My comforting banana bread

It is madly snowing in Vancouver today. It is unusual that it snows in the city, only the mountains receive favourable dumps at this time of year. It has not stopped all night and all morning and I guess my son and I will be layering up to enjoy some snow fun making snowballs and snow angels later this afternoon. Right now I am craving comfort, snuggling up on the sofa with a warm slice of banana bread and a cup of tea while I watch the beautiful snowflakes fall.

Snow day in Vancouver Dec '12

My favourite banana bread is one that has a generous quantity of banana in it, soft without crumbling (but not wet), and a nice crust on the outside. There are literally hundred’s of banana recipes out there, and there is always an ingredient or two I don’t like in each recipe so I’ve created by own. When the cold is just too much you can give it a summery feel with coconut and berries.

It was a baking morning today. As much as it is beautiful to look out at all the snow-capped rooftops and trees, it is not at all inviting to step outside and my son was starting to get restless for some activity so he helped me. He had lots of measuring to do with all the dry ingredients and mixing all the wet ones in the well. This kept him happily busy for about half an hour, which is fabulous when you are a parent running out of things to do indoors… however as a precaution you need to know there will be lots of mess!

Mess in the kitchen

photomess

He was particularly delighted to see the final product and give it the first taste test.

Banana Bread (Serves 10)

Ingredients 

oil or butter, to grease and non-stick baking paper

1 1/3 (200g) cups plain flour

1 cup (150g) wholewheat flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup (75g) caster sugar/berry sugar

1/3 cup (75g) brown sugar

1/4 cup (20g) shredded coconut

1 tsp cinnamon

3 eggs lightly whisked

3 large ripe mashed bananas

2/3 cup (160ml) organic virgin coconut oil (melted on low heat)

1.5 tsp of vanilla extract

1/3 cup (75gm) raspberries (frozen and broken up a little so not whole)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 300 F or 150 C. Grease a 7cm-deep 100mm x 200mm (base measurement) loaf pan with oil or melted butter. Line the base and sides with non-stick baking paper.

2. Sift the combined flours and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, coconut and cinnamon and mix through so ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Make a well in the centre. Add the eggs, banana, oil and vanilla and again mix well. Fold through the frozen raspberries.

4. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface. Bake for 1 hour and increase temperature to 355 F / 180 C for a further 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.  Set aside in the pan for 15 minutes to cool before lifting out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: It is quite a dense mixture so I like to bake it slower and longer to deliver a great result. 

Other combinations I have tried are gluten-free four, banana, blackberries and chocolate and also banana, raspberries and date. They all seem to taste good to me.

Enjoy!

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Wining and Dining in the Okanagan Valley

Ok… over to my again husband to recount our recent trip.

This trip to the spiritual home of BC wines was highly anticipated on many fronts. Firstly we relished the opportunity to learn more about the wines we were savouring in Vancouver, secondly we hoped to discover a few more fine examples of Okanagan golden goodness and lastly we longed for a good

Oliver Road 18

The vista from Road 18 vineyard in Oliver

old fashion road trip. I think Canadians and Aussies definitely share a common enthusiasm for long, meandering drives to wonderful destinations. Our countries are decorated with natural beauty but in both cases it can take a mighty long time to get there. You can lament this situation or just strap yourself into a trusty vehicle, turn up the stereo and enjoy the ride. Equally, what better way to see a new country than from the vantage of a road trip and what better time of the year to do it in, than Fall.

The Okanagan Wine Country is about 5-6 hours north east of Vancouver and the Zielinski’s opted for a timeless classic in the form of a Volkswagen Westfalia. This van rolled off the production line in 1986, so it was a vintage VW but had been lovingly maintained all those years so was still highly reliable (we hoped…)  It came with it’s own fridge, cooktop, double bed and a top speed, on the downhill, of 110km/h. Having this chariot chug us down the highway added a deft touch of romanticism to our trip.

Our steed, the Westfalia

The 26 year old Volkswagen Westfalia, sure wasn’t the fastest way to get somewhere but definitely the most fun

Naramata DSC_1174

This is the heart of some of the best vineyards to visit

The drive up was beautiful and even swept us pass Hope, BC the setting for the legendary Sylvester Stallone film “Rambo, First Blood”. We took a pre-planned pit stop at a roadside fruit and veg store to feed one of our touring party’s growing  addiction for pumpkin and gourds. These were critical components to the upcoming Halloween festival. We spied a slinking wolf on the way up and arrived in Naramata in the early evening.

 

Here we met the lovely and gregarious Renee who ran a delightfully unique B&B – Robinson Bed and Beach. Her links to the area were indisputable as her grandfather was one of the first to settle in the area and built the Heritage Inn. The B&B had a moose head proudly on display that apparently fed Renee’s relatives for two years during one particular lean period. It’s difficult to describe the B&B in words other than to say eclectic would be high on the list. It was perfectly placed on the shores of Lake Skaha, so the sunrises were breathtaking. The view was enhanced further by the jumping into the outdoor Jacuzzi with a coffee or wine depending on the time of day.

Now, back to the main purpose of our trip – wine tasting. Obviously everyone was looking forward to this, especially our hosts who were itching to introduce us to some fine wineries. The only tragedy we struck was my wife learning 3 days before we left that she was 5 weeks pregnant with our second child. Devastation at not wanting to drink wine due to the incessant nausea countered by joy of knowing we were growing a second child would describe her mental state. So I took it graciously upon myself to taste and drink for the two of us. Almost all of us thought this was very selfless of me.

All 3 days of our Okanagan visit involved a very similar routine. We set out mid morning after a quick Jacuzzi by the Lake, carefully keeping an eye out for the legendary Okopogo.

Lake DSC_1190

Never tire of this view of Lake Skaha from our B&B

We would then hit a few wineries before lunch and before our kids self destructed. Then we would visit a few more vineyards in the afternoon (mainly G and I) whilst the ladies would corral the kids back to the B&B for some entertainment. Perhaps the greatest challenge during the weekend was entertaining the 3 kids whilst we tasted.  My memory of all the wines we tasted and vineyards we visited is limited but my general impressions were that the region is truly breathtaking. It rivals and tops many of the wine areas I have been lucky to visit so far. I would rank it above the Hunter Valley, Clare Valley, Napa and it would be on par with the Dordogne, France. Whilst in terms of its wines this region is an infant in comparison since most vineyards are 20 years or less old.

The Okanagan

Quite simply … Okanagan Gold

There were definitely many standouts however, they are probably a little over priced and I was a little frustrated by the tasting fees which appeared almost mandatory at every place, even the small vineyards. I know this is standard practice in the States but it doesn’t sit very well with me as tasting the product is part of doing business. Anyhow this aspect didn’t detract greatly from our experience. We even visited a wonderful cheese farm, a vineyard, Elephant Island, that made wines from plums, raspberries, blackberries, apples and peaches. This probably harks from the time that the Okanagan was overrun with plenty of orchards. Some 15 years ago there was a shift from orchards to vineyards as everyone eyed the potential for more money from selling bottles of wines rather than boxes of apples. I am sure glad they did as the region is spectacular.

OK, so what wines stood out I hear you plead. Definite highlights included the Burrowing Owl in Oliver, Quail’s Gate in Kelowna and in Narramatta I loved La Frenz, Red Rooster, Wan Westen and Poplar Grove. The most epic and Napa like vineyard was undoubtedly Mission Hill in Kelowna. This is a monument to largeness. Epic! Mammoth! Gargantuan! All these descriptors aptly provide a snapshot to this place.

Mission Hill1DSC_1284

Understated? The entry into Mission Hill

It is framed with massive marble and stone arches, roman-like pillars and amphitheatres which funnily enough provided the kids with so much fun as they rolled down them a million times. This was where our trip concluded. We sadly filed back into the Westfalia and braced ourselves for the long car trip home. We three were happier for the amazing landscapes, food, wine and friends we enjoyed for Thanksgiving 2012.

Thanksgiving Colour

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

Good Places To Eat

1. The Bench Market – known for their delectable Eggs Bennie

2. The Patio @ Lake Breeze Winery – relaxed atmosphere couple with a great food and a spectacular view

3. Burrowing Owl – For a beautiful dining experience where the matching wines are as great as the dishes

Thai-style pumpkin soup with cilantro/coriander pesto

Halloween is approaching, and we Aussies are newcomers to the traditions and parties that take place here in Vancouver on October 31. We just don’t celebrate it in a big way like it is in Canada and the US so it’s sure to be an eye opener.  The stores are in preparation stocking the shelves with decorative ornaments, costumes and loads and loads of candy! What I’ve never seen back home is all of these treats are manufactured and packaged into  a special Halloween size (mini snack size)…it’s full-on, seriously on another level!

Supermarkets are exploding with pumpkins, everywhere you turn there are bulbous orange objects of all shapes and sizes staring at you in the face.

I look forward to dressing up, I look forward to seeing my son ‘trick or treat’ and most of all participating in making or baking some Halloween goodies.

But one thing I do have experience with is eating pumpkin. I am used to cooking it in roast dinners; ‘Roast lamb with pumpkin and potato with gravy’ is a Sunday favourite back home and in wintertime many weeks may include pumpkin in risotto, soups, curries and stir-fries. Perhaps one of the most popular dishes that presents pumpkin a good light in the  fall here in Canada is pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving which I haven’t mastered yet!

It’s loaded with anti-oxidants; vitamins A, C and E as well as B complex group vitamins. What’s more is that the seeds which you can roast are an excellent source of fibre and minerals like iron, selenium and zinc. It’s a fairly sustainable food too with the flesh, seeds and sometimes skin all being used and eaten in recipes.

So for now, here is a warming recipe which was published in the July, 2005 issue of delicious. magazine (Aust. edition) adapted ever so slightly to my taste.

Thai-style pumpkin soup with coriander pesto

Ingredients

2 bunches of cilantro/coriander, roots trimmed (a few leaves reserved for garnish)

1/4 cup of walnuts

Zest and juice of one lemon

2 garlic cloves

1/3 cup (80ml) olive oil

1 onion chopped

2 teaspoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon cumin

1 Tablespoon Thai red curry paste

1 kg of butternut pumpkin (is best otherwise standard pumpkin), peeled and cut into small cubes

2 cups of vegetable stock (500 ml) vegetable stock

400 ml canned light coconut milk

Optional: Thinly sliced red onion and red chilli, to garnish.

Note: I used ground baked pumpkin seeds prepared while soup was cooking.

Method

1. To make the coriander pesto, process coriander, lemon zest, lemon juice and garlic in food processor. Slowly add 3 tablespoons of the oil to give a sauce consistency adding a little warm water if necessary. Add walnuts and process again and then season.

2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add onion and cumin stirring for 1 minute. Add ginger and red curry paste and stir for one minute. Add pumpkin and stock, bring to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes until pumpkin is cooked. Cool slightly and then blend until smooth.  Return to the pan, add the coconut milk and season and warm through.

3. To serve, place in soup bowls and swirl in a spoonful of pesto. Garnish with the ground roasted pumpkin seeds, reserved cilantro/coriander leaves and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil.

Note: For a party, and a bit of a retro look you could serve soup in the pumpkin as shown.

Enjoy!

Special Coq au vin

Today is my anniversary and we love to celebrate over a special dinner at a restaurant. My husband suggested French and I suggested (or strongly persuaded), Japanese.

Therefore, a new Japanese restaurant that opened recently in the hip area of Yaletown became the winning choice. I did however want to make my husband a french dish which he loves; Coq au vin…so both of us would be truly happy on our anniversary weekend.

Coq au vin, (in French translates to “rooster with wine”) is as rustic as it gets. There are many variations of the recipe since it was documented in the early 20th century. Obviously, the most important ingredients are the ‘Capon’ (rooster meat) or chicken and the wine. You can use red or white wine, I chose red!

It is always essential to use top quality produce and for this dish I bought a local BC organic farm chicken and a beautiful red wine from the Okanagan valley, BC.

What’s special about this Coq au vin you may ask? Well, it’s made with love of course…and the aromatics of the dish are so seductive and ambrosial.

So here it is, the recipe I prefer to cook. It also freezes especially well too.

Coq au vin with buttery mash (Serves 4)

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons plain flour

10 chicken drumsticks (free-range organic)

4 Tablespoons olive oil

6 naturally smoked middle rindless bacon rashers (as much fat removed off side and ends as possible), cut into 4cm pieces.

10 eschalots (pearl onions), peeled

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 1/4 cups of red wine (I used an Okanagan Cabernet Sauvignon)

1 3/4 cups chicken stock

8 sprigs fresh thyme and more for garnish

3 dried bay leaves

500g button mushrooms

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup brandy

Buttery mash

2kg brushed potatoes, peeled and quartered to the same size

50gm butter

4 Tablespoons extra virgin cold pressed olive oil

Salt to season

1/4 – 1/2 cup of milk if you like a more creamy texture

Method

1) Place the flour in a plastic bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and shake until lightly coated.

2) Heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep heavy pot over a medium heat. In batches cook the chicken, turning for five minutes or until a golden brown colour. Transfer to a plate.

3) Add the eschalots, bacon and garlic to the pot and cook, tossing, for five minutes or so until the eschalots are a golden colour. Add the wine, stock, thyme and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Add the chicken and reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered for 35 minutes or until tender.

4) Transfer chicken to a plate. Add mushrooms and tomato paste to the remaining stock mixture. Increase the heat to a medium-high and simmer uncovered, for 15 minutes or until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper and add brandy. Return chicken to the pan and stir to combine on a low heat for five to ten minutes.

5) Meanwhile, to make the mash, add potato to cold water in a saucepan and bring to boil cooking for approximately 25 minutes or until tender. Drain. Add the butter to the pan and return the potatoes to the pan and use a potato masher until smooth. Add the oil and milk while mashing and season with salt and pepper.

6) Arrange coq au vin on plate with mash and some extra thyme to serve. Voila!

Special Coq au vin – http://www.greenskis.wordpress.com

and Enjoy!

Sugo – simple tomato pasta sauce

A few things I will never forget after spending a reasonable amount of time in Italy, ‘with Italians’ in a past life are the foundations of a good pasta ‘sauce'(or sugo in Italian). What I learnt was mostly from watching, given my degree of language skill was only basic.

The formula for an excellent sauce?

> Always shop for the locally sourced produce or grow your own (especially tomatoes)! One of the first memorable food markets I was introduced to in Rome many years ago was ‘Campo de’ Fiori’; literally meaning ‘Field of Flowers’ has historically been one of the longest running fresh vegetable and fish markets since 1869.

> A good Italian sauce is simplistic not complicated, always using few ingredients to enhance the flavours in each dish. Have you ever seen an Italian eating a pizza that resembles a cake? No, of course not…they enjoy a pizza with a few ingredients without dominating the base for example; tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil and its fabulous!

This authentic pasta sauce is as simple as it gets and it will be hard not to inhale it once ready! I have included a suggestion for children to make it more fun. The name ‘bird’s nest’ has been adopted from a friend who makes this for her children sometimes and I am doing the same for them tomorrow when they all come over for lunch. Please see bottom for guide on putting bird’s nests together. It freezes well too if you want to make the most of all the tomatoes out there right now.

Italians are quite finicky about pairing their sauce with the perfect pasta so to speak…but hey, I’m not Italian so I will break the rules occasionally to suit my family’s tastes.

Generally the rule of thumb is to match a heavy, chunky sauce with a short or chunky pasta like penne, rigatoni, fusilli or even gnocchi and with light, thin sauces, complement by using the longer clingy pastas like linguine, spaghetti, fettuccine etc.

Simple tomato pasta sauce with linguine

Ingredients

1.5kg or 3.5 pounds of very ripe tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced garlic (I love a little more, so I used 1.5 teaspoons)

1.5 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves

1 Tablespoon olive oil for cooking

1 Tablespoon olive oil extra virgin cold pressed for drizzling at end

Handful of fresh basil leaves

Fresh linguine pasta

Method

1. Score a cross with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Prepare a pot of boiling water and also chilled/iced water. Place each tomato into the pot of boiling water for a minute, and remove placing them into the iced water immediately. Once they have cooled a little, peel the skin off the tomatoes which should be easy. If they are not, you may need to pop them into the boiling water for a minute longer.

2. Quarter or halve the tomatoes; depending on whether you have bought a round or Roma variety and remove seeds with hands over a sieve and bowl so you are not losing any juice. Push as much juice from the pulp and seeds through the sieve as possible and set aside. Chop half the quantity of tomatoes up finely. Place the other half in a food processor with the oregano.

3. Using a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil over a medium heat. Add garlic to pot. It will only need a minute or two; do not brown or burn. Add tomatoes, salt and boil for 5-10 minutes. Simmer for 45 minutes or a bit longer until it reaches the desired consistency you like.

4. Prepare fresh linguine which should only take three minutes to cook in boiling water. Drain and arrange in dishes. Spoon in the ‘sugo’ with a few torn basil leaves on top, drizzle the extra virgin cold pressed olive oil and enjoy!

Sugo

Tomato pasta sauce

Additions:- If you would like a more intense flavour, a little pecorino cheese grated on top is delicious. If you love the basil flavour, process some basil leaves, parsley and extra virgin cold pressed olive oil together and drizzle on top.

Note: For bird’s nests, twirl and arrange the linguine in a nest like shape. Spoon some hot sauce into the nest and place some baby bocconcini balls on top. That way they will melt a little on the sauce and still resemble white eggs in a nest!

Children's bird's nest pasta

Children’s bird’s nest pasta

Summer berry bakewell cake

I have never been in berry heaven as I am here in Vancouver. Of course, we have berries available in Australia, but they barely stand up to the sweet juicy flavour and large size that we are enjoying here. The price of berries back home are also double or even triple what they cost here too which is a real eye opener.

I would almost ration them out at home on our breakfast cereal or as a snack and fresh raspberries were certainly a big treat for special occasions as they were at the top of the list for most expensive.

Here in our fridge right now there are abundant bowls of blueberries, raspberries filling our shelves and I faced with the tough decision of whether to bake, create or freeze? When a couple of kilograms of berries cost $10, we just can’t eat them fast enough!

I have been busy in the kitchen trying out recipes that have been inspired from some classics. The first I have baked is a British favourite with not much too it but berries, almonds, eggs, flour and sugar. I have adapted the recipe slightly from a BBC Food recipe I found for a Raspberry bakewell cake.

Any berries would work, Taeberries, blackberries, mulberries etc. If you like more of a moist gooey type cake, then the time specified in the method will achieve this result. If you like your cake a little more fluffy and light, then you need to bake at a slightly higher temperature at the beginning for 15 minutes (approx 200 C / 400 F) and substitute 50gm almond meal for 50gm more self raising flour.

You can easily replace the butter with coconut oil and flour with an alternative like a gluten-free flour for specific dietary options.

Berry bakewell cake

Ingredients

100gm ground almonds/almond meal

140gm butter, softened

140gm caster sugar / berry sugar

180gm self-raising flour

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

250gm raspberries and blueberries (can use fresh or frozen)

2 Tablespoons flaked almonds

AS AN ALTERNATIVE DECORATION TO SPRINKLING FLAKED ALMONDS ON TOP…

Amaretto icing

140gm icing sugar

1 Tablespoon Amaretto

2-3 Tablespoons water

Roasted coconut flakes

Method

1. Heat oven to 180C / 355F and grease and line a deep 20cm loose bottomed cake tin.

2. In a food processor, add the ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, eggs and vanilla extract until well combined.

3. Spread half the mix over the cake tin and smooth over the top with a spatula or your fingers. Scatter the blueberries and raspberries over, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread till covered.

4. Either scatter with almonds and bake for 55 minutes until golden. Cool for 30 mins in the tin and then remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar.

OR

5. Bake first for 50mins to an hour and follow icing directions below…

Amaretto icing

1. Mix the two tablespoons of water and Amaretto with the icing sugar until combined. Keep adding water until the icing is thick but not too runny. Drizzle over the top of the cake and scatter roasted coconut flakes over the top.

It’s lovely served with vanilla ice-cream or coconut sorbet. Enjoy!

Ten terrific things with tomatoes…

I must admit that I have not been in the kitchen at all much since on holidays, understandable yes, but on returning home after a few weeks break I have fallen a little out of the habit and have been relying more on easy, quick, convenience foods. This does not mean ‘fast-foods’ as I despise chain food groups and try to avoid them at all costs. For me, instead of preparing from scratch, its pre-made organic pasta sauces, pre-cooked chickens and salads etc.

What I did notice on returning from our vacation, is our tomato plant exploded with the fabulous month of sun we have been enjoying! You cannot beat freshly grown or locally picked tomatoes as they are bursting with flavour and you do notice the difference between ones that have travelled further or from large-scale farms.  Our small cherry variety are super sweet and world’s away in flavour from even some of the organic ones I have been buying. The sweetest part? Watching my son’s excitement as he spots the newly ripened ones on the vine in our garden and jumps to pick them!

It is a medley of tomatoes out there at the moment; their blazing colour of reds, purples, oranges and yellows in all different sizes and shapes was alluring enough to get me back into the spirit of cooking! You can never feel guilty about eating too many tomatoes as they are full of antioxidants including Lycopene which have been linked to heart and bone health. The top three vitamins are C, A and K in that order, help keep blood sugar levels in check and perhaps provide some anti-cancer benefits (at the top of the list is prostate cancer for men’s heath). In addition, they will give you glowing skin, hair, eyes and good teeth!

A colleague of my husband’s wanted to know what to do with all these tomatoes, so I thought I’d start by inspiring some of my favourite recipes which I will slowly post unless anyone wants them urgently!

There are literally thousands of ways to use tomatoes, and I figure why mess with them when they taste so good?

So here’s to keeping it simple with my top 10 all-time tomato recipes…I will post any on request right away.

1. Simple but superb tomato, oregano, basil pasta sauce.

2. Tomato, buffalo mozzarella and basil salad

3. Tomato and garlic bruschetta

4. Tomato, egg and pancetta/bacon pizza

5. Mixed tomato and mint salad

6. Tomato Tarte Tatin

7. Tomato and goat’s cheese tartlets

8. Tomato rice pockets

9. Tomato relish

10. Mussels with tomato, chorizo, white wine broth and frites or crusty baguette