Monday, May 23, 2016

on good service

Last Sunday morning, at a coffee shop in Calgary, I was struck by how good service can change everything.

We were sitting in the sunshine of the little corner bar at Phil & Sebastian in the Mission, watching the world walk by. I was just finishing my avocado-sourdough toast and sipping my High Mountain tea, while Scott had already polished off his gluten-free breakfast sandwich and coffee.

We'd had a tough Saturday night.

It was our anniversary weekend and I'd found a good rate at a fancy hotel downtown. Now that Scott's a graduate student and I've started my own business, we don't get to stay at fancy hotels very often. We had been looking forward to this for weeks.

Well, we won't be going back to this hotel. After we were forced to change rooms late at night because of the hotel's loud stereo system  and then the hotel tried to charge us $500 for the new smaller room – we just wanted to get out of there.

So, Sunday morning, I thought about how this coffee shop could have been like the fancy hotel: uncaring and trying to get away with charging us the moon to sit there. But it wasn't. The staff were friendly and made exceptional coffee and tea along with a great breakfast at a good price.

When we got up to leave, I went over to the counter to thank the staff for running such a good café. They all smiled and thanked me and I walked back to Scott, happy to have this good experience.

As were were zipping up our jackets, a young man from behind the counter came over to us and asked if he we had to go right away. He wanted us to try a special coffee and it would just take a few minutes to make.

Of course we could stay for a special coffee. We sat back down on our cozy stools and looked out the window again.

Soon, he was back with two little cups of Pacamara coffee from Panama. He explained how it was a naturally-processed coffee, which means the farmers let the beans dry with the fruit still on them. He said it's a hard process to control, but when it works it can lead to coffee like this: coffee that is fruity and sweet.

We thanked him and tried our little cups of coffee. It was the most unusual coffee: it was juicy and almost tasted like fruit punch  but was definitely still coffee.

They were perfect little cups of coffee, and we couldn't help but smile at our good fortune.

one year ago: cheddar oatcakes
two years ago: lentil soup with chorizo croutes
three years ago: aspargus and cheese sauce on toast

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

hyperbraised fennel

I found this recipe in my desert-island cookbook, The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser.

The book has no photos, but it does have headnotes.

Amanda Hesser is a master at writing headnotes  she'll hook me in with just a single sentence or a couple of short paragraphs.

Her headnote for this hyperbraised fennel is glorious. Here's an excerpt:

You cut the bulb into wedges; douse it with olive oil; season it with fennel fronds, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes; and then blast it with heat until the liquid is cooked off and the fennel is just tender. The texture of the bulb ends up, somewhat miraculously, like confit  it holds together but is like a concentrated fennel pudding inside.

So you see, I had to try it. It's now a rockstar regular in our house.

Back to headnote hunting . . .

one year ago: lemon chicken soup with spaghetti
two years ago: spicy salmon broth
three years ago: stinging nettle soup

print here

hyperbraised fennel
via R. W. Apple Jr. adapted from Alice Waters in The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
serves 4 to 6

4 large fennel bulbs including feathery fronds*
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. water
2 tbsp. fennel seeds, finely ground in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes**
1 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. table salt)
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Cut the stalks off your fennel bulbs. Finely chop the fronds and set them aside. Cut each fennel bulb into eighths.

Place the fennel pieces into a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and water. Cover the pot and turn the heat up to high. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to medium. Stir, cover and let cook for 5 minutes.

Stir in the fennel fronds, ground fennel seeds, red pepper flakes and salt. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Cover and cook until the liquid has almost evaporated and the fennel is very tender, about 10 minutes. (If you still have too much liquid, you can simmer it uncovered for a few minutes.)

Take the pot off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for salt and add more if necessary. Serve.

*If your fennel comes frondless, you may substitute 1/4 c. chervil leaves or leave them out.
**I like to use my handy Korean red pepper flakes here. They don't give any heat.

Monday, April 4, 2016

sriracha tofu and broccolini with coconut rice

For some reason, I forgot to make this for a year or two.

I'm not sure why, because once I discovered it again  a few months ago  I quickly remembered that it's one of my favourite weeknight dinners.

In fact, it's the kind of quick weeknight dinner that is so good and so interesting that we really should make it for guests on a weekend. I'd better get on that.

Anyway, I should probably tell you more about it.

First, do you like coconut rice? I love coconut rice. It has that extra bit of richness from the coconut milk and the saltiness is just right here to balance it.

But the best part is how exciting the tofu is. I know you might not believe me when I describe tofu as exciting, but it's true. You'll have to make it to find out. The tofu is tossed with a simple mixture of sriracha and salt but somehow it becomes a new tasty thing with just a bit of chew.

The original recipe called for shrimp but since I can never find affordable ethical shrimp at the grocery store, I put in the tofu. Cheap, and possibly even better. (I've never tried the shrimp.)

Oh, and the broccolini. Or broccolette. Or finely-chopped and peeled regular broccoli. Whatever you call it, it picks up the sriracha and coconut milk and becomes the perfect crunchy bite next to the soft tofu.

Please, just make it. And don't forget about it.

One year ago: peanut sesame noodles
Two years ago: salted butter break-up cookies
Three years ago: chocolate peanut butter mice with licorice tails

print here

sriracha tofu and broccolini with coconut rice
adapted from gourmet
serves 4

1 1/2 c. long-grain white rice*
1 1/2 c. water
1 tsp. sugar
1 c. + 1/2 c. coconut milk, well-stirred
3/4 tsp. + 3/4 tsp. salt
1 lb (454 g.) broccolini or broccolette**
1 block firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
2 1/2 tbsp. sriracha sauce
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. + 1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tbsp. vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil

Rinse the rice under cold water and drain well. Pour into a medium-sized sauce pan with a heavy bottom. Add 1 1/2 cups water, sugar, 1 cup coconut milk and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 20 minutes, then take it off the heat and let it stand for 5 minutes, still covered.

While the rice is cooking, peel the broccolini stalks and cut the whole thing into 1-inch lengths. Set aside.

In another bowl, toss the tofu with the with the sriracha and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, stir the cornstarch, 1/4 cup chicken broth,  and 1/2 cup coconut milk until the cornstarch dissolves.

Heat a big heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over high heat. Add oil. Add broccolini and fry until it turns bright-green. Stir in the remaining 1/4 cup chicken broth. Once the liquid has evaporated (about 3 minutes), add the dressed tofu. Stir often and cook for 2 minutes. Stir the cornstarch mixture again and add it to the broccolini and tofu. Stir until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.

Fluff the rice and serve it with the broccolini mixture. Eat!

* We like Jasmine or Basmati rice 
** You could also use regular broccoli, stalks peeled and cut more finely

Sunday, March 27, 2016

roasted rhubarb with wine and vanilla

In Edmonton this weekend, our rhubarb out in the garden hasn't unfurled itself yet. Although at least it's not covered by snow.

In Courtenay last weekend, my dad's rhubarb out in the garden was growing pink, squat stalks. It was definitely not covered by snow.

So, of course, Dad sent us home with a bag of them  not to mention the kale and fresh herbs that were tucked around it.

(In case you were wondering, I've gone through airport security twice now with bags of rhubarb and kale. Security staff don't bat an eye. Maybe they're common plants to fly off the Island?)

The next day at home in snowy Edmonton, I decided to try roasting the rhubarb. I followed Orangette's simple recipe with wine and vanilla, and soon had perfectly tender rhubarb that held its shape beautifully – if you were careful spooning it out.

I added a little yogourt and some of the bright-pink syrup pooled in the bottom of the baking dish, and had a lovely birthday snack. The wine and vanilla are just haunting flavours, not overpowering, which means the roasted rhubarb is also good with breakfast.

Now that I've used all of my Courtenay supply, I'm anxiously watching mine in the garden here. When it does unfurl and shoot up, I'll be ready.

one year ago: orange jelly with chantilly cream
two years ago: brigadeiros
three years ago: spiced red lentil stew with greens and lemon

print here

roasted rhubarb with wine and vanilla
slightly adapted from orangette, who was inspired by canal house cooking

1 lb. (454 g.) rhubarb, cut into lengths about 2  3 inches long
1/4 c. white or red wine
1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Get out a heavy baking dish with high sides, such as a Dutch oven or Corningware casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, toss the rhubarb with the wine, sugar and vanilla. Line the rhubarb up like soldiers in the baking dish and put in the oven.

After 15 minutes, carefully stir the rhubarb so it all gets cooked.

After 15 more minutes, check on the rhubarb. It should look intact but actually be tender and ready to eat. Serve with a bit of the syrup that's pooled in the bottom of the dish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

gluten-free sandwich bread

Hot out of the oven

This one's for the Celiacs who have resigned themselves to paying seven dollars for a very small loaf of almost-edible bread at the grocery store. This is better.

I have made this recipe five times now. Aside from the time when I forgot the xanthan gum  which is key  they have all turned into the most amazing loaves of gluten-free bread.

Happily rising

The Celiac husband has declared it his favourite and keeps asking when I'm making more.


My cousin Shannon, also a Celiac, had a slice for breakfast and right away asked me where I bought it. I took that as a real compliment because gluten-free bakers know how hard it is to make a really good gluten-free bread at home.

Scott also reports that this makes a fine sandwich bread in his lunch. This may not be news to the rest of the world, but the Celiacs know very few gluten-free breads are edible unless they're toasted.

Sliced and ready for living the good life in the freezer

A big thanks to the always-reliable Canadian Living for the original recipe. I tinkered with the flours to add millet and oat flour in place of some of the brown rice flour  I think this gives it a nicer texture and stays away from the sandiness of too much brown rice flour. I also like slipping more whole grains in wherever I can.

Celiacs, enjoy!

print here

gluten-free sandwich bread
adapted from canadian living
bakes 2 loaves

250 g. (2 c.) tapioca starch
125 g. (1 c.) brown rice flour
63 g. (1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. + 2 tsp.) gluten-free oat flour*
63 g. (1/2 c. + 1 tbsp.) millet flour
270 g. (1 1/2 c.) potato starch
38 g. (6 tbsp.) ground flax meal
4 tsp. quick-rising (instant) dry yeast
4 tsp. xanthan gum
1 1/2 tsp. salt
672 g. (2 2/3 c.) milk, warmed
4 eggs (224 g.)
37 g. (2 tbsp.) liquid honey
16 g. (4 tsp.) olive oil
2 tsp. cider vinegar

Grease two non-stick loaf pans with a neutral-tasting oil. Set aside.

Get out a large bowl. Whisk together the tapioca starch, brown rice flour, oat flour, millet flour, potato starch, ground flax meal, yeast, xanthan gum and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, honey, olive oil and cider vinegar. Stir the dry ingredients into the liquid. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the waiting loaf pans and smooth the tops a bit. Let rise in a draft-free place for about an hour, until the tops have risen just above the loaf pans. I like to put the pans in the microwave with a mug of just-boiled water to steam it up. If you leave them on the counter, make sure you cover them with lightly-greased plastic wrap so they aren't susceptible to drafts.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celcius) and bake for about one hour. When they're done, the tops will be golden brown and a cake tester will come out clean. If you have a thermometer, the inside of the bread will measure 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let cool a bit, then transfer to racks to fully cool. Slice and eat. If you will be keeping it longer than 24 hours, slice, double-bag and freeze. Toast slices as you need them.

* I just whirl my gluten-free oats in the food processor until they're fairly fine and use that as oat flour. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

kimchi soup

You might not dream about soft tofu bobbing around in your soup bowl.

But I do.

Somehow, soft tofu is the perfect thing in this hot Korean soup. There's cabbage and rich spicy broth and pieces of meat floating around . . . but it's the silky-soft tofu cubes that make the best spoonfuls.

We discovered this soup at our favourite Korean restaurant in Jasper a couple years ago. Over the Christmas holiday, I knew it was time to learn how to make it myself.

I love the idea of fermenting things  that the air has little organisms that can keep food instead of spoiling it  so of course I had to make the kimchi base myself. (You don't have to. But it sure is a lot of fun.)

After a week of sitting on the counter in jars, my kimchi was bubbling away and smelled like an exotic fermented witches' brew. It was ready for soup.

Kimchi goes into the fridge after sitting on the counter for a week

You'll see the whole recipe below  thank you, New York Times  but the very best part is cutting the soft tofu into big wobbly cubes. They slide in just before serving. We liked our bowls of soup with lots of fresh green onion on top and a mound of Japanese rice on the side to soak up the broth.

This was our lunch almost every day between Christmas and New Year's. Sitting at our dining room table with the watery sunlight streaming in and a pot of rooibos tea on the counter, it was a very fine lunch indeed.

one year ago: peppermint lavender balm and we eat well in edmonton
two years ago: jane's pecan puffs and chipotle and rosemary spiced nuts
three years ago: carrot and fennel soup

kimchi soup
adapted from the new york times
serves 6  8

1 lb. (454 g.) pork rib roast or pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, cut in half, sliced lengthwise and cut in half again
2 c. kimchi, squeezed dry and chopped*
1 tbsp. Korean red pepper flakes**
 2 c. kimchi juice
8 c. chicken or beef broth
8 oz. (222 g.) soft or silken tofu, cut in large cubes
8 green onions, chopped, for garnish
Japanese rice, for serving (optional)

Get a bowl out and toss the pork with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and fish sauce. Marinate for 10 minutes.

Put a heavy-bottomed soup pot on medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the pork mixture. Cook gently for 5 minutes. Stir onion in and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the kimchi and red pepper flakes. Simmer for 2 minutes.

Pour kimchi juice and broth in. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a brisk simmer and cook 20 minutes. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning if you need to.

Right before serving, add the tofu and stir gently. When the tofu is hot, ladle into bowls and garnish generously with green onion. If you like, serve alongside Japanese rice.

* You can buy the kimchi or make your own. Here's the recipe I used.
** Buy red pepper flakes at a Korean grocery store or in the Asian section of a regular grocery store. They are not hot (spicy).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

wish list

December, for me, is bundling up in the dark and following little paper lanterns through the Japanese garden to find hot apple cider and carolers huddled around the fire pit.

It's a choir concert in a 100-year-old Anglican church with my big coat just over my shoulders.

It's taking out my favourite wooden reindeer and setting it on the mantel.

It's eating as many treats as possible that feature marzipan.

And it's thinking about those I love and what they might like for Christmas. Maybe, a soft white camisole from Germany for a friend or the present that Scott always wants: wool socks.

What are your favourite things to give and receive at Christmas?

Here are a few of mine. A good number of the companies are based in Edmonton (because this city makes a lot of wonderful things), but they're almost all available online.

Beautiful, beautiful wooden lamps handmade in a little studio in South Carolina. Watch this New York Times video for inspiration.

Earrings from Prairie Smoke Glassworks. I have a little pair that are white glass studs with tiny blue squares and they're one of my favourite things. I found them at Tix on the Square in Edmonton, which sells a lot of local artists' work.

This belt solves so many problems: it lies flat against my jeans and is ethically made.

You might shop local for groceries, but have you thought about where your underwear comes from? I've just discovered this little Toronto company and they're fantastic  and fun.

A pure white beeswax candle, or a lavendar honey soap from Meadow Sweet Honey. (Find them at the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market.)

Passion paradou. Raspberry noir. Apricot caramel. Sometimes, I think that all I really want for Christmas is one huge box of these chocolates. They're handmade with a short shelf-life, so go to the shops in Calgary and Edmonton.

It still surprises me that aprons wear out. There seem to be a lot of nice denim ones around lately. I especially like the Japanese style that crosses at the back . . . but my favourite seller on Etsy stopped making them. Seen any other good ones?

The Swedish coffee and baking book, Fika. Full of simple line drawings and ideas for the most important snack of the day.

Everyone likes thinking about houses and how we make them into homes. The Not So Big House is my favourite book about this.

Finally: a splurge. This looks like a gorgeous leather bag made by Edmonton shoe company Poppy Barley. Can you imagine how lovely it would be in brown?

one year ago: shortbread peppermint pattie cookies
two years ago: annie's sun-dried tomato dip
three years ago: cheese ball!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

granola no. 3

It appears that certain food bloggers have a problem with posting granola recipes.

And by problem, I mean we just can't stop ourselves.

Back in January 2011, I brought you Naomi's granola, full of dried blueberries and cranberries with a whiff of almond.

Then last November, I had to tell you about Megan Gordon's genius hazelnut cacao nib granola.

You probably thought that was enough.

But no. I can't stop. I eat granola almost every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning. I like a bit of variety in my life.

Although, the funny thing is that this granola is quite plain, and that's what keeps me coming back to it. It's the perfect combination of lightly toasted oats and nuts and it's not very sweet, which I find is a good thing these dark mornings when I sip my black tea desperately and am barely awake enough to make eye contact with the husband across the table.

It's plain, easy-going and perfect for most mornings. I first made it last February, although Molly posted it almost a year earlier. I've made a few adjustments to proportions  I like more oats, less coconut and fewer nuts  but the essence is the same.

Molly calls it "Granola No. 5" because it's the fifth granola recipe she's posted. After careful consideration, I'm calling my version "Granola No. 3." You can do the math.

one year ago: hazelnut cacao nib granola
two years ago: japan in pictures and japan in food
three years ago: potato chip cookies

granola no. 3
adapted from orangette's granola no. 5
bakes a lot of granola, maybe 12 cups

750 g. (about 7 1/2 c.) rolled oats*
65 g. (about 1 1/4 c.) coconut flakes or chips
300 g. (about 2  3 c.) nuts,** chopped
2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt (or 1 tsp. regular salt)
240 ml (1 c.) maple syrup
160 ml (2/3 c.) olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line one large or two regular baking sheets with parchment paper.

Get out your biggest bowl and mix the oats, coconut, nuts and salt together well. Add the maple syrup and olive oil, and stir until everything is coated. Spread it evenly onto the baking sheet(s).

Bake for 20 minutes. Take it out and stir carefully. Bake for another 15 minutes. Stir and decide if it's done enough for you. You'll probably want to bake it for another 5 or 10 minutes. Look for the coconut and nuts to toast, and the oats to be lightly golden brown. (Remember, it will bake and set a bit more as it cools.)

Let cool completely on a rack. Store it in an airtight container on the counter. Molly says that if you want to keep it longer than a couple weeks, you could freeze some of it  but we've never needed to.

* If you're making this for a Celiac, make sure you use oats that are labelled "wheat-free" or "gluten-free."
** I like a combination of hazelnuts and walnuts and often throw some almonds in. You could also use some seeds here. I find seeds are often too adventurous in the morning.