30 minute sweet and sour meatballs

All the taste but healthier and easier to make!

I have always adored anything sweet and sour and fondly recall the tasty but not-so-healthy meatballs my mom used to make with brown sugar, corn syrup AND sweetened pineapple juice in them, along with a generous portion of soya sauce for a salty kick. I wanted to come up with a recipe that provided a nice balance of flavours but knew I wanted it to be fast, with baked meatballs (SO much easier and less messy than frying). Oh, and a gluten-free option was key as well. This dish was a huge hit with my taste testers and I’ll be making it again often. It would be just as good with beef or pork meatballs, if you prefer. Feel free to add in more vegetables (sliced carrots and zucchini are great) and even pieces of fresh or frozen pineapple if you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs (680 g) ground chicken or turkey
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) soya sauce (or tamari for gluten-free version)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) ketchup
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) honey
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) soy sauce (or tamari)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water, divided
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) cornstarch
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped sweet onion (in 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped green pepper (in 1/2 inch pieces)
  • 3 cups (750 mL) hot cooked rice
  • Slivered green onions and sesame seeds, to garnish

Method

  • Preheat oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  • Combine meat, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon soya sauce, Chinese five spice and beaten egg in a medium bowl. Use a small cookie dough scoop, two teaspoons or your clean hands to shape into one inch (2.5 cm) balls and place on prepared baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
  • While meatballs are cooking, make sauce by placing ketchup, sweet chili sauce, honey, rice vinegar, soy sauce and 1/2 cup water in a large saucepan placed over medium heat. Whisk to blend well and heat until simmering.
  • Whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup water and 2 tablespoons cornstarch; whisk this mixture into the simmering sauce and cook, whisking often, for 3 minutes.
  • Add the chopped onions and green peppers plus the cooked meatballs to the sauce. Cover and heat, stirring gently a few times, until onions and peppers have softened (about 5 – 7 minutes).
  • Serve meatballs and sauce over hot cooked rice, garnished with slivered green onions and sesame seeds.

Serves 6.

 

 

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French onion soup pasta casserole

An one-pot explosion of comfort and flavour!

I’m convinced this is the dish that’s going to get me through this winter. The addition of slivered beef and pasta to a classic French onion soup base makes for an out of this world, hearty and flavourful meal. Even better, it’s prepared in one pot on the stove, then finished with a quick trip under the broiler. My taste testers were literally speechless while devouring this dish; as soon as they’d just about licked their plates clean, they requested I make it again this week. You can substitute chicken for beef if you like, or omit the meat entirely. If you don’t have a large enough oven-safe pot, simply prepare the dish on the stovetop then transfer the mixture to a casserole dish, add topping and broil. For a more elegant presentation, why not assemble single-serving sized casserole dishes? If you want to go old-school and just make French onion soup, here’s my tried-and-true recipe, upon which this new dish is based.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 3 pounds (1.4 kg) onions, sliced *
  • 6 slices of French bread, cut in 3/4 inch (2 cm) cubes
  • 1 pound (454 g) beef steak (I used sirloin), in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons (10 mL) flour
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) beef broth
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) brandy
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL)Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) dried thyme leaves
  • 4 cups (1 L) uncooked fusilli pasta
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups (500 mL) grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup (250 mL) grated Emmental (Swiss) Cheese

* large Spanish onions typically weigh about 1 lb / 454 g each; I use them for this dish

Method

  • In a large, heavy saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  • Add onions and pinch of salt.
  • Cover pan and sauté until onions are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. To caramelize the onions, remove the pan’s lid and increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring often, onions begin to take on a golden brown hue (10 – 15 minutes).
  • While onions are cooking, arrange bread cubes on a baking sheet and lightly toast in a 250F oven until just starting to get crunchy. Set aside and let cool.
  • Once onions are caramelized, add sliced beef to pot and cook, stirring often, until beef is cooked (about 3 – 5 minutes).
  • Reduce heat to medium; add flour and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  • Add beef broth, wine, brandy, mustard and thyme. Stir to blend well. Dish can be prepared to this point and left to sit at room temperature for up to 3 hours, or refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
  • About 30 minutes before ready to serve, bring soup mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until done (about 20 minutes for fusilli; other pasta shapes may take a different amount of time).
  • Just before pasta is cooked to al dente (just tender), preheat broiler, ensuring the rack is positioned to accommodate the pot.
  • When pasta is al dente, season the broth to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Combine mozzarella and Swiss cheeses in a small bowl.
  • Stir 1 cup (250 mL) of the cheese mixture into the pot then top the pasta and soup mixture with prepared bread cubes. Scatter remaining cheese evenly over the bread cubes.
  • Place in the oven and broil just until cheese melts and bread cubes begin to brown.

Serves 6.

 

 

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Add some crunch to your lunch

Shake up your soups and salads with great toppings!

It’s early in the New Year and I’m hearing two messages loud and clear this week. Lots of folks have been asking for ideas to eat healthier meals after the joyful excess of the holidays. The second most common query is about making packed lunches more interesting. I’d like to consider both those questions as one, and my answer is simple: eat more soups and salads. Homemade soup is magical in that it can be made in huge batches and frozen in small quantities so it can be easily reheated for oodles of thermos-filled lunchboxes. Salads are another highly portable option. While there are probably a zillion or so ways to make soup and salad, the quickest way to make lunchtime more interesting – for kids and adults alike – is to add a crunchy topping. Popcorn is a favourite of mine; so are the crispy chow mein noodles that were a staple of North American take-out Chinese food a few decades ago. Below are three more options for tasty toppings that do double-duty as great packable snacks. Feel free to use the search function on my site to find loads of great soup and salad recipes if you’re in need of further inspiration!

Popped wild rice

  • Pop the wild rice by putting 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 mL) of canola or vegetable oil in the bottom of a medium saucepan.
  • Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and swirl it a few times as the oil heats up, to evenly coat the bottom.
  • Add 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of wild rice.
  • Reduce heat to medium; swirl or shake gently to coat the rice with oil. You will hear the rice crackling and popping within a few seconds.
  • Keep shaking and remove the pot from the heat as soon as the popping slows down (about one minute). Immediately transfer the popped rice to a small bowl and sprinkle with a bit of salt.
  • Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Crunchy tortilla strips

  • Preheat oven to 375F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • With scissors, a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, slice four small corn tortillas into 1/2 inch x 1 inch (1.25 cm x 2.5 cm) strips.
  • Place in a bowl and drizzle 2 teaspoons canola oil over top. Toss to coat evenly.
  • Combine and sprinkle over top 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, 1/8 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion, powder, salt and pepper and a dash of cayenne.
  • Transfer to prepared baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes. Remove from oven, use a spatula to toss the strips and bake for 7 – 10 minutes more, until crisp.
  • Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Crispy chili-lime roasted chickpeas

  • If using air fryer, preheat air fryer to 400F. If using oven, preheat to 400F and place a rack in the middle.
  • Spread 1 can (19 oz / 540 mL) of rinsed and drained chickpeas out on paper towel to dry, removing any loose skins. Put chickpeas in a broad, shallow bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss gently to coat evenly.
  • Put chickpeas in basket of air fryer or, if cooking in oven, spread chickpeas out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Do not clean the bowl you had the chickpeas and oil in as you’ll be using it again.
  • Roast the chickpeas in the air fryer for 25 – 35 minutes, shaking basket every 5 minutes. In oven, roast for 40 – 45 minutes, jiggling the baking sheet occasionally.
  • The chickpeas will turn a dark golden brown and get crunchy. If you take them out of the oven or air fryer too soon and discover they are not completely crunchy, put back in for a few minutes more.
  • While chickpeas are roasting, whisk together 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon each paprika and cumin in the same bowl you used previously.
  • Remove roasted chickpeas from air fryer or oven and add to seasonings in bowl then very quickly toss to coat. Sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and toss again.
  • Return to air fryer or oven for 5 minutes more to dry out the lime and spice coating.
  • Transfer to a clean, broad bowl to cool completely and serve at room temperature.
  • Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

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Colourful protein-packed cabbage salad

A fresh new way to enjoy leftover chicken or turkey!

This flavourful recipe doesn’t take long to prepare and you can make it even faster by whipping up the dressing a day ahead. Massaging the cabbage with a bit of salt then draining it is a great way to soften the leaves and make them both easier to chew and more digestible. Hot tip: an optional super speedy dressing that is equally tasty on this salad is to mix 1/4 cup (60 mL) of sweet chili sauce with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of water.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups (1.25 L) (about 1/2 medium head) of green cabbage, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) finely grated lime zest
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) soy sauce (or tamari, for a gluten-free version)
  • 1 teaspoon (15 mL) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) canola oil
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 2 green onions (green parts only), thinly sliced
  • 1/2 sweet red pepper, slivered
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) cooked chicken or turkey, shredded
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) coarsely chopped salted, roasted peanuts (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) black sesame seeds

Method

  • Put sliced cabbage and salt in a large bowl. Toss repeatedly for 2 minutes with your hands, massaging salt into cabbage to wilt it. Let sit while you prepare the dressing.
  • Put lime zest and juice, rice vinegar, sriracha, soy sauce, maple syrup and canola oil in a jar with a tight lid. Cover and shake well to blend. Taste and adjust maple syrup, soy sauce or rice vinegar to suit your preferences.
  • Put salted cabbage in a colander and rinse briefly with lukewarm water. Shake colander repeatedly to remove excess moisture from cabbage.
  • Transfer cabbage to a clean large bowl. Add celery, green onions, red pepper, cilantro and chicken or turkey to the cabbage and toss to combine.
  • Shake dressing to combine again then drizzle over cabbage mixture.
  • Top with peanuts and sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Serves 3 – 4.

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‘Everything Bagel’ seasoned soft pretzels

A fun baking project the whole family will love!

I remember the first time I made pretzels with my kids. They were so intrigued by the whole process, and were right by my side as we made the yeast dough, let it rise, shaped the twists, boiled them, topped them and finally baked them. Needless to say, the eating was their favourite part of all. You can top pretzels any way you like – with coarse salt, cinnamon and sugar, sesame seeds…or nothing at all… but I love them topped with my ‘everything bagel’ seasoning blend. Enjoy as is, dipped in honey mustard, or as the star of a sandwich.

Ingredients

Pretzels

  • 1 cup (250 mL) warm water (100°F to 110°F)
  • 1/4 cup (50 g/60 mL) white sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g/7.5 mL) active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 – 3 cups (565 – 680 g/375 – 450 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 g/7.5mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) canola oil
  • 1/4 cup (55 g/60 mL) baking soda
  • 1 large egg

‘Everything Bagel’ seasoning blend

  • 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 5 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted
  • 5 tablespoons dried onion flakes (not onion powder)
  • 5 tablespoons dried garlic flakes (not garlic powder)
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt or fleur de sel

Put all ingredients in a small jar and stir or shake to blend together. Store excess mixture at room temperature for up to 6 months. Great on roasted vegetables, salads and more!

Method

  • Prepare ‘everything bagel’ seasoning blend and set aside.
  • Pour warm water and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a large bowl (use a stand mixer with dough hook if you have one) and stir to combine. Sprinkle with yeast, and let sit for about 5 minutes, until yeast is foamy.
  • Add 1 cup (225 g) of flour to the activated yeast and mix on low speed until combined. Add salt and 1.5 cups (340 g) more flour, and mix until combined, about 30 seconds.
  • Beat on medium-low until the dough begins to come together in a ball and starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl (2 – 3 minutes). Add another 1/4 cup (55 g) flour, and knead on low for 1 minute. If the dough is still too sticky to handle, add 1/4 cup (55g) more flour; knead until thoroughly combined.
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter, and knead by hand for about 2 minutes. The dough should now be smooth and elastic.
  • Pour the canola oil into a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough over and over to coat completely with oil.
  • Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel (an oven preheated to 170F / 75C) then turned off is great for this) for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Punch down dough in the bowl, to remove bubbles. Transfer to a lightly floured work surface.
  • Knead the dough a few times just to bring it together into a ball again then divide into 16 pieces (about 3 tablespoons (40 g) of dough per piece). Separate the pieces of dough from each other on the countertop and cover them with a clean tea towel.
  • Roll one piece of dough at a time into an approximately 14 inch (35 cm) long rope about ½ inch (1.25 cm) thick; form it into a u-shape then twist the two ends of the rope in the middle and draw the twist towards the rounded part of the U to form a classic pretzel shape.
  • Transfer the shaped dough to the prepared baking sheet and cover with a clean tea towel. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough. Let pretzels rest for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 450F (232C) and fill a large, shallow pot (a flat bottomed large poultry roaster is great for this) with 4 inches of water. Bring to a boil. Add remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar along with the baking soda to the pot. Stir to combine well and reduce heat so the liquid is just simmering.
  • Gently place half the pretzels in the hot water bath and cook one minute per side, then remove with a slotted spoon and put back on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue with remaining pretzels.
  • Beat egg with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) water. Brush pretzels with egg glaze. Sprinkle with ‘everything bagel’ seasoning blend. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Let cool briefly on a wire rack, then eat while still warm.
  • Pretzels are best when eaten the same day, but can be frozen and reheated in the oven very nicely.

Makes 16 medium sized pretzels.

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2018’s most popular recipes

A year of deliciousness in review!

It was a productive year in the Constantly Cooking test kitchen. Over 120 new recipes made it from my countertop to my computer (with the help of my faithful taste testers, of course). It’s always interesting to see which ones really resonate with people and this information is very helpful to me as I plan future recipe development. I already have lots of great ideas percolating for 2019 and want to thank each and every one of you – from over 130 countries, which I find amazing – for following along on this tasty journey with me. Below are links to the five new recipes that garnered the most interest over the past 12 months, followed by the top five of all time, thus far. Click on the names to see the recipes and I hope you’ll keep clicking and cooking with me in 2019. Happy New Year!

2018’s top five new recipes:

Creamy orzo with mushrooms and spinach

Egg roll bowls

No-bake lemon coconut squares

Instant Pot cabbage roll stew

Lebanese-style roasted chicken and spicy potatoes

All time top five recipes (thus far):

Pickled Apple Slices

Crispy pan-fried Basa fillets

Rustic Cornflour Bread

Quick Pickled Turnips, Lebanese-style

Perfect oven-baked French fries

 

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