Burning Down the House: Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

Alsterberg, Audrey and Wanda Urbanowicz. Rebar Modern Food Cookbook. Victoria, British Columbia: Big Ideas Publishing Inc., 2001.

This month’s cookbook, Rebar, was suggested by Carol Spurling, owner of BookPeople and former Co-op outreach and education coordinator. She had visited Victoria, B.C. a few years ago and ended up eating at Rebar the restaurant — two meals a day for her entire two-week trip.

Carol’s description of the restaurant made me want to eat at Rebar rather than cook from its cookbook, too, but a trip to Victoria didn’t seem imminent.

Though the recipes seemed to me at first glance to contain a few too many steps and complicated ingredients, J.K., 14, was completely gung-ho. At first, anyway—read on.

To my surprise, the first recipe she chose was Baked Tofu Three Ways, which was three different baked tofu recipes on one page. Since we had a potluck to go to pretty much immediately and no idea of what to bring, we went with Baked Sesame Tofu, the simplest and seemingly most boring one. Which turned out to be just right, maybe what we’ll bring to every potluck in 2016. It was super easy to make—basically just tofu with sesame oil and tamari and pepper—and so tasty that even J.K.’s younger brother, who normally refuses to eat tofu, said, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” It was so easy that J.K. decided to toast some sesame seeds in a dry pan on the stove and sprinkle them on top for an extra flourish.

The next night J.K. decided to make spinach linguine with artichoke hearts and sundried tomato salsa, which we also all really liked. Though the kids didn’t like the sun-dried tomatoes, the adults particularly did.

J.K. started making apple Danish squares that same night, but while mixing together the ingredients for the crust she became so vehement about not finishing that we made a detour to QuickCare, whereupon she was diagnosed with strep throat. While she recovered I made the Ancho Chili Lime Marinade baked tofu recipe, which was also surprisingly good, though slightly more time-consuming than the sesame one.

Meanwhile, the crust from the apple Danish, which J.K. still didn’t want to make, was calling to us from the fridge. The Co-op sells organic vegetable shortening, and she had used gluten-free flour at my request, which contributed to the process being “messy and frustrating” and the crust looking “really ugly.” We joined forces, certain that it would have been better to simply pour some brown sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon on apple slices (the first part of the recipe) and bake them and call it a day—but when J.K. took a bite of the final product, she looked pleasantly shocked. We all thought it tasted much better than expected, and would have been even better if made with regular flour, as the recipe called for.

Ollie, our bearded dragon, had been trying throughout this episode to hibernate in our kitchen, but she joined us at the table long enough to announce that the food looked surprisingly good to her, too, but that of course she’s not allowed to have any, and then she went to sleep.

I felt eager to try some more of the recipes—or rather, for J.K. to make them. As far as Rebar’s smallish downsides, the recipes don’t say how long they take and some of the steps can be a little unclear. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar, such as sambal oelek, but because we’re by no means purists, we were able to take shortcuts and make substitutions, which made the whole enterprise really doable and appealing.

So, was it worth it to buy this cookbook? I asked J.K. “We’ve already made three recipes from it,” she said. “We haven’t made three recipes from a lot of those other cookbooks,” she added, pointing at our shelf of cookbooks above the stove. I’m sure we’ll make more.

Spinach Linguine with Artichoke Hearts and Sundried Tomato Salsa

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, not oil-packed
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
3 tablespoons capers
3 cups marinated artichoke hearts
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
1 pound spinach linguini
Parmesan cheese for garnish
4 small tomatoes, diced

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Scoop out a cup or two of the hot water and use it to soak the sundried tomatoes in a bowl for 15 minutes. Drain, reserve the soaking liquid and slice the soaked tomatoes.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the sundried tomatoes, olives, capers, artichoke hearts, garlic and herbs. Season with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper and chile flakes.

3. While the pasta is cooking, gently heat the salsa mixture in a saucepan just enough to heat it through. If it starts to stick to the pan, add some of the reserved sundried tomato water. Keep warm. Drain pasta and toss with the salsa until well mixed. Serve topped with grated cheese and chopped fresh tomatoes.