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?
When I was a kid we had great neighbours. They had a fun basement (a color tv!), let me play with their foster racoons, and often invited us to dinner. I should also add there was always really good pie. Truly. Mrs. L. won ribbons for her pie.
So when in the midst of play the question was asked “do you want to stay for dinner Meg?”. It was an easy answer. “Let me check with my mom”. Continue reading
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.
When I competed as a fitness competitor I used to eat a lot of chicken. I would eat it every day, often more than once a day. I practically had feathers. cluck.
These days I (thankfully) eat it far less. However the advantage of having eaten so much is that I have a fairly formidable stash of easy chicken recipes. One of my personal favourites is chicken baked with sage and green olives. Easy for a week night dinner served with a simple green salad but special enough to be served with risotto and fresh local mushrooms for company. The best part? No fitness competitions required.
Chicken with Sage and Olives
- 3 chicken breasts with the skin on (bone in or out)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 cup mixed green olives such as cerignola or nocellara
- 3 sprigs of fresh sage (approximately 8 medium size leaves), chopped (leave some whole)
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Optional: 1/4 Dry white wine in place of chicken stock and lemon
- Cut each chicken breast in half. Place in bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with half of the sage, and salt and pepper. Toss.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat oil in a large oven proof casserole dish.
- Sear chicken in dish on top of the stove. Ensure that some of the garlic and sage gets cooked too.
- When chicken is seared on all sides, turn off heat. Pour stock and lemon (or wine) into dish, scraping the drippings off the bottom of the pan.
- Add olives and remaining sage.
- Cover and place in oven for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, remove the lid. If there is no remaining liquid at the bottom of the dish add a bit more stock or wine. Continue to cook another 15 minutes.
Sometimes dinner rolls around and you just don’t want to get fancy. Maybe you don’t have the time or the ingredients. Maybe you just want something simple and clean. Summer or winter Peter Rabbit got it right. It’s hard to beat fresh carrots.
For an easy vegetable dish try steamed carrots with butter and sage. It’s simple.
- First, pick some carrots fresh from the garden (or Mr. McGregors).
- Cut them to your preferred size. Place in the top half of a vegetable steamer and cook until just tender.
- While they are cooking melt a tbsp of butter in a saute pan and add a handful of chopped fresh sage.
- Let the sage get a bit crispy, but be careful it doesn’t burn.
- When the carrots are cooked, drain them and place in the pan with the butter and sage. Toss.
- Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Serve the carrots hot, warm or even cold the next day. It is just as good for dinner with a roast chicken as it is with quinoa for a quick lunch. Just don’t get caught in the garden!