Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Orange-Infused French Toast With Maple-Glazed Pears

I've posted about French toast before, but I couldn't not include this version as it's the best one I've tried to date.

I was in the mood for breakfast for dinner tonight, French toast specifically, but put off by the mediocre bread I had in the fridge. Hard to go back to the run-of-the-mill grocery store variety when you're used to using challah (it really is the ultimate bread for French toast).

So, I was determined to make up for the lousy bread by elevating everything else, from the egg batter to the toppings. I started by slicing up some gorgeous Bartlett pears and sauteing them in butter and maple syrup until they were softened. For the batter, I mixed eggs with a splash of milk, some cinnamon, some orange zest and orange juice, and a pinch of salt. I dredged the bread slices for about 30 seconds on each side, and then fried them up in some butter. I like to keep the oven at about 300F, and I place the cooked slices on a baking sheet to keep warm.

Once the bread was nicely browned on both sides, I toasted some sliced almonds in my fry pan for a finishing touch. I then plated it up: French toast on the bottom, maple pears and toasted almond slices over top. A final drizzle of maple syrup over it all, and done! I have to say it was a fantastic combination. The orange really came through and complemented the pears nicely. And the almonds added a welcome crunch. For a made-up recipe, it turned out quite well! Even with the crappy bread!

Orange-Infused French Toast With Maple-Glazed Pears

8 slices of bread, preferably challah
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Zest and juice of half an orange
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter

Maple Glazed Pears:

3 Bartlett pears, sliced
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tbsp butter

1/2 cup sliced almonds, for garnish

Preheat oven to 300F.

Toast sliced almonds in a dry fry pan over medium heat until golden, 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

Heat 3 tbsp butter in the same pan. Once melted and starting to foam, add sliced pears and saute for 2 minutes. Add the maple syrup, stir to ensure pears are evenly coated, and continue to cook until pears are slightly softened and syrup is warmed through.

Make the batter by beating eggs, then adding milk, cinnamon, salt, orange zest and orange juice. Put batter in a large shallow dish and dip bread slices in, one at a time, for 30 seconds a side. Meanwhile, heat clean fry pan to medium-low and add 1 tbsp of butter. Cook two slices at a time if your pan is big enough. The bread should need about 3 minutes per side -- if it's not browning, turn up the heat. Between batches, add 1 tbsp of butter to the pan to keep the bread from sticking (and for flavour!).

Once each batch is done, put the slices on a baking sheet in the preheated oven to keep warm. Serve two slices of French toast per person, and garnish with the pears, almonds, and a final drizzle of maple syrup.




Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pumpkin Cranberry Loaf

Where has the time gone? I can't believe it was August when I posted here last. It's been a crazy busy fall, the main change being my new job. I've left CityNews.ca to run CityLine.ca, the website for national lifestyle program CityLine, on Citytv. One of the main benefits? I get to write about, among other topics, food! I've had the pleasure to meet some great chefs, including our regular experts Jason Parsons, Massimo Capra and Michael Bonacini.

Earlier this week I interviewed Vancouver chef, and host of The Main, Anthony Sedlak -- wonderful guy, and incredibly talented. Next week I'm looking forward to speaking with food writer/cookbook author Lucy Waverman, and Anna Olson, cook-baker extraordinaire and host of the Food Network Canada series Fresh. All very exciting, as I own cookbooks by many of these folks and getting the opportunity to chat about food and cooking with them is hugely rewarding.

In honour of next week's interview with the lovely Ms. Olson, I want to encourage everyone to try this delicious pumpkin cranberry loaf from her 2004 cookbook Sugar. I love the interplay of sweet pumpkin and tart cranberry, and this loaf stays incredibly moist for days.

Pumpkin Cranberry Loaf
Makes 1 9x5-inch (2L) loaf

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 tbsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 325F.

Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder, salt and spices and set aside.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir in pumpkin puree, orange zest and vanilla. Stir in orange juice.

Add dry ingredients in two additions and blend just until incorporated. Fold in cranberries.

Spoon batter into greased loaf pan and bake in centre of oven for 60-75 minutes until a tester inserted into the loaf comes out clean.

Allow to cool before slicing.

Courtesy Anna Olson, Sugar, Whitecap Books, 2004


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roasted beet and goat cheese salad with orange vinaigrette

I roasted beets for the first time last summer and the results were a revelation. Sweet, tender, and nothing like the over-vinegared jarred ones I remember from childhood. They pair incredibly well with tangy goat cheese, so tonight I made a salad with those two ingredients as the base.

I added some spring greens, chopped walnuts for crunch, and a homemade orange vinaigrette (homemade salad dressings are so much better than bottled and they're a snap to whip up). I'm not one for making a meal of a salad, but if the ingredients are interesting enough, and filling enough, it can be pretty satisfying. This one filled me up nicely.

Roasted beet and goat cheese salad with orange vinaigrette

4 medium sized beets, roasted*, peeled and chopped
1 navel orange
bagged spring greens (or buy in bulk, enough for about 2 cups worth per serving)
1 small log of goat cheese
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

*Roasting beets: wrap cleaned beets in foil, then place on a baking sheet. Roast in 375F oven for about an hour. Beets are done when you can easily pierce them with a knife. Wearing rubber gloves, peel skins off beets and slice.

Make vinaigrette by first zesting the orange and putting zest in a Mason jar. Then halve the orange and using a citrus reamer, squeeze the juice into the jar. Then spoon in the mustard, followed by the olive oil. Add some salt and ground black pepper. Pop the lid on the jar and shake until emulsified. Add more salt and/or pepper if needed.

Clean the salad greens and place in a big bowl for mixing. Add the sliced beets and walnuts to the greens, and mix in the vinaigrette. Use tongs to ensure the dressing is uniformly distributed. You may not need all of the dressing, you don't want the ingredients to be dripping with it. Place in serving bowls and top with chunks of goat cheese.

Serves 4.



Monday, August 17, 2009

Capellini cacio e pepe

As far as easy dinners go, it doesn't get much simpler than capellini cacio e pepe. The classic pasta dish has Roman roots, and it's essentially comprised of three ingredients: the cooked pasta, Pecorino romano cheese, and black pepper. Cacio translates into cheese; pepe into pepper. It develops a creaminess from mixing the hot pasta with the cheese and some of the pasta cooking water.

I made it for dinner tonight out of sheer laziness, but I have to say the results were delicious. The cracked black pepper provided a nice bite, and I used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rather than Pecorino and it worked well. I've seen recipes that suggested mixing a few tablespoons worth of pasta cooking water with the cheese so that it forms a paste, which is then combined with the pasta. Instead I combined the pasta. grated cheese and water quickly in the still-warm pot after draining the noodles, and that helped melt the cheese into a sauce. Use as much pasta water as needed to achieve a creamy consistency. Also, don't be skimpy with the pepper!

You can use any kind of pasta, short or long, for this dish. I used capellini, but you can easily use spaghetti, penne, whatever your favourite.

Capellini cacio e pepe

1 lb capellini (or other pasta)
1 cup grated Pecorino romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 cup pasta cooking water
Ground black pepper

Cook pasta according to directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid before draining.

Mix pasta, grated cheese and about 1/2 cup cooking water in pot that pasta has cooked in.

If pasta is still dry, add more cooking liquid. Grind black pepper over top and mix in.

Serve in big bowls, with extra grated cheese sprinkled over top and another grinding of black pepper.

Serves 3-4



Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bulgur salad with grilled chicken and parsley pesto

Preserves have been my obsession this summer and I have to admit I love having a fridge full of Mason jars filled with all sorts of things: basil pesto, parsley pesto, strawberry jam, strawberry-balsamic vinegar-black pepper sauce, etc. My mom's been preserving up a storm as well, and I can't wait to try the pickles she jarred a few weeks back.

One of the best surprises has to be the aforementioned parsley pesto, which I made specifically for a recipe from the June 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. I had quite a bit left over, and I've since used it as a sandwich spread and all-around garnish. Try it -- I found it a fresh, summery alternative to the ubiquitous basil pesto.

Bulgur salad with grilled chicken and parsley pesto

Prep: 30 min Total: 45 min
Serves 4

3 cups water
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking bulgur
1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves with tender stems
3/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted, cooled
1/3 cup (generous) coarsely chopped shallots
2 1/2 tbsp (or more) fresh lemon juice, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
4 large chicken breast halves with skin (about 1 1/2 pounds)
8 fresh apricots, halved, pitted, or 16 drained canned apricot halves
Butter lettuce leaves (optional)

Place 3 cups water and bulgur in medium saucepan; sprinkle with salt. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until bulgur is tender but still slightly chewy, stirring occasionally, 11 to 12 minutes. Drain. Rinse under cold water until cool. Drain well. Transfer to large bowl.

Meanwhile, place parsley, almonds, shallots, and 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice in processer. Using on/off turns, process until parsley is coarsely chopped. With machine running, gradually add 1/2 cup oil and process to coarse puree. Season pesto to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir 3/4 cup pesto and remaining 1 tbsp lemon juice into drained bulgur. Season to taste with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice, if desired.

Prepare barbecue (medium heat). Brush chicken and apricot halves with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill chicken and apricot halves until chicken is cooked through and apricots are slightly charred, 7 to 8 minutes per side for chicken and 2 minutes per side for apricots.

Line 4 plates with lettuce leaves. Divide bulgur salad among plates. Place 1 grilled chicken breast on each plate, Spoon dollop of pesto atop chicken. Divide apricot halves among plates and serve.

Courtesy Bon Appetit, June 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Basil risotto with roasted tomatoes

I have to admit I've gotten into this season of Hell's Kitchen, even though it borders on the ridiculous at times. Like most, I watch purely to see Gordon Ramsay give the contestants hell for burning scallops and under-cooking chicken. In the first episode of each HK season, Chef Ramsay asks the contenders to present their signature dish. It got me thinking about what my signature dish is -- do I even have one? I love to cook, and I cook frequently, but is there one particular dish that I'd call my own (even if the recipe isn't mine)?

There's definitely one that stands out from when I first started to enjoy cooking, and I remember making it for company on more than one occasion: Basil Risotto with Roast Tomatoes from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 1. It was the first risotto I ever made, and though I tried others, I kept coming back to this one. For starters, it just looks so pretty. A row of beautifully roasted cherry tomatoes still clinging to the vine, vibrant green basil pesto, chopped roughly so you can still make out bits of basil and chunks of pine nut, all sitting atop a mound of creamy risotto. The white, green, and red brings to mind other classic Italian dishes such as the Margherita pizza or the Caprese salad (also favourites of mine).

I hadn't made the dish in a while, and on a recent night when I didn't know what to do for supper I realized I had everything I needed in the pantry for it, with a few modifications. Though I didn't have cherry tomatoes on the vine, I had a pint of grape tomatoes. And with three jars of homemade basil pesto in the fridge I wasn't about to make more, even though I do like the texture of the rough chopped version. And I have to say the finished product was just as tasty and satisfying as I remember -- one bonus being the homemade chicken stock that added a wonderful richness to the risotto. Of course the key to a creamy, not gluey, risotto is taking the care to add the chicken stock to the rice slowly while stirring constantly. It's not a dish you can pop on the stove and leave, you're actively involved the whole time. But I personally don't mind that. With a glass of wine by my side, and some music on in the background, I find risotto-making therapeutic.

So while I'm still pondering what my current signature dish might be -- maybe I just haven't found it yet! -- here's one I know I'll keep in my repertoire for years to come. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Basil risotto with roasted tomatoes

4 vines or 24 individual cherry tomatoes
olive oil for drizzling
cracked black pepper
sea salt


20g (1/2 oz) butter
1 tbsp olive oil, extra
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 1/2 cups (2 1/4 pints) chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups arborio rice
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

rough pesto*
1 cup basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup toasted and roughly chopped pine nuts
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Place the tomatoes in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 1 hour or until soft.

Make rough pesto by roughly chopping the basil leaves and mixing with the chopped garlic, grated cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. Set aside until risotto is done.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the butter, extra olive oil, onion and garlic for 6-8 minutes.

Place the stock in a saucepan. Cover and bring to a slow simmer. Add the rice to the onion, stirring for 2 minutes or until translucent. Add the hot stock, a bit at a time, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed and the rice is al dente (about 25-30 minutes). Keep checking the rice as you may not need all of the stock (nothing worse than a soupy risotto). The rice should be soft but still have a bit of a bite to it.

When the risotto is done, stir through the Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve in bowls topped with the rough pesto and the tomatoes. Drizzle some olive oil over top and serve.

Serves 4.

*If you don't want to make the rough pesto, a dollop of a good-quality store-bought pesto will work. But the rough pesto adds a nice texture to the dish and I recommend taking the time to make it.

Courtesy Modern Classics 1, Donna Hay, HarperCollins, 2002.



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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Raspberry White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

Hi all, I'm back blogging again after more than three months! Rather than make excuses as to why the extended hiatus, let's just get back to the food, shall we?

I've actually been pretty active in the kitchen in recent weeks, thanks to the wonderful selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and meats at my favourite farmers' market, the St. Lawrence Market. We're well into summer now and I've tried recipes with fresh Ontario rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, apples, basil, parsley, zucchini, peas in the pod, and more.

My latest passion has been making preserves -- jams, chutneys and pestos, mainly -- but that's worthy of a separate entry so stay tuned.

In an effort to use up some leftover raspberries, I decided to try a recipe for Raspberry White Chocolate Chunk Muffins from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2 cookbook. Where Modern Classics 1 is devoted more to classic recipes one might serve for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Modern Classics 2 focuses on desserts, from cookies and cakes to pies and squares (or slices as the Aussie calls them).

Aside from the fact that the muffins took quite a bit longer than the suggesting baking time -- unless Ms Hay has a convection oven, 12 minutes seems rather short for muffins to cook all the way through, no? -- they were extraordinarily easy to whip up.

One note: because I used fresh, ripe raspberries they broke apart a bit when I stirred them into the dough. While I don't mind the dough stained with raspberry juice in spots, you might, so one way to avoid it is to partially freeze the berries before stirring them into the batter. That should help them stay whole.

I'm not sure if you can call this a muffin -- with the addition of white chocolate it seems too decadent for breakfast somehow -- but whatever, it's delicious!

Raspberry White Chocolate Chunk Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
3/4 cup chopped white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the sugar and stir to combine.

Place the sour cream, eggs, and oil into a separate bowl and whisk until smooth. Stir the sour cream mixture through the flour and sugar mixture until just combined.

Sprinkle over the white chocolate and stir just until incorporated. Gently fold the raspberries through the mixture.

Spoon into 12 x 1/2 cup capacity non-stick muffin tins until two-thirds full. To help prevent sticking use paper muffin cups. Bake for 12 minutes or until tested with a skewer.*

*When I made these they were in the oven for closer to 22 minutes. Ovens vary, so keep an eye on them. I allowed mine to get nicely golden brown on top.

Courtesy Modern Classics 2, Donna Hay, HarperCollins, 2003

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cookbook Friday: The Gourmet Cookbook

I'm a bit behind in my blogging lately -- all I can say is that it's been busy, both work-wise, and life-wise, and I haven't had a chance to spend much time in the kitchen.

Fortunately that changed on the weekend, when I made something I've wanted to try for a while: beef short ribs. I turned to The Gourmet Cookbook, which has more than 1,000 recipes for anything and everything, and selected their recipe for Korean short ribs -- also known as kalbi. I've had kalbi in restaurants before and when done right it's fantastic: the sweet and savoury sauce clinging to tender ribs that fall off the bone.

Looking at the title you'd think all the recipes in Gourmet are fussy, but they're not. Sure, it's the first cookbook I reach for when I'm having friends for dinner but that doesn't mean it's a special-occasion-only resource. Most of the recipes are very easy to follow and not intimidating in the least.

The Korean short ribs recipe is the perfect example of this. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter and the ribs turned out well. They didn't burn, but developed a nice caramelized exterior without going dry.

As a note, I didn't refrigerate the ribs in sugar for four hours before marinating. I added the sugar in with the rest of the marinade ingredients, scored the beef, and marinated for two hours. That was enough to keep the rib meat moist through the cooking process.

Korean Short Ribs
4.5 lbs meaty beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2.5-inch pieces by the butcher
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 tsp finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Score the meaty side of each short rib.

Stir together sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, sesame seeds, garlic, ginger and pepper in small bowl. Spoon marinade over ribs, spreading it with your fingers to coat them evenly. Refrigerate, covered, turning ribs once, for two hours.

Preheat broiler. Let ribs stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Broil ribs on rack of broiler pan about 6 inches away from heat, turning once and rotating pan once or twice, until ribs are dark caramel-brown but still slightly pink inside, about 15 minutes total. If ribs begin to turn black, move pan farther away from heat and continue cooking.

Let ribs stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, Ruth Reichl, Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

Monday, April 13, 2009

South American picadillo

I've never made picadillo before but this South American dish is the essence of comfort food. It's basically a blend of seasoned ground beef, sauteed peppers, onion and garlic, and diced tomatoes.

According to Bon Appetit, the source for the recipe, there are variations on the dish depending on what country you're in. I stuck pretty close to the cookbook version, which included frozen peas in the mix. I eliminated the capers, not because I have a problem with capers, I just didn't feel like their briny, pungent flavour in this dish.

The recipe recommended serving the picadillo with rice, black beans, and a side of warm corn tortillas. Wanting to use what I already had in the house I opted to simply serve the beef dish over some pre-cooked brown rice. Though I didn't have black beans or corn tortillas in my pantry, I can see how both would work as sides.

This is an easy, no-fail recipe for a Monday night when you don't feel like going to too much trouble in the kitchen. There's not a lot of chopping, and you can easily halve or double the recipe based on how many people you're serving. I like to have leftovers for the next day's lunch so I often make 4 servings' worth.

South American picadillo

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped red bell pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs lean ground beef
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 14.5-oz can beef broth
1 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup drained capers.

Heat oil on a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, bell peppers, and garlic; saute 5 minutes. Add beef, cumin and cayenne; saute until beef is brown, breaking up with back of fork, about 8 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes, broth, peas, and capers, if using.

Simmer until picadillo is thick, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Recipe: Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh, Wiley, 2008

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4



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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Impressed by Rowe Farms' meats

While shopping at the St. Lawrence Market this morning the Rowe Farms booth caught my eye -- located in the North Market's northwest corner, the Guelph, Ont.-based meat purveyors boast conscientiously-raised, hormone-free, antibiotic-free products.

Given that I don't include that much meat in my diet, I don't mind paying top dollar to ensure that what animal products I do eat are of higher quality. And it seemed clear from checking out what was on offer that these were indeed better meats than what I typically buy from the grocery store. The skin on the chicken thighs was white, not that weird yellowish tinge you sometimes see; the pork loin chops a uniform pale pink.

I bought two of the pork loin chops, a package of the thighs, four Italian sausages, and a pound of extra-lean ground beef. For that, I paid $30. Yes, probably almost double what I might have paid at a grocery store, but as I said before, for the amount of meat I eat it's worth it.

Tonight, I cooked one of the pork chops, using a recipe from Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh. And I can honestly say it tasted delicious. The knife cut through the chop without any effort, and it was juicy and moist inside, not dry! If this is what I can come to expect from Rowe Farms, I think I've found my new butcher!

I've included the original recipe, which is slightly different -- it calls for a 12-oz pork tenderloin, but you can easily sub chops. If you pound the chop to 1/2 inch thickness, as I did, it'll only take about 3 minutes per side to cook.

Pork medallions with chili-maple sauce

1 12-oz pork tenderloin
1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3/4 cup low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp chili garlic sauce
1 green onion chopped

Cut tenderloin crosswise into six slices. Using meat mallet or rolling pin, pound medallions between sheets of plastic wrap to 1/2 inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and five-spice powder.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat. Add pork; cook until brown and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to platter. Add next three ingredients to skillet. Boil until reduced to scant 1/4 cup, about 2 minutes. Pour sauce over pork, sprinkle with green onion.

2 servings

Courtesy Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh, Barbara Fairchild, Wiley, 2008.



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Friday, April 10, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Weekend Cooking

Whether you like Ricardo or not, it's hard to argue with success in the kitchen and I've had good luck with the few recipes I've tried from the ebullient Quebecois chef.

I like that on his Food Network program, Ricardo often visits local farms and businesses both to educate and promote local purveyors. He's not the first chef-TV host to do it, but I always appreciate that extra effort to show that his dishes rely not only on his skills in the kitchen but quality ingredients to start with.

One of the first Ricardo recipes I tried was a pearl barley risotto with fresh spring asparagus. I like making risotto with barley from time to time, as it's creamy without being gummy (as arborio rice can sometimes be).

That recipe was from his self-titled magazine, but I've since bought his cookbook, Weekend Cooking, and it's filled with inspirational ideas for mains, desserts, brunch fare, and veggie sides. I purchased a chunk of sashimi-grade tuna just so I could make his Semi-Cooked Tuna Steak with almonds and mashed ginger butternut squash and it was to die for. The tuna was coated in egg and a mixture of ground almonds and ground ginger, then seared just to cook the outside, with the inside left bright pink. Between that and the vibrant gold of the mashed butternut squash it was one of the prettiest dishes I've ever made.

Also, his maple-glazed bok choy is one of my veggie staples. When I feel like a dinner of healthy greens, but don't feel like salad, I'll cook this up. It takes no time at all and though it's probably meant as a side dish I cook enough to make it my main course, with some rice.

Maple-Glazed Bok Choy

1 large bok choy, or 4 small ones, 6 oz each
1 tbsp non-toasted sesame oil*
1 garlic clove, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 green onions, chopped

Cut bok choy into 1 inch slices, diagonally.

In wok or large skillet, heat oil. Stir-fry bok choy with garlic for about five minutes over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Add soy sauce, maple syrup, and green onions. Continue cooking over high heat for about three minutes. Season to taste.

Serves 4 (or one if it's your main course!)

*Toasted sesame oil has more flavour than non-toasted. If you don't have non-toasted sesame oil, you can replace it by one-third toasted sesame oil and two-thirds peanut or canola oil. To get 1 tbsp non-toasted sesame oil, use 1 tsp toasted sesame oil mixed with 2 tsp peanut or canola oil.



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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Not your average sandwich

Lately I've been obsessed with sandwiches. Not your ordinary fare: PB&J or a flimsy slice of ham slapped between two pieces of stale bread.

No. I'm talking quality 'wiches, the kind you might find on the menu at 'wichcraft, Tom Colicchio's popular chain of gourmet sandwich shops. My sister and I stopped in there for a quick bite when we were in NYC last fall, and we were both impressed with the quality of their breads, spreads, and ingredient combinations.

I had goat cheese, avocado, celery, walnut pesto and watercress on multigrain bread, while Barb had grilled cheddar, smoked ham, pear & mustard on cranberry-pecan bread. Both amazing, although next time I'd get one of the warm sandwiches.

More recently, I was brunching at Le petit dejeuner with my parents, and rather than go for traditional breakfast fare I chose their Apple and Brie Panino, which featured Mutsu apple, Brie cheese, and Dijon mustard between slices of quality bread, crisped to perfection in a panini press. It got me thinking about making my own gourmet sandwiches at home and I've done up a few in recent days.

One was a sandwich take on my favourite summer salad, the Caprese salad. I took Mozzarella di Bufala and sliced it up with some heirloom tomato, and fresh basil leaves, drizzling over some fruity olive oil and a sprinkling of Maldon salt and pepper on slices of ciabatta bread. To add an extra dimension of flavour, before heating it I laid a few strips of Prosciutto di Parma with the other ingredients.

Eventually I may invest in a panini press but I was easily able to cook the sandwich in my fry pan. I pressed down on the bread with a heavy canister (but you could also just use a spatula or your hands to press the bread down). A couple minutes on each side was all it took to get the mozzarella melting. It was just as good as either of my restaurant gourmet sandwiches, maybe even better!

I also did a Brie and apple sandwich recently, using Ida Red apple instead of Mutsu, and substituting my Double C spicy mustard from Kozlik's. A little extra heat went nicely with the creamy cheese.

Tonight I did more tomato and mozzarella, adding a thick slather of black olive tapenade to my bread before toasting it. As a spread I think I actually prefer it to mustard.

Now that I've rediscovered my love for sandwiches -- good ones -- I imagine I'll keep trying new flavour combos, maybe taking a cue from 'wichcraft, maybe striking out with my own original concoctions.

I notice Bon Appetit has a gallery of their top heated sandwiches -- check them out, they look fantastic.



Email comments to suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Home Made

With a lovely, market-fresh cod fillet in my fridge I turned to the pages of Tana Ramsay's Home Made for a recipe. She had two: grilled cod with home-made red pesto, and spaghetti with cod in a chili, garlic and white wine sauce. When I read her note on the latter recipe, that it's "a good supper for a lazy night," my mind was made up.

While Tana's husband, world-famous Chef Gordon Ramsay, is known for his Michelin-starred restaurants and fancy fare, Tana Ramsay's cookbooks are all about family-friendly cooking. But family-friendly works for single girls like me who work 9-5 five days a week because the concept is the same: like the busy mother-of-four, I don't want to mess around with complicated instructions and mile-long ingredients lists on my weeknights. Save the fussing for the weekend, when it's a Friday night and I'm dead-tired, I want something easy and fast.

The Ramsays are a health-conscious family so the recipes in Home Made are generally quite healthy. Not diet recipes or low-fat fare per se, but wholesome. There are a lot of seafood dishes, for example Rosemary-infused Monkfish, Sea bass with vine tomatoes, olives and capers, and Scallops with parsley and lemon vinaigrette. There are also a number of hearty soups -- I made the Sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil before my interview with Ms. Ramsay and it was a perfect winter dish.

With spring approaching I imagine I'll be making lots more from Home Made, including Balsamic lamb salad, Cucumber pappardelle with dill, and Spring greens with nutmeg butter.

Of course I want to make everything in the section entitled Chocolate. I'd like to try the Chocolate and beetroot cake because the combination sounds odd (Tana assures us it works!). As well, the Chocolate souffle cake with cherries and mascarpone sounds sinful, and how can you go wrong with Chocolate Malteser ice cream?!

Back to my supper tonight though. The last time I mixed seafood and pasta was when I went through a Seafood Fettuccini phase back in college. For a time, if I was out in a restaurant and that was on the menu I'd order it. But I always remember it being so heavy and when I finished eating it I always felt bloated. Happy, but bloated. The spaghetti and cod dish was the complete opposite. No cream sauce to weigh things down, just a refreshing mix of heat from the chili flakes, pungency from the garlic, and some fruity olive oil and fresh lemon zest and juice for brightness. It was about as light as a pasta dish gets, but also managed to fill me up.

Spaghetti with cod in a chili, garlic and white wine sauce

300g/11oz haddock or cod
4 slices of stale bread
2 tbsp olive oil
500g/1lb 2 oz dried spaghetti
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
3 tsp dried chili flakes
splash of white wine
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
salt and black pepper

Cut the fish into 4 even-sized pieces to make the cooking times the samd.

Put the bread into a food processor and whiz until you have fairly coarse but even breadcrumbs. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan, tip in the breadcrumbs and allow them to toast until crisp and golden.

You need to be quite organized and have all your ingredients to hand now. Place the pasta on to cook in a large pan of salted boiling water as instructed on the packet. Season the fish.

Heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan and add the garlic, chili flakes, and wine. Add the fish and lemon zest. Allow the wine mixture to come to the boil, turn the pieces of fish over and reduce the heat so that the wine is just simmering. After about 1 minute take out the fish using a slotted spoon and put to one side. The fish should be just cooked.

Let the wine mixture simmer for another 3 minutes or so until it has reduced by about one-third. Add a ladle of the pasta water to this.

Drain the pasta, once ready, and add it to the wine in the pan. Increase the heat until it is bubbling again, then add the fish and sprinkle in the parsley. Gently flake the fish throughout the pasta, add the lemon juice and toss throughly.

Serve in warm pasta bowls, adding a little more parsley on top and a scattering of the golden breadcrumbs as desired.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Courtesy Home Made, Tana Ramsay, HarperCollins, 2008.



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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Foodie experiences: Brooklyn's Diner, and Astier in Paris

I was tickled to read a New York Times blog post by Mark Bittman about a restaurant I visited while in Paris in 2007, Restaurant Astier, and its wonderful communal cheese platter. This table-sized tray of dozens of cheeses -- each one stinkier and/or moldier than the last -- was one of my food highlights while in France.

A selection of cheeses at a Paris market

The way it works is this -- the cost of the cheese is worked into the prix fixe price, and the platter is passed around from table to table, generally at the end of the meal. I remember eyeing it enviously as servers brought it from one set of happy diners to the next, hoping that it would be my turn next. Finally it arrived and I joyously cut into a wedge of fuzz-topped chevre, a silky Brie, and several others, the names of which fail me now. All I remember is that despite having finished a filling meal, I couldn't get enough.

If you're ever in Paris, I highly recommend Astier for this experience alone.

This is the second time in the past few weeks I've read about a place I've been fortunate enough to frequent on my travels -- in the recent issue of Saveur, its list of 12 Restaurants That Matter (in the U.S) included the sister establishment to Diner, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Though I haven't been to Marlow & Sons, which sits right next door to Diner, eating at the latter was an amazing experience.

My sister and I outside Diner in Brooklyn

The Marlow & Sons forerunner occupies an old Kullman dining car, and you can choose to sit in one of the booths or sidle up to the bar to nosh (which is what my sister and I did). The menu of the day is scrawled on the back of a piece of receipt paper, and it's all about what's seasonal and local. Both our meals were delicious, and I'd make the trip to the hip and happening Williamsburg to dine there again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brussels sprouts can be tasty, really!

I'll tell you right now that I was the weird kid that actually liked Brussels sprouts. Two reasons for that: 1) My mom didn't overcook them until they were a mushy, soggy mess; and 2) butter, lots of butter.

Brussels sprouts are a relatively cheap vegetable to cook and they're low-maintenance. Give them a quick rinse, pop them in a pot of boiling salted water for about 10 minutes, then plunge them into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. But on their own the taste can leave a bit to be desired.

Bacon to the rescue! I do like my Brussels sprouts just fine with lots of butter and salt, but sauteing them in bacon fat gives them an even better flavour. Ok, so it's not exactly low fat, but hey, you're still eating your vegetables! And when I say bacon fat, I mean a tablespoon or two, tops.

Here's a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis's Everyday Italian for Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta -- who knows, it may even convince your kids to eat them!

Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp olive oil
3 ounces paper-thin slices of pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp salt, or to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until crisp-tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Place the Brussels sprouts in a large bowl of ice water to cool completely. Drain again.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until it begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until pale golden, about two minutes. Using a slotted spoon transfer the pancetta mixture to a large serving bowl. Add the Brussels sprouts to the same skillet and saute until heated through and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the broth, 1/2 tsp of pepper and 1/4 tsp of salt, and simmer until the broth reduces just enough to coat the Brussels sprouts, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the Brussels sprout mixture to the pancetta mixture and toss to combine. Season with more salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Makes four side-dish servings.

If you don't have pancetta on hand you can easily use regular side bacon.



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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mushroom tortelloni, the easy way

I'm all about making weeknight dinners easier on myself but not at the expense of a quality meal. Microwave dinners are a thing of the past -- truthfully I can't believe I ever ate that crap, but in college you do what you gotta do. However, there are some decent cheats to be found at your local grocery store, if you don't mind taking the time to finish the recipe off with quality ingredients.

Take, for example, the refrigerated fresh President's Choice pasta: recently I bought a package of PC Porcini Mushroom Tortelloni. Because it's fresh it only takes a couple of minutes to cook in boiling water, which means you can spend a bit of extra time dressing the dish up (and I'm talking 15, 20 minutes max).

I sauteed two cloves of garlic in butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then added about 1.5 cups of chopped cremini mushrooms, along with some salt and pepper. I sauteed those down, deglazing with a bit of white wine, and then put them off to the side. Once the pasta was cooked, I added a bit more butter to my skillet, browned it, then added some fresh sage leaves. Once the sage leaves had become fragrant I added the cooked and drained pasta in to the skillet along with the cooked mushroom mixture and mixed everything together, with a bit more salt and pepper. For an added health kick I tossed in about 1.5 cups of baby spinach leaves and let them wilt down. Spoon the mixture onto a plate or bowl (I prefer a bowl for pasta), grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top, and you're done.

No pasta machine required!



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Friday, March 27, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Mrs. Cook's Kitchen

Sometimes freebie cookbooks can yield unexpected rewards and such was the case with Mrs. Cook's Kitchen, by former Ottawa Sun food editor Gay Cook.

The extended title of Mrs. Cook's Kitchen is "Basics & Beyond" and her cookbook is just that -- a collection of tried-and-true recipes that you'll keep coming back to. Nothing too pretentious or elaborate, rather straightforward dishes such as Herb Roast Chicken with Pan Juices, Caramelized Baked Tomatoes, and Poached Pear with Roquefort Salad.

Gay Cook also includes recipes for freshly baked bread, from Rosemary Focaccia, to Country Grain, to your standard loaf of White Bread. She also offers advice on wine pairings, and assembles menus for everything from casual dinner parties to brunch, to holiday get-togethers.

The cover of Mrs. Cook's Kitchen is a trilogy of soups and I've made two of them: the Spicy Lentil Soup with Yogourt, and the Fresh Pea Soup with Mint. Loved them both, especially the pea soup. I always thought pea soup was a drab, lifeless greeny-brown colour until I made it myself and saw how vibrant it could be. I used baby peas and once blended it was a bright, spring-like emerald green. Beautiful to behold and delicious -- and a soup that's fresh enough for spring, not simply a winter dish.

But the one recipe I come back to time and time again is Gay's Old Fashioned Macaroni & Cheese. It's a breeze to prepare, and turns out perfectly every time. Not too saucy, just creamy and tangy, with a nice bit of crunch from the bread crumbs on top. I prefer an extra bit of bite so I left my bread crumbs a bit bigger, tearing them from slices of stale whole wheat bread with my hands rather than pulsing them in a food processor. If you like the classic mac & cheese, not that god-awful boxed stuff, I encourage you to give Gay's version a try. I had some tonight with a side of sauteed Swiss chard (see picture) and it was extremely filling!

Old Fashioned Macaroni & Cheese

1.5L water
1 tbsp salt
2 cups macaroni, uncooked
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup Cheddar or Swiss cheese, grated
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Butter a 7 x 11 inch shallow casserole.

Bring the water and salt to a boil and stir in the macaroni. Cook for 8 minutes, or until al dente. Drain into a colander, shaking it to get all the water out of the macaroni "tunnels."

In a large saucepan, melt the butter on medium-low heat, stir in the onion, cover and cook for 5 minutes, without browning the onion. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Raise heat to medium-high, whisk in the milk until smooth and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often, until thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper, then the macaroni. Pour the mixture into the casserole. Toss the crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over top.

Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly and golden. The casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day before cooking, but add 10 extra minutes to the cooking time.

Serves 4-6
Preparation: 20 minutes
Baking: 20 minutes

Comfort food at its finest -- I hope you'll try this recipe!



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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Single girl supper: Pan-Seared Rainbow Trout with Sauteed Greens

Though I had a ton of amazing leftovers in the fridge from last night's feast, I felt like making a healthy dinner for one tonight. At the supermarket I spied some Ontario-farmed rainbow trout, so I purchased a 3/4 lb fillet -- enough for two meals (one dinner, one lunch).

For a side, I wanted to use up the leftover broccoli rabe in my fridge, and I remember seeing a recipe in Everyday Italian for sauteed broccoli rabe with raisins and pine nuts. I figured that would go nicely with the trout, and it was nice and light as well.

I didn't want to do much to the trout. It was a beautiful-looking piece of fish and I didn't want to mask the flavour with something cloying or heavy. I opted to rub both sides with olive oil, cracked black pepper, and some French grey sea salt I recently bought at a specialty salt purveyor at St. Lawrence Market. The grey sea salt has an almost moist consistency, and a little goes a long way.

I cooked the broccoli rabe first since I knew the trout would take next to no time to cook. Sure enough, it only required six minutes, total. I melted a small amount of butter and oil in my frying pan, put the trout in skin side down, cooked it for four minutes, flipped it, cooked it for another two, and that was all. Perfectly done.

I squeezed a bit of fresh lemon juice on both the broccoli rabe and the trout before serving.

A healthy, delicious dinner for one -- so easy, and so fast!



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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dinner with friends

When I moved into my new place last July I swore I was going to have friends and family over for dinner all the time -- it hasn't exactly happened that way. For starters it took months for my furniture to be delivered (hard to host a dinner without a table and chairs), and secondly I've had a difficult time conquering my fear of kitchen multi-tasking while hosting.

When you're in a relationship entertaining is fairly simple. One person can be chit-chatting with guests in the living room, pouring wine, etc, while the other is busy in the kitchen chopping herbs or prepping appetizers. When you're a single girl it's all on you to be a good host while at the same time not burning the garlic or forgetting about the walnuts you put in the oven to toast.

Tonight my friends Cathy and Jason came over for dinner and I was determined to make something nice for them. Coming up with a menu is fun, but also overwhelming when you have as many cookbooks as I do. I finally settled on roast pork with apricot and shallot stuffing, roasted winter vegetables, buttered green beans, and a warm apple compote to serve alongside the pork. For dessert, a maple sugar pie (Cathy loves the flavour of maple) with whipped cream.

The menu determined, I headed to St. Lawrence Market this morning to pick up everything I needed. In the early afternoon, I baked the maple sugar pie. It was my first attempt outside cooking class at pie pastry, and it rolled out nicely. Tricky thing, that pie pastry. In retrospect the pie was creamy and sweet, the crust crisp and golden. For a flakier crust I hear using half vegetable shortening and half butter is the way to go and I might try that next time. I used all butter and the crust was a bit on the firm side for my liking.

With a couple of hours to spare I started cooking the apple compote, using Fuji apples (a recommendation from Chef Marty). I'm proud to say it turned out just as well as it did in class last week, and Cathy and Jason raved about it. It goes so nicely with roast pork, I'm definitely adding it to my repertoire. I've included the recipe below.

The pork turned out well. I don't know what cooks did before meat thermometers. It's impossible to tell otherwise whether the pork is cooked all the way through. I tested it once and it wasn't quite done enough in the center so it went back in the oven for another 10 minutes. That finished it off and it was cooked just right. As for the stuffing, it tasted great when I cooked it in the pan but I'm not sure it benefited from being inside the pork roast. I think next time I'd make a double batch -- one for stuffing the pork roast to keep it moist, and more to serve on the side on its own.

The winter vegetables were tasty although it's hard to screw those up. I went for a selection of red-skinned baby potatoes, parsnips, onion, and purple-hued carrots that looked and tasted a bit like beets. Very cool, and really added some visual oomph to what can otherwise be a dull-looking dish.

(By the way, I didn't take any pics of the meal -- you'll have to believe me when I say it all looked fantastic.)

All in all, the evening was a great success and I managed to enjoy my friends' company without being a slave to the meal (as I was worried I might be). Next time I have Cathy and Jason over though I'm making things simpler: macaroni and cheese. I never need an excuse to cook that and Jason told me tonight it's one of his favourite dishes. Say no more!

Good luck to all those single guys or gals cooking for friends. It's a challenge, but you'll definitely be satisfied when you're through. And hey, if you feel overwhelmed, they're your friends, put them to work!

Warm Apple Compote*

Serve with pork, or enjoy it on its own.

4 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch pieces (If you can't find Fuji, Braeburn, Spy or Ida Red will also work)
1-2 oz water
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
1 tsp nutmeg, or to taste
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup red wine
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
Rind and juice of one lemon

*Note: The measurements here are to be used as a guide only. Taste the compote as it's cooking and use your judgement on whether the compote needs more sugar, more acidity, more butter or stock to round out the flavour.

Put half of chopped apples, along with water and brown sugar, in a medium sized sauce pot and stir to combine over low to medium heat. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest and lemon juice and salt. Stir and let the apples begin to break down, adding chicken stock or water if the liquid at the bottom evaporates. You don't want the apples to stick to the pan and burn.

When the apples have softened and broken down substantially, add the rest of the chopped apples along with more spices as needed. Add the red wine and stir. Keep the mixture simmering and let the second batch of apples soften somewhat. Once those apples are softer, though still holding their shape, add a bit more chicken stock and some butter. Stir well. Once you're happy with the consistency -- ideally the first apples will have become a chunky sauce and the second ones will be more or less intact -- take it off the heat and either keep it warm if you're planning to serve right away, or cool down and then refrigerate.

Makes approximately 4 to 6 servings.



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Friday, March 20, 2009

Cookbook Friday: The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook

If, like most people, you find you just don't have enough time most nights to get a decent meal on the table, Bon Appetit's Fast Easy Fresh will save your life. Honestly, since purchasing it in January I've gone to it again and again for dinner suggestions.

The title doesn't lie -- these are dishes that are relatively quick to prepare, with uncomplicated ingredient lists and often very few steps involved. You're not going to be soaking dried beans overnight or marinating for hours on end. But this is Bon Appetit so you're also not sacrificing quality for the sake of convenience.

The book is very well laid out, generally divided by ingredient, although there are sections on starters, salads and a sizeable index of sandwich, pizza, rice and pasta options. And there are 1,100 recipes! So you can't say you're tired of making the same old thing. There are so many options here -- if anything the problem will be deciding on one thing. (I often end up bookmarking a few before I end up settling on something.)

Not too many photos here, but not to worry. This tome is jammed with useful info on ingredients and techniques to help ensure your recipes turn out as they should. The first thing I made from it was the Wisconsin mac and cheese and it was delicious.

More recently I made the Salmon with mustard and brown sugar glaze -- only six ingredients, one of which I didn't bother with, and again it was a success. I reduced the ingredient quantities since I was making a dinner for one, and it's easily done.

Salmon with mustard and brown sugar glaze

3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup butter, diced
1 1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning (I didn't use this, instead used salt and pepper to taste)
1 2-pound center cut salmon filet
1/3 cup spicy brown mustard
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Boil wine, butter and Old Bay seasoning (if you're using it) in a small saucepan for 3 minutes. Sprinkle salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Place on rimmed baking sheet; pour wine mixture over. Bake until salmon is just opaque in center, about 14 minutes. Remove from oven.

Preheat broiler. Mix mustard and sugar in small bowl to blend; spread over salmon to cover. Broil salmon until topping is brown and bubbling, about 3 minutes. Transfer salmon to platter.

Serves 4. Serve with a spinach salad dressed with a simple vinaigrette.

Courtesy The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook, Barbara Fairchild, 2008.

If you know someone who's just starting to cook, or is rekindling their passion for cooking, I highly recommend this book as an all-purpose go-to. Sure there are others, The Joy Of Cooking springs to mind, that might offer more in the way of general advice and basic recipes, however I maintain if what they're looking for is inspiration for interesting dinners, breakfasts, or even lunches to take to school or work, this will be the one they take off the shelf most.

I recently picked up a copy for my sister, who's been cooking more in the last few months, and she's already tried a few things from it. If you're looking for it, the cover's green, and it weighs a ton.



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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Baked pork chop with date and bacon stuffing

Tonight was our last night of actual cooking in my George Brown cooking class (sniff!). I've absolutely loved this 12-week course, and I know for a fact I'll be taking more classes from GBCS. It's just a matter of where to go from here - Italian? French? Asian? Sauces? Knife Skills?

But anyway, back to class. On Tuesday we made a baked pork chop with date and bacon stuffing, and a warm apple compote to go alongside. Chef Marty gave us more incredible tips on how to ensure the finished dish is exactly how it should be. The pork chops had the bone still attached, which definitely makes for better presentation.

We started off by making the apple compote, comprised of 4 Spy apples peeled and cut into a one-inch dice (so quite large), ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, grated ginger, some white wine, about a third of a cup of white sugar (although you could use brown), a teaspoon of sea salt, the zest and juice from a lemon, a tablespoon or two of butter and 1/4 cup or so of chicken stock just to round out the flavour. If you were making apple compote for dessert, you could omit the stock.

I've avoided putting precise measurements in my description because really this is one of those "make it to taste" dishes. We were adding ingredients as we went, more cinnamon if needed, more butter or stock if the flavours were too acidic or harsh. More lemon juice if more tartness was required. It's one of those recipes that really makes you feel like a chef, because you're constantly tasting, and trying to improve on, what you've done. One thing to note though is that Chef Marty added half of the apples at the start with the spices and other ingredients (except for the stock and butter), cooked them down until they were quite soft, and then added the rest of the apples. What happens is you end up having a variety of textures -- the apples added in first will soften to the point where they're breaking down, while the late additions will still have a welcome bit of bite to them.

Once the compote was all but done we were able to start on the pork dish. First we started with the stuffing, which was essentially sauteed bacon , onions, and celery. Add some chopped dates that have been soaking in Riesling or another white wine. Season with salt and pepper, as always, and cook the mixture down, deglazing with white wine or water as needed. When there's still a bit of liquid left in the pan, but not much, add some bread cubes from a stale loaf (1 or 2 slices' worth). You should be able to stir it all together by this point and the bread will soak up the extra moisture.

It's important to cool down the stuffing before you shove it into the pork chop cavity, so let it rest for a few minutes. Use your boning knife to cut into the chop and use it to make a sizeable pocket in the chops. Once the stuffing has cooled slightly spoon it into the waiting chops.

Heat up some oil and butter a large skillet, on high heat. Rub the chops with oil, salt, and pepper, and when the pan is hot, put the chops in to sear. Shake the pan to ensure the chop isn't sticking. Turn down the oven temperature. After a couple of minutes turn the chop to cook the other side. Then put the pan in the oven so that the chop can finish cooking. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness -- if the internal temperature reaches 150C you're in business.

This was all in all a delicious meal. Everything went together and it was that perfect balance of savoury and sweet. Can't wait to try it again at home.



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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Could these desserts be any more decadent?

Last week my colleague Erin was kind enough to bring some of the peanut butter chocolate cake she'd baked to the office to share. A sour cream chocolate cake to start, covered in peanut butter frosting, and then glazed with peanut butter-chocolate ganache. My God, was it good, and sinfully rich (recipe here, if I've piqued your interest).

Courtesy Editor at Large

It got me thinking about some of the amazing desserts I've tried over the years -- some made my friends and/or family, others made by yours truly. My friend Olga is an incredible baker, and her baklava is to die for. Perhaps I will see if she'd be willing to share her secret recipe in an upcoming post. She also once made a lemon mascarpone cheesecake that was published in the LCBO's Food and Drink magazine. That recipe is available here and if you have company coming over it not only tastes delicious but it looks impressive. The trick, I recall Olga telling me at the time as I swooned over the silky texture of the cake, is to beat the cream cheese for a long time. Patience is most definitely rewarded in this case.

I think my love of baking comes from my mom, who was always baking when my sister and I were kids. From apple pies to pecan pies, squares of all varieties (my favourites were the turtle bars and mint chocolate squares), cookies, homemade sheet cakes for our birthdays (chocolate cake and chocolate icing more often than not, although she switched to mocha icing at one point, which was also delish). But my favourite 'Mom' dessert is also probably one of the simplest -- fruit crumble. A base of mixed berries, or apples, sometimes peaches in the height of summer, covered with a layer of butter oats and flour, spiked with cinnamon and nutmeg, baked in the over until the fruit is bubbling and the topping crisp and golden. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side it's the most comforting of comfort foods. Rustic, and uncomplicated.

I've made some interesting desserts over the years -- last year I made a Marsala wine-spiked mocha semifreddo that was quite delicious and surprisingly light-feeling, given the amount of cream involved. I also made a chocolate amaretti cake that had a crust ever so light and crisp, giving way to a moist, dense filling. Part cookie, part cake, and entirely scrumptious.

With friends coming over for dinner on Saturday I'm thinking it's time to attempt another challenging dessert. But what? A few recipes have caught my eye, including:

1) Chocolate Caramel Tart (from the latest edition of Saveur) - this is Saveur's cover recipe this month and it looks mouth-wateringly good. It's taken from the menu of Brooklyn's Marlow & Sons, one of the restaurants featured in the issue.

2) Coffee-Chocolate Layer Cake with Mascarpone Frosting (from Bon Appetit) - I see two problems with making this spectacularly rich-looking cake. 1) My friends aren't coffee drinkers. 2) There's no way the frosting would survive long enough to end up on the cake. Me. A spoon. End of story.

3) Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting (also from Bon Appetit) - I admit it, I'm a sucker for cream cheese frosting. Was there ever a time that carrot cake was eaten without it? I don't even want to imagine it.

4) Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze (from Gourmet) - Are you sensing a cream cheese theme here? Yes, I think I'm leaning in that direction. Although spring is here and part of me is looking for light options, I can have fruit salad any day of the week. That said, there's fruit in this dish, so it's not all bad, right?

At this point I'm still undecided - make one of these lovelies, or go another direction entirely. What are your thoughts? Do you have an out-of-this-world dessert recipe you'd like to share? If so comment below or drop me a note at suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com.



Monday, March 16, 2009

Dinner in a pinch

On Saturday night I made marinara sauce to serve over a heap of spaghetti, and luckily had enough of the sauce left over for one or two more meals. Not enough to freeze, but I definitely didn't want to waste it.

My initial thinking was that I'd thin it with some chicken stock and make a rich and chunky tomato soup, adding some fresh basil and toasted bread cubes for texture. But as Sunday wore on I was feeling less and less like soup and was once again craving pasta! Rather than noodles though I craved ravioli. But there was no way I was making my own -- not enough time, unfortunately -- so I bought a package of fresh, pre-made spinach-and-cheese-filled ravioli from the store.

For some added nutritional value I blanched some chopped broccoli rabe (my new favourite veg) to mix in with the pasta and sauce.

I'm finding with pasta dishes -- and indeed just about everything I cook -- it's all about the final flourish. Whether that's one last squeeze of lemon, some chopped parsley sprinkled over top, or in this case a grinding of black pepper, some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a swirl of fruity extra virgin olive oil.

It may not be fancy, but it tasted great to me. And I still have more sauce left -- maybe I'll be making the tomato soup yet!



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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Quick and tasty marinara sauce

Sometimes you're so famished you just want dinner on the table, five minutes ago. Such was the case Saturday night -- I arrived home following a three-hour hike craving pasta like nobody's business. Knowing I had the basics to make a speedy marinara sauce (I really must cook and freeze a big batch of it one day for instances like this), I set to work chopping onion and garlic, filling a pot with water for the spaghetti, and, most importantly, pouring myself a glass of red wine to make the whole process that much more enjoyable.

I used canned whole plum tomatoes, which are just fine in a pinch. Whole tomatoes are preferable to diced or pureed -- they're generally of better quality and are easily crushed into the sauce. Also, a good amount of salt and some sugar, to remove any tinny flavour from the tomatoes. I always add a few glugs of red wine to the sauce, finding that gives it more depth and body. A few spoonfuls of tomato paste will help to thicken up the marinara -- you can add more if you need to, but keep in mind that the sauce will reduce down over the 20-30 minutes you're simmering it.

Have some chopped fresh herbs -- basil is ideal, I didn't have any so chopped up some Italian parsley -- for garnishing, as well as some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I stir some into the sauce and pasta just before serving, and grate more over top at the very end.

Also, keep some of the pasta water on hand to help the sauce coat the pasta (a few tablespoons may be enough but reserve up to a quarter cup of it). This is one of the simplest meals you can make but also one of the most satisfying.

Spaghetti marinara

1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 cooking onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few glugs of red wine (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more to drizzle over finished dish
1 tsp sugar, or to taste
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

1/4 pkg spaghetti

Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add onion and sprinkle a bit of salt overtop. Saute until soft and translucent, five to 7 minutes. Add garlic cloves and saute for about 30 seconds. Add canned tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, salt, sugar and pepper. Bring to a boil. Once the sauce is at a boil, reduce it down to simmer for 20-30 minutes, tasting and adjusting flavours (salt, pepper, sugar, etc) if necessary.

Meanwhile, heat water in stock pot. When boiling, add salt and dry pasta. The spaghetti should take about 8-9 minutes to become al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve a bit of the pasta water. Toss cooked pasta with a bit of olive oil to keep noodles from sticking together.

When sauce has reached desired thickness, mix a few ladles worth into a big bowl with the cooked pasta and some grated cheese. Add a small amount of the pasta water and, using tongs, mix the whole thing together. Spoon onto serving plate or bowl, and garnish with chopped fresh herbs (basil or Italian parsley work well) and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Kick back with your wine, and enjoy!



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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Banana Oat Muffins

Muffins are one of those indulgences I couldn't give up if I tried. My morning coffee just isn't the same without one, and I love all kinds: blueberry, raisin bran, carrot (my all-time favourite), cranberry, morning glory, zucchini, pumpkin (threatening to unseat carrot at the top of my list).

Probably the best muffin I ever ate was in Lake Placid, New York of all places. It was from a little hole-in-the-wall bakery, and the flavour was lemon-raspberry. There was a dusting of superfine sugar on top that contrasted the tartness of the lemon and raspberry perfectly, and also served to give the surface a slight crunch. It was fresh out of the oven, and to die for. And one day, I'll recreate it (or attempt to).

Most recently I baked a batch of banana oat muffins from Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite cookbook. They were a snap to whip up -- especially since I had four over-ripe bananas sitting on the counter. These aren't as moist and dense a muffin as some I've had, but they're also healthier than most, with oats and walnuts included in the ingredients. I added a pinch of cinnamon because banana and cinnamon is such a wonderful combination. If you're in the mood to bake muffins but don't want to feel guilty when you eat the whole batch yourself, try this recipe out.

Banana oat muffins

1 1/3 cups oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
4 large ripe bananas
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp melted butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350F. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.

In a large bowl combine oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and sugar. Mix well and make a well in the center.

Mash bananas in another bowl with a fork. Stir in beaten egg and butter. Add to the dry mixture along with the walnuts and fold through until just combined. Don't overmix.

Spoon mixture into paper cases and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Adapted from Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite, Key Porter Books, 2008

If you find that after a couple of days the muffins start to get stale, I heat them up in the microwave for 10-15 seconds just to get them warm and soft again. I've also heard brushing the tops with milk and popping them back into a warm oven (200F?) works.

I like to serve these slathered with peanut butter and honey, although that ups the fat and sugar content a bit!



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Friday, March 13, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home

Vegetarian home cooks will recognize this name -- a number of Moosewood cookbooks have come out over the years, based on recipes from the cooks at Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York. Four men and 14 women publish under the name "The Moosewood Collective" and their recipe collections have been extremely popular, even winning the James Beard Award for Best Vegetarian Cookbook.

There are seafood recipes in their books, but otherwise the recipes are vegetarian or vegan. Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home is filled with uncomplicated dishes that are relatively easy and quick to prepare. There are sections on soups, salads and sides, grains, pastas, stews, and desserts, among others. Also you'll find a useful pantry list, as well as a guide to ingredients and cooking tips and techniques.

Pressed for time? There's also a list of recipes within the book that can be made within half an hour for a super-fast supper.

No photos here, but the authors helpfully suggest other recipes from the book that will complement what you're making. For example, for the Pad Thai I made, the authors recommended serving a tossed salad with Japanese Carrot Dressing, and Creamy Banana Ice for dessert.

I admit that as a meat-eater I haven't made as many dishes from this cookbook as I have some of my others, but in the desire to eat more grains and vegetables I'm going to try to change that this year. I did make their Pad Thai, in part because I was craving those Thai flavours of cilantro, lime, and fish sauce, but also because I was curious to see what a Pad Thai devoid of chicken, shrimp, and even tofu (not sure why they opted to leave that out) would be like.

How was it? Surprisingly tasty, although next time I'd add some soy-marinated extra-firm tofu for an additional bit of protein and to add more texture to the dish. Otherwise though it was quite tasty.

If you're making it, don't skip the peanuts on top -- yes, they add fat, but they also add a necessary crunch and flavour. Note that this recipe is in U.S. measurements.

Pad Thai

2 quarts water
3/4 pound mung bean sprouts
6 oz rice noodles (1/4 inch wide)

3 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce (or soy sauce)

3 tbsp peanut oil or vegetable oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tbsp minced fresh chile, or 1 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups grated carrots
4 large eggs, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
2/3 cup chopped peanuts
6-8 scallions, chopped (about 1 cup)

In a covered pot, bring water to a rolling boil. Blanch the mung bean sprouts by placing them in a strainer or small colander and dipping it into the boiling water for 30 seconds. Set aside to drain well. When the water returns to a boil, stir in the rice noodles and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until tender but firm. Drain the cooked noodles, rinse them under cool water, and set them aside to drain well. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the lime juice, ketchup, brown sugar and fish sauce to form the Pad Thai sauce.

Prepare the remaining ingredients and have them near at hand before you begin to stir-fry. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the garlic and chile, swirl them in the oil for a moment, and stir in the grated carrots. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Push the carrots to the sides to make a hollow in the center. Pour the beaten eggs into the centre and quickly scramble them. When the eggs have just set, pour in the sauce mixture and stir everything together. Add the drained rice noodles and mung sprouts, and toss to distribute evenly. Stir in the peanuts and scallions, and serve at once.

Serves 4
Total time: 40 minutes

Don't be too concerned if the dish seems overly orange when you're stirring it together in the skillet. The peanuts and scallions offer some contrasting colour when you're serving it up. Also, consider garnishing with fresh cilantro, if you like. It's another complementary flavour that people tend to love or loathe. It took me a while to get onto it but now I see just how well it works in certain dishes.

As for other recipes that caught my eye in Moosewood Restaurant Cooks At Home -- Apricot Bulghur Pilaf, Spaghetti with Pecorino and Black Pepper, Portuguese White Bean Soup, Spicy Peanut Dip, and Moosewood Fudge Brownies. Can't wait to try them all!



Do you have a cookbook you'd like me to feature on Cookbook Friday? Email your suggestions to suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com.