Tag Archive for easy

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

No one would ever describe me as trendy.

I rarely look good in fashionable clothes and can’t figure out how to wear any new style of makeup.

Even when it comes to food, I’m often behind the times.

So, it’s no surprise I’m falling for kale just as it’s falling out of popular favour.

Kale became a culinary darling a few years ago, starting with an obsession for kale chips that spread like wildfire on food blogs. The simple recipe of tossing ripped leaves with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, then baking them to a crisp, spawned thousands of blog posts. Hailed as the ultimate snack, food blogs were filled with increasingly creative versions.

There was something about them popping up everywhere that made me specifically not want to try kale chips and, as a consequence of not really knowing what else to do with the cruciferous vegetable, not bothering to try kale at all.

And then I was served a kale salad at a potluck.

The greens were dressed with a vinaigrette spiked with grainy mustard and sprinkled with paper-thin radishes. I asked for seconds.

Turns out, my disinterest in following a trend had meant I had been missing out.

Since then, I’ve started making my own versions of that salad — adding apple for some sweetness and hazelnuts for crunch — taking advantage of the fact it pays to work ahead with kale. Dressing it in advance, unlike other salads, actually improves the salad, as the vinaigrette helps soften the otherwise tough leaves. The dark green vegetable stands up to the dressing so well, it makes for a great work lunch because there’s no need to keep the salad and the dressing separate.

A nutritional powerhouse, full of beta carotene and calcium, as well as vitamins K and C, kale should transcend trends.

But, of course, like anything that becomes a widespread hit, there is bound to a point in time when people begin tiring of it and want to move on to the next hot ingredient.

As 2014 marches on, some in the food community are starting to declare kale has reached a saturation point on restaurant menus and in recipes. It’s time for that trend to move along, they say.

I’m not against the idea of another ingredient getting some time in the spotlight.

But, luckily, since I never really pay attention to trends, that means kale will be on my menu for a long time to come.

Kale Salad with Hazelnuts and Apple

Like all salads, this one is infinitely adaptable. Swap out different nuts, replace the apple with dried cranberries or cherries or add thin slices of radish for a peppery punch.

Dressing:

  •  Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) grainy mustard
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) honey
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) olive oil

Salad:

  • 2 bunches kale, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 crisp apple, julienned
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced

In a jar or bowl, shake or mix together the first seven dressing ingredients — from the lemon zest to the pepper — to dissolve the salt and honey. Add the olive oil and shake or mix again until the dressing has emulsified.

Add the chopped kale to a large bowl, pour over the dressing and toss well. Refrigerate for at least an hour to let the dressing soften the leaves. When ready to serve, add the apple, hazelnuts and green onions, tossing everything together.

Serves 4 to 6.

Khao Soi

As a general rule, I won’t complain about the weather. Snow happens. As does rain. As do those chinooks which bring a brief and welcome reprieve from the short days of winter.

But this year, for the first time, I’ve actually found myself daydreaming about a tropical holiday: aquamarine waters, warm beach, cold drink.

My bank balance, however, won’t allow it.

The next best thing is to eat like I’m somewhere exotic.

A spicy kick to warm the belly was the aim, a meal evocative of southwest Asia to cut through the grey afternoon with wind-whipped snow swirling outside. A little searching led me to Khao Soi, a Thai soup thickly spiced with red curry, but balanced with creamy coconut and spikes of lime. Chicken shredded after cooking in the broth and egg noodles add heartiness to this dish, which requires both fork and spoon to eat.

Pickled mustard greens or cabbage, crispy shallots and deep-fried noodles are traditionally added, but I craved a simpler soup that could be whipped up in less than hour without the need for all the pots in the cupboard. If I was going to pretend to be on a holiday, then coming up with something easily put together made sense.

As such, despite my recent vocal opposition to “recipes” that use cake mixes or jarred sauces – which I’m not against them as a general rule; I just expect when I click over to a food blog for a recipe that it will be how to make something, not just assemble it from pre-made parts – I admittedly came up with a version of Khao Soi that uses Thai red curry paste. I’d argue this falls more toward the practical end of the jarred sauce continuum since it’s comprised of numerous, and sometimes obscure, ingredients. But, since I could have technically made my own curry paste (recipes abound on the Internet), I’ll simply say there are times when shortcuts are warranted; this is one of those times.

I did enhance the curry paste with more garlic and ginger and a sprinkling of spices sautéed to enhance their flavour. The broth is rounded out with salty fish sauce and a bit of brown sugar then poured over bowls of chewy noodles and chicken cooked in the creamy, hot and spicy soup.

A bit of cilantro, lime wedges and bean sprouts added just before serving adds to the complexity.

The soup was all I had hoped for, hot and spicy enough – definitely at the upper end of my albeit low tolerance for heat – with the requisite sour, salty and sweet components that comprise a lot of southwest Asian cooking.

It wasn’t quite like sitting on a beach as aqua waters lap at the sandy shore, but it was at least a culinary escape from the dreary winter.

Khao Soi

I adapted this from a number of sources. I used chicken thighs which have more flavour, but boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work just as well in a pinch or if preferred. It can easily be made vegetarian by skipping out on the chicken and using vegetable broth. In that case, I’d add some fried tofu to round out the dish.

  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) ginger, finely minced
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cardamom
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) red curry paste
  • 2 14-oz cans (796 mL) coconut milk
  • 2 cups (500 mL) chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (750 g) chicken thighs, sliced in half lengthwise
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp (20 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 lb (500 g) fresh egg noodles (see note)
  • Lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots, bean sprouts for serving

In a large pot set over medium heat, warm the oil until it’s shimmering slightly. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute, then stir in the ginger. When the garlic and ginger are just cooked, but aren’t yet brown, add the curry powder, turmeric and cardamom. Sauté the spices until the form a paste with the oil and are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red curry paste and stir with the spices, garlic and ginger. Work the paste and spices together and continue cooking, stirring nearly constantly and scraping it up off the bottom of the pot, until they are completely mixed and fragrant, another 2 to 3 minutes. Watch to ensure the spice mixture doesn’t burn. Scoop off the solidified coconut cream from the two cans of coconut milk and add to the pot. Mix well with the spice paste and cook, stirring often, until the red oil from the curry paste starts to separate, bubbling up to the surface, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the rest of the coconut milk and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken thighs, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover until the chicken has cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the chicken to a dish and shred with two forks, setting aside until ready to serve.

Add the fish sauce and brown sugar and taste for seasonings, adding more of one or the other if desired.

Bring another pot of water to a rapid boil and cook the egg noodles until just tender with a slight chew. (Mine only needed about 45 seconds.) Drain and divide between 4 bowls.

Top with shredded chicken and ladle over the broth.

Serve with lime wedges, cilantro, sliced shallots and bean sprouts.

Serves 4.

 

Note: Find egg noodles at most grocery stores in the produce section or at Asian supermarkets.

Eggs in Purgatory

Necessity is the mother of invention.

True in the world of technological advances. True also in the world of the kitchen.

Because, on those nights when there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cupboards and the fridge is down to just the basics, there are still meals to be made.

Such was the case the other night when I found myself hungry and with only the very basics in my cupboards and fridge. (Eclectic basics due to my bizarre impulse grocery shopping skills, but basics nevertheless.)

Among them, a can of diced tomatoes I’m sure I bought for a Bolognese that never ended up getting cooked, a chunk of Parmesan, part of a red onion, some rapidly wilting herbs and eggs.

In short, all the ingredients for a dish known as Eggs in Purgatory.

(It’s sometimes also known as Eggs in Hell, though I’d argue that’s for a spicier version than I can handle.)

Eggs in Purgatory II

There are millions of variations for this recipe, but they all start with the basic concept of cooking eggs in a tomato sauce. Beyond that, it can be as creative as one wants or dependent on what one has on hand: wilt in some greens like spinach or kale, add sausage, spicy chorizo or strips of prosciutto, sauté onions and garlic to give the sauce more flavour. Make a more “hellish” version by throwing in some chopped jalapenos or chilies while sautéing the onions. The options are limitless.

With my limited supplies, however, I kept it pretty basic. Thankfully, basic doesn’t mean boring.

With only 10 minutes and a very small amount of effort, I had a flavourful and filling dinner. The rich eggs with slightly runny yolks are a nice foil to the spicy tomato sauce. I mopped it all up with a crusty piece of bread slathered with some butter.

Using just one pan to make a meal means this dish is near perfection.

Next time, I probably won’t wait until necessity forces me to make this for dinner; I’ll make sure I have the ingredients for Eggs in Purgatory.

Eggs in Purgatory I

Eggs in Purgatory

For a spicier version, add more red pepper flakes or add some diced jalapeno. For some more green, wilt spinach or kale just as the onions have softened before adding the diced tomatoes.

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) diced onion, about ¼ of a small onion
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) red pepper flakes
  • 1 13.5-oz (398 mL) can diced tomatoes
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup chopped herbs

In a pan over medium heat, warm the oil and then add the onion, letting it sauté until softened and slightly transluscent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about a minute longer. Pour in the diced tomatoes and juice, stir and let come to a simmer. Add the salt and a few grinds from the pepper mill, then let the tomato sauce cook until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens slightly. Taste for seasonings, adding more salt or pepper as needed.

Using the back of a spoon, make two divots in the sauce and crack the eggs into the spaces. Sprinkle the parmesan over the sauce and egg whites.

Cover with a lid and let the eggs cook until the whites are set and the yolk is slightly runny (or to your desired doneness).

Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with the chopped herbs.

Serve immediately.

Serves 1 to 2.

Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli

The joke goes that my grandfather was born on the kitchen table and so his love affair with food began right from the start.

His passion for cooking fostered my own love of being in the kitchen and eating good food from the time I was a child.

My grandfather and me

My memories of him revolve around food: making fresh pasta, picking basil in his greenhouse and making little pots of pesto to be eaten on bread with cheddar, and eating plates and plates of pasta.

(The other joke is that my grandfather is secretly Italian.) I still feel that influence today.

When I cook the dishes he would make for me as a child, I am back in the kitchen with him. Comfort dishes are often those I associate with him: tomato and red onion salad, sweet peppers braised in tomato sauce and served with chunks of crusty bread, soft-boiled eggs with toast and, of course, pasta.

He makes a wicked carbonara, but the dish I have inextricably linked to him is Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli – a much more romantic way of saying pasta with cream, peas and ham.

Piselli e Prosciutto

I’d sit at the dining room table and he would bring in heaping bowls of it, steaming hot and speckled with pink ham and green peas, dusted over with Parmesan and a sprig of parsley from the plant on his front deck.

There have been unusual and unexpected variations over the years, depending on what ingredients he had available. At one point, it was a truly bastardized version made from army green-coloured canned peas and canned flaked ham.

When I moved out on my own to go to university, my grandfather bought me a copy of The Umbergo Menghi cookbook containing the actual recipe which had spawned all his own versions. (And also the braised sweet peppers recipe.) Making it in the early ’90s on a student budget and without much experience finding specialty stores meant using more readily available types of ham since most grocery stores back then weren’t carrying prosciutto. Still, combining some version of ham with some cream and frozen peas and tossing it all with cooked pasta felt luxurious when competing against whatever food was being served in the cafeteria. (Lucky me to have had a boyfriend who lived off campus and, therefore, had a kitchen I could putter in occasionally.) Nowadays, prosciutto is easy to spot in the deli section, which means when I make this dish, it’s as Menghi intended.

Most of the time, though, I cook it from memory. Typically that also means adding more peas and prosciutto than called for. Partly because who doesn’t like all the good bits mixed with the pasta and also because that’s exactly how my grandfather does it.

A couple of years ago, while visiting my grandfather on the coast, we made some pesto together.

Then I let him sit at the dining room table sipping a glass of wine while I made Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli for him, serving up a bowlful, sprinkled with Parmesan and a scattering of parsley from the plant on his front deck.

Piselli e Prosciutto

Fettuccine con Prosciutto e Piselli

While the measurements are quite specific, I won’t tell if a few extra peas and a slice or two of prosciutto find their way into the mix. I also like to let the cream reduce a little bit more than the recipe suggests. For reheating leftovers – if there are any – I find a touch more cream, or even milk in a pinch, helps. (ETA: if the mixture is too thick before serving — which happens when the cream reduces a bit too much — another splash of cream or some reserved pasta cooking water can thin it a bit.)

  • 1 lb (500 g) fettuccine
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) dry white wine
  • 6 tbsp (90 mL) peas
  • 2 cups (500 mL) whipping cream
  • 2 oz (60 g) prosciutto, julienned
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) fresh parsley, finely chopped

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente, about 3 to 5 minutes for fresh pasta and 5 to 7 minutes for packaged fettuccine.

Sauté peas in butter and wine in a large skillet on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add cream to peas and cook on medium heat until cream begins to bubble. Add prosciutto to peas and cream and simmer on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, but use less salt than you would normally use. The prosciutto will give you some salt.

Add fettuccine to peas, cream and prosciutto. Gradually add 1 cup (250 mL) Parmesan cheese to fettuccine. Toss together and heat thoroughly until cheese has melted.

Put fettuccine into a warm serving bowl or on warm plates. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup (125 mL) Parmesan and parsley and serve.

Serves 4 to 6.

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes

I have a friend who delights in eating breakfast for dinner.

When she and her husband decide to have eggs and bacon, or maybe some pancakes, instead of more typical supper fare, it’s a treat.

She likes breakfast for breakfast just as much.

So, she was downright gleeful this weekend when she was able to order a full meal deal — eggs, sausage and a tall stack of fluffy pancakes — over the weekend after missing out for many months while living in France. (Coffee and a croissant is just not the same, understandably.)

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes II

I never order pancakes when out for breakfast because my tastes lean more toward savoury dishes in the morning. But there was something about that pile of pancakes, topped with melting butter and spilling over with syrup, that was oddly tempting.

When I got home from a weekend away and found my fridge devoid of groceries (as was expected), but, oddly, with a nearly full carton of buttermilk (which I had forgotten about), I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

Not just any Buttermilk Pancakes, but a stack of them speckled with fresh berries and then doused with real maple syrup. Tartness and sweetness packaged together. And maybe with a side of bacon, since I discovered an unopened package of that in my fridge too (a very pleasant surprise).

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes I

Although blueberries are the most common pancake addition, I wanted to use tart raspberries, which kind of squish and caramelize when flipped to cook against the hot pan.

They become these little pockets of bright berry colour and flavour, hidden in the golden-tinged fluffiness of the pancake. When right side up, the pancakes don’t reveal their hidden gems.

Also, it seemed a particularly summery addition, since they’re coming back into season.

Breakfast for dinner has many benefits, not the least of which is it’s pretty quick to prepare. Whisk together some flour and leaveners; do the same with buttermilk, eggs and melted butter for some added richness. Mix them together gently, fry and enjoy.

Even better, the trick with pancakes — much like muffins — is the batter shouldn’t be overmixed. It’s not only OK, it’s preferable that it be a bit lumpy.

Once done, the light pancakes spotted with juicy berries were just the right mix of rich and tart, soaked with the sweetness of syrup.

They were enough to make me think I need to adopt my friend’s breakfast-for-dinner plan a little more often.

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes III

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes IV

Berry Buttermilk Pancakes

I like tart raspberries in here, but blueberries would work just as well, or a mix of the two. I like smaller-sized versions rather than plate-sized pancakes — better for stacking — so I use a 1/3-cup measure to pour the batter. If you like a larger pancake, use a 1/2 cup measuring cup; those will fit about two to the pan, depending on its size.

  • 2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp (35 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 2 1/2 cups (625 mL) buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan
  • 1 cup (250 mL) raspberries

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk together gently until just combined. There will be some lumps.

Heat a pan over medium-high heat until a bit of water added to the pan bounces and sizzles. Add butter and let melt, swishing around the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup or similar sized ladle, pour pancake batter into the pan. (Mine fit about 3 pancakes with some room for flipping.)

Drop four or five raspberries on each pancake and let cook until bubbles form and those at the edges don’t fill in when they pop — about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes and let cook for another minute or so.

Remove to a plate and continue cooking the rest of the pancakes.

Makes about 16 pancakes.

Candied Ginger Scones

I keep butter in my freezer at all times for scone baking emergencies.

They used to intimidate me; one bad batch – which would have been flattered to be called hockey pucks – had me thinking I would never make a successful scone.

Learning Nigella Lawson’s trick of grating frozen butter into the flour was a game changer and now I find them to be one of the easiest, and fastest, things to bake when suddenly craving something sweet to eat with a bit of jam or butter.

Candied Ginger Scones I

They are also one of the most adaptable things to bake: lemon zest and glaze for a spring scone, chocolate or spices for fall, cheese and herbs for a savoury version.

This also makes them perfect for bits and pieces one may find in their baking cupboard.

So, when I discovered a handful of candied ginger leftover from a cupcake project and an uncracked jar of Devonshire cream at the back of the fridge (who impulse buys Devonshire cream? Me, apparently.), it was clearly time to make some scones.

Even if it was 11 at night.

After quickly whisking together the dry ingredients, grate in the frozen butter. This creates the perfect little nuggets of butter easily incorporated in the rest of the dough. When they hit the heat of the oven, they melt, creating the flaky layers that make scones so tender and light.

Sometimes I will cut out my scones, in circles or squares, using biscuit cutters or an upended glass. But other times, I like to just pat the dough into a circle and cut it into wedges for something a bit more rustic . . . and fewer things to wash.

Candied Ginger Scones II

Candied Ginger Scones

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
  • ¼ to ½ cup (60 to 125 mL) candied ginger, chopped
  • ½ cup (125 mL) butter, frozen
  • ¾ cup (180 mL) cream, plus more for brushing the scone tops.
  • 1 egg

 
Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and chopped ginger. Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the frozen butter into the dry ingredients. With your fingertips, gently toss the flour and butter until thoroughly combined. In a small bowl, mix together egg and cream. Pour into the butter-flour mix and stir until just combined. (Sometimes an extra tablespoon or two of cream is necessary, but the mixture should not be very wet.)

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and squish together, patting it into a circle about an inch (2.5-cm) thick.

Cut the circle into eight wedges and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving space between them to grow.

Brush lightly with cream.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden.

 

Apple Muffins

I am not a breakfast person.

I mean, I love breakfast — or maybe more accurately, I love brunch. A plate of eggs and sausages and hash browns? Yes, please. Huevos Rancheros? Absolutely. Even classic eggs Benedict is a perfect way to start the day.

But during the week, I’ll grasp at any extra sleep I can get in the morning and if that means foregoing a sit-down breakfast, then that’s the sacrifice I will make.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I skip the meal entirely. There’s no way I could last until lunch and I recognize the importance of starting off the day right (while still hitting the snooze button at least once).

So, I like to have stuff around that I can grab and take with me. Fruit, small chunks of cheese, maybe even a sandwich. And, occasionally, I have fresh muffins.

Apple Muffins

Bran or blueberry are standard, but when I saw the small collection of apples on my counter (my go-to fruit for snacking) this week, I thought it might be nice to incorporate them into a muffin.

It would have to be spiced with some cinnamon and nutmeg and the chunks of apple should be big enough to notice, but small enough to get well distributed in the mix.

After digging around on the Internet, I found a recipe from Martha Stewart to use as a guide, but I made a few changes, including adding nutmeg (a warm flavour I think is perfect with apples) and reducing the butter; a little fat is fine in a muffin, but I think a half a cup is unnecessary.

I made it with Fujis and Galas because that’s what I had around the house. The original calls for a Granny Smith, which would give off a tarter flavour, but these sweeter apples were just as nice.

And I didn’t bother peeling the apple before dicing it because:

a) There are lots of great nutrients in the peel;

b) I can’t be bothered;

c) All of the above.

Plus, I like how the skins imparted a slightly pink hue to the baked muffins.

These turned out really well, warmly spiced and full of small chunks of apple. With a chunk of cheddar and a cup of tea, it’s a good way to start the day — right after hitting the snooze button.

Apple Muffins

Apple Muffins

  • 2 cups (500 mL) flour
  • 1 cup (250 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
  • ¾ tsp (3.5 mL) salt
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
  • 1 apple, cored and diced into ½-inch (1-cm) cubes
  • 1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

 

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Line a muffin tin with liners or spray with vegetable oil.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and spices until thoroughly mixed. Stir in apples.

In a separate bowl, using a fork or whisk, mix buttermilk, eggs and butter.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet. Using a spatula or spoon, gently fold together the mixture until just combined. Do not over mix.

Divide batter between muffin cups, filling three-quarters full. Bake until the muffins are brown and a toothpick or tester comes out clean, about 16 to 18 minutes. Let cool slightly in the pan before removing to a rack.

Serve.

Makes 12 to 18 muffins.

 

Bourbon Blondies

I like a good bourbon cocktail.

An Old Fashioned, a Sour, a Mint Julep.

But when I pull out my bottle of bourbon at home, more often than not it’s because I’m adding it to something I’m baking.

There are the Bourbon Pecan Pie Brownies, the Vanilla Cupcakes with Bourbon Buttercream and these, the Bourbon Blondies.

Bourbon Blondies II

Since first unveiling a plate of these boozy bars at a friend’s house a few summers ago, they have become my go-to dessert for potlucks and parties. They’ve been packed along to ski weekends and made an appearance at a party kicking off 2013. They remain one of my most requested baked goods within my circle of friends.

Though maybe not after I reveal just how easy they are to make and everyone just starts whipping up their own batches.

I don’t remember when or how I first stumbled upon a recipe for blondies. They don’t seem quite as well-known on this side of the border as they are south of it.

So, when I put out a plate of them, I’m often asked just what they are exactly. And the answer is they’re kind of like a brownie, but minus the cocoa, which makes a brownie, well, brown.

Perhaps a more accurate description is they’re kind of bar-like cookies.

The beauty of them lies in both how easy they are to make and their adaptability.

Like brownies, you melt the butter, which makes them great for impulse baking, as opposed to most cakes and cookies, which require room temperature butter.

The addition of bourbon puts a spin on things – no pun intended. The alcohol will mostly cook off – and the amount for the entire pan is a mere two ounces, or the equivalent of one of my favourite cocktails – but the flavour remains.

Bourbon Blondie batter

Bourbon Blondies baked

Bourbon Blondies out of the pan

Sliced

Bourbon Blondies I

Bourbon Blondies

To keep these kid-friendly or if bourbon isn’t your thing, simply omit the alcohol and the additional 1 tablespoon of flour. Use whatever additions feel good; I typically use chocolate chips and pecans, but have tried other nuts and even dried fruits, such as cranberries. For the bourbon, I use whatever I have on hand or, occasionally, whiskey instead.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, melted
  • 1 cup (250 mL) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) bourbon or whiskey
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup plus 1 tbsp (250 plus 15 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Butter an 8×8-inch (20x20cm) pan and line with parchment paper that has extra to hang over the sides like a sling. (This makes for easy removal and slicing.)

In a bowl, mix together the melted butter and sugar. Beat in the egg, then vanilla. Stir in the bourbon or whiskey and mix until combined. Add the salt and then gently stir in the flour. Add the chocolate chips and pecans and stir until just combined.

Scrape into the lined pan and pat down the rather thick batter so it creates a layer that reaches the edges of the pan.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the middle has set.

Remove and cool on a rack before removing from the pan and slicing.

Roast Salmon and Potatoes with Mustard-Herb Butter

Some meals are made perfect simply by the company and the conversation.

There’s something about gathering together good friends and good food that makes a meal so much greater than the sum of its parts.

The first time I had this Roast Salmon and Potatoes with Mustard-Herb Butter was in Edmonton while visiting friends. For the last day of the weekend, we decided to have some fun in the kitchen and, after flipping through Martha Stewart’s Dinner at Home, we settled on it.

A trip to the farmers’ market netted us the fingerling potatoes and herbs, a stop at the fishmonger, the salmon, and the final stop was at the wine store for some rose. (I drink what I like and do not profess to know anything about pairings; but I did like this match.)

The recipe comes together so quickly that there was more time to chat and set the table for the early afternoon meal.

And when the coral pink salmon and lightly browned potatoes came out of the oven and we smothered on the green-flecked butter, we knew it was going to be good.

Roasted salmon and potatoes with mustard-herb butter

But it was the combination of the rich salmon, crisp-edged potatoes and fresh herbs, along with the crisp rose and the inevitable laughs and conversation that made the the meal so memorable. That said, when I made it again Monday night, alone in my apartment, and ate it with a now-requisite glass of rose, it was still incredibly tasty.

The Dijon is not overwhelming and the rich fish is brightened by the slight mustard tang and fresh herbs.

And I love the idea of a one-pan dish, particularly since I’m the one doing the dishes.

Maybe that’s another great reason why this should be enjoyed with friends.

Roasted salmon and potatoes with mustard-herb butter

Roast Salmon and Potatoes with Mustard-Herb Butter

I’ve had this with fingerling potatoes, which are great, but this time around I used the more readily available Yukon Golds.

  • 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp (25 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1 lb (500 g) fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 lb (1 kg) fillet salmon, skin on
  • Mustard-Herb butter (see below)
  • fresh herbs, plus more leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Brush the bottom of a roasting pan with oil. Place potatoes in pan; season with 3/4 tsp (3 mL) salt and a pinch of pepper, and drizzle with 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil. Toss to coat, and spread in a single layer.

Roast 30 minutes, turning with a spatula after potatoes begin to turn golden underneath (about 20 minutes). Season salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Push potatoes to edges of pan, and place salmon, skin side down, in centre of pan. Brush with remaining 2 tsp (10 mL) oil, and roast until salmon barely flakes on the edges when pressed, 25 to 28 minutes for medium-rare (it will still be pink in the centre). Brush salmon and potatoes with herb butter while still hot.

Serve, garnished with herbs. Serves 4.

Mustard-Herb Butter

While the original recipe calls for chervil, thyme and parsley, I used dill, tarragon and parsley.

Use what you like or what you have on hand. I didn’t use all of the butter, so don’t feel you need to put it all on. Stewart suggests it goes well with roasted, grilled or broiled fish, chicken or pork.

I’m thinking of roasting the rest of my potatoes and tossing it with them.

  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) tightly packed small herb leaves, such as parsley, thyme and chervil, plus more for garnish
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Stir butter and mustard together in a small bowl until smooth. Stir in the herbs and season with 1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt and 1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) pepper, or to taste.

(The compound butter can be made ahead, rolled tightly in parchment paper to form a log, and then wrapped in plastic; store in the refrigerator up to 1 week, or in the freezer up to 1 month.)

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, check out CalgaryHerald.com/food.

Ricotta

I’ve bought my fair share of ricotta in my time from my local grocery store.

It’s good enough, especially since most of the time I’m simply folding it into lemon ricotta pancakes for Sunday breakfast.

The first time I had really good ricotta was at Corso 32 in Edmonton. House-made from goat milk, it had been slathered thickly onto slabs of toasted bread, then drizzled with oil and sprinkled with crunchy flakes of salt.

It was the perfect start to dinner with a group of friends I don’t get to see often enough.

On my next trip to Edmonton, I had barely walked through the front door of my friend’s house before she announced that our project for that afternoon – in advance of friends coming for dinner – was to make homemade ricotta.

The recipe was laughably easy: heat milk, add lemon juice, watch it curdle and then strain.

And yet it was unexpectedly exciting to watch the curds and whey separate with just a bit of acid thrown into the mix. Even more pleasing to unfold the cheesecloth after the whey had drained away from the curds and see the mound of thick, creamy ricotta.

(Check out the post Katherine did over here, complete with action photos.)

That recipe was good – we ate pretty much all of it that night, on toasted baguette with glasses of wine in hand, some olives and slices of prosciutto – but I’ve since found one that is made even more decadent with the addition of a full cup of whipping cream.

Technically, this may not be considered real ricotta, which in Italian means “twice cooked” and is made from whey – the byproduct of making other cheeses. But, when searching for ricotta recipes, almost all now use this method of adding an acid – lemon juice or vinegar – to heated milk (or a combination of milk and cream) and then straining off the curds.

(There are also a million variations, using more or less milk and cream, using different ratios of acid or using vinegar instead of lemon juice.)

Simple science, but it’s kind of like food magic.

The taste is also like food magic: rich and creamy, smooth and luxurious – a recipe that’s end belies how little effort went in.

Serve this on slices of toasted bread drizzled with honey or some extra virgin olive oil. Grind on cracked pepper or stir in herbs.

Use in recipes that call for ricotta. Or simply eat it plain.
Ricotta draining

Ricotta and baguette

Ricotta

This comes from Smitten Kitchen, which suggest a ½ cup of whipping cream if a full cup is too much, just be sure to make up the difference with whole milk.

  • 3 cups ( 750 mL) whole milk (3.25 per cent)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) coarse sea salt
  • 3 tbsp (50 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large pot, mix together milk, cream and salt. Heat until the mixture reaches 190 F, stirring every so often to keep it from burning. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir, gently, once or twice and then let sit for 5 minutes to let the curds and whey separate.

Line a large sieve or colander with two or three layers of cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Pour the mixture into the sieve and let it strain for at least an hour or more, depending on how firm you like it. (I stopped draining mine around 1 hour and 15 minutes.) It will also firm up more once refrigerated.

Eat immediately or put in an airtight container and refrigerate. Makes little more than one cup (250 mL).

Easy Butterscotch Sauce

When it comes to ice cream sundaes, there has never been any waffling for me. You can keep your hot fudge, I’ll take butterscotch (or caramel – since there doesn’t seem to be a difference in the ice cream world), please and thank you.

Butterscotch Sauce II

It’s not that I don’t like chocolate at other times. But there’s something about the combination of vanilla ice cream and the buttery richness of a warm butterscotch sauce that pleases me immensely.

It was a good thing I didn’t have a recipe for making it at home.

And then I did.

And that was a good and bad thing.

I stumbled onto a recipe for “Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce” on Smitten Kitchen one day and gave it a shot.

It’s nothing more complicated than melting some butter and then boiling it with cream and brown sugar and then rounding it out with a bit of vanilla and a pinch or two of flaky salt – which has a milder flavour to emphasize the salty-sweet flavours of a tasty butterscotch without being overtly salty.

It comes together frighteningly – I may even dare to say, dangerously – quickly. Even if you give it several minutes to cool down so it’s thicker and doesn’t melt your ice cream on contact.

And in 10 minutes, I was doing just that.

I did get a bit frustrated the first few times I made this, as mine never looked quite as thick as it did in Smitten Kitchen’s photos. But after scrolling down through the comments one day, I noticed a discussion about having it reach a certain temperature.

I’ve since learned (through trial, error and a bit of impatience) that it’s the 220 F (104 C) mark that seems to make the difference. And also that it has to boil for a lot longer than I would have guessed.

Some other things I’ve learned: don’t be like me and absent-mindedly use your finger to get that little drop off the end of the whisk or thermometer. And don’t be afraid to double the batch; you will thank yourself later.

It should last in the fridge for several days. But, to be honest, mine never sticks around that long.

Butterscotch Sauce

 

Easy Butterscotch Sauce

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) butter
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream pinch flaky salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract, or more to taste

In a pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar, cream and salt and whisk until blended. Bring to a boil and cook for several minutes, whisking often. It will boil up, so watch carefully. Cook until it reaches a temperature of about 220°F (104°C), give or take a degree or two. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tsp of vanilla.

Let it cool slightly and taste, adding more vanilla or another pinch of salt to suit your tastes.

Store in the refrigerator. Reheat gently on the stove or in the microwave to make it pourable.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipe ideas, check out CalgaryHerald.com/food.

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

Last January, I made several resolutions that I hoped to fulfil through the course of the year. A flood in my apartment, which led to several walls being torn out and weeks and weeks of workmen Humpty Dumpty-ing my home back together again killed any drive I had to enact the “entertain at least once a month” resolution. Or any of the myriad food-related resolutions I had, since my kitchen was barely navigable from all the belongings normally hidden away in the storage room.

And so, in the end, I fulfilled none.

This year, I’ve kept my resolutions equally simple:

  • Write more actual letters to people
  • Read more classics
  • Travel somewhere new
  • Drink more water
  • Make panna cotta
  • Join a new class
  • Increase my intake of fruit and vegetables

And so far, I’m off to an unexpectedly good start.

I’m partway through Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and have Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte on standby; I’ll be travelling to Morocco this fall; and I made panna cotta.

Panna cotta with strawberries II

This was a holdover from last year’s resolutions and I’m surprised it has taken me this long to finally cross it off my list. (Although, I do think part of my hesitation stemmed from knowing this is a very dangerous recipe to master.)

Panna cotta – literally “cooked cream” in Italian – is nothing more than sweetened cream (or a combination of cream, milk, buttermilk or yogurt) infused with any one of myriad flavours.

It’s infinitely adaptable; I’ve had everything from simple vanilla versions to ones flavoured with orange blossom water, topped with fruits or coulis or left unadorned to let the light flavour come through.

It’s silky, soothingly smooth and can be the perfect end to most meals.

And it is ridiculously easy. The hardest part of making this recipe was wading through the hundreds of versions that popped up after a straightforward Google search.

But, for the first time attempting it at home, I wanted something uncomplicated.

Nothing more than cream, vanilla, sugar and gelatin, topped with a few macerated strawberries for colour and flavour.

This version from food blogger and author David Lebovitz fit the bill.

Even making the panna cotta felt soothing: from scraping out the fragrant flecks of vanilla from their pods and stirring them into the cream that was gently heating on the stove, to pouring the liquid into ramekins and putting them to bed in the fridge for the night.

Only attempting to unmould them proved tricky. (If no one is worried about spectacular presentation – and who would be after taking one bite of this dessert? – I probably wouldn’t worry about bothering next time and would simply serve them in clear glasses or pretty coloured ramekins instead.)

But any frustrations stemming from their unwillingness to slide out on the first attempt evaporated with the first bite of panna cotta.

Sweet, light, brightened by diced strawberry and speckled with vanilla, it was everything I had hoped for.

If the rest of my resolutions turn out to be this easy, I just might get through all of them this year.

Unmolded panna cotta

Strawberry

Vanilla Beans

Panna cotta with strawberries I

Panna cotta with strawberries III

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Strawberries

This version is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz – namely the addition of macerated strawberries – who in turn adapted it from Judy Witts’s Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen. You can find gelatin, which is typically sold in boxes of packets, in the baking section of most grocery stores.

  • 4 cups (1 L) whipping cream (or half-and-half)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 2 tsp/10 mL vanilla extract)
  • 2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4 ½ tsp/22 mL)
  • 6 tbsp (100 mL) cold water
  • 2 cups (500 mL) strawberries, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) sugar (depending on the sweetness of the strawberries)

Heat the cream and sugar in a pot on the stove or in the microwave until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them and the pod to the cream. Cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the pod and rewarm the mixture before continuing.

Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil, such as vegetable or safflower.

In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the warm panna cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Divide between the prepared cups, then chill until firm (at least two hours). Just before serving, mix together diced strawberries and sugar and let sit while unmolding the panna cotta.

To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta and dip the ramekin in a dish of hot water to loosen. Unmould onto a serving plate and top with strawberry mixture.

Serves 8.

This first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipe ideas and food stories, check out the Herald’s food page.

Cream Biscuits with Sausage Gravy

If I believed in past lives, I’d swear I was a southern belle in one of mine. Give me a pitcher of sweet tea, porch swings, some fried chicken or chicken-fried steak and especially give me some Biscuits with Sausage Gravy.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy II

I’ve been bookmarking recipes for biscuits and gravy on Delicious for a while now. In fact, when going through to clear out some old links (I mean, do I need 800 bookmarked recipes? No, I don’t think so.), I found a few I had forgotten about. I left one of them because it was different enough that I think I’d like to give it a go later.

Because this certainly won’t be the last time I cook up some biscuits and gravy.

Oh yeah.

So, instead of the usual biscuits, which involve cutting in butter to make them nice and flaky, this recipe only uses cream.

And they were a total revelation. Light and fluffy, cracking perfectly in half when pulled apart and with not an ounce of butter to be seen. Not that using butter in shortcakes or scones is difficult, since I discovered Nigella’s trick, but avoiding it all together certainly makes things go much faster.

The sausage gravy recipe was just as simple and straightforward. I think next time I may want something where I have a bit more control over the flavours. However, this was super tasty and it came together very quickly, which, if I was making this for a crowd would definitely put this recipe in the win column.

It’s easy to adjust the flavours just by changing up the type of sausage you use, which is also nice.

I’d call this a very good starter recipe, but I’m certainly not done exploring the world of biscuits and gravy.

Cream Biscuits

Cream Biscuits

Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy I

Cream Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Stir in the cream (starting with about 1 1/4 cups and adding more if necessary) until a dough forms, about 30 seconds or so. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Gather it together and squash it together (not quite kneading it) until smooth.

Shape it into a circle about into a circle about 3/4″ thick. Cut biscuits into rounds and place on parchment-lined backing sheet. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sausage Gravy

  • 12 ounces bulk pork sausage
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking it up into little bits, until browned and cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Sprinkle the flour into the remaining fat in the pan and cook for about a minute. Whisk the flour mixture while slowly adding the milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes or so to let the gravy thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the sausage.

Serve the sausage gravy over the cream biscuits.

Serves 8 or fewer, depending on how hungry people are.

Teriyaki Trout and Quick Japanese Pickles

When I’m nostalgic for Japan, there is one recipe I pull out.

Though, oddly, I didn’t find it in Japan nor use it when I was there.

Instead, this recipe for Teriyaki Trout was one I inherited from my family, who has been cooking it for years.

Teriyaki trout with quick pickles IV

Although only really a nod to a traditional teriyaki, it is my fallback recipe when I’m longing for the Land of the Rising Sun. There, I often made an authentic teriyaki salmon that I would serve with steamed rice and a selection of tsukemono (pickles).

But this tastes just as good and the ingredients are readily available, unlike the two types of soy and mirin that usually went into my marinade when I was overseas. (These can, of course, be found at Asian grocery stores, but this recipe is built on ingredients most people have readily available in their cupboards: soy, sugar and sherry.)

This is not the thick gloppy sauce you find on supermarket shelves. This is a thin marinade that infuses the fish with that salty-sweet teriyaki flavour.

A few cloves of smashed garlic perfume the marinade without overpowering the flavours. (And, bonus, they are easy to fish out when it’s time for the trout to go in the oven.)

In the beginning, my parents made this with salmon, as the original recipe calls for, but when the price of that got too dear, they started using steelhead trout. Now that’s what I grab as well.

Teriyaki trout with quick pickles II

My version is a photocopy of the original, with no notation of where it came from. Even the amount of fish called for is absent from the recipe.

But I’ve found the marinade is enough for about two pounds of fish. I prefer to do whole sides rather than individual fillets or steaks, though please use what you want.

Since it’s usually only me dining, I often make the full batch of marinade and divide it between two pieces of fish, throwing one into the freezer for dinner at a later date. I’ll pull it out in the morning and let it sit in the fridge. As it thaws, it continues to infuse the teriyaki flavour into the fish and by the time I get home from work, it’s ready to cook, which, some nights, is exactly the kind of meal I like to have around.

When I’m a little homesick for the rice paddies and stunted hills of the small town in Japan where I lived, I make this dish, serving it with rice and some steamed green vegetables. Sometimes, when I’m really feeling nostalgic, I also make quick pickles -thin slices of de-seeded cucumbers left to sit in a bath of rice vinegar, sugar and salt.

The tangy flavour is a nice balance to the rich fish.

Cucumbers

Sliced Cucumbers

Teriyaki trout with quick pickles

Teriyaki Trout

  • 2 pounds (1 kg) steelhead trout, side or steaks
  • 1 cup (250 mL) soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sherry (drinking, not cooking)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) grated ginger or ginger paste

Combine the soy, sherry, sugar, garlic and ginger in a bag or flat dish. Add the trout. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Place fish in a casserole dish (if using steaks, grease the dish slightly so they can be easily removed) and bake until fish is cooked and flakes easily, about 12 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.

Quick Japanese Pickles

The amount of salt and sugar can be easily adjusted for taste. I use Maldon flaked sea salt, which has a milder flavour. Sea salt can be easily substituted, but start with just 1 tsp (5 mL) and add more only if needed. The rice vinegar should be unseasoned.

  • 1 English cucumber (or 3-4 small cucumbers)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons (7 mL) flaked sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons (25 mL) water

Slice cucumbers in half and use a small spoon to scrape out seeds. Slice on a diagonal into ½-cm half-moons. Stir together vinegar, sugar, salt and water and mix until salt and sugar have dissolved. Add cucumber slices, tossing them with brine. Let rest in the fridge for at least an hour, tossing occasionally.

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and food stories, head to the Calgary Herald’s Food page.

Butter, onion, tomato sauce

My general approach to tomato sauce is simple: I wing it.

After years of watching my parents throw basic ingredients into a pot and letting it simmer for an hour or two to create a hearty and rich tomato sauce, and even more years of making it from scratch on my own – owing to a perhaps unnatural love of pasta – I don’t give too much thought to cooking up a decent red sauce.

I’m a big believer in the long-simmered sauce with a multitude of ingredients that all come together over a slow heat, melding and marrying into something that is so much greater as a whole than the sum of its parts.

But I can also turn around a very basic sauce in 15 minutes.

At the very least, my spaghetti sauce usually has garlic and diced onions, sauted in olive oil with a generous pinch of salt, canned plum tomatoes I roughly (and gently, using a butter knife) chop in my hand over the pot, fresh basil if I can get my hands on it, a little sprinkle of sugar if the whole mix is too acidic, and a Parmesan heel, which I stash in my freezer for just such occasions.

So, it takes an unusual tomato sauce recipe to catch my eye.

Like this one. It has three ingredients. (OK, four, if you count salt, which, in general, I don’t, since almost all recipes call for salt.)

Canned tomatoes. A yellow onion. Butter.

That’s it.

Butter, onion, tomato II

Marcella Hazan’s recipe for tomato sauce with butter and onion has made appearances over the years on various food blogs I follow.

Each time I saw it, I thought I really should remember to give that a try.

And then I’d forget about it until someone else posted their love of this simple yet rich dish.

This seemed like a great weeknight dinner recipe since there is minimal fuss. No chopping or dicing, sweating or sauteing.

You dump it all into the pot, let it come to a simmer, reduce the heat, and go about things. In this case, a little laundry, some tidying and things that allowed for a quick wander past the pot to give the tomatoes a stir and squish against the side with a wooden spoon.

At the end of 45 minutes, all it needed was a small pinch of salt and to be dolloped over a nest of noodles.

Some have suggested sprinkling on Parmesan, but I opted not to. The sauce is rich and tasty without adornment, which is sort of the beauty of it.

The butter adds an almost unidentifiable creaminess and mellows out the acidity of the tomatoes.

And, luckily, such an easy recipe is simple enough that in the future I can pretty much wing it.

Butter, onion, tomato

Cooked sauce

Spaghetti and Sauce I

Spaghetti and sauce II

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

This was adapted from Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by way of several food blogs. Since there are only three ingredients, I do recommend using San Marzano or San Marzano-style canned tomatoes, which are packed in tomato puree instead of water and have, therefore, a greater tomato flavour. You can find Marzano-style tomatoes in most grocery stores these days.

  • 1 28-oz (796-mL) can of whole tomatoes
  • 5 tbsp (75 mL) butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 lb (500 g) spaghetti
  • salt to taste, if needed

Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a pot over medium heat. Once the butter is melted, stir to combine, then reduce the heat to low or medium low – depending on how hot your element is; you’re looking for a slow but steady simmer – and cook for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pot.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Remove sauce from heat, discard the onion and taste. Add salt if needed. Serve over cooked pasta.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, head to the Calgary Herald’s food page.

Cheddar Corn Chowder

It’s cold. Ergo, I want soup.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - close crop

For one thing, it’s warm and soothing. And for a second, it doesn’t need to take much time to put together, which means I’m back under a blanket eating it without much fuss.

Soup for me often means throwing in random vegetables from the crisper, potatoes, onions and garlic, a Parmesan heel (the leftover rind, which I save in a tightly sealed bag in the freezer) if I have it, fresh herbs if there are any to be found and a few handfuls of a small pasta or rice. It’s about creativity and frugality. Emphasis equally on both.

Other times, I want a bowl of soup that requires no real thought on my part, but delivers with soothing flavour.

I want comfort in a bowl.

Without much hassle.

The Barefoot Contessa’s Cheddar Corn Chowder delivers.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - blue napkin

“It tastes like Thanksgiving,” a friend once said when she tried some.

It’s an apt description. The corn and potatoes, combined in the unexpectedly rich, chicken-y broth is a nod to the family holiday.

The turmeric adds a nice golden colour, while the addition of flour cooked in a decadent combination of bacon fat, olive oil and butter, thickens the soup to an almost gravy-like consistency. The sweetness of the corn works nicely in the savoury broth with the soft potatoes, and a few handfuls of white Cheddar.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - ingredients

And yet for a mid-week meal, it’s a good choice. The chowder is relatively quick to make — especially since you can easily substitute frozen corn for fresh, as I have done here, and the potatoes require no peeling. Paired with a salad, it can be a full, well-rounded meal.

Frankly, on its own, it’s quite filling.

And fairly fast.

From start to finish, this took less than 45 minutes. That could be partly because I prepped as I went along. Tossing the bacon into the pot, I started chopping onions. Onions starting to saute, and I moved on to dicing the potatoes. (I use baby potatoes, which need little more attention than cutting into quarters, so even less work this way.) Once the potatoes were cooking in the soup, I got on with grating the cheddar. And so on.

(That even includes the inevitable 30-second break I have to take after chopping onions to deal with my intensely watering eyes. Aside: I seem to have lost any immunity to raw onions. Sad but true.)

There are enough gaps between adding ingredients and letting them cook that there’s even a bit of time to tidy up before the soup is served.

That means when it’s ready, there’s less guilt about pouring a bowl and getting back under the blanket for some soup sipping.

And with temperatures slipping back down to the negative double digits this week, that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

Cheddar Corn Chowder - red napkin

Cheddar Corn Chowder

I cut this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 1999) in half because the original serves 10 to 12 people. Even halved it makes a lot of soup, which is great for leftovers.

Need more? Doubling it is easy. In the summer and fall, substitute frozen corn with fresh (from about 5 ears) by cutting off the kernels and cooking them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water.

  • 1/4 lb (125 g) bacon, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
  • 3 cups (750 mL) chopped yellow onions (about 2 large)
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) allpurpose flour
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) salt
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground turmeric
  • 6 cups (1.5 L) chicken stock
  • 3 cups (750 mL) medium-diced white boiling or baby potatoes, unpeeled
  • 5 cups (1.25 L) corn kernels
  • 1 cup (250 mL) half-and-half
  • 1/4 lb (125 g) sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large stockpot on medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Add the corn to the soup, then add the half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

Serves 5 to 6.

This originally ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes, check out the Herald’s online food section.

Bonus: I took a shot of the set up I used to make this photo work. Since it was earlier in the day than usual (I typically shoot in the afternoon), I needed to get the dish up even closer to the window. So, that’s why there’s a stool on the table. That’s a laptop sleeve propping up the edge of the white cardboard. Classy, right? Sometimes I have to also hold up the edge of the cardboard to ensure it’s a plain white background. This gets particularly tricky when dealing with things like soup. It’s really time to invest in a tripod.

This is how I shoot photos

Beef Bulgogi

I had never tried Korean food before I moved to Calgary.

There had been Thai and Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese, of course. But in all my opportunities to eat Asian food, there had been no kimchee or bulgogi.

Beef Bulgogi II

And then a group of friends formed an ad hoc supper club where we would all go out for dinner on Thursday nights, typically for ethnic foods.

We dined on Indian and pho and then, finally, a Korean place where I had my first taste of beef bulgogi.

I didn’t know what to expect, but was in beef heaven by the time I took that first bite. The marinated short rib meat was almost as soft as butter, flavoured with ginger, garlic, soy and sesame. I wedged it into crisp, cold lettuce leaves and savoured each bite. (Or as much as I could, as it was so fantastic it was hard to remember to eat slowly.)

I went back a couple of months later and there was only one thing on the menu I wanted.

Later, I stumbled on a recipe in my oft-thumbed Everyday Food cookbook (Clarkson Potter, March 2007) for a version of beef bulgogi. Instead of the more traditional Korean short ribs, it called for thinly sliced rib-eye and it required no ingredients more exotic than sesame and chili oils and some staples found in most kitchens: brown sugar, soy, ginger, garlic.

Craving the taste again of that distinct mix of salty soy, garlic and the hint of sweet from the brown sugar, I thought it was worth a try.

The book now cracks open to that page, left slightly spattered by being set too close to the fry pan when cooking — the sign of a successful recipe.

At home, the first time I tried this out, I couldn’t be bothered with the lettuce wraps; it seemed too fussy for eating in front of the TV. So, I just put a couple of scoops of it on cooked rice and ate it with chopsticks. The rice soaked up the extra sauce, making for a very satisfying and flavourful meal. (And the leftovers were a nice lunch at work the next day.)

But I also like the idea of rolling up the beef and onions and peppers in soft butter lettuce, so this time around I did exactly that.

Beef Bulgogi I

The leaves of butter lettuce (or Boston lettuce, as it is also known) are tender and pliable, making them a perfect container for the bulgogi mixture. The thin leaves also don’t interfere with the flavours and softness of the meat.

Either way, it’s a delicious and fast way to taste Korea.

And one I’ll come back to again and again.

Beef Bulgogi III

Beef Bulgogi

This recipe from Everyday Food calls for hot chili sesame oil, which I have never found in my grocery store travels. Instead, I use half sesame oil and half chili oil. In a pinch, you can use all sesame oil and a dash of red pepper flakes.

  • 1½lbs (750g) rib-eye steak, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) soy sauce
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) sesame oil
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) chili oil
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) dark brown sugar
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) finely grated, peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 medium red onions, halved and cut lengthwise into 1-inch (2.5-cm) wedges
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into ½-inch (1-cm) strips
  • 4 tsp (20 mL) vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 small head Boston (also known as butter) lettuce

Freeze the beef for 20 minutes; transfer to a clean work surface. Slice diagonally (across the grain) into 1/8-inch (3-mm) thick strips.

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, sesame and chili oils, brown sugar, garlic and ginger. Place the onions and peppers in a small bowl; toss with half the soy marinade. Toss the steak in the remaining marinade; let stand for 15 minutes

Heat 2 tsp (10 mL) of the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and peppers; cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel.

Heat the remaining 2 tsp (10 mL) vegetable oil over high heat. Cook half the meat, turning often, until browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Cook the remaining meat. Return the first batch and any accumulated juices to the pan; add the onion mixture. Cook, tossing, until heated through, about 1 minute.

To serve, roll up the beef mixture in lettuce leaves.

Serves 4.

This first ran in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and food stories, check out www.CalgaryHerald.com/life.

No-knead Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls

Last day of October and I’ve got a pumpkin recipe in just under the wire.

Though, truth be told, I made these a couple of weeks ago and took them in to the newsroom for election night, hoping the sugar rush would keep us all going through the tight deadlines and late night. With so many people voting and such a crazy race right up until the end, most of us stayed later than we ever have for an election. I can’t remember ever covering one as interesting and found myself watching the results roll in live as if it was some sort of TV show.

Anyway, back to the rolls.

They’re no-knead. Sensing a theme here? First no-knead pizza dough (if you haven’t tried this, please bookmark it, so very worth it) and then no-knead bread and now no-knead cinnamon rolls. God only knows what will be next, but I am loving this trend.

Once again, it takes some planning since it takes more time for these to rise. The recipe suggests, though, you can let them rise then refrigerate overnight and continue the next day, which is exactly what I did and it worked like a charm. Sure, there were some paranoid moments, like when I cut them into slices and let them rise in the pan prior to baking but couldn’t discern they actually rose a second time. I didn’t have much hope when I put them into the hot oven, but they came out all fat and puffy, shouldering each other in neat little rows.

I gave two to some friend who had popped by with her new baby since she was in the ‘hood and she texted me seemingly minutes after leaving to say she had eaten them both already and was tempted to lick the plastic wrap. That, my friends, is a pretty good endorsement.

The dough is beyond sticky and please learn from my misstep by using a really big bowl. I had a difficult time incorporating all the flour in my small-ish bowl (which felt big before I combined the wet and dry ingredients) and eventually had to dive in with my hands. Let me repeat: beyond sticky. (But, you know, kind of fun at the same time.)

But beyond that, it was pretty easy to work with once it came time roll out and, uh, roll up again. Some of my filling leaked out the edges. Obviously, I’m no expert at cinnamon rolls. But I’ll take ugly and tasty any day. And man are these tasty. I mean, really, how can you go wrong? pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, butter, glaze? Yeah, it’s all good.

So, this is kind of short and sweet but if I don’t post this soon, I’m going to miss my Oct. 31 deadline.

In short: these are good, pumpkin-y and easy. Enjoy.

No-knead pumpkin dough

Misshapen rolls

Pumpkin cinnamon rolls

Glaze

Glazed pumpkin cinnamon rolls

This comes from the folks over at the Kitchn, like quite a few recipes I’ve posted here. It’s almost to the point where I’m wondering if I need to create a tag for them . . . .

The only change I made was I omitted the pecans. I’ve got nothing against them but was just too lazy to get them out of the freezer, toast and chop them. Oh, and I didn’t use as much milk in the glaze which is why, I’m pretty sure, it’s so much thicker. Not that anyone was complaining.

No-Knead Pumpkin Rolls with Brown Sugar Glaze
Makes 16-18 rolls

For the dough:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 scant tablespoon yeast (1 package)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups pecans – toasted, chopped, and divided in half (optional)

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it sit a few minutes until the yeast is dissolved.

Meanwhile, warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan on the stove top until the butter is melted. Combine this with the sugar in a large heat-proof mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Let the milk mixture cool until it is just warm to the touch – NOT HOT. Then stir in the yeast and the pumpkin. Add the salt and five cups of the flour all at once, stirring until all the flour has been absorbed. Squish it between your hands if you’re having trouble incorporating the last of the flour. The dough will be sticky, but should come together in a shaggy ball. If it’s still more the consistency of cookie batter, work in an additional 1/2 cup of flower.

Cover the dough and let it rise for 1-3 hours. During this time, it should double in bulk. At this point, you can punch the dough down and refrigerate it overnight or continue shaping the rolls.

To shape the rolls (either immediately or with the refrigerated dough), sprinkle your work surface with a little flour and dump the dough on top. Pat it down into a rough rectangle and then use a floured rolling pin to roll it into a rectangular shape about a half an inch thick, longer than it is wide. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough’s surface and on your hands.

Melt the butter in the microwave and stir in the brown sugar and the spices. Spread this over the rectangle of dough, leaving an inch of bare dough at the top. Sprinkle one cup of the toasted pecans over the dough, if using. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch it closed at the top.

Rub a tablespoon of soft butter into the bottom of two 9×13 baking dishes, two 9-inch cake pans, or a combination. Using a bench cutter or a sharp knife, cut the cylinder into individual rolls 1 – 1 1/2 inches thick. Place them into your baking dishes so they have a little wiggle room on all sides to rise. Cover them with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise until they fill the pan and look puffy, 30 minutes for already-warm dough and 1 hour for dough that’s been refrigerated.

About 20 minutes before baking, begin heating the oven to 375°. When the rolls are ready, bake them for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are golden and starting to look toasted around the edges. Rotate the pans halfway through cooking.

While they are baking, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter. When the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and salt. Stir until the brown sugar has melted. Remove from heat and strain into a mixing bowl to remove any sugar clumps. Stir in the powdered sugar. This should form a thick but pourable glaze.

Let the baked rolls cool for about five minutes and then pour the glaze on top. Sprinkle the remaining cup of pecans over the top, if more nuttiness is desired. Eat them immediately. Leftovers will keep for several days and are best reheated for a minute in the microwave.

No-knead bread

Little side note: Patent and the Pantry now has a page on Facebook. Come say hello and join in the discussion. Find it here.)

And now, on with the baking!

No one would ever call me trendy.

I’m not on top of the latest fashions, my music tastes are more eclectic than current and I’d label my style retro rather than cutting edge.

So, when food trends begin taking over the Internet, appearing on blogs and in newspaper articles alike, I don’t exactly jump on board. Macarons? Those look a bit tricky, I say. Whoopie Pies? Not sure what the allure is there. No-knead bread? Looks complicated.

No-knead bread was everywhere about four years ago, shortly after the New York Times’ Mark Bittman wrote a piece about Jim Lahey and his revolutionary recipe for a crusty loaf of bread that required very little effort, only advance planning. Soon bloggers were extolling the virtues of this bread and posts abounded with photos of the round boule with its dark gold crust and large-holed interior.

Bread slice I

My parents jumped on the bandwagon and in the intervening years have abandoned their bread maker in favour of no-knead bread, making a loaf seemingly every other day.

So, on a recent visit with them, I was finally able to taste what all the fuss was about.

It’s no surprise everyone’s been raving.

Bread II

This bread has a crisp crust, but the interior — riddled with the large air bubbles that come from the long fermentation — is all soft chew. It tastes like bread should.

And it makes amazing toast.

But even with all those points, I still resisted for another year before finally deciding it was time to see if I could do it, too.

(I will readily admit here that part of that hesitation stemmed from the inevitable danger that comes from a carboholic realizing she can have access to fresh, homemade bread at will.)

In my glass bowl, I mixed the flour, salt, instant yeast and cool water. I stirred it into a sticky, shaggy mess, covered it with plastic wrap and left it alone for 18 hours. The next day (the most reasonable way to make this bread, I figure, is to let it rise overnight), the dough had tripled in size and was dotted with hundreds of tiny bubbles.

It smelled of yeast and good things to come.

The only time I deviated from the recipe was when Lahey called for a second rise on a clean kitchen towel using wheat bran or additional flour to keep it from sticking, which is then used to dump the dough into a preheated cast iron or enamel pot. Instead, I let it rise again on a piece of parchment. When it came time to get the dough into the cooking vessel, it was just a matter of picking up the four corners of the paper and plopping it in the pot, greatly lessening any chances of getting burned.

When it came out of the oven, and I lifted it out of the pot using two wooden spoons, I was excited. It looked and smelled like a perfect round loaf.

And that first slice was perfection, topped only with a thin smear of real butter.

Besides the undeniable beauty of eating a slice of bread still slightly warm from the oven (although Lahey calls for it to rest for at least an hour before cutting into it, it is often hard to resist waiting the entire 60 minutes), there is something so satisfying about baking a loaf of bread on your own.

So — I may be behind the times in finally trying it, but this bread is no passing fad.

(This is a Danish Dough Whisk — a tool that is great for mixing dough.)
Danish Dough Whisk

One gram over

Sticky dough

Risen

Risen from the top

Bread

Bread III

Bread slice II

The recipe is Lahey’s own, but I have adapted it to use parchment paper for the second rise. I also found the cooking time too long, so when I bake this bread I cut it down by about 10 minutes.

(The cooking times here are as Lahey suggests.)

Basic No-Knead Bread

Adapted slightly from Jim Lahey’s My Bread (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009, $37.50)

  • 3 cups (750 mL) bread flour
  • 1¼ tsp (6 mL) table salt
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) instant yeast
  • 1 ¹/³ cups (325 mL) cool water, at 55°F to 65°F (12°C to 18°C)

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Make sure it’s really sticky to the touch; if it’s not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water.

(Note: I’ve had to use more water almost every time. I suspect it’s because Calgary is so dry.)

Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72°F/22°C), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than double in size.

This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (Lahey’s preference) up to 18 hours. This slow rise -fermentation -is the key to flavour.

When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface (a wooden or plastic cutting board is fine) with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough on the board in one piece.

When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky, but do not add more flour.

Use lightly floured hands, a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough toward the centre. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

Place on a piece of parchment paper, seam side down. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled in size.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475°F (240°C), with a rack in the lower-third position and place a covered 4½ to 5½ quart (4¼ to 5 L) heavy pot in the centre of the rack.

Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Gather up the dough by holding the four corners of the parchment paper and place the entire thing, paper and all, into the pot.

Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut colour, but not burned, 15 to 30 minutes more.

Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don’t slice or tear into it until it has cooled, which usually takes at least an hour.

Makes one large loaf.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald’s Real Life section. For more delicious recipes, visit CalgaryHerald.com/life.