March 23, 2011

Welcome Spring

While the calendar says spring is officially here, there is still snow on my front yard. A few feet’s worth to be exact. This past weekend I took a trip to my mom’s and we went to Canada Blooms, a spring ritual for her. Given how rough this past winter has felt this year I truly enjoyed all the colour.

Snowdrops at the front door greeted me upon arrival.

And the door at Ya’d Never Know gave me a smile as I popped in to pick up some bagels for the weekend.

Plus I saw many ideas for my own little patch of asphalt, which will hopefully be green by the end of the summer.

A nice surprise was The Shortbread Bakery with gluten-free shortbread (a post to come).

Another smile was seeing the superheroes from the gaming event next door. Gamers and gardeners – never thought those two would mix.

Here is hoping spring comes your way soon.


March 13, 2011

Baked Chicken with Onions, Garlic & Rosemary

One evening we needed something a little different. We didn’t feel like pasta, or something with rice. It was also too cold for a salad. The downside with winter: As much as one needs their vegetables, who really wants them when it below -20°? Out came the Joy of Cooking and I found something that sounded good: chicken with onions, garlic and rosemary.

Perfect for a chilly night and also perfect for turning on the oven. With some vegetables from the freezer, it was a nice dinner and there were leftovers too. Like all chicken dishes you can use whatever you feel like, you could even use a whole chicken especially if it’s flattened (your butcher can do this for you). This recipe has lots of nice flavour and so easy to put together. Instead of using minced or dried rosemary I splurged on fresh and laid a bunch down on top.

Baked Chicken with Onions, Garlic & Rosemary      Serves 4-5
3 ½ - 4 ½ lbs chicken
Salt and pepper to taste
3 medium onions, cut into rings
6-12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbs olive oil
4 tsp minced fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried crumbled)
Season chicken with salt and pepper. In a bowl toss the remaining ingredients together. Spread half the mixture in a shallow baking dish and arrange the chicken on top. Cover with the remaining mixture. Drizzle some more olive oil on the chicken and bake for 45-55 minutes.

March 10, 2011

Beware the Ides of March

This line has been popping up in my head since the beginning of March. I think it has something to do with the insane weather we’ve been having, typical and not so much. It popped into my head again today (more than once actually) as I trudged from building to building for my lessons through flooded streets and intersections. Then I began thinking about it and why could I only remember that line? Was there more to it?

Since the weather in March can be so unpredictable I thought ‘Ides’ may have something to do with the winds. You know ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’ refers to the weather so it made sense to me, especially since I live in Ottawa where both of those crazy things occur throughout winter. Surprisingly, it has nothing to do with weather. After some digging the only information I could find was on where it writes of Julius Caesar being warned of his death occurring on March 15th (the Ides). Wow! I read the classics in high school and university, but I didn’t read that group of classics. I was way off.

This winter has been harder it seems, maybe because of my early morning schedule (often teaching at 7:30am – What was I thinking?!) and my cooking being sporadic. My dreariness has been more profound than in the past. I cannot wait until spring and looking at the calendar hasn’t helped. Today as my feet got wetter and wetter and at one point I thought I no longer felt the water seep in, until I walked through another puddle and felt a little more come through. My winter boots are water resistant to a point and last night’s snow and today’s rain overwhelmed the ugly black things on my feet.

A few Friday’s ago I treated myself to lunch at Edgar. There weren’t any errands to run, I had energy, and the house was all tidied up. The sun was even shining that day so the short drive across the river was extra fast. Once inside I settled in the window and I decided on a cup of chocolate chai and the tomato soup. The tea was soothing (mental note: go to Marysol’s source and pick some up). For the soup a small amount of pistou was drizzled on top which I quite enjoy. I never do that for mine at home so it makes my treat extra special. Afterwards I couldn’t resist the desserts. There were pretty macaroons (no gluten in them) calling my name. I’ve never been able to make them – add that one to my list (let’s see: eggs, macaroons, oatmeal). It wasn’t busy so I was able to sit there and enjoy the conversation and laughter going on behind me.

As I paid Marysol said summer will be better for me as I won’t be stuck with soup; there will be salads. I didn’t worry as her soups are always tasty and heart-warming. Then as I left I realized that I really like soup. Maybe it’s one of the things that gets me through these wickedly cold and miserable days. My cookbook has so many soup recipes, some being more popular than others. I had made my quick and easy Thai fish soup earlier this week and tonight called for another one; something to warm me up from the inside out. After a cup of lemongrass tea I was still chilly and so it was decided: Black Bean Soup. I found this in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home and it can be tweaked how you like. Sometimes I add more jalapeno or cayenne and other times I puree it thoroughly while other times I leave it chunky. You have to love soup like that.

And like a good soup, it warms you up from the inside out.

Black Bean Soup                 40 minutes serves 4-6
10 sundried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 cup boiling water
1 ½ cups finely chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced, or ¼ tsp cayenne
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ cup water
1-28 oz canned tomatoes
2-16 oz canned black beans
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Additional water or tomato juice
In a small bowl, cover the sundried tomatoes with the boiling water and set aside.
In a large pot, sauté the onions, garlic, and jalapeno for about 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Add the cumin 1/3 cup water and the canned tomatoes with their juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the beans and continue to simmer. Add additional water or juice so soup is the consistency you desire. Drain and chop the sundried tomatoes. Add them to the soup and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and puree the soup to your liking (sometimes I pure only half if I still want it a little chunky and thick).
*Nice with a dollop of plain yogurt.

March 9, 2011

Pancakes Anyone?

I love March. The crazy weather withstanding, there is so much to offer. Spring is not too far off and Paddy’s Day is so much fun – even if you’re not Irish. My most favourite day though is Shrove Tuesday.

Ever since I was a kid my mom made pancakes for Shrove Tuesday. It was always so exciting – pancakes for dinner. It continued in university with friends and even when I lived overseas. The year I lived in Poland my boss invited us all over to his place after work for vodka and pickled herring. Not to be outdone, the supervisors made pancakes with some maple syrup they had found at a shop in the centre of town. They weren’t the best pancakes (actually, they were the worst I’ve ever tasted), but they were pleasant reminders of our traditions. Back in Canada my international students were always keen to take part in Canadian traditions and so we’d always head to the Elgin Street Diner. It was one of the few times during the year I’d have wheat and it was worth it. They would always have something funky besides their regular pancakes – one year it was apple pie pancakes and they were delicious.

I only make pancakes for myself as the Honey isn’t too fond of them and it took a while before I found a recipe I liked. Even with a great recipe now it doesn’t happen very often. This year I resolved to celebrate Shrove Tuesday in a big way. Friends were invited, food was thought-out, and of course a visit to the nearby LCBO. Unfortunately, the guest list began to dwindle and we were left with one couple. I began to get paranoid that they too would cancel. My hopes for pancakes with people who enjoyed them as much as I do were set high. The fear was silly and our friends arrived with huge appetites and energy for an enjoyable evening. And what an enjoyable evening it was. Food was abundant, drinks were refilled, and conversation was enticing all evening.

While I made my regular gluten-free pancakes, I used the opportunity to try out a box of gluten-free chocolate chip pancakes from Cherrybrook Kitchen. They were really good. Nice and light with the perfect amount of chocolate chips.

I’d also roasted some pineapple and mango and chopped up some cantaloupe to help balance out all those carbs. I cooked up some bacon and gluten-free breakfast sausage (from Metro!!) for the Honey and my girlfriend to munch on. I tried a piece or two and I’m not sure if it’s for me. We had some nice Vidal wine from Pelee Island Winery and Innis & Gunn beer (not GF and for the guys), which paired well with the sweet maple syrup.

By the end of the evening we were stuffed to the brim. We were also content with the good pairing of good food and good company.

As a sucker for punishment I came home today and finished the box of GF chocolate chip pancakes. It was a nice warm lunch after a wind-swept day. Add on some leftover fruit and some sausages, I had truly overdone it. While everything tasted sooo good, it was just way too much food. It had been a while since I’d eaten that much and also a long time since I had eaten myself sick. I felt like I couldn’t move, but unfortunately I had to and went back out a few hours later. Through the afternoon I felt fat, not bloated, just too big due to food (Note to self: Don’t do that again!!). As a result, dinner was later and lighter with some leftover veggies and dip and goat cheese.

Thankfully, hours later, I feel better.

**Looking for those Cherrybrook Kichen Pancakes? Check out your local health food store as many now carry their products. This was part of my stash picked up at Homesense earlier this year.

March 5, 2011

Memories of Summer

Here we are the first week of March and we had another pile of snow dropped on us Monday and crazy weather today. As I trudged from building to building in the slush and snow I couldn’t help thinking ahead to the wonderful summer months. No matter how hot it gets I can’t help but smile. Even when it’s that hot sticky 40° humidity I bask in the sun. You see, I believe I’m cold blooded because no matter what I do in the cold months I can never get warm enough. But when summer comes around I’m finally warm. I can wear short sleeves and shorts and be really really comfortable – no more sweaters, no knee socks, no crazy scarves wrapped around my neck – I’m really happy too.

So in all this winter craziness I happened upon some pictures from the summer months of the bounty that would often appear in my kitchen.

The sweetest peas to be eaten out of their pods were the best mid-afternoon snack.

Eating fabulous tasting Caesar salads with lettuce and garlic fresh from the farmer’s fields (with homemade GF croutons to boot).

Making lots of pesto and putting some into trays to be used once the temperatures dipped far below zero.

And cooking up some great heirloom produce or just ones that look real funky.

I’ll try not to get my hopes up too much as we still have some cool weather to endure. As I check out the calendar I notice the first day of spring falls on the 20th this year, so when it comes around the countdown to warm weather begins.

March 4, 2011

Smoked Salmon and Sautéed Broccoli

Keeping dinner healthy and simple is a priority with most people and why not? You want something healthy and don’t want to spend an hour or more in the kitchen. That is especially true if you work full-time, have kids, or have to battle commuter traffic. You can’t blame people for wanting to go home and relax.

One of my favourite things to eat is smoked salmon. It’s already prepared, you can eat it warm or cold and you can eat it so many ways. It’s great any time of year and in leftovers. I find all you need to do is make a side to accompany it and you’re good to go.

For this particular dinner I sautéed some broccoli with garlic and sundried tomatoes. You could add whatever it is you like in the quantities you like. Chop and wash one head of broccoli (and the stems if you like them, and who doesn’t?!). Heat some oil in a large frying pan and begin to sauté broccoli. Once it is halfway cooked, add some chopped or thinly sliced garlic and sundried tomatoes (as much or as little as you like). I also sprinkle on some salt and pepper along with some herbs. I tend to use the trio (parsley, basil and oregano) but you could use whatever suits your fancy – cayenne pepper might add a nice zip (mental note for next time). You want the broccoli cooked but still with some crunch, plus it will still have all its vitamins.

In less than 15 mins dinner is ready. As an added bonus, you could cook up extras and with another piece of salmon you have lunch the next day.

** Liquid smoke can have gluten in it so check the labels and talk to your fishmonger or butcher.

March 1, 2011

Any New Year’s Resolutions Left?

In the new year my students and I discussed New Year’s Resolutions and whether in private lessons or groups, there was always a discussion. To my surprise only one student made any. No one else believed in making them.

In our discussions culture came up (was it because they were Quebecers?), as did maturity (they are all from 30-50), or realistic ideas (are making resolutions a dumb idea?). I’ve always been led to make resolutions (or at least one) every year by family, friends, or even their parents. During Christmas holidays there are always a few people who ask ‘What are your resolutions going to be this year?’. I’m not alone and have no idea if it’s an English thing or a North American one. Many a blog listed the writer’s resolutions for the year, some with small or meaningful endeavours while others contained life-changing events. I purposefully avoided it – a rebel with a minute cause.

Most of my students didn’t think change should only be actioned on January 1st. Why not any time of the year? One enrolled in language training in the fall while another took up knitting 2 weeks ago. In November another vowed to do more outdoor activities during the winter. The one student who made a resolution kept it simple. Her one and only resolution was to start reading again because she missed it and getting lost in the plots. Coincidently, another student decided to put herself first, not as a resolution, but because she was tired of putting herself last. Now at the end of February she is quite content and enjoying herself.

One student in my group intrigued us all in telling us about a Haitian custom. They make wishes for the year instead of resolutions. This student made a small list of wishes she would like to come true. If they don’t, it’s no big deal, but if they do, how wonderful it is. She wouldn’t dare share her list for fear of them not coming true (for the same reason birthday wishes are kept secret). Looking around the table many looked lost in thought. Thinking about wishes, maybe?

For the second year in a row I haven’t made resolutions. Like many of my students I make changes if and when I see fit, not solely on January 1st. The one student got me thinking though. I’m too active for a wish list as I can’t sit idly by waiting for something to happen. Instead a made a ‘Would Like List’. It is a list of things to see/do/experiences for this year. There are things that intrigue me and things that I enjoy, and maybe one or two that are a challenge. Like my student, if they don’t happen, no worries, but if they do, fabulous!

Learn what to do with kasza (buckwheat groats) – Kasza is part of Polish food – I wouldn’t say cuisine though. It’s supposed to be healthy so I’ll figure out what to do with it and give it a try.
Cook with quinoa – A cousin introduced this grain to me and I enjoyed it. It’s full of good stuff for your body so I’m going to try and bring it into my diet more.
Make a dent in my family tree – I’ve been interested in my family’s history all my life and the task and paperwork has gone to the wayside in recent years. This year I’d like to try and delve into my granddad’s military history in WWII.
Experiment with sweet potatoes – Like quinoa, I don’t know what to do with sweet potatoes. Since regular potatoes have had to be pushed out I’d like to try and replace them with this orange tuber.
Read more – I enjoy reading and usually have a book in my school bag so I can read during my lunch. I think I should read more at home as I’m spending way too much time in front of the TV this winter.

Make muffins – They’re handy and easy to take with you, plus you can make them healthy.

Tackle my Style at Home recipes – Donna Hay joined the S@H team in 2010 and provides the magazine with great recipes. Every one I’ve tried has been delicious. Now I just need to work my way through the stack in my kitchen.

Breakdown and take fish oil – I need my Omega3s and purchased some oil from my naturopath. But I haven’t taken any. Well, I did twice and it made me gag. She’s given me a few ideas, but I need to move past that oily texture and just do it.
Go Whitewater Rafting – I finally did this last summer after 15 years of putting it off. The summer program I work for is doing it again and I want to go. I love it!
Go ZipLining – This looks like fun, but I’m not fond of being up high. I think I’d enjoy it.