Tuesday, 27 December 2011

SmartCooks Holiday Vegetarian Pad Thai

January 2012

A new year, a new life, lots of changes.  All good so far but the year is young.  The house glitter is all put away and the main floor is back in its austere winter clean state,  

To start the year in style, I chanced upon a recipe over the holiday season in a Martha Stewart magazine (sadly, 'tis true).  

I'd been looking for an authentic Thai vegetarian version of Pad Thai.  After watching a number of videos on YouTube, I realize there is a real art to making superb Pad Thai.  Most use shrimp and some spices not easily acquired here in Canada.   

I continued looking and found a vegetarian version with ingredients I could easily gather.  There's a good vegetarian version video on Planet Green with Emeril Green who also regularly features Emeril Lagasse (Emeril is quite the popular name!)

There seems to be only two rules to making Pad Thai:
-- One, have a hot wok and add ingredients in fast.  What that means is a lot of preparation before starting... measuring, chopping, organizing dishes etc.  It's worth it as prep into the wok is fast.  
-- Two, get the noodles done just right.  It will take a lot of experience to learn a) when they're done and b) the correct art of stir frying rice noodles to perfection.  

But I figured I had to start somewhere so I gave it a whirl.  The recipe I liked was done by Emeril Lagasse, who was featured in the Martha Stewart magazine and also a guest on the Food Network when Emeril Green did a show called Planet Vegetarian.  There's a video link on Emeril Lagasse's Facebook page.  Give it a try... 


6 ounces rice noodles (or Pad Thai noodles, really anything works)
2 T plus 1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable broth (I had a batch frozen and used that, low-sodium versions also exist)
3 T plus 1 tsp Asian fish sauce (I used low-sodium soy sauce instead and cut back a bit)
2 T rice vinegar
1 T chili-garlic sauce (which I own thanks to KSP and Food Basics or use Sriracha) 
1 T sesame oil
1 tsp tamarind paste 
1/3 cup peanut oil
2 large eggs, beaten with a pinch of sale
12 ounces shitake mushrooms
3/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1 cup cubed firm tofu (about 6 ounces)
4 cloves of fresh garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
5 scallions (use both white and green parts), 3 cut in 1/2-inch pieces, 2 chopped
1 package enoki mushrooms
1/2 cup Mung bean sprouts (optional) 
1/3 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped, plus a few for garnish
Serving suggestions:  lime wedges, and Sriracha sauce or other Thai hot chill sauce 


Place noodles in a medium bowl with hot water.  Soak for about 30 minutes, until tender, drain and set aside.

Whisk brown sugar, vegetable broth, fish/soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili garlic sauce (or Sriracha), sesame oil and tamarind paste in a small bowl.  

Heat a skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add 1 T of peanut oil, eggs and tilt the skillet to make a thin, even coating of egg.  Cook egg until just set, about 45 seconds, invert eggs onto a cutting board, cut in 1/2 inch strips and set aside.

Add another Tablespoon of peanut oil to skillet and turn to high heat.  Add mushrooms, 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes, and salt.  Stir fry until mushrooms are golden brown.

Add another Tablespoon of peanut oil and add the tofu, another 1/2 tsp of pepper flakes and salt to taste.  Stir fry until tofu is golden brown on all sides.

Add garlic, jalapeño, chopped scallion and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes and stir fry until lightly browned, about 1 minute.  Add bean sprouts if using.   

Add the noodles and cook, tossing, until lightly coated with the garlic mixture, about 1 minute.  Add the soy sauce (or fish sauce) and large scallion pieces and cook until heated through, tossing to combine.  

Stir in the cooked egg, 1 cup of the enoki mushrooms and 1/3 cup peanuts and toss until hot.  

Divide among plate and top with the remaining enoki mushrooms and scallions.

Serve with lime wedges and Sriracha sauce.  

Aside #19: Community Supported Agriculture Winter Baskets Update

December 2011

Community Supported Agriculture baskets.  

The baskets continue to roll on in, although sporadically.  Poor old Bryson's Farms  my CSA of choice as they deliver year-round, had a terrible December.  I deliberated cancelling until next summer and will make that decision before the next basket in two weeks.

It's a two-person basket I get every two weeks.  The content varies and isn't signalled in advance nor can I choose what I want... but it tends to have a variety of organic, farm freshly picked (greenhouse in some cases) produce, with selections of swiss chard, lettuce, mustard greens, parsnips, daikon radish, peppers, potatoes, garlic, red onion, portobello mushrooms and heirloom carrots.... all delicious.

Two-person baskets are as small as they will home deliver.  I find it a challenge to cook, bake, consume or freeze properly within a two-week period when it's primarily me who consumes the produce.  I sneak the odd vegey or salad past the Husband but it's rare.... he catches on fast.

But my veggie woes are nothing compared to those of Bryson's.  In law November, I put one basket on hold ie., wait a week, as I was over-veggied.  Their data system can't seem to cope with that and I got lost in limbo for about a month before the next delivery.  I noticed a snarky-ish note on their website saying they want only regular clients and will stop deliveries if there are too many starts and stops of delivery.  Oh well... strike 1 for flexibility in an otherwise flawless model.

Part of the reason I may have been lost in data limbo was also due to a series of negative CBC TV stories that ran in early December (around the 10th I think) focussing on pesticide residue on 'organic' produce.  The story was general and the main point seemed to be that no matter how 'organic' the claims, there is so much pesticide residue in our soil and nature that it is impossible to be truly 'organic'.  Fair point.  But CBC of course picked a farm to focus on and chose Bryson's as its case in point.  They had to scurry about with Statements and explanations of the science... and I'm sure with much angst and consternation.  

Then, just at Christmas, there was a series of crashes on Quebec roads, the most serious of which claimed a man and a his son.  The man, it turned out, was a driver for Bryson's home delivery.  There's nothing on the website acknowledging this employee but the papers were explicit.  Anyway... not a good month for them.  Hope 2012 is better.

Back to the basket.  It was a welcome delivery on a snowy day this week and Husband and I struggled through shovelling a LOT of heavy, wet snow, with a snow blower not working and neighbours away.  Why we don't contract out our shovelling is a mystery to me... it would relieve a lot of stress.  

Ahh.... well... back to cooking.


Aside #18: SmartCooks Book!

December 2011 

SmartCooks here introducing SmartCooks Book! December 2011 edition, version 1,  prototype for learning purposes only and limited distribution to family, friends and foodies.  

SmartCooks Book is the project the kept me very occupied in December, hence the hiatus from writing the SmartCooks blog. I did it for two reasons:

The first was to learn how to use my new, nifty, hefty price-taggy, zippy, all-features, mucho bells 'n whistles, 15" MacBook Pro.  

Me being me, I picked the hardest project possible to attempt as a first venture on the new laptop.  It took a couple of trips to Mr. Apple's genii bar to figure out some of the features of iPhoto and converting documents to PDFs for printing etc.

But, I persevered, thanks to a few blue bills (joke), and good friends with wise advice on Mac products.  I fumbled and lurched my way through design, photo selection and layout, even braving the pre-Christmas frenzy at the Rideau Centre (shudder) for additional Apple assistance. 

I eventually settled on 24 favourite recipes in the Appetizer, Breads/Soups, Sides/Salads/Bento Bests and Meats and Mains categories.  Sample page at left.  

A few of you commented that I did NOT include Desserts -- Nope, I don't tend to bake 'em.... never have, never will.  I leave that category to those of you more skilled. 

The second reason for creating SmartCooks Book was driven by a desire to give something more personal as gifts to mark the season this year. Given that I have time at my disposal this fall for the first time in many years, I have been able to think and plan and eventually came up with the idea of combining family/friend photos with family/friend recipes, laid out in a 40-page coil-ring book. The design I settled on focussed on recipes (some from the blog) and a half a dozen pages where family photos could be inserted and then changed.  

The result was a dozen different versions of SmartCooks Book.  It became both a Christmas gift and a Holiday Wishes card that I'm sure elicited both groans and chuckles.  

SmartCooks Book is a prototype and not for commercial purposes.  The photos were found on-line and credited where I could.  To undertake the real thing would involve all the niceties of photograph and copyright accreditation.  SmartCooks Book would be a serious undertaking after I retire, if I ever do.

I certainly enjoyed learning how to create it, from scanning family photos into the computer to learning how to output the project as a PDF onto a USB key for printing.  It kept me more than busy evenings when Husband was travelling and gave me an opportunity to pull together the best of the recipes I've been trying over the past few months -- Healthy, Holesome, Happy.   

Enjoy.  Wishing Happy HolIdays to all and all the best in 2012!


Friday, 9 December 2011

SmartCooks interpretation of Grandma Parkins Nuts 'n Bolts recipe

December 2011

SmartCooks here.

Time flies...

A little hiatus ... work intruded on my blogging life (!), my new top-end (yahoo) MacPro turned out a nifty project that kept me captive for weeks (more on that in the coming days), and life has gone on fast forward to get ready for the 'Week That Will Be'. 

Re holidays, I say Bring 'em on!  I'm ready.  I have lists, an Excel Planning Schedule and a Calendar of what needs to happen day to day.  Those of you who know me well won't be surprised...  Our gorgeous (small) Christmas tree is lit up indoors (a cat has already tried to climb it), the lights outside are merrily twinkling on the 50th B-day surprise tree, gifts are either already bought or in production, and every-one and -thing is booked to make the festive season well... hectic ... but a planned hectic-ness. 

Appetizers.  Munchy food.  Not the highest calorie festive snack but not the lowest either.  I'm talking about the 'Parkins Family' version of Nuts 'n Bolts, passed on down from grandmother to mother to sons to daughters-in-law.  There are dozens upon dozens of versions of Nuts 'n Bolts out there in recipe-land.  American sites tend to favour using Bugles, or small Ritz Bites crackers and Wheat, Corn or Rice Chex but the more enlightened websites suggest going with the 'Canadian' version and using Cheerios and Shreddies for a better flavour.  ('O Canada'! I say)  

The variations in recipes are endless in terms of the salt/low salt and lower calorie ideas: salted/unsalted peanuts, salted/unsalted butter or margarine or vegetable oil.  Condiment choices are equally confusing i.e., Accent powder, garlic and onion powder (not salt), paprika or not, etc.  Innovate.... Finally, there are endless cute ways to package them up (e.g., baskets, boxes, Martha Stewart bags (!), etc) and present as hostess gifts, holiday presents or enjoying at home.

Making Nuts 'n bolts can be pitched as a couple and/or kids participatory event.  Husband and I buy all the ingredients and I set him up with his own set in one corner of the kitchen to make a batch while I do a second batch in another corner.  This is maybe a tad stressful for him at the outset but we eventually get into the swing of it and make 4-6 batches a year and then package them snugly in freezer-friendly containers and thereby avoid temptation to eat them all before the Big Week.  

So, here is Grandma Parkins version, with my interpretation of salt/no salt etc

Ingredients for 1 Batch
1 cup Cheerios
1 cup Shreddies
1 cup salted peanuts
1 cup pretzel sticks

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1 T Worcestershire sauce


Melt butter and stir in seasonings in one bowl.  Mix cereals, peanuts and pretzels and pour seasoned butter over the mixture.  Coat evenly by stirring.  Pour into a roasting pan or pan with sides and spread out.  I suggest no more than 2 batches in oven at a time. 

Bake at 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes and then stir.  Continue to bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Cool.  Package.  If made in advance of holiday festivities, freeze and dole out judiciously. 

Bet you can't eat just one handful! 


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

SmartCooks Discovers K-Chips (Kool Krispy Kale)!

November 2011

SmartCooks here. 

Who'd thunk it?  Years, ago I'd never heard of kale.  We certainly didn't eat it in my household in southwestern Ontario.  In adult life, I sailed by it in the vegey section of supermarkets, farmers' markets, and herb and spice stores.  The few times I tried it I found it very bitter.

Well... no more!  The foodie blogs are abuzz with the newest method for eating kale, i.e., as if they are potato chips.  And, before I go further, let me say, I've tried K-Chips half a dozen times and I have become a MAJOR fan. 

What is Kale and Why is it Beneficial?

Research says that kale is a form of cabbage and has high levels of beta carotene, vitamins such as K and C, as well as calcium.   

Once upon a time, kale was one of the most common green vegetables in all of Europe. The plant can have various types of 'curly' leaves, with colours ranging from light green to violent green and brown. 

For K-chips, Red Russian kale is often used as is a classic Italian 'Dinosaur' kale (pictured left), which has deep blue-grey, and long and narrow leaves.  This type of kale is winter hardy and becomes even sweeter after a hard frost.  Tuscan kale and curly types of kale are also well known and can be used for K-Chips (picture, right).  

How to make it

Various websites recommend using a dehydrator to dry the kale (see left). Other sites swear by cooking them in the oven, which is what I did. The directions for oven temperature, though, were all over the map -- from 300 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  I went with 350 for about 10 minutes (watching closely) and taking them out as the leaves become brown at the edges.

If doing K-Chips in the oven, the other recommendation is to ensure the kale is Dry i.e., wash and spin it several times in a salad spinner. 

K-Chips Basic Recipe
(Synthesized from many websites, picture is Smitten Kitchen )

1 bunch of kale, either dinosaur, Tuscan, curly kale
1 T olive oil
Sea salt, to taste

1) Wash a bunch of kale and spin it in a salad spinner or use a dehydrator to dry thoroughly.  Make sure it is thoroughly dry. 
2) Remove the stems and the centre ribs. 
3) Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces.
4) Place kale in a ziploc bag and toss with 1 T olive oil.  Alternatively use hands to mix. 
*(Note can add other ingredients at this point, see K-Chips Variations below).
5) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay K-Chips in a single layer.
6) Bake for 10 minutes, or until CRISP and edges are brown.  If not ready after 10 minutes, continue baking and watch minute by minute. 
7) Add sea salt for taste. 

K-Chips Variations

There are almost as many variations to K-Chips as there are for potato chips.  I found recipes for salt and vinegar (add sherry, malt or balsamic vinegar), rosemary garlic oil, parmesan, lemon juice, or pickle juice. 

The raw food sites have more complicated recipes and involve a dehydrator.  I haven't included those sites but google away.... 

Nothing quite beats K-chips as a superb low carb and high protein snack. Go wild and pass the K-Chips please! 

Best K-Chips recipe sites:

Totally addictive kale chips:  http://mynewroots.blogspot.com/2010/07/totally-addictive-kale-crisps.html


For more fun, Gwenneth Paltrow (kindof) makes Kale Chips on the Ellen show. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Aside #17: Shout-Out to the best Food Blogging Sites

November 2011

As part of the SmartCooks portion of the blog, I've scoured most of the major foodie sites and have a list of about 12 sites (of hundreds) that I like the best.  There's an incredible range of people food blogging, either as an outlet or hobby or because they are serious chefs being paid by advertisers to write up their recipes and post them.  They have in common:  a love of making and eating good, healthy, nutritious food. 

Here's my top 5 web blogs:

Smitten Kitchen

Written from a tiny kitchen in New York, Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog is about five years old and has gained a large set of followers. 

Deb is a freelance writer/photographer who has received numerous awards for best food weblog and best photography.  She is currently working on "The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook", to be released in Fall 2012.  She was recently a guest columnist in Martha Stewart's 'Food' app (more on that later).  She has hundreds of recipes on her site, all indexed from 'Sweets' and 'Seasonal Favourites' to 'Drinks' and 'Disasters'.  She is a fabulous writer and photographer, with a real ability to mix family anecdotes and recipes in one creative posting. 

Her predominant entries are food but she also apparently loves bourbon, which just happens to be my Husband's favourite Drink of Choice.  On May 14, 2011, she posted a recipe for Vermontucky Lemonade and I decided we needed to taste-test it for Husband's July birthday.  He and friends had a fine time polishing off the pitcher I made up.  She also has a wicked Tart Marg that she calls a "day-erasing, stress-obliterating margarita".  Cheers!


Food 52

Another unique food blog is Food 52, written by two New York Times writers, Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs (creators of the "The Essential New York Times Cookbook")

The idea behind the Food 52 weblog was to create a 'buzzing' place for people to talk about food; it took 52 weeks to create Food 52 weblog.  It's wildly successful.  They have a thriving community of home cooks, encouraged through contests, a cooking 'hotline' and promotion of recipes that are submitted to them for vetting. It's sophisticated and high quality.   

They love to work by themes, such as the 'Best Appetizer' or 'Best Dessert' and post the winning recipes.  Their website is choc-a-bloc full of recipes and tips, all done with exceptional writing and photography.  They love to promote aspiring young cooks.  They even have a Cooking Manifesto that includes promotion of cooking as the centrepiece of the family experience.   

Recently they released both a new cookbook (pictured above) based on the recipes submitted to them on the Food 52 weblog and an ipad app featuring their best recipes. 

I have many favourites from their recipe list, and find their ideas for simple, straightforward, uncomplicated dinners among the best I've found. 

About a month ago, for example, I cooked the recipe from the winner of 'The Best Holiday Roast Contest'.  The Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Port Wine Sauce was as good as posted.  It definitely deserved to be the winner.  Yummmm....

Martha Stewart The Everyday Food Blog 

I know. I know.  But if I'm looking for easy, classic, low-calorie (mostly), gluten-free, quick recipes for dinner or menu ideas, Martha is it.  Recent sample of entries:  "Roasted Salmon with Lemon Relish (below), Crispy Apricot Pork Chops , Roast Beef with Cabbage, Squash and Carrots .  It's all wholesome and good food. 

But where Martha Stewart really, really shines is the Ipad app version of her Food magazine.  It defines 'cutting edge', with the highest quality cooking videos, interactive recipes, and special effects like lights winking on a tree etc.  It's a treat to download the monthy magazine (ok, that part takes awhile) and spend an hour going through it.  There are just so many quick tips, creative ideas, and interesting columnists (like Deb Perelman from Smitten Kitchen). 

There are only a handful of magazines apps in general and food ones in particular.  Her company is hands-down the trend-setter for wireless mobile app technology.

Vegan Yum Yum and Kalyn's Kitchen 

The fourth spot is actually a tie between two vegetarian food blogs.  The first is Vegan Yum Yum , written by a 20s something named Lolo who has her own cookbook (left, also just released), has won Best Blog of the Year awards and was a guest on Martha Stewart's show to promote her sidelines of cupcake making and knitting (sigh).  Her photography is as amazing as her ability to pick wonderful recipes, like Spîcy Lemon Pepper Pasta with Broccoli or Avocado Wasabi Salad  (pictured below).  

She has been voted as best vegetarian weblog (among hundreds of competitors) and has thousands of followers.  And she's not even 30 years old yet.

The other vegetarian favourite is Kalyn's Kitchen, a home-cooking blog.  Kalyn shares recipes that combine her love for delicious food with a commitment to healthy, lower-glycemic eating. She bases her recipes on the South Beach diet that helped her lose 40 pounds a few years back.  She too has been blogging for a number of years. 

I cook her recipes all the time, especially on Meatless Mondays, which the food blogs are all promoting.  I do more than one day a week meatless and find plenty of excellent offerings on her site. Barely Blanched Broccoli Salad with Feta and Fried Almonds is typical of the recipes on her site.  She is also a skilled photographer and, at times, posts an entry on her marvellous back garden with its rows of vegetables. 

My New Roots  

The newest of the blogs that I like is written and created on Bloggers, the site that I use.  Its focus is more on picking healthy choices to eat every day.  Its recipes are mostly vegetarian but it varies.  There's not much about the author but she puts a lot of work into the explanations of each recipe. 
There's beautiful photography and creativity associated with recipes like Heart Beet Rawvioli with Pesto Oil .  I will leave you with the cute pix. 
Shout Out to ALL!!!


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Aside #16; Community Supported Agriculture Basket #4

November 2011

CSA Basket Number #4 from Bryson's Farms arrived today.  I had delayed its delivery by one week as I was still cooking and munching my way through Basket #3. This week's basket is full of organic fall and winter vegetables but still has lots of greens for salads!  

Unfortunately, I can't delay my biweekly order too often or they will kick me off the program in favour of weekly clients so I'm still undecided about whether this will work out or not...  So I will be cooking and freezing this weekend!

Here's a sample pix of what #4 looks like.  I looked up some of the more unfamiliar vegeys on the website.  

For example, the Cauliflower has a greenish tinge to it.  The website notes that cauliflower can come with a variety of colours (e.g., purpose, green or yellow).  They stress there was no malathion or chemical fertilizers used. 

The Broccoli (bottom left) with all the leaves is quite rare.  It's called Spigariello Liscia or 'Italian leaf broccoli' and the entire plant (including leaves) are edible, either steamed or chopped into stir frys. 

The curly Blue Kale at the top of the picture is hardy through the early frost season here until the temperature hits -10 degrees Celsius.  In fact, frost makes it sweeter.  I will look for recipes for this one.  

Bryson's says they receive lots of emails inquiring about the “yellow root crop”.  They are Golden Beets and should be slice them (unpeeled) into 1/4 inch pieces, steamed for about 20 minutes.  The tops can also be eaten.  They are apparently quite treasured by chefs.   
The long, white vegetable on the left looks like a small Daikon Radish, which I've only recently discovered and enjoy.  They are 'hot' when eaten raw and milder when steamed or roasted. 

If I'm right, two types of turnips are included:  Those on the right (bottom) are called Milan Purple Top Turnip, and are sweet, cooked or raw.  I've been including them in a salad of julienned celeriac, carrot and turnips and it's delicious.  The second type of turnip (white, far right bottom) seems to be Hakurei Turnip, which can be enjoyed raw, grated on salads, steamed, sliced in a stir-fry – even baked. They are very mild with an almost sweet flavour. They originate in Japan where they are treasured. And the tops are nice as well as a cooking green.
The potatoes look like Banana Fingerlings and they advise not to peel them but to wash, steam and enjoy.  There is one treasured bulb of Garlic called Music Garlic, which is in short supply in Ottawa, and retails for $3 each if you are lucky enough to find it.  It has both great flavour and great storage capacity. 

I also added some items to my order for this time only i.e., 
-- Heirloom Tomato Sauce (pix right):  No salt, no preservatives. Just Tomatoes! Defrost and add to make spaghetti sauce or any other dish.  This will feature in tonight's dinner. 
-- Heirloom Tomato Tart (pix below) that is company-ready and would easily serve 6-8 people.  I cut it into manageable slices and will cook one at a time when it fits the menu.
-- Curried Roasted Squash Soup:  They describe it as the perfect mix of spicy and sweet.  It is also low fat, vegan and gluten-free.  Can't go wrong.

Heirloom Tomato Tart. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

SmartCooks Spices it up with Thai Pumpkin Soup

November 2011

SmartCooks here.

Quick question:  "What's a pumpkin's favourite sport?  Answer:  Squash!"
(Small joke, :) sorry, not).

Spicy Thai Pumpkin Soup.  I decided to make it and from scratch.  Vegetarian.  Gluten-free.  Calorie-conscious.  Low/no sodium.  Enough for a dozen or so folks. If you decide to do it, you need to put aside the time, but the end result was velvet-y, satisfying, and hopefully not too spicy!

The main ingredient -- Pumpkins -- was the first challenge. Who'd guessed there is a paucity of pumpkin in the stores in Ottawa? Bloblaws said its supply was sold out before Hallowe'en.  No luck at the Metro or Herb and Spice outlets.  I read on the food blogs that there is a shortage of both canned and fresh pumpkin in the US too, thanks to the wet summer and Tropical Storm Irene.  Foodies there are hoarding what they can find for their Thanksgiving cooking fests.  Go figure.  Amazing.   

But ... let's hear it for local supply one more time!  The lone surviving stand at the Parkdale Market had fresh, locally grown pumpkins.  $1 for small ones; $3 for medium size.  For $10, I had the dinner soup.  Can't beat those prices. 

Before Making the Soup

Task Number 1 was to do the vegetable stock -- about 10-15 cups -- from scratch.  I love making my own vegetable stock and almost always have some in the freezer.  The recipe I use is adapted from an old recipe book (one of the few I still own) called Classic Soups.  I found it at Chapters years ago on the bargain table and it seems to be out of print now, but it's a gem.  I've made dozens of soups from this book and it's never let me down.  With a mandoline, key vegetables like celery, fennel, onion, carrot or whatever's around, cheesecloth, Bouquet Garni and a big pot, I make large batches.  No salt.  I had enough in the freezer for this recipe.

Preparing the Pumpkin

I took my 3 medium size pumpkins, cut them in big chunks, scooped out the seeds and other stringy bits (and I did NOT keep the seeds... horrors), and placed them face-down on two large baking sheets that were covered in tin foil and lightly brushed with olive oil.  The baking is done at 350 degrees Celsius for about an hour until skins are soft.  (If short of time, I am sure I could have microwaved them too... but I didn't).  Once cooled, scoop out all the flesh and discard the outer skin. 

The Thai Spicy Soup

This part got tricky.  I could not find a vegan, gluten-free, not highly caloric, slightly spicy Thai recipe I liked either in my cookbooks or on the Internet.  Some recipes looked too bland; others way too spicy (e.g., one Thai recipe called for 6 red Thai chilies, and I found 2 more than enough for company.  So I adapted.  Directions below are based on what I did.  You can eliminate or add to the spices in order to reach the desired level of spicy-ness.  Play around with it a bit and enjoy!

Ingredients (for 12 large bowls, and likely some to freeze or have the next day):

12 cups of diced pumpkin
14 cups of vegetable stock
2 T olive oil (or sunflower or canola)  
3 medium shallots, chopped
3 tsp minced garlic
3 tsp curry powder (medium strength)
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped and smashed
1/2 tsp each of the following 7 spices:  crushed red pepper, coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, cumin seeds, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, chili flakes
1 tsp grated ginger
2 small red chilies, seeded, finely chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk (optional)
Toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
Cilantro leaves to garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper (optional at the table)


Use a very large pot.  Cook the shallots and garlic first in the pot for about 4 minutes, or until slightly softened.  Add the curry powder, 7 spices, ginger, lemongrass and red chilies. I smashed the lemongrass slightly first to ensure its flavour was released before adding to the pot. Stir for another minute or so until fragrant. 

Add in the diced pumpkin and vegetable stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and let it cook until the pumpkin is softened.  This took about 15-20 minutes for such a large quantity of soup.  

Use an immersion blender right in the pot to blend the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, transfer soup (in batches) to a food processor to blend (that's way messier).  

When finished simmering, add in the coconut milk, and leave for a few more minutes.  Some recipes left this out.  I had half a cup left from another recipe so threw it in and it gave the soup a deeper, richer colour.  More could be added to cool down the spicy-ness.  

Toasted pumpkin seeds and coriander can be added at the table.  Salt and pepper at individual discretion. 

Final Serving Touch (totally optional of course)

The Queens of American-style etiquette, Martha Stewart and Oprah, suggest serving the soup in small carved out pumpkins.  Nice touch.  Too many people and a bit too fussy prep-wise for me.  But a thought for the future.  Here's pictures from their sites and Flickr.


SmartCooks Discovers Tomatillos and makes a Salsa Verde

November 2011

SmartCooks here. 

So, tomatillos, pronounced ['toh-MAH-tee-YO'].  I've gone my entire life noticing them in the stores and at the farmers' markets but never buying or trying to cook with them.  Have I missed out on a culinary delight! Mine looked exactly like the ones in the pictures below (courtesy of a couple of sites like Pinch My Salt and Gourmet Sleuth ). 

About eight of them arrived in my last Community Supported Agriculture Basket from Bryson's Farms. I wondered at first if they were a Christmas tree ornament but no ;) after I searched sites to find out what they are and what you do with them. (By the way, click here for a nice review of Bryson's Farms that has just appeared in the 'Food Buzz' column of Ottawa Magazine.

Brief History of Tomatillos 

According to my research, a tomatillo is a relative of the tomato, but with a very different taste.  The fruit provides the tart flavor found in Mexican green sauces. In Mexico the fruit is called tomates verdes, tomates de cascara as well as fresadillas.  The fruits average about 1 -2" wide and have a papery outer skin. The tomatillo is used when it is still green.

The Aztecs found the tomatillo around 800 BC and 'tomatillo' is 'round and plump'.  When Europeans arrived, there was much confusion between a 'Tomato' and a 'Tomatillo'.  The 'tomato' proved to be immensely popular with Europeans and was taken to Italy where it grew well in the Mediterranean climate.  The 'tomatillo', however, never gained in popularity with Europeans. In recent years, it is slowly being rediscovered. 

Salsa Verde/Green Salsa

The best recipe for using Tomatillos is to make a Salsa verde.  There are numerous versions of the recipes out there, and all seem to suggest either boiling them or roasting them.  I chose to boil them and went with a version of the recipe below, although apparently roasting them delivers more flavour. 

There are endless variations to this recipe, e.g., hotter by adding more chiles, or adding red or green tomatoes as well as tomatillos. Some people leave out the onion.  It all depends on taste. I loved the one I made below and used with chicken, pork chops and on its own with tortilla chips.  It was YUMMM! Hoping my CSA basket gives me more this week. 


1 1/2 lb tomatillos
1/2 cup chopped white onion
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1 T fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
Salt to taste


Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse.

If roasting, cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Put under broiler 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin.  If boiling, place tomatillos in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon.

Place tomatillos, lime juice, onions, cilantro, chili peppers, and sugar in a food processor (or blender) and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator.


Monday, 14 November 2011

Aside #15: November 11, 2011: Remembrance Day?

November 2011

Remembrance Day and the entire weekend were indeed one to remember.  It was chock-a-block full of activities, in fact more than Husband and I counted on.  It had jammed into it SmartCooking! (next posting), a delightful dinner party, a memorable brunch with my 84-year-old uncle who was in town to participate in the Veterans' Day ceremonies, a greet-the-new-(I want one)-baby drop-in, an encore of raking the leaves (time for all of them to be DOWN!), fitness (not enough of course), an encounter with the Unconscious Beings from across the street (more below and see Aside #7) and Apple Shopping.

In bad parallel construction form, I will focus on the last activity...  Apple Shopping... as the subject of this Aside.  Not the farmer's market type of apple shopping, but an 'argh-I-need a new MacApple laptop and how can it possibly COST that MUCH!' 

Let me take you through the sequence of events on November 11, 2011.  Friday morning was Remembrance Day morning.  I always mark it appropriately.  I usually end up cleaning the kitchen and assembling lists for the weekend while watching the ceremonies on the kitchen TV.  Given that we live downtown, we can hear the gun salutes that "boom" from Parliament Hill every few minutes.  The cats (who were outside in their back deck gazebo and condo) jump every time the 'boom' sounds.  I ran outside when the two CF-18 flew overhead AND this year marked the first time the Air Force sent a flyby of 7 Griffon helicopters as a specific tribute to the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan.  It really was a sight to see in the Ottawa skies. 

Stores were scheduled to open at 12:30 p.m. once the ceremonies concluded.  A friend and I had decided earlier that week to be at the Apple Store (of course located in the busiest tourist mall in downtown Ottawa) as soon as it opened.  I expected to walk out with a new Mac with all my files transferred over from the old one, which was dying quickly. 

Three things went wrong with that plan:  a) it was a HUGE mistake to try and drive or be anywhere downtown; b) Apple is now so corporate that service is impossible; and c) I didn't count on the 'Black Friday' type of frenzy that began the minute stores opened their doors after the Remembrance Day ceremonies. 

Mistake #1

My first clue should have been trying to park at the mall.  Almost as soon as we arrived, the 'lot full' sign went up.  When we walked into the mall, we walked straight into CHAOS, i.e., security guards and long line-up of youngsters eager to purchase the XBox 360 game called "Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 3", hyped by a company eager to shatter its one-day sales records.  It did.  I can't stop thinking about consumers celebrating Remembrance Day by buying an ENTERTAINMENT GAME that glorifies war.  Go figure....

There were more modest line-ups for the release of the 8th and final chapter in the Harry Potter series on DVD and Blu-ray and the final epic battle of good versus evil.  The forces of Good are of course victorious (with consequences).  If only war had a final chapter like Harry Potter ...

Mistake #2

The Apple store was completely jammed with frenzied consumers of Everything Apple.  I am completely out of my element in that store, sure I will ask a wrong, dumb question of the super-savvy, all-tekked out Apple boys (sorry, few girls there).  I went about replacing my Mac completely wrong. "I have money to spend," I say confidently to a harried, why-are-you-asking-me? employee at the Genius Bar. He continues to stare at me as I defiantly add:  "I want to buy a fully loaded, top of the line, 15-inch MacPro, transfer my files from the old laptop to the new one, and I will give you my debit card and be on my merry way fast.".... Not.  

Rejected by Genius Boy at the Genius Bar (turns out that's the service counter), my friend and I are directed to a table of MacPros.  Once there, it turns out you have to 'log in' onto a model MacPro and receive an electronic message that says "I'm 3rd in line for service".  Actually, my friend knew to sign in this way.... there are ZERO instructions anywhere telling customers to do this.  I'm sure I would have stood at the table for an hour waiting for someone to deign to help me.  

So... ding... another harassed Apple Boy comes to the table.  I repeat my chipper intro ... "Gee, I just want to spend my money in your store and leave here with a shiny new Mac toy...."  Nope.  No way.  Nada. Good-bye.  Why?  The laptops can only be ordered on-line because I want a 'custom' one.  Some warehouse in China ships it to my home address (not to the store).  I then bring the new and old ones to the Apple store for the transfer to happen. By this point, I've mentally swallowed half a dozen blue pills to calm down and mutter dejectedly about where on the website would I find these instructions advising me to not bother going to the store first.  For future reference... 'custom' means anything beyond the basic bottom price.  So add memory ... 'custom', a backlit screen ... 'custom'.  Maximum annoyance and frustration ... not 'custom'. 

So.... friend and I leave, grateful to get out of the MacMadness.  At home, I order what I want on line via my Ipad because of course my laptop isn't working.  And, naturally, I screw it up, by not seeing the option about 'standard' versus 'express' shipping.  So, some day in the next month or so, I expect the boat from China to dock and the Mac to be loaded onto the ass/mule to plod its way to my house.  And, yes, you,ve probably figured out by now that I am/was mightily peeved with the Gods of Mac... but I still bought one.   

Mistake #3

Back to Remembrance Day.  Friends tell me that other stores in Ottawa were similarly affected by the same form of frenzied afternoon shopping.  The cars in front of our house were lined up for blocks inching their way along the street to get onto the Queensway.  Some speculated that Remembrance Day is now Canada's version of the US 'Black Friday'.  Stores seem to be gearing their product launch strategies that way.  If so, TELL us and I will avoid anything but my own fireplace. 

It was an odd way to mark Remembrance Day.  The afternoon frenzy was in sharp contrast to the morning activities, courtesy of governments across the country and around the world actively promoting acknowledgement of the sacrifices and heroism of veterans.  The parades and speeches are bigger and longer than they have ever been in my memory.  But it seems the only memory most of us will have is having to wait through the morning hours to rush, spend, consume and lose ourselves in the glaze and haze of shopping.  Sad.  

Addendum Note re Unconscious Be-ings:

My lack of uninterrupted sleep was well documented in Aside #7 when I described the stupid neighbours across the street and dubbed them 'Unconscious Be-ings'.  Things quieted down a bit as the weather turned colder i.e., they drank themselves into a stupor inside the house.  The main floor of the run-down house now seems to be devoid of furniture or curtains so I assume they meet there, talked inanely all night, drink copious amounts of whatever, and crash on the floor.  Not that I care much...

But Remembrance Day Night was obviously the occasion for a ramped up Partee time.  I woke out of a solid sleep to loud noise that I could hear through the closed windows and blinds.  'Will' the Cat was trying to peek out the blinds to see what was going on, so I joined him. 

The Be-ings were loose on the street, running and bellowing like testosterone-hyped demons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  This time the demon beings discovered bags of mulched leaves that were stacked up across the street (about 20 bags or so).  They decided, in their infinite stupidity, to throw the bags into the middle of the street. By the time I looked out, bag number 4 was being tossed; although it was 3 a.m., cars and taxis were out and about on our busy street and forced to swerve into the other lane to avoid the debris.   

I took a deep breath.  But I couldn't help myself.  I threw up the window frame in a rage and yelled as loud as I could for them to 'cease and desist'.  Perhaps my language was a tad more colourful than that.  Of course, the Be-ings then told me what I could do with myself... some type of anatomically impossible activity I believe... and ran off down the street. 

Husband of course was now awake and, inevitably, we ended up putting on coats over our night clothes and going outside to pick up the bags of leaves. I'm sure we were watched by the demon lads. Husband stalked in front of their house but alcoholic stupor had obviously set in and they didn't emerge.  Back in the house, I watched through the blinds as 2 of them (hoodies up) slithered back down the street and into their lair. 

That was the end of the night's sleep for me.  By 7 a.m., I'd read all the morning newspapers on my ipad and finally fell back asleep.  Husband took sleeping aides. I was irked on many levels... a) the absolute insanity of their behavior; b) the safety issues and knowing the police likely wouldn't have gotten here until an accident had occurred; c) them sniffing out that I'm the 'watcher' who tattles on their bad behaviour; and d) that I missed my 9 a.m. fitness class with a friend.  

Gotta say, I don't get these people.  Then again, I don't think they're people, which is why I call them the 'UNconsciouis Be-ings'.   ah well...