Friday, September 21, 2012

Curry Cauliflower & One Inspiring Artist

My friend Paul has an extraordinary eye. Where I see fog, he sees this:

He finds beauty in what many of us overlook. Paul is going through his countless images as he prepares his home studio for this weekend's West End Studio Tour. He's showcasing his vibrant photos from his recent trip to Havana.

I've been an admirer of Paul's work ever since we were colleagues at CJOH News. We covered hundreds of thousands of stories together. He drove me to countless interviews, events and locations. Between stops, we were always on the hunt for the best cheap eats.
Paul was at the top of his game, winning award after award. One day, in the middle of a news scrum, the veteran cameraman could no longer operate his Betacam, his hands and arms trembling uncontrollably.
Courtesy CTV Ottawa
Turned out to be -- not depression and anxiety that doctors first diagnosed -- but a degenerative neurological disease. Parkinson's put an early end to Paul's career in TV.  It didn't hamper his passion for capturing beauty.

"Still photography is solitary, so there's a chance for reflection. When you frame up a shot, you're in the moment. And the Parkinson's is gone."

When I was going through the darkest period of my own neurological illness, Paul was my light. He would coax me out of my house with the promise of lunch at a new local dive.

These days, on a good day, Paul is busier and more energetic than most people I know. He packs his days with photography, salsa dancing, guitar playing, tennis and visits to AK's Kitchen to sample the latest experiments. For the record, Paul is 64 years young.

This is Paul's credo: "Some people say 'seize the day.' I have to seize the hour because time is short."

I'm managing my health, and I owe much of my success to Paul. He inspires me to push myself a little further and enjoy every healthy, able moment.

One of Paul's favourite dishes is curry cauliflower. Cauliflower is in season now, and it's a great source of dietary fiber. The Indian spices in this recipe add a range of nutritious benefits. What I like best about this recipe is that it is filling, flexible and frugal.

I stretched this recipe to make seven servings, plus leftovers for lunches. I simply doubled the amounts and added toasted almonds to boost the protein content.

Paul's Curry Cauliflower
Serves 4-6

  • 1/2 head of cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 small potatoes (peeled, diced and partially cooked) 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup water or vegetable both
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 (12 ounce) can beans, drained and rinsed

Optional but so delicious:
Toasted slivered almonds
chopped coriander

Separate the cauliflower into tiny florets and put aside.
In a large skillets, heat the oil.  
When the pan is very hot, add the mustard seeds. 
Once they "pop," add the other spices, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes until you have a dark paste.
Add the onion and garlic, and saute until translucent.
Add the potatoes, cauliflower and water/ vegetable broth. 
Cover for about five minutes and let simmer.
Once the potatoes are soft, add tomatoes and beans.
Let simmer uncovered for another five minutes.
Serve warm with rice or naan bread. 
Top with toasted almonds, yogurt and fresh coriander.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Raw Chocolate Bliss

Craving chocolate? I found an easy, healthful substitute to a decandent chocolate truffle.

I sampled this wonderfully scrumptious dessert today, at a yoga studio of all places. If it comes from a yoga place, it's gotta be good for you, right? When I asked the yogi for the recipe, she told me that it was easier than doing the Downward Facing Dog.
Fresh dates + almonds + cocoa = Raw Chocolate Bliss
Two parts dates, two parts nuts, one part cocoa. Whiz all three ingredients in a food processor.  Presto: Raw Chocolate Bliss.
When I got home, I had to try it for myself. I used 1/4 cup of dates, 1/4 cup of slivered almonds and 1/8 cup of cocoa powder. I refrigerated the mixture for about ten minutes and then formed little balls with a teaspoon and my fingers.

I made eight quarter-sized balls. I took this quick picture before my little vultures dove in and cleared the plate and all surrounding crumbs.  

These tiny morsels are super filling. They're packed with fibre, anti-oxidants and a host of vitamins and nutrients.

Best of all, they leave you feeling good and satisfied, without having to do the Downward Facing Dog.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Frozen Mocha Buzz

I love it when friends play around with my recipes and come up with their own variations.

My food-loving friend, Roberta has been toying with this chocolate sorbet recipe. She tells me that anything frozen is a welcome treat with the current Oklahoma heat.

Roberta uses vanilla almond milk in place of water. Instead of hauling out her ice cream maker, she uses low-tech popsicle molds. She was so excited for me to try out her method that she sent me a special package with these popsicle molds.

My first attempt resulted in chocolate sandpaper. I was too lazy to properly dissolve all the ingredients. The undissolved cinnamon and cocoa made for an unpleasant, gritty lump.

Here's another note of caution, if you're planning to serve the treats to children, be prepared for a serious buzz. Just ask my jittery kids.
My enthusiastic boys before the Frozen Mocha Buzz kicked in. 

Frozen Mocha Buzz
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup espresso
2 cups almond or coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Pour everything into a heavy sauce pan.
Stir over low to medium heat until all ingredients are well dissolved. 
When the liquid is cool, pour into popsicle molds.
Let freeze for at least five hours.
To enjoy your popsicle, run the frozen mold under hot tap water and gently wiggle out the treat. 
If you prefer a hot drink, this recipe also makes a delicious Hot Mocha Buzz. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Poached Brain Food: Eggs in an Arrabiata Sauce

My youngest is nuts for eggs. If I served him an egg with every single meal, he'd be perfectly contented. He can eat them fried, scrambled and boiled, anytime time of day.

The humble egg is low-cost source of high-quality protein. It's also good brain food. A couple of weeks ago, my friend chef Tara whipped up a quick and delicious brunch with Alexander's favourite food.

I often duplicate Tara's recipe for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And every time, it makes Alexander a very happy boy.

Poached Eggs in Arrabiata Sauce
Serves 6

6 eggs
1 large can of plum tomatoes
3 Tablespoons olive oil for sautéing 
1 large onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 Tablespoon dried basil 
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 strips smoked ham/ prociutto, diced (optional)
shavings of parmesan cheese (optional)

Arrabiata sauce:
In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Sauté the onions and garlic until translucent.
Add the canned tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a fork.
Reduce the heat to low and let simmer.
Add basil, red pepper flakes, sugar and balsamic vinegar.
Stir for another few minutes until the sauce thickens.

Poaching method:
Using a ladle, make four wells in the sauce. Carefully crack an egg into each well.
Cover the pan and let the eggs poach in the bubbling sauce.
Cook for three to seven minutes, depending on how you like your yolks.
Remove the cooked eggs and serve with a generous amount of arrabiata sauce.
Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Serve with chopped ham, parmesan cheese and crusty bread.

If you have any leftover arrabiata sauce, use for a mac and cheese, or as a salsa with corn chips and melted cheese.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Indian Spiced Iced Tea

I opened a jar of cardamom and star anise this morning. I was craving their sweetness and warmth. But I wasn't sure what to do with them.

The fragrant spices reminded me of a warm, generous friend, Roberta. She and her husband paid us a recent surprise visit. They managed to steal time away from their business in Oklahoma City. We gave them a tour of Canada's capital. We ate and laughed, talked politics and travel, traded tales about our children.

Roberta is a finance executive-cum-art history expert. She herself is an artist who specialises in portraits and still life paintings. She has an eye for finding exquisite things and unique gifts. For example:

That's Shakespeare taking a bath in my tea cup. The cup and saucer were from the Van Gogh exhibition at the National Gallery. The Shakespeare cut out came with Voltaire, Dante and Goethe in a set called "Tea Poetics" which Roberta picked up from another gallery in her neck of the woods.
A little chuckle with my herbal tea.

Roberta's artful gifts were the inspiration for my Indian Spiced Iced Tea.

Indian Spiced Iced Tea
3 tea bags
2 cardamom pods, bruised
2 pieces of star anise
1 cinnamon stick 
honey (optional)

Brew the tea and let it steep with the spices for four minutes.
Make sure you put your timer on because a minute longer might make your tea bitter.
Once the tea is ready, pour it into a pitcher full of ice.
Add honey to taste.

If you like Indian flavours, here's a quick rundown on essential Indian spices.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cheap Eats in Quebec City: 3 Must-Do Stops

Quebec City is one of my all-time favourite cities. How can I not love a city that offers stunning architecture and landscapes, chocolate and croissants galore, and an opportunity to jazzer en français?

We made time to admire Quebec City on our road trip to Percé Rock. On our first morning in the Old City, we took a stroll along the cobblestone streets up to the Château Frontenac hotel. It was around 8 in the morning and the streets were just waking up. I desperately needed my morning java.

We found Café-boulangerie Paillard. It was easy to see why the place was voted "best croissant in town" by a local magazine. I ordered a double espresso allongé and sampled one or two (or four) sweet treats. I couldn't decide on my favourite, although I did need to steal another bite from my daughter's pear almond dark chocolate pastry.

Poirier at Boulangerie Paillard
We walked up to the landmark Château Frontenac and took in the views of the St. Lawrence River... just long enough to work up an appetite before our next food stop.

The Chien Mechant, or Bad Dog, was three weeks old when we stumbled in at 46 rue Garneau. (Their website was still under construction at the time.) Their specialty is European sausages and waffle potatoes.

Waffle potatoes with curry dijon mayonnaise.
Owners Christian Trudel and Irina Severin told me that they offer "good, delicious food. Nothing with junk. Just good value and good food." We certainly got that; lunch for myself and six-year-old Alexander cost under $10. Alexander enjoyed the Puppy Dog, a mini-sausage on a bun.  I had the Bad Cat chicken sandwich. 
The "Bad Cat:" chicken with a mango curry mayonnaise.
Saving the best for last, our final food stop for the day was just outside the Old City, down rue St. Jean. We were in chocolate heaven at Choco-Musée Érico.

You can learn all about the history and preparation of cacao. You can check the time on the chocolate clock. You can sample fine dark, milk and white chocolate chips for only a quarter for a handful. We gladly emptied our pockets of our spare change.

My favourite indulgence was the "Erico espresso," a version of affogato using a demi-tasse of rich   melted dark chocolate with a dollop of homemade ice cream. I brought home bags of exquisite Tanzanian chocolate so I can experiment at home.

Erico espresso: warm chocolate with a dollop of coconut ice cream. 
I was thrilled to have found three delectable eateries. On the downside, I lost my waistline. I'm pretty sure it's somewhere between Boulangerie Paillard, the Bad Dog and the Choco-Musée Érico.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Pierced Rock

Mother Nature is an amazing artist. Her awesome work of le Rocher Percé and l'Île-Bonaventure sidetracked me from my regular preoccupation with food.

I'm back from a breath-taking road trip along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to the Gaspé region of Quebec. Our final destination was le Rocher Percé, "the Pierced Rock," the legendary limestone monolith, 450-million years old and 88 metres high.

Just across le rocher Percé, we spotted seals frolicking on l'Île-Bonaventure.  

We watched the delightful dance of tens of thousands of northern gannets. Bonaventure Island is the largest bird sanctuary in North America.

 The natural beauty left us exhilarated and grateful beyond words.

We did take time to appreciate the food. But for this vacation, Mother Nature's palate trumped anything on a plate.

More on the food in my next post. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Big Fatty's for Big Daddy

My man loves his meat. So much so that we have an unwritten rule for Father's Day: meat and lots of it. Braised or smoked, roasted or cured, the word meat reduces hubby's vocabulary to a three-syllable grunt: Bring-It-On!

For Father's Day weekend, we drove down to Burlington, Vermont for a soccer tournament for our eldest. (The Nordic Cup was great fun on beautifully manicured fields.) We cruised downtown Burlington and spotted a place that looked like they really know their meat. One glance at Big Fatty's menu and we were Pavlovian puppies. (Cue panting.)

We had our first taste of hush puppies - a fried dough of cornmeal and black pepper, flavoured with bacon, green onion, cayenne pepper and dunked in a sweet vinegar sauce.

We also devoured fried catfish, pulled pork, Memphis style ribs. Hubby consumed so much meat that he felt like the original Big Fatty the next day. And the day after.

Near Church Street, we were pleasantly surprised to see an inviting selection of eateriers that celebrate local farmers. August First, the Skinny Pancake and the City Market  just to name a few.

So much good local food. So little time. Burlington, we will be back. Until then, I'm almost certain we'll get another hankering for southern-style barbeque in the very near future. Luckily, we can stay close to home and indulge at the Ottawa Rib Fest.

As hubby would say, "Bring-It-On!"


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Heirloom Garden Marks Big Progress in Small Package

I'm testing my green thumb with miniature garden. I planted a some heirloom seeds of tomatoes, peppers and basil. The "garden" is really a metal planter that sits in the window sill of my home office.

The organic growing kit was gifted to me two years ago by my long-time friend Aviva. At the time, it was her gesture of hope, a way to keep me preoccupied when I homebound.

When I first opened the package, I couldn't make out the instructions. The page was a dizzying blur. In frustration, I pushed the package to the very back of my pantry. I'd see it at least once a week when I was putting away groceries. Everytime I'd attempt to read the instructions, my eyes and brain failed me.

Until this morning. The page was as clear as day. I was able to identify every letter, number and punctuation mark. Huge progress!

I carefully read over the instructions with gratitiude for my re-newed abilities.

I soaked the disks of coconut fibre in water, transfered half  into the metal planter, sprinkled in the seeds and covered them with the remaining coconut fibre. Easy enough, when you can actually see and feel what you are doing.

Over the next few weeks, I'll tend to my itty bitty garden. I'll keep my fingers crossed for signs of life. Hopefully, in a few more weeks, my planter will produce tomatoes, peppers and basil. I'll be able to make a homegrown salad to celebrate a new chapter with my friend Aviva.

"The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Merry Maid of the Merry Dairy

We all have wild and crazy dreams. Not all of us have the courage to make them happen.
Especially when that dream is way out of your comfort zone, you need a healthy dose of faith, hope, and -- some would say-- insanity, to take the plunge.

My friend, Marlene Haley, is taking a taking a deep breath and plunging head first into a new food venture.  She's scooping out vanilla frozen custard, and living out her dream.

Courtesy Katy Watts
Her dream began about 10 years ago when she and her husband had their first taste of frozen custard in the United States. "It was so creamy and delicious. The egg yolks make the difference compared to regular ice cream. We'd make special road trips just to find frozen custard," she recalls.

"When we moved back to Ottawa, we couldn't find frozen custard. I thought, we have to bring frozen custard to Ottawa. People in our neighbourhood of Wellington West - Westboro will love it."

The idea percolated for years as Marlene continued her day job as a professor. Last fall, she decided to trade in her lesson plans for cream, eggs and a professional ice cream maker.

"That was the toughest decision, to change your lifestyle, decide to work long crazy hours and just go for it," says Marlene.

She did her market research and drew up a business plan. She attended a custard-making course in the States. She bought her ice cream truck just a few weeks ago and dressed it up in the new Merry Dairy colours. After months and months of preparation, she's ready to roll.
Marlene Haley dishes out vanilla frozen custard from the Merry Dairy truck.    
Her frozen custard is made with local dairy and eggs, plus sugar and vanilla. That's it - no artificial ingredients or preservatives. Each batch is made fresh that morning in her specially-equipped kitchen.


The Merry Dairy is a family affair. Marlene's nine-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son are often on duty manning the sprinkles station or the loudspeaker. (On my visit, the truck was belting out Led Zeplin's "Stairway to Heaven,"  the rarely-heard chimes version.) Other family members have volunteered to pitch with scooping and babysitting duties.

For now, the merry maid churns out vanilla frozen custard with various toppings. She's experimenting with other flavours.

I take my hat off to Marlene for daring to try something completely different, and for expanding  Ottawa's food scene.

Dream it. Do it. Lucky for Westboro residents, we get to savour Marlene's adventure.

If you're lucky, she'll be rolling by a neighbourhood near you. You can follow the Merry Dairy truck on Twitter @themerrydairy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Back on Track

I've been away for far too long. Away from AK's Kitchen. Away from tasty, wholesome cooking. My family's been living on bland and boring express schlock. We've had lots of variations on rice and pasta. 

A number of new projects have kept me preoccupied. I was also flat out from a nasty cold which wiped out my appeitite for any culinary creativity.

Time to climb out of the rut.

I'm glad to be back on track to share a delicious story. It's the story of fresh, frozen custard and the woman who's bringing it to Ottawa.

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lebanese Brunch

Brunch is my favourite meal. It's my luxury meal. My slow-down-and-linger meal.

Brunch: my slow-down-and-linger meal
A typical Sunday brunch in AK's Kitchen means massive omelettes, pancakes, sausages, cheeses and fruit. And of course, pots of strong coffee and morsels of dark chocolate. When I'm too lazy to cook, I serve up a Montreal-style brunch with bagels, cream cheese and lox. And of course, pots of strong coffee and morsels of dark chocolate.

My dear friend Maya wanted to introduce me to new brunch flavours, sans chocolate. She invited me to a traditional Lebanese brunch prepared by her favourite cook, her mom, Raja.

Traditional Lebanese brunch 
When I arrived, I was immediately greeted by a symphony of wonderful aromas. Lemon. Mint. Garlic. Thyme. Raja was rolling out her fresh dough for our Lebanese pizzas. The pizzas were just the starters for a delightful three-hour meal.

The main dishes were fool and fatteh. Fool is a mixture of chickpeas and beans. Fatteh is made with a layer pita bread, topped with yogurt, sprinkled with fried minced beef and toasted pine nuts. A pinch of cumin and a drizzle of olive oil add another layer of taste. Raja served fresh parsley and mint to help us digest the heavy fatteh.
This is the kind of dish I can eat anytime. It sticks to your ribs. It's loaded with good stuff -- probiotics from the yogurt; anti-inflammatory ingredients from the olive oil; vitamins and dietary fibre from the pine nuts. Raja she makes fatteh only on weekends because, she says, "It's so heavy, you have to have a nap after you eat it."

Assorted dried fruit and nuts
We went from savoury to sweet with a platter of dates, dried cranberries, goji berries, along with hazelnuts and walnuts. I was so satisfied, I didn't even miss my chocolate.

We topped off our traditional Lebanese brunch with high-octane Turkish coffee.

Many, many thanks to Raja and Maya for giving me a taste of Lebannon. I can't wait to return the favour and a few new flavours of my own.

Note: Aren't the photos sharp and luscious? They were all taken by Maya Shoucair. Her camera and eyes are much better than mine.   

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cocoa Swirl Banana Bread

I'm shaking up an old favourite. Sometimes all it takes is one ingredient, a pinch of something you hadn't considered, to re-invent the same old, same old.

Cocoa powder is always a welcome ingredient in AK's Kitchen. When I came across a new recipe for banana loaf with a chocolate swirl, I figured it was time to modernise my 20-year-old banana loaf.

I made some modifications to the recipe by nutritionist Leslie Beck. My version is free of gluten, dairy and sugar. You can add maple syrup, honey or chopped dates to sweeten. Coconut flour in the batter boosts the protein and fibre content. It also adds density to the loaf.

My kids and I enjoyed a slice for breakfast, with a bowl of yogurt and energy crunch on the side. We were fuelled up for the morning.

Cocoa Swirl Banana Bread
Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Sugar Free 

1 1/2 cup gluten free flour (3/4 cup rice flour + 1/4 cup coconut flour + 1/2 cup tapioca flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup oil (grapeseed or canola)
1 Tablespoon plain almond or coconut milk
3 overripe bananas, mashed
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
(maple syrup, honey or chopped dates are optional for extra sweetness)

Grease two loaf pans. (See note below.)
In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, mix together wet ingredients.
Transfer banana mixture to flour mixture and stir well.
For the cocoa swirl: Scoop out 1/4 cup of the batter and stir in cocoa. Set aside. 
Pour the batter into loaf pans.
Spoon the cocoa swirl over the centre of the loaf pans and drag a knife through to create a marble effect.
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Let batter sit for 10 minutes while the oven pre-heats.
Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Important note: Use two 9x5 inch loaf pans. I tried to make one large loaf, and it flopped. The batter did not rise properly. Gluten free flour has very different properties than regular flour. I make my gluten free baked goods in shallow batches. To achieve a thick cake or loaf, you can stack them once they are baked.