Salbutes

24 Nov

This is one of my absolute favourite Belizean dishes to make. I first tried them years ago when J’s mom made them for dinner. Instantly hooked. As with many local specialties, everyone makes them just a bit differently and everyone claims their (or their mom’s) way is best. The basics, though: crunchy fried tortillas topped with shredded chicken or pork. The toppings and sauces are totally up to the cook: pickled onions, salsa verde, avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, green onion, sliced jalapeno, and cilantro are all popular options. We do ours with thinly sliced avocado, shredded chicken simmered in salsa verde, sour cream, green onion, cilantro and a bit of hot sauce. You can include or omit just about any of the ingredients listed above: it’s truly about your own personal taste. We usually roast a whole chicken so we have leftovers for the rest of the week and shred both wings, a thigh and a breast. (Tip: take the skin off and save it to add when you’re dressing the tortillas. You want it to be crispy.) You could also poach chicken breasts in spice-tinged water – salt, pepper and oregano would be a nice combo.

This recipe makes 10. Two of us can polish that off but we are very full afterward.

Ingredients

10 tostadas (or 10 tortillas, fried)
2 chicken breasts or equivalent, cooked & shredded
1 c salsa verde
2 avocados, sliced
salt & pepper
lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1 handful cilantro, finely chopped
sour cream
hot sauce, optional

Directions

1. Warm up your tostadas in the oven at a low temp. They have a high oil content, so make sure you keep an eye on them ensuring they don’t burn.
2. Heat up the salsa in a sauce pan til it simmers. Add in the chicken and stir. Allow chicken to warm through, 5-8 minutes.
3. Divide the avocado slices evenly among the warmed tostadas then season with salt, pepper and lime juice. Layer on the chicken, sprinkle with green onions and cilantro. Top with dollops of sour cream and, if you wish, dabs of hot sauce.

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Wicked Easy Fruit Muffins

11 Nov

Friday night used to be about heading out after working and having (at least one too many) drinks with friends, getting home sleepy and happy and then sleeping til 10am the next day. Now Friday night is about getting foodNURDling fed and to bed, making something for myself and, if I’m not too gassed, making muffins for our Saturday morning breakfast at 8am.  I’ve made a number of variations on the maple oatmeal muffins and wanted to test out something a little different…also, I was out of oatmeal. I did, however, have fruit and sour cream. I can make something of this, I figured! Since I had already planned to make cinnamon apple oatmeal in the slow cooker, I tossed blueberries into the muffin batter and the results were delish. You could use any fruit your little muffin-baking heart desires: apple, peach, raspberry, strawberry, etc. The results are fluffy and springy muffins on the inside with crisp tops that will be snarfled up by everyone who gets their paws on them.

Makes 12

Ingredients

2 c all-purpose flour
3 ts baking powder
1/2 ts baking soda
1/2 ts salt
1 ts cinnamon
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1 c sour cream
1/4 c butter, melted
1 c fruit (berries, peeled & chopped apples/peaches, etc.)

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400F and line your muffin tins with cups or butter.
2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour – cinnamon). In a smaller bowl, combine the wet ingredients (sugar – butter).
3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the contents of the second bowl. You may find that the batter is a bit dry. If so, feel free to add a little milk or more sour cream. When everything is almost combined, add in your fruit and finish.
4. Spoon out the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 20 minutes.
5. Allow to cool 10 minutes and then dig in!

Photo: The aforementioned blueberry muffins. I may just have to have one before bed...

Eating With My Hands at Lamesa

23 Oct

Any chance I get, I love to eat my food with my hands. Bacon? I eat with my hands. Scrambled eggs? Piled on toast and eaten with my hands. I have been known to eat gooey, rich chocolate cake with my hands and no one can convince me otherwise that it doesn’t make for a more joyful experience. (You people and your cutlery-for-pizza ways? I do not understand you.) So when I was invited to take part in a kamayan dinner at Lamesa last night, I was genuinely excited. Sitting down at a table draped with banana leaves and eventually adorned with brightly coloured, intensely flavoured food is my idea of a great dinner. Every Sunday, Lamesa is offering this kamayan (translated, means “hand to mouth”) dinner for a very reasonable $40/person that would be great for everyone: a group of friends, a family, a date. Best to make reservations and to know that this is not a fast meal: the idea is to sit with those you care about to share and enjoy a meal together. It’s a Filipino tradition that the owners and chefs want to bring to our awesome city and I think it’s a fabulous addition. It’s a feast for the senses.

Refreshments in hand, our table watched (and drooled) while head chef Rudy Boquilla and chef de cuisine Joash Dy elegantly placed the four different sauces on top of the banana leaves. First was the bagoong caramel, a fermented shrimp paste, followed by a soy garlic puree, sawsawan gel and housemade hot sauce. The sawasan gel was a table fave: thick, sweet and salty, it was made with soy, vinegar and garlic. Every once in a while, I would find another little pocket of it hidden under rice and I’d swipe whatever bite of food I had in my fingers through it. They could bottle and sell this stuff.

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Next to be served was a salad comprised of sour mango, arugula, radish and pretty heirloom carrots paired with mango chutney. This was followed by a sisig lettuce cup: iceberg lettuce piled high with chopped chicken, pork and beef cooked with chili, garlic and onions. Light and crunchy, these were light bites that helped to balance the rich meats that were to come.

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In the middle of the table, chef Dy spread out generous heaps of garlic fried rice topped with crispy garlic bits. On top of the rice, mussels and clams cooked in a broth of coconut milk, ginger and garlic. In between the shellfish, smoked, boneless bangus (marinated milkfish) were artfully placed. The smokiness of the fish and the brininess of the shellfish were making our mouths water. Next to come was the hands-down winner of the night: the crispy chicken adobo wings. This is not to say that the kare kare oxtail (braised in a peanut garlic sauce) wasn’t succulent and beautiful, because it was; but, this chicken was incredible. Maybe the best fried chicken in the city. A grand statement, to be sure, but it has to be tasted to be believed.

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The array: smoked fish, mussels, corn, oxtail, chicken adobo wings, rice, kale chip, pea shoots, lettuce cup and chicken tinola broth.

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Halved calamansi, pickled egg and mango chutney.

 

Not to be left out were the grilled corn, bok choy, kale chips, sweet purple yam cornbread, pickled egg and fresh calamansi that dotted the table. To say this was an epic meal would almost do it a disservice. It was a fun meal. A balanced meal. An “I am so full but can’t stop eating” meal. An “oh my god, did you try this with that??” meal. A meal one does not soon forget. Check out Lamesa at 669 Queen St. W., just west of Bathurst. They will be putting on the kamayan dinners every Sunday night – don’t forget to make reservations!

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Before…

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…after.

 

Mexican-style Salad

30 Sep

In an attempt to make some healthier choices (I’m even back at the gym after a prolonged absence. Helllooooo, muscles I’d forgotten about!), I’ve been ransacking some cookbooks I haven’t opened in a while for inspiration. In the book Get Naked in the Kitchen, there is a pretty great recipe for a Mexican taco salad bowl. I made minor adjustments to the original to suit both my taste and what was in my cupboard. The end result had everything you could want in a healthy meal: it was filling, it was easy, it had lots of flavour, it was balanced, it came together in 25 minutes and it’s 100% adaptable. You can substitute the lemon juice for any vinegar, the brown rice for white or quinoa, the flavouring of the black beans or the black beans for another kind be it white, pinto, black-eyed peas…whatever you like. You could also throw in some tortilla chips for extra crunch. Give it a go!

Serves 2.

Ingredients

3-4 c greens (I used baby arugula)
2 tb olive oil + 2ts for beans
1 tb lemon juice
1 c brown rice, cooked
1 can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 ts cumin
1 ts chili powder
splash of water
1/2 sweet pepper, chopped
1 avocado
Salt & pepper
handful of cilantro, chopped

Directions

1. Cook the rice according to directions.
2. In the meantime, heat the 2ts of olive oil in a pan to a medium heat. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté until the onions are translucent, about five minutes.
3. Add in the beans, cumin, chili powder. Toss in salt & pepper to taste. Stir together and then add a couple of splashes of water to the pan. Turn up the heat and cook another 5-10 minutes until the water evaporates.
4. Slice the avocado in half. Remove the pit and cut the flesh into cubes. Season with salt, pepper & lemon or lime juice.
5. Toss greens and red pepper in a bowl with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Split evenly on two dishes, making a well in the middle.
6. Plate rice in the well among the greens and then top with beans, avocado, cilantro and hot sauce if you so choose.

How I Learned to Love the Garden

27 Aug

I have always appreciated food though, admittedly, I have learned to appreciate it on new levels in the last ten years. I’ve certainly always enjoyed eating and reaping the rewards of others’ hard work; now, I understand just how much work goes into getting that food to my hungry mouth.  It’s not like I wasn’t exposed to food production as a child: my dad maintained a wonderful garden in our backyard that had carrots, beets, tomatoes, peas, beans, chives, rhubarb, cucumber and whatever else he felt like planting (like the year he tried corn. I kept hoping for ghost baseball players to appear. Sadly, neither the corn nor the ghosts deigned to show). We also had cherry, pear and apricot trees along with a raspberry bush and grapevines. Homegrown fruits and veggies we did not lack. We also had a walnut tree but in the 20+ years we lived in our house, no one ate a single, solitary walnut. We’d find them on the ground with six tiny, squirrel bites taken out of them. Tree rats are the worst. What I lacked was the interest in cultivating them. My parents would send me into the yard to pick whatever was ripe at the time and I’d inevitably come back with about 50% of what needed to be picked. What can I say? I was more interested in something SUPER IMPORTANT like whether or not Zack and Kelly‘s eternal love would be torn asunder by the evil Jeff.

Fast forward to 2007. I am now living in an apartment with J and ruing the lack of outdoor space to grow my own food. We would buy basil plants that would, inevitably, wither and die in record time. We did see some success planting mint in my dad’s garden. So much success, in fact, that the mint spread over the next few months and by the following summer, was rather intrusively making its way into the rest of the garden. That was bolstering, though. “I can actually grow things,” I remarked as my dad looked on, happy I’d taken an interest in gardening but dismayed by the herb that was now embedded in the chives and beans and peas and…

Jump to 2012. J and I are house hunting. We come across a house with a slightly wild but charming front yard and an absolutely lovely backyard with lush, red cherry tomatoes. “This has potential,” I think to myself excitedly. The sight of those gorgeous tomatoes has stirred something inside me and I can imagine spending quiet afternoons planting and weeding and watering and enjoying the fruits of my labour. The day we took possession of the house, I went straight to the yard and plucked one of the tomatoes from the vine and popped it in my mouth. “That’s it. I’m growing everything I can back here.”

Next spring, my dad arrived at the house with tomato seed packets and a container with soil pods to get them started. I took a surprising amount of delight planting the little seeds and watching them grow into full blown…seedlings. My dad planted them in one of the gardens and I tended to those things like I tended to foodNURDling. By August we had fresh, plump cherry, Early Girl and beefsteak tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

Wee tomatoes.

 

Emboldened by my success, I started to hatch plans for summer 2014. I planted beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, green, red and jalapeno peppers, basil, lemon thyme, rosemary and mint. When each ripened, I happily picked ALL of the fruits and vegetables and gave each to the foodNURDling. As he happily gobbled down cucumber and tomato slices, I called my mom:

“Mom! A thing I grew is eating a thing I grew!” I almost wanted to cry.

It was A Moment for me. Growing food for me and my family. This is how I learned to love my garden.

Homemade Granola

2 Jul

File this under “why didn’t I do it sooner?” I’ve had it in my head that I’d like to make my own granola for ages but somehow never got around to it. Finally, timing and motivation collided and in less than an hour with almost zero effort on my part I had aromatic, crunchy, salty, rich, sweet, filling, semi-healthy granola! (Yes, it’s high in fat but they are beneficial fats and if you’re in need of a snack, this stuff is better for you than junk food.)

There is no right or wrong way to make granola as it’s pretty much the most adaptable recipe of which you could conceive. There are some basic ratios but your ingredients can change with every tasty batch. If you want large clusters, don’t stir the granola while it bakes; for small pieces that work well as a topping for yogurt, give the whole batch a good stir every 15 minutes. Or, do what I did and stir half to get the best of both worlds. If you intend to add dried fruit – and I recommend you do – make sure you stir it in at the end when the granola has cooled. Otherwise, the baking process will dry them out further and you’ll get a pretty unpleasant texture. Same goes for chocolate chips: add ’em in at the end or you’ll get melted chocolate.

Makes…a lot, which is good because it won’t stick around long.

granola

Ingredients

3 c old fashioned oats (not the quick-cooking kind)
1 1/2 c chopped nuts (a mix of walnuts, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, etc.)
1 1/2 c coconut shavings or flakes
1/2 c maple syrup
1/4 c coconut or olive oil
1/4 c sesame seeds
1/4 c sunflower seeds
1/4 c flax seed
2 tb brown sugar
1 1/2 ts salt
1/2 ts cinnamon
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 c dried fruit (cherries, raisins, cranberries, bananas, apricots, blueberries, mango, pineapple, etc.)
1 handful chocolate chips, optional but delicious

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 300F.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Stir together everything except the dried fruit and chocolate chips until thoroughly combined.
3. Spread the whole thing out on the baking sheet and bake for 40-45 minutes. Stir every 15 minutes for small pieces; don’t stir at all for large clusters; or stir some for a mix of both.
4. Allow to cool and then add dried fruit and chocolate.
5. Store in an airtight container and it’ll last for a solid two weeks if you don’t eat it all before then.

Maple Oatmeal Muffins

2 Jun

It’s Friday night, 9pm. I have just finished off a quick dinner after putting the foodNURDling to bed and gardening for a bit. Thoughts turn to the weekend and what I’m going to eat for breakfast. Out of bagels, not in the mood for slow-cooked oatmeal and wanting something more substantial than cereal, I hit upon muffins. I hadn’t tried out a new muffin recipe in a while and wasn’t really enthused at the idea of cheese muffins (though they are pretty fabulous, if I do say so myself). I scoured the interwebs for inspiration and found it: maple oatmeal muffins. The recipe is pretty basic and lends itself to creativity: you could add chopped pecans or walnuts, chocolate chips, flax seed for a health boost or, as a friend suggested, crumbled bacon. That last option is one I will be exploring in the near future, no doubt.

Makes 12.

Ingredients

1 c rolled/quick-cooking oats
1/2 c milk
1 c flour
2 ts baking powder
1/4 ts salt
1/2 ts cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c butter, melted
3/4 c maple syrup

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 400F and pop liners into your muffin tin (or butter/spray each cup).
2. In a medium bowl, mix the oats & milk. Let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile,  stir together the flour, baking powder, salt & cinnamon in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle.
3. Add the egg, butter & syrup to the oat-milk mixture. Combine thoroughly and then add to the dry mixture. Stir until JUST combined.
3a. if you’re going to add walnuts, pecans, bacon or chocolate chips add a 1/2c at this stage and then top with the remaining 1/2c.
4. Spoon into the muffin tins. Pop the tray into the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

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