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!