Chop and Change Meatballs

Scouring through my kitchen the other afternoon I found myself in a Thursday quandary.  I normally do the bulk of my grocery shopping on Fridays, so the pantry will often be a bit sparse by 3:00 on Thursday, and for some reason this week was a bit more severe.  I sometimes forget I’m now shopping for 4 hungry people instead of 3, and Kaitlyn was definitely in the midst of a growth spurt, so even the basic staples had been disappearing at an alarming rate.

I had thawed out a pound of ground beef from my Hopcott Meats freezer pack, and it was nearing the end of its lifespan, so I needed to get it cooked A.S.A.P., and in a way that the kids would wolf it down. Pasta sauce? No tomatoes around. Meat pie? No stock to make gravy, no time to make pastry! Meatballs!? Of course! So I set about getting the ingredients together and realized that I had used the last egg at lunch time. I don’t really know if meatball recipes usually have egg in them, but I figured they need something to bind them together, so I had a think about it, and decided I’d see if potato would work. So I came up with the following recipe. The combinations of ingredients are probably endless, throwing in herbs or extra veggies, but this seemed like a good starting point. Besides, this was just about all that was left in the house! 

1lb ground beef

1/2 red onion, minced

1 garlic clove, finely grated or minced

2 new potatoes (about 2 inches in diameter), grated

1/2 tsp salt

2 handfuls of breadcrumbs

splash of worchestershire sauce

splash of cold water

  1. Put the potato and onion in a bowl and add the salt. Let sit for 20 minutes to draw some moisture out.
  2. Add the meat, breadcrumbs, garlic, worchestershire sauce and squidge it all around with your hands till it’s evenly mixed.
  3. Add enough water to make it easy to mould, around 1/4 cup or less, and mix it in.
  4. Shape the mixture into 12 meatballs and bake at 425 for 15 minutes.
  5. Reduce heat to 325 and cook a further 30 minutes.

I think I ended up leaving them to cool in the oven as it cooled down, so a little longer than 30 minutes definitely won’t harm them, but if you have ravenous children waiting, by all means get them out straight away.

Advertisements

Garlic and Onions

While many a dish may be incomplete without these lovely ingredients, they seldom make a meal in themselves.  I’ve recently become a fanatic subscriber to the idea of meat boxes, and bulk farm fresh purchases.  After living in Guelph I was a bit spoiled by Thatcher Farms commitment to providing me with delicious fare, the farmers were even amazing enough to deliver a 30lb meat box to my house on more than one occasion.

Having relocated to Vancouver, again, I’m on the search for a supplier of delicious, conscientiously raised, affordable meat.  So far, I’ve found a few contenders.  After scouring craigslist for a good apartment-sized deep freeze, our first foray into the Vancouver meat market starts at Hopcott Meats, located in Pitt Meadows.  While they weren’t quite willing to do a door to door drop off, they were going to organize a downtown rendezvous at a hotel whose meat they supply, but when timing didn’t work out so well for me I hitched a ride with a friend and picked up the purchase from the farm store.

Hopcott gets their beef from 3 different ranches in the BC interior, so it makes a small journey to arrive at their farm, but everything in the store looked fresh and appetizing.  One problem I had with our purchase was the way it was stored.  We got 60lbs of beef, their Winter Freezer Pack, and it was all wrapped in paper except for the ground beef.  Having been under the impression that things had been freshly frozen for us, I was disappointed to repeatedly come across freezer burn on many of the cuts, included two steaks which I had to throw away after cooking because I didn’t trust the way they tasted.  The ground beef was packaged in plastic bags, which I assumed would be watertight, but accidentally waterlogged my first pound when I was trying to thaw it out quickly in a bowl of water.  A vacuum seal would solve all these problems, so it frustrated me that they hadn’t thought to package them that way, especially knowing they had other vacuum sealed products at the store.

In terms of quality of meat, while it does beat out your standard grocery store fare, it wasn’t anything exceptional.  Their ground beef is quite good, apparently it’s made from younger cattle than average, which seems to make a difference, but it still didn’t knock my socks off.

I’m hoping that when our freezer supply dwindles, which is happening surprisingly quickly with 4 omnivores in the house these days, I can launch an investigation into Rondriso Farms.  Stay tuned!

Easiest Banana Bread Recipe Ever

As I find myself with slightly more time in full possession of both my hands, I’ve been really enjoying spending time in the kitchen baking.  It sounds so stereotypically domestic, but I love having baked goods in the cupboard for snacking on, and I love the act of baking.  Everyone always refers to baking as a science, and it scares many people off because they believe if they have one fraction of an ingredient too much or too little everything will fail.  This could be true for more complex items, but good old banana bread has yet to let me down, despite the fact that lately I’ve been tending to start making batter only to realize that I don’t actually have any baking soda in the house.  Still, the loaf succeeds, so I thought I’d share the recipe, with credit to my mum for passing it on to me.

Also, I’ve become enamoured with using scales in the kitchen as much as possible, so I’ve included the oz. measurements for the things I do by weight.  It tends to cut down on the number of dishes at the end, since you can weigh things in the mixing bowl, and with demand-o-baby around, a quick clean up is a big bonus.

Easy Banana Bread

1/3 cup (2 oz) butter (I use salted, so I eliminate adding salt to the dry mix) 

2/3 cup sugar (I’ve used granulated or golden, whatever you’ve got around)

2 eggs

3 ripe bananas, mashed (roughly 1 1/4 cups)

1 3/4 cups (8 oz) flour 

1/4 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 salt, if using unsalted butter

1 tbsp molasses (optional)

Method:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a loaf pan.

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth, beat in the eggs, then add the bananas.  Mix your dry ingredients together, then stir into the batter till everything is mixed completely.  Pour the batter into your greased loaf pan, and brush the molasses over top. It forms a nice crunchy top on the finished loaf. 

Bake for 50-60 minutes at 350, let cool in the pan then turn out onto a rack to cool the rest of the way. Enjoy!

Relaunch

Okay folks, my track record on this blog so far has been rather abysmal, but I’m hoping to work writing back into my weekly, if not my daily, routine.  I say that food revolves around life, and that statement took on new dimensions for me over the past year.  This time one year ago I had recently canned my first batch of tomatoes, and my first batch of salsa, had spent a year working on a chef’s web series, was working in a grocery store, and was planning a move to Vancouver just for kicks.  Suffice it to say, I was already food obsessed.  Fast forward 2 months and the world was flipped upside down with news of an impending arrival, the now 3 month old Thomas Cross.  Suddenly a whole new world of food considerations came into play: the exclusion of alcohol, the cravings for hamburgers, the aversion to anise and fennel flavours, the massive increase in the sheer amount of food I had to ingest.  Now, 3 months post-partum, some of these still come into play.  Tom is exclusively breastfed, so I still have to watch what I drink, although I’m happy to say I actually enjoy the flavour of beer and wine again.  During pregnancy even the smell of it made me want to gag, which I found very handy in preventing me from wanting to have a drink.  These natural processes have been so interesting to me, listening to my body and seeing what it is that I want, and so much of the time having that match up with what I need. Granted, I probably didn’t need quite as much chocolate and sweet stuff near the end of my pregnancy, but I can see the logic of wanting extra energy so much more when there’s a baby inside you.  I just should have opted for high protein a little more often than high sugar, but no harm done.  Things like aversions to booze and coffee, cravings for red meat when my iron was low, all gave me a lot of confidence in my body, and in the fact that yes, it did know what it was doing.  This trust in my body crossed over into my labour experience too, making it easier to let nature take its course and come out the other side happy and healthy, and with an awareness I only half-had before of the amazing power of food, to nourish, to entertain, and to satisfy.

PB just in time for J(une)!

Home made PB! I knew that old pickle jar would come in handy!

I can’t remember specifically the first time I tasted Real peanut butter.  I think I probably made a face and wondered why it wasn’t as sweet or salty as I was used to.  Until one day it dawned on me what the difference was, it actually tasted (shock, horror) like peanuts!  I slowly turned from the realm of sweetened PB to the natural stuff, sniffing around to find places that sold it without a “Natural” mark up.  The most recent purchase of straight peanut peanut-butter I made was a huge disappointment.  It was dry and crumbly, hardly spreadable on toast.  But the only other stuff I’d seen for sale was priced as though it cost them more not to add things.  I’ve never understood this food philosophy.  All I want is the one ingredient, can’t I get a discount for leaving out the icing sugar?

Anyway, with the help of a recently purchased food processor, which I don’t know how I lived without for the few months till I found one on sale for 50% off, the obvious solution appeared.  If all I want is peanuts blended, then I should just blend my own peanuts!  So, I went out and bought about 600 grams of unsalted, roasted peanuts, and threw about half of them into my food processor.  I let it go on high for a few minutes, watching it shake as the nuts when from whole, to halves, to crumbs, to paste, but was put off when it seemed that I was getting the same result as the last batch I had just bought.  Everything seemed too dry and crumbly.  It tasted like peanuts, sure, but it wasn’t near toast-worthy.  I puzzled over it with Jon, should we add something? Had all the oils roasted off before we’d gotten the nuts? Did it need something extra?  At Jon’s suggestion we turned it back on high and just let it go.

And voila! The extra time turned our peanut paste into a smooth and creamy peanut butter without having to add anything!  I threw in the other half of the nuts, holding a few back to make it crunchy at the very end, and pulverized them until the consistency was what I was looking for.  Then for the last minute, the whole peanuts were added so I now have, sitting in my kitchen, my very first ever jar of home made crunchy peanut butter!

All I need now is for fruit to get into season so I can learn to make some jam, and then I can have PB & J sandwiches all from scratch.  I think I’ll draw the line at Fluffer-nutters though.


Conquest

Just over a year ago I made my first trip to Vancouver.  It was a whirlwind 3 days of filming 4 different episodes for chefdtv.com, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to see the sights, but it did allow me my first glimpse of the Granville Island Markets.  While the chef was being filmed choosing ingredients for the various meals he would be creating, I was able to sneak away from my boom mic responsibilities briefly, and browse to my hearts content.  And that’s when it happened. I fell head over heels.  Having just begun making my own mustard at home, grinding the soaked seeds in a tiny wooden mortar with a tiny metal pestle, and spending an inordinate amount of time on the task, I saw my salvation resting snugly on a shelf near the back of the market.  An 8″ diameter, pure granite mortar and pestle.  Despite having all our video equipment to carry back on the plane the next day, I was sure I could find a way to bring it with me, but alas, it couldn’t be, it was a hefty piece of equipment!  So I left it, sitting on its shelf, looking a bit dejected I’d venture to say, and went off to eat as much steak as could possibly fill my stomach without it bursting.

When Jon and I decided to move to Vancouver, all I could remember about the city was an experimental jazz band I saw in Gastown, the casino and Granville Island.  We arrived and set up shop, making an incredible exception in our living quarters: our current kitchen is probably about 1/8 the size of the one in our old place.  It’s a galley style kitchen, all the buildings in the West End assume no one really wants to cook since there are so many incredible restaurants within walking distance.  It has proven to be quite an interesting experience working together in it, especially as my pregnant belly takes up more and more of the available room.  We’ve had to expand our work space into the living room with a wooden cart on wheels that we use for kneading bread and pasta dough.  But there was one thing I knew had to be part of our new kitchen.  On our first weekend here we visited the fabled market and I showed Jon what I’d been pining after.

He instantly fell in love.  We plotted and schemed and decided that once we both had our first paychecks in our hot little hands we would return and bring it home with us.  We briefly toyed with the idea of the 10″ one, but the price gap, and the weight difference (luckily I could pull the pregnancy card and Jon carried it all around the market and then home) made our decision for us, and we brought home the new addition to our household.  So far it has contributed immeasurably to our kitchen, obliterating mustard seeds, crushing fenugreek, and best of all, making the most incredible pesto I’ve ever tasted.  Our tiny wooden one still hangs around and gets used occasionally, but I like to think of it as happily retired, sitting in our tiny kitchen, feeling like its found its place in the world.  As for the new one, it has quite the place of honour, in full sight in the living/dining room, between the olive oil and balsamic drizzlers, awaiting its next task, pestle at the ready.

The new addition to the family.

Finally Landed

Well, the turmoil of uprooting, cross countrying, crash landing and finally gliding into a new place is over.  Today is the day Jon and I move into our new apartment in Vancouver.  We’ve spend the last two weeks sleeping on a mattress hiding behind the living room couch in Jon’s sister Lucy and her boyfriend Ben’s apartment, and today we get to take over our empty, clean, park adjacent place.

I can already tell the food stories in this city will be incredible.  Seafood is on every menu, there are more sushi places than I can count (although sadly I can’t eat any sushi right now if I listen to What to Expect When You’re Expecting), there seem to be community gardens in every neighbourhood.  The 100 mile diet started here, and it doesn’t seem so far fetched living within 100 miles of wineries, harbours, and farms.

I can’t wait to get cracking in our new kitchen, despite its abysmal size, especially in a few months when we’ve hopefully got our garden box built and flourishing and seasonal produce is exploding off the shelves in all the little fruit and veg shops around us.  And I can’t wait to get back into writing about all the amazing discoveries in the realm of food that Jon and I stumble across.

Stay tuned. :)

%d bloggers like this: