Desperately Seeking Sun [Ginger-Cilantro Margaritas]
I’m not usually so bitter towards winter.
We live in a city that inevitably gets 200cm (78”) or more of snowfall each season but come March, when we tend to get a day or two of teasing above zero weather, anger and frustration starts to set in after that warmth is quickly gusted away by yet another city-entombing snowfall. The boots, the shoveling, the digging and pushing and digging and pushing of a stuck car, the dirty, snowy dog paws, and the stirring restlessness that happens after months of dusty heater-breezes where crisp, sun-drenched breezes used to hang.
I want the sun badly. I want to feel my cheeks flush and toasty under it’s rays. I want to spend the weekend on the balcony, catching up on reading, my toes glowing in the late afternoon sun that only manages to hit one corner of the tiny wooden box. I want to muddle Farmer’s Market berries and herbs, drown them in soda water and gin, and invite friends over to gab late into the night, our conversation tangled with the sound of crickets and the swooping sounds of the bats we get in late summer. I want it all, but all there is is more snow. More ice. Heavy coats and sweaty toque-hair.
I made these Thai-inspired margarita’s last week after feeling particularly run down by winter. They have a bright, spicy & aromatic flavour that muddles the spicy Thai ingredients that I’ve become so familiar with in the long winter months, with the bright, icy cold tartness I miss so dearly from the summer. If you’re missing summer, or heck, even if you’re in the midst of it (which I say with only the slightest bit of disdain), I hope you’ll enjoy one of these. Close your eyes and try to remember that it’s just around the corner; all that sun, the informal outdoor parties, bike rides and patios.
I love cilantro in this margarita, but if you’re not one for cilantro (which is an absurd thought for me) you can use Thai basil (preferably) or regular basil. As well, I use a generous amount of ginger both in the syrup and the cocktail itself here. If you want it a touch less kicky, forgo adding the grated ginger into the cocktail.
Ginger Simple Syrup
1/4 cup fresh ginger, cut into thin rounds
1/4 cup sugar, less if you prefer it tart
1 cup water
In a small sauce pot, add the three ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into heatproof jar and cool.
6 sprigs cilantro plus extra leaves for garnish
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated fine
juice from 3 whole limes
4 oz white tequila
2 oz triple sec, optional
1 1/2 oz ginger syrup
2 cups still or sparkling water
In a cocktail shaker, add the cilantro and ginger and muddle a bit to bruise the cilantro leaves. Add the lime juice, tequila, triple sec (if using) 6 ice cubes and water. Taste and adjust any ingredients if needed (more syrup if it’s too tart, more lime if it’s too sweet) Shake and divide into glasses filled with ice and garnished with cilantro leaves.
A Shift in Comfort [Chermoula Chicken with Toasted Almond Couscous & Coriander Yogurt]
And just like that, winter came. And liked us so much it decided to stay for 4 long months.
As the nipping air blows into town and we wrap our bones in layers over layers like flaky croissant dough around a piece of rich Swiss chocolate, I find myself feeling a constant power struggle in the kitchen. Comfort vs. Health. Does there need to be such a decision? Can’t we have it all?
The short answer is yes! We can! But there needs to be a bit of a shift in the way you prepare and buy ingredients for your favourite comfort foods. If you love macaroni and cheese, add the cheese to a pureed cauliflower or squash base instead of the classic butter-filled bechamel and use whole wheat pasta. Take time to learn how to adjust your seasoning with herbs and spices instead of salt. It’s not only healthier, but you really learn how to use all those little jars collecting dust on the shelf. Love a gooey lasagna? Try using thin slices of eggplant to replace the noodles, or place a spoonful of meat sauce at the end of an eggplant slice and roll it up like cannelloni There are so many simple ways to make the dishes we crave most when the temperature drops just a little bit healthier, we just need to be a bit more mindful of how we shop and what goes into our meals.
The dish I’m sharing today might not bring visions of couch-snuggling, wine drinking or cozy evening movie-watching to mind initially, but to me it’s as quintessentially comforting as a bowl of noodles and broth. The couscous with toasted almonds is surprisingly satisfying, the fiery chicken with it’s array of warm spices can take the chill out of any frigid evening, and the cooling coriander yogurt really brings everything together. All of these flavours of lemon, yogurt, coriander, paprika and cumin compliment each other so wonderfully your mouth won’t even realize you’re eating something packed with nutrition. I chopped up all the leftovers and tossed them together in a salad for lunch that I just happen to be eating RIGHT NOW. And let me tell you, if it tasted good the first day, you’re going to be blown away by day 2! And it’s lovely cold, as well.
Invite a few close friends over and serve this up family-style over the holidays. It’s a meal that’s meant to be shared and enjoyed together. And since you’ve already saved yourself a few calories, why not have an extra glass of wine with dinner? Live a little! I give you my permission.
Chermoula Chicken with Toasted Almond Couscous & Coriander Yogurt
adapted from Fork Magazine
6 sweet red peppers (if you can find the long skinny ones, those are best)
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
For the Coriander Yogurt
1/2 cup coriander (cilantro), minced
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Juice + zest of 1 lemon
salt, to taste
½ tsp fresh ground pepper
Stir all ingredients until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Place in the fridge until ready to eat. Can be made 1 day in advance.
For the Chermoula spice:
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 small red chilli, chopped & seeds removed (substitute: ½ tsp cayenne pepper)
1 small bunch of coriander, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
Place all ingredients in a bullet or food processor and blend until smooth. Can be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge until ready.
For the couscous:
3 cups cooked couscous
1 cup toasted almond flakes or slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt & pepper, to taste
Stir all ingredients except for salt and pepper. Add a few pinches of salt and fresh ground pepper and taste. Add more if needed. Keep warm in a pot over low-heat on the stove, stirring every so often.
For the Chicken and Peppers:
In a large container with lid (or a food-storage bag), add the chicken and Chermoula spice. Squish around until the chicken is coated and place in the fridge for 3 hours up to overnight. The longer you leave it, the better the flavour the chicken will have.
Bring a grill pan or cast-iron skillet with a couple glugs of vegetable oil to high heat until sizzling. Add the chicken and cook for 6 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Keep the pan on the stove and remove the chicken to a plate to rest for a few minutes. Place the whole peppers, 3 at a time, on the pan and let the skin blacken and blister slightly, 3-4 minutes. Flip and let the other side blister. Alternatively, you can move your oven rack to the top ledge and cook the peppers under the broiler. Remove and slice the peppers into thin strips and place them in a serving bowl.
Pour the couscous onto a large serving dish. Sliced the chicken and serve over the couscous. Serve with Coriander Yogurt and Grilled Peppers.
Expanding my Taco Horizons [Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables]
Did you just get so excited? I know I did.
The word ‘taco’ brings about emotions in me that food shouldn’t be able to. I get excited from the pit of my tummy to the tips of my toes when I hear that sacred word. TACO! It happened again. Oh god I love them so much.
Whenever my mom asks my sister or I what we want for our birthday dinners (yes, we still get to pick whatever we want even though we’re both well into our 20s) its consistently a resounding “TACOS!” or “FAJITAS!”. We do love our Mexican food so very much. So much, in fact, that Mr. GL doesn’t much like to be around me when I’m eating Mexican because I turn into a rabid dog focused only on stuffing as much of everything-on-the-table as I can in one tortilla. Often I fill my tortilla so full that I end up eating it with a fork and knife, defeating the whole purpose of tacos all together. Oh, what a life.
Over the summer I had the pleasure of dining Ottawa’s SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar a few times and was amazed to learn that there was more to tacos than Old El Paso had told to me. How pathetic, right? Somehow I believed that tacos were a thing of merely taco seasoning and ground meat. I feel ashamed to tell you this, but we’re friends. And friends tell each other the truth. My eyes were opened. And tacos have never been the same. Not that I plan on wiping Old El Paso from regular rotation around here, that will never happen, but I shall be expanding my taco-horizons.
When I accidentally stumbled across a recipe for crispy shrimp tacos this week, my world came to a sudden halt. A doughy taco shell, stuffed full of a cumin-spiked tomato, shrimp and cilantro mixture and then… get this, are you ready? Rolled up and DEEP FRIED. The resulting roll is somewhere between a taco and a taquito, bursting with this extremely bright and fresh filling. It was a game changer. A life changer. A WORLD changer, if you will. I know you won’t be surprised to learn it’s a recipe from White on Rice Couple’s stunning blog. They are the cat’s ass, Diane and Todd. If you haven’t been for a visit, I’ll wait here while you go and take a look. Go ahead. Right now. I insist!
See what I’m saying? Brilliant. And those photos? Forget about it. I can only dream of being that kind of talented some day.
These tacos are so good I didn’t even sit down to eat them. I stood there, hanging over the counter, tossing them back as fast as I could. What a pretty picture that paints. I served some quick pickles alongside to contrast with the rich filling and they were a perfect addition.
Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables
adapted from White on Rice Couple
The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but my market had run out the day I went in to grab some. I urge you to try and find some at your Latin Market, their flavour is so much better than flour tortillas, I find.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos (or chilies of your choice), diced
1 tsp ground cumin
3-4 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cut into 1/2” pieces
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Oil for frying, enough to fill 2” in your frying pan (preferably peanut or Grapeseed oil)
8-10 corn tortillas
Tomato Broth (recipe follows)
Quick pickled vegetables (recipe follows)
In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and let them sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, chilies and cumin and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and shrimps and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is about ketchup-consistency. It shouldn’t be too watery. Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and let cool.
Roll and Fill the Tacos;
Fill frying pan with oil to a depth of about 2”. Heat the oil to about 350-375 or until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it in the oil.
Two at a time, drop the tortillas in the oil for 1 second just to soften. Place on paper towels to drain.
Lay tortillas flat and spoon 2-3 tbsp of the mixture onto one side of the tortilla. Roll them up tight (ends open) and secure with a tooth pick. Repeat until no more filling remains.
Place tacos, 3-4 at a time, into the hot oil for 1.5 minutes. Flip over and cook for another 1 minutes until golden brown.
Place fried tacos on paper towels to drain. Serve with tomato broth and quick pickles.
3-4 tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 sweet onion, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth.
Pour tomato puree into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. It should be a soupy consistency.
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
2 jalapenos, sliced into rounds
2 carrots, cut into thing strips
1 small daikon, cut into thin strips
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
large pinch of salt
Large mason jar
In a bowl, add the vinegar, water sugar and salt. Whisk until sugar dissolves
Place half the cauliflower and jalapenos into the bottom of the jar. Add the carrot/daikon strips, and finish with the rest of the cauliflower jalapenos. Pour pickling bring over until the jar is filled and vegetables are submerged. Place the lid on the jar and let pickle for at least an hour in the fridge. These will keep for 1 week.
Frivolous Spending and Frugal Beans
Everyone does them. Some willingly, some hesitantly. Some cut coupons, some buy extravagantly. I don’t often stop to look at the way I buy food. I put what I want in my basket, and I move on. I often don’t look at prices. I swipe my card confidently knowing that I don’t have to worry about the dreaded “Insuff Funds” coming up on the screen in front of me. I’m lucky. And I know there are plenty out there that don’t have this luxury. And yes, good food is a luxury. Food in general is a luxury that we don’t even think to be thankful for. A lot of us have never known anything different.
Before going any further, I want you to know that I’m certainly not trying to leap up onto my soapbox and make everyone feel badly for the way they buy food. I am more than guilty of buying things frivolously and not paying mind to how much things are or how unnecessary certain purchases may be. Please do not take this as a stern talking-to.
My friend Mel is participating in the Do The Math Challenge, which basically asks groups or individuals to live exclusively off the contents of a food hamper for as long as they can (typically 3-4 days but some can stretch it as long as 10). You’re encouraged to eat at least two meals at a drop-in but are not allowed to accept free food or drink other than that. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness and ask the Ontario Government to immediately increase, by $100 a month, the social assistance received by adults in Ontario.
While I’m not participating in the challenge, I’ve definitely been paying closer attention to what I’m buying, how often, and how much I waste. Unfortunately, it’s not something I pay attention to because I’ve really never had to.
I often tell you to eat organically, buy local, get the best there is… but all I’m asking of you today is that you eat consciously. Even for a week. Pay attention to what’s in your grocery basket and if you actually need it. It may change the way you shop, or it may not. But at least you have a better idea of how you buy. It can be as small as bringing your grocery bags. Five cents for each bag can add up quickly when you’re living on Social Assistance.
In keeping with conscious eating, I’ve got a recipe that is as cheap as it is delicious. The grocery bill was $19.86, making each of the 5 servings come in at a reasonable $3.97 per bowl. That’s assuming you don’t have any ingredients on hand, otherwise it will be significantly cheaper (I did already have some pantry staples on hand).
Baked Chipotle White Beans with Kale, Cilantro Pesto and Mozzarella
based on Heidi Swanson’s Giant Chipotle White Beans
1 pound of dried white beans (the bigger the better) rinsed, picked over and soaked overnight - or up to 24 hours. If you’re like me and don’t always think in advance, you can try the no-soak method for softening beans.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 big pinches of red pepper flakes
2 pinches of salt
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers (or as much as you like)
1 medium clove of garlic
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
big pinch of salt
2/3 cup kale or chard, washed and cut into ribbons
1 cup goat’s milk mozzarella, cubed (optional)
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs (optional)
Add the olive oil, red pepper flakes and garlic to a cold pan. Turn the heat on to medium and put the pan on the element. Stir the red pepper and garlic constantly until fragrant (45 seconds-1minute). Don’t burn the garlic. Add the crushed tomatoes and oregano leaves and heat through for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the adobo sauce. Stir in kale/chard. Set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, blender, or if you’re old fashioned and awesome, your mortar and pestle, add the garlic clove, cilantro, olive oil and salt. Blend until smooth. It will be quite liquidy, don’t panic. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375.
Add your beans to a large casserole dish, stir in the chipotle-tomato sauce, and the cheese. Top with bread crumbs and bake for 15-20 minutes or until crumbs are golden brown.
Drizzle with pesto and serve.
And before you chow, be conscious, appreciate and be glad that you’re eating a delicious meal that some are not lucky enough to enjoy.