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Pancake Park :: A Blog 

Entries in food (5)

Wednesday
Feb292012

Meal Planning: The First Foray

Of course I've heard of meal planning, but being an adventurous, curious home-cook, I've never felt the need to plan any of my meals. Most nights, I open the fridge around 5:30 and pick out the first vegetable that catches my fancy, and go from there. I have created great feats of culinary wonder...and I have failed miserably. There have been nights when Steve has hugged me and said lovely phrases like, "I'm so glad I'm marrying a woman who can cook!" or "How did you do that?!" or "You're beautiful, smart, and a fabulous cook!" (Okay, that last one may be from my own daydreaming...) But there have also been nights when Steve has been oddly silent beside me, picking away at dinner and wondering if there's dessert. 

However, with the dark winter continuing on as it is (Hello windy, dark, and hail-ridden day outside my window), I've been battling with my own little darkness inside. Lethargy. I've been having a hard time getting a meal together at 5:30pm, when it's dark like it should be 9pm, and I'd rather order Chinese food than exercise my creative culinary mind. Steve's noticed, and he asked me to find a way to motivate myself.

Enter: meal planning!

Actually, I've found this exercise incredible liberating. On Monday I flipped through some cookbooks, made a few lists, and went out to the grocery store. At first it didn't seem any different that usual. I bought food, brought it home, stocked the fridge and cupboards, and then wondered what to make for dinner. Except there is a difference! I had all the ingredients I needed for three excellent dinners ready in the fridge.

I went to Steve and said, "Darling, tonight you get to order your dinner like you would in a restaurant. Tell me what you'd like. Here are your choices:..." You should have seen his face light up.

I went with a theme for my meal planning this week: Chef Michael Smith. Steve and I sort of adore him. 

We first started watching Chef Michael Smith on the Food Network, and bought a few of his cookbooks because we liked his food philosophy. We especially enjoyed his Chef at Home show, because he focused on creating delicious at-home meals with very little pretentious-ness. He encouraged his viewers to experiment with the ingredients they had, and to wander from the recipe if some idea took hold. He also taught basic skills that most cooking shows glaze over, like: how to make a basic vinaigrette, how to properly cook pasta, how to cut an onion, etc. We learned so much from watching his show, and made many an excellent meal.

Then, in 2010, my father took a position working as a dining room manager in the Athlete's Village of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. My father spent his days making sure that all the athletes' dietary requirements were met, and working with the kitchen to ensure this occurred. The kitchen's head chef? Michael Smith. Steve and I were naturally excited by this, and we grilled my father with questions about the talented chef. My father described him much as he is on TV: intelligent, gracious, focused, a hard-worker, big laugh, and kind to everyone, whether it be an athlete, a media person, the CEO of the Olympic committee, or a dishwasher. 

My father asked Michael to sign our cookbooks, and I even sent him a copy of my book, Island Kids, for his own children to enjoy. It was a great little bit of connection to the chef, and hearing stories about him from my dad made me respect him even more. 

I'm pleased to be cooking all Michael Smith recipes for dinner this week. 

The menu for this week:

For breakfast I chose a "feature smoothie" that I'll do each morning this week: loganberries, a peach, two nectarines, a splash of orange juice, and some yogurt.

For lunch, I gathered together a selection of veggies and cold cuts (sources from our local deli). It's sandwich week! I've been putting together some yummy selections of turkey, zucchini, and kohlrabi clubs. We don't eat a lot of bread here (and I don't eat any), so Steve is feeling spoiled with a sandwich every day.

For dinner, I drew on my favorite of Chef Michael Smith's books, Chef at Home. Here's the plan:

Monday: last minute dinner at the MedGrill with our business partners to discuss a new project

Tuesday: Maritime Clam Chowder

Wednesday: Chicken and Mushroom Stew

Thursday: this is always Mexican night at a friend's house

Friday: Roasted Tomato Penne

My mother would be proud: no red meat, and even a vegetarian meal! (My parents are vegan).

Last night was the Maritime Clam Chowder and if you like seafood, you MUST make this soup! I've made several clam chowders in my cooking-life, but none compare to this version. Chef Michael suggests using grated baking potatoes and unsweetened condensed milk to create a thick, hearty broth without use of a roux. This method worked wonderfully! The thick white broth was loaded with bacon and clams, and I added cut potatoes and carrots for good measure. I seasoned it with fresh rosemary and cilantro. A must try!

Steve hugged me.

I'm sort of excited to plan next week's meals, and I like this idea of having a theme. Maybe next week I'll do all Chinese dishes, or I could break out my sushi-making skills and we could rock Japan. Then again, maybe I'll just keep on this Michael Smith track. It's going great so far!

Eat well and be kind to others.

Wednesday
Jan112012

Pizza and Roasted Reds

Sometimes, you find a recipe that is a true win. I mean, you take your last bite, sit back, and wonder if you have enough ingredients left to make it again. And if you do, can you make enough for all your friends? Dinner party, anyone?

These two recipes are from Food and Wine Magazine (one of my favourites!), and they turned out so well, that I thought I would share them with you.

 

Summer Squash Pizza with Goat Cheese and Walnuts

The amazing part is that, for the pizza, I used an Udi's Gluten Free Pizza Crust, and it was AMAZING. The actually Udi's crust instructs you to bake the pizza for 8-10 minutes at 350, but the recipe I used said to bake for 5 minutes at 500. Normally, gluten-free crusts are mediocre but nothing to write home about (or in this case, blog), however, baking the crust at that high of a heat created the best flat-crust pizza I have every had. Crispy, salty and sweet, and the perfect compliment to its toppings.

Also, because I'm quite sensitive to dairy products, I used Soya's "mozzarella" cheese substitute. Surprisingly, this also worked great. The soy-based cheese doesn't have the same elasticity as regular mozzarella, and subsequently, held the toppings on without making eating a piece a nuisance (mmm...stretchy cheese...). While I think this pizza would be excellent with real mozzarella, I would suggest also trying other mild, white cheeses, such as a young white cheddar or a mild havarti.

Also note, this pizza is vegetarian!! Use Soya cheese, and it's vegan, too!

 

Green Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Salad

I had never roasted red peppers before, having been under the impression that this was something best left to professionals. However, it turns out that it's easy and well worth it! Just throw your peppers under the broiler (no oil, just plain), and don't forget about them. A few turns later, and you have the most vibrant, juicy peppers ever. 

This recipe rocked. The combination of the crunchy beans, tender peppers (bursting with flavour), and sharp red wine vinegar was complex and yet, sort of simple in a back-yard-BBQ-worthy sort of way. Depending on how you presented this dish, it could be a 5-star side dish, or a BBQ main. I think it would also make an excellent condiment, piled on top of broiled sausages.

What makes this particular recipe so unexpected is the mint. For the most part, this recipe is savory, but the fresh bursts of mint that permeate the dish bring it from yummy and different to something truly spectacular.

This recipe is also naturally gluten-free and vegan.

I hope that some of you try these recipes and let me know your thoughts.

Cheers!

Sunday
Jan082012

Cider Flight

 

Today, redeeming a Groupon that we bought last January, the bunch of us headed over to Sea Cider for a "cider flight": my parents, my Aunt Avril, Steve, myself, and Gems. I knew there would be cider and cheese, but I was quite pleased with the scope of this experience.

We each tasted ten ciders: six regular ciders ranging from sweet to sharp; three boozy still ciders; and one hot mulled cider. We were each given a description sheet that included each of the cider we would be tasting, and then suggested what should be paired with each tasting. This sheet was particularly helpful, as we were better able to pair our tastings with the lovely tray of food that was also included: brie, blue cheese, chorizo sausage, three types of bread, an amazing chutney, candied salmon, and peanut brittle. All the flavours we needed to bring out the best in these ciders.

 


Monday
Jan022012

 

After two years of living here, we finally put pictures on the wall today. It took all of twenty minutes to hang every picture we have. Why didn't we do this sooner?

We spent the evening with my parents, feasting on Potato and Caramelized-Onion Frittata, Beans tossed in Mint and Lemon, and a lovely Basmati-Amaranth Pilaf. We dreamed together about our future wedding and sipped left-over Christmas wine.

Saturday
Oct022010

A Hometown Vacation

Today, quite by accident, Steve and I took a vacation in our hometown. 

Steve had an estimate to do downtown, and so I went "for the ride." We pulled into an idyllic street just past the Johnson Street bridge, steps from the Gorge Waterway, over looking the Inner Harbour. I didn't know this modern little community existed. Tucked behind the monolith Delta Grand Hotel, is a collection of town houses with sweet square yards and fountains. I, however, was more interested in the smell of brine from the nearby sea, and I wander out from the shadow of the Delta, in search of coffee and a perch. Coffee first, of course. 

The Delta is a stunning hotel, with four-story high glass on one side of the lobby that leads out to a wide pathway that follows the waterway. I trudged up the stairs to this glass wall, feeling much like a peasant entering a castle, rather than a shy local searching for coffee. Inside, I was greeted by a man in a full suit immediately. A full suit! Talk about staff dress code. "Coffee?" I pleaded. He escorted me to the new Lure Restaurant, which was smaller than I expected, but made up for it easily with the spectacular view. As I waited for the lattés, I suddenly realized I was starting to relax. The experience of being greeting so cheerfully, escorted, and waited upon had given me a warm feeling. It was like somebody else was taking care of things, and that's when I decided I was on vacation.

Much to my surprise, they wouldn't let me pay for the two steaming lattés that arrived a few minutes later. "But I'm not a guest," I said, confused. "I'm just a local exploring the hotel." They felt, however, that I'd waited too long, and the fact that I was local just seemed to add to their feeling that this coffee should be free. Well, that's just good business practice on their part. Two free lattés later, I am happy to report that I was impressed by the service and attention at the Delta, and I definitely plan to visit Lure for breakfast or lunch sometime soon. Oh, and by the way, the coffee was amazing. Free coffee always tastes better.

I perched on by oceanside, on the ruins of an old promenade from the mid-1800s, and watched the sea planes and kayakers go by. The Coho Ferry pulled out, the people on board waving goodbye to Victoria, on their way to the States. The Clipper pulled in; home-comers and visitors arrived on our island. Families came by, the children tumbling over the rocks in an uncoordinated display of jungle-gyming; the worried parents followed behind, telling them to "get down", "watch the ledge," and "no running." Steve took is time at the estimate, and I'd been at my perch for an hour and a half before he joined me, claiming his free coffee.

Steve wanted to go to Market Square, where a new East Indian kiosk has opened (some of the best food Steve has ever had, he says). Market Square was built over a hundred years ago, when it would have teemed with sailors and gold diggers (and notably few women). Then, it was the hub of the city, where a literal market would have stood nearly every day, where today's posh stores were saloons and hotels, places where the future of our fair city (and maybe even country) were bet upon. Today, while the Inner Harbour is probably the "hub of the city," Market Square is still a centre of music and community events. In my short years in this city, I have attended multiple concerts in the square, dances, festivals, and markets. I have danced to a Latin beat, shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of others, and I've also sat quietly, enjoying the annual Tuba Christmas echoing through the square. The Square is a magical place, a courtyard hidden in plain site, with tree-trunk beams supporting a wooden roof, and stairs so old they have deep grooves from the millions of feet that have stepped there. In all my years exploring it, I didn't know there was a third story. Our quest for Indian food was disrupted, since the place wasn't open, but that didn't stop Steve and I from dashing up a mysterious flight of stairs and into a part of the buildings we didn't know existed. Now mostly offices, the upper floors of the Square are worth a bit of exploration. Beneath the attempts to "modernize" the building, there's still evidence of the original hardwood floors, the brick walls, and the occasional sculpted woodwork. We peeked in windows and sneaked down hallways, theorizing about the history of the place. Who has lived here? Who has died here? What was this place before an office? What stories can these walls tell us?

Steve and I found a little breakfast place called Mole down the street from Market Square, and so our vacation continued. I'd heard a lot about this little place, so I was excited to try it out. Steve was nervous at first; the first three items on the menu were vegan. "Oh, don't worry," the waitress told us. "We have bacon." She said the magic word. Here's what I'll say about Mole: if you're an adventurous eater who doesn't mind spice and is willing to wait for your meal, then Mole is is good bet for you. However, if the idea of aioli, chorizo, vegan veggie burgers, and spelt buns make you nervous, and if you have somewhere to be, then steer clear. We did wait nearly 40 minutes for our food, and the space isn't exactly contusive to easy conversation (open plan, lots of hard surfaces, lot of reverberation), but the service was friendly. While my meal was wonderful (a corn tortilla piled with baked beans and an over-easy egg, accompanied by fresh salsa, avocado, and a grilled apple), Steve's was not so great. His burger was small and chewy, the bread had a doughy texture and Steve thought it might have been undercooked, and there was pesto on his hash browns (which I thought was brilliant, but Steve didn't think you should mess with a good thing like hash browns). So in the end? I would try it once more, but I have a feeling Steve will be waiting outside.

So, here ends our vacation. Our morning was spent in the best place possible (that would be each other's company...and Victoria), and it was time to get back to reality. However, in just a few short hours I was reminded of how picturesque this city truly is; I explored an old haunt and learned to look at it in another way; and I enjoyed another culinary side of this rather unpredictable city.