Ratatouille: a simple classic

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With holiday entertaining just around the corner, I love this ratatouille for its simplicity, presentation and better yet, low maintenance. All you need to do is slice, stack, and bake. The majority of the time spent for this dish is in the baking, which frees you up to do other things – like preparing other parts of your feast or getting ready to look your best! Either way, it’s a win win.

Ingredients: (serves 4-6)

  • 1 Japanese eggplant (you can use regular eggplant too, I like the Japanese eggplants as they’re bigger in girth, which works better for stacking)
  • 4 medium tomatos
  • 1 large zucchini or 2-3 small ones
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, or fresh if you have it
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

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Kimchi made easy

kimcheeI have to confess – I’ve always been intimidated by kimchi. Not by eating it, oh no, I’ll gladly eat plenty. No, my intimidation is in making it. Kimchi has held a long-standing reputation for me as something that is both quite difficult to make and something to be revered. Friends have shared that kimchi can be a rite of passage for some, and for many, can represent a lifetime pursuit in perfecting their personal recipe and making it truly their own. I think that’s what has always intimidated me… the gravitas of it all. Kimchi deserves respect. So recently, I decided to respectfully try my hand at it and since then, I’ve been making it non-stop. So much so that I’m probably at risk of becoming the subject matter in Portlandia’s infamous “We can pickle that” skit. I digress.

The great news is that kimchi is actually simpler to make than you may think. The most important step is really the fermentation and for that, the good bacteria does all the work. (We just need to make sure we do everything to help create the right kind of environment for it to do its job.) Still, I can see how a person can spend a lifetime perfecting their recipe. The one I’m including here is a basic one that’s good to start with, which you can add to as you make more. There are plenty of more robust and complex kimchi recipes out there that include things like rice flour and an assortment of herbs and vegetables to add different flavours, but I’m going to keep it simple – since that’s what worked for me.

What will make it unique to you are the ingredients and quantity of ingredients you choose to put into it, along with how long you choose to ferment it for. The longer the time you let the kimchi ferment, the softer the cabbage and more sour the flavour. The moment you finish “dressing” the cabbage, you can already eat it fresh.

One last thing to note before we get started. Kimchi takes a long time to make not because it’s complicated, but because of the brining that needs to take place initially. What I recommend is salting the cabbage the night before you want to make the kimchee. This way, the actual process of making it will only take around 30-90 minutes (based on how fast you are at chopping everything up). Brining takes a minimum of 4 hours – but like I said, it’s best if you leave it overnight.

Ingredients: (makes about 3-4 L of kimchi depending on size of cabbage)

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  • Initial salt soak
    • 1 nappa cabbage (the larger the cabbage, the more kimchi you’ll have)
    • 1/2 cup of sea salt
    • water (approximately 3 litres) Continue reading

Buttercup squash soup to chase the howling winds away

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Winnie the Pooh: Happy “Winds-day”, Piglet.
Piglet: [being blown away] Well… it isn’t… very happy… f-for me.
Winnie the Pooh: Where are you going, Piglet?
Piglet: That’s what I’m asking myself, where? [he is lifted into the air by a gust of wind]
Piglet: W-Whoops! P-P-P-Pooh!
Winnie the Pooh: [grabbing Piglet’s scarf] And what do you think you will answer yourself?

If Pooh and Piglet were here in Toronto today, they would agree that today is most definitely a blustery day. With the gusts of wind howling around buildings and off roaring over rooftops – maybe taking a thing or two off with them – it’s a perfect day for a hearty soup. More specifically, buttercup squash soup. Buttercup squashes are a variety of winter squash with a sweet, savoury, nutty flavour to it. They taste more like sweet potatoes than pumpkin, and are perfect for roasting, and taste fantastic in a soup.

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 750mL of beef stock (you can substitute with chicken stock for a lighter flavour or vegetable stock if you’re vegetarian or vegan)
  • 2 buttercup squashes, chopped
  • 5 large carrots, chopped
  • 1 ear of corn, halved
  • 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of ginger, chopped (optional)
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried, if you don’t have fresh)
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (your choice, I used hazelnut oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste

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As local as possible: Fresh City Farms

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Earlier this season, a good friend of ours stumbled across a new food box program in our city: Fresh City Farms. After our time with Culinarium, which sadly closed its doors earlier this year, we were open to participating in another food share program.

What is attractive about Fresh City Farms that sets it apart from other programs was its door-to-door delivery, organic promise, and finally, the hyper-local focus of their food philosophy – as local as possible, in fact.

Perhaps organic and door-to-door is obvious, but why local?

1. It’s healthier. The produce we eat is in essence converted energy from the sun. I know this is an oversimplification of a far more complex series of systems; however, at the heart of it, food is energy. The sooner we eat that produce once it’s harvested, the greater the amount of energy we retain from it. The longer our food is in transit, storage, and processing after its harvested, the more energy is lost. It’s no wonder fresh fruit and vegetables from a farmer’s market always looks, smells, and tastes so much more flavourful than the same tired looking fruit and vegetables near the end of a week at a grocery store (or perhaps in a fridge at home for too long). You know the kind I’m talking about.

That said, there is nothing wrong with eating food that has been shipped in, it’s just that we’re not getting as much nutritional value from it. In some cases, it can’t be helped… there are certain things we simply can’t get where we are. At the same time, there is also so much variety locally to be explored and experimented with that it brings to question. Why not?

2. It’s more environmental. The transportation of import foods over long distances means high costs in energy and fuel for their transportation and storage. Eating more locally means a reduction in the need for those logistics and energy burn.

3. It supports local sustainability. By buying straight from local farms and gardens, more of our dollar goes to the families who grow the food. It doesn’t get split up along the way by a series of middle men. (In case it’s of interest, the Story of Stuff is worth checking out if you haven’t already in the past.)

So back to Fresh City Farms. Most of their produce is farmed in gardens right in the city and when necessary, in nearby farms. Only when the produce cannot be farmed here in Ontario does Fresh City Farms bring it in from the outside, and when they do, it’s clearly labeled. You can opt-out of certain produce, or add additional products to supplement your weekly food box. Food boxes come in small and large sizes that contain fruit or vegetable, or both, and can be delivered weekly or biweekly.

When you order, you can also send the foodbox to a pick-up point, or if you have three or more deliveries to the same address, you can create your own pick-up location. Pick-up locations get a few dollars off each food box. It may take a little communication and follow-up to get your box set-up, as they’re still quite new, small, and ironing out wrinkles. But once it’s set up, it’s worth it.

Our friends and we have been getting our food boxes like clockwork this season and it’s been great. If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

Arugula + summer fruit salad

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The first days of summer always seem to smell the sweetest. The sun burns a little brighter and no one seems to notice. But even the best seasons have their off-days and summer is no exception. You know the ones – where the air is thick, thunderstorms are in the air, and so hot that you would hide away in the fridge if you could.

For those hard dog days of summer where lifting a finger threatens to bring on another shower, this salad is a quick chop and toss (thankfully mostly toss!) away to remind you of summer’s best. If you’re in a pinch, add 3 tablespoons of rhubarb compote to dress your salad and forget the oil. After all, it’s summer and you make the rules.

  • 3 cups baby arugula
  • 1 cup pea tendrils (optional)
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup strawberries, quartered
  • 1 peach, sliced
  • 1 cup Rainier cherries
  • 2 sprigs mint, julienned
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup walnuts

Gently toss together the ingredients and dress at the last minute. Serves 2-4.

Banana bread bake-off

bananabreadbakeoffWhat do you do when you have too many over-ripe bananas and not enough time to eat them? A banana bread bake-off of course! And that’s just what we had at our office last week. Andrea and Steve rolled up their sleeves and baked their respective bests for the office to try.

The two banana wares could not be more different. Andrea’s was the health conscious’ dream. Her Supercharged banana nut and oat muffins were the guilt-free banana bread (or rather, muffin) option – with a simple variation that was vegan-friendly. Steve baked in the wee hours of the morning before coming into work – the loaf was still warm! His was a flavour-packed traditional banana loaf with all the stops.

The result: we had a happy office with full bellies and a great start to the day. Me, most of all. And the verdict? A universal draw across the board by all judges. Don’t believe us? You may just have to make them to find out for yourself.

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Liquid Sunshine

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With the first day of summer officially starting today, this Canadian heart skips a little. 17 hours of daylight paired with a bowl of rose-tinted liquid sunshine – what better way to celebrate?

Often passed over in favour of its flashier neighbours, rhubarb is the unsung hero of spring and early summer. Don’t let this humble-looking plant fool you. It’s tart with a lot of spunk and packs quite the punch especially when eaten raw. Dull or disappointing are not words that I would use to describe this hardy vegetable. Served warm or chilled, my favourite rhubarb fix comes in the form of a simple compote. Nothing says summer like a generous spoonful (or spoonfuls!) over yogourt, oatmeal, your morning smoothie or a little midnight ice cream. You can even sneak it in as a dressing in a mixed green salad (yes, it even tames the bitterest of greens!). So with this salute to one of my favourite plants, I give you my recipe for a summer solstice rhubarb compote:

  • 4 rhubarb stalks (leaves removed)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 sprigs lemon thyme
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • squeeze of lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Trim the ends of the rhubarb and cut into 1 1/4-inch rounds. Pour the water in a wide frying pan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the rhubarb to the pan, sprinkle in the sugar, add the lemon thyme, lemon zest, and give the lemon a quick squeeze over the rhubarb. Stir to combine and heat the mixture for 10 minutes on medium-high heat or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the rhubarb is tender. Allow the mixture to cool slightly before stirring in the vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract). Enjoy immediately or leave in the refrigerator to chill. Serves 4 or yields a healthy portion for one!