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In late March/early April, we spent two glorious weeks in Arizona. We stayed with friends for this duration because we had offered to puppy-sit (Jordan) while they took a quick 7 day holiday in Ireland. We had never puppy sat before but their beautiful black lab, Jordan is quite possibly one of the laziest dogs we have ever met so she was really no problem at all. We did get her used to three walks per day, that is, until we bumped into a woman carrying a black light, walking her dog after dark. I had to ask and yes, it was to detect scorpions. That was the end of our after dark walks. Period.

I like to arrive with gifts in hand and these basil Parmesan Straws were the perfect hostess gift because I had a bunch of basil that needed using a couple of days before our departure. Plus they are pretty tasty. Jordan thought so too.

Sun-dried Tomato, Basil and Parmesan Straws

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 75 pieces

To print this recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 290 g flour
  • 10 g Fresh Basil, finely chopped
  • 50 g sun-dried tomatoes in oil, roughly chopped
  • 10 g garlic, finely minced
  • 110 g unsalted butter (cold)
  • 30 g  grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten separately
  • 15-30 mL water or milk
  • Sea salt

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
  2. Put all dry ingredients into a food processor, including the basil, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, and process to mix well.
  3. Add the butter and process to coarse granules.
  4. While the blades are running, pour in the egg and process until a soft ball forms. If this does not happen, drizzle little bits of water until a soft ball forms.
  5. Remove from processor and using a small amount of flour, roll out the dough to about 1/2 cm thickness. Cut into 8cm x 7 mm straws and position evenly on a cookie sheet. Brush with second egg and sprinkle with sea salt.
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden.
  7. Remove and allow to cool. This will store well in a cool, dark place or freeze.

Notes:

  • I like to use a plastic ruler to cut the straws evenly. My ruler is a dedicated food ruler that never is used with pens or pencils or markers!
  • This type of rolling pin gives you evenly thick dough, but as I have mentioned previously, it is a pain to unscrew the disks and I inadvertently have to wash all of the disks each time I use it.
  • This dough is a bit wetter than some of my other recipes because of the sun-dried tomatoes and fresh garlic.
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In mid-March JT and I went to the large National Home Show at the Enercare Centre. I found discounted tickets on Groupon AND I also found a Groupon discount code, which made the two tickets $17.80; that was an awesome deal because the regular price of the tickets are $20 each! These shows are getting more and more expensive and I really don’t understand why, the vendors pay through the nose to exhibit, AND the public pays a hefty entrance fee. The kicker was parking at $21! The Enercare Centre is not located downtown, it is slightly west but still within the city, but there is not much else around it — total money grab! And that completes my rant.

While at the show, there are always a few food vendors exhibiting and one of my favourites is a shortbread company who generously hands out samples. JT and I sampled one of their savoury shortbread cookies and I knew I had to make a batch. On the drive home, we brain-stormed the possible flavours and I knew the moment JT said caramelized onion that it had to be the one. We bought a very special sharp cheddar to accompany the sweet flavour of the caramelized onion, they were absolutely perfect!

Caramelized Onion and Cheddar Shortbread Cookies

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes about 75 cookies that are about 3 cm in diameter.

To print recipe, please click here.

Ingredients:

  • 114 g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 80 mL caramelized onions, slightly dried out, see notes
  • 120 g sharp cheddar, grated
  • 5 g sea salt
  • 120 g “00” flour
  • 90 g cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Cream the butter, caramelized onions and grated cheddar until light and fluffy (about 5-8 minutes).
  3. Sift the salt, flour and cornstarch into the creamed butter mixture and mix until well combined but do not overmix.
  4. Create two disks and wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Turn out to a lightly floured surface and roll about 4 mm thick.
  6. Cut with 3 cm round cookie cutter. Continue until the dough has been used up. Bake for 14-16 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.
  7. Serve with wine or your favourite cocktail.

Notes:

  • We used the KitchenAid Flex Edge Beater, it creams the cheese, butter and onion beautifully.
  • We always keep caramelized onions in the freezer in ziplock baggies for such uses. I use this recipe.
  • Spread the caramelized onion on a piece of parchment and allow it to sit for 10 minutes, this allows some of the moisture to wick out and will allow the shortbread its melt-in-the-mouthfeel.
  • The cheddar we used today was a Welsh cheddar.
  • The “00” flour we used was an imported Italian flour.
  • The rolling pin we used was this one. To be honest, I don’t love it, it’s a pain to unscrew the disks that are not required but it does roll the dough out evenly.

The flavour of the caramelized onion shines in this delicate little savoury cookie.

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I created this recipe in 2012, modeled after an appetizer at an old favourite restaurant which sadly closed down many years prior to 2012. Like many of my old posts, the photos are dark and dreary and deserve an update so here it is. I also threw in a sourdough baguette, the recipe can be found here. I used this starter which, frankly took a long time and was not as sour-doughy as I had hoped but I found the liquid ingredient intriguing so I gave it a go. I will try this starter used in the recipe next time.

It’s still a winter picture, so give me a break!

Sizzling Mushrooms

Serves 2-4 as an hors d’œuvres (about 112 g of cooked mushrooms and onions, without the feta)

Ingredients:

  • 20 g unsalted butter
  • 150 g mushrooms, stems removed and sliced medium thinly
  • 60 g sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 g garlic, finely minced
  • 30-60 g sheep and goats milk feta, crumbled (see notes)
  • 30 mL cognac (optional)
  • 2-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, roughly chopped
  • sea salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a small frying pan, melt the butter and add the onions, cook until caramelized (about 10-15 minutes).
  2. Add the mushrooms and cook until they are no longer wet (about 5-10 minutes) and have also caramelized. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Season with sea salt if using, but remember the feta is also salty so season sparingly.
  3. Deglaze the pan with the cognac, stirring to loosen any of the bits stuck to the pan. Remove from heat and add the fresh thyme and stir. Sprinkle the crumbled feta over the hot mushrooms and serve immediately with thinly sliced sourdough baguette (fresh out of the oven, no less!)

Notes:

  • I used a 50/50 combo of shitake and cremini mushrooms, but feel free to use whatever mushrooms you desire.
  • We prefer actual Greek Feta made in Greece of Sheep and Goats milk, here in Toronto there are many imposters so try to find this one.
  • We typically don’t use pepper, but if you like it, use white pepper to avoid the harsh dark specs on the feta.
  • This recipe cooks beautifully in a cast iron pan, if you have a small one, use it. My small one was a bit too big for this amount.

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Everyone has busy days, the type of days that you’re too busy to cook and the easy thing to do would be to order in or throw some unhealthy grocery-store frozen dinner into the microwave and be done with it. We’ve all done it and what happens is interesting: you don’t eat for the love of food, you just eat and because it’s fast and easy. But then, it never hits those emotional triggers so we end up feeling awful and regretting our choice. There is nothing I hate more (other than the obvious crap going on in our world) than regretting calories. Fret not dear friends, I have the perfect solution with this slow cooker lasagna, and you need not make enough for an army because this handy hack will have you getting that slow cooker out more often!

This is the one slow cooker hack you’ve been waiting for: Line your slow cooker with a silicon mat and lay your smaller, heat-resistant dish on top of it. Presto, a custom-sized slow cooker.

The Silpat protects the ceramic slow cooker from the metal of the loaf pan.

I made this awesome Lentilles du Puy lasagna this way. I won’t lie, there is some prep work with this dish, but a little pre-planning on the weekend will make it a breeze on that busy weeknight. The recipe was inspired by my LA friend, Greg of Sippity Sup, he had made an incredible Swiss Chard Lasagne with Bechamel that literally had me licking my lips during the entire read through! He used one of my favourite ingredients: béchamel sauce!

Creamy béchamel with eggplant and roasted red peppers just melt in your mouth.

Slow Cooker Lasagna with Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper and Lentilles du Puy

Recipe inspired by Greg’s Swiss Chard Lasagna

Makes one 12 cm x 22 cm x 10 cm loaf pan, serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 60 g Lentils du Puys, cooked
  • 100 g onions, chopped
  • 10 g Ice® Mama Mia garlic, finely chopped (see notes)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 400 mL San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • 250 mL béchamel sauce with a pinch of nutmeg (see notes)
  • 4 gluten-free, oven-ready lasagna noodles (I used this brand)
  • 1 Chinese eggplant, sliced into 0.5 cm thickness (about 6 slices)
  • 176 g roasted red peppers (about 6 small roasted red peppers)
  • 150 g Mozzarella cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. In a splash of olive oil, sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the oregano and basil and stir well.  Add the San Marzano tomatoes and cooked lentils, stir well and allow to cool to room temperature. This makes around 500 mL.
  2. Prepare a 12 cm x 22 cm x 10 cm loaf pan with non-stick spray. Spread a couple of spoonfuls of the lentil tomato mixture on the bottom of the prepared pan.
  3. Lay 1 and 1/3 noodles over the lentil-tomato mixture (covering the entire pan area). Top with 1/3 of the lentil-tomato mixture spread evenly over the noodles, then a single layer of 2 roasted red peppers, then lay two slices of the eggplant over the peppers. Top with béchamel and about 1/3 of the cheese. Repeat until everything is layered, making sure you top with the grated cheese.
  4. Lay a silicon mat (like Silpat)  into the slow cooker and place the loaf pan onto it, in the centre (see notes). Cover and turn the slow cooker on high for 3-4 hours or until noodles have cooked through. Relax.
  5. When the noodles have cooked through, pre-heat the broiler in the oven and broil the lasagna on high until cheese is bubbly and caramelized. Serve hot with simply dressed greens.

A nice bubbly, caramelized cheese topping!

Notes:

  • You may have seen me searching for softneck garlic sometime late last year. It was, of course, the wrong time of year for farmer’s market garlic, but that didn’t stop me from trying my best to hunt it down. During this process, a friend on Facebook mentioned Beneli Farms, a Manitoba, 5th generation farming family specializing in garlic for the last 15 years. I reached out to them and they were very quick in getting back to me and eager to help but sadly they were not able to courier me softneck garlic in time, but they did courier a large selection of their specialty garlic! I use garlic a lot but I am still going through my generous stash. For this dish I chose their Mama Mia™ Ice® Garlic for its smooth flavour. It was definitely the right choice as it did not overpower the dish, just provided a smooth, delicate garlic flavour in the tomato sauce. Thank you Garth and Miranda.
  • To make gluten-free béchamel sauce, simply substitute a good gluten-free flour with the all-purpose flour. Don’t forget the pinch of nutmeg.
  • The Silpat mat simply protects the ceramic bowl of the slow cooker from the the metal loaf pan.
  • The Gluten-free noodles I’ve used in this recipe stand up a bit better than regular oven-ready noodles and maintain a good texture in this dish. The liquid proportion I’ve indicated is perfect for cooking the noodles without destroying them, i.e., they still have bite.
  • Leftovers may be frozen for future quick meals, but don’t count on it!

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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.

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I am a crêpe fanatic, I just love them so much. I will choose a savoury crêpe over any sandwich, any day of the week. I particularly love it with béchamel sauce or just plain cheese (and some wonderful filling, of course).

The other day, I had my pans and ingredients all pulled out, ready to make a plain crêpe when it hit me, why not add cheese RIGHT INTO THE BATTER? The more flavourful, the better. It’s not low fat, but boy it is delicious. Imagine a combination of crêpe and grilled cheese, it is so good. It’s true that I’ve done crêpe paninis and delicious ordinary crêpes (like this and this beautiful savoury mushroom crêpe), but when this crept into my head, I just had to try it. I hope you like it too.

Cheese Crêpes

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Recipe is for 2 Crêpes.

Please click here to print this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites or 1 whole L egg
  • 65 mL (1/4 cup) soda water
  • 15 mL (1 tbsp) oil
  • 35 g (1/4 cup) flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 25 g (1/4 loose cup) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Add all of the ingredients to the container of your immersion blender. Blend until entirely emulsified. Allow to sit for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat your crêpe pan. Emulsify the crêpe batter one more time. Use half (about 100 mL) for the first crêpe and the remainder for the second.

Notes:

  • This is a delicate, cheesy crêpe.
  • I put sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions with a lemon thyme scented béchamel with it for a simple lunch, it was delicious.
  • Use sharp flavoured, hard cheese (like cheddar, gruyère, Oka), don’t use anything that will render too easily (like brie or blue cheese).

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Recently, we had a dinner party and I served a grilled caesar salad as one of the courses. Of course, you MUST have REAL bacon so JT cooked the bacon up on the BBQ (none of that maple crap) and I asked him to save the drippings for the roast potatoes but by the time I got around to tossing the tators in the bacon drippings, I had second thoughts so I used only about a tablespoon and tossed the rest with olive oil. I had about a 65 mL (1/4 cup) bacon drippings sitting in the refrigerator, crying for something creative so I came up with this easy recipe. The drippings have such an amazing flavour, and the bits of bacon add just the right amount of crunch. I think I may have to cook up another batch of bacon just for the drippings so I can bake another batch of these tasty morsels.

Bacon and Parmesan Cheese Puffs

A KitchenInspirations Original Recipe

Makes 42 small puffs

Ingredients:

  • 250 mL (1 cup) water
  • 65 mL (1/4 cup) bacon drippings
  • 5 mL 1/2 tsp salt
  • 145 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 120 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 1/2 slices bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled to small pieces

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 200° C (400° F).
  2. Place water, bacon drippings and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Remove from heat and add flour, and stir until combined.
  4. Return to heat and stir cooking the flour mixture until it comes away from the sides of the pan and is a shiny ball.
  5. Place in a food processor with plastic blades and process for 15 seconds (give or take).
  6. Add eggs, one at a time and process for 40 seconds (err on the longer side of give or take).
  7. Add the cheese and process for another 5-10 seconds until smooth. Stir in the crumbled bacon.
  8. Dip a spoon or small ice cream scoop into 1 cup cold water with 5 mL (1 tsp) plain vegetable oil, place walnut-sized spoonfuls on a parchment lined cookie sheet about 3 cm (1 1/2 inches) apart.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
  10. Serve warm or room temperature.

Notes:

  • You may also prepare this recipe with a good quality handheld mixer or stand mixer but I would suggest an immersion blender with the whisk attachment is not strong enough for this pastry.
  • These delightful balls puff up about 12 minutes into baking and are ideal for stuffing with a piping funnel (I bought a really cheap one from a dollar store and it works very well). Stuff with goats cheese, or your own recipe.
  • Unstuffed, they freeze very well, just pop them into a zip lock bag. To use, you need not defrost them, simply put them into a preheated 150° C (300° F) oven for 10-12 minutes, until defrosted and heated through.

The bacon drippings give this treat great flavour and the bacon bits some nice texture.

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