Sunday, 30 December 2012

Puy Lentils: The 'Caviar of Pulses'

December 2012

SmartCooks here. 

Good friends brought me a package of puy lentils from the UK.  I incorporated them into a recipe, "Puy Lentils with Apple, Fennel and Herbs" as part of the Christmas dinner menu.  It' a keeper.  

About Puy Lentils 

I'd never tried these before Christmas dinner.  A bit of e-research turned up the biggest fan of the lentils from Puy i.e., famed pastry chef and cookbook author, David Leibovitz, who is now living in Paris.  He describes the lentils (or 'pulses') as having a unique, nutty flavour due to the volcanic soil they're grown in, without fertilizer, which gives them a fine, mineral-rich taste.  Their grown uniquely in Auvergne, France, with lots of sunshine and no humidity.  

Unlike other lentils I've tried (green, red), puy lentils never get mushy when cooked or make muddy type soups that are the hallmark of some of the vegetarian fare I try at The Green Door restaurant just down the street from here.  

Puy lentils prepare very quickly ... rinse thoroughly in cold water and cook for 20-25 minutes ... and serve either warm or at room temperature.  They are fabulous in salads, or alongside meats (e.g., roast pork), or in squash, part of a roasted root vegetable casserole and hearty winter soups.

Health Benefits of Puy Lentils 

Lentils have about 30% of their calories from protein, making them the third-highest level of protein among the legume or nut families (soybeans and hemp have the highest levels).  They are an integral part of vegetarian diets and also contain dietary fiber, vitamin B and minerals.  When lentils are mixed with grains such as rice the result is a complete protein dish.

These lentils are not widely found here in Canada yet.  I predict this will change.  We do grow them, apparently mostly in Saskatchewan, but of course we export them to areas where market demand is strong. 

We're relatively new into growing lentils in some regions of Canada -- here's hoping the supply side grows too.  In the meantime, Whole Foods supermarket and the better health food stores carry them from England or France.  

A box goes a long way -- 1 cup would made three big salads.  If you can find them, there are terrific, hearty, winter fare.  

Bright Lentil Salad, with Apples, Fennel and Herbs 
(Serious Eats, author of French Revolution Food) 

1 T cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sugar
Kosher salt, ground black pepper
2 T olive oil
1 T water
1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced (1 cup)
1 apple (Pink Lady recommended), diced (1 cup)
8 ounces plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 cup of Puy Lentils, cooked, drained and rinsed
1 T fresh thyme
2 T fresh basil


Prepare lentils according to directions.  Some need to be cooked as per above, while others can be found in ready-to-eat boxes or cans.  Most are labelled 'organic'.

In a bowl, whisk the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper until the sugar dissolves.  Add olive oil, and whisk until emulsified.  Add water and whisk to loosen.  Add fennel, apple and tomatoes, toss to combine and allow it to sit in the vinaigrette for 15 minutes.  Then add lentils and fresh herbs and allow to sit for another 15 minutes.  Serve.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

SmartCookBooks 2012 Edition

December 2012

SmartCooks here.  Drats.  Not much blogging, Facebook-ing or emailing from mid-November till now. It was partly work and partly holiday preparations.  (I hereby forswear all things holiday-ish next year by booking two weeks south somewhere in a house/cottage that is warm and un-Christmas-like.  An open invitation to everyone to join me/us.) 

But also on the menu in November-December was the preparation of the 2012 version of SmartCooksBook.  Last year it took me a month to figure out the MacBook technology, iPhoto project formats, converting the project to a PDF (btw Mr. Apple... this is NOT an intuitive feature!), and then figuring out the layout and printing. Self-publish are me.  

I gave out about 50 copies last year to friends and families -- deliberately low key as not all photos were credited.  I acknowledged this and credited where I could.  

This year I vowed that SmartCooksBook 2012 would use all original photos.  I bought a good, but not too expensive, camera that came with a learner's permit aka easy-to-understand instructions, snapped away, and.... promptly lost it a month later in Charlottetown somewhere after a weekend taking photos of some of the amazing scenery.  Luckily, I had uploaded most photos; some (like the Confederation Bridge) are included in this year's edition (see Facebook page).  I chalked it up to a lifelong bad-luck string with cameras. Add to that a year with a new, senior level public service position, overcoming travel anxieties, and general coping with life.  But It means that this year's edition is once again a mix of photos by me and others.  

So, I limited distribution accordingly, remembering that all of this is meant to bring me up to speed on laptop and tablet technologies, as well as social media, keep track of recipes, and is a cool way of saying 'Happy Holidays' to friends and family.  

2013 will be different. Christmas Santa/Husband gave me the long-coveted iPhone5 and I will afix it to my arm to prevent accidental forgetfulness.  I'm still learning my way around it but so far so good.  

SmartCooksBook 2012 

This year's edition features a few favourite appetizers, including 'Bob's Bourbon Cheese Ball', which is a Christmas treat made with Maker's Mark bourbon, only the best! 

This year's revelation was the lunchtime 'Mighty Jars of Salad Goodness,' with creative mixes of salads in wide-mouth mason jars. The fav dressing is a mix of apple cider, ginger and orange juice.  Given my penchant for detail, I searched recipes with exact quantities (like quinoa, vegetables, lettuces) that would equal a week's worth of jars.

The time spent on Sundays prepping for the week was well worth the effort given the 'lunch jar grab-n-go' style I needed throughout most of the year.  I even hauled some jars in luggage to Charlottetown to have at the office.  There's a good pix of the jars over at my Facebook site. 

This edition presents the best of my world-wide e-search for different chicken recipes.  I travelled the e-world to Korea, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Singapore and Sri Lanka to try out a multiplicity of flavourful, mild to hot, chicken dishes. 

My favourite of all of them -- and I make it often -- is 'Michael's Chicken Cashew Curry', made with Sri Lankan white curry from the Montreal-based "Spice Hunters".  They have a terrific internet store and deliver promptly in smallish containers of spices that don't have to linger on spice racks for decades.  

And, yes Brigid, this year's edition contains a few desserts, which as you know are not my specialty.  However, thanks to Smitten Kitchen (Apple Charlotka) and a smidgen of my own imagination, I came up with a few desserts that fit the bill, mostly because they are made with fruit (like apple or pear).  

SmartCooksBook 2013 

I'm planning next year's edition early.  The ingredients are already in place ... 
-- the iPhone5 camera for original photos of food, friends, family, frivolity and frolicking here there and everywhere; 
-- an appetite to research and try new foods;  
-- lots of friends who are also fabulous cooks in styles ranging from vegetarian, carefully guarded family dinner recipes, to desserts and breads;
-- creative writers, many of whom are now 'Retired!' (no, I'm not jealous ... much); 
-- a multitude of upcoming events from baby and wedding showers, weddings, retirements, graduations, deck BBQs, friend/family gatherings etc.; AND 
-- a burning desire for personal, useful, memorable souvenirs of 2013! 

It means this is an open invitation to any and all to contribute to next year's 2013 edition.  Contributors welcome!  All the best in 2013..... 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Siri-ously Funny *Siri*-isms

November 2012 

It's no secret that I love my tech toys.  

The ipad, for example, is attached to my left arm from early morning till late at night
... for entertainment (Hello *Angry Birds* and *Bad Piggies*); 
... for reducing my ecological footprint in terms of downloads of e-newspapers, e-books, e-music, e-videos; and 
... for work purposes (Yeah!!! after countless failed experiments, I've recently found a stylus that works like a pen for notebook apps PLUS I'm slowly convincing work to upload the endless hefty pounds of non-secret briefing books I get every day into the GoodReader app).  

It's all good.

When I'm bored, I have conversations with *Siri* using my Ipad3.  For those of you not intimately connected with *Siri*, this voice-activated software lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls.  All serious stuff.

Except... *Siri* also has Attitude.  Major Attitude.  Funny sayings that only someone with a wicked sense of humour could program.  I think up dumb questions about the meaning of life, love, happiness and pose them to *Siri*. 

The responses are a riot... here's a few.

Me:  *Siri*:  What is the meaning of life?
*Siri*:  '42' (aka Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? and, coincidence? the year in which Husband was born.) 

Other responses to what is the meaning of life.... 

*Siri*:  Try and be nice to people. Avoid eating fat. Read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.
*Siri*:  I can’t answer that right now, but give me some very long time to write a play in which nothing happens. 
*Siri*: A principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings. I guess that includes me.
My favourite (right):
*Siri*:  All evidence to date suggests it's chocolate.  

Other funny Siri-isms.  

Me: *Siri*, will you marry me? 
*Siri*:  My End User Licensing Agreement does not cover marriage.  My apologies. 
*Siri*:  People will judge us. 
*Siri*:  Those who claim robot love is (sic) wrong.
*Siri*:  But I don't care about that anyone.
The ever self-serving Apple gets its best shot through Siri:

Me:  What is the best tablet and phone?
*Siri*:  There's the iPad, and then there's ... well, nothing I guess.  The best phone?  The one you're holding. 
*Siri*:  The Apple iPad is the best.  And it's not just my opinion.  
*Siri*:  The Apple iPad.  Need you ask? 

And, finally, just try and ask *Siri* a romantic or embarrassing question, like:
Me:  Do you love me? (in a Fiddler on the Roof tone of voice)  
*Siri*:  How can I tell?
*Siri*:  I respect you.

Me:  *Siri*, why are you so great? 
*Siri*:  I am what I am.  
*Siri*:  I just am, I guess.

Me:  *Siri*, you're sexy.
*Siri*:  I am?
Me:  Yes.
*Siri*:  I thought so.

And, finally, the answer to that question I've been pondering as I make my Christmas list and check it twice ... and so I ask:

Me:  *Siri*, what do you want for Christmas?*
*Siri*:  I have very few wants.  

Ahhh... My e-Personal Assistant, *Siri*.  She's the best.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

White Radish with Chopped Radish Greens Recipe

SmartCooks here.

I bought a new cookbook the other day -- The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking.  800 pages filled with more than than 500 recipes, with fresh produce, herbs, curries and adapted for North Americans.  It's written by a well-renowned cook, Yumana Devi, and from what I can see, she and Madhur Jaffrey, cover many aspects of Indian cuisine.  

I said I wouldn't buy another cookbook but, after leafing through this one for 15 minutes, resistance was clearly futile. The ultimate rationale was a chance to use some of the more than hundred spices that I have crammed into my cupboard and that grace my kitchen walls.  Blame the Spice Hunters, the funky Montreal-based spice shop that also makes it way too easy to order spices on-line.  

The recipe I chose is "White Radish with Chopped Radish Greens".  And, yes, it took me a few stores to track down the radishes -- white, daikon (known as mooli) and breakfast red.  But, totally worth it.  the second challenge was looking for radishes with the green tops still on.  I found some but also used kale.  You can also use a bunch of Swiss chard, spinach or mustard greens.  In this recipe, the radish tops and kale are steamed, which reduces their volume considerably.  

A word about North Indian cooking.  I'm a complete novice in this world.  I'm doing complete trial and error i.e., if it tastes great.... it's a keeper.  In reading up on this recipe, I learned that in the Kashmir area of India, the oil would likely be mustard oil; while in the Punjab area, peanut oil would more likely be used.  

Ghee (clarified butter) is completely easy to make but also readily available so I buy it.  It lasts for a long time in the fridge.  

I adapted this recipe slightly by using all 3 types of radishes.  You can use just one or two types, depending on the quantity you need.  The dish is easy to assemble, in about 20-30 minutes all in. A perfect choice for an evening dinner side dish or gracing a salad.  Enjoy!  

A Word about the Spices

Cumin, coriander, turmeric and cayenne are all readily available spices.  Finding Ajwain seeds can take a little work but is well worth the effort from a taste-bud point of view.  Ajwain seeds have a strong smell reminiscent of thyme.  It is commonly mixed with coriander and cumin to season chicken and fish and works well with root vegetable dishes.  

White Radish with Chopped Radish Greens 

2-3 white radishes
5-6 medium-sized red radishes
2-3 daikon radishes 
1/2 lb radish greens (or substitute Swiss chard, spinach or kale), washed, trimmed and chopped 
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 T coriander seeds
1/4 tsp Ajwain seeds
3 T ghee, mustard or peanut oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or paprika
2 tsp maple or brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh lime or lemon juice


Wash and trim the radishes.  Cut white radishes and daikon into 1/4 inch pieces; thinly slice the round variety.  Place the radishes in a steaming basket, lay the greens on top, and steam for up to 15 minutes or until tender-crisp.  

Combine the cumin, coriander and Ajwain seeds in a small bowl. In pan, heat the ghee or oil over high heat.  When it is hot (not smoking), add the spice seeds and fry them until they darken a few shades.

Seconds later, add the radishes and greens.  Stir in the turmeric, cayenne or paprika and sweeter (either maple or brown sugar).  Reduce the heat to moderate and fry for 4-5 minutes, remove from heat, add salt and lime or lemon juice and toss to mix well.  


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Aside: Book Launch!

Hi all:

Bob and Anne Marie are thrilled to announce that Professor Ilya Parkins, Coordinator of Gender and Women's Studies at the Okanagan Campus of the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, British Columbia, is about to officially launch her first solo book -- Poiret, Dior, and Schiaparelli:  Fashion, Feminism and Modernity -- on December 10, 2012, at a bookstore in Toronto, Ontario.  

Using memoirs, interviews and writings, the book explores changing notions of femininity in the early decades of the 20th century, when the democratization of fashion began.  It looks at fashion's ambivalent approach to women by both celebrating and vilifying them.  The text will be used by professors, scholars and students of gender studies, cultural studies, and history.

To mark the launch, Bob and Anne Marie are pleased to host a drop-in with Ilya on Friday, December 7, 2012, in Ottawa, at our house.  We would be delighted if you would join  with us in a shout out to congratulate her on the publication of this book, which is available at Chapters and through

Smitten Kitchen Book Launch Tour

November 2012

SmartCooks here. Facebook seems to want to delete text soooo.... I'm reverting to the blog.  

Although I’m so work-occupied these days ;), I retained enough memory to pre-order an advance copy of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, which arrived this week and perked up my day. It's a sturdy book with its 105-plus recipes, 85 of them vegetarian, and 300+ full- colour photos.

It’s the long-awaited cookbook from the first food blogger I found when I started the SmartCooks blog. Smitten Kitchen author Deb Perelman has been blogging her kitchen creations for the past four years from a tiny New York kitchen. The recipes on the blog, and now in the cookbook, are based on seasonal produce from her local farmer's market, and come complete with her signature style of photographing food. 

Her writing style is witty and engaging – each one of her entries leads to hundreds of enthusiastic comments from her loyal followers, myself included. 

Her book launch tour was delayed due to Superstorm Sandy and lack of power in her home! But she has two gigs in Vancouver (Nov 6 and 7), with one on CBC already sold out. She will be in Toronto on November 16 at the George Brown Chef School and it too is nearly sold out! 

I bought my copy of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook from and am prepping a Sunday night dinner of mushroom bourguignon, (, a worthy choice after Husband and I brave the cold and rake up the oodles of bags of soggy leaves. Enjoy!

And update:  Leftovers!  Am watching the results of the U.S. Presidential election, a nail biter, and eating leftovers.   Yumm.'

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Weekend Refresher with Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

October 2012

SmartCooks here.  It was a whirlwind week of cross-country flying on oversold/late planes (!) and meetings with close to 600 people -- in person and by teleconference and videoconference -- plus a rapid tour of the services for veterans at a military base.  

This weekend ... back on ground zero ... offers a breather to chill with Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts.  

It's the second time I've made this dip, and results from both trials are the same -- refreshing, unique, pleasing taste and low-fat dish if you use the hazelnuts and goat cheese in moderation.  

The first time I made it with red beets and it turned out very close to the colour in pix at right (from Food and Wine).  

The second time I made it with golden and Chioggia (or candycane, pix left) heirloom beets, resulting in a lighter coloured dish.

Za'atar-spiced beet dip can be used as a spread, as an appetizer with whole wheat crackers from a Smitten Kitchen recipe or even a light dinner with wholewheat pita.    

A word about Za'atar 

I've written about my discovery of and use of za'atar before on SmartCooks and once again encourage trying it.  It's both a herb (known as the 'King of Herbs' in the Middle East) and a spice blend.  The herb is rarely exported so in North America we tend to find a variation of the spices depending on the region (as in photo right).

It's a versatile spice blend that can be used in a variety of dishes -- from meats and rice to veggies, dips and breads. It can be bought mixed or try a variety of recipes for it, which typically involve thyme, marjoram, oregano, sumac and roasted sesame seeds.  


Za'atar-Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

6 medium beets, or about 1.5 lbs 
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 small red chile, seeded and minced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used 0% fat)
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 T pure maple syrup
1 T za'atar
Kosher salt
1/4 cup roasted skinned hazelnuts, chopped
2 T goat cheese, crumbled
2  scallions, thinly sliced 
Interesting bread, wholewheat pita, or crackers, for serving 


Preheat the over to 350 degrees.  Place beets in a roasting pan and add 1/4 cup of water, cover with foil and bake, until tender, about 1 hour.  Let cool slightly, peel, and cut beets into wedges, then transfer to a food processor.

Add garlic, chile and yogurt to food processor and pulse until blended.  Add the olive oil, maple syrup, and za'atar and puree.  Season with salt.  

Scrape into a wide, shallow bowl.  Scatter roasted hazelnuts, goal cheese and scallions on top and serve with bread, crackers or wholewheat pita.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Thai Chile-Lime Cashews

October 2012 

SmartCooks here.  For Thanksgiving dinner, you don't usually need much in the way of appetizers. This year Bon Appetit was featuring light appetizers and I found and tried Thai Chile-Lime Cashews.  They worked well, especially set out in cute little bowls in the living and dining rooms.  Plus a small bowl for the cook!  

I preferred making my own mostly because you can control the sodium level.  In this version you get only about one-third of what you find in store-bought versions.  Plus, this appetizer is super simple to make and cheaper than the packaged brands!  

I found all the ingredients, i.e., the dried chiles de arbol, ground ancho chiles and kaffir leaves at my favourite local, organic Herb and Spice store.  

Despite the chiles, this is not a super-spicy dish. The lime cools it off considerably.  To borrow a phrase ... Bet you can't eat just one!  Bon Appetit-izer! 

4 cups raw cashews (definitely unsalted) 
15 dried chiles de arbol, pix below
10 kaffir lime leaves cut in 1/4 inch slices
2 T melted unsalted butter
2 T vegetable oil (I used safflower) 
1 T kosher salt (or less... up to you) 
1.5 tsp ground ancho chiles (pix right) 
2 T finely grated lime zest 


Preheat oven to 325°F. 

Combine cashews, dried chiles de arbol, kaffir lime leaves, unsalted butter, vegetable oil, kosher salt and ancho chiles in a large bowl and toss to coat.  Spread nut mixture in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Roast, stirring occasionally, until cashews are evenly toasted, about 20 minutes. Let nut mixture cool completely on sheet on a wire rack. Transfer nuts to a large bowl and toss with the grated lime zest. 

This appetizer can be made up to 2 days ahead of the event and leftovers stored in a tight container at room temperature for awhile (I don't know for how long... they didn't last).

Monday, 8 October 2012

South Indian Beef Curry with Rice or Quinoa

SmartCooks here.

The Canadian three-day holidays are just fine.  Almost over though.  Darn.  I'm leaving on a jet plane again tomorrow... this time to Halifax and then C'Town, then next week across the country to various locations talking to the regional folks. Wish I had good news to impart ... tough six months ahead.  

As I expected with this new position ... month 3 ... blogging is difficult.  Cooking is difficult.  Eating healthy is difficult. Carving out 45 minutes 2x a week for Greco's personal training is difficult as is timing a rockin' Goodlife cardio class.  

To take back life, I found a delicious recipe in my Food and Wine app for South Indian Beef Curry with Rice.  I skipped the fragrant basmati rice in favour of a medley of quinoa (black, red, and white) mixed with a bit of leftover Israeli couscous.  The dish was a completely divine Saturday dinner-with-movie affair, definitely worth searching out boneless beef short ribs at the butcher and asking him or her to cut it into 3/4 inch slices or, better yet, cubes.  Saslove's Meat Market even found me local hormone ones, much to my delight.  No worries about any XL meat in my life.   

South Indian Beef Curry is super simple to prepare, a one-pot meal, that simmers for 90 minutes to end up a tender, well-blended, not too hot, meal.  It's a keeper.  All the spices can be found at whatever local version of a Herb and Spice you have in your area, including the dried Chili Peppers (left) that are a staple of mine for Thai and Indian curries.  

South Indian Cuisine

I did a bit of research to understand the style and characteristics of South Indian cuisine.  I couldn't possibly do it justice here but most sites seem to agree that most South Indian food is based on some type of rice, often eaten with a curry.  Food tends to have a generous, but balanced, amount of spices in both the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes of the region.  Tempering of dishes tends to include a mixture of oil, curry leaves, red chiles etc.  So... 


South Indian Beef Curry with Rice  


2 T canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
12 fresh curry leaves (hard to find so I used dry) or 2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, grated
4 tsp finely grated and peeled fresh ginger 
1 T tomato paste (the tubes of tomato paste are fabulo), dissolved in 1/2 cup of water
2 tsp ground coriander 
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
4 small dried hot chiles
4 star anise pods (pictured, right) 
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 3/4 lbs boneless beef short ribs, 
cut into 3/4 inch pieces 
Salt (I used kosher salt)


In a heavy-bottomed or cast-iron casserole, heat the canola oil until shimmering.

Add the onion and curry leaves and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. 

Add the garlic and ginger and cook until aromas develop, about 1 minute.

Stir in the tomato paste dissolved in water, along with the coriander, garam masala, cayenne, turmeric, dried chiles, star anise and cinnamon sticks.  

Add the ribs, season with salt and stir until coated with the spices.  Cover partially and cook over very low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.  

Spoon off any fat and discard the star anise, cinnamon sticks and any bay leaves, if using.  I also took out some of the dried chiles.

Serve over rice e.g., basmati or whole wheat.  Quinoa, Israeli couscous or any type of whole grain are always options.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rosh Hashanah Heirloom Carrot Salad with Dates, Almonds and Herbs

September 2012

Happy Rosh Hashanah. Shana Tova to all.  To celebrate this high holiday, I made a quick, simple but very traditional sweet dish of "
Heirloom Carrot Salad with Dates, Almonds and Herbs," with thanks to Food 52  

To explain.... one of the real joys of this new job is getting to work with some of the best and brightest young folks who have joined the public service in the past decade or so.  Smart, enthusiastic, bright, young policy minds who work long hours on complex public policy issues that are aimed at bettering the lives of Canada's veterans.  It's a real pleasure.

There's hardly any time for chit chat on the job.  So, today, as one of the policy assistants was leaving the office, she wished me (and all of us), 'L'Shanah Tovah'. Well, that got our attention.  Say what? I asked.  The traditional greeting on Rosh Hashanah is apparently Shana Tova which in Hebrew means "A Good Year!".

Not that I would have known it but the Jewish New Year or High Holidays started at sundown September 16 and run until September 18.  It is an event believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman.

Rosh Hashanah meals usually include apples and honey to symbolize a sweet new year.  I was sorely tempted to try Apple and Honey Challah (bread!) from Smitten Kitchen but it took more time than I have available.  Other temptations included 'Lekach' (or Jewish honey cake) and leek fritters called keftedes de prasa (I profiled those before on SmartCooks and highly recommend them). 

So, after a bit more research, I found a number of recipes involving carrots, which of course are known for being sweet.  "Heirloom Carrot Salad with Dates, Almonds & Herbs" was a perfect choice in terms of time and the ingredients i had on hand.  

The recipe is below.  Shana Tova Umetukah or "A Good and Sweet Year." Indeed! Enjoy. 

Heirloom Carrot Salad with Dates, Almonds & Herbs

Ingredients (Vinaigrette):

2/3 cups olive oil
1/3 cup walnut or grapeseed oil (I used grapeseed)
1/3 cup sherry vinegar 
1 T dark honey or maple syrup 
1 T lemon juice
1 shallot (minced)
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 small garlic clove (minced)


1 cup almonds, blanched (I used marcona)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp lemon juice
1 T kosher salt
1 T confectioner's (icing) sugar
2 bunches heirloom carrots (mix of purple, orange, yellow, white) 
1/2 cup slivered dates
2 cups baby arugula
1 cup herbs (mix of mint, Italian parsley, purslane and any flowers like nastursium, if available).  I found some at the Lansdowne/Brewer Park Farmer's Market).
Salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 350 degrees

First, toss almonds with cumin, lemon juice and salt, spread on a baking sheet and toast in the oven.

Once toasted, toss almonds with the confectioner's (icing) sugar. Crush almonds slightly with  a knife and put aside.

Vinaigrette:  Combine shallots, garlic, thyme, lemon juice, dark honey or maple syrup, salt & pepper and slowly whisk in oils till emulsified.  Taste, adjust seasoning.

Wash carrots, peel off first layer if necessary.  Set bowl of ice cold water in sink or on counter.  Using vegetable peeler continue to peel carrots down to the core creating ribbons, let carrot ribbons fall in to cold water to keep crisp. When all the carrots have are finished, drain and dry well.  Wash and dry arugula and herbs.  

To serve:  Combine carrots with two-thirds of the vinaigrette, almonds and dates and toss well.  Add arugula and herbs and add further vinaigrette to taste.

Applelicious PEI Apple-Pear Cake

September 2012

PEI Fall Flavours.  It is simply gorgeous in PEI these days ... warm sun, gentle evenings, signing of muted colours beginning to show in the trees.  The promise of fall to come.  

With fall come the 'fruits' of nature's bounty, including crisp delicious apples.  Applelicious indeed.  I couldn't resist.  I found myself buying a basket of apples and a smaller amount of pears and pulling together one of the best tasting, moist apple-pear cakes I have ever eaten. 

The recipe, adapted from A Taste of Home  includes the frosting, which I made for one batch (yeah!! delicious) but skipped for the second cake, preferring instead to garnish it with a mixture of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.  I took the cake and berries to a marathon management retreat and ... wait for it, it helped us make it through the night.  

So here you go.  Enjoy.   

Apple-Pear Cake 
(Frosting Optional)


    2 cups shredded peeled tart apple
    2 cups shredded peeled pears (I used bosc pears)
    2 cups sugar
    1 1/4 cups canola oil
    1 cup raisins
    1 cup chopped pecans
    2 eggs, lightly beaten
    1 tsp vanilla extract
    3 cups all-purpose flour (I used Red Fife)
    2 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
    1/2 tsp salt

    Cream Cheese Frosting: (optional) 
    1 package (3 ounces) cream cheese, softened
    3 cups confectioners' sugar
    1/4 cup butter, softened
    2 T milk
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract

    In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Combine dry ingredients; stir into the fruit mixture.
    Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 325° for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
    For frosting (optional), in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' and butter until smooth. Beat in the milk and vanilla; frost cake. Store in the refrigerator.
    If not using frosting, garnish with a selection of berries such as raspberry, blackberry, and blueberries.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Rainbow Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

SmartCooks here.

As I suspected, I don't have much time anymore to try some interesting recipes and/or do a blog.  Travelling back and forth to Charlottetown is definitely getting in the way, not to mention the learning curve associated with a new job.  

Facebook has become my choice for 'quick hits.'  I'm having fun with it ... it's a good stress relief and makes me feel like I have a life outside of work.  Chi balance.

The summer (and heat!) marches on. My favourite produce of the year -- Tomatoes! -- has appeared at the Farmer's Market. I love all heirloom tomatoes (like the brandywine red pictured above in the photo from a brochure on a Farmer's Market) but I also search out small heirloom tomatoes.  I like the names -- lemon boys, black prince, Mr. Stripey, and zebra, among others.  The taste alone, or in salads, or mixed with corn, cilantro, basil ... all divine.  I am always so sad when the season ends. 

And then there's gazpacho.  The only time of the year when I make and savour it. This particular recipe is done with a mix of colours and sizes.  It takes a bit of work to press the tomatoes but is worth it rather than using conventional tomato juice which contains salt (and I hate the taste of the sodium-reduced stuff). This recipe is clean and fresh tasting with very few calories.  Great for lunches as it is best served cold.  


1 3/4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, mix of colours, halved
1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1 cup chopped yellow and red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped onion or green scallions
1/2 cup orange juice
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium jalapeño chili with seeds, chopped (about 1 T)
1 bunch of fresh cilantro (recipe below) 
8 oz grapeseed or sunflower oil (recipe below) 
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped.


Squeeze tomatoes to get juices and seeds into a strainer set over bowl. Press on seeds to extract all juice. 

Chop tomatoes. Set aside 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup cucumber, and 1/4 cup bell peppers for garnish.

Combine remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and bell peppers in processor. Add tomato juices, onion/scallions, orange juice, oil, vinegar, garlic, and jalapeño; process until smooth.  

Season with salt and pepper. Transfer soup to bowl; add reserved vegetables. Cover and chill overnight.

When serving, drizzle with 1tsp cilantro oil (recipe below) and sprinkle with avocado pieces.

Cilantro Oil Recipe 

1 bunch fresh cilantro 
8 oz grapeseed or sunflower oil 

Put fresh cilantro and grapeseed/sunflower oil 
into a food processor and process until smooth.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Carp Garlic Festival.  On a Saturday in mid-August, the Farmer's Market hosted the 13th Annual Garlic Festival.  It's the second year I've attended and like last year, I found it educational, entertaining and a good-eatin' time.   

Upon arriving, I first did a circuit of all 20 plus garlic booths, featuring more garlic than you can imagine in any one place.  I took in the aroma of fresh garlic bulbs, marvelled at the intricate garlic braids (ouch the price!), watched braiding demos, and garlic cooking contests and sampled a wide variety of garlic-inspired condiments.  

Circuit done, I honed in on buying one of each type of garlic, and remembered to bring paper bags and a marker so I could label them properly.  Like who knew? there was such a variety of garlic to be used for cooking, or roasting, or eating raw.  

So why do I like garlic?  My taste for it has grown in the past decade as has my taste for stronger flavours and Chinese, Japanese and Asian-inspired cooking.  It has a bunch of reputed health benefits such as helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  Well, I'm all for that.... It also supposed to keep insects (like aphids) and fungal diseases at bay in gardens.  

Garlic also stores well.  If kept in a dry, not sunny, not too hot spot, it can last for months.  Last year's batch lasted well into February.  It flavoured all of last year's August pesto batches.  

It took me awhile to figure out the differences in garlic.  Some quick facts I've found thanks to Railway Creek Farms in Madoc, Ontario, and their site that publishes a complete guide to organic garlic, like... 
* Garlic originated in central Asia, where they have cold winters and damp springs. 
* There are 600 varieties in the world (unsure how many types are grown in Canada). 
* The garlic species is divided into "hardnecks" and "softnecks".  Hardnecks are favoured by northern growers while softnecks are better for warmer climates. 
* Garlic 'scapes' are the plant at the top of the garlic.  In recent years, growers are harvesting these separately from the garlic.  Their mild taste makes them perfectly suited for stir frys and salads.
* Elephant garlic is very popular but is actually most closely related to the leek family.  

Hardneck Garlic:

* Got its name from the stiff stalks or neck of the plants.  It tends to have fewer cloves, with cloves circled around a central stalk.  

* Hardneck garlic has 3 distinct varieties:  Rocamboles (thinner skins, peels easily), Purple striped (distinctive stripes; can be mild to pungent tasting) and Porcelain (plump bulb and a few fat cloves with a thick outer skin).  

Softneck Garlic:

* Stores and travels better than hardneck garlic. 

* Two types are Artichoke (most commonly grown commercial garlic because it stores well) and Silverskin (silvery, white skins with many small cloves, stronger flavour).  (I didn't  find any silverskin.)

Here's a rundown of my new inventory of garlic.  I bought a range of garlic (1-2 each) from the varieties offered at the Garlic Festival.  

Rocamboles Variety 
Spanish Roja

Spanish Roja:  Hot, with a distinct strong flavour and a lingering sweetness.  Can be eaten raw, has a pleasant bite and is easy to peel.  An award-winner.  

Hungarian:  Very hot with a lingering strong flavour.  Very good for cooking.

Killarney:  Its origin is unknown but it is thought to have come from either Spanish Roja or German Red garlic.  It is medium sizes, with a strong flavour, hot and spicy.  It can have up to 8 or 9 easy-to-peel cloves.  

Russian Red 
Russian Red:  Strong garlic flavour and a warm, sweet aftertaste.  Well known in Ontario and also in BC, where it was introduced by Doukhobor immigrants from Russia in the early 1990s.  It is considered by many as the best tasting of all garlics, with a thin skin and usually 7-9 cloves per bulb.  Garlicky when eaten raw, usually used in cooking as it holds it flavour.  

Italian:  Garlicky with a lingering aftertaste.  Works well rubbed on toasted bread and garlic butters.  Cooks suggest it be added at the end of cooking to preserve the flavour.

Korean:  Mild garlic flavour when cooked and with a nice large size.  

Railway Creek Garlic:  A mild garlic with a sweet aftertaste.  Good on salads and light cooking.  Guides suggests it be added at the end of the cooking time to retains its crunch and rawness.  


Yugoslavian:  Very distinctive, with copper veined and purple blotched bulbs.  It has a strong garlic aroma, initially hot and spicy but not overwhelming and then mellowing to a warm pleasant, sweet aftertaste.  Averages 9 to 14 cloves per bulb.  

Purple Stripe Variety
Persian Star

Czechoslovakian:  Rated the 'hottest' garlic at the Carp Garlic Festival a few years ago, this garlic has a bold, garlic flavour.

Persian Star:  This garlic is an endangered heritage garlic, and hard to find.  It has a mild, spicy zing.  

Porcelain Strain Variety

Mennonite: Strong, robust flavour that lasts for months, with large bulbs. Great for roasting but can also be eaten raw. It is becoming very popular among garlic growers and consumers.

German: Very similar to Mennonite.

Siberian:  Medium to strong flavour, 7-9 cloves per bulb.

Music Garlic

Armenian:   A large-cloved garlic that averages 4 cloves per bulb.

Music:  This hardy, large garlic is very popular at the Farmers' Markets around the Ottawa Region.  It is easy to grow, likes cold weather, stores for 3-6 months, is large and easy to peel.  Its flavour is mild to medium hot, with high levels of allicin, which researchers say is a powerful antioxidant.

Rosewood:  Not a large garlic but with a strong flavour.  It originated in Russia, produces large bulbs with 4-7 cloves per bulb.

Artichoke Variety 

Red Inchelium 
Inchelium Red:  One of the few softnecks I found.  It is among the first to harvest, has 8 to 20 gloves per bulb, and is very tasty and easy for cooking.

Red Toch
Red Toch:  This garlic originated in the Republic of Georgia in the former USSR, is a bit on the mild side and with very little heat.  Bulbs tend to be large and easy to peel.  

Polish White
Polish White:  An artichoke variety that can get quite large.  Flavour is medium hot, very rich, considered almost 'buttery'.  It keeps very well and is good for cooking stews and soups.