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During the month we spent in Arizona, we had the pleasure of celebrating American Thanksgiving with our dear friends down there. Our dear friends who live there offered to make the turkey (thank goodness, as I did not have any of my special kitchen tools!) so I offered to make a few different sides. We had dear friends visiting from Toronto and they are vegetarian and I wanted to make something special for them for Thanksgiving, so I made this Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington. I purchased the puff pastry to make it easier but I made everything else. I was surprised to find roasted Italian chestnuts (in the Kosher section, no less!) but sadly the mushrooms were just plain cremini and white mushrooms, not much variety. It’s always a bit of a challenge to cook in a strange kitchen and shop in a different part of the world, but I think this one turned out wonderful and with a variety of mushrooms, it would be amazing! Please excuse the photos, this is the one and only blog post I managed to eak out during our stay in Arizona, I was THAT busy!

Scroll down to the end of this post to see the house we rented. It took us some time to find one that was decorated in light airy colours, most of the rentals are dark and dowdy, filled with ‘granny’s furniture’ and I just couldn’t bear to live in that for a month! Although I might have chosen a slightly lighter tone for the walls, this house made me happy.

Fresh out of the oven.

Mushroom, Chestnut and Bean Wellington

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 1 Wellington about 30 cm x 15 cm (12 inches x 6 inches)

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 2 cups variety of mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, finely cubed
  • 1/2 cup roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2-1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup navy beans, soaked
  • 4 cups vegetable stock, divided
  • 1/2 cup port
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 puff pastry sheet
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly whisked with a little water.

Directions:

  1. Cook the navy beans in 3 cups veggie stock or water, cool.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan, caramelize the onions in the melted butter and olive oil on medium heat (about 20 minutes). Add mushrooms and cook until the mushroom liquid has evaporated. Turn the heat up and caramelize the mushrooms add the port to deglaze the pan.
  3. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, zucchini and roasted chestnuts and sauté until carrots are slightly softened.
  4. Add the rosemary, panko, cooked navy beans, and veggie stock. Season to taste. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  5. On a cold surface, roll out the puff pastry sheet to about 30 cm x 40 cm (12 inches x 16 inches). Brush the Dijon mustard on the pastry and mound the cooled mushroom filling in the centre of the pastry. Turn up each side until they meet in the middle and pinch closed. Pinch the ends closed and trim off excess pastry.
  6. Turn the log onto a parchment lined baking sheet seamed sized down, and brush with the egg yolk. Decorate with leaves from the leftover end pastry and brush with egg wash. Bake in a hot 400° F oven for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
  7. Serve sliced hot out of the oven, or reheat to serve.

A tasty treat wrapped in delicious buttery pastry.

Click on any photo for the slideshow.

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I will reveal our latest adventure now! Drumroll please: We spent the month of November in Arizona. We have dear friends who live there during the winter and when we were visiting during February, we tossed around the idea to buy a second house there. But before we make the plunge, we wanted to be certain we liked it so we rented an awesome house in the same community that our friends live.

Now who were we kidding? It was -5° C (23° F) (but it felt like -10° C (14° F)) in Toronto while we were enjoying 28° C (82° F) with sunshine. Every. Single. Day. What’s not to like? The community is tagged as resort-style living with a gorgeous golf course and 4 swimming pools, a spa, workout facilities and a couple of restaurants. Yep, I could get used to it!

The community is located in Queen’s Creek. Queen’s Creek is situated in the San Tan Valley, south-east of Phoenix, Arizona. As another friend said, “it’s not quite the end of the world, but you can see the end of the world from there!”

It is also a mere 4.5-hour drive to the Grand Canyon and that is where we did our EPIC hike! We hiked 7.5 hours to Indian Grove and back. Going down was relatively easy, we bought good hiking boots and sticks, but going up was significantly more challenging because of the altitude and lack of oxygen. We stopped and rested a lot. Listening to your body is essential as is allowing your muscles to recover as you’re ascending. It took us 3 hours to hike down and 3.5 hours to hike back up (which isn’t bad for a couple of old folks!), the rest of the time we spent at Indian Grove eating a delicious lunch I packed. The worst part was the day and day two later, my calves ached like a demon. But it was worth it! I’ve put together s little slide show of our hike at the end of this post, if you are interested. And by the way, my stupid FitBit died sometime during our hike so I don’t even know how many steps we did, but if the last time we hiked only 1.5 hours down and back was any indication, we did 22,000 steps! This is my third FitBit Zip and when I called them that it was eating the batteries like crazy (one every 2-3 weeks) they said it was a known issue and they are working on fixing it but would do NOTHING ELSE. So I am done with FitBit, they let me down in one of the most epic hikes of my life and had nothing but “oh, sorry” to say about it. I am going to get a Garmin which I hear are much more reliable.

This cookie has nothing to do with the hike or our trip, it’s a cookie I made for Canadian Thanksgiving at my sweet cousin Lucy’s place. My dear blogging friend Liz (of That Skinny Chick Can Bake, blog) was the inspiration, I saw the recipe on her site a while back. These cookies were all the rave in the 90’s on restaurant menus but I haven’t seen one in ages. Liz’s recipe will change that for sure.

Skillet Chocolate Chunk Cookie

Makes 1 12″ Cookie

Please click here for the original recipe.

Click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 195 g butter
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 150 g brown sugar
  • 15 mL vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 350 g AP Flour
  • 3 g baking powder
  • 5 g salt
  • 100 g chocolate chips (I used Belgian milk and semi-sweet chocolate)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375° F (I used the convection setting). Prepare a 30 cm cast iron skillet with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Melt the butter and sugars in a heatproof bowl in the microwave, stir until sugars have melted. Cool slightly and then stir in the vanilla. Combine the egg and whites and whisk. Whisk into the butter-sugar mixture.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt, add it to the butter-sugar mixture and mix until well combined.
  4. Fold in 3/4 the chocolate, reserving about 1/4 to dot the top of the cookie for garnish.
  5. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Cool to room temperature. Serve slicing fractions of the circle.

Notes:

  • I like to buy Belgian chocolate disks (not molding chocolate) and melt them, spread them on a cookie sheet and chill until set. Then I break up the sheets by hand, making different sized pieces with a variety of thicknesses.

It’s a cross between cookie and blondie that is quite difficult to resist.

Click on the first photo to see the slideshow.

Our neighbourly South-Western- themed progressive dinner party was scheduled two days after we returned home from Arizona, I didn’t think it would be a problem because we were only responsible for hors d’œuvres and appetizers, easy-peasy! HA! Had I read more than the heading of the organizer’s email, I would have realized that things would get a bit more complicated since one person decided to go vegetarian, gluten and dairy free (for health reasons). But, you know me, I do love a challenge and as luck would have it, my experiments turned out even better than I expected! So much so, that JT has asked for it several times since, so I documented the recipe for the future use.

This recipe originated from Emeril Lagasse but I tweaked it a little bit. What attracted me to this recipe was, of course, that it was baked an not deep fried, and although deep fried would be awesome, it’s always nice to lower calories whenever possible particularly if you need not sacrifice flavour or texture! I think you will be very happy with the baked version (our group could not get enough of them)! I’ll speak to the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy- free version in my notes below (no pics, sorry).

You can see how crispy these turned out.

Baked Jalapeño Poppers

Makes about 24 jalapeño poppers

For the original recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh jalapeno peppers, halved lengthwise, stems, seeds and membranes removed
  • 170 g (6 oz) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 140 g (1 1/2 cups) grated sharp or old cheddar
  • 3 g (1/2 tsp) ground cumin
  • pinch of cayenne, or less, to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) milk
  • 8 tsp Essence, divided
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup coconut flour
  • non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and grated cheddar and mix well.
  2. Toast the cumin until you can smell the aroma, allow to cool and add to the cream cheese mixture and stir well. Set aside.
  3. Prepare your breading station by whisking 2 large eggs with 2 tsp of the Essence and the milk in a shallow bowl. In a second shallow bowl, mix 4 tsp of the Essence with the coconut flour. In the third shallow bowl, add 2 tsp of the Essence to the panko and mix well. Reserve remaining essence for the next time (and believe me, there will be a next time!)
  4. Fill each jalapeño densely with the cream cheese mixture, being careful not to mound it too high; continue filling until you have filled all of the jalapeño halves.
  5. Dredge each jalapeño half in the coconut flour, then dip into the egg mixture and repeat once more. Finally, dip each pepper into the panko and press panko into the jalapeño to coat well. Repeat until all are coated.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to  375° F. Place jalapeño cut side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Give each jalapeño a light coating with the non-stick spray. Bake for 30 minutes or until panko is golden and crisp.
  7. Serve warm with sour cream and salsa.

Notes:

  • For the vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free version, I simply replaced the cheeses with creamed lentils (about 1/4 cup cooked in vegetable broth and puréed with a stick blender) and the panko with shredded unsweetened coconut. Even the non-vegetarians loved them! (Sorry, no pics).
  • I use coconut flour for baked “fried” foods because the coconut has an unbelievable absorption property which makes the batter so much crispier than all-purpose flour.
  • I used gloves to protect my hands from the jalapeños as I cleaned them, you might consider doing this too.
  • Leftovers? Freeze unbaked jalapeños on a parchment-lined baking sheet and when frozen, pop them into a ziplock bag.To bake frozen jalapeños, no need to defrost, just bake for a little longer to crisp up.

Apple and Cheese Strudel

JT and I have been on a huge adventure. I’ll let you in on it next week. But just before, a dear friend’s daughter flew in from Vancouver and we invited the family over for tea and strudel and this is what I made.

Apple & Cheese Strudel

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Make 3 medium-sized strudels (about 30 cm or 12″ long)

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 260 g ricotta
  • 100 g Icelandic or Greek yogurt
  • 35 g raisins
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 25 g icing sugar
  • 5 mL vanilla
  • 1 egg, gently whisked
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 (~550 g) apples, peeled, cored and finely diced
  • zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 20 g brown sugar
  • 5 g cinnamon
  • 50 g almond flour, divided
  • 9 sheets of phyllo pastry
  • 45 g butter, melted
  • Icing sugar for garnish

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (177° C).
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Combine the ricotta, yogurt, raisins, lemon zest, sugar, vanilla, egg and salt and mix well. Set into the refrigerator whilst preparing the apples.
  4. Combine the apples, lemon zest and juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, 15 g almond flour and mix well.
  5. Prepare 3 sheets of phyllo pastry by brushing each sheet with the melted butter and sprinkling with almond flour, set aside. Continue with remaining 6, making stacks of three sheets.
  6. Pour 1/3 the ricotta mixture into the centre of each stack of prepared phyllo and top with 1/3 of the apple mixture. Turn in the ends and roll tightly.
  7. Brush each roll with the remaining melted butter and bake until golden, about 30-40 minutes.
  8. Serve warm sprinkled with icing sugar.

Zucchini Crêpes

JT and I have been training for an upcoming epic 15 km hike. We do a gruelling route for 7-8 km through High Park on its steepest terrain, circling through a 98-step staircase and a 120 metre hill. Sometimes we drive to a Provincial park and hike unchartered territory to mix it up. But I’m a bit concerned as we can’t replicate the altitude we will ultimately face, I’ve never worked out at 6,800 feet before!

The best we can do is prepare ourselves. Eating healthy is part of that preparation so I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to change a recipe to make it healthier. Adding my favourite veggy, zucchini (or courgette) to a slightly modified crêpe batter does the trick!

These “crêpes” have an incredibly similar bite to them as their authentic French cousins, but they are less calorie laden. The small amount of whole wheat flour gives them the perfect amount of texture and volume. They cook up like a super thin omelette but results in a thin crêpe.

Definitely a keeper recipe.

Zucchini Crêpes

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 1 large crêpe, for multiple crêpes, simply multiply the ingredients below by the quantity you wish to make.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 50 g (1/4 cup) zucchini, grated
  • 45 mL egg whites (6 tbsp egg whites or 3 large whole eggs)
  • 10 g (1 tbsp) whole wheat flour
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Directions :

  1. Combine the flour, egg whites and salt and mix well.
  2. Heat a nonstick pan and spray lightly with nonstick spray.
  3. Spread the grated zucchini around in an even layer, predominantly in the centre of the pan and cook for a minute.
  4. Pour the egg mixture over the zucchini and spread thinly over the pan as evenly as possible, making a large filled circle. Gently coax the egg mixture into gaps or holes.
  5. Cook until side has browned a little, carefully flip crêpe when cooked and repeat for other side.
  6. Serve warm filled with your favourite savoury filling.

Caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms made a wonderful filling with a lentil-based béchamel.

Notes:

  • These are as close to a real crêpe texture as I have gotten using low-calorie ingredients.
  • Make them as large or as small as you wish, they have good structure and will hold up for hand held fillings like soft tacos.

Nutritional Facts for 1 crêpe, no filling.

Weight Watchers Points for 1 crêpe, no filling.

Our dear friends gave me a beautiful cookbook from their last cruise, it is a celebration of courses through the journies of their fleet: Culinary Courses Journeys. Although most of the recipes are quite fancy, the book is amazing inspiration and a week doesn’t go by that I don’t check it for reference!

It was such an occasion that I was leafing through the book that I found a gorgeous representation of a Minestrone Soup and I knew I had to make it for dinner. And then I realized that I did not have a Minestrone on the blog. Gads!

The soup is packed with fresh vegetables in a light tomato and basil scented broth. The protein is navy bean to keep it healthy. You could add a parmesan rind or two to the broth while cooking.

The tuile melts into the soup for a beautiful flavour and textural addition.

Rustic Vegetable Minestrone

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 1.5 L (6.25 cups) soup.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 125 g (~1 cup) sweet onion, diced
  • 10 g (2 – 3 cloves) garlic, finely minced
  • 150 g (~1 cup) zucchini, diced
  • 115 g (~1 cup) celery, diced
  • 120 g (~1 cup) red pepper, diced
  • 75 g (~1 cup) king mushrooms, diced
  • 140 mL (4 oz) puréed tomatoes, juice or sauce
  • 15 mL (1 tbsp) tomato paste
  • 350 mL (1 2/3 cups) chicken stock
  • 2 stems of basil
  • 4 stems of lemon thyme
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) dried beans
  • 35 g (~1 cup) baby spinach
  • 5-8 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Directions:

  1. Cook the dried beans according to directions.
  2. Heat Olive Oil in a large pot and sauté onions until translucent, you may need to add a little stock or water. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  3. Add all of the vegetables and cook for about 10-15 minutes.
  4. Combine the puréed tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken stock. Pour over the vegetables and add the basil and thyme stems and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove stems.
  5. Add the cooked beans and baby spinach, stir and heat through.
  6. Serve garnished with a Parmesan tuile (recipe below) and roughly torn basil leaves.

Basil Cheese Tuile

Makes 1 tuile

Ingredients:

  • 7 g (1/4 oz) hard fatty cheese (like Parmesan or Cheddar), finely grated
  • 1 large basil leaf, chiffonade
  • pinch of granulated garlic

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven on high broil.
  2. Mix cheese, basil and granulated garlic well.
  3. On a parchment lined baking sheet, shape the tuile as desired (I made a tear drop).
  4. Broil until evenly browned (mine took about 4 minutes but it depends on how thick you make your tuile); to prevent burning, you may need to cover part of it with bits of parchment as it bakes.

Notes:

  • I like a little crunch left in my vegetables, so I generally under cook rather than over cook.
  • If you make this in advance, keep the beans separately so they don’t turn to mush.
  • I used Ivanhoe Horseradish Cheddar because I thought it would be a nice zing to the soup.
  • Make as many tuile as you need, just multiply the ingredients by the servings required.

Recently, we were dining at our favourite French restaurant in our hood. We were sitting at the bar chatting with the staff and another patron when, for no apparent reason, a wine glass slid off the top shelf and plummeted to the ground, shattering!

Well, that was interesting! No one was near it, and the manager said that they put rubber mats on the shelves to prevent this type of thing. Yet, it slid off the shelf entirely on its own. Later, someone mentioned that the location had been a funeral home when it was first built in 1923 (we’ve been here 17 years and have only known the location to be restaurants!). You decide what happened, but my bet is on a sneaky ghost giving us a fright!

Smoked Garlic and Roasted Cauliflower Soup

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Please click here to print the recipe.

Makes 1.5 L (6 cups) soup

Ingredients:

  • 25 g smoked garlic (about 5 cloves)
  • 560 g cauliflower (about 1/2 a large head), cut into smallish florets
  • 1 L (4 cups) chicken stock (or vegetable)
  • 90 g (1/2 cup) red lentils
  • non-stick spray
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika
  • sea salt

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400° F (200° C).
  2. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves to a small ramekin, sprinkle with a little sea salt. Pour about 1 cm (1/2 inch) stock over cloves and cover with either foil or ramekin lid.
  3. Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick spray and add the cauliflower, sprinkle with a little sea salt. Add the ramekin with garlic to a corner of the baking sheet. Bake cauliflower and garlic for 30-40 minutes or until quite soft, turning frequently to avoid burning. I like to add a little stock to the bottom of the roasting pan to make sure I get all the little bits from the pan.
  4. Pour the cauliflower into a large pot. Peel the garlic and add it to the cauliflower, add some of the stock and purée until smooth. Add the red lentils and cook until lentils are soft. Purée again until smooth, adding stock until you achieve the desired consistency. You may wish to run this through a fine sieve to make it even more luxurious.
  5. Serve hot.

The cloves are cold smoked and are still raw.

Perfect timing as it’s getting pretty darn cold!

Notes:

  • A dear friend gave me a couple of heads of smoked garlic, she picked it up at a local farmers market. I had never seen or heard of it before but you can bet that I’ll be trying to make it soon!
  • The smoked garlic is raw and therefore needs some cooking when used in this quantity, I prefer roasting, usually with olive oil instead of stock, but we are trying to lose a few summer pounds.
  • The smoke in the garlic is very subtle, that is why I added the smoked paprika, but be careful, it can get overwhelming very quickly.
  • I added the lentils to get some protein into this meatless meal, and it also is an amazing thickener that becomes so velvety smooth when puréed.
  • Some topping suggestions:
    • Crumbled crispy bacon
    • Crispy onions
    • Grilled cheese croutons
    • Grated cheese (like gruyère or sharp cheddar)
    • a dollop of Crème Fraiche or sour cream
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