Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cauliflower and Bacon Gratin

A few weeks back, I bought two huge cauliflowers for $0.96 each.  Great value, but a lot of cauliflower for just two people.  

I broke the cauliflowers into florets and then steamed them to tender crisp.  I served some of the steamed cauliflower just at it was, and some I pureed and combined with mashed potatoes.  I tossed some of the cooled florets in olive oil, seasoned them with paprika, and roasted them in the oven.  

All three dishes were very good but, even after eating cauliflower for three straight meals, we were left with the equivalent of a whole head's worth of steamed cauliflower still in the fridge. My fella was growing tired of it and wanted a change.  He asked for mac 'n' cheese.

I don't care at all for frozen cauliflower so I couldn't put the leftovers in the freezer for another time, and I dislike food waste even more than I dislike freezing those florets. I decided to make my fella's favourite mac 'n' cheese recipe using the last of the cauliflower in place of pasta, and I crossed my fingers that my husband wouldn't rebel at the idea.

Turns out I needn't have worried.  My guy enjoyed this cauliflower and bacon gratin so much that he reheated some of it for lunch the next day!  

That made me really happy.

To make cauliflower bacon gratin, you'll need:

  • 3 Tablespoons bacon fat
  • 1 small onion, finely diced (not shown)
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup fat free evaporated milk (not sweetened condensed milk)
  • 2 to 3 cups shredded, aged cheddar (according to taste)
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cooked tender crisp
  • 1 pound bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces and cooked
  • 1/2 loaf of day-old bread
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt the bacon fat in a large pot, over medium-high heat, and use it to saute the diced onion.  

When the onion is tender, reduce the heat to medium and add in the flour.  Continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, until the roux is a very pale brown and the onion has taken on a little colour.

Whisk in the chicken stock, then the evaporated milk. 

Keep cooking and stirring until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.

Add in the shredded cheddar and stir until it melts into the sauce.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Add in the cauliflower and cooked bacon and gently stir them through the sauce until all the ingredients are well combined.

Turn the cauliflower mixture out of the pan, into an oven proof casserole dish.  

Heat the oven to 350F.

While the oven is heating, break your bread down to coarse crumbs in a food processor. (If you don't have a food processor, you can grate the bread on a box grater.)

Melt the butter over low heat.

Mix the breadcrumbs into the melted butter, tossing to distribute the butter through the crumbs.  

Season the crumbs to taste. 

Spread an even layer of buttered crumbs over the top of the cauliflower mixture.  

(You may well have some crumbs left over. If you do, store them in the freezer for another dish.)

Place the gratin on the middle shelf of the oven and bake it until it's heated through and the sauce is bubbly. (This took about 30 minutes in my oven.)

Serve your cauliflower bacon gratin as soon as it comes out of the oven, while it's still piping hot.

If you have leftover gratin, you can use it to make a tasty soup.  

Run a knife through the gratin to chop the cauliflower into soup-spoon sized pieces.  

Mix in enough chicken stock to thin the gratin to soup consistency, and heat it to a boil.

Serve it with some good bread for dipping.  It's delicious!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What We Spent, April 15 - 21

There's a lot going on behind the scenes here at Aunt B's these days and it's resulting in some big changes to our usual routine.  We are finding ourselves on the run - and on the road - a lot more than is usual for us.

All this coming and going is affecting our budget:  

My fella is taking up more and more of the slack in the kitchen and, because he's much more a carnivore than I, we are eating more meat.  At present, we're using stocks from our freezer but they will need to be replenished.  

We're eating at restaurants more than I think we ever have.  Some days we're just too tired to do much else and, when it comes down to it, spending time together at the end of the day has proved to be more important to us than eating a home cooked meal every single night.

Road time means driving time, and driving time means more fuel consumption, so our gasoline costs continue to be higher than usual.

We know that the situation in which we find ourselves right now is finite and, blessedly, there is some leeway for re-arrangement in our budget.  We've given up some things in order to pay for others.  For example, we've cut back on our cable service in order to allow for our restaurant meals (currently budgeted at $100/month) and we've completely eliminated clothing expenditures from our budget for the next couple of months.  

When things return to something more resembling our normal routine, we'll cut back our spending on food and restaurants, and start watching sales in order to restock the freezer.  For now, though, we'll live with the higher costs.

Here's what we spent last week:

April 15/13

4 litres skim milk

1 English cucumber

.74 kg/1.63 lbs broccoli

1.36 kg/3 lbs pears

4.54 kg/10 lbs navel oranges

.85 kg/1.87 lbs tomatoes

1 head romaine lettuce
April 20/13

Restaurant meal, including taxes and tip

Total Coupons Redeemed


What We Ate, April 15 - 21

I don't know if you've noticed that I haven't been blogging much lately, but I haven't made many posts.  There's been a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes here at Aunt B's and, always, friends and family come first.

Those same considerations have kept me out of the kitchen more than is the norm at our house, and my absence has led to some changes in our menus.  My fella's been picking up as much of the kitchen duty as he can - so we are eating more meat than usual - and we've increased our restaurant allowance to allow for an extra meal or two out each month until things settle down to normal once again.  (I'm very thankful that there's enough leeway in the budget to allow for this.)

Here's what we ate last week:

Monday, April 15:

Tuesday, April 16:

  • Breakfast - Leftover gingerbread (reheated) topped with home canned peaches and homemade yogurt
  • Supper - Homemade iced tea, salmon salad sandwiches garnished with red onion, cucumber and pea shoots and served on onion buns, carrot and celery sticks, apples

Wednesday, April 17:

  • Breakfast - Pear slices and brie
  • Supper - Ham and eggs (fried for my fella, poached for me), multigrain toast, roasted tomatoes, homemade yogurt and applesauce

Thursday, April 18:

  • Breakfast - Oatmeal and applesauce
  • Supper - Roast beef, roasted potatoes, carrots and cabbage, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, rhubarb and apple crisp

Friday, April 19:

Saturday, April 20:

  • Breakfast - Oatmeal topped with leftover mango and yogurt from Friday night
  • Lunch (Our big meal of the day, instead of supper, eaten at a restaurant) - Cod and chips, chocolate explosion cheesecake.  (We split a single order of each between us.)

Sunday, April 21:

  • Breakfast - Poached eggs, whole wheat English muffins, oranges
  • Supper - Beef barley soup, toasted lettuce, onion, and tomato sandwiches on toasted whole wheat bread.

Monday, 15 April 2013

What We Spent April 8 - 14

Last week was not a very spend-y week at our house.  We did pretty well with our grocery, household, and gas budgets.  Our biggest splurge was on hot dogs and potato chips!  

My fella took advantage of a night when I was too ill to cook and treated himself to a hot dog supper, something not often seen at our house.  

I've trained him well though.  ;^)  He used a combination of grocery coupons and gas rebate coupons to get his potato chips for free. He also bought the 2 kg package of hot dogs in order to avail himself of the best price per pound.  And he packaged the extra hot dogs in twos, and put them in the freezer to enjoy another day.  

He makes me so proud!  :^) 

Here's what we spent last week:

April 9/13
2 kg/4.4 lbs all beef hot dogs

1 bag Kettle chips
April 11/13

4 litres skim milk

1 head romaine

.66 kg/1.45 lbs red cabbage

1 bunch radishes

1.36 kg/3 lbs spartan apples

2 kg/4.4 lbs whole, dried peas (for growing pea shoots)

2.3 kg/5.1 lbs rhubarb

Personal care items

Total Coupons Redeemed


What We Ate, April 8 - 14

We're starting to see some spring treats in our menus now, and I'm so pleased.  It's still a long road to the abundance of summertime but it sure makes a nice change to enjoy some asparagus or - as we did this week - the first of the season's rhubarb.  

We also enjoyed a rather wonderful gift from our son-in-law:  A huge package of prawns that he caught himself from the cold, fast moving waters near Campbell River, about 3 hours drive north of where we live.  They were glorious!  Big and sweet, and there were so many of them that I was able to put some of the extras by in the freezer to enjoy another day.

Here's what we ate last week:

Monday, April 8:

Tuesday, April 9:

Wednesday, April 10:

Thursday, April 11:

  • Breakfast - Whole wheat toast, cream cheese (from the freezer), apples
  • Supper - Neptune's pasta made with prawns my son-in-law caught, a salad of Romaine, sunflower shoots, grated beets, onion, and a nasturtium and garlic vinaigrette, homemade mocha frozen yogurt.

Friday, April 12:

  • Breakfast - Whole wheat English muffins and peanut butter
  • Supper - Homemade pizza with a garlic and oregano focaccia crust topped with homemade tomato sauce, onions, spinach, crumbled bacon, kalamata olives, more of those wonderful prawns from my son-in-law, feta and mozzarella.  Rhubarb and apple harvest cake for dessert, served warm, topped with stewed rhubarb.

Saturday, April 13:

  • Breakfast - Leftover pizza
  • Supper - Brown rice and kidney beans, shredded carrot, radish, and apple slaw, and a parfait made with leftover harvest cake, homemade Greek style yogurt, and stewed rhubarb.

Sunday, April 14:

  • Breakfast - Apple slices and cheddar
  • Supper - Veggie burgers made with Saturday's leftover brown rice and kidney beans seasoned with cumin and chili powder, served on homemade multigrain buns, a salad of romaine, shredded red cabbage, pea shoots, and chives from my sister-in-law's garden dressed with pickle juice vinaigrette, canned peaches.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


Until quite recently, these were the only tortillas you could purchase in grocery stores in our area.

They come in different flavours but they're all parcooked, fairly thick, leathery in texture, and cardboard in flavour.  (Can you tell I don't love them?  ;^) 

They are the reason why, for many years, I felt that tortillas were a waste of good flour.  

I know better now.  A freshly made tortilla is a whole 'nother thing!

You can imagine, though, that I was less than pleased when I came home from work a while back to find a package of those cardboard-tasting wonders on my counter.  (My fella meant well.  He just didn't understand the depth of my dislike.)

My dislike of food waste runs even deeper than my dislike of unpleasant tortillas though, so I endeavoured to find a way to cook them that I might actually enjoy.  

This is what I came up with.  It's a cross between taco flavours and lasagna, and it's mighty tasty - even if I do say so myself!  

There appear to be a lot of steps to this recipe but it can be assembled quite quickly and the end result is well worth the effort.  Please do give it a try.  I know you'll like it.

To make Tacsagne, you'll need:

  • Several flour tortillas (The quantity will depend upon the size of tortilla you're using.  If the tortillas are small, or your dish large, you may need more than one per layer.)
  • 1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons taco seasoning (I use this recipe)
  • 2-10 ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups grated mozzarella 
  • olive oil
  • chili powder
  • salt

Combine the ground beef, tomato sauce, and taco seasoning, stirring until well combined.

Thaw the spinach (I did this in the microwave), squeeze as much liquid from it as you can, then break it up with a fork.

Prepare a round casserole by spraying it with pan release or brushing it with oil.

Place a tortilla in the bottom of the casserole. (Mine were larger than the dish so I used kitchen shears to trim them down to size.)

Cover the tortilla with a little less than half of the meat sauce.

Cover the meat sauce with a generous amount of spinach.

It's hard to spread ricotta evenly over crumbled spinach so I chose instead to spread it thickly onto a tortilla.  

Place the tortilla ricotta-side-down on top of the crumbled spinach layer.

Repeat the layers of meat sauce, spinach, and ricotta-spread tortilla, reserving about a half cup of meat sauce.  (Try to save the most liquid-y part of the sauce at the bottom of the bowl.)

(You may find you have some spinach left over at this point. - I had about 1/2 cup left over - Put it in the fridge and save it for another meal.)

Spread the reserved sauce over the top tortilla, to help keep it moist.

Cover the casserole with a generous layer of grated mozzarella.

Brush a couple of tortillas with olive oil, coating them on both sides.  Lightly sprinkle one side of each oiled tortilla with salt and a little chili powder.

Cut the tortillas in half, layer the halves, and cut them into thin strips.  Cut the strips crosswise into shorter pieces.

Cover the cheese in the casserole with a layer of tortilla strips.  Don't be too tidy.  Just scatter them randomly.

Bake your tacsagna at 350F for about an hour, until it's heated all the way through and the sauce is bubbly.  The tortilla strips on top will be crispy and golden brown.

Allow it to cool just a few minutes before portioning it into wedges.  It'll come out of the dish more easily if you do.  

Look at all those beautiful layers of flavour!

Leftover tacsagna can be frozen in individual portions.  Reheat it from frozen in the oven or microwave.  If reheating it in the microwave, you may want to pop it under the broiler for just a few minutes right at the end, to re-crisp the tortilla topping.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Apricot Chicken

Raise your hand if you remember "Thirty Minute Meals."  Keep it raised if you miss it.  

I know Rachael Ray made a smart business decision when she made the move to the big network, but I'm a cooking kind of girl, not a talk show fan.  I miss the old series, Rachael's girl-next-door un-fancied-up appearance, and her appealing thirty minute meals.  

I know Rachael still cooks on the talk show but she races through it, and doesn't make the same excellent presentation she used to.  

Okay.  Finished griping now.   :^)   

At least I still have my favourite recipes from the old series.  

This is one of them.  

Apricot Chicken is an excellent weeknight meal to add to your repertoire.  It has great flavour, it's quick and simple to make, and I keep most of the ingredients on hand.

I've kept this recipe pretty close to Rachael's original, with just a few small adaptations.  We both like the recipe a lot, but prefer it with more acid and less sugar.  We also use more onion and more dried apricots in ours.  

To make Apricot Chicken, you'll need:

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into large cubes
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 9 dried apricots, cut into a medium dice
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

You'll need a skillet with a lid.

Add your oil to the skillet over medium heat, and turn to coat the bottom of the pan completely.

Add the chicken to the heated pan, leaving it to cook until it's taken on some colour on each side.  

Once the chicken is lightly browned, add in the onion and cook it, stirring, for about 5 minutes more.  The chicken will take on more colour.  The onions should brown slightly too.

Add in the cider vinegar and continue stirring until it has evaporated.

Once the vinegar has evaporated, add in the chicken stock and the diced dried apricots.  

When the stock comes to a boil, add in the apricot jam and pepper flakes, stirring until the jam dissolves into the stock.  It will look quite soupy.

Ladle off about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pan into a small bowl.  Set the bowl into a larger bowl of very cold water, so that it will cook quickly.

Bring the pot up to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and put the lid on.  Leave it to cook for about 15 minutes.  

Much of the liquid will boil off, leaving you a mixture that looks like this:

Stir the cornstarch into the cooled, reserved pan liquid, and add it back to the skillet.  

Stir until the liquid boils and thickens.

Dinner's ready!  

I like to serve my Apricot Chicken over rice but it's very good over noodles too.