I love summer. It really is the best time of year. The heat, the humidity, the sun, the fresh vegetables – heaven! The only downside I can think of is that it is usually (hopefully!) too nice to want to spend much time in the kitchen. I want to be at the pool, in the garden or playing bocce with friends. When I do step into the kitchen I want to create meals that are fast, seasonal and adaptable. Like potato salad. Now I’m not talking the mayonnaise loaded salad of our youth but a fresh, zingy, loaded with vegetables one that is a full on meal in a bowl.
When I get home from school I need to eat something. It’s been a few hours since lunch and I’m hungry. But deciding what to eat is the challenge. Too much and I will still be full come dinner hour, too little and I’ll still be hungry wondering why I even bothered. My snack choices usually include something like hummus and cut vegetables, maybe a couple dolmathes and some almonds, or sometimes just a hardboiled egg. But, I can’t lie, what I really want is crackers and cheese. I’m not saying I have it, but that’s what I am usually craving.
There are certain things that go with holidays. Sunburns, gin and tonics, tired feet, sand in your shorts, and tacky souvenirs. It’s true. Admit it. Hidden around most of our homes we can probably find little mementoes that meant something then, but now are just dust collectors. Chackas as my Jewish friends would say. And because holidays bring out the best in most of us we don’t just bring stuff back for ourselves. Oh no. We bring them back for others too. Everything from t-shirts, to snow globes, to shot glasses (Hi Sis!). Now if the souvenir merchandise of a place reveals a bit about who a culture is, heaven help us all. However, thankfully, the food of a culture often is more revealing and says much, much more.
Probably my favourite part of travel is discovering what the locals eat. Trying new fruits and vegetables and overeating delicious things I can’t get at home. So it makes me happy that lately I’ve been noticing that I, and others, have been bringing back food stuffs from holidays as souvenirs and gifts. Pasta from Italy, olive oils from Israel, vanilla from Mexico, and spices from all over. Especially spices.
I tend to use a lot of spices. They are an integral part of my kitchen. Aside from bumping up the taste of food without the addition of fats and sugars many have highly beneficial health properties. And, while I haven’t figured out how to grow my own vanilla or cinnamon you often don’t even need to go to the store to get them. Herbs are easy to grow and you don’t need much room to do it.
So I decided, for fun and because I’m a bit of a geek, to keep a list of what spices I used over a two week period. I realized that, not including condiments, vinegars and oils, my spice usage seemed to have three levels. Daily, weekly and occasionally.
My tier one spices are the spices that I use on almost a daily basis. Garlic (mostly fresh but sometimes dried) with pretty much every meal but breakfast; freshly ground black pepper on everything; sea salt, sparingly but when needed to enhance taste; chili flakes (and powder) on everything including even eggs for breakfast; and cinnamon daily in my coffee.
Tier two spices usually make an appearance at least once a week. Fresh rosemary; basil; curry powder; ginger (mostly fresh); oregano; dried mustard for salad dressings; fresh sage; and cumin.
Tier three spices don’t get loved often, but when they do they add amazing flavour to meals. I would include spices such as chinese 5 spice powder, thyme, cilantro, lovage, nutmeg, parsley, paprika, summer savoury, star anise, and cardamom on this list.
The trick with spices is knowing when to keep it simple and when to tart it up a bit. Sometimes it’s nice to mix things up and get a more complex flavour. For those moments, here are a couple of my most used, make ahead, spice mixes.
A versatile mix. It can be used on fajita’s, devilled eggs, as part of a salad dressing, or as a marinade for chicken or fish.
1 Tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/3 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne
1 tsp cane sugar (regular would work too)
Middle Eastern Spice Mix
Try this on a sweet potato, with grilled vegetables, mixed into yogurt for a cooling balance to a spicy main course, or as the base for a meat marinade.
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 Tbsp turmeric
1 Tbsp black pepper
3/4 Tbsp ground coriander
1/3 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp cardamon (optional)
Note: if you don’t have ground spices , just toss them into a coffee grinder and blend them together.
Next up I’m going to track my condiment, vinegars, oils, and other kitchen essentials. What are yours?
There aren’t many things I am sure of in my life. Change is constant. There are a few though. Music, books, sunshine and that I adore pretty much all things Italian. Especially Italian food. ti adoro. The simplicity, the rich flavours, the seasonality. Closely related is the other thing I know for sure. That there is no way I could ever possibly grow enough basil to satisfy my love for it. So imagine my happiness when one of my greatest friends who is studying at The Richmond Farm School gave me a tour and showed me their basil greenhouse. What a deliciously happy and odiferous place.
The day kept getting better when I learned that they operated a farm stand with The Sharing Farm Society. I bought bunch after bunch. We’ve been eating it now, but most of it is being saved for later in the form of pesto. It might sounds cliche, but when the cold weather hits and summer is a very far off memory, having a stash of pesto made from high summer basil can be a sanity saver.
Zucchini, it is kind of an odd vegetable. Okay, maybe not that odd, but kind of odd.
Think about it. It often looks like a cucumber but is in actual fact a member of the squash family. It can be eaten cooked or raw and while it is most definitely a summer vegetable it is just as comfortable on a winter table. I don’t quite get it. I mean seriously? You can even eat the flowers. Now, it’s not as if the zucchini is some sort of “out there” esoteric vegetable. Quite the opposite. It is actually pretty common. It’s just that other than zucchini bread, for years it didn’t figure that high on my radar. And even then only if someone else made it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always eaten it and known it was good for me. It’s high in potassium, vitamin A and antioxidants. I have never disliked it, I have never quite understood how to use it so it’s not just one of those boring, good-for-you kind of vegetables.
Until last summer.
That was when thanks to the magic of a summer holiday, a recipe from one of my favourite cookbooks and a friend more well versed in the subtleties of squash than I, it happened. I fell in love with this humble little vegetable.
If you’re a glass half empty kind of person you’re may be kind of miserable right now. After all, the longest day of the year has come and gone and we are already in the slow slide to winter (perish the thought!).
I try to be a glass at least a quarter full person most of the time so after a mini-moan about how we haven’t even really had summer yet this year I tried to get in the spirit and celebrate. Not so surprisingly I did it with a meal.
I haven’t been blogging or cooking much lately. I have lots of excuses but no real reasons. You all know what that’s like. Keeping so busy with the business of living you don’t have time to actually live. The other day while I was in the midst of paperwork I decided enough was enough and that it was really time I made myself a real lunch. Thankfully I had some beans in the fridge ready to go. Ten minutes later I had lunch. Warm and crispy cannellini beans with sage. Since I’m very aware that everyone has mealtimes that can easily get rushed, or worse yet forgotten, I thought I’d share.
There is an adorable picture that has been around for years that has a bunch of peas sitting on top of the world with the caption “Peas on Earth”. In the interest of copyright I haven’t included it, but do a google search, you’ll find it. If you haven’t seen it let me tell you, it’s pretty cute. Cute enough that my sister bought herself a t-shirt with it emblazoned on it (I haven’t included a picture of her either not because she’s copyrighted but because I figured she might hunt me down). Given that Sunday April 22nd is Earth Day I therefore thought it was only fitting to write about peas. In this case pea soup.
This is a post about onions. Well, really it’s a post about asparagus. Actually, it’s about shedding some tears, having good friends and making small mistakes work for you.
Over the Easter weekend onions seemed to be my nemesis. I know, I know, the sharper your knife and all that, but as I prepped leeks, and shallots and cippolini onions for various meals it wasn’t pretty. Continue reading
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about pizza. Ruminating one might say.
Pizza. Is there a more perfect food? I’m hard pressed to think of one. Vegetarian, pescatarian, gluten free, dieting down, bulking up, lactose intolerant…. Seriously. No matter your dietary proclivities there is always a way to make pizza work for you.