One-Pan Roasted Winter Meal

It’s cold.

 Roasted winter meal 2

I like to think of this dish as a kind of soup without the broth. Warming, cozy and comforting, I make it all the time when I want something easy. It is kind of a non-recipe and can make good use of random bits of food you have lying around. Put as much or as little of each as you want/have. Improvise. Create.

 Roasted winter meal 3

One-Pan Roasted Winter Meal

 Ingredients

  • brussel sprouts, cleaned and quartered
  • sausage or tofu (or your protein of choice)
  • onion, chopped
  • garlic, lots
  • sauerkraut and some of the juice
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • carrots
  • bell pepper
  • any vegetable

Dressing:

  • olive oil
  • toasted sesame oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • lemon
  • rosemary
  • cumin

Directions

Preheat oven at 425ºF/220ºC/Gas Mark 7.

Combine the dressing ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

All ingredients are to cleaned and chopped into bite sized pieces. They should be around the same size so they bake evenly. Put everything directly into your casserole dish/baking pan.

Drizzle the dressing all over the ingredients and mix until everything is saturated.

Put the uncovered pan in the oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check every 15 minutes and stir so nothing gets burned. When the carrots (or potatoes, if you use them) are soft, remove from heat.

Garnish with Greek yogurt, hot sauce and more cracked black pepper. Dig in.

Roasted Winter Meal

Flavour Pairing: Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Kielbasa Fennel Salsa

IMG_2768Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa bite

I tend to get my culinary resourcefulness from what surrounds me, so I like to keep my kitchen full of diverse and inspirational ingredients. When I begin a cooking endeavor, I get out everything I feel might pique my creativity and sort through the combinations until I get a flash of genius. I must say, I am proud of this recipe.

Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa 2

Tilapia has a mild, almost sweet flavour and a delicate texture. It is like a slightly fishy canvas that absorbs whatever you put on it. Pomegranate molasses is the base of the marinade for the tilapia and it adds so much to the complexity of the dish. Fennel and kielbasa add the right combination of crisp and meat to make the perfect salsa atop a bitable taco.

 Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Fennel Kielbasa Salsa plate

Pomegranate molasses is one of those miracle condiments that compliments everything. It is made by boiling pomegranate juice into a thick, sweet reduction and retains its tart qualities as well. Dark and almost black with a reddish hue, pomegranate molasses hails from Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is typically used in marinades for fish and meat, included in sauces and used as syrup for drinks and desserts.

pomegranate molasses tilapia with fennel kielbasa salsa

I came across a bottle of it when I visited one of my best friends in Toronto last summer. We entered a well-known Middle Eastern establishment in Kensington Market that sells falafel, Turkish delights and various Mediterranean staples. I was instantly intoxicated by the place. While browsing the shelves, I zeroed in on the bottles of pomegranate molasses and asked what it was used for. The vendor said “all the things.” I’ve been using it ever since. I doubt it is available at any supermarket around where I live now, but can certainly be found online. I think next time I will try making it myself.

 Pomegranate molasses marinated tilapia tacos with fennel kielbasa salsa

Pomegranate Molasses Tilapia Tacos with Kielbasa Fennel Salsa

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • For the fish:
  • 2 tilapia filets
  • 2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
  • dash olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  •  For the salsa:
  • ½ a bulb of fresh, thinly sliced and roughly chopped fennel
  • 3-4 inches of kielbasa, diced
  • ½ of a red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 4 cloves of chopped garlic
  • ½ a lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • cooking oil

Directions

Clean and prepare the filets. Place them in a baking pan and sprinkle sea salt all around them. Spoon a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses down the middle of each filet and drizzle olive oil on each. Set aside to marinade.

Start preparing your ingredients for the salsa. Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC/Gas mark 6.

On medium heat, brown the onion and garlic on the stovetop in some cooking oil. Stir intermittently.

Add the fennel. Cook until soft then add the bell pepper and kielbasa. Sprinkle salt to taste. After 3-4 more minutes, remove from heat.

Lay the salsa abed the tilapia. The filets should be buried underneath the colourful spread. Squeeze the lemon on top the contents.

Place the pan into a fully heated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove when the tilapia is opaque. Do not overcook or fish will lose its tenderness and be rubbery.

Heat corn tortillas in a clean stovetop pan. Each side should have pleasing burn marks and some bubbling.

On each tortilla, break-up a fork full of tilapia and scoop some of the salsa and its juice.

Top with goat chevre or greek yogurt and chopped cilantro. Dip in your favourite hot sauce.

Devour. Savour. Enjoy the complexities delicacies of flavour and be astonished by what you just made.

Vegan Passion Fruit Truffles + Motto For 2015

homemade passionfruit truffles.jpg

Well, I did it. I made it through 2014, just like the rest of you. Big deal, right? Sometimes life is tough. We all have to trudge through the shit, but we don’t always come out clean on the other side.

 passion fruit.jpg

2014 was a devilish year full of chaos (read: threats), discovery, challenges and love. The threats seem like a distant memory now, as I suspected they would, but there is nothing better at turning one’s life upside-down than being in a far away land and feeling unstable. I won’t go too in depth on that subject. Instead, click here. It may give you a vague sense of what I experienced in my final year of working at a Hagwon in Korea. I will say that I left Korea in the fall of 2014 with my sense of trust deeply shaken and my nerves shot, but thanks to Love, I felt hopeful. My support system was, and has been, so solid that even in the thick of the crises, lies and sleepless nights, I never fell. I stood tall, held my ground and was able to see the light ahead.

So, thank you Love. You saved the year and so much more. I dedicate this post, this year’s motto (see below) and my love, to you.

 passionfruit 2.jpg

The most common variety of passion fruit is small and purple. Creatively named “Common Purple”, this thick-skinned, tropical fruit contains pleasantly crispy seeds and yields small amounts of juice. But, that yield is dazzling. Passion fruit is mouthwateringly fresh and the flavour is absolutely seductive. Tart, sweet and delicately strong: a little juice goes a long way in any recipe. I am appalled to acknowledge that I have not tried the entire range of passion fruit varieties. This will now go on my bucket list.

passionfruit seeds and juice.jpg 

This year’s motto: Stepping Out Clean in Twenty-Fifteen

Passion fruit is a good place to start. And chocolate helps a lot. These truffles are deliriously decadent and will help you find strength to defeat all your foes.

 making truffles.jpg

Vegan Passion Fruit Truffles

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 juiced passion fruits, separated from seeds
  • ½ cup of coconut cream
  • 4 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Directions

-Heat the coconut cream, passion fruit juice, sugar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a soft boil. Stir continuously.

-Turn heat off and add coconut oil. Stir until fully incorporated.

-Add cocoa powder in small batches and mix until thick and smooth.

-Optional: If you like the texture of the passion fruit seeds, add some or all into the mixture.

-Let cool.

-Form teaspoon sized balls by rolling them in the palm of your hand and dust with more cocoa powder.

-Store in the refrigerator. They should keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks. If removed, they will only last a day.

Makes 20-24 truffles.

How to Be a Master Leftover Wrangler

Too much leftover rice? Stuff Something!
Too much leftover rice? Stuff Something!

I have a slightly bizarre sense of pride regarding my ability to make an exciting meal out of left over food. I prefer to think of these meals as transformations, rather than leftovers. As a cook for a community where many events and retreats are held, I often find myself serving anywhere from 30-100 people for meals. Depending on the popularity and quantity of previously made dishes, there are often leftovers, sometimes very large amounts of them. Since I really hate throwing food out, I always try to make something different with leftovers so the community members don’t find themselves stuck with the same meals over and over. Simple and effective transformations happen regularly. Have an excess of leftover vegetables? Blended soups are excellent ways to transform veggies into something fun and new. Sick of all that chili? Turn it into an enchilada casserole.

Sauces and spreads help entice. Blend your leftovers into a dippable delight.
Sauces and spreads help entice. Blend your leftovers into a dippable delight.

Here are a few tricks behind the Art of Leftover Wrangling:

a) You have to be fearless. Don’t be afraid of flavour. Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional. This also means you can’t be afraid to fail. Honestly, if I’d have given up after making that horrible vinegary collard green soup that one time, my tail would still be down marking my shame.  If you do ruin a dish (or several) don’t let it deter you from future transformationing.

b) Use your senses, not your preconceived idea of what you think does or does not go well together. Taste everything in combinations before counting them out.

c) Blend. Blend. Blend. Blend soups, blend sauces, blend dips. An emersion blender is a cook’s best friend.

d) If you’ve overcooked a piece of meat or let your fish get too dry, turn it into a sumptuous burger by mixing it with a grain, blended vegetables and some raw eggs to bind it. Transformed!

e) If all else fails, throw your leftovers in a pan and top it with some cheese. Seriously. Melted cheese makes everything better.

 

When all else fails... wrap in bacon.
When all else fails… wrap in bacon.

I actually find working with leftovers to be fun and rewarding, especially when you thought it was a lost cause. It forces me to be creative with what I have available. This blog will feature leftovers transformed. I will regularly post re-creations, tips and ideas.

fish burger rows

 

Happy transforming!

Molecular Gastronomy or Modern(ist) Cuisine 

Every time I attempt to describe what molecular gastronomy is, a jumble of words escape my mouth in my overexcitement and I can never satisfyingly unravel much more than: spheres, foams and balsamic caviar. I’m also certain the words “cool” and “awesome” materialize uncontrollably about 15 times per sentence. So, what is molecular gastronomy? Here’s how I understand it:

Traditionally, cooking and food preparation have always been considered an art or intuitive skill. We learn cooking methods passed down to us based on accepted techniques or we use our intuition to try (or discover) something new. Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that uses physics, chemistry and a bunch of really cool lab equipment to focus on the scientific investigation of cooking. Basic cooking methods and beliefs were put through extensive testing to see if they had any scientific merits to back up what was claimed. Cooking As Art met Cooking As Science and they went to work.

Though molecular gastronomy is a field of food science, one thing that perhaps distinguishes it from other fields (like food microbiology, sensory analysis and food engineering) is that practitioners of the field are cooks working in a kitchen, not scientists working in a lab. Although with some of the better-equipped restaurant kitchens, the line between kitchen and lab is a little fuzzy. This notion is so exciting to me. It seems like this science was developed purely for the love of eating.

Pioneers of scientific cookery were interested in debunking or explaining old wives tales about cooking, experimenting with existing recipes, inventing new ones and introducing new tools and technologies. They investigated the chemical changes during cooking in order to find the most favourable methods of preparing food. Some of their inquiries might have been:

Should beans be cooked with the lid on or off?

Will meat stock produce more flavour if I start with hot water or cold water?

What new cooking methods might produce improved results of texture and flavor?

The term “Molecular Gastronomy” was coined by physicist Nicholas Kurti and physical chemist Hervé This in 1992. It was also the title of the workshops they held, which drew scientists and professional cooks to discuss the science behind traditional cooking. Kurti became one of the UK’s first TV cooks when he hosted a cooking show called “Physicist in the Kitchen” in 1969. Some of Kurti’s demonstrations included making meringue in a vacuum chamber, cooking sausages by connecting them across a car battery and a reverse baked alaska which was hot on the inside, cold on the outside and cooked in a microwave.

Heston Blumenthal at work in his kitchen lab

Top chefs such as Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Heston Blumenthal (my personal hero) of The Fat Duck have become associated with the movement because of their scientific approach to cooking, although they are said to disapprove of the term because it makes cuisine sound inaccessible and snobby. Instead, they prefer to call it modern or modernist cuisine.

The objectives of molecular gastronomy today have changed somewhat. Though scientific approach is still the essence of experiments done in its name, the focal point is more on the experience of eating food and the techniques used to create unique and artful presentations. It is revolutionizing traditional cooking and transforming eating into a sort of multi-sensory experience. For example, scented air is often used to play with diners memories and emotions (the smells of leather chair and fireplace for a Christmas meal). When diners uncover their dish, puffs of air float into their nostrils titillating their sense of smell. Certain techniques have become quite popular and are now easily reproducible, such as making spheres, foams, gels and faux caviar.

Molecular gastronomy has now become more accessible to the at-home cook who doesn’t have expensive lab equipment hanging out in their kitchen. Products can be bought online to help you experiment in your own kitchen and instructional videos can be found on YouTube. Here are a few:

How to make food spheres

How to make foams

How to make faux caviar

How to make gels

I recently bought a few molecular gastronomy kits and have been experimenting in my own kitchen. It is a squeal worthy sort of satisfaction to change flavours and textures around. I will be posting my experiments and I hope they inspire others to think outside the box, too. Happy experimenting!

Order molecular gastronomy materials online here or here.

References
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecular_gastronomy
http://www.molecularrecipes.com/molecular-gastronomy/
This, Hervé (2005). Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor. Columbia University Press.
Kitchen Chemistry (2007): Ted Lister, Heston Blumenthal

Camel’s Milk and Meat and Bones in Mongolia

camel silhouette on the Gobi desert, Mongolia

There are only about 2 million people in Mongolia and about 45 million farm animals. The people depend highly on the animals for their survival, so most of the land is used as pasture. Herds of sheep, horses, cows and camels can be seen grazing and roaming along the roads and far off into the distance.

camels in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Mongolia is a land of extremes, but the conditions couldn’t be more perfect for raising land animals: wide-open spaces, grassy fields and rolling hills for miles to see. The animals grow coats to protect themselves in the winter from the brutal winds and cold, but not all of them can take the scorching heat of the desert. In the Gobi, only camels can survive. Their bodies are perfectly adapted for the heat and sand.

Camel riding, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Being the only animal in the Gobi Desert means, of course, that camels are milked and slaughtered like all animals raised for that purpose. In my naivety, it didn’t strike me that camels were used for anything other than riding until I actually got to the desert. As I mentioned in my last post, our host family fed us a slow cooked camel meat stew with potatoes and some kind of hand made noodle. It was delicious, rather like mutton, and very filling after our evening hike.

camel bones on the gobi

camel cheese, sugar cubes and fried bread from ger host in Mongolia

We were also offered a selection of treats such as camel cheese, sugar cubes and fried bread along with airag, a fermented wine of sorts, made from animals’ milk, usually mare. In the desert though, airag is made from milk provided by camels. Farmy, frothy and sour, airag is… an experience. I tried both camel’s airag and mare’s. Surprisingly, the camel version was MUCH better. It was at least vaguely wine-like and smooth, while the mare’s airag was utterly intolerable. I was unable to stomach more than two sips. Ugh.

airag, fermented camel's milk
Look at it… trying to look so innocent.

For those of us used to temperate weather and wildlife, it is very special to be able to see such a unique animal in their element. Camels are desert wizards.

Fear and Courage in The Gobi Desert, Mongolia                       

The Singing Dunes, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

Our group climbed the Singing Dune, the highest dune in the Gobi Desert, to watch the sunset one evening. So named because of the unique sound that it makes when the wind blows the right way. I haven’t had much experience with deserts in my life and I’d never seen a sand dune before. This was serious.

Sunset on the Singing Dunes, Gobi desert, Mongolia 

I’m not the biggest fan of heights. As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed how much more often I fear for my mortality. This is synonymous, perhaps, with my growing sense of adventure. I’m scared of dying all the time, but I go ahead and do what I want anyway.

 View of Gobi Desert, Mongolia

The photos do not give an accurate sense of how high the top of the dune is. As I climbed higher, I became increasingly terrified. I feared that I would slide dangerously and lose control. Its just sand, I know! But my rationale fled me. I was climbing the steepest part alone and seriously thought I would die, that I would be spending the rest of my life on top of that dune and would perish shortly. Or I would fall off. Never mind that I was with my group and several others. Watching people running down, diving into the mounds and doing all kinds of jumps. Finally, I took my first tentative steps down and was comforted by how much I sunk into the sand. I wasn’t going to fall off the dune! Halfway down, I was running and laughing and at the bottom, I was in tears. Tears of pride that I had overcome my fears were streaming down my face.

Bright Singing Dunes, Gobi Desert, Mongolia 

We celebrated by seeking out the first cold beers we had had in days and eating a hearty camel meat stew graciously given to us by our host family.

 Gobi desert panorama

As we devoured our meals and laughed under the impossibly vast night sky, I marveled at how wonderful it is to make those small decisions to do something big.