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KaleChips_first

A few years ago we purchased a reasonably priced (read cheap) awning for our cocktail patio; I never loved the fabric, it was a pinkish/beige stripe that weathered into a more horrible pinkish colour over the years, but it was about 1/10th the price of one of those swanky awnings that you can order with custom fabric, so I compromised. It wasn’t bad enough that the colour sucked when it was new, it sucked even more over the years and the birds loved to bathe in the water that collected in the divot when it was closed and they also loved to peck little bugs that drowned. Sadly, their pecking caused many tears and eventually the awning looked so tattered and torn that we hadn’t unrolled it in two years!

Old Awning

This was the last time we unrolled the awning at my benchmark birthday party a couple of years ago. That’s my lovely SIL, Wendy. The colour just gets better and better.

Fast forward to 2015 and my cousin and his lovely wife are coming for a visit from Europe in June. What is better than an actual deadline to get those nagging projects completed? So we are in fix it mode! The list is long.

Last year, I priced replacing the fabric with an awning company and discovered that it’s still out of reach (I’d rather spend the cash on a vacation than an awning!) so I checked Youtube and found a really good video on how to remove and replace the awning fabric (click here for the video) and even though our awning is a different manufacturer, the basics are the same. So off I went to purchase 11 m or 12 yards of fabric! And specialty thread (nylon in case you are interested), a specialty sewing machine foot and of course heavy duty leather sewing machine needles! If you’re interested, I can post instructions on how to sew the awning, but it’s a cooking blog so I won’t bore you with it now.

The worst part of sewing this type of project is finding the space to accommodate the enormous volume of fabric (3.2 m x 3.4 m or 125″ x 135″ finished size) so I ended up sewing it on the dining room table and pinning and cutting on the wood floors in our bedroom. Sewing on the dining room table and that I can see the awning from my kitchen window is my reason for using this post in Celia’s In My Kitchen series.

PinningAwning

I had to fold the fabric in half because that’s all the room I had!

It didn’t take me long to make the awning but I had to wait 3 days to install it because it was raining and hailing (in April)! The installation went smoothly but you really do need two people to help feed the ends into the hardware. JT was great and we got it working in less than an hour! Now we wait for summer. Hopefully!

Awning3

This is the view from my kitchen window. I guess I could have opened the window and removed the screen for the pic.

Awning1

We chose a light grey fabric.

Awning2

The awning actually extends all the way to the far end of the deck but it was too windy and I didn’t want to risk issues.

A couple of weekends ago, we had amazing weather and JT and I enjoyed lunch on the patio. I had a lovely bunch of fresh kale and I wanted to try something different so I baked Kale Chips! I know it’s been done to death, but these things were actually really tasty and if you’re looking for a healthy snack, I would suggest you try and bake some of these. I used Charles’ recipe which you can find here, the only thing I did differently is that I dressed the chips in some grated parmesan and sea salt. They didn’t last long.

KaleChips3

The olive oil gives them a gorgeous sheen and helps maintain the bright green colour.

Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 400 g Curly Kale
  • 2 tbsps Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 cup fine grated Parmesan Cheese

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 93° C (200°F )(I used my convection (fan) setting).
  2. Wash kale and remove thick ribs. Cut into bite-sized pieces keeping in mind that they will shrink to about half their raw size.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over kale and toss to coat evenly. I gave them a quick, light massage.
  4. Spread on a cookie sheet so they are on one layer and not over lapping. Bake for 15-20 minutes tossing occasionally until crisp. Sprinkle cheese over hot kale and toss to coat.
  5. Serve immediately.
KaleChips2

They were crispy and very tasty.

TilapiawithMangoSalsat_First

Summer is coming. That’s what I’m told, I hardly believe them though. But with the warmer weather on the horizon (possibly as far away as Europe) I have again begun to think about lighter dishes. Fish seems to be a four-letter word, not for me, of course, I love the stuff. But some people in this household don’t love it as much as I do, so selling it on the plate becomes a thing. I simply broiled this tilapia, seasoned with salt and pepper and wanted a little something tasty to dress it up and my Mango Salsa recipe was born. Like many savoury recipes on this blog, I urge you to make it your own, volumes are simply suggestions — you hate cucumber, omit it! Hate mango, try pineapple instead! It’s pretty darn tasty and quite easy to prepare — I like my salsa cubed into even little cubes, but you may like yours another way…GO FOR IT!

Tilapia with Mango Salsa

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup ripe mango, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup red pepper, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 200 g of cooked white fish (we used Tilapia but cod, halibut or monkfish would also work well)
  • a few handfuls of massaged kale (my dear friend Kelly at Inspired Edibles shares a very compelling story about getting intimate with your food, 50 Shades of Green-style!)

Directions:

  1. Combine the mango, cucumber, red pepper, cilantro and mix well. Pour the white balsamic into the mix and stir to combine, season to taste.
  2. Serve over broiled white fish on top of massaged kale leaves. Enjoy!

Notes:

  • This salsa would be lovely on BBQ chicken breast or even a steak if you’re feeling like red meat.
  • A mix of greens would be fine instead of the massaged kale but I love kale so I use it where I can.

SweetChiliSauce_First

Has spring arrived where you are? It sure hasn’t over here, in fact there is very little sign of it. Yes, we can be grateful that the snow has finally melted and that it hasn’t snowed in any measurable quantity for a few days, but these temperatures are killing us. Since I’ve begun my morning walks through High Park again (8km most mornings) it’s been so cold that I’m still wearing my long down-filled coat, hat, gloves and a balaclava around my neck at the ready when the howling wind rudely slaps my face. I’m ready for spring. With these cold temperatures, I’m still craving warming foods like my dear friend Sissi’s Dried Apricot and Chili Jelly. If you don’t know Sissi, she is an experienced cook with a passion for the Far East. Her recipes are uncomplicated and her writing style is elegant and beautiful and that’s something because English isn’t even her first language! I’m always drawn to Sissi’s recipes because she combines flavours that hit my palette perfectly. And she enjoys similar foods and textures that I do. Please visit Sissi’s blog for the original recipe because she has generously provided more details than I am providing.

Sweet Chili Sauce with Dried Apricots

Makes 250 mL sweet chili sauce

Ingredients:

  • 175 g dried apricots
  • 150 mL +100 ml cider vinegar
  • 100 g red Thai chili peppers
  • 200 g sugar
  • 50 mL water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 package pectin in powder (25 g)

Directions:

  1. Bring 150 mL vinegar to a boil and add the apricots to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. To a small food processor, add the hot peppers (discard the stalks and seeds) and the soaked apricots and pulse to chop reasonably finely.
  3. Combine the remaining ingredients (including the additional 50 mL vinegar) and boil 20 minutes,stirring constantly.
  4. Sprinkle the pectin over the surface and cook 10 more minutes, mixing well.
  5. Transfer the hot jelly into the sterilised jar or jars and cover with lid(s). Allow the jar to cool and refrigerate. If your jars are smaller (I used one 250 mL jar) you will want to process them as you would any canning project. I popped my single jar into the fridge and will use over the next month or so (or I will freeze for later use).
This is a very hot sauce.

This is a very hot sauce.

Notes:

  • I had intended on reducing the sugar but believe me, it NEEDS the sweetness because these peppers are HOT!
  • This is an excellent condiment but use conservatively as it is VERY HOT.

 

BourbonStreetMudPie_1

We had another Progressive Dinner a short time ago and because it was in such close proximity to Mardi Gras, we decided it would be a perfect theme! JT and I had dessert so I experimented with King’s Cake, a brioche style pastry roll with pecans and sugar, decorated with yellow, green and purple sanding sugars, but honestly it tasted like breakfast to me and not dessert (sorry Southerners), so back to the drawing board I went. JT suggested Mississippi Mud Pie and after a little research I agreed. Definitely decadent enough for a Mardi Gras dessert and it can be classed up, restaurant style. I found a delightful warm chocolate tart recipe on Anna Olson’s website and altered it a bit to include some of the warm spices reminiscent of King’s Cake. OK, I am fully aware that mud pie is usually made from ice cream and whipped cream, but hey, I’m taking artistic licence!

This was our 9th progressive dinner, we’ve been having them since 2012! It’s the BEST group of neighbours and everyone gives it their all to make the evening fantastic, which often lasts until the wee hours of the morning…

Here is the menu from this time around, everything was incredibly DELICIOUS!

House #1 Appetizers:

  • Spicy Cajun Shrimp
  • Fried Andouille Sausage
  • Crab Cakes

House #2 Main Course:

  • Blackened Chicken Thighs
  • Corn Maque Choux
  • Rice and Beans

House #3 Dessert:

  • Bourbon Street Mud Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream
  • Limoncello
  • Late night snack: homemade potato chips with sour cream (Greek yogurt) and onion dip
BoubonStMudPie_2687

It’s a tasty, chocolate tart.

Bourbon Street Mud Pie

Makes 8 servings of 10 cm or 4 inch mini tarts. Original recipe can be found here.

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 80 g icing sugar, sifted
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 160 g cake & pastry flour
  • 24 g Dutch Process cocoa powder
  • 20 g cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp bourbon

Directions for the pastry:

  1. Cream the icing sugar and butter until smooth, then add the yolks and bourbon all at once and beat until fully encorporated.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch and salt) into the butter mixture and stir by hand until evenly combined. The dough is much looser than most pastries. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment until just less than 2mm (¼” thick). Cut circles of the pastry to line eight 10 cm (4-inch) fluted tart shells with a  removable bottom, pressing the dough into the shells and trimming away any excess. If the dough softens, just pop it back into the freezer to harden up for a few minutes. Prick the pastry with a fork. Chill the tart shells for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the chilled tart shells onto a baking sheet and bake them for about 15-18minutes, until you see that the pastry has an even, dull finish. Allow to cool while preparing the filling.

Ingredients for the filling:

  1. 3 large egg separated
  2. 112 g sugar, divided
  3. 1 tsp finely grated orange zest
  4. 1 tsp cinnamon
  5. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  6. 12 g Dutch Process cocoa powder, sifted
  7. 86 g bittersweet chocolate, melted (but still warm)
  8. 30 bourbon

Directions for the filling:

  1. Whip the remaining 3 egg whites until foamy then slowly add ¼ cup of the sugar and continue whipping on high speed until the whites hold a soft peak. Set aside.
  2. Whip the 3 egg yolks with the remaining ¼ cup (112 g) of sugar, the vanilla and orange zest until pale and thick. Fold in the egg whites and gently whisk in the cocoa powder, melted chocolate and bourbon. You may refrigerate this overnight (I did for 1 night and 1 full day and it was fine).
  3. Pour the filling into the cooled tart shells and bake for about 8-12 minutes at 350°F until the tarts just begin to lose their shine around the edges, but the centre is still dark and glossy. Allow the tarts to cool 2 minutes, before carefully removing them from their shells to serve warm or allow to come to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream.
BourbonStreetMudPie

You may have noticed that this one has ganache on top…we determined was a bit excessive as it’s a very chocolatey tarte.

BoubonStMudPie_3 copy

This was my first try for a friend’s dinner but it turned out way too rich.

 

GlutenFreeCheeseSauce_1

Whether you’re gluten intolerant, just want to cut back or perhaps you have friends who are — this is a perfect sauce to have in your back pocket. Toss it on some pasta, zucchini ‘pasta’ or dress up some steamed cauliflower, you’ll be surprised at how good it is! I’m using my tried and true lentil purée for the thickener and boy does it thicken! And the cheese creams up with it perfectly — I used cheddar, but you can use whatever cheese you prefer. You’ll have to watch this sauce because it thickens very quickly and can become too thick when it cools down, so serve it hot. I hope you love this sauce as much as I do.

Gluten Free Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cooked puréed lentils
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 60 g grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp salt to taste
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cook milk and puréed lentils until smooth, thick and creamy.
  2. Add cheese and stir until smooth and melted.
  3. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.
GlutenFreeCheeseSauce

This is a really creamy sauce

Serving suggestions:

  • Serve over cooked macaroni garnish with Parmesan and broil for a minute until cheese is melted and bubbly. Garnish with chopped green onions and enjoy!
  • Pour over steamed broccoli or cauliflower.
  • Use as a base on pizza.
  • Make this into cheddar soup (although that would be very decadent!)
Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 11.16.26 AM

Based on 4 servings

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 11.17.40 AM

GuinessOnionSoup

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

Do you have any St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Years and years ago, my friend Barb (Profiteroles and Ponytails, on hiatus right now) used to drag us and a bunch of her buddies to some Irish pub uptown. It became quite the tradition, each year a different venu, drinking beer and getting silly (and by getting silly, I am specifically referring to the particularly exuberant cheers when we smashed our beer glasses and broke a few!). When she moved out west, we just stopped celebrating. Then about 6 years ago (actually, 6 years and 2 weeks), my dear friend and colleague Andy and his partner Mark opened an Irish Pub in Leslieville called The Roy Public House (named after Mark’s dad who passed a few years earlier) and ever since we’ve been celebrating this holiday with a beer or two there (I might add, with mature calmness!). I just love heading over to the east end of Toronto, the pub is always filled with locals and friends and it’s a great spot to catch up over a pint. The food is pretty tasty too, the Cobb Salad and the Half Pound Beef Dip are a couple of our favourites. If you’re ever in the big smoke, you MUST drop by and have a pint and grab a bite. This particular St. Patrick’s Day will be no different…sometime tomorrow afternoon we’ll pop over to The Roy and raise a glass or two in honour of St. Patrick.

Have you ever had a recipe in your head for months and months? This Irish inspired soup was something I had at a rather unassuming Irish pub in Barrie last fall…we were heading up to my brother’s cottage for Thanksgiving and our normal Sushi lunch place, just off the highway had unexpectedly closed down so we needed a new place, fast. We had been running late and were very hungry so we literally stopped at the first place we found in old downtown and what luck that we did. They have a chef who insists on house-made menu items and the Guinness Onion Soup is one of her specialties so I had to try it. It actually floored me on how delicious it was! The Guinness caramelizes the onions beautifully and brings a rich (not bitter) flavour to the soup — dare I say, even better than the traditional French Onion Soup. I had this soup in my head all winter long and knew eventually a recipe needed to be developed so what better time to develop it than for St. Patrick’s Day. Other than a little slicing, it’s a pretty easy recipe, I even made my own no knead bread (because JT was up at Limerick Township doing his Councillor duties!).

The recipe makes 1.75 L and it’s totally freezable (or you can have it for three lunches and three dinners like we did — I liked the soup THAT much).

GuinessOnionSoup2

The broth is a bit richer than traditional French Onion Soup

 

Guinness Onion Soup with Cheddar and Croutons

Makes 1.75 L (depending on how much you boil it down)

Ingredients:

  • 650 g sweet onions, finely sliced
  • 200 g leeks, finely sliced
  • 440 mL Guinness draft
  • Quick spray of canola oil
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup unpasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar 1 L beef stock
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup grated old cheddar per serving
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Sweat the onions and leeks in a large oven proof Dutch oven until translucent and have begun to caramelize (about 30 minutes).
  2. Pre-heat oven to 300° F (149° C)
  3. Add the Guinness and apple cider vinegar and bring to a boil. Add bay leaves and give it a stir.
  4. Cover with a loosely cut piece of parchment with a hole in the centre like the illustration and place in oven until onions are richly caramelized and Guinness has cooked down about 30-45 minutes.
  5. Remove from the oven and add 1 L of beef stock and bring back to a boil on the stove, taste and season now (keeping in mind that the cheddar will also add some saltiness).
  6. Create large homemade croutons from a couple of slices of no knead bread (cut into 2-3 cm (1″) cubes and toss with a little canola oil, toast until crispy all over.
  7. Ladle about 1 cup of soup into each pre-warmed bowl with a generous serving of cooked onions. Add broth to cover and sprinkle some grated cheddar over the onions. Add a few croutons and add more cheddar. Broil on high until cheese melts and is bubbly. Serve immediately, don’t stop to take photos.
parchment2

Notes:

  • There are a lot of onions in this version because I was looking for a hearty soup.
  • Notice I didn’t do the calorie calculation, there are some things we just don’t need to know.
  • The vinegar adds a little bite and bit of sweetness, if you don’t like my Onion Confit then omit it or add less (or even substitute a good, rich balsamic vinegar).

TunaCasseroleMakeover_1This past week was International Women’s Day and I was generously invited (by my dear colleague and friend, Andrea) to the City of Brampton’s 2015 Women’s Day Event and the keynote speaker was none other than celebrity chef Anna Olson! I’ve been a long admirer of Chef Anna’s work from the very first time we dined at Inn on the Twenty in Jordan, Ontario where she and her husband Michael were the executive chefs, more than 15 years ago! These days Chef Anna works with Food Network Canada and is currently starring in Bake with Anna Olson as well as authoring cook books, managing her website, blog and social media outlets not to mention the presentation gigs. On Thursday, Chef Anna recounted her path on how she arrived at where she is today and it was inspirational! She was engaging, funny and interesting, the time just flew by. The audience of 140 were primarily comprised of entrepreneurial women and some young ladies from a local high school. Thank you Andrea for the invitation and the reminder that these networking events are worth every minute because you never know who you’ll meet and where that will lead (of course, I gave Chef Anna my contact info ;-)).

IWD_AnnaOlson

Chef Anna speaking at Lionhead Golf and Conference Centre in Brampton.

Eva_AnnaOlson

That’s me after I had my lovely new cookbook signed by Chef Anna!

Chef Anna’s primary food influence was her grandmother and as I reflected on who my primary influence was (my dear Mother, of course) I also thought about other influences I’ve had over the years, like JT’s mother. JT’s mother was a typical North American cook of that era, not overly adventurous but she made a tuna casserole in the 80’s that was a family favourite. Canned cream of mushroom soup (or cream of celery), a can of tuna, some cooked noodles, perhaps some chopped onion and the pièce de résistance: crumbled salted potato chips on top! Bake in a casserole dish until thoroughly warmed through and serve immediately. Being raised in a Hungarian home, I had never had tuna in this way (or canned tuna any other way for that matter) and having potato chips on top was such a treat. Of course, these days we don’t buy canned soups (too much sodium) nor do we indulge in potato chips, but I wanted the flavour of this retro meal so I reinvented it in a slightly healthier way. I got the thumbs up from JT. Definitely a keeper!

TunaCasserole

Tuna Casserole Makeover

A Kitcheninspirations Original Recipe!

Ingredients for Creamed Mushroom Soup (yields 300 mL):

  • 60 g little button mushrooms
  • 125 g chopped onion
  • 20 g dried wild mushroom mix (rehydrated in 375 mL (1 1/2 cups) water, reserve liquid)
  • 20 g red lentils (thickener)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Sea salt

Directions for the Creamed Mushroom Soup:

  1. Rehydrate the mushrooms in 375 mL of hot water (you can microwave this for a couple of minutes to get it going faster). Strain into a fine sieve (I use a dedicated coffee filter) and reserve liquid. Wash the mushrooms thoroughly. Chop mushrooms into smaller bits (allows for the really chewy parts to hydrate faster) and set aside.
  2. Cook the onions with a spray of canola oil until translucent, add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add lentils and 375 mL of mushroom broth and rehydrated mushrooms. Cook until lentils are completely cooked and mushrooms have no chewy bits, season with salt. 
  3. Pulse with an immersion blender until smooth and silky. You may push this through a fine sieve if you’d like, but I didn’t think it was necessary. Set aside 250 mL (1 cup) and freeze the rest, it’s great for soups, gravy or even a base for pizza.

Ingredients for the Tuna Casserole:

  • 120 g drained albacore tuna in water
  • 1/2 cup pearl barley
  • 150 g green beans, washed and cut into thirds (bite-sized pieces)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions for the Tuna Casserole:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 350° F (176° C).
  2. In the same pot as you made the creamed mushrooms, toast the pearl barley in a little oil, add about 250 mL (1 cup) water and cook the barley until about 3/4 done (it will continue to cook in the casserole) until almost all of the water has been absorbed and what’s left is thick. The barley should still have quite a chewy texture.
  3. Combine the cleaned and cut green beans and roughly separated, drained tuna with the barley, add the creamed mushroom soup, 1 cup of water and give it a good stir. You may keep everything in your pan if it’s oven proof, I transferred it to two small oven proof casseroles that I lightly oiled.
  4. Combine the Greek yogurt, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and dollop on top. Bake for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature is 160°F (71° C). Serve with a small green salad.
TunaCasserole_2

This is the Greek yogurt topping before I baked it.

Notes:

  • You may, of course use canned soup and not make your own creamed mushrooms.
  • We prefer to use Albacore tuna in water, but the choice is yours.
  • Don’t like green beans? Use celery instead (I had green beans on hand).
  • We are trying to cut back so I used this recipe for four servings. JT said he could have easily eaten one small casserole on his own (even though I did serve him 3/4 of it!).
  • I have a double oven and I baked this in the top, smaller oven so I was able to get a little browning on the topping without turning on the broiler. If you bake these in a large oven, you may wish to broil the tops for colour and texture!
  • Substitute quinoa or bulgur to lower the calories and carbs a bit (makes it 5 points in WW). Leave out the Parmesan and bread crumbs to bring the WW points down even further to 4!
Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 11.18.32 AM

Weight Watchers Points

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 11.15.47 AM

For fun I did the original recipe as comparison. WW points for the original recipe would have been 12!

 

 

 

 

El Catrin

Recently, we had brunch at a relatively new Mexican Restaurant in the Distillery District. El Catrin is what I would call a contemporary Mexican restaurant, it’s not the run-of-the-mill antiqued hub caps, large neon flickering signs, rusty metal or garish tiles no, El Catrin has taken all the familiar elements of Mexican design and incorporated them into a contemporary style that is clean, fun and unquestionably Mexican. The striking two-story mural painted by artist Oscar Flores spans the entire width of the grand cathedral-like space and its subject matter and colours awaken your senses as soon as you set foot inside, preparing you for the sensation you had hoped for. There is a wall of hand painted skulls strategically lit giving the space an aura of macabre (click here for more interior photos). The lighting is tasteful incorporating oversized barrel shades with lace-like cut outs and the inside of the shades are painted yellow which cast a beautiful warm glow over diners. Although the space is enormous, it’s warm and inviting and not as loud as I would have expected.

InteriorElCatrin_1

It’s a tastefully decorated Mexican Restaurant

It was not busy when we dined there so our experience may not be normal because I understand that this is quite the happening place at night. Our server was friendly and attentive. We started with the guacamole but it was a misunderstanding that it was ordered. I thought the waitress had asked us if we wanted ‘drinks to start’ with but infact she had said “guacamole to start?” (I guess it was noisier than I thought). JT heard it right and just about fell off his chair when I said “yes”. When the guacamole arrived the truth came out. Usually when it’s just the two of us, we don’t order guacamole because it fills us up too much and we overeat. Not with standing, we ate the entire order and thank god they didn’t offer to replenish the chips because we would have polished them off too. I don’t know about you, but I find guacamole in restaurants quite expensive and this one was no different ($11 for the small). It was a traditional recipe and the waitress brought it out in a mortar and pestle and finished squashing the avocados and doing the final mix at the table. We ordered the plain version made with avocado, tomato, onion, fresh cilantro and serrano chili but for an extra $9, you could order a version with Crickets. Yes, you read that correctly. Definitely not my cup of tea, but go ahead and order if you dare.

We ordered two smallish plates of soup and a salad; I adored my choice, Sopa de Tortilla ($8), a tomato and chili broth bursting with flavour served with crispy corn tortillas, avocado chunks, queso cotjia garnished with crema fresca and lime. JT was not as thrilled with his choice, Ensalada Tomatillo ($8) which had onion, fresh cilantro, radish, serrano chili, fresh cheese dressed with a flavourful tequila lime vinaigrette — I tried it and liked it a lot, I think the tomatillos threw him a bit. We both chose soft tacos (me flour and JT corn) and our plan had been to eat only one or two of the three tacos and save the rest, but it was so good, neither of us could stop (we had popcorn for dinner that night!). JT’s Pollo Con Mole ($15) made from pulled chicken cooked in a light mole, crema fresca, cotija cheese, xni-pec, toasted sesame seeds nestled comfortably on a fresh corn tortilla. JT said the mole was good but not nearly as rich as some of the other moles he has experienced. I had the Gobernador ($15) which had succulent and perfectly cooked lobster and shrimp stuffed into a soft and tender flour tortilla with black bean purée garnished chipotle aioli; I was pleasantly surprised with the quantity of lobster in this dish. The plates were full of the bright flavours associated with Mexican cuisine and were absolutely delicious. I have to say that the quantity wasn’t nearly as generous as some of the other Mexican restaurants in Toronto that we have been to, but having said that, we still did not have room for dessert :-).

SOPA DE TORTILLA

Sopa de Tortilla $8 Canadian. This soup was very tasty

ENSALADA DE TOMATILLO

Ensalada de tomatillo $8 Canadian. I enjoyed this salad and would consider ordering it even though JT wasn’t a fan.

PulledChickenMole

JT’s Pollo con Mole $15 Canadian

GOBERNADOR

This is my Gobernador $15, it has a decent amount of lobster

In more pleasant weather (we were there when it was -20°C (-4°F)) there is an interior courtyard patio, lit with similar barrel shades as the inside, there are also several heat lamps as well as a gorgeous gas fire pit burning in the centre; will have to come back in the summer as I love a patio that is no where near a road.

ElCatrin_Patio

The fire pit gives an amazing ambiance, even in the winter!

 

Overall rating of El Catrin: Decor 4.5/5, service 3.5/5, food 4/5, Value 3/5, Noise: 3.5/5 (1 being very noisy, and 5 being very quiet).

Disclaimer: We purchased our meals for full price and my opinions just that, my opinions.

 

El Catrin Destileria

18 Tank House Lane in The Historic Distillery District
55 Mill St. Toronto (street address).

Hours:

Lunch:
Monday – Friday 11:30am – 4pm

Dinner:
Monday – Thursday 5pm – 11pm
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No Knead Bread Revisited

NoKneadBread_intro

Several years ago I posted a few no knead bread recipes (here, here and here) and over the years we (read JT) have continued to make this mindless, easy, delicious and beautiful artisan looking bread so I thought it would be good to revisit the post and update with new images. You may recall that this was JTs baby and to this day, he is the maker of this tasty bread. I also wish to add a caveat that this bread is CRAZY EASY to make so, all you yeast doubters (you know who you are) I strongly encourage you to make this bread. Seriously, you can’t fail!

We made this batch for Valentine’s Day to be served with the meatless balls and boy was it successful — our dinner guests loved it so much they asked for the recipe and then they made it the very next day! How cool is that?

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This is our friend’s bread, pictured in their spankin’ new kitchen!

I don’t know what happened to the recipe but it disappeared. I have included it now. I must give a shout-out to A-Boleyn from Live Journal, who asked some questions which lead me to discover that the recipe went AWOL.

No Knead Bread

No Knead Bread Ingredients:

  • 375 g (3 cups) all purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast
  • 1/4 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 380 mL (1 2/3 cup) warm water

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl, mix with a wooden spoon.
  2. In a measuring cup, add the red wine vinegar to the water and stir. Pour the vinegar water mixture into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. The dough will be shaggy. Let rest for 4 hours in a warm area. JT usually puts a piece of clear plastic wrap over the top of the bowl.
  3. Dough is ready when it is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour work surface and place the dough on it, sprinkle a little more flour on top and fold the dough over itself a couple of times. Leave bread on the work surface and cover loosely with the recycled plastic wrap from the first rising and allow to rest for 15 more minutes.
  4. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball (JR does this by simply pushing and folding, no kneading necessary). Generously dust a clean cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal and lay dough ball directly on it, seam-side down. Dust dough lightly with more cornmeal and cover with another clean cotton towel.
  5. Dough should rest 2 hours or until it is more than double in size. At least 30 minutes before you wish to bake the bread, heat the oven to (232° C) 450° F. Put a 6 to 8 quart heavy cast iron pot with a lid into the oven and heat both oven and pot up as the oven warms. When the pot is heated through, add some cornmeal to the bottom and gently roll the dough into the hot pot, seam side up (JT does this by taking the cloth that the bread rested on and just roll it off the cloth into the pot). Be careful, the pot is extremely hot. It will look like a mess, but it will be OK. Cover with lid and bake for 35 minutes, then remove lid and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Cool on wire rack.
NoKneadBread_2
The crust is incredible. Sadly, the photo is not.
NoKneadBread_3

The baguette is about 25-30cm (12 inches) long x 7-8 cm (3 inches) wide and the boule is about 15-20cm in diametre, perfect for 4 for a meal!

Notes:

  • We usually make one large boule out of this recipe but the last time we did 1 small boule ( in a 1.8L cast iron enamel pot with lid) and 1 baguette (in a similar pan as this)
  • If you use Le Creuset then make sure you change the lid knob out to a metal one because the black ones shouldn’t be heated at that high temperature.

MeatlessBalls_intro

You may recall that several months ago I did some food prep for the Global Morning Show showcasing a new cookbook Toronto Cooks; 50 Toronto Restauranteur chefs gave up their signature recipes for this beautifully photographed cookbook and they are the actual recipes that they serve in their restaurants without any intentional omissions! I had the privilege of making Chef Rocco Agostino’s Spicy Meatballs and although the meatballs were out of this world, they were slightly on the heavier side than I like to eat so when I saw Lorraine’s Vegetarian Bean and Quinoa Meatballs recipe, I was all over it! Because I wanted an Italian flavoured ball I used only her base ingredients and the flavourings from Chef Rocco’s incredible recipe. Thank you Lorraine, you’ve come up with another winner! The meatless balls are tender with great texture from the bulgur (a swap I made due to an over processing error on my first test).

One of the key, flavour-building ingredients is Chef Rocco’s Bomba. Sadly I was not able to find the recipe online, so I am not going to post it. Bomba is a combination of raw vegetables, brined artichokes, Italian chili peppers as well as a few other flavourful ingredients, ready-made can be purchased at specialty stores or better yet, buy the Toronto Cooks cookbook, it’s the best Toronto Restaurant cookbook you’ll find!

Spicy Vegetarian Meatballs with a Rich Tomato Sauce

For the original recipe, please click here,

Ingredients, Tomato Sauce:

  • 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil
  • 200 g (1 small sweet onion) onion, finely diced
  • 10 g (3-4 cloves) finely chopped garlic
  • 680 mL puréed San Marzano tomatoes, with a little water to rinse out the jar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 125 mL (1/4 cup) Bomba
  • salt to taste (be careful because the Bomba can be salty)

Directions, Tomato Sauce:

  1. Heat a large dutch oven with 15 mL olive oil.
  2. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the tomato purée, baking soda and simmer for five minutes.
  3. Add the chopped basil, Bomba and simmer until dark and thick. You may cool and refrigerate at this point.

Ingredients, Meatless Balls:

  • 15 mL olive oil
  • 130 g onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 10 g dried wild dehydrated mushroom powder
  • 125 mL roasted red pepper, puréed
  • 45 mL (3 tbsp) Bomba
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan grams?
  • 30 g (1/4 cup) ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 124 g 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 136 g raw bulgur (yields 2 cups cooked) 170 g bulgur yields
  • 65 g dry red kidney beans, cooked as per package directions and chopped roughly
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped finely

Directions, meatless balls:

  1. Add oil to a hot frying pan and cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Cool completely.
  2. In a large bowl, add the cooked bulgar, chopped cooked beans and onion mixture and mix with a fork. Add the roasted red pepper purée, Bomba, Parmesan, ground almond and bread crumbs and mix in well with the fork. Taste for seasoning (taste now because you won’t be able to when you add the eggs) and add salt and pepper as required.
  3. Slightly whisk two eggs and incorporate into the mix.
  4. Fold in the fresh parsley, chives and basil.
  5. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F. Bake meatless balls for 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
  7. Cool completely and refrigerate until required.
  8. Reheat sauce. Reheat meatless balls for 20 minutes at 300F..
BakingMeatlessBalls

These are the little guys baking.

MeatlessBalls_1

Don’t let them fool you, these are very filling meatless balls.

SobeysCardinalMeatsBunker

I was so pleasantly surprised the other day at the grocery store when I saw my own work on the packaging! I worked a full week on these easy to assemble, ready made foods.

Notes:

  • Although I do love quinoa, I substituted bulgur here because I had over processed my first recipe test and it resulted in a pasty texture so instead of chucking the whole thing, I added bulgur. My husband loved the texture so when I made the second batch I simply substituted it altogether.
  • This recipe is about texture as much as it is about flavour, although it’s not meat, the texture has a great bite to it.
    I found reheating the meatless balls in the sauce softened them up too much so I heated them in the oven 300F for 15-20 minutes.
    As most dishes like this, it’s best the next day so I always make it one day before I needed it.

Roasted Tomato Soup

RoastedTomatoSoup

This time of year, those of us who live in the northern hemisphere are not quite as fortunate as those who live in the southern hemisphere; I’m referring to being able to source the best produce, of course. Personally, I think tomatoes are the greatest disappointment by far (next to strawberries). More often than not, I bite into a tomato and taste nothing. Nadda. Mealy. Pasty. Nothing. This time of year, I tend to gravitate toward the best canned tomatoes, knowing that they were picked and packed at their prime. But somehow, when it comes to using the humble tomato as the main ingredient, the STAR as it were, I feel that canned just wouldn’t cut it and alternative measures must be taken.

Some of you who have been on this journey with kitcheninspirations will recall that I posted a rant and a solution about unseasonal tomatoes a few years ago (4 to be exact) and todays post is about a great use for those oven-dried tomatoes. Oven drying is a long procedure but well worth it, particularly because there is little to no effort involved. Just a few clicks on the hydro metre and you’re almost all the way to a delicious tomato recipe.

Roasted Tomato Soup

Serves 4-5 150-175 mL servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg (2.2 lbs) tomatoes ~ this doesn’t have to be precise (I used vine ripened)
  • 500 mL to 1 L chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, roasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (or chicken stock stock)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 4 tbsp goats cheese, at room temperature
  • 4 tsp unflavoured yogurt

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 250° F (121° C).
  2. Remove all loose skin from each garlic clove, leaving the tight skin on. Place the cloves into a small ramekin and add about 2 tbsp olive oil and some sea salt. Cover with foil wrap and tuck into the corner of the oven. If you prefer not to bake the garlic at the same time as the tomatoes, you may roast the garlic in a 350° F (177° C) oven for 40-45 minutes or until soft.
  3. Wash and slice the tomatoes into thirds (believe me, the tomatoes lose a lot of water in the dehydration process so you must leave them THICK). Place cut side down on some paper towel for about a minute.
  4. Rub a cooling rack with a lightly oiled paper towel and place directly over a baking sheet (to catch any drippings).
  5. Arrange the tomatoes cut-side up on the prepared cooling rack and place in the centre of the pre heated oven. “Bake” for 4-5 hours until most of the moisture has been eliminated from the tomato.
  6. Once dehydrated, add all of the tomatoes and the roasted garlic (skin removed), baking soda into a heat-proof bowl and slowly add the stock. Blitz with the immersion (stick) blender until smooth, adding more chicken stock until the desired consistency has been achieved. Season with salt as desired.
  7. Push through a fine sieve and blitz once more for added creaminess.
  8. Combine the goats cheese and the yogurt and whip until fluffy. Set aside for serving.
  9. When ready to serve, heat the soup through and add a dollop of the goats cheese and yogurt into the centre. Serve piping hot.
RoastedTomatoSoup2

This thick, creamy soup is perfect for cold, snowy days. It would also be delicious chilled on a hot summers day.

Notes:

  • The addition of baking soda came from JT, he uses this trick in his delicious Chicken Cacciatore to quell the acidity of the tomatoes. It really brings out the tomatoes’ sweetness — try it instead of adding sugar!
  • I whipped the goats cheese with yogurt to make it easier to melt into the soup, we swirled it in and it was delicious.

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Grilled Kalbi Rib Benny

KalbiBenny_Blog

Last Friday night we went out for dinner but finding a spot was a much more arduous task than usual because it was Winterlicious. Winterlicious/Summerlicious theme was originally developed by the City of Toronto to encourage residents to go out for meals after the unfortunate SARS breakout in 2002; it’s a participation event where restaurants offer prix fixe meals for standardized rates (Lunch: $18 • $23 • $28; Dinner: $25 • $35 • $45). This year there are over 200 participating restaurants! What’s really cool is that some really high end restaurants participate where you get a three course meal for $45 Canadian (in some of these places $45 is usually just the main course!). It’s a great way to sample some expense account restaurants. But don’t think the restaurants aren’t making money because as one restaurateur once told me that because people perceive they are getting a deal on their meals, they will splurge on the bottle of wine, or two (in Ontario our restaurant liquor is usually marked up 3 times)! Getting a reservation this time of year is no easy task, even in non-participating places, but participating places it’s next to impossible. One year, I was on the phone for over an hour trying to get connected to a highly demanded Summerlicious restaurant, it was like calling a radio station for a prize, you just keep calling and calling and calling until you were connected. One year I gave up after 45 minutes of re-dial!

These days, I just couldn’t be bothered trying to get into the popular places plus we’re still trying to cut back consumption so three courses just isn’t what we want to eat, no matter how good the price. So Friday night we went to the newest addition of the Playa Cabana restaurants on Bloor, Playa Cabana Barrio. It’s part of a small Mexican group in Toronto and we have found (at their three other restaurants) the food to be exceptional and reasonably priced. This one was in Little Korea and the menu read more Korean than Mexican. I usually preview the menu but I was busy and didn’t this time. I was really in the mood for Mexican. The narrow restaurant was very crowded (imagine the width just wide enough for one table on either side, one parallel to the wall and one perpendicular). The tables are very close together so it’s difficult not to say ‘Hi’ and chat with the table next to yours (impossible for JT, that is). We were very fortunate as we had two young women from each end of the country (Victoria, BC and St. John, Newfoundland) reuniting for a girls weekend and we hit it off, weaving short conversations between courses about places they should go to in Toronto and their lives at the polar opposites of Canada.

One of the courses they ordered was BBQ’d Kalbi Ribs which came out “Fred Flintstone” style, piled up on a plate. When I say piled, it must have been 20 cm (8 inches) high! And I’m not exaggerating! It was difficult not to comment (for JT, that is)! But here’s the most unusual part: they insisted we take the last mammoth rib home as they were staying in a hotel (it was served family style, so it wasn’t handled). So we DID! Is that not the best story EVER? How many times have you wanted to give your uneaten food away while on holiday? It’s really a shame to throw away perfectly good left-overs (as long as they weren’t handled)

This inspiration is the result of that donated doggy bag of “Fred Flintstone” proportion Korean BBQ’d beef short rib!

KalbiBenny2_Blog

Although the yolk doesn’t look as runny, it really was!

BBQ’d Kalbi Benny

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 left-over BBQ’d Kalbi Short Rib with kimchi
  • 2 crêpes (recipe can be found here)
  • Hollandaise sauce (make your fav, healthy or not)
  • 2 poached eggs

Directions:

  1. Reheat rib and once hot, shred with two forks.
  2. Fold crêpe into fourths and spread the shredded rib meat in the centre.
  3. Top rib meat with a little of the left-over kimchi, then the egg and pour hot hollandaise over.
  4. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  • This inspiration ‘recipe’ would work famously with any shredded left-over meat.
  • If having ribs for dinner, set aside one or two so you can have this fabulous breakfast.
  • Coleslaw may be substituted for the kimchi or omitted, but it was a tasty addition.
  • English muffins or any type of bread, for that matter may be substituted for the crêpes, I just wanted a slightly less heavy carb.
KalbiBenny3_blog

Lighting is everything.

BakedBrie_Intro

To be honest, I had not intended on posting this recipe but the accolades it received at a party we had late last year with our neighbours, well, I just couldn’t ignore it. If you like warm, melty brie, chopped cashews and almonds, some chopped dried cherries, apricots and raisins then this is for you. Oh, did I forget to mention the home-made caramel sauce? Yes, you did read that correctly.

Ingredients for the Brie:

  • Small round of Brie
  • About 50 g chopped nuts (I used cashews and almonds)
  • 25 g chopped dried cherries
  • 25 g chopped dried apricots
  • 25 g golden raisins
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Ingredients for the caramel sauce:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 tsp lyle’s Golden syrup
  • 3/4 tsp water
  • Dash of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, heated
  • 1/2 tbsp salted butter

Directions:

  1. Pre heat oven to 275° F (135° C).
  2. Combine the nuts and dried fruit with the spices and set aside.
  3. In a microwave proof measuring cup, add the sugar, syrup, water and lemon juice, whisk to combine.
  4. Microwave the sugar mixture on high until it JUST begins to darken (mine was a hair less than 1 minute 20 seconds, using a new microwave — watch it carefully). Remove it carefully from the microwave and set aside on a heat-proof surface and watch it turn dark amber.
    Meanwhile, heat the heavy cream until almost boiling. When the melted sugar had reached a gorgeous amber colour, slowly add the hot cream while whisking. Add hot cream little by little as it will bubble up. Stir in butter until melted.
    Pour hot caramel over spiced nut and dried fruit mix, toss until combined.
  5. Place Brie round in the centre of a heat proof vessel (I used cast iron so it will keep warm for a while). Pour the nut caramel mixture over the Brie and bake until Brie is hot and melty 5-10 minutes. Serve with French stick and crackers.
BakedBrie_Blog

I wish I had shot a pic of it right out of the oven but sadly it disappeared too quickly!

 

Bucket list: Macarons

Macarons

Strike one off the bucket list: French Macarons

 

 

 

Updated May 2016.

Do you have a cooking bucket list? I’ve had an informal (read: in my head) bucket list for quite some time; on it you’ll find duck, szalonczukor (a Hungarian fondant candy), spun sugar, puff pastry, phyllo pastry and last but not least, French Macarons! This post is about Macarons.

I was first introduced to these French Macarons a few years ago, a friend had brought a few back for me from Ladurée in Paris. My first bite experience was INCREDIBLE: crunchy, airy, lightly sweet, slightly chewy, fragrant, creamy, buttery. It was an awakening! It’s what you Aussie’s would call moreish and I would even go further to say needish, wantish, must-haveish!

The flavour combinations are limitless and I’ve even seen some savoury versions floating about the web-o-sphere (I must admit, a savoury version makes me cringe a bit). Today, I will share with you my second attempt recipe even though my first version turned out wonderfully, they were rather irregular in size and therefore not blog worthy. I used a Martha Stewart recipe for the meringue bit and a standard custard-based butter cream for the filling. The flavours I chose were: attempt 1 was lemon, attempt 2 were ice wine and pomegranate, chocolate and hazelnut. All were really delicious but my favourite was the lemon.

I will begin by saying that making Macarons are not as difficult as you might think; you need patience, a little know how and perseverance. The ingredients are simple and few. It makes me wonder why they charge so much for them, it must be the pomp and circumstance because it isn’t the cost of ingredients!

This blog post is an excellent reference; the professional baker did all the time-consuming comparisons and experimentation and documented it. My advice: Go with confidence and you WILL rock the recipe.

Bucket List

Macarons

Original Martha Stewart recipe can be found here.

Ingredients for basic Macaron:

  • 35 g blanched almond meal or flour
  • 58 g icing sugar
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp gel food colouring (I used Christmas red)

Ingredients for Favoured Macarons:

  • 35 g blanched almond meal or flour
  • 53 g icing sugar
  • 5 g flavour such as unsweetened cocoa powder (sifted) or espresso powder
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 25 g granulated sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (177° C). Place the rack in lower part of the oven.
  2. Prepare your macaron template using your computer to draw 2.5 cm or 1″ circles about 2.5cm or 1″ apart. Print two sheets. Put the two sheets under your UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner to use as your circle templates.

    MacaronTemplate

    This is the circle template under the UNSTICK liner.

  3. In a coffee grinder, grind the almond flour in batches to a fine consistency (being careful not to make paste (marzipan) out of it). Omit if you can purchase extra finely ground almond flour.
  4. Transfer ground almonds to a food processor and add the icing sugar; process until combined, about 1 minute.
  5. Press the almond/sugar mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the larger bits. You should have no more than 1 tbsp left, if you do, grind in coffee grinder again and press through fine sieve until you have no more than 1 tbsp left (save larger almond bits for something else).
  6. Whisk egg whites and granulated sugar by hand to combine. Then beat on medium speed (#4 on a KitchenAid) for about 2 minutes, then increase speed to medium-high (#6) and beat 2 additional minutes. Then beat on high (#8) for 2 minutes more. The beaten egg whites will hold very stiff, glossy peaks when you lift the whisk out of the bowl. DO NOT OVER WHIP.
  7. Add your choice of flavourings and food colourings and beat on the highest speed for about 1 minute. Just a drop if using flavouring or colour.
  8. Then add dry ingredients ALL at ONCE (yes, I know many recipes say to fold in gingerly, but you really don’t have to), then fold with a spatula from bottom of bowl upward and end by pressing the flat side of the spatula firmly through centre of mixture. Repeat this process until all of the almond/sugar mixture has been incorporated and the ‘batter’ flows like lava (I counted about 35 complete strokes).
  9. Prepare you pastry bag fitted with a 1 cm or 3/8″ round tip. Transfer the batter to the pastry bag.
  10. Begin piping the batter onto the prepared UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner directly over the circles you’ve previously prepared. I found starting at the outer edge and piping into the centre to the easiest way to keep the Macarons uniform, repeat until you’ve used up your batter. Martha suggests you pipe about 1 cm or 1/2″ above the pan, whatever you do, you must be consistent to keep the batter even (so your circles are all the same size). Gently slide out the template paper from beneath the UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner.
  11. Allow the pan to rest for 15 minutes, by doing this you give the peaks time to even out so your Macarons are beautiful and flat on top. Some suggest that you gently bang the pan a few time to remove air bubbles, I found I didn’t have many bubbles.
  12. Bake each sheet separately for 13 minutes, rotating halfway through if your oven doesn’t bake evenly. Gently slide the liner off the baking sheet and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. The UNSTICK™ baking sheet liner allows you to  pry off each macaron half easily onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. You may freeze the Macaron halves at this point in a well sealed, air-tight container.
  13. Prepare your butter cream.
MacaronFlavours

Great flavours to make macarons with.

Basic Butter Cream Recipe:

Ingredients:

    • 3 egg yolks
    • 35 g granulated sugar
    • 3 1/2 tablespoons milk
    • 105 g unsalted butter, softened
    • 62 g icing sugar

Ingredients for Ice Wine and Pomegranate Butter Cream:

    • 5 g ice wine syrup
    • 1 g pomegranate molasses
    • 2 drops generic red icing colour

Ingredients for Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cream:

    • 2 tbsp Nutella or hazelnut chocolate spread

Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine the egg yolks, milk and granulated sugar and whisk. Cook over medium heat until the egg thickens to coat the back of a spoon (like pudding). Remove from heat and allow to cool COMPLETELY.
  2. When cool, beat the butter with the icing sugar until light and fluffy and add the cooked egg mixture and beat on high until very fluffy.
  3. To make two flavours, divide the buttercream in half (roughly) and to each half add the flavourings.
  4. Pair each Macaron half to a half that is more or less is the same size and shape, set aside.
  5. Onto one-half of each Macaron pair, pipe the buttercream but not to the edge. Take the other half and gently squeeze the to side together so the buttercream squishes almost to the edge. Set aside. When you have filled all the halves, set on a clean baking sheet and refrigerate until buttercream is set. Store in an air-tight container on their sides until ready to serve. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

A few notes:

    • I prefer weight measures over volume because it’s more accurate.
    • I ground my almonds in a coffee grinder because it results in a finer grind and apparently the grind is very important. Update May 2016: a fine grind almond meal is now available at my Bulk Barn so I no longer require to grind it in the coffee grinder.
    • I used Wilton’s paste food colouring for the ice wine Macaron cookies.
    • I ruined a batch using the convection setting in my oven; they didn’t spread nor did they rise or develop feet.
    • Over the years, I have made quite a few batches of these treats (the latest May 2016 was 146 macarons for our anniversary party). Two observations: Do not over beat the egg whites or they will not form feat and they will crack. Also, I found that they will crack if you do not fold the almond meal into the egg whites enough, the batter really needs to behave like lava, a slow moving thick batter.
    • Update May 5, 2016: I have also used this recipe from the very lovely Lorraine over at Not Quite Nigella and it is excellent. Her recipe makes 461 g of buttercream and by my estimation, each macaron takes about 14 g of buttercream (or if you make small macarons, only about 7 g of buttercream).
Macarons_2

Tender, delicious, delicate cookies

Macarons_4

Betcha can’t eat just one!

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Yes, I did get carried away with the photos!

FirstMacarons_2

For my first attempt, I didn’t grind the almonds quite fine enough and that’s why the macaron is not smooth.

FirstMacarons_1

This is my first attempt, it’s lemon flavoured.

Infused Goats Cheese

The holidays are but a memory and we’re all back to our normal routines but we’re still seeing old and new friends whom we didn’t have time to see over the holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple yet flavourful dip to offer? This garlic infused goat’s cheese was an hors d’œuvres I had about 12 years ago at an old friend’s place and it always makes the cut; when I realized I hadn’t posted a recipe for it on the blog, I thought 2015 is the time! It’s really so easy it’s not even a recipe but an inspiration, thinly sliced cloves of garlic with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, fresh aromatic basil leaves and tangy sun-dried tomatoes makes this absolutely irresistible. Mix it up and add some sun dried black olives instead of the sun dried tomatoes. The longer you allow the garlic slices to infuse the goat’s cheese the better and make sure you allow this dip to warm up to room temperature before you serve it. And for heaven’s sake, please don’t forget to count the garlic slices and make sure you remove every single one of them before serving because it could be a rude awakening for some poor soul.

Infused Goats Cheese

Makes about 1/2 cup of goats cheese dip

Ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic sliced thinly (about 4-5 slices each, count the slices and take note)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 5 basil leaves sliced thinly
  • ~140 g goats cheese
  • 2 tbsp EVOO
  • 3 tbsp sun dried tomatoes in olive oil or chopped sun dried black olives

Directions:

  1. Spread the goats cheese into a resealable container. Spike the thinly sliced garlic into the goat’s cheese so it’s covering most of the cheese.
  2. Spread sliced basil over the cheese and poke them into the cheese. Sprinkle with salt and EVOO. Refrigerate at least 24 hours, longer is better.
  3. Before serving, transfer to a pretty plate and remove the garlic slices (this is why you count them). Dot with the sun dried tomatoes or chopped black olives.
  4. Allow the dip to come to room temperature to serve. Add more fresh basil, if you wish.

    This is the infusing process, the sun dried tomatoes or black olives are added just before serving.

    This is the infusing process, the sun dried tomatoes or black olives are added just before serving.

Product Review: Unstick

DeliciousShow

Quite some time ago I was approached by the creator of a new lineup of products called UNSTICK™. We spoke at length about the product and various applications and when I saw the product was launched last October at the Delicious food show I was ecstatic and impressed. I called the inventor immediately to congratulate them on the success of the launch and we talked about a product review. Kitcheninspirations was provided with products 1-5 for testing/reviewing with no other compensation. The following is my unbiased review.

UnstickProducts

The packaging is beautiful and clearly colour coded — believe it or not, a lot of brands get this wrong — you know the ones that you have to stand in front of for 10 minutes before you can figure out which one you usually buy?

“UNSTICK™ is made of a premium quality PTFE, which is a Teflon coated fiberglass material.”(1) It is FDA approved and is safe to use to 500° F (260° C). These products are made for everyday kitchen use and should be cared for like a reusable silicon sheet, never use sharp utensils, store rolled or flat, you know the drill. The beautiful thing about UNSTICK™ is that they are affordable (retails for $15.99-$19.99 Canadian) and are designed to fit many sizes of pots and pans. The bonus is if you can’t find one that fits, just cut it to size; presto, a custom-made reusable non-stick liner!

Why use a reusable non-stick liner? It’s not always about the ease of cleanup, that’s a no-brainer, for me it’s more about creating less waste (that means that you needn’t throw away a scratched teflon pan, just pop in an UNSTICK™ liner and you’re good to go) . It also creates a smooth surface over and above the normal texture of the pan — cakes have a beautiful, smooth crust to slather on icing, cookies spread uniformly and bake evenly. OK, clean up is a cinch and when you’re stuck in the kitchen baking or cooking for hours, a quick cleanup means 10 extra minutes you can sit before you start the next round! UNSTICK™ also cleans well, there is no greasy residue that some of the other name brand reusable silicon liners seem to get (no matter how hard you clean them). When you clean UNSTICK™, it actually feels clean and dries quickly. There is absolutely no smell or taste residue on baked goods (sometimes I find silicon pans have an odour). Another bonus is that you NEVER need to use any oil or nonstick spray and that’s better for you!

My first experiment with UNSTICK™ was the small loaf pan liner, it’s a pre-cut rectangle to fit snuggly in a 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pan. I baked a pumpkin loaf in it and it was so easy to remove (just pull up on the sides and lift the loaf out), the liner slides off perfectly.

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The flat loaf pan reusable sheet.

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The reusable sheet in the loaf pan.

The second go was Charles’ Swedish Chocolate Sticky Cake (Kladdkaka) in a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan. Although the insert performed perfectly, I wasn’t so thrilled with the inevitable jagged edges the insert cuts left on the cake. Perhaps a few more cuts would smooth out the circle?

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The flat spring-form reusable sheet

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The round sheet in the spring-form pan

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The jaggy cake. It’s 

The frying pan liner was next, most of my frying pans are cast iron perfectly seasoned, but I did give this a go and made an omelet roll (rolled like the Japanese omelet, tamagoyaki) filled with a crab and goat cheese mix. The egg cooked perfectly and because I wanted to roll it, the liner made it incredibly easy; just lift up one side, tuck under the edge and roll.

The baking sheet liner was a god-send over the holidays, many melty messes were easily cleaned up and the reusable sheets cooled down so quickly that I was able to reuse them immediately on subsequent bakings of the same batch (a definite plus over the standard silicon sheets which seem to take a while to cool).

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Roasting and baking sheet liner.

The oven liner is A M A Z I N G! It performs perfectly, it does NOT change the oven temperature one bit (like tin foil would) and because it has similar properties to the baking sheet (although the oven liner and the BBQ liners are much thicker) they are easy to handle and also cool down quickly so I was able to pull it out of my upper oven and test it in larger oven without having to wait for it to cool to handle it.

I have not tested the BBQ liner yet, there was a snowstorm the day I planned to give it a test and then later there was freezing rain, so we bunkered down, lit a fire, popped open the wine and chilled (I know you won’t mind). I can tell you what the BBQ liner would be amazing for is camping! OK, I’m not much of a camper but I do recall when my family when on a picnic to a public park and we used the communal hibachi BBQs, my Mom would spend at least an hour scrubbing the heck out of the communal hibachi so it wouldn’t be gross. The UNSTICK™ BBQ liner would allow you to spend a minimal amount of time to lightly clean the grill and put the liner on top, presto: covers up all the grossness and makes it safe to cook your own food. You could also fry an egg on it WITHOUT a pan! So if you’re camping and you have to portage, you need only take the UNSTICK™ lightweight BBQ liner and you’re good to go! No need for bulky heavy frying pans! It will also prevent flair ups and sauces will not drip all over your grill, gumming up the element or gas. And clean-up is a cinch, the gooey mess slides off and a dip in hot soapy water renders this clever product like new.

All in all, I am very happy with the performance of these products and I would definitely recommend them; I’m going to put an oven liner and a frying pan liner in my food styling kit which I know will save me precious minutes for clean up when I’m on set. Check out the UNSTICK™ shop here.

(1) from http://www.unstick.ca/faqs/

Merry Christmas Everyone

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Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas Eve is the more celebrated day in European families, even those residing in North America. Back when I was a child, my family would make the trip out to Northern Toronto on December 23 or 24 to buy our Christmas tree. It was tradition not to set up the tree until the day of Christmas Eve (although JT and I have been known to get our tree in late November!). Even though it was late by North American standards and the trees were pretty well picked over, we always managed to find a good one (not an easy task in a family of tree connoisseurs). One year the best tree (read fattest) was so short, we had to put it on a table. Mom said it was so more presents could fit under the tree. The only thing Dad did with the tree is put the lights on it. The lights would only be turned on to make sure they were evenly distributed and then they wouldn’t be turned on until later that night. Mom, my younger brother and I would always dress the tree. My favourite part was adding the tinsel after all the gorgeous hand blown glass balls (and various kid craft ornaments) were hung; my brother would throw the tinsel on by handful and I would carefully add them one tinsel strand at a time. The tree wouldn’t be complete without adding szalonczukor, a traditional Hungarian fondant candy that my Aunt and Uncle would send every year from Budapest. We also had candy canes but that was later as we became more Canadianized.

Christmas Eve was our big celebration and we would always have a huge dinner (Mom would make fish and turkey with all the fixings) and then after dinner (which seemed to take F O R E V E R) we’d be sent off to our rooms to see if we could see Santa in the skies because we’d follow him through NORAD! During that time Santa would arrive quite quietly and fill the floor beneath the tree with gifts. So many gifts. Then, Mom and Dad would turn off all the lights and illuminate the tree, Dad would put on on some Christmas music (a special mix he made on the Sony reel to reel) and they would signal my brother and I (and usually some stray my Mom invited for dinner) to come out of our room into the living room. That was our Christmas. I can still feel that nervous energy and the excitement of the anticipation as we walked down the hall into the living room, our eyes bugged open to take in the view of our beautifully lit Christmas tree and piles and piles of presents! We would always start out opening presents systematically but by the end it was always chaos. At some point Mom would serve dessert, a traditional Yule log (piskota), both walnut and poppy seed Baigli! She also made a Lindzer Szelet which was my Dad’s favourite (a tender pastry square with a layer of apricot jam and sometimes chocolate ganache). Cognacs would be poured (for the adults) and my brother and I would lose ourselves in the bounty of all our new toys and have an impromptu fashion show off all our new clothes (well, maybe that was just me). Family friends always popped in after dinner after the mess was cleaned up, more desserts were served and more cognac was poured. It truly was magical.

On Christmas Day, my brother and I would open our stockings and we would continue to play with our new things while Mom made a beautiful breakfast with kuglof and home made jam. Christmas Day was usually quiet at our house, we hung around in our jammies, played, watched a Christmas movie or two and just chilled. We were always invited to my parents’ best friends for Christmas Day dinner.

JT’s and my Christmas took on a similar landscape with the exception that on Christmas Eve we always go to my brother’s for dinner because they have kids. Lately, they been having a ham for dinner so we’re not eating turkey two days in a row (honestly, I don’t mind two turkey dinners). I usually bake a Yule log and a plate of Christmas cookies to share. This year I’ve baked a white chocolate and strawberry tart that I’m recipe testing. My brother’s family celebrate a more traditional North American Christmas (with her family) with the major festivities on the morning of the 25th and dinner with her family in the afternoon, which works out perfectly since JTs family does the same so we’ve never had a conflict. Today we’ll have JTs family over for our turkey dinner, complete with stuffing, roast potatoes, gravy and green beans with garlic and almonds. Dessert will be pie that my SIL brings as well as a cheesecake thing that I’m recipe testing. So tell me, how does your family celebrate Christmas and is it the 24th or the 25th?

It’s been a whirlwind  year and I must admit that December snuck up on me and I feel like I’m behind. But the next few days will be all about family, relaxing and just enjoying the festivities. JT and I wish you all the best, a very merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

Vegan Truffles

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Do not be fooled that these are Vegan, they are surprisingly, incredibly truffle-like.

This is the last of the vegan recipe series that I’m doing for the time being. It was a great experience to cook this way and I’m very happy to have been able to document it. Cooking vegan is not nearly as difficult as I originally thought and like most everything, it’s not always healthy. If I were to be serious about this type of cooking, I would definitely research different types of fats to use because I really did not like the vegan margarine one bit. The blog resource I found is excellent and I would definitely recommend it to anyone cooking vegan.

I have definitely left the best for last, these vegan truffles are the pièce de résistance!

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Incredibly creamy truffles, just as they should be.

Vegan Truffles

Makes about 3-5 dozen, depending on size

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used Belgian chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (full fat)
  • 1 tbsp margarine or coconut oil
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp espresso powder + 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Espresso powder and icing sugar for rolling in

Directions:

  1. Combine chocolate, coconut milk and margarine in a saucepan and heat until chocolate has melted and mixture is thick. Divide into two portions, about the same volume. Add your choice of flavourings to each portion.
  2. Pour into a bowl , cover with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator overnight (I actually had mine sit a couple of days and it was fine).
  3. Using a melon baller, sprayed with oil or vegan butter,  shape into spheres. Roll into your favourite topping. Store in the refrigerator.

I was completely floored by how authentic these truffles tasted.The coconut flavour was quite subtle, if any and what it brought to the table was total creaminess. I would make these again, even for non-vegans. I think this recipe is totally a keeper and I hope you like it too. These truffles act much the same way as real, cream version truffles so you need not worry about them melting into a puddle.

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Indeed, they are as creamy as they look.

 

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If I hadn’t said these were Vagen, you wouldn’t have known.

 

These chewy lemon squares are a family favourite that I’ve been making for years. To be honest, I’ll probably make the vegan version from now own, these were THAT good. As per the non-vegan version, these are very lemony, so you must LOVE lemon.

For the non-Vegan version, please click here.

Vegan Lemon Squares

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Chewy and lemony all at the same time.

 

Original recipe adapted from Company’s Coming, Squares by Jean Pare.

Makes 1 pan 9″ x 9″

Ingredients for Shortbread Crust:

  • 1  1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil

Directions for Shortbread Crust:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (177°C). Line a 9″ x 9″ square pan with parchment (it makes it easier to lift out to cut).
  2. Crumble the margarine and coconut oil into the flour, sugar until mealy (you can save time and pulse this in a food processor, metal; blades).
  3. Press into a prepared 9×9 inch pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Ingredients for Chewy Lemon Topping:

  • 2 vegan eggs (I used this recipe: 2 tbsp ground flax seeds + 6 tbsp warm water (whisk together and allow to sit for 5 minutes))
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon oil
  • 6 drops yellow food colouring (optional)

Directions for Chewy Lemon Topping:

  1. Stir together all of the ingredients. (I successfully left this on the counter while the shortbread pastry was baking and it seemed to thicken even more!)
  2. Spread over shortbread base evenly. Bake at 350° F (177° C) for additional 30 minutes, until set in the centre and golden in colour.
  3. Lift out of the pan using the handy parchment. Cool and cut into squares, or bars. Serve at room temperature.

Notes:

  • I was concerned that the flax would impart a flavour but the coconut and lemon flavourings were enough to mask it. To be honest, you can’t tell that these are Vegan.
  • You can use other Vegan egg alternatives, I just can’t predict how this recipe will behave with them. The blog I linked it to explains real egg behaviour in baking very well so you can make informed decisions on alternatives.

LemonSquares

Vegan Spanakopita

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In converting a recipe to Vegan, I generally try to keep in mind all the flavours AND the textures in the non-vegan version. When I decided to make Vegan Spanakopita I became very excited until I remembered that there was crumbled feta in my recipe. Crumbled feta is not Vegan, so I began to think…what oh what can I use to replace the flavour and the unique texture this delicious cheese brings to the table. Yes, I could have omitted it altogether, but then it wouldn’t be as delicious!  Some time ago, I’d made a note to marinate tofu in ‘feta’ flavours like lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, oregano and olive oil…so I did a little experimentation and came up with this version. It’s actually pretty tasty on its own, but I needed it for this recipe so there won’t be marinated tofu on the buffet table, but this spanakopita more than makes up for it. I don’t think the non-vegans will mind this version. But there will be pulled pork and bacon wrapped dates just in case ;-)!

Vegan Spanakopita

A kitcheninspirations original recipe.

Makes about 50, 6 cm (about 3 inch) triangles

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced thinly
  • 5 cloves garlic ~20 g, finely minced
  • 500 g zucchini grated (about 2 medium-sized)
  • 300 g spinach
  • 3-4 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
  • 350 g marinated tofu, drained, roughly chopped (recipe below)
  • About 8-10 sheets phyllo
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Directions:

  1. Heat canola oil in a large dutch oven. Add the sliced onion and sweat it out a bit, add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the grated zucchini (click here for some clear steps on making this dish) and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it has totally wilted.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the fresh dill, oregano and roughly chopped marinated tofu. Set into a fine sieve and allow to cool and drain.
  3. Once completely cool, prepare the phyllo sheets by cutting them into 3 cm or 2.5 inch strips and lightly spraying each one with canola oil. Use two strips per triangle. Place one heaping teaspoon of the cooled filling onto one end and start folding into a triangle. Brush or spray lightly all over with the canola oil.
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    A heaping teaspoon of filling goes at the end.

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    Begin folding into a triangle and continue until the length is used up.

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    The nature of the folds covers in the filling very well.

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    A tidy little triangle.

  4. Bake at 350°F for 12-14 minutes if saving for the freezer or 116-18 minutes to serve immediately.
  5. To reheat, place a single layer of the triangles onto a baking sheet and reheat in 300°F for 10 minutes or until golden.
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The oil makes the phyllo very crispy.

Marinated Tofu

Makes enough for one batch of Spanakopita (prepare 1-2 days ahead to allow tofu to absorb the marinade flavours)

Ingredients:

  • 350 g extra firm tofu
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Directions:

  1. Place the drained tofu on a cutting board over a sink so it’s tilting a bit into the sink. Place another cutting board on top and a heavy cast iron pan. Leave for 30 minutes to drain.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, water, EVOO, oregano, sea salt and peppercorns and mix well.
  3. Once drained, dry off the tofu and cut into 1 cm cubes. Place into a glass container and cover with the marinating liquid. Marinate in the refrigerator, shaking the jar intermittently over 1 to 2 days. Drain to use.

Vegan Anzac Biscuits

The thing that’s quite a challenge in Vegan baking is not being able to use eggs. I can understand and convert recipes to use Vegan margarine or even substituting coconut oil but the egg thing is a biggy because of the science behind the egg’s participation in the recipe. At first I avoided egg recipes because they are just too difficult to convert but then the blog Vegan Baking came to my rescue, again. Although this recipe does not contain eggs the next one will. Substituting coconut oil for butter was an easy conversion because the cookie already had coconut in it — it was a no brainer. True Anzac lovers might miss the butter, but if it means not being able to indulge at all, I think it’s worth the slight difference in flavour. I hope you like it too.

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I wasn’t disappointed with the coconut oil substitution.

Vegan Anzac Biscuits

Makes about 22 cookies (I used a 4 cm ice cream scoop)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup flaked quinoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoons Lyles Golden Syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon plus a bit baking soda
  • 1/8 cup boiling water

Directions:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 350° F (177° C)
  2. Line baking sheets with parchment or some other non-stick surface (this is a greasy cookie).
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, flaked quinoa (I ran out of oats!), sugar, and coconut oil and stir well with a wire whisk. Set aside.
  4. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt coconut oil with syrup. (I do this in the microwave on 30% so the oil does boil over and make a mess)
  5. Dissolve baking soda in boiling water, and add to butter mixture. Stir to combine. (Be careful; if the oil is hot, it will bubble up considerably.)
  6. Add oil mixture to dry ingredients, and stir to well combine. This will be a very crumbly mixture.
  7. Using a 4 cm ice-cream scoop (be sure to pack the scoop tightly so the mixture doesn’t crumble), drop onto prepared baking sheets, about 4 cm apart. Flatten cookies slightly with the palm of your hand.
  8. Bake until bottom and sides golden brown and firm but not hard, about 10-12 minutes (larger cookies will take longer). Coconut oil seems to have a lower burning point so watch because they’ll go from raw looking to too dark in an instant!
  9. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
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It’s still the same chewy texture we’ve all come to know and love.

Vegan Mushroom Tarts

We’re buried in the chaos of the Christmas holidays and on Wednesday and Thursday we were buried in snow! This was our first real accumulated snow fall and the first has always been my favourite kind — the virgin snow delicately covering our urban landscape like a thick, fluffy duvet. It’s really a perfect backdrop for Christmas and with the company party coming up tomorrow, it’s perfect timing. Hopefully the city mess and dirt will keep at bay so the snow remains perfect for one more day.

Mushrooms have always been a huge favourite at our house, be it fresh, plain button mushrooms or fresh, wild mushrooms like shiitake, portobello, king or cremini, we even have a few recipes for the specialty dried variety. But for this special recipe, I chose fresh wild mushrooms.

I created this vegan recipe (to be enjoyed by all) because I wanted to show-case oven roasting mushrooms because it’s a technique that is relatively new to me (oven roasting vegetables is not new, just oven roasting mushrooms). Oven-roasting mushrooms brings out their sweetness and subdues the strong earthiness that some wild varieties have. Toss in finely chopped, fresh garlic and Extra Virgin Olive Oil from our neighbour’s father’s olive grove in Greece and these tasty fungi make a mouth-watering filling for these classy little tarts. By adding a bit of puréed red lentils AND puréed roasted cauliflower and celeriac mash put these gems over the top flavour-wise and adding a lovely creamy texture that glides into your mouth like a velvet cape.

This is the FLAKIEST pastry EVER!

This is the FLAKIEST pastry EVER!

Vegan Mushroom Tarts

A Kitcheninspirations original recipe.

Makes about 36 little tarts

Ingredients:

  • 600 g variety of wild mushrooms (I used  a combo of white, King, Portobello and Shiitake
  • 20 g garlic, finely chopped
  • 50 mL EVOO
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/3 cup red lentil purée (click here for recipe)
  • 1/4 cup cauliflower and celery root mash (click here for recipe)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450° F (232° F)
  2. Toss roughly chopped mushrooms in garlic, EVOO and salt. Spread out in a large roasting pan  and roast for about 20 minutes or until the released liquid has evaporated and mushrooms are roasted golden. Turn often so the mushrooms don’t stick to the pan.
  3. Cool.
  4. Add mushrooms to a food processor and process until all are relatively small bits. Fold in the red lentil purée and the cauliflower and celery root mash. Season to taste.
  5. You may freeze the mushroom filling at this point to use later. To use later, defrost first.
  6. Fill the baked pastry cups with the mushrooms and reheat at 200° F  (93° C) for 10-12 minutes or until warmed through.

Vegan Thyme Pastry Cups

Vegan tart pastry recipe from Vegan Baking with minor alterations. The links below for vegan butter and shortening are included in case you feel like experimenting. (This is an EXCELLENT Vegan blog with a lot of instruction and science behind the madness).

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • ¾ cup (161 grams) or 1 ½ sticks cold Regular Vegan Butter or non-hydrogenated margarine cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup (108 grams) or 1 stick cold Vegan Shortening or store bought shortening, cut into 4 pieces
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 3 Tablespoons cold vodka (believe it or not, I did not have any, so I omitted it)

Directions:

  1. Whisk the dry ingredients together. Cut in the vegan butter and shortening just like you would a normal butter pastry, keeping it as cold as you can.
  2. Add the cold water and vodka and work lightly until it forms a ball. Make three disks and refrigerate, wrapped in plastic wrap for 30 minutes or overnight (mine was over night).
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F (177° C).
  4. Roll out the pastry between two sheets of parchment paper to about 1 mm (1/16″) thick. Cut with your favourite cookie cutter and shape into mini muffin cups. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden.
  5. Use immediately or freeze until required. No need to defrost before re-heating with filling.

Notes:

  • To help avoid the pastry getting soggy with the filling, I froze the pre-baked pastry and the filling separately and combined and reheated just prior to serving.
  • This pastry is also enough for one 9″ double crust pie. The original recipe serves up a sweet version too. Your should definitely check it out.

 

 

 

Hello everyone! I’m posting a bit more frequently for a couple of weeks in case some of my readers are looking for some creative Vegan recipes for the holiday season. I’ll go back to my regular schedule when I’ve exhausted these new recipes!

I adore the flavour and texture of butternut squash and I really wanted to incorporate something with this unique vegetable into our Christmas party but it had to be vegan. I came up with this simple yet very tasty little tart. To give the filling some body, I added a 1/2 cup of the lentil purée, it’s not enough to taste the lentil flavour but it does make the filling a bit thicker. Make sure you serve these tasty morsels warm for the squash to shine!

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Vegan Butternut Squash Tartlettes

An original Kitcheninspirations recipe

Makes about 40 tarts (I netted about 650 mL of filling but it will depend on the size of your squash)

Ingredients for the Filling:

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into smallish cubes
  • 3 tbsp EVOO
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup red lentil purée (unseasoned)
  • Pepper to taste
  • Thyme for garnish

Directions for the Filling:

  1. Pre heat the oven to 425° F (218° C).
  2. Toss smallish cubes of the butternut squash in the olive oil and salt to taste. Bake for 40 minutes or so, or until fork tender.
  3. Using a stick blender, purée the squash with the red lentil purée, add pepper.
  4. Store filling separately from shells otherwise shells will soften. Just prior to serving, either spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into each shell and reheat in a 200° F (93° C) oven

Vegan Cracker Pastry

Ingredients for the Pastry:

Adapted from Elana’s Pantry recipe

  • 1 cup almond flour,
  • 1 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 4 tsp EVOO
  • 1 cup water

Directions for the Pastry:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients except the water. Drop small amounts of water into the pastry until it holds together. Roll out between two sheets of parchment paper. These are quite delicate but hold together well. The squash filling does indeed soften up the shell a bit so don’t be too concerned if it seems a little hard on its own.
  2. Bake for 16-20 minutes or until golden. Freeze until required.
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This tart has body. Vavavavoom!

 

A surprisingly creamy dip

A surprisingly creamy dip

We’re hosting the company Christmas party (the company I write social media content for) and 1/4 of them are vegans and vegetarians! As usual, I really didn’t feel like making two different things so other than 2 fish and 3 meat dishes, everything else is going to be vegan! I’m even testing my skills with some pretty interesting desserts and VEGAN CHEESE! Stay tuned, I’m looking forward to learning to cook gourmet vegan. BTW, thank you to a long-time friend and colleague (and loyal reader) Michela, who offered some excellent suggestions ❤️.

Did you know that purée-ing (with a stick blender) cooked red lentils become so incredibly creamy that it tastes like you’ve added cream or butter to it? It makes an incredible dip and it also could be used as a base for a gluten free, even vegan white sauce! I make a large batch and freeze in an ice cube tray for quick additions to ‘cream’ up a sauce! Recently, we had an incredible cauliflower-lentil ‘Alfredo’ sauce which was TDF! So good. Next time I make it I’ll be sure to jot the ingredients down and actually measure everything!

A few years ago I won the runner-up prize for a photo contest from Roger Mooking (a celebrity chef here in Toronto), the prize was a Crock Pot with a mini heated dip pot. The crock pot croaked last year but the mini dip pot goes on. I don’t know about you, but I have never liked using this unattractive pot on my buffet table, so about a year or so ago I did some testing to see how hot it actually gets and was quite surprised that you could actually cook in it! The temperature gets to around 165F which would be enough to cook meat, but I wouldn’t suggest it. It is however, perfect to make a batch of beans or lentils for dip! I’ve been using it almost every week to make healthy bean or lentil dips. So if you have one sitting on a back shelf gathering dust, bring it out and put it to good use. Put it on before you go to work and when you get home you have a delicious dip or base for a creamy soup or sauce.

Creamy Red Lentil Dip

An original Kitcheninspirations recipe.

Makes about 250 mL (1 cup) of dip

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c red lentils
  • 1 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp dehydrated onion flakes
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2-1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients except lemon juice and toasted sesame oil to a mini dip crock pot, stir and then cover.
  2. Plug it in (only way to turn it on) and cook for 3-4 hours or when lentils are very soft.
  3. Turn hot cooked lentils into a tall container. Purée using a stick blender until smooth and creamy adding lemon juice and toasted sesame oil to taste. Refrigerate until needed.
I drizzled some toasted sesame oil over the top.

I drizzled some toasted sesame oil over the top.

The oven roasted tomatoes are incredibly sweet but still give this dip a piquant flavour.

The oven roasted tomatoes are incredibly sweet but still give this dip a piquant flavour.

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These little water crackers were the perfect accompaniment to this cream dip.

Additional Flavours:

  • “Hummus”: to the recipe above, add additional finely chopped fresh garlic at the end as you purée to give it more of a hummus flavour.
  • Curry Dip: omit the lemon juice and toasted sesame oil and add 1/2 tsp curry powder with 2 tbsp coconut milk powder at the purée stage.
  • Oven dried tomato dip: Omit the cumin, coriander, lemon juice and sesame oil. Add to cooked lentils, 1 tbsp chopped oven (or sun dried) tomatoes plus 1 or 2 fresh basil leaves and purée until creamy and smooth.

Notes:

  • Other lentils (like green or du puys) don’t turn out as creamy, I’ve tried them and seriously prefer red.
  • I use granulated garlic (not the same as garlic powder) and dehydrated onions in this recipe because we preferred the end taste over cooking fresh cloves and onions in the mini crock pot. For whatever reason, the mini crock gave the garlic a very unusual flavour.
  • To make a base for ‘cream’ sauce, omit everything but the lentils, water and salt. Purée when cooked, allow to cool and freeze in ice cube tray for future use.
  • Note on December 8: Lentils cook in far less time than the prescribed 3-4 hours, it’s just that I’ve left it on for that length and the result was what I wanted, totally mushy and easily puréed lentils. If you’re around and can unplug the little dip warmer when the lentils are first cooked, then be my guest.

Dope Pie is my version of Crack Pie that I made and posted at the end of September. It was unhealthy to say the least so I had an idea to make it slightly healthier and I was successful. I’ve been making these blondies since the beginning of time and the crack pie made me think of them as soon as I tasted the first bite, so with a few alterations I came up with this.

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It’s really just a blondie pie.

Ingredients for Crust:

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp water

Directions for Crust:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 177° C (350°F).
  2. In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, almonds and lemon zest and pulse until mixed well.
  3. Drop in the butter bit by bit and pulse until small crumbs form.
  4. Drop in the egg yolk and vanilla and pulse until combined. Add the water in a steady stream while pulsing and mix until the dough forms a ball.
  5. Roll out dough to fit a 25 cm or 10 inch spring form tart pan. Blind bake for about 15 minutes, flattening any bubbles as they come up.

Ingredients for the Filling:

  • ¾ cup All Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Directions for the Filling:

  1. Lower oven temperature to 150ºC (300ºF).
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside
  3. Melt butter and brown sugar over low heat. Remove from heat.
  4. Add slightly beaten egg, be careful not to cook the egg, make sure the mixture is not too hot.
  5. Blend in dry ingredients.
  6. Pour into the partially baked crust and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes or until it has set and the top cracks a bit.
This is slightly healthier than the original recipe.

This is slightly healthier than the original recipe.

Cubanos

Recently we watched Chef on video. It was a bit long, but the happy ending made it totally worth it and we resulted with The Cuban sandwich for dinner, which is always a win/win for me! We had most of the fixin’s from the Parrillada Mixta we created for the progressive dinner and some ordinary staples like, French stick, dill pickles, cheese and onion confit. It made for a very tasty meal.

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My baguette turned out rather thin but it still had that delicious chewy texture that French baguette should have.

Cubano (adapted from Chef, the movie)

Makes 4 small sandwiches (about 8-10 cm or 3-4″ long)

Ingredients:

  • 4 smallish portions of baguette
  • 4 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 4 tbsp onion confit
  • thinly sliced leftover steak, to cover one side of bread
  • thinly sliced Argentine Chorizo, to cover one half of bread
  • 8 thinly sliced pieces of cheese (we used sharp cheddar)
  • 4-6 thinly sliced dill pickles (depending on the size of the pickle)
  • Butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat your double sided grill (like a panini) until smoking hot.
  2. Slice each baguette in half and reserve the top half.
  3. On the bottom half, spread 1 tbsp of onion confit on each slice.
  4. Layer the thinly sliced meat, then sausage, then dill pickles and lastly the cheese.
  5. On the top half, smear 1 tbsp yellow mustard on each slice.
  6. Top the sandwich.
  7. Grill the sandwich so that it’s heated all the way through and the cheese has melted. Eat immediately.
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Perfectly grilled so that meat is hot, the cheese is melted and the bread is delicious.

Notes:

  • For the baguette, I used this recipe. It was very labour and time intensive but the result of the texture was perfect!
  • For the onion confit, I used this tried and true recipe.
  • The meat is generally slow cooked with a variety of spices and the onion confit is not a usual component of a Cubano, so that’s why I called it ‘adapted’
  • Even though the sandwiches were small, they were very filling and I would say one would have done us just fine. Yes, we’re pigs.

Argentine Chorizo

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The long one’s are mild and the short one’s are hot!

Remember the group of neighbours with whom we share a progressive dinner from time to time? Well, we’ve had two such dinners since my last post about them, one was at the cottage of one of the neighbours and the other was just a couple of weeks ago back in the city. The one at the cottage had a European theme and because we had it at the cottage, we left it pretty loose for interpretation and it was fantastic! We were in charge of the hors d’œuvres and appetizers and because it was held dock-side we did an antipasto platter with lots of meat, cheese and roasted vegetables. We snacked on them for a few hours while the Bœuff Bourguignon simmered in the kitchen. For dessert, the other neighbour had the most incredible S’mores with belgian chocolate bars and decadent chocolate chip cookies (instead of graham crackers) by the fire pit. We slipped in dessert just before the skies opened and the rain poured and poured!

The most recent progressive dinner had Latin America as the theme and boy did it ROCK! We started with Cassava and cheese fritters, delicious empanadas and of course, nachos with guacamole and salsa. JT and I had the main and we went all out. I wanted Argentinian because I just love how they adore their meat! I made home-made Argentine Chorizo, we grilled steaks AND ribs! (OK, I confess, I just really wanted to make sausage and that’s why I picked this platter!) We also roasted small yellow potatoes (we were going to have Fried Papas Criollas but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it) and stir-fried a variety of coloured peppers; I even caramelized some onions in case someone wanted to eat Choripan (chorizo in french bread with caramelized onions and peppers) and of course we had Chimichurri sauce (both hot and not!). We had WAY too much food and now we’re enjoying variations of this feast for lunches, dinners and snacks! Dessert was a very tasty and refreshing lime ice cream.

The Argentine Chorizo sausage recipe is slightly different than other Latin American recipes in that it contains nutmeg; it’s not a lot but it does give it a slightly different flavour. I used this recipe with some minor alterations. What I didn’t skimp on was the garlic, it seems like a lot, but it’s not and it’s totally worth it! I made a sweet version and a hot version (sweet was longer and hot were the short ones) and I think both went over excellent. Even though I did use some pork belly, it was still a little dry but more than a couple of people said they preferred it to a greasy sausage. I know I will experiment with other flavours in the near future (like spinach, chicken and feta for example!)

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We grilled steaks, ribs and home-made sausages!

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It was a meat-lovers heaven.

Argentine Chorizo

Makes about 6 mild Chorizo (15 cm or 6″ long) and about 10 hot Chorizo (8 cm or 3″ long)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup red wine (we used this wine)
  • 1 entire head of garlic
  • 5 whole cloves, crushed
  • hog casings
  • 1 kg of pork
  • 400 g of beef
  • 150 g pork belly
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp (heaping) nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp hot chilli pepper flakes (reserve for hot portion)

Directions:

  1. On low heat, gently boil the wine with the whole head of garlic and crushed garlic for 15 to 20 minutes and allow to cool. Strain and reserve the liquid (discard the garlic) should be about 1/2-3/4 cup.
  2. Cut the pork, beef and pork belly into small cubes and pass through the meat grinder set on coarse grind. Mix meat with hands until well blended.
  3. Pour the cooled wine over meat mixture and mix thoroughly. Combine all of the spices together with the exception of the hot chilli pepper flakes and sprinkle over meat mixture. Add the finely chopped garlic and mix into meat well. Divide the meat into two equal portions and set one portion aside. Over the second portion, sprinkle the hot chilli pepper flakes and mix well with hands. Refrigerate both hot and mild sausage meats overnight to allow flavours to develope and mature.
  4. Prepare your sausage casing by rinsing in cold water for at least 30 minutes. Any unused portions may be resalted with seasalt and frozen for future use.
  5. Untangle a reasonable portion of the casing and feed it onto the sausage stuffer attachment, tie a knot at the end. Then in small portions, slowly feed the meat mixture through the sausage stuffer into the casing making sure that it’s relatively evenly filled (it should really fill on its own). Tie off the other end and twist into portion sizes. Poke a lot of small holes throughout the sausage to allow any air bubbles to dissipate (this step will also prevent the sausage from bursting open when grilling). Allow the sausage rest in the refrigerator uncovered for 2- 3 days before cooking or freezing. Once the casing has time to dry out, you should be able to cut the sausages into individual pieces without unravelling the casing.
  6. Grill on a charcoal grill over indirect heat for 30 minutes or until internal temperature is 71° C or 160° F. Serve hot off the grill with french stick and mustard.
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This is the natural casing. Someone on-line said it smelled really bad, but I couldn’t bring myself to smell it.

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The meat fills into the casing relatively easily. In fact, you hardly need to help it.

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This is a really long sausage.

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This is the sausage twisted into portions. I made two sizes so I could easily tell which one was hot. As the sausage dries in the fridge, the twisted ends will also dry out and be strong enough to cut through without it unravelling..

Notes:

  • Whenever I grind meat, I always prepare a medium-sized bowl which I submerged in an ice bath to ensure the meat remains cool as I work it through the grinder. My hands are always cold, so I don’t worry about mixing the meat but if your hands are hot, you may wish to use a wooden spoon.
  • To gage how much casing you’ll need, just tell the butcher how much meat you have, I had about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and he portioned out the casings which ended up to be about 2X too much. He suggested I could salt it and freeze it for next time. Casing are not expensive.

Remember my dear friend Angela invited me to a taping of the Canadian lifestyle show called Steven & Chris about a month ago? Well, she kindly invited me to another one in October and you’ll never guess who the special guest was! Jamie Oliver! He is as friendly and charming as you would imagine. They had a little question session during the show and my friend Angela had an on-camera question about how he balances his family life with such a busy schedule and his answer was quite surprising; he gave all the credit to the three ladies who manage his life and he even went as far as to say that he just shows up where-ever he is supposed to be! He is very humble but cheeky at the same time. Someone asked how long it takes him to write a cookbook and he said he reserves a year to do it during which he does nothing else. We were thoroughly entertained and as a super bonus, we received his new cookbook Jamie’s Comfort Food as a gift!

Jamie Oliver clowning around.

Jamie Oliver clowning around. Who would have thought that I’d be working in that very kitchen a few weeks later?

Here are a few pics of our very cool time watching the show being taped at the CBC building downtown. By the way, my food styling segment will air Thursday, November 20th at 2pm on CBC.

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Jamie made a stuffed bun recipe from the book and he handed out samples to a few lucky people~

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Getting ready for the questions.

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A sneaky camera man was looking at a woman’s phone as she was texting during a break.

A Review of Jamie’s Comfort Food. Scrumptious, Happy, Classics: 

The book is a beautiful collection of 115 world-wide comfort foods with Jamie’s usual fresh spin on it. It’s a hard-cover, perfect bound book, wrapped in orange fabric with lay flat binding which doesn’t exactly lay flat. The fabric may not have been the best choice for a cookbook. The recipes are divided into slightly less obvious chapters, such as Nostalgia, Good Mood Foods and Ritual to name a few, but the index at the end is alphabetical and it is easy to find what you are looking for. The recipes are traditionally laid out with the instructions in sentence form. I left my cookbook on the dining table to avoid getting it messy in the kitchen and it was difficult to keep track of where I left off in the instructions, I prefer numbered instructions. I found an error in the Chicken Tikka Masala recipe where three ingredients were listed as part of the marinade but half should have been reserved for the sauce (which was listed separately). Usually ingredients listed that are used in two preparations in a recipe are listed as “xxx, divided”. It won’t stop me from making a few other recipes, but I’ll be sure to proofread first.  A real bonus of this book is that every recipe shows the calorie count per serving and at the end of the book, each one has nutritional facts for Calories, Fat, Saturated Fats, Carbs and Sugar so that you may make informed decisions when deciding to make a recipe. This book is definitely gift-worthy and for $37.99 Canadian is quite reasonable considering every recipe has at least one beautiful photo but more like a few. As well, there are a few lovely family photos and some of Jamie cooking dispersed throughout the book, so it’s fun to flip through while sipping on a glass of wine, even if you don’t intend to make anything from it.

During our cottage closing weekend in early October, I took the cookbook and all the ingredients and to make Jamie’s Chicken Tikka Masala! What a dish, full of flavour and all of those warm, comforting spices you would associate with Indian cuisine. JT heard Jamie in a CBC interview saying that Chicken Tikka Masala is now rivaling Fish and Chips as the most popular food in Britain right now. It’s no wonder, this Chicken Tikka Masala totally rocks and I urge you to make it. The nutritional facts for this recipe read a little worse than I prefer at 415 calories, 21 g of fat, 10.8 of which are saturated per serving, so I modified the recipe to make it a wee bit healthier, for the real deal, please click here or purchase Jamie’s book.

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I made the dish again at home, it was equally as good the second time around!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Serves 8.

Ingredients for the marinade:

  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp each, sweet paprika, smoked paprika and garam masala (see recipe below)
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 6 cloves of garlic, grated finely
  • 1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3 each red and green chilies thickly sliced
  • 800 g boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Directions for the marinade:

  1. Heat the dry spices in a frying pan until you can smell them. Put into a bowl and allow to cool.
  2. Combine all of the ingredient up to and including the yogurt. Mix well.
  3. Cut the chicken breasts into similarly sized chunks about 2-3 cm (1 inch) cubbed.
  4. Rub the marinade into the chicken cubes and then string them onto a meat skewer alternating themwith a thickly sliced chili. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours or overnight.
  5. Remove excess marinade and reserve in the refrigerator. Grill chicken until nice and “golden and gnarly on all sides”*

Ingredients for the Sauce:

  • 2 sweet onions, sliced thinly
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 cup of cilantro stalks, chopped finely (reserve leaves for garnish)
  • 1 tsp each, sweet paprika, smoked paprika and garam masala (see recipe below)
  • 1 tbsp coriander
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tbsp ground almonds
  • 500 mL chopped tomatoes (canned is fine, I used San Marino)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk (or 2 tbsp coconut milk powder and 1/2 cup water)
  • Remainder of the marinade after you have cooked the chicken.

Directions for the Sauce:

  1. Dissolve the bouillon cube in about 1 cup of boiling water.
  2. In a small splash of olive oil or cooking spray, cook the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, the dry spices and stir until you can smell them then add the ground almonds and toast lightly. Add the cilantro stalks and cook for a few minutes. Add the dissolved bouillon cube and coconut milk and cook for a further 20 minutes. Using a stick blender, blend this smooth then add the chopped tomatoes and the left over marinade and simmer for 20 more minutes.
  3. Serve with home-made Naan or Basmati rice.

WARNING: You’d best portion this dish out for left-overs before serving because you won’t be able to stop eating. It’s that good!

Garam Masala (recipe from HeartSmart flavours of India by Krishna Jamal, 1998)

  • 4 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground cloves
  • 1 tbsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground mace
  • Directions for the Garam Masala:

    1. When ready to use in a recipe, heat a large heavy bottomed, unoiled skillet, heat combined spices until fragrant. Allow to cool before use. Store in a cool, dry place.
    2. Notes:

      • Left overs are delicious spread onto a fajita shell and dotted with bocconcini cheese, topped with another fajita shell and grilled like a quesadilla. Serve with a cucumber mint raita.
      • Although there seems to be a lot of garlic, it’s not overly garlicy, so definitely don’t skimp.

      chixtikmasalanutfacts

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      This is the cottage version of the dish. Very tasty indeed.

      ChickenTikkaMasala2_Blog Here we go, bad winter lighting.[/caption

      *from the cookbook

I have a fatalistic attitude about life, everything happens for a reason, it’s not luck, it was meant to happen that way. During the Second World War in Budapest, my grandmother, Mom and Mom’s older sister were going to spend a lazy Sunday morning at home instead of going to church, when at the last minute, my grandmother decided that they would go and they scrambled out the door. Hours later they returned to find that their apartment building had been levelled by a bomb and they were spared. Fate: just not their time. During that same war, my grandmother had made arrangements to take the girls by train to the countryside to visit her sisters. They were all packed, on their way and just as they approached the platform my grandmother stopped in her tracks and announced that they would not go and they turned back to their apartment. Later that day that train was also a casualty of the war and everyone parished. Fate: again it just wasn’t their time.
Years ago, my little brother begged and begged my parents to get a Citizen Band Radio, they finally relented my brother set up his ‘base’. I dabbled with it from time to time and I ended up speaking to a lovely young man who’s handle was Blue Magic. Yup, you guessed it, that was JT. Fate: we were meant to meet and be together.
Do you remember that about a month or so ago my dear friend Angela (the lovely lady who puts on those fab themed dinner parties) invited me to a Steven & Chris show? Well, last week I actually worked, food styled for that very show! Yes indeed! (do you see it? It’s Fate). It’s for an upcoming show so I’ll link to it when it airs. I cooked sticky Asian spiced sticky ribs, twice baked stuffed potatoes and some chocolate squares. I also got to meet Steven & Chris! Steven actually recognized me from when I was I in the audience! Can you believe it? They tape two shows per day with about 100 people in the audience for each show! He gave me a big hug. It was an amazing experience and I’m so happy to tell you that the guys are sweet and kind, the crew is professional, courteous and super friendly. I left my cards all around so I’m hoping I’ll be called again.

A few months ago, my niece Laura passed the Bar and became a lawyer, the first in our family! We are all so proud of her. We invited them (Laura and beau) over for a celebration dinner and she asked that I cook WW friendly. Dessert can be challenging so when I saw Sissi’s fabulous plum tart recipe, I knew it was going to be the celebration dessert. Plus, I was able to get wonderful blue plums at a Farmers Market on the way home from the cottage (you see that that is fate too, didn’t you?). Thank you Sissi, I served it with sweetened Greek yogurt and it was delicious and beautiful too.

 

Plum Tart

Makes 1 tart about 20 cm or 8 inches in diametre.

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These are delicious locally grown plums.

Ingredients:

  • 450 g blue plums
  • 3 tbsp coconut sugar
  • 3 tbsp oatmeal
  • 3 Phyllo pastry sheets
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 tbsp slivered almonds

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C or 350°F
  2. Prepare a small 20 cm or 8 inch spring form pan by placing a circle of parchment on the bottom that comes up over the sides. Brush parchment with olive oil. Set aside.
  3. Cut each plum in half and remove the stone. Continue until all the plums are done.
  4. Lay all three phyllo sheets in front of you. Brush the top one with the melted butter. Fold in each corner into the centre and then fold in between each corner to make a circle.Repeat brushing and folding the other two sheets around the first one.
  5. Lay the phyllo bundle into the bottom of the spring form pan so the sides come up about 2.5cm or 1 inch. It should be crinkly, it’s prettier that way.
  6. Sprinkle half of the sugar and the oatmeal on the pastry bottom. Begin to lay the plums in a circular fashion. When complete, sprinkle with remain sugar.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until plums a fork tender. If the sides are baking too quickly, cover sides with foil.
  8. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the top.
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The pastry crisps up very nicely.

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It’s quite a lovely treat.

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Notes:

  • I added the oatmeal to help absorb any liquid the plums might release during baking.
  • As Sissi mentioned, you may increase or decrease the sugar to your taste.
  • This tart would be gorgeous using any stone fruit like nectarines or even sliced peaches.
  • I’m excited to try a savoury version next.

My friend, airline pilot David from the UK (Fine Dining at Home) recently posted a recipe for no knead focaccia, and I was immediately smitten (with the recipe, of course!) We’ve been making no knead bread for ever (here, here and here) and no knead pizza dough (here) but we’ve never made no knead focaccia. My focaccias have been traditional recipes that make a sponge first and then a separate dough, time consuming and complicated, albeit delicious. So when I read David’s recipe and saw the quality of his sponge and crumb (he kindly emailed me a photo) I was intrigued. Fast forward and we’re at the cottage waiting for friends to arrive and JT says “do we have a starch with dinner tonight?” OK, you must be able to read my mind by now, because I did go over the menu with him and at NO TIME did he ask that question whilst we were in the city with all the grocery stores. Please recall that we have limited resources once we leave the city. But I do stock my cottage pantry with flour and yeast so I immediately thought of dear David’s No Knead Focaccia recipe but sadly I did not have a scale and I only had All Purpose flour and 1 packet yeast, so I used King Arthur Flour’s recipe with some minor alterations. I am very pleased with the result and I urge you to try it, it’s actually quite lovely.

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No Knead Rosemary and Thyme Focaccia

Makes one slab about 8″x12″
Please click here for original recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 1/2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tbsp instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp milk powder
  • 2 tbsp each, finely chopped rosemary and thyme

Directions:

  1. Spray a 9″ x 13″ pan with cooking spray or EVOO and drizzle an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons of EVOO on the bottom.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until entirely combined. The dough should appear loose and shaggy.
  3. Allow to rest in a warm dark place for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  4. When doubled, pour the dough into your prepared pan and spread it out as evenly as you can. Let rest 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375°F. After dough has rested, bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool slightly before slicing into it.

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Happy Canadian Thanksgiving everyone! We have so much to be thankful for! We’ve spent the weekend at my brother’s cottage up in the Muskoka’s and it was lovely even if the weather was not. Over the years we’ve had so many different experiences, from shorts n’T boat rides, to chilly walks in the country to snow flurries! Yes indeed, snow flurries. In October! This year there wasn’t snow but it was rainy and chilly, perfect for staying inside by a roaring wood fire and perhaps baking a thing or two!

When I first made these bars I wasn’t able to source puffed quinoa, even-so the original bar was tasty and full of texture. Since that first time, I have been able to source puffed quinoa as well I’ve made some other adjustments to the recipe: I replaced brown sugar with coconut sugar and have omitted the chocolate chips adding vanilla extract instead. Also, I added egg whites as the binder so it’s not as crumbly as the first go round. If you’re so inclined, you can dip one half into good quality dark chocolate.

These are crunchy bars.

These are crunchy bars.

Puffed Quinoa Bars

Makes 1  33 cm x 23 cm (9″ x 13″) pan of bars about 1 cm or 1/2″ thick.

Ingredients:

  • 60 g (2 cups) commercially puffed quinoa (like puffed rice)
  • 140 g (1 cup) unsalted sunflower seeds, slightly roasted in a frying pan
  • 180 g (2 cups) uncooked oatmeal, old-fashioned or instant
  • 45 g (1/4 cup) partly ground flax seeds
  • 60 g (1/2 cup) dried cranberries or other dried fruit
  • 120 g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) agave syrup or honey
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) molasses
  • 60 mL (4 tbsp) egg whites
  • 15 mL (1 tbsp) vanilla
  • 63 mL (1/4 cup) water
  • 2 mL (1/2 tsp) salt

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F (177° C ).
  2. Prepare a 33 cm x 23 cm (9″ x 13″) pan by lining it with parchment paper, enough to have the sides come up as handles.
  3. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine wet ingredients and whisk thoroughly to combine.
  4. Pour into the dry ingredients into the wet and mix well (I used a very large bowl with a wooden spoon). You want to make sure that everything is coated with the wet ingredients.
  5. Pour the combined ingredients into the prepared pan and press evenly into all corners (I used a glass as a rolling pin). Bake for about 20 minutes.
  6. Carefully remove from the pan with the parchment handles onto a cutting board and cut into 20 bars. Place onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and continue to bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. I wanted a crunchy bar and not a soft chewy one, if you would prefer a soft chewy bar, skip this bake step.
  7. Allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Notes:

Depending on how dry your house is, you may need to adjust the wet ingredients as the final product can be a bit crumbly.

A delicately flavoured energy bar.

A delicately flavoured energy bar.

1 bar serving (recipe makes 20 Bars)

1 bar serving (recipe makes 20 Bars)

For a luncheon one weekend at the cottage, I served the Empanadas because I wanted something reasonably fast as we were leaving to get back to the city. While the Empanadas were warming in the oven, I put this simple, yet tasty salad together. The salad really should have been entitled The Kitchen Sink Salad because in all honesty I was just trying to use up some ingredients we had left on our cottage weekend. It’s a delightful combination of salty, sweet and peppery. If you don’t like feta, add some crispy fried bacon. But don’t leave out the watermelon or avocado!

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Watermelon, Avocado and Feta Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cubed watermelon
  • 2 ounces feta
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • a handful or two of arugula and spinach mix
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • t tsp Dijon mustard

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients to the arugula mix.
  2. In a small glass jar, combine the olive oil, white balsamic vinegar and Dijon and shake vigorously to combine.
  3. Toss salad just before serving.

 

Empanada and salad2

A really tasty lunch.

Momofuku’s Crack Pie

CrackPie_Blog1

I forgot to take powdered sugar to the cottage to decorate the top.

It’s not what you think. At the very least, it’s not the crack that Toronto has become famous for (didn’t you know?). It’s the other crack that Chef David Chang and Christina Tosi’s Milkbar in NYC that has this crack elevated to the highest of honors, it’s Crack Pie. If you have never heard of Crack Pie, it’s a decadent combination of butter, sugars (brown and white), eggs and oats. It’s incredibly rich and moreish. But I warn you, a slice of this pie will cost you dearly (and I’m not even going to talk about the $44 price tag for whole pie sold at Milkbar in NYC). Is it worth it? The calories and the time to make it? I’ll let you be the judge. If you ask me if I’ll make it again, I’m going to say probably not. It’s not that it wasn’t good, that it was, but there are a lot of other desserts that are equally as good without being as caloric (Bon Appetite’s recipe details the nutritional facts as: 1 slice (a pie serves 12 people) 350.8 Calories,  53.8 g Fat (21.0 g Saturated Fat)). Some of my dear readers will swoon over this recipe and some will be appalled because it’s not something that generally fits into this blog. To those who are appalled I apologize, it’s not often I make something so outlandishly bad for you. To those who swoon, tread lightly, it is as dangerous as the illegal kind (crack, that is!)

I cannot take credit for this pie on my radar because it was my dear fellow blogger Lorraine, over at Not Quite Nigella who introduced me to it in June last year. It was part of the Daring Bakers Challenge (I do not participate) but I saw it pop up all over the place in the blogs I follow. I filed this recipe in a spot I file many recipes that are not as healthy, most likely never to be made, but we were at a fund raiser for one of the Photographer’s wives who was doing a hike to Machu Picchu to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness and one of the food stylists made Crack Pie (she made it in a slab and cut it into tiny squares). I knew I had to try it. JT loved it, so when we had my nephew over for dinner in late August, I took the plunge and made it.

CrackPie_Blog2

If I had to describe this pie, it’s like a decadent blondie.

Momofuku’s Crack Pie

Makes 1 pie about 25 cm diameter

Ingredients for Oat Cookie Crust:

  • 9 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature, divided (6 & 3 tbsp)
  • 5 1/2 tbsp packed light brown sugar, divided (4 & 1½ tbsp)
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions for oatmeal cookie crust:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350° F (180° C). Line a 13″ x 9″ sheet with parchment and spray lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Using a mixer, beat  6 tbsp butter with 4 tbsp brown sugar and white sugar until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes).
  3. Add the egg and beat again until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute.
  4. Fold in the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and stir until well blended.
  5. Turn out the oat mixture into prepared baking pan and press out evenly to edges of pan or close enough.
  6. Bake until lightly golden about 18 minutes.
  7. Lift parchment with cookie onto a wire rack and cool completely, about an hour.
  8. Once cool, crumble the cookie into a large bowl and add the remaining 3 tbsp (45 gm) butter and 1-1/2 tbsp brown sugar and mix well until the mixture is moist and will stick together when pressed between your fingers (think graham cracker crust).
  9. Pour the cookie crust mixture to a 25 cm spring-form pan and press into the bottom and sides using your fingers and/or anything that will press it firmly. Set aside.

Ingredients for filling:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp dry milk powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 6 1/2 tbsp table cream (recipe called for whipping cream but I had table cream on hand so I used it instead)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • (Powdered sugar for dusting) – I forgot

Directions for filling:

  1. Preheat to  350° F (180° C). Spray a 25 cm spring-form pan with baking spray.
  2. Whisk sugars, milk powder, and salt together in a medium bowl and add melted butter and whisk until blended.
  3. Add the cream, egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended.
  4. Pour the filling into the crust.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes (filling might bubble up) then reduce oven temperature to 325° F (160°C) and continue to bake until filling is golden on top and set around edges (20 minutes longer).
  6. Cool pie completely on a wire rack. Chill uncovered overnight. Carefully glide a knife around the edges to loosen and remove the sides of the spring-form pan and slide the sides off. Position on a serving plate.
  7. Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into thin wedges. Serve cold with a drizzle of caramel and a dollop of whipped cream.
CrackPie_Blog3

Would you like some crack with that?

Empanadas

Many years ago my family lived in an apartment building on the second floor and my parents became friends with the couple across the hall who had three kids. They were from Chile and the husband/dad worked for Motorola and was transferred to Canada (I believe he was an electrical engineer but I can’t be sure because I was only 8). The kids were, Edward, Malu and Christina; my brother fell in love with Christina (the youngest) and asked for her hand in marriage — they were 6 years old. Edward was my age but we were never interested in each other, after all, he was a creepy boy and I was certain he had couties! Malu was a year younger than I and we became friends. We were family friends for several years…7 or 8 I believe, and one day we came home to find that they had moved out without a single word or forwarding address. We haven’t seen them since. How weird is that? Have you ever had such a strange experience?

My dear Mom was always ready to try anything and when the opportunity arose, she would arrange to swap dinners with her Chilean friend. Mom also did that with an Indian friend and a Jamaican friend! This was our introduction to the family love of food. My Mom’s Chilean friend made us Empanadas which are a South American meat patty, often changed up from country to country by the spices added and the type of meat used. Last year when we were in D.C., we had Empanadas at a great little Spanish restaurant and they put their own twist into this delicious patty…they added soft cheese! Boy was it good. It was deep fried and the casing was soft and crispy and the centre filled with wonderfully spiced ground meat and a delicious soft cheese. When I realized that in my 7 years of blogging, I have never posted an Empanada recipe I decided that it was darn time! Shame on me because they are so easy to make and freeze very well. Pop a couple into the oven or microwave and you’ve got a delightful snack or appetizer or light lunch.

A couple of weeks ago, our lovely neighbours invited us for a tapas cocktail afternoon and she made a version of Empanada that got my attention (with chorizo) but for this recipe I shall post my dear Mom’s traditional Chilean friend version for the  filling. To be honest, I never really liked Mom’s recipe for the pastry so I made my neighbours pastry recipe instead and I think it’s pretty darn perfect. The pastry is a cross between bread dough and pie crust; the exterior is firm but the texture when you bite into it has some elasticity so the patty doesn’t fall apart. This time I made small one-bite sized patties and a slightly larger 3-4 bite luncheon patties. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Empanadas2 It’s an optical illusion, the front ones are about half the size of the back ones!

Empanadas

Makes about 48  mini 5cm (2 inch) Empanadas AND 32 larger 15 cm (3.5 inch)

Ingredients, filling:

  • 1 kg ground meat (could be mixed veal with pork and beef)
  • 5 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup chopped black olives
  • 1 cup of golden raisins
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp paprika (sweet or smoked)
  • Salt to taste (but be careful because the olives are quite salty)
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella or Manchego, cut into 1 cm (1/2 inch pieces)

Directions, filling:

  1. Heat oil in a large dutch oven. Cook onions until soft.
  2. Add the spices and heat until you can JUST smell them.
  3. Braise the meat until completely cooked, add the raisins. and the chopped black olives.
  4. Allow to cool completely before filling dough.

Ingredients, dough:

  • 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs beaten with about 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sesame seeds for garnish

Directions, dough:

  1. Pre heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine all dough ingredients until it forms a soft dough (kitchenaid is fine).
  3. Roll out dough to about 1mm thick (I used the #3 setting on my pasta maker) and cut with a round cookie cutter (small 1 bite size should be no larger than 5 cm or 2 inches and larger luncheon versions should be about 15 cm or 3.5 inches).
  4. Brush some of the egg wash all around the edge of each circle. Into the centre of each dough circle, add about 1‐2 tbsp meat mixture, making sure you have some raisins and olives in each circle. Add one square of cheese per round.
  5. Fold dough over filling so it is a crescent and seal the edges.
  6. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush each crescent top with the egg wash for shine and sprinkle with sesame seeds or Parmesan cheese.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve warm and enjoy with a bit of jam or compote or mustard.
    They are pretty darn tasty. They are pretty darn tasty.

Notes:

  • These freeze very well, just pop them into a zip-lock baggy and freeze, use one at a time or as needed.
  • The recipe may be successfully halved or quartered.
  • If you don’t like black olives, leave them out, same with raisins but you will miss the salty and sweet combination.
  • We used fresh mozzarella because we could not find Manchego cheese. Regular mozzarella may be too hard so I would avoid it.
  • In hindsight, the cheese almost completely melted out of the empanada, so next time I doubt I’ll add it.
  • May 2017 update to recipe;
    • I increased the liquid measurement in the dough by 1/4 cup each.
    • JT wanted larger empanadas, so I used #1 on the pasta maker and a 10 cm (4 inch) diametre cookie cutter to make more luncheon-sized versions. We got about 35 out of the batch, but had a bit of the meat mix left over.
This past weekend was unseasonably cold at the lake.

This past weekend was unseasonably cold at the lake.

A very dear friend of mine invited me to a taping of a daytime lifestyle show called Steven & Chris last week. It was their first show of their eighth season so it was very special, that’s a long time to be on a show and what’s even more impressive is that they’ve been life partners for 22 years! My friend has been a long-time fan of the show and has been to several tapings over the years so we got the VIP treatment; we were the first to be ushered into the studio and first to be seated (front row, no less). It was truly an action packed show of which I’ll share the details after it airs, but I will share a few pics.

This is an HD camera.

This is an HD camera.

Our very excitable Audience Coordinators.They knew my friend by name!

Our very energetic Audience Coordinators.They knew my friend by name!

An ussie. Yes, it's a new word.

An ussie. Yes, it’s a new word.

Steven is the handsome devil on the left and Chris is the cutie-pie on the right.

Steven is the handsome devil on the left and Chris is the cutie-pie on the right.

Chef Michael Smith is a special guest.

Chef Michael Smith is a special guest (centre)

My dear friend invited me to another taping on September 30 when the special guest is a World Famous Chef! But I can’t say who just yet! I’m so excited. Thanks so much Angela, I really appreciate that you chose me for these exciting events!

DeconstuctedFrOnSoup-1

A caramelized, baked onion in a bed of beef stock and a Gruyere tuille

Deconstructed French Onion Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 ordinary cooking onions
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • a few stems of fresh tarragon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Please refer to this recipe on baking the onions and proceed to step 4.
  2. Lower the oven temperature to 250° F (121° C), add the beef stock, bay leaf and tarragon stems and cover the dutch oven with a lid or foil. Continue to bake for 2-3 hours or until the onions are extremely soft.
  3. To make the tuiles, line a baking sheet with parchment. Turn oven to broil, high heat. Pile 4 evenly spread circles of the grated Gruyere onto the baking sheet, about 5 cm or 2 inches apart. Broil on high until cheese is completely melted and begins to colour. Watch carefully as the cheese will burn very quickly. Remove from heat and place the parchment with cheese tuiles on a cooling rack and cool completely. When cooled, gently remove the tuiles and set aside.
  4. Discard the bay leaf. Remove onions from the beef stock and cut into the skins in quarters to reveal the soft centre. Remove the inedible onion skin. Place cut onions into the centre of a pretty bowl and ladle in a little stock. Garnish with the Gruyere tuille and the baked tarragon stems.
DeconstuctedFrOnSoup-2

It tastes just like French onion soup.

DeconstuctedFrOnSoup-3

I just can’t get enough of these tasty baked onions!

 

A nice thick soup to help keep ourselves cool over the summer.

A nice thick soup to help keep ourselves cool over the summer.

Recently we had a half a watermelon left over from a weekend and I needed some space in the fridge for a styling gig so I had to do something with the watermelon, pronto! Summer was still in full swing so something cool and refreshing was on my mind. I’ve been seeing a lot of almond milk on the blog-o-sphere so I thought I’d like to get in on the band wagon and incorporate it into this soup. The almond meal adds some lovely texture and a subtle almond flavour, so I beefed it up with a small splash of pure almond essence. The yogurt make it very creamy and the basil and mint flavourings are just subtle background flavours. A sophisticated soup for a warm cottage evening.

This soup has body.

This soup has body.

Chilled Watermelon Gazpacho Scented with Almond, Basil and Mint

Serves 4 as appetizers

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 kg water melon
  • 1/4 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp pure almond essence
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • 1 tbsp chopped basil
  • 1 tsp chopped mint
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Chop watermelon into a large bowl, add the almond flour, essence, yogurt and herbs. Blend until very smooth. Set aside in the fridge for 2-4 hours so the almond flour has time to absorb some liquid and thicken the soup.
  2. Blend again and press through a fine sieve. Serve chilled garnished with pomegranate seeds or more mint.

A brighter Watermelon Gazpacho can be found here.

September ALREADY? WTF? Where on earth did this summer go? Good luck to all the mini humans going back to school!

I thought I’d share a little info about a food photo shoot that some of you may not know. It’s actually quite amazing at how many people this industry employs — so next time you see a food commercial, ad or packaging with a food photo, consider this (I’ve really simplified this complex process):

A designer designs the packaging or advertising prior to the photo shoot. There are many layers in the design phase and several people involved but it boils down to the art director and client who dictates the look and feel of the photo. The Food Stylist is involved in the design phase if there needs to be special ‘recipes’ or plating requirements (like I was involved in coming up with 8-10 ideas for the products we were shooting last week).

Once a design is established, the Art Director creates a “Pre-Pro” which details the props and “recipes” that will be photographed. The “Pre-Pro” is approved by the client and distributed to:

  • The Prop Stylist (this person is an expert in props, where to find them, rent them or buy them). A prop is anything that may be used in the photo, such as fabric, plates, noise (background items that are out of focus) and cutlery. Props are generally reserved for the photograph and not used in the preparation of the food. Depending on the photo shoot complexity, the Prop Stylist may be required to stay on set to select the exact props to be used in each shot. If they don’t stay, the Art Director makes that decision.
  • The Food Stylist (this person is an expert in food, how to get the best out of food so that the consumer recognizes instantly the message the Art Director and client wishes to convey). The food stylist buys the components to make the ‘recipe’ happen. Contrasting colours and textures are paramount. The Food Stylist may have an assistant depending on the complexity and budget of the shoot.
  • The Photographer (this person is the expert in photography, understands light whether natural or man-made and even how to make man-made light look natural because they have more control over it). The photographer will prepare the lighting set up required to execute the art director’s wishes. The Photographer may have an assistant depending on the complexity and budget of the shoot. And sometimes the Photographer brings a tasty breakfast.
  • The Client: The Boss. The client knows the intricacies of the product and what they feel is important to convey in the photo. The client approves the shot before we move on to the next one. Sometimes the client is off site, but that adds a layer of time to the shoot and we all know that food generally doesn’t last long on set. Things dry out, melt and don’t look appealing. We always prefer the client to be on set.

Shoot day starts early and is busy from the get-go. Photographer, Prop Stylist and Food Stylist are usually the first to arrive. There is a lot of shlepping, but it’s generally a very generous group and everyone helps get everything organized. Of course, the behind the scenes studio team sets everything in motion the day before, food, snacks, coffee/tea, water are all provided generally — the one thing for sure, there is ALWAYS A LOT of food!

Once everything and everyone is set up, we begin to work getting things ready for the first shot (as a Food Stylist, I also keep in mind all of the shots for that day to see if I can consolidate any tasks that will save a bit of time in the long run). The Art Director I recently worked with enjoys shooting with natural light, but that can be challenging since natural light changes all the time so the photographer is constantly tweaking the settings and extra lighting to make the shot perfect.

In terms of food styling, there are many tricks of the trade and the stylists I’ve worked with have been incredibly generous with their advice, but as with anything else, I still have a lot to learn. Apparently, wearing comfortable shoes is something I haven’t learned…but I am trying ;-). I have a couple of pairs of stylish yet comfortable shoes but I still gravitate to stylish over comfort. One of these days, I’ll learn, it’s generally a very long day where the only time I sit is for about 30 minutes at lunch!

So I hope you’ve gained a little appreciation for the energy, people and time involved for food photography; after all, that strawberry on the front of the cereal package was carefully chosen over hundreds of strawberries, deliberated over (with such phrases as “it’s not doing it for me”, or “is it just me..,?”, and “do you see a face in that?”) intentionally placed and oiled for shine and to catch a little sparkle! Who knew?

CapreseSalad_3580

A delicious combination of flavours.

Recently we had my GF BFF and her hubby for brunch and I wanted to serve something that just screamed SUMMER! And for me, there is nothing that screams summer than a Caprese Salad. We searched for a local farmers market but sadly missed the boat because we were too late getting there so I was stuck with grocery store tomatoes. I bought the best, vine ripened variety but was still disappointed. They lacked that great, summer tomato flavour. So I decided to oven roast them to concentrate the flavours and we were not disappointed!

Caprese Salad with a Twist

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Alternately layer the sliced Bufala Mozzarella with the tomatoes on a plate.
  2. Combine the home made pesto with the white balsamic until a drizzle-able consistency is achieved. Drizzle over the tomatoes and mozzarella. Serve at room temperature.
  3. Enjoy.
CapreseSalad_3578

A nice, summer salad.

Notes:

  • I would not substitute sun-dried tomatoes for oven dried tomatoes because they are much stronger in flavour and will over power the subtle flavour of the bufala mozzarella.
  • Bocconcini may be substituted for the Bufala Mozzarella but it is a harder cheese with a slightly stronger flavour.
  • Burrata cheese is a beautiful substitute but you wouldn’t want to cut it because all that delicious cream will pour out. Serve a small Burrata and surround it with the tomato slices and drizzle the pesto over everything.

Thank you all for your generous and kind comments, I may just take you up on your lovely offers to be my assistant!

Last week we went out for dinner in our hood to Bloom, a really great restaurant serving what they call “Nuevo Latino Cuisine”.  Every second Thursday they feature live jazz musicians and as luck would have it, we usually choose the off Thursday, as was the case last week. There is nothing I enjoy more than live music during dinner, particularly in a venue whose patrons appreciate the talent and don’t make noise over the performance, so to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. But our evening ended up being even more exciting than I expected because as soon as we walked in I noticed a gentleman with an uncanny resemblance to Tiggy from the remarkably successful HBO series called Sons of Anarchy (I bin-watched all six seasons in a very short month)! As soon as we were seated we googled the show and it turns out that it WAS Kim Coates from the famous show! Imagine my excitement. I’m fairly conservative about approaching famous people so I was not about to intrude on his dinner. We had a lovely meal (which I will review next time we go when I don’t forget to take photos) as did Kim Coates and I persevered not to disturb him. Unfortunately the table next to our’s heard me ask the waiter if he was indeed Kim Coates and they approached him for photos. He was extremely generous and kind and took several photos and chatted with them. JT decided it was our turn (he doesn’t watch the show but knows how much I enjoy it) and Kim very kindly came over to our table for photos and a chat. He is Canadian (born in Saskatoon) and is an actual rider (coincidentally one of the few of the cast who didn’t need to be taught how to ride a hog!) It was very exciting and I was instantly taken back at his generosity with his precious personal time. I do, however regret not apologizing to his dinner partner for usurping his guest. So that’s my brush with fame in Bloor West Village.

For those of you in "The Know" that's a photo of Tiggy and I!

For those of you in “The Know” that’s a photo of Tiggy and I!

Mmmm. Peaches.

Mmmm. Peaches.

 

Onto the recipe. Today I’m sharing not so much a recipe but more of a serving suggestion for Ontario Peaches (of course, you may use any old peaches, but we’re pretty pumped here in Ontario because Peaches are in season right now)! We’ve grilled them for a little contrast in hot and cold and of course, texture. Plus it looks and sounds cool! The Ricotta is delicately flavoured with some lemon zest, a little icing sugar and a pinch of pure vanilla extract (though, not enough to discolour it). I made it for my GF BFF and she said it reminded her of German Cheese Cake! I left the peach skin on and it softened up beautifully with the grilling. The dish was sweet enough, but I wanted a little pizzaz for plating so I made a simple caramel sauce and I toasted a few walnuts and coated them with some Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar that my dear friend Kristy (from Eat, Play, Love, Our Family Food Adventures) gave me last year when we met in Toronto. All in all, the dish is a winner and will be served again this summer before the peaches are out of season.

This is not a well styled photo. I took it rushed just before I served it.

This is not a well styled photo. I took it rushed just before I served it.

Grilled Ontario Peaches with Lightly Sweetened, Lemon-zest Scented Ricotta

An original Kitcheninspirations recipe

Serves 4-8

Ingredients:

  • 4 ripe peaches
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 250 mL ricotta cheese
  • 1 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • Caramel Sauce
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 tbsp chocolate balsamic vinegar
  • finely sliced mint

Directions:

  1. Heat grill to 450°F. Cut peaches in half and remove the stones. Lay face up on a baking sheet and sprinkle gently with cinnamon (you may also bake the peaches at 450°F for about 10-15 minutes or try broiling them, but I have not experimented with this). Grill cut side first for about 2-4 minutes and flip for another minute or so. Set aside.
  2. Combine ricotta cheese with the icing sugar, vanilla extract and lemon zest and mix well. Taste and adjust as required.
  3. Serve 1-2 peach halves per plate. Cut peaches into thin-ish slices and lay in a semi-circle on the plate. Add a quenelle or scoop of the ricotta in the centre of the plate. Drizzle with caramel sauce, finely sliced mint and walnuts. Serve immediately.
Grilled Peach_3585

Can you just taste them?

GrilledPeaches_3591

A wonderful combination of flavours.

In my kitchen.

Hello everyone, I trust you are all well. Personally, I am absolutely in shock that it’s the second week of August! Where did this summer go?

A little house keeping: I hope you don’t mind, due to time constraints, I haven’t been replying to all of the comments you so generously leave on my blog but rest assured, I read every single one of them — sometimes more than once!

I’m finally taking part in a series put on by a blogger I’ve known about for quite some time…Celi from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial . I’ve followed this series “In my kitchen” with intrigue on many of my fellow blogs but I’ve never had much to talk about until now…you see, as I mentioned last week, I recently had my first real styling gig for an entire week! So there were many things “In my kitchen“. For this project, I had to venture into the centre aisles to make meal combos even easier for the busy "Mom". I also had to do a little shopping so that I have all the right tools (you really had to twist my arm for that one!). Indeed, the car was packed! Generally, photo studios provide only the basics, some spatulas, wooden spoons, some cookware, but if you need anything specific, you’d best bring it yourself! Needless to say, there is A LOT of shlepping.

I had to buy a lot of new tools...honestly, it was like Christmas morning for me!

I had to buy a lot of new tools, bowls are always very handy to store items, to mix in, etc, I bought about 10 in various sizes, two of each size.. It was like Christmas morning for me!

These are the tools for grilling.

These are the tools for grilling. I had to buy the electric BBQ lighter (the other items are from my personal kitchen), it makes really good grill marks if the cast iron pan doesn’t do the trick.

Even though "Mom" might use frozen vegetables to make the meal prep quicker, we use fresh but make it look similar to the frozen cut.

Even though “Mom” might use frozen vegetables to make the meal prep quicker, we always use fresh and we make it look similar to the frozen cut. Fresh always has better colour than frozen.

We had to clear out two shelves for the photo shoot groceries and I even had stuff in the freezer!

We had to clear out two shelves for the photo shoot groceries and I even had stuff in the freezer! Fresh herbs are best stored in a plastic bag with air in them.

This is my work space at the studio.

This is my work space at the studio. The cup of coffee is the most important thing on this work bench!

This is the other workspace at the studio.

This is the other workspace at the studio. I wash up between product shots to keep the kitchen clutter-free. Boy do I wish I had an assistant.

Baked Onions

Baked Onion_3

It’s like a globe of caramelized deliciousness.

I’ve been having so much fun and yes, it’s work and it’s wonderful. I even have a real styling gig booked and I’m super excited about it…5-6 solid days. It’ll be grueling  because we’re shooting around 50 shots in a week! I’ve already practiced some of the dishes to make sure the day goes smoothly. It’s for a line-up of proteins for home meal replacements using 9  fully cooked products in 4-5 applications each. I had to come up with the usage suggestions based on the client’s parameters (I actually had to come up with 10 each – 90 in total and from the 10, they selected 4-5 that I’m making during that week). It was fun but challenging in coming up with the ideas because I didn’t want just ordinary options. They all had to be relatively easy to put together, few ingredients that “Mom” would have easy access to and meals that come together in less than 30 minutes because “Mom” is super busy.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a couple of photos that although I was assisting, the wonderful stylist allowed me to style entirely on my own. They were published this past spring by Viva Magazine Online.

Foodfeature_viva_spring2014-2

Rustic Breakfast Pizza

Foodfeature_viva_spring2014-7

These were incredibly delicious.

This is a pdf of the Foodfeature_viva_spring2014, we did all the food in this issue. I cooked most of it and the food stylist plated it, the only one I had next to nothing to do with was the duck confit. The photographer is Arash Moallemi, please click here to see his work.

I don’t often get the pleasure of watching specialty cable channels like Food Network Canada because we cancelled our cable service 2 years ago and now use a digital antenna. I could go on line to watch, but many of these channels now put advertising into the shows and you are unable to fast forward like the old VCRs and I no longer have the patience to watch it through. About 2 weeks ago, I was at someone’s house with cable TV and we watched Laura Calder’s French Food at Home. She made a few recipes that I would consider ‘keepers’ but this one really stood out for me so I made it at the cottage as a light lunch and rest assured I will be making this beautiful dish again and again. Next time, it’ll be an appetizer for a dinner party. I hope you enjoy it, it infuses the house with a gorgeous fragrance as it bakes and because it bakes on such a low setting, it won’t warm up your house in the middle of the summer. I hope you enjoy it too. Please click here for the original recipe because I made some alterations.

Baked Onions with Dijon Tarragon Vinaigrette

Makes 4 whole onions, serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ordinary cooking onions
  • 1/4 cup EVOO
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp mayo
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp olive oil from roasting the onions
  • 1 tsp finely chopped tarragon
  • Good grind each of pepper and sea salt

Directions:

  1.  Pre-heat the oven to 425 F.
  2. Add 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil to a small Dutch oven.
  3. Remove only the exterior skin of each onion and cut the stem side flat. You want some skin left on the onion for presentation. Sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Nestle the onions into the olive oil and bake uncovered  for 15 minutes at 425 F.
  5. Lower the oven temperature to 250F and cover the dutch oven with a lid or foil. Continue to bake for 2-3 hours or until the onion is extremely soft.
  6. Combine the white wine vinegar, mayo, Dijon mustard and olive oil and whisk well. Stir in the chopped tarragon and a good grinding of salt and pepper.
  7. Spoon a little bit of the baked olive oil in the centre of a plate. Put each onion on top of the baked olive oil.
  8. Cut the onion skins in about 4 places and peel back to reveal the creamy goodness. Drizzle the tarragon dressing over each serving.
  9. Serve warm with Crostini or just as is and wait for the accolades!
Baked Onion_1

The onion breaks down and becomes wonderfully soft and sweet.

 

Baked Onion_2

We were at the lake when I made them.

Notes:

  • Laura cautioned against using olive oil because she didn’t want the flavour to over power the delicate sweetness of the onion, I did not find that it did.
  • Laura placed her onions on little piles of sea salt, I didn’t have any so I did not employ that method.
  • Laura used a raw egg in her dressing, I used a tablespoon of mayo instead.
  • The baked olive oil is packed with flavour so save the left overs to make a very yummy salad dressing.
  • An additional serving suggestion is to serve it with a Gruyère crisp but I didn’t have Gruyère  at the lake.
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