Thanksgiving Skillet Cornbread.

Lately is seems as if every time I write a blog post it is a change of season. The last time I wrote it had just changed from summer to fall . Suddenly fall is here and it is Thanksgiving. But what a fall it has been. I have had some great adventures the last few weeks. I started school, I’ve winterized the garden and I went to the Yukon for my sisters birthday where my sister and Mom took me on my first helicopter ride! Needless to say with all this activity this poor little blog has been sadly neglected. But, with a long weekend upon me and only one exam looming I decided that needed to change.

The magical view from the helicopter!

The magical view from the helicopter!

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Pantry Staples, Holidays and Spices.

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.

How do I bring this back?

How do I bring this back?

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.

Just a few gifts from friends and family!

Just a few travel gifts from friends and family!

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.

container herbs

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.

garlic

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.

Fajita/Mexican Spice

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.

Drying herbs

Next up I’m going to track my condiment, vinegars, oils, and other kitchen essentials. What are yours?

Kale salad with Gado Gado dressing.

We’ve all heard of the actor who is an overnight success despite the fact that in reality they have been slaving away in summer stock, movies of the week, and children’s theatre for decades. Kale is kind of like that. Relegated for years as one of those vegetables that the “healthy” types eat, over the last few years it has been making a resurgence and, dare I say it, become rather trendy.

Hmmm….there’s a lesson in there. Just keep doing your thing, work hard, keep your head down, be honest and genuine and it will happen for you. Like the actress. And kale.

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I love kale (which is a good thing since it seems to be the one thing I can reliably grow in my garden) and eat it quite frequently. I steam it, make chips and add it to soups and stews. Lately though I’ve been eating it raw. My favourite variation to date is in a simple chopped salad with beans and a spicy peanut dressing. It has shown up so frequently at meal times lately I might even be tempted to call it an overnight success.

How do you eat kale?

For the dressing:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 4 Tbsp. crunchy peanut butter
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 tsp. Braggs (or low sodium tamari)
  • 4tsp dried ginger (or grated 1″ piece of fresh)
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • Optional: splash of fish sauce

Method

Simply mix all ingredients together in a mason jar (or other sealable container). Refrigerate. Remove from fridge at least one hour prior to use to allow peanut butter and coconut milk to liquify. The dressing will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

For the Salad:

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of mixed kale, cored and chopped
  • Gado gado dressing
  • Sprouted chick peas
  • toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Method

Wash, rinse and finely chop kale.
Place kale and chickpeas in bowl and lightly toss with dressing.
Sprinkle with seeds. Add salt, pepper and chili’s to taste.

Kale salad

Cook (those) books. Spring edition.

Social media is a funny thing. It’s a superficial entity filled with soundbites and pictures of the perfect moments of our lives. (Lets not even talk about all the pouty lipped “selfies” out there) Arguments could be made that it both brings societies and people closer together and yet somehow manages to isolate us even further. After all, we’ve all seen the table filled with people using their smart phones rather than having an actual conversation. I like to think though that used the right way social media is a great way to make new friends and keep up with old ones.

Spring dogwood

And that’s just what happened. A couple of weeks ago I had the great fortune of meeting an online twitter and blog friend Jeanette Ordas from the delicious website Everybody Likes Sandwiches. In our brief (in person!) chat we, not surprisingly, talked about blogging and cookbooks. It got me thinking that it had been awhile since I had written a Cook(those)books post about the recipes I’ve been trying from my cookbook collection. So, with thanks to Jeanette, a blog post was born. Continue reading

The sting of spring.

I think I can, without jinxing myself, say spring has officially arrived in Vancouver. The morning air is still a bit cool, and there will still be monsoon rains to come, but the sun has a warmth to it that we have been missing for a long, long while. Trees and flowers are blooming, the birds are devouring the seed from the feeder daily and neighbours are stopping to say hello as I dig in the dirt. Yes. Hooray for spring.

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Leftovers and Lunch.

Confession time. I hate leftovers. They make me a bit crazy. I’m impressed by people who can eat the identical thing for lunch that they ate the night before. But seriously? Don’t they get bored? To each their own, but when I sit down to a meal I want the food on my plate to look (and taste) differently than the last time I saw that same food. The challenge is that it makes life a whole lot easier (and usually healthier) if once or twice a week you prep and cook large batches of food for future eating. So what is a leftover snob supposed to do? For me, the answer (aside from keeping a well stocked pantry) is to prep and cook individual items rather than meals. Cut the vegetables, but don’t make the salad; cook and rinse the beans, but just store them for easy portioning; and cook the protein with just enough seasoning to keep it tender. Cook extra ingredients, not meals. That way there is always something to grab and go. Or, if you have time, lets you create something a bit more involved. Continue reading

Robbie Burns and Scotch Eggs.

Let me first say that I am not Scottish by birth.

But I grew up with all things Scottish so I think that through osmosis I have absorbed some Scottish blood. I must have. Otherwise why would the sound of the bagpipes make me happy and the sight of men in kilts make me swoon? There is no other explanation. I don’t listen to the pipes often (or hang out with men in kilts for that matter) but to keep a little Scottish in my life I have adopted the annual tradition of a Burns dinner.

I spent most of my formative years thinking Robbie Burns day was just another night as my friends and I, performed the requisite highland dances at events and watched our parents drink, laugh and let loose. But as I grow older I have been able to look back and realize what great moments those were. I now realize that traditional or not, what a Robbie Burns day dinner has to offer is poetry, food, music and friends. Like all great meals it is a chance to gather and share. Last year I hosted my first annual Robbie Burns dinner. Just a small group of people but with lots of laughs, music, and good food. By purists standards probably not traditionally acceptable, but for my gang, just what the scotsman ordered.

Robbie Burns table Continue reading

Fights, friends & eggs in a cup.

It is said that friends are the family you choose. If that is the case I have a wonderful family indeed. In my everyday life I have amazing friends, many of whom I have written about and alluded to on my blog. But every couple of years I have the good fortune to usher in the New Year with another group of friends. A crazy, talented, beautiful gang of people affectionately know as my Paddy Family.

As with most things in life, I met that group of people through a funny, serendipitious chain of events. Over 10 years ago I was working at an arts organization and met a man who introduced me to The Paddy Crean workshop. The Paddy Crean is a week long international workshop that celebrates sword fighting, stage combat, historical martial arts, stunt performers, actors and educators and is held at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Since I was living in Calgary at the time I thought “why not?”, and I went. And from that very first moment so many years ago when I stood in a dance studio surrounded by sword fighters and questioned my sanity (and which end of the sword to hold) I began meeting people who would forever change my life.

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The Circle of (a Pumpkins) Life.

When I’m in the kitchen I almost always have music on. Usually it is CBC Radio, but often, especially if I have the house to myself, it is showtunes. I love musical theatre. I love being in it and I love listening to it. I have so many great memories attached to different shows and the reminders they bring of friends and different times in my life. Now, I’m sure many of you have had the experience where you press that funny little genius button on your computer and you get a playlist of songs, some of which you don’t even remember owning. So the other day it was no surprise when, in the midst of cooking, a showtune started playing on my computer. As I was slicing up a pumpkin on came songs from the Broadway musical The Lion King (yes, the stage version not the movie). Singing along at the top of my voice about life and the circles it has I looked down at the pumpkin and thought yes it’s true. Life is a circle. So let me tell you a little bit about the circle of one pumpkins life.

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