Thursday, June 25, 2009

My daily snack

Banana and peanut butter -- good to go any time of the day. And it's a snack I have all the time simply because I always have bananas and peanut butter on hand. 
And yet, there's more to it than that. It tastes great, and nutritionally speaking, it's what I'd call a complete snack. 
Just remember to spread the peanut butter on the banana before slicing. 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blueberry buttermilk cake

Has this ever happened to you: A recipe such as this or this calls for buttermilk, you dutifully buy a litre of the stuff and are then left with a litre minus 1/4 cup? Scam alert! I think buttermilk should be free. After all, it's just the runoff from making butter from soured milk (though these days it's more likely its own product made from pasteurized milk curdled by adding a culture.) And why don't they sell buttermilk in smaller sizes? If they can do it with milk and all manner of cream, surely they should be able to figure out a way to do it with buttermilk, right? Am I right? (I think I'm right.) 

Now that we've finished our buttermilk temper tantrum, it's time to get down to business. Let's turn sour milk into something delicious. I guess you could fry up some buttermilk-marinated chicken, or some down-home buttermilk biscuits, or a whole mess of flapjacks, but that all seems like an awful lot of work to use up a couple of bucks worth of milk. 
Or, you can use this recipe that I adapted from -- a one bowl, one pan fruit-topped wonder that takes as much time to throw together as it takes the oven to preheat, and is on the table a mere 25 minutes later. In the original they called for raspberries, as in their Raspberry Buttermilk Cake, but I had some frozen wild blueberries I was trying to unload so used them instead. 

But I will be making this cake often, with every type of summer fresh berry I can get my mitts on over the next few months. Hmmm. Looks like I might have to buy more buttermilk... 


(serves 6)


1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

½ stick butter, room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1 ½ Tbsp brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg

½ cup buttermilk, well-shaken

1 Tbsp lemon zest

1 cup fresh or frozen and thawed and drained blueberries


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter and 9-inch pan and put and cover the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

Mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Using a mixer, blend together butter and white sugar for a couple of minutes, or until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg and beat a couple minutes more. At a low speed, add flour and buttermilk and lemon zest, alternating between wet and dry until just combined for a silky batter.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish or cake tin and smooth evenly. Top evenly with berries and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake in preheated oven until cake is golden on top on inserted toothpick comes out clean – about 25 minutes. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes. Present it sunny side up on a plate.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get along little doggie

I wrote this little ditty for the Globe & Mail a couple of years ago. I had just returned from a springtime trip to Alberta, and was blown away by this example of community. It also illustrates how food always has a way of bringing people 'round the table...

'It's essentially a social event where people with a deep faith and a western background come together to show off their dogs and eat lots," says Terri Mason, the rootin' tootin' editor of Canadian Cowboy Country magazine. She's filling me in on what's about to take place during the second annual Dog Trials in Cremona, Alberta.

In a fun, rodeo-style competition, about 30 dogs and their owners -- and many more spectators -- have amassed today to corral cows, have a potluck dinner and sing and dance till the sun dips below the green hills.

The Cowboy Trail Church of nearby Cochrane is a two-year-old group boasting more than 300 cowboy congregants, and they organized this event. Meetings happen every Tuesday at 7 p.m., followed by a social hour. It's a non-denominational church -- everybody's welcome -- there's prayer, a fiery sermon now and again, and then singing. Church takes place in a large room in a heritage house, where rancher Jason Bradley says the congregants "meet people where they're at." His mom is in charge of the coffee.

Pastor Brynn Thiessen is the ringleader of the festivities. He's a big, funny man with a fluffy mustache and a black-and-white dog.

The rules: All participants have three minutes to coax their dogs (mostly collies) into getting three cows to do a figure-eight around two blue barrels before corralling them into a pen. Some dogs know exactly what they're doing. Others haven't a clue.

Pastor Brynn is up first. He shouts commands, his dog circles, sits, waits, and chases. The pastor whistles. The dog stops, lays down, nips at a cow. Time's up. He's only made it through one obstacle. Much hootin' and a-hollerin.'

Next up, a woman named Danae Frew. She calmly tells her dog to "lie down, wait." The dog circles slowly. "Lie down, shhh, che-che-che." Thirty second warning. "Ssss, lie down, che-che-che." Together, they make the figure eight and get the three cows into the pen on time. More hootin' and a-hollerin.'

You can also do the Dog Trials on horseback, which is how most ranchers do it on the range. That's how ranch manager Jason Bradley is doing it today. But it's not going well. His young pup poops by a barrel then goes to take a nap in the corner while one cow bolts and the other two start mounting each other.

This is the second year of the Dog Trials, which happens on Dan Taylor's ranch each spring. Last year, it took place in his outdoor arena, but today it's cold and rainy so they've brought the festivities inside the barn and stables.

Over the next few hours, many more collies and owners do the trials, the competition eventually degenerating into seven women corralling the three cows while carrying their sleeping dogs.

And then country singing star Paul Brant gets on that same gorgeous mare that people have been riding all day. With cows charging it, dogs nipping at it and about a dozen different cowpokes saddling her, this horse has retained a Zen-like calmness that has been amazing to watch.

She trots over to Pastor Brynn, who is about to make a surprise announcement.

It seems that Mike McGough, whose vision it was to create the Cowboy Church, was recently bucked off his new horse, badly breaking his collarbone. (Just so you know, when your horse bucks and breaks you, you've got to give her away. You've lost her respect. It's the way of the West.)

But today there's a big surprise for Mike McGough. Brant hops off the horse and Pastor Brynn asks a confused McGough to mount the horse with their helping hands. Then Brynn makes his announcement.

Today, the cowboy community is presenting McGough with this calm horse. This beautiful mare that didn't scare and didn't bolt. The Cowboy Church raised the funds to buy it for McGough, to honour him, as he honours them.

Arm in a sling, his eyes welling with gratitude, shoulders slumped in humility, Mike McGough shakes his head in the most cowboy way. After a good little while, he composes himself: "I know a cowboy shouldn't cry," he softly whispers. "But it sure does mean a lot."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicken stuffed peppers

If you're like me you hate stuffed peppers, and moreover think that cooked green peppers are one of the single worst tastes in the world. Honestly, using a fat green pepper as the vessel and main flavouring for a stuffing of grainy meat and rice is Looney Tunes
But say this time around you decided to stuff colourful, sweet bell peppers with a delicious chicken mixture? Now we're talking
I got this idea from Giada De Laurentiis, after watching her stuff peppers and zucchini boats on TV. Like hers, my version isn't too saucy, overcooked or goopy, but instead, fresh, pert and filling. 
And perhaps best of all, they don't taste a thing like green peppers. 

(serves 4)
1 small onion, grated or finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten
1 Tbsp herbs de Provence
1 Tbsp olive oil
about 6 black olives, chopped
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs or matzo meal
1 lb ground chicken
3 large bell peppers, 1 orange, 1 red, 1 yellow, halved and seeded with white veins removed
about 1 cup tomato sauce
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle some oil into a baking dish that will fit 6 pepper halves.
In a bowl, mix together all other ingredients, except for peppers and tomato sauce. 
Lay prepped peppers in the baking dish and stuff with chicken mixture -- really pack it in there and mound it up -- then top each pepper with some tomato sauce. 
Bake in the preheated oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until peppers are soft and the dish is starting to brown.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Choo-choo, Yum Yum, chew, chew

While recently travelling to Ottawa on VIA 1, lunch was Korean beef with broccoli and sesame sticky rice, plus key lime mousse for dessert. The marinated grilled beef had a pleasant blush to it; the broccoli florets were done tender-crisp and then hit with pine nuts. And you know the beef had to be tender -- they only give you a butter knife with which to cut it, after all.
As for dessert, sadly, it tasted like a citrus-based house cleanser: Not Vim, but that idea.
Still, I've got to say I'm in love with the VIA 1 train service, from the roomy seats to the window views, the not too shabby Ontario wines and the nice attendants who gave me extra bags of Viva Yum Yum vegetable chips, just because I casually mentioned how much I liked them.
These are all little things, of course, but they all add up to one big thing.
What's your best food experience on a train or plane?

Monday, June 8, 2009

It was the best of Nosh, it was the worst of Nosh...

This marks the 100th blog entry for the National Nosh, and we've had some good times, haven't we? So let's take a look back over the past six months and reflect on the Nosh that was...

Here are my Top 5 blog entries so far:
5. It's not often that you can liven up winter fruit, so I'm a little proud of this recipe.
4. Say it loud, say it proud. I love chocolate!
3. I also love these
2. This recipe has the added bonus of a sneaky cheat. (Plus, it tastes great.)
1. And this one went, wee, wee, wee, all the way home. (And it includes my baked potato recipe, which remains the #1 recipe on The National Nosh.

In the interest of fairness, here are my Top 5 blog missteps so far:
5. Inappropriate menstruation reference in relation to a soothing hot beverage.
4. Baked brown rice. (Self explanatory.)
3. Linking to a video on how to make egg nog, does not a blog entry make. Also, egg nog is gross.
2. Two words: Batter Blaster. (But I actually stand by this product.)
1. Even James Chatto weighed in on this little ditty, emailing me to say, "Amy, only you could mention burgers and pancreatic cancer within the same review." 

Friday, June 5, 2009

This just in: Summertime spritzers

Sick of gin and tonics? Bored with beer? 
I just tried a handy new bottled cocktail that I'm pretty sure is going to take me through this summer's patio season. They're spritzers from the good people at Naked Grape, and they come in two winning flavours: Chardonnay and White Zinfandel. 
Got to admit, I was a bit iffy about trying these at first (memories of Rockaberry coolers circa 1992), but then, in turn, was equally surprised by how refreshing they were. 
We're talking Wet Banana Super Slide, refreshing. 
They also taste great. And at around 130 calories per bottle, bikini season has never looked spritzier.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fresh from Norway

A few months ago I climbed aboard the MS Trollfjord, a gleaming steamer ship in the Norwegian Hurtigruten line, that travels through the northern fjord towns while transporting locals, goods, mail and tourists. I was there for a week-long trip though Norway's beatific coastline. And while it was a cruise by definition, midnight chocolate buffets were decidedly not on the menu. In fact, by the time the week was up, I felt healthier than I had in ages and my Omega-3 levels were skyrocketing. 
That's because while the food was spectacular -- buffets for breakfast and lunch, a gourmet three-courser for a seated dinner -- it was also rich in the local catch. Here's an example of just some of the fish dishes available at lunch on any given day (in addition to the rest of the buffet offerings)...
Marinated trout, smoked herring, marinated Greenland halibut (dilly), fish in aspic, curry herring, tomato herring, wine-marinated herring, the roe of capelin (yellow, black and orange), marinated char, fish cakes and shrimp salad. 
There was even more, but I got lazy and hungry so put down my pen and picked up a fork. 
By the way, I took this photo at one of our 34 ports of call, then used the Tilt Shift site to make it look coolly miniature. 

Monday, June 1, 2009

Grilled halloumi salad

I was inspired to make this recipe after interviewing Australian cookbook doyenne Donna Hay, whose latest offering, No Time to Cook is the best cookbook I've come across in ages. All of the recipes are fast and fresh-looking, and most include just a handful of easily-obtained ingredients. In other words, my kind of cookin'. 
During the recent long weekend we suddenly found ourselves with a cottage full of guests looking for a midday refuel, so I hit the kitchen and threw together a few family-sized salads, including this one, which uses halloumi cheese. I had never cooked with halloumi before, but Donna loves it and any culinary friend of Donna's is a friend of mine. It's a firm but pliable, salty and rubbery cheese that can handle the heat of a grill without melting away. Seemingly exotic, it was available in Beaverton (aka Small Town Ontario) so there are no excuses for not trying what I'm confident will be one of my new go-to summertime staples. 
Here's now to make it: For enough to serve six as a starter, slice up one package of halloumi, thickly slice several large zucchini on the bias, cut several tomatoes into wedges, drain and rinse a can of chickpeas, and stem and chop some parsley and mint. 
Heat up the barbecue or a grill pan and cook zucchini slices until tender. Then grill sliced halloumi until warm and giving. 
Load ingredients onto a serving platter and artfully arrange in a haphazard manner. Top with a few squirts of lemon and a sprinkling of good salt and pepper. Then, you can either serve with a side of lemon vinaigrette, or do what I've done here, and mix together some yoghurt and sour cream with more chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon plus salt and pepper to taste.