Tag Archives: Recipes

The global kitchen

A chilly view from the high line

A chilly view from the High Line

I spent this past weekend on a mini vacation in New York City walking and exploring and eating, as well as talking about food with school lunch and food justice (super)hero, Jan Poppendieck, who wrote the brilliant Sweet Charity? about the failures of food banking, and the more recent (and equally brilliant) Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

The weekend was a literal smorgasbord of fun, food and inspiration. One of the surprise highlights was stumbling on the new food exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Called Our Global Kitchen, it uses multimedia, display, historical objects, diaroma and even taste tests to bring to life the complexity of our food system, the future of food (think seaweed, bugs and less meat) and the joys of eating together. There’s a chance to sit at a table with a Roman aristocrat, see an ancient Aztec marketplace and cook up various recipes on an interactive table/screen.

our global kitchenCurated by the Center for Biodiversity Conservation, the exhibit pulls no punches about the challenges of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050 or the profound problems with current industrial agricultural practices.

Considering the equivocating I seem to read in the media about this (as if it’s still sane to question climate change or the failures of the so-called green revolution to feed the world), I was delighted to see how matter of fact the exhibit is. This is science, baby.

I can’t wait to read my friend Sarah Elton’s upcoming book, Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet for more on this subject.

(For teachers and educators who can’t make it to New York before the show closes in August, there are downloadable teaching resources for all grades that touch on issues in the food system like biodiversity, the supply chain and trade, hunger and diet-related health issues. The resources are pegged to the exhibit itself but there are lots of ideas about how to bring these topics into the classroom.)

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Filed under Kids and food, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

Getting away with it

We had a holiday brunch on the weekend with lots of kids and old friends, good food and coffee. It was a lot of fun, but the thing that I keep thinking about is looking up from a conversation to see a trio of seven-year-old boys hovering around the cookie tray surreptitiously stuffing their darling little faces.

There was gingerbread and my new favourite, chocolate chip shortbread (pictured above), peanut brittle and various holiday bits and pieces. The three boys—who didn’t really know one another very well but seemed to bond over their gluttony— stood near the cookies, but not so near as to be conspicuous, and slowly and carefully devoured nearly the entire tray while the adults paid them absolutely no mind.

I found it hilarious, mostly, I think, because it cast me vividly back to my own childhood and the recollection that the best part of going to parties with your parents is how they end up ignoring you and you can fly below the radar.

And, in the boys defense, these cookies are outrageously delicious.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

(tweaked from Chatelaine magazine, November 2006)

makes about 50-60 small cookies

3 1/2 cups flour

2 cups chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups butter

1 cup icing sugar

4 tsp cold water

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)

6 squares chocolate (the best you can find)

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Spray baking sheets with oil or line with parchment paper.

2. Stir flour with chocolate chips in small bowl. Using larger bowl with electric mixer, beat butter until smooth, then add sugar until fluffy. Beat in water, vanilla and salt if using. Stir in the flour mixture slowly.

3. It will seem dry but the butter will allow you to shape it into smallish balls to put on the greased baking sheet. Bake until edges are golden 15-20 minutes. Cool on a rack.

4. I often freeze them at this stage and bring them out the night before I need them.

5. Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip half of cookie into melted chocolate and place on wax paper. Let sit until cooled or refrigerate about 30 minutes until chocolate is set.

Enjoy!

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Plenty of options

I recently treated myself to the fabulous new cookbook Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes From London’s Ottolenghi, by Yotam Ottolenghi. Everything I’ve made from it has been delicious but the Chickpea, Tomato and Bread soup has quickly turned into my Favourite Soup Of All Time.

The first time I served it, it was more of a stew: I skipped the pesto (to be added toward the end), omitted celery and served it topped with couscous. The second time, I blended it with the hand blender and made it into a thick, puréed soup. Each time, it was rich and flavourful and made me feel good about the world. I could eat this hearty soup every day and never tire of it.

Sadly, my children feel otherwise.

The tolerated it the first time, but the most recent variation met with a wholesale boycott.

The upside of this potentially challenging family moment was that when I told our older son if he didn’t like it, he could make his own dinner, he gladly agreed. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s about to start cooking class at his new middle school and wanted to give it a whirl on his own. Or he wanted to show us (again) that he doesn’t need us all that much. But he pulled out a children’s cookbook that’s been gathering dust at our house for some time, and made Pesto Toast—pesto on grilled bread topped with melted cheese. And he actually learned a few things. Like, say, you should read the entire recipe before starting. And a garlic clove is different from a garlic head (I stopped him before he turned into a vampire destroyer, but he was still burping garlic for two days). And you have to watch things under the broiler. And cleaning up isn’t all that great, but cooking is actually quite fun.

In fact, it was a teachable moment for all of us. I’m often trying to find ways to get my children cooking and preparing food—coming up with various gimmicks, including kids’ choice nights, etc.—but maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe all this meddling is working against me and given the opportunity, they’ll come to this cooking/appreciating food thing on their own terms. Or maybe I should stage a boycott of my own…

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Garden greatest hits

It’s that time of year again. The nights are getting colder, the days darker, and we’re reluctantly preparing ourselves to put our urban veggie garden to bed for the long sleep. Of course, I’m already thinking about what we can do to improve it for next year, especially how we can make it more kid-friendly. I’ll also be doing some serious crop rotation since I lost a number of plants to disease this year. But in the spirit of harvest celebration, here are the summer of 2011’s greatest hits.

Sweet peas. We didn’t get many, but the ones that grew were perfect. The taste of spring.

Chicory (or dandelion). My new favourite bitter green, and a reminder that one woman’s weed is another’s delicious treat.

Carrots. They were shrunken and hairy, and not quite sweet enough, but the juniors loved them. Worth the long summer wait.

Zucchini flowers. Not sure where the zucchini in this picture ended up (the plant died soon after), but the flowers were extraordinary dipped in milk and flour and fried with olive oil.

Kale. It’s the plant that keeps on giving. From fresh new leaves in the spring to kale chips in the summer, and a more mature, slightly bitter version in the fall, it’s the stalwart of my patch.

Tomatoes. Last, but not least in my heart, that much maligned fruit: the tomato. These cherries have provided colour for my salads and fodder for my salsas all summer and fall. Easy and satisfying to grow. Delish.

{All photos by Andrea Curtis}

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Filed under City gardens, School gardens

Better bread through waiting

I think every home cook needs a few go-to recipes that make them look better than they really are in the kitchen. In our house it’s a rich, delicious and simple chicken curry, a tomato tart and my variation on the famous no-knead bread (from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC) that swept the cookery world a few years ago thanks to Mark Bittman.

I was introduced to it by Chris Nuttall-Smith, a former editor of mine (now Toronto’s go-to restaurant guy) and his infectious enthusiasm had me making the bread the very next day. My first few loaves were nothing to write home about, but they seem to get better and better. The best part: it’s insanely easy and takes very little effort (if some planning ahead since you have to let it rise over night).

And my kids are crazy about it. Mostly, I do it in the summer when we’re on vacation, but maybe some fresh bread could help us get out of the lunchbox rut we’re already wallowing in—and elevate the humble sandwich to something to look forward to.

I follow Bittman’s adaptation of Lahey’s recipe but also do some serious improvising with whatever I have around. Here’s my own tweak: I like to speed up the rising process with a bit more yeast and the use of warm water, and throw in some oatmeal and flax if I have it. (I recommend playing a bit with the measurements to get it right if you’re going to improvise—too much non-white flour or oatmeal makes it dense, too little and I find it a bit uninteresting.)

Bread without knead

2.5 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup wheat germ or wheat bran or ground flax meal

1/3 teaspoon instant yeast

1¼ teaspoons salt

1. Mix together flour, oatmeal, flax meal, yeast and salt. Add 1 1/2 cups (plus 2 tbsp if it needs it) warm water, and stir until blended. It will be a bit wet looking but not liquid. Cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 8-10 hours hours, or up to 12, at warm room temperature.

2. The surface of dough will be bubbly when it’s ready. Flour a work surface and place dough on it; fold over a few times, sprinkling with flour and  shape it into a ball. Place it on a cotton dishtowel dusted in flour and cover with another cotton towel. Let rise for about 2 hours. It should double in size.

4. Heat oven to 450 degrees about half an hour before the dough is ready. Put a heavy covered pot (I use a casserole-size Le Creuset) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready remove pot from oven and put the dough into the very hot pot, seam side up. Shake pan to distribute the dough evenly. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned. Cool on a rack.

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Hate kale, love kale chips

When we first planted our veggie patch three years ago, I went hog-wild with kale. I love the stuff, but this was more of a beginner’s mistake than an intentional leafy green fest. That summer and fall I was forced to come up with endless new recipes that called for kale. As my children aren’t as big on this nutritional powerhouse as I am, it was rather a challenge.

But I did have one big hit with the little peeps: kale chips. As my older son says, “I hate kale, but I love kale chips.” Plus, they’re easy to make and with a liberal hand on the olive oil, sea salt and Parmesan they can be crunchy and delicious.

This year, I planted less kale but still have a big harvest so I’m going to lean on my past success with kale chips to take advantage of the bounty. It feels like I’m having to wean my kids off sweets/treats after a summer of slurpies and popsicles and ice cream (hey, it was really hot in these parts)—maybe kale chips in their school lunch will help ease the transition back to healthier fare?

Here’s how I do it.

Ingredients: kale (I like the dinosaur variety for this), olive oil, sea salt, Parmesan cheese

Wash, de-stem and chop kale into smaller pieces (it will shrink when you cook it).

Lightly cover with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and grated Parmesan.

Now spread it on a cookie sheet (give each piece some space or they won’t crisp up) and pop it in an oven preheated to 350. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Voilá. Salty, crispy, yummy kale chips.

{Photos by Andrea Curtis}

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Garden proud

Are pictures of your garden kind of like pictures of your baby? Nice if you’re the parent/gardener, kind of boring for anyone else?

I guess there are entire publishing companies built on the back of garden pictures (not to mention babies) so I can’t be completely off  wanting to share images of my urban veggie patch.

The truth is, I’m inordinately proud of my little garden. I think of the branches I’ve twisted into teepee shapes to act as support for tomatoes and cukes and zucchinis as my art installation. And despite what my neighbourhood garden guru says, I think they’ll hold up just fine—not to mention look nicer than a row of upright stakes like soldiers at attention. And the guru did acknowledge recently that my (organic) soil is much better than his after years of pesticide and fertilizer application (he told me if you put a match too close to his garden it might go up in flames…).

In any case, our garden is growing like, uh, wildfire—providing us with lots of salads and early greens. This year I planted four chicory plants, a leafy green I discovered in Italy that is part of the dandelion family. It’s bitter, like a cross between kale and spinach and delicious sautéed with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I could (and do) eat it every day.

Chicory or dandelion: when a weed is not a weed

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