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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Novel Food - Butternut & Bean Soup

I belong to a book club with a good group of intelligent women, who also appreciate that art of gastronomy. Each month we rotate who hosts and picks the novel. When we meet to discuss the novel we always have a dinner party themed around the book, particularly any ‘culinary inspiration’ offered by the book. We have enjoyed African food after reading What is the What by Dave Eggers, Sri Lankan food – Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost, 50s Chicago style dinner after reading Revoluationary Road and most recently Jewish Food after enjoying A.J. Jacobs humor book called A Year of Living Biblically. I have blogged about this before and had vowed to blog about each book club dinner, but have not followed through.

Therefore when I stumbled upon the new edition of Novel Food, a culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and Simona briciole co-launched a few seasons ago I was excited to blog about Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. For this meal we all contributed to the dinner potluck style. This novel made it easy for us to decide on the menu considering the whole novel is literally about food and provides recipes in the text. In this post I have provided a brief summary of the novel and posted a couple of the recipes I enjoyed the most. In keeping with Kingsolver’s theme about eating local we attempted to buy all the ingredients and products in season from local vendors.

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 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 onion1 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.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Amazingly Good Trail Mix Cookies

My mother is an amazing baker and that is no understatement. Every birthday from whenever I can remember until 18 my mother made my sister, my brother and I a homemade birthday cake so beautifully decorated in whatever theme we desired. Her talent when it came to icing cakes was impressive to say the least. From barbies, clowns, sports, halloween, roses (my sisters favorite) my mother had a cake to celebrate the event.

For Christmas she'd bake so much food from literally dozens of dozens of different types of cookies, tarts, bars, along with pies - apple, pumpkin, blueberry, chocolate, lemon meringue. She seriously had a pie to cater to each guest/family member. My friends use to hide in the cold storage and devour her christmas cookies by the handful.

I vividly remember being the kitchen as kid and watching her in her flour covered apron using her old wooden green handled rolling pin rolling out her incredibly flaky pie dough. I have always held my mothers baking (and cooking) in the highest regard and when I am baking or cooking I often reminise about being a kid in the kitchen with my mom watching her make homemade jam, pickles, loaves, stuffing a name it... to me my mom was Julia Childs. I can't imagine not doing the same for my children someday or at least for myself and husband (okay in-laws if you are reading this - that is not to say there are any bambinos on the way anytime soon!)

As impressed as I am with her baking and cooking, what I found incredibly interesting is something I came across the other day. The other weekend I was perusing some old photo albums when I came across photos of all of her decorated birthday and holiday cakes. I certainly new I got my love of cooking and any 'talent' if you call it that from my mother, but I had no idea that the food photography also ran in my family. I was super impressed! I will have to post some of her creations.

My mom certainly enjoyed baking, I on the other hand enjoy more savoury meals and do more cooking than baking. However, I've had the urge to bake lately. Being health conscious I decided on healthy trail mix cookies. There is no need to hit the trails to enjoy these amazing trail mix cookies; although they are so packed full of healthy energy you might just get the urge to anyways. These cookies did not last very long in my house, between my husband, myself and visiting friends, they were devoured in a couple of days.

Trail Mix Cookies
½ cup butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups dried cran-raisins (sour cherry flavoured ones)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 T flax seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup wheat bran or germ (or use bran cereal)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats or use cooking spray.
Spoon batter onto pans about 2" apart and flatten them slightly with a fork/spoon. Bake for 11min or until browned. Let cool on rack.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Grilled Pork Tenderloin in a Spice Marinade

This weekend I woke up to go for my long run and could not believe that it was already 2 weeks away from the half marathon race day. I completed a half marathon back in May 2010 and after a month or so of rest I started to train for the Army Half Run held on September 19, 2010 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

However, with the summer being so busy I did not realize the race day was creeping up on me. I have been able to get in all my runs, hills, speed, long distances, so I should be prepared, but I do not feel I am as energetic as I was back in May. I think I have run myself down, as I usually do each summer. I always try to balance my training, with friends, family, work and all those things life throws at you (good and bad). I think I will have a good race, but by no means going to reach a personal best and am looking forward to resting afterwards and getting into some cross training over the fall months. Regardless it should be an inspirational race with so many healthy and injured troops and their families participating in the race and therefore I will just be happy to be a part of it.

You can check out my training log at my Uberfit website under Half Marathon Army Run 2010 along with my official training schedule Half Marathon Training Program.This site also offers some other fun posts on nutrition and my travels/hikes/runs.

After my long 20km run, which took a bit over 1 hour and 40min I was famished. I had lots of water and some trail mix to hold me over until dinner. Then I prepared this grilled pork tenderloin in a spice marinade with grilled mustard and rosemary baby potatoes. The pork marinade has wonderful flavours that remind me that fall is coming – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger.


1/2 cup coarsely chopped white onion
2 T white vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 T olive oil
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped and seeded
1 pork tenderloin (1 to 1 1/2 lbs)

Mix all the ingredients together. Place the pork tenderloin in a ziplock bag or in a deep dish. Pour the marinade over the tenderloin and place in the fridge for 1-4hours.

Grease the grill and preheat the grill to med high heat. Grill the tenderloin for 15-18min until it reaches an internal temp of 155F to 160F for a nice pink middle. Turn the pork often while grilled. Remove from grill and tent for about 5-10min.

Grilled Grainy Mustard Baby Potatoes

1 lbs of baby potatoes, quartered
1 T grainy Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary

Boil the potatoes first for about 5min. This will allow them to cook slightly and reduce having a dry inner potato. Drain and add the ingredients, toss to mix. On a grill pan cook the potatoes using indirect heat for 45 min or until tender to the fork on the inside and slightly crisp on the outside. These can also be cooked in the oven.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

The heat waves that hit eastern Ontario and other parts of the world this summer has been unbearable at times. During the summer and fall I love to sit out on my patio for dinner as much as possible. But there were simply a few evenings that were 40C and impossible to handle.
A summer salad made with juicy and sweet watermelon, crunchy market fresh cucumbers, salty feta cheese and fresh mint from my garden sounded like a refreshing option. I was skeptical about the addition of mint, but the contrast of flavours between the salty feta and mint really complimented each other. It also paired nicely with these cilantro and lime chicken kebabs. This recipe is from the LCBO Food & Drink magazine.
This weekend however should be beautiful, a cold front is moving in and it is a long weekend!!! I had plans to go hiking and shopping in New Hamsphire, but plans changed and I will be hanging out in Ottawa. I am looking forward to drinks out with friends, a backyard bbq on labour day and maybe just maybe get some of those house projects done that I've put off all summer.
Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad

1⁄2 English cucumber
1 seedless watermelon wedge
1 T red wine vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 T olive oil
1⁄4 tsp each salt and pepper
1⁄4 cup shredded mint leaves
1⁄3 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Slice cucumber and watermelon into chunks. Place both in a large bowl and toss. Whisk vinegar with garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle over watermelon mixture and stir. Add mint and feta and gently toss. Tumble onto a platter and serve at room temperature.