Friday, December 25, 2009

Spinach and Artichoke Spread with Goat Feta

I wanted another dip or spread to have with the sun-dried tomato jam for a light lunch. I had a big jar of marinated artichoke hearts in the fridge so decided to base it off of that. I used to make spinach and artichoke dip but that was laden with mayo, sour cream and of course, cow's milk mozzarella. I wanted something my dairy-free, egg-free sister could have so that was out of the question.

I really like the combination of spinach and artichoke so I thought of substitutes for the mayo and dairy add-ins. I came up blank. Sometimes, it's better to just leave it as simple as possible, and that's what happened here.

Spinach and Artichoke Spread with Feta


1 pkg frozen chopped spinach
About 10 marinated artichoke hearts
About 2 tbsp of the artichoke marinade
Olive oil for drizzling
Some feta cheese

In a saucepan, bring salted water to a rapid boil. Add chopped frozen spinach and cook according to package instructions.
In a food processor (or by hand) coarsely chop the artichoke hearts.
Drain spinach, and squeeze out as much of the water as you can.
In a bowl, combine the spinach, artichoke hearts, marinade, salt and pepper.

Heat the spread (either in the microwave or oven) and drizzle with olive oil.
Serve on bread or crackers, and with feta.

I know "some feta" is really not helpful but it really depends on how much you like feta. If you like it a lot, use a lot. If not, then whatever. You could even crumble the feta into the spread before heating it up, but I wanted to give people the option of adding the feta to their bread/cracker or not.

I think this spread could also be tossed with hot pasta (with some additional olive oil) as well. My sister was able to enjoy this spread and the rest of us cut various-sized chunks of feta cheese to have with ours.

Sun-dried Tomato Jam

I saw this recipe on a blog I linked to from a cooking forum I like to frequent. It's perfect for a light lunch or to take as an appetizer to a party. I made it for my mother-in-law over American Thanksgiving, and she really loved it. I tend to love sour, tart flavours (like sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, etc.) but my husband doesn't. The great thing about this jam is you can mellow out the tartness of it by pairing it with cheese. We used goat cheese because that's what the recipe recommended but I'm sure it'd taste great with mozzarella or other cheeses as well.

Just a note: I'm not sure about adding a whole cup of water to this jam. It took a really long time to cook down (not 5-10 like the recipe says), maybe about an hour! Even though I cooked it for much longer than instructed, I still ended up scooping out a lot of liquid and oil. I guess the tomatoes (packed in oil) release a lot of the oil as they cook.

When I made this for my in-laws, the enjoyed it with lovely baguette slices. I had it with tortilla chips and it went really well with them. I've also had them with gluten-free crackers and they went well with those, too.

I think this recipe will become a part appetizer staple... if I can figure out that too-much-liquid/oil issue.

Sun-Dried Tomato Jam
Source: Everyday Italian

8oz jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped, 1 tbsp of oil reserved
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper Crostini:
1 baguette, cut into 3/4-inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
5 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves


For the Sun-dried Tomato Jam: Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil, onion, and garlic. Stir and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown at the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the sugar, vinegar, water, chicken broth, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue simmering until most of the liquid is reduced and the mixture is the consistency of jam, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

For the Crostini: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the baguette slices on the baking sheet. Drizzle the bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until lightly toasted, about 12 minutes. Place the soft goat cheese in a small bowl. Stir in the thyme.
To assemble: Spread the crostini with Sun-Dried Tomato Jam and top with the goat cheese mixture. Transfer to a serving plate and serve.

Yields: ~ 24 servings

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dairy-free,spelt gingerbread cookies

I loooove gingerbread! A few years back, I started making Martha Stewart's recipe which calls for some ground black pepper. Wow, that pepper really made those cookies pop!

Fast forward a few years and the naturopath's advice to avoid dairy and wheat... Boohoo! Well, I knew a girl with a wheat allergy in high school, and she ate a lot of spelt products so that was one of the first grains I turned to for baked goods.

Through an internet search, I came across this blog, which had a great-sounding recipe. I accidentally added the sugar to the dry mix rather than the melted butter/molasses, which resulted in some sugar crystals in the cookies but hey, that's not the end of the world.

Compared to regular GBC (gingerbread cookies) made with wheat flour, these ones came out lighter and a bit puffier. I guess with baked goods, spelt will never yield the same results as flour. I'm not sure if you could poke a hole in the top of these and hang them on your tree, but they are excellent to nibble on while decorating your tree!

Puffy man and snowman

I modified the amount of spices, and ended up adding about 3 tbsp of spelt flour to the dough because it was quite soft.

Spelt Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Rackle's Ramblings
Yield: About 3 dozen cookies


2 cups unbleached organic whole grain spelt flour, sifted (plus more for rolling)
1/4 - 1/2 cup finely chopped (minced) crystallized ginger (optional) I omitted this
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1-2 tbsp ground ginger (I used 2 tsp)
1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon (I used 1 tsp)
1 tsp ground cardamon (omitted)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground coriander (omitted)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup unsalted organic butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/3 cup Sucanat (organic fair-trade evaporated cane juice) (I used yellow cane sugar)
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large organic/free range egg, beaten


In a sauce pan over very low heat, melt butter (or butter substitute) and add molasses, then sugar, stirring until dissolved. Turn off heat and let cool a few minutes, then add beaten egg.

In mixing bowl combine flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Gradually add liquid ingredients to flour mixture, stirring each time until flour is completely absorbed. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, it should be ready to be kneaded by hand. If dough sticks to hands, add small amounts (1 tbsp at a time) of flour until dough no longer sticks and is firm but pliable and shiny. Shape into a round, wrap in plastic or cover in a bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill at least 4 hours.

Place oven racks in the middle and pre-heat oven to 350.

On a floured surface, roll out dough using floured rolling pin. I just put the same piece of cling wrap the dough was wrapped in over the dough and rolled over it with an unfloured rolling pin.
to 1/8" thickness.

Once you cut as many cookies as possible using your cookie cutters, pull away the excess dough and place dough shapes on baking trays lined with parchment (not wax) paper. Place trays on rack positioned in middle of oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on size of cookies.

Cool on wire racks. These cookies get crunchier the more they cool so be patient!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Orange Coconut Chocolate Bites

This one's for my sister. No dairy, no wheat, no nuts for her so this is what came to mind: zesty orange, balanced with rich coconut, coated in dark, dairy-free chocolate.

I forgot to toast the coconut. My sister she preferred it to be chewy but I think she was just trying to be nice.

I pressed these into a mini-cupcake tin lined with paper cupcake liners so my sister could easily eat them on the go. I think they would make great mounds or even rounds if you don't have mini-cupcake tins or liners.


Zest of 1 orange
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, toasted
100g good quality dark chocolate

Mix together the orange zest and coconut. In a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, melt dark chocolate.

When the chocolate is about 2/3 melted, remove from heat. Stir in the coconut and orange zest.

Spoon the mixture into mini-cupcake liners, or on top of parchment paper in mounds.

Dry for about 1 hour.

Hot Chocolate on a Stick

I read about these fantastic-looking treats on a chat forum and followed a link that took me to this blog. Giver's Log has a lot of beautiful, wonderful gift ideas. I'm really excited to give these hot chocolate sticks to people for the winter holidays. My mom and sister were really impressed with how they turned out.

I used old-fashioned hard plastic ice cube trays and had a hard time getting the chocolate out of them. If you twist the tray too soon, the chocolate will crack, and let's just say 2 of my chocolate cubes had to be sacrificed to the "greater good". I'll bet those new-fangled silicone ones would be much easier, plus they come in very fun shapes. Giver's Log featured ones made in a long stick mold which would be perfect!

I packaged mine in cellophane bags and filled the bag with abotu 10 mini marshmallows.

Be sure to use decent quality chocolate. I used Swiss dark chocolate, Belgian milk chocolate, and a very good white chocolate (Green & Black's).

I crushed some candy-canes to a peppermint hot chocolate, chopped up some candied ginger for a slightly spicy hot chocolate, and of course left some plain for the purists.

Here's what you'll need!
(I ended up with 12 cubes)

Heat proof glass bowl (like pyrex)
Medium sized saucepan that the bowl can sit on
Wooden stir sticks or spoons if you can find them.


300g of good quality chocolate
1/4 cup cocoa
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
50g of good quality chocolate for dipping the cubes in (optional)
toppings, like crushed candy cane, chopped candied ginger, spices, etc. (optional)


  1. Chop chocolate into meltable pieces. Simmer a couple of inches of water in a pan and place glass bowl over the top to make a double boiler. Be sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water beneath it. Be sure to check the waterto make sure it stays at a simmer. Dump chocolate into the clean, dry bowl and stir as the chocolate melts.
  2. Once the chocolate is 2/3 melted, with just some pieces of the chocolate unmelted, remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring until chocolate is fully melted.
  3. Add cocoa, sugar, and salt and continue to stir until combined.
  4. Lift the bowl off the pan and use a towel to dry off any drips of water. Using 2 spoons, spoon the chocolate into the ice cube tray (about 2 spoonfuls per cube)
  5. Tap the ice cube tray on the counter to make sure all the chocolate settles into the mold. Add a stir stick and you’re done. The stir stick should stay upright without any trouble.
Let the chocolate cool at room temperature for 3 or more hours. Resist the urge to poke or twist the ice tray!

To remove, wiggle the stir stick slightly and give a gentle tug. If it really seems stuck, jab a sharp paring knife between the chocolate and the mold wall.

I had air bubbles in some of mine so I melted white chocolate to dip the cubes in for a snow-topped look. You can place these in a tall mug, stick down (of course) for the the topping to dry.

To enjoy, stir 1 stick of chocolate in a cup of very hot milk.

Giver's Log attached lovely tags to the stir sticks. Great idea!

Leftover pantry/fridge/freezer stuff soup

On a rainy, windy Sunday, the last thing you want to do is go outside to buy groceries, holding your loaded shopping bag in one hand, an umbrella in the other, trying not to get rain in your face (yes, it was that kind of rain). Some stuff I had lying around: frozen ground turkey, dried black beans, dried chick peas, red curry paste, and fresh corn on the cob.

OK, I admit, this soup would require a bit of planning (maybe the morning of) but it's mostly stuff that you'd leave to soak and thaw. If you happened to have canned beans, this would be a lot easier since a lot of time goes into soaking and cooking the beans. I would not really expect anyone to go out and buy these ingredients just to make this soup. But, I hope you can see what I had in my kitchen to make a very filling soup for yourself.

So here it is:

Spicy Turkey Bean Soup

1/2 cup dried black beans (mine soaked for 4 hours)
1/2 cup dried chick peas (mine soaked for 4 hours)
1 pound ground turkey breast
1/2 large onion diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp ginger root, peeled and minced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 cobs of corn, kernels cut off with a sharp knife
2 tbsp red curry paste
4 cups stock
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large pot, cover black beans and chick peas with water and bring to a boil over med-high heat. Reduce to med-low and simmer, covered until the beans are soft. This took about 1-2 hours for me. I used this time to check my e-mail. Once the beans are soft, drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat oil, and saute onion, garlic, and ginger until softenend, about 5 minutes.
Add the curry paste and 1 cup of the stock, mixing well. Add carrots, celery, corn, and beans, and cover, cooking until carrots are somewhat tender.

Add remaining stock and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro, and season with salt and pepper as desired (1/2 tsp each?)

You could also add 3 tbsp of fish sauce for more flavour.

Spicy Carrot and Lentil Curry Soup

A definite winter soup! Thick, hearty, warm-your-body goodness with vitamin A and protein! I chose to blend my soup with an immersion blender for a smoother soup. The problem with blending carrots and lentils is that they end up looking like barf. I took this soup to work a few times last week and got some curious stares. If you get queasy easily, maybe just chop everything up very fine and leave it unblended!

This would be delicious with some hot naan bread, or rice.

From Alive Magazine (November 2009 Issue)

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced onions
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 tbsp red curry paste
4 cups stock (veg or meat, your choice)
2 cups carrots, peeled and diced
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup dried split red lentils
1 cup frozen shelled edamame beans, thawed
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
Fresh ground pepper

Heat oil in a large saucepan over med-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and ginger; saute for 5 minutes or until soft and translucent. Stir occasionally.

Stir in curry paste and 1 cup of the stock to blend. Add carrots and crushed red pepper. reduce heat to med-low . Cover and cook until carrots are crisply tender, about 5 minutes. Stir.

Add remaining stock, lentils, and edamame beans and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes until lentils are tender. Stir in cilantro, salt, and pepper.

Spoon into individual serving bowls and garnish with additional cilantro and/or sour cream or plain yogurt.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How to incorporate a skin-on, bone-in chicken breast...

... into your soup! Skin-on, bone-in chicken is always cheaper at the supermarket. Maybe it's because they're sold by weight and so they work out how much the extra bone and skin would weigh? Or it's because they don't have to pay someone to skin and bone the chicken breast? Who knows... I've never tried to de-bone a raw chicken before but just imagine it's just much easier to do when it's cooked.

The idea behind this meal was to cook the chicken, get broth from the skin and bone, and then get the meat off the bone. It worked pretty well so I'll definitely do this again for other soups. Tonight's soup was:

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Adapted from Que Pasa tortilla chip bag
Yield: 4-6 generous servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (you can keep or discard the seeds depending on how hot you'd like it)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 medium tomato, chopped

6 cups water
1 can black refried beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
juice of 1 lime
1 skin-on, bone-in chicken breast

Heat a heavy bottomed, large soup pot on medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil, and place the chicken breast, skin side down. Sear for about 2 minutes, then flip and sear for an additional 2 minutes.
Add the onions, garlic, peppers, cumin, and coriander for 5 minutes. Stir to make sure the onions absorb the chicken-y goodness!
Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add the chopped tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove the chicken breast and place on a plate to cool.
Add refried beans (optional: for a smoother soup, use an immersion blender)
Once the chicken has cool, remove the skin and bone. Chop or shred chicken to desired thickness/size. Add the chicken back into the soup.
Add the cilantro and lime juice, and stir well. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
Serve with guacamole, tortilla chips and garnish with cheese and/or sour cream (if you eat dairy).

It was a pretty good soup with a decent amount of flavour. I think it could have been a little better if it had more chicken flavour. Maybe I'll use 3 cups water, and 3 cups chicken stock next time...

Crumbly Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

I'm probably missing some not-so-secret ingredient, but every time I make wheat-free cookies, they end up very crumbly. Like, every time I even touch them, they turn to 50% crumbs and 50% actual cookie. Well, if it's eating crumbly wheat-free cookies or no cookie at all, I can handle some crumbling. If you're lucky enough to be able to eat ice cream, the caramelized sugar, toasty oats and coconut crumbs would taste heavenly sprinkled on top of vanilla ice cream. Oh, how I miss dairy sometimes!

Crunchy, chewy, toasty bits...

My mother-in-law, J, sent me the recipe for these very fragrant, chewy but crispy cookies. I don't know where she got the recipe from, but I think it's from an Australian cookbook. J had mentioned that the first time she baked them, she didn't bake them for long enough and so she put them back in the oven the next day, and they were fine.

My problem was getting them off the cookie sheet. I greased the sheet, but did not flour it. Lesson learned. I'd be interested in making these into squares of some sort in the future... Maybe adding some more nuts and/or dried fruit?

The edges get nice and caramelized

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies
Yield: approx 2 dozen

1 cup shredded coconut (I used unsweetened, unsulfered coconut)
125g (4oz) butter (I used 1/4 cup vegan shortening and 1/4 cup coconut oil)
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I chopped some blanched, sliced almonds)

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add beaten eggs and vanilla, beat well.
Stir in oats, nuts and toasted coconut.
Drop teaspoonfuls of mixture on to lightly greased and floured oven trays;
allow room for spreading. Bake in moderate oven 10 minutes; cool on trays.

I baked them at 350 C for 10 minutes, then lowered the temp to 325 C, rotated the pans and
baked for another 5 mins. That was probably not the best idea; I should have baked them
at 300 C for about 15-20 mins. Lesson for next time...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nautilus - Fine Dining is Port Douglas, Qld, Australia

The husband and I are not wealthy by any means, but we do like splurge on good food and wine, being the gluttons we are. Anniversary dinners are no exception.

Look at all 'em forks!

As luck would have it, we happened to be (or we meticulously planned to be) in charming Port Douglas for our 2 year anniversary. Before we embarked on our journey, we did a bit of research online for a "nice" restaurant. Harrison's and Nautilus seemed to be the rated "fine dining". In the end, we chose Nautilus, although I can't really remember what the deciding factor was.

The restaurant itself was quite nice. The entrance is up a little dirt path (I wonder how ladies in super high heels do this?) through trees and bushes. The outdoor dining area is under a canopy of tall palm trees. When there's a bit of a breeze, you can hear the leaves rustle, which is a lovely sound!

The setting was beautiful and the servers were nice... I wanted to love this place. I really did, but it just didn't do it for me. The food was beautifully presented and maybe it's just that I can't fully appreciate food and wine pairings yet but this experience wasn't what we were expecting. Maybe the problem is that last 2 restaurants we had a tasting menu with wine pairings DID blow us away... Anyway, it still was a nice place to be with the husband on our 2 year.

Something that took away from the experience was that the servers didn't seem very... knowledgeable. Our waiter (although very nice) told us the wrong course (he'd have a prawn salad in his hand but would tell us it was something different, then apologize profusely). We had some other servers come to present us with the pairing wine but they'd just bring us the glass and say something like, "I have no idea what this is." Um... not cool.

Our server said of one wine, "It's the most exported wine in New Zealand". Like, why would we want to spend marked up restaurant prices for a wine we could buy at our local supermarket? Not impressed by that, either.

Now... for the food! We opted for the 6 course Chefs Tasting Menu:

Duck & Green Ginger Consommé
paired with
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Sparkling (Marlborough)
Verdict: Consomme was very salty, but the mushroom thing on the bread
(sorry, foggy memory) was quite good.

Smoked trout on potato crisps
(sorry, can't remember what it was paired with...)
Verdict: Nice smokey flavour of trout, went well with the salty crispiness of the chips!

Chilled Tiger Prawn Salad
paired with
St Hallett Riesling (Eden Valley)
Verdict: The meatiness of the prawns and the shaved long white things (fennel?) went well together.
I think the dressing was a bit bland, though. Maybe a bit more lime juice?

Pan-seared Scallops with Pork Belly
paired with
Mitolo Jester Sangiovese Rose (McLaren Vale)
Verdict: Rich, creamy and very yummy.

Other than this being an eye fillet and there being a pancetta wafer, I can't remember
what this was. Sorry! It was quite tasty though, so great for beef lovers!

Vanilla Crème Brulee, White chocolate ice-cream & crisp cocoa wafer
paired with
Plantaganet ‘Off the Rack’ Chenin Blanc (Great Southern)
Verdict: Um, how can you go wrong with this?!

I can't say I regret our decision to go here, because the ambiance was very romantic. You can get better food elsewhere, though. We did end up getting better food at a great street-front restaurant called 2 Fish. It didn't have the "anniversary" ambiance, though. Guess you can't have it all...

Wheat-free, Dairy-free Maple Syrup Banana Bread

*I jotted this recipe down but didn't write down the source. I've made some modifications to this recipe as well. Sorry if this is your recipe!

I went through a phase where I didn't eat bananas.

1) They aren't native to BC so (according to some sources) they make your body think you're in Hawaii or someplace warm and wonderful, and therefore, your body doesn't produce Vitamin D, and therefore, you don't absorb calcium (whoa, that was long).

2) There's a lot of discussion going on about how unfairly-traded they are. This is just what I read in a student newspaper though, so I clearly need to do more research!

I missed bananas, though. They are a tasty portable snack, that's easy to eat anywhere. So in the past few months, I've been eating them... And then of course if a few days pass since you last ate a banana, and they start looking freckly and sad... I believe that's why banana bread was created. It both sweetens and moistens! How perfect!

I decided to use maple syrup instead of sugar for this particular loaf because I happened to have a jug of it (thanks, Costco!) but it is pretty pricey stuff so I think honey, rice syrup or even regular sugar would be just fine. I'm trying to avoid sugar in granular form (well, basically white and brown sugar) at the moment so that's also why I turned to maple syrup.

The result was a moist, surprisingly sweet loaf that was a bit oily on the bottom. Maybe too much margarine?


1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup mashed bananas (I used 2 medium bananas)
1/2 cup dairy-free margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/4 cup rice milk (soy should be fine, too)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees celcius. Grease a loaf pan.

Beat together margarine and mashed bananas. Add maple syrup, vanilla, rice milk, and eggs. Beat for about 1 minute on medium speed.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir well so that the baking soda is well incorporated. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold using a spatula.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for *45 minutes.

*I've noticed my convection oven takes less time to bake than a recipe calls for so you may want to check whether the bread is done by inserting a wooden skewer. According to the recipe, this bread could take up to 55-60 minutes to bake.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Healthier than your average Crispy Rice Square

How can something that doesn't taste that sweet have so much sugar in it? Well, OK I don't know if Rice Krispies have soooo much sugar in them, but it's still very high on the list, along with glucose-fructose syrup... then add those marshmallows!! Yikes!

The high sugar content in marshmallows wasn't the only reason I chose an alternate recipe. I wanted to make a recipe without eggs or dairy. My sister can't have eggs, and neither of us can have dairy. I don't have any vegan friends, but I'll be prepared if I ever do :-).

This recipe still uses sugar, but you can definitely control what kind of sugar you use. I found evaporated coconut sap at a health food store (lower GI than regular sugar) and brown rice syrup. I also used unsweetened peanut butter rather than margarine, but if you're feeling schmancy, you could definitely use almond or some other glamorous nut butter.
The syrup, sap, and PB become like gooey caramel in this treat.

For cereal, I used organic brown puffed rice cereal. I also subbed 2 cups oats in place of 2 cups cereal for extra fiber and some chew.

Vegan Peanut Butter Puffed Rice and Oat Squares
(let's see you come up with a better name!)

5 cups puffed brown rice cereal
2 cups slow cooking oats
1 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup evaporated coconut sap (you could use brown sugar or cane sugar instead)
1 cup smooth peanut butter

Preheat oven to 300 C and toast oats until lightly toasted (I had mine in there for about 7 minutes but this might depend on your oven).
Pour rice syrup and coconut sap in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, and stir in the peanut butter. Mix well to ensure that PB is really mixed in with the syrup.
Place toasted oats in a large bowl and combine with puffed rice cereal.
Pour PB syrup mixture over the oats and cereal and use a large rubber spatula to combine. The syrup gets very sticky as it cools but the oil from the PB does help to keep it from getting too sticky.
Spread mixture out in a greased 9 in x 13 in (think lasagna pan) and cool.
Cut into squares and enjoy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegan cornbread with spelt flour

I'm testing out possible Christmas stuffing recipes. I've never made cornbread stuffing so this should be fun! For now, I'm just concentrating on getting the cornbread part right and I'll cross the what-to-put-in-the-stuffing bridge when I come to it.

Also, I'm not vegan, but my sister can't have eggs, and neither of us can have dairy. Oh, and we can't have wheat either, hence the addition of spelt.

I used a jar labelled "cornmeal" (something my sister repackaged and labelled). It was pretty coarse stuff and the bread itself came out quite gritty. I think in the future, I might do a mix, like half coarse cornmeal, and half medium or fine ground cornmeal.

It was quite tasty though, especially with butter (soy or goat's milk for me) but it's a little crumbly when warm. This recipe''s definitely a keeper!

Here's the recipe from Isa of Post Punk Kitchen. I've put my substitutions in parenthesis and italics.

2 cups cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (1 cup spelt flour)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups soymilk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350, line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper or spray the bottom lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, wisk together the soymilk and the vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt).
Add the oil and maple syrup to the soymilk mixture. Wisk with a wire wisk or a fork until it is foamy and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Pour the wet ingredient into the dry and mix together using a large wooden spoon or a firm spatula. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Slice into squares and serve warm or store in an airtight container.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Minshuku "Chime" in Kushimoto, Japan

The husband likes to stay at places with character and attitude. A minshuku is kind of like a B&B but in some cases even dinner is included, too!

We found Chime on the Japanese Rakuten Travel website and it really stood our because it wasn't some major hotel. It looked cute and the reviews (there were only 2) were good, too.

I took pictures, but my camera reformatted itself or something, so those are gone, gone with the wind.

Kushimoto is the southernmost place on Honshu (the main island of Japan) and is a great place for seafood. I believe there are tuna farms or something, but we didn't go as it's pretty difficult to get around without a car.

The owner of Chime came to pick us up at the train station, cooked us dinner (sashimi, soup with a huge chunk of Ise ebi (spiny lobster) in it, rice, and a bunch of other stuff that I can't really remember), then after dinner, she drove us to a local hot spring, and came to pick us up!! Talk about serivce...

She was very lovely and accomodating but to be honest, I don't think I was in the mood for a place like this. We had a very long day, our morning didn't go the way we planned, we had to rush through a lot of our sightseeing, and so the last thing I wanted was to make small talk. I just wanted to crash on a bed. When you stay at a place where the owner is making your food and basically watching you eat it, you feel so guilty leaving stuff uneaten but I had to. There was so much food and I just couldn't fit it all in. The husband tried to help but our stomachs can only hold so much!

Chime might be a fun place to stay if you're travelling at a relaxing pace and feeling like mingling with a local. I really did appreicate everything the owner did for us. I'm just afraid I came off as an aloof, indifferent person... Sorry!

Maybe if we decide to pass through Kushimoto we'll rent a car (this is a must), stop by and say hello again. She was a bit surprised to have foreign guests but in a good way.

Hotel Camelot in Yokohama

We stayed here on the last night of our trip, and it was the best decision ever! We had been staying with my aunt for the past few days and it was getting to us (or to me, I guess). She's a sweet lady who just wants to be helpful and feed you every minute of the day and we appreciated that SO much!! As sweet as she is, we wanted a bit of a break from eating, and to give her a break from cooking and buying us food all the time!

Back when we were trying to decide on a hotel, here were the things that were important to us:
  • Cost (we wanted to keep it under 10,000 yen)
  • Easy to get to the airport (basically, we wanted a direct line where we didn't want to have to change trains with our big bags)
  • Location (a central station for us to get where we needed to go, and a station that had a lot to offer)
and of course,
  • Comfort (we were going to be flying to Australia the next day and attend a wedding upon arrival, so we wanted to be sure we would be well-rested)
Here's what the Camelot Hotel offered us:
  • 9,700 yen, no breakfast, double bed, bar fridge, clean bathroom, a/c and free luggage storage for the day (well, they keep it on a trolley and cover it with a net so not the most secure...)
  • Right next to Yokohama Station where we could board the Narita Express (direct express to the airport)
  • A ton of shops and restaurants within walking distance. I bought a dress, gifts for people in Australia, the husband bought a jacket, and then we walked to a restaurant for dinner.
  • It was clean, cool (we were there in the humid summer), and we were able to sleep comfortably (oh did I mention the a/c was busted at my aunt's place and we slept on futons?)
We were quite happy with the Camelot but of course if you're going to be staying a few nights, you might want to find a hotel that includes breakfast. There were 2 restaurants and what looked like a cafe in the hotel but I'm personally not a fan of paying for breakfast at the hotel I'm staying at. Call me cheap.

IMO, Japan isn't really a "breakfast" country. It's not like North America, where you can basically turn up anywhere and get a hearty breakfast, unless you go to McD's or Denny's. Personally, I like lunch or dinner to be the big meal of the day when I'm travelling.

The exception to this, is if you stay at a traditional-style inn. Those places will fill you up for breakfast and it's usually included in the price!

Website: Rakuten Travel

When I used to live in Japan, I remember hearing about this website a lot from my students and Japanese friends who got great deals on flights and accommodations both domestic and abroad. They have a Japanese website (obviously) which is filled to the rafters with accommodation choices all over Japan. I haven't really looked at the overseas choices, though. I referred to this website a lot when we were looking for affordable hotels in Japan. They have a very limited English website as well, which is where we found this Osaka hotel.

One VERY affordable hotel was near Shin-Osaka Station and I believe we paid a mere 6,500 yen for it. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take pictures but it was called something like Hotel Vienne Osaka or something like that. If you know what Japanese budget/business hotels can be like, well, it's exacly what you'd expect. If you don't, it's going to be a lot smaller than your average hotel room with a smaller bed and cramped bathroom.

Anyway, this hotel was very basic but had a clean bathroom, decent bed (a double, I don't think you can find a queen or a king unless you stay somewhere really flash), TV, tea making stuff and a bar fridge. There was a convenience store nearby (I think it was a Lawson's) for stuff like water, beer, snacks, etc.

Breakfast was even included!! It was a very decent breakfast and we saw the guy who checked us in the night before, clad in an apron bringing out rolls and making sure there was enough coffee. The most popular breakfast choice was onigiri, which are rice balls with fillings like salted fish, pickled plum, kelp relish or something. These are hand made (I think) on-site thus are limited in quantity and go quick. There were also baskets of rolls and what looked like croissants with jam, butter, etc. A soup dispenser held about 4 kinds of soup but they all looked like instant soup so I didn't try any of those. A big put of miso soup sat simmering away and that looked like they had made it on-site so I had a bowl of that. It was fine. Oh yeah, there was also a salad of shredded cabbage and carrots.

We chose to stay near Shin-Osaka station because we had to catch an early train the next day. If I'm ever in the same situation, I think I'd stay here again just for conveniece and value's sake. If you're just looking for a hotel in any part of Osaka, I'm sure there are good-value hotels all over town, so consult your guidebook for a neat area like Umeda, and cross-reference it with Rakuten Travel.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Parrotfish Lodge Hostel, Port Dougls

In my 20's I was a budget traveller. Through Europe and Asia, I stayed at some places that would make your hair stand on end. But hey, if that meant I had more money leftover for site admission, food, and shopping, all the better!

It turns out, I'm not in my 20's anymore. We booked the Parrotfish lodge, thinking we could handle it, we were still in our 20's at heart, and as long as we booked a private room, it'd be OK. Turns out I was wrong...

Staff: As with most hostels, the bulk of the staff at Parrotfish consists of other travellers looking to make some $ so that they can keep travelling. Although this makes for great conversation on where they've been, it doesn't make the staff very customer-service oriented or knowledgeable. There was one staff member (a lady) who was quite knowledgeable, but that was about it. You really can't tell who works there and who doesn't.

Breakfast: It's included and you get a choice of Wheetabix or toast with jam and margarine. They claim there is free coffee and tea all day but I don't think I could get any hot water out of the pot thing once. It was always empty or unplugged, and there was no one around to ask whether hot water would be available or not. Ehg.

Kitchen: There is one for guests to use but it's very busy during lunch and dinner (obviously), and not many people wash up after themselves. If you really want to save $$ by cooking your on meals, for out the extra $$ for an apartment. Then you're only dealing with your own mess.

Noise: I have to say, the Lodge was not as loud and boisterous as I was expecting it to be. They have a no-noise-after-11PM policy and I guess it's enforced because the noise really did die down later in the night. Our room overlooked the pool area where a lot of people hang out so we were expecting the worst, but were pleasantly surprised.

Rooms: Not bad. The floor was bit grimy, the A/C noisy, but the bathroom was functional, and the linens were clean. We saw 2 roach friends but hey, it's Australia so what can you do?

Location: It's on a street that isn't very well lit at night. I was always with the husband so I wasn't too worried but anyone travelling alone might be, and also, it's hard to see where you're stepping. Other than that, It's very easy to get to Four-mile beach

Great Barrier Reef with Poseidon Cruises

Being divers, the GBR was a must-see during our trip to Australia. We did a lot of research online for different operators that did diving tours and decided on Poseidon Cruises.

I can't even remember what the decided factor was for this. I know we were contemplating Silversonic as well. We really wanted to go for Silversonic's dive-only vessel, Pure Dive, but the price was just a bit too high.

Our experience with Poseidon was fine. They picked us up on time, got us settled in, had anti-nausea meds on board, fed us snacks (coffee, tea, cookies, muffins), and fed us lunch (bread, cold cuts, prawns, veggies and fruit). If you want to save $3, bring your own meds, very absorbant towels as the indoor area gets very wet, and anything else that might make you feel less nauseous on the boat trip out. It's a long boat ride and can get VERY bumpy. I wish I had brought my Tiger Balm because the strong smell of mint makes me feel a little better. It can also get very cold and windy (esp while the boat is cruising) so a fleece would be a good idea.

Oh, if the sigh of other people getting sick makes you sick, um, you might want to stock up on their biodegradable barf bags.

We had 13 divers on board, and maybe 30 snorkellers. I think the numbers can quadruple in high season. They divided the divers up in to 2 groups so I was happy about that. Our dive master was a nice guy and was quite thorough in his explanations. He kept an eye on all of us divers and went at what I felt to be a pretty good pace, although maybe a bit too fast at times? The husband likes to really take his time to look at everything around him (and he almost always spots something neat!) so I felt like I was trying to keep up with the DM but had to keep looking back over my shoulder for the husband.

I don't know if I'd book Poseidon again, though, but this is because they cater more to snorkellers. Not that I have anything against snorkellers or snorkelling (which I love) but they obviously have to pick dive sites based on how snorkellable it is. Pure dive, the dive-only vessel costs a small fortune, but might be worth it if we can take our time and go dive sites that are good for diving, not snorkelling.

Remi Pan

As a belated wedding gift from my cousin, we got this interesting looking pan. He told me it was called a Remi-pan, named after the person who created it; Remi Hirano.

I know quite a few Japanese TV personalities but I'm not very familiar with her. She's got a cooking show and I believe has put out a few books as well. This pan is supposed to be a one-stop shopping kind of pan that can fry, deep fry, saute, steam and boil. It's also supposed to be the perfect pan for making gyoza. The lid keeps the oil from splattering, you can pour water through the top part to steam the gyoza, and the non-stick coating ensures your little g's are crispy on the bottom without sticking to the pan.

The husband loves gyoza but I'm trying to avoid wheat so we'll have to come to a compromise here. I haven't made any gyoza yet, and have only been using this Remi Pan as a regular pan... Sorry, Cousin K! I promise to experiment more with this pan... In the meantime, it's just cute!

Green Tea Shortbread

It was my sister's bridal shower the other day, and as favours for all the guests, we decided to bake cookies. G baked some lovely chewy ginger cookies, and I yoinked a Martha Stewart Matcha Shortbread recipe. You'll notice these cookies are in a strange shape and it wouldn't surprise me if you've never seen such a shape. G said they looked like dog treats! Actually, they are supposed to be shaped like a section of a Japanese pine tree. I will have you know, G, the Japanese pine lives a really long time (don't ask me for a specific age, but I do know some of these trees have been around for centuries) and when you try to pluck a needle off of a pine tree, you'll always end up with 2 needles stuck together. So there.

I changed up Martha's recipe a bit by using 1 tbsp Japanese matcha powder, and 1 tbsp Japanese green tea leaves. These cookies are buttery and delicious. I used salted butter as well so omitted the extra salt that her recipe calls for. The saltiness of the butter and the slight bitterness of the green tea goes together very well. In a weird way, the bitterness almost brings out the sweetness of the cookie, too. Maybe that's the key to marriage. You've got to get through the bitterness to taste the sweetness, and then you become an old salt.

Martha Stewart's matcha Shoretbread Cookies:

Makes 3 dozen

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese green-tea powder (I used 1 tbsp Japanese Matcha powder and 1 tbsp Japanese green tea leaves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt (I omitted this)
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (I used salted butter)
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, or granulated sugar
  1. Sift flour, tea powder, and salt into a small bowl; set aside. Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream on medium speed until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add sugar; continue to beat until very light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Add flour mixture; combine on low, scraping sides of bowl with a spatula if necessary, until flour is just incorporated and dough sticks together when squeezed with fingers.
  2. Place a piece of parchment on a clean surface; dust with flour. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness; chill in refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Cut chilled dough with 2-inch leaf cutters. Using a wide spatula, transfer to baking sheets. Chill until firm. Gather scraps together, re-roll, chill, and cut shapes. Bake until firm and barely starting to color, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool completely on wire rack; store in an airtight container for up to 3 to 4 weeks.

Monday, August 24, 2009


For our second to last lunch in Japan, I decided to indulge the husband (he had, afterall, patiently waited while I spent hours whining that I didn't have a dress for his sister's engagement part, then waited even more patiently while I tried on several dresses and whines that they were the wrong colour, cut, etc. Bless him!) with his favourite food, tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu, is a filet of pork (the cut can vary from fatty to lean), breaded in panko, then deep fried. I usually don't see the big whoop in this dish but if the husand loves it, the husband will get for being such a supportive shopping partner.

(Above: See? Look at all the layers!)

We knew we could find tonkatsu pretty easily as we were at a major station (Yokohama) that had more restaurants that you could shake a stick at. The problem was finding a good tonkatsu restaurant.
(There's even a cheesy one! We both just got plain, though...)

We headed into a department store where a friend had taken us for a meal before. This particular department store had 2-3 floors of restaurants and I remember walkign past a few of them thinking they looked quite good. We consulted the directory and lo and behold, there was a tonkatsu restaurant.

There was something special about this particular tonkatsu restaurant, because they made a special tonkatsu. The used domestic pork, sliced it to a thinness of 0.5mm, stacked 25 layers of pork, breaded it and deep fried it like that! This process apparently keeps the juiceness of the pork. I just took their word for it.

Well, I'm glad I did take their work for it because it really was tender and juicy, with a very crispy "crust" on the outside. It went perfectly with their house sauce, and the crisp bottomless shredded cabbage was very refreshing!

I think the husband was a little divided on this type of pork-preparation. He may have wanted a full piece of pork, not this slices of it. Well, if you do go to Yokohama Station, head over to a department store called "More's" and judge ot for yourself. The restaurant is called "Genkatsu".

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


We stayed in a shukubo (temple lodging) here, which is pretty easy to do. We booked it through the rakutentravel website.

The temple was called "Komyo-in". It was clean and very pleasant to stay in. The staff spoke a little English, too. Baths are communal, as I think most of these temple lodgings are, (separated by gender, of course) so if you're not comfortable being naked with strangers, a hotel might be a better choice for you. The toilet area looked very new and was spotless. Toilets were western-style (hurray, no squatting!) Here's the outer garden. There were carp in the pond, too!

The rooms were clean, with windows facing an inner garden. The bedding is put away during the day but during the evening meal someone will come and set it all up for you, then put it away during the morning meal. There are thin cotton robes for you to wear to and from the bath, and a hot water pot with tea leaves and a tea pot.

Shukubos are famous for vegetarian cooking, called shojin ryori. I'm not sure about shukubo in other regions but Koya-san is know for sesame tofu, so almost every meal included this.

We were put in our own little dining room but this could be because it was low season. Depending on the place, you might even be put in a room with a bunch of other people. One thing to keep in mind, is that these meals are usually served on low tables, so you'll be sitting on the floor. If you've got leg issues or find sitting seiza (on your feet) uncomfortable, find out if they have a table and chair options. Because these rooms are tatami (thatched), it might not be possible, but it never hurts to ask, I guess. The food was just amazing. The flavours were so simple but each dish had it's own unique taste and texture. Nothing was too rich or too salty. We had been eating pretty rich, greasy restaurant foods before this, so it was just what our tummies needed.

Our dinner, from top, left to right: sesame tofu; vegetables and fu (soy bits?) boiled in broth; oragnes; vegetable tempura; pickles; stewed soy beans, mushrooms, and gourd; fu, mushrooms and taro potato ball in starchy sauce (lid closed); tempura dipping sauce; rice and miso soup.

Sesame tofu is very soft and almost mousse-like but has the rich taste of sesame. It kind of melts in your mouth like mousse, too! Too bad I've never seen it in Vancouver...

Above, is the fu (the pink and green thing), mushooms and taro potato ball in the starchy sauce.

Komyo-in was a great experience for us, and I would definitely love to stay at a shukubo again. If you don't have major dietary restrictions (like a soy allergy) it is a lovely way to see a bit of temple life and experience some simple, healthy food that your body is probably in dire need of after travelling for a few days. Next time we go to Japan, we'll definitely seek out a shukubo in a different region.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lemon Coconut Macaroons

These came out soooo light and chewy with the richness of coconut and refreshing zest of lemon. I actually got the recipe for these from, but subbed 3/4 cup of the almond flour for shredded unsweetened coconut. I also accidentally added 1 cup of sugar rather than 3/4 cup, with 1/4 of the cup for rolling the cookies in. I personally don't think these cookies need to be rolled in suagr and next time I make them, I'll only use 3/4 cup of sugar. Also, it was mentioned in that the dough can be refrigerated to firm it up a bit before rolling it into little balls. This might be a good idea as I did end up with a lot of sugar/almond/coconut on my hands.


1 1/4 cup ground almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350.

In a med bowl combine almond flour, lemon zest, and coconut. The lemon zest tends to stick together so use a spatula to break them up.

In a large bowl, combine egg and sugar. Add almond flour mix to bowl and stir well to ensure it is evenly blended. If you've got time, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate so the dough will be easier to roll.

Pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll into a ball. Place on greased or parchment paper-lined pans, 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. These macaroons are not supposed to "brown" in the oven. They should stay a light pale color, so check on them after 8 mins.

Cool on pans, then veeeeery gently peel off.
Makes about 2 dozen.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Homemade Oat Treats

I found a nifty little booklet while in the waiting room of my doctor's office. It was printed by Quaker Oats and had some oat recipes that some chefs came up with. Since I don't eat wheat (among other things) I knew I could find some useful stuff in there so I took one.

Lo, and behold, there was a recipe for oat bars! I'd been meaning to make my own granola bars for a long time but just couldn't find the right recipe. I subbed a few of the ingredients in these Homemade Oat Treats based on what I could find, what I like, and what was priced best (read: cheapest). I've got ingredients that I subbed in, or omitted parenthesis in italics.

Homemade Oat Treats
(Adapted from recipe by chef Kevin Prendergast)

3 cups old fashioned, large flake oats
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds (omitted)
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup unsalted butter (I used coconut oil)
1/3 cup light brown sugar (I used evaporated coconut sap)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup wild honey (I used brown rice syrup)
1/2 cup wheat germ (I used ground up flax seeds)
1/2 cup chopped dried apricots (I used 1 cup)
1/2 cup flaked coconut (I used unsulphured, unsweetened coconut)
1 cup golden raisisn (I used dried unsulphure, unsweetened papaya)
1 cup sun-dried cranberries (I used 1/2 cup dried unsulphured, unsweetened mango)
1/3 cup sun dried cherries (I used dried pineapple)
(I added a bar of high quality, dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces.)

Preheat oven to 325 F (160 C). Toast the oats, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and sliced almonds (I'm always afraid of burning almonds so I did this for 5 minutes). In a saute pan, gently heat the butter (or coconut oil), brown sugar (or coconut sugar), cinnamon, and honey (or brown rice syrup), stirring to incorporate the flavours.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the oat mixture, dried fruits (and flax and chocolate if using) together. Drizzle the honey mixture over top, ensuring the oats and fruit get a good "covering". Line baking tray with parchment paper and spread mixture evenly. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes. (The recipe says to cut while still warm but for me, it was way too crumbly. I waited until it completely cooled to cut into squares.)

Makes 30 small bars.

Verdict: chopping the fruits can be a bit of a pain but as long as you've got a good knife, it should be OK. The chocolate gives it a bit of a "burnt" taste, but it's still good and helps me curb my sweet tooth (and avoid eating wheat) at work when there are muffins and doughnuts everywhere.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Roasted Eggplant and Dill and Potato, aka Baigan Ka Bartha and Aloo Soa Ki Subzi

It was Saturday night and the husband and I planned to make some dinner using recipes from our new(ish) cookbook "Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide, 2004.

I LOVE Indian food but am always hesitant to make it home because some the ingredients are hard to get, or because I don't want to buy a whole jar a of tamarind paste or whatever and have to eventually throw it out. Also, it never tastes like what I have at the restaurants. But with the 2 recipes in this title, I felt it was doable because we happened to have all the ingredients on hand, or knew we could get them at the local Safeway (BTW, Thriftway, we miss you!)

Roasted Eggplant (Baigan Ka Bharta) from "Everythin Indian Cookbook"

3 pounds eggplant (we used 2 large ones)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and chopped roughly
1 tsp Ginger-Garlic paste (recipe below)
1/4 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt, to taste
Fresh chopped coriander, for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 475. (I used the broiler and but the oven rack to the second highest position).

2. Rub 2 tablespoons of the oil on the eggplants on a baking sheets and place in the oven. Cook until the eggplant is soft and the skin is charred. Turn occasionally so all sides get charred. Remove from oven to cool.

3. Once eggplants are cooled, peel and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork into a smooth pulp. Set aside.

4. In a large skillet, heat the reamining 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add th eonions and saute until they are transparent. Add the Ginger-Garlic Paste, red chili powder, and coriander powder, saute for 30 seconds.

5. Add the tomatoes and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Use the back of your spoon or spatula to mash the tomatoes. When the mixture is ready, oil will start to separate from the mixture (mine never did this so I went ahead to the next step).

6. Add the eggplant and mix well. Add salt to taste and fry for about 7 - 10 minutes stirring constantly. Remove from heat, garnish with fresh coriander and serve with basmati rice.

I order this every.single.time. at our local Naan 'n Curry and love it so much. This version was OK. Don't get me wrong, the balance of spice with the eggplant and tomato was really nice, but I was looking for something with more oomph, more kick, more flavour. I think next time, I'll add more ginger-garlic paste or maybe add curry powder or garam masala or something. Maybe even a chili.

Ginger-Garlic Paste From "Everything Indian Cookbook"

2 serrano chilies (optional)
1/2 cup gingerroot, peeled
1/2 cup garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp cold water

1. Remove the stems from the green chilies (if using)

2. Place all ingredients in a food processor and puree to form a smooth paste. Add mo more than 1 tbsp of water to help form a smooth consistency.

3. Store the paste in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. The paste will keep for up to 2 weeks.

We put ours in a glass Pyrex container with lid. We put plastic wrap to keep any air out and have kept it in the freezer for about a month now. You could probably halve or quarter this recipe since you really only seem to use about a tsp or so for each recipe!

Dill and Potato (Aloo Soa Ki Subzi) From "Everything Indian Cookbook"

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (we only had ground cumin so we used about 1/8 tsp of that)
2 green chilies, seeded and minced (we used serrano chilies)
2 large russet potatoes (or 3 medium) peeled and diced
1/2 cup frozen peas (we omitted these)
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 tsp turmuric powder
salt, to taste
water, as needed

1. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium. Add the cumin seeds (or ground cumin). When they begin to crackle (or when ground cumin becomes fragrant), add the freen chilies; saute for 10 seconds.

2. Add the potatoes and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the peas, dill, turmeric, and salt; saute for another 2 minutes.

3. Add a few tablespoons of water (the husband added 4), cover and cook on low heat until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 - 12 minutes.

How can you go wrong with potatoes and dill? This dish was fine, but next time, I might add some curry powder or garam masala for more flavour. We kind of added salt as we ate since the recipe doesn't tell you exactly how much to add.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wine Night

The hubs and I have been keeping a particular bottle of wine for a special weekend. By special, I don't mean an anniversary or birthday but a weekend where we have no plans, can start drinking early in the evening so we can enjoy the sunset, and can have enough time to make some food to go well with the wine.

Matthews Estate 2005 Claret:

This wine was described to us as a "big, chewy red" (see my earlier post titled, "The Wines of King County" for details) and I really don't know enough fancy shmancy wine lingo to describe it. It definitely had a full flavour with enough acidity to make your mouth water a little while you held it in your mouth.

I can truly say that I researched high and low for what would go well with this special wine. I know what you're thinking, "easy, some cheese and crusty french bread!" Well yeah, but what if we don't eat wheat or cow products? "Ohhhhh... well that makes a big difference!"

The one with the black wax (?) is manchego, and the one that is diced finely is the pecorino romano.

Have no fear, we found 2 sheep's milk cheeses: pecorino romano, and manchego. Here was our menu for our much anticipated night with Matthews Estate 2005 Claret:

Tomatoes with olive oil and fresh basil atop slices of manchego cheese
Grilled portabello mushrooms and red bell peppers
Rice pasta in olive oil with garlic, olive tapenade, and pecorino romano.

The tomatoes should be self explanatory! We used 2 medium sized vine-ripened ones.

For the grilled mushrooms and bell peppers, I brushed them with olive oil, seasoned them with salt, and sprinkled a bit of balsamic vinegar on them. We used them on the George Foreman because our BBQ wasn't working (boo!) so if you can BBQ them, do it until all the liquid evaporates from the mushrooms.

For the pasta, it didn't quite work as planned. We used rice spaghetti and the water we cooked it in got really sludgy, and so the spaghetti was pretty sludgy. I rinsed it with cold water to wash the sludge off but now the pasta was cold! The idea was for the hot pasta to warm the olive tapenade and melt the pecorino romano a little. Not ours. It just sat there looking cold so I threw it in a frying pan to heat it up a bit. After it heated up, it was delicious!

If you're using wheat pasta, you won't have this problem so cook as much pasta as you need, drain and while still hot, toss it with olive oil, a few tablespoons of olive tapenade, and as much or as little pecorino romano (or similar cheese like parmesan) and let stand for a few minutes while the cheese softens and melts.

Of all out dishes, I though the tomato/fresh basil/manchego went best with the Claret, but the Hubs thought the pasta paired best.

Sorry for the unspecific quantities for the dishes, but just keep tasting adn testing until you get the level of saltiness you like!

Chickpea spinach salad with feta

*Disclaimer: I've been copying and pasting recipes from all kinds of blogs for years now and had been keeping them for my own use. I never thought I'd start a food blog so I never cited the source. If this recipe is from your blog, please leave me a comment so I can properly credit you.

Chickpea spinach salad with feta:

I love chickpeas and I love feta. I decided to indulge the other day at the supermarket and but a block of high quality (or at least the price made me think so) goat feta. Not as salty as the stuff in the brine, which is kind of a bummer because I was hoping the feta would add some saltiness to this salad. Not the end of the world that it didn't though, because it still added a creaminess to it.

I'm not the precise measuring type so all ingredient quantities are approximate.

1/2 cup dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked until soft (you could use 1 can instead)
2 bunches of spinach, blanched, squeezed dry and chopped roughly
1 tbsp good olive oil
juice of 1/4 - 1/2 a lemon (depends on how lemony you like it)
1/4 - 1/2 cup crumbled feta (depends on how feta-y you like it)
Salt and pepper

Place the blanched, squeezed and chopped spinach in a bowl, making sure it's evenly spread out, and leaves are not squeezed together. Pour the chickpeas over top. Drizzle with olive oil, making sure it is evenly distributed. Add lemon juice, tossing to coat all of the spinach and chickpeas. Sprinkle the feta cheese over top and again, toss to distribute evenly. Have a taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

You could keep the spinach raw if you like, but the spinach I had on hand was pretty beat up so I decided to blanch. Your call...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Wines of King County

Who knew? Wineries (or satellite wine shops, I believe they're called) just a few minutes drive outside of Seattle!

The husband and I were hosting from out-of-town friends who somehow brought sun-filled, warm days with them from Minnesota (love them!) and we somehow ended up going wine tasting. It wasn't necessarily planned but somehow, someone threw out the idea, the husband googled, and on a Monday morning, we were bound for Woodinville to visit some well-known wineries, and some less-known (well, at least to us.)

For our first stop, we chose Chateau Ste Michelle. We've had quite a few of their wines before and liked their Indian Wells labels quite a bit. The grounds are well-manicured and the gift-shop was really nice, too. I don't want to give away too much about the tour other than to say it's free and you get a free tasting at the end. You can pay a bit more to taste their Indian Wells label but considering you can buy these labels at Safeway (and sometimes they're on sale), this didn't seem worth it. To taste their vintage reserve wines, you have to make an appointment. Overall, I liked the CSM tour and the Chateau provides a really nice "vineyard" atmosphere. There are picnic tables on the grounds, too! We bought some BBQ at a restaurant nearby and had our own little picnic there.

Next, we went across the street to Columbia Valley Winery. It was under construction so the ambiance was lacking. The woman at the counter was really helpful and friendly. Actually, everyone was very cheerful and welcoming. It created a comfortable, un-intimidating atmosphere for asking questions. They didn't have a "tour" per se but you could pay something like $5 for a few different wines. I don't think the hubs was very impressed with any of them but just a matter of taste.

We got in the car (after drinking lots of water, eating , and releasing fluids :) and drove around the corner to Januik Winery / Novelty Hill Winery. The building is very lofty with high ceilings and big windows, that kind of thing. Again, the woman at the counter gave us some great recommendations for the wines, and some of the other wineries in the area.

"Big, chewy reds" is how the woman at Januik/Novelty described Matthews Estate. The "Estate" looked like a temporary construction office. Inside, there are some handsome bottles of reds nestled in cool wooden boxes. The reds were definitely big and chewy. Hubs was very impressed and bought a bottle of claret. No pic of Matthews Estate wine shop because the shop itself was really not very impressive.

Next off, another recommendation by the "big, chewy reds" woman was Brian Carter Cellars. Again, the woman there was super-friendly. At this point, I think I was just plain"happy" and not really paying attention to the wine.

Final stop, as per the recommendation of the Brian Carter, was Bookwalter Winery. It looked like a car garage (in a cool way) and was decorated nicely. I was still quite "happy" from all the tastings to pay attention to the wine. We did buy one bottle wine but I think the cork was contaminated.

Outside the wineshop (used to be an annex to an old schoolhouse?) Note the car-garage like doors as we conferred about the wines...

All in all, it was a summer-like day in early April. With our good friends, we spent the day laughing, chatting and relaxing. I had to say goodbye to our friends the next day. It was the perfect way to end a fun week with them.