This one goes out to the one I love (Erin)

Note: May I suggest following this to the tune of a Dick in a Box?

Hey Erin, I got somethin' real important to tell you
So just sit down and read...

Girl you know we've been friends such a long, long time (such a long time)
And you've always got avocados on your mind
(Wooow) You know it's Spring and they're on sale everywhere (everywhere)
Gonna give you a recipe that tells you what to do (what to do)
A recipe so tasty, and vegetarian too
Take a look at this:

It's a kale and avocado salad (it's a salad)
Not gonna talk 'bout a hunk of steak
That sorta thing might make you quake
Not gonna make you do something hard
Girl you'll barely leave your yard
Not gonna need to buy a lot of things
A girl like you will want to sing
Wanna tell you 'bout somethin' that don't take long
Somethin' good girl
It's a kale and avocado salad, a kale and avocado salad girl
It's a kale and avocado salad, a kale and avocado salad girl
See I'm wise enough to know when a recipe needs makin' (girl)
And I got just the one, somethin' that ya know is second to none
To all the people out there with mouths to feed
It's easy to do just follow these steps:

Kale and Avocado Salad
Adapted from Saveur

1: Make a dressing
Whisk together 1/2 cup fresh orange juice, 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp soy sauce (I'd recommend a Japanese brand) and 1 clove of garlic, smashed and chopped into a paste. Slowly whisk in 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and set the dressing aside.

2: Cut some stuff up
Stem and finely chop a bunch of kale (about 3/4 lb). Peel, pit and halve 3 avocados. Cut 2 avocados into 1/2" cubes and thinly slice the remaining avocado.

3: Mix it all together
Toss the kale, cubed avocado and 1/2 tbsp raw hemp seeds (purely optional; if you want to try this I have plenty to spare and share) with the dressing. Season generously with salt and pepper and top with the sliced avocado and another 1/2 tbsp raw hemp seeds.

And that's the way you do it
It's a kale and avocado salad, for 4 to 6
It's a kale and avocado salad, a kale and avocado salad girl.


Blue skies are coming

Spring 2010 officially started at 9:32 PST yesterday. Today, as long-standing tradition dictated, I got gussied up in a skirt (and yes, stockings) to celebrate. My friend Ashley and I have been observing this all-important date for many years now. Sometimes we make daisy chains, sometimes we climb trees, sometimes we drink wine and go to philosophy class tipsy. But, we always wear skirts and we always take pictures. 

Gracie joined us in our revels this year.

During the past week I volunteered at a couple of local farms and brought home some delicious bounty.

I put some of it to good use this morning when, for the first time ever, I made hollandaise sauce. I broke the emulsification. Then I started over with a fresh egg yolk, broke it again, said bloody hell, moved on, stirred in a spoonful of cream and, like magic, it resuscitated. I do need to work on this some more though, methinks.

 I drizzled the intensely yellow sauce (thanks, no doubt, to those free-roaming chickens whose eggs I used) over fistfuls of beautiful yellow-flowering brassicas (so young they barely took a minute to steam).

Marvelous. The richness of the hollandaise was belied by the bright citrus contributions of orange and lemon. It was fresh and light (yes, I realize I'm talking about something that uses over a stick of butter here) and decidedly in the spirit of Spring.

I may remind you of a broken record but I used another recipe from Nigel Slater's Tender. He seems like a perfectly nice guy, but just in case, I'm not going to transcribe the recipe here. I also am clearly no expert on hollandaise. Yet. But, it's simple. All you do is make a basic hollandaise sauce and, at the very last minute, season it with a squirt of lemon juice, some salt, finely grated orange zest and a couple spoonfuls of cream. May I suggest spooning it over some very fresh greens that you've steamed then piled over thick slices of good, toasted bread?


Allsorts of things

Warning: What follows is a series of tangents that may, or may not, be related. Bearing this in mind, let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky...

So, I bet you thought you had me pinned down, eh? Monday, like clockwork, a new update. Think again, it's Sunday.

The other night I was struck with an inexplicably sharp craving for licorice allsorts. Unfortunately, this happened to be around 1 o'clock in the morning, and I was hardly inclined to satisfy it. But today, when I got home and jumped off my bike, a grizzled old man was shuffling down the sidewalk towards me. He stopped, with a long cigarette dangling precariously from his mouth, and grinned before digging into his trousers to pull out a black licorice candy. See:


I am obsessed with beets.

Oh, Spring. On Monday it snowed. But on Tuesday I rode on pavement wet with night's rain and, though the breeze from my momentum was chill, every now and again I caught just a whiff of warm, damp earth. Oh, Spring.

There has been no dearth of tasty things passing through these lips.

But, beets. Beetroot curryBeet hummus. Beet greens with skordalia. Beet tartare. Beet pasta. Goat's cheese and beetroot salad with toasted hemp and poppy seeds. Tonight I am having lamb and bulgur meatballs with (what else?) beets. I can't stop.

Let me just say this: It has been very interesting in the bathroom as of late. Sorry.

All of it has been delicious. Still, I was waiting for something that made me stop, drop my fork, run to the rooftop (or computer) and sing melodious praises. It happened, yesterday. Only I didn't stop. I just picked up my fork and ate ardently and gustily until there was no more.

I have Nigel Slater to thank. And beets.

While perusing the beetroot section in my recently be-gifted volume of Tender I paused at the recipe for chickpea patties with beetroot tzatsiki. I had made a beet tzatziki before, only with roasted rather than raw beetroot that Mr. Slater uses. I decided to give it a go.

Oh, baby. While the tzatsiki was certainly good - sweet and crunchy and a "lurid" (I say brilliant) fuschia pink - the chickpea patties clearly stole the show. They were perfectly spiced with the slightest crisp of a crust that broke through to a smooth, creamy centre. I'd liken them to falafel's willowy, delicate younger sister. 

I wouldn't skip the tzatsiki. It offers a bit of bite and cool, sharp contrast to the warm, soft patties. And it's certainly faster, and easier, than using cucumber, what with the salting and waiting and draining and squeezing excess moisture that that entails. I just don't think it's a match made in heaven, an eternal marriage. No, I predict divorce in oh, two or three year's time. But those chickpea patties, that may be a love story for the ages.

Chickpea Patties with Beetroot Tzatsiki
Adapted from Tender

Nigel calls for a 400g (14 oz.) can of chickpeas but I used chickpeas I had cooked from scratch. The parsley and mint quantities are approximate, no need to break out the measuring spoons.

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas 
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp ground coriander
1/2 scant tsp hot paprika
1 large egg
2 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
2 tbsp roughly chopped mint, leaves only
olive oil

1 large juicy clove of garlic
1 large raw beetroot
200g plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style
a few mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, more or less to taste

Combine the chickpeas, garlic, ground cumin and coriander, paprika, egg, the chopped herbs and a generous grinding of salt and black pepper in a food processor or, in my case, the plastic container that came with your immersion blender. Blitz until smooth, but leave some small pieces of chickpea remaining. Quoth Nigel: "It is much more interesting with a slightly lumpy texture than a totally smooth one". Put in the fridge to firm up for at least 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make your tzatsiki. Crush the garlic clove to a paste with a sprinkling of salt, either in a mortar and pestle or on a cutting board with the side of your knife. Transfer to a mixing bowl and grate the beetroot into it. Stir in the yogurt, chopped mint leaves, lemon juice and salt and black pepper to taste.

Warm a shallow layer of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop heaping tablespoons of the chickpea mixture into the hot oil and press down lightly to smooth the tops. Cook until the bottoms are golden. Quoth Nigel: "I avoid any temptation to prod and poke; they must be allowed to form a thin crust". Flip them over gently (some might say tenderly) and carefully with a palette knife and cook until the other side is golden. Quoth Nigel: "They are done in three or four minutes, when the outside is faintly crisp and biscuit coloured and the inside is soft and creamy."

Serve with the beetroot tzatsiki.

Makes about 8 small patties, enough for 2 people. The quantity of tzatsiki may be incommensurate in regards to the chickpea patties, especially since you don't want to drown the delightful little things. But seeing as it is quite toothsome you may fancy making, and eating, it all anyway.


The root, it springs

Spring. It's here.

And it's beautiful. I don't remember the cherry blossoms bursting forth so soon, nor so lovely, in many years. Not since, oh, 2004. (I so liked Spring).

I'm happy, obviously, but also very busy  - it's my last chance to cook cold weather fare like winter squash, molasses-rich cakes and dark, meaty stews. This past week I've made (Hermannator) ginger cake, rice pudding, a winter fruit compote, shurpa lagman, oh, and lots and lots of bread pudding. While doing the latter I managed to cut myself rather intensely (damn you crusty crusts, and, you too, serrated bread knife!) but it hasn't dissuaded me from baking more (two breakfasts in a row, and counting).

Yesterday, I made a completely scrumptious cabbage gratin and I considered sharing it with you today but I decided this place is a veritable cabbage patch as it is. Nevertheless, if you have a copy of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone get thee to page 278 immediately. You shan't regret it.

What I will share with you is a pleasing, end, middle or start-of-winter beef stew I poached from  Food52 - one of my new favourite online sources of recipe inspiration. The premise of this site is that a community of home cooks contribute recipes while competing in weekly themed contests. The victors will be published in a cookbook containing a year's worth of winning recipes. I like to browse through the Editors' Picks since they cull the most promising and interesting recipes including those of the contest winners and runner-ups.

I was drawn to this one mostly because it had prunes in it. Prunes that had been bathing in booze. I'm not quite sure why, but I've been amassing a hefty load of recipes that involve prunes: beef, rabbit and tripe stews, ice creams, and yes, bread puddings.

It also called for the intriguing addition of  licorice root so I went foraging on the shady side of Summit Park. The sun was shining, crocuses carpeted the Garry Oak meadows and I got a little dirty digging out rhizomes with a sturdy stick. I felt pretty satisfied with myself.


It takes time to procure and prepare the foundation of a good beef stew. The meat you choose should be from a well-exercised, tough part of the animal like the shoulder or leg (in butcher's terms the chuck, round or shank) and cut into large pieces. It is important that the meat is completely dry before you brown it, otherwise it will never become a handsome golden-brown. You add aromatics: vegetables like onions, carrots and celery; herbs or spices such as bay leaves, rosemary, or thyme; liquid in the form of stock, wine, cider or beer, and really, anything else that strikes your fancy. The longer you simmer your stew the better - mine was in the oven (which provides a more even, even gentler heat) for four hours.

Your base of simple but carefully selected ingredients blossoms. In my case the result was a stew with layer upon layer of flavour - exceptionally tender beef, sweet prunes, robust beer, sharp vinegar, elusive licorice and a rich, just-short-of-sticky sauce. Not bad as Winter shoots into Spring.

Beer, Licorice Root & Beef Stew
Adapted from Food 52

I served this with mashed potatoes, crusty bread and, to finish, a simple green salad with a mustardy dressing. The next day I tried it with mashed sweet potatoes and I liked that even better; the prunes and sweet potatoes complemented each other nicely.

2 pounds boneless stewing beef (such as chuck, top or bottom round, shank), trimmed of tendons, excess fat and cut into approximately 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp butter, or more, if necessary
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks, thickly sliced
2 carrots, thickly sliced
1 clove garlic, thickly sliced
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
7 oz. prunes, soaked in brandy for 1 hour
4 bay leaves
4 branches of rosemary
one 4-inch piece licorice root
4 1/2 cups stock (beef, chicken, vegetable) or water
3 cups malt beer (I used Hermannator)
sugar and balsamic vinegar, to taste
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp all-purpose flour

Pat the meat dry, season generously with salt and pepper and let rest in the fridge for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Dredge the pieces of meat in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a large, deep pot over medium heat and brown the meat on all sides, using tongs to turn. You will likely have to do this in batches so you don't crowd the meat. Adjust the heat and/or add more butter, if necessary, so as to prevent burning. Browning is okay, but not blackening. Once the pieces are browned, transfer to a plate.

Preheat the oven to 250 F. Bundle the bay leaves, rosemary branches and licorice root together in a piece of cheesecloth, nylon or the like. You don't have to but it'll save you from picking out the individual rosemary needles later. Also, drain the prunes, but save the brandy since it's even better now!

If there is no butter remaining add a bit more, then add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute until softened, fragrant and beginning to colour.

Add the vinegar, scrape up any bits clinging to the bottom of the pan and cook until almost evaporated. Return the meat, as well as any accumulated juices, along with the drained prunes, herb bundle, stock or water and beer. Slowly bring to a simmer and skim off any fat.

Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is totally tender and starting to fall apart.

Dump the contents of the pot into a sieve suspended over a large metal bowl. Remove the herb bundle and discard. Keep the meat and vegetables warm. Return the sieved sauce to the pot, skim off any fat and boil to reduce by about one-half, or until it is close to the consistency you desire.

Meanwhile, smash 2 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of flour together (this is called a beurre maniƩ). Once the sauce has been reduced to your liking, add the beurre maniƩ in small knobs, whisking until fully incorporated. This will help thicken the stew and give it a luxurious sheen. Simmer for about five minutes, or until the consistency you desire is reached. Check the seasoning, adding salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar or a dash of balsamic vinegar, if required. Return the meat and vegetables to the pot, heat through and finally serve forth on a bed of your choosing.

For 6-8 people.