Thursday, August 26, 2010

Food in a Hurry

Today I did a deep clean of my apartment. I dusted, I swept, I got down on my hands and knees and scrubbed the floor. It was slightly terrifying actually. Not the work involved, but the dirt that managed to accumulate between now and the last time I cleaned (a date too far back for me to admit to).

My bedroom was the most frightening. I didn't even know that a single room could hold that much dust. The floor was so covered in it that as I swept it leaped off the floor in torrents, much to my dismay, while still leaving a substantial amount in a pile. Needless to say I'm going to have to sweep again shortly when all the flying dust has decided to settle again. *Sigh*

There was also a rather horrifying moment when I thought I'd swept up several little black beetles (not something I want in my apartment). Luckily they turned out to be flax seeds. The fact that I even entertained the possibility of my apartment breeding bugs is a sign that I need to clean it more often. Lesson learned.

Anyway, the point of all this cleaning talk is that the whole process took about four hours during which time I needed to eat. If you're anything like me when you clean, you run on momentum for much of the process. Once I break my cleaning groove I don't really want to go back to it. I will find myriad other ways to put it off. Honestly the only thing that really induces me clean is the prospect of studying for exams. Otherwise I have to force myself.

Midway through my cleaning frenzy I was hungry. So I turned to my old standby for fast, decent food: eggs. I dearly love eggs. There are so many things you can do with them (just take a look at French cooking) and they are gloriously quick to make. You can literally whip up an omelet in about ten minutes. Soft boil eggs in about five.

Recently I had seen something else with a bit more substance though: baked eggs. I can't remember which magazine they were in, but they were nestled in ramekins with a bed of spinach and a layer of cheese and they looked delicious. I happened to have spinach in my fridge so I decided to give it a go.

I have one word for you: delicious. Now I also happen to love any kind of green. I can almost see my mom cringing at the thought of the spinach, wilted before being baked in the oven. She hates cooked spinach. Perhaps the reason I like it is that she never force-fed it to me as a child. Whatever the reason, I will eat any greens you put in front of me. Bring on the bok choy, the Swiss chard and rapini. Yum. My mom would disagree. If you happen to share her opinion, you may want to pass on this.

It's really easy to make and, as mentioned previously, really quick. I threw goat's cheese on top because it was what I had in my fridge, but by all means use any cheese you want. Cheddar would be divine.

Baked Eggs with Spinach

1 egg
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
A good sized handful of spinach
1 tbsp of goat's cheese, crumbled

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.
Cook the garlic until aromatic, about a minute or so.
Toss in the spinach and cook until wilted, another minute or so.
Place spinach in a small ramekin and make a well in the middle.
Crack the egg into the well and sprinkle cheese on top.
Bake in the oven under the broiler for about 10 minutes.

Other than the egg and the garlic these measurements are very rough. I didn't measure anything. To give you an idea about the amount of spinach, just keep in mind that it will shrink substantially when you wilt it. You'll probably need more than you think you do. The timing is also rough. I didn't pay much attention to how long it took to bake. I just pulled it out when it looked done. Really it depends how well done you want your egg to be.

It's really very tasty. I highly recommend it. Especially if your in a pinch and need to eat fast. Take a break from your study session or your cleaning spree, your latest novel or your work presentation, and have some eggs.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blueberries Worth Mentioning

This is going to be short and sweet. I just needed to talk about these blueberries. It's been a while since I've had wild blueberries. So long, in fact, that I had begun to believe they were just like ordinary blueberries, except smaller. Not the case. At all. They are sweeter in a more subtle way, with a fuller, more rounded flavour.

I was casually making a spinach salad and decided to toss in some blueberries. I popped a couple in my mouth and they burst into deliciousness between my teeth. I stopped abruptly, all thoughts of the salad gone from my mind. I had forgotten blueberries could taste this good. I proceeded to eat an entire handful before remembering my salad.

They became the staple in my yogurt parfait the past few days. And this morning I left out the granola entirely (not just because my sister ate the last of it). Sadly I finished off the remainder of the berries. I'll have to buy more tomorrow. So I can eat as many of these blueberries as I can before the summer's out. I recommend you do the same.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Granola Parfait

I was toying with the idea of starting this post with an apology because it's been delayed far longer than I intended. However, it's going to get monotonous if I keep allowing ten days to lapse between posts. So I'll just say that I'll try my best to keep them coming, but I make no promises. Onward then.

Today I am addressing one of my favourite breakfast treats. Well, actually I'll eat at it just about any time of the day. It is the yogurt parfait.

First experienced at Starbucks with fruit and granola I was enamored by the first bite. Truly, fruit, yogurt, and granola belong together. The wonderful thing about it is its versatility. If you're like me, you're a bit of a creature of habit, but at the same time get bored by constant, unending repetition. Herein lies the secret of the yogurt parfait. You can change up the yogurt, you can change up the fruit, you can change up the granola, all the while keeping the essentials the same.

My personal favourite combination involves Greek style plain yogurt (the unsweetened kind), a good squirt of honey, homemade granola, and whatever fruit I have lying around (though I'm partial to strawberries). The tangy bite of the yogurt perks up your taste buds for the smoothly sweet honey. Strawberries add their own sweetness and occasional tang. Bananas are divinely sweet, lending a softness to both flavour and texture. Granola adds complexity and, of course, that ever satisfying crunch. But don't take my word for it. Try it. Change it.

Opt for plain yogurt sweetened with brown sugar (like my sister Laurelle). Toss in some fresh blueberries, or dried fruit in winter. Dried cherries are my absolute favourite in the dehydrated fruit department. And the granola. If you make it yourself there truly are unlimited ways of changing it. Even if you don't, store bought varieties abound. So take your pick.

Ever since making the granola we sell at work I have been preoccupied with the desire to make my own granola. I know. I don't think anything epitomizes hippie food more than granola, let alone homemade granola. But so be it. There are so many things you can do with it to make it your own. Change the nuts, change the seeds, change the spices, add whatever dried fruits you want. Seriously, you won't be disappointed.

Just to get you started here's a recipe that I adapted from Jamie Oliver. He calls it Honey Cherry Granola, but I left the cherries out since Laurelle didn't want them. Of course any dried fruit will do. So I'll just call it Honey Bunch Granola. Perhaps it's a bit too quaint, but I like it anyway.

Honey Bunch Granola
Adapted from Jamie Oliver

2 tbsp vegetable oil
6 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup chopped pecans
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
4 tbsp flax seeds

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Mix together the oil, honey, vanilla, and cardamom.
Toss everything else together, then add the liquids. It's easiest to use your hands to mix it together. This ensures that everything is well coated.
Spread the mix out on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

Jamie Oliver recommends 6 tbsp of cherries. You can, of course, add any dried fruit you like. Just make sure you add it to the granola after it comes out of the oven. Otherwise you'll end up with some seriously dried out fruit. The original recipe also calls for sesame seeds rather than flax seeds. I don't really care for sesame seeds so I switched it. The cardamom was my addition and can be substituted for cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, whatever you want really. The flavour of honey (buckwheat, wildflower, etc.) will also change the flavour of your granola, so experiment with that until you find one you like best.

Really just play with the recipe. And eat it any way you want. While I wholeheartedly recommend it with yogurt it would be delicious eaten with milk as a cereal. Or even just in handfuls as a snack. Let me know if you come up with any fantastic or inspired innovations of your own.

For breakfast, for lunch, for whenever: c'est parfait.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Peachy Keen

"The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning."
-Tuck Everlasting
, Natlie Babbitt

August always reminds me of Tuck Everlasting and that first opening sentence. It is a sultry month, and the word itself seems weighed down by the humidity that accompanies it. August. It sounds thick and heavy, barely ruffled by a breeze. It sounds like the electric buzz of cicadas as they hum in the trees. It sounds like a bonfire, like the crack of ice cubes in a cold drink, like stillness. And it tastes like peaches.

In fact the peaches were early this year. Truthfully, peaches are far from being my favourite fruit, but I saw them in the store, looking up at me from their basket, only $2.99. How could I resist? Sixteen peaches for only $2.99 is hard to pass up. I've eaten a fair few already on their own. Their softly fuzzy skin giving way to teeth with an almost inaudible crunch. Juicy and sweet, with only the slightest tang nipping playfully at the edges of your tongue.

But sixteen peaches is a lot for one person. So I needed more ways to eat them. They have served as a nice accompaniment to arugula salad, with goat cheese and pecans. Then my mom gave me a recipe for peach pancakes. They served as my lunch today.

I'll admit. They're not pretty. It turns out making pretty pancakes is not my strong suit. They always come out lumpy and deformed. Like amoebas. I had a lovely image in my mind. Perfect, round pancakes stacked like Pisa on my plate. Alas, it was not to be. My first attempt at flipping one resulted in this:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a pancake. Not an omelet. Though it bears uncanny resemblance to one. In any case they still tasted good. Fluffy and light, as pancakes should be, with cornmeal added for colour and texture. (Where would we be without cornmeal? It's so versatile) And delicious chunks of peaches. Softened by the heat, their sweetness heightened, the corners that poked from the batter lightly caramelized. They burst into summer between your teeth, surrounded by tender pancake.

Perhaps you will have more luck improving their appearance.

Cornmeal Peach Pancakes
From Anne Lindsay

3/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
2 cups milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped peaches

Mix the cornmeal, flours, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.
Beat eggs until light and stir in milk and oil. Pour into flour mixture. Add peaches and stir until just incorporated.
Heat skillet over medium heat, grease with butter, and cook the pancakes until the batter bubbles on the surface. Flip and cook until golden brown.

I cut this recipe in half and it was still way too much for me to eat on my own. Also, I had no whole wheat flour, so I just used all purpose. They turned out fine, though I feel the whole wheat would serve to round out the flavour more fully.

On an separate note, I made more strawberry soup and froze it in popsicle molds. They are delicious. It's slightly tangier when frozen. I didn't strain out the seeds, but I think I might next time.

So here's to popsicles, and peaches, and a hot, sultry August.