A Winning Dinner: Daal

On nights when I want it all — that elusive combination of a proper home-cooked meal that’s nutritious, speedy and delicious — I think daal.

 

(Or dal. Or dahl. Or dhal. It’s a confused place, my brain.)

 

Upload from January 10, 2012Whichever way you spell it, this impressive little dish derives its suite of superpowers from protein-rich dried pulses that have been scrubbed of their skins and sliced down the middle — daal means “split” — in the name of increased tastiness, digestibility and cooking speed. That being no small feat, cooks across the world, and across time too, have been harnessing these teeny half-marvels to serve up satisfying and convenient vegetarian meals. 

 

Given their long and global history, it’s no surprise that there are roughly a zillion ways to prepare daals. So the daal I’m sharing with you today — one of three that is in regular rotation in my kitchen — is by no means definitive. But it’s definitely good.

 

Upload from January 10, 2012

Made from my pulse of choice, super-speedy red split lentils, this daal goes from prep to plate in about 25 minutes (which, conveniently, is about the same amount of time it takes to make a batch of basmati rice). And the prep is simple: knife-work is kept to a minimum and the spices are called for in identical quantities, meaning you can head to the cupboard with a single measuring spoon in hand. 

 

The end results are awesome: intensely spiced but with no one ingredient overwhelming the rest, the daal gains the right amount of lightness from the sweet acidity provided by the tomatoes, lemon and yogurt. Throw in a bit of cool, bright cilantro and you’ve got a filling and fully satisfying meal. 

 

Upload from January 10, 2012

Serve it to guests (which I’ve done), throw it together on a rushed night in (I’ve done that too) or, you know, prepare it using a makeshift stove set up at the base of a mountain after a day of outdoor adventure (yep). Like I said: daal can do it all.

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Simple Daal

Recipe courtesy of David (thanks, David!)

Serves 3-4 with rice (a speedy side of vegetables optional, but encouraged)


Ingredients
2 tbsp butter or oil 

1 small onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 cup red split lentils

3 cups water

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 dried hot red chili

1/2 tsp salt

1 medium fresh tomato or 4 teeny fresh tomatoes, diced (1/2 cup in total)* 

For serving: cooked basmati rice, fresh cilantro, lemon and yogurt 

 

Directions

1. Heat butter or oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot.
2. Add the onion to the pot and sautee, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and sautee, stirring frequently, until garlic is softening and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the curry powder, garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground turmeric, and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. 
 

Upload from January 10, 20125. Add to the pot the lentils, water, tomato paste, chili pepper and salt. Increase heat to high, bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to low/medium-low and simmer uncovered until lentils are tender, stirring often and adding more water as necessary (the end result should be the consistency of a very thick soup**), about 15-20 minutes.

6. Once the lentils are tender, stir in the tomatoes and cook for one minute more.
7. Remove daal from the heat, taste and adjust salt as necessary. 
8. Serve over hot basmati rice, and top with a small sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro, a squeeze of lemon and a big spoonful of plain yogurt

 

Upload from January 10, 2012

 *If your tomatoes aren’t super-ripe, add them at the same time you add the garlic so that they have time to soften and sweeten. 
**I cooked my lentils a little too long, so the end result is a bit thicker than it should be. If you follow the instructions as written, yours will be a bit thinner (and super-delicious!). 

An Unresolution: French Toast 'B'-Free BLT

When it comes to the world of food, New Year’s day is no time to change your ways. Because after a night of…er, over-indulging, the last thing your body wants come mid-day — when we all rolled out of bed — is the resolved bowl of bran.

Upload from January 02, 2012
No. What your poor body is craving is something equally indulgent, heavy in everything that, well, makes you heavy. And while your best bet may have been to lay off the gimlets and sidecars sooner, it’s too late for prevention now. Now, it’s all about remediation.

Upload from January 02, 2012So today, I’m passing along not the usual happy, wholesome fare. Instead, it’s a post-indulgence indulgence: white bread, cream, eggs and cheese; a super-savoury french toast ‘B’-free BLT; a hangover breakfast.

Or at least that’s what I had intended it to be. But upon putting the recipe together, I realized that perhaps it asks too much of someone who’s hungover: soaking, browning, baking, and more baking — it’s a bit involved. 

Upload from January 02, 2012That involvement is for good reason though, as each step adds considerably to the end result: the soaking makes for even custardy-ness, the browning provides a crisp exterior, the baking prevents the much-dreaded french-toast-sogginess, and the additional baking makes for melty cheese. Delicious. Add some fresh, sliced tomatoes and arugula dressed with garlic vinaigrette, and you have unadulterated happiness. 

Upload from January 02, 2012

So resolve instead to be a better friend, and make it for the party-goers who were — surprise! — still on your couch in the morning. Come next year — which is probably the soonest you should consume this for the second time, given the quantity of heavy cream involved — they can make it for you in return. 

Happy New Year, everyone!
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Savoury French Toast 
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 3-4
Note: The recipe below is a half-version of the original, which was designed to serve 6. Following the recipe, I made three pieces of toast, but found that a single slice was more than enough for breakfast. Next time, I’d make four pieces of toast using the same recipe below and a bread that, when sliced 1-inch thick, yields pieces slightly smaller than the ones you see in the photos. 

Ingredients
1 cup whipping cream (half-and-half should work just fine too)
3 medium eggs
Salt and pepper
4 slices tasty bread, cut 1-inch thick*
1 tbsp canola oil
1 cup grated mild, white cheese (Jarlsberg, Gruyere, Ementhal or something similar)
2-3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
2 packed cups arugula
Roasted-garlic vinaigrette (below), or another savoury vinaigrette

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together cream, eggs and a pinch of both salt and pepper until smooth. Pour mixture into a shallow baking dish and place slices of bread in dish. Allow bread to soak for 15 minutes, then turn over and allow to soak for another 15, spooning any extra egg mixture over the bread. 
 
Upload from January 02, 20122. Heat canola oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, working in batches, fry bread on each side until golden. Place browned pieces of bread on a baking sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes, until pieces are puffed.** Remove bread from oven, sprinkle each piece evenly with grated cheese, and return to the oven for 3-4 minutes to let the cheese melt. While cheese is melting, toss arugula with 4 tbsp of the roasted-garlic vinaigrette. Once the cheese has melted, remove the french toast from the oven, topping each piece with sliced tomatoes and dressed arugula before serving. 

Upload from January 02, 2012*The original recipe recommends using challah, a sort-of-sweet bread made with eggs. I couldn’t find challah, so I used sourdough as a tasty alternative. Go for a bread with medium firmness —  not so light that it’ll fall apart under the weight of the egg mixture, and not so dense that it’ll leave you ridiculously full. 
**This step helps to thoroughly cook the egg mixture that’s soaked into your bread, ensuring that your french toast is anything but soggy. 
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Roasted-Garlic Vinaigrette
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes slightly more than 1/2 cup  
A note on timing: Pop the garlic in the oven just before you start soaking the bread, and the dressing should be finished just before it comes time to fry the french toast. Once you’ve pulled the garlic out of the oven, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and it’ll be good to go when it comes time to bake your browned french toast. 

Ingredients 
1-2 whole heads of garlic, skins left on*
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp + 1 tsp mild vinegar (white wine, sherry, or apple cider)
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil  
Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Carefully slice off the tops of 1-2 heads of garlic, cutting off just enough to reveal the tops of the cloves inside. Drizzle each head with a generous glug of olive oil, then wrap heads in two sheets of tinfoil and bake, cut-side up, for 20-25 minutes or until garlic is squishy (for a sweeter, more roasty dressing, roast the garlic for an extra 15-20 minutes). Open tinfoil packet and let garlic cool slightly.

Upload from January 02, 20122. Once slightly cooled, squish the garlic cloves out of the skins and into the bowl of a blender or food processor, along with the vinegar and mustard.** Blend everything together until smooth. With the machine running, slowly pour the 1/2 cup of olive oil into the garlic mixture until the mixture is dressing is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Store extra dressing in an airtight container in the fridge, allowing to warm up to room temperature before using.  

Upload from January 02, 2012*As someone who likes a lot of garlic, I was happy using two heads of garlic. If you’re not totally in love with the stuff though, use just one. 
**If you don’t have a food processor or blender, not to worry — simply smush the roasted garlic into a paste using whatever you’ve got on hand, then combine everything in a bowl or lidded jam jar, and whisk or shake with vigor!

Top 11 Posts of 2011

Well team, the year’s nearly up. And so, to say so long to 2011, I’m passing along 11 of the year’s best posts. Below, you’ll find five awesome recipe posts, chosen for their tastiness potential as determined either by the number of comments you guys left or by family and friends’ taste buds. You’ll also find six snazzy tips posts — often with recipes included! — which cover everything from how to cook this-or-that, to ways to save time in the kitchen. Give them a read-through, and you’ll be sure to get 2012 off to a delicious start. Now, without further ado, the top 11 posts of 2011! 
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TOP FIVE TASTY RECIPES OF 2011

1. No-Knead Bread

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: One of my earliest post, this recipe for Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread remains one of my favourites. Sure, it takes a while — 18 hours in total — to make a loaf, but the wait is so worth it. As the name states, the recipe requires no laborious kneading; it’s one of the easiest, most delicious things I’ve ever made. You’ve got to give it a try!

The post: Minimum Effort, Maximum Awsome: No-knead Bread
 

2. Cosmic Cookies 

Upload from December 27, 2011The idea: While I still have yet to figure out what makes these cookies “cosmic” (and it’s not that they’re made with illicit substances, as some of you thought), I do know that they’re delicious. Based off of Planet Organic’s best-selling cookie, these treats are packed with all sorts of deliciousness, including chocolate chips, dried fruit and molasses. And the recipe makes loads, which means you can get galactic for weeks!

The post: 
Cosmic Cookies!

3. Kale Chips

Upload from December 27, 2011The idea: Strangely addictive, these little chips were a big hit with everyone they encountered. Crispy, salty, light-as-air, inexpensive, and super-easy to throw together, kale chips should become a regular in your snack repertoire. I’m making some today!

The post: Kale Chips: A Simple, Healthy, HIghly-Addictive Snack Solution


4. Nicoise Salad

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: While the name says that this dish is a salad, it’s really a meal, and a delicious, well-rounded one at that. Made with warm-weather staples like bright tomatoes, green beans and fresh basil, this is a recipe worth looking forward to. Summer can’t come soon enough! 

The post:
A Nicoise, Sort Of 


5. Goat Cheese with Lemon and Thyme
  

Upload from December 27, 2011The idea: No FoodHappy list of favourites would be complete without a recipe centred around cheese. And this recipe’s a great one: creamy goat cheese gets mixed and topped with bright lemon zest and fresh thyme. The whole thing takes mere minutes to prepare, but will leave people smiling for ages (and trust me, this is a recipe that’s dangerous not to share). 

The post: A Speedy, Savoury, Delicious Detour!


TOP SIX SNAZZY TIPS OF 2011

1. How to Dice an Onion like a Pro! 

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: In this post, you’ll learn, step-by-step, the basics of how to dice an onion with ease (and without crying!). You’ll also find tips on how to change up the size of your dice, and a bit of background information on why onions make us cry. The technique transfers well to non-onion items, so make sure to give this one a read!

The post: How to Dice an Onion like a Pro (It’s Easy!)


2. How to Cook Quinoa
 

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: Here, you’ll find out how to make a pot of super-trendy, good-for-you quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). You’ll also find a recipe for one of my favourite quinoa dishes, a meal-style salad that makes use of tasty ingredients like dried cherries, feta, greens, apple cider vinaigrette and, of course, quinoa!  

The post:
How to Cook Quinoa + An Easy, Awesome Quinoa Creation!

 
3. How to Cook Oatmeal (Plus Seven Tasty Variations!)

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: In this post, you’ll learn the basics of cooking oatmeal on the stove and in the microwave. You’ll also find seven simple, tasty toppings suggestions, including standards like banana, nutmeg and brown sugar, to more unique ideas like nutella and fruit, or cinnamon, raisins and an egg! 

The post: A Week’s Worth of Oatmeal: Seven Simple Variations!


4. How to Pop Popcorn with Ease

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: In this early post, I’ve passed along one of my favourite kitchen tricks: a super-fast method of making perfect popcorn in the microwave, using an unwaxed brown paper bag. I’ve also served up a few tasty popcorn seasoning suggestions, including one of my all-time sweet-and-salty favourites: cinnamon-sugar and sea salt. 

The post: 
 How to Pop Popcorn with Ease!


5. How to Roast a Tomato

Upload from December 27, 2011

The idea: Here, you’ll learn how to turn rock-hard tomatoes into gloriously flavourful treats, through the power of roasting. You’ll also find eight ingredient-pairing suggestions to take your roasted tomatoes to a new level (herbs, oils and cheeses, oh my!), along with a few tasty roasted-tomato-based recipes. Given that it’ll be months before we see sun-ripened tomatoes, this is a post you don’t want to miss!
The post: How to Roast a Tomato + 8 Ingredients to Inspire Your Creation!

 
6. Five Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen 

Upload from December 27, 2011The idea: In this post, I pass along five tips to help you save time in the kitchen, including  simple suggestions (prep first, cook second!) and super-handy prep techniques (how to grate ginger and remove garlic skins with ease). Whether you’re a novice or know your way around the kitchen, this is an essential read! 

The post:
Five Fast Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen!

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So there we have it, team: the tastiest and most useful posts of 2011! It’s been a ton of fun going through the year’s posts to send these top recipes and tips your way — I hope you’ll have as much fun trying and retrying them out in your own kitchen. 

Thanks so much for following along over the past year — it’s been awesome sharing ideas, adventures, and food with you. I’ve got big plans for FoodHappy in 2012, so I hope you’ll stick around to join me in the adventures to come. Happy near-New Year everyone — may your 2012 be super-tasty! 

Hot Chocolate vs. Hot Cocoa

I’m about to tell you something obvious. Or, at least, something that seems obvious. But until it was pointed out to me, I was in the dark.

Now that I’m in the know, I have before me a new world of options, understanding, and deliciousness. So I’ll risk stating the obvious in the hope that I’ll fill some of you in too. And if you already knew what I’m about to tell you, well, the recipes are tasty at the very least!

Upload from December 19, 2011

Since I can remember, I’ve been stirring together some combination of cocoa powder, sugar and hot milk and calling it hot chocolate. This tasty concoction has been a quintessential feature of my winter holidays, so much so that particular Christmases have been defined by it. Ask me what happened over, say, Christmas of 2005, and I’ll be lost. Ask me what happened over the Christmas of hot chocolate with peppermint extract or the Christmas of hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon, and I’ll tell you all about it. 

So when I stumbled upon an article about hot, chocolatey beverages, of course I read it. And there it was: the surprise, the truth, the news:

Upload from December 19, 2011I haven’t been making hot chocolate at all. I’ve been making hot cocoa. I assumed they were the same, but no: different names, different drinks. Go figure. 

Obvious or not, maybe the difference doesn’t seem like a big one. And on the surface, it’s not. Because hot cocoa and hot chocolate have a lot in common: they’re sweet, milky beverages, served hot and flavoured with something chocolately. Try the end results, though, and you’ll know that they’re truly different types of tasty. All thanks to the name-giving ingredient: chocolate versus cocoa powder.  

Upload from December 19, 2011

Chocolate, the stuff we buy in bar-form, typically contains some combination of sugar, cocoa butter (a super-rich fat) and cocoa solids (a dry, bitter, brown powder that provides that classic chocolatey flavour). Translated into drink form, hot chocolate, made by whisking in lots of dark chocolate pieces into hot milk, is sweet, thick, rich and intensely chocolately. It’s the decadent drink of chilly childhood dreams. Truly hot chocolate.  

Upload from December 19, 2011

Cocoa powder, on the other hand, is made solely from cocoa solids, or the unsweetened, fat-free, bitter brown powdery bits. It provides intense, chocolately flavour without adding any sweetness or fat-based richness. As a drink, hot cocoa, made by combining cocoa with sugar and hot milk, is a lot lighter, providing a more grown-up, bitter-chocolate edge and the option to control the sweetness yourself. Word has it that it may also do pretty good things for your brain 

Upload from December 19, 2011I’m passing along two recipes: one will give you a classic cup of hot chocolate, the other a classic cup of hot cocoa. In addition to being super-simple and speedy, these recipes are awesome because they’re nearly identical in their ingredients lists and instructions — make them side-by-side and you’ll be able to see just what a difference a single ingredient can make. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll be in a great place to start customizing your cup — check out the variations at the end of the post for a few simple, tasty ideas. 
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Classic Hot Chocolate
Adapted from Gourmet Live
Serves 1 (for more servings, simply scale up!)

Ingredients
1 cup of milk, cream, or some combination of the two*
1 pinch of salt
1.5 - 2 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped**
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine milk and salt over medium heat and heat until it’s just about to simmer. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate to the pan, let sit for a minute, then whisk until the chocolate has fully melted into the milk. Whisk in the vanilla extract and serve.

Upload from December 19, 2011

*I made mine with 2% milk and it was plenty rich!
**A few tips here: (1) An ounce of chocolate is equivalent to about 25 grams, so for this recipe, then, you want either 38 or 50 grams per cup of hot chocolate. If you’re using a chocolate bar as the base for your cocoa, simply divide the total number of grams in the bar by the number of squares in the bar, and you’ll get a rough idea of how many squares you’ll need to use to get 38 or 50 grams. (2) If you’re in the mood for something indulgent, use 2 oz (50g) of chocolate. If you want a more standard cup of hot chocolate, use 1.5 oz (38g). (3) Chocolate’s easiest chopped with a large, serrated knife. 
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Classic Hot Cocoa
Adapted from Gourmet Live 
Serves 1 (for more servings, simply scale up!)

Ingredients
1 cup of milk, cream, or some combination of the two
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1-2 tbsp brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it; I opted for 1 tbsp)
1 pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions
In a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, whisk together cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, and 2 tbsp of the milk over medium heat until cocoa and sugar have dissolved into the milk. Once cocoa and sugar have dissolved, add the remaining milk and heat over medium until it’s nearly simmering. Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the vanilla extract and serve.  

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Variations!
Variations are scaled to work with a single cup of hot chocolate or cocoa

  • Add some spice: Toss a big pinch or two of your favourite spice, or combination of spices, into your drink at the same time that you add the chocolate pieces or cocoa powder. My sister likes to add a big pinch of both cinnamon and cayenne. 
  • Swap extracts: Skip the vanilla, and try almond, peppermint, or some other extract instead. If your extract is quite strong in flavour, start with less than 1/4 tsp; if it’s weaker, add a bit more.
  • Adulterate it: Toss in a shot of your favourite liqueur or espresso to your prepared drink. Given that most liqueurs are quite sweet, you may want to adjust the quantity of chocolate or sugar, depending on whether you’re making hot chocolate or hot cocoa, downwards a little.
  • Top it off: Top your hot drink off with a bit of freshly-whipped cream, animal-friendly marshmallows, or, as my Colombian friend does with her hot chocolate, a small handful of mild white cheese.

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Thanks goes out to David, for both lending me the photo-worthy mugs and alerting me to the potential superpowers of hot cocoa.  

5 Fast Tips to Save Time in the Kitchen!

Today, I’m passing along five easy tips to save you time in the kitchen.

You’re probably familiar with most, if not all, of them already. But they’re so worth revisiting. Because these are the simple tips, the ones that are so easy to disregard or forget, that are going to ensure that your kitchen adventures are speedy, successful, and stress-free. Big deal? I’d say so.  

So take the time to read through the tips below and make an effort to turn them into habit. It’ll take time — I still forget to set timers, and consequently burn things, more than I’d care to admit (such is the plight of one adjusting to using an oven as a toaster) — but, like I’ve said, you’ll get time too. So let’s not waste any more if it. Here we go! 

Upload from December 12, 2011

This seems like a silly one, I know, but trust me: there’s little else as disappointing as getting halfway through that amazing recipe you’re making for that super-important occasion, only to find that you don’t have what you need — whether it be equipment, skills, supplies, or time — to make the dish as instructed. 

So before you do anything else, read through the recipe start to finish. Keep an eye out for:

  • Unfamiliar techniques
  • Unusual equipment
  • Long resting, roasting or rising times

Knowing what to do, and what you need to do it, before you actually get to doing it will save you tons of time! 

Upload from December 12, 2011

Having all of your tools ready to go and your ingredients prepared before you start cooking is essential. Because this simple technique — one the French call mise en place, or “everything in its place” — will save you from teetering precariously on a tower of chairs in search of who-knows-what, when, according to the recipe, all you should be doing is adding it to the pan. Especially for those recipes where time is of the essence, being ready to go right off the bat makes the difference between delicious and disastrous. 

So read through your ingredients list and prepare your ingredients accordingly. If you’re told you’ll need three cups of diced onions, make sure they’re diced and measured from the get-go. And if you know you’ll be adding multiple ingredients to your creation in a single step — and you will know, because you will have read the recipe — you can measure them out into one bowl to save time cooking and cleaning up. Easy! 

Upload from December 12, 2011

No one knows more about saving time preparing ingredients than professional chefs. So scour your favourite cookbooks (the library is a great place to expand your collection without significantly shrinking your bank account) for the tips and tricks that the best chefs recommend. 

Here are a few of my favourite chef-recommended tips for preparing ingredients in record time:

To grate ginger quickly and easily, store it in the freezer and grate it from a frozen state: when fresh, ginger’s tough fibers make grating and chopping a chore. Not so when frozen! Plus, storing ginger in your freezer makes it last for much longer than when kept in the fridge. While I don’t worry about ginger skin, if you don’t want it to make it into your cooking, simply scrape it off with a spoon before or after freezing. Skinless ginger should be stored in an airtight bag or container to maintain freshness.  

Upload from December 12, 2011
To peel a clove of garlic, first smush the clove with the flat side of a knife: When super-fresh, garlic cloves are plump and firmly packed into their papery little skins (the cloves shrivel as they age, making the skins easier to remove, but the garlic less tasty). To save yourself from shredding the skin under your fingernails on garlic skins, squash the garlic clove under the flat part of a knife. The skin should come off easily after that.  
 
Upload from December 12, 2011
To dice and chop onions in no time, use this speedy technique!

Have any time-saving prepping techniques? Feel free to share! 
 

Upload from December 12, 2011

In my experience, dull knives not only slow you down, but they also increase the chance you’ll cut yourself. Because when you’re working with a dull blade, you end up applying more pressure and resorting to silly techniques to get the job done. As long as you exercise common sense when working with sharp blades — don’t cut at a faster speed than you’re comfortable with, keep those fingertips out of the way, wash the blade carefully and, as my mother’s been telling me for years, don’t lick anything directly off the knife — you’re going to get things done much more efficiently and safely. 

If you know what you’re doing, you can easily keep your knives sharp by using a commercial knife sharpener. If not — and I fall into this camp — you can keep your knives in good shape for a long, long time, by getting them professionally sharpened. If you’re in Edmonton, check out this thread for recommendations. If you’re elsewhere, bust out a phonebook, get Googling, or phone your local restaurant, culinary school, food-loving friend, or butcher’s shop for a recommendation! 

Upload from December 12, 2011

Whether you’re cooking rice, toasting nuts, baking a cake, or simply adding a few extra minutes to a near-done batch of cookies, a timer is going to make sure that the hard work you’ve put in doesn’t go up in flames. Invest in one that beeps loudly and often, and get in the habit of setting it. Your dinner guests and your cookware will thank you for it. 
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So there you have it, team! Five speedy tips that will save you time in the kitchen and, I hope, make you a happier, stress-free kitchen adventurer. Work them into your routine and, before you know it, you’ll be setting up mise en places in your sleep (breakfast, surely, will never be better). 

If you’ve got any time-saving tips of your own, let’s hear them! 

Supremely Simple Hummus

Friends are a great source of food inspiration.

Knowing what you like, they tip you off to new recipes that become old favourites. Knowing what you don’t, they take care to guide you beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone, introducing you to things you’d never dare try on your own. And when whatever it is that they’re eating smells so good, they’re more than happy to share.

Upload from December 05, 2011

So when it comes to sharing food with you guys, I’m always looking to friends for inspiration. And right now, my friends are all about chickpeas. And for good reason.

While they’re not the flashiest food around — in fact, they do look a bit like teeny, disassembled fowls — chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are cool little legumes. First showing up on the scene over 5000 years ago, chickpeas have since treated the ancients’ medical ailments, stood in as a wartime substitute for coffee beans, and loaned their Latin name of cicer to the Roman historian, Cicero. They’ve also, of course, been eaten.

Upload from December 05, 2011

Curried, marinated, smashed, roasted and ground: through time, and in my friends’ kitchens, chickpeas have seen it all. Which isn’t much of a surprise, considering that chickpeas kind of have it all: they’re sturdy and packed with protein, fiber and a handful of snazzy minerals. They store well and cook easily. And their unique, mild flavour makes them happy to hang out solo or in the company of other ingredients.

Upload from December 05, 2011

Clever, my friends are, to be big on chickpeas. So today, I’m taking my cues from them and sharing a chickpea classic: hummus.

The recipe is a simple one: just eight ingredients (three of which are tasty garnishes), whizzed into delicious oblivion. Well-balanced in its ratio of the hummus standards — chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic and tahini — the flavours come together after the hummus has had a bit of time to sit, so make it a few hours before you intend to eat it. If, when the time comes, you find that it’s not quite doing it for you, simply pop the whole thing back into your food processor and adjust away.    

Upload from December 05, 2011

The recipe as written makes a ton (when one ton equals roughly four cups), but my guess is that you’ll have no trouble polishing off a batch by yourself. So double it, and share something healthy, tasty, and happy with those fantastic friends of yours. 
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Simple, Oh-so-good, Hummus
Adapted from smitten kitchen
Makes roughly 4 cups

Ingredients
4 cups cooked chickpeas*
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
3/4 tsp salt, divided (I used sea salt)
1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (about 2 large lemons)
1/2 cup of water
A good glug of olive oil
2 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley
A big pinch of hot smoked paprika or other tasty spice

Directions

1. In a mortar and pestle, bash together the garlic and 1/2 tsp salt until you’ve made a garlic paste.** Transfer the paste, along with the tahini and lemon juice to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the ingredients form a thick paste. Add the water and pulse again until the mixture is smooth.

Upload from December 05, 2011

2. Add the chickpeas to the food processor and process until the hummus is smooth. Taste and adjust with more salt, lemon juice, tahini, and water until you’ve achieved the taste and consistency you’re after.*** Transfer hummus to a bowl, let it sit in the fridge for a day if you can, and top with olive oil, fresh parsley and paprika before serving. 

Upload from December 05, 2011*You can either use canned chickpeas (remember to drain and rinse them before using), or cook them yourself. To do the latter, check out the instructions for cooking dried chickpeas here!
**If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can smush the garlic and salt together against a cutting board using the broad side of a knife. Alternatively, you can mince the garlic using a knife or a food processor — this won’t draw out the flavour of the garlic as much and won’t produce as smooth of a hummus, but it’ll still be super-tasty. 
***Note again that the flavours of the hummus will come together and intensify more as you let it sit. This stuff is best made a day, or at least a few hours, before you intend to dig in. 

Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

As a kid, I had all sorts of career ambitions. Conventional jobs, mostly, like panda, Jane Goodall, and Charles Darwin. (Confusing business cards, those would have been.)

Never in all my dreams of time travel and transmutation, chimpanzees and Beagles, did I imagine that I’d become a defender of the do-it-yourself morning meal. 

Upload from November 28, 2011

But yesterday, as I read through last week’s appeal for the demise of monster muffins and recalled fondly the kilograms of granola I’d made the week before, all the while eating a few of the oatmeal pancakes I’d made to share with you today, I realized that I have become just that: a pajamaed crusader, advocating for simple breakfasts made from scratch.

Upload from November 28, 2011

Which isn’t a bad thing — I’m a big believer in the importance of a good breakfast (my poor, patient father can probably recite in his sleep my “Why Breakfast is Important, Dad” speech) — but there are only so many things you guys can eat in one morning. So after today’s post, I promise I’ll hang up my PJs and apron-cape for a while in favour of PM pursuits.

But first: pancakes! 

Upload from November 28, 2011

Pancakes, in their various guises, are popular around the world, and for good reason: as our prehistoric pals first discovered, pancakes offer the opportunity to pack a gamut of good-for-you ingredients into a warm, tasty, speedy, little cake.

Which isn’t to say that all pancakes out there are good for you; those behemoth, tasteless, white-flour discs that serve simply as vehicles for whipped cream and syrup are desserts disguised as breakast. 

Upload from November 28, 2011

But happy, good-for-you pancakes, the ones made with whole grains and tasty things like yogurt, and fresh fruits and veggies (savoury pancakes are great!), are an awesome way to start your day. And because cooked pancakes keep so well in the fridge, there’s no reason to relegate them to weekends. Throw a batch together on the weekend and you can eat pancakes for the rest of the week. Good deal, I say!

Upload from November 28, 2011

The recipe I’m passing along today uses creamy buttermilk, wholesome oats, and just a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg. The resulting golden rounds are lightly spiced, with crispy exteriors and surprisingly fluffy interiors. Delicious topped with plain yogurt, diced bananas, and a bit of honey, they also do just fine when eaten hot, straight out of the pan.
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Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes 
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes ~12 medium-sized pancakes 

Ingredients
3/4 cup quick-cooking oats (the kind that take 3-5 minutes to cook on the stove)
1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp buttermilk*, shaken and divided
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 tbsp packed brown sugar

Directions

1. In a small bowl, combine oats and 3/4 cup buttermilk and let sit for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a medium bowl, whisk together butter, egg, brown sugar and remaining 3/4 cup + 2tbsp buttermilk until smooth. Once oats and buttermilk have sat for 10 minutes, stir them into the liquid mixture. 

Upload from November 28, 2011

2. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk-oat mixture. Stir just until dry ingredients are combined into the wet. Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat until hot, then heat a little butter or oil in the pan. Transfer 1/4 cup-fulls of batter into the hot pan, leaving enough space between each pancake to manoeuvre your flipper. Cook pancakes until tops are dotted with bubbles and edges are dry, then flip and cook a minute or two more, until bottoms are golden-brown, adjusting the heat as necessary. Repeat until all of the batter is gone. Pancakes can be kept warm in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container and reheated for a minute or so in a microwave or toaster.

Upload from November 28, 2011*If you don’t have buttermilk around, you can make your own by combining 1 1/2 cups regular milk with 2 tbsp vinegar or lemon juice and letting it sit, 5-10 minutes, or until the milk has thickened. 
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For more tasty breakfast ideas, check out the breakfast section!

Fresh Ginger Muffins

In their early days, muffins were virtuous beings. Just little things, sweet and tender, they were nourishing, sharing their seat at the breakfast table with other wholesome fare. Muffins, they had our best interests at heart.

Upload from November 21, 2011

But, somewhere along the way, a big group of these noble baked goods got distracted. Lured by the promise of popularity and an eternal shelf-life, they hit the pantry, shooting up sugars and fats in the name of commercial viability. No longer content with the wholly-resonable confines of their pan, they grew to twice their size, developing (and contributing to) the nefarious muffin top. These new monster muffins? They didn’t care about us one bit.  

Upload from November 21, 2011

Not one to enable breakfast foods gone wrong, I relegated these new muffins to the recesses of my mind. I labeled them “Confused Cupcakes” and shelved them not far from the masses of sugary treats masquerading as kids’ breakfast cereals. Washing the flour and betrayal from my hands, I bid muffins a regretful adieu. 

Last week, everything changed.

Upload from November 21, 2011

You see, last Friday, I was presented with old-school muffins, small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. Homemade, dense-yet-tender muffins that didn’t scream with sweetness or beg for buttercream. Muffins that were delightfully self-confident in their muffinness. 

Of course, I knew before that first bite that the muffins of my past still existed. But the knowledge was hidden behind the monster muffins, in the depths of my mind. And sometimes, it takes a batch of banana-chocolate-chip to really make you see again (right?). 

Upload from November 21, 2011

This weekend, I made muffins for the first time in ages. To combat the deepening cold, I went for a recipe using fresh ginger and lemon zest. The resulting little cakes are spicy and warm, with crisp tops that are impressively domed, especially considering that I dropped the muffin pan, full of batter, upside down right before I put it in the oven (whether that’s bad muffin karma or good, I haven’t yet decided). 

My camera battery died literally seconds before I had a chance to take the muffins out of the pan (ok, maybe it’s bad karma), so you’ll have to imagine the deep golden colour of their sides and the fine crumb of their interiors. But take it from a muffin skeptic — it’s so worth it to find out for yourself.
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Fresh Ginger Muffins
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma.com
Makes 12-16 medium-sized muffins

Ingredients
1 large piece of unpeeled ginger root, washed (~4 oz - enough to yield 1/4 cup when minced) 
3/4 cup + 3 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest (~2 lemons-worth)
2 cups all-purpose flour*
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk

Directions
1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and grease or line with liners your muffin pan. 

2. Cut the ginger root into large chunks and process in the bowl of a food processor until it’s finely minced**. Place the minced ginger and 1/4 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, mix together 3 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp lemon zest and let sit for a few minutes while the ginger mixture cools, then stir the lemon-sugar mixture into the ginger mixture.

Upload from November 21, 2011

3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a medium bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat again until combined. Add in the eggs and beat until combined. Stir in the buttermilk. 

Upload from November 21, 20114. Make a well in the flour mixture, then pour the liquid mixture into the well. Stir with a wooden spoon just until the liquid and dry ingredients are combined. Add in the ginger-lemon mixture and stir just until it’s evenly incorporated through the batter. Scoop batter into your prepared muffin pan, filling muffin cups about 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until muffin tops spring back when pressed or a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out moist, but clean. Let muffins cool in the pan on a rack for a minute, then remove from the pan and allow to cool on the rack completely. 

Upload from November 21, 2011

*I used 1 1/4 cups all purpose and 3/4 cup whole wheat, with tasty results!
**Alternatively, you can finely mince the ginger root by hand (coarse grating followed by a good bit of chopping may work fine too).  

Granola Galore: Four Tasty Variations!

As winter approaches, we northern folk begin to covet our time in bed like it’s gold.

Not necessarily because we’re sleepier come November; in fact, it’s easy to get to bed early in the later months — the pre-dinnertime darkness confuses us, and we spend our evenings alternately exclaiming “I can’t believe it’s only [insert time here]!” and “It’s so dark outside!” until we’re all tuckered out. 

Upload from November 14, 2011

No, the reason those extra minutes in bed mean so much is because as soon as we crawl out from our caverns of quilts, it’s cold. And dark. For hours. If you see sunlight regularly between November and January, you’re one of the lucky few. 

So beds become refuges from reality where every extra minute under the sheets is used to mentally prepare ourselves for what’s coming: fewer hours of daylight and more degrees behind the minus Celsius sign. Those minutes, they mean everything.  

Upload from November 14, 2011

So to help give you a bit more time to ready yourself for the real, chilly world, I’m passing along a recipe for a basic breakfast granola packed with nourishing, wintry things like oats, nuts and dried fruit. One batch will make eight cups — more than enough for seven days of super-speedy breakfasts — and will keep well, and keep you under the covers longer, for two weeks. 

I’ve written the recipe to be a starting point for your own granola experiments; use whatever nuts, spices and dried fruits you fancy most. And if you want to go further and swap a handful of oats for an equal amount of wheat germ or flax seed, or if you’d rather use oil than butter, go for it!

Upload from November 14, 2011

To help you get started, I’ve given you instructions on how to make four simple, tasty variations. I tested each variation yesterday, making a half-batch of each (meaning I’m now the proud owner of 16 cups of granola), so I can vouch for their deliciousness and speediness.

Give the variations a try, or invent a few of your own. Just remember to make lots, serve the results with milk, yogurt or something else rich in that now-elusive vitamin D, and set your alarm a little bit later. Or earlier, maybe, if you want to consciously enjoy the cozy spoils of your efforts. I won’t judge. I’ll be doing the same. 
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Infinitely Adaptable Basic Granola
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 8 cups

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats (the kind that take 10-15 minutes to cook on the stove)
1 cup nuts, chopped or broken into bite-sized pieces*
1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut**
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp spices of your choice (see variations below!)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, vegetable oil or coconut oil (I used butter for tasty times)
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 - 1 1/2 cups of your favourite dried fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces

Directions
1. Place oven rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or a non-stick mat. In a large bowl, mix together oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar, spices, and salt. In a small saucepan, melt together butter and honey over low heat, then turn off heat and stir in vanilla extract. Pour hot butter-honey-vanilla mixture over oat mixture and toss with your hands until the oat mixture is evenly coated with the tasty goo. 

Upload from November 14, 2011

2. Spread oat mixture evenly over prepared baking sheet*** and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes to ensure even browning. After 30 minutes, or once the granola is a deep golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer baking pan to a cooling rack. Allow the granola to cool completely before breaking up into bits.

Upload from November 14, 2011

3. Transfer granola clusters to a large bowl. Add dried fruit to granola and gently toss to disperse the fruit through the granola. Store in an airtight container and serve with milk or yogurt and some fresh fruit (I like sliced bananas). Granola will keep for two weeks. 

Upload from November 14, 2011

*To preserve the crumbly texture of softer nuts - things like walnuts and pecans - break them into bite-sized pieces using your fingers, rather than a knife. For harder nuts - things like almonds and cashews - a knife will do just fine!
**If you’re not a coconut fan, swap the 1/2 cup of coconut for a 1/2 cup of oats, wheat bran, or something similar. 
***I made four half-batches and varied the combination of nuts, spices and fruits between each batch. To save time, I baked two half-batches at once, keeping the two on separate sides of the baking pan through the baking process (which is why, in the photos, you see a dividing line down the centre of the baking sheet). Handy!
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Four Tasty Granola Variations
The variations below are scaled to work with the granola recipe above. Unless otherwise specified, the quantities of nuts, spices and fruits listed in the variations below are meant to replace the equivalent quantities in the recipe above.  

Almonds + Apricots + Vanilla
Make the basic granola as instructed, using 1 cup of slivered almonds, no spices, 4 tsp of vanilla extract (instead of 2 tsp), and 1 cup of diced, dried apricots.

Cashews + Dates + Orange Zest
Make the basic granola as instructed, using 1 cup of raw cashews (coarsely chopped), no spices, 2 tsp of freshly grated orange zest (stirred into the butter and honey mixture at the same time as the vanilla), and 1 cup of diced, dried dates. 

Walnuts + Figs + Cinnamon
Make the basic granola as instructed, using 1 cup of walnuts (broken into bite-sized bits), 2 tsp of ground cinnamon, and 1 cup of diced, dried figs.  

Pecans + Apples + Ginger
Make the basic granola as instructed, using 1 cup of pecans (broken into bite-sized bits), 2 tsp dried ground ginger, and 1 cup of diced, dried apples. 
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How to Roast Cauliflower + A Tasty Recipe!

Friends, I have a problem. An addiction. A disease.  

I call it: hyperbole. 

(See?)

Upload from November 07, 2011

To say that I’m always exaggerating would, of course, be an exaggeration. But only just. Fortunately, my grandiose claims are usually of the variety you’re used to, the sort where soups contain several metric tons of onions and where dried fruits duke it out for world domination: innocuous little things, eliciting from those who know my condition — that is, anyone who interacts with me on a semi-regular basis — an indulgent smile and, quite possibly (and understandably), an invisible eye roll.

But every now and then, I lose myself. I say horrible things. Damaging things. Things like “Salad is the worst”. Things like “I hate salad”. 

Gosh. 

Upload from November 07, 2011

Luckily for me, when I reach such a low, those around me are more than happy to intervene. So last week, when I made those defamatory statements about innocent salads, I was challenged:

What about warm salads, made with grainy mustard and green beans?” I was asked.
“What about snazzy slaws, made from crispy carrots and purple beets?” my questioner continued.
And then: “What about salads with cheese?”

Right. 

Upload from November 07, 2011

So I admit it, I was a Saladist, one who avoids all salads due to a fear of the slimy-lettuce-drowning-in-dressing varieties. But now I see what was there all along: the salads I’ve encountered in recent memory have been happy, meal-worthy things, made with care, lovely produce and, yes, cheese; salads to love. So now I make salads whenever I remember how awesome they can be. It takes time to replace the bad habits with the good, after all. 

But yesterday, halfway through making roasted cauliflower with a garlicky, olive vinaigrette, I finally thought of salad! (Good news, for sure, but it means that all of the ingredients for today’s recipe didn’t make it into the ingredients photo. The absence of garlic, which is in the original recipe, I chalk up to a week full of minor head injuries.)

Upload from November 07, 2011

I didn’t deviate much from the recipe I was working from — I merely doubled the vinaigrette so that I could dress both the recommended roasted cauliflower as well as my additions of arugula, creamy goat cheese, and toasted almonds. But the result was a sweet and salty, sour and smooth, warm and crispy salad. I ate it with gusto, refilled my bowl, and danced around my kitchen when I was done. And that, my friends, is a fact. 
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How to Roast Cauliflower!
Makes enough for 4 as a side

Ingredients
1 large head of cauliflower, washed and broken up in to 1.5-inch florets*
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Place oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place florets on an ungreased baking sheet with raised edges. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over florets, and toss florets to coat. Transfer baking sheet to preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until florets are golden, tossing florets every 10 minutes to ensure even browning. Remove baking sheet from oven and serve florets hot! 

Upload from November 07, 2011

*I find the easiet way to do this is to cut the full head of cauliflower in half, then use your hands or a small knife to carefully remove the woody core from each half-cauliflower. From there, you can separate the half-heads into nicely-shaped 1.5-inch florets using your hands or a small knife, and then get on with the washing. 
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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Kalamata Vinaigrette
Adapted from Gourmet
Makes enough for 4 generous side-sized salads 

Ingredients
1 large head of cauliflower, separated into florets and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper (follow the How-To above!)
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped**
A large pinch of salt
4 tbsp olive oil
3-4 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (roughly 1 lemon)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped (I used a combination of kalamatas and spicy green olives)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp sea salt
4 extra-large handfuls of arugula 
Goat cheese and toasted almonds (optional)

Directions
1. Roast your cauliflower by following the How-To above!

2. While cauliflower is roasting, prepare vinaigrette: Using a mortar and pestle, smush together chopped garlic and the large pinch of salt until you’ve made a paste.*** In a lidded jar, combine garlic paste, olive oil, lemon juice, olives, pepper and salt. Tightly secure lid and shake until oil and vinegar are no longer visibly separated. Taste and adjust ingredient quantities as you see fit. 

Upload from November 07, 20113. Once cauliflower has finished roasting, remove it from the oven and transfer it to a medium-sized bowl. Pour half the dressing overtop hot cauliflower and toss to coat. Divide arugula between four bowls and drizzle each serving with a spoonful or two of the remaining dressing. Divide cauliflower between salad bowls and toss to combine. Top each salad with a small handful (2 tbsp or so) of crumbled goat cheese and toasted almonds, if you so desire, and serve!  

Upload from November 07, 2011**I might skip the chopping step next time around, as the little garlic bits tend to fly around when you smush them together with the salt. I think whole cloves should smush up just fine. 
***You can also do this by firmly pressing the garlic and salt into a cutting board using the flat side of a knife until the garlic has turned paste-like.