Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cool and Creamy

It's a hazy one out there. A perfect Pride Weekend, made special because it's my first weekend of summer vacation. It usually takes a few days for the thought of summer vacation to soak in, and another few days to get all unwound, especially with end of the year drama. And while I'll miss the children like crazy, I'm glad to have some time to myself. And it couldn't be a more perfect weekend to start off my holiday.

Enjoying hot hazy days can be tricky. The sunshine begs you to join it outside, but after awhile and a couple gallons of water, you're exhausted. I think the trick is to balance your sunshine adventures with lots of hydration, and some cool creamy treats. These mango lime popsicles are perfect, but so is this unique strawberry rice pudding.

I know some of you aren't pudding people. It's a texture thing, right? I loved pudding as a child. Every once in awhile, my parents would get the Jell-o pudding cups (usually vanilla or tapioca) and I would be allowed to have one as an after school treat. My first perfect memory of pudding as a child was when I went over a friend's house for the first time, and we made lemon pudding together. We poured in the milk, mixed it up, and waited patiently for it to set in the fridge. I think it's the memory of being together with that friend that I miss, rather than the taste of powdered pudding.

 My re-acquaintance with pudding came many years later when I made this super easy chocolate pudding. No messing about with egg yolks or double cream. Cornstarch does an amazing job thickening it to the perfect pudding consistency. I even made a mocha version by substituting some of the milk with extra strong brewed coffee, and a butterscotch version with some leftover butterscotch chips. Then this coconut rice pudding got posted, and I tried that too. In this recent pudding edition of my kitchen adventures, I made a strawberry rice pudding that's just sweet enough, very creamy and totally perfect if you have some stray berries that are getting over-ripened. I originally wanted it to be a coconut strawberry pudding; I used a coconut milk beverage (the kind in the tetra pack that's used as a milk substitute) for the first time, but found out that while it's nice and creamy, it lacked in coconut flavour. But that didn't matter because the strawberries totally shone. When it's chilled and eaten straight from the jar, it's the perfect after-sun-adventure treat.

While I know the pudding probably isn't everyone's cup of tea, I urge you to try it if you like pudding even a little bit. There's just something so satisfying about sticking your spoon into a jar of something creamy and cool ... Happy summer days everyone!

Strawberry Rice Pudding
serves about 2-3

1/4 cup of arborio rice
1.5 cups of milk (or any non-dairy milk -- I used So Nice coconut milk beverage)*
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of natural cane sugar
1/2 cup of fresh strawberries, diced

**if you want a more coconut-y pudding, try replacing some of the liquid with the thicker coconut milk that you get in a can -- I would say maybe use half a cup.

1. Place your chopped berries in a small bowl and sprinkle over 1 tablespoon of sugar. Mix well and let sit while the pudding cooks.

2. Rinse your rice well. Place it in a pot with the milk, vanilla and the rest of the sugar. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring often. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let it cook, covered, until the rice is tender and the liquid a thickened. It will still be runny -- don't worry that it's not pudding-like yet.

3. Turn the heat off and stir in the diced berries with their juices. Let it cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  Enjoy when it's completely cool, thick and creamy!  I'd even have it for breakfast!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rhubarb, oh Rhubarb

 I'm obsessed with rhubarb. Utterly obsessed. I think it's because I discovered the tangy, fruity goodness of rhubarb only recently. I was never exposed to it as a child -- only in those horrible commercial strawberry rhubarb pies that had a goopy thick filling that was pretty much all sugar and very little fruit. When I first picked up the beautiful green and red stalks at the market, I baked them up into this crumble with raspberries. Ever since then, I was hooked. Last year, I made orange rhubarb madeleines that were fragrant and spongey. I even sneaked a little into last year's strawberry preserves. So this year, when I saw them for $1.99/pound at the market, I indulged .. several times. The most recent, being this roasted strawberry rhubarb upside down cake. It's a combination of two different recipes, and the secret is a big splash of balsamic vinegar mixed in with the fruit as it's roasted.

This cake is awesome. It's simple to make and beautifully moist and lemony. It's the kind of cake that you can whip up for unexpected company, or to cheer you up if you're having a rough weekend. It's probably also perfect for Dad tomorrow and brought over the top with a little dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I enjoyed mine plain, usually as an after school treat, and when I brought a slice to my stressed-out colleague, she said it made her day a little bit brighter.

There's still rhubarb out there and the local berries are just starting to get beautiful, ripe, juicy and cheap.  Roast your fruit, beat your eggs, pick out some interesting whole wheat flours and find a beautiful organic yogurt to put into this cake. Make someone's day a little bit brighter.

Roasted Strawberry Rhubarb Upside Down Cake
adapted from Joy the Baker and Everybody Likes Sandwiches

1 large, or 2 small stalks of rhubarb, washed and chopped
1 cup of strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1.5 tablespoons of natural cane sugar
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar

2 eggs
1/2 cup of brown sugar
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 cup of canola oil
1/4 cup of plain yogurt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 cup of spelt flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour

1. Combine the fruit, cane sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a 9 inch baking pan. Toss well. Roast in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the fruit gets soft and the juices start to bubble and thicken ever so slightly.

2. While you're waiting for the fruit to roast, make the cake. Mix the eggs, brown sugar, lemon juice and zest, vanilla, oil and yogurt in a large bowl. Mix until everything is well-combined. Sift in the flours and baking soda. Mix until just combined.

3. Pour the cake batter over the roasted fruit and pop it back in the oven. Bake for 30ish minutes or until the cake gets a beautiful golden brown and a cake tester inserted comes out clean.

4. Let the cake cool completely. Run a knife along the edge of the cake to loosen it from the pan. Invert a plate on top of the cake. Now flip!  Carefully lift off the baking pan and admire your work. Enjoy in the sunshine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Enchiladas: Pantry Cooking

I know it's spring and it's hardly a time to cook from your pantry -- what with all the asparagus and rhubarb floating about the market, not to mention the first strawberries of the season?  Summer is around the corner and fresh salads and local fruits and veggies should be a staple.  But sometimes, even in the middle of a lovely spring harvest, we need our pantries.

Maybe it's a rainy weekend what you can't get out to market, and a quick dash to the convenience store down the street is all that you can manage. Or maybe it's that crunch time of the year when you can't get organized enough to shop for the week and you find yourself home from work without having stopped for groceries. It's a good time to pull out those pantry recipes. You know, those recipes that you can put together in a snap that are filling and pleasing and leave lots of leftovers for tomorrow?  Here's a good one for you. You probably have everything you need in your pantry or freezer right now.  Yes, there's canned and frozen veggies instead of fresh, but sometimes, convenience rules and you don't have to feel guilty about that.

I've made these simple black bean and rice enchiladas twice, inspired by a post at That's So Vegan. It's got bold, spicy flavours and comforting carbs, plus a little cheesy topping that goes a long way. The best part is that it make a whole lot, so you can totally entertain with it, or keep it in the fridge for a few more meals to come. A squeeze of lime and a hit of fresh cilantro, or some diced avocado on the side would make this dish even better, but don't sweat it. It tastes wonderful even without the added goodies. Can't get tortilla wraps easily?  No problem. Skip the rice in the filling, and steam it up on the side.  Serve your filling over the rice like a chili. Done!

Don't feel bad about cooking from your pantry in the spring.  Sometimes we all need a bit of pantry love. Wishing you lots of sunshine, spring veggies and yummy suppers!

Easy Black Bean and Rice Enchiladas
inspired by That's So Vegan

serves 3-6 depending on appetite sizes!

1 medium carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup of frozen corn
1 large can of diced tomatoes,
1 cup of water or stock
1 large handful of basmati rice
6-8 tortillas
1/3 cup of grated cheese (I use mozzarella)

1. In a large pot, saute the carrot, celery, onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, or until they start to soften and become fragrant. Add the cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well.

2. Add the black beans, corn, tomatoes, stock and mix well.  Bring to a boil and add the rice.  Cook, covered for about 10-12 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid is thickened.  Turn off the heat and let it cool slightly while your oven heats up.

3. In a 9'13 pan, add a thin layer of your filling mixture to the bottom. Now it's assembly time! Take a tortilla in your hand and put some of the filling in the middle -- I would say about 1/4 cupish -- just eyeball it.  Now, wrap up the filling nice and tight (better than I did!) and lay it seam-side down on the pan.  Repeat until you fill the pan. I got 6 the first time I made it, and 8 the next.

4. If you have more filling left over, spread it over the top of the enchiladas . Sprinkle it with cheese and pop it in your 350 degree oven for about 15ish minutes -- just so the cheese gets gooey and the tortillas get a tiny bit crispy in the edges.

5. Serve with your favourite toppings (sour cream, diced green onion, avocado) or just plain is a-ok.