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These recipes are quick to prepare and impressive to serve so you’ll spend less time in the kitchen over the holidays

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These interesting and relatively easy dinners for your family or for entertaining require a minimum of fuss and deliver maximum appeal. For even more simplicity, buy the dessert instead of making it.


Dinner 1: Vegetarian

Goat Cheese Biscuits

Makes about 9 biscuits

Serve these plain as a nibble before dinner or spread with tapenade. They are excellent with a salad, too. If not vegetarian, add a few chopped anchovies in with the flour. These keep for a few days or can be frozen, and the recipe is easy to double.

  • ½ cup flour
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add flour to food processor or combine by hand. Dice butter and add. Crumble goat cheese and add into processor. Pulse food processor until everything is combined and looks like coarse bread crumbs.

Place in bowl and combine into a ball. Chill 30 minutes. Roll out into a rectangle about ¼-inch (5 mm) thick. Cut 3-inch (7.5 cm.) rounds and place on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Cool on a rack.

Slow-cooked Chickpeas with Spicy Peppers and Arugula

Serves 4 to 6

These chickpeas are rich, spicy and delicious. The recipe calls for four different types of peppers, which gives depth to the taste, but feel free to use whatever you can find. You may also substitute the hot peppers with one to two teaspoons of cayenne depending on your heat tolerance.

While it doesn’t produce the same flavour, the cayenne will give this dish a real kick. Bitter and peppery, the arugula adds a fine contrast to the heat. Canned, rinsed chickpeas are an easy substitute. Just add to the pepper mixture and continue the recipe.

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in cold water
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red pepper, ribs removed and cut in ½-inch dice
  • 1 poblano pepper, ribs removed and cut in ½-inch dice
  • 1 long red chili pepper, seeded and cut in ¼-inch dice
  • 1 banana pepper, seeded and cut in ¼-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoons chili flakes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Arugula salad

  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

To serve

Four to 6 ½-inch thick slices sourdough baguette, toasted

Drain chickpeas and rinse after soaking overnight. Combine with fresh water, tomatoes, parsley and thyme in a pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and slowly simmer, covered, for 1 to 1½ hours or until chickpeas are tender. Drain and set aside, reserving liquid separately.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add red, poblano, red chili and banana peppers and sauté for three to four minutes or until softened. Alternatively, add the red pepper and the cayenne and sauté one minute. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook until garlic is lightly browned, about one minute more.

Add chickpeas and sauté for two to three minutes or until chickpeas are coated with oil and have absorbed the flavour of the peppers. Pour in two cups reserved cooking liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until liquid is thickened but still saucy. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss arugula with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Place toast on plates. Spoon over chickpeas and peppers. Top with arugula salad or serve on the side.

Lemon Cream

Serves 4

So easy and delicious, this has been my go-to dessert when I don’t feel like cooking. The recipe was originally developed by my friend Annabel Langbein, a television cook and author in New Zealand.

Lemon Cream

  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • ¼ cup lemon juice

Topping

  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Combine cream, sugar and butter in small pot and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for three minutes. Stir in lemon rind and juice. Pour mixture into four one-cup ramekins and chill until set. Combine blueberries and sugar and top the lemon cream.

Dinner 2: Fish

Seared Tuna with Japanese Noodles

Serves 4

I like this best when the tuna is very rare, but cook it to your preference, grilling if desired. Mirin is sweet Japanese cooking wine, and is usually called aji mirin. The mirin available in grocery stores has very low alcohol and more sugar, but is perfectly acceptable. Wasabi is hot but fragrant Japanese horseradish that comes either powdered or reconstituted in a tube. Udon noodles are a fat white flour noodle available dried and sometimes fresh. Try health food stores or East Asian grocery stores to purchase. Substitute equal amounts of horseradish and mustard for wasabi, spaghettini for the noodles

  • 12 ounces udon noodles
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 4 shiitake mushrooms, slivered
  • 1 small bunch guy Lan (Japanese broccoli) or broccolini, trimmed and sliced into 2-inch pieces

Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons mirin or sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 green onions, slivered
  • 4 1″ thick tuna steaks
  • Freshly ground pepper and salt

Wasabi Cream

  • 1 tablespoon prepared wasabi or to taste
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream

Cook noodles in boiling water until al dente. Using tongs, remove into a bowl then add guy Lan into water and blanch one to two minutes or until crisp tender. Drain well.

In large fry pan over high heat add one tablespoon oil. Add ginger, mushrooms and guy Lan and sauté until softened, about two minutes. Stir in mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and green onions. Toss with noodles. Keep warm.

Heat remaining one tablespoon oil in non-stick skillet. Add tuna and cook two minutes per side for rare or desired degree of doneness

Divide noodles between four serving dishes. Thinly slice tuna and place on top. Mix wasabi with mayonnaise and cream. Thin with a few drops of hot water if too thick. Place in squeeze bottle and streak plates and tuna with mixture to decorate. Alternatively drizzle on tuna with a teaspoon.

Smashed Cucumber Salad

Smashing cucumbers gets rid of the water so they better absorb the dressing.

  • 1 long seedless cucumber
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • ¼ cup chopped green onion

Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Place flesh side down on a board. Smash with a cleaver or the back of a pot until it breaks in a few places. Place in a colander to allow any liquid to drip. Mix together soy, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, ginger and green onion.

Place cucumber on a bowl or platter and toss with the dressing.

Instant Chocolate Mousse

Serves 4

A quick very rich chocolate mousse that looks exceptional served in espresso cups.

  • 8 ounces (250 grams) of 70 per cent chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla essence

Break up chocolate and place in a heavy pot with the coffee and cream. On low heat, slowly melt chocolate, stirring until the mixture is smooth.

Stir in egg and vanilla and continue to stir together until mixture is slightly thickened, about two minutes. Pour into four individual serving dishes and top with a chocolate-coated coffee bean. Refrigerate for two hours.

Dinner 3: Shrimp and orzo

Grilled Bread with Roasted Garlic and Mushroom Salad

Serves 4

An earthy appetizer. Use regular mushrooms if that is what is available, but the wild ones add extra flavour.

  • 4 slices to 6 slices baguette
  • ¼ cup roasted garlic butter or regular garlic butter (recipe below)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 12 ounces mixed mushrooms, including shiitake, oyster, cremini (brown)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch arugula or 2 cups packed baby arugula
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cut bread into four ½-inch (1 cm.) slices on the diagonal. Toast or grill slices. Spread with garlic butter.

Heat olive oil in skillet on high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are golden and tender, about four minutes. Stir in parsley, salt and pepper. Add balsamic, bring to boil and remove from heat.

Place arugula on four plates and top with garlic toasts. Spoon over mushrooms. Add a sprinkling of extra virgin olive oil and season to taste. Serve warm.

How to roast garlic

To roast garlic, place whole heads with the tops removed on foil, sprinkle each head with olive oil, close foil and bake at 400 F for 45 minutes.

Unwrap and squeeze garlic out of skins.

Sautéed Shrimp Mediterranean Style

Serves 4

A full flavoured Mediterranean dish that would be equally at home in Greece or Sicily. Serve over the orzo with feta for a perfect match, or serve with rice, pasta or couscous but add some feta into whatever you choose. Although the recipe calls for lots of garlic, the slices are treated like a vegetable and sautéed until softened and golden. They have a much milder flavour this way. Italian San Marzano canned tomatoes, if available, are the best for this dish.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ cup sliced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon seeded and sliced jalapeno pepper
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 2 cups seeded chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

Heat oil in large skillet on low heat. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook for three minutes or until slightly softened and garlic just begins to colour.

Raise heat to high, add shrimp and sauté until shrimp are just beginning to turn pink, about one to two minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and reserve. Stir in wine and tomatoes, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until sauce is reduced and tasty. Season with salt and pepper. Return shrimp and reheat. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve at once.

Orzo with Feta

Serves 4

A creamy side dish that sets off the shrimp flawlessly. Using cream makes it a very luxurious dish, but replacing it with pasta cooking water will keep the calories down while giving flavour.

  • 2 cups orzo
  • ½ cup pasta cooking water or whipping cream
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • Freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add orzo and boil until al dente, about five minutes. Drain well reserving ½ cup cooking water.

Add feta into orzo along with water and stir until sauce is creamy. Sprinkle over pepper to taste. Serve with shrimp.

Butter Pecan Bars

Makes about 20 bars

Omit the pecans and you have butter tart squares, Easy to make with all the flavour you expect from a good butter tart.

Base

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup softened butter

Filling

  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup corn or maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Grease an eight-inch square cake pan. Combine flour, sugar and butter in food processor and process until mixture is crumbly. Press into base of prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly coloured. Remove from oven.

Beat eggs until foamy. Beat in sugar and flour. Stir in butter, corn syrup, vinegar, vanilla, salt and pecans.

Pour mixture into the partially baked base and bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown on top and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and cut into rectangles.

Dinner 4: Chicken and couscous

Watercress Apple and Zucchini Soup

Serves 4 to 6

A peppery, sweet combination that spikes the palate and is a good way to use extra zucchini. Serve hot or cold. Use a tart apple like Granny Smith or a slightly sweeter one like Pink Lady depending on your own taste.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 large Spy apple, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups chopped zucchini
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cups watercress leaves
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Chili oil, optional

Heat butter in a pot over medium heat. Add onion and apple and sauté for five minutes or until soft but not brown.

Stir in zucchini and sauté for one minute. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes or until zucchini is tender.

Add watercress leaves and simmer for five minutes longer or until leaves are limp. Cool slightly, then puree in a food processor or blender. Return to pot and add cream. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with extra watercress leaves and a few drips of chili oil.

Chicken Tagine with Cracked Green Olives

Serves 4 to 6

A tagine is a pottery cooking pot with a domed lid. Moroccans use them to bake slow-cooked dishes. If you buy one, bake in a regular dish and transfer it to the tagine for serving because, the lead content in Moroccan-made versions can be dicey. Make ahead and reheat when needed, and for a lower fat dish, remove skin from chicken. Use Hungarian or Spanish paprika vs. the hot variety. Buy preserved lemons in a jar (usually found in gourmet shops) or make an instant one yourself by simmering three or four slices of lemon covered in water and seasoned with two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon sugar. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the slices are limp. Remove lemon pith and slice up skin.

Seasoning mixture

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon saffron, crushed, optional

Chicken

  • 8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken pieces cut in two
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1 cup chicken stock or water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ cup cracked green olives
  • 1 tablespoon preserved lemon, slivered

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine spices and reserve. Season chicken with salt, pepper and one tablespoon seasoning mixture.

Heat oil in large skillet on medium high heat. Add chicken pieces and sauté three minutes per side or until golden. Remove.

Stir in onions and sauté about three minutes or until softened. Stir in garlic and cook one minute longer. Add spice mixture and herbs, then stock and lemon juice. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium low, return chicken to pan, cover, place in oven and simmer 10 minutes. Remove cover and continue to cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Add olives and preserved lemon for final five minutes of cooking.

Serve over couscous.

Vegetable Couscous

Serves 4

This is a good side dish with lamb chops or fish, or serve as a vegetarian main by increasing the chickpeas to one cup. Use the “instant” couscous, which takes five minutes to prepare, available at grocery stores.

  • ½ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • ½ cup carrots, finely chopped
  • ½ cup zucchini, finely chopped
  • ½ cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups chicken stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • Salt to taste
  • 1½ cups dried couscous

Combine chickpeas, carrots, zucchini, onions and olive oil in a pot. Add stock, parsley, paprika, chili flakes and salt to taste. Bring to boil and sprinkle in couscous. Stir around, cover and remove from heat. Let sit five minutes, uncover and stir again. Re-season if needed

Roasted Pears with Pomegranate Sabayon

Serves 4

To peel a pomegranate, cut the top crown off the fruit. Score the skin in quarters and bend back each quarter. Scoop the seeds into a bowl. One pomegranate yields about ¾ cup seeds and ½ cup juice. The seeds can be frozen, if not needed. To obtain juice, squeeze as much out of the pomegranate as you can then add the seeds to a blender and blend until pulpy. Press through a sieve.

Roasting pears gives them a buttery flavour and sugary crunch. Use any sweet wine instead of the Italian sweet wine, vino santo, if desired. Late harvest Riesling works well too, or sherry. You can also use all pomegranate juice. Adding the pomegranate seeds gives a crunch to the sabayon.

  • 4 pears, peeled, cored and halved
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup brown sugar

Sabayon

  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup vino santo or other sweet wine
  • ¼ cup pomegranate juice
  • ½ cup pomegranate seeds with their juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Place pears in baking dish. Dot with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender. Remove pears with slotted to serving plates. Reserve any pan juices.

Place eggs and sugar in heavy pot. Over low heat, whisk together until thickened, about five minutes. Whisk in vino santo and any pomegranate juice and continue whisking until mixture triples in volume, about one to two minutes. Stir in pomegranate seeds. Spoon over pears.