It Isn't Rocket Science

I am a big proponent of keeping things simple, not just in life but in food, too. That's the approach I've been taking with weeknight meals, care of my rude awakening into adulthood. Pair together what you have on hand and put something homey on the table - no matter how tired you are!

We were all set to have stuffed clams, but then I remembered we had this lovely eggplant just hanging around the vegetable drawer. Match made in desperation heaven.

Clam-Stuffed Eggplant
Yield: 2 big servings

12 Cherrystone clams
1 med-size eggplant
1/2 c breadcrumbs (I used a mixture of Italian-seasoned and Panko)
1 egg
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 T garlic powder
1-2 T lemon juice
1/2 T Paprika
Olive oil
Parsley, for garnish

Look over your clams and discard any that are open and don't close when tapped. Scrub the shells to remove any outer grit and sand. Soak the clams in a large bowl of water. Add a 1/2 T flour to the water, which will make the clams purge any sand they have trapped in their shells. Steam the clams in a steamer pot or large pan just until they open, about 2-3 or 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of clam you use. Make sure you don't overcook the clams as they will be cooked further in the oven. Remove clams from pot and let cool, discarding any clams that don't open.

While the clams cool, preheat the oven to 350°F and move on to prepping the eggplant. Wash the outside of the eggplant and slice vertically down the middle. Score the flesh of the eggplant, making sure you don't go all the way through the skin. Scoop out the innards and chop them into 1/2 in. cubes. By this time the clams should have cooled. Remove them from their shells and chop finely.

Add all of the ingredients, except for the parsley, into a large mixing bowl and combine. Add more breadcrumbs if the mixture is too wet or more egg or lemon juice if it's too dry.* Fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with paprika and drizzle with olive oil to promote browning.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until eggplant is tender. If eggplant browns too quickly, tent with foil about half way through. Remove foil tent and broil for the last 3-5 minutes to crisp everything up. Let stand 5-10 minutes to let the dish set. Garnish with parsley and serve with fresh lemon wedges.

*As you will find with my recipes, they are mostly a result of trial, error and winging it. Mix with your hands, go with your gut - wise words from my Momma. 


Some Like it Hot

I wanted to share the kale pesto recipe I was talking about earlier. It's a great way to mask a scary-to-some veggie in an unsuspecting way. This particular version has some heat, but feel free to omit the chilis if that's not your thing. Quite frankly, I could go either way with the peppers, but like I said, I've got some spice-loving friends and sharing is caring, right?

Kale Pesto

¾ cup kale leaves, torn
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup toasted pumpkin seeds, or walnuts or pine nuts
2 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, quartered
2 tbsp lemon juice
1-2 red chilis, minced (optional)

Place greens in a food processor and pulse until broken up. Add in nuts/seeds and garlic; pulse a few times, then add in remaining ingredients and process until fairly smooth, or to the desired consistency, scraping down the sides occasionally. Remember to taste as you go!

Pesto freezes very well. Instead of chilling down an entire container when you are likely only going to need a small amount at a time, try freezing in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop all of the pesto cubes into a Ziplock bag for compact storage and defrost only the amount needed.


When in Nanaimo...

I never knew what the fuss was. Then I went there, and now I know.

Nanaimo bars are a sweet treat. My goodness, these little bars are so decadent. This particular one is gluten free with a puffed rice and almond base from a quaint bakery near the sea, and I have to say these trump the traditional oat-base. Wish I had a recipe to share!!


Homemade Jam

I love jam. There is nothing more satisfying and smile-inducing than having a muffin or piece of toast spread with your own preserves. It’s comforting and delicious, and the fact that you know what ingredients are in it makes it all the more delectable.

I grew up a grape jelly girl. Now, though, I’m opening up to other possibilities for use in various dishes and more importantly, I’m enjoying crafting my own flavors!

This particular recipe is suitable for the refrigerator or freezer without going through the canning process. Because it gets expensive for me since I don’t live in an area known for its fruit-growing possibilities, I’ve only made small batches before and never felt the need to can, but do as you please!*

Roasted Strawberry Refrigerator Jam

4 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
½ cup sugar, scant
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar or balsamic syrup
1 vanilla bean pod, split and seeds removed, or 1 splash of vanilla extract
- ¼ teasp ground cardamom

Toss the strawberries in a bowl with the sugar, balsamic, vanilla, and cardamom. Let stand 10 minutes so the flavors can marry. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°.

Transfer the strawberries to a rimmed baking sheet or small roasting pan.
Roast for about 2 hours, until the berries are very soft and shriveled. Mix around once or twice as they cook.

Let the syrupy berries cool slightly. Pulse in a food processor or mash by hand with a potato masher to a chunky consistency. You ought to let the jam set up in the fridge, but there is no reason you can’t dip your little finger in now for a taste and bask in the glory that is this homemade goodness. Store in a closed jar or container for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 3 months in the freezer.

PS. Homemade jam makes for a lovely holiday gift especially when paired with some homemade bread or muffins!


*Ironically after I began brainstorming this post, I was introduced to canning by one of my dear friends. She lives just outside of Vancouver with access to farm-fresh flats of berries and vegetables and when I went to visit the other weekend she and I made an afternoon of canning. We sent our boys out to go see Star Trek and us girls stayed home to make jam! She taught me the process and I must admit there is something wonderful about making jars upon jars of one recipe. Miss you, Kristine!!

Working on some ginger-rhubarb marmalade

The boys infiltrated our kitchen upon their return!


A Girl's Gotta Bake

I've been in a baking mood lately, and a snacky mood, for that matter. Hence the muffins.

Morning Glory Muffins
adapted from Whole Foods' recipe
Yield: 8 jumbo or 16 regular-sized muffins

1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup + 2T cane sugar
1 T molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup seedless raisins
2 eggs
1/3 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
wheat germ, for topping

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; break up any brown sugar lumps with your fingers or a wooden spoon. Add in the raisins, coating them with the mixture so they don't sink to the bottom of the muffins during baking.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla, then add to flour mixture and stir just until combined. Add apples, carrots and walnuts and stir gently until well combined.

Spoon batter into paper-lined muffin tins, filling each about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with wheat germ and bake for 15-20 minutes for regular-sized or 25-30 for jumbo, until cooked through.

I first tried Morning Glory muffins last year at a farmer's market. A bunch of cyclists were lined up for them after a Saturday morning ride and so I had to find out what all the buzz was about. I can see why these babies are their fuel of choice! They're delicious and nutritious. To be honest, I hadn't thought about this recipe until a few weeks ago when we were on the road early and made a pit stop for some breakfast. Bruegger's had a Morning glory bagel on special and I had to get it, slathered with peanut butter, of course. I couldn't stop thinking about it and so I had to go home and make the muffins myself.


Farmer's Market Finds

I went to my first farmer's market of the season this week! What could be better than getting outside and checking out all of the local goods while chatting away with the farmers, artisans and bakers themselves? Oh yeah - sampling!! I love being able to learn about and try new foods direct from the source, and being a foodie, farmer's markets are for me like a toy store is to an eager child. 

I flocked immediately to Beltane Farm's table. They had an array of goat cheeses out to sample as well as a cooler full of goat milk yogurt. I tell you, it's not easy to find goat or sheep yogurt around here, so I was pretty stoked to see the single-serving yogurts alone. But once I tasted their goodness, I was sold. I have never tasted goat cheese that creamy and luscious. I bought the herbed chevre and immediately dug in when I got home, putting them atop Bespoke crackers

Quick side note about these crackers. They were bought on a whim on vacation this winter and my cheese and cracker snob of a boy (and I mean that in the best way possible) deemed them the best crackers he'd ever eaten. That's some pretty high praise coming from him. They aren't just your average cracker, mind you -- these were oat-based and flavored with lemon and rosemary. Unique and absolutely delicious. So delicious, in fact, that when we got home with an empty bag, we went online and ordered six more. Don't judge. We ordered three more rosemary-lemons and we had to get the variety pack with the other two flavors to try.

Anyway, back to the farmer's market. I truly enjoy seeing what types of foods people are crafting these days. One booth had flavored pumpkin seeds, another had homemade artisan trail mix. There were jellies and jams, pies, pestos, and salad dressings. I hope to be one of them one day!

Aside from the goat cheese, I also bought some more plants for my garden. And by garden I mean pots with soil that line the back of our house. The patch of land where I planted the flowers is so rocky I'm not sure they'll even grow well, but we'll see. The Moorefield Herb Farm had a tempting display of herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The Caribbean hot peppers initially caught my eye because of my spice-loving friends. It's supposed to be hotter than a habanero, which scares me a little, but it should make for some kickin' hot pepper jelly. Eesh. As I was perusing the rest of her table, the strawberries also caught my eye. I've never grown fruit before and I was reassured that the Alpine variety, in particular, should grow well in a potted environment because they're so tiny. After a quick trip to Home Depot, my new plants are all nestled in their pots awaiting the rains.


Small Changes

We've all been there. Too tired, too busy, very empty fridge. If you've been neglecting your supermarket or have been in a food rut lately, I've got some good news for you. Small changes can make all the difference to your recipes and help you break out of your less than thrilling routine of eats and make quick work of a delicious meal.

Let's talk lunch, the inspiration for this post. I started eating cafeteria food again thanks to my job, and when there aren't enough leftovers from the night before to bring in the next day, it results in me eating my fair share of sandwiches. Take the classic turkey and cheese, please, and check out my swaps.

Wheat bread --> Tomato-Basil wrap
Mustard --> Red wine vinegar
Deli Turkey --> Fresh roasted turkey
Iceberg Lettuce --> Arugula
Tomato --> Leave it in and add some red onion
Swiss cheese --> Sharp cheddar

Take out the bread, the filling and the condiment and envelop some fresh turkey in a flavored wrap and add in some bitter greens that have been dressed in red wine vinegar and you've got a delicious new twist on the lunch-time staple. I can't believe how much the vinegar does for this dish. It's so tangy and bright and really helps to boost the otherwise bland turkey.

With my lunchtime revelation out of the way, let's backtrack to breakfast. Probably the easiest way to make a bland breakfast into a morning must-have is the addition of herbs and spices. Eggs, for example, benefit greatly from some fresh or dried herbs. Whether you're having a quick scramble or hard boiled, try adding salt and pepper, for starters. If you like a kick, add some hot sauce or a ground pepper blend. Not an egg person? Try adding cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice or nutmeg to oatmeal, cottage cheese or plain yogurt. A dash of vanilla, some homemade preserves or a packet of flavored instant breakfast go a long way, too! Still attached to your beloved bowl of cereal and milk? Add some wheat germ and raisins. Trust me on this one!

Now dinner is probably the hardest meal for me to figure out. Don't get me wrong, I love trying out new recipes and whipping up something yummy, but food ruts do happen! I came across this article years ago and had the forethought to scan it in and save it. This list will be a lifesaver for any protein you plan on putting on the table.