green pea and mint spread

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First comes asparagus, then garlic scapes, then green peas, and then you know that summer has really, truly arrived. For me, the challenge with fresh peas is to not eat too many while shucking; there tends to be a bit of a ‘one for me, one for the pot’ approach that often makes it difficult to gather enough for the recipe. This spread is a wonderful way to highlight fresh peas when they’re at their peak in June and July. The almond butter adds a little bulk and a nice nutty hint, and then mint brightens everything up. If you’re not up for shucking, frozen peas will do, but I promise it’s worth the work to use fresh!

2 cups shelled fresh green peas, or frozen peas (NOT canned)
1 bunch fresh mint, washed and dried
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp whole almond butter
salt, black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
water, if needed

Bring water to a boil in small pot. Add peas. The cooking time will depend on whether you’re using fresh or frozen. Peas should be fully cooked, but not overcooked or they will go mushy. When ready, drain peas and allow to cool to room temperature.

Add peas, a handful of mint leaves, almond butter, and garlic to food processor. Start with a small amount of mint and then adjust as you go. You can always add more, so best not to overdo it in the beginning. Process until you have a smooth paste. It should be fairly thick, but soft enough to spread. Adjust consistency with a little water if too dry. Add cayenne pepper, black pepper, more mint leaves and salt to taste.

Serve with crispy multigrain crackers or fresh baguette.

This spread can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge in an airtight container. It should keep for 2-3 days.

recipe ideas for that big NFL game happening on Sunday

SuperBowl

There’s a sporting event this Sunday that’s kind of a big deal. I’m not supposed to use its official name without permission, so instead I will say this: there are two teams, one from Seattle and one from Denver; the teams will be playing football; people will get together to watch them play; those people will likely eat a lot of chicken wings (1.25 billion wings is the prediction…yes, that’s billion); and, in the end, one team will be showered in electrolyte drink and champagne as they celebrate their victory.

After Thanksgiving Day, this sporting event, which feels like an unofficial national holiday, is the second-largest single day of food consumption in the U.S. In anticipation of Sunday’s football feast, I have been working with the folks at Yorkshire Valley Farms to develop some Game Day Grub recipes that feature their certified organic chicken. You can find the recipes for all the tasty tidbits we’ve been whipping up this week in the YVF Kitchen on the Yorkshire Valley Farms blog. Here is what is on the game day menu:

Oven-baked crispy chicken wings with spicy Buffalo-style sauce

Blue cheese and ranch dipping sauces

Chicken Parmesan meatballs

MVP spice rub

Chicken strips with maple mustard dipping sauce

crunchy granola – revisited

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I was making granola recently, which I have done so many times that I no longer really check the recipe or do a whole lot of measuring. Since I almost always make a double batch, I figured I should adapt the written recipe to reflect the actual quantity that I make. Even doubled, I still find the granola disappears quickly. As I updated the recipe, I realized there are a few more tweaks that have crept in over time…experiments that turned out to be tasty and so they became part of the routine. That is not to say that the original recipe is not still valid; it’s simply another option, and one you may find you like better. But these days, here is how I am making my granola.

MAKES APPROXIMATELY 12 CUPS

5 cups organic rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raw whole unsalted almonds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup liquid honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups mixed dried fruit (craisins, raisins, dried cherries, chopped apricots)
1/3 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 300F.

Combine the oats, nuts, seeds, and spices in a mixing bowl. Add the honey and maple syrup. Stir. Keep stirring. It will take a little elbow grease, but with the help of a rubber spatula, the honey and maple syrup will coat and moisten all the oats and nuts.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the oat mixture out on the baking sheet.

Bake in a 300F oven for 20 minutes. Give it a stir. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until lightly toasted and crispy.

Add dried fruit and shredded coconut and stir to combine with toasted oats while still warm. Return to the oven for 5 minutes.

Allow to cool before transferring to an air tight container for storage.

Enjoy with fresh fruit and yogurt, or I like to add a little granola to my warm oatmeal…kind of an oats two ways breakfast dish. The granola freezes well, so keep in the freezer and defrost a new bag as you finish up your fresh stash.

You can view the original granola recipe here. It’s still quite tasty. Just slightly different. Use whichever one you prefer…or invent your own version!

inspiration January 2013

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I was going through a stack of books the other day and came across my copy of Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, a book I cannot recommend highly enough. I have dog-eared several pages, some with recipe ideas, but also many with prose whose sentiments carry such sensible and grounded cooking guidance. I was particularly reassured to have reviewed this passage just hours before baking a sticky toffee pudding that was to be part of a New Year’s Eve dinner gathering.

“No matter how well a cookbook is written, the cooking times it gives will be wrong. Ingredients don’t take three or five minutes to be done; it depends on the day and the stove. So you must pay attention, trust yourself, and decide.”

The recipe suggested baking the cake for 25 minutes. As I pulled yet another skewer from the centre, with batter still clearly not set at the 40 minute mark, I did as Tamar encouraged – I trusted myself and decided to put it back in the oven. The cake was done when it was done, and not a minute sooner. The pudding was delicious in the end, and made for a tasty, if a bit indulgent, finish to 2013.

With the first day of the new year drawing to a close, here is what is inspiring me now as I look ahead to all the potential that 2014 holds.

What I am reading…
The seriously entertaining McSweeney’s 11th batch of Reviews of New Food, which collects up all the posts from 2013 (it’s worth going back to past year’s collections as well).

Lapham’s Quaterly Food Issue. Although this one is from Summer 2011, I treated myself to a back issue and have been working my through the varied articles that cover a broad timeline of food history.

I find it very difficult to visit The Good Egg in Kensington Market and come out empty-handed, so it should not be a surprise that when I went in looking for a cookie cutter, I came out with a lovely 2″ snowflake-shaped tool and a copy of  Wilder Quarterly.

My holiday stocking contained a copy of the first issue of Riposte: A Smart Magazine for Women. Given that a parody like this rings far too true, I think a publication like Riposte is a welcome, and much-needed alternative.

I picked up a copy of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly at ‘a post Boxing Day but still on sale’ sale. I have not yet tucked into this modern Korean farm animal fable, but it is next up on my reading list.

What I am watching…
This documentary about Myrtle Allen, the inspiring chef, hotelier, and food advocate whose vision inspired the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland.

On my wish list…
These Irish linen cocktail napkins. While I am not a big fan of ironing, I think they’re worth it.

 

holiday menu ideas

HolidayMenu

With less than two weeks until Christmas, I am starting to think about my holiday feast menu. I thought I would share some of my festive favourites to help you in your planning.

Start the evening with a mug of mulled wine while you sit around the fire and catch up with your cousin, aunt, neighbour, or just watch the snow falling outside the window. Nibble on some homemade artisanal crisps served alongside a selection of cheeses. Then start the festive meal with a bowl of squash and apple soup. When it’s time for the main event, serve your turkey alongside cranberry relish (always a crowd favourite), honey glazed squash, and Brussels sprouts with pancetta and Asiago. If you can possibly manage to save room for dessert, enjoy this baked apple with oatmeal almond coconut crumble. Don’t forget about breakfast the next morning for your overnight guests. You can bake up a pumpkin loaf in advance so they can help themselves while you sleep in. Or make up a batch of these muffins that taste like donuts ahead of time, and simply warm in the oven then roll in the butter and cinnamon sugar topping when ready to serve.

After preparing a meal like that, you’re sure to be at the top of the nice list!

baked apples with oatmeal almond coconut crumble

AppleCrisp

I have memories from my early double-digit days, when I was no longer a kid but also not yet officially a teen, of watching The Wonderful World of Disney on a Sunday night while enjoying warm apple crisp. Truth be told, I am not sure if this exact scenario only happened once, or if there were many Sundays like this. Either way, the apple crisp memory lingers, and whenever I enjoy soft cinnamon-scented apples with a toasted crispy oat topping, I am taken back to that Sunday night.

On a recent visit to see some friends in the Laurentians region of Quebec, there was a request for apple crisp. It was a Monday night, but that didn’t seem like a reason to hold back. My girlfriend suggested a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which turned out to be an absolutely delicious recommendation. And much like the original recipe suggests, we did enjoy it for breakfast as much as for dessert! I made a couple of modifications to accommodate a dairy-free diner, and to take advantage of the stash of Quebec maple syrup that our hosts had in the house. So, as a result, this version is vegan-friendly. But you could always use butter instead of Earth Balance, and use honey instead of maple syrup (as the Smitten Kitchen recipe does).

MAKES 8 SERVINGS

6 medium-size apples, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp light brown sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
8 tbsp (1/2 cup) Earth Balance spread
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup flour
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a baking dish, mix apple pieces with sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and pinch of salt. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat. I find it easiest to just get in there with my hands to mix it all around.

In a small saucepan, melt the Earth Balance with the maple syrup. Stir in the flour and oats until the liquid is absorbed and it starts to hold together. Add the almonds and coconut and give it another good stir. Spread over the apples, covering the entire top of the baking dish.

Bake at 400F for 45 to 55 minutes. The apples should be tender when pierced with a fork and you should see bubbles around the edge of the dish. If the crumble top begins to get too brown, cover with tin foil. A few minutes before you are ready to serve, remove the foil to allow top to crisp up.

Serve straight up, or with a scoop of your favourite dairy or non-dairy treat – whip cream, vanilla ice cream, coconut soy frozen dessert.

Cool leftovers (if there are any) to room temperature and then store in the fridge for breakfast the next morning.

not your childhood Brussels sprouts*

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* unless your childhood was incredibly tasty and culinarily adventurous, in which case you should call your parents right now and thank them.

Poor Brussels sprouts really get a bad rap. They often appear on lists of kids’ least favourite vegetables and certainly don’t get the kind of attention their Brassica cousin kale is enjoying these days. It seems there was some trend when I was a child to cook them with vinegar, which really did not do them any favours. So for me, for many years, they remained out of sight, out of mind, and off the menu. But then I discovered the TOMI-KRO Brussels sprout slaw and saw the little cabbages in a whole new light. Sadly, TOMI-KRO, the once Leslieville hotspot, is now closed. But I have taken to making a variation on the slaw and actually enthusiastically serve Brussels sprouts as part of a meal. You can shred the Brussels sprouts with a grater (like they did at TOMI-KRO) or simply half or quarter them (my method). Use the cured pork product of your choosing, and adjust the cheese to your liking. I often find I don’t need to add extra salt, so just a crack of fresh pepper for seasoning does the trick.

SERVES 4 AS A SIDE DISH

a few slices chopped pancetta, bacon, or prosciutto
approximately 1/2 cup finely grated asiago or Parmesan cheese
about 2 dozen Brussels sprouts
fresh black pepper, to taste

Add chopped cured pork to pan and turn heat to medium. I find starting the pan cold helps keep the meaty part from overcooking while the fat renders out (how much grease you get will depend on your meat…if there is quite a bit, pour some off during the cooking process).

Once the cured meat reaches your desired doneness – softer or crispier…I like mine fairly crispy – add the Brussels spouts. Pan fry until tender, but not mushy. Just before serving, sprinkle with cheese and toss to coat so that the cheese melts. Add freshly cracked black pepper.