Quick and easy spicy crackers

A tasty alternative to deep-fried snacks!

A friend from the southern United States recently taught me about one of her state’s most popular snacks: Alabama fire crackers. These highly seasoned, sometimes re-baked crackers appear at so many meals – from fancy buffets to casual cookouts – that they’re almost ubiquitous. She said she even crumbles them to use as croutons and her family won’t eat soup without sprinkling some on top. I’ve adapted the recipe to make them less fiery than is traditional but you can easily increase the heat if you prefer. I also chose to use whole wheat saltine crackers, to make them a little healthier. Feel free to use your favourite gluten-free crackers if you wish. I like to enjoy them as a flavourful snack – they’re a great alternative to potato chips and perfectly packable for lunch boxes too.

Ingredients

  • 2 sleeves whole wheat crackers (use unsalted ones if you can find them)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 packet dried ranch dressing mix (2 tablespoons/1 ounce/28 g)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like things really spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Method

  • Line crackers up standing on one edge in a container with a tight lid.

  • Whisk together canola, ranch dressing, red pepper flakes, garlic powder and pepper. Very slowly, whisking again as needed to keep the spices from settling at the bottom, drizzle this mixture evenly over the crackers.
  • Put the lid on the container and let crackers marinate for 20 minutes, gently flipping the container over every 5 minutes, giving it a very gentle shake each time to distribute the coating.
  • After 20 minutes, bake as below, or simply transfer the crackers to a clean airtight container.
  • This step is optional but makes for extra-crispy crackers: after the crackers have been in the container for 20 minutes, preheat the oven to 250F. Remove the crackers and spread out in a single layer on parchment-lined baking sheets. Scrape out any of the seasoned oil remaining in the container and drizzle it evenly over the crackers. Bake for 15 minutes. Let cool completely on the baking trays before transferring to an airtight container.
  • Unbaked crackers will keep at room temperature for one week; baked ones will last for two weeks.

Makes approximately 80 tasty crackers.

 

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Quick and healthy pizza muffins

An easy, portable meal the whole family will love!

So often we think of muffins as being a sweet treat, but savoury muffins are just as terrific. Aside from the fantastic flavour and texture of these muffins, I adore them because they freeze beautifully and they make a great meal-on-the-go. If you enjoy this easy recipe, you might also want to check out my pizza biscuits and mini pizza quiches.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (180 mL) milk
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) diced green pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) diced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) diced pepperoni (optional)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) minced shallots or green onions
  • 1 3/4 cups (430 mL) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) pizza sauce

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F. Line 18 compartments of a muffin pan with liners.
  • In a large bowl whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, basil and oregano.
  • In another bowl mix sour cream or yogurt, eggs and milk. Add melted butter, stirring well to combine.
  • Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and mix just until there are no more dry spots, taking care not to overmix. Add in green pepper, mushrooms, pepperoni (if using), onions and 1 cup (250 mL) of the cheese.
  • Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Add approximately two teaspoons (10 mL) of pizza sauce on top of each muffin then sprinkle remaining mozzarella evenly over top.
  • Bake for 14 – 16 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
  • Let cool in pan 5 minutes then enjoy warm or at room temperature. For freezing, allow to completely cool on wire rack before transferring to an airtight container.

Makes 18 muffins.

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Speedy pasta with vegetables and chèvre

An easy, delicious vegetarian meal that makes great leftovers!

This pasta tastes so good you might be surprised how quickly it can be prepared, since there’s no fussy sauce to assemble. I previously shared my recipe for deliciously addictive vegan coconut ‘bacon’ bits (you can omit, or use regular bacon if you prefer) and you can even use a non-dairy creamy cheese product instead of the chèvre (goat’s milk cheese) if you want to make the whole dish vegan. If you have leftovers, add a little water to the pasta before reheating and you’ll have deliciously creamy sauce once again.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) coconut bacon bits *
  • 2 tablespoons (olive oil
  • 1 small to medium sized onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 cups (500 mL) dried penne, fusilli or macaroni (use gluten-free pasta if you prefer)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cubed squash (1/2 inch or 1.25 cm cubes)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced button or cremini mushrooms
  • 2/3 cup (approximately 5.5 ounces or 150 g) goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) slivered fresh basil leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste

* can substitute with 4 slices of bacon, diced and cooked until crispy

Method

  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet (big enough to also hold the cooked squash, mushrooms and pasta) placed over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and sauté until very soft and beginning to brown, reducing heat after the first 5 minutes. Total cooking time should be about 10 minutes.
  • Add the squash and mushrooms to the pan holding the onions, season with salt and pepper, and sauté over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes, adding a bit of olive or vegetable oil if the pan is too dry.
  • While the vegetables are cooking, bring a pot of generously salted water to boil for the pasta. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente, stirring occasionally.
  • When the pasta is tender but not mushy, scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, set aside, then drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the cooked onions, squash and mushrooms. Immediately scatter the crumbled goat cheese on top and stir until it is distributed throughout the pasta, drizzling in the hot reserved pasta water to help melt the cheese and make the sauce creamy.
  • Sprinkle the coconut or regular bacon bits over top, followed by the basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

 

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Pan-roasted cauliflower with Tex-Mex seasoning

Simple method makes a popular vegetable shine!

While it may not be the ‘it’ vegetable that it was a few years ago, cauliflower remains a personal favourite and one that you’ll find on loads of restaurant menus. It’s super nutritious, tasty and extremely versatile. I often roast it in the oven (some of my favourite ways include honey-garlic cauliflower bites, roasted cauliflower with spicy peanut sauce, Moroccan-spiced cauliflower and sweet and spicy crispy cauliflower nuggets). I recently discovered that it’s possible to roast florets it even more quickly on the stove top. This version, with a bit of a Tex-Mex flavour profile, was a real hit with my taste testers. For more cauliflower inspiration, check out my cauliflower & cheese bake and fragrant rice with cauliflower, turmeric, ginger and lemon.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) panko or other dried breadcrumbs (use gluten-free if you prefer)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) smoked paprika
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) grated lime zest
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) chopped cilantro leaves
  • Wedges of lime, to serve

Method

  • In a large (12 inch/30 cm), heavy-duty skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the panko and a generous grind each of salt and pepper. Sauté the breadcrumbs until golden brown (4 – 5 minutes) then remove pan from heat, transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl and wipe out the pan.
  • Remove the cauliflower’s outer leaves and cut the stem off at the base of the head. Slice the head crosswise into 3/4 inch (2 cm) discs. With the tip of a knife, cut the core out of the discs that have sections of it, then cut all the discs into florets approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl and drizzle with 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil, tossing well to coat. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, plus the cumin, chili powder and smoked paprika. Toss again.
  • Add the seasoned cauliflower to the empty skillet, scraping out the bowl as you do so. Stir to distribute evenly in the pan then place a lid on it and cook over medium-high heat just until the cauliflower starts to brown (lift the lid after 5 or 6 minutes to check progress).
  • Remove the lid and continue to sauté the cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until the florets are looking more uniformly golden brown and beginning to feel tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife (about 6 – 8 minutes longer). With a spatula, push cauliflower to one side of skillet.
  • Add remaining tablespoon of olive oil to the empty side of the pan, along with the shallot and lime zest and cook, stirring often, for about 30 seconds. Stir the onion mixture into the cauliflower and continue to cook, stirring gently, until cauliflower is tender-firm (about 1 -2 minutes).
  • Remove pan from heat and stir in chopped cilantro. Transfer the cooked cauliflower to a bowl or platter and sprinkle toasted panko over top. Serve with lime wedges on the side.

Serves 3 – 4, depending upon the size of the cauliflower.

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Vegan Caesar salad

Alternatives to egg, bacon and Parmesan add tons of flavour!

I love salad. I often describe it as one of my ‘desert island foods’ (meaning something I could eat every single day were I to be stranded and have to exist on a very limited diet). Caesar salad has long been a favourite thought with the increasing number of recalls associated with Romaine lettuce in North America, I’ve pretty much switched over to kale full-time. The vegan twists in this recipe are very straightforward. Dijon mustard acts as a good emulsifier in the dressing, so no need for an egg yolk. My coconut ‘bacon’ bits are flavourful and crispy, making it easy to pass on conventional bacon, while vegan ‘Parmesan’ is a super tasty concoction that adds a nutty, cheesy flavour to the salad. Note that if you want to make this recipe even easier, you can skip the step of infusing fresh garlic in olive oil and instead combine equal portions (1/3 cup or 90 mL each) of roasted garlic olive oil and regular good-quality olive oil. I encourage you to try the toasted panko (breadcrumbs) instead of croutons – you get more crunch in every bite!

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon / 15 mL)
  • 2/3 cup (160 mL) good-quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) panko or other dried bread crumbs (use gluten-free if you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white wine or rice vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 8 cups (2 L) washed, chopped fresh kale or Romaine leaves
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) vegan ‘Parmesan’ (see recipe below)
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) coconut ‘bacon’ bits

Method

  • Put the minced garlic and the olive oil in a small saucepan placed over medium heat. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat slightly. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until garlic has softened. Strain the oil into a clean glass measure or jar and set aside. Discard the cooked garlic.
  • Add 3 tablespoons of the garlic-infused oil to a small frying pan. Sprinkle the panko over top then place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 – 4 minutes, until panko is toasted and golden brown. Transfer toasted panko to a small bowl and set aside.
  • Prepare dressing by putting Dijon, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a 1 cup (250 mL) glass jar with a tight lid. Cover and shake vigorously to blend well. Add remaining garlic-infused oil, about 2 tablespoons (30 mL) at a time, covering and shaking well after each addition. After all the oil has been added, taste and adjust lemon, vinegar, salt or pepper to suit your preferences.
  • Note that garlic oil, toasted panko and salad dressing can be prepared up to 1 day ahead.
  • When ready to assemble salad, place washed, chopped kale in a large bowl. Drizzle about 2/3 of the dressing over the kale, then, with very clean hands, thoroughly massage the dressing into the kale to tenderize it, making it less chewy. (If using Romaine, simply drizzle the dressing over the chopped leaves then toss gently to coat). If leaves seem dry, add a bit more dressing (about a tablespoon / 15 mL) at a time and toss again. The goal is to have the greens thoroughly coated without leaving a puddle of dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
  • When kale or Romaine is dressed to your liking, sprinkle toasted panko, vegan ‘Parmesan’ and coconut ‘bacon’ bits over top and serve immediately.

Serves 3 – 4; recipe can easily be multiplied.

Vegan ‘Parmesan’

In a food processor, pulse the following ingredients until they have the consistency of cornmeal (finely ground but not powdery):

  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) raw cashews
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) nutritional yeast flakes (available at health food stores)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) garlic powder

Leftover vegan ‘Parmesan’ can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Posted in Salads | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sweet potatoes: a recipe roundup

So many ways to enjoy this delicious, nutritious vegetable!

Growing up, I was only aware of two ways to prepare sweet potatoes: baked in the skin (similar to regular potatoes) or in an ‘over the top’ casserole with brown sugar, butter, cranberries and pecans. I wasn’t a huge fan of either as a kid. Over the years, however, I’ve come to love this versatile vegetable not only for its fabulous flavour and colour, but also because it’s packed with fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Here are a few of my favourite sweet potato recipes (click on the titles to jump to the recipes). You can use the search facility on this website to find more!

Crispy sweet potato nests with eggs

a crispy sweet potato 'nest' topped with a perfectly-cooked egg

Spiced Sweet Potato Stacks

Smashed sweet potatoes

Baked sweet potatoes with Brussels sprouts, cranberries and pecans

Sweet Potato Latkes

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Vegan coconut ‘bacon’ bits

A surprisingly flavourful meatless garnish!

For years, I’ve enjoyed tasting excellent vegan cuisine at restaurants close to home and also when travelling. Now, I’ve decided it’s time to up my game in my own kitchen. This fun experiment produces crispy little morsels that certainly are evocative of the flavour and texture of pork bacon, but which I actually think taste even better. They’re really versatile; you can sprinkle them on soups, salads, pasta dishes and more. Look for unflavoured coconut chips in most health food stores; the pieces are typically about 3/4 inch (2 cm) in size or a bit larger.  Be sure to use tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce if you want to make this garnish gluten-free. If you enjoy this recipe, you might also want to try making carrot ‘bacon’, which is super for vegan BLT sandwiches.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups large, unsweetened coconut chips (not regular shredded coconut!)
  • 1 tablespoon olive, avocado or coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamari, coconut aminos or soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, honey or agave syrup
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (find this at larger grocery stores)
  • Pinch each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Preheat oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Put coconut chips in a large bowl. In a small bowl or glass measure, whisk together the oil, tamari, paprika, maple syrup, liquid smoke, kosher salt and pepper. Drizzle the oil and spice mixture over the coconut chips and toss to coat evenly.
  • Transfer the coated chips to the prepared baking sheet then bake for 6 minutes. Remove tray from oven and stir, flipping the chips as much as possible. Rotate pan when you put it back in the oven.
  • Bake for another 7 – 9 minutes, or until coconut is crispy (test a piece to see) and has turned a uniform dark golden brown. Pay close attention during the last few minutes of cooking, being careful not to let it burn.
  • Let the coconut ‘bacon’ bits cool on the pan for 10 minutes (they will continue to crisp up as they cool). Stored, tightly covered, at room temperature for up to 1 week, in the fridge for 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months.
  • Refrigerated or frozen coconut ‘bacon’ bits can be warmed up in the oven as needed – spread out in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet and cook for 3 – 4 minutes at 350F.

Makes 2 cups of coconut ‘bacon’ bits.

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