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 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!