Three Salads for Winter Blahs

I get very quickly bored of salad.  It’s especially hard in winter to maintain enthusiasm for salad when there are no local, fresh ingredients, and I often find myself in a rut.  Here are some salads sure to please tired taste buds.

salad-May11-HH-AskAmy-LeslieWilliamsMy all-time favourite salad is Fresh’s Tangled Thai Salad.  There is a Fresh restaurant down the street from me, and I never even look at the menu anymore.  I just order the Tangled Thai.  In part, it’s a treat because I cannot have peanuts or sesame at home, so I treat myself to those allergens when I go out.   For some reason, lime has become my winter comfort, and it’s the lime and cilantro that make this salad particularly appealing to me in winter.  (To add protein to this delicious dish, try adding some marinated tofu.)  You can find the recipe on the Canadian House and Home site here.

I also saw this lovely, crisp and zesty salad in The Globe and Mail last week: Shaved Fennel and Mint.  The Red and White appealed to me because I love fennel but have a limited number of ways to prepare it.  With mint, it felt like a taste of summer in the middle of winter.  Yum.  And while pomegranates symbolise Persephone’s banishment to the underworld and the death of all that’s green in winter, they also promise the return of spring, so you can toast the Greek gods’ promise of the green to come and have your salad, too.

Finally, my go-to taste bud pleaser is a pear and blue cheese salad.  My portions of cheese are usually immoderate, but with this salad, I get my cheese fix with just a wee crumble of pungent blue.  Enjoy!  And please share your recipes for great salads!

Pear and Blue Cheese Spinach Salad

Serves 2

4 cups baby spinach, rinsed and dried

1 ripe pear, cored and sliced

1/3 cup walnuts or pine nuts

2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Heat a frying pan on medium heat for one minute.  Add nuts and stir constantly until nuts are fragrant and toasted golden brown.  (1-2 minutes)  Remove immediately from heat.  Mix oil, vinegar and Dijon with a whisk in a large salad bowl.  Pour out half of dressing, and toss spinach in remainder.  Serve dressing-coated spinach in bowls, topped with sliced pear, nuts and cheese.  Add remaining dressing if necessary or reserve for another day.

Stuffed Pork Chops: Skip the restaurant and stay home this Valentine’s Day

Untitled4Mothers welcomes Jillian as our guest for the day.  Jillian is a mother to her 10 month old daughter and an Air Force wife.  She is currently taking a year long break from her job as a news anchor.  Jillian blogs about her love for food, entertaining, travel and fitness at News Anchor to Homemaker.

My husband and I will be celebrating our seventh Valentine’s Day together this year.  I’ll never forget our first.  We were in college and I came home to a home-cooked meal…it was awful.  He made a shrimp dish, but he must have forgotten every spice in the recipe because it was pretty bland. To be honest though, I was so head over heels I didn’t care.  After dinner, he took me to the surprise part of the date at his apartment complex.  We pulled up to an outdoor fire place and  taped above it was a note that read, “Reserved”, signed by management.  He informed me he was “management.”  He was afraid someone would take his idea, so he made it look more official.  Smart guy!  He opened the trunk of his beat-up 4Runner and took out a blanket, champagne (one of his older friends must have bought it for him) and an assortment of chocolates.  It was perfect.

Thinking of our first Valentine’s Day together got me thinking about our favorite restaurant in our old college town, Athens, GA.  If you’re ever in Athens, then you should stop by The Last Resort Grill.  They used to make a dish similar to this.  It would be a great option for you and your sweetheart this February 14th.  Just my humble opinion of course!

Spinach Stuffed Pork Chop:

Prep: 10 Minutes

Total: 20 Minutes

2 Pork Chops, with a pocket cut

8 oz. Spinach, chopped, cooked and well-drained

Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

Splash of Chardonnay, divided

2-3 Tbs. Butter, divided

Directions:

Drain your cooked spinach and pat very dry.  Toss into a pan with a splash of chardonnay and about 1 tablespoon (or less) of butter. Cook for a couple minutes then stuff the pork chop with the spinach. Season pork chop with Sea Salt and Cracked pepper.  In a pan, melt more butter and add a more chardonnay. Cook your pork chops for several minutes on each side.

Sweet Potato Mash:

2 Large Sweet Potatoes, peeled.

2 Tablespoons of Butter

1 Tablespoon of Maple Syrup

1 Tablespoon of Brown Augar

1/4 Cup of Milk

Directions:

Boil sweet potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and mash in butter, syrup and sugar, then mash with milk until desired consistency.

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Lunchbox Ideas from Iogo

photo (3)Last weekend, I took my eight-year-old son and two friends along to Iogo Yogurt’s cartooning afternoon with Jo Rioux, the Canadian author of the graphic novel Cat’s Cradle, much loved by said son.  They got to make their own art and Jo came around to talk to them about their work.  (If your kids enjoy cartooning, they can join Iogo’s competition to design the cartoons for their yogurt tubes.  See details here.)

And while she did that, a dietician talked to the grown ups about some new ideas for the lunch boxes.

First: respect the child.  That means respect his or her appetite, likes and dislikes, and abilities.  If your children are able, get them involved in all stages of the lunchbox preparation, from shopping to planning to prepping to packing.

Second: fill in the blanks.  Lunches should have one of each of the following: a meat or meat alternative, vegetables, fruit, a grain and a dairy product.  The dietician had these foods in separate containers for three separate meals, so my son had a chance to go up to the table and do a bit of mix and match with the various selections.  Being able to treat the exercise as a puzzle was a really helpful way to get my son engaged, and it would save time in the mornings if we had a selection of foods already packaged up and ready to fill in the blanks.

_MG_9722 (3)And he gave us some great ideas too.  My favourite was muffin tin omelettes: mix up your omelette batter as you usually would, pour into a greased muffin tin, fill with your favourite vegetables and cheese, bake in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes and voila!  He recommended 12 eggs for a 12-muffin tin, but I used six eggs and milk.  I filled half with red pepper, half with mushrooms and topped all of them with old cheddar, but of course, the possibilities are endless with this, and you can jam all kinds of veggies into one of these things.  They work hot or cold.  What I love about this idea is that it’s one-stop nutrition, with the protein, veggies and dairy all in one.  I’ve also done this with frozen mini-pie shells to make mini-quiches.

Another great idea was a do-it-yourself soup.  Send a thermos with only the hot broth in it.  In separate containers, send the kids’ favourite pasta and veggies and meat or meat alternatives.  He had soba noodles, tofu cubes, eda mame and grated carrot for a Japanese theme, but there are so many twists to this idea.  The kids can add the various ingredients at lunch time, the hot broth will warm the whole lot up, and the kids have the fun of “cooking” at lunchtime.

We all went home with samples of Iogo yogurt tubes, which I put straight into the freezer.  They work wonderfully well frozen (they keep a nice texture), and they keep the food in the lunchbox cool until lunch, thereby doing double duty as ice packs and healthy treats.

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Staying In and Keeping Warm with En Papillote

010Readers, we (gratfeully) acknowledge that you pop by here from all over the world, but we must report that 4Mothers is located physically in Toronto, Canada, and that January here is very cold.  This year, we’ve had one of the coldest winters in memory, so we can notch our meteorological descriptor up to frigid.  It was so cold over the holidays that I ignored my basic rule of going outside for some period everyday – without the requirement of taking the kids to school, I gamely avoided leaving the house.  What are dry goods for, anyway, if not to see a family over a difficult climatic spell?

And if we had to eat, why not warm ourselves and the house while we’re doing it?  Yes friends, I am speaking of the miracle called an oven.  Baking, roasting, whenever I could find a reason, I’d light that baby up.  And now I have one more excuse, because we’ve added cooking en papillote to the mix with big success.

En papillote is cooking food in a pouch, usually made of parchment paper, which holds in moisture that steams the food.  It’s a cinch to fold the packets – there’s a brief instruction here (don’t bother cutting the parchment paper into a heart).  I assume most people would remove the food from the pouch before eating, but if you have children, there’s some drama to opening a steaming pocket of food and eating straight out of the parchment paper, and personally I’d recommend it.

I made this Farfalle with Artichokes recipe from Vegetarian Times, and my boys could not get enough of it (the adults thought it was delicious too).  Bonus for a deep freeze:  it hardly requires any perishable ingredients, and of course you can use any kind of pasta shapes.  If you have a soft cheese in the house (and probably even a mozzarella), you can make this.  One of my sons won’t touch a tomato with a ten foot pole, so I’ve never made it with tomatoes (the other perishable item), and it’s still really good.

It’s just a pasta, but it’s more interesting and tasty in a little parchment pocket, and sounds a lot grander when it’s called en papillote.  I recommend saying en papillote frequently in the presence of your kids while cooking.  Keep the oven door open for a few minutes in January after you turn it off, and the dish has got a lot going for it.

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Tomato Canning

It’s September and that means one thing – yes, the start of school and the return to an insane schedule of shuttling between activities but more importantly, it’s tomato-canning time!

For the past few years we have spent an entire Saturday from sun-up to well past sundown, making the most delicious tomato sauce that will last for the entire year.

From veal cutlets to pasta and grilled cheese to pizza, this basic sauce is the perfect pairing for just about anything and really, what tastes better than a bit of summertime in the bleak days of winter?

Finding tomatoes is easy peasy.  Most farmers markets and Italian grocers stock bushels of tomatoes in addition to peppers, beans and cucumbers.  If you’re lucky a few Nonas will share their secrets to jarring while standing in the (inevitably) long line-up.  This year we decided to double our usual supply and went for 4 bushels.

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I like to pre-wash the tomatoes.  This gets rid of the sand but also acts as a quality control step.  Any badly bruised or rotting tomatoes are discarded.  The boys like to get in on this step and it does help speed up the process.  Once they are washed, cut them length-wise in half.

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Then boil them on the stove for about 20 minutes.   Some people choose to skip this step and others insist that it’s necessary in order to get the most juice from the fruit.  It’s up to you, but apparently we’re suckers for extra work.

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When the tomatoes are finished boiling, scoop them out with a sieve and push them through an electric tomato-squeezing machine like this one.  In the past, we have done this by using a large food processor.  The downside of the food processor method is that your sauce will end up with seeds and it takes time. It’s tedious.  Very tedious.  The electric machine allows you to push the halved tomatoes through at a much faster pace discarding the skin, seeds and cores while pureeing the fleshy pulp into a juice.  The machine is an investment so if your unsure this is for you, I would suggest renting one first.

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Four bushels of tomatoes yields a lot of tomato juice.  I use every large container I can find in the house – including a toy storage bin!  I’m just going to say it – be sure to wash all containers thoroughly.  No one wants surprises in their sauce.

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While one person (or if you’re smart, you’ll have a team) will continue with the tomatoes, someone else can get started on the garlic.  Many people choose to jar just the tomato juice.  We take it a step further (I told you that we love extra work) and make a nice garlic sauce.  It adds hours to the process, but when it’s 5:30 pm on a Tuesday in February and the three boys are melting down with hunger and fatigue and I have a raging fever with a sore throat that feels like knives every time I swallow, I can rest assured that I have a dinner!  Boil pasta, add the sauce and bingo-bango, everyone is happy and I can resume dying on the couch.

Back to the garlic.

We used 24 heads of garlic.  They were small in size, but we do like our garlic around here.  I spent about an hour peeling and chopping before my brother stopped over and told me his garlic trick.  Slice the top and bottom off the head of the garlic and pop it in the microwave for about 40 seconds.  The cloves slide right out of the “paper”!  Needless to say, the process went much quicker after his visit.

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All burners will be a go now.  Get some pots on the stove (the bigger, the better) and sauté some of that garlic in olive oil along with chili peppers and/or onions (if taste buds agree).  Pour in the freshly pureed tomato juice, add some salt and cook on high heat.  Stir constantly.  When the sauce starts boiling, turn the stove down to medium.  Allow the sauce to cook until it turns a nice orangey-red.  See the difference (note: the picture doesn’t show it as well as I had hoped)?  The red one is not done yet . . . it will take time, and lots of taste tests to ensure it’s perfect.  This is where a fresh baguette comes in handy.

Not quite ready.  It's still too red,

Not quite ready. It’s still too red.

See the nice orangey-red colour of the sauce and the rim around the pot?  It's ready!

See the nice orangey-red colour of the sauce and the rim around the pot? It’s ready!

While the sauce is bubbling away, sterilize your jars in the dishwasher.  The lids need to be done on the stove in a pot of boiling water (See?  More pots and more burners being used).

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Once they are sterilized, pour 2 tbsp of lemon juice into each jar.  Some people add salt.  Some use citric acid.  Those Nonas at the grocery store will all tell you something different but when in doubt check with Google.

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When the sauce is ready, ladle it into the jars, filling to an inch within the top.  Add the snap-lid and ring.

Place the sealed bottles into a pot of boiling water (we’re are using the burner that is attached to our BBQ) for about 15 minutes.  The pot we have can only take seven jars at a time.  Perhaps we should look into renting a second burner and larger pot for next year.

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Remove the jars from the pot and after the jars have cooled check the snap-lid.  If the centre of the lid is clicking it’s not sealed.

Store your stockpile of sauce like a mad-couponer who just scored a deal on toilet paper.

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We made 68 bottles of sauce this year.  I guess we do have traditions after all.

Guest Post: Christina Markham’s Strega Nona Meets Strega Mama

strega_nonaPasta and Magic.  Next to clean air and indoor plumbing, they are two of the most important things in our home.  The only thing better is when pasta and magic meet together in a book.  Then it’s like the holy trinity.  One of our favourite books is Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola.  In it, Strega Nona (Grandma witch) of Calabria is full of potions that heal, and beautify, and help others.  One of her hidden secrets is a clay pasta pot that is very special to her.

When Strega Nona chants to her clay pasta pot, it makes her fresh hot delicious pasta.  When she is full, she chants something different and blows three kisses for it to stop.  She is full and happy, until someone tries to work her pot, with some success……

There is no sauce in the story, but that is where my magic comes in.  I call my magic Strega Mama (Mama witch)….

My kids are good eaters, they will eat most of the meals I make without too much grumbling.  When it happens to be pasta, there is no grumbling.  As they eat, I wonder if there is even breathing.

potWhen we make our pasta, we chant to the pot, but we throw some serious magic words into the sauce pot.  All the vegetables disappear, and what follows would make Strega Nona proud.

The recipe for Strega Mama sauce is very flexible.  The trick is making the good stuff disappear!   My kids love to chant above the pot while I blend away that yucky stuff (vegetables).    I blow three kisses following the sauce’s completion (one for each of my kids).

You will need a medium-sized pot, and a hand blender for this recipe.

Ingredients:  You may want to substitute for your favourite vegetables, or add your favourite ones!

It may look like a mish mash, but it all goes well together.  

Onion (1 medium chopped)

Garlic (4-5 cloves chopped)*

Celery, chopped

Carrots chopped

Zucchini (1 medium chopped)

Red and green peppers ( ½ each chopped)

mushrooms

eggplant (medium, cubed)

one can of crushed tomatoes/bottle of passatta (strained tomatoes)

half a can of water

* we use a lot of garlic in our home, less is fine too.

Spices:

Salt to taste

fresh ground pepper

oregano

cinnamon sticks (2)

In a medium pot, heat 2-3 tablespoons of Olive oil (good quality, first cold pressed always makes everything taste amazing!!!)  Add the vegetables in stages.  Make sure the previous ones are tender before adding the next ones!  My steps can be changed according to your desired tenderness.  Cook over medium heat.

add the chopped onions and cook until tender (2-3 minutes)

(cook the following vegetables for 3-5 minutes or until desired tenderness)

add mushrooms

add the celery, carrots and peppers

add zucchini and eggplant

add salt, pepper and oregano

let the vegetables cook together for a few minutes

add the garlic and stir into the vegetables

add the can of crushed tomatoes or passatta with half a can/bottle of water (passatta comes in glass bottles)

add cinnamon sticks

stir until well mixed and leave over medium heat until it comes to a boil.  Reduce heat and cover.  Let it cook for about 20 min (depending on your stove)

This is where the magic begins:

Get your hand blender out.  TAKE OUT THE CINNAMON STICKS AT THIS POINT

You will be blending directly into the pot.  Have your children make up some magic words, take them from the book, or take the lead and be as silly as you can.  As everyone chants, blend.  Blend away any trace of eggplant, or peppers.  Any trace of vegetables!  When it becomes saucy (no chunks) cover and let it cook for another 10 min (not more)

When it is complete, add a bit of olive oil (2 second pour) and turn stove off.

Serve it over some spaghetti (any pasta and even rice works nicely)  and sprinkle with good quality parmigiano cheese.

Enjoy what Strega Nona brought into our home and make your own magic!

::

Christina Markham is a mother of three by day and a gymnastics coach in the evening.

(Nate the) Great Potato Pancakes

110Truth:  when I was vacationing at the cottage last week, I did not remember that this week’s 4Mothers topic would revolve around books and recipes.  But by happy coincidence, the boys and I actually did exactly that.  Since reading and cooking are two major pastimes around here, I suppose it is not so very great a happenstance, but still, I’m impressed.

Before leaving for the cottage, we looked around at our wildly growing garden and pulled haphazardly at a few potato plants that were blocking the light for the cabbages.  We have a lot of potato plants – they seem to have reproduced themselves throughout the garden somehow from last year.   But gardeners of our ilk know well that plants doesn’t necessarily mean vegetables, so we were charged when we got a bowl full of red and white potatoes and threw these in the car.

We’ve been reading a bunch of Nate the Great books, which feature a boy detective whose detection powers sharpen when he’s fortified with pancakes.  At the end of one of these books (this one?), there were recipes for regular pancakes but also recipes for potato pancakes, and when we read that, my son asked that we make them.  I put it on my radar for “someday soon”, which quickly became “how about today?” with the extra time and space that cottage living seems to inspire.

I didn’t have Nate’s recipe with me, but there lives old The Joy of Cooking at the cottage.  At first I was disappointed to see nothing listed under latkes.  Luckily, my mind didn’t slip into neutral right away, and I realized that maybe this older book might simply call potato pancakes potato pancakes.  I flipped to P in the index, and lo! there was the recipe.

My five year old grated the pancakes, and watched me fry.  I didn’t stinge with the oil.  We had both sour cream and apple sauce for toppings.  I tripled the recipe for two adults and three boys (7, 5, and 2) –  there wasn’t a scrap left.  We don’t often fry with such abandon; this wasn’t an everyday lunch.  But it’s going to be a very popular choice for the fattening potatoes in the backyard.  So. Yummy.  (And easy too.)

Potato Pancakes (adapted from The Joy of Cooking (1964), inspired by Nate the Great)

Ingredients 

2 cups grated potato (use a thin towel to extract as much moisture from the potato as possible (I used paper towel, all I had))

2 eggs

2 Tbsp flour

1 tsp salt

3 Tbsp onion

Preparation

Blend all ingredients well.  Pour  3 inch patties into 1/4 inch of hot cooking oil (I used sunflower oil).   Brown both sides.  Drain off excess fat.

Serve immediately, with sour cream, apple sauce, or just enjoy in their own simple glory.

Grandma and The Pirates and Baba’s Chicken Soup

Last year all three boys couldn’t get enough of Jillian Jiggs and her wonderful pigs. Particularly my middle son would beg me to read it night after night prompting a search for other books by Toronto-based author Phoebe Gilman.

Allow me a side bar if you may, but if your child has a favourite book, I suggest a visit to the local library to seek out other books written by the same author even if your child is just thumbing the pages of picture books.  We have done this for Maurice Sendak, Melanie Watt and Audrey Penn (to name a few) and it never ceases to amaze me the discussion that inevitably ensues about which books are better and why and if the author remains a favourite or if it’s really about a penchant for a particular story.

But I digress.

Marry one passion for pirates with a fondness for Phoebe Gllman and that is how Grandma and The Pirates came to live at our house.

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While Melissa is picking flowers in a nearby field, pirates are lured by the smell of noodle pie to her grandmother’s house.  The pirates kidnap Grandma and her pet parrot, Oliver, from her cozy cottage and take her to their ship so that she can cook for them.  Melissa, fearful for her grandmother’s safety, waits until nightfall to swim out to the anchored ship.  It doesn’t take long before the pirates come across their stowaway and now Melissa is prisoner too!  After a time of sailing the seas, Melissa, Grandmother and Oliver put their heads together to formulate a plan to escape the greedy, selfish pirates.

Grandma’s cooking is a theme in this story about plundering pirates seeking their fortune, so what better way to enjoy this book with its beautifully illustrated pictures than following it up with one of Grandma’s best-loved recipes?

While Melissa’s grandma made noodle pudding, my boys’ grandma made her celebrated chicken noodle soup.

Grandma and The Pirates + Baba’s Chicken Noodle Soup:

 The Perfect Recipe For a Rainy Autumn Afternoon.

1 Chicken 2 to 3 lb. or about 2 lbs. deboned and skinless chicken (this is easier and Baba swears by Costco’s chicken).

Wash and place chicken in large pot (about 8 litres) and cover with cold water.

IMG_3875Bring to boil, remove scum, add a tablespoon salt, and boil for about 5 to 8 minutes.
Remove chicken from pot and remove bones and skin if chicken is whole.

Put aside.

Into the water used to boil the chicken, put aromatics:
a large handful of parsley with stems, a few stalks of celery with leaves, large onion peeled and quartered, green leaves of a few leeks, a few cabbage leaves or broccoli stalks or cauliflower stalks.

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Side note: If Baba knows that she is planning to make soup, she saves these in a baggie in the fridge.
Boil these aromatics in the soup for 20 minutes then remove and drain them. Taste soup for salt and adjust seasoning.

If you want, add 2 packets or 1 cube of chicken bouillon. Add
additional water if necessary.

Bring soup to boil and add spaghetti or fine noodles or any shaped pasta. The amount is contingent on the amount of soup there is and how much pasta you want in it.

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My boys like it both noodley and with spaghetti – all the better for slurping!
Boil for about 2 to 3 minutes, taste for salt and adjust if necessary, then add the chicken and more water if necessary, and boil until pasta is done.

Remove from heat immediately and serve.

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Magical Eats

Sherbet_Lemons__02569Kids’ books and food: what a winning combination.  Two of my greatest joys as a parent have been reading (and re-reading) children’s books and remembering the sweets of my youth.  Delicious indulgences, both.  On our recent trip to England, someone asked one of my boys what his favourite part of the trip had been, and he said, “The candy!”  I had only myself to blame.  I had given the kids free reign to try anything new to them: jelly babies, lemon sherbets, ginger beer, dandelion and burdock pop.  I, of course, joined in the fun, and we all enjoyed ample samplings of the sweet treats on offer in the corner shops and grocery stores.  When we did finally make it into an old-fashioned sweet shop, with thousands of sweets arrayed in jars behind a high counter, I was so overwhelmed by the selection that I left with only one little bag of dandelion and burdock sweets.  If there is one place in children’s literature I would love to visit, it’s the sweet shops in the Harry Potter books, because the only thing I can imagine being better than the English sweets of my youth are the magical English sweets of J K Rowling’s fiction.

I have looked up the recipe for Turkish Delight so that my kids can taste the magical sweet that tempted Edmund to betray his siblings in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  (With nut allergies, we cannot eat the Turkish Delight available in stores.)  It requires a candy thermometer.  It requires you to stand at the stove watching that thermometer carefully and stirring constantly for 45-90 minutes.  A recipe for kids but perhaps not to be made by this parent, who has much better things to do with 90 minutes than stand at a stove stirring.

Stone_SoupActually, the most magical cooking experience we’ve had is much more wholesome than the sweets that make me wax lyrical.  And that, perhaps, is just as it should be.  Inspired by the book Stone Soup by Marcia Brown, and happening by chance to come across the perfect round river rock with which to make it, my picky eater and I decided to make our own stone soup one day, and it has become a family staple.

In the story, three soldiers arrive in a village and overcome the villagers’ hesitation to feed them by outwitting them with the invention of stone soup.  They put a large pot of water on the fire to boil and add three stones to it, promising a delicious feast.  “But, oh!,” they say. “It would taste so much better with a bit of salt and pepper.”  And off someone goes to get a bit of salt and pepper.  “And, oh!, how much better it would taste with a few carrots.”  And someone else goes off to get those.  And on and on it goes, until the soldiers and the villagers have worked together to create a delicious soup to feed everyone.

My little guys love any story that involves trickery, and when we make the soup together, Mummy gets to be the trickster.  All you need is a lovely stone, scrubbed clean, and the ingredients to make a hearty vegetable soup.  It’s the perfect recipe to use up leftovers or the last two carrots in the veggie drawer.  If the kids can be the ones to chop and throw in their choice of vegetables and other delicious additions (barley, alphabet pasta, leftover cubes of ham, chicken or steak, etc.), then they make that soup disappear as fast as you can say “Magic.”  The perfect recipe for picky eaters.

The recipe is very, very flexible, but here is mine:

Ingredients

2 vegetable stock cubes

4-6 cups of water

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, diced

1 cup of diced carrots

1 cup of sliced celery

1 cup of green beans, in 1-inch pieces, or 1 cup of frozen peas

Method

Heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and celery and sauté until just tender.  Add 4 cups of water, carrots and stock cubes and bring to the boil.  Whisk so that stock cubes dissolve.  Add more water if needed to cover vegetables.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes until carrots are just tender.  Add green beans for the last two minutes of cooking.  Throw in any other additions at the end to warm through (small cooked pasta shells or letters, cubed cooked meat, chick peas, any other leftover cooked veggies.)

Turnip Pickles – Seriously, They’re Good!

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I don’t know much about lacto-fermentation or probiotics generally, except that they’re supposed to be good for you.  What I did know is that I had some little turnip things (not exactly sure what they were) that had been sitting in my crisper for months, hanging over from our winter CSA.  I can see why we grow these humble guys though – after much neglect, they were still as firm as when I got them.

Inspired by this post, I thought to try my hand at lacto-fermented turnips.  The recipe is for radishes, but I reasoned that turnips are a similar vegetable and substituted them.  You just need salt, water, and the veggies – no boiling, no canning – it really is so easy.

Some pickle recipes ask you to cut the veggies evenly using a mandoline, but I ignored these directions, and asked my favourite 5 year old slicer to do his best with the turnips.  He peeled and sliced away, working steadily and with concentration, until they were all done.  The pieces were not uniform, but I am here to declare that they were perfect all the same.

We dipped into the first jar after 48 hours (we let the other sit for 72 hours – unlike pickles canned in vinegar, lacto-fermented foods are alive, and will change with time).  I don’t know what to say except that they were completely delicious.  Like we ate the entire jar and then wanted some more delicious.  I learned later that the salty brine is healthy enough to drink, which is a good thing, because I kept taking slugs of it on the sly.  The universe is on your side when something so yummy is good for you!

The kids totally loved it, too.  Both jars were good, but I liked the crispness of the first jar a little better.  Or you could leave it for a couple of weeks and see, but I don’t see how we could ever wait that long.

There are some tired old turnips still in my fridge, and I may just try lacto-fermenting them too.  They represent a challenge to any culinary endeavour, but if there’s anything that can rescue them now, lacto-fermenting them into pickles must be it.