Wednesday, July 25

Li-Anh's Vietnamese Chicken

When my son was a baby I met Li-Anh.  She has a little girl, L, who is just Connor's age.  L and Connor soon became fast friends.  Li-Anh happens to be a fantastic cook, and she would prepare the most elaborate snacks for our beach picnics or play dates at the park.  There were rainbows of baby-size diced bell peppers, strawberries, grapes, beans, tomatoes, cherries, and apples.  There were noodles cooked in a savory, homemade broth.  And there were tiny cubes of grilled chicken, which tasted of smokey green onion, fragrant black pepper (though not at all spicy as Li-Anh carefully scraped off all the large bits of peppercorn before she cut it up for the kids), and some mysterious ingredient which I couldn't place.

I watched in amazement as my one-year-old, who normally shunned meat of any sort, ate the chicken like it was candy.  I knew I had to get the recipe.  Li-Anh smiled coyly as I tried to guess that secret ingredient; the one which made her chicken so delicious. 

Soy sauce?  No. 

Oyster sauce?  No.


It's fish sauce.  She told me, amused.  Have you ever cooked with fish sauce?

I admitted I hadn't so she began telling me about it . . .

When you're choosing a fish sauce, buy an authentic one from an Asian Market.  The best come from Phu Quoc, a large island off the coast of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand.  Look for one that's the colour of brewed tea - a clear, warm, coppery-brown.  It's made with three parts Anchovies (or other small fish) to one part salt which are fermented in a large vat.  As the juices from the fish are released they are mixed back into the vat day after day for an entire year.  The result is an amazingly pungent, salty, brew that has a meaty, robust taste with a sweet finish, but smells like fermented gym socks. You spill it on your counter, you scour the counter.  You spill it in your car, you buy a new car, Li-Anh warned.

Surprisingly, fish sauce is not limited to Southeast Asia.  In fact, the Romans brewed a similar sauce called Garum, and even now regions off the Amalfi Coast in Italy are still producing a fermented fish sauce called Colatura di Alici which is paired with pasta.

This chicken is so versatile.  I grill up a big batch and use it throughout the week in wraps and salads, over rice or in my Chicken Divan.  And Li-Anh makes a marvelous pizza with her grilled chicken.

Tuesday, July 17

Spiced Peach Clafoutis

Perhaps you've noticed that I have an intense and wild love affair with the stone fruits of summer.  It has, in fact, been going on for quite a while and started with childhood memories like this.   Juicy peaches and velvety apricots, sugary plums and sweet-tart cherries are what makes summer summer

Last week I found some enticingly beautiful organic white peaches at the market and, as usual, came home with much more than we could ever eat.  So I decided to turn the over-abundance into something rich, creamy, and perfectly spiced.  And what's simpler than a Peach Clafoutis?

If you've never had clafoutis before, it's a traditional French dessert of fresh fruit (cherries are authentic) baked in a silky batter.  A cross between a custard and a cake, the addition of a small amount of flour gives the clafoutis the body and stability of a cake while still retaining a custardy feel.  I find that people either love or hate the texture.  Eve and I happen to love the creamy, rich egg batter, very similar to that of a crepe, but Connor claims it's too squishy.  C'est la vie.

This recipe calls for four fresh, organic peaches; however, if you have children at home like mine you may want to start with eight.  They gobbled up the slices just as soon as I cut them. 

As I was putting this in the oven, the sky began to darken with approaching thunder clouds.  The muted sunlight turned ominous and the wind began whipping erratically, blowing the billowy curtains into the house, then violently sucking them back out again.  By the time the clafoutis was finished, it was raining and the house had cooled so much that we didn't mind a nice warm snack for le goûter.

I tend to think of Clafoutis as a snack, but technically it's a dessert.  I've even heard that some lucky people eat the leftovers for breakfast.  Unfortunately, in my house there is never anything left over, so I haven't had the opportunity.  However, if your looking for a quick, easy, and dare I say healthy, sweet treat after dinner to enjoy while the rain is falling and the sky is dark and cool, this is it.

Wednesday, July 11

Plum and Cherry Honey Crisp

There's something so quintessentially summer about a big bowl of cherries.  I love to keep one full on the kitchen table the whole season long.  We snack on them throughout the day, and add them to salads, yogurt, ice cream, and cereal.  And I have to tell you that my kids have become quite talented pit-spitters recently.  I have a feeling that by next spring I will have a hundred cherry trees popping up all over the yard.

Sunny, tart, and lightly sweet, a fruit crisp is something else that forever embodies the bounty of summer.  I have many fond memories of Summertime crisps, baked in the morning when the house is still cool and fresh, set on the windowsill to cool.  Served with a large scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream, this Plum and Cherry Honey Crisp is perfect for a lazy summer evening spent with neighbors and friends on the front porch.

A typical cherry crisp contains almonds in the crunchy topping - a classic flavour that I miss dearly.  Since this is nut-free, I wanted to create a topping that is extra crispy, as a way to somewhat imitate the nutty texture that the almonds would have added.  I did this by using coarse grain Turbinado sugar in place of the brown sugar.  The large sugar granules give it a unique and delightful crunch.

The filling is flavoured with luscious honey and delicate vanilla.  I call this a Honey Crisp because the honey is a dominant flavour, so choose one that you really like.  I prefer a mild, sweet clover or orange blossom honey, but if you just love a robust wildflower honey, by all means use it.  Just know that the flavour will intensify as it bakes.  I imagine that Agave Nectar would work wonderfully in here, as well, though I haven't yet tried it. 

All in all, fruit crisps are extremely versatile and forgiving, so get creative and add what you like.  Just be sure to share it with the ones you love!

Wednesday, July 4

Hope in a Tomato

Signs of hope are beginning to spring up all around us. 

There's hope in the American flag, raised by firefighters on top of a charred and barren mountain.

There's hope written on the driveways and twisted sidewalks that wind through annihilated neighborhoods where houses once stood.  In one driveway, someone created a giant heart out of the blackened, broken bricks of their home.  On the sidewalk down the street, written in ashy soot, are the words "WE WILL REBUILD."

There's hope in that herd of cattle which couldn't be evacuated in time.  Frantic ranchers drove their trucks through every fence they could find, hoping to make an escape route.  Days later the entire herd was found together on the deserted street below, thirsty but alive and well.

There's hope in the sweet smell of rain wafting through the open window as I write this.

Perhaps the story which pulls hardest at my heart, though, is that of a man who lost his father the very morning of the fire.  Can you even fathom trying to pack and evacuate with that on your mind, your heart?  Fate can be so, so cruel.  His home burnt to the ground that night, along with each and every treasured memento of his father.  Yet, behind the desolate ruins of his house he was amazed to find his vegetable garden unscathed, green, and thriving - watered, no doubt, by the very same fire hoses used to fight the raging beast.  His tomatoes were ripe and ready to be picked.

As the signs of hope and life begin to emerge from the ashes, so my appetite begins to return.  Therefore, in honour of the man who lost everything except his tomatoes, I share my favourite tomato recipe.  It's a simple Marinated Tomato Salad, the perfect summertime dish when the garden is bursting with sun-ripened tomatoes.

(In case you're wondering what on Earth happened here last week, here's a glimpse of the Hellish Inferno which invaded my city last Tuesday.)

Marinated Tomato Salad
adapted from Joie de Vivre, by Robert Arbor

4 - 6 medium mixed variety heirloom or vine-ripened tomatoes
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, pushed through a press or finely minced
a pinch of salt and pepper
1 Tbsp fresh basil

In the bottom of your serving bowl whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Cut each tomato into 6 - 8 wedges.  Toss the tomatoes in the vinaigrette and tear the basil on top.  Cover and refrigerate 4 hours.  Serve. 

This really is best served within 4 - 6 hours.  Don't make it the day before, as the tomatoes begin to break down and become watery.  However, if you have leftover tomato salad, here's what I do for a delicious lunch the next day . . .

Tomato Panzanella Salad

1 - 2 slices of good whole-grain bread or baguette, cut into cubes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
a pinch of mixed dry herbs (such as Italian Seasoning or Herbes de Provence)
Leftover Marinated Tomato Salad
Bocconcini (mini Fresh Mozzarella cheese balls - I like the ones that are marinated and packed in olive oil)

Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).  I do this in the toaster oven.  Place the bread cubes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and herbs.  Toss to coat all the cubes.  Bake for 10 minutes, turning once half way through, until golden.  Watch them carefully so they don't burn.  Cool.   When ready to serve, toss the bread cubes and cheese with the tomatoes.  Serve immediately.

Shared with: Foodie Friday at Rattlebridge Farm, Foodie Friday at Simple Living, Not Your Ordinary Recipes, Freedom Fridays, Weekend Potluck, Summer Salad Sundays, Melt in your Mouth Monday, Mangia Mondays, Hearth and Soul, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Real Food Wednesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Full Plate Thursday, Simple Lives Thursday

Sunday, July 1

Hell Fire

On Tuesday afternoon the inferno descended into our lovely town with a rare and terrifying ferocity.  A monster so dreadfully horrific it could only come from the very gates hell.  Ravenous and insatiable, it consumed, with no regard, the trees and shrubs; grass and flowers; shake shingles then siding; photo albums and wedding gowns; Grandmother's Amish rocking chair, worn and loved, and Father's tiny vegetable garden; Aunt Beth's Christmas china, Uncle Joe's six string guitar, and sweet Emma's little teddy bear who waited patiently next to her pillow.  It violently devoured the rabbits who lived under the deck; the fawn born in thicket last Spring; and finally, the kind elderly couple who could not get out. 

Horses screamed.  Dogs cried.  The sound of one hundred-thousand smoke detectors filled the dark streets in a vain and futile attempt to warn 32,000 evacuees of the impending mayhem.  Lawn mowers were left on the grass out back.  Cars frantically crashed through garage doors as the power was cut.  Monstrous orange and black billows of acrid smoke raced down the mountain side, through the steep canyon, over the flower beds, in between the houses and manicured lawns - into our lungs, our eyes, our hearts. 

Sometimes the rug is pull from beneath your feet so viciously that you're left reeling and falling, and careening out of control.  How brutally life is turned upside down!

My home is hazy with smoke - the remnants and particulates of shattered dreams and real life nightmares - however, it is still here.  I did not lose it.  My sincerest thoughts and prayers are with the 346 families who did.  May God bring you peace and strength as you struggle to rebuild what the fire so cruelly took.

And to the brave and tireless firefighters, I express my deepest gratitudeThrough your selflessness, you courageously display all the character traits for which we, as ordinary humans, strive.  You will be forever remembered as HEROS.

I will be back with more recipes and food after I gather my thoughts, wash the ash from my hair, take a trip to the mountains and breath some of that clean, sweet, and cool mountain air.  In the meantime . . .

Here's a link to an excellent photo blog documenting the Waldo Canyon Fire which destroyed so many lives on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 here in Colorado Springs:

Waldo Fire

And here's an amazing time-lapse video of the Waldo Canyon Fire as the inferno roared angrily into town.

Waldo Fire