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Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Wishes & How to Make Creme Fraiche

Brrrr.... Is it cold enough for you? Sigh... winter is upon us.

I apologize for my recent absence. It's been a wonderful though tiring couple of weeks as our newborn son has made himself at home. Babies for all their eight (nine, ten...) pounds are high maintenance. Parents warn you that babies grow so quickly and to embrace every moment... admittedly, it's hard to embrace the moment when you are trying to get your crying child back to sleep at 3:30am. However, I didn't realize how true this statement was until today I put away my baby's newborn clothes... he has already outgrown them and it's only been four weeks. Oh, how they grow! While I am happy he is growing and thriving, I admit I am a little sad that this little baby I gave birth just a month ago is already growing up so quickly. (My friends with teen aged children tell me this feeling never goes away the older they get...)

This is my last post for the year. I am still learning how to multi-task with a newborn, we are getting ready to host my in-laws for the holidays and (surprise, surprise) I am sleep deprived. I want to take the time to savour this special time with my family so I am going to take a short break. I hope, dear readers, you have a very happy holiday surrounded by your loved ones. Happy holidays and see you sometime in January!

Until then, I leave you with the recipe to one of my favourite ingredients, creme fraiche.

Creme fraiche used to sit in the pantheon of high-end ingredients along side, foie gras, truffles, saffron, caviar, and Kobe beef. But no longer.... it is very accessible and everyday affordable (though your hips might not forgive you) because it is can be made at home.

I first became acquainted with this luxurious ingredient while watching Martha Stewart Living back in the day. I watched with endless curiosity when she used this sophisticated cousin of sour cream in both sweet and savoury applications: cakes, pies, appetizers, eggs, etc. It's rich texture and tangy flavour possesses the ability to magically transform the mundane into the extraordinary, for example, turning mashed potatoes from humble to la-dee-da special.

Recently, I had a craving for those luscious Gordon Ramsay scrambled eggs the other day. Alas, my fridge did not have creme fraiche. I did have some buttermilk and heavy cream (35% milk fat!!) and a little time on my hands.

Creme fraiche also has many other splendid uses: whipped and served over berries; swirled as a thickener for sauces (due to its high fat content, it does not curdle when heated); dolloped over a frittata, omelet or eggs en cocotte; added into mashed potatoes, or stirred into this risotto.

Mind you, making your own creme fraiche is at minimum an overnight endeavour so plan in advance. ;)

Bon Appetit.

See you in the new year!

Creme Fraiche

2 c heavy cream
1/4 c buttermilk

Heat heavy cream in a heavy pot until it reaches 100 degrees F. Pour into a clean glass bowl, stir in buttermilk. Cover loosely with cling wrap and leave on counter top in a warm place undisturbed in your kitchen for at least 12 hours to 36 hours - depending on desired consistency. (Obviously this varies depending on the temperature of your kitchen. If you make this in a more humid environment, I would check on your creme fraiche sooner rather than later.) I like it rather thick and rich so that it is sturdy and stands up when scooped.

Refrigerate and use within two weeks.
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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Great Way to Start the Day

With the US Thanksgiving holiday this upcoming weekend, I thought this might be a great recipe for a breakfast treat for those of you who are hosting overnight guests this holiday.

One of the things I really like to do when I host is to bake for my guests. It makes for a memorable experience to rouse your guests from their slumber with the smell of freshly baked muffins wafting throughout the house. These blueberry muffins are perfect for that surprise - they are delicious and rather simple to throw to together.

While these muffins are not super sugary with a large muffin top, they are rich with blueberry flavour, moist on the inside, with a nice crumb and a crisp muffin top. Served fresh from the oven with a pat of butter melting blissfully on top, it is perfect for breakfast.

For this recipe, I used wild blueberries which I think are superior to the regular kind. They are small but packed with great flavour. The fresh blueberries we find in the market these days are impressive indigo-hued marbles but really impart no fruit flavour to the muffin. The season for wild blueberries is rather short (August for us) but the wide availability of frozen wild blueberries make these little jewels available all year long.

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

2 c all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c white sugar
1 large egg
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (slightly cooled)
1 c buttermilk
2 c frozen wild blueberries (keep in freezer pre-measured until ready to use)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Insert muffin liners into a 12 c muffin tin.
2. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
3. In another bowl, whisk egg and sugar together until pale yellow. Slowly whisk in melted butter, then whisk in buttermilk until incorporated.
4. Remove blueberries from the freezer and toss with the dry ingredients.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry and with a spatula, gently fold mixture together. Do not overmix otherwise the muffins will be tough. You will have some dry spots in your batter, this is okay.
6. Scoop batter with a large spoon into the prepared muffin tins.
7. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes until the tops are golden brown.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends!
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Crab Spaghettini with Chili

This has been an extremely busy week at our house.

We had a baby on Wednesday morning. Yes, you read that right. We had a baby. Wednesday. Our darling, Jack, arrived safely on his actual due date after a rather brief but arduous delivery. While my husband and I braced ourselves (mentally) for the long sleepless nights and the crying fits, nothing could have prepared us for the intense euphoria and joy of meeting your child for the first time. While it is tiring, it is certainly not without its rewards. Ah parenthood...

Now onto the business at hand...

As frazzled and tired as we are, we have still managed to cobble a couple of meals together. At times it can be a challenge, but I think the key is a well-stocked kitchen and a couple of "go to" recipes that you can quickly put together.

One of our classic standbys is this simple pasta dish. If you have time to boil water, you have time to make this delicious dish. While crab can be a little spendy, if you think about it balanced against one night of ordering in, it's still a pretty cost effective meal and makes an everyday meal slightly special.

Crab Spaghettini with Chili

1 lb pasta - long thinish noodles like spaghettini, spaghetti or linguine

4 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced finely
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/2 c grape or cherry tomatoes
1 lb crab meat*
1 large lemon, zested & juiced
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

parmesan reggiano

1. Boil water & prepare pasta according to package's instructions.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauce pan. Once bubbly, saute garlic and chili flakes until garlic is softened. Do not brown. Add tomatoes until softened then add crab meat. Break up crab into loose chunks
3. Once the pasta is al dente, drain immediately and add to a large pasta serving bowl. Set aside at least 1 c of pasta water.
4. Add prepared crab mixture on top of pasta and toss with lemon juice, zest and dill until well coated. Add additional pasta water to loosen if required. Add salt & pepper to taste. Finely grate parmesan on top and serve immediately.

*you can prepare your own crabs, but honestly, I buy the refrigerated picked crab meat. It's delicious and saved me alot of time...

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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cookbooks and Custard

If there is one habit that vexes my husband, it's my passion and love for cookbooks. I love them because not only do they inspire "what's for dinner" but they bring the world out there into my kitchen at home. As I turn the pages of my favourite cookbooks, I am transported to hot, bustling kitchens of New York, the rustic kitchens of the French countryside or the outdoor markets where Chinese cooks seek out the freshest ingredients for dinner that night. A good cookbook is like a good travelogue, returning me to a beloved place and time with just a taste or evoking an image of a faraway and exotic place I have yet to visit.

In an effort to maintain the size of my collection at a manageable level, I have taken to borrowing cookbooks from our library system. I am currently making my way through a fabulous cookbook, “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock. I had heard great things about this cookbook and Southern cooking is something that I am not greatly familiar with here in Canada.

The book is not just a cookbook but a record of a great friendship between Edna and Scott. She, the grandchild of former slaves from Virgina & he, the younger white chef from Alabama, who through their shared passion for the cuisine of their heritage, share this inspired & thoughtful collection of recipes of this region in the way grandmothers pass on recipes to the future generations.

With so many recipes to choose from, I am still experimenting and trying out new things but I thought I would share with you this wonderful and very simple custard recipe plucked from the pages of this cookbook. (While I have changed some of the recipe's instructions, the ingredients remain the same....)

Egg Custard
(adapted from The Gift of Southern Cooking)

Serves 8 (according to the cookbook, though I used 6 large ramekins which warranted a longer cooking time.)

6 eggs
3/4c granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 1/2 c milk
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing dish and stir until the yolks are broken. Add sugar, milk and salt and mix until well blended.

Strain the egg mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl or pitcher. Stir in nutmeg & vanilla. (The nutmeg floated to the top when I made my custard because I used a rasp to grate my nutmeg. If you have a proper nutmeg grater you probably won't have the same problem I had but if you use a rasp and prefer a more refined appearance, I would add the nutmeg, allow it to infuse the custard for at least ten minutes (if not more) and strain. The flavour is not as pronounced but the custard won't have the same flecks and speckles mine did.)

Place ramekins into a large deep dish baking pan (like a lasagna dish) and carefully pour approximately 1 cup of the egg mixture into each ramekin.

For safety's sake, carefully pull out your oven's baking rack and place the baking dish on top. With a heatproof pitcher, pour enough hot water into the baking dish to reach approximately half way up the ramekin dish. Very carefully, push the baking rack back into the oven. (This technique is called bain marie. It allows the custard to cook very gently through indirect heat.) Bake for approximately 3 - 40 minutes. (The cookbook calls for 20-30 minutes... I checked the custard every 10 minutes starting at 20 minutes, but my cooking time was considerably longer because my ingredients came straight from the refrigerator, and I made 6 servings instead of eight, the custard needed more time to set.)

To remove, carefully pull out the oven rack and lift the baking dish off the rack. Place a clean towel on your kitchen counter and carefully remove the ramekins from the baking dish onto the towel and allow to cool.

This is delicious warm but also quite delicious chilled with a dollop of whipped cream.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

It's Cold and Wet Outside, Let's Get Gnudi

I woke up to a miserable day in front of me. I drew open my bedroom drapes only to find most of the leaves that hung on the tree in front of our house had fallen overnight and wrapped our car in a soggy auburn blanket. Rain lashed at our windows and the wind howled and shook the remaining leaves from the trees. Today was not a day to venture outside but to hide away from the world with a cozy rustic lunch.

Pumpkins and autumn go hand in hand. When I walk down our street and see all the pumpkins sitting on our neighbors' porches, I think about pumpkin in all its delicious edible forms: pie, soup, ravioli, muffins, risotto, etc. I had have a craving for pumpkin ravioli these days but I was not in the right frame of mind to wring out my own pasta or run out and even pick some up.... today was the day I made a meal out of the contents from my fridge. After a quick perusal, I decided I could make pumpkin gnudi (pronounced: nude-y) instead.

Gnudi is an Italian dish very similar to gnocchi with the exception of one key ingredient: fresh ricotta instead of potato. The difference is all texture: instead of a dense, hearty bite of a gnocchi, a gnudi is a light and pillowy cloud. Think of it as ravioli filling without the pasta exterior. It is delicious and light tasting but is quite filling and satisfying especially on a rainy autumn day.

Pumpkin Gnudi with Brown Butter

Serves 4 as a side or 6 as an appetizer
1 lb fresh ricotta
2 large eggs
1.5c packed pumpkin
1 c freshly grated parmesan* (plus more for garnish)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground sage
1.5c all purpose flour

1/4 c unsalted butter

Mix ricotta with eggs and pumpkin, parmesan, salt, nutmeg, and sage until fully incorporated and batter is a soft orange colour. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. (Keep in mind that you will be cooking this in salted water.)

Add flour bit by bit & stir until batter is firm but not stiff. (You may need to add more flour, if necessary.)

In a pot of boiling salted water, spoon batter into water. Though time-consuming, I usually test the first one for flavour and make any adjustments before I proceed further. With the incorporation of flour, the flavours sometimes fade and only through cooking will you know for sure.

Continue to add gnudis, being careful not to overcrowd the pot. Resist against making large drops into the water. (I found the larger the gnudi, the longer the cooking time and it is certainly possible that the gnudi is not fully cooked, resulting in a floury, pasty taste.) The gnudi takes only several minutes to cook (allow it to float to the top and allow for another two minutes or so.) Drain well.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat until it butter turns into a nutty brown colour. Carefully add drained gnudi to the pan and toss gently. Cook for another five minutes until crisp on the outside.

Garnish with parmesan shavings and serve immediately.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

If You Dare...

Note: Please forgive the tardy postings these last few weeks... we have been in the final steps of our major basement renovation and we've been scrambling to get our house in order and our weekends are spent moving furniture, and cleaning. Not fun.

The inspiration for this week's recipe came from a huge craving I have had for one of my favourite types of cheeses. Stilton. Gorgonzola. Roquefort. Cambozola. Blue cheese - it's a type of cheese you either love or you hate. It is assertive & distinctive and usually, ahem, pungent. There are people out there who are absolutely mad for a veiny, craggy bleu and I am one of those people.

While there are milder forms of this type of cheese, I prefer the verbose & in-your-face flavours for this appetizer. It's meant for just a few bites to set the stage for dinner and is not meant to serve as a portion for a main dish. If you would prefer a larger portion, I would recommend a milder blue cheese such as dolcelatte. This pasta has flavour!

Gorgonzola Pasta with Roasted Mushrooms & Pine Nuts

serves 4 appetizer sizes

1/2 lb small pasta (such as penne or shells)
1 tbsp butter
5 large button mushrooms, cleaned & sliced
80 grams Gorgonzola crumbled
1/2 c light cream (or milk - if using milk, I used abit extra & allow it to boil down a little)

salt & pepper to taste

2 tbsp toasted pine nuts

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions in a large pot of boiling salt water.
2. Over a high-medium heat, add 1 tbsp butter to a large skillet. Once butter has melted, toss in mushrooms. Spread evenly along the skillet and allow to roast off.
3. In a medium saucepan, add cream (or milk) and crumbled cheese over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally and allow to cheese to melt.
4. Once mushrooms have browned off and given up considerable moisture add to cheese/cream mixture.
5. Drain off pasta and add to sauce. Stir to incorporate.
6. Adjust seasoning and top with toasted pine nuts & serve immediately.

...Read more

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Something to Nibble On...

Happy Thanksgiving Canada.

Sorry for not posting last week.... I had intended to post, but the recipe I had in mind didn't fare well under my camera. The photos weren't appetizing enough so the recipe sits on my computer until a drool-worthy photo can be captured.

For this week, I was trying to come up with a quick snack for NFL football this afternoon. I thought I might make something with pumpkin since it is Thanksgiving but, then I saw an unopened container of walnuts and thought, "Who doesn't like candied nuts?"

If you aren't familar with making your own candied nuts, you are in for a treat. They take no more than 15 minutes of active time and can easily be made ahead so they are the perfect make-ahead dish to buy you a little time when your guests arrive and you are still prepping dinner.

Personally, I like a mixture of toasty almonds and buttery walnuts but you probably have your favourites, too. This recipe creates a sweet and warm flavour that's perfect for the fall. The secret ingredient here is the inclusion of smoked paprika. While I have seen other candied nuts recipes that include cayenne (which is great but lends some heat), I prefer smoked paprika because of its mysterious dark but subtle flavour without the added heat.

While these nuts are highly suitable for football snacking, I like also like them topped over a spinach salad with dried cranberries, crushed and sprinkled on top of steamed broccoli or as a part of a cheese board with gorgonzola and dried apricots.

Candied Nuts

4 c walntus, almonds, hazelnuts, etc
2 c granulated sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried ginger powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp allspice

1. Toast nuts for approximately ten minutes in a 350 degree oven until golden & fragrant.
2. Melt sugar, spices & salt in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat.
3. Working quickly, carefully add toasted nuts to sugar mixture and stir to coat.
4. On parchment paper or a Silpat, pour mixture onto a large cookie sheet.
5. Spread nuts out quickly to break up any large lumps and allow to cool completely.
6. Once cool, break apart nuts and store in a dry container.

...Read more

Monday, September 28, 2009

My Birthday Meal

Birthdays only roll around once a year and regardless of how you choose to celebrate it, I believe on the day of your birth you should have a special meal. It doesn't have to be at restaurant and it doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be something special.

For my birthday this year, I had a real longing for mac and cheese, not the instant, out of the box kind but the al dente pasta smothered in a sharp but creamy cheese sauce with a crusty, crisp exterior. I have been craving it for months but couldn't really justify the calories except on this day. Since it was a birthday meal, I decided to go all out by creating something rather splendid, full fat flavour to be enjoyed hungrily without a moment’s regret. A meal that I could recall throughout the rest of the year and think to myself, "Now, that was dinner!" It had to be a version of macaroni and cheese that was not just indulgent but also exquisite.

The "something" I added to this mac and cheese for my birthday meal was lobster. It isn't something I get to eat very often and its inclusion really brings something special to this humble dish. If you don't want to use lobster, I think this would work well with lump crab meat, or bay scallops. (Or no seafood at all! It's still delicious!)

There are two secrets to a good mac and cheese. The first key to success is using the right cheese for this dish… I pondered what might pair well with lobster, and I thought a nice sharp white cheddar might fare well, and perhaps some nuttiness from a Gruyere topped with some Reggiano Parmesan.

The second key is just the right amount of time in the oven to deliver a creamy, smooth interior with a crunchy, crisp exterior. To achieve this, sprinkle with panko flakes (beautiful Japanese breadcrumbs)on top and bake in a large shallow pan for maximum crust. A fifteen minute bake finished with a little broiler time yields this is perfect balance. But if you prefer a firmer mac and cheese, you could leave it in the oven for a little while longer.

Lobster Mac n' Cheese

200 grams small pasta - such as shells or macaroni

4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
4 c whole milk
2 c shredded 2 year old Cheddar
2 c shredded Gruyere
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
pinch paprika
1.5 tbsp finely chopped dill
salt & pepper

2 lbs lobster
1 tbsp butter

1/2 c panko
1/2 c grated Reggiano Parmesan

1. Heat water for pasta. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat water for lobster. Once boiling, add lobster. Cook for a minute until the shell turns bright red. Pull lobsters out and dunk in an ice water bath. Once cool enough to handle, remove meat. Chop roughly into bite size pieces and set aside. The lobster will still be uncooked - which is fine as it will continue to cook in the oven.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Sprinkle flour over melted butter and whisk. Allow flour to cook, turn down heat to avoid burning, if necessary. Add 1 c of milk and whisk well. When fully incorporated and thickened, add a second cup. Repeat with the remaining two cups.
4. Once milk is fully incorporated, add 1 c of cheese at a time. Continue to whisk until all the cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Add nutmeg & paprika (use freshly grated nutmeg if you can), and salt & pepper to taste.
5. Add pasta to water and stir. Cook until about 2 or 3 minutes away from being al dente. (It continues to cook in the oven so we want this nearly cooked not perfectly cooked.) Drain and return pasta to pot. In the same pot which is now off heat, stir in lobster chunks and dill. Pour sauce on top and stir to mix.
6. In a large buttered casserole dish, add the pasta and lobster mixture. Sprinkle panko and Parmesan on top.
7. Bake in oven for fifteen minutes. Move to the top rack and brown top.
8. Allow the casserole to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
...Read more

Sunday, September 20, 2009

If You Can't Beat'em, Join'em...

While it may be hard to say goodbye to summer, I like autumn for a couple of reasons: the fiery, vibrant colours of the fall leaves, apple-picking, and now, NFL football.

My husband is a big fan of the sport but I always thought of football as something that delayed the start of Sunday evening television. It wasn't interesting to me - a two groups of really big men pushing toward each other while a guy in the back tried to throw a ball before being crushed. But, several years ago I stepped into the light and embraced football as my own. Now I love it. And yes, our Sundays are planned around the games we are going to watch....

For Sunday lunch then, we needed something delicious but relatively easy to put together for our 1pm Patriots v. Jets game. So how about a hearty fall soup accompanied with slices of crisp chewy baguette for dipping? With flecks of brown, green and orange, the soup reminded me of fall colours. The addition of bacon (leave out if you don't like it) adds a nice salty and smokey flavour that makes it such a great hearty soup.

The soup takes about 45 minutes to put together from start to finish but could be even faster if you used canned lentils. It reheats well so it is perfect for lunch the next day and for freezing if you wanted to make a large batch for later.

Lentil & Smokey Bacon Soup

2 c dried mixed split lentils, rinsed well
1 small onion diced
2 large carrot, peeled & sliced into rounds
2 bay leaves
1 liter chicken broth
1 liter water
6 slices of streaky bacon

1. Cook lentils with onions, and carrot with bay leaves, chicken broth, and water. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile cook bacon until slightly crisp.
3. Drain bacon. Finely chop and add to soup. Cook another 5 minutes.
4. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until desired consistency.
5. Serve. If reheating, you may have to thin the soup out with a little broth or water.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stir Fry Beef with Coconut Rice

When you feel under the weather, comfort foods soothe the belly and the soul. I have had a cold now for four weeks (!). Due to allergies, I can't take any medication so I have to wait it out. So I took a couple of days off work, watched Season 2 of Bones and tried to get some rest.

When I don't feel great, I reach for the foods I grew up eating: those comforting meals my mother made that made me feel better when I was feverish, tired & curled up in bed. (It's amazing no matter how old you get, you are always your mother's child.)

One of the foods I long for when I am under the weather is the soul-satisfying stir fry beef. A venerated a Chinese restaurant staple, this dish is so simple & deliciously easy to make it at home. It's very flavourful, so comforting and quick, you'll be diving into a steaming bowl within minutes.

This is not exactly my mother's recipe as the marinade for the beef is enhanced by a touch of malt vinegar. This addition came from one of my favourite cookbooks, Simple Chinese Food, by Kylie Kwong. Her cooking is simple, accessible and wildly delicious. In her fabulous cookbook, she has a recipe for stir-fried beef where she adds a dash of malt vinegar. When I tried adding malt vinegar to my regular stir fry beef, I knew I could never go without it again. The malt vinegar adds a zippy, perky flavour that enhances the umami of this dish.

Coconut rice isn't exactly something I grew up with, but for some reason, I had a craving for it. The rice has is lightly fragranced with a faint hint of coconut flavour. It is a nice match for the stir fry.

Stir Fry Beef with Coconut Rice

1lb beef - sliced thinly (sirloin or flank work well)
1/4c + 1 tbsp light soy sauce, separated
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp malt vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 tbsp water
3 green onions - sliced thinly
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled & finely sliced into matchsticks*
1 large red pepper, cut into bite sized pieces

Coconut Rice
2 c white rice
1 c coconut milk
1 c water
1 tsp salt

optional: 1 tsp sesame seed

1. Marinate beef with soy sauce, sesame oil and cornstarch. Set aside (in your refrigerator) for at least 30 minutes, but ideally 2 hours. Overnight is fine as well.
2. Meanwhile prepare rice by rinsing rice until water is clear. Put rice, coconut milk, water & salt into a rice cooker. Set on. (If you don't have a rice cooker, use a medium sized sauce pan with a well fitted lid. Bring ingredients to a boil without lid on, then cover & reduce to medium-low and simmer for at least 5 minutes. Reduce to low and cook until all the liquid is absorbed about another 5 minutes.)
3. Drain meat from marinade. Reserve marinade liquid.
4. Heat a wok or a large fry pan, add vegetable oil and watch for vegetable oil to shimmer but not smoking. Carefully add meat in batches and allow meat to sizzle and brown - about a minute or two. (Depending on the thickness of your beef.) When you have cooked all of the meat, remove and set aside. Turn down heat to medium-low and add ginger and red pepper to the pan (add a tsp more vegetable oil if the pan is dry.) Stir after about a minute. Toss in green onions. Return the beef to the pan alongside any liquid that may have accumulated. With reserved marinade, add 3 tbsp water, 1 tbsp soy sauce & stir re-incorporate the marinade and add to pan. Turn up the heat slightly.
5. Remove from wok/fry pan when the liquid transforms into a clinging sauce. Serve over coconut rice. Add sesame seeds if using.

*if you find ginger too spicy - try using half of the amount or try ginger powder which is far less "warm"
...Read more

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pear & Celery Soup

It's been a tough week....

I had intended to post yesterday afternoon after basking in the simple pleasure of a luxurious, lazy long weekend sleep-in followed by a sweet, luscious breakfast to start the day. Unfortunately, the wildly delicious pear and ginger clafouti I had planned to share with my husband (and with you) was an utter flop. Disaster. Ugly, soggy, and barely edible (In the end, we did eat it. My husband managed a half-hearted, "It's good" as he choked down bites.)

But it started out as a simple wish: A sweet & simple breakfast for my husband on our last long weekend of the summer. Pears are in abundance right now and boy, are they good this year. I had peeled and sliced beautiful Bartlett pears the night before as a time saving measure, hoping I could quickly run down stairs, throw the eggs, milk & flour together, add the pears and bake it while my husband slept. The goal was to gently wake him with the fragrant smells of summer-time pears baking in the oven to convince him to start the day. But alas, that would not be the case. The batter was far too runny and thin & when I pulled the pears out of the fridge, they had wept quite abit in the bowl overnight. The result was a runny, unset clafouti even after ninety minutes of baking.

Occasionally, accidents do happen. Next steps, what to do with all those gorgeous pears that are in-season now?

For dinner tonight, we decided we would start with a pear and celery soup. We needed to use up those lovely pears sitting on our kitchen counter and I needed to get back on the horse again. This recipe was decidedly more successful than yesterday's. It's creamy, flavourful with just a hint of sweetness without the calories. Delicious. Unfortunately, the photo was not meant to be. I hope you can use your imagination and still try out this soup! Bon Appetit.

Pear & Celery Soup
2 tbsp vegetable oil (or butter)
3 c peeled & diced Bartlett pears
1 small onion, peeled & diced
4 c peeled & diced celery*
1 liter vegetable stock
1 tsp ginger powder (or 1 finely chopped candied ginger)

optional garnish: Stilton blue cheese (non-vegan) or toasted walnuts (vegan)

In a medium saucepan, heat vegetable oil & sauté pears and onions until onions have become translucent. Add celery and continue to sauté until celery is softened. Add vegetable stock to pan, & simmer until celery is very tender. With an immersion blender, carefully puree soup until smooth. If using, stir in cream at the end. Do not boil again. Serve immediately with a garnish of crumbled Stilton or toasted walnuts, if you like.

*You must peel the celery, otherwise you have stringy bits in your soup - it's worth the extra effort.

...Read more

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Avocado, Crab & Tomato Salad

My husband and I celebrated our first anniversary this past week. It was a great first year and we couldn't believe how quickly time passed. To celebrate the occasion, we decided to do something different. Instead of going out for a great and extravagant dinner, we decided to have a great and extravagant dinner at home by creating our own tasting menu, based on our favourite foods. It was unexpectedly exhausting but our three hour extravaganza allowed us to put the rest of the world and all the distractions of our everyday life on pause while we took a bit of time to slow down and enjoy time with each other. As we recalled our memories of our shared life together, in the years before our wedding day and the year since, we found ourselves laughing until our sides ached.

For this very special evening, I started the evening out with crab, one of my favourite foods. This appetizer is super easy, fresh and flavourful. The avocado is velvety and smooth, the tomato fresh and clean, and the crab is luxurious and dressed so simply that its true flavours come through.

Avocado, Crab and Tomato Salad

Serves 2

You don't need a fussy plating for this, you can toss all the ingredients together instead of placing them in layers.

1/2 ripe avocado - diced (click here for tips on how to prep)
8 cherry tomatoes - diced
1/4 lb lump crab meat - dark & white meat
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 lemon (zest & juice)
pepper to taste

1. Divide the cubed avocado into 2 and place in the center of each plate.
2. Repeat with the tomatoes.
3. Gently mix crab with mayonnaise, celery salt, lemon zest & juice. Add pepper to taste.
4. Pile crab onto tomatoes and serve immediately.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Me

If I had my little way I'd eat peaches everyday
Sun soakin' bulges in the shade

- Presidents of the United States of America

Peaches are one of my favourite fruits. They are sweet, dribble-down-your-chin juicy, and refreshing. And right now, local Ontario peaches are in season!

I love them in all of their shapes & forms from tinned peaches that offer a taste of summer when eaten in the dark dreary nights of winter, to the fragrant, massive globes found in the farmer’s market these days. They are heavenly when ripe and sweet, but they are also quite delicious under a crisp buttery granola topping or piled thickly & tucked into a sweetened pie crust. And, of course, I love them in this week's gooey summery jam.

Every year I vow, "Never again!" after I wearily emerge from a steamy kitchen with burnt fingers in a haze of sugar and fruit. Jam-making is a tedious task. (Not sure if it's this troublesome for everyone, but it certainly is for me.) Every year, I feel like I spend hours prepping & chopping fresh fruit, sterilizing jars, counting out lids & screw-tops, and processing.

But all of that fatigue and weariness fades away when there is a row of gleaming mason jars sitting on my kitchen counter. I well up with pride seeing all those hours of chopping, stirring and processing translated into pristine, shiny jars of jams. Then when I open up a jar and thickly smear that sweet, sticky and fruity jam onto warm, crusty toast, I know exactly why I make my own jam. There is nothing like it.

I have been making this beautiful peach lavender jam for years. It is intensely peachy and slightly floral from the lavender. It's summer in a jar.

While, I have tried my hands at other jams: strawberry, mixed fruit and even apple butter, the jam I long for the most, is this really special peach lavender jam.

Ah, peaches.

Peach Lavender Jam

1 tbsp dried lavender buds (organic)
1/4 c hot water
5 c peaches (peeled, pitted and chopped)
2 tbsp lemon juice
7 c granulated sugar
1 pouch pectin

1. Soak lavender in hot water for at leat 30 minutes. Strain and reserve tea.
2. In a large pot, add peaches, lemon juice, lavender tea, sugar and pectin.
3. Cook until the mixture boils and bubbles.
4. Skim off scum.
5. Boil for at least five to ten minutes or until jam sets. (To test, place a saucer in the freezer. Drop a small dollop on the cooled saucer. If the jam gels and appears jammy, then you're done.)
6. Carefully pour into sterilized mason jars. Secure with lid and screw cap on (not tightly, but firmly).
7. Process jam in a large water canner for at least 15-20 minutes from boiling point(check your elevation and adjust your times accordingly)
8. Carefully remove jars from hot water, cool on a clean tea towel. Refrain from moving for at least 1 day.

A great source for all things canning can be found at the National Center for Home Preservation: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

I'll Be Back...

Summer is usually a time for breaks in our day to day routines. It's a time for lazy afternoons, ice cream cones, backyard barbeques, and time with friends and family. Unfortunately, I have not been kicking back and relaxing... (Because I would be cooking up a storm and oh, to think of the jams and pies I'd make...)

But in fact, I have been caught up in something more banal. It's an extremely busy time at work and I have literally been chained to my desk trying to be a good employee. So please, please stay tuned because as Arnie says, "I'll be back" and we'll get caught up then. I promise.

Monday, July 13, 2009

A Summer's Lunch

In everyone's kitchen, there is one appliance that is indispensible. It's the one appliance that never collects dust. It works harder than all the rest, while the others are relegated to dark corners of the kitchen. In our household, it's our panini maker.

Perhaps the reason our panini maker gets quite a workout is our love for warmed, toasted sandwiches with delicious savoury fillings. In our household, there are few lunches that are as satisfying as a savoury cup of soup and a grilled sandwich oozing with melted cheese. No matter the season, our lunch-time mood always suits a grilled sandwich.

This week, I share with you one of my absolute favourite summer sandwiches. It includes a thick (read: generous) smear of tangy softened goat cheese, roasted sweet red pepper, and fresh fragrant basil leaves sandwiched between fresh toasted ciabatta melded together in my trusty panini maker.

Grilled Sandwich with Goat Cheese, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers
1 4" slice fresh ciabatta bread sliced cross-wise
1-2 tbsp soft goat cheese (chevre)
1/4c roasted red pepper slices
1 small tomato sliced length-wise
3 large sized basil leaves

salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat panini maker. Toast ciabatta slices cut side down until toasted & grilled markets appear.
2. Once toast is ready, spread goat cheese onto bottom slice of hot toasted bread.
3. Top with roasted red pepper & tomato slices. Sprinkle with sea salt & pepper. Then layer basil leaves and firmly place top of the ciabatta on top.

Serve with a spring mix salad or a small cup of roasted tomato soup.
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strawberries In Full Swing

Another week gone by... and what a week it was. We spent the Canada Day "extra" long weekend in Montreal visiting friend and my in-laws. (It's extra long because Canada Day fell on a Wednesday this year and we took Thursday and Friday off to give us five wonderful days away from work.) As usual, it was a non-stop buffet of food. Quebec seems to bring out both the gluttons and connoisseurs in us. My mother-in-law is a great cook and of course, this is a province that prides itself on wonderful outdoor markets offering up great local fruits and vegetables and time honoured artisan breads, cheeses and meats.

We stocked up on our favourite cheeses, chocolates, Montreal-style bagels, smoked meat, and kosher pickles. Of course, we also must take advantage of seasonal produce when possible and right now, the local strawberries have arrived. Oh happy days.

If you're about my age, maybe you grew up only savouring fresh strawberries in early summer. However, times have changed and cheap strawberries now are available all year around in the supermarket. However, these supermarket citizens are not known to be all that tasty. (And that is being kind!) No, in fact, they tend to be watery, sour and mealy. But around late June to early July, a small window opens and local strawberries make an appearance. These little rubies seem a world away from their year-around siblings; they are delicate, smaller in size but lusciously red and intensely juicy!

We bought half a flat and picked them off one by one all the way to the car! I wondered for a moment if they would even make it home...

The stars must have aligned for this week's posting... The inspiration came to me as we drove through picturesque Quebec countryside and in the first place we stopped in, an Trappist monk gift shop, meringues appeared. Divine intervention, perhaps?

(While meringues are so easy to make, it is nice to run across light and crisp meringues you can pick up and take home.)

Eton Mess is hardly a recipe - because if I told you to macerate strawberries, add some whipped cream, crumble in some meringue cookies, and throw it all together, you'd have an Eton Mess, too. It's that simple.

Eton Mess

1 pint fresh strawberries, cleaned & sliced
1 tbsp brown sugar

1 c whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

meringue cookies (use as many as you see fit) (I used 180 grams for this recipe)

1. Slightly mash strawberries and brown sugar. Set aside for at least ten minutes or longer.
2. Whip cream and vanilla until soft stiff peaks.
3. Crumble meringues coarsely. Gently stir into whipped cream. Add about half of strawberries and liquid. Fold gently.
4. Spoon large spoonfuls of strawberries into a serving dish. Dollop with generous amounts of whipped cream mixture. Top with strawberries and drizzle with remaining juice. Serve immediately.

*I didn't sweeten the whipped cream because I wanted the natural flavours of the strawberries to come through.
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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dining Al Fresco: Greek Salad

Finally, summer has arrived! The signs are clear: the farmer's market was open for business this week, and of course, we turned on our air conditioning for the first time this year!

The most apparent sign, of course, is my garden is starting to take off.... I see flower buds forming on my tomatoes plants, the mizuna is lush and the cucumber seeds have finally sprouted. My radishes have shown their true leaves and we can't wait to snack! (Fingers crossed.)

Unfortunately, none of my lettuce sprouted (I had to re-seed), but I found this nut growing in the lettuce beds likely planted by some wily squirrel last autumn.

Summer is a natural time for salads. Cool, refreshing and light-tasting made with in-season produce. When it's hot in the kitchen, I love a fresh salad with a side of grilled garlic bread for dinner. However, one of the salads I never like was Greek salad. In my defense, my introduction to Greek salad was not exactly inspiring: Insipid soggy iceberg lettuce, weighted down by grainy tasteless tomatoes and oily dressing. But that changed for me about two years ago, when my future husband and I went to Montreal to visit his parents. They took us to a fantastic Greek restaurant where I was properly introduced to Greek salad: Fresh sweet tomatoes, crispy crunchy peppers, graced with lightest touch of olive oil, and delicate salty feta. I came home that weekend with a new love and made that salad almost every weekend last summer. This salad has easily become one of my favourites.

In the warm days of summer, this is such a beautiful, colourful and clean-tasting salad to eat. It's a perfect accompaniment to chicken soulvaki and lots of tzatziki.

The secret to this salad is to slightly pickle the red onion for at least half an hour. The onions remains crunchy, but the onion's sharp taste muted. It takes away the bite (and also the bad breath!) The rose-tinged vinegar doubles as part of the vinaigrette.

Greek Salad

1 small onion - sliced thinly
1 c white vinegar
3 Roma tomatoes, cut into bite sized chunks
1 small sweet yellow pepper, cut into bite sized chunks
1/2 seedless cucumber, cut into half moons
1/4 tsp ground oregano (or a small handful of fresh oregano leaves)
1/3 c Kalamata olives
1/3 c crumbled goat's milk feta

extra virgin olive oil
large flake sea salt

1. Soak onions in vinegar. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.
2. Toss peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and oregano together.
3. Top with olives and drained red onions.
4. Sprinkle feta.
5. Drizzle 1.5 tbsp of the vinegar and olive oil on top.
6. Serve.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

In Search of a Manly Man's Cupcake: The Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

It's my younger brother's birthday this weekend and we needed a birthday cake to celebrate... and I was in the mood to make cupcakes. Unfortunately, my brother is a manly man & the strawberry cupcakes with pink icing I wanted to make (yay for Ontario strawberries!) are way too girly for him.

Then I remembered one of my favourite movies from the 90s, Steel Magnolias. (It has a great cast & goes down as the ultimate chick flick in the best possible way.)

Now, the girl relationships in this movie aren't the real inspiration for this cake. But in the movie, Julia Robert's character, Shelby, makes a mention of an armadillo-shaped red velvet groom's cake. Now, that sounds manly, non?

Maybe in your neck of the woods, red velvet cakes were always popular... but it seems to me red velvet cupcakes seem to be quite fashionable these days... making the requisite rounds on the food blogs, and in the boutique bakeries. Although it's a dramatic looking thing, the red velvet cake is a simple cake with a hint of cocoa and bold dash of red food colouring. Certainly good enough to celebrate a manly man's birthday.

Martha Stewart has a beautiful recipe for Red Velvet cupcakes on her website which is what I have used here.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
From Martha Stewart

Makes 24
2 1/2 cups cake flour (not self- rising), sifted
2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1.5 oz red food color (about a small bottle)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Whisk together cake flour, cocoa, and salt.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whisk together sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Mix in food color and vanilla.
Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and whisking well after each. Stir together the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl (it will foam); add mixture to the batter, and mix on medium speed 10 seconds.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

Spread cupcakes with frosting. Eat at room temperature. (Store in the fridge if not eating immediately.)

Cream Cheese Frosting
1/4 lb unsalted butter, room temperature
250 grams cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Beat butter and cream cheese with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, and then vanilla; mix until smooth. Frosting can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; before using, bring to room temperature, and beat until smooth.
(This recipe is adjusted from Martha's - the original recipe calls for 1/2lb butter & 4 c of confectioners' sugar.)

Note: Food colouring isn't my favourite thing - you could potentially get the colour for grated beets.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fried Rice Noodles with Shrimp & Beef (Char Kway Teow)

When we were growing up, my Mom made this noodle dish every weekend for lunch like clockwork. It involved wok-frying creamy white rice noodles with assorted seafood, beef and vegetables, a dousing of soy sauce and it is transformed into an easy popular Singaporean lunch. Of course, it would not be complete (for me, that is) without a proper dosing of fiery chili sauce.

It has been years since I lived with my mom but if I pop by any given weekend, my mom has some Char Kway Teow on the go. Since my mom is spending her summer in Singapore and New Zealand this year, I am left to make my own weekend lunches. (Not that she makes me lunch every weekend, but when there is a visit.... let's just say there is food...)

This meal is a very common noodle dish you will find in the local (often al fresco) eating establishments in Singapore called, "hawker stands" but I have also had in also eaten this dish in some of Singapore's finer dining establishments.

This recipe is inspired mostly by my mother's recipe but also by Kylie Kwong (a food goddess amongst us mortals!) Kylie's cookbook Simple Chinese Cooking is my go-to Chinese recipe reference guide. Many of Kylie's recipes use malt vinegar as part of the marinade for beef and I think it is excellent. It adds a nice tang and cuts the saltiness of the soy sauce while still lending a complex flavour to the beef. Also, I am a big proponent of using what you have in the fridge. This recipe often uses Chinese green vegetables, if you don't have them, use spinach. (It may not be exactly traditional, but hey, traditions evolve.)

Making this dish, reminds me of eating meals with my family. I remember the gorgeous smell of the beef browning in the wok (sorry, my dear vegetarian and vegan friends, meat is good!) followed by the sizzling and sputtering of the rice noodles hitting a hot wok. When that happens, you know it's only a matter of minutes until lunch is served. (Of course, you can always have this for dinner as well.)

Fresh rice noodles are found in the refrigerated section of the Chinese grocery. You can use the dried ones that are used for pad thai. They tend to be a little more toothy, but nevertheless still equally delicious.

1 lb beef fillet (or you can use the cheaper cut, flank steak*)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4c malt vinegar
1/4c soy sauce
1/4 tsp chili flakes (optional)
1/2 garlic clove minced

1 lb fresh rice noodles
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb large shrimp, peeled & deveined
4 1/2 garlic cloves, minced
2 large eggs beaten
1/4c soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
2 large handfuls baby spinach (very unscientific, I know)
3 stalks green onions, cut into 2 inch logs

1/4 lb bean sprouts, rinsed
1/2 sweet red/orange pepper thinly sliced

sesame oil

To marinate beef:
1. Thinly slice beef and toss with cornstarch. Add malt vinegar, soy sauce, minced garlic and chili flakes. Mix well, cover with cling wrap and return to the fridge for at least 30 minutes(or more if you have the time.)

To make the noodles:
1. Fill a large bowl with warm water. Add the fresh rice noodles and gently untangle them. Drain immediately and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat a wok or a large wide fry pan with 2 tbsp of vegetable oil. Drain the beef from the marinade. Lightly pat dry. Working in batches, saute the meat until the outside is browned but not thoroughly cooked. (This happens fast so make sure you have a fresh plate before you start.) Remove beef from pan and cook the next batch until you have cooked all the meat.
3. Then do the same for the shrimp (it can go on the same plate as the beef.) Set aside.
4. Add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil to the pan. When the oil shimmers, turn down the heat & add the garlic until fragrant. Add drained & separated rice noodles. I resist the urge to immediately start to stir fry. (I let always allow a litle bit of the noodles to get crisp to add to the texture. But that is definitely not traditional.)
5. Make a well in the middle of the wok/pan. Add the beaten eggs and cook for a minute. Slowly, fold the noodles into the center.
6. Add soy sauce, & oyster sauce and continue to toss with the noodles. Return the shrimp & beef back to the dish along with the thin slices of pepper and bean sprouts.
7. Toss together to incorporate.
8. Serve immediately with additional sprouts and peppers and a drizzle of sesame oil.

*flank steak is one of those meats seem to be quite expensive in the mainstream grocery stores around here. If you venture into a Asian grocery store, you may be able to find flank steak is alot cheaper here.
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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Breaded Artichokes

The artichoke does not look like the most inviting of vegetables. It's reminds me of an armadillo or something with its hard shell and many layers. Aren't vegetables supposed to be luscious, juicy and easy to eat?

How do you even prepare one? I don't know the answer to that, since I've never prepared one from whole vegetable. But my fellow blogger, V, has tackled this intimidating vegetable well so I leave that to her.

Although I am intimidated by such a vegetables, I still love artichokes and thankfully, they come readily available in little tins, marinated or in water.

This is a little appetizer we had recently that was absolutely delicious and such a great way to start a meal.

Breaded Artichokes

6 artichoke hearts, halved lengthwise
zest from 1 medium sized lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/3 c panko breadcrumbs
1/3 c grated Parmesan and or mozzarella

olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Place artichoke hearts in a large baking dish halved side up.
3. Sprinkle lemon zest on top of each half followed by the juice of half a lemon. (If you prefer a less lemony taste, use about a quarter of the lemon.)
4. Mound panko on each half, followed by the cheese mixture.
5. Drizzle with olive oil
6. Bake for ten minutes. Then turn on broiler until cheese is fully melted and golden. Serve immediately.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

A Different Salad for Summer

Sometimes recipes that you love happen by accident. This week's summer salad is a good example of one. Usually, I have a good sense of what I am going to make before I even step into my kitchen. But several weeks ago, I thought I might make a salad for dinner. In my mind, it was going to be a simple green salad with celery, peppers and tomatoes. Then my husband reminded me that our contractor was going to be arriving the following week which means we needed to purge our clutter.(We are "lowering our basement." I know that concept may sound strange for most people but in our neighborhood in Toronto where the tiniest houses sell for a mint, a way of extending your living space when you can't add an addition to your house is to dig down your basement floor to create enough head space. This gives you an additional floor of livable space. If this sounds expensive, you're quite right, it is, but it is cheaper than moving. Unfortunately, we will be working for quite a while to pay this off. But we hope in the end, it will be worth it.)

That little impetus gave me some thoughts to see what was in our pantry and there I saw it, Israeli couscous, in a gleaming mason jar. I had been thinking about using it and I thought I might try it as sort of a "light" pasta salad in that there would be more vegetables with just a highlight of starch.

The result is a clean, fresh tasting salad with the flavours of summer: tomatoes, peppers, and celery. It's juicy and crisp and feels like the type of salad you want to eat when the days are long and it is too humid to cook dinner. Even leftovers are delicious, it stays crisp even overnight and the couscous continues to absorb the flavours of the gardineria and the marinated mushrooms.

In fact, this “recipe” is so simple that I hesitate to call it that. It is really a couple of ingredients we had in the fridge tossed together. This recipe would work well for a picnic or a potluck where you might have limited access to refrigeration, easily doubles or triples to feed crowds and is easy to transport.

Israeli couscous is often mistaken for a grain, but in reality, it is actually quite similar to pasta. If you can't find Israeli couscous, you could use the more common finer-grained couscous or try a small pasta such as orzo. Israeli couscous can be found near the grains, rice section of your grocery store.

Israeli Couscous Salad

1/2 c Israeli Couscous

1/2 yellow / orange pepper
3 stalks celery, trimmed

1/2c marinated mushrooms*
1/2c gardinieria*

2 medium sized tomatoes

1. Cook Israeli Couscous per package's instructions in plenty of water until al dente. Drain couscous.

2. Meanwhile, chop pepper and celery into uniform medium-sized chunks. Add to a large bowl, toss with marinated mushrooms & gardinieria including some of the marinade. Add the warm couscous and toss well. Leave for at least 30 minutes (for best flavour).

3. Slice up tomatoes and add to salad when ready to serve.

*You can purchase marinated mushrooms and gardinieria (a delicious mixed vegetable pickle usually includes cauliflower, carrots, celery and hot peppers.) Both are so easy to make, but in a pinch we buy it. Alternatively, you could lightly pickle fresh vegetables by cutting up bite size pieces of your favourite vegetables - carrots, celery, cauliflower - tossing them in a boiling mixture of distilled white vinegar for up to 5 minutes. Strain and cool. Save some of the pickling liquid to toss with the couscous.
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Green Onion Grilled Bread

This week, I set about planting my backyard garden. The rule in our climate is to plant during Victoria Day weekend (more popularly known as May two four weekend - a two four is the colloquial name for a case of beer that comes in packs of 24 bottles.) Last year, our garden was modest. I wasn't sure what would grow because we have two very large & shady trees that act as a canopy over yard but found that we had modest success with a container garden. Our lonely tomato plant grew abundantly, our lettuce sprouted up so reliably that we had enough for salads all summer, and our little rhubarb came up scrawny but tasty (rhubarb, so I am told, takes three years to gain maturity so we're still waiting...)

This year, we have boldly decided to plant our tomatoes, lettuce and rhubarb again, but they will now be joined with Chioggia (candy stripe) beets, French breakfast radishes, and perhaps some Nantes carrots.

When I was growing up my mom grew loads and loads of green onions or scallions. They grew abundantly in our backyard and when my mom would prepare dinner, she'd ask us to bring a handful to her while we watched the Brady Bunch re-runs. We ate them all the time but I never grew tired of them. Though they still possessed some of the bite of regular onions (we never ate them raw unlike the snow peas that we would pick off during commercial breaks), they were really sweet when cooked. I loved them stir-fried and finished with a drizzle of sesame oil as well as mixed about with thin slices of tender beef.

When I stumbled upon this recipe on Serious Eats, I thought it was such a simple recipe and we could either grill it on a skillet inside or out on the grill in our backyard. Now, nothing says summer like cooking al fresco.

This recipe results in a flat bread that is reminiscent of Greek-style pita break (versus Middle-Eastern style.)

Green Onion Grilled Bread
Adapted from The Asian Grill by Corinne Trang

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 green onions, trimmed and finely sliced (white and light green parts)
1 cup spring or filtered water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil

olive oil

1. Mix 2 cups of the flour, salt, and baking powder together into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the water, the sesame and vegetable oils and the green onions. Work the flour in toward the center with a wooden spoon and stir to incorporate both dry and wet ingredients.
2. Turn the soft dough out into a floured work surface and knead, using some the remaining flour. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
3. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Form into balls, then flatten them and roll out into disks. (You will need the additional flour to help you roll out the dough)
4. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Brush the disks with olive oil and place oil-side down until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Brush on oil on the other side and when the dough appears less gummy flip over and toast until golden. Serve immediately.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dessert to End a Bad Day: Raspberry & Blackberry Pudding

Our weekend started with a small disaster. We had the heaviest and hardest rainfall since we bought our house in 2007 and the deluge of rain and hail that pelted our little home resulted in a sheet of water running down one of our walls. All before 10am. No, it was not an auspicious start to our day. However, the damage appears to be minimal and once we got that cleaned up, I was intent on shaking off that memory with something decidedly a little more upbeat. And what is more upbeat than a lemon-based dessert?

I had been craving lemon squares lately but when we saw luscious shiny blackberries and juicy red raspberries at our green grocer, I had to re-think dessert. If anything was going to brighten our mood today, this dessert had to be it. This dessert absolutely fit the bill.... it was gooey, satisfying, and luscious but also fresh and easy on the calories (for once!) since it's not laden down with delicious cream or butter. (I love my high-fat dairy, but sometimes it's nice to take a break from the calories.)

The dessert is a cross between an angel food cake and custard. The egg whites bake nicely into a tall, light as a feather cake and underneath is a molten, clean tasting, lemony custard. The addition of the fresh fruit lightens this dessert and really makes you feel like it's almost summer. It really is a dessert to end a bad day.

This isn't a pudding the way North Americans tend to think of puddings: creamy, smooth, and rich. This pudd is more in the English-style. Slightly cakey, a little bit custardy but just as satisfying as its North American counterpart.

Raspberry & Blackberry Pudding

3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
Pinch salt
1 lemon (zested and juiced)
1 tbsp butter, melted
3/4 cup milk

1/2 pint raspberries & blackberries, each

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 4 1-cup ramekins. Place a mixture of berries in each ramekin so that the bottom of the ramekin is covered. Save leftover berries for garnish.
2. Beat egg whites in a large bowl until white peaks form.
3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in lemon zest, lemon juice, melted butter, and milk. Whisk in egg yolks until smooth and creamy. Gently fold whipped whites into lemon mixture. Pour into each ramekin.
4. Place the ramekins in a shallow baking dish. Open oven and pull out bottom rack. Place the dish with the baking tray in the center of the rack. Carefully pour hot water (tap is okay) until the water reaches about 1 inch up the sides of the inner baking dish. Bake until top is lightly browned, approximately 20-25 minutes. (If you decide to use one large baking dish, it should take about 30-40 minutes.)
5. Garnish with leftover berries.

I think this tastes best coming straight out of the oven. If you are serving this to guests, I would not whip the egg whites. I'd keep the egg whites and the prepared batter in the fridge until you're ready to go. Then preheat the oven, and whip the egg whites. Mix with batter and portion into ramekins. Bake per instructions.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

In Season: Ramps

In this part of the country when the snow recedes, foodies and foragers anxiously exchange messages on the food boards about when ramps will be ready for the season. When? When? When? they ask growing more and more impatient as Spring creeps forward. Of course, once ramps (also known as wild leeks or green garlic) are ready to be picked, these foodies and foragers go delirious descending upon their secret outdoor locations and farmer's markets to get their fix.

I am a bandwagon jumper when it comes to these things. People have loved them for many years yet I only discovered these little gems last year after reading an article about them. When I realized that they were making their rounds in professional and home kitchens everywhere, I had to find out what the fuss was about.

Ramps are part of the onion family, its stem is long and slender (slightly leaner than a scallion) imbued with a plum-pinkish hue and long broad verdant leaves. To the uninitiated, the pungent smell of ramps may be off-putting, but for those who love garlic, the smell is irresistible. When we brought them home from the market, we kept them in a separate bag lest they transfer their fragrance to an unsuspecting block of cheddar or an cherry strudel from the pie lady. (Also consider the same when storing them in your fridge.) But oh the taste, its slightly onion, slightly garlic, and just a little bit earthy. If you ever see it in the market, I encourage you to try them, just at least once.

They grow widely and freely in wooded areas from the mid-eastern United States all the way up to southern part of Canada. For those who are unable to forage for them (or grow them), they can be purchased at the farmer's market for a prince's ransom. (Last year, my CSA sold them for $18/lb and this year, I bought two small bunches weighting 50 grams for $4.) A small price to pay for this fleeting treasure.

This year, we tried ramps in two different ways. We pickled the stems using Tom Colicchio's pickled ramp recipe and with the leaves we made a delicious spring vegetable frittata.

Spring Vegetable Frittata

10 small morels (or 5 large ones) - sliced in into thin strips
2 plum tomatoes - diced
1 c ramp leaves - loosely packed - julienned
1 c baby spinach - loosely packed - julienned
4 stalks asparagus - cleaned and cut into 1 inch pieces
6 eggs

salt & pepper
olive oil

1 c shredded part-skim mozzarella (more or less to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Light oil 1.4l baking dish.
2. Arrange tomatoes, morels, asparagus, ramps & spinach in the baking dish.
3. Crack the eggs into a bowl, add salt & pepper and beat until incorporated. Carefully pour into baking dish.
4. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Check around the 18 minute mark to make sure the eggs are not cooking too quickly. Do not overcook. (The eggs will have body but will still look wet and glossy.)
5. Remove from the oven and turn on your broiler. Sprinkle mozzarella over top of frittata and return to oven until the cheese melts, and starts to bubble & turn golden.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grilled Potatoes with Bajan Inspired Dipping Sauce

Last week we spent five blissful days in beautiful Barbados. It was a quick trip but a great way to see old friends, meet new ones and enjoy a little time under the Caribbean sun.

Our snorkeling trip was a rare treat for me. We spent a wonderful morning snorkeling with majestic Hawksbill sea turtles. These marvellous creatures sailed past us so closely that they just grazed our fingertips. With all of the regular boat tours and foreign interlopers flailing about in the water, I suspect the sea turtles have come to recognize the sound of the boats engines as a Pavlovian conditioned response: Boat engines = food.

But we spent the balance of our time in Barbados primarily out of the water. We explored the island, ate the local cuisine and enjoyed the night life. On one such night, our friends boasted a Rihanna sighting at one of the local bars across from our hotel. (All the things you miss when you don't stay out until 3am!)

Nevertheless, I still love the adventure of travelling. My favourite aspect of being away from home is enjoying an experience that I have never had before, meeting new and interesting people and of course, discovering the local cuisine. Like most Caribbean cuisines, Bajan food is known for spicy flavours (though not necessarily the most fiery), and the freshest fish (including my new favourite, flying fish) cooked on the hottest grills.

Most people who spend time in Barbados make their way to Oistins for the Fish Fry. The weekly event takes place on Friday and Saturday nights and draws in both tourists and locals on a steamy night for a little music, some handicrafts and alot of delicious food.

As much as I was looking forward to our friend's wedding, I was also quite eager to experience the famous Oistins Fish Fry. When Friday night arrived, we packed ourselves in a taxi with a camera in hand and a healthy appetite. We followed the crowds down to Oistins. The parking lot heaved with taxis and buses lining up to unload hungry folk intent on experiencing the famous Oistins Fish Fry.

One side of the market is what I would call the fresh side. This is where fish comes off the boats caught that day to be brought up to stations where masters with expert hands deftly scale and gut fresh fish for sale. By the evening, there is little for sale as stand owners prepare for the next day's business.

As we moved over towards the crowds, we found the Fish Net Stand, the recommended dinner spot from the locals we polled. It turned out we weren't the only ones who knew about this gem. We lined up for ten minutes to order dinner. The line moved quickly and the staff hustled to move the line along. By far, the most popular choice was Dolphin-fish. (Don't worry - we didn't eat Flipper, it's another name for Mahi Mahi.) The dinner comes with a generous serving of the fish of our choice (Marlin, Dolphin, Tuna, and Swordfish), a small green salad, two potato halves grilled to perfection. But best of all, was the slightly spicy tartar sauce. This tartar sauce was creamy and smooth, studded with little bits of sweet relish and finished with a smooth touch of heat. We thought this tartar sauce was excellent with the fish, but it was even better with the grilled potatoes.

I think the base of this sauce was a combination of mayonnaise and sour cream but I decided to lighten it a little bit with a little low fat sour cream and skipped the mayonnaise.

These grilled potatoes would be a great addition to your next BBQ dinner. Also, this is simple enough to a great side to a weekday dinner.

Grilled Potatoes with Bajan Inspired Sauce

Quantity of potatoes
Olive oil

Dipping Sauce
1 c sour cream (low-fat is okay)
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp dill
1/4 tsp dry mustard
6 sweet gherkins (minced finely - use a food processor) or 2 tbsp sweet relish
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp lime juice

Boil the desired quantity of potatoes until mostly cooked. Cool slightly and slice lengthwise. Brush lightly with olive oil and grill on the BBQ or a grill pan.

To make the dipping sauce, mix ingredients together and adjust seasoning to taste. Set aside. If possible, make the dip in advance to allow the flavours to meld.

Serve sauce alongside grilled potatoes. (This is fantastic with raw vegetables as well.)

While in Barbados, I recommend:

Cuzz's Fish Stand (the most fantastic flying fish sandwich I had on the island)Located beside the Dive Shop Ltd in St Michael by near the Hilton

Fish Net Stand for the grilled "Dolphin-fish" dinner at Oistins Fish Fry
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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Apple and Blackberry Galette

Short post this week. We spent the last five days in Barbados attending a friend's wedding... The short trip was wonderfully warm and provided a much needed respite from the drudgery of work.

Barbados is a beautiful country - if you ever have the chance to go, I highly recommend it.

I will write about our trip and our food adventures in Barbados at a later date when I recreate some of the delicious Bajan foods we tried. We arrived home late last night and I could only muster enough energy to make this simple apple and blackberry galette.

Apple & Blackberry Galette

This recipe makes a slightly sweet, slightly tart galette. If you prefer a sweeter dessert, I would add another 1-2tbsp of sugar.

397 grams of puff pastry (defrosted)*
4 Granny Smith apples - peeled & cored
1/4 c walnut pieces
1/4 pint blackberries
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Roll out puff pastry thinly. Place a large dinner plate (approximately 12 inches) wrong side down to create an impression on the dough.
3. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate.
4. Meanwhile, slice apples into thin slices and place in water with a little lemon juice.
5. Remove puff pastry from fridge. Arrange apples in a concentric pattern (or if you like a more rustic look, scatter within the circle.
6. Scatter blackberries and walnut pieces.
7. Sprinkle brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg over the fruit.
8. Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from oven when the puff pastry is puffed, golden and crisp.
9. Cool slightly and serve with a dusting of icing sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

*You can make puff pastry and I am quite sure the quality is much better, but this buying prepared puff pastry is a quick and easy solution for this dessert.
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