Monday, 30 November 2015

Good Brussels Sprouts

When I was a kid there were certain things that were always on the holiday table.  Mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, turkey, gravy and of course the obligatory guest, Brussels sprouts. Those poor little green gems were always like the guest at the party that no one wanted to invite, but they had been there for so many occasions, how were you going to break it to them that no one really liked their company?  So they kept showing up, the underdog of the vegetable world.  Kale used to have this same social status until a few years ago when it became the "It" vegetable.  I once said that the same would happen to Brussels sprouts, but no one believed me.  Well, believe it friends.

Now, I am not talking about the over boiled version that smelled like, well, you know what.  Those were the sprouts of my youth.  A version so awful, it was as though the adults were on a campaign to make vegetables as gross as possible and reinforce the idea that all kids wanted to eat was a happy meal.  Yes, that was the 80's, the decade of vegetable homicide.

No, these Brussels sprouts are so good, so sweet and lovely that my 11 year old not only hummed whilst eating them, he asked for seconds.  Seconds people!  That would have been an urban myth when I was a kid.  So the next time you want to mix it up at the dinner table or the holiday meal for that matter, I highly recommend you give these a try.  Maybe, just maybe they might even become your new favorite guest at the table. Move over kale...

Good Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Alice Waters Chez Panisse Vegetables 

1-2 lbs sprouts, thinly sliced
3-4 TBSP unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth

Cut the ends off the sprouts and then slice thinly.  

Heat up a skillet on medium high heat and add the butter.  Once the butter is frothing, add the sprouts and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.   Cook for 1 minute then add the chicken broth.  You want to move quickly here so that the sprouts stay a vibrant green. Cook another 2-3 minutes just until they are fork tender, but not mushy.

Take off the heat and serve immediatelyThese buttery gems should still be bright green and still have a slight bite to them. Lovely.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Grasshopper Pie

I bought my copy of Kitchen by Nigella Lawson 5 years ago now and it truly is my kitchen bible.  It is the book I turn to for every kind of meal including desserts.  When I bought this book, the first thing my son saw was the Grasshopper Pie.  I promised that I would make it for him someday, but was able to put it off for a long time.  I really don't know what my barrier was for making this since I am usually a brave cook but for whatever reason, it seemed hard.  So I put it off until this January when my son asked for it instead of birthday cake.  I thought, "OK here goes.  I mean really, how hard can it be?"  You can read about how that went down here.  I did eventually try again and figured it out with a few adjustments.  I am living proof that you should never give up the first time a recipe doesn't work out.  Even if the initial disaster is so bad that you have to dump the green, coagulated goo down the sink. 

Last weekend was Father's day and my daughter asked if we could make this for my husband for dessert.  You bet!  This pie is amazing.  It is a lot like chocolate chip mint ice cream but in pie.  Come on!  Now I must say here that this is not a virtuous dessert.  If you are someone who must have everything organic, GMO free and your cream milked by blind nuns by the light of the full moon, this is not the dessert for you.  But may I say, that if you are someone like that, maybe, just maybe, you should live a little and make this anyway.  It is cool, creamy, minty and chocolatey.  And since I made all the mistakes for you, you can go right ahead and make it knowing it won't end up down the sink.

You are welcome.

Grasshopper Pie
Recipe inspired by Kitchen by Nigella Lawson 

For the base:
 2/12 cups Oreo Cookie Crumbs
50g good dark chocolate, chopped or use wafers
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the Filling:

150g mini-marshmallows
125ml full-fat milk (DO NOT use Standard, it won't work, trust me)
1/4 tsp mint extract (DO NOT use more than that, trust me)
4 Tbsp creme de cacao blanc
375 ml whipping cream
a few drops of green food colouring 

1 25cm tart pan with removable base

In a large bowl, mix the cookie crumbs, chopped chocolate and melted butter together.  This should come together enough to hold itself, but not so wet that it is gooey.  Pour into tart pan and press against the bottom and edges with the palm of your hand to make your crust.  Put in the fridge to chill for at least an hour or overnight.

In a saucepan add the marshmallows and milk and heat through gently, you don't want to crank the heat here.  Once the milk starts to froth, but not boil, take the pot off the stove and continue to stir until the marshmallows are fully melted.  This should provide a smooth mixture, kind of like cloud fluff.  

Pour the mixture into a heat proof bowl and whisk in the peppermint oil and creme de cacao.  Let this sit to cool.

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer or with beaters, whisk the cream until it starts to form soft peaks.  Still whisking, (I recommend turning off the machine at this point and doing the rest by hand) slowly add the marshmallow mixture.  This should be soft enough to pour out of the bowl, we are not making a stiff cream here.  I say to go slow because this is where it can start to separate, so take your time.  Add a few drops of the food colouring and once your mixture is a light green, pour into your chilled tart pan.  Sprinkle a few of the crumbs on top and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Grasshopper optional.    


Friday, 19 June 2015

New Market!

There is a new market in town and I am very excited about it. I try my best to head to the local farmers market on Saturdays to pick up some of my favorite things I can't get in the store.  This has become a bit of a ritual in our house, one that I really enjoy.  I love being able to go to my favorite stalls and get some goodies that come only once a week.

I also love shopping outside.  I took my dad with me once and I'll never forget how much he loved the experience.  He said it reminded him of when he was young growing up in Hungary, shopping with his mother at the open market.  So now every time I go, I remember that time with him, it is a very sweet memory and an experience that a grocery store just can't offer.

The challenge with the Saturday market is that sometimes we are busy and can't go.  Or if I do go, I run out of food by mid-week, we eat a lot of veggies.  Thankfully now there is a new market in town on Wednesday afternoons from 4-6:30pm.  I went with my kids this week and we all loved it.  While the Saturday market is fun (and I will keep going) it is also very busy.  You have to get there early to get the best pick of food and it is a mixed market of food and artisans. This is fun, but my main reason for going is for food, not crafts (not that there is anything wrong with that if that is your thing).  What I love about the Wednesday market is that it is only for food vendors.  It is simple but comprehensive.  I also love that you can stop in after work and pick up a few things or even stay to eat, they have food trucks!  The other bonus, it is right off the highway by VIU, so parking is not an issue at all.

I went with the task in mind. Could I stop in and pick up something for dinner?  I'm happy to say I was successful.  We bought some lovely sausages, greens, eggsstrawberries, cheese, and the sweetest peas ever.  I would have bought some veggies from my favorite farmer, but we had just gotten our CSA delivery from them the day before.   I also scooped up some locally made tortillas which really are fantastic.  I didn't use them for dinner that night, but I made quesadillas for the kids for lunch the next day.  Can I just say a little word about these tortillas?  They are delicious.  They smell and taste like the ones I ate when I was living in Honduras.  They are not big but that is what I like about them.  They make the loveliest soft tacos, quesadillas or we eat them for breakfast with eggs.  On a lucky day you might even catch these guys with their handmade tortilla chips or Mexican hot chocolate and I have also bought their taco seasoning which really is fantastic.

I really do recommend that you come and check out this market.  It is an easy place to stop on your way home and grab something for supper.  With all that is going on in California right now with the drought, we need to be supporting our local farmers to ensure that we can sustain ourselves from our own community.  This isn't about eco-elitism.  This is about supporting the people who we rely on for our food.  It is also nice to connect with the people who are providing our supper.  And in case you were wondering how expensive it is, I would say that it was comparable to grocery store prices.  Only the quality at the market is far superior.  Come check it out!

My favorite, oak leaf lettuce

Beautiful fresh garlic from Makaria Farm
The best cheese curds, fantastic in salad
Delicious peas!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Peanut Butter Nutsmacks

My kids are always hungry.  It isn't because I don't feed them, it is because I think they actually have hollow legs.   When I was a kid and I was hungry for a snack,  my mom's answer to everything was apples or worse a glass of milk.  That is never what I wanted.  Now that I am a mother, I admit I have offered my kids the same thing on occasion and while they like those foods, no one can eat those all the time.  It also doesn't help that when you are hungry, regardless of age, we often want something starchy or sweet or both.  Finding something healthy, satisfying and enough to "kill the hunger" as my dad used to say is not an easy task unless you feel like setting out a snack banquet every day. I do not.  I have a fantastic cookbook that was given to me when I was young called "Kids in the Kitchen"  It was written in the 70's which makes it all the better. One night my son was flipping through it looking for things he could make and he came across this recipe.  The great thing about these is you can adjust them to your taste.  Replace the peanut butter with a different nut butter (maybe not from almonds since they are an environmental disaster right now), add different nuts, seeds, whatever you like.  These lovelies are filling, just sweet enough and packed with protein.  This recipe makes about 24 depending on how big you roll them.  They make a fantastic snack for both kids and adults and pack up for lunches and picnics wonderfully.  Now when your kids say they are hungry, make up a batch of these.  They keep in the fridge for at least a week, if they don't get gobbled up before then.

Peanut Butter Nutsmacks
Adapted from Kids in the Kitchen by Nellie Edge

1/2 cup cocoa powder (not hot chocolate mix)
3/4 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup raisins
1 cup sesame seeds (raw or roasted, doesn't matter)
1 cup sunflower seeds

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl.  Take small amounts at a time, rolling gently between the palms of your hands.  Place on a plate or in an airtight container and chill for at least 1 hour before eating.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Good Chai

I was never a coffee drinker until I had my second child. Then suddenly, experiencing sleep depravation unlinke I had ever known with my first child and now a toddler in tow to boot, coffee became my new very best friend.  Every morning, after another sleepless night, my husband would lovingly make me a strong cup of coffee and offer it as a daily token of appreciation for once again sacrificing sleep for this lovely new child of ours.

Once my daughter started sleeping through the night, years later, we still continued our coffee ritual, even though I didn't need it as badly anymore.  And as much as I love a good cup of coffee with proper cream and sugar, it wasn't making me feel very well.  My tummy would get upset and I would get surprisingly irritable.  It didn't help that I was also having tea in the afternoon and some dose of chocolate to boot.  It just wasn't a good scene.

What I have always loved is a good cup of Chai.  I would often get one at the local coffee shop or even buy the mix in the tetra pack, but I always found it too sweet and syrupy.  But there was something about Chai that made me feel good.  Maybe it was the milky tea or the spices, I don't know, but it would always, without fail lift my mood out of the foggiest days.  After a while I forgot about it since I couldn't stand the sweetness of it.

Then a month ago, I had to travel to Vancouver with my mom as she was having major surgery.  When I didn't need to be at the hospital, I found myself wandering around the city.  And then one day, while I was at Granville Island, I noticed that the Granville Island tea company was making Chai tea, and I decided to buy one.  Now, this was not the Chai from a tetra pack.  They had tea steeping in one pot, and into the blender went the milk, water, spices and fresh ginger.  Honestly, this was what I had been searching for my whole caffinated life.  I returned three more times while I was in the city, it made me feel good, not sick and lifted my mood.  It was a godsend to be honest.

So when I got home, I decided to learn to make proper Chai myself.  After trying three different recipes, none of which were quite right, I found this one.  It is the Chai of your dreams, honestly.  Yes it takes a bit more effort that pouring pre-made syrup out of a carton, but it is completely worth it. I have actually given up coffee since I started making this and I am no longer irritable and my tummy is much happier.  The recipe makes enough for 4 cups.  If you can't drink it all at once,  put the rest in a jar in the fridge and re-heat what you want later.  Some people use tea bags, and that is fine.  I have been using the Ox blend from Teafarm and it has been fantastic.  I owe a big thank you to Nikiah Seeds for sharing this recipe on her blog, and for giving me permission to share it here; it has been such a gift.

Good Chai
From Redmoon Musings: Chai Tea

Chai Masala Mix

1/4 cup cinnamon pieces
1/8 cup cloves
1/4 cup green cardamom pods
1/4 cup whole black peppercorns
4-6 Star Anise
3/4 cup ginger powder
1 Tablespoon ground nutmeg

Dry roast all the spices, except for the nutmeg and ginger powder in a cast iron skillet.  Keep an eye on it as you don't want to burn the spices, just toast them.  Once you can begin to smell their oils release, remove the pan from the stove and let cool.  Once cool, grind in a spice grinder (or mortar and pestal as I did since it was all I had) until finely ground.  Add the ground ginger and nutmeg and mix.  Now you have your Masala mix.  Store in an airtight jar.  This makes a lot and will keep you going for a long while. 

Masala Chai tea

3 cups fresh water
1 cup whole milk 
3 cardamom pods, cracked
2-3 whole cloves
3 peppercorns
1 Star Anise
1/4 tsp Masala Spice mix (this really is all you need)
1-2 small sticks of cinnamon
3 slices of fresh ginger
4 tsp black tea such as Ceylon
4 tsp brown sugar

In a pot, add the water, milk and all spices and bring to a boil, keeping an eye on it, you don't want it to go over.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, lift it off the heat so it settles down and then return it to the heat to boil again.  You want to do this 3 times.  I can't say why it works, but it does, it makes the milk lovely and frothy.  After the third time, add your tea and sugar and simmer for 4 minutes.  Strain into a warmed tea pot and enjoy.  This tea will not only lift your energy, but your spirits too. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


I have an almost childlike love of meatballs. There is something nostalgic about them as though the sound of them along with spaghetti meant that dinner was going to be a treat.  I still feel like that.  I don't make them very often, although why exactly, I'm not sure.  But when I do, everyone gets excited.  These meatballs are not the cardboard, tasteless memories of your childhood.  They are flavorful, delicious and moist.  You have the option to either fry them before you put them in the sauce, as is traditionally done, or you can just lay them in the sauce and let them cook which will give you the most delicious pasta sauce ever.  I would also encourage you to be a little adventurous with them.  Traditionally they are served with spaghetti, but recently we also had them with pasta sheets (lasagna noodles).  I made just a few noodles and placed them on the bottom of a pasta bowl and served them with a few meatballs and pasta sauce poured over top.  It was lovely.  They are also delicious on their own with some crusty bread and a salad.  You can reserve these for a special supper, but you really don't have to.  And yes, every time I make them the kids start singing "On top of Old Smoky" Just try to get that out of your head now : )

Mama's Meatballs
Adapted From David Rocco's Dolce Vita

1 lb lean ground beef 
1/2 lb lean ground beef and 1/2 lb ground pork
handful of bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4-1/2 cup chopped pine nuts (optional)
1 egg (beaten)
1 handful of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
5-6 big basil leaves chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a big bowl, combine all ingredients.  Get your hands in there and make sure that all of the ingredients are incorporated with the meat.   Take a small amount of meat, about the size of a golf ball and roll between your hands to make little balls.  Place on a plate until you are ready to put them in the sauce.  If you are making these ahead of time, just cover with Saran wrap and place in the fridge up to one day ahead of cooking.   

 Many people like to fry their meatballs before putting them in the sauce.  To do this, heat up your skillet to medium/high heat and add a little olive oil.  Take each meatball and place in the pan, flattening it slightly so that it cooks evenly.  Cook on each side a few minutes until nicely browned.  Now add to your sauce.

I like to add my meatballs to the sauce raw.  This way they flavor the sauce and make everything super delicious.  

Simple Sauce

Extra virgin olive oil a good glug or two
1 medium to large onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 bottle of Passata (strained tomatoes)
1 can whole tomatoes, blended or crushed with your hands (depending on how chunky you like your sauce).
Salt to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven on medium heat.  Once the oil shimmers, add the onions and saute slowly until they are a golden colour, but not dark.  Add the garlic, salt and tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer and add the meatballs.  Allow this to cook for 1 hour and serve with your favorite pasta and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  I realize that the first picture has way too much parsley on top, I don't know what happened there.  I am a cook more than a food stylist so I guess I was just hungry and ready to eat. You don't need to use that much, but it is really nice with the meatballs.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Rescue Cake

It was my son's 11th birthday this past weekend and to mark the occasion he didn't want a cake, he wanted Grasshopper Pie.  When I bought my copy of Kitchen by Nigella Lawson years ago, he flipped through the pages and found a recipe for this pie.  For years he has asked me to make it and for years I have avoided it.  I can't really say why, it is after all mint and chocolate come together in my favorite desert form.  But you know how there are some recipes that intimidate you?  Well this was one of them.

However, 11 is a big number and really, it was kind of a sweet request.  I mean how many 11 year old boys do you know would ask for Grasshopper pie for their birthday?  So I set out to make it, bought all of the ingredients (more on that later) and had it all organized with the crust chilling in the fridge.  I went to make the filling later that day, following the directions exactly and then the cream started separating into a curdled, disgusting, green mess.  My husband lovingly said, "just whip it a bit more"  but that only made it worse. I painfully had to dump it down the sink.  The thing with this pie is that it has to chill in the fridge overnight and the party was the next day.  It was 4:30 in the afternoon, the dream of this pie was over and I was up s*&it creek without a whisk.  I sat on the stairs in my kitchen, head in hands cursing birthday parties all together wondering what on earth I was going to do now.  I didn't have enough whipping cream to try the filling again and I was in no mood to go to the store...again.  I was just about to go to Dairy Queen and get an ice cream cake but honestly I was too exhausted from the day and too defeated to even do that.

Then I remembered this cake recipe.  I have made it many times before, it is easy to put together and has that nostalgic smell of boxed cake batter without all the garbage that goes into those mixes.  It is that cake of your childhood when you think "Birthday Cake"  It is also the kind of cake that uses basic pantry ingredients so no special shopping required.  I pulled out the milk, eggs, butter and flour and got to work.  This cake comes together so quickly that even my son was amazed.  So from now on I don't call it Yellow Cake, it has been reborn as Rescue Cake.

So the next time you have a birthday party to bake a cake for, I highly recommend this one. It is fool proof, so much better than the boxed batter and very gratifying to make. I did end up making the Grasshopper Pie the day after, I'll post about that later.  But in the meantime, the cake was a delicious hit.

Rescue Cake
Adapted from Wilton Basic Yellow Cake

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk, at least 2% don't use skim here

Preheat the oven to 350℉.  Grease 2 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper.  You can also use a rectangular cake pan if you want to make a sheet cake or 12 cupcake liners if you prefer cupcakes. If you do use this recipe for cupcakes you will need to adjust the cooking time as they will bake faster.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together into a small bowl and set aside.  In your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  If you don't have a stand mixer use your hand beaters or you can also do this with a wooden spoon and some elbow grease. Add the eggs, one at a time and the vanilla until combined. Now add your flour and milk alternating between the two until everything has come together into a lovely yellow, creamy batter.  Pour into your cake pans and bake for 30 minutes.  Test with a toothpick to make sure it is done and let cool before removing from the pans.  You can make this the night before, just cover with a tea towel and frost the next day if you want to take the pressure off yourself.

The Best Chocolate Frosting Ever. 
Adapted from Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting from Add a Pinch

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter softened
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
3/12-4 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/2 cup milk, at least 2%
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 

I like to buy butter in sticks to make this easier but you can certainly buy it by the pound. Cut your butter into large cubes and put in a large bowl.  This will make it easier to cream.  Sift the cocoa powder into the bowl (DO NOT skip this step, it will ensure that you don't have lumpy frosting).  Cream the butter and the cocoa together with a wooden spoon.  You can do this with your stand mixer or hand beaters, but I seem to get better results with just a spoon and a bit of effort.  Once combined, add the sifted (again to eliminate lumps) icing sugar one cup at a time, alternating with one tablespoon of milk to the mixture until it comes together into creamy, chocolaty goodness.  I prefer my frosting a little less sweet which is why I have suggested 3 1/2 - 4 cups of sugar.  Taste as you go and see what you like.  Add the vanilla one teaspoon at a time, again to taste.  I guarantee you, this is worlds better than the junk you buy in a can at the store.  

To frost the cake

Take the cakes out of the pans.  Turn one cake upside down, spread a modest layer of frosting on top.  Now place the second cake right side up on top of the first one.  This way you should have two flat layers against each other with the rounded side up.  Now frost with a palate knife if you have one or a small spatula or even a butter knife.  This frosting recipe makes loads so you will have plenty to generously frost this cake.  Decorate with sprinkles, fruit, whatever you like.  This will make anyone's birthday a happy one.