Thursday, December 29, 2011

the salad that fills you up

I'm sitting here at the Montreal airport, waiting for my flight to Halifax in 2 hours. We made it to the airport really early, but that's okay - I'm SO glad to be sitting down and with that the horrific bus ride of death overwith. Seriously. It was a sweaty bus (you know the kind), standing room only, I was heavily encumbered with luggage... my worst nightmare. I'm already a bull in a china shop on a good day.

But let's not talk about that. Let's talk about this salad. I'm not sure if this salad was my mom's idea, or if she learned it from her mom, or a book, or wherever, but this is something she used to make for me from time to time. It was made up of the various veggies we had in our vegetable crisper, but the three things that remained constant were the cottage cheese, the dollop of mayo and the avocado.

Not only does this salad have all the benefits that salads generally have - it's healthy, fresh-tasting and you can give yourself a pat on the back for making a meal of it - but it actually fills you up. This is not a common trait in salads. I eat a salad as a meal, I'm hungry in half an hour. Unless it's this salad.

Monday, December 26, 2011

turkey curry 2011: turkey curry with butternut squash and green cardamom

 It all began on new years day on my 32nd year of being single. Once again I found myself on my own and going to my mother's annual turkey curry buffet. Every year she tries to fix me up with some bushy-haired middle-aged bore, and I feared that this year would be no exception.

I've decided to start a tradition at Unhip Squirrel. When I was in my late teens, I had my wisdom teeth pulled out. My dad arrived the day before my surgery (yes - they put me under!) armed with supplies to aid my recovery, the most memorable of which was the newly released Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding. Little did he know that Bridget Jones would become the bumbling heroine through my late twenties, as I alternated my singleton pride with navigating a sea of lame boyfriends and what she so brilliantly called emotional fuckwittage. Excuse the language.

Don't make the mistake of lumping Bridget in with all the other chick lit out there. Bridget is an original (if I can say that when her story is loosely based off Pride & Prejudice).  Fielding so keenly captured what it was like to be a single girl who regularly faced the question, "How's your love life?" I think that while she is an exaggeration of all of us girls, each one of us can find something to relate to in Bridget. Even now that I'm what she would consider a smug married. She's universal.

What does this have to do with turkey curry? Well, early on in the book (and in the opening scene of the movie) we are presented with a family tradition that Bridget is forced to partake in each year - the turkey curry buffet. It's a gruesome fix-up affair that inevitably ends in Bridget's humiliation (see the above link). Given that even the name of this blog is an obscure reference to Miss Jones herself, it feels appropriate to pay homage to her by doing an annual turkey curry, without attempting to fix anyone up.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

soft persian-inspired scrambled eggs with fresh herbs

I've told you about Byblos before. It's a Persian restaurant that Adam and I go to from time to time - they are well known for their spectacular breakfast, a soft and custardy feta omelet, sprinkled with freshly chopped dill and served with an assortment of sweet breads and aromatic jams. If you go there for breakfast and order anything other than this, the owner will try to talk you out of it. For good reason. It really is the best.

At the moment, I have an outrageous amount of fresh herbs on hand (thank you to my new favourite product, a Thinkkitchen herb container thing - photo nonexistent on the internet) and I decided to attempt the Byblos-style eggs. I don't know how they do it their kitchen and I didn't even attempt to recreate them authentically. And as a lover of fresh herbs, I added a few more just for kicks.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

pasta e fagioli soup

I have an irrational distaste for certain pasta shapes. I almost never buy macaroni - even if I'm making "macaroni" and cheese. You can forget rigatoni. Farfalle is another scorned pasta, but sometimes it does find its way into my kitchen. Then it sits there for 6 months while I purchase more desirable shapes like shells or spaghettini.

Eventually I come to the realisation that I should probably use the farfalle. This happened the other day and resulted in a comforting and filling pasta e fagioli, which was inspired by the lovely and amazing Shutterbean.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

deep dish apple blackberry pie with fresh thyme

I've never thought of myself as a very artistic person. I find it difficult to be creative - even in the kitchen sometimes. I've always had art in my blood. I was accused of tracing in my grade 8 art class. I used to spend hours with my various VHS tapes on pause so I could sketch portraits of whatever character was on the screen - Fox Mulder, Dana Scully, Duncan MacLeod, Yakko, Wakko and Dot... you name it, I drew it. I got my degree in art history. I wrote horrible embarrassing fanfiction. My point is, I have always been in some way connected to creativity, but I've never believed it lived inside me.

Why do I bring this up now? I've started taking great pride in baking lattice crust pies and lovingly crimping their crusts. Those aren't creative per se, but they do require a certain amount of artistic deftitude. My first one tasted great, but was a little lacking in the looks department. I think I've finally become confident and have gained the graceful steadiness of hand required to bake a pie that looks as good as it tastes. Evidence above. My pie was pretty!

I really enjoyed this pie, and I loved the depth of flavour that the thyme added. Not everyone will enjoy it - in particular, those who don't like their food to mix or have rigid ideas of what food goes with what ... I'm looking at you, buddy! You might come across those who say that it reminds them of "eating meat" or describe it as "that meat flavour pie." Don't be disheartened, adventuresome palates! Apple and thyme is a well-established flavour combination. It's good. Trust.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

mango cilantro salad with avocado

Here we are with another recipe without a recipe. Some food like sandwiches, some salads and other things, defy being limited by a list of quantities. They're so flexible and are often made for varying amounts of people, therefore to quantify the ingredients becomes more of a hassle than a help.

Such is the case with this salad. Maybe you, like me, found a huge mango at Jean-Talon Market and could only use half of it. Avocados come in different sizes. A lot of people don't like cilantro as much as I do. So where I might use a generous handful of the stuff, a couple of tablespoons chopped may be sufficient for someone else. So... use however much of whatever ingredients you want - all this is a salad idea. And a really good one at that. Even if you're a beginner cook, you probably know how to throw together a salad. If you don't, well... it's pretty foolproof! There's a first time for everything.

Monday, December 12, 2011

the great food blogger cookie swap: brown butter cookies

You know what's a great idea? Getting over 600 food bloggers to bake cookies for each other. When I read about this crazy scheme on A Bitchin' Kitchen, I knew instantly I had to get involved. The deal is this: you bake a dozen cookies each for three bloggers, and you receive a dozen cookies from three entirely different bloggers. However, my matches were unusual, there were four of us in a group and we all baked cookies for each other. I think this must be because we were the only people on the planet who requested no chocolate.

I received black sesame shortbread from Kyleen at sixteenbeans, brown butter chai shortbread from Heather at Tea with Me and cranberry apricot biscotti from Melissa at West Coast Nest. Thanks to you all for these lovely gifts which were all exceptional and imaginative. I erased morning workouts with all of them and I'm not sorry!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

barbecue sauce three ways

Was there ever a better time of year for pulled pork? I think not. It's cold outside. The weather is just screaming for me to make comfort food. Luckily enough I have an excuse to make something so delicious (as if this blog isn't an excuse good enough?) - I'm catering Adam's department Christmas party and, with that, there comes a lot of taste testing.

So this week has been a flurry of experiments, not only checking for taste, but for the first time ever, I'm checking for practicality and cost. It's added a totally different element to my usual cooking.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

spiced pumpkin holiday granola

One of the things I love about baking is the scent it leaves behind in your home. As I write this entry, I am filled with the swirling aroma of cinnamon, nutmeg and fragrant orange. It's a perfect smell for this time of year when it's cold outside, but so warm and cozy inside.

These jars of granola (from my first batch) will be carted across the country in a very large suitcase by my cousin who is lucky enough to being going home for the holidays. They make great gifts - they're made with love, and they don't go stale! They don't last long enough to go stale, that is.

I adapted this from the recipe on Winnie Abramson's Healthy Green Kitchen (one of my new favourite blogs). I decided to add orange zest because I'm a big fan of orange spice tea, and we already know that pumpkin and orange is a thing. Or do we? I think I'm actually thinking of my mom's baked yams. Nevermind. It works.

Monday, December 5, 2011

potage of red lentils with kale

Hello people. It is a monumentous occasion - today, at the very last minute, I dropped off my Cookie Swap packages at the post office. Three of my fellow food bloggers will soon be tasting the delights of the unhip squirrel kitchen. Hopefully they will be delights. I'm still a bit skeptical about putting baked goods in the mail.

Speaking of squirrels, while I was putting my packages together, I heard this screeching sound coming from outside. I looked out the window, and a squirrel was flipping out on my neighbour's balcony. It was perched on the railing looking very aggressive. It stayed there forever, just screeching and flapping its tail about. It left, then came back a couple of hours later and resumed screeching. It didn't bug me - if you must know, there was an embarrassing hour-long rendezvous between my Grooveshark account and Taylor Swift at some point this afternoon - and honestly, I was a little worried about the squirrel. I'm very sensitive to animals in distress (I ran out of the room crying in the middle of Food Inc. and made Adam shut it off), so I googled 'squirrel freaking out' and discovered that not only is there a forum dedicated to squirrels, but that people keep squirrels as pets! Wait a minute, what??

Friday, December 2, 2011

eggnog buckwheat crumble cake

If your first thought was that this looks like a gooey mess, you're right. It is a gooey mess. It's still a gooey mess in my kitchen. Cake is another one of those things that I struggle to photograph well. When it looks like "an undercooked hamburger," that makes it more difficult. Lesson One: to minimize hamburgerness, don't make this cake in a round pan. Use the suggested 9x13 pan. In any case, I have a lot to learn about photographing things that don't look as appealing as they taste. Some people can make anything look good. I'm not one of those people. YET.

I was inspired to make this a week ago or so when I read Jessica's post at How Sweet It Is. That cake entered my brain and never left. So today, on the heels of the beet cake failure, I did something about it.

My intent was to make the recipe as written (with my usual sugar alterations - for someone with a penchant for desserts, I have a low tolerance for sugar). When I went to get my whole wheat flour from the cupboard, I saw my bag of buckwheat flour and, I swear to you, it looked up at me saying, 'pick me! pick me!'. So I did, with absolutely no knowledge as to whether using buckwheat flour requires any other special alterations. Luckily, it worked just as well (if not better!) and gave the cake this wonderful earthy, nutty flavour which complimented the eggnog and spices. It also rocked the texture of the crumble topping.

Buckwheat flour in your cake. Do it now. You know you want to.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

baked tilapia in smoked bacon with rosemary

I bet there are some of you out there who were expecting my next post to be beet cake. Sadly, the beet cake is in a big black garbage bag on my back deck, waiting for tomorrow's garbage pick-up. What went wrong? Well, I'll save those fascinating details for when I'm able to successfully write a post about beet cake. I will succeed if it is the last thing I do!

I found myself relatively near to Atwater market today and escaped with bags bursting with baby zucchini, patty-pan squash and red chiles. There's just something exciting about tiny vegetables. They remind me of French restaurants. I also left with wood-smoked bacon and tilapia - there's a recipe for cod in Jamie's Food Revolution that I've been dying to make for ages and, given that tilapia was going for a good price at the fish market, I decided to try it out with that.