Redemption Salad

Let it be known: Vacation is glorious. But, after a few days of bouncing around hotel rooms and navigating unfamiliar territory, I think we inevitably start longing for bits of the normal lives we chose to leave behind. Things like faster wifi, familiar beds or, in our case, vegetables.

Don’t get me wrong. My fellow vacationers and I, we loved our time in Seattle. Even after eight exhausting days and half as many major car malfunctions in blistering heat and pay-by-the-hour parking lots, we were sad to go.  

seattle-v.2.jpgAnd I don’t mean to suggest that we didn’t like the food either. We’d all happily go for another impressively crisp-but-tender pizza at Via Tribunali, a warm potato-stuffed pastry at Piroshky Piroshky, or a caramel-crusted cake from Honoré. 

But, as the list suggests, our diet in Seattle consisted mostly of bread and fat (taken with dark-roasted uppers and locally-brewed downers). By day four, our bodies wanted home cooking, but our energy levels were demanding takeout. 

And so, we picked up a motley crew of veggies, chopped them up, added a can of beans, and called it dinner. Actually, we called it Redemption Salad, knowing full well that the influx of veggies and protein was unlikely to absolve us from all the butter and beer. 

three.jpgBut the mix of textures and flavours offered up by the few ingredients – creamy, crunchy, bitey, sweet and salty – turned out to be so satisfying that we made it another two times in Seattle, and again this weekend, back in Edmonton. 

And, as the temperature here rises and our desire to turn on a stove correspondingly falls, the salad promises to stay on the menu, with the occasional substitution just to keep it interesting. 

So while it didn’t fully redeem us, it did and will continue to keep us happy and, maybe, slightly healthier than we’d otherwise be. Not bad for a bowl of raw veggies, I’d say.  



Redemption Salad

Makes ~6.25 cups

Notes: If the idea of raw zucchini doesn’t appeal, feel free to use cucumber instead. For tastiest results, use your best olive oil and salt. 

Update 05/22/2014: Had this again last night, with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar – worth trying out!

Ingredients
4 stalks of celery
1 small zucchini
1 large yellow pepper 
1-2 tomatoes
1-2 avocadoes
1 15-oz can of white beans (kidney, cannellini, navy, etc.), drained and rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
flaky salt (or any other kind of salt)
To serve: garlic-rubbed toast (optional)

Directions

1. Prep your veggies: Wash and dry the celery, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes. Cut your avocado(s) in half and remove the pits. Now dice all of the vegetables into 2cm cubes (no one’s measuring, so don’t worry about being precise). You should have about 1.25 cups of each type of vegetable. Add more veggies (or snack on extras) as needed. 

2. Drop your diced veggies, along with the beans, garlic, olive oil, and 1/8 tsp salt into a big bowl. Toss until the veggies are coated in the oil and salt. Taste, and add more oil and salt as you see fit. 

3. Let the salad sit for a couple of minutes to allow the garlic to impart its flavour on the veggies. Now serve up! Note that garlic is particularly pugnent when raw, so eat the slivers at your discretion (I leave mine in the bowl). 

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More from Seattle

As promised, another photo-update from Seattle, where I’m still set up, sampling buttery pastries and enjoying the sunshine.

seattle-grid-week-two.jpgI’ll be back in Edmonton, with a new recipe, next week! 

Update from Seattle

Hey friends! I’m in Seattle for the week, touring around, drinking tasty coffees and exploring the city’s lovely parks. Not bad!  

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Stay tuned – I’ll be posting more photos through the week. 

The Unexpected Virtues of Soup + A Recipe

I have this idea that soup is simple

leeks.jpgStep 1: Fill your shopping bag (preferably beige canvas or brown paper) with brightly coloured vegetables. Admire how leafy greens artfully spill over its sides. Step 2: Toss artful vegetables into a shining, copper pot and watch as they’re transformed into liquid comfort. Step 3: Use liquid-comfort-AKA-soup to restore the vital spark of anyone suffering through bad times or bad weather, as per television advertisements. Consequently become a more generous, fulfilled being

sweet-potatoes.jpgThen I actually make soup. And as onion skins and potato peels overtake my counter and I watch little vegetable cubes dance around in the pot for 20-30-40 minutes – meditative though it may be – the bubble bursts. Though soup may not be complicated per se, by virtue of the prep time and cooking time involved it is not simple. It is not going to cure my ails. It is not going to make me a better person. And, unrelatedly, it’s probably not going to keep me full until bedtime. 

But soup – and in particular blended soup – does make me appreciate food more. Not because of a love-through-suffering sort of thing. Soups make me appreciate food more because soups make me appreciate flavour.

soup-duo.jpgSee, most of the meal-worthy foods we eat incorporate both flavours and textures. But when you’re dealing with a blended soup, which promises a single texture for the whole ride, your attention is focused so much more on taste. 

Which, finally, brings me to today’s recipe: an aromatic, creamy soup made from roasted sweet potato, tomato, leeks, maple syrup. They’re ingredients that normally wouldn’t mingle in a single bite and so, when blended, they offer up a lesson in complexity. With each spoonful, you see how different qualities hit you at different times – first sweetness, then acidity, then richness – in a sort of arc of flavour. You learn which ingredients linger and which dissipate. You understand your food. 

soup-ingredients.jpgNow, because I might be alone in thinking that this counts: 1) As an experience worth having; and, 2) Reason enough to make soup, I’ll also say that my dining companions and I agreed that it was exceptionally tasty. Add a slice of bread and a squishy piece of cheese and, while you might not be a more virtuous person when you finally set down your spoon, you will, I hope, be happy. 



Roasted Sweet Potato & Maple Soup
Adapted from epicurious.com and
Serves 4 as a main course, with bread and cheese 

Ingredients
1.5 lbs of sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1.5 tbsp of olive, vegetable or canola oil
3 tbsp unsalted butter, divided (2tbsp + 1 tbsp)
1 medium onion, chopped (~1 cup)
2 small ribs of celery, sturdy bits chopped (~1/2 cup), leafy bits set aside
1 medium leek, chopped (discard the dark green tops first)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
4 cups of water or homemade vegetable stock
1/4 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup 10% cream
2 tbsp maple syrup, plus more to taste

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spread sweet potato cubes on a baking tray and toss with 1.5 tbsp of oil to coat. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until potatoes are nearly tender, stirring halfway through.

2. In a large (8+ cup) pot, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and leeks and cook for 5 minutes more, again keeping the onions from browning. Add in the garlic and cooking for another 2 minutes.

3. Add to the pot the roasted sweet potatoes, water (watch out for steam!), crushed tomatoes, cinnamon stick and 1/2 tsp of salt, and give it a good stir. Increase the heat to high, bring the soup to a boil. As soon as the soup is boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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4. Turn off the heat. Fish the cinnamon stick out of the pot. Using an immersion blender* blend the soup until smooth. Stir in the cream, maple syrup and additional 1 tbsp of butter. Bring back up to a steamy temperature over medium-low heat, stirring regularly, then taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt, syrup or crushed tomato as you see fit (you may need to be generous with the salt here). 

5. Top the soup with a few chopped celery greens and/or a small swirl of warmed cream or melted butter. Eat up!  

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*If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender and work in batches. But be careful – hot liquids can explode when improperly blended! Some tips: Don’t fill the blender more than half-full. Don’t put the lid on tightly (it should be on loosely, and covered fully with a tea towel). Start at the very lowest blend setting and work your way up to where you need to be, one level at a time.

Coming Up Tomorrow...

Wednesday is going to be a mighty tasty day.  

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Easter Edibles

Friends! As you may have gathered from last week’s series of late posts (I did finally share that pasta, by the way), things here have been a little busy as of late. After spending the week living out of a backpack and eating takeout, in the name of helping bring this project to life, by Friday I was properly frazzled. And so I made grand plans for the weekend. Plans to spend time catching up on the things I’d been neglecting, like cooking and sleeping and paying my taxes. 

cookies.jpgBut no. I did not do those things. Instead, I joined friends for a long breakfast at a bustling farmers’ market. I spent an afternoon learning, from a friend-slash-amazing-baker, how to transform sugar cookies into little works of edible art.

I joined my sister in hiding plastic eggs – stuffed with fridge magnets and little socks – for my nephew’s first ever easter egg hunt. Then I stuck around, for egg-dying, kite-flying, playground-exploring and barbecuing in the evening sun.  

eggs.jpgWhich is to say that I accomplished nothing that I set out to. But of course, I wouldn’t change a thing. Although, after yesterday’s breakfast of bread and lunch of carrot sticks, it may be time to start cooking again. And then there are those taxes…

Vegetarian Puttanesca + A Pasta Secret

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like pasta. Which didn’t make much sense to me because: 1) I was on very good terms with other carbohydrates; and, 2) I couldn’t attribute the weight I gained during my two brief stints in Italy to the gelato alone. 

But still, when I’d try my hand at making pasta at home – and I mean simply making a sauce to top store-bought noodles – it was just…OK

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I used good ingredients. I managed a reasonable al dente. I wasn’t shy with the salt in the pasta water or the sauce. So what was the problem?

Somehow, I’d got it in my head that pasta was simply a vehicle for sauce, and so I’d been drowning my noodles. The last spiral would be eaten, and a pool of sauce would remain. 

But think of classic carb-sauce pairings, like toast and jam, fries and ketchup, bagels and cream cheese. Even the most liberal condiment lovers probably get more of the carbohydrate per bite than they do the sauce. And that’s essential. Because too much sauce becomes overwhelmingly sweet or salty or rich.

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And pasta, I’ve come to see, is the same way. The noodles need to be visible, clothed in just a thin coating of sauce – a spring jacket rather than a parka. Seeing the yellow of the noodles peak through the sauce is a good thing. 

But for the final dish to taste like a proper dish, and not simply a fistful of boiled pasta rubbed with a bit of tomato, the sauce needs to have impact.

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Enter: Puttanesca. For such a simple, speedy sauce, it’s immensely flavourful. Because each of the ingredients – most of which are flavourings, really – adds something significant and unique. Olive oil provides richness. Olives and capers add saltiness and bite. Chilies pack heat, soy sauce provides the umami lost by the omission of traditional anchovies (this is a vegetarian version, after all). Vinegar lightens. Tomatoes and basil add freshness. Cheese is just generally a good idea. 

And so, to those of you who love pasta, I can finally say: I get it, I’m with you! And to those who don’t, I ask: Have you tried the puttanesca?



Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 6-8

Ingredients
1/4 cup of olive oil 
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp hot chili pepper
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (red wine will work too)
1 tbsp soy sauce (sounds weird, yes, but it does a nice job of replacing the salty, umaminess of the anchovies you usually find in puttanesca) 
3/4 cup kalamata olives, pits removed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup of capers, juice drained
3/4 tsp table salt
1 lb (454 g) of dry spaghetti
3/4 cup of fresh basil, sliced
Grated parmesan cheese 

Directions
Put the oil, garlic and chilies in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden (about 3-5 minutes). Add to the pot the blended tomatoes (be careful – when the tomatoes hit the oil, the oil may splatter a bit), vinegar, soy sauce, olives, capers and salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit.  

step-1.jpgWhile the sauce is simmering, cook your spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Do your best to time things so that the pasta is finishing up at the same time as your sauce. 

Take the sauce off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning (adding more chilies, salt, or vinegar) as you see fit. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta in the tasty puttanesca. Serve up the pasta, topping it off with a generous amount of basil and parmesan. 

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Coming Up Tomorrow...

Get ready to get your pasta on.

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Toutons: Newfoundland-style fried buns

Imagine for a moment a creation made from bread dough and cooked like a pancake, that puffs up like a doughnut, has the crispy-chewy texture of a pretzel and – to come full circle – tastes comfortingly like a fresh loaf of bread. 

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You’ve just dreamed up the touton (that’s tau-tin, delivered in your best maritime accent). And, depending on how you feel about carbohydrates, you can thank or blame the good people of Newfoundland for bringing it to life. 

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Complicated though their classification may be, toutons are simple things in their construction. After its first rise, a standard batch of bread dough is divided up and shaped into little rounds, which are shallow-fried in a mix of butter and oil (or, more traditionally, pork fat) until golden. Top with a pat of butter and a good drizzle of molasses and – behold! – toutons. Add a few breakfast sides and a gale, and you’ll have yourself a fine east coast morning.

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Now, if molasses isn’t your thing, not to worry – toutons can still be yours for the enjoying. See, because toutons are made from bread dough, the end results, like bread, can be dressed up with sweet or savoury toppings with equal success; a quick spin online will turn up toutons in the guise of pancakes, serving as the base for eggs Benedict, and split and used as the bookends of a sandwich. I enjoyed mine with cinnamon-sugar, while my sister was more taken by the touton sprinkled with garlic powder and salt. When it comes to pancake-doughnut-pretzel-buns, anything goes. 



Toutons
Adapted from www.food.com and www.nlrockrecipes.com, with many thanks to Peter for introducing me to the idea
Makes 8 tasty toutons

Ingredients
1.5 tsp white sugar
1/4 cup of warm water
3 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 cup of milk (1% or greater)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup of cold water
3/4 tsp table salt
1/2 tsp white sugar
2-3 cups of all-purpose flour
~1/2 cup olive or canola oil, for cooking
For serving: molasses, cinnamon sugar, butter, breakfasty things like poached eggs and tomatoes, etc.! 

Directions

1. In a large bowl, dissolve the 1.5 tsp of white sugar in the warm water, then stir in the yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is bubbly and weird looking.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high until it’s steaming and small bubbles form around the edges of the saucepan. Stir in the butter until it melts, then stir in the cold water, salt and 1/2 tsp white sugar. Let sit until it’s only warm (not hot!) to the touch, then stir it into the bubbly yeast mixture.

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3. With a wooden spoon, stir 1 cup of flour into the liquids until the mixture is smooth. Slowly mix in more flour until you’ve made a moist dough that no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Be careful not to add so much flour that the dough becomes stiff. 

4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured flat surface (or in the same bowl, like I do), adding more flour as needed to keep it from getting sticky, for 10 minutes. 

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5. Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it in the oil. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and place it somewhere warm and draft-free (I popped mine in the oven, with the heat off but the oven light on). Let it rise until it has doubled in size – should take about an hour. 

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6. Gently squash down the puffy dough with your hands to pop the bigger air bubbles. Divide the dough into eight, equal-sized balls. Flatten the balls into circular patties, about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches across. 

7. Preheat the oven to 200°F.

8. Fill a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan with 1/2 inch of cooking oil (or a mix of oil and butter). Set the pan over medium-high heat and heat the oil until it reaches ~275°F (the oil should just be beginning to sputter). 

9. Using a spatula or tongs, carefully transfer as many rounds of dough into the pan as will comfortably fit. Fry the rounds until the bottoms are golden (2-4 minutes), then flip and fry the other sides until golden (1-3 minutes), lowering the heat as necessary to keep the toutons from burning and the oil from getting super-hot. Place the fried rounds on an ungreased baking tray and let sit in the warm oven for 10 minutes to ensure they’re cooked through. Repeat with the remaining rounds of dough. 

10. Serve the cooked rounds hot from the oven, with molasses, butter, cinnamon sugar, garlic powder, or any other tasty thing you can think of. Like most types of fried dough, toutons are tastiest when hot and fresh. But if you can’t make your way through eight fried buns, simply store the extras like you would bread and toast them back to deliciousness. 

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3 Ingredients You Should Keep in the Freezer

At this point in your life, you’ve probably mastered the basics of storing food. Fresh milk needs to be refrigerated. Frozen peas need to go in the freezer. That sort of thing. 

But, as it turns out, the conventional way of stashing your groceries isn’t always the easiest. Or the cheapest. Or even the most convenient. So today, I want to share some handy tips I picked up from clever cooks on how to store food, better. And, having just arrived in chilly Canada from a much warmer North Carolina, it seems only appropriate to focus on the great storer of food that is the freezer.

Read on to find out how stashing three typically unfrozen ingredients in the freezer will save you a trip to the store, transform a task from tough to easy, and cut down on food waste. 

Not bad, freezer, not bad. 

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WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE THEM: Like most fresh veggies, fresh chilies have a relatively short lifespan on the counter or in the fridge. But, wouldn’t you know, the little things freeze well (thanks for the tip, Wendy!). So save yourself from having to run to the store every time you need a chili by starting a frozen chili collection. 

WHAT TO DO: Wash and thoroughly dry your chilies. Toss them in a bag. Freeze them. Ta-da! You can prep them straight out of the freezer, though I find they’re easiest to cut if they’ve sat at room temperature for a minute or so. 

TIPS: Chilies that have a high water content – like juicy jalapeños – will be slightly softer after a run in the freezer relative to when they’re fresh. So if it’s essential that your pepper has some crunch, it’s best to keep them out of the freezer. But if you’ll be cooking the things or using them in small quantities, you’re fine to dip into your frozen stash. 

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WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE IT: When it’s fresh, ginger root is a pain to work with – its fibrousness makes it tough to chop or grate. When it’s frozen, the fibrousness seems to disappear, making prep work a cinch.  

WHAT TO DO: Wash and dry your ginger root, then pop it in the freezer (you can put it in a container here, though I don’t bother). Once the ginger is frozen through, it’s ready to be used as per your recipe. Be sure to wield your knife/grater/peeler carefully here, as the frozen ginger will have a good amount of resistance to it. 

TIPS: Two things: 1) Peeling ginger is optional – the thin skin is edible and not noticeable when grated; and, 2) My preferred tool of choice for grating ginger is a sturdy microplaner, like this one

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WHY YOU SHOULD FREEZE IT: Recipes rarely call for a full can of tomato paste, which means that when you cook with it, you’re almost always stuck with more than you need. Save yourself from having to design the next few meals around the extra paste (or from throwing it out) by storing it in the freezer. When frozen, it’s easy to work with – a sharp knife slices through it without a problem. And since tomato paste is typically added to hot sauces or stocks, you’ll most often be able to toss it into your dish straight from the freezer. 

WHAT TO DO: In a freezer-safe container, spread your tomato paste in a thin (~1/2-inch) layer that doesn’t quite touch the container’s walls. Now freeze it! Once the paste is frozen, remove it from the container, set it on a cutting board, and use a sharp knife to carefully slice off as much as you need (you’ll have to approximate). Refreeze the extras!

Alternatively, for more precise serving sizes, freeze individual tablespoons of the stuff on a parchment-lined baking tray. Once the little pods are frozen through, drop them in a freezer-safe container or bag. 

Defrost the tomato paste only if you need to (if you have to mix it into something that isn’t hot, for example). In most cases though, working with it while it’s still frozen should be fine! 
 


 

Have any clever food storage tips of your own? Be sure to leave a comment so that other readers can benefit from your wise ways!