Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kale Chips, an unusual treat

Why can't I be different and unusual... like everyone else? – Vivian Stanshall

This must be the most unusual fish and chips I have ever eaten. Kale and smoked mackerel. And it won’t be the last time.

I rank smoked mackerel as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Sadly, I don’t eat it often enough. In an enclosed space it can be a bit overpowering. But the health benefits far outweigh that “minor” issue.

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and cod) contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help improve cardiovascular health by lowering the levels of triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol in the blood. 

I like my mackerel heated in the oven. Both the fish and kale bake for 15 minutes, so it made sense to do them at the same time. But I didn’t come here to talk about smoked mackerel. I came here to talk about kale.

Since mackerel is a fish powerhouse, one should really pair it with its vegetable equivalent to get a really good bang for your dietary buck. Few compare to kale.

Healthy stuff
Dark leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, dandelion greens, etc) contain many nutrients important to maintaining good health. Iron, Vitamins K, C and A, copper, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, calcium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories – they’re all present in kale. 

Interesting fact: kale contains more calcium than milk. All told, it’s one of the world’s most nutrient-rich foods.

But people seem to hate it. Or love it.

I used to fall in the middle. I liked it, but didn’t go out of my way to get it unless I was  a) feeling guilty for past food transgressions, or  b) had something particular in mind to make. Let's face it, besides putting it in a salad or soup, you have to get “creative” with kale.

But my negative opinion has changed. I have discovered a quick way to make kale into a vegetable you put on your grocery list intentionally. This would even be a good snack to have for watching TV.

Kale chips are so easy to make, too. All you need is a knife, some olive oil and salt. Not too much, though. I found that out the hard way!

Kale Chips
Prep: 5 min  |  Bake: 12-15 min  |  Serves 4
1 bunch of kale, washed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
optional: pepper or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Shake all the water off the kale after you wash it, and pat it dry with paper towel. It needs to be dry for the oil to adhere.

Cut the thick rib/stems away from the leaves. How far up the leaves you go will depend on the size of the rib.

Tear into manageable pieces, or you can leave them whole. Place the leaves in a bowl, top with the oil and massage over the leaves with your hands to coat well. 

Arrange the leaves rib-side up on one or two cookie sheets. The leaves shouldn't overlap. Sprinkle with pepper and/or parmesan (optional). 

Bake in the centre of the oven for 12-15 minutes. They should be slightly browned at the edges – no more.

Remove the leaves from the oven and sprinkle with salt. You’ll be surprised how crispy, rigid, and chip-like they are.

And delicious. Can’t forget delicious.


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Haddock with Fennel Bulb

From abundance springs satiety. – Livy

I’m a tomato sniper.

I am slowly picking off – one by one – the green tomatoes that I harvested after our hard frost. For their part, the tomatoes aren’t really trying to run and hide. They’re ripening at a furious rate on the counter. So my fears of having two grocery bags of unripe tomatoes to deal with have not materialized.

In fact, I’m down to only a few remaining green ones. Whew...

I have made five more 500 ml jars of roasted tomato sauce, plus eating them for lunch, roasting and freezing (great for quick sauces later), and sneaking them into most meals I make. They will not get the better of me.

This time my victims were four heirloom tomatoes, which on their plant tag showed beautiful re fruit. Interestingly, when ripe they were yellow/orange. Go figure... So if you do make this dish, the colour most likely be different.

If you’ve never had fennel bulb, it tastes like celery, with a hint of anise. It’s not overwhelming at all, so don’t fear it. Liquorice is my least liked flavour, and had no problem going back for seconds!

This is a pretty quick dish, loaded with flavour. A great way to serve fish, and knock off a few tomatoes in the process.

Haddock with Fennel Bulb
The sauce, after cooking for 15 minutes.
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb haddock
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium fennel bulb
4 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup butter
1/4-1/2 cup fresh dill weed

Heat the oil in a wide flat pan that has a cover. Sauté the fennel and chilli for 5 minutes, until the fennel starts to become translucent.

Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and stock. Cover and let simmer on medium for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down somewhat. 

Stir in the butter until melted. Then nestle the fish into the sauce. Sprinkle the fish with a little more salt and pepper and then top with the dill.

Cover the pot once again and let cook for 5 minutes to steam-cook the fish. The fish will be firm and cooked through. Serve with rice.

The fish and dill, ready to cook for 5 minutes.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style

The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master. – Khalil Gibran

Comfort. It’s something we all seek, be it “comfortable-ness” in our life situation or comfort in times of trial or grief.

It’s unusual how the first reaction upon hearing of a death is to go to the kitchen and start cooking for the bereaved family. Apparently our grief is held in our stomachs, and can be assuaged by a full pot of baked beans, or a loaf of banana bread.

I know I’m as guilty of this as everyone else, and even self-medicate. When I’m sad I go for food. 

This past year has been full of stressful change – one where the blue fell from the sky like a heavy blanket onto the grass, garden, and everything else in my life. One week from today is the anniversary of losing someone very dear to me, and it’s got me down.

I try to not show my lingering pain, but at times it becomes raw, and it only takes the smallest memory to set it off. Perhaps after the one year mark I will begin to mentally file my sadness into its proper "forever place" in my heart.

It’s much of the reason I have been posting sporadically over the last year. Most days I just can’t bring myself to do it. It seems so unimportant. I need to change that. I enjoy writing this blog and sharing with all of you. Like food, it’s another form of comfort and is far easier on the waistline.

All this sadness over the death of a dog. But Henry was not a dog. He was as much a family member as any living being could ever be. He lived to be with me, and I returned the feeling. He was my child for 8-1/2 years. His passing hit me hard, for a whole host of reasons. I will always wonder “what if”...

He used to chase the waves as
they broke on shore of our
local beach. He loved it.
So I’m in need of a little comfort this week, and this night I took it in the form of food. So into the kitchen I went...

Chicken soup is always a safe comfort bet. The decision was aided by the fact I had some thighs in the refrigerator. But I had another problem: two bags of tomatoes picked two weeks ago.

Two days ago I oven-roasted two dozen, plus an eggplant, and then froze them for quick sauces later. There’s another 32 or so on the stovetop, and more from the bags ripening every day. Whatever “chicken soup” I made had to use tomatoes. I may be sad, but waste is sadder.

So I came up with this recipe. It stews garlic, tomatoes and other veggies, which are then puréed into an almost creamy base for pasta and shredded chicken.

All in all, very satisfying. And more than a little comforting.

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 60 min  |  Serves 6-8
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lg carrot, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
6-8 plum tomatoes, chopped*
4 cups chicken stock
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in*
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp cracked black pepper
300g pasta (like penne, rotini, fusilli)
salt to taste
grated parmesan, optional
*depending on size

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a well-fitting lid. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and sauté on medium until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stock, chicken thighs, oregano, black pepper and a little salt (1/2 tsp). Bring to a boil, reduce het to medium and cover. Let cook for 30 minutes.

After the half hour, remove the chicken thighs and set aside. Purée the vegetables and liquid in the pot until very smooth. Add the pasta to the purée, cover and cook until 2 minutes short of al dente. Stir a few times while it cooks.

While the pasta cooks, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat. Two minutes before the pasta is fully cooked, add the chicken and bring back to a boil.

Taste for salt and adjust as desired. Serve immediately with grated parmesan, crusty bread and butter.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canning Roasted Tomato & Garlic Sauce

Death lies on her like an untimely frost, Upon the sweetest flower of all the field. – William Shakespeare

2L of delicious, garden-y goodness. At my beck and call for winter!

There’s no denying it now. Autumn has arrived on the calendar. I can’t say I’m pleased, but I guess one has to go with the flow.

One of those “flow” things is the lowering temperatures – especially overnight. If you have a garden, either plot or container, it becomes a major concern. You have to watch overnight temperatures and pick your remaining produce before it gets hit by frost.

We seemed to have had one of the untimely frosts of which Shakespeare wrote last week. (Illustration directly below...)

This is what our tomatoes looked like after last week's early "killing" frost.

I came back after a couple days away on business to blackened leaves on almost all our tomato plants. They were dead. I was left with no choice but to pick everything – red and green. 

So after my untimely harvest I had a large dilemma. One plastic grocery bag of ripe tomatoes and – harder to deal with – two bags of green.

Some of the green tomatoes will ripen indoors on the counter. You don’t have to do anything special to them. If they have reached the “breaking point” they will ripen quite nicely. That point is when tomatoes start turning from hard green to yellowish/pinkish. 

Make sure the cut faces of the tomatoes are facing up.
Unfortunately the taste isn’t quite as good as vine-ripened, but any tomato you grow at home will taste better than one shipped from who knows where that you purchase in a store.

There’s two of us in our family. We could never go through 30+ ripe tomatoes before they go bad. The thing to do was to preserve them for use through the cold months. So I made sauce. Roasted tomato sauce.

This roasted sauce is really tasty, if I do say so myself. It’s actually not any more involved than cooking tomatoes down on the stove. The difference is that the roasting of the vegetables removes some of the moisture, concentrating the flavour and adding a bit of charred, smoky depth.

If you find yourself in the same position as I was, try this recipe. It will soon turn into a seasonal fall back (pardon the pun) every time you have too many tomatoes. If you’re looking for a sauce recipe that doesn’t have a lot of “hands on” time, this is the one.

Don’t be afraid of canning your own tomato sauce. It’s actually very easy. This recipe made four full 500 ml jars, plus about 3/4 cup. That was just enough for me to “test” the sauce on some pasta. The trials I go through for you...

Now I have to turn my attention to the 50-60 green tomatoes on my counter. Hmmm.

Roasted Tomato & Garlic Sauce
Prep: 10 min  |  Time: about 3 hours  |  Yield 2 L
30 plum tomatoes, halved
2 medium yellow onions, cut into eighths
3 heads garlic, peeled but left whole
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp each, salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 cup white wine
1 tsp citric acid, or juice of 1 large lemon

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Halve the tomatoes along their long dimension. Quarter the onions and then halve so they are in eighths. Peel the garlic.

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper and toss well with your hands to coat. Divide the vegetables between two rimmed cookie sheets. Make sure the cut faces of the tomatoes are facing up.

Place the tomatoes in the oven and roast for 1 hour 15 minutes, switching the sheets on the racks in the oven halfway through (top sheet on bottom, bottom on top). Let cool slightly, then put all the vegetables in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid.

You could easily make a cream sauce by adding heavy cream
to the sauce when using it. Don't try to can the sauce with cream
already added. Do it as you use it. Vodka would also be good.
Add the wine and herbs to the pot and then crush the vegetables slightly. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cover. Let the mixture simmer for an hour.

Once the sauce has simmered, let cool slightly and then purée either with a stick emulsion blender or a regular blender. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust. If the sauce is too thin, you can continue to cook.

Now add the citric acid or lemon juice. The acid is important because tomatoes are borderline acidic (4.5 pH) for preserving. The acid lowers the pH of the sauce, making it safer during canning.

Bring the sauce back to a boil and then promptly remove from the heat. While the sauce heats, sterilize four 500 ml jars. Fill the jars, leaving 1/2” air space at the top of each jar. Make sure not to get sauce on the rim. Place the tops on the jars “finger tight.”

Process the jars in a hot water bath that covers the tops of the jars by about 1”. Let them boil in the water for 12-14 minutes. Remove the jars from the water and let cool on the counter. In a short time you will hear the seals “pop” on top of the jars. Tighten the rings on the jars, let cool completely and then store. They will keep for a year in a cool place.

If a top doesn’t pop down, that jar is not sealed. Either try to process again, or keep refrigerated and use within one week.


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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Sponge Cake with Milk Sauce

Written by a sponge dipped in warm milk and sprinkled with sugar. – John Ciardi

John Chairdi was a professor, critic and poet known for his sharp wit as well as a internationally respected translation of Danté’s “Inferno.” He was extremely critical of much poetry aimed children, which he defined as ''written by a sponge dipped in warm milk and sprinkled with sugar.''

Those are interesting words, because this recipe is exactly that: a wonderful sponge cake, dusted with sugar and drizzled with milk sauce. So sometimes that’s a good thing. Perhaps not so much in literature, in Mr. Chairdi’s opinion.

I remember milk sauce on cake from when I was very young. Mom used to serve it with blueberry cake. It was a treat and delight.

The origin of this cake started, as most things do, in front of my computer because I didn’t have an ingredient. I had no butter, and was looking for a cake recipe that didn’t use it. You can substitute shortening, but when I searched I stumbled across the unexpected. 

A recipe I found contained no butter, or shortening and no milk in the batter. I did have milk. That wasn’t the issue. But I was intrigued. So intrigued I made it, or at least a version of it.

I won’t get into exactly what I changed It still bears a passing resemblance to the original, but that’s probably about it.

Left to right: the eggs and sugar; with the flour incorporated; ready for the oven.

I have made a fair number of cakes and have never made one that defined the word “sponge” so clearly. This was the lightest cake I had ever made. Think of angel food cake light. But the thing is there’s no separating and beating the eggs.

This came together, and went down, very quickly.

If you’re not that much into milk sauce try it with ice cream. Or anything else you may think will work!

Cinnamon Sugar Sponge Cake with Milk Sauce
Prep: 10 min  |  Bake 25 min  | Yield 8x8 square cake
4 eggs 
This is about 2 minutes after I removed the cake from the oven.
It had barely started to pull away from the sides in the oven.
I also used a toothpick to test. Better safe than sorry.
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
8” square cake pan
Milk sauce:
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup whole milk, or better, coffee cream
2 tbsp white sugar
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease the pan with shortening (or butter) and dust liberally with white sugar. Set aside.

Place the eggs in a mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup sugar, vanilla, salt and baking powder to the eggs and beat for 30 seconds. Then add the remaining sugar in two batches. Continue to beat until very light and foamy. 

This is the cake just sprinkled with icing sugar – no milk sauce.
When beaten enough, the beaters will leave slight trails behind in the batter (much like when halfway through whipping cream). They will disappear immediately.

Using a spatula, fold in 1/4 cup of the flour. Repeat with the remaining flour, in two equal batches. Deflate the batter as little as possible when adding the flour.

Pour into the prepared pan.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the sides start shrinking from the edge of the pan. You can also test the centre with a cake tester or toothpick. When it comes out clean the cake is done.

Let cool in the pan. Once cool you can turn out onto a plate and sprinkle the top with confectioners sugar (optional), or use the sauce for an amazing old-fashioned style dessert.


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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dried Apricot & Cranberry Bread

Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self? – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Simplicity can be so "elegant," and cheap.

Cheap. That’s me... sometimes. Other times I’ll spend money like a drunken sailor. It’s odd the times my miserly instinct kicks in.

For example, the other day I was at the grocery store. Bread was on my list. But as I scanned the prices I couldn’t bring myself to put a loaf in my basket.

$3.99? For a loaf of bread? It’s patently obvious that man cannot live by bread alone. Man can hardly afford it. So then was the time to call on the wisdom of Emerson. I could make it myself.

Luckily, bread is easy to make at home. And infinitely cheaper. Except for the flour, but rationalize the cost of it. How many loaves of bread can you get out of the bag of flour... 

This is a really bad picture of my starter in the morning...
Obviously my coffee hadn't kicked in.
To make bread, all you really need is four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. That’s it.

I know that many of you “out there” will be saying you can’t make bread. It fails. There’s two important things that can make bread fail. One is your yeast, the other is your temperature.

Thing 1: To always have fresh yeast on hand, buy a cup or even more at a bulk food store, put it in a jar and stick it in your freezer. It won’t kill the yeast. it will start to activate the moment it hits warm water.

Thing 2: The water used to activate your yeast has to be *at most* 115°F. Any higher and you risk killing the yeast – something freezing couldn’t do. Proper temperature water is slightly warmer than the temperature of a baby's bottle. Or better yet, use a thermometer to test it.

If your yeast doesn’t proof (either too old or killed by heat), your bread won’t rise. It’s as simple as that. Normal room temperature will raise bread every time. Cover the bowl to keep it relatively dark, and don’t sit it in a draft.

I went one step further with this and made an overnight starter. It’s not necessary, but does add a bit of a nice rich flavour, sort of like a sourdough.

My bread recipe today is a bit on the “fancy” side for another reason, too – it has dried apricots and cranberries. In truth, I was going to make raisin bread, but I didn’t have any raisins, so I had to raid my mother’s pantry.

Such is life. Sigh...

Left: before first rise; right: after first rise.

Dried Apricot & Cranberry Bread
Time: 24 hours, or a little less  |  Yield: one large loaf
night before, starter:
1 cup water, 110°F
1 cup unbleached flour
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
next day:
3 cup flour
1 cup water, 110°F
2 tbsp honey (or sugar, brown or white)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp salt

The night before you want to make your bread, mix together the starter ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let sit until morning. By morning it will be a bubbly mass.

In the morning, add the remaining ingredients and stir well. It will be very wet and sticky. Remove the dough to the counter. Slap and fold the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands. This step will be very messy, but it will actually start to stick to itself as opposed to you.

Shape into a ball. Butter a bowl, place the dough in it and proof until doubled in size.

Left: before second rise; right: after. Easily doubled.
It possibly would have risen even more.

Once doubled, scoop out onto the counter and knead for about 2-3 minutes. Generously butter a 5x9 loaf pan. Shape the dough into a log, place in the pan and let it rise until doubled again. Tent a plastic shopping bag over the dough while it rises.

For a soft crust, rub the top with butter. It's optional.
Just before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 425°F. Make sure the oven rack is in the centre of the oven. Place a pan of water on the bottom rack while the oven heats. 

Bake the loaf for 35 minutes. Remove the water pan after the first 5 minutes. The loaf is done when nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped with your fingers.

Rub the top of the loaf with butter if you want a soft crusted bread.


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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Chicken Paillard with Peach Arugula Salad

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. Diane Ackerman

This year, summer seems to have been fleeting. Where has it gone? 

You can feel a change happening. It’s dark much later in the morning, and sundown much sooner. There’s also that “something” in the air, that je ne sais quoi that is the harbinger for sweaters and jackets, and leaves turning red.

I don’t want it to come any sooner than it will, but it is unmistakably there. The sun is not quite as “hot” as it was just a few weeks ago.

We are now into the second half of August and, except for a few notable exceptions, I don't really remember this as much of a summer. It seems to have been just a blink of an eye ago we were celebrating Victoria Day in May. And now Labour Day is soon upon us. There has to be more summer ahead, right? The hot days will still be around for a while, fingers crossed.

In Nova Scotia's defence, we do have glorious, long autumns. Warm, languid days filled with sunshine. Or at least it better be. Our spring this year was cold, short and brutish.

This recipe is for those long, sun-washed days. Days when it’s still a little too hot in the house to have the stove on for long. These paillards only take about 2 minutes per side to cook. That’s pretty quick.

If you’re not familiar with the term “paillard” it’s an old French culinary term that’s falling out of use, being replaced by “escalope.” Basically, it’s pounding the bejezus out of a piece of meat until it’s very thin, so cooking time is very, very short. I like the older term. I like history.

Although these were cooked in a frying pan, you could as easily do them on the barbecue. But if doing so I would recommend using a sheet like one for veggies. The paillards are too thin to be efficiently handled any other way. And baste each side lightly with melted butter.

Regardless of cooking method, in the end these are fast, and a little impressive, for a warm day. So bring on summer, right?

Chicken Paillard with Peach Arugula Salad
Prep: 20 min  |  Cook: 4 min per breast  |  Serves 4
4 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
salt & cracked black pepper
1 tbsp butter
1 lemon
arugula for 4 salads
2 large peaches, or nectarines
120 g blue cheese
1 cup walnut pieces
salad dressing:
6 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp raspberry vinegar, balsamic if possible
pinch salt
2 pinches of cracked black pepper

Place one chicken breast at one end of a long piece of plastic wrap. Fold the wrap over the top and (gently) pound the breast to about 1/4” thick. 

Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and re-wrap in the plastic. Set aside until ready to cook. Repeat with the remaining three breasts. 

The paillards can be made the day, or even a couple days, before and kept on a plate in the refrigerator.

Just before cooking the paillards, assemble the salad. Cut the peaches into easy to manage chunks and add to enough arugula for 4 salads. Crumble the blue cheese on top and toss in the walnuts. 

Mix the salad dressing ingredients in s small jar and shake well. Pour over the salad and toss well.

Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium high heat. Fry the paillards one at a time, for about 2 minutes per side, until browned slightly. After the paillards are cooked, squeeze the juice of 1/4 lemon on top of each one.

Serve with the salad and enjoy!


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