Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Cookie Overload

It's been a baking-intensive week. I had a few friends over to make some Christmas treats early in the week, which is a nice way to make an entire day of baking more of an activity than a task. We also got to try some new recipes and I have to admit made a much smaller less than I usually do when I bake alone. The only problem with this is that you need to make a lot of cookies when you're splitting everything three ways, and you each have various friends and family to distribute the treats too. And so I ended up making subsequent batches over the rest of the week. Which actually turned out to be not such a bad thing as we had discovered a few things here and there that made the later batches turn out better than the first.

It's hard to pick a favourite here...we used three recipes from Martha Stewarts Cookies and made very few alterations to each. I think that the Chocolate Crackles are definitely worth making as a giveaway as they just look so good. Not to mention the fact that they are just so decadent and yummy. I have a weakness for shortbread-y, crumbly cookies so I've been snacking on the meltaways the most. It's a nice, light cookie and actually quite refreshing from all the citrus flavour. And I just can't resist cranberry pistachio biscotti around Christmastime - it looks so festive and impressive!

*General notes:
- These recipes says to use an electric mixer. We did, due to all the cookies we were making and since my mom actually has one. I was actually amazed at how each it made all the recipes since I have a tiny kitchen and rarely use any electronic devices when cooking or baking. Either way, you don't need a mixer, you can do all this with a wooden spoon and a willing arm!
- All cookies should be stored in airtight containers between layers of parchment, in a cool place. The Crackles keep for up to 3 days, the Meltaways and Biscotti up to 2 weeks

all recipes adapted from Martha Stewarts Cookies

Chocolate Crackles
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa owder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee power
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirrings. Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. Mix instant coffee powder with just enough boiling water to dissolve grains. Let cool and add enough milk to make 1/3 cup.

3. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic,; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours (don't skimp on this - we waited just under 2 hours the first time and the dough was quite sticky. I actually chilled the dough overnight the second time and it was much easier to handle)

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Divide each piece into sixteen (or whatever - my four pieces were all but equal so the number varied) 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners' sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. Bake about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. (It says to bake UNTIL the surfaces crack but mine started cracking after probably 5 so this didn't help me much. I just baked for 14 minutes and assumed the cookies were done by then!) Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Lemon Meltaways
(Martha uses lime but you can use any citrus you like)
Makes about 5 dozen, or 3 dozen if you made your logs larger like I did...

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt

1. Put butter and 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar in a bowl and mix on medium speed with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the lime zest and juice and the vanilla, and mix until fluffy.

2. Whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined. (At this point I kneaded the dough a bit with my hands as it was super crumbly and we had some difficulty in the first batch with the slicing step that comes later. The kneading definitely helped it become more "dough-y" and formable)

3. Divide dough in half. Place each log on an 8x12 inch sheet of parchment. Roll in parchment to form a log 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow log. (Umm...I just read this. Might have helped.) Refrigerate logs until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Remove parchment from logs; cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment apper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. White still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag.

Cranberry-Pistachio Cornmeal Biscotti
makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pistachios

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.

2. Put butter in the bowl and mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar and mix until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time, until well combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture all at once; mix until just combined. Add lemon zest, cranberries, and pistachios and mix until combined (I did this last step by hand).

3. Transfer dough to a baking sheet lined iwth parchment paper. Pat into a log that is roughly 14 by 3 1/2 inches. Bake until firm, lightly browned, and slightly cracked on top, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack, about 15 minutes.

4. Transfer log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Arrange slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake cookies, rotating sheet halfway through, until they begin to brown at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Crowd Pleaser

So, I did a lot of baking today. Three different types of cookies, all new recipes (from Martha's Cookie book). All three turned out amazing and I'm planning to make more of each in the next couple of days. But I also made something else which has pretty much become my go-to Christmas standby year after year so we're going to talk about that first.

Like the Taco Dip, this Saltine Cracker Toffee is something that I just can't seem to avoid every Christmas. It's also not exactly an original recipe (you can find hundreds of versions online) but I suppose I can be credited with having discovered it before the rest of my friends and family years ago so it's become sort of "mine"; and as much as I love trying out new recipes each Christmas, I know that even if every other batch is a flop the Toffee will be there as my backup, and regardless will be the clear favourite in everyone's Christmas baskets. It's easy, insanely addicting and has a whole lot of butter. Plus, it's an interesting point of conversation as no one will believe there are CRACKERS in this stuff. There really are - and they are the key to what makes the Toffee soooo good. Salty and sweet never tasted so good.

Cracker Toffee
1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 sleeve saltine crackers*
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips**
3/4 cups chopped almonds, pecans or whatever other nut/topping you desire

* (SALTED. Do not, under any circumstances use unsalted crackers. It will seriously ruin the Toffee)

** Now, I know there is a lot of fancy chocolate out there these days. But I really find with standbys like this they really just taste best with good old Chipits or Hershey chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit, or 175 degrees Celsius

1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. You can also be a risk-taker and try using aluminum foil or heavily greasing the pan, but don't call me when you're trying to chip toffee out of the pan or eating foil. The first time I tried this on a Silpat I almost cried I was so happy about how the toffee practically came off the pan in one piece. I actually tried parchment paper for the first time this year and it was even better. Line cookie sheet with crackers in one layer, making sure none overlap and edges are as close together as possible. This may involve cutting some crackers in half to make it fit.

2. Bring butter and brown sugar to a boil in a small pot or saucepan over medium-high heat. Boil for about three minutes (it should have turned a light caramel colour and will be bubbling up quite a bit)

3. Pour butter/sugar mixture over crackers and spread evenly with a spoon. Don't worry about getting it perfectly smooth or over every cracker bit, the mixture will continue to spread and even out in the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly.

4. Place cookie sheet on a cooling rack and add chocolate chips. Wait about 5 minutes, and then spread the now-melted chocolate chips over the toffee layer. Sprinkle evenly with chopped almonds or nuts.

5. Cool until solid in the fridge, freezer or garage (assuming it is winter and you live somewhere with four seasons). Probably about a half hour. Break into pieces and enjoy!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Worth the Effort

Back when I was still in school and subletting in Toronto for co-op terms, my roomate and I enjoyed Pancake Sundays. I think it actually came from watching an episode of How I Met your Mother where they indulged in this ritual and we just thought it seemed like a good idea. They were never exactly fancy (for some reason the concept of making pancakes from scratch never occured to me in those days and we generally used Bisquick) but it was something to look forward to and a nice change from the usual toast or cereal for breakfast during the week.

I don't eat a whole lot of pancakes nowadays...most of the time I find the savoury camp wins out and we usually dine on some variation of eggs and bacon on weekends, but once in awhile pancake Sundays come back!

To be perfectly honest, the main reason for my motivation was that I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge from the Lasagna-style Rotini earlier in the week and I recalled flagging this recipe a few weeks ago. Either they, they seemed a little different, looked good and I had all the necessary ingredients. Why not try it out?

The recipe did seen like a little more work than your typical pancake recipe. The ricotta was simply added to the wet mix, but the eggs needed to be separated and the white whisked until stiff, then folded into the batter. This also resulted in the fluffiest pancake batter I've ever seen, and frankly I was a little concerned these were going to be weirdly puffy and uncooked in the middle.

But anyway...despite the egg white situation and the fact that my arm will probably be aching tomorrow* these were SO WORTH IT. I can't even explain in words why these are so good. Light, fluffy and just a bit of tang from the ricotta give these pancakes such a good flavour you would be happy to just eat them with a bit of butter. The ricotta also keeps the pancakes extremely moist and delicious. Please, please try this recipe. I promise you won't regret it.

*Side story: I've never actually whipped egg whites before until stiff. I knew this wasn't exactly easy and had a tendency to be a bit tricky, but figured with some patience I should at least TRY it by hand before resorting to the whisk attachment on the immersion blender.

I think I went at it for probably a good 10-15 minutes before finally giving up. It also probably wasn't the smartest idea to use a regular small bowl to do this in, and by the time the egg whites started to expand I had started to make a bit of a mess. Thankfully, once I got the hand blender in there it took probably another two minutes until they were stiff and fluffy. So for next time...don't bother attempting to do this by hand. Just go with whatever electronic mixer you have and be thankful for technology!

Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted from Serious Eats
(This recipe made about 16 small pancakes. I'd say enough for three or four people)

200 g (about a cup) ricotta cheese
3/4 cup milk
4 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar Butter

1. Beat ricotta with milk, egg yolks and vanilla until smooth. In another bowl, sift or whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the ricotta mixture to the dry ingredients and stir very lightly.

2. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and carefully fold them into the batter.

3. Cook over low to medium heat in a bit of butter, until the pancakes are lightly golden underneath. The recipe stated (correctly) that these are somewhat harder to tell when they are ready to flip as the typical bubbles don't come up quite so readily. So check on the colour of the pancakes after a couple minutes. When the time is right, turn and cook for about another minute, until the cakes are cooked through.

Quick tip: I discovered this summer that the MICROWAVE is a great place to keep pancakes warm while the rest of the batch is being cooked. The insulation keeps the heat in without having to use any energy so the heat from each round maintains a nice warm temperature. Also beats keeping them warm in the oven as you don't have the risk of drying out your pancakes this way!

4. Serve hot with a butter and maple syrup, or some sort of fruit topping. Devour.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Quick and Dirty

When I first started to really get into cooking and becoming a "foodie", I tended to stay away from recipes with the words "quick" or "easy". I've always been the type to enjoy a challenge, and these meals just didn't seem to be worth taking the time to try. Call me a snob, but that's just the way I felt.

However, this resulted in certain "extremes" when cooking weeknight dinners. I'd go through a phase where it was no problem to get home from work and whip up some homemade pasta with bolognese sauce or pot pies with crust made from scratch. And then there will be a few busy weeks where dinner consisted almost entirely on variations of Kraft Dinner or soup and garlic bread. It's not exactly a balanced diet.

Unfortunately things have been pretty hectic lately and I've been in the latter group for far too long. So when I saw this "Easy Weeknight Dinner" recipe for Lasagna-style Baked Ziti it seemed like a good idea. And you know what? It's not exactly pretty but it was SO good and what do you know...tasted like lasagna! But for much less time and effort. And all the spinach in the recipe made it seem much lighter and healthier than all the cheese might suggest (don't worry I am under no illusions of this actually being all that healthy). Definitely worth trying out and making again!

Lasagna-style Baked Rotini (I know, it doesn't quite have the same ring as Ziti but it's all I had)
Adapted from Real Simple, via TheKitchn

12 oz. rotini (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 pound lean ground beef
salt and pepper
1 jar tomato or pasta sauce
1 bunch spinach, thick stems removed (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the beef, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon until it’s no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes.

3. Toss the pasta with the meat mixture, tomato sauce, spinach, ricotta, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Don't worry if it seems like there's way too spinach, it will start to wilt quickly and shrink up. You can add it in batches if you're not convinced.

4. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or 4 large ramekins. Sprinkle with the mozzarella and the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and bake until the cheese melts, 12 to 15 minutes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm Freezing's officially fall. And not that period following summer of semi chilly but pleasantly cool weather. It is COLD. Like break out the fall coats and scarves cold. And the heat in our apartment does not seem to be working. Fan-tastic.

I am just not a cold weather person. I really don't enjoy anything to do with the cold or being outside in cold weather. Aside from the one week (ish) of snow that is nice (but often does not appear anyway) around Christmas, I have almost no use for the cooler seasons. Almost. The one and pretty much sole saving grace is all-important: the food. Mmmm. Comfort food is really my specialty and absolute favourite to cook. Baked pastas, casseroles, stocks and name it. I love spending a cold Sunday with a roast-something in the oven and a pot of stock on the stove. And with the somewhat abrupt arrival of cool weather this fall, I've already made some dishes that could be new favourites in the comfort food rotation: chili, chicken corn chowder (there's the corn again), skillet mac and cheese...YUM.

But the best was actually the first of the season, and was somewhat premature. On what was probably the last really warm weekend in September, my friend Laura and I decided to try out some pulled pork shoulder up at an adorable stuffed moose-laden cottage (Like the dolls, not the beheaded kind) in Haliburton, Ontario. And man was it GOOD. So good that we ate the entire four pound shoulder between five people in less than 24 hours. We ate some on buns for dinner, in crepes for breakfast and stuffed in pitas for lunch. And you know what? It just made us crave MORE pulled pork. I made it again the following weekend.

And ate all of that too.

I think I'm in love.

(I realize this isn't exactly the best picture ever. But it's the only one I have, and from a Facebook page so it's the best I could do)

Pulled Pork Shoulder
adapted from theKitchn

4 to 5 pound pork shoulder, bone-in
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (or one VERY large one, as I did) peeled and cut into wedges
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
8 medium-sized tomatoes
1 bottle of beer (any kind...I used Keith's the first time, Guiness the second. Both were amazing)

1. Trim the pork shoulder of any thick layers of fat. Combine the brown sugar, cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper. Rub pork with the spice mixture, making sure to rub into all the nooks and crannies. Allow the pork to sit for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours in the fridge (we did the rub the day before going up north and cooked the next day)

2. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the pot. Add the onions, garlic, tomatoes, and beer. Bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to bring up any browned bits.

*Note: We didn't want to bring a dutch oven to the cottage, so we used a pan for the sear and then cooked about half the veggies and a bit of beer in the same pan just to pick up some of the crust, then moved the entire thing to a small roasting pan. The second time I made this at home, I used the dutch oven and both methods worked perfectly fine.

4. Return the pork to the pot. Cover and cook for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, flipping over the pork every hour or so to make sure the whole thing stays moist. When it's ready the meat will be extremely tender and pull away from the bone easily. Shred the pork in separate bowls, using tongs to pull large chunks of meat off the bone and then two forks to pull apart the meat. You can separate the meat from the fatty bits while you're doing this (or leave the fat in - it's tasty!). You can also do this in one large bowl, but I found that once there was too much meat in a bowl it got harder to pull apart. Also using smaller bowls will allow you to have different levels of sauciness. Discard the bone or set aside for another use.

5. can decide what to do with your pork. We made three bowls:

  • Plain pork (which was a terrible idea, unless you want to use this for some other use later. We ended up mising this in with the other bowls later)
  • Pork with the beer braise sauce and vegetables
  • Pork with a beer braise/BBQ sauce mix, heavier on the BBQ sauce. We cooked this one in a separate, small pot for a few minutes so that the BBQ flavour wasn't so stark
Eat on buns, crepes, pitas or just out of the bowl. It's all delicious.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pasta: check!

Now...that pasta. It had been something I'd been toying with for months and months now. It's not that it seemed all that difficult, or that I was worried it wouldn't turn out. I just always felt it would take so long. All that rolling and cutting...especially without a pasta maker. Which I think is still a valid point after my first attempt.

But anyway, it was delicious. I had a friend comment that homemade pasta didn't really seem to be worth the effort (without a pasta maker anyway) compared to storebought fresh pasta. I would disagree, but this could be mainly because I rarely buy the stuff. Most of the time I feel fresh pasta is ridiculously expensive when in THEORY I could make it myself for a mere fraction of the cost. I really only buy fresh ravioli or tortellini - basically only stuffed pastas that I reason would take a lot MORE work to make at home. So I'm not sure how this compares to say, storebought linguine. But was good. Soft, chewy, and delicious even just eaten plain, coated with some butter, salt and pepper (I did this before adding the sauce and couldn't stop picking out strands after dinner) I would admit that it wasn't exactly an immediate revelation, but it tasted better with each bite. YUM.

To be fair, it was quite a bit of work without a pasta machine. It took awhile to roll the dough out thin enough (especially considering my limited counter space) and cutting it into thin strips felt like AGES. But really, it was probably only twenty minutes. And I remembered after the first batch that you can roll the dough into a flattened log (floured) and cut that into strips instead. The strands from the first batch did look nicer but the second process took considerably less time, so I'll do this in the future.

Also...the recipe below makes enough pasta for two, with some leftovers. Being relentlessly gluttonous, I doubled it even though there WERE only two of us because I wanted to be sure there would be enough leftovers. So it was a LOT of pasta. We were eating it for a few days...not that I was exactly complaining! Just probably don't need to unless you really want a LOT of leftovers.

Homemade Pasta
adapted from Pastor Ryan's Homemade Pasta, which is basically the 3:2 Pasta ratio

1 cup flour
2 eggs
dash of salt

1. Measure out flour into a medium-sized bowl and mix in salt. Make a well in the centre and add eggs (as you can see from the pictures above, the eggs didn't exactly stay in the well but it didn't seem to make a huge difference)

2. Slow swirl eggs with your fingers and incorporate the flour. Make sure you don't do this too quickly or else you'll get clumps. Continue until all the flour has been blended in and you have a shaggy looking dough.

3. Dump out onto a slightly floured countertop and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and pliable. Let it rest now for a few minutes; this will make it easier to roll out.

4. Roll out the dough on a floured surface as thinly as you can get it. The pasta will plump up as it cooks, so get it as thin as you can. Then using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut pasta into thin strips (again as thin as you can get it). Alternatively, you can also flour the pasta and fold into a flat "log" and cut the roll into thin strips, then unroll.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook for about two or three minutes. I actually probably cooked it about four to five minutes, but I tend to like my pasta somewhat overcooked and not a lot of people seem to share my opinion. Serve with Ryan's Bolognese sauce, or just some butter and parmesan. De-lish!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Just Peachy

Note: this post is from a few weeks ago and is photo-less...I wouldn't normally point this out but some circumstantial events have prevented me from posting for a few weeks and I just wanted you all to know that I realize the arrival of peach season isn't exactly "new" news.

So. It's peach season. Finally. Last summer was my first living in Toronto with easy access to the St. Lawrence Market. For some reason, I didn't realize it was peach season (or that I liked peaches? I'm not really sure what happened here) until it was practically over. So I spent the last couple weeks of August buying baskets of those gorgeous, juicy peaches and baking a couple of cobblers here and there, but mostly just using them obsessively for smoothies. I really didn't get the chance to use the glorious little suckers in the way that they deserved. And I've been waiting patiently for peaches to arrive in Ontario since the beginning of summer.

Well, last weekend I finally went to the market and saw baskets of peaches for sale. YES! They were still a few days from being fully ripe so I left them in the paper bag and planned out my first baking experiment.

The obvious choice was pie, and I'd seen a few fantastic looking recipes on the net in the last couple of weeks. But I was alone at the apartment for a few days, so I thought I would bake something that would be a little easier to take into work the next day for my co-workers to enjoy. I'd been re-reading some of the Anne of Green Gables series lately (I know, I'm a huge dork) and those PEI folk sure talk a lot about plum cake. I've never HAD plum cake before, but it seemed tasty enough and something that couuld be easily substituted with peaches, so that seemed like a good way to go.

The recipe I used is a plum cake recipe from Patent and the Pantry, which got the recipe from Dinner with Julie. I love butter, and browned butter always seems SO good but I've never actually tried or used it in a recipe before. Perfect! Plus, the pictures were so pretty and basically made me start drooling.

I tried really hard not to adapt this recipe too much - pretty much all I changed was the fruit (obviously) and added vanilla, because vanilla is SO good with everything. And I left out the nutmeg because I didn't have any.

Anyway...the only real problem I had here was that it was more of a cobbler-cake, as I used probably too many peaches. But that wasn't really a problem unless you're concerned about making a bit of a mess while you eat it. And it shouldn't be, because this was GOOD. Not too sweet, but delicious from all the fresh fruit and a bit nutty from the browned butter. I'm sad that I don't have photo documentation but if you go to the source blogs their photos are much prettier than mine anyway. But if you have some extra peaches lying around, try this recipe. Please!

Brown Butter Peach Cake

adapted from various sources, noted above

6 peaches
1/2 lemon
3/4 cups + 3 tbsp sugar, divided
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit - butter a pie plate or cake pan

1. Peel peaches - bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add peaches. Let sit for 45 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and immediately immerse in a water bath. The skins should just slip right off - it's like magic! I know this is probably a pretty basic concept but I've never peel peaches like this before so I was pretty amazed.

2. Cut peaches into large slices and toss with a squeeze of lemon juice, 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon. You can do this directly in the cake pan/pie plate. Set aside.

3. Brown butter - in a small saucepan (make sure it's doesn't have a black bottom so that you can tell when the butter is brown!) melt butter and cook for about 5 minutes until it's a golden brown colour. Immedidately take the pan off hte stove and if you can, dip the bottom in a bowl of water (I just used the same bowl I had the peaches in, to save a bowl). I don't think you NEED to do this step but apparently the butter keeps cooking a bit after you take it off the heat, so be careful if you don't. I actually have a feeling that I didn't let my butter brown enough, but again this was a first try at this so I was super paranoid about burning it.

4. Pour butter into a medium sized bowl. Add 3/4 cup of sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour and stir to combine. Pour over fruit and sprinkle with remaining sugar (I didn't use a whole tablespoon here...probably more like a teaspoon).

5. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top is golden brown and juices are bubbling up the sides.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Second Try

As previously discussed, I haven't been doing some well with the cooking or blogging lately. So my whole "to cook" list for July didn't work out so well - I only made ONE item on the list (pie). I know it's technically August now, but I'm feeling slightly rejuvenated and I think I'm already off to a better start. I made some fresh pasta tonight (we'll talk more about that later) AND I have plans to make burgers this weekend. I'm going to take the other two off though - summer FINALLY seems to have arrived in Toronto and baked beans aren't exactly sounding appealing in 30-degree weather. Neither is the idea of standing over a hot vat of oil. So anyway, here is the August list:

Hamburgers - I'm going to make some nice homemade buns to go with these on the weekend. Yum!

Pasta - I know this is technically cheating since I already made it, but as it's August I'm going to leave it on, more so I can cross something off :)

Ice Cream - I don't have an ice cream maker but apparently you can do it without. I'm not expecting spectacular results but as I've never made homemade ice cream before (unless you count using my three-minute ice cream maker as a kid - man that thing was amazing) I'd like to try it

Chipwich - I'm not sure if these are still around anymore but I haven't seen any in recent years. If you don't know what a chipwich is, it's just an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies, and rolled in chocolate chips. It's delicious, and I'm going to make some!

Brioche (with chocolate) - I don't really think I need to explain myself here. Bread - good. Bread with chocolate - better.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


Okay...I've been talking about this Ratio book a LOT lately so I thought I'd take some time to actually write about it. I wasn't originally intending on writing book reviews, but it seems relevant so I'm going to try it out.

I have this weird guilt when people compliment my cooking, or say I should open a bakery, or restaurant etc. I really don't believe that I'm an exceptional cook by any means, and definitely not a creative one at that. I'm a recipe follower, and I can say with very little hesitation that the main reason why I'm good at cooking and baking is because I am really good at following instructions. Seriously. I never understood why people COULD NOT cook, because what could you possibly do wrong? Just follow the instructions. Use well reviewed and received recipes and cookbooks so that you at least know the writer knows what they're talking about. But follow the instructions, and you can't be that far off from your desired end state.

The problem with this way of cooking is that it becomes difficult to develop your own style, and the dishes you make are limited to the recipes you use. I've been increasingly trying to get away from this obsessive recipe-following lately in order to become a better cook, and not to have that "I'm a fraud" feeling about my cooking.

Ratio was a really fantastic book for someone like me. Ruhlman outlines several simple but useful weight-based ratios for making all sorts of things. By knowing the ratio of main ingredients that is involved in, say a loaf of bread, you're then freed from following specific recipes, and trying to figure out how to scale them properly. You start with the basics, then add to create different variations on very fundamental dishes.

In five main parts, Ruhlman covers the simple ratios behind such basic concepts as bread dough,chicken stock, mayo and custard. And by removing the fancy techniques and ingredients that clutter up many recipes out there, he makes it sound SO EASY. I've never even thought of making my own mayonnaise before, as it seemed difficult and intimidating. But can I whisk oil, egg yolk and water together? Sure! Why not? In every section the constant thought running through my head was "But I could do that! I should make that!"

I should point out that the ratios in this book are almost entirely based on weight, not volume. I don't actually have a kitchen scale yet, so I've never really cooked by weight before. However, Ruhlman really emphasizes the usefulness of this concept. By using a scale, you don't necessarily need to measure ingredients separately before adding to the bowl - you can simply add items directly to your mixture until you have the appropriate weight. And that makes sense to me - less dishes to wash! A scale is definitely the next item on my "to buy" list. And either way, Ruhlman does include the "recipes" for all his ratios with a volume conversion so that you can make everything in the book without a scale.

So overall...I think you can tell that I enjoyed the book. It was simple, concise and really gets you thinking about how many things you can really make at home in the kitchen. If you're a compulsive recipe follower like me, I would really recommend reading this book. And once you've mastered the basics, there are so many variations that allow you to be creative with these concepts and make your own recipes!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Safe Bet

It hasn't been a great couple of weeks in terms of home cooking. Some very busy days at work and a few weddings here and there on the weekends has not led to a lot of meals being made in the kitchen.

For times like this it's always good to have some standbys that you know are easy and reliable. For me, these dishes typically involve pasta, anything with garlic bread, eggs and chicken parm.

Mmm...I can't put into words how much I love chicken parm. I don't even really like
chicken but when they're thinly pounded, breaded and covered with cheese, de-lish! Not to mention that it goes well with pasta AND garlic bread. Heaven.

This recipe is pretty basic. The only things I would really emphasize are to use fresh breadcrumbs if you can (it really makes the texture a whole lot better than store-breaded chicken) and to properly season at every step. I should probably point out that I am a salt fiend and may have a tendency to overseason, but even if you use less salt and pepper than I do I would still recommend that you make sure your chicken, egg and breadcrumb mixture is all seasoned. That way you won't get any bland bites. Also, the sauce isn't really anything special - just your standard tomato sauce using whole canned tomatoes, but it's nice and fairly tomato-y which works for me!

Oh, and I used a cup of cornflake crumbs because for some reason we have some kicking around the kitchen and have been adding them to everything. They were actually really good and added a nice extra crunch to the chicken, so I'm keeping it in the recipe.

Chicken Parmesan

1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat some olive oil in a medium-sized pot and add onions. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. You don't want the onions or garlic to burn so make sure the heat isn't up too high.

2. Add tomatoes and give it a stir. Add herbs and let simmer for awhile. If you have a couple of hours, great but most of the time I do this for about 20 minutes to a half hour (I am clearly not claiming that this is an "authentic" tomato sauce by any means, but it's simple and tastes pretty good!). Add tomato paste to desired texture, depending on how thick you like your sauce (this will also vary based on how long you cook the sauce for)

Chicken Parm
4 chicken breasts
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk

1 cup breadcrumbs (preferably fresh)
1 cup crushed cornflakes (or just more breadcrumbs)
1 cup grated parmesan
4 tsp black pepper
3 tsp salt
2 tsp paprika
cheese (I used havarti, you can really use any cheese you want)

1. Flatten chicken - Using a meat tenderizer or mallet (I use a rolling pin and cover the chicken with plastic wrap), flatten chicken breasts to 1/4 inch thickness. Depending on how large the breasts are, I also sometimes cut the breasts in half first.

2. Combine egg and milk in a shallow dish, beating lightly with a fork. Add salt and pepper to season. Combine breadcrumb mixture in another shallow dish.

3. Dip chicken breasts in egg mixure and coat with breadcrumbs.

4. Heat a large frying pan to medium heat and add some canola oil. Once heated through, fry chicken breasts for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. If you're worried about the chicken cooking through, cover with a lid while it's cooking. I don't generally find this a problem since the chicken has been pounded down.

5. Cover with cheese and cook under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until cheese is bubbly. Serve with tomato sauce and pasta, if that's what you're doing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Think I Have a Problem

I know, I know...corn again? What is this girl thinking? Well, I can't help it. I have an obsessive-food personality. My favourite foods are REALLY my favourites for a reason. That's not to say I'm going to eat the same meal every day for a week, but certain variations of ingredients or dishes will happily be eaten week in and week out. Which might explain why I get cranky if I don't have pizza at least once a week. Or tacos once every couple of weeks. (I know it doesn't actually SOUND like a lot, but its hard when a certain someone has a *gasp* carb AVERSION. That's right. Maybe I need to re-think our relationship. But it's also probably the only reason I'm not morbidly obsese) And why I'm writing about corn for the third time in two weeks.

Now in all fairness, this is probably the most common corn dish in our dinner rotation, except that its usually made with canned and frozen corn so I just HAD to try it with the fresh! Can you blame me?

I can't exactly claim that this recipe is my own, as like the Taco Dip you'll find endless variations on the Internet. For years, I thought it was actually unique to a certain restaurant that we used to order "fancy" chinese food from. But that was stupid, because its on the menu of most Chinese restaurants. And it's insanely easy to make so I have no idea why the lightbulb only went off sometime last year that I could make the soup at home.

Anyway, this soup can be VERY easily made with a can of creamed corn, but for the purposes of the recent fresh corn obsession, I made my own. And it was tasty! The corn flavour was a lot more pronounced and although the corn itself was very sweet, the overall soup had a nice savoury element to it. But I won't lie. I'll probably keep making this with canned corn in the future because a part of the appeal for me is its convenience. So go ahead, grab that can and get cooking!

Chicken Corn Soup

Cream-Style Corn
3 cobs fresh corn, hulled (cobs reserved)
1 cup water
1 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
(you can substitute canned creamed corn here as a shortcut. I'm going to guess this is about one large 19 ounce can of creamed corn)

2 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1 cup imitation crab meat (optional)
4 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp water
1 egg, lightly beaten
sesame oil (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Make the creamed corn - combine corn, water, corn starch, sugar and salt in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cook for about 5 minutes, until corn kernels are soft and plump. At this point you want to break up the corn kernels a bit. I used a hand blender lightly, you could use a stand blender or even just mash with a potato masher or ricer.

2. Add chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Let cook for about 10-15 minutes. If you used fresh corn, add the corn cobs to add some more flavour.

3. Remove corn cobs and add cooked chicken and crab meat, if using. Bring back to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Combine corn starch with water until a paste forms, and add to soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add some sesame oil (maybe 1 tsp) if using.

4. Reduce soup to a simmer, and add egg mixture. Wait a minute for the egg to cook slightly and give it a stir. And done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cranberry What?

I've been meaning for some time now to get into baking some "fancier" breads mimicking the artisan-style loaves available at bakeries and grocery stores. I had my first attempt with the hearth bread awhile back but I had another ultimate goal in mind. In particular, I had visited a Loblaws a couple of months ago and was treated to an AMAZING sample of cranberry-pumpkin seed bread that I've been thinking about on and off ever since. So I thought I would finally try out a variation of this.

Except that apparently I have my seeds mixed up and I accidentally bought sunflower seeds, not pumpkin seeds. Which may have worked out because it may have actually been sunflower seeds all along that was in this aforementioned loaf. It's hard to say. I have the short-term memory of a goldfish. All I really remember is that is that it had cranberries, and was delicious.

Anyway...I decided to adapt (fairly heavily) a recipe from The Bread Bible. The actual recipe is for a raisin pecan bread but the underlying base seemed to be what I was looking for - hearth bread made from mostly white bread flour with a hint of whole wheat and studded with dried fruit and nuts/seeds. Plus I decided to bake the loaf in a Dutch oven, a la no-knead bread (I've contemplating trying no-knead bread more times than I can count, but the amount of rising time involved always ends up leading me to another recipe). I read in Ratio (I know, I've been talking about this book way too much lately...I am going to write an actual review of it soon so that I can get the rest of my raving out in one post) that you can actually bake any bread in a dutch oven to get that crispy, cracked crust without having to use complicating steaming methods like trays of ice cubes or spritzing, so it seemed like a good thing to try.

There are still a few things that I think I need to master with hearth breads, like how to form the loaves nicely and cut the slashes in the top of the loaf without completely flattening the dough, but overall this bread was really really good. Just a bit sweet and filled with the nutty toasted sunflower seeds, perfect with a smear of butter for breafast. Or with a hunk of cheese as a snack. And the dutch oven worked like a charm - Crunchy and nicely browned on the outside with NO steam necessary! I'll be baking the rest of my loaves this way for sure.

Cranberry Sunflower Loaf
adapted from the Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Berenbaum

1 cup bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup water at room temperature
1 tbsp honey

Flour Mixture
1 1/4 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Soak the cranberries - place the cranberries in a small bowl and add enough hot water to cover. Let sit for about 20 minutes until softened and plump. Drain the cranberries, reserving the liquid in a 1 cup measure. Add enough warm water to equal 1 cup (this will be your 1 cup of room temperature water)

2. Make the sponge - In a large bowl, place the bread flour, yeast, water and honey. Whisk until very smooth and you can see some air bubbles, about 2 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap, while you make the flour mixture.
3. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour and yeast. Spoon this mixture lightly on top of the sponge. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature.

4. Mix the dough - add the salt and using a wooden spoon, stir the flour mixture into the sponge. Stir in the oil, sunflour seeds and cranberries, and mix to distribute throughout the dough. Knead the dough in the bowl until it all comes together, then scrap onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding as little of the remaining 1/4 cup of flour as possible. It will be fairly tacky but just work through it. Cover with the bowl and let rest for about 20 minutes. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. It will still be a bit tacky but less than before. If you need to, add the remaining flour during this step.

5. Let the dough rise in a dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with oil. Lightly oil the top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

6. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop and knead lightly. Shape the dough into an oval and place in a greased dutch oven, or a greased baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

7. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit about 1 hour prior to baking.

8. Remove the plastic and let dough sit for about 5 minutes to dry out slightly. Using a sharp knife, slash the top of the dough a few times. If you're using a dutch oven, cover with the lid and bake for 30 minutes; remove lid after this point and continue baking for 10-15 more minutes, until the bread and golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

9. Remove bread from the oven and cool for as long as you can possibly wait - I think I made it about 20 minutes (Levy recommends 2 hours....right)

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Heart Corn

So...after the whole potato salad revelation, I was still on a corn kick that I couldn't shake. So I just went with it, and made some corn muffins!

I know I already ranted about how much I love corn, so I won't repeat myself here. But I do LOVE corn bread yet haven't baked much of my own, mostly because I seem to have a hard time deciding between the savoury and sweet recipes out there and I always feel like I need to have something to eat the cornbread with. But...corn muffins are easier. Corn muffins can be eaten on their own! And they should always be sweet! (or at least I think so).

For this recipe, I adjusted Michael Ruhlman's basic quickbread ratio for muffins, adding in cornmeal and corn. And it was really good! Slightly but not too sweet, plenty of corn flavour from the kernels and not too crumbly. A couple of notes...I actually used a lightly grilled corn cob for this because it was all I had left of the fresh corn. I wouldn't do this again though, because the corn chunks came out a bit dry since they had already been cooked once (I assumed this would happen, but again it was all I had). I also reduced the egg from 2 to 1, because I was also looking at other random cornbread recipes and decided for some reason that this was a good idea. I don't think it was - the muffins, while delicious were a bit on the dense side. I think the extra egg would help with that so I'm going to leave that as the amount of eggs in the recipe.

Corn Muffins
1 1/4 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk*
1 corn cob, hulled (you can also use frozen or canned corn here - it should be about a cup)

*I never actually keep buttermilk in the house, so to substitute, combine 1 tbsp of white vinegar and enough milk to make one cup and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit

1. Combine cornmeal, flour, sugars, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.

2. Whisk together butter, egg and buttermilk. Pour into the dry mixture and stir until just combined.

3. Add in corn kernels

4. Drop by spoonful into a greased muffin tin, about 3/4 full. This will make enough for a dozen.

5. Bake in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Eating Light....ish?

Cooking in warm weather can be so difficult for a comfort food addict like me. It just doesn't seem right to make the baked pastas, casseroles and savoury pies that I love to make in colder weather. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of summer foods that I love but it just isn't what I crave after a long day that leaves me wanting nothing but fatty carbs (there is no logical reasoning for this - it's just what I do).

Fortunately, living in Canada there isn't a very long time span that this is actually a real problem. Especially this summer, there have been plenty of cold, windy, rainy days where I don't have the least bit of a problem with whipping up some soup or mac and cheese for dinner. But...still. I find I have a greater tendency to fall into cooking "ruts". Especially without access to a barbeque.

Luckily I've recently discovered quinoa. A friend of a friend made a delicious quinoa salad awhile back, and since then we've made a few variations of it for dinner. This recipe has an asian feel to it with the shrimp, ginger and sesame, plus a bit of sweetness from the pineapple. It's nice in that I can still feel like I'm getting my carbs (since it's a GRAIN salad) without feeling like I've just gained 5 pounds nad is great as leftovers for lunch (it actually tastes better after its been sitting in the fridge for awhile and the flavours have had a chance to soak in). And apparently it's good for you too. Score!

Summer Shrimp Quinoa Salad

1/2 cup quinoa (about 2 cups cooked)
2 cups frozen edamame beans
1/2 cup canned or fresh pineapple tidbits
2 stalks green onions
Shrimp (I think I used about 12 but I'm really not sure)
salt and pepper to taste
sesame seeds, for garnish

1 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp pineapple juice

1. Whisk dressing ingredients together until combined, and set aside

2. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, and add quinoa. Cover and let cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, re-cover and let sit for about 10 minutes.

3. If the shrimp that you're using is frozen (as mine was), run it under cold water, and leave for about 10 minutes to drain. The shrimp should start thawing out pretty quickly. Or if you actually think ahead (as I rarely do) you can take it out and defrost it in the fridge for a few hours.

4. Stir fry the shrimp over medium heat in a skillet until cooked through. I poured some of the dressing over it while cooking so that it absorbed some of the flavour.

5. Cook the edamame beans until they're not frozen anymore. The ones I use are pre-cooked so they don't actually need to be cooked, per se. I just microwave for less time than I normally do (like...1 minute instead of 4). Remove the beans from the pod if you're using ones in the shell.

6. Slice up the green onions up to the dark green parts

7. Throw the quinoa, shrimp, green onions, pineapple tidbits and edamame beans in a large bowl

8. Add dressing, a bit at a time, until it looks wet enough for you. This would be completely to your preference so just keep going until it looks and tastes right. Season to taste and garnish with sesame seeds

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cooking for One

Okay...this post includes a recipe, but that isn't really what I want to talk about. It's more of a side note.

Adam and I went to a barbeque at a friend's yesterday and I decided, in trying to break away from that Taco Dip rut, I would try something new - Potato Salad. I had seen a pretty tasty looking one on Pioneer Woman last week so I thought I would adapt that one. The particular recipe involved ricing the potatoes rather than using chunks. This seemed odd to me so I just chopped up the potatoes*. I also decided to add some apples and corn, and lemon to lighten up the flavour a tad, but not too much so as to take away from the base recipe and that fact that this WAS supposed to be potato salad, after all.

So I made this salad. And it was good - but not great. It definitely wasn't the best thing I've ever made. But, and this is the lesson here - there were so many things about it that were great, and it turned out that those things were the additions that I was hesitant to add too much of in the first place.

First off, the apples. This may sound disgusting, but when I was younger my mom would serve apple chunks slathered in mayo as a "salad". My dad loved it, and to be honest I did too. And though I may no longer eat this "salad" I thought it was perfectly acceptable to add apples to this one, and it was delicious!

And...the corn. Oh God the CORN. Just as a bit of background information, corn in general is one of my favourite foods. I love it in pretty much any form - out of the can, frozen, fresh corn on the cob. I'll add it to pretty much anything - salads, quesadillas, turkey sandwiches, or eat it mixed with mashed potatoes. It's even good on pizza, or omelettes. Anyway, I digress. Even with my lifelong love of corn, I've never, for some reason, cut corn off the. cob for other uses before. Maybe the frozen and canned versions were just too convenient, or cutting corn off the cob seemed too difficult. Either way, I had a couple of fresh corn cobs lying around so I figured I would try it (I won't lie - this was motivating. The directions in here are very helpful as well, so if you're going to try this at home follow these instructions!). And it's actually sad how happy it made me. The corn tasted SO MUCH BETTER than the other stuff. And cutting corn off the cob was so much easier than I expected, even possibly FUN (okay, I realized I sound like the world's biggest dork now, but whatever).

So anyway...I think that what I'm trying to say, is that sometimes it's okay to adapt a recipe to the point that it's a brand new dish. In this case, the next time I make this, it won't really be a "potato salad" as it will have quite a bit more of the apples and corn. I'm not really sure what it will be, per se. But that's okay. It will be delicious because there are delicious things in it, and it will be something totally new. And maybe no one else will want to eat it because I've overloaded on my favourite things and no one else's, but that's okay too - all the more for me.

*Although I've never made potato salad using riced/mashed potatoes before, I can see the appeal of it. This salad in particular seemed a bit bland, and I think largely because the potato chunks themselves had no flavour. I'm not sure if this could be improved by adding more salt to the water while the potatoes are boiling, but I do think that this is partly the reason for the ricing. The small pieces of potato you have, the more room there is to impart seasonings and flavour, and for the dressing to seep into every crevice. Regardless, I do like some chunks so I'll probably try ricing half the potatoes and using chunks for the other half next time.

Potato Salad
3 medium russet potatoes, washed, peeled and cubed
2 small macintosh apples, washed, peeled and cubed
3 stalks green onion
3 eggs
1 cob corn
1 lemon
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsbp yellow mustard
fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

1. Hard boil eggs - put eggs in a small pot of water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes. Remove eggs and chill in ice water bath until cool.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil - add potatoes and corn.

3. After 3 minutes, remove corn and chill in ice water bath to stop the cooking. Once corn is cool, hull corn off the cob using a sharp knife. Use the dull edge of the knife to rub off the rest of the corn nubs as well. You can use Ree's step-by-step instructions from this recipe here.

4. While potatoes are cooking, cut up green onion and apples and chop up dill.

5. Peel and roughly chop hard boiled eggs

6. Mix mayo and mustard together

7. Once potatoes are fork-tender, drain and add to a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, green onion, apples, corn and dill. Add in mayo-mustard mixture and squeeze in juice of half a lemon. Add salt and pepper and mix to combine. Season to taste as needed.

Home Cooking

When I first moved away from home, I didn't make or eat a lot of Korean food. I'd been eating it all my life, I still went back to my parents' place every couple of weeks so I didn't really feel the need to make it myself. However, the older I get the more I feel that changing. I still visit my parents quite often, but I find myself craving more and more of those home cooked meals from when I was a kid. I guess I've come to appreciate Korean cuisine a lot more (I was quite a picky eater as a child, so there were a lot of foods that I wouldn't eat) and now these dishes don't all fit into one weekend of meals. Either way, I've been trying to cook more of this myself at home and the best teacher for this is obviously my mom.

The problem with Korean food is that, unlike North American (or any other) cuisine, I can't just search for recipes online that seem to fit what I'm looking for. I need it to taste like what MOM made, so for that I need to go to the source. And since my mom (and I think this is the case with a lot of moms, or grandmothers that have been cooking for a long time) doesn't exactly write her recipes down, it's all about learning the techniques involved, or just how to eyeball the right amount of ingredients. For this reason I've started with the simplest recipes that a fairly small number of ingredients, to lessen the chance of messing up.

Hobak Jeon, or Korean Zucchini Pancakes, is one of the many popular street foods in Korea. There are only 5 ingredients involved and it's all about judging how much water to use - you want it to be fairly runny, not like a regular pancake batter at all (I'll admit - I DID try making these myself once previously using an online recipe. The pancakes were way too thick and puffy from not enough water in the batter) They don't taste anything like a North American pancake either - savoury and crispy, these are a tasty snack that is usually enjoyed with soy sauce.

Hobak Jeon (Korean Zucchini Pancakes)
1 zucchini
1 egg
1 cup flour
2 cups water
1 tsp salt

1. Slice up zucchini into thin discs (the thinner the better!) and then slice the discs into thin strips. I admit, this takes awhile. You could probably use some sort of machine for this that I don't own.

2. Make the batter - Dump flour, salt and the egg into a medium sized bowl. Add 1 cup of water and stir. Continue adding water until you get a runny batter - how runny, it's hard to say. I can't think of a good comparison - like syrup? Or something like that. Add the zucchini and mix in.

3. Heat up your skillet or frying pan to medium heat with a good glug of canola oil. (My mom really emphasized that you should make sure you have enough oil to cover the pancake once you flip it as well) You don't want the heat to be too high or the pancakes will burn before cooking through the zucchini.

4. Using a ladle, pour in some batter. Make sure it's not too thick (the runniness will help with this). Cook for a couple of minutes, then flip over and continue cooking until both sides are browned and crispy. Cut into wedges and eat with soy sauce.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


So remember that pie I've been thinking about for weeks? I actually did make one this weekend. I went to the local strawberry farm on Saturday afternoon and bought a couple of quarts of Ontario strawberries and a few stalks of bright and vibrant rhubarb for my first ever strawberry rhubarb pie. I really enjoy rhubarb because it's so tart and I don't like super sweet fruit desserts, but had never actually cooked with it before so I was very excited to try this out!

I also decided to try a (sort of) new pie crust recipe. I've been reading Ratio by Michael Ruhlman which is all about cooking with ratios rather than measurements, and focuses on the basic ingredients that you need to make something. In the case of pie, they are flour, fat and water. The recipe I normally use involves egg and vinegar, but I've been thinking lately that my pie crusts have been a bit too "puffy" and the egg probably has something to do with it. So I figured I would try it with just the basics and just a dash of sugar to sweeten it a tad.

And the result? Man was this good. Tart and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust. I forgot just HOW good strawberries and rhubarb are together. There was just the right amount of fruit chunks and slightly thickened syrup. I barely even noticed the Splenda, which when executed badly can totally kill a dessert for me (I have an unnatural aversion to artificial sweeteners).

So in short...I will be making this pie again before strawberry season is over. You should too.

Pie Dough
3-2-1 pie crust ratio
15 ounces flour
5 ounces butter
5 ounces vegetable shortening (I use Tenderflake)
5 ounces ice-cold water
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar (optional)

from Bon Appetit via smittenkitchen
3 1/2 cups chopped rhubarb
3 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar (I used Splenda so that my dad could have a slice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

1. Cut out butter and shortening amounts, and freeze for about 1/2 hour Making sure the ingredients are cold is incredibly important when making pie crust. I try to store the tools I'm going to be using in the freezer while my butter and shortening are in there as well to keep everything cool.

2. Measure out flour, salt and sugar into a large bowl

3. Cut in (or grate in) butter and shortening into the flour

4. Add water a couple tablespoons at a time, until flour mixture starts to clump together. Form a ball with your hands (be careful not to overwork the dough or it will end up tough)

5. Divide into two discs, wrap with saran wrap and refrigerate for about 20 minutes or until ready to use (you can do this a day or so in advance as well)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit

6. Combine filling ingredients together in a bowl.

7. Roll out bottom of pie crust until it's about 1 inch wider than your pie plate and transfer to pie plate

8. Spoon in filing

9. Roll out second crust. Slice into 1/2 inch strips and weave into a lattice pattern on top of pie. Trim edges with a bit of overhang and fold up so that your strips stay in place. Crimp edges if desired (I usually do, mostly because I find that my crust doesn't really "stay" in place if i don't).

10. Bake for about 20 minutes, then reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until edges are golden and filling is bubbling (This particular recipe said to bake for almost 2 hours. I only baked for about an hour)

Random Pie Crust Tips:
1. Use plenty of flour

2. Turn the dough at a 90 degree angle once or twice to make sure your dough isn't sticking to your surface

3. Don't freak out - it will get easier every time you make a pie

4. When you're ready to transfer the bottom crust to your pie plate, fold into quarters and place in your pie plate so that the bottom point is in the middle, and unfold

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Signature Dish

A few months back I read this article which got me thinking about what my "signature" dish might be. Something that, time and time again is requested for potlucks or parties, that may originally be from another source but has been made my own over time. I was discussing it with a friend and realized what it was. It's not a special casserole, or roast chicken, or even a great dessert. It's...taco dip.

Yes. TACO. DIP. That fattening but disturbingly addictive layered dip that was probably at the last barbeque you attended. You can likely name at least five people that make on a semi-regular basis. It's not particularly original, and definitely isn't classy. But I've been asked to make it so many times I can't even count, and have been told more than once that it's better than the other taco dips. So as much as I'm almost ashamed to admit, this is my signature dish. At least during barbeque season anyway.

This might sound really obvious, but the "secret" to my taco dip is the guacamole. For some reason most taco dip recipes out there don't include guac, but it really makes all the difference. I make a homemade, chunky guac for this layer and I swear that the amount of compliments I get on my taco dip has a direct relationship to the amount of guac in it. Just trust me on this.

Taco Dip

1 8oz block of light cream cheese, softened (I don't normally use light or low-fat products, but since the dip itself is so heavy and people have a tendency to eat a LOT of it I figure it's probably for the best)
1 250ml container of light sour cream (see above)
1 packet taco seasoning (I use the reduced salt kind)
1 small jar of mild or medium salsa
1-2 tomatoes, diced
Guacamole (see recipe below)
Cheese (not really sure how much...1 or two cups. Enough to cover your casserole dish)

Casserole dish...a 3 quart container in any shape should do it. Preferably glass so that you can see the layers. Or you can halve the recipe and use a smaller container. This makes a lot of taco dip.

1. Put the cream cheese in a bowl and kind of "cut" it with a fork. Start mixing small amounts of sour cream, using the fork to blend the two. This makes it easier to blend the two smoothly vs. just having sour cream with clumps of cream cheese floating around. Keep doing this until you've added all the sour cream and then mix in the taco seasoning until smooth and spread over the bottom of your dish.

2. Layer salsa. If you're using a glass dish and want the layers to show, start at the edges and work your way in with each layer.

3. Layer diced tomatoes, then guac as above.

4. Sprinkle the entire thing with cheese, enough to cover.

5. Cover with saran wrap (or a lid) and refrigerate until ready to eat. Either way, its best after it's been in the fridge for about an hour or so after the bottom layer has had a chance to firm up again.

2-3 avocados
1 shallot, finely diced (I only use about half of it)
1 lemon
Salt and pepper

1. Pit and scoop out the insides of avocados into a small bowl. Add shallots and the juice of 1/2 or whole lemon (depends on how lemony you like it) and season with salt and pepper

2. Run a knife through the bowl a few times until you get the chunkiness that you like. I make my guac pretty chunky, as you probably know so you can use a fork or something if you like it smoother