Thursday, April 30, 2009

Gardening: Because Tomorrow is May!!!

I'd like to say that I garden for many reasons, environmental sustainability, to reduce my carbon footprint, to improve my community, but to be honest, I do it because the food I grow tastes better. I'm not saying the other stuff doesn't happen, and if it does, I am glad, but really, the food tastes better. Not just a little bit better, or I wouldn't put in the work, but really a ton better. I think that in a blind taste test of store produce versus garden produce, it would be hard to even identify some items as the same type of food.

Having said that, I am now going to encourage you all to grow something this spring/summer/fall. Yes, I know some of you live in apartments, so did I the first couple years I gardened. I made a dirt box and started with herbs, lettuce, and a few items that didn't work out (onions that I really willed to grow, but didn't have the space, and some peas that grew, but a few sprouts don't yield enough to really count). In an apartment, you can buy some dirt and some containers (or use old ice cream or yogurt containers) and do herbs easily. It will make a huge difference to the taste of your food, and you can freeze herbs so that they work for you into the winter. I start from seeds (cheaper), but if you really feel that you have no growing abilities, just buy small plants and let them get larger. Here is a link with a list of greenhouses around Northern Alberta. Chives, dill, thyme and basil have been the easiest for me, and parsley grows well once it has a chance to start. Another thing that is very easy, even with limited space, is greens. You could literally take a bunch of empty large yogurt containers, throw some lettuce and spinach seeds in with some dirt, and have fresh greens through the summer. For singles, this is especially good given that heads of lettuce and bunches of spinach are generally too big to go through before they get wilty.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get a plot of land in a community garden. We do have them in Edmonton; here is a site that will list them by area of the city (including one in St. Albert).

If you have a yard, maybe you can think a little bigger. The first thing I would encourage you to do is consider getting a rain barrel ("be green")! We have had some serious downpours this past summer, and having a rain barrel holds a bit of the water that would otherwise be flooding your streets, and then when dry spells come on, you have a nice store of water. Just make sure that the barrel is in a place where if it overflows a bit, the water flows away from your house. If you live in Edmonton, check out this link, and if you are in St. Albert, try this one.

If you are very intimidated about starting, and you want to be really serious about it, you may want to get in touch with the Urban Farmer a guy that is really serious about organic gardening in Edmonton.

I would say that if you have some space, feel free to experiment. Think about your favorite fruits and veggies, and look on the internet to see if and how you can grow them here (or email, and if I have tips to help I will share). As above, herbs and greens are easy to start with. Carrots are pretty simple, as are zucchini plants (but they get HUGE). This year I will be doing cherry tomatoes and peppers in upside down baskets. I know this sounds crazy, and I will take pictures, but I did it last year, and my yields were a lot higher. Asparagus is a big commitment, because you won't get real yields until three years down the road, which I am finally at!

So, with all that being said, here is my big plan this year (and you will see photos as the year goes on). I am lucky in that my in-laws have an acreage, so a few of the items will be grown out there due to space constraints.

My Garden this year:
- potatoes (various colors) - Acreage
- carrots (colors)
- onion
- zucchini
- squash
- spinach
- asparagus
- beans - Acreage
- peas - Acreage

In baskets:
- tomatoes
- peppers

- chives
- parsley
- dill
- thyme
- rosemary
- oregano

Window Box:
- strawberries

- raspberries (along my chain link fence)
- blueberries (a couple of random scraggly bushes in my front yard)


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earl's Grilled Chicken and Baked Brie on Ciabatta

This is one of those topics that some might be embarassed to post on their food blogs: guilty pleasures. I have many, but as I slowly move from the land of the non-eating into the land of cravings, this topic has begun to take up a lot more of my brain space. Now, I don't generally advocate hitting up chain restaurant establishments, but it is an inevitable part of most people's culinary lives. For example, both Earl's and Joey's are frequent stops for most Edmonton diners. A good while back the Western Canada Chowhound board had a good thread about what is worth eating at each of these establishments. It seems that I am not alone in my love (yes LOVE) of the grilled chicken breast, melted brie, roasted apples and spinach with sweet fig jam and garlic mayonnaise on toasted ciabatta (I have a fav. at Joey's too, but that will wait for another day). The gooey brie! The Sweet roasted apple and fig jam! The savory garlic mayonnaise! Together this sandwich combines to create a symphony in my mouth. I kid you not, it is one of my favorite foods ever. Give it a try the next time you find yourself at Earl's for yet another round of after work drinks or dinner with friends.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Col. Mustard's for Lunch

On a quick belated note, yesterday was our six month blogiversary! I know compared to most, that is not very long, but for me it has just flown by. I just wanted to give a shout out to all of our fellow food bloggers that we have got to know over that time. I have to say the sense of community gained through blogging has probably been my favorite part of the experience to date.

So, I am back to eating, but still easing into cooking. Especially when it comes to stuff like meat, having it prepared and brought to me makes things a lot easier. Although it was pre-pregnancy nausea when I went to Colonel Mustard's for this particular lunch, it is a lunch spot that I really enjoy going to, and I didn't want to just not review it.

I used to live right beside the old Colonel Mustard location on 107 Ave, and never went to it there. Now that it is on 124th Street, and I live way out in St. Albert, I seem to manage to get there a lot more frequently. Go figure. One of my favorite parts about going there is that it is such a great space. It is bright and sunny with walls painted various vibrant colours. It feels a bit eclectic and hip, and that makes it a great choice for meeting people for lunch on weekdays, or weekends when I want to do some shopping around 124th at the various boutiques and specialty shops such as Paddy's Cheese Market or the Greek grocery store.

The menu has tons of options: paninis, grilled sandwiches, wraps, classic sandwiches, individual pizzas, entrees, salads and appetizers. The huge selection can make it difficult to pick if you don't already have a favorite.

This time around I got the beef dip. I love a good beef dip, and this one was good and filling, and made with nice thick sliced roast beef, but would have been nice to have a side with it. When I am paying close to $10 for a sandwich, I do generally expect to get a few fries or a side salad with it.

My dining companions didn't venture far off the beaten path with their choices either. One had a chicken and cheese sandwich and the other a BLT. All the sandwiches were tasty, but I think next time we will go for some more adventurous choices. Anyone who has been before have good suggestions? With a menu that size it would be great to get some direction since I have always been prone to sticking with the tried and true.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Perfect Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Those of you that follow our blog regularly may have noticed that my posting has been sporadic as of late, and often not even food focused. There is good reason for this: I am pregnant! Yay! Well, yay until I learn that I am one of those poor poor women that experiences terrible nausea through out the first trimester. I considered not sharing this, but as I am now on my way into what I hear is the blissful second trimester, I am feeling a bit desperate for empathy. I don't just want sympathy for the fact that food and beverages of all types tasted like metal to me, I want real understanding from people who love food and have been through a time when the greatest, simplest joy in life is taken away from you for months at a time. I feel like only other food bloggers will understand that I was driven to tears many times in sheer self pity over the fact that eating, my life passion, became a daily occurrence that was equivalent in joy to taking large disgusting tasting pills. Sob! It was the WORST! Okay, pity party over. I now have 10 pounds to make up ASAP for the sake of this baby, so bring on the carbs!

This is the banana chocolate chip muffin recipe I grew up with. I am not sure which cookbook my mom got it out of, but to me, this is what a banana chocolate chip muffin should taste like. Not too cakey, with a good balance of chocolate chips, and served warm from the oven with a pat of butter spread on its golden insides.

1 1/3 cup flour (I sometimes sub in some bran if I feel extra healthy)1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 egg
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/4 cup milk
3 medium mashed bananas

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Combine the first five ingredients (the dry ingredients) in a large bowl, and make a well in the middle. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until frothy (really, get them frothy, it will keep them lighter in texture), and add the rest of the wet ingredients. Pour the wet mixture into the dry one and mix just until combined. Ladle into greased or lined muffin tins and bake for about 20 minutes or until nice and golden.

If I am freezing muffins, I will often make a double batch, but they are so good straight from the oven that it is worth making a fresh batch for a brunch or snack when you have the time.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Egg & Toast Salad

I really did not feel like cooking dinner last night, but I also didn't feel like having plain eggs & toast... which is about all I had in the house that was quick. I decided to make this boring weekday dinner into a salad - all the while thinking it was going to be horrible. It happened to be a great variation, and a good way to make dinner a little more seasonal.

Egg & Toast Salad:
3 poached quail eggs
2 large handfuls salad leaves
1/2 english muffin, toasted & brushed with olive oil
grated parmesan

whole grain dijon mustard
sea salt
red wine


Monday, April 13, 2009

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

Low fat and moist - how can it be? This was my first attempt to make a cake recipe, and was surprisingly successful. It was borne out of a desire to get rid of some 0% fat yogurt, and clearly the only way I'd be eating that is if it was inside a cake of some sort. I'd also just read The Duo Dishes' post on their Triple Citrus Cake. That, combined with the sunny spring weather over the weekend, put me in a citrus mood - and this turned out to be a tasty treat for Easter lunch.

Low Fat Grapefruit Yogurt Cake:
1 cup flour + 1/2 cup semolina (or 1 1/2 cups flour)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
zest of 2 grapefruit
1 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1/3 cup canola oil
3 tbsp grapefruit juice
1 egg
2 egg whites

1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1/3 cup sugar

Grease a loaf tin or cake tin and line with parchment paper. Whisk all the ingredients together and bake in a 350F/180C oven for 40-50 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool on a wire rack. While it's cooling, make the glaze by heating the grapefruit juice and sugar over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Continue simmering until the mixture has thickened, then pour the warm glaze over the cake.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tofu & Wakame Miso Soup

Miso soup, I feel your loving... If you're confused, check this out. But I really do love miso soup, although I don't love paying the crazy prices they charge for it at Japanese restaurants. Once you start making it at home, you realize how cheap and easy it is to make - and there are endless variations on it.

Miso Soup:
1 cup dashi stock
wakame seaweed
soft tofu
1-2 tsp miso to taste

I normally draw the line at making my own stock, simply because I don't have the space to store it and there is only so much you can do from scratch. Since I have no problems with a little msg, dashi granules are fine with me. Also, bonito flakes are super expensive, so making dashi stock can be a little cost-prohibitive in Edmonton. For one cup of water, use 1/2 tsp dashi granules. Heat the stock to boiling over medium heat, and while this is heating toss in the wakame. Once it has come to the boil, remove from the heat and in a large spoon mix the miso with some of the hot stock to thin out the paste, then mix everything together. Add the tofu then return the pan to the heat until it is nearly boiling. Remove & serve immediately.

Alternately, instead of using dashi stock some miso has dashi already mixed in with it. If you check the ingredients on the back, it should say bonito or かつお.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hot Off the Presses!

Take it and Like it was fortunate to be mentioned in the April issue of Avenue magazine. Exciting! Those of you in Edmonton can grab a copy around the city where available, otherwise you can check it out online here.


Monday, April 6, 2009

Poached Beet Salad

I have been thinking about this salad for months now, since I tried a version of it in late January at Muse in Calgary. With the warmer weather here (hopefully to stay!), I am finally starting to crave salads rather than hearty winter fare. This salad kind of bridges the gap between the two; the beets give it a warm earthiness and the slight bitterness in the arugula somehow manages to keep it feeling light.

Poached Beet Salad with Chèvre:
5 small beets, peeled and quartered
1 1/2 cups red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 large handfuls rocket
goat cheese
2 slices cooked bacon, cut into fifths (optional)
balsamic vinegar to dress

The only thing that takes any time at all is poaching the beets - this will take at least 40 minutes, but it's fine to do that a day ahead. Peel and quarter the beets (I wear plastic gloves to do this, else my hands would be pink for the next few days) and put them in a pan with the red wine and balsamic vinegar. Bring everything to a low simmer and keep an eye o
n it for the next 40 minutes. I was not paying attention, and about 3/4 of the way through the poaching I went in to check on them and the cooking liquid had thickened and burned - smelling awful and covering the beets in a thick black coating. Luckily, rinsing them off took away all the bad taste and I was able to clean out the pan, replace the cooking liquid, and keep going. While this is finishing up, cook the bacon strips if you are using them (I didn't this time) and then cut into 3cm pieces.

Let the beets cool, then plate and top with the arugula and bacon and dress with balsamic vinegar. (My photos were taken prior to adding the dressing.) I rolled my goat cheese in fresh ground pepper, but it definitely could just be crumbled into the salad. I really liked the cute little spheres though, and it only took a minute to make it look a lot prettier.

Later, with my leftovers, I tried making appetizers on top of pieces of croissant... AMAZING! There is no doubt that these will be making an appearance the next time I entertain.


Friday, April 3, 2009

Pump up your mcmuffin

For weekday breakfast number three, I decided that eggs are not actually too much work for a weekday if you are just doing a quick fry up. Plus, while it is still cool out, I wanted to include a warm breakfast option because to me it seems really luxurious to get up in the morning and get to have a hot breakfast before work. I am lucky my office isn't in one of those that has a little cafe in the bottom that offers a breakfast special or I would be all over the eggs, bacon, sausage and hash browns every day (which is probably a bit excessive, especially in the breakfast meats category).

Calling this a mcmuffin at all is a bit off base I guess since I substituted a whole grain flax bagel for the english muffin base. I just wanted to give it a little more whole grain goodness, and I skipped slathering it with butter. I topped the bagel with some baby spinach leaves to pump up the veggie factor, and then thinly sliced some really strong white cheddar. When I popped the egg on top, it melted the cheddar a bit, so it stayed together a bit better. Season with a bit of salt and pepper, and I like to soft fry the egg if I am not taking my breakfast to go, and then break the yoke open so that the vibrant yellow spills out all over the plate and I get to mop it up with the last bits of bagel crust.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Weekday Breakfast #2

It goes without saying that winter in Canada isn't exactly the greatest for local fresh fruit, and that is challenging when it comes to trying to pack lots of food groups into breakfast. Today I thought that I would throw together something simple and tasty that covered at least three food groups not involving any fruit.

Yogurt is one of my favourite foods. After all the rave reviews from Brooke's post, I decided to pick up some Liberté Méditerranée yogurt in my favourite flavour: vanilla. I punched it up in true European fashion by topping it with some nice granola, almond slices, and some flax seeds. It almost feels like eating a breakfast sundae! To get the most out of the flax seeds, give them a little bashing with your mortar and pestle, or they will just go right through you. Alternately, I sometimes throw in walnuts as opposed to the almonds.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Feel Good About Weekday Breakfast!

Weekday breakfasts can be tricky. It is difficult to come up with meals that take less than 5 minutes to make, but are still tasty and healthy. This weekend I did some thinking about what kind of breakfasts I could have this week to shake things up. None of these involve reinventing the wheel, just making sure that simple items are done up to taste good and look good so that your morning meal is a pick me up instead of bogging you down. Each of these contains food items from a minimum of three food groups too.

Today's was a simple toasted 12 grain bagel half, spread nice and thick with light cream cheese, and then topped with fresh blackberries (which I got on sale at the grocery last week). They looked like shiny little jewels perched atop the bagel! The best part was the combo of the creamy cheese and the crunchy toasted bagel with the juicy squirt of the blackberries as you bite into one. Delish from beginning to end! As an alternative, if I had some extra brie to use up I have substituted that in the past for the cream cheese. It makes for a slightly more savory breakfast.