Do you think “Isa Does it” Well? – A Cookbook Review

isa does it

Sometimes you just gotta live outside your comfort zone. By comfort zone, we mean cooking the same weeknight chicken fajitas over and over – not that there’s anything wrong with it! Although we don’t claim to be vegan experts, we thought we would test some vegan recipes with the best selling “Isa Does it” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Isa is the author of the previously successful “Veganomicon”. This author’s motto is very clearly stated in the first paragraph of her writing: “To get you into the kitchen, cooking satisfying meals with fresh ingredients any day of the week”. Well, that line had us hooked!

Isa starts by explaining her cooking journey and it is refreshing to note that she is not a professional chef. She admits to growing up on hamburger helper and frozen food and even disliked spending time in the kitchen. She relates to many of us who do not want to spend hours and hours in the kitchen making extravagant spreads, but just easy delicious food that gets on the table in a timely fashion.

The first few pages make for some fun reading. Isa includes her must have tools and gadgets such as a good quality blender and immersion blender. Her favourite simple tools include a solid wooden cutting board and a proper chef’s knife. She stresses the importance of stocking your pantry correctly and we like that she categorizes her spices that she uses all the time versus just some of the time. She provides simple ways to organize your pantry in a non fuss type of way. We like her “Vegan Butchery” section, designed to teach you how to correctly cube and triangle vegan protein options such as tofu and tempeh with easy to read pictures and steps. The rest of the cookbook is organized into interesting sections of food such as “Handheld” – including different types of burgers, “Sunday night suppers”, which are comfort meals and “Bowls”, such as a hummus bowl, spinach burrito bowl, etc.

So what did we try? A bunch of recipes! When one recipe turns out great, you feel like trying more and more and there are lots of great reviews online which is always a plus.  We gave her Pesto Cauliflower Soup, Tofu Mushroom Stragonoff, and Malai Kofta a whirl and were pleasantly surprised with each meal. Isa makes vegan cooking seem delicious and instead of reverting back to soy for every meal, as one might imagine vegan cooking to be, she makes it versatile using different things like cashews, tempeh and of course lots of tofu.

As with any cookbook, there are just a few points that we weren’t thrilled at. Perhaps Isa touched on this in her other cookbooks, but we wanted to know what drove her to become vegan. Was it allergy related? Did she grow up eating only vegan? Not sure, but we would have liked to hear the story. Also in her special tools section, she describes a must have tool as a thin metal spatula. We would love to see what this spatula actually looks like! Finally, while we enjoyed the recipes that contained cashews for a creamy base, anybody with a nut allergy might find it hard to work with.

“Isa does it” is an easy light read that is also charmingly witty and humourous. We sense a “punk rock” side to Isa that might be different from any other cook you encounter and the number of recipes we made that actually turned out have us experimenting with Meatless Mondays. Although we can’t say we would go full throttle Vegan, Isa might just open your eyes to the possibilities of flavor, ease and the simplicity of cooking and baking for your loved ones.

Here is a favourite from the cookbook:

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi, Beans and Greens

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This creamy soup just become a summer time staple in your home.  It is full of rich pesto flavour, a creamy (cauliflower base!) sauce, dotted with white beans, soft pillowy gnocchi and healthy greens! Not to mention it comes together very easily and you might even clean out your fridge and pantry as a result.  Enjoy, it’s a good one!

Makes 4-6 servings

Taken from Isa Does it

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head cauliflower (about a pound), leaves removed, cut into florettes
4 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
Big pinch dried thyme
Lots of fresh black pepper
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, plus a little extra for garnish
8 oz frozen gnocchi, partially thawed (leave on the counter for 30 minutes or so)
1 15 oz can navy beans, rinsed and drained
1 small bunch swiss chard, stems discarded, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

Preheat a 4 quart stock pot over medium heat. Saute garlic in olive oil for about a minute, being careful not to let it burn. Add cauliflower, 3 cups of broth (alert! only 3 of the cups! you’ll be adding the last cup in a bit), salt, thyme and several dashes fresh black pepper. Cover pot and bring to a boil, stirring every now and again for about 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is tender.

Vigorously mix together the final cup of broth and the arrowroot until dissolved. Lower heat a bit so that the soup is at a slow boil. Mix in the broth/arrowroot and cook uncovered for another 5 minutes until slightly thickened. stirring often. Add the basil leaves, and remove from heat. Use a immersion blender to puree until smooth. Taste for salt and seasoning.

Return to the stove over medium heat and add the gnocchi, cover and let cook for 3 minutes or so. Add the greens and beans and cook until greens are completely wilted and beans are heated through, about 5 more minutes. Be careful as you stir not to crush the gnocchi or beans. Serve garnished with extra basil and pine nuts, if you like.

Seared Shrimp with Pasta

‎”This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”Julia Child

This is a great meal to share with someone special.  If you are getting tired of a traditional cream or marinara sauce with pasta, try this sauce for a lighter alternative.  It comes together in about 15 minutes and it’s a fun one to cook together! Tasty Kitchen Blog stresses the importance of first drying your shrimp (or scallops) really well before searing – this is the only way to ensure a nice golden crust.

Taken from Tasty Kitchen Blog

Serves 2

4 oz pasta (we used multigrain)
10 large shrimp, peeled and deveined (or scallops)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato minced
1 cup white wine, beer, or chicken stock
3 tbsp parsley, minced
half a lemon, squeezed
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta in salted water per the instructions on the box. Drain and set aside.

In the meantime, prep all the ingredients and have them at the ready nearby. For the shrimp, use a couple of layers of paper towels and pat very dry. Move the shrimp to a clean sheet of paper towel and pat dry once more. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Heat a large frying pan or saute pan over high heat. When hot, swirl in the olive oil. Add the shrimp to the pan, not touching. Give each shrimp ample room so that they can sear properly. Cook for 2 minutes then flip and cook for another 1-2 minutes until cooked through. Remove to a plate.

Turn the heat to low. Add the butter and the garlic. Saute for just 10 seconds and then add the tomatoes.

Turn the heat to high and add in the white wine (or beer or vegetable stock). Let it bubble a bit for 30 seconds and use your spatula to scrape up the bits in the pan. Season with salt and pepper (go light on the salt … remember your pasta is lightly salted now), throw in the parsley and then add in your cooked pasta. Stir well to let the sauce coat the pasta. Serve with the shrimp and parmesan cheese.

 

The Spiralizer Lets You Enjoy “Pasta” Once Again – A Kitchen Tool Review

At first glance, the spiralizer just looks like a basic white plastic machine. However, for those of you on restricted diets such as low carb, paleo, or gluten free, this kitchen appliance is a savior! It allows you to once again enjoy those starchy favourites – without all the heaviness.  “Pasta” with Bolognese is possible…this time with zucchini noodles.  This nifty gadget works just like a pencil sharpener.  It comes with three blades and allows you to turn raw vegetables into long noodle like strands of varying thickness.  Spiralize firm raw vegetables into angel hair thin pasta or a thicker spaghetti width, and enjoy steamed or as is with your favourite sauce. You can also turn an average salad into something extra special by easily spiralizing produce into ribbons or slices of artistic goodness.

Not only is the spiralizer easy to use, it’s easy to clean up.  A simple rinse of the attached parts, and you’re good to go. Watch those blades when you are washing though…they are incredibly sharp!

If you think you are only going to use this machine sometimes, then you might not want to shell out the cash. While not super expensive, it still retails for about $49.99 on Amazon.  The suction cups on the bottom have to be secured well to the counter otherwise the spiralizer wobbles around too much. Keep in mind that it can only slice solid, firm vegetables such as carrots, apples, and squash.

If you want a healthier, low carb version of your favourite pasta or noodle dish, this tool will surely satisfy your cravings.  There are some amazing blogs out there as well that churn out a range of carb-less, nutritious and decadent looking dishes.  Allessandra at Inspiralized, for example, dedicates her website solely to creating the most amazing ways that you can use this kitchen gadget.

We spiralized some zucchini and threw it atop Ina Garten’s Baked Shrimp Scampi.  This recipe is one of our favourites using the spiralizer.

Baked Shrimp Scampi atop Spiralized Zucchini Noodles

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.” – Bubba, from Forest Gump

zuchinni pasta with shrimp
Fresh and flavourful baked shrimp…

The possibilities are endless when you make Ina’s Shrimp Scampi.  The shrimp are buttery and succulent and every mouthful is pure joy! Enjoy as a party appetizer or over your favourite pasta for a special dinner.  In this case, we used fresh zucchini noodles.  Using your spiralizer makes it easy to create long ribbons of zucchini “pasta” which can be lightly steamed before serving.

Taken from Ina Garten’s Shrimp Scampi 

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds (12 to 15 per pound) shrimp in the shell
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/4 cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra-large egg yolk
2/3 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1-teaspoon pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter and garlic mixture.

In a small bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, 1/2-teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until combined.

Starting from the outer edge of a 14-inch oval gratin dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down with the tails curling up and towards the centre of the dish. Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp. Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until hot and bubbly. If you like the top browned, place under a broiler for 1 minute. Serve with lemon wedges over sprialized zucchini noodles.

Maple Dijon Pork Chops

“You can never put too much pork in your mouth as far as I’m concerned” – Lewis Black

Need a new way to bring a boring piece of pork chop to life? Pull out your slow cooker and you’ll be amazed at what can be accomplished! Pork chops are first seared and then dumped into your slow cooker along with a maple syrup infused glaze.  Serve something green on the side and dinner is served!

Taken from  Eat, Live, Run

2 servings

2 large bone-in pork chops
1 large onion, chopped
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Heat up the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When hot, add the pork chops and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Sear both sides of chops over high heat (about 2 minutes per side) then transfer to your Crock Pot.

Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions. Cook until onions are just starting to soften then add the cider vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 more minutes and then pour sauce over chops in the slow cooker.

Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve chops drizzled generously with sauce.

Thinking of Purchasing a Le Creuset Dutch Oven? A Kitchen Tool Review

Do you want to know which tool we think is the prettiest and most useful kitchen tool we own? If you guessed that beautiful enameled French Dutch oven, Le Creuset, then you are right! Le Creuset is the one kitchen vessel we gravitate towards on a daily basis more often than any other.

We consider this beautiful Dutch oven best suited for making braises, soups, stews, and even homemade bread! We love the fact that it so easily transitions from your stovetop to oven. You will rarely find yourself in a predicament where everything has stuck to the bottom because it allows for even heat distribution. Its coating with enamel is a testament to its durability. This technology allows you to brown very easily, which is so necessary for flavor production when making stews or braising. Every cook likes an appliance that cleans up easy. Your Le Creuset Dutch oven just requires hot soap and water!

Once again, this essential piece of cookware comes with a hefty price tag. Some might complain about the weight of the pot, however we feel it be a sign of its strength and durability. Other consumers happen to prefer brands such as the Staub for its design and lid handle. Of course, there are so many affordable brands out there as well, from Mario Batali to Martha Stewart. Although reviewers say they tend to discolor and chip faster, so be sure to do your research to determine where they are made. Ultimately, our Dutch oven is proudly displayed on our stovetop, getting multiple uses throughout the day, and we wouldn’t think to have it any other way!

Here’s a fabulous dish you can make today using your Dutch Oven:

Beef Short Ribs

“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” -W.C. Fields

There really is nothing better than a one pot dish that warms your soul.  This recipe is not only a great low carb entree, it’s also perfect for entertaining. The slow braising in the oven is key here as it allows the meat to simply fall right off the bone.

beef short ribs
Braised to perfection…

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Beef Short Ribs

Serves 6

6 beef short ribs, trimmed of fat
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 leek, cleaned and large-diced white part only
1 1/2 cups chopped onion (2 onions)
4 cups large-diced celery (6 large stalks)
2 carrots, peeled and large-diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups of dry red wine
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Fresh thyme sprigs
6 cups beef stock

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the short ribs on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven and add the leek, onion, celery and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and wine, bring to a boil and cook over high heat until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.  Tie the rosemary and thyme together with kitchen twine and add to the pot.

Place the roasted ribs on top of the vegetables in the Dutch oven and add the beef stock.  Bring to a simmer over high heat.  Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 2 hours or until the meat is very tender.

Carefully remove the short ribs from the pot and set aside.  Discard the herbs and skim the excess fat.  Cook the vegetables and sauce over medium heat for 20 minutes, until reduced.  Put the ribs back into the pot and heat through.  Serve with the vegetables and sauce.

Baked Halibut Fish Sticks with Green Beans & Sweet Potato

“Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll sit in a boat with a fishing pole and drink beer all day.” – Lorena McCourtney, ‘Invisible’ 

These baked halibut fish sticks are easy to prepare, tasty, and a much better alternative from your usual boxed frozen fish.  The veggies are simple and complement the meal perfectly.  Round it out with a homemade creamy and flavourful tarter sauce and it’s a meal the whole family is sure to enjoy.

Taken from Tyler Florence’s Start Fresh

Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp buttermilk
1 pound skinless halibut fillet, cut into 1-inch wide fingers
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 sweet potato sliced thin
1/2 green beans
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup mayonaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tbsp sweet pickle relish
1 tbsp capers, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine potatoes and green beans in bowl and drizzle with the oil. Toss to coat thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Arrange vegetables at one end of baking sheet and put in oven while preparing fish (or about 5 minutes).

Pour 1/2 cup of the buttermilk into a large bowl. Add the halibut pieces and turn to coat. In another bowl, stir together panko, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Dredge each fish finger in bread crumbs to coat completely, remove pan from oven and arrange fish at other end of the baking sheet.

Bake, turning once, until fish fingers are golden, and potatoes are cooked through, about 12 minutes.

Stir together the mayonnaise, sour cream, relish, capers, and parsley until well blended. Thin with the remaining 2 tablespoons buttermilk and season with salt and pepper.

 

Hearty Turkey Meatball Stragonoff

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf

Dine well at home with this hearty and nutritious dish.  Tyler Florence’s Turkey Meatball Stroganoff is a wonderful dish for your little ones as well as the adults at the table.  We have added green peas to get in some vegetables.  As well, we recommend making a double portion of the sauce so that the noodles remain sufficiently saucy.  If you don’t typically use caraway seeds in your cooking, think about picking up a small portion from your neighbourhood bulk store, the flavor really does make a difference.

Taken from Tyler Florence’s book Start Fresh 

Makes 4 to 6 adult servings or 8 kid servings 

1 slice multigrain bread
1 ½ lb turkey, ground
2 tbsp milk
½ medium onion, minced
½ tsp caraway seeds, crushed
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces white or cremini mushroons, thinly sliced
2 sprigs of thyme
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
2 tsp corn starch
1/3 cup sour cream
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup green peas
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Cooked egg noodles or pasta of your choice.

Remove the crust from the bread slice and tear the bread into small pieces.  In a large bowl, mix the turkey together with the bread, milk, onion, caraway seeds, and salt until just combined (do not overmix meatballs).  With wet hands, shape the turkey mixture into about eighteen 1 ½-inch meatballs.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the meatballs and cook, turning often, until browned, 5 to 7 minutes.  Transfer the meatballs to a plate.  Alternatively, you can cook the meatballs in a 375°F oven for 15-18 minutes, turning once.

Add the garlic to the same skillet and cook over medium heat for a minute or two.  Add the mushrooms and thyme and continue to cook, turning often, until the mushrooms are golden.  Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat.  Stir in the chicken stock and cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.  In a small bowl, take out 2 tbsp of the sauce and stir in the corn starch.   Add back to the skillet and continue stirring.

Whisk in the sour cream and mustard until smooth, then return the meatballs to the pan, along with the green peas.  Turn to coat with the sauce and let them simmer for 3 minutes to heat the meatballs  through.

Spoon the meatballs and sauce over noodles and serve garnished with the parsley.

Crowd Pleasing Low-Carb Lasagna

“Once again, my life has been saved by the miracle of lasagna” -Garfield

Missing your favourite Italian food while on a low carb diet? Search no further. In this eggplant lasagna recipe, you won’t even miss the pasta. Slices of thick eggplant are layered between a cheesy ricotta mixture and a hearty meaty sauce – making this lasagna a sure crowd pleaser.

Serves 4

1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise 3/4-inch thick (8 slices)
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for baking dish
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
2 cups of your favourite marinara sauce
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese

 Preheat oven to 350°F.
 
Brush the eggplant with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven until tender, for about 15-20 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.  Add the ground beef and brown well until cooked through.  Stir in the marinara sauce and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer, uncovered, over medium low heat for about 15 minutes, until thickened.
 
In a large bowl mix together the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.
 
Brush a 9 x 12- in rectangular baking dish with oil and begin layering the lasagna as follows: sauce, eggplant, ricotta mixture, sauce.  Continue with the remaining eggplant, ricotta mixture, and finally the sauce.  Sprinkle with the mozzarella.
 
Bake until bubbly, about 30-40 minutes.

Coconut Chicken Biryani

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” -Harriet van Horne


We love hearty, one-pot meal options here at Scratch is Better.  This biryani is an over-the-top coconut infused one-pot wonder. The rice cooks away in a rich silky broth and is topped at the end with toasted coconut and chopped almonds for added texture!

Adapted from www.bbcgoodfood.com

Serves 4-6

1 ½ cups basmati rice, washed and drained
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp ginger, finely minced
1 tbsp garlic, finely minced
3 chicken breasts, cubed
1 large carrot, chopped
1 cup green peas
1-2 green chilis, split
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp garam masala
1 ½ cup coconut milk (small can)
1 cup homemade vegetable or chicken stock
¾ cup raisins
pinch of saffron threads
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
3 bay leaves
3 cinnamon sticks
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
½ cup almonds, chopped
½ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
Fresh lime wedges and plain yogurt for serving.

Place a cast iron pot over medium heat and add coconut oil. Once melted, add cumin seeds and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add onions, garlic, ginger and carrots. Cook for 5 minutes. Add rice and stir until it has toasted slightly. Add the turmeric, garam masala, salt and pepper. If you need, add a few tablespoons of stock to loosen bits from the pot. Once the rice has toasted slightly (about 1 minute), add the coconut milk and stock. Add chicken, raisins, bay leaves, saffron threads and cinnamon sticks. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the biryani to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and allow the biryani to cook for 18-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast coconut by placing it on a sheet pan and broiling it at 450° F for 3-5 minutes in your oven. It only takes a few minutes!

Garnish the biryani sliced almonds, cilantro and toasted coconut. Serve with fresh lime wedges and plain yogurt at the table.