Monday, April 30, 2012

Wild Leeks

My parents have a few acres of bush that cover a huge rolling hill on their 100 acre property. There was a trail already existing when they bought the place almost 8 years ago, but they've worked hard to maintain it, improve it. We walk through the bush nearly every time we go visit.

On our last visit, the trilliums were in full bloom, white petals open beneath the dappling canopy, speckling the hills and the path with pretty, white, and oh-so-Ontario flowers. As we tromped through, my dad pointed to a large patch of leafy plants, plants I've seen a million times over but have never paused to give a second look.

- These are wild leeks, he said. Go ahead - taste the leaf.

I broke off a leaf and popped one in my mouth. The oniony flavour was overpowering, surprising enough that I spit it out a couple steps later, but, by the end of the walk, I was determined to go back and dig up a handful to bring home. Foraging at its finest.

Also known as ramps, Wikipedia tells me. They're stronger than a normal onion and nothing at all like a normal leek. It's a misnomer, really.

Admittedly, I was at a loss as to what to do with them. Google searches revealed very little about popular recipes that would bring out their flavour the best. People don't generally cook with them, it seems. Most are likely completely unaware of their existence. So, I fell back on what I knew best, popped their bulbs in a dutch oven with some oil, sauted them to translucent, and made a soup.

The leaves, I popped into the fridge, where they still languish. I've sprinkled them on salads, consumed them with my Saturday morning poached egg and toast, and contemplated blending them into a pesto. Still they sit.

Wild leeks are done in mid-June. It's my hope I'll be able to get back to the bush to pick some more before then. Growing seasons and how plants change over time fascinate me. Will their bulbs get bigger, their leaves stronger yet in flavour?

Wild Leek and Veggie Soup

1 tbsp olive oil
A handful of wild leeks, bulb part only
2 carrots, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 can black beans, rinsed

In a large pot or dutch oven, head the olive oil. Add the wild leeks and saute as you would onions until translucent. Add the carrots and potatoes and mix in. Add the vegetable stock and the rosemary. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Add the black beans.

It's a delicate tasty soup, but I wish I could have found something that would have made the flavour of those wild leeks sing just a little bit more.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Nothing Like a Salad

This is something I have learned about myself over and over again: there is a limit to my multi-tasking abilities. Specifically, there is only room in my head for one big focus at a time. These days, that focus is not blogging and all that it entails. I'm not going to apologize for that, though I will remind myself that I must get business cards printed and submit my bio for the Blogpodium book... Only a month away!

So, what has been taking up my attention?

(This might take some explaining.)

Conscientious eating has been taking up my attention. I don't like to call it calorie counting, because I think it goes far beyond paying attention to how many calories you're eating. It's also about paying attention to what's in those calories and paying attention to how your body reacts to those calories. It's about noticing when you're hungry and about determining what is going to ease that hunger and ease it for a long time.

Oh, and. How can I make that food tasty.

It's complicated. But it's interesting.

There is a minor weight loss goal* going along with this conscientious eating. On top of it all, I've been getting back to the gym when I can, taking nice long walks with my pooch and, all-in-all, not thinking about what the heck I am going to post on my two neglected blogs. (Before friends and family and those of you who have met me get all insistent that I have no need to lose weight, this is true! But that doesn't mean that my five pounds of muffin top wouldn't be just a little healthier off of me.)

Being healthy is important to me.

I won't keep this up for long. Generally, I track the foods I put in my mouth consistently for about two to three weeks at a time. This is long enough to get a good grasp on what I'm eating, make a few changes, and maintain from there. So, what kinds of food am I eating?

Plenty of salad.

Some quinoa, in all its nutritional magic.

Plenty of fruit, including frozen ones.

And, there's a whole chicken, happily cooking away in my crock pot as I write this, ready and waiting for me to get home tonight.

Food is important to me. Specifically, tasty food is important to me. But so is being healthy and learning to control and understand my body. I hope that, over the next little while, I'll be able to share the healthy aspect of food a little more, the indulgent-but-good-for-you side.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Taco Salad

I'm not so good at menu planning. I've tried. I've made weekly lists, bought groceries, filled my cupboards with specific plans and ingredients to go with them. And then, Wednesday hits and I'm tired and there's a frozen pizza in the fridge and, besides, that elaborate chicken with two different sides I had planned to make? Since I forgot to take it out of the freezer, it's going to take at least an hour, an hour and a half to get ready. And I'm hungry.

I have a jar of unopened artichoke hearts in my pantry for this reason. I have no idea what I was going to make. I've never made anything with artichoke hearts. I have no idea what I should make with artichoke hearts. They will likely remain in my pantry for a very long time.

(Anyone want an unopened jar of artichoke hearts?)

However, on Saturday, I decided to take a crack at it again. I sat down with my cookbooks, Foodgawker and Pinterest and 20 minutes later, had a simple list of dinners. I made up a grocery list and, while hanging with my youth group kids, sent the Husband out on a hunting and gathering mission on Monday night after work.

I can stick to this, right? For at least one week, I can handle a little planning, a little organization. I can do it. Just like the little train engine, I can do it.

Day one. Tuesday. Workout day. Killed myself on the treadmill, then came home and made this.

Taco salad.

My favourite thing in the world today.

Taco Salad
Adapted from Closet Cooking

The thing about taco salad is that you can be as free as you want with your salad ingredients. There are very few rules. As long as you have some kind of meat, some tacos and some salad greens, you've got a taco salad. A delicious taco salad.

Often, I make taco salad using a seasoning packet, easily and cheaply obtained from your local grocery store. This time, however, I made my seasoning from scratch using this recipe and was pleasantly pleased and surprised with the result.

On to the recipe!

For the meat
1 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground chicken
1 packet or 1 serving taco seasoning
1/4 cup water

For the salad
1 medium sized tomato, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 handful of shredded cheese
As much chopped or torn lettuce as desired
A handful or so of crushed tortilla chips
A dollop (or two) of sour cream
A plop of salsa of your desired heat (mild!)

In a splash or two of oil, saute the onion and garlic until the onion is cooked and translucent. Add the ground chicken and saute until cooked.

Mix in your taco seasoning. I didn't bother mixing the homemade mix up beforehand, but rather just tossed each spice into the frying pan as I went.

Pour in the water and stir to incorporate. Allow to simmer until most of the water is gone.

Put together your salad in your preferred order. Mine is as such:
    1. Lettuce
    2. Tomato
    3. Tortilla chips
    4. Cheese
    5. Meat
    6. Sour cream
    7. Salsa

Monday, April 2, 2012

French Fries

Last night, as dinner crept closer and closer with no food inspiration coming magically to me, the Husband announced that he wanted French fries. He didn't need anything else, he claimed. Just fries. I looked at him like he was nuts as he pulled out the bag of potatoes, a strainer, and almost all the pots and pans we own from the cupboards.

We don't own a deep fryer. And yet, he was going to endeavour to make French fries. From scratch. In a pot. Of oil.

I said goodbye to all of my canola oil and settled down at the breakfast bar with Catching Fire (book 2 of the Hunger Games Trilogy) to watch him work. He had this one all under control.

An hour later, much to our mutual shock, we had one pot of French fries. Crispy, delicious French fries.

Granted, they were nothing particularly special. Some of them had gotten chopped a little too small or broke in the cooking process. They were bent and not entirely pretty. But oh, oh. They were tasty. Just as good as any fries we order with our burgers when we go out. Better perhaps, because of their absolute freshness.

I sprinkled mine with a decent dusting of Cajun seasoning after the Husband's sprinkle of salt and devoured each one with a little tip of ketchup. Would we make these again? I doubt it. The Husband wants to try baked fries next which I have far more experience with. But these? They're maybe a little more work than they're worth.

How did we do it?

Like this:

French Fries

5 or 6 large potatoes
4 cups vegetable or canola oil

Chop your potatoes into fries. While you're chopping, heat the oil in a large stock pot or dutch oven. The oil is hot enough when you drop a fry in and it immediately begins to sizzle.

Working in batches, add a handful or two of the fries to the oil. Cook for 5 minutes. They won't be golden and crispy yet. Remove from the heat and strain using a strainer placed in a second large pot or dutch oven in order to reserve the oil. Move the fries to a third pot or bowl.

(If you have enough oil, you can skip the straining step by putting the strainer directly into the cooking pot and simply lifting it out when the 5 minutes is up. We didn't have enough oil for this.)

Return the oil to the stove and reheat. Do your next batch in the same way you did the first, adding them to bowl of half cooked fries. Repeat until all your fries have been cooked once.

Return the oil to the stove and add about half the fries. You want them to remain completely covered by the oil, but you can cook a larger batch this time. Cook until your fries are golden brown. Strain well and spread the fries on a baking sheet lined with paper towel to drain the grease.

Dust with seasonings, parmesan cheese, perhaps, or whatever else you'd like to make them a little more special. As I mentioned, I sprinkled these with some cajun and ate them with copious amounts of ketchup.

Perhaps I'll try onion rings next...