Friday, March 27, 2015

Spring cleaning the pantry

I am an expert at seeing something that needs to be done and not doing it.

The garbage can in the kitchen can take a surprising amount of things stuffed into it by me and the kids before it gets changed. Or at least until Mr Feedbag gets home from work and does it with a silent distain for the task that I let slip all day. Again. Same, too, goes for the vacuuming around here. It's not that I like dust bunnies under the end tables, but rather I seem to be able to tolerate them better than the thought of dragging a 40-pound sucking machine around the house.

I tell myself lots of people do this. Laziness loves company, I think the saying goes. Or some such. Eventually I get around to doing these things, and every time I do the end result is the same - a tidy house and a new resolve that I'm not going to let it go as long next time.

The dry pantry ingredients kept in jars on my kitchen shelves require maintenance too. Spring is here and since convention rather than instinct tells me it's time to clean and get the house in order - and since a CTV crew was coming over to film a segment about cooking for a family - I decided to tidy up and pretty-up my dry pantry. We go through this stuff steadily with the amount of cooking that goes on in this small kitchen, but contents get low and the jars need a good cleaning now and then.

So, with jars big and small spread out on my dining table and bags of fresh ingredients, I got to work cleaning and refilling. New beans went into the jars first, topped with the older ones so I use them up first. Same thing went for lentils, rice, flours, sugars and so on. Wash rinse repeat.

Now my dry pantry looks fresh and organized again, and I'm ready to cook anything, anytime. Feeling good, that's me. And I certainly won't let it go as long next time.


What task are you an expert at ignoring?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Win a year-supply of pasta!

Here's your chance to enjoy fantastic pasta at home for a year, for FREE! Catelli is giving away a year-supply of their Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta to one lucky Family Feedbag reader. Just think of all the pasta dishes you could make: carbonara, arrabbiata, primavera, pomodoro, alfredo, puttanesca, marinara and, yes, pesto (if you haven't seen the goofy video of me making pesto and dancing with Chef Lynn Crawford yet, check it out here on The Vancouver Sun website).

The Catelli event I attended last week at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver offered food bloggers an opportunity not only to learn about the Ancient Grains line of pastas, which are made with 5 ancient grains - quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum and teff - but also a chance to get into the kitchen to try them out for ourselves while making Chef Lynn's recipe for Chilled Noodle Salad with Ginger Wasabi Dressing. Oh my word, guys, I love this salad. And the spaghettini pasta is perfectly tender and silky.

Get the fantastic recipe below and enter to win a YEAR-SUPPLY of Catelli Ancient Grains pasta.

Chilled Noodle Salad with Ginger Wasabi Dressing
By Chef Lynn Crawford for Catelli®. Reproduced with permission.

Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 8 min
Servings: 4

1 pkg (340 g) Catelli® Healthy Harvest® Ancient Grains Spaghettini
2 cups (500 mL) snow peas, thinly sliced diagonally
1 cup (250 mL) shelled edamame
1 small English cucumber
2 cups (500 mL) napa cabbage, finely shredded
1 cup (250 mL) red pepper, cut into matchsticks
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1/4 cup (60 mL) cilantro leaves
2 tbsp (30 mL) black sesame seeds

1/4 cup (60 mL) seasoned rice vinegar
3 tbsp (45 mL) canola oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce
2 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
1 tsp (5 mL) lemon zest
2 tsp (10 mL) brown sugar
2 tsp (10 mL) sesame oil
1 tsp (5 mL) grated fresh ginger
wasabi to taste

1. Cook pasta according to package directions; drain well. Rinse under cold water until well chilled; transfer to large bowl and set aside.

2. In a pot of boiling water, cook snow peas and edamame until tender-crisp. Drain and rinse under cold water until well chilled; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, halve the cucumber lengthwise and use the end of a spoon to scoop and discard seeds; cut cucumber into julienne strips.

4. Ginger Wasabi Dressing: Whish together rice vinegar, canola oil, soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, brown sugar, sesame oil and ginger. Season with wasabi to taste.

5. Add cucumber, snow peas, edamame, napa cabbage, red pepper, green onions and avocado to noodles; toss with enough dressing to coat.

6. Garnish with cilantro leaves and black sesame seeds.

Tip: If you have time, you can chill the noodle dish by refrigerating for 1 to 4 hours.

Now for the giveaway!!!
WIN A YEAR-SUPPLY of Catelli® Healthy Harvest® Ancient Grains Pasta.
To enter, leave a comment on this blog post telling me what your favourite pasta dish is, and be sure to leave an email address so I can contact you if you win. One entry per person on the blog.
Get 1 bonus entry by tweeting: "I entered to win a year-supply of #Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains Pasta on @familyfeedbag."
Canadian residents only. Contest closes Tuesday, March 31st at 9 p.m. Eastern/6 p.m. Pacific. Winner will be contacted directly and announced on social media.

Good luck!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cheesy Spinach Pesto Risotto

The colour green just sings of springtime to me. Green is flower stems and leaf buds. It's fields of awoken grasses, all fresh and crisp and new. So it makes sense that baby spinach makes me think of spring too, with its vivid colour and tender, leafy texture. Of course, as a home cook, one of the best things about spinach - other than its versatility in a wide variety of dishes, both raw and cooked - is that it's available year-round.
I wrote this Cheesy Spinach Pesto Risotto recipe for my friends over at Produce Made Simple. Spinach makes a gorgeous pesto, which stirs beautifully into a classic risotto bianco (white risotto) at the end of the cooking time. Simple to make, you can whip up this hearty dish either as a weeknight main course or as a side. Top with a fluttering of freshly-grated Parmesan and more fresh spinach leaves thinly-cut into ribbons, then enjoy every forkful.
Click below to get my delicious recipe from Produce Made Simple!

What's your favourite spinach dish?

Friday, March 20, 2015

That time I met Chef Lynn Crawford

I am going to talk about football for a second here, so bear with me.
We've all seen those movies with the short, slightly overweight kid sitting ignored on the team bench. He glances hopefully toward the coach all season, just waiting to be put into the game. I can kind of relate to that kid. Partly because he's short and a little round, but mostly because there seems to be an ocean that divides him from the bench and the excitement on the field.
Being a food blogger on Vancouver Island is a privilege. I am surrounded by breathtaking beauty and a bounty of people and food that inspires me to be my best in the kitchen. But there is an ocean, a quite literal one, that divides me from the big game of food blogging when it comes to social and promotional events, which sometimes feature celebrity chefs, hands-on cooking workshops and tastings.
So, when the stars aligned and I was able to RSVP yes for an event in Vancouver about Catelli's new Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta with the fabulous Chef Lynn Crawford, who we all know from the shows Chopped Canada, Top Chef Masters, Top Chef Canada, Pitchin' In, Iron Chef America, and Restaurant Makeover, I was pretty thrilled to be there. The coach had put me in, so to speak, and I was going to play my heart out. And I did. Or, rather, I danced my heart out. More on that in a moment.
Of course getting to Vancouver means getting off the island. I was completely pumped after leaving the kids with their grandparents, and I cranked the Alanis Morrissette in the car as I headed for the ferry. The rain was falling, but I didn't care. The ride over was as west coast Canadian as you can get.

Before the event with Chef Lynn, I met up at Grain Tasting Bar with Ethan and Melissa of Food Bloggers of Canada for drinks, nibbles and a little catch-up. These two work tirelessly to connect Canadian food bloggers with brands and opportunities that make our blogs better. Thanks to them, I feel part of a greater community and I have gained some genuine friendships with other food bloggers throughout our vast country.
We talked about blogging, we talked about my upcoming book, and I also learned that if these two could hang out with anyone in the kitchen, anyone at all, they would both choose to cook with their grandmothers. Melissa would make pierogies and Ethan would make gefilte fish. See? Nice people.

I was feeling pretty good after a couple drinks with these two and raced off to the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) for the Catelli event. There was no one there I knew, but I recognized the smiling face of Marc Smith of 30 Day Adventures pretty quickly from his fun online interview with Chef Lynn. Watch it here, you'll laugh your buns off at Marc being, as he calls it, a total fan girl.

Marc sat next to me and on my right was freelancer Sandra Thomas, and the three of us had a hoot tasting dishes and generally enjoying ourselves while Chef Lynn entertained the room.

I was so pumped once Chef Lynn's demo started that I was clapping at everything. Even when it probably didn't make sense to. Oh well, I was having fun. My own fan girl attitude was picked up on and suddenly I was standing up at the front of the audience making basil pesto while Chef Lynn waved her smart phone around next to me playing Meghan Trainor's All About That Base and shouting, "Dance, Amy, dance! All about that basil, 'bout that basil, 'bout that basil!" Oh I worked it, dancing like a crazy person while furiously grating Parmesan and pouring olive oil all down the sides of the food processor. Kind of like at home, really.

Then it was into the kitchen to make one of Chef Lynn's recipes using the Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta, which is made with Canadian whole wheat and 5 wholesome ancient grains - quinoa, teff, amaranth, millet and sorghum. It's so much nicer than whole wheat pasta, which I find a little tough and cardboardy. The Ancient Grains is tender and silky, very close to the texture of traditional wheat pasta.

This was an opportunity to connect with some of the other lovely food writers in the room, such as Karen, Jake, and Crystal. We had fun, shared tools and ingredients and enjoyed the helpful hospitality of the PICA students as we prepared a dish to take home.

And just look at the gorgeousness we were making in the kitchen. Chef Lynn's Chilled Noodle Salad with Ginger Wasabi Dressing is so beautiful, so balanced in flavours and textures, and so healthy, there's nothing not to love about it. I could eat this for days. In fact, I plan on making this for the next potluck I go to. Quick, someone invite me over!
Check back soon because I will be sharing Chef Lynn's recipe here and giving you a chance to win a year-supply of Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta. No, I am not kidding. Enough pasta for a year! That is a lot of pasta, but once you get your hands on this recipe you will be making it on the regular. So, really, you're gonna need the pasta.
I had my copy of At Home with Lynn Crawford tucked inside my purse (inside info: we actually have the same publishing team at Penguin Canada), which she graciously signed for me. It was a fun night with fun people, and good noodle salad.
Remember to check back soon for the giveaway of a year-supply of Catelli Healthy Harvest Ancient Grains pasta!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

10 Food Trends That Hearken the Past

The Maker Movement is something many were a part of before it had a name. As creative DIY types, we enjoy the process of making something with our hands that we could easily buy in stores. Sometimes we do this even when it doesn't make financial sense. It costs more to knit a sweater than it does to buy one, for example. I suspect it has something to do with craving tactile experiences in a digital world. Whatever the reason, the Maker spirit is certainly part of today's home cooking culture.

In recent years we have seen a surge of interest in specific ingredients such as quinoa and cauliflower, but current trends are less about latching onto hip ingredients and more about relearning techniques from our past. From home-churned ice cream to finally planting a vegetable garden, home cooks are trying their hand at a new skill or two, reconnecting us with how food is made.

Here are 10 food trends that hearken the past:

1. Pickling
There's no doubt about it, pickles are 2015's It Girl in a jar. Sour is the flavour of the moment and pickling hits the mark with a vinegar-soaked crunch. Home cooks are trying out canning, fermenting and fridge pickles with everything from radishes to cabbage and even kohlrabi, using a variety of vinegars such as cider, red wine and malt. Everything old is new again, and jars of no-nonsense pickles bring nostalgia and fashionable flavour to the table.

2. Preserving
Using what you have is undoubtedly the theme underpinning the Maker movement, and preserving fresh food that's in season and at best prices makes perfect sense. Home-canned jams, jellies and chutneys are one way to preserve. But home cooks are also experimenting with preserving through sun-drying, curing and making better use of their freezers. Waste not, want not is an old mantra but one that still rings true today.

3. Cheese making
Enjoying the realization you can just make cheese, more and more home cooks are trying their hand at playing the milkmaid. Cheeses such as chèvre, made with goat's milk, and fresh mozzarella can be made at home with just a few tools. Classes are popping up, allowing home cooks to try out the art of cheese making with a skilled instructor before trying it on their own at home. We're making all those beautiful preserves, we might as well enjoy them with some cheese.

4. Loving lard again
Fat is unabashedly back in our kitchens. Recent news that eating a low-fat diet isn't necessarily healthier has opened the fat flood-gates for home cooks. Butter is back, but so is the go-to fat of our great-grandmothers - lard. This rendered pig fat was used by home cooks for hundreds of years for everything from making soap to pie crust, but fell out of fashion when government agencies recommended low-fat eating in the 1980s. The new research means home cooks are getting over a general squeamishness about animal fats and rediscovering lard in pastries, roasted potatoes and sautéed dishes.

5. Pressure cooking
Knowing how to cook from scratch is important, but we want it to fit into our busy lives. With a pressure cooker, tender stewed meats don't have to wait until Sunday dinner. Once common in home kitchens, a pressure cooker can get a beef pot roast on the table, with gravy, in 30 to 40 minutes. Handy for quick-cooking everything from rice to lentils, today's pressure cookers also have modern safety features such as an interlocking lid to prevent a sudden release of steam.

6. Buying ugly vegetables
Reducing food waste, once a tenet for home cooks, is a tune we're starting to sing again. One way food retailers are making it easier for us is by offering "ugly" vegetables for sale in stores, sometimes at a discount. Consumers are getting a chance to get over their hang-ups about oddly-shaped and imperfect veggies. As a result, farmers are able to sell off more of their crops, meaning food that would have gone to waste is ending up on our tables instead.

7. Home-churning ice cream
Some of the best treats can come from just a handful of ingredients. Making ice cream at home is poised to be a big trend this summer, with several brands having introduced ice cream makers to the market over the last couple years. Think: cold, creamy scoops of vanilla bean ice cream with streaks of homemade strawberry jam through it. Perfection.

8. Hand-making pasta and gnocchi
This is one of those skills that home cooks want to learn for years and never get around to it. Fresh pasta is big in restaurants and grocery stores, and people are increasingly making it at home too. And why not? Using just a few basic ingredients, pasta and gnocchi are surprisingly simple to make. It doesn't take a trip to Tuscany to learn how, just grab a how-to book and channel your inner nonna.

9. Vegetable gardening
This is the year to stop talking and start planting. Years of black and white rules about food politics and "good" versus "bad" ingredients has left a lot of home cooks fed up, confused and looking to simplify the role of food in their life. The truth is it's hard to get gardening wrong. Even when a plant fails to grow, you have grown knowledge within yourself about what works and what doesn't in your own veggie patch. Get some seeds or buy some plant starts and get them in the dirt.

10. Orcharding
Tree fruit is a timeless favourite in any kitchen. Pears, apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries and more are classic joys our great-granparents loved as much as we do. In recent years, home cooks have been getting back in touch with growing cycles and rediscovering the tradition of picking locally-grown tree fruit. With the popularity of tree fruit wines and vinegars, home cooks are increasingly visiting u-pick orchards and planting community orchards in shared public spaces.

Which of these food trends have you tried? Are there any you'd still like to try?