the secret ingredient is love

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dutch Potato Soup

We're big on soup, both at home and at my restaurant, Union Street Cafe. I come by my Big Soup Love honestly. My mother kept us fed and healthy on a variety of mostly-vegetarian soups, soups made from cookbooks with names like Diet for a Small Planet and the Vegetarian Epicure. This Dutch Potato Soup was a childhood favourite of mine, a recipe I had memorized by the time I left home. I've made it at home, in a makeshift campsite kitchen on Salt Spring Island and at the Cafe, and it's always hit the spot.

While the ingredients look humble, the flavour is big and comforting. You can even leave out the cheese and it's still very delicious. As always with soup, the key to success is seasoning. Add salt, then taste taste taste, adding a little more if you think it needs it. A crusty loaf of bread and a spinach salad with dried cranberries and chopped apples would be lovely things to serve alongside this on a dreary January evening.

Dutch Potato Soup
adapted from Anna Thomas' Vegetarian Epicure 

5 medium Potatoes, cubed
2 teaspoons Salt
1/3 cup Butter
2 large onions, diced
2 teaspoons Dill Seed, lightly crushed (or Cumin) 
2 Bay Leaves
3 tablespoons Flour 
2 cups Milk
6 oz. Gouda, grated (about 2 cups, try the Fox Hill Cheese House )
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
Freshly ground Pepper

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan with the salt and just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 10-15 minutes depending on size. Leave the potatoes and their water in the pot, but turn off the heat. Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat and add the onions. Stir and cook until onions are clear and tender, about 5 minutes, then add the dill seed and bay leaves. Sprinkle in the flour, and stirring constantly with a whisk or a wooden spoon, slowly add the milk. When the mixture is smooth and thickened, scrape it all into the soup pot with the potatoes. Turn the heat back on to medium low under the soup pot and combine everything. Sprinkle in the cheese, stirring until it melts, then add the paprika and Worcestershire. Taste for salt and add a few grinds of pepper before serving to your delighted family.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Coconut Chicken and Cauliflower Curry



One of the loveliest gifts I have ever received was a wooden chest full of spices. The ornately carved lid opens up to reveal rows of jars of spices straight from the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India. Every time I open that box I thrill. I can imagine the noise, the dust, the endless rows of camels and the riotous colours of their ornamentation. The kitchen is where I do my traveling, my ingredients bringing me a piece of the world I have not yet, and may never, see.

This curry is about as simple as you can get, comfortably exotic and absolutely satisfying. It's based on a cauliflower curry that my mother often made when we went camping. It relies on the flavours of garam masala, a blend of sweet spices that are appealing to nearly everyone.

Coconut Chicken and Cauliflower Curry  6 servings

3 tablespoons Canola or other vegetable Oil
2 teaspoons Salt
2 pounds boneless Chicken Thighs
1 large Onion, diced
2 large Carrots, peeled and cut into 1"sticks
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated Ginger
2 small Zucchini or 6 small Pattypan Squash
1 head Cauliflower, broken into 1" florets
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
1 can Coconut Milk
2 cups Brown or White Rice, cooked according to package directions
Possible Accompaniments: Chutney, Chopped Cilantro, Chopped Cashews or Almonds, Toasted Coconut, Lime Pickle


Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok (something big enough to hold all the listed ingredients) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the chicken thighs on both sides with salt and pepper and brown well on both sides. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the oil remaining in the pan and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for just a minute longer, then add the cauliflower and zucchini. Sprinkle in the garam masala. Stir in the coconut milk and the reserved chicken. Cover the pan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Uncover and continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened somewhat. Season to taste with salt and serve over rice with as many accompaniments as you can muster.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dreamy Black Beans and Rice

Usually in September I'm dreaming up ideas for showcasing the season's most fleeting of pleasures: homegrown tomatoes. Once I've eaten my fill of tomato-and-basil sandwiches and made a few batches of the world's fastest tomato sauce there is still giant bowl of perfectly imperfect tomatoes in my kitchen. Here is a lovely and deliciously plain meal that invites a table full of toppings to garnish it. You can have fun with this, and it's perfect for a large gathering if you simply scale up the recipe.

The beans can be made well ahead of time, then reheated with a little extra water so they don't scorch. Bowls of roughly chopped tomatoes, avocado, finely diced onion, cilantro, cheese and some good hot sauces allow each of your guests to make their own beautiful presentation.

It's also really good with none of these accompaniments, proving that simple is almost always best...

Black Beans and Rice four servings

Seasoning is totally key here, taking something that could be boring to something outstandingly delicious. When starting with dried beans, a full tablespoon of salt is right for me. You might want to start with two teaspoons and season to taste from there.

2 cups dried Black Beans or 2 cans (540 ml) Black Beans
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Onion, chopped
3 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon ground Coriander Seed
1/2 teaspoon Smoked Paprika (optional)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tablespoon Salt
1 cup Brown or White Rice, cooked according to directions (don't forget the salt!)

If using dried beans, place them in a large heavy pot with 8 cups water.  Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about an hour and a half. Check from time to time that there is enough water. If using canned beans, skip this step and place the beans in a large heavy pot- no need to drain.  When the beans are tender, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onions. Stir until golden, then add the garlic, spices and salt. Cook for a minute, then scrape into the pot with the beans. Add 2 cups water, cover and simmer over low heat until beans are falling apart a little, about an hour. Serve with rice and toppings and cold beer.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Staghorn Sumac-Ade


I didn't need any more reasons to love the staghorn sumac tree.  I love that in spring its limbs are coated with velvety fur, like a freshly antlered deer.  Long fern-like leaves emerge, then gorgeous red cones that keep their colour and beauty as the leaves turn to autumn red and orange.   In early winter when the leaves have fallen it is perfectly elegant, bare stretching branches topped with those same red bracts providing a perky splash of colour against a snowy backdrop.

So when I saw a glass of what looked like pink lemonade on my friend Angie's facebook page with the label "Sumac-Ade" I was greatly intrigued.  Supposedly she had made it from the cones of the sumac tree!  It was late at night but I found my sumacs by flashlight and snapped off a few flower clusters.  I made a little batch of the most delicious drink you could imagine just by soaking the berries in cold water and adding a little sugar.  It's sour like lemonade but with a distinctive taste.

Sumac Lemonade

6-8 Sumac Cones
Cold water to cover
Sugar or Maple Syrup to taste

Shake off any insects on the cones and place them in a large pot.  Crush and break the cones apart and cover with cold water. Let sit for an hour, then strain.  Add a little sweetener and serve over ice.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Chicken and Peach Souvlaki


Being a food lover and feeding children can be hard.  I remember Molly sitting in her highchair eating bits of duck confit and roasted asparagus, me thinking that she would always appreciate what I put on her plate.   Somewhere along the way things fell apart and now we're all kind of relieved when it's pizza night and no one complains about dinner.

One night last week I thought up this lovely take on souvlaki.  Peaches and basil are a great combination, and both are peaking right now in the heat of the Annapolis Valley.  I can't say that my children loved grilled peaches, but I think you will!

This time last year: Garlicky Green Beans

Chicken and Peach Souvlaki
four servings

1 pound boneless Chicken Breast or thighs
Juice of 1 Lemon
3 tablespoons  Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Green Onions, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped Fresh Basil
1 teaspoon Salt
a few grinds of Black Pepper
6 nearly ripe Peaches

Cut the chicken into 1 inch cubes.  Place the chicken in a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, green onions, basil, salt and pepper.  Stir to combine and let marinate for an hour (or overnight) in the refrigerator.  Soak 8 bamboo skewers in cold water to cover.  Cut the peaches in half and dig out the pits, then cut in half again.  Thread chicken and peaches alternating on the skewers.  Preheat barbecue to medium heat and grill skewers until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Really Delicious (and Pretty) Swiss Chard Salad

Well, I had a baby at the end of May. I spent weeks just staring at her perfect little face, napping and soaking it up, sustained and nurtured by spectacular meals made and delivered by friends and family. It works like this: you have a baby, and someone, like your sister, calls up all your friends and invites them to prepare you a meal and deliver it on a particular day. That means your baby-admiring visitors come one at a time, and when they do, it's the best thing ever. We ate handmade sushi one night and baked macaroni and cheese with freshly baked bread the next,  followed by stuffed pork chops with grilled vegetables, chicken cacciatore, Thai curry, roasted ham and vegetables.....

There was so much love in that food. I never wanted to cook again. Thankfully. two months later, I'm regaining my passion for the kitchen. It helps to have a weekly box of lovely vegetables delivered to me from my friend Sarah's new farm. Like many gardens in the Valley, hers produces lots of beautiful Swiss Chard.

I love Rainbow chard braised with lots of garlic and caramelized onions, but I'm always a little disappointed that the brilliance of its orange, pale green and red stems fades with cooking. Chard is slightly challenging as a raw salad green when it's mature, which is why the dressing I make for this is extra scrumptious.  It's a big gorgeous salad with lots of extra yummy things that make it just right for your next summer barbecue, or to bring to a new mother. ❤

Pretty Delicious Swiss Chard Salad 

1 bunch rainbow Swiss Chard, washed and cut into ribbons
1/2 cup crumbled Feta
1/4 cup chopped Almonds
1/2 cup slivered Red Onion
A big handful of Raspberries
1/4 cup dried Cranberries

Spread the chard on a large platter and arrange the feta, almonds, red onion, raspberries and cranberries on top.  Drizzle with lots of the dressing just before serving and toss gently.

Dressing:

1/4 cup Maple Syrup
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoons Grainy Mustard
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Shake all the ingredients together in a jar with a tight fitting lid.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beggarow Barbecue Pork

My Grandmother Osburn is a fabulous cook, but that's not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of her.  I think of Beggarow, her home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, an ancient house and acreage steeped in family lore and memories. 

I think of the smell of the box wood hedge in the hot sun.  The creek full of crayfish.  The rooms full of treasured family artifacts, each with its own story.  The coolness of a house built of thick stone walls and plaster hundreds of years before air conditioning was invented.  The gardens where we learned the three distinct shapes of sassafras leaves and how to tell when a raspberry was truly ripe.  The long-unused root cellar built into a hill across the road where we once found a perfectly preserved rabbit skeleton.

Grandmother shared the house with my Grandfather, a man who I think of every time I ladle soup into storage containers at the restaurant.  Again I am a little girl at the old kitchen table surrounded by every container he can find, pouring water as he patiently explains volume in his slow breathy voice.  I know without looking that the corners of his mouth are turned up with amusement as I try to guess which jar will hold the liquid in my glass perfectly.
 
But back to the fabulous cook part.  My Grandmother snipped recipes from magazines and newspapers and had a huge collection of cards containing handwritten recipes passed down the generations.  She fried scrapple and new potatoes on an old gas stove.  She snipped herbs from her garden to make a sauce for her poached salmon and brewed iced tea to drink on the creeping-thyme-perfumed terrace.  At her table I learned to love asparagus and wilted lettuce salad and potato chips fried in lard. My grandparents ate their most elaborate meal at lunch and then had something simple for supper, which I found tremendously exotic.

A few years ago our extended family met at Beggarow for one last time.  My sister and I volunteered to cook a celebratory meal and searched through Grandmother's recipes for something to please a crowd.  This pork, cooked until fall-apart-tender, was so well received by our family that we started making it into Pulled Pork Sandwiches for the Cafe.  I recommend a heaping pile of coleslaw and potato chips on the side, preferably the kind fried in lard!

The Pork Roast after its Spice Massage

Beggarow Barbecue Pork

3 lb. Rolled Boneless Pork Shoulder



The Rub:
2 tablespoons Paprika (smoked if you can find it)
¼ C. Sugar
½ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 tablespoon Salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground toasted Cumin
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground Black Pepper

The Baste:
½ C. Apple Cider Vinegar
½ C. Apple Cider or 1 T. Maple Syrup

The Sauce:
All Ready to Pull!
Drippings from the pork
1/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Ketchup
1 ½ teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Dry Mustard or 1 tablespoon Dijon-style Mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
1 clove Garlic, minced

Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl.  Place the pork in a roasting pan and rub all over with the mixture, and sprinkle any remaining into the pan. Place in a 300° oven and roast until the center of the meat reaches 180°, about three to four hours. Every hour, or when you think of it, baste with the cider and vinegar mixed together. Let the meat rest until cool enough to handle, pour off the drippings and then shred the meat with two forks or your hands. Mix the sauce ingredients up, add the drippings and combine with the meat.