Category Archives: Vegetables

Crunchy Green Beans2

625 sqIf the view outside your window is anything like mine, you may be wondering if winter will ever end.icicles 2Hey, don’t get me wrong. I love fall root vegetables as much as or even more than the average joe out there. I mean, they really are the unsung superstars of winter produce. There is no end to the culinary magic that you can perform with carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes. But seriously, I am sick of roasting, mashing, sauteeing and frying those suckers.

I am longing for something fresh and green and crunchy. I am craving baby green peas. Those tiny swollen little pods that, when shucked, give birth to tiny green peas. I miss that satisfying little pop when you bite into them. I am longing for local asparagus. Those grassy sweet spears that tell me spring is here. Sadly, those first green shoots of asparagus have yet to spring forth from the frozen ground and there are no fresh peas ready to pop anywhere near where I am any time soon .

So, it’s green beans to the rescue. Although they are not local , they will stand in as a green crunchy substitute until I can get my hands on the first produce of spring.Green beans in colanderThis green bean recipe is called Crunchy Green Beans2, because the beans get added crunch from two different sources. The first is from toasted hazelnuts. I just love that slightly bitter tanic zing you get when you first crunch a toasted hazelnut between your teeth. Then there is a follow up flavour of slightly browned butter. So complex for such a little nut.

The second crunch source is Panko breadcrumbs. Panko breadcrumbs, if you are not familiar with them are special Japanese breadcrumbs. The biggest difference between panko and regular breadcrumbs is that panko is made from bread without crusts. The crustless bread is coarsely ground into airy, large flakes that give fried foods a light, crunchy coating. The flakes tend to stay crispier longer than standard breadcrumbs because they don’t absorb as much grease.toasting panko and hazelnutsPlease, take the time to salt the water before boiling your green beans. I added about 2 tablepoons of kosher salt to the water. This does not make the beans overly salty, it just seasons them perfectly so they do not taste bland. You can not get the same effect from salting after cooking. Please salt the waterboiling beansAfter boiling for several minutes, give your beans an ice water bath. I just place the colander of drained beans right into a large bowl of ice water. Once they have cooled, just lift the colander up and leave all the ice cubes behind in the bowl.  No need to fish ice cubes out of your green beans.chill in ice bathSome butter or olive oil, or a little of both is added to the toasted crumbs and nuts and the blanched beans get a toss in all that crunchy goodness until they are heated through. tossingHot or at room temperature, these are a little bit salty, a lot crunchy and so satisfying.ready 1

Click here to print recipe for Crunchy Green Beans2

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Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Carrots

ready to eat 2 625 sqYou know it’s January because every food blogger worth her salt is writing about the joys of vegetables . Those sweet food porn days of December are long gone, buried under the 5 pounds of butter and sugar, tucked oh so discretely under a layer of skin, in my case, just below where my waist used to be.

Although we squeal with delight and burble over with joy at summer produce (remember wild blueberries?), winter in the produce aisle can produce some gush worthy moments as well. It just requires a bit more work.

Carrots are often bypassed as too pedestrian, but in deft hands, carrots can be magical. These carrots were way too pretty to leave behind at the supermarket.carrots in a circle 2I have a secret ingredient that turns ordinary roasted carrots into something quite special. It’s pomegranate molasses. Not actually molasses at all, but just pure pomegranate juice, and a bit of sugar boiled down and reduced to a thick, syrupy reduction. Dip your finger into this thick, garnet coloured syrup and you will be instantly transported back to your childhood! sweet tarts fIf you are of a certain age you will remember with fondness that powerful puckering of your lips from these candies. Pomegranate molasses has that tart/sweet quality, but in a grown up way. It adds an intense earthy depth of flavour to so many things. I have been using it in a chicken sauce for years now, and everyone who eats it always asks, “what is in this sauce?” It can be found in many supermarkets now, as well as in Middle Eastern specialty shops. If you can’t find it, here is a recipe from Alton Brown to make your own pomegranate molasses.

 

The idea of roasting carrots with pomegranate molasses came from Melissa Clark’s book “In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite.” The first time I made them, I found the flavour to be delicious but the carrots were a bit shrivelled in appearance and leathery in texture. As I thought about how to avoid this issue, I remembered that I boil potatoes for a few minutes before roasting to get a crispy not leathery skin. I wondered if the same treatment with carrots would work? I peeled them and cut them on the diagonal, to increase the surface area that would come into contact with the roasting pan. peeling carrots They got a quick 2 minute dip in boiling salted water. Then I drained them on paper towels for a few minutes before roasting.boiling carrotsdraining carrotsI tossed them with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne and roasted them in a hot (425°F) oven for about 45 minutes. I added the pomegranate molasses and some honey during the last 5 minutes of roasting as I did not want them to burn.ready for oven

pouring glaze on carrotsThe finished carrots were crispy without being leathery. The pinch of cayenne added a nice kick and the pomegranate molasses added an amazing sweet tart punch. I gilded the lily and sprinkled on some pomegranate seeds. They glistened like little jewels.

Click here to print recipe for Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Carrots.

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Crusted Acorn Squash

baked 3I don’t like Halloween. There, I said it. Please don’t hurl a pumpkin at me. I know it’s an unpopular sentiment but I have to lay it all out there. What’s not to like, you may ask? Adorable children dressed in costumes, tons of candy and a great party atmosphere. How could anyone hate that? I think most of my enmity stems from the pumpkin.

Pumpkin guts kind of unnerve me. Cut the top off the pumpkin and I become perturbed. I do not want to handle those slimy seeds. Sure, you can carve an adorable face, but the next day, after all the fun and games, someone has to deal with the  leftover carcass. It has to be cut up and composted or put in the garbage. November 1 is just so depressing!

Add to that the fact that, by the time the big day arrives, I have eaten roughly half my body weight in miniature Kit Kat and Coffee Crisp chocolate bars. I thought I had come up with a clever way of handling the calorie loading by trying to outsmart myself, and only buy chocolate bars I didn’t like. (There are very few of those!) I started buying Mr. Big bars.Cadbury_Mr_Big_Label94_enlThat led to a whole other problem. Once word got out that we were giving out full size candy bars, vans started pulling up to the house, unleashing hordes of kids from other neighbourhoods. Now, not only did I have to smile and pretend to be happy to see my neighbours and their kids, I had to spend the evening interacting with random strangers! Plus, I discovered that, say… I do like Mr. Big bars after all.

Luckily for me, and all our neighbours, my husband loves Halloween. He buys and carves the pumpkin and answers the door and makes small talk with everyone. God bless him!

So, when I came across a recipe for Crusted Pumpkin Wedges in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous book, Plenty, I immediately crossed out the pumpkin and proceeded to make it with acorn squash! There was also an adorable butternut squash at the market that day, and I bought it as well. It looked like it wanted to hug the acorn squash. I have nothing but love for squash!butternut hugs acorn 2I left the acorn squash unpeeled and sliced it. They looked like flowers.sliced squash The topping is made from dried breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, garlic, parsley and thyme. I had no Panko breadcrumbs so I made breadcrumbs from some rye bread that I had in the freezer.

rye bread crumbsgrating cheese

chopping parsleybrushing with oilThe topping gets applied quite thickly to the squash, and then it is pressed on to help it adhere.ready for oven The baked squash was so delicious. The sweetness of the tender squash was perfectly balanced by the salty crunchy topping. I would probably even love this with pumpkin! baked 2

Click here to print recipe for Crusted Acorn Squash.

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Eggplant Carpaccio from the Land of Milk and Honey

eggplant carpaccio 625 sqI am writing this blog post the day after my return from an incredible and somewhat surprising visit to Israel. I want to get it all down while the memories are still fresh in my jet-lagged addled brain. This was my ninth visit to the country, and each time I go I discover and observe something new. Six of those visits have been to celebrate the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of my daughter and nieces and nephews on my husband’s side of the family. While we all live in North America, over the past 10 years we have made the journey to Israel to celebrate these milestones in our children’s lives.

On my first visit to Israel I was a fresh-faced 24 year old. I thought the country was quite beautiful, but to be honest, I was put off by the people. They seemed so abrupt and quite frankly, rude. Everyone pushed and shoved to get onto the busses. Hadn’t they learned how to say Slicha.
It wasn’t until, almost 20 years later when I returned for my second visit, that I truly came to love and understand the people of this tiny but mighty nation. This time I visited with with my husband. His oldest brother served as a paratrooper in the Israeli Army and had made several lifelong friends. These friends basically adopted my husband’s entire extended family. Native born Israelis are called Sabras, named after this relative of the prickly pear cactus. Like the fruit they seem tough, but are really very sweet on the inside once you get to know them. 

While all our trips have been quite magical, this journey was extra special as it was the last B’nai Mitzvah we will celebrate for this generation on my husband’s side of the family. There is a lot of good-natured ribbing between my husband and his 5 siblings, regarding who among them has the most controlling personality. Most would agree that my husband’s sister, Auntie M, gets the award for bossiest sibling. With five brothers, she has had to take charge to get her way. Ask any of her four children and they will surely agree! In this instance, Auntie M’s quest for control and fine attention to detail was whole-heartedly welcomed. She, along with Tova Wald, planned an extraordinary adventure for our huge contingent of family and friends.

While in Jerusalem we had the opportunity to participate in a culinary workshop with Chef Ezra Kedem, of Arcadia Restaurant. He is considered to be at the forefront of New Israeli cuisine. His stellar restaurant showcases his unique culinary style.

Ezra was destined to become a chef. His childhood was spent at the knee of his mother and grandmother, visiting the food markets of Machne Yehuda, Bethlehem, Ramalla and Jerusalem’s old city markets. Ezra soaked up the traditions and cultures of both the Jerusalemite and Iraqi-Jewish kitchens of his childhood.

After his military service, he studied in New York at the French Culinary Institute, apprenticing for Chef Jacques Pepin for 18 months, and then went on to intern at Alison on Dominik for Sicilian born Chef Tom Valenti.

Several months ago, Chef Ezra opened a private studio kitchen in the charming Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ein Kerem. With a breathtaking view of the Judean hills, he has created a small kitchen workshop, organic garden and stunning glass dining room. He holds private events and cooking classes here, featuring seasonal produce.view 2

glass dining roomWe were blown away with the complex flavours he was able to create with such simple fresh ingredients. He taught us many new techniques. His generous and compassionate nature and made us feel instantly at ease. Making guests feel at home is what he excels at. There were 7 of us at the workshop, 3 mother and daughter teams and our intrepid leader Tova. Ever the consummate host, large glasses of Israeli Chardonnay appeared. When most of us murmured that it was only 10 a.m., steaming mugs of cappuccino were quickly summoned forth.

Chef Ezra is not only charming and a wonderful teacher, he also happens to be a very compassionate man. We discovered that, in his spare time, he conducts Food Therapy Workshops for physically and developmentally challenged individuals.

We began with Eggplant Carpaccio. Chef Ezra explained that while most people associate carpaccio with beef, it can really refer to any food that is sliced or pounded thinly . In this rendition, eggplants are stabbed with a fork and then set over the gas flame to char for a good 20-30 minutes. Then they are peeled and sliced, leaving the seeds in the center to be discarded. eggplant carpaccio mise en place

poking eggplant with forkroasting eggplant 1charred eggplantspeeling charred eggplant 2The soft flesh is gently flattened with a fork and the resulting Carpaccio is dressed with raw tahini, yogurt, tomato, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley and chopped walnuts.making carpaccio 2making carpaccio 3making carpaccio 4making carpaccio 5

eggplant carpaccio 625 2 sqIt is not an exaggeration to say that the plates were literally licked clean.clean plate
We all got a chance to practice our knife skills.
practicing knife skills 3practicing knife skills 2practicing knife skills 1pickled onions 1Goat Cheese Ravioli were made crispy by frying them in sage butter. Topped with a simple tomato concasse and more goat cheese left the group silent and mopping up every last drop with bread!goat cheese ravioli
mopping upA demonstration of how to take the harsh bite out of red onions was so simple we could not believe that massaging the onions with cider vinegar for just 3 minutes could make such a difference. He finished them off with some olive oil, dried mint and a pinch of salt. These would be great on a burger, a sandwich or even mixed into a salad with chickpeas, grilled corn and little cherry tomatoes.
onions 1onions 2onions 3onions 4We also make a risotto with spelt, freekeh and bulgar. Freekeh is destined to overtake quinoa in popularity. You heard it first here folks!!Grain risottoOur session ended in the glass dining room where we shared a chocolate tart, topped with a grape compote and coffee sauce, followed by a stellar shredded and caramelized phyllo tart, topped with a plum compote and mascarpone cheese.
chocolate dessertplum dessertWe all learned new techniques that we will be able to practice at home. Learning from Chef Ezra was a joy! He has a calm, zen-like manner that  instantly puts you at ease and his murmurs of encouragement had us all feeling like rock stars in the kitchen.  If you find yourself travelling to Jerusalem you will be immensely rewarded by a visit to Chef Ezra Kedem’s breathtaking studio!

Click here to print recipe for Eggplant Carpaccio.

 

The Scent of Nostalgia and a Very Full Tart.

baked 625 sqAt this time of year, the scent of pencil shavings takes me right back to my childhood. I can close my eyes and clearly picture standing in the basement storage room where my mom had bolted the hand crank pencil sharpener to the shelf.hand crank pencil sharpener 2I would stand there for a good 45 minutes using great care to put a perfect point on each and every one of my 48 pack of Laurentian Coloured Pencils. (Or you may remember them as Pencil Crayons.) Did you know that the little white oval on each pencil was there so you could write your name on the pencils? I had no idea until this week!Pencil crayons 2Sometimes our friends would come over to use it because most kids in our neighbourhood only had the little hand sharpener. We were a very modern household. There was always a scurry to see which one of my sisters would get to go first. No one wanted to be last, because that meant you had to empty the pencil shavings. Inevitably, the shavings would spill on the floor and then our mom would yell at us to clean it up. Then there was the nasty blister you would develop on the webbing between your thumb and first finger, from gripping the handle on the sharpener for so long. So, all in all, a bittersweet memory I guess!laurentien package 2My personal favourite colours were #3 Poppy Red and # 7 Peacock Blue. #22 Sky Magenta also holds a very special place in my heart! I think this must be where OPI got the inspiration for naming their nail polish colours. I am too young to remember this, but apparently, the Laurentian company was taken to task for political incorrectness. In 1962 they changed the name of #14 from Natural Flesh to Blush Pink (Flesh comes in all sorts of colours!), and in 1966 #21, originally given the moniker Indian Red, was reborn as Chestnut.

Of all our senses, smell seems to have the strongest connection with emotional memories. Howard Eichenbaum, director of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neurobiology at Boston University explains this phenomenon,

“After a smell enters the nose, it travels through the cranial nerve through the olfactory bulb, which helps the brain process smells. The olfactory bulb is part of the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. As a member of the limbic system, the olfactory bulb can easily access the amygdala, which plays a role in emotional memories. Olfactory has a strong input into the amygdala, which process emotions. The kind of memories that it evokes are good and they are more powerful.”

Sadly, Laurentian Coloured Pencils are no longer available for sale. There are other brands on the market, but it’s just not the same. And, if you can believe it, the Crayola brand now comes pre-sharpened. Kids today have no idea how easy they have it!

Although it has been years since I was in school, late summer will always be associated with those beautiful pencil crayons. Now as an adult, I celebrate the early fall colours at the market with the plethora of rainbow coloured produce.

I knew exactly where to go to look for inspiration. I have had Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful vegetable cookbook, Plenty, sitting on my shelf for over a year now. My daughter and I leafed through it, trying to decide what to make. We earmarked over 15 recipes we wished we could eat right off the pages (the photos by Jonathan Lovekin are reason enough to buy the book!), and finally settled on his “Very Full Tart.”, a Mediterranean style quiche packed full with roasted vegetables, feta and ricotta.

I will warn you right now, that this tart is a labour of love. From start to finish, it took almost 4 hours. Now, much of this was unattended time, waiting for dough to chill and vegetables to roast, but this is not fast food. We chose sweet potatoes, cauliflower, zucchini and corn to fill our tart with.roasted veg 2Roasted red and yellow peppers make a fine addition as well.peeling peppersThe original recipe calls for 11 ounces of “pie crust dough”. You could of course buy a ready made pie crust, but I thought this stellar tart deserved something better. I had been wanting to try Cook’s Illustrated foolproof pie dough for a while now. The secret ingredient in this dough is vodka!vodka 2 Cook’s Illustrated explains, “Since water bonds with flour to form gluten, too much of it makes a crust tough. But rolling out dry dough is difficult. For a pie dough recipe that baked up tender and flaky and rolled out easily every time, we found a magic ingredient: vodka. Using vodka, which is just 60 percent water, gave us an easy-to-roll crust recipe with less gluten and no alcohol flavor, since the alcohol vaporizes in the oven.”

This dough was a dream to roll out. It was supple and rolled out beautifully. The recipe makes enough for 2 tarts, so freeze one to use another day.tart pan ready for pie weightstart pan with weights

assembling 1assembling 2Ricotta, feta, cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme and some egg and cream finish off the tart.assembling 3assembling 4My daughter declared this the best dinner I have ever made for her. High praise indeed for a humble vegetable tart. It is possible that her effusive accolades were due in part to the fact that she just arrived home after living in a dorm for the past 6 weeks, working as an RA and TA. But I took a bite and damn if she wasn’t right. It was delicious!

A perfectly balanced tart, overflowing with caramelized goodness. The flaky buttery crust gives way to the creamy tangy filling, owing to feta, ricotta and cream and eggs. The extra time required to roast the vegetables adds a depth of flavour that makes it all worthwhile. I especially loved the little crunch from the roasted corn kernels and the sweet blistered cherry tomatoes that topped the tart.

Click here to print recipe for A Very Full Tart.

Click here to print recipe for Cook’s Illustrated Pie Dough with Vodka.baked 2