Monday, June 25, 2012

penne with sausage and greens

This was the winter of kale.

This was the spring of kale.

This is the early summer of kale.

We have learned how to make kale chips and we have learned the secret to enjoying kale: chop it into very small, tiny, miniature pieces. Chopped like that, we ate it almost every week and hardly noticed.

See those fine bits of kale and chard?

You may be a kale fan.

You may enjoy eating tough pieces of the same green leaf over and over again.

We're not and don't.

But we do, of course, want to eat local vegetables in season, which is why we're still eating kale six months after we learned to chop it very finely. (When does the season end???) And now Swiss chard is joining the kale ranks.

We've also sought out new recipes to use this everlasting vegetable, which leads me to today's offering: penne with sausage and greens.

Dear Ricardo calls for arugula, but I knew kale would work. Turns out, so does Swiss chard. All these green options make it a very flexible recipe for the whole year long. I like that, since it also comes together quickly – 35 minutes or so – so it's easy to make after work.

I seem to be using "fun" as a prerequisite for recipes these days – remember the potato chips in the lettuce wraps? – and this one definitely measures up. Because you actually get to snip open your raw sausages and squeeze that tasty meat right out! How fun is that? Let me tell you, it's pretty darn satisfying.

Using sausage meat like this is brilliant, really, since the meat is already seasoned and ready to make me a quick dinner. No fuss, no muss (except for the fun squeezing).

What more can I tell you?

Oh, right, about Ricardo. Do you know this dear man? We haven't actually met him, but we are addicted to his cooking videos.

Apparently, he's quite famous in his native Québec. A little while ago, he started recording "Ricardo and Friends" in English. Every episode, he has people come over and he cooks for them with great enthusiasm in his big Montreal kitchen. Sometimes, he cooks for the workers re-paving his street, sometimes he cooks for his friends' kids, but usually, he cooks for two or three good-looking Montréalais friends. (Why are French Canadians always so much more chic than English Canadians?)

The friends all ooh and ahh over the meal and we invariably wish he would invite us over.

Sometimes, we watch him in French to practise our French, but he seems to speak a lot more quickly in French. It's like his whole personality changes, which is fascinating in itself.

But anyway, back to this recipe. It works! It makes a great dinner! Don't worry about that whole cup of red wine – it cooks right in and helps finish the sausage-y sauce.

Bon appétit!

One year ago: Kathleen Claiborne's hot cakes
Two years ago: Chili pasta

penne with sausage and greens
adapted from Ricardo Larrivée
serves 4 5 


375 g. (3/4 lb.) penne pasta
30 ml (2 tbsp.) olive oil
450 g. (1 lb.) good sausage meat, pork or turkey, squeezed out of the casing
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 tsp. Korean red pepper flakes or hot pepper flakes
4 plum (or any) tomatoes, diced
500 ml (2 c.) Swiss chard, kale or baby arugula, chopped finely
250 ml (1 c.) red wine
250 – 500 ml (1 – 2 c.) Asiago cheese, grated

Boil the pasta in salted water until it's al dente. Drain and toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil. Set aside.

In the mean time, heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the other 1 tbsp. of oil. Brown the sausage meat, garlic and pepper flakes, breaking up the meat into small pieces as you please. This will take about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes. If you're using chard or kale, add it now. Stir often until the liquid has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Pour the wine in and try not to panic about the amount of liquid you now have in your pan. Cook for about 3 minutes. Add the pasta and stir until everything is hot. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary. If you're using arugula, stir it in now.

Serve in wide, shallow bowls with lots of Asiago cheese.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

hop & go fetch it: pacific rim edition

See that?

That is a perfect lunch-time dessert. It's sticky jasmine rice with mango and coconut cream and it's divine. We ate it at the über-lovely Café Julia in Honolulu (where I freely admit we ate five meals over the course of our nine-day stay).

I have been travelling and it's now time for the Pacific Rim edition of hop & go fetch it: Hawaii, Vancouver, Victoria and Nanaimo. The restaurants include the exotic influences of Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, French and Scottish food . . . but they're all located in places that actually sit on the Pacific Ocean.

Now, you might not think little Nanaimo is exciting enough to be included in these Pacific Rim hotspots, but I beg to differ. If you eat a Nanaimo bar at McLean's, I think you'll agree.

So there you go: if you're travelling somewhere on the Pacific, here are my favourite places to eat. Enjoy!

That Hawaiian wind helped us work up a healthy appetite . . .
and created unusual hair styles.

Monday, June 11, 2012

loganberry vinegar

Did you look carefully at those berries?

They're actually frozen loganberries because loganberry season doesn't start for another three weeks or so. (Yes, I am counting.)

A few weeks ago, I bought these berries at our favourite farm in Deep Cove, Smyth's. We'd just gotten back from Hawaii and I was desperate for interesting fruit – so far, rhubarb is the only ripe fruit on Vancouver Island.

Seeing as our freezer is roughly the size of a very small shoebox, it was quite the commitment to buy a big bag of frozen loganberries. But, oh, what fun they are! Definitely worth carving out a space in the miniature freezer for them.

So far, I've used them for waffle and ice cream toppings, deep-dish apple-loganberry pie, rhubarb-apple-loganberry crisp and now, loganberry vinegar.

This vinegar is easy as pie (actually, speaking from recent experience, easier). Just purée the logans with simple white vinegar, leave them to join forces in a cool, dark place – with a daily shake, for fun – strain, and voilà: loganberry vinegar at your service.

I know you might not have logans in your part of the world and I am genuinely sorry for you if you don't. (If you've never heard of a loganberry, it's a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry and it is, hands down, the most scrumptious berry in the world.)

However, I do believe this vinegar would work for most summer berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries . . . What kind of berry will you have growing near you?

In any case, with this little labour and the dirt-cheap price of white vinegar, what have you got to lose?

What to do with your loganberry vinegar? Tonight, I made a simple salad dressing with it – loganberry vinegar, walnut oil, honey, mustard, salt and pepper – and besides being a lovely pinky-red colour, it really did taste like loganberries.

I envision a summer of logan-y salads and marinades to come.

one year ago: tomato cheddar soufflé with asparagus
two years ago: chili pasta

loganberry vinegar
slightly adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton via Brett Smyth

glass jar that holds 4 cups
2 c. berries
2 c. white vinegar

First, sterilize your jar. Boil water in the kettle. Fill the jar and let it sit. After 10 minutes, pour out the water.

Use a blender or immersion blender to purée the berries and vinegar together. Pour into the jar.

Let it sit in a cool, dark place for 5 to 7 days (or longer, if you're away). Shake every day to blend the flavours.

Strain it through either a double cheesecloth or a very fine sieve (not both, or nothing happens). You might need to use a spoon to stir it and encourage the liquid to fall through.

Pour the strained vinegar into a sterilized jar or bottle. Keeps at room temperature for up to 1 year. (Please note that I haven't tested whether it keeps at room temperature for a year or not yet. If you're a nervous type, keep it in the fridge.)


Saturday, June 2, 2012

chinese-canadian lettuce wraps

Lettuce wraps with ground pork and potato chips spilling out of them are not exactly romantic things to photograph. It's hard to get any light into the pork, the lettuce looks whiter than it actually is and the chips make it look like some kind of sea creature from outer space.

Oh, well. They fulfill two of my major requirements for making it to this blog, so I present them to you with pride. (Those two requirements are tasty and fun to eat.)

I have actually been working on Chinese-Canadian lettuce wraps about seven years now.

My friend Virginia, who is from Hong Kong, made these for me just after I'd moved to Vancouver. I remember being quite suspicious when she put out a bowl of potato chips and said we should put them in the wraps. Suspicious, but willing. (Virginia is a very good cook. Her hot pot is the hot pot to beat all hot pots.)

With a salty-peppery crunch and bits of tasty ground meat attempting to escape, I bit into my lettuce wrap.

I was – immediately, irrevocably – converted to putting potato chips in my lettuce wraps.

And that is how we've eaten them ever since.

I do believe Virginia used ground chicken or pork (considering I didn't eat red meat at the time). But we've now settled on ground pork mostly because eating ground pork reminds me of the Chinese pork and chive dumplings that I LOVE so much I put the word in all-caps. In fact, the ground pork marinade here was inspired by the excellent Mark Bittman's recipe for pork pot stickers.

Dress the pork a bit and fry it, then fry up some carrot and celery. Throw it all in a lettuce wrap. Use your artistic talent to wedge in some curly potato chips. Eat.

And now for some exclamation marks: I can make these in 35 minutes! Alone! Without a sous-chef! So can you! Eating potato chips for the main part of your meal is fun!

You might be thinking: don't we need some sauce here? In fact, that is what the ever-suspicious Scott thought at first. (I think I will be telling him to trust me for the rest of our lives.)

One bite and I proved him wrong. This pork is so moist and well-seasoned with a kick of pepper and sesame oil (not to mention the pepper on the potato chip), that you really don't need any extra sauce. Which is awesome. Because it means less mess and less dishes and in case you didn't hear me the first time, you don't need sauce.

I call these Chinese-Canadian lettuce wraps because I checked and Virginia didn't put potato chips in them in Hong Kong. Instead, she used deep-fried mong bean noodles for crunch (which also sounds pretty fantastic). So this is Vancouver Chinese fusion food at its best. Yum.

Thank you, Virginia!

one year ago: blueberry rhubarb rum jam
two years ago: chocolate peanut butter oatcakes (the most popular recipe ever on dollop!)

chinese-canadian lettuce wraps
wraps inspired by Virginia
pork inspired by Mark Bittman's recipe for pork pot stickers in How to Cook Everything

2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. salt
454 g. (1 lb.) lean ground pork
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1/2 c. chopped green onion
1 iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and separated into whole leaves 
220 g. (1/2 lb.) chips, preferably salt and pepper or lime and pepper

In a medium bowl, mix ginger, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper and salt together. Stir in the pork; try to coat it as best you can.

Heat a heavy-bottomed frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Fry the pork, stirring often and breaking up larger chunks, until it's cooked through, about 8 minutes. With a slotted spoon, put the pork in a bowl, leaving whatever small bit of liquid is left in the pan.

Turn the heat down to medium-low. In the pork pan, fry the celery and carrots until they have slightly softened, but are still tender-crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Stir the pork into the celery and carrots and mix well. Stir in the green onion.

Serve pork mixture with lettuce leaves and potato chips so that everyone can make their own.