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.