Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise is a specialty dish from the Côte d'Azur, France, and is made in the style of the people from Nice. The dish can be made in advance or on the spot. It is basically an assembly of different ingredients. This salad is usually leafless, but I have seen versions that use lettuce. That being said, there are many variations on the recipe. Here is my take on the classic.

You will require tinned tuna in olive oil. Make sure to buy the type that is in olive oil and not in any other type of oil, e.g. sunflower or vegetable oil. You want the real thing.

Next comes anchovies. Again, use the type found in olive oil. Southern French dishes are all about the olive oil!

I like to use boiled potatoes that are cut into cubes. I usually cook them in lightly salted water and leave the skins on.

Hard-boiled eggs are also another requirement. For some variation, you can use one or two pickled eggs, in addition, to add some complexity of flavour.

You will also require some mustard. I like to use French mustard, as it is a French dish. (Mais, bien sur.) 

Feel free to arrange the ingredients in a mixing bowl. You may decide to mix them together right before serving (so that it looks pretty).

Feel free to add some cooked green beans (haricots verts) or some freshly cut parsley to the mix. I like to use these ingredients when they are in season.

Before mixing the salad ingredients together, make sure to add some freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Combine the ingredients, so that all of the flavours are incorporated throughout.

What ever you do, don't forget the star ingredient! Niçoise olives.

Note: I have made Salade Niçoise without the use of Niçoise olives, by using black olives instead. (Niçoise olives can often be difficult to find.)

This salad is fantastic any time of the year!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Niçoise olives

What amazing weather we experienced today in Toronto! It reminded me of the famous winters of Nice, in Mediterranean France.
 (Yes, people actually go to the beach in the winter time!)

For me, another reminder of Nice are Niçoise olives. I have actually been looking for these special olives for over a year. I found them at St. Lawrence market. They were available in two varieties; pitted and whole. I prefer the latter.

This delicacy can easily be considered the best olive in France. As you can see below, they are incredibly small and have a colour range between purple-black to brown. They have a rich, salty-nutty flavour and are usually found in oil. They have a firm texture and are frequently served before meals in Southern France.

If you are able to find Niçoise olives, try using them:
- as an appetizer
- in tapanade
- by incorporating them in a tomato sauce
- as an addition to salads (especially, in the famous Niçoise salad)

Enjoy the weather while it lasts!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The lost art of popping corn

I'm not one to buy microwave popcorn. That's probably due to the fact that I don't own a microwave. In any case, making popcorn does not require any specialized equipment, other than a pot on a stove. It also occurred to me that there is probably an entire generation of people out there who do not know how to make popcorn on the stove top. Little do they know that popcorn tastes better when it's made in the traditional method. Hence, the reason for this blog post.

To begin, add a bit of olive oil or an olive oil-butter combination to a pot. You only need enough oil to make a thin layer on the bottom of the pot.

Next, add a layer of popping corn. (Do not overcrowd the kernels.)

Place the pot on a stove top, set it to medium-high, cover and wait for the magic to begin. The kernels of corn will begin to orchestrate a symphony of popping. Do not be alarmed! This is perfectly normal and will end soon.

The popcorn will be ready, literally, in 2-3 minutes.

Once popped, feel free to flavour your popcorn in any way you see fit. You could always use butter, but you could also try adding these ingredients/combinations:
- grated cheese
- honey and sea salt
- caramel
- butterscotch syrup
- maple syrup
- melted dark chocolate
- cinnamon
- oregano, thyme, rosemary or any other dried herb(s)
- paprika or chili powder
- lime or lemon
- garlic powder

It's so easy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Do you know the muffin man?

Gluten-free baking can be a challenge, especially if one decides not to use any artificial additives. One solution is by using oat flour. I have found a way to use this flour to make great tasting muffins.

Contrary to popular belief, oats contains no gluten. However, it may contain trace amounts of gluten from contamination. Oats are often grown in the same fields as wheat. Some wheat may get mixed up with oat grains in processing. If you are one that is bothered by trace amounts of gluten, feel free to look for certified gluten-free versions of oat products, including flour.

To make the muffins, begin with mixing the following dry ingredients together:
- 2 cups oat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt

Next, add the following wet ingredients:
- 1 container PC "Just Apples" (100 mL crushed apples)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup brown sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Thoroughly mix the ingredients together to make a batter.

You may add any topping ingredients you wish, such as:
- chopped nuts
- raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit
- shaved coconut
- etc.

One of my favourite ingredients to add are chocolate chips. If you are going to use chocolate chips, I say use the best! I decided to use these semi-sweet chocolate chips by Ghirardelli. (They actually do not contain any dairy products.)

Scoop the batter into a 12-cup muffin pan and bake it in a pre-heated 375°F oven for 25 minutes.

Now, who needs gluten to make good muffins?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Arabian Heat

Arabs love their spice and I love them for it. Blending spices with peppers is one of the ways that the Arab world has been able to inject great flavours into their foods. In Tunisia, I have witnessed truck loads of hot peppers being transported here and there, ultimately to be used in culinary preparations.

One of the ways Tunisians and Algerians enjoy spice blends is in a preparation called harissa. Harissa it's basically a hot chilli or pepper sauce created by combining different peppers with spices and olive oil.

Before serving, the mixture is added to even more olive oil and is usually consumed as an appetizer. People in Tunisia swear by their family recipes and often boast that their own concoctions are better than any others. During my visit, our driver even brought his own homemade harissa to a restaurant, as the restaurant's version just wouldn't do.

You won't have to go all the way to North Africa to find this food product. It is available at supermarkets and grocery stores, in the Greater Toronto Area, catering to the Arab market.
(Photo courtesy of A.V. Thank you.)

I have been able to use harissa in other culinary applications including:
- adding some to marinades
- giving a kick to curries
- as an accompaniment to meat, such as lamb, beef or goat
- providing a boost of flavour to salsas and dips

Another type of Arab spice blend is called zaatar. Zaatar is a mixture of herbs, spices and sesame seeds that is used as both spice and a condiment. There are many recipes available, all including different measurements and mixtures of spices and herbs. This is also another combination that people tend to base on their own family recipes.

You also don't need to have an Arab family member in order to enjoy zaatar. You may purchase premixed blends, like this one by Cedar Phoenicia.

You can use the zaatar in many ways, including:
- combining it with olive oil to make a spread
- sprinkling it over fresh yoghurt cheese called labneh (To learn how to make your own yoghurt cheese, click here.)
- using it to create spiced breads
- spicing up bland vegetables
- giving a kick to hummus and other dips

Friday, February 11, 2011

Viva Chili

Note to readers: I am very proud and excited to present to you Angela, a guest writer for Quanto Basta. Angela is an amazing food enthusiast. I have had the opportunity to taste her most recent creation and it is absolutely wonderful. I hope you enjoy her post and pictures as much as I did! Welcome Angela!

- - - - - -

Hi! I’m Angela. I’m so excited that Asif has agreed to let me guest-post on his blog. What an honour! I love reading his posts and I feel like I learn something new in each one.

My love of food and cooking can be traced back to my childhood watching and helping my grandmothers in their kitchens. My Nonna was Italian and my Beppe was from Frysland, a province in the Netherlands. As a result, I’m passionate about cooking everything from meatballs and rapini to griesmeel pudding, speculaas and kniepertijes, preserving the family recipes for the next generation.

These days I love experimenting and cooking all sorts of healthy and hearty food for my family.

Is there anything better on a frigid February night than a bowl of hot steaming chili? One of the most comforting meals around, chili will warm you from the inside out.

There are as many different chili recipes out there as there are cooks, but the original comes from the Spanish Canary Islanders of San Antonio, Texas and was first served sometime in the late 1800’s.

These days you can find all sorts of variations including:

Texas-style chili- containing no beans, and no other vegetables whatsoever besides chili peppers.

Vegetarian chili- can contain all sorts of combinations of vegetables, and sometimes includes meat substitutes like tofu

Cincinnati-style chili- usually eaten as a topping for hot dogs

Louisville-style chili-includes spaghetti pasta

Let me tell you about my recipe and after you try it, you can let me know what you think. You will need:
·        lean ground beef (about 450g or 1lb)
·        one large onion, diced
·        5 cloves of garlic, minced

Cook the above ingredients in a pan/skillet and when the meat is almost brown, add 2 tbsp of ground cumin, 1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir.

I prepare the tomatoes and veggies while the meat is browning. In a food processor grind 4 cups of canned whole plum tomatoes and pour into your crock pot or large soup pot. You can use pre-ground tomatoes, if you have them, but I prefer to grind my own.

To the tomatoes add:
·         ·        3-4 stalks of celery, chopped
·         ·        3-4 carrots, chopped
·         ·        1 sweet red pepper, chopped
·         ·        2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and finely chopped
·         ·        2 cups corn (canned or frozen)
·         ·        1 can of black beans or kidney beans, rinsed

Stir the mixture and add 2-3 cups of homemade chicken, beef or veggie stock. You can use canned if you don’t have homemade, but once you start making your own stock you’ll never go back....but that’s another post altogether!  Add the stock slowly, stirring in between. Be careful not to add too much stock or you’ll end up with chili soup!

Once the meat mixture is fully browned, add it to the tomatoes and veggies. Stir to combine. Set your crock pot or soup pot on low and simmer for 6-8 hours. The longer you let your chili simmer, the more the flavours will meld together. If your chili gets too thick you can add a little more stock.

You may notice that I haven’t used a lot of salt. We are trying to use less salt around my house, but you may want to add some to your taste.

You can serve your chili on nachos or chili-dogs, with pita bread, whole wheat toast, or just by itself.

My favourite accompaniment is Asif’s amazing corn bread! (Click here for the recipe.)


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Protein Packed Quinoa Muffins

Quinoa seems to be a wonder grain, because of its great nutritional value. Its protein content is generally much higher than most other grains.

I have always loved quinoa as a grain, but using quinoa flour has been something new to me. I have tried it in a couple of applications and found that it has a very strong flavour that does not translate well into baked goods. Specifically, quinoa contains components called saponins, giving it a slightly bitter taste. That being said, I made it my mission to figure out a way to use this wonder powder to produce something healthy (and would taste good at the same time). I came up with quinoa muffins.

To make the muffins, combine the following dry ingredients in a mixing bowl:
- 1 cup quinoa flour
- 1 cup white rice flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup sugar
- a dash of cinnamon
- a dash of nutmeg

Once thoroughly combined, pour in the following wet ingredients:
- 1 over-ripe banana (mashed)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 container PC "Just Apples" (100 mL crushed apples)
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 1 egg

Combine the dry and wet ingredients together until smooth.

Your batter will be able to fill a regular-sized 12-cup muffin tin. For an added treat, I placed a candied pecan in the center of each muffin. (This step is optional.) Bake the muffins in a 375°F oven for approximately 25 minutes.

These muffins smell and taste incredibly good. They are actually quite light, given their relatively high protein content.

Not only are they high in protein, they have no added fat and are both gluten and dairy-free.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Nuts for milk

I have been trying out different dairy alternatives for the last little while. Many websites on the Internet state that nut milk can be made using any type of nut. Most of the recipes follow the same principles for making almond milk. 

I regularly make almond milk, so this process was not very difficult. (For directions to make your own almond milk click here.)

I thought I would try testing out a couple of different nuts: walnuts and chestnuts.

Walnuts have amazing nutritional value. They are rich in oils and contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to health.

Begin with soaking approximately 1 cup of walnuts (shells removed) in water for a period of 8-24 hours.

Soaking the nuts will help to remove some of their bitter flavours. Rinse the walnuts a few times under cold water. Place them in a blender with a few dates (for sweetness) and approximately 4 cups of cold water. Feel free to add a little vanilla extract or honey for some additional sweetness. Strain the liquid and you will be left with approximately 1 L of walnut milk.

This frothy milk had a beautiful colour and a very mild taste. It was extremely refreshing and provided a nice change from everyday beverages.

Feel free to keep the walnut mulch for use in muffins, cakes, cereals, etc.

For the next experiment, I used shelled chestnuts. The chestnuts were fairly moist, so they did not require any additional soaking. I blended them with approximately 4 cups of cold water and two pitted dates.

The result was a very brown substance which separated into liquid and sediment quite easily. The process also did not yield much chestnut mulch for keeping. Surprisingly, the liquid tasted very good. (It is quite difficult to make chestnuts taste bad!)

As I wouldn't use it as a dairy alternative, I can see it being applied to baking recipes to add a little "je ne sais quoi".

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tilapia avec le fenouil et les oranges sanguines

Fennel and blood oranges are an incredible pair. I often use this duo in salads, but I also cook with them.

Fennel can be bought in bulb form. This vegetable has the crunch and fibrous quality of celery, with a subtle licorice flavour.

All parts of the fennel can be eaten including the bulb, core, stems and leaves. The stems and leaves actually work quite well with this particular recipe, but feel free to use any part of the vegetable.

Wash, cut and arrange some fennel pieces on an aluminium foil-lined baking tray.

Lay some tilapia fillets directly on top of the stems and leaves. Tilapia is a mild flavoured, freshwater fish is available in most supermarkets. I have used both frozen and fresh tilapia for this dish and they both come out wonderfully.

Season the fish with some sea salt, red chili flakes (optional), and a generous amount of olive oil.

Place sliced blood oranges on top of the fillets. If blood oranges are not available, regular oranges will do. (If you do not have any oranges, you may use lemons, but note that you will be making a completely different dish.)

Bake the fish in an oven until the fish is tender and flakes easily.

This dish is quick, flavourful and yummy! I often serve it with basmati rice with peas and a few olives on the side.

Bon appétit!