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Lamb balti burgers

Lamb balti burgers

balti lamb burger

Our first flat in London was in Spitalfields, a short walk from Brick Lane.

Ten years ago, Brick Lane was the land of arty hipsters, a few of the last fabric scrap merchants, endless Boxfresh sample sale pop-ups, old train bridges, smelly shops under the train bridges,  authentic bagels and salt beef, and many, many Indian restaurants.

Each restaurant would send a man or two outside to convince you the best curry in London was to be had inside this particular place (or the cheapest pint of Cobra, depending on how much of a drunkard you looked I suppose). Multiply this by 20 restaurants in a three-block stretch, and you can see why some people found this overwhelming. Personally, after spending time in Jamaica, I just found it kind of sweet. I mean, no one is locking your luggage in the trunk of their car, what’s there to complain about?

So once we settled into our flat, my husband and I decided to just say yes to the first tout who approached us and see how the food was. Lo and behold, a nice young man in a purple dress shirt came up to us about a block away from Brick Lane. Twenty seconds into his schpiel we said sure, and he looked like he wasn’t sure what to do next. I’m not sure how many people actually agreed to come along. And as he led us past Brick Lane, I admit I had a moment of doubt – did we just agree to be stripped of all our belongings in the narrow streets back here?

But no, he led us to the door of Cafe Raj, which would be our curry place of choice for the next four years, and where we headed every Friday after work. We became such regulars that the staff started inviting us to weddings, discussing immigration paperwork, and offering up sublets of various flats around East London.

So, when I made these lamb burgers a few years later, then living in West London, I had a moment of missing my bonkers Spitalfields neighbourhood. And if you happen to be in London, I wouldn’t bother checking out our old local, as it were, as it’s changed hands now – but for an incredible curry head to Tayyabs, also in East London, down in Whitechapel.

I’ve suggested here to use a curry sauce from delicious magazine, and it’s well worth having in your freezer. It will have much less sodium than any jarred version, and taste much fresher. One batch will make several meals.

Balti lamb burgers with quick cucumber raita

Makes about 5 burgers

For the burgers

1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 quantity basic curry sauce, defrosted

1 tsp garam masala (a balti one if you can find it)

500g good quality lamb mince

Canola or groundnut oil

For the cucumber raita

(These quantities are approximate, taste as you go)

plain Greek yoghurt

cumin seeds

cucumber

Pita breads and halved cherry tomatoes to serve

1. Add the onions, garlic, curry sauce and garam masala balti into a bowl and mix it with your hands until it’s well combined. Form into 5 burgers and leave on a plate to settle down. Put a grill pan on high heat, or alternatively heat up the barbecue.

2. Chop the cucumber into small chunks and add to the plain yoghurt in another bowl. Dry fry the cumin seeds until they smell fragrant, tossing them often. Add cumin seeds to the yoghurt and cucumber.

3. Pour some groundnut oil into your palm and massage the burgers gently. Brush them if you’re squeamish about this kind of thing. Put them on the grill pan and leave them alone for a good 4 minutes. Flip once, leave them for another 3-4 minutes. Cooking time depends on the thickness of your burgers, so adjust as necessary.

4. Take the burgers off the heat and let them rest for a couple minutes, and use the flaming hot grill pan to heat up the pitta breads, push them down on the pan.

Serve with a pita per burger, with cherry tomatoes and the cucumber raita alongside.

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Finally, a decent jerk marinade in a bottle

Finally, a decent jerk marinade in a bottle

jerk pork

When I was young, several sticky bottles of sauce lived in our cupboard: Pickapeppa, Worchestershire, and various ones bearing the Grace brand.

I didn’t realize until high school that not everyone put Pickapeppa in their tuna salad. That actually, no one knew what Pickapeppa was. Not until I went to university and met some girls that also had Caribbean families. We shared my tin of guava jelly, and talked about the best place to get Jamaican food in Ottawa. In 1995, the answer was nowhere!

Vancouver has never been a hotbed of Caribbean food, and finding the ingredients to make a good jerk marinade is difficult. When Grace contacted me about trying their bottled jerk sauce and marinade, I jumped at the chance.

Grace is a Jamaican company, I remember drinking their sticky sweet pineapple soda when we’d go to the island to visit family. Everyone in the car would peer out the windows when we drove by the factory, looking at the squat building where so many of our sauces and drinks were made.

And I am pleased to say, their bottled jerk sauce is very, very good indeed. So if you need some barbecue ideas, grab bottles of Grace jerk marinade and sauce, you won’t be unhappy. Until I can track down my father’s recipe for jerk, I’ll be using this.

Some quick tips I’ve learned the hard way, and some slavish reading of Cooks Illustrated:

  • Brine your meat before you marinate for the best texture and moisture, it only takes 20 minutes and can make the difference between moist meat and cardboard
  • Wipe most of the marinade off before you put it on the grill, that way you don’t get burned bits everywhere, and minimize flare-ups
  • Dump your cooked meat into some sauce right after it comes off the grill

Oftentimes jerk equates the hottest spices. That shouldn’t really be the case. In Jamaica, your jerk chicken or pork comes quite dry, and you add sauce to it yourself. Yes it’s a bit spicy, but it should be very flavourful, with definite hits of thyme and allspice. If you’re still worried, serve it with a fruity salsa, or to be fully authentic, the deep-fried dumpling called festival, and rice and peas.

Pick up Grace sauces and marinades in Canada at Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys, Walmart, Food Basics, and Oceans.
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Camp stove charging station. Seriously.

Camp stove charging station. Seriously.

biolite campstove biolite campstove with grill

I don’t know if there’s a more Vancouveresque piece of camping kit than the BioLite CampStove System. What? You say it was developed in Brooklyn? Oh well. I think they all should move here, don’t you?

This sleek little unit is a portable wood-burning stove with optional kettle or folding grill, that can also charge your phone.

What I love about this whole project is it’s not just a neato 1% camping gadget, the people behind BioLite also develop the HomeStove, a properly useful stove for the half of the planet that still does most of their cooking over open fires. The HomeStove uses fuel more efficiently, reduces smoke and the related health problems, and allows for charging mobile phones and LED lights. This is critical in countries like Africa where the main access to the Internet services, and in some countries banking, is via mobile phones.

When we buy a CampStove (and we will), we’ll be helping BioLite build and refine HomeStoves.

And if you’re super quick, you can get one of their BaseCamp giant CampStoves through their Kickstarter campaign.

All images courtesy of BioLite.

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Making low sugar jam with Pomona’s Pectin

Making low sugar jam with Pomona’s Pectin

strawberry jam

Last year, I meant to preserve things. I had such good intentions. I even bought jars… but they disappeared into the cupboard to make up for the glassware I break all the time, into the fridge, into the lunchbox drawer. What can I say, mason jars are amazing.

This year, it’s all different. I’ve started already!

My previous experience of canning and making jam had been marathon sessions in a boiling hot kitchen, working quickly to process kilos and kilos of strawberries we had brought home from the U-pick farm which were literally turning overripe as we worked. It’s tiring at the best of times, but after hunching in the sun picking berries, driving 90 minutes each way, no one is in the mood to then can the jam for four hours. The first time my husband accompanied me on one of these crazy outings was also the last time. He told me in no uncertain terms he was not doing it again!

So I had been reluctant to take on that project on my own, but a chance discovery at a fish canning class offered through my incredible local community-supported fishery gave me the confidence to get back into it.

The instructor mentioned making high fruit, low sugar jam with Pomona’s Pectin. I was intrigued, because the other thing keeping me from making jam was the truly insane amounts of sugar involved. Pomona’s Pectin is activated by calcium (supplied in the box), not by sugar, so you’re free to keep the sugar levels low – and in fact use all sorts of other sweeteners like honey, sucanat, stevia, or fruit juice concentrate.

For instance, I took advantage of some great sales on organic strawberries lately and made a batch last night of regular strawberry jam. With the Pomona’s Pectin recipe, I used 1 cup of sugar for 2 1/4 lbs of fruit. For slightly more fruit, the Bernardin’s website suggest 7 CUPS of sugar. Strawberries are gloriously sweet already, the idea of adding that much extra on top makes my teeth ache just thinking about it.

I’ve also harnessed the rhubarb abundance and made a very zippy rhubarb jam with ginger and vanilla. It’s a bit tart for toast, but I suspect around January it will be very welcome. Smeared on the edge of a piece of crumbly, aged cheddar though, oh, it is amazing.

I highly recommend checking out the imaginative Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin book, which contains the rhubarb jam recipe, as well as lovely sounding things like peach champagne jelly and strawberry balsamic conserve. Though the instructions inside the box are very comprehensive if you’d like to just start with a basic single-fruit jam.

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The time we planted an orchard on the roof.

The time we planted an orchard on the roof.

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I like telling people about our orchard, the 42 fruit trees in our rooftop garden, and watching their eyes go wide.

Forty-two trees?

Well yes, but they are on dwarf root stock, so they grow in pots.

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We partnered with TreeCity/TreeKeepers to procure our trees, pots and soil. One Saturday morning, a large group of us moved our trees from the basement to the roof, and planted all of them in pots. We have figs, pears, apples and crabapples spread out throughout our garden.

It will be a couple of years before they produce fruit, at the very earliest, but in the meantime the bees will be very pleased with the flowers.

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It’s funny, in the past few weeks, a duck has nested in our garden, and then we waddled down five flights of stairs to the ground and walked a block to the pond in the park. We’ve planted fruit trees, started some of our spring crops, worked with our bees to make sure they’re set up for the spring nectar flows – you would never know we are deep in the city.

The pot with the string running to the roof in the first photo is actually hops, we have some keen microbrewers in our co-op. 

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