Friday, September 21, 2007

forgotten flavours

We recently enjoyed a wine that we thought is well worth recommending. It's a unique French red from the Roussillon region. What makes it so different is that the whole bunches of grapes are vinified with their stems. This helps make the wine both delicate and spicy. It goes beautifully paired with protein-rich meals and just as perfectly on its own.

We especially enjoyed the balance between its delicate fruitiness and an underlying spiciness. The name of this wine translates into "forgotten flavours", though I'm certain that this is one that you (and your guests) won't soon forget.

summer in a jar

I think we're crazy.
Okay, I know that I'm crazy.

This week, while walking through the Jean Talon market, we saw barrels and barrels of plump juicy tomatoes. Plum, Roma, Round, etc. But when we saw San Marzano, I knew we just had to have them. So we bought them, all 30 lbs of them. Yes, we are only 2 people....BUT canning is easy and so economical!

San Marzanos are the king of all sauce tomatoes. They are firmer and meatier than a Roma, making it a perfect candidate for a marinara sauce. Needless to say, I was very excited about all 30 lbs of them.

I decided to can them as whole, peeled tomatoes rather than as a marinara sauce. We added a sprig of basil and thyme to each jar to add to the fresh taste. Come the cold winter months, it will be nice to have a choice to be able to make a bolognese, a marinara, or even a pizza sauce - you get the point, it will just be nice to have a taste of summer when it's -30 outside.

30 lbs of tomatoes made 13 1-litre jars and took about 3 hours to can.
The sweet sound of those lids popping was well worth the trouble any day.

Call me when it's -30 outside and I'll hook you up with some summer in a jar.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

look to the cookie

There's something special about a well-made cookie. It has the perfect combination of a crisp exterior, with the lusciousness of a chewy centre, along with the perfect balance of saltiness and sweetness.

When a cookie connoisseur finds the perfect one, it becomes his or her mission to spread the word and share the joy with all the cookie lovers out there. I'm no exception. Back in March, we let you all know about a bakery that stands alone on the island of Montreal when it comes to uniqueness, variety and freshness. So, we made the worthwhile trek (45 minutes!) all the way back to Cocoa Locale to treat ourselves to some goodies.

We took the week off to spend some quality time together and thought that we deserved a little indulgence to wrap up the vacation before we head back to work on Monday. On the way there we debated on some important topics, including how many cookies I would be allowed to get. I was shooting for three, but Dina thought that one would be enough, given the generous size of Reema's cookies. I finally agreed that I should keep those big eyes in check.

Once we walked through the door, the delicious scent of freshly baked cupcakes knocked all of our carefully planned strategy to oblivion. I'm not sure if it was Reema's charm behind the counter or the bounty behind the glass divider, but, much to our surprise, we ended up leaving with a banana, maple and cinnamon cake, a lemon cupcake and (two!) cookies (one peanut butter and one oatmeal chocolate chip).

I won't even attempt to describe how delicious the banana cake is. If you can somehow make your way to Cocoa Locale, only then will you understand how a cake should taste. Fresh, in-season ingredients combine almost effortlessly to create the kind of cake you would expect your grandma to pull out of the oven. Just take a look at this and tell me you don't want a slice as we speak.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

crumble or crisp?

I love crumbles.
I love them so much that when most people are having them during the cold winter nights, I'm having them in the hot summer sun. Today's crumble (or is it a crisp??) was made with whatever fruits I had in the fridge - nectarines, Lobo apples, and ground cherries. My absolute favorite crumble though is apple, pear, and cranberry - I usually make that around October / November when the fresh cranberries are overflowing at the farmer's market.

The crumble topping had whole grain oats, almonds, brown sugar, and sweet cinnamon. We usually enjoy this as a dessert but having some for breakfast with some vanilla yogurt would also be good.

Apple Nectarine Crumble

6 firm-ripe nectarines
4 firm apples
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Cut nectarines and apples into 1/2-inch-thick wedges and drop into a large bowl. Add sugar and mix gently just until combined.
In another bowl, stir the brown sugar, flour, rolled oats, almonds, vanilla, and cinnamon until well combined. Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry blender or rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
Spread fruit mixture level in a shallow 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle oat mixture over the top.
Bake until juices at the edges of the baking dish are bubbling and the top is crisp and golden, 40 to 45 minutes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

feisty fish

At the Chinese market today, we picked up some Thai birdseye chilies along with some fresh fish. Inspiration for tonight's dinner came from a seafood dinner I had while I was in Maryland last month. The meal I had was basically a fillet of fish topped with a spicy tomato was so simple but yet so good and memorable.

Fast forward to tonight's meal, the tomato mixture I made was a combination of those super spicy chili's with some chopped red onion, garlic, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt & pepper.

The fish was stuffed with lemon and lime slices before grilled on the bbq.

Once it was done, it was topped with this spicy tomato mixture while it was still hot so that the residual heat helped absorb the juices.

We used 3 chilies in this bruschetta-like topping but it was way too spicy. Next time, I would start with 1 chili pepper and then taste to see if we can handle more. It was nose running-ly good.

This was a different way to have fish and although it was super spicy, it was still very flavorful and tasty. We will definitely do this again, and this time take my own advice and start with 1 chili pepper.
Who knew those tiny little guys were so hot??

bean there, done that

One of the delicious produce we received in our CSA basket last week were shucking beans. I have no idea what type of beans they were but they were absolutly gorgeous. Check out the color on them:

I thought it would be a pain to shuck all of these tiny beans but it actually made for a relaxing afternoon sitting out on the patio with Billie Holiday playing in the background.

Originally, I wanted to make a simple bean salad but M really wanted a bean dip. He won since he offered to make it. His bean dip has always been deliciously smooth with a pungent spicy, lemon kick. I was happy when he offered to make it and jumped at the offer.

This dip went wonderfully with the crisp, bright orange carrots that we got from the CSA last week. It was perfect!

Mony's Bean Dip

2 cups fresh beans (or canned beans)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2T sesame seed paste (tahini)
2T olive oil
1t ground cumin
1/2t chili flakes
lemon juice
salt and pepper

If using fresh beans, boil in salted water for approx. 25 minutes or until tender.
In a food processor, combine all ingredients and whirl till smooth. You may need to add a bit of liquid if it is too thick. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Garnish with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika.

Monday, September 17, 2007

challah back girl

Most people bake a loaf of challah for the Jewish New Year that just went by a few days ago. I had every intention of doing that this year, however life got in the way. This past week was incredibly busy, not to mention I was battling a cold that just did not want to go away. I didn't get a chance to bake the challah for the holidays but with this week off, I plan on making and baking (& eating!) a lot of things that have been on my list.

This is the first time I've ever baked any type of bread. The process seemed very intimidating for an amateur baker like me. I took out my trusty Jewish cooking bible (Second Helpings) and scoured the net for ideas and tips...and then jumped right in it.

I used the recipe from Baking and Books as she made it seem so simple and easy. I loved her detailed instructions and her tips on braiding.

Overall, I think my bread was very successful with only a few flaws. The dough seemed a little hard to handle so I'm not sure if it needed to be dryer (or maybe wetter?) or if I needed to let the dough rest a while longer. Also, my braiding technique needs some improvement. I think it needs to be braided tighter...

The egg glaze was perfect and added a lot of color to the finished product.

Maybe a little too much color...I think I baked it a bit too long as the top got pretty dark (but at least that made for a good crispy crust).

Even with my few baking flaws, this bread is worth trying to make again.
The smell alone is worth the effort.
I'm looking forward to having a slice tomorrow morning with some apricot jam...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

coffee break

At the beginning of summer, my beloved ice cream maker broke. Since then we never replaced it and thought that we would be able to live without one. Well, a few months past and we were surviving without one but then I saw a great deal on a Kitchenaid ice cream attachment that I just could not pass up. It is so hard to turn down a good deal that I just had to snatch one up.

I'm definitely in love. How did I ever live out this attachment? It is just perfect -- so much better than the cheap model I previously had.
To christen the new ice cream maker we chose to make a Vietnamese coffee ice cream; a recipe from the Perfect Scoop.

This ice cream is the ice cream of all ice creams if you are a coffee lover. This was soooo good. I can not recommend it enough. The coffee flavor is strong and creamy with a slight sweetness.

If you love coffee as much as we do, then this is the ice cream for you.

Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart
Adapted from "The Perfect Scoop" by David Lebovitz (Ten Speed Press, 2007).

1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups brewed espresso or very strong coffee
1/2 cup half-and-half

Whisk together the condensed milk, espresso, and half-and-half.
Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
Transfer to a covered container and freeze until firm enough to scoop.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

potluck perfection

My food-loving co-workers decided a couple of weeks ago that a potluck would be in order. Who am I to argue, given that every member of the team loves to eat. It's well-known throughout the company that if you want something to eat, come by our department and you will never go hungry. So, we got to organizing who will bring what and Dina had the excellent idea that I should contribute chicken tikka, the spicy Indian dish of marinated grilled chicken.

The first step was to marinate the chicken for 24 hours. Plain yogurt was combined with garlic, ginger, lemon juice, salt, tandoori powder, chili powder and some vegetable oil. The cubes of chicken breast were mixed into the marinade until completely coated and then covered and placed in the fridge overnight.

The next day I sliced a large onion and some green and red bell peppers and barbecued them in a grilling basket, sprinkled with a little bit of oil. The chicken was skewered and grilled to perfection. The key to keeping the chicken moist is to make sure to tightly skewer the pieces, ensuring no gaps in between and putting as many as you can fit on each skewer. When the grilling was done, the chicken (taken off the skewers) and vegetables were mixed together and placed in the fridge until the big event.

To say that our contribution to the pot luck was a hit is quite the understatement. There was absolutely nothing left when my co-workers were through. Even my buddy, Steve, who never had Indian food before and started with only a single cube of chicken, came back for 2 more heaping portions and boldly exclaimed, "Nobody touch this chicken, it's really not very good!" in a successful attempt to reserve another portion.

Dina, you've done it again. Now, if I get a promotion, I'll know who to thank.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

holding onto summer

Since we've had such a busy few days (weeks) lately, I'm playing catch-up on last week's posts.

This tart was something that we made for a pot-luck dinner over the weekend. I remember seeing a picture of a similar tart on someone else's blog but I could not pin-point exactly where I saw it. I looked and looked and then finally gave up and decided to just improvise the recipe.

I decided to do a shortbread cookie crust which worked out very well. It was prebaked for about 20 minutes until it was flakey and lightly browned. So far so good...

Next, the filling. This is where I should I done some research. I decided on a vanilla Creme Anglaise. It was delicious but did not get as thick as the filling should have been. Still, I took the plunge and filled the tart crust with the mixture, hoping that it would thicken as it sat in the fridge till we were ready to devour it. Unfortunately, it never did and it kind of poured out when the tart was cut into. It was still delicious, but the tart was a failure.

Any idea on what I should have filled it with? Is Creme Anglaise normally not a thick mixture?

At least the wonderful late season strawberries saved this dish. They were wonderful with the cream and dark chocolate shavings were a good balance to the sweetness.

I want to try this tart again, but don't want a soupy filling. Anyone have any tips?
This baking thing is hard...

Monday, September 3, 2007

smiles by chocolate

This weekend, we had the privilege of having my little nephews stay with us. Since they live close to 600 km's away, this only happens a few times a year and it is always such a pleasure getting to spend time with them.

One of the many activities we had planned this long weekend was to bake and decorate some cupcakes for someone special that has been going through a lot lately. We all agreed that these chocolatey cupcakes would be the perfect solution and would definitely bring a smile to everyone's face. It also helps that there would be extra for them to munch on, not to mention all the extra decorating goodies they could stick their fingers into.

The cupcakes were made extra fudgy and with a lot of love. Everyone had a special role in making person was the recipe reader, the other was the stirrer, while another was the egg cracker. Once the cupcakes were baked, we had to wait for them to cool before icing and decorating. Is there a better way to pass the time than to dance?

Once we all caught our breath, we iced the mini cakes and decorated them with smarties, raisinettes, malt balls, and chocolate chips...

Then we had to choose our favorites and taste them to make sure they were good enough to eat...

All in all, we had a great time baking and the memories were worth the chocolatey finger prints around the kitchen table any day.

Chocolate Cupcakes
  • 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (500mL) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125mL) cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons (10mL) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (5mL) baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 x eggs plus enough buttermilk to measure 2 cups (500mL)
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius). In mixer, on low speed, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla. Increase speed and beat for 2 minutes, until well combined. Spoon into 20 paper-lined muffin cups, filling halfway.
  2. Bake for about 25 minutes or until tops are firm and tester comes out clean. Transfer to rack and cool completely.
Chocolate Icing
  • 1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 cup icing sugar
  • 6 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted, and, cooled
  1. In bowl and with electric beaters, beat butter until fluffy; gradually beat in cream.
  2. Beat in vanilla.
  3. Beat in icing sugar, 1 cup (250 mL) at a time.
  4. Beat in melted chocolate until fluffy and smooth.