Friday, December 23, 2011

Tidings of Good Health and Joyful Eating

As we prepare for a weekend of travel, indulgence and gifts, I'd like to wish all of you dear readers a happy and healthful Christmas.

I am taking a break from the virtual world to surround myself with my friends and family. They will be my inspiration for a fresh batch of stories and recipes.

Until then, have a delicious Christmas! I hope it is filled with abundance and joy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Part about the Holidays

There's a fresh dusting of snow outside. Inside, there are platters of leftover panettone and stollen.
It's feeling a lot like Christmas in AK's Kitchen.

We kicked off the holiday season with a small gathering of friends over Sunday lunch. Everyone pitched in a little something. We assembled a truly global table: Italian panettone and pan d'oro, French  macarons, Lebanese sfouf and German stollen.
Stollen from the Elmvale Bakery
We reconnected with friends we had not seen since in months. We shared laughter and music. We all took time away from the routine rush.

To be surrounded by wonderful people is a priceless gift.

Bring on the holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Italy with Love

Food can convey such powerful memories and emotions. My Italian friend Isa sent memories of home via an old family recipe. For her son, it conjures up memories of birthday parties and cosy family time.

Filippo is far from home but never strays far from her thoughts. She recently thought about how he giggles whenever she makes this recipe.

As I mentioned a couple posts back, we've adopted Filippo into our family as he attends high school here in Ottawa. Filippo is spending Christmas here. Isa and her husband, Lorenzo, will join us a few days later.

Isa sent me the recipe for Filippo's favourite dessert, tenerina al cioccolato. Perhaps a way for me to transport his loved ones in Bologna into my kitchen.

Tenerina al ciccolato
I surprised Filippo the other day and made the recipe, with some slight alternations for a gluten and dairy free version.

I tried to Christmas-ize it by using my gingerbread cookie cutters. I brushed a thin layer of raspberry jam, some coconut sprinkles and sunflower seeds to hide the cracks. As you can see, I need to finesse the technique.

Still, the chocolate treat delivered the flavours of love from back home. Filippo ate every last crumb. This torte will be on my holiday menu, dressed up with cranberries and walnuts.

The recipe is easy to remember: equal portions of eggs, butter, sugar, chocolate.  I used coconut oil instead of butter. (I'll try lighter grapeseed oil next time.) Instead of wheat flour, I used rice flour.

Filippo said the only difference was that my version was slightly more dense, but equally delicious as his mom's. Spoken like a true gourmand.

Tenerina al cioccolato di Isa (Isa's chocolate torte)
3 eggs, separated
300 grams butter
300 grams dark chocolate/ cocoa powder
300 grams sugar
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 tablespoon wheat flour

(300 grams = roughly 1 1/2 cups)

Line an 8-inch round dish with parchement paper. 
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites to form moist peaks. Set aside. 
Melt the butter and dark chocolate. Let cool.
Add egg yolks, sugar and flour to chocolate mixture. 
Fold the chocolate mixture into egg whites. 
Pour into prepared dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Friday Night Dessert Project

The Friday night ritual in AK's Kitchen usually involves something baked, something sweet, something chocolate, or all of the above. (I don't get out much.)

This particular Friday, my gang expected their regular sweet fix. They invited three of their friends to join the indulgence. Imagine, six angelic little faces smiling up at me in my kitchen. All pleading with me to get their hands gooey with batter so they could stuff their faces with dessert.

Before I could induge them, my body ran out of steam. I didn't have the energy to stand in front of a stove, tempering chocolate. But I couldn't let down the kids. I needed a no-cook, kid-friendly dessert. Better yet, something they could make themselves, with little energy out-put from me.

I pulled out my sure-fire kid-pleaser. It is the most inelegant hunk of metal in my kitchen. It resembles a crude medieval torture device.

All six pairs of eyes widened like saucers. I gave them a quick demonstration of how it works. I secured an apple on the long metal bar, cranked the handle a few times and in seconds, the peel unravelled like a ribbon. The apple was cored and sliced into symmetrical rings in seconds.

I don't know the technical name for the apple gizmo. I picked it up years ago at a kitchen store in the States. I once saw a similar device in the Lee Valley Tools catalogue. I think every family kitchen needs one, not just for the functionality but for the amusement factor.

After my apple gizmo demo, our five-year-old friend screeched in amazement.  Her older brother was slack-jawed, as though he had just witnessed the most incredible magic trick.

I had to harness (read exploit) this curiosity. So I put them to work on The Great Apple Dessert Project. My daughter and 9-year-old best friend were in charge of cranking out the apples. The youngest slurped up the long "apple worms," the ribbon-like peels.

The boys prepared the sweet sprinkles of cinnamon and coconut sugar.

Within a few minutes, the gang presented their perfect plate of apple rings. They were all so proud of  their creation.

I set aside a couple of rings and topped them with cinnamon and garam masala for myself. I read somewhere that the scent of cinnamon is beneficial for cognitive function and memory. (Anything to help the brain.)  

The kids now have a low-tech, no-fuss dessert/ snack to add to their repertoire. Best of all, I won't have to lift a finger.

The apple gizmo is at the ready for the next gang of kids, and maybe a few adults.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Egg pizza and My New Sous Chef

Every cook needs a sous chef. Lucky for me, I have my very own personal kitchen aide for the next few weeks. Filippo, comes to AK's Kitchen from Bologna, Italia, via a program for international students.

Kitchen duties are my own addition to his cirriculum. I figure every teenager needs to know some basic cooking skills. As I mentioned to Filippo, girls really dig a guy who can julien and sauté. And who can resist a 6-foot 4-inch helper who can reach the dark corners of the pantry (that's where the fish paste disappeared) and who is strong enough to bring down the blender and other heavy appliances.

My 17-year-old sous chef has a natural appreciation for fine food. How could he not? He was born and bred in Italy's capital of gastronomy. His dad, Lorenzo, makes balsamic vinegar, as a hobby. His family farm has wild truffles. His nonna, Iris, makes homemade tortellini. Family dinners are a feast for the senses.

Filippo's first lesson in AK's Kitchen was to help me transform three leftover tilapia filets into a meal for six. Eggs are one of the easiest ways to stretch a meal. Filippo and I whipped up an "egg pizza" in 10 minutes. This is a variation of Marga's tortilla.

While my teen kitchen aide beat seven eggs, I chopped half an onion, one tomato and grated one carrot. I fried the vegetables and put them aside. Filippo poured the eggs into the frying pan.

When the eggs were nearly set, we added the vegetables. Filippo arranged pieces of the leftover poached tilapia onto the egg pizza. Grated mozzarella and chopped red pepper finished off the pizza.

Presto! Dinner for six served with baked sweet potato fries and a salad.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen: A Lesson in Accessibility

As promised, here is the continuation of my conversation on accessibility and safety in the kitchen. It's useful for those of us who need to make our kitchens more accessible for children, seniors or anyone with a visual impairment.


A couple of helpful links:
Canadian National Institute for the Blind
Eye Foods

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Next Big Kitchen Reno - Safety & Accessibility

When I planned my big kitchen reno three years ago, I thought I had covered all the bases. The big island, an efficient work triangle, lots of light. One aspect that had never entered into my planning was accessibility.

I had never considered how to make my kitchen wheelchair accessible, or accessible for someone with a visual impairment. These are questions many of us don't entertain.

Considering that every 12 minutes, someone in Canada begins to lose his vision, and that among seniors over 65, one in three will suffer a fall in their own home, accessibility needs to become part of our planning. The simple fact is, if you can't get around your kitchen safely and comfortably, you probably won't cook. If you don't cook, you probably don't feed yourself the most nutritious, economical meals.

Leona Emberson, of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, gave me some pointers on making my kitchen accessible and safe.

Here's one practical pointer for everyone, especially those of us with children. Do NOT leave your knife like this...

Instead, tuck the blade underneath the board, like so...

When fingers are fumbling around in the kitchen, they won't encounter a sharp blade.
Another tip for people with failing vision or who are very near-sighted is to use LARGE PRINT on index cards. Attach those index cards with a rubber band to the cans in your pantry. This makes identifying the contents very easy. After you open the can, keep the index card in a pile for your next grocery list.   

Contrast is another useful tool. Equip your kitchen with the two cutting boards; a black board for light coloured foods, and a white cutting board for meats and other dark foods. The high contrast will help you see what you're cutting.

I have started implementing these ideas and already, my kitchen is safer and more accessible.

I'll have my on-camera chat Leona available soon.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Healthy Diet for Healthy Eyes

I once took them for granted. Neglected them. Over-used them. They did their job fine, without much attention or gratitude from me. Until the spring of 2009, when they didn't function properly. That's when I realised how much I depend on my eyes.

After a year and a half of a slow and steady recovery, my vision started to normalise. I now have a greater appreciation for my baby browns.

Every 12 minutes in Canada, one person will suffer from vision loss, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. The leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration. With our aging population, that means a growing number of us run that risk.

To give us a better understanding of eye health, I invited Leona Emberson into AK's Kitchen. Leona teaches people how to adapt their kitchens and lifestyles when they or their family members lose their vision.

Leona has lived all her life with a visual impairment.  She tells me that nutrition and lifestyle go a long way for maintaining healthy eyes. She advocates a healthy diet rich in vitamins E and C, as well as riboflavin and niacin. A while back, I shared a smoothie recipe that's packed with those nutrients. Here's another resource for foods that promote eye health.

If you or a loved one is experiencing vision loss, there are many resources to help you adjust to a new normal. The CNIB and the Hadley School for the Blind are a couple of starting points.

Next up, Leona gives us some pointers on how to equip your kitchen for low or no vision. Stay tuned.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheap Greens, a Mother Lode of Nutrients

Hubby came home this afternoon with a bin full of produce. He had raided the discount section at Produce Depot. (I love my cheapskate.) One of his steals was a bag of baby bok choy.

All this and more for $2.99!
Bok choy is a Chinese cabbage that's low in calories and filled with beneficial nutrients and digestive enzymes. I usually stir fry the greens with minced garlic and a couple of drops of sesame oil. Tonight, we were cooking Italian, so I steamed the bok choy, then drizzled olive olive and balsamic vinegar over top.

Simple, frugal food with a mother load of nutrients. Best of all, I still have half a bag left for tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gingerbread cookies

I love it when I can add another tasty and healthful recipe to my roster. Thank you Leanne of Healthful Pursuits for coming up with these guilt-free, gluten free, dairy free gingerbread cookies.

My iPad photos don't do them justice.
I had to make one substitution to Leanne's original recipe. I didn't have canned pumpkin on hand, so I used six mashed dates instead. The results were still great.

These gingerbread snaps are definitely on my holiday baking list.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Memories of Vinegar & Chicken Adobo

When I smell vinegar, I think of my Lola. She used vinegar for just about everything - to wipe down the windows and the TV, to make dipping sauces for her eggrolls, to make marinades for her meats.

My grandma used half a jug of vinegar for her chicken adobo. Adobo is a traditional Filipino dish with chicken, pork or squid in a marinade of vinegar, soya sauce and garlic. The vinegar helps tenderize the meat and gives it a tangy flavour. Soya sauce, garlic, sugar and seasonings cut the tanginess.

The distinctive smell of adobo takes me back to my childhood. I picture my Lola standing by a boiling cauldron, with a wooden spoon in one hand, meat clever in the other.
My Lola, circa 1970s in Chicago, USA.
There are as many adobo recipes as there are Filipino cooks. Some cooks like their meat crisp and brown on the outside. This method involves frying. That's one step too many for me. Mine is the quick and easy, one-pot method.

This is a laid-back, forgiving recipe. If you find the taste too acidic, simply add more sugar or soya. If you prefer more zing, add more vinegar. It's best to marinade the meat for about 3 hours and simmer over medium low heat. As it's simmering, this is when you can tweak the taste.

Once the chicken is cooked, transfer it into another dish. Reduce the marinade to thicken.

Pour the punchy sauce over the chicken. My gang likes their adobo with rice, tomatoes and lots of sauce. I like to nibble on the whole garlic cloves that have been simmering in the salty, sweet vinegar.

AK's Chicken adobo with rice, tomatoes, squash and cauliflower
I spent my childhood enjoying the aromas and dishes my Lola created. Next week, on  November 17, she would have turned 103. 

AK's Chicken Adobo
6 chicken legs, skin removed
1 cup vinegar
1/4 cup soya sauce
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons dried basil
1 whole head of garlic, cloves separated and skinned
3 bay leaves

Serves 6.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Year Older

Just over a year ago, I pecked out my first post on this little blog. It took me days before I could hit the "publish post" button.  I hadn't been able to use computer for a very long time, and my eyes and hands had to relearn an old skill.

As a veteran journalist, I could crank out stories on a tight deadline, my brain firing on all cylinders. I was in constant motion, always planning the next project or adventure. No longer. Even slow, simple movements were challenging.

My closest confidants knew that I was struggling with health issues and rehabilitation. They saw that cooking and baking were two things I could still do. My kitchen was becoming my refuge. My cousin, Mel, encouraged me to chronicle my journey. My friend, Anna, got me set up on Blogger.

That's how AK's Kitchen was born.

Rewind to the spring of 2009. I woke up one morning with a massive headache, tingling and swelling in my extremities. My eyes couldn't focus. I chalked it up to stress. I had a lot on the go, with the sale and purchase of a home, a trip abroad, three kids, work. On top of all that, I was recovering from a nasty stomach bug from a foul clam at a sushi buffet. ( The Centre for Disease Control lists some of the illnesses caused by foodborne microbes.)

I was on my way to work, still symptomatic for the third consecutive day. I nearly fell flat on my face because I couldn't see the ground below. I went to my doctor and she immediately ordered a battery of tests, saying "this is a serious neurological issue."

I was stunned. The notion that there could be something wrong with my brain slammed the brakes on everything. As far as the kids were concerned, mama had a big headache, and she needed to sleep A LOT.

Meantime, my head buzzed with questions. "If I need a wheelchair, we'll need to remodel our home. How will we afford it?" "What if I can't ever bike with the kids." "Who will help them with their French homework?" "What is wrong with me?"

After my doctors ruled out stroke, brain tumour, multiple sclerosis and lyme disease, I received a  diagnosis of a rare neurological illness. I was told that, in most cases, the prognosis is good. Recovery would take time and perseverance. I'd likely have residual effects and a new normal.

The new normal was a hard adjustment. Shuffling around the house, I'd often fall or bump into corners and doors. Watching part of my son's soccer game or reading a page in a newspaper left me bagged for days. When Sydney Crosby said that after his hockey concussions, simple activities like watching TV were too much for his swollen brain, I could relate.

Still, I was extremely grateful. This was my do-over. A chance to be more present for my family and conserve my energy for the people and activities that mattered most.

My occupational therapist gave me a series of exercises to build up my strength and coordination. Eventually, I was able to type again. Using a computer was a tough slog. My eyes had difficulty making sense of the screen and the keyboard. At times, my fingers wouldn't cooperate.

My initial blog posts were an extension of my therapy. I would test myself to see how accurately and for how long I could type, or how long I could view the screen without feeling woozy. Every time I completed a post and was able to hit the "publish post" key, I marked another step in my recovery.

Today, I am not yet able to ride a bike. But I can watch my children laugh and play. I am still adjusting to my new normal. I do things differently now, more slowly, more deliberately, more thoughtfully.

This is a significant anniversary for AK's Kitchen and for me. Thanks for being part of my journey.

This is how I plan to celebrate:

with a chocolate bacon bar from my friend Aviva and baby Ben.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Galician Paella

I feel like a globe-trotter. In India one week, Spain the next. Thanks to my friends who are great cooks, I can enjoy a taste of far and away lands.

Today, we visit the northwest corner of Spain, in Galicia. This is the rural, coastal hometown of mi amiga Marga. She tells me that Valencia, a region along the Mediterranean coast, is the birthplace of paella. Other regions throughout Spain have their own distinctive versions of the rice dish. In Marga's area, Galicians make paella with seafood.

In AK's Kitchen today, Marga whips up a special version with meat, chicken and paprika. We start by browning chunks of chicken and beef with whole garlic cloves. In a separate non-stick skillet, the medium grain rice gets a light tossing in oil. We make due with a skillet since I don't have a traditional paella pan. (Santa, are you listening?)

To the rice, we add vegetable stock -- a cup and a half for every cup of rice. I have an abundance of peppers, carrots and onions, so we add them to the rice dish, along with the chicken and meat.  

The rice cooks on the stove top uncovered for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Marga adds seasonings of paprika, salt, pepper and rosemary. And of course the key spice, saffron. The paella cooks until the rice on the bottom is firm and crunchy, the way Marga likes her paella.

Muchas gracias, Marga for this hearty taste of Spain. We'll enjoy the leftover paella and think of you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen: A Lesson in Kheer

In my last post, I shared a recipe for a traditional India dessert. Kheer is typically a very sweet rice pudding. Here is a gluten and dairy free version, courtesy of chef Tara Rajan.

You can also view this video on YouTube.

This dessert is quick and foolproof. I make a similar version with dark chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. My kids devour it. I'm sure this will become a family favourite in your kitchen.

Do you have a family favourite you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Indian Fusion and Wonderful Women


I first heard the salutation at a yoga class after I unhinged my legs from the lotus pose. (I'm as flexible as an old suitcase.) Namaste is a traditional Indian greeting which is far more profound than our western "Hello. How's it going?" Or "Bye. See ya later." 

Namaste means "I greet the light within you. I greet the sacred space which we share."

I shared the physical space of AK's Kitchen with a group of wonderful women. This weekend, 
we came together to enjoy some Indian fusion cuisine and to support a cause that is dear to my heart, the tiruchi seva sangam school for underprivileged and orphaned children in Tamil Nadu.

The women came from different cultural backgrounds (including Lebanese, Indian, Spanish, Scottish, French Canadian, Syrian), different generations and a diversity of interests. We all share an appreciation for good food. On a blustery autumn night, we craved comfort food.    
Spicy tomato soup with yogurt and coriander leaf, courtesy Paul Wing

Our Indian Fusion menu featured the best local ingredients from the fall harvest. We had carrots pickled in a sharp, sour brine. The tomatoes were the base of a light, yet complex peppery soup. The squash was slow roasted and tossed in coconut oil and aromatic spices. The apples were baked and stuffed with a fragrant kheer, or pudding.
Baked apple stuffed with kheer, garnished with toasted coconut, saffron syrup. 

My friend Chef Tara Rajan created the Indian-inspired menu. It was a huge hit with my 20 food aficionados. I have never seen a chef get a standing ovation by the diners. 

Pickled carrots, spiced squash, chickpea cumin flatbread with chicken tikka masala. 

Tara's Chicken Tikka with Masala Cream
Serves 4-6

1 ½ - 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken 
1 ½ cups yogourt
1 ½ teaspoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons minced green chili or hot chili sauce (e.g. Sriracha)
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 recipe masala cream (recipe below)

Strain yogourt in cheesecloth for 2 hours and put aside the whey, retaining the milk solids.  Mix the strained yogourt with the seasonings.  Pour into a plastic bag and add the chicken pieces, covering completely with the marinade.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours.  Remove chicken from marinade and grill until fully cooked.  Let rest, then cut into slices and serve with warm masala cream.

Tara's Masala Cream
1 tablespoon canola oil
¾ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds (kalonji)
1 sprig of fresh or frozen curry leaves (8-10 leaves)
Pinch of asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
¾ teaspoon minced ginger
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne
4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons jaggery, raw sugar or brown sugar
4 tablespoons 18% or 35% cream 
Salt to taste
Heat oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan.  Add mustard seeds, nigella seeds, curry leaves and asafoetida.  When the spices crackle, add the garlic, ginger, and cayenne and sauté for about two minutes.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minute or until tomatoes turn pulpy.  Add remaining ingredients and heat thoroughly.  Serve warm over chicken tikka.

Serves 8
1/3 cup tapioca
1 cup water
2 cups coconut milk
2-3 green cardamom pods, bruised
2-3 saffron threads, soaked in a little hot water
1-inch cinnamon stick
3-4 tablespoons sugar or maple syrup
Put the tapioca, water and coconut milk in a medium saucepan.  Add the cardamom, cinnamon and saffron, bring to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cover and cook until tapioca is softened, about 15 minutes.  Add the coconut cream and sugar and cook another 3-4 minutes.  Serve chilled or at room temperature with desired garnishes.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Spanish Invasion

My kitchen has been invaded by a Spanish conquistadora. Actually, it's more of an invitation than an invasion. Margarita, or Marga, is my houseguest. She is in Ottawa with a group of Spanish teachers, here to improve their English and observe Canadian teaching methods. Lucky for me, Marga is una cocinera fantastica, a fabulous cook. And for the month of October, AK's Kitchen is Marga's cucina.

One night for supper, she made a traditional Spanish tortilla. Not to be confused with Mexican tortillas, or flat breads, the Iberian tortilla is a potato omelette. It reminds me of frittata. I'll let Marga explain.

Marga started with the potatoes. She is a surgeon with a paring knife. She peeled and sliced half a dozen medium potatoes in minutes.

Then she fried them in olive oil until they were soft. She scooped them out of the oil and transferred them into large bowl with half a dozen beaten eggs, fried carrots and diced red pepper.

She fried the lumpy batter in the hot oil. When the egg batter was cooked, she placed a plate over the pan and flipped the omelette onto the plate.

Tradition Spanish torilla, top. Torilla with pepper and carrots, bottom.  
It didn't turn out exactly as she intended because my old pan isn't as non-stick as it should be.
Still, the tortilla was delicious.

Marga's Spanish Tortilla
3 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
6 eggs, well beaten
3 carrots, diced
1 sweet pepper, diced
Salt to taste
Iberian ham/prociuto (optional)

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and set aside.
Fry the vegetables in a medium non-stick skillet.
When soft, remove the vegetables from the oil and add to the bowl with the eggs.
Gently mix the batter until all the vegetables are covered with egg. 
Pour the mixture into the skillet with hot oil. You may need to add more oil to the pan.   
Fry until the eggs are firm.
Place a plate over and flip the skillet to transfer the tortilla onto the plate.

This recipe will feed four with some leftovers. Marga uses two eggs for per person for her tortilla.
Enjoy. And as they say en español, ¡Buen provecho.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Giving Thanks

This Thanksgiving, I'm not spending much time planning and preparing holiday food. Instead, my thoughts turn to family.

My mother-in-law will leave a dingy hospital room later today. She is thrilled to return to her clean, familiar surroundings. We are thankful that she is regaining her strength. At the same time, we pray that another accident or health incident will not befall her.

A visit with the kids on Saturday will be good medicine for Nanny.They bring me joy and a welcome distraction whenever I become too consumed with my own health issues. This morning, for instance, I sat under a glorious sun and silently observed my youngest at play. It looked to me like Alexander was digging holes in a flowerbed. No, he was building a playground for the bugs.

"It's a play structure for the ants, Mama. I think it's good for the worms too."

For the next 20 minutes, building that dirt play structure for the little critters was the only thing that mattered to my five-year-old. He was carefree, living in that precious moment.

I am so thankful to my children for teaching me a valuable lesson: when I am occupied worrying, pursuing and achieving, I lose sight of the countless marvels all around.

I hope you and your family share a moment or two of wonderment this Thanksgiving weekend.

I'll be back next week with a new recipe and a visitor from across the globe.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hospitals need to rethink food

If you've ever spent anytime in a hospital, you know that "hospital food" is an oxymoron. Hospitals are meant to be centres for healing. And food, to me, is a source of nourishment and wellness. My mother-in-law's case is a sad example of the food failure in our hospitals.

First, a bit of background. Nanny has been battling a painful foot infection for more than three months. She's been on several different antibiotics, all useless. The onslaught of drugs have only weakened her 87-year-old body. She's become so frail that she passed out and fell flat on her face a week ago. She suffered lacerations and contusions. She is now in hospital with, not one, but two intravenous lines pumping even more powerful antibiotics into her. Doctors tell us that she'll continue to be on these drugs for another three weeks, at least. That's on top of the blood thinning and hypertension medications.

The stronger, intravenous antibiotics may help manage the infection in her foot, so say the doctors  with little certainty. What's for sure is that the meds have already rendered her immune system extremely vulnerable. The antibiotics have killed off the beneficial bacterial. Because of this and her advanced age, one doctor told us, Nanny needs to be monitored for e-coli, c-difficle and other infections that can be fatal to the elderly.

I asked the doctor, "What we can do for prevention? Can we help through her diet?"

Looking slightly stunned by the question, she replied, "Well, I'll make a note in her file for a consult with a nutritionist. Plenty of yogurt and probiotics will help."

This was the first time since Nanny's illness and treatment that a health care professional has mentioned the importance of proper nutrition. (I doubt the butterscotch caramel pudding and the cup-a-soup on Nanny's food tray have a single healthful ingredient.)

When I got back home from the hospital, I poked around in my refrigerator and found some good sources of probiotics. These are foods we'll be feeding Nanny when we visit her again.

Some yogurt with honey...

Soybean paste made into a warm miso soup...
and a glass of water with a probiotic supplement. 
Kefir, as well as pickled and fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, are other sources of probiotics. The bacteria in these foods are very beneficial for the digestive tract, even if you're not on antibiotics.

For centuries around the world, food has been used as an accessible and inexpensive means to heal and prevent illness. In our technologically advanced health care system, perhaps it's time to go back to the basics.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Autumn Potato Salad

I was craving something hearty on a cool, damp autumn afternoon. At the same time, I wanted to experiment with mustard seed from my new stash of Indian spices. How 'bout a twist on a traditional potato salad?

Toasted mustard seeds add a mild zing. A word of caution: toast the seeds JUST UNTIL THEY POP, then turn off the heat and let them cool. You don't want burnt mustard seeds. They taste awful!

Walnuts and sweet red pepper give colour and crunch to the salad. Throw in some Montreal-style smoked meat for a really hearty lunch. I know, it's not Indian, but the flavours work well together.

5 large potatoes, washed and boiled.
1 red pepper diced
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
Smoked meat, or your favourite deli meat (optional)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 sprigs fresh chive, chopped
zest and juice from 1/2 lemon
1 Tablespoon toasted mustard seed

Once the potatoes are cooked and cooled, slice them into bite-sized chunks.    
Combine the dressing ingredients. 
Toss the potatoes with the dressing in a large bowl. 
Add red pepper, walnuts and deli meat.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sliced & Diced in AKs Kitchen: A Lesson in Indian Spices

Turmeric is one of those what-do-you-do-with-it spices. I have a shaker of the yellow powder sitting in my pantry, untouched for almost three years.
I now have a new appreciation for turmeric, thanks to a lesson from Chef Tara Rajan.

The ancient Indian spice is used as a colouring for food and clothing. The precious powder is also used in religious rituals to give blessings of life, purity and prosperity.

A west Indian friend recently told me about a pre-wedding ritual in his native Guyana. The bride and groom-to-be have their skinned covered with a turmeric paste a few days before the wedding ceremony. The morning of the wedding, the spice is washed off, leaving their skin smooth and purified for their new life together.

So many interesting uses, both culinary and otherwise, for this ancient powder. Take a look at my tutorial in turmeric and other Essential Indian Spices in the second instalment of Sliced & Diced in AKs Kitchen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A New Food Mecca in Ottawa?

I stepped out of AK's Kitchen today to indulge my sweet tooth. I paid a visit to my favourite bakery in Ottawa. It's a textbook case of build it and they will come. Or more aptly, bake it and they will flock!

From the basement of the Bagelshop in über-trendy Wellington Village, Art-is-In Bakery moved into its new digs in an old warehouse in City Centre, one of Ottawa's architectural eyesores. The wizards at Art-Is-In managed to transform a grungy, pimple of a location into an inviting, tasteful and trendy hotspot.

This Spanish tourist joined the pastry-loving crowd one Sunday morning.    
And the customers keep coming. I am one of the faithful. As an aside, I ignore my gluten sensitivities once a month because some sins are worth the punishment. Art-Is-In's fare is oh so worth the penance.

Anyway, with the steady traffic that Art-Is-In attracts, how wonderful would it be for other food-related businesses to set up shop in the other nearby warehouses? Why not capitalize on the steady traffic and eager buyers? Why not offer them more food choices? Perhaps a decent GF establishment? An Indian take-out counter?  A cheese and deli emporium? A local produce and meat supplier?

I'm thinking something along the lines of a miniature Atwater Market in Montreal or St. Lawrence Market in Toronto.

Food for thought as I inhale my chocolate almond croissant.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Brunch

We all slept in on a glorious Sunday morning. This is a rare occurence with three children who rise and shine as early as 6:30 A.M. on weekends.

To ease into the day, I turned on some Motown tunes and prepared our favourite pancakes.

This recipe is free of gluten and processed sugar. I use dates to add sweetness. A store-bought GF flour works fine. This morning, I used a combination of buckwheat, coconut and sorghum flours. This combo results in a heavy, hearty pancake.

I've also used rice and tapioca flours in place of buckwheat and sorghum. They work well too, if you prefer a lighter, thinner pancake. I try to incorporate coconut flour whenever I can because I love the taste, as well as the protein and fibre content.

I served my pancakes with diced Ontario peaches,  local honey AND blueberry goat cheese. I was happily stuffed for hours!

AK's GF Pancakes

1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
2 eggs
5 pitted dates (or more for more sweetness) 
2 TBSP melted coconut oil/ butter
1/4 cup water
rind from 1/2 a lemon  
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup gluten free flour (1/2 c buckwheat + 1/4 sorghum + 1/4 coconut flour)

Mix the baking powder and GF flour in a small bowl, and set aside. 
With a hand blender, combine the remaining ingredients until smooth.
Add the dry ingredients until well mixed.
Let the batter sit for 10 minutes.
Cook in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
Feeds a family of five with about 1 dozen pancakes.

I usually double the recipe and freeze the leftovers. The batter does NOT keep well, so make sure to use it up entirely.

To reheat the pancakes, sprinkle a few drops of water onto the pancake before microwaving at 20-second intervals. It's best to microwave one pancake at a time to avoid uneven heating. You may need to repeat the microwaving until you get the desired warmth.  The reason I add a little water is to keep the pancake moist and avoid the cardboard consistency you often get from GF baked goods.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cumin & Carrots

The oils were sizzling. The spices were blooming. My kitchen is still filled with the aromas of India, after a weekend of furious frying. My friend, Chef Tara Rajan and I hosted Indian Night to raise funds for an orphanage in Tamil Nadu (

Tara gave a lesson in spices and rices. More on the various rices in another post.  
Basmati rice

First, a spice or two...
Essential Indian spices. 
One of the key ingredients in Indian cooking (as well as in Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine) is cumin. Cumin comes from the same plant family as dill and parsley. The pale brown spice has a distinctive aroma. It also has numerous health benefits.

It contains vitamin C. It's a very good source of iron. As well, cumin stimulates digestion. The mere aroma of cumin is enough to stimulate the salivary glands, activating the first phase of digestion. A spoonful of cumin seeds in hot water helps relieve gas and bloating.

Cumin is one of the spices in Tara's carrot salad. The carrots are slightly cooked and dressed with a fragrant lime vinaigrette. The carrots taste bright and bold the next day after bathing in the seasonings.

Tara's Carrots in Coriander-Lime Vinaigrette 
Carrots in coriander-lime vinaigrette 

1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup lime juice
zest of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
pinch of coriander, cinnamon, salt, sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tablespoons minced coriander leaves

Simmer carrots for about 5 minutes and drain.
Mix remaining ingredients.
Add to warm carrots.
Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Serve at room temperature.
Serves 4.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lemon Wafers

The kids are back at school, and AK's Kitchen is in high gear, cranking out lunches and snacks. On the assembly line, a batch of lemon wafers to fill the lunch boxes.

This recipe calls for coconut flour -- which is a high-fiber, high-flavour alternative to wheat flour -- plus four other common ingredients. The end product is a cookie that delivers a jolt of tartness and sweetness, an ideal snack to revive a drowsy brain.

Juice and rind of 1 large lemon
4 eggs
1 cup sugar/ agave/ maple syrup
1/2 cup canola/ vegetable oil
3/4 cup coconut flour, sifted

Mix all the wet ingredients.
Stir in the coconut flour.
Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while the oven heats to 375 degrees.
Using a tablespoon, drop the batter onto a greased cookie sheet.    
Bake for 15 minutes.
Yields about 2 dozen wafers.

AK's Lemon Wafers

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen: A Lesson in Fattoush

I am proud to roll out the very first episode of Sliced & Diced in AK's Kitchen. It was produced by a dear friend and award-winning videographer, Paul Wing. Paul is a regular in my kitchen. We share a love for good food and healthy eating.

I asked Paul to bring his camera along while my guest, Maya Shoucair, demonstrated her family's traditional Lebanese fattoush recipe. Have a look and let me know what you think of our big debut.

One more thing... for a gluten free version for the fattoush recipe, simply use rice crackers in place of the toasted pita. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Bitter Bite

My pantry now has two new ingredients. They give my cooking a bitter bite. I discovered the flavours during my first foray into Lebanese cooking.

Sumac is an inexpensive spice which looks like nutmeg. It comes from the crushed, dried berries of the sumac bush, which grow wild in the Mediterranean and Middle East. You'll often see sumac sprinkled on hummus and pita bread, or used in spice rubs. Sumac lends a subtle, earthy bitterness.

Sumac, an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine

Pomegranate molasses is another staple in Mid-East dishes. I've heard it referred to as "liquid rubies," possibly because the dark red molasses is derived from pricey pomegranate juice. The juice is boiled with sugar and lemon juice to make molasses. A tiny amount adds a sour punch to dressings, sauces and marinades. Some studies suggest that pomegranate molasses offers several health benefits including lowering cholesterol and boosting the immune system.
"Liquid Rubies," Pomegranate Molasses 
I thank my Canadian-Lebanese friend, Maya, for bringing those distinctive new flavours into AK's Kitchen. With Maya's help, I made my first ever batch of fattoush. The Lebanese salad contains your typical salad ingredients: lettuce, tomato, cucumber, garlic, plus fresh mint and parsley to give it a fresh, summery taste. Both herbs are natural breath fresheners. They are flavourful sources of vitamin C and B vitamins, including folic acid. 

Maya and I whipped up her family's fattoush recipe. Other versions call for cauliflower, red pepper, radish and onion. (I skipped the raw radish and onion because they don't sit well with me.) Feel free to add your favourite seasonal veggie.

The technique for this salad is to cut the veggies in a uniform size. Be generous with the lemon juice and garlic. And don't forget to add toasted pita for crunch. 


Salad: 1 head romaine lettuce; 1 large tomato; 1 handful fresh parsley; 1 handful fresh mint leaves; 1 cucumber; 1 green onion, two radishes; 1 large pita bread, toasted

Dressing: 2 cloves (or more) minced garlic; 
1/4 cup olive oil; juice from one lemon; 
2 pinches sumac; 1/4 teaspoon pomegranate molasses

1) Chop all the veggies into uniform pieces and place into a deep salad bowl. 
2) Combine dressing ingredients and toss into the salad.  
3) Break off pieces of toasted pita bread and sprinkle on top just before serving, so the pita doesn't go soggy.

Serves 6-8 side dishes. Enjoy!