Holiday Book Reviews – The Healthy Slow Cooker

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I don’t know about you, but this is the week when my Christmas shopping always begins in earnest. So, for the second year in a row, I’m bringing you three book reviews to help you cross a few names off your list.

I received a review copy of The Healthy Slow Cooker, Second Edition from Robert Rose Inc. Nevertheless, all opinions in the following post are my own.

I know that I post a lot about French food and desserts around here, but most of the time I try to cook healthy meals. It might seem challenging to do so when trying to balance the needs of an omnivore with a vegan-ish, gluten-free eater, but it isn’t really. We never ate very much bread with our meals and there are plenty of great grains that can satisfy our carbohydrate requirements. As for protein, I’ve always been of the mind that meat and dairy shouldn’t be the primary focus of weekly meals, so we were already eating a largely plant-based diet before my partner started his move toward veganism.

What can be challenging is making sure we have enough variety in our diet, so that we’re covering all the nutrient groups as we eat across the week. It’s easy to get into a routine, making the same few dishes over and over, with a little experimentation on the weekends. Much better to find ways to change things up more frequently.

One of my favourite ways to do that is to make use of my slow cooker. Not only can I fill it and forget it for the workday or overnight, having a large slow cooker means that I can make recipes in quantities that allow me to package and freeze several meals’ worth.

Unfortunately, a lot of slow cooker cookbooks focus on heavy meals that cycle through a limited roster of protein-starch-vegetable combinations. So, I was happy to find The Healthy Slow Cooker has a variety of recipes, both meat and plant-based, with a focus on using nutrient-dense ingredients. The best part is that all the recipes are gluten-free.

Judith Finlayson is well-known to Canadians as a writer and editor, but has become especially famous for her prolific publication of useful cookbooks. Many of them are slow cooker cookbooks, focusing on different health needs or dietary practices. The Healthy Slow Cooker is in its second edition, which came out earlier this year. This means that the recipes are updated, but more importantly, the nutrition tips and health information are more current now, too.

Those tips and information boxes, called “Mindful Morsels” and “Natural Wonders” are a welcome feature of Finlayson’s book. There are the kinds of information you might expect, like the sections breaking down the nutritional benefits of mushrooms or bell peppers, which help bring home the reasons for eating a wide variety of foods. But there are also sections that go into more depth, explaining the role of elements like fatty acids and micronutrients in our diets, why some foods which should always be bought from organic sources, or shopping with environmental concerns and sustainability in mind.

The recipes come from a number of culinary traditions, including Caribbean, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian flavours. They also make use of common ingredients, without ignoring some of the ingredients (think edamame or sunchokes) that have been showing up more and more in markets. There are lots of vegan or vegetarian dishes, while many of the recipes that weren’t explicitly vegetarian or vegan could easily be converted, like her Sweet Potato Coconut Curry. And most of the truly meat-based meals are freezable, ready for those times when I’m eating solo.

When I was deciding which recipe to share with you, I thought about how much of a boon fresh, vibrant food is on the winter table. Even though summer vegetables are long gone, many of them are available frozen, almost as nutrient-rich as when they were picked. Finlayson’s take on succotash was exactly what I was looking for, incorporating corn, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, and edamame with the warmth of paprika. It’s bright on the table, filling, and a good match for many different main courses. Best of all, it’s freezable, letting you enjoy it across the coldest months. (If you make it in summer, you can use garden-fresh ingredients and freeze some of it for winter.)

New Age Succotash

reprinted with permission from Judith Finlayson’s Healthy Slow Cooker

Serves 8

1 Medium to large (3 1/2 to 5 quart) slow cooker

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary or 2 tsp (10 mL) dried rosemary leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cracked black peppercorns
1 can (28 oz/796 mL) no-salt-added tomatoes, including juice, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) vegetable stock
4 cups (1 L) frozen shelled edamame
2 tsp (10 mL) paprika, dissolved in 2 tbsp (30 mL) water
4 cups (1 L) corn kernels, thawed if frozen
2 roasted red bell peppers, diced
1/2 cup (125 mL)finely chopped parsley leaves

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add garlic, rosemary, salt and peppercorns and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice and vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware.

Add edamame and stir well. Cover and cook on Low for 8 hours or on High for 4 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in paprika solution. Add corn, roasted red peppers and parsley and stir well. Cover and cook on High for 15 minutes, until corn is tender and mixture is heated through.

Variation
Spicy Succotash: For a livelier dish, stir in 1 can (4.5 oz./127 mL) mild green chiles along with the red peppers.

This is a terrific side for a braised tofu dish, or more traditionally, for a big platter of ribs. Finlayson includes a recipe for gluten-free cornbread in the cookbook, which would be a nice addition to either of these meals. Really, though, this dish would fit whenever you’d otherwise consider serving the usual boiled, steamed (or canned) vegetables.

I’ll be coming back to this cookbook often, both for the recipes and the information.

Gift Giver’s Guide: For the busy, the gluten-free, and those who want variety and flavour in their healthy menus.

Come back tomorrow for a review of a book that brings vegetarian eating to a new level.

FFWD – Orange & Olive Salad and Lamb & Dried Apricot Tagine

orange and olive salad

When it comes to the kitchen, December is a weird mix of ambition and ease for me. I make long lists of favourite dishes to make, along with new ones to try that usually involve a new skill to master. There are also many quick and easy meals, most easily forgotten, to accommodate all the rush and bustle (and more complicated works in progress) the holidays bring.

So, I was extra grateful to Santa’s Dorista elves for setting a schedule full of simple, delicious recipes. It’s been a good reminder that quick and easy doesn’t have to mean forgettable.

Orange & Olive Salad

Which brings me to this salad, almost as if I’d planned it. You can see how pretty it is in the photo at the top of the post and you can probably guess how easy it was to put together, too. What the photo won’t tell you is how delicious it was. The idea of orange, olive, and onion in a salad was a bit off-putting for a number of the French Fridays crew this week. But, one by one, almost everybody started posting that they’d loved it.

So, by the time I got around to making it this afternoon, I was pretty confident it was going to be good. Kevin, however, doesn’t get the benefit of Dorista social media chatter, so he was very skeptical when I set it down in front of him. He’s a good sport though. After assuring him that soaking the thinly sliced onion in ice water had rendered it mild and crispy, he dug in. And then ate the whole plateful, making it a hit for both of us. We’ll be having this again and I can hardly wait to introduce it to others. It’s an elegant, surprising dish that would have gone untried if it hadn’t been for this cooking group.

Tagine

Lamb & Dried Apricot Tagine

This dish was never in danger of going untried. I’ve loved Moroccan flavours since my university days, when I discovered the recipe for Moroccan Chicken Stew in the copy of Anne Lindsay’s Lighthearted Everyday Cooking that was a moving-out-on-my-own gift from my mother. I did make it a little easier, though, by cooking it in the slow cooker overnight, then letting it rest in the fridge until dinnertime. When I heated it up, I couldn’t believe that it was even more fragrant than when it had come out of the slow cooker. I served it with saffron rice and Ottolenghi’s Roasted Squash with Cardamom and Nigella, both headily aromatic dishes themselves. It made for a fantastic meal.

The next ten days are going to see a lot of cooking and baking, family visits and celebrations. But, if you have time, drop by over the weekend – I have three last minute shopper’s cookbook reviews for you, from Saturday through Monday. And a happy Chanukah to everyone who is in the midst of celebrating it.

Find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Orange & Olive Salad. Then, see how everyone fared with the Lamb & Dried Apricot Tagine.

Kevin’s Vegan Hash

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The Little Potato Company provided me with the potatoes used in this recipe. The recipe and all opinions expressed in the post are my own.

When I was given the opportunity to try The Little Potato Company’s creamer potatoes, I was happy to participate. The company started in Alberta, but now has farms across Canada and the US. They produce creamer potatoes exclusively, which are bred to stay small at maturity, with a thin, tender skin. I was also happy to learn their potatoes are non-GMO.

I spent the last few weeks boiling, baking, frying, and mashing the samples of the two varieties they sent me and I’ve been pleased with them in every application.

Last week, I shared a very meat-forward recipe using Blushing Belles. This week, I’ve got a vegan recipe for you, which uses their Yellow Fingerlings.

My partner, Kevin, wanted me to recreate the kind of breakfast that he’s had at the very few restaurants in town that serve gluten-free, vegan meals. I came up with this hash and he liked it so much, he let me name it after him.

Ingredients

Kevin’s Vegan Hash

Serves 2 generously as a main, 4 as a side

2-3 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 small bell peppers, cubed
6 button mushrooms, cubed
12 Little Potato Company Yellow Fingerlings Creamer Potatoes, cubed
175 g extra firm organic tofu, cubed
a pinch of cayenne pepper
2 sage leaves, crumbled (or ½ tsp dried sage)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary)
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ cup Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds
salt and pepper

In a large, non-stick skillet or cast iron pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and salt generously. Fry, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften and start to brown. Add the garlic and turn down the heat to low. Continue to cook until the garlic has softened and the onions are completely browned. Season with pepper (and more salt if needed). Scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Add a little more oil, if needed, then heat the pan to medium-low and add the peppers. Cook until the peppers are soft and a little browned, stirring occasionally, adding a pinch of cayenne pepper when they’re nearly done. Season with salt and pepper, scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Add a little more oil, if needed, then heat the pan to medium-low and add the mushrooms, stirring occasionally. When they begin to release moisture, stir in the sage. When the moisture is fully reabsorbed, season with salt and pepper, scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Add a tablespoon of oil, heat the pan to medium-low and add the potatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper, add the rosemary sprig (or stir in the dried rosemary). Cook, stirring occasionally, until a fork pierces the potato cubes easily. If the potatoes are not fully browned, raise the heat to medium and continue cooking until they are. Check to see if more salt and pepper is needed, discard the rosemary sprig if you used it, then scrape into a bowl and set aside.

Add a little more oil, if needed, then heat the pan to medium-low. Add the tofu and dust the cubes with the smoked paprika, frying until the cubes are cooked through and well browned. Season with salt and pepper, then add the rest of the ingredients back into the pan, stirring until everything is well mixed and heated through.

Take the pan off the heat and add the Daiya shreds, stirring until they are well distributed and melted.

Check for salt and pepper, then serve immediately.

You can visit The Little Potato Company’s website for more recipes.

Baking Chez Moi – The Rugelach That Won Over France

Rugelach

I’ve made rugelach before, over at The Family That Bakes Together with my nieces, so I was curious to see how this recipe compared to that one. Those rugelach were filled with rich apricot lekvar, lots of cinnamon sugar, and a mix of fruit and nuts. My nieces also inadvertently rolled them along the short end, creating pinwheels which were huge – and a huge hit with everyone that tasted them.

So, I was curious to try Dorie’s chocolate version. I used a semisweet chocolate that was a little darker than was called for and substituted dried cranberries for the cherries, but otherwise stuck to the recipe. The dough was surprisingly easy to work with for something that soft, though getting the rolls started needed a little gentle help from my bench scraper. I left three of the rolls in the freezer and sliced and baked the other.

The oven I used seems to run a touch hot, so the rugelach were a bit browner on the bottom than I’d like. Next time, I’ll turn down the heat a touch and perhaps take them out sooner, too.

I was a little disappointed with them when I first tasted them – they seemed a bit dry and the flavours didn’t meld very well. But, the next day the leftovers were terrific. The flavour of the cream cheese dough became more pronounced and the filling was moist and delicious.

I still love the version we made for Baking With Julia best, but I think I’d like to have rolls of both kinds of rugelach in the freezer, to serve together. I’ll just bake this version a day ahead.

A very happy Chanukah to everyone who observes it! I hope these eight days are filled with food, family, and friends.

You can find the rest of the Tuesdays with Dorie crew’s entries on this recipe here: The Rugelach That Won Over France.

Mme. Maman’s Chopped Liver – A French Fridays Catch Up

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Do you ever have one of those days? You know, the kind that finds you doing everything but the one thing you’d set as a goal?

Well, today was one of those days for me. I made succotash, and rugelach dough, a cranberry crackle tart and extra tart dough. But I didn’t manage to get the lamb stew that was today’s French Fridays assignment into the oven. The lamb languishes in the refrigerator, the apricots wait patiently on the counter. Tomorrow will be their day.

Today, I ate ribs coated with a sauce that my mother made up on the spot, which somehow paired perfectly with butternut squash roasted with cinnamon, nigella, pumpkin seeds, and cardamom. And I dug into this chopped liver, which is humble-looking, but delivers on flavour.

I think it’s the crispy onions and the quatre épices that really make this version of chopped liver special. The onions were almost crispy when they were done. I was worried they’d be too dry, but once mixed with the liver, hard-boiled egg, and some oil from the pan, and left to rest overnight, they melted into the mixture.

This was an unequivocal hit and will be showing up on my buffet table, humble-looking or not.

See how the Doristas fared with this recipe last year, when it came up on the rotation: Mme. Maman’s Chopped Liver. And here’s where you can find links to the rest of the French Fridays crew’s posts on this week’s recipe here: Lamb and Dried Apricot Tagine.

A List of Lists for the Booklover

Old family photo

I’m not much for gift guides. I’d rather visit the multitude of craft fairs and art sales that happen this month. Keeping it local, supporting crafters and artisans, finding unique and special gifts – all those good things.

What I do fall for, every time, are book lists. And the end of the year is full of them.

The Big Picture

The New York Times has released their list of 100 Notable Books of 2014. Not to be left out, the Globe & Mail released their own list of 100. NPR and the CBC put out shorter lists, while the Guardian asked notable writers for their picks instead.

Publisher’s Weekly breaks their list down into categories. I’ve linked to their non-fiction list, because it starts with one of the best books I read this year, but you can click through to their other lists at the top.

Around the World

The Telegraph’s picks for the best travel books of 2014. And the Detroit Free Press’ picks. Shutterstock has a list of their favourite travel photography books and Longitude Books promises titles that will entice you to explore regions around the world.

In the Kitchen

If you’re a little obsessed with cookbooks, like me, there’ are a number of “best cookbooks of all time” lists. Here are a few, from:

Out in the Garden

A British list from Gardens Illustrated. An American one from the American Horticultural Society. One for Canadians from The Star. And finally, another British one that asks whether the subject of gardening has anything more left to be said.

Those should keep you busy, if you weren’t busy enough at this time of year. No shame if you use these lists only when shopping for yourself. Well, not much shame.

Patate Alpino

Patate Alpino - roasted creamer potatoes with Italian cheeses and Bresaola

The Little Potato Company provided me with the potatoes used in this recipe. The recipe and all opinions expressed in the post are my own.

I don’t care who knows it. I love potatoes. Roasted, mashed, boiled, smashed, simmered, braised, caked, or scalloped – bring ‘em on. So, when I got the opportunity to play around with The Little Potato Company‘s creamer potatoes, I was right on board.

It’s been fun experimenting with these tiny, tender, flavourful potatoes. The recipe I’m sharing with you today was inspired by thoughts of Swiss raclette, but it’s got an Italian twist, since my neighbourhood is famous for its Italian delis and coffee shops.

When I was tracking down ingredients for a dish I made recently with my cooking group, I ended up with quite a lot of Bresaola. Since raclette is often served with air-dried beef and roasted potatoes, it seemed a natural fit for the little red Blushing Belle potatoes I’d been working with. In keeping with the Italian theme, I chose a mix of Asiago and Parmesan cheeses to complete the recipe.

Patate Alpino - roasted creamer potatoes with Italian cheeses and Bresaola

Patate Alpino

Serves 4 as a side; 2 as an appetizer or small plate

12 Little Potato Company Blushing Belle potatoes
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves, unpeeled
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

15 grams of grated Asiago cheese
15 grams of grated Parmesan cheese
10-15 grams (1-2 very thin slices) Bresaola, shredded

Centre a rack in your oven and preheat to 400°F.

Toss the potatoes, garlic, rosemary, and thyme in the oil and then add several grinds of pepper. Salt lightly, or not at all, as Bresaola is quite salty enough. Roast the potatoes for 30 minutes, stirring around the 20 minute mark.

While the potatoes are roasting, grate the cheeses and mix them together. Shred the Bresaola and reserve separately.

When the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, remove them from the oven and preheat the broiler to 500°F. Discard the rosemary and thyme and remove the garlic from the roasting pan.

You have two choices with the garlic. You can keep the cloves warm and serve them with the potatoes, or (my favourite) you can squeeze the cloves out of their skins immediately and spread them on toasted rounds of baguette. (If you have leftovers, add them to your next batch of mashed potatoes.)

Gently crush each potato with a potato masher, taking care to leave them reasonably intact, then give them another grind or two of pepper. Sprinkle each potato with the cheese mixture and then place the potatoes under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Carefully move the potatoes to a serving platter, using a metal offset spatula, then top each with a mound of shredded Bresaola.

Patate Alpino - roasted creamer potatoes with Italian cheeses and Bresaola

This dish can serve as a side, but I think it really shines as a snack. With a glass of Italian red wine or a Belgian-style beer, it’s a satisfying way to warm up on a cold winter’s day.

If you’d like to take these potatoes back to the other side of the Alps, substitute Gruyère or Emmental cheese, with viande des Grisons (or Bündnerfleisch) as a topping. In that case, you might want to reach for a French vintage.

I didn’t stop there with my recipe experimentation with my stock of little potatoes. Come back next Thursday and I’ll have one more recipe for you. In the meantime, you can visit The Little Potato Company’s website for more recipes.