Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Belated Summer Meal Plan

Here in Saskatchewan, summer has been painfully slow to arrive. Now that we have hit July, it seems to have committed to being here, at least in between rainstorms. This week was the first time I started feeling the need to cook summery things, but considering this summer may be particularly fleeting, there is also a sense urgency about it.

It feels more like summer now that I have stocked my fridge with rosé wine, Stiegl Radler, and ginger beer. And now for the food...

My summer favourites have been popping into my head at intervals. I've already made a few. Last night was Crispy-skinned trout and salsa verde rice, posted in an earlier blog. I also made a trip to the Farmers' Market today, and paid an ungodly price for new potatoes, among other things. And this urge, combined with my list of Farmers' Market produce has inspired my menu plan this week.


Burnt eggplant with tahini (from Ottolenghi's Plenty, but reprinted here thanks to Veggies and Gin)
Marinated lamb chunks (I have these weird cuts of bone-in stewing lamb from the last time I got a whole lamb, but I've discovered they make great finger food if you marinate them in herbs and lemon juice and roast or grill them)
New potatoes with dill


Marinated buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes
Grilled Italian sausage
Cucumber salad (recipe to be determined, although Ottolenghi's Cucumber salad with garlic and ginger, but another of my favourites is Sweet and Sour Cucumbers with Fresh Dill)

Wednesday (one of my must-have summer combos)

Grilled pork chops with garlic lime sauce
Black bean and tomato quinoa
Watermelon with feta

Thursday and Friday I am off on our annual Wild/Wise Womyn's Trail Ride. I have offered to make Spatchcock chicken, partly for the chance to experience everyone cracking off-colour jokes about the name. It will be a challenge, as we cook over an open fire, and it will take some balancing of heat to cook the chicken without burning it. I'll report back later, hopefully with pictures. I also need to provide a marinated vegetable salad and another salad to go with the chicken. I haven't quite decided on that one, but am leaning toward cider-glazed carrot and quinoa salad. Have I mentioned I love Bon Appetit??

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Weed Salad

Sometimes working with who you are rather than who other people expect you to be or say you 'should' be makes life easier. Actually, I think it will always make life easier to go that route.

Today, my practice in working with who I am has to do with my garden. I only grow things that I can eat, for starters, but I also am really only interested in planting and harvesting. The in between growing part is not my thing. Not so keen on weeding or hilling potatoes, or thinning the rows—unless I can eat the fruits of my labour.

Which brings me to weed salad. It turns out most of the weeds in my garden are edible, and not only edible, but delicious and nutritious. Dandelion, chickweed, lamb's quarters, pigweed, are all edible. So I have been making a practice of having weed salads for supper. And in the process, my garden gets weeded, since once I'm there, picking my salad greens, I am likely to pull up any weeds that are close to going to seed, or any that are choking out the plants I purposely planted.

So I could feel guilty about not weeding (which I am never going to make room in my busy schedule to do, since there are a 1,000 things I'd rather be doing), or I could eat the weeds. A delicious solution!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Favourite BlendTec Recipes

In the past month or so, I have learned more reasons to love the BlendTec blender I received for Christmas. I've been appreciating the silky smoothies, and my kids (and I) were delighted to discover a vegan chocolate frosty recipe that can double as fudgesicles, and which is the only way that I can get G to eat avocado.

I was also recently saddened to discover I was at the bottom of my favourite Green & Black's hot chocolate mix until I realized that in the list of ingredients they tell you the percentages of dark chocolate and cocoa powder, and there is only one other ingredient: raw cane sugar. Using my powers of deduction, I worked out a recipe, and ground up 4 oz Trader Joe's 72% dark chocolate, 7/8 cups Dutch process cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups of raw coconut sugar in my trusty blender, et voila! I had made my very own rich and delicious hot chocolate mix! I'll never spend $10 on a jar of Green & Black's again, unless of course I am tragically separated from my BlendTec.

Then there was the 10-day cleanse that I managed to squeeze in between Easter and a trip to the Okanagan Food & Wine Writers' workshop in Kelowna (more on that later, but for now, I will say, a) I don't recommend coming off a cleanse by attending a Food & Wine Writers' workshop, and b) I've found my people!). My BlendTec made it much easier to cope with the prospect of eating only liquids for three of the 10 days. My liquids included butternut squash soup (with the onion 'sautéed' in water instead of oil) and avocado soup, some of which I froze, and brought along post-cleanse to a dinner party, topped a roasted corn pico de gallo made with some of my frozen salsa from last tomato season, with roasted corn, lime juice, fresh cilantro and finely chopped cucumber added. This is much more than a health food.

But probably my most favourite discovery was homemade vegetable broth powder. Sorry OXO, sorry Knorr, I am forever lost to you (well, I was already lost to them, but I do appreciate the convenience of a soup stock powder now that I've discovered a homemade version). Late at night when I was feeling sorry for myself for not being able to eat 'real' food, and also feeling extra cold because this particular spring cleanse took place during one of the coldest spring in living memory, I relished drinking a cup of this salty, steaming, nourishing soup. But that's not all…I have also discovered it works amazingly well as a seasoning salt. I have many more experiments to conduct with it, but so far I have added it to breading for fish, as well as a topping for popcorn (along with duck fat. Yes. You read that right).

This stuff is amazing! So delicious, so easy to make, and so many potential uses. You may not need a BlendTec in order to make some of these recipes, but if you're looking for a new blender, you may want to consider it. And no, they're not paying me for my endorsement.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Foodie and Her Principles: or, how long can you keep your kids away from McDonalds?

A couple of days ago, I called my son's babysitter to tell her I'd be a bit late dropping him off because I had some errands to run and he had asked to come with me. She said, "Oh, okay, we'll hold lunch until you get here, as my husband is bringing us lunch today."

As G and I walked through the grocery store, buying fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and a re-usable container so that I could start mixing homemade 'yogurt drinks' for D in his school lunches, I reflected on what 'bringing lunch' might mean. 

I was pretty sure it would mean McDonalds. I opted not to ask, because I didn't want to know. While I briefly considered taking G for lunch before I delivered him to the sitter, I decided against it.

You see, my husband and I tend to think we're pretty flexible about parenting and don't subscribe to many hard-and-fast rules about food, TV, etc. While we do have our boundaries, if they get crossed accidentally when our kids are with other people, it's not the end of the world. 

McDonalds and other fast food restaurants are so far outside the realm of possibility in our world, that I don't even think about them. We manage to go on road trips without having to use them; instead, we'll stop at a grocery store, pick up some snacks or makings for sandwiches, and have a picnic at a park. It has worked for us so far. I don't really consider those places to serve 'real food', and since I only eat real food, they are just not an option. Occasionally, if we need restaurant food, we will opt for pizza or Chinese food, but never a fast food burger.

It isn't a point of pride that we don't go to McDonalds (at least, I didn't think so until now), it just isn't part of our reality. Since our sitter had told me that she only cooks homemade food, that she might occasionally bring in McDonalds for lunch hadn't even crossed my mind.

At the end of the day, G came bounding up to me, saying, "I got a toy! I got a toy!" and I knew then without a doubt where his lunch had come from. I was unprepared for the heavy, sick feeling I got in my stomach, thinking about it. I looked at D, and thought, wow, he's almost six, and he still doesn't even know what McDonalds is (he said to me, "I've been to McDonalds. Isn't it a farm?"), and poor little three year old G has already been exposed. The sitter was shocked to hear that it was his first experience with McDonalds.

I guess we're really not normal, are we? But to be honest, I don't want to be normal.

I had always said that while I wouldn't take my kids to McDonalds, because I'm not interested in eating it or participating in the fast food culture in general, I also wasn't about to forbid them going there. Extremism doesn't breed moderation, and moderation is the overall lesson I'm hoping to instill in my children.

I'm also pretty sure that they'll be able to tell the difference between fast food and 'real' food, because as  a kid, I certainly could. I always looked forward to going to McDonalds because I was supposed to like it, but the food always disappointed. As an adult, it was never a place I wanted to go. I did eat other kinds of fast food until I slowly realized they just didn't taste good or feel good in my body when I ate them.

I tell my husband regularly that it's not so much what we say as what we do that will get through to the kids. If we told them fast food was bad for them but they saw us eating it, they'd want to eat it. If we told them too much TV is bad for them, but watched it a lot anyway, and talked about it all the time, they'd get a different sense. In reality, TV is not part of our lives, and neither is fast food, and that is what will register with our kids.

I never under-estimate the power of emotional ties to food, and the importance of childhood memories and comfort food. In my case, and that of my kids', I'm hoping that those emotions are tied to feelings of togetherness around the table, of home-cooked meals, family gatherings, and fresh cookies out of the oven.

It was gratifying to watch D and G eat Trout Provencale, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed beans and carrots and coleslaw that night for dinner. They each asked for seconds. I'll rest assured that in spite of my urges to be extremist and impose my will about fast food, it's a better tack to offer healthy, flavourful, real food and let them make their own decisions.

Deconstructed Beef Barley Soup

Sometimes life throws you curveballs, and when those curveballs happen in the kitchen—just like in any other area of life—you can either throw up your hands and give up, or adjust your swing and hit a home run.

This happened to me earlier in the week. I was sure that last year's garden potatoes would see me through one more meal, so I put a beef blade roast in the slow cooker with some homemade beef stock, salt and pepper, and decided I'd throw together mashed potatoes and some veggies later in the day.

The day was packed, and it turned out there was a 5pm appointment I had forgotten about, so my meal prep was limited to one hour, between 3:30 and 4:30pm. When I pulled out those potatoes, I realized I had been over-optimistic about their state. They were unusable. So then the question was: do I run to the store and buy some, or do I change my plan?

I decided to go with barley instead, and then a plan formed involving a composed dish that would contain everything in a beef barley soup, but dished up like a meal. I threw together a pilaf with ingredients I had on hand, prepped some broccolette for a vegetable, brought the pilaf to a boil, and set it to simmer while I was at my appointment.

The results were exactly as I had imagined. I got home at 6:15 to a silent household of kids and husband hunched over their plates. They hadn't dished it the way I had imagined it (pilaf in a bowl, topped with sliced beef with broth dished around it), but they were still enjoying it. I dished mine that way, and it was exactly as I'd hoped. So here's the recipe!

Deconstructed Beef Barley Soup

1 3 lb. beef blade roast
4 c. beef stock (preferably homemade)
Salt and pepper to taste

The morning before you plan to serve the meal: Salt and pepper roast generously. Place in slow cooker, pour stock around it. Cook 7 or 8 hours on low.

1 c. pot barley
1/4 c. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
1/2 c. sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1 Parmesan rind
3 c. water
1 T. salted herbs (or salt, pepper, and your favourite fresh herbs, or 1 t. dried herbs)

Melt butter in a medium pot over medium heat. When it is melted, add the vegetables and sauté for five minutes. Stir in the barley and continue to sauté for a few more minutes. Toss in the Parmesan rind and salted herbs and add the water. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for an hour. Add more water if barley is still tough when the water evaporates. Remove Parmesan rind before serving.

To serve, taste stock for seasoning, slice meat. Dish barley pilaf into a bowl, top with slices of meat, spoon broth around the pilaf. 

I also spread Dijon mustard on the beef. SO good!

As an added bonus, I used some leftover pizza dough and supper fixings to make steak and cheese turnovers for lunch yesterday:

2 T. butter
One sliced onion
Leftover beef, cut in small cubes
Chopped, cooked broccolette
1/2 c. beef stock
1 c. grated old Cheddar cheese

Cook onion in butter until it is caramelized. Add in beef and broccolette, and heat. Pour 1/2 c. stock over, and simmer until stock is almost completely reduced. Let cool.

Spoon onto your favourite pastry dough (pizza crust, turnover dough, puff pastry), top with grated cheese, seal, and bake at 375F.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A New Favourite Pizza Crust

I have been devoted to the same pizza crust for many years, now. I have posted it in the past, but I will re-post it here:

3 T. fast rising yeast

2 1/2 c. hot water
2 T. olive oil
2 T. honey
2 T. salt
3 1/2 c. EACH whole wheat and all purpose flour

Place yeast, water, olive oil and honey in a mixing bowl and let sit a few minutes until the mixture starts to foam. Add flour and salt and mix by hand or using a dough hook until it forms a shaggy dough. Knead for five minutes (or just keep that beautiful mixer running for five minutes while you do other things). Let rise, covered, for 30 minutes, or in the fridge overnight.

But I may be swayed by the "Ridiculously Easy" quinoa pizza dough recipe in Quinoa 365. I found it posted by another blogger, I Heart Fresh Food. While it has more white flour than I'm keen on, it makes a delicious, fluffy and versatile dough that is far more forgiving of freezing than my earlier favourite.

With the last batch I made, I pulled together a pizza out of some leftover roasted tomatoes, roast chicken, red peppers and cheddar (what I love about pizza in general is the way you can build an amazing one with just a few good ingredients). The pizza was simple, but good enough that the four of us (and remember, two of us are three and five years old) finished off two twelve-inch pizzas on a Friday night. I froze the remaining half of the dough and thawed it this past Friday, when I made calzones, again out of what I had available: roasted tomatoes, crumbled rosemary pork patties, and smoked cheddar. The dough was remarkably fluffy and tender, and the calzones passed the test of our new babysitter. He assured me he wouldn't be hungry, but I told him the calzones were there if he wanted them. He ate one and a half of them, and my husband scarfed down the last one when we got home from our movie.

Herein lies the reason that I still try new recipes even when I'm perfectly happy with a go-to standard. You never know—you may just take another step forward on your quest for perfection.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Leftover Series #4: Book Club Snacks

I have long sung the praises of using whatever is in your fridge and pantry to make delicious food. Last week was no exception, except that instead of just feeding it to my family, I extended it to my book club group.

I had a combination of promising ingredients and a few leftovers that I wanted to incorporate. Here's the list:

Homemade guacamole from a recent nacho night
Some recently thawed round steak
Mashed potatoes
Bison salami
Homemade ricotta salata
Green olives
Fresh veggies
A tube of unopened goat cheese from New Years Eve
Chocolate chip cookie mix (a homemade gift from G's day home)
Fig chutney, also from New Years Eve
Salted herbs from my garden
Soy-anise marinade leftover from braised short ribs

With the purchase of some fresh fruit, tortilla chips and crackers, I pulled together the following menu:
Chips and guacamole
Salami, ricotta salata and olive skewers
Honey/soy beef skewers (threaded the meat onto toothpicks, brushed with honey and roasted at 375F)
Mashed potato puffs
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
Veggies and salted herb dip (salted herbs stirred into half mayonnaise and half yogurt)
Crackers with goat cheese topped with fig chutney
A fruit plate of berries and melon

I began the night before by slicing the steaks into long, thin strips, pouring over some marinade and refrigerating overnight. The next afternoon (the day of the book club meeting), I got my boys to help me make the chocolate chip cookies. Win-win! They got to help me bake, we got to have warm cookies, and we got to give some of them away, so that I wasn't fighting them off as they clamoured for more cookies over the next few days. And just adding melted butter, egg and vanilla to premixed dry ingredients is a super-quick way to make cookies.

To feed my family dinner that night, I threw some frozen pork potstickers that I had made the week before into a frying pan, and offered up some of the beef skewers, salami and cheese, mashed potato puffs and veggies and dip. It was a perfect Finger Food Friday! They were happy, and I didn't have to be distracted from my preparations for the book club. All good.

I skewered the salami, cheese and olives, mixed the dip, put everything on fancy plates, put some wine outside (at –25C, it chills fast), and I was ready to go. My husband was sure, when he saw the spread, that I'd definitely have leftovers. He underestimates my book club ladies. There was virtually nothing left, and they asked for the potato puff recipe. A sure sign of success!