Sunday, May 1, 2016

Fattoush Salad

This time of year, I get so excited about fresh produce. Salads become meals and meals become salads. A bit of chopping and dinner is made. Perfection.

Just over a year ago I tried Fattoush salad for the first time and I was immediately smitten. I wondered how I had lived so long without ever encountering this Middle Eastern salad. The fresh herbaceous flavours make this the perfect accompaniment to summer barbecues, but it is also stellar on its own with some feta or served alongside some olives, hommous and pita.

And try to refrain from eating all those freshly baked pita chips as they come out of the oven. They may become your new favourite snack and a great accompaniment to summer appetizers.

Fattoush Salad
Serves 4
Fattoush is a Middle-Eastern salad of varying compositions but generally consisting of using dried pita bread and a variety of greens, vegetables and herbs. It is a great way to use leftover pita bread. 

Although what follows is a recipe, play with it and adapt it to what you have in your fridge and what ingredients you like. A touch of mint and parsley are highly recommended.

Toast pita bread: 
Using 3-4 pitas, brush with olive oil, or melted butter/olive oil combo, sprinkle with salt, cut into pieces and toast in oven at 350 degrees for 6 minutes. Let cool. Can be made ahead and stored in a sealed container for several days.

In large salad bowl, whisk together dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice (approx. 1 lemon, juiced)
1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
1/4 tsp salt 
optional: ½ tsp sumac or za'atar spice 
(I sprinkled my salad with za'atar which contains sumac)

Into the dressing bowl, add:
Spring salad greens or chopped romaine lettuce
2 bell peppers, chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large cucumber, chopped
2-3 radishes or green onions, chopped
optional (but highly recommended):
 ½ cup chopped assorted herbs: parsley, chives, mint
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Toss until combined with pieces of pita chips. Serve immediately.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Homemade Insecticidal Soap Spray

I haven't written much lately. I am absorbed by the garden and all things sprouting and green.
Apparently, the bugs are too!

I was noticing that someone was already munching on my rhubarb and hostas again and was reminded that it was time to make my homemade insecticidal spray.

This spray can definitely be tinkered with as you may need to adjust the concentration based on your plants. I have found it really great for rhubarb, kale, hosts, small fruit trees and basically any other green plant that is being munched on by insects. I am also finding it useful in the home to spray around areas where ants like to gather, but you may need to check that it doesn't harm your wood or any surface you spray it on.

All you need is a good spray bottle and some kitchen basics and away you go! It is much cheaper than the soap sprays that they offer in stores and you will have a good batch to last for several applications.

Make sure you spray during dry periods, when there is no risk of rain, or you will be applying right away again. It is generally recommended to spray in the morning or in the evening, and to spray both the top and bottom of the leaves. Your intention here is to directly spray aphids or other soft-bodied insects. It is not recommended for tender greens such as tomatoes or peas.  Read more about how to use these sprays here.

Homemade Insecticidal Soap Spray
I prefer using Dr. Bronner's liquid peppermint soap as it also has the peppermint as a bit of a repellent, but any dish soap will work. The least toxic and unscented is better, especially if you intend on eating the leaves. Some people use a bit of onion in this spray too, so just use a bit if you want to try that in place of some of the garlic. Warning: DO NOT COMBINE THE SOAP in the blender. Have fun cleaning that up if you do! (Yes, accidents happen!)

spray bottle
1 Litre water
1 head of garlic, peeled (I use my sprouting, sub-par garlic)
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp liquid soap (I prefer Dr. Bronner's)

1. In a blender, combine water, garlic and cayenne. Strain through the finest mesh strainer you can find (like a tea strainer) or through a few layers of cheesecloth. This is essential so you don't clog your sprayer. *if you do, a fix is to check the bottom cover of the middle straw in the sprayer and rinse it off or remove it.
2. Pour into spray bottle and add liquid soap. Shake to mix well. Use immediately or within a week or two. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

Tara's Sunshine Blender Muffins

My friend Tara makes these easy blender muffins from one of her favourite cookbooks, The Best of Bridge. These orange-flavoured muffins are so flavourful and moist that it was shocking to find out that they can be made in the blender in about 2 minutes!

Tara says their recipes never fail her---even when she adapts the recipes and makes them even better by using whole grain flours. 

I was so anxious to make them when she sent the recipe that I began throwing things in the blender before realizing I was out of eggs! I ended up subbing chia seeds and a little extra water in the blender and they turned out great---so easy to make vegan if desired. 

One blender, a muffin tin and that's it. So very easy! Yes, the blender gets a bit messy but afterwards fill it halfway up with warm water and a tiny drop of dishsoap and blend away on high power until its clean.

I'm confident this will be my new go-to recipe for muffins! Thanks Tara!

Tara's Sunshine Blender Muffins
I prefer to use organic oranges when using the peel in recipes. In this recipe you use the whole orange! Tara uses whole wheat flour and I made it with spelt. You can use all-purpose flour if desired. If you don't have a high-powered blender, just blend first ingredients with hand blender or regular blender, before adding to dry ingredients in a bowl. 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Puree in blender until smooth:

1 whole orange, cut into 1/8ths, preferrably organic
1/2 cup orange juice
1 egg (or 1 tbsp chia seeds and 3 tbsp water)
1/4 cup neutral oil (grapeseed, avocado, etc.)

3. Add and blend:

1 1/2 cups whole wheat or spelt flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

4. Add and quickly blend (should still have pieces visible):

1/2 cup raisins or dried cranberries or other dried berries

5. Scoop into 12 muffin cups and bake for 18-20 mins, or until toothpick inserted into a centre muffin comes out clean.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Quick Beer Bread

My husband's epicurean aunts were visiting from NYC. They were telling us about their new food kicks: vegan food and beer bread. 

Beer bread?

Honestly, I thought I knew my baked goods. I had never heard of it but I was curious.

Beer instead of yeast? Quick bread? 5 minutes to assemble? Customizable? Great for winter soups and stews? I was in! 

I grabbed a couple bottles of lager and got to experimenting.

I morphed a few online recipes to find my favourite mix but it seems that you can't really go wrong here. 

The beer provides nice lift, a bit more tender than a standard Irish Soda Bread, but apparently sparkling water provides a similar rise.

Here is the recipe I settled on. So good for winter soups and stews. And a perfect addition to my recipe repertoire. 

Beer Bread
The aunties' original recipe calls for only 3 ingredients: 3 cups self-rising flour (harder to find in my area), sugar, beer and any customizations. You can sub the first 3 ingredients for self-rising flour. It is fantastic toasted the next day, slathered with butter and marmalade.

3 cups all-purpose flour (up to 1/2 can be whole wheat or spelt)
4 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp melted butter, divided
1 bottle of beer

Optional customizations: grated cheese and ground pepper or chopped chives, chopped dried fruit. 

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Grease loaf pan with butter or butter wrapper.
3. In large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and sea salt with a whisk. Pour in beer and 3 tbsp butter and gently stir with a large spoon until somewhat smooth, using hands only if needed.
4. Spoon into loaf pan. Smooth top a bit, drizzle with last 1 tbsp butter.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into middle comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 5-10 minutes before removing to a wire cooling rack to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chai Concentrate

This time of year wool socks are worn, slippers are retrieved, cozy sweaters are donned, and warm drinks are sipped. 

Sometimes coffee doesn't cut it. Sometimes tea doesn't soothe. Sometime hot chocolate is too rich.

But there is always a place for spicy, milky chai.

I have been making my own concentrate for some time now as I find I can't have much caffeine in the afternoon, so most chai teas don't work for me. 

Cardamom is one of my favourite spices so it plays a significant role here. You can use seeds or crushed pods. I often have seeds around as I bake with them but pods are often a cheaper, and more accessible, option. 

This is an easy concentrate that you can store in the fridge, warm up a cup at a time and add your milk of choice, to taste. You can also adapt to your own taste. One of my favourite Vij's chai recipes uses only fennel and cardamom, some use cloves instead of, or in addition to, cinnamon. I have also made a spicy drink for sore throats with all the spices and lots of honey but without the tea.

This time of year, stay warm with a comforting cup of chai. 

Chai Concentrate
Adapted from Vij's Chai
This makes approximately 8 cups of chai, add a bit of milk, almond milk or soy milk to taste. 

8 cups water
3/4 tsp cardamom seeds or 10-12 crushed pods
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 large cinnamon stick
8 orange pekoe tea bags, decaf or regular
1/4 cup cane sugar, or substitute, to taste

1. Bring water to boil with spices in a medium saucepan. Simmer about 5 minutes.
2. Turn up heat, when it comes to boil, add teabags. Turn down heat a bit. Slow boil about 1 minute. 
3. Strain mixture through fine mesh sieve into another heat-safe pot or jug. Stir in sugar or sweetener of choice. Refrigerate until needed up to about 5 days. 
4. To serve, warm amount needed with milk of choice. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Preserving herbs

It is that time of year when I am crazily harvesting herbs to preserve them for winter.
I hate to loose out on any of that flavour and I absolutely detest buying herbs imported from faraway places in the middle of winter. Yes, sometimes I've been known to do it, but I hate it. 
The last time I picked up a package of store-bought 'fresh' herbs, I noticed the sad little package of wilted chives were imported from Israel. Israel! The other side of the world from where I live. A ridiculous import when chives grow most of the year here.
Since I began growing herbs, I also have a really hard time buying dried herbs in a jar when that same cost would buy me several fresh plants in spring. 
So, this was my year to plant even more herbs and preserve them! 
Here is a little rundown on my favourite ways to preserve herbs this year.

1. Pesto it! My farmer friends have joked that if you don't know what to do with something, you 'pesto it'! There is so much written online about pestos. My favourite is basil or parsley, garlic, pumpkin seeds and a bit of oil. My farmer friends have done cilantro, kale or whatever is green! Freeze it in small containers or bags, or for small portions, in ice cube trays and then bags. You can add parmesan just before serving. Put it on pizza, pasta or swirl into minestrone. For more details, check out this article on thekitchn

2. Very finely chop herbs and freeze with a bit of oil or water. Great for adding more flavour to sauces, soups and stews. This article has some great tips.

3. Tie fresh herbs up in a small bundle and hang them to dry. This works great for hearty herbs such as sage, thyme, savoury, and bay. When completely dry, pack into glass jars. (Basil and parsley are really sad when dried. Pesto those guys.) Here are detailed instructions on drying, including the surprising method of microwave drying (which works great- I've used it for rose petals).

3. You can further process dried herbs by making them into a herb salt. Just stick dried herbs into a blender or processor for a super quick whirl with sea salt. Pack into jars. Then use it for seasoning vegetables or protein. 

4. Make a flavoured vinegar. I've written about my favourite chive flower vinegar, but try it with other herbs to add a mighty herbal punch to salads.

5. Make a better butter. Into softened butter, stir in minced herbs. About 1/4 cup loosely-packed minced herbs per cup of butter. Do single herbs (like sage butter, pictured) or a multi-herb blend. Sage butter is fantastic warmed in a small pan and stirred into fresh pasta or rubbed onto a chicken that will be roasted. Garlic-parsley butter can be put on a seared steak or steamed vegetables. Freeze it in a log and cut off coins as needed. 

I'd love to hear more ideas on preserving herbs! Share your ideas below.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pickled Turnips

I'm kinda addicted to these lightly-fermented turnip pickles.

They are fantastic in a falafel wrap or with Middle Eastern-themed appetizers (think pita, hummus, roasted veg, etc.) Sadly, they often never make it to their higher-purpose as they are often consumed straight from the jar...these barely made it through a brief photo-shoot.

'Tickled Pink' Pickled Turnips
Adapted from David Leibovitz and The Domestic Man, check out the links for excellent, and more descriptive, recipes.

This is a lightly-fermented pickle, you may not see bubbles or the signs of a traditional fermentation, but the flavour changes slightly over a few days. 

1 quart jar or larger
3 cups water
1/4 cup non-iodized kosher salt
1-2 bay leaves, fresh or dry
1/2 cup plain white vinegar
2 lbs fresh turnips (4-6 med), peeled and cut into large, thick matchsticks or slices
1 small beet, cut into matchsticks
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
small handful celery leaves (the small inner leaves from a head of celery work well, or picked from your celery in your garden)

1. Bring 1 cup water to a boil with salt, stirring to dissolve. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 cups water and vinegar. Set aside.

2. Put cut up turnips in a large jar, slide celery leaf and bay leaf down the sides. Place beet on top, pour cooled water and vinegar solution over top of the jar to cover all the veg (if not, prepare another 1/2 recipe of solution). Place a small circle of parchment to fit over the inside of the jar to keep ingredients submerged (usually around 2-3" round). Set aside in cupboard for a few days, tasting a day at a time until desired flavour is reached (slightly tangy). Then place in fridge to enjoy for the next few weeks. Repeat.