Monday, November 26, 2012

Foodie Book Review #3: An Everlasting Meal

A close foodie friend recommended I read An Everlasting Meal. When I was stocking up on foodie books at a recent visit to Powell's Books in Portland, I picked up a copy. I don't know what to call it: a love affair with food, a lifetime reference, a life-changing read...all of those fit the bill.

Tamar Adler has cooked with Gabrielle Hamilton, Alice Waters, and several other famous American chefs, and she manages to combine thrift with a passion for cooking and eating, something I've never really experienced before, at least not in such a way that was so committed to both using every scrap of food and thoroughly enjoying it at the same time.

I get that. I absolutely LOVE turning a chicken carcass into stock, and picking off all the bits of meat to use for soup. I love reducing a fat, healthy bird to nothing but a tiny pile of bones, knowing that we have enjoyed several meals from it, and that the animal did not die in vain. I petition my dad constantly to save organs and soup bones from the animals he butchers. And I love transforming leftover rice into a pie crust for a quiche, or rice pudding for tomorrow's breakfast or dessert.

But I had never considered half of the ideas in Adler's book for stretching vegetables, beans, broth and meat into amazing and flavourful meals--like turning stems, leaves and cores of brassicas and dark leafy greens into pesto (although I did take great joy in making radish leaf pesto from my garden this year, so I wasn't that far off), or turning fresh pea shells into stock for pea soup. I will have this book on my recipe shelf from now on, and I'm pretty sure it will become studded with sticky notes, to mark my favourite ideas and recipes.

I have already made her recipe for White Bolognese (inspired by Amanda Hesser, but calling for homemade beef stock rather than beef bouillon mixed with water), which, it turns out, is the whole food version of my mom's classic "hamburger goop," otherwise known as ground beef fried with onions and celery and then bound together with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Using real beef stock, Italian sausage, porcini mushrooms and fresh cream makes it WAY more delicious and even more comforting, which I hadn't thought possible.

Besides some creative approaches to food in general, Adler's approach to sharing food continues to work its way into my mind. She argues it doesn't matter what you serve, as long as you serve something. It's the coming together for the meal that gets your guests excited about a dinner party, more so than the menu itself. She encourages you to offer something—anything—the moment your guests arrived: radishes with butter and salt; celery and carrot sticks with crackers and butter; warmed olives, or stale bread toasted and drizzled with oil and herbs. It got me thinking more creatively about what I have in my pantry and refrigerator that people can eat. Suddenly, the options seem much broader than they did before I read the book.

She also suggests making dishes that allow the host to relax with her/his guests, a lesson which I have yet to learn, since my approach was to redesign my kitchen so that my guests could sit and have a drink while watching me cook. She encourages involving your guests in the preparation of the meal, again, something I need to practice. This quote is echoing around in my head: "Only remember what is plainly and always true: the act of serving fulfills itself. It doesn't matter what you serve."

So my cooking resolution is to try not to be so rigid in what and to whom I serve. I'll embrace the idea of creating meals with what I have available, without running to the store for that one ingredient that will perfect a specific recipe. I'm pretty sure thinking this way will make me a more creative—and relaxed—cook.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Healthy(ish) Halloween Treats

D's preschool is having a Halloween party, and parents are asked to bring something to contribute to the snack table. Last year, I brought Martha Stewart's Goblin Flatbreads. My kids liked them, but they weren't popular with the group, because no one knew what they were.

This year, I'm still going savoury, but hopefully a little more recognizable. I've opted for pumpkin-shaped cheese crackers, based on a recipe from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Cookbook. It's their wholegrain version of homemade cheese nips, which I adapted using the flour I had (how I ended up with every kind of flour under the sun except the barley flour called for, I do not know. Well, actually, I do know—from making a few batches of the Graham cracker recipe from the same cookbook.)

These aren't the healthiest things ever—they do contain processed cheese powder, something which has not crossed my threshold, either in the form of a box of macaroni and cheese or otherwise, until today. But the cheese crackers are good enough that I will probably make them again. And I wouldn't turn up my nose at some of that cheese powder on my popcorn, either.

So here are my cute little pumpkins, which turned out to be quite soft due to the oat flour I used in place of the barley flour. But they have a nice flakiness to them, kind of like a tender, cheesy pie crust. I don't think the kids will complain. Next time, though, I will have the barley flour on hand to make them 'right'. They're easy enough to make, using a food processor, that I may consider replacing the ubiquitous Goldfish (or the organic version: Cheddar Bunnies) with the occasional batch of these.

After the fact, I wondered about a cracker recipe that used real cheese, which of course would have been easy to find if I'd just Googled it. Guilty Kitchen posted one last year. Maybe THAT's the one I should try, instead of the one that uses barley flour and cheese powder. Ah well, there are many more years of cheese crackers in my future, so I'm sure I can try both and get back to you on which one I prefer. 

Cheese Crackers (adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1/3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c. whole barley flour (I used oat flour instead)
1/2 c. bread flour
1 T. dry milk
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/8 t. paprika
1/2 c. Cheddar cheese powder
6 T. butter, chilled
1/4 c. buttermilk
1/4 t. salt mixed with 1 T. cheese powder for topping (I didn't use this. The crackers were salty enough already)

Mix together dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and blend until the mixture is a fine meal. Add the buttermilk and mix until the dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead lightly for a minute or two, incorporating extra flour if the dough is sticky. Pat the dough into two flat rounds, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 F (I used 300 F on convection).

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it as thin as possible. Cut it into pumpkin shapes using a cutter, collecting scraps and rerolling as necessary. Make faces on your pumpkins using a knife. 

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Joys of Roasted Tomatoes

First and foremost I must apologize for my lengthy absence. September and most of October have been a mad rush of working out of town every week and juggling events and travel on almost every weekend. In September my husband turned 40 and I hosted the party (and was so busy I had to hire Caffe Sola to cater...although I did bake the cake(s)), we took a road trip to Calgary, I went on a girls' getaway to Portland, OR, we spent a weekend at Elk Ridge Resort in northern Saskatchewan while my husband was at a conference, and I also worked a weekend evening at the Premier wine festival. D started preschool three days a week, and I started playing volleyball on two teams in a Sunday league.

In October, it has been slightly more quiet, except for my dad's 60th birthday party, which my parents hosted and combined with their 40th wedding anniversary celebration. This involved 200 guests, and the roasting of a whole pig and 3 barons of beef. I was again in charge of the cake; I made a three-tier puffed wheat cake, with Rice Krispie 'frosting'. My dad doesn't like real cake, but he loves puffed wheat cake, and this is the third celebratory puffed wheat cake I've made. The other two were wedding cakes. Thanks to my girlfriend who forwarded this photo of her puffed wheat wedding cake after I mentioned I didn't have one.

I travelled slightly less often, but my days were filled with the frantic efforts to harvest the last of my garden. I got all the basil processed and gave the rest away, and froze and dried herbs late into the night in late September. And then the frosts came, and whatever didn't get done was beyond saving. The garden is (mostly) put to bed, and probably as much as it is going to be, considering there is now snow on the ground. I had intended to dig some Jerusalem artichokes, but haven't got to them yet. They may have to wait until spring.

All that I have left of the summer bounty are the bags of root vegetables harvested from our garden, my mom's garden, or purchased from the Farmer's market, as well as a big box of spaghetti squash. And then there are the tomatoes. My tomato plants didn't yield much this year, but I did get a bumper crop of cherry tomatoes. My neighbours have been keeping me in big beautiful Beefsteaks and Golden Boys, and my mom passed on a bag of Romas.

What does one make with so many tomatoes and so little time? My new favourite recipe is roasted tomatoes. All kinds, with the large ones cut into chunks, and the small ones tossed in whole, a handful of whole garlic cloves, salt and pepper, some fresh or dried herbs and a generous glug of olive oil. Roast them in a dish of some sort (they look prettiest in some sort of pottery or stoneware), and roast them at 325F for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. I froze the results, which can be used as is as an excellent pasta sauce, used as a base for anything requiring tomato sauce (my husband cooked quinoa in some of the sauce, and it was wonderful), or pureed and turned into soup.

It was also the easiest option for the days when the tomatoes needed attention and I had no time to give it. Simply chop, toss, throw in the oven, and ignore while doing other things. Perfect!

I was also committed to making roasted salsas, which are my absolute favourites. In fact, I don't make simmered salsas at all. There are a few steps to a roasted salsa, and it requires a few cookie sheets and a blender, as well as some wrestling with chiles (I always forget to put on gloves and suffer an evening or two of burning fingers as the chile oil permeates my skin), but the final results are so superior that I never begrudge the effort.

Here are two of my favourite recipes, both from Rick Bayless's Salsas that Cook:
Roasted Poblano-Tomato Salsa
Chipotle-Cascabel Salsa with Roasted Tomatoes and Tomatillos
When a good friend of mine tasted the chipotle-cascabel salsa, he told me I should quit my job and just start cooking. I didn't think I should quit my job just because I could follow a recipe, but I do agree that this is about the best tasting (albeit quite spicy) salsa I have ever tasted. It is tangy, smoky, spicy and savoury all at once. It is also too hot for my kids to eat, or at least I thought so. D is up for the challenge, and if we warn him it's spicy, he keeps a glass of milk close by to cool the burn (I'm glad he's trying it. Gives me hope that one day, they'll like hot stuff as much as we do!). Even the roasted poblano salsa, while mild by almost anyone's standards, is a bit on the hot side for my kids.

Which is probably one of the reasons I haven't made them in a couple of years, besides the issue of renovating my kitchen last year, and having a brand new baby the year before that. But now, I'm back, and I am delighted to have three kinds of salsa in my freezer, ready for the winter.

While I was at the salsa making, I may have lost my mind a little bit because when the recipe called for tomato puree, I decided to make my own. It came out tasting quite a bit like ketchup, and the little bit that I had left over also went into the freezer.

While I'm a huge fan of the roasting technique, and will finish up this post with my new favourite pasta sauce recipe, I did make a bit of simmered tomato sauce, mostly because I had leeks, and my favourite basic sauce for freezing calls for them. I now have some regular red tomato sauce and a couple of containers of pure yellow tomato sauce ready for pulling out of the freezer whenever we need it over the winter. It is a fairly simple recipe, and I've been referencing it in The Occasional Vegetarian for over 10 years.

3 lbs. fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded (to peel, heat a pot of water to a boil. Drop whole tomatoes into the boiling water and leave for a minute or two. Scoop out with a slotted spoon, let cool til they can be handled, and slip off the skins. To seed, cut in half and gouge out the seed pockets. Or watch this tutorial to learn how. I don't always seed the tomatoes, because it feels wasteful. This year I did, though, because I had so many tomatoes. It does make a thicker sauce if you let them go. You could always dry them for seed!) or you can use 4 c. canned tomatoes, but I usually make a different recipe if I'm using canned.
2 T. olive oil
1 1/4 c. chopped leek (I have also used onion if I don't have leeks)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. salt
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. pepper

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and add the leek and garlic. Saute gently for about three minutes, until soft. Add the tomatoes, salt and sugar, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the desired consistency is reached. Use this as a pasta sauce, add whatever herbs you like, or use it in any recipe that calls for tomato sauce. I freeze it in containers and add the necessary herbs to turn it into pasta sauce, pizza sauce, a soup ingredient, or whatever. I delight in not having to buy tomato sauce all winter.

But back to tonight's dinner, which was another experiment in roasting. And I have to say, I am IN LOVE. I only had time to do the standard roasted tomatoes, and I decided to just do that and pasta. I wondered, though, if I could add other ingredients to it, like anchovies and capers, and do a roasted Puttanesca sauce? It turns out I can, and the results were extremely satisfying.

The simmered version of the sauce is easy, too, and it is up to each individual whether they prefer the stovetop method or the oven roasted method. For me, I loved being able to stick it in the oven and walk away. I was also efficient with my oven use, since I baked a plum torte for dessert at the same time. The final result was a perfectly balanced umami sauce that blended beautifully with some rustic "Ferretto Calabro" artisan pasta. My kids asked for seconds and thirds of the meal, and we enjoyed it just as much. It's a keeper!

Roasted Puttanesca Sauce

2 lbs. mixed tomatoes (I used red and yellow cherry tomatoes left whole and large red and yellow tomatoes, coarsely chopped)
1 head garlic, cloves broken up, unpeeled
4 salt packed anchovies, soaked, filleted and chopped
2-3 T. salt packed capers, rinsed
1/2 c. or a medium handful of Kalamata olives, pitted and torn in half
Generous pour of olive oil over all (about 1/2 c., or about a 1/2 inch deep in the roasting pan)
Several grinds of fresh pepper

In a roasting pan that will hold the ingredients to about 2 inches deep (a well-packed single layer), toss tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, capers and olives. Pour olive oil over, sprinkle with pepper and toss again. Place in a 325F oven for two hours, stirring when you remember.

Cook your favourite pasta to al dente. Drain and put pasta back in the cooking pot with the sauce. Toss with the sauce until the noodles soak up the sauce and it thickens slightly. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Preserving for Busies

'Tis the season for preserving. Does that cause you anxiety? Many people equate preserving with pickles, jams and jellies, all requiring sterile environments, candy thermometers, and complex chemical interactions. That's part of preserving, and I don't shy away from making pickles and jams. The thought of doing them doesn't cause me anxiety, but it does make me do a quick calculation of my available time. If that time isn't substantial (because it does take at least an hour to prep the jars, fruit/vegetables, line up the equipment, check that I have all the ingredients, and so on), I'll opt for something easier.

This year, with a minimum of time and effort, and the help of my deep freeze, I have put away raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, sour cherries, green beans, radish leaf pesto, basil pesto, and pureed basil that can replace fresh basil in the dead of winter. I will also be freezing grated zucchini, tomatoes, either whole or as salsa, and many more herbs from my kitchen garden.

Most of these items were simply washed, frozen individually on cookie trays (so they aren't solid lumps, and we can remove as much or as little as we need) and dumped into freezer bags. I do all my berries like this, and have also frozen peaches and apples (tossed in lemon juice) this way. The zucchini is simply grated and packed into freezer containers, to be pulled out whenever I have a craving for morning glory muffins or chocolate zucchini cake. I have literally tossed tomatoes in a bag and stuck them in a freezer, when I simply don't have time to deal with them. They are ready and waiting to be turned into tomato sauce or replace canned tomatoes in any recipe, whenever you need them.

I make big batches of roasted tomato salsa, so instead of chopping and boiling everything together, I place whole vegetables under the broiler until they're blackened, and then puree them and pack them in freezer containers.

Our pesto, also frozen, lasts right till the next basil season, bringing a taste of summer and one of our favourite quick meal fixes and kid favourites: simple pasta with pesto. Throw in some veggies and leftover chicken for a delicious one dish meal.

I have more basil than I can make into pesto, so the remainder gets pureed with a pinch of salt and just enough olive oil to make it a paste. I fill ice cube trays with the blend, freeze it, and then toss it into any winter dish (soups and stews especially) that calls for fresh basil.

Other herbs, I just wash and freeze whole. They can be chopped and added to anything and are the next best thing to fresh. I'm also experimenting with herbes salees this year, a Quebec tradition. I already have a jar of them in my fridge, but haven't started using it yet, since my fresh herbs are still available.

In all of this preserving, I only heated up my blancher once, and that was for a surplus of green beans. They cooked in the hot water no more than two minutes before I pulled them out, cooled them in ice water, and froze them individually on trays, again, so they can be tossed in a large freezer bag and pulled out as needed.

I did make a couple of batches of crabapple jelly this year, as well as a batch of cucumber relish, because I was gifted with some overripe cucumbers. I love the snap of hot jars sealing in delicious garden goodness that can be enjoyed any time of year.

I've also got three kinds of fruit liqueur on the go: raspberry, crabapple and sour cherry. These are one of the easiest ways to preserve the summer flavours of fruit, as long as you tipple now and then. Simply mix 2 parts berries or cherries with 1 part brandy or vodka and 1 part sugar, mash together to dissolve the sugar, and let sit for three weeks. Strain and pour into sterilized bottles (this takes a bit of organization, both to have the bottles, and to have them washed and boiled in water for ten minutes to sterilize. I haven't yet gotten around to bottling my liqueurs, even though they have all been sitting longer than three weeks, but the good news is, the process is extremely forgiving, and no matter when I get to the bottling, the results will be delicious, and will last at least a year).

If I had more time, I would be doing more preserving, but I can barely keep up with regular meals and garden tasks in among raising kids and trying to make a living, let alone spending a couple of hours at a time devoted to washing, prepping, cooking, and canning various fruits and veggies. It's a sad reality. I have even had to give away some of my garden produce because I don't have time to blanch it or grate and freeze it. But paying it forward is always rewarding in the end, so if this is where I'm at right now, then at least nothing is going to waste and others get to enjoy it. So however I can make the fresh food last in the simplest manner possible—that's what I've been doing this year.

Hopefully you'll find a way to save a bit of this season's bounty for colder times of year. With a minimum of planning, your deep freeze will help you sock away fresh herbs, veggies, fruit for smoothies and pancakes (or just for plain eating—frozen blueberries are a favourite any time of year in my household). All you need is a box of freezer bags and some freezer containers to get you started.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Gift of Food

My brother and his wife were recently blessed with their first baby. I think I have mentioned before that  in situations where people are in need, I feel the best thing I can do for them is bring food. So, here I go.

We're going to visit them tomorrow, and while they said it is okay for us to stay with them, I insisted that I would bring food and cook meals while we're there, so they're not trying to 'entertain' while also trying to deal with the challenges of a new baby. It's enough that they are willing to tolerate my rambunctious boys while coping with baby.

I spent today doing some make-ahead ingredients to take along, as well as making a second attempt at crabapple jelly. The first attempt turned out to be crabapple syrup. I'm happy to say the second try is setting up nicely. I also made a big pot of Indonesian sweet potato and cabbage soup from Moosewood's Simple Suppers. I have delivered this to other families during major life events and it has always garnered rave reviews. It's also super healthy, vegan, and easy to throw together.

Then came a brief interlude involving an appointment with our financial planners, dinner at Thien Vietnamese Restaurant (I believe I will sing the praises of Vietnamese cabbage salads very soon), and a brief shopping trip to try to find some clothes that a)fit; b)do not have stains or holes; c)are appropriate for work in an office, since I will be starting a new contract on Monday. My hubbie and kids went to River Landing to play while I shopped. I met up with them only to discover G with a bloody nose and D with a big bruise on his knee from slipping on the wet concrete. I actually worked on the water play area when it was being designed, and it's hard not to feel responsible for slick concrete...even though all I was truly responsible for was the research and writing...

But I digress. I came home, put kids to bed, and promptly started making the ingredients for other meals:
• pizza dough, enough to make grilled pizza tomorrow night, and leave some in the freezer for them to use as needed
• pancake mix (I mixed together all the dry ingredients for my famous buckwheat pancakes, and will also bring along homemade elk breakfast sausage, enough that we can leave some behind for them to cook later). We'll be serving it all topped with crabapple syrup!
• black olive tapenade to fill a Pan Bagnat, a filled sandwich that traditionally includes tuna, black olives, and vegetables. I'm going to see what everyone is in the mood for, what is in the garden, and what I can find at the farmers' market, and go from there. Definitely goat cheese and tapenade, for starters...

Hopefully we'll all eat well while we're there, it will be one less thing for my brother and sister-in-law to worry about, and we can leave them with the makings of some great future meals...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kids' Birthday Party—No Hot Dogs or Hamburgers

We've been eating a lot of hotdogs and hamburgers this summer. It goes with summer, right? I enjoy it, in small doses, but the doses have been getting a little heavy handed this year.

Enter planning for my kids' birthday party (they were born six days apart, two years apart, so this year I decided to host one party for both of them while they're still at an age where they don't care). I didn't want to do the obvious and serve hot dogs or hamburgers. In fact, I didn't even feel the need to fire up the grill. We would eat outside, but I'd opt for fun finger foods that would fit the realities and informality of a toddlers' birthday. No one can get the kids to sit down and eat, so why not just set out stuff they can grab when they're so inclined?

So the menu went something like this:

Fruit plates (watermelon, peaches and grapes)
Vegetables and fresh herb dip (I will soon write some more about my love affair with herbs)
Tortilla cheese rolls (mix 1/2 c. each sour cream, shredded cheddar and cream cheese, add your choice of flavours (I used red bell pepper, an green olive and caper mix and black olives), mix well and spread onto tortillas. Roll up the tortillas, refrigerate overnight, then slice into 1" slices and serve)
Parmesan puffs with marinara for dipping (these were supposed to be like little gougeres, but they didn't puff properly. I won't pass on the recipe until I figure out what went wrong...but they still tasted good)
Devilled eggs with radish leaf pesto
Sweet and sour meatballs in a apricot/hoisin glaze (just make your favourite meatball recipe, bake off the meatballs, and stir together 1/2 c. apricot preserves and 1/4 c. each hoisin sauce and rice vinegar. Throw in some sweet red pepper and the meatballs, stir, heat and serve.)

And the piece de resistance: an Iron Man Cake and Incredible Hulk Cupcakes, frosted with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, a la Martha Stewart (my hubbie, upon eating his third piece of cake, announced, "I never have to eat any other kind of icing again, ever." Buttercream is the way to go.

I tried to go the natural food colouring route, but gave up on the red and blue. They just didn't do what I needed them to do. Even the Nutty Club stuff will only turn icing pink, rather than red. D laughed when he saw the cake, "Iron Man is pink!" I explained that it's hard to get a true red using the food colouring I have, and he added, "It's okay, Mom. The yellow is perfect."

I may have to give in and go for some of the gel paste food colouring next year. I figure, heck, my kids eat healthy 99% of the time. Is it really so terrible if we ingest food colouring once a year if it means the cake looks AWESOME?

We spent Sunday recovering from the party, and sorting through toys to make room for the new ones. Next cooking project: bringing food gifts to my brother and sister-in-law and their new baby.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Three Summer Parties

The parties are over, and my recovery is mostly complete. I confess to spending last week and weekend cooking as little as possible, and sleeping as much as possible, to catch up as much as I can from three weeks of visitors, parties, and camping trips, all while suffering from a nasty summer cold which has made its rounds on the entire family. My kids are still coughing and sniffling. I thought I'd share my recipes and experiences from three very different, but all wonderful, summer events.

Party #1: Food Writers' Get-Together

I invited some local food writers, with whom I had taken a food writing workshop last year, to a get-together, which will hopefully become a regular occurrence. It's great fun to hang out with fellow foodie/wino peers and indulge in food talk and a bit of wine snobbery. Especially with this gang, who is particularly down-to-earth.

The party theme (I always have to have a theme) was 'matching your favourite wine to food/favourite food to wine' depending on your priorities. Since one of the attendees is a wine writer, his focus was obviously on the wine side.

The day was HOT and it had been hot for days prior. I ran in to said wine writer at the grocery store that day, and he said, "all I'm bringing is salsa and some chips. And wine, of course. It's too hot to eat!" The unmentioned fact is that it is not too hot to drink wine.

I had a few simple items planned, including fresh, homemade goat cheese on baguette, topped with radish leaf pesto (my new favourite recipe for turning garden waste into deliciousness—thanks, Chocolate and Zucchini!). I also prepared another canapé topped with homemade chorizo sausage mixed with butter beans and basil, topped with yogurt, a recipe from Cook, Eat, Smile.

The other writers showed up with homemade deer sausage (delicious!) and a couple of homemade salsas. The wine writer showed up with a CASE of vinho verde and Lambrusco (for any true wine snobs out there, you'll laugh, since Lambrusco does not have a very respectable reputation), his recommendations for light, refreshing summer drinks. He was right. It was delicious, and went GREAT with sausage! We had a great time until the wine writer got too enthusiastic about playing with my kids and wiped out on the carpet while giving 50lb. D a piggy back ride. The party ended on that note, with a grown-up with a bloody nose (D was fine) and the rest of us shaking our heads and wondering how it had gotten to that point. Perhaps foolishly, we are already talking about the next event.

Party #2: Blessingway BBQ for 25

My sister-in-law is due to have her first baby on G's birthday in August. She asked if I would host her "Blessingway," a sort-of baby shower that has many spiritual aspects to it, and is intended to surround the mother with loving women and prepare her for childbirth and motherhood. It was a beautiful ceremony, and was followed by a bbq that included husbands and kids, as well as all the women that had attended the ceremony.

From the food perspective, I needed to prepare a meal that could mostly be made ahead of time, so that I wouldn't be distracted during the ceremony, and which could be set out the second we were done to accommodate the hungry kids coming back from the park. My menu worked perfectly, except for the fact that I second-guessed myself on food quantities late the night before, and had to pull out another package of meat from the freezer to make myself feel better. The quantities were just right before I pulled out that package, so we ended up with a few leftovers, but nothing too unreasonable. It was a good lesson in trusting my instincts. I truly have cooked enough to know the right amounts for 25 people. But I still live in terror of running out of food.

The menu, taken mostly from recipes on the internet, with an Asian theme, and nothing too spicy, as my sister-in-law's baby-infused tastebuds are very sensitive to things like onion and raw garlic:

Raw vegetables with Asian-inspired Dip (made ahead)
Szechuan Noodles and Shredded Vegetables  (designed to be made the night before)
Cold Chinese Rice Salad (cooked the day before and mixed that morning)
Grilled chicken, beef, moose and elk skewers, with various Asian marinades (marinated over night, skewered early in the afternoon)
Grilled baby bok choy with Asian marinade (my new favourite from a couple weeks ago)
Thai Iced Tea (using red tea from Thailand that my brother and sister-in-law brought back with them a few years ago)
Coconut milk and honey frozen pops (made the night before)

It all came together with a minimum of stress. A very satisfying experience!

Interlude: Ukrainian Braided Wedding Bread

Oh yes, and besides the parties, I was also trying to work out how to appropriately honour my grandparents' 65th wedding anniversary (65 years is a big deal!). I considered making 65 bread doves, which my grandma has made many times as table decorations for her grandchildren's weddings. My mom got the recipe and instructions from her, at which point I realized that I did not have time, nor enough sanity, in the three days remaining before their anniversary, to make them, 20 at a time, dry them in the oven overnight, then glaze them and paint eyes on them.

I opted instead to make them my version of a traditional Ukrainian wedding bread, which my grandma had made for our wedding. It had probably been 65 years since someone had done it for her, so it was time for a redux. I found a recipe on King Arthur Flour's website. The dough was wonderful to work with, and the resulting loaf, while a tiny bit lopsided (I made it in an 8" pan instead of a 9" pan, and used some of the extra dough to make doves for decoration, and then had some left over, which I added to the centre of the loaf, and it turned out to be too big for the pan) was still not bad for a first try. My dad took a picture, which I will try to scam from him to post here.

My granddaughterly duty done, I could then return to meal planning for the next big summer event.

Party #3: Wyld Womyn's Trail Ride Supper Duty

The weekend after the Blessingway was our annual wyld womyn's trail ride. My mom and I are usually in charge of suppers. We usually cook over the fire, or outside in some fashion. I wanted to try something a bit different this year, so I pitched the idea of making southern fried chicken in the turkey fryer. It's something I've wanted to do for a while, and this seemed like a good opportunity, especially because my dad has the fryer basket required to make the job easier, a piece of equipment I have yet to purchase.

Night #1:
Lynn Crawford's Southern Fried Chicken (this calls for a bbq spice rub as part of the spicing. I used this recipe)
Mom's homemade potato salad and coleslaw
Fresh fruit (eventually...first, we went for a ride to burn off the chicken)

I can happily report that the effort of marinating, breading and frying chicken, while messy and a bit hot  when done outdoors in 30-degree temperatures, is well worth it. The results were fantastic. I am now hunting in earnest for a basket for my own fryer, so I can do it again at home.

Night #2:
Greek Night!
Beef souvlaki kebabs, cooked over the fire
Lemon rice (we cheated for this and plugged in a rice cooker in our camper, which was hooked up to power)
Greek salad
Baklava (from the RecipeSource website, an amazing resource for all kinds of ethnic dishes. Check it out when you have a chance!)

Our beef was a little tough, in spite of marinating overnight, but everyone still raved about the food. The baklava was especially popular. I forgot that I had also picked up some Lebanese candied fruits from a new shop in Saskatoon, and we never even got around to eating them.

Night #3 is the night when husbands, kids, friends and other family is invited, and we have a big wiener roast. Great fun for everyone.

So after the past few weeks, while I enjoyed every minute of it while it was happening, you might be able to imagine why I laid low this past week, cooking minimally. We still ate well though, thanks to some thawed pizza dough that covered us for two meals. More on that in an upcoming post!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Two Approaches to Hot Weather Cooking: Beat It, or Join It

My family enjoyed two very different meals this week, as the temperature and humidex hovered in the 30s (or 90s, if you do Fahrenheit). As I've already mentioned, my gas range throws a lot of heat, and my newly opened-up great room, while great for entertaining, does little to contain the heat in the kitchen.

I was looking for ways to keep the house cool, while also using what I have in the fridge and freezer. Here are two very different kinds of hot weather meals, both delicious:

Beat the Heat: Cool, Light Meals

I have used Bobby Flay's Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad recipe for years. I have used it for catering as well as at home, and I make it at least once every summer. It makes a huge amount, though—which is okay, since you'll enjoy eating it in the days to come. I just made a big old bowl of this (I had already made the dressing when I decided to use half the noodles required. I upped the veggie content too, adding an extra carrot and some bean sprouts. Even with half the noodles it's quite a large quantity, and the amount of dressing was not overpowering).

When the heat is getting to you and you don't feel like cooking or eating, this is a good option. Fresh, light, nutritious, tangy, salty, and crunchy. And the kids always love noodles.

Join the Heat: Sweat!

I found a beef shoulder roast in my freezer, and there is more beef on the way this weekend, so it needs to be used. What the heck do you do with a cut of meat that is best braised when the heat is sweltering? I found an amazingly simple recipe for slow cooker Pot Roast with BBQ Beans and decided to give it a try. The slow cooker is a perfect hot weather cooking implement, giving off virtually no heat. I don't always love slow cooker recipes, because they can turn out a little mushy and bland. This one was neither.

When I had decided on BBQ beef and beans, I realized the other part of that meal had to be cornbread. How does one make cornbread without turning on the oven? In a Pampered Chef stoneware baker, on indirect heat on the grill. [Disclaimer: I have since learned that Pampered Chef's warranty for stoneware is null and void if it is used on the grill or BBQ. If it breaks in the process, you may be left high and dry. The trick, however, is indirect heat. My baker is still perfectly sound, and I have broken stoneware bakers in my oven by using them incorrectly. I am therefore well-versed in what they can stand and what they can't, and indirect heat on the BBQ seems just fine]. I used King Arthur Flour's whole grain cornbread recipe, blogged about here by Slow Like Honey.

I finished off the menu with a simple salad gathered from my garden, mostly cress and radish leaves, but some mesclun, too. I had to replant the mesclun after covering the garden with screen to keep the birds off. It's doing better now, but the lettuce supply is pretty low.

The result? A hearty, delicious, protein-filled meal that almost immediately got me sweating. But there's nothing wrong with a little sweat, and I ate heartily, thinking, this is the kind of food that they eat regularly, in places where it's this hot out—and hotter—for months on end. They must know what they're doing!

Maybe here in the north, we have the best of both worlds. We can enjoy those hot weather foods, like steamy soups, curries and heavy braised meats, all year round. They are amazingly comforting in the dead of winter, because they warm your belly and make you feel nourished and safe tucked indoors out of the cold. But cultures steeped in hot temperatures, like India, Vietnam, the Deep South, evolved those recipes to help survive the heat. Sweating is good, and with a good dose of chile heat in the hot sun, you'll sweat like you didn't know you could.

You could beat the heat, or join it. I recommend doing a little of both.

Unexpected Guests: Thank Goodness for Eggs

Over the weekend I wasn't planning to cook much because we were going to a wedding, and my sister and her family had to delay their arrival by a day. I figured I could take it easy, and use up a few of the leftovers in my fridge.

It didn't quite work out that way. My sister and her husband drove straight through the night, arriving at my house at 5:30 am on Saturday. I fed them toast for breakfast, and a LOT of coffee, as they straggled up the stairs at 9 am with their 9 month old baby in tow.

Lunch rolled around, and I threw all the leftovers from our Vietnamese summer roll feast (Chinese sausage, bean sprouts, shrimp, basil) into egg foo young. I used this recipe as a guide, but then just used what I had on hand, including homemade beef stock rather than chicken stock. I found a recipe for egg foo young sauce that called for beef stock—you add oyster sauce and soy sauce and then thicken. Not the perfect flavour match, but the kids went crazy with the sauce on their rice.

The next morning, my parents brought over muffins and fruit and the whole family (brother, sister, S.O.s and children) were all there. Everyone except my parents was still there at lunch, and I started wondering what to serve, since our kids were going to get hungry again. I realized I had everything I needed to make roasted tomato clafoutis, like a giant, savoury pancake. I mixed in cherry tomatoes from the Farmers' market, leftover goat cheese and lentil caviar from my book club meeting, and some more basil, stuck it in the oven, cooked some breakfast sausage from my freezer, and there was lunch. I used this recipe, and then adapted it to what I had, and prepared it right in a frying pan that could transfer to the oven.

All I can say is that I'm glad to have a few dozen eggs in the fridge at any given moment. With no microwave on the premises to thaw out food from the freezer, impromptu lunches would otherwise be a challenge.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Two Summer Party Menus

Two parties in two days, and wedding tomorrow! That's my kind of pace (truly! Okay, well at least I can handle it for about three days and then I'll need a rest for one day before diving in again).

Last night, I hosted the Sturgeon Ladies' Literary Society (that's a fancy way of saying my neighbourhood bookclub) meeting. We always put on a bit of a spread, although it's after dinner, so not a huge meal. I relied heavily on Mark Bittman's Food Matters cookbook (if I haven't convinced anyone to buy it yet, then you must not be paying attention. There are 500 recipes, so even though I use it all the time, I have barely even scratched the surface! And there are many more recipes I want to try) for this summer-themed menu. Everything was light and delicious (except for the quinoa cake, which was delicious, but not-so-light) and gluten free.

Party #1 Menu: After Dinner Summer Snack Buffet for the Bookclub

Radishes with Olive Oil and Sea Salt (that simple. Just serve radishes next to a small dish of olive oil and coarse sea salt. Barely a recipe, but I got the idea from Mark Bittman's book)
Quick-Pickled Watermelon with Feta (I'm new to pickling melon, but I definitely liked the results)
Lentil "Caviar" with All the Trimmings (recipe below)
Olives, Cucumbers and Tuna, Mediterranean Style (just a toss of olives, cucumbers, tuna, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, garlic, parsley and chile flakes)
Homemade goat cheese with herbs de Provence
Assorted crackers
Fresh strawberries and watermelon
Quinoa chocolate mini-cupcakes, inspired by the chocolate cake recipe in Quinoa 365

I was feeling kind of ambivalent about the lentil caviar when I made it the day before. It just didn't seem to be all that interesting. But it was the thing that the ladies liked best (except for maybe the cupcakes). They asked for the recipe so they could make it themselves.

Here it is:

Lentil "Caviar" with All the Trimmings

8 oz. (about 1 1/2 cups) Le Puy or other dark green or black lentils (I used beluga lentils from Hestia Organics at the Farmers' Market)
2 T. vegetable oil
1 large shallot or small onion
1/4 c. dried dulse, arame, or hijiki
1 c. sake, brewed green tea or water (I used jasmine tea)
2 T. mirin or honey (I used mirin)
Salt and pepper
8 slices whole grain bread or crackers for serving
1/2 c. capers or chopped cornichons, for garnish, optional
1/2 c. chopped red onion, for garnish, optional
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped, for garnish, optional
1/2 c. mayonnaise, sour cream, or creme fraiche for garnish, optional (I used sour cream)

Put lentils in a pot and cover with cold water by 2-3 inches. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat so that the lentils bubble gently. Partially cover and cok, stirring occasionally, checking hte lentils for doneness every 10-15 minutes. When the lentils are tender but not falling apart, drain them.

Put the oil in a deep skillet over medium high heat. When it's hot, add the shallot and sea greens and cook, stirring constantly, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the sake and miring. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and let the mixture bubble away until it reduces and thickens to a thin syrup, 5-7 minutes. Strain.

Pour the glaze over the lentils and toss gently to coat; taste and adjust seasoning. Chill for at least 30 minutes or up to a few days (I chilled overnight). Toast the breatd if you're using and cut each slice diagonally into 4 toast points. Serve with the toast points or crackers, along with any garnishes you like.

Party #2 Menu: Impromptu Vietnamese Fresh Roll Feast, or, What Would I Do Without the Internet?

The next party had a bit of a roundabout development. Earlier in the week I stopped at the Saskatoon Asian Market to get seaweed to make the lentil caviar. I couldn't just buy the one thing, and had to wander around to see what else they had of interest. What else they had was beautifully fresh bean sprouts, the cutest little mini baby bok choy, some Chinese sausage, which I bought without knowing what I was going to do with it, and a couple kinds of noodles.

When I got home, I started planning what to make with my ingredients, and thought to myself, it's hot out, and I have some greens in the garden...maybe I should make salad rolls. I wonder if there are Vietnamese salad rolls that call for Chinese sausage? Well, if you Google "Vietnamese salad roll Chinese Sausage", you will find that the answer is yes! How easy is that, and how often do I have two seemingly unrelated ingredients that I Google to come up with an amazing concoction? Almost daily. If you can conceive the combination, chances are someone else has, too, has blogged about it, and the recipe is ready and waiting.

So here is my impromptu Vietnamese Fresh Roll Feast menu, which we enjoyed with good long-time friends and their daughter. The kids mostly ate the sausage, but generally seemed to enjoy the rolls, too. Hey, this menu is almost gluten-free, too...the sausage might be questionable...

Pre-dinner cocktail (served alongside leftover lentil caviar and goat cheese on crackers): Plum wine tonic (1 part plum wine, 2 parts tonic water, and a squeeze of lime over ice)

Our friends brought a bottle of Cava, sparkling Spanish wine, which I would match with anything and drink every day if I could. Delicious!

Boa Bia, Chinese Sausage Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce (thanks to The Ravenous Couple for the recipe)
Mark Bittman's Summer Rolls with Peanut Sauce (I skipped the sauce and just used the ingredient list as a guideline: lettuce, cilantro, basil, julienne cucumber, bean sprouts, shrimp)
Grilled baby bok choy with Asian marinade, inspired by Dad Cooks Dinner (this was a sleeper hit. They were a little bitter, a little sour, smoky, savoury, just a bit crunchy, and totally delicious. My baby bok choy were really tiny, so I didn't bother cutting them in half, just tossed them in the marinade and 'stir-fried' them in a grill basket).
Quinoa cupcake ice cream sandwiches (and the last of the Taylor Fladgate 20 year old tawny that I was keeping in the fridge)

I am replete. Tomorrow I take a break from cooking (except for making breakfast from the leftovers of Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, basil, carrots, and bean sprouts. Can you say "egg foo young"?) and attending my cousin's wedding. Then I'll be cooking something for my sister and her family who will be staying with us after the wedding, and thinking ahead to Tuesday when I host some local food writers for a little get-together.

I love summer entertaining. Who am I kidding? I love entertaining, period.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Stew

I know, I should be writing posts about summer inspirations. It's the 4th of July, after all! But every once in a while, something unseasonal comes up, which is nonetheless important.

I intended to cook moose steak tonight, but when I thawed the unmarked package of moose meat, a gift from a friend, I discovered not steak, but stew. What was I supposed to do with stew meat in July? I just wrote about my issues with the gas range heating up the house, after all. I decided I'd make a stew that I could do on the BBQ.

Well, that didn't pan out. We've been getting weird weather these days, and today was windy, with gusts blowing hard enough to put out the side burner on the BBQ. It was relatively cool, though, hovering around 20 degrees Celsius, so I decided to just make the stew on my stovetop with the windows and screen doors wide open.

I found a recipe online that called for fresh herbs and wine. I followed the recipe, more or less. I didn't use Partridgeberry wine, but rather some open bottles of red that had been open for too long to drink, but that I couldn't bear to dump.

I snipped fresh oregano, rosemary and thyme from my garden and added them, along with a bay leaf, a teaspoon or more of salt and a generous glug (a cup or more) of wine to the meat. Instead of marinating overnight, I just marinated at room temperature for a few hours, since that was all the time I had.

I browned the meat in lard, without dusting in flour, because the recipe didn't call for that, and I find that step messy and annoying at the best of times. I then added a pinch of paprika, a chopped onion and two carrots. After stirring a bit, I added in the marinade liquid and some of my thawed homemade beef stock. That simmered for a couple of hours, and then I threw in another onion and some halved baby potatoes.

Then came the revelation. Instead of making a slurry out of water and flour to thicken (to make up for not flouring the meat before browning), the recipe called for mixing equal parts flour and butter, and stirring that in at the last minute. I am familiar with adding butter to pasta sauces and wine reductions, but have never yet added it to a stew at the end of cooking.

I will always do it from now on.

What a difference it made! The gravy was smooth and velvety, a pleasing colour and silky texture. It looked...French, somehow. Not rustic, but gourmet!

I have never been a fan of stews. They fall into the same category as chile and lasagne—they're always so-so, never amazing, and if I never make one, I can always guarantee that I'll get my fill somewhere along the way, since they are the things that people always make for guests. Stew, like chile and lasagne, is also one of my husband's favourite comfort foods, so he is always starved for them.

We may have discovered a happy medium here—I now have a method for cooking stew with results that stop me in my tracks. My husband may have a few more stews in his future.

I should also mention the kids' response. D and G tend to eschew stew, pushing it around on their plates and filling up on bread. Baby G ate the entire bowl, lifted it to his lips to drink the last of the gravy, and then asked for more. D dipped his bread in the sauce, ate several bites, and then came back to it later and finished it off. D's enthusiastic praise: "Thanks, Mom, for making such a great feast!" and baby G chimed in, "Tootoo [thank you], Mama!" We have a winner.

I have another package of moose stew meat in the freezer. I don't think I'll be doing a single thing to try to improve on the recipe. And I'll be thickening every stew I make with the butter and flour mixture. They will be better for it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Must-Have (For Me) Summer Cooking Tools

On sweltering hot days when my poor, ancient air-conditioner can't keep up, and my husband is hounding me to close the blinds, curtains and windows to keep the sun and hot air out, it pains me a little to fire up my gas range. I usually adore it, but in the middle of summer, it becomes uncomfortably obvious how much heat the thing gives off.

Bring on the BBQ (and by BBQ, I mean the Canadian version, not the BBQ of the deep south, nor whatever Australians consider BBQ. I only know that my version and the Australian version differ somehow). My gas grill has to have a burner on the side on which I can steam veggies, cook beans from scratch, or fry fish in the relative comfort of the outdoors, thus preventing my house from overheating any more than it already is.

I've also discovered a new way to use the gas grill as an oven, without burning the things I am trying to roast: my Lodge Logic Cast Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle is heavy enough to handle the heat and makes perfect roasted vegetables every time. Halved new baby potatoes are my family's new favourite thing, and with the griddle on the back half of the BBQ, I still have room to grill burgers and steaks up front, or even do a roast on indirect heat by leaving one of the burners off.

Today I made another version of chickpea and carrot soup from scratch, even with the humidex up high, thanks to the side burner that simmered the beans all morning. Coming up: grilled pizzas to use up ingredients that went into bush pies and Denver sandwiches during our long weekend camping adventure. Soup and pizza, without turning on the range or the oven. My kind of summer cooking.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Joys of Soup

I decided on one of the many rainy nights recently to make some soup. I didn't want to go to the grocery store, so I chose a recipe for which (I thought) I had everything: carrots and chickpeas were the main ingredients.

After I started cooking the carrots, I went looking for chickpeas, only to discover I had none, and since it was nap time and I was home on my own with the kids, there was no going anywhere to buy some. While the recipe called for dried chickpeas, my only salvation was a neighbour who could offer a can of chickpeas. I decided to just use them, since everything was already started. It worked out, but the moral of the story is: make a meal plan, and then you won't be caught with half the ingredients for the recipe you've already started cooking.

The soup turned out wonderfully, which got me thinking about making homemade soup more often. Leftover soup came in handy the next day for lunch, when I was entertaining a friend and her kids. I would much rather heat up some of my own homemade soup for lunch than cook a package or carton of purchased soup. I will make it my goal to cook one pot of soup every week.

Next soup on the list is Fresh Corn Soup with Roasted Corn Guacamole.

Foodie Confessions; Planning Father's Day Brunch

It must be my status of "lapsed Catholic" that requires me to confess my "sins" (usually only considered sins in my own warped view of reality) to everyone whenever I commit some sort of transgression. Because food is a primary focus, any time I break one of my own self-imposed "rules", I feel the need to shout it to the world.

So yesterday I was planning Father's Day brunch, which I will be hosting for my in-laws. When I asked my husband what he would like me to make, he had two requests: a classic version of the wife-saver, "French Peach Brunch" and, "Meat would be good."

I am also notorious for asking for my husband's input and then ignoring him. I didn't quite ignore him this time, but I did request that instead of using canned peaches in the French Peach Brunch, that I adapt it to use fresh rhubarb. He was okay with that.

I have entirely given in to his meat request. So here's the menu, then the confession:

Homemade Elk Sausage (ground elk meat mixed with an equal amount of ground pork, seasoned with brown sugar and salt and pepper, and formed into patties)
Baked Eggs and Mushrooms in Ham Crisps (I have made this a few times before, and it's lovely. It uses fresh tarragon, which is abundant in my herb bed, and I have a plethora of small fresh farm eggs that will work perfectly in twos, and not take too long to set)
Toasted Brioche from Christie's Bakery
Rhubarb Baked French Toast (I'll post the recipe after I work on adapting it)
Fruit Salad
Tea, coffee, juice

I was looking this over, and while it is already pretty full, I felt like it was missing something—something that involves potatoes. I went on line and searched through Epicurious's hash brown recipes, and stumbled upon on of my guiltiest pleasures: hash brown casserole (please note, though, that my family recipe is not the one on Epicurious, but rather this one).

And here is my confession. I am making it for Father's Day brunch. Why? Because I a) I love it, even though I know it is a fat-filled mess of mostly processed food, and I virtually NEVER buy canned soups; b) my guests will be universally appreciative; c) it is a good excuse to feed my occasional trashy food cravings, so that they stay in check.

I know there's nothing really wrong with cooking the occasional hash brown casserole. I just feel guilty, as a fairly militant food snob, giving in to the urge to make a dish that is SO not whole, fresh food. But hey, you can't deny your roots, and every once in a while, a can of cream of mushroom soup or Cheez Whiz (my other guilty pleasure, which my husband has banned from the house, since D was asking for it on his toast in the mornings, and since I no longer have pregnancy cravings as an excuse for buying and consuming it) has to cross the threshold. Now, I will go do my penance by baking bread, cooking beans from scratch and making my kids fresh fruit popsicles.

As an aside, I gave in while in the grocery store checkout line and picked up Canadian Living's Special Cookbook Edition on Summer Entertaining. My first flip through made me think I'd made a mistake, since most items seemed pretty familiar. But I've spent more time with it now, and it has worked my way into my meal plan this week in several ways. Tonight, to go with our grilled elk steak, I am trying out Dilled Potato and Grilled Corn Salad as well as Asparagus and Mixed Greens Salad. There are several more recipes that I'll be trying over the next few weeks, and I will share as I make them.

Happy Father's Day, to all the dads out there. I hope you have an excellent, meat-filled day (if that is your preference, of course).

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Spring Salads and More

I still can't get over how delicious Monday night's tossed salad was. I can't recommend enough making good use of your fresh herbs in every salad you eat. We had a plain lettuce salad, and then I added radish sprouts, which I picked from the garden, thus thinning the rows and adding some spicy greens to the lettuce. Then I picked some chives and tarragon leaves, adding those as well as the mung bean sprouts I had started. That, plus Rozendal vinegar, made for a fabulous salad that even the kids ate greedily.

The rest of the meal wasn't too shabby either, with red wine marinated bison roast, which I then rubbed with Dijon mustard and several cloves of chopped garlic. I roasted it on indirect heat on our bbq, my new favourite way to cook roasts and ribs. I did the sweet potatoes on the grill, too.

I keep trying to keep the heat out of our house on warm days, but then I am overwhelmed by the urge to turn the last of the rhubarb in my fridge into a cake. So on Monday afternoon, the house got heated up while making strawberry-rhubarb pudding cake. On Tuesday, I decided I couldn't put off making granola any longer. Then the broiler was on while I was finishing my frittata. Not the most heat efficient, but delicious!

Tonight I should manage to avoid using my oven; the salmon is going on the bbq.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Gigantes Beans: A new summer favourite

I have long been looking for a recipe to re-create the giant baked beans that often grace Greek-inspired tables. I discovered last weekend that I actually have everything I need in a cookbook on my shelf: Greek Cookery. A friend brought it back for me from Greece, but I'm sure there are similar ones out there.

Here's a nice simple way to prepare beans, which, along with a Greek salad and some fresh bread, make a beautiful meal on a hot summer day:


1 lb. dried lima beans (the bigger, the better)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tomatoes, fresh or canned, chopped
Handful of parsley, chopped
3/4 c. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Soak beans overnight (or however you like to prepare beans--I often don't soak them, but just cook them longer. Since lima beans are so big, I did soak these before cooking) in water to cover 3 inches. Drain, fill with fresh water and cook beans for an hour, or until soft. Drain the beans and let dry out in the strainer for a while. Spread the beans in a 9"x13" baking pan.

Heat the olive oil on medium heat in a pan. Add onion, garlic, tomatoes and parsley. Bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over the beans and bake at 350F for 20 to 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and the liquid is bubbling in the centre.

Serve as an appetizer, or as a light dinner with Greek salad and fresh bread to sop up the juices.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meal Plan for First Week of Hot Weather

We've had some warm days here and there, but this week's forecast is the first time that temperatures are consistently in the mid-20s. BBQ time!

Here's the plan:

Grilled bison sirloin tip roast (currently marinating in red wine, onion, bay leaves, salt and smoked black pepper, and I plan to rub it with garlic and Dijon and grill on indirect heat)
Roasted sweet potatoes
Steamed green beans (I bought a monster bag of Canadian-grown organic green beans at Costco this winter, and I need to clear it out of the freezer before my bean crop matures).
Salad with home-grown sprouts

Zucchini and corn frittata (I have a sudden influx of farm eggs, now that my aunt's chickens are in full production. Time to make eggs the main course of some meals...and time for some lemon curd!)
Broccoli salad

Crispy-skinned salmon and rice with salsa verde (not sure if I'll fry or grill the salmon, but I do know this: a trip to the Farmers' Market is in order to stock up on fresh basil, until my newly planted basil babies are ready to harvest)
Salad and/or fresh veggies

I am enjoying a windfall of moose meat as well as wild caught fish thanks to some good friends of mine. The salmon is from them as well, and I'm going to start turning the moose hamburger into sausage patties.

Moose sausage patties
Quinoa pilaf
Broccoli and cauliflower

I won't actually be eating the meal on Thursday, but I have to have it ready to go before I leave for my editorial meeting at 5pm. I aim to make something everyone likes, and that can either be cooked ahead of time or be prepped and easily cooked by my husband. I'm thinking I'll have the pilaf cooked and the veggies in the pot ready to be steamed, and the sausages mixed and formed and ready to grill or fry.

Then I'm off to my parents' place for a quick visit and some horseback riding and fishing with the boys before coming home Sunday to cook for our Goat Curry party. I'll post that menu closer to the date. I'll be making Paneer and shopping at the Swadesh Market for some special ingredients sometime this week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Spring Catch-up: Cooking, Just Not Writing

Hello all, thank you so much for your patience! I have been thinking of how much I have to write, but I have no time to do it. The trouble with being a professional writer who has a blog is that paid writing keeps getting in the way of the unpaid writing.

Good news, though, my deadlines have settled down a teensy bit, and I now have some energy to devote to foodie writing, right here!

I have certainly not stopped cooking. I have lots to share, which I will do in a brief list, with lots of recipe links, so that we can all get caught up without my being overwhelmed with how much I have to say.

Here are some of the highlights of the last few weeks:
• a six-day stretch over a weekend where I had overnight company (three different guests, one at a time) five of the six nights. Some highlights from those dinners:
Pear-cranberry tarte-tatin thanks to dee Hobsbawn-Smith's Quick Gourmet, sadly, out of print
Saffron cauliflower, from my new favourite vegetable cookbook, Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Multi-vegetable paella from the same book
Jamie Oliver's baked chocolate tart (after a meal of grilled steak, Pommes Anna, and grilled asparagus and salad)
• I rediscovered the joys of making things ahead of time, and for a short while, I had a good supply pre-made hamburgers and frozen chocolate chip cookie dough in my freezer. There are a few hamburgers left, but the cookie dough is all gone, the last of it baked to take along to D's preschool windup.
• I have been experimenting with 'cooking by feel', making up recipes and adjusting cooking methods as I go, resulting, most spectacularly, in a meal of brined, cherrywood smoked short ribs, slow roasted by indirect heat on our bbq. I intend to cook like this more often!
• We finished building raised garden beds, and I planted my garden.
• We've been taking advantage of newly available seasonal flavours: we tasted our first homegrown asparagus, picked up some fiddleheads from the Farmers' Market, and I started making use of our perennial herbs, especially chives, lovage and Egyptian walking onions
• I started making whole grain rhubarb muffins regularly, and a rhubarb pie is in the works for tomorrow. Kids are enthusiastic about rhubarb!
• I hosted a Mexican night inspired entirely by
Chicken wings in easy mole sauce
Pork Tostadas with corn salsa
Fish Tacos (made with freshwater burbot from northern Saskatchewan, which is a perfect substitute for firm, white ocean fish)
Mango Salsa
• I hosted a Pampered Chef party, and offered up some yummy dips to go with the pizza we made during the show:
Yellow Split Pea Dip
Homemade Goat Ricotta with Herbs de Provence and garlic
Fiddlehead Dip
And for the sweet tooth, mini gluten-free quinoa cupcakes, using the usual quinoa chocolate cake recipe, but baking it in a mini-cupcake tin. A hit!
• I combined two of my favourite potato recipes (lovage potato salad and potatoes with lemon and capers) to create a new and delicious use for the plentiful lovage in my garden. For those of you not familiar with this old-fashioned herb, it is a shade-loving hardy perennial that has leaves tasting like lemon-scented celery. It is traditionally cooked with potatoes and seafood, but can be used in all kinds of recipes. I added it to my favourite simple potato side dish, and came up with a winner:

Lovage-scented potatoes with lemon and capers

5 or 6 potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 3/4" cubes
A large stalk of lovage, leaves removed
Juice and zest of one lemon
2-3 T. olive oil
1 T. capers
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes in boiling, salted water, along with half of the lovage leaves. Chop remaining lovage leaves and place in a large bowl with the lemon juice and zest, olive oil and capers. When the potatoes are tender, drain and toss hot potatoes and leaves with the lovage/lemon juice mixture until well-coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with seafood (I served it with Herb-crusted Ling Cod and steamed broccoli and cauliflower)

• I started planning parties for the summer—now that I am no longer expecting a baby, buying/selling a house, or renovating (some combination of which I have been busy with for the past four years), I am excited to have the time and energy to really get into cooking and entertaining. Our party plans, so far:
-We're having an Indian food night featuring Goat Curry, in an effort to use up some of the goat meat I have obtained from my generous suppliers of goat milk and farm eggs. We're inviting three couples, all of which USED to get together for amazing dinners before we had children.
-Father's Day brunch for my husband, his dad and brother
-A neighbourhood come-and-go open-house brunch for the people on my street
-A food writers' food and wine get-together for some new acquaintances in the food writing world
-Later in the summer, the executive at my preschool will be gathering in my backyard for a 2012/2013 season launch.

More on that later!

There. That gets me more or less caught up. Thanks for your patience, and I'll do better in keeping up with regular posts.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Product Placement #6: Rozendal Vinegar

I have a new expensive habit, and strangely this one doesn't contain alcohol. I am completely enamoured with Rozendal vinegar, represented here in Saskatchewan by Doug Reichel, owner of Fine Wines Saskatchewan and importer of Rozendal wine. The wine is also excellent, but the vinegar, at $35/500 ml bottle, is even more expensive than the wine! It is also harder to find; here in Saskatoon it is only available at Cava Secreta.

I know many people are of the philosophy that expensive food items are wasted on kids. I am straying further and further from that philosophy all the time, and am constantly rewarded for it. I personally know many adults on whom expensive food items would be even more wasted than on my own children. My kids DO appreciate good food, and are far more likely to enjoy their meals if the food is real, and not what passes for food on most children's menus in restaurants.

Case in point: a recent meal that I made for a girlfriend and her kids, as well as my own family, involved a simple main course of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches: slices of a round brioche loaf, and a melted mixture of shredded smoked Gouda, broccoli, mayonnaise and sunflower seeds as the filling. Beside that, I served a salad: spring greens, toasted almonds and craisins, simply dressed with a splash of Rozendal vinegar, a splash of olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

My kids don't normally go for salad very much, so I usually provide raw vegetables as well. There were raw veggies available that day, too, but all the kids asked for more salad, and eventually scraped the bowl clean. You might think they were going for just the craisins, but they weren't. They inhaled the entire thing. I thought to myself, if that vinegar is what inspires kids to eat salad, then it's worth the price tag. On top of that, the vinegar itself is packed with health benefits. So really, there's no reason NOT to serve it. From now on, there will always be a bottle in my cupboard (currently we're enjoying the Green Tea flavour); I'll consider it an investment in my own and my kids' health, and their palates.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Vegetarian Finger Food Friday

Finger Food Fridays is something our entire family is really enjoying. Our usual take on it involves baked chicken wings, baked sweet potato and regular potato wedges, vegetable sticks and homemade dip. Tonight's version was all-veggie, and Asian inspired. And everyone loved it just as much. I think I'll be spending some time coming up with more finger food options, 'cause eating this way is fun!

Crispy tofu nuggets (from Whitewater Cooks at Home—note, the linked recipe is an adaptation of the original; I used cornstarch instead of arrowroot powder. Either will work.), dipped in sweet chili mayonnaise (1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1 T. Thai sweet chili sauce)
Whole grain sushi rice balls (inspired by Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook)
Steamed and salted edamame
Carrot, celery and cucumber sticks

Pretty simple all around, and great flavours. I was particularly excited at finding a recipe for brown sushi rice. The original recipe was "Sushi Rice with Daikon and Sesame Seeds," but I only made the rice part, which goes as follows:

1 c. short grain brown rice
3 T. rice vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 T. grated ginger

Place water in a medium saucepan, cover with 1 inch of water and salt liberally. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until water is absorbed (about a half hour or more). If water is absorbed, test rice to confirm that it is cooked. If it isn't yet soft, add some more water.

In a separate pan, while rice is cooking, combine vinegar, sugar, ginger and another teaspoon of salt. Heat to a boil, or until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and let cool.

When the rice is done, place in a large bowl. Toss rice with a rubber spatula to cool the rice and sprinkle with the vinegar mixture. (I confess, I didn't do this for long, but the traditional method takes this a little more seriously). Once the rice is cool, form into 1 1/2 inch balls, and serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Good Eating Even A 32-hour Power Outage Couldn't Stop

We're back into the grind after a lovely Easter long weekend, which unfolded in a rather unorthodox way (pardon the pun). We were staying with my parents for the weekend, and we always have lots to do and great food to eat while we're there.

We woke up Good Friday to snow. It had begun as rain that night, but was shifting to the white stuff by the time we were all awake. We continued with our day, choosing inside activities, and serving a traditional meal of fish for dinner. My mom was concerned that we were going to run out of oven space on Sunday to roast a turkey, ham AND cabbage rolls, so she opted to cook the cabbage rolls early, and serve them to my very appreciative cousin and her husband, who brought their daughter over for a visit with the boys. We were also encouraged to dig into one of the four pies that my mom had prepared for the weekend (they were only expecting 6 adults and two kids, but she still made FOUR pies! Not that I'm complaining. I love her pies, and I loved having one or two slices a day the whole time we were home, and going home with a whole pie on Sunday).

The NEXT morning, we awoke to a shock: no power, and at least 15 inches of snow! And it was still snowing. We heard throughout the day from neighbours (who, in the country, always call each other to determine the range of the power outage) that the SaskPower truck had hit the ditch en route to the source of the power outage (still unknown at that point). Their optimistic estimate for power restoration was 5PM that evening.

We continued on with our day after enjoying a full hot breakfast of sausage and eggs, thanks to my dad's abilities with the barbecue on the back deck. He had also set up two generators, which in turn powered the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the furnace, and the water pump. With the outdoors being a brilliant white thanks to the snowfall, and my parents' house having large windows in every direction, we didn't even feel like we needed extra light. They also have a large water holding tank, so we had reverse osmosis water for drinking and cooking as well. We weren't really suffering all that much.

Lunchtime rolled around with still no power, so we had cold leftover cabbage rolls and I boiled water on the turkey fryer burner and cooked perogies while shovelling four-foot drifts off the back deck. My dad, brother and husband dug vehicles out of snowbanks and began clearing the snow with a tractor.

We passed a quiet afternoon, but became a bit complacent waiting for the power to come back on. We just assumed it would. My dad had found a recipe that he hoped we could try—bacon wrapped pork tenderloin with pears—but we weren't able to get to the grocery store in town like we had planned, because of the state of the roads. We eventually realized the power wasn't coming on, but we chose to do a variation of the bacon-wrapped tenderloin anyway, sans pears.

We completely forgot that my mom had potato salad in the fridge, and that at any point we could have just lit a fire outside and had a smokie roast, but we had our hearts set on grilled bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and foil-wrapped potatoes and carrots on the grill. It wasn't until 5PM when we finally roused ourselves and began getting our heads around another meal without power that we realized that we didn't have any tinfoil, a key ingredient in foil-wrapped potatoes on the grill.

So in a split second decision that was possibly not that well-considered (but we'd already started peeling potatoes), we decided to power my dad's deep-fryer using the generator, and make French fries. We also steamed peas and carrots on the turkey fryer, and made a salad. It wasn't until after we'd finished the process that we realized we could have just served potato salad...and we found the tinfoil. Oh well. Supper was delicious.

By the next morning, we had accepted that the power would be off indefinitely. We enjoyed scrambled eggs and bacon for Easter breakfast (cooked on the bbq again) along with sliced babka, traditional Ukrainian Easter bread, made with love by my Grandma. Oh, yeah, and then there was the appetizer of chocolate eggs that the kids enjoyed, before breakfast. Shudder.

My dad continued his magic on the bbq by setting up the turkey for Sunday dinner in a large roaster, and placing it on the grill. He eventually added the ham, and then, in a burst of brilliance, we decided to add the Brussels sprouts to the roaster in the last half-hour of cooking. Instead of trying to work out how to mash potatoes and make gravy without a stove-top, we finally decided to make use of the potato salad. Not exactly a traditional meal, but it was truly delicious. Best Brussels sprouts I've had in a while!

Who eats this well while the power is off for over a day? I guess the answer is we do. Kudos to my parents for (almost) effortlessly hosting 4 extra adults and 2 children during the biggest power outage any of us had experienced, while still making a series of amazing celebratory meals. I'm also grateful for the large box of leftovers I got to take home: a ham bone that got turned into Red Beans and Rice de Guise yesterday, and a good portion of turkey that has been feeding my kids and my inlaws for lunch the last couple days. But now, the pie is all gone, and only chocolate Easter eggs remain. Until our next family adventure!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Can Make Hamburger Rolls!

Quick update on yesterday's post—I have confirmed that my whole wheat roll recipe can make very good hamburger rolls. I made eight plus-sized rolls from my usual one-pan recipe, and while they were quite a bit more filling than store-bought ones, they were also that much fresher and tastier.

It was a beautiful day here, so I also got to act upon my Spring resolution to eat as many meals outdoors as possible this year. We ate our dinner at our patio table and then stacked wood and raked leaves before it was time to put the kids to bed. D used to be too distracted to eat if we tried to dine outside last year, when he was still only two. Maybe it was the favourite meal of hamburgers, but both boys spent a good long time at the table and ate a good meal. G eventually climbed down from his chair only to move over to his dad's lap, where he proceeded to take huge bites out of that burger as well.

Wheat Rolls (adapted from King Arthur Flour's Whole Grain Baking)

1 c. lukewarm water
1/4 c. orange juice (I used the fresh juice of one orange)
4 T. butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 T. honey
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. salt
Heaping 1/2 c. dried potato flakes OR 3 T. potato flour (I use the potato flour)
1/4 nonfat dry milk
2 1/4 t. instant yeast

Combine all dough ingredients, and mix and knead them—I use my Kitchenaid mixer and dough hook—until you have a medium soft, smooth dough (I also had to add about a half cup extra flour, because my dough was too sticky). Cover and allow the dough to rise until it's quite puffy, but probably not doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. If you're making hamburger rolls, divide in to 8 pieces, shape into rolls and place on a large cookie sheet, even distances apart (this is so they don't touch while rising or baking). If you're making dinner rolls in a 9"x13" pan, then divide it into 15 pieces. Shape each piece into a rough ball by pulling the dough into a very small knot at the bottom, then rolling it under the palm of your hand into a smooth ball. (or see this video for how to roll rolls)

Place the rolls in the prepared pan, spacing them evenly; they won't touch one another. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and allow the rolls to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. They'll become very puffy and will begin to touch each other in a smaller pan (but not if you're making hamburger rolls). Uncover the rolls and bake in a preheated 350F oven for 23-25 minutes for a pan of smaller rolls, 20 minutes for hamburger rolls, until they are mahogany brown on top but lighter on the sides. Brush tops of hot rolls with butter to give them a satiny finish.

These rolls are a bit sweeter than the typical hamburger rolls, but I didn't mind the added sweetness. I may have set the bar at a new height in my quest for the ultimate hamburger.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Easter Week Short Meal Plan

On Thursday this week, we're headed to my parents' to celebrate Easter with them, so I am practicing restraint in my meal plan and trying my best not to have to go to the grocery store before then. Here's my (fairly) simple meal plan for Monday thru Wednesday:

Kale chips (my new favourite thing; and it's got my kids singing, "Yum! Yum!" when I drop a bundle of organic kale into the grocery cart. Everyone loves them. My husband missed my first two times serving them because the kids ate them all before he got home from work. When he finally did try them, he said, "What a great way to eat kale!" We have been having them at least once a week since the price of organic kale became more reasonable.)
Chicken vegetable stew, thickened with quinoa flour, recipe provided in an earlier post

A note on this stew: I thought that I had enough quinoa flour to make it (it requires a half cup), and it turns out I was wrong. Luckily, I have some experience with grinding whole wheat berries for a whole grain pancake recipe, and decided to try blending some whole quinoa grains and water together to create the required flour/water slurry. Success! Remember this if you ever require flour for thickening and you happen to only have the whole grains on hand.

My boys LOVE chicken soup, but they have not yet been convinced of the merits of chicken stew. D picked through to get at all the meat; G went for the potatoes and then called it a day. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

My parents just brought me a couple of cuts of bison meat, which they acquired in one of my dad's famous small town trades. I am going to make bison burgers tomorrow.

Because I'm trying to avoid the grocery store, I entered into an intense negotiation with myself over what kind of salad we're having. I have a whole cabbage in the fridge, so coleslaw is in order. My first urge was to make blue cheese coleslaw, a family favourite, but that would require me to go purchase mayonnaise and blue cheese. Or, I could make the mayonnaise, but I would still need to buy blue cheese. In my world, burgers MUST have cheese, but since I have some really good white cheddar, I don't NEED the blue cheese to make the burgers. I also have some leftover bbq sauce from a meal I made last week, as well as some coleslaw vinaigrette in my fridge. So I can still make coleslaw, just not my first choice. But I like the vinaigrette, too.

Coleslaw vinaigrette 
1/2 c. vineger
6 T. canola oil
6 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. dry mustard
1 t. celery seed
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan, then turn off heat, season with salt and pepper, and let cool before using. Pour over your favourite slaw ingredients. My favourite combination is fresh-cut cabbage, grated carrots, green onion and green pepper if I have it. Sunflower seeds, craisins or raisins are a great addition as well.

I have also decided to make hamburger rolls, since I have ingredients for bread, and have been enjoying that process. My dough is rising as I type this; I will shape the buns and let them rise overnight. I've never made larger kaiser rolls with my whole wheat roll recipe. I'll give a report tomorrow.

I've been growing my own sprouts and having fun with that too (how can you tell I'm ready to get back out in the garden?), and I think instead of going to buy lettuce, we'll top our burgers with them.

So what will go on these burgers? Thanks to what is in my fridge, here's the list:

Sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion
Old white cheddar
Spicy home-grown sprouts
Tomatoes (NOT in the fridge)
BBQ sauce
...and the pièce de resistance...wild boar back bacon! (I have a few slices leftover from breakfast on the weekend)

Plus the coleslaw and some raw veggies for the kids to munch on. They are hamburger fiends, and they also go nuts for fresh bread, so it should be a good eating day for them.

Not bad for not having to go to the grocery store...


Did I say I'm trying not to go to the grocery store? Just as I wrote that, I realized I have scheduled the next phase in my adventures as a foodie for Wednesday night: I am teaching my 18 year-old cooking-illiterate nephew to cook. We're starting with a trip to the grocery store for an orientation, and then I am going to have him cook us some pasta. So I do have to go to the store after all. But I won't really be buying anything except pasta.

I made a dead-simple pasta sauce for dinner one night for my kids, involving a can of tomatoes and some butter (heat the tomatoes, mash them, simmer for a while, then stir in some butter and throw cooked pasta in to soak in it a bit while it simmers). I was amazed by how good it is. I'm thinking I might throw that at him, instead of letting him pick up a jar of sauce...unless he gets to buy a jar for a taste comparison...

So that's this week. I'll report back on the buns and how Wednesday goes.