Tonight’s dinner was planned – it was something I schemed up with the organizers of Ski for Heart– a fundraiser for the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Alberta the second weekend in January that I’m going to be a part of. They put the recipes in their newsletter, and the plan was that I’d make them tonight. And I did! This penne pasta is one of my favourite make-ahead-and-freeze dinners, and so the plan was to make two (just using a single recipe below will produce two pansful, enough for 4 each), put one in the fridge to pop in the oven when we got home from the movie at around 7, and freeze the other to keep M&W sustained when I go to Montreal next weekend. (That’s right! Montreal for the weekend!)
We ate the soup before we left, just so we didn’t arrive at the theatre ravenous, and the cookies got nibbled all day. But by the time we got home we were far too full of popcorn to think about eating pasta. It probably isn’t very good heart & stroke PR that we plowed through a large buttered popcorn at the movie, is it? Free refills are just a bad, bad idea.
Check out Ski for Heart if you want a great deal on a ski weekend at the Chateau Lake Louise – we’ll all be there for the weekend, there will be lots of food and activities for the kids – my plan is to sleep lots and go ice skating and for a sleigh ride around the frozen lake – one of my favourite childhood memories. And of course it’s all for a great cause.
Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
4 red bell peppers
canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 14 oz. (398 mL) can diced or whole tomatoes, undrained
1 L chicken or vegetable stock
1/4-1/2 cup half and half or light sour cream (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
extra sour cream, for serving (optional)
Cut red peppers in half lengthwise; pull out the seeds and membranes. Place cut side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with foil. Roast at 450°F or broil on high for about 30 minutes (less under the broiler), until blackened and blistered, rotating the sheet if necessary for them to cook evenly.
Remove from the sheet and place in a bowl; cover with the foil or a plate and let cool. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins and discard them, dropping the peppers back into the bowl.
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, add the thyme, tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a simmer; add the red peppers along with any juices that have accumulated in the bowl and cook for about 20 minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and add the cream, salt and pepper. Puree with a hand-held immersion blender or transfer to a blender in batches and pulse until smooth. Heat through, adjust the seasoning and serve warm. If you like, top each bowl with a small dollop of sour cream, and run a bamboo skewer through it to create a teardrop shape.
Per serving: 103 calories, 3.1 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 1.2 g monounsaturated fat, 0.7 g polyunsaturated fat), 5.6 g protein, 14.6 g carbohydrate, 3.2 mg cholesterol, 2.9 g fibre. 26% calories from fat
Baked Penne with Sausage and Spinach
canola or olive oil, for cooking with
2 lean chicken and apple or Italian sausages, squeezed out of their casings
1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 28 oz. (540 mL) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup pesto (out of a jar)
3 cups penne, rigatoni or rotini pasta (preferably a whole wheat or brown rice variety)
1 10 oz. bag baby spinach leaves
1 ½ cups grated part-skim mozzarella
1/2 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the sausage, onion and garlic, breaking up the meat until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the pesto and some salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain it well and toss it with the spinach (coarsely tear the spinach up with your hands as you add it), mozzarella and about half the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Stir in the hot tomato sauce, which will slightly wilt the spinach. Divide among baking dishes or aluminum containers (it should be enough to fill one 9”x13” pan) and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. (At this point the dish can be cooled completely, covered and frozen for up to 4 months. Bake from frozen.)
Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes (40 if frozen) until bubbly and golden. If you want to make it ahead, cool completely before covering and transferring to the freezer for up to 3 months, then bake it from frozen, adding about 15 extra minutes of baking time.
Chocolate, Pecan & Olive Oil Wafers
I came up with these healthy fat-low sugar (not generally a winning combo in a cookie) for my dad, who is watching his saturated fat intake, and my mom, who is diabetic, for Christmas a few ears ago. They are very low in sugar, partly because the sugar is sprinkled on top where its flavor and crunch are at the forefront, but particularly if you don’t sprinkle them with sugar at all. Because all the fat comes from the pecans and olive oil, these are particularly heart-healthy. I adore them. My mom and dad aren’t as enamoured with them as I am, unfortunately, but I love how thin and crisp and not-too-sweet they are.
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
1/3 cup cocoa
3-4 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseed (optional)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup olive or canola oil
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold water
1 large egg white
Extra sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, combine flour, pecans, cocoa, sugar, flaxseed, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, stir together the oil and water with a fork. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
Take walnut-sized pieces of dough and place between two pieces of waxed or parchment paper; roll back and forth in one direction with a rolling pin into large, thin ovals that look like a smear. Transfer to a cookie sheet and peel off the top sheet of paper; alternatively you could place the balls of dough directly on the sheet, cover them with a piece of parchment and roll them out, then peel off the parchment.
Stir the egg white with a fork and brush the cookies with it, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden around the edges (it will be tough to tell!) and set. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes about 18 large cookies.
Per cookie: 119 calories, 8.2 g fat (1 g saturated fat, 5.7 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat), 10.7 g carbohydrates, 0 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g fiber. 60% calories from fat