Monday, 27 June 2016

A Glorious Mess O'Greens

Leafy green vegetables don't normally spring to mind when most people think of comfort food, but ohhh, they can be. Silken and buttery, deeply braised greens have a wonderful earthy flavour with a slight sweetness that's amplified by the garlic with which they're cooked. 

Folks in the Southern States have elevated the simple art of braising leafy greens to an art form, and I had the pleasure of sampling this gorgeous dish while on a road trip through that region. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember one little restaurant somewhere in North Carolina in which I tried slow-cooked greens for the first time. 

I can't even remember what they were served alongside (maybe it was some kind of baked macaroni dish?), but the vegetables were absolute poetry. That dish was a lot oinkier than the one I make, being full of pork hock and bacon and such, but I've found that I prefer a vegetarian version—if I'd like to evoke a bit of that Southern flavour, I just add a few drops of hickory smoke to the cooking liquid.

You can use any leafy green for braising, but it's really best for the more robust vegetables that need a fair bit of time to break down. Some people like to use just one type of green at a time, like collards, but I like to use at least three different types to create interesting flavour profiles. 

The beautiful mess o'greens simmering in my mini crock pot in the photo above contained a mixture of kale, collards, radish and turnip greens, and green bok choy.
The key really is to slow-braise them until they break down to a beautiful creamy texture. As far as I'm concerned, this dish is done when the vegetables fall apart if you so much as look sternly in their direction.

Braised Greens


  • A few large handfuls of assorted greens (approximately 1 1/2 pounds' worth, if you're weighing them)
  • Olive oil
  • Butter or Earth Balance
  • Garlic (I mince 3 or 4 cloves, but as many or as few can be used as you like)
  • Lemon
  • Good salt
  • Pepper
  • Vegetable stock


Although some people swear by blanching their greens in a pot of water before slow-braising them, I take an easier route: I just toss the greens into a large colander and pour a kettle's worth of boiling water over them, then spray them down with cold water. Easy peasy. 

Those then get chopped very finely (chiffonade! great word, and lovely ribbon effect) and set aside. Pour a few generous glugs of olive oil into a large pan or wok, as well as a spoonful or so of butter or Earth Balance margarine. 

Warm this on medium-high heat, and then add minced or crushed garlic and your chopped greens as well as a few pinches of salt and toss all of that around together for a couple of minutes.

If you're using a crock pot, this is the point at which you'd transfer everything from the pan into the pot, add a couple of splashes of vegetable stock, and cook it on low heat for about two hours. 

If you're using the pan method, just add a bit of stock, cover with a lid, turn the heat down low, and let it braise for an hour, stirring occasionally.

Once it has cooked down to a soft, slurpy mass, splash a little bit of lemon juice into it and adjust salt to taste. If the greens end up being a little wetter than you'd like, let them strain in a colander for 10 minutes or so. The leftover liquid can be frozen and added to the next batch of soup stock you make.

I like to just eat this on its own, but it's also lovely served over gnocchi or even scooped up with toast. I'm adding this dish to my list of funeral recipes not only because they're a great respite to the mountain of heavy carbs that inevitably make it into care dinners, but also because they are absolutely delicious... and great food does wonders for lifting one's spirits. 

Besides, since cooking these vegetables makes them easier to digest, their nutrient value goes up significantly: the vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium in cooked collards, mustard greens, etc. are great for strengthening a weakened immune system and building up new strength.

If you're preparing this dish as part of a meal train for someone who has suffered a loss, you can always present it in a mason jar decorated with a cloth top of some sort, or even a pretty microwave-safe dish that has a lid on it. Presentation is important even if it's just being dropped off, neh?


Friday, 24 June 2016

A Nod to Quebecois Cuisine: Meatballs, but Sans Cloves

Today is Saint Jean Baptiste day here in Quebec (Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste), and is the biggest annual holiday celebration in the province. Coinciding with Midsummer, it was a huge festival in France from the 15th century onwards, and the traditions from that lovely country were brought over by settlers who began celebrating it here in the early 1600s. In honour of all things Quebecois, today's recipe honours a staple of our province's cuisine: les boulettes (meatballs).

Meatballs often make it to funeral buffet tables as they're bite-sized little protein bursts as well as delicious comfort foods; they fortify even as they satiate. The ones I've come across at family gatherings usually have a Swedish or Ukrainian lean, with lingonberry sauce served with the former and sour cream with the latter.

My variation on these delicious niblets differs from standard Quebecois fare, as I cannot warm up to the spices used in the traditional recipe: allspice, cinnamon, and cloves are the key spices used in tourtiere, creton, and the usual ragoût de boulettes (meat pie, pork pate, and meatball stew, respectively), but I can't wrap my head around using those spices for savoury dishes outside of Moroccan or Indian cuisine.

To me, they'll always be associated with mulled wine and gingerbread. If you'd like to use those spices to make it truly traditional, you can find an original recipe here. I've gone with French herbs and flavours instead, but do play around with seasonings to make it your own.

As an example, I like to add chopped olives or capers to mine, while others might mix in chopped bacon, shredded cheese, or even mushrooms.

Most of the meatball recipes I've come across use breadcrumbs or wheat flour as a binding agent, but this is an AIP paleo version using just a whisper of tapioca starch for that purpose.

I'm skipping a vegetarian/vegan version of this recipe because there aren't any meat substitutions for these that won't poison me (like seitan...), and as such I can't vouch for how they might turn out.


  • 1 lb ground beef, pork, turkey, or chicken
  • 1/2 of a small Spanish onion, minced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or minced finely
  • 1/2 cup of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried summer savoury, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon tapioca starch


Combine all of the ingredients well in a large mixing bowl, and refrigerate for an hour. 

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or 375 if your oven runs hot). Measure out tablespoon-sized portions of the mixture and roll into meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet or greased glass baking dish as they're formed.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until they're no longer pink in the centre when you cut into them.

Traditional boulettes are served in a thick brown sauce, but if you're making a large batch of these for a memorial gathering, it's generally best to skip the gravy because someone will inevitably end up wearing it.

If you'd like to create a sauce of some kind that folks can spoon over the meatballs, persillade is a light, refreshing option made with fresh parsley and vinegar that's very easy to make, or you can also make tzatziki which, although not French, is rather gorgeous and one of my favourite dips:


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (coconut yogurt for AIP paleo, dairy or soy otherwise)
  • 1 cup cucumber, peeled and either grated or minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped finely
  • Sea salt


Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor, or just whisk them together in a mixing bowl. Season with salt to taste, and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving. If you use coconut or soy yogurt, it can stay out at room temperature safely for hours.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Mujadara-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

If you haven't yet eaten mujadara, I'd suggest that you remedy that as soon as possible. It's a very simple dish, considered "peasant food" throughout the Middle East, but it's incredibly flavourful and filling and packed with protein from all the lentils. I once had a large bowl left over after a rather sizeable get-together, and used it to stuff cabbage rolls on a whim. Let's just say that it's one of my better impromptu culinary experiments, and one that I'm happy to share here.

During a time of mourning or shock, it's amazingly helpful to have food that can be prepared quickly and easily, and cabbage rolls fit that bill perfectly: they freeze well, and can be microwaved to readiness in just a couple of minutes, so a baking dish full of them can provide a good week's worth of meals.

This is a vegan recipe, and uses a tomato sauce that's spiced with cumin. The nightshade-free, AIP paleo version follows at the end of this post.

Prepping the Cabbage:

My Ukrainian grandmother used to boil heads of cabbage to make her rolls, but although that leaves you with a very fragrant stock that you can use for other recipes, it also makes your house stink of cabbage water for days, and the leaves get very fragile and break apart easily when you try to fill them. I now use the freezer technique instead, and can't recommend it highly enough:
You'll core your head of cabbage, then place it into a plastic bag and pop it into the freezer for 48 hours. It really needs to freeze solidly right to the center in order for the leaves to break down, and then you'll thaw it for a full day on your countertop before you can make the rolls. Needless to say, this is a dish that needs a few days' worth of advance thought and prep time, but is well worth the wait.

Once thawed, the leaves will peel away very easily, and you can drape them over a bowl or stack them in a strainer until you're ready to work with them. To fill them, first pick up one leaf and drape it right-side-downward over a bowl so its thick spine is facing upward. Take a small knife and pare down the spine so that it's almost as thin as the surrounding leaf: this will allow you to roll it much more easily, and will also help with cooking consistency.

NOTE: You will undoubtedly end up with some broken leaves here and there, and that's a good thing—you can use bits of these to patch minor tears inside some of the leaves you work with, and you can also drape them over the rolls before baking so they don't scorch/dry out.

Mujadara Filling Ingredients:
  • 1 large can of lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 large Spanish onions (or more if you’d like this really onion-y)
  • 2 cups cooked long-grain rice (Basmati works well)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Heat the oil in large pan on medium-high heat, and add your onions. Bring the heat down a bit and caramelise them until they’re a deep, dark brown.

In a large bowl, combine your cooked rice, drained lentils, and browned onions. Season with salt and pepper and try not to eat the entire bowl by yourself.

Set this aside and allow it to cool before using it to fill your rolls.

Tomato Sauce:

This is a bit of an easy way out here, as the sauce you bake these in is really up to you. We tend to make big batches of basic sauce (just crushed tomatoes, onions, garlic, wine, tomato paste, and salt) and then freeze them for future use—once defrosted, the sauce can be augmented with various seasonings to suit the dish it's being added to.

For these Middle Eastern cabbage rolls, I add a bit of ground cumin, additional garlic powder, and a pinch each of sumac and chili pepper to a basic sauce so the seasonings are complementary. You can use canned pureed tomatoes and just doctor them a little bit until they taste right to you, or use a store-bought prepared sauce. It's your call.

Making the Rolls

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Take one of the cabbage leaves and cup it in the palm of your hand so that its base lines up with your wrist. Place a generous spoonful of filling about an inch inside, then roll the leaf: you'll start by folding the base inwards, then tucking in the sides as you continue rolling upwards.

Line a greased baking dish or lasagna pan with a few of the leftover leaves, and arrange the rolls on top of them as you finish rolling them. Once they're all in, pour your tomato sauce over the rolls until they're all just covered. If you have additional cabbage leaves left over, drape them over the rolls so they don't burn. If not, just add a little bit more sauce.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil, seal it as tightly as you can, and bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until the cabbage has cooked to a buttery softness: your knife should slide through it without much effort at all.

If you're serving these immediately, use a spatula and spoon to remove them gently, and serve hot. If you're going to be delivering them as comfort food, leave the rolls in the pan and allow them to cool completely before transporting them. Alternatively, you can also transfer them to a microwave-safe dish that the recipient can reheat easily.

AIP Paleo Variation:

For those of us who can't eat grains or legumes (...sigh...), these rolls can be stuffed with a variety of different fillings that are friendly to our individual food sensitivities. I often stuff mine with seasoned ground meat and riced cauliflower, or I make a version that the Sir and I can both eat by mixing the cauliflower with finely chopped roasted root vegetables. 

For the sake of simplicity and keeping things vegan for this post, I'll share the roasted root vegetable filling version here. It's based on a recipe from the Traditional Ukrainian Cookery book, which my mother passed on to me now that she refuses to cook anymore and only eats pre-packaged hors d'oeuvres. Win-win!

  • 1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets and pre-roasted*
  • 2-3 cups chopped, pre-roasted root vegetables*
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • A pinch of dried thyme
  • Salt
  • Pepper
*Prep these ingredients by tossing them with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, and roasting them in a 350F onion for 40-60 minutes, or until they're fork-tender and browned. Once they've cooled, either chop them very finely or pulse briefly on low in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a large pan or shallow pot, and then sautee the onion until translucent and slightly golden.
Combine the onion with your root veg and cauliflower mixture in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cool before stuffing your rolls.

Nightshade-Free Sauce:

Since nightshade vegetables are huge autoimmune triggers, those of us who follow the AIP diet have to be a bit creative with tomato substitutions. My go-to sauce for pasta, lasagna, and these cabbage rolls has a pumpkin puree base, and works remarkably well in lieu of tomato.
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning OR 1/4 teaspoon each dried thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 2-3 canned beets, chopped
  • 1 large can pumpkin or squash puree
  • 1 cup red wine (make it a good wine: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Honey
  • Vegetable, chicken, or beef stock if desired
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Heat the olive oil in a stock pot on medium-high heat, and toss in the onion and carrots. Sprinkle them with the dried herbs and toss them around a bit, then just stir them occasionally and allow them to keep cooking until the onions go translucent and the carrot softens a fair bit.

Add the garlic and beets, stir around for a few minutes more, then add the pumpkin puree, wine, and balsamic vinegar. Let this mixture simmer on medium-low heat until the flavours have combined and the carrots are fork-tender.

Now for the adjustments: if you find that the sauce is too thick, add a little bit of stock, 1/4 cup at a time, until it's thin enough for your tastes. Remember that you're aiming for sauce, not soup.
If it's too acidic or sour, add 1 tsp of honey. 

Season it with salt and pepper to taste, and then either use an immersion blender to puree it all into a homogenous consistency, or put it through a regular blender or food processor.

You can keep this sauce in a jar in the fridge for up to a week, and use it for the cabbage rolls, or lasagna, or in a baked pasta dish, etc. I like to make a double batch and freeze it for future use, so keep that option in mind as well.


Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hazelnut Cake with Apricot Preserves

I was a huge True Blood fan (for the first few seasons, at least...) and despite the cheesiness and the werepigs and fairymermaids and whatnot, I did appreciate the very real issues that some of the characters experienced. For me, one of the most poignant moments in the entire series was the scene that took place after Sookie's grandmother had been killed.
The power in this scene came from the fact that Sookie's grandmother had baked a pecan pie before she met her end, and it would be the last one she ever made. Sure, others could prepare a similar recipe, but theirs would never be quite the same, because it wasn't Gran who had made it. As Sookie ate, it was obvious that each bite was taken mindfully, with immense appreciation and gratitude, knowing that it would be the last time... and that each bite was filled with the love and care that her Gran had poured into that glorious, sweet pie.

I'm a big fan of mindfulness, and of eating with intent and care: savouring every bite instead of just hoovering in food whilst watching TV or otherwise being distracted. If we knew that this was going to be the last bite of food we'd ever eat, would we take the time to enjoy it? Are we really conscious about the source of each ingredient, and the care that goes into creating each dish? Even items that are mass produced have origins that are usually very human, from the people who pick cacao beans or vanilla pods to the farmers who wake at dawn, day after day, to sow fields of grain.

This is one of my family's recipes, and I'm delighted to share it here in the hope that others can enjoy it as much as we have. Much like our potato salad, this cake is prepared for any and all family gatherings, and you can rest assured that any funeral we attend has at least 2 of these cakes on the buffet table. As I continue to research funeral foods, I find that many cultures indulge in some kind of dessert after the dead have been buried so that sweetness counteracts the bitterness of sorrow and grief. I hope that this cake can do just that.

Please don't feel that you need to use apricot jam for this if you have a preference for another kind, as it's really lovely no matter which preserves you use.
For summer get-togethers, it's rather exquisite when made with lemon curd, peach jam, strawberry preserves, or even ice wine jelly. In the autumn and winter months, I've also made it with fig or plum jam, and added a bit of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to the batter to spice it up a bit.

For the Dough:
  • 1/4 pound (1/2 cup) butter or Earth Balance
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (for a GF version, I use Robin Hood gluten-free flour)
  • 2 egg yolks 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I use demerara brown)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • The grated zest of 1 lemon
For the Filling:
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 8 oz finely ground hazelnuts (or walnuts, or almonds, or any nut mixture you like)
  • 1/2 small flask of lemon essence, or 1/4 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 pack vanilla sugar
  • A pinch of salt
Additional ingredient needed: apricot jam or preserves (or any other jam that you like better).


Preheat oven to 325F-350F, depending on your oven.

To make the dough:
Blend the dough ingredients in a food processor or mixer until a soft dough forms, then roll that out and press into a greased 9" x 12" baking pan, pressing the dough halfway up the sides. Spoon some preserves or jam onto this dough and use a spatula to spread it around the dough's base until it's covered with a thin layer. Feel free to add as much or as little of the jam as you'd like.

To make the cake filling:
With your mixer on high, beat the egg whites with a tiny pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks, then set that bowl aside.
In another, large bowl, blend the egg yolks together with sugar, then add the lemon essence, nuts, and vanilla sugar. Gently fold the egg whites into this mixture until blended, making sure not to agitate too much: it has to maintain its fluffiness. Pour the mixture onto the dough, and even out the top with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour: the cake is ready when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean when removed. If desired, dust with icing sugar once it's cooled.
To serve, cut into squares or wedges and lift them out of the pan one by one.

Note: I've also made a lower carb/lower sugar version in a bundt pan, skipping both the jam and the shortbread base in the process. If you go this route, be sure to really grease the pan well beforehand, and let it cool completely before attempting to get the cake out afterwards. 

Considering the number of eggs this uses, this cake is obviously not vegan. I haven't yet tried to make a version using aquafaba (aka chick pea liquid), but if you do and it works out okay, let me know! Be creative, make this your own.

Blessings to you. x

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Sunrise Smoothie

Those of us who aren't comfort eaters can find it very difficult to choke down any food when we're upset. Sometimes it's like a kind of grief-inspired anorexia that makes people unable to eat (loss of appetite, nausea at the thought of food), but it can also be a self-imposed punishment due to survivor's guilt. Unfortunately, not eating inevitably compounds the issue, as hunger can cause lightheadedness, anxiety, insomnia, and countless other issues that just make everything so. much. worse.

Proper nutrition isn't just a beneficial thing to think about once in a while; it keeps us alive and thriving, and it's vital that those who are hurting manage to consume something, anything, that will help keep them going and help them heal.

People who find it difficult to eat when they're grieving often have an easier time drinking fluids. Soothing broths are ideal to prepare for them if this is the case, as well as thin juices and smoothies like the one I'm sharing here. This bright, Vitamin C-packed smoothie was one that I made for a friend of mine when she was going through a really rough patch after a loss: although it took some time for her to be able to eat solid food, she found that smoothies like this one were both enjoyable and easy to drink when she felt like her throat was too tight for anything heavier.

(By heavier, I mean anything with bananas, yogurt, protein powder, or anything else that will thicken it into a goopy sludge. As healthy as kale/avocado/spirulina shakes may be, they're very thick and can be difficult to swallow when one's throat is constricted from emotion. Besides, anything that looks like pureed grasshoppers wouldn't make it onto my list of appetizing comfort food.)  ;)

Sunrise Smoothie Ingredients:

  • 2 ruby red grapefruits, peeled and sectioned (you might need to seed them too, depending on your juicer)
  • 2-3 honey tangerines/tangelos, or 4-5 satsumas, peeled and sectioned
  • 2 cups strawberries*, stems removed
  • Water


Put the grapefruit and tangerine sections through your juicer, and allow every sweet drop to accumulate in the container. If you feel it necessary, pour a tablespoon or two of water through the juicer to get any last bits out.

Transfer the juice to a blender, toss in the strawberries, and process until liquefied. Pour into a tall smoothie glass and refrigerate any leftovers. If bringing this to a friend or relative, a Mason jar makes a great container as it can also double as a drinking glass.

When making juices and smoothies, aim for the best quality produce you can find. Organic is best, and local fruits and vegetables have had more time to ripen in the sun than those picked in other countries and shipped in long-haul trucks over the course of a few weeks.

*I like to make this with frozen strawberries, especially if I have to choose between organic frozen, or regular fresh ones. Not only are the organic ones more flavourful, but adding a frozen element makes this a beautiful cold drink for a hot summer day.