Sunday, December 19, 2010

All I want for Christmas...

I want my kitchen back! AK's Kitchen -- the real one -- has been out of commission for a while because of water damage. I won't get into the painful details, but suffice it to say the damage hit my favourite room, and the floors above and below it.

We were in decontamination mode for two weeks. Now we're in reconstruction mode. I can hardly wait for the final painting to happened days before Christmas.

With our ceiling ripped out and pot lights dangling, the kitchen has been a less-than-inspiring place to cook. We've been feasting on canned beans, tuna and fried eggs.  We've also been doing a lot of take-out shawarma.

Last night, I took back my kitchen and fired up the stovetop. I threw together a fast stir fry with my new favourite soya sauce.

This brand is free of wheat and gluten. No wonder I always felt ill after eating food made with my old brand of soya sauce. I made the connection after a friend told me that most soya sauce is made with wheat.

With a generous sprinkling of my new wheat-free condiment, along with leftover basmati rice, frozen veggies and frozen squid (my kids LOVE LOVE LOVE squid), I whipped up some fried rice.
We got most of the main food groups in one frying pan. Plus, it was a welcome break from canned pork and beans.
Seafood Fried Rice

Fingers crossed that Santa brings efficient elves to get my kitchen back on track before Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Granola

When I was much younger, "granola" was an adjective. It was how we described some of my classmates at the all-girls school run by the Sisters of Saint Anne. "Granola" was part of the angry schtick of one Ottawa radio commentator. In his daily rants, he fumed about the "granola set", those "tree-hugging, cappuccino-sucking lefties."

When I think of granola today, I think of the crispy wholesome stuff that cleans out your insides. I've seen all sorts of designer granola. Ginger and honey-flavoured, cranberry-almond and pecan-maple granola.

This afternoon, I made a big batch of granola and spiced it up for the holidays. I scooped it into decorative gift bags for the teachers.  I also set aside a couple of bowls for Santa and Christmas brunch.

This recipe makes a big batch and takes no longer than 25 minutes to whip up. The longest part is  measuring out your ingredients. Play with the seasonings to create your own signature granola.

Holiday Granola

AK's Holiday Granola
6 cups large flake oats (spelt or kamut work well too)
2 cups sunflower seeds
2 cups cranberries/ currants
1 cup pecans/ almonds
1 cup grated coconut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup soya flour
1 cup water
1 cup oil (grapeseed, sunflower or canola) 
pinch salt
3 Tablespoons vanilla
2 Tablespoons cinnamon  
1 Tablespoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground dried star anise (optional)  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with wax paper.
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
Spread onto cookie sheets.
Bake for 20 minutes. Flip mixture and bake for another 10 minutes.
Enjoy sprinkled on yogurt or on its own as a snack.   

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cake and Other Blessings

'Tis the season for cakes and cookies, family and friendship. This is the season that reminds me most of my Auntie Maitoni. 
At this time of year, her living room was transformed into a fruitcake assembly line. Her fruitcakes were in high demand in Metro Manila ever since she began taking orders in the 1960's. She prepared hundreds of fruitcakes every holiday season. She started the process as early as September. Each cake received a generous dousing of Philippine Tanduay rum. "For the extra moisture," she would say with a wink.  
Auntie Maitoni also made elaborate wedding cakes. To pull off such works of art in the tropical heat was an amazing feat. Her cakes were adorned with edible flowers, each one painstakingly made by her steady hand. Each orchid, each rose were weeks in the making. 

Auntie Maitoni's Golden Anniversary Masterpiece 
For one wedding in Los Angeles, she made delicate sugar roses, wrapped them individually in bubble wrap, and transported them from her kitchen in Asia to the bride in L.A.!
My Aunt and her trans-Pacific cake

My Auntie Maitoni fell ill just before the holiday season in 2007. On December 20, 2007 she passed at  81 years of age. She and my uncle Gaby had been married for 60 years and 10 months.  
When word spread about her passing, my uncle -- a veteran CBS News correspondent -- received touching notes from around the globe. One of his newsmen colleagues described Auntie Maitoni as his mother in Asia while he was a cub reporter. Auntie Maitoni made certain that he was well-organised, well-informed and well-fed.  

When she wasn't working on her daily New York Times crossword puzzle (she was one of the few people I know who could actually finish them) or when she wasn't reading a newspaper cover to cover, she cooked, baked and rummaged through local farmers markets. She had a great appreciation for food and its preparation. 

During her days as a coloratura soprano
Food was not merely calories and sustenance to my aunt; food was her medium to express her affection and creativity. Her cakes were just one of her canvasses. 

I wish I could share Auntie Maitoni's cake recipes, but they were her own concoctions based on old family recipes. Trying to duplicate them would not do her justice. Instead, I wish to share a few  memories of a wonderful woman. She was my role model and the first true foodie in my life. 

Auntie Maitoni 1926 - 2007

Friday, November 26, 2010

Food for the gods

Someone I know took a terrible fall this week after the first snow and ice of the season. She was walking out her front door and in a split second, she slipped and broke her leg. Now, with five titanium pins in her femur, she is home recuperating. 

With that experience in mind, I hunkered down indoors, safe from the elements and my own clumsiness. I whipped up my special dark, delicious drink.  It packs a small punch of flavonoids which have beneficial effects on cholesterol and inflammation.  
The ancient Mayans considered cocoa a food for the gods, a cure-all, an aphrodisiac. The Spaniards consume it as part of their first meal of the New Year. Chocolate con churros is said to be the perfect cure for a hangover.
A childhood friend who is married to a Spaniard told me about a Spanish legend about Queen Maria Teresa, the wife of King Louis XIV. Legend goes, the Queen's teeth were black from her addiction to chocolate. (I am happy to report that my own addiction hasn't cost me my teeth, yet.) 

I tracked down the most luxurious hot chocolate. CafĂ© Angelina in Paris near the Louvre serves up a 14-ounce mini-pitcher with fresh whipped cream on the side. 
This was my lunch one afternoon. I dragged hubby back for seconds the next day. I have my own version of hot chocolate. It is thick, velvety and slightly spicy. A welcome elixir on a wintery night.

AK's Spicy Hot Chocolate
AK's Spicy Hot Chocolate
100 grams/ 6 ounces good dark chocolate - minimum 65%  
3/4 cup milk or almond/soya milk at room temperature       
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg  
Pinch dried chilli pepper flakes or 1 dried chilli pepper, slit down the middle
Pinch crushed szechuan peppercorns
Pinch sea salt

Carefully melt the chocolate, making sure it does not burn.  
Stir in the milk. 
Add cinnamon, nutmeg, dried chilli pepper.
Pour into espresso cups.
Sprinkle sea salt and szechuan peppercorns on top.

This rich recipe makes enough for one generous mug, but I recommend sharing between two or three chocoholics. And use a spoon to scoop out every last drop.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Week of Mindful Eating

I'm back on track, feeling healthier and more energetic after the sugar orgy. Last weekend's lapse did me and my gang a load of good. We were all extra mindful of what we ate. The memory of Mama hugging her waist, fumbling to the washroom gave us all plenty of incentive.

On one night, we feasted on a Sweet Yogurt Crunch, plain yogurt with walnuts and a splash of raw honeyAnother night, we had "pretend chocolate truffles". (See "Meet My New Date," Oct.12.) By mid-week, we no longer craved dessert.

While we were all mindful of our eating, I also took my youngest off gluten. He was having nasty skin rashes, so bad that the skin around his fingers and hands was cracked and bleeding. The itching kept him up at night. This week, a remarkable difference.  His skin is clear, and he has slept through the night, every night this past week.

A friend of mine just came off a detox diet to cleanse her system of gluten, dairy and refined sugars. She said it was tough to stick to at first. But after the two-week cleanse, she says she feels terrific. When she eats too much gluten or sugar, she feels "lousy and gets headaches."

One follower AnnaBe has been off sugar for two weeks and counting. You go girl! I bet you look and feel trimmer. And I bet everyone in your household is eating healthier because of your example.

Sweet Yogurt Crunch

1/2 cup plain, natural yogurt
Pinch of cinnamon
1 Tablespoon walnuts
1 Tablespoon or more raw honey
1 Teaspoon raw cacao (optional)
1 Tablespoon sunflower seeds (optional)

Spoon the yogurt into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, finishing with the honey drizzled across the top. Dive in and enjoy a bowl full of calcium, protein and beneficial bacteria. Great for breakfast or as a delicious snack or dessert!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Painful Payback

I did a very bad thing. I fell into temptation. I was seduced by the sexy packaging and an easy opportunity. I indulged in something I've been without for so long. And now I am truly suffering the consequences.

This afternoon, my family and I were enjoying a walk through a trendy neighbourhood. We passed trendy shops and inviting eateries. One of them pulled me by the nose through the doorway. I was intoxicated by the smell of vanilla and fresh baking. Inside, I found myself in a trance, ogling every single cheesecake, pie and cookie. Without even thinking of my gluten and dairy sensitivities, I eagerly placed my order. I had completely forgotten the fact that my body has been without sugar for months.  

After dinner, I opened the box of sinful treats. I sampled the chewy brownie, the peanut butter chocolate cupcake and the tiramisu cheesecake. My far-more-sensible 10-year-old son watched me, shaking his head. I could hear him thinking, "Mama's not thinking. She's gonna regret this."

Here's what was left after I made a pig of myself.

Within minutes I felt the effects of my mindless indulgence. My insides were screaming. I was bloated, gassy and in pain. There will be no next time. (Hopefully publishing the thought will help me stick to the intention.)
As I write this, I have a hot compress sitting on my protruding tummy. Beside my keyboard is a mug of my homemade remedy: a tepid tea of grated ginger and fennel seeds. My grandmother always gave us ginger to soothe our intestinal pains. Fennel has similar soothing properties. Plus I like the mild licorice taste when I chew the seeds.
Fennel seeds and fresh ginger
Next time, I will be mindful of what I am feeding my body. Mindful eating, mindful eating, mindful eating.  It's going to be a long evening with a lot of ginger-fennel tea.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lychee Chicken

Here's today's Jeopardy question: What can you do with chicken and lychees?
I was cleaning out my fridge and had to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, leftover roasted eggplant and two wrinkled red peppers. I also had a can of lychees.

For the uninitiated, fresh lychees resemble a rough, prickly nut, about the size of a walnut.  The shell is thin and easily cracked open with your fingers. The inside is a white, fleshy fruit with a black pit. The texture reminds me of a peeled extra large grape.

The tropical fruit is native to China, the Philippines, Malasia and India. Outside of Chinatown and Asian grocery stores, fresh lychees are hard to find in my part of the world, which is more arctic than tropical.
When I get a craving, I open a can and pour it into a bowl with ice. The ice dilutes the sugary syrup.

Back to the Jeopardy question. I've mentioned before that Thai curry paste is one of my go-to condiments. Once again, it was my supper saver.  I did a variation of my Thai Curry chicken (see Curry in a Hurry from October 22) using red curry paste. I substituted coconut milk with chicken broth plus the juice from the canned lychee. The result was a light sauce with a hint of sweetness and the plump surprise of lychees. Since it was clean-out-the-fridge night, I threw in the leftover roasted eggplant and the wrinkled red peppers. I added the lychees last so they didn't break apart as I stir fried the other ingredients. And voilĂ , Lychee Chicken.

Lychee chicken on rice noodles
The yellowish cubes in the picture are tofu cubes, in case you're wondering. This dish is also fantastic with shrimp or BBQ beef strips. It is also perfect for dairy and gluten free eaters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cheers to your eyes

I came to a wonderful realization when a friend came to visit me recently. We were chatting in my kitchen and she remarked, "AK, you're making eye contact! You are looking into my eyes!"

This time a year ago, I was unable to look anybody in the eye, let alone appreciate the site of food or  anything else in front of me. Nerve damage made it difficult to focus on objects and follow moving objects. Even looking at people's faces as they spoke to me was a painful challenge.  Those days seem like a distant memory. Time and rehabilitation are improving the way I see. The damaged nerves are beginning to heal. 

As my friend Steph and I continued our face-to-face conversation, I studied her face with my eyes. We've seen each other regularly over the last year, but for the first time, I was able to really take in the complexity of her deep grey eyes. During that flash of visual clarity, I was astounded by my dear friend's beautiful face. (Steph, middle age has been very kind to you. I can say that because now I can see you properly.)

I did some research on some eye-healthy foods. Extensive studies in the U.S. found that a diet rich in B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin) may help reduce the risk of cataracts. Riboflavin is found in eggs, mushrooms and almonds. Niacin-rich foods are chicken and turkey breast, wild salmon, kidney beans and natural peanut butter. The American National Eye Institute identifies several key nutrients that help contribute to eye health: beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3 fats.
  • Beta carotene-rich foods: carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, cantaloupe, apricots and cherries. 
  • Vitamin C-rich foods: bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, oranges, strawberries and kiwis. 
  • Vitamin E-rich foods: wheat germ, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, peanut butter and avocados. 
  • Zinc-rich foods: oysters, ostrich (a very lean meat), turkey, pumpkin seeds and chick peas. 
Here's another interesting find: in a study on rats and tea, rats that were given green and black tea had fewer cataracts than their non tea-drinking counterparts.

Eye-opening smoothie  
Eye-Opening Smoothie
1 orange, zested, then peeled and cut into sections
1/2 medium pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into sections
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup frozen berries
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Dump all the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. 

Makes 1 large serving (1 3/4 cups). 
Enjoy the blast of eye-healthy nutrients. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween Hangover

My household is nursing its annual Halloween Hangover. The overdose of high-fructose corn syrup is enough to make your teeth ache and your tummy groan, especially since we've been free of cane and processed sugars for months. We need to gargle with fluoride and chug a glass of psyllium. (

I managed to get rid of half the Halloween loot. But not without a consequence; my kids guilting me out, saying I am the grinch who stole their hard-earned candy. So I bribed them. The trade-off was half the junk in exchange for one of their favourite homemade treats.

I make a mean chocolate cake with quinoa instead of wheat flour. Quinoa is a super grain that contains nearly twice the protein found in other grains. It's also a source of iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium as well as vitamins B and E.

When you're cooking quinoa, rinse it twice to get rid of the bitter coating. This recipe is great for dairy free and gluten free diets. I use coconut milk, but if you are not fond of coconut, use plain soya or almond milk. In place of butter, I use grapeseed oil or melted coconut oil. In a pinch, vegetable oil also works.

AK's Chocolate Torte

topped with mango jam and coconut
2/3 cup quinoa
1  2/3 cups water
1/3 cup coconut milk 
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup grapeseed oil 
1 cup agave or maple syrup
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1  1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Cook quinoa in water in a medium saucepan. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove lid and let cool. Fluff with a fork. (If you already have cooked quinoa, you will need 2 cups.)
2. While quinoa cools, lightly grease 2 8-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a small bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients. 
4. Combine wet ingredients in a blender. Slowly add the cooked quinoa. Blend until smooth.
5. Add dry ingredients.
6. Pour batter into pans and bake for 40 - 45 minutes.

This makes a super moist torte. After a day or two in the refrigerator, in an air-tight container, it's even more delicious.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Night Shift

It's 5:15 P.M. . You rush out of a meeting. Toss the laptop, blackberry and a few files into your briefcase. Don't forget the dirty tupperware from lunch and the grade 3 math quiz you printed off the internet. 

Now the daycare detour. You race to the caregiver so that your kids are not the last ones left. (Don't you hate the looks of disapproval from the caregivers when you are that last parent at pick-up?) In the car, you do a head count to make sure you have everyone and their respective lunch boxes, backpacks, art projects, chocolate bars for the school fundraiser, etc.. 

You shut the car door and switch gears from hurried professional to harried parent. 

You try to sort out a dozen questions in your brain: Who's driving to piano? What time is soccer?  Did I pick up the dry cleaning? Is there enough food for dinner? Do I have time to make a quick milk run? Did I bring the math exercises? Your brain is fried. 

The kids are cranky. They start to fire off their own questions and comments:   

"My teacher got mad because she said I wasn't wearing a warm enough coat. It's all mama's fault." "I'm so hungry. You didn't pack us enough snacks." "I need to do my math homework now." "Can I have a playdate with Mathew?" If only you had a mute button.

I don't have a mute button to share -- if I did it'd be my ticket to gold and early retirement. But I do have a quick and delicious dinner that will help take the edge off mealtime prep. It's chicken with a sweet, moroccan-inspired sauce. The scent of cinnamon and cloves is guaranteed to put the kids in a sweeter mood. (I wanted to take a photo of the final dish, but it was devoured so quickly, I didn't have a chance.)

The secret to the sauce is honey. I like to use local buckwheat honey for its earthiness and aroma.
(More on local honey in another posting.) 

In addition to its natural sweetness, there are a tonne of home remedies that use honey:
- hair and skin conditioner
- with lemon and water for a sore throat
- with a glass of milk to help you sleep
- dabbed on a scrape or cut to promote healing
- a spoonful throughout the year to minimise seasonal allergies

AK's Spiced Honey Chicken
4 lbs chicken parts
salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup honey
2 Tbsp melted butter (or olive oil) 
Juice and grated rind from 2 lemons
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
optional : 1 cup slivered almonds, 3 cinnamon sticks 

1) Season chicken with salt and pepper.
2) Place chicken and half of the garlic in a large skillet. Add about half an inch of water.
3) Steam. Cover with a lid over medium high heat for about 10 minutes.
4) Add remaining ingredients. Stir. Reduce to medium heat.
5) Simmer until chicken is fully cooked.
6) Garnish with slivered almonds and broken cinnamon sticks.

If you're feeling a little adventurous, add a teaspoon of crushed szechuan pepper corns in the final minutes of cooking. This is add a zing to the dish. Serve with some vegetables and rice or pasta.

Now on to homework duty.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Raw Afternoon Delight

I was a little self-indulgent this weekend. I went on small shopping spree. When I left the store, I was giddy with excitement, anxious to sample my new purchases. Take a peek.

La Belle Verte in Gatineau, Quebec is one of my favourite restaurants. Its specialty is raw, vegan cuisine. I love the casual, ecclectic set-up and the open kitchen. Everyone who works there seems to have flawless skin, bright eyes and an over-all healthy glow about them. Must be the food.
I stopped in for some take-out desserts Saturday afternoon. As usual, I couldn't decide, so I bought at least one of everything: banana "cream" pie, chocolate bliss balls and blueberry tarts. Plus a bag of their out-of-this-world kale chips. (See my failed attempt in a previous post.)

Kale chips

chocolate bliss balls
The chocolate bliss balls are more like macaroons, loaded with coconut, cocoa and coconut butter.
 The blueberry tart was bursting with fresh flavour. The kids devoured those in seconds.
blueberry tart
banana cream pie
My favourite was the banana "cream" pie. There is not a trace of cream in the pie, but the banana filling is so rich and creamy, you'd never miss the cream. The crust is made of pressed, crushed nuts.
All the desserts are sweetened with agave.

The desserts are filling and loaded with nutrients. Two bites of the banana cream pie left me very satisfied. (Mind you, that was after tasting a chocolate bliss ball and taking a tiny piece of blueberry tart.) If you're in west Quebec, La Belle Verte is worth a stop. Or if you're craving a fresh, wholesome, sugar-free, guilt-free dessert, this is the place for a raw delight.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Curry in a Hurry

There's a fishy smell in the air and it's coming from AK's Kitchen. I had a craving for something warm, aromatic and spicy.  My Thai Curry Chicken fits the bill. This is my kind of comfort food. It's fast and easy to make. It's essentially a chicken stir fry/ stew.

Whenever I make my Thai curry chicken, the neighbours can smell it from the street. The smell of fish sauce is very pungent. But don't let the strong aroma scare you. It adds a deep and rich salty layer to  your dish. Start with a little and add drop by drop because the flavour is very concentrated. You can buy fish sauce at any Asian grocery store. It will keep in your cupboard for months.

The key to good curry is good quality Thai curry paste. I like "Thai Kitchen" brand. It's hard to duplicate because it contains galangal which is hard to find outside of southeast Asia. You can find green, orange and red pastes, green being the spiciest. Another sweeter, milder option is Roasted Red Chili paste. Many stores sell Thai Kitchen paste for about $5 a jar. I found the best deal at Food Basics for $3.99 a jar.
You will also need coconut milk for this recipe. It adds richness and colour to the dish. Here's a tip when using canned coconut milk: DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN. There is usually a layer of white coconut fat sitting on top of the coconut milk. Skim off the fat and use it in place of your usual cooking oil to stir fry your meat and veggies.

I've been making Thai curry chicken for so long that I don't use precise measurements. The recipe below reflects my best estimation of quantities. Feel free to adjust the amount of curry or fish sauce to suit your palate. If the taste isn't right, it's easily fixable. Add more coconut milk and sweetener to temper the heat. Add more curry paste, chili sauce or chopped chili peppers to kick up the heat. Remember, it's always easier to start mild and slowly turn up the heat, rather tone it down. When I make Thai curry for my for children, I do a mild version and add a can of chunked pineapples with the juice.
The recipe below is mild and sweet because it uses Roasted Red Chili Paste.

AK's Thai Curry in a Hurry 

AK's Thai Curry Chicken
Yields 6 generous portions
6 pieces skinless, boneless chicken thighs sliced into strips
1 can coconut milk
1/4 inch piece fresh grated ginger
3- 4 Tbsp Thai Kitchen's Roasted Red Chili Paste
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small sticks
1 can baby corn
1 can mushrooms (shitake/straw mushrooms) 
1 sweet pepper, sliced into strips
1 package firm tofu, cut into cubes
2 handfuls fresh spinach 
2 limes
1 hot chili pepper (optional)
Large wok or skillet

Stir Fry Chicken in coconut fatSkim 2 tablespoons of the white cream from the top of the can and use it to stir fry the chicken over medium high heat. Add grated ginger. Cook until chicken is light pink.

Stir in chili paste and fish sauce. 

Stir in veggies and canned ingredients.

Add remaining coconut milk reducing heat to minimum.

Add zest and juice from limes. Stir well.

Let simmer for 10 minutes.

Add spinach.

Serve over a bed of basmati or jasmine rice or rice noodles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Skinny Jeans Don't Lie - A Moratorium on Desserts

There's been far too much dessert tasting in AK's Kitchen. The proof is in my skinny jeans. The zipper is not happy. And so my resolve to cut back on the desserts.

I strolled down the aisle of my local Herb and Spice, and a robust leafy green called out to me. "Take me home chubby mama. I'm full of vitamin and minerals. You don't need more cookies!"

I picked up a bunch of fresh kale. I hadn't used kale in years, but was inspired by a recent cooking segment on CTV Midday during which Leanne Cusack made kale chips flavoured with a mixture of cayenne and cashews. She made it look so easy and idiot-proof.

To ensure my experiment wasn't a complete waste, I used half of the kale in a miso soup, and dehydrated the other half. I baked the leaves at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes with a sprinkling of sea salt. When I pulled the greens out of the oven, they looked nothing like the chips I saw on TV. Mine looked a sickly brown - like myself two weekends ago when I was recovering from a migraine.

When my kids came into the kitchen to inspect my latest experiment, I tried to tell them that it was Popeye chips, loaded with good stuff. No sale. They said it looked funny and smelled weird. Always reluctant to throw out food - no matter how unappealing- I whipped up a "salvage sauce".

I made my own version of Thai peanut sauce. My youngest is allergic to peanuts, so I used almond butter.  I also find almond and cashew butters tastier than peanut butter.

With a drizzle of my Thai sauce, and some coaxing, the kids did eat the dried kale. I had lots of leftover sauce for chicken and spinach salad lunches the next day. The Thai sauce is sweet, salty and a tad spicy with a rich nuttiness.

Thai sauce over chicken and spinach salad

Thai Peanut Sauce

1/4 cup nut butter
1Tbsp sweetener (honey, agave, maple syrup, sugar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Rind and juice from 1 lime
Chilli flakes/ Sriracha Thai hot sauce
1/4 - 1/2 cup water

Blend the first four ingredients together with a hand blender.  Add water in a slow stream to thin the sauce.  Add chilli flakes or hot sauce to taste. Done.
Drizzle over meats, noodles, spring rolls or kale chips.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

G-Free Banana Loaf - take 2

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a "G-free Flop". Well, I flopped in my transcription of the recipe. I messed up on the flour portion. I realized my mistake this evening after making a delicious batch of banana loaf. (I had to use up a bunch of browning bananas, and the fruit flies were becoming annoying.) Please ignore the recipe in my previous posting and use this one instead. It is free of dairy and wheat.
It yields 2 loaves or about 24 muffins.

Banana Loaf 

3/4 cup sugar  or 1/2 c agave

3 Tbsp vegetable or grape seed oil
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
4 large mashed bananas - the browner the better because you can reduce the sugar
1/4 cup sorghum flour 
1/2 cup white rice flour
1 1/4 cup brown rice flour.
optional: chocolate chips/ sunflower seeds/ shredded coconut sprinkled on top before baking

Pre-heat over to 350 degrees. Combine the sorghum, white rice and brown rice flours in a small bowl and set aside.  Mix together all other ingredients. Let the gluten-free batter sit for 10 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. For muffins, reduce baking time to about 15 minutes. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Meet my New Date

I never realized that a bulk laxative could be so decadently scrumptious. My new-found love is a healthy treat that is gluten free, dairy free and entirely natural. Move over chocolate. Make way for dates!

The skinny on dates: 
- dates are a good source of vitamin A, antioxidants, iron and potassium.
- dates are rich in dietary fibre which helps reduce the absorption of LDL cholesterol in the gut.
- dates contain tannins which help prevent inflammation. 

Need I say more about my new guiltless pleasure? 

I became a date convert last week when I helped my friend Tara prepare 150 dates stuffed with chevre and toasted almonds. We used Iranian dates, which are available at middle eastern grocery stores. I love the dark, velvety texture of Iranian dates. And at $4 for a box of at least two dozen, this dessert is cheaper and more nutritious than a box of chocolate truffles.

For the preparation in the photo, be prepared to get your fingers sticky, but it's so worth it. They keep  several days in the refrigerator, longer if you remove the almond which will soften over time.

Dates with Chevre & Toasted Almonds
Iranian dates (or Medjool dates)
Goat cheese or Blue cheese
Toasted almond (whole or slivered)

Carefully slice the date lengthwise.
Remove the pit.
Stuff with about a quarter teaspoon for cheese.
Place the almond onto the cheese.

If you have an old plastic syringe -- the kind that comes with children's cold medication -- use it to pump the cheese into the dates. I used this method the second time around, and found it much neater.

Another foodie friend, Aviva, mentioned that Argentinian Parmesan works beautifully with dates. Cut small chunks and place them into the centre of the dates.

I have a box of Iranian dates in my refrigerator. If you have any recipes or preparations with dates, please share so I can try them out and expand my repertoire.     

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pork for Thanksgiving?

This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be thankful for. Mostly my improving health and the good health of my loved ones. We tend to take for granted our everyday blessings --  our ability to taste, the sensations on our skin, our mobility and ability to move freely without even thinking, my ability to read and write this blog. I'm going to take a long pause this weekend to be grateful. 

Back to the food... I had the opportunity to work with a real pro in the kitchen. My friend Tara has been a great cook since forever. She's currently going to chef school for formal training as she launches has her Ottawa catering company, OM Gourmet. Last Tuesday night, she catered a cocktail party for 100 guests. I had the privilege of watching her in action and sampling her creations.
She created an Indian-inspired hors d'oeuvres menu featuring cumin, cilantro and tamarind. What I learned from Tara is the importance of  balance both on the palate and on the serving platter. Tara made sure that each platter was neat, symmetrical and inviting. After all, we do eat with our eyes first.

Her cumin coriander crusted pork loin was a feast for the eyes that didn't disappoint the palate. The savoury pork was balanced with sweet caramelized onion marmalade and a tart fresh cranberry. Tara served the pork as appetizers. You can easily serve the dish as a main course. It's an easy alternative to Thanksgiving turkey. If you'd like the recipe for the Cumin Coriander Crusted Pork Loin, let me know and I'll try to coax it out of Tara.

Here's a picture of some leftover pork loin.

I'll have a new post after the long weekend. Until then, eat well and be well. I hope you enjoy all your blessings and good fortune this Thanksgiving weekend.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    A G-free Flop

    I've been sampling a lot of gluten free breads and cakes in my neighbourhood. To date, it's been a unpalatable waste of money. Last summer, I picked up a loaf of quinoa bread. From the moment I opened the package, I knew it would be a tough sell in my kitchen. It smelled like a swamp. Not that there's anything wrong with swamp smell. I just don't want to eat swamp. The texture of the bread was like sand. The taste was just plain yucky. My daughter took one bite and immediately wiped off her tongue.

    I'm always reluctant to throw out good food, so I thought, why not turn a dry loaf into a decadent  bread pudding. I made a chocolate-coconut custard with my best cocoa and coconut cream.
    It was devine. Until I added the bread. As the bread pudding was baking, an unpleasant odour filled  the kitchen. It was an awful rotting stench. The end product tasted as bad as it smelled. Lesson learn: stay away from quinoa bread.

    A few weeks passed until I was adventurous enough to buy another loaf of G-free bread. It was an organic cheese loaf. It smelled right and it look right. I handed out slices to my children who were like Pavlov's dogs, eager for an after-school snack. They popped the bread into their little mouths. All three of them had the same reaction. A unanimous YUCK! I tried a slice and just couldn't swallow it. It wasn't much better than the quinoa experiment. Does anyone know where in Ottawa I can buy a decent loaf of gluten free bread?

    These days, after several frustrating failures buying G-free breads, I tend to stick to my own concoctions. The recipe below is a tried and true beauty for banana loaf.  An old colleague, Dean, would bring me freshly baked slices with a pat of melting butter. His mother, grandmother and great grandmother proudly baked the recipe. I feel honoured that he shared it with me.

    I toyed with the original recipe and have come up with a variation that is suitable for a dairy-free and G-free diet. I have used store-bought gluten free flour plus a quarter teaspoon of xanthum gum. I'm not crazy about using xanthum gum. I'm not keen on the smell nor the fact that it's 100% synthetic.
    That said, the end product is good in terms of texture and taste. You can't even tell it's gluten free.
    Still, if you're like me and prefer to use natural ingredients, try this flour substitution for the recipe below:
    1 cup of wheat flour = 1/4 cup buckwheat flour + 3/4 cup rice flour.

    The buckwheat will make it a denser and more filling loaf. This makes a hearty breakfast or lunchbox snack.  

    Quick and Dirty Banana Loaf
    1 cup sugar  or 1/2 c agave
    3 Tbsp shortening or 3 Tbsp vegetable or grape seed oil
    2 eggs
    1 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    pinch salt
    4 large bananas - the browner the better because you can reduce the sugar
    2 cups flour or 1/2 cup buckwheat flour + 1/2 cup rice flour
    optional: chocolate chips/ sunflower seeds/ shredded coconut.

    Pre-heat over to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans. Mix everything together. Add the mashed bananas and flour last. Let the gluten-free batter sit for 10 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for at least 30 minutes.
    This freezes perfectly.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    A Sweet Divorce

    Last autumn, I divorced my sweets. It was no light decision. But I needed to get rid of one thing that was doing no good to anyone. I purged my pantry of refined sugar. It was one of the most healthful things I did for me and my family. 

    We still love our desserts. Now, we use sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup,  molasses or palm sugar in carefully considered quantities. 

    Another sweet staple in AK's Kitchen is agave nectar, which comes from agave plants native to Mexico. A fellow foodie in San Francisco turned me on to this “honey water” for its low glycemic index. 

    With agave, a little goes a long way. I find agave to be almost twice as sweet as sugar. I use it in most recipes that call for sugar, and I usually reduce the amount to 75 per cent of what’s called for in the recipe.

    My Little Black Dress of Desserts
    Here is one cake recipe that’s like my little black dress. It’s great dressed up or dressed down. And it's almost effortless to make.  Just one bowl to mix, and one pan to bake. It contains no wheat and no dairy. It's also sugar-free. The recipe came to me from Tia, a dear friend and pastry chef who is also gluten and dairy free. She convinced me that gluten free food doesn’t have to taste like a shoebox.


    ½ cup agave
    2 Tbsp baking powder
    Pinch salt
    1 cup brown rice flour (or ½ c white rice flour + ½ c brown rice flour for a smoother texture)
    2 eggs
    1 cup coconut milk
    1 can mandarin oranges
    dried coconut for garnish
    9-inch round pan
    Banana leaves (optional)
    Preheat oven to 350 C. If you have banana leaves, use two sheets to line the pan. Otherwise, butter the pan.
    Mix agave and eggs in a bowl.
    Add baking powder, flour, and salt.
    Mix in coconut milk.
    Bake 20-25 minutes. Garnish with mandarin segments and sprinkle with dried coconut.

    You can easily switch up the flavours and make a savory cake. Simply reduce the agave and sprinkle your favourite  fresh herbs -- such as rosemary and thyme -- across the top before baking. Makes wonderfully fragrant biscuits.

    I plan to make a dark chocolate-coconut version of this recipe on Saturday morning for some friends. I'll serve it with a pot of java.