F Tonight's Dinner

Turkey Meatballs with Spinach & Ricotta Pasta

Turkey MeatballsTHE VERDICT:
For the last month or so, our menus have focused on clean eating. Our current favourite clean eating recipe is from one of our newest cookbook purchases, and we thought we would pass it on. We know that ground turkey has a reputation for being flavourless and dry, but these turkey meatballs are so tasty and flavourful we guarantee that you won’t miss the boring old ground beef version that you are used to. The pasta they are served with is reminiscent of another of our favourite dishes, so the combination is a real winner.

My cousin, Jenny, is also a fan of clean eating and she used the meatball recipe to whip up some pretty tasty burgers the other night when we were at her house for a BBQ. So really you get two great recipes in one.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Turkey Meatballs with Whole-Wheat Spaghetti, Spinach and Ricotta (source: The Best of Clean Eating)

1 tsp. olive oil

1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lb. extra-lean ground turkey

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram

1/2 cup whole-grain bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 egg

1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper

8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or pasta of your choice

4 cups baby spinach

3/4 cup low-fat ricotta cheese

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft, but not browned, 3-5 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, place turkey, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, bread crumbs, tomato paste, egg, salt and pepper. Using your hands or a large spoon, gently mix together until combined.
  • Using a small ice cream scoop or a table spoon, portion out turkey mixture in golf-ball-sized increments. Use clean hands to roll mixture into 20 meatballs and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook spaghetti according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta, reserving a half-cup of pasta water.
  • In a large serving bowl, add spaghetti, spinach, cheese, zest and juice, and a 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Gently toss to combine, allowing heat of pasta to wilt spinach and cooking water to melt ricotta into a creamy sauce. Add more reserved pasta water, if necessary, to reach desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Add meatballs and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Hands-on Time: 20 minutes    Total Time: 40 minutes

Per serving (5 meatballs, 2 oz. pasta): 477 calories; 44 g protein; 8 g total fat (3 g saturated fat); 63 g carbs; 10 g fibre; 3.5 g sugar; 126 mg cholesterol; 787 mg sodium

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Beet Cupcakes with Raspberry Icing

cupcakesTHE VERDICT:

Spring Break has afforded me enough free time to do a bit of baking, and I just had to try this recipe because I was curious to see if beet-based cupcakes would taste good. The beets essentially allow you to make red velvet cake without the food colouring and their natural sweetness reduces the amount of sugar required to make the cake. According to Chatelaine magazine, this recipe is also a superfood dessert. It is definitely a way to sneak vegetables into your kids without them noticing.

The final results were pretty tasty, especially the raspberry cream cheese frosting. The cake was a little dry, but that may have more to do with the temperature issues we’ve been having with our oven (I had to bake them for an extra 15 minutes to get them to cook through) than with the recipe itself. The beets added a chewier texture to the cake and an interesting sweetness. The recipe is worth trying, but not one of my favourite cupcake recipes.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Velvety Beet Cupcakes with Raspberry Icing (source: Chatelaine magazine; original recipe)


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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

Chocolate Chip Zucchini BreadTHE VERDICT:

This is probably one of my most successful recipes. I have baked it for gifts, brought it along to potluck brunches and served it at tea parties, and I always get compliments on it. I have shared this recipe with others in a one-on-one manner for years, so when I baked it for breakfast this week, I thought it was about time I shared it on Tonight’s Dinner.

I love this bread because it is as easy to make as banana bread, but doesn’t have the same run-of-the-mill feeling to it. It is a perfect blend of healthy food (zucchini) and tasty indulgence (chocolate chips) all accented with a yummy hint of cinnamon.

A couple of things to try: Use parchment paper to line the pan instead of butter and it will lift right out after you let it cool in the pan a bit. Substitute 1 cup of flour for a cup of whole wheat flour to up the fibre.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread (source: some magazine I read a long time ago)

3 zucchini, shredded (about 5 cups)
1 ½ tsp. salt, divided
3 cups & 2 Tbsp. flour, divided
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips

  • In a large colander: toss zucchini with 1 tsp. salt. Place a smaller plate over the zucchini. Weigh down with a heavy can. Set aside 30 minutes to release liquid.
  • Position oven rack to lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 350⁰F.
  • Butter and flour a 9 x 5 loaf pan.
  • In a large bowl: combine 3 cups flour, cinnamon, soda, powder and remaining salt.
  • In another bowl: combine sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla.
  • Toss chocolate chips in remaining flour.
  • Pat zucchini dry between paper towels.
  • Stir sugar mixture and zucchini into flour mixture until combined. Add chocolate chips.
  • Transfer to pan. Bake 1.5 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Cool on rack 30 minutes. Remove from pan. Cool completely on rack.

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Restaurant Row

restaurant rowOne of the best parts of living where we do is the block of Lonsdale between Carrie Cates and Esplanade that we have nicknamed “restaurant row.” Whether it’s a special date night or a casual family meal, we have plenty of options within a short walk of our house.

Gusto di Quattro is located on the corner. It’s a little on the pricey side, so we usually only go there for special occasions or during Dine Out Vancouver. Their phenomenal Italian cuisine is worth every decadent penny, and no meal is complete without indulging in their incredible Tiramisu. The atmosphere is intimate and their service is impeccable. It is our favourite big budget date night spot.

Burgoo is next door to Quattro and is the perfect place for dinner on a rainy Vancouver night. The atmosphere is cozy (big stone fire place, dim lighting, big brown leather booths), and the menu is loaded with comfort food from around the world: soups, sandwiches, stews, macaroni and cheese, fondue and more.  Burgoo is also one of the few places in North Vancouver that has a decent dessert menu (tip: save room for the hot chocolate chili pot). One of our favourite pre-baby spots for a casual meal, it is surprisingly family friendly. Their friendly staff is great with kids, and they are able to serve many of their dishes in kid-sized portions. There are even a couple of booths tucked in the corners that have plenty of room to park a stroller. So when you don’t feel like a Pirate Pak or a Happy Meal, we suggest you give Burgoo a try.

Anatoli Souvlaki is the next restaurant in the row and one of the many good Greek restaurants on the North Shore. Their restaurant is large so we hardly ever have to wait for a table, even if we’re dining with a large group. They are also a family friendly place with an extensive menu that is bound to have something that will appeal to even the pickiest eater. I love their spanakopita and Justin highly recommends their souvlaki.

The District is the newest addition to restaurant row and has already become a huge hit with trendy diners in our neighbourhood (they were so popular in their first year that they expanded into the storefront next door). It’s a very hip, modern place that takes its inspiration from Belgian braisseries. It is a great place for a more casual date night or to wine and dine with a small group of friends. The food is truly unique and the wine and beer list are so extensive your jaw will drop.

Raglan’s is the last restaurant in the row. It is decked out like a surf shack and known throughout the neighbourhood for its fishbowl-sized fruity drinks and its hamburgers the size of your face. They also do a great brunch on the weekends.

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Ricotta Pancakes

PancakesTHE VERDICT:

Every family has a  favourite breakfast recipe (or two) that they associate with special events like Christmas morning or Mother’s Day brunch, the kind of recipe that is only prepared as a treat because it is either too impractical or too indulgent to enjoy on a weekday morning. After making these a few times, we’re pretty sure that these pancakes will become the special holiday treat in our house. We made them this time to kick off our Spring Break family time. Zayden loves these flavourful, though crumbly pancakes, and we thought a special breakfast was in order to kick off our week of free time.

This recipe is a great twist on a classic breakfast staple. Besides, these pancakes are a beautiful marriage of cheese and carbs–the most beautiful union on Earth, in my humble opinion. But fear not, Atkins dieters. If you make them with the raspberry sauce called for in the original recipe, then your meal is apparently packed with “superfoods” according to the Chatelaine article that I snagged this recipe from.

So if some Sunday morning you feel inclined to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Ricotta Oat Bran Pancakes with Maple Raspberry Sauce (source: Chatelaine magazine; original recipe)

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Apple Tuna Melts with Broccoli Slaw

tuna meltsTHE VERDICT:

I  am a big tuna melt fan, so when I came across this recipe for tuna melts topped with slices of apple, I had to try it. I was especially curious to find out if the flavours of apple and tuna would mix well together. The answer? They do! These tuna melts are super tasty, and it’s that apple/tuna flavour combo that makes them so good.

These tuna melts are great for a light lunch, but also pair well with a bowl of soup for a hearty dinner. We’ve made them several times and typically serve them with salad. This weekend we served them with a packaged broccoli slaw, which is a crunchy and flavourful alternative to traditional cabbage slaw. It’s made of shredded broccoli stems, carrots and purple cabbage. We jazz it up with a little Miracle Whip and some raisins and/or sunflower seeds. It is available at most grocery stores that sell salad kits.

We didn’t serve these melts to Zayden as they’re a little beyond his self-feeding skills at the moment, but he did enjoy some apple slices and an English muffin with peanut butter for his lunch, so we didn’t have to completely reinvent the wheel in order to feed him at the same time.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Apple Tuna Melts (source: Today’s Parent magazine; original recipe)

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Tomato, Sausage and Bean Soup

Sausage SoupTHE VERDICT:

If you’re in the mood for something warm and hearty like chili, but don’t want to be weighed down by such a heavy dish, this soup may just fit the bill. It is a great 30-minute-or-less meal that offers everything you love about chili with a fresher, soupier twist. You can spice it up with green chili or spicy sausage or keep it pretty mild depending on your taste. While it would fill you up all on it’s own, we think it goes great with garlic bread–but doesn’t everything?

This soup is excellent for a toddler who is proficient with solids. On picky nights, it is easy enough to pick out the tolerable chunks of food. The rest of the time, it offers very balanced nutrition.

The recipe serves 10, which means plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunches if your family is a small one like ours. It definitely reheats well.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Hearty Tomato, Sausage and Bean Soup (source: Canadian Living magazine; original recipe)

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Vegetable and Red Lentil Soup

lentil soupTHE VERDICT:

I love a good vegetable soup, but this one puts a yummy twist on the classic. A touch of curry, some coconut milk, red lentils and zucchini dress up the usual round up of vegetables. It quickly became a winter favourite after the first time we tried this recipe a few years ago. The fact that it’s easy to throw together is another plus. If you’re good at chopping veggies, you can have this soup on the table in about 25-30 minutes.

It is a tasty, but low calorie soup, so it’s great for those whose new year’s resolution was to lose a few pounds, but it pairs well with grilled paninis or garlic toast if you’re looking for a more substantial meal. While the recipe calls for chicken stock, you could easily substitute in some vegetable stock and you would have a great vegan soup on your hands.

The leftovers taste amazing because the curry flavours have had time to develop, so this makes a great lunch for the next day as well.

In this house, it is also a very kid-friendly meal because Z loves anything with a touch of curry.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Vegetable and Red Lentil Soup (source: Good Food Fast by Australian Women’s Weekly)

2 tbsp. mild curry paste

400g can of diced tomatoes

3 cups chicken stock

1 large carrot, chopped finely

2 trimmed celery sticks, chopped finely

1 medium potato, chopped finely

1 large zucchini, chopped finely

3/4 cup red lentils

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup light coconut milk

  • Cook curry paste in heated large saucepan, stirring, about 1 minute or until fragrant.
  • Add undrained tomatoes, stock, carrot, celery, potato and zucchini; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 5 minutes.
  • Add lentils to soup mixture; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  • Add peas; return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer soup mixture, uncovered, until peas are just tender.
  • Remove soup from heat and stir in coconut milk.

Serves 6

Total time: 30 minutes

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Cranberry and White Chocolate Shortbread

shortbreadTHE VERDICT:

This recipe was a lucky find. It arrived in the mail one day along with the holiday edition of my magazine subscription. Normally I chuck promotional material as soon as I pull it out of the mail, but because this flyer had tasty baked goodies on the front, so I decided to flip through it and came across this recipe, which is an excellent jazzed-up version of classic holiday shortbread.

We made it as part of the goody bags for Z’s first birthday party and received good feedback, so we decided to add it to our list of Christmas baking. It got rave reviews from a number of family and friends over the Christmas holidays and many people have asked us for the recipe. So finally, after a long hiatus that involved Christmas festivities, a computer break down and an adjustment to my new life as a working mom, we are giving the people what they want: a copy of this recipe.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Cranberry & White Chocolate Shortbread (source: Robin Hood Flour promotional flyer)

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup icing sugar

vanilla extract

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

  • Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a 9″ x 13″ baking pan with parchment paper so that it overhangs ends for easy removal.
  • In a large bowl, combine flour with cornstarch and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, beat butter with icing sugar and vanilla until very creamy. Stir in flour mixture, then cranberries and chocolate chips.
  • Using floured hands, pat evenly into prepared pan. Using a fork, prick surface all over.
  • Bake in a preheated oven 40-50 minutes or until deep golden around the edges. Let stand in pan on wire rack for 30 minutes. Using parchment paper, lift out of pan. Slice into bars while still warm. Cool completely. Dust with icing sugar if desired.
  • Freezes well.

Makes 48 bars.

Total time: 65 minutes

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Banana Bread

Banana BreadTHE VERDICT:

I know that banana bread isn’t generally that exciting. After all, you can find it in every coffee shop in the city, usually next to the ubiquitous slabs of lemon loaf. But banana bread is a great way to use up overripe bananas, and this batch of bread turned out so well (see perfect golden-brown specimen to the left) that I was inspired to share my recipe for this easy breakfast staple.

When preparing this recipe, don’t worry about getting the amount of banana exact. It will taste fine if you have a little less than a cup of banana and extra banana will only make the bread moister and more flavourful. You can also divide the mixture into muffin cups for banana muffins instead of banana bread—just watch them more carefully, the baking time is a little shorter for muffins.

A loaf will last two adults about 3-4 days depending on how thickly you slice it.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Banana Bread (source: my mom–who know where she got it from?)

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 cup oil

1 cup mashed banana (1-2 very ripe bananas)

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

  • In a bowl: combine salt, flour, baking powder and baking soda.
  • In another bowl: combine sugar, oil and eggs. Beat vigorously until frothy. Add banana and blend thoroughly.
  • Fold into flour mixture until blended.
  • Pour into a greased bread pan.
  • Bake at 325°F for 1 hour until the crust is brown.
  • Remove pan to rack. Let stand 10 minutes. Invert pan.
  • Cut into slices.

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