Sunday, 30 October 2016

Kids Hallowe'en Kitchen Project: Spooky Bark

How to make Halloween spooky bark

Happy Hallowe'en! We had a busy weekend putting the last minute touches on our costumes and carving our pumpkins. I had promised my daughter that we would make spooky bark, though, so this morning we were up early and right at opening time my daughter bounced like a jack rabbit into the Bulk Barn.

What you'll need:

  • white, milk or dark chocolate squares or,  if you prefer, moulding wafers
  • an assortment of spooky Hallowe'en treats (a note for next year: stock up on these early! I was surprised today when the Bulk Barn had very few Hallowe'en choices because the Christmas candy is already out. So weird.)
  • parchment paper
  • cookie sheet

I let my daughter work on her project first, since she was so excited she just couldn't sit still. Since this was our first time making spooky bark, I also wasn't sure how it would turn out and thought we'd use hers as our taste case. She chose to work with the dark chocolate, first. 

It's pretty simple really, and there is no need for a recipe. Just melt the chocolate, pour it on parchment paper and decorate away!

making halloween candy bark at home


A note on technique: it actually wasn't as easy as I assumed it would be. The first time around, I melted the chocolate on medium heat with the pot directly on the burner. It melted quickly, but then just as quickly turned lumpy and the sugars started to separate from the milk. Uh, oh. Never mind, my 3 year old didn't notice and had a blast decorating (and then gobbling up) her spooky bark. I think it looks more like lava flowing from a candy volcano, but no problem because she was just thrilled (and if I thought she couldn't sit still before this activity, the sugar turned this place into a mad house for the rest of the day!).

milk chocolate halloween candy bark


For the white chocolate, I tried a different, and better, technique: I boiled a medium pot of water, then submersed a smaller pot in the water, just deep enough to cover the bottom of the pot. The chocolate then melted beautifully and perfectly smooth. Success!

candy bark for halloween

halloween candy bark

I wish all the little ghosts and goblins in your life a very Happy Hallowe'en!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Cream of Potato, Leek and Mushroom Soup with Herbed French Loaf

The cold and blustery days of autumn are here, and that means just one thing: it's soup season! This was my first time making a traditional creamed soup, so I had to look around the Internet for a little bit of inspiration first. This recipe was loosely inspired by Taste of Home. A word of warning: although this is made from pure, wholesome ingredients, it is very heavy on the cream and butter. It just wouldn't be so delicious any other way!

What you'll need:

  • 1 organic portobello mushroom
  • 1/2 pound each of organic button and crimini mushrooms
  • 3 large carrots, cut into coin shapes
  • 5 cups peeled, diced potatoes
  • 1 large leek
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tsp red chilli powder
  • 6 cups of organic vegetable stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream (I used Half & Half coffee cream)
  • 1/4 cup flour
For the garnish:

  • fresh cracked pepper
  • thinly sliced leek 
In a frying pan, saute the onions and garlic in coconut oil (or any oil of your choice) for at least half an hour, until they are completely soft and translucent. If you've been following me for awhile, you'll know that this is the starting point for every single one of my recipes! It's always all about the onions! In your large soup pot, add the carrots and chopped leek to a little bit of oil and saute until tender. Add the onions and garlic and stir well before pouring the vegetable stock into the pot. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil, adding a little bit of salt and the red chilli powder to taste.

To the pan that you used to sauted the onions and garlic, add a generous tablespoon of butter and saute the mushrooms (sliced thickly) until tender, but still chewy (to get that 'meaty' taste and texture). You can use any mushroom combination you desire, but I used portobello, button and crimini (delicious!). Add mushrooms to the soup pan and let simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes fall apart when stuck with a fork and the flavours are well combined.

In a small bowl, mix one cup of heavy cream and then slowly add 1/4 cup of flour, stirring vigorously so there are no lumps. Add this mixture gradually to the soup, stirring well. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and let thicken for about 15 minutes. Garnish with freshly cracked pepper and thinly sliced leeks to add a touch of colour. I served the soup with a nice, thick slice of fresh out of the oven herbed french loaf, and my family ate like they hadn't seen food before. Overall, a successful weekday supper.

***I had used organic, low-sodium vegetable stock and I'm not gonna lie, I added a lot of salt as I was going along. Next time I won't bother with the low-sodium; sometimes you just need to prioritize flavour.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Pumpkin, Red Lentil and Caramelized Onion Risotto

It's national pumpkin day! Knowing that the Internet would be filled today with the gorgeous photos and recipes of fellow food bloggers' pumpkin spice delicacies, I thought I'd experiment with a savoury pumpkin dish. 

We love risotto! Or, as my daughter calls it, sticky rice. If you've read a few of my posts, you'll know that I'm a big one for experimenting with whatever ingredients we have available in our kitchen. So, this delightfully gooey and sticky rice is accented with nutritious pumpkin, red lentils, tomato and caramelized onion. I have garnished with a garlic infused thick yoghurt (Middle Eastern labaneh or Central Asian chaka) drizzle and a sprinkling of dried mint powder. A tiny bit of Sriracha and fresh coriander finishes off this fragrant dish very nicely.

What you'll need for the rice:

  • 2 cups of Arborio sticky rice, rinsed well
  • 4 1/2 cups of vegetable stock (or more, depending on how many other ingredients you choose to add)
  • 1 cup of red lentils, soaked (or however much you'd like - this is how much I had in the cupboard)
  • 1 small pumpkin (probably about 6 cups cubed)
  • 3 tbsp organic tomato paste
  • 4 medium onions
  • 2 tsp organic coconut pill

What you'll need for the garnish:

  • 1 cup labaneh, chaka or thick Greek style plain yoghurt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp water, or as required to reach desired consistency
  • dried mint powder
  • Sriracha, to taste
  • fresh coriander (parsley would work too)

Start by cutting the pumpkin in half and scooping out the seeds. Then cut it in quarters and bake on a cookie sheet at 425F for approximately one hour, or until the flesh is a golden brown and curling at the edges. When nicely baked, it will be easy to peel. Peel, then cut into nice thick cubes (one inch by one inch at least) and add to a large soup pot.

While the pumpkin is baking, chop the onions and sauté in organic coconut oil (or any oil you'd like to use) for at least 40 minutes, until the onions are completely translucent, but not yet caramelized. Add 3 tbsp of organic tomato paste (or even some organic marinara sauce if you happen to have an open bottle in the fridge) and bring to a gentle bubble and let it cook for at least 20 minutes. The tomatoes in the paste or the marinara sauce will begin to release their own oils, turning the coconut oil a beautiful orangey brown colour. The onions will now be caramelized just beautifully. Add the tomato-onion mixture to the pot with the baked pumpkin. 

Add the rice rice to the pumpkin and tomato-onion mixture, then the soaked lentils. Pour in 3 cups of the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Stir very well, making sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pot, then reduce to the lowest heat and let simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. You will likely need to add more liquid, depending on how much pumpkin/how many lentils you added. I actually had to add more stock 3 times, for a total of 4 1/2 cups of liquid. Be sure to stir occasionally so that the rice doesn't stick to the bottom.

You'll know it is ready when the rice has swelled to several times its original size, is very sticky and soft when tasted.

While the rice is simmering, mix one cup of labaneh, chaka or Greek yoghurt with a few tbsp of water and the garlic cloves. Mix very well until you've reached your desired consistency. We like it liquid-y enough that when poured on it spreads naturally across the rice and drips onto the plate. It's just fantastic! 

Serve the risotto, pour on some of your yoghurt sauce, then sprinkle with some dried mint powder, squirt on some Sriracha and finish it off with a beautifully fragrant stem of coriander.

Enjoy, and Happy National Pumpkin Day!

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Thanksgiving Biryani

If you read my last post, you may remember that we aren't big fans of the traditional turkey dinner around here (because it's so much work!), choosing instead to have salmon for our special Thanksgiving meal. A few years ago - before that fateful Thanksgiving when the turkey was still frozen, the stuffing was mushy, the potatoes were lumpy and we looked at each other, shook our heads and asked "why are we doing this?" - I was experimenting with some creative ways to use turkey leftovers.

The recipe below, which I've called Thanksgiving Biryani is a really tasty way to fuse South Asian flavours with an all-time favourite North American turkey dinner. Except now I use either turkey or chicken and make this dish year round. It is hearty, flavourful and very quick to make.

What you'll need:

  • Chicken or Turkey (I used half of a roasted chicken from the local grocer's this time, both the light and the dark meat)
  • 2 cups of rice (I use parboiled basmati rice)
  • 2 boxes of StoveTop stuffing (or homemade leftovers if you have them)
  • 2 tbsp organic coconut oil
  • 6 medium, or 3 large onions
  • 5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ground each of ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and red chilli powder
  • Vegetable or chicken stock (quantity will depend on how the type of rice you use, but for parboiled basmati rice I used 4.5 cups of stock)
Preheat oven to 425F.

Begin by heating up your frying pan on the burner. Add in the coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala and red chilli powder and let gently roast to release the flavour and fragrance. Stir constantly because the idea here is not to burn the spices, but just to gently release their flavour. Continue by sautéing the onions and garlic in coconut oil in the same pan as the gently dry roasted spices.  I sauté the onions and garlic for a really long time - sometimes for up to an hour - until they are so soft they can be easily cut by a fork or spoon and are completely translucent (but not brown or caramelized). This step can cause some distress in the kitchen if you're pressed for time: it is not necessary, but I find the longer you can let those onions cook, the better the meal will taste. 

While the onions and garlic are sautéing, soak and rinse your rice, then finely shred your chicken (or turkey). In a separate pot, make two packages of StoveTop stuffing as per the instructions. Prepare your stock or broth.

In a large casserole dish, spread the rice across the bottom. Add the sautéed onions and garlic and mix well. Evenly distribute the shredded chicken/turkey across the rice, then gently spread the stuffing on top of the chicken and rice, being sure to cover all areas. Pour the stock into the casserole dish in slow circles so that the liquid spreads throughout the dish to cover all of the ingredients. Reserve some of the stock in case you need to add more.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil, then place in the centre rack of the oven and let cook at 425F for at least one hour. Check every 20 minutes or so to see how the rice is cooking and whether or not more stock should be added. I find that I often need to add a little bit more liquid, especially to the corners. The trick is to make sure that the rice gets fully cooked, while not turning the stuffing into a liquid mush. 

Serve with a side salad of your choice. This dish is a delightfully delicious twist on traditional thanksgiving leftovers: a fragrant turkey - biryani fusion which is made unbelievably tender and moist by the layer of StoveTop stuffing.

The garnish would be a matter of personal taste preference. For a traditional flavour, one could top with cranberry sauce. For a more biryani-style garnish, one could add mint or mango chutney, or even a quick and easy yoghurt and cucumber sauce (raita). 


Friday, 14 October 2016

Thanksgiving Crispy Sriracha Almond Salmon Bake

We're not very fond of spending the whole day cooking a traditional turkey dinner in our house, so Thanksgiving always presents us with a creative challenge. This year, while being on maternity leave and pinching our pennies, I decided that - holiday be damned - I'd continue my challenge of using everything in the fridge and cupboard before buying any more groceries. I found a beautiful bag of wild pacific salmon burgers in the freezer, and knew that these would take centre stage, but also knew that I didn't want to use them as burgers.

The other key ingredients I rounded up for this delightful dish:

  • 1 box of organic baby spinach
  • 1 each, red and yellow bell pepper
  • 10 large white mushrooms
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 2 onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 jar of Kirkland brand organic tomato basil marinara sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of smokey BBQ sauce (I later added a third tbsp and 2 tsp of red chilli powder)
  • 3 tablespoons of Sriracha sauce
  • 1 cup of organic vegetable broth
I began, as I do with most of our dishes, by sautéing the onion, garlic and ginger in coconut oil and a teaspoon of salt, for about 40 minutes until completely soft and translucent (but not caramelized). I then added the full jar of organic marinara sauce, stirred in the Sriracha, BBQ sauce and organic vegetable broth, and let gently bubble away on the stove for about 20 minutes before adding in all of the vegetables. A quick taste test revealed that it needed a little bit of a kick, so I added one more tbsp of BBQ sauce and some red chilli powder, then I then let it all simmer together for about one hour. Remember that this was a holiday meal, so there was plenty of time to let it simmer and bring out all of the flavours. A 10 minute simmer would be just fine for a weeknight, even if not quite as rich and flavourful.

I had defrosted the salmon burgers (even though they said cook from frozen), and I chopped them and added them into the sauce for the last five minutes of simmering. I didn't want to overcook the fish, because there is nothing more unpleasant than rubbery seafood.

While the sauce was slowly filling up my house with the most incredible smells, I searched for an interesting alternative to a breadcrumb topping. I poured about one cup of almonds into the Vitamix and gently pulsed them, then added them to a bowl of crushed up President's Choice Sriracha potato chips (about 1 cup of potato chips) and about half a cup of crispy fried onions. I added just a teaspoon of olive oil so that the topping would brown in the oven.

I am not very good at tracking quantities (I should set an alarm or something to remind myself to take notes!), but there was probably somewhere between 4 - 6 cups of cooked elbow macaroni that I mixed in with the marinara sauce and vegetables. I poured it into a casserole pan and then pressed the almond topping onto the top, and popped it into the oven for about one hour (covered for half an hour and uncovered for the last half hour) at 400F.

It was an incredibly delicious Thanksgiving meal: a delightfully deep and nutty, yet crunchy topping to a smokey and spicy pasta. My husband topped his with more Sriracha and a garlic yoghurt sauce (which is called Chaka across Central Asia), and it was truly incredible. This recipe, fully of protein and hardy vegetables, is a keeper.

Do you have a turkey alternative you'd like to share?

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Maple Sriracha Peanut Tofu Stir Fry

Sriracha seems to be the theme of the week at my house! Seriously, though, we can't get enough of its tangy, zippy taste. I woke up craving a peanut-y Asian flavour, so today I experimented with four of my favourite ingredients; if our cupboards are bare, there will still be maple syrup, peanut butter, Sriracha and tofu. For this dish I used two 350g packages of organic extra firm tofu.

My tofu preparation is always the same: I rinse it, press it and dry it with a paper towel, cube it and bake it on a lightly oiled cookie sheet for half an hour. Baking the tofu first gets it ready to really soak up the marinade. While the tofu was baking, I prepared the marinade. As you'll have already gathered if you're read a few posts, I'm not really big on measurements. I just add things as I go along and if something doesn't taste quite right, I'll just add a bit of something else until it balances out. However, this is roughly what I ended up using:

  • 4 Tbsp Soy Sauce (I had only dark soy sauce which is why the sauce looks a bit like a mole in the photo above)
  • 4 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 2Tbsp Sriracha (Rooster Sauce)
  • 6 Tbsp Peanut Butter (I just used what I had on hand, which was Kraft smooth. Most chefs would likely call for all-natural peanut butter so as not to have salt and sugar interfere with the other flavours, but this turned out just awesome anyway.)
  • 4 Tbsp Maple Syrup
  • 5 Tbsp hot water with two generous squirts of Bovril liquid chicken stock (normally I would use organic Better Than Bouillon but I was all out and the Bovril was on sale at Safeway today.) 

I whisked all of these ingredients together, then put the bowl in the microwave to warm it up just enough that the peanut butter started to melt. Then I took it out and whisked it vigorously for a few minutes until the marinade was creamy, but silky smooth. The tofu had baked for half an hour at this point, so I added the tofu to the marinade bowl and tossed it well, until each cube was coated in the sauce. I then put it in the fridge for 8 hours to let all of the flavours soak in (this step is not necessary, but I was up very early this morning and thought I'd get the meal prep done before my day started).

Later in the afternoon, I sauteed a two-inch piece of grated fresh ginger, three garlic cloves and one medium onion in 2 tsp of avocado oil. I then added 10 thinly sliced mushrooms, and half each of a yellow and red bell pepper. Once all of the vegetables were softened, I added about 6 tbs of the tofu marinade and cooked until evaporated and the vegetables were sticky.

I removed the vegetables from the wok, scraped it out and then added a teaspoon of sesame oil, just for a little bit of extra Asian flavour. I then poured in the tofu and marinade and let it cook gently. At first I thought, oh no!, because there was so much sauce it was like a soup, but after a gentle simmer for ten minutes the peanut butter had released its delicious oils and the sauce had thickened into a delightful, sticky, outstanding sauce. After about 15 minutes, the marinade had completely reduced and I added back in the vegetables, mixing gently until all combined. I served it with an Afghan parboiled basmati rice, making this dish a SouthEast-Central Asian fusion.

It was absolutely delicious: creamy, tangy, spicy and sweet all at the same time.

What would I change next time? I will definitely make sure I have light soy sauce on hand next time, because the sauce was pretty dark and the soy did emerge as a slightly more dominant flavour. Personally, I enjoy this type of dish most when the peanut flavour ties with the chili flavour for first place. I'd also crush some roasted peanuts on top, but I didn't have any today. Nevertheless, it was a delicious, relatively speedy meal which is perfect for a weekday supper. There are even enough leftovers for two lunches tomorrow! The total dish cost less than $10 in total, so with dinner and lunch for two people, that's a total of 4 meals at roughly $2.50 each. Delicious, made from scratch, and inexpensive.That's a win, win, win.

Have fun experimenting with your own variation of this meal.

*This recipe was adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Butternut Squash Soup

Nothing like a hearty vegetable soup to nurse a sick household back to health. The first flu of the autumn has struck us all down, and my daughter made a special request for something soft and warm in her tummy.

My soup style is to use up whatever I have on hand. A soup is a place where you can be wholly experimental and it usually turns out wonderful.

I started off by deseeding and then baking a whole butternut squash for an hour until it was a warm golden colour. I then made my stock with 3 large carrots, 4 medium yellow potatoes, 3 celery sticks, 4 cloves of haroic a half inch piece of fresh ginger and two large onions (I sautéed the tumeric, cumin, coriander,  onions, garlic, ginger, celery and carrots in coconut oil in a separate pan first). I then added a few teaspoons of organic chicken Better Than Bouillon, then mixed in the baked squash and let the soup gently roll to a boil before simmering for about three hours. You can of course use the crockpot for this, but I used a large stock pot on the stovetop.

Once the soup was done, I blended it with a handheld blender and then topped it with a tablespoon of reduced coconut milk, raw diced onions,  roasted almonds and crispy fried fresh sage.

With a piece of my homemade chilli cornbread, it was a perfect meal that put a little colour in all of our grey cheeks.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Using Up What's in the Fridge: A Frugal Twist on Afghan Borekai

The first snow fell today. It is grey and cold and miserable out there. The kind of day that begs for comfort food.

It was also the kind of day when you come home tired and cranky to an empty fridge. This normally calls for ordering pizza, but in our quest to keep our food bill down, we decided we would just make do. 

Here is what we had: one onion, two sweet potatoes, mushrooms, green cabbage, celery and a can of salmon. With some flour in the cupboard, we settled on a slightly creative version of Afghan Borekai. Borekai, which is the Pashto word for a common Afghan dish (known in the Dari as Bolani) is typically filled with either a potato or a leek filling, but occasionally in the autumn pumpkin can be used as well. (See my earlier recipe for cauliflower and cilantro bolani).

We pressure cooked everything together except the mushrooms and salmon. Mashed it altogether, then added a little tomato paste, ground coriander (tastier if you if you have fresh), salt, pepper, smoked paprika, crushed red chilli peppers and olive oil. Then added the salmon and very finely chopped mushrooms and combined thoroughly.

At the same time as we were pressure cooking, we were making the dough. Since It was getting late we used our Kitchen Aid mixer (LOVE it!), but if you have more time you can use a bread machine, or make your own, too.

We Rolled the dough into very thin circles, roughly the size of a personal pizza. Spread the filling generously on one half, then folded them over into crescent moons.

We put a tiny bit of butter onto a hot cast iron skillet and cooked until lightly browned. Topped it with a pure, thick yogurt  (Greek style, or a chaka/laban) and some parsley, but you could use any greens you have on hand.

A pure delight on a cold autumn day.

The next morning, we found a creative use for the leftovers by topping them with fried eggs and onions. Such a tasty and filling breakfast, the perfect fuel for my daughter to go out and play in the snow.