Spicy Black Bean Primavera

Photo 4-22-2014, 5 46 56 AMThere truly is nothing like fresh Italian pasta. Something about the combination of comforting starchy noodles and tasty fresh sauces makes all my troubles go away.  After traveling throughout Italy, I was so inspired by their use of simple ingredients. A little garlic, tomato and wine and you had one of the most delicious pastas you ever tasted.

So any home cook probably did the same thing as me.  The second I got home I went to my local grocery store and picked up what I thought was the same garlic, tomato, wine etc… Cooked everything the same way I had learned from nonna and voila! I had a meal that tasted like true… Italian…leather. Why didn’t it taste the same?  I added the same amounts, the same ingredients… was it me? Was it my stove? No… in fact it was those “same ingredients” that really weren’t the same at all.  A tomato grown in nonna’s backyard is not the same tomato you get at Publix, Provigo or even Whole Foods. I think that most North Americans are making pretty average tasting dishes in general because of one simple mistake. Sh*t ingredients.
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I really came to truly believe this after The Barefoot Contessa herself, Ina Garten, bullied me enough through the TV to buy those good quality eggs, good quality olive oil, good quality vanilla etc…She always said “make sure its good quality.” I thought, oh olive oil is olive oil. Take it from me, it is not the case. Test it yourself and I promise you will end up coming to the same conclusion as I did. Listen, I know its hard…. you don’t want to go to the market, or spend so much extra on that expensive maple syrup when you can just get some Aunt Jemima.   But knowing where to stretch your dollar and where to spend a little more is the difference between a bland boring dinner, to one that tastes like you are eating at a winery in Tuscany. That is truly how Italians make their food taste unbelievably delicious. They aren’t putting red wine from the 7/11 or depanneur into their marinara. It isn’t 55 crazy expensive ingredients that you can’t pronounce or understand. They use simple, good quality ingredients and cook them right. They showcase the taste and quality of the ingredients themselves. I know its tempting to buy that 99 cent can of whole tomatoes but those San Marzano ones in the can for $4.99 is the epitome of the Olive Garden vs. Tuscany debate.  Heres my must-do list when making a fresh pasta at home.

CEG’s Must-do Italian

1. If making a tomato sauce, always buy San Marzano tomatoes from the can… not San Marzano type… just San Marzano.

2. Always add wines into your sauces that you would drink from a glass.

3. Fresh pasta (bought or homemade) can take your pasta to the next level. But boxed pastas are just fine!

4. Don’t use jarred or dried garlic/onion. Buy fresh. Cut fresh.

5. Invest in a good quality olive oil that tastes great to you. Most markets or speciality food stores will let you taste the olive oils. Bring your own Gfree crackers or bread and test it out! Plus they’ll give you the best information on which ones to cook with and which to only use on salads or as garnish.

6. Don’t forget the fresh herbs. Fresh basil can make the world of difference in any pasta dish. If you are making a heavier pasta, any fresh herb or green will lighten (and brighten) up the dish. (If you don’t have basil on hand, add a little fresh kale or arugula).

7. Boil your noodles in heavily salted water. The noodles absorb the water they are cooking in, so you want those noodles seasoned!Don’t use the expensive stuff here. Kosher salt is perfect!
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Now for the pasta recipe! This pasta is full of protein and healthy fats from the black beans and pine nuts. Feel free to add shrimp, chicken or ground turkey for a little meaty touch. But on its own it is truly satisfying and perfect for Meatless Mondays. If spice isn’t your thing, simply leave out the chilli flakes and hot sauce. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients:

• 1 package black bean noodles
• 1 can San Marzano tomatoes
• 1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
• 2 tbsp olive oil (divided)
• 2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
• 1 small shallot (chopped)
• 2 zucchini (diced)
• 10 ounces of mushrooms (your favourite kind)
• 2 red peppers (julienned)
• 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
• a few dashes of hot sauce
• 1/4 cup red wine (I used a Cabernet Sauvignon)
• 2 sprigs fresh basil (chopped) or a bunch of fresh organic arugula
• 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
• salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Chop all ingredients so they are ready to go! (separate them in bowls or on your cutting board).
2. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a deep skillet on medium heat.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the shallot and sautee until soft. Then add garlic and chilli flakes, salt and pepper and sautee for another 30 seconds.
4. Add canned tomatoes and crush with a wooden spoon or cut with kitchen scissors. Bring to a boil, then put heat to low. Add tomato paste and stir until combined. Let simmer until most of the water has evaporated (about 30 minutes).
5. While the sauce is simmering, heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in another skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil and sautee for 30 seconds. Then add zucchini, peppers and mushrooms, salt and pepper. Cook until tender and slightly brown.
6. Now its time to boil your pasta according to the directions on package or box. If you bought fresh pasta, then cook it in heavily salted water for 2-3 minutes.
7. Back to the sauce…after the sauce has thickened add the red wine. Stir and taste. Add hot sauce if you want more heat, and adjust salt and pepper seasoning if necessary.
8. Toast your pine nuts on medium heat in a dry pan until golden. Watch carefully or they will burn (5 minutes).
9. Add the vegetables to the pasta sauce, stir. Then add the noodles. Toss until well combined. Top with fresh basil or arugula and toasted pine nuts.
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Mexican Inspired

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I’ve only really started to enjoy Mexican food over the past two years. Cilantro was never my favourite herb, so it just sort of turned me off of the whole cuisine in general. Like most food though, let me have it 5-6 times and eventually it will grow on me. What did always attract me to Mexican food is the versatility and the fresh flavours. There are so many platters that allow you to create the bite that YOU want. Extra guacamole, more chicken, no salsa… no problem. When it comes to Mexican, you become the chef! And thats exactly what I have created here.

With this meal, vegetarians and meat eaters alike can create the plate/bowl that best suits their taste buds. This meal can easily be made with tofu/seitan, steak or fish and be absolutely delicious! Feel free to serve with black bean chips (beanitos… yum) or gluten free brown rice wraps and everyone is bound to find something delicious, healthy and fitting to their cravings. We all know I love a good bowl, so no chips or wraps were needed for me.

Homemade pico de gallo aka salsa fresca aka a fresh salsa really lightens up the heaviness that can come from the avocado and beans. You can also use salsa from a jar if time isn’t on your side, but homemade is always better! The star of the dish for me was the cumin-cilantro corn. It was so sweet and had so much flavour, ill definitely be using this as a side dish for another meal.If your not in the mood for meat, or are vegan, make this dish with tofu or quinoa for added protein. Perfect for Meatless Mondays! You’ll get plenty of healthy fats from the guacamole and fibre from the brown rice and black beans. I hope you enjoy this seriously tasty meal without the guilt or upset tummy. As always this meal is free of gluten, dairy and refined sugars. Go as fresh as possible with your ingredients, and please enjoy a beer*** alongside! Clean living is all about moderation, life is short…so enjoy it!

*** I tried my first gluten-free beer called Glutenberg. It was very decent consideering the lack of barley but it did have a pretty bitter lingering after taste. If anyone has any suggestions for some of the best gluten free beers, please write in the comments! I will be doing a lot of taste testing in the summer and I will do a roundup of some of my favourites.

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Serves 4
Ingredients:

• 3-4 chicken breasts (cleaned and chopped)
• 1 can or fresh black beans (rinsed)
• 2 very ripe avocados
• about 1/4 red onion chopped (3 tbsp)
• 3 tomatoes
• 1 garlic clove (finely chopped)
• brown rice or quinoa (4 servings)
• 4-5 fresh corn on the cob
• 4 tbsp cilantro (chopped)
• 2 tbsp cumin (divided)
• 2 tsp garlic powder (divded)
• 1 jalapeño
• 1 red pepper chopped
• 3-4 limes
• 3 tbsp olive oil (olive oil)
• 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
• salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions:

1. Prep and chop all ingredients… it makes it a lot easier for the cooking process! Once everything is prepped the cooking part is easy! Ok… so now that everything is chopped and ready in bowls…

2. For the rice: cook based on the directions of the bag. Season with 1 tbsp olive oil, squeeze of lime salt and a bit of pepper.

3. For the corn: heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in skillet on medium-high heat. Sautee corn until slightly brown then add a nice pinch of salt, 1 tbsp cumin, 2 tbsp cilantro, juice of half a lime. Sautee for 2-3 minutes, turn off heat and add a little more fresh cilanto and more lime juice.

4. For the guacamole: Mash avocados, add juice of one lime, 1 tbsp red onion, 1 tsp garlic powder, salt.

5. For the pico de gallo: mix jalapeño, fresh garlic, red pepper, tomatoes, 2 tbsp red onion, red wine vinegar, juice of 1 lime, 2 tbsp cilantro and pinch of salt and pepper.

6. For the black beans: rinse very well, season with salt and pepper.

7. For the chicken: heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet on medium heat. Sautee chicken with salt and pepper. About half way through cooking, add 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp garlic powder and some lime juice. Cook through and finish with more lime juice.
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Pan Roasted Dijon Salmon with Herb Oil and Asparagus

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Salmon is loaded with protein and omega-3 fatty acids to give our brains a dose of happiness and intelligence. It is also a versatile and easy to cook. Salmon is one of my go-to’s when looking for a light yet satisfying meal. Whether you eat it raw, oven roasted or pan-seared it is a great base for any seasoning or sauce your appetite desires. My rule when cooking salmon in a pan is to simply let it be. People flip it and move it around which ends up with an unattractive and overcooked meal. Follow my directions carefully for a perfectly cooked, crispy skinned salmon.

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The herb oil I made with this fish is light, refreshing and super easy to make. Fresh herbs are a great way to add flavour to a meal without adding extra sauce, oil or seasoning. Dill, parsley, basil are my three favourites but you’ll see how I explore other herbs such as rosemary, thyme and oregano in future posts. Bon appetit!

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Serves 1 or 2

Ingredients:

• Wild caught or organic salmon
• 1 bunch asparagus
• 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
• 1 french shallot
• 2 tbsp avocado oil
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• fresh parsley
• fresh dill
• 1 tbsp stone ground dijon mustard
• sea salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Coat salmon in 1 tbsp of avocado oil, mustard, sea salt and pepper

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (for asparagus)

3. Heat avocado oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to smoke, add salmon, skin side down. Keep your fingers on top of the salmon filet for a bit to keep it nice and flat. Watch the side of the piece of salmon for color changes. When 2/3 of the salmon has turned opaque, flip it to the other side and cook until it’s done (about 3-4 minutes depending on how pink you like it.)

4. While the salmon is cooking, finely chop up dill and parsley (about 1/4 cup worth) and add to a small bowl.

6. Finely chop one shallot and add it to herbs.

7. Add olive oil, lemon juice and more stone ground dijon mustard if you like to the herbs and shallots and whisk. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper (add more olive oil if it looks too thick).

8. Check back on your salmon!

9. Boil asparagus for five minutes and drain.

10. Plate asparagus and salmon, drizzle with herb oil. Enjoy!