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Lunch in a Jar, Pt. 1: Noodles!

12 Jan

Always on the hunt for tasty lunches to bring to work, I’d bookmarked a few recipes for meals in a jar. They are so appealing! They’re contained, they’re colourful and they’re endlessly adaptable. I could have soup with noodles just about every day in winter so I opted to make that first. I based it on a Michael Smith recipe but made a bunch of alterations to suit my tastes.

soup-prep

Makes 2 meals

Ingredients

1 chicken breast, poached and cubed
1 carrot, shredded
2 large handfuls bean sprouts
3 tb cilantro, chopped
2 tb peanuts chopped (optional)
1 package ramen noodles
2 tb ketchup
2 tb smooth peanut butter
2 tb grated frozen ginger
1 tb soy sauce
1 tb fish sauce
1 ts hot sauce
1 ts lime juice

Directions

1. Mix together the ketchup, peanut butter, ginger, soy, fish sauce, hot sauce and lime juice making a flavour base. Taste and adjust as necessary, keeping in mind you’ll be adding water that will dilute the flavour. Spoon half into the bottom of each mason jar.
2. Layer in the shredded carrot, chicken, bean sprouts, cilantro and peanuts (if you’re using them). Place in the fridge til you’re ready to eat.
3. Two options for cooking the noodles. Just pick based on the size of your mason jar!

a) Place the noodles in a bowl (for the love of all that’s good, discard the sodium-laced flavour packet that comes with them) and pour boiling water over. Cover and let sit for 2-3 minutes. Pour off some of the water into the mason jar, cover and shake then pour everything out into the bowl.

OR

b)Break up the noodles in the package and pour them into the mason jar. Pour hot water into the jar, cover and wrap up in a towel. Give the jar a gentle shake and let sit 6-7 minutes.

soup

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.

The Indispensables

27 Mar

Anyone who spends time in a kitchen can tell you there are a few things they use to cook that they can’t live without.  It might be a particular pan or a Silpat or even cooking range. For me, it’s my chef knife, my Dutch oven & my trusty wooden spatula.

Getting my chef knife was a big deal to me. As I wrote in A Bit About A foodNURD, I was afraid of knives when I first started cooking. I would insist on using, essentially, a steak knife to do all the prep work. Years later, I have graduated to the Big Girl Knife and I love it. It gives me a sense of confidence in the kitchen: I can wield this thing and get the work done. (It also reminds me not to get too big for my britches with its sharpness. I have a scar on my left index finger from the time I was carelessly, quickly chopping rosemary with it. Whoops. It served as a good reminder and I haven’t sliced myself since.) It’s so important to get a knife you like: it will make your time in the kitchen simpler and more enjoyable.  I encourage you to do some research and see what might work for you!

My weapon of choice.

Finger frenemy.

The Dutch oven was a present to myself before the foodNURDling arrived. I’d wanted one for some time: I had a slow cooker (which nearly made this list, but lost out to the oven) and I had pans I could get hot enough to get a good sear, but not the all-in-one glory of the Dutch oven. Soups, stews, sauces, chilis…you name it, it goes in here. (Though, for the sake of transparency, J is the resident chili maker and it is goooooooooooooooooooood.) It is a solid beast – I have the 8L – of enameled cast iron which allows me to make large batches of all sorts of things from Mexican pot roast tacos to chicken cacciatore to Thai red curry mussels. It holds heat beautifully (watch out for the hot handles! Ouch!) and it ain’t bad to look at either.

purple

She’s so pretty.

Finally, there is the trusty, ancient wooden spatula. I’ve had it forever and it shows. Useful in almost every dish cooked in the kitchen from scrambling feta-laden eggs to flipping roasted potatoes, it is the all-purpose, unsung,  unsexy but entirely necessary tool. It’s the workhorse. It’s starting to wear down from use but I won’t give up on it until it becomes a dangerous nub. We have other, similar spatulas but I prefer this one.

So what about you? What are your prized kitchen gizmos and gadgets?

Chef Butler

7 Feb

I love throwing dinner parties, big or small. Feeding family and friends is one of my great joys in life. Sometimes I stick to the well-worn (good) advice and make what I know; sometimes I opt to cook a brand new dish or two. Something outside my comfort zone but that I still feel confident I can pull off. Either way, there is grocery shopping involved and sometimes I end up with a whole bag of spice or a package of herbs that I’m not likely to use again any time soon. Enter: Chef Butler, a neat start up company that offers themed, monthly dry ingredient boxes that. Every month showcases three courses from different cuisine: Thai, Indian, Jamaican…it goes on. Each box contains pre-portioned spices and sauces that you might not have in your cupboard as well as three detailed recipe cards with instructions. Enclosed in the Thai box with which I cooked were recipes for a spicy cucumber salad, classic Pad Thai and fried bananas. While it’s true I had things like soya sauce and chili powder in the house, I definitely didn’t have tamarind or just the right size of noodle.

While three courses for a regular weeknight dinner might be a bit much and the dishes are a bit labour intensive, Chef Butler does take out some of the prep work with the portioned out sauce ingredients. Just cut open the packages and mix! The dishes – especially the Pad Thai – were a hit and, in fact, the Pad Thai was so good I made it again a couple of days later using the recipe provided.

So if you’re looking for a service to take some work out of your next dinner party or just want to try something new while cooking with friends, head on over to Chef Butler and see what they have in store! They ship anywhere in Canada and while they are based in Toronto, do not charge shipping fees. They are always testing out new recipes, looking to expand their horizons and yours!

Chef Butler

Divisions of Labour

6 Nov

We’ve all heard the old adage: when you live with someone, once you do a chore it becomes your chore. Take out the garbage a couple of times? Now it’s your job. Vacuum the dust bunnies? Oh yeah. You and the bunnies become mortal enemies. I have found the same to be true in the kitchen:  make a dish or prep an ingredient and find yourself doing it again and again.

In my house, I am the shrimp peeler, the rice/quinoa/couscous maker, the pork puller, the soup stirrer, the slow cooker obsesser. J is in charge of breakfast, omelettes, proper macaroni & cheese, broccoli rabe, deep frying and cornbread. These are our unofficially assigned jobs and only in the strangest circumstances do they change.

Do you have specific tasks in the kitchen? Certain dishes or preps that only you do?

My Kitchen Essentials: Pantry Edition

25 Sep

Our pantry shelves collapsed a couple of weeks ago. We don’t have a huge pantry, but it’s generally pretty well stocked so when the shelf brackets decided to go on strike, we lost a lot of counter space to cans and bottles and bags of things. The only positive to come out of this was that we were able to take stock of what we had, what we needed and what we had in triplicate. So what did we have in there? What do we always have in stock?

  • Peanut butter. Not only do we have this staple in the pantry, but we have it in the cupboard, too. I don’t think we have less than two jars at any time. God forbid we run out of it. Pandemonium!
  • Apple juice. Because our inner 6-year olds are not always satisfied with just peanut butter.
  • Four Tupperware containers full of spices. We have enormous bags of cumin and chili powder – the two spices we use most – but everything else is in smaller quantities: thyme, oregano, peppercorns, paprika, mustard seeds, turmeric, bay leaves, ground ginger, curry powder, etc. I love having all those spices available as it makes cooking on the fly a lot easier.
  • Every variation of canned tomatoes possible. Crushed, diced, whole, paste…we’ve got ’em. J makes a lot of pasta sauce and I make tomato soups and tomato-based stews so these are in constant demand in our kitchen. They may also be the shelf-collapsing culprits.
  • More rice wine and balsamic vinegars than one needs. Same re: plum sauce.
  • Nutella. Since discovering a recipe for Nutella brownies, it’s rare I can’t find a jar in the pantry.
  • Pasta. So. Many. Noodles.

There is also a whole pile of Tupperware in which to store leftovers  and the foodNURLDling’s pureéd goodies, beans of all sorts and other assorted odds and ends. Ninety percent of the above items were scattered over the various surfaces of our kitchen driving me justifiably batty. The only good thing was that we got a chance to reorganize and rethink our shopping list: do we need so much apple juice? Do we need more Nutella?

Three Ways to Make an Audience Hungry

17 Apr

To find oneself sitting in a studio on a nearly-empty stomach with Michael Bonacini, Massimo Capra and Jason Parsons is a bit torturous. The smells wafting forth from the stove over the course of 30 minutes are pretty intoxicating. J and I sat through the taping of a Cityline show featuring the three chefs using a variety of fresh herbs, wishing we could sneak up and steal bites off the plates. Chef Bonancini featured rosemary in a beautiful branzino dish; chef Capra made a creative BBQ pork and chive pancake; and chef Parsons used chervil in a light lamb loin dish.

Chef Capra and me

Chef Capra and me

Chef Bonacini and I...just hangin'  with some herbs.

Chef Bonacini and me…just hangin’ with some herbs.

In addition to the plates the chefs put up, the show discussed planting various herbs for use at home. We have sage, thyme and lemon thyme ready to go and a basil plant that has miraculously lived for months on our windowsill (apparently I left my black thumb of death back at our old apartment!). This show got me motivated to get out into my garden – now that I have one – and plant some rosemary, mint and maybe some chives, too!

herbs

The beautiful array of greenery on display.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some planting and cooking to get to..

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