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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Coq au vin

Tonight in cooking class we made the classic French dish Coq au vin, which is essentially chicken cooked in wine. This was by far my favourite of all the things we've made in the course and I couldn't resist digging into it after getting home.

I'll try to detail what I did because it really did turn out well, thanks as always to Chef Marty's wisdom and expert tips.

Coq au vin

3 lb chicken, cut into six pieces*
250mL white or red wine (I used red but it gives the chicken a purple-ish tinge)
250mL chicken stock
1 cup button mushrooms, left whole
1 cup pearl onions, peeled
1/4 cup vegetable oil, approx.
1/4 cup butter, approx.
1/4 cup flour, approx.
4 rashers of bacon, sliced into lardons
3 garlic cloves, left whole, crushed a bit to help release juices
A few sprigs of thyme, save some leaves for chopping up and adding at the end.
2 dried bay leaves
A few tablespoons of chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 400F.

Heat two tablespoons of butter and two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. While it's heating up, rub a bit of vegetable oil, salt and pepper over the chicken pieces.

When the pan is very hot, add the chicken pieces skin side down (or "presentation side" down, as Chef Marty noted). Shake the pan a bit to ensure chicken doesn't stick. After a couple minutes, when skin has turned golden, flip the pieces over and cook for another couple minutes, again, shaking to make sure the pieces don't stick. Once well seared on both sides, remove the chicken to a plate.

Drain the chicken fat into a small side pot (you will use some of it later to deglaze). Wipe out the skillet and add a tablespoon more oil, then tip in the sliced bacon. Saute it for a couple minutes until it's cooked, then add the pearl onions to the pan. Cook those until they've begun to brown, then add the garlic. Saute that for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms. Once those have browned up (a few minutes), deglaze the pan with water and/or a bit of the chicken fat, scraping up any browned bits.

Add the wine and chicken stock to the skillet, as well as some salt and pepper, then add the chicken pieces back in along with the herbs (a few whole thyme sprigs and the bay leaves). Turn the chicken in the sauce to coat well. Reduce the sauce a bit, then cover the pan and put it in the oven for 20-30 minutes to cook. Remove the lid for the last few minutes of cooking time to help the chicken develop its golden brown crust.

While the chicken is cooking in the oven make a beurre manie -- roll a hunk of butter into a golf ball sized piece using your hands, then roll it around in a bowl of flour, incorporating the flour into the butter. Keep incorporating the flour into the butter until when you press into the ball your finger doesn't feel buttery anymore. It should feel almost like a ball of dough. You will use this later to thicken the sauce.

Once the chicken is cooked through, take the pan out of the oven. Set aside the chicken pieces and remove the herbs (these can be thrown away). Set the skillet over high heat again and reduce the cooking liquid. Take a few spoonfuls of the liquid and put it into a bowl, add your beurre manie and whisk until your butter-flour ball has dissolved into the liquid. Now add that back into the skillet and whisk it quickly back in. Adding the flour and butter together separately helps prevent lumps from forming, and it also helps prevent the sauce from breaking.

Once you're happy with the thickness of the sauce add the chicken back in, along with some fresh chopped parsley and thyme, turn the pieces to coat in the sauce, and you're done! A great dish to serve up family-style.

*I left the legs attached to the thighs but if you want you can separate them, making eight pieces in total, two each of breasts, wings, legs, and thighs.



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Monday, March 9, 2009

Who doesn't love peanut butter?

I'm a peanut butter-aholic. Smooth, chunky, mixed into salad dressings or smoothies, baked into cookies and cakes, or just thickly spread on a cracker or a piece of toast. I always have one or two jars on hand, usually one all-natural variety, one naughty variety. Currently in my cupboard I have a big jar of Skippy smooth and a nearly-finished jar of Plantation Super Creme that a friend brought back from Georgia (not the factory connected to the salmonella outbreak).

Photo courtesy Piccolo Namek

Peanut butter lovers like me will love this, a collection of top PBs on Saveur, plus a bit about the history of the popular spread. Click and prepare to drool. Sadly, for us Canadians, the only one I'm familiar with is Peanut Butter and Co. -- the others may only be available in the U.S.

That's okay though, we have some pretty fine peanut butters to choose from here. I quite like the good old fashioned Kraft Peanut Butter, with the bears on the front. Not fancy, but a good peanutty taste. Also love the aforementioned Skippy for its creaminess -- I often bake with it. MaraNatha makes an organic roasted peanut butter, and Paris, Ont. based Nuts To You Nut Butter puts out a variety of nut butters, including peanut, hazelnut, cashew and almond. I do enjoy almond butter from time to time, it's particularly wonderful for dipping apple slices into.

However nothing will replace good old fashioned PB -- just ask The New York Times, which devoted an article to it last month.

Do you have a favourite brand I failed to mention? Let me know!



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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Desperately seeking homemade artisan crisps

The word 'artisan' is a little like the word 'wedding' -- attach it to something and expect to pay twice or three times the price. And when I say 'artisan', I'm referring of course to food. Artisanal cheeses, artisanal bread, artisan crackers. I know why it's all so expensive -- you're paying for choice ingredients like organic flours and milk, and fancy additions such as figs and pepitas.

And I usually go in for this stuff -- those gorgeous oval loaves studded with cranberries, walnuts and flaxseed get me every time. But there's one item I just can't get my head around: the artisan crisp. Don't get me wrong, these things are addictive. Flavours such as Rosemary Raisin Pecan, Cranberry Hazelnut, Date and Walnut -- such a perfect little snack food, and much more interesting than a water cracker or a piece of Melba toast. But a box costs anywhere from $5 to $7 depending on where you look.

So, I wondered if I could make my own artisan crisps. What first got me thinking about this was a recent recipe for a Nut and Seed Biscotti on the fantastic food blog 101 Cookbooks. Packed with hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and pistachio seeds, they were sliced thin and looked like a perfect stand-in for the crisp. I tried my own version, using ingredients I had on hand including walnuts, slivered almonds, and dried apricots. So how did it turn out? Well, it was still a bit more like a biscuit than a crisp. That said, I could picture using it in a number of places -- on the side of a salad, for instance, or as an afternoon snack with some goat cheese on top (as the 101 Cookbooks author suggests), or even in the more typical way, as a morning treat with a coffee.

So, the search for the homemade crisp continues, although I do recommend trying this biscotti recipe. One thing to note though, if you decide to have a go at this, be aware that if you're using fruit, be careful not to let it burn in the second half of the baking process. Some of my apricots were a little over-done.

Apricot, Almond and Walnut Biscotti

2/3 cup dried apricots
2/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
2/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 300F. Grease loaf pan and line with parchment.

Slice apricots into four lengthwise. Toast walnuts and almonds on a baking sheet for a few minutes.

Mix together flour, sea salt, apricots, and toasted nuts.

Whisk together sugar and eggs. Mix dry ingredients into sugar-egg mixture and stir until incorporated. Mixture will be thick. Spoon it into the loaf pan and press down evenly with fingers.

Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes until cooked all the way through (check with a toothpick).

Once done, remove from oven and turn it up to 425F.

Slide a knife around the edges and turn biscotti out onto cutting board. Using a serrated knife slice the biscotti crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick pieces. Lay pieces flat on baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and bake in oven for 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven, flip the biscotti, and return to oven for another 5-6 minutes until both sides are golden and crisp. Repeat with remaining biscotti.

Makes 20-24 biscotti.

Modified from Nut and Seed Biscotti, 101 Cookbooks, March 2009.

If anyone has a recipe for artisan crisps, please email me at suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com -- with your permission I'd like to try it, and perhaps feature it on this blog.



Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vietnamese beef and noodle soup

It was a grey, rainy day today, and I couldn't decide what to make for dinner except that I wanted comfort food that wasn't overly heavy. I finally settled on pho, that spicy, savoury Vietnamese beef and noodle soup I love to order in Chinatown, but have never made myself. I figured there was a reason -- with all those ingredients it must be terribly complicated and time-consuming, right? Actually, no!

I will say right off the bat that you should leave yourself at least an hour, hour and a half of prep and cooking time if you decide to make pho from scratch. But to me, that's not unreasonable considering the delicious end result. Besides, most of that is time spent waiting for spices to infuse the broth, and allowing the beef to soak up its marinade. The actual active prep time in this recipe is pretty minimal. Aside from the ginger and garlic there's nothing to chop, and the beef is so tender it's a breeze to slice.

Though I have a cookbook devoted purely to Vietnamese cooking, this recipe is actually one of Gordon Ramsay's. Whether or not it's traditional pho, it's absolutely divine, and the heady mix of spices -- star anise, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon -- made my kitchen smell incredibly exotic.

A couple notes here, before I share the recipe. If you find the broth overpowering, dilute it a bit with water. Also, though it seems like not enough time, 30 seconds in the boiling broth is plenty to allow the beef slices to cook. You want them to remain pink in the middle. And thirdly, though the recipe suggests side dishes of hoisin and chili sauce for dipping, I dolloped a spoonful of each right on top of the pho with the other garnishes, before stirring them into the broth. Both added bursts of flavour, as well as a bit of heat from the chili.

Vietnamese beef and noodle soup

1 lb (500g) beef filet (beef tenderloin)
1-inch (2.5cm) piece of gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
1 large garlic clove, peeled and finely crushed
sea salt and black pepper
1 tbsp (15ml) sesame oil, plus extra to toss
7oz (200g) dried thin rice noodles
5oz (150g) bean sprouts
2-3 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
small bunch of cilantro, leaves only
small bunch of mint or Thai sweet basil, leaves only


6 cups (1.5 litres) beef stock
1 1/2-inch (4cm) piece of gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 star anise
3 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed
2 tsp (10ml) superfine sugar, or to taste
3 tbsp (45ml) fish sauce

To serve:

lime wedges
hoisin sauce
Vietnamese chili sauce

Trim the beef of any sinew, then slice as thinly as possible. Place in a bowl and add the grated ginger, garlic, some pepper, and the sesame oil. Toss to mix, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 30 to 40 minutes.

For the broth, pour the beef stock into a large pot and add the rest of the ingredients with a little salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Strain the broth into a clean pot or a big bowl, discarding the ginger and spices. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Add the rice noodles to a large pan of boiling, salted water and cook according to hte package directions until tender, but still retaining a bite. Drain in a colander and immediately toss the noodles with a little sesame oil to prevent them from sticking.

Bring the broth to a boil and tip in the beef and bean sprouts. Simmer for just 30 seconds, then remove from the heat.

Divide the noodles among warm bowls and ladle the hot broth over them, dividing the beef and bean sprouts equally. Sprinkle over the green onions, cilantro, and mint. Serve immediately, with lime wedges and little individual dishes of hoisin and Vietnamese chili sauces for dipping.

Serves 4.

Courtesy Healthy Appetite, Gordon Ramsay, Key Porter, 2009.

A few gulps of this spicy and satisfying soup and you'll be transported to Southeast Asia!



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Friday, March 6, 2009

Cookbook Friday: Everyday Italian

I'm starting a new feature on Plum Tart: Cookbook Friday!

Each Friday I'm going to highlight a different cookbook, whether it's something from my extensive collection, a new release, or a recommendation from a friend. Where possible I'll provide a recipe for you to try, one I've had the opportunity to test myself.

I'm kicking things off with the cookbook I used most recently: Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis.

When I first saw Giada De Laurentiis's show, also called Everyday Italian, on Food Network Canada I was skeptical. I thought she was just another pretty face in the Food Network world, with no real experience or knowledge. Then I took note of what she was cooking -- hearty fare with traditional ingredients that looked delicious and not overly complicated. After watching a few shows, and finding out that she schooled at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, my opinion of GDL changed. She genuinely knew what she was talking about, plus had a deep appreciation for her family's recipes passed down through the generations.

I received Everyday Italian as a Christmas present from my mom two years ago and it's become one of my go-to cookbooks. It's broken down into sections, among them Antipasti, Sauces, Pasta, Polenta and Risotto, and Dolci (sweets).

There are further subsections for some of the basics, such as making homemade pesto and roasting peppers, as well as a handy list of pantry staples. The recipes are straightforward, the instructions clear and easy to follow. And the photos are beautiful. I don't require photos in a cookbook but they certainly make flipping through it a more pleasurable experience.

Among the recipes I've tried from GDL's Everyday Italian: White Bean and Tuna Salad, Prosciutto Purses, Marinara Sauce, Simple Bolognese, Seared Rib-Eye Steak with Arugula-Roasted Pepper Salad, Chicken Cacciatore, and Chocolate Amaretti Cake. That last recipe went over very well with the friends I made it for -- it has a texture somewhere between a cake and a cookie, is very chocolatey, but at the same time not sickeningly sweet.

The other night I made one of the first recipes I saw Giada cook on her show -- Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe (pictured). I've reprinted her recipe as it is in the book, but if you're looking to lighten it up feel free to sub in spiced turkey sausage for the pork sausage. That's what I did and it was delicious.

Orecchiette with Spicy Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

2 bunches of broccoli rabe, stalks trimmed and quartered crosswise
12 ounces dried orecchiette pasta or other small shaped pasta, such as farfalle or penne
3 tbsp olive oil
1 pound pork sausage, casings removed
3 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Strain the broccoli rabe, reserving all the cooking liquid. Set the broccoli rabe aside. Cook the orecchiette in the same pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until the sausage is brown and juices form, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the broccoli rabe and toss to coat. Add the pasta and enough reserved cooking liquid, 1/4 cup at a time, to moisten. Stir the Parmesan cheese, salt to taste, and pepper into the pasta mixture. Transfer to pasta bowls and serve.

Makes 4 main-course servings.

Courtesy Everyday Italian, Giada De Laurentiis, Clarkson Potter, 2005.

Stay tuned for more cookbook reviews each Friday. Thanks to Erin for the brilliant idea! What's your favourite cookbook? Email me at suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com with your suggestions and perhaps I'll feature one of them in the weeks to com.



Comments on this blog? Email suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spring Means Citrus

I mentioned yesterday that with spring just weeks away, and the weather already warming up, I'm craving fresh, bright flavours, especially citrus. Well it appears I'm not the only one.

Image courtesy André Karwath

Saveur magazine just put together a lovely photo gallery of dishes featuring citrus flavours, with links to the recipes of course. Candied Orange Peels, Roasted Ham With Orange Glaze, Lemon and Coriander Marinated Olives, just to name a few. Yum!

I'm thinking of trying a few -- in particular the Orange and Radish Salad, and the Lemon Tart.

Bring on spring, and the citrus!



Email your comments to suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lime Coconut Rum Pie

I've made dozens of desserts, including countless cookies, over the years, but if I had to point to the one I'm proudest of, it's the Lime Coconut Rum Pie I made for my parents when they were visiting for dinner one evening.

Taken from the Summer 2007 issue of Food and Drink, a fabulous free resource for home cooks, the recipe is similar to a Key Lime Pie only ever so slightly more decadent with the addition of dark rum to the whipped topping.

I made it back in 2007, when the issue came out, and I haven't tried it since -- in part because I don't know that any follow-up attempt would match up to my original effort. The buttery graham crumb base, the smooth, tart lime filling, the rum-spiked cream, and even the oven-toasted flaked coconut on top -- all the flavours melded together perfectly and the texture was light and creamy. There were so many opportunities for things to go wrong, but nothing did.

With spring on the way, my cravings are shifting from savoury and salty to fresh, sweet, and bright, which is why citrus flavours immediately pop to mind. I'm thinking this is the year to have another go at this sublime lime dessert. Who knows, maybe it'll even be better the second time around!

Lime Coconut Rum Pie

1 cup (250 mL) graham crumbs
1/2 cup (125 mL) ground almonds, toasted
3 tbsp (45 mL) sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) butter, melted

1 cup (250 mL) sugar
5 tbsp (75 mL) cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
4 large egg yolks
1 tbsp (15 mL) unsalted butter
Finely grated zest of two limes
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
2 tbsp (25 mL) dark rum
1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
2 tbsp (25 mL) flaked coconut, toasted
Lime for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Place the crumbs, almonds and sugar in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and mix until well blended. Tip the mixture into a buttered nine-inch (23 cm) pie dish and press evenly over the bottom and sides. Bake the pie shell for 10 minutes, then let cool.

In a heavy saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually whisk in 1 cup (250 mL) water and the milk, whisking until cornstarch is dissolved. Place the pan over medium heat and cook, whisking until the mixture comes to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and then gradually whisk in about 1 cup (250 mL) of the milk mixture. Whisk this milk and yolk mixture back into the pan and then return the pan to the heat. Simmer, whisking often, for 3 minutes. The mixture will be very thick.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter. Add the lime zest and the juice and whisk into the mixture until butter is melted. Pour the lime-egg mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pressing onto the surface of the mixture, and let cool slightly. Spread the mixture into the baked pie shell, smoothing the top. Cover the filling with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface and refrigerate for 4 hours.

Pour the whipping cream into a bowl and add the rum and sugar. Whip the cream until stiff and spoon onto the pie, swirl and sprinkle with toasted coconut. Garnish with lime zest if desired.

Courtesy Food and Drink, Summer 2007, LCBO

This dessert is fantastic if you're having family and/or friends over, and it's especially good in the warmer months -- which thankfully aren't that far away!



Comments? Email suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Susur In The City

Short blog post tonight -- just wanted to share a cool Q&A with famed Toronto chef Susur Lee, who recently relocated to NYC to open a restaurant, Shang, in the impossibly hip Lower East Side.

Susur ran his two restaurants, Susur, and more recently Lee, in Toronto for decades and he has been arguably the most influential single chef in Hogtown, inspiring a whole new generation of chefs.

The interview offers a glimpse into the culinary mastermind's views on success, the restaurant biz, Toronto vs NYC cuisine, famous faces who've dined at Shang, and what he misses about T.O.

Here's hoping he does well in his new venture, even though we miss him too.



Comments, email suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cincinnati chili, sort of

Craving some red meat, I made chili on the weekend. But not just any chili -- Cincinnati chili. What is Cincinnati chili? Well, according to Cooks Illustrated's 2009 Soups and Stews issue, it's a beefy chili that's spiced, but not spicy, if that makes sense. It doesn't bowl you over with heat, you're not running to the fridge every 30 seconds to get more water, it's full of subtle but definite spices such as cinnamon and allspice, as well as other ingredients such as cider vinegar and brown sugar to round out the flavour. This was exactly the kind of dish I was looking for, so I gave it a whirl.

Though I stuck pretty close to the Cooks Illustrated recipe -- they do all the trial and error so you don't have to -- when it came to serving up the chili I made a few modifications. Traditional Cincinnati chili calls for everything to be served separately. The chili is typically served over spaghetti, as if it were a super thick Bolognese sauce, and then topped with condiments from grated cheddar to diced raw onion to kidney beans. I tend to enjoy my chili best with everything, except for the cheese, mixed right in, so I cooked some short pasta (elbow macaroni) and drained and rinsed a can of kidney beans to incorporate toward the end of the cooking process.

If you like chili, but not the overpowering heat, this recipe's for you.

Cincinnati Chili

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 cups canned tomato sauce (not spaghetti sauce)
2 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pkg elbow macaroni (optional)
Cheddar cheese, grated, for garnish
Green onions, diced, for garnish

Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook onions until soft and browned around edges, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and allspice and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Stir in broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, and sugar.

Add beef and stir to break up meat. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until chili is deep brown and slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. If adding beans directly to mixture, add them in the last 6-8 minutes of cooking. If adding cooked pasta, add in the last minute of cooking and stir into chili mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls with shredded cheddar cheese and diced green onions on top.

Modified from: Cooks Illustrated Soups & Stews, Winter 2009, Boston Common Press Limited Partnership



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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cheap eats in Toronto

I have to admit I haven't been dining out much lately -- for a couple of reasons. One, I'm trying to hone my cooking skills at home and the best way to do that is practice, practice, practice (helps that I love it). Two, it's just too expensive! However, everyone needs a night off from kitchen duty once in a while and I was pleased to see this collection of Toronto's top mains for under $15 from NOW Magazine.

I've been to Foxley and can attest to the quality of their dishes (didn't have the beef cheeks but had some delectable sticky-sweet short ribs). Ditto Torito -- one of my favourite summer spots, and they make a wonderful ceviche. I've also tried Le Petit Dejeuner, but for brunch (excellent Belgian waffles), not dinner.

Have to say I'm anxious to try a few of these dishes out, especially the Pho from Pho Pasteur and the mac and cheese from Weezie's. The root vegetable ragout from Big Mamma's Boy looks particularly inspired as well.

If you have any recommendations for cheap eats in the city, leave a comment below or email me.



Comments? Email suzannekathrynellis@gmail.com