A Summer’s Feast

A couple nights ago I hosted a summer’s feast on the back porch, here in Vancouver, B.C. The weather has been hot, but the temperature is almost always perfect around suppertime…which means many meals outside.


Friends from all over the world joined: Korea, Singapore, France and Canada. The menu was mostly Mediterranean, with some last minute Korean-snack additions (brought by my Korean friends!) Dinner consisted of Focaccia, Marinated Carrots, Roasted Garbanzo beans with Kale, a Spanish Tortilla, Barbecued Maple SalmonLentil and Ancient Grain-Stuffed Peppers and a Salad made from fresh Garden Greens. Drinks were Iced Green Tea with Mint, Sangria and Beer.

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The focaccia was the star of the meal. I used my regular recipe, but switched the toppings according to what I had on hand: dried figs (rehydrated by adding water and microwaving for 20ish seconds), Kale (marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar), Zucchini, fresh Tomatoes, Fresh Basil and Parmesan.


The marinated carrots were simple:

1 pound Carrots, peeled and cut into two inch slices (about 1/3 inch thick)
2 tablespoons olive oils
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
handful of chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper

Steam carrots for 10 minutes. While they’re steaming, combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Pour the marinade on the carrots while they’re still hot, toss, and chill in the refrigerator before serving.


Like the Focaccia, this Spanish Tortilla is a recipe that I make frequently, especially when I have vegetarians over for dinner. The eggs, potatoes and onions are always the same. This particular tortilla also included sweet potatoes (yams), fresh garden greens (chopped broccoli leaves and arugula), and melted cheddar.

IMG_20150714_190544668The Garbanzo Beans with Kale were a way to add a little bit more protein into the meal. The recipe was simple:

Garbanzo Beans
Chili Flakes
Olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground Pepper

The Garbanzos and Kale should be in roughly equal proportions, though it doesn’t matter too much. You can use tinned beans, or prepare the dried kind ahead of time by soaking and boiling them until they’re soft. Take the Garbanzos and place them in a baking dish with a good splash of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut up Kale stems and add them to Garbanzo. Mix. Heat oven to high, around 450 degrees, and let beans cook for about 20 minutes. While they’re cooking, chop Kale leaves roughly. Turn heat down to about 350, add Kale leaves, and cook for at least another 20 minutes. Kale should be crispy, the garbanzos as well, though a bit of chew is nice as well. If necessary, add more olive oil. Serve warm.

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The Korean Snacks were things I had never tried before. Both were made from puffed rice and were both salty and sweet. The first ones were chewy and much sweeter. The second ones were like spicy, sweet cheetos…even more, they were like the wheat-based Chicharron you see all over Mexico….but much more delicious!

p.s. Thanks to my friend Raelle for the photos. Next time I’ll keep my camera on hand so I won’t have to use cell phone photos! I’ve not been particularly good at updating the blog as of late, but am getting back into the swing of things!

Black Bean and Cheese Tlacoyos


I just got back from almost six months Mexico. The Vancouver summer is glorious, but there are lots of things I already miss about the country…and Mexico City in particular. Mexico City is famous for its street food, especially its “antojitos”, the Mexican-Spanish word for masa-based light meals, or snacks. Tlacoyos are a Mexico City classic: served almost exclusively street-side, patted thick and cooked on comals by little old ladies with rapid fire hands. The best ones are made with blue corn, and filled with either fava or refried beans, chicharron or a creamy, ricotta-like cheese called requesón. The toppings are almost always the same: more requesón, nopales (cactus) or potatoes with chile. I decided to be a bit liberal with my toppings. I made the usual potatoes, but lacking for nopales, I made rajas (sliced peppers, usual green poblanos, though I also included sweet red ones, since I like them too) and fried up some onions…since fried onions pretty much always make everything better! I don’t know where to find blue masa ’round these parts, so had to use standard white corn masa harina. The filling is a little different too, black beans and cheddar cheese. But I used what I had…and lo and behold, they were still delicious, if a little inauthentic!

Black Bean and Cheese Tlacoyos

Masa Harina
Warm Water
Oil (or lard, if you’re feeling ambitious/not worried about vegetarians)

Black Beans
Cheese (Oaxaca or Requesón are more traditional, but I used aged sharp Canadian Cheddar)


Vegetable Oil
2 Potatoes
1 Red Bell Pepper
1 Poblano Pepper
1 onion
Salt, Pepper



Pour Masa Harina into a bowl. I didn’t measure, but I’m going to guess that I used about 2 cups worth. Add salt. Add a couple dobs of oil, as well as water in small amounts, mixing and adding more water until the dough is soft, flexible, but not sticky. Leave to rest at least 30 minutes.

In the meantime, begin preparing the toppings. To save time, I pre-cooked the potatoes in the microwave, though boiling also works.

Heat oil in a cast iron pan. Chop onion, and begin sautéing in the oil on medium heat. They should take at least 5 minutes. The longer, the better in general with onions. Julienne the peppers and add to the onions, stirring. When the pepper begin to soften, and you start to get blackening marks, add potatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and whatever else you might like. I avoided using other spices as the poblano has a lot of flavour of its own. Cook for another couple minutes, then remove from heat. Set aside to be reheated, or keep warm (as I did) in the sun (or oven.)


By now the dough should be ready. Grab large handfuls of dough and shape them into balls. Place between two pieces of wax paper, and with a small pot, press down on the ball. You should create a circle of dough slightly thicker than a tortilla. Unstick the top wax paper, then place back on the dough and flip the whole operation upside down. Remove the new top wax paper (now the dough should come off easily from both sides.) Place a small handful of black beans in the centre, along with chunks of cheese.



Using the paper like a sushi mat, roll one side of the dough onto the other, forming a pocket (like a quesadilla.)


Shape the tlacoyo into football shape, making sure the edges are sealed. Place wax paper back on top, and with the same pot, gently flatten again.


Place the same cast iron pan back on the head (and make sure there’s nothing stuck to it!) You will not need to add more oil, as these are generally cooked without oil (though any residual oil is fine.) When the pan is hot, place tlacoyos on and flip after 2-3 minutes. Turn again at least 2 more times, until both sides are slightly charred and the masa is firm. Remove from heat and top with whatever combination of toppings you like! Finish with a squeeze of lime and salsa (traditional salsa roja or salsa verde are used!)


The last bite!

Focaccia, two ways


Sometimes I come off as a bit of a pusher. No, not in the way you’re thinking. You see, I have the habit of veering people off their diets. Of luring them to the dark side with refined flours, salt and fat. Today is no exception.

You see, I don’t have much respect for Puritanism when it comes to food. Not that I believe gorging on a 200g bag of High Fructose Syrup-infused candy is a good idea either. Life is short, and we should enjoy what we eat, whether it be a freshly baked croissant or a healthy salad. Or maybe I just have a secret desire to fatten all those skinny bitches up. Either way, I know that I have always been happier when eating good food (in moderation of course), when eating like a French woman, and not feeling guilty about my choices. If that means that I’ll never be thin, then so be it.

And so we come to Focaccia, one of the saltiest and fattiest breads of them all, and also, what I would consider, a food of the gods. Do I think it’s a good idea to eat this every day? No. Should it be shared? Most definitely. I don’t recommend eating a whole pan by yourself in front of the TV (as tempting as that might sound. Believe me, these pieces are addictive!) Focaccia is great party food, or something for a meal with friends, perhaps accompanied by a hearty, vegetable soup. It won’t do much for your health, but it will definitely feed your soul. It’s also pretty easy to make, with a whole variety of toppings to choose from. I chose to make my recipe two ways: the first with roasted pine nuts and pesto, the second with fig jam, cheese, rosemary and olives. Both turned out deliciously.

Focaccia, Two Ways

1 3/4 cups of warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
5 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of salt, preferably coarse (I used sea salt)
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)

handful of Pine nuts
pesto (preferably homemade)
handful of Kalamata Olives, sliced
fig jam
handful of sliced cheese (any lightly flavoured one, like fresh goat cheese will do. I used a lightly truffled cow’s milk cheese)
handful of dried rosemary

Mix the water, yeast and sugar together in a bowl. Allow mixture to bubble. This should take around 15 minutes.

If you have an stand up mixer with a dough hook, place flour, salt, olive oil and yeast mixture in the mixer, and mix on low speed. Once ingredients come together, increase the speed to medium and allow to mix for five minutes. This will do most of the kneading for you. After the 5 minutes are up, transfer the dough to a flat, slightly floured surface and knead by hand for another minute.

If you don’t have a stand up mixer, mix the same ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Once the ingredients come together, you’ll want to knead the dough with your hands for at least 7 minutes. This is a very important step! If the dough is not well kneaded, it will be too dense.

When the kneading is done, coat the inside of a large bowl with oil (preferably the one you mixed the dough in, as long as it’s not too sticky! Who wants to do more dishes than necessary?). Place dough in the bowl and roll it in the oil, coating the sides of the bowl at the same time. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warm area for at least an hour.

If you haven’t yet made the pesto, this is a great time to do it. I never use a recipe, but add the following ingredients bit by bit until they taste right: several handfuls of basil, about 3 cloves of raw garlic, several glugs of olive oil, several spoonfuls of parmesan cheese, a handful of pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste. If you want to go seriously old school, you can do this with a mortar and pestle, but a food processor works pretty well too.


After your dough has risen for an hour,  coat two baking pans with olive oil. Divide dough in half and with your fingers spread dough out over surface. Turn the dough over to coat both sides. Poke holes all the way through the dough in order to create oil filled ridges (they’ll fill in as the dough cooks in the oven. Don’t worry, you won’t have holes in your focaccia!)  Cover your dough again and let rise for another hour.


While the dough is rising, preparing your toppings.


About ten minutes before the hour is up, start preheating your oven. I cooked mine at 410 degrees Fahrenheit on the convection setting. If you don’t have a convection oven, you should cook them about 10 degrees higher.

When the dough has finished rising, top one focaccia with pine nuts, lightly pressing them into the dough.


Top the other one with olives, spoonfuls of fig jam, cheese slices and rosemary, lightly pressing the ingredient into the dough.


Sprinkle both with more salt and several more drizzles of olive oil. Place them in the oven, and set your timer for 15 minutes.

When the buzzer goes, remove both focaccia (or should I be obnoxious and use the proper Italian plural “focacce”?) from the oven. They’ll be mostly cooked by this point, with a bit of browning already begun. Drizzle the fig jam focaccia with a bit more olive oil (I’m serious!) and switch it to bottom rack if it was on top before (and vice-versa). Bathe the other focaccia in pesto (at least 4 heaping spoonfuls worth!), and place back in the oven. Cook for another two minutes or so.

Remove from the oven, and serve warm, with no guilt on the side. Then get down on your knees and thank the thousands of Italian grandmothers that came before you and made this dish possible!


Whore’s Pasta: Puttanesca-inspired rotini with slow-roasted tomatoes and cannellini beans

Please excuse me while I cause 2000 dead Neapolitan whores to roll in their graves. I know they like things done a certain way in Italy, whores included. This recipe kind of fudges with tradition. I’ve replaced the traditional pasta (spaghetti) with rotini, because that’s all I had. I used slow roasted tomatoes because I just wanted to. I added cannellini beans because I once remembered eating a southern Italian dish (Sicilian I believe) that incorporated beans (ok maybe chickpeas) and chilies and garlic, and it was delicious. I probably didn’t use the right proportions. But damn this pasta was good, so I’m going to blog about it anyway!

The concept for this dish began with a recipe that I read in the New York Times for slow roasted tomatoes. As I was slowly roasting them, I started to think of what I could put the tomatoes in. Puttanesca suddenly popped into my head, because it’s one of my favourite Italian dishes. What’s not to like? It’s salty and spicy and not too heavy. I’ve always been intrigued by Southern Italian cooking (no, not it’s bastardized American counterpart), and am always looking for ways to expand that culinary vocabulary. Or maybe it’s just because it’s my not so secret dream to move to Sardinia and become a shepherd. But anyway, I was thinking of Puttanesca, and it occurred to me that it might taste even better than normal with slow roasted tomatoes in it. Picked at peak season, then roasted until they’re sweet and crispy and caramelized…they’re just so much better than your regular canned tomatoes. I knew I had to try this!

Oh, and by the way, for those who are not aware, Puttanesca is called whore’s pasta because it’s supposed to have been created by prostitutes in the south of Italy, who would use its wonderful smell to lure clients into their homes. You gotta respect a lady with a business plan!

Whore’s Pasta à la Ellen

1 pound or so of pasta (you don’t need to be too specific. Enough for 4 or 5.)

2 tablespoons olive oil (again, no need to be too exact)
half an onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tin anchovies, washed and slightly chopped
crushed red pepper flakes
freshly ground black pepper
wine or wine vinegar
half a can of cannellini beans
handful of olives, chopped (tapenade will do in a fix). Black are more traditional, but I like green too.
1 tablespoon of capers
10 or so slow roasted tomatoes, medium sized and roughly chopped.
2 handfuls of parsley, preferably flat-leaf Italian, chopped

Place a saucepan on high heat. Add water. When the water’s boiled, add salt, then pasta. Boil until al dente. Ideally pasta should be boiling while you make sauce, and they should both finish around the same time.

Heat the olive oil in a pan on medium. Add onion, and cook a few minutes, until slightly caramelized. Add garlic and anchovies. If everything’s sticking or burning a bit, splash a bit of wine or vinegar in the pan (I used balsamic vinegar…blasphemy I know, since it’s from the north, but it’s what I had on hand. But don’t worry, it tastes delicious!) Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add cannellini beans (though they’re totally not necessary. They make the dish a bit heartier, but if you want to stick to a more classic version of the dish, leave them out.) Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring or flipping the mixture frequently. Add olives or a spoonful of tapenade. Add capers and slow roasted tomatoes. Cook for another minute or so. You want the sauce to meld together a bit, but you don’t want the olives to disintegrate too much. This is a chunky sauce. Turn off heat. Add chopped parsley.


Toss pasta with the sauce. Serve hot.


Oh, and if you want to know how to slow roast those tomatoes…cut them in half. Place them in a bowl with a little olive oil and stir to coat. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Grease a wire rack and place on top of baking pan. Place tomatoes on the rack, facing up.


Sprinkle with a bit of sugar and salt, and cook in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours. When they’re done, they should be slightly shriveled, crispy and caramelized. Perfect for eating warm on their own, on in a dish like this!


Pakistani Naan

Today is my day off, the first real one that I’ve had in a long time. I’ve barely done any cooking lately, and so the extra hours this morning seemed like the perfect opportunity to make something new. As funny as this may sound, making bread is something that I dream about regularly. There’s just something about the ritualistic aspects of the task that sends me into a zen state. Mixing, kneading, waiting for the dough to rise. Pulling hot loaves out of the oven. Relishing that first warm bite. So when I have the time, I love to bake bread, and today was no exception.

I wanted to make something that I’d never made before, so I decided to delve back into Laura Kelley’s The Silk Road Gourmet. As I was looking up “bread” in the index at the back, I noticed a recipe for Pakistani Naan. The recipe contained yogurt, which I’d never used in bread before. I knew I had to try the it, even though I was a bit disturbed to see that there was no yeast in the recipe. Instead, baking soda and baking powder were used. I was wary (I much prefer yeasted breads), but I decided to press on.

The result was a soft, buttery flatbread, delicious eaten warm out of the oven with leftover daal. The flavour of the baking powder and soda was still a bit too pronounced for my tastes, but I still enjoyed  the results. These Naan are certainly much softer than baking powder biscuits, which is what I feared  they might come out like!

The recipe is mostly Laura Kelley’s, though I have made a few alterations.

Pakistani Naan

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan, which seemed culturally appropriate!)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup plain yogurt, lightly drained (I used greek, which is already thick, so doesn’t need draining)
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup warm milk
Poppy seeds

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Add egg, yogurt and 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir. Gradually stir in milk. You want your dough to be smooth. If it reaches a good consistency before all the milk is used, you don’t need to add the rest. If you are a bit impatient, like me, and add all the milk before you find this out, you can add a bit more flour during the kneading process. Knead dough for 3-5 minutes. Shape dough into a ball, place it back in the mixing bowl (preferably wiped clean), and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm location for 1.5-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Punch down dough and kneed for another minute or so. The dough should be very elastic at this point. Divide into eight pieces, and roll each out on a lightly flour surface.


You can also shaped them in your hands, though you may need to do last minute rolling for flattening purposes. The Naan should be oval-shaped, about 6-8 inches long.

Grease baking sheets. Place Naan on top, and brush with remaining butter. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, and more salt, if you like. Lightly press in poppy seeds.


Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on if you want them to be a bit crispy or not. Mine took a full 20 minutes with the convection setting on. They’re done when they’re a light, golden brown around the edges. If you’re not getting enough colour, you can brush them with a little more butter or oil. You can also flip them in the last 5 minutes if you’d like colour on both sides. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve.


Enjoying my Naan outside, under the fragrant lemon tree, imaging I’m somewhere along the Silk Road.

Papusas with Oaxaca Cheese, Veggies and Mango Salsa


I’ve hopped across the bay to San Francisco. I’m not sure for how long, but it certainly has made my commute easier. While I’m generally happier to be in a more urban environment, it’s an unfortunate truth that it is much harder to find groceries here. Berkeley’s markets are hard to match in both abundance and value. At my go-to produce store there, Monterey Market, you could walk away with two giant bags of produce for under twenty dollars. In San Francisco, stores seem to be either super high end or super junky. If you want to buy liquor or cigarettes, or spend your whole paycheck at a local, organic temple to yuppiedom, there’s no problem finding what you’re looking for. But if you want to buy mangoes  or tomatoes at a reasonable price, it’s another matter altogether. There are a few exceptions though, and unsurprisingly they tend to be understated and run by immigrants. I’ve had some luck at Asian and Mexican grocery stores, and this blog post is the result of a trip to the latter.

I went to Mi Ranchito, a small Mexican grocery in the Mission District a few days ago and bought a giant bag of Masa Harina. I was originally thinking of buying tortillas, but I’ve always wanted to experiment with different types of antojitos, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I’m convinced that if the apocalypse hits, I could live for at least a month off this bag of corn flour. Mixed with a big of water and cooked in the pan, you can eat tortillas, sopes and gorditas for almost nothing. I also bought nopales (the cactus paddles I mentioned in a previous post), oaxaca cheese, some limes (12 for a dollar!), and some fresh fruit and vegetables.

Papusa are technically Salvadoran, not Mexican, but I have found them to be my favourite thing, so far, to make with Masa Harina. They’re thicker than tortillas, so you don’t need to make that many, and you can also stuff them, so they’re much heartier.

Papusas with Oaxaca Cheese, Veggies and Mango Salsa

Masa Harina
Oaxaca Cheese

1/2 Onion
2 Nopales pads (spikes removed)
1 Avocado
1 clove Garlic
Chile Powder

Mix Masa and Water. I don’t use exact measurements, so just pour some into a medium size bowl and slowly mix water in. If it seems dry and breaks as you try to shape it, add more water. I often add in some salt and pepper before mixing with water. Once dough is malleable, but neither too wet nor too dry, set aside for a few minutes (this allows the Masa to fully absorb the water.)

Set a frying pan on medium heat with some oil. Chop onion and nopales into small chunks, and throw into hot pan. Cook on medium heat with some salt, pepper and few dashes of chile powder (whatever seasoning you like, really) until a little bit browned. In the meantime, cut up your mango into chunks, and place into a serving dish. Cut up your avocado into chunks, and place in a serving dish. Add minced garlic and some lime juice (not the whole lime) to the avocado, and mix. Chop a small handful of cilantro. By now, your nopales and onions should be cooked. Remove from the pan, and turn off the heat while you prepare your Papusas.

Grad some Papusa dough in your hands and form it into a small cake. Press it down on the counter top or cutting board, until it is thin and a few inches wide, similar in size to a corn tortillas, but thicker. Thinly slice a few slices of Oaxaca cheese and place on top of the masa circle, staying 1/2 inch from the edges. Make another circle and place it on top of the other, capturing the cheese in the middle. Push down on the corners to lock in the cheese, and make sure the Papusa will not break and drip in the pan. If there are any hole or rips, patch them up with the masa dough. Turn the pan back on, add a tiny bit more oil, if necessary, and cook the Papusa on medium, for a few minutes on each side.


It should be slightly golden when done.


Top your Papusa with onions and nopales, avocado, mango and cilantro. Squeeze on a bit more lime. My was quite heavily loaded (and I only used about half the veggies listed here for one Papusa), so you might want to eat it with a knife and fork (especially since the cheese oozes out!)


Early Harvest Apple Cheddar Pancakes


What happens when an old apple tree dies in the middle of summer? You end up with a million small, sour apples that can’t be eaten raw. A sane person would leave them be, but since I have a vaguely manic complex about not letting food go to waste, I decided to see what I could do.


After picking a grocery bag’s worth (a tiny fraction of the total number), I set to work, drying them in the oven for apple chips, stewing them on the stovetop for compote, and baking them into cake. A week on, the first batch has been mostly diminished, but the compote still looms in the fridge. Apparently I live in a house filled with people who prefer chocolate! So I decided to to make pancakes, remembering some sweet bites of the apple variety that I had enjoyed as a child. Most recipes I looked at involved raw apples, so I decided to eschew them altogether, in favour of a straight up pancake recipe with my own additions throw in. Besides adding stewed apples, I decided to throw in some chunks of cheddar cheese as well.

I don’t know if it’s just a Canadian thing, but when I was growing up, my mum used to sometimes serve  aged white cheddar with her homemade apple pie. I have never liked ice cream or whipped cream on pie, but somehow I always found  cheese to be a perfect compliment. It seemed like a no brainer, therefore, to put cheese in these pancakes! The result was a pancake that was delicious, rich and creamy on the inside, and crispy on the outside, with alternating bites of sweet and savoury thanks to the apple and cheese. This is a perfect breakfast for a foggy San Francisco Bay Area morning, even if it’s an early harvest. Summer is colder than fall here anyway, so actually it fits the season!


Early Harvest Apple Cheddar Pancakes

1 1/2 cups flour
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 – 1 cup apple compote (depending on how apple-y you like your pancakes)
3 thick slices of sharp white cheddar cheese, diced

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg and oil. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Stir in  apple compote and cheddar cheese.


If you don’t have apple compote already made, a quick approximation can be achieved by stewing apples, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar (I used a mix of brown and white) and a small amount of water together for about 20 minutes.

Oil a pan, and set it on a medium burner. When the oil is hot, scoop small ladle-fulls of pancake mixture into the pan.


When a ring of bubbles forms around the outside of each pancake, they should be ready to flip. Cook for a few minutes on each side. You may need to flip again to achieve desired crispiness, as well as to fully cook the inside. Serve warm with maple syrup, apple compote, honey, or even eat them plain, as I did. Whatever topping you choose, you don’t want to overwhelm the flavour already inherent within the pancake. They’re good enough to eat by themselves, soft and a bit gooey on the inside, with occasional bursts of melted cheese.