The Cooking Chronicles: White Bean Dip and Pita Chips

It’s been pretty busy at work this week, but I was still really looking forward to participating in a lunch potluck with my colleagues. I didn’t have too much time to make a dish, and wanted something that could be easily transported on the bus, and served either straight from the fridge or at room temperature. Giada de Laurentiis’ white bean dip and pita chips fit the bill.

I was able to pick up all of the ingredients I needed from the Italian Centre (hurrah for one stop shopping trips), and with a food processor, it was a cinch to combine the cannellini beans, parsley, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I liked the texture of the dip, and though I overdid it with the lemon (it was a bit too acidic for my taste), the citrus did provide a welcome freshness to a dish to be served in cold weather.

White Bean Dip and Pita Chips

I am very fortunate to work in a multicultural office, and the diversity is no more apparent than at a potluck. Today, for example, there was everything from sabaya (Somali flatbread) to burek (Bosnian meat pie made with phyllo pastry), plantain, crispy pata (Filipino fried pork dish) and well, Kraft Dinner casserole.

Potluck spread

My plate

And yes, everything was as delicious as it looks.

The Gyoza Chronicles: Slow Food Edmonton Potluck

Though I probably should have listened to that little voice in my head, I made a conscious decision to block it out and make something I hadn’t made before for a brunch potluck.

A dish for the annual Slow Food Edmonton potluck had to encompass the values “good, clean and fair”, and while contemplating my options, I remembered Anna Olson’s gyoza (pork dumplings). Sure, it may not have been the most authentic recipe, but it seemed fairly straightforward. Moreover, I had some Irvings Farm Fresh ground pork in the freezer, and a Kuhlmann’s red cabbage in the fridge.

Mack and I sat down to make the dumplings a week ago, when we knew we had time to do so. I also intended to fry a few up at that time to ensure they were worthy of being served to others. The filling was a mixture of ground pork, diced cabbage, garlic, soy sauce and sugar, and I had defrosted a package of Wing’s dumpling wrappers the night before.

Though it took some getting used to, we eventually got used to forming the little half-moon shaped dumplings. Making the pleats look attractive was something else entirely, and as long as the gyoza stayed shut, we were happy. We froze most of them, but steamed up just a few to try– we gave up attempting to make the bottoms crispy, though using a stainless steel instead of a non-stick pan probably had something to do with it. My Mum was probably also right about using green cabbage instead of red – the red cabbage bled colour, and made it difficult to tell if the pork was fully cooked. They also made the exterior of the dumpling vein-y in appearance. In the end, given how few ingredients were contained in the filling, they were actually pretty tasty, and we deemed them acceptable for the potluck.

Gyoza ready for the freezer

We woke up this morning, downed our breakfast, and with coffee standing by, started frying up the gyoza. I am sad to say the first batch did not go swimmingly – we lost several gyoza to the unforgiving stainless steel pan. After switching to the non-stick pan, things went better, and filled up the tray only slightly later than our original plan.

Gyoza, finished!

The ever-gracious Mary Bailey hosted the potluck, and alongside about twenty other Slow Food members, Mack and I helped celebrate local food and an end to a year of Slow Food events (my first!). Unlike some other potlucks I have attended, it was clear that everyone took time to make something they were proud of and eager to share with the group. For example, Anita brought Latvian bacon buns (which Valerie wrote about here), and Valerie herself made sarma (smoky sour cabbage rolls, a dish from her husband’s former Yugoslavia country of origin).

Anita with a plate of her Latvian bacon buns

Though everything was great because of the homemade touch, I did have a few favourites. Kirstin of Spring Creek Ranch Beef made meatballs using (of course) their beef, marinated in a Jam Lady condiment, some garlic, and chilli sauce. Maria made a bread pudding using Tree Stone Bakery brioche that was absolutely divine (I think it was the chocolate that put it over the top) – and I am not usually a fan of bread pudding. I am also happy to report that the gyoza went over really well, whew!

Table bursting with food

Plate of mains

Dessert plate (bread pudding on the left)

There’s just one more Slow Food event taking place before the close of 2009 – in celebration of Terra Madre day on December 10, there will be a screening of The Islanders, a film about the fun that happens when chefs and farmers get together. Food and drinks will be provided, and the $20 per ticket will be going towards sending a local young farmer to Terra Madre, a conference where attendees share traditions and innovative solutions to keep small-scale food production alive and sustainable.

Thanks Mary for hosting a lovely brunch, and here’s to another great Slow Food year in 2010!

Pre-New Year’s Potluck

May hosted a party in celebration of the New Year last night, and though it was meant to be a potluck, she ambitiously wanted to prepare several large entrees just in case the food guests brought went the way of desserts (as is typically the case with such events). Shiney and I offered to come early to help her out with the cooking.

Besides meatloaf and roasted potatoes, a “Better Butter Chicken” recipe, courtesy of Reader’s Digest, was on the menu. I haven’t yet reached the stage where I am comfortable dealing with raw meat, so I was relieved to find out that May’s Mum had already cooked and de-boned the appropriate amount of chicken for us in advance. Other than that, the instructions were really straightforward. This was my first time cooking with turmeric, and I must say, the aroma generated was fantastic (though from experience, it stains like crazy!).

Because this was a lower-fat version of butter chicken, the sauce wasn’t as creamy as those found in traditional Indian restaurants, but it was still pretty good. Simmering the sauce over low heat for 15 minutes really allowed the flavors of the spices to develop and come through.

While I still have much to learn on the vegetarian side of things, I hope to one day be able to make such a dish again, from start to finish, on my own!

Better Butter Chicken