Monday, 26 March 2012


You don't make friends with salad. Generally a bad idea for something you are about to eat. If you make friends by accident, just close your eyes and power through. Eat that salad like a man. Ha! Dollars to bagels, that phrase has never been uttered before.

Salads are easy. Fresh greens topped with fresh vegetables, maybe some fruit or nuts or seeds or cheese, and a dressing. Basically, salad is a pile of whatever fresh, ripe food you have in the house. I like my food in piles.

I started with some arugula and spinach. I added some red pepper sticks, cucumber quarter coins, and tomato wedges. I tossed this around a bit, taught it who's boss, and crumbled some feta over top. For the dressing I drizzled a splash of olive oil, another of balsamic and a sprinkling of tamari (soy) sauce. Five minutes work, nothing to it. If you can avoid cutting yourself and ignore the screams of the vegetables, you can make a tasty salad.

Salad. Hmmm, I'm still hungry....

Potato cheddar pie and fish taco brunch *featuring pineapple salsa!*

Preheat the oven to 350F. Shred 3 potatoes, 1 sweet potato, and half a head of cauliflower. This will take approximately forever unless you have a food processor in which case, la di da! Then, in case you hadn't had enough yet, shred some cheese. I used about a cup of cheddar and a third of parmesan. Put all this in a pan or pot or something else ... a bucket maybe, if that's all you have.

Calorie counters, avert your eyes! Add 2 cups of cream, as much dill as you can handle and heat through while heating up an oven safe skillet.When the cream starts to bubble up like a Bieber fan who catches a glimpse of his toes under the side stage curtain, add oil to the hot skillet and put all the potato mixture in. Pat it down a bit with the back of your spoon and put it in the oven for an hour or until the edges are dark brown.

While that is cooking, you can do an amusing dance for anyone in the house with you, tidy the living room, giggle at pictures of cats on the internet, or anything else for half an hour or so. Then get started on your fish tacos. I made a mixture of olive oil, salt and pepper to coat my tiny ocean perch fillets. Cook them in a non-stick skillet or, as I did, in a george foreman grill until they are done. They should be opaque all the way through and flaky.

While that is cooking, lets make pineapple salsa. It's getting a bit Inception up in here. Cut up 2 tomatoes and an equivalent amount of pineapple into 1 cm cubes. I like it chunky. Chop up some cilantro, I used about 5 stems worth. Add it to the bowl with some salt, pepper, and a splash of olive oil. Salsa done. Delicious!

Assemble the taco! Get your tortillas, and load em up. I added fish, salsa, and a small handful of arugula. By this time the potatoes should be done. The music has ended so let's blow up the hospital and ride the kick back up the layers. Serve a piece of that golden potato pie with a taco and call it a meal. That's what I did and people bought it. *snicker snicker*

Salmon Sushi

Going out for sushi is a lot of fun and really tasty, but it is fun to make at home too. And surprisingly, not that hard. I started by making 2 cups of sushi rice. When it is cooked, add a tablespoon or so of rice vinegar and mix softly with a spatula in a bowl to avoid breaking the grains while the rice cools to room temperature. Get someone else to do this part while you prepare the other stuff.

I picked up some fish at a nearby fish market earlier that day. I like to tell the person working there that I'm making sushi and ask what is freshest. I skinned the fish and cut it into strips. Saute mushrooms in beer and soy sauce with a little bit of garlic until all the liquid is gone. Slice red pepper, avocado and cucumber into strips. After the mushrooms were cooked, I fried the skin to make it super crispy and cut that into strips too.

When the rice is cooled, take your seaweed and cover it with rice, leaving about one inch at the end clean for sealing. It is a good idea to have a small bowl of water to dip your fingers in. The rice is quite sticky otherwise. That was a huge understatement, it is EXTREMELY STICKY. Put all the sushi ingredients at one end of the sheet and roll it up. This sounds easier than it is too, but with practice, you'll get it. Just try to make the roll as tight as possibly or it will fall apart when you cut it later. Really squeeze it to get the rice to stick tightly around the other stuff without breaking the nori (sushi seaweed) or squeezing out your filling ingredients.

Blurry and poorly framed areal view of daintily arranged sushi. Sexy, ain't it?
When you get to the end of the roll, dampen the exposed nori and seal it up, making sure the roll stays tight. That's it. You have sushi. You can eat it as is like a hot dog, or souvlaki, or you can slice it up and make it look pretty. Eat as much as you can, then groan a lot, continuously saying how good it was and how no matter how small the pieces, not one more can possibly fit inside you. This will please the cook and seems to be some weird sushi tradition.

I serve mine with wasabi and a little bowl of tamari sauce, which is pretty much soy sauce, but is not meant to be cooked with and has a much more delicate flavour. Mixing them together to create an unholy union of spicy and salty umami is delightful, but some say it is uncouth. To those people I say, eat your sushi until one more tiny piece can't possibly fit inside you!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Curry roasted chicken on pesto couscous

Yesterday we tried curry espresso. It was horrible. We are running out of ideas. But it inspired me to make a chicken curry. Not a traditional curry, in the form of a wet rub.

I started by separating and trimming the excess fat from the leg quarters of the chicken, what I find the most flavourful part of the bird. Especially the thighs. I like to cut off the nubs of the drumstick.

Then I made a wet rub and massaged it into the pieces. I arrayed them in a foil lined pan and baked them in the oven for 20min at 425, then another 40min at 350.

The chicken turned out so tender and juicy, to the point of rivaling buttermilk marinated pieces. The rub was a little bit spicy, with loads of flavour and depth.

A lot of people say they hate anchovies, and that might be true if eaten plain, but they disappear into a sauce, providing a depth of flavour not recognizable as any sort of fish. Try them again, and as with many things, the cheapest anchovies will taste the worst. 

I served the chicken on a bed of pesto couscous and a couple beets. The pesto I used this time was a hybrid basil cilantro pesto. It wasn't as good as either herb on its own, but is still quite tasty. 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Smoky BBQ Sauce & Pulled Pork Sammich

I ran out of BBQ sauce before my latest batch of pulled pork was done. What's a girl to do? Make her own. Or in this case, be incredibly manly, and also make his own. So, that's what I did. And it turned out pretty well.

I started by hydrating some smoked medium hot chilis I picked up in Kensington market a couple weeks ago by soaking them in in half cider vinegar and half late autumn riesling (sweet white wine) for 2 hours. I forget what the peppers are called. Morenos maybe? Maybe not. Anyways, I chopped them up in my food processor and started them on the stove with the other ingredients.

I used Barbados style molasses rather than your regular fancy old fashioned kind. It is significantly runnier and I added water to give it a smoother consistency. The sauce was already quite strong, so a more flavourful liquid isn't needed. It was a bit chunky, so I used an immersion blender to make it as smooth as possible (still has a few small chunks). I imagine a bit more water would have evened it out a bit, but I don't mind a chunkier sauce. It turned out quite spicy, smoky, dark in colour, mildly sweet, more acidic, and generally packed with flavour. No ketchup or liquid smoke needed.

With my first BBQ sauce made, it was time to test it out. What better than on a pulled pork sammich? I loaded up a whole wheat Italian roll with a healthy slathering of sauce, old cheddar, cucumber, tomato, spinach and, of course, pulled pork (sauteed). I'm salivating just thinking about it. Sooooooo good! This is making a victory lap for lunch tomorrow.

Chicken a l'orange

I put all of these things in a bowl and marinated the stuffed chicken leg pieces for the afternoon.

Then I browned the chicken in a skillet, coating the underside with flour to thicken the sauce later. After flipping the chicken, I poured back in the marinade, and filled it to capacity with vegetables (onions, carrots and zuccini). The whole pan went in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 in a preheated oven.

After the chicken was done, I took it out to let it rest, and reduced the sauce until it coated the back of a spoon, about 7 minutes.

I was disappointed with this dish. Everything was cooked to the right degree, but to my taste it was mediocre. I like the idea of an orange based sauce, but the marinade didn't really do anything. The garlic didn't flavour the chicken at all, but ended up as a tasty treasure to be found underneath the skin (which I didn't eat). The sauce tasted good, but I should have crushed up the pink peppercorns instead of leaving them whole, and cooked the vegetables separately. I will play with the orange sauce idea without the grapefruit as it was unnoticeable. This recipe isn't worth trying on your own.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Atlantean Mini-Quiches & Iced Fennel Espresso

Last week for Pi Day, I had made a batch of mini quiches. Regrettably, I erased my chalkboard and the recipe was lost. They got some good comments at the party though. It was pretty much the other quiche recipe but with  crust made by Ladypants, avocado lined bottoms, feta cheese, and a whole sun-dried kalamata olive floating on top of each one. But, the exact recipe is forever lost.

Today is the first day of the year we breach 20 degrees. In honour of the occasion, I tried a fennel iced espresso. Very refreshing. Unfortunately, all the fennel flavour was lost, even though I over-proofed (for lack of a better word) the spice level. In fact, a lot of the subtleties of the brew were lost with the temperature. I think we'll leave iced drink flavours to the syrup companies.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Fresh grated nutmeg & dried arbol chili

Instead of grinding spices to a formless powder by mortar and pestle, I decided to take the micro-plane to task on these two ingredients. Nutmeg is always better freshly grated. You will taste more of the sharp, clean notes than with pre-ground. Chili is the same way. As we aren't going for as much spice as pepper flavour, the longer it stays whole, the better.

So I brought the micro-plane into the coffee shop with a nutmeg seed and a dried arbol chili. Grating directly into the holder requires a bit more of a feeling or artistic touch to achieve the same measured balance as with our usual standardized shaker method. I was surprised to find it quite balanced on the first attempt.

It is easy for chili to overpower whatever its in, not only with heat but its assertive pepper flavour. A minuscule amount (3 light grates) provided enough heat to notice, and pepper flavour to taste without losing everything else. Nutmeg added complexity and toyed with the natural nuttiness of Brian's Steampunk blend. You can still taste the nuttiness! It isn't just chili in a cup, rather a balanced shot and a progressive flavour experience.

*Update* We tried the combination again but significantly spicier. It didn't really hurt it too much. If you like spice, you will love this drink. It lightly pops you in the gullet on every sip. You can still taste the coffee, but a few of its subtleties are overpowered by the pepper flavour asserting itself. A patron tried this shot with me and seemed to love it, a spice fiend himself. I tasted a distinct chocolate note in the beginning of the aftertaste.

Inspired, we tried another spicy shot with a bit of chocolate at the bottom of the cup. The chocolate nearly wipes out the flavour of the coffee, but compliments the chili seriously well. I'd like to call this shot a gateway espresso for those just getting into drinking shots instead of cups. The intense coffee taste that normally is too strong for newbies is mitigated by the sweetened chocolate syrup. The spice adds a zing for a great cascade of taste. Perhaps a bit less chocolate would allow for more coffee taste to come through, nickel instead of quarter sized pool on the bottom of the espresso shot glass.

Bacon broccoli and spinach quiche

Tomorrow is pi day (March 14 = 3.14) so in our mathematically inclined (nerdy) house that means we invite friends over and eat pie. This year I'm bucking the trend and making quiche, an egg pie with goodies.

I bought frozen pie crusts because Ladypants didn't have time to make any of her own for me, and I dislike making dough. They are the right shape even if they aren't as tasty as they could be, and besides, it's really all about the filling. I chose caramelized onions, Bacon, spinach, broccoli and feta cheese.

Start by preheating oven to 400 and frying the bacon and the onions because they take the longest. If you are using frozen pie crusts, you should have them out of the freezer at this point. When the bacon is crispy and onions look golden brown, add the broccoli and a big handful of spinach. Cook it just until the broccoli turns bright green and the spinach is wilted. Let it cool a bit while you make the custard. Season everything to taste.

Wisk 4 large free range, grain fed and generally pampered chicken eggs. Add 3/4C milk and 3/4C cream and thyme leaves. On the chalkboard it says 1C cream, but I had a quarter cup of liquid leftover, so don't bother. Mix it well. Add the chunky mix to the bottom of 2 pie crusts, crumble as much feta cheese as you want and pour the well mixed creamy stuff on top. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 for the next 25 minutes. Let them set up a few minutes out of the oven, and eat these great tasting pies.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Daily Grind Cafe

This weekend I visited a cafe in Ottawa while visiting some friends. The espresso at The Daily Grind was made properly and tasted amazing. I noticed loads of chocolate and nutty notes in the two double short  I had there without a trace of bitterness. You can taste the love in every shot. Absolutely delicious!

As soon as you walk into this place, you know that this is exactly what Mike, one of the owners, wants to do. His personal stamp is all over everything. An artist at heart, the place vibrates with his colour and energy. Art pencils and paper on every table is an invitation to borrow some of his creativity for yourself.

Up-cycled church pews added to the artist aesthetic, and for me commented on an often overlooked spiritual element to coffee. Many coffee drinkers are as devout as your average church goer, often more so. They drink their brew daily, at regular times, at the same place(s). An enthusiastic drinker will revel in how it makes their lives better by bringing people together, and raises their energy and concentration levels to a peak. Some argue coffee has definite health benefits even if science still can't seem to come to consensus. True or not, spiritual or otherwise, the abstract photography on the walls brought me an as uplifting mindset as any church service ever has.

If you didn't buy any of that last bit, they also serve food. I had breakfast tacos. How awesome is that? Very. I even managed to get some great work done on a story I'm working on before this guy showed up to our table to say hi. He had a really cool hat so I had a picture taken of us both in our headgear.

Later, one of Ottawa's homeless called me a space rabbi. All in all, a pretty interesting trip and a neat coffee shop. It seemed like a place you'd find in Toronto, but without the requisite independent coffee shop brick wall. The Daily Grind will definitely be on my list to visit next time I make it out to that way.

Roasted Cauliflower & Cilantro Pesto Cous-cous

First roast some cauliflower for 50 minutes in a 375 degree oven. Separate the head of cauliflower into its natural large florets, arrange on a baking sheet, drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Turn once about halfway through. I love this and make it all the time. You can use this in soups, mash it up, or eat it plain.

When there is 10 minutes of time left on the cauliflower, boil some water. In a bowl put 1C cous-cous, 1 heaping tablespoon cilantro pesto and a bit of salt. Add 1 1/4C boiling water and cover bowl for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add 1/4C seeded sundried kalamata olives. Serve with cauliflour for a, simple, easy, tasty and pretty much monotonic meal.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Cardamom Espresso

Cardamom is another one of those spices quite famous for its use in Indian cuisine. Also used as a major component of chai tea and as a mulling spice. We put it in espresso but we aren't the first. It is a Turkish tradition, and I can see how it would help the extremely dark, bitter roasts they are famous for.

The spice lends the shot of espresso a rich flavour that compliments the strong brew wonderfully. It took a bit to achieve balance, as it is very potent. A couple shakes is all it takes to completely transform the cup in surprising ways. As enjoyable as it is to taste the mobile complexity in the cup itself, for me, the real fun is in the aftertaste. The cardamom flavour evolves with the coffee on your palate long after the last sip. I'm still tasting it subtly after finishing the shot fifteen minutes ago.

This is our third balanced and completed recipe for infused espresso. Two more to go, and we're ready for a cupping! That's tasting in non coffee house jargon. I'm excited! This coffee is so good, you don't even know.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Chia & apricot carrot muffins

I am not much of a baker. Mostly because I am bad at measuring. It's not that I can't, it's that I usually don't. More accurately, I round measurements up, down, estimate, or throw out the book entirely and use whatever I have lying around that might work. That's pretty much how making these muffins went. It is hard to grate whole nutmeg and cinnamon stick into a teaspoon measure. Ever tried it? It doesn't work.

The original recipe called for raisins, pecans, flavourless oil, and all purpose flour. I used dried apricots, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and spelt flour. For good measure, I added orange zest and chia seeds to kick up the flavour and the health factor respectively. I also reduced the cooking time from 40 minutes to 25 because they were done. No one likes dry muffins and a great way to make them is to keep cooking them well after they are done. The picture to the left doesn't mention carrots except in the title. That is a mistake, there was 1 really big carrot grated really finely added to the wet ingredients, probably around a cups worth.

Once I mixed everything together, I put them in a papered (hard to read) muffin tin with an ice cream scoop. It made portioning the batter out super easy. A neat little trick I picked up from my mom. Spoons are for suckers, but scoops...Scoops!

I've never made muffins before, but surprisingly, they turned out pretty great. They ended up moist, fluffy, light, and flavourful. Chia seeds are optional, but I liked them, same with the sunflower seeds. I think you can pretty much use whatever sort of nut or seed you want or have on hand. You could probably replace the carrot with zucchini too, maybe add a bit of chocolate powder for a special treat. Ok, I'm getting a bit off track. I'm going to have to make some more muffins. Maybe with a surprise filling next time, or sprinkling of something on top, or... *And so he wandered off to bed, as dreams of future muffins swam in his head.*

Coriander Espresso

Most expectations of coriander seeds stem from Indian food or grandma's pickles. Adding it to espresso doesn't match either of those, but as in the above examples, balance is the key to great taste. It doesn't take much to completely change the shot.

Today, Brian of The Mad Bean and I are fine tuning our recipe. We've settled on a delivery method to standardize how much of what spice goes into the holder for a consistent cup: salt/pepper shakers. Cheap and effective.

Just a few shakes brings a lemon freshness to the cup without overwhelming the subtleties of the Steampunk blend. It is more than just citrus notes though, coriander washes over the palate toying with the coffee's natural nuttiness. The balance is there; another recipe completed.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Cilantro pesto

It turns out pesto is really easy to make. And it doesn't have to be expensive either. Today I used cilantro instead of basil and thought about using cheap sunflour seeds instead of expensive pine nuts, but I already had pine nuts, so I'll use them up first.

I tasted sunflower pesto at a nearby restaurant, Uncle Betty's, and it was fantastic! It adds a sunflower flavour that I thought worked very well with basil. I didn't miss the pine nuts at all. I spoke to the owner about it and he said made the switch to avoid nut allergies. Economical, tasty, and won't kill people by accident! I'd call that a win.

I'll try that myself another time, but I thought cilantro would make for another interesting substitution. I didn't change the rest of the recipe, but I think I should have. With cilantro, it came out a bit oily for my taste. It is much more of a liquid than the basil one was. I think the cilantro has more water in it than basil. Oh, and I added one less clove of garlic. Last time, the garlic flavour took over the next day. Hopefully it will tighten up overnight. 

I'm going to put this on everything! Starting with my current favourite sammich, grilled chicken & avocado with old cheddar on flax seed bread:

Chicken avocado sammiches

My band Mollusk played our first official show on Saturday. Still completely unprepared the day of, Marc (ukulele) came over before the show for lunch and to rehearse a bit. I decided to make some sammiches. I've never seen avocados with such a colour gradient, from dark green to bright yellow. Are these regular Hass avocados?

Whatever they are, they were perfectly ripe, delicious and very creamy. I sliced them up and put them on a slice of flax seed bread with some grilled chicken breast and parmesan. 

Grilled, these had a crisp exterior with a creamy mouth feel inside. I like replacing mayonnaise with healthy avocado for this reason. The parmesan added a touch of saltiness and great flavour to go with the chicken. I still contend my butcher has the best chicken out there. It has an extra chicken flavour that you just don't find in the cuts at supermarkets. I'll be happy to eat your favourite chicken if you disagree.

The only thing that would make this sammich better is pesto. Really gotta make some more of that. Mayhaps cilantro pesto this time.

Refried Black Beans with Chorizo leftovers

Simple burritos are great but I like to change things up with my leftovers. Here are two other things I made with the leftover re-fried beans.

Breakfast burrito with lots of spinach, old cheddar and a fried egg.

Old cheddar, german salami and spinach on a cheese and poppy seed kaiser roll.

Thursday, 1 March 2012


We are reaching the bottom of our experimental infusion idea barrel. That means trying some weird ones, like Matcha. It smells like grass, and not the fun kind. But hey, maybe something unexpected will happen and it will taste good.

Nope, it tastes like grass. Fresh cut, moo food. One of Brian's customers likes it as a soy milk cappuccino, so we added a bit of steamed milk to make a macchiato. Still tastes like grass. Sweeter and subtler grass, but still unmistakably there. Maybe some people like that sort of thing, vegans perhaps, but apparently I'm not one of them. Definitely not vegan if you had any doubts after the Bacon experiment earlier this week.

Oh well, we have 5 or 6 recipes we can use for a cupping, or tasting in normal, non-coffee jargon English. So, get excited for that within the next couple of weeks.