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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Bookclub Dinner with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I was fortunate to be selected to enter the 24 meals, 24 cities, 24 blogs event featured by Foodbuzz. For this event I was delighted to pay tribute to my book club. We are a group of 4 women who get together every few months to discuss a novel over delicious food & drink. This month we decided on Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. This blog will take you through our dinner menu (featuring local vendors), provide general comments & discussions about the book, as well as some favorite quotes.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a narrative & part memoire of Kingsolver’s family journey from an urban life in Arizona to a rural lifestyle in West Virginia, where they vow to eat only locally grown food for one year (Exceptions: spices, coffee, olive oil and flour whereby fair trade alternatives were purchased). The chapters flow from month to month and season to season recounting how the family learns about farming, gardening, cooking and ultimately become an integral part of their community.

In Kingsolver’s words:
This is the story of a year in which we made every attempt to feed ourselves animals & vegetables whose provenance we really knew and of how our family was changed by our first year of deliberately eating food produced from the same place where we worked, went to school, loved our neighbours, drank the water, and breathed the air."

The book was written with Barbara Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp and their daughter Camille Kingsolver. Steven provides scientific based sidebars regarding the industrialization of food and the global impacts it has caused. He touches on subjects such as sustainability, energy consumption, factory farming, and food-safety. While Camille’s essays focus on a teenager’s point of view of eating locally and offers up the family’s seasonal recipes.


The book inspired our book clubs dinner menu. It would be hypocritical to discuss this book while eating factory farmed chicken or vegetables that were flown halfway around the world contributing to the use of fossil fuels. Instead it stood to good reason that the food & drink we consumed would be both seasonal and locally produced. In addition we thought it would be fun to try some recipes from the book Animal, Vegetable Miracle, adding variations where necessary to keep within the local and seasonal theme.

It was also a good challenge to try eating locally and seasonally in Ottawa in November, a season that although offers some tasty fruits and vegetables is not as flourishing and plentiful as summer. Most of the markets closed down by the end of October and if you had not made appropriate arrangements to store your food for use in the winter months, you may struggle to find local foods. After some research I discovered a few local vendors and local farms with greenhouses all within a 100 mile radius. Those that were not found in a 100 mile radius were purchased from sources within Ontario (such as the wine). The first course was this wonderful butternut bean soup, which a bookclub member decorated so elegantly with local organic thyme.


1½ cups dried white beans, soaked overnight and drained
3 medium portabella mushroom caps, sliced (optional)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbs. thyme
1 tbs. sage
4 tsp. rosemary
2 butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
Olive oil

Combine beans and spices in a large sauce pan, add water to cover amply, simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until beans are tender and most water has cooked off. Add mushrooms toward the end.

While beans are cooking, drizzle a large roasting pan with olive oil and arrange squash skin-side-down. Cook at 400 for about 40 minutes, until fully tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and serve each half squash filled with a generous scoop of bean soup.

The soup was hearty and delicious. Locally speaking, my dad was able to grow over 30 butternut squashes with nothing but sun and water.


*Original recipe adapted to use green house spinach rather than Swiss chard and jalapeno cheddar & monterey jack instead of brie. The sweet potatoes, onion, garlic and spinach came from a local organic greenhouse. The flavor and texture of these quesadillas were likely the best I have ever had.

2 medium sweet potatoes
1/2 onion
1 clove garlic
1 T oregano
1 T basil
1 tsp cumin
chile powder and cayenne powder to taste
Olive oil for saute

Cut sweet potatoes into chunks, cook until soft, then mash. Chop and sauté garlic. Add onion in a large skillet. Add spices and sweet potato, mix well, adding a little water if it’s too sticky. Turn burner very low to keep warm without burning.

4 flour tortillas
4 oz. jalapeno cheddar (St. Albert Cheese Factory)
5 leaves spinach

Preheat oven to 400. Oil a large baking sheet, spread tortillas on it to lightly oil one side, then spread filling over entire toritillas. Top with slices cheese and spinach. Place another tortilla on top of filling and press down. Bake until browned and crisp (15 min.). Cut into wedges & serve.


1-2 greenhouse tomatoes seeded and diced
1 small greenhouse onion
1 jalapeno from dad's garden
1/2 lime juiced (optional as not local)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and serve with quesadillas.


Beets, cubed
Red or white potatoes, cubed
butternut squash, cubed
parsnips, thickly sliced
carrots, thickly sliced
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil

Peel and cut vegetables into 1" cubes, and place in a roasting pan. Toss with maple syrup and olive oil, add minced garlic and pepper. Roast in a preheated oven at 400F for 45 min or until tender, stirring occassionally.


4 apples, removed core and cut into wedges (keep skin on for rustic look)
4 pears, remove core and cut into wedges (keep skin on)
1/2 cup of liquid honey
2 vanilla beans, split and scrapped
4 cinnamon sticks or 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
2 quarts of water
juice of one lemon

In a crockpot or large pot place the apples, pears, vanilla, cinnamon and honey. Cover with water then bring to a simmer over medium to low heat for about 20mins. Once apples and pears are soft enough remove them using a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Reduce the poaching liquid to a light syrup then place fruit back in crockpot and hold on warm until ready to serve. Serve with ice cream and vanilla pod or cinnamon stick.

The flavors and aroma of vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon in these poached fruits are so warm and comforting.

Much of the food used in the meals were found at the Ottawa Organic Market. Above is my husband looking for local organic vegetables, but getting distracted by the yummy vegan pastries.

Greenhouse spinach and greens from a local Quebec farm.

Stuart's Natural Session Ale - the first all organic beer brewed in Eastern Ontario.

Ontario Wines. We enjoyed a few bottles (yes a few) of some nice dry full-bodied red wines from the Niagara on the Lake Region.

Saslove's Meat Market sells organic meats and dairy products produced from local farmers.

St. Albert Cheese Factory (Ice Cream and Cheese). I remember going here as a child to have ice cream and pick up the world famous curds, known best in French Canadian Poutine.

Ontario Grown Sweet Potatoes (Ottawa Organic Farmer's Market). I just love these roasted or cut into fries and grilled.


~ The author’s proposed way of life, is seen as a dramatic and unlikely change for most North Americans. However the manner in which Kingsolver shows her commitment and embraces her new rural life is inspirational to readers enticing us to make changes in our daily lives by rising up to the challenge of eating more locally and acknowledging our own personal carbon footprint. Her tone of voice is not preachy, rather she uses light wit and sarcasm to demonstrate how eating locally can be satisfying, while recognizing the hardships and difficulties of traditional farming.

~ In addition to the meaningful messaging concerning the harmful effects the industrialization of food has on the environment and health, I was drawn to the sense of community and family that Kingsolver so urgently desires to salvage and preserve for generation after generation. This type of lifestyle goes beyond growing your own food and buying locally, it is about the bonding families and friends achieve over farming, gardening, cooking and most importantly eating together.

~It was a good transition to have read Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan prior to Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as it provided a more global picture of the industrialization of food with a lot of scientific content; whereas the latter really brought the notion of eating locally to a practical community level. Kingsolver’s shares her practical knowledge of eating locally and provides realistic solutions for urban dwellers to contribute to this so called “movement.”

~The main reason I enjoyed reading this book is that Kingsolver is not preaching to us, rather she is presenting information based on her experience. Furthermore, she is humble enough to recognize that we do not all have the luxury of selling our home and buying a four-acre farm to begin working night and day on our own vegetable, fruit and meat produce. Instead, she shares realistic suggestions for the normal urban dweller on what they can do to help support the "locavore" movement and eat as much local food as possible.


"But meat, poultry and eggs from animals raised on open pasture are the traditional winter fare of my grandparents, and they serve us well here in the months when it would cost a lot of fossil fuels to keep us in tofu....Bananas that cost the rain forest, refridgerated trucked soy milk, and prewashed spionach shipped two thousand miles in plastic containers do not seem cruelty free in this context." (225)

“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country's oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That's not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.” (5)

“If many of us would view this style of eating as deprivation, that's only because we've grown accustomed to the botanically outrageous condition of having everything, always." (65)"I refused to believe a fuel-driven food industry was the only way to feed my family." (346)

"We came to think of ourselves, in the best way, as a family of animals living in our habitat." (335)"Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August." (309)

"Our goal had not really been to economize, only to exercise some control over which economy we would support. ... The big savings come from a habit of organizing meals that don't include pricey processed additions." (307)

"I've heard a Buddhist monk suggest the number of food-caused deaths is minimized in steak dinners, which share one death over many meals." (221)

"It's tempting to reach for melons, red peppers, tomatoes, and other late-summer delights before the summer even arrives. But it's actually possible to wait, celebrating each season when it comes, not fretting about its being absent at all other times because something else good is at hand." (65)


The themes present in the book spawned great conversations and discussions ranging from socioeconomic and socio-political aspects of past and present times in relation to the food industry. We all agreed that this book and practically applying it to the meal we enjoyed would make us more conscientious of the food we purchase in terms of locality and season. Here are some of the interesting topics and questions we discussed, sometimes with the utmost passion and concern for the state of the world:

What have you done in the last year to change your personal habits, that when they add up really make a difference?

What plans do you have this winter for eating local or seasonally?

Do you try to eat seasonally, or do you just buy whatever looks good in the store regardless of whether it’s in season locally or had to be shipped in from another hemisphere? Will you change your ways after reading this book?

What’s the thing that bothers you the most about cheap food and how it came to you? Unfair labour wages? Environmental concerns?

How often do you have dinner together with your family? If not often why and do you think it is important?

Do you have many restaurants in your area that support this sort of connection?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cranberry Martini or Crantini

Here is a delicious and festive cocktail to enjoy with company.

2 oz vodka
juice of 1 lime (I used 1/2 as they were large limes)
1 oz cointreau
splash of cranberry juice

Mix all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice and pour into glasses.

Cranberry or lime for garnish.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mini Kahlua Truffles

Holiday time is fast approaching and photos and recipes for christmas cookies and chocolates have started to bombard magazine covers. Truffles have long been something I have wanted to make, but have never got around to doing. After trying truffles from a local chocolateria I was convinced I needed to make them, although I new I could never replicate those delicious balls of heaven from the local vendor. So noting my housewarming was close to the holidays I thought they would make a nice presentation and dessert. I used the recipe from the LCBO Food & Drink magazine, which called for alcohol.

8 oz (250 g) bittersweet chocolate
1 oz (30 g) unsweetened chocolate
½ cup (125 mL) whipping cream
¼ cup (50 mL) unsalted butter
3 T Kahlua
Cocoa for rolling

In a heavy pan on a low heat, melt chocolates, whipping cream and butter together, stirring occasionally.

When melted, pour into a small bowl. Add Kahlua to mixture after chocolate melted and cool mixture. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until mixture hardens.

Using a melon baller or a teaspoon, quickly form mixture into approximately ¾-inch (1.75-cm) rounds or smaller for mini truffles. Refrigerate until cold. Roll in cocoa or dip in chocolate. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cheesecake Pops

In April 2008 every foodie blog I came across had these cute little cheesecake pops. I knew that this must be the latest Daring Bakers Challenge. Sure enough it was and the recipe picked was from “Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey” by Jill O’Connor. I was so impressed by these that I immediately vowed to make these for my next party. I found the original recipe to be quite large so I decided to half it - and it still made thirty some pops! They tasted so amazing and were a great hit for the housewarming. Even though they certainly were time consuming to make, there was a certain satisfaction in having made such cute little desserts for all to enjoy.

Full Cheesecake Pop Recipe

*I halfed this recipe and baked the cheesecake for 50-60min in a 8x8 pan.

5 8-oz. packages cream cheese at room temperature
2 cups sugar
cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup heavy cream
Thirty to forty 8-inch lollipop sticks
1 pound chocolate, finely chopped
Assorted decorations (I used skor bits)

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sugar, flour, and salt until smooth. I used an electric had mixer on low speed. Add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well (but still at low speed) after each addition.

Beat in the vanilla and cream.

Grease a 10-inch cake pan (not a springform pan), and pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on top, 35 to 45 minutes. Although all the blogs I read stated it took about 60min to cook. I when I halfed the recipe it still took about 50-60min.

Let cheesecake cool in oven, with door propped open slightly.

Cover the cheesecake with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very cold, at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

When the cheesecake is cold and very firm, scoop the cheesecake into 2-ounce balls and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Carefully insert a lollipop stick into each cheesecake ball. Freeze the cheesecake pops, uncovered, until very hard, at least 1 – 2 hours.

When the cheesecake pops are frozen and ready for dipping, prepare the chocolate. In the top of a double boiler, set over simmering water, or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, heat half the chocolate and half the shortening, stirring often, until chocolate is melted and chocolate and shortening are combined. Stir until completely smooth.

Save the rest of the chocolate and shortening for later dipping, or use another type of chocolate for variety.

Alternately I microwaved the same amount of chocolate coating pieces on high at 30 second intervals, stirring until smooth.

Quickly dip a frozen cheesecake pop in the melted chocolate, swirling quickly to coat it completely. Shake off any excess into the melted chocolate.

Now roll the pops quickly in optional decorations or drizzle them with a contrasting color of melted chocolate (dark chocolate drizzled over milk chocolate or white chocolate over dark chocolate, etc.)

Place the pop on a clean parchment paper-lined baking sheet to set. Repeat with remaining pops, melting more chocolate and shortening as needed.

Refrigerate the pops for up to 24 hours, until ready to serve.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Housewarming Party & Spanokapitas

The Spatula is another great gift from Foodbuzz.

I have been busy in the kitchen for the last two weeks making appetizers, desserts and testing cocktails for my husband and my Housewarming Party & my 30th Birthday Party, which we combined into one event. Although we missed the pleasure of seeing some of our out of town friends, we were happy with the turn out. We even managed to squeeze 20 people in our small quaint new pad. Thanks to all that made the night a great time.

I love organizing food & drink for parties, even though it always gets a bit hectic at crunch time. We (my husband and I) decided that serving savoury appetizers and a couple cocktail testers would be a nice touch to the party. It stood to good reason that I should make some "tried & tested" appetizers, so I used some recipes from the "The Best of Vanilla Bean Cafe", as well as some recipes I love but have yet to post. However, I could not resist making a couple new items for this party som e of which were inspired by my fellow foodies.

My next posts will consist of all the new recipes I made for the housewarming party and perhaps highlighting a compilation of "Vanilla Bean Cafe" recipes.


Chicken Empanadas
Lemon Garlic Shrimp
Cucumber with Smoked Salmon
Dips (Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy Hummus, Hot Artichoke Dip)
Vegetables, Bread, Crackers for Dipping
Cheese Platter with Salami, Fruit & Nuts
Apple-Raisin Chutney
Tostitos with Salsa and Guacamole
Cheesecake Pops
Mini Kahlua Truffles
Pomegranate Champagne Spritzer
Cranberry Martini


Spanakopita is a Greek pastry with a filling of spinach, feta cheese, onions, egg and seasoning. . The filling is wrapped in layers of phyllo pastry. It can be made and served as a pie or folded into triangular shapes and served for appetizers. I found various recipes in my search, but decided to make my own filling using different ingredients from different recipes and played with the measurements until it tasted good. The pastry was crispy golden brown and the filling had a creamy texture with wonderful flavors, the lemon zest was a great addition. The only glitch was that apparently I do not know how to fold a flag. After folding about 6 of them totally wrong I figured it out and had to start all over again, this time they turned out right.

10-12 phyllo pastry sheets
1/2 cup of butter, melted
1 lbs spinach (regular or baby)
2 cups feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 garlic minced
sweet white onion, finely chopped
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
ground pepper to taste

In a small skillet add 1 T butter and melt over medium heat. Add garlic and onions and cook for 5 mins. Set aside to cool.

Melt 1 T butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add spinach and cook until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta, parmesan, lemon zest, garlic and onion mixture, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.

Cover phyllo stack with a dampened kitchen towel.

Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.

Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape.

Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter.
Bake triangles until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Frezing: You can freeze in air tight container for months. Do not cook before freezing. Cook from frozen.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Moroccan Roasted Butternut Squash

I just can't get enough of squash these days...from soups, stews to side dishes squash is such a flavorful and colorful vegetable. I did not want to make more soup as my freezer is packed with soups, so I decided to make a spicy side dish I found from Kalyn's Kitchen. The Moroccan spices add so much flavor to the squash, not to mention provide a mouth watering aroma while baking. It made alot, especially since I was only serving two. But it was excellent reheated the next day. If anyone is looking for a good Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish, I would highly recommend this.

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

Spice Mix

2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/s tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch cloves

Preheat oven to 450F. In a roasting pan place the cubed squash, add oil and 1 tsp of the Morroccan spice mix. Mix well so all the squash is coated. Bake for 40 min.