Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Cookie Factory: Christmas Baking 2010

I've been trying to get back to the blog for weeks, but damn, this busy December just didn't let up! Between a fabulous and food-filled NYC long weekend (more on that in an upcoming post) and the regular pre-Christmas mayhem, blogging just wasn't going to happen.

One thing I was determined to do this year was bake Christmas cookies, since the past few years I've been really lagging in that department. I think I maybe did one or two batches last year, and don't recall doing any the year before. This year I made up for it with five different kinds of cookies and bars, all of which turned out quite well!

I started with Alice Medrich's Ginger Cookies, from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies (one of my favourite cookbooks of 2010). These cookies are phenomenal, especially if you love ginger -- they contain the powdered variety as well as candied and fresh. It makes for a crisp-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside spice cookie, with a nice sharp bite at the end (courtesy the fresh ginger). Alice includes a tamer version in the book but I really recommend trying the original recipe first.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Guinness Gingerbread with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I've made this Guinness Gingerbread, from Nigella Lawson's latest cookbook Kitchen, twice in the past week and with good reason. It's fantastic! Sweet, but not too sweet, with lots of spice and a wonderfully moist texture. It's a perfect dessert for the holidays, but I've been having it with my morning coffee at work. Decadent, I suppose, but that's what the Christmas season is for, right?

It's also gloriously easy to make -- simply melt and mix the butter, sugar, Guinness, and spices on the stove, mix in the dry ingredients, then add some sour cream and eggs, pour into a 9-inch pan, and bake!

With my parents over for dinner this weekend, I knew I wanted to make the gingerbread, and I thought some whipped cream or vanilla ice cream would be a welcome addition. I pondered going out and buying a pint of Haagen-Dazs, but given that my sister bought me the ice cream maker attachment for my new stand mixer, why wait to make a batch of homemade?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

French Fridays With Dorie: Marie-Helene's Apple Cake

 I'm ashamed to say that I've really fallen behind in my attempt to cook along with my fellow French Fridays With Dorie friends (wow, that's a lot of Fs). I remember being so proud of myself having baked this Apple Cake (which is delicious, by the by) a full two weeks in advance of its date on the schedule -- and then I failed to post an entry.

Then I let November slip by with nary a recipe made -- and there were some good ones, too! Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans, Potato Gratin, Caramel-Topped Semolina Cake....uh, yum!! Anyway, I plan to make all of these at some point, and in the meantime December is a new month, and hopefully I can get myself back in the game -- it's looking like the four recipes for the month will be Sweet and Spicy Cocktail Nuts, Beef Daube, Leek and Potato Soup, and Speculoos. Holiday-appropriate, no?

Back to Marie-Helene's Apple Cake -- as you can see by the photo it is rammed with apples. I used a variety, as I'd been apple picking not long before and had no less than six different kinds in my fridge. This cake is lovely in that it's not overly sweet, and it stayed moist for several days. The dark rum added a deeper flavour and richness that I liked. I would add cinnamon next time, as I can't get enough of the apple-cinnamon combination.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Waldorf Salad, Jamie Oliver's Way

I've long been a fan of Jamie Oliver -- his original Naked Chef series was the first cooking show I made a point to watch week to week -- and so how stoked was I to attend his cooking demo and talk in Toronto last Thursday?!

Jamie was just as cheeky, self-deprecating, and genuine as I expected him to be, and it's evident that his passion to get kids (and adults) eating healthy food -- which inspired his 'Food Revolution' in Britain -- hasn't subsided one iota. Most recently, he travelled through the U.S. and the highlights of those adventures are present in his latest show, Jamie's American Road Trip, and cookbook, Jamie's America. He cooked two recipes from the book: a red snapper ceviche similar to one he had at a Peruvian restaurant in New York City, and a steak dish with two sauces, a peanut-smoked chili sauce and a fresh tomato salsa, something he was inspired to create after time spent in L.A.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jams And Jars: Grown-Up Applesauce

With dozens of apples taking up valuable real estate in my fridge, it seemed inevitable I'd get around to making some applesauce. I'd never actually made homemade applesauce before even though it's something I've loved since childhood. I'd eat big bowlfuls of the stuff whenever I was under the weather, and it's still something I crave every so often.

This 'grown-up' version, from Fine Cooking magazine, is wonderful, especially when still slightly warm. I'm sure the fact that the apples were only a day or two off the tree had something to do with it, but let's not discount the role the butter and brandy play. The addition of half a vanilla bean, and the recommendation that the pod steep in the sauce as it cooks, also elevates this to something far greater than what you'd typically pick up in the grocery store.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

French Fridays With Dorie: Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dorie Greenspan when she was in Toronto to promote her gorgeous new cookbook, Around My French Table. The 15-minute interview flew by -- not surprising since we both love all things food and all things French -- and I couldn't wait to crack open the book at home and start cooking away.

Not long after the interview my friend Bonita told me about French Fridays With Dorie, where fans cook their way through the book each week and post about their experiences. What a great idea! I missed the first two weeks -- Gougeres (Week 1) and Gerard's Mustard Tart (Week 2) -- but I was determined to join in the fun this week, albeit a day late. And I'm glad I did, because the Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup is hands-down the best soup ever to come out of my kitchen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apples, Apples, Apples!

Is there anything more 'fall' than an afternoon of apple-picking? This is my favourite time of year, bar none, and having lived in the city for half my life, I appreciate the chance to escape to the country more and more, particularly in late September, early October when the leaves are changing.

So on this chilly first weekend of October, my sister and I bundled up and headed out to an orchard in Waterdown, Ont. Despite its unfortunate name and slightly maniacal looking mascot, Frootogo Orchards offers a great variety of fruit for the picking as well as a cute store packed with homemade preserves and baked goods (the apple turnovers and hot spiced cider make a great post-picking treat), a pumpkin patch, and a big kids' play area. But we were there for the apples, so we plunked two empty baskets in a wagon and headed out.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Jams And Jars: Slow-Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce

Thanks go to my foodie friend Bonita, she of the fabulous Bon Eats blog, for telling me about this wonderful sauce from Cuizoo. I'd been searching in vain for a tomato sauce recipe that started with fresh Romas as opposed to canned ones -- who knew it would be so difficult? -- and I'm glad I went with this one, even though the making of it was slightly ridiculous. Not the author's fault, but mine, entirely.

You see, I knew full well that the sauce needed five, six hours to cook down. And yet, I let the weekend slip away, while my beautiful Romas sat untouched on the kitchen counter. Suddenly it was 8pm on Sunday and I was at risk of letting some or all of the tomatoes go bad. So I went for it, even though I knew the sauce likely wouldn't go in the oven until 9pm (meaning it'd be finished cooking at, you guessed it, 3am).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fudgy Brownies

I've been cooking and baking so much in the last couple of weeks, I haven't had time to keep up with the blog! Can't say what's got me so inspired lately, except maybe the promise of fall. Fresh starts, and all that jazz. That and I want to make the most of the farmers' markets before they're done for the year. Although the only thing in this recipe that I bought at the market was the eggs. Oh well! As much as I love fruity desserts that feature the bounty of the season, nothing beats a brownie. Especially a fudgy brownie, still warm from the oven, with a tall glass of milk.

I used top quality chocolate for these, and I think it's a necessity -- you always hear that a dish is only as good as its ingredients and I wholeheartedly concur. This recipe calls for a mixture of bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate, which intensifies the flavour. If you can splurge on Callebaut or Valhrona, please do.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Orzo Salad with Grilled Broccolini and Sausage

One of my girlfriends recently turned me on to Fine Cooking, a magazine she subscribes to, and in browsing through a recent issue I knew I had to try this dish. I love the combination of sausage and greens, and could only imagine that grilling them along with red onion would make this a satisfying end-of-summer meal. I don't cook with orzo very much but I loved it here, and the olives and capers added a beautiful briny note to the salad.

The recipe calls for pre-cooked chicken sausage, but I used a raw spicy chicken-turkey sausage, that I poached for 10 minutes before grilling to ensure it was cooked through. I finished the dish with some fresh basil -- my three pots' worth are threatening to take over my balcony so I'm using it wherever possible -- and it worked really well with the other flavours. I reheated this salad the next day and it was still good -- I added some halved grape tomatoes to change it up a bit. Super-easy, this dish. Will definitely be making it again, maybe switching up the sausage variety and/or the type of vegetable used.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Red Prawn And Mango Curry

Every so often -- generally in fall and winter -- I get a mean hankering for a thick, spicy curry. With the cooler weather we've had this week, it definitely feels as though autumn is just around the corner, and my body was craving stick-to-the-ribs comfort food.

A while ago I swapped cookbooks with one of my girlfriends -- I lent her two of my Giadas (Everyday Italian, Giada's Family Dinners) and she lent me one of her Nigellas, Nigella Express, recommending a few of the recipes inside including the Red Prawn and Mango Curry. Taking a look at the ingredients, which included cubed butternut squash and sweet potato, I decided I didn't want quite as much starch -- it is still August, after all -- so I subbed in zucchini, red pepper, and sugar snap peas. And rather than fresh coriander as the garnish, I finished the dish with whole basil leaves snipped from my balcony pots (Why buy herbs when you can use what you already have on hand?).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wild Rice Salad

I was chatting recently with Alison Fryer, owner of The Cookbook Store in Toronto, about new and hot cookbooks and she mentioned a pair of titles by British chef Yotam Ottolenghi. I confess I hadn't heard of him before, but flipping through the two books (Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, and most recently Plenty) I was intrigued by what I saw -- Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern-influenced dishes with vibrant flavours such as chili, lemon, pomegranate, pistachio. Many of the dishes vegetarian. I wanted to buy both, then and there, but then I thought about my borderline-ridiculous collection of cookbooks at home and decided against it.

Instead, I went online and found two sources of Ottolenghi recipes -- the official site and the Guardian UK which features a weekly column by the man himself entitled The New Vegetarian. Jackpot! I decided I'd try out a few of his recipes first before considering buying one of his books. I started with a bulgur salad called Kisir (bottom photo), a traditional Turkish side dish made with tomato paste, parsley and spices. I'd seen it described in a few places as a spicier version of tabbouleh. This particular recipe called for pomegranates and mint, and though I subbed chopped up raspberries for the not-in-season pomegranate seeds it turned out fabulously. Filling, hearty and full of flavour.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jams And Jars: Peach Jam

Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of a jam addiction. At any given time I have five or six varieties in my fridge, and I'd just as soon serve it over ice cream, with cheese and crackers, or whisk it into a sauce or marinade as spread it on toast.

My favourite jam is apricot, not only for its taste but its versatility, and I'd planned to make a big batch of it this year to see me through the fall and winter. Sadly, apricot season passed me by before I had a chance to do much with them -- one galette was all she wrote.

So, we entered peach season, and once I saw the lovely Red Havens on display I knew they'd make a fabulous preserve. One of my foodie friends agreed, so we set aside a Sunday afternoon to whip up a few batches. (When you're going to the trouble of making jam, why not make a whole whack of it, right?)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Plum Cake

When I saw the baskets full of perfectly ripe plums at Brick Works farmers' market this weekend, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with them -- bake them into Dorie Greenspan's Dimply Plum Cake, from her tome Baking: From My Home To Yours.

Let me count the ways in which I love this cake: 1) It's way easy to prepare; 2) It bakes up beautifully, the batter rising up around the plum halves and transforming into a deep golden brown; and 3) It's delicious.

I also saw this recipe not too long ago on the excellent Smitten Kitchen, and took a cue from it in subbing cinnamon for cardamom. It's not that I don't enjoy cardamom -- in the right recipe (savoury or sweet) it can be wonderful. But cinnamon and plums is, quite simply, a divine combination.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Penne With Herbed Zucchini And Goat Cheese

Don't you love it when a recipe far exceeds your expectations? It doesn't happen often, to me at least, but when it does it's so satisfying. I've cooked zucchini countless times. I've tried to like it, I really have. But the end result has always been the same. Bland. Watery. Blah. Not so with this dish, from a 1997 issue of Gourmet, dug up on Epicurious.

My reason for cooking this was simple -- I had the handful of items it required on hand. And I should say right now that with recipes that have so few ingredients -- six, in this case -- the quality of said ingredients is paramount. I had the best of the best -- local zucchini bought a few days ago at a farmers' market, top notch dried pasta, herbs snipped from my balcony pots, and Monforte goat cheese -- and the dish was all the better for it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

I've been making risotto for years -- it's one of the first dishes I learned to cook when I was living on my own and I used to make it fairly frequently for friends. Often a mixed mushroom version, similar to the one here, or a tomato basil one that required a bit more effort but looked even nicer on the plate.

Last night I had a fierce craving for a classic mushroom risotto so I came upon this recipe and decided to give it a go. In years past I'd cook risotto in a large saucepan, but after watching many an episode of Hell's Kitchen where I noticed the chefs cooked their risotto in a wide saute pan I decided to try that instead. I don't know how much of a difference the extra surface area made, all I know is that the risotto was fan-freaking-tastic. Creamy, not the least bit gummy, and with a tiny bit of bite still in the rice. I should mention that I now buy my rice at Rube's, an excellent purveyor of grains and legumes, and I was using homemade chicken stock, so I'm sure the quality of the ingredients also contributed to the tasty end product, but my instincts tell me the saute pan is the way to go.

I was recently advised by one of the chefs appearing on CityLine, the show I work for, that I should seek out a wooden spoon with a hole in the centre to make risotto with, as the hole allows the rice to pass through when you're stirring and aids in the texture. If I happen upon one I'll certainly pick it up, but I don't know that it's necessary.

Lemony Mushroom Risotto
Gourmet | February 2001

2 2/3 cups boiling-hot water
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 lb small cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Arborio rice (8 oz)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

'Don't Mess With Perfection' Guacamole

I've seen all sorts of things added to guacamole (onions, tomatoes, cilantro, etc), but it's my firm belief that the perfect guacamole has but four ingredients: garlic, lime juice, salt, and the all-important avocado. This goes back to the first time my friend Kama made fresh guacamole before my eyes. The flesh of a perfectly ripe avocado, scooped into a bowl, the juice of a lime, a minced garlic clove, and plenty of salt (more than you'd think to add). Mashed together roughly with a fork and not pureed, so you still have the odd chunk of creamy avocado, it was easy to prepare, gorgeous to behold, and absolutely delicious with a big bowl of tortilla chips.

This is now my go-to recipe whenever I make guac (Thanks Kama!), and so long as the avocado is ripe it's pretty much impossible to screw up. Feel free to tinker with the amount of garlic, lime juice and salt -- as mentioned I feel it needs a bit more salt than might be your instinct to put in, but give it a try and see what you think. If you're serving with salty tortilla chips you may want to back off on the salt a bit. While I used to only make guac when I had chips on hand, now I use it for sandwich spread as well (I prefer it to mayonnaise).

Don't forget that avocadoes, once sliced into, go brown quickly so try not to leave the flesh too long before adding the lime juice, which will stop the browning. Also, if you're wrapping up the leftover guac, place a sheet of plastic wrap directly over the guacamole and store it in an air-tight container.

Happy snacking!

'Don't Mess With Perfection' Guacamole

1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lime
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste

Scoop out the avocado flesh and put it in a bowl.
Add the lime juice, garlic clove and salt.
Mash with a fork. You don't want a puree, but a rough mash.
Taste, and add more salt if desired.

Makes approximately one cup of guacamole.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Baking: Spiked Double Apple Cake With Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce

The stove got a workout this long weekend, between baking dessert for my family's Easter supper (which we had on Good Friday) and Saturday night's dinner with friends.

On Thursday night I baked Walnut Layer Cake with Coffee Buttercream, from Regan Daley's In The Sweet Kitchen, for the family dinner on Friday. I was fortunate enough to interview Regan last week, and the former pastry chef is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to baking. I have a feeling her book could become my go-to baking resource, as it's full of delicious-sounding cakes, tarts, cookies, and bars for every imaginable occasion.

I will say that the walnut cake didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped it would, but I blame myself and not the recipe. My first mistake was leaving the cake layers in the oven too long. The baking time specified 30-35 minutes, and I left them in for the full 35. They definitely could've come out at 30. Also, it was quite late when the cakes came out so I left them to cool on racks and went to bed with the idea of making the buttercream in the morning. The end result was that the cake was dry. Too bad, because the coffee buttercream was wonderful. I've never made meringue buttercream before and it was wonderfully light and creamy -- not grainy and heavy as some icings can be. The key is that you're using only egg whites, and not yolks. With its intense coffee flavour, I imagine it would go perfectly with a dark chocolate cake.

On to the second dessert of the weekend, which followed a French bistro-style dinner of roast chicken, rosemary potatoes, and haricots verts. I went with another recipe from In The Sweet Kitchen, this time Spiked Double Apple Cake with Brown Sugar-Brandy Sauce (pictured). Wow. This one was absolutely spectacular, and there's no doubt I'll be making it again. Raisins and dried apples soaked in French brandy, cinnamon, brown sugar, fresh apples baked into a sheet cake that's chewy and spicy. The cake is delicious on its own, but with a generous pour of the brandy sauce on top it's sinfully delightful. I upped the decadence factor with a dollop of whipped cream. Vanilla ice cream would be great too I'm sure.

With both baking and cooking you're bound to have successes and failures -- the key is not to dwell on the failures, but to revel in the successes! (And hopefully there'll be more of those.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Buttermilk Spice Cake

I offered to make dessert for our family's Easter dinner this year -- because of everyone's schedules we're actually eating on Good Friday -- and have been scanning my cookbooks and magazines for ideas. Bon Appetit's March issue features a Buttermilk Spice Cake with Pear Compote and Creme Fraiche, and earlier this week I decided to try out the cake on its own to see if I liked it.

I should've taken a closer look at the list of ingredients before it came time to bake, as I realized I was missing a couple of key items, one of them being the buttermilk! Oops. I did however have 1% plain yogurt, which I knew would work just as well. I was also down a vanilla bean. I do have high quality vanilla, so I used that and bumped up the amount. It turned out fairly well, although I'm not sure if it makes the cut for my family's holiday dinner. Pears seem more fall than spring....I'm thinking something fresh and light. Perhaps a lemon tart, a key lime pie, or a rhubarb fool. Decisions, decisions.

Buttermilk Spice Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit | March 2010

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground whole star anise*
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 3-inch piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla)
1/4 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup 1% plain yogurt)
Powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups crème fraîche

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; line pan with round of parchment paper.

Sift first 9 ingredients into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add sugar, beating until smooth. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean and add lime peel; beat to blend. Beat in flour mixture in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk in 3 additions, scraping down bowl occasionally. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until beginning to brown on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan on cooling rack.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake. Turn cake out onto rack; peel off parchment and turn right side up onto platter. Sift powdered sugar over. Cut into wedges and serve with ice cream, yogurt, and/or crème fraîche.

For the original recipe, including the pear compote, click here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops with Peperonata

My sister and I are going to Italy for 10 days in June -- booked our plane tickets earlier this week -- and I can't wait for us to eat, drink and sightsee our way around Rome, Florence and Cinque-Terre. Gelato every day? Without a doubt.

The latest issue of SAVEUR has a feature on classic Roman food, including a drool-worthy cover shot of Maiale in Agrodolce, aka Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops. Decided to make that and Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers) for dinner last night to get into the spirit of all things Italian. The chops were supposed to be grilled, but I'm BBQ-less so I pan-seared them and finished them off in the oven.

Both recipes were a cinch to make, and the balsamic-honey glaze for the pork was rich, sweet, and tangy. My photos aren't nearly as pretty as SAVEUR's, but I assure you both dishes were very tasty and went together wonderfully.

Maiale in Agrodolce (Sweet and Sour Glazed Pork Chops)
Saveur | April 2010

4 10-oz. bone-in pork chops, frenched
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary, torn into 1" pieces

Put pork chops on a plate; drizzle with oil; season generously with salt and pepper; let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, build a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill to medium-high heat. Combine vinegar and honey in a 1-qt. saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1⁄4 cup. Stir in butter and rosemary and set aside.

Put pork chops on grill and cook, occasionally turning and basting with balsamic mixture, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

*Alternately, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and/or 1 tbsp butter in a large skillet. Sear chops for two minutes per side. Brush glaze on both sides, then finish in a 375F-degree oven for 5-8 minutes. Rest for five minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Peperonata (Stewed Sweet Peppers)
Saveur | April 2010

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 assorted red peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4" ctrips
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced crosswise
1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp red wine vinegar

Heat oil in a 4-qt saucepan over medium-high heat. Add peppers, garlic, onions, and 1/2 cup water and season with salt and pepper. Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until peppers are soft, about 1 hour. Stir in vinegar and transfer to a serving bowl.

Makes 2 cups.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rhubarb Cardamom Crisp

I love the tartness of baked rhubarb, which is why even though it's early in the season I had to pick some up at the farmer's market last weekend. I figured that even though what I was getting was almost certainly hothouse rhubarb, baked into a crisp it would still be delicious. And it was, although my adapted recipe needs tweaking.

I'd had a package of Amaretti cookies in my cupboard for months, can't even remember what I originally bought them for. So rather than the typical oatmeal topping I usually employ for fruit crisps, I thought crumbled up Amaretti would be just as good -- maybe even better! With only a few cups' worth of rhubarb on hand, I chopped up three good-sized Ida Red apples to fill my nine-inch-square baking pan. I mixed the rhubarb and apple with some lemon juice and sugar, then poured it into the pan. I sprinkled the roughly crushed cookies over top and then dotted butter over that. Then into the oven for 45 minutes.

It smelled good almost immediately, but here's where I went wrong. After only 20 minutes the cookie topping was already a deep brown. I knew the fruit still had a long way to go so I put foil overtop to prevent it from browning any more. It succeeded in that regard, but the moisture from the fruit softened the topping somewhat. Next time, I'd put the foil on for the first half hour, then remove it for the last 15-20 minutes to ensure a crisp topping.

Rhubarb Cardamom Crisp
Adapted from David Lebovitz's Peach and Amaretti Crisp on Epicurious


3 cups rhubarb, chopped
3 cups apple, chopped (I used Ida Red but feel free to use your favourite baking apple)
1/4 cup white sugar
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp ground cardamom


1 cup Amaretti cookies, crushed (about 20 cookies)
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
8 tbsp butter (1 stick), chopped into small pieces

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix together filling ingredients. Pour into 9-inch-square pan.

Mix together topping ingredients and sprinkle over fruit filling. I like a rustic topping with bits of different sizes, but if you want it to look more uniform pulse together the ingredients in a food processor.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. If the top starts to look too brown, cover it with foil. Just make sure you leave enough room at the end of the baking process to uncover it and crisp it up again (you don't want a soggy topping).

Note: Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. I had to settle for pistachio kulfi (all I had in my freezer), which was good, but vanilla would've been better.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Duck Confit with Roasted Celeriac

This post is a bit of a cheat, in that I didn't prepare my own duck confit. However I always wondered what those vacuum-sealed packages of duck confit were like, so last week I picked one up at the market. Not cheap -- $12 for one fat-preserved leg -- but I chose a Quebec brand figuring it'd be of good quality.

You know what? It was pretty tasty! And so easy to prepare. Basically you unwrap the packaging, place the leg on a baking sheet skin side down, pop it in the oven at 400F for five minutes, then flip it over so it's skin side up and put the oven on broil to crisp the skin for another five minutes or so. Keep an eye on it though, you don't want the skin going from crispy brown to crispy black.

On the side I served some roasted celeriac, a great match for duck. And some orange relish over top. As you know, orange and duck also pair wonderfully. At nearly 50 grams of fat per package, I won't be eating duck confit every week, but every once in a while it's a nice indulgence.

Roasted Celeriac

1 celery root
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash celery root and cut off outer layer. Dice.

Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper.

Place on baking sheet and bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes.

Orange Relish

1 large orange
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel orange. Blanch peels in boiling water; drain and chop roughly.

Trim off and discard pith from orange. Cut orange into small pieces and combine with chopped peel, sugar and white wine vinegar in a small pot.

Simmer gently until liquid cooks down and relish becomes slightly syrupy, about 5-6 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

Source: Anthony Sedlak, The Main

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragù with Spaghetti

One of these days I'll learn my lesson about slow-cooked meals on weeknights, and that starting the process after 6pm inevitably means I won't be eating until close to 10. Such was the case tonight, when I finally sat down to a delicious and hearty bowl of Beef Shank and Sausage Ragù with Spaghetti.

The shank meat had been simmering in my Dutch oven for a good 2.5 hours and was falling off the bone. Combined with sausage, toasted fennel, garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a whole bottle of red wine, it was worth every minute of its cooking time and I highly recommend the recipe. But for those of you thinking of making it, take the timing into consideration and save this one for a lazy weekend afternoon.

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragù with Whole Grain Spaghetti
Bon Appetit | May 2009


2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds hot Italian sausages, casings removed
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 pounds 1 1/2-inch-thick beef shanks with bone (about 3 pieces)
5 cups chopped onions (about 3 large)
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine
8 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper


1 1/2 pounds multi-grain or whole grain spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

For ragù:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toast fennel seeds in small dry skillet over medium-low heat until slightly darker in color and very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large oven-proof pot over medium heat. Add sausage. Cook until brown and cooked through, breaking up with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and sauté until brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer shanks to bowl with sausage. Add onions to pot and sauté until brown and tender, scraping up browned bits, about 10 minutes. Return shanks, sausage, and any accumulated juices to pot. Add tomatoes with juice, wine, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, crushed red pepper, and toasted fennel seeds. Bring to simmer.

Cover pot and place in oven. Braise until shanks are very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Transfer shanks to work surface. Cut meat off bones and dice. Discard bones. Tilt pot. Spoon off fat from surface of pan juices. Return diced shank meat to pot. Simmer until liquid is reduced enough to coat spoon, about 10 minutes. Season ragù to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, before continuing.

For pasta:

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta; transfer to large bowl. Add oil and toss to coat. Add cheese and parsley; toss to coat. Season pasta with salt and pepper.

Divide pasta among 12 shallow bowls. Ladle ragù over and serve.

Yield: Makes 12 servings

Source: Epicurious

Note: I used fettuccine rather than spaghetti, as I felt the thick, hearty sauce warranted a sturdier noodle. But if you prefer spaghetti, use that, or your favourite pasta shape.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jams And Jars: Pickled Red Onions

This is the first of what I hope will be many 'Jams And Jars' posts on Plum Tart. Last year I tried my hand at a few preserves, including a variety of pestos (basil, parsley, sundried tomato) and jams (Meyer lemon marmalade, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb), and this year I want to do much more. Chutneys, pickles, compotes, sauces, you name it.

With the St. Lawrence Market -- and its weekly farmer's market on Saturdays -- a stone's throw from my door, I have the best of local fruits and veg to pick from. And there's really nothing better than crunchy homemade dill pickles beside a grilled cheese sandwich, marinara sauce with summer-fresh tomatoes served over pasta in the dead of winter, toast and jam made with Ontario berries. Although I didn't blog about it, I made my own mayonnaise -- actually lemon aioli -- recently and it was fantastic. Miracle Whip, I'm through with you.

So to kick things off: pickled red onions. These have to be the easiest preserves I've ever made as they take no time to cook. The hardest part is slicing the onions. Once that's done, you simmer them with white wine, honey, lemon juice, sugar, and salt for about 10 minutes til softened and that's all she wrote.

This recipe is from Fresh with Anna Olson, part of her Fiddlehead Salad, but the onions can be used for all sorts of things -- as a burger or sandwich condiment, over chicken or fish, or in any variety of other salads.

Pickled Red Onions
Makes 4 cups

4 cups sliced red onions
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Simmer all the ingredients, uncovered, over medium heat until the onions are tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. These can be refrigerated for up to six weeks.

Source: Fresh with Anna Olson, Anna Olson, Whitecap, 2009

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I'm all about trying new and exotic recipes, especially when it comes to sweets. Sometimes, though, there's nothing more satisfying than the classic chocolate chip cookie. I've been baking one version or another -- most commonly the one found on the back of the Chipits bag -- for years, and they're the ultimate in instant gratification. Virtually no time to whip up, 12 minutes in the oven, another five and they're in your hand, the chocolate gooey and melting.

Tonight I did a few things differently, the main thing being my choice of recipe. I went with the one from Michael Smith's Chef At Home (the 2005 edition), as it seemed straightforward and didn't muck about with extra ingredients such as nuts, coconut, etc. Also, I realized as I was about to start that I only had about 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour left in the canister, so I decided to try cake and pastry flour instead. For all of you bakers wondering if there's a difference, there definitely is! The cookies baked up higher than a butter-based cookie usually does, and they definitely seemed more cake-like, less chewy. At least that was the consistency five minutes after they came out of the oven. Not sure what they'll be like when they cool down.

Smith recommends starting with cold butter, which is harder to cream with the sugar. I used a technique I learned when making pie pastry in cooking class last year, which is to grate the butter into your mixing bowl. That way it's easier to blend with the sugar.

I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to make this my 'ultimate' chocolate chip cookie, whether I'll go back to the Chipits recipe, or whether I need to try more iterations. I think I like the latter option, as it means more cookies for me! Mwah ha ha!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

A heaping cupful of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 stick of cold salted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
Spoonful of corn syrup
1 egg
Splash of pure vanilla extract
Cupful of chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together. Set aside.

Cream the cold butter and sugars together, beating them until they're smooth in a countertop mixer. If you don't have a countertop mixer, beat vigorously by hand in a large mixing bowl, or combine them in a food processor. Add the corn syrup, egg and vanilla, and continue beating until well combined. Scrape down the bowl and gradually add the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips with a spoon.

Using a spoon, scoop out a ball of the dough and drop it onto a lightly greased cookie tray. Flatten slightly. Repeat, leaving lots of room between the balls for the cookies to expand. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Cool for 2 minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove and cool on a rack.

Makes about 18 cookies.

Source: Chef At Home, Michael Smith, Whitecap Books, 2005

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cookbook Review: Fresh with Anna Olson

I have far too many cookbooks to count, in fact some of them have taken up residency under my bed as there's no more room in the kitchen. One of my most recent additions, Fresh with Anna Olson has become a go-to resource for the relative ease of its recipes along with its consistent results.

Anna's Spelt Crust Pizza with Artichokes and Mushrooms (pictured, below) inspired me to go out and purchase a pizza stone first. And I'm so glad I did, as the results were a revelation. The cornmeal-dusted crust was crispy and flavourful, and the combination of pesto and sour cream was a nice change from the tomato base I usually go for. The rest of the ingredients, among them cremini mushrooms, sliced artichokes, arugula, basil, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, worked together very well in a pie that was light yet filling.

From there, I made Whole Roasted Pork Loin with Onions, Pears and Orange; Swiss Chard with Pine Nuts and Pan-Roasted Garlic; Maple Roasted Chicken Breasts; and Triple Chocolate Brownies. All turned out well, notably the Pork Loin which was the best I've ever made.

But my absolute favourite recipe, thus far, has to be the Spiced Chocolate Pear Tart (pictured above). I've made it twice now, once for a friend and another time for my parents, and it is deadly good. Chocolate short crust pastry, rich, cardamom-spiked chocolate filling, and sweet poached pears over top. It's definitely a knockout dessert.

Broken down by season, I've been sticking to the Fall and Winter sections so far, but with spring around the corner I'm excited to try more of Anna's recipes with items I bring home from the farmer's market, particularly the Strawberry Meringue Tarts; Ham & Scallion Scones with Lemon-Herb Chevre; Asparagus with Rhubarb Hollandaise; and Jerk Marinated Chicken Breasts.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dandelion Greens with Almond Vinaigrette and Ricotta Salata

I've really been getting into bitter greens lately. Swiss chard, mustard greens, radicchio, endive -- either in salads or cooked they really hold their own against sharply-flavoured accompaniments and are so much more interesting and flavourful than the veggies I usually cook with.

Tonight I tried dandelion greens for the first time in a simple but tasty salad from Lidia Bastianich. As is often the case, a few good-quality ingredients are all you need for a delicious dish. I particularly loved the almond vinaigrette dressing. Thought it sounded strange at first, until I read the recipe. You toast slivered almonds in the oven until they're golden brown and have that gorgeous toasted nut aroma. Then you take half of them and puree them in a blender or food processor with the rest of the dressing elements (red wine vinegar, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper), saving the other half for garnish. The resulting dressing is absolutely divine -- still warm, with a wonderful buttery depth of flavour from the pulverized almonds. Though you could easily make the dressing in advance and refrigerate it, there's something so nice about a salad served with warm vinaigrette.

I served this salad with a couple of oven-toasted and buttered slices of Yukon Gold-White Cheddar foccacia that I picked up earlier in the day. A light supper, to be sure, but satisfying.

Dandelion Greens with Almond Vinaigrette and Ricotta Salata

1 pound tender, young dandelion greens (about 10 loosely packed cups)
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound ricotta salata, cut into shards with a vegetable peeler

Cut any tough stems from the greens and trim any wilted, yellow, or tough leaves. The greens can be prepared up to several hours in advance and kept, loosely covered with a clean towel, in the refrigerator.

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the toasted almonds, vinegar, and honey in a blender and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place the greens in a large bowl, season them with salt and pepper, and pour the dressing over them. Toss well and divide the dressed greens among six plates, mounding them in the center of the plate.

Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of toasted almonds and top with shavings of ricotta salata. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Recipe from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen, Random House, found on Epicurious, March 2009

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

My favourite on-the-go breakfast is a pastry of some sort and a coffee. And though I'd love to be able to enjoy buttery croissants, pains au chocolat, and cherry strudels daily, I don't exercise nearly enough to justify the indulgence. So I tend to limit the fattening stuff to weekends and make some attempt at healthy eating through the week.

These muffins, from Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite cookbook, satisfy my carb cravings, while being loaded with nutritious ingredients -- banana, blueberries, whole wheat flour, and buttermilk. There's also butter, but only 1/3 cup for the whole recipe, which makes a dozen. As for sugar, a good part of it comes from the banana.

These also keep nicely for a few days -- although I transferred them to the refrigerator after a day to prolong their shelf life.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12

2 very ripe large bananas
Scant 2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of fine sea salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
Scant 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup light olive oil or melted butter
7oz blueberries, rinsed and drained
1 tbsp raw brown sugar

Heat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-hole muffin pan with muffin cases. Peel the bananas and mash in a bowl, using a fork.

Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk, egg, olive oil or butter, and bananas. Quickly fold the ingredients together until just incorporated, taking care not to overmix. Tip in the blueberries and give the batter one or two stirs.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cases and sprinkle with the raw brown sugar. The cases will be quite full. Bake in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until well risen and golden brown on top; a skewer inserted into the center of the muffin should emerge clean.

Let cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Recipe from Healthy Appetite, Gordon Ramsay, Key Porter, 2008.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Red Beet Risotto with Mustard Greens and Goat Cheese

Bored of the same old thing, I've been experimenting with different vegetables lately. I'm fortunate enough to live near one of the best markets in the world, so why continually buy green beans and cucumber when there's so much else to choose from? Lately I've cooked recipes with celeriac (which I adore), Jerusalem artichokes (also wonderful), and a few days ago I made a winter salad with Belgian endive and radicchio -- both of which I've used before but never together in a salad. It's been one food epiphany after another, which is quite a feat in the dead of winter.

When on
e of my Twitter followers suggested recently that I try mustard greens, I couldn't resist. I initially thought salad, but then I came across this recipe and knew I had to try it. Not only because the mustard greens are left raw but because beets and goat cheese are among my favourite flavour combos.

While chopping up the mustard greens I tried some, and wow, the name could not be more appropriate. They have a piquant Dijon mustard quality about them that's unexpected but so good. I was planning to use the leftovers in a salad with Dijon vinaigrette but now I think that'd be mustard overload. Perhaps something with less bite, such as a creamy buttermilk dressing, would work better.

But, I digress. The risotto. Much to my delight, this wasn't a heavy, stodgy risotto at all, on the contrary it was light, creamy, and flavourful. A variety of textures, from the softness of the goat cheese, to the slight bite of the beets and rice, to the crispness of the greens. And the beet juice infuses the risotto with a delightful ruby hue, very photogenic.

Though I had this as a main course, you could easily serve it as a side as well. I think you'll like it!

Red Beet Risotto with Mustard Greens and Goat Cheese

Bon Appetit | February 2007


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
2 (2 1/2- to 3-inch-diameter) beets, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups chopped white onion
1 cup Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
3 cups low-salt chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups chopped mustard greens
1 (5 1/2-ounce) package chilled soft fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat.

Add beets and onion. Cover; cook until onion is soft, about 8 minutes.

Mix in rice. Add broth and vinegar. Increase heat; bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer uncovered until rice and beets are just tender and risotto is creamy, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon into shallow bowls. Sprinkle with greens and cheese and serve.

Serves six

*I found this recipe on epicurious, and in the notes it was suggested that you could replace the goat cheese with Parmesan if desired. I personally love the combination of beets and goat cheese so I left the recipe as is.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pecan Molasses Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze

Made this cake recently and it was delicious -- unfortunately I didn't grab a shot of an individual slice to capture the dark and light cake layers. It was gobbled up too quickly! The warmed-up bourbon sauce is truly the crowning touch.

If you want to add fruit to this dessert, pineapple is a good choice.

Pecan Molasses Bundt Cake with Bourbon Glaze
Bon Appetit | March 2003


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 1/4 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk

1 cup pecans, toasted, finely chopped
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda


2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons dark corn syrup
1/2 cup bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Vanilla ice cream

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 10-inch-diameter Bundt pan with nonstick spray; dust with flour. Sift 3 1/4 cups flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, butter, and 2 teaspoons vanilla in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions. Transfer half of batter to prepared pan.

Stir pecans, corn syrup, molasses, and 2 teaspoons vanilla in another medium bowl to blend. Stir in baking soda. Stir pecan mixture into remaining cake batter in bowl. Spoon pecan batter over batter in pan (do not swirl). Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out with dry crumbs attached, about 50 minutes. Transfer cake in pan to rack.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:

Stir 2 teaspoons water and baking soda in small bowl to dissolve baking soda. Bring sugar, buttermilk, butter, and corn syrup to boil in heavy 6-quart saucepan over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and melt butter. Reduce heat to medium-high. Stir in baking soda mixture (glaze will bubble). Boil until sauce is golden and slightly thickened, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in bourbon and vanilla.

Invert warm cake onto platter. Immediately brush 1 1/2 cups hot glaze over cake, allowing glaze to soak into cake. Cool cake completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate remaining glaze.)

Rewarm remaining glaze, stirring. Serve cake with ice cream and warm glaze.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with Orange, Thyme and Juniper Rub

This recipe was so good I made it twice in under a week. Decadent, yes, but the reason for the second go-round is that I wanted to serve it to my parents who were in town for dinner last night. It's one of Anthony Sedlak's recipes from his cookbook The Main, based on the TV series of the same name, and I've got to hand it to the Vancouver chef -- the man knows food.

Everything in this recipe went together wonderfully well -- the juniper, orange zest and thyme rub on the duck breast, the sides of rosemary-roasted plums and roasted celeriac, even the homemade orange relish. Also, as per Anthony's suggestion I used some of the rendered duck fat to fry the celeriac before roasting it, and it was delicious. That and the roasted plums were revelations -- I couldn't believe the sweet, almost floral aroma given off by the plums after they'd cooked for half an hour. Magnificent. My parents enjoyed the meal too -- so much that my mom plans to make this next time they have friends for dinner. Couldn't have asked for higher praise!

Pan-Fried Duck Breast with Orange, Thyme and Juniper Rub

4 duck breasts
1 tbsp black pepper
Zest of one orange
2 tsp crushed juniper berries
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Lightly score skin side of breasts.

Combine black pepper, orange zest, juniper berries, parsley and thyme in a bowl and mix well. Pat firmly onto flesh side of duck breasts. Let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Let duck breasts stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. Season generously on flesh sides with sea salt. Place duck breasts skin side down in a large, ovenproof skillet and cook slowly over medium heat until fat renders and skin becomes crispy and golden, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain pan of excess heat as needed; reserve 2 tbsp of duck fat for the roasted celeriac.

Finish cooking in oven 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest at least 10 minutes in a warm place. Thinly slice against grain before serving.

Serves 4

Courtesy The Main, Anthony Sedlak, Whitecap Books, 2008

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

I've always been intrigued by the idea of baking with olive oil, which is why I decided to try this recipe of Mario Batali's for Olive Oil and Orange Cake. Wow, it is delicious. Not too sweet, and it could just as easily serve as a morning treat with coffee as an after-dinner dessert.

Mario recommends serving it with whipped cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt. I opted for thick, plain yogurt and some lemon zest. The cool sourness of the yogurt worked incredibly well against the dense, citrus-spiked still-warm cake. I polished off the whole thing single-handedly in under a week.

Olive Oil and Orange Cake

Makes 6-8 servings

6 medium oranges
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil a 9-inch round cake pan.

Using a grater, zest all the oranges, and juice one of the oranges. (Reserve the fruit for another use.) In a small bowl, combine the zest, juice and olive oil. Set aside.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs and salt until frothy and light, about 2 minutes. Slowly beat in the sugar, and continue to mix until pale and thick, about 2 minutes more.

Sift the flour and baking soda together, and gradually beat into the egg mixture. Fold in the citrus zest mixture just until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

Courtesy Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, HarperCollins, 2005

Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage

Ever since blowing a significant wad of dough on my Le Creuset Dutch oven last year, I've been looking for any excuse to use it. Flipping through Mario Batali's cookbook Molto Italiano, I found a recipe for Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage. Talk about comfort food, and definitely a dish for my flame-coloured beauty.

This was my first time making polenta, and in all honesty I'm not sure I'm a fan. It was nice in the stew but on its own it was a bit bland. Next time I may use half chicken stock, half water instead of all water to give it a bit more flavour. Still, I realize it's supposed to be the starch here and not overpower the other flavours.

On the other hand, I am loving celery root! I've used it in a number of recipes lately and I love its texture and flavour. And as Mario notes, this stew reheats well, so it's nice to make on a Sunday and then have it Monday night when you've come home from work and are in no mood to cook. My favourite kind of recipe.

Chicken Stew with Polenta, Celery Root and Sage

Makes 4 servings

5 cups water
1 cup quick-cooking polenta or fine cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
One 3.5 to 4 lb chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, rinsed, and patted dry
4 ounces chicken livers
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 large celery root, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 cups Barbaresco or other fruity red wine
1 cup basic tomato sauce
8 fresh sage leaves
1 tbsp parsley, chiffonade
1 tbsp lemon zest

In a 4-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Pull the pan off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the polenta is as thick as molten lava. Pour into an 8-by-10-inch baking pan and allow to cool.

Season the flour with salt and pepper and spread on a plate. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then dredge the chicken livers in the flour. In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until smoking. Brown the chicken pieces in two batches, then transfer to a plate. Add the livers, onion, and celery root to the pot and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the wine, tomato sauce, and sage and return the chicken pieces to the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the thighs are nearly cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the polenta into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the polenta to the pot and cook for another 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, place on platter, sprinkle with parsley and zest, and serve immediately.

Courtesy Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, HarperCollins, 2005

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Arugula Salad With Warm Oyster Mushrooms

Salad is a hard sell for me in winter, when all I crave are soups, stews and rich pastas. But this is one I never turn down, I think because the flavours are so robust. We're not talking watery iceberg lettuce and Italian dressing here, this is sharp, peppery arugula balanced against soft, buttery mushrooms, brought together with freshly squeezed lemon and fruity olive oil. Because there are so few ingredients, try to make sure you're using top quality stuff. Unblemished mushrooms, your best bottle of extra virgin olive oil (my brand is Olio Carli), and of course genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano (not the powdered stuff).

The original recipe I based this on is one of Mario Batali's, but his called for porcini mushrooms which I'm sure would've been wonderful. But it was also very tasty with the oyster mushrooms, and I'm guessing portabellos, creminis, and shiitakes would also work well.

Oyster Mushroom Salad with Arugula

8-10 oyster mushrooms, stems removed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 bunch arugula, washed and patted dry
1/8 cup plus 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for shaving
Coarse sea salt

Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saute pan, then add the mushrooms. Cook until softened, 8-10 minutes.

In a large bowl, place the arugula, 1/8 cup olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and toss to mix thoroughly. Divide the salad equally among two plates.

Remove the hot mushrooms from the pan and place on the arugula. Using a vegetable peeler, shave Parmigiano-Reggiano onto the salad. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt over top and serve.

Serves 2

Modified from Mario Batali's recipe for Porcini Salad with Arugula, from Molto Italiano, Mario Batali, Harper Collins, 2005.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Farfalle with Mushrooms, Prosciutto and Rosemary

I'm a recipe girl. I browse through cookbooks, find something I want to make, buy the ingredients and follow the instructions more or less to the letter. That's not to say I don't make substitutions and get creative based on what I have on hand on a given day, but when it comes to creating my own dishes the results have typically been less than spectacular. I still recall scraping a disastrous lemon chicken dish -- so overpowering with lemon my lips pucker just thinking about it -- into the trash bin in frustration.

Tonight's dinner was another story -- without a recipe in mind but knowing I had prosciutto, cremini mushrooms and whipping cream in my fridge I decided on a pasta dish. Simple, maybe, but still many places where it could go wrong in the flavour and texture department. Tomato sauces I've done a million times, but I avoid cream sauces because they can be heavy (and of course they're not great for the waistline). Still, tonight I was feeling like something decadent and figured I should at least know how to do a cream-based pasta should the need arise.

I started by browning quartered mushrooms -- about two cups' worth -- in a bit of butter and olive oil over medium heat, adding a splash of water to the pan to prevent them from drying out too much. Once they had some nice colour to them and had shrunk down a bit I added four slices' worth of diced prosciutto along with 1 tbsp of chopped fresh rosemary. I let that cook for a few minutes, turned down the heat slightly, then added 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/4 cup dry white wine, 1/3 cup whipping cream and the juice of half a lemon. I stirred all that together and let it reduce down until thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I'd been cooking about two cups worth of farfalle in boiling, salted water, just to al dente. Reserving 1/4 cup of pasta water, I drained the farfalle and then mixed it into my saute pan with the cream sauce. I added some salt and black pepper to taste, and then dished it out. To finish I grated over some Parmigiano-Reggiano, a spritz of fresh lemon juice, and some chopped fresh parsley. And the verdict? Delicious! Creamy without being heavy, and with a really balanced flavour -- the saltiness of the prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the vibrancy of the lemon and rosemary contrasting with the cream. Not bad for an improvised dish, in fact part of the reason for this blog post is so I don't forget it!

I think the key is practice and the refusal to let kitchen failures discourage you. Even recipes aren't foolproof, after all!

Farfalle with Mushrooms, Prosciutto and Rosemary

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups cremini mushrooms, washed and quartered
4 slices prosciutto, diced
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
Juice of half a lemon
1/8 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in large saute pan over medium heat, add quartered mushrooms and a splash of water and cook until browned and a bit shrunk down. While this is happening cook farfalle pasta until al denta in salted, boiling water.

Add prosciutto and rosemary to pan and cook for a few minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Turn down the heat slightly then add the chicken stock, white wine, whipping cream and the lemon juice. Reserve the lemon to squeeze a few drops over the finished dish. Stir all ingredients together and cook until cream sauce has thickened slightly, 5-10 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water to help the sauce coat the farfalle if need be. Mix the cooked farfalle in the saute pan with the sauce. Add salt and black pepper to taste and stir everything together. Ladle it out, and garnish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, and a final spritz of lemon juice.

Serves 2.