Work With What You’ve Got

Farmer’s market fresh! One thing about summertime trips to the market is that (in the words of my grandfather), your eyes can be bigger than your belly. That’s sort of what happened with the basket of fresh peaches we picked up on Tuesday. To be more specific, it was our capacity to consume them before they hit their tipping point. We’re surrounded by overripe fruit, and so there are peaches in every meal. To top it off, we had a surfeit of cheese, left with us by some departing guests. What to do?

When I have a host of items that need to be used, one of my first thoughts is always salad. It’s a go-to when vegetables are in season. This one started with a vinaigrette of homemade red wine vinegar, canola oil, and Kozlik’s Balsamic Fig and Date mustard – in equal proportions. I mixed this in a large bowl, and then began adding veg – greens from the balcony garden, cucumbers, radish, and celery – but use whatever you have, like in this Kitchen Sink Salad. Then I topped it off with some walnuts, sliced peaches, and crumbled Stilton. If you’re a vegan, omit the cheese or use some chopped smoked tofu instead.

Even though I bought too many, I never get tired of too many peaches. We love them, and all the other seasonal bounty, so I’m grateful to be able to have many delicious ideas to use them up.

Savour the flavour…

Yesterday was an absolutely stunning day here in Toronto; we took a nice long walk (about 5.7km) through the city, taking in the sights and eventually making our way to St. Lawrence Market for produce. We stopped in along the way to take in the awesome Gothic Revival Cathedral Church of St. James, with memorial plaques commemorating many of Toronto’s noted citizens. We were intrigued by the very contemporary Stations of the Cross.

To the south, we swung by Berczy Park’s new dog fountain enroute to the market. Kids and pets alike were enjoying the spraying water. We had fun finding the one cat statue amongst the dogs, and to discover just what she was looking at. (We won’t tell just now – you should check out the mystery yourself!)

The sun was blazing and hot, so by the time we arrived home, we were in the mood for something quick and cool, that wouldn’t overheat the kitchen. We put some potatoes on to cook while we enjoyed a cool beverage on our balcony and took in the sights of the neighbourhood. When they were cooked, we let them cool in the fridge while we prepared the rest of this tasty curried salad. For two, as a main course:

For the dressing, whisk in a large bowl:

3 tablespoons (45ml) mayonnaise

1/4 cup (60ml) cider vinegar

2 tablespoons (30ml) curry powder – more or less, to your taste

3 boiled potatoes, cooled and peeled, and cut into chunks

1 red pepper, diced in bite-size pieces

2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one can)

1 cup frozen green beans

1/4 cup (60ml) chopped unsalted peanuts

3 leaves basil, sliced finely

Mix all the vegetables into the salad, including the chickpeas. Divide between the plates and sprinkle with peanuts and basil. You can easily scale up this recipe to serve more people, and it keeps well in the fridge, gaining flavour as it sits. Enjoy!

Keep it simple!

Sometimes when you’ve had a long day, it can seem onerous to make homemade food. That’s when something like a one-pot or oven dinner comes in handy. Also, if you’re really tired, the best thing for you is to get some fresh air and exercise, so you’ll be able to sleep when the time comes.

Earlier this week we combined both of these – after a long day’s work, we walked up the street to our friend Mark’s butcher shop, and picked up a couple of pork chops and some fresh Ontario asparagus. We circled back home for this tasty oven dinner:

First, heat the oven to 400F. Line a sheet pan with parchment. Then scrub your potatoes and slice 1/4″ or a little less than 1cm thick. Brush with olive or canola oil (we use canola, because it’s Canadian). Press a sage leaf into the top of each slice and place on the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle sparingly with salt, if you like, although they are very tasty with just the sage.

To prepare the pork chops, we brushed them with some fig mustard from Kozlik’s, and put them in their own parchment-lined pan.

Lastly, we took a sheet of foil and put the washed asparagus on it. This could probably have cooked less, but we didn’t want to fuss with it. We chopped a couple of cloves of garlic and added this along with the zest and juice from half a lemon. Wrapping the packet securely, we put it on the sheet pan and added all the dishes to the oven for half an hour.

That’s it! While we were waiting, we enjoyed a beer from the latest batch we bottled at Fermentations  on the Danforth. Charles and his team can match the flavour of your favourite beverage, or help you create wine from juice or actual grapes.

We’re feeling pretty fortunate with all of the great food and drinks we can find within a short walk or streetcar ride. Thanks for letting me share.

Granola, Granola, We Love Ya, Granola…!

About five years ago, we went off breakfast cereal entirely. We had been working on our diets, lowering our sodium, increasing fibre, and generally getting rid of things with excessive sugar or additives. Around that time I started experimenting with various recipes – some were too sweet, others were too fatty, but bit by bit I found what works best for us.

I often get asked, “what’s the recipe?”, and the truth is, there isn’t exactly a recipe. Here’s what I do:

Preheat oven to 350F, and line two cookie sheets (whatever size you have, which is why it isn’t a recipe…) with parchment paper. This eases cleanup and makes sure nothing sticks.

On each sheet, put a layer of large flake, old fashioned rolled oats. Not the quick cooking kind! Sprinkle with some dried fruit, probably half a cup or so is enough. Some recipes suggest you stir it in at the end, but I like the toasty, caramel-y flavour it gets if you bake it in. Next, add a sprinkling of nuts or seeds. In these photos, the top one has raisins and pumpkin seeds, while the bottom one has dried apricots and walnuts. Sometimes I’ve added coconut or dried bananas; these up the calories but it’s your call!

Drizzle each sheet with 2T (30ml) of pure maple syrup (not pancake syrup, please!) and 2T of canola oil. Other oils will work but this oil is Canadian and doesn’t change the taste. Sprinkle each sheet with cinnamon and stir all of it together. I’ve made this in a bowl before, but I’m lazy about doing extra dishes, even with a dishwasher. You could make a single sheet, but if the oven is going I figure I  should use the energy wisely.

Put the sheets in the oven around the middle rack (not too high, not too low…but you know your oven best). Set the timer for 10 minutes and stir. Depending on humidity and lots of factors, the granola will take more or less time. You want  a nice toasty golden colour.

Cool this, put in mason jars and store. You don’t need a lot – a serving is about 30g or an ounce if you’re watching your calories, topped with a banana or some berries. We use soy milk on ours. It’s also lovely sprinkled on ice cream or yogurt.

Enjoy!

 

Better For You Bread

If you’ve been following my posts for a while, you’ll remember my obsession last year with sourdough. I still love it, but the care and feeding of an infant dough all the time can be kind of time-consuming. I still follow my “no store bought loaves” rule pretty well all the time (even hamburger buns, although I don’t know the last time I actually used them for burgers). Yet I will admit to using store-bought yeast as it does speed up the process.

I’ve made lots of changes to bread that really help it be healthier than what we buy in the store. Of course, eliminating salt really helps. Yes, salt can be a regulator of the rise, but frankly, with modern yeasts, that is really rarely an issue. Keeping the amount of sugar down is just plain good for you, and using something more natural, like maple syrup, is better than a refined version. What else can I do to make the break healthier?

Recently I needed chickpea flour for a recipe – and in my neighbourhood, we have lots of neighbours from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Middle East – all of whom rely on this staple in their cooking. That means we can get it in huge bags, very cheaply. But what to do with the rest? I tried an experiment a couple of weeks ago with my bread, and it turned out really well. The texture was not compromised; if anything it was better, and the added bonus was to increase both the fibre and protein content of the bread.

Here’s what I did:

I always start with water that has been boiled then cooled to lukewarm, because that gets rid of some of the chlorine, which can inhibit the yeast. Begin with 3 cups.

I added a tablespoon of maple syrup and sprinkled on two tablespoons of traditional yeast, not the breadmaker or instant kind. This should sit in a warm place for about 10-15 minutes until it is good and foamy. Stir it with a fork and add to a large bowl. You can mix this bread with a mixer and dough hook, or by hand with a spoon and your hands, but the batch is a little large for a food processor. You could cut the recipe in half, but it seems a waste to heat the oven for a single 8″ loaf

Many traditional recipes have fat – butter, lard, or oil, but I added none to this. I did add a cup of chickpea flour, and then 5-6 cups of 100% whole wheat flour. Add the flour a cup or two at a time, with the machine running, or with the spoon, stopping to knead in by hand when it becomes difficult. About halfway through add tasty treats if you want – this batch had sunflower seeds, but I’ve also done raisins and cinnamon or other kinds of nuts or seeds.

Knead until the flour is incorporated and you’ve used just enough that it feels elastic and not sticky – or if using the mixer, until it cleans nicely away from the sides of the bowl. Remove it from the bowl, spray the bowl with cooking oil or wipe gently with cooking oil, and put the dough back in, turning to coat. Let it rise, covered with a clean tea towel, for an hour or so (not much more, or it will deflate).

Then shape it into two loaves, or a loaf and a cookie sheet with 12 buns (divide the second half of the dough into 12 even pieces, and press or roll into discs, about 4″ or 10cm across). Cover with clean cloth and let rise for another hour. This is a great project for when you are also making soup, when you are snowed in, or when you have a long project you’re working on at home.

About 20 minutes before the end of the rising time, heat the oven to 400F. Bake your loaves about half an hour; if you make rolls, check them about 20 minutes in. Tap on the bottom and listen for a hollow sound to be sure they are done. Remove from the oven and take them out of the pans to a wire rack immediately.

The “no store bread” rule has meant I can enjoy my bread without eating too much of it, and that’s a compromise I’m willing to work for.

Alterations and substitutions: 

I have also substituted 1c/250 ml old-fashioned oats, soaked in an equal measure of hot water, for 1-1/2 c/375ml of the wheat flour.

I have used 1 c/250 ml of dark beer instead of the same amount of the water – this can make a very light loaf with a lovely flavour.

Any kinds of nuts, seeds or dried fruit can be added, about a cup or 250ml in total. Herbs, olives, or sundried tomatoes also make a very interesting bread.

 

Meal Plan – Week 2 – and A New Recipe Experiment

So here we are, week two. Some weeks there is more time to make a detailed meal plan, involving all three meals. Realistically, though, our breakfasts are similar – smoothie or oatmeal, sometimes granola, and the occasional egg dish. Lunches generally consist of a salad, some soup (made ahead and frozen or in the fridge), or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. So we just made a list of dinners which we know by heart, or can easily find in a recipe book or favourite website.

Here’s the list:

Chili-stuffed squash

Mushroom and lentil cottage pie

Fish risotto

Lamb stew

Country captain chicken

Salmon patties

Homemade pizza

Once again we took stock of what was already in the house (the acorn squash needed to be used up from the holidays, although it will keep almost indefinitely in a cool place – and you might remember the veggie chili from a few days ago, leftover in the freezer). We needed some refreshing in the fridge – greens, salad stuff. We had used up the potatoes, and there was no lamb for the stew or fish for the risotto. Otherwise, most things were on hand.

We also tried this with squash recently, from one of our go-to sites, Cooking Light. It’s very searchable, by ingredient, name, or cooking method, and also, downloadable to apps like Paprika. We did make some adaptations to the recipe, since we hate dirtying extra dishes. First, we chopped the bacon, and put it on the parchment along with the squash rings. It was perfectly done at the same time as the rest of the recipe. Our rating? Delicious! (Also, since we don’t want to waste food, we baked all the leftover squash bits, sprayed with oil and sprinkled with chili powder, on a separate tray to be used in other recipes).

Thanks for visiting! Do you have meal planning challenges you wrestle with, or problems in using things you meant to make, but didn’t? I love to find novel ways to use up things that didn’t quite fit the plan.

Veggie Mushroom Chili, Step-by-Step

I love a traditional, spicy chili, slow-simmered. This is a vegan-friendly version, designed to simmer in the oven while you watch a movie, chase your kids around, or finish that report you need to get written. I hope you enjoy it. Since I get requests for recipes, I’ll walk you through it. You can most definitely adjust the proportions – this makes a large Dutch oven full, which is dinner, plus lunch, for two, and several more meals’ worth for the freezer, or just enough for a big crowd for dinner.

You’ll need:

Olive or canola oil (I am using canola these days because it is produced in Canada)

2 onions

2 cloves garlic

3 stalks celery

2 large carrots

1 green and 1 red bell pepper

1 jalapeno

2 cans or l large bowl of cooked beans, as you like (kidney are traditional, but we had chickpeas and black-eyed peas on hand)

2 cans diced tomatoes stewed without salt (large cans, 28oz.)

1 T/15ml each of chili powder, oregano, smoked paprika

1 chopped chipotle in adobo (or another jalapeno and a bit more smoky paprika)

1/4c/60ml red lentils (split peas will also work, but take longer to cook)

If you’re working alone, chop everything, then start. If you are working as a duo, chop the onions and garlic, and the other can stir and manage the cooking while one chops.

Heat the oil over medium heat. Turn the oven on to 350F

Add the onions and garlic:

Stir and sweat these until they start to get shiny, then add the celery:

 

 

 

 

 

You can use a machine to chop, but honestly, the time to chop each vegetable gives just about the right gap for the prior one to cook a little. Now for the carrots – these aren’t a traditional chili vegetable, perhaps, but they have the tremendous effect of adding a little sweetness to the chili, as do the onions as they sweat down more and more.

 

After the carrots, the peppers, the most tender of the vegetables, come last. Use any colour, but red and green give a great combination. Continue to cook until this mixture of vegetables (the “holy trinity plus” or a mirrepoix) have begun to soften nicely. Now you’re ready for the rest of the ingredients.

Tomatoes come first, then the beans. Stir everything well so you get a good mixture.

Canned beans are easy and fast, but they often have a lot of added salt, which most of us don’t need any more of in our modern diets. We get enough naturally. In the EAT section of this blog you can find a recipe to cook your own; they can also be prepared very nicely in a pressure cooker.

Adding a few red lentils will help it thicken and contribute to the meatier texture some people prefer. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bring this to a simmer over medium heat, then put it all in the oven uncovered for at least an hour. 

 

It will cook down and thicken considerably; you can let it carry on for as long as it takes until you are ready to serve. Sometimes we will make a batch of cornbread on the side, but it really didn’t need anything else. Enjoy!

I’m always grateful for the opportunity to cook together with friends or family and to have a warm, low-maintenance dinner at the ready. Freeze whatever you don’t need, and remember it’s always better on the second day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start Fresh! It’s a Whole New Year

Welcome to a whole new year! Of course every day is an opportunity for a fresh start and to revisit resolutions, but January 1 often sees folks making commitments to their health and wellness. I’ve talked about meal planning before, even including some tips and tools. The dark side of start-of-year diets and eating commitments is that they can be expensive, and involve a lot of foods you don’t necessarily know how to use up. Being in favour of a zero waste policy, I won’t tell you to throw out anything in your cupboard, but please don’t re-buy what you’re committed not to eat.

Ourselves we always have leftover holiday foods, and even in regular weeks there are meal plan days that didn’t happen, stuff that came in packages too large for the plan, things that looked intriguing but got forgotten in the cupboard. Once a month, or so, it’s worth taking stock of what you already hav, so you can figure out how to use it up as part of your plan, adjusting portions and how it’s used to account for your food goals. Cheesy lunch? Plan on a low fat dinner. Three kinds of lentils? Dal, curry or soup come to mind. We always have enough staples to stand up to a couple of weeks of emergency rations.


With that said, plan males shopping faster and more cost effective. This week’s purchases: carrots, peppers, celery, onions and a couple of sausages. The dinner plan looks like this – we will make according to what needs using the most:

Jamie Oliver Pie – the original has salmon but we will sub in some leftover turkey, as well as cabbage and carrot and onions for the leaks and courgettes

Veggie chili with mushrooms

Pumpkin chickpea curry with apples, raisins, and brown rice

Homemade mac and cheese with salad

Buffalo drumsticks with carrot sticks and blue cheese mashed potatoes

Split pea soup with homemade bread

Sausage with winter slaw

Wishing you a healthy and happy 2017 with enough – exactly what you need, no more, no less!

Old Recipes, New Tools

Hummus and VeggiesHave you ever purchased a new appliance, and found yourself looking for every possible way to use it? Last year it was the spiralizer (I admit the novelty wore off just a little, although I do have a spiral meal planned very soon); this year it’s my new blender from Blendtec.

I’ve been making homemade hummus for years, using my food processor. The processor is heavy and cumbersome to get out of the cupboard, but there isn’t room for it on the counter. In the old recipe, I started by mincing a couple of cloves of garlic and the zest of half a lemon in the processor. The Blendtec didn’t do much of a job of that – not enough volume, I guess. However since I had already started the job, I decided to press on.

To that I added:

3c cooked chickpeas (drain, but be sure to reserve the cooking water) – I cook a big batch without salt and I add cumin and garlic instead, then freeze them to have on hand whenever I need them.

The juice from the 1/2 lemon

More cumin to taste – about 10ml

10ml or a heaping teaspoon of tahini

I processed this at a medium-high speed in the blender, and then added most of the reserved cooking water until I got the consistency I liked.

It was creamy, smooth, and just the way our guests expected it to be – no perceptible difference in the end product, and I’ll be able to skip a step in the process.

It keeps very well in the fridge, has a fresh taste (no salt!) and can be frozen for up to 3 months if you have more than you can use.

It’s great served with veggies, pita slices, or spread in a sandwich with some sprouts.

 

Get Your Veggies with All-Season Salads

There’s a tendency, perhaps precipitated by cooking magazines, to move off of salads this time of year, and focus on warmer fare, like soups or stews. I know that this seems logical, but there are so many great veggies available now, that it seems a shame to only eat them cooked. Sure, local lettuce may be less available. What I’m suggesting is that if you have the privilege of accessing fresh fruit and veg in your local market, please do take advantage.

What I am not saying is that everyone is as fortunate as we are in Toronto. A head of hydroponic Canadian lettuce is out of reach for many families. Heck, there are some places (not in far-off lands, but here in our own country), where fresh produce of any sort is just not in the store, or it costs so much that you can’t possibly afford se it to feed your family. This is a travesty. Please speak out about this.

And while we are on the subject of hunger, if you do have enough, do support your local food bank or soup kitchen. You would be amazed how far they can make a dollar go. I learned from one of them that they can get wholesale prices, making better use of their money, although I’m a big advocate of having your kids choose foods from the store, so they learn about sharing and healthy choices). When our kids were small, we started emptying our coins into a jar at the end of the day. Once a month, we would use this money to buy food bank food. We still give regularly, even though the kids are grown.

If you have all these ingredients, make a great salad. If you don’t, I’m not giving a recipe. Try using whatever veg you can get. If you have frozen veg, give them a quick refresh under cold water rather than cooking. Or if you have “winter veg” (beets, carrots, turnips, cabbage), shred them. Use leftovers. They’re all good. Here is what I did today:

Chopped some hydroponic butter head lettuce onto a plate.

Diced celery and yellow pepper (both “ugly vegetables”  ). Use whatever veg you have, truly. Serve in a bowl if necessary, and use a spoon instead of a fork.

Drizzled with this dressing:

2t/10ml Dijon – it emulsifies, thickens, adds flavour

1T/15ml vinegar

2t/10ml canola oil (it’s Canadian!)

Next add some protein. I had cheddar. You might have hard-boiled egg, tofu,  beans, nuts, seitan, or leftover pork chop. No matter. Protein builds muscle and helps your blood pressure stay regulated. Not too much! A couple of ounces. It’s lunch!

Here’s what it looked like, when it was done. Enjoy. Use stuff up. Appreciate what you have, and give someone else a hand.

Have an awesome day!

Crunch Fall Salad