About Ann Allchin

I'm a multitalented mother of two who is always looking for a cooking challenge. I live in Toronto, where I am lucky enough to be able to find samples of almost every food in the world within five kilometres of my house. When I'm not with kids, I'm often reading, writing, or enjoying food and wine.

Crazy for Cranberries

I may have mentioned that I enjoy food festivals. Now if you’re of the urban persuasion, you may be thinking I’m talking about a Food & Wine Expo. Or maybe the upcoming Yum Cha Dim Sum festival which I totally already have tickets for (and it’s NO KIDS, too. Don’t be jealous).

Obviously, I do love those metro foodie events. But I’m not talking about those things this time.

I’m actually talking about farming celebrations in honour of a small town crop specialty. You may remember when I wrote about green tomatoes that I have visited the Leamington tomato festival. I also used to go to the Winona Peach Festival. I don’t like to brag, but my cousin was a peach princess there. That makes me a peach cousin, I guess. Peach Duchess? You may now call me The Right Honourable Duchess of Peaches. Let them eat cobbler!

Anyway. My husband’s family cottage is near a town called Bala, which, by coincidence, is also where my Dad’s great-grandparents settled when they came to Canada. Bala is known for exactly three things:

1. A water ski show that happens every Monday all summer long.

Thanks summerwatersports.com

Thanks summerwatersports.com

2. The Kee To Bala – an old dance hall from 1930 that now attracts big bands. And not “big bands,” like it used to, but big names. Like Snoop Dog. Not sure what brought Snoop Lion to a town of a few hundred permanent residents, but I drank gin & juice with the best of them.

Thanks green autumn.ca

Thanks green autumn.ca

And 3., The Bala Cranberry Festival

Thanks balacranberryfestival.on.ca

Thanks balacranberryfestival.on.ca

It’s actually in October, so I’m either a little behind, or a little ahead with this post. Six months. Equidistant. So let’s go with ahead. But I saw fresh cranberries in the store the other day, and thought, “What exactly do people do with fresh cranberries?” And we all know that when I see a food and wonder “What the??? ” I have officially met my blog theme criteria.

So cranberries.

IMG_6294

They used to be harvested by hand, but that was labour intensive. Eventually, a lazy farmer got the bright idea to flood the fields because cranberries have a little pocket of air inside, so they float when they swim. Then the farmers use giant egg beaters to dislodge the berries, and they rock their hipwaiters to “corral,” them. You never knew such effort went into fighting your bladder infections, right?

I found this post about what to do with them, and chose the very first suggestion – I candied them! It is Easter weekend after all, and I thought our blood sugar wasn’t quite high enough. Cranberries might not be spring-ish, but salads sure are. I used to find that a winning salad had four things – bitey greens, nippy cheese, fresh fruit, and candied nuts. Now my daughter has a nut allergy, so this time I morphed the formula by swapping the nuts for seeds and candying the cranberries. Worked like a charm.

Spring Kale Salad with Candied Cranberries and Goat Cheese

  • Kale, hard spines removed, leaves chopped
  • Sprouts
  • Goat cheese
  • Candied cranberries
  • Green onions
  • Cucumber
  • Fresh, colourful cherry tomatoes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Honey Mustard Dressing: 3Tbsp olive oil, 1 1/2 Tbsp white wine vinegar, 1Tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 1/2tsp honey

How to candy cranberries: Make simple syrup – boil 2C sugar with 2C water until sugar dissolves. Pierce cranberries and pop them into the syrup. Refrigerate for at least a few hours – overnight is suggested. Remove cranberries and roll them in fine sugar (I only had normal white sugar, and it worked AOK). Let them dry for a few hours on parchment or a silpat. Hang onto the pink simple syrup.

IMG_6309 IMG_6311

Results: Cracklin cranberries, this salad was great! I could see myself using candied cranberries for desserts, too, or candying other fruits for different purposes. Rating: 3 yums. Hey, and with the cranberry infused simple syrup, I made this!

IMG_6332

Cranberry gin fizz anyone? Cheers to spring!

Cows don’t have fingers

This will be a very short post, because it didn’t involve much culinary magic. It should, however, still give you a smile.

Last week, I was digging around in the weird meat freezer at my favourite discount grocery store, because I totally love doing that. I reached past the pig noses and chicken lips and beef knees to find…

Beef finger meat

I excitedly snapped it up, because … now get ready for this one … I thought to myself, “Oh, beef fingers. That’s interesting. I’ve never heard of eating cow hands.” Of course, when I got the meat home, I realized…

Cows don’t have hands

I blame this misunderstanding on three things:

1. I have been a city slicker for too long now, and should visit a farm in the near future to take a few observational notes. Like that the cows aren’t prancing around on giant hands.

2. The meat actually did look like big hands in the packaging, and if cows did have hands, they would be large. I innately felt that these beef fingers were proportionally appropriate.

3. I’ve eaten far too much hemp oil recently, and my judgement has probably been clouded. But I’m sure my Omegas are off the charts. Tradeoffs.

When I opened the package, it was clear that I had misunderstood, because the meat fell apart into strips, rather than being joined into neat paws of four or five, as part of me had expected. I Googled to find out that beef finger meat is actually the meat left between the ribs, or what’s left on the roast after the ribs are removed.

I snipped through a piece and found that it was very gristle-y and tough, so I knew it would have to be cooked a lot. I didn’t have time to slow cook, so I snipped them into chunks and boiled the bejezzus out of them.  Then I tossed the bits with some BBQ sauce, and finished them by broiling them for ten minutes in the oven (I would have grilled the finish, but it was still cold out and I was cocooning).

Results:

Beef finger meat

These tasted a lot like rib meat. If I were to do them again, I’d use my favourite rib recipe (I don’t really have one – ribs always seem to trip me up) and leave them whole, so that the layer of fat could be removed more easily. There’s a big layer of fat. I didn’t feed these to my husband because he’ll only eat lean meats – always watching his waif-like waistline (not really, although he does innately prefer healthy foods. This can be annoying on ice cream runs). Rating: 1 Yum. Edible, but pretty unhealthy.

Question: What is your favourite way to cook ribs? I’ve tried many times over the years, but never make them when entertaining because my barbecue refuses to do “low and slow.”

When hemp gives you the munchies… Sweet chili lime shrimp salad

Apologies for not blogging for a while, friends! I don’t know what’s with me these days. My husband and I are nearing the end of Breaking Bad (the show, not any kind of illicit activities) so our evenings have been munched up by the TV more than usual.

But speaking of illicit activities and munching…

Hemp oil

 

How could I resist this dangerous food when I saw it in the grocery store the other week? Oh, the potential for blog jokes…

So here’s what you need to know. It’s green. In colour and nickname.

Green hemp oil

It needs to be refrigerated or it goes rancid easily. It smells and tastes quite like how the ganja smells, but without the same stink. Not that I would know what pot smells like, because whenever I smell it I run in the other direction of course. If you have never smelled it, I’d be willing to wager quite a bit of $ that you’ve never walked around Vancouver, but that might be slightly off-topic.

Back to what you need to know. It’s made from the hemp seeds of plants that have low THC (this puts the “wacky” in the “tobacky”), but the leaves can get mixed in here and there through processing, which does leave teensy residual bits of THC. In Canada, the concentration needs to be less than 10ppm for food and is usually around 4, but this varies by country. If you’ve hit this food blog by accident and tend to listen to a lot of Bob Marley or Snoop Dog, you might want to Google “hash oil,” which is made from mature leaves and flowers. There are probably recipes you could apply there too – maybe I’ll do a baking post on that subject when Justin Trudeau is Prime Minister and laws here have changed slightly.   I predict a giveaway? Hmmmm…

But more about what you need to know. You don’t want to heat it if you can help it, because it has a low smoke point, which means that the oil begins to break down and stop being good for you (remember my post on ghee, that has a high smoke point and so is better for frying). And yes, you heard me right! Hemp oil is medicinal! Well, not in the way that you’re thinking. It has a 3:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 essential fatty acids, which is the exact balance required by the human body. We can’t make these fats ourselves, but we need them to fight inflammation and basically nurture everything we need to be healthy, like mood, behaviour, and cellular processes. I’m thinking that if you ate a few tablespoons a day you might be able to stop chowing down on salmon and almonds. But then you might get munchier thanks to the hemp, so you’d wind up eating more salmon and almonds – Omega fat snowball effect. Ha, “fat snowball.” Sorry, distracted there for a second. Not sure how good hemp is for concentration…

Anyway. I had a hankering for shrimp and all things fresh because I’m dying for spring to show up, so I made the hemp oil into a honey shrimp glaze as well as a ginger lime salad dressing. Yes I know I told you not to cook the hemp oil but I really wanted shrimp and you don’t need to cook it for long, so I went with it. Don’t judge, mon.  Here are the recipes:

Sweet shrimp avocado salad ingredients

  • Crispy-fresh boston leaf lettuce
  • Red pepper
  • Avocado
  • Chives
  • Shrimp
  • Snow peas

Honey shrimp marinade ingredients

  • 1/2C honey
  • 1/4C soy sauce
  • 4Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 4Tbsp hemp oil
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 2tsp ground coriander
  • 2tsp paprika

Hemp miso ginger lime salad dressing ingredients

  • 4Tbsp hemp oil
  • 1/4C lime juice
  • 2Tbsp honey
  • 2Tbsp miso paste
  • 1 inch ginger, chopped

Miso dressing

Directions: Marinate shrimp for at least 1/2 hour in fridge. Assemble remaining salad ingredients and make dressing. Fry shrimp with snow peas lightly, until just pink, and add to salad.

Results:

Honey glazed shrimp saladThis salad hardly tasted like marijuana! The honey gave the shrimp a delicious light char, and the ginger and chili worked well for a little extra zip. A great spring salad with exceptional medicinal properties. Rating: 4 Yums Woody Harrelson would eat this salad all day long.

Wheaten is good eatin’

I nearly left the apostrophe out of this post’s title, but then I just couldn’t do it. Because that would be wrong.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here is a picture that my husband’s cousin who lives in Dublin and Belfast sent us today (she kind of does live in both, although not usually at the same time).

Thanks yourdailymedia.com

Thanks yourdailymedia.com

Awesome. My husband’s parents were born outside Belfast, and so although I have distant roots in the Emerald Isle, we’re lucky to be able to visit close family members over there relatively frequently. Whenever we’re able to go, we hop back and forth between Dublin and Belfast being very graciously hosted by many warm family members. When I say warm I mean friendly, because even on a good day Ireland isn’t so very warm. But as Phil always says when they start apologizing for the rain, we don’t go for the weather.

Thanks theferalirishman.blogspot.ca

Thanks theferalirishman.blogspot.ca

We go for the wheaten bread.

That’s right all you Irish relatives reading this, you’ve found out my secret. I pretend to like you and all, and I do enjoy all the tea, so thanks for that, even though I horrify you by putting sugar in mine. But mostly I come for the bread, because you just can’t get wheaten here. You can’t even find good recipes when you Google it, and I am an exceptional recipe Googler.

Let’s let that news sink in for the relatives for a moment and I’ll bring the rest of you non-Irish up to speed, in case you haven’t experienced the diversity of Irish breads. Apparently in the 1800s, Ireland couldn’t grow the “hard wheat,” needed for good yeast leavened bread, so the introduction of baking soda as a leavener was a game changer, allowing the Irish to make good breads with their softer wheat flours. This is where “soda bread,” comes from, and “wheaten bread,” is a variation that uses whole wheat flour. Wheaten may be a more Northerly delicacy, but I might only believe this because it’s on every Belfast relative’s table through the day. We find it a more satisfying, filling, healthy (if you still feel that whole grain is a bonus) toast than anything Wonderbread-ish from here. They’re not even in the same league, actually. The closest I can compare it to is an unsweet, ungreasy, dense bran muffin loaf.

I’m not even finished with the allure of the Irish breads. Again in the North (because it’s St. Patrick’s Day after all. Ahem), there’s something called an “Ulster Fry.” Basically this is a breakfast where each delicacy could cause a coronary in its own right. You’re thinking, “But that’s true of my own breakfast, right here in North America, Ann.” Oh, okay, cheeky. Does your breakfast have at least three types of bread, one of which is potato, and many of which are fried in a pan? Are these graciously accompanied by all the fried eggs you can eat? Multiple types of sausages? Puddings? (Which are kind of also sausages…). You get the picture. I ate an Ulster Fry at a gas station the last time I was there. At a gas station.

But back to why good Wheaten is elusive unless you’re in a place with really cute accents and lots of rainbows (and I’m not talking about Church and Wellesley). Irish flours are still different than what I can get here. Maybe they’re still working the “soft flour,” over there, but if they are they seem to have perfected any 1800s handicaps. My husband’s cousin Heather gave me a recipe for Wheaten some time ago but I was afraid to try it because it included two kinds of wheat flour. We only have one wheat flour here and I’m not convinced I have the luck of the Irish in the flour department. 

On my last trip over, though, I found another kindred foodie in Emma who shared a bunch of her cookbooks with me, making a special trip back over to loan them for the remainder of our trip. I had high hopes for this one

Click for Amazon

Click for Amazon

which had a similar Wheaten recipe in it to Heather’s, but with only one kind of wheat flour. I finally got around to trying it today. (The rest of the book rocks too, but is crazy expensive to ship from Europe so I bought it on Amazon as an ebook. E-cookbooks suck, BTW – too hard to flip through them quickly – but they’re cheap!)

And now for the recipe! Amounts translated and directions paraphrased, some ingredients tweaked.

Multi Seed Wheaten Bread

(Makes 2 banana bread sized loaves)

  • Butter for greasing pans
  • 3 1/2C all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2C whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 1/2C wheat bran
  • about 1C seeds – I used sunflower, poppy and sesame)
  • 1/4C butter, cubed
  • 2Tbsp honey
  • 2Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1L buttermilk

Directions: Preheat to 350 and grease pans. Mix dry ingredients in a very large bowl, reserving a healthy handful of seeds. Add butter, and rub it into dry ingreds with your fingers. Make a well in the middle and pour in remaining ingredients.

Reid and buttermilk

Mix, and add to pans. My batter was quite dry, but Neven says goopy. Mine still worked. Sprinkle tops with reserved seeds.

Wheaten

Neven’s directions say to “bake for hours,” which is not highly specific, and I was testing out my new convection fancy-schmantz, so I can’t even tell you how long to let it go either – about an hour on convection.

Kids

But here’s what to watch for – wait until it starts to go brown, and then stick a knife in which should come out dry. Dump loaf onto a plate and tap the bottom and it should sound hollow (Neven’s directions). I think you can cook this lepre-loaf for a good long time without damaging it. And then eat it within one or two days because I have a funny feeling it might turn into the blarney stone fast.

Results: 

Wheaten

Well, I guess I won’t be seeing you Irish relatives again. It was great! Argh, but then there are still those Ulster Frys. I might just have to return after all. :) (Miss you guys). Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all!

And on another note…

Question for you. Let’s just say you’ve been remodelling your kitchen due to a broken pipe thanks to your useless neighbour who shares your wall and nearly burned your house down in a prior incident. And let’s just say that your husband is far from being a backbencher, so every decision takes in-depth negotiations. And then let’s just say you’re finally nearing the finish line and he has ordered the final component – lights that took a bedroom peace accord to decide on. And let’s keep in mind that he already got his hand slapped for taking it upon himself to choose the knobs without checking with me, because to anyone else they look like they like the girl version of phallic.

Nipple knobs And then let’s say this is the pattern in the rest of the kitchen. Silver kettle (Irish. Tea. But with sugar)…

Kettle Silver stove, as seen previously (Convection. Plus kids enjoy the light). Silver toaster (with cheeky magnet. Can I say cheeky any more often in this post?)…

ToasterSilver nipple knobs… And then this. We agreed on the red part.

Red lightI’m not being grumpy when I say they have to go back, right? I was looking forward to having a grown up kitchen where things matched. Sheesh. Almost at the finish line. He’s lucky he’s Irishly cute.

Rob Ford says goat is good, mon

Do you have any aptitudes that started to express themselves while you were young? I hadn’t really reflected on my early foodie tendencies until this past week when my long time friend Krishna came over. (Her name isn’t really Krishna. I had to change it because she hates all things social media and her real name is highly Googlable because there may only be one of her. You should see the woman bolt when someone shows up with a camera looking like they might post to a website. I’m totally going to hide with her when the NSA comes for us all, because I guarantee she’s never left her DNA on a single thing in her life).

Krishna's version of posing

Krishna’s version of posing

Anyway, I met Krishna in Grade 9, and although at the time I just thought we were hanging out, now I can see that we partly bonded because of our foodie natures. We would often sneak into a movie (through the exit doors as people are leaving, in case you ever wish to do the same. Then when you get caught, just try to look really innocent and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t the entrance?’ and then kill yourself laughing afterward when you reminisce about how guilty you actually looked). After the movie, we would go to a grocery store and walk around checking out the different products and sharing commentary about which ones were interesting and which ones sucked. Isn’t that what all fifteen-year-olds do in their spare time?

When we were about 16 we both decided we needed to try sushi, so we took a bus for nearly an hour to hit the one place that offered it outside of our smaller city. It still annoys us to go for sushi with people who say they enjoy it and then just order the rolls.

Later, we were in computer class together. Our teacher thought it was great “real-world” practice to log what we did in class every day (time and materials-ish I guess). I found this highly annoying, because although obviously I enjoy journalling, when I’m forced to follow a schedule, I’m far less enthusiastic. I’d go weeks without doing it and then have to catch up. Krishna let me copy her more diligent notes – in exchange for dinner at the Chinese buffet. This was a win/win for everyone.

When I got my license and we were able to sign ourselves out of school, we would blow off the afternoon and drive across the border for chicken wings. FYI, you don’t have to go all the way to Buffalo for buffalo wings, but you do have to go as far as Niagara Falls.

Honey's Niagara Falls

So last week when I was talking to Krishna on the phone and she said, “I just treated myself to some curried goat,” it was no surprise that I coincidentally had just purchased some to experiment with, because we always have these kinds of things in common.

Goat

The other night when she came over, I apologized that she would be eating goat twice in two weeks, but I knew she wouldn’t complain. As expected, she was enthusiastic, although she did apologize, saying that she might not have Rob Ford’s expert palate for Jamaican cuisine.

(Tried to embed the vid of the glorious Mr. Ford dancing to Bob Marley there, but I needed Flash and I think we’ve all seen enough of him anyway).

I wasn’t very familiar with traditional Jamaican curried goat having only tried it once years ago but after Googling recipes I decided to go for a coconut milk version, because coconut milk rocks. Krishna told me afterward that generally the curried goat she’s had is more gravy-like, but that she enjoyed how to coconut milk made the sauce thicker and more clingy. Here’s the recipe that I made up based on a number of recipes, in case you want to get your inner Rob Ford on…

Slow Cooker Curried Goat with Coconut Milk

  •  One package stewing goat (there will be bones)
  • 1 onion
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1 inch piece of ginger
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 4 Tbsp curry powder. I was lucky enough to find this one. Does this picture mean the goat is a cannibal? 

Goat curry

Directions: Chop onion coarsely, and add with garlic and ginger to a food processor. Fry this blended mess for 3-5 minutes. Add goat and flour to pan and brown slightly.

Goat pieces

Add goat and remaining ingredients to slow cooker and let it go 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high. Serve over your favourite rice – I chose black sticky coconut rice since I had lots left over from my last post.

Results: 

Curried goat

The goat tasted old shoe-like with just a hint of tin can. Ha! Kidding. The meat tastes a bit like lamb – dark meat-ish. Krishna said that using the slow cooker was a good idea because sometimes goat can be tough. Some may find it off putting to eat from the bones, but it’s really kind of fun. The curry was very nice and tasted rich, but I shied away from adding chiles because spiciness tends to disagree with my innards in my old age, but Krishna was disappointed. She hates buying chips or foods that say “spicy,” that don’t actually have any bite. So if you make this curry (even with another animal) add some chiles if that’s up your alley. Rating: 3 Yums Rob Ford and even real Jamaicans might enjoy this curry. Maaaaaahvellous.

Super delicious baby bug shrimp, and a winner!

Now this post is going to look a lot like a love-in. I love you too, I promise. But a while ago, I won the opportunity to name a chicken who lives with my blog buds Mike and Joanna at midwesternbite.com. I named her Mistress Billington, because she’s a Plymouth Rock chicken and Mistress Billington was a famous pilgrim. I nearly named her Hayley Wickenheiser after the best women’s hockey player in the world (truth, says it in Wikipedia) mostly because she happens to be Canadian and Mike and Joanna happen to be American and I was hoping to make them say Wickenheiser a lot. And after this most recent Olympics I kind of wish I had named Mistress Billington Wickenheiser because our hockey “chicks” kicked some serious ass coming from behind to win the gold medal in a game that nearly made me pee my pants with excitement (Americans are thinking wait a minute, this just stopped being a love-in. Sorry, couldn’t resist!).

Back to the love-in. So I named their chicken. Then Joanna read my book and wrote an awesome review on her blog and did a giveaway of my book. Then I announced a cookbook giveaway for my 100th blog post, where entrants had to guess what this mysterious veggie was:

Weird food

Joanna guessed that it was a bamboo shoot which gave her two entries, and her husband Mike replied with tons of great information about them. Then Aly at fudgingahead threw Joanna a virtual baby shower, and I contributed a bunch of weird baby foods (although if you found me by Googling and hoped to find “baby foods,” you may have come to the wrong place). And today I cooked one of those weird baby foods, and it was surprisingly delicious, so stay tuned.

But. Considering all this, you would think that one of the MidwesternBite dream team couldn’t possibly win my giveaway of a gorgeous textbook for weird foodies like me…

odd_bits_cover_l

Because it would look like favouritism. But you’d be wrong. Because tonight, it was Mike’s name that was ceremoniously chosen by my kids from the head of the At-at:

Draw winnerMike winnerSo congratulations Mike! And sorry to everyone else if you’re feeling left out. There’s some goat in my freezer with your name on it if you happen to be in the neighbourhood. I have to admit that I’m glad Mike won, not only because I am confident he will use this book to shock poor pregnant Joanna with odd bits of animals that he won’t fully explain until she has consumed them, but also because my daughter said, “I know it will be the prettiest one who wins,” and I knew Mike would enjoy being the prettiest competitor. Thanks to all who entered, but clearly it’s the Noxema girls who get noticed.

And now for the continuation of Joanna’s baby shower post… (love in). Some of those baby foods that I bought happened to be wee dried crustaceans that were pretty much insects. Mosquitoes that swim. In my last post I called them sea monkeys.

Dried shrimp

That’s a lot of sea monkeys. There has been quite a delay since my last post because I was procrastinating these wee aqua insects specifically. They had that smell, and I didn’t know how I would ever overcome it. You know the smell? Have you ever been to a Chinatown and walked past bins of dried fish, and it smells like a mixture of ancient Captain Highliner and mothballs? Yeah. When you soak them for an hour and try one or two, they taste like they smell. I had to swish my mouth with beer very quickly, and I was already quite hung over. I told myself I needed to disinfect my tongue with the alcohol. The sacrifices I make for this blog…

My friend had mentioned that eating small dried shrimp whole was a good texture thing, though, and I found a cool Malaysian recipe that talked about banana leaves and sticky rice – looky looky, three dangerous foods in one! I even found black “glutinous” rice – it doesn’t have gluten in it, but it’s sticky and so “glue”-like.

Black glutenous rice

Glutinous rice

As I surfed around, many of the recipes urged not to substitute the banana leaves because they give great flavour. I was lucky to have found them in the freezer section of my sketchy Asian grocery store. And they don’t come small.

Banana leaves

Should be more than enough for a few sticky rice rolls, no? I was still chicken about the dried shrimp, so I made half the batch with fresh shrimp and the other half with the dried. If you can believe it, beyond a little extra crunch with the dried shelled shrimp, there wasn’t much of a difference. And despite my skepticism, the whole thing tasted fantastic. Here’s how it went down:

Rempah Udang (Spicy glutinous rice rolls with dried shrimp)

(makes about 10 hearty rolls. Make sure you have time to soak everything ahead)

  • 400g (2C) glutinous rice
  • 375mL coconut milk
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp sugar (coconut sugar is ideal)
  • knotted pandan leaves (I had to omit because I couldn’t find them)

filling:

  • 100g (1/2C) dried shrimps (or same of fresh)
  • 70g dried coconut
  • 1C coconut milk

seasoning:

  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 1/2tsp coconut sugar
  • dash of pepper
  • splash of fish sauce

ground flavourings:

  • 4 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, sliced fine
  • 2 candlenuts (pine nuts can be substituted. I omitted it all)
  • 1tsp chili powder

banana leaves. You’ll have more than enough.

Directions: 

1. Rinse the dried shrimp and rice (separately) until the water runs clear. Let the shrimp soak for at least 1/2 hour, and the rice soak for 4 hours.

2. Mix the rice, coconut milk, salt and sugar together and steam it on high 30 minutes and low 30 more minutes. Sprinkle with water if liquids evaporate too quickly and keep going.

3. Lightly fry the shrimps until aromatic and set aside. Fry the ground flavourings and add the shrimp back. Add the dried coconut and coconut milk and cook until dry.

4. Rinse the banana leaves. Lay a wee handful of cooked rice in line along the end of the banana leaf. Add shrimp filling.

Rempah udang

Roll the leaf over to cover it into a lengthwise roll, and then tuck the ends under and secure with a toothpick.

5. Fry (or grill) the banana leaf packet. C’est tout!

Grilled spicy glutinous rice rolls

Results: I never would have believed that something that smelled rank fishy would wind up being delicious. Those Malaysians know what they’re doing! Give it a try. I bet the coconut is even half healthy, but it tastes decadent. The banana leaves do give a beautiful floral flavour. This dish takes time, but it’s fancy-tasty. Rating: 4 Yums  You might even put down your entrails cookbook to go for this recipe, and I’d serve it to either of the two Canadian gold medal winning hockey teams any day.

Hey, as an aside, I just did this post on my new Macbook! Despite having to Google “how to scroll,” the whole thing went quite well!

It’s Joanna’s virtual shower! And a bunch of dangerous baby foods!

Today’s post is an extra special one. You see, my Internet friends, Joanna and her husband Mike from way on over there at http://midwesternbite.com/, are expecting a baby. So sweetheart Aly from way on over there at fudgingahead.wordpress.com (also expecting a baby) suggested we throw Joanna a virtual baby shower. Fun! And this way, we don’t even have to have a bunch of old women yelling, “Save the bows, save the bows, bikini time!” Score. So welcome to your shower Joanna!!!

I’m new to virtual baby showers, but from what I gather, everyone surprises Joanna with their posts at the same time, usually with a recipe or something special and baby related. Since my blog rep is to try out weird, creative foods, I made a special trip over to the weird food Mecca, T&T, on a hunt for some interesting foods that were baby sized. Or actual babies. I wouldn’t put it past T&T. Anyone ever read Jonathan Swift, circa 1729? Anyone, anyone? Bueller…

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

Right now everyone reading is thinking, “Who invited her.” No worries, there will never be any actual cannibalism on this blog.

But I did find lots of interesting foods that were babyish. Baby-sized, mostly. Let’s start with the fruits. First up, we have a picture of my cat Rudy lounging with a baby watermelon. Rudy is not impressed, if you couldn’t tell, but his needs have kind of taken a back seat in recent years. Joanna, this watermelon will be about the size of the baby you are about to give birth to, if you’re lucky. I birthed two watermelons, each with no drugs. My kids are not nearly grateful enough. I’ll be including a watermelon recipe at the end of my gripping commentary, so hang tight.

Baby watermelon

Next, some baby honey mandarins. They taste pretty much like regular mandarins, but they’re cuter. Cut them into quarters for kids and they gobble them up. The mandarins are pictured with one of my two ungrateful watermelons.

Baby mandarins

The watermelons are cute, though, no?

Next up, some baby bananas. You see, when a mommy and daddy banana love each other…

Baby bananas

And now let’s move on to more dangerous baby foods (although I wouldn’t suggest feeding them to actual babies unless pureed). I haven’t cooked many of them yet – feel free to suggest recipes. My next number of posts will grow from this one, highlighting a few of the following.

Here are some baby dried shrimp. I’ve always seen these in China town and wanted to experiment with them. They’re small enough to be water bugs. Sea monkeys, if you will.

Small dried shrimp

Next, some lotus rootlets. I had never heard the word “rootlet,” but as soon as I did I was sold.

Lotus rootlets

And now for two things that I might actually bring to a shower. I did once bring biltong to my cousin’s baby shower, but I sheepishly snuck it back out again from the pinkified pinkness without a reveal. Anyway, I grabbed these cute red bean bunny buns. My kids never would have gone for a red bean bun, but they gobbled the red bean bunny buns. Easy – steam for 15 minutes.

Red bean buns

Just be careful how you plate them…

red bean bunny buns

And I also got some short ribs. You might argue with me that “short” is not exactly babyish, but have you ever seen a tall baby? I think not.

Short ribs

I decided to marinade the ribs to prep for dinner tomorrow, and chose a recipe from “Weber’s Real Grilling,” which I just mentioned on Joanna’s most recent post where she discussed her cookbook obsession and asked for our favourite cookbooks. Funny story. I went to one of my three cookbook shelves hunting for Real Grilling, and I started to get panicky because it seemed to be missing.

Cookbooks

I hunted for it for a while, only to find out that I had taken it off the shelf two minutes prior to when I lost it, and that it was on the counter in front of me. Cooking with wine when there isn’t any wine in your cooking has its drawbacks, people.

Funnier story. Looking at that picture made me realize how many Jamie Oliver cookbooks I have. I like Jamie Oliver. I mean, I really like Jamie Oliver. Go ahead and judge, but who else am I going to go for, Emeril? Although secretly I do think he’s kind of cute too. Anyway, once I had a steamy dream with Jamie Oliver. Right when the dream started to get interesting, I stopped Jamie Oliver and said, “Hey, if you’re cooking with hot peppers, do you throw the seeds in too?” We all have our priorities.

Who invited her??

I’ll finish with the Weber recipe for the short rib marinade, as well as a simple recipe for watermelon mint salad. But before I do, I want to say a hearty congratulations to Joanna and Mike. As I’m sure you’ve learned from Sweetie Petey, kids are amazing. I wish you both the greatest happiness with your family, and you, Joanna, the best of luck with welcoming your watermelon into the world. From our family to yours, here is a picture of some pizza love we had for dinner tonight that we’ll send your way (the love, not the pizza, unfortunately). I value your long distance friendship, and look forward to hearing about your kid adventures!

And for anyone else reading this, please comment with some cute parenting advice for Joanna. 

pizza love

Mint watermelon salad with feta (serves 4)

  • 1 baby watermelon, cubed
  • 1 English cucumber, diced
  • Good hunk of feta cheese
  • Handful of mint
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Pepper

Prepare everything, adding mint and feta just before serving.

Bourbon marinade

Combine the following ingredients. Makes about 1 cup.

  • 1/2C bourbon
  • 1/4C ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Who knows? A giveaway!

So here’s a first.

My loyal fans know I cook weird stuff. I find it, slay it (or at least charge it, usually with the “tap,” if you must know), research it, cook it, and then feed it to some lucky victim … I mean … friend or family member.

There’s a certain part of this process that gives me great joy, besides watching the terrified faces of my victims when trying an odd food creation. The grocery checker part, prior to the tap, is always lots of fun. You see, weird foods aren’t often labelled well. For some reason, they don’t have stickers. They’re usually all jumbled up in the same section as all the other weird foods, so even when they do happen to have a header card thingy, you can never be sure what is labelling what. Most times I take a picture of the name sitting above the weird food display for two reasons. 1. I’m pretty sure the memory section of my brain is the size of mulberry, so if the label is right I’ll be needing it when I get home  2. The grocery checker often says, “Um, what is this?” and because my memory is the size of a mulberry as already mentioned, I show them what I think the weird food is and then I don’t have to store the odd probable-name in the mulberry.

Ninety percent of the time, the checker person says, “Um, no, it’s not that. Don’t you know what it is? You’re buying it, right?”

Then I greatly enjoy saying, “No, I don’t know what it is. I like buying foods when I have no clue what they are.”

Then checker person says something along the lines of, “Vern to cash four please. Vern,” into their microphone, and that store’s inventory expert food nerd, who I have just anointed, “Vern,” shows up and says, very matter-of-factly, “It’s a blah blah blah.”

Checker person does a dance of joy because they can take my tap and chug ahead with their line, I make a note of the chosen name in my phone (mulberry), and the rest of the weird food order of business can proceed.

Until the other day, when there was a first. I nabbed two of these:

Mysterious food

Weird food 1-IMG_6006

To my great delight, the Vern was called in, and he/she said, “That’s a lotus root.”

I Googled lotus roots, and here’s what the insides look like:

Thanks justhungry.com

Thanks justhungry.com

And here’s what the insides of my veggie and/or fruit looks like:

Odd foodAnd folks, coincidentally, for this, my one hundredth blog post, for the first time, I’ve come across a food that I can’t figure out what it is. I’ve Googled until my Google finger was sore. I’ve sorted through pictures. I’ve searched, “Kind of like an artichoke,” because it peels like one, and “tropical edible tree fruit” and “common South Asian edibles,” and everything else I can think of. And I’m coming up empty.

So I cooked it up anyway. Butter and garlic, can’t go wrong with butter and garlic. And I ate it. I tried some raw, and some cooked. And then I left some leftovers on a plate on the table in case I dropped dead at my son’s swimming lesson and Dr. House’s people had to break in and do an investigation (those guys are smart, but I don’t think they’d know what it was either).

And I created a contest and giveaway, in honour of my one hundredth blog post, and also in honour of a really sweet review and giveaway my blog friends at Midwesternbite.com are doing for my YA romantic comedy novel. I’m really taken aback by the support they’ve given me. So here is how this contest is going to go:

1. You need to follow @midwesternbite on Twitter or subscribe to www.midwesternbite.com to be eligible. As per the really great support they’ve provided to me. While you’re at it, if you’re a chick, go subscribe to www.thepurplefig.com too – more BFFs, and you’ll love the stories. Hey, and don’t forget about me either! That’s a lot of subscribing, but I know you can do it.

2. You need to take a guess at what the heck this weird food is and tell me in the comments. I’ll give further observations to help with your research after I finish the contest rules.

3. If the weird food has already been guessed in the comments by someone else, you need to provide one serving suggestion in the comments. The first person to guess what the food is will get TWO ballots to win, and everyone else who follows the rules will get one.

4. Sorry, but you’re only eligible if you live in North America. I still love you if you live across an ocean or way down south, but it’s expensive to mail crap to you.

And as for the crap that’s getting mailed… (Kidding, this is one of my favourite cookbooks, obviously)…

odd_bits_cover_l

And now for the further details about this odd fruit or vegetable:

1. Apparently I’m not allergic to it, nor is it lethal, neither cooked, nor uncooked.

2. Its protective leaves are kind of like corn husks. Which might make them husks and not leaves. You tell me.

3. I think it’s some kind of super food, because I’m still awake and it’s after 10pm.

4. Its inner leaves are soft and downy, like a monkey’s paw. Or a kitten’s paw. Or a kangaroo’s paw. (I Googled each of these and it’s not that either, FYI)

5. It goes well with beer. And wine. This, I can say for sure.

6. It kind of tastes like a cross between an almond and an artichoke heart. I Googled almondichoke, but no dice.

7. It helps with virility. Wanna know how I know? Ha ha, not really, but I’ve been waiting all day to make that joke.

 

So that’s it!! Best of luck! And if it’s something really silly, like a carrot, you may never see this post again (and it won’t just be the memory part of my brain that’s the mulberry). Oh, and the contest closes March 1, 2014.

Apres School, and the Sapodilla

Know what I’m not any good at? Skiing. But it’s not for lack of trying.

Okay, maybe it actually is for lack of trying. When I was in high school, my friend decided to teach me how to ski. We went on a bus trip to a hill, she taught me to do some turns, and then she got bored on the little hills and decided I was ready to graduate (you could argue that all hills in Ontario are little, and you would most definitely do this if you are reading this from the West coast, but they weren’t little to me). I went with her, but each time I lined up for the lift, I thought to myself, “Hm, I wonder if I’ll die this time.” I wasn’t good enough to keep up with the turns and I quickly picked up speed, so my strategy was just to lock my knees and yell at people to get out of the way. Thankfully, it worked that day, but I swore to be grateful that I had walked away with a pristine neck and never to try that again.

Years later, I took a few lessons, and by a few I mean five. I found this cold, and not particularly enjoyable. They never granted me the privilege of poles.

And then I married a snow bunny.

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

Thanks blog.lakechamplainchocolates.com

That wasn’t him (but it might as well have been).

Thanks swoonworthy.net

Thanks swoonworthy.net

That wasn’t him either. Sorry about that, went on a bit of a Googling tangent. I’m back now. And you’re welcome, ladies.

Anyway, my point is that although my husband would love for me to be good at skiing, it does not happen to be one of my strengths. He is still encouraging me to learn, but I find it at waste of time and money at this point, and also it completely stresses me out. So although I love learning new things, as far as skiing goes, I’ve drawn a line in the snow and said that I have no need to learn to hurtle my body down a hill at high speeds. There are days this makes me feel like a quitter, and a jerk for not being more optimistic and team-player-ish. And I know there will be great numbers of ski trips in my future, because my kids are already becoming great little snow bunnikins. But now we’re finally coming around to my dangerous food point.

I am very adept at apres ski.

Sapodilla

That’s my friend Jackie. We did zero skiing the day she posed with these, but it was frigid cold out, so my sapodilla smoothies with brandy went down just as nicely as if we had tamed some Alpine slopes (is that the lingo? I wouldn’t know). As with apres ski, I am also very good at apres school. You don’t need to actually go to school to do apres school. In general, I think there should be more “apres” activities where you don’t take part in the activity. Life is too short not to celebrate not taking part in something.

Anyway. Sapodilla fruit.

Sapodilla

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

Thanks tropicalfruitnursery.com

They taste a lot like a brown sugar coated pear, and their sap was the original source of chewing gum. I highly recommend them for snacking on straight up after every activity you’re not participating in. But even better, you can take this website’s advice and make brandy smoothies on a blistery cold winter’s day. (Or you could try a brandy smoothie with another soft sweet fruit, like a peach or even ripe persimmon if for some odd reason you can’t find sapodilla).

Brandy sapodilla smoothie (serves two)

1 cup milk

1 Tbsp honey

1/2C brandy (I increased the brandy from the pitiful 1Tbsp the original recipe called for)

1 cup sapodilla pulp

4 cups ice

Place the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.

Results: A great winter warm-up (although it’s mostly cold). This is tropical snow in a drink. I would buy sapodilla if I came across them again. Rating: 2 Yums

I’ll close with another picture of Jackie where I messed up depth of field (I played with some effects with it too). See Cinnamon, I really need to practice this month’s Snaptoit photo challenge on depth of field. Thanks for answering my question!!

Wait, instead I’ll close with a question for everyone else (it’s my blog and I’ll pivot on a whim if I want to). Make me feel better – name one thing in your life that you have given up on learning to do, but that you think to yourself, “I’m actually fine and dandy not to know that, thanks.” This is like the anti-New-Year’s-Resolution.

Cheers to winter!Jackie2

Gee, it’s ghee!

Well finally. You may have been able to guess from my last post that I’ve been feeling flumpy lately. When you cook dangerously, you take certain risks, going for ingredients you’ve never tried – maybe they’re great, but maybe there’s a reason you haven’t tried them. I seem to have gone through a series of these flumps (I’m going to patent that word) in the last month but this time I discovered a winner. A staple. As in, a “this needs to be in your pantry,” staple, as opposed to a “who took my Swingline” staple. Office Space anyone?

Swingline

Last week at our small, run-of-the-mill grocery store, I noticed “ghee,” somewhere near the butter section.

GheeI was excited to try it, because everyone knows it’s butter made of tigers. How much more dangerous can you get than that? You’re questioning this information? Well, I didn’t check the ingredient list closely, but if you’ve ever read the kids’ book ”The Boy and the Tigers,” or “The Story of Little Babaji,” or, if you’re old like me, “Little Black Sambo,” then you know what I’m talking about. The first two titles are a rebranding of the last book, which obviously had racist undertones and so was changed. At first I wondered, “Hm, change the kid from black to Indian and we’re all good?” but when I read more, the change made sense – the original story was actually set in Imperial India and it was mostly the illustrations that were offensive, so they more accurately made the kid “Babaji” or “Rajani,” and the story was preserved. I have to admit I’m glad, because otherwise future generations would have no idea that ghee is made of tigers.

And now a brief synopsis of the book for those who wonder WTH (What the Heck) I’m talking about. Babaji’s mom buys him some swanky new clothes. Babaji prances around in them in the Great Indian Outdoors, and he’s approached by a number of tigers, each one accepting something to wear in exchange for not chowing down on Babaji. In the end, Babaji is naked, and the tigers get jealous of one another and argue, chasing each other around a palm tree so fast that they turn into … drumroll … ghee!

Tiger butter

Babaji retrieves his stuff, and his dad, penny-wise Papaji comes along and scoops up the tiger butter for Mamaji to cook with.

Papaji

Babaji downs 169 of the pancakes, piggie that he is, but I guess all that tiger negotiation made him hungry.

Babaji

And I guess the lesson there is, if you nearly give away all of your expensive stuff to wild animals but you get it back, make sure to celebrate in a big way.

But back to ghee. Ghee is really cool. When they can’t find a tiger, they make it by heating regular butter until the water is boiled off, and then they remove the milk solids. What you’re left with is “clarified butter,” which can actually reduce cholesterol in smaller doses. It’s lactose free for you lactoids out there, and it has stable bonds, so that it doesn’t make free radicals like heated vegetable oil does. It helps with absorption of vitamins, and aids digestion rather than slowing it like butter or other oils. It tastes and smells extra buttery – you’ll recognize the smell if you like lobster. And best of all (for you foodie cooks) it has a high “smoke point,” so that it doesn’t burn if you cook with it at higher temperatures. Yippee for ghee!

I should definitely have made pancakes with the ghee, right? Well guess what, I did! But not entirely on purpose. I searched “ghee” on one of my favourite recipe spaces, epicurious.com, and came up with a handful of recipes, including one for homemade naan bread. Although traditional naan is made in a tandoor oven, this recipe just calls for a heavy pan. Which means … pancakes! (Naan-cakes?). Here’s how it went down:

Tiger Onion Naan-cakes (Makes 10. Give yourself time)

  • Four tigers, thoroughly exercised into a pulp (if unavailable, proceed with remaining ingredients)
  • 3/4C whole milk
  • 8g package dry yeast (1/4oz)
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 3 1/2C all purpose flour, plus more for de-sticking things
  • 1 tsp kosher salt plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1C whole milk yogurt (not Greek, for some reason)
  • 2Tbsp melted ghee plus extra for frying

Directions: Heat milk in small saucepan until it reaches 100F. Transfer to small bowl and whisk in yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Whisk flour with 1tsp salt in a large bowl to blend. Add yeast mix, onion, yogurt, and 2Tbsp ghee.

Dough

Mix dough until blended but shaggy. Transfer to floured work surface and knead that mofo until smooth. Add flour periodically to reduce stickiness. Do this about 5 minutes.

Grease another bowl with ghee and then roll your dough ball around in it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled for about 1 hour.

Punch it down. This is a good recipe to make if you have inner frustrations, or if a tiger just stole your stuff and you’re angry you didn’t manage to get it back. Divide into 10 pieces. Using floury hands, roll each piece into a ball. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.

Naan dough

Heat some ghee in a heavy skillet over med-high heat. Roll your dough into an oblong shape, as thin as you can get it, and pan fry like a pancake, about 2 minutes a side. Wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve.

1-IMG_5812

Results: Fabulous. This recipe takes some time obviously, but the bread was chewy with that onion surprise sweetness throughout, and it was just as good the next day. It wouldn’t have had the same flavour if it hadn’t been cooked in that ”healthy” buttery ghee. Ghee is my new butter, even the tiger-free variety. Rating: 5 Yums!

And on a long-delayed note, I must mention a beautiful Christmas present I got from my blog friends Joanna and Mike at midwesternbite.com.

Chicken ball

You may recall that this year they adopted some chickens, and I won the privilege of naming Mistress Billington (she is a plymouth chicken, Mistress Billington was a famous pilgrim…). I now consider myself her Canadian mother (the chicken, not the pilgrim, she’s long dead). So the Midwestern Bite Family sent me two Christmas tree balls with some of Mistress Billington’s feathers in them. They’re super pretty, and near and dear to my heart. Aren’t the very coolest gifts ones that may not come from Tiffany’s, but that you still find yourself yelling at your kids, “Don’t TOUCH that, I will be VERY upset if you break it!!!!”

Kids and chicken balls

I let them hold them for a brief photo op only. It’s been great getting to know you both better this year and it brightens my day whenever I see something new from my “penpals.” Thanks!

PS I love how the note said it was from the Midwestern “Bile” family. Joanna is pregnant, so maybe the bile had to do with her heartburn?

PPS Please ignore the cupboards on the floor behind my kids, we had a pipe burst in the frigid cold while we were on vacation. Surprise reno! (I’m trying to pretend like I’m not happy about the new kitchen).