janet @ the taste space

Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Saffron Marinated Paneer Cheese with Fresh Basil, Cashews and Pomegranate Seeds

In Mains (Vegetarian) on July 31, 2010 at 5:49 AM

I have shied away from Indian cooking in the past due to the spiciness of the dishes, but recently bought 660 Curries so that I could tackle Indian dishes while limiting the chilis, peppers, etc that add the heat.  I am on a quest to make butter chicken as good as at Amaya (without resorting to their prepared sauces) but I got side-tracked by one of his “Contemporary Curries”: Saffron Marinated Paneer Cheese with Fresh Basil, Cashews and Pomegranate Seeds.

I have a long list of bookmarked recipes but serendipitously, I had nearly everything ready for this dish when I spotted it at Lisa’s Kitchen. I had paneer that I had picked up from the store but still unsure how to prepare it, half a pomegranate leftover from an eggplant and pomegranate salad (to be shared in short time), a bit of cream leftover from a wild rice pudding (to be shared in due time!), a balcony pot rife with basil and had picked up saffron while travelling in Turkey. I just needed to replenish my green onions, which I typically have in my fridge.

Lisa, as well as its original cookbook 660 Curries (which I picked up based on Lisa’s glowing recommendations) called this dish heavenly and implied it was better than sex! How could I resist? Contemporary curries is where it’s at! 🙂

This was a wonderful dish with paneer marinated with silky saffron and chili flakes in a bath of cream (yes, it can be marinated!) to which basil and green onions are added to the sauce. The paneer is broiled and browned so that it is warm and slightly melted but still keeps its shape. It is topped with crushed cashews and fresh, juicy pomegranate seeds which bring the dish to the next level. It is such a merriment of awkward/fusion ingredients that sing beautifully together.

I bought Aleppo chili flakes while in Turkey and think this is one of the best gifts I got as it has allowed me to slowly increase the heat in my kitchen. The chili flakes are not that spicy because the chili seeds have been removed but they impart a lovely warm flavour. They are my go-t0 when a recipe calls for chilies. My version has a bit of spice but still mild. For those that like heat, feel free to use real chilies.

Next time I want to cook with paneer, I may try to make it myself, as there are plenty of other dishes I’d love to try. Here are other enticing recipes with paneer:

Paneer Kofta (Cheese balls) from KO Rasoi and eCurry
Mutter Paneer (Paneer with peas) from What’s For Lunch, Honey?
Palak Paneer (Paneer with spinach) from eCurry
Paneer Butter Masala (Paneer in a creamy sauce) from Fun and Food Blog
Paneer Mushroom Masala (Paneer with mushrooms) from Lisa’s Kitchen
Macaroni and Paneer Cheese from Lisa’s Kitchen
Paneer Bhurji (Scrambled Paneer) from Chef in You
Paneer Cigar Rolls from Chef in You

This is my submission to this week’s Blogger’s Secret Ingredient: Onion, hosted by Hema, and to Ruchika for BSI-Paneer.

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Peanutty Energy Bars

In Desserts on July 30, 2010 at 5:51 AM

So how many food bloggers find recipes in cookbooks and then google to see if someone has already typed up the recipe? Me me me! That’s one thing I love about old or popular cookbooks because you can usually already find the recipes online without typing them all out. Imagine my surprise when I was googling for “Peanutty Energy Bars” from Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook and I found them posted on Epicurious! With some great reviews, to boot!

Epicurious explains that these bars won a prize at the 2001 Plains Peanut Festival Recipe Contest and I must admit that part of the draw to these energy bars were the peanuts. I had a flop of a peanut butter granola last week, so I was looking for some peanut power redemption.

These were good, almost akin to a filling, complex rice krispie square with the puffed rice, oats, peanut butter and the added fixins like peanuts and dates. It is incredibly adaptable, switching the nuts, dried fruit and nut butters. They packed well with my on my cycling trip but I found the bars to be a bit big, so next time I will cut them into smaller pieces.

The bars were great to make in the summer as they are no bake, just a nuke in the microwave, but a bit tricky to mix together because you have to work fast before the warmed liquids cool. Quite a bit didn’t mix together for me (=leftover breakfast granola) but the stuff that stayed together was yummy. Other than working fast, it also helps to use a huge microwave safe bowl for your liquids.  Adding the dry ingredients to the wet facilitates easier mixing.

Other energy bars on my hit-list to try:

Homemade Cliff Bars by Enlightened Cooking
Chocolate Brownie Power Bars by Enlightened Cooking
Easy Whole Grain, Fruit & Nut Energy Bars by Enlightened Cooking
Fruit, Seed and Nut Power Bars by Enlightened Cooking
Paley’s Energy Bars by Runner’s World
Banana Bread Larabars by Oh She Glows
PB&J Larabars by Teens Eat
Apricot-Oatmeal Bars by Eating Well

This is my submission to this month’s Microwave Easy Cooking featuring Favourites, 365 Days of Microwave Cooking and to Cookbook Sundays.

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Cocoa Mint Nibbles

In Desserts on July 29, 2010 at 6:29 AM

In my quest to cycle between Ottawa and Cornwall, I have been investigating portable snacks to bring with my on my rides. I made Almond Chocolate Larabars earlier in the season and liked the combination of dates, almonds and chocolate. The bars were a bit crumbly but otherwise a hit.

Then I spotted Cocoa Nibbles, posted by Ashley at Eat Me, Delicious, who found them through Ricki at Diet, Dessert and Dogs. They looked right up my alley with simple, healthy ingredients, akin to other Larabar recipes. Dried dates, almonds, cocoa powder, vanilla and mint are combined to create a fudgy-, datey- cocoa mint nibble. None of the flavours are overpowering and the dates provide a great dose of carbohydrates during a training session.  They had good shape, even outside the fridge for many hours. Straight from the fridge, they have a darker fudge texture. The date flavour is more pronounced when eaten at room temperature. I also liked that I made around 16 “nibbles” from the entire batch (50 calories, 9g carb, 1.6g fat, 111 mg potassium per nibble). I wrapped each one up as a portable snack and they were there perfect size to eat during a long cycle.  I can’t wait to try the flavour variations suggested by Ricki for my upcoming bicycle rides.

This is my submission to Blog Bites #6 hosted by One Hot Stove.

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Homemade Sports Drink

In Drinks on July 27, 2010 at 9:41 PM

As I train to cycle a double imperial century bike ride in September, I have been reading more about proper nutrition during exercise.

It is no secret that one must stay hydrated during long workouts and to keep fuelled with carbohydrate-rich snacks. There are many ways to replenish water and sugar – from sports drinks, gels, energy bars, fruit, etc – and I have begun to investigate the various options. It is always best to experiment during your training, not during your event. Of course, though, I am experimenting with creating these options in my own kitchen.

Beware: I am also in the medical field, so as I wrote this post, I realized it quickly became quite academic. There is science to this which is why I tried to link to the pubmed resources I reference. 😉

The benefits of remaining hydrated are obvious: your performance will be impaired if you are dehydrated by even 1-2%. It is therefore recommended to replenish the water you lose as sweat throughout your workout. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests drinking 500 mL of fluid 1-2 hours before you begin and then to replace as necessary with cold drinks throughout your workout. However, a 1:1 replacement of lost body weight is likely to overestimate your water needs and lead to hyperhydration. It is best to figure out your needs during training, based on the type of exercise, weather, level of training, etc, but aiming to replace 50-80% of the change in your body weight pre- and post-exercise is less likely to induce the ill-effects of drinking too much water. You may not feel thirsty during exercise (think fight or flight responses) and studies consistently show athletes do not adequately replace water. I am likely totally guilty of that and it is worse during long, hot rides.

Sports drinks are very popular because compared to water, they replace fluid, electrolyte and carbohydrate losses. Sodium and potassium are important to replace during prolonged exercise and they confer additional benefits like augmenting glucose and water absorption in the small intestine. A sports drink with 4-8% of carbohydrates is recommended as concentrations higher than that, as found in fruit juices and soft drinks,  may delay gastric-emptying.  In addition to the science behind sports drinks, a flavoured drink tastes better and encourages you to drink more. I can attest to that!

Most of the commercial sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, etc) contain 6% carbohydrate, ~100 mg sodium and ~30 mg potassium in each cup but also taste artificial and are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. There is one benefit of commerical sports drinks, though, and that’s that they are fairly ubiquitous. I try to pack fairly light during long rides and this way you could buy drinks enroute and recycle the containers afterwards.

I was on a quest to find my own homemade sports drink and really like the one found in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. It is not too sweet and tastes great. It is also ridiculously easy to make and much cheaper than the commerical drinks. The recipe has also been posted here and here with other drink recipes.  I’d love to hear about your own recipes for sports drinks.

With lemon or orange as its key flavour, this is my submission to this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Laurie at Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska.

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Chickpeas Romesco

In Favourites, Mains (Vegetarian) on July 24, 2010 at 9:25 AM

Continuing with the nut theme after muhammara, here is scrumptious nut, roasted pepper, tomato-based sauce teamed with chickpeas. Romesco sauce is a popular Spanish sauce from the Catalan Tarragona province and the variations are endless depending on whether the sauce is served as a dip, with vegetables, meatballs, fish, etc. The New Spanish Table, an enticing, Spanish cookbook, has 4 different recipes of the romesco sauce as each is tweaked to its accompaniment.

The sauce reminds me a bit of muhammara as the main flavours are roasted red peppers and nuts.  The Romesco sauce has a heavier comforting tomato presence and the use of almonds is a bit more creamy than walnuts. As I prefer cooking vegetarian at home, I was excited to try it with chickpeas when I saw Joanne posted it on Eats Well With Others, who had adapted it from Veganomicon.

I wasn’t disappointed because the Romesco sauce worked wonderfully with the inherent nuttiness of chickpeas. This comforting dish is great year-round as canned tomatoes were easy to use before the juicy, ripe ones are available locally. I roasted my own peppers which added some time, but it was a fabulous, easy meal served alongside rice.

One mention about portion sizes, as I am still working my way through leftovers (which are really tasty, too). The original recipe says serves 4-6 but it really makes a lot of food. I’d gather around 8 servings. It could be due to the bigger cans of chickpeas in Canada (19 oz compared to the 15 oz in the recipe) and I also threw in an extra red pepper. Although this is not the first time I have run into discrepant portion sizes. I blame it on the bigger “super-sized” American meals! Has anyone else noticed this?  As much as I loved it, I might half the recipe next time unless I am feeding a crowd.

This is my submission to this month’s AWED featuring Spain, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Fridays, and my second submission to this month’s My Legume Love Affair hosted by Siri at Siri’s Corner.

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Presto Pasta Nights #173 Round-Up

In Events/Round-Ups on July 23, 2010 at 6:56 AM

Hosting Presto Pasta Nights, originally created by Ruth, was a joy this week. What a wonderful collection of savory pasta dishes we cooked up! Without further ago, here is our creative carb feast:

Jennifer from Cook, Eat, Play, Repeat cooked a simple, yet delicious Spaghetti with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms.

Allie from Yum in Tum created a masterpiece while cleaning up her freezer and pantry: Three Sisters Stuff Shells

Stash from The Spamwise Chronicles brought us two recipes this week: The first was a simple, decadent pasta dish titled Cacio e Pepe, but better known as Penne with Manouri Cheese, Fried Breadcrumbs and Garlic.

Stash’s second submission was a lovely, fluffy ricotta gnocchi dressed up cherry tomatoes and mushrooms: Ricotta Gnocchi with Sungold Cherry Tomatoes and Shiitake Mushrooms

Tigerfish from teczcape – an escape to food created a simple dish for 2 which was a Vegetarian Stir-Fry Noodles with Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bell Peppers. It doesn’t sound weird to me at all!

Kristin from Holy Cannoli Recipes substituted gnocchi with tortellini to create a healthy, filling meal: Tortellini with Swiss Chard and White Beans.

Katie from Thyme for Cooking was perplexed by her half-yellow, half-green zucchinis but ended up making a Cobb Pasta Salad with ham, runner beans, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, avocado, cheese and hard-boiled eggs.

Nic from Lemon and Cheese figured out a creative way to use up her basil and bacon: Bacon, Pea and Basil Macaroni. I am currently on the look-out for basil recipes, so this is a great idea!

Joanne from Eats Well With Others made a Middle Eastern meal with mini fritter sandwiches: zucchini fritters were filled with an eggplant couscous salad a cinnamon-cumin dressing. It looks scrumptious!

Sandra from Gesund Geniessen looked into her fridge and pantry and whipped together an awesome meal with Chinese vermicelli with shrimp and broccoli.

Giz from Equal Opportunity Kitchen continues to experiment with kale and brings us a comforting bowl of Kale and Hungarian Sausage Pasta.

Pam from Sidewalk Shoes created a lovely, easy, weekday meal: Orzo with Roasted Shrimp and Tomatoes… and Garlic with Feta and Fresh Basil.

Theresa from The Food Hunter explores Mario Batali’s new cookbook, Molto Gusto, and shares an easy, yummy, healthy weeknight meal: Penne Alla Primavera.

Looking for a way to combine dill with roasted chickpeas, I made a lovely orzo salad with pan-fried chickpeas, lemon and dill.

How could I refuse a “damn delicious” pasta from Anna at Morsels & Musings: Orecchiette w Peas, Lemon & Crème Fraîche

It was a pleasure to host Presto Pasta Nights this week. I am inspired by so many people who looked into their fridge, freezer or pantry and whipped together such tasty, healthy and creative meals. I encourage everyone to submit their pasta dish from next week to Daphne at More Than Words.

Muhammara (Syrian Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip)

In Appetizers, Favourites on July 21, 2010 at 4:35 PM

I went on a mission the other day to find pomegranate molasses. I know I could make it myself, but I wanted to find it in a store. It was harder to find then I thought. My trusty Bestwin did NOT carry it. I turned to google and found another local food blogger who went through the same ordeal to find pomegranate molasses in Toronto. Her post brought me uptown to Super Khorak, a Persian grocery store on Yonge just south of Steeles. The staff were incredibly helpful when I began looking for the pomegranate molasses. After pointing me to shelves carrying at least 5 different kinds of pomegranate molasses/concentrate, they also proceeded to show me pomegranate juice and fresh pomegranates. I sampled their freshly made flatbread (only $1.59! Freshly made in-house, you can watch them make it!) and it was delicious. I also picked up some baklava with a walnut filling, but found it too sweet for my liking.

**update July 31: Without looking for it, I found pomegranate molasses at the No Frills on Victoria Park, next to the orange blossom and rose water (on sale this week, to boot!). It was next to the bulgur and wheat berries.

You see, I went on a mission to pomegranate molasses because I really wanted to make muhammara, a Syrian/Turkish roasted red pepper and walnut dip. Many versions of Muhammara exist, with some recipes having tomato paste, others do not, some do not use pomegranate molasses, and some don’t even have roasted red peppers. I ended up adapting the Muhammara recipe from Gourmet (December 1993).

And the dip was delicious. I had everyone curious as to its components as it was quite complex in flavours. Slightly sweet from the red peppers, slightly sour from the pomegranate molasses, slightly spicy from the garlic and chili pepper (use more if you want real heat), add some bulk from the bread crumbs with a smoothness from the walnuts.  I brought it, along with my peanut butter hummus, and chopped flatbread to dip, to a work potluck and it was enjoyed by all. Funnily enough, the hummus disappeared faster, but the muhammara received more compliments.  Doesn’t matter – both were delicious.

Now that I’ve used 2 tsp from my bottle of pomegranate molasses, what to do next? No worries, I have amassed a few more recipes in my treasure troves of recipes to try:

Vegetarian Eggplant Moussaka from Esurientes
Fouliyeh (Fava beans and rice)
from Taste of Beirut
Eggplant Stuffed with Cheese and Nuts
from Taste of Beirut
Pasta with Muhammara Sauce
from Taste of Beirut
Stuffed Cabbage (Mehshi Malfoof)
from Taste of Beirut
Bulgur Salad with Pomegranate Dressing and Toasted Nuts
from The Wednesday Chef
Bulgur, Pomegranate and Walnut Salad
at Food & Wine
Spoon Lamb
from the New York Times
Pomegranate and Date Lamb Tagine by Closet Cooking
Pomegranate and Pistachio Couscous Salad by Closet Cooking
Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper and Green Bean Pomegranate Salad by Closet Cooking
Pomegranate Molasses and Pistachio Cookies by Avocado & Bravado

This is my submission to Sara for this month’s Monthly Mingle featuring party treats, and to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.

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Apricot-glazed Tofu with Rice and Bok Choy

In Mains (Vegetarian), Sides on July 20, 2010 at 8:43 AM

It is no secret that I love the library. Not only do I get to browse through cookbooks, but I also love the accessible movie collection and the free museum passes. There’s also the fiction section, but cookbooks have taken a priority for bedtime reading recently.

A few cookbooks leap from the library to my bookshelf.  I took out Raising the Salad Bar four times, each time loving new recipes, before I decided to buy my own copy. Sometimes I bookmark so many recipes that I know the cookbook is a keeper. Rose Reisman’s Family Favourites was such a cookbook. Nearly every recipe was something that I wanted to make. They were so fresh, simple and healthy, I couldn’t resist.

After I bought the book, I noticed that her website also has many of my bookmarked recipes. This makes so much sense to me: propagate those healthy recipes! It is for the betterment of the planet. 🙂

I am all for open-source cookbooks, if you will, which is at the heart of my food blogging.  Food blogs are great for encouraging and empowering people to cook at home, and a bonus when the recipes are as healthy as those created by Rose.  The biggest thrill I get is when someone tried one of my posted recipes and loved it as much as me.

Now about the apricot-glazed tofu recipe, which was adapted from here on her website and is also in her cookbook Rose Reisman’s Family Favourites. I liked the sweet apricot glaze on the tofu but I think ours was a bit sweeter since we added another tablespoon or so of jam to finish off the jar. However, the sweetness of the apricot worked really well when combined with the tang from the sesame and soy sauce-laced bok choy. Really well! Enjoy!

This is my submission to this month’s My Legume Love Affair hosted by Siri at Siri’s Corner and this month’s Side Dish Showdown.

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French Barley Salad with Carrots, Green Beans, Red Peppers and Almonds

In Favourites, Salads on July 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Before I began to blog, I used to post my food pics with its recipe on Facebook. My friends urged me to go public, to share my joy of food and photography with many more people and I am so glad I made to leap to the blogosphere. I really enjoy being part of the food blogging community, where I have met some really awesome people so far. I hope to continue to be pushed to try new dishes, meet new people, etc, over time.

In honour of the 100th post on the blog, I thought I would bring everyone back to where it all began. The first picture in my “Food Porn” album is the above pic. Over Thanksgiving, I made an incredibly delicious French Barley Salad that I Ashley posted at Eat Me, Delicious, which was adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special (which I already owned!). The food was so delicious it got a spotlight in my Thanksgiving 2008 album and also kickstarted my food photography.

It is through practice and reflection that we improve, and I know my photos have improved over the past couple of years. So when I remade the salad recently, I still took its photo… of the leftovers, though, and sadly my photography skills were not at their peak. Can I blame it on my parents having prettier bowls? Nah….  One step forward and two steps back.. sounds like I am dancing backwards? 😉 Well, at least it is a tasty trip backwards. 🙂

In reflection of where I’ve been culinarily since the beginning of the blog, I added a new category to the blog highlighting my favourite dishes. Enjoy!

This is my submission to Cooking with Whole Foods – Whole Grains, featuring barley, this week’s Weekend Wellness, this week’s BSI featuring green beans, and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays (which also includes salads).

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Orzo Salad with Pan-Fried Chickpeas, Dill, and Lemon

In Mains (Vegetarian), Salads, Sides on July 17, 2010 at 8:11 AM

I love the summer because all of a sudden fresh produce abounds, overflowing with flavour. It is a perfect time for salads, using fresh herbs, and enjoying simple dishes that showcase summer fare.  I originally spotted this tasty salad at Eat Me, Delicious who adapted it from Cooking Light (August 2002). I am weary of plain chickpeas, and I remembered my really delicious warm chickpea and artichoke salad and figured I would incorporate pan-fried chickpeas with this dish to up it a notch. I was not disappointed.

This is a delicious orzo salad brimming with fresh dill and spring onions, a slight lemony tang and this is coupled with creamy, nutty roasted chickpeas. The orzo has a delicious slippery texture that complements the chickpeas well.  The next time I make it, I would consider replacing the orzo with something else though. Perhaps wild rice? Or a grain like quinoa? The possibilities are endless for summer salads!

This is my submission to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays, this week’s Weekend Wellness,, this month’s Side Dish Showdown, to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays and to Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by me this week!

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Announcing Presto Pasta Nights #173

In Events/Round-Ups on July 16, 2010 at 12:01 AM

It is my pleasure to host this week’s edition of Presto Pasta Nights. This is a blogging event featuring what everyone’s cooking up with pasta this week, be it in a salad, soup, a side or main dish. Share your creative carbs! 😀

To participate, blog about your pasta dish between now and July 22, mention and link to Presto Pasta Nights, as well as my site The Taste Space. Email me your link and photograph at saveur11 AT yahoo DOT ca as well as Ruth at ruth AT 4everykitchen DOT com. The deadline for Friday’s round-up post is Thursday, July 22.

I look forward to seeing this week’s feast.

Carrot Soup with Ginger and Lemon

In Favourites, Soups on July 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM

I love soups. I gravitate to the heavy, one-pot meal soups in the winter and to the fresh, light soups in the summer. This is one of my favourite carrot soups as it simple to make, healthy and has such complex flavours with tomato, lemon and ginger.  This is not your typical carrot soup. It is bright and summery, all in a bowl! Creamy without any cream.. such bliss!

I once forgot to add the lemon juice, and it had much a stronger flavour palate. With the lemon juice, it was more mellow and tame, and equally as good. This soup is best with sweet fresh carrots and tomatoes at their prime. The original recipe at Bon Appétit (June 1997), suggests adding a dollop of sour cream and shaved carrot to the soup, but I think it is great without it.

This is my submission to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays, this month’s Healing Foods featuring carrots, and to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays.

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The City Farmer and My First Tomato! (Book Review)

In Book Review on July 12, 2010 at 6:31 AM

I first met Lorraine Johnson during a Jane’s Walk last year where she, along with Nancy Chater, led a small group through the ET Seton Park in Toronto to discuss space, water, history as well as to show us the edible weeds in the Don Valley. Interspersed around Tremco, the largest employer in the Don Valley, Lorraine showed us burdock and its tasty root; garlic mustard, an invasive plant that is good in salad and pesto; dandelions, where the young green leaves can be used in salads; and lastly sumac, a shrub with edible flowers. She had prepared sumac lemonade and garlic mustard bruschetta for us to try! I preferred the bruschetta to the lemonade, but it was exciting to think of what you could forage from a Toronto park.

When I saw Lorraine had written a book, City Farmer, about gardening in the city, I was excited to see what perspective she would bring to the table. Sadly, this wasn’t a ‘how-to’ book about creating your own garden, as I’d love one of those, rather it was an equally awesome empowering read wherein Lorraine shares her passion for gardening. Her tales of procuring gardens in odd and far off places, dilemmas between community gardeners, and her own foils with raising chickens in her Toronto backyard are amusing and engaging. During our walk, she retold her story about making dandelion wine and how it exploded in her basement which is also recounted in the book.

In addition to personal anecdotes, she highlights the importance of local food, with figures showing sometimes local, small-scale operations may not be more environmentally friendly. Obviously the best, most locally grown food is from your own backyard. The other benefits of backyard gardening include people tend to eat more vegetables as well!  Schools in the US have started to replace gym classes with gardening classes, as you get exercise with gardening as well as the skills to become a lifelong gardener. 🙂 What I loved about the book is Lorraine that dispelled my own myth that you need a backyard to have a prolific garden. She highlighted groups within and outside Toronto that encourage community gardening with limited resources. She also features creative ways of gardening, including Marco Pagliarulo‘s balcony pot that houses both a compost and plants in one.

She describes guerilla gardening, where rogue gardeners plant in public places. With a lone tomato plant within a flowerbed, would you stop and ponder its existence? Would you be tempted to pick the ripe tomato? While the public is content with flowering plants, why is it so odd to have edible plants on public property? Why is it so uncommon for people to have vegetables in their front yard? Harvesting fruits and vegetables is typically done with privacy. There is a prolific mulberry tree near the bus stop where I used to work and it always brought a smile to my face when I would see someone pick the berries to snack on as they waited for the bus. There were also a lot more mulberries that landed on the ground, though, recolouring the sidewalk purple.

It wasn’t that long ago, that I said I would not be gardening this year: I had plants on my balcony three years ago, but they would quickly dry out and my red pepper never grew big enough to be picked. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to water my plants often enough, with the hot sticky Toronto summer that has recently dawned upon us. My mom assured me that with a deep-dish planter with moisture-retaining soil, I would have a greater chance of success, so my parents gave me a planter filled with mint, basil, and garlic chives for my birthday.

Consider myself converted to balcony gardener. While I was reading the book, filled with stories of guerilla gardeners planting tomato plants in potholes, I was offered my choice of heirloom tomato plants from Vicki’s Veggies, leftover from their seedling sale. I jumped at the opportunity to snag a few neglected plants that may not otherwise be planted, and precariously balanced 12 tomato plants on my way home on my bike. I was in a tizzy as I read the names of the tomato plants: amazon chocolate, negro azteca, lemon drop, green zebra, indian stripe, ivory pear, tangella cherry, ruby pearl, canabec, green grape cherry, purple cherry… They were initially a bit parched and a bit droopy, and I lost 2 growing tomatoes en route home, but I figured any tomato from the lot would be a bonus. And, I am happy to report I ate my first lemon drop cherry tomato today and it was delicious! No recipe needed, just pluck and plop in your mouth! I look forward to a tomato-, basil-  and mint-filled summer. 🙂

Okra With Prunes and Apricots in a Tamarind Sauce (Bamia b’Mishmosh)

In Mains (Vegetarian), Sides on July 11, 2010 at 8:04 AM

One of my goals is to try every single vegetable and fruit at Bestwin, a local grocery store that has tons of ethnic food spanning India to Japan to Thailand. I oftentimes have no clue what they are, nor what to do with them, so it will definitely be a challenge.  I stopped by this week and noticed okra was on sale, so I picked some up to start my cuisine challenge. Thankfully I also had 2 cookbooks in my trunk so I quickly looked for an appealing recipe with okra and made sure to get all the ingredients.

Okra is native to Africa but is used in Middle Eastern, Indian and African cuisine.  While okra is commonly served with tomato, I adapted a Syrian Jewish sweet and sour recipe with okra, prunes and apricots in a tamarind sauce from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck (the original recipe has also been posted here by the Jewish Book Council). There is some tomato paste as well, so the classic tomato flavour is there as well. I thought the sauce was fabulous with the sweet apricots and prunes, with the sour tang from the tamarind. The bit of tomato pasta also added a bit of homeliness to the dish. The sauce worked well with the delicious okra.

The sweet and sour sauce took a while to prepare but the long cooking meant there was no need for any additional sugar as the sweetest was entirely from the fruits. I served this with a bed of rice as a meal, but I think next time I’d love to add a bean like chickpeas to the mixture. It can also be served as a side dish to an elaborate meal.

I was a bit worried about the okra after reading about its acquired tasted and its gooey characteristics if opened, but I didn’t have any problems. The try to minimize any mucilaginous texture, quickly spray with water when washing and quickly pan-fry them with a bit of oil. Keeping them intact while cooking is also important, and shaking the pan instead of stirring helps. A few of my larger okra where a bit tough and stringy, so I should have heeded Dweck’s advice to purchase the smallest okra possible. When I was in Turkey, they were each an inch or two long and I hear in Syria they are even smaller. Here in Canada, they were much longer but still good. Frozen baby okra could also be an option.

To be fair, I don’t normally travel with cookbooks in my trunk, but I was enroute from buying them.  I couldn’t be more happy with my purchases.  This was the second recipe I have tried from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck, and I was not disappointed (the first was Eggs Scrambled with Rhubarb).  Aromas of Aleppo is a unique cookbook featuring Jewish Syrian cuisine.

As the last Jews left Aleppo in 1997 and took their cuisine with them, this makes the cookbook a treasure trove of historical dishes. Dweck is keeping the Syrian Jewish culinary traditions alive through recipes pulled together from the expatriated community, a project which began over 30 years ago. Syrian Jews separate themselves from other Sephardic Jews through their flavourful dishes, with their unique uses of tamarind, cherries, and spices such as allspice, cinnamon, saffron and cardamom. What’s not to love?

I am submitting this recipe to Yasmeen’s Health Nut challenge all about tropical fruit and to this month’s Side Dish Showdown.

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Announcing Tried & Tasted for July 2010

In Events/Round-Ups on July 9, 2010 at 6:37 AM

It is my pleasure to host Tried & Tasted (T&T) this month. T&T, originally created by Zlamushka, is now hosted by Lakshmi at Kitchen Chronicles and the logo is designed by Ksenia. It is a blog event to discover new blogs, as a new blog is introduced every month and people are encouraged to try these recipes and comment on how they worked.  I know I constantly find inspiration from other bloggers, so it is my pleasure to introduce our featured blog this month: Veg Inspirations by Usha.

Usha has chronicled her adventures in vegetarian food since 2008 and focuses on healthy, tasty food. Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring or bland! Inspired by her mother, grandmother and mother-n-law, she has a multitude of recipes, including many vegan dishes. There are so many tasty recipes, I don’t know where to start. Take a look at Usha’s recipes, and report back about your meals.

The rules for T&T are simple:

  1. Cook any recipe (new or old) from “Veg Inspirations” and blog about it. Stay as true to the original recipe as possible. Therefore there is no need for re-posting it, simply link to the original post
  2. There is no time-frame for the original recipe. It can be as old as my grand-mother or as fresh as a mung bean sprout.
  3. Have you cooked from “Veg Inspirations” before? As this event is all about tasting and reflecting on the taste, older posts are also welcome. Simply link to this post and mention T&T event.
  4. Link your post to this page (Use of logo is welcome) and to the original recipe page, so that you can avoid the copyright problems.
  5. Non-bloggers are welcome to share their recipes too. Simply email your name, feedback and the picture of the recipe.
  6. Send an email to saveur11 AT yahoo DOT ca by August 10, 2010, with the following details:
  • Your Name
  • Name of the blog
  • Name of the recipe
  • URL of the post
  • URL of the Original post
  • Picture of the recipe

I look forward to seeing our inspirations based off Veg Inspirations!