Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Festive Timeout

More posts coming soon! please come back in a couple of days once the (cocoa and cinnamon) dust has settled from the holidays.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Delightful Decadence

Apparently there is a big event happening in about 2 weeks time that has everyone in a tizzle and it involves a lot of eating and drinking....sounds like it might catch on. I'm in.
I've been making a lot of savory foods the past few weeks, I don't make a lot of desserts for 2 reasons:
1)Most desserts worth eating contain eggs, cream, or both. Not on my eatable list.
2)I will probably eat all of anything I do make, especially if it's chocolate based.

But despite this, every year, Ms P and I get together for our traditional baking/cookie date just before Christmas where we make several things which then get distributed to various friends, co-workers etc as, of course, any true foodie loves giving foodie gifts. We do this as we listen to cheesy Christmas music. It's the essential ingredient, besides love of course, which goes into everything I make.

This year I chose 3 recipes. All chocolate based. No co-incidence. I actually had most of the ingredients handy, except funnily enough, the chocolate. Chocolate generally does not last long in my house. All of the recipes were "no bake" and I had never made any of them before either but they seemed simple and decadent.

Dark Chocolate Cashew Fruit Clusters
(recipe from Thriftyfoods.com Click here for direct link))
350g dark Belgian Chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup unsalted roasted cashews
1 cup dried cranberries

Melt chocolate in a heat proof bowl over simmering water. Stir and heat until just melted. Remove from heat and add cashews and cranberries. Drop heaping tablespoons onto parchment lined baking sheets, ensuring they don't touch, and refrigerate until set. Store in air tight container at room temperature. If stacking, separate layers with parchment paper.

I made a double batch and used 1 cup cashews and 1 cup almonds. You could use milk or white chocolate or try other nuts and dried fruits. Pretty much anything goes.
Oh, and they are delicious and it's pretty hard to stop at one. You've been warned. I am not responsible for any chocolate cluster overdosing that may result from this post.

Spicy Cocoa & Cinnamon Dusted Almonds

(Recipe from GLOW magazine, Holiday 2010 edition)

2 tbsp cocoa, sifted
4 tsp icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional for you softies out there)
170g whole natural almonds

Mix all dry ingredients together ( I did not feel the need to sift them and nothing bad happened). Add almonds and toss to coat. I tasted them at this point and added extra cinnamon and cayenne. Remove to bowl,shaking off excess powder. They will keep well stored in an airtight container for up to a week.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

(Click here for link to Canadian Living Website)

8oz oz semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup cup whipping cream
1/4 cup cup butter, cubed
1 tbsp tbsp vanilla
8 oz semisweet chocolate or bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I rolled mine in cocoa powder)

Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. In saucepan, heat cream with butter just until butter melts and bubbles form around edge of pan. Pour over chocolate; whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Using melon baller or teaspoon, drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (5 mL) onto 2 waxed paper-lined baking sheets. Gently roll each to round off completely. Freeze until hard, about 1 hour. (Make-ahead: Cover and freeze for up to 1 day.)

Coating: In heatproof bowl set over saucepan of hot (not boiling) water, melt half of the chocolate, stirring. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Remove 1 pan of the truffles from freezer; using 2 forks, dip each into chocolate, tapping forks on edge of bowl to remove excess. Return to waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until coating is hardened, about 2 hours.

In clean bowl, repeat with remaining chocolate and truffles. (Make-ahead: Layer between waxed paper in airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.) Place in paper candy cups.

These are ULTRA decadent. I made mine quite big and found that even 1/2 a truffle was enough. I didn't follow the recipe exactly. I did the melting part and then let it set. Then I made the balls and rolled them in cocoa rather than in the melted chocolate. They are still amazing. I bought some small metallic truffle cases to put them in so they looked all pretty...they are now in the freezer and the only thing I found hard was rolling them into balls as they started to melt. I had to then lick the chocolate off my hands when done. Such hardship I endure for the sake of my foodie art.

Stick to your ribs Pulled Pork

Last time I checked it was still Fall outside. No sign of Summer so I am embracing my slow cooker to the max. I am also very busy with work, seasonal social gatherings and starting my triathlon training for a race I hope to do in early March. Not that far away but I feel I have a strong enough base coming off my recent 10k race and the Fall netball season. The only area I am lacking in, actually non-existent in, is the swimming. I will be starting that this week. I am not looking forward to the swim part of the race but I’m pretty sure it will be a whole lot easier if I try to get in the pool and train a couple of times a week. Anyway, getting off track, my point was that I am very busy and so planning meals is very important if I want to stay energized, healthy and away from my no-go foods.
I’ve wanted to try pulled pork in the slow cooker for a while but wondered if it would indeed come out as soft and melt-in-your-mouth tender as it does when pit roasted for days on end. I pulled out a recipe which seemed way to basic to be a hit but I thought it best to start with the basics. I literally bought a joint of boneless pork shoulder and put in the slow cooker. No spices, no liquids, no oils. Just a hunk of raw meat. The recipe said to slow cook it for 12 hours. Perfect, I had a mammoth day of tasks and errands ahead of me so I’d be out of the house for that long and likely famished when I did get home.
I was right and how awesome it was to walk in the door and smell dinner already cooked. I looked in the pot and sure enough it was cooked and lots of liquid had come out in the process. I poked the joint and wasn’t sure what to expect. It was perfect. The meat pulled away at a feather touch of the fork and conveniently fell into my mouth. Delicious and perfectly cooked. For part 2 of the recipe I had to take out the meat, pour away the liquid and then shred the pork. Easier said than done. The pork was so tender that I couldn’t get it out without it falling apart, despite the string casing holding it together. This is already a success! I shredded the meat using about 10% of my muscle power and then returned it to the pot and stirred in some BBQ sauce (1 14oz bottle...store bought-busted!), a chopped onion, 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
It went back on High for 1 hour but I’m pretty sure it would have tasted phenomenal at that point without the additional melding time. Anything remotely edible would have tasted phenomenal at that point. I was starving and being tortured by the dish evolving before my eyes. I spent the hour catching up on emails, paperwork and doing the dishes so that when I did tuck in to dinner finally, I would be able to fall into a food coma state without having to drag myself up afterwards to do all that stuff.
The resultant concoction was worth waiting 13 hours for…a perfect meal for a perfectly hectic day that never seemed to end. And I have enough for several lunches and to share with some work peeps too. Not bad for a total cost of $22 for meat and BBQ sauce.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stroganoff.... but not as we know it

Tonight I got home at 7pm after being out all day and all I knew was that I had some cooked chicken from the weekend roast and I was hungry. I looked in the fridge and saw a bag of mushrooms that I had bought for a dish I must have planned but not gotten to, some fresh spinach and not a lot else of use. Except condiments, lots of condiments, and in particular...grainy mustard. Bingo! I could transform the chicken into a delicious, nutritious dinner in mere minutes!
I sliced the mushrooms, pan fried them with some garlic and oil and then added the cooked chicken to heat through. I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of grainy mustard and then added 160ml (super convenient mini-can from London Drugs) of coconut milk but all you non-lactose intolerant lucky peeps out there can add double cream instead. I heated it through and then it was done. I wilted the spinach with some garlic and served the chicken concoction and spinach with it. It was delicious and rich and very satisfying to my hunger. And I have leftovers. Not technically a stroganoff as there was no beef, or cream in it, but it was a healthy, tasty, allergen free version that scored big on taste. That is a success in my book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Slow and Low

The current sub-zero weather is perfect for a weekend holed up in the cave (my suite-very few windows but very cosy) cooking comfort food. And cook I did! Friday was the slow cooker lamb curry which turned out good but not exactly how I wanted it. Still, it was physically and mentally warming to come home to a ready made pot of meat, sauce and spice. I had a plan for the weekend. It mainly involved food. I was going to make 2 things...soup and a then roast a chicken... in the slow cooker. The soup was simple, the Maple Roast Parsnip Soup I had previously made and devoured. An obvious choice for the weather. This time I threw in a sweet potato...I know, I know...livin' on the edge. It turned out great and I had enough for 6 portions so lunch for the week is taken care of with a spare for the freezer.
Why I am wanting to roast a whole chicken in the slow cooker? To see what happens! I looked up online if this was possible and of course it is. I was curious to see what happens to the texture and flavour when slowly cooked. The online blogs and recipes promised moist, flavourful meat falling off the bone. The only downside (or not if you are trying to be ultra healthy) is that the skin doesn't crisp up. I could get over that though. I rubbed some olive oil over the chicken and sprinkled on dried rosemary, sage, sea salt and pepper. Inside I put half an onion, half a lemon and a couple of garlic cloves which is my usual standard method for roasting chickens.
Then I put it in the slow cooker on high for 5 hours.

It went white but was hard to tell if it was cooked. I used a thermometer to check and it was 195F...well above the required 180F for food safety. Yay, I'm not going to get sick. Safe to say it was done like,well...dinner. I was warned to use 2 sturdy spatulas to remove the chicken as it would likely fall apart so I was prepared and armed. Mission successful, it remained in one piece. The thought went through my head, "why was that so easy?". Was this really a disaster and the chicken is going to deflate when I pierce it as seen in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation or be so rubbery and chewy I'll be able to bounce it off the floor? All my fears melted away when I went to pull off a leg and the bone literally slid out like a hot knife through butter, but in reverse. The bone was so clean I couldn't believe it. As I started to pull the chicken apart, it was so easy and moist...this would be a good option for the less dexterous out there or those who are a danger to themselves, the roast and others when carving. You know who you are. Anyway, certainly slow cooking passed the test in this department. Now for taste. The chicken was moist and flavourful. The taste was not as rich as when roasted but that is in part due to the skin not cooking and thus not releasing lots of fat into the roast...another benefit for those looking to but some calories. Some juices do come out into the slow cooker but it's nowhere near as greasy or oily as an oven roast, despite the olive oil I added. I anti-carved (minus a knife) the chicken, took a portion for myself for dinner and put the rest in a tupperware container for later use in the week. All in all a success and definitely recommended for minimal input and attention required. How nice to come how to roast chicken after being at work all day or being out on the slopes all weekend? You don't have to wait 2 hours for it to cook once you are home and you can leave it unattended so you can get out and enjoy your day. As long as you can get over the lack of crispy, oily goodness from the skin, this could be a staple in your weekly meal plan. Now all I have to do is decide how to use almost a whole chicken over the next few days. Suggestions?
Next on my list of things you wouldn't associate with a slow cooker is Chocolate Chip Cookies. Yes you read that right :-)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ethnic Experimentation

As promised, almost 1 week to the day, I am, as we speak, cooking the curry recipe with the substitution of lamb instead of chicken. AND I informed my landlords of my cooking intention. AND I put the slow cooker outside. AND I used a different potato (red skinned vs baker) in the hopes of the potato melding more with the body of the curry. Is that even a legitimate description? The body of the curry?. It does seem to take on a persona of it's own. A legitimate being...maybe even celestial? I'll know by 6:30am tomorrow when I venture outside to reclaim my crockpot from the elements. Hopefully the "warming" function accounts for 0 degrees and the dampness of west coast winters. If not, I'll expect to find rare lamb with raw potatoes and a curry sauce base that's just itching for 8 hours of cooking at extremely low temps. I'll probably still take it for lunch though in true foodist style.
I ended up using bone-in lamb steaks. The grocery store had that or a butt roast joint. I had talked at length with a co-worker and fellow foodie, C-A, earlier and she knew her lamb cuts. She suggested shoulder for this dish. And it had to be from New Zealand. Australian lamb is apparently more mutton-y. And I just made a new word up. I could not determine the origin of my steaks but they had the bone in, looked solid enough for the job and were, in my opinion, looking mighty appetising, even in their clingwrap enclosed, styrofoam infused raw-ness. Can you go wrong with lamb at all, though? Even if you overcook it, it's rich flavour and, well, general richness will endure the most inexperienced of wannabe chef's lack of knowledge and experience.
Anyway,I digress, I made the base curry sauce as the recipe dictated. Again I was reminded how good this would be for a base stove top curry. That's next on the list. I never measure amounts with spices,despite the recipe "suggestions". I know which spices are overbearing, subtle or fireworks in your mouth and so I usually use a combination of two foodist techniques...guesstimation and " just throw it in, it'll taste great, recipes are just a guide, right?".

It all smelled amazing once everything was in one pan. I texted my landlords living above and put the extractor fan on, just as a precaution. Curry sauce was made, I assembled the dish and then respectfully placed it outside to cook at low heat for about 8 hours. I will awake tomorrow to a snow scene with a crock pot in the middle....Heaven!
Check back in a few days for the review of the lamb experiment...hopefully minus eviction due to excessive crock pot usage.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Curry not in a hurry

Since the last posting, it has well and truly turned from Fall-ish to Fall/Winter-ish. I did manage to successfully wear flip flops for 3 hours last weekend which was impressive and apparently blog worthy. It's November!!!
There have been some stunning days showcasing the vibrant leaves and snow-capped mountains and some equally dismal, damp days that are now noticeably shorter. That coupled with the time change making it dark before 5pm, means it's time to get out the slow cooker/crock pot.
I got mine a couple of years ago and have had several very successful meals from it, once I got over the fear of burning the house down by leaving it on and unattended for 8-10 hours.
On one particularly chilly, wet day, I went to the library after work and picked up a book called "The Gourmet Slow Cooker:Simple and Sophisticated Meals from around the World". Sounds perfect. I got home, thumbed through it looking at the pictures and a quick skim of ingredients to ensure the dishes were manageable, within my existing pantry for the most part, with the addition of only a few bits and pieces from the grocery store.
I settled on a curry recipe and the ingredients were simple, I needed to make a spice blend but I have a coffee grinder which I use for that sort of thing. I had most of the ingredients bar the protein, cloves and serrano chiles. I got all the ingredients and the plan was to make up the dish the night before and then put it in the fridge ready for cooking as I left for work the following morning. I would then come home to a delicious meal at the end of a busy week.
Well, it didn't quite go to plan as I ran on of time the night before but, with previous crock pot creations, it was just a case of throwing everything in and putting the lid on. I had neglected one key step thus far. To read the recipe and method. A cardinal sin that a true foodist (Thank you DMA for the new designation) should know better than to make. Clearly I am not worthy of the foodist tag by making such juvenile errors. But I won't dwell on the negative...You live, you learn and it makes for an interesting post/story. I did this as I went to bed late Thursday and discovered that there was a good 30 minutes of cooking/prep time required. I set the alarm for 6am and hoped it would be worth it. So picture this, it's 6am, the kitchen is in full swing with hot pans, appliances going, extractor fan on. I'm chopping onions and my eyes are burning as I haven't yet put my contact lenses in (fun fact, wearing contact lenses protects your eyes from onion tears). I'm in my work clothes (fitness gear) and realise part way through that was not a good idea as I now smell of onions, not a great aroma to have on the gym at 8am, 9am, 10am, 11am..the whole day basically. I think my hair and skin were permeated too. Awesome. The onions needed to cook down over 15 minutes and then ginger, garlic and chiles added. All very delicious and also extremely pungent. Throw in a freshly ground aromatic spice mix to a hot pan and you have some serious cooking going on. Again, I'll remind you that it is not yet 6:30am.
It did smell amazing though and looked it too. The base for the sauce could easily be used for a quick curry too as it was rich and thick...and clearly full of flavour.
I put the chicken in the slow cooker. I chose bone-in thighs and chicken breast. I poured on the sauce, put the lid on and set it for 8 hours on low. I left my house on time, albeit with a distinct aroma I could only hope would fade during the day or at the very least be appreciated by fellow foodists.
Still a little paranoid about leaving something cooking unattended, I did my best to put the fear out of my head and think about the amazing dish I would be walking in to that night. all was well until I received a text from my landlords (who live above me) asking me "did you leave something cooking this morning?". UH-OH!! Was the smoke detector going off? Was the place on fire? Thoughts raced through my mind...I texted back immediately to inform them of the curry and to check what the problem was. Apparently the aromatic nature of the curry and prep had been so significant that the smell had rapidly permeated through to upstairs. UH-OH. If it smells that strongly in their suite, that they had to text me, then what on earth was my suite going to be like? I'm going to have to fumigate, wash all my clothes, sleep outside in a tent. Would it be like a skunking? overwhelming and loitering in closet corners and fabrics for weeks on end?
My landlords suggested we move the offending slow cooker outside. I agreed and told them to go in to the suite and do what was needed. I had visions of driving home from work later and getting a whiff 3 blocks away. Again, I hoped the resultant dish was worth it. I opened the lid and WOW...it looked amazing, and smelled amazing yet not overpowering. The sauce was rich, intense and, even if I do say so myself, restaurant worthy. The chicken was so tender it was falling off the bone and merging with the sauce before my eyes. I served myself a portion immediately and any former memories of onion infused clothing, panics about burning the house down and potentially cooking myself out of my tenancy agreement were gone the moment the first forkful hit my tastebuds. This is the best curry I've ever made. Definitely a keeper and one for the blog.
Here is the recipe:


seeds from 2 black cardamon pods
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
4 or 5 whole cloves
5 to 6 black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
2 green serrano chiles, seeded and minced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 chicken cut into serving pieces, skinned
chopped cilantro for garnish

1) Combine cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, coriander and cumin in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder.
2)Heat a large saucepan over med heat. Add the oil and then the onions. Saute, stirring frequently for 10-15 mins until browned. Add garlic, ginger and chiles and stir for 1-2 mins.
3)Add spice mixture, turmeric, cayenne and salt and stir for 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook for 5-6 mins until some of the liquid has evaporated (The sauce at this point could make an awesome curry base if you don't have time for the slow cooker. Just add some browned protein and let simmer to meld flavours)
4) Arrange chicken in slow cooker and pour sauce over. cook on low for 3-8 hours until chicken is tender.

I added to the recipe with some bite sized potato chunks and 1/2 cup water. I find the starch in the potato thickens the sauce naturally and potato in curry is just a wonderful combo in general.

Leftovers were plentiful and shared with selected foodists. I will probably make this again next weekend with lamb and see what magic happens. I'll take photos this time, you may even be able to smell it through the images. I should also check out the rest of the book, if this meal was anything to go by, there could be many more posts to follow.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Burger Queens

Loyal followers, if you exist at all, will see that it's been, well, a while since my last post. I blame Mexico, I went there for a week, had no electronic interaction for 7 days and while I quickly got back to email and interweb stuff, the blog didn't quite seamlessly resume as planned. I also haven't cooked much of interest worth posting.
My vegetable patch seems to be coming to the end of it's life, for this year anyway. The fragrant, oh-so-fresh basil has wilted away in the cold night air, the cucumbers have stalled in their growth and look like fake ones lying on the soil and the carrots remain very orange but also very stumpy. I'm losing hope of any additional Fall harvests.
Tonight though, I have a blog worthy creation to blog about. The recipe had been in an inconspicuous pamphlet in my office since sometime in 2009 and I finally took it home a couple of weeks ago with the intention of cooking some recipes. As of 8am this morning, the booklet remained unopened on my coffee table where it landed an irrelevant number of days ago. I had made plans with Ms MJ to come over and visit tonight and we would figure out something to eat and go buy groceries from the new Thrifty Foods that opened near my house this week. I had a few minutes to spare before heading out the door to work this morning so I glanced at the booklet and thought one of the recipes might jump out at me and I could start thinking about it before this evening. I did so, and one recipe did jump out...salmon burgers. The ingredients were simple, fresh and allergy free for me. Decision made. I walked out of the door out to my car and looked at my watch realising that my clock at home was slow and in fact I was running late. Still, I was excited for dinner tonight, and the company too.
Ms MJ and I headed to Thrifty's which was just as wonderful as we both anticipated. Isn't this how all the cool kids spend a Friday night? We cruised the aisles searching out our favourite foods and full of anticipation of new culinary discoveries and we were not disappointed. We saw many new, exciting, enticing foods such as salmon pepperoni, freshly squeezed in-store orange juice and Wayne Gretzgy Green Tea bags. That last one was slightly random yet I still wanted to buy it.
We gathered the ingredients for the salmon burgers as well as some olives to snack on and a truffle each for dessert.
Here is the recipe for the burgers:

1 lb skinless salmon fillet, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1tbsp grated lime peel
1tbsp peeled minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1/2 tsp ground coriander
salt and pepper
fresh lime wedges

Put all ingredients, except lime wedges, in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground.
Shape in to 4 patties and either broil or grill on BBQ until just cooked, a few minutes each side.

This was such an easy recipe! We broiled them as it's not quite BBQ weather anymore and it was dark outside. And raining. And my BBQ is broken.
While they were cooking, Ms MJ prepared the soft portuguese buns for the imminent arrival of the main event. We had sliced tomatoes and spinach leaves to top the burgers with and moistened the buns with grainy mustard. We also planned to have avocado in the ensemble and had the great idea to put it on top of the burgers and warm it up under the grill as if it were cheese ( we are both lactose intolerant).
The avocado warmed nicely and took on a slight fluorescent green hue. We carefully placed the pink and green goodness in the waiting soft buns and squeezed fresh lime juice over the avocado. This turned out to be possibly the key step in the meal which added a layer of flavour so wonderful that neither of us wanted to eat or drink anything else for a considerable while after the meal as we didn't want to dilute the remaining deliciousness on our lips and tastebuds post ingestion. We were basking in the glow of our stellar creation.
We both agreed it was the best salmon burger we'd ever eaten and that all the flavours and textures combined perfectly and oh so satisfyingly. This is definitely a keeper!
We agreed we would both experiment a little more with this dish. I suggested mixing the ingredients and then leaving it for a few hours for the herbs and spices to meld more. Ms Mj suggested the addition of onions...possibly caramelised. We also both agreed that BBQ-ing the burgers would take them from amazing to legendary faster than you can say Sockeye Salmon. We dreamed about having a food cart or hole in the wall restaurant that made only these burgers, exactly as we made them the first time tonight. We would be featured on the food network or on Oprah one day but we would still never change our recipe.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kale Convert

Kale is something that has never really jumped out at me. Some people don't know what it is, others don't know what to do with it and the rest rave about it. I'm of the second variety but I am very recent convert. So recent that a few months ago, when I moved in to my new place. I pulled out the lovely big kale plant that was growing the vegetable patch in favour of tomato and basil plants. Somewhat worth it, the basil has been a big hit but the late start to summer has rendered my abundant tomato haul useless and very very green. Ah well, on talking with other amateur backyard farmers, this has been a poor year for everyone. Tomato-wise that is.
I have heard and read about kale chips frequently but never had the motivation to make them. They are extremely easy so that highlights the extent to which I was unmotivated to try them. Part of the reason is that when you look at fresh kale, it looks like it will be tasteless, woody and chewy. Not exactly a taste I'm dying to experience. However, I over-rode this completely untrue visual/taste perception and bought some kale, found a recipe (if you can call it that, it's almost as basic as peeling a banana) and committed to making some kale chips.

Kale Chips
1 bunch kale, leaves torn from stems
1-2 tbsp coconut oil (or other oil of your choice)
salt and pepper or seasonings of your choice

Wash and thoroughly dry the kale. This is crucial. If they are wet, they won't crisp up nicely.
Pre-heat oven to 350F.(This is the only temp I have tried so far but will experiment further to determine best outcome temp)
Tear the kale in to whatever size pieces you want. They will shrink up a bit with cooking.
Mix the kale with the oil to lightly coat and then season with salt and pepper if desired. I use coconut oil as I prefer the taste and texture of it to olive oil.
It's glossier and less distinctly fragrant than OO. However, it is a saturated fat so it's solid at room temperature so you will need to melt it down to liquid consistency. This takes about 20 seconds in the microwave.
Spread kale leaves in an even layer on baking sheet or 2 if required.
Place in oven and check at 5 minute intervals until crispy. They should be done within 15 mins at the most.
I discovered the hard way that kale burns very quickly so I advise staying very close to your oven the first time you cook these.

Once crisped, remove from oven, let cool and eat. So far I have made these twice and they have been very moreish and a great low cal, high taste snack. I did find that they did not stay crispy long after cooking though so will continue to experiment with this to improve the outcome. If anyone out there has any tips, please send them to this inexperienced, newly converted kale lover.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sayonara Summer

I think someone neglected to tell Mother Nature that it's technically summer for a couple more weeks. The rain the past evening and day has been relentless....heavy and straight down from the cloud to the ground..or my head, feet, face. The upside is that, in the foodie world that is my head at any given point in time, Fall means one thing, comfort food. Soups, stews, roasts, chili....bring it on!
I had a bit of a blitz in the kitchen today after a 2 hour very wet hike up Mosquito Creek. Shoes are still outside 6 hours later and rain jacket is apparently not 100% waterproof. I could not wait to get inside, into some warm dry clothes and get cooking.
I made a couple of different things which I will blog about later as they are a bit random...Kale Chips and also a non dairy cheesy dip made with nutritional yeast. It tastes better than it sounds. Check back later this week for the lowdown on these 2 vegan snacks.
The recipe I am most excited about is some soup that I literally just finished eating and felt compelled to write about ASAP.
It's from a book my mum gave me as a gift called "Soups for All Seasons" by New Covent Garden Food Co.
This isn't just a cook book, it doubles as a coffee table book. Any one that scans my cook book collection notices this book. The recipes are not your average soup recipes. The book is arranged by seasons and each one comes with a little blurb about it's origins. I'll list off some of the recipes to highlight the fabulousness of this book:
Duck and Pomegranate
Cauliflower, Mustard and Gorgonzola
Apple, Vine Tomato and Smoked Bacon
Watercress, Pear and Brie.

Carrot, Mango and Cumin

See what I mean?

Anyway, I always enjoy thumbing through this book and getting excited about soups but I needed the rainy deluge to create the perfect ambiance for soup making.
I chose a recipe that is listed under October but it's close enough weather-wise to be appropriate. The soup is Maple Roast Parsnip and here's the info:

Maple Roast Parsnip Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut lengthwise
2 tbsp maple syrup
1oz butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon plain flour ( I used Spelt flour)
1 litre chicken stock
4 tbsp double cream ( I omitted this due to dairy intolerance)
salt and freshly ground pepper


Preheat oven to 190C/375F and place olive oil in roasting dish, then heat in oven.
Steam parsnips for 6 minutes until soft
Toss steamed parsnips in the roasting dish and roast for 15 mins until starting to colour. Add the maple syrup and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until stick and caramelized.
Remove dish from oven and set aside.
Melt the butter in dutch oven and cook onions and garlic until soft. Add flour and cook for another minute.
Add the stock and parsnips, bring to boil and cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Blend until smooth and add cream and season to taste. cook gently for 2 more minutes and serve.

I basically followed the recipe as listed except I used Spelt flour and I didn't use the cream but it still tasted A-MAZ-ING. It's a really thick, creamy soup with so much flavour. I absolutely love parsnips, especially roasted. I could easily have just eaten the maple roasted parsnips as my dinner and been quite satisfied with that but I thought I should really finish the soup and I would need the parsnips for that. I did sample a couple of the most caramelised ones though.
I'll take this opportunity to share a couple of foodie tips:
1) don't put your garlic directly into an empty hot pan (with oil/butter). The garlic will burn. First put in your onion and then add the garlic.
2) when using parsnips, remember to remove the woody inner part that is found in the thicker parts of the parsnip. Any part thicker than your little finger will be too woody inside. I cut the parsnip length ways and then cut again to quarters. I then stand the pieces on end and run the knife down the middle to remove the core.

I also have to say that adding chopped onions to a hot pan is possibly one of my favourite foodie sounds ever...along with the "glug glug glug" of the first pour from a wine bottle and popping mustard seeds.

I followed the rest of the recipe and decided that some crispy bacon bits would complement the sweet maple nicely so once I had removed the parsnips from the oven, I put some bacon slices in the dish and put it back in the oven while the soup simmered. It hasn't quite crisped up by the time the soup was ready so I chopped it into small pieces and pan fried. Voila, it was as good as it sounds. This is officially my new favourite soup.
I'm having more for lunch tomorrow and will make the Apple, Vine Tomato and Smoked Bacon soup later in the week seeing as I have the majority of a pack of bacon to use up now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Tasty Tentacles

On Saturday I had the pleasure of cooking for 2 guests at my place. So far, in 5 months of living in my place, I have not entertained nearly as much I would have liked to so I'm hoping this will kick off a new phase and will become a regular occurrence. If you are a friend, or even an acquaintance, you may be getting an invite soon! I love cooking so much, but even more that that, I love cooking for other people. This is for several reasons:
-Share the love
-Learning from others about food and the way they prepare things
-I get feedback on the creations which ultimately help evolve recipes
-More hands make the washing up easier!

I had 2 dishes in mind, an appy and a main but I decided to take a risk and make a dinner party cardinal sin by attempting dishes I had not made before. However, I weighed up the risks and determined the appy was a "no-cooking involved, minimal assembly required but maximum visual and flavour impact" and the main seemed fairly straightforward too. Plus my guests are both very easy going and they both knew I was experimenting with them. I mean, the food.
Here is the menu:
Prosciutto wrapped figs

Greek Grilled Squid

I spent the day running some errands and headed over to Whole Foods to pick up most of the ingredients I needed. For the appy, I needed fresh figs which I knew Whole Foods had in stock and I have yet to see anywhere else, ever. Better still, they were on sale at almost 50% off. Sweet, literally. I already had prosciutto in the fridge and basil in the garden to garnish. I had planned to make a balsamic reduction to drizzle on top but, as frequently happens in Whole Foods, I stumbled across something that looked impossible to resist. It was a Fig Balsamic reduction...perfect. It cost $12.99 but I figured it was worth it and basically, I was dying to try it.
For the main, I needed a few generic ingredients that were not already at home(lemons, cucumber, red onion, pitted black olives, parsley) so I picked those up too. I usually wouldn't buy basics at Whole Foods as it can be expensive but I was pleasantly surprised to find the bill coming to only $33. Not bad considering the fig glaze was almost half of that. I have found that sometimes, and only sometimes, Whole Foods can be cheaper than the regular supermarkets. The key is to buy ONLY what is on sale and DO NOT get sucked in by expensive and alluring, mouthwateringly delicious, beautifully packaged creations such as fig balsamic reduction. Unless it's ON YOUR LIST and unavailable elsewhere. Or it's your birthday, or someone else's. Or any day ending in Y.

I had one more, rather important, ingredient to purchase that was available at Whole Foods but surprisingly did not look so fresh...squid. So I headed off to Seven Seas Fish Market on Lonsdale which was a good call. They had lots of squid, already cleaned, and with lots of tentacles. I got enough for 3 people and was, again, pleasantly surprised at the cost of only $6.50. So in my head (taking into account what I already had at home and that I would not be using all the balsamic sauce or all the figs) I roughly calculated that the 2 courses for 3 people would approximate $10 per head. Not too bad and both dishes look very impressive and dinner party worthy. Well, in my head anyway, seeing as I hadn't made them yet.

I got home and assembled the appy. I quartered the figs and cut the prosciutto in to thin strips. Too much meat v's fig is not good so I kept it light and delicate. I arranged them on a platter and drizzled the drizzle over top and then picked some fresh basil to garnish. This is how it looked....jewel tone juicy figs, deep sticky balsamic drizzle and a splash of green from the fresh basil.

And then came the main dish. The recipe for Greek Grilled Squid came from a magazine, I think it was Chatelaine but I can't tell as I just tore out the page and there is no mention of the magazine name on the page. I asked my guests before they came if there were any foods they disliked and they both said no but most people don't imagine that squid (plus tentacles) will be placed in front of them. I did tell them both after that, that it would be squid and one person said they had only ever had breaded calamari but were willing to try it. The other guest was game to try it too. I just hoped it came out nicely and not overcooked and rubbery.
Here is the recipe:

Greek Grilled Squid

enough squid bodies and tentacles for 3 people
5 tbsp EV Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes
salt and pepper
1 bell pepper
1 or 2 ripe tomatoes, sliced
half cucumber, sliced
1/2 can black olives
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley

Even though the squid were already cleaned, I rinsed and checked each one and pulled out some rogue quills that would have caused serious damage to the mouth if chewed. I then roughly chopped the bodies and threw them in with the tentacles to the marinade of 3tbsp olive oil, garlic, oregano, hot pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let stand for 30-60 mins. While marinating, I lightly oiled the bell pepper and quartered it and placed under the broiler (grill for UK readers) until charred. Charring tends to cause smoke and so my guests kindly stood guard by the smoke detector and wafted with the designated tea towel each of the 3 times it was set off. The pepper was charred perfectly.
I arranged the pepper, tomato and cucumber slices in a large pasta bowl and set aside. I then placed the squid on a baking tray and broiled it too (the recipe called for BBQ'ing but that was not an option) for about 10 minutes until cooked. I then transferred it to the bowl and scattered with the olives, salt and pepper and a little more lemon and olive oil. I served it with brown rice.
The verdict was a thumbs up. A tasty, fresh, light main course with a good balance of flavours and textures. I would make this again but it is definitely a summer dish so it will be a few months until I make it again.
I was pleased it turned out well and that both my guests enjoyed it, tentacles an' all. As always, I'm thinking if I would make any changes next time around and I though the addition of Tzatziki would go well and maybe some kalamata olives for a more flavourful hit that the less intense black ones.
All in all, a successful evening and I definitely have my cooking mojo back. Bring on the next gastronomic gathering!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Smokin' Salmon Season

2010 is apparently a bumper year for local Sockeye Salmon and the waterways are teeming with them. Even the most inexperienced fisher can probably hook one within a few minutes which means that the salmon available for sale in the stores is cheap, fresh and plentiful. I chose to make a new dish tonight in honour of the seasonal bonanza and picked up a big filet with a good 4-5 portions in it for $12. I wanted to make a dish which was fresh, mostly local and of course delicious so I opted for Cajun Salmon Lettuce Wraps. Here is the recipe (which I totally winged):

brush with olive oil and sprinkle with cajun seasoning and squeeze a lime over top.
Bake in oven at 350F for 15-20 minutes until just cooked.

2-3 BC vine tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
handful cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate.

I put the salmon in to cook and then made the salsa while I waited. I picked some of my homegrown lettuce from the garden for the wraps and also sliced some ripe avocado.
I put some salmon in the middle of the lettuce leaf, topped with salsa and a slice of avocado and then rolled it up. The photo shows my production line set up for this complex assembly. 3 of these was the perfect amount for me and I have lots of leftover salmon and salsa for lunch tomorrow. For those of you lucky enough to be able to consume dairy with no ill effects, you could add some cheese and/or sour cream for extra yummy-ness.

I also want to mention a fantastic place to get fresh produce from. Parkgate Farm Market. It's where Fiddlehead's Produce used to be in the Parkgate Mall off of Mount Seymour Parkway in North Van (conveniently close to my workplace). They have loads of fresh, local, high quality produce and their prices are amazing. Not quite sure how they have such low prices for a small, independent grocer but I won't complain! I picked up the following (all BC grown) stash for $5:
5 vine tomatoes
1 zucchini
1 crown broccoli
1 big bunch spinach
1 bunch kale
1 head of celery

I was pretty pleased and will definitely return there regularly. They also sell dairy, nuts, seeds, juices, local honey and best of all, chocolate.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Easy Energy Eats

I tend to eat Larabars or Vega bars 1-3 times a week as a pre workout fueling snack if I am out and about before I hit the Grouse Grind or before a netball game if it's been a couple of hours since a meal. I find my blood sugar tends to drop quite quickly and once I notice that feeling of hunger in my stomach, I know it's a pretty short time before the blood sugar drops fast. This leads to a blood pressure drop too and it's not a great feeling. I occasionally get caught out but so far this year, it's only happened once on the Grind (the one time I did not have any food with me AND someone was using me a pacer) but generally I always carry some kind of carb-y food with me in the car, my bag, on hikes etc. Larabars/Vega bars work well as they are easily digested and have only 3 or 4 ingredients, usually nuts and dates or other dried fruits. They are just the right size too at about 200 cals and not too heavy. I can have half a bar and keep exercising without getting cramps or a stitch. However, they are not cheap! Larabars at regular retail price are $2.20-$2.50 each and Vegabars are closer to the $3 mark after taxes. There are lots of recipes floating around the web/books for homemade versions of these bars and I finally committed to making some today. I took a loose recipe from another blog and tweaked it to my own making. The nice thing is that they literally take a couple of minutes as they are raw and only have ea few ingredients. I chose to use almonds as my nut, but cashews also work well apparently. The blog mentioned that the ratio of nuts to dates is best at 1:2 but I found my dates were not as soft as usual and so I added a few more and some agave nectar (you could use liquid honey) for moisture. Medjool dates are best. They are the large gooey dates that you can get at most grocery stores for about $10-$12 for a 2lb box. I sometimes find it takes me a while to get through a box as I only use 1 date in my morning smoothie but now I can use them up with this recipe! The original recipe was cashews, dates and cocoa powder. Good but I thought I could pimp it up a bit, Sally style. My latest flavour combo that I am raving about is chili and chocolate. I've been eating Lindt and Cocoa Camino spicy chocolate bars (try it, you'll be pleasantly surprised) and this inspired me to add cayenne pepper to my morning cocoa banana smoothie the past few days. So continuing the theme, I threw in some cayenne to the ball mix as well as my other favourite spice, ginger. You could add other flavours instead of these such as mint or coconut or crystallised ginger. Use your imagination, these are "no bake" treats so there are no rules here!

Spicy Cocoa Balls
1/2 cup nuts ( I used almonds)
12-16 soft medjool dates (approx 1 to 1 1/4 cups)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp fresh or ground ginger
cayenne pepper to taste

Grind nuts finely in food processor.
Add 12 dates to processor and blend and add more to desired doughy consistency.
Add agave nectar and spices to taste and blend.
Form into balls (or bars) and refrigerate.

I ate one right out of the bowl before refrigeration and it gets the thumbs up. I'll see how they taste chilled and how they hold up structurally. I may need to play around with the ratios a bit to find the perfect consistency and flavour combos. Looking forward to experimenting with this!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Abundant August

August is almost over but this week seems to be the peak time for harvesting of all the fruits and vegetables that have been cultivating beautifully over the perfect summer we have been having in North Van. My own vegetable patch that I planted at the end of June has been producing lots of lettuces, one (perfect) strawberry and some amazing fragrant basil to date. Today's inspection noted the following:
-many lettuces still going strong and growing scarily large considering all they have had is water and no pesticides or fertilizer
-Several green strawberries and one turning red
-loads of deliciously fragrant basil
-carrots growing well but still tiny
-zucchini flowers and some small zucchini (I planted them late from seed direct in the soil)
-spinach growing well but being crowded by cucumber plants which are growing a lot bigger than I expected
-4-5 medium sizes tomatoes, still green but heavy and weighing down the plants

I am mightily impressed seeing as it really has required very little work to produce all this lovely fresh produce and it will supplement my supermarket runs for at least another month.
Seems everyone else's gardens are also peaking this week too. When I got to work on Monday, I was presented with fresh cherries from a co-workers cherry farm (the full to the brim box of deep ruby fruit looked like a chest of jewels), fresh zucchini and grape tomatoes from another co-workers garden, glorious figs from an unknown source (they were on the staff room table with a note saying "eat me"), and then a 5lb box of blueberries from a regular patron of the gym. Quite an impressive haul before it hit lunchtime!so nice of everyone to be so generous with their growings... thank you all!
I'm taking in some fresh basil tomorrow for a patron of the gym that I was chatting with on Tuesday. She was detailing her recipe for Italian meat sauce and I was salivating at the thought of it although the weather is still too fantastically warm to contemplate cooking anything rich and intense like this dish. I told her I had lots of fresh basil and would bring her some in. I really love sharing my crop too and am always keen to hear how people will use it.
I'm afraid I have no new recipes to add as I have basically spent summer "assembling" rather than cooking and anything I have cooked is either already detailed in the blog or is a variation of that. However, I'm itching to try some new recipes once this hectic week is over and have a few things in mind, ideally using my homegrown goodies and those of anyone else I have the good fortune of sampling.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Noshings

This post will consist of several random updates, mainly because my cooking/eating has been very random lately, not always a good thing! The past few days I've been working to reconnect with my fridge, kitchen and making meals that take preparation rather than assembly. I enjoy my meals so much more when I've had to do some work to make it. This is why I love making risotto. It's one of my favourite dishes to make because you have to be with it, right in it, from start to end. I also love chopping foods in preparation, but apparently not everyone else does. I find it very interesting to learn about other peoples connections to the food they eat. I should write a blog on that sometime.

So despite the chaotic schedule and hectic-ness that is my life for the past 6 weeks, I have managed to try out some new techniques with some foods that I would love to share with you.
Firstly, you may be able to tell from my previous posts that I LOVE avocado. Well, I should clarify, I love perfectly ripe avocados. Anything less that perfectly ripe will promptly be spat out in disgust. I eat avocado every day, usually in one of the following forms:
1) avocado sushi roll
2) in it's natural state in pretty much any salad I prepare
3) guacamole
4) avocado chocolate pudding.Click Here for recipe link
I now have a new method of preparation to add which I saw on another food blog "Diet, Dessert and Dogs". It's very in-depth blog with many raw, vegan and allergen free recipes. I lazily scrolled though, mainly drawn in by the photos which are of far superior quality to mine and each one reminded me how I really should get on and learn some decent photography skills and purchase a camera to go along with them. One particular photo caught my eye, the familiar and mesmerizing pale green flesh of a perfectly ripe avocado.Click here to go straight to the post. But wait! There was a difference! The soft, rich flesh was criss-crossed with grill marks! I have never heard of or tried grilled avocado but I knew right away, it would change my life forever! So far, I have grilled some avocado and spread it on rice cakes which was good but I want to add some other layers of flavour to this very basic snack. It definitely needs to evolve a lot more and I think it could go both sweet or savory. The other version was just putting it in to a salad while it was still warm. It does get a bit mushier but the flavour and texture and quite different to cold or room temperature avocado, in a good way! Grilling brings out the buttery taste more, makes it melt in your mouth more and creates another level of flavour that is nuttier.
Another update is on steak preparation and cooking. A co-worker, Mr N, and I, amongst other topics, discuss food. This is a common theme with pretty much all my friends and co-workers....and pretty much anyone else too. I was telling him that I had bought some steak for my dinner that night and he told me he used to work in a butchers shop and as a result got a lot of free meat and over time, honed his steak preparation to perfection. Luckily for me and my steak, he was willing to share his patiently learned technique with me. Firstly, he said, you must bring the steak up to room temperature. It's essential. If you don't have time for it to warm, place it in a ziploc bag and put in a bowl of warm water. He then suggested melting some butter and brushing it over both sides of the steak and then seasoning with salt and pepper. You can kill 2 birds with one stone and put some butter in the ziploc bag and it will melt due to the warm water. Finally, before cooking, you must have a decent pan ( I have a heavy based frying pan which is perfect for steak) and it must be hot! finally once cooked to desired degree, for me this is medium rare, you must let the meat rest for a few minutes. I've been letting meat rest for a few years now and it absolutely makes a difference with the taste. I followed Mr N's instructions perfectly with my ribeye steak and it was good.Actually, it was REALLY good. This may just be my technique of choice from now on. Or until someone else tells me another cool technique I am inspired to try.
I had bought enough steak for 2 portions with the plan to have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I had to resist very hard, the urge to eat both portions right then and there. Always a sign of a well cooked meal. Or maybe just a very hungry girl.
My final update is to tell you that I am currently working on formulating my own personal foodie philosophy. I'm brainstorming at the moment and in the early stages of just throwing around key words and concepts and as it mulls in my brain daily, I will start to put it together in a series of sentences or bullet points. The key words right now are:
Whole, balanced, natural, flavour, nourishment, nutritious, taste, energy, recovery, slow, conscious, green,variety, local.....the list goes on.
It's pretty raw (haha) right now and will be more specific around certain foods as it evolves. It will have elements of organic eating, the Thrive diet, some raw eating, elements of veganism and vegetarianism but I will still eat meat and fish as I feel my body needs that at this moment in my life. I have contemplated and even attempted vegetarianism before but 100% compliance is not a choice I'm making right now although I do want to eat more vegetarian/vegan and make ethical food choices in general. I understand that my philosophy will and should evolve as I personally evolve and I learn more about the world of food. I'm very open to hearing and learning about other people's food philosophies too so please feel free to share with me if you want!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Camping Creations

Earlier in July, I had the extreme pleasure of going camping with one of my fave peeps and a fellow foodie, Ms. P. The weather was perfect and we spent Friday gathering our gear and getting ready while also squeezing in time for a quick look around a clothing store. Just as we set off I decided I needed a green tea for the road as I was driving and was quite tired so we nipped into Bean Around the World at Westview and I ordered my tea. It was a hot day so I asked for unsweetened ice tea. Apparently this is not easy to get hold of! lots of coffee shops have sweetened ice tea ready to go but unsweetened is clearly not popular so most places look at me quite blankly when I ask. This particular barista was especially perplexed so I explained I would like her to make the green tea as usual with hot water, let it steep for a bit and then add some ice. Some places make the tea with cold water and then add ice, resulting in tea that actually has less taste than plain water. After the explanation I was hopeful until no less than 30 seconds later, a cup with cold water and ice in it was handed to me...oh well, I'll just have to deal with it! So while I attempted to let my tea steep, Ms P and I sat reading the paper when the barista called out "anyone want a free Americano?" there was only one other person in the store, clearly she had messed up that order too! So Ms P was in luck and walked out with a large free coffee...the weekend was off to a great start!
Food wise, we decided that Bratwurst hotdogs were the order of the day. We stopped in Squamish to get supplies and hit the store at the perfect time as there were lots of samples. We chose out Bratwursts and picked up onions, buns as well as marshmallows for dessert. I have a bit of an onion specialty dish that I discovered during a previous camping trip and now it's impossible not to have them when I camp. I slice the onions very thin and put them in the pan with some olive oil. You can also add honey or balsamic vinegar if you like. Then slow cook the onions over the fire for about an hour until they caramelise. I leave the lid on the whole time and stir them occasionally. Taste them regularly until they have sweetened and softened enough. Add to perfectly charred hot dog...YUM!
The trip resulted in another creation too. We had a mango leftover from the salad earlier and so I cut it into chunks, added a bit of honey then wrapped it in foil and placed on the fire to heat and caramelise. Once the mango had caramelised, I added some marshmallows on top, re-wrapped and put in back on the fire for a minute or so to melt them. We weren't quite sure what to expect when we opened the package....dessert heaven or a complete waste of perfectly good marshmallows? We opened it up and the marshmallows had melted about 90% so had a perfect gooey texture. We literally dug in right away (with our camping sporks!)and O M G it was the best camping dessert ever! It quickly was devoured and conversation flowed about what other combos this style could work for...banana is the fruit of choice on the next trip...I can hardly wait!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sensational Summer

Summer is now in full swing and the seemingly endless stream of perfect clear blue sky days and balmy evenings continues to my delight.
The warm weather has also seen an explosion of growth in my lettuces that were planted in early June. I planted the seeds closer together than the packet suggested,assuming not all would flourish but apparently, it seems I have a knack for growing lettuce and they all came through. I have to keep thinning them out which leaves me with a constantly replenishing supply of baby lettuce leaves...yum!
The other "plantees" in the vegetable patch are doing okay... I have one strawberry growing, and I mean 1, uno, actual strawberry. My basil is doing really well and smelling divine and the zucchini, peppers and cucumbers look like they are growing well but who knows..I've never done this before.
Eating wise, I have been ultra busy and hardly at home so cooking is hit and miss. Plus with the warm weather, who wants to cook every night?
so lots of salads are being consumed and seeing as I don't have a salad spinner, I have been using another technique that I once saw on TV on "The Shopping Bags". You wash the leaves, then place them on a tea towel. Pull up the sides of the tea towel so there are no gaps and then wildly swing it around above your head. I recommend doing this OUTside. It works surprisingly well and I am always amazed at how much water comes out using this fun method.
Summer is also farmers market season and I try to head down to Lonsdale Quay each Saturday to go to the small but excellent market there. There are several produce stands as well as baked goods, sauces, honey and crafts. My most recent discovery is fresh snap peas from a farmer from Abbotsford. Now that I have sampled these perfect specimens, it is actually a crime to go back to the imported grocery store ones from China. They don't even compare. At another vendors stall, something else caught my eye...red scallions (Spring onions for the British readers). They looked amazing, and I have never seen them before. Very cool colour addition to my salads.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scrummy Summer Salad

Now that summer has arrived finally that means 2 things in foodie-ville...salads and BBQ time!

I hosted the first BBQ of the season and invited over some lovely ladies to join me. Ms. P asked me what she should bring and i didn't hesitate to request the avocado mango salad I had eaten at her house a few weeks ago. I didn't post the recipe last time so here it is in it's delicious entirety:

Avocado Mango Salad
1 very buttery and juicy Butter Lettuce
1 very ripe and juicy mango
1 very ripe avocado
1 bunch cilantro chopped finely
Juice of one lime
1 tbsp liquid honey
1-2 tbsp EV olive oil
1 tsp chili pepper finely chopped

Assemble and dress! Ms P and I always giggle about cilantro as a result of this salad. When she first made it for me, a few pieces of cilantro escaped the necessary chopping and in my excitement at tasting the salad, i choked on an excessively long piece. not a great scene at the dining table but, hey, it makes for a good story.

I decided to make some chicken thighs for my guests from a recipe I saw in a newspaper, The North Shore News, when I was in a coffee shop recently. It sounded superb and it tasted exactly as I thought. Here is the recipe:

Ginger Marinated Drumsticks

1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
10 garlic cloves
1 x 4 inch section in fresh ginger, cut into thin slices
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup liquid honey
12 chicken drumsticks

Blend cilantro, garlic and ginger in a food processor until finely chopped.
Transfer to large bowl and add remaining marinade ingredients and mix well.
Add drumsticks and rub in well to all sides of chicken with your hands.
cover and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.
When ready to cook, prepare BBQ for medium heat.
Remove drumsticks and discard marinade. Grill them over medium heat with the lid closed as much as possible until juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink at the bone, about 40-50 minutes, turning once or twice.

I was having BBQ issues so I baked them in the oven at 350F instead and then finished them off on the BBQ although they looked great straight from the oven.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week of wheat (worth it)

Summer has finally arrived albeit a day too late for my visitors to enjoy it but they are having their own amazing summer in the UK so I don't feel too bad for them.
I have been doing a lot of home cooking in the past week and as a result have several things to report on. I ate a fair amount of wheat during my guest's stay the week before, mainly because it's convenient and, well, it tastes really good, whatever form it is in. Especially impossible to resist in the form of warm freshly baked crusty white loaf with butter served at the Arms Reach Bistro when I was starving hungry. I think this may be my favourite restaurant in North Van. It's located in a very picturesque corner of Deep Cove (yes it is as lovely as it sounds) and is casual yet smart, gourmet yet simple and basically heaven. It's small but perfectly formed and they have an outdoor space too complete with blankets should you get a bit nippy. My mum and I shared the beef carpaccio which was sliced thinner than an oxygen molecule resulting in it literally melting in my mouth. This dish was phenomenal and I will order it next time. I could easily have eaten 2 or 3 potions..but then the bread arrived and my focus turned to that. I chose mussels for my main and was very happy. They were huge and plump and served in a spicy chorizo sauce. I merrily dipped piece after piece of bread in the tasty broth while thinking that it is SO worth whatever repercussions I experience tomorrow from the wheat. Everyone else's meals were equally delicious and top notch and we left feeling thoroughly satisfied and with smiles all around. It seems I am not the only fan of this place and so it's recommended to book ahead if you are planning to eat there on a weekend, especially a summer weekend and parking in the Cove is notoriously bad so be prepared to park and walk a bit or spend some serious trolling time in the main street and 2 parking lots.
The other wheat laced indulgence I had during their stay was a raspberry beer from Belgium that I discovered at a restaurant in West Bank in the Okanagan. It was offered as a beer float on the dessert menu and the server suggested I just have the beer as I couldn't have the ice cream part. It was fantastic and was a very good dessert substitute. The colour was appealing, the bottle had a champagne style popping cork and, most importantly, it tasted amazing! Click here for a review.
I kept thinking about for a couple of days after and decided I need to share my findings with others and wondered where I would find this import. I walked to the mall 10 mins from my house at Westview and casually popped in to the BC Liquor Store and lo and behold, they stocked it! I picked up 2 bottles to share with my friends at the BBQ I hosted.....and more on that in the next post.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tea Time

During my guest's stay, we had quite a few meals out and lots of tea breaks at various tea emporiums around BC. As well as the usual Starbucks and JJ Beans dotted around the place, we also sampled tea at several other places as detailed below:

1) Murchies@Park Royal Mall
Not only is this a great shop for gifts but they do possibly the best tea latte I have ever had. I don't drink regular tea or coffee but instead usually have green tea or chai tea lattes (soy, of course). They didn't have chai latte but they had an intriguing Rooibos caramel latte that I opted for. Some tea lattes can be watery and some are more frothy. I love the froth and so this one got top marks as the frothy foam extended almost the whole depth of the cup and was so thick and yummy that the teabag was suspended in it. For quite some time afterwards, I could still taste the latte and couldn't stop exclaiming how good it was. We supplemented our drins with some carrot cake which was also very good, so moist and the icing was perfect. My aunt could not get over the size of the slices though and we ended up only eating one between the 3 of us and taking the 2nd piece home for a future tea break. I will absolutely, definitely get a latte every time I pass that store now. The perfect pick me up during a hard days shopping at the mall.

2) Urban Tea Merchant @ Park Royal ( The Village)
I had often walked past this place but never gone inside. They serve quite a fancy traditional style tea service with white linen on the tables and proper silverware..quite a departure from Starbucks! Our server presented us with a tea menu with about 3 pages of choice. I opted for a green tea chai and my mum and aunt each chose Rooibos and English Breakfast tea respectively.
It was fairly pricey at $5-6 per drink but my chai was almost bowl sized and very filling and mum and aunt's tea came with all the trimmings including teapots with thermal insulating coats and warmed milk. My aunt also ordered a scone with clotted cream and tea infused gelee (jam?) although they forgot to bring it and when we reminded them , they bought a ginger orange scone by mistake. My aunt ate it anyway and enjoyed it and the staff gave it to her for free due to the mixup.

3) Quails Gate Winery, Kelowna

We took a couple of days out to drive out to the Okanagan and spend some time at the lake and take in a couple of wineries. This winery is quite small but perfectly formed.Click here to visit the website. There was a lovely restaurant with a patio in full bloom with summer flowers and a sweeping view of the lake with the vines in the forefront as we sipped our tea.
The weather was cloudy with rain threatening but it was warm enough to sit outside for our mid afternoon tea break. We had already sampled some of the wines and both my aunt and I were unanimous in our appreciation for the Stewart Family Reserve Chardonnay. I don't drink much Chardonnay these days, instead preferring Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc but I would make an exception for this. It was so buttery and tasty, it really did taste like...butta! I'm not sure how much you pay for this at the liquor store but we picked up a bottle for $30 and intended to drink it on the last night of my family's stay. Okay, I got off topic, back to the tea. Again, it was quite a formal tea service but such a relaxing atmosphere. had I not been the designated driver I could have quite easily whiled away my evening there drinking wine and putting my feet up taking in the scenery and inhaling the fragrance of the flowers surrounding the table. We all chose our teas from the menu and they were presented in french presses so they looked almost too perfect to drink. Perfect tea to go with the perfect linens, perfect white cups and perfect patio......I really want to go back there....soon!

Bolognese Booster

2 weeks has gone by since my last post but do not despair, I have been eating, cooking and formulating my posts in my head during that time. There are a couple of reasons for the lack of postings in recent days; my family was visiting from the UK and my laptop broke for a few days. The combo of which made it rather challenging to update my blog.

My first recipe to blog about is a dish I have been making for years and I think I am finally approaching perfection on it although I am always looking for ways to improve on that. I made the dish for my mum and aunt when we got home from the airport after they flew in. They were jetlagged, tired, hungry and the weather here was decidedly non-summery. The dish in questions is an Italian classic, spaghetti bolognese. In general this is a meaty, tomatoey, herby sauce served over spaghetti pasta. The first variation I make is using rice pasta as I am wheat intolerant. Rice pastas have improved a lot in the past few years to the point where my unsuspecting guests rarely can even tell if I neglect to mention the substitution. Here is the recipe as I made it that night:

Sal's Spaghetti

500g ground beef (I use regular or lean, preferably organic. I don't use extra lean as it is not flavourful enough)
1 can brown or green lentils, drained
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 tbsp olive oil/canola oil, divided
2 portabello mushrooms, diced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1-2 tsp dried italian herbs
salt and fresh ground pepper
fresh basil, chopped

put some hot water on to boil as you prepare the meat sauce. Prepare pasta as directed on package.
In a large heavy based skillet or frying pan, heat pan and add beef. Brown beef and add Worcestershire sauce after 1-2 mins. Cook until no longer pink. Remove from pan.
Add 1 tbsp oil to pan and when heated, add onions and cook for 5-10 mins until tender and browned. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
In a separate pan, add tbsp oil and then add mushrooms. Cook for 1 -2 mins then add balsamic vinegar and pinch of salt. reduce heat and cook for 5- 10 mins until mushrooms are soft and have absorbed vinegar.
Add beef into pan with onions and garlic and also add in mushrooms. Stir until combined and then add crushed tomato, lentils, tomato paste and sundried tomatoes.
Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and dried herbs. At end of cooking, add fresh basil as desired.
Serve over cooked pasta and add fresh grated parmesan cheese on top and finish with fresh ground black pepper.

I find the lentils add a smoothness and cohesion to the sauce and almost make it "meatier". The sundried tomatoes add a deeper flavour. You can also add red wine to the sauce for more complexity if you are willing to part with some of the red stuff!
and of course, the sauce always tastes better 24 hours later after the flavours have melded to the max.
DISCLAIMER: all measurements are approximate, just throw in a bit of this, a bit of that and taste, taste, taste all the way along!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Memories of Monday

Okay, I now remember what I ate on Monday last week. My previous post stated I couldn't recall but it was probably leftovers, salad etc. I made a gourmet salad consisting of the usual base salad leaves, avocado and some other random additions. The star of the salad though was chimichurri steak. I have various recipes for this in cookbooks and magazines but have never made it. I purchased a nice steak, when you are cooking for one,even the most costly cut is less than $10 for a decent sized portion.
Chimichurri steak originates from Argentina and is basically a spicy, tangy herby sauce. The recipe I used deviated from the classic by using cilantro instead of parsley.
Other ingredients in the sauce were balsamic vinegar, garlic, olive oil, dried oregano, chile flakes and salt and pepper. I cooked the steak rare, the only way to eat it, and took some time to slice it nicely and arrange the salad for photographic purposes. The sauce from the steak doubled as the salad dressing. The avocado was very ripe, hence it looking like a big dollop of green on the side of the salad. And all the cilantro seemed to pour out together over the middle of the steak but it did taste scrummy. I will make this again and am thinking it would taste really good over BBQ steak.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Supermarket Splurge

The last week does not really warrant more than one posting as I ate rather randomly and not particularly well although I did intend each day to start well of course.
Here are the highlights:
Sunday- I was invited for a BBQ at Ms P and Mr M's place. Originally I had offered to host a BBQ but the invite was reversed which was kinda funny. Ms P made her specialty pork tenderloin with spice rub which was cooked perfectly by Mr M and While it cooked we noshed on bread. I am not supposed to eat wheat but this was irresistible. The bread in question was the Waldorf loaf from Save-on Foods. This is the best french stick style bread EVER. I tried so hard to resist but then Mr M pulled out all the stops and presented me with some amazing EV olive oil in which to dip it and thus the defences were well and truly down. Ms P also prepared a delicious mango avocado salad with a sweet, fruity dressing she made for which I forgot to get the recipe but would like to.
The whole meal was washed down with a very special and expensive bottle of red wine that Mr M purchased in my honor (apparently i'm worth it). I felt well and truly spoiled. And full from all the bread. If I choose to eat wheat, this is the way I do it.

Monday-can't recall what I ate, probably oatmeal, salad, leftovers

Tuesday-Study group convened for our weekly session. I made the black bean mix to go with the chicken and salad. I also somehow found time to make a chicken curry to see me through a few meals in the week. It turned out great and I took leftovers to work for me and MJ the next day and we spent the whole lunch break talking about it. Yes, it was that good.

Weds-worked late as I had a photo shoot to attend for promotional stuff for work. I was in charge of purchasing snacks for about 20 people for the shoot. How awesome is that? I get to spend other peoples money on food that I get to eat and also get paid for my time to eat.I went for fruit and veggie platters, hummus, pita, cookies and 2 bite brownies. Let's just say I was in favour for the evening and maybe longer and have now been appointed the official snack buyer for future events.

Thurs-breakfast and lunch were uneventful but dinner was more exciting. I went to Commercial Drive to meet with Ms A for dinner and a catch up. We haven't seen each other since Jan or Feb and in that time she spent 3 weeks in Costa Rica which I was very excited to hear about. We decided to go to The Reef which serves Caribbean food. Click here to see the menu. We split an order of yam fries because, well, me and Ms A always do that. They did not disappoint. They were big chunky fries with no coating except oil and salt. We also were presented with a Johnny Cake which is basically a deep fried dough ball served warm with a herby flavoured butter. So much for going wheat free this day. Not gonna happen. For my main I went for lighter fare to offset the prior munchings and chose a salad and added jerk salmon to it for protein. The salad was big but simple with pumpkin seeds and a scrummy mango mint dressing but I felt the salmon portion was on the small side at about 2-3oz for $5. Or maybe it just looked small on the huge pile of salad? Anyway, overall a great meal with great company and I have always wanted to go there. It's taken 7 yrs but I can no check it off my list.

Friday-another non-eventful day on the food front, except for mid afternoon when I assisted in serving at the annual Strawberry Tea in the Seniors Centre at work. We dished up mini-quiches, salmon tarts, brushetta, ham and egg sandwiches (which were constructed and cut in such a way that I initially thought they were cakes), chocolate dipped strawberries and mini ginger molasses pancakes served with orange laced yogurt. Oh and then there was the dessert of Strawberry tart. Of course all the serving was hungry work and there were leftovers. I cannot resist free, tasty food and so indulged in some bruschetta and a couple of the mini pancakes, as well as half a salmon tart. I knew I was risking some reactions but I chanced it anyway. I headed straight for the Grouse Grind after work and didn't get home til after 6pm. I sort of grazed eating rice cakes with hummus, some nuts and a banana. Couldn't be bothered to cook and was going over a friends later so didn't have a lot of time. That is what the weekend is for.

Saturday-woke up with a very heavy, cloudy head and feeling of lethargy. Guess I didn't get away with my Strawberry Tea treats yesterday. This type of reaction is related to the egg component of what I ate yesterday and is basically a low level migraine that can last 1-2 days. My energy for the day was low, despite it being a glorious day so I canned my plans for a 2 hour kickboxing class and an afternoon bike ride in favour of pottering around the town and taking it slow. I actually ended up hitting up 4 different grocery stores during the day and stocking up all gaps in my kitchen. I should not need to go shopping for anything besides fresh produce for at least a week. I also discovered something of interest....ginger marmalade. It's made by Robertsons and anything with ginger in it HAS to be good. I bought some and spread it on a rice cake as soon as I got home. It was good, not overly ginger but then I like the hot ginger so anything less seems minimal to me. I also found a great deal on canned salmon at Save-on-foods. Usually a 213g can is $3.99 but they were on sale for $1.69 so over half off. I LOVE canned salmon, used to hate it, but love it now so this was good. I purchased 5, that will see my through a few weeks. I noticed 2 products that seem to be very pricey at the moment. Butter and apples. I don't eat a lot of butter but I do try to have it in the fridge and was surprised to see most packs in the $5 range. As for apples, at the supermarket they were approx $1.60 or more per lb but I held off and went to the smaller New Apple Farm Market on Lonsdale where they were over a $ cheaper per lb.
For dinner I made a salad with pan fried chicken although the pan was a little hot so it was more like char grilled chicken which I happen to like so no problem there. Sorry no pics today...will try to take more next time.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friend, food and futon

Okay, I have some catching up to you. Rather than do a post for each day I will summarise and just highlight the interesting things. Well, the things I *think* are interesting to my readers, whoever you are...this post is for you C-A.

on Friday last week, I had the pleasure of hosting my dear friend, K-Dub, for the evening. We have not seen each other in a while and had a lot of catching up to do. We met at my place at 5pm and headed out for a walk up Mosquito Creek and then headed over to Kokoro sushi on Lonsdale....a place K-Dub and I always go to together and that K-Dub went to frequently when she lived in North Van. I did not branch out from my usual order of miso, avocado roll, salmon and tuna sashimi (I declined the spicy red sauce as they wanted to charge me a dollar for it and it's pretty spicy so I only use literally a 1/4 teaspoon worth) and Gom-ae (steamed spinach with sesame sauce).
K-dub split the avocado roll with me and also ordered yam roll, edamame which we also split although I'm pretty sure I ate way more than half..oops, and vegetable gyoza.
We ate well and caught up on the past few months.
On the way home, I wanted to go to London Drugs to see if they had anything on sale. And by anything, I mean FOOD. K-Dub and I perused the aisles slowly...you have to do this or you may miss a great deal or a very interesting food. We spent more time in some sections over others, namely chocolate, tea, cereal and crackers. I ended up purchasing a new cereal that K-Dub pointed out called Crunchy Maple Sunrise. It was on sale and it sounded like it would be mightily yummy whether eaten as directed for breakfast or as a snack at any time of day. It contained a variety of grains, although no wheat, and of particular importance was the inclusion of quinoa as this is a grain that is very high in protein. Also the maple was key. Mmmmm maple.
I also bought a big tub of almonds as they were on sale for $10 for a kg and I was planning to make Tamari almonds under K-Dubs direction later that night. Tamari is a sort of soy sauce made without wheat. I prefer it to soy sauce but it generally costs more although you don't use a lot at a time as it's so salty. Here is K-dub's recipe:

Tamari Almonds
1-2 cups raw almonds
2-3 tbsp tamari sauce

spread the almonds in a large flatbased frying pan on a low-med heat. Toast lightly for 15-20 mins until roasted. They will turn a little darker. Turn them over halfway through cooking.
while the pan is still hot, turn off the heat and add the tamari sauce. It will sizzle and get sticky so quickly stir the nuts until coated fully then leave to cool.

So simple and delicious. There is one problem though. Once you start you can stop.

Once they were made, we chatted some more and set up the futon. Just before I went to bed I prepared some overnight oatmeal for us. K-Dub had not had this before and agreed to try it. We ate it on waking and even though she's not keen on dates, she ate it and gave it the thumbs up before setting out on her 12 hour car journey home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Apologies for Absence

I have posts ready to go...I just need to get them on the blog...I WILL update soon!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spicy Shrimp Sizzle

Banana with almond butter

Cadbury's 100 calorie Dairy Milk Thin in Dark Sensation flavour
(these were on sale at Safeway for 69c each)

Leftover Surprise
I had nothing exciting in the fridge so delved in to the freezer in the hopes of finding something exciting for lunch. I had a few tupperware containers in there containing...something I made...at some point in the past few weeks...who knows what.
I grabbed one of the frozen containers and hoped for the best. It turned out to be leftover spicy chorizo pasta from last week....good choice! Perfect comfort food for the continuing crappy weather that returned after the one nice sunny day.

Purdy's Fruit Jellies
These were not mine but were being passed around at the staff meeting at precisely the dangerous time of the day that makes any sugar based food, especially one that is free, irrestible to myself and, it appears, anyone else that is human. These jellies fit that description and as expected, hit the spot perfectly.

Shrimp Salsa Sizzle
I had a run on the treadmill after work with Ms MJ and we did some intervals and got our calorie burn ON! A quick stretch and foam roll on the tight leg muscles and then home for a quick meal before heading out to kickboxing. I whipped up a one pot random mix of shrimp, chopped peppers, zucchini and salsa. I had half a tub of fresh salsa that needed using up today so this was perfect. I like to keep shrimp in the freezer as they keep well and cook so quickly if short on time. Safeway often has shrimp on sale for half price or buy one get one free so I stock up from time to time. Safeway is my least favourite supermarket as they are more expensive than the others and their range of foods is usually poor. However, when stuff is on sale there, it's usually a really good price so as long as you stick to the sale items only, you can make some big savings. Salsa makes a great improv sauce for lots of dishes. You can add chicken or pork as well as shrimp, or even just veggies. My favourite fresh salsa is from Real Canadian Superstore. It's not too watery or acidic.
I served the Shrimp dish over rice with some sliced avocado on the side and ate in early enough that I would be able to comfortably kickbox later on.