Monday, December 15, 2014

Drunken Beef and Potato Stew

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Vancouver rarely gets really cold. Usually our winters are mild and rainy with a few periods of snow thrown in over the season. This year, however, has been colder than usual...and I'm not complaining because it has also been sunnier than usual...I'll take sunny & cold over mild  & rainy anytime!

And let's face it, cold weather is perfect for cooking up soups and stews. Stew is exactly where my mind went to when I was trying to decide on a recipe to create for The Little Potato Company. Have you heard of them? If not, you've probably seen them...they're in lots of grocery stores across Canada...even Costco. They produce over a dozen potato products and take their work very seriously to give their customers the perfect little potato. I also love that they give back to the community by donating over 25,000 pounds of potatoes to food banks every year!
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Here, I used their Blushing Belle potatoes. According to The Little Potato Company, they were "...originally bred in Germany by one of the oldest breeding companies in Europe, Blushing Belle is extremely versatile, and adapts well to a variety of cooking methods. Named after its blushing red skin and buttery yellow flesh, Blushing Belle delivers a soft, light texture with mild, delicate flavour. Excellent roasted or mashed."

Image from The Little Potato Company


I used them in this recipe because they hold up well under long heat. In other words, they won't turn to mush before they make it to your plate. I also added big pieces of carrot and celery and lots of garlic! Oh and did I mention the wine? Yup, a whole bottle of dry red wine goes into this stew!

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Ingredients

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 lbs beef stew meat
3 c dry red wine (1 bottle)
3 cups beef stock
1/3 c flour
1.5 lbs baby red potatoes
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 large shallots, chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
4 stalks celery, chopped
6 gloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 c tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water


Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. On medium high heat, add vegetable oil to large sautee pan.
  3. Brown beef by placing pieces of beef in large dutch oven or other bakable pot - don't crowd the meat! Work in batches if necessary.
  4. Turn beef until all sides are browned.
  5. Remove beef from pan and place in large mixing bowl.
  6. If needed, add another tablespoon of oil to pot and add onions, leeks and shallots. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir often so they don't burn.
  7. Add garlic to onions and cook for 1 minute.
  8. Remove and place onions/garlic mixture into beef bowl.
  9. Add tomato paste to pot and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. This will deepen the flavour of the tomato paste.
  10. Add 1 cup of wine to pan and mix with paste. Stir and get all the bits stuck on the bottom of the pan off of the pan.
  11. Bring to simmer.
  12. Add the beef and onions back into the pan.
  13. In a small bowl stir flour salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and cumin.
  14. Sprinkle flour mixture over the beef and combine.
  15. Add Worcestershire sauce, ginger, 2 cups wine, and stock to the pot.
  16. Bring the pot to a simmer.
  17. Cover and place pot in oven.
  18. Cook for 3 hours, until beef is incredibly tender.
  19. Remove from oven.
  20. If it is not thick enough, mix cornstarch with cold water in a small dish until cornstarch is dissolved.
  21. Add to stew and stir in.
  22. Place back in oven for another 15 minutes.
  23. Remove from oven.
  24. Serve.
Note: As with most beef stews, this dish tastes even better the next day!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Feta Olive Pesto Spread

We're about to embark on that time of year when snowflakes fall on nose and eyelashes, bells jingle, and family and friends come home for the holidays! All of this means more parties, get togethers and nights filled with the angst of trying to decide what to feed all of these people!

This spreadable feta-olive pesto spread is perfect - if you take some shortcuts, it's super easy and fast to put together and if you take the long way it's still not that hard. It will definitely impress your guests if you serve it like we did - in individual serving cups (sake cups) with little bread sticks!

I use Macedonian feta - it is soft, creamy and mild tasting.When I'm not interested in making it from scratch, I head to my local Greek grocery store and buy some of their delicious olive pesto. I only need about 2 tablespoons of olive pesto per cup of feta. I throw the pesto and feta in a food processor and pulse until it comes together. If you don't like olives you could add traditional pesto instead. A mild goat cheese would work too!

If you want to make it from scratch, you can make the pesto ahead of time. It's also good on pasta!

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Olive Pesto


Ingredients

1 tbsp sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
1/2 c kalamata olives, no pits

Instructions


  1. Add tomatoes, cheese, garlic and pine nuts to food processor. Pulse until combined but chunky.
  2. Add olives and olive oil.
  3. Pulse until combined. You want it to have texture - that is, not too smooth.


Refrigerate.

Feta-olive pesto spread


Ingredients

1 c Macedonian feta
2 tbsp olive pesto

Instructions

Combine and pulse feta and pesto until combined.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Coconut Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are soft, cakey, chocolately and with just a whisper of coconut flavor. They are possibly my favorite chocolate chip cookie. I used coconut oil because I didn't have any butter on hand. I wasn't sure I would like it since I don't use coconut oil often but taking this risk paid off! And when they are still warm and gooey, omg, they are nirvana on your tongue!







Makes approx 4 dozen cookies.

Ingredients

2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp hot water
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2-2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix the espresso powder and hot water in a small bowl.
  3. Beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, hot water and coffee until well combined.
  4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  5. Add the flour mixture to the oil mixture and stir to combine.
  6. Stir in the chips.
  7. Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, place batter onto ungreased cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 8-9 minutes.
  9. They will be slightly cracked and shiny.
  10. Cool for two minutes and then move to a cooling rack. As they cool, the cookies lose the shiny look and will flatten a bit.
  11. If you think they are too flat, place the batter in the fridge for 20 minutes or so.
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gluten-free Cheesy Garlic Butternut Squash

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Christmas Menu - Are you including healthy, gluten-free recipes?

The holidays are just around the corner! I bet, like me, you are thinking about your Christmas menu. We'll have traditional turkey, of course, but the side dishes are where you can get a bit creative. I look for sides that can be prepared ahead of time and then just thrown in the oven when the turkey is pulled out of the oven.

Are you or any of your guests following a gluten-free diet? If so, you may have to think a bit harder and scrutinize labels for gluten in the ingredients. Of course, sensitivity to gluten means things like wheat, rye and barley are off limits. Avoiding it can be tricky as wheat is often used in many processed foods and items you may not think of as containing gluten such as most soy sauces!

Gluten-free foods include:

  • meats
  • eggs
  • most dairy products
  • beans
  • fish
  • veggies
  • fruits
  • natural seeds, nuts 

Luckily, gluten-free products are getting easier to find on grocery store shelves. A great gluten-free product is Hidden Valley Ranch dressings - original, spicy and cheese are all gluten-free!

I created this gluten-free, cheesy, garlicky and delicious side dish using gluten-free ingredients including Hidden Valley Ranch Cheese dressing. Not only does it add great flavour and some zip to salads and dips, it is also an easy way to add quick and easy flavor to this creamy vegetable side dish.

I love this dish pureed but you could mash it for a chunkier consistency. Be careful with how much sage you use -it's powerful stuff that can easily take over the flavor. Roasted garlic on the other hand is quite mellow so you can use a whole head of it without fear!


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Pick butternut squashes that are heavy for their size.

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Cut in half and scoop out seeds.

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Lightly coat with olive oil, and sprinkle with spices & herbs.

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Roast squash for about 40-45 minutes.

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Puree squash with butter, gluten-free Hidden Valley Ranch cheese dressing,
garlic, ginger, salt and pepper.

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Place your puree in a baking dish and sprinkle with Parmesan and pumpkin seeds.

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Bake until heated through.

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Broil for a minute or two until cheese bubbles.

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Your guests will love it!


Ingredients

2 medium to large butternut squash (about 6-7 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 head garlic, separated and peeled
1 tsp salt, divided in half
pepper
4 fresh sage leaves
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup Parmesan-reggiano, shredded, divided (2 tbsp for the puree and the rest sprinkled on top)
1/2 cup Hidden Valley Ranch Cheese dressing
1/3 cup unsalted and toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Cut two butternut squashes in half lengthwise.
  3. Scoop out seeds and discard.
  4. Rub the olive oil over the cut flesh and skin of squash. 
  5. Sprinkle cut flesh with salt and pepper. In the scooped out hole of the squash place a sage leaf, 2 twigs of thyme, and equally distribute the peeled garlic cloves.
  6. Carefully, place the squash cut side down on a large baking sheet.
  7. Roast in oven for approximately 45 minutes, until the thickest part of squashes are tender.
  8. Let rest for 15 minutes to cool slightly.
  9. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
  10. Remove thyme but place sage, and garlic in blender or large bowl.
  11. Scoop out squash and place in blender.
  12. Add butter, Cheese Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, 2 tbsp Parmesan and 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.
  13. Puree mixture until smooth.
  14. Place mixture in 9 or 10 inch baking dish with low sides.
  15. Smooth squash and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and remaining Parmesan.
  16. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until cheese is melted and squash is warmed through.
  17. Serve.

Hidden Valley Ranch products and other promotional consideration were received in exchange for providing the above recipe as part of a submission in a contest sponsored by Hidden Valley Ranch.


Hidden Valley Ranch Dressings are gluten-free.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

cranberry orange antioxidant smoothie

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With the Holiday season just around the corner, my mind and recipe book is turning to seasonal dishes and ingredients. Cranberries always come to mind this time of year - sauces, dessert, and treats abound but today I'm sharing this orange cranberry smoothie with a hint of vanilla. This smoothie is tart but still more sweet than not. If you like it more tart go ahead and add up to another 1/4 cup of cranberries.

Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients

2 small oranges
1/2 cup frozen cranberries
1/2 cup yogurt
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

Throw everything into nutrininja or blender.
Blend 1 minute.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup - Ninja Blender Auto iQ Review

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What I had

I've been using a NutriBullet by Magic Bullet for about a year. Unfortunately, for the last 3 or 4 months the noise it produces is so loud it hurts my ears. Additionally, the underneath of the blade mechanism is full of rust. Too bad really as I was fairly happy with its performance. Knowing I had to replace it, I started doing some research. Sure, I'd love a Vitamix but I just couldn't justify the price and it would be too big to sit out on my counter for easy access to morning smoothies. The Nutriblender has a 900 watt model out but I wasn't convinced as I have read mixed reviews about its performance. My other option was a Nutri Ninja.

Fate

That's when fate intervened! As regular readers know, I attended IFBC in Seattle this past September. One of the sponsors was Nutri Kitchen. They sponsored one of the lunch sessions so I was able to learn about their products, including their new Auto iQ line. The new line has preset configurations for time and pulsing so you don't have to stop, take off the jar or blender and stir, shake or otherwise get annoyed!

I left the conference armed with information and recipe ideas and thought I'd make my final decision within a couple of weeks. Then I received an email from Ninja asking if I'd like to review the Ninja Blender DUO with Auto-iQ! Heck ya! So they sent me the 1300 Watt system to test drive!

Nutri Blender with Auto iQ

This system comes with the blender, iQ base with 5 programmed settings, two Nutri Ninja cups, crushing blades, extractor blades, recipe inspiration guide.

Testing

A) Set up was quick and easy. Before long we had our green goddess smoothie ready for blending. Simply pressing the NutriNinja "ultra blend" button starts the process. It pulses a couple of times to get things going and then blends until perfectly smooth - a total of 60 seconds. There is even a count down timer so you know exactly how long until it's done! The smoothie was, well, smooth - I would say it is smoother than my old nutriblender (though that was 600 watts vs 1300 watts for the Ninja). The cups with lids make smoothie making easy and convenient. This model comes with two large cups. A smaller cup would be great - especially when making smoothies for the kids.  If this is important to you, other models come with an extra smaller cup.

B) To test the blender, we threw in a bunch of ice and crushed it - it came out just like snow! In fact, there may have been a snowball or two made! All we and to do was press "frozen drinks" button  - 70 seconds was all we needed to have perfect crushed ice.

C) With the cold fall weather rolling in, we have lots of soup bubbling in our kitchen. We decided to make a roasted carrot and fennel soup using the blender attachment. It did a great job - very silky smooth, very easy, and clean up was a breeze. I loved that the large capacity blender held everything in one go. I ran it a few times on the puree mode. Once pureed, I placed the soup in individual serving containers and froze them.

Overall Impression

So far I love the Ninja Blender DUO with Auto-iQ! It's simple to set up, simple to use and simple to clean up. I do appreciate that the containers and blades are dishwasher safe and bpa free. However, it's not whisper quiet - in fact it's loud but quite a bit quieter than my NutriBullet. Overall, I recommend it to anyone in the market for this kind of appliance. You will use it to make delicious smoothies, silky soups, slushy margaritas and many other fantastic creations!

Below you'll find the recipe for our roasted carrot soup!

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Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup
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Roasted veggies go into blender.

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It holds quite a bit!

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Don't forget the orange!

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Blending!


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Roasted Carrot and Fennel Soup

Ingredients

1 lb carrots
2 medium bulbs of fennel
1 head garlic, separated into cloves but do not peel cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
2-3 inch piece of ginger
1 orange, peeled
1 litre vegetable broth
salt/pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Cut carrots in half length wise and quarter if thick.
  3. Cut fennel into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  4. Place carrots, fennel, and garlic (leave skin on) on one or two baking sheets.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over veggies and garlic and mix a little with your hands to make sure oil covers.
  6. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Roast for approximately 30 minutes, turning vegetables once half way through. Roast untilsoft and slightly carmelized.
  8. Julienne or grate ginger.
  9. Place carrots, fennel, orange and ginger in blender.
  10. Squish garlic out of skins and into blender.
  11. Add vegetable broth.
  12. Blend on puree setting.
  13. Do it again if you want it ultra silky.
  14. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  15. You can place in in sauce pan and heat or place in containers without heating and freeze or refrigerate for future use.
PS - even though I was sent this system, my opinions, as always, are my own.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Bites and Cook Book Review - Dessert Mashups


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Do you have an intense sweet tooth? Or perhaps you're looking for a Christmas gift for someone who has one? Then you should buy a copy of Dessert Mash-ups by Dorothy Kern who blogs at Crazy for Crust. It puts together wonderful two in one combos or mashups of sweet treats!

When my daughter saw the book on our dining room table, her eyes almost jumped out of her head and she immediately picked it up and started earmarking the recipes she thought we should try (pretty much all of them!).
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There are 52 recipes to try in the book. Recipes include mashups like lemon bar cheesecake, white chocolate coconut pie fudge and pecan pie cinnamon rolls! Many of these recipes would be great for the upcoming Holiday season, cookie swaps and school events.


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Tonight we tried the peanut butter brownie bites. Mmmm - chocolate, peanut butter, brownie all in one mashup! It was a hit. Decadent, rich, worth every minute in the gym you'll need to work it off because you won't be able to stop at one! The peanut butter mixture was my favorite - sweet but not overly so and the brownies were fudgier than a Judy Blume book.

I was given permission by Ulysses Press to share this recipe with you. If you don't have the patience to dip the bites in the chocolate, just drizzle some on top. I had to use an 8 x 8 pan so the brownies were thicker and cooking time was 23 minutes. Note: My 10 year old did most of this by herself so it's a great recipe to make with the kids.
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Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Bites

Yield 32 bites
Prep Time 1 hour
Bake Time 18 to 25 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour, plus cooling time

If I had to choose only one flavor combination to eat for the rest of my life, it would be peanut butter and chocolate. These bites are what happens when a peanut butter cup and a brownie get married and have babies: A layer of brownie is topped with a soft peanut butter mixture and then the whole thing takes a bath in chocolate. These are too easy to eat, so be sure to wrap some in a pretty box and give them to your neighbors . . . if you have the strength to share them!

Brownies
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2⁄3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (or water)
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour

Peanut Butter Mixture
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1⁄3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
16 to 24 ounces melting chocolate or semisweet baking chocolate
Sprinkles (optional)

Make the Brownies

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 9-inch pan with cooking spray or line with foil and spray with cooking spray for easy cleanup.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the melted butter, sugar, and cocoa. Stir in the eggs, vanilla, coffee (the coffee just adds a richness to the brownies, but you can use water if you prefer), and salt. Carefully stir in the flour. Spread in the prepared pan.

3. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted about 2 inches from the edge of the pan comes out with only crumbs sticking to it. Let cool completely in pan before continuing. You can chill them to speed up this process.

Make the Peanut Butter Mixture

1. Combine the peanut butter, brown sugar, and powdered sugar in a large bowl. Mix with a hand mixer (or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) until crumbly. Add the vanilla, then continue to mix until the mixture is smooth and almost comes together. Press it together with your hands to form a smooth ball.

2. Place the peanut butter ball on a sheet of waxed paper. Press or roll it into a square that’s about the size of your brownie pan. Place the peanut butter square on top of the brownies and press to adhere it. Press and adjust the edges so that it completely covers the brownies in the pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

3. When you’re ready to dip the brownies, melt half of the candy according to the package directions and line a cookie sheet with waxed paper. Remove the brownies from the pan and carefully discard the foil. Set the brownies on a cutting board and cut the square in half. Place one half back in the refrigerator until finished with the first half.

4. Cut the half sheet of brownies into 32 squares (4 rows by 8 columns). Dip each square carefully into the chocolate (see Candy Dipping Tips, page 30), tap off any excess, and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining brownies, melting additional chocolate as needed.

5. Refrigerate until set. If desired, place any remaining chocolate in a plastic baggie or small squirt bottle and drizzle chocolate on top of the truffles. You can also cover them with sprinkles or leave them plain. These can be kept at room temperature or in the refrigerator in an airtight container, or can be frozen. The truffles will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

Tip: Use white candy coating for a fun new twist!

PS this is how it looks in the book...even more yummy!

Photo from Dessert MashUps (used with permission from publisher).