Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kat's Super Bowl Food

I don't know the first thing about football, in fact as far as I'm aware they play with a spherical ball, right? Ok, actually I'm equally clueless about soccer. However, I always get a little pulse race as the Super Bowl nears. Why? The food of course! I love an excuse to research what is traditionally eaten, try out new recipes or roll out old favorites.

So, in honor of traditional game day food, I'm going to post a series of my favorites this week.

Hot Crab Dip
Sundried Tomato and Artichoke Spread
Jamie Oliver's Chili
First is my guacamole; I'm sure everyone has made guacamole, but it's one of my signature recipes. Anyone who has ever hung out with us for any length of time will have had a bowl of it placed before them.
My youngest adores it and just last week, after 4 years of exposure and refusal, my 4-year old declared it "deeelishuusss".

For me it's all about the texture. I do not like smooth guacamole; it should have a few lumps in it, but the avocados should be sufficiently ripe to give easily when pressed gently. I buy the bags of avocados from Trader Joe's, let them ripen in the fruit bowl, then move to the fridge to keep for a few days until I use them all.

Also, you've got to taste and change it as needed. Sometimes, I have an extra juicy lime, a very strong onion or a bland pepper, so add more or less to suit your palate.

Kat's Guac

2 avocados
1 lime
1/2 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely
1/4 medium onion, chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Halve the avocados, take out stone, slice and chop the flesh whilst still in the avocado skin, then scoop out the chopped flesh with a dessert spoon.
  2. Mash the flesh gently with a potato masher.
  3. Halve the lime and squeeze the juice over the avocado, add the onion and pepper.
  4. Stir everything together until it is 50% smooth, 50% small lumps.
  5. Taste and then add salt and pepper as needed.
  6. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
A great one to get the kids involved in making.
Watch this space for the rest of my Super Bowl series this week.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Sausage and Bean Casserole

Perhaps I should explain for the Brits reading this; we're on to our umpteenth snow storm this month, it's completely baltic outside and it's just plain January for goodness sake! That's why there's so much comfort food on my blog so far, but I promise you, I do have more than comfort food in my bag of tasty treats.

Having said that, I just have to share one of my all time favorites; Sausage and Bean Casserole. I've been making this in various ways for years now but this is the tastiest. My family love it, my friends love it (it's my go to for a new and weary Mum) and most importantly I love it

The original recipe comes from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food:

However, as usual I decided to pack in more vegetables and fiber, and reduce the fat. The result is 2 meals for us; one for tonight and one goes in the freezer for a lazy or crazy day, depending on your definitions of the two.

If you're going to freeze it, leave off the breadcrumb topping until you bake it. It will take approx 1 hour and 15 minutes to cook from frozen.

Sausage and Bean Casserole

Serves 8


4 cups of fresh wholewheat breadcrumbs (from about 10 slices)
2 lb / 900g lean sausage (I used chicken sausage from Trader Joe's)
2 large onions, chopped
8-10 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb / 450g carrots peeled and chopped quite small
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/2 cup / approx 6 oz /170g tomato paste
15 oz /400ml reduced sodium chicken broth
2 cups / 400 ml water
1 cup / 250 ml red wine
1 10 oz /284g  package of frozen winter squash, defrosted
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cans (each 14.5 oz / 400g) white beans, rinsed and drained


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F or 190°C
  2. Take the sausage out of the casings and break up into small pieces.
  3. Place a large, deep, heavy bottom pan, on a medium heat and cook the sausage, onions and garlic for approx 15 minutes or until sausage is starting to brown.
  4. Add the carrots and celery and cook for a further 5 minutes
  5. Add the tomato paste, winter squash, broth, water, wine and thyme and bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce to a simmer, add the beans and cook for a further 10 minutes
  7. Stir in 2 cups of breadcrumbs
  8. Pour the mixture into 2 medium sized (approx 3 quart) dishes and top with the remaining breadcumbs.
  9. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbling and golden on the top
This is great served alone but a fresh crusty bread, and green salad are delicious alongside.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A great midweek dish

I'm always in search of the next good "one pot meal" recipe to add to my repertoire. One of my cooking goals at this stage in my children's life, is to be able to scoop out a spoonful of a dish I've created from real food, that checks most or all of the right boxes nutritionally for them.

But I love one pot meals for more reasons than that. Usually they can be made a little ahead of time; in fact they are often a little tastier, having sat a while, snuggled together in a pot, blending together their flavors deliciously. Making dinner a little earlier in the day suits my lifestyle; the "down time" in my day is usually after lunch at some point. If I'm lucky, one kid might nap and the other usually will be content with some sort of quiet activity for an hour or so. This is my time to rustle something up for dinner or at the very least prep.

I also love they way you can hide or at the very least disguise foods in a 1 pot meal; foods that might otherwise be given the screwed up face. My children have different palates; historically, one would eat fruit and most vegetables easily, but does not much like meat, nuts, beans and eggs. The other was the exact opposite. Now, thanks to the one pot meal strategy, I've sucessfully introduced a variety of new foods to both
Anyway, I was lacking inspiration for last night's dinner, other than I really wanted a very healthy meal. When dinner challenged, typically I will throw a couple of ingredients into one of my favorite food sites and search. Thank God for the smart phone. Thanks also to Heidi at "101 cookbooks", I found a great starting point.

She basically combined eggs, spinach, rice and cheese and baked. So easy and incredibly versatile for a tasty but healthy dinner. I used it as a springboard, added feta instead of tofu (much as I strive to eat healthy, I just cant get excited about tofu), a few other flavors and it was a big hit with the kids and my husband, for that matter. All had seconds. Nuff said.

Spinach and Rice Gratin (my way)

Serves 4-6


5 cups precooked brown rice
1 16 oz bag of frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed out
8 oz light feta cheese, chopped or crumbled into small pieces
20 olives (your choice, I used kalamata), chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts or almonds
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese (substitute and good melter)
6 large eggs, beaten
salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F/200°C
  2. Grease two 2 quart size (approx) baking dishes or 1 large lasagna dish
  3. Reserve half the cheese and pinenuts
  4. Mix together all the remaining ingredients
  5. Put the mixture in the dishes and sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top.
  6. Place the dishes in the center of the oven and bake for 30 mins, until the top is golden.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining pinenuts on top and serve with a green salad or tomato salad.
I have a million thoughts on variation on this but you can start with these
  • precook pancetta or bacon and add
  • chopped sundried tomatoes would be lovely
  • raisins or cranberries or even chopped apricots would give a nice sweetness against the salty feta and olives
  • fresh herbs...parsley, basil or chives would be particularly nice
Go for it!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Iris's Wheaten Bread

I seem to be on an Irish theme. Musing on my mum's fridge yesterday and reading "kiss my spatula's" latest post on dippy eggs and toast prompted a nostalgic train of thought for the food of my homeland.

I have strong childhood memories of every Saturday lunchtime; BBC radio 2, "Stupot" was the soundtrack to wheaten bread, soda farls, butter, cheese, jam and soup. Our local bakery in Portstewart, Northern Ireland was The Griddle and usually the breads were from there, but still warm....ahhh. I'm sure my family will call me out on a romantic version of our Saturday mornings; there was probably a fair amount of family discord too.

So what is wheaten bread? Basically very rustic wholewheat bread leavened with baking soda rather than endless yeast risings. It can be in the oven in 15 minutes. That's my type of bread!

When I was 12, my Mum made a new friend, Iris McMaster, who made great wheaten bread. She was nice enough to share the recipe and that simple recipe became a firm family favorite. By this time we had moved to Belfast and our beloved griddle breads were 70 miles away.

Even in my early twenties, I continued the tradition on a Saturday morning, making bread for my cousin and anyone else who popped in. It's a go to bread for taking to a friends house for lunch; wrap it up in a dishtowel while still warm, and deliver with pride and maybe some raspberry jam.

The recipe is quick, simple and very therapeutic to make; i.e. you get your hands in. The smell of wheaten bread baking, is like bottled up Saturday feeling for me.

Some notes about the recipe:

Wholewheat flour; get the coarsest flour you can buy for reasonable money. Our supermarket does sell Irish wheatmeal flour but it's $10 a bag!!! So I buy regular wholewheat flour and when I can get to the natural food store I stock up on the coarser version.

The original recipe called for more sugar but, as a rule, in any baked recipe, I cut it down.

I have included the British measurements but also converted to US measurements. Please note a British pint has more volume than a US one.

Wheaten bread freezes very nicely. I always triple wrap in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn.

Wheaten Bread


5 1/2 cups (1 1/2 lb) course wholegrain flour
2 1/2 cups (12 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) (2oz) cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar (2oz) sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
3 1/3 cups (1 1/2 British pints) buttermilk


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F or 185°C.
  2. Butter and lightly flour two 9x5" loaf tins.
  3. Measure the flours into a very large bowl , whisk together to incorporate.
  4. Then cut the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour.
  5. Get your hands in a rub the butter into the flour, until there are no big lumps left. This is the therapeutic part!
  6. Add the sugar, salt, baking soda and stir in to incorporate.
  7. Finally stir in the buttermilk until just incorporated. Don't worry if there are still some lumps in the dough (see picture) that's normal and overmixing needs to be avoided as it will create a tough bread.
  8. Divide the dough in 2 and press lightly into the corners of the loaf tins.
  9. Put both tins in the middle of the oven for 50-60 minutes. It will be ready when a tester comes out clean and it has a golden top.

Wheaten bread is totally delicious, cut into slices while still warm, spread with butter and your favorite jam. Raspberry jam is a traditional and especially good combination but whatever you fancy! It'll toast up nicely for the next few days if you dont eat it all on the first day.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A little bit of Irish comfort

"There are always cabbage and onions in your fridge", I tease my my Mum each time we go home to Northern Ireland. And while its true, there are many other delicious items squished inside the tiny (compared to our embarrassingly enormous American model) fridge. Most exciting is the proper back bacon ...none of this streaky stuff. The back bacon has a fraction of the fat but all the flavor; very appealing to someone trying to take the healthy route in life. I've wondered many times, in my 11 years living here in the US, where does the "back bacon" part of the pig go to?

Ireland gets bad rap in the US for a lack of good food and here's an opportunity for me to contest that. Certainly I've has some bad food there, but Ireland seemed to embrace the locavore culture long before it was trendy, and therein lies tasty food. Think beautiful fresh fish, amazing breads, artisinal cheeses, mouth watering chutneys. Maybe you need a link to the Northern Irish Tourist Board?

Anyway, I guess I've been craving a little comfort food; my husband has been away on business all week, my 2 year old has croup and we've had 2 snow days, a holiday and a sick day off school. A lot of cooped up time.

Time to bring on, what I call, Irish Lasagna. How better to lift everyone's mood, than to fry up some bacon, add onions and cabbage, layer the whole thing with potatoes and cheese, then bake. Essentially that's the recipe but I suppose more detail might be helpful.

Irish Lasagna

Makes 1 large 3 quart lasagna dish (enough for 4)


1 lb bacon (I use the low sodium variety)
1 onion (any color), finely chopped
1 savoy cabbage (any size), sliced roughly
2-3 tablespoons broth (chicken or veg)
2 1/2 lbs of potatoes, sliced thinly
8 oz sharp cheddar, grated
salt and pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. Heat a large deep skillet on medium high (I use my trusty cast iron dutch oven). Using scissors, snip the bacon into small pieces over the pan and fry until crispy and a lot of the fat has rendered out.
  3. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain off all the fat except for approx 1 tablespoon. Add another tablespoon of olive oil and fry up the onions for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the cabbage and broth, stir and put the lid on. Stir every now and again for about 10 minutes until the cabbage has wilted and becomes a little caramelized (my mouth is watering).
  5. Meanwhile grate the cheddar and slice the potatoes.
  6. Grease the lasagna dish
  7. Take the cabbage off the heat and stir the bacon back in.
  8. Place a layer of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish, overlapping a little
  9. Cover with half the cabbage mixture, then another layer of potatoes, one more of cabbage and finally one last layer of potatoes.
  10. Sprinkle the cheese generously on top.
  11. Bake at 400 for 45-50 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender.
  12. Present to your family and watch them ask for seconds

Job well done

A few side notes: feel free to substitute leeks or shallots for the onions, any other green for the cabbage, and more or less potatoes or cheese to taste. I only used cheese on the top as a nod to a healthier meal (ha ha who am I kidding?), however it would be delicious rich and decadent if cheese were sprinkled on top of each cabbage layer. I'm just saying.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Satisfying the "less meatarian" in our house

My 4 year old Charlotte decided to become a "less meatarian" long before Mark Bittman coined the phrase and it became all the rage.
For whatever reason, she just does not much like meat.

Now, as much as I am a fan of minimizing our household consumption of meat for all the great reasons described so eloquently in Food Matters by Mark Bittman, there are times when meat is on the menu in this house. Furthermore our house rule is we all eat the same food. Not that this doesn't cause issue at times; only yesterday we debuted a new fancy behavior chart to address eating the food put before them without a fuss. We're trying...
So Mark Bittman was talking to me (through his book, you understand), and it was time to marry my chicken thighs with some vegetables. The trick was to disguise the chicken in the dish with lots of other flavors and textures. Enter cauliflower, ginger, curry and coconut milk.... Mmmmmm. I chose to try Curried Chickpeas and Cauliflower with Chicken, p387 in Food Matters the Cookbook.

I pretty much made Mr. Bittmans recipe by the book, except my chicken thighs were not boned or skinned so I opted to skin them and cook them bone in, then shred after cooking. All good. Otherwise I stuck fairly closely to the recipe.

And the moment of truth; I presented it to my 4 year old, asked for a verdict on a bite of chicken and it was pronounced "YUM!". Score! Of course I had to play the cool Mum (not easy for me, sadly), and not act too excited at the chicken going down the gullet. I do need to add that I totally agree with her; this is a seriously tasty recipe.

Anyway, here goes:

Curried Chickpeas and Cauliflower with Chicken (my way)


2 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped.
2 cups of cooked chickpeas (rinse them to reduce the sodium content)
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup coconut milk (I used light, still delish)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 small cauliflower cored and cut into small florets
1 or 2 small dried hot red chilies (I did not have so used a pinch of red pepper flakes)
1/2 cup cilantro (again I did not have)


  1. Preheat a large dutch oven or deep skillet with a tablespoon or so of oil and add the chicken. Season with salt and pepper. Depending on the type of chicken you are using, cook on medium high until the chicken is no longer pink.
  2. Add the ginger and onions and cook for a couple of minutes.
  3. Remove everything from the pan and add another tablespoon of oil.
  4. Add chickpeas to the pan with more pepper. Cook for 5-10 minutes, shaking now and again until the chickpeas are lightly browned.
  5. Stir in the curry powder, give it a minute or so on the heat then remove from the pan.
  6. Place the chicken broth, coconut milk, cauliflower, chicken, chile flakes in the hot pan and heat until it gently bubbles.
  7. Cook until the cauliflower is tender and sauce is thick; approx 10 minutes.
  8. Remove the chicken and shred it off the bone.
  9. Add the chicken and chickpeas back into the pan. Stir and serve with wholegrain flatbread, pitas or naan bread.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A leisurely Saturday morning...

Blueberry Banana Muffins

It's not often a Saturday morning in our house with 2 and 4 year old, active girls can be described as leisurely. Somehow, this morning seemed to hit the mark. So, I was inspired to bake. 

I should explain, my world begins and ends with muffins. I define life's big events by them and I just plain love them!!! I have toyed with the idea of opening a muffin shop, doing a purist muffin blog and everything in between.

Nothing pleases me better than getting a batch of muffins in the oven in 15 minutes flat. I love their versatility. They can be utterly butter filled and decadent or a healthy alternative to a bowl of cereal in the morning. Whatever I have in the house can always be made into a muffin at short notice and usually the butter doesn't need softened ahead of time. What could be better?

That smell that fills the house and the pleasure (sometimes through gritted teeth admittedly; new discovery of 2010; I'm a control freak) of making them with my small daughters just caps it off.

Anyway, I have many muffin recipes and options to share but today we needed a mid morning, somewhat healthy kid and adult friendly snack. I had some winter blueberries, being rejected by all as tasteless and I had a half banana leftover by my 2 year old. What better inspiration for a muffin?

I used Deb at smitten kitchen's perfect blueberry muffin as a jumping off point. Always a good start!! . However, I really needed to take my muffin down a healthier route; it's January 15th and we still haven't yet toned down the excess of Christmas in this house. So I substituted canola oil for butter, 0% greek yogurt and a little milk for the sour cream, substituted whole wheat pastry flour for half of the all purpose and I added my little banana chunks too.

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Makes 12 standard muffins

5 tablespoons  canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plain yogurt or greek yogurt with a dash of milk
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup  blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 banana chopped into small chunks

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. 
  2. Spray a muffin tin with a nonstick spray.
  3. Whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in  a bowl
  4. In another bowl whisk together oil and sugar, Add egg and beat well, then yogurt and zest.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until the flour disappears.
  6. Gently fold in your blueberries.
  7. Using an ice cream scoop, fill the muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, until the muffin tops are a golden color and a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a rack for the bare minimum time until you dig in.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leftover Lamb and Sweet Potato Casserole

I'm a planner; I have to be or we'd never get a decent meal cooked in this house. In my 4 years as a mother, I've got better and better at making sure I dont need to go to the store to make the meal that's been running round my head all day. So, I have well stocked cupboards and a fridge with most of the basics at all times. I have become increasingly adept at tweaking a recipe here and there to accomodate my ingredient shortcomings.

So, in this vein, I've been considering a lamb and sweet potato stew/casserole whatever you'd like to call it, for some weeks. I had an (already cooked) 2lb hunk of lamb in the freezer asking to be used in a tasty way, invariably there are sweet potatoes in our kitchen in the winter and I happened across a delicious sounding, Martha Stewart, Moroccan influenced recipe, before Christmas, when I was having my brother's family of 5 coming to stay for 2 weeks. A lot of food was needed!

The recipe does not call for leftover lamb but it substituted more than nicely I thought and shortened the process somewhat (always a bonus in my life). It called for prunes and dried tart cherries and the cupboard was bare of cherries and almost so of prunes, so I substituted a few apricots for good measure. I also made a few other tweeks here and there but it turned out completely delicious. My 2 and 4 year old ate a rightly amount without much complaint (the 4 year old really does not like meat as a rule) but I've enough left to feed the 5 thousand! Yippee leftovers tomorrow, and it's friday too!!!

So here goes:

Leftover Lamb and Sweet Potato Casserole


2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground coriander
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (I didnt have any and used ground)
2lb cooked lamb cut into 1 inch cubes.
olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 cups beef stock (I substituted chicken)
1 28oz can whole plum tomatoes
8 medium carrots peeled and chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
3 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup tart cherries (I substituted apricots)
1/2 cup prunes

  1. Combine the spices and toss with the lamb.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium high, in a dutch oven and toss in the lamb. Cook for approx 10 minutes then remove from the pan.
  3. Add a knob of butter and the onions. Cook for 5 mins on medium then add the garlic and cook another 5 mins.
  4. Add the stock, tomatoes, lamb and carrots. Simmer for approx 1 hour until thick and flavors are combined.
  5. Preheat oven to 325°
  6. Meanwhile place the sweet potatoes in a pot of cold water and bring to the boil. Cook until fork tender, drain well, and mash with another knob of butter.
  7. Spoon the potatoes directly on top of the lamb dish and place uncovered in the oven for 30 mins.
  8. Enjoy!