Some things just never change. As a result, there are certain aspects of our lives upon which we all tend to rely.
For instance, you expect that Wile E. Coyote will tumble down the mountainside (an anvil in hot pursuit), only to re-emerge the following week without so much as a scratch–and start all over again. You can reliably presume that if you wear a white shirt on a first date, you will likely spill red wine on it. You depend on David Letterman to deliver a Top Ten list (and for there to be ten items on it). When you look in the mirror, you assume you will see your own reflection staring back at you (and not your mother’s, as I have been seeing lately). And if you’re Elsie and Chaser, you count on Mum to feed you at precisely 5:00 PM, or else feel justified executing the “border collie stare” and butting her thigh with your cold, wet nose. ["Yeah, so, and what of it, Mum? A gal's gotta eat."]. You just rely on certain things to always be. . . well, reliable.
One of the most reliable aspects of winter is that I will hate itmy whingeing against the cold and sleetRicki dreaming of the tropics comfort food. And one of the most common forms of comfort food in winter is shepherd’s pie.
[Almost makes it worthwhile to endure another winter. . . . almost.]
Interestingly enough, while my mom wasn’t a great cook, she did, on occasion, tackle this multi-layered dinner casserole. When it came to ground beef in general, her usual plated meal was grey hamburgers with a side of insipid mashed potatoes (eat up, everyone!). The burgers were always the color of lead, with a thick, tough crust on the exterior and dry, nubby bits inside; eating one felt like taking a big bite of a thick packing box filled with styrofoam chips.
But then, perhaps once a year, she’d go wild and make the shepherd’s pie. Her version involved cooking half a bag of frozen peas and carrots along with the meat, then plopping the mixture in the bottom of a square pan and topping the whole mess with homemade mashed potatoes (which were reliable as well: always full of lumps). As you can imagine, I wasn’t a fan of shepherd’s pie.
Of course, I wouldn’t have been a fan of the dish even if my mother had been a fabulous cook. Authentic shepherd’s pie, I learned with great dismay, contained ground lamb (because, well, they were what the shepherds were shepherding). Personally, I’d much rather see shepherds train their sheep to do this:
["Oh, sure, Mum, those sheep may look impressive, but don't forget that it's actually the dogs who did all the real work. I think they deserve some food for that."]
Once I left home for university, I completely forgot about shepherd’s pie. It wasn’t until my 30s here in Toronto that I encountered a stellar vegan version of the dish at a restaurant called le Commensal that I fell in love. Their shepherd’s pie featured buckwheat (one of my favorite “grains”) and a topping made with fluffy sweet potato mash. (These days, it seems, the place is no longer a vegan establishment and has added some “flexitarian” options to their menus. . . so who knows? Maybe they’re serving lamb-based sheperd’s pie after all now.)
When I began to crave comfort food, I decided to create my own riff on that buckwheat pie and soup it up a bit with lentils for additional protein. Having tried both sweet potato and regular potato, I decided to go with the regular mash as a more traditional topping. The result is a sturdy, full-flavored–dare I say, meaty--pie that will fill your belly with flavor and comfort. Because after all, when you eat shepherd’s pie, you want to be able to count on it to be just what you expect, right? Some things never change. . . .
Although it takes a bit of advance preparation, this pie comes together very easily. It also makes a large casserole, so you’ll have leftovers to freeze for another day. If you’re not a fan of buckwheat, simply double the amount of lentils.
Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Spray a 9-inch (22.5 cm) square pan or casserole dish with non-stick spray, or grease with coconut oil.
Make the filling: Bring the 2 cups/480ml vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the lentils. Cover, lower heat to simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover the pot and add the buckwheat, then replace the cover and simmer for another 20-25 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and both the lentils and buckwheat are soft. (If necessary, add a bit more liquid and continue to cook until done).
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, 7-10 minutes. Add the walnuts, celery, carrots and garlic, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the walnuts are fragrant and the onions are browned, another 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the remaining ingredients including the lentil-buckwheat mixture and stir well to combine.
Turn the filling into the pan and smooth the top. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.
While the filling cooks, prepare the potatoes: Place the potatoes and water in a large pot and bring to boil over high heat. Boil until the potatoes are quite tender, 20-25 minutes. Drain and mash with the 1/2 cup (120 ml) broth and coconut oil; add salt to taste.
Spread the mashed potatoes over the filling in the pan. You can simply smooth the top, or run the tines of a fork through it in swirls in a decorative manner. Sprinkle with more paprika, if desired.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until the potatoes are beginning to brown and the filling is bubbly. Allow to cool 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
The expression, “it’s complicated” is often enough to make the blood drain from my face and my forehead break out in a cold sweat.
Scene One: Ricki and her then-boyfriend, Rocker Guy (he of the black leather pants) at Rocker Guy’s apartment, shortly after Ricki stumbles upon RG sitting a little too close to a buxom woman in a restaurant booth.
Ricki: So, who was that woman you were canoodling with?
Rocker Guy (smooth as rayon-polyethylene-nylon blend faux silk): Um, er, well. . . it’s complicated.
Scene Two: Ricki snuggles up to the HH, who is reclining on the couch and has been watching a movie for the past fifteen minutes.
Ricki: So, what did I miss?
HH: I can’t really summarize it for you at this point–you’ve just missed too much. It’s complicated.
Scene Three: Ricki is on the telephone with the customer service rep at Bosch (the company that made her gas range) asking about why, when she has a five-year warranty and the range is only three months old and has already had four repairs to a convection fan that is still working incorrectly, she can’t get a refund or a new oven.
Ricki: So, if I have a full warranty with money-back guarantee, and my oven refuses to work no matter how many times you repair it, why can’t I get my money back?
Rep: Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. . .
Clearly, not the most auspicious phrase in my life. (And just in case you’re wondering, Rocker Guy was, indeed, cheating with that woman; the HH never did explain Mementoto me; and I am still using the same, convection-less, oven–four years later).
But when it comes to food and cooking, “it’s complicated” doesn’t strike me as the least bit intimidating–in fact, it doesn’t phase me at all. I can summarize the same recipe with both adjectives, ”complicated” and “simple” simultaneously.
For example, a crisp, green, veggie-rich salad can be both complicated and easy at the same time. It may take a lot of space on the counter, a cutting board, sharp knife and some dexterity to create a multi-veggie, multicolored salad, but the actual work involved is fairly simple: peel the carrots, grate the beet, slice the tomato, tear up the greens. Voilà!–delicious, textured, flavorful salad.
Similarly, mixing up something like this Kale and Potato Lasagna may require a complicated symphony of individual components (making the sauce, cooking the filling, etc), but once you’ve got the parts together, it’s a simple matter of layering ingredients and baking the whole shebang while you go ahead and attend to something else. Easy peasy!
Have you ever seeded a pomegranate? It’s a little complicated, but not in the least difficult. All you need is a sharp knife, a big bowl of water, skimming action, and a colander or slotted spoon. The reward is a bowlful of glistening, plump arils, providing an abundance of ruby, juice-filled pearls, which, when popped in your mouth, squirt their sublime liquid like those childhood wax pop bottles filled with sweet syrup.
I file these Potato Boats (more commonly referred to as “twice baked potatoes”) in that same category of “complicated, yet simple.” Potato Boats (as my mom called them) were an end-of-week tradition in our house. Every Friday for supper my mother would serve baked potatoes with the flesh scooped out, then mashed with either sour cream and butter or milk and butter, returned to the skins and re-baked. My mother always topped ours with neon orange shards of grated Kraft Cheese slices, which, when melted, eerily resembled the finish on those plastic Halloween pumpkins that kids tote around for trick or treating. The meal was always rounded out with salmon patties, served up with a big dollop of ketchup.
My version of the childhood favorite is significantly less processed and a bit more elegant, filled with “sour cream” and herb mashed potatoes and omitting the tacky orange topper. With a creamy, slightly tangy filling punctuated by flecks of your favorite fresh herbs, these potatoes would be suitable for a holiday meal or a side dish at a dinner party. The HH and I enjoyed them served with a prototype of my next nut roast (I’ve been experimenting in honor of Johanna’s latest Neb at Nutroast event) and the HH was entirely smitten. Knowing his penchant for all things “cheese,” I inquired if he wanted his topped with some melted cheddar, but he said he thought they didn’t need it. (Wheeeee!)
The recipe does require a bit of advance preparation, soaking the nuts and starting the “sour cream” in the morning, while the potatoes themselves need enough time to bake until very tender before you scoop out their insides. But once the ingredients are assembled, the final preparation is remarkably simple.
I was even able to freeze the two leftover halves, which stood up well when reheated. When I served the remainder of the nutroast to the HH for dinner a few days later, he requested the last of the Potato Boats alongside it.
Ricki: Um, there are no more potato boats.
HH: But didn’t you put two of them in the freezer just a couple of days ago?
HH: So, what happened to them?
Ricki : Well, it’s complicated. . .
Potato Boats with “Sour Cream” and Herbs (ACD Stage 2 and beyond)
Besides being the perfect comfort food, these mashed potato-filled potato skins also offer up good amounts of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. If you can’t have cashews, try using about a cup of silken tofu in their stead.
4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed (leave skins on)
1 cup (165 g) raw cashews, soaked in room temperature water for 6-8 hours and drained
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame tahini
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) mustard powder
3/4 cup (180 ml) unsweetened plain soy or almond milk (rice milk is too sweet for this recipe)
2-3 Tbsp (30-45 ml) chopped fresh herbs of choice (I used dill and cilantro; chives would be fabulous in these, of course, but I didn’t have any)
fine sea salt, to taste
Bake the potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Wrap each whole potato in aluminum foil and place on a cookie sheet (or just place the potatoes as-is on the sheet; they will be a bit dryer but will still bake up nicely). Bake until very soft, 1-1.5 hours. Remove the potatoes from the oven and increase the heat to 400F (205C). Unwrap the potatoes and allow to cool a bit, until cool enough to handle.
Cut off about 1/4 of each potato, slicing across the length of the potato (you will have a smaller cap on top and a larger “boat” underneath). Scoop out the flesh from the large portion of each potato and put it into a medium bowl, leaving a shell with a border of 1/8-1/4 inch (.3-.6 cm) on the bottom and sides. Scoop any flesh from the caps as well and discard the skin from the caps (or make potato skins with them).
While the potatoes bake, make the “sour cream” sauce: in a powerful blender, combine the cashews, lemon juice, tahini, mustard and soy milk; blend until perfectly smooth and silky.
Assemble the potato boats: Add the “cream” to the potato flesh in the bowl and whip with electric beaters until smooth and creamy (the HH likes his potatoes a little lumpy, as in my photos, but if you keep blending, it will become smoother). Gently stir in the herbs.
Fill the potato shells with the whipped potato mixture, dividing it evenly among the 4 potatoes. If desired, sprinkle the tops wtih paprika.
Bake in preheated oven until warmed through and beginning to brown on top, 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 4 potato boats. To freeze, place any leftover boats uncovered on a flat surface (like a cookie sheet or cutting board) in the freezer; freeze until solid. Then wrap in plastic wrap and store in a covered container or ziploc bag. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator, then sprinkle with water and reheat in a 350F (180C) oven for about 20 minutes.
With the accent on herbs in these babies, I thought this would be a great submission to Weekend Herb Blogging, the weekly event founded by Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen and now being run by Haalo of Cook Anything. I haven’t participated in a long time, so I’m glad to be submitting this recipe this time round! This week the event is hosted by one of my favorite bloggers, Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. I’m also submitting this to Amy’s weekly Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays (event though these do taste *very* indulgent!).
Okay, Mother Nature, this is really getting old. I mean, we’ve been tortured bysuffering withenduring tolerating winter since October 21, 2010 (should I feel guilty that that’s my birthday?). Time for some warmer temps, dry streets, green buds poking their happy noses out of the ground. Time for some plus-size temperatures (not to be confused with plus-size clothing, about which I wouldn’t be too happy). Time for the sun to persist through post-dinnertime, cajoling us to peel off our scarves, gloves, overcoats.
Time for SPRING, already!
But okay, since we’re expecting upwards of 15 cm (6 inches) of snow today, and since the temperatures are -5C (23 F) instead of the seasonal +6C (43 F) today, I will treat you to this last bowl of winter stew for the season.
You know how, sometimes, you make serendipitous discoveries at the least expected times? I’m not talking about the kind of discovery where you perchance leave a beaker of staphylococci bacteria lying around the lab and then, lo and behold, a day later you have. . . pennicilin! Nor the kind where you decide to cut your business trip short because you miss your hubby, hurry home, then barge in on said hubby and his secretary in flagrante delicto. And certainly not the kind where a bunch of science nerds all decide at the same time, “Hey! I think there’s an extra planet up there! Who knew?”
No, those are all examples of monumental discoveries–and I’m not talking about those.
I’m referring to the little quotidien discoveries that can happen to anyone, the types that add a little burst of excitement to your otherwise mundane day. Like when you pull out your spring blazer for the first time after a long winter (and how I dream of that day) and find an unexpected $20 bill inside the pocket. Or when you’re packing up the house for a move to your new place and (as happened to the HH and me when we moved to our current place) you reach to grab the last mug in the cupboard and come across that hand-knit tea cozy you received as a Christmas present from your first boyfriend’s mother, 25 years ago–the one you had been certain was lost forever. That’s the kind of everyday discovery that makes you smile, that adds a little bit of joy to the day.
I experienced one of those happy discoveries this past week. You see, I had completely forgotten about my recipe for Chickpea and Potato Stew with Tomatoes, a recipe I cooked up almost every week throughout my 20s and 30s. As a newbie cook, I came across the original recipe in an old Canadian Living Magazine, and it couldn’t be simpler. It was the perfect dish for a single vegan just learning to cook: everyday ingredients, simple preparation, no special tools or equipment required. The components came together quickly, then took care of themselves as they simmered quietly in a corner while you went about your business for 30 minutes or so. Afterward, they greeted you with a robust, warming, perfectly seasoned stew containing a wonderful balance of protein, carbs, and sauciness.
How had I forgotten all about this stew? It came back to me after we received a five-pound (2 kg) sack of potatoes in our organic produce box last week. What to do with them all? And that’s when I remembered. I pulled out my “Veg Main Meals” recipe folder from the bookcase and began to leaf through the hundreds of pages in it, each one clipped from a magazine or newspaper, or printed from a website or blog.
Forty minutes later, I still hadn’t found the recipe. I knew it was there, somewhere–but another glance through the clippings still didn’t uncover it. Determined, I decided to look for a similar base online, from which I could build a reasonable replica. A quick Google search–and up came dozens of similar recipes!
Okay, so maybe my old stew wasn’t unique. But with the help of a good memory jog, I put this together. At the last minute, I added some tahini–not in the original–to create a thicker, creamier sauce. It worked beautifully, and produced a rich gravy that is perfect for sopping up with crusty bread (as the HH ate it) or ladling over cooked rice or quinoa.
I’m so happy to have rediscovered my old favorite–especially today, when a warming stew is perfectly in order to bid winter “adieu.” I still have a feeling that the original recipe will show up some day, though–most likely, the next time we move.
“Mum, you know we love those serendipitous discoveries, too. Like, say, when you drop an extra treat under the kitchen table. Score!”
This is a delicious, simple, savory stew, the kind without extra spice or unnecessary bells and whistles. It’s filling, satisfying, warming and flavorful with a hint of sweet basil and oregano in the tomato base. Perfect for a hot meal toward the end of winter.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce (796 ml) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1-1 1/4 cups (240-300 ml) vegetable broth or stock (see instructions)
3 medium potatoes, diced small (about 1/2 inch or 1 cm cubes)–peel if desired*
1 tsp (5 ml) dried oregano
1 tsp (5 ml) dried basil (or use 2 Tbsp/30 ml fresh, chopped)
1 tsp (5 ml) dried parsley
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) fine sea salt, or to taste
2 cups (480 ml) cooked chickpeas, drained
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sesame tahini, at room temperature
In a large nonstick pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Drain the tomatoes and reserve the drained liquid. Add broth to the drained liquid to make a total of 1-1/2 cups (360 ml). Add the tomatoes, the liquid with broth, potatoes, oregano, basil, parsley and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are just tender, 20-25 minutes.
Add the chickpeas to the pot as well. Spoon off about 1/4 cup of the liquid from the pot and mix it with the tahini in a small bowl. Pour the mixture back into the pot and stir to mix well, ensuring that the tahini is incorporated throughout. This will create a thick, creamy sauce.
Adjust seasonings and serve over rice or other grains, or alongside a crusty bread. Makes 4-6 servings. May be frozen.
*Note: for ACD Stage 1, you can substitute sweet potato or cauliflower for the potato.
[What I should have made for our Christmas dinner this year. . . . ]
What. . . is it December 27th, already?? Hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday season so far! I must confess, the last few days have been among the laziest of my life. And you know what? It felt great!
So what have the HH, the Girls and I been up to since I last visited this space? Here’s a quick recap:
The Girls Express their Annoyance. The Girls posed for their 2010 Christmas card, and if all your comments are any indication, they clearly seemed peeved at having to don those costumes. Let’s just say I’ll never be another William Wegman. (“Mum, we weren’t annoyed so much as impatient. . . for our presents! Thanks for those treats we got! And can we have more of that white stuff? Oh, and who is that handsome Weimeraner in that photo?!”).
Start the Day Off Right. After sleeping in until we awoke naturally sans alarm, the HH and I bounded out of bed to open our gifts. And while they were polite enough not to disturb us while we slept, the Girls were certainly lively enough as soon as they confirmed we were awake:
["Elsie, play with me or I will eat you!"]
So, while the HH took the dogs for a trail walk, I set about making a hearty brunch to tide us over until dinnertime:
[These fabulous pancakes, topped with homemade sweet almond-coconut butter and plum sauces, with eggplant bacon (recipe coming soon).]
Best to Stick with Tradition, Even if It’s Non-Traditional. Those of you who’ve been reading DDD for a while will likely recall that our regular holiday tradition for the past few years has been an Indian feast, often shared with the CFO. Well, when my sister couldn’t make it this year, the HH proclaimed, “I want something traditional! I want TURKEY!”.
Regular readers will also know that the HH eats, well, everything. And as long as he prepares his own food, I don’t attempt to influence what he consumes. So off we went to get an organic turkey for him to cook. While he roasted his turkey, I prepared my new recipe for a holiday nutroast.
By 7:00 PM, dinner was finally served. Here’s my plate:
As I said, I shouldn’t have messed with our (non-traditional) tradition. While tasty enough, my nut roast was not what I’d call a success. I do have an inkling of how to improve it and will share as soon as I give it a try.
Turkey =Doggie Crack. The Girls, on the other hand, devoured their turkey scraps in no short order. This was the first time Chaser ever tasted turkey, and let me tell you, the crazed look it sparked in her eye was even more frenzied than usual. I got the stare pretty much the rest of the day.
[What was that white stuff, Mum? And can I please have some more?"]
And Elsie wasn’t immune, either:
[I've just got to be patient, and I'm sure there will be more turkey forthcoming. . . . "]
It’s Good to Chillax. I think that last week of school, frantic prepping for Christmas, buying a new car (so that the HH can have my old car, since his was totalled) and various and sundry other errands has wiped a goodly portion of my mind clean, sort of the way reformatting clears out your hard drive. I’ve felt pretty much incapable of any sustained thought or activity since Christmas morning, wandering around the past few days in a bit of a haze (albeit with a semi smile on my face and a very full belly), without much to say in this space. The HH is off work until the first week of January, so we’ll be spending quite a bit of time together.
["Life is so rough when you're waiting for turkey. . . *sigh*."]
Yesterday morning, for instance, the HH and I (after sleeping in yet again), spent most of the AM reading the entire newspaper, front to back, for the first time in months.
[The HH's coffee cup, and the news: freak east coast snowstorms and Boxing Day Deals.]
Then we proceeded to clean up the detritus from our Christmas dinner:
[The HH's wine glass, the morning after. Sadly, no wine for me this year. Damn you, ACD!]
We sat by the fireplace, sipped on coffee/matcha tea and listened to music (including my new Pink CD, a gift from the HH):
And now, after even more lounging about today, I finally feel ready to leap back in to cooking and blogging about recipes.
["Elsie, do you think we'll get any more turkey?"]
Sorry to say I won’t be sharing that nut roast recipe just yet.
In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the African Sweet Potato Stew I mentioned in this post, which some of you asked about. It’s a tried-and-true success that I’ve made many times in the past. It’s hearty, filling, with chunks of sweet potato and chickpeas bathed in a rich, creamy coconut milk gravy that’s infused with a variety of spices and the mineral-rich addition of collards.
Perhaps I should add it to the menu for next year’s Christmas feast.
The list of ingredients does seem long, but so much of this is spice that the actual prep time isn’t as much as you’d think. The recipe makes a huge vat of stew, so you can package and freeze it for later consumption, too.
1 Tbsp (15 ml) coconut or extra virgin olive oil, preferably organic
1 large onion, chopped
1 thumb-size piece ginger, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chipped
1/2 cup (120 ml) cilantro leaves, chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced (or use 1/2 tsp/1.5 ml chili flakes)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) ground cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) whole mustard seeds, brown or yellow
2 tsp (10 ml) ground coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) ground turmeric
1 tsp (5 ml) paprika
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cayenne pepper
1 large can (19 oz or 500 ml) diced tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
2-3 medium white potatoes, chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
1 can (12 oz or 400 ml) coconut milk
1/3 cup (80 ml) natural smooth almond or peanut butter (use almond for ACD)
1 pound (500 g) collard greens, midribs removed and shredded
2 cups (480 ml) cooked chickpeas
Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat; add the onion, ginger, garlic and cilantro and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the red pepper, jalapeno, cumin, mustard seeds, corinder, trumeric, paprika and cayenne and cook a couple more minutes. Add the tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes and coconut milk; cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.
Place the almond butter in a small bowl or glass measuring cup and scoop about 1/2 cup of the liquid from the stew, adding it to the nut butter; mix well, until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the pot and blend it in. Add the collards and chickpeas and continue to cook until the greens are soft, another 5-10 minutes. If the sauce is too thin, allow to simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until desired thickness is reached. Serve over rice or cooked quinoa. Makes 6-8 servings. May be frozen.
First, and most importantly: Happy 2009, everyone! Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments and good wishes for the new year. I can’t even begin to express how much I appreciate them all and how much blogging has brought into my life. But by far, the best part is you–readers and other bloggers. Thank you for sharing 2008 with me, and I look forward to 2009!
The HH and I (sans The Girls, unfortunately, as our Elsie Girl refuses to play nice with the other five dogs who live there) spent another lovely, bucolic New Year’s Eve with my friends Gemini I and II and their broods up at Gemini I’s palatial country “cottage.” We ate, we drank, and Gemini II’s hubby lit fireworks just before midnight, when we toasted in 2009. The rest of the time, we chillaxed to the max, reading in front of the fireplace, watching ice fishers huddled by their hut atop the lake, taking photos of indigenous birds perched at the feeder outside the window, or working as a group on the massive, 2-page annual crossword puzzle that’s printed in The Globe and Mail. I didn’t even mind the snow and ice (a New Year’s Eve miracle!).
And now, back to reality. . . and back to business.
Although I more or less threw resolutions out the window many years ago (really, don’t I already know I’ll want to lose weight after the holidays?), I do update a list I call my “Five Year Plan.” In it, I write down goals for the following six months, the following year, two years, and five years. I try to arrange them so that the earlier goals might naturally precede the later goals (eg., six months: take a course in html; one year: design own web page).
Okay, so maybe it’s just another version of resolutions after all. . .but this long-term view has worked well for me in the past: one of the most unusual “goals” that came to fruition was “work with a business coach–for free”; and so far, the best one (way back before I met the HH) was “own my own home,” something I’m adding back to the list this year, now that we’ve been renting for. . . well, far too long.
I’ve decided that this list works best when it’s kept private, as last year’s list, while not that different from the ones I wrote before it, was a total bust. Instead of losing 50 pounds over the past 50 weeks or so, I’ve gained about four (definitely more than the “1.5 pound” holiday average. My parents always encouraged me to try to be above average, so I guess I can say I’ve accomplished that now).
Still, I believe the concept is a great one and one that most people should try at least once. As the famous Harvard study demonstrated, those who write down their goals (as opposed to simply thinking of them) tend to concretize them, and the goals are more apt to come true. For whatever reason, putting something down on paper triggers a mechanism in the brain that impels you to action. I will share the easiest goal on my list, though: remain part of the blogging world, and keep blogging regularly. That one, at least, I know will be pure pleasure to enact!
Before I bid 2008 adieu permanently, however, I wanted to share the amazing Indian feast we had when the CFO visited at Christmas time. Although our meal on December 25th was relatively traditional, it was this one (the following night) that became the high point of holiday meals for us.
[Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce]
I first discovered Indian cuisine about 10 years ago, after having to change my diet dramatically and seek out foods that met my dietary challenges. At the time, being both a meat eater and a wheat eater, those challenges were plentiful.
Then I began to frequent Indian restaurants. Most dishes were not only wheat-free, but gluten-free as well! And the vegetarian/vegan options seemed endless. Here in Toronto, many Indian restaurants operate as all-you-can-eat buffets. These ostensibly boundless displays of vegetable- and legume-based dishes were dazzling and even a bit overwhelming at first, as I was determined to try every dish in my new culinary repertoire. (Eventually, I realized, many of those dishes had been sitting out under warming lights for hours, or were thrown together from leftovers of two or more of the previous day’s dishes; I began to opt for sit-down restaurants instead).
It seemed natural to attempt to re-create those spicy, saucy, succulent meals at home. I bought a couple of Indian cookbooks and went to work. In those days, I cooked a lot of chicken and meat dishes, some of which I’ve converted over the years. Perhaps it was curry overload; perhaps I assumed I’d never achieve a comparable result without the meat. For whatever reason, I hadn’t cooked a full Indian meal in some time.
Then I remembered that the CFO was also a fan of the cuisine and had an idea to whip up our own little Indian buffet as a post-Christmas dinner. The results were stellar, and made me wonder why I’ve neglected those recipes for so long.
Our meal included a fabulous multi-lentil dal based on Lisa’s recipe (my only change to the original recipe was using three types of lentil instead of lentils and moong beans); peas in a creamy sauce; curried potatoes and kale; and cheela (chickpea pancakes) along with basmati rice. While the potato dish was pretty much a haphazard combination of leftover tomato sauce, chopped kale, and chunks of spud, I did take note of the other recipes and can share them here.
Each of these dishes on its own would make a warming, satisfying light meal; put them together, and you’ve got a memorable finale to an eventful year.
One definite item in my next 5-Year Plan: Cook Indian more often.
Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce
Super quick and easy, this side dish provides a lovely visual contrast to the mostly dull colors of long-simmered curries. The vibrant green and sweet flavor of the peas is perfect as an accompaniment to the intense spice of the other dishes. From an unidentified cookbook–sorry!
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) Sucanat or other unrefined evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) ground cumin
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) garam masala
3/4 tsp. (7.5 ml.) fine sea salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. (1-2.5 ml.) chili powder, to your taste
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) tomato purée (I used organic ketchup and omitted the Sucanat, above)
3/4 cup (180 ml.) unsweetened almond or soymilk
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp. (10 ml.) chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 fresh green chili, chopped (optional–I omitted it as all the other dishes were very spicy)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. (2. 5 ml.) black or yellow mustard seeds (I used black)
2-10 ounce (285 g.) bags frozen peas, defrosted under lukewarm water and drained
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) organic cornstarch or arrowroot powder, if needed
Combine the Sucanat, ground cumin, garam masala, salt, chili powder and tomato purée in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Slowly stir in 2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) water and mix well. Add the soymilk gradually and mix; then add the lemon juice, cilantro and optional green chili. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the cumin and mustard seeds and fry until the seeds begin to pop (about 20-30 seconds). Add the peas and fry for 30 more seconds before adding the sauce to the pan. Cook on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. For a thicker sauce, ladle out about 1/2 cup of the sauce into a small bowl and blend with the 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) cornstarch. Add this mixture back to the frypan and stir until thickened.
Serve over rice or with cheela. Makes about 6 servings.
*From what I can tell, these are also sometimes called pudla. Whatever you call them, they were so remarkably good that we consumed them all before I realized I’d not taken a photo. But other versions abound on the net; for photos, check out the blog posts by Johanna, Lisa, Pikelet and Pie (with zucchini) or (for an Italian twist) Kalyn.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, turmeric, baking soda, cumin, soymilk, and enough water to make a slightly thick, yet still flowing, batter. Stir in the chopped onion, green chili, tomato and cilantro.
Heat a nonstick (5 inch or 12 cm.) pancake pan [I just used a regular frypan] and spray with olive oil spray. Pour in about 1/3 cup batter, spreading it around to cover the bottom of the pan in a thin pancake. Spray the top of the pancake with oil as well.
Reduce heat to medium-low and cook the pancake for about 2-3 minutes, until the top begins to dry and the bottom of browned in spots. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until the other side is browned as well. Remove and keep warm while you make another 7 or so pancakes. Serve hot. Makes about 8 pancakes. Best eaten immediately (they do dry out if kept till the next day).
I had intended a lovely post today, in honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving long weekend to the south of us. But time constraints (read: massive, unwieldly pile of essays and assignments to mark) have prevented me from following through. So I’ll just have to wait till the next batch of holidays in December to post about some new, frost-and-snow inspired, treats.
Instead, I thought I’d pull together a few recipes from previous posts that are suitably festive for a holiday table, or the breakfast table the following day (I’ve also got a few detox recipes on the blog–I’ll let you seek those out yourselves, as required). Most of these are fairly quick to make as well, as long as you’ve got the ingredients on hand.
Hope everyone enjoys some togetherness with friends and family, great food, and a bit of time to relax and play.
See you after the holiday!
“Mum, will Elsie be able to play again after the holiday? I mean, it’s just so boring with her out of commission. . . ”
Odd. . . my Google Reader seemed to be filling up at an alarming rate, sort of like the rising waterline in The Poseidon Adventure. Then I remembered: Not only is October the official World Vegetarian Month, it’s also the Vegan MOFO (Month of Food)! This is the 31-day period in which vegan food bloggers worldwide pledge to blog at least 20 days of the month about, well, vegan food. And blog they have!
Every now and again, I scroll through my photos and realize there are dozens of dishes I’ve cooked and photographed, but never blogged about. It may be that they were less than stellar in their final form, or that my woeful skill as a photographer resulted in a photo that, ahem, didn’t quite do the dish justice. More often than not, however, it’s just that I ran out of time and went on to blog about something else–and then, weeks (or, in some cases, months) later, I stumble upon the photos and rack my brains to remember what the heck it was. And so, here’s but a brief sampling of some of the things we’ve been sampling here in the DDD household.
As Heidi mentions in her post about this, this deceptively simple dish is incredibly addictive. I made it once to try it out, then repeated the venture three days in a row. Stupendous. (And this is one of those aforementioned cases in which the photographer is not up to par with the quality of the recipe!).
Hannah’s Crumb-Topped Brownies are everything you’ve heard they are, and more. As I mentioned a while back, I recently found myself with some soy yogurt in the house, so I finally had the means to try these out. They were superb–soft, gooey, and with a moist, almost custard-like texture that literally melted in the mouth. Even without the white sugar or flour, these were fabulous, and irresistibly decadent.
My favorite scrambled tofu recipe. With just a touch of curry paste, a hit of jalapeno, the requisite turmeric–this dish provides a spicy, juicy, eggy and convenient scramble. I could eat this every day (and I do, for about 3 days after I make it, since the HH will no longer indulge with me).
As Lucy mentioned in her original post about this condiment, it may be just a tad too pungent for some tastes on its own; but these taste buds thoroughly enjoyed it roasted with russett potatoes. Yes, it does sound quirky, and yes, it does resemble the habitat of plankton, but it is, nevertheless, uniquely appealing!
Rich. Chewy. Chocolatey. Totally indulgent. All that, even though I made my usual substitutions of Sucanat for sugar, spelt for regular flour, coconut oil for margarine, etc. The HH almost scalded his tongue eating four of these babies straight out of the oven. What are you waiting for? Go bake some, pronto!
And coming up. . . .got any coconut of your own?
I deliberately ended this list with these coconut cookies as a segue into my next post, which will introduce a new Lucky Comestible series–on coconut! I’d love to include any recipes you may have made featuring this ingredient as well. While I’m not quite ready for my own blog event, I will happily provide links to your posts at the end of each Lucky Comestible recipe in the series.
So feel free to send along those URLs for your coconut-based recipes (and I’m already planning to feature at least 2 of your recipes in the batch. . . but you’ll have to wait to see which ones!).
“Oh, Mum, talk about MoFo! You’re so cruel to keep us all waiting. . .especially when you’re cooking all those yummy coconut dishes just a few feet away. . . *sigh*. . . “
“Chaser, don’t you use such language! And don’t worry, when she’s done, we’ll get to polish off the extra coconut milk.”
In my imagination, I’d love to live on a farm. I say “in my imagination” because, in my reality, I’m actually the farthest thing from a farm type of gal (“What the-? What do you mean, 5:15 is the normal time for the rooster to crow?!!” OR, “What do you mean, it’s almost 2 hours to the closest Barnes and Noble?” OR, “What do you mean, ‘that’s just what manure smells like, so get used to it’???!!!”). Um, nope, I don’t think so.
Still, in my fantasy, I’m a latter day Lisa Douglas. Mid-afternoon, I turn to my HH Wendell Douglas and casually remark, “Oh, dahlink, what shall we have for dinner tonight? I think I vill go out back to our vegetable patch and pick something fresh.” And then I cook it and we eat it and it’s delicious, of course.
Well, now that it’s finally beginning to look a lot like Christmashockey seasonreruns springtime here in Toronto, all the gardeners are out on our street. Our neighbours across the way have been scattering a wheelbarrow full of rich, black composted soil over their front lawn. Everywhere I look, I see women on their knees yanking weeds out of the flower garden, others pulling up dried-out webs of branches and roots.
And I? Not so much. On the other hand, the previous tenants in our house were quite the gardeners. When we first viewed the place last August, the back yard was lush with flowers and all manner of greenery, and it seemed everything was in bloom. (Bizarrely, when we finally moved in in November, we discovered that they had literally uprooted every plant, bush or tree they’d planted in the back yard, and taken everything with them to their new home. Remember that huge, gaping crater out of which emerged the creepy farmer-cum-alien in Men in Black? Well, that’s what our yard looked like, times twenty.)
As far as I could tell until yesterday, what remained in our garden was one puffy green bush near the tree in the front yard, some teeny purple flowers (or were they weeds?) and a few long, sharp green plants that look like miniature palm trees. What they are called, or what they will sprout, I’m afraid I have no idea. My one and only previous gardening experience involves a single jalapeno seedling (I chose a jalapeno because I guessed it would require no maintenance, would self-repel bugs and raccoons, and would yield a small enough harvest that I could use it all up before it began to rot). I was correct on most counts, though the plant, remarkably, flourished and the HH and I ended up eating jalapenos in every imaginable food, from scrambled eggs to pesto to muffins to plain ole roasted in a pan. But at least it proved I could grow a plant without killing it (or neglecting it to the point of killing it).
This year, I vowed, I’d venture into something a bit more exotic. My friend Gemini I (a gardener extraordinaire) has promised that herbs are fairly easy to grow, so I figured I’d plant some basil, cilantro, dill and sage. Then, yesterday, I was strolling past the side of our house on my way toward the back yard for some Frisbee-toss with The Girls and noticed something odd. There, spanning the entire length of the house, was a patch of earth the previous tenants had evidently forgotten–completely covered in small, green, leafy, plants in full bloom. They were a dazzling, almost translucent shade of green, lighter than grass but deeper than lime. . . the color reminded me of something, but what? It was sort of like. . . the color of. . . the color of mint. Yes, mint! And I’ll be darned, when I bent over and pinched one of those verdant babies between my fingers, that’s exactly what they smelled like.
“Oh, that’s mint,” my next-door neighbour said as she sauntered over to me and The Patch. Wow. And so, without even a modicum of effort, I now am the proud owner of a fully formed, instant mint garden. But what to do with it?
“Want some?” I asked her.
I am still planning to plant the cilantro and basil, as I can never get enough of either. But I have to admit that, much as I enjoy mint as a flavoring, I’ve never really been forced to make use of this much of it before. Something tells me I’ll be drinking my share of mint juleps over the next few months–though, even once I’ve given much away to friends and colleagues, I’ll still have more mint than could possibly be consumed even by Daisy and Tom and Jordan and Gatsby during a long, hot, humid summer. (I see much green in my future: chocolate-mint cookies, mint smoothies, mint ice creams, mint salads and all manner of mint drinks, alcoholic and otherwise. . . ).
There was one high point to the discovery, however. Just around dinnertime, I glanced at the swath of green running across the side of my house and said, to no one in particular, “Why, I think I’ll step over here to my herb patch and pick some fresh herbs for dinner tonight.” And I cooked something, and we ate it, and it was delicious. (“Mum, why are you talking with a Hungarian accent? And, come to think of it, why are you talking to yourself?”)
We had planned to have a favorite Indian-spiced potato dish called Aloo Masala, but the recipe didn’t call for any mint. No matter; I threw some in anyway. Along with the complement of other spices, it made for a delightful, slightly sweet and slightly peppery bowl of spuds. The HH had these with an organic chicken breast (on which he piled even more mint), while I was happy with a simple bowl on its own.
Well, that took care of about 1/85th of our mint. Any suggestions for tomorrow?
These potatoes come together very quickly and offer a spicy, smooth and comforting side dish to pretty much any main.
3 or 4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) turmeric
salt, to taste
2 green chilies, chopped (or 1/2-1 jalapeno)
2 tsp. (10 ml.) garam masala
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) shredded or dessicated coconut, unsweetened
1-inch (2.5 cm.) piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) olive oil
1 tsp. (5 ml.) glack mustard seeds
4-6 mint leaves, finely shredded
leaves from 2 sprigs cilantro, finely shredded
Cook the potatoes in just enough water to cover with half the onion, the turmeric and the chilies until about half cooked, about 8 minutes [note: next time I do these, I will omit the onion here and simply fry it all together at the end--I think the potatoes would have a better flavor that way, infused with the caramelized onion].
Meanwhile, blend the garam masala, coconut and ginger in a coffee grinder or miniature food processor. Add to the potato and continue to cook for a further 8 minutes, until tender but not soft, and most of the water has evaporated.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds until they have popped, then add the onion and fry until deep golden brown. Stir this into the curry in the pot.
Add salt to taste and sprinkle with the mint and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.
Whenever we visit my family in Montreal as we did this past weekend, I return to Toronto feeling a little discombobulated. Since I was a callow young’un when I moved away from home (at 17), I never really got to know La Belle Villethat well before I left, so I always feel like a tourist when I return. At the same time, these somewhat frenetic, drive-by junkets (never more than 2 days long) tend to be so micro-scheduled that our itinerary is often tighter than one of Madonna’s corsets.
Regarding our “visits,” the HH once remarked, “I’ve been coming to Montreal with you for ten years, and all I’ve ever seen is a hotel, your dad’s house and your sister’s apartment.” Unfortunately, too true, and this last trip was no exception.
Still, I do enjoy reuniting with family and friends, even if for a few minutes each during out revolving-door visits. And despite my anxiety over a still-tentative back, the driving was fine. By late Sunday, we’d arrived back in Toronto, picked up The Girls from doggie daycare (“Thank God you came back, Mum! We thought you had abandoned us forever!“) and returned home to feed them–and us.
Striding into the empty house, setting down bags and opening windows, I felt the familiar combination of exhaustion, relief, and hunger that always occurs upon returning home after a long trip. A quick glance in the refrigerator revealed a sad inventory of the following: one carton of firm tofu; a lone zucchini (looking almost as tired as I felt); a bag of baby potatoes sorely in need of attention; a bunch of fresh tarragon (bought on a whim after I was inspired by Lucy‘s fabulous post on Leek and Flageolet Soup), and a pint of grape tomatoes, sporting an uncanny resemblance to fingertips that have lingered too long in a warm bath. (And isn’t it interesting how, even though everything here in Canada is metric and I always refer to liquids in those terms–I would never say “a quart of milk”–that I still think of those little cartons for berries or grape tomatoes as “pints”?).
Faced with this unpromising array of tired, wizened produce, the HH responded with a characteristic reaction: ”Okay, let’s go out to eat.”
Now, I do believe that anyone who knows me well would never describe me as ”extravagant.” In fact, I am rather moderate in my spending habits. Come to think of it, I am extremely economical as a rule. Well, actually, I’m even what you might call unbelievably frugal most of the time. Parsimonious, even. Oh, all right, fine, I admit it! I am stingy! I’m a tightwad! I’m a total cheapskate!
Really, I hate spending money unnecessarily. I will do my darndest never to pay a higher price for an article I KNOW costs less elsewhere. I actually find it fun to plan out a budget; I get a kick out of (literally) saving my pennies; I thoroughly enjoy scanning the grocery flyers so that I can plan out a shopping route worthy of a military operation. As a shopper, I experience a little frisson of pride every time I nab one of those funky sweaters I’ve ogled in the store window all season, now at 50% off (even if I don’t actually need a funky sweater and only manage to wear it once before stumbling upon it again years later, abandoned at the bottom of a drawer, at which time I pack it up to send to Goodwill).
As a result, there’s no greater crime in our house than spending money on a restaurant meal if it means throwing away otherwise perfectly good food.
And so, after having just spent a small fortune on travel, boarding The Girls, AND an opulent dinner last week, I was faced wtih my mission, and I chose to accept it: make use of all those leftovers in the fridge–even those shrivelled, elderly tomatoes.
“No way,” I responded, “I can make something out of this. No sense in wasting it.” (Yep, if ever there were a couple who embodied the phrase, “opposites attract,” the HH and I would be it).
Cooking tofu for the HH has become quite a challenge of late, as there are very few tofu-centric meals he’ll deign to eat. And while he did adore my tofu omelette a while back, the prospect of cooking and flipping four of them just then was beyond the bounds of my remaining energy.
I decided to try a frittata. I love fritattas, and hadn’t had one in ages. Besides, like George and Jerry propounding on salsa, I may like the final product, but love the sound of the word even more: free-TA-ta. Like some rollicking anthem a group of suffragettes might have sung as they turned on their heels and sashayed off into the sunset.
My only real problem was the pile of slightly shrivelly tomatoes, too old to attract a suitor, yet still too fresh to start dispensing sage advice to the grandchildren. Then I remembered a great recipe from Martha Stewart (who is, herself, still rather spry looking–even though, in fact, old enough to start dispensing sage advice to the grandchildren) for oven-roated tomatoes. The slow heat renders them no longer really juicy, but not dry, either, dehydrated just enough to intensify the natural sweetness of the fruit. And with grape tomatoes, the oven time could be cut down considerably.
So, while the red grapes roasted, I parboiled the potatoes and zucchini, sliced into rounds. For the base of the fritatta, I employed a variation of my original omelette mixture with a few modifications to create a more savory, firmer texture. I added the chopped tarragon, which brought it all together with its intense grassy color, light flavor and slightly flowery aroma.
Overall, this was a perfect homecoming dinner: simple, satisfying, evoking springtime and–much to my delight–highly economical. And since this is so chock-full of veggies, I’ve decided to submit it to the weekly ARF/5-A-Day event, hosted by Cate at Sweetnicks. You can check the full roundup every Tuesday!
Happy Earth Day, everyone!
Tofu Frittata with Potatoes, Zucchini and Oven Roasted Grape Tomatoes
Hearty and colorful with healthy veggies, this dish makes a wonderful light dinner or showpiece for a brunch table. Of course, you can vary the veggies to your taste (just keep the basic volume about the same). If you don’t feel like roasting your tomatoes, just cut them in half and use them as-is.
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 medium zucchini, sliced into thin rounds
1 large potato (about 200 g.), cut in quarters and sliced into thin rounds; or use 3 baby potatoes
about 1 cup pre-roasted grape tomatoes, or about 1-1/3 cups fresh, cut in half
1/2 cup plus 2/3 cups vegetable broth or stock
1 pound (about 500 g.) firm or extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup (about 60 ml.) nutritional yeast
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) potato starch
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) onion powder (not salt)
1 tsp. (5 ml.) turmeric
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) cashew butter
2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Grease a 9 or 10 inch tart pan, souffle dish, or a 9 inch square pan.
In a large frypan, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, zucchini, and potato, and cook for about 5 minutes, just until the vegetables start to wilt. Add the 1/2 cup vegetable broth, cover, and cook for another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and the onion is beginning to brown. Turn off heat.
In a food processor, mix the tofu, nutritional yeast, remaining 2/3 cup broth, onion powder, turmeric, remaining 1tbsp. olive oil, and cashew butter, whirring until very smooth and evenly textured. Turn the mixture into a large bowl, and stir in the tarragon.
Add the vegetable mixture to the tofu and stir to blend well. Spread the mixture into prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until firm and just beginning to brown on the edges. Cut into wedges to serve. Makes 8 servings.
There are times when I glance around my chaotic home office, and I despair a little. Then my eyes glaze over and I fall into a reverie about the good ol’ days, when I used to be organized: desktop in order, with clearly demarcated ”to do” and “done” piles. Mail returned with great alacrity, and an empty ”inbox” each evening. Shoes and boots lined up like bottles at a county fair, erect and waiting for the ball that will topple them. Laundry folded, laid neatly in drawers (never left to languish untouched on the top of the dresser for days).
Ah, yes, it’s a lovely dream. In more recent times, what with papers to mark, driveways to shovel, cooking classes to teach, orders to bake, dogs to walk, blogs to write–well, I admit that I’ve become a little slack on the home front. But seriously, do you really need more than four square inches of desk space to pay your bills online? Do you really need bookshelves to hold all your books, when the packing boxes they were moved in will do a perfectly acceptable job? Do floors really need to be washed all that often (speaking of, if your floors aren’t up to snuff, just get a puppy. Presto! It’s like one of those zoomba roboty things that catches every spill–leaving floors spic and span–with no effort on your part!).
Well, weird things are starting to happen now that I’ve cut chocolate out of my life. Suddenly, my disorderly surroundings began to feel intolerable (I mean, it’s been this way pretty much since the day we moved in here), and I went on a tidying rampage: clear the mess on the desk! Fold that laundry! Line up those shoes! Tote that barge, lift that bale. . ! And then, I felt like cooking. Cooking onions.
I had always considered onions to be a mere accessory to something else: an adjunt to the roasted garlic in a spelt pizza, a great starter ingredient for soups, or a bedrock for that slab of tempeh in a Tempeh Ruben. And yet, ever since the CFO came to visit a few weeks ago, onions have been tumbling around in the back of my mind. During her visit, she convinced me to buy a copy of Cooking Light magazine, something I’d never done before despite being an avowed magazine junkie (uh oh, I detect a pattern here. . . can the Week of Magazine Asceticism be far behind?).
Guilty of judging a magazine by its cover, I’d always assumed the recipes within would be rife with ”diet” or “lite” ingredients (usually chemically-enhanced or highly processed) as a way of creating these so-called lighter versions of strandard fare (geez, didn’t I notice it was called Cooking Light and not Cooking Lite?). Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
As soon as I flipped open the current issue, a stunning photo of cipollinis beckoned. Now, I’d never even heard of cipollini onions before that moment but, like a new word you finally look up in the dictionary that subsequently pops up everywhere thereafter, these onions had entered my consciousness and I began to notice their presence in familiar places–old cookbooks, food tv shows, other blogs. Within a week, I’d seen them mentioned three or four times.
As much as I love onions, I’d never based an entire dish on them before. (I’d only heard of such a travesty once, during my final PhD year. At the time, my friend Ginny’s husband was being called upon to chip in at home for the first time in their 10-year marriage, as Ginny was overwhelmed with work and studies and often late for dinner. One evening, after a long night’s studying at the library, Ginny returned home to find that her hubby had attempted to cook dinner on his own. As she gravitated toward the heavenly scent of sauteed onions, her husband beamed with pride as he directed her to a huge frypan on the stove, lifted the cover, and revealed–a pan of fried onions! That’s right: he could think of nothing to combine with them, nothing else to add, but he did know how to fry. Last I heard, they were getting a divorce.)
This recipe combines buttery-soft onions with plump raisins and toasted pine nuts in an allluring, glossy glaze. Once the dish was complete, it did look very much like the photo in the magazine. It also tasted great, with the sweet-tart appeal of a good chutney. It was then I realized, much like Ginny’s husband, “what am I going to do with all these onions?” As a side dish to some hunk of meat, they might seem sufficient on their own, but that wasn’t happening in my house. Don’t get me wrong–it was very, very good; just not good enough to stand on its own. So I decided to ladle the mixture over herb-roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and–voila–a lovely, light dinner was born.
And, ironically, you really do need to be organized to make this dish. Just to peel the onions, you must blanch, cool, squeeze, and pull off the skins. This alone took me 30 minutes, before I even began to prepare the rest of the dish.
Yes, cipollinis are lovely. But heck, with my schedule, next time I’ll just use chunks of the good ol’ regular kind.
generous sprinklings of oregano, rosemary, parsley and thyme
salt to taste
For the onions:
1/4 cup (60 ml.) raisins
1/2 cup (125 ml.) hot water
2 pounds (about 1 kg.) cipollini onions
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) butter (I used olive oil)
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) water
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) sugar (I used agave nectar)
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) sea salt
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) pine nuts
Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C). Grease a large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet, or line with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with olive oil. Place in a single layer in the pan and sprinkle with the herbs. Roast in preheated oven until done and a little crispy on the outside, about 45 minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the onions:
Place raisins in a bowl and cover with the 1/2 cup hot water. Let stand 30 minutes or until plump. Drain.
Trim top and root end of onions. Cook onions in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. (The skins were supposed to slip off easily, but they were not not exactly cooperative).
Melt butter (or olive oil) in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions to pan, stirring well to coat. Stir in 3 Tbsp. water [I found I had to add more later on to keep the mixture from scorching], red wine vinegar, sugar (agave), salt, and black pepper. Cover, reduce heat and cook 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. [I found I needed more time than this before they began to really caramelize.]
Add raisins and pine nuts to pan. Inrease heat to medium, and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes or until lightly browned and liquid almost evaporates, stirring occasionally.
Divide potatoes into 4 servings, and ladle the cipollini mixture on top of each.