Oatmeal Ice Cream

Last year I got whiff of Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. About a month after the fact. I was kicking myself for missing an official opportunity to eat the dreamy, creamy treat to kick start my day (not that I need an official day to do that). So this year I have been vigilant and have noted the date months in advance: Saturday, February 1.

As a dietitian with a bent halo, I am pleased to say that ice cream makes a fine breakfast and hits all the food groups: milk (milk, cream), meat alternatives (eggs), fruits and veggies (fruit) and grains (what grains?). OK, ice cream doesn’t cover the grain group. Not until now.

Oatmeal Ice CreamSo to meet Canada’s Food Guide while honouring Ice Cream for Breakfast Day, here’s a breakfast inspired ice cream. Eat it with fresh or roasted fruit, waffles or pancakes. Imagine it all melty on top of a steaming bowl of apple studded steel-cut oats! Or you can eat it for dinner with a side of fruit. It’s a balanced meal after all.

Oatmeal Ice Cream

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon whiskey

In a dry skillet, toast oats over medium heat until they are a few shades darker and they start to smell nutty. (I like to toast extra oats to top the ice cream just before serving)
Combine whipping cream, milk, brown and granulated sugars and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Add toasted oats and simmer for 5 minutes. The oats should be tender but should still hold their shape.
Meanwhile, lightly whisk eggs and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Gradually whisk cream mixture into eggs. Return the mixture to the pan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Chill until very cold, at least 4 hours.
Stir in the whiskey and churn in ice cream maker. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

Makes 1 1/2 litres of homey ice cream goodness

Honey-roasted Apricot Ice Cream

There are a few food rules we like to stick to in our household:

  • Choose unprocessed foods.
  • Cook from scratch.
  • Choose the best ingredients possible.
  • Take time to enjoy your food.
  • Food is meant for sharing.

But of course, we all know that rules are broken. We will sometimes buy Timbits on a road trip. When we eat at Chinese restaurants, we don’t make a big deal about how the meat was raised. Sometimes we don’t want to share our food.

I’ve been making homemade ice cream for the past few years and have to say I’ve made some really delectable ones. None of them have wowed me as much as this luscious honey-roasted apricot version. The apricots were roasted to drive off moisture and intensify their flavour while the honey is present but gentle enough to impart a sweet nuance without being overwhelming. Summer perfection.

Sorry. I don’t think we’re going to share this batch. Nope. Gotta be a rebel and break the rules sometimes, you know.

Honey-roasted apricot ice creamHoney-roasted Apricot Ice Cream

Roasted apricots
About 2 lb. ripe apricots
Mild honey

Halve and pit apricots and lay them cut side up on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with honey.
Roast at 450 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes or until apricots start to caramelize.
Cool and reserve 2 cups and chill. Happily eat the rest.

Crème anglaise
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean
2 eggs
Pinch salt

Combine honey and sugar in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, cook until honey starts to bubble and sugar melts. Turn down heat and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add cream, milk and vanilla bean and return to heat. Some of the molten honey will harden but will dissolve while the cream heats.
Turn off heat and let mixture steep for 15 or 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, lightly whisk eggs and salt in a heatproof bowl.
Remove vanilla bean from cream and gradually whisk cream into eggs. Return the mixture to the pan. Stir and heat gently until custard is thickened and coats the back of a spoon.
Strain through a fine meshed sieve and chill until very cold, at least 4 hours.
Combine with reserved apricots and churn in ice cream maker while pacing in anticipation. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm. If you live with other people, stash container at back or bottom of freezer so no one notices it. Savour when no one is looking.

Makes about 1 1/2 ambrosial litres

Canning Season is Officially Open!

By mid-June, both the Kid and I are jittery. He’s excited about the end of the school year and I’m just as excited about the official beginning of canning season. Of course I can preserve all through the year, but June is when we start our annual fruit picking pilgrimages to gather pounds and pounds of fruit to freeze or preserve. Pure joy to us DIY folks. Joy!

At this time of year I start dreaming up my master list of preserves for the season. Sometimes I get to all of them, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I come up with more ideas as I come across fresh produce. This is a sneak peak at some of the early season preserves I’m scheming:
-strawberry vanilla jam
-apricot cardamom butter
-raspberry lychee jam
-chocolate raspberry jam (!!)

As the summer grows into fall, I’ll be putting up peaches, a few chutneys and relishes and lovely things with pears and apples.

Will you find any of these goodies under the Christmas tree this year?

Oh! And not to be forgotten…strawberry vodka!


Spring has stung, I mean, sprung

Whenever I tell someone about our fall mushroom foraging adventures I get this wide-eyed look of bewilderment and a guaranteed, “Really? Weren’t you afraid of getting poisoned?”

I get a similar response when I mention that we’ve been eating nettles, “Really? You mean the stinging kind?”

I suppose eating off the beaten path has never made me nervous. Besides, nettles and wild mushrooms aren’t exactly as risky as eating fugu or scorpions.

So when my foraging friend Carol brought nettles to work last Spring I was game at giving them a try. She put on a kettle of water to boil, reached for a pair of tongs and gingerly transferred the tender hairy leaves into the teapot. After dousing the leaves with scalding water and steeping for a few minutes, we sipped on a deliciously green, grassy, nutty elixir. I managed to get my hands on some more and made an emerald green nettle risotto and delicate risotto pasta.

Chock full of nutrients (Vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, magnesium and calcium), nettles are just too healthy to pass by. Especially if you forage, because then they’re nutritious AND free.

Now that Spring is once again upon us, the boy and I are looking forward to gathering our own nettles for some more springtime feasting from the forest floor. Don’t worry, we’ll wear gloves.

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
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.

Makes 2 okonomiyaki

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

Blueberry Pie

In the Spring my brother and I began working on some renovations to an old house where we spent a good part of our childhood. The old 1930’s house is an architectural gem: inlaid hardwood floors, a beautiful mantle with leaded glass bookshelves on either side of the fireplace, a darling breakfast nook. Being able to spend time working on the old gal was a joy but what really moved me was all the fond childhood memories that came flooding back.

As we sanded, taped and painted together, Andy and I reminisced about the old days and fond memories of the house. He was surprised that I could remember so many details about the house, our neighbourhood and our family’s activities.

Every year about this time, I am transported back to one of my fondest childhood food memories: blueberry pie. My mother is the youngest of her family and that resulted in our fortune of having cousins that are much older than ourselves. One summer my cousins dropped by with two white pails full of freshly picked blueberries that my mom magically transformed into a luscious blueberry pie.

I remember the sweet, intoxicating scent of the pie wafting through the kitchen. And I can still taste the warm berries in their toasty, crumbly crust that forever tastes like summer. That blueberry pie, and I’m sure it was the only one my mom ever baked, tasted like my childhood: the simple pleasure of living in that old house, family and a kitchen full of good things to eat.

A few weeks ago I baked a blueberry pie. To remind me of my sweet childhood and to build some sweet food memories for our child.

Soup Makes Friends

“Ginger tea makes friends.” ~James Barber

James Barber, the Urban Peasant, got it right. Sharing a hot pot of ginger tea draws people in and opens conversations. A lovely way to make new acquaintances.

For me it was soup.

Last year our son’s elementary school was soliciting silent auction items for a fundraiser. When schools are on the crackdown for cash, they’re pretty happy about any kind of donation: food, gift certificates for stores, services, restaurants. I don’t like canvassing for donations so I couldn’t see myself doing that. I had squeezed out a few knitted items to donate. I desperately wanted to donate something unique, creative and meaningful. Then I came up with an idea for a personal service: The Soup of the Month Club.

For one year, I would deliver soup once a month to the Soup of the Month Club household. It would be made entirely from scratch and catered to the food preferences of the recipients using seasonal, local ingredients whenever possible. In our fast-paced, busy lives, it’s hard to find time to slow down, cook and share a meal. I wanted to create a time, even though it would be only once a month, where parents wouldn’t have to worry about what to make for dinner and the family could sit down, share a nourishing meal and build community around the table.

So I submitted my auction item, not knowing if anyone would be interested since it’s not the run-of-the-mill donation. I was pleased that there were bidders! The winning bid was made by a family of four who lives just a few blocks away.

I was ecstatic that I was able to help the school raise some funds and that I could provide a family in our own neighbourhood with a nutritious meal once a month. Little did I know that our family would be forging a strong relationship with this family.

Over the year we’ve come to know and love the family I supplied soup to. I’ve discovered that we’re on the same wavelength about a lot of parenting, community and food issues. At the kitchen table, we’ve shared many a deep conversation about community building, politics and of course, food. And we’ve shared many, many laughs.

Amazing what kinds of friends you can make with a few pots of soup.

(The weather this June, as well as last June, has been dismal. One shouldn’t be making wintery soup at this time of year. But you just can’t help it.)

June Soup of the Month: Lentil Soup
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium potatoes, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
4 ribs celery, diced
1 1/2 cups mixed lentils, rinsed
6 cups broth
2 cups water
2/3 cup puréed tomato
6 stems thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt, pepper
A handful of parsley, chopped

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat, add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.
Add potatoes, carrots and celery and sauté for a few minutes.
Add lentils, broth, water, tomato purée, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until lentils are soft and veggies are tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Add a bit of water or broth if the soup thickens too much.
Fish out the thyme and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a good sprinkle of chopped parsley.

Makes about 8 servings

Irrational Make-over

I have an irrational bias: cereal. Boxed breakfast cereal. Highly processed, overpriced boxed breakfast cereal. I don’t like it.

I understand that families are time challenged in the morning and rely on quick, straight-out-of-the box breakfasts. Cereals make the promise of containing “18 essential nutrients” but I’m not convinced. Because cereal is so highly processed, they actually have to add back the nutrients that get processed out of the grains they started with. Kind of counterproductive in my opinion. And then there are the cereals with the extra added bonuses like sugar, colour, artificial flavouring, artificial aromas, etc.

As a result, I don’t buy cereal often. And when I do, I read labels and look for whole grain, lower sugar, lower sodium varieties. And I feel guilty for feeding into the cereal manufacturing vortex.

The other day I had a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to make crispy rice squares, the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. I bought a package of organic crisp rice cereal. OK, it’s organic, low in sugar, made from brown rice but I still felt guilty about supporting big food processors. I also felt guilty knowing that they processed the bejeezies out of rice to make the perfectly uniform crisp rice bits (don’t think that those are individual rice grains all puffed up–they’re not!). And of course the marshmallows are purely processed, good-for-nothing high-fructose corn syrup. I need to just let my hair down and live a little.

I am deeply sorry to disappoint the Rice Krispie purists out there but I’m going to be the party pooper. I made crispy rice squares with a healthy, sophisticated angle…replaced some of the cereal with toasted oats, dried mango and toasted almonds. I served these up to the boy to great relish. I served them up to the neighbour kids who inhaled them with glee. Serve them up to your gang and see if anyone notices.

Crispy Rice Squares (Made-over)
1/4 cup butter
200 grams marshmallows
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups toasted rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit
1/2 cup chopped toasted nuts
3 cups crisp rice cereal

Line an 8” or 9” square pan with foil and butter well. Set aside.
In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat and continue to heat until solids start to brown and butter smells nutty. You will notice the butter sizzle as the water cooks away. Just before the butter browns, it will form a fine froth. I am being totally facetious using brown butter but it adds a certain je ne sais quoi. If you don’t care for this, just melt the butter.
Remove the pot from stove and add marshmallows. Stir until they are completely melted. If the pot cools down too much, return it to low heat and keep stirring.
Add vanilla and stir well to combine.
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well to coat all the dry ingredients.
Pour into prepared pan. Grease your hands with more butter and press mixture firmly.
Let cool to room temperature and cut into 9 or 16 squares.

“I don’t like salmon.”

“I don’t like salmon.” 

I look up from the book I am reading and glare across the table at Roland. “What do you mean you don’t like salmon?”

“I don’t like it. It’s flavourless. It’s dry. I only like canned salmon.”

For a moment I thought I had fallen in love with the wrong man. Almost the same sinking feeling I had when, once upon a time, I was in a long-term relationship with a guy that didn’t like garlic.

“Oh, you just haven’t had GOOD salmon cooked PROPERLY,” I remedied.
 How could a fish eater not love salmon? It bursts with flavour (compared to mild white fish like sole or cod). It’s tender and moist (when you don’t overcook it). It’s sustainable and local and exceedingly healthy. The best way to turn things around was to cook it often and cook it well.

Over the years, I’ve cooked salmon in countless ways: steamed, grilled, roasted, poached, chowdered, in fishcakes. With and without sauce. Hot and cold. You name it. I’ve managed to wear Roland down and his appreciation for salmon has increased considerably.

You can imagine my surprise when one drizzly, early Spring morning at the Farmers Market, he handed me a brochure. “I think we should join.” It was for a community supported fishery for local, wild salmon.

“I thought you didn’t like salmon!” I blurted aghast.

“Well, I don’t like it much but this is such a good idea. I guess I could learn to like salmon more.”

A good idea indeed. Community supported agriculture is based on a model where farmers or food producers are paid at the beginning of a season so that they can invest the money into their food production, whether it’s for their farm or in this case, to outfit a fisherman’s boat and equipment. This guarantees some income security and that they are paid fairly for their food. What share members get is an entire season of fresh, local, sustainable food and knowledge of exactly how and where their food is produced or procured. A win-win situation for producers and consumers.

We took the brochure home, thought about it for a day and hardly hesitated to sign up. I had been wanting to include more fish in our diet, especially a fatty fish like salmon that includes high amounts of brain and heart healthy omega-3’s. What often held me back from buying more fish, though, was not knowing exactly where and how it was caught. Now I would know that ethically, this salmon would be caught sustainably and would not deplete delicate fish stocks.

When we got our first e-mail that the boat was going out and we’d soon be getting our first salmon of the season, we paced and anticipated as though we were waiting for the birth of a baby. When our pick up day finally rolled around we piled into the car and hurried to the dock. We beamed as we picked out our first CSF sockeye. The boy posed with the gleaming fish more than half his height. I posed with my lips ready and puckered to kiss the fish. We were ecstatic to support a fisherman who is doing his best to make a living by fishing sustainably to feed others.

We rushed home to quickly cut the salmon into steaks and steep it in a gingery, sweet, savoury marinade before gently grilling it. We sat down to a memorable, delicious dinner knowing that all in the food chain was well.

“I like salmon now. Really, I do.”

Spicy Glazed Salmon
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, about a 1″ cube
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
1 lb. salmon steaks or fillets

In a shallow dish, combine ginger, garlic, honey or maple syrup, soy sauce and chipotle. Stir well to combine.
Coat salmon pieces with marinade and let rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.
Grill salmon over medium-high heat until done to your liking, about 4 minutes each side. Alternatively, roast the salmon in a preheated 450 degree F oven for 10 minutes for every inch of fish.

Makes 4 servings