Before I get to today’s recipe, I just wanted to say “thank you” for your kind comments, emails and tweets about the new Simply Gluten Free Magazine! I’m thrilled to be an Associate Editor handling vegan recipes for the magazine. If you haven’t heard about it yet, head over to the website to learn more! I’m really looking forward to the inaugural issue in November.
And now, on to today’s food! This is the dish that prompted me to want to explore my cultural heritage. I mean, my dad was born in Poland (I don’t speak Polish; never been there) and my mom’s family was originally from Russia (I don’t speak Russian; never been there), and it feels like high time I learned more about the different peoples from whom I am descended.
In fact, the closest ties I have with either of those countries is (a) the knowledge of a few corny (and decidely non-PC) jokes; and (b) a taste for Stolichnaya and a decades-old crush on Mikhail Baryshnikov, respectively. This salad seemed the perfect vehicle to get in touch with my roots–both literally and figuratively–in a more direct way.
Then, a few weeks ago, I came across a similar recipe (this time called venegret) on Stephanie’s blog. Stephanie pointed out that the salad hails from both the Ukraine and Russia, where it is pretty much a staple throughout the year. At that point, I could practically hear my ancestors’ voices imploring me: “Dahlink, just make it already!” (not sure how Zsa Zsa Gabor insinuated herself among my Russian ancestors, but whatever). Besides, who can deny Zsa Zsa’s their ancestors’ wishes?
Although it’s not a typical summer dish, the vinegret certainly fulfils my intention to consume more salads this summer, and it would be a perfect dish to replace the standard potato salad at a BBQ. The original version features boiled root veggies (sometimes in the same pot, sometimes not), chopped, and tossed with a few accompaniments, including chopped dill pickles with their juices (other recipes include sauerkraut, which I added as well). Note that the entire thing is rendered a brilliant fuschia fairly quickly after mixing; I snapped the photos here before allowing the vinegret to sit and the colors to meld.
I knew from the ingredient list alone that I’d love the vinegret (was it pre-programmed into my Polish/Russian genes?). The combination of starchy potatoes, sweet beet and carrot with the pungency of the pickle brine (used here instead of vinegar in the dressing), the aromatic dill and sweetness of the peas was a perfect flavor medley for my palate.
I served this up to the HH without offering any genealogical background, merely stating that it was a “new kind of potato salad.” After some initial hesitation, the familiarity and allure of the green peas convinced him to give it a try. And that’s when I discovered the cross-cultural appeal of the vinegret as well: even with his own Scottish-English heritage, the HH was more than happy to polish off his plateful.
Of course, there’s still loads more for me to learn, but this dish was a good start. All I can say is, Spasibo, Zsa Zsa Grandma.
I was a bit skeptical when I first dug into this salad, but after the first bite, I understood what the fuss was all about. With naturally fermented pickles (and juice), this salad provides a great hit of probiotics as well as a tangy, unusual flavor blend.
1 large beet, peeled and diced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 med carrots, peeled and diced
1 cup (240 ml) cooked peas
1 large or 2 med dill pickles, chopped fine
2 Tbsp-1/4 cup (30-60 ml) pickle juice, to your taste
1/3 cup (80 ml) sauerkraut, with a bit of juice (ie, don’t drain too well)
10 drops plain liquid stevia
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh chopped dill
2-3 green onions, sliced
3 Tbsp (45 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
fine sea salt, to taste
Peel the potato, carrot and beet, and cook separately (to retain colors) in boiling water until just tender, 10-20 minutes each (the beet will likely take the longest). Drain and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, place remaining ingredients in a large bowl and toss lightly to combine. Add the cooled root vegetables and stir to coat with the dressing, until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Serve at room temperature or cold. Makse 4-6 servings. Store, covered, in the refrigerator up to 2 days.
This month’s SOS (Sweet or Savory) Kitchen Challenge asked readers to whip up dishes with spinach, and wow, did you ever take on this challenge with gusto! We received a dozen fantastic, creative recipes to try that all highlight the super-healthy leafy green. And yes, a few desserts are included as well!
Thanks to everyone who entered the challenge this month. As always, if you’ve submitted a recipe and I forgot to include it here, please let me know asap so I can add it to the list.
Here’s what’s on the menu with spinach:
THE SAVORY CONTRIBUTIONS:
Our very first entry was from Janet at Taste Space (Toronto) –a colorful and delicious Quinoa and Butternut Squash Spinach Salad with Cranberry and Pear. Well, I think the title tells you everything you need to know–doesn’t that just sound delectable? This savory salad is also a bit sweet with the pear and cranberries. Suitable for gluten free, vegan, sugar free, egg free and dairy free diets.
Jacqueline of Tinned Tomatoes (Dundee, Scotland) offers up a great recipe for Spicy Spinach and Potato Curry adapted from a recipe she found in one huge tome of a cookbook. Her pics look great (and check out the gratuitious cuteness of her new baby, Cooper!) This recipe is suitable for gluten free, soy-free, vegan, and ACD diets (contains coconut milk).
Kiersten from Full of Beans (Charlotte, NC )’s vegan Coconut Curried Chickpeas and Spinach looks like the perfect quick weekday dinner. I love a good curry, and with chickpeas AND spinach, you can’t go wrong with this one! Vegan, soy-free, gluten free, ACD-friendly and otherwise nut-free.
She also “uncooked” some gorgeously green Spinach-Hemp Flatbreads on which to spread it. Unlike many other dehydrated flatbreads, these remain soft, perfect for sandwiches. These both are vegan, dairy free, gluten free, raw, and sugar free.
Mom at the Gluten-Free Edge (Georgetown, Texas) decided that her Spinach Mushroom Pie should undergo a vegan revamp for this month’s entry! This is her remake of a long-time favorite recipe, and it worked out beautifully. The recipe is gluten free and vegan.
Chaya from The Comfy Cook is back this month with a fabulous Oriental Rice Pizza. This savory dish is filled with veggies and is a snap to make with its rice-based crust. It’s gluten free, sugar free and dairy free.
Johanna of Green Gourmet Giraffe (Melbourne, Australia) offers a cheezy spinach-based soup this month with her Pumpkin, Bean and Spinach Soup. While the recipe itself looks delicious, half the fun of the recipe is Johanna’s recounting of the experimentation that led her to it. And doesn’t the concept of tofu croutons just sound fabulous?
Valerie of City Life Eats (Washington, DC) has created a Lemony Spinach Pepita Pesto. With a unique combination of ingredients, this pesto would be delicious on more than just pasta. It’s gluten free, vegan, nut free, sugar free and ACD-friendly.
Aubree Cherie, who blogs at Living Free (Kennett Square, PA), decided to move out of her usual spinach zone with these Almond Spinach Biscuits. A great savory biscuit with a hint of sweet (dried cranberries), these treats were gobbled up by her significant other in no time. Definitely a fun (and delicious) recipe. Gluten free, sugar free, vegan and ACD-friendly.
My event partner, Kim at Affairs of Living, cooked up a fabulous Creamy Spinach and Celeriac Soup for those days when you crave something rich and healthy at the same time. The recipe is vegan, gluten free, sugar free, ACD friendly, soy free and nut free.
My savory contribution this month is a Classic Tofu Quiche recipe that I’ve had for years but never thought to post. The millet crust helps to make it quick, easy, and delicious! It’s gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
THE SWEET CONTRIBUTIONS (Yes, even spinach has a sweet side!):
Rachel from My Munchable Musings (WA) treated us to two sweet recipes this month! First up are these Spring Picnic Cupcakes, her take on the classic Strawberry and Spinach Salad–in a sweet mini confection! She’s also included a great bit of additional history and nutritional information about spinach here. These are wheat free, sugar free and vegan.
Rachel also created these adorable Green Thumb Print Cookies, that are gluten free! I love how the strawberry sits perfectly in the thumb print–seriously yummy looking. These are gluten free, sugar free and vegan.
Kim’s second contribution this month is her Invisible Spinach Smoothie. While you may have enjoyed smoothies with spinach before, this quick and easy recipe contains another veggie that you might not expect. Vegan, ACD-friendly, gluten free.
Finally, my sweet contribution is this Green Monster Muffin. Based on the concept of green smoothies, these muffins offer up spinach in a slightly sweet, hearty breakfast baked good. I’ve used chopped apples, but you could add in raisins or even chocolate chips to the mix if you like. Vegan, sugar free, gluten free.
Thanks again to everyone who played along this month. Enjoy these recipes until next month, when Kim–our hostess for June’s Challenge–will announce the new SOS ingredient.
[I thought it would be fun to run a little series over here at DDD: I'll profile one one of my favorite foods, or a food that I've recently discovered and enjoyed, over several days. The series is presented on an occasional (and entirely arbitrary) basis, before I move on to the next lucky comestible. This is the fourth entry on apples.]
After reading all your comments about the Apple and Red Wine Soup the other day, I began to wonder if perhaps I’d been a tad hasty in my panegyric to the soup. Was I too effusive in my praise? I mean, it’s just soup, right? And soup is just food. So what if it has caramelized onions in it? Onions, soft and browing at the edges, infusing the room with their sweet, enticing aroma. And apples, sautéed to golden, yielding perfection, tart and tender and melding with those onions. Oh, and let’s not forget the added piquancy of red wine–a good, hearty, robust wine that would be great on its own, but added to the soup, it creates a rich, thick, beguiling first course—heck, forget that apology! I LOVE THAT SOUP.
Okay. I am now done with the soup. Promise.
But before I move to the main course, I wanted to say “THANKS” for an award from Ashley at Eat Me, Delicious–I’ve been so focused on apples that I forgot to mention it last time! Thanks so much, Ashley, for the “One Lovely Blog Award”! It is much appreciated (and you know I’d love to cook meals for you–come visit!) I’m supposed to pass this along, but there are so many blogs I love to read that I really can’t choose. I mean, that would be like choosing between Elsie and Chaser. And isn’t “demure, gentle and sweet” just as appealing as “wacky, hilarious and in-your-face”? Each has its own charms. And so, you are all Lovely Blogs!
I know, you’re thinking, “Okay, so now can we eat that main course?!” Mais, oui, bien sur!
To be honest, this dish was originally intended as an appetizer or side dish, but the “real” main course I attempted a few nights ago was, shall we say, never going to earn a star on the Culinary Wok of Fame. I’ve got a new one in the works, and if it’s a success, we’ll relegate today’s recipe to the back of the table and I’ll post about a new main. Otherwise, it’s time to dig in to terrine!
Whenever I take to whining and whinging about the frigid winters here in Toronto, some smart aleck inevitably pipes up, “But you’re from Montreal! How can you not like winter?!” Well, take it from me, bud, just because you’re born somewhere doesn’t guarantee that you love the climate. (Do you think the polar bears at the Florida Zoo feel like sunbathing?)
And it’s not just the weather (though for the life of me, I will never understand the appeal of minus 30C, snow up to your waist, icicles dangling from your scarf, or having to wear those metal cleats on the bottom of your boots to prevent falling flat on your derrière when you walk two dogs every afternoon). No, it’s also the unrelenting gloom (today’s forecast: gray. Tomorrow: dark gray. After that: whitish gray. Next day: deep gray–etc.), the ridiculous quantity of layers required to prevent frostbite of the extremities; the woolen toques that flatten your hair in thin, swirly wisps that adhere to your forehead; the traffic at a near-standstill every time it snows; the ever-shorter window of daylight, when darkness slams down in a matter of seconds, like a guillotine.
So it’s not an exaggeration to say that I seriously dislike cold. Which works out pretty poorly for me every year between, say, mid-October and the beginning of May. But it worked out extremely well, on the other hand, for this potato terrine.
A while back I spied a recipe for a layered potato terrine with apple and camembert cheese and decided to create my own version, with potato, apple and my favorite goat “cheese” (since, as you may have guessed by now, I’m a little bit obsessed with that cheese). So far, so good.
While the process was fairly involved, it wasn’t difficult, and I had no trouble assembling all the ingredients, layering them in the pan, allowing them “settle” overnight or unmolding the terrine the next day. I was pleased with the fairly compact slices, even without the inclusion of melty camembert to bind them together.
The HH and I sat down, ready and eager to dig in to our (cold) first course. A tentative first bite, and then. . . I pushed the plate away. It wasn’t awful; just nondescript: white on white on off-white on beige (well, it did sort of resemble snow that way. . . ). Curses!
But then it occurred to me–maybe it was those cold potatoes? Great in a salad, but in a terrine. . . well, not so much. I grabbed the plates and popped them in the oven to heat through. Ten minutes later, the HH and I were digging in to a wonderfully warm medley of sweet and salty, with tender spuds offering a perfect base for rich cheese and tart apple. Warmed up, this dish really excelled, appealing to the palate in a way that was entirely lacking in the cold version.
The terrine could serve as a delicious main course alongside a crisp side salad (maybe something like the first one in this post), or some bright, barely steamed broccoli or green beans to add color and textural interest.
And while I know the dish was really intended to be served chilled, I much prefer my version. Like everything else at this time of year, I simply couldn’t abide the cold.
To all my American readers and friends, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
“Um, Mum, what did you mean by ‘in-your-face’? That sounds annoying to me, Mum. As if I keep badgering you when I want to play ball, or as if I whine a lot when I want to play frisbee, or as if I howl at you when you sit at your desk trying to blog because I want you to toss my pull-toy, or as if I nip Elsie’s face and ears when I want her to play with me, which is pretty much all of the–”
While it does require a bit of advance preparation, this is a lovely dish to wow the guests. Unmold the whole terrine on a platter, then slice in thick pieces at the table.
1 recipe Cashew Goat Cheese (or your favorite cheese–one that melts would, in fact, be even better in this recipe)
about 2 pounds (1 kg) new potatoes, peeled
3 granny smith apples
2-4 Tbsp (30-60 ml) coconut oil or other light-tasting oil, preferably organic
2 Tbsp (30 ml) chopped fresh parsley
freshly ground pepper
Line an 8″ (20 cm) loaf pan with waxed paper and set aside.
Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water until just soft, about 15 minutes. Drain and cool.
Once the potatoes are cool, cut them into thick disks about 1/2″ (1 cm) thick. Heat about 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat; cook the potatoes until just golden, then turn and cook the other side, adding more oil as necessary. Remove to a plate that has been lined with paper towels to drain.
Core and slice the apples into 1/4″ (5 mm) thick rounds. Heat another 1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut oil in the pan and cook the apple until golden but not mushy. Drain on paper towel.
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Arrange a layer of the potatoes in the pan, then top with a layer of apples and a layer of cheese (you can try to spread the cheese over the apples, or just place dollops of it evenly across the surface). Sprinkle with half the parsley. Repeat the layers, then finish with a final layer of potatoes.
Cover the pan with foil, sealing well. Bake in preheated oven until heated through, 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Place a piece of cardboard on top of the foil covering the pan, and put weights over the cardboard (I used cans of tomatoes) to compress the layers. Refrigerate overnight. Unmold and slice into thick slices to serve cold. To serve warm, remove cans, cardboard, and foil; reheat in 350F (180C) oven for about 20 minutes, until warmed through before slicing. Makes 4-6 servings as a main course, or 6-8 as a side dish. Best eaten within 2 days.
[Thanks to everyone who entered the Simply Bar giveaway! I apologize for never learning how to capture and post the Random.org page with the winning number, but I promise you it was number 46--which translates to Eve of A Tale of Two Vegans! Congrats, Eve! Please email me with your mailing address so we can get your bars out to you asap!]
Well, you know what they say. . . the best laid plans sometimes go AWOL (or something like that). In my case, plans for the Labor Day weekend–well, Sunday, actually–were waylaid by an impromptu visit. . . to the emergency room.
No, not for me. The HH, however, is still recovering (and he’ll be fine, thankfully). We had planned to have our friends Nutritionista and her hubby over for appetizers and drinks in the evening, so the HH was conscientiously outside in the early afternoon (I was prepping for back to school), pulling weeds and mowing the lawn. About midway through the task, he walked slowly into the house and stood, immobile, in the hallway.
“Are you done already?” I asked. (The HH hates lawn work and I figured he’d done a haphazard job just to get it over with.)
“Um, no,” he replied. “But I think maybe we need to go to the hospital.”
Not exactly the words you want to hear emanating from your honey’s lips as you’re peeling potatoes.
While pushing the (non-electric) mower, he’d been arrested by a sudden shower of brownish “floaters” (cloudy specs, strands or cobweb-like images that float across the field of vision, originating from within the eye). He said it looked as if someone had poured balsamic vinegar over oil, or splattered mud all over a windshield–and he couldn’t see clearly through the mess.
And so, emergency room it was.
I mean, really–the lengths that HH will go to, just to get out of doing his chores!
Most floaters are a normal outcome of cells in the vitreous layer (the jelly-like fluid inside the eye) drying out and separating from the vitreous as people get older. Normally, they are no more than a mild nuisance, most visible when you look at light backgrounds such as white paper or a clear blue sky. As someone who’s nearsighted, I have floaters undulating across my field of vision on a regular basis–but mine are fairly inobtrusive, mostly resembling tiny jelllyfish-like creatures that swoosh and sway benignly. (To see a cool example of what floaters look like, check this page–scroll down to the blue box on the bottom right hand side.)
After five hours in emerg, the HH was finally examined by a doctor, only to be told that they didn’t have an opthalmologist on call at that particular hospital. With so few opthalmologists to go around, they rotated their on-call sites each weekend (Americans, are you sure you want Canadian-style health care? Really??). So off we drove to the second hospital, 20 minutes away. There, we were met by a young doctor whom we’d obviously wrenched from a family Labor Day event, still in his polo T and stonewashed jeans. He led the HH to an examining room in an otherwise deserted part of the hospital (the place was already closed for the weekend), then into an anteroom for laser surgery, to repair two large tears in the HH’s retina. The brown floaters were signs of bleeding behind the eye!
It’s times like those that I wonder, what did we do before modern technology? Within 15 minutes, the rips had been repaired, the bleeding stopped, and the HH released with a bottle of anti-inflammatory eye drops and no exterior signs of trauma . While there is always a chance that the tear will progress to a detached retina (a big-deal emergency in which major surgery would be invoked), the kind doc reassured us that things looked pretty good in the HH’s vitreous, and set up a follow up appointment this week. Whew!
Needless to say, our friends didn’t come over that evening. I had, however, planned to serve some really ingenious appetizers. I thought I’d serve them to all of you instead–well, virtually, anyway.
You may recall my love affair with cashew goat cheese a while back.** I’ve been eating the stuff every which way you can imagine, including spread on raw collard leaves for wraps, on plain coconut flour biscuits for breakfast, in blobs on salads, and straight from the container. Another favorite is in jalapeno poppers.
My poppers are an ACD-friendly version of a bar snack I shared with a friend years ago in a pub in Welland. The originals involved cream cheese filling, a breaded coating and some heavy duty deep frying. This version is much more civilized, simply roasted jalapenos filled with a hefty spoonful of ”goat cheese”–no recipe required!
I must warn you, however, that if you don’t have asbestos lips as I do (these were far too hot for the HH’s palate–after a tiny taste, he threw the pepper back on the plate, spat out the morsel that had made it inside his mouth, and drank half a beer in one gulp), you might want to try these with Cubanelles, poblanos or another slightly milder, yet still relatively small, pepper. Part of the appeal of poppers, I think, is that they can be consumed in two or three bites.
The other appetizer I’d planned to serve was a twist on bruschetta, made with thick rounds of roasted potato instead of the bread. I topped these with homemade pesto using basil from our garden, chopped tomatoes (also from the garden, thereby depleting our entire harvest of FOUR tomatoes this year), a drizzle of olive oil and a few more shreds of basil. The final result was a little miracle of synergy.
With a slightly crisp exterior and creamy, still warm interior, the potatoes offered a perfect base for the bruschetta. Each bite presented a medley of temperatures and textures, the firm rounds highlighted with smooth, fragrant pesto and slurpy, ripe tomato. The HH and I actually consumed the entire batch (about 15 pieces) in one sitting as our late-night dinner, before toppling into bed.
To those of you who read about the HH’s ordeal on twitter or Facebook, thanks for all the good wishes. His eyes will be fine–though, after that bite of Jalapeno Popper, I think his lips may need a little more recovery time.
AND IF YOU’RE IN THE TORONTO AREA. . . Please drop by and see me at the annual Vegetarian Food Fair at Harbourfront on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13! I’ll be demonstrating recipes fromSweet Freedom and handing out samples of both–Maple Walnut Cookies (Saturday) and Butterscotch Blondies (Sunday). Come on over and say “hi”!
Try this simple appetizer next time you’re entertaining guests. The potatoes hold up remarkably well, and won’t absorb the moisture from the topping the way toast rounds would.
3-4 large round (rather than oval) potatoes, washed and cut into disks about 1/2″ (1 cm) thick
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
fine sea salt, to taste
basil-pine nut pesto, as desired (I used about 3/4 cup or 180 ml)–you can use homemade or store bought
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, diced
more extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic, for drizzling
2-3 leaves fresh basil, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Put potatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle with the olive oil and sea salt to taste. Toss with your (clean) hands until potatoes are evenly coated. Place the rounds on the cookie sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, until tender and beginning to brown on the edges. It’s nice if you can turn the disks over about halfway through, but not essential.
Once the potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven and allow to cool for 3-5 minutes until they are cool enough to handle, but still warm. Top each disk with 1-2 tsp (5-10 ml) of pesto, a good mound of tomato, a slice or two of basil, and a thin drizzle of olive oil. Serve while still warm or at room temperature. These are best eaten the day they’re made. Makes 15-18 appetizers.
** By now, I’ve made this goat cheese recipe so many times that I’ve worked out my own shortcut without compromising the texture or flavor. If I don’t have time for overnight soaking, I find that 6 hours will do. The original recipe also asks you to drain the mixture through cheesecloth for 12 hours. I’ve found that my cheese never releases any more liquid this way, so I simply mix up my cheese and bake it straightaway. I know it’s supposed to “age” during the overnight draining, but I’ve never noticed a difference in taste or texture when I took that extra step. The end result doesn’t seem to be harmed in any way by the alterations.
[Okay, so the post title is a bit obscure (I was alluding to Four Weddings and a Funeral)--but with the Oscars coming up in a couple of days, and with my having seen, hmmn, let's see--a total of "zero" of the movies, I wanted to make reference to that grand little Golden Guy in some way or other in this post. ]
Shindig One: The most recent celebration we enjoyed here in the DDD household was an intimate birthday dinner for my friend Eternal Optimist (consisting of just the EO, the HH, and me).We three enjoyed a spectacular, yet simple meal of Potato-Miso Soup (Alisa’s uniquely delicious recipe: satiny smooth, rich and slightly yeasty from the hint of miso–in fact, this was the second time I’ve made this in a week!); trusty Tagine of Quinoa with Chickpeas, Olives and Prunes (always a hit around here); garlic sautéed rapini and collards; and a special b-day cake (chocolate layers with sugar-free chocolate buttercream frosting (both from Sweet Freedom) and the Sweet Potato Frosting I wrote about a while back.
It was grand to spend a leisurely evening together fêting a dear friend. The EO also brought along her own pooch, another border collie cross, and The Girls were in heaven. (“We love having our friends over, too, Mum! Except next time, there should be a cake that we can eat as well.”)
Shindig Two: In addition to the birthday, the dinner was also occasion for a spontaneous mini-celebration in honor of the cookbook finally reaching the publisher. After numerous delays in formatting and glitches with the cover, it’s finally on its way! My publishing rep called yesterday to confirm that she received the files and their part of the book’s production will begin next week. YIPPPPPPEEEEEE!! (Of course, this means it will still take about three months before the book is in print, but it is out of my hands at this point). I can’t even begin to express what a relief that is! So we had a little toast in honor of Sweet Freedom last evening as well.
Shindig Three: Despite mountains of marking, I’ll be peeking in periodically at the Academy Awards, that shindig to beat all shindigs, that tribute to all things silicone and Juvéderm and Botox, that massive glitterati ego-massage that will take place on Sunday evening. From the Barbara Walters interviews to the Joan Rivers gaffes to the melodramatic and slurred acceptance speeches, I love it all. And even if I haven’t actually seen any of the movies, who cares? That’s not what the Oscars are all about, anyway!
Before I depart on break, I thought it might be fun to leave you with a little midterm quiz of your own to ponder while I’m away (and the best part–it doesn’t matter whether you know the answers or not!). I’ll reveal the “correct” responses when I get back (though with a bit of sleuthing, it should be fairly easy to find them before then).
[Chocolate birthday cake in all its uncut glory]
A Diet, Dessert and Dogs Mid-Term Quiz
Instructions: Please answer each of the following questions. Note that this is an open-blog test; answers can be found in previous entries. Please double space your answers.
1) DDD stands for:
a) The 2009, eco-friendly version of the pesticide “DDT”
b) Pamela Anderson’s bra size (now that she’s had a breast reduction)
The dozen or so of you who were reading my blog last year at this time probably remember how much I hate the snowy season. (How much, you ask? As much as Gepetto hates dishonesty. As much as Ellen loves Portia. As much as the calories in a deep-fried Mars Bar (with whipped cream on top). As much as union disagrees with management. As much as my eternal incredulity at the popularity of Julia Roberts.) This morning, when I emitted a plaintive little lament about the fact that we’ve already surpassed last year’s (record-breaking) snowfall for this date, the HH helpfully piped up, “Yeah, and we’ve still got over a month more of this to go!” Gee, thanks, sweetheart.
So, what to do about a wall of pelting snow every time you leave the house, ice crystals forming on your eyebrows, the grey rime that coats your glasses like vaseline on a camera lens?
Make soup, that’s what.
When I was a carefree singleton* back in the early 90s, I developed a Friday evening cooking ritual. After arriving home from work, I’d change into sweats and a T-shirt, then spend most of the evening cooking food for the following week. By the end of the week, I was usually too pooped to socialize anyway, and I found cooking to be incredibly meditative. (Besides, if anything bettermale intellectually stimulating came up instead, I wasn’t irrevocably tied to my plan; I’d just cook the following day). I’d pack the prepared dishes into plastic containers, then freeze them for consumption later on. A relaxing evening plus seven days of healthy, homemade food–a pretty good arrangement, I thought.
In those days, I tended to cook a lot of soups. Perhaps I was subconsciously emulating my mom, whose chicken soup graced our stovetop every Friday evening as far back as I can remember. In fact, the very first recipe I cooked in my very first apartment was soup–split pea and ham, as I recall (which is odd, since even then I didn’t really like meat, and I’d never tasted ham at all before that–or since). In the interim, I’ve expanded my repertoire a bit, enjoying a variety of traditional or exotic or unusual soups over the years. With its ability to embrace any and all stray vegetables, then bathe them in a warm, soothing broth, vitamin and mineral-rich soup is an ideal meal-in-a-bowl.
Strangely, once the HH and I began seeing each other, I all but stopped making soups on Friday nights (he seemed to think our courtship should take place alongside a wine bottle rather than a stockpot). Then, a couple of weeks ago, I received a copy of Nava Atlas’s newly released Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons (this is a 4th edition of her earlier VegetarianSoups for All Seasons) as part of the book’s virtual tour. Suddenly, soup was back on my radar. And I must tell you, I think this book has singlehandedly renewed my zeal for soup making.
The book is divided by season, so it made sense that the fall and winter offerings would appeal most right now, with innovative and interesting combinations like Broccoli, Apple and Peanut Soup or Almond-Brussels Sprouts Soup (which I just enjoyed for lunch today–splendid!), and classics like Hearty Barley-Bean Soup or Minestrone. But the spring and summer were equally tantalizing, with recipes for Creole Eggplant Soup and Gingery Miso-Spinach Soup and Strawberry Colada Soup. (Now I have yet another reason to wish winter would end soon.)
With our seemingly irrepressible mountains of snow (now taller than the HH, who is over 6 feet/1.8 meters) outside, a hearty winter stew seemed just the right antidote. This Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew is a perfectly warming, filling, tasty combination, with a substantial broth, in which you simmer a variety of winter veggies, all imbued with a subtle sweet and piquant tang. Initially, the HH was a bit reluctant to try it (paradoxically, the guy will eat anything and everything if it’s derived from an animal, but is entirely unadventurous when it comes to vegetable dishes). After the first few spoonfuls, however, he pronounced it “a keeper” and was content to have nothing more than this for dinner.
I’m happy to say that I’m even looking forward to getting back in the swing of Friday evening soup-a-thons. And these days, I won’t be cooking alone (hear that, HH?).
“Mum, you know that we’d love to help you cook, too, if we could. There’s just this little matter of the ’no opposable thumbs’ thing. But we’re still more than happy to help clean up the leftovers.”
* Okay, I was never “carefree,” but more like “unattached, at loose ends, having no weekend plans.” The closest I’ve ever gotten to “carefree” was probably during that time before I embraced all the responsibilities and anxieties of adulthood–like, maybe, when I was three.
Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Bread Stew (for ACD-friendly, see note)
Preheat the oven to 300F (150C). Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until golden and crisp, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onions and garlic and sauté over medium heat until golden, about 10 minutes.
Add the water, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes, wine, paprika, and cumin. Bring to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat. Cover and simmer gently for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Stir in the lemon juice and sugar. There should be a subtle sweet-sour balance. If you’d like it to be more pronounced, add more lemon juice and/or sugar to your liking.
Season with salt and pepper, then simmer over very low heat for 10 minutes longer. If time allows, let the stew stand off the heat for an hour or two, then heat through before serving.
When ready to serve, divide the bread cubes among the serving bowls and ladle the stew over them. The bread will absorb much of the liquid and add a tasty, textural element to the stew.
NOTE: For an ACD-Friendly version (Stage 2 and beyond), use whole-grain, gluten-free bread, and replace wine with unsweetened cranberry juice; replace agave with 10 drops stevia, or more, to taste.
Calories: 231 Total fat: 6 g Protein: 6 g Fiber: 6 g
Carbohydrate: 43 g Cholesterol: 0 mg Sodium: 114 mg
Today began like most other mornings: a wet, cold nose against my ear (that would be Chaser, not the HH) rousing me from sleep; a quick (warm, dry) kiss to the HH; and popping (okay, more like fizzling) out of bed before stretching, going through the usual ablutions and tramping over to the office to turn on the computer and check out some blogs. For our lazy Sunday morning (after shovelling the additional 15 cm./ 6 inches of snow that arrived overnight, of course), I thought I might make some pancakes for breakfast–maybe banana; maybe apple.
Then I read Ruth’s Hannukah (or, for us Canadians, Chanukah) post and before I knew it, I was craving potato pancakes (aka latkes).
Which is weird, because I hate latkes.
Let me explain. Over the years, I’ve sampled many different kinds of potato latkes in many different kitchens; and I can honestly tell you I haven’t enjoyed a single one. (Sorry, Mrs. D who kindly invited me to her Rosh Hashanah table back in university; sorry, all my friends who’ve been generous enough to share; sorry, Aunty M. and CBC; sorry, all those caterers whose miniature pancakes I’ve sampled at festive tables in the past).
Given that I adore home fries and even hash browns, this latke enmity always seemed odd to me. But whenever I’d try again, the results were the same: the pancakes in question were very heavy, very greasy, and fairly bland, with a high-gloss exterior and mushy, mealy insides. Was I missing something? Is there some kind of Freemason-like secret latke society that knows something those of us using the regular latke recipes don’t know? Or was I simply hanging around with horrible cooks?
Whatever; I decided to change all that this morning. That plate of latkes (and the explanatory article that Ruth included, as well) simply caught my fancy, and I had to have latkes!
I’m happy to report that the Latke Loathing has been vanquished, once and for all! (Must have been those sweet potatoes). The HH was also a fan. We had ours with a slightly unconventional topping, a balsamic-fig sauce that was given to me a few weeks back (more typical accompaniments include sour cream or applesauce). What a fabulous combination! The cakes were decidedly not mushy, as I remembered latkes of old; they were crispy on the outside and supple on the inside, the potatoes just cooked. They held together beautifully and offered up an alluring aroma of caramelized onion and fragrant dill as they were grilled. With the sweet-tart contrast of the fig sauce slathered over the top, these were the perfect Sunday breakfast.
Now, it seems the Sunday pancake options are limitless. So glad I start my days the way I do.
To those who celebrate, Happy Hannukah! (and Hanukkah, AND Chanukah!)
Using a food processor or box grater, grate the potatoes and sweet potatoes and place in a large colander. Squeeze the mixture with your hands as if squeezing a sponge to get out as much of the starchy liquid as you can. Place in a large bowl.
Grate the onion and add it to the potato mixture along with the remaining ingredients. Mix together very well, using your hands if necessary.
Heat a cast iron or other nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measuring cup, scoop the mixture into the pan, flattening the pancakes with a spatula (they should be fairly flat). Cook about 3-4 minutes, until bottoms are golden; flip and cook on the other side another 3 minutes or so, until golden. Keep pancakes warm as you continue to cook them. Serve immediately with apple sauce, sour cream, ketchup, cranberry sauce, chutney, or other topping of choice.
To me, summer means potato salad season. And coleslaw season, and watermelon season, and ice cream season, and gin and tonic season. . . but primarily, potato salad season. So, quick: when you think of potato salad, what type do you think of?
And moi? I like ‘em all. The HH is a huge fan of potatoes in any form, prepared using any cooking method and dressed with any and all toppings or seasonings (unfortunately, his sole requirement is that they be plated alongside a piece of animal protein).
(“And Mum, don’t forget the ‘canine potato salad people’. . . oh, actually, we’ll just take that piece of animal protein instead.”)
Since I adore leafy green vegetables and have also been trying to incorporate more of them into my diet lately, I’m eternally scouting out recipes that make use of greens in novel and interesting ways. A few nights ago I remembered this old favorite that we haven’t eaten in a couple of years at least. The recipe is from a book I found over a decade ago, in the remainder bin at a local bookstore. Called, simply, The Greens Book, it’s a slender volume offering a multitude of esoteric recipes with a handful of more accessible ones (of which this salad is one). Mostly, I’ve used the book as a reference source when I want to identify some mysterious or previously unencountered green that’s crossed my path (sometimes literally), as it also provides sharp and stunning photographs of each type of leaf.
I’ve proclaimed my affection for raw dandelion greens in an earlier post; this salad uses barely-wilted stems and leaves and pairs them with cooked, still-warm potato chunks and a lemony, garlicky, olive-oil dressing. It’s quick, easy, and perfect as an accompaniment to a Bar B Q buffet or as a main course if served alongside another salad. Because the flavors are so pronounced, this dish can easily liven up a humble or mildly flavored main course.
Cooked on the stovetop in no time at all, this salad won’t overheat the house on a hot summer’s evening. Though it’s great served warm, this is also wonderful at room temperature.
1/2 pound (225 g.) dandelion greens, picked over, washed, and dried
1-1/2 pounds (675 g.) red-skinned potatotes
1/3 cup (80 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
zest from one lemon
3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
juice from one large lemon (about 1/4 cup–60 ml.)
generous 1/4 cup (60 ml.)–we use more like 1/3 cup or 80 ml.–pitted and sliced kalamata olives (or use whole if you can’t find pitted)
Remove dandelion leaves from stems and tear or chop into large bite-sized pieces. Cut the stems into pieces about 3/4 inch (2 cm.) long.
Scrub the potatoes. Slice into 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick slices, or, if they’re small, just cut in half. Place in pot, cover with water, and bring to boil. Cook 10-12 minutes, until just fork-tender. Drain and keep warm.
Mix the olive oil, lemon zest, and garlic in a small bowl. Place about 2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) of the mixture, including some bits of garlic, in a sauté pan. Heat over medium heat and add the dandelion stems. Cook and stir for 4 minutes. Add the greens and stir for one minute longer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. The stems should be cooked but still crispy, and the greens should be barely wilted.
Transfer the dandelion ixture to a bolw and cover with the hot potatoes. Add the lemon juice and rest of the oil mixture, and toss well. Add the olives and toss again. Taste for seasoning and serve. Makes 6 servings as a side dish or 4 as a main course.
When I was a kid, my mother was a fairly conventional 1960s housewife (well, except for the Valium) whose cooking style, too, adhered to convention; she’d cook pretty much the same seven dinners every week, according to the day: Mondays were hamburgers and mashed potatoes. Tuesdays were veal chops and green beans. Wednesdays were franks and beans. Fridays were chicken soup or roast chicken (but this changed to salmon patties and twice-baked potatoes, after one of her Mah Jong friends clipped a recipe from Good Housekeeping and passed it along).
Only on the very rare occasion did Mom diverge from the predetermined pattern, if she saw a particularly intriguing recipe in Chatelaine, perhaps, or if my aunt cooked something she tasted and really liked. Then Mom would pick up the ingredients during that week’s grocery shopping, and we’d have something new for a change.
One week, she decided to tackle homemade lasagna. Never mind that she had never made it before. Never mind that it was a multi-step, fairly complex process. Never mind that my aunt–the inspiration for this experiment–was a professional caterer and could make a lasagna with one hand tied behind her apron. My mother decided we were going to have lasagna, and, dammit, that’s what she made.
Well, sort of.
I returned home from school that day to a scene worthy of the set of Psycho: kitchen walls splattered with thick, wayward splotches of red, the stovetop covered in equally abundant patches of tomato sauce that had spewed from a teeming pot of sauce; topless, half-emptied cartons of cottage cheese and grated mozzarella littered across every surface, and detritus of carrot shavings, onion peel, and celery stalks strewn over and beside the wooden cutting board.
It did smell heavenly, though. My sisters and I waited patiently, watching Happy Days reruns, as we dreamt of thick, saucy hunks of lasagna, the long, ruffled noodles padded with meat, cheese, and my mother’s own sauce. But any aspirations of heavenly hunks were quickly dashed when my mother cut in to the first piece. The noodles (having been parboiled according to package directions, before being layered with the sauce and cheese) had practically disintegrated in the casserole dish, leaving only a mass of mushy, oozing goo. She didn’t attempt lasagna again for quite some time.
When I finally got my own apartment as an undergraduate, I was determined to conquer the fractious pasta. I cooked up a huge batch of my favorite spaghetti sauce with ground beef, chopped celery, peppers and carrots, accented with oregano and lots of basil. I had my cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan) at the ready. And, unlike my mother, I was savvy enough to take advantage of modern conveniences: I purchased pre-parboiled noodles, so that they could be laid, stiff and uncooked, right into the casserole dish with the sauce and cheeses. I layered, I smoothed the top, I popped it into the oven, feeling pretty satisfied with myself.
About an hour later, I was drawn by the heavenly smell. But any aspirations of success were quickly dashed when I cut into the first slice. . . which was a mass of mushy, oozing goo. Needless to say, I had no desire to cook lasagna again for quite some time.
One of the imperatives of my “Total Health” course is to eat more greens (and more on the course, below). In searching the Internet for greens recipes, I came across the ubiquitous Potato and Kale Enchiladas on the Post Punk Kitchen discussion forum. Now, I know it must seem lately that I’m shilling for Moskowitz & Romero (no, not the Las Vegas act; the vegan cookbook authors) given how many times I’ve mentioned their recipes on this blog recently. But since kale is my favorite leafy green, and since the recipe was right in front of me, I decided to use it–sort of. Having no tortillas in the house, I dug out a box of rice lasagna I’d bought on a whim months ago. Did I dare to try another lasagna experiment? What the heck; I decided to live on the (stiff, ruffled) edge.
Potatoes and noodles? Yes, it’s an unconventional twist on that traditional dish. But I’m here to tell you, it worked. Not only was the kale-potato filling hardy enough to support the layers of noodles, the lasagna itself complied and baked up perfectly; firm, cooked throughout, with neither mush nor goo anywhere in sight. It cut beautifully into semi-solid, clearly defined squares. And the combination of potato, kale, tomato sauce and pumpkin seeds was a delightful, unusual and winning carnival of tastes.
This was a terrific dinner, one that would satisfy even the most avowed lasagna-lover. The HH thoroughly enjoyed it (I believe his exact words were, “hmmmn, not so bad for vegetarian lasagna”), and The Girls were happy to help with the leftovers (“It may not be steak, but it was still good, Mum! And you might recall that we love kale.”) Next time you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen, I recommend giving this this one a try.
Lasagna noodles of your choice (I used rice lasagna)
About 3-4 cups of your favorite Arrabiata spaghetti sauce (such as this one)
About 1/4 cup (125 ml.) additional toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Lightly grease a large rectangular pan or lasagna pan.
Prepare the kale and potato filling according to directions. Heat up your spicy tomato sauce.
Spread about 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the pan; top with a layer of the lasagna noodles. Top with half the kale-potato mixture and cover with another 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with noodles, kale-potato mixture and end with sauce. Bake in preheated oven until warmed through and slightly crispy on top, 25-35 minutes. During the last 5 minutes, sprinkle with remaining pumpkin seeds and return to oven to warm the seeds.
Allow to sit at room temperature 10-15 minutes before slicing (this helps the lasagna retain its shape when cut). Makes about 8 servings. May be frozen.
Total Health Coda: You may have noticed that there was no update last Wednesday, as we missed our class that day. The makeup was yesterday, followed by our regular class tonight. Yesterday’s topic was Ayurvedic cooking, something I’ve always found fascinating but never knew much about. According to the dosha (body and personality type) test, I am almost perfectly split between the two opposites, Vata and Kapha. In other words, I’m conflicted. In other words, sort of a split personality. Or, as the HH would say, I’m just a Libra.