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.
Potlucks. Do you love them or hate them? My feelings are mixed. In some ways they make things easier – you don’t have to cook as much, there is less clean up and there are more options for picky eaters. But, it is also possible to end up with a table full of desserts or five macaroni salads. So what’s a girl to do? How do you decide what to bring?
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?
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.
There are certain dates and anniversaries that seem to split the year into different and distinct parts. Everyone has their own. It might be the first day of school, new years eve, a wedding anniversary, a religious holiday or a season. For me, it’s fall. Not only is it the season of my birthday, a (scary) time of reflection, but it is followed shortly after by the Thanksgiving weekend, a time of thanks.
It seems that, quite unintentionally, I took the month of September off from blogging. It wasn’t planned, it just sort of happened. But I’m back, embracing fall and raring to go with a list of ideas and recipes to test in the next few months. I decided it only seemed fitting to have my first post back be a thank you ,and mirror my last post before my “mini-break”. So here we are with a Foodie Penpal package post.
Summer is an easy time to entertain. Food is fresh, nights are sultry and most people aren’t craving the heavy rich meals of the colder months. Summer also means more casual and outdoor dining. It couldn’t be simpler than to light up the barbeque, make some salads and serve fruit for dessert. Perfect.
If you’re looking to celebrate this August long weekend here is my cook(those)books roundup of a few of my recent favourite finds from cookbooks and magazines. Packed in a picnic basket, spread on the picnic table or schlepped to the cottage, these three recipes are absolutely easy and delectable.
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.
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.