Sunday, 22 September 2013

Lecsó Hungarian-inspired Tomato-Peppers Stew

September 2013

SmartCooks here.  Tomato season is definitely over, for me at least.  I picked them all from my little vegetable plot.  I also got some from the neighbours who were overrun by produce from a half-acre plot they planted for the first time, courtesy of one of their parents.  

It also inspired me to try a Hungarian tomato and peppers dish, called Lecsó for the first time.  Details below.  

It was a perfect weekend for something warm and cozy. It is crazy, weather-wise.  I've alternated from running the air conditioner then switching it to the furnace, all in the space of hours, and from pouring rain to sunshine (the getting off the Queensway because I can't see a thing kindof rain).  

A grumble ... Driving in Ottawa is a full-on series of obstacle courses.  Between the weather, all minor and major road construction (like the Light Rail Transport) and, to add to it, the road closures this weekend for the annual 5 km and half-marathon Army Runs... not fun. 

Himself has to navigate this hellish version of the city every day! (e.g., look at Slater Street from my office building).  Lucky for Himself he's headed for the UK to visit his daughter, Ilya who is there for a year's sabbatical at the London School of Economics. For himself, it's a first sampling of life across the ocean.  About time!  I promised him snow upon his return ... kidding ... I hope.  

Driving rain and hard driving conditions didn't deter my determination to do a rocking Saturday afternoon BodyAttack class in deepest darkest west end Kanata.  I made it to a crowded class, where the instructor commented he had been seeing me in a lot of classes these days.  Given that I can barely move from stiffness today, he must be seeing my double as I'm a weekend warrior at best in this life, much to my eternal chagrin.  

Lecho (Lecsó)

I had enough energy to take on a recipe called 'Lecho', or Lecsó, (pronounced 'LETCH-oh'). It's originally an Hungarian thick vegetable dish, featuring tomatoes, peppers, onion, lard, sugar, salt, and ground paprika as a base recipe. The onions and peppers are supposed to be sauteed in lard or bacon fat but I changed this to sunflower oil. I also omitted the sugar and used mustard instead.  Some recipes call for sausage, like Hungarian or Polish; others add tomatoes and eggs.  One recipe even suggested adding peeled eggplant,  which I will try next time.  

Lecho is considered a traditional food in Hungarian, Czeck, Slovak, and Polish cuisine.  It is also very common in Austria and Israel.   It is not well known in North America at least in circles I've ever been in but a surplus of tomatoes and the purchase of two or three types of Hungarian paprika made it the perfect dish for me.

First, the tomato sauce ...

I followed the super simple version of tomato sauce on the Smitten Kitchen website entitled "Naked tomato sauce. To play around as little as possible". 

First, I scored an 'x' in the bottom of the tomatoes as per the picture at top, then blanched and cooled them quickly to remove the skins.  

After that, I cut the tomatoes in half, scooped out the seeds over a bowl to capture the liquid and cooked the tomatoes on medium low for 30-45 minutes, adding some of the reserved juice when it got a little dry looking.

After it cooled, I froze the cooked sauce in freezer bags for the winter months and can jazz it up at that point.  The sauce (already done in my case) was the starting point for the dish. 

Lesco Ingredients:

1 lb of various peppers (yellow, green, red peppers; if, more heat is desired, mix in jalapenos or other chilies
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 red onions
3 green or yellow zucchini,   quartered
2 cups tomato sauce (or more depending on thickness of sauce)
3T Worcestershire sauce
4T Hungarian or sweet paprika 
1/3 cup Dutch or German mustard 
Pepper and Kosher salt 
Sunflower oil


Put sunflower oil in a large skillet or heavy pan to cover the bottom generously.  Add onion and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sausage (if using), garlic and peppers and cook another 5-7 minutes, until fragrant. 

Add tomato sauce, rest of ingredients and mix to combine.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove lid and cook another 5-10 minutes to thicken the sauce, if needed.


Monday, 2 September 2013

Whole Food, Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

September 1, 2013

SmartCooks here.

Last of the zucchini recipes for the season. Honestly.  

I'm still swimming in zucchini and having a great time cooking it all up.  I'm coping with my little 1m x 2m vegetable plot but I wouldn't want to be working and have it any larger.  At least not while I'm working at the kinds of jobs I'm doing.  

Yesterday, the next door neighbour called me over.  She, husband and 2 kids had just arrived home from their 'small' 1/2 acre of vegetables.  For the second weekend in a row, they are drowning in fresh produce.  

She took a week off work last week (lucky!) to do a LOT of cooking and canning from last weekend's offering.  But she is going back to work Tuesday and is still faced with a new mountain of fresh produce as the picture (right) shows. The kids want to set up tables at the end of the driveway and give it to passersby.  

I offered to help with the tomatoes and cook them some fresh tomato sauce to freeze.  More on that next post.  


Since the Wheatberry store on Main Street closed about a year ago, I've been lost in terms of what kind of flour to buy, and where to find it.  

My pick at Wheatberry was always Red Fifte Wheat, an Ontario, locally grown, organic whole-grain flour.  I had ditched the 'bleached' flours of my childhood for these more traditional and wholesome products. And the baked goods were delicious.  

I haven't had time to do a lot of searching for another Red Fife outlet.  In the U.S., bloggers rave about King Arthur Flour for cooking breads and the like, but it is not to be found in Canada.  So I'm making do with whatever until I find an accessible spot (just try driving anywhere in this city these days .... the construction is ridiculous!), with a flour I want to try.  Till then, it's supermarket unbleached stuff.  

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

Today's recipe is Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins, compliments of Whole Foods Market.  I adapted the recipe with various substitutes I had on hand, e.g., half coconut oil and half unsweetened applesauce.  

They can be frozen and thawed overnight before eating.  Enjoy! 

Whole Food, Whole-Wheat Zucchini Muffins


3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 T cinnamon
1.5 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil (or half coconut oil, half unsweetened applesauce)
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts (i used walnuts but almonds, pecans or even pistachios would be great)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F for muffins tins or 325 degrees F for large loaf pan.  Blend the dry ingredients.

Make a well (or hole) in the center and pour in the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla. Stir just until mixed – do not overmix.

Fold in the grated zucchini and chopped nuts, if using.

Pour batter into greased loaf pan(s) or muffin holders and bake until a toothpick comes clean in the top/center of the loaf or muffin tins.

Muffins take about 15-20 minutes.  If using smaller pans bake for 30-40 minutes.  For larger loaf pan bake for 50-60 minutes.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Zucchini Egg Muffin Breakfasts

August 2013

SmartCooks here.  

It's the end of August here in Ottawa, with an abundance of zucchini and tomatoes in the garden. All is well (look at the lovely flowers at right given to me by one of our next door neighbours!).  

But I'm soooo busy work-wise.  I've been on my own this month with a new Minister and Minister's Office.  They made the obligatory trek to Charlottetown HQ, so I was the ring master of policy briefings, videoconference addresses to 1,000 staff, demos of new technologies to speed up decisions for veterans and follow-ups galore.

The Clerk also visited Charlottetown HQ doing consultations on the future shape of the public service so another videoconference hook up across the country.  I'm not complaining but it a myth that summer months are quiet -- in all my years of public service I've never found that.  August in particular is just plain nuts.

All to say that I'm keeping up with the Ottawa garden bounty, but just barely.  I tell myself that I chose to do this knowing what life would likely throw at me but I am still determined to try and achieve some minimal balance between work and not-work. The garden, cooking, researching, and blogging helps me keep a grip on life as I hope to know it someday post public service. 

This week it's zucchini cornucopia in my house.  Seriously who would thought a small 1m x 2m piece of land could give 30 plus massive zucchinis and still some are flowering.  Thanks to the recipe ideas I received from FB friends, I've experimented with zucchini muffins galore (do NOT use cake and pastry flour... it did NOT work on one batch), cute zucchini loafs made with this little loaf pan I found at Home Hardware (see left), zucchini fritters (the same recipe I used from Smitten Kitchen two years ago watching Jack Layton's funeral ... see blog entry), zucchini pasta and on and on and on...

My favourite breakfast fare right now is zucchini and egg white muffins.

I had trouble finding the exact recipe as I wanted the perfect combo of zucchini, vegeys and egg whites. 

The closest recipe I found was from Oxygen magazine, and it was picked up and copied on many food blogs such as Eat Yourself Skinny

The Oxygen version includes carrot, and I didn't have any on hand, so I used more zucchini and threw in some leftover asparagus spears (not pictured). It was all good, basically you need a mix of vegeys to fill the muffin tins 3/4s full.  So experiment with your favourites.   

Anyway, here's my version.  At 50-60 calories each, it's a delicious, healthy breakfast.  I made many, all now nicely frozen in my freezer.  I take out two at night to defrost in the frig or, yes, zap 'em on reheat in the a.m. and they're ready to go.  


Breakfast Zucchini Egg Muffins 


14 egg whites 
4 whole eggs
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 red pepper, minced
1 cup zucchini, shredded
Other veyegs, like asparagus, spinach or carrot (optional) 
1/2 tsp basil
1/4 tsp oregano
Sea salt and pepper 


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Coat muffin loaf pan or tin with spray.  

Combine veggies in a large bowl and fill each muffin tin about 2/3 full.  

Whisk eggs and seasonings and then use a measuring cup or large spoon to fill each muffin loaf or tin to the top.

Bake muffins for 30 minutes until they've risen and are slightly browned (this depends on type of muffin pan being used so watch closely).