Monday, August 27, 2012

Ratatouille with Leek Flower Garnish

I bought a new plate! Well, it's just one plate but it's white. All white :) I bought it to take photographs of food. I guess I could have bought two or three but we actually have too many dishes at home as is. Everything we own has some kind of pattern on it and it's not really the kind of pattern that compliments food either. At least it hasn't so far. But now I own one white plate! Yay :)

Our home has really poor lighting so I was quite excited to get an all-white plate. Here is the first food picture I took on it:

I'm impressed at how much brighter and clean the dish looks! Like many of my food pictures, it was taken in the evening just before dinner time. Sadly at that time the sun is already on its descent and we have to turn the lights on inside our house. I hear that using the flash is a total taboo in the food photography world so I stopped using it. As a comparison though, I did take it with this dish after moving it to an even dimmer area. What do you think? I think the one without the flash is better but the one with the flash isn't so bad either.

Top image: without flash, Bottom image: with flash

Now to the important stuff. The dish I made above! One Saturday morning at the Burnaby farmer's market, we came across these really cool looking flowers at one of our favorite organic vegetable stands. The vendor told us they were edible leek flowers. Edible? I was even more intrigued :) She ripped off a few petals and told us to try them. They tasted a bit spicy, kind of like garlic. Or raw leeks I suppose. Lol. She said you could throw them in salads and eat them. They were really pretty and I was sure they would make any dish prettier too. These organic leek flowers were selling for $0.50 each. I bought three. I felt pretty just carrying them around :)

Organic edible leek flowers!

The leek flowers had very long stems so I couldn't really store them in the fridge. Instead, I put them in a vase on our dining table. They actually looked really pretty in the vase. Darn. I should have bought more just for the decoration. I didn't think I needed more than three for cooking. It turns out they last quite a long time as flowers. They dried up a bit but I had them in the vase for at least two weeks. Every time I needed some leek flowers for salads or cooking, I would just pick from the bottom of them and rinse them a bit with water. As far as cooking went, one leek flower would have been plenty. They were really big flowers!

The day I bought those leek flowers, I was already playing around with the idea of using them with my ratatouille. Since my 3 1/2 year old has a bit of an allergy reaction with eggplant, I don't use that in my ratatouille at all. You can basically use whatever vegetables you like but it's good to go with ones that are round and it helps if they are roughly the same size. Having said that, zucchini and eggplant are commonly found in ratatouille.

Awe :) Doesn't the ratatouille look prettier with the leek flower garnish? I must say my ratatouille has never looked this good before I became a food blogger. Lol. Now I am constantly thinking about food presentation and food styling. And I'm a complete newbie at all this! By the way, the ratatouille was delicious. Especially because I grilled the zucchinis a bit on the BBQ beforehand. It was just smoked and then I finished cooking them in the oven with all the other stuff. Bon appétit!

Ratatouille with Leek Flower Garnish
Serves 6-8

5 medium white potatoes
3 zucchinis
3 tomatoes
2 onions
1/2 cup hot water
1 cube of vegetable stock
1 tbsp Provence herbs
1-2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp leek flowers

Thinly slice all potatoes, zucchinis, tomatoes and onions. Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a lasagna pan, layer them however you like. I stand them up so that I can fit more into the pan. I also layer tomatoes next to potatoes so that the liquid from the tomatoes keep the potatoes moist. It's probably not necessary but that's how I think! :)

Dissolve vegetable stock cube in the hot water. Add Provence herbs and salt to the stock. Spoon over the filled pan as evenly as possible. Drizzle olive oil over top. Reduce oven to 375 F after pan is in the oven. Bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Before serving, sprinkle with leek flowers and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fig and Cranberry Lärabars

Fig and Cranberry Lärabars
I make my own energy bars for race training. I started off just doing granola bars but lately I have gotten a bit lazy and are making Lärabars now. My husband pushed me to make them a bit since they are raw and vegan. I quite like them actually and they only take around 5 minutes to make if you have a food processor. That's right! There is no baking necessary, unless of course you want to roast the nuts beforehand :)

I started out making Lärabars as a bit of an experiment and I didn't write anything down. Yeah, I tend to do that a lot. Lol. I looked at a few sites online and realized that the bars were basically nuts, soaked dry fruit, and a bit of flavoring and fat. I was impressed at how fast and easy they were to make. The first batch I made were mainly figs, cranberries, and walnuts. Everybody here loved them! They were slightly on the wet side though. The second batch I made were coconut, pineapple, and walnuts. My 3 1/2 year old didn't like them much because of the coconut. He has a bit of a thing against coconut treats. What the heck, right?! Maybe it's just a phase for him. The bars were a bit on the greasy side though.

Coconut and Pineapple Lärabars

For my third batch of Lärabars, I went back to my first attempt and changed it a bit. The nice thing about experiments is that you always learn something from them :) This time I added black chia seeds. If you haven't already heard, chia seeds are super nutritious and healthy for you. My husband insisted I add some to the bars. He has actually been grinding chia seeds up to a dust and adding them to his energy drinks for biking! Apparently, they are commonly used in energy foods because they contain healthy fats and protein and a load of other great stuff, which all help to increase energy and endurance for athletes. Sounds good to me!

Are you training for a long race? If you want a healthy bar and save yourself money at the same time (because I hear these are expensive!), you may want to try making these Lärabars. If you do, I would love to hear what you think of them in the comments below :)

Fig and Cranberry Lärabars
Makes about 1 3/4 lbs of Lärabars

1 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cup almonds (I used 1 cup lightly roasted almonds, 1/2 cup natural almonds)
3 tbsp organic black chia seeds
1/2 to 3/4 cups dried figs
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp almond butter
1 cup of hot water (mainly for soaking fruit)

Soak dry fruit in 1 cup of hot water. The figs I used were somewhat moist already so I was basically only soaking the cranberries. If your figs are very dry, you could use more hot water.

With a food processor, process the nuts first. Add the chia seeds and almond butter next. Add the soaked fruit, only the fruit but reserve the liquid. Process some more. Depending on how wet or dry the result is, you may want to add about 1 tbsp of the reserve fruit liquid.

Line a brownie pan with aluminum foil and spread the processed mix inside. It will be sticky but press and compact everything as flat and neat as possible. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before cutting into bars.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vegan Kale, Lentil & Sausage Soup

My husband and I are training for a marathon in October. For the past couple of months, we have been eating more and more foods rich in carbohydrates. Training is HARD but if you eat right, it can make it a bit easier for you.

You can increase the glycogen stored in your muscles by carbo-loading. Why? Because your muscles use glycogen as fuel and it'll make a difference if your run is 90 minutes or longer. So what can you eat that is high in carbohydrates? Well, pasta, breads, any kind of starch like rice, vegetables, fruit, and legumes. That sort of thing.

To prepare for one of our long training runs one weekend, I made us a carbo-loading soup. I basically took one of my favorite simple soup recipes, made it carbo-rich and turned it vegan. Yes, I was totally thinking of my husband! That and the fact that red meat is hard to digest and I wanted to stay away from it. Instead of real Italian sausage, I just used vegan Tofurky.

For a vegan soup, I thought it was awesome. The meat-eater inside of me still prefers the original meaty version but this soup was much better for my training :) I made a few substitutions based on what I had at home but it more or less tasted like the same vegan sausage kale soup I made last time. The soup was great because it was high in carbohydrates and so well balanced! The vegetables added fiber as well and the lentils were protein-rich. Because it was a soup, we ended up feeling hydrated afterwards, which is important in training. I used whole wheat pasta for extra nutrients. We're not racing yet so this was totally awesome for us. The week before the race however, we'll have to lay off the fiber and protein a bit. We don't want to upset our stomachs with pre-race jitters:( Right now, fiber is great and we can pretty much eat anything, as long as it's nutritious and healthy!

Vegan Kale, Lentil & Sausage Soup
Serves 6-8
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)

3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1 large fennel, finely chopped
1 package tofurky, sliced
1 large kale, finely cut the leafy parts

150 g whole wheat pasta
1 cup of dried French lentils, soaked in water beforehand
2 tsp raspberry wine vinegar
2 L or more water (should more than cover everything inside pot)
4 cubes of vegetable stock

Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and set aside. Fry the onions, garlic, and fennel in olive oil, then add the tofurky and fry some more. Add the kale and cook for another minute or so. Add wine vinegar, water, stock cubes, and lentils. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover for about 15 minutes. Before serving, add the pasta and reheat the soup.

Monday, August 20, 2012

4th Annual Garlic Festival

We went to our very first garlic festival this past weekend. It was held in Richmond by The Sharing Farm Society. It was a free event and there were activities for kids as well.

We tried garlic ice cream for the first time, walked and admired the vegetable gardens, played in the hay, and I sat through a canning and preserving food workshop. When we left, I bought garlic and fresh basil. How could I go to a garlic festival and not buy any garlic? That would just feel weird. There was even a wooden sign on the way out that read "did you buy garlic yet?" Lol. I plan to cook pasta this week so the garlic and basil will come in handy :)

I think the best thing about the festival was its location around the garden. Tristan has never seen such a big garden so it was very educational for him to see where things like broccoli, kale, green beans, tomatos and cabbage grew. It's a totally different thing when you can see things you usually eat start growing on the ground. I think he was amused. Pretty much everything was being grown there, some things I couldn't even identify. I noticed quite a few Chinese plants, but then again it was Richmond :)

I enjoyed the 30 minute canning presentation. I have done lots of canning of fruits like jams in the past so I was curious. I was just passing by when they were about to start so I decided to sit on the hay and check it out. I was surprised to learn a few things along the way too :) For instance, in the past we always sterilized our canning jars before using them. It turns out that it was an unnecessary step. Once sterilized, the jars are exposed to the environment and cannot remain sterile before you use them. Heating the filled jars in a boiling water bath will sterilize it for you when canning. Next time I will just use clean jars and save myself a step :) Another tip I got was to remove the rings after the jars are sealed. Water is sometimes locked inside the rings so if you wipe them down and then put them back on, you can avoid rust inside of them later. Cool, eh? Canning high acid foods like fruit is fairly straight forward but low acid foods like pasta sauce and meat require pressure cookers to reach extreme high temperatures to kill bacteria. The canning lady recommends taking a full course on how to do this properly since if done incorrectly, it could be fatal when the food is consumed. It may look fine and still be contaminated.

Our presenter was also advocating for drying food. She has an electric dehydrator and totally loves it. Now I want to get one too! She also spoke about fermenting food with live cultures for things like kimchi. You don't need to immerse these in a boiling water bath because when you make the recipe, you are creating active good cultures that are preserving the food for you. I believe my parents do this with a few things that they make at home. I just never knew that was what was happening.

Lots of garlic for sale.

Seedlings and plants for sale.

My son had fun playing in the hay and I acquired some useful information on preserving food. My husband thought the garlic festival was kind of cool too. I think he liked the garden. I would like to take up gardening one day as well. Maybe when we have more property space outside. I'm sure my son would love to help with that since he loves to dig! :) So it appears that my first garlic festival visit was a hit with the family.

Have you ever been to a garlic festival? What did you think of it?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Neapolitan Cake for our 11th Wedding Anniversary

When I first saw the Neapolitan cake, I knew I wanted to make it one day. I knew it would be an involved cake so I saved it for a special occasion. Well, today is the special occasion. My husband and I are celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary :)

I only have two small cake pans and one stand mixer so I had to constantly wash and reuse everything when I was baking the cakes. To be honest, making the Neapolitan cake was a lot more work than I liked! But phew, it turned out! When a cake takes this long to make, it is such a relief to hear compliments about it :) It was pretty in pink and when we finally cut into it, it tasted great. Hooray! A bit like eating Neapolitan ice cream indeed :)

It was such a pleasure to present the cake with my 3 1/2 year old. He was home when I baked it and I told him to keep the type of cake a secret. He was so excited when I brought it out for my husband to see! Then when I started to cut into it he was yelling to his dad "look at the inside, it's very pretty! Look daddy! Look at all the colors!" My husband liked the cake. He said it looked professional :) He's not a huge cake person though so I didn't expect him to jump up and down. My 3 1/2 year old, on the other hand, is. No one can be more excited about this cake than him! It kind of makes me love him even more, if you know what I mean :)

The strawberry cake, chocolate cake, and vanilla cake layers were recipes from Annie's Eats, which were adapted from the original versions on Sweetapolita. I wish I had their cameras and food photography skills! I think the pictures of my cake could look so much better if I did :( It also doesn't help that my living room is usually quite dark and going outside is not an option for me. Sadly. My pictures just pale in comparison to the Neapolitan cakes I tried to copy from Annie's Eats and Sweetapolita but hell, I'm going to share them anyway! Lol. I worked hard on them and these photos are my only proof. Considering I'm still quite new to making cakes, I'm quite proud of the outcome here :)

I chose sprinkles to match the inside of the cake.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Cookie Puzzle: Ponte Vecchio in Florence

It's been awhile since I painted on cookies. The truth is I would actually like to start canvas painting but I haven't come around to buying supplies for it yet. I also have to research a bit more to see what I need to do. Haha. I'm a complete noob! :)

To temporarily satisfy my urge to paint, I thought I would bake and paint cookies again. For now, that's a lot simpler for me :)

For this paint project, I thought I would paint something from our past Tuscany vacation since we took hundreds of pictures there. Actually we took around 1500 pictures :) There are a few images that come to mind when I think of scenes in Tuscany. The rolling hills of the countryside, the churches, and Ponte Vecchio. The countryside is gorgeous and I was very close to painting it but in the end I thought Ponte Vecchio was more recognizable and would be more fun to paint. In fact, it is so recognizable that when I first posted it on Twitter with a "can you guess what I painted?" message, someone replied with the correct answer right away!

I went with a cookie puzzle for this project since I needed a large canvas but I didn't want to bake a very large cookie. A very large cookie would have probably broke on me while I painted and would have been too fragile to handle. It would have been a mess breaking it apart for eating as well. Besides, my 3 1/2 year old loves puzzles so he could play first and then we could eat :) Win for all!

Pont Vecchio cookie puzzle incomplete

Pont Vecchio cookie puzzle complete

I made a full batch of cookies so I had leftover cookie canvases to doodle on. My 3 1/2 year drew on a couple, my husband painted one, and I did the rest. Here are the ones I painted from various images I found.
My 3 1/2 year old requested I do a tiger.

Vintage kids

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hawaiian Haupia

Haupia is probably my favorite simple dessert to make. If you love coconut, you will most likely love haupia too. The first time I had haupia was when I was living in Hawaii as a co-op student in 1998. It was so good I could have just eaten that for my meal. When my roommate, who was also a local, told me what it was I almost immediately went out to buy a cookbook and started looking for coconut to make haupia.

It's funny because they probably served it here in Vancouver as part of dim sum too but I just never ordered it. When I finally knew what it was and ordered it here later, it just didn't taste like the awesome haupia I had in Hawaii.

I just couldn't believe haupia was so simple to make. In Hawaii, you could purchase frozen coconut milk and use that. The result was fabulous! When I came back to Canada, I couldn't find frozen coconut milk so I tried with canned coconut milk. One greasy disaster. Yuck! I also tried with frozen grated coconut and it still wasn't great :( When I ran out of options, I considered grating a real coconut and making my own milk. Yeah right! If I had done that, my favorite simple dessert would have turned into a time consuming complicated dessert so it was a good thing I was lazy! I just couldn't reproduce the silky smooth texture of Hawaiian haupia without frozen coconut milk. Yes, it had to be frozen and yes, it had to be just milk! Then one day, I came across frozen coconut milk at a T&T Supermarket. Omg. I think I may have taken a picture of it on the shelf. I totally stocked up! I was so happy :) They don't always carry it either but recently, I came across another nearby small supermarket that carries the frozen milk too. Yes!

Whenever I need a quick dessert, I whip this up. You could even whip it up right before you sit down for your meal. By the time you are ready for dessert, it will be cold enough from the fridge to cut up and serve :) Not only is it delicious and simple to make, but it will also only cost you about $1.50 to make. Under $2 for sure! Enjoy :)

Hawaiian Haupia
Serves 3

1 lb. frozen coconut milk (1 package)
4 tbsp white cane sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch

Defrost the coconut milk the night before, if you can. If not, you will need to quickly melt it over the stove top and watch over all the mixing a lot more carefully.

Combine coconut milk, sugar, and cornstarch in a pot and stir to mix well. Place over the stove top at medium heat and whisk until it has thickened. Don't cheat or else you will get clumps in the haupia! It will probably only take 1-2 minute from the moment it starts to thicken. Pour into a glass loaf pan and let it cool. Place in the fridge. Cut into cubes before serving.
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