March 06, 2015

Beef and Stout Stew… and hellos from Mexico

I made this a couple of weeks ago, on a very snowy day, right before I made my get-away.

It's a simple meal that hits the spot on a cold winter's day: grass-fed beef stewed in a whole bottle of dark beer with mushrooms and carrots, served over mashed potatoes.

I don't usually do this whole running away from winter thing. But one morning a few weeks ago, I woke up to the umpteenth snow blizzard raging outside and thought to myself, you know, I don't have any kids, I can carry my job with me anywhere I go, and I could work on this blasted master's thesis from somewhere sunny because there is nothing tying me down anywhere in this exact moment of my life.

Plus, I was due for a visit to my old stomping grounds, because this winter marks exactly 30 years since my parents took me to Mexico as a kid. We spent 5 glorious winter months living in a tent on the beach in a tiny town (well, tiny at the time) on the Pacific coast called Puerto Escondido, a place which holds some of my best childhood memories. I didn't go to school that year, I had a pet baby parrot who followed me everywhere, and I basically romped around on the beach all day, practically naked, playing with the local kids, jumping in the waves and picking up Spanish as I went. Yes. Pretty freaking idyllic. (And as someone said knowingly the other day when I told them about it, "Ah, tus padres estan los hippies!" ... yes, well they never liked it when I called them that, but you're kind of asking for it if you're living on a beach in a tent for 5 months...) 

So I bought a plane ticket, shoveled out my car (this photo was actually taken right before the insane mega snowdumps that the east coast got pummeled with right before I left), had to get 3 people to help me push it out of the snow, and a few days later, found myself staring out of the plane window at the big blue ocean and long stretch of beaches as the plane touched down in Huatulco. Free as a bird.

Puerto Escondido has changed so much since thirty years ago that I barely recognized it. It's much bigger than I remember it. I had wanted to feel the magic and see all the spots I remembered from my 7-year old eyes. But on that first day, I just felt sweaty, tired, and very alone. The only things that felt familiar were the smells and the sounds. That moist smell of sun-bathed palm leaves and sticky flowers mingled with the faint whiff of garbage, laundry soap, and burning wood. It's the sweet perfume of my childhood days here and it brought me right back. After a good night's sleep, I woke up in much better spirits, ready to devour my favorite Mexican breakfast, huevos a la mexicana and agua de papaya, with my feet firmly planted in the sand. It would be almost impossible not to feel deliriously happy after a breakfast like this.

What I love about the main beach in Puerto Escondido is that it's a perfect mix of locals, fishermen, and both Mexican and foreign tourists. In the evening the port is filled with fishing boats returning from their day at sea. It's still very much a working port but also a gorgeous swimming beach. Everyone seems at home here.

The main beach, Puerto Escondido

I spent 3 days exploring Puerto Escondido, vaguely asking around if anyone knew my old Mexican playmates, Olivia and Maselica, the sisters who played on the beach with me and sometimes invited me to their house. Not surprisingly, given the size of the place, and how many years have gone by, I didn't have any luck finding them.

Puerto Escondido market

As much as I love Puerto Escondido, I needed a quieter place to settle into my thesis work, so I've headed an hour south along the coast, to a tiny beach town called San Augustinillo, where the rhythm of life is very conducive to completing one's thesis.

The afternoon light hits the main street in San Augustinillo

It's a calm, magical place on the ocean, with the sweetest little café ever (from which I'm writing this), the best shrimp and octopus I've ever eaten, and stunning ocean views from everywhere. I am falling madly in love with this place already.

Having just devoured a plate of fresh-caught shrimp in chipotle sauce
I've settled into a small posada up on the hill, which feels like a secret hideaway from the world. This was the welcoming committee when I arrived (whose eggs are collected each morning).

The ducks of the household

And this is the view from my room. I think I can handle seeing the sun rise over the ocean from this window every morning.

The view from my room up on the hill

There's no wifi connection there, so its a little internet vacation for me…  I don't know how much I'll be able to post here in the next month, but we'll see what happens… either way, I hope to come back to you in the spring, with some new Mexico-inspired recipe ideas. Until then, I leave you with this wintery dish I made before leaving snowlandia. It's full of flavour and a great comfort food. Enjoy!

Click here for the recipe.

February 12, 2015

Rosemary Rye Brownies

As if the world needs yet another brownie recipe, right??

Of course I'm a bit biased, since I specifically honed and tweaked this recipe until I arrived at the brownie of my dreams (during a blissful era marked by multiple revolving pans of brownies on my counter), but I think I can safely say you will love this brownie too. It has received the all-telling moan of approval from several friends. 

I'm always looking for new ways to use rye since we grow it and mill it ourselves. Last summer, my friend Ladleah had the brilliant idea to make brownies with our rye for Maine Fare and that's what first put the bug in my ear. 

Rye has a robust flavour that pairs beautifully with dark chocolate, and I have a little theory that because it contains less gluten than wheat, it creates a less doughy, and more chewy brownie. Either way, I believe it makes a brownie that has much more personality and je-ne-sais quoi than one made with plain white flour. 

Add the fragrant earthy tones of fresh rosemary (inspired by my mom's basil chocolate cake) and you've just taken this brownie to a whole other level. There. Have I sold you on it? I hope so! And I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day. 

You'll find my recipe on PBS Food.

February 10, 2015

Red Lentil Walnut Ice Cream

OK, I know you might think red lentil ice cream sounds a little crazy, but stay with me here. Here's the thing, red lentils, when cooked, naturally turn into a rich purée that is very tasty all by itself. And it just so happens that when you combine that purée with coconut milk, maple syrup, and a little salt, the lentils take on a taste that is strangely addictive and almost caramel-like. Add walnuts and you've got yourself a dairy-free ice cream that is unique, delicious, and even quite healthy. Did you know lentils are high in fibre, protein, potassium, folate, iron, and manganese? Our very own Canadian-grown superfood!

This ice cream bypasses the usual milk, cream, and egg custard that most ice cream recipes require. It needs no cooking, aside from the lentils, so it's very easy to make. It's also fully vegan, free of milk, eggs, and artificial sweeteners.

This ice cream does come with one caveat though, it should be eaten on the soft side, ideally right after it comes out of the ice cream maker, when it's smooth and creamy. If it freezes fully, it becomes hard and brittle and falls apart easily. The bourbon is optional but make sure to add the salt, it brings all the flavours together.

If you have a moment, please vote for this recipe in the marvellous Canadian Lentil Recipe Challenge by re-pinning, liking or commenting on the recipe here.

Serves 4 to 6

1 3/4 cup cooked red lentils (about 1 cup dry red lentils)
1 x 400ml (14 oz.) can of full-fat coconut milk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup (add 2 Tbsp more if you like a sweeter ice cream)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp salt
1/2 cup toasted, chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp bourbon (optional)

Place 1 cup dry red lentils in a fine mesh sieve and rinse well under cold water. Drain them and place in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cup of water and bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Cook covered, for about 25 minutes or until the whole thing turns to a thick purée. Stir often to make sure it's not burning on the bottom as it cooks and thickens. If the lentils are cooked but still too soupy, leave the lid off so more water evaporates. Once they are fully cooked and very soft and mushy, remove from heat and allow them to cool a little, with the lid off for about 10 minutes. The red lentils should now be almost as thick as mashed potatoes. Measure out 1 3/4 cup of lentil purée for this recipe (you may have a little more than that in the saucepan).

In a food processor, blend the coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla, salt, and the warm lentils until you have a smooth thick mixture. (Be sure the lentils are still warm - if they are cold, the coconut fat might not melt and emulsify well which will not give you a smooth mixture - if this happens, simply heat all the ingredients for a couple minutes in a saucepan on low heat to help the coconut milk to fully emulsify, then return the mixture to the food processor).

Cool the mixture for an hour in the fridge, then use it in your ice cream maker, according to the manufacturer's instructions. Halfway through, add the toasted chopped walnuts and bourbon. Enjoy before it's fully frozen or hardened, when it's still soft and smooth.