Les Scourtins aux Olives

I’m definitely in the salty camp. Chips over cookies any day. Nuts before chocolate. Cheese plate instead of dessert. Salt reigns over sugar on my palate.

I also can’t resist a good salty-sweet combination. Salted caramel. Aged cheddar with apple pie. Prosciutto and melon. That, in part, is due to my upbringing on Cantonese cuisine where there are plenty of dishes with a good dose of sweetness to counterpoint salty, savoury flavours. At dim sum, we didn’t wait to eat our egg tarts for dessert. We ate them between bites of siu mai and chicken feet.

Saveur recently posted a list of 5 unsung pastries in NY. One of them piqued my savoury-sweet interest: a cured olive cookie from Abraço. Since I don’t have the good fortune of flying out to NY to sample them myself, I had to make them. I adapted this recipe for scourtins from 101 Cookbooks. I substituted about a 1/4 of the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour and subbed about 1/4 of the icing sugar with granulated sugar for a more rustic cookie. I also rolled them extra thin for extra crispness and sprinkled them with panela and a wee bit of fine sea salt.

Les scourtins aux olives

Les scourtins aux olives

Salty, sweet, umami, crispy, crunchy and just a little chew. These are begging for nice rosé on the patio for happy hour. Maybe next weekend.

Pandan Coconut Ice Cream

 I’ve always liked ice cream but I didn’t fall in love with it until I started making it myself. After my friend moved and left an electric ice cream maker a few years back, we’ve been churning out favourites that give some of those artisan ice cream folks a run for their money.

Usually I’m inspired by juicy, ripe fruit like apricots and berries. Sometimes seasonal flavours like eggnog and chocolate peppermint call to me. Often I’m smitten with exotic spices like saffron and cardamom. And once in a while, a little voice, more specifically, our 11 year old’s voice, pipes in with a flavour suggestion like this pandan coconut ice cream.

I love the toasty aroma of pandan. Toasty is the best word I can find to describe it…although it resembles wide blades of grass, it only yields a mild herbal flavour. Once cut, the toasty pandan aroma fills the kitchen with a heady, nutty note and its warm fragrance wafts through the house as it steeps in the coconut milk. Don’t be alarmed by the amount of pandan. You want it to be fairly strong as its flavour dulls a bit with freezing. If you’re lucky, you can find fresh pandan in Asian markets, otherwise frozen ones work. Please, oh please, don’t bother with that awful artificial green pandan extract. Skip it altogether and make equally delicious coconut ice cream (find that recipe at the end of the post).

Pandan Coconut Ice Cream

2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1 cup whipping cream
10-12 pandan leaves
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
generous pinch of salt

In a medium saucepan, combine milk, coconut milk and whipping cream.
Chop or snip pandan leaves into bits about 2 cm long and add to saucepan.
Heat until just below boiling, cover pan and remove from heat. Let steep for 1 hour.
Strain the pandan milk mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. You’ll want every pale green drop of essence that you can get.
Return the milk mixture to the saucepan and add sugar and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs with salt in a heatproof bowl.
Gradually whisk coconut mixture into eggs then return mixture to saucepan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Strain and cool in ice bath. Refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours.
Churn in your ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

Makes 1 1/2 L ice cream

Coconut Ice Cream

Follow above, omitting pandan and any steps involving it. Just after churning, fold in about 1 cup macapuno (preserved young coconut). Freeze until firm.

Japanese Seasoned Soy Concentrate

I don’t know how this recipe slipped under my radar. I was flipping through Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen (for probably the 23rd time) when I finally noticed this umami laden elixir. Soy sauce already has a good dose of glutamines, so steeping konbu and mushrooms in it gives it an extra punch. This recipe, adapted from Eliza17223252650_d0b9a3b6b5_zbeth Ando’s book, Kansha, is a vegetarian version. The one in the tofu book  includes 1/2 cup bonito flakes, which I added, to give it smoky umami edge.

This is good on pretty much anything: cold tofu, noodles, roast or steamed vegetables, even a fried egg on rice for a quick lunch.

Lucky Dip Produce Project

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here and it has only solidified the fact that I just don’t have writing stick-to-it. I’ve seen myself notoriously start and stop on far too many of these kind of projects. It seems that if I don’t have a reason to blog, I just won’t.

Not only am I notorious for dropping the blogging ball, I’m embarrassed to say that I am also notorious for letting produce sit in the fridge and rot. I will buy, pick or receive vegetables, lose track of them and when I dig them out of the depths of the fridge, they’re too far gone to salvage and eat.

So this poses a challenge for the next while. We have signed up for a weekly winter CSA through Cropthorne Farm in Delta, BC. We participated in the farm’s CSA’s last winter and summer and we split the share so we received produce every other week. This season we’re taking on the whole share and we’ll be receiving a lucky dip of produce every week for 8 weeks. This is going to be quite the commitment because it’s a substantial amount of veggies and we usually end up buying others that are appealing.

So I’m going to tackle these two notorious traits (haha…I’m notorious for many more things, but here’s not the place to discuss them): I’m going to embark on an 8-week project where I’ll write about our winter CSA adventures. I’ll include what we receive, what I’ve done with the produce, recipes, impressions and hopefully, many other tasty morsels.

What am I trying to get out of this? I hope that the Lucky Dip Produce Project will inspire me to:

  • use up all my produce before it goes bad
  • share new and interesting recipes and resources
  • commit to blogging for 8 weeks

I’ll also get to expand my repertoire of vegetable cookery, have a dialogue with you about eating seasonally, eat more vegetables and feel good about decreasing wastage. And if I should get myself motivated to blog on a regular basis on the long term, I will be the more pleased.

That sounds like a delicious reason to blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Early

I joke a lot about having our 8-year old son work in the kitchen. It usually begins with some seemingly daunting task like hulling 20 pounds of strawberries and ends with some remark about child labour. The funny thing is that I’m not joking. I am dead serious about encouraging parents to have their kids cook with them.

The Kid, age 2, seasoning ribs.

The Kid has always hung around the kitchen. When he was about 6 we decided that he would be an active part of preparing family meals. We established a weekly Kid-led dinner night: he’d come up with a menu, we’d look in our cupboards and fridge and figure out what ingredients we had and what we needed to buy, we’d shop together and then we’d cook together.

Gradually this novelty night has evolved into the Kid pitching in at almost every meal from making pancake batter to peeling and chopping onions to concocting his own seasoning for steaks. And he does it all with pride, knowing that he’s contributing to our family.

Doubtful about having kids in the kitchen? Here are a few benefits of cooking with your kids (there are many, many more):

  • You are spending time with them. There. The argument about not having time to be with your kids is out the window.
  • Kids need to learn the basic life skills of choosing healthy food, cooking it and enjoying it with others. By cooking regular meals with your kids, you are giving them valuable tools for self-reliance.
  • You are capturing and utilizing teachable moments. Imagine all the discussions you can generate about food: taste, texture, smell, math, chemistry, biology, where food comes from, how food affects us…
  • Your kids make a mess. Then they learn how to clean it up. And you get to practice patience, tolerance and letting go.
  • Kids are more likely to try new foods (or old foods that they thought they didn’t like) if they are involved in preparing it. Sounds like a cliché but it works.
  • Kids build a sense of pride and accomplishment when they can say that they took part in making and sharing a meal.
  • Although it initially seems like a lot of work and things take 20 times longer to do, kids will eventually be able to truly contribute and help in the kitchen.
  • You get to engage, build dialogue, community and an incredibly special bond with your children. And isn’t that exactly what parents want?

Making Peace with Red Velvet

There are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand. War. Violence. Racism. Cats. Golf. Red velvet cupcakes.

For the life of me, I do not understand the appeal of the red velvet dessert phenomenon. The thought of eating something artificially dyed with God-knows-what food colouring makes me cringe. The often used flavouring of a wee bit of cocoa is barely detectable and is, frankly, disappointing. “Oh, but they’re so pretty!”…it’s totally fake, sister! You can’t fool me.

So when I was reviewing the brilliant new book, Roots: The Definitive Compendium with more than 225 Recipes by Portland author, Diane Morgan, I was intrigued to find a recipe for red velvet cupcakes. In which section you may ask? The beet chapter, of course. Instead of using a bottle of red food colouring to taint the cupcakes, the recipe calls for puréed roasted beets. Clever.

I was glad to see an alternative to the usual red velvet cupcake recipe but wasn’t planning to make them until the Kid got a hold of the book and talked me into making them for Thanksgiving guests. “Beet red velvet cupcakes! The red is completely natural! Our friends won’t even know! Get it, BEET red velvet!” followed by a peel of 8 year old laughter.

The recipe is deceptively easy. Roast the beets to conserve their deep, rich colour. Peel then purée them and add them to a very simple cake batter that doesn’t even require a mixer. Bake into vibrant magenta fluffiness. No food colouring. Nothing artificial.

The proof in the pudding was when I served them to our friends. The kids flocked to the cake stand and started chowing down. No one thought twice about them until our kid spilled the beans and told everyone they were BEET red velvet cupcakes.

Often it’s best just to stay quiet and keep the peace.

Okonomiyaki to the Rescue!!

Who’s that new superhero? I’ve never heard of that manga character! OK who?

Okonomiyaki is one of my kitchen heroes. There are more detailed definitions of it but basically, it’s a savoury pancake usually made with a base of shredded cabbage, eggs, water or dashi and flour. As with all Japanese cuisine, it is highly regional and there are as many variations as there are cooks.

When I have an overload of veggies and leftovers in the fridge, okonomiyaki is my go-to dish. Over the past few months, we’ve been inundated with leafy greens from our community garden plot and CSA, so much so that I find bunches of kale, chard, beet greens, collards and the likes lurking in every corner of the fridge. One way to use it up is to make a big batch of okonomiyaki, feast and feel virtuous about overeating all those healthy veggies.

This is particularly good for families with kids who claim they don’t like to eat veggies. Fry some up, give them some dipping sauces and they’ll eat their fair share of vegetal matter. Super-Okonomiyaki saves the day!

Okonomiyaki (sort of)
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 eggs
Water
5 cups shredded sturdy leafy greens (cabbage, kale, collards, chard)
3 green onions, cut into 2 cm pieces
Oil for frying
Garnishes and dipping sauces (Japanese worcestershire, hot chili sauce, sweet soy sauce, even ketchup!)

In a large bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Whisk together and make a well in the middle.
Add eggs and a little water and start whisking, drawing in flour. Keep whisking and adding a little water at a time until a very thick batter forms. Don’t be tempted to add too much water. The veggies will often lose some water and make the batter thinner.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in veggies and green onions.
Heat a well seasoned cast iron pan or non-stick pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Scoop half of the batter into the pan and spread to the edges so that you have an even layer about 2 cm thick.
Cook on medium heat until the top begins to look dry and the bottom is brown and crusty. Flip over carefully and cook until the underside is brown. Remove from the pan and continue cooking remaining batter.
Cut into wedges and serve. Okonomiyaki is often topped with Japanese mayo, thick worcestershire, shredded nori, red pickled ginger and bonito flakes. But embellish as you like.
Oishii!!

Makes 2 okonomiyaki

Variations
Variations are endless. Here are some recent combinations (mostly because I’ve needed to use up what was in the fridge).
-Bacon: While the pan is heating up place bacon slices in the pan, then top with batter.
-Late summer veggie combo: shredded kale and chard, julienned summer squash, corn, cooked ground beef
-Cabbage, onion, BBQ pork, mochi