Thursday, 13 August 2015

There are times when I feel that just yesterday was the beginning of summer, and as I sit down to write this, we are almost in the middle of August. These precious, fleeting days of summer are almost at an end, and this year I took a break from blogging to work on a personal project that is close to my heart. I have also been cooking, and eating a lot, and one of the joys I have rediscovered is cooking just for the sake of cooking – not to photograph or write or think deeply about what I was making. I needed this break for many reasons, not least because I was also mentally and physically exhausted and not taking the time to recover my joy of living and just being.

And baking bread. Lots of bread.

But 'just being' aside, the harvest rolls on and each day new produce, fruits and vegetables keep rolling into my kitchen. Between Mama Argenplath, Prairie Urban Farm, our neighbours' overloaded cherry tree and our own back garden, it's just been one of those years.

So, mom I rolled up her my sleeves and got right down to it.

Now mom is not a canner or a preserver. I do remember her and a stash of my aunties all huddled in our small, hot kitchen back home in India, trying to jam rose apples. Mom was hunched over the rapidly boiling pot filled with a red, gooey, sugary jam and my aunts all stood around her, offering advice and constantly sticking their fingers into that boiling hot syrup to test if the jam had set. I can't remember if it did – all I remember is impatiently hanging around the door of the kitchen, wondering if anyone would think about making us any dinner. Mom swears that the jam set. I am skeptical. Mom always swore her jam set. Ha!

That said, we did preserve some things back in India. Spicy pickles are the ones I remember the most. My grandmother sent us up rickety ladders and climbing up mango trees to collect all the unripe mangoes at the end of the summer, just before we were due to get packed off back to school. Mai carefully cut up all of them with her sharp, lethal koitho and sun dried them, before bottling them up with spices and hot red chili paste. We were allowed to have a taste, just before they were all sealed up into large ceramic fermenting jars. We also preserved a lot of tamarind, jackfruit and gooseberries, usually in salt. Fish were also dried and salt packed into jars and the smells floated everywhere.

Jams, however, were a rarity, and very few people canned jam or jellies, like we do here (mom is still insisting that her jam set, by the way... I am disbelieving)

Talking about jams setting, Amy Bronee's 'The Canning Kitchen' came out this spring, right in time for canning season. I was sent a copy to review and I was pretty excited, as a lot of the time, my recipes tend to be staid and boring, and I was looking forward to some new ideas.

The Canning Kitchen is a beautiful book. Amy keeps it real, she doesn't faff around with complex techniques and fancy ingredients, and her recipes are all easy, approachable and, from the taste of this jam, absolutely delicious.

The sour cherries are Evans cherries, from my neighbour's front yard. Mr. M's cherries are now a bit of a ritual around here. Every year, since the first year we've lived in our house, our next door neighbour Val phones us in late July (she obviously thinks we're the polite kind that need to be asked to raid gardens, yeah right!) Val gets first pick of the cherries, but she barely even makes a dent in them. Once she's done, Adz, Mom, Kay and I tramped over with all our laundry baskets, a giant cooler and a couple of packing boxes. We then pick the abundance of cherries, with me being the numbnuts on the tip of the ladder, swaying precariously in the breeze. Once the cherries are all picked, we rake out Mr. M's lawn, tidy up around the tree and tramp back home. On the way home, we stop by Mr. and Mrs. D and D's, handing over their share of our bounty. Mr. D and I usually have the same conversation about Mr. M – about how he threatens to cut down that 'damn' tree if even one cherry is left behind, at which there are a chorus of protests – and then it's back to the cherries and processing those millions and billions and trillions of little jewels.

I usually make cherry jelly, but this year, in addition, I tried out Amy's sour cherry jam. It was a lot easier than straining juices for jelly, but be warned, the cherries do have to be pitted (thank goodness for mom – and NO. Your jam did not set!) Once the cherries are processed, the jam comes together very easily and you can can it in a water bath, following instructions.

I was originally going to try out Amy's rhubarb and raisin chutney, but sadly, rhubarb season was done by the time I got around to it. It's going on my list for next year. As I write this, that jam is slowly disappearing, by the way. Might be time to hide a few jars.

Giveaway Closed. Congratulations Alisha Duncan, I'll be in touch.

And now it's time for a giveaway. The kind folks at Penguin Random House Canada have given me a copy of 'The Canning Kitchen' to give away to my readers. 

The giveaway is open to all residents of Canada and is open until Thursday, August 20th at 5 PM MST. Please leave your email address so I have a way to contact you if you are the winner.

All you have to do to enter is answer this question - what jam or jelly is your favourite? Leave your answer in the comments. 

The following bloggers are also giving away a copy of The Canning Kitchen, and you are welcome to enter to maximise your chances of winning!

Janice of Kitchen Heal Soul makes Sweet Thai Chilli Chutney
Bridget of Bridget’s Green Kitchen makes Apple Butter
Jenny of The Brunette Baker makes Strawberry Rhubarb Jam
Megan of Food Whine makes Strawberry Jam
Anita of The Organic Experiment makes Zesty Pizza Sauce
Tiffany of Eating Niagara makes Blueberry Lime Jam
Julie of Try Small Things makes Thick Cut Orange Marmalade
Kelly of Kelly Neil makes Hot Dog Relish

Disclosure: Penguin Random House Canada gave me a copy of the book to review, and to give away. You can never have too many canning books, so really, I wasn't going to say no, now, was I ?

Monday, 27 July 2015

How many of us remember when flying was special and magical? The days when you dressed up in your best clothes, packed carefully, counted down the days to that flight, arrived that airport four hours in advance, were all excited to go through security, bounced all over duty-free, and then... joy of joys, walked into the plane, fiddled with all the buttons, thought long and hard about what to eat and drink and how to sleep well. Perhaps, if you were lucky, the captain would let you come on deck and show you the controls too.

See, I didn't grow up with aeroplanes and airports. For me, it was rickety buses and rattly trains all the way. While they had their own magic, flying was still out of reach for the ordinary people, so you can imagine my excitement when, at age twenty, I was offered the chance to head to Thailand and South-East Asia on a plane. On. A. Plane. For the first time. Oh, the squeals of excitement!

The first time I flew, I asked if I could head in to the pilot's cabin. And I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do so. The pilots were amazing, as we flew over the brightly lit cities in India, they pointed them out to me. The stars were huge in the sky, as they told me which ones were planets and all the constellations. It was certainly a magical first flight, a truly memorable one.

Ever since then I have flown many times, across continents and oceans, as flying has become more and more common. But through this all, a small kernel of excitement has always remained, and I certainly wish that more people felt the same, instead of just seeing flying as being just another way to get from one place to another, with a few sides of grumpiness and annoyance and frustration.

Well, it doesn't have to be that way now, does it?

Edmonton International Airport, also known as EIA, wants to let you know that your holiday starts at the airport. Along with three lovely Edmonton food bloggers, I was invited to the airport to experience cocktails and food in their various establishments. One of the things I've always moaned about (well, discreetly) has been the lack of transit service to the airport, and now, to my delight, the 747 now takes less that twenty minutes to the airport from Century Park transit centre. Even better, the bus is rarely crowded and even boasts free Wi-Fi... you know, just in case that important email has to be answered! So does EIA, by the way, so if you can't bear to leave the social media behind, just log on and you are in.

We started our food journey through the airport with Chili's Grill. The EIA franchise has some unique dishes that are not available anywhere else and it was the perfect start to our journey. We shared some bulldog and regular margaritas (and some come in their own little shaker) as well as some pickle Caesars. Pickles and Caesars = match made in heaven. We shared appetizers, and as you know, I am a sucker for wings, so I indulged to my heart's content. I must admit, though, that like most of the other bloggers with me, my favourite was the queso dip, and we gorged on it. A shout out, also, to the perfect onion rings. I don't normally do heavy meals before flying, but the appies and drinks at Chili's would be the perfect way to start off a holiday.

We moved on from Chili's to the Heineken Lounge, right beside EIA's famed (and rightly so) Living Wall. I breathed in the lovely fragrance of the fresh, green waterfall of plants, as Marlow Moo and I goofed about around it. At the Heineken Lounge, the food is Dutch-inspired, as is the beer. Cathy opted for the beer, while I decided to slow down on the drinks (after my Bulldog and Caesar at Chili's). I ordered a plate of waffle fries... after all, frites! I absolutely loved the curry mayonnaise that came with it, it was faintly reminiscent of coronation style salad dressing, a personal favourite of mine. That said, I looked on enviously at Cathy's chicken curry and naan. Jacquie ordered the mac and cheese, while there was also a cheese platter on order that looked gorgeous. I slightly regretted my overindulgence at Chili's, but the lovely lady at the lounge offered to pack up my fries, so I didn't feel that guilty in the end.

Our next stop was Sorrentino's at the airport. Now Sorrentino's in general is one of my favourite places in Edmonton, so I was thrilled to grab a latte and a scoop of Spumone gelato. I wish I'd had the room for more desserts, especially the amazing looking cakes, but I snapped one up to take home to indulge. The barista at Sorrentino's is quite the latte artist, so don't forget to let him swirl up a special treat for you on your way. Sorrentino's serves up Lavazza, the espressos I love, so it was a perfect ending to a lovely tour of the airport.

So, here we are. I've always maintained that we need to bring back the gentle art of flying. So why not start with a relaxing meander around your friendly, local airport instead?

It is one of things I aim to do with my little one. I don't want her to see flying as a stressful, crazy thing, so we always get to the airport early enough, so we can chill out, relax and enjoy the fact that we can, today, do something that is so incredible, something magical - fly!

Check out posts from my fellow bloggers: 

Cathy from Walsh Cooks (also known as the funniest woman in food in Edmonton)
Lindsay from Edible Woman (also known as baker extraordinaire!)
Marlow Moo (the numero uno bovine foodie)
... and our host, Jacquie from Parkallen Home Kitchen

Disclosure: My meals were paid for by EIA. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Tales from India - Memories of Mai

It was mid-morning late in January, just over five years ago. Adz and I were visiting India, before our big move to Canada from England. I was lying on the bed next to my maternal grandmother, Mai. I must have been flipping through a magazine or a book of some sort. I was also wearing one of Mai's housecoats – it smelt faintly of her talcum powder, and the soap she used – as it was too hot to wear anything else.

Adz, then two, was sitting at our feet, chattering away, playing happily with Mai's rosary, the warm wooden beads worn smooth from all those years of her fingers caressing them in prayer. The sun filtered its rays through the ancient wooden shutters, warming the room. When the heat got unbearable, I got up and turned on the ceiling fan. Its whirling was hypnotic, as I lay back next to Mai, dozing off and on.

Tales from India - Memories of Mai

Mai was talking. I was only half listening.

"... and you were a saitan, devil of a child", I heard her say, with amusement. "You decided that the best time to go and pull on the cow's horns was when I was milking her. She kicked at me, and the half filled pail was knocked over. Before I could come around and grab you, you'd disappeared. Even at that age you had a fine sense of drama. Probably ran and hid behind your grandfather, who was always too indulgent of you. Luckily for you, I had to go and finish milking that cow, otherwise you'd have had a smack. And then, I finished milking, and came around to the kitchen with that pail of steaming milk, and there you were, innocent look and all, standing there with your little kutte (small mug), looking up at me hopefully with your big big eyes. I couldn't stay angry with you. So I filled your kutte up with milk and you drank it all in one go, like we were starving you. After that you grabbed all the cooking pots from my shelves and decided to bang them together."

Surprisingly, I actually remember that incident with the poor cow, though I must have been pretty young. I smiled at Mai lazily, and noticed that her eyes were closed. She was falling asleep, so I grabbed Adz and we headed out into the courtyard of my grandparents' home for a rousing game of chase-the-kittens. My cousins Hemma and Blaise joined us, and we hung around chattering away.

It was also possibly the last real conversation I had with Mai.
Chicken with Morel and Chanterelle Mushrooms

I love food magazines. I was devastated when I had to leave behind my carefully curated collection back in England when I first moved to Canada, as there simply wasn't enough room to bring them over. I did keep a selection of my favorite Delicious magazines, and a bundle of recipes that I had clipped from others.

When I moved to Canada, my first order of business was to resubscribe to a whole bunch of magazines. During this time, I came across Ricardo, and I bought some intermittently. There is something about buying a magazine, a secret treat, if you will, that makes me happy. Perhaps it is because they aren't that expensive, plus the feel-good factor is pretty high. Researchers call this the 'lipstick economic indicator', as it's been noted that lipstick sales rise when there is an economic downturn – women want to treat themselves to something small and relatively inexpensive, but something that makes them feel good about themselves. My lipsticks are food magazines, as looking the beautifully shot food and recipes gives me a high and allows my own creativity to flow.

Chicken with Morel and Chanterelle Mushrooms

I was offered an opportunity to pick a recipe from Ricardo Cuisine's chicken collection and write about my experience. I do love Ricardo's recipes, and I bookmarked several to try out. The recipe that caught my eye, though, was this chicken with morel and chanterelle mushrooms. I love mushrooms and morels are a rare delicacy for us. Luckily for me, local vendor MoNa Foods sell morels and chanterelles when they are in season. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to the farmer's market in time to pick up fresh morels (though, now that I have made and love this recipe, I certainly will), I found some fabulous dried morels from Untamed Feast. They are certainly not cheap, but oh my goodness, are they ever delicious.

The first time I made the recipe, I substituted shiitake and oyster mushrooms, but kept the rest of the recipe the same. It was so good, I knew I had to make it again, and this time I added my own touch to it. I swapped out the whisky for white wine (as the original recipe was pretty strong on the whisky). I used chicken thighs from local poultry farmer Sunworks Farm, instead of a whole chicken cut up. I had some crème fraîche in my fridge, so used that in place of the whipping cream. I also added some thyme leaves, as I thought they would be gorgeous in this recipe (and they were). I also wanted to bulk up the recipe for dinner, so I cooked some local fingerling potatoes and added them to the chicken and sauce when it was almost cooked.

I also made a couple changes to the techniques, as I pulled out the chicken once I browned it and made the sauce, after which I returned the chicken back to the sauce to cook. It was just a little easier to fry the onions that way, and I could scrape up all the lovely caramelized meat from the bottom of the pan.

I tested this recipe on my in-laws and judging from their ecstatic reactions, this recipe was a huge success. So much so that I had to email the recipe to my mom-in-law to make when she got back home. Now that is what I call a truly fabulous recipe.

Chicken with Morel and Chanterelle Mushrooms

Chicken With Morel and Chanterelle Mushrooms
(Printable Recipe)
Adapted from Ricardo Cuisine (original recipe link)
Serves 4

3/4 cup chicken broth
10 grams dried morel mushrooms
10 grams dried chanterelle mushrooms
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 large bone-in chicken thighs (around 750g total weight)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon light olive oil
1/2 medium onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoons thyme leaves, picked, divided
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons crème fraîche
10 fingerling potatoes, halved and boiled until just tender 
Salt and pepper, to taste


Heat the chicken broth. Add the dried morel and chanterelle mushrooms, and rehydrate them for 20 - 30 minutes. When the mushrooms are plump, drain the broth. Carefully pour out the broth into a clean bowl, discarding any sandy bits that may have settled at the bottom. Stir in the cornstarch into the broth and add the mushrooms back in. Keep aside.

Skin and trim any fat off the chicken thighs. Season them with a little salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and oil on a medium heat in a heavy based skillet. Add the chicken thighs, and brown all over. Take the chicken pieces out of the pan.

Add the onions to the same pan, and fry for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme leaves and sauté for a minute. Pour in the wine and let it bubble for two to three minutes, scraping up any leftover caramelized meat.

Add the mustard and crème fraîche, along with the mushrooms and broth and stir. Taste and season with a little salt and pepper.

Return the chicken thighs to the pan, and cover and cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Turn the chicken in the sauce, and tuck in the cooked fingerling potatoes around the chicken pieces. Cook for an additional 5 - 10 minutes, if required.

Taste and adjust seasoning. Sprinkle over the remaining thyme leaves to garnish.

Disclosure: I did not receive any payment for posting this recipe, but I was offered a subscription to Ricardo magazine. I tested the recipe twice and all changes and photographs are my own.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Last week, you may have seen more than a few wedges of delicious cheese on my social media feeds. I was lucky enough be asked to style the winners of the Canadian Cheese Gran Prix 2015 for a few media events here in Edmonton. After the work was done, the fun began, as my partner-in-cheese-crime, Addie Raghavan and I tasted some of the most incredible cheeses that this country has to offer.

I don't know much about cheese, except that I like it (and I ended up eating a ton with some lovely wines), so Addie offered to guest post. Addie, and his friend Ian Treuer of the number one cheese blog in the country 'Much To Do About Cheese' (kindly, ha!) tasted the cheese for me, and here are Addie's thoughts. Over to Addie.