Category Archives: seeds

How to Grill a Perfect Asparagus

”Summer is for leisure. Slow down. Take a break. Tune in,” the real me has been whispering to the other me for a long-long time. Multitasking and distractions have been my pet peeve this season (if not this year).  I’ve been so busy and exhausted I stopped admiring food for a while: simple fresh garden food. Can you imagine? What can be worse for the food blogger in summer? I felt food numb, almost like that hilarious food critic played by the legendary Louis de Funès in The Wingor Thigh movie (L’Aile ou la Cuisse) when he was stroke by engurdie(food numbness in French)  Naturally, I used this state as an excuse to start grilling dinners from anything I could grab fast on my way back home, mostly meat: bangers, steaks, chops, chicken breasts… Boys were happy, but soon enough I couldn’t tell apart grilled steak, pork, or chicken. They all tasted like trash to me and just added to the constant headache and fatigue. I wanted to slow down the time and get present again with the food I eat. I needed a good energy fuel. I started grilling peppers, zucchinis, radishes, scallions, eggplants, cauliflower to assuage the animal’s protein guilt and damage. Everything still tasted boring, but was at least a step up from just meat & salad. I’ve experimented with dozen takes on salsa verde and chimichurri… Hmm, better, but still boring. I couldn’t find the ingredient that would bring me back to life. I suppose this is what chefs or writers, or critics call BLOCK.  

Then the asparagus season came and I decided to stop for 30 minutes and took time to explore just ONE very simple thing: how to make a perfect grilled asparagus. The result was outstanding: I finally was able to enjoy my dinner. I also learned a new skill and for a split second actually felt accomplished. It brought me back to the focus I craved so much.

Fast, affordable, simple, elegant, light, nutritious, this dish made me happy. As they say, happiness is not perfect until it’s shared with others, so I’m sharing it with you. Packed with UMAMI, the mysterious mouth filling fifth flavor plays very well with 4 other taste receptors in this quite minimalistic dish. Asparagus is a known umami intensifier, which in this recipe is powerfully enhanced by the Asian-style brushing sauce made of olive/sesame oil, dash of soya sauce, garlic and Dijon and sesame seeds sprinkle. Wow, as simple as it is, it makes FLAVORS GALORE!

Asparagus is liked by almost everyone I know. Yet generally it is not seen as a source of huge inspiration. Well, this recipe was an inspiration to me. I’ve learned some invaluable tips on how to grill asparagus to the perfection. No biggie? Yes, biggie, because, guess what, I can almost bet, YOU didn’t know these HOWs either.

Tip No 1. Previously, I used Mark Bittman’s recipe to drizzle the asparagus with olive oil (sometimes I would stretch to bacon drippings, or duck fat) throw it on a BBQ for a good 10-15 minutes along with other vegetables. Although acceptable, my grilled asparagus always left much to be desired.

I suspected that time and temperature had to do with it, but so all us do with boiled eggs, yet very few actually know or take time to check the exact timing to boil a perfect egg hard, coddled (soft boiled), or mollet (semi-liquid yolk). Last year I was reading My Canada Eats Foie Gras memoir by food critic Jacob Richler and in one particular story famous Torontonian, Chef Marc Thuet, was explaining in a very core way that the perfectly cooked asparagus has to be al dente. A-HA!

Timing of the grilling process vary from chef to chef, critic to critic, home cook to home cook. After coming down from Bittman’s 10-15 minutes to 2-5 minutes suggested by the most famous chefs; I figured the best timing to have a medium sized asparagus grilled to perfection would be exactly  90 seconds each side as advised in this video by Chef Rodney Bowers from Toronto. This timing is best to deliver crunchy and crispy, real al dente spears you can even warm up next day in a microwave and no one would ever say it wasn’t right form a grill.

Tip No 2. I’ve always been frustrated with having to use giant tongs to grab the asparagus losing many valuable spears through the grill. It took me only few minutes to figure out the technique to grill a perfect asparagus from a pro: Sesame Grilled Asparagus recipe from Chef Steve Raichlen which I actually use for this post, with the brushing sauce slightly modified. He uses pre-soaked wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers to make a raft boat from 4-5 spears at a time. What a genius idea!

Tip No 3. Finally, the dressing: before, during grilling, or after?  I tried all three and they all work well with me. Some don’t like the bitter touch of the burnt oil, so they prefer to season the grilled asparagus after. I personally love the taste of that char, so I brush the asparagus rafts before and during grilling.

Tip No 4. Is optional and relates to the gardening. Last fall, around mid-October I made an experiment and planted some cut offs of asparagus spears into our garden (1-2 inches deep). I completely forgot about it. Last week I was mulching and saw some tiny little asparagus sprouts popping up. WHOA! Definitely maybe I will be planting more this year (will try to use the leftovers all summer long too): it’s a beautiful perennial, great veg and makes one of the most beautiful foliage to please the eye of a picky gardener or a florist. Try it for yourself in preferably half-shadow, moist place (starting it close to compost would be the best idea) planting 3 to 4-inches long cut offs 1-2 inches deep.

That’s it for today. Please tell me if these tips worked with you.

Happy grilling!

Two Years Ago: Fiddlehead Ferns Pasta
Yields: 6 to 8 portions
Wooden toothpicks or bamboo skewers
1 pound asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons mixed sesame seeds
Salt and black pepper


Soak skewers in cold water for 1 hour in a shallow pan. Drain and set aside.

Preheat grill to high. Snap off the woody bases of the asparagus and discard. Skewer 4 or 5 asparagus spears together, using the toothpicks or 2 bamboo skewers, forming a raft shape.

Combine the olive, sesame oil, soy sauce, mustard and garlic in a small bowl. Stir with a fork to mix. Brush this mixture on the asparagus rafts on both sides. Season the asparagus with a little salt and lots of pepper.

When ready to cook, place the asparagus rafts on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned on both sides, 90 seconds per side. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds as they grill. You can serve the asparagus as rafts or un-skewered.

Note: This recipe makes a large quantity. If necessary, cut the amounts of ingredients accordingly.

Adapted from: Sesame Grilled Asparagus, by Steve Raichlen

Sesame-Encrusted Savory Easter Bread

A beautiful loaf: crisp and golden brown on the outside, slightly moist and tender on the inside;  topped with sesame, cumin, poppy and caraway seeds. The sesame seeds give that wonderful nuttiness while the crushed herb seeds in the dough give it a great flavor without overwhelming the taste. The cumin, poppy, caraway and fennel seeds make it super savory. But the best things about this bread are: it is super-easy to make (even for a novice); it makes a whole lot of presentation; AND, it keeps very well. Let’s say, if you spend a few hours making it on Good Friday night, wait for lots of kudos coming your way on Sunday.
This bread is a close cousin of Greek street treat Koulouri (as well as Turkish Simit; Bulgarian Gevrek, Serbian Devrek, etc.), a ring shaped bread with sesame seeds, which, I’m sure many of you tried while traveling to those places, although it has zero sweetness compared to the bagel-shaped cousins.
Because it is full of flavors, I personally love it slightly toasted, smeared with a bit of ghee. Primarily though, this apple of the eye is a perfect party patter. Serve it sliced alongside a dip, olive salad, gourmet cold cuts, interesting crudité… and it WILL make the Easter party goers of every kind happy. And of course with its visually appealing shape and seeded crust, it makes a remarkable centerpiece statement.
From personal experience, making this bread with kids is fun (especially the rolling dough in seeds part) as well as perfect activity for kids to learn about life beyond the cream eggs. Once ready, koulouri bread also travels very well in a picnic basket.  My kids used to love to bring it to the farm visits where they could also secretly give some to animals… which is why this bread became so distinctly and wonderfully Easter to me.
Not to mention that it reminds me of my travels to Cyprus, its humble and honest food and picturesque villages perched in the mountains, where they bake this bread outdoors in a brick-clay oven . Well, we don’t have this luxury here, but no biggie: a few prep steps and it will bake perfectly well in the regular oven filling the house with the smell of freshly baked bread and herbs and putting everyone in a special peaceful holiday mood.  

Happy Easter to All of You!

Yields: one big loaf
4 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of mastika & mechlebe, OR ground fennel/anise seeds
1 ½ tsp sea salt
1 oz (30 g) fast action dried yeast
¼ (50 ml) cup olive oil
1 ¼ warm water
3 ½ oz (100 g) sesame seeds (mix of white and black if you wish)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
Grind mastika and mechlebe, OR fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar to a smooth powder. Combine the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and water in a large bowl and blend together. Add mastika & mechlebe OR fennel powder and knead for 6-7 minutes. Let the dough stand in the bowl covered to rest for 1 hour.
Tips the sesame seeds, poppy and cumin seeds into a big bowl and pour over a tablespoon or so of water to moisten the seeds, ballon them and release their juice.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and shape into a ball. Drop the dough into the dampened seeds and turn until covered in the seeds, then place the dough on the baking sheet and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425F (220C). Score a line all the way around the side of the bread and two slashes on top with the knife. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown, then transfer to the wire rack to cool. Slice only after the bread cooled completely.
Adapted from ‘100 Great Breads’ by Paul Hollywood, March 2004, Cassell Illustrated.

No-Bake Maple Power Bites

Viva Maple Syrup! Let me present to you this incredibly simple and nutritious whole food trail mix of nuts, seeds, dried fruits and citrus peel bonded by maple syrup. They make a universal ticket to: have a wholesome breakfast, snack, travel companion or dessert; throw a quick party or picnic; boost your energy or use an instant pick me up; help the sweet tooth craving with nutrient-rich ingredients and much less guilt; trick your kids into eating healthy foods; store with or without the fridge for a long time; and, finally, ignore the store-bought granola once and forever.  
When the Sugar Shack (Cabane a sucre) time arrived this year I had an impulse to partake of some gluttonous a la Picard-esque staples with tons of fat wrapped in additional fat and then rolled in syrup … then after, if still alive, try that famous ostrich egg with the yolk size of a baby’s head at one and only Martin Picard’s Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon… Then it hit me in the face that I’m currently on a ban wagon trying to become a better looking person by Easter and that’s a no-go for all that lard. This is to tell you that the decision to make a healthy snack with wholesome ingredients bonded by maple syrup came naturally upon eliminating 1001 maple recipe ideas from my mind while I was driving back home with a few freshly procured cans of the Canadian liquid gold. 
I wanted to use this syrup in the recipe instead of sugar not only to pay a tribute to our national pride. 
Maple syrup (I’m talking about the natural one of course) is a unique natural sweetener that comes with a whole bunch of added perks. Declared a new superfood few years ago, it has 54 compounds with anticancer and anti-inflammatory benefits, including recently discovered Quebecol (yes, named in honor of the province of Quebec) – an antioxidant polyphenol created during boiling sap into syrup.  Sweetener that can lower your cholesterol and give you a boost of iron? Precisely. That’s something unheard of… yet, totally true and therefore – awesome! So how about I use it as a sweetener along with pressed dates and molasses in my new granola power bar?
I took neutral gluten free oats as a background for the mix. Then I added my favorite nuts, seeds and berries to make it nutty-fruity and fun including:  pecan nuts, shredded coconut, pumpkin and hemp seeds, dried goji berries, cranberries and raisins. The tangy chewy candied citrus peel also went in as my latest favorite (and much more than a one-trick pony). The maple syrup, black-strap molasses and pressed dates served as sweetener and bonding agents. Finally, I used the nut oil/butter (coconut/almond) and spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla) for savory touch. Here are the visual steps:
You don’t need to be a nutritionist or a dietitian to see that all these ingredients classify as healthy (gluten-free) superfoods in one way or another.  Mixed together, they make a healthier version of whatever you crave most remaining as close to their original whole food form as possible.
Gluten-free, highly nutritional, plus no-bake morsels  requiring only 15 minutes prep time. Do I have to convince you any longer? Now that our 6-months winter is coming to an end there can’t be a better timing for these little treats. Our bodies are deprived from nutrients, vitamins and micro-elements at this point not less than those of almost surreal pack of starving deer I caught on a camera today. 
April 2014: Starving deer are looking for food in the melting snow over the corn field along the highway.
Keep the formula, experiment with ingredients, try to add some other stuff – ultimately, these bites will help you eating your way to a healthier life. Best high-protein treats with no more midday crashes (just don’t eat them during the staff meeting or in front of your boss). Easy, sweet and more than worthy!

Yields: 50 to 60 bites depending on a size
1 cup pure Maple Syrup
½ cup virgin coconut oil, OR canola oil
1/3 cup Black-strap Molasses
1/3 cup pressed dates (optional)
½ cup unsweetened almond butter, OR peanut, OR other nut butter
4 cups rolled oats, regular or gluten-free
½ cup Goji berries, OR dried cranberries, OR tart cherries
½ cup dried currants, OR raisins, OR dried blueberries
1 cup pecan nuts (raw and chopped) OR walnuts, almonds or cashews
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup pumpkin seeds (raw), OR sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hemp seeds
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 tsp Himalayan salt
Add maple syrup, molasses, dates, oil, and vanilla to saucepan and warm over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes while you mix other ingredients.
Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, berries, candied citrus peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl.
Add nut butter to the syrup mixture and mix well. Remove from the heat and mix into dry ingredients in a large bowl. The mix will be sticky, but after it cools down, you can continue mixing the ingredients with your hands.
Line a 13 by 9 inches pan with a waxed paper. Spread the mixture into a pan evenly. Cover with another piece of wax paper and continue pressing until even across the top. Use a small cutting board that fits in to press the mix into the pan. Refrigerate until firm overnight or up to 24-48 hours. Cut into the bars or bites (rolled between hands) and keep in the airtight container in the fridge until ready to use. If necessary, wrap the bars into a wax paper and secure with twine. The bars/bites will keep in the fridge up to one month.

Waste Not Cranberry Banana Bread Pudding

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.’ This quote from witty Calvin Trillin is very ‘dear’ to me because leftovers of the unknown origin were what my Mom served the family as well. Which partly explains why I am so keen on food and cooking today… 
This reminiscence however, has nothing to do with the delicious sweet-and-savory Cranberry Banana bread pudding I made last weekend.  Except for the word leftover and the fact that almost half of the food we buy goes wasted. Let’s improve this statistics a little with a worthy and no-waste recipe.  This one is full of flavor and good things (fruits, seeds, allergy-friendly ingredients) and can be used in different menu applications: breakfast, brunch, dessert, side dish or coffee/tea break. And it’s actually made of the LEFTOVERS: stale bread/brioche/challah, very ripe banana, cranberry sauce left from holidays, etc. 
It is also fun thing to make with kids. Last week-end one of my friends, a busy mom with two little kids, popped around for a cup of tea after her ski trip and, pudding was the first thing that came to my mind as a quick and uncomplicated treat.  
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Give your kids some easy tasks like peeling and slicing banana, breaking eggs, distributing crumbs and fruit in the baking dish. Crushing candy cane with the roll (to sprinkle on top of the pudding if the wish be) is another kitchen chore kids adore to do. They would really appreciate the result and their own participation. And of course, a nice cartoon while the pudding is in the oven…
I didn’t have to invent it or look for a recipe – I just used my favorite summer cherry pudding recipe  (the best thing ever to happen to a fresh or frozen tart berry: I’ve tried other recipes, but the acquired taste wins every time) with a few new touches.  I added 1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds for a slightly nutty taste to upgrade the amount of protein, B vitamins and fatty acids. Feel free to skip this ingredient, or replace it with seeds or nuts of your choice (poppy seeds make also a very good option). 
I spiked the pudding with a bit of Meyer lemon juice and zest and replaced whipped cream dressing with a savory yogurt cream, mixing Greek yogurt with some cranberry sauce and a spoon of maple syrup. Finally, I made a quick cranberry coulis with an old cranberry sauce and some frozen cranberries.
The wonderful thing about this dish apart from being tasty and made of the recycled ingredients (and so comforting during winter cold), is that you can’t have too much of it. If you have any leftovers, please don’t throw them away, just portion them out if necessary and freeze.
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Photo credit: Natalie Schweiger
Although the leftover fatigue is in my blood, I am urging you, please give them a second chance with some further dishes.  Put a slice in a lunch bag, have a piece for a tea break, with your morning café au lait (with grilled cheese on top – why not?), or freeze some and try later as a side dish to grab some of that juicy gravy from a roasted bird.
However you decide to re-purpose this pudding, it will be better, healthier and cheaper than any store bought stuff. Enjoy!
One year ago: Easy Eggless Tiramisu
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar (or brown sugar, or mix of sugar and maple syrup)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
2 cups of milk (or almond milk)
4 cups gluten-free white rice flour bread (or challah, or brioche), cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (up to 1 ½ cups of berries)
1 large ripe banana, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch thick pieces
1/3 cup of roasted hemp seeds (optional)
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon (or 1 orange)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cut the bread in 3/4-inch squares to make 4 cups. Peel and cut one ripe banana into 1/2-inch thick pieces. Reserve the cranberries.
Using a wire whisk, stir well beaten eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla extract, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl (or use a blender).
Place 2/3 of the bread cubes in on 9 x 13-inch buttered baking dish (or two smaller ones to make the equivalent volume); distribute cranberries, banana slices and hemp seeds and top with remaining bread cubes. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
Bake uncovered for 65 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean; cool slightly (or completely, if you would like it to set so you can remove it from the baking dish to the plate) and serve with a dash of yogurt cream and a splash of cranberry coulis or a topping of your choice.
Yogurt Cream for dressing – mix three following ingredients:
1 ½ cups of plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 to 2 tbsp cranberry coulis
Cranberry Coulis (yields 2 cups):
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1 tbsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp orange juice
1/3 cup granulated sugar or maple syrup (or more if you like it very sweet as opposed to sour-sweet)
1/3 cup water
1 cup cranberry sauce leftovers
Mix the first 5 ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil over the medium high heat. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cranberry sauce and mix well helping to dissolve faster.  Simmer for about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Healthy (Re)solutions: Pick-Me-Up Lassi

One might not feel like running a mile in this Martian cold weather or going to the gym during the flu outbreak, but…  A glass of a nurturing shake and a bit of morning sun meditation make a great way to start a day on a positive note from my experience. 
I am not talking about classic frozen fruit +ice smoothies–they are quite predictable and, therefore, boring.  They also lack satiety. I am not a breakfast person, for example, so I like to add some extra dimension to my morning drink to wake up and boogie.  As a result, I switched my smoothie (fruit+ ice) to more of a lassi (fruit + yogurt+) style putting everything I wanted to be in there to catch me when I am falling from a sleep/other morning deprivation and help me tune into a productive mood, specifically during the times of the polar vortex. 
I’ve developed a few favorites and even gave my cocktails names depending on their color and taste, i.e. Go-Nuts; Lacoste; Tropical Sunshine, etc. Each of them has a certain nourishing purpose. This one is a particularly good-for-winter drink.  I called it Royal Velvet for its purple color, velvet-like feel, and the elegant taste.  
It’s packed with super-foods, including organic frozen berries (perfect antioxidant), yogurt, almond milk, nuts, seeds, even a slice of fresh ginger and a pinch of clove (both anti-inflammatory) to make sure there is enough of everything in it to make a winning substitute for an over-the-counter supplements I wouldn’t want to reach for.  For the berries, I used frozen blackcurrant grown and picked in our garden (which I was happy to try for the first time this year in a smoothie and was shocked about how good they tasted – otherwise their destiny used to be a garbage can by spring for years – can you believe it?) If you can’t get a hold of blackcurrants, use any best quality frozen purple or red berries of your choice.
I used plain Greek yogurt, almond milk, almonds, hemp and flax seeds for my choice of the balance of caloric and nutritional values,  which you can of course swap for yogurt, milk, nuts and seeds of your choice as long as they tickle your fancy.

The combination of the ingredients is designed to work as a winter guard: support the immune system and combat colds and flu. For an additional strength, I included some brewed Echinacea and rose petal tea (both also collected from our garden last summer) tea in it. It is totally optional, but if you still wish to include it, you can find Echinacea tea or syrup at any organic food store these days. 

For the sweetness, I used an exotic raspberry honey jelly (which I bought at the nearest bee farm last fall  ), but just a pure honey (natural antibiotic) or a maple syrup (antioxidants + zinc) would also make a perfect option. Dates are also a great sweetener addition to this mix if you like. For the final touch, I added a bit of the rose water for a surprising fragrant twist.  Again, I used the one I made last summer, but you can buy rose water in most of the groceries (baking section) today.
Our bodies are xx-something-pounds live chemical labs in need of constant re-fueling, energy and vitality. If we think about them this way, I’m sure many of our New Year’s resolutions would be very much connected with what kind of fuel we charge ourselves with daily. So why not selecting the best ones today in the form of one of the feel-good drinks? The body will thank you immediately for this little gesture of thoughtfulness with a bit more energy. The mind will follow shaking off that frigid twister melancholia. Name it smoothie, lassi, or shake, my point is – give it a try. The payoff will be sweet: one glass and… suddenly…  tout va bien, or, ‘Everything is Fineaccording to this talented Scottish artist… The winter will pass, and then there will be spring and then summer, and fall, and another winter… And that one will go too.
Cheers to the healthy 2014 start and the eternal healing!

Yields: four standard or two generous servings.
1+ cup frozen purple (and/or red) berries (blackcurrant, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
½ cup almond milk
2 small ripe bananas (or equal quantity of papaya)
1/3 cup almonds
1 tbsp hemp seeds  
1 tbsp ground flaxseed
1 thin slice of ginger 
1 pinch of ground cloves
2 tbsp raspberry honey jelly (or honey, or maple syrup)
1/3 cup brewed and cooled Echinacea /Rose Hip tea (or 1 tbsp. Echinacea Elderberry herbal syrup)
1 tsp. rosewater
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on a high speed until smooth. Taste and adjust thickness and flavors. Dilute with some extra almond milk if necessary. Enjoy!