Olive Oil Cornbread

Cornbread

I made cornbread to go with chili for last Sunday’s dinner (chili is possibly my husband’s favourite thing to eat, ever) and the next day, after packing some of the leftovers for my husband’s lunch and slathering a piece with almond butter and jam for my daughter’s breakfast, this little foil-wrapped square was all that was left for my lunch. It was not enough; I remember wanting more.

Butter fans, turn away now because the following news will probably alienate you: in making this cornbread, I eschewed butter and made it with my favourite fat to cook and bake with, extra virgin olive oil. Using olive oil infuses the cornbread with a rich flavour that complements the sweetness of cornmeal. If you like the flavour that extra virgin olive oil brings to baked goods, then you will like this twist to cornbread. The next time you bake a batch using your favourite recipe, simply replace the melted butter with olive oil and transform your cornbread into an elegant version of its former self.

When I see cornbread recipes that call for a whole stick of melted butter, I just don’t get it. Cornbread doesn’t need a bucket of fat to make it taste good. I’ve tasted great cornbread made with just a few tablespoonfuls of fat and now I can’t bring myself to pour in a stick of melted butter when I make it at home.

The key to good cornbread is to ensure it is moist and not dry and crumbly; and the key to moist cornbread, I find, is buttermilk. Oh, and don’t ever ever EVER! over bake it. I always start testing for doneness at least five minutes before the stipulated time.

These are the cornbread recipes on my tried and true list that I rotate depending on what I feel like having on the day of baking: Jalapeno Cornbread (via Epicurious), Cathy Justice’s Best of Show Blue Ribbon Cornbread (via Dorie Greenspan’s website), and Dorie Greenspan’s Corniest Corn Muffins (baked in a square dish with half the stated amount of sugar).

We love cornbread around here. I should probably bake it more often; it’s so quick and easy to whip up and makes for a perfect side to stews and soups. And it is such a treat to be able to have leftovers for breakfast. With the exception of  a dry overbaked one, there can be no bad cornbread in my book.

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Winter Chopped Salad

Winter chopped salad

I have been making the exact combination of this salad for at least four times in two weeks and our love for it is still going strong. The contrast of textures and colours make this a beautiful and delicious salad to add to our winter dinner table.

To make it interesting, there is a whole lot that goes into this salad: lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, radishes, green apple, toasted walnut halves and a handful of raisins. I select vegetables that give my salad maximum crisp and crunch. After everything is chopped into bite-sized pieces, they go into the largest bowl I own and get tossed with a dijon maple vinaigrette that I make to taste – I tend to like my vinaigrette on the sweeter and sharper side so I go heavy on the mustard and maple syrup.

The vegetables that I use in this salad are nothing extraordinary, especially in winter when they are not grown locally in season. But what makes this salad so good is the addition of green apple, walnuts and raisins. These three ingredients partner well together in so many things – pies, cakes, crumbles, oatmeal – and I was inspired to add them to my salad. Nutty, fresh, sharp and sweet, the flavour combination elevates out of season lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes.

We like to eat this hearty salad with thick slices of rustic bread and a steaming hot bowl of lentil soup. It makes for a light yet filling meal that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve over-eaten.

Claudia Roden’s Kisir

I am a huge fan of Claudia Roden’s books. The Book of Jewish Cooking is one that is highly treasured in my miniature cookbook library. It is one of my first cookbooks and remains to this day a book that I turn to not just for recipes on Jewish cooking but more importantly, an education on all culinary aspects of Jewish culture. In fact, there are many interesting facts inside that even my Jewish husband is unaware of and I like surprising him with little tidbits now and then.

Because of how well written and thoroughly researched I found her book, I added The New Book of Middle Eastern Food to my collection without hesitation. I now depend heavily on these two cookbooks to inject a middle eastern flair to my family dinners. How awesome is that, being able to take your kids on a culinary journey right in your own kitchen?

The latest dish I tried from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food is Kisir. It is a Turkish salad that is reminiscent of the ever popular tabbouleh. In fact, save for the ratios, the ingredients, and taste, are chiefly the same. I am not going to publish the recipe here but if you wish to give it a go, use your favourite tabbouleh recipe with bulked up amounts of bulgur and tomato – I would venture about at least three times more. It is the amped up bulgur that sets this apart from tabbouleh, making this an astringent grain salad that can be a refreshing side yet at the same time is filling enough to be a standalone as a light dinner main.

It’s no direct magic carpet ride to Istanbul for sure, but I like pushing the limits of my kids’ taste buds and expose them to cuisines of different cultures. Our mealtimes become more interesting just like that.

Roasted Cauliflower Pita

Sometimes, I wish I can just dive into my collection of cookbooks, pick a random recipe and cook from it for dinner. Sometimes, I wish my kids will happily accept without complaints a dinner that is not primarily made up of pasta or rice. Sometimes, I wish my dinners comprise more of an element of spontaneity than reassuring comfort. Sometimes, I wish pasta and rice  are not so darn fast and easy to cook. Sometimes, I wish I can just STOP BUYING PASTA.

Well, inspired by the lack of inspiration that comes over me when it comes to cooking for my kids, this is a dinner I wish I made more often.

Of all the cauliflower dinners I have blogged about, this one has got to be my favourite. It is a pita slathered with tahini sauce, stuffed with roasted cauliflower and slices of fried thinly sliced zucchini and generously drizzled with a spicy chili oil. Biting into it brought back memories of my pregnant self and my husband sitting in our car after our evening prenatal class, chomping down on a falafel and roasted cauliflower and eggplant pita that we bought from our favourite shwarma haunt. Those were the pre-kids days that seem like fifty hundred years ago instead of a mere five.

This pita is labour intensive in that there are many elements that have to be prepared separately, but each step is really not any hardship at all. I started off by making a sauce of tahini, grated garlic and lemon juice, thinning it out with water to a pouring cream consistency, and keeping the sauce in the fridge while I prepared the vegetables.

To get that intense yellow colour for the roasted cauliflower, I used turmeric. It’s my secret ingredient that made the cauliflower florets so beautiful when all I did was to toss chopped up florets with salt, olive oil, a teaspoon of turmeric and a couple of minced garlic cloves. When I’m lazy to start mincing garlic, I slice up a small onion and use that instead. Is slicing an onion even a lazy man’s alternative to mincing garlic? For me, indeed, as I don’t like peeling garlic.

For the fried zucchini, because I am a coward when it comes to using oil for frying, it turned out to be more of sauteed zucchini. You can see the slices are not even remotely a shade of golden, crunchy brown had they been deep or shallow fried. But they remained juicy and succulent and we loved it and that is all that matters, really!

Garlicky Anchovy Fried Rice

We love the vegetable fried rice we get from Chinese restaurants and try as we may, we can never seem to replicate the taste at home. Undoubtedly, the grease and the aggressive seasoning have a major role in making it so good. In any case, I oomph up my vegetable fried rice at home by adding a tin of anchovies and copious amounts of minced garlic. Not quite the same seasoning as that from Chinese restaurants, but the big flavours are there.

While I’m at it, I also like to oomph up on the amount of vegetables (the more the merrier!) and cut back on the oil, soy sauce, salt and sugar. Okay, so I get why I can never produce the same kind of fried rice at home. But I feel better eating my home cooked version.

And see the grated carrots in there? It’s my new way of getting my daughter to eat carrots! I used to add diced carrots to fried rice and soups and she will diligently pick out every. single. cube. It truly drove me nuts. Then I introduced carrot in another form – grated – and she ate it all. It is another one of those inexplicable behaviours of early childhood that leaves me baffled yet thankful at the same time. Grated carrots are better suited for my 17-month old son too – they are easier for his toothless gums to digest. So, grated carrots are extra effort but they are worth it. As long as I don’t end up grating my knuckle.

Cooked Lettuce

More often than not, I would rather choose to make a green salad of boston, radicchio and romaine leaves doused with a simple shallot vinaigrette for our dinner, but my carbohydrate-loving kids do not share my enthusiasm. Fortunately, I discovered lettuces are just as good cooked as they are raw. After seeing rows upon rows of assorted lettuces at the farmers’ market a few weeks ago, I was inspired to cook up this pasta dish. And I picked up two large heads of lettuces – one green and the other red – to start with.

I shredded them thinly and cooked them lightly in a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic, red chili pepper flakes (add as much as you can tolerate!) and white wine. When the lettuce shreds began to wilt, I threw in a cup of frozen peas and sautéed all the vegetables until they are just cooked through; it took just a few minutes. I tossed cooked fettucine into the lettuce mix to appease the kids (who are complete pasta addicts) and called it dinner.

In a way, this resembles Petits Pois a la Francais, except that my version is heavy on the lettuce instead of peas. And of course, a pan of cooked lettuce is entirely different from a salad of crisp lettuce leaves. But I like introducing lettuce in a familiar form to my kids in the hope that one day, they will allow me the luxury of making a crisp crunchy salad topped with grilled salmon and call it dinner. Mmm, I’m dreaming already.

Zucchini Brown Rice Burgers

This is the third burger I’ve featured on my blog this summer. I’m really happy with this one because it is the first veggie burger I’ve ever made and I loved it.

The recipe is from Food 52 and although it is long and by virtue of that, might come across as pretty daunting at first glance (for me at least when I first scrolled through it), making the burgers wasn’t that hard when I actually got down to it.

And if you are new to making veggie burgers from scratch, I highly recommend reading the article that comes along with the recipe; it gives a succinct lowdown on the ingredients a good veggie burger should be made from. Hence armed with a formula to craft your own veggie burgers at home, you can proceed to launch a hundred different versions to suit your tastes and fancy. And that was what I did.

For my veggie burger, I replaced quinoa with cooked brown rice as I already had a container full of it in my fridge. Flavour wise, I went Middle Eastern style and spiced up my burgers with dried coriander, cumin and paprika. As I was rather heavy-handed when pulsing the ingredients in my food processor, my patties turned out a little mushy. To salvage my burger, I layered on sliced cucumbers and firm ripe tomatoes to provide a textural contrast.

This was really delicious. And whenever something as healthy as this tastes so good, I feel really smug serving it to my family.