Fine eating

One year. One year since the sun rose one last time for her. Listening to one of her sons, wordless, unable to speak through the suffering, her hand held by her final love, my mum left life.
Her influence remains in everything I do. When I cook something or eat something, I have one simple filter to determine if it is good. If I hear my mum’s voice say “Fine eating,” with her emphatic “Mmmmm,” I know it’s good. I should feel the instant connection of passion: the quality of each ingredient, the focus and dedication of the person cooking and the pleasure shared with someone who cares about that passionate link.
One example of a moment shared, that still lingers is when I go to Sunbake Pita Bakery in Edmonton for lunch. It was a favourite spot when my mum came to visit. They specialize in quality Lebanese style pitas, but for the front of the bakery they use the thin pita dough for what could be best described as a Lebanese pizza. Some of the toppings include cheese, but not exclusively. Some have a ground meat mixture spread over the top, some a sesame seed, herbs and olive oil spread, but my mum’s favourite was the spinach and cheese pie. This is a wilted spinach topping that is flavoured with onion and the tanginess of sumac, a lemony spice prominent in Lebanese cuisine.
As I am wont to do, I like to find ways to recreate things that I enjoy elsewhere with a greater focus on as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. With a large bunch of kale from my most recent vegetable bounty from Riverbend Gardens and the glorious Red Fife wheat flour from Gold Forest Grains, I did my own twist.

Spicy Kale Flatbread Pizza

For the dough:

3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp Coal Lake Honey Farms mixed flower honey
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil
1 tsp Bles Wold sour cream
1 cup Gold Forest Grains soft white flour
2-1/4 to 2-1/2 cups Gold Forest Grains Red Fife flour
1 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the warm water, honey and yeast. Allow to sit until bubbly, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oil and sour cream. Gradually whisk in the flour/salt mixture and turn on the counter to knead, adding a tablespoon of flour if the mixture remains too sticky. Knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 30-40 minutes.

For the topping:

1 large bunch Riverbend Gardens kale, about 10-12 cups roughly chopped
1 Tbsp Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil
1/2 cup Riverbend Gardens sweet red onion, roughly chopped
1 Doef’s Greenhouses fresh red chilli, finely chopped
1 cup rhubarb butter (or apple butter) *See Note

*Note: To make rhubarb butter, place 8 cups chopped fresh rhubarb in a large pot with 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup honey. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, stirring until it softens (about 15 minutes). Reduce heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for a further 60-75 minutes until very thick.

In a large pot, place the oil, onions and chilli in the pot before you turn on the heat. Turn on the heat to medium high and when the onions and chillis start to become aromatic, soften and not yet brown, add the chopped kale and 1/2 cup water. Start to stir to enrobe the kale with the flavoured oil. Add the rhubarb butter, stirring to coat the kale completely and add another 1/2 cup water. Stir occasionally as you reduce the heat to medium for a further 15-20 minutes or until the kale has softened, but still has a slight chew to it. (If you prefer a softer wilt, continue to cook, adding another 1/2 cup of water, stirring for a further 15 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool.

To prepare the pizza:

100g/4oz The Cheesiry young pecorino, shredded
Reserved dough
Reserved kale topping

Preheat oven to 190C/400F.
Divide the dough into 6 equal balls. Roll each ball into rough 25cm/8″ circles about 1/2cm(1/4″) thick. Place two rolled circles of dough on a large baking sheet. Spread each thinly with the prepared kale mixture. Sprinkle lightly with the shredded pecorino. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden along the edges. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Serves 4-5.

Option: Save some of the kale topping to toss with a pasta or with cooked barley for a warm barley salad.


Weaving Pumpkin Patches

The gradual cooling of summer into autumn always yields one of my favourite vegetables (well, technically fruit, but it’s normally thought of in a savoury sense-except for pie): pumpkin. Like many members of the autumn squash family, its flavour is best enjoyed when roasted. Steaming or boiling simply leeches much of the inherent flavour into the water. When receiving a beautiful, small sweet sugar pumpkin in my weekly local vegetable delivery from Riverbend Gardens, I wanted to cook a couple of things with it. Soup and bruschetta were the result…..


Honey Chilli Roasted Pumpkin

1 medium Riverbend Gardens sugar pumpkin (roughly 25cm/8″ diameter)

1 Tbsp Coal Lake Honey Farms mixed flower honey

1/4 cup Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil

1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes (I dry a bunch of Doef’s Greenhouses red chillis for future use)

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C/450 degrees F.

Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the string pulp and seeds. Toast the seeds on a dry baking sheet for 7-10 minutes. Save for another use.

Version #1:

Line a 25cm/8″ square cake pan with foil. Place one half of the pumpkin skin side down inside. Whisk together honey, oil and chillis and pour half of this mixture into the pumpkin’s cavity. Pour 1/2 cup water in the bottom of the pan, cover with more foil and bake for 40-45 minutes. Scoop flesh from the skin and purée until smooth. Set aside 1/2 cup for bruschetta and the rest for the soup.

Version #2:

Cut the other half of the pumpkin into quarters. Place on one of its flat edges and carve the skin off with a sharp chef’s knife (A vegetable peeler could work but the odd shape of pumpkin makes it more dangerous to use a peeler than a knife to carve away from you). Cut the peeled pumpkin into rough 1cm(1/2″) chunks. Toss in the remaining honey/oil/chilli mixture and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. The parchment paper is crucial for this method. Anything else will have the chunks stick to them and turn to mush. Bake in the preheated 220 degree C/450 degree F oven for 15 minutes, turn the pan then bake for another 15-20 minutes until golden on the edges. Set aside.

Roasted Onions:

Peel and cut one large sweet Riverbend Gardens onion into thick slices. Brush lightly with oil and bake in the same oven for 15 minutes until deeply golden. Roughly chop and reserve 3/4 cup for the bruschetta.

For the Honey-Chilli Roasted Pumpkin Soup:

Majority of the roasted onion chunks

Majority of the Honey-Chilli Roasted Pumpkin purée

2 cups homemade chicken stock

1 tsp, each salt and black pepper

3 Tbsp Bles-Wold sour cream

Add the roasted onion, pumpkin purée and homemade chicken stock to a medium saucepan. Bring to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Purée with a hand blender until smooth. Set aside until ready to serve.

For the Honey-Chilli Roasted Pumpkin Bruschetta

1/2 cup Honey-Chilli Roasted Pumpkin chunks

1/2 cup Honey-Chilli Roasted Pumpkin purée

3/4 cup Roasted Onions, cut into 1cm(1/2″) chunks

1 fresh Doef’s Greenhouses red chilli, finely chopped (or 1 Tbsp chopped sweet bell pepper if you don’t wish for any spice)

12 slices of focaccia cut into finger sized pieces (or comparable amounts of baguette slices)

In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin chunks, purée, onions and chilli until uniformly combined.

Grill the focaccia slices or baguette slices on a hot grill until toasted (or toast in the same 220 degree C/450 degree F oven for 7-10 minutes). Top with the prepared bruschetta topping and serve with the soup ladelled into bowls. Swirl a teaspoon or two of sour cream into each bowl of soup and serve immediately. Serves 3-4 people as a starter.


Magical Fife

This past weekend, local heritage grain farmer, Gold Forest Grains, made available his first red fife flour of the most recent harvest year. I was eager to use this wonderful wheat variety, so I decided on making a focaccia.


Chilli-Pecorino Red Fife Focaccia
1 cup Gold Forest Grains soft white flour

1-2/3 cups Gold Forest Grains Red Fife flour

1 Tbsp kosher salt

2 Doef’s Greenhouses fresh red chillis, finely chopped (seeds included, if desired)

50g (about 3/4 cup) shredded The Cheesiry chilli pecorino cheese

1/2-2/3 cup warm water

1 Tbsp active dry yeast

1 tsp Coal Lake Honey Farms mixed flower honey

3 Tbsp Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil, plus more for drizzling

In a large bowl combine the two flours, salt, chillis and cheese. Make a depression in the centre of the flour mixture. Add 1/2 cup of the water, yeast, honey and oil. Stir briefly and allow to sit for 10 minutes or until the yeast becomes frothy. Slowly stir the flour into the softened yeast in the centre. As the flour absorbs, scrape the dough from the bowl on to the counter and begin to knead until smooth yet not sticky. Add water a tablespoon at a time if it is still too dry to knead. When a smooth, elastic dough is achieved, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for at least one hour and fifteen minutes.

After the initial rise, line a 24cm/8″ square cake pan with parchment paper and oil it lightly. Press the dough in the prepared pan, cover again with plastic wrap and allow to rise for a further 30-40 minutes. Drizzle the top of the risen focaccia with another teaspoon of canola oil. In a preheated 180 degree C/350 degree F oven, bake the focaccia for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden, yet slightly soft to the touch on top.

Historical Cabbage

Being of Hungarian heritage, much of my culinary history revolves around the cabbage. Stewed, steamed and rolled with rice and meat, and my favourite, caramelized. Honestly, growing up the word “caramelized” wasn’t even in our vocabulary, but if you look at caramelized onions or other vegetables, it’s a similar method. We called them Káposztás Tészta or “fried cabbage noodles.”

Káposztás Tészta (Hungarian style caramelized cabbage noodles)

1 head Riverbend Gardens green cabbage, finely grated

1 + 1 Tbsp Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil

1 + 1 Tbsp salt

1-375g package of medium egg noodles

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the finely grated cabbage and 1 Tbsp of salt. Stir occasionally until it starts to evaporate its moisture and begin to brown lightly(about 10 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium and stir a little more frequently for a further 10-15 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of water and scraping the bottom of the pot if the bottom starts to brown a bit. Reduce the heat further to medium low and continue to stir constantly until the cabbage becomes deeply golden brown and the caramelized cabbage starts to clump in rough 1-1/2 to 2″ clusters. Set aside.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water. Drain. Toss with the caramelized cabbage. Sprinkle with the remaining oil and salt and serve. Serves 2 as a main and 4 as a side or starter.

Veggies and eating rocks…..

   I’ve had a few weeks of Riverbend Gardens weekly CSA veggie program. I’m only one guy so I thought I could do more that could be easily frozen to eat later. Being into September, we’re getting the inevitable cooling of the air which lends itself to soups and other great things that signal a shift from summer to autumn. This past week’s vegetable haul from Riverbend involved potatoes and kale. My first thought was a Portuguese soup called Caldo Verde. It’s a soup that has as many variations as Portuguese folks have mothers. I’m not of that background, but over the years I’ve read my fair share of recipes from around the world. This recipe traditionally can be with chorizo, or left vegetarian; can be with or without carrots. I opted for a simple vegetable version when I also had a couple of dozen oysters land in my lap. The wonders of working at Ocean Odyssey Inland sometimes. Ha!

(On a side note, the first guy to discover oysters must’ve been really hungry. Or accused of witchcraft. “Hey guys, check out what happens when I bash open this rock!!”  “He’s a witch!! Burn him!!!”…..but I digress…’s my lunch from earlier today…


Caldo Verde (Portuguese Potato Kale Soup) with Crispy Malpeque Oyster Skewers

For the soup:

1 Tbsp Mighty Trio Organics canola oil

1 large Riverbend Gardens red onion, chopped into rough 1cm(1/2″) dice

1/2 tsp crushed dried chilli

4 cups chicken stock

4 cups Riverbend Gardens potatoes (purple or yellow), unpeeled, cut into 2cm(1″) pieces

4 cups water

1 bunch (about 4 cups firmly packed) Riverbend Gardens kale, tough stem removed and leaves coarsely chopped or torn

1 tsp, each, salt and pepper (or to taste)

   In a large pot, sauté the onions in oil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until softened. About 5-7 minutes. Add the dried chilli and sauté for a further minute or two.

   Add the stock, water and potatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the kale and simmer, covered, for another 25-30 minutes. When the soup is done simmering, season with salt and pepper to taste. As the soup simmers prepare the oysters.

For the Crispy Malpeque Oyster Skewers:

2 dozen Malpeque oysters (or other large oyster variety)

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/4 tsp, each, ground cumin, dried oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper

1/4 cup Mighty Trio Organics canola oil, for shallow frying.

Bamboo skewers for presentation

   Shuck the oysters from their shell with an oyster knife, reserving the liquid in a separate bowl.

   Combine the cornmeal and spices in a small bowl. Dredge the shucked oyster meat in the spiced cornmeal, pressing the cornmeal on each oyster firmly. Place on a plate and allow the coating to rest for at least 15 minutes before frying.

   Preheat the oil over medium high heat until a small leaf of kale, when placed in the oil, cracks and sizzles immediately. Fry the cornmeal-coated oysters for 45-60 seconds on one side, then another 30 seconds on the other side. Remove from the pan and allow to drain on paper towels.

To serve:

   Thread three Crispy Malpeque Oysters on each skewer. Lay two prepared skewers on the edge of four bowls. Stir in the reserved oyster liquid into the soup, then ladle even amounts into each bowl. Serves 4.