Chicken jellyfish slaw

Have you ever been overcome with jealousy while at the library? Happened to me just this week. I was sitting at a study table, innocently leafing through my gigantic dictionaries (copyediting course), when I looked across at the next table and saw a woman taking notes from this:

The food of Vietnam cookbook

A hugely gorgeous Vietnamese cookbook. I wasn’t even able to see any of the pages, but I just knew that that cookbook was chock full of deliciously dangerous recipes.

I completely forgot about copyediting and stared that woman down. I psychically (psycho-ly?) tried to connect with her mind, sending her this message: You will not sign out that cookbook and will leave it for me. That is my cookbook, woman! I repeated this message over and over again, and gave her the best stink-eye I could.

And it worked.

Vietnamese cookbook

I exercised my tired ol’ library card and lugged that monster book home (before I made my daughter lug it for the picture) and eagerly flipped through to find something with odd ingredients to cook, which is a different process from usual – generally I find the odd food first, and then figure out how to cook it. But my new process wasn’t disappointing except that I had to journey to a further grocery store to ensure I found my ingredient, which happened to be jellyfish…

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

Thanks anjimari19.deviantart.com

…or “jellies,” as my very particular BC coastal friend calls them. He says that jellyfish is a misnomer. They’re not fish, he says. True. But the name “jellyfish,” is much more melodic and commonplace, in my opinion, so let’s just stick with popular opinion on this one. Sorry, Cam. I’m sure people listen to your other opinions. Like, if I was going to scale a tall building using only my fingers and toes, I’d totally call you.

I had tried jellyfish once before, and I’m not gonna lie, the experience was not a good one. It was probably ten years ago at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and it appeared as a side dish, almost in place of rice or noodles. I slurped them up, eager to try them, but … they sucked. They were extremely rubbery, greasy, and flavourless. But I had faith in my big fat book. When you catch someone going to the trouble of schlepping themselves to the library so that they can get a hand cramp writing out recipes, it’s a safe bet that they’re on to something.

And that woman was right! Thank goodness my mind meld with her was successful, or I would have continued to believe that jellyfish’s only usefulness is to lure a hot lifeguard to pee on your leg. (Not going to Google for an image of that, although I’ll bet it exists.)

Here’s what I did to prepare Nguyen’s recipe – slightly simpler than how he created it because I couldn’t find all herbs his called for.

Chicken Salad with Jellyfish (why he didn’t call it Jellyfish Slaw I don’t know)

  • 1 single chicken breast, skin removed
  • 500mL chicken stock
  • 2 handfuls salted jellyfish strips

Jellyfish strips

  • 1C finely shredded white cabbage
  • a healthy handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • 1tsp toasted rice powder (pan fry dry glutenous rice grains over med heat 15 mins, then grind w mortar and pestle)
  • 6 cloves garlic turned into chips (heat 1/2C olive oil, then add sliced garlic until browned)
  • 1Tbsp garlic oil (use olive oil from previous bullet point)
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin rings
  • 3 or more Tbsp Nuoc mam cham dipping sauce (3Tbsp fish sauce, 3Tbsp rice vinegar, 2Tbsp  sugar, 1tsp chili flakes, 2Tbsp lime juice)
  • small handful of lightly fried chives
  • top with peanuts (but we didn’t due to an allergy)

Directions: Boil chicken breast in chicken stock 15 minutes, then pull apart into strips and allow to cool. Use stock again another day. Rinse salt from jellyfish and then boil for 30 seconds. Soak in a bowl of cold water 30 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients with drained jellyfish.

I served this dish to my camera-shy friend Krishna.

Kish

She’s a very dangerous eater – you may remember meeting her last time she was over, when I served her up some curried goat. Right now you’re thinking, “I’m kind of glad I don’t get invited to dinner parties at yours, Ann,” but honest, she likes trying my stuff. Plus we’ve been friends a long time, so I just threaten I’ll expose her dirt if she doesn’t eat and like what I make for her. That chick has a lot of dirt. (Like, under her fingernails. Okay, so that’s not even true either.)

Results:

Jellyfish salad

We ate the salad with a delectable pork moo shu lettuce wrap main — here’s a hot pic of the thinly sliced pork loin prior to cooking:

Pork loin

We nibbled directly from the bowls long after our first plates were clean. I even ate jellyfish slaw leftovers for lunch today, and it was just as good. My husband ate tons too, and he would have been the first one to say he was ordering pizza if it was blah.

And what did the jellyfish taste like? It was chewy for sure, but it didn’t taste fishy or have much flavour at all, really. My husband said that it took on the flavour of the sauce. I think the salad definitely would have been missing something if it had been cooked without the jellyfish. I’m going to call it an important textural assistant. Rating: 3 Yums. If you live near a coastline and a jellyfish stings you, make sure you teach it a lesson and throw it in a pot after the whole leg-peeing rigamarole.

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!

Cou(s) cou(s) for Coconut Water

I’m such a genius at maximizing my titles’ search engine potential.

Remember how I blogged about the Toronto Wine and Food Show a few weeks ago? You may recall my friend frenching an ice sculpture while we were there…

Meet Trish, Editor-in-chief of The Purple Fig

Meet Trish, Editor-in-chief of The Purple Fig

She loves when that pops up as the preview picture on Facebook.

Anyway, there was one product we got a super sales pitch on that I didn’t mention in that post (and they haven’t given me any dough to talk about it neither). Bloggies, (as in, since I’m a blogg-er, you’re a blog-ee) I would like to introduce you to Elton John’s coconut water.

Jax coco

Yup, the sales guy at the show, who was super into it, said that Elton John tasted it and fell in love with it, buying into the company. So here’s the question I had to ask myself. Is Elton John my beverage role model? I mean, probably if he was endorsing a certain piano or even a pair of platforms it might be worth stopping to listen, but drinks? Sales guy probably could have twisted my arm if the coconut water was spiked with something, but otherwise, I didn’t really give a crap what Elton John was drinking.

But then sales guy started telling us about actual crap!

In part two of his pitch he said that his coconut water was better because – and let’s see if I get this right because I couldn’t corroborate with any Google results – they wash the coconuts before they pasteurize them, removing fecal matter before they harvest and pasteurize the milk. He said other coconut waters are treated, but sometimes you can see the poo in the bottom of the bottles, and that even though there’s no longer any bacteria, you can sometimes taste it as an aftertaste. Can I get an Ew? I kind of forget where he said the poo comes from, but let’s not think about it too hard, because I just typed a couple of scenarios but had to erase them because it traumatized me and I wanted to protect you from the same imagined mental anguish, dear bloggie.

So of course I bought some of the man’s coconut water. The guy had given two very creative arguments about why I should purchase it, and he didn’t even mention that coconut water was used as blood plasma in WWII when they didn’t have enough, which I just found out in my Google quest. Three odd arguments for why I should drink this stuff is more than enough to wrestle my five bucks from my pocket.

(FYI, it’s also supposed to rehydrate you like a natural sports drink which is why it’s all the rage right now, and it isn’t the same as coconut milk, which usually includes the fattier pureed coconut meat).

So tonight I gave it a go with a quick-and-dirty (although less dirty than other brands) couscous recipe. I made up this recipe with what happened to be in my fridge and pantry, and it was very easy, quick, cheap, and healthy.

Coconut Water Couscous with apple, carmelized onion, and black pepper

  • 1C poo-free Coconut Water
  • 3/4C couscous
  • 1Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 large apple, diced
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 2Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • black pepper

Directions: Boil coconut water in medium pot. Add couscous, stir, cover, and turn off heat. Meanwhile, melt butter in a frying pan. Add onions and cook slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onions brown.

Not done yet...

Not done yet…

Squeeze lemon over diced apples, fluff couscous, and add apples, onions, and cilantro to the pot, and then go a little mental with the pepper.

Coconut Couscous

Results:  I served ours up with sesame tuna. Awesome! I’ll make this as a regular side dish for sure. I was able to taste the flair of the coconut water, and the pepper with the apples and sweet onions was fab. SO easy. The plain coconut water was fresh and wasn’t sweet – a great alternative to boring old water or unhealthy pop. Rating: 3 Yums

Apparently Rocket Man wasn’t such a bad drink role model after all.

Fried green tomatoes

I’ve been kind of procrastinating this post, so let me explain why it’s tardy. Weeks ago, I went to The Royal Winter Fair and found a dangerous food there. The Fair is pretty cool – basically small town Canada comes to the T.dot with their animals and there are contests and races and butter sculptures…

Thanks royalfair.org

Thanks royalfair.org

…and it’s a rural good time in the city. It’s called “The Royal” Winter Fair because King George the 5th called it that in 1920. When I was little I went with my aunt and I was kind of shy, but I quietly said to her, “Some day I might want to milk a cow.” My aunt was and is very unshy, so she went and grabbed a farmer there and said, “THIS GIRL WANTS TO MILK A COW.” I was mortified, of course. The cow had its milking machine on, so the farmer let me pat its udder, but I still haven’t done the legit milkmaid thing with the teats, even though my husband’s family runs a dairy farm in Northern Ireland with almost 100 cows that I’ve visited at least twice. Maybe next time I should bring my aunt to speak up for me. Milking bucket lists.

Anyway. Neither butter nor milk were my dangerous foods from the fair. While I was wandering around I saw this, and said to the guy manning the produce booth, “Hey, I need to have that.”

Fried green tomatoes

We don’t really eat green tomatoes around here, so I thought that would be the perfect dangerous food – such a clever idea making them into a kit. “The guy,” turned out to be Peter Quiring, the CEO of Nature Fresh Farms, a 67 acre greenhouse complex where they grow 7 million kilos of peppers and tomatoes and probably other fruit/veg every year, recycling their waste water and doing other amazing cool stuff. Here’s an article about them in The Canadian Business Journal. Feels like I met a famous person. Shouldn’t farmers be famous? Most important job, no? So I asked him if I could buy a box, and he said they weren’t really selling them, but when I said it was for my dangerous food blog, he was happy to give them and also threw in these

Hot peppers

A pretty little hot pepper assortment that were a little too pretty – I told my little guy not to touch them, but for some reason he couldn’t resist and took a chomp out of one which resulted in an hour long crying fit. Was it mean of me to photograph his frustrated agony?

Hot tongue

That’s what you get when you don’t listen to mama. A scalding hot tongue.

But back to the fried green tomatoes. I procrastinated blogging about them because I expected to Google and find “Southern delicacy, blah blah,” and that didn’t seem like a very interesting post to me. But it turns out that there’s big debate about whether eating green tomatoes is even Southern. The movie that we all remember (but that I never saw) resulted in bushels still being fried up by the Irondale/Whistlestop Cafe, but the “delicacy” may have originated elsewhere to make use of unripe tomatoes that were useless after vines died. The passion about their history is kind of interesting, and Robert F. Moss has already blogged about it better than I could ever do. Don’t skip the comments.

I just cared that they were tasty. This won’t be an overly complex recipe, because all I did with the kit was “add water.” But generally fried green tomatoes are made with a cornmeal batter and fried only half-submerged in oil. Google for your fav recipe if you’d like to give it a try and can’t find a Nature Fresh kit. The results taste kind of crisp and tart, almost vinegary. I served them with pickled red onions that I learned about in The Purple Fig Mag, which I highly recommend keeping in your fridge to sprinkle on anything that needs a kick.

Green tomato

Sliced green tomatoes

Frying tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes and onions

And while at first I thought I didn’t have much to say about tomatoes, now I just can’t stop blabbing. Nature Fresh Farms is in Leamington, the tomato capital of North America, where Heinz gets much of its tomato mojo. They have a tomato festival every year, that I actually attended once. Gotta love agricultural festivals. Let’s hope not all ketchup is made like this by the tomato princesses.

Thanks leamingtonpost.blogspot.com

Thanks leamingtonpost.blogspot.com

And did you know that ketchup is the only condiment that the human palate agrees on? There are hundreds of mustards, tomato sauces, hot sauces. But with Heinz, there are no other kinds. Here is a very interesting food marketing article about ketchup for you.

And because I just can’t stop talking today, I’ll leave you with Uma Thurman’s joke from Pulp Fiction:

Three tomatoes are walkin’ down the street.
Papa Tomato, Mama Tomato and Baby Tomato.
Baby Tomato starts lagging behind, and Papa Tomato gets really angry.
Goes back and squishes him and says….

UPDATE: Aw MAN! When I told my husband about this post (he only reads my stuff if he is figured prominently or something) he asked if I had heard that Heinz was closing its Leamington plant. ROTTEN tomatoes all around. Here is an article describing that decision and touching on its impact.

Queen bee for a day – Cooking with royal jelly

If you click on over to The Purple Fig (a fantastic online magazine where women can “share without ego or self-consciousness”) you’ll find where I just guest-posted about royal jelly!! Or if your clicky finger is lazy, you can also read it below. But check out some of the other articles in The Purple Fig for sure.

And we’ll never be royals (royals)
It don’t run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain’t for us, we crave a different kind of buzz
Let me be your ruler (ruler)
You can call me queen bee
And baby I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule, I’ll rule
Let me live that fantasy

Royals – Lorde

Well it’s true, most of us will never be royals. Unless you have your sights set on Harry. And who doesn’t? Mmmmm… Harry…

But anyone can be queen bee for a day, or at least for a meal. When I saw some honey spiked with royal jelly, I knew I had to give it a go for my next “dangerous” (aka strange) food. Those poor bee keepers went to all the trouble of raiding the queen bee’s bedroom for it after all.

1-IMG_4937

 

And it’s healthy, honey! You really need to get your hands on some. In the same way that the Queen of England probably doesn’t eat KD and hotdogs, queen bees are only fed the good stuff – royal jelly is full of vitamins and is a true super food, helping to restore strength, energy, endurance, libido (could help with the Harry situation, just sayin), hormonal balance, memory, youthfulness, and immune system strength.

And hey, it doesn’t taste like fish oil!

To make the most of my noble nectar, I hunted for a dinner recipe that my kids might like too. I decided to go with something barbecued because I’m still living the dream of summer. I was inspired by a healthy-yet-simple-and-delicious chicken legs and succotash recipe on Epicurious.com. My alterations are included below.

Chili and Honey Chicken Legs

  • 4-10 chicken legs or quarters, skin removed
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of honey spiked with royal jelly
  • 1 chili pepper to taste. My kids don’t like spicy, so I went with a dried ancho chili which is flavourful but tame

Ancho chili pepper

  • 1Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (I didn’t add this, but it was a delicious afterthought)
  • Good pinch of kosher salt
  • Healthy grind of pepper

Directions: Pop everything except chicken into your food processor and give it a whizz until well combined. Pour marinade over the chicken in a large ziplock, squeeze out the air, and leave it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Marinaded chicken legs

Grill at about 400 until juices run clear when pierced, about 20 minutes.

1-IMG_4948

Sufferin’ Succotash (Looney Tunes? Anybody?)

Serves 4

  • 1Tbsp butter
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 14oz can lima beans (aka butter beans), rinsed
  • Kernels of 2 corn cobs (or frozen, but they’re in season right now so I went with fresh)
  • 1/4C light cream

Directions: Melt butter in pan over med heat. Add onions, cook 1 minute. Add beans and corn, sautee 1-2 minutes. Add cream, bring to boil, cook another minute or two.

Succotash

Results

Succotash and chicken legs

These recipes worked out bee-utifully! (Sorry, I had to throw in at least one pun). The chicken was quick, simple and tasty, and the succotash was a brilliant surprise – delicious, filling, and cheap. Rating: 3 Yums  Serve it up and bring out your family’s inner queen bee.

Amaranth made Phil Callaloopy

Disclaimer #1 – This post is about amaranth making Phil loopy, not absinthe. We’ll save the latter for another day.

Disclaimer #2 – Many pigs were harmed in the making of this recipe. If you are Muslim or Jewish, have a browse through some of my other un-porky recipes. This post masquerades as a Jamaican recipe, but apparently Rastafarians also aren’t into pork, although other Jamaicans might be.

Disclaimer #3 – This isn’t really a disclaimer, but more of a management of expectations. Get ready for two, yes, two, recipes for the price of one today! Side dish AND soup.

The other day, my Dad very proudly presented me with a big bag of green. No, I didn’t grow up on the wrong side of the tracks. Each summer, my Dad grows himself a little garden – his grandfather and father used to grow veggies, so we come from a long line of turning some dirt and coming up with something edible. Here are a few of his zucchinis from last year.

IMG_0281

It’s a little garden that gives big. So he was proud to have grown a few veggies especially for me this year – “raw” materials for my odd food blog.

The big bag of green was Jamaican (honest, right side of the tracks), and he bought the seeds as callaloo, although after reading a bit I think the greens are technically called amaranth and are used to make a dish called callaloo, but this might change regionally. Don’t worry your pretty little selves about it too much, mon.

IMG_4254

IMG_4253I found a recipe here – I actually thought it was a Jamaican blog, but looking at the website on the computer rather than my phone, I see that the cooks are of the paler variety. But I don’t judge, mon. The recipes are good. If you can’t find these exact leafies, you can substitute spinach, kale, or other hearty greens.

And are we ready for the various hams and bacons? You know you are. We’re going to start with a soup to soften up the greens, then “leave,” to make a side dish, then return to the soup. Got me?

Coconut milk callaloo with pancetta (side dish serving 4)

Start cooking at around 3pm or earlier for dinner

  • 1 large bag of greens. If using amarinth, they are surprisingly like big leaves of a tree. Cut out the tough central spine (like how you would for kale) and chop roughly
  • 1 smoked chunk of meat. I used a pork hock (click link to learn more about pork hocks), but original recipe suggests a smoked turkey wing

IMG_4251

  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2C cider vinegar (I actually used white wine vinegar because I didn’t have cider)
  • soup pot of water
  • 1 good chunk of pancetta, diced. If you can’t find this, use bacon
  • 1/2 can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed with knife, then diced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2Tbsp oregano
  • 2Tbsp basil
  • 1Tbsp celery seed
  • 1Tbsp paprika
  • Generous sprinkling of pepper
  • Add hot pepper if you prefer spicy – I cooked for kids so left spiciness out

1. Submerge smoked hunk of meat into soup pot and cover well with water. Add vinegar and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer with lid on for at least one hour, longer if you’re not in a rush. Add greens and simmer for about an hour (one hour minimum for hock and greens together)

2. Now is a good time to prep your meat course, if you want something to go with the greens.

3. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat the greens, fry up some diced pancetta until crispy. If you don’t often cook with this, you should – it’s like bacon in a hunk, so when you dice it, it makes the loveliest salty little meat cubes

IMG_4264

4. Remove the greens from the pot with a slotted spoon, and add to the pancetta pan. Pour coconut milk over and cook until heated.

IMG_4265

 

Here’s how much Phil liked it:

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I’d call that a success.

And now for recipe #2…

Callaloo Soup Protein Bashment (Jamaican word for party)

  • Soup stock and smoked meat from recipe above. Meat picked away from bone post-long-simmer. Meat re-added, bone discarded
  • 1 package sausages, pan fried and diced
  • 2 healthy handfuls of raw shrimp, peeled

IMG_4273

  • Extra greens if you used them all in part 1 – I ran out of callaloo, so I added 2-3 handfuls of spinach
  • 1 14oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1. Fry up your sausages. I know you’re going to ask “how many?” but just use your judgement or what you have on hand. The joy of soup is that if you use less, it’s just less chunky. If you use more, it lasts longer

2. Toss everything into the soup, including pork meat picked from boiled hock. Make sure your greens get enough time simmering to be soft. Shrimp should be added only a few minutes before serving

3. Serve it up!

IMG_4281

Sorry for the quality of that last picture. All this cooking took a while so you can be sure I was into the wine by the time it was all done.

Results: Tasty and reasonably healthy! I was surprised that the pork hock didn’t give off more fat – even the next day there wasn’t a gross layer across the top. My little guy liked this soup because its flavours were quite light. I especially liked how the process gave two recipes for the price of one. Big up to dem dawtas who passed the raw recipe along. And to mi fawda who grew the actual raw ingredients! Irie. Rating: 4 Yums

Swimming with the fishes

Ever walk past a tank of swimming fish in a grocery store’s seafood department and think to yourself, “Who the heck actually buys one of those?”  Well, this week, for the benefit of my gazillions of weird food fans, the answer was, “I do!”

There’s something about asking for live food that seems both indulgent and disgusting. As I pointed at the ugly grey fish making sweet little kissy faces and ordered the poor grocery guy to chase him with the big net, I felt a pang of guilt that I would be responsible for taking him/her from a swimming state to a dinner plate, but I had to tell those sucky inner voices of mine to shut up.  I am a meat-eater after all, at almost every single meal, and it’s hypocritical if I get turned off just because I have to watch the inevitable dirty work go down in person.  I just saw someone’s Twitter description say, “If slaughterhouses had clear walls everyone would be vegetarian,” and although I’m sure this wasn’t intended to encourage me to watch my food getting killed, it did make me try to own the fact that I eat meat.  If I continue to do it.  Maybe the conclusion to this blog will be that I eventually become veggie.  But not just yet.

Because I am a food journalist, I’ll describe one more disturbing experience that I had in eating a live fish.  If you’re vegetarian, please turn away and wait for my next post.  Grocery guy took out my flopping fish…

…and put it on the back counter beside a big rubber mallet.  I was horrified, worried that I was about to see the fish get a violent whack on the head, but then I didn’t see it.  Grocery guy lopped off all the fins and gutted and scaled the fish with robot-like efficiency, handing it to me after only about fifteen seconds in a plastic bag with the head on and the rest of the body intact.  So I’m still left wondering – did I just miss the death blow, or did it not happen?  Closer and closer to veganism every day. But why does meat have to taste so good?

And my day just got better and better.  Now I had to prepare a whole fish for dinner that day (to take advantage of the “fresh meat”) and I was having friends over in the afternoon followed by piano lessons for my daughter which meant I wouldn’t be able to prep everything until after seven.  Let me tell you, I wouldn’t recommend lopping off a fish’s head…

…while entertaining three moms and their kids, and I didn’t – I hacked it off with a dull knife feeling like an axe murderer before they arrived, wrapping the rest in foil, stuffing it with garlic, and baking it incognito while we all sipped coffee (aka wine).

I chose a recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Meals in Minutes because I was so pressed for time.  Despite my adoration of Jamie Oliver, this cookbook kind of bugs me because the instructions are jumbled together to help home chefs with efficiency, popping out an entire meal at the end – I find this makes recipes difficult to modify and track at a glance. In this case, though, I needed Jamie’s help to throw a dinner together as quickly as possible, and I loved how it worked out.  I’ll copy the entire recipe below so that you can see how the book works, and then I’ll describe how I modified it to prep as much as possible ahead, throwing the rest together post-piano.  He includes a dessert and drink too, but I didn’t make those so I’ve omitted them.

Branzino (Recently Live Tilapia, for me) & Crispy Pancetta, Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Asian Greens

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

  • 1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 limes
  • A small bunch of cilantro
  • 2Tbsp mango chutney
  • Soy sauce

Greens

  • 1 fresh red chile
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Soy sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Sesame oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 1 head of broccoli

Branzino

  • 8 slices pancetta
  • 4 x 6-ounce branzino fillets, skin on, scaled and pin-boned (for me this was one tilapia fish plus a few supplemental fillets of whitefish)
  • 1Tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 lemon

Seasonings

  • Olive oil
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper

To Start Get all your ingredients and equipment ready.  Fill and boil the kettle.  Put a large saucepan with a lid and a large frying pan  on a medium heat.

Potatoes  Wash the sweet potatoes, trim off any gnarly bits, then stab them a few times with a knife.  Put in a large microwave-safe bowl, halve oneo f the limes and add to the bowl, then cover with a double layer of plastic wrap and microwave on full power for 12 minutes, or until cooked through.

Greens  Seed and finely chop the chile, adding half to a large serving bowl and add 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and ¼ to 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime and add a splash of sesame oil.  Mix, taste, and adjust the soy sauce if needed.  Trim the asparagus stalks.  Quarter the head of the broccoli lengthways from the head to the base of the stalk.

Branzino  Put the pancetta into the frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil.  Keep an eye on it, turning when crispy.  [When the pancetta has become golden] remove it to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.  Add the fish to the pan, skin side down.  Shake the pan and use a spatula to press the fillets flat for a few seconds.  Pound 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in a pestle & mortar and scatter over the fish from a height with a pinch of salt & pepper.  Finely grate over the zest of 1 lemon, then cut the lemon into quarters and set aside.

Potatoes  Finely chop the cilantro on a large wooden cutting board, setting a few leaves aside for the garnish.  Add the mango chutney, a good splash of soy sauce, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the juice from ½ lime, and the reserved chopped chile.  Chop and mix everything together on the board.

Greens  Fill the large saucepan with boiling water and add a large pinch of salt.  Add the broccoli and asparagus, making sure they are completely submerged.  Put the lid on and turn the heat to high.

Branzino  Check the fish – once the skin is golden and crispy, turn the heat down to low – but have confidence to let the skin become good and crispy before reducing the heat.

Potatoes  Get the sweet potatoes out of the microwave and check they are cooked through, then use tongs to squeeze over the juice from the hot lime halves and discard them.  Carefully tip the sweet potatoes on top of the mango chutney mixture and use a knife or masher to chop and mash everything together, including the skins.  Season to taste, adding more fresh lime juice if needed.

Branzino  Take the pan of fish off the heat and flip the fillets over so they gently finish cooking on the flesh side.  Return the pancetta to the pan to warm through, then serve the fish and pancetta on top of the board of mashed potatoes.  Pop the lemon sedges on the side for squeezing and sprinkle over the reserved cilantro.  Take to the table.

Greens  Drain the broccoli and asparagus in a colander, then tip into the serving bowl with the dressing, quickly toss, and take to the table.

 

Results:  These were the best sweet potatoes I’ve had in my life!  They were spicy, though, so if you don’t like spice maybe substitute a sweet red pepper – I can never find red and green chiles, so I substituted a scotch bonnet pepper, and my hands were still burning through the night.  Also, I don’t like cooking in the microwave, especially with plastic wrap, so if you have enough time, be sure to boil or steam your potatoes instead.  But I’m definitely going to make a version of these sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner.  Delish.

But this post was about the fish.  So what I did differently from Jamie…  I wrapped my whole fish (bloody and slimy, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, stuffed with sliced garlic) in foil and baked it on a baking sheet at 400 for 35 minutes.  Doing this made it easy to pick apart for meat, which I added to the pancetta fat in the pan…

…sprinkling with crushed fennel seeds and lemon zest as Jamie suggests.  And this got me about 4 bites of meat!  I think if you buy tilapia fillets they probably come from monsters, not grocery store fish like mine.  I learned from this experience that swimming fish are mostly there for decoration.  Sorry fishy.  Anyway, I fried my pre-baked meat to crisp it up a little and followed the rest of the recipe, frying the pancetta and washing and cutting veg before my friends came, re-warming the pancetta and cooking everything else post-piano.

Phil loved it.  Jamie Oliver never disappoints.  But I can’t even tell you if there was a difference in taste due to fishy freshness because I had to mix it with more meat.  I won’t ask for a live fish again, but it was definitely “an experience” to cook one.  Rating:  5 Yums for Jamie’s recipe and cookbook, 2 Gags for cooking a live grocery store fish.

Wine Pairing

In honour of the NHL strike, I’ll choose one of winealign.com’s top chardonnay suggestions (which the site says pairs well with pan fried whitefish), Wayne Gretzky’s 2008 unoaked chardonnay, selling for $13.95 in Ontario.

Don’t eat the daisies (but go for zucchini flowers)

When my daughter was tiny, she asked if she could eat flowers, and I told her that while it wasn’t impossible, most of the time you couldn’t (probably in clearer language that went something along the lines of “not really”).  With the little guys it’s good to go with blanket rules of thumb – in this case, I didn’t want to find her in the middle of a rose bush at breakfast one morning.

Doris Day had the same rule.  I used to watch this with my mom, who loves the oldie but goodies.

Don’t Eat the Daisies

It turns out, though, that if I had found my daughter in the middle of a rosebush having a nibble everything probably would have turned out okay, besides the inevitable thorn injuries.  This article highlights the many different flower varieties that are edible, and roses are one of them.

I didn’t read an article and visit the Botanical Gardens in the middle of the night to get this recipe, but don’t put it past me.  Finding zucchini flowers was as easy as picking them up at my local organic fruit market/store.  I proudly nabbed them as soon as I saw them, partly hoping to impress my daughter who is now old enough to be selective and cautious about which blooms to consume – a mother would hope, anyway.  One can never predict how sensible one’s own progeny may be, always moving forward only on blind faith, a wish and a prayer.  Just last weekend she forgot to bring shoes for a weekend at the cottage, so my mothering skills are not entirely irrelevant just yet.

But back to the zucchini flowers.

The shopkeeper suggested that people buy them so that they can stuff and deep fry them, and when I got to googling I found this recipe that looked interesting.  A little unhealthy, yes, but I’m always more open to clogging the arteries of guests rather than my own family, and we were having friends for dinner and I needed an appetizer (sorry Mel and Bryan).  I prepared the recipe almost exactly as written, but I’ll recap below so that you don’t have to go to the trouble of clicking over to another window.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

  • 1C all-purpose flour
  • 1C sparkling water (plus a little more)
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 zucchini flowers
  • 1/3C soft goat cheese
  • 2Tbsp cream cheese (I used this as directed, but not sure it’s critical to buy a whole $4 tub of it for this recipe.  Use your judgement)
  • 2Tsp cream
  • 1Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions:  Mix filling ingredients in a small bowl.  Gently spoon filling into the bowls of the flowers, twisting the tops of the petals to close.

Heat a pan full of oil over med-high heat for a few minutes.  Combine flour and sparkling water in a bowl so that it is runny enough to easily coat flowers — I had to add slightly more sparkling water than 1C to decrease thickness of batter.  Gently dredge flowers in flour mixture (homonyms are cool in this recipe) and fry until flowers are golden brown.

Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve.

Fried zucchini flowers

Results:  This recipe was a winner!  Deep fried cheese of any kind is always a treat, and the flowers added a surprising freshness to each bite.  Even Mel ate and enjoyed them, and she is one of the pickiest eaters I know (this wouldn’t offend her – she owns it).  My daughter ate a plain flower dipped in honey because she’s not into cheese.  Fun.  Rating:  5 yums, the highest offered by my very technical ten point rating system.

Suggested wine pairing:  Wine pairing is a new feature of my blog because…well…who doesn’t like wine?  And in this case it’s extra relevant, because my dinner guest for the flowers, Bryan, created the site that I’ll be using to research appropriate pairings: winealign.com.

I would suggest the 2011 Errazuriz Estate Sauvignon Blanc from Aconcagua Valley, Chile, found in Ontario for $11.95. 

I got this result by using the food/wine pairing feature of the site, in combination with searching for the highest rated Sauvignon Blanc at my local liquor store for less than $25. Cheers!

Rind Slop Salad

Now this title isn’t very fair, because today’s dish was entirely edible.  I was just struggling for a good heading and feel like I’ve been a bit too free with rhyme and alliteration lately.  But it’s true that the title came about as I was considering how many dishes I’ve cooked for this blog using parts of foods I normally would have thrown out (or fed to piggies, if any were handy). I’ve cooked beet greens, lamb bones, garlic greens, fish heads…  pretty soon I’ll be serving up corn cobs and pineapple tops, probably in the same meal.  Today though, I went for watermelon rinds.

We just got back from camping with my friend Hong, who happened to mention that watermelon rinds are edible.  She’s a legit foodie; the type whose house you go to for dinner where you’re fed apps, salad, coconut shrimp soup (where the shrimps are so big you only need two), blackened cod over grilled veg, and then just as you’re trying to figure out how you’re going to make room for dessert she informs you that your meat course is on its way.  Just as a not-so-random example.  The dessert was either homemade bread pudding or profiteroles that day, I can’t remember which, but the fact that she has served me both before proves my point.  This weekend at the campsite she cooked pulled pork over charcoal (ALL DAY) and then topped it with coleslaw and our choice of peach flavoured or traditional homemade barbeque sauce.  Homemade s’more brownies for dessert, in honour of the camping theme.  Bet most of you would be willing to sleep sans-tent in bear country for that kind of treatment.

Anyway, she mentioned that you could eat watermelon rinds, and so since she’s a walking culinary encyclopedia I knew I could trust what she was dishing out (figuratively, for once).  She proceeded to tell me that most people eat it pickled, and here was where I had to exercise caution.  I love pickled stuff as much as the next hog, but I know it’s an awful lot of work.  She continued, “Oh no, it’s really easy…” but then I tuned her out.  Maybe physics is easy for a rocket scientist, but for me it was something I had to make a LOT of time for, and the payoff wasn’t really worth it.  I quickly decided to write ‘pickling watermelon rinds’ after ‘physics’ on my “for a very boring rainy day,” list.  A few earlier items on that list include ‘golf,’ and ‘become bilingual.’  Too busy to can, reader-san.

Instead I found this recipe that suggested steaming the rinds and using them in a salad, which is what I based the recipe below on.  Unfortunately, I’ll spoil the ending and tell you that the results were only pig worthy.  Keep reading, though, and I’ll make suggestions at the end.

Watermelon rind slop salad

  • Rind of one half of a watermelon, white only (green peeled off with peeler).

    (throw out stuff on right)

    My melon had a very thin rind which apparently is how they’re breeding them now.  Stop messing with my melons, geneticists, no one asked you!  I miss seeds.  Anyway, if you get a higher rind yield and want to try original recipe, increase spices

  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1/2C cilantro, chopped
  • 1Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2Tbsp olive oil
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2tsp paprika
  • 1/4tsp cayenne
  • Salt

Steam rinds in steamer until soft.  They will change colour slightly.  Allow rinds to cool.  Combine all ingredients, sprinkling spices over so that they’re evenly distributed.

Results:  Pretty, but not delicious.  The rinds tasted a little like cooked cucumber, which, as I told my husband when he once added it to spaghetti, is a bit wrong.  The recipe didn’t taste terrible, but it definitely wasn’t interesting, even though I love cilantro in almost anything.  Rating:  1 gag.  But I’m not ready to throw the rinds to the squealers just yet.  Here is a totally different recipe that I have imagined after knowing what the steamed rinds taste like.  Please try it and tell me how it works!

Feta Tomato Rind Salad with Basil and Walnuts

  • Watermelon rinds, prepared same as above
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Good hunk of feta cheese, crumbled
  • Handful of walnuts, toasted in pan or under broiler until fragrant (3-5 minutes)
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Good glug of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Steam rinds and cool, as in previous recipe.  Combine remaining ingredients.

I might even prepare this one for Hong!  Wish me luck.

 

Hellova Jicama (HIH-cuh-muh)

I ran into a problem at the grocery store this week that I often do while buying foods for my blog, but this time it was taken to the extreme.

I was standing in line to pay for my full cart of kid yogurt, hotdogs, and odd dangerous foodie ingredients, trying to prevent my kids from strangling one another, when the acne ridden checkout teen lazily called, “override please, checkout 5,” into his phone/PA.  Everyone in line took a deep breath trying to ground themselves in patience they didn’t have, but who’s kidding who, I had it worst because I was the only one with kids.  Forget self-checkout and express lanes, there definitely needs to be a “hey I’ve got kids get me the frick out of here,” line.  Even if you don’t have kids you’d appreciate that for the second-hand good it would do you.

Anyway, it turns out that the old woman in front of me had a coupon for adult diapers that she thought would get her two packs for free without putting a single cent down when in fact it was only a BOGO, and the matter was complicated by the fact that she didn’t speak English.  The manager of the store took more than ten minutes to show up at the register to put her magic Alice in Wonderland key in to undo whatever the clerk had done before he was finally able to ring through all of my purchases that were splayed across the grocery belt, having prevented my escape previously.  I rolled my two children who were now blind from having poked one another’s eyes out up to the cash and got ready to pay, only to be faced with what always happens when I buy stuff for this website.  The clerk held this up…

…and said, “What is this?”

By now there were about eight people in line, and they were in no mood for me to run to where I had found it.  Luckily I usually take a picture of the sign posted above my strange food items so that I don’t forget what they are, so I was able to show him this, the sign that was posted over my round tuber veggie roots:

To which he said, “No, I know what Cocoes are.  These are not that.”

I’ll tell you, dear reader(s), that at least 60% of the time the sign posted above a strange veggie does not describe what it should.  You may have read in my blog previously that once I picked up horseradish that was labelled taro.  If it had been taro and I had prepared it as horseradish I would have poisoned my husband.  Thanks to google photos, he lived to tell the tale of how I make the best horseradish ever.  When I say I cook dangerously I mean it literally.

Anyway, when the guy didn’t know what my veggie was, I considered throwing it at him and telling him to forget it, as I watched his face wonder how badly I really needed something that I couldn’t identify.  But I stood my ground.  I’m telling you this story because even though I wanted to end my grocery store pain, I fought for my little cocoes that turned out (with the help of a senior grocery checker professional who said they were something that started with “j”) to actually be jicama.  And I want you to remember this story and do the same, the next time something won’t scan or your item is strange or your checker is incompetent.  You make them call that manager, and you cross your arms and look smug as the whole line swears at you over Twitter into their phones.

I say this because it turns out that jicama is a delicious wonder food, and so obviously I was rewarded for having had the patience of the Dalai Lama and the perseverance of Rosie MacLennan that day (the latter being our only gold medalist in these Olympic games, in the death defying art of the trampoline).

Jicama Hash Browns

  • 3 jicama, peeled and sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1Tbsp butter

Directions:  I talked so long telling an anti-climactic story that I’ll let you off easy with a simple recipe.  Melt the butter in a pan.  Sautee the onion until translucent over medium-high heat.  Add the jicama and continue to sautee until slightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Results

Shockingly good.  I “adapted” the recipe from one in the Diabetes Daily  which said that it’s a great low carb substitute for potatoes.  I just found it tasty!  When I tasted it raw, jicama was fresh, almost like an apple crossed with a potato (but less sweet), and cooked it tasted crispier than cooked potatoes.  I will stump grocery checkers with them on a regular basis and throw them into salads raw or cook them as a side dish.  Rating:  3 Yums

Just as an aside

On our recent vacation driving from Calgary to Kelowna we stopped at a rest stop candy store that had everything.  I was tempted to try these and write them up for the site, but I used the fact that I wouldn’t have to do anything to prepare them as an excuse not to: