Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Liqueur-making Party a Success

Tonight we hosted hubby's colleagues to toast a success in their department and to help people out with processing the abundance of apples out there. The easiest transformation of apples I have found is to make liqueur, and the recipe is dead easy. I did a demonstration for our guests, making a batch and answering questions as we sampled liqueurs from previous years.

Here's my recipe:

Clean and coarsely chop apples. No need to peel, stem or core.

Measure as you chop: for every quart (4 cups) apples, you'll need 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup vodka or brandy (your choice). Place all ingredients in a large jar or bowl (I like to use 4L pickle jars). Mix together and shake or turn occasionally to dissolve sugar (this may take a few days to dissolve completely).

Store in a cool place for 6 weeks. Once the six weeks is up, strain liquid, discard solids, and pour liqueur into sterilized bottles. Let age for another three weeks before using. Enjoy!

If you're interested in other liqueur making recipes, check out this awesome resource:

I made little skewers of Italian sausage meatballs, smoked cheddar and apple wedges as well as fried sage leaves to dip in a liqueur-spiked applesauce. The fried sage leaves are always a hit. I'll have to post a photo when I make them again—this time, I was busy preparing the food right up until guests arrived, and didn't think about photos until the sage was all gone. I just fry it in a generous amount of olive oil for about two minutes, and then sprinkle with sea salt. The applesauce made a nice sweet/salty combo.

Also: for the record, I love doing these kinds of workshops. Anyone interested in doing one should just let me know.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summertime Menu: The Three Sisters Get a Makeover

Much has been made of the classic North American vegetarian combo, corn, beans and squash. They like to grow together, and when eaten together, are nutritionally balanced. Our meal tonight included all of them, but not in a traditional early North American way. But wow, was it satisfying.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese
Salad of White Beans and Chard
Steamed Corn on the Cob
Fresh sliced Purple Kohlrabi

Our kids also enjoyed the meal; although mostly, they were both excited to see corn on the cob, which we haven't had in a while, and then disappointed that it wasn't the usual bicolour variety from the grocery store. A friend has started an organic farm garden (check out Barefoot Earth Farm and Co-op on Facebook), and she delivered some heritage corn to us this week. It was tasty, but smaller and chewier than normal, which left D muttering to himself, "I don't want it to be chewy." I liked it.

I'd like to share both salad recipes, as they are absolute keepers, particularly at the height of vegetable season.

Roasted Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese

I learned today that it is less the exact ingredients of this salad and more the way it is made that make it so amazing. The original recipe, serving six people (very generously) called for a long list of vegetables: zucchini, two colours of peppers, eggplant, onion, asparagus and cherry tomatoes. Chop them into large chunks, then marinate them in a Dijon vinaigrette (6 T. red wine vinegar, 4 T. olive oil, 1 T. Dijon mustard, 1 T. chopped fresh oregano and salt and pepper to taste) for a half hour. Grill or roast them until done to your liking and then toss the hot vegetables with a generous amount of chevre (10 oz).

Well, today, I made do with the vegetables I had, using some yellow zucchini, a red pepper, half a large onion, one lonely tomato and a large handful of white mushrooms. The finished product was still amazing. My husband's response, with full mouth, was to point at the salad in the bowl: "This: super-awesome."

So pull whatever you have out of the fridge or garden. Toss it with vinaigrette, cook it, and toss it with goat cheese. It isn't all that pretty, since it just turns into a creamy mess. But the flavour. You will never look at an overabundance of zucchini the same way again.

Salad of White Beans and Greens

There are many takes on white beans and greens—pasta, casseroles, soups—but this one is one of my favourites. I can't find the original recipe anywhere, although I know I found it online about 10 years ago. If someone recognizes it as their own, please accept my thanks and due diligence.

1/2 lb. dried white beans (I used navy beans)
1 1/2 lb. Swiss chard
1 onion
1 T. vinegar
1/2 t. sugar
1/2 c. black olives
3 T. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. fresh parsley
1 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/4 t. salt and pepper

Soak the beans overnight. Cook for an hour (or do what I did: soak overnight, turn on the heat and forget about them until the liquid boils off and they are hopelessly ruined and the pot requires intensive scrubbing. Then get some more dry white beans, skip the soaking part and cook for two hours, or until tender). Finely chop the stems and leaves of the chard and steam just until tender.

Combine onions, vinegar and sugar. Cover and bring to a boil, and then immediately remove from heat and let stand, covered, for a few minutes.

Combine all ingredients. Serve at room temperature.

This recipe serves 10 people. I often half it.

With dishes like this, I could almost get used to the idea of being vegetarian. Almost, but not quite.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Meal Plan #13: Favourite Summer Recipes

It will be an interesting week in the Amazon Kitchen. Among preschool executive meetings and preparing for a long weekend visit to my parents' farm, I am hosting a work party for my husband where I will be demonstrating how to make apple liqueur, since their office lunch room has been inundated with bags of apples from co-workers' trees. I've just spent the evening researching potential snacks to go with apple liqueur drinks. More on that, later.

My poor garden has been partially decimated by sparrows, who apparently have a great appetite for Swiss chard, strawberries and green peas. We're still doing well with zucchini, green beans and kohlrabi, and I managed to steal some Swiss chard from my sister-in-law's garden this weekend, so that will also be factored into our meal plan.

Monday (before I rush out to the preschool executive meeting)
Roast chicken on the bbq (we'll see how this goes, since it's a BIG chicken. Too big to be roasted on a beer can, and too big for our crappy little bbq rotisserie. I'll be experimenting with indirect heat roasting. I can't bring myself to roast a chicken in the house when it's going to be 27 degrees.)
Dolmathes (from the gigantic can we opened a while back—don't worry, they were packed in oil so they're still well preserved, and they're no longer in the can)
Steamed green beans
Roasted cauliflower (an amazing way to eat cauliflower—just toss florets with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and roast until tender and browned). I usually roast it in the oven, but for the same reasons the chicken is going outside, the cauliflower will go into my new bbq grill pan to get roasted there.

Checking off my list of favourite summer recipes (we're running out of time!!):
White bean salad with Swiss chard, olives and capers (recipe to come Tuesday)
Simplified roasted vegetable salad with goat cheese (the one I like to make calls for piles of vegetables, including eggplant, asparagus and cherry tomatoes as well as zucchini, peppers, onion, green onion. I'm going to use what I have: zucchini, onion, mushrooms and a red pepper. I'm pretty sure it will still rock our world, since melty goat cheese on warm roasted vegetables is soooo good.)
Tuesday I'll also be doing some simplified prep work for our Wednesday event (making little pork meatballs and apple brandy applesauce)

Work party:
Liqueur making demonstration, including three drink recipes, and an appetizer platter of pork mini-meatballs, apple slices, smoked cheddar and fried sage, with apple brandy applesauce for dipping. I'm excited! I LOVE doing this sort of thing.

Herbed Beef and Rice Noodle Salad (can't wrap up summer without serving this, one of my all-time favourite recipes, packed with fresh herbs from my garden!)

Friday: off to the farm
I am trying something new in my efforts to streamline our road trips. The trip to the farm, which takes about three hours, always overlaps the supper hour if we want to leave right after my husband is done work. We have tried stopping part way to have a sit-down meal in a restaurant, but I noted on our recent road trip that our efforts to give the kids a break where they sit down and eat something fails on all counts. D is free! He wants to run around! Running around is a much higher priority than eating! Our efforts to corral him and get him to sit down only draw out the experience and reduces the enjoyment of our own meals. The second he's strapped into his carseat again, he says, "I want to eat something!"

So this weekend, I've decided, perhaps later than most parents would have, that we should eat on the road. I will pack salmon sandwiches, a kid favourite, and pass them back when requested. We will drive straight through, getting there before bedtime, well-fed, less frazzled, and hopefully happier.

Will it work? I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Herbs in all Their Glory

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Life keeps getting in the way. I've been wanting to share this herb-filled vegetarian recipe as well as my first efforts (not great) at food photography with my new SLR camera.

Grilled Halloumi Cheese with Zucchini, Tomato and Red Onion Salad
(adapted from Simple Vegetarian Recipes, part of the "Cooking for Today" series, published by Whitecap Books in North Vancouver. This is an older cookbook, and I can't find reference to it even on the publisher's website. We have two in the series, though, this one and 'Simple Chinese Recipes')

1 lb. Halloumi cheese

Juice and zest of half an orange
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. dry white wine
2 T. white wine vinegar
1/2 T. snipped fresh chives
1/2 T. chopped fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz plum tomatoes
1 small red onion
1 small zucchini
4 T. olive oil
2 T. cider vinegar
1 t. lemon juice
pinch ground coriander
2 t. chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil leaves to garnish

Slice cheese thickly and place in a shallow dish. Mix together marinade ingredients and pour over the cheese. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the salad, slice the tomatoes and zucchini thinly and place on a serving plate. Thinly slice the onion and scatter over the tomatoes. Whisk together remaining ingredients, except basil, and drizzle over the vegetables. Cover and chill.

Drain the marinade from the cheese. Cook cheese on a hot grill for 2 minutes, until slightly charred and softened, turning once. Lift onto plates and serve with the salad.

I served it with purchased dolmathes for a refreshing Greek-inspired summer meal.

Thick slabs of cheese in the herby marinade

Yellow zucchini is thriving in my garden this year

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy to be Home

So much foodie stuff to think about and share, I don't know where to start, and it's midnight and I should be sleeping. Here are several threads that I will be exploring in the next few days:
• all herbs, all the time: my herbs are by far the most successful part of my garden, and I love, love, love fresh herbs. I want to cook with them as much as possible in the next while and will be sharing my thoughts on herb cookbooks, fresh meals and more
• baby birthday! Baby G is turning 1, so I will be sorting through my recipes to come up with an appropriate cake and salads for a casual bbq at our local park
• what did I learn about food, road trips and kids? We traveled over 5000 km with two small children and did not once stop at a fast food outlet (except for Tim Hortons for iced caps, and Booster Juice...). I have a few more lessons from the road to share.
• tis the season for putting up the local bounty— I just froze 11 cups of apples from my husband's colleague's tree, and hubbie is now setting out to plan a 'apple liqueur making workshop' as an excuse to show off our new kitchen and get together with work pals over drinks. I'm all for it! I'll be the workshop host.
• our kitchen is still not 100% complete, but there are only three things left now, and it is in full use. 'After' photos to come!

P.S., I'm delighted to report that we invested in a digital SLR camera before our roadtrip so I will soon be venturing into blog-photography. Blogography? Photoblogging? Is there a name for that?
More to come!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Lessons from the Road

We're one week into our road trip holiday. I'm happy to report that my itinerary has been livable for everyone involved. We took a week to drive to the Sunshine Coast in BC, traveling with my parents and their camper trailer for the first few days, then staying with my sister and other friends in the Okanagan, before making the rest of the way here.

Before having kids, I was famous for over-scheduling a holiday, meaning that we would return from our 'getaway' completely exhausted. It's a bad idea to do that with kids, to say the least, and so I did my best to plan in some rest time, but I didn't know until we actually got on the road whether my estimations for optimal travel times were accurate. Turns out 4-5 hours of driving for a couple days in a row is not unreasonable, so everyone was more or less a happy camper.

I am having to learn to let go a little when it comes to food. It's a big challenge to convince D that it is time to eat whenever any of the following events are competing for his attention:
• prairie dogs to chase in the picnic site we're stopped at
• rocks to throw in the mountain river
• there's a swimming pool to swim in
• a playground is in sight
• a beach is in sight
• a toy is in sight
• kids to play with are in sight

Not to mention that we have to hit that tiny window of opportunity where we stop to eat before he has snacked too much in the car or gotten too tired to focus. He doesn't appear to have eaten much besides goldfish crackers in the last week. Plus a meal of fried fish that Grandpa cooked for us, and a catch-up meal of a whole bbq chicken breast, all the rice he could find, all the carrots he could find, one coconut milk frozen juice pop and half a peach, on a day where we actually hit the hunger window bang-on. Still, I'm not too worried. We kept the snacks as healthy as possible. Although the whole grain rice and peanut butter balls were popular when D got to help me make them, he rejected the idea of actually eating them while on the road, which was the whole point of me making them...

Tonight's experience was a good example of how the trip has been going. We were hiking in the morning, and at the beach in the early afternoon. Our lunch consisted of 7 layer dip, nachos, hummous, baby cucumbers, cheese, smoked salmon bites, and blueberries, cherries and raspberries. D grazed a bit, but was mostly interested in playing soccer, chasing kids on bikes, sliding on the slide, and building sand castles. We snacked on everything again before we left the park, around 3:00. The second we got in the car, he fell fast asleep, and slept right until 5PM. I had plans to make a spot prawn stir-fry at our little cottage, and he came upstairs saying, "I'm really hungry!" He loves noodles, loves shrimp, so I figured a noodle stir-fry with prawns and veggies would hit the spot. He tasted the noodles and looked at the shrimp, and announced he was full. What can you do? Well, we fed him a frozen coconut pop, some cereal and yogurt for an evening snack and called it a day.

I learned a painful lesson about my own digestive limits on this trip as well. One morning in Kelowna I planned to go wine touring. While I waited for my mom and sister to meet me, I drank three cups of coffee. Then our hosts brought home caramel macchiatos for everyone. Then we headed to Mission Hill winery for lunch. There was a wait. So we did some wine tasting instead. We didn't have lunch until 3:30, by which time we were starving, and perhaps a little tipsy. We shared a delicious charcuterie plate, I ordered a steamed seafood platter, and then we shared a lavender creme brulee. Then we had more wine. I went back to our friends' house and agreed that we would skip the regular supper meal and instead order Indian food after the kids were in bed. So at 10PM, I sat down to more wine, and some super hot curry. The next morning, I woke up feeling awful. My stomach rebelled. It wanted no coffee, just plain toast and nothing else. So there is a limit to what I can consume—I've often wondered, and now I know. Intense coffee and wine consumption followed by late night hot curry is not a combo I will try again.

Tomorrow we're going to try to fit in fish and chips for supper, and we're invited for lunch to a long-lost friend's house in Robert's Creek, just up the road from our cottage. Then on Sunday, we're continuing on to our final destination: three nights with more good friends on Hernando Island.