Category Archives: make-ahead

Curried Mango Quinoa Salad

I love a good deal.  Whether it’s on clothes, shoes, couches, or books I love knowing that I am saving money.  In fact, my Dad used to tell me that I couldn’t afford to save any more money…but that’s another blog post in and of itself.

So the other day when I was at the store, I came across a great deal on mangoes: a full box (of 12, I believe) for only $5.97! Can you believe it?!?! I know, I couldn’t either! I normally try to avoid buying any produce from the grocery store, but the mangoes mysteriously made their way into my cart and then my fridge.  Imagine that.

My logic went something like this: I bought 12 mangoes for $5.97, or $0.49/each.  Since last week I bought 2 mangoes for $2.99, this deal effectively lowered my cost per mango to only $0.64/each.  Make sense?

The problem with buying 12 mangoes at once (and adding them to the 2 that were already in my fridge) is that they all tend to ripen at the same time.  After eating one a day for a few days in a row, I was getting bored and knew I needed to do something different with the remaining pieces of fruit, lest they start to go bad.  I started pulling things out of my fridge and pantry…a few peppers, some cilantro that was about to knock on death’s door, the last of some black beans, some cucumber, half a lime…and before I knew it I had whipped up a delicious grainy salad to dip into for the week. I hope you do the same.

Wanna see what I made?

Quinoa, mangoes, red pepper, orange pepper, cucumber, red onion, garlic, black beans, cilantro, lime, grapeseed oil, white wine vinegar, mango chutney, honey, curry powder.

Begin by combining 1 c of quinoa and 2 c of water in a pot, and bring to a boil.

Once its boiling, cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop up a few peppers.  I used a red one and an orange one because that’s what I had, but feel free to use whatever types you like the most.

Look Ma – no seeds!

I hope you don’t like green peppers the most – they’re gross.

Throw the peppers in a large bowl, then seed and chop about 1/2 of a cucumber.

Throw the cucumber into the same bowl as the peppers, and then chop up a hunk of red onion.

Can’t forget the mangoes!

Add about 1/2 a bunch of cilantro…or however much you have hanging out in your produce drawer.

I had some black beans in the fridge from a different quinoa salad I made earlier in the week, so I threw those in the bowl with everything else and focused my attention on the dressing.

I combined about 1/4 c of grapeseed oil, 3T of white wine vinegar, the juice of half a lime, a big spoon full of spicy mango chutney that had been in my pantry for far too long, about 1 t of curry powder, 1 clove of garlic, and a dab of a fabulous local ginger honey that I am loving these days.

I suppose I could have whisked the dressing together, but I wanted it to be a bit creamier so I blended it in my Magic Bullet instead.

Time to check on the quinoa!

Looks good to me! Fluff the quinoa with a fork and then let it steam with the lid on for about 5 minutes or so.

Once it’s cool, add the quinoa to the veggies/fruit that was prepped earlier, and add the dressing.

Toss it gently, and taste for seasoning.

Does it need more of anything? Salt? Pepper? Curry? A Fork?!?!

You guys.  You seriously NEED to make this salad ASAP. It’s fabulous – bright, fresh, colourful, filling, and healthy.  The curry flavour isn’t very strong – just slight undertones – and is the perfect complement to the other flavours.  And, to top it all off, the whole thing came together in less than 15 minutes.  Bonus!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear dinner calling my name…


Chili For People Who Don’t Think They Like Chili

As a child, I was never really a fan of chili – likely because I had not yet acquired a sophisticated enough palate to fully enjoy any type of beans.  Whenever my Mom made it, she used to dish out a bowl before she put the beans in, and then laughed as I basically ate spaghetti sauce by itself.  Since then, my taste buds have evolved to the point where I can tolerate some types of beans, in certain circumstances.  Given that I’m not much of a fan of beans, chili doesn’t usually enter my radar screen.

However, sometimes I decide things on a whim; things that may not make sense to most people. Things like…dying my hair really dark brown. Or renting out my house and moving into a commune. Or painting my toenails orange. Or becoming a vegan. Or selling all of my stuff and living out of my car.

Or, in the case of tonight, making chili and instead of picking out all of the beans, liking it just the way it is.

Come join me on my journey 🙂

You’re looking at bacon, onions, red pepper, yellow pepper, celery, mushrooms, garlic, chili powder, red pepper flakes, oregano, cayenne pepper, lean ground beef, stewing beef, red kidney beans, black beans, diced tomatoes, and tomato puree.

As with many good things that are born from my kitchen, begin by chopping up 6-8 slices of bacon.

Place the bacon into a very large pot and let it start to crisp up over a medium flame.

Traditionally, chili is made with ground beef.  However, if I’m going to eat chili I want to have a little more textural interest, so I grabbed a 1.5 lb package of beef chunks to include.

Cut the chunks into bite-size pieces if needed, and season generously with salt and pepper.  BAM!


Next, start chopping up the veggies:

2 onions…

2 stalks of celery…

1 red pepper + 1 yellow pepper…

A handful of mushrooms – I used 8 buttons because they were forgotten in the produce drawer for too long, but you can use whatever you have.

And last but certainly not least, 9 cloves of garlic.

Now that that’s out-of-the-way, it’s time to check on the bacon.

Oooohhh baby – if love had a smell I’m pretty sure this is what it would smell like. In fact, I think I might try to bottle the smell of bacon and market it.

If you don’t hear from me for a few months, it’s probably because I’ve become a millionaire and am living on a tropical Island somewhere while my eau-de-bacon fragrance flies off the store shelves.

Remove the bacon and set it aside, and drain almost all of the fat into a separate dish.  Don’t you dare throw it out though!!!

My sources tell me that some people keep a jar of bacon fat in their fridges at all times.

I think I just discovered my New Years resolution. It’s important to have high aspirations in life, you know.

Add about half of the beef chunks to the pan that the bacon just came out of. I know what you’re thinking, and no, you cannot add all of the beef at once to the pot unless you have restaurant-sized cooking vessels at your home. Overcrowding the pot will allow the meat to steam instead of brown, and that would just be gross.

Now – listen up because this is very important – RESIST THE URGE TO STIR! I know that it’s hard, but we want to beef to develop a lovely outer crust and it won’t happen unless we give it it’s space.

After a few minutes though, you can stir. You have my permission.

See what I’m talking about?!?!

Good. Now remove the beef from the pot and repeat the whole process with the remaining beef chunks.

Add the onions, peppers, celery, and mushrooms to the pot, along with a tablespoon or so of the bacon grease if you feel so inclined.

Let everything sweat for about 10 minutes – the vegetables should be softened and starting to brown.

Add 1lb of ground beef and the minced garlic to the vegetables, and continue cooking until the beef is no longer pink.

Let’s talk about spices for a minute, shall we?  I wanted the chili to have a balance of flavour but not be too hot for my delicate palate, so I decided to go with cumin, chili powder, red pepper flakes, and oregano.

I used 1/2 T of cumin, but if you like it more than me you could probably add up to 1T. I also only added 2T of chili powder because I figured I could always add more later if it needed it, but once again, if you like things spicier feel free to add up to 1/4 c.  A pinch of red pepper flakes and 1t of oregano sealed the deal for me, but if I had had any coriander I would have added a good shake of that too.  Oh, and for those of you that want to kick it up yet another notch – add about 1/2 t of cayenne pepper.  Go ahead, I dare ya!

Add the spices – whatever they may be – to the chili and give it a good stir while you open up the 4 cans that are going to join the party soon.


Since a chili really isn’t a chili without tomatoes, add 1 large can each of diced tomatoes and tomato puree.  I used the biggest cans my grocery store had – 28-oz I believe.  I also added 1 can each of red kidney beans and black beans that I drained and rinsed. Oh yes, and I added the cooked beef chunks and bacon back too.

All together now!

Bring it to a boil and then put a lid on it to simmer for an hour or so.  After an hour has elapsed (this is very scientific you know) take the lid off and allow it to simmer for another hour or until it’s at a consistency that you can live with.  Check for seasonings – too spicy? Too mild? Does it need more salt? Now’s the time to take care of business.

Eat your chili plain if you’re a purist, or top with sour cream, cheese, green onions, cilantro, avacado…well, you get the idea. Here goes nothing…

This chili is super flavourful, hearty, and textually interesting.  I really, really like it – I’m just full of surprises aren’t I?!?!  Truth be told, this is one dish where I can’t wait for the leftovers, since chili is supposedly better a few days later.  It’s official – I’ve been converted.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

Sole Florentine

My career has me leading a somewhat non-traditional lifestyle.  Instead of the 9-5 routine than many are familiar with, I often leave my house in the early morning and don’t return until late at night.  My days are usually packed full of variety, but I have no concept of coming home for dinner at 6pm every night.

However…I love meals that I can make ahead for those nights (usually once or twice a week) when I AM planning to be home.  As much as I love to cook, I love the option of coming home and not having to think of  what to create for dinner.  When I think of things that can be made ahead of time, casseroles and crock-pot meals are usually are at the forefront.  However, I typically don’t really love cassseroles – mainly because I usually get bored them before they’re done since I have no idea how to cook for less than 20 people at a time- and my crock-pot requires a ladder to access so I have to REALLY want to use it. Besides, I’m fooling myself into thinking it’s summer and crock-pots make me think of winter.

So how does this tie into sole florentine?  As you all know by now, I love fish, but am very particular about it and have never attempted to prepare it ahead of time.  In my opinion, fish is the ultimate fast food (typically 10-15 minutes to go from raw to cooked) so there’s not exactly a lot of time to shave off.  I usually just broil or grill my fish, maybe making  a sauce if I have the time, but by the time I usually get home spending any longer than 15 minutes total of prep work is not of interest…which leads to repetition and then boredom.  When I came across this recipe for sole florentine in a Cooks Illustrated that can be made up to 24-hrs in advance, I knew I had to try it out….and now you should too, since you probably have almost everything you need and would just have to make a quick visit your favourite fish monger.

That’s sole (although red snapper or tilapia would probably be good), butter, shallots, garlic, heavy cream, cornstarch (late to the photoshoot…oops), frozen spinach, parmesan cheese, thyme, and Ritz crackers.

To start things off, defrost the spinach.

Dissolve some cornstarch in a bit of the cream and set it aside.

Heat up some butter.

And chop up a few shallots.

Introduce the shallots to the butter, and watch the sparks fly.

Chop up some garlic and some fresh thyme.

And instead of trying to get your camera to focus and adjust the lighting on the stove, concentrate on not burning the shallots and garlic.

Oh well, the show must go on.

Cream makes everything better.

And cornstarch makes everything thick, including ones waistline.

Which is why we’re adding spinach. Heavy cream is negated by leafy greens, so add 2 packages to even the score.

After a few minutes of whisking over a moderate flame, the sauce is made. No matter what your cardiologist says, salt + pepper will make it better.

Squeeze the moisture out of the spinach, and combine it with some of the sauce and a healthy amount of parmesan.

Pat the fish filets dry with paper towels, and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Mix up the spinach filling, and mound some in the middle of each filet.

Roll everything up, like the little presents that they are.

Place seam-side down in a buttered baking dish.

You didn’t think I would waste the leftover cream sauce, did you?

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

But before you bake it…

Make cracker crumbs.  Since I have no internal aggression, I used the mini-processor.

All dressed up with nowhere to go!

Except my stomach.

No apologies needed, due to the large proportion of spinach.

I could get used to this whole make-ahead lifestyle.