All posts by Mardi Michels

Mardi Michels is a full-time elementary school French teacher, cookery teacher, food and travel writer, recipe developer and the author of eatlivetravelwrite.com. A full-time francophile, she and her husband operate a vacation rental home in Southwest France. Her first cookbook, In the French Kitchen with Kids (Appetite by Random House,) was released on July 31, 2018. The follow-up book, French Food for Everyone will be released chapter-by-chapter starting with Le Goûter (after school snacks) on September 1st 2021.
squash-risotto-in-pot

No-Stir Baked Risotto with Chicken, Mushrooms & Squash Was Made For Weeknights

There’s nothing I love more than a home-cooked meal at the end of the workday. But spending a lot of time in the kitchen isn’t exactly what you’re looking for after a long day. What to do then? Comfort food for cold weather without all the fuss. Can it be done? I say, yes! Risotto, for example, is one of my favourite comfort foods, but many people are put off the idea of making this for a weeknight meal, placing it firmly in the category of Too Time-Consuming.  All that stirring and the need to stand by the stove the entire time it cooks is off-putting. The good news is that this recipe, while not the risotto of a purist, will change your mind.

Risotto on a weeknight is made doable when it’s oven-baked. There are a few minutes’ prep at the start (even easier if you have pre-chopped squash on hand), but the bulk of the work is done in the oven, leaving you around 30 minutes to prepare a salad, or just relax before dinner is on the table. I’ve chosen chicken and mushrooms to go with the classic fall flavour of squash, though this is a very flexible recipe and lends itself to many different interpretations. Once you’ve oven-baked one risotto, you’ll be a convert.

Squash Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Serves: 6 

Ingredients
Roasted Squash
1/2 butternut or red kuri squash, peeled and seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme or Herbes de Provence
1/8 tsp flaky sea salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Baked Risotto
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 clove garlic, minced
500 g boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
1-1/2cups white mushrooms, finely sliced
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups warm chicken stock, more as needed
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, stems discarded
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 cup grated fresh Parmesan
Fresh thyme leaves
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season

Directions

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Roasted Squash:

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper and spread the squash pieces over the tray evenly. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with thyme or Herbes de Provence, salt and pepper and toss to combine.
3. Bake for 15 minutes, or until your risotto is ready to go in the oven, whatever’s fastest, until squash is just starting to get tender. The squash will go back in the oven alongside the risotto and will finish cooking at the same time.

Baked Risotto:
1. Heat oil in a large ovenproof dish or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it’s just starting to get soft (remove from heat if garlic is browning).
2. Add chicken pieces and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until beginning to brown. Mix in rice and stir to combine until the rice is glossy and coated in oil.
3. Add wine and cook until evaporated, 2 to 3 minutes, then add stock and thyme. Stir well.
4. Bring mixture to the boil, then cover, remove from the heat and place in the oven. Bake risotto in same oven as tray of squash for 25 minutes.

Baked Risotto

Serving:
1. Remove risotto and tray of roasted squash from the oven. If the risotto is looking a little dry, add up to 1/2 cup of warm chicken stock (you may need less), stirring until it’s no longer dry. To the risotto, stir in the Parmesan and lemon zest, followed by half of the roasted squash, stirring carefully (so it doesn’t, well, get squashed!)
2. Serve the risotto immediately, topped with remaining roasted squash, salt, pepper and fresh thyme leaves.

Keep the effortless Italian theme going and serve up this arugula and radicchio salad on the side.

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Cornbread Chili Pot Pie

Two Comfort Foods, One Glorious Cornbread Chili Pot Pie

Chilly weather calls for chili, and chili calls for cornbread. But doesn’t chilly weather also call for pie? Like a pot pie? Well, how about combining these three classic comfort foods into one with a cornbread-topped chili pot pie? It makes the ultimate in cold-weather comfort food, even better. You could even make the chili on its own, enjoy it one night and make the pot pie the next night – cook once, eat twice! 

Cornbread Chili Pot Pie

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients:
Chili
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb stewing beef cubes
2 small onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium  tomatoes, chopped
2 cups beef stock
4 Tbsp tomato paste
1 to 2 Tbsp chili powder, to taste
1 (540 mL) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Cornbread Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup corn kernels, drained if canned

Note: Chili Powder is a mix of chili pepper and other spices like garlic, cumin and oregano, not pure chili pepper

Directions:
Chili:
1. In a large pot or large Dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil over medium heat. Cook the ground beef completely and drain on a paper towel-lined plate, about 10 minutes. Next, cook the stewing beef until just browned and drain on another paper towel-lined plate, about 5 minutes.
2. Heat remaining 2 Tbsp of oil in same pot (no need to clean) over medium heat, and cook onions until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.
3. Add drained ground beef and stewing beef back to pot and stir to combine with onion mixture. Cook on medium-high heat until the beef is evenly browned, about 5 minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, stock and tomato paste and combine well, followed by chili powder. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add the beans and continue to simmer, uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Spread cooked chili evenly into a deep ovenproof baking dish with a capacity of 4 cups (1 quart). Set aside while you prepare the cornbread topping.

Cornbread Chili Pot Pie

Cornbread Topping:
1. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the milk, eggs and melted butter. Gently stir in the corn kernels.
3. Add the milk and corn mixture to the flour mixture and stir until dry ingredients are just incorporated.
4. Working quickly, spread the cornbread batter over top of the chili, trying to make the batter reach the edges.
5. Bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the bread comes out clean. Scoop into bowls and serve.

Cornbread Chili Pot Pie

We’ve also got the vegetarians covered with our top 10 hearty meat-free chili recipes.

halloween-porch-party-pumpkins

How to Host a Spooktacular Halloween Porch Party

Growing up in Australia, we didn’t celebrate Halloween. No jack o’lanterns, costumes or going door-to-door collecting candy from neighbours.

Now that I’m teaching at an elementary school in Canada, the growing excitement of Halloween is impossible to avoid, with kids planning their costumes weeks in advance of the big night. Living in a neighbourhood filled with families, it’s fun to see their creative costumes and hand out treats to all the little ghouls and goblins. These days, we make an evening of it – setting ourselves up on the front porch with snacks, drinks and dinner and play host to condo-dwelling friends who don’t have trick or treaters. It’s become an annual event that’s a fun, no-fuss way celebrate Halloween, enjoy time with friends and catch up with neighbours without leaving your front porch! Over the past decade, we’ve got the hosting of this porch party down to a fine art. If you’d like to throw your own front-porch soiree, here are our best tips for a spooktacular evening outside.

Spooky eye bark recipe

The Treats

Arguably the most important part. If you have the willpower buy treats earlier rather than later, you’ll get a better selection. Don’t leave it until 5 p.m. on Halloween night because often by then, stores are sold out or won’t have the treats you want.  Buy treats with the “nut free” symbol on it so they are safe for everyone.

Plan your treats accordingly –  if you’re ok with a few leftovers (i.e. you haven’t already been eating treat-sized candy for weeks!) buy candy you enjoy.  The best way to avoid leftovers is to buy the right amount of treats – if you’re unsure, ask neighbours how many they typically hand out on Hallowe’en.

If you have guests joining your porch party, have them bring some treats too (make sure they buy something different so you have a good selection).

And hey – if you’ve got leftover candy, you can always make this cute candy bark.

Check the Weather and be Prepared

Sometimes, Halloween evening can be pretty chilly, especially after the sun goes down. Make sure you are dressed properly (layers work well here) and have gloves handy. Make sure you have comfortable cushions and lots of blankets for your porch party guests too.

chli-lime-pumpkin-seeds

Don’t Forget the Snacks

If you’re trying to avoid eating the candy before you hand it out (and while you wait for dinner to heat up), make some snackable items in advance. Since you’ll probably be carving your pumpkin anyway, save the seeds and make this spicy lime version.

And popcorn is always a good idea.

alberta-beef-stew

Don’t Forget to Eat Dinner!

If you’re not careful, Halloween dinner might end up being just treats and snacks but if you plan in advance, it can be the highlight of the night. As I rarely make it home before 5 p.m. and by this stage, many of the younger kids have already started trick or treating, there’s no time to prep dinner.  With a little planning, you can prepare a hearty dish that’s easy to reheat in the oven when you get home (or in the slow cooker in the morning) and serve family style on the porch.

A bowl of chili on a chilly night is always a good idea. This one tastes even better the next day so prep it the night before for an easy meal on the night.

Soup is a tasty way to stay warm. How about this hearty winter minestrone? Beef stew (made in the slow cooker) takes the fuss out of dinner in between trick-or-treaters. And lasagna is an easy dish to make the day before so all you have to do is pop it in the oven to warm up while you hand out the treats!

These are all great choices to feed a crowd and are easy to prepare in advance. That way you can pop them in the oven to reheat while you get started handing out treats!

slow-cooker-mulled-wine

Thirsty?

It’s always a good idea to have a selection of beverages (hot and cold, alcoholic and non-alcoholic) to serve your guests (and hey, the parents who accompany their kids trick or treating!). On cold evenings, a big slow cooker filled with mulled wine hits the spot! Remember paper cups for those parents who are taking their warm drinks along with them.

What about you – what are your Halloween evening traditions?