Saturday, September 21, 2013

On This Last Day of Summer ...

On this last, cool, rainy day of summer, I'm bringing you something comforting to cook while the rain trickles down outside, but will still help you get through the bounty of late summer veggies that you couldn't resist buying at the market this morning.

It's nothing fancy, nothing celebratory, just some stew. But it's not rich, with a heavy gravy and loaded down with the starchy potatoes and and dried legumes of the winter. It's flavourful and summery, with just a hint of spice, perfect to pop into the oven and forget about for an hour while you curl up on the couch with a book, or have a quiet coffee in the late afternoon. It has the beautiful late summer harvest of beef steak tomatoes, so ripe and juicy that didn't need to add a drop of water or stock to this stew, some yellow summer squash, the last of the season, a juicy yellow pepper and some fresh, borloti beans that went wonderfully soft and creamy. Fresh herbs from my balcony garden, that won't last many more weeks, were both cooked into the stew and sprinkled on top, and the whole thing has just a whisper of middle eastern spice -- namely zaatar, cumin and tumeric. I happily ate bowls of this for dinner a few nights in a row, accompanied by tumeric scented brown rice and barley pilaf, but you don't to get that involved. Simple brown rice or white rice would be perfect, as would a chunk of crusty bread, or even some short pasta.

This stew was inspired by a dish I had at a restaurant called Nuba in Vancouver. It was called simply the vegan stew, and was described as a stew of seasonal vegetables with tomatoes, onions and chickpeasm served over brown rice. It had creamy roasted eggplant and zucchini and a delicious, rich spice blend. Nuba was the first place we ate out at in Vancouver, and it was a beautiful treat -- delicious food, relaxed atmosphere, and the excitement that our vacation had just begun.

Our Vancouver trip is long gone, and I've gotten into the groove of teaching again, but every once in a while, I'll indulge in a little daydreaming of times past. This stew is beautiful, rainy day indulgence and the perfect way to good-bye to summer.

Last Day of Summer Stew
inspired by Nuba and Everybody Likes Sandwiches

1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 large cloves of garlic
2 large, beefsteak tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 yellow summer squash, cut into half-moons
1 large yellow pepper, cut into thick strips
1 quart of fresh borloti beans, shelled and rinsed
1 teaspoon of zaatar spice blend
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground tumeric
2 large sprigs of fresh thyme
5-6 basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade
1 small handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. In an oven-proof pot, or dutch oven, gently heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions and garlic and some salt and pepper. Let them sweat for about 5 minutes, while you chop the rest of your vegetables.

2. When the onions are soft, add in the zaatar, tumeric and cumin and let the spices toast for about a minutes. Add in your tomatoes and give it a big stir.

3. After about 4 minutes or so, the tomatoes should have released their wonderful juices.  Add the squash, peppers, beans and thyme sprigs.  Pop the lid on and put the whole thing a 375 degree oven for about an hour (but check at the 45 minute mark to see if your beans are tender, or if you need to add liquid).

4. When you're about to serve, sprinkle with the basil and parsley.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Snacking back to Vancouver

Where did the weekend go? In the summer when I'm off, all the days meld into each other. It's only when school starts up again that I really treasure the weekend. Chatty, giggly Friday night dinners, early Saturday morning market walks or lazy afternoon brunches, and quiet, studious Sunday coffees, because tomorrow, it's back to the grind. Does that sound like your weekend too?

If it does, why not take a little break from the Sunday night sensible dinners and snack on these incredibly addictive roasted beet fries. We had these from a take-out carton in Vancouver, sitting on a bench near the water and feeling like summer would never end. They're a specialty from one of our most exciting food finds in Vancouver -- a food truck called "Le Tigre."

I know you've probably had roasted beets before, but these are special. They're roasted skin on, and sprinkled with plum powder -- a salty, sweet, tangy powder that comes in colourful packets. You can get in the candy section of Asian supermarkets next to the dried plums. If that's too much of a stretch, I'd suggest a sprinkling of brown sugar and dried sumach, which is probably easier to find.

In Vancouver, these beet fries were served with a special seven-spiced mayo which was awesome. When we made these at home, we kept our mayo plain, but if you wanted to kick it up a notch, add some hot smoked paprika to your mayo, or maybe a squeeze of lemon and a good grinding of black pepper.

Go ahead and snack your Sunday night away and try to forget, even if it's just for an hour, that we have to go back to work tomorrow.

Roasted Beet Fries
inspired by Le Tigre

a quart of beets (about 5-6 medium sized ones)
a good glug of olive oil
a big sprinkling of salt
a big grinding of black pepper
1 teaspoon of dried plum powder

1. Trim and scrub your beets well. Cut them into wedges and blanch them in boiling water for about 5 minutes to start the cooking process. Drain and pat dry with a towel.

2. Put your beets in a large bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper and plum powder. Lay them on a roasting tray and roast (on broil) for about 15-20 minutes, tossing twice, or until the the beets are tender.

3. Serve with mayo.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day Again

Labour day snuck up on me this year. I usually see it coming at least a month in advance, and then begin the slow lament of summer's end. But not this year. This year was sunny skies and patio brunches and early morning farmers' markets, and tree ripened peaches and juicy, impossibly sweet watermelons all the way up until this weekend. And then all of the sudden.  Ouf. It's Labour day.

It's in my small tradition on this blog to bake a little something on Labour day to help me ease back into the routine of getting up early, teaching, marking, planning, going to bed at an insanely early hour, and then doing it all over again. Not that it's particularly painful -- I like routines, and I love my job. But after 2 months of adventures and unstructured days, of coffee breaks whenever I felt like it and spending whole days reading in pyjamas, it's kind of hard to let go.

So today, I've made us a chocolately zucchini bread to help smooth over the Labour day jitters and make us feel happy about returning to work or school tomorrow. This bread is dark and deep, but with a very light and fluffy crumb. It's packed with good things like shredded coconut, summer zucchini, cocoa nibs and spelt and just a whisper of those pumpkin pie spices -- nutmeg and cinnamon. It was a great way to use up two zucchinis that I kind of forgot about at the bottom on my crisper, and that quarter cup of coconut milk I was dying to use up. The crunchy topping of flaked almonds and raw sugar make this loaf feel like something really special... and it is! It's a Labour day treat and will last all through the work week.

I'm still sad summer is over for me, but I still look forward to a few more weeks of warm temperatures and fair skies.. and just a few more posts about Vancouver!

Chocolate Zucchini Bread
adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

2 small zucchinis, grated
1 egg
2 tablespoons of safflower oil
2 tablespoons of plain yogurt
1/4 cup of coconut milk
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups of spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg
a small handful each of shredded coconut and cocoa nibs (chocolate chips if you haven't got nibs)
a small handful each of flaked almonds and raw sugar

1. Put your shredded zucchini in the middle of a large tea towel. Gather the towel up around the zucchini pile and then squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze! Try to get as much liquid out of the zucchini as possible. Don't skip this step, otherwise your bread will be gummy.

2. Put the squeezed zucchini, egg, oil, yogurt, coconut milk and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix very well. Sift in the cocoa powder, spelt flour, baking powder and soda, and spices. Mix gently, until just combined.

3. Add in the coconut and cocoa nibs and give it one final stir. Pour the batter in a loaf pan and sprinkle with flaked almonds and raw sugar.

4. Bake the loaf in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until the almonds get slightly golden, and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.