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Baked Bean Muffins 1

Hey, hi! So I’m in the middle of the craziness that is the Calgary Stampede, and have 8 shows down on the grounds this week – partly because I’ve been asked to do cooking demos for Bush’s Beans, sponsors of the Kitchen Theatre for the past 5 years. As you know, I’m a bean enthusiast, and always happy for an excuse to cook with them – and this time, I challenged myself to come up with something unique using their small pull-tab cans of baked beans, which are being handed out at the kitchen and at pancake breakfasts across the city.

I do love baking with beans, and canned varieties make a particularly smooth puree, so I started experimenting with muffins and came up with these. I pureed the whole batter in the blender (or food processor), so you only have to clean one “bowl”, and can pour the batter right into your muffin cups. And because the beans themselves have some fibre and starchy structure, you can get away with only using them and oats – there’s no flour in these. And yet they have a surprisingly light texture – they aren’t gummy at all, but slightly grainy, not enough to be heavy. W has been asking for them every day, surprisingly. If he only knew they were made with beans and oats…

Baked Bean Muffins 2
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Manti 3

About a dozen years ago, the Elbasi family immigrated to Canada from Turkey, opening one of the best eateries in town – Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in the Crossroads Market. They now have a bricks-and-mortar location downtown, and at their farmers’ market location they have the only phyllo sheeting machine in Canada. But more importantly, they’re a lovely family, cook wonderful food, and when I was researching different varieties of dumplings for CBC, walked me through how to make tiny manti – Turkish dumplings filled with lamb or beef, encased in a soft dough and drizzled with melted butter.

Manti 2

On the day I was pestering them with questions, they happened to be making some for that evening’s iftar. They said tomatoes were typical, and when I came across some browned butter tomatoes, I couldn’t not make them.

Manti 1
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Watermelon mojitos

Those little watermelons you see everywhere in grocery stores this time of year? Turns out they make the perfect vehicle for fancy patio drinks for one. I watched Alton Brown juice a whole watermelon with a hand-held immersion blender, and the next time I saw a stack of mini watermelons I envisioned a coconut or pineapple-style cocktail, only it’s far easier to access the innards of a watermelon, and being 94% water, it blitzes up into juice in a few minutes.

So we gave it a try at Camp Hoo-ha this weekend, and it worked beautifully – we made watermelon-mint mojitos with rum and fresh mint, although you could do margaritas or really any other cocktail you can dream up. I made them again in a segment on BT Calgary on Monday, along with a snacky kind of patio nibble made up of cubed watermelon, olives and feta in a smear of garlicky yogurt.

Watermelon patio nibbles
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Eggcentric TV Crepes 2

Crêpes are, truly, one of my favourite things to eat – and to me they taste like summer, perhaps because we always make them on mornings when everyone is around and on holiday, or perhaps because they’re best with berries and other seasonal fruit. (Honestly, my favourite way to eat a crêpe is still to spread it with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, add a squeeze of lemon if there’s one around, roll it up and eat it standing at the stove while I make more crêpes.)

This year I’m doing a series with the Egg Farmers of Canada, making video tutorials that suit the seasons, and this is what I chose for the summer. Crêpes are a fun thing to get the kids into making too – once you have the method down pat, it’s a skill you’ll keep forever. And you make plenty of friends and admirers when you know how to make a batch of crêpes.
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Homemade Naan
At my dad’s birthday last year, we made an entire menu of Indian curries – his favourite. But when I volunteered to make the naan, my mom insisted on ordering some to pick up from a local restaurant. It’s ok, I told her – I can make pretty good naan from scratch! But she insisted, and someone wound up stuck in traffic driving to and from the restaurant, and we wound up with cold, no longer fresh from the oven naan with which to scoop up our curries.

Naan dough 2Naan dough 1

A few months later she was over when I had a stack of naan on the kitchen counter. She tore into a piece and asked where I got it. “You made this?!” she asked, incredulous. We really could have had some of yours!

Of course there’s no beating a batch of naan that has just been cooked in a tandoor oven, which is tall and cylindrical and reaches temperatures of about 800F, much like a pizza oven. But you can make a decent batch of naan in a cast iron skillet, which withstands high temperatures and distributes it evenly. You could even bring a batch of dough and a skillet camping, and cook it directly over the campfire for a little added smokiness. I’ll never get tired of the way the dough bubbles dramatically in the hot skillet.
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Cha ca la vong

Have you been watching Jinhee on Top Chef Canada? She’s killing it. She always does.

I met Jinhee years ago, when she was cooking over at Raw Bar, and everything she made was magic. She’s brilliant and humble and generous and kind, and I love that she secretly switched from accounting to cooking but didn’t tell her mom (back home in Korea) until she made it to the helm in one of the best kitchens in Calgary.

While they were building Foreign Concept, she won the Gold Medal Plates semi-finals (which she went on to win, by the way), by cooking out of her apartment kitchen. (The restaurant was still under construction.) She has brought home the gold two years in a row, and silver the year before.

Jinhee & Cha ca la vong

Traveling through Vietnam last year, she fell in love with this Hanoi street dish – Cha Cá Lã Vong – cooked in a well used tin skillet over a small burner. It’s the only thing this particular restaurant made, and it blew her away. So she came back to Calgary and made it her own way – using local rainbow trout. Traditionally it’s made with whitefish, so really – whatever you come across that looks fresh and good. Anything goes.

Cha ca la vong 2
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Pasta e ceci 1

We all need emergency meals some days. I’ve been eyeing this – a soupy sort of one pot pasta that’s a staple in Rome, and the sort of humble home-cooked meal that intrigues me most about visiting such a place. (Although yes, I would also make the trip just for the pizza.) As with most staples of this kind, there are as many variations as there are people who make it. This particular version is cooked quickly on the stovetop, pasta and all, which allows the starch from the pasta to thicken the sauce. It works-truly. I brought it in to CBC this morning as an example of the sort of last-minute I-don’t-know-what’s-for-dinner emergency meal you can rummage through your pantry for and eat in 20 minutes rather than give in to take out.

Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas)
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Gouda Gougeres

Hey, who loves cheese puffs?

I’ve partnered up again with the Egg Farmers of Canada to make a video tutorial on how to make cheesy, eggy gougères for their EggcentricTV app, as part of their new spring recipe collection. Gougères are light, airy puffs traditionally made with gruyère, but I find aged Gouda a pretty amazing alternate.

Gouda Gougeres

Gougères are fantastic for spring get-togethers – they’re great for nibbling any time of the year, particularly when there’s wine involved, but seem particularly well-suited to spring gatherings, and just as fitting for brunch as cocktails on the patio, if you’re lucky enough to be rid of the snow. If not, mix up a batch of these, open a bottle of wine and hunker down.
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Cinnamon babka 9

This! Is what Easter weekend is all about. Sweet breakfast breads (waffles! crêpes! cinnamon buns! babka!) and trying to outsmart the nephews (who are smaller, bendier and wilier than I) for Mini Eggs. I gave cinnamon babka a go early – I’ve wanted to try it for awhile, and figured chocolate babka on top of the Easter hunt may be a bit over the top. Truth: cinnamon is not a lesser babka.

Cinnamon Babka 14

Also! I had a jar of Rosen’s Cinnamon Bun Spread on my shelf, and it suddenly seemed as if it was made for babka. It was – if you can get your hands on a jar, a small one was perfect for two babkas, and I warmed it for no more than 10 seconds in the microwave first just to give it added spreadability. Otherwise, mix brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, and a bit of honey or maple syrup for added stickiness.

Cinnamon Babka 13

Really, I just wanted to make another babka so I could take pictures of it. They’re so ridiculously satisfying to make – all the twistiness makes it look finicky, but it’s really not – it’s forgiving, and once you cut and twist and tuck the dough into the pan, no matter how wonky it is, it will look fabulous coming out of the oven. Which is what I love about the chemistry of baking.
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