Friday, December 16, 2011

A Little Break

It's that time of year. My students' grades are almost all submitted, and the restaurant where I work is closing for two weeks. I get a break, and that means I get to pack a bag (and Pinot) and go to my sister's for ten days. In anticipation of this departure, I have been solemnly consuming ONLY the contents of my fridge and pantry, and trying very hard not to open anything that I can't finish in a few days. This morning I had the last of my yogurt with pomegranate seeds (from this week's salad), juiced the last grapefruit, and spread some butter on my last pieces of toast. I was dying to bake something because I had the whole morning to myself, but I held back like a reasonable person should. Instead I went for a walk, and to run some errands. On my way to the bank I remembered being told yesterday that the lovely people at The Planet Bakery will be baking banana bread muffins today, so I went. First I ate one muffin. Then I purchased two more. They were that good. The amazing Dahn of Planet Bakery just shared the recipe for what I honestly think are the best muffins, ever. I'm sharing the recipe with you now, because I think it's so funny that even on the day I decided not to cook/bake anything, I end up with a recipe. Try these, I know I will!

"Hey, Mina! Thanks for all the muffin love. Here's the recipe. I want to start sharing and typing up all these well-loved recipes kicking around (my head and my apt)"

Banana Bread Muffins Makes 4 large bakery style muffins

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 flax 'egg'
1/3 cup Earth Balance/Margarine
1.5 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp bkg. Powder
1 tsp bkg. Soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs flour
2 tbs rye flakes
1 tbs Earth Balance/Margarine
1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup brown sugar

Beat wet ingredients together. Sift dry ingredients together. Whip sugar topping ingredients together. Combine as gently as possible, wet to dry, and spoon batter into greased tins. Top the muffins. Bake at 350*F for 30 mins, checking the inside with a toothpick.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Taking Care and Smiling Lots

Meet Pinot: possibly the sweetest and most loving kitten in the northern hemisphere. I'm not gonna tell you about all the sweet things he does and how cuddly he is and all the adorable places he finds for napping. Instead I'm gonna tell you about how interesting it's been caring for a living thing that is vulnerable and depends on me. Come to think of it, in the past few months I've done a lot of caring. At work too, I've been involved in quite a few of my students' personal issues this year. It wasn't something I had anticipated, but what do you do when someone shows up with bloodshot eyes and a lump in their throat trying to keep it together? I found myself in that situation quite a few times this year. Over cups of tea and hours on the swivel chairs in my office I've heard about parents' divorces, sibling drama, loss, anxiety, confusion, and many a break-up... Now that the term draws to a close, I grade their final papers and smile at all the little personal notes and e-mails they have sent me expressing their appreciation. I'm home a lot these days, grading papers and calculating marks... so I've been cooking a lot too. Here is what I ate today. The salad was for lunch and Pinot loved running after every stray pomegranate seed that escaped me... And the gnocchi was for dinner. I haven't even done the dishes yet.

Christmas Salad

Gala Apple
Pomegranate seeds
1 tpsp Olive oil
1 tbsp Balsamic /red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt+pepper to taste

I used my mandolin to get a quick and fine julienne of the cucumber and apple, and the arugula and pomegranate are pretty self explanatory. I have a whole entire post on how to deal with a pomegranate if you feel you need help with that.

I like making the dressing in a big bowl and tossing the ingredients in it. I find it all comes together better this way.

Potato Gnocchi

2 lb Russet or Idaho Potatoes
1 1/2 cups All purpose flour (plus a pinch of fresh ground nutmeg)
1 Large egg beaten
1/2 tbsp Salt

Flour for dusting and rolling.

Wash the potatoes and place in a large pot with the skins on and fill with water. Boil until tender but firm. 10-15 minutes should do the trick. Peel when still hot but cool enough to handle. You can use a paper towel if you still have any sensation in your hands, unlike me.

Put potatoes through a potato ricer onto a cutting board and shape into a well. Sprinkle the area with flour and put the egg yolk in the center of the well and begin your mixing and kneading, incorporating all the flour and adding a bit more if needed (if you've never done this before, use a large bowl to avoid messing it all up).

Knead the dough for a few minutes until it comes together and doesn't stick, but not too much because you don't want to lose the softness of your dough. Let it sit for 30min-1 hour. This would be a good time to pour yourself a glass of wine and make a tomato sauce or a pesto...

Divide the dough, shape long strings that you can cut into 1inch nuggets and shape using a gnicchi board or fork. I recommend you look up a video to learn how to shape gnocchi. Try to find one starring an Italian grandmother... they're the best.

To cook, just bring a pot of salted water to a boil and toss in a handful of Gnocchi. When they float to the surface they are done. I like a simple lemon and butter sauce with whatever fresh herb I have lying around. To make it I melt a spoonful of butter with some lemon juice, zest, and a bit of thyme in a frying pan, and add my cooked gnocchi with a tbsp of the cooking water and toss until it looks saucy and right. Fresh cracked pepper, grated parmigiano, and you're good to go.

You could also eat these with any other sauce you like. And you can freeze the uncooked gnocchi if you've got any left.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

of other comforts...

The heart is an inconsistent organ. Not the anatomical heart (though, even that is prone to palpitations) but rather that proverbial organ we associate with all that the mind refuses to take responsibility for. The same trivial thing that excites and fascinates it one day, will deplete and bruise it the next day. It craves, indulges, ignores, forgives... all in the blink of an eye. Mine was in pretty rough shape a few weeks ago, and since heartache isn't something you can call in sick for, I took my troubled little heart with me to work. Eight hours, many diners, and a few heart-felt conversations later, I was so surprised to be walking home with my heart set on recovery. I knew I was feeling better because the thought at the tip of my mind was how I would go home and try making this soup. The girls I worked with that day, with their timely humor, unassuming wisdom, and genuine conversation, had managed not only to make me feel better about my uncertainties, but given me something to excitedly put an apron on for... Incidentally the two ideas they planted in my head practically spell comfort: baked potato soup and banana marshmallows. At some point that night after a bowl of hearty soup and a cup of hot chocolate (marshmallows as my excuse) I sat on my bed with a book and smiled... and to smile when no one's looking? Well that's really something...

Baked Potato (and leek) Soup

2-3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
4 leeks, washed and sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme; optional
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
3 cups water
3 cups stock
1 1/4-pounds (600 g) potatoes, baked, pealed and cubed (in that order)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground white pepper
sour cream, bacon bits, and chives for topping

In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter or heat the olive oil.

Toss in the sliced leeks and season well. Cook the leeks over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring until they’re soft and wilted.

Add the thyme, if using, and chile powder, and stir for another minute, cooking them with the leeks to release their aroma.

Add stock, potatoes and bay leaf. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, then fish out the bay leaves and puree the soup in a blender adding warm water if too thick.

Top with a dollop of good sour creme, a hand-full of chopped chives, and some bacon bits.

Homemade Banana Marshmallows

2 tbsp gelatin
3/4 c water
1 c sugar
3/4 c corn syrup
1/2 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tbsp banana flavor/extract/essence
1 pinch salt

Line a shallow baking dish with parchment paper or foil and dust the paper with powdered sugar.

In a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin powder over 1/4 cup of the water. Add the sugar to the remaining water in a pot and heat until warm but not hot. Add the gelatin mixture to the warm syrup and stir until fully melted.

Pour this mixture into a large bowl. Add the corn syrup, vanilla, and banana extracts, and begin beating with an egg beater at high speed. Don't be alarmed by the brown colour... if you beat it for long enough it will be good and the colour will disappear.

Continue beating until the mixture cools, increases in volume, and forms soft peaks. Working quickly before the mixture fully sets in the bowl, transfer to the pan that you have prepared. Smooth the top with a wet spatula and let stand for three hours.

Turn out, cut and coat with powdered sugar.

...and as for hearts, well,
hearts will never be practical
until they can be made unbreakable...

Monday, August 29, 2011

I Didn't Mean to...

Do you know my band mate Michael? I tease him all the time for being a vegan. Yesterday when we were having coffee arguing about band names he decided to order breakfast and as I watched him eat his toast and beans I got a massive meat chili and corn bread craving. I started listing the ingredients in my head: Beef, beans, peppers, onion, garlic, tomatoes, carrot, chilies, spices... I had everything at home. I thought I'll go home, put in a load of laundry, run out and pick up some meat, and make chilli. Long story short, I did a massive grocery shop, and forgot to buy meat. So what started out as a reactionary meat craving ended up being totally vegan in spite of my intentions... It was still delicious. The corn bread is a must. It's dead easy and seals the whole chilli deal like no other bread.

Accidentally Vegetarian (vegan in fact) Chili

2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
1 Large Spanish Onion
1 Red Bell Pepper (use 2 if they're small)
2 Small Carrots
1 Red/green chili deseeded and finely chopped
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Can Chopped Tomatoes
2 Cans Beans (I used black beans and kidney beans because that's what I had in my pantry)
ground chipotle peppers
dry ground chili (ancho if you can get some)
ground coffee

Peal and dice the sweet potatoes, toss them in olive oil, salt, cumin, cinnamon, and paprika. Roast on a tray in a 375degree oven until soft and golden.

In the mean time, put a large pan on a medium-high heat and add a couple of lugs of olive oil. Add the onion, peppers, carrot, and garlic and cook for 5 minutes shaking things around every minute or so. Season with dry spices to taste, add the fresh chili and cook for another 10 or so minutes until everything is tender and well seasoned

Drain and rinse the beans, then tip them into the pan with the tinned tomatoes and juice. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium-low heat and leave to thicken for 25 to 30 minutes and add a splash of water if it's getting too thick.

Stir the sweet potatoes in and serve with sour cream and a few pieces of corn bread. I like to butter and grill my cornbread because I have a stove top griddle that's perfect for it. You could serve yours however you like it.

Light Corn Bread (not the buttery southern type, but a more bready kind that I like for grilling and with chili)

1C Flour
1C Cornmeal
4tbsp Sugar
1tbsp Baking Soda
1tsp Salt
2 Eggs
1C Plain Yogurt/low fat sour cream
1tbsp Olive Oil
One Chopped Deseeded Chilli (optional)

Preheat oven to 200/400 and grease a cast iron pan.
Mix all dry ingredients. Beat egg with yogurt and olive oil. Add to dry ingredients and mix until homogenous. Add chillies if using. Pour into pan and bake25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mea [maxima] Culpa

Do you ever do this? Do you ever wake up on the second day of a cold and feel a little better and pretend like nothing ever happened? I do it all the time. As soon as I'm a little better not only do I resume with all things active, but I'm even prone to pushing myself to make up for lost time. Last night I made an impromptu decision to go to my office and catch up on some work. My office, which in spite of the heat wave outside, is set to some unnecessarily arctic temperature that I can't control. So I sat there until 2am and edited poems and thought I was catching up. Well, let me tell you, when I woke up with a fever this morning that sense of achievement was not there... So I have managed to make myself sicker than I was to start with. Good job, right? I know.

I'm gonna call this recipe the Campbell Tomato Soup, not because it has anything to do with the soup manufacturer, but because I'm hopelessly addicted to punning, and the recipe was given me yesterday by my friend Lee Dylan Campbell. Since my soup-making style is usually inspired by the contents of my fridge and random, I decided to really stick to the recipe this time, for kicks. So here it goes...

The Lee Dylan] Campbell Tomato Soup
(recipe copied and pasted from facebook inbox message because I'm sick and I'm allowed to take shortcuts like that)

Chop and Sauté several fresh ripe tomatoes, a bunch of green onions, a yellow pepper, some tender celery and garlic. Black pepper, cumin. Add a generous handful of cilantro and the juice of one lime. When everything is pretty well cooked, add a big can of Heinz tomato juice (reduced salt kind) and either heat or chill – this works both ways. Add more cilantro if that’s your style, salt to taste, and a spoonful or two of maple syrup to balance the tanginess. A little hot sauce wouldn’t hurt either. Serve over a few corn chips.

Mina's sick note: thank you Lee for the soup recipe, Sarah, for offering to take me to the ER if my fever persists, Dale, for making me laugh, and Yalda, for reading me my horoscope. Now I'm going to eat some more soup and watch Christmas movies.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I’m sick. I’m sick, and two very strange things happened to me today. After having consumed only soup for something ridiculous like 4 consecutive meals, I thought, I’ll bake a savoury tart. Wait. Those weren’t the strange things. I thought I’d bake a tart because I had some lovely eggs, and some mean blue cheese. So forward I marched, to start on some pastry, chill it, then begin thinking up ideas for filling, and what did I find? You might want to sit down for this. I was out of all-purpose flour! And butter! I know! Impossible right? Today was the end of the world. I am writing to you now from the afterlife. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking clearly I went to hell if it’s 40 degrees out and I had to make a crust out of twelve-grain flour and olive oil… but it wasn’t bad at all! I swear. I know I’m sick and my taste buds (or judgement) can’t be trusted but I’m telling you it was kinda… good. Do you think it’s the 40degree heat and flu medication? Who knows...

Emergency Tarte Aux Oignons

1C 9-grain flour
Just under 1/4c good Olive oil
¼ C ice water
½ tsp salt
1tsp dry rosemary

1 Large Spanish/Red Onion
2 Large Portobello Mushrooms
3 good eggs
½ C Milk (if you use skim we can’t be friends)
½ C Yogurt
1C Ricotta
¼ C Crumbled Blue Cheese (or more if you like more)
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a mixing bowl mix together the crust ingredients to make a pliable dough. Wrap in plastic and chill for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cut Mushrooms in strips and Sauté with olive oil, salt and pepper. Caramelize the onion to your liking. Drain any liquid from the sautéed mushrooms and mix with the onion. Set aside.

With an electric beater (or whisk) beat the eggs until they increase a little in volume. Add milk, yogurt, and ricotta beating on medium speed. Taste and season. Remember no one likes an under-seasoned savory tart.

Take out the dough and roll it out to fit your baking vessel. If it’s cracking leave it out to warm up a bit. That should help. There’s no butter in there anyway so no point in keeping it so cold. Once your baking tin is lined with your dough, arrange the onion/mushroom mixture in there evenly, then scatter some crumbled blue cheese all over. Finally, pour the egg mixture over everything and give yourself a round of applause.

Pop your tart in the oven and bake 45-55minutes. When the tart is ready, it shouldn’t jiggle in the middle. You’ll know. How is it? Am I losing my mind or is the cracker-like crust kinda cool?