Starting on the right foot.

So, another year at UVic! My head is already repeating the “calm down” mantra as I try and remember the limit definition, derivatives, lipid-bilayers, the Kreb’s cycle, and functional groups. Settling in has been a matter of getting my brain back in gear- its dormancy is increasingly clear as I scramble uselessly around microscope slides and stare at the periodic table for much longer than appropriate, hoping that it will eventually just tells me all its secrets. The boxes are barely unpacked and everything is still in a perpetual state of clean (in a desperate effort to set a standard for the rest of the year). The cuisine is unpredictable- picture-worthy chicken, lentils, bread “dipped in anything runnier than bread”, hard-boiled eggs, and hot cereal have been recent regulars. The kitchen itself is a bit of a story as well. The oven has built in lazer beams that sear certain parts of food to a char and leave other bits uncooked. It has a burnt-bottom guarantee for all cookies, and the temperature gauge is more of a guideline than anything. Other than that, we are up to our neck in lent and donated appliances (including a kitchen-aid, slow cooker, and waffle maker!). It is pretty fun to set up our own little kitchen though, and it is already very functional.

Among this changing lifestyle that is “September”, I am applying the theory that when things get rough, just take yourself to a better place, and there are few things that come to mind that are better than a warm breakfast on the deck early in the morning, bundled up while the last few months of early light shines on. With a strong cup of earl grey and a blanket on your shoulders, it is the most peaceful time of the day. I love the mornings. There, I’ve said it- it is one of my favourite parts about getting back to school in September. They are the part of they day that are simply for me to enjoy. I’m not the sort to wake up in the morning and hustle straight down to work; instead, I need some time. I like to press the snooze button, not for five minutes of sleep, but for five minutes of trying to remember what is going to happen that day. I wiggle my fingers and toes to remember what movement feels like, and open my eyes one at a time. The shower I save for later, so now it is either exercise or eat. Seeing how much I love food and all that goes with that, I have to burn all those calories at some point. My bike to work and back throughout the summer contributed about an hour of exercise, so everything else was icing on the cake (mmm, icing). Nowadays, I am only a ten-minute walk up a very steep hill away from school (carrying a heavy backpack), so I’m in need of working up an exercise regime that is a little more intensive than a walk, but I haven’t quite decided on all the details of it. Whatever ambitious (or half hearted) exercise jaunt I choose, I am always done in plenty of time to make breakfast.

I am not one of those people who described themselves as “not much of a breakfast person”. I could eat spaghetti and meatballs at six in the morning and be happy as a clam (maybe even a deviled clam). When my older brother and I attended high school at the same time, we would sometimes fill the morning air with wild and wonderful smells, as mozzarella and basil Panini’s sizzled or cinnamon French toast caramelized or poached eggs bubbled away. While I don’t have as much leisure time now, I still find that little bit of peace that is an easy, filling, and flavourful breakfast. It sounds rather elderly of me, but I do recommend making your lunch and thinking about a few quick breakfast options before you tuck into sleep. It will save you time in the morning, and money if you end up just buying a lunch once (or more!) a week because you ran out of time. Remember: turn the kettle on when you first wake up, get the paper on your way to the kitchen, and grab a piece of fruit or veg on your way out of the kitchen. Little things like that can take a time period that most people find stressful, and turn it into one of the most thoughtful parts of your day. Here are three fallback breakfast options that I have on a weekly basis. Try them out, and see if they can be yours to. Some more intensive “weekend” breakfasts are coming up soon, but for now, enjoy the easy bit of having these quick favourites! What a wholesome way to start the year.

Eggs of the Summer

Remember the song “Boys of the Summer”? That once came onto the radio when I was making this dish for the 1000th time last summer. There is such nice flavour here, it was a welcome pick me up early before I would work at the bakery, or late after working a Laundromat shift. Make it quick, while fresh basil can still be taken advantage of!

2 English muffins (whole wheat, sour dough, or plain, its up to you and your bread box)
1 large free-range egg**
2 slices cheese (this can be varied- I tried everything from an extra aged cheddar to havarti to brie. Try whatever is in the cheese drawer, and change it up the next time)
Handful of fresh basil
Hot pepper jelly (I love “Traffic Jam” from Hornby Island, but there are lots of other delicious ones out there)

1) Put your English muffin on to toast and heat up a pan with a bit of oil for your egg. Crack the egg in, and allow to cook away until the white is almost set. In a lid that fits well onto you pan, add a splash of water (just a tablespoon or so) and toss it over the egg. This will steam the egg so you don’t have to fuss with flipping or doing anything else. Check the egg often so that you don’t overcook the yolk, and pull it off when it has reached the “doneness” you like best.
2) Spread one side of your English muffin with hot pepper jelly, and finely shave some cheese on the side that you are going to put the egg on (this way the heat from the egg will start to melt it). Crack a little salt and pepper on, if you wish. Place your egg on, and heap with basil.
3) Eat as is- it’s perfect.

** Why free-range eggs? Free-range eggs have as much as 2 X the Vitamins A and E, way more minerals, and a richer taste. Good for you and the chicken!

Smashed Beans on Toast

Real cowboys and cowgirls eat their beans for breakfast. Seriously, beans are a wonderful food to start off with- not greasy or overly heavy, they fill you up quickly and leave you feeling satisfied right up to lunch. It’s not a pretty food or an attractive presentation, but it tastes lovely and does the job.

1 can pinto beans, rinsed well
1 Tbsp maple syrup
1-3 tsp balsamic vinegar (depends on how much zip you want in the morning- if you feel like you can handle it, go for all 3, it has fantastic flavour)
dash of hot sauce or red pepper flakes
2 slices toast, lightly buttered

1) Add your rinsed beans to a small saucepan on medium heat, and pour in your syrup, vinegar, and Tabasco. Put the lid on to bubble away, reducing the heat a bit. Meanwhile, toast some bread and set up the table. Once it’s bubbled away for about ten minutes, pull out a bean and check to see if everything is hot all the way through.
2) Now for the smashing- take the back of a wooden spoon (or other cooking implement) and mash up the beans until they are good and gooey. Don’t worry about a smooth texture, just get it so the liquid in the pot is all incorporated into the beans and it is a spreadable consistence if you are putting it right on your toast. Carefully taste (it’ll be hot!) and adjust the seasoning- sometimes its nice to have relatively plain beans, but other times you might want it sweeter, spicier, or tangier.
3) For a little fancier serving, scoop the beans into a nice bowl and garnish with cilantro, sour cream, and toasted pumpkin seeds. For quicker morning, just spread it right onto the buttered toast. Easy, delicious, healthy.

Father Frittata

This is a “Dad” sort of dish, because my dad eats an egg white omelet almost every morning for breakfast. While I surrender to the delicious (and healthy!) yolk more often then not, this is the way I enjoy my egg whites outside of meringues and angel food cakes. It’s a light dish that has everything you need- complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats. This recipe is makes enough to serve two people, so surprise a roommate/sibling/significant other.

4 slices whole wheat bread, toasted
½ avocado
½ red, orange, and green bell pepper, all chopped
¼ jalapeño, chopped
¼ white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 slices of cooked bacon, torn (optional)
1 c egg whites OR 2-3 large eggs, beaten

1) Heat a little oil in a pan, and as soon as its hot, toss in the onions and garlic. Sauté until beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Toss in the pepper and jalapeños (add the optional bacon here). Saute 2-3 more minutes. Pour your egg over everything (if the eggs don’t quite cover everything, add a few more-it’s hard to say that the same number of eggs that work in my pan will work in your pan).
2) Put a lid over the dish, allowing the steam to cook the eggs, letting them be. Meanwhile, put your bread on to toast. Check to see if they eggs have set, approximately 5-10 minutes depending on the diameter of your pan therefore the thickness of the frittata. When the egg is set, pull of the heat. Cut frittata into wedges.
3) Spread avocado onto bread, and serve with fritatta wedges on top. Make sure you keep your salt and pepper shakers close at hand, and enjoy!


Turning over a new fig.

I’ve been a little busy lately- finishing up work and moving my stuff (so much stuff) down to Victoria to settle into another school year. I’m pretty excited about doing something different, though the last four months have been great. School wise, this term I am taking microbiology, cell biology, organic chemistry, and physics. Back to the science loop! Hopefully the brain transition won’t be too drastic, as volunteering in the lab has kept some terms and procedures fresh. Lots of moving though, which left my rats stranded at my parents without me for a couple of days. They welcomed me by jumping like rabbits all over my bed, and grooming my hands like crazy to get me smelling like the pack again. Mitchell was so excited he even developed a new fascination called “chewing zippers of hoodies.” I am trying my best to redirect this habit. New home wise, I am now a resident of Cadboro Bay! For those mildly familiar with Victoria, you will know that as the place with the cement sea monster in the park on the beach. Very close to UVic, it comes with an awesome roommate (who likes most foods, except fruits) who will soon be a food guinea pig for me. Soon I will post a little something about what our pantry looks like and what kind of equipment I’ve deemed essential, for those who are also settling in for the New Year. Meanwhile: end of summer barbeques are occurring in earnest. Maybe you’ve already had yours, or gone to all that you are going to attend, but some are still kicking around, determined to use every ounce of heat left in the tired old sun. I found myself having to make an appy for a friend’s get together not too long ago, so I did what I always do: I brought figs. Since I use dried figs, this is my year round go-to dish. Simple and delicious, this plate only uses four ingredients and takes five minutes to throw together after a quick bake. Perfect for impressing new roommates, creating a buzz at those barbeques, or adding a little excitement to your weekday menu. The very different, and crazy delicious, fresh fig I reserve for stuffing with blue cheese and wrapping with prosciutto, but have a hard time finding figs of non-questionable quality. Does anyone know of a mecca for fresh fig purchase on Vancouver Island? Meanwhile, enjoy these dried ones!

“That” Fig Appy

Nameless for so long, this has become know as “that” fig appy- the warm, delicious, sticky, sweet, tart, Middle Eastern start to a meal. Count on having at least a few figs per person, as these are pretty easy to down!

Dried figs
Soft goat cheese
Reduced balsamic vinegar
Zahtar ( A lovely Middle Eastern spice mixture of sesame seeds, sumac, and thyme- if you cannot find it, try and use your own combination of these three spices or, if you MUST, just thyme and sesame seeds!)

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pull apart dry figs, and find the pointy top (it may be pressed onto the flesh). Check if the top has a hard nub, and use a sharp knife to cut it off. Check all over for any other nubs that may be hard and unpleasant to eat.
2) Arrange figs in a single layer on a baking pan, and place in the oven. Bake them for about 20-25 minutes until slightly golden on the top and warm throughout. If you don’t have a lot of time, turn up the heat a bit and leave them in until they are just warm- won’t be quite as roast-y, but will still be delicious!
3) When the figs are done baking, pull them out and arrange them on your serving platter. Allow them to cool for a few minutes, or get straight to work. Place a small spoonful of goat cheese on each fig (came in a plastic pouch? Cut a hole in the bottom of the pouch and pipe it through onto the figs). Sprinkle very generously with zahtar and drizzle with reduced balsamic.
4) All done! Go impress someone.

Sorrel Soup on Sunny Days

I knew when I was starting this blog that it would be good to have a few rules. So far they have been:

1) Always use edible looking photos. No one wants to make something that looks messy, gross, glossy, or generally unappealing.
2) Use proper descriptions so that people with little to no cooking experience can understand what is going on. “Cook it until it’s done” doesn’t quite cut it.
3) Don’t post hastily without reading the whole thing thoroughly so there aren’t mistakes in any of the recipes.
4) Never post a recipe that is largely based on pre-prepared ingredients from the store. The most disappointing recipes are the ones that say “1 Tbsp pesto”, “1 Tbsp roasted garlic paste”, or “1 Tbsp chipotle puree” without showing you how to make them yourself.
5) Generally help facilitate home cooking to help budgets, overall health, and our relationship with food improve!

Now that the blog has been running for over two months, it’s high time these rules start being broken. I have already hastily posted (Veal-y good Burger was posted in the five minutes before leaving for a weekend away, with all family members planted in the car while I desperately uploaded pictures), and now it is time to break the 4th rule- this recipe calls for prepared puff pastry. The good, organic kind, but still. It was one of those things that we found in the freezer and when we were rampaging trying to clean it out, so we threw it together with some oysters and bacon we also located in there, sprinkled it with a little cheese, and BAM awesome side has been created. How can I not share that? Oysters get along with bacon about as well as Sebastien gets along with cats—they are both interesting and neat in their own way, but put them together and you’ll wonder how you are ever going to take them away from each other. In fact, easy appy to try tonight: drain some smoked oysters from a can or defrost some smoked oysters, fry up some bacon until its just about to get crispy, wrap the bacon around the oysters, and throw in a 350 degree F oven for a few minutes until its warm throughout. That’s just easy, delicious food that only needs a couple of good ingredients to blow people away.

On the other end of the spectrum from the freezer, I recently had the joy of coming across some sorrel at work. I was checking out the produce at the end of the day, habitually tearing off tiny pieces of some of the leaves to rub between my fingers and smell, when I was suddenly hit with a pungent lemon-y scent. Not only was it not an herb, it was a vegetable that I had never eaten or even heard about. That bold scent sold me, and I snatched up the last bundle, not sure what it was going to turn into, but determined to make it as great as possible. A little wikapedia-ing told me to look into Julia Child for a soup recipe, so I pulled out my Volume I, and marched forth to make this simple, flavourful soup. Not too heavy for a creamy soup, the big taste of the sorrel combined with a few good, simple ingredients makes for a fresh meal that is perfect for a light supper. This soup had enough finesse to really take the oyster squares to a more sophisticated place, and they really complimented each other nicely. An unexpected meal, this was one of those easy, bright suppers that just needs a few simple, delicious ingredients. A lovely send off to the summer weather as we head into the rich flavours of fall!

Sorrel Soup

A Julia Child recipe, this soup just needs a crack of pepper on top and it’s ready to be eaten! If you cannot find sorrel, feel free to substitute spinach by cutting it into thin shreds and skipping the puree step.

1 onion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp Butter
4 c sorrel, washed and stemmed
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp flour
5 ½ c stock
2 egg yolks
½ c cream
optional: 1-2 Tbsp butter

1) In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. This soup tastes best with homemade stock (which is easy in the crockpot, I’ll include a recipe later!), so pull it out of the freezer! Meanwhile, heat butter in a large saucepan. When the butter has begun to melt, add the onions and cook about ten minutes until onion is tender and not yet browned.
2) Stir in the sorrel and salt, covering and cooking at a low heat for about five minutes until its wilted and soft. Sprinkle flour over top and stir over medium heat for 3 minutes.
3) Pull the saucepan off the heat, and beat in the boiling stock. Bring to a simmer for five more minutes. At this point you can puree it to make a smooth soup, or leave some texture. I left some texture so it seemed a little heartier, but I think pureed would be very delicious. Take out a cup of your soup at this point, and put it in a small bowl.
4) In a separate bowl beat together the egg yolks and cream with a wire whisk. Drizzle this mixture, very slowly, into the cup of soup you removed and placed in a small bowl. Return this soup to the saucepan, stirring well over medium heat, but not bringing to a simmer.
5) At this point, you can add the optional enrichment of butter, by beating it in one tablespoon at a time, pulling the saucepan off the heat to do so. I added a simple teaspoon to keep this dish nice and light, but if your looking for a little decadence, you might as well go all the way.
6) Serve!

Dynamite Oyster Squares

If you are the ambitious type, try making this with your own puff pastry! I have never made it myself, but hope to try sometime in the future!

Puff pastry
2 oysters per pastry square
1 slice of bacon per pastry square, cooked, drained, and chopped
2tsp of cheddar cheese per square (or more…more less…don’t worry about exact quantities, follow what you feel like when you are making it)
A dash of oyster sauce

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Now, the amount of puff pastry to use will depend on the size of your oysters. You want a nice border around them, at least half an inch, so that they will puff up, and the oysters won’t fall off. Consider placing two of your largest oysters, spread out slightly, on to the puff pastry and eying how large to cut. Cut accordingly, and arrange on a baking sheet that has been greased lightly or lined with parchment paper to prevent sticking.
2) On top, arrange, oysters, chopped bacon, and cheddar cheese. Dash some oyster sauce on top, out of the bottle, or fill a soup spoon and drizzle it. You don’t want a ton, just enough to add a little flavour.
3) Throw in the oven, setting the timer for about 10 minutes. Check them, and pull them out as soon as the pastry is starting to get lovely golden and crisp. Serve hot immediately!

Placating Pizza

“Tag, you’re it!”

Something we’ve all heard before. Frozen in the moment, eyes wildly scanning as time slows down and you completely rearrange your position in a game. Burning with the fact that you got caught, there is another fire that is lit inside you: the thought that you now hold power, and that’s something that nobody else has. I’ve recently been hit with something that has me a little frozen, and that’s a reoccurrence of my heart arrhythmia. I mentioned earlier that I recently had a surgery to correct the arrhythmia, but I guess “correct” was a strong use of the word. Turns out I’m one of the now two patients that my cardiologist has seen a reoccurrence of this particular type of arrhythmia, which is bad luck to say the least. What hit me, more than the physical reaction of having my heart beating out of my chest and having to go to the hospital, is the disappointment. I have gotten so tired of being taken out time after time from my regular life for a medical reason, and this was the once big problem that was supposed to be an easy fix. It’s easy to curl into self-pity, standing uselessly in the middle watching the storm go by when things come down to simple, relentless chance. Here’s the thing though: you can quit the game because you got caught and it wasn’t fair because you didn’t see it coming, or you can figure out where the power is and how you can use it. There are more important things on the go, like the excitement of learning new things, the pitter-patter of little feet (in my case, rat feet, that are currently trying to take over my keyboard), mountains, rivers, and the whole living, breathing world. We only have a finite amount of time to take all these things in, and that leaves very little room for self-pity. When we’re hit with something that slows time down, we have the power to see this fact, and really believe it, which makes those little occurrences pretty special.

Of course, we do have our moments where you want to pause the whole world and just wallow in our own self, whether it be from an arrhythmia, bad grade, sad news, or just the plain old blues. When this happens, and we feel a little giddy from our self-indulgence, we can always turn to comfort food. You know what kind of person you are: sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy, or all of those, food is one of those things that takes us back to the basics- it gives us immediate pleasure, and brings with it a whole slew of memories through smells, tastes, and textures. Food is a great place to surrender to just feeling good. It doesn’t have to be over the top or excessive- simply enjoying the smell of cinnamon coming from a mug of apple cider, the crunch of a pickle, the decadence of a truffle, or the simplicity of a warm, heavenly pizza.

I am generally one to turn to sweet foods, but if I move towards the savory, it’s got to be pizza. Not only does the crunchy, chewy, salty taste take all the cares away, it brings back all kinds of memories. In our household, Friday night was pizza and candy day. It was the one day a week we were allowed sugary treats, which were obtained from Cowichan Bay’s Pier 66. My brother and I traded off piano lessons down there- while one did half an hour of keyboard bashing, the other got to walk down and select their 5 cent candies. It always seemed like a big walk up and down the hill, but boy was it worth it. Foamy little fake bananas, sugar coated strawberry marshmallows, fuzzy peaches…I usually went for the sour candies. I was quite well known for eating whole lemons and limes, so it only seemed natural that my talents extend to the realm of candies as well. After that sweaty walk on our little legs, we were loaded up in a van and trucked back home for pizza. Not just any pizza: my mom’s pizza. Proclaimed as “better then take out”, it was a battle for who got to spread the sauce, sprinkle the cheese, and claim topping supreme. One was always plain cheese or Hawaiian, which satisfied my little brother and I. The other was more adventurous, grown-up toppings for my older brother and parents. It was a time where, no matter what my heart was doing, pizza would always be there on the a Friday night. The excitement of pizza is with a lot of us- it combines some of the best parts of individual meals in a convenient, hand-held slab. It is also comforting. In a world where we can’t always control the outcomes of certain aspects of our lives, we can always pick what goes on our pizza. One bite brings memories, big flavour, and satisfaction. So here is a family recipe, finished off with our all-ages Caesar salad, enjoyed by many a picky eater. Hopefully it brings a little coziness to your corner of the world, wherever that may be.

Quick Pizza Dough

Done in 30-35 minutes, you can have this pizza done before take out could possibly be delivered. Turn this into a ritual meal, enjoyed when surrounded by friends and family, or indulge on a quiet night in.

¾ c semolina
2 ¼ c flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp quick rise yeast
1 ½ tsp salt
1 c warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the semolina, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Grab a wooden spoon and start to drizzle in the water and olive oil as you constantly run the spoon in big, gentle circles. Try adding a tablespoon of oil, half a cup of water, then another tablespoon of oil. With the last half a cup, add it slowly- if the dough comes together easily into a ball and seems moist, don’t feel like you need to add all of the water.
2) Push dough into a ball, and turn out on counter. Knead a few times, just to moisten thoroughly and get a nice uniform consistency. When it looks good, get a clean bowl and rub it with a little olive oil. Put the dough in and roll around to coat lightly in the oil. Cover in plastic wrap Put in a warm place to rise for 20 minutes.
3) While dough is rising, prepare pizza toppings. See below for a few ideas.
4) When twenty minutes is up and you can see that your dough has expanded, turn out the dough onto a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, a wine bottle, or a pair of large hands (yours or a useful friend), push the dough into a nice round circle. Place onto your greased pizza pan, and push to fit into the edges. Make sure its nice and even, so it cooks uniformly.
5) Add your favourite toppings, and place in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes.

All-Ages Caesar Salad

This is a seriously stripped down Caesar salad recipe that I have been enjoying since elementary school. It is easy on both kids an adults if you use great quality, flavourful ingredients. If you miss the addition of anchovy in this recipe, you can finely chop 4-6 anchovies and stir in, or add a little bit of anchovy paste at a time to taste (read little bit as half the size of your pinky fingernail at a time).

4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 c olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 c finely grated parmesan

1) Blend all ingredients in a blender, or whisk vigorously. Serve with fresh lemon wedges, your favourite croutons, and romaine lettuce.

Better-Day Pizza Toppings

The sweet and salty ingredients in this pizza provide a gentle pick-me-up. Don’t be scared to try out prunes on your pizza, because they truly are delicious. I know that you feel as though you can’t eat them without being judged on your internal workings, so don’t say a thing until after everyone has complimented you on your fabulous choice of toppings.

1 yellow onion, chopped into thin rings
1 Tbsp butter
Small handful of chopped figs or prunes, finely chopped
2-3 links chicken sausage, sliced into rounds
Mozzarella cheese, enough to lightly cover the pizza surface
Crumbled goat cheese

1) Heat butter in a medium-hot pan until beginning to foam, and add onions. Stir well to coat, and reduce heat to low. Cook for twenty minutes at this temperature, stirring very occasionally, to allow the onions to caramelize. Optional: At this point you can add dried herbs of your choice if you are using a plain tomato sauce. I like to add a generous dash of oregano, sweet basil, thyme, and little bit of rosemary.
2) Scrape out of pan into a bowl. To the same pan, add the chicken sausage, turning the heat up to medium-high. Brown all sides of the rounds, and turn the heat down to allow to cook through. When just cooked (don’t overdo it, they are going into the oven shortly), scrape into a bowl.
3) Spread pizza dough with a thin layer of tomato sauce (not a fan? Cut out the herbs from the onions and use pesto as your pizza base). Arrange caramelized onions in a thin layer on top. Scatter with figs or prunes and mozzerella. Dot the top with the sausage rounds and goat cheese. Cook 10-15 minutes until cheese and pizza edges just begin to brown.