cheese noodles & roast broccoli

This is usually how the conversation with myself goes as I'm driving home:

"Uggh...I don't know what to make for dinner.  I can't remember what's in the fridge....Was there a plan for tonight?  No, probably not.  Sooo, what can I make that's easy, fast and that Hannah will probably eat?....Noodles, yes, she'll probably eat noodles....With what?  Ummm, sauce?  And we need some sort of veggie.  She likes broccoli.  I think there's some in the fridge.  Ok, broccoli, noodles and sauce....Protein?  I'll figure that out when I get home."

So that's basically how I arrived at cheese noodles with roasted broccoli and sliced porchetta (deli meat ham).  This meal came together so quickly - a win in my book!  While the pasta was cooking I made the sauce and roasted the broccoli and everything was ready at roughly the same time.  Making your own cheese sauce is super easy, and then you know exactly whats in it (rather than using something like Cheese Whiz).  I looove roasted veggies - I think it's the texture variation that roasting gives; some tender parts, some crispy parts.  Anyhow, I'd take roasted broccoli over steamed broccoli almost any day, so that's why I decided to roast it this time.  I had some porchetta from the Italian Centre in the fridge and I figured that broccoli, ham and cheese was a good combo, so I sliced it up and added it on top.   

Cheese Sauce

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1 cup grated cheese

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the flour and spices and stir to combine.  Gradually pour in the milk, whisking until no lumps remain.  Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is smooth and thick.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.  Serve immediately.  Leftover cheese sauce freezes nicely in a Ziploc bag.  

Roasted Broccoli

  • 1 head broccoli, cut into large florettes
  • drizzle of olive oil (about 2 tbsp)
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Toss broccoli with olive oil and lemon juice either in a large bowl, or directly on a baking sheet (like I do).  Sprinkle with salt & pepper.  Roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges start to get brown and crispy.  

cranberry sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce tastes (and looks) so much better than cranberry sauce from a can.  Picture the can for a moment: you open it with the can opener, tip it upside-down above a bowl and sluuuurp...a red, jelly tube slides out and lands with a 'plop' in the bowl then stands there wiggling side-to-side.  Now consider homemade cranberry sauce: fresh and slightly tart with a hint of orange flavour.  So yummy with turkey and an essential for leftover turkey sandwiches.  It only takes a few minutes to make, and can easily be prepared a few days ahead (very important in my case, because I make a huge disaster in my small kitchen while getting Thanksgiving dinner ready and one less thing to worry about).

So if you've already had your Thanksgiving meal this year, I hope it was a wonderful time shared with family and friends, and if you haven't, give homemade cranberry sauce a try - you'll never go back to the stuff in a can.   

Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 pkg fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • grated zest from one orange
  • 2 tbsp orange-flavoured liqueur (cointreau or triple sec)

Put the cranberries, water, sugar, salt and orange zest together in a medium sized pot over medium-high heat.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, gently mash the berries against the sides of the pot until only about 1/3 of them are still whole.  Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for a few minutes, until the mixture is saucy and slightly thickened (about as thick as you want your finished sauce, it will thicken just a little more as the sauce cools).  Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the orange liqueur.  Transfer to a sealable container and keep refrigerated.

pesto fettuccine with prawns

Ahhh, fresh pesto, it's kind-of like a taste of summer.  Store-bought basil pesto just can't compete, and because it's so easy to make, I don't know why you wouldn't opt for homemade.  We had picked up a few large packages of basil at the St. Albert Farmer's Market, intending to make enough pesto to use some now and store some away in the freezer. 

I have an amazing husband who made fresh noodles for this dish (pasta is one of Trev's specialties), but I'm sure it would taste great with dried pasta or fresh pasta from the store.  The garlic shrimp went really well with the basil pesto and we both enjoyed the meal.  It reminded me a little of Italy...

Basil Pesto

  • about 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup lightly toasted pinenuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese

Put the fresh basil, pinenuts and garlic into the food processor.  Process until the basil is finely minced, then add the olive oil in a stream while the processor is running.  If you're serving it right away, add the cheese and mix again.  If you're planning on freezing it, leave the cheese out and add it right before you use it (after it's defrosted).

To store the pesto, add a layer of olive oil on top of the pesto before refrigerating or freezing it.  It will help keep the fresh flavours.  

Pesto Fettuccine with Garlic Prawns

  • about 20 prawns, deveined and peeled
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • olive oil
  • fresh or dried fettuccine

Make the pasta (if you're feeling ambitious).  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, Heat a medium-sized frying pan over medium-high heat and saute the prawns with olive oil and garlic until pink and cooked.  Drain the pasta (reserving a few tablespoons of the pasta water) then put it back in the cooking pot.  Toss the fettuccine to coat it with pesto, adding in a tablespoon or two of pasta water if you need to thin it out.  Serve the fettuccine with the garlic prawns on top and enjoy.

spicy peanut sauce

This recipe is really more of a guideline...you start with the peanut butter, then start adding ingredients into the food processor until you get the taste and consistency you're looking for.  Trevor and I were in the mood for some heat, so we added a pretty generous amount of hot sauce, but you could dial it back to what ever level you're comfortable with.  You could also enhance the sweet flavour profile by adding in some brown sugar or liquid honey.  The sauce also needs some salt (from soy sauce or fish sauce) and the acid from the limes to cut through the rich peanut butter.  I wanted my peanut sauce to be a "dippable" consistency, so I thinned it out with water.  It keeps well in the fridge for several weeks and is a great addition for a quick and easy meal. 

Spicy Peanut Sauce

  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • juice from 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • few dases of fish sauce
  • 1 jalapeno or chili pepper
  • squeeze of Vietnamese hot sauce
  • water

Dinner idea: 

Cook up a pot of basmati rice and grill some chicken breasts.  Grate some carrot, slice some cucumber and sprinkle with rice vinegar.  Serve with spicy peanut sauce, lime wedges and fresh basil.  Easy - a quick nutritious dinner in about 20 minutes. 

Dinner idea:

Salad rolls are fun, and surprisingly easy to make.  First prepare some vermicelli rice noodles by soaking them in warm water for a few minutes, then drain and set aside.  Thinly slice any vegetables that you might want to add.  This time I used carrot, avocado, cucumber and fresh basil leaves.  Add in some form of protein (if desired)  I cooked up some prawns and I had some leftover chicken in the fridge, so I shredded it up.  Get a shallow baking dish or dinner plate large enough to fit a rice paper wrapper and add some lukewarm water.  Submerge one wrapper at a time and allow it to sit for about one minute then move it to a flat surface covered with a tea towel.  You want the wrapper to feel damp, but not totally soaked - it will keep softening up as you add your toppings.  Fill it up however you like, then wrap it by folding the sides in first then rolling it up.  Sometimes they stick together if you stack them, so it's better to keep them single layered on your serving dish.  Serve them up with a generous side of spicy peanut sauce!

hot pepper sauce

Around our house we like things spicy.  I loved spicy food even as a child, but I think my love for the tongue-burning sensation of spicy foods really took off when I lived in residence during my first year of university.  The food there was bad...really bad...I assumed that prison inmates probably received better quality meals than we did.  I survived by pouring copious amounts of hot sauce on everything.  A weekend staple was scrambled eggs and hash browns doused with Frank's Red Hot, lunch: a rice bowl with a heaping side of Vietnamese hot sauce, chicken fingers and fries with Tabasco, anything really could benefit from some hot sauce.  I think it helped to mask the flavours and textures.  These days I'm not quite as trigger-happy with the stuff, but we still go through quite a bit in our house.

 Trevor was inspired by some of the hot pepper sauces we regularly enjoyed while we were in Cambodia and Thailand, and decided to try making some at home.  While we were buying our regular produce at the Strathcona Farmer's Market we found a large bag of red chilies, which was perfect for this experiment.

At home Trevor trimmed the tops off of the peppers and roughly chopped them before adding a bunch into the food processor with a few cloves of garlic and a few tablespoons of salt.  Pulse the food processor until the peppers are coarsely chopped.  Pack the mixture into a sterilized glass jar then fill the jar up with boiling vinegar.  We read a few different suggestions about the type of vinegar to use.  We used plain, old white vinegar, but you could also use malt vinegar (or other types) to give it a different flavour.  The jar doesn't have to be sealed (like regular canning), bacteria doesn't like to live in that hostile environment!  We left our jar sitting on the window sill in the kitchen to age, right between my orchid and the african violets. 

Taste test results:  SPICY! and tasty.

I can't wait to try it with a Thai-style meal...salad rolls, peanut sauce, pepper sauce....so good.