Lazy Summer

I’ve been known to be lazy in the summer. And a byproduct of this malaise is that I cook less…a lot less.  I can’t bring myself to prepare anything more than a salad or a frozen veggie burger on a day that’s hotter than 25 degrees.  Mostly this is because I want to be outside, enjoying the sun and doing fun things.  It may be as simple as having a glass of wine (or two) on my patio with a book, meeting a friend for a walk, or going for a bike ride, but the end result is always the same on these long summer days.  Food is not cooked.

20140726103528_IMG_3947

I go through phases based on the seasons, and in the summer, as soon as the days get longer and the air gets warmer, the social butterfly in me comes out.  Beach after work? Beer on a patio? Dinner with friends? I just can’t say no in the summer.  It’s like I stop thinking about how much sleep I want, or how much money I’m spending, or the fact that if I go out I will inevitably have to buy lunch the next day.  I just say yes!  A friend of mine told me about her ‘summer of yes’  a few years ago and I quite like the idea of having a couple of months a year where you just do what feels right!

IMG_20140809_150559

But, lately, as the summer days are starting to get shorter (it’s dark now at 9pm, le sigh) and the air is a little cooler I’ve been incredibly inspired in the kitchen.  It’s like I’m a lost little puppy who found its way home! In the past couple of weeks I’ve been cooking, and baking (which is rare for me) up a storm.  My fridge is always full and I haven’t had an excuse to go for lunch in a while.  My husband is in heaven!

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to use the f word just yet, because we still have 4 more weeks of summer to go, but I will say that the days of just salad satisfying me for dinner have officially passed.  So in case you’re wondering, here’s what’s been going on in my kitchen.

IMG_20140810_105928

I made a split pea soup for my husband to have as an afternoon snack at work (yeah maybe it’s weird, but he likes it).  Just a little something simple I threw together the other day.  2 cups of dried split peas, 4 cups of veggie stock, diced carrot and onion (which I sauteed a bit), a couple pinches of herbs de Provence and I let it simmer for about an hour before I pureed it with my immersion blender.  Easy peasy (literally)!

I also made an awesome grilled vegetable ratatouille the other night.  I grilled up zucchini, these funny looking round light green squash (not sure what they are called), a couple peppers, eggplant and tomatoes and once everything was cooked to my liking, I sliced it up and threw in some crushed garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, herbs de Provence (yes, this is a theme), and seasoned it with some salt and pepper.  It was even better cold the next day!

Since I clearly have France on my mind, I also made my own version of a French potato salad.  I used mixed white and red nugget potatoes, thinly sliced fennel and green beans. My vinaigrette was simple too, grainy dijon, champagne vinegar (vive la France!), and olive oil of course.  That with a glass of rose and a Peter Mayle book and you might as well be spending a year in Provence!

20140810130650_IMG_4142

I’ve also rekindled my love for Deb Perleman’s blog (Smitten Kitchen).  I’ve made her barley, corn and haricot vert salad, as well as her chickpea and roasted pepper salad. Both were hits with friends at BBQ’s.  And as we speak, I’m waiting for her herbed potato and summer squash torte to come out of my oven.  I had fun making it so even if it’s terrible it’s not a loss!  Getting a little more comfortable with my mandoline over here…no big deal!  Let’s hope I still have all my fingers at Christmas though!

And on to the piece de resistance. The baking. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s usually pretty good…and not too sweet.  I hate overly sweet, sugary things.  I see kids at sporting events with cotton candy stuck all over their hands and faces and I have to look away, like I’ve seen a snake or something.

Every August with zucchini is in abundance I make this chocolate olive oil zucchini bread. Who are we kidding, it’s a cake, but it’s a healthy cake!.  Simply amazing!  I also adapted a recipe from my new Turkish cookbook for a fig and walnut cake.  Here’s my version:

  • 8-10 fresh figs, quartered
  • 2 T semolina or corn meal
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 T orange juice, or zest of an orange
  • 1/2 C olive oil
  • 1/2 C buttermilk
  • 1 cup yogurt (I used goats yogurt as it’s more Turkish)
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 cup walnuts chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour an 11″ spring form pan and set it aside. Mix the figs together with the semolina and 2 T sugar in a small bowl. Beat the remaining sugar with the eggs until smooth.  Add orange juice, olive oil, buttermilk, vanilla and yogurt.  Mix until smooth and then add the walnuts, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and stir until incorporated.

Spoon half the batter into the pan, then sprinkle the figs on top.  Top with the rest of the batter and bake for 40-45 min. depending on your oven.

So there you have it, I’m back in the saddle after some summer shenanigans. I’m feeling inspired and happy back in my kitchen where I belong.  Soon enough there will be posts about football and stew and red wine, but for now, I’m enjoying this beautiful lazy summer here in Vancouver!

IMG_20140731_194250

Advertisements

Foodie Fun in Denver

I just returned from a fabulous girls weekend in Denver.  It was one of those weekends you never want to end; ok actually I think my liver did want it to end. Five amazing women, three dogs, (all of which we managed to jam into one Subaru Forester for a trip out to Red Rocks Canyon) lots of laughter, some tears and really good times.  Although the number one highlight of the trip was my friends of course, I was pleasantly surprised by how cool the foodie/bar scene in Denver is.

Girls

We started the foodie fun at my friend Lauryn’s restaurant, The Coral Room.  It’s a totally cute neighbourhood spot that has its crowd of locals (as every place we went in Denver does).  The menu is focused on local quality ingredients, and somewhat complex dishes that are far from convoluted, but totally delicious in every way.   After polishing off a meat and cheese plate, complete with house made onion marmalade that was to die for, and delicious castel veltrano olives, I had the Colorado black bass (when in Rome right?) which came with whipped potatoes and sauteed purple cabbage.  We also tried the pumpkin ravioli and the the evening’s special; filet with creamed spinach, crisp potato chips and a rootbeer demi-glace.   Everything was fantastic, had a lot of depth in flavour, and the plates were really well composed without being ‘fluffy’.  The prices are totally reasonable for the portions so this should definitely be on your hit list if you’re in town.  I hear they do a good brunch too!

coral room

After dinner we headed to Williams and Graham, which is this totally cool speakeasy type joint.  You walk in to a little vestibule and then once you get the green light to go in, the hostess opens up a bookcase and you walk into a 1920’s wonderland.  The bar staff are dressed like Nucky Thompson’s cronies in Boardwalk Empire and they serve up just about any classic cocktail you can think of.  We were served frenet which is an Italian herbaceous bitter drink that all the Denver hipsters are into.  It’s like Jaegermeister without the sugar.

W&G

frenet

The next morning, we woke up and needed to tend to our high altitude induced hangovers and headed to Highland Tap & Burger, another cute neighbourhood spot.  It was so warm we could have sat on the patio, but inside was just as nice.  With lots of TV’s it’s a great place to watch the game.  We all opted for their signature cheeseburger, although the menu does have lots of interesting add ons like chimichurri sauce or rootbeer pulled pork (apparently rootbeer is the it food of the moment in Denver).  Seriously one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while.  And the homemade pickles are not to be missed here.  I washed my ‘breakfast’ down with a pint of the Odell Levity Amber Ale to cure what was ailing me.  I also picked up a 6 pack of their seasonal Isolation Ale and it was top notch.  I love a good stouty winter ale, but can usually only drink 1 or 2.  The nice thing about the Isolation Ale is that it’s light and malty, but still has that nice warming winter flavour.

Highland

odell-isolation

The foodie fun continued on the way back from fetching another friend from the airport, at The Berkshire in Stapleton.  If you don’t eat pork you better not set foot in this place, because 90% of their menu items contain pork in some form.  We’re all totally down with the piggy so along with some cocktails we indulged in an afternoon snack of Berkshire spuds (bacon wrapped potatoes), deep fried pickles (bacon free), stuffed wrapped jalapenos (yep, they’re wrapped with bacon too), and firecracker shrimp (do I even need to tell you what these are wrapped in?).  The food was all excellent and the atmosphere is fun.

berkshire

Our last stop  was at The Squeaky Bean.  We were spoiled rotten here by our friend Steve and thus, the Bean deserves a whole post to itself that will be forthcoming, so stay tuned.

Needless to say, I left Denver with a happy heart for many reasons.  I got to see my girls, eat some of the best meals I’ve had back to back anywhere, and enjoy fresh mountain air and good local beer.  Oh, and there was some nice wine in there too somewhere I think. Bottom line, if you have an excuse to visit Denver, make it happen, because it’s sneaker hit.  I’ve always said I’d never live anywhere more than an hour from the ocean, but I’d make an exception for D-Town.

400px-Denver_skyline

La Dolce Vita

I’ve just returned to reality after spending two glorious weeks in Italy.  That’s right, the land where everyone takes their time, drinks 3 espressos a day, has wine at 11am on a weekday and enjoys life to the fullest.  Italians are a passionate bunch, even a normal friendly conversation involves crazy hand gestures and verbal intonations that make it sound like an argument.  The only thing they seem to do fast is drive.  After a couple days of getting used to the Italian way of doing things I felt totally at home and was living la dolce vita too.

This will be the first of many Italian inspired posts.  As you can imagine two weeks in Italy for a food lover like me provides a years worth of blog fodder.  But at this moment, as I sit on my couch enjoying the Vancouver sunset and watching Monday Night Football, trying as hard as I can to stay up until my normal bed time to overcome jet lag, I can’t help feeling like a part of me was left behind on this trip.  Almost like I’ll have to go back and find it at some point in the future.  I’ve never travelled somewhere that has called to me like Italy did.

To me Italy is rows of cypress trees, the beauty of an olive grove and the smell of a lemon tree in the sun.  The taste of tomatoes like we had in the garden when I was a kid, fresh pasta, nitrate free prosciutto and my favourite new discovery, the Aperol spritz.  These are the things I will miss the most.  There are amazing places I visited that I know I don’t need to revisit, such as Venice, and there are others like Tuscany where I could see myself spending the rest of my life.

We could all learn a little something about life from the Italians.  Slow down, look at your surroundings, take a break, enjoy your coffee vs. rushing out the door with it in a to go cup and savour the small moments that make life worth living, even if it means arguing.  Drink more wine, it won’t kill you.  And use as much olive oil as you want, it’s good for you!  So until I can properly organize my thoughts and compartmentalize my trip into individual blog posts, ciao!

Lovely Lake Como

I’m finally in Italy, a place I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was a kid. The food, the wine, and the language all appeal in a way that makes me think I was Italian in another life.

After a quick stop in Milan, we’re spending the weekend at Lake Como. Unfortunately it’s a wee bit stormy, but we’re making the best of it. Hunkering down for a cappuccino and lunch during a torrential downpour was a great idea! I got to have my first Italian pizza. It was spectacular. Prosciutto, cheese and oregano. Simple and delicious.

After settling in at our lovely hotel and taking in the view (and a few minutes of sunshine on the terrace) we hiked up to an old ruined castle. By the time we came down the wine and salumi shop had re-opened after their afternoon closure, which in Italy seems to be from noon to 4.

We grabbed some Parma prosciutto, apparently there’s Parma and non-Parma varieties, and local taleggio cheese. All in a days work, Italy certainly agrees with me despite the rain.

20120901-175212.jpg

The $12 Glass of Wine & The $17 Salad

Have you noticed that the prices are creeping up at your favourite dining establishments? In Vancouver it seems like everyone raised their prices during the 2010 Olympics, and then no one bothered to lower them, thinking we wouldn’t notice.  Well I’ve noticed, and I’m starting to question the value of going out to eat at the usual chain places that seem to be in with my young professional crowd.

It’s getting hard to find a ‘hip’ restaurant downtown that charges less than $12 for a glass of wine and $17 for a salad (with protein).  I get it, booze is expensive in BC, but when did it become acceptable to charge $12 for a 6 oz. glass when the bottle is only $18 at your local BC Liquor Store.  And I understand charging $5-6 to add chicken to a salad, but when the price sans protein is already $13 I feel like I’m getting completely ripped off.

To highlight my point, I’m a huge fan of the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.  I usually pick it up in the states for around $12 a bottle.  In the liquor store here it’s $22.  And here’s what some local restaurants are charging:

That’s quite the spread!  But good for the restaurateurs for commanding these prices, because people are clearly paying!

I recently had lunch at Cactus Club and by the time I added on tax and tip my bill was $38 for a single glass of wine and a salad.  Yeah the food was good, and it was more about the company than the meal itself, and yes we were sitting on the patio on a hot sunny day, but I just can’t get over the fact that I spent that much on lunch.  So either everyone is getting rich a lot faster than I am, or people just don’t care and are willing to pay these prices in order to see and be seen at seemingly hip places.  

I do like that more and more places are starting to have ‘one price’ wines, because I’m the kind of person who will look at the wine list and agonize over a $3 price difference (which becomes $6 when I order my second glass).  So with this new invention I can just pick a price category I’m comfortable with and go nuts within those confines.  But still, am I the only person who thinks it’s ridiculous to pay $12 for a glass of wine and $17 for a salad?

I’d much rather have a great little lunch at the Acme Cafe in Gastown where wine is $7 a glass, or after work drinks at the Vancouver Art Gallery where you can get a bottle of very decent white for $25 and enjoy their lovely patio, which often has live jazz!  Oh yeah, and salads at these places will only run you about $10 with all the fixings!