May 24, 2010

Mmmm Pesto

What a wonderful weekend it has been. The sun has been out, the windows have been open, the flowers have been planted, and there’s been lots of walking out and about. Traditionally there is some rain May 24 weekend and thankfully there was only some, and it was needed. It made my new residents happier. May 24 is the sign that spring is definitely here and summer is just around the corner. This morning, driving down Wellington after breakfast out, we couldn’t believe the number of tourists on Parliament Hill; and so early too. The line up of tour buses is another sign that summer is imminent.

There are so many things I love about summer: rhubarb (saw some in the market today), the warm weather, doing things outside (or just being outside), and pesto. I love making pesto and I realized this morning that I really miss it. I haven’t made any for a few years because my old kitchen wasn’t conducive to cooking and we didn’t have the freezer space for it. While eating dinner I resolved to make a big batch or two once I saw basil make an appearance at the market. What made me reminisce? Saturday evening I wanted a nice quick and easy dinner for myself. I pulled out some corn rotini, plain yogurt, and pesto and set to work. I really like cooking with corn pasta as it behaves much like regular pasta in timing and texture.

I looked at my jar of store bought pesto and read the ingredients. I wasn’t too impressed. I’ve been having a hard time finding a good pesto; one that doesn’t contain a dozen ingredients or preservatives. Honestly, why are there potatoes in pesto?! On one shopping trip I forgot to go to one of the little Italian shops so I had to make do with the big name brand.

Dinner was complete and tasted pretty decent, a touch too salty (darn pesto), but it’ll do. Often, the products you buy in the jar just don’t compare to the ones you make from scratch. As I ate my creamy pesto pasta I remembered a time making pesto with a friend of mine, who sadly has moved to Kingston.

Many, many years ago when my dear friend had learnt I made my own pesto decided to she wanted to learn how. Making pesto is not rocket science, but she wanted to have a fun girls’ day together; a Pesto Party she called it. We set a date and the day before I picked up a grocery bag of basil (stems and all), parmesan cheese, garlic, and a big bag of pine nuts. My friend knows the way to my heart and came prepared with a big bottle of cider and a stick or two of French bread. We set to work washing all the basil leaves (thankfully I now have a salad spinner to make this process much easier) and toasting the pine nuts. Remembering that day brings a smile to my face. The whirling sound of the food processor rings through my ears. We sampled every batch to make sure it was worthy of putting into jars. And it was. Then we got adventurous; it may have been the cider or just plain enjoying ourselves. We began adjusting the garlic (and made some potent batches) and adding lemon juice (a nice fresh burst) and kept going. When we finished there were jars and jars of pesto stacked on the counter and we were stuffed full of bread, cheese, and pesto. We hadn’t realized how much we had eaten until our other halfs came in and were hit by the smell of garlic (they like garlic, just not that much). It took about two days for our body to expel the aroma of garlic. I treated it like a game at the grocery store, to see how long it would take a person to move away from me, and how quickly they moved.

Hmmmm, think it’s time for another Pesto Party.

This recipe comes from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. I make it as is then adjust the garlic depending on my mood. Try it with a tbs or two of lemon juice.

10 mins; makes 1 cup
3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
3-4 cloves garlic
½ cup toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
Place basil & garlic in a food processor & purée. Add nuts & purée until finely ground. Drizzle in oil. When it is a paste, stir in parmesan. Season with salt & pepper.

May 17, 2010

Punch and Guilt

This weekend was about girls and family. I hosted a little baking party for one of my honey’s cousins who is getting married later this summer. I’m co-hosting her shower and wanted to bake cookies as a parting gift for the guests. I thought it would be great for the bridal party to get together to do this as its much more fun when you have company. My nana’s sugar cookies is one of my prized recipes and I make them for occasions whenever I can. It’s not celiac friendly so the recipe’s not posted, but if you have a copy of the Five Roses Cookbook, it’s in there.

It was such a nice way to spend the day. The sun was shining, the windows were open, and a nice warm breeze would come through the sliding doors once in a while. Blended with good company, smiling faces, and good conversation; you can’t go wrong.

One of the items on my shower list is to bring punch. I offered because it’s something I’ve never made before. Never. Ever. Like many food related things in life I hit my stash of cookbooks and nothing did it for me. Many didn’t even have a beverage section. Boy was I ever disappointed. Then I remembered the LCBO’s website. Their Food and Drink magazine always has great recipes, including non-alcoholic. I got quite thirsty going through the list and settled on four to make for our baking party. I wanted to test these out and luckily I was going to have four willing participants in my kitchen for most of the day. Paradise Punch became the favourite and will be served with anticipation in two week’s time.

Throughout the day my sense of guilt got stronger and stronger. I wasn’t sure what to do. The mother of the bride brought lunch and knowing that I’m a vegetarian, brought veggie sandwiches. I was touched that she made veggie sandwiches for me and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I couldn’t eat them. I also avoided the wheat-subject earlier while people were talking about their diet. Knowing she brought sandwiches I didn’t want to mention how much better I’ve been feeling since removing my evil-doers. When asked about my bread machine, I avoided the gluten-free cycle. Why did I do this? Why did I feel so guilty about being sensitive to gluten? Did I merely want to avoid hurting her feelings? Am I tired of the awkwardness and the questions? 24 hours later I still can’t answer these questions. I ate half a sandwich, along with a digestive enzyme, and hoped for the best (thankfully nothing major happened). This behaviour is very unlike me and I don’t understand the rationale, or lack thereof. Has anyone else ever felt this way? What did you do and why do you think you did it?

Paradise Punch
1 ½ cups peach juice
1 ½ cups orange juice
1 ½ cups cranberry juice
1 ½ oz lime cordial
1 ½ oz grenadine
3 cups soda water
Combine all ingredients except the soda water and chill until ready to serve. Prior to serving add the soda water.
I’m planning on mixing everything the night before and putting it back into the juice/pop bottles so hopefully the fizz won’t disappear.

May 12, 2010

Where have you been all my life?!

The other night I made myself a nice dinner. It was the honey’s pub night and the weather was pretty decent (except for the gale force winds) so I took a different bus home and took a walk down Wellington St. I enjoy walking by all the great stores and seeing what’s in their windows. My main motive was to pop into Saslove’s. I’d pop in there from time to time to pick up some nice smoked back bacon for my honey’s weekend breakfast. On one visit while waiting in line to pay for my pack of bacon I saw gluten free brownies, but not just any gluten free brownies, these were gluten free chilli brownies. Hmmm interesting. They made me think of Isabella Rossellini in Chocolat, with all the interesting spices in her chocolates. But alas, they didn’t have any. Instead I picked up a nice piece of salmon. They have a whole case filled with marinated salmon; it’s hard to decide.

Just in case you’re wondering about my vegetarianism; I eat fish. I began eating fish after I became wheat intolerant, and after a lot of soul searching. I learned how to buy it, prepare it and cook it. And thankfully I had many knowledgeable friends to help and answer all my questions and complications. It had made me feel better (I use the past because something has been interfering in that) and healthier. My conscious is still there so I’m selective.

Getting back to my dinner. I chose a nice chilli lime fillet and on my way home I thought about what would go nicely. I had a mesclun mix in the fridge, but the wind was beginning to get to me and I needed something warm. Then I thought of it: Risotto. I discovered it this past winter and fell in love with it. I couldn’t believe I had never had it before. I’d heard stories of how difficult and time consuming it is. Dare I venture it? I did and it was easy. Since then I’ve made many versions, but I haven’t made it in a month or two. Tonight was the night.

Back at home I pulled out the Joy of Cooking, and found the recipes for risotto. Found one; no, the spices would clash with the fish. Found another; oh, spinach is frozen. At last, Simplest Risotto. Perfect. Off I went to work and when the fish was ready, so was my risotto. It was heaven. I wanted to eat it quickly because it tasted so good, yet I slowed down to savour the flavours. The fish was really good too.

Simplest Risotto (I halved this recipe and left out the salt - there was enough in the stock)
6-8 first course servings; 4-6 main-course servings

2 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
8 cups vegetable stock
2 cups arborio rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 tbs butter
2/3 to 1 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook over low heat until soft and translucent. Heat the stock. Increase the heat to medium and stir in the rice. Stir the rice for about 3 minutes, or until you can see the dot in the centre. Stir in the wine and stir consistently. Stir in the stock one cup at a time, waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. When risotto is done, remove from heat and stir in the tbs butter and the fold in the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let stand a minute then serve.

May 9, 2010

Gluten-Free Day at Natural Pantry

I opened my email on Friday to discover that the Natural Pantry is having Gluten Free Event Days. The first was yesterday at their Westgate and Kanata locations, and they’re having another at their Billings Bridge location.

I popped by Westgate to see what it was all about and boy was it busy. In fact the whole mall was busy, quite the opposite of the quiet weekends I usually see when I’m there. The Natural Pantry had lots of samples of gluten free products; chips, energy bars, baked goods, etc. They also offered discounts on all their gluten free products. So if you’ve been eyeing some of their items that are on the pricier side, maybe the 10-15% discount will sway you to pick them up.

May 8, 2010

Soup Does the Body Good

It’s been an up-and-down kind of week. Monday was great, had lots of energy and got a lot done on the ‘To Do List’. Tuesday was sluggish and I spent most of the day asleep on the couch. I’m still reintroducing some of my ‘evil foods’ to see what my body can tolerate and accept, and what it rejects. Monday night’s dinner was spelt pasta with homemade tomato sauce. Although spelt is technically a wheat grain, it’s an ancient one and for some reason many with a wheat allergy can tolerate it. I could for years, but in the last two I noticed a difference. And Tuesday told me that those ancient grains I could have with abandon (kamut, spelt and rye) were to be avoided. I was disappointed, not because I absolutely love kamut and spelt, but because it was another item for my ‘Can’t Have’ list. Like Monday, Wednesday was a wonderful day and went out to enjoy the nice weather and enjoy feeling healthy. Then Thursday hit me and it hit me with a vengeance. I should have guessed what the day had in store for me when I woke up for a horrible night’s sleep with a headache. I won’t go into all the details; there are just too many to keep this a decent length. I met a friend Thursday evening and she wanted to hear every detail. Her own life often appears like a roller coaster and so she was sympathetic in agreeing it was a terrible day. She was taken aback when I told her that had only been the morning.

At lunch I felt I needed a treat and so decided to go to Bridgehead for a nice pot of mint tea. I thought some aromatherapy could help me deal with the chaos popping up. Then I remembered hearing that their soups were quite good and decided I deserved one. The choices that day were Creamy Tomato Basil and Creamy Cilantro; both sounded delicious. The wonderful clerk searched for the ingredient list and happily told me what was in each soup; both were flour free (the people who work here are always so nice). I settled on the cilantro and was pleasantly surprised. Although I have used cilantro in my cooking, it was the first time I’d had Cilantro Soup so I didn’t really know what to expect. There was a sweetness I hadn’t expected, mingled with a nice flavour of herbs. The creaminess wasn’t overpowering, as this sometimes puts me off cream soups, so there must have been some potato in there to help make it so rich. At the end of my lunch I felt rejuvenated and ready to take on whatever else Thursday was going to throw at me.

Upon returning home I sent a little email to Bridgehead enquiring if they have any other gluten-free soups and was pleased with their response. Since their products are homemade they don’t add gluten additives and they understand people’s dietary challenges. There are two soups that aren’t friendly for celiacs: Two Bean Vegetable Chilli contains bulgur; and the Mushroom with Wehani Rice contains soy sauce (which normally contains wheat). I also got an additional email with an apology for a mistake; the Cilantro Soup did have a bit of flour in it. It made me think how much flour is ‘a bit’ because I didn’t have one single reaction. Maybe I should just consider it a fluke and count myself as lucky. Other than the three above, all the other soups, including the new ones, are gluten free. The ingredient listing is readily at hand for the employees so they can easily provide the information to customers (soups come with a bun, so ask for it without). I’m looking forward to going back another day and trying another.

Friday arrived, and as The Cure song goes…’It’s Friday, I’m in Love’. What a nice day, a little windy, but nice and sunny. What a day to spend doing some errands and end a crazy week.