Quiche-y spinach strata

You’ll need: a day-old baguette or other crusty bread, ~6 eggs, ~1/2 cup milk (not skim for best results), a large package of frozen spinach (16oz preferable to 10oz), shredded cheddar or other cheese, bacon bits (optional), mustard (optional).

1. In a large measuring cup or mixing bowl, make the custard by whisking together the eggs and milk with a large, generous pinch (about a teaspoonful) of salt, lots of pepper, and a glob of mustard.
2. Cut the bread into cubes of ~1.5cm. Dunk into the custard and ensure that all the pieces are coated. (You can leave the custard-drenched bread in the fridge for up to several hours if you like, to make sure it soaks up all the liquid.)
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F.
4. Add about half of the bread chunks to a greased baking dish lined with parchment paper. Use a fork to press the bread down to form a denser, more even layer. Add a thin layer of cheese over the bread.
5. Next, prepare the spinach by thawing it in the microwave (a 16oz package should take about 2-3mins to warm up) and then squeezing out ALL the water. Place the dried spinach in a thick layer on top of the cheese. It may look like you have too much spinach, but use it all as it will wilt down even further as it cooks. Season the spinach with some salt. Add the bacon bits and another thin layer of cheese on top.
6. Finally, layer the remaining custardy bread on top. Compress with a fork again, and finish with a final thin layer of cheese. Bake for 40-45min or until the custard is set and the top is crispy and golden.

Chickpea curry

Aromatics: chop onion, garlic, ginger, and fry in oil.
Spices: add curry powder (or paste), paprika, cumin, and tomato paste to the pan.
Cans: add a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of coconut milk (or less if you want it less fatty; can also substitute with cream), and a drained can of chickpeas to the pan.
Finish: with salt and pepper, a bunch of chopped fresh coriander, and lime juice and zest.

Based on this recipe.

Cuban-style canned black beans and rice

Based on this recipe. Pros: delicious and rich-tasting, very little prep time and prep-related mess, one-pan if using pre-cooked rice; cons: long simmering time, pan needs soaking, everything smells fragrant for hours later including yourself.

Ingredients: 2 cans of black beans in their canning liquid, cooked rice, an onion, fresh garlic, green bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, fresh cilantro, spices (cumin, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper).  (Makes 2-3 servings.)

Heat olive oil in a large pan with high sides. Quarter the onion and fry on low heat. Smash and peel 6-8 fat cloves of garlic and add to the pan. Seed and cut the bell pepper into quarters or thick slices and add to the pan. Finally, break the stems off a large bunch of cilantro, wash thoroughly, dry, and add to the pan. Add cumin, paprika, and dried oregano and fry until fragrant.

Open the cans of beans and add the canning liquid to the pan. If necessary, add enough water to cover the vegetables, or until the mixture is fairly thin (more like a soup than a thick stew). Simmer gently for about 15mins. Then, when the liquid has begun to reduce, add the beans. Simmer further until you reach the desired consistency, about 15mins. In the last several minutes of cooking, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the seeded jalapeno pepper, tasting every few minutes or so, and removing when you reach the desired spice level.

When the beans are done, remove the cilantro stems and discard. You may also discard the onion, pepper, and garlic, though I prefer to leave them in, with the tender garlic cloves mashed and mixed into the beans. Serve over cooked rice. (The original recipe recommends serving with half an avocado, but I find the beans rich enough that surprisingly the dish really doesn’t need it. In fact, I prefer to serve this with something fresh, like chopped cilantro leaves, a wedge of lime, or fresh tomatoes.)

Perfect ham and pea pasta

Cook a handful of farfalle or any short pasta in quite generously salted water, according to package directions (you don’t need too much pasta in the recipe, as the peas will make up the bulk). When finished, drain more or less and set aside (don’t drain too completely dry, as the remaining pasta water will help thin the sauce).

Dry the pan and warm up some olive oil. Add sliced scallions and minced garlic. Then slice two pieces of ham into strips, and fry until caramelised. When the ham and garlic are browned, add frozen peas and cook until defrosted. Finally, add a tablespoonful of jarred alfredo sauce, add the pasta, and stir. Season generously with pepper, and with fresh or dry herbs to taste (mint, parsley, Italian seasoning, etc).

Quinoa, zucchini, and pistachio salad

A four-ingredient version of this recipe (quinoa, zucchini, pistachios, greens).

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.
2. Preheat oven to 425 F. Slice zucchini into fairly thick, half-centimetre rounds, and set out on a baking tray lightly misted with cooking spray. Bake for 10-12mins on each side or until caramelised.
3. When cooled, toss the zucchini and quinoa together with pistachios for protein; and with sliced scallions, chopped parsley, or spinach for something green. Serve warm or cold.
(4. You could also add: lemon zest and juice to taste; feta; leftover chicken; roasted chickpeas; asparagus; peas.)

Kidney bean and brown rice bowl

An attempt to expand my canned bean repertoire, based on this five-ingredient recipe.

1. Slice one onion and caramelise. Set aside.
2. Deglaze the pan with a small splash of wine or broth, and toss drained dark red kidney beans in to coat in the flavourful liquid. Set aside.
3. Toast walnuts or pecans in the pan.
4. Combine all the ingredients and set aside to cool. When cooled, mix in goat cheese or feta crumbles.
5. Serve with brown rice, tri-colour quinoa, or on a bed of arugula.

Sweet orange vegetable soup

Quick, cheap and versatile soup based on this recipe.

1. Dice one onion and one or two carrots. Add to a pot with warmed olive oil, along with minced garlic and herbs and seasonings (thyme, paprika, cumin, curry powder, etc). Cook on medium/low until softened.

2. Meanwhile, cut two sweet potatoes and about half a butternut squash into chunks. Add to the pot and add enough stock or broth to cover (about one full carton). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer while covered, until the vegetables start to break down and have thickened the soup (about half an hour).

3. Serve: over brown rice; with crusty bread; with a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese; with wilted spinach or arugula; with white or black beans.

Pantry orecchiette

This dish is an even simpler version of this one-pan orecchiette recipe, and it cooks in about ten minutes, and mostly in the microwave.

Ingredients: orecchiette; sliced black olives, from a jar; chunky marinara sauce, from a jar; sausage crumbles, from the freezer; chickpeas from a can.

Cook the orecchiette in generously salted water according to packet instructions.
Meanwhile, heat frozen sausage crumbles in your microwaveable serving bowl until lukewarm (1-2min).
Then add the sliced olives, chickpeas, and sauce, and stir well. When the pasta is almost done, heat the mixture in the microwave until it’s warm (~1-2min).
Finally, drain the pasta well and add to the dish while still hot.
Optional: top with grated parmesan, or stir in crumbled feta cheese, baby arugula (which should wilt slightly in the heat), or fresh or dry herbs.

Perfect black bean salad

I have made uninspired southwest-style black bean salads before, but I’ve recently learnt a few tricks and now this is my favourite, easy, portable, high-protein high-veg lunch. Said tricks are: 1) don’t!! leave out the dressing, and season it generously; 2) use supersweet corn, and use frozen not canned, because the texture’s much crisper; and 3) take the time to rinse and dry the black beans thoroughly so things don’t get soggy. I also use orange bell peppers instead of red (an idea cribbed from this version of the dish) because I’m vain enough to care how my food looks and it makes no sense aesthetically to have red tomatoes as well as red peppers in the same dish.

This recipe makes about 3-4 servings.

For the salad, combine:
1 large orange bell pepper, diced into medium-small pieces;
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, quartered (about half or two-thirds of a small carton);
1 can black beans, rinsed, drained, and dried well;
About the same amount of frozen supersweet corn, mostly thawed;
1 large avocado, cubed (add last, after dressing and tossing rest of salad).

For the dressing, combine: juice of half a lime, about the same amount of extra virgin olive oil, two heaping teaspoons of minced garlic, large pinch salt, and lots of pepper, cumin, dried cilantro, and dried parsley.