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Monday, October 20, 2014

ghoulish monster pasta - fast and easy hallowe'en dinner

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ghoulish monster pasta

For the last few weeks, I've become more and more interested in the blog and forum surrounding Mr. Money Mustache (I added a link, so you could go check it out).  While I'm unlikely to ever consider myself mustachian (and frankly, probably also too materialistic), I've really found a lot of sense in his advice and commentary about consumer spending.

ghoulish monster pasta

And that in turn has led me to examine my own spending a little more closely.  And I've realized that, just like so many others, that I do a lot of impulsive and completely unnecessary spending (exhibit A, my shoe collection, exhibit B, my dress collection, and exhibit C, my extensive kitchen gadget and serveware collection.

ghoulish monster pasta

So I'm trying to be a lot smarter about expenditures.  I don't have any dreams of retiring at 40 and being financially independent at that point (read the MMM blog for more of that type of inspiration, because you are unlikely to find it here), but I just wanted to talk about some of the smaller decisions I've made lately to reduce impulsive and unnecessary spending.  :)

ghoulish monster pasta

I've been in contact with Raise.com regarding Hallowe'en related post that mentioned their service, and I was kind of scratching my head as to how to link both Raise.com (a gift card buy and sell site) and Hallowe'en, and also rationalize this under my newfound frugality.  I'm not sure I'm succeeding, but anway. (As an aside, I will start with a bit of bad news first, for my Canadian readers, Raise.com is not currently able to process international orders (that said, you can check out the similar Canadian service of CardSwap.ca)).

I actually find this idea quite frugal - essentially, if you find yourself with a gift card you can't use, rather than buying something you don't actually need, you can sell it.  Likewise, if you're planning to spend money in a given store, you can acquire a giftcard for that store at a discount (which, combined with whatever other offers you can find for that store, can offer you a pretty great deal, particularly when it's money you planned/needed to spend anyway).  I spot a TON of Home Depot gift cards on the site, and saving an additional few per cent off home improvement materials strikes me as a good deal for sure.

ghoulish monster pasta

Of course, it's not a great deal if you spend money you either don't have or didn't plan on spending.

Anyway, so how exactly do we link this to Hallowe'en??? Well, the thing is, I had some ideas for a fun Hallowe'en dish; one that would be super simple to put together and quick enough to get on the table between getting home from work/school and trick or treating, but that would also offer a little bit of fun.

ghoulish monster pasta

This black monster pasta was a HUGE hit with our entire household.  I happened to have the black pasta on hand already (President's Choice Black Label), but will admit it was a total impulse purchase and quite expensive compared to typical pasta; this dish would work equally well with white or whole grain pasta, though I did find the black noodles especially ghoulish.  I also had some of my favourite pesto from Costco on hand, so I used that up (though again, a tomato sauce or cream or rose sauce would also work just as well).  But you have to admit that the green pesto on the black noodles is great for that extra gruesome touch.

ghoulish monster pasta

The 'magic' of this dish is in the eyes.  And initially, I thought I would just purchase some of that thinly sliced cheese (the type sold for sandwiches) and maybe pick up a cookie cutter of some sort to cut it out.  And this is where I heard the voices of frugality in my head.  Pre-sliced cheese is INSANELY expensive (especially when you look at the cost by weight).  And it's ridiculous to buy a cutter for the sole purpose of making a single dish.

ghoulish monster pasta

So I just used mozzarella I had on hand (it was a bit of a pain to cut, as evidenced by the slightly ragged edges) and I cut it with a round tablespoon measure.  And you know what?  It totally worked, and though my photos are maybe not quite as cute as they otherwise could have been, the kids sure did love this pasta.  Pesto is almost always a hit in our house, and the bit of fun with the eyeballs and mouth completely made them giggle and the kids were super excited to eat it.

ghoulish monster pasta

I think they had the most fun talking about the various expressions of the monsters, and experimenting with the various positions of the red pepper mouth.

ghoulish monster pasta

For balance, I served with a nice green salad.  Because vegetables.

ghoulish monster pasta

monster pasta
serves 4-6 (it served our family of four, plus two generous lunches)
ghoulish monster pasta

1 450-500g package pasta (ideally black, but any kind will work)
olive oil
salt
pepper
1/2 c pesto (or other sauce)
white cheese
capers
red pepper

1. Cook pasta according ot package directions.

2. Meanwhile, take thin slices of the cheese, and cut out two circles for each serving.  You want the circles to be about 1" in diameter.  Give or take.  Slice rings from your red pepper, and cut each in half.  I left some of the inner white portion attached because I liked how it gave the monsters character.  I think I may have put too much thought into this.

3. Once you drain the pasta, you can toss it with a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper.  I like to, but it's not necessary.

4. Add the pesto and stir it in.

5. For each serving, top with two circle eyeballs, and then add a caper on top of each.  I made sure that hubs' monster was rolling its eyes. Art imitating life and all that.

6. Add a pepper slice for the mouth.

And you're done.  It's crazy easy.  I know there are much fancier hallowe'eny meals out there, but the beauty of this one is that you actually have the time and ingredients to make it.  Or you can improvise (don't have capers?  Don't buy them just for this.....use olive rings or pickle slices, or anything you can find that gives your monster just that perfect haughty expression.  You could even use tofu instead of cheese, if you wanted).

So all this to say, I'm trying to quiet that little voice in my head that makes me want to go all spendy, and though I made only a couple of small choices regarding this dish, those are the types of small choices that can keep adding up.

ghoulish monster pasta

I think a service like Raise.com (or Cardswap.ca for my Canadian readers) is a great way to get money for something you don't need, and also to get a great deal on your planned spending.

I'm also going to go one step farther and recommend you try to find your local Buy Nothing group.  These are great hyper-local gifting communities - so far I've found that it's a fabulous way of getting rid of things I no longer need, but that are not likely to sell, and you never know what you might come across (though I'm still looking to see if anyone's wanting to get rid of an old tortilla press.....I've banned myself from buying additional gadgets that will be infrequently used, but hey, if someone has one gathering dust......).

ghoulish monster pasta

Cheers - happy selling and gifting and trick or treating.  :)



Thursday, October 16, 2014

orzo with shrimp, feta, summer squash and vermouth

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shrimp and orzo bake with feta

This is a super simple dinner that I made a while back.  I had meant to share this ages ago, but life being what it is, I got distracted and didn't get to it.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

So now is the time.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

This dinner came about because I had some shrimp, feta and fresh organic vegetables from Bryson Farms that needed to be used, and in my googling/pinteresting, I came across this recipe from epicurious, that looked like a great base.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

The original doesn't call for much in the way of vegetables, which is honestly a problem that I find with a lot of casseroles.  Personally, if I'm going to get everything together in a big dish and bake it, I want to have enough vegetables contained within it that I don't feel guilty if I can't muster my schmidt together enough to make a salad or veggies on the side.  So I almost always add more veggies, and it almost always works out well.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

In this case, I used fresh tomatoes in lieu of canned, and also added mushrooms and summer and pattypan squash.  They were great!  And the whole casserole had fantastic flavour, so I would recommend this.  Orzo could easily be substituted with rice or quinoa or millet if you preferred.  I have a weakness for orzo though.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta


Orzo with shrimp, feta, zucchini and vermouth
modified from epicurious
serves 6

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta - this is about a 1/2 package)
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T dried basil (fresh would be better, but I didn't have any)
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
1 lb summer squash/zucchini, diced
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
2 garlic cloves, chopped
14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice (I just weighed out 16 ounces of chopped fresh tomatoes)
1/2 cup dry vermouth (or white wine)
2 teaspoons dried oregano

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 11x7-inch glass baking dish with oil.

2. Cook orzo according to package directions. (when I have time, I like to toast the orzo first --> you can see the technique in this recipe). Drain well and return orzo to same pot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and 1 T basil and stir.

3. Arrange orzo mixture in casserole dish.

4.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and sauté until slightly pink, about 2 minutes (shrimp will not be cooked completely). Arrange shrimp on top of orzo.

5. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet. Add mushrooms and summer squash/zucchini, garlic and sauté over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice; cook 1 minute. Stir in vermouth and oregano and remaining 1T basil.

6. Simmer uncovered until the tomatoes start to break down about 5-7 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper; spoon over shrimp. Add a sprinkle more parmesan.

7. Bake orzo until heated through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining feta.

shrimp and orzo bake with feta

This is so simple to make and is delicious.  It could easily be modified to suit what you have on hand - chicken would work (though make sure it's cooked first), and you could mix up the vegetables to include peppers, fennel, eggplant, etc.  This would also be good with goat cheese instead of feta (if you like goat cheese.....which I don't), and I think black olives would probably be a great addition too.

Hope you enjoy!  Thanks for reading.  :)

Thursday, October 09, 2014

peanut butter cookie dough bites from Oh She Glows

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Ever since I discovered these chocolate chip cookie dough bites, I have been hooked on the concept.  These things are so simple to make (essentially, drop everything in a food processor, combine, mix in some chocolate chips, then roll), and they are incredibly delicious.

vegan peanut butter cookie dough balls

And when you look at the ingredient list, you can actually feel pretty good about enjoying a ball or two with your afternoon coffee - the perfect little pick-me-up to get you through to dinner.

vegan peanut butter cookie dough balls

This recipe is not my own (though I did change the method a bit due to my laziness) - it actually comes from the Oh She Glows cookbook, which is a fantastic book from one of my favourite bloggers.  I am normally hesitant to add to my already too-extensive cookbook collection (especially when the internet is rife with recipes), but I received this one as a birthday gift.

And I have to say, it's an awesome addition that deserves every to be on every shelf.  I've tried quite a few recipes (tex-mex casserole and glo bars) and they have all been fantastic.

These cookie dough bites were a HUGE hit with my mini-foodies and with me too.  Delicious flavour and a wonderful treat to have with an afternoon coffee.

peanut butter cookie dough bites
(from Oh She Glows cookbook; method modified due to laziness)

peanut butter cookie dough bites
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 T coconut oil, melted
2 T smooth natural peanut butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 t vanilla extract
 1/2 cup almond meal
 1/4 tsp sea salt
 2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

1. Blend the oats in a food processor until they have a flour-like consistency.

2. Add the coconut oil, peanut butter, maple syrup, vanilla, almond meal and salt, and process until the mixture is combined (you don't have to go crazy to make it perfect - just get it to combine.

3. Scrape the batter out of the food processor and into a bowl, then add the chocolate chips. Fold them in to combine.

vegan peanut butter cookie dough balls

4. Roll into balls (I made mine smaller and it made about 25).  Freeze bites for 5-10 minutes (until firm) and store in the fridge.  You can store in the freezer, but they are a bit hard to eat.

So yummy!!!!!!


Tuesday, October 07, 2014

quick and easy chicken fried rice

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Fried rice is a staple meal in our family - whether I make it with turkey, chicken, egg, pork, tofu, etc., it's a relatively healthy meal that is a real hit with the whole family (mind you, the kids will still sometimes pick out the various aspects they dislike).

quick and easy chicken fried rice

I love making this whenever I have any sort of leftover protein (roast chicken in this case, but I most often make it with leftover turkey), but the beauty of this type of meal is that you can make it work with almost anything that you have on hand.  I like to make mine a bit healthier by using brown rice, and packing it full of vegetables.  I also love putting egg in it, so as long as I have eggs on hand, that's what I do.

quick and easy chicken fried rice

If you're smart and organized (i.e., all the things I'm not), you can make your rice in advance (and even freeze it) and I'm told fried rice is better that way.  And I'm sure purists would be appalled at my use of brown rice, but I like to add a little fibre in wherever I can sneak it.

quick and easy chicken fried rice

This particular time, I used this Planet Rice sprouted brown rice I picked up at Costco a while back.  I like that it cooks in 25 minutes (rather than 45 for traditional brown rice).  As long as you start the rice first, you can get this on the table in about 30 minutes or so.

quick and easy chicken fried rice

quick and easy chicken fried rice

quick and easy chicken fried rice

2 c uncooked brown rice (cook according to package directions)

1.5 T canola oil
1.5 T sesame oil

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 T ginger, minced/grated
200 g mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 large head broccoli, chopped in small pieces (I had a few smaller heads)
1 c frozen peas
2-3 c chopped chicken (or turkey or tofu or whatever)
1/4 c soy sauce, divided

1. Start the rice.  I recommend a rice cooker, if you have one. Start chopping your veggies.

2. Take your largest saute pan or wok (I have a huge 15" wok from Cool Kitchen Pro, which is fantastic), and heat it over medium heat.

3. Add the oil, let it heat until shimmering (but not smoking), and then add the eggs.  You could scramble the egg, but I usually just let it cook in an omelette and chop it up later.

quick and easy chicken fried rice

4. Flip the omelette, cook until just done, then remove the egg from heat and set aside.  You should still have plenty of oil in your pan (if you don't, then add a splash more).

5. Add the vegetables (minus the peas) to the pan, and stir-fry for a few minutes, until they are lightly done.  Add the chicken and the frozen peas, and cook 1-2 minutes more.

6. In terms of adding soy sauce, I find it easiest to add some to the chicken/veggies and some to the rice, and then combining them together.  So do that.  Or you can dump everything in together and stir.  It's not rocket science, but it is pretty delicious.

This makes 6-7 servings.  It served our family of four, plus two lunches, plus another large container full.  You can stretch it a bit more by adding more rice (2.5 cups instead of 2, or even 3 cups if you wanted), but as I said, I like to keep it packed with veggies to keep it from being too carb-heavy a meal.

Enjoy!

  quick and easy chicken fried rice

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

helloooooo summer (shrimp skewers and grilled veggies)

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After the most epic, dark and cold winter in recent memory, I am completely embracing the warmth.  Spending lazy afternoons outside with the kids, lazy evenings reading on the patio and many a delicious dinner cooked on the grill.  If only it were actually a bit warmer this summer.  But whatever.

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies
I remember when I used to think that meat was the only thing that you could grill, but I've since been introduced to a whole wide world of grilled vegetables and fruit (I haven't quite made it to grilled pizza yet, but it's on my list!).

Dinner these days often consists of me prepping a basket of veggies, some sort of protein, and having some sort of starchy side for the kids and hubs (rice, potatoes, quinoa, etc.).  It's simple, but it's SO good.

These shrimp skewers came about because I had shrimp on hand, and rather than grilling it plain, I decided to dress it up with something.  And I ran out of time to marinate it.  So this is really quick and easy and requires no advance planning (which is perfect for the lazy mood of summer).

As for the veggies, I've yet to find a veggie combination that wasn't somehow made more delicious through grilling - I recently picked up spray coconut oil from Costco, so I spray my basket, load it with veggies (make sure the slower-cooking [i.e., denser] veggies are cut smaller) and then for the last five minutes of cooking, I dress the veggies with some sort of seasoning (ponzu, in this case).  I kept the broccoli larger, because I prefer it almost raw, as do the kids, and I sliced the carrots super thin on my mandolin, because otherwise I find they just don't cook very well on the grill.  Last, peppers and onions are always great - just have to make sure I cut them large enough so they don't fall through the cracks.  I spray a bit of extra coconut oil on the veggies too.

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers
honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies

1 lb raw shrimp (larger is better, but smaller will work)
1/2 c chopped cilantro
2 large cloves garlic
3 T honey
2 T olive oil
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t salt
pepper to taste

1. Thaw your shrimp and peel it.

2. Thread it onto skewers (ideally, if you plan ahead, soak them if they are wood....but charred ends never really hurt anyone...)

3. Preheat your grill to medium-low (this keeps your skewers from charring)

4. Meanwhile, in some sort of mixing appliance (I used a measuring cup and an immersion blender, but any blender, food processor, magic bullet-type deal will work....alternatively, chop everything as fine as you can), combine the cilantro, garlic, honey, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  You can taste it if you want, but given that it's just a glaze, it's pretty intense and not that enjoyable on its own!).

honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies

5. Put your skewers on the grill, and brush with the glaze (you could marinate it in the glaze as well, if you're planning/prepping in advance).  Grill for about 3-4 minutes per side (which will depend on the size of your shrimp - they are done when they are opaque all the way through), and when you flip them, brush the other side with glaze.  Flip at least one more time (you will have cross-contaminated your shrimp if you dipped in the same bowl and used the same brush as you did on the raw side....and foodborne illness will definitely kill the patio buzz....so cook thoroughly!

Enjoy - they are really delicious!


honey-garlic-cilantro shrimp skewers and grilled veggies


Simple grilled vegetables (barely a recipe because you can substitute everything)

1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 medium carrots, cut thinly
1 red onion, chopped coarsely (so it won't fall through the grill basket)
1 red pepper, chopped coarsely
cooking spray or oil with brush
seasoning of choice (I like ponzu)

1. Spray your grill basket or brush it with oil.
2. Chop veggies and combine, and you can either drizzle or spray a bit more oil.
3. Grill, stirring every couple of minutes (like a stir-fry) and when the veggies are close to done, sprinkle about 2-3 T of your favourite seasoning (soy sauce, ponzu, salad dressing, hot sauce, etc.).

Enjoy!  Veggies are done when you are happy with them.  I like mine practically raw, so they are on for about 10 minutes, but if you have them cut larger, or you prefer them more cooked, then you'll want to cook them for longer.

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