June 25, 2014

Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup

Lately when I come home to my hot and humid apartment, the last thing I want to do is turn on the stove and add even more heat to my place, so refreshing no-bake meals are definitely needed!

This week, I decided that I wanted to make a chilled soup - one of my favourite things to eat in the summertime (and if you check the soup category in my Recipe Index, you'll find quite a few chilled ones there!).

I had a nice zucchini from the market sitting in my fridge, so I used that as my inspiration for this chilled zucchini avocado soup. While this is a no-bake recipe, it does require a bit of cooking on the stovetop first to saute some garlic and green onion, and get the zucchini nice and tender so that it will blend easily.

To make the soup extra creamy, I added an avocado and some plain yogurt which get blended up with the zucchini mixture until smooth. Finally, some fresh basil, lemon juice and a dash of cumin add even more layers of flavour to highlight the zucchini.

I loved how easy this was to whip up - I made it on a day when I got home late from the gym and then grocery shopping and I wanted dinner to be ready quickly, which it was!

The only hard part is waiting for it to chill, but you could definitely eat it warm if you like too. I actually ate it warm the first night and really enjoyed it that way, and then had the leftovers chilled, which was even more tasty and super refreshing!

This is also a very adaptable recipe, so feel free to add other herbs or veggies to the soup or as garnishes - some sliced radish, cucumber, or tomato would probably work well stirred in if you like extra texture in your soup!

Chilled Zucchini Avocado Soup
Partly inspired by this recipe

1 tbsp olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
~4 green onions (about half a bunch), sliced
1 large zucchini, thinly sliced
2 cups water or vegetable stock (I used water)
1 ripe avocado, roughly chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil (can substitute another herb)
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
Ground pepper

Heat oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic and green onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the water. Bring to a boil, cover pot and simmer for about 5 minutes, until zucchini is tender. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Pour contents of the pot into a blender (I did it in just one batch but you could do two batches if your liquid is still very hot to avoid it exploding!). Blend until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and blend again until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until chilled.

Serve warm or chilled, with extra yogurt and basil on top if desired. (Note: the soup might thicken up after sitting in the fridge, so feel free to add extra water to thin it out if you prefer).

Makes 2-3 servings

June 17, 2014

Thai Peanut Cucumber Cups

This week is especially hot and humid here in Ontario, and when the weather is this warm, all I want for dinner is cold and refreshing meals, like chilled soups and salads full of fresh veggies. 

Of course, veggies can get a bit boring sometimes, so it helps to turn them into something more exciting, like these Thai peanut cucumber cups that I made as an appetizer last week!

The inspiration for these came from Courtney of The Fig Tree blog, who posted these peanut satay celery sticks a while back. I thought the idea of filling celery sticks with a peanut sauce, carrots, and sesame seeds sounded so creative!  I'm not a huge fan of celery though, and I knew that cucumbers go well with cold peanut noodle dishes, so I thought cucumber cups would work really well as a base instead.

I've actually made cucumber cup appetizers before and they're always a hit, but I usually fill them with hummus or tzatziki, so this was a fun twist! If you've never seen this idea before, you just slice your cucumber and then scoop out some of the middle so that you have a nice little cup to fill with sauce, and then you can add whatever toppings you like too. 

For these, I filled the cucumber cups with a thick peanut sauce, then sprinkled sesame seeds, chopped peanuts, and shredded carrot on top of each one (see above picture for a visual of the process). Everything comes together into one bite that's creamy, crunchy, a bit spicy, and refreshing all at once!

I shared these with a group of friends and everyone loved them, so I'm sure I'll be making them again whenever I need a light, veggie-based appetizer - which will probably be often this summer!

Thai Peanut Cucumber Cups
Inspired by The Fig Tree and Vegetarian Times

1/2 cup peanut butter
4 tsp sweet chile sauce
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
Dash of ground ginger (or fresh ginger, I just didn't have any!)
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tbsp water
1 English cucumber
~1/3 cup shredded carrot
Sesame seeds
Chopped peanuts

To make the peanut sauce, stir together the peanut butter, chile sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger until smooth. Add the water to thin out a bit. Set aside or store in the fridge until needed.

Slice the cucumber into pieces about 1 inch thick. Use a melon baller or a ½ tsp measure to scoop out the middle seedy portion of each slice – don’t go all the way through, you still want a bit of cucumber at the bottom of each cup!

Lay out cucumber cups on a plate or serving dish. Spoon the peanut sauce into each cup (I just estimated how much to put in – you want a round mound in the middle of each cup but not too much that it overflows). 

Sprinkle a bit of sesame seeds on top of the peanut sauce in each cup, followed by a bit of shredded carrot and crushed peanuts – it might help to do the peanuts first so they stick to the peanut butter, then finish with the carrots, but the order doesn’t really matter!

Refrigerated finished cucumber cups until serving time.

Makes enough for about 20-22 cups.

June 11, 2014

Rhubarb, Brie & Arugula Quesadillas

Every year around this time, I go a little overboard trying to come up different ways of using rhubarb, whether its in savory dishes, baked goods, sauces and condiments, or desserts (check out last year's roundup of rhubarb recipes!). Rhubarb is probably one of my favourite ingredients, and since it's only available for a short time every year, I try to make the most of it!

This year so far, I've made curried lentils with rhubarb chutney, a sweet rhubarb compote, strawberry-rhubarb scones, and these quesadillas!

I was inspired by a recipe for honeyed rhubarb and brie paninis that I saw on The Miniature Moose blog. I thought the combination of rhubarb with creamy brie cheese sounded like the perfect idea for a sandwich, but then I thought of turning it into quesadillas instead.

I kept the ingredients pretty simple, so all you need is what you see above - tortillas, brie cheese, a rhubarb mixture that you make by cooking down rhubarb with some maple syrup on the stovetop, and some arugula to add a bit more substance to the filling and a bit of bite to cut down on the sweetness.

I was trying to come up with something else to make these extra special, like another ingredient for the filling, or some kind of salsa to serve them with, but it turned out that nothing else was needed - these were simple but perfect that way!

I loved the combination of the slightly melted creamy brie with the tart rhubarb sauce. These were nice and soft quesadillas - the kind you can pick up and fold over like a pizza slice without anything falling out!

I did have a bit of leftover rhubarb filling that I spooned on top of some of the quesadillas which worked well as a "salsa", but I liked them just as much plain too.

Hopefully I'll have more rhubarb recipes to share with you before it's all gone!

Rhubarb, Brie & Arugula Quesadillas
Inspired by The Miniature Moose
*Note: these are approximate amounts - use as much cheese and arugula as you like, and make however many quesadillas as you can with the amount of rhubarb sauce!

2 cups diced rhubarb
2 tbsp water
1.5 tbsp pure maple syrup
~4 whole wheat tortillas
Brie cheese, sliced

Place rhubarb, water, and maple syrup in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Once simmering, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Continue to simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rhubarb has broken down and the mixture has thickened. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain out any remaining liquid if desired.

Heat two large skillets on medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Lay out tortillas and place slices of brie cheese on one half of each tortilla. Top cheese with a 2-3 tablespoons of the rhubarb mixture per tortilla (I just estimated how much to put on). Place a large handful of arugula on top, then fold each tortilla in half. Place two tortillas in each skillet and cook for about 2-3 minutes, pressing down lightly with a spatula, until lightly browned. Carefully flip and cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cut each tortilla in half for smaller wedges.

Serve warm. Feel free to top with additional rhubarb sauce if you have any leftover.

Serves 2-3.

June 04, 2014

Blueberry Banana Snack Cake

I can't believe it's already June, but I'm so excited because that means not only will summer officially begin this month, but local summer fruits and veggies will be here soon too! I only just had my first rhubarb treats this past weekend (a delicious strawberry rhubarb pie that my sister made, and a rhubarb sauce that I made to eat on toast and in yogurt), and I can't wait for strawberries to arrive next!

Two years ago, I made a healthy strawberry banana snack cake that I really loved, so when I was looking through my old recipes for inspiration the other day, I wanted to try that cake out again.

This time, since local strawberries weren't available yet, I decided to use blueberries instead. I made a couple of other small changes to the recipe, like replacing the spelt flour with oat flour for a slightly different flavour and texture, adding cinnamon, a bit of lemon juice and zest, and a touch of coconut oil, and leaving out the nuts and extra sugar to make this cake less sweet.

I had mentioned in my original post that I thought blueberries would work well in this cake, and now I can say for sure that they do!

I loved the way all the fruit bursts after baking, and the blueberries paired perfectly with the coconut and banana flavours. I also love the chewy, dense texture of this cake, and how light it tastes at the same time - so you can easily eat a couple pieces for a mid-morning or afternoon snack!

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm still getting used to a new oven, so my cake browned just a tad too much even at the minimum baking time. Just be sure to keep an eye on yours, and in the meantime I'll have to test my oven temperature!

Blueberry Banana Snack Cake
Adapted from my previous recipe for Strawberry Banana Snack Cake

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup oat flour (I ground my own rolled oats in the blender)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 ripe medium-sized bananas, mashed
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup pure maple syrup*
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup blueberries

*Note: You may want to add an extra 2 tbsp of sugar or cane sugar if you prefer a sweeter cake. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8x8 pan with cooking spray.

Whisk the dry ingredients in a large bowl (flours through to salt). In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients (mashed banana through to vanilla extract).

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.  Gently fold in the blueberries.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 35-45 minutes, until the sides start to brown and pull away from the pan, the top feels firm, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling before cutting into squares.

Makes about 16 squares. 


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