Category Archives: Recipes

The Gift that Keeps on Quacking

Merry Christmas! A time of happiness, joy, far too much booze, and of course, eating. Thinking that I would be spending this festive season all by my lonesome (Bah Humbug), I prepared an elaborate plan to stuff myself silly with things I enjoy to numb the fact that I am so far away from my family. I trucked out to Martock Glen Farm, a small scale abattoir and butcher shop just outside of Windsor, Nova Scotia. The Oulton family takes pride in raising its animals “the old fashioned way”, with no antibiotics or hormones, and with access to the great outdoors, grain feed, and green forage. Their products are distributed around the Valley at choice locations, but generally frozen, and a bit pricey. I decided to go down there myself to fill my fridge for a special Christmas weekend of over-consumption.

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Getting Sauced

Before

So, I was hanging out with my parents at their B&B in Wolfville, when offered a box full of pears from the garden there. Who was I to refuse such a generous offer from the lovely couple at Tattingstone Inn. I took them happily with me, back home to my little kitchen and conjured up a plan. Instead of studying for the evening, I decided to painstakingly cut out every beautiful imperfection, bruise, seed, stem and skin to simmer down to a perfect sauce. Three hours later I ended up with three pints… THREE PINTS…. of exquisite pear sauce. Perhaps not the most economical of time spent to product produced, but nice to have them sitting on the shelf, put up for winter, and a special occasion. Continue reading

One woman’s weeds, another woman’s pleasure.

Purslane

Hunched over in my garden, diligently pulling out leafy things, binding things, yellowing things and unwanted life, I have spent many hours tending and weeding and will do for many more to come this season. For weeks now, the amaranth and strangling-vines have been the superstars of my humble plot. But the most prolific, is the tender, juicy, and edible of the bunch: purslane. Purslane is a delicious succulent, mildly tasting of lemon and full of Omega-3 fatty acids. I discovered purslane working on a farm in Cambridge, ON in 2006, when my coworker, Jaime, explained to me the brilliance of this yummy and totally freewheeling “weed”.  One day I thought it would be a nice touch to deliver some of it to see what the reaction would be of Chef Jonathan Gushue at Langdon Hall, and find out if it would be something he might like to use in the kitchens there. He loved it, and I allowed the unrelenting plant to grow between rows in order to keep him in constant supply. Since then, I haven’t really paid much attention to those waxy looking emerald-green leaves and robust, pink-ish stems between the cracks in the sidewalks of Toronto’s downtown, until this summer when it is basically taking over my veggie patch.

So, I have embraced the little buggers and have come up with a much more glamorous plan for them. With the adventurous spirit of my friends at Union 72 on Ossington, they have been a garnish there for several weeks now when Chef Dan DeMatteis is at the helm in the kitchen. Most Thursdays I take over a bag full of them, and hope that they will be put to use. Not exactly sure how many of them have been, or if customers are willing to eat the squiggly things on their plate, but at least all of my hard work weeding has a second life in an excellent restaurant. Needless to say I haven’t really used them for my own consumption except for a few smoothies, and a few leaves thrown on a salad, most of it just goes happily to the restaurant.

Last night, however, I was spontaneously over for dinner at my friend’s house, and as he had been away all weekend for work, had very little in his fridge save a ripe mango, a jar of roasted red peppers, and some expired condiments. I climbed up onto his garage roof, where last summer, there was an abundance of yummy greens to choose from in an elaborate container garden. Last year’s roommate had quite the green thumb. This year, my trek up the ladder was less than satisfactory, but I noticed there was quite a good amount of purslane valiantly growing where nothing else had been planted. Success! I climbed back down with no idea what I would do with it, but a grin from ear to ear.

The salad was a surprisingly delicious accompaniment to the spicy fennel and garlic sausages from Provenance Regional Cuisine which I just happened to be carrying with me on my way home from work. It is truly amazing what one can come up with challenged with little planning, few ingredients, and a sense of adventure. Eat weeds and life is more fun! Guaranteed, and free! This morning, I enthusiastically harvested all of the plants for their weekly appearance in fine dining, and then cautiously asked my neighbour if I could come over the fence to harvest some of hers. She couldn’t understand why, and was pleased to allow me to weed her garden for her. I can’t wait to try all sorts of new recipes with purslane. If you have any, please share.

Summer Fresh Purslane-Mango Salad

Serves 2

2 Cups Purslane, not packed down, well washed and roots trimmed off

1 Mango, ripe

1 Large Roasted Red Pepper (the kind you get in a jar)

Dressing

2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar

3 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Tbsp Roasted Red Pepper Juices/brine

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/2-3/4 tsp (or to taste) Chili Powder

salt and pepper to taste

Cut the mango into cubes, break apart the purslane into small bite-sized pieces, leaves and stems included. Slice the red pepper and combine in a bowl. Whisk all dressing ingredients in a separate bowl and then toss in with salad. Enjoy!

Jake the Splake

Jake the Splake

Our mascot, Jake, slung on the bottom shelf of the fridge, haphazardly stuffed into a ziploc bag, looked longingly at me as I pondered dinner this evening. Having risen from an unplanned and extensive Sunday nap, my belly still growling from Mother’s Day Brunch and a week of recipe testing, dinner parties, and severe competition, I couldn’t decide what to prepare. The jar of crunchy peanut butter and the loaf of sourdough rye, well past its best before date, seemed to be a good option. But then, Jake caught my eye again through his ziploc jail cell and I mustered all the energy left in me to do the daunting.

I had not yet gone through the process of cleaning, scaling, boning, and filleting a whole fish. From tooth to tail, I got my hands dirty, carefully unwrapping the perfectly formed specimen. This little, 8lb fish was nicknamed Jake by Chef Corbin on the set of a show that Amanda and I just filmed for the Food Network. Jake became the joke on set, he was coddled by an alarmingly enthusiastic etiquette “expert”, swung like a bat in the kitchen, shown off to complete idiots to help them understand that food is magnificent, and then basically forgotten when we wrapped, and had to whip the set (our friend’s kitchen) back into tip top shape when I threw him into my knapsack.

On Thursday afternoon, I had the ultimate pleasure of going to Dufferin Grove market with a production company’s $350.00 to spend on most of the ingredients we needed for our big do on Friday. I had ordered 4lb of filleted splake from Andrew and Natasha Akiwenzie, and asked also for a small whole fish so that we could give our guests a visual of where their food came from. Freshly caught that morning in Georgian Bay, Jake’s eyes glimmering and crystal clear, were ready for a camera debut.

Zara and parts of Jake

I referred to my trusty Fannie Farmer cookbook for the play by play on how to prepare a fish. Step One – cleaning, easy peasy, very little blood, and Andrew had already made the first cut up the belly, so not very difficult at all. Step Two – scaling. At first I couldn’t even tell if their were scales on little Jake. They were so small, and in my dimly lit kitchen I was utterly confused, but after figuring out the correct angle of my dull knives, I quickly got the hang of it and scales were coming out like a golden retriever’s fur in springtime! Unfortunately I have probably the most dull knives in the universe, so Step Three – taking the fins off and boning, proved to be difficult. I finally got preliminary cuts in around the fins, and then ripped them out with my fingers. Boning the fish with a dull knife was also pretty awkward. I had to peel away the flesh from the bones, scraping around each one to release it from the fillet. It certainly didn’t end up being two perfect, shiny, smooth fillets fit for Whole Foods, but I did it, and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, a good rub of olive oil and a sprinkling of rosemary from the garden, I am very pleased with the results!

Perhaps this is inspiration enough to arrange a fish and seafood prep workshop. I think that would be fun, and lord knows I could use some serious instruction. Anyone interested?

Cooking Workshops

Click on the photo to enlarge or zoom.

Chia recipe gone terribly wrong…

This weekend has been one recipe disaster after another. First my almonds decided to be jerks and be too dusty to cooperate with the almond-butter making process… Then the chia thing, my goodness. At least the weekend was saved by the fact that I actually remembered, from 8 months ago, how to make gyoza.

I have been eating far too much very good food recently, and as a result, I have packed on some extra insulation for the winter season. It would be fine if I could afford to buy a whole new accommodating wardrobe, but currently I can’t do up my pants, or sit comfortably in my jeans… Alas, I am looking to the “superfoods” I promote every day through work to supply me with the nutrients I need, without all of the calories. I focused in on chia (Salvia Hispanica L.) this weekend, trying to come up with interesting ways of incorporating this antioxidant and Omega-3 rich seed into my new streamlined diet. The mucilaginous properties of these little seeds inspired me to create some sort of dessert quenching treat, like a pudding. I thought about using chocolate as a flavour enhancer, but reconsidered since I’m trying to go easy on the calories. So, I used spiced tea to flavour my experimental Chai Chia Pudding. I also just liked the way that it sounded…

Here’s what I did, which I highly discourage you from trying at home:

1 cup water, 1 cup almond milk (unsweetened), 6 Tbsp Chia seeds (whole), 1 Tbsp brown cane sugar (could use honey or agave syrup as well), 2 Chai tea bags.

Brew the tea in the liquid until nice and flavourful. Add sugar until dissolved and chill until room temperature. Add Chia seeds. stir and chill, stirring occasionally for a few hours. Blend in a food processor until evenly mixed up, and spoon into serving dishes. Let set in fridge about 2 hours. Sprinkle ground cinnamon on top to serve.

If you really like the consistency of snot, then this recipe is for you! Chia can hold 14 times its weight in water, which turns into a jelly surrounding the seed. It is quite strange and kind of intriguing. There is a myriad of health benefits to take into consideration, but they still remain a funny texture. When I showed my friend what I was doing, he said “well what do you expect, Zara? Look what you put in it!” I laughed out loud and scraped the bowl clean to spite him. It didn’t taste bad at all, but the texture is something that may be an acquired affection.

The saving grace of the weekend was the gyoza. I picked up ground turkey from Rowe Farms, and used the veg I had in the fridge (onion, red cabbage, enoki mushrooms, spinach, sweet potato, zucchini). It took forever to get the hang of it, but they turned out pretty good looking. The real test will come tomorrow when I fry them up for the fam for my sister’s welcome home dinner!

Memories of Eigensinn - Turkey Gyoza

Finally Cocoa Camino Offers Baking Bars!

We can now breath a sigh of relief knowing that the chocolate used in our baking projects is easy on the conscience. Getting far too excited about this development, I went a bit overboard on a cake that I was asked to make for dinner at a friend’s house.

Whipped Chocolate Icing with Bittersweet Chocolate

Cocoa Camino has recently launched their Cuisine Camino line that includes three Baking Bars, Cocoa Powder, Turbinado and Brown Cane Sugars, and Semi- and Bittersweet Chocolate Chips. Perfect for the baker looking for a really high quality chocolate that’s also soy lecithin and GMO-free, organic, and fair trade certified. Look for it in your local stores, and if they haven’t picked it up yet, ask the grocery manager to start carrying it.

Using the mid-week marmalade from last week as glue to hold the simple chocolate cake together, I got to share it with friends. Dinner was a low-key version of the epic, rotating Sunday Night Dinners where we got to really enjoy one another’s company and the food. Alex made baked sweet potatoes and a black bean chili to slather on top, with sour cream, cheddar cheese, salsa and other garnishes to customize. Fennel cucumber salad too, and the ever-present platter of crudite necessary for any event that Alex and I are a part of.

Chocolate Marmalade Cake