Kale & Mozzarella Pasta Bake

Oh February, I will be so glad to see you go. How can one survive in a city that has seen record breaking cold for the month? From conversations with my husband and my coworkers, I know that even the cold-weather-lovers amongst us have started to feel bogged down by the sheer amount of cold weather alerts and blizzards we’ve had this month. Rationally, I know spring will be here soon. But irrationally, I think perhaps I should just give into the cold and lay down on a snowbank. Or start hibernating for the last few weeks of cold.

kale pasta bake
But since we’re all expected to continue working and paying our bills and feeding our families, maybe we just need to turn to cozier meals? I’ve made my (vegetarian) beefy macaroni and cheese more times than I can count recently. And we got a little sick of regular mac and cheese so I decided to make a less dairy heavy, more veggie heavy dish. This bake is vaguely inspired by Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom and marsala pasta bake. But Will and I both hate mushrooms so those were out. And I’m not drinking right now (being knocked up, and all) so I wasn’t about to open a bottle of wine just for one dish. So mostly I was just took pasta + mozzarella + baked until crispy and ran with it.

kale pasta bake

Curly kale works best for this because the stuff on top will crisp up nicely, much like kale chips. I asked Will to buy fresh mozzarella but instead he bought just the round stuff from the deli case, which actually worked a lot better than fresh would – what a smart husband!

kale pasta bake

Kale & Mozzarella Pasta Bake
2 cups of dried pasta – whichever shape you like, I used rotini
1 bunch of kale – curly works bets for this since the edges get very crispy in the oven!
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth (or 2 cups of water and 1 tsp better than bouillon or 1/2 a bouillon cube)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1 cup of diced mozzarella
1 cup of grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 350.
Begin by cooking your pasta. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add your pasta. Cook according to package directions, but drain when it’s still slightly before al dente – it will cook more in the oven. Leave your draining pasta in the colander and wipe out your pot to make the broth.
Remove the spines of your kale, and pull into bite sized pieces. Rinse well. Put 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the kale until slightly wilted. DOn’t worry too much about draining the kale, this will help it wilt down faster!
Heat the remaining olive oil in the wiped out pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes, or until the onions have softened and are starting to caramelize. Add the flour and stir well. Then add the broth/water and bouillon and the spices. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.
Mix the drained pasta, wilted kale, mozzarella and 1/2 the parmesan in a baking dish. Pour the sauce over and top with remaining cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the top is crispy.

Happy New Years! (and cheesy broccoli baked potatoes)

cheesy broc potatoes

Hooray, we made it to 2015! To celebrate, I baked some potatoes!

cheesy broc potatoes
Also I made Will take a picture of me and my creation because I realized that with all my cooking, there are zero pictures of me with food. That needed immediate fixing, naturally.

How were/are your holidays? Did you also get sucker punched by how busy and crazy December was? It’s pretty obvious I did because I meant to post about a dozen different recipes – my favourite Christmas cookies, the dip I made for my work Christmas potluck, my mom’s two mixes that she gifts – and then suddenly it’s December 31st and I didn’t post any of them!

Oh well. There’s always next year.

And since next year is mere hours away, I decided we needed something filling for dinner before we drink some bubbly (and what a bubbly it will be, as we have a bottle of Hinterland’s Ancestral 2014 that we picked up in Prince Edward County on our honeymoon!). Something starchy and cheesy but with enough green vegetables to make it feel like it confirms to any healthy eating resolutions one might be considering.

cheesy broc potatoes
Will choose to keep his potatoes and broccoli separate, which is a fair choice. I just can’t get enough veggies on veggies. It’s why vegetarianism works so well for me.

Cheesy Broccoli Baked Potatoes

(shamelessly stolen from Wendy’s except mine doesn’t contain anything unpronounceable!)

  • 4 medium potatoes about 2 potatoes per person)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 head broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1.5 cup 2% milk
  • 1 cup old cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper

To start, preheat your oven to 375. Scrub your potatoes under running water, dry and then rub all over with a few drops of olive oil. Pierce each potato a few times with a fork and place in the oven. Bake for around an hour, or until the potato gives way easily when squeezed (with an oven-mitted hand, of course!)

Melt butter over medium low in a small saucepan. Once melted, add the flour and whisk well. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Let the sauce cook for a few minutes until it begins to thicken – it will nicely coat the back of a spoon when it’s ready! Add the grated cheese and stir until the cheese is fully melted and the sauce has a smooth consistency. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Take the pot off the heat and set aside, covered, while you finish the other components.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and steam the broccoli until tender.

Once the potatoes are done, slice x’s into the tops and squeeze them to open them up. Top with broccoli, cheese sauce, grated cheese and black pepper. Enjoy!

Vegetarian Lentil Taco Meat

veggie taco meat
Last night was our Taco Tuesday… on a Monday. Do people still do Taco Tuesdays? I think my husband (!) would love it if we actually religiously followed Taco Tuesday because his dinner requests are always either Mexican food or pizza. Perhaps that is clear from the fact that at least half of my recipes are Mexican-inspired in some way. As a bonus, this meal also counts for Meatless Mondays, so you could eat it TWO days in a row. That’s the dream.

Speaking of my husband (!), we’ve been married for over a week now and it’s still very thrilling to hear other people use those titles. I’ll be honest with you though, I’ve been calling him my husband to strangers for a few months now to practice. Just like, the lady at the post office – “Oh, this package is for my husband, can I pick it up instead?” But um, that’s not actually a new habit of mine. In my single days, I would refer to people who I was barely dating as my boyfriend to random people – baristas, hair dressers, etc. I guess I thought I might never use the term for real, so I wanted to know what it felt like. So now being legally allowed to call Will my husband, so weird!

veggie taco meat
Other than the new title though, not much else has changed in our life, which is good. We still spend a lot of time watching standup comedians on Netflix. The other night we watched Chelsea Peretti, who kept saying things that were eerily close to how I feel. Like, she talked about how much she hates eating in front of people, and that her dream eating situation is just her with a buffet, in a ditch, no one around. Yes. I hate eating in front of people, especially messy food. These tacos are not for eating in front of other people. They are for eating in front of your husband, who cannot judge you (pretty sure that was in the vows at some point).

veggie taco meat
Vegetarian Lentil Taco Meat

Lentils are amazing, right? They have like, 18 grams of protein per cup and also quick pretty quick. Cooked this way they almost have a refried beans texture. And come on, with tacos, do you really care what’s in the filling? Tacos are mainly an excuse to eat as much shredded cheese as humanly possible.

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1 cup red lentils (brown would be more beef-like but also take longer to cook)
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder

Taco fixings: hard or soft taco shells, shredded romaine lettuce, diced tomatoes, salsa, cubed avocado, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, etc.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes, then add the minced onion. Cook for around 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions have softened. Add the lentils, all the spices except the salt and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil at high heat then turn down to medium and shimmer. Once the water has been absorbed, add another cup. Continue cooking for around 20 minutes, stirring and testing for softness occasionally. While the lentils are cooking, prep your toppings and heat up your shells. Once the lentils are soft and all the water has cooked out, add salt to taste and remove from heat. Scoop into a bowl and serve alongside any other desired toppings and some heated taco shells.

Pasta with Blue Cheese and Grapes

Hey there! So what have you guys been up to lately?

Me? Well, I got married.

blue cheese pasta

(photo credit: Flashing Lights Photo + Design)

So more on all that at a later date. Today I want to talk about my family.

First, is it weird that it took me until a few months ago to realize how good I had it as a kid? I don’t mean in terms of like, athletic ability or popularity or anything (mainly because those were two things I was lacking in). I mean in terms of my family.

A few months ago my mom and I were talking to a neighbour, and she mentioned how often it was just the four of us growing up. We didn’t always have extended family close by, so the majority of time in my youth, it was just my mom, my dad, my sister and me. Until she said that, it had never occurred to me how much time we had spent together. And we were a great little foursome! We genuinely liked each other’s company. I remember laughing a lot (mainly at my dad). And we always had a lot of adult conversations – about the news or politics or the world around us.

So we were a family that was very rarely apart. And because my parents ran their own business, we were often invited to business lunches. And that’s how I discovered this pasta!

blue cheese pasta

I’ve only ever found this pasta at Vittoria Trattoria in Ottawa’s Byward Market, which is a tragedy because it’s so delicious! The grapes might seem like a weird addition to pasta, but if you add them to the drained pasta and let them warm up, they lend this wonderful texture and sweetness that cuts some of that blue cheese zip. Their dish is a little fancier than mine: gorgonzola instead of the danish blue I picked up at Loblaws, stuffed pasta instead of radiatori. But in my defence, pasta that looks like tiny radiators is perfect for this because it catches so much of the sauce!

blue cheese pasta

Pasta with Blue Cheese Sauce and Red Grapes

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 3.5 oz crumbled blue cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups red grapes, washed well and halved
  • 2 cups dry pasta

Start by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil and cooking the pasta according to package directions. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and put back in the pot, adding the grapes to warm them slightly.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook until fully combined. Whisk in the milk and cook until thickened, about five minutes. Once the sauce has thickened, add the cheese and salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning (I added a tiny bit more cheese at this point as I wanted a zippier taste!). Pour the sauce over the pasta and grapes and enjoy!

Broccoli, Butternut Squash and Cheesy Rice Casserole

Broccoli, cheese and rice casserole

I’m always in danger of turning this blog into a Smitten Kitchen appreciation blog. I swear, all my favourite recipes have come from her. Like, I’ve posted her brownie recipe here already – both as peanut butter brownies and as two bite brownies!

Broccoli, cheese and rice casserole

Oh wait, unrelated story coming up: I left my veggie scrap bowl on the counter while we ate dinner and Will went into the kitchen (likely to get more wine) and went, “Hey, did you forget the salad in here?” No dear, that’s just my bowl full of carrot stems, squash peels and broccoli leaves. But nice to know my garbage looks appetizing, right?

Broccoli, cheese and rice casserole

As I was saying, pretty much everything Deb posts is gold to me, and this broccoli, cheese and wild rice casserole was no exception. It was like the much classier version of the processed cheddar and broccoli rice I’d had before. The wild rice adds a nice texture to it. And it’s a very filling dish, so while it could be a side dish, we usually eat it as a main, maybe with another veggie as a side (this time I made roasted carrots!).

Broccoli, cheese and rice casserole

I also added some cubed and roasted butternut squash to it, to really boast the veggie content. Squash tastes delicious with the cheddar sauce. And even if you’re not a huge fan out it, this is a great way to sneak it in!

Broccoli, cheese and rice casserole

Broccoli, Squash and Cheesy Rice Casserole

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp and 1 tsp butter, divided
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup rice (usually I use a mix of wild rice and brown but I only had 1/2 cup of that so I stretched it with basmati! Wild rice tastes better, don’t be like me)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large head broccoli, florets separated, and stems peeled and diced
  • 1 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 2/3 cup broth (I used water and boullion)
  • 1/4 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided

Start by heating your oven to 350°. Take the peeled and cubed squash and lay it on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tsp of olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, or until the pieces are soft and beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp butter over medium low heat in a saucepan. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the rice, 1/4 tsp salt and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high high, then turn the heat down and cook for 30 minutes or until all the water has cooked off and the rice has softened.

As the rice cooks, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and then cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain the broccoli and set aside.

Wipe down the broccoli pot and start the cheese sauce. Melt 1 tbsp butter over medium heat and add the flour. Whisk the mixture until smooth, then add the milk, broth and mustard. Cook over medium low heat, stirring often, until the mixture begins to thicken. Once thickened, add 1 cup of the cheese and whisk until smooth.

Now it’s time to assemble! Place your squash, broccoli and rice in a casserole dish. Stir to combine and pour the cheese sauce on top. Top with the remaining grated cheese and broil until the top is bubbling. Top with a little black pepper and serve!

Super Quick Dahl Soup

dahl soup
This is another recipe that comes from my mom, and I thought she was a total genius for using sesame sticks as a soup topping. Apparently she got the idea from the vegetarian restaurant that she first tasted this soup at and it is brilliant! I found these everything sesame sticks the other day and knew they’d make this soup even tastier.

This soup is inspired by the delicious Indian lentil dish tarka dahl (or is it dhal? Googling it for clarification just made me more confused). The red lentils and turmeric in the curry powder give it such a beautiful yellow colour. And I made it very flavourful, but not spicy, just like the tarka dahl we used to get at Curry Original in Kingston.

dahl soup

I’d also like to take this opportunity to share the most amazing cooking tip I learned this week: did you know you can grate onions and it’s about a MILLION times easier than finely chopping them? It’s true! There are times that I want the soothing repetition of chopping onions as finely as I can, but tonight was not one of those times. I just wanted dinner as soon as I could get it. And bonus of grated onion: the small pieces cook much faster and are less noticeable in the final dish. Possibly the perfect way to sneak onions into a dish if you cook for onions haters?

dahl soup

I served it with these fake Red Lobster biscuits which are the perfect match for any soup. And just generally a good way to force Will to eat soup for dinner.

dahl soup
Super Quick Dahl Soup

  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups red lentils (other colours will also work but won’t be as prettily coloured!)
  • 4 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 1/2 tsp curry powder (I used a medium spicy one)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • to garnish: sesame sticks

Heat the butter and oil on the stove over medium low heat. Peel and grate (or finely chop, if that’s more your style) the onion. Add it to the pan and mince the garlic while the onion cooks. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until everything begins to soften.

Add the lentils, the seasoning and 4 cups of water to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat and then turn the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are soft and begin to break down, about 20 minutes. When the lentils have softened you can blend with an immersion blender if you want a smoother consistency, but I left them as is.

Serve with lots and lots of sesame sticks on top (and more on the side).

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte (sweetened with dates!)

Homemade pumpkin spice latte

Like any human person, I enjoy the occasional pumpkin spice latte to celebrate the return of fall. A good pumpkin spice latte is like a liquified version of Thanksgiving dessert. And as a former Starbucks barista, I’m always kind of amused by articles like this one. I agree it’s kind of gross and surprising how many chemicals go into one – but no one is actually surprised that they contain no real pumpkin, right? I mean, that bright orange colour just isn’t natural at all.

So I aimed to make my own, with actual pumpkin. And since my biggest pet peeve with Starbucks flavoured lattes is how much sugar is in them, I wanted to avoid that as well. I’ve been playing around with these medjool dates lately, and I know lots of people use them to replace sweetener in truffles, no-bake bars and smoothies. So why not in coffee?

Homemade pumpkin spice latte

A warning that this won’t be nearly as sweet as the PSL you’re used to. But if you want the flavour without the 50 grams of sugar that a grande PSL usually has, I think it’s perfect. I used some of the hints in this recipe, like adding the black pepper, which really does give it a nice spicy bite. But I also made mine with coffee instead of espresso. And OK, since it doesn’t contain espresso it’s not really a latte. More like a coffee misto (which is half coffee and half steamed milk). And I think it would be just as lovely with almond or soy milk, if you’re also looking to avoid dairy.

Homemade pumpkin spice latte

I added whipped cream to mine because I was feeling decadent. And I didn’t even add any sugar in that! A confession: as a barista, when I would make my own experimental drinks I used to prepare the whipped cream with a QUARTER of the syrup that the recipe calls for and it was plenty sweet! The whipped cream is just going to melt into the drink anyway, why does it need to be teeth-jarringly sweet?

Homemade pumpkin spice latte

(I served in it my engagement mug – sometime I will properly blog about my engagement story and how Will gave me this adorable mug to misdirect me from the actual surprise!)

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte

Makes one giant mug.

  • 3 tbsp canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling – you want to be able to flavour it yourself!)
  •  2-3 medjool dates, pitted and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup strong coffee
  • whipped cream (optional)

After you pit and finely chop the dates, place them in a small saucepan with the canned pumpkin. Add the seasoning and cook over low heat for around five minutes – you want the pumpkin to heat up and the dates to break down slightly. Add the milk and heat slightly, then blend the mixture thoroughly with an immersion blender, ensuring that there are no date chunks left.

Fill your mug halfway with coffee, then top with the pumpkin milk mixture and stir well. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice for that proper coffee shop look. Enjoy!

Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

mac and cheese
Ooooh, what’s that? Do I feel a bit of a chill in the air? I swear I do. And you know what that means. It’s time to EAT ALL THE CARBS! And I like to add some cheese to my carbs, because my vegetarian diet is the kind that embraces all the cheese.

Just a quick post tonight, as I am still recovering from the awful back to school cold that still has me coughing (I’ve been sick since last Sunday! What is this nonsense?). Naturally my cooking has suffered as a result, but this is the kind of recipe I’ve made so many times, I could make it in my sleep.

mac and cheese
Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese

  • one bunch of broccoli, separated into small florets (one pound? I dunno I just used the whole head I got at the grocery store)
  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni (I used small shells)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1.5 cups of 2% milk
  • 3 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt and pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil. I always start out by steaming the broccoli first, usually over the pasta pot. Cook just until the stems are tender, but don’t overcook them.

Measure the pasta by filling the casserole dish you want to use about halfway. Then cook the shells in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and set aside.

As the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and cook for a few seconds. Add the milk and cook over medium-low heat until thickened. Once the sauce has thickened, add 2 cups of the grated cheese, garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.

Once the pasta, sauce and broccoli are all cooked, mix them in a casserole dish, and top with the remaining grated cheese. Put in the oven and broil until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.

pamplemoussi’s pips, volume vii

It’s Friiiiiday!

(DUPSTEP CAT aka the funniest 23 seconds of your life)

And I’ve (almost) survived the back to school week, so I’m pretty sure it just gets easier from here.

pips vol vii

So I mentioned to my mom that I keep pre-chopped carrots and celery in my freezer to add to soups and such, and she told me I needed to blog about it, so! Next time you are chopping carrots and celery for soup (or in my case, next time your parents give you some fresh veggies from their farm!), cut more than you need and throw the extras in a labeled freezer bag. Now you’re two thirds of the way to mirepoix next time you make soup!

pips vol vii pips vol vii

Toronto has been especially beautiful lately, except heyyyy who said the leaves could change colour already? I’m not ready for this.

pips vol vii

Toronto also has a lot of amazing chalkboard signs, and this one is my favourite. Oh Not Sure If Fry, one of the better memes out there!

Speaking of Futurama, the other night we watched I Know That Voice on Netflix and it was so interesting putting a face to various cartoon voices. Fry, the Professor and Zoidberg are all the same voice actor! The voice of Winnie the Pooh does not look anything like a cartoon bear!

Birthday Enchiladas

birthday enchiladas

A sign of true compatibility: I just realized that Will and I both ate enchiladas for our birthdays. Of course, for my birthday I demanded we go out for dinner, because as much as I enjoy cooking, I don’t usually want to do it on my birthday. So we went to Milagro and drank sangria and ate enchiladas and it was delicious. Whereas when I asked Will what he wanted to do for dinner on his birthday, he requested my cooking, which is a total compliment. I gave him a multitude of options, and he picked enchiladas. Bonded by our love of saucy and cheesy foods!

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