Pork and beans

David works an afternoon shift half the time, which means I’m alone to make and eat dinner (and leave his in the fridge to be reheated, if necessary, or just eaten as is at about midnight). These meals are often vegetarian (or minimal meat) versions of the following: big salad, grain salad, grains and veggies, soup and pork and beans. Well, actually, pork and legumes … and turkey and legumes.

Chickpea stew.

Chickpea stew (pork and legumes)
This recipe stems from my love of chickpeas. Olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and cumin seemed obvious, as I always add them to my hummus. Onions or shallots, peppers (and sometimes chopped celery) and tomatoes add flavour, nutrients and body. And bacon keeps David (who is not quite as enthusiastic about chickpeas) happy.
The first time I made it, he told me the next day, “It looked like I wouldn’t like it, but I did.” High compliments indeed.

4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium onion or 2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28-oz can tomatoes, chopped (or the equivalent of garden fresh or frozen Romas)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
10 mL (2 tsp) cumin
15 mL (1 tbsp) lemon juice (or more to taste)
250 mL (1 cup) whole-wheat couscous
olive oil
salt and pepper

Boil 500 mL (2 cups) water in medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add a splash of olive oil, then couscous. Cover and let sit until couscous has absorbed water. Fluff with a fork before serving.
In a large pan over medium heat, fry bacon until cooked. (We like it slightly pliable, but if you like it crispy, go for it.) Drain bacon grease.
Put a little olive oil in the pan. Add onions/shallots and peppers, season with salt and pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cumin and garlic, cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add chickpeas and tomatoes and simmer until thickened, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add lemon juice. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice.
Ladle stew over couscous and serve.

Lentils and kielbasa.

Lentils and kielbasa (turkey and legumes)
This recipe is adapted from CookThink.com
I’ve upped the vegetables and Dijon and cut back on the kielbasa.
I find frying turkey kielbasa until browned dries it out, so I recommend a light sauté for a little colour and flavour.
Sometimes I add chopped fresh tomatoes to this dish before serving.

375 mL (1-1/2 cup) green lentils, picked through and rinsed
250 g turkey kielbasa, cut in half length-wise and thinly sliced
3 medium carrots, sliced
2 small onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
45 mL (3 tbsp) olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) red wine vinegar
15 mL (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) chopped fresh marjoram or 2 mL (1/2 tsp) dried or ground

Combine lentils and 1 L (4 cups) of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When water boils, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until lentils are tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain.
In a large pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kielbasa and sauté for a few minutes until warmed through and slightly brown. Remove.
In the same pan, heat 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil over medium heat. Add carrots, season with salt and pepper; cook 5-6 minutes, stirring often. Add onions, garlic and marjoram; cook until vegetables are tender, stirring often.
Add lentils to pan with vegetables. Stir in kielbasa, vinegar, remaining olive oil and mustard.


Roasted vegetable pasta

Red pepper, Indian eggplant, zucchini, onion and Italian sausage ready for roasting.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. I needed a simple dinner for a busy Saturday, but wanted something that was a step up from our standard Monday to Friday fare.
While this recipe is new, the components are not. I often roast eggplants, zucchini, peppers and onions to toss with couscous for an easy dinner. Canned (or fresh) tomatoes roasted with balsamic are a key ingredient in my tomato red pepper soup. And Italian sausage is my go-to protein for quick weekday pasta meals. Roasting all the ingredients deepens and mellows their flavours.

Roasted vegetable pasta
Original recipe. Serves four or two generously for dinner, with leftovers.
This recipe results in a dish that is more vegetables than pasta. Use whatever ratio of pasta and vegetables works for you.
When I make this again, I might up the tomatoes to two cans. David wanted a saltier punch than the feta provided and suggested olives might work.

Tomatoes, garlic, basil and balsamic ready for roasting.

6-8 Indian eggplants
2 medium zucchini
2 red peppers
3 small onions
3 Italian sausages
olive oil
3 cloves garlic
10 mL (2 tsp) dry basil
1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes
22 mL (1-1/2 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
dried pasta, about 1L (4 cups) (I used brown rice rotini)

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut eggplants, zucchini and red peppers into bite-sized pieces. Quarter onions.
Brush baking sheet with olive oil. Place vegetables on sheet, season with salt and pepper. Add sausages to sheet. Drizzle everything with a little more olive oil.
Roughly chop garlic.
In a large baking dish, combine tomatoes, garlic, balsamic and salt and pepper to taste.
Roast vegetables and tomatoes for 40 to 45 minutes until vegetables are soft.
Remove sausages and cut into 1/2-cm (1/4-inch) slices. Transfer vegetables, tomatoes and sliced sausage to a large pot over low heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta. Before draining, add 125 to 250 mL (1/2 to 1 cup) of pasta water to vegetable/tomato mixture. Stir to combine.
Drain pasta. Add to sauce. Stir.
Serve topped with crumbled feta.

Can I call this a salad?

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg ingredients.

While a green salad is on the menu almost every day of the week spring and summer, eating with the seasons makes it a rarity during the winter.
Sometimes, though, I just give in to the craving for fresh and green. Combine it with a few more robust ingredients and you’ve got a hearty main course that could really go by a name other than salad.

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg
Original recipe. Serves 2.

6-8 handfuls of baby spinach
75 g (2-1/2 oz) pancetta, diced
10-12 crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
2 eggs
olive oil
15 mL (1 tbsp) white wine vinegar
5 mL (1 tsp) Dijon mustard
salt and pepper

Heat 5 mL (1tbsp) of olive oil in non-stick pan at medium-high heat. Add pancetta. Sauté until crisp. Remove. Add mushrooms to pan. Cook until golden. Remove. Add shallots to pan. Cook until soft.
Add 37 mL (2-1/2 tbsp) olive oil to pan. Stir in white wine vinegar, Dijon, lots of pepper and salt to taste. Return pancetta and mushrooms to pan and heat through.
In large bowl, toss spinach with pancetta and mushroom mixture.
Meanwhile, in the same pan, covered, fry eggs until whites are set and yolks are runny.
To serve, divide spinach mixture between two plates. Top each with an egg.

Spinach with pancetta, mushroom and egg.

On board: Planked pork

Plank soaking in apple juice and spices.

Although underwhelmed by the prime rib, David is convinced planking can work well for more than just fish. Pork, he decided, would be our next experiment.
This recipe, which calls for soaking the cedar plank in apple juice and spices, sparked our interest. We modified it for the grill rather than the oven.
We liked the results: the flavours of mulled cider, maple and mustard plus a smoky finish; pretty enough to serve to guests.

Cedar plank apple pork
A quick sauté of sliced apples in butter and a little sugar would be an excellent accompaniment to this dish. I served it with some homemade honey apple butter.

2 L (8 cups) apple juice
5 cinnamon sticks
5 mL (1 tsp) ground nutmeg
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cloves
7 mL (1/2 tbsp) cardamom pods
1 cedar plank
two pork tenderloins
125 mL (1/2 cup) maple syrup
30 mL (2 tbsp) Dijon mustard
10 mL (2 tsp) dried tarragon
2 large cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
cracked black pepper

Combine apple juice and spices in a large shallow dish. Place cedar plank in dish, weight if necessary to keep submerged in liquid. Soak several hours or overnight.
Bring tenderloin to room temperature. Rub with minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
Combine maple syrup, mustard and tarragon.
Place pork on cedar plank and transfer to hot grill.
Roast, basting the maple syrup and mustard glaze, about 25 minutes. (Pork should still be slightly pink inside.)

The final result.

Good gravy

While gravy is normally a rarity in our house, I have made it twice in as many weeks: a thick turkey gravy for Thanksgiving dinner and a thinner, but still very flavourful, beef gravy to go with the surprisingly traditional prime rib dinner (beef, gravy, horseradish, roasted potatoes, carrots and rutabagas and steamed green beans — the last three from my garden) we had on Sunday.
Here is my basic method for making good gravy.

Pan drippings, flavourful liquid and a slurry are all you need to make a good gravy.

pan drippings
1 L (4 cups) or more chicken or beef stock and red wine (optional)
45 mL (2-1/2 tbsp) flour
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) milk or water
salt and pepper

Keep some liquid in your pan while roasting. This not only keeps your meat moist, it prevents any drippings from blackening in the pan and giving your gravy a burned flavour. For turkey, I always use homemade chicken stock. For the best beef gravy, I use a combination of dry red wine and beef stock. Add a cup or two of liquid to start and top it up as necessary while roasting.
Transfer meat or bird from pan to a large platter and tent with aluminum foil.
Place roasting pan on stove, covering two burners. Turn both up to medium-high. Add additional liquid to measure about 1 litre (4 cups). Boil while scraping the bottom of pan for five to 10 minutes.
In a mason jar, mix together flour and milk (for poultry gravy) or water (for beef gravy) and shake until combined. (This mixture is called a slurry.)
Add slurry, plus salt and pepper to taste to roasting pan. Cook until bubbly and thickened, then cook one minute more. Skim fat from top of gravy if necessary.
Strain gravy through a fine mesh sieve before serving.