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.