30 May, 2009

Taste Adventure - Jicama

Behold the simply boring jicama.  Crisp but rather bland, fresh but neutral.

I can't say the first time I had it.  I do remember an extensive search to find the first one.  Once Hubby and I gave up our weekly trips to the bar on Friday nights we often found ourselves, with roommates by our side, watching Iron Chef and the Chris Isaak Show on our crappy oak cabinet TV.  Somewhere in there we might watch Emeril Live and any other random Food Network show because the rest of Friday night TV sucked.  So I have no clue who made jicama look good, but we became obsessed with finding it.

Every grocery store we went into for years afterwards would warrant a trip to the special vegetable section, where they housed the so-called ethnic veggies, in hopes of seeing the vaguely potato-like root.  This was before we shopped around much, relying on the farmers' market and the neighbourhood grocery store only.  Now I not only know I can find it in most grocery stores, but I know more than a few speciality produce stores which carry it.  And I am thankful for that because I love that root.

The Monster loves crisp veggies, especially peppers.  And Smilosaurus handled greek salad well last weekend, so I thought both of them would enjoy jicama.  I was half right.

Jicama is common in Mexican and some Asian cuisines.  It has a simple, crisp flavour and texture - like a watered down apple or crisped up sweet cucumber.  It takes well to spicy or bold flavours like a sesame vinaigrette or chilis.

To prepare jicama you peel the thin papery skin and slice it, dice it, chop it, or julienne.  I've never eaten it cooked, but it is possible.  Truthfully, I like it as a simple raw veggie, alongside my carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes.  But my favourite way to eat jicama is to add it to slaw, maybe with some apples to compliment the simple flavour, or in a mango jicama salad.  

When I served it last night I gave some to the girls as a simple matchstick first.  The Monster happily ate the pile placed in front of her, munching away as I chopped mango.  Smilosaurus was pretty much indifferent.  I don't think she had a problem with the taste, but the texture was still too crunchy for a girl without molars.  When it came to the salad, Smilosaurus picked out the mango and left a pile of jicama on the tray of her high chair.  I was hoping for leftovers, but both The Monster and Hubby ate more than their fair share.  I guess I better hit the grocery store again.

This is an easy salad.  It is easily dressed up and added to.  If I have it, I will add in some chopped fresh cilantro, minced red onions, or diced peppers.  It is also very good with some shredded savoy cabbage, some additional lime, and fresh chilis.

Mango Jicama Salad

1 jicama, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 ripe mango, finely diced
1 lime, zest and juice
splash of olive oil
generous pinch of chili powder
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together, season.  

27 May, 2009

One Sort of Dinner Party

The Kitchn Cure wrapped up this weekend, with directions to take what we've learned with our new skills, clean spaces, and refreshed pantries and hot a dinner party.  Well, dinner parties at our house are way off the table these days.  Not because of the kids - that never stops us - but because our house is surrounded and seemingly filled with dirt.  Ah, renovations.

So it stops us from hosting make your grilled pizza night or a barbeque, but it doesn't stop the family from gathering for some relatively dry finger food on a child's picnic table in the midst of mountains of topsoil.  This is our kind of dinner party.  We're all together and munching on some tasty morsels of smoked provolone, Gull Valley tomatoes, cherries, and lemonade.  Hey, the dishes coordinated - a mark of a true hostess.

Regardless of whether your dinner party is in the dirt or around your mid-century modern teak dining table there are a few basics to keep in mind.

First, it is important to always provide adequate napkins or even finger bowls if your food is particularly messy.  If you are serving something greasy or sticky you might even want to consider a little package of baby wipes.  They are truly multi-purpose.  You should see what they do for dirt covered pickles.
Second, a good party is about more than the food.  Decor is usually provided with flowers, simple lighting, and perhaps some great tunes.  The right ambiance helps set the mood for a raucous gathering around a pot of chili or a quiet night with old friends.  In our case, the mountains of topsoil provided both an excellent backdrop for our gathering, it also provided some post-meal exercise.  

That brings up the third point, plan for some activity or entertainment.  This can be the food itself if the making of dinner is interactive, like pizza or tacos.  Or you can plan a post-soccer game barbeque or post-dinner game of Cranium.

Next, don't be afraid to get messy.  Lick your fingers of the hot sauce from the jerk chicken or the burger juices running down your wrist.  After all, that's what napkins were invented for.

Thanks for joining me for The Kitchen Cure.  And speaking of The Kitchn, pop on over there for my guest posts on making baby food.  And if you are joining me from there, welcome!

21 May, 2009


Thank goodness for grocery lists and meal planning.  No, seriously.  A few months back I made up a master grocery list for the house and started planning our weekly meals.  This was all in attempt to save money and have less wasted food at the end of the week.  Lo and behold, week 5 of The Kitchn Cure asked us to do just.  Glad I could cross that off my list easily and it sure proved itself this week.

After our lovely day on the farm I settled in for a rainy day with the girls, my last on maternity leave. Late morning came and The Monster was just attacking her arm and being beyond fussy. Close inspection revealed a bicep that would make Popeye jealous and a mysterious bite. Knowing a thing or two about bad infections we rustled the neighbours into babysitting Smilosaurus and headed up to the ER.  So much for baking cookies and painting.

So after a week of me back at work, no nanny, and many a trip to and from the hospital for IV antibiotics I was really thankful for a stocked pantry and some pre-planned meal ideas.  Okay, so I didn't exactly stick to my menu plan.  In all fairness, I wasn't planning on arriving home at six every night.  But I knew we had some good enough stuff around for sweet and sour meatballs and mac and cheese.  Besides, how could I compete with hospital popsicles?

18 May, 2009

Farm Visit

Meet Jonathan Wright of Thompson Wright Small Farm.  This summer he and his partner, Andrea Thompson, and all the many folks they have helping out, will be our farmers.  They will also be the farmers of a few hundred other folks who signed up to be part of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that Jonathan and Andrea are running off their farm East of Calgary.

Yesterday I took the girls to meet the farmers, the farm, and of course the animals.  Sadly Hubby was stuck with the necessary landscaping work at home. (One day we will have something other than mud.)  We drove in the first real day of heat and sunshine.  While the girls slept I ruminated on the luxury and necessity of supporting local agriculture through a CSA.

Yes, I said luxury.  Hubby and I have been talking about this a lot lately.  While feeding our family with the best possible ingredients, sourced as locally as possible is of prime importance to us (well, me, mostly) we have to admit that it is a middle class luxury.  It shouldn't be, but it is.  And for now, it is one that we also see as a necessity - as long as we can afford it. Maybe that's why I'm returning to work tomorrow?  It is a necessity - not just for the health of our family, but for the health of a diverse agricultural economy and a diverse farming community.

Jonathan and Andrea are perfect examples of people leading by doing.  They haven't spent a lot of energy getting involved in the foodie community or even selling what they do.  But they've spent a lot of time on their farm, working it and their animals to produce food.  Food, simple food.  Food that contains the sweat of a small family, some horses, water buffaloes, yaks, and the additional sweat of the supporters and helpers that come to the farm to work.

In speaking to Jonathan yesterday he said something that just ran through my brain.  "In order to have a sustainable world, a truly sustainable culture, we have to work."  It echoes comments made by Wade Sirois at the Local 101 event back in March.  He reminded the audience that no matter how you look at supporting local agriculture it means you have to cook.  It all comes back to effort, to work.  I better get The Monster trained up as a sous chef soon because we're going to have a lot of cooking to do this summer, thanks to Jonathan and Andrea's efforts.

This is the second year for the Thompson Wright Small Farm CSA.  In speaking to Andrea yesterday she is excited about the coming months and the supporters they have this year. The commitment from their members is strong, with most at the farm to support the ideals and work, not just get some good groceries.  

The farm is run by animal and people power.  When you drive onto the property you are struck by the lack of a powered tractor and the simplicity of the old metal plow.  I remember my dad showing me the one he used as a boy on the farm, long since rusted and now serving as a jungle gym to city kids visiting the farm.  Not at Thompson Wright.  The metal plow sits clean, almost proud, after recent use readying the fields for this year's crop of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peas, parsnips, kohlrabi, kale, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and garlic (and more).

The girls were in heaven running around to visit the animals.  Smilosaurus loved to pet the little chicks, but did not like getting licked by King, one of the two water buffaloes on site.  The Monster was fascinated by the chickens, gleefully calling, "Chock, chock chock!" to give them their molasses covered grain.  And who couldn't resist a three week old yak calf named Wild Bill?  Poor little guy lost his mother when he was born so I predict a gentle giant after his stint with bottle feeding is over.

It meant a lot to me to have Andrea, her son, and Jonathan welcome us and our toddler mayhem to the farm.  On the way home The Monster spoke constantly of the horses, mainly Sarah who wasn't big enough to be working yet, and her farm.  No longer was it the farm, it was her farm.  In a way, she's right. I do insist on giving credit where credit is due and that belongs to Jonathan and Andrea.  But they are our farmers.

14 May, 2009

More Chocolate

I have officially reached a point where there can be chocolate in the house and I am not constantly thinking about devouring it.  Shocking, especially to me.  That's what a week of hard core chocolate eating does to you.

On the weekend I co-hosted a baby shaker for one of my new nephews.  It wasn't about cutesy games or pastel-coordinated favours.  It was about friends and family getting together to officially celebrate the arrival of the latest member of Team A.  Rather than resort to hummus and spinach dip we decided on a chocolate theme for the food.  Who doesn't love a party with lots of chocolate?

We had cookies, chocolate covered cream puffs, a large platter of fresh fruit to make us feel somewhat virtuous, and some memorable tasty treats.  This was my chance to try a chocolate blackout cake.  I need special occasions to bake cakes and this was one I was dying to try.  It was a hit at the party, with not even one extra crumb leftover.   Surprisingly I was rather disappointed myself.  Moist cake covered in chocolate pudding covered in cake crumbs - it should have been spectacular.  It was sweet, creamy, and almost fudgy, but it didn't knock my socks off.  I was, however, in the minority with this opinion.

Another hit with The Monster was the chocolate tasting bar.  I chunked up some dark and milk chocolate from Bernard Callebaut, Choklat, and Kerstin's Chocolate for a side by side tasting. There was nothing official or even blind about it.  It was striking to taste the differences.

Bernard Callebaut was smooth and tasted exactly like you would expect the chocolate to taste. Choklat's contribution was also smooth, but distinctively fruity.  I went with their Brazillian 48% Milk and Ocumare 70 % Dark.  They really are unlike anything you've tried - sweet but far from cloying, smooth but not terribly creamy, and fruity without tasting juicy.  Finally, we had two offerings from Kerstin's Chocolate in Edmonton, the Venezuela Dark Milk Chocolate and the Ecuador 72 % Extra Dark.  It is impossible to say what was the crowd favourite, but their was none of the Choklat Milk left.  Of course, that may have been due to the proximity to the edge of the kitchen island and The Monster's sneaky fingers.

Truly, though, my favourite thing about the food was this chili chocolate sauce.  I didn't even make it, my talented mother-in-law did.  When the other co-host and I decided on the chocolate thing we tasked my mother-in-law (and grandma of the star of the show) with bringing something savoury.  We knew she would be up for the challenge, and boy did she step up!  

At the party she served the sauce with some chicken skewers.  On Monday I spooned some warm sauce over grilled pork chops.  And then I cooked some black beans and made a dip by pureeing the sauce and the beans together.  It needed a touch more chopped cilantro at that point, but it was still fragrant and yummy on some rye bread at Julie's house the other day.

Chili Chocolate Sauce
(Adapted from this recipe)

1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon dried basil
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 poblano chili - grilled, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/2 onion, diced
2 ounces red wine
1/4 cup chopped milk chocolate
2 tablespoons chili powder
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine the salt through red pepper flakes into a seasoning mix.
2. Over medium-high heat saute the poblano, onions, and a pinch of the seasoning mix.
3. Add the red wine and chocolate and stir until combined.  Add the chili powder and remaining seasoning mix.  Stir until thickened.  Add the chopped tomatoes and stir.  Continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat, puree, and stir in cilantro. 

PS  Who am I kidding? I'm digging out some of the leftover chocolate right now.

12 May, 2009

Simple Things

I'm a little behind this week.  In so many ways I am behind, but no one needs to be reminded of my laziness.  Okay, maybe I need to be reminded of it.

Week four of the The Kitchn Cure ended over the weekend.  I was taking advantage of my mother-in-law's house and babysitting to get a break from the mess and exhaustion of having Hubby away.  The girls and I visited family, celebrated birthdays, and even threw a baby shaker for one of our recently arrived nephews.  And halfway through Hubby returned home, then drove another three hours to spend what was left of the weekend with us.  Needless to say, there wasn't a lot of Cure activities going on.

The focus for this week was learning something new and maybe prettying things up a little. Honestly, I had little motivation for new challenges after a week of single parenting.  So rather than try something new I went back to a kitchen staple that I've been ignoring - vinaigrette.  

In my university days I actually used to just put vinegar on my salads.  It must be the Ukrainian in me, but I preferred the tang and tartness of just vinegar.  I did eventually evolve when I discovered good olive oil, and decided not to ration it as an extravagant expense.  In recent years, however, Hubby has reverted back to his favourite Golden Italian and me to Annie's Goddess Dressing.  The real impetus is that I hate dressing a salad only to have leftovers.  You can't have leftover dressed salad, that's nasty and slimy.

Bring back the vinaigrette, I say!  So simple, and actually cheaper than bottled dressing.  Added bonuses include the variety of flavours and controlling the salt and sugar content.  Buy a pretty bottle and leave it on the counter with your oils  (unless you use fresh lemon juice).  Reach for it as those salad greens start poking out of the ground this summer, on grilled veggies, to marinate chicken, or drizzled over strawberries with some black pepper.

There are an infinite number of recipes for vinaigrette.  I've never followed one.  It is really a matter of oil, vinegar, an emulsifier, and seasonings.  The ratio of oil to vinegar that I like is 2/3 oil, 1/3 vinegar.  Traditionally you often see 3/4 and 1/4, but I find that lacking in tartness. Emulsifiers of choice are often mustard or even maple syrup (or both!).  Just a teaspoon or so will work, more if you want a stronger flavour.  And aside from S &P you can add garlic, fresh or dried herbs, a little bit of honey, some fresh fruit puree, or roasted peppers, to name a few. If you are like me - a condiment slut - you have a ridiculous variety of oils and vinegars.  The flavour combinations are endless.  Try balsamic vinegar with maple syrup.  Raspberry vinegar with walnut oil and chopped walnuts.  Garlic, mint, and oregano with red wine vinegar.  Sesame oil and rice wine vinegar with fresh ginger and lime.

And may I add that this was the first time The Monster ate salad dressing on her salad. Seriously, she is a food snob. No bottled dressings, KD, or margarine for her.

07 May, 2009

Taste Adventure - Fiddleheads

You know those moments when you speak out loud and you probably shouldn't?    Yeah, I had one of those on the weekend.  I'm fighting the crowds with the stroller (I am so one of those stroller people) at the Market, buying some groceries for the week when I see these tiny green spirals between shouts at The Monster to stay by me and making sure Smilosaurus is still buckled in.

"Ooh, fiddleheads!"  It was a moment when the world around you goes silent because you were ridiculously loud, even in a noisy crowd of shoppers.  Uh, sorry.

I first discovered fiddleheads when I lived in Halifax for university.  What was this precious green creature my friend's mom served at Easter dinner?  I'd never seen anything like it.  At that point I was still very picky and didn't eat much in the way of vegetables.  And I'd seen these things when hiking out at Crystal Crescent Beach.  They were edible?  Peer pressure did me in and I devoured the butter covered greenery.  Since that time I've only really had them a handful of times - I do live on the Prairies after all and these are not dry climate growers.

Did you know a fiddlehead is a fern that has just emerged from the ground?  Captured by foraging hands they grace our springtime plates like a harbinger of growth to come.  Steamed or sauteed lightly to be crisp tender they are really the taste of spring to me.  Not asparagus or lamb, but fiddleheads.  So when I saw them at the market I had to gasp, exclaim, and then sigh at the real end of winter (even if it really means the end of winter in BC).

The reviews were mixed in this house.  Smilosaurus will pretty much eat anything these days, but she really liked them. On Tuesday she finally put two and two together and signed "more" at dinner.  Last night she reverted back to a death grip on the high chair with a fixated stare on the food of choice and let loose with an intense growl.  Translation?  "More!"  

The Monster is a little out of sorts with Daddy away so she was grumpy and not feeling very adventurous.  Heck, she didn't want her scrambled eggs.  I left them on her plate, forked and ready to go.  A little more grumbling and she decided to eat one.  Although she pronounced that she did not like fiddleheads, she did eat the rest on her plate.

Preparation of fiddleheads is very simple.  Clean them well under running water or swish them around a bowlful of water to remove any brown bits or dirt.  Trim the ends off.  I simply steam them for a couple of minutes, with a sprinkling of salt to retain the colour.  You can toss them with some butter at this point and eat.  But they are also great tossed in a vinaigrette or quickly sauteed with garlic and olive oil.  That is what I did today and finished it off with a some lemon zest.

I wonder how the girls at the market fared?  In my exclamations I convinced them to try the fiddleheads.  Maybe they were just trying to help me recover from my embarrassment?

04 May, 2009


This week is all about beer.  Well, not really, but I want it to be.  Hubby is away for work - the longest separation we've had since marriage and kids.  After 5 days all I can say is kudos to all single parents out there!  I will never divorce Hubby if only to avoid being a single parent, no matter how much he may irk me some days.  So by the end of the day all I want to do is crack open a Trad and relax in the last of the evening sun.  Alas, I have no beer.  And there is something too trashy about going into the liquor store with a toddler and infant in tow, for a 6-pack.

In the third week of The Kitchn Cure we were tasked to finish up all previous tasks, buy any needed equipment, and generally get ready for upcoming weeks.  This meant actually getting rid of the stuff I cleaned out.  Thankfully I had a girlfriend visit who was headed to the thrift store the following day.  Phew, saved me a trip to Goodwill.

One of the things that went out the door was this collection of bottle openers.  In this day of twist-offs these were simply taking up space.  Of course, there are always a few craft beers that make their way into the fridge that need an opener.  I did keep one.  It's a long way from the house we lived in ten years ago that had one of those soda fountain openers attached to the island in the kitchen.

Before I hit the liquor store and Lee Valley for my long desired microplane I will ask you - what useless tool have you found in your kitchen?