Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jamie Oliver's Awesome Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Dear Jess,

Over the past couple months, Jason and I have been getting to know his cousin Noel and his girlfriend Sarah. They are an hysterical couple who love having fun and laughing with and/or without reason.

Last night they had a joint birthday party and we found ourselves privileged with an invite. They decided on an Italian themed potluck dinner followed by some retro glow-in-the-dark bowling. I was thrilled to be assigned to provide a main course. In a flurry of excitement I ripped into my copies of Jamie's Italy, Jamie's Meals in Minutes and many other favourite 'go-to' cookbooks. I ended up finding the predestined recipe on his website. Please note as you're reading through the ingredients and looking at my pictures: I doubled the recipe! One single batch will serve around 6 people. I needed enough for 8, so I doubled the recipe and we ate a portion of it before the party to make sure it turned out as delicious as I planned.

Aaaaaaand it is!

It is so Italian, so delicious and it doesn't take forever.

The only thing I would like to point out is the part when you have to get the filling into your cannelloni noodles. Jamie says it's easy. And I think if this is a regular occurrence for you it would become easy... If it's your first time (as it was mine) it's a little tricky. The important thing is: it's do-able! So no worries. It's worth it all!

Awesome Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni 
adapted from Jamie's Dinners
2 knobs of butter
olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
a large handful of fresh oregano, roughly chopped
¼ of a nutmeg, grated
8 large handfuls of spinach, thoroughly washed
a handful of fresh basil, stalks chopped, leaves ripped
2 x 400g tins of good-quality plum tomatoes, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of sugar
400g light ricotta cheese

1 handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
16 cannelloni tubes, oven ready
200g mozzarella, broken up

for the White Sauce
1 x 500ml tub of light Greek Yogurt
3 anchovies, finely chopped
2 handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Then find a metal baking tray or ovenproof dish that will fit the cannelloni in one layer so it's nice and snug. This way you'll get the right cover of sauce and the right amount of crispiness on top. When I cook this at home I just use one pan to cut down on lots of washing up! Take your metal tray or a saucepan, put it on a high heat and add your butter, a drizzle of olive oil, one of the sliced garlic cloves, a handful of oregano and the grated nutmeg. By the time the pan is hot the garlic should be soft. Put as much spinach as will fit into the pan. Keep turning it over; it will wilt quickly so you will be able to keep adding more spinach until it's all in. Moisture will cook out of the spinach, which is fine. By cooking it this way you don't lose any of the nutrients that you would if boiling it in water.

After 5 minutes, put the spinach into a large bowl and leave to cool. Place the pan back on the heat, add a little olive oil, the other clove of sliced garlic, your basil stalks and the tomatoes. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down, add a pinch of salt and pepper and the sugar, and simmer for about 10 minutes, until you get a loose tomato sauce consistency. Then take the pan off the heat and add the basil leaves.

By now the spinach will have cooled down, so squeeze any excess liquid out of it and pour this back into the bowl. Finely chop the spinach and put it back into the bowl. Mix it with the liquid, add the ricotta and then use a piping bag to squeeze the mixture into the cannelloni. You can make your own piping bag by getting a sandwich bag and putting the spinach mix into the corner of it. Then twist the bag up and cut the corner off. Carefully squeeze the filling into the cannelloni tubes so each one is filled right up.

Lay the cannelloni over the tomato sauce in the pan. Or you can pour the tomato sauce into your ovenproof dish and lay the cannelloni on top. To make the white sauce, mix together the Greek Yogurt, anchovies and the 2 handfuls of Parmesan with a little salt and pepper and spoon it over the cannelloni. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan and the mozzarella pieces, and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

I hope you have such an amazing Christmas break! If I don't see you before you leave: safe travels! Have so much fun visiting Hogwarts! (So jealous...) Say hello to your parents for me. Enjoy the break and remember to take pleasure in our Lord Jesus Christ always. He is truly the reason for this season.

So Much Love,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Silky Smooth Avocado Pasta

Dear Sally,

After a couple of weeks of opening my refrigerator only to be greeted by my lonely water jug and almond milk, I decided to go grocery shipping without a concrete list. Generally this can go one of two ways and I think it worked out for the best this time. Jesse wanted ingredients for homemade pizza . . . fine that's easy. I wanted something with more gumption so I raided the isles trying desperately to stay away from peanut butter and chips (not to be consumed together).

I successfully gathered enough ingredients for about 6 different meals and proceeded to make homemade pizza when we got home. What I didn't calculate into the equation were two things. The first was that I would soon contract some sort of evil parasite that would keep me away from food and in bed for a solid day and a half. Also . . . I may have forgotten how close we are to Christmas and therefore my trip to Florida with Jesse. So here I am with a fridge full of food, no appetite and a schedule to get things cooked and frozen before I leave for Florida. I did it and I think you would be proud. Some of the dishes are a mish mash of things but my favorite was the Avocado pasta. The recipe was a whim but is deliciously simple. Work it into some gluten free pasta and you have the perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine.

Smooth Avocado Pasta

1 ripe avocado (pitted and smashed)

1 package pasta, prepared as directed

3 cloves garlic

1 tbsp butter

3 oz or so goat cheese

Splash of lime juice

Splash of balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions and let sit in the strainer.

2. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a large pot. Crush the garlic cloves and add to the butter to cook. Stir for about 1 minute and add the prepared pasta. Toss in the garlic butter adding the limejuice and balsamic vinegar to help stir.

3. Gently stir in the crushed avocado and goat cheese until the cheese is melted and the pasta looks creamy. Remove from heat, sprinkle with goat cheese for garnish and serve warm.

The pictures don’t really do the pasta justice because my lighting is horrible at night but I had to try some and I don’t even have an appetite at the moment. It smelled soooooo good!

I loved the tribute blog, the perfect choices for a reflection. I give you an A+. Thank you so much for coming dress shopping last weekend. You really helped calm me down when nothing but numbers are worries were running through my head. I can’t wait to see you again whenever that may be. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Give my love to Jason and the family.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Looking Back: The Favourites of 2011

Dear Faithful Readers,

It is that time of year again. As January 1st sneaks up on us, we are given these few relaxing moments to reflect on the year that is about to close behind us.

Many things have happened in these past 12 months that neither of us dreamed would come to be. Jess moved to a different city, received a real teaching position, and got engaged! Sally did her first 30 Day Hot Yoga Challenge, started learning Spanish, and successfully paid off half her student loan (and is still going strong!) Throughout everything we bonded and celebrated together. We also were blessed with an amazing community willing to give as much support, encouragement and love as we needed in whatever form they could. We are truly blessed, and inspired by you all.

In this post you will find your top 10 favourite recipes of 2011 (plus a couple of our favourites that didn't make the list). We wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

From Food and Drink Summer 2011

From the brilliance of Jess Koning's Creativity 

From Food and Drink Autumn 2011

From The New Brooklyn Cookbook, Page 116-118

From this link 

From this link

From Jamie's America, Page 308

From Jamie's Italy, or

From Jamie's Meals in Minutes

From Food and Drink Summer 2011

God Bless,

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mediterranean Vegetable Bean Soup with Sweet Potato and Walnut Fritters

To My Beautiful Jessica,

I am very excited about this entry for a couple reasons. The main one being: I didn't expect it to be an amazing meal... but it was!

It was a bit of a crazy weekend. We were at a Christmas party late Friday night.  Poor Jason then had to get up and work early on Saturday, only to come home and head to Toronto with me to see some friends who just came back from living in Italy. We did not make it back to Peterborough until 3 in the morning. On Sunday morning we had an amazing Sabbath and truly rested. We slept until we wanted to get up and when we did, we relaxed some more.

Looking in the fridge, I realized how much of a disaster it was and how little food there seemed to be. Following this realization, I flipped through the only cook book I had there which turned out to be the Autumn edition of Food and Drink. I chose these two recipes because they contained many of my favourite things and seemed low maintenance. We bundled up and made a leisurely trip to the grocery store. Upon our return I cleaned out the fridge and slowly began putting dinner together in the same attitude I do with painting pictures. I had no expectation of how it would turn out. I was cooking merely for the pleasure of the process. No rush. No pressure. Just fun.

Mediterranean Vegetable Bean Soup
adapted from this recipe
Serves 8
12 plum tomatoes (3lbs), chopped
2 sweet red peppers, chopped
1 small eggplant, about 1lb, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
4 cups chicken or veggie broth (or water)
1 can (540mL) white pea (navy) or kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (for garnish)

1. Preheat oven to 425F.
2. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Combine tomatoes, red peppers, eggplant and onion. Sprinkle with 1 tsp each salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Toss and evenly coat. Divide among baking sheets and spread out into a single layer. Toss garlic with oil left in bowl and arrange together on one of the baking sheets. Roast in upper and lower thirds of oven, rotating sheets halfway, for about 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft and browned.
4. Set roasted garlic aside. Transfer remaining roasted vegetables and all juices to a large pot. Stir in oregano, thyme, rosemary and water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until flavours are blended.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about 3 cups of vegetables into a blender or food processor or large bowl. Add reserved garlic and half of the beans to blender, food processor or bowl. Purée or mash, adding a little of the broth from the pot if necessary, until smooth. Stir back into pot along with remaining beans and return to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish each bowl with feta cheese.

Sweet Potato and Walnut Fritters
adapted from this recipe
1 lb sweet potato
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp fresh chopped mint
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 egg lightly beaten
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground toasted walnuts
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

1/2 cup Greek-style plain yogurt
1 tbsp minced onion
2 tbsp fresh chopped mint
1/4 tsp each salt and fresh cracked pepper

1. Prick sweet potato all over with a knife and bake at 475F for 45-60 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Slice in half and spoon out enough potato to make 1 cup. Put into bowl and mash with butter until smooth. Stir in sugar, mint, salt, mustard and cayenne. Stir in egg.
2. In separate bowl, combine flour, ground walnuts and baking powder. Stir into sweet potato mixture with chopped walnuts until well combined.
3. Preheat oven to 325F. Spray mini muffin trays. Spoon heaping portions into muffin trays. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
4. In a bowl, combine yogurt, onion, mint, salt and pepper. Serve with hot fritters.

A couple main changes I made were: I didn't have a blender, so I mashed some of the soup instead. For the fritters the recipe said to deep fry them with oil in a pan. I didn't want to do this so I just baked them. They worked really well. Try both of these!

Also, I'm sorry about the quality of the images. Jason lent his camera to Jim again, so we had to resort to using my phone.

I hope you are doing well. I miss you of course, but know I will see you shortly for wedding dress shopping!

So much love,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sweet Sensations

Hi Sally,

Thanks for your last letter. I will try that recipe for sure! Looks delicious. As for Marmite . . . in my opinion it is never worth the ingestion.

As promised I am putting up recipes from the desserts I made for the work Christmas party. I completely overdid myself as usual but had a lot of fun making them. My candycane cookies didn't really work out as planned. They are really hard to form into the proper shape so I gave up and made circle cookies instead. They still tasted delicious according to my taster.

Candy Cane Cookies
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (softened)
½ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 egg
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. red food colouring
2 tbsp. finely crushed hard peppermint candies
2 tbsp. sugar
In large bowl bear 1 cup sugarm the butter, milk, vanilla, peppermint extract and egg with electric mixer on medium speed or stir with spoon. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Divide dough in half. Stir food colour into half. Cover: refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Heat oven to 375F. For each candy cane, shape one rounded teaspoon dough from each half into 4-inch rope by rolling back and forth on floured surface. Place 1 red and 1 white rope side by side; press together lightly and twist. Place on ungreased cookie sheet; curve top of cookie down to form handle of cane.
Bake 9 to 12 minutes or until set and very light brown. In a small bowl, mix crushed candies and 2 tablespoons sugar; immediately sprinkle over baked cookies. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Irish Cream Bars
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp. unsweetened baking cocoa
¾ sour cream
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup Irish Cream liquer
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
½ cup whipping cream
Chocolate sprinkles, if desired
Heat oven to 350F. In a small bowl, mix ¾ cup flour, the butter, powdered sugar and cocoa with spoon until soft dough forms. Press in bottom of ungreased 8-or-9 inch square pan. Bake 10 minutes.
In medium bowl, beat remaining ingredients except whipping cream and chocolate sprinkles with wire risk until blended. Pour over baked layer. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until filling is set. Cool slightly; refrigerate at least 2 hours before cutting.
Cut the bars into bite-sized pieces. Mix whipping cream and sugar. Pipe whipping cream onto each square and serve.

It was so wonderful to see you and I am SUPER excited for the 17th. I think you may have to keep me in check. All those beautiful wedding dresses to try on and so little time.

Give Jason my best and I will see you soon.

Lots of Love,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie

Dear Jess,

Happy Friday!

I have noticed something. As soon as it got cold, people started craving and making Shepherd's Pie. Then the BBC Good Food email came, and what should I find in there? Their top 5 Shepherd's Pie recipes! Not only that, but 2 of those recipes were with sweet potatoes! It was a sign. If you have a chance to make this recipe, I would highly suggest it. It is simple and delicious. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
adapted from this recipe
 250 lean ground meat
2 medium onions, chopped
3 carrots, diced
2 celery sticks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
200ml veggie stock
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Marmite
400g lentils (canned), drained
3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp low fat sour cream
1/2 bunch scallions, finely chopped

1. Heat a non-stick pan and cook meat. Add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the stock, Worcester sauce, Marmite, lentils and some seasoning. Simmer for 10 minutes or until saucy. Meanwhile boil or steam the sweet potato until tender. Drain then mash with sour cream and scallions.
2. Heat the oven to 200C/fan oven 180C/gas 6. Transfer the mince to an ovenproof dish. Add the mash. Cook for 30 minutes until bubbling.
3. Serve!

The only thing we weren't sure of was the Marmite. Apparently it is a very British or Australian thing. They spread it on toast to have with their tea and other such things. I thought it would be hard to find, but was reassured by the internet that the Canadian Superstore carries it, and I believe Jason found it at Sobeys. Sections to check for it are: baking, jams and jellies, or the spice section.

I love you. I am so excited for tomorrow! By the looks of the weather it will be some messy fourwheeling for sure! Woohoo! Can't wait.