Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ripe figs for baking

While shopping for vegetables at the market on Friday I spotted a few pints of over-ripe figs sitting by the shop's cash register. I picked one up and the proprietor was kind enough to throw them in with the rest of my order free of charge.

I figured that though the soft, wrinkled fruit wasn't pretty enough for poaching or baking as is, it'd be just fine chopped up in a recipe. I settled on Donna Hay's Caramel Fig Loaf, from her Off The Shelf cookbook. Though Ms. Hay's recipe called for dried figs, I thought my ripe ones would work just as well. Not having any corn syrup on hand, I substituted buckwheat honey, though you could use the corn syrup she calls for, or simply regular honey.

Caramel Fig Loaf

125g (4 oz) butter (or slightly more than 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup demerara sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup buckwheat honey
250g (8 oz) overly ripe figs, sliced

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 8" x 4" loaf pan.

Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add the eggs and beat well.

Mix together flour, baking powder and cinnamon. With a wooden spoon, add dry ingredients to creamed butter and sugar, then stir through honey and figs. Pour into the pan and bake for 1 hour, checking after 45 minutes.* Cool on a wire rack.

Recipe modified from original found in Off The Shelf, Donna Hay, William Morrow, 2001.

*Because I used a larger pan, 9" x 5", my bread cooked faster. I also worried about the bottom browning too much so midway through the cooking process I moved the oven rack up and put a cookie sheet underneath the loaf pan. Both things seemed to help. Cutting into the loaf after it cooled, the center had cooked all the way through, yet the bottom was golden brown, not black.

This bread is delicious served warm, slathered with butter.



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Friday, January 30, 2009

Winterlicious in the city

For two weeks each year, in the dead of winter, dozens of Toronto's finest restaurants drastically drop their prices to offer three-course prix fixe lunches and dinners to the dining public. It's called Winterlicious, and given the current state of the economy I'd wager this year will be busier than most.

Lunch ranges from $15 to $30, and dinner from $25 to $45, not including tax and tip.

Good luck nabbing a reservation if you haven't already made one - restaurants began booking for the 14-day event on January 15th and many of the city's most talked about hotspots are filling up fast. I attempted making reservations last night and after striking out at two places I was looking to try: Mildred's Temple Kitchen (the new spot from the people behind the venerable, now shut Mildred Pierce), and The Rosebud (Rodney Bowers's hip Queen West eatery), I found success at The Citizen.

Bowers's latest venture, The Citizen (another nod to his favourite film, Citizen Kane) is located on Queen St. East, near Broadview, and has garnered mainly positive buzz since it opened in 2007. Before opening his own restaurants, the Newfoundland native worked in some of the city's finest restos including Auberge du Pommier and Mistura.

Since The Citizen is in my area of town I'm hoping the Winterlicious menu will impress. The choices for the three courses sound intriguing:


Caesar with double smoked bacon, parmesan and poached egg
Split pea soup with salt beef and cabbage
Salt cod cakes with aioli


Roast brined pork loin with buluga lentils and apple chutney
Roast sweet spiced Cornish hen, cracked olives, lemon and white beans
Calamari with clams, anchovy, sweet onion, herbs and dried tomato


Pavlova with winter fruit and Chantilly cream
Warm apple crumble with creme Anglaise
Plate of nice cookies

How to decide?!

Check the City of Toronto's site for more on what restaurants are participating and the menus they're offering. I also found this Toronto Life article on Surviving Winterlicious amusing.

Looking at the list of participating restaurants, I was proud to see just how far Toronto's culinary scene has come. Yes, we have some of the tried-and-true standbys, from Bymark, to Truffles, to Canoe, but we also have some interesting (relatively) new kids on the block, from Quince, to Caju, to The Citizen. Wherever you end up, hope it's a delicious meal!



Share your Winterlicious experience with Plum Tart, by either leaving a comment or writing

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marvelous marmalade

I'll admit this post is a bit of a cheat, in that it's a follow-up to my previous entry on Meyer lemons. I just wanted to share that the marmalade I made, from a Gourmet recipe, turned out spectacularly.

I was worried, when I poured the hot, lemon-saturated liquid into Mason jars that it wouldn't set properly - there was no pectin added, as you may recall. But as I dipped into one of the jars the next morning, I discovered it had gelled into the perfect consistency.

As for the taste and texture, delicious. Neither my sister nor I are marmalade fans, but we both agreed this one was a winner. Naturally sweet, smooth, the thin slices of lemon devoid of bitterness or chewiness. All in all, a success.

My two tips would be a) taking the time to slice the lemons as thinly as possible; and b) letting the lemon slices sit in cold water for the full 24 hours to allow their flavour to infuse the liquid.

Follow the rest of the steps as the recipe suggests (see my previous blog post for it), and you'll have lovely Meyer lemon marmalade to share with your loved ones too! By the way, it goes wonderfully well with a hot-out-of-the-oven butter croissant.



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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tips and tricks - homemade salad dressing

Despite my claim in a recent blog post that I don't enjoy salads in winter, every so often, usually after a few days of eating rich food, I feel like some simple greens for supper. But with one stipulation: no bottled dressing!

I only reach for the bottled stuff, with its myriad of mysterious ingredients such as xanthan gum and potassium sorbate, when I'm at my laziest, and I pretty much always regret it. Because there is no substitute for homemade, and really it couldn't be easier.

At its most basic all you need for a decent salad dressing is oil and vinegar. But buying a good quality olive oil - I enjoy Olio Carli for its fruitiness - makes a big difference. Find one you like the flavour of, and use that oil for dressings and other things like dipping bread into, while keeping a cheaper olive oil on hand for cooking with.

As for the vinegar, I have a few bottles in my pantry, as it's nice to have options depending on the kind of lettuce you're going to be eating - some common ones include red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and rice wine vinegar. But you can use other things to add tartness to the oil - the rind and juice of most citrus fruits works well.

The general thinking as far as ratio of oil to vinegar is using three parts oil to one part vinegar. I like my dressing on the tart side so I tend to add more vinegar but it's all a matter of personal preference.

So, a few glugs of oil, a splash or two of vinegar, some salt and pepper to taste and all that's left to do is toss it with your salad.

There are a few other ingredients you can add that will really perk things up - for example I learned at my cooking class last night that adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to an oil and vinegar dressing will really bring out the flavours of the other ingredients.

If you find your dressing is too tart, add a teaspoon or two of honey or maple syrup. Honey is my favourite choice as maple syrup can be too dominant, but if maple is your thing, give it a try.

Don't like the separation factor of oil and vinegar? Add something to emulsify the dressing and give it a uniform appearance - Dijon mustard works well. Egg is another emulsifier but not everyone likes to consume raw egg, and of course there's the worry of salmonella poisoning.

There's a lot of room for experimentation where salad dressing is concerned, and so many possible additions and combinations, all of them relatively simple. Consider any of the following ingredients: ginger, soy sauce, miso paste, anchovies, parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, fennel seeds, dried spices, fresh herbs - the list is endless of what you can add. And play around with the dressing until you find the right balance - keep tasting it until you're happy with the results.

If you find you're eating a lot of salads make a large portion and keep it in the fridge - depending on the ingredients you'll probably be able to use it for upwards of a week.

One trick I learned from Chef At Home host Michael Smith is to make dressing in a Mason jar. Throw all the ingredients in the bottom and either whiz them together using your immersion blender (one of my essential kitchen tools), whisk them together quickly, or, simplest of all, screw the lid on and give the mixture a good shake.

Salads can be uninspiring, but I guarantee you that taking that extra two to five minutes to make your own dressing will make a world of difference. You may never go back to the pre-bottled variety again!

Here's a very simple and tasty dressing I whipped up tonight to use in a simple salad of hydroponic Ontario green lettuce and sliced McIntosh apples, based on a recipe by Chef Michael Smith.

Honey Lime Dressing

The juice and zest of 4 limes
A few heaping spoonfuls of honey
A spoonful of mustard
A cupful of olive oil
A sprinkle or two of salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl or Mason jar and mix well to combine.

Makes about two cups.

Recipe courtesy Chef At Home, Michael Smith, Whitecap Books, 2005



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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baskin Robbins shake named 'Worst Food in America'

I've never been one to turn my nose up at a well-made milkshake, and I had one of the best ones in my life at NYC's Shake Shack in Madison Square Park last fall. Creamy, chocolatey, and the perfect accompaniment to one of their delectable ShackBurgers.

But let me say that I will not be one of those lining up for the Baskin Robbins Chocolate Oreo Shake, recently dubbed "The Worst Food In America Of 2009" by Men's Health magazine. That's quite a feat when you consider the cheese-and-bacon-laden burgers, greasy breakfast sandwiches, and deep fried chicken nuggets it was competing with.

File photo

One of these large-sized shakes from the popular ice cream joint reportedly contains an astonishing 2,600 calories, 135 grams of fat, including 59 grams of saturated fat and 2.5 grams of trans fats, 263 grams of sugars, and 1,700 milligrams of sodium.

2600 calories! That's significantly more than my entire daily recommended calorie intake (according to my height and weight I should be getting about 2,100 calories daily). And we're not even looking at the ghastly amount of fat, sugar and sodium whipped up in there.

Intrepid food writer Ian Froeb ordered, and then consumed, one of these artery-clogging dandies in order to write about it for the Riverfront Times, and he described it as "kinda thin," while one of his colleagues suggested the bits of ground up Oreo brought to mind a protein shake. Imagine - all those calories wasted on something that apparently doesn't even taste that good.

I think I'll stick with my small cup of Gold Medal Ribbon, thanks.



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Monday, January 26, 2009

Light delight?

After a weekend of complete and utterly shameless culinary indulgence - we're talking macaroni and cheese, pastries, chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, red wine, the list goes on - I'm in serious danger of not fitting into a single pair of my jeans.

But, I must tell you, I have a really hard time doing salads in the winter. Coming in from a cold night the last thing I crave is a plate of lettuce. I want rich. I want savoury. I want something that's going to keep me full for hours. Which made me wonder - is there such a thing as good, 'light' comfort food?

I'm not talking low-fat microwave meals, in fact my single New Year's resolution - one I figured I'd have no problem keeping - was NOT to diet this year. No, I'm thinking more along the lines of recipes that cut a few corners here and there to eliminate some of the extra fat and calories but are still filling and satisfying. They wouldn't have to be low fat, just reduced fat.

With that in mind, I picked up a magazine on Sunday that I haven't bought in a long time: Cooking Light. What attracted me was the cover: a bowl of thick, meaty chili beneath the words 'Come home to dinner.' I couldn't resist.

So here's my experiment: each Sunday for the next four weeks I'm going to try a recipe from this latest issue of Cooking Light (Jan/Feb 2009 for whoever's interested) to see if 'light' comfort food is worth its salt, and satiates my admittedly ravenous appetite. I've already chosen from their '63 recipes for winter warmth' and my selections are as follows:

Week one: White Winter Vegetable Stew

Week two: Cassoulet

Week three: Roasted Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas and Onion-Pine Nut Topping

Week four: Smothered Steak Burgers and Shoestring Fries with Garlic Dijon Mayo

I promise to be honest about my impressions of these four dishes - and I won't cheat on serving size. I'll share the nutritional info on each meal and let you know a) if I liked the taste; and b) if it satisfied me and kept me full.

Comfort food, lightened up. I'm skeptical, but if these dishes taste as good as the food stylists made them look, and if they help me squeeze back into my dark denim in a month's time, maybe the mag will make a believer out of me.



Comments, tips, suggestions, advice? Email

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Brunch at The Lakeview

Torontonians love their brunch and I'm no exception. But with the holiday craziness in December, and settling into the New Year, it had been weeks since I'd been out for one. So when my friend Olga suggested earlier in the week that a bunch of us get together for Sunday brunch this weekend, I needed no convincing.

Our initial plan was to meet at The Dakota Tavern for their Sunday Bluegrass Brunch, but arriving shortly after 11am we found it packed to the rafters, with an hour's wait before a table would be available. So, we headed around the corner to The Lakeview, formerly Lakeview Lunch, at the corner of Ossington Ave. and Dundas St. West.

I'd been to Lakeview Lunch with another friend years ago - and I remembered that though the seating was a bit cramped, my brekkie, Eggs Florentine, was lovely. Well the new owners have done a bang-up job in reno'ing the Lakeview. Happily, they kept the diner feel of the original, which had been around since 1932, but freshened everything up. White wallpapered walls, spacious, comfortable new booths, Art Deco touches here and there.

And though our food took a while to arrive, we were in no rush, happily chatting away over our coffees. When it did come, everyone seemed pleased with their order - from the smoked salmon Eggs Benedict, to 'The Standard' poached eggs and peameal, to my French toast, which came stuffed with lemon ricotta and Canadian maple syrup on the side.

So, though we may not have had banjo music accompanying our breakfast, The Lakeview was a fine substitute indeed.

The Lakeview
1132 Dundas St. West, at the corner of Ossington Ave.



Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon - a two-person job but so worth it

My sister Barb came downtown to visit today - we'd planned a day around cooking a fantastic dinner so she arrived late morning so we could decide what to make and shop for the ingredients at the nearby St. Lawrence Market.

Over pastries and coffee we pored over cookbooks looking for something challenging that neither of us had tried before. We decided on the classic French dish Boeuf Bourguignon - a delicious stew of beef, bacon, pearl onions, carrots, mushrooms, garlic, and of course lots of red wine and Cognac to make it even more decadent. For a side we thought mashed Yukon Gold potatoes and crispy leeks would do nicely. And a couple of bottles of Bordeaux wine, naturally.

After a full day of grocery shopping and hanging around the city we started on dinner, which we knew was going to take a good three hours (two hours of which was simply letting the beef braise in the oven). If you ever decide to make Boeuf Bourguignon, be aware of the time commitment and that between all the chopping and stages of cooking it's helpful to have two people involved in the process. Barb and I had never cooked a meal together before but we did quite well in my admittedly small kitchen. As I fried the bacon, she washed and sliced mushrooms, then she took over sauteing the beef chunks as I measured out beef stock and flour. We decided not to flambe the Cognac - visions of my condo going up in flames - but we added it anyway knowing that most of the alcohol would cook off anyway.

Three hours after we started, after having already polished off a bottle of wine, dinner was served, and I have to say, it was excellent. The boeuf bourguignon was hearty, stick-to-the-ribs good, and the creamy mashed potatoes with leeks were divine. I'd never made mashed potatoes with leeks before but the combination is fantastic.

We finished it all off with a sinfully rich chocolate raspberry cake from one of the Market bakeries.

Now that is what I call a perfect meal.



Suggestions, tips, advice, recipes to share? Comment below or email

Friday, January 23, 2009

A comfort food night

It's funny how our palates change as we age. When I was a kid and all my friends were eating bland, tasteless Kraft Dinner, or equally bad knock-offs of it, my mom was making the real deal for my dad, my sister and me. Macaroni and cheese with homemade white sauce, fresh cooked pasta, and real Cheddar. I recall not liking it that much. That's not a slight on my mom's recipe - looking back I know that now I'd be devouring it by the bowlful, but as a kid the flavours were too intense for me. The same way I drowned perfectly grilled steaks with ketchup back then, I didn't appreciate the sharp tang of the Cheddar or the creamy, smooth bechamel.

But, as I said, things change. Tonight I made a very simple, but perfectly delicious, macaroni and cheese from ingredients I had on hand. A chunk of old Cheddar - very old, I'm not entirely sure how long it's been in my fridge - grated into a velvety white sauce of butter, flour, milk and leftover chicken stock, stirred into a pan with al dente macaroni and topped with freshly-made breadcrumbs from a stale hunk of sourdough-flax bread, rendered golden brown and crispy after a few minutes under the broiler.

For a recipe with a scant seven ingredients (not including salt and pepper) I can't imagine anything more delectable, more comforting on a cold January night. How is it I used to hate this stuff?!

Real-Deal Macaroni And Cheese

Serves 2

1 1/3 cups elbow macaroni
Fist-sized hunk of stale bread, spun through food processor to make coarse breadcrumbs
2 tbsp all purpose flour
3/4 cup 2 % milk
3/4 cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
1.5 cups grated old Cheddar cheese
3 tbsp butter

Cook macaroni in well-salted water (you should be able to slightly taste the salt) until al dente, about 11 minutes.

As the macaroni is cooking, rip bread into chunks and whiz in food processor to make course breadcrumbs. Depending on how much of a crust you like, you'll need anywhere from 1/2 cup to a full cup. Mix a tablespoon of softened butter in with the crumbs and set aside.

Melt another 2 tbsp butter in large saucepan. Add flour and whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes to make a roux. When flour is incorporated into butter and it starts to turn light golden in colour slowly whisk in the milk and the broth. Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil and let it thicken slightly. This should take anywhere from 5-7 minutes. Once sauce is slightly thickened, remove from heat and stir in the grated Cheddar with a wooden spoon until it's melted.

Preheat broiler and mix cooked macaroni into sauce. Check the flavours and add salt and pepper as desired. Pour mixture into broilerproof 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs over top and place under broiler until the crumbs turn golden brown, which should only take a few minutes. Watch this process carefully as the crumbs will go from brown to black quickly.

Inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe, but tweaked to my own personal taste.

If you wanted to make this a healthier dinner you could serve it with a green salad, but I have to confess, the only thing I had with my mac and cheese was a big glass of red wine. Heaven.



Comments, questions, tips, suggestions? Email me at

Thursday, January 22, 2009

When life hands you Meyer lemons...

...make marmalade!

The first time I'd heard of Meyer lemons was on Giada De Laurentiis's cooking show Everyday Italian. She was actually using a Meyer lemon oil in one of her recipes, and I remember her explaining at the time that Meyer lemons were a bit sweeter than regular lemons. I'd been on the lookout for them ever since, and on a recent trip to my local fruit market found a bag of six for $3.49. I scooped them up and brought them home, not knowing at the time what I'd make with them but figuring worst comes to worst I'd try to replicate the oil Giada used on her show.

Image courtesy ChaosNil

Reading up a bit more on Meyers, I found out that they're pretty much a cross between a traditional lemon and a tangerine. Native to China, they were brought over to the U.S. in 1908 by U.S. Department of Agriculture plant explorer Frank Meyer. The fruit itself is tart, but not as acidic as a lemon. It's also smaller than a lemon, closer to the size of a tangerine. The skin is thinner and edible, and though the fruit can be grown all year in places like California and Florida it's at its peak in winter.

Meyers are used in a variety of dishes, both savoury and sweet, and are a less potent substitute for standard lemons. A search on Epicurious for Meyer lemon recipes turned up everything from cakes and souffles, to salads and seafood dishes. And though I was tempted to preserve the lemons just so I could then make Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Meyer Lemons and Green Olives, I finally settled on a simple Meyer lemon marmalade.

Meyer Lemon Marmalade

6 Meyer lemons (1.5 lbs)
4 cups water
4 cups sugar

Other equipment:

Kitchen string
6 half-pint Mason-type jars

Halve lemons crosswise and remove seeds. Tie seeds in a cheesecloth bag. Quarter each lemon half and thinly slice. Combine with bag of seeds and water in a 5-quart nonreactive heavy pot and let mixture stand, covered, at room temperature 24 hours.

Bring lemon mixture to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 4 cups, about 45 minutes. Stir in sugar and boil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam, until a teaspoon of mixture dropped on a cold plate gels, about 15 minutes.

Ladle hot marmalade into jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of top. Wipe rims with dampened cloth and seal jars with lids.

Put jars in a water-bath canner or on a rack set in a deep pot. Add enough hot water to cover jars by 1 inch and bring to a boil. Boil jars, covered, 5 minutes and transfer with tongs to a rack. Cool jars completely.**

Cooks' note: Marmalade keeps, stored in a cool, dark place, up to 1 year.**

Yield: Makes 6 half-pint jars
Active time: 1 hr 15 min
Total time: 25 hr 15 min

Recipe from Gourmet magazine, December 1999
Courtesy Epicurious

**I don't know that I'm going to bother with the sealing business. I plan on keeping my marmalade in the fridge and/or giving it away, in the hopes that it'll be consumed before it has the chance to go off. Jam generally keeps for a good while in the fridge after it's been opened so I think it'll be fine. But by all means follow the recipe to the letter if you feel more comfortable doing that or would rather store the sealed, sterilized jars in your pantry.

So, tonight I did part one of the recipe, slicing the lemons, tying the seeds up in a cheesecloth bag, and combining both with water in my pot, which I then covered. The lovely lemon slices, looking like delicate shards of stained glass, will sit in their water bath until tomorrow at this time when I'll boil them and add the sugar.

I confess I've never been a marmalade fan but I'm looking forward to seeing how this turns out. I might even bake some blueberry scones to enjoy with my fresh-made preserves on Saturday morning!



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The lovely and talented Tana Ramsay

I'm lucky in that my job as a news and features writer allows me to meet and interview interesting people from time to time. And because I have a penchant for all things culinary, I've chatted with a number of chefs and cooks over the past couple of years. Last November I had the good fortune to meet Tana Ramsay, the wife of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (he of Hell's Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, etc). Tana was in town promoting her latest cookbook - Home Made - and I have to say I dig her style.

Browsing through Home Made I found the kind of nourishing, comforting meals that I would make. Not terribly fussy, no ingredients you'd have to make an extra trip to a specialty food store to purchase. But at the same time her dishes aren't boring or commonplace.

A few days before my interview with her I decided to try out her recipe for sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil (recipe below). One of the steps involved throwing a rind of Parm-Reg into the soup while it simmered, and then scraping off the melted bits in at the end and discarding what remained. Can I tell you what a difference that made?! I've made sweet potato soup plenty of times in the past and this one tasted so much richer. The chili oil sprinkled on at the end added a nice bit of heat as well.

When I told Tana during our interview that the Parm-Reg rind addition was a revelation for me, she explained that the rinds can always be wrapped up and frozen for later use. So if you've come to the end of your Parm-Reg, or your Grana Padano or Asiago for that matter, don't throw it away. Freeze the rind for the next time you're making a lovely soup - perhaps one of Ms. Ramsay's!

Check out my full interview with Tana Ramsay here.

Sweet potato and carrot soup with chili oil

2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
6 tbsp chili oil
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and roughly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
750g or 1lb 11 oz sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
400 g or 14 oz carrots, peeled and sliced
2 knobs of butter
2 Parmesan crusts
1 sprig of rosemary
750 mL chicken stock (or you can use vegetable stock)
salt and black pepper
1 small tub of creme fraiche to serve

Place thyme leaves in a mortar and pestle and grind them. Add chili oil and leave to infuse while you make the soup.

Heat olive oil in a large pan on low-medium heat and fry the onions and garlic for 8-10 minutes, until softened. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, butter, Parmesan crusts and rosemary (still in a whole sprig), season well with salt and pepper and let them sweat down until they start to soften. This tends to happen quicker if you cover the pan - use tin foil tightly sealed around the top of the pan if you don't have a lid.

Once the vegetables have started to soften, add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are really tender.

Once you have reached this stage remove the Parmesan crusts and the rosemary sprig with a slotted spoon and scrape off any melted softened bits of Parmesan into the vegetables. Tip the soup into a blender and whiz until completely smooth (you can use your immersion blender for this as well). Check the seasoning.

Transfer to serving bowl(s) and serve with a spoon of creme fraiche in the centre, then drizzle with the thyme-infused chili oil.

Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour

Source: Home Made, Tana Ramsay, HarperCollins Publishers, 2008

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Obama Waffle

It's a historic day in the U.S., and indeed around the globe, as Barack Obama becomes America's first black president.

Celebrations are happening far and wide, not just south of the border but internationally, including here in Canada. There have been all sorts of tributes to the 44th U.S. president, but I quite like this one: The Obama Waffle!

Toronto restaurant The Waffle Works has created the yummy breakfast treat in honour of our American cousins and their new leader. It's a whole wheat cinnamon raisin waffle with velvety cream cheese on top.

The patriotic plate also includes some red (strawberries), white (whipped cream) and blue (blueberries), with an American flag to top it all off.

Here's a photo of The Obama Waffle in all its splendiferous deliciousness:

Happy Obama Day all!


Monday, January 19, 2009

In The News: Giraffe Steaks And Abortion Doughnuts

Some food news of the weird to share with you now.

The first item, out of the Daily Mail in Britain, concerns TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's admission that he enjoys a tasty bite of giraffe once in awhile. Fearnley-Whittingstall, whose penchant for eating wild animals from crocodile to wild bat has earned him the nickname 'Hugh Fearlessly-Eatsitall,' has said he'd never eat an endangered species and insists the giraffe meat he consumed was served by local conservationists. But the River Cottage chef has still enraged animal welfare groups who call his actions "totally irresponsible."

As an omnivore, and one who eats lamb and veal, I suppose I'd be a hypocrite to chastise Chef Hugh. Still, I admit my first reaction to this story was to grimace in disgust. Especially when I read his recipe for giraffe steaks which at one point recommends mixing the "giraffe juices" with tomatoes and wine. Shudder.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Krispy Kreme is celebrating Inauguration Day on Tuesday by giving out free doughnuts. A warm fuzzy story, right? Wrong, if you ask the American Life League, a pro-life group. The organization is upset about Krispy Kreme's press release promoting the free doughnut day because it apparently uses the word "choice" a bit too liberally.

Abortion doughnuts for all!

The article is published in the Miami New Times and some of the comments are priceless - notably one clever poster who remarks, "Life begins at confection y'all!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Tips and tricks - chilis, cucumber, and chopping

Every once in awhile on this blog I'm going to share some tips I've learned - usually in my cooking class but also from reading food mags and watching cooking shows. It's amazing how the simplest techniques and basic knowledge of ingredients can make a huge difference in a finished dish.

Here are three things I've learned in the past week:

1) Chilis - I always thought it was just the seeds that made those tiny red chili peppers hot, but the ribs (the whitish part inside the chili) add major heat as well. So when a recipe calls for a chopped, seeded red chili, make sure you remove not only the seeds but the white part too. Do this by opening up the chili and scraping the ribs off with the edge of your knife blade. You'll want to wash your hands well after, especially if you've touched the seeds and the ribs, because the heat will stay on your fingers and will transfer to whatever else they touch.

2) Cucumber - As you know, cukes are full of water, and sometimes when you chop them up and put them in a dish the liquid seeps out of them and makes everything else soggy. I'd read about salting them first to coax some of the excess moisture out, but here's another way: if you're using the cucumbers for a salad, cut the cucumber lengthwise, and then into quarters, so you have four long pieces. Then, take your knife and slice away the inner, seed-filled portion. That's where most of the water resides. What you're left with is the meatier, less watery part of the vegetable. Chop it up, add it to your salad, and either eat the seedy part on its own or add it to something else you want infused with cucumber flavour, for example a raita.

3) Chopping - Chopping veg is probably my least favourite part of making dinner, and also seems to be the most time consuming, but in my cooking class I learned a few techniques that help make the process faster. Peppers - first, cut the top and bottom off, then cut through one side, position your knife flat against the interior of the pepper, and open the pepper up, scraping away the seeds and ribbing with one motion before julienning or dicing. Roma tomatoes are essentially the same process - cut off the top and bottom, cut into one side but only about a half inch into the tomato, sit the blade of the knife against the interior, and then slide it along, as if you're unrolling the tomato. The half inch or so of tomato meat sitting against the skin is what you want to then chop up and use in your dish. The interior part, not unlike the cucumber, is mainly water and seeds. That's not to say you can't use it. Save it and throw it in soup or stock for a hit of tomato flavour.

So those are my tips and tricks for this week. If you have any you'd like to share, email me at or add your comments below.



If you would like to share a story, recipe, or tip, please comment below or email me at

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A well-stocked pantry

It's a grey, chilly Saturday afternoon - not the kind of day you want to spend outdoors. I've just returned from the St. Lawrence Market with a bagful of cans and jars to add to my growing pantry, and today I'm organizing my kitchen cupboards to make room for it all.

Ever since moving to my current apartment last July I've been picking up items for my pantry. Obviously I buy things when I need them for a particular recipe, but it's also great when you just have the items on hand (most keep for a good long while). I started with the basics - sea salt, black peppercorns, oils (olive, canola, sesame), vinegars (white, cider, balsamic, red wine, white wine, rice), flours (all-purpose, whole wheat), sugars (white, confectioner's, light brown, dark brown), molasses, honey, baking soda, baking powder, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, spices (cinnamon, cloves. allspice, nutmeg, chili powder, paprika, cayennne, ginger), a few dried herbs (oregano) although I favour fresh, rices (long grain white, long grain brown, basmati, jasmine, arborio), various dried pastas, canned fish (tuna), canned tomatoes, and chicken stock.

Since then I've been slowly adding a few things at a time. Last week I picked up some white peppercorns - they have an earthier flavour than the black variety and are quite good. I used them in a bouquet garni last Sunday when making chicken stock, but they're often used in pale-coloured dishes when you don't want the dark grindings of black pepper to stand out.

Today's pantry additions:

  • Tahini - ground sesame seeds, an essential ingredient in hummus
  • Fish sauce (or nam pla) - Used lots in Thai cuisine - stir frys, Pad Thai, etc.
  • Oyster sauce - A dark brown sauce of cooked oysters and other ingredients, used mainly in Asian dishes to add richness.
  • Canned chickpeas - For hummus, curried chickpeas, salads, chilis, etc.
  • Sambal oelek - Ground fresh chili paste, used in small quantities to add a bit of heat to a dish.
  • Hoisin sauce - Again, mainly used in Asian dishes, it's a thick, dark brown sweet and sour sauce that can either be added to recipes or used as a condiment. I often use it for dipping cold salad rolls into. It has a nice tang that complements the fresh ingredients well.
I'm using the oyster sauce tonight, in an Asian-influenced beef salad. The recipe calls for, among other things, fresh cilantro, pineapple, lime juice, green onions, mint, sesame oil, and a little heat from a chopped, seeded red chili pepper. On a frigid cold day, a little heat is just what I'm craving!

What item in your pantry can't you live without? Let me know at



If you would like to share a story, recipe, or tip, please comment below or email me at

Friday, January 16, 2009

A mag to savour

I asked my cooking class instructor what magazines he recommends for aspiring cooks, and one of the ones he mentioned was Saveur. I visited its site, and I confess, I'm hooked. Tons of delicious looking recipes with simple to follow instructions, beautiful photos, and lots of how-to tips and advice on everything from skimming fat from stock to preserving lemons.

You can also sign up for their e-newsletter to receive weekly menu suggestions. This week's sounds delicious. It's for a lunch with friends and features recipes for ricotta crostini with cherry tomatoes, miso-marinated salmon, a spring salad, Breton butter cake for dessert, and a delightful-looking cocktail called Death in the Afternoon, named for the Ernest Hemingway novel about bullfighting.

Since browsing through the site and the latest newsstand edition, which is geared toward home cooks like me, I've decided to subscribe for a year. Though they're great for putting the recipes on the site I find it's nice to be able to browse through the pages of the actual magazine.

Hope to try some of their incredible looking recipes soon!



If you would like to share a story, recipe, or tip, please comment below or email me at

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Welcome to Plum Tart, a blog about all things food. To say that I enjoy food is an understatement - whether I'm in front of the stove, dining out in a restaurant, watching a cooking program or reading a book by a famous chef, I adore all things gastronomic. And I'm not a snob about it - I love a good peanut butter sandwich as much as I do a perfectly-cooked steak, a creamy risotto, or a rack of lamb. For me it's all about enjoying whatever it is I'm eating.

So why start this blog now? A couple reasons. One being I've started an introductory cooking course at an esteemed chef school in my hometown, Toronto, and I'm hoping to relate some of my experiences here. Another being I believe cooking and the enjoyment of food is best shared with others, and I'd like to exchange recipes, seek and offer advice, and engage in discussions about good eating with my fellow foodies.

I hope you enjoy, and if you would like to share a story, recipe, or tip, please comment below or email me at