Sunday, June 26, 2011

Falling in Love

I remember the first time I fell in love with cardamom. It was during my summer vacation and I had just watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my best friend downtown. It was hot and kind of dusty. We had seen an early show and were still restless. We wandered into Kensington market and inside this tiny ice cream shop (that sadly, does not exist anymore). A tall, sandy blond guy with an Australian accent served us. I remember asking him what was in the flavour labelled "Emotional Rescue." He told me that it was vanilla and cardamom. I savoured every lick. At the time, I had no idea that "Emotional Rescue" was actually the title of a song, and so in my mind, I thought that cardamom must have some sort of soothing, calming effect that would likely rescue someone from an emotionally eruptive state. The romance faded when I learned that it was a Rolling Stones song, but I never forgot the taste of cardamom -- floral, sweet, warm and cool at the same time. But summer came and went, and as fall rolled around, that cardamom taste faded on my tongue and became a memory.

Fast forward to last December when I was having brunch at Lady Marmalade, a newly opened spot in my brand new neighbourhood. I couldn't resist ordering the multigrain porridge that came topped with cardamom apples. One bite and my ice cream memory came flooding back to me, that hazy summer wind floating past me in the thick of winter. This time, I acted quickly. I bought cardamom pods and ground cardamom and I started adding it to my curries, my oatmeal breakfasts and even to my cookies. But it wasn't until this week that I perfected a cookie recipe worth naming the Cardamom Cookie. During my experiments, I was always careful when using it. Just a teaspoon or half a teaspoon. I didn't want to overpower whatever I was making. Not this time. This cookie is cardamom all the way, and it's pretty delicious.

The texture reminds me of a package of cookies I once bought from the Indo Canada Bakery on the Danforth. Crumbly, and light, but unlike the packaged cookies that were crispy and fell apart as soon as you took a bite, these home made ones are tender and almost chewy when you bite into them and crumble as you chew. It's got whole wheat flour, and semolina flour, giving it a unique crumb and toasty flavour. And oh, the cardamom. Smelling them in the oven is enough to soothe you, but for total relaxation, enjoy a couple with a cup of afternoon tea or coffee.

Cardamom, you are my emotional rescue.

Vegan Cardamom Cookies
makes about 2 dozen

1/4 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of orange juice
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
2/3 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups of semolina flour
2 rounded teaspoons of ground cardamom

1. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, brown sugar and tapioca flour until well blended.

2. Sift in the tapioca flour, flour, cardamom and baking soda and give it a good mix. Add the semolina flour and give it another good mix.

3. Drop teaspoon fulls (you might have to give them an extra squeeze to hold them together) of cookie dough onto a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until the tops of cracked and the edges are slightly golden.

4. Serve warms with coffee, tea and your favourite relaxing music.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cool Noodle Salad for those Hazy Days

I think summer is here. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh... don't scare her away. The thunderstorms and steamy afternoons (and migraine headaches!) definitely mark the beginning of summer. So do strawberries and rhubarb in the market and an increasing urge to stay outside.

While a couple weeks ago I could get away with making soup and enjoying it despite the hot weather, I can't say that I could have done that for the past few days. Instead, a few days ago, I made a yummy, simple noodle salad that sat in the fridge and was enjoyed all week long. I used extra thin vermicelli, (but I think next time I might try cellophane noodles), sliced carrots, blanched broccoli and asparagus and dressed it with a lime, ginger and soy mixture. The final ingredient threw it over the top: Thai basil. Ever had it? It's definitely similar to Italian basil but with a sweeter and more licorice-y taste. When I smell it, I think of pho, that classic Vietnamese noodle soup that comes served with raw bean sprouts and tons of Thai basil that you just throw into the soup to cook. I used tons of it in this salad and it totally made the different between a great salad and a super-fantastic salad.

I used a combination of raw and cooked veggies, but if you were feeling lazy, you could stick with just raw ones. Cucumber would be very refreshing in this salad, as would sliced red peppers or even celery. For a bit more kick, you might want to add some chopped green onion, or use a fresh red chili in the dressing instead of the chili powder that I used. If you need a bit of protein in your salad, shredded cooked chicken would be perfect, as would some marinated tofu if you want to keep it veggie. Cilantro would have been a perfect herb to add as well, but try not to skip the Thai basil. If you don't grow it, you can usually find it wrapped in most Asian grocery stores. Personally, I'm ecstatic to have three little Thai basil patches growing on my balcony, because I plan to make this salad many more times this summer.

Now..what should I do with this big pot of spear mint that was given to me as a gift ......

Noodle Salad with Thai Basil
300g of dried, extra thin vermicelli (they come in little "cakes" -- I used three)
1 medium carrot, sliced into match sticks
1/2 head of broccoli, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and cut in half
a big handful of Thai basil
a few sprigs of fresh thyme

juice and zest of 2 juicy limes
1 tablespoon of light soy
1 tablespoon of dark soy
1 teaspoon of grated ginger
1 teaspoon of dark brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon of canola oil
a pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Soak the noodles in cold water for a couple of hours. Drain, and dunk into boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove (but keep the water to blanch your veggies) and run under cold water. Drain and put into a large bowl.

2. Blanch the asparagus and broccoli separately until tender. Drain and add to noodles. Add carrots and herbs and toss until everything is evenly distributed.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice and zest, oils, soy sauces, ginger and sugar. Taste and add more oil or sugar to your liking. It will be quite zing-y, but the noodles will mellow it out.

4. Pour 2/3 of the dressing in the salad and toss. Taste and add more if you like.

5. Serve immediately or chilled.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Orange Strawberry Pizza

Do you know Joy the Baker? I don't mean do you know her, know her, but do you know of her blog? I'm pretty sure you do, because everyone does. She's awesome for so many reasons but I love her mostly because she does crazy things that you would never think of doing (like make hot chocolate popovers that taste just like hot chocolate and drink kale, pear and spinach smoothies!), but when you try it, the results are awesome.

She made a recent post featuring strawberry balsamic flat bread. How did she know that the first Ontario strawberries were in the market? I couldn't resist making a version of my own. Here's what I did:

I made half a batch of this easy pizza dough recipe, only I skipped the rosemary in favour of some fresh thyme, and added some orange zest. While it was resting, I marinated some sliced Ontario strawberries in a sprinkling of sugar, a generous splash of balsamic vinegar and more orange zest. While the berries and dough were hanging out, I washed and chopped some fresh spinach. I rolled out the dough, drizzled it with olive oil, sprinkled on the spinach, then the strawberries in their beautiful balsamic-y juices and added some mild Canadian goat cheese on top. It went in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and came out fantastic. A last sprinkling of freshly chopped basil, right from the balcony garden and it was total perfection. A perfect summer supper.

Thanks, Joy! You rock my world!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

So NOT Soup Weather

It's a been a steamy past few days here in Toronto, and I know the last thing you want is a bowl of hot soup to make you even hotter. But trust me; this is worth the pain. In the scorching feels-like-41-degree weather during the middle of this week, we made a soup so delicious that is was worth the minor discomfort of eating hot foods on a hot day.

Here's the story: I wanted to make this soup when I first saw the post. I love lentil, I love beans and I wanted an excuse to use my hot smoked paprika again. Then, I saw this lovely spring minestrone and I was intrigued by the addition of fresh pesto stirred into the soup at the very end to give it body and a kick of flavour. My idea to combine the two soups came when I was staring into the fridge at some leftover pesto I had made (which by the way, is so much better when you make it yourself!) and wanting to do something with a beautiful bunch of spinach that was sitting in the crisper. It worked out beautifully. It was a great way to use up a few purple potatoes I had hanging around for a couple of weeks, plus use some of Ontario's first batch of spring asparagus.

This soup is the perfect opportunity to experiment with different vegetables. I don't think you could mess it up, even if you wanted to! It's hearty with beautiful earthy lentils and chickpeas -- winter staples that you probably still have hanging around, but also fresh and spring-y from the veggies and fresh herbs. Whatever you do, don't skip the pesto. It's the secret that makes this soup a definite winner.

Spring-Winter Minestrone
inspired by kickpleat on poppytalk and Simple Recipes

1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
a handful of button mushrooms, sliced
a handful of baby potatoes, quartered
1 teaspoon of hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of green lentils, rinsed
1/2 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cups of water or vegetable stalk, plus more if needed
a small bunch of spinach, roughly chopped
a small bunch of asparagus, trimmed and halved
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of fresh pesto

1. In a large pot, sweat the onions, garlic, carrots and celery with some olive oil for about 5 minutes until they start to get soft and fragrant. Season and add dried oregano and smoked paprika.

2. Add the mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, lentils and chickpeas and give it a good stir. Add the stalk and bring up to a boil. Cover and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost tender.

3. Add the asparagus and put the lid on for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the chopped spinach. Simmer, uncovered for 10 more minutes, or until the asparagus and potatoes and fully tender and the liquid has reduced.

4. Turn off the heat and stir in the pesto. Serve with something over ice!