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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Asian slaw and soba noodle salad

My office is located in a desert. A lunch desert. We do have a few nearby options but upon closer inspection, I've realized that they're more akin to a mirage than the lunchtime oasis I long for. I have grown to hate soggy chicken avocado wraps and limp spinach salad with the white hot intensity of the scorching desert sun. This slaw and soba noodle salad is the latest result of my efforts to create healthy, delicious, home made meals that I can enjoy at work all week. The recipe makes a big batch so it would also be great for a pot luck.

Soba noodles are a variety of Japanese noodle that are made with buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is actually a seed, not a grain, and is more nutritionally dense than wheat or rice flour. It's high in protein and amino acids and is great for lowering cholesterol and boosting your metabolism. However, be sure to read the label when you're buying them as some brands actually have very little buckwheat in them and contain lots of wheat flour as a binder. I've seen some as low as 5% buckwheat. For those in Ontario, Loblaws sells a brand called Sobaya that is 30% buckwheat. I've also come across the Eden Organic brand which is 100% buckwheat.

Of course if you just want the slaw, you can omit the noodles altogether. You'll probably end up with more dressing than you need but you can store any extra in the fridge for later.

Other optional garnishes and additions: Sriracha hot sauce, sweet chili sauce, chopped almonds or peanuts, chopped cucumber, shelled edamame (lightly blanched), enoki mushrooms, thinly sliced mango, shredded or grilled chicken, sauteed shrimp.


1 tbsp almond butter (peanut butter is okay too as long as it's the kind without added sugar)
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp cider vinegar (if you don't have it just use more rice wine vinegar)
2 tsp honey
pinch of red chili flakes
juice of 1/2 lemon


1 340 gram package shredded cabbage
1/2 340 gram package shredded carrot
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups snow peas
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 package soba noodles

Combine all the dressing ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk together until everything is well combined.

Combine the bell peppers, cabbage, carrot, snow peas, cilantro, green onions, and sesame seeds in a large bowl. Drizzle most of the dressing over the slaw but reserve about 1/4 cup for the noodles.

Cook soba noodles in boiling salted water. I usually cook them a minute or two less than the package directions otherwise I find they turn to mush. Drain the cooked noodles and rinse for a minute or so under cold water. I can't stress the importance of this step enough. If you don't rinse the noodles you will end up with a hot, starchy mass and it won't be fun to eat. Transfer the noodles to a separate bowl, drizzle with a little of the dressing and toss to coat.

To serve, combine the noodles and a big spoonful of slaw in a shallow bowl. The proportions are really up to your taste but I like about a 1/3 cup of noodles and 3/4 cup of slaw. Also be sure to store any leftovers separately in the fridge as this will keep the noodles from getting too soft.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Fava bean and tomato pasta

Fava beans generally get a bad rap.  I think it might have something to do with Anthony Hopkins or the fact that you have to peel them twice or that they can cause potentially fatal hemolytic anemia in people with hereditary glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.  Whatever the reason, their poor reputation is ill deserved because their buttery texture, bright vegetal flavour and high protein content (26g/100g, more than steak or fish) really can't be beat.  Sure they take a lot of work and they might kill you ... or the people eating them might kill you ... but it's a small price to pay either way.

In addition to liver and a nice Chianti there are dozens of ways to enjoy the Fava bean, all of which are excellent.  I'm partial to this one because it's simple, fast, cheap and delicious.  It could be a base to a grilled pork chop or a stand alone meal as shown here.  You could replace the bacon with anchovies or capers if you were vegetarian or leave them out all together.
6 servings fresh or dried pasta
~15 pods fresh fava beans, shelled (50-100 beans)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 pound smokey bacon chopped
1/2 shallot, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 cup white wine
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tbsp olive oil
pasta of your choice (I used linguine)

Cook the bacon over low heat until crispy.  Remove to dry on paper towels.

Boil the beans in very salty water for ~5 minutes and then plunge them into ice water to that the skins loosen off the beans.  Peel the skin off the beans and set them aside in a bowl.

Saute the garlic and shallot in olive oil until soft and fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and cook until soft.  Add wine, reduce by half and set aside.

Cook the pasta in salted water until aldente and drain, reserving a cup of pasta water.  You can use dried pasta or our basic pasta dough if you've got the time and patience.

Toss the sauce, beans, bacon, Parmesan and pasta together in a serving bowl adding in the pasta water as necessary.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Curried Turkey Burgers

If you listen to the farmer's almanac and Izzy Sharp there are 4 seasons on our planet.  Their division of the year into quarters is founded in a certain celestial elegance with each season bookended by a solstice and equinox.  However, the starts and ends to the official seasons mean essentially nothing to me.  In fact, unless you're a Wiccan, chances are the last time an equinox meant anything to you was a 6th grade project on the motions of the planets.

When I look at the rhythms of my life I'm torn between seeing a year of many seasons or a year of very few.  The jackets in my closet indicate there are no fewer than 10 seasonal milestones: ski, pea, trench, leather, sports, life, sports, leather, trench, pea, ski (note the skis overlap).  My behaviour outside of work suggests there are only two seasons: ski season and patio season.

However you choose to carve up the calendar, it appears that patio/life jacket season has come early this year and that means it's burger time (I'm told you can cook burgers in ski season but I have yet to try).  These burgers are one of my favourite summer dishes.  They are quick to make, loaded with flavour, reasonably healthy and are just different enough that they can pass as fancier than a normal hamburger.  I top them with chutney, avocado, goat cheese, caramelized onions and arugula instead of "traditional" burger toppings.

There is a lot of debate flying around about what makes a perfect burger and it's only a matter of time before the Panko breadcrumb faction goes to war with the ground chuck purists.  When it comes to beef I'm not sure which, if either, of them is right but when making these burgers I strongly recommend adding the cheese and the egg.  The turkey is so lean that the extra fat (from the cheese) and protein (from the egg) are needed to keep them from getting too tough and crumbly.

Makes 6 dinner sized burgers:
2 lbs ground turkey
1 tbsp Patak's curry paste
1 tbsp goat cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp chopped onions

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl and form into patties.  Don't make them too large as they won't shrink much on the grill due to their low fat content.  Place on a hot grill or pan until juice starts to bleed through the top of the burger (~5 minutes).  Flip and cook for the same amount of time on the other side.

Serve with chutney, goat cheese, caramelized onions and avocado.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Fried Polenta...for Breakfast or Dinner!

I admit I have been a little busy lately, and by "a little busy" I mean I have been spinning as fast as a whirling dervish; travelling throughout Western Canada (as my new job takes me from Manitoba to Vancouver Island). I have eaten 90 of my last 100 meals on the road.  So, that said, cooking complex, elaborate meals, or even any meals at all has not been made easy over the last month.  Also, with much travelling comes a fridge that is unstocked or chock full of half expired dairy products.  However, what usually awaits me upon my return are a carton of eggs and a full pantry.  This recipe allows me to skillfully use these items to my advantage to make a relatively balanced, home cooked meal, which is just what I am craving after all that restaurant food.  The great thing is that whether I take the early AM flight or the last 727 home, this is something that can be enjoyed for breakfast or dinner!

3 cups stock, chicken or vegetable
1 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Boursin cheese, cream cheese or light cream (whichever option is furthest from expiry!)
salt and pepper

Grease a 8"x8" baking pan and set aside.

In a medium pot heat broth, water and garlic until boiling.  Turn heat to medium and slowly whisk in cornmeal, ensuring there are no lumps.  Once cornmeal has been whisked in, turn heat to low and, with a wooden spoon, stir constantly for about 10 minutes until thick and creamy.  Remove from heat and stir in the Boursin, salt and pepper. 

Pour the soft polenta into the baking pan and spread to form an even layer.  Cover with plastic wrap and cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the fridge and cut out slices of polenta.  Cover and return any unused polenta to the fridge, this will keep for 3-4 days and can be fried up as required.

Heat a non-stick frying pan on medium heat and coat with a drizzle of olive oil.  Place polenta slices into pan and fry on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown.

Serve with a sunny side up egg ... yum!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Leftover Chicken Wontons

According to science, eight substances (O, Mg, Si, Fe, Al, Ca, Ni, H) account for approximately 99% of the material on earth.  The remaining 1% is composed mostly of leftover chicken and a grab basket of trace elements like Cobalt and Scandium.  While the big eight substances all have obvious uses (O = scuba diving, Mg = old timey camera flashes, H = lighter than air transport disasters), leftover chicken has long perplexed science and industry alike in their inability to put this abundant substance to adequate use in service of mankind.  It was to this ambitious end that we set out last night in our latest creation: Chicken and bok choy wontons.

Makes ~ 30 wontons
1 package wonton wrappers
2 cups leftover chicken shredded
2 cups baby bok choy, diced
1/2 onion, diced
4 scalions, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 tsp 5 spice blend
1 cap full of Miren
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup sunflower or canola oil if pan frying, 2 cups if deep frying

Saute the onions and bok choy in a bit of sesame oil until wilted.  transfer to a mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Portion out ~1/2 a tablespoon of filling onto the middle of a wrapper, wet the edges and pinch together to seal.  If you make too many to eat at once, refrigerate or freeze the extras.

Heat the oil over medium high heat and drop in the wantons a few at a time.  Flip them with a fork and remove to dry on paper towels when golden and crispy on all sides. 

KITCHEN TIP: If you have an induction cook top, you can lay out paper towels between the element and the pan to avoid cleaning up the inevitable oil splatter.  WARNING: If you have a gas or regular electric cook top, this is a great way to meet the folks at your local fire department.

You can serve them with dipping sauce as appetizers or an excellent side dish for a stir fry.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Brussels Sprouts Salad in Prosciutto Cups

I have a dear friend, who shall remain nameless but who no doubt knows who he is, who despises most vegetables including brussels sprouts. This isn't surprising, given their status as one of the world's most hated foods, and yet I find it mildly appalling. As his friend I am of course concerned about his health and would hate for him to suffer the consequences of some kind of vitamin or nutritional deficiency (scurvy? night blindness!?). Worse yet, I'd hate for him to meet the woman of his dreams, fall in love, and then discover that "eats vegetables" is one of her relationship deal breakers. My concern for my friend (and not my maniacal need to prove that kale is delicious...) has prompted me to launch a campaign whereby I encourage him to try new recipes and ways of preparing the vegetables he swears he despises. For every new recipe he tries, I will treat him to a delicious bag of buttery popcorn (because let's face it, bribery works). Photographic evidence of vegetable consumption is required. Also, for every vegetable I convince him to love, I will reward myself with a scoop of impossibly creamy gelato from G is for Gelato (because let's face it, self congratulation works?). I know, I know, the vegetables are delicious and should be reward enough. You obviously haven't tried this gelato.

This is my go-to conversion recipe for brussels sprouts haters.  Here's what will happen: first, you'll be drawn in by the promise of a crispy, salty, prosciutto cup. Then you'll taste the dressing and your mind will be tricked into thinking you're enjoying a caesar salad. Finally, you'll enjoy the crunch of the salad and complete lack of the brussels sprouts bitterness you've expected. And then I will have won...

It's best if you let it sit for a little while before serving to let the flavours combine and it's even better the next day. Feel free to omit the prosciutto if you're a vegetarian or you could try serving it in baked parmesan cheese cups instead.

Makes 4-6 servings

2 lbs brussels sprouts
12 slices Prosciutto
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 ounce blue cheese (about the size of your thumb)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
small pinch of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red or white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 400F.  I use a mini muffin tin to make prosciutto cups but you could also make regular size versions. Slice each piece of prosciutto in half and arrange in each cup, making sure to cover the bottom. Bake for about 5-7 minutes until crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a the bottom of a shallow bowl, combine the garlic, blue cheese, mustard and a small pinch of salt and pepper. Using a fork, mash the ingredients together until they make a paste. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and whisk together. Slowly add the olive oil while whisking until the dressing is combined and emulsified. Taste and adjust the seasonings as required (I like it quite tart with lots of bite).

Wash the brussels sprouts and remove any leaves that are damaged. Using a knife, trim the stem ends off of each sprout. You want to remove all of the stem because this portion is very tough and doesn't make for a delicious salad. Thinly slice the sprouts using a food processor with a slicing blade. If you don't have you one you could also try a mandoline or finely slicing the sprouts with a sharp knife (just watch your fingers!). The result should look sort of like coleslaw.

Combine the dressing and sprouts in a bowl and let sit for a few minutes. When you're ready to serve, spoon a little of the salad mixture into each of the prosciutto cups and arrange 2 or 3 together on a plate.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Grilled venison with blueberry glaze, candy beets and sauteed ramps

Last Saturday was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's sinking, the 147th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination and the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 13 disaster.  All the signs point to April 14th being an ill fated day, however, the news wasn't all bad because it was also the 29th anniversary of something much more monumental; the birth of T-Moo!  

We wanted to make a special dinner but couldn't decide what to cook and resorted to wandering wandering around the St. Lawrence market looking for inspiration.  The market is usually a rich source of inspiration (I like to eavesdrop on my fellow shoppers and then steal their ideas) but Saturday the well was running dry.  We were on the verge of giving up and eating Tim Horton's doughnuts for dinner when T-Moo stumbled across a big bushel of wild leeks (aka ramps) and we had a starting point.  They're local and wild so we decided to cook a meal of quintessentially Canadian ingredients to celebrate.  After some quick market foraging we settled on venison with a wild berry sauce on top of wild rice salad with sauteed ramps and roast candy beets.  Short of a 2-4 of Labatt and a bowl of poutine, there may be no more Canadian meal.

2 venison chops (you may only need one for two people if the deer was big)
4-6 small candy or rainbow beets
1 bunch ramps, cleaned
2 cups light to medium stock (duck and chicken work well)
1/2 pint blueberries
1/4 pint blackberries
3 dried balck mission figs, chopped
2 shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Wild rice salad ingredients

The beets and wild rice salad take by far the longest to cook so start with them (either or both can be made the day before).  For the beets, chop off the greens (you can reserve them for a salad), wrap in foil and roast in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes until fork tender.  Remove from oven and let cool, loosely covered.  When cool, the skin of the beets should simply slough off in your fingers.  See here for wild rice salad instructions.

In a large sauce pan, saute the shallots and garlic in 1/2 tbsp of butter until soft and fragrant.  Add the figs and berries and continue to cook until they start to burst.  Add the stock and simmer, covered for 20-30 minutes to allow the berries to stew and flavours to meld.  Strain the sauce, add honey and balsamic and reduce until sauce thickens.

There isn't much you can do to improve on venison so I don't try.  Rub each side with salt and pepper, grill in a hot pan for 2-4 minutes a side until the internal temperature reads 135F then remove and cover with foil to rest for 5 minutes.  If your steaks are particularly dense or thick, you can finish them in a 400F oven for 5-10 minutes until they reach temperature. If you're a hunter or have friends who are and can get wild venison then it will be gamier and denser than the farmed version but either way, it's delicious very high in protein and extremely lean.  Because of the variability in density it's hard to test venison for doneness by touch so I would recommend using a meat thermometer. 

The ramps take no time at all to cook. Saute them in a tablespoon of butter until soft, sprinkle with salt and serve along side the venison.