Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Roasted Beet Salad with Whipped Goat Cheese and Maple Balsamic Dressing

When I was in California back in June I had the pleasure to eat at Chef Tyler Florence's San Francisco restaurant Wayfare Tavern. It was a fantastic meal -- the starters, avocado salad and bacon-wrapped dates, were particularly memorable as were the popovers -- and one that has inspired me to try a few new things in the kitchen since getting back.

Up until a few years ago I was a beet hater. Probably because of the fuschia-tinted pickled variety I was used to growing up, a mainstay at family dinners (I think my grandpa was the only one who liked them). But I recall having a roasted beet salad at a downtown restaurant and realizing just how delicious a beet could be -- earthy and sweet, slightly warm, and dressed with a simple citrus vinaigrette. I think there must have been some goat cheese in there as well, because beets and goat cheese are genius together.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Deep Dark Chocolate Brownies

I knew I was in trouble when Annie Rigg used the word "squidgy" to describe her brownies.

Squidgy. YES.

I also belong to the "brownies should be fudgy, not cakey" camp, so I couldn't wait to give Ms. Rigg's recipe for Deep Dark Chocolate Brownies a try. My absolute favourite dessert, for those who don't know, is a warm-from-the-oven brownie, fudgy and almost pudding-y, with some softly melting vanilla ice cream over top. So rich and squishy and chocolatey it borders on the pornographic -- my friend O and I bonded over one very much like this at Garde Manger in Montreal, read all about it here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salty Caramel Ice Cream

I'm trying to remember when my love affair with salted caramel started -- I think it was at Splendido in the spring of 2010. I ordered their chocolate caramel tart for dessert, and it was sprinkled with what appeared to be Maldon salt. I was already full from a very decadent dinner but once I tasted that tart and its divine mingling of dark chocolate, rich buttery caramel, shortbread crust, and crunchy salt flakes, I was done for. Days later, I was still thinking about it. With all due respect to David Chang, THIS was crack pie.

And while I've had a ton of salted caramel goodies since then (my friend B's Salted Caramel Brownies with Bacon stand out), I'd never actually made anything myself. Well when I saw the recipe for Salty Caramel Ice Cream in Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home by Jeni Britton Bauer of the famed Ohio artisan ice cream chain, I knew I had to try it. I mean, it's a no-brainer, right? I was also curious to try making caramel without added water. I don't have the best pots in the world, and the idea of cooking dry sugar until it melted and caramelized seemed a dubious proposition, but why the hell not? Besides, if I burned the pot I'd just have to buy a new.....set.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bucatini With Ramps And Asparagus

Ramps, or wild leeks, are available for a very short time in early spring, so when I saw them at the farmer's market this weekend I had to pick some up. They have an earthy taste not unlike green onions, and are perfect when paired with other fresh spring flavours like lemon and asparagus.

But because they're not around for very long, or maybe because they're not commonly used, finding recipes that employ them is a bit tricky. I think the last time I cooked with them, I chopped them up and tossed them in with some scrambled eggs. Easy, but very fresh-tasting and delicious.

I think that's the key with ramps -- don't pile too many flavours on top. If you do, you miss the point. Keep it simple, and let them shine through in the finished product.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rhubarb Brown Sugar Crumble

I will always have a sweet tooth. Yet I'm finding the desserts I gravitate toward have changed over the years -- where I used to always go for the sweetest of the sweet (chocolate cheesecake, pecan pie, etc.) I now find my cravings leaning toward the tart and refreshing. Anything with citrus (particularly lemon), sour cherries, and rhubarb.

That's not to say this Rhubarb Brown Sugar Crumble isn't sweet -- it has two cups of sugar between the streusel topping and the fruit filling -- but it also has a nice tang and tartness. I also tend to cut back on the amount of sugar in recipes nowadays -- and I did the same thing here. I've reprinted the recipe straight as it is from Fine Cooking magazine, but I reduced the amount of sugar by a quarter-cup in both the filling and the streusel. If you're not a fan of tart/sour, keep the amounts as-is.

I've written about fruit crisps and crumbles before -- likely because they're one of the desserts I make most. You've got that great combination of tender cooked fruit, crispy, buttery oatmeal topping, and likely some ice cream or whipped cream served alongside. So much easier than a pie, and I think more interesting, texturally.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Moving On...

Two weeks from today, I move to midtown.

At the end of January I bought my first place -- a condo in the lovely Yonge and Davisville area. At the time, Moving Day seemed ages away but here we are, mid-April, and by the end of the month I'll be there.

I've lived in the historic St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood of downtown Toronto for the past six years or so (in two different apartments), and I love it so much I had my real estate agent show me just about every building in the area before expanding my search northward. The reason being, as an avid cook and baker, having the Market at my doorstep was just too perfect. There was no ingredient I couldn't find there -- from pomegranate molasses, to black truffle salt, to tamarind paste. In fact I'd sometimes look for recipes that had offbeat ingredients just to see if I could find them at SLM -- invariably, I could.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Soba Noodle Salad with Salmon and Asparagus

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Springtime at the farmers' markets, where stalls are overflowing with asparagus, ramps and rhubarb, and there's that sense of anticipation of what's to come -- strawberries, wild blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes, peaches and plums, all the best our local growers have to offer.

Recently my friend Bonita treated me to a fantastic meal that was the very essence of spring -- herb-crusted lamb, roasted asparagus, and rhubarb custard tart. It totally inspired me to pull out my cookbooks and spring issues of Bon Appetit and Fine Cooking and look for some new recipes to try.

And so, this Soba Noodle Salad with Salmon and Asparagus from the April 2011 Bon Appetit. Tons of fresh flavours here, from the grated ginger in the vinaigrette, to the tender green asparagus, to the chunks of avocado piled on top of the finished dish.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Baking for Toronto Bakes For Japan

This past weekend Toronto was host to one heck of a bake sale. Toronto Bakes For Japan brought together amateur and professional bakers selling their sweet and tasty wares across the city with proceeds going to Japan relief efforts.

I happily volunteered to bake for the event, and after flipping through my cookbooks I decided on two recipes from my favourite baking resource of late, Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy: Toffee Bars and Cinnamon-Dusted Blondies.

I started with the Toffee Bars, which were definitely the more time-consuming of the two but completely worth it. You start by pressing a shortbread base into a 13x9-inch pan and sprinkling it with pecans. That gets baked for about 20 minutes, while at the same time you prepare the toffee topping. Once the base comes out, you spread the hot toffee over the pecans, put the pan back in to the oven for another 12 minutes or so until the toffee bubbles and darkens.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

BBQ Heaven

As I edited the photos for this blog post I had a moment of 'Wow, did I really eat all that?' incredulity.

Yes, I really ate all that ... and savoured every calorific bite.

I love good BBQ, but it's hard to find around these parts. So when my friend Bonita suggested we hit Buster Rhino's Southern BBQ in Whitby, ON for one of their menu sampling days I jumped at the chance. B had already been to one, and her descriptions of candied bacon, smoky ribs, and tender brisket had me positively drooling. Such events at Buster Rhino's are few and far between so we signed up for this one weeks ago, knowing it was a hot ticket.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Homemade Granola

I've made granola from scratch a few times, but this batch turned out particularly well. The truest test of quality granola in my mind is whether you can still stand to eat it after several straight days -- I'm at Day 5 and loving it! It's a take on the version found in Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook, using ingredients I already had on hand.

Starting with fresh ingredients is key not only when we cook but when we bake -- thank you Regan Daley for that lesson! -- so I think a big part of this granola's success is the fact that I'd bought most of the items only a few weeks previous at my local bulk food store for Christmas baking. I had a lot of leftovers of rolled oats, dried fruit, and nuts, so pulling together a decent mix was easy. I think next time I'd go out and purchase specific add-ins to suit my taste. I'm thinking dried cherries, pecans, and even some dark chocolate chips to go with the base ingredients of oats, honey, coconut and spice. And perhaps next time I'd add cardamom instead of cinnamon.