Saturday, October 20, 2012

To brine or not to brine

I think the Fall leaf colours are peaking this week, everywhere I go I'm "oohing" and "aaahing" at the amazing vibrancy all around. It's been quite dry and warm too so we've been enjoying nice walks on the trail with Nacho and traipsing through the crispy leaves. I've been particularly impressed by all the burning bushes that are in abundance here, every time I see one it's like the first time, they are just sooooo bright! I want one for our yard for sure, along with a billion other shrubs, trees and flowers. I had a mammoth bulb  planting session and put in 200 bulbs including snow drops, crocii/crocuses, tulips and daffs. We'll see how they turn out. Surprisingly, I think I could have done with another 200 easily but I didn't set aside an annual bulb budget so this will have to do for this year.

The veggie patch is almost done, still some letti/lettuces, and scallions and also the kale which is now holding on to whole leaves instead of being stripped bare by some kind of multi-legged, long bodied leaf chomping creature. I harvested some sizable parsnips, the rest of the leeks which hadn't grow much bigger than mini-size, and some juicy carrots. The parsnips were so fragrant when I was picking them, mmmm possibly my favorite root vegetable. I planned to use them all for the inaugural chicken brining I was planning for Thanksgiving dinner. it was just me and PB but I had a good sized juicy chicken ready and defrosted for us. I have wanted to brine meat for a long time but never got round to it or had sufficient space in the fridge to store the sizable container needed to fill with water and a bird so that the bird was submerged. But this year I was ready and reviewed some recipes, posted the obligatory plea for help status update on Facebook and ended up with a plan (Thanks Diana!). You can brine with salt, sugar or both and then add whatever other spices, herbs, etc you like. The brining apparently makes the roast extra tasty and tender but not overly salted as you might expect. There are a few tips to consider though:
  • ensure you have a container large enough to soak the bird
  • rinse thoroughly after brining otherwise you won't get crispy skin
  • if using a sugar brine, don't cook at too high a heat as the skin can burn 
  • determine if the recipe calls for kosher salt or table salt. if it's kosher salt and you are using table salk, half the recipe.     
 Apparantely dry brining is fast replacing traditional brining too, I am intrugied to try this. Many seasoned (haha) briners, are now converts to dry brining for superior taste, texture and less hassle preparing.

I had a large saucepan with lid which would just fit my bird in and it easily fit in the fridge too.
Here is the brine I used:

 1/4 cup table salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 whole chicken
sprigs of herbs (thyme, rosemary etc)

Fill container 1/4 cold water, add salt, sugar and mix to dissolve.Add chicken and herbs to liquid and then top up if needed to ensure it is submerged. you may need a lid or a weight to stop the chicken bobbing up.
 Refrigerate for 1 hour per lb or overnight. 
I let it brine overnight, probably 12 hours. More than that can over brine and make it mushy. You can brine for as little as a couple of hours if that's all you have.

I followed the plan, patted dry the chicken and roasted as usual at 375F for about 1.5 hours. It didn't brown as much as a liked so I did put oil on about 30 mins in which I think I will do at the beginning next time.

I roasted my homegrown vegetables in the pan with the juices and they came out great. PB LOVED the chicken, raved about it. I too enjoyed it. I wouldn't say that it was that different from a normal roast, but it did taste like a really good roast and was very very moist. As moist as the crock pot roast chicken I did but this one was crispy so that was an advantage. I didn't find it too salty, I love salt so it's hard for anything to be to salty! I will brine again for sure and recommend it, next time...dry brining. I'm gonna need a truckload of salt for this!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A soup for September

September has been a blur of visitors, running races (one I was in and one I was part of the race committee), Crazy-busy work days and for the most part lots of sunshine. We've had a lot of rain but it was all concentrated in one day or overnight during thunderstorms so that's been good, although the lawn is totally waterlogged and more than once I've nearly bailed when slipping on the exposed clay soil in my flip flops (which I will attempt to wear at least until the end of October). I've winterized the veggie patch by harvesting all the chard, eating the last broccoli heads and pulling all the snap pea vines off.
There are still some parsnips, leeks, scallions, lettuce and kale growing but I've planted some garlic and also some more broccoli in the hopes of another harvest. Garlic is super easy to grow (says she who has never actually grown it before but has *read* about it). Plant individual cloves (unpeeled) about 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart in the Fall for a Spring harvest. Apparantly Fall is the best time to grow garlic. Guess I'll find out in the Spring.

While my mum was visiting, I harvested the larger of the 15 or so leeks I've been cultivating which are still baby sized but a success none the less. I oven roasted them and served with some freshly harvested, pan-sauteed chard with a side of beef tenderloin.....well, the homegrown veggies are clearly the star feature here!

The Summer of intense BBQ-ing is winding down although we will still BBQ quite a bit,  it's time to retreat to the kitchen in readiness for soups, stews and slow cooker feasts. I went to Costco yesterday and stocked up on tinned tomatoes, ground beef and other Winter pantry staples.
Today I'm making my favourite tomato soup. It's a roasted garlic, basil and tomato soup and I got the recipe from a friend way back when I started a cooking/eating group called The Culinary Queens. There were about 8 of us and each month, one person hosted and chose a featured ingredient. Each person then bought a dish made with that ingredient. I hosted the first event and the featured ingredient was garlic. The club went for a good year or 2 and we had a range of themes; lemon, blackberries, garlic (again) as well as a dessert themed meeting. This soup is really easy and I usually roast several extra garlic bulbs and use the pulp for other meals and spreads such as hummus or even just spread on to toasted french bread. I did this once while camping, drooling now thinking about it.

 The roasted garlic is a less intense garlic flavour and it's supper smooth and a bit sweeter. I also used my own homegrown basil in the recipe as it's coming to the end of the season and doesn't like the cold weather. I also add a splash of balsamic vinegar to this to sweeten it a little.

Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 large cans chopped or whole plum tomatoes(I use plain but you could use stewed or fire roasted too)
1 head garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp dried basil
handful fresh basil and parsley, chopped (optional)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional)

heat oven to 350F.
Drizzle garlic bulb in a bit of olive oil and wrap in foil. Place in oven and roast until soft, approx 40 mins. Let cool before handling (once I pierced a clove and it exploded sending hot garlic paste all over my face).
Once cooled, cut off top of bulb and then squeeze out pulp like toothpaste.
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven and add celery and onion to saute for 5 mins until soft.
Add tomatoes to pan and bring to boil. Add dried herbs, vinegar, seasoning and roasted garlic pulp, reduce heat and simmer for 10-20 mins.
Add fresh basil at end and let cool. Serve chunky and rustic or blend for a smoother soup.

This soup is quite thick so you may wish to add some stock or water if needed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I smell Fall....

It's the end of August already! Well, Friday is, and besides it getting dark shockingly early at around 8pm, for all other intents and purposes, it's still Summer between 10am and 4pm most days. The mornings are cooler, the nights are breezier (thank goodness) but it's still sunglasses and air conditioning on in the car. However, today was the first day where I wore..... a hoodie...when I walked the puppy at 5pm. I probably could have managed without but there was just the slightest chill in the strong breeze. In contrast  though, summer still lingers at times. Last night I ran with my weekly run group and the humidity was intense...In my half marathon training, by far the hardest runs have been the 5-7k on Tuesday nights. Way harder than the 90-120 min early morning weekend runs. I guess mentally and physically I prepare for a long run by hydrating the day before, eating a good clean meal (clean meaning no allergens or foods I don't usually eat), no alcohol (well maybe a glass of wine with dinner) and getting a good nights sleep (except when the puppy wakes up with a nightmare or a pair or racoons is attacking the BBQ). In my head, the Tuesday night run should be a breeze, it's short, I run with other people so it's social and I have a pace to keep up with people so that's motivation. However, every single Tues since Canada day has been accompanied by a brutal humidex of 30-35C.......eeuughhhh! It's so gross, you sweat everywhere (think inner ear, between your fingers and inside your eyelids) and I run sooooo slooowwwly. I ran a long 18km on Sunday morning in 17C with no humidex and my pace per km was 20 seconds faster than a short Tues night run. Ah well, it's all part of the fun of running! I have loved our long hot summer for the most part though and the perfectly timed rain every 7-10 days has been perfect for the lawn and the veggies. The carrots are almost fully grown,  we've enjoyed a fresh head of broccoli every week, Nacho the puppy has developed a taste for snap peas fresh off the vine and I finally have some lettuce!
Cooking wise, it's been exclusively BBQ every night. PB even suggested we sell our stove as we never use it anymore but then what would I hang my tea-towels on?
Have not really tried any new recipes although I did do a roast chicken dinner on the BBQ on Sunday. I knew there would be a lot of fat dripping from the chicken skin so I placed a few layers of foil in the vegetable basket and then put the chicken in there, surrounded by some halved baby potatoes. and that was it. The chicken was lightly oiled, salted and rosemary-ed (with fresh homegrown rosemary) and I cooked the whole thing for about 50 mins. Done and done. We had some peas on the side, I did not BBQ them as they would fall through the grates but maybe one day I'll try!
 Here's a pic of the newest family member, Nacho. He's almost 4 months old, a yellow lab and he's awesome, quite the little character!

My other recent foodie find was as Costco. I usually don't buy pre-made sauces but they had samples of this sauce, Habanero pepper and pineapple made by Rothschild Farms out of the states. I had a steak rub from the same company as a gift and it was hands down the best steak rub ever and now I can't find it anywhere to buy here without ordering it from the US. So this caught my eye. It's spicy and sweet and I basted a pork tenderloin with it on Monday.  Incidentally I'd like to report an easy cooking method for this that I found on a random webpage. It's the 7-6-5 method. Heat the BBQ. Place tenderloin on for 7 minutes. Turn and cook for 6 minutes. Turn off BBQ and leave closed for 5 mins. Done perfectly exactly as promised.
 I'm most excited to try the sauce with some halibut or cod though, I think that will be the dream combo and the plan is to try that on Friday evening, on the BBQ of course. The stove is full of dust so I can't use that!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Grill marks with that?

whew, what a scorcher this summer has turned into! My veggie patch is going crazy and I thinned out some baby carrots yesterday to allow the remaining ones to really flourish. We rinsed the small ones and chomped through them on the deck while sipping Budweiser. This is the life!

As you can see, we loved them!
I recently tried a variation on a previous recipe, black bean and avocado salsa, by grilling the avocado instead of just putting it in raw. I also omitted the black beans for a lighter version. The salad certainly looked even more appetizing (and I thought that wasn't possible), grill marks have that effect on everything. Taste wise, the avocado was a little nuttier and softer, but the big thing was the aesthetics...and I got the chance to grill yet another food that is not your average grill fare.

As for the veggie patch, we have eaten 3 heads of broccoli. made a batch of kale chips, eaten a bunch of baby carrots as detailed above, made Warm Sweet Potato and Kale salad with homegrown Kale and munched on numerous snap peas picked freshly about 2 seconds beforehand. The leeks, carrots and parsnips still have a way to go, the Rainbow chard is taking over and finally I have some lettuces appearing. Tomatoes are slow but some fruits are materialising.

I'm loving growing these vegetables, so satisfying to see the daily changes and then to harvest them. Already planning my Winter garden and next Summer's one too. I think my focus will be on kale, broccoli and lettuce next year. And I want to grow some garlic too. And more herbs. And peppers. I think I'm gonna need some more raised beds.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

run, chew, run, chew, run, chew

I am currently in training for a half marathon in the middle of September. I trained for and ran a 10k race (the Bluenose) in May so I already had a decent base although I'm nowhere near in the good shape I was 2 years ago when I was regularly running 10k 2-3 times a week for general exercise, albeit on the pancake flat seawall in Vancouver but still, I was making good time and was doing lots of other exercise such as netball twice a week and spinning classes as well as kickboxing and hiking the Grouse Grind. Since moving last year, my workout routine has gone, well.... it's just gone. Only now that things are more settled, am I able to get into a regular routine. I always do best when training for something in particular so me and my running buddy K-Mac decided to both enter the same race so we can train together. We don't do all our runs together as schedules do not permit but we keep each other in check with updates in-between our weekly Tues night run club. Up to 10k is my ideal run/ race distance but the downside is, it's easy to slack off because as long as you are generally fit, you can run 10k without too much trouble. A half marathon (21k) on the other hand, does require training if you wish to have the use of your legs for the 2 weeks after the race. Factor in a late Summer race date where temps could be in the mid 20's and if you haven't done any hot weather training, you likely won't make it to the first water station. What does this  have to do with food? Well, doing any kind of exercise longer than an hour requires nutritional preparation. I planned an 11k training run for last Saturday morning so that meant Friday day and night were all part of it. We've been having very hot weather, high 20's with humidex in the mid 30's and so I planned a 7 am run to beat the heat. For anything where dehydration is an issue either for medical or performance reasons, it's key to start your hydration a couple of days before hand to give your body time to "top up" it's water reserves. Also, if you drink too much on the day, you just need to pee the whole time and that just sucks. Food wise, I had an evening meal of salmon skewers (on sale at Superstore for $1.25 each!) and an avocado mango salsa I made, minus the black beans from the original recipe, as I find they bloat me a bit which impedes the enjoyment of the run. I had a poor sleep as was flying solo with the new puppy that night so was up every 2 hours to take him outside to pee. On runs of 7k or less, I usually do not take water with me. I find carrying water is a hassle and not that comfortable whether you have a fuel belt, camelbak or handheld. But, this run required a water source and my subsequent longer training runs will require water and fuel in the form of gels, electrolyte drinks etc. I found a fuel belt from Nike with 4 bottles and 2 pouches which I thought would be fine. I have previously had a camelbak which I loved as it was so easy to sip and no bulky belt hitting my elbows but you can only have one liquid type as there is only one bladder. With the belts you can have water in one, electrolyte drink in another, wine in another (kidding). I also had new runners (got them on sale at $60 off!), and I was going to try out some electrolyte chews. There are 3 main fuels on the market for endurance activities: gels, chews and sport jelly beans. In the past when I did a half marathon and a triathlon a few years ago, I used gels which I like but they can be very sickly sweet and stick to your gums if your mouth is dry, which it usually is when running. You need to take with water and this can be fiddly when running and then there is the sticky packet that you have to put back in your pocket...yuck. Also, if you only want half, the other half gets squished all over your hand, your bag or just wasted if you toss it away. Training runs for endurance events are not just to get your body ready, they are to try out gear, figure out what pre-race preparations work for you and what you need during the race. A bad training run will lead to a good race! I decided to try out the Sharkie gels, they are soft chews with some carbs and electrolytes. You are supposed to have one every 15 mins or so. I put them in my pouch and could easily retrieve them while running. They were easy to chew and the chewing motion increased salivation in my mouth which was good. However,  I didn't like the taste of most of them. The packet was "berry splash" so they were all different but I did get a cherry one. I love cherries. I hate cherry flavour. But I ate in anyway and carried on. Energy wise, the run was great, the chews sat well in my stomach and I felt really good on the run. I'm going to try some other brands of chews and also re-test the old faithful gels (which can be premixed with water to avoid the whole sticky mess I mentioned) to see how it goes. Either way, each training run is a mission and what  I learn will give me great confidence in the run and hopefully make for an enjoyable (and fast) 21k.

No wheat? Just use bacon!

Just a quickie for you, PB actually came up with this idea yesterday when I asked him to make me a snack for lunch as I was wiped out from being at work at 5am. I loved it so much, I made it again today.
We buy this bacon from Costco and it's pretty good. We grill it on the BBQ and I also grilled the half avocado too. Then I added salsa which was not home made but it's a good one that is always in my fridge, Superstore medium salsa, found in the mexican section.

No recipe as it's just bacon (bread) with avocado and salsa!
Wheat free is soooo much fun!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pimp My Patch

The veggie patch is in full bloom! We've had very favourable growing conditions for the past few weeks with lots of hot sun and the occasional much needed downpour. Everything in the patch gets bigger by the day and even a small broccoli has cute!

The kale and chard are going great guns and I anticipate making some homegrown-homemade kale chips by the end of the month. We also added some additional structures to the beds, a trellis for the beans and a removable fencing system to keep out the deer who are very prevalent right now.  This is the fort knox/cadillac/pimped up veggie patch.

The kale and chard are going great guns and I anticipate making some homegrown-homemade kale chips by the end of the month. We also added some additional structures to the beds, a trellis for the beans and a removable fencing system to keep out the deer who are very prevalent right now. PB did a great job designing and building the fencing. The plants get sun and water and I can take off the sides for weeding and harvesting. I have given all the veggies one dose of a general vegetable plant food too. Not sure if it was the sun/rain combo or that which has had the biggest effect but I'm very happy. All six of my tomato plants are good too. I think they are a little  behind schedule so they might not make fruit in time but if this weather continues, I'm hopeful. The only thing that hasn't grown was the one thing I would have put $$ on to grow best, lettuce. I planted 3 rows of butter lettuce at weekly intervals but nothing to show for it. This past weekend I put in some new seeds, these were Romaines and they were in  a "seed tape" . What a  great idea! the seeds are all spaced correctly and in a straight line. They are also protected from bugs and pests eating them which is what I suspect happened to the others. Let's see what happens...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Veg it up!

I cook a lot of meat on the BBQ and have pretty much mastered most things to perfection. I've also now started making more veggie side dishes on the BBQ too, mainly so I have even less dishes to clean up. PB and I have, for a long time, made a hash of sorts usually with the following:

par boiled halved baby potatoes
bell peppers
button mushrooms

We drizzle with oil, sprinkle on some garlic powder and add a generous amount of salt and then throw it all in the veggie basket for 20-30 mins.  I've recently started adding a steak seasoning rub to it also which works well but the key is the salt. I found a couple of new recipes to try too, the first is a roasted broccoli which is supposed to be roasted in the oven but I put it on the BBQ instead:

BBQ roasted broccoli
Cut up broccoli into even sized small florets. Mix will a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper or seasoning mix. BBQ for about 10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy to the bite.

This is awesome and SOOOO easy. We've been trying to shop less frequently to reduce the grocery bill and so we now have a strategy of going to Costco at the start of the month and stocking up, and then going to the regular grocery store only once a week after that to top up the perishables. Costo has the best deal on broccoli with a huge bag of it (pre-cut too!) for the same prices as 2 heads of broccoli at Superstore. The problem is eating it all while it's still fresh. This method of cooking makes me want to eat lots of broccoli so I don't have to feel bad throwing food out...which I hate and can't remember the last time I did so. I know a lot of people that shop at Costco but when there are only 2 of you in the house, sometimes it's just too much for us to use with the perishable foods, unless you plan ahead like we do, and eat a lot of leftovers. Overall though, it's still a better deal at Costco on most things, as long as you buy what you need and don't get swayed by the deals on stuff that you wouldn't normally buy or eat simply because it's a good price.
The other recipe that is currently top of my list is one I saw on a blog called Tasty Yummies. It's super easy, healthy and delish. The original recipe has another couple of ingredients and seasonings but I kept it even simpler and this is my version:

Warm Sweet Potato and Kale Salad
2-3 medium sized sweet potatoes, cubed
1 bunch kale, leaves torn and stems removed
1-2 tbsp rice wine or wine vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
2-3 tbsp EV olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Pre heat the BBQ on medium heat. Add cubed sweet potatoes to veggie basket and toss occassionally until just softenened, approx 20 mins. Add kale to veggie basket and cook for another 5 mins or so. Remove from grill and mix in remaining ingredients, adjusting to taste as you wish.
Serve warm or cold the next day.
I served this with Super Fast Roast Chicken and it was a great combo, perfect for a potluck or a casual, elegant, low maintenance entertaining dish.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

This might just work

Summer is finally, sort of here, if No Rain = Summer, that is. Well, apparently, the rest of the world (i.e.. the West Coast of Canada and the UK) are having a dismal, soggy June, so I won't complain, but my veggies need to be rained on at least once a week! The weather here is warm-ish, when the sun is out, it's hot but there is a whole lotta cloud out there getting in the way.
I am having overall good success so far with the veggie patch, the seedlings I started a few months ago transplanted well and are thriving in the sunlight, particularly the broccoli, although I have been warned that the pests love them so who knows how long they will last. The broccoli are the big ones you can see in the front bed here:

 Above is the second bed. The row of beans is at the right there and then the leeks are on the far left, very spindly stalks but must sturdier since transplantation day. The seedlings in the front right are kale and chard, doing well as I just scattered the seeds randomly in that patch with no particular skill.
 I also had grown pepper and tomato seedlings. The peppers are looking healthy but seedlings remain small, very small. The tomatoes are, well....just about hanging in. I think of the 24 or so seedlings I grew, 6 are still alive, and I use the term alive very loosely. 2 of them are doing well (pictured), if not a little small, but looking promising. The others could go either way at this point. I've tried to position them where they will get the most sun all day but it's been quite cloudy this week. I want full sun in the day and rain at night. Please.

 My biggest success to date is my windowsill basil. I planted some seeds with all the other seeds and kept them in the trays. Once they had a couple of little leaves, I moved 4 to the kitchen window sill. Their growth since then has been scary, in a good way! These lower pic was taken yesterday, and I had previously removed some leaves several times during the week for salads. The first pic was taken early May so this is basically 5-6 weeks growth...very satisfying, and delicious too.The basil seedlings I put outside at the same time have not grown at all (they are the tiny specks you see at the front of the tomato planter above).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Some like it hot

My latest food obsession, besides anything that can be barbequed, is hot banana peppers. I have previously, on occasion, purchased either a jar or small tin of jalapeno peppers for making quick guacamole as the preparation of raw ones is somewhat hazardous and a bit fiddly too. I usually end up using only half of one pepper and the other half quickly shrivels and dies in the fridge over the next couple of days. And that's if it even makes it to the checkout before falling out of the bottom of the shopping cart. I also find that the pickled/canned ones are hot but don't quite burn like the raw ones do which is nice. I feel hardcore eating hot peppers without actually scarring my digestive tract in the process. I had been exposed to the banana peppers (that come in 3 colours: red, orange and yellow and are cut with something similar to craft scissors so they have a zig zag edge pattern) at various salad bar type establishments. "Do you want hot peppers?" "Why not?" I'd say, throw 'em in. They add a nice flavour yet without the slighty-too-long lingering heat and taste bud damage. I was perusing the aisles on a leisurely shopping trip and saw the jars of these peppers and bought some, thinking it was a sizable jar compared to that of the jalapenos and the dregs may end up lingering in the fridge with various other partially used condiments that I'm saving for that certain recipe. Well, we're probably getting through a jar every 2 weeks now. I use them in salads, in grilled cheese sandwiches for PB, on top of burgers, mixed with canned tuna and grainy dijon mustard for a sweet potato topping and of course, just straight out of the jar.
PB and I also devised a new snack food for when we are watching Netflix. We barely watch any TV, but we usually watch 1-2 episodes of a TV show each night on netflix-no commercial breaks, yay! The first show was Prison Break. 4 seasons, 80 episodes. We devoured that (and loved it) and just started Rescue Me. We are 3 episodes in and I'm liking it so far. Ah, I digress.. back to the food. The snack is this. Some type of crackers,  a small square of sliced Havarti cheese (we usually have a pack of this ready to go for PB's grilled cheese sandwiches-I know-gourmet grilled cheese made with Havarti, Sprouted grain bread and banana  peppers), and topped with a slice of banana pepper. The slices of cheese are very thin and the crackers are small so I'm finding I can tolerate that amount of dairy without a problem. My favourite crackers are Mary's rice and seed crackers which you can get in most grocery stores these days but they are pricey at usually around $5-$6 a box so they are definitely a treat. The crackers in this pic were from Superstore and were left over from some snacks we had when we had some visitors recently. They are really small little squares, perfect for this treat.

Our other Netflix treat is kale chips, which I have blogged about previously. I have experimented with these and found that these are the key steps:
  • The kale must be bone dry. I used my salad spinner to draw out all the water and then pat with paper towel.
  • 300C is enough, cook them low and slow for about 15 mins and then check at 5 min intervals.
  • Try to tear the leaves quite big, the smaller leaves make for really small crumbs and they dry out faster in cooking.
I've used olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil and like them all. The coconut oil is a little lighter and the olive oil is richer. I also add Nooch (nutritional yeast) as a topper and I mix it right  in with the oil and massage it in to the leaves with a bit of salt before cooking. The usual routine is to do the prep and heat up the oven ( 5-10 mins), put them in and watch half an episode. Pull them out when done and let cool and crisp up then watch episode 2 avec snacks. 1 big bunch of kale does not go far though, they shrink up a lot and taste delicious so none will be left over. I used to eat twice as many until PB tried them and decided he liked them so now I have to share. He even likes the nutritional yeast ones. Hint: if you are making these for other people, don't tell them the cheesy flavour is Nooch. Tends to scare people off like anything containing tofu does too. I love nooch, it's fab in soups or used as an alternative to Parmesan and gives me that cheesy hit I just don't get any other way without repercussions. I heard you can make a cheesy nacho type sauce with it too, that's next on the experiment list. Now I just need not to be sensitive to corn so I can put it on my tortilla chips!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Sunday Roast Reborn

Did I mention how much I love my BBQ? There are 2 reasons for this:
1) everything tastes good with just salt and pepper on it
2) no dirty dishes to clean up

The past weekend, I decided it was time to graduate from simple chicken or beef steaks to more advanced/sophisticated fare. First up was breakfast, well brunch technically, seeing as it was Sunday and at least halfway through the day.
Today's breakfast meat of choice was bacon. Pork is always the breakfast meat, I just don't have a craving for chicken or beef in relation to breakfast. We eat sausages quite a bit and are trying out different ones to see which we like. There is a local company that produces it's own sausages that don't have loads of preservatives in them but I find supply is hit and miss in the grocery stores. However, Superstore has some new sausages in both the frozen and fresh section that are pretty good. They are short fat little ones and they BBQ up nicely and don't shrink a lot. To go with the bacon, I mixed up a combo of halves of button mushrooms with halved parboiled baby potatoes. I added oil, salt, pepper and some dried herbs and threw them in the metal vegetable basket on the grill. I think I let them cook around 15 -20 mins so there were some charred edges and the potatoes were cooked through. the Bacon took all of 2 minutes as it was thin but streaky bacon but the hot hot temp crisped them up reallll niiiice as you can see. I'm glad we got the bigger grill, lots of space to spread out and give everything space.

I served this with scrambled eggs and grapefruit for PB ( I wish I like grapefruit, it looks so delicious and refreshing but it's so bitter..bleeugh! Along with coffee and fake cherry flavoring, it's one of the few things I just can't palate). For myself, I had half an avocado and salsa on the side of my bacon and potatoes. Good combo all around, bacon on the BBQ is fast, crispy and mess -free. No greasy pan cluttering up your sink and no fat-spattered oven top.
Not content with just one BBQ meal for the day, I already was planning the next. I had a nice sirloin tip beef roasting joint in the fridge and usually would roast this the traditional way but today, BBQ was the test. I thought that the high heat would sear the outside nicely and seal in the rich juices. Let's hope I was correct. I did the usual paste coating on the beef as follows:
2-3 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper (liberal)

I mix this up and then rub it on the joint as below:
 The grill had been preheating for about 10 minutes and had reached 450F. I put the beef on and put the lid down as I went to chop up my parsnips for roasting on the BBQ. I sliced them into approx 2-3 inch long sticks with the hard core removed. I tossed in oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and then put them in the veggie basket on the grill once the meat was about half done. They don't take long, maybe 20 mins, and try to avoid really thin ends as they will easily burn.

 I monitored the meat and estimated it would take probably about 30 mins on the BBQ to be ready...i.e. seared on the outside, rare in the middle. I knew I'd be opening the grill to put the veggies in and check on the meat so maybe 35 mins might be needed. I knew the meat needed to rest for 10 mins too so I planned for the parsnips to go in about 10-15 mins before the meat was due to be done.


 Well, it turned out even better than expected. If I was a contestant on Come Dine With Me, or Dinner Party Wars...this is what I would make....and it would win. I'd prefer to be on Come Dine With Me though as Anthea Turner is soooo annoying. The beef was so rare and soft in the middle but the shallot paste seasoning was nice and crispy. One thing I am learning with beef in particular is to use salt...lots. Even more than you think is lots. It enhances the flavour immensely, especially with the use of the BBQ. The parsnips were equally good, cripsy on the edge, soft in the middle. we had lots of leftovers so we sliced them and refrigerated them for lunch. Even when reheated in the microwave, the meat stayed rare and tender. This is the way all my roasts will be done from now on! Just by chance we had another sirloin joint in the freezer as it had been buy one get one free in the tomorrow will be a repeat of last Sunday but with sweet potato BBQ fries this time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I scream, you scream, we all scream for.....bananas?

My sugar surrender experiment is over. The results are in. Apparently, even though I don't consider myself to have a major sweet tooth or to eat that much sugar in any forms, refined or naturally occurring in fruits, I had trouble giving it up completely for 10 days. Which actually turned out to be 7 days when the cravings got so intense, I caved big time with 2 glasses of wine, half a Reeses bar and half a big bag of chips. Not a huge binge by some peoples standards but a tad more than a "slight slip up". I'm not totally sure if they were sugar cravings 100% as much as I may have just been craving for some variety or satisfaction or just plain hunger. When I withheld sugar, I had planned to also reduce my meat intake at the same time. I changed my breakfast to oatmeal or rice cakes with almond butter instead of avocado, salsa, beans and some kind of protein. I found I was hungry within 2 hours of eating and when you are trying to not think about eating certain things, it's becomes all consuming when you are hungry on top of that. Lunches and dinners were not really any different to usual but I found snacking hard as I was not as prepared as usual. Normally I would grab an apple or banana but I was trying to minimise my fruit intake. I had not stocked up on nuts and was consuming a fair amount of nut butter also so that wasn't my ideal go-to snack. That left raw veggies and rice cakes for snacks. I actually love rice cakes. I put nut butter on them or guacamole or marmite. But as I tried to balance less sugar and less meat, I found my starch intake increased a lot and they just don't sit well with me when eaten on a regular basis. Consequently I didn't feel as good as I expected and determined that a) I need a lot of protein, b) I am slightly addicted to sugar c) starches don't work for me. I'm glad I did the "sugar surrender" though and tried different ways of eating to determine my best diet. It has confirmed to me what works best and moving forward, I plan to ensure I have enough protein but I also am going to keep the sugar low for the most part. After 3 days of implementing this, I already feel better digestively and funnily enough, have eaten almost no sugar and have had no cravings. A little goes a long way, it seems.
Moving on to actual food now, Maple Maniac recently sent me this article with recipes to feed those dinner guests you have with food restrictions or issues....yep that's me, the worst dinner guest ever (minus the vegan part, I am all the rest-dairy intolerant, allergic to eggs, wheat intolerant etc). I find these days though that everyone is aware of other peoples dietary requirements and I've been amazed at the lengths people have gone to to accomodate me. I sometimes find it challenging to alert those offering invites to dinner about my allergies/intolerances as I don't want them to do extra work or to have to change their menu on my account. However, it's worse if I leave it and then have to either a) tell them I can't eat their food when it's in front of me or b) eat it and suffer the consequences. I read in one of my allergy free cookbooks that hosts would prefer to know and it's a good idea to offer to bring a special dish so they don't have to go out of their way. Mostly though, I find people are open to trying new things and actually, most meals are easily modifiable. The article details several delicious looknig recipes that fit a wide spectrum of dietary needs but one caught my eye "One Ingredient Banana Ice Cream". Sounds too good to be true, it's so easy, how come I have not heard of this before? I was skeptical. I haven't been able to enjoy ice-cream or come to think of it, most desserts, unless I've made them myself. I read the comments and reviews underneath the recipe. It seems this is as good as it appears. I must try it for myself.
There are a couple of key preparation steps to make this work though. You must peel and slice the bananas before freezing. Sounds simple but I have whole frozen bananas that I have stashed for making Maple banana bread (vegan) and I let them defrost, get all mushy and that is perfect for adding to the dough. For the ice cream, you need the banana slices to be frozen to make the icecream and then you eat it right away rather than making a mixture and freezing it.

2-3 sliced bananas, peeled and frozen

Place frozen banana slices in food processor. Turn on and leave it for 2-3 minutes until it forms into an ice cream like substance.


When I first did this, the processor sort of made it into a granular powdery state. I thought all was lost, it was too good to be true. But I kept the blender on and lo and behold, it did magically turn into ice cream like deliciousness!

I served it up into small bowls for PB and I and we tentatively sampled...amazing! rich, sweet, silky, soft, COLD! Depending on the ripeness of your bananas it will be sweeter or "greener" tasting but you could add some honey/maple syrup if you like. Apparantly the success of this dessert is down to the fact that bananas are one of the few fruits that contain fat naturally. Amazingly, it doesn't even taste that much of banana, it tastes like ice-cream.
If you want to get really complex, you could add some peanut butter, cocoa powder or even avocado (trust me, it won't taste like avocado, it just adds a layer of richness and more nutritional awesomeness).
I added cocoa powder, a couple of tablespoons. It was delicious but a slight powdery taste so I think I will add a little less and use riper bananas next time or add some avocado to moisten it.
I also made a batch where I served the ice cream with a spoonful of nut butter on top which worked well as a contrast of temperature and texture. I think vanilla would be a good addition too.
I highly recommend you try this, I am even going to serve it to my next dinner guests (along with my vegan brownies) without telling them it only contains banana but I know I'm going to want to share my secret before they leave-this one is too good not to share!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Sugar Surrender

As I mentioned in my last post, I've committed to eliminate sugar from my diet for 10 days in an attempt to recalibrate my body and reduce what I see as a sensitivity to the sweet stuff. I have in the past been diagnosed with Candidiasis, a common condition that many people have but don't know it as the symptoms are so wide ranging and general in nature that most people just think it's normal to feel that way or they chalk it up to something else. I'm very in-tune with my body and know right away if I am reacting to something I've eaten. I'm sensitive to eggs, wheat (not gluten), dairy, soy, sulphites, corn, beets, raspberries, beer (or something in it) and I am suspicious of several others. I've learned a lot about sensitivities and food intolerance since my own diagnoses, and in some ways it's been a good thing, it's forced me to eat clean, eat healthier and make better food choices but it's also immensely frustrating and limiting at times. Also, I'm human and so although there are things I know I'm sensitive too, I do eat them from time to time.
Sometimes I get away with it, sometimes not. My tolerance level seems to change daily, depending on what else is going on such as other stresses, illness, fatigue etc. In 2010 I was tested for candida overgrowth by my naturopath. Candida is a part of the gut flora, everyone has it, but sometimes it can overgrow and cause a lot of problems. It feeds on sugar so once you've got an overgrowth/imbalance, any sugars just feed it, and the symptoms more. Sugars includes the typical refined sugars (white sugar, maple syrup, alcohol etc), natural sugars such as fruit, juices and sweet veggies like carrots and sweet potato. Everyone has Candida in their gut, and a significant proportion have Candidiasis, or an overgrowth of Candida. Candida starts to cause trouble when there is some change in your body that allows it to overgrow. This change could be anything from a few courses of antibiotics, a prolonged diet rich in carbohydrates and sugar, or even something as common as a lengthy period of stress at work. For me, it flared up a couple of years ago when I was going through a lot of major life changes and under stress. I had known about my food sensitivities for a while and was managing them for the most part but these symptoms were noticeable and I knew something else was going on. Different people experience different symptoms. The overgrowth of Candida produces toxins that your body's immune system can struggle to cope with. The wide-ranging side effects of this battle range from headaches and fatigue to abdominal pain and depression. For me, it was fatigue for no reason, weight gain despite exercising a lot and reducing my caloric intake, digestive distress and generally feeling in a fog all the time. I got tested and it showed I had an overgrowth as suspected. The only way to deal with it...stop feeding it. So stop eating all sugar. Now I'm not a sugar fiend in general, my food sensitivities limit a lot of treats like cakes, pastries etc but I do enjoy and regularly eat fruit, drink wine and eat chocolate. My overgrowth was moderate to high in 2010, but not the worst possible, so my naturopath directed me to avoid alcohol, high sugar fruits like bananas and mango, fruit juice and any obvious sugars like syrup, honey and refined sugar. Some people have to be a lot stricter (that's a tough pill to swallow) and there are other foods to avoid that can also feed candida such as yeast, vinegars and mushrooms. Click here to see a list for people who have to be really strict...thank goodness I was only moderate. I followed the plan fairly consistently for 6 weeks and got re-tested and had reduced my levels a lot as well as losing the 5lb I had gained for no known reason. Some candida still remained though so I was advised to be aware of sugars in general from now on.
In the past 8 months, I have again gone through a lot of changes, all good and exciting changes, but changes none the less that caused stress, physically and emotionally. I moved across the country to Halifax where I knew not one single person (PB was in Toronto training for the first 2 months I was in Halifax), first in to a rental suite and then moved again 3 months later in to a house PB and I purchased. In this time, I also have had 3 jobs and worked completely irregular hours and not really had a formal weekend (2 days off in a row). My exercise level has dropped significantly although my eating has been great, I've been able to focus on that. Nonetheless, I was noticing those old symptoms coming back and knew what it was. The biggest symptom is the fact that although eating super heathily, I was super sensitive to my allergens and seeing big weight fluctuations due to water rentention from bloating and abdominal inflammation. So here we are...Day 5 of 10. I did this for 6 weeks last time although was not 100% compliant the whole time. This time my plan is to be strict for 10 days, then to ease up a little bit for another month before re-evaluating the situation. Last time I eliminated sugar was very hard but after a few days I felt AMAZING! I woke up before my alarm reading to tackle the day and was uber-productive all day long, every day. I had great sleeps as well. I want to get back to that again.
My plan here is to eliminate the following foods strictly for the 10 days:

-any refined sugar
-honey, maple syrups, jams
-candy, chocolate, all the good stuff
-no wheat or refined grains
 -reduce fruit intake, especially high sugar tropical fruits

So far it's been okay although major sweet cravings ( which I usually do not have) set in on day 4. Breakfast is also proving a struggle with my other food limitations, even more so with these added restrictions. This morning I ate a veggie burger with avocado and salsa. We were out and about for lunch so I had Tim Hortons chili...not a lot of other choices that fit my needs out on the road in the countryside of Nova Scotia.
My saving graces have been kale chips and rice cakes with almond butter or guacamole on them. I have eaten 2 apples and 2 small bananas over the 5 days but only because I was starving and had no other choice within my restrictions. I am starting to feel better overall although I know I'm not there yet. I'm still bloated a bit and feeling tired but less than a week ago and I've been more consistent and energised for exercise.
I bought some unsweetened flax milk to make overnight oatmeal with and I plan to add cinnamon and chopped apple to it for some sweet sugar free flavour.  I need to find some other options though that will fuel me through to lunch.
Lunches have been soups, or leftover BBQ salmon with roasted peppers and quinoa that I made a batch of earlier in the week. Dinner is the usual veggies and protein, I don't usually add sugar to the main course so no modifications needed here!
I am missing the wine, especially on Friday night but I know how good I can feel and I know that if I do this now, I will feel better for a long time after. They key to success however, is not determination or willpower, it's removing temptation from the house!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spring Wings

Spring is finally arriving, I'm not used to it being this late but it's always a pleasure to see those first daffodils of the year exploding all over the place suddenly. This morning our Azalea bush has started to bloom and I've even seen some tulips out and about too....another week and there will be colour everywhere! Winter has not been too harsh this year, compared to a usual maritime winter. There was not much snow and a lot of sunny but cold days. Beats the rain any day! Saying that, the rain we've had the last couple of days seems to have been the push the grounds needed to start the bloom....Summer is gonna be epic.
The veggie patch is taking shape, PB and I made our raised beds a couple of weeks ago. They are made of pressure treated lumber so we have to put a lining inside them to stop any leaching from the wood. Cedar would have been the best choice but it runs at 3 x the cost.

Next we need to add some gravel to the bottom, fill in with soil and bring up the ground outside with wood chippings to close off any gaps. Oh, and we have to build a fence to keep the deer and other various wildlife out. The beds are 4x8 feet each. Should be able to fill them pretty quick. Already thinking we need more!

Seedlings are doing well, I noticed the pepper seeds are finally germinating and tomato and leeks are all going strong but I can tell they need to upsize to bigger pots. Most of the tomato seeds grew, I had 4 varieties. They are going to go on the deck in pots in a few weeks. The last frost date is mid May, so I'll wait until then. The leeks are at the far end, tomatoes in the middle and then basil in the front of the picture.

These are the broccoli seedlings, they seem to grow an inch a day and suck up lots of water. I really hope I can eat their fruit one day, although broccoli is well liked by lots of pests so who knows.
In other foodie news, last week I cooked lots with meat. This week I am working on reducing that, it's too expensive and although I love it, I think it's better for me to eat a little less. I do want to go meat free for a week or two but I'm going sugar free this week (no honey, alcohol, fruit juice, chocolate..sniff..., etc) and thought combining the two would end in some kind of chocolate covered blood bath rare steak fest followed by a hangover. So, I'm going no sugar (except 1 piece of fruit per day) until the end of the month (10 days in total) and reduced meat with a focus on soups, quinoa, kale and some fish. Before that started though, I made these wings for playoff of the 5 playoff nights the Canucks played. But we're not going to talk about that. I saw this recipe being made while I was on the treadmill one day, it was on one of my fave cooking shows called Best Ever Recipes on CBC. The wings are baked so that takes care of the health component. They do have a breadcrumb coating but wheat intolerant peeps can use spelt or other wheat free breadcrumbs. I did try making some without breadcrumbs and just using the wet mustard based coating and they were yummy too. Here is the link to the official recipe. Check out the rest of the site too. 
Here is my modified version:

2 lb chicken wings (you can buy them with the tips removed ready for you)
1/3 cup (75 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne pepper
1 cup (125 mL) dry bread crumbs
1-1/2 tsp (7 mL) dried oregano or basil
1-2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsp dehydrated onion or onion powder

Preheat oven to 400F.

Melt the butter and mix with dijon mustard, salt and cayenne pepper.
Mix wings into this until coated.
Prepare a baking tray. I used a cooling rack over a foil lined baking sheet.
Mix breadcrumbs with dried herbs, onion and garlic powders.
(I added garlic powder, dehydration onion and  omitted the parmesan from the original recipe due to my dairy intolerance)
Dip wings in breadcrumb mix and place on baking rack.
Cook for about 45 mins until wings cooked through.

PB* and I planned to eat about 10 each and save the rest for lunch the next day. Wishful thinking. They all got devoured. They were delicious and very crunchy with a rich, satisfying taste. The mustard added a depth but not hotness, and you could not tell there was mustard there, it really complimented the chicken and the coating.
Will definitely make these again and use mustard as a base for other coatings. I am allergic to eggs and many coatings call for egg to make it stick so mustard will be my substitute from now on.

 *In case you are wondering, PB stands for Polar Bear. It is the nickname of my partner in love, life, gardening, Prison Break marathons and all things foodie :-)