Sunday, September 25, 2011

Getting Ready for Rain

I love sunshine. And I also love rain. I also love snow. I love that we have all four season where I live. It's truly a blessing. Rain gets a bad reputation and I think it's unfair. Sure, I'm guilty of being a bit disappointed when rain gets in the way of bike rides and walks in the market, and I get more than a little annoyed when my shoes fill up with water. But in the end, I know that rain still rocks. It gives us the perfect excuse to stay inside and do nothing but relax and drink warm beverages. It makes the most wonderful soothing sounds that help you sleep in when your weekday alarm clock inside your head won't shut off. And it makes you feel a little less guilty for leaving work early only to go home and crash on the couch with a big bowl of something comforting.

I have to admit that cooking during weekdays is pretty difficult. I'm usually dead on my feet by 4pm and pass out on the streetcar ride home. Weekday dinners have to be quick, or they have to be made ahead and reheated. I'm the type of person that can make a soup or stew on Sunday, stick it in the fridge and heat it up for supper all week. If you are as well, this braised cabbage and carrot dish is perfect for you. I made it yesterday when I saw that the forecast called for 3 straight days of rain during the work week and I knew that I would need to come home to something comforting and quick.

I first made this braised stew-y dish in April, when spring was just moving in -- the time of slushy sidewalks and chilly wintery rain. It really warmed me up then, and I'm betting it will do the same this week. It's a simple braise of fresh market carrots, purple cabbage and Roma beans (though canned will work just fine I'm sure!) all spiced up with crushed fennel seeds and smoked paprika. I originally used these two spices to mimic the flavours of a chorizo sausage -- I love the spices but hate the oily mess the sausage leaves in the vegetables. I'm not sure that it tastes like chorizo, but it's definitely a winning combination. My thyme pots are still going strong, so I also added a big bunch of that, but if you're making this in the dead of winter, which I'm sure I'll do as well, some dried thyme would be just fine. This braise would be great served with crusty bread if that's your thing. I'd prefer it over noodles or macaroni. It would also be the perfect side dish to pork chops or Oktoberfest sausage, but that's getting too complicated for a week night ... I'm such a wimp! Why do I even have a food blog? :)

Braised Cabbage and Carrots with Beans

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1/2 small head of red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, cut into coins
a big handful of Roma beans, shucked (or half a can of whatever beans you like)
1/2 an onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2 cups of water or vegetable broth
4 big springs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large pot, sweat the onions and garlic until fragrant and soft. Turn up the heat and add the dried oregano, fennel seeds, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes.

2. Add the cabbage and carrots and give it a good stir. Add the vegetable broth and bay leaf and put the lid of the pot. Cook for about 5-6 minutes, or until the carrots and cabbage are just starting to soften. Add the beans and cook, covered for another 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables and beans are cooked to your liking (I like the cabbage and carrots to still have a bit of bite, and the beans to be creamy but not falling apart).

3. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Stir in the fresh thyme and serve with whatever you like!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hearty and Fresh: Black Bean and Buckwheat Dinner Salad

Some of the best meals happen because of accidents or mistakes. Sure, some of the time it's disastrous or most often it's not good enough to be tasty but not gag-inducing enough to justify wasting. I remember this one time I made a barley and bean salad and dressed it with a "vinaigrette" made from yogurt, ground coriander and honey. Not tasty at all, but I couldn't bare to waste it, so I choked it down ... for a good 3 days.

This beautiful black bean and buckwheat salad, though, it NOT the case. It was actually started by my dear sweet love who wanted to make a dish he first learned in culinary school that had black beans, quinoa and tomatoes. Very tasty-sounding. But instead of cooking up red quinoa, he started rinsing out the .. buckwheat. Ooooooops. He cooked it up, mixed it together but found that the didn't like the taste of the buckwheat. That's a shame, because I loved it. It was earthy and hearty and perfect with the black beans. I added some fresh corn a bunch of fresh herbs, and spiced up the vinigrette with a little dash of cumin. Yumtastic. I ate it happily for a good 3 days. He made do with leftovers and was pleased enough that I liked it. Score.

This salad also has the potential be to very versatile. When the sweet corn and local tomatoes become fading summer memories, can't you picture roasted squash and even orange segments thrown in? A bit of orange juice in the vinaigrette and maybe skip the cumin .. or maybe not! I love meals that you can play with. I'm sure the quinoa version is just as good and we'll try that soon, but buckwheat is definitely where it's at. Happy kitchen experimenting!

**note that I refrained from putting measurements in the recipe, because, hey, you can make as much or as little as you want.

Black Bean and Buckwheat Dinner Salad

toasted buckwheat groats, cooked (1 cup of buckwheat to 1 1/4 cups of water)
canned black beans (I used the salt-free kind)
tomatoes, chopped
fresh sweet corn kernals
lots of fresh herbs -- thyme, basil and parsley -- roughly chopped

red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper
**I like my dressings really tart, but do as you like

1. Mix up all the salad ingredients and season well with salt and pepper.
2. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Taste and adjust.
3. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Easing in with Chocolate

It's back to the grind. It's officially fall. Oh, I know it's still mid twenties out there, and there's still humidity. I'm well aware that I just bought another watermelon and 2 pounds of peaches. I know that today was a lovely biking day and we totally got our sweat on riding to the park and back. And yes, I know the official turn of the season is not for another few weeks. There will be lots of berries, iced teas and patio evenings left this summer. I know. And I love it.

But ... school started. And for me, that marks the end of summer fun and the beginning of another academic year. It's back to the grind. I love my job; in fact, after a day back in school, I felt like I never left. But I do already miss the long lazy afternoons of coffee drinking, novel reading and slow-food baking. Oh the baking. I still bake a lot during the school year, but it's not like in the summer when I have time to mull about, let dough rise or spend forever pitting cherries and listening to music. Baking is often quick. It's often something I throw together to make Thursday night a little more special. It's more than often big batches of treats to sell at fundraiser bake sales. It's sometimes done in the very early morning on Saturday and given to my parents as a little treat later in the day. It's most often a healthy batch of something tasty quickly made on Sunday evening so I'll have something to look forward to during the work week.

This year, I celebrated the end of my first work week with a little bit of chocolate. Nothing too fancy or too oooey gooey, but a nice, sensible chocolate loaf cake to help ease me back to work. This cake is humble. It looks plain jane and rather sensible; kind of like outfits that you have wear to work. Comfortable, sensible, but not too stylish, nothing that will draw too much attention, but something that will make you look good. This cake is exactly that. To be specific, it's a chocolate tahini cake, and it's the perfect pick-me-up after a day at work, or in the middle when you can't keep your eyes open long enough to last through the last hour. It's got an amazingly tender crumb and a deep dark chocolate taste that pairs so nicely with the richness of the tahini, which shines through all the way. It's the kind of snack that you pack and forget about, but when you remember it, your day becomes so much brighter. And when you're at work, a little chocolate always helps you work that much better.

I got the recipe for this cake from a beautiful vegan blog called "have cake, will travel." However, I kind of de-veganized it by using yogurt in place of the apple sauce that the original recipe called for. I haven't tried it yet with apple sauce, but I think it's actually the yogurt that makes the texture of this cake so tender and delicious. Vegan yogurt would probably work (although I've had bad experiences with that ..), or you could always increase the amount of soy milk and add a squeeze of lemon juice or a teaspoon of cider vinegar. I think the acid is the key. Just for kicks, I'll try it with apple sauce and let you know. For now, I'm digging into another slice and getting ready for another work week.

Chocolate Tahini Loaf
adapted from have cake, will travel **I halved the original recipe, so I'm sure the one below doubles nicely

1/4 cup of tahini
1/4 cup of honey or agave
6 tablespoons of soy or almond milk
1/4 cup of yogurt (or juice of half a lemon topped up with soy, or soygurt)
splash of almond extract
3/4 cup of whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 cup of natural cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of sesame seeds (I used a mixture of both white and black)

1. In a large bowl, mix together the whisk together the wet ingredients. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and cocoa powder. Mix until just combined.

2. Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until a cake-tester inserted comes out clean. Happy work week!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It can't be over yet!

There are still mountains and juicy peaches and baskets overflowing with blueberries spilling over everything in the market. We had a humidex advisory warning yesterday. Summer can't be over yet ... can it? I know, I just baked autumnal cookies and put on a sweater when I got up one morning, but I can change my mind, can't I?

Yup, I just did. Even though I'm fully going back to work on Tuesday, I'm going to hang on to summer for as long as I can, even if it's just for the fruit. Two weeks ago, I went to a local farmer's market and bought my third yellow watermelon of the season. I swore it would be my last watermelon of the summer. I was walking through Kensington market on Friday, and what did I see on sale? Watermelons. Yup, it's cut up in my fridge as we speak. And yesterday when we biked past another little market with baskets upon baskets of BC blueberries on sale, how could I resist?

It was humid, and sticky and smoggy yesterday, and so we stayed inside for much of the day. We made blueberry preserves with some of our findings, and froze a little bag to surprise ourselves in the dead of winter when summer berries are but a fading memory. And we also sacrificed a few, just a few, to make this beautiful peach and blueberry breakfast bake. It's lemony and summery and very light. If you're looking for a traditional crisp or crumble, you may be disappointed. There are no buttery clumps of crumble goodness -- I save that for the apple crumble later when fall really rolls around. But this, no. This is the perfect breakfast treat. The fruit is heated just until it softens up and starts oozing those lovely summery fruit juices. There's no flour or corn starch like in traditional pies or crumbles; those fruit juices and set free. Everything is kissed with lemon, and topped with a wholesome crispy topping sweetened with pure maple syrup. With a big spoon of yogurt and nice strong coffee, this is the perfect way to celebrate summer .. summer that's NOT over just yet.

Peach and Blueberry Breakfast Bake
serves 4

1 cup of blueberries, rinsed
2 peaches, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoons of sugar
zest and juice and half a lemon
1/2 cup of old fashioned oats
1/2 cup of ground almonds
3 tablespoons of maple syrup

1. Toss the fruit in sugar, zest and half the lemon juice. Pour into a pie pan or baking dish.

2. Mix together the ground almonds and oats. Add the rest of the lemon juice and maple syrup. With a fork, gentle mix until everything gets sticky and moistened.

3. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the top of brown and crispy and the fruit juices have just started the bubble. Enjoy warm with summer's arm around your shoulder.