Friday, July 18, 2014

persian lentils and brown rice with mint



I have been having a bit of a fling with mint recently. I can't believe that I have overlooked what it brings to dishes beyond the obvious combination with chocolate. I have been meaning to share recipes for several salads for (obviously) weeks now. This salad is one that I made three times in 10 days and really didn't bother to take a good pic of any one of those times. I apologize. With all the beautiful food photography scattered all over every site it seems like a mark of disrespect to offer anything less but although I would eat this salad three times a week pretty much all summer, mine is not the only palate to please in our house. David loved it too but he loves variety even more, so I have reluctantly moved on - minus a decent photo - and agreed to rest this salad for at least a bit. Sad really because it is tasty, easy, and has the quiet virtue of being inexpensive. 

The combo of brown rice and lentils creates a complete protein. The addition of greens is obvious but the mint makes the salad much more interesting than one anticipates from the unassuming appearance. It changes character slightly when saved overnight but it is by no means a change for the worse. A big bowl of this nicely feeds a crowd at a BBQ or picnic or waits patiently in the fridge for a few days of lunches for an intimate twosome. 

I found the recipe in a publication that I used to read faithfully when I was young and newly wed but have ignored for years now for publications that are ... shinier. Shame on me for forgetting old friends - I have recently discovered that there is plenty on offer within. 

persian lentils & brown rice with mint
(adapted from Family Circle magazine)

1/2 cup brown jasmine rice (uncooked)
2/3 cup red lentils
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses*
3/4 tsp sea salt
3 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup fresh mint, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Cook rice as per package directions or (if you have one) use your trusty rice cooker on the brown rice setting. While the rice is cooking bring some water to a boil in a medium size pot. Add the lentils, return to a boil and cook for 6 minutes. (This is a good time to use a timer because you don't want mushy overcooked lentils here.) You are also going to want to watch it carefully because it will get foamy and boil over if you take your eye off it for long. When the timer goes off drain the lentils and rinse under cold water for a few minutes until they are cool. Add the cooled lentils and cooked rice to a large bowl.

Whisk the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and salt together. Pour over lentils and rice, stirring gently to coat. Fold in the spinach, mint, cherries, pecans and feta.

*Pomegranate molasses is likely an ingredient that doesn't lurk in your pantry. It wasn't in mine but this recipe was one too many recipes that I had seen requiring it and pushed me over the edge to buying a bottle. It sounds incredibly exotic and hard to find but you may be lucky enough to find it (as I did) in the foreign foods aisle of a supermarket. If you have no desire to own a bottle you can substitute 2 tsp of honey mixed with 4 tsp of pomegranate juice for the 2 Tbsp of pomegranate molasses.





Sunday, May 25, 2014

rosemary sea salted brownies

gluten-free, refined sugar-free





If I was to worry about posting seasonally appropriate topics and recipes I would probably be looking for .... not this post. I defend my choice thusly: chocolate is never out of season. It is the food equivalent of fashion's black - goes with everything. Should I need to hedge my bet I would point to the rosemary I picked from my garden which must surely confirm seasonal appropriateness. If I was to need to justify myself.

Last spring in Vancouver Jonathon introduced me to the pleasures of Beaucoup Bakery. The very first treat that caught my eye was a beautiful chocolate cookie with rosemary. It was even better than it looked and I mentally filed the concept for future reference. This spring Jonathon has a shop of his own and a few weeks ago he had an order of very special chocolate from Mexico, including this beautiful bar of rosemary dark chocolate. I had been fine-tuning a recipe for spicy brownies when he sent me a bar of the rosemary chocolate and as good as the spicy brownies were I suspected there was a better direction. I was right - the time on the spicy version was not a waste because it simply meant that these were perfect from the first batch. I love the piney, minty-ness of rosemary and it is a perfect partner to good dark chocolate. Toss is a bit of cinnamon and top it with a sprinkle of flakey salt and I dare you to stop at one. I made a batch for last week's Sunday dinner dessert and on Friday Eden told me she couldn't stop thinking about them. Pretty much says it all.

I have made this with butter twice and once with coconut oil replacing the butter. Both versions are very good so if you and dairy do not get along well by all means make it with the coconut oil, but my strong preference is to use good butter. Taste and texture were both superior.

rosemary sea salted brownies

1/2 cup almond flour
3 Tbsp coconut flour
1 Tbsp cacao
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
4.5 oz chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary 
leaves stripped from a 3" sprig of rosemary
1 tsp flakey sea salt (such as Malden's)

Line an 8 inch square pan with a parchment paper sling and set aside.

In a bowl combine almond flour, coconut flour, cacao, cinnamon and fine sea salt. Set aside.

Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly until almost melted then remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes - this will finish the melting without burning the chocolate. Add the honey and coconut sugar and stir gently to combine. Gently stir in the eggs being careful not to over-beat. Add the chopped rosemary and stir the mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing just until everything is incorporated. Push into the parchment lined pan. Sprinkle with the rosemary leaves and sea salt. Bake at 350 degree F for 28 minutes.

Easy and fast - to make and to eat :)




Sunday, May 18, 2014

no-bake chocolate cookies : re-invented

gluten-free, refined sugar-free




This story wanders a bit - or maybe a lot. Kind of like a new puppy, easily distracted.

I grew up on no-bake chocolate cookies. No-bakes and chocolate puffed wheat squares were my kryptonite - I could and would eat either one without discipline and to the point of illness. Needless to say the next generation (my children following my shining example) was no different. No-bakes are the obvious answer to every question. Or they were.

Health issues introduced our family to a new eating paradigm and I hadn't even looked at that well-exercised recipe for a good long time, long enough to have forgotten exactly what was in them. A week ago our family grew by one (we now have an adorable grand-dog) an event certainly deserved to  be celebrated. Celebration = food so I offered to bring a treat when we went to meet Mark and Tiffany's puppy. As time was short my mind inevitably went to our fail-safe, no-bake chocolate cookies. Then I looked at the recipe. I may have gulped and certainly grimaced - 2 cups of white sugar!!! 2! I just could not do it. I argued with myself and still couldn't. Really, two cups of white sugar in roughly 30 cookies. That's a lot of sugar. A lot of plain not good sugar. Tasty, easy, gluten-free and full of sugar. Bah! 

Not one to be undone by a couple of cups of sugar I determined that although I may be tempting fate by playing with a recipe as sacred as this one, it had to be done. That or toss the recipe entirely. It seemed a worthy gamble and at the end of the effort all agreed that it was. In fact, the reinvented cookies were universally approved as the preference. Lest anyone be mislead these cookies are not healthy doppelgängers for the originals - they are chewier in texture and deeper in taste. More dark chocolate than milk. But even the littlest of our clan loved them.

I think we should christen them Bailey cookies in honour of the new puppy. They are good enough to have a name of their own (not just 'the healthy no-bakes, you know...') and Bailey (the Brittany) is cute enough to warrant a cookie named after her.

David liked these well enough to stand jealous guard over them. Deacon liked them well enough to request a blog post a week after the fact. The pictures are reflective of no intention to post but I cannot withstand a request from a 10 year old. Really, I cannot :) What grandmother worth her salt could?!

bailey cookies
(adapted from my mom's recipe for no-bake chocolate cookies circa 1960)

3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk of your choice, I used coconut milk
6 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla
 3 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Combine the honey, palm sugar, butter, milk of your choice, cocoa, and vanilla in a large heavy saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and immediately add the oats, coconut and chopped pecans. Mix well. Using a 1" cookie scoop drop in mounds onto parchment paper (or foil) to cool and set - about 1 hour. (A brief stint in the fridge will shorten that time somewhat.)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

morrocan super salad




It has been a while. 'Nuff said. 

Tonight for dinner I made a salad so full of virtuous super-foods that I really feel like I should charge up a mountain or something ridiculous. Sweet potatoes, beluga lentils, red quinoa, pumpkin seeds, pecans, pomegranate seeds, chickpeas all tied together with a spicy/sweet dressing to give it a kick. One of the best things I have put in my mouth in a while. I made a mountain of dirty dishes in the process and really can't think of any shortcuts in that regard but the making is simple if multi-stepped and well worth the dish washing. The recipe advises it will feed 6. I would add that would be six very hungry people who love quinoa and lentils and all the rest of the good stuff. But that is all to the good because it means left-over salad for a lunch or two. I served our salad over a bed of baby kale, chard, and spinach because I have decided if you don't eat leafy greens for breakfast, lunch, and dinner there is just no way you are going to eat enough of them in a day. Besides, it looks pretty and tastes better.

I found the recipe yesterday morning. One of my most beloved personal indulgences is reading - anytime really - but specifically reading a magazine while I eat breakfast. While I was thus indulging yesterday morning (and finally catching up on the important business of getting up to date with my publications) a very pretty salad caught my eye. Thinking that fresh pomegranate seeds would be as scarce as hen's teeth this time of year I didn't expect to experience the salad any time soon. Short story: I was wrong - but about as happy to be wrong as I have ever been. If you can be as lucky as I, make the salad with pomegranate seeds. If not, try blueberries. (That's my plan for next time - and I know that next time will come soon here.) The original recipe called for fresh mint but what little mint is managing to show its brave self in my garden is just to small to snip so I subbed some mint tea leaves I have in the pantry. Fresh would be better but the dried was good.

I probably won't be charging up a mountain tonight but I feel virtuous enough to justify eating something wild and crazy for a treat. Plus having a tube of Harissa paste in the fridge just makes you cool. That and beluga lentils.

morrocan super salad
(from Style at Home magazine, renamed and ever so slightly adapted)

honey harissa dressing:
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp old-fashioned seedy Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
2 tsp harissa paste
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

salad:
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 540-ml can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup beluga black lentils
1 cup red quinoa
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup pecan halves, chopped
1 tsp dried mint leaves (or 1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup fresh pomegranate seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Toss 1/4 cup of the dressing with the diced sweet potatoes and spread the potatoes out on one of the baking sheets. Toss 2 Tbsp of the dressing with the chickpeas and spread those out on the second baking sheet. Put both sheets into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.

Fill a small pot with 4 cups of cold water and the beluga lentils. Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are tender - about 20 minutes. Drain and rinse.

Fill another small pot with 4 cups of water and the red quinoa. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 12 minutes. Drain and let dry in the sieve for a few minutes.

While all of this cooking is happening add the green onions, pumpkin seeds, pecans, mint leaves, and cranberries to a large bowl. When the sweet potatoes are done remove them and the chickpeas from the oven and add to the large bowl along with the cooked lentils and red quinoa. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, add the pomegranate seeds and toss to combine. Serve over leafy greens. Or don't. 







Tuesday, April 8, 2014

quinoa cacao bar

gluten-free, refined sugar free




I have been largely absent here - for reasons good and less good. A little bit lazy, a lot of busyness that is pure and simple of little interest to anyone, not even me. One of those periods in life where every day speeds by and at the end of it you wonder what it was that you did. This silly fire thing drags on - more boxes come back from the restoration company but little else happens. We still have no laundry room and the house still has a lingering odour of electrical fire. The smell is masked when I cook and we are strangely accustomed to it but when I return home and the house is quiet that unpleasant, sharp smell is easy to identify. You would think it would be motivation to cook a little more but the boxes that are stacked in corners, the bare floors, the disorganized pantry all leave me feeling like we are simply stopping here and so we eat meals that are healthy, simple and fast - but uninspired.

I spent several days last week unpacking the last 33 boxes. Many of the boxes contained treasures that I had forgotten we had - I am scratching my head over where the cleaners found some of it and then scratching more over why it was deemed worthy of restoration. Boxes of memories ... photos and old handmade Mother's Day and birthday cards from my kids that made me laugh out loud, the contents of Merin's dance bag that I cannot bear to part with - all two dozen bodysuits (or more!) plus tattered warm-ups - that I wept over. Toys and tiny clothes, study aids from school in Japan, box after box. All unpacked now and safely put away, the memories and the goods. It was cathartic - not particularly easy but in the end good. 

In the middle of the unpacking and muddle I felt a Pooh-bear like need for a little something. Honey is good but it wasn't quite the something that my particular tummy was wanting. Chocolate however was just the thing. A couple of weeks earlier I had tried a beautiful bar that was almost perfect. Well, really it was but I just had the urge to fiddle a little and so I fiddled and I think it was perhaps just a little more perfect. Licking the spoon I knew that Merin would have loved these and I smiled. It was a good end to a bit of a hard day. (after 3 1/2 years I am surprised at the tenacity of grief  - that and the oddness of what triggers the longing. I am content, even happy, but I realize more and more that I will simply miss the joy Merin is until I see her again)

These bars are very, very good as soon as they harden but if you can give them a chance to 'cure' they are even better. A day is good - three best. Just tuck them at the back of the fridge and hope nobody (including yourself) notices they are there. Both times I made them I thought they got significantly better with a period to cure. The recipe is originally from a blog that is new to me and I am so happy to have come across it. Lots of great ideas and very pretty pictures. Seriously - I dare you to scroll through and not want to make every single recipe she has posted. I certainly can't find one that I don't want to try!

quinoa cacao bar
( from Wholehearted Eats, with a little bit of fiddling)

3/4 cup virgin coconut oil
2 Tbsp almond butter
2 Tbsp coconut flour
2/3 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 cups puffed quinoa
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1/2 cup pistachios

Line a 9x9" pan with a parchment paper sling and set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt together the coconut oil and the almond butter. Stir in the coconut flour, cacao, maple syrup and salt. Add the puffed quinoa, cranberries and pistachios. Mix well and pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Add another couple of tablespoons of cranberries and pistachios to the top to make it prettier, pressing them into the chocolate mixture. Refrigerate until hardened. Wrap for easy grabbing when on the go - you won't regret the time.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

stumped




I have lost my groove. It is gone - who knows where or why? - and I have been waiting for it to come back as quietly as it went. Today I am tired of the waiting and so I am pursuing the mysterious motivation to share whatever it is I have previously taken such delight in sharing. I could blame it on the dryer-fire or the ongoing restoration project that is frustratingly stalled. It could have been the brand-new fridge sitting in the middle of my kitchen for a few weeks that chased my groove away (I am notorious for needing every element in its rightful place before I can be creative) or the empty pantry that short-circuits so many kitchen adventures before they even begin. I find myself paralyzed by the incredible abundance of healthy recipes beautifully photographed that fill untold numbers of food blogs and wonder if the world really needs another entry in that class. Somedays I love the old-school look of the blog and other days I think it really needs an overhaul but that thought completely overwhelms me. Whatever the cause I have missed being involved in this endeavour and so here I sit, fighting the temptation to check my Pinterest feed or see what is newly posted on Instagram in an effort to procrastinate the exercise of writing. I confess I have gotten lazy and the only way to get my groove back is to get ... grooving?

Tonight's dinner seems like a good place to start. This morning my plan for dinner was a kale salad with beets and roasted salmon. Simple, undemanding, healthy. Certainly nothing to write about. And then. Then I saw this recipe on Food 52 and it just had to be what was done with the kale and the salmon. I was so right. This is better than good and almost as easy as the easy plan that wouldn't have been news of any kind. Sometimes the day just ends up a lot better than it begins.

Turns out this recipe was inspired by one of Heidi Swanson's recipes from Super Natural Everyday. I in my turn have made minor changes to the recipe that Ashley Couse published on her lovely blog Bloom & Nourish. Granted my changes are truly minor but aren't those little changes that we make when we cook what gives a recipe our signature, a personal flavour? I like a touch of heat to make things interesting but another might find that level of spice either entirely bland or too intense. My preference for food with virtue colours the dishes I choose or create. Feeling free to add or subtract from a recipe or an idea is what makes being in the kitchen gratifying and fun. Sometimes things work out amazingly well, other times not so much but every time I learn something for another day. 

crispy coconut kale with roasted salmon, sweet potatoes & coconut rice
(adapted slightly from Bloom & Nourish)

1 cup brown basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
2 Tbsp Tamari
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp Sriracha sauce
2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2" cube
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 bunch kale, ribbed and chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 lb salmon fillet

Combine the rice with the water and coconut milk and cook. (I confess to having a rice cooker for so long that I would have a hard time managing or knowing what to do without one. It is just what happens when you live in Japan - everyone has one like everyone here has a stove.)

While the rice is cooking turn the oven on to 400 degrees F. Using a small tightly lidded jar combine the coconut oil, sesame oil, Sriracha, sea salt and Tamari. Close tightly and shake well to emulsify. Set aside.

Toss the cubed sweet potatoes with the grapeseed oil then spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and smoked paprika and slide the lot into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes or until tender. Turn or stir the potatoes once during roasting.

Give the coconut oil dressing another good shake and pour roughly 2/3 of it over the chopped kale and coconut flakes. Mix well so that everything is well coated and spread on another baking sheet. Set aside.

Drizzle the salmon fillet with a couple tablespoons of the remaining dressing. Add the salmon and the kale to the oven with the sweet potatoes and roast for the last 15 minutes or so of the sweet potatoes baking time. Remove from oven when the kale is crispy, the salmon flakes easily and the sweet potatoes are tender. Serve the salmon on a bed of coconut rice topped with crispy kale and sweet potatoes. And be amazed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

'detox' salad







Detoxing is so in-vogue these days that it is almost uncool. To be ahead of the curve is hip but when something hits the mass and everyone is doing it, that whole cool factor kind of evaporates. Nevertheless and regardless of how effective this salad is as a detoxifier, I am addicted to it. I came across the recipe on the daily feed from Chatelaine a couple months ago, added it to the queue, and finally made it a month ago. Since then I have made five batches of this salad - it makes a large amount (about 10 cups) and I can honestly and safely say that I have eaten most of all five batches myself. I can also honestly say that I kind of wish I had! I sent a sample to my sister and she sent back a text:

"had the salad last night. It made me think of summer and gardens"

At the tail end (fingers crossed) of this incredibly long, cold, hard winter I really can't think of anything better to say about the salad. That it also happens to be chock-full of incredibly healthy ingredients is simply a bonus.

This salad is not 'pretty' but it is ever-so-delicious. A food processor is an asset here but not vital. If you don't have one your chopping skills will get a workout but it is still worth it. I made a few small changes to the recipe I first read - among them a shredded beet and some olive oil. In or out, you really want to try this.

detox salad
(from Chatelaine - barely tweaked)

2 heads broccoli florets, stems removed and florets chopped
1 head cauliflower, stems removed and florets chopped
4 medium carrots, shredded
1 medium golden beet, shredded
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
3/4 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup raisins
6-8 stems fresh parsley
6 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp maple syrup (or to taste)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Put the broccoli florets and parsley into the bowl of the food processor and process until fine (just a step away from making it into a paste). Add to a large bowl.

Process the cauliflower until fine and add to the bowl with the broccoli and parsley.

Using the shredding attachment process the carrots and then the beet. Add these vegetables to the others in the bowl. Stir in the cranberries, raisins, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, maple syrup and cinnamon.

This is delicious right away. It also saves well for several days worth of lunches and snacks.



Sunday, March 2, 2014

cranberry-pistachio biscotti





Any kind of travel originating from our house equals a cooking frenzy prior to take-off. Doesn't matter if take-off actually includes flight or only a road-trip, we travel like royalty. By that I mean we take our own 'plate' and 'linen' or at least our own food. The days of loving fast-food junk and gas-stop snacks are so far in the distant past as to be impossible to recall, and airport fare is only to be ingested to stave off imminent starvation - real starvation, not just the I'm-dying-of-hunger feeling that hits about 4 hours post-dining. So the day or two before we (or in this particular case David) leave I bust out the bowls and pans, make a terrible mess and a wonderful aroma, ending the day with a triumphant feeling of accomplishment and a bunch of travel-friendly eats.

When the destination is Japan our bags always include gifts for friends and colleagues there. Every trip we deliberate over what to take - the problem being that in our minds every cool thing that anyone could want comes from Japan so what could possibly be a welcome gift? And every trip we arrive at the same conclusion: everyone eats so .... something delicious. Here is where problem 2 raises its ugly head - what is delicious to one may not be delicious to another, especially (but not exclusively) when there are culture gaps. For example, the Japanese find many of our sweet treats cloyingly sweet and very unappealing while we North Americans need to train our palates to appreciate the subtleties of their very excellent deep dark chocolate. Then of course, it must travel well and arrive not only fresh but pretty, or at least not a melted mess or a pile of crumbs. Happily I have happened upon a few options that are now tried and true to the point of being eagerly anticipated by the recipients. One of the stops David makes every trip is the office he headed while we lived in Tokyo. The staff there have a particular fondness for this biscotti and have requested the recipe. This post is for the "office ladies" at COFI Japan.

This recipe is a long-time favourite at our house. I started making biscotti when I happened on the intriguing recipe in an adorable little cookbook of cookie recipes by Mary Engelbreit (1998). The first batch was a big hit and as the process is fast, super simple, and yields a nice amount for the work a household star was born. David loves these crunchy, dunkable cookies at least as much as the COFI staff. I have tried a few other options for the add-ins (most recently cacao nibs, dark chocolate, and tart dried cherries - a combination I thought most promising but David prefers the cranberry-pistachio duo). I was interested to find a recipe that promised to be the penultimate biscotti recipe published in Chatelaine magazine before Christmas 2013. That recipe was only grains away from the one I had been using but even so, I wondered if those grains would be the difference between .... I don't know what?! Naturally I tried the Chatelaine recipe and wouldn't you know it? those grains did make all the difference. I keep the sweet little M.E. cookbook but won't be looking back for the biscotti recipe. The only change I make to the Chatelaine recipe is to add a smidgeon of almond extract.

Although the recipe was published as a Christmas cookie, we have liberated it to whole-year status. The red and green of the cranberries and pistachio does make a lovely statement wholly in keeping with a Christmas theme but I ignore that element and celebrate the nutritional goodness of both add-ins as daily requirements. To be sure, these are not to be eaten for your health but mental health is important too, right?

Just have to say that although I don't love the actual trip, I do wish I was in Japan with David right now. 

cranberry-pistachio biscotti
(from Chatelaine magazine)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose white flour*
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup chopped pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and heat your oven to 325 F. Stir the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until very creamy - about 5 minutes. Beat the eggs in 1 at a time, then add the vanilla and almond extracts. Stir in the flour mixture and then the pistachios and cranberries. The mixture will be a bit dry but should hold together. Gather the dough together and divide into two. Using your hands shape the portions into logs that are roughly 1" high x 2" wide on the parchment lined baking sheet. If the dough sticks to your hands (and makes you a bit crazy) you can dampen your hands with cold water - just don't use too much water, dampen is the key. The logs should be about 3 inches apart.

Bake until the tops are firm and golden - about 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool until you can handle them (about 10 minutes). Using a serrated knife cut into diagonal slices about 1/2" thick. The next bit is a little like playing dominoes - stand the slices on their edges with space between them on the baking sheet. Return to the oven and continue baking for 20-30 minutes more.

These keep very well. If they have a chance :)

* Gluten-free flour mix works very successfully here. Another option that I like is to use 1 cup of cornmeal and 1 1/4 cups flour or gluten-free flour mix. I have a particular love for the crunch of cornmeal.


Friday, February 14, 2014

'Fireman' Dave and the dryer-fire


One phone call I never expected to get was the one I got from my normally cool, collected, do-it-myself husband. The call that went like this "Cher! There is a fire in our house. Call the fire department." Verbatim. No extra (or possibly helpful and potentially calming) details, just the bare bones.

I had started my Monday morning January 20 the way I normally start Mondays - by stripping the bed and sorting the laundry. I almost never neglect the wash on Mondays, it is one of the ways I keep on top of the things that need keeping on top of. The first load in the machine is the bed linens. I did the other regular everyday things while that load ran through the cycle, changed the linens to the dryer, started another load in the washer, grabbed my list of errands and groceries for the week, and headed out the door to take care of business. The call came when I had been gone for about 45 minutes. Fortunately David was home working and due to his cool-head and penchant to do-it-himself, he extinguished the fire just as the fire trucks rolled up to our door. Two fire trucks and a police cruiser as well. Lots of huge firemen trudging through our house making sure all was as well as it could be.

So. This is another one of those experiences that remind me how little I know and how self-involved I tend to be. If I had heard that a friend or acquaintance had had a dryer-fire, I would likely have thought to myself "well, that stinks!", assumed that a new dryer was in the works, and probably little else. It sounds like such a little event. And in the scheme of events it really is little. But like a paper cut that stings every time you get your hand wet, it really is aggravating. We are coming up to 4 weeks pretty quick here and we are far from back to normal. We spent the first two weeks post-fire enjoying a staycation in a lovely bed and breakfast courtesy of our insurance company while two restoration contractors began the business of remediating the damage from the thick black repellently stinky smoke that filled our home. Every single soft item on our home (and I mean everything that was not nailed to the floor with the exception of the sofas) was removed to be cleaned off-site. The removal alone took a couple of days. All our electronics were removed to be cleaned. Then every hard surface, every book and picture, had to be wiped down. The laundry room has been gutted. The ceilings will be scraped and redone. The carpets have been cleaned. There have been four massive 'air scrubbers' exchanging the air in our house every 15 minutes night and day and still it smells of fire in here. 

A week ago we got the first of our goods back. 223 bundles of hanging and I don't know how many boxes but lots!! I have spent hours every day in the meantime unpacking, cutting the id tags off each unique piece and trying to put things back where they live. It has been tedious in the extreme but I remind myself that I am so fortunate to have my home and my things. If David had not been home the chance is very great that by the time anyone on our quiet street even noticed there was a fire here, it would have been beyond too late. So I plod on, finding the odd treasure and of course the odd things that one keeps simply because it is easier than deciding what to do with them. Those things are set aside (now beautifully clean) to find new homes with someone else. In a few weeks I will have a rebuilt laundry room with new appliances and the stink of an electrical fire will (hopefully) be a memory.

There are a few lessons here. The first is easy to see - DON'T leave home (or go to bed) with any appliance running but especially not a washer, dryer, or dishwasher. The risk is simply not worth the convenience. Next lesson - know where the shut-offs are for said appliances and then make sure that you have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it.

But the most important lesson I have been reminded of again, is that it is not ever so real as when it has happened to you. It doesn't matter if it is small or large, life-changing or just a nuisance, I think I am not alone in my tendency to be too blind to the 'paper cuts' and disasters of those around me. It is far too easy to ask for understanding and tolerance, for support and comfort for what concerns me but deny those same needs to others because I haven't made the effort to get out of my skin and feel their worries, to understand why they feel stressed, to know that they need love and maybe more than just a little help. Our paper-cut-disaster has been really relatively painless - a big nuisance and a whole lot of work to be sure - but we have lost nothing that matters. We have our home and it will be beautiful and orderly again.  Much of what was destroyed can be replaced and what cannot will not leave a hole in my life. We have one another and each precious member of our family. We have the opportunity to get up and work and learn and grow with each new day.

Can't say I won't be happy to get the rest of my stuff back - I am pretty tired of one pair of boots and the shoes I wear for my daily walks (hardly fashionable). First world problems. Small potatoes. At least I have shoes. I do like shoes though....

Monday, January 13, 2014

beautiful borscht





I may be reading too much - looking outside at the falling snow I feel all War-and-Peace-ish and Dr Zhivago-y - and everybody is writing about detoxing and healthy livers and resolutions to eat healthy forevermore. Of course when I went to the market the bin of beets was both homely and beautiful. It was too perfect a storm; I could feel romantic and virtuous at the same time if I made a pot of borscht.

Beautiful borscht (has to be just about the prettiest soup) always makes me think of two things. Russian winter and Merin. The Russian connection is fairly obvious but I should perhaps explain Merin. Mike's paternal grandparents came to Canada from Poland and his Baba made borscht. I know this because after one trip to visit her in-laws Merin came home with a few Mason jars filled with the pretty soup and shared it with me. Prior to this sharing I was not a fan of the beet soup but Baba's soup opened the door. After that shared lunch I tried my hand at beet soup once but I was not impressed and didn't revisit the idea until the other day. I had been reading about the myriad health advantages of wonderful beets (an important source of betaine and folate, loaded with potassium, some magnesium and even a little vitamin C - beets are believed to be an excellent liver tonic and blood purifier) and, to be sure, we love beets whether cooked or raw. Soup is an easy answer to a fast, healthy lunch and absolutely obvious in the cold, cold, snowy winter. And so, borscht.

Some years we have a pretty bare and very brown winter. Other years it snows often - snowflakes falling for hours and hours in a thick curtain. This is one of the years when if one counted wealth in terms of centimetres of snow, Calgary would have to be acknowledged as having an absolute embarrassment of riches. It is snowing yet again today. Beautiful, big flakes drifting down and piling up, adding to an already abundant blanket and deep drifts everywhere. My little vegetable garden has a two foot fence around it (to keep the rabbits out) and today the top of the fence is officially buried. There is a lot of snow. I have never been to Russia - unless reading counts (doesn't) - but I imagine it to be beautifully snowy in winter and (thankfully) ever so much colder than it is here today. 

Having concluded that borscht had to be made I searched my cookbook collection and my favourite spots online for a likely-looking recipe. I read reviews and made my own calculations. But really there wasn't much of a contest - who wouldn't be won over by "Dr Zhivago Borscht"? It was a very wise choice. I may not be a borscht connoisseur but I do know good soup and this is good soup. If you don't have a good recipe for borscht - or even if you do - you really ought to give this one a try. I found the recipe on Food 52 - always a good bet - and made a very few, small modifications.

The soup has a wonderful fresh, slightly sweet taste (as one would expect from beets). I like to add a tsp or so (to taste) of apple cider vinegar to my bowl along with another sprinkle of fresh dill. Sometimes I add a tablespoon of sour cream as well. David likes some chopped smoked sausage in his bowl. Many recipes for borscht include shredded cabbage. I dislike overly cooked cabbage but cabbage is very highly thought of in the detox circles, so I decided to shred some very finely and added it to the hot soup the second day we had it. It cooked just enough but not too much. This recipe makes a generous large pot of soup. Enough for several lunches and even a jar or two to share.

Virtuous new year food. Romance. Merin and Russia. Who knew all that could be in a simple bowl of ruby soup?

beautiful borscht
(adapted very lightly from Food 52)

10 cups water
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
3 large beets
3 medium carrots
2 medium-large red potatoes
1 large celery stalk, sliced into thin moons
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2-3 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Optional add-ins:
apple cider vinegar
sour cream
finely shredded green cabbage
chopped smoked sausage
finely chopped fresh dill

Add the water to a large heavy pot and set over low heat. Add the oil, chopped onion, and bay leaf. Peel the beets and cut into quarters. Add the beets gently to the water and continue to prepare the other vegetables.

Cut the carrots into rounds and the potatoes into 1/2" cubes, adding each to the pot as they are ready. Add the celery slices and lemon juice. Increase the heat a bit (to a medium-low) and cook until the beet pieces can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

Carefully scoop the beets out of the cooking pot and let them cool slightly - about 2 minutes for easier handling. Use a box grater if you must but if you have a food processor this is a good time to pull it out. Using a large hole on your grater or attachment shred the beets, returning the shredded beets to the pot. Cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the dill and season to taste with salt and pepper. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

gingerbread cake





I had determined during the Christmas frenzy that there was little or no point in posting any of my modest efforts - the whole "coals to Newcastle" thing - and then I remembered gingerbread cake. I made some several times during the month of December, each time vowing to post the recipe and each time being defeated by an utter lack of time. A sorry excuse I know, but there you are. I offer it now because eating gingerbread cake should not be confined to the festive season. When I was a child it was a favourite winter treat in our house, served with a generous helping of whipped cream and some of our Nanking Cherry jelly to make it pretty. I think I must have been married before I realized that most people ate it once a year if that (such a shame!) 

Gingerbread cake is comfort food dessert. Simple, homely, warm, and absolutely unpretentious it is the food equivalent of a warm throw. In my mind the picture that always accompanies thoughts of gingerbread cake is softly falling snow seen through the window with a fire burning brightly in our big stone fireplace, nary a Christmas tree in sight. If you try it I think you will see the merits of regular cold-weather gingerbread consumption. I cannot understand why the comforting warmth of cinnamon-y, spicy delights must cruelly stop dead on January 1 - January is the coldest, dreariest month of the year and openly begs for every morsel of warmth we can scrounge. Right now most of North America would heartily agree!

For years I have made the same recipe for gingerbread cake that my mother made but this year I wanted to make a gingerbread cake that everyone in the family could enjoy - in other words, gluten-free and hopefully refined sugar-free. The refined sugar-free wish was a good idea and the gluten-free option was better than any gingerbread that came before. I added three kinds of ginger (ground, candied, and fresh), used Alice Medrich's method (in a food processor), and made the best gingerbread of my life. No hyperbole. Just the plain, simple, homely truth.

gingerbread cake
(adapted from the recipe we made at home)

2 cups whole grain gluten-free flour mix*
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
4" piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup of finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup hot water

Cut the fresh ginger into 1/4"slices and add to the bowl of a food processor, pulse until finely minced. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process for 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl and process again for 5 seconds. The batter will be thin. Pour into a 9x9" baking pan that has been buttered.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes, until the cake springs back when you touch it lightly.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with a nice pillow of fresh whipped cream and a pretty spoonful of your favourite jelly on top. (We like to split the cake and add a little more cream between the layers.)

*If you prefer to use regular unbleached white flour simply substitute it cup for cup.