries in all: a joint effort from Chelsea and her friend Kat, with whom she recently vacationed in Jordan (the importance of this fact will be explained shortly), their friend Megan, and myself. Despite our preconceived ideas of nachos and the elements that typically define them, each ended up being wildly different in the end, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and, as it turns out, a rather large challenge in getting through eating all three trays by the end of the evening. It was also a challenge having four cooks working in a small apartment kitchen, but no injuries were inflicted or sustained.

chopping

The first entry we tried was a Jordanian variety of nachos from Chelsea & Kat; as it turns out, it’s common fashion to use Doritos in place of regular corn tortilla chips when making nachos in Jordan. This entry was meatless, but did have generous amounts of onion, pepper, olive, tomato, and cheese topping the typical Nacho Cheese flavoured Doritos. Surprisingly, the usually-strong flavour of plain Doritos was actually restrained when it was accompanied by their creation’s toppings and the accompanying salsa and sour cream.

 

Tray1

Megan’s entry was probably the most “standard” concept of what the average person would constitute as breakfast nachos; tortilla chips with diced bacon bits, eggs, green pepper, onion, tomato and cheese, with one other noteworthy addition – diced home-fried potatoes. I was actually skeptical at first of this, but due to the fine nature of the dicing, actually fit really nicely with the rest of the ingredients, and ended up adding some extra crunch to each bite without compromising the overall structural integrity of the nacho pile.

 

tray2

Finally, I decided to head in a different manner with my own nachos, and chose to do my own variety of the traditional Mexican chilequiles. This sees traditional salsa replaced with a beef-bean chili; mine included generous helpings of onion, tomato, paprika, and chili powder as well. For the “breakfast” element, I opted for scrambled eggs, which contained a sriracha-garlic hot sauce for some added kick. The chili and eggs were topped with shredded cheddar, to which I added some diced green onion, cilantro and lime juice after the tray came out of the oven.

Tray3

 

All in all, this competition was taken a lot more seriously by all competitors than I had initially anticipated, which I think was to everyone’s benefit, as each one of the nachos turned out to be delicious in their own regard! After much deliberation, however, Andrew ultimately judged the Mexican chilequiles to be the winner out of all three entries, citing his fondness for beans in chili and a generous amount of heat as the deciding factors in his ruling. As the 2016 Great Breakfast Nacho Champion, I am already looking forward to next year’s competition, and can’t wait to see some of the new ideas that will be coming forward from all competitors…

all3

Posted in appetizer, guest post | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet and Sour Cucumber ‘noodle’ Salad

If you haven’t heard of spiralizing, be forewarned: I am most definitely on the bandwagon. It’s not a new exercise trend, nor is it a way to turn straight hair into luscious Disney princess locks. Spiralizing is the process of transforming even the most humble of vegetables into delicious long strands (noodles) that are super versatile and fun. My family is not eating a lot more vegetables – often raw – as a result. There are loads of spiral cutter gadgets out there to help accomplish this feat; I happen to like one of the simplest on the market. It’s by Microplane and it’s sturdy and sharp. If you’re more dextrous than I, you can probably use a potato peeler to create long, thin ribbons of cucumber to make this dish but coarsely grating it is also an option. This is quick to prepare and makes a nice change from leafy green salads. If you enjoy this dish, I encourage you to check out this beauty of a salad recipe, made with spiralized zucchini, as is this delicious dish.

Sweet_and_Sour_Cucumber_Salad_watermarked

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon (.75 mL) salt (or to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon (.4 mL) dried chili flakes (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) sesame oil
  • 2 large English cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely minced chives or green onions
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) toasted sesame seeds

 Method

  • In a jar with a tight lid, combine sugar, vinegar, lime juice, salt, chili flakes and garlic. Shake to blend well then add oils and shake again. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.Set aside.
  • Use spiralizer (or vegetable peeler) to turn the cucumber into long strands (‘noodles’). Alternatively, you can also coarsely grate the cucumber.

spiralizer1_watermarked

  • Put the cucumber in a medium-sized bowl with half the chopped dill and half the green onions or chives.
  • Pour half the dressing over the cucumbers and toss to mix thoroughly. Add additional dressing as needed to thoroughly coat the cucumber without drowning it. Let sit at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour before serving.
  • When ready to serve, use two forks to transfer the cucumber and herbs to a serving plate or bowl, leaving excess moisture behind in original bowl. Top with toasted sesame seeds and remaining chopped dill and green onions.

Serves 2 – 3.

Sweet-and-Sour-Cucumber-Salad_pinnable

Posted in Asian, healthy, vegan, Vegetables, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Pan-seared scallops and herb sauce on raw zucchini ‘noodles’

Wow. All of a sudden it feels like summer out there and I want to eat all the fresh, healthy things. My garden is overflowing with tender young herbs which are finding their way into all kinds of dishes.  Before I tell you about this particular dish, I wanted to take a moment to explain why you haven’t been hearing from the Constantly Cooking kitchen as often as in the past. The reason is a happy one: I have a new-ish baby, in the form of a second blog. You can find me at Paula Roy’s whole foods in half the time over at the amazing Yummy Mummy Club; it was an honour to be asked to contribute recipes to this national blogging site. I even get to make a little bit of money in the process, so that’s all kinds of awesome for me! If you want to keep track of what’s happening over there, I encourage you to check back at the YMC site regularly, or follow me on Twitter/Instagram (@paulajroy), or follow Constantly Cooking on Facebook, where I cross-post all the recipes.

Enough about me. Now let’s talk about scrumptious scallops, perched on a bed of raw zucchini noodles and bathed in a buttery herb sauce. It’s probably the best thing I tasted all week (and that’s saying a lot, because I also ate this and drank this!) It’s one of those fantastic meals that comes together in mere moments and leaves you satisfied but not stuffed, particularly because the strands of raw zucchini are just so light and lovely.

zucchinni_noodles_and_scalllops_watermarked

For the noodles:

  • 2 medium zucchini

For the scallops:

  • 1 lb. (454g) large sea scallops
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) butter
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL)extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) butter, divided into 4 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) finely minced shallot (about 1 medium)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, (I use dill, parsley, chives)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely grated lemon zest
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 lemon wedges

Method

Note: Be sure to have all your ingredients prepped for the ‘noodles’ and sauce before you begin searing the scallops. And try to not to be impatient as you sear them – they need high heat and no jostling to develop that nice seared crust.

  • If they haven’t already been removed, detach the tough abductor muscle from the side of each scallop. Place them on clean paper towel and lay another sheet of paper towel on top and gently pat them dry. You want them nice and dry going into the pan. Refrigerate until ready to cook.
  • Wash the zucchini and trim off both ends. Use a spiralizer (spiral cutter) or coarse grater to shred the zucchini into noodle-like strands. Divide among two broad soup plates (bowls) and set aside.
A spiral slicer (sometimes called a spiralizer) is a great gadget to turn vegetables into noodles.

A spiral slicer (sometimes called a spiralizer) is a great gadget to turn vegetables into noodles.

  • Heat a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the oil and butter and heat until almost smoking. Place the scallops in the pan in a single, uncrowded layer.
  • Season with salt and pepper and let sear undisturbed until one side is browned and crisp, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Using tongs, turn the scallops and sear until the second side is well browned and the scallops are almost firm to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat, transfer the scallops to a plate, and cover to keep warm. Let the pan cool for a minute before you make the sauce.
  • Return the pan to medium heat. Add one piece of the butter and the shallots and sauté until the shallots begin to soften, about 1 minute.
  • Add the wine and simmer until reduced by about half, another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the herbs and lemon zest. Reduce the heat to low, add the remaining butter, and whisk constantly until the butter melts into the sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
  • Return the scallops and any accumulated juices to the pan. Gently roll the scallops in the sauce to warm them then place warmed scallops atop zucchini noodles and drizzle sauce over top.
  • Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Serves 2.

zucchinni_noodles_and_scalllops_pinnable

Posted in fish, gluten-free | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments