Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Camping and Noodles

Ever since I was in the tenth grade, and my best-friend to be brought in an article about the old growth forests in North Bay -- the Temagami red and white pine old growth forests -- and our science teacher made our class debate the pros and cons of logging in that community, I've been aching and yearning to see these forests for myself. For my 19th birthday, my sister bought me a poster that featured the huge trunk of a pine tree in the Temagami. Sometimes, I'd stare at the poster, then close my eyes and pretend that I was standing in the middle of that forest and soaking up the stillness of the oldest red and white pine forest in the world.

In my second year of university, I was sent an email that went out over a list-serve inviting people to join a group that would be taking a bus up to the Temagami for a protest over a recent decision made by the government to continue logging. I was very very close to going, but no one would go with me, and my parents would give their heads disapproving shakes every time I'd mention it. Needless to say, I missed the opportunity. It just wasn't my time.

After I started teaching and I had my summers totally free, I started thinking about making the trek up to the forests (were by now, partly logged) with my partner. But once I started researching and looking up prices, my spirits sank again. Train and even bus tickets up there were so expensive. I kept saying to myself that I'd save up and then one summer, we'd do it. But plans to buy a place for myself got in the way -- how could I think about vacations when I was supposed to be saving for a loft? When I finally made that purchase of a lifetime, I kissed my dream of seeing the Temagami good-bye. There was no way that I, now a home-owner and slave to a mortgage, was going to make it up there anytime soon.

Enter: my sister, my camping sister, my camping sister who has a drivers license. When she suggested that the four of us go camping this summer, I agreed and didn't think anything of it. Then, she called and said very casually "I've booked our camp site. It's in the Temagami. I thought it would be cool since you've always wanted to see it." I almost jumped through the ceiling, I was so excited. Hiking on Temagami island was a magical, jaw-dropping experience. Although we were not in oldest stands that exist in the area, the sheer height of some of the trees made me stop and gaze with amazement. The canopy overhead held a sudden rain at bay long enough for us to don our ponchos and keep going. And did I mention a lake? The crystal clear, warm-watered beautiful Lake Temagami that we just had to stop and swim in. My 13 year old dream to visit this magical place had come true. It was bliss.

And just like any regular camping adventure, there was lots of camping food. S'mores, kick-the-can ice cream (made with fresh local blueberries bought at a stand on the way), lots of camp fire-grilled goodies ... and instant kimchi noodles. I'm no stranger to instant noodles; it was a childhood staple that I've since grown out of. But not my big sister. She's a total noodle head and started each day with these noodles. When she offered me a bite, I thought it would be like any other instant noodle -- addictively salty and neutral in flavour. But no ... this new-found kimchi flavoured noodle had a little something extra . Needless to say, I went back for a second and third bite.

Upon arriving home, I wasn't about to re-live my preteen-instant-noodle-eating days, but I wanted to recapture that salty, spicy, definitively Asian flavour of those noodles. A quick poke in a chinatown grocery store, $2.99 later, and I had a little container of kimchi, waiting to be used. For those of you who aren't familiar with kimchi, it's a Korean pickled vegetable condiment that consists of nappa cabbage marinated in a chili-based sauce. My sister usually just snacks on it as is, but I've had it in a stew with tofu and it was incredible. Remaking the stew crossed my mind for just a second before it settle back to the noodles. And although my version isn't quite instant, it's tasty, satisfying and quick to make. I added rainbow chard, which dyed everything a beautiful deep pink, and a good dose of ginger to complete the experience. I packed some up and took it to my sister, who gave it a satisfying slurp of approval. If you've never tried kimchi, this is a good way to have a first experience. Don't be scared and don't get turned off by the strong smell. Cook it in a little broth and your whole dish becomes magic ... just like the Temagami.

Kimchi Noodles with Rainbow Chard

1 serving of noodles (I used a carrot-infused Chinese wheat noodle, but pasta would be great)

1 teaspoon of ginger, minced
4 stalks of rainbow chard, stems diced up and leaves cut into ribbons
as much kimchi as you can muster (I used about 6-7 pieces), cut up into strips
1/2 cup of vegetable stock
a squirt of soy sauce
a little dash of toasted sesame oil

1. Cook your noodles according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, saute the ginger in a saucepan until it gets fragrant but hasn't turned brown. Add chard stems and a splash of stock and cook for 2 minutes or so, until they soften up a bit.

3. Add your chard leaves, kimchi and the rest of the stock. Give it a good stir and cook until chard leaves have wilted and are almost tender. Add the noodles, soy sauce and sesame oil and toss until everything is well combined. Cook for another minute or so until most of the liquid has absorbed.

4. Anoint with more kimchi if desired or just dig in and pretend that there's a morning camp fire in front of you and you're counting the birds on the trees overhead.

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Sudden Craving

Ever had a SUDDEN craving???? Yeah, yeah, don't deny it! I know you have! Sushi? Salad? Tofu? No, I'm not talking about that. Let's not kid ourselves. I'm talking about a REAL CRAVING. Chocolate? Peanut butter? Now we're talking. What are your biggest cravings? Those urges that hit you at random moments. Like when you're out at 9pm walking home from the movie store and it's humid and drizzly and suddenly your partner says .. "I crave Reese's.. No, not really. I crave the combination of chocolate and peanut butter."

Did we take the shortcut and buy the package of Reese's? Nope. Instead of reaching for a ready-made treat, we bought a dark chocolate bar and made cookies, peanut butter chocolate chunk ones. They were chewy and peanut-buttery oh-so-chocolately. Not too sweet like the candy-bar would have been, but just sweet enough to satisfy that late night craving. Because I used a chopped up chocolate bar instead of chocolate chips or chunks of baking chocolate (which would have been alright too), the chocolate bits did this melty, oozy thing that put this cookie over the top. It was the perfect treat to accompany The Good Fellas. Robert DeNiro would have approved.

I'm not going to ramble on in this post. Summer is ending and I have lots of fun things to try to cram into this last week of freedom. But I urge you to give in to your cravings once in a while. A healthy dose of sugar, or chocolate, or whatever it might be that hits you suddenly and out of the blue, might not be such a bad idea. Sushi, salad and tofu -- save those for a regular day. Make these cookies for one of your REAL cravings.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

adapted from the Robin Hood Flour cooking pamphlet with help from Seven Spoons (who urged me to add the honey) and Anna Olson (who's secret to chewy cookies -- corn starch -- won my heart)

1/4 cup of butter or margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 cup of natural peanut butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon of honey
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of corn starch
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 dark chocolate bar, chopped

1. Cream the butter/margarine, peanut butter and brown sugar until smooth and well-combined. Add the egg and honey and mix well.

2. Sift in the baking soda, corn starch, and flour and give it a good mix. Add the chopped chocolate and give it one final stir.

3. Drop teaspoons of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies get a little golden brown.

4. Don't forget to eat some while they're hot -- the ooey, gooey, melty chocolate shouldn't be missed. But, they store well and stay chewy if you keep them in a sealed container.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Lobster Tale

Ok, so you know that trick with making iced tea so that summer would last longer? Yeah, I don't think that's going to work, but thanks for helping me out anyway. I've come to accept that fall is coming and I've even psyched myself up to be excited, even if it means work starting again and summer holidays ending. I've realized that as long as my summer memories are vivid in my mind, I can relive them, even after a long day of trying to tame and teach adolescent hormones. This blog is helpful because it means I don't have to dig out USB keys and memory cards to look at pictures -- my memories are just a click away. Whew!

Speaking of summer fun, I recall promising you a lobster tale. I'm already getting giddy remembering the story, so I'm sure that re-telling this tale in this post will solidify it in my mind, thus keeping it in the front of my memory for as long as possible. So here goes; I'm just going to say it. We made lobster bisque in a motel room. Details? Why, of course! Remember that beach lobster that we had on one of the last days in Moncton? Well, we saved the shells and some of the meat, with the idea of making bisque as a last dinner on our vacation. However, we ran into some roadblocks along the way. Our "kitchenette" at the motel was nothing more than a counter with a sink, a microwave and a hot plate. There were a few bowls and a shallow Pyrex glass dish. No pot. Did this put an end to our lobster plans? Nope. My ingeniously culinary partner pressed on. A quick trip to Sobeys for vegetable broth, potatoes, garlic butter, onions and tomatoes and the adventure began. This first part went smoothly. He sweat he veggies and set them aside (inside the ice holder!) and proceeded to pan roast the shells using the pyrex dish and hotplate. The smell was so wonderful. Then, stuff happened. As we were pouring the broth into the roasted shells, we heard a crack. Yup, we overheated that Pyrex dish and it cracked. BUT .. we poured the shells and broth into three bowls and .... yes ... we... microwaved it. A quick strain using a three dollar coffee strainer, a little mix with the veggies and into the microwave it went again. When we heard the final "ding!" we stirred in a little cream, topped it with leftover lobster meat and proceeded to taste. Oh .. my ... god. I would never have thought that it would taste so good. Very lobster-y, al dente potatoes, rich tomato flavour .. it was the perfect adventure to end our vacation.

But that's not it! Did you know that you can buy LIVE lobster at the airport in Moncton and FLY IT HOME? It was ingenious! They packed the lobsters with vaccum sealed frozen veggies and they stayed lively all the way to Toronto. A nice surprise for my family. That very night, we cooked it and the next day we took it over to my parents' where we made a lovely lobster soup/stew. It was wonderful, simple, yet unconventional. Simple veggies get sauteed, just like in the motel, and mixed with a touch of paprika. The lobster shells are roasted in the pan, and get some simmer time with water and broth. When everything gets put back together, it's thickened with rice. Twenty minutes later, you have a rustic, hearty, healthy very lobster-y stew that's rich without needing artery-clogging ingredients. I also have one more recipe to leave you with -- linguine with lobster meat. It's a simple pasta toss -- the sauce kind of coming together with a combination of tomatoes, lemon juice and pasta cooking liquid. It's fresh, tasty, and a lovely way to use up the lobster meat after you've used the shells to make the soup. So, if you ever find yourself indulging in lobster, please try these recipes and seriously consider visiting the east coast of Canada .. although before hand, make sure your "kitchenette" has an actually stove ... oh yeah, and pots and pans would be helpful too!

Lobster Soup/Stew

the shells of 1 medium-sized lobster
1 shallot
1 clove of garlic
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 new potatoes, diced
1 teaspoon of sweet paprika
4 cups of vegetable broth
3 cups of water
1 cup of jasmine rice
olive oil, salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, sweat the shallots and garlic until soft and fragrant. Add the carrots, celery, potatoes, tomatoes and paprika and cook on medium-low heat until the carrots, celery and potatoes start to soften and the tomatoes start to break down a little. Season with salt and pepper. Remove this mixture to a bowl and set aside.

2. In the same pan, roast the lobster shells in olive oil over medium-high heat for about 7-10 minutes. Add the broth and water and simmer for 15-20 minutes on medium-low heat, covered. Make sure you scrape the brown lobstery bits from the bottom of the pan.

3. Strain the shells and put the liquid back into the pot. Add the reserved vegetable mixture and rice and bring the liquid up to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for another 20 minutes, uncovered until the veggies become tender, and the rice is cooked. Turn off the heat and let stand, covered for another 10 minutes, or until the rice has exploded and the liquid has thickened up nicely.

4. Season to taste, take a bite, and pretend that you're in Moncton.

Lobster Linguine

250 grams of linguine
a handful of grape tomatoes, quartered
1 shallot, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
the juice and zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons of chili powder
the meat from one medium lobster, chopped
a bunch of spinach, roughly chopped
a handful of fresh herbs, chopped (I used basil, lemon thyme and parsley)
olive oil, salt and pepper

1. Boil the pasta according to package directions in large pot of salted water. Set aside 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid for later.

2. Cook the shallots and garlic in olive oil until soft and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper and add the chili powder. Cook for about a minute and then add the tomatoes. Cook for another 3 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to release their liquids.

3. Add the pasta, reserved cooking liquid, lemon juice and zest and toss. Add the lobster meat and spinach, and cook for another minute or so, just until the spinach has wilted and turned bright green.

4. Finish with fresh herbs, and more pepper if needed.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Don't Go!

It has just occurred to me that autumn is just around the corner. I know, I know! But still. Apples, turnips, pumpkins, pencils, books... school ... that's just a stone's throw away and while I do look forward to crisp sweater-weather, warm comforting stews and a brand new school year, I'm not ready to let go of summer just yet. So what should we do? Simple! Fill up our days with all the summer-y fun things and enjoy every last moment. Like what, you ask? Having brunch with friends in the warmth of a weekday summer morning, watching matinee movies, staying up late on Sundays, walking everywhere, enjoying summer berries and fresh local veggies, going camping, taking day trips and ... making and enjoying iced tea.

I've always loved iced tea. As a non-alcoholic-drinker, iced tea has always been my old friend and standby. I first tried making it earlier this year for a little tea party I was having with my students. Since then, I've tweaked it a little to suit more grown up tastes -- not that a recipe for iced tea can be tweaked too much. It's very very simple and gives you refreshing, satisfying results. And what about those cherries in the picture above? Ah .. those are sour cherries. When kickpleat wrote about them on ReadyMade, and I saw them sitting innocently in a basket at the fruit market, I just had to try them. I pitted a little basket and froze them right away as we were going on vacation. When I came back, they welcomed me by giving me a little sweet-sour super cold treat to munch on. BUT .. they are even BETTER when you use them as little fruity ice cubes in this iced tea. I used a combination of an inexpensive fruit tea that came in bags and rooibos tea that I bought loose at a health food store. Feel free to just use teabags or loose tea (I would say that 1 teaspoon of loose tea would equal the amount in a teabag).

Please go make some iced tea. If you do it and I do it then maybe, just maybe, summer will hang around a little bit longer ...

Fruity Rooibos Iced Tea

6 cups of water
3-4 bags of fruity herbal tea
1 tablespoons of rooibos tea
3 tablespoons of sugar (or more or less to your taste)
the juice of half a lemon
frozen fruit to serve (optional)

1. Bring the six cups of water to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and dump in the tea. Cover and let it steep for about 10 minutes.

2. Strain the tea into a different pot using a strainer lined with cheesecloth or empty teabags. You can skip this step if you're not using a loose tea like rooibos that's got a lot of little bits in it. I'm sure green tea and black tea leaves will strain fine with just the strainer.

3. Let the tea cool for about 5 minutes. Add sugar and lemon juice and give it a big stir. Adjust the sugar/lemon amounts to your taste.

4. Allow the tea to cool completely before to pouring into a jug or in my case, and empty juice container, and storing the fridge. To complete the experience, pour yourself a glass, drop in a few pieces of frozen fruit and toast to summer not being over just yet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'm Baaaaaaaack ...!

Moncton, oh Moncton ... why did we leave? Seriously, as soon as I opened my email after a week spent in a state of total relaxation, I thought "Ya know .. we should have stayed in New Brunswick...FOREVER!" But I have to admit that I did miss Toronto, as smoggy and populated and sometimes unfriendly as it is, I did miss the bustling, cafe-saturated, public transit-accessible city that will always be my home.

BUT .. we LOVED Moncton. Not only did we explore the city and sample some local cafe coffee from Clementine Cafe, Cafe Cognito, Landromat Espresso Bar and Cafe Down East, but we got to see the little towns, secret trails and beautiful ruins that surrounded Moncton. We were so grateful to have been guided by a knowledgeable childhood friend of my partner who literally has a map inside his brain of every beautiful spot to see sunsets and every old, historical ruin (wharfs, piers, grave sites ...) that's not mentioned in the tour books.

Between playing with hermit crabs, and swimming in the warmth and light of the most beautiful sunsets I'd ever seen, how did we find time for food??

While most breakfasts consisted of microwaved eggs and yogurt in my motel room, and most lunches involved pretzels, peanut butter and sugary juice cocktails enjoyed in the back the car en route to a new secret destination (like an underground river inside a hidden cave that you have to climb down to using precariously tied-off ropes ...!), some meals definitely stood out in my mind, like ..

locally-made duck and veggie pates with lovely condiments like plum and ginger chutney and red pepper jelly ...

chicken wieners and marshmallows made special by a bonfire on a quiet beach (thanks to a tip from a friendly local) ...

the elusive McHomard or McLobster ...

and .. lobster and coleslaw (a great deal thanks again to same lovely local!) on the beach during our very last full day on vacation, eaten after a quick, cool dip in the salty Northumberland Strait under over cast skies ... (oh! I've got another lobster story for you ...stay tuned!)

But that was then and this is now, and while I desperately miss the zen-like state we were in that only comes when we're totally relaxed, AND coffee every single morning, AND smelling the ocean air even in the city, it's back to semi-reality. Translation? Routine, 3 more weeks until work starts up again, finishing my long range plans in time for September 1st, taking care of some looming business, and cooking. Truth be told, the first dinner I cooked when we got back into town was baked oatmeal with frozen berries. But the next day, I realized that one cannot always eat oatmeal, and plus, I wanted to make something that reminded me of my time spent in Moncton. No, I didn't make lobster (that's a different story for next week!) or any type of seafood. I made coleslaw. Why coleslaw? Because I realized that some of my favourite memories, some of the moments that I made me smile while in Moncton involved coleslaw: dinner with my partner's Mom and niece in a greasy take-out place and laughing when his niece dipped a fork-full of french fries into her coleslaw; sitting on the motel bed with my bestest friend on our last night in Moncton and eating leftover beach coleslaw while talking about our favourite moments during our vacation ...

Yup, coleslaw. I've never been a big coleslaw fan, but it got quite addictive after the first bite. It was something about the crunchy, sweet, tangy-ness that I just couldn't get enough of. It was also great because I already had everything I needed in my post-vacation fridge: red cabbage, carrots and apples. I wanted to capture the tangy-sweetness of the salad without the creaminess of a mayonnaise-laden dressing, so I looked to balsamic vinegar, lemon, maple syrup and a big spoonful of my previously-posted tart blueberry jam. After a couple hours in the fridge, it tasted like perfection, and just as I had hoped, my favourite memories came flooding back. I ate it just as it was, as a post-weight-lifting snack, but I think if you threw a handful of walnuts in the mix and ate it alongside a piece of fresh bread, you'd have a really nice summer lunch. And let me tell you, it felt good to eat some veggies after a week of refined sugar, salty snacks and sugary drinks. Thank-you, coleslaw. You welcomed me home and helped me to never forget some wonderful Moncton memories.

Red Cabbage Coleslaw with Balsamic Dressing
with help from these two recipes at Everybody Likes Sandwiches

half a head of red cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot, grated
half an apple, julienned (I used an empire apple)

2 teaspoons of grainy mustard
2 teaspoons of maple syrup
1 tablespoon of blueberry jam
1.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Make the dressing by first combining the mustard, maple syrup, jam, vinegar and lemon juice in a small bowl. While whisking, slowly add in the olive oil. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

2. Toss the dressing with the veggies and let it sit, covered in the fridge for at least an hour.

3. Enjoy!