Thursday, August 20, 2015

garden harvest gnocchetti with fresh corn and tomatoes

It has been a considerable time since I have been excited enough about what was on my plate to jump up from the table and grab the camera mid-meal. Our meal this evening was (as it commonly is) a bit of a gamble. You know, the kind of combination of what is in the larder that should be good but may not be in the end. Happily this was not only okay but pretty amazing. David (religiously underwhelmed and scrupulously reserved with praise) not only commented three times that "this is really...mmmmm, really good!" That may not sound like a high recommendation but trust me, it is :) He followed that with the advice that I should record this one. Combining that with Jonathon's regular complaint that I need to post some simple recipes that everyone can cook (he is "tired of waiting" lol) and I did grab the camera for a mid-meal mini-session. 

One would think with the plethora of recipes so readily accessible in various platforms that gambling with dinner is not only unnecessary but plain dumb. The problem is not a lack but rather a surfeit. I am fatigued by the shear abundance of choice - should I refer to a cookbook, or Pinterest, or one of my many 'favourite' blogs, or even Instagram for inspiration. Perhaps one of the collection of magazines piled in the ceramic hibachi next to the kitchen counter? It is somewhere around this point that I (mentally) throw my hands in the air and decide to make a "big salad" (it is summer after all and who wants to turn on the stove?) or resort to a tried and true and simple option. Or... gamble. With an unknown combination of what is on hand.

As what is on hand is most always a healthy assortment of vegetables and grains it really isn't a big gamble. It is hard to go too wrong. This gamble of garden harvest and gnocchetti paid off in a big way. I think it will slot very nicely into  the regular rotation of tried, true and simple.

I used some heavy cream in this but you could use half and half if you prefer. If you need a dairy-free option substituting reserved water from cooking the gnocchi would be a good bet. Make you own gnocchi if you like or choose a shelf-stable package from the market, include the Italian sausage or skip it for a meat-free meal. I stripped the kernels off fresh corn on the cob but feel free to use frozen if that works better for you. The rest is dead simple.

garden harvest gnocchetti with fresh corn and tomatoes

1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cobs of corn, stripped
1 large sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
500 gm package gnocchetti 
1/2 cup cream
3 good handfuls of baby spinach and arugula
a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan - about 1/3 cup
6-10 fresh basil leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp olive oil + 1 Tbsp butter or ghee

Cook the gnocchetti in salted boiling water until they float. Drain and set aside.

Pour the olive oil and drop the butter or ghee into a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften. Add the sausage, crumbling it as it browns. When the sausage is almost cooked add the corn kernels and allow them to brown a bit, then toss in the cherry tomatoes. A few good twists of pepper and a flick or two of salt fits in well about now. Cook for only a couple of minutes then add the gnocchetti, tossing everything together. Drizzle the cream (or reserved pasta water) over the pasta mixture and toss again. Add the greens (spinach + arugula) and turn them into the mixture to wilt. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and some torn fresh basil leaves. Dinner is ready. That easy.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

salted cucumber ice cream

Having gotten out of the groove of blogging on a (semi) regular basis I find overcoming the accumulated inertia requires much more effort than I want to summon most of the time. The good book I am reading, the garden I am tending, the children I am loving, the friend I am with, the simple meal I am enjoying - all extend a much greater pull than getting back to the computer and making myself find the words to articulate thoughts, experiences and yes, even recipes. The instant gratification of Instagram and the over-abundance of newly minted nutritional experts sharing ever more ambitious and exotic recipes - and (semi-suspect) nutritional advice - have each in their own way pulled me further away from this place that I once found such joy in. But the very fact that this has been an endeavour that I did once so love has caused me to reconsider my absence. The original motivation to post here was to record memories, recipes, creations and experiences that were in some way significant to me, to offer those things to anyone who might be interested in sharing them with me but specifically to the people I know and love - those near and dear to me. As I have considered continuing or not, I have realized that my motivation and desire has remained consistent. It is all too easy to become caught up in quantifying who is reading my offerings and to assign value to the whole enterprise (including my thoughts) based on that, to fall prey to the competitive part of my nature and give away the joy of creating, considering and sharing. Although writing again feels an awful lot like trying to push a boulder uphill from a standstill, I find that I have a strong desire to get that boulder rolling. If I am the keeper of my stories, then I must share them or they are nothing but smoke and mirrors - vanishing in the mists of time. Those stories may not be of interest to the world at large but the world at large is not reading them nor I am I writing for that audience. This is for me - for my loved ones. I am not an expert anything, not a professional something-or-other; I do find living well a quest worth engaging in and one that brings me joy and fulfills my life. So take my stories and ideas in that light, understanding that I know that I know only a small part of what there is to know but that the pursuit of excellence and more knowledge is a good reason to push that boulder up the hill. To find joy in every new day, each new taste, and all the good and bad that seasons a life.

All that to explain why it has taken me three months to push the boulder far enough that I am finally sharing this ice cream recipe. As is the case so often when reading a recipe for something outside of the regular box, my initial thought was "huh! weird." But it is that very outside-the-box-ness that makes this ice cream so wonderful. It is intriguing and fresh and begs another taste and then another ten. It is also the most beautiful soft green in colour. If you like salted caramel ice cream then you will love this - it is all that with freshness on top. Persian cucumbers are a must in this recipe.

The original recipe is from Tasting Table. I scaled it down in volume so it will work in my ice cream freezer and changed the method so that it works if you do not have a juicer (as I do not). I have also included an alternative method that works if you have neither a juicer or an ice cream freezer. No excuses ice cream!

*disclaimer - this is neither dairy-free or sugar free, it is not health-food but it is free from preservatives and gluten and any unknown additives, so it is probably an awful to better for you than commercial ice cream. Just saying.

Here's to hoping I can overcome inertia and really get rolling again. This seems like a great place and way to start.

salted cucumber ice cream
(from Tasting Table with a few changes)

1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
3 Persian cucumbers, chopped
sea salt to taste - about 1 1/2 teaspoons

Put the chopped cucumbers into a blender container and process on high speed until liquified. Pour the result through a fine-mess strainer into a bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the cucumber juice and set the remainder (if there is any) aside for a smoothie or whatever later. (The solids in the strainer can be put to the same purpose or discarded.)

Combine the cucumber juice, condensed milk, milk, cream, and salt in a bowl. Taste as you add the salt, starting with 1 teaspoon and adding more to taste - maybe more than you would initially think. Chill the mixture in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight to allow the flavours to mature and to give your ice cream machine a solid chance for success.

Pour the mixture into the previously chilled (actually frozen - as in been in the freezer for a good 24 hours) bowl of your ice cream machine and spin until it looks like a good soft-serve ice cream - about 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a freezer-safe container (a loaf pan works very well), cover and freeze until the ice cream is firm, 2-3 hours. Serve and enjoy.

There is no reason that you cannot enjoy this straight from the spinning (soft-serve style). I like being able to scoop it into a pretty ball. And it is nice to not have to melt so quickly when served. But either way is fabulous.

Alternative method for no-churn ice cream: Mix the condensed milk, milk, cucumber juice, and sea salt. Chill for 2 hours or overnight. Whip the heavy cream and fold the cucumber mixture and whipped cream together. Pour into a freezer-safe container, cover, and freeze until firm - about 6 hours or overnight.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

k reed

"I believe that what we become depends on what  our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom." 
- Umberto Eco

I remember standing on the edge of the roof of our house when I was a very little girl. My dad was standing just below me with his arms outstretched, telling me to jump. There was no fire, no emergency - just a warm summer evening and for a reason that is long forgotten I had been on the roof, probably with him. From that edge the distance from me to his arms seemed very far and very scary. I was afraid to jump. He prompted me again and I gathered my courage and jumped, never doubting that he would fail to catch me. 

A few years later, at a July 1 celebration in his hometown of Hillspring Alberta I was lined up with all the kids my age to run a foot race. I wanted so badly to run and to win. The starter called "On your marks, get set....GO!" and someone pushed me hard from behind. I veritably exploded off my mark and ran my hardest. I don't remember if I placed (and if I had the start could have been called cheating) but all I knew was that my dad gave me the best start he could.

And that is the way it was all my life. My dad was my safe place - wise, strong, warm, loving - and he was the wind at my back - pushing, encouraging, teaching and when the occasion warranted, demanding. Demanding in the best way that I give my all. He taught me to strive for excellence - that if a thing was worth doing it was worth doing well. He told me that if I wanted something badly enough I could get it - and in my experience he has generally been right. He taught me to read, to play tennis (poorly but that was not his fault), to ride a horse, to weed the garden, to love God, to serve others. He whistled while he worked and loved to work. He had a song for every situation and a smile in his eyes for those he loved. He loved my mom and I knew it through and through. He taught me by his example to be a person of integrity and to live with honour.

I think I must have been a daddy's girl from my first breath. I know others have had and do have fathers as wonderful as mine but none has ever had better. To be told that I in any way am like my father is wonderful. He died long before I wish he had and when he did I thought I wasn't ready to be without him but although I miss him still I realize that I had been well prepared to walk on my own. I love this picture of the two of us - just a snap but when I see it I remember the safe warmth of his hug and love between us. From my earliest memory he called me his Pride and Joy ( being the loving father he was I am guessing he had four others) and I knew I was. I hope I am still. I feel very blessed to have had such a father, one who taught me well in all the odd moments with many little scraps of wisdom that I cherish always.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

olive oil, sea salt & vanilla granola

Turns out everyone is making olive oil granola but I didn't know that when I made this a few months ago. (oh well, she said) This is my take on what it looks like is a trend. Granola is having a moment. Another one. It is cool again after being cool and then not, a bit like Birkenstocks. One cannot really blame the granola for a fall from grace - really I would have to point to the commercialization and mass-production of what really ought to be made in small batches and is best made in home kitchens. Churned out by the ton it loses all the goodness and most of its charm, packaged into cardboard boxes and retaining only convenience. After that batch of blame there is the whole fiasco of low-fat, bad fat and the cascade of misinformation that characterized most nutritional theory for the past generation. I find it refreshing to read the more current (well- researched) thinking - that we need (good) fats, much less sugar, high quality carbs and protein for a healthy life. Go figure, eating whole and entirely satisfying food prepared simply is best. Our grandparents and their parents did it without thinking because that is all there was. Laziness and convenience have opened up a Pandora's box of options for us in recent decades until we have eaten ourselves into a nightmare of ill health and over-weight*. ....  I will climb down off my soap-box now and we can just talk about how much we love granola. 

I do love granola. It is a great hand-snack or breakfast bowl. Fast, easy and infinitely variable to make there is always a large glass canister in our kitchen filled with one flavour  or another. The standard for years and years at our house has been a fabulously fragrant and delicious cinnamon granola loaded with nuts and seeds and all kinds of goodness and health. But I am ever curious and eager for something new so when I recently embarked on an intense affair with olive oil that went beyond the usual pastas and salads and bread dip, granola was only logical. Cinnamon granola will always have a place in my heart and kitchen but you need to know that olive oil, sea salt and vanilla make an absolutely addictive version of the venerable mix. I am quite honestly obsessed and I proselyte my wares to any and all. I have been so eager to share that I have taken small tasting bags of it to social events (questionable behaviour I know but if you tried it you would understand). This granola is salty and chewy and tastes like olive oil, no mild oil wanted here. And clumps and bunches. Chewy salty-sweet bunches. Eat it out of hand, grab a cluster on the way past the jar, sprinkle it over a bowl of pure white, creamy, plain Greek yogurt or load that bowl of yogurt up with diced apples, a generous couple of handfuls of granola and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Grab your Birkenstocks and get your hippie on! 

There is not much that I would even consider retrieving from the '70's but granola? oh ya.

This truly amazing granola (I did say obsessed) fuelled day after day of walking and walking and walking  on a recent and equally amazing trip to Japan - well-worth the bag space and weight.

For this granola you really do want a superior and full-flavoured olive oil, something nice and green. 

olive oil, sea salt & vanilla granola

3 cups large flake rolled oats
3 cups flaked almonds
1 cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup hemp seed heart
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 tsp vanilla powder
1 Tbsp flakey sea salt (I used Maldon's)
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
3/4 cup coconut palm sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups raisins

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix the oats, almonds, pepitas, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, and vanilla powder in a large bowl. Combine the olive oil, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, coconut sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl and pour over the mixture in the large bowl. Mix well - get your hands into it if need be - add the raisins and mix some more.

Spread evenly in the parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 350 and bake for another 15 minutes or until nicely toasted. Remove from oven and cool in the pan before transferring to a container to store.

* For an interesting read try The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. Then relax and enjoy your full-fat yogurt and olive oil granola bowl, Birks optional.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Enslaved to Saved : The Metaphor of Christ as our Master

book review

This is an entirely new adventure for me - this writing a book review. I haven't written a book review since I was in school and have no desire to publish how long ago that was. I have read literally a ton of books since then but any reviews have been kept between me and myself. When Reid approached me to participate in the blog tour for his book I was immensely flattered and mildly overwhelmed as scholarly discussion of this type is not my usual day-to-day. I was also intrigued by the opportunity and although book reviews are outside the normal scope of this blog  I am very happy I accepted his invitation. 

This book is not long; it is meaty and not a fast read. I savoured my way through it, pausing to consider and evaluate my response to his thoughts at least once every page. He develops his theme thoroughly and well leaving one satisfied and well-converted to the humble nature of our relationship to Jesus Christ.

I have long been a fan of Neal A. Maxwell's writings and teachings - his turn of phrase and beautiful economy of language - and one thought that I have turned over in my mind often and often is that the only thing we have that is truly ours to offer on the altar is our will, all the rest is the Lord's already and anyway. There is a thoughtful exploration and development of this theme through the theme of slavery and freedom. 

As residents in a modern (western) world with all the emphasis we place on freedom, individuality, personal expression and rights the idea that we have only true freedom through being slaves (total indebtedness to one who has redeemed us from sin) is opposite the norm. Reid convinces his reader that although we can make a personal determination as to whether we will accept or pass on what is offered us by Christ the price has been paid and we are His. Our enslavement to him provides us the ultimate freedom that we enjoy as his heirs and without the bondage that inevitably accompanies sin. The book explores these concepts against a backdrop of the historical context of slavery and manumission; the analogy becomes sharply clear and very important. I would recommend Enslaved to Saved to any student of the New Testament, the life of Christ and the Gospel he proclaimed. It will be a treasured volume in my library - sure to be well-thumbed and dog-eared before long.

W. Reid Litchfield is an intelligent, articulate, accomplished and well-educated individual. A Harvard educated endocrinologist, the recipient of many Top Doctor awards, a wise father and tender husband, he is also my much-loved and admired brother-in-law. Writing a book review for anyone has potential for issues but when that someone is a someone you care about and desire to retain a healthy relationship with ... I am sure it is easy can see the potential for disaster there. Having no desire to perjure myself I am happy to report that I had no need to.

Friday, March 20, 2015

eat cake

raspberry-ricotta cake

And just like that, with no explanation and no apology I am here. I hesitate to say 'back' because I don't want to over-commit. Nevertheless my intention is to be back. I have (quite obviously) seriously considered not returning to this endeavour. There have been all manner of reasons not to but in the final analysis those reasons don't hold quite enough weight and the scale has tipped ever so slightly in the direction of picking up the threads. So here I am holding a few tattered threads that I will attempt to weave into something of a whole cloth again.

This cake, this cake is one of those cakes that does not demand attention. The quiet, elegant beauty standing somewhat aloof and shyly at the side of the room while the sticky, gooey, sparkly (totally unworthy and flashy) upstarts grab the focus. But if you give it even half a chance you will fall in love. Far more interesting in taste and texture than your average unassuming white cake - if you are like me you will be making this cake over and over again because you just can't get enough.

The ricotta adds a moist richness and depth of flavour without making the cake heavy. Fantastic warm with cream straight out of the oven I think it is even better on day two. I initially used some sweet, soft ripe pears as the fruit. Trial two was with apples. Three - frozen sweet cherries. And finally, for the fourth try I resorted to the original recipe as written in Bon Appetit and used frozen raspberries. Don't ask me which is liked best because I can't decide. Today my answer would likely be 'raspberry' because that is what is sitting on my counter right now but a week ago it would have been pears. And two days after that? Why cherries of course!

The changes I made to the recipe are very minor - a little more fruit, a different sugar, a touch more salt.

This cake reminds me a teeny tiny bit of a treat we used to buy from the convenience stores (I know - horrors!!) when we lived in Osaka ages ago. I can't remember what it was called but there is a map of Hokkaido on the wrapper. I loved it then and want to remember it as being wonderful - but I am afraid that if I were to try it now I might wrinkle my nose. For sure this cake is umpteen times better. Make yourself a batch of fresh ricotta - or go buy a tub - but make this cake. Tonight. And eat it all weekend long. You could share it with a friend. Or not :)

raspberry-ricotta cake
(from Bon Appetit - with the most minor of changes)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raw cane sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp grey sea salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups ricotta
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsalted butter - melted
1 1/4 cups frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray or butter a 9" round cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. In another smaller bowl combine the ricotta, eggs, and vanilla stirring gently until smooth; fold in dry ingredients just until blended. Fold in melted butter. And finally fold in 1 cup of frozen fruit - being respectful of the delicacy of the berries. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and scatter the remaining fruit over the top. No need to press it into the batter as the cake will rise around it while baking.

Bake until golden brown, firm to the touch and a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean - about 55 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes before turning out of the pan.

Friday, July 18, 2014

persian lentils and brown rice with mint

I have been having a bit of a fling with mint recently. I can't believe that I have overlooked what it brings to dishes beyond the obvious combination with chocolate. I have been meaning to share recipes for several salads for (obviously) weeks now. This salad is one that I made three times in 10 days and really didn't bother to take a good pic of any one of those times. I apologize. With all the beautiful food photography scattered all over every site it seems like a mark of disrespect to offer anything less but although I would eat this salad three times a week pretty much all summer, mine is not the only palate to please in our house. David loved it too but he loves variety even more, so I have reluctantly moved on - minus a decent photo - and agreed to rest this salad for at least a bit. Sad really because it is tasty, easy, and has the quiet virtue of being inexpensive. 

The combo of brown rice and lentils creates a complete protein. The addition of greens is obvious but the mint makes the salad much more interesting than one anticipates from the unassuming appearance. It changes character slightly when saved overnight but it is by no means a change for the worse. A big bowl of this nicely feeds a crowd at a BBQ or picnic or waits patiently in the fridge for a few days of lunches for an intimate twosome. 

I found the recipe in a publication that I used to read faithfully when I was young and newly wed but have ignored for years now for publications that are ... shinier. Shame on me for forgetting old friends - I have recently discovered that there is plenty on offer within. 

persian lentils & brown rice with mint
(adapted from Family Circle magazine)

1/2 cup brown jasmine rice (uncooked)
2/3 cup red lentils
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses*
3/4 tsp sea salt
3 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup fresh mint, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/4 cup crumbled feta

Cook rice as per package directions or (if you have one) use your trusty rice cooker on the brown rice setting. While the rice is cooking bring some water to a boil in a medium size pot. Add the lentils, return to a boil and cook for 6 minutes. (This is a good time to use a timer because you don't want mushy overcooked lentils here.) You are also going to want to watch it carefully because it will get foamy and boil over if you take your eye off it for long. When the timer goes off drain the lentils and rinse under cold water for a few minutes until they are cool. Add the cooled lentils and cooked rice to a large bowl.

Whisk the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, and salt together. Pour over lentils and rice, stirring gently to coat. Fold in the spinach, mint, cherries, pecans and feta.

*Pomegranate molasses is likely an ingredient that doesn't lurk in your pantry. It wasn't in mine but this recipe was one too many recipes that I had seen requiring it and pushed me over the edge to buying a bottle. It sounds incredibly exotic and hard to find but you may be lucky enough to find it (as I did) in the foreign foods aisle of a supermarket. If you have no desire to own a bottle you can substitute 2 tsp of honey mixed with 4 tsp of pomegranate juice for the 2 Tbsp of pomegranate molasses.