Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter Blues & Brazilian Bonbons

This winter's exit has been as slow as molasses. It has me feeling worn down, fed up and itching for spring. Flowers and sunshine, I'm waiting.

These little treats remind me of sunflowers. They're actually brigadeiros, Brazilian chocolate truffles. They're made with these two key ingredients:

Sweetened condensed milk and powdered chocolate. Brigadeiros are a staple at children's parties, and you can buy them at any bakery or corner store. Brigadeiros are like the Timbits of Brazil. They taste like a gooey combination of caramel and chocolate.

This is what I'm told by the newest addition to our family, Isabella, a 17-year-old exchange student who is staying with us for one semester while she practises her English. She was craving her favourite sweet and whipped up a batch with the kids.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
2-3 Tablespoons powdered cocoa (I prefer unsweetened cocoa)
1 teaspoon butter
1 cup sprinkles for decoration

In a medium saucepan, heat condensed milk and butter over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the mixture bubbles gently. Add cocoa and stir until fully dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. (We refrigerated our batch for 30 minutes.)
When the mixture is cold, form into balls. 
Tip: Rub the palm of your hands with butter so the chocolate doesn't stick.
Coat the chocolate balls with sprinkles and place in mini muffin cups.
Yields about three dozen small brigadeiros.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chinese Tomato Egg Soup

I had to see it to believe it. Out of my nearly-empty refrigerator, my friend pulled out two eggs and two tomatoes.  Presto! Soup for six.

Tomato Egg Soup with Cilantro

Within the time it took to boil a pot of water, my friend Yingjie diced the tomatoes, beat the eggs, and concocted the traditional Chinese soup. She added salt and pepper, a few drops of sesame oil. She topped it off with chopped cilantro.

Yingjie is a visiting scientist, working in Ottawa to research  indoor air pollutants. She was my houseguest for a few weeks as she got settled in this foreign land.

Everyday, she shared with me observations of Canadian people and customs.  "Why are so many people here so fat? I've never seen such fat people. In China, I am fat."  All 115 pounds of her.
"Why do you put ice in your drinks? The body is 37 degrees. The body likes same temperature. In China, we warm our Coca Cola." 
Odd habits asides, Yingjie is in awe at all of our freedoms and luxuries. "I can't believe you can buy anything you like, so much food from anywhere in the world." 
She often told me how blessed I am to be able to cook for three children and all their friends. "You are very lucky here. You can have many children. I have only one girl. If I get pregnant, I will lose my government job." 

She said that China's one-child policy is difficult for many of her female colleagues. "One of my friends, she had to kill her babies. Four times." She told about another friend who had to abandon her newborn. Her stories broke my heart.
She recounted these stories as she made her tomato egg soup.
In the background, my own children were squabbling, as siblings do. And Yingjie listened with a smile. She reminded me, "You are so lucky."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Snapshots from Abroad

The kids are back at school. And my kitchen is clean and quiet. Bliss.

I'm thrilled that all three bottomless bellies are putting their brains to work after the long summer hiatus.

On a train in Italy
I can finally switch gears from referee/ cook/ corporal to sane working professional.

I learned a couple of lessons this summer.

Lesson one: Never take your family vacation at the beginning of summer. Save it for August. Otherwise, you'll return home and have to listen to the same rant everyday until the start of school.

"This is so boring compared to the Italy. There's nothing to do at home. The food here isn't as good as the food we had on vacation." The last part is so true:
Cannoli in Sicily
Dried pasta in Florence
Seafood in Rome
Peaches in Venice
Lesson two: It doesn't matter how far and away the destination...

Sorrento, Italy 
It's all about the people.
The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy 
We reconnected with my favourite Italian sous chef, Filippo.

La Rambla, Barcelona

In EspaƱa, we reunited with our Spanish friends who trekked to Barcelona from Wales and Madrid just to show us the sights and make sure we were safe from picketpockets. 

I came across a fitting expression: friends are family you choose. I've chosen well.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bobbi's Fruity Veggie Salad

My friend Bobbi was getting tired of reading the same marmalade chicken post for the last few months. 

"What's up with you, girl," she said to me this morning via Skype. "Why aren't you posting anything new?" 

Here's my confession. I've been enjoying life outside of AK's Kitchen. For the first time in a long time, I'm feeling strong, able and confident enough to venture outside of my comfort zone. I've been teaching, mentoring and traveling. (More on the travel in an upcoming post.) 

My dear friend Bobbi is an avid traveler who enjoys exotic sights and flavours. Her most recent adventure was to South America. Bobbi thoroughly enjoyed the land of red meat and sweets.  

Now that she's back home, she is trying to cut out processed foods and reduce her meat intake. She's trying to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into her meals. A tall order when you live with a carnivorous husband in the southern U.S.A. where beef is king and the portions are king-sized. 

Bobbi is slowly shifting her eating habits, thanks to her new secret weapon. It's her food camouflage:  

Sweet and crumbly Wensleydale cheese
"A couple of ounces of crumbled Wensleydale cheese covers the healthy greens. It gives my salads so much body and flavour. Hubby doesn't realise he's eating more greens and less meat." 

Bobbi's Fruity Veggie Salad 

Bobbi's Fruity Veggie Salad
Serves 2

Romaine lettuce
1 diced apple
1 diced and seeded cucumber
1 handful of seedless grapes, sliced in halves
optional: strawberry, celery, pecans 
2 ounces Wensleydale cheese
2-3 Tablespoons balsamic dressing 

Combine vegetables, fruit, crumbled cheese into a large bowl.
Toss with dressing. 
Enjoy on its own or with grilled fish or chicken for a meal that will satisfy any meat-lover. 

Bobbi's Tip:  Chop the fruit and vegetables in small pieces of equal size, so you get all the flavours in each bite. 

I'm hoping to sample Bobbi's Fruity Veggie Salad when she comes for a visit in the very near future.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Marmalade Chicken

I struck out with my recent batch of orange marmalade.  Arielle, who's usually a fan of citrus and sour, complained that my concoction was too acidic. The marmalade made little Alexander's face pucker and his tongue tingle.  Epic fail, Mom! 

How to salvage a fail? Disguise it, water it down and use it as a sauce. Project Salvage-A-Fail was in full swing.

In my fridge, next to the marmalade was a package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs. Why not introduce the two in a hot skillet?

Marmalade Chicken
Chicken parts (I used 10 skinless, boneless thighs)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock or water
3 Tablespoons Orange Marmalade (recipe here)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet with oil, brown the chicken with the garlic.
While the chicken is browning, combine the stock with the marmalade.
Pour the marmalade sauce into the skillet with the chicken. 
Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes. 
Marmalade chicken with quinoa and greens 

The kids gobbled up my marmalade chicken. They even asked for seconds. Mom's epic fail wasn't so lame after all.
The marmalade also works well to flavour pork chops. Mix in a teaspoon of grated ginger, a couple of tablespoons of soya sauce and tablespoon of brown sugar. Spread the zesty marinade over the chops and broil until done. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Optimism & Orange Marmalade

Delinquent me. It's been too long since my last post. I've spent more time in hotels and restaurants than in AK's Kitchen.

A new project has brought me back to television, to launch and host a new programme dedicated to people with different abilities. 

I just wrapped up taping season one. It gave me a unique opportunity to meet some incredible, inspiring, fascinating people.

One of my guests, Nancy, lives with cerebral palsy. Barely middle aged, she's already planning ahead  because her disease accelerates the aging process. Is she worried about what the future holds for her?

Not really. Instead of worrying about tomorrow, she relishes the now. Nancy's philosophy reminds me to cherish every able moment I am blessed with.

Fresh from my latest project, I am feeling energised and optimistic. When I mistakenly bought a bag of sour oranges, I knew there was something great, waiting to be made.

My Twitter buddies at  Foodies Prints and @AMWaters suggested marmalade.

I found an easy recipe here, by Elise Bauer. The fruit prep was time-consuming. I didn't use a food thermometer, but the end product turned out great.

When life gives you sour oranges, make marmalade.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Satay Sauce

I had dinner recently with a longtime friend and colleague. She and her husband served a tasty Asian-inspired meal. The main dish was a pork tenderloin with a flavourful, fragrant satay sauce.

I had to duplicate it. I tinkered with Joanne and Michel's original recipe using ingredients I already had in my cupboard. This is my new staple sauce.
AK's Satay Sauce

The satay sauce is delicious with a stir fry of scallops and noodles.

And stirred in ground pork and vegetables.

I like to double the recipe and keep a jar of the leftover sauce for dipping and marinating. It adds zing to chicken drumsticks, wontons, noodles, rice, tofu, grilled veggies.

AK's Satay Sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 piece of fresh ginger, minced
1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 Tablespoons soya sauce
1/2 cup apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
juice from 1 lime
3 Tablespoons peanut or almond butter (optional)
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes or Sriracha chili sauce (optional)

Whisk everything together in a small sauce pan.  
Let simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens.