Friday, February 27, 2009

Leftover roast chicken delish in salad

Determined not to waste a morsel of the whole chicken I roasted Tuesday night, tonight I used the leftover meat in a green salad. I had two thighs' worth, which by the way is the most flavourful meat on the bird and still tender after a few days. I cut the meat into bite-sized chunks and tossed it with salad greens, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, and blue cheese.

I whisked together a simple white wine vinaigrette to go with it, and was very satisfied with the results. I've had chicken breast on salads many times and the thigh meat is just so much tastier. It was buttery, and still had that oven-roasted taste even after being in the fridge for a few days. When I spoke with Chef Gordon Ramsay recently he mentioned that one of the ways he's been cutting down on food costs is by buying chicken thighs instead of chicken breast, and I see why. It's much more durable than the breast, which dries out so quickly and doesn't have a fraction of the flavour.

As for the picked-clean carcass, it's currently sitting in a pot of burbling water on the stove where it will stay for a couple of hours until I have some golden, flavourful stock.



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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tips and tricks: Perfect roast chicken

I've roasted a few birds in my time, but have often been disappointed with the results. Despite my best efforts -- basting in butter, basting in oil, turning it from side to side, etc. -- there was something I was missing. Oh, they were all juicy enough, and usually perfectly cooked, but I found them lacking in the flavour department and the skin not golden or crispy enough.

Well last night in cooking class we roasted chickens, and I have to say that thanks to a few tips from Chef, this was without a doubt my best effort yet! Here's what I learned:

1) Don't rub the bird's skin with butter or oil before putting it in the oven. Salt and pepper it well all over though, including inside the cavity. Rub the salt and pepper in, making sure it's adhering. Any butter you use at this point (I didn't) should be placed under the skin, next to the breast. It's relatively easy to loosen the skin in this area.

2) Even if you're not stuffing the chicken, put something in the cavity to help flavour it. I quartered an onion, added a few chunks of unpeeled carrot, a celery stalk broken into three pieces, some parsley stems (not the leaves), and a few sprigs of thyme. A couple of whole cloves of garlic would've been nice as well.

3) Sit the chicken on a bed of rough chopped mirepoix (50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery) in your roasting pan. The fat will drip onto the vegetables, which you'll use at the end to make a lovely, flavourful jus (way better than gravy!).

3) Roast the chicken at 400C for about 30 minutes, until it starts to turn golden, and then take it out and baste it with butter. Pop it back in the oven for another 30-40 minutes. Take it out, baste it with butter again, and return it to the oven for another 10 minutes or so. Take it out, baste it again, then sit the bird on a cutting board, breast side down, to rest. Tent foil over it.

NOTE: These instructions are for a 3-4 lb bird, and keep in mind that ovens vary so you'll have to judge doneness on your own. All in all you should baste it three times over the course of the cooking process.

4) Testing doneness: There are a few ways to do this. You can plunge a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh - if it reads 165C to 170C, it's done. You can also wiggle the leg to see if it moves easily in the socket and pulls away from the rest of the bird. If it does, it's probably done. If it's not moving easily it may need more time. Thirdly, you can pierce the thickest part of the thigh with your knife to see if the juices run clear. Be patient though - they may run clear initially but turn pink after a few seconds. If you see pink, back into the oven!

5) Making a jus: When the bird is resting, use the pan juices to make a jus. A jus, unlike a gravy, doesn't have flour. It's essentially concentrated pan juices reduced down, deglazed with chicken stock and white wine, and with the addition of butter, olive oil, salt and fresh herbs at the end. It should look deep brown in colour and be extremely rich in flavour. With Chef's help, I cranked the gas burner and got the pan juices and softened mirepoix sizzling. The juices reduced down by about half and at that point the vegetables began browning on the bottom and the whole pan started collecting browned, cooked bits on the bottom. At this point, I removed the vegetables, keeping the liquid.

I added the white wine (3/4 cup) and deglazed the pan, bringing up all the brown bits (called the "fond," French for bottom). After a few minutes, I added some chicken stock, and kept stirring and deglazing. I continued to reduce the liquid, again, by about half. Then I added a hunk of butter (about a heaping tablespoon's worth), and whisked it in quickly off the heat, making sure it was fully incorporated and didn't break in the sauce. I then added some olive oil, salt, and fresh parsley. At this point the sauce was dark brown and wonderfully flavourful. Quite honestly, better than any gravy I've ever tasted.

And remember, after you've roasted the chicken, save the carcass for stock! It's one of the easiest things to make and you'll use it for everything, from risottos, to pasta dishes, to soup, to sauces.



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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Braised pork with leeks and bok choy

When I was at the market on Saturday I picked up a pork tenderloin, thinking it's been a long time since I made a pork dish. Initially I'd planned to stuff it and roast it whole, but I also craved something light and healthy.

I came upon a simple-looking recipe for Braised pork with leeks and bok choy and decided on that. The recipe also allowed me to employ one of the new cooking techniques I've learned in my George Brown class, which is steaming dishes with the use of parchment paper. It's not quite "en papillote," which refers to a dish cooked in a sealed envelope or package of parchment, but it's close. When it came time to cover my frypan to steam the bok choy during the last three to four minutes, I realized I didn't have a lid big enough. So I used parchment.

There's a method of cutting parchment so it fits your pan, but explaining folds in text is difficult -- you really have to see it, to get it. Basically though, you want the circle of parchment to cover the food, cutting a hole in the centre so steam can escape. It worked perfectly - my greens cooked, everything else stayed moist and tender, and the parchment even helped keep the food warm on the stove in case I wanted a second helping. And I did want one, but opted to save the rest for next day's lunch instead.

Braised pork with leeks and bok choy

1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and black pepper
1 large leek, white part only, thinly sliced
1 1/4 inch pice of gingerroot, peeled and cut into thin sticks
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 cups water
3/4 cup dry white wine or rice wine
2-3 tbsp light soy sauce, to taste
3 tsp superfine sugar, or to taste
2 large heads of bok choy, about 8 oz

Cut the pork into bite-sized chunks, trimming away any fat or sinew. Heat a heavy skillet with a little olive oil. Lightly season the pork pieces and brown in batches for about a minute on each side, until golden brown all over. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add a litle more oil to the skillet and stir in the leek, ginger, and garlic. Stir frequently over medium high heat for 4 - 6 minutes until the leek begins to soften. Add the water, wine, soy sauce, and sugar, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze.

Return the pork to the pan and stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover the pan with a lid and gently braise for an hour, stirring from time to time, until the pork is very tender and the sauce has been reduced by half.

Cut the bok choy into quarters lengthwise and place on top of the pork. Cover the pan with the lid and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until the bok choy is just tender. Serve the braised pork and vegetables with steamed rice.

Courtesy Healthy Appetite, Gordon Ramsay, Key Porter, 2009

Some personal notes on the recipe:

1) I chopped up the bok choy because I wanted the pieces to be close to the same size on the plate. I didn't want big hunks of bok choy dwarfing everything else.

2) I used Jasmine rice for its fragrant aroma and flavour. Really enjoy cooking with Jasmine, particularly in winter.

3) The white wine really added a depth of flavour to the recipe. Make sure you use a good quality one. I used some Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc, which is one of my favourite white wines to drink.



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Monday, February 23, 2009

Warming winter soups

In the winter months soup is one of my favourite things to make. It fills your kitchen with a delicious smell, and the leftovers last for several days (alternately you can freeze servings for a quick reheated dinner down the line).

Depending on what ingredients you use soup can actually taste quite spring-like, even if it's February. One of my favourites is a green pea soup with mint (included recipe below). If you've ever made pea soup from scratch, with frozen peas, you know the vibrant green it turns after it's blended -- I guarantee it'll turn you off canned pea soup for life.

Fresh tomato soup is another wonderful thing -- I thought I hated tomato soup until I made a lovely one from Donna Hay's New Food Fast. It's best in the summer months of course when tomatoes are at their peak, but can also be made in the winter if you find some flavourful Romas and roast them in the oven beforehand.

The first soup I ever made was back in my university days, a creamy potato chowder with bacon. With some homemade Cheddar biscuits to go alongside, it was one of the first meals I was truly proud of, and one that made me realize how much I enjoyed cooking.

I haven't tried a new soup recipe in some time though, which makes me think I need some new inspiration. Thinking I might find it in the Times Online's recent post on 10 super seasonal soups.

A quick browse, and a few have caught my eye, mainly the Savoy cabbage and white bean soup, and the parsnip soup with chestnuts and mixed herb pesto.

Now, where was that biscuit recipe?!

Fresh Pea Soup with Mint

4 cups frozen or fresh peas
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 1/4 cups chicken stock, or more if needed for thinning
1/2 cup milk or cream, or more if needed
pinch granulated sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup toasted or fried croutons (optional)

In a saucepan, bring peas, onion and stock to a boil. Simmer for six to eight minutes and puree. Stir in the milk or cream and sugar. If the consistency is too thick, thin with either stock or more milk. To serve reheat with the mint, reserving a little for garnish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with croutons and leftover mint.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Courtesy, Mrs. Cook's Kitchen, Basics & Beyond, Gay Cook, 2000.



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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Brioche and bananas

This isn't my first post about French toast and it won't be my last. It's my absolute favourite breakfast food, and I'm always looking to perfect it.

Today I used thickly sliced, raisin-studded brioche bread from St. Lawrence Market, dredged the pieces in a mix of eggs, milk, with a splash of orange juice, a dribble of vanilla, some cinnamon, salt, and sugar. I didn't measure, just eyeballed everything.

A couple minutes on each side in a frypan of sizzling melted butter, and the pieces came out golden brown and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. I can see why brioche is considered the ultimate bread for French toast. I sliced up a banana for garnish, and let me tell you, French toast and banana is a wonderful combination, especially when you add in a good pour of real maple syrup.

No better way to start the day, even if you're starting your day at noon!



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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Got chickpeas? A simple but delicious supper

I'm currently taking classes three nights a week and on those evenings I barely have an hour to make and eat dinner. And while I have gone the meal replacement bar route on occasion, those never really satisfy me.

So I'm trying out a few recipes that can be made quickly, from pantry staples, and which taste delicious and fill me up. Here's one I've made a couple times now, from Gordon Ramsay's latest cookbook Healthy Appetite. I really enjoy how the flavours come together at the end -- you have to like chickpeas though, as they're the main ingredient.

Flatbread, feta, and chickpea salad

2 large, thin flatbreads or pita breads
1/2 tsp paprika
4 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 red chile, seeded and minced
14oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
generous squeeze of lemon juice
large handful of Italian parsley leaves
sea salt and black pepper
5oz feta cheese

Heat oven to 350F. Split the breads horizontally. Mix the paprika with 2 tbsp olive oil. Brush each piece of bread with the mixture and place on baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden brown and crisp, just 2 to 3 minutes for the flatbreads, 4 to 5 minutes for pita bread.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a pan, add the onion, and cook, stirring, over medium heat for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and chile and saute for another minute. Tip in the chickpeas and stir to mix. Squeeze over the lemon juice , add the parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Warm the chickpeas through, then tip into a large bowl and let stand for a few minutes. Crumble over two-thirds of the cheese and toss well. Divide between serving plates and crumble over remaining feta. Break bread into smaller pieces and serve on the side.

Serves 3-4

Courtesy Healthy Appetite, Gordon Ramsay, 2008



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Friday, February 20, 2009

Top five food movies

I love films where food plays a starring role - my two passions combined! And though there are many fine flicks for the gourmand in all of us, here are five I particularly enjoy:

Ratatouille (2007) - Pixar's gorgeously-rendered creation about a rat named Remy who goes to Paris with dreams of being a chef. He teams up with a restaurant's garbage boy to secretly put his culinary skills into practice. Paris and its classical cuisine looks simply divine in this heartwarming family film.

Big Night (1996) - Anyone who knows the hard work and sometimes heartbreak of owning a restaurant must sympathize with this poignant film about two brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) trying to save their intimate Italian restaurant from going under. Their plan: one special night, with an incredible traditional menu, to make or break their establishment. The food in this film was so impressive that it's apparently sparked 'Big Night' parties, where the entire menu is recreated, notably the showstopper timpano.

Eat Drink Man Woman
(1994) - Ang Lee wrote and directed this story about a senior chef who lives with his three grown yet unmarried daughters. Though the plot mainly centers around their struggles in life, particularly the middle daughter, the patriarch's elaborate Sunday dinners are one of the linking devices for the film and one of its highlights.

Waitress (2007) - An indie gem about a diner waitress (Keri Russell) who channels her frustrations in life, among them a terrible husband, into the most incredible looking pies you've ever seen. Sadly, the film's writer-director Adrienne Shelly never got to see its release - she was killed by a man trying to rob her apartment in 2006.

Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971) - Admit it, you were jealous of those five kids who got to take a tour of the magical Willy Wonka factory. Well I was at least. The whole place was made of candy! But I would've happily given up the gum that never loses its flavour, the lickable wallpaper, and the stays-fizzy soda pop for an endless supply of Wonka Bars. I'm all about the chocolate.

Put on one of these films tonight, and make sure you have some snacks on hand because they'll make your mouth water.



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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roasted yellow pepper pasta

I'm a recipe girl, but I have to admit there's a real sense of satisfaction that comes from taking ingredients you have on hand and making them into a dish all your own, even if it's a simple one.

Last night I had an hour to make and eat dinner before heading to cooking class at George Brown. I was craving pasta and knew I had a very ripe, use-it-or-lose-it yellow pepper in the crisper. That was the starting point. I roasted it, sliced it up, and tossed it into cooked spaghetti along with a few sauteed and crushed grape tomatoes, olive oil, chili flakes, and a minced glove of garlic.

With chunks of feta mixed in at the end, salt and pepper to taste, and a spritz of lemon juice over top, you have a delicious and light-tasting pasta dish, all in the span of about 20 minutes.


Spaghetti with Roasted Yellow Pepper, Tomatoes, And Feta

1/4 pkg of spaghetti
1 clove garlic, minced
1 yellow pepper, roasted, peeled, and sliced
1/2 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/8 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp lemon juice
Good quality olive oil

Cook spaghetti to al dente. Drain, rinse off excess starch, and toss with a little olive oil, reserving a couple tablespoons of pasta cooking liquid.

While pasta is cooking, roast yellow pepper in a 450F oven until skin is black and blistered. Remove and carefully place pepper in a paper bag (if you have one, not crucial). This will help loosen the skin. Peel pepper, remove seeds, and slice.

In a medium-sized pan over medium heat, saute garlic and chili flakes in olive oil, add grape tomatoes and after a couple minutes crush them lightly to break the skin and release the juices, being careful not to let the garlic burn (remove from heat if necessary). Add the sliced pepper, cooked pasta, pasta water, and chunks of feta cheese to the pan. Spritz a bit of lemon juice over top, season with salt and pepper, and toss everything together. Taste again before serving.

Serves one, but can easily be modified for two or more.



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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Eating on the cheap

I like to think I'm pretty practical when it comes to buying groceries. For fruits and vegetables I buy what's in season and I frequent greengrocers where lemons can be had five for $1 rather than chain grocery stores which often charge more. I don't buy pricey seafood that much (even though I know I should be getting more fish in my diet), and lately I've turned to buying more flavourful (and cheaper) chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts.

That said, on occasion I've spent way too much on cheese, thrown out wilted, soggy vegetables I forgot about, and pitched milk and eggs past their due date. The point is, we could all take a lesson in making the most of our grocery bill without having to resort to boxed mac and cheese. I read this article recently about how a couple went from spending $300 a week on food (yikes!) to $50. Check it out, there are some good ideas.

For example, I can attest to the cheapness of stock bones. I picked up a bag of chicken bones from a butcher for a scant $2, and if I'd had a bigger order I wager they would've been thrown in gratis.

Happy, and thrifty, shopping.



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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Checking out Chabichou

Update: My interview with Laurent from Chabichou has been rescheduled to Thursday morning. Stay tuned!

This afternoon I'm heading to the Annex area to visit Chabichou, a cheese and gourmet food shop that opened recently.

When I'm there I'll be speaking with Chef Laurent Brion, one of the store's founders, about some of the dozens of cheeses his store offers, as well as how to assemble a good cheese platter for a party. I'll be sure to share his suggestions in a subsequent post.

I'll have to be careful not to go overboard when I'm there. Looking at some of the photos from this recent posting on BlogTO, I'm sure I won't be leaving Chabichou empty-handed!



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Monday, February 16, 2009

Light comfort food, part three: Roasted vegetable couscous

I've never cooked Moroccan food before and that's what this dish is. It has three parts - the base of couscous and chickpeas, a mix of roasted and spiced vegetables served alongside, and a topping of sauteed onions, raisins, and pine nuts mixed with honey and cinnamon. I think this mix of sweet and savoury is typical of Moroccan food, and it's a nice combo I think.

I started by making the spice mix known as Ras el Hanout. The Arabic name apparently translates into "head" or "top of the shop." And it apparently has many variations. You can buy it at specialty food stores or, if you have a well-stocked pantry, make it up yourself. Since I already had all the spices on hand I opted for the latter. Here's the recipe for that:

Ras el Hanout

2 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground red pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp saffron threads, crushed
1/2 tsp ground clovs
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month. Yield: 1/4 cup.

Courtesy Cooking Light, Jan.-Feb. 2009

After I'd made the spice mix I chopped up the veggies (sweet potato, parsnip, and carrot) and mixed them in a large bowl with a teaspoon of the spice mixture and a bit of olive oil. I spread the veg on a baking sheet and roasted them at 450F for about half an hour, 40 minutes, until they were tender, stirring midway through.

At the same time I prepared the couscous and chickpeas, and toward the end sauteed the onions, raisins and pine nuts for the topping. It was all very easy to assemble at the end and the flavours were subtle but exotic. The couscous and chickpeas were really there as a base to support the more flavourful vegetables and onion topping. It was a nicely balanced dish, definitely more sweet than savoury if you consider the sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnip all bring a sweetness when roasted, as does the sauteed onion. The raisins and honey add more sweetness, although not in a cloying way. Also, I think I'd do an additional drizzle of good quality olive oil over the whole thing before serving. I realize this adds more fat, but it's a good fat!

Here's the recipe:

Roasted Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas and Onion-Pine Nut Topping

5 cups diced peeled sweet potato (about 1.5 lbs)
2 cups (1/2-inch) diced peeled parsnips (about 10 oz)
1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Ras el Hanout
3 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 2 inch pieces (about 9 oz)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 1/4 cups organic vegetable broth
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained


1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices, separated into rings
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 450F.

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt. Place potato mixture on a baking sheet. Bake at 450F for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in couscous and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork; gently stir in chickpeas. Keep warm.

To prepare topping, heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion to pan; cook 12 minutes or until tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add pine nuts and raisins; cook 2 minutes. Stir in cinnamon; cook 30 seconds. Stir in honey, and remove from heat.

Mound couscous on a plate or dish. Place the roasted vegetables around or on top of couscous. Spoon topping over everything and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

Calories: 520
Fat: 13.7g (sat 1.5g, mono 7.4g, poly 3.8g)
Protein: 11.7g
Carb: 90.5g
Fiber: 13.9g
Chol: 0mg
Iron: 3.5mg
Sodium: 688mg
Calc: 135mg

Recipe courtesy Cooking Light, Jan.-Feb. 2009



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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Wine, cheese and chocolate

On Saturday I took the train west to the Burlington area to visit my friends Cathy and Jason. Cathy and I had plans to visit a couple of our favourite Niagara Peninsula wineries: Fielding Estate and Peninsula Ridge. It was perfect timing, really, as my stocks were running quite low at home.

Before heading to Peninsula Ridge we made a quick detour to the Upper Canada Cheese Company, where we sampled the two cheeses they make from Guernsey cow milk: the Comfort Cream, a Brie-like cheese with a white, bloomy rind, and their Niagara Gold, more akin to Oka. It was firmer in texture and had a nuttier flavour. I snapped a couple photos of the Niagara Gold cheese rounds piled up - they age for five months before being packaged for sale. I bought a small chunk - I'm all about supporting the locals!

Next we stopped at Peninsula Ridge, where they offer cheese tastings as well as wine tastings. Cathy and I each selected a few wines to sample, as well as six cheeses to share. For the wines, I opted to try their 2007 Riesling, their 2007 Merlot, their 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, and their 2002 Cabernet Franc Reserve. Of those four I found I liked both the Merlot (surprisingly - I don't usually like Merlot) and the Cab Sauv. But at $39.95 the Cab was a bit out of my price range so I opted for a bottle of the Merlot at $14.75.

As for the cheeses, they were divine: among our selections were an aged Chevre from Quebec, an ale-infused cow's milk cheese from Ireland, and a creamy blue cheese from France. I immediately loved the Quebec Chevre and bought a good-sized piece. Cathy bought some of the Chevre as well, along with a small sample of an English cheddar called Lincolnshire Poacher. She also picked up a bottle of their 2004 Cabernet, which I didn't sample.

Our last stop was Fielding Estate, my favourite winery in the area and Cathy's too. Each year in the spring we go to the Fielding Insider Shop event where they invite regulars to try their new wines before they're available for sale in the retail store. On Saturday when we visited they were offering a special Valentine's Day feature - wine and chocolate pairings. Why not? First we tried a 2006 Sparkling Riesling paired with a milk chocolate heart. The Sparkling Riesling was lovely - dry, closer to a Champagne than most sparkling wines. The chocolate was very nice too - provided by David's.

Second, we had the 2005 Meritage with a dark chocolate heart. This pairing was fantastic. The dark chocolate really brought out the cherry undertones in the wine.

I didn't end up buying either of those, however. I went with two bottles of my tried and true, the 2007 Fireside Red (a Baco Noir). I also grabbed a bottle of their Dry Riesling, made a few years back by their previous winemaker Ray Cornell. They have a new winemaker now, Richie Roberts, and I had the chance to speak with him briefly at last year's Insider event. He's young, but obviously passionate about the business of making good wine. I hope to interview him at this year's event for

After all the sipping and noshing, Cathy and I headed back to her place where she, Jason and I hung out, drank more wine, and eventually ordered pizza for dinner. It surprises me how well wine can go with pizza!

All in all, a great day with friends and some of my favourite culinary treats!



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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Paris, je t'aime

When I was in Paris in the spring of 2007, this was one of my favourite meals (I had it a lot). Salade chevre -- or goat cheese salad. Of course it goes without saying that the cheese in France is second to none and the chevre I had there was incredible. Smooth, creamy, and tangy -- the flavours brought out by a few minutes under a hot broiler.

I decided to recreate that salad, to the best of my ability and with what ingredients I had on hand, last night for dinner.

I started by mixing up a simple white wine vinaigrette, using white wine vinegar, a bit of Dijon mustard, some good quality olive oil and salt and pepper. I cooked a few strips of bacon, which I then sliced into bite-sized pieces.

I brushed some olive oil on a couple small pieces of walnut bread, then topped the bread with slices of fresh chevre. I then popped the cheese-topped bread in the oven for about 10 minutes at 450C, followed by a few minutes on broil to get the cheese golden brown and bubbly on top. I mixed the bacon and some baby arugula leaves with my vinaigrette, and then served the chevre toasts alongside.

C'est parfait!



Friday, February 13, 2009

Apple Crumble in my brand new Emile Henry baking dish

Last weekend I spent the better part of an hour browsing through one of the city's better kitchen stores: The Cook's Place.

I went there thinking I'd pick up a few odds and ends, and I did: a box grater, some tasting spoons for cooking class, a sink strainer. But what immediately caught my eye were the Le Creuset Dutch ovens, and the Emile Henry bakeware. Knowing that I simply didn't have the disposable cash to drop upwards of $300 on the former, I thought maybe I could treat myself to one of the Emile Henry items. They're by no means cheap, either, but a few of the pieces were in my price range. After a lot of hemming and hawing I settled on a 9 in x 9 in baking dish in a vibrant blue, one of their classic colours.

I wanted to use it, pronto! So, finally, tonight, I had time to make one of my favourite desserts, and one of the simplest to prepare: apple crumble.

I based my recipe on a Donna Hay recipe for Apple Blueberry Crisp, but didn't bother with the blueberries and adjusted the sugar because I was using Braeburn apples rather than the tarter Granny Smith variety Hay calls for. Braeburns are great for baking because they don't turn to mush after an hour in the oven.

I took a few photos of the dessert before and after, and I meant to take a beauty shot of the finished dessert in a bowl with some luscious Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream on the side but I was so anxious to devour the still-oven-warm crumble I forgot! Oh well, trust me when I say it's delicious!

Apple Crumble

4-5 Braeburn apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1 inch pieces
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice

1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together topping ingredients (oats through cinnamon) in a bowl, using a fork or your fingers to combine.

Peel, core and chop apples, combine in a separate bowl with white sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest.

Put apple mixture in bottom of 9x9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with topping. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until topping is golden brown and apples are bubbly.

Best served warm with vanilla ice cream or creme Anglaise.

Serves 4-6

Adapted from Modern Classics 2, Donna Hay.



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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Gut busters

Be warned - the images you see next might just turn your stomach. A website called This is why you're fat prides itself on showing you pictures of ridiculous, and jaw-droppingly fattening, food creations.

Image courtesy This is why you're fat
Though I sort of liked the aesthetics of the Oreo Mega Double Stuf, I'd never eat it. Mostly though, the items, with names like The Garbage Plate, The Bacon Explosion Wellington, and The Carny Casserole, looked just bad. There's decadence, and then there's this.

Take a look - but be warned.

I think I need a salad.



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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My very first pie pastry

I have to admit I was both excited and nervous for this week's cooking class, because I knew our assignment was making pie pastry from scratch.

There's an art to the perfect pie crust, I know that. My mom's figured it out - she makes a variety of pies, notably pecan, pumpkin and apple, and the crust is always flaky and buttery.

I love to bake but I've been daunted by pie pastry all this time - preferring to stick to cakes, cookies, and squares.

But on Tuesday I was forced to make my first attempt, and I have to say, it wasn't all bad. The theme for the class was eggs, and making the pie pastry was just the first step in assembling and baking a Quiche Lorraine (with mushroom, bacon, cheese, onion, Emmenthal cheese among the filling ingredients).

Chef Marty gave us a number of tips for making a thin, flaky pie crust. First, measure out the required amount of chilled butter and dice it into small chunks. Then put the butter bits back into the fridge along with some ice water for making the pastry. Mix the flour and salt together, then take out the chilled butter bits and work them into the dry ingredients using your fingers. The mixture will be chunky at this point. Then pull the water out of the fridge and start adding a small amount at a time just until the dough comes together in a ball (you may not use as much as the recipe calls for).

Wrap the ball of dough in plastic, place it in a bowl and refrigerate it for half an hour. Once it's chilled, unwrap it and roll it out on a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin. Keep the dough moving, turn it over from time to time as you're rolling, and roll in opposite directions, so that your pastry is an even thickness. You're looking for a thickness of 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch.

When the dough is the desired thickness, place the rolling pin on top of the dough at the end farthest from you. Then roll the dough around the pin, towards you, until you've wrapped the entire circle of dough around the pin. Then, unroll the dough over the pie dish you're using. This is a nice trick to get the dough into the dish (hopefully) without tearing it.

Press the dough into the pie dish without stretching it - remember you don't want your crust any thinner than it already is. Lift up the excess crust from around the pie plate to aid with filling the corners and sides with your pie pastry. Use the tines of a fork, or your fingers, to create a pattern around the edge of the crust. Remove the excess dough, but remember to leave a bit extra because the dough will shrink somewhat as it's baking.

Your recipe may call for you to blind-bake the crust before adding the filling and baking the rest of the way. We did this for the quiche, and to prevent the crust from bubbling up or rising we docked (or pierced) the crust with the tines of a fork. another method is to place a sheet of parchment paper over the crust and fill it with pie weights or uncooked beans. Then you place it in the over for the specified time (I blind-baked mine in a convection oven at 350C for 10 minutes).

Then, remove the crust, fill it with whatever you're using, whether that's fruit, custard, or in my case quiche filling, and continue to bake until the filling is cooked and the crust is golden brown. In the powerful convection oven my quiche only took about 8 minutes to set.

As for the all-important tasting? Well aside from the fact that my crust was a little darker brown than I'd like around the edges, it tasted really nice, and the quiche filling was delicious.

I'm going to try another pie crust this weekend, for the practice. I'm thinking a lemon tart might be nice!



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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Light comfort food, part two: Cassoulet

I was really looking forward to making a lightened-up version of the classic French dish cassoulet, a mix of duck meat, sausage, lamb, white beans, and all sorts of other savoury ingredients in a thick stew-type dish.

Unfortunately I had a hard time finding some of the ingredients I needed so I had to make some substitutions, although they were all on the lighter side so I probably reduced the calorie count even more. For instance I used a spicy turkey sausage rather than a pork sausage, and I could only find a duck breast, not duck legs, so I used that, and cut away the thick layer of fat. I know that meant sacrificing some of the flavour but I figured that between the sausage, lamb, tomato, and duck meat it would still taste rich.

The most time consuming part of the recipe was cooking everything separately but once everything was in the pot it became much simpler, just needing a stir now and then. Definitely give yourself enough time for this dish, whether you're making a light version or not -- I believe the night I made this I didn't sit down to it until 10pm! It was worth it though, a bit more stew-ish than the typical cassoulet but very tasty.


1/4 cup salt
6 (8oz) duck leg quarters
1 1/2 tbsp canola oil
4 bacon slices, sliced crosswise into strips
1 boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup no-salt-added tomato puree
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
4 (15 oz) cans white beans, drained
8 oz cooked spicy Italian sausage, diagonally sliced
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

Rub salt evenly over duck; cover and refrigerate 30 min.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add bacon to pan; cook 7 minutes or until crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from pan using a slotted spoon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Add lamb to drippings in pan; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove lamb from pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 300F.

Rinse duck with cold water; pat dry with paper towel. Add half of duck, skin side down, to pan; cook over medium heat 15 min or until golden brown. Turn duck over and cook 10 min or until browned and fat under skin is melted. Remove duck from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining duck, reserving 1 tbsp duck fat; set duck aside. Add onion and pepper to pan, cook 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomato puree and garlic; cook 1 min. Return lamb to pan. Nestle duck into lamb mixture; add broth and 2 cups water. Cover and bake at 300F for 2 1/2 hours or until lamb and duck are very tender. Remove duck from pan; let stand until tepid. Remove skin from duck; discard. Cut duck legs in half through the joint. Return duck to lamb mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired.

Increase oven temperature to 375C.

Stir 2 cans of beans into lamb mixture. Add bacon, sausage, and duck; top mixture with remaining 2 cans of beans. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over top. Cover and cook for 1 hour and 10 min. Uncover and cook an additional 20 min or until browned and bubbly.

12 servings (serving size: 1 drumstick or thigh and 3/4 cup bean mixture)

Calories: 323
Fat: 14.4g (sat 4.6g, mono 4.4g, poly 1.2g)
Protein: 27.1g
Carbohydrates: 20g
Fibre: 7.1g
Sodium 821mg



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Monday, February 9, 2009

Interviewing Chef Gordon Ramsay

This morning I interviewed Gordon Ramsay - the many-Michelin starred culinary dynamo and arguably the world's most famous chef. Was I nervous? Um, yeah! As I read over my questions and prepared to head into the CityNews boardroom, where I was conducting the interview, my palms were sweaty and I think I was actually shaking a little bit. My colleague and friend Brian, who was filming the interview, tried to calm me down, but I could tell he was nervous about it too.

We didn't know which Ramsay to expect - the charming, wisecracking regular guy that you'd love to have a few pints with at the pub, or the angry, expletive-spewing beast from the shows Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares.

Thankfully, it was the former. Chef Ramsay was clever, funny, and eloquent in answering my questions about food, cooking, and his new book Healthy Appetite, which contains some mouthwatering recipes I've yet to try. He also came out with some hilarious Ramsay-isms over the course of our 16-minute chat, including, "That's pants." He was referring to the organic movement and how silly it's become, saying that buying local is better. I guess 'pants' is a bad thing.

When talking about the immense pressure involved in becoming a chef, and how demanding it is, he said something along the lines of having chosen to be amongst the top tier of chefs in the world. "I'm a chef, not a cook at T.G.I.Fridays," he noted vehemently at one point. Or something along those lines. T.G.I.Fridays got a few smackdowns in the interview as I recall. Hilarious stuff. Here's the full interview on

Chef Ramsay was also kind enough to pose for a picture (see above), and when I told him I was taking a cooking course at George Brown Chef School, where he'd done a demonstration earlier in the day, he wished me luck in it.

All in all, it was a great experience and a great interview. I can see how, for those who get it, who have that true passion for food and cooking, Ramsay would be a source of huge inspiration, not someone to be feared. You want to rise up to meet his challenge, not shrink away from it.

In fact I'm feeling pretty inspired myself - I'm going to have to come up with something extra special to cook next weekend.



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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Perfecting French toast

French toast is one of my favourite go-to breakfasts on Sunday mornings. I almost always have stale bread on hand, and I've made it so many times that I barely feel the need to measure out the other ingredients. A little beaten egg and milk for dipping the bread in, some sprinkles of cinnamon and vanilla, a spoonful of butter for cooking in, and that's it! Couldn't be easier.

But I admit, sometimes my French toast goes off the rails - a bit soggy perhaps, or tasting too much of the egg it was cooked in. So when I saw an article in the Feb. 2009 issue of Cook's Illustrated about making better French toast, my interest was piqued.

Among their suggestions, which they arrived at after extensive trial and error (the main reason I love C.I. - they do the testing so you don't have to): oven drying the bread for a few minutes before soaking in the egg and milk to prevent sogginess, eliminating the egg whites and only using the yolks, and soaking the bread in a flat baking dish for a mere 20 seconds per side to ensure that the slices are saturated just enough.

I tried their recipe, using stale sourdough bread, and I have to confess, the extra time required is worth it. My French toast was buttery, and mildly spiced with cinnamon, crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. With a drizzling of Quebec maple syrup, it was heaven on a plate.

French Toast

8 large slices hearty white sandwich bread or good quality challah
1 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
3 large egg yolks
3 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tbsp for cooking
1/2 tsp table salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
Maple syrup

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 300F. Place bread slices on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Bake bread until almost dry throughout (center should remain slightly moist), about 16 minutes, flipping slices halfway through cooking. Remove bread from rack and let cool 5 minutes. Return baking sheet with wire rack to oven and reduce temperature to 200F.

Whisk milk, yolks, sugar, cinnamon, 2 tbsp melted butter, salt and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Transfer mixture to 13 x 9 inch baking pan.

Soak bread in milk mixture until saturated but not falling apart, 20 seconds per side. Using slotted spatula pick up bread slice and allow excess milk mixture to drip off, repeat with remaining slices. Place soaked bread on another baking sheet or platter.

Heat 1/2 tbsp butter in 12 inch skillet over medium-low heat. When foaming subsides, use slotted spatula to transfer 2 slices soaked bread to skillet and cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to baking sheet in oven. Wipe out skillet with paper towel. Repeat with remaining bread, 2 pieces at a time, adding 1/2 tbsp butter for each batch.

Serve warm with maple syrup.

Serves 4

Courtesy Cook's Illustrated, Feb. 2009



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Saturday, February 7, 2009

My market

My memories of Toronto's St. Lawrence Market stretch back to childhood. My parents would get my sister and me out of bed early on Saturdays, and we'd make the 45 minute trip from our house in the 'burbs (Oakville, Ont.) to the hustle and bustle of downtown.

Everything seems larger than life when you're a kid and to me the Market was a magical, somewhat overwhelming, place to be. I remember the smells - fresh fish, stinky cheese, cooking peameal bacon - and the crowds.

My dad would often buy fresh baked date oatmeal cookies from one of the bakeries and I recall how delicious those were. We'd stop for lunch at the Market Grill (which no longer exists), and really make a day of it. And though my sister and I often grumbled at the time about having to get out of bed early for the occasion, we enjoyed it once we were there.

I've been living back in Toronto for pretty much my entire adult life after moving downtown for school 14 years ago. But it's only recently - the last three years or so - that I've lived close to the St. Lawrence Market and its bounty of fresh produce, cheeses, breads, seafood, and meats.

I'm proud to say I now know the 206-year-old building like the back of my hand - from the dry goods shops downstairs that sell my favourite olive oil, to the rice stand where I can get everything from arborio and basmati to jasmine and black Thai rice.

I've bought chicken scraps for stock from one of the butchers I frequent, fresh pizza dough and homemade pizza sauce from a stand that sells fresh pasta in the back corner, and of course Montreal-style bagels fresh out of the oven at St. Urbain.

Stonemill is where I get my Saturday morning pastry, which alongside a coffee forms my ultimate breakfast. Although I have had one of the peameal sandwiches on a bun that the Market is famous for. And if you're looking for a hangover breakfast, you could do far worse than the one at Paddington's Pump.

The sushi stand makes wicked avocado rolls, and when I'm feeling naughtier I'll get a takeout container of BBQ pork from the Chinese food counter.

And of course there's Kozlik's mustard - my favourite for cooking with and using on sandwiches.

The St. Lawrence Market is a gift to the city, and I consider myself lucky to live close enough to shop there. Next time you're in Toronto, consider visiting. And bring a shopping bag, because I wager you won't go home empty-handed!



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Friday, February 6, 2009

Cooking in these troubled times

I'll be the first to admit that a lot of my 'fun money' goes toward food, and new toys for the kitchen. Cooking is my passion, and I'd rather spend $50 on quality ingredients from the market that will go toward a meal for family, friends, or li'l ole me, than I would on a new shirt.

Image: David Besa

That said, even I gaped at the cash register of my local cheese shop recently when my order of Fontina cheese from Italy, already grated for me for a Fontina, proscuitto, and shiitake mushroom frittata I'd planned to make, came to $35. That seemed a little excessive on my salary.

So, I've been trying to cut back lately on my food costs, especially in this tough economic times. I'm wasting less, only buying what I think I'll actually consume, and focusing on fresh but moderately priced ingredients.

I don't think I'd ever go to the extreme that NOW Magazine's Steven Davey did for his story Loonie'Licious, in which the writer's experiment was to make a dinner out of items found in the aisles of his nearby dollar store.

By the sounds of it Davey made a perfectly serviceable pasta dish with less than $10 in ingredients, including dry pasta, canned olives, artichokes, and tomatoes, and jarred pre-chopped garlic, but as he wisely noted at the end, most of the canned stuff could've been replaced, and for less money, by fresh ingredients at his greengrocer.

Great read though, and I applaud his ingenuity in coming up with the cheap meal. And he even managed to avoid using Spam! Check it out.



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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Endive, pear, and blue cheese salad

It's been said that we eat with our eyes. But have you ever made, or been served, a dish that looks lip-smackingly wonderful, only to find it ever so slightly less spectacular once you've tasted it?

Perfect example? Wedding cakes. I find the more elaborate the cake, the more it tastes like packing material. A simple cake? Usually the most delicious.

Anyway, here's a case of a dish that doesn't look like much - the three ingredients are white, or off-white, which doesn't leave much room for prettiness on the plate - but tastes very good indeed. At least I think so.

The three main ingredients, as mentioned in the title, are Belgian endive (2-3 sliced crosswise), Bosc pear (1 quartered, seeded, and sliced), and a Danish blue cheese (rough chunks, as much as you like).

Chopped up and tossed in a bowl with a splash of white wine vinaigrette, these three ingredients are perfectly suited for one another. The bitterness of the endive is offset by the sweetness of the pear, which in turn gets a kick from the sharp, tangy blue cheese. A quick dressing of one part white wine vinegar to three parts olive oil, with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and some salt and pepper to taste, and you have a simple but elegant supper.

It may look boring, but I guarantee you the flavours are anything but.



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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Winterlicious at The Citizen

Just a quick post today to let you know that Winterlicious at The Citizen was a treat.

The service was good, the space hip, but most importantly the food was very tasty. I asked our server for his recommendations on best bets for the three-course prix fixe meal, and he suggested the salt cod cakes with frisee for a starter, the half cornish hen with olive, lemon and white bean cassoulet for the main, and the warm apple crumble with creme Anglaise for dessert.

I went with all three of his selections, topped off with a glass of Argentinian malbec, and it didn't disappoint.

My only criticism would be the entrance - the single set of double doors offers no protection for diners in the front part of the restaurant from the cold gusts that sweep in every time the doors open. I have to think that even putting up a curtain or something would help guard against the blasts of cold. Just this writer's humble suggestion.

All in all though, a satisfying meal. I'd like to see how they fare on a regular night.



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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tips and tricks: the kitchen tools I couldn't do without

I think there's a lot of truth to the idea that cooking is a lot more enjoyable when you're using the right tools. Who wants to spend hours peeling potatoes and carrots for a stew? And if you're chopping onions with a dull knife, I can practically guarantee that you're going to nick yourself more often than not.

Image courtesy Wusthof

I've read all sorts of articles where chefs detail their essential kitchen tools, and for the most part I agree with them. A good chef's knife, kept sharp, is a must. I love my Wusthof Classic Ikon, but it's really a personal choice. If you're in the market for a quality knife go to a store known for its customer service (I found the staff at Williams-Sonoma helpful but I also really like The Cook's Place) and have the staff take out a few knives so you can compare weight, how they feel in your hand, etc. I found Henckels knives too heavy, and the Global one just didn't feel right for me. You're going to be using it a lot, arguably more than any other item in your kitchen, so comparison shop.

Durable pots and pans are also crucial. I still have the Governor's Table set of pots my mom gave me when I went off to university more than 10 years ago and they've held up marvelously well. (I'm not sure the line exists anymore.)

So that's the pricier stuff. But there are other, not so expensive, not so glamourous items, that don't always make the list, and for me they're right up there in terms of making my life easier.

They are:

1) A good quality Y-shaped peeler - I learned this the hard way, after spending money on not one but two straight-style peelers - both from good name brands, both useless. I was turned on to Kuhn Rikon's original Swiss peeler, and wow, a world of difference. It's not expensive - the body is plastic, the blade made of carbon steel - but it's by far the finest peeler I have ever used.

Image courtesy Kuhn Rikon

2) Tongs - I use them for everything, from tossing salads, to flipping steaks. I actually have two pairs now because I find I'm always using them and it's nice to have a spare set when my other one is dirty. The chef teaching my cooking course recommended Edlund tongs, so I bought a pair. At, about $18 they weren't the cheapest set I've seen but the quality is there. They're stainless steel, with a good ability to grip, and they lock in the closed position for easy storage. I have another cheapie pair though and they're just fine. Look for stainless steel, something that's easy for you to grip, and the locking mechanism. Most have these features and can be purchased for roughly half the price of the Edlund ones.

3) Mason-type jars - You don't have to be into making preserves to find a use for these. I noticed Chef Michael Smith using them for lots of other things including simply storing foods in the fridge. They hold a lot, depending on the size (I like the 500mL ones). My favourite use for them, another Chef Smith trick, is making fresh salad dressing. I pour my ingredients - oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, etc. - into the jar, insert the blade end of my immersion blender, and pulse everything together. Be careful the jar isn't too full - you don't want the dressing spraying the kitchen, or you. Still, I've tried this and it works. And if you make enough for a few salads, just cap the jar and refrigerate it. As I mentioned in a previous blog, most fresh salad dressings keep in the fridge for about a week.

4) Silpat baking mat - These came into vogue years ago, but I really can't overstate their importance. As an avid baker, I love how the Silpat silicone baking mat keeps my cookies from burning on the underside, and also makes them a cinch to remove to a wire rack. Since buying it, I haven't had one cookie stick to its surface.

5) Microplane grater - Perfect for finely grating not just citrus peel but the harder stuff, like chocolate, nutmeg and parmigiano-reggiano cheese.

Honourable mentions:

Oven thermometer - you need to know how hot your stove is, otherwise you'll perpetually be burning or undercooking dishes. I bought one and now I know that my oven is typically 25 degrees hotter than what the dial is set to.

Cheesecloth - I use it for thickening yogurt, as well as tying up fresh herbs and spices for a bouquet garni to be dropped into a simmering soup or stew. I recently tied up dozens of Meyer lemon seeds into one such package when making my Meyer lemon marmalade. The bag of seeds was placed in water with the lemon slices for 24 hours, and I'm sure they added to the quality of the finished product. Relatively inexpensive and can be found at most grocery stores and kitchen supply stores.

Kitchen twine - again, something I use for everything

Salad spinner - one of the best kitchen inventions ever, it makes washing lettuce a snap.



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Monday, February 2, 2009

Move over pom, plum is the new superfood

I couldn't resist, given the name of this blog, heralding the arrival of the next big superfood: the humble plum.

According to a new study out of Texas, one plum has the same amount of disease-fighting antioxidants as a handful of blueberries. And they're significantly lighter on the wallet than blueberries or the other fruit superstar of late, the pomegranate.

Research also seemed to suggest the phytonutrients in plums could help inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells without affecting normal cell growth. Scientists stipulated more tests had to be done in that area specifically.

Still, the news is encouraging. And given we're all trying to save a few cents here and there these days, it couldn't come at a better time.

Check out the Daily Telegraph's article on the positively plum news.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Light comfort food, Part One: Soupe Savoyarde

For four Sundays in February I'm trying out a comfort food recipe from the latest edition of Cooking Light, in an attempt to answer the question: can light comfort food satisfy the same way the rich, fat-laden stuff does?

For part one, I made the French recipe Soupe Savoyarde, a stew of winter vegetables including potato, turnip, celery root, leek, and onion, simmered together in a creamy broth and served with a white cheddar-topped baguette slice.

My first comment, in making this recipe, would be to make sure the vegetables are chopped to the specified size. Most were supposed to be cut in 1/2 inch pieces, but mine were closer to an inch in size. This meant it took more than double the time it should've for the vegetables to become tender.

So, the hour it should've taken me to make the stew turned into close to two hours, and I was ravenous by the time I dished it out into my bowl.

One other thing I modified was the cheesy baguette. The recipe recommended putting the cheese-topped bread in the bowl and then pouring the hot stew over top, allowing the cheese to melt and help thicken the broth. I opted to broil the baguette slices in the oven and serve them alongside the stew, dipping the cheese bread into the broth from time to time.

Oh - I also used 2% milk, since that's what I had on hand (the recipe called for whole milk), so I saved some fat and calories that way.

Impressions: well, it filled me up. After the first bowl I was stuffed. I liked how the leeks infused the broth with a mild sweetness, and the vegetables were a decent consistency - not too firm, not too mushy - once they'd been cooked enough. I'd have to say though, despite the addition of salt and pepper, there wasn't a whole lot of flavour. It was definitely a mild dish. Next time, rather than cook the vegetables in water I might cook them in chicken or vegetable stock, to add a touch more oomph at the end. I'd probably add garlic, as well.

Dipping the baguette into the stew was tasty though, and I like that the bread stayed crisp. If I'd followed the recipe and poured the broth over top it would've gone soft almost immediately.

Finally, the presentation. On its own, the stew isn't much to look at - the broth is white, and the vegetables are white. Maybe this is an insult to the traditional recipe, but I sprinkled over some parsley at the end to give it a small hit of colour.

All in all, I'd say it was filling, but not entirely satisfying.

Soupe Savoyarde

1 baking potato, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cups thinly sliced leek (about three large)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cups water
2 cups whole milk
8 1-oz slices French bread
8 1/2-oz slices sharp white Cheddar

Place potato in medium bowl; cover with cold water to 1 inch above potato. Set aside

Melt butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion to pan and cook 7 minutes until soft but not browned. Add leek, turnip, celery root, and salt and pepper. Place sheet of aluminum foil directly over vegetables. Cover , reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Discard foil.

Drain potatoes; add to pan. Stir in 2 cups water. Cover and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

Heat milk in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat to 180 degrees or until tiny bubbles form around the edges. Do not bring to a boil. Gradually stir hot milk into vegetable mixture and season as needed.

Preheat broiler.

Place bread slices on baking sheet, in single layer. Add cheese now, if desired. Once bread is crisp, place in bottom of bowl and pour soup over top.

Serving size: 1 1/4 cups soup per bowl. Recipe serves 8.

Calories per serving: 311
Fat: 10.5 g (sat. 6.2, mono 2.7, poly 0.8)
Protein: 12 g
Carbohydrates: 43.6 g
Fiber: 4.9 g
Cholesterol: 29 mg
Iron: 2.7 mg
Sodium: 640 mg
Calcium: 278 mg

Courtesy Cooking Light, Jan.-Feb. 2009

Next Sunday: Cassoulet



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