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Vegetable Beef & Rice Soup

Beef SoupTHE VERDICT:
I was a little skeptical when we decided to make this soup. I’m not the biggest fan of ground meat in soup. Chili I can do. Stew I can do. But soup, not so much. I am so glad I didn’t listen to my gut. This soup is AMAZING! There is no way to effectively describe just how good it is in words, so I will just have to insist that you try it yourself.

It is easy to prepare. All you need to do is brown the meat, chop and sauté the veggies and throw it all in a slow cooker and let it cook while you’re at work or out running errands. It’s a great soup for hardworking families and busy days. While the recipe asks you to add frozen peas and lemon juice at the end of the cooking process, we have forgotten this step both times that we have made this soup and it still tastes great. In fact, it tastes so good, we will probably never try it with lemon juice and peas—why mess with a good thing?

Our little soup loving boy was all over this soup the first time we made it. The second time he wasn’t thrilled with the ground beef (guess he takes after me), but toddlers are finicky and unpredictable when it comes to food, so we’ll say he gave it one thumb up instead of two.

Leftovers of this soup reheat well. It’s so good there probably won’t be anything left to freeze.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPE:

Vegetable Beef & Rice Soup (source: Canadian Living Slow Cooker Collection)

8 oz. lean ground beef

2 large carrots, diced

1 large onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, diced

Half sweet red pepper, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp crumbled dried rosemary

1/2 tsp. salt and pepper

6 cups beef broth

2/3 cup parboiled whole grain rice

1 cup frozen peas

1 tbsp lemon juice

  • In large skillet, sauté beef over medium-high heat, breaking up with fork until crumbly and no longer pink, about 8 minutes. With slotted spoon transfer beef to slow cooker.
  • Drain fat from skillet. Fry carrots, onion, celery, red pepper, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. Scrape into slow cooker.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the broth to skillet; bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits from bottom of skillet. Scrape into slow cooker along with remaining broth, 2 cups water and rice. Stir to combine.
  • Cover and cook on low until vegetables are tender, about 5 hours.
  • Stir in peas and lemon juice. Cover and cook on high until steaming hot, about 15 minutes.

Makes 8-10 servings in a 4-6 L slow cooker.

Per serving: 129 calories, 8 g protein, 4 g total fat (1 g saturated fat); 16 g carbs; 2 g fibre; 13 mg cholesterol; 629 mg sodium

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Risotto with Shrimp, Asparagus and Red Pepper

Risotto with Shrimp, Asparagus and Red PepperTHE VERDICT: As far as risotto goes, this dish is relatively simple to prepare.  Risotto is always time consuming, but the process is generally the same. Once you’ve made it for the first time it should be easy to do again.  First, heat the spices to release flavours, then cook the risotto with the dry ingredients for a short time.  Then, add your initial liquid, be it stock, wine, or a combination thereof.  From there on, slowly add ladlefuls of warm liquid, reduce each time, and repeat until the rice is soft, smooth and creamy.  The main differences are what kind of liquid(s) used, when ingredients are added, and what spices are used.   This was a straightforward recipe, so I thought I’d do a more detailed step-by-step review to show people who are not familiar with this process how easy it can be.

If you want to try it yourself, here is your step-by-step visual guide (the full recipe follows below). . .

Ingredients

The ingredients are ready to go!

Saucepans Ready

As you cook the base ingredients (butter, onion, garlic, risotto), heat up the stock and/or wine in a nearby pot.

Reduction

Add about 1 cup or a ladleful of hot liquid to the rice and reduce, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Repeat until the liquid is used up.

Pre-duction

Adding enough liquid each time to wet but not drown the risotto is a good rule of thumb. Here is the pan with the liquid added.

Post-duction

Here is the pan after the liquid has been reduced. Once your risotto looks like this, it is time to add another cup of liquid.

Ingredients

Having your ingredients ready to toss in ahead of time is important because risotto needs constant stirring and it will be difficult to prep meat and veggies while adding and reducing the liquid.

Adding Ingredients

When the recipe calls for it, add the remaining ingredients and serve.

THE RECIPE:

1kg uncooked prawns

500g fresh asparagus

6 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

30g butter

1 large brown onion, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups arborio rice

2 medium tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

  • Prawns should be shelled and deveined, but with tails intact.
  • Cut asparagus diagonally into 3cm lengths.
  • Combine stock and wine in large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and keep hot.
  • Melt butter in large saucepan.  Cook onion and garlic until onion is soft.
  • Add risotto and stir to coat in mixture.
  • Stir in 1 cup of the hot stock mixture.  Cook, stirring, over low heat until liquid is absorbed.
  • Continue adding stock mixture in 1-cup batches, stirring, until liquid is absorbed after each addition.
  • Total cooking time should be around 35 minutes.
  • Add prawns, asparagus, tomato, and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until prawns are cooked and asparagus is tender.

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Spanish Pork and Redskin Potatoes

Spanish PorkTHE VERDICT:

This was one of the first recipes we tried from Clean Eating magazine. It promised to be a 20-minute meal, which it would be for anyone who is good at prepping vegetables. Most of the veggies are frozen or need only to be sliced, but the mincing of the tomato and bell pepper will slow you down a bit and will take most casual cooks beyond the 20 minute mark. But it is definitely quick to prepare regardless.

My feelings towards this dish are lukewarm. I liked the simple flavours of the potatoes, but didn’t find that two redskin potatoes yielded 2 cups of potatoes as the recipe claimed. Even if they did, I think a 1/2 cup of potatoes is a pretty stingy side dish and a 1/4 oz. of goat cheese is pretty skimpy too. Unless you are on a strict diet, I would prepare a few more potatoes and add a little extra cheese to them.

The main dish was pretty tasty and definitely packed in a lot of veggies, but it’s not something I would typically make again because it wasn’t a really standout meal. But I will probably make an exception in this case because it is so healthy and because Zayden enjoyed it so much. For parents looking to feed young babies table food, this is a great recipe because all you have to do is pick out the big rings of onion and slices of zucchini; the other ingredients are all small enough for baby to chew and swallow without difficulty. Babies with a good pincer grasp could even feed the little chunks to themselves though it can be a little messy because of the paprika. The paprika and lemon juice give the dish lots of flavour without adding tons of extra fat, salt or sugar like many sauces–definitely baby and parent friendly.

If you want to try it yourself. . .

THE RECIPE:

Spanish Pork with Redskins (source: Clean Eating magazine)

2 redskin potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 zucchini, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

1 medium onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

3 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic chopped into slivers

3/4 lb. extra-lean ground pork

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup frozen corn

1 Tbsp. sweet paprika

1 red bell pepper, minced

1 medium tomato, chopped

Juice 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp. dried sage

1/2 tsp. dried thyme

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1 oz. goat cheese

  • Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes. Pierce potatoes with a knife to make sure they’re tender, them remove from heat and drain.
  • While potatoes are cooking, saute zucchini and onion in 1 1/2 tsp. oil over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute, stirring constantly to prevent garlic from burning. Stir in pork, peas, corn and paprika. Cook for 5 more minutes, making sure that all ingredients are distributed evenly across the surface of the pan.
  • Remove pork mixture from heat and stir in bell pepper, tomato and lemon juice. Cover with lid to keep warm while finishing potatoes.
  • Gently toss potatoes with remaining  1 1/2 tsp. oil. Add sage and thyme and season with salt and black pepper. Place about 1/2 cup of  potatoes alongside quarter of pork mixture on each plate, then crumble quarter of cheese over top before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Hands on time: 20 minutes Total time: 20 minutes

Nutrients per serving: 350 calories, 9 g fat, 35 g carbs, 33 g protein, 156 mg sodium, 26 mg cholesterol

Nutritional Bonus: Herbs and spices don’t simply add flavour. When combined, 1 tsp. of sage and 1 tsp. of thyme contain 32% of your daily vitamin K and 1 Tbsp. of paprika has 71% of your vitamin A requirement.

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Steak Tacos with Avocado Cream Sauce and Tomato & Baby Cucumber Salad

Heirloom cherry tomatoesTHE VERDICT:

We had friends over on Sunday night and prepared this meal. We apologize for the lack of proper photo and must blame it on being distracted by the witty banter of our guests (Thanks Joy, Paul, Jen and Sam for a great evening).

The steak tacos are a meal we’ve prepared twice since purchasing our first copy of Clean Eating magazine. The instructions in the recipe are very clear, and the meal is really quick and easy to prepare. They are also really filling and tasty, and I really like the spice rub. Our only complaint is that there is often a ton of leftover Avocado Cream Sauce, and it really does not make good salad dressing despite what the recipe claims. We think it does have potential as a dip or a condiment for burgers or sandwiches, however.

The salad is one of our favourites because it is so simple to throw together and goes great with other casual fare like these tacos. It was also a wonderful way to showcase the flavours of the variety of heirloom cherry tomatoes (pictured) that we picked up at the farmers’ market. They added a lot of vibrant colour to the dish.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Steak Tacos with Avocado Cream Sauce (source: Clean Eating magazine)

For the tacos:

3/4 lb. lean round steak, thinly sliced into 1/4-inch-thick strips

1 tsp. Mexican seasoning (we made our own with oregano, chili powder and garlic powder)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 clove garlic, minced

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

olive oil cooking spray

8 corn tortillas (we used whole wheat)

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced

1 cup torn green leaf or romaine lettuce (we actually used shredded cabbage because we had some leftover)

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced (optional)

For the cream sauce:

1 avocado, peeled and pitted

6 oz. nonfat Greek-style yogurt

1 jalapaeno pepper, cored and seeded

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, whole (optional, if you live in our house, at least)

  • Prepare Avocado Cream Sauce: add avocado, yogurt, jalapaeno and whole cilantro to a food processor fitted with a standard blade. Pulse until well-blended. Set aside.
  • In a large resealable plastic bag, place steak, Mexican seasoning, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, salt and pepper. Seal bag and shake to evenly coat steak with seasoning.
  • Heat a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium-high, mist skillet with cooking spray and saute steak, turning occasionally for about 5 minutes for medium doneness (steak will be slightly pink, but not red in center). If you prefer medium-well doneness, cook steak for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  • To serve, lay out tortillas. Add steak, tomatoes, red pepper and lettuce, dividing evenly among tortillas. Sprinkle with minced cilantro, if desired and top each with 2-3 tsp. of Avocado Cream Sauce. If you have any leftover sauce, store it in a resealable container in the fridge for up to 4 days. It can be used as salad dressing.

Makes 4 servings.

Tomato and Baby Cucumber Salad (source: Tonight’s Dinner; original recipe)

We made 2 modifications this time around:

  1. We used an assortment of heirloom cherry tomatoes.
  2. We used a fruit vinegar instead of balsamic.

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Cheesy Corn Fritters with Thyme Braised Carrots and Improv’d Spinach Salad

Corn Fritters with Carrots and SaladTHE VERDICT:

We have made these corn fritters a few times now and have enjoyed them so much that we have been inspired to try other types of fritters. These fritters in particular are a great use of leftover ingredients from other recipes. Throw together that egg and milk you wanted to use before the expiry date, add that last bit of cheddar cheese and the remaining green onions from the bunch, toss in some frozen corn and the flour and cornmeal you probably have on hand and you’re done. The fritters pair very well with a simple salad.

They don’t, however, pair very well with thyme braised carrots. Don’t get me wrong; these carrots taste AMAZING! They are one of our go-to side dishes and we make them often, but the braising takes time while the fritters cook up rather quickly. Flavour-wise, the fritters make for a great casual meal while the carrots are a better complement to a roast or other meat dish.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Cheesy Corn Fritters (source: Today’s Parent magazine; original recipe)

Thyme Braised Carrots (source: Food and Wine, original recipe by Daniel Boulud)

Improv’d Spinach Salad (source: Tonight’s Dinner)

5 cups baby spinach

2 tomatoes, diced

1 red pepper, diced

1 handful of soy nuts

1/2 cup of feta cheese cubes

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

  • Assemble first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. Toss.
  • Drizzle with oil and vinegar

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Stir-Fried Sesame Beef with Broccoli & Grape Salad

Stir Fried Beef with Broccoli & Grape SaladTHE VERDICT:

This is a good simple combination of recipes that are easy to make but have just enough uniqueness to them that they aren’t “just another stir-fry” or “just another salad”.  The mustard in the beef marinade gives it a nice tang, and gives us another option when free-styling a stir fry.  The salad is a bit more work as you need to fry up some bacon, but we used it for multiple meals so the time was amortized over a few days.  The rest of the salad is easy to whip up, and keeps well for leftovers.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Stir-Fried Sesame Beef (source: Epicurious; original recipe)

Broccoli & Grape Salad (source: family recipe)

Salad:

1 head broccoli,chopped

1 1/2 cups red grapes, sliced in half

1 red onion, diced

8 pieces of crumbled bacon

1 cup sunflower seeds

Dressing:

1 cup mayo

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. vinegar

  • Make dressing ahead of time and toss with salad when ready to serve.

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Yogurt and Tamarind Grilled Chicken with Curry Vegetables and Basmati Rice

Yogourt Tamarind Chicken with Curry Vegetables

THE VERDICT:

There’s nothing like making curry from scratch.  Fresh spices lend a much more complex flavour to the dish than generic paste or powder, and the cook can more easily influence the dish to their liking.  The vegetable dish can be made with any variety of vegetables (local and in season, ideally) but care must be taken to add each vegetable to the pot so that they all reach the proper level of softness at the same time.  The chicken dish turned out much better than I expected, and both of us would make it again.  It is a very simple and low maintenance dish, so as long as you can be proactive and marinade it beforehand.  A good idea would be to prepare the marinade in the morning before leaving for work, so that it is ready to cook when you get home. Cooking the chicken was a cinch.  We used the Griddler to grill the chicken, but a cast iron grilling pan or BBQ would work just as well. While the recipe says the lemon wedges are optional, the citrus really does enhance the flavour of the marinade.

Leftovers were tasty and the vegetables held up overnight.  We didn’t overcook them so they weren’t completely mushy the next day.  The curry was even more aromatic as the flavours had time to intensify.

On Vij’s cookbook:  I’d highly recommend this cookbook.  The introductory sections give a great background on Indian cooking and the spices traditionally used (note that he doesn’t once mention nuts even though many Indian restaurants seem to use nuts to thicken sauces) and background on their restaurant.  The recipes are mostly doable without having to devote your life to prep, and are written in a great anecdotal style which lends insight into his thought process.

If you want to try it yourself…

THE RECIPES:

Yogurt and Tamarind Marinated Chicken (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

¾ cup plain yogurt, stirred

1 Tbsp. tamarind paste

3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic

¼ cup canola oil

1 ½ Tbsp. salt

1 ¼ Tbsp. ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. garam masala

2 ¼ lbs. boneless chicken thighs

1 lemon cut into 6 wedges (optional)

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine yogurt, tamarind paste, garlic, oil, salt, cayenne, and garam masala. Add chicken and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. The longer the chicken marinates, the stronger the flavours will be.
  • Preheat a grill, barbecue or stovetop grill pan to high heat. Remember to turn on your exhaust fan if cooking indoors as the cooking process will create some smoke.
  • Grill chicken on one side for 2 minutes, then turn over and grill the other side for 2 minutes. Repeat this process for a total of 4 minutes per side.
  • While chicken is still piping hot, squeeze a little fresh lemon to taste.

Note: Be sure to use boneless chicken thighs as breast meat doesn’t absorb the flavours of the marinade as well. If your tamarind paste has the texture of a fruit smoothie rather than a thick jam, use 2 Tbsp. instead of 1 Tbsp.

Makes 6 servings.

Coconut Curried Vegetables (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

½ cup canola oil

25-30 fresh curry leaves

1 Tbsp. black mustard seeds

1 ½ cups finely chopped onions (2 medium)

1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. chopped garlic

2 cups chopped tomatoes (2 large)

1 Tbsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. turmeric

½ tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 (12 oz.) can coconut milk, stirred

1 lb. eggplant in 1.5 inch cubes

1 lb. cauliflower in 1.5 inch florets

¾ lb. red, green and/or yellow peppers in 1.5 inch cubes

¾ cup chopped cilantro

3-4 cups cooked basmati rice

  • In a large pot, heat oil on medium heat for 1 minute. Keeping your head at a distance from the pot, add curry leaves and mustard seeds and allow them to sizzle for about 1 minute or until just a few mustard seeds start to pop. The curry leaves will cook and shrivel.
  • Immediately add onions and sauté until golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  • Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper.
  • Sauté the masala for 5-8 minutes or until the oil glistens on top.
  • Stir in coconut milk. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Add eggplant, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add cauliflower and bell peppers, cover and cook for 5 minutes more.
  • Stir in cilantro.
  • Serve on top of rice.

Note: You can use whatever vegetables you like for this dish, but remember to add them according to cooking time, so that they don’t end up over or under cooked.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Garam Masala (source: Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij)

This spice mixture is used in many Indian recipes.  Garam means “warm” and Masala means “spices”.  There are many variations to a basic masala but they are all relatively pungent and spicy, and tend to have some sweetness to them.  This is Vij’s famous mixture that is used in many of their dishes.

1 heaping tsp whole cloves

1 1/2 tsp black cardamom seeds (about 10 whole pods)

6 heaping Tbsp cumin seeds

1 Tbsp pounded cinnamon sticks

1/4 tsp ground mace

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

Make sure you have your stovetop exhaust on as this is pungent cooking!  In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat cloves, black cardamom seeds, cumin seeds and cinnamon sticks on medium to high heat, stirring constantly.  When the cumin seeds become a darker shade of brown, remove from stove.  Transfer the roasted spices to a bowl and cool for 20 minutes.  Place roasted spices, mace and nutmeg in a grinder or mortar/pestle and grind until it has the consistency of black pepper.  Can be used right away and will keep for up to 6 months.  We’ve found it keeps even longer although I tend to add more to dishes the longer I keep a batch.


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