Chasing Tomatoes

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Tomatillo White Bean Chicken Chili

chicken chili

Chock full of beans, spicy peppers and tender chicken, this chili is something spicy to brighten up your day. I have brought it to work often year round, and every time I heat it up in the microwave, people are inevitably drawn to the staff room by the smell.

“Oh my goodness,” they peer into the bowl and inhale deeply, “What ARE YOU EATING? It smells amazing!” Honestly it really does. I’d daresay I’m addicted to this chili, if I were to be completely truthful. I’ve made it more times last year than any other soup or stew. Besides the fact that it’s delicious, it also packs really well in a lunch box and stands up to the freezer, which is a must in my house.

Tomatillos, which were a mystery to me at the grocery store, can be found in the produce section. In Superstore I found them with their papery husks removed, encased in plastic film on a styrofoam tray. In Save on Foods, they are often in a basket with the paper husks still hiding the green fruit within.

What is a tomatillo, you ask? Check out this great article from What's Cooking America. They look like a green tomato once you peel off the husk, but they are actually related to a gooseberry.

You don’t have to do much with them in this recipe other than wash and the roast the tomatillos and a hot pepper in the oven before chopping and adding to the pot. They add some wonderful flavour and your tomato hating children may let mild (and yet tasty!) tomatillos pass without knowing what they are. Use this to your advantage!

A word about hot peppers while we are here; always start small. I usually use 1/2 of a seeded hot chile, and that’s enough for me. You can use more if you wish, and here is where you may want to experiment a little so that you can judge for yourself and your family how much heat is appropriate. Also, be sure to prick the pepper well with a knife before you roast it; otherwise, the little thing will explode all over your oven and you’ll have nothing left for your chili. Roasting the chile allows flavour without as much bite. If you choose to not roast the chile but instead saute it along with the onions (which I have done before when I forgot the roasting step), be sure to use caution. Not only are those hot pepper juices going to make your dish hotter than if you roasted it, but I’ve had long lasting burning sensations in my fingers just from handling hot peppers for chopping. Not to mention if you forget and rub your lips or eyes-ouch! Gloves would probably be a good idea. I remove the seeds of the chile, and therefore a good deal of the heat, but I’m finding that the chiles I’ve been using still have a good amount of bite even without the seeds.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients: 

1/2 -1 hot chile (I use the mixed hot Gusto ones from Windset Farms)
1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
2 medium onions, chopped
3/4 lb  to 1 lb of fresh tomatillos
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 small bunch of fresh cilantro
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 Tbsp arrowroot starch, mixed w/ 2 Tbsp cold chicken broth OR 1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander
small can of green chiles
4 cups low sodium chicken broth
3 cups white beans (cannelli or white kidney beans, or other small white bean)
1 lime

Directions: 

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

scored tomatillo

2. Score the bottom of each tomatillo with a knife in an X shape and give the hot pepper a good stab or two. If you don’t do this, they will explode in your oven as they roast.

3. Roast the tomatillos and peppers for about 15-20 minutes until they are softened and browned a little. Once they are cool enough to handle, chop the tomatillos and hot pepper. While you are waiting, chop the stems off the bunch of cilantro and set the leaves aside. Chop up the stems finely.

roasted tomatillo
The roasted tomatillos become all browned and squidgy, just perfect to chop for a chili

4. In a large, deep skillet, saute the chicken thighs over medium heat with a bit of oil until browned on both sides; remove to a plate and set aside. Once they are cool enough to handle, chop into bite sized pieces.

5. Add the onions, sweet red pepper, garlic, hot chile, and cilantro stems to the pan. Stir and cook until softened and fragrant; about 3 – 4 minutes. Sprinkle with cumin, salt, pepper and coriander. Continue to saute about a minute longer.

6. Sprinkle flour (if using. If not, skip this step) over the vegetable mixture and continue to stir and cook another minute or so. Gently add the broth, stirring and loosening up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you are using arrowroot starch mixed with a little cold chicken broth as your thickener, add it here. Stir and heat through.The mixture will thicken slightly.

7. Add the beans, roasted tomatillos, roasted hot pepper, canned green chilies, and chicken. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.

8. Before serving, zest the lime over the pot before cutting it in half and squeezing in the juice. Chop the cilantro leaves and add to the chili just before serving. Taste and adjust the seasonings. You can top the chili with crushed tortilla chips and/or avocado slices when serving, if you like.

chicken chili 2
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Everyday Allergy Friendly Granola



granola jar
Date and cranberry granola

When I originally wrote about granola here, I claimed that I didn't eat it much because it can be high in fat and sugar. That was true until I learned how to make my own-and wow, was it delicious! I used to eat it often, but when allergies reared their ugly heads, granola was put on the back burner for awhile.

In the last few months, I have figured out how to make granola for myself that is nut, soy, corn, rice, sulphite, and wheat free-which is pretty fantastic. (Note: the 'free-ness' of this granola depends on the products you use. I am okay with things that are labeled "may contain" or produced on the same lines as my allergens, but if you are not you have to do your own research) It has become my go-to breakfast, replacing the peanut butter toast that I ate almost daily for many years. Instead I now shuffle down to the kitchen, put about 1/4 cup of granola in a bowl, add another few tablespoons of puffed quinoa for good measure, top with about 1/3 cup of plain Greek yogurt, a drizzle of honey, and then a sliced banana or some fresh blueberries.

It's a great way to start the day. You should try it!

This recipe is super easy and pretty forgiving. Don't have hemp hearts? No biggie. Just add more sunflower or pumpkin seeds. Basically I need 1 cup of nutty/seedy things and 1 cup of dried fruit in there, so you can adjust things to your heart's content. The original recipe calls for pecans, but I mixed it up and tried whatever I happened to have on hand. I like hemp hearts (pictured below) because they are nutritious and add some great flavour. Mine are from Bob's Red Mill, and they are produced in a dedicated gluten free facility. 

hemp hearts
Hemp hearts from Bob's Red Mill

Besides breakfast the granola makes a super tasty munchie snack late at night if you toss in some mini chocolate chips, too.

Yield: Approximately 6 1/2 cups

Ingredients:

3 cups rolled ONLY OATS  (this brand is certified gluten free)
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup shelled unsalted sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp hemp hearts
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 Tbsp flax seeds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut (sulphite alert: be sure to get one that has NOT been processed with sulphur dioxide)
3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger (check for sulphites!)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp light tasting olive oil
1/2 cup chopped dates (did you know dates are sulphite free?)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (Craisins, to be specific, if you want sulphite/nut/gluten free)

Directions:

1. Pre-heat your oven to 300 F, and line a really large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, sesame seeds, flax, coconut, and brown sugar.

3. In a small sauce pan, warm up the honey, olive oil, salt, ginger, and cinnamon until it's all liquidy and combined.

4. Slowly drizzle the honey/oil mixture over your giant bowl of oats and stuff, mixing as you go. Try not to spill it all over the counter, like I occasionally do.

drizzle
Tip: put a damp washcloth under the bowl while you toss this so that the bowl doesn't move.

5. Once you've tossed the oats and seeds in your honey and oil spice mix, give it a good stir to make sure things are coated and then tip the works out onto your lined sheet pan. Spread it out.

6. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes, taking the pan out EVERY TEN MINUTES to stir it around. Don't forget to do this, or your granola will be half cooked in some spots and burned in others (I've done it. Trust me). The granola is done when it's a deep golden brown. Set the pan on your stove top and let it cool.

granola pan2

7. Stir in dried dates and craisins and toss them around before transferring everything to a big plastic container (or a bunch of Mason jars, if you like them better). The granola should keep for quite awhile, but honestly I eat most of the batch by about 3 weeks or so.

granola pan
I have a hard time not eating it right off the pan when it's warm.
Note: I have not received any compensation or encouragement to mention particular products in this post. I have done so because they work for me and my health needs, and I would like to share the information with others who may have similar challenges.You should always read packages and contact companies if you are unsure that a product is safe for you. DO NOT TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. Products will differ from country to country (I'm in Canada) and what is safe here may not be where you are. Always read the label.
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Monday, August 14, 2017

Pork Sausage Patties With Apple and Sage

This recipe is totally inspired by Chef Michael Smith's Homemade Breakfast Sausage in Real Food, Real Good. When I first discovered I had allergies, I was really discouraged by the fact that almost every brand of sausage has corn syrup, corn flour, or soy flour as fillers. Making your own patties from scratch definitely is the way to go. Why bother shaping them into actual sausage? Patties are easier anyway.

I've tried these with pork and with turkey, and then with a combination of the two. My favourite tends to be pure pork. Make them ahead and tuck into the freezer so that on busy mornings all you have to do is thaw one in the microwave. Eat them cold, tuck them into biscuits, sandwich them between pancakes, you know what to do. Either way they are just plain awesome.


sausage patties


Yield: 8-10 patties

Ingredients:

1 lb of ground pork, turkey thigh, or a mixture of each

1 green onion, finely minced

1 small apple, skin on, grated

1 tsp of fresh sage, finely minced

2 Tbsp honey (or maple syrup)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp thyme

pinch of hot pepper flakes (optional)

Directions: 

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.



2. Gently grate your apple using a box grater, then grab handfuls of the apple and holding it over a sink, squeeze out the juice. Do this with all the apple so you get most of the moisture out. Add it to a large bowl, along with all the other ingredients. With your hands, gently mix everything together.

3. Divide the mixture into 8-10 balls and flatten them to about 1/2 inch thickness. It's easier to do this if your hands are slightly wet. Place the formed patties onto the lined baking sheet.



4. Bake the patties for approximately 15-20 minutes until cooked through. You will notice that they will release a lot of liquid and not necessarily crisp up a lot. If you want them to have a little bit of a crust and brown up, heat up a little oil in a non stick fry pan and quickly give the outsides a quick browning before setting them aside to cool.

5. Once the patties are fully cooled, you can serve them or pop them in a sealed freezer bag and put them in the freezer. Then on a busy morning just grab one out of the freezer, thaw on the defrost setting in your microwave, and you're good to go!






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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Great Grocery Shop ..Updated!

A long time ago, I did some grocery budget challenge series where I took photos of my weekly grocery shop to show you not only what I bought, but how much it cost. Well-since then I've become an empty nester so I'm not making copious amounts of food to fill the hollow leg of a teenager, but I have also moved to a different town with more selection at the store.

Enter food allergies, and honestly my bill isn't that much less anymore. Buying things I can eat gets expensive! Also there's the let down of having a fridge stuffed with food but nothing is available to eat unless you actually force yourself to cook it, and I'll admit I'm still struggling with that. I tend to make things when I get the inspiration and put the leftovers in the fridge, ready for a day when I just don't have it in me to start cooking. I cook ahead a LOT. I'm still overshooting on how much food we actually need, because sometimes I get super inspired and want to try ALL THE THINGS.

Like today, really. We were just on vacation where I had to eat salad in every restaurant and I'm so sick of salad now that I just can't face another one. They weren't even particularly good salads. Oh, the restaurants tried, mind you-but I like my own salads better. Thank goodness there's carrot soup in the freezer. (Also, a side rant here: have you seen how much places charge for a salad? $16?! Are they serious? Even Safeway in Castlegar, where I paid $9 for pretty much a container of Romaine lettuce? Not kidding, a sandwich and fries was cheaper. OY.)

Anyway please forgive my slightly blurry photo because I took it on my phone and now everything is put away. Chalk it up to getting back into the practice of blogging, and I promise to do better next time.


This is my shop for the week, but it will likely last longer than that. As you can see it's mostly fruit, veggies and meat/seafood with some dairy products, coffee and a few things to bake with like Camino cocoa powder, some chick pea flour, and that giant bar of chocolate. There's a lot of herbs in there-rosemary, mint, Italian parsley and dill because those are my friends when it comes to cooking. There's also some veg in there that I didn't really like previously, such as golden beets and parsnips. I'm going to show you a fantastic way to roast up a bunch of root vegetables, then stick them in your fridge to toss into salads and stuff later on in the week. Trust me, you'll love it. Here's the loose list of things I'm planning to make coming up this week:

  • Borsht with dill, golden beets, leeks, Yukon gold potatoes, and savoy cabbage. Greek yogurt is going to sub in for sour cream. I had some in a restaurant and now I MUST HAVE BORSHT.
  • Chick pea flour cheddar and chive biscuits from a new cookbook and I'll share if they turn out. Fingers crossed!
  • Roasted root veggie salad: so far, hands down my favourite new lunch. Basically you roast a pile of root veg with some herbs, then put some in the fridge for later. To make the salad, you toss them with feta, herbs, mixed greens, a bit of protein (I like roast chicken), some quinoa or millet, and a drizzle of lemon honey dressing. Even just writing this is making me hungry.
  • A whole roast chicken: I'll slather that baby in lemon herb butter and bake it in my Staub cast iron pot before ripping all the meat off to use for salads and/or grain bowls, then freeze the carcass to make chicken stock later. It goes really well in that roasted veg salad I talked about earlier.
  • Rice free sushi. I know, it sounds weird. But I've seen sushi made with barley, and I want to try it. I figure I'll fill it with avocado, cucumber, green onion and a little carrot. I even have a nifty (and crazy expensive) soy sauce substitute in my fridge that I have to use up
  • Chick pea flour soda breads. I can't even begin to tell you how much I miss bread, and I'm really hoping these work. Fingers double crossed!
  • Sole baked in parchment paper with lemon, dill, and zucchini: This has become a regular dish in our house because it's so tasty. Spoiler: I never used to like zucchini.
  • Oat crackers with cheese: I also really miss crackers and decided I'd try baking some instead of buying them this week. The first batch turned out well, so let's try them again and ramp up the flavour a little with a little smoked paprika and sharp cheddar! 
  • Apple sage pork sausage patties: I've made these lots and they are fantastic for breakfast, but I've always done plain ones so I figure I'll try adding some apple and sage to the mix. What's the worst that could happen? Plus maybe they will be good tucked into a cheese biscuit for breakfast. Like an egg free breakfast sandwich, right?
  • Something with shrimp. I'm not sure what. I could tuck it into the sushi, we could put it on a salad, I'm not sure. I'll have to see what strikes me. Maybe I'll put them with green beans, some parboiled potatoes, and some herbs into a foil packet and do them in the oven. You'll have to wait and see. 
Okay one last thing. With these posts I intend to show you a product that I've bought and tried before, and really, really like. Today it's this spritzter-I've talked about the grapefruit one on Instagram, which was...okay. I REALLY love the apple one.


This stuff is super tasty and would be something I'd drink, allergies or not. It simply tastes good!

Allergy advantage: made with cane sugar and real juice, this doesn't make me wheezy. I'm not sure what "organic flavour" is, and I did a search on malic acid, which CAN contain corn but doesn't always. Best to call the company if you are highly sensitive, but I'm not to malic or citric acid at this point. 

The cans were on sale for $1.50 each so buying in bulk could get pricey, but I'd have it as a treat on a hot day or if I'm at a party where other people are having fun adult drinks and my only safe alternative is water.

If you want to know more, check out the Good Drink company's page!


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Let's Try This Again

When I first began writing here, my goal was to give some far away family members a view into my kitchen, and then it was to keep a record of recipes I liked. Eventually this place became a food blog, where I wrote about real food and encouraged people to get in their kitchens.

Remember Food Revolution Friday? Those were the days.

After neglecting this place somewhat to write here and here, working in a breakfast program, teaching 10 year olds how to cook and then take time off to take care of myself and my family, I'm feeling like dusting this place off and starting again. The goal this time? Well, pretty much the same thing, but this time with a twist. I've spent the last year dealing with health challenges of my own, and at one point had to throw out everything I knew about cooking for myself and re-learn how to eat. Along the way, I was encouraged to write about it but at the time felt too raw and vulnerable to be even remotely enthusiastic about sharing. Maybe I was just hangry.

Possibly I needed time to mourn the loss of sushi, pizza, and Oreo cookies.

At any rate, I feel like I've turned a corner and that now, possibly I do have a few things I could share with people. I've spent months experimenting in my kitchen, trying new things and forcing myself to eat things like quinoa. (spoiler: I've never been a fan) What I have noticed is that there aren't a lot of cooking resources for people like me who have multiple food allergies, and there is a LOT of misinformation or pseudo-science/fad diets. Have an allergy, especially to wheat? Everyone has an opinion or a cure.

That is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN here.

I'm in search of delicious food, people. If the recipe doesn't work I'm not posting it. If it tastes like cardboard? Nope. If anything, my standards have gotten higher. I plan to show you what books I've found useful, what products work for me, and how I've adapted recipes to work with my allergies. If you don't have allergies, you can still make the recipes because I'll also add in the stuff that I normally would have used. I still love good food, and there's no way I'm going to give that up solely because my options are more limited.

Other changes around here? Kevin, who was 10 years old when I started blogging, grew up to be a man in his 20's and lives on his own. He loves to cook and occasionally will even snap a photo and show me what is happening in his kitchen. Of anything I've ever done in the world of food, I'm most proud of the fact that he not only loves to cook, but he's good at it. You'll probably see things inspired by him, because he really does have some great ideas.

Okay then, let's get on with it, shall we?

PS: You're going to notice some changes to labels, etc as I slowly re-organize this place . Sorry about the mess! 


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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Supporting Local: Help the Sons of Vancouver

I met the guys from Sons of Vancouver the last time I went to Eat Vancouver with my friend Maria. We stopped at their booth and tried the amaretto, and decided then and there we had to buy a bottle.

I normally am not a fan of amaretto, but this is different. Notes of apricot and vanilla make this liqueur something so unbelievably delicious. It's my go-to for pouring over ice cream, adding to sauces or cheesecake, putting in my tea, or just having a sip of now and then.


amaretto

What makes me so happy to use it is that it's also made locally. I believe that it's really important to support local business, especially when their product is this amazing.

Sons of Vancouver distillery is a small craft distillery located in North Vancouver, BC. They've been quite successful, producing a No. 82 Amaretto, vodka, and a really interesting chili vodka. Turns out, they need some new equipment. Their products are doing so well they are having a hard time keeping up to demand and have started an Indiegogo campaign.

I highly recommend that you check out the campaign and pick yourself up some of that delicious amaretto If you are in town, because it's hands down my favourite liqueur ever. 




 Disclosure: I wasn't paid to share this with you, I just love my amaretto THAT much!
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Saturday, September 3, 2016

10 Back To School Lunch Hacks

School start up is only a few days away here in BC and with that, many people are talking about school lunches. How do you do lunch? Do the kids pack their own? Do you throw it together in the morning, or pre-pack it the night before?

I work as an educational assistant and noon hour supervisor, so I actually hang out with the kids on a daily basis during lunch time and see what's going on in the classroom. You are in the right place for the inside scoop!

lunch

Let's start with equipment! 

1. If your child is in kindergarten or grade 1, make sure they can open the containers themselves. Waiting to get a staff member or helper to open containers can be a problem if they are slow eaters, plus they don't have a lot of time.

2. Label EVERYTHING. The lunch bag, the containers, the water bottle, backpack, shoes, their clothes, EVERYTHING. I can't tell you how many times we had two backpacks, lunch bags, or water bottles that were exactly the same and nobody knew which one belonged to who. Or the child left it on the playground, and it winds up in the abyss of the lost and found. A label makes things easy for everyone. I'm a huge fan of Mabels Labels, but any good quality durable label will do.

3. Don't forget ice packs. A little food safe info: you need to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. When something that should be cold warms up to the danger zone of between 4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius , it has about 2 hours before it will start growing bacteria that can cause illness. (See Safe Food handling here). Ice packs help keep things cooler, especially when it's still sunny and warm out. Freezing yogurt tubes and juice boxes are also a great idea. If those yogurt containers come back at the end of the day, they should be discarded-along with any leftovers if they had school lunch (known here as hot lunch) Always have a few ice packs so one is frozen and ready to go when you need it.

4. Utensils are gold. Seriously, the biggest complaint we have from kids is that their parent forgot a spoon or fork, and often schools don't have any to give out. There are two solutions for this. The less planet friendly one is, buy a box of plastic forks and/or spoons that you keep with the lunch boxes, and just tuck them into the lunchbox (the front is ideal). The more plant friendly one is you go to a thrift store and get a bunch of utensils, label them, and keep them in a container right near the lunch bags. This way it doesn't matter if they lose the fork because it's not one of your good ones, but with the label the chances are it will be returned.

5. Invest in a good thermos. Kids LOVE thermos lunches. I've never heard one complaint about them, ever. Fill it with pasta, soup, stew, noodles, and they will gobble it up.

 Now onto food! 

1. Keep it simple. No seriously, let me say that again: KEEP. IT. SIMPLE. Don't worry about your kid having the 'cool' lunch or the latest marketed sugar filled treat, or that the sandwich has to look like a cartoon character. The very most important thing about school lunch is that your kid will eat it in the allotted amount of time, which is sadly not that long.

2. Keep the conversation going. With your kid, that is. Don't make school lunch a big, "I slaved over that lunch and you darn well better eat it". If kids hate what you packed and are afraid to tell you, they'll likely toss the lunch in the garbage can when we aren't looking. I used to get my son to 'rate' his lunches, and didn't take it personally when he didn't like something. A polite, "You know, I don't like mustard on my sandwiches" is also learning how to advocate for yourself in a reasonable way.

3. For smaller kids, make things bite sized so it's easier to eat. Little hands find big portions daunting, so if you keep it small with lots of variety, they are far more likely to eat it. I've seen so many kids try to wrangle a huge sandwich, only to give up and dump it later. Try prepping things for lunches ahead of time (during dinner prep is good) so that you can just grab and go.

4. Deconstruct things! Some kids don't like their food mixed or with sauce, so if you pack sandwich ingredients separately, they may either build their own or just eat it all, in parts. The biggest complaint I get about sandwiches is always that there's jam, butter, mayo, or mustard. The second biggest is that it's soggy.


5. Lastly, don't assume anything. Kids are amazing when it comes to food-most will list fruit or veggies as their favourite things to eat. Take them with you to the produce section and allow them to choose some things to try at home, and then if it passes the test, add them to lunches. Kids don't like cooked peas? Try raw sugar snaps with a bit of dip. Sometimes it's not the veggie itself, but how it's prepared. In my cooking class if kids say they don't like a particular veggie, we try it prepared a different way and most of the time, they love it.


Hey, we know packing lunches is hard. We're there with you! We have to pack them for ourselves, too and rejoice when it's hot lunch day.You have an advantage though; teach the kids how to make their own lunches, and then you can sit back and relax eventually.

Now that's a hack!





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