As a child, when we played the What Would You Eat Or Take To A Deserted Island game, my food of choice was always Lao, specifically caillau (Lao spring rolls). I promise to share that recipe another day. People ask me if Lao food resembles Thai or Vietnamese cooking, and my answer is always the same and accompanied by a shrug—“Sort of.” The Lao use similar ingredients to their neighbours, but their food is unique. Beyond this completely unhelpful explanation, all I can do is offer to cook Lao recipes for friends or refer them to a Lao restaurant masquerading as Thai.
When I travelled to Laos with my mom and brother this January, I ate and ate and ate. I also walked and hiked and laughed and visited with relatives I’d never met. It’s a trip that will leave its imprint on me for years to come, and one I hope to recreate with my husband and children.
Some of the best meals I ate in Laos were from roadside vendors who prepare and serve using rudimentary kitchens and utensils, and meals cooked over an open fire deep in the jungle. Who knew there were so many delicious varieties of pumpkin and squash, and so many ways to prepare them?
Dairy-free Coconut Cream Puffs
Another staple in Laos, and one of my favourites, is mok kai (Lao coconut chicken). Mok kai means cooked—usually in banana leaves—chicken. The ingredient list is simple, as with most dishes from Laos, and the preparation involves throwing it all together and letting the oven do the work. I’ve made mok kai the traditional way, wrapped in banana leaves, but since we don’t always keep a stock of leaves lying around, using a casserole dish and foil works well, too.
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Put the raw chicken thighs in a casserole dish so that the chicken is touching. Place pinches of uncooked sticky rice in between the chicken throughout the dish.
Add the lemon leaves between the chicken thighs, and flavour with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the chopped onion, lemongrass, and fish sauce over the chicken.
Cover the thighs with the coconut cream. This is a case of getting what you pay for. The better the quality of coconut milk, the more cream there will be. With the brand that I buy, 2/3 of the can is cream. Drink the leftover coconut water or use it to flavour smoothies.
Cover with foil and bake at 425°F for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes.
Serve the mok kai with jasmine rice and romaine leaves and cucumber, or a vegetable stir-fry.
Make perfect rice every time with this no-fail rice tip.
Anyone else addicted to a certain coffee shop — starts with ‘s’ and rhymes with trucks — oat bars? I love these treats and am convinced that they’re the healthiest choice to accompany a latte or three. Don’t try to tell me otherwise because I prefer to live in a state of happy ignorance about their nutritional value and calorie count.
In order to save money for things like real food that we eat at home and new rubber boots to track through mucky pony fields, I decided to make my own. There are 1001 recipes for oat bars online and this one is cobbled together using inspiration from those, a bit of common sense, and personal preferences.
Summertime Sweetness: No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Drops
Canada is the land of maple syrup so I like to use it to replace sugar whenever possible. Maple syrup ranges from light to dark and the colour and intensity of flavour is dependent on when the sap is harvested; the later it is in the season, the darker the syrup. The darker the syrup is, the stronger the flavour. We like amber syrup, which falls on the darker side of the spectrum. It has a noticeable maple flavour so keep that in mind when baking. For those who prefer a lighter taste while still using a healthy sweetener, stick to light or medium maple syrup.
Make a batch of oat bars in 15 minutes and you’ll have the perfect after school snack. To make them safe for school simply leave out the pistachios. We ran into a problem with ours because I let family and friends taste them, and then I had to taste them a few times, so my kids are out of luck come snack time today.
Start with yummy ingredients.
Mix them all up.
Press and chill. Easy.
Butter a 20cm x 28cm (8”x11”) casserole dish and set aside.
Using a food processor or coffee grinder (The single serve option on my Ninja blender is the perfect size to work with.), measure out 4 cups of finely ground rolled oats.
Chop or grind the pistachios so that you’re still left with small pieces.
Combine the rolled oats, pistachios, cinnamon, brown sugar, and cranberries in a large bowl.
Over low heat, using a shallow pan, melt butter and combine with vanilla and maple syrup. Allow this to come to a slow boil.
Once the mixture is boiling add the dry ingredients and mix well. A wooden spoon works best for this and won’t scratch the pan.
Remove from heat and scoop into the casserole dish. Press flat and refrigerate to cool and harden.
* Oat bars are gluten free and the butter can be replaced with coconut oil to make them dairy free too.
Need another delicious and school safe snack idea? Make a batch of these zucchini banana muffins.
On any given day we can have an extra one, three, six — I stop counting after a while — people sitting around the table. My mom’s table was the same and she often fed whichever one (or more) of our friends had stayed longer than planned. I don’t know how she kept up with three kids and their teenage friends. Now that I have my own teen I estimate that we’ll need to invest in a dairy cow and half a citrus grove if we hope to stay on top of his eating habits.
My grandparents' apartment on the outskirts of Paris was a gathering place for family and friends. The memories I have are of a dining room so full of people that my brothers, cousins, and I often snuck off to eat on our secret balcony overlooking the park. My grandmother’s kitchen was tiny, as many are in older French homes, yet she always prepared the most delicious meals. And often with short notice. Those lunches or dinners, full of people and good food, were the basis for relationships that span an ocean and that my brothers and I have passed on to our children.
As a child I thought nothing of where the food came from or how it was prepared. I honestly wasn’t interested in what happened in the kitchen, only in what came out of it. But now I see that what kept my grandmother, and in turn my mother, organized and able to feed a fluctuating number of diners were kitchen staples. Simple ingredients than any chef — professional or amateur — keeps in their pantry and fridge. These will differ from person to person based on family favourites.
There are at minimum seven items that I can always pull out if I’m in a pinch: chicken breast, cooking cream, green onions, tomatoes, parmesan, pasta, and pesto. Nothing transforms pasta from ‘Again, Maman?’ to ‘This is so good!’ like pesto, so keeping it in my cupboard is a no-brainer. Chicken can be made into any number of dishes and tomatoes and parmesan go with practically everything. Also, tomatoes remind me of summer and it’s almost summer, right? RIGHT???
My nieces were over a few nights ago and I whipped up this meal in just over half an hour. That’s important when feeding circling sharks.
Slice the chicken breast into 1cm thick pieces.
In a pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and brown the slices of chicken. Season chicken to taste with salt, ground pepper, and 3 pinches of herbs de Provence.
While chicken is browning, slice the green onions and quarter the tomatoes. Set aside. This time around I had Kumato tomatoes in the fridge because we’re all missing the warm weather and these greeny-brown tomatoes taste of summer.
Heat water to a boil using a saucepan. Measure out one handful of pasta per person and cook until al dente.
Once chicken is browned — approximately 25 minutes — add the cream, garlic, and green onions. Let the chicken simmer over low to medium heat for another 5 minutes. While the chicken is simmering place the quartered tomatoes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake at 325°F for 5 minutes to enhance the flavour of the tomatoes.
After the pasta is cooked — this should take between 10-15 minutes depending on the pasta — drain, rinse, and spoon in the pesto. Mix gently.
Serve one scoop of pesto pasta topped with a portion of chicken, the quartered tomato, and grated parmesan.
5 minutes to prep. 30 minutes to cook.
Makes enough to serve 4.
If you're stuck for ideas, keep it super simple with a meal of mashed potatoes, spinach, and eggs.