Minced Pork with Fiery Chilies and Fresh Herbs

Round white bowl with white rice, minced pork, chili sauce, and fresh herbs.

I’m totally enamoured with the combination of cooling mint and scorching chili heat that so often pops up in Southeast Asian food. Admittedly, I seem to have an affinity for anything that guarantees a fiery finish but the addition of fresh mint turns the wonderful into the sublime. If I had my way, I’d eat food like this constantly in the summer, although I’m usually not so cruelly forced to make my own version; eating out at Vietnamese restaurants is risky business with a peanut allergy. Because of this risk factor, my versions of traditional restaurants are often bastardized versions of a bastardized version. That is to say, completely inauthentic. This version of Vietnamese pork larb is a joke of a recipe if you’ve tried the original, but let’s just say I had the original loosely floating around in my mind when I first made this. I also don’t usually serve it in lettuce wraps, but on a bed of jasmine rice which I put in my rice cooker before I begin making this recipe. The nice thing about this recipe, if you’re cooking for only one or two people, is that it makes some very handy leftovers for future use. I’ve even gone a step further down the bastardization chain and made a version of Southeast Asian-inspired soft tacos with shredded cabbage, pickled red onions and shredded carrots, Greek yogurt, and heaping handfuls of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. I also use up leftovers for bright little lunches to tide me over until I can get outside in the sun (or rain, which in some ways I love even more). Whether I make this for dinner and it gets eaten immediately or I pack it up for lunch, I always add several more heaping spoonfuls of Sambal Oelek, although it’s entirely up to you how much extra heat you’d like to add (if any).

minced pork with fiery chilies and fresh herbs:

1 lb. minced pork

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 tsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. Sambal Oelek

Freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

Juice of 1-3 fresh limes (use 1 if you’re lucky enough to use a juicy lime, use 3 if they’re duds – or just use bottled lime juice)

3 or more bird’s eye chilies, sliced thinly with the seeds

1-2 bunches of scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly

Lots of roughly chopped fresh mint, cilantro, and Thai basil (regular works just as well)

  1. In a large skillet heat up the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the ground pork or chicken. Break it up a little bit with a spatula and add the soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, Sambal Oelek, lots of freshly cracked pepper, brown sugar, lime juice, chilies, and scallions.
  2. Allow the meat to cook, stirring occasionally. Let the liquid evaporate almost completely until you have a small amount of sticky and very flavourful sauce left and the meat is fragrant.
  3. Serve over steamed rice or in lettuce wraps, topped with heaping amounts of fresh herbs and extra Sambal Oelek.

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Gosh, I have such a soft spot for 4AD Records! And Ultra Vivid Scene! And Kim Deal! Luckily for me, they’re all together in this happy little song. I’m going through my annual summer obsession with The Breeders, Belly,Lush, and Throwing Muses – I feel right at home in my flower print button up sun dresses and Ultra Vivid Scene playing while I cook and dance around the kitchen.

Ultra Vivid Scene – Special One

Kitchen Sink Salad with a Creamy Avocado and Greek Yogurt Dressing

Broccoli, chickpeas, grape tomatoes, pickled peppers, cucumbers and a creamy feta and avocado dressing on a bed of lettuce.

I have some really nice memories of Sunday nights with my family that involve kitchen sink salads. My sister and I would often spend the afternoon outside, our outdoor activities depended on the time of year (destroying piles of raked leaves, making picnic table forts, pretending the hammock was a pirate ship, or constructing little houses out of sticks for toads). We’d come inside and clean up, maybe draw or read, and my parents would always be listening to music as they figured out dinner (yes, I was an early inductee into the world of music with dinner). Sometimes, our Sunday night supper would be a kitchen sink salad – a large wooden salad bowl filled with chopped broccoli, mushrooms, sweet peppers, little diced pieces of cheese, and whatever else needed to be used up in the fridge. That’s the magic of kitchen sink salads, you have the freedom to add whatever you want! I have such a soft spot in my heart for iceberg lettuce, I almost always have some in my crisper and I have so many memories of reading in bed with my mom and sharing a head of lettuce. We’d slowly peel the lettuce leaves away, crunching contentedly while totally absorbed in a book. Of course, I know that I’m looking at these memories through the lens of nostalgia, but they hold such a special place in my heart it’s hard not to experience them without it. Being a kitchen sink salad, the “recipe” part is really only used as a series of gentle suggestions. Think outside your fridge, too, and look in your cupboards or pantry. I’m a big fan of beans (canned or dried), roasted red peppers in brine, capers, grains, pickled hot peppers, and anything else that looks like it would be at home in a salad. This creamy avocado and Greek salad dressing is one of my favourites, but again, use what you love and whatever is convenient.

kitchen sink salad with a creamy avocado and greek yogurt dressing:

1/2 avocado

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Juice and zest of half a lemon

1 large bunch of fresh basil, parsley, and/or cilantro

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 head of broccoli, segmented into small florets and blanched in boiling water

12 grape tomatoes, cut into halves or quarters depending on their size

1 cup of cucumber, cut into thick(ish) half or quarter moons

3 scallions, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. pickled jalapeno or pepperoncini peppers, finely diced

About 1/4 cup of crumbled feta or fresh goat cheese

Iceberg lettuce (or any other crisp, sturdy lettuce)

Put the avocado, Greek yogurt, red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, and fresh herbs of your choice in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, giving it a final blitz when you’re happy with the seasoning.

Place all of the remaining salad ingredients in a large serving bowl. Pour over the dressing and toss to coat. Enjoy a giant bowl of this salad, feeling good that you’ve found a use for all the odds and ends in your kitchen.

I grew up in a Leonard Cohen household and this song is a fitting tribute to childhood Sunday dinners. I still think this song is as mysterious and hauntingly beautiful as I did when my mom and dad would listen to it while making supper. This song especially makes me think of dark winter nights, clean crisp sheets, the smell of our fireplace, feeling anxious about Monday at school, my parents before they divorced, reading Tintin in bed, and my beloved childhood pet cat Peter.

Leonard Cohen – Famous Blue Raincoat

 

Simple Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

Vegetarian slow cooker chili in a shallow white bowl. The chili is topped with an egg, sliced avocado, and scallions.

This simple slow cooker recipe for vegetarian chili is reliable, comforting, and very adaptable. I realize it doesn’t follow any of the strict guidelines that a truly authentic chili would, but I think that’s what gives this recipe a sense of fun and spontaneity. I dreamed this version up while I was taking an early morning train from Seattle to Vancouver. The sun was just beginning to come up, bouncing across the steely water and turning the waves gentle shades of lilac and rose; Mt. Rainier was a constant blink of gold in the distance. The tracks would briefly touch on forested areas that were coated with softest white, Puget Sound weaving in and out of view as we got closer to the Canadian border. The quiet of the early morning train was welcome as I read my new copy of Niki Segnit’s Flavor Thesaurus, a superbly witty and informative read that I warmly recommend to anyone curious about pairing and truly tasting food. If you’re anything like me you find it impossible to read about food without planning meals in your head and by the time we got home to Vancouver I was in a state of absolutely needing to cook something nourishing and wonderful. My plan was to make something in my slow cooker, so that I could take a nap and then get up to the smells of simmering vegetables. I decided on vegetarian chili, which for some reason I have always made instead of a regular chili with meat, so I felt comfortable riffing on tradition. If you want to try different vegetables I would recommend frozen corn, poblano peppers, diced carrots, celery, cremini mushrooms, roasted peppers, eggplant, or butternut squash. It’s very important to cook the onions and other aromatics together first in a skillet, the onion flavour loses some of its intensity and the spices gain focus before they’re added to the slow cooker. I’m particularly fond of topping my chili with a crispy fried egg and avocado, both lend a soothing creamy component that is only further enhanced by a quick application of Sriracha.

simple slow cooker vegetarian chili:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed and minced (or seeds in, if everyone is in agreement on their heat tolerances)

2 Tbsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cocoa powder or 2 small squares of dark chocolate

2 tsp. cumin

1 small zucchini, cut into thin quarter moon slices

1 green pepper, diced

1 medium sized sweet potato, peeled and cut into a small dice

1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes and their juices

11/2 cups of tomato juice (or Clamato if you’d like the Canadian version of this recipe)

1 Tbsp. salt

Generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper

Potential toppings: crispy fried egg, sliced avocado or guacamole, sliced scallions or radishes – maybe lightly pickled in some lime juice, Greek yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream, shredded cheese, crumbled feta or Oaxaca cheese, cilantro, fresh basil, shredded carrot, salsa, Sriracha, salsa, roasted tomatillos, lime wedges, roasted corn, parsley, torn spinach, shredded Iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, corn chips, pickled jalapeños, chopped olives, and anything else you can think of.

  1. Heat up the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the diced onion, garlic, and jalapeño until soft. Add a pinch of salt and the chili powder, cinnamon, cocoa or dark chocolate, and cumin. Stir for 2 minutes or until the spices become very fragrant. Remove from heat and reserve for future use.
  2. Combine the cut up vegetables, bean, tomatoes, tomato or Clamato juice, salt, and pepper to taste in a large slow cooker. Add the cooked onions and other aromatics and give everything a good stir to combine.
  3. Cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Serve with the toppings of your choice and hearty buttered bread. This chili is even better the next day, when any excess liquid has had time to be absorbed and it keeps well in the fridge for 3-4 days. Freeze any remaining chili for up to 6 months.

I’m so excited for Wild Nothing’s new album, Life of Pause, to come out in February; each of their songs always feel like a sharp and smart breath of fresh air. These new songs have so much energy, lots of shoegazey influences, and just the perfect touch of Bryan Ferry – all of the suitable components that make an ideal music for Ashley trifecta.

Wild Nothing – To Know You / TV Queen

 

 

 

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables and a Creamy Greek Yogurt and Orange Dressing

White dish full of quinoa and roasted vegetable salad beside a glass container containing creamy orange salad dressing.

This recipe is a testament to the infinite usefulness of leftovers; cold cooked quinoa and roasted vegetables from last night’s dinner form the framework for this hearty grain salad. I can’t think of a single vegetable that wouldn’t be a delicious addition, and for this particular version I used red onions, sweet peppers, fennel, carrots, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms that had been roasted for 45 minutes at 375 degrees the previous evening (a massive plate of roasted vegetables on a rainy Friday night is my idea of heaven). The black sesame seeds and hemp hearts add a nutty flavour and extra texture, both could be substituted with other seeds or nuts or even omitted entirely. There’s something about the taste of fresh citrus on grain salads that I love, especially during December when all of the lovely oranges are beginning to appear at produce stands in Vancouver. I used a Cara Cara orange for this salad because I love their bitter and only slightly sweet flavour but any type would work well, including my two other favourites, clementines and blood oranges. Serve this salad at room temperature either as is, or with avocado and orange slices gently stirred in on a bed of mixed baby greens. This quinoa salad will keep in the fridge for several days and therefore makes a great portable lunch or reliable dinner at the end of a long day.

quinoa salad with roasted vegetables:

2 cups of cooked quinoa

About 2 generous cups worth of cold, leftover roasted vegetables

1 leek, the white part only cut into very thin half moons

1/2-3/4 cup of Italian parsley, finely shredded

1/4 cup of dried cranberries or cherries, minced

2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

2 Tbsp. hemp hearts

creamy greek yogurt and orange salad dressing:

Juice and zest of 1 orange

2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. kosher salt

Generous pinch of freshly cracked pepper

  1. In a large salad bowl combine the quinoa, roasted vegetables, chopped leek, parsley, dried fruit, sesame seeds, and hemp hearts.
  2. Shake all of the salad dressing ingredients together in a glass jar and pour over the quinoa and roasted vegetable mixture stirring gently to cover.
  3. Allow the salad to sit for at least 15 minutes, serving at room temperature as is, garnished with orange and avocado slices, or on a large bed of mixed greens.

Hexagonal dish of quinoa salad with Christmas lights off to the side.

Of course I’m listening to A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, good grief.

Skating – Vince Guaraldi Trio

 

On Kitchen Sink Salads and the Vanishing Light

Salad with avocado, potato, shredded carrots, cucumbers, and tomato.

It was only 4:00 when this photo was taken, the light almost completely blinked out on an already dark and rainy day. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s very difficult to peel yourself off of the couch to go outside, especially when a fireplace, an afghan, and pot of tea are involved. I decided to go out running, meeting my sister in the middle of our respective homes to embark on a further walk down by the water. I hadn’t really anticipated the fact that it was 4 degrees Celsius and pelting rain, my rose tinted windows had apparently given me a cozier weather vignette than was actually true. Despite my resistance to get outside on days like today, I’ve realized how crucial it is for my ongoing mental health and wellness. I actually find the rain a lovely environment for running around in, especially compared to Ontario snow and especially when I have the promise of a long shower and extra soft pajamas in my dresser drawer. When I got home an hour later I was soaked to the bone, slightly exhilarated, and rapidly growing colder.  After a hot shower I made another pot of tea and assembled a kitchen sink salad AKA my favourite kind of salad. If you’ve never made a kitchen sink salad before it’s basically taking all of the relevant salad ingredients out of your fridge and pantry and combining them however you’d like. Leftovers are great for kitchen sink salads, in this case I used up some leftover roasted potatoes, hummus, and guacamole from when I had friends over on Saturday night. All I had to add was some red leaf and iceberg lettuce, chopped cucumber, grated carrot, scallions, tomatoes, black sesame seeds, and a simple lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. I ate this salad wrapped up in fluffy towels and wearing Ian’s LL Bean flannel housecoat, watching an episode of my current bad TV obsession Pretty Little Liars with the fireplace glowing warm in front of me. Salads with this much heft are super filling, they’re jam-packed with nutrition and colour. A leftover doesn’t have to be a fruit or vegetable, throw in any cold cooked grains, legumes, salsa, roasted chicken or sliced steak, homemade croutons (use the last of that stale delicious bakery bread with some olive oil and kosher salt), tzatziki, sliced leftover omelettes or a piece of frittata, marinated olives, pickled vegetables, cut up fruit, and basically anything else you think would be tasty in a giant salad with the works. I like to think of these salads as an even easier way than soup to clean out the crisper and rest of the fridge, there’s no simmering required and clean up is a snap.